Welcome to part 8 of Murder Story Monday. This week I am looking at a version of The Singing Bone from Russia. It is a long and complex tale that begins like Cinderella, diverts briefly into a bit of Beauty and the Beast, then comes back to the murder that we are expecting in this story, then ends on a Cinderella note. It has a happier ending than I would have liked (while in real life, I prefer forgiveness over revenge, in a story I am considerably more blood-thirsty and want to see the guilty punished) and is one of the few tales or ballads of this sort that I have found where the dead person is resurrected. It also is different from other tales of this genre in that a reed growing in the ground where the murdered girl’s body was found is turned into a pipe by a shepherd and not the bone that we have come to expect in these sorts of tales. However, it does still sing of her murder. It is also the longest tale that I have explored so far. Many tales (like last week’s Murder Will Out from Iceland) are barely a sketch compared to the weighty tome of this week’s story.
This Russian tale was collected by Edith M. S. Hodgetts and published in 1891 in Tales and Legends from the Land of the Tzar: Collection of Russian Stories.
According to my source material: Hodgetts, who was born and raised in Russia, does not give a specific source for this tale. In her introduction she states, with reference to her sources, "Some of these tales were dictated in the original Russian at school, others were related to me by my nurse and other servants of my father's household, while some are translations which I have made from various collections of Russian stories current among the people.
This version came from here.
The Silver Plate and the Transparent Apple
There lived once a peasant with his wife and three daughters. Two of these girls were not particularly beautiful, while the third was sweetly pretty. However, as she happened to be a very good girl, as well as simple in her tastes, she was nicknamed Simpleton, and all who knew her called her by that name, though she was in reality far from being one.
Her sisters thought of nothing but dress and jewellery. The consequence was that they did not agree with their younger sister. They teased her, mimicked her, and made her do all the hard work. Yet Simpleton never said a word of complaint, but was ready to do anything. She fed the cows and the poultry. If anyone asked her to bring anything, she brought it in a moment. In fact, she was a most obliging young person.
One day the peasant had to go to a big fair to sell hay, so he asked his two eldest daughters what he should bring them.
"Bring me some red fustian to make myself a sarafan [coat without sleeves]," said the eldest.
"Buy me some yards of nankeen to make myself a dress," said the second.
Simpleton meanwhile sat in a corner looking at her sisters with great eagerness. Though she was a simpleton, her father found it hard to go away without asking her what she would like him to bring her, so he asked her too.
"Bring me, dear father," said she, "a silver plate and a transparent apple to roll about on it."
The father was rather astonished, but he said nothing and left.
"Whatever made you ask for such rubbish?" asked her sisters laughing.
"You will see for yourselves when my father brings them," said Simpleton, as she left the room.
The peasant, after having sold his hay, bought his daughters the things they had asked for, and drove home. The two elder girls were delighted with their presents and laughed at Simpleton, waiting to see what she intended doing with the silver plate and transparent apple.
Simpleton did not eat the apple, as they at first thought she would, but sat in a corner pronouncing these words, "Roll away, apple, roll away, on this silver plate. Show me different towns, fields, and woods, the seas, the heights of the hills, and the heavens in all their glory."
Away rolled the apple, and on the plate became visible, towns, one after another. Ships were seen sailing on the seas. Green fields were seen. The heights of the hills were shown. The beauty of the heavens and the setting of the sun were all displayed most wonderfully.
The sisters looked on in amazement. They longed to have it for themselves and wondered how they could best get it from Simpleton, for she took such great care of it, and would take nothing in exchange.
At last one day, the wicked sisters said coaxingly to Simpleton, "Come with us, dear, into the forest and help us pick strawberries."
Simpleton gave the plate and the apple to her father to take care of and joined her sisters. When they arrived at the forest they set to work picking wild strawberries. After some time, the two elder sisters suddenly came upon a spade lying on the grass. They seized it, and while Simpleton was not looking they gave her a heavy blow with the spade. She turned ghastly pale, and fell dead on the ground.
They took her up quickly, buried her under a birch tree, and went home late to their parents, saying, "Simpleton has run away from us. We looked for her everywhere but cannot find her. She must have been eaten up by some wild beasts while we were not looking."
The father, who really had a little love for the girl, became very sad, and actually cried. He took the plate and apple and locked them both up carefully in a glass case. The sisters also cried very much and pretended to be very sorry, though the real reason was that they found out that they were not likely to have the transparent apple and plate after all, but would have to do all the hard work themselves.
One day a shepherd, who was minding a flock of sheep, happened to lose one, and went into the forest to look for it, when suddenly he came upon a hillock under a birch tree, round which grew a number of red and blue flowers, and among them a reed.
