Outside in the forest there was deep snow. It had crusted the branches of the pine trees, and piled itself up them till they bent under its weight. Now and then wolves howled of far away.
Little Maroosia heard them, and thought of them out there in the dark as they galloped over the snow. She sat closer to her brother Vanya, and they were both as near as they could get to the door of the stove, where the red fire was burning, keeping the whole hut warm. The stove filled a quarter of the hut, but that was because it was a bed too. There were blankets on it, and in those blankets Vanya and Maroosia rolled up and went to sleep at night. It was cosy and warm.
The hut was made of pine logs cut from the forest. The grandfather of Maroosia and Vanya lived alone with them in the hut in the forest. Maroosia and Vanya could hardly remember their dead parents. They were happy with their grandfather. He was kind to them and did all he could to keep them warm and well fed. He let them help him in everything.
Besides old Peter and Maroosia and Vanya there were a cat and a grey dog, Vladimir and Bayan. Just now their cat was lying in Vanya's arms fast asleep. When the dog was in the hut he usually lay underneath the table, because that was the only place where he could lie without being in the way. But just now he was out with their old grandfather.
Vladimir stirred suddenly in Vanya's lap, and a minute later they heard the scrunch of boots in the snow, and stamping feet. The door opened, and the grey dog pushed his way in and shook himself. He was pleased to be home. And old grandfather came in after him. He shook himself in his own way, and the snow flew off like spray. He did this every time he came inside.
Their grandfather took off his big coat and lifted down the samovar  from the shelf. The samovar had a redhot fire in the middle of it to keep the water in it heated. It hummed as steam rose in a little jet from a tiny hole in the top. The boiling water could be tapped at the bottom.
Old Peter threw in lighted sticks and charcoal, and then set the samovar on the table with the little fire crackling in its inside. Then he cut some big lumps of black bread, emptied a saucepan of soup into a big wooden bowl and fetched three wooden spoons, deep like ladles. One big spoon was his, two smaller spoons were for his grandchildren.
While their grandfather was getting supper ready he was answering questions and joking, and Vanya and Maroosia danced about the hut and chuckled.
Then they had supper, all three dipping their spoons in the big bowl together, and eating much black bread. There were scraps for Vladimir the cat and a bone for Bayan the dog.
After that they had tea with sugar but no milk: they liked it that way.
Then their grandfather made another glass of tea for himself. They were young and would not sleep if they drank tea too near bedtime, he said. He threw a log of wood into the stove, lit a short little pipe. He puffed, the smoke got in his eyes, and he wiped them with the back of his hand.
All the time he was doing this his grandchildren were snuggling together close by the stove.
"Well, what is it to be?" said old Peter, "Would you like a story you've never heard before?" He was combing his great grey beard with his fingers and looking at the children with twinkling eyes from under bushy eyebrows. "Have I ever told you the story of 'The Silver Saucer and the Transparent Apple'?"
"No, never," cried the children at once.
Old Peter took a last pull at his pipe, and Vanya and Maroosia wriggled with excitement. Then he drank a sip of tea and began.
An old man and a woman monster lived in a little wooden house. All round the house there was a garden, crammed with flowers, and potatoes, and beetroots, and cabbages. In one corner of the house there was a narrow wooden stairway which twisted up into a tower. In the top of the tower was a dovecote, and on the top of the dovecote was a flat roof.
Now, the woman was never content with the old man. She scolded all day and she scolded all night. If there was too much rain, it was the old man's fault; and if there was a drought and all green things were parched for lack of water, well, the old man was to blame for not altering the weather. And though he was old and tired, it was all the same to her how much work she put on his shoulders.
Suddently the woman set her heart on growing turnips.
"But there is no room in the garden," said the old man.
"Sow them on the top of the dovecote," said the woman.
"But there is no earth there."
"Carry earth up and put it there," said said.
