Once upon a time . . . a woodcutter called Ivan lived ln a huge forest in the north of Russia. A sturdy young man, with his bare hands he built himself a stout log cabin and when it was finished, he thought he would look for a wife. His dream was of a beautiful maiden, tall, slender and fair, with blue eyes and a creamy skin. On Sundays he roamed to distant villages looking for the girl of his dreams. But the only girls he ever saw were dull and not pretty enough. As it so happened, the path he took to work passed close to a pretty little house with green shutters. Often, the corner of a curtain would be raised and a sweet-faced girl would watch the woodcutter as he went by. For he had unwittingly lit the flames of love in a maiden's heart. This young girl c alled Natasha; she was very shy, but her love for the woodcutter was so great that, one day, she plucked up enough courage to stop him on the path. "I picked this basket of strawberries myself," she said. "Please eat them and think of me!" "Well, she's not exactly ugly," said Ivan to himself as he stared woodenly at Natasha, who was blushing to the roots of her hair. "I don't like strawberries," he replied bluntly. "But thanks all the same!" Tears sprang to Natasha's eyes as she watched him stride away. A few days later, the girl again stopped Ivan and held out a woolen jacket saying: "The air will be chilly tonight when you go home. This will keep you warm. I made it myself." But Ivan coldly replied: "What makes you think that a man like me is afraid of the cold?" And this time, at Ivan's refusal, two tears rolled down Natasha's rosy cheeks and she fled sobbing into the house. However, Natasha again watched for the woodcutter. This time, she held out a bottle and said: "You can t refuse a liqueur that I distilled from all the fruits of the forest! It will ..." But Ivan broke in saying: "I don't like liqueurs," and I marched straight on. However, he realized he had been very rude, so he turned round, but Natasha had gone. As he walked, he said to himself: " She has gentle eyes . . . and she must be very kind-hearted! Perhaps I should take at least one of her gifts, but . . ." The picture of his dream girl slipped into his mind. "I'm so unhappy!" he sighed. At that very moment, on a golden cloud appeared a beautiful lady. "Will you sing a song for me? I'm Rosalka, one of the woodland fairies!" Ivan stood thunderstruck. "I'd sing for you for the rest of my life!" he exclaimed "If only I could . . ." and he stretched out his hand to touch the fairy, but she floated out of reach amongst the branches. "Sing then! Sing! Only the sound of your voice will ever send me to sleep!" So Ivan happily sang all the old lullabies and love songs, while the drowsy fairy urged him on: "Sing! Sing!" Cold and weary, his voice getting hoarser the woodcutter sang till evening, as he tried to help the fairy to fall asleep. But when night fell, Rosalka was still demanding: "If you love me, sing on! Sing!" As the woodcutter sang on, in a feeble voice, he kept thinking: "I wish I had a jacket to keep me warm!" Suddenly he remembered Natasha. "What a fool I am!" he told himself. "I should have chosen her as my bride, not this woman who asks and gives nothing in return!" Ivan felt that only the gentle-faced Natasha could fill his empty heart. He fled into the darkness, but he heard a cruel voice call: ". . . you'll never see her again! All her tears for her great love have turned her into a stream! You'll never see her again!" It was dawn when Ivan knocked at Natasha's door. No one answered. And the woodcutter saw, with fear, that close by flowed a tiny sparkling stream he had never noticed before. Weeping sorrowfully, he plunged his face into the water. "Oh, Natasha, how could I have been so blind! And I love you now!" Lifting his gaze to the sky, he silently said a prayer:"Let me stay beside her forever! " || Ivan was magically turned into a young poplar tree and the stream bathed its roots. Natasha had, at last, her beloved Ivan by her side for ever.
Nasik Qurota THE POPLAR AND THE STREAM