The Baba Yaga has agreed to give Vasalisa the burning coal she requests. Now she states her terms. Vasalisa must serve her for three days, washing her clothes preparing her meals, performing whatever other chores are assigned. If Vasalisa does all to the Baba Yaga’s complete satisfaction, she will receive what she asks for. If not, she will DIE!
And so Vasalisa enters the strange house, and sets to work at once. On that and on the next evening, before she sets out on her haunts, the Baba Yaga assigns one further task so utterly impossible that Vasalisa is in despair. But as soon as the witch has gone, her doll says, “Rest now. I’ll help you with that task.” And in the morning when Vasalisa awakens, the impossible task is already done: sorting poppy seeds from dirt or sorting mildewed corn from good corn. On each day, Vasalisa devotes the hours before the Baba Yaga’s return to preparing her supper, cleaning her house, washing her clothes.
When the Baba Yaga returns, Vasalisa watches in wonder as a surprising thing happens. The crone summons hands from the air, hands that crush the poppy seeds into juice, hands that shuck the corn into neat piles, hands that then disappear.
The Baba Yaga appears both pleased and displeased by Vasalisa’s accomplishments. She softens enough to say, “Is there anything more you wish to ask me?” before adding crossly, “but take care what you ask, for too much knowledge makes one old before one’s time.”
Vasalisa asks about the three horsemen who passed her in the woods.
“Ah,” says the Baba Yaga, “you met my night, my dawn, my sunrise.
“What else do you ask?”
Vasalisa thinks of the mysterious hands that appear in the air to squeeze poppy seeds, to shuck corn. But the doll in her pocket whispers, “No”.
“There is nothing more,” Vasalisa answers, “for as you say yourself old mother, too much knowledge make one old before one’s time.”
At this the Baba Yaga almost smiles. “You are wise for your years. From whence comes this wisdom?”
“From the blessing my kind mother gave me before she died.” Vasalisa answers.
Hearing these words, the Baba Yaga flies into a rage. She roars, “Speak not to me of blessings or kind mothers. Get out! Get out! Get out!”
At the sound of her voice, her door flies open. The Baba Yaga shoves Vasalisa out into the night. Before the child can recover herself, the Baba Yaga is behind her. In her gnarled hands she holds a skull with a burning coal inside it. Seizing a bone from her fence, the Baba Yaga pushes the skull onto the bone and thrusts it into Vasalisa’s hands, shouting, “Here! Take your flame and go!”
The girl opens her mouth to say thank you, but her doll whispers, “No. Do as she says. Just go!”
And so she goes, returning home through the dark wood, guided by the doll in her pocket. The grinning skull frightens her so that she wants to throw it away. The doll in her pocket, sensing this, whispers, “No. Trust it. It will help you.”
As Vasalisa at last emerges from the woods, her father’s house stands in utter darkness. Her stepmother and sisters come running out to meet her.
“We could not light the fire while you were gone,” the stepmother says.
Vasalisa notices that the skull is looking intently at her stepmother and stepsisters, with a gaze full of knowing. Unaware of danger, the stepmother seizes the burning skull from her hands and runs indoors to light the fire.
When she wakens in the morning, Vasalisa comes downstairs to begin her day’s chores. At first, she can find no sign of her cruel stepmother and sisters. On the floor beside the stove she finds three burnt cinders.
A kind village woman takes Vasalisa into her home to await her father’s return from a distant land. While she stays with this woman, Vasalisa spins flax into thread. Her doll creates a loom so that she might weave the fine threads into linen.
Seeing the quality of the linen that Vasalisa is making, the old woman tells her that only the Tsar is worthy to wear clothes made from it. And so the old woman arranges for Vasalisa to make a dozen shirts for him.
So impressed is the Tsar with the quality of the shirts that he asks to see the seamstress.
At his first sight of Vasalisa, the Tsar falls in love with her and asks her to marry him.
The wedding is celebrated, and when Vasalisa’s father returns, he’s invited to live with his daughter and the Tsar. The old woman comes to live with them, too. And Vasalisa keeps her doll in her pocket until the end of her days..
What is the meaning of the doll that is her dying mother’s gift to Vasalisa?