So the old man laboured up and down and covered the top of the dovecote with black earth. He was old and weak, and the stairs were so narrow and dangerous that he had to hold on with both hands and carry the earth in a bag that he held in his teeth. They were strong enough for it, he found. Old and weak as he was, he did his best, and by evening the top of the dovecote was covered with earth, and he had sown it with turnip seed.
Next day, and the day after that and every day, the woman scolded the old man until he went up to the dovecote to see how those turnip seeds were getting on.
"Are they ready to eat yet?"
"They are not ready to eat."
"Is the green sprouting?"
"The green is sprouting."
And at last there came a day when the old man came down from the dovecote and said: "The turnips are doing very well – they are getting quite big, but all the best ones are missing."
"Missing?" cried the woman, shaking with rage. "And have you lived all these years and not learned how to keep thieves from a turnip bed on the top of a dovecote on the top of a tower on the top of a house? Out with you, and don't come back until you have caught the thieves."
The old man did not dare to tell her that the door had been bolted and that he had bolted it himself. He hurried away out of the house, for he wanted to get out of earshot of her scolding. "They may be birds," thinks he, "or the little brown squirrels. Who else could climb so high without using the stairs? Or were they running up and down the branches of the trees outside the house?"
And so he wandered away without his dinner into the deep forest. He was just wandering on. After he had walked a long way he saw a little hut under the pine trees. There was no smoke from the chimney, but there was such loudchattering in the hut that he could hear it far away.
As the old man came slowly nearer to the hut, he thought he saw little faces looking at him through the window and peeping through the door. He could not be sure, for they were gone so quickly. And all the time the chattering went on louder and louder, until the old man nearly put his hands to his ears.
Then suddenly the chattering stopped.
"Whatever there is in the hut, it won't be worse than the woman," said the old man to himself. So took a look through the door. There was no one to be seen. He took a step inside, bending under the little, low door. Still he could see nobody, only a great heap of rags and blankets on the sleeping place on the top of the stove. The hut was as clean as if it had been swept only that minute. But in the middle of the floor there was a scrap of a green turnip leaf lying. "It may be from one of my turnips," he thought.
While the old man looked at it, the heap of blankets and rugs on the stove moved, first in one place and then in another. Then there was a little laugh, and then another. Suddenly there was a great stir in the blankets and they were all thrown back helter-skelter, and dozens and dozens of little queer children appeared. They were laughing and laughing and looking at the old man. Every child had a little turnip, showed it to the old man and laughed.
Just then the door of the stove flew open, and out tumbled more of the little queer children, dozens and dozens. And everyone of the children out of the stove had a little turnip and waved it about and showed it to the old man, and laughed.
"Ho," said the old man, "so you are the ones who have taken the turnips from the top of the dovecote?"
"Yes," cried the children, "Yes! Yes! We took the turnips."
"How did you get on to the top of the dovecote when the door into the house was bolted and fast?"
At that the children all burst out laughing and did not answer a word.
"Laugh you may," said the old man; "but it is I who get the scolding when the turnips fly away in the night."
"Never mind! Never mind!" cried the children. "We'll pay for the turnips."
"How can you pay for them?" asked the old man.
All the children looked at the old man and smiled. Then one of them said to him, "Are you hungry, grandfather?"
"Yes, I am," said the old man. "I've been looking for you all day, and I had to start without my dinner."
"If you are hungry, open the cupboard behind you."
The old man opened the cupboard.
"Take out the tablecloth and spread it on the table."
He did as he was told.
"Now!" shouted the children, chattering like a thousand nests full of young birds, "we'll all sit down and have dinner."
They pulled out the benches, gave the old man a chair at one end and all crowded round the table ready to begin.
"But there's no food," said the old man.
"Grandfather," one of them sang out from the other end of the table, "tell the tablecloth to turn inside out. That's easy."
"There's no harm in doing that," thought the old man, so he said firmly to the tablecloth, "Now then, tablecloth, turn inside out!"
