In the olden years, long long ago, with the spring-tide fair and the summer’s heat there came on the world distress and shame. For gnats and flies began to swarm, biting folks and letting their warm blood flow.
Then the Spider appeared, the hero bold, who, with waving arms, weaved webs around the highways and byways in which the gnats and flies were most to be found.
A ghastly Gadfly, coming that way, stumbled straight into the Spider’s snare. The Spider, tightly squeezing her throat, prepared to put her out of the world. From the Spider the Gadfly mercy sought.
“Good father Spider! please not to kill me. I’ve ever so many little ones. Without me they’ll be orphans left, and from door to door have to beg their bread and squabble with dogs.”
Well, the Spider released her. Away she flew, and everywhere humming and buzzing about, told the flies and gnats of what had occurred.
“Ho, ye gnats and flies! Meet here beneath this ash-tree’s roots. A spider has come, and, with waving of arms and weaving of nets, has set his snares in all the ways to which the flies and gnats resort. He’ll catch them, every single one!”
They flew to the spot; beneath the ash-tree’s roots they hid, and lay there as though they were dead. The Spider came, and there he found a cricket, a beetle, and a bug.
“O Cricket!” he cried, “upon this mound sit and take snuff! Beetle, do thou beat a drum. And do thou crawl, O Bug, the bun-like, beneath the ash, and spread abroad this news of me, the Spider, the wrestler, the hero bold—that the Spider, the wrestler, the hero bold, no longer in the world exists; that they have sent him to Kazan; that in Kazan, upon a block, they’ve chopped his head off, and the block destroyed.”
On the mound sat the Cricket and took snuff. The Beetle smote upon the drum. The Bug crawled in among the ash-tree’s roots, and cried:—
“Why have ye fallen? Wherefore as in death do ye lie here? Truly no longer lives the Spider, the wrestler, the hero bold. They’ve sent him to Kazan and in Kazan they’ve chopped his head off on a block, and afterwards destroyed the block.”
The gnats and flies grew blithe and merry. Thrice they crossed themselves, then out they flew—and straight into the Spider’s snares. Said he:—
“But seldom do ye come! I would that ye would far more often come to visit me! to quaff my wine and beer, and pay me tribute!”
This story is specially interesting in the original, inasmuch as it is rhymed throughout, although printed as prose. A kind of lilt is perceptible in many of the Skazkas, and traces of rhyme are often to be detected in them, but “The Mizgir’s” mould is different from theirs. Many stories also exist in an artificially versified form, but their movement differs entirely from that of the naturally cadenced periods of the ordinary Skazka, or of such rhymed prose as that of “The Mizgir.”
The following legend is not altogether new in “motive,” but a certain freshness is lent to it by its simple style, its unstrained humor, and its genial tone.
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