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- 9 -

The Black Horseman by Ivan Bilibin
The Black Horseman by Ivan Bilibin

Then Baba-Yaga yelled: 'Hey, my unyielding locks, unlock! Open wide, my tall gates!'

The jaws unlocked and the gates swung open with a crash and she rode away in the mortar, driving it on with the pestle and sweeping away the traces behind her with the broomstick.

The earth shook and the trees creaked and groaned as if they were about to be uprooted by a storm. Dry leaves whirled and spun all around her head and the host of spirits shrieked and howled as they flew along after her.

Thinking that this was her chance to escape, Vasilisa ran straight out behind the witch, but alas,the gates suddenly swung shut with a crash in front of her and she leaped back just in time to avoid being bitten by the gnashing teeth of the locks.

Above the noise she could hear Baba Yaga shrieking with laughter as she drove off through the forest.

Standing well back from the fence, Vasilisa tried to get the locks to open by repeating what she had heard Baba Yaga say:

'My solid jaws, unlock! My tall gates open! Oh, what was it again? My unyielding gates, open! My wide gates open!'

She tried as many different versions as she could think of, but the gates would not obey her.

The jaws grinned horribly at her and it seemed that even the skulls on the fence with their glaring eyes were mocking her. She gave up with a sigh and went back inside the hut.

She looked around her, amazed to find the hut filled with enough provisions to feed a whole village. Then she remembered with dismay all the work that she had been told to do and wondered where to begin.

When she looked around her, she could not believe her eyes, for the hut was already cleaned and the little doll was picking the last bad grains out of the wheat. 'Now you have only to cook the supper, have some yourself and take a rest,' the doll told her.

Vasilisa rested all day and towards evening she cooked the old witch's supper and sat on the steps of the hut waiting. In the twilight she saw the black horseman gallop up to the gates. Darkness immediately came down over the forest and the eyes of the skulls began to glow in their sockets.

Then a terrible din arose again, as if a storm was sweeping over the forest, the ground shook, the trees began to creak and groan, and the leaves fell down and swirled around as if caught in a whirlwind.

Followed by the howls and shrieks of the host of spirits in her wake, Baba-Yaga came crashing out of the forest in her huge iron mortar. She drove it on with the pestle and swept away her trail behind her with the broomstick.

When she came inside she asked: 'Well, have you finished all the work I gave you to do, or can I eat you yet?'

She went around checking everything, but she could not find anything to complain about.

The old witch was disappointed that she could not eat Vasilisa for her supper, but she pretended to be pleased with her.

'You have done well,' she leered.

to page 10
(twelve pages in all)