The tablecloth hove itself up into the air, and rolled itself this way and that as if it were in a whirlwind, and then suddenly laid itself flat on the table again. Somehow it had covered itself with dishes and plates and wooden spoons with pictures on them, and bowls of soup and mushrooms and porridge, and meat and cakes and fish and much more, ready for a great feast.
The old man and those dozens and dozens of little queer children soon had eaten everything on the table.
"Who of you wash the dishes?" asked the old man after their meal.
The children laughed and said: "Tell the tablecloth to turn outside in."
When he did, up jumped the tablecloth with all the empty dishes and dirty plates and spoons, whirled itself this way and that in the air, and suddenly spread itself out flat again on the table. The cloth was as clean and white as when it was taken out of the cupboard. There was not a dish or a bowl, or a spoon or a plate, or a knife to be seen - not even a crumb.
"That's a good tablecloth," said the old man.
"Grandfather," shouted the children: "take the tablecloth along with you and said no more about those turnips."
"I'm content with that," said the old man. And he folded up the tablecloth very carefully and put it away inside his shirt, and said he must be going.
"Goodbye," he said, "and thank you for the dinner and the tablecloth."
"Goodbye," said they, "and thank you for the turnips."
The old man made his way home, singing through the forest in his creaky old voice until he came near the little wooden house where he lived with the woman. As soon as he came near there he slipped along like any mouse. And as soon as he put his head inside the door the woman began:
"Have you found the thieves, you fool?"
"Who were they?"
"They were a whole crowd of little queer children."
"Have you given them a beating they'll remember?"
"What? Bring them to me, and I'll teach them not to steal my turnips!"
"I haven't got the children."
"What have you done with them?"
"I had dinner with them."
At that the hag flew into a rage and shouted and screamed for a long while. But he stood still and listened and thought of something else.
When she had done he said, "They paid for the turnips."
"Paid for the turnips!" scolded the woman. "A lot of children! What did they give you? Mushrooms? We can get them without losing our turnips."
"They gave me a tablecloth," said the old man; "it's a very good tablecloth."
He pulled it out of his shirt and spread it on the table; and as quickly as he could, before she began again, he said, "Tablecloth, turn inside out!"
The woman stopped short, just when she was taking breath to scold with, when the tablecloth jumped up and danced in the air and settled on the table again, covered with things to eat and to drink. She smelt the meat, took a spoonful of the soup, and tried all the other dishes.
"Look at all the washing up it will mean," she said.
"Tablecloth, turn outside in!" said the old man, and there was a whirl of white cloth and dishes and everything else that had been on the tablecloth, and then the tablecloth spread itself out on the table as clean as ever you could wish.
"That's not a bad tablecloth," said the woman, "but of course they owed me something for stealing all those turnips."
The old man said nothing. He was very tired, and just laid down and went to sleep.
As soon as he was asleep the woman took the tablecloth and hid it away in an iron chest, and put a tablecloth of her own in its place. "They were my turnips," she said, "and I don't see why he should have a share in the tablecloth. He's had a meal from it once at my expense, and once is enough." Then she lay down and went to sleep, grumbling to herself even in her dreams.
Early in the morning the woman woke the old man and told him to go up to the dovecote and see how the turnips were getting on.
He got up and rubbed his eyes. When he saw the tablecloth on the table, the wish came to him to have a bite of food to begin the day with. So he stopped in the middle of putting on his shirt, and called to the tablecloth, "Tablecloth, turn inside out!"
Nothing happened, so he told the woman. "You should have made a good feast yesterday, for the tablecloth doesn't work any more. That is, it's like any other tablecloth."
"Most tablecloths are," said the woman. "But what are you dawdling about? Up you go and have a look at those turnips."
The old man climbed the narrow, twisting stairs. He held on with both hands for fear of falling, for they were so steep. He climbed to the top of the house, to the top of the tower, to the top of the dovecote and looked at the turnips. He looked at the turnips and counted them, and then he came slowly down the stairs again wondering what the woman would said to him.
"Well," said the woman in her sharp voice, "are they doing nicely? For if not, I know whose fault it is."