The young shepherd cut off the reed and made himself a pipe. But what was his astonishment when the moment he put the pipe to his mouth, it began to play by itself, saying, "Play, play, little pipe. Comfort my dear parents, and my sisters, who so cruelly misused me, killed me, and buried me for the sake of my silver plate and transparent apple."
The shepherd ran into the village greatly alarmed, and a crowd of people soon collected round him asking him what had happened. The shepherd again put the pipe to his mouth, and again the pipe began to play of itself.
"Who killed whom, and where, and how?" asked all the people together, crowding round.
"Good people," answered the shepherd, "I know no more than you do. All I know is that I lost one of my sheep and went in search of it, when I suddenly came upon a hillock under a birch tree with flowers round it, and among them was a reed, which I cut off and made into a pipe, and the moment I put the thing into my mouth it began to play of itself, and pronounce the words which you have just heard."
It so happened that Simpleton's father and sisters were among the crowd and heard what the shepherd said.
"Let me try your pipe," said the father, taking it and putting it into his mouth.
And immediately it began to repeat the words, "Play, play, little pipe. Comfort my dear parents, and my sisters, who misused, killed, and buried me for the sake of the silver plate and transparent apple."
The peasant made the shepherd take him to the hillock at once. When they got to it they began to dig open the hillock, where they found the dead body of the unfortunate girl. The father fell on his knees before it and tried to bring her back to life, but all in vain.
The people again began asking who it was that killed and buried her, whereupon the pipe replied,
"My sisters took me into the forest and slew me for the silver plate and transparent apple. If you want to wake me from this sound slumber, you must bring me the water of life from the royal fountain."
The two miserable sisters turned pale and wanted to run away, whereupon the people seized them, tied them together, and marched them off to a dark cell, where they locked them up until the king should pronounce judgement on them.
The peasant went to the palace and was brought before the king's son, and falling upon his knees before the prince, he related the whole story. Whereupon the king's son told him to take as much of the water of life from the royal fountain as he pleased. "When your daughter is well, bring her to me," continued the prince, "and also her evil-minded sisters."
The peasant was delighted. He thanked the young prince and ran to the forest with the water of life. After he had sprinkled the body several times with the water, his daughter woke up and stood before him, prettier than ever. They embraced each other tenderly, while the people rejoiced and congratulated the happy man.
Next morning the peasant went with his three daughters to the palace and was brought before the king's son.
The young prince, when he beheld Simpleton, was greatly struck with her beauty, and asked her at once to show him the silver plate and transparent apple.
"What would your highness like to see?" asked the girl, bringing forward her treasures. "Would you like to know whether your kingdom is in good order, or if your ships are sailing, or whether there is any curious comet in the heavens?"
"Anything you like, sweet maiden."
Away rolled the apple round about the plate, on which became visible soldiers of different arms, with muskets and flags, drawn up in battle array. The apple rolled on, and waves rose, and ships were seen sailing about like swans, while flags waved in the air. On rolled the apple, and on the plate the glory of the heavens was displayed. The sun, moon, and stars, and various comets were seen.
The king's son was greatly astonished and offered to buy the plate and apple, but Simpleton fell on her knees before him, exclaiming, "Take my silver plate and my apple. I want no money and no gifts for them, if you will only promise to forgive my sisters."
The young prince was so moved by her pretty face and her tears that he at once forgave the two wicked girls. Simpleton was so overjoyed that she threw her arms round their necks and tenderly embraced them.
The king's son took Simpleton by the hand and said, "Sweet maiden, I am so struck by the great kindness you have shown your sisters after their cruel treatment of you, that I have decided (provided you agree to it) to have you for my wife, and you shall be known henceforth as the Benevolent Queen."
"Your highness does me great honour," said Simpleton, blushing. "But it lies in my parents' hand. If they do not object, I will marry you."
It is, needless to say, that neither parent objected, but gave their consent and blessing.
"I have one more request to ask your highness," said Simpleton, "and that is to let my parents and
sisters live with us in the palace."
The young prince made no objection whatever to this proposal (though most probably he felt sorry for it afterwards; however, the story does not say anything about that). The sisters threw themselves at Simpleton's feet, exclaiming that they did not deserve such kindness after all that they had said and done to her.
Next day the marriage was celebrated, and crowds of people ran about everywhere crying out, "Long
live our king and queen!"
From that day Simpleton was no more, but the BENEVOLENT QUEEN reigned in her stead.
Stay tuned next week for a tale from Pakistan.