"They are doing well," said the old man; "but some of them are disappeared. Indeed, quite a lot of them."
"We've been robbed again!" screamed the woman. "How dare you stand there and tell me that? Didn't you find the thieves yesterday? Go and find them again. Take a stick with you and don't come back until you can tell me that they won't steal from us again."
"Let me have a bite to eat," begged the old man. "It's a long way to go on an empty stomach."
"Not a mouthful!" yelled the woman. "Off with you. Letting my turnips be plucked every night, and then talking to me about bites of food!"
So the old man went off again without his dinner, and hobbled away into the forest as quickly as he could to get out of earshot of the woman's scolding tongue.
As soon as he was out of sight the woman stopped screaming after him, went into the house and opened the iron chest, took out the tablecloth and laid it on the table instead of her own and had a good meal. Then she put the tablecloth into the iron chest again.
Meanwhile the old man tightened his belt, since he was so hungry. He hobbled along through the green forest till he came to the little hut standing under the pine trees. There was no smoke coming from the chimney, but there was much chattering inside.
No sooner did he come in sight of the hut than the many little, queer children came pouring out of the door to meet him. Every single one of them had a turnip and showed it to the old man, and laughed as if it were the best joke in the world.
"I thought it was you," said the old man.
"Of course it was us," cried the children. "We took the turnips."
"But how did you get to the top of the dovecote when the door into the house was bolted and fast?"
The children laughed and laughed and did not answer a word.
"Laugh you may," said the old man; "but it is I who get the scolding when the turnips disappear in the night."
"Never mind! Never mind!" cried the children. "We'll pay for the turnips."
"Very well," said the old man; "but that tablecloth of yours – it was fine yesterday, but this morning it would not give me even a glass of tea and a hunk of black bread."
At that the faces of the little queer children were troubled and grave. For a moment or two they all chattered together, and took no notice of the old man. Then one of them said, "This time we'll give you something better. We'll give you a goat with a cold in its head."
The children crowded round him and took him behind the hut. There was a grey goat with a long beard there, cropping the short grass.
"It's a good enough goat," said the old man; "I don't see anything wrong with him."
"It's better than that," cried the children. "You tell it to sneeze."
The old man thought the children might be laughing at him, but he did not care, and he remembered the tablecloth. So he took off his hat and bowed to the goat. "Sneeze, goat," said he.
At once the goat started sneezing. As it sneezed, good gold pieces flew from it in all directions until the ground was thick with them.
"That's enough," said the children hurriedly. "Tell him to stop, for all this gold is no use to us, and it's such a bother having to sweep it away."
"Stop sneezing, goat," said the old man. The goat stopped sneezing and stood there panting in the middle of some large heaps of gold pieces.
The children began kicking the gold pieces about, spreading them by walking through them as if they were dead leaves. They laughed and chattered and kicked the gold pieces this way and that into the green bushes. Then they brought the old man into the hut and gave him a bowl of good porridge to eat, since he had had no dinner. Hunger made it even better.
When the old man had finished the porridge and drunk a glass of tea and smoked a little pipe, he got up and made a low bow and thanked the children. The children tied a rope to the goat and sent the old man home with it. He hobbled away through the forest.
As he went he looked back and saw how the little queer children were dancing together, and he heard them chattering and shouting: "Who picked the turnips? We picked the turnips. Who paid for the turnips? We paid for the turnips. Who took the tablecloth? Who will pay for the tablecloth? Who will pick turnips again? We will pick turnips again."
But the old man was too pleased with the goat to give much heed to what they said. He hobbled home through the green forest as fast as he could with the goat trotting and walking behind him and pulling leaves off the bushes to chew as they hurried along.
The woman was waiting in the doorway of the house. She was still as angry as ever.
"Have you beaten the children?" she screamed. "Have you beaten the children for stealing my turnips?"
"No," said the old man; "they paid for the turnips."
"What did they pay?"
"They gave me this goat."
"That skinny old goat! I have three already, and the worst of them is better than that."
"It has a cold in the head," said the old man.
"Worse than ever!" screamed the hag.
"Wait a minute," said the old man as quickly as he could to stop her scolding. – "Sneeze, goat."
And the goat began to sneeze gold pieces in all directions. The woman threw herself after the gold pieces, picking them up like an old hen picking up corn. As fast as she picked them up more gold pieces came showering down on her like heavy gold hail, beating her on her head and her hands as she grubbed after those that had fallen already.
"Stop sneezing, goat," said the old man; and the goat stood there tired and panting. But the woman did not look up until she had gathered everyone of the gold pieces, and then she said, –
"There's no supper for you. I've had supper already."
The old man said nothing. He tied up the goat to the doorpost of the house, where it could eat the green grass. Then he went into the house and lay down, and fell asleep at once, for he was an old man and had done a lot of walking.
As soon as he was asleep the woman untied the goat and took it away and hid it in the bushes, and tied up one of her own goats instead. "They were my turnips," she said to herself, "and I don't see why he should have a share in the gold." Then she went in, and lay down grumbling to herself.
Early in the morning she woke the old man. "Get up to the dovecote and see how my turnips are getting on."
The old man got up and rubbed his eyes, and climbed up the rickety stairs, creak, creak, creak, holding on with both hands, till he came to the top of the house, to the top of the tower, to the top of the dovecote, and looked at the turnips.
He was afraid to come down, for there were hardly any turnips left at all. And when he did come down, the scolding the woman gave him was worse than the other two scoldings rolled into one.
The old man put both hands to his ears and hobbled away into the forest, as fast as he could hobble, till he came to the hut under the pine trees. This time the little queer children were not hiding under the blankets or in the stove, or chattering in the hut. They were all over the roof, dancing and crawling about. Some of them were sitting on the chimney. And everyone was playing with a turnip. As soon as they saw the old man they all came tumbling off the roof, one after another, head over heels, like a lot of peas rolling off a shovel.
"We took the turnips!" they shouted, before the old man could said anything at all.
"It figures," said the old man; "but that does not make it any better for me. And it is I who get the scolding when the turnips disappear at night."
"Never again!" shouted the children.
"I'm glad to hear that," said the old man.
"And we'll pay for the turnips."
"Thank you kindly," said the old man. He hadn't the heart to be angry.
Three or four of them ran into the hut and came out again with a wooden whistle, a regular pipe, such as shepherds use. They gave it to the old man, but he said. "Unfortunately I don't know one tune from another; and if I did, my old fingers are as stiff as oak twigs."
"Blow in it," cried the children, and all of them came crowding round, laughing and chattering and whispering to each other. "Is he going to blow in it?" they asked. "He is going to blow in it."
How they laughed!
The old man took the whistle, gathered his breath and blew in the whistle as hard as he could. Before he could take the whistle from his lips, three lively whips had slipped out of it and were beating him, although there was nobody to hold them. Phew! phew! phew! The three whips came down on him one after the other.
"Blow again!" the children shouted to him. "Blow again – quick, quick, quick! – and tell the whips to get into the whistle."
The old man did not wait to be told twice, for his back was sore. He blew for all he was worth, and at once the three whips stopped beating him. "Into the whistle!" he cried; and the three lively whips shot up into the whistle like three snakes going into a hole.
"You take that home," cried the children. "That'll pay for the turnips, and put everything right."
"Who knows?" said the old man. He thanked the children and set off home through the green forest.
"Goodbye," cried the little queer children. As soon as he had started for home they were up again on the roof of the hut, jumping over each other and dancing and crawling about, and rolling each other down the roof and climbing up again, as if they had been doing nothing else all day.
The old man hobbled home through the green forest with the whistle stuck safely away into his shirt. As soon as he came to the door of the hut, the woman, who was sitting inside counting the gold pieces, jumped up and started her scolding.
"What have the children given us this time?" she screamed at him.
"They gave me a whistle," said the old man, "and they are not going to steal the turnips any more."
"A whistle!" she screamed. "What's the good of that? It's worse than the tablecloth and the skinny old goat."
The old man said nothing.
"Give it to me!" screamed the woman. "They were my turnips, so it is my whistle."
"Well, whatever you do, don't blow in it," said the old man, and handed over the whistle.
She wouldn't listen to him. "I must not blow my own whistlepipe?"
With that she put the whistlepipe to her lips and blew.
Out jumped the three lively whips, flew up in the air, and began to beat her – phew! phew! phew! – one after another. If they made the old man sore, it was nothing to what they did to the hag.
"Stop them! Stop them!" she screamed, running this way and that in the hut, with the whips flying after her and beating her all the time. "I'll never scold again. I am to blame. I stole the magic tablecloth, and put an old one instead of it. I hid it in the iron chest." She ran to the iron chest and opened it, and pulled out the tablecloth. "Stop them! Stop them!" she screamed, while the whips laid it on hard and fast, one after the other. "I am to blame. The goat that sneezes gold pieces is hidden in the bushes. The goat by the door is one of the old ones. I wanted all the gold for myself."
All this time the old man was trying to get hold of the whistle. But the woman was running about the hut so fast with the whips flying after her and beating her, that he could not get it out of her hands. At last he grabbed it. "Into the whistle," said he, and put it to his lips and blew.
In a moment the three lively whips had hidden themselves in the whistle. The woman kissed his hand and promised never to scold any more.
"That's right," said the old man. "It's best to make sure." He fetched the sneezing goat out of the bushes and made it sneeze a little gold. Then he laid the tablecloth on the table and told it to turn inside out. Up it flew, and came down again with a dinner.
"Yes, better make sure," said the old man. He and the woman sat down and ate till they could eat no more. There was not a cross word between them, and they went to bed singing like nightingales.
In the morning the woman had forgotten about her promise. And just from habit, she set about scolding the old man as if the whips had never jumped out of the whistle. She scolded him for sleeping too long, sent him upstairs - with a lot of cross words after him -all the way to the top of the dovecote to see how those turnips were getting on.
After a little the old man came down.
"The turnips are growing well," he said, "and not a single one has gone in the night. I told you the children said they would not steal any more."
"I don't believe you," said the woman. "I'll see for myself. You'll pay for it if any are gone, and pay for it well."
Up she jumped and tried to climb the stairs. But the stairs were narrow and steep and twisting. She tried and tried, but could not get up at all. Then she got angrier than ever, and started scolding the old man again.
"You must carry me up," she said.
"I have to hold on with both hands, or I couldn't get up myself," said the old man.
"I'll get in the flour sack. Carry med then by using your teeth," she said. "They're strong enough." And the woman got into the flour sack.
"Don't ask me any questions," said the old man as he took the sack in his teeth and began slowly climbing up the stairs, holding on with both hands. He climbed and climbed, but he did not climb fast enough for the woman.
"Are we at the top?" said she.
The old man said nothing, but went on, climbing up and up, nearly dead with the weight of the woman in the sack that he was holding in his teeth.
He climbed a little further, and the woman screamed out, –
"Are we at the top now? We must be at the top. Let me out, fool!"
The old man said nothing; he climbed on and on.
The woman raged in the flour sack. She jumped about in the sack, and screamed at the old man:
"Are we near the top now? Answer me, can't you! Answer me at once, or you'll pay for it later. Are we near the top?"
"Very near," said the old man and forgot himself for a little second. By that the sack slipped from between his teeth, and bump, bump, bumpily bump, the woman in the sack fell all the way to the very bottom, bumping on every step. That fall was the end of her.
Afterwards the old man lived a long time in the hut, for he never lacked good food, and if he needed warm clothes, a new axe or something, he made the goat sneeze some gold pieces, went to town and bought just what he needed. When he wanted company, he went to the little hut under the pine trees.