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The Good Stepmother 

Good Stepmother

Russian Folktale

E256 – FEB 1

Adapted by Kathleen (from a translation by Marguerita Rudolph)

If you had to decide whether someone was a good person or not, how would you do that?  Is there some sort of test you could give them that would prove their goodness?

Hello everyone. I’m Kathleen Pelley.  Welcome to Journey with Story.  Today’s episode is an old Russian tale about a young girl who has to do just that.  Since her own mother died when she was just a baby, she now wants her father to marry again, but wants to be sure that his wife will be a good stepmother to her. So, I wonder how she is going to choose this good stepmother?  Let’s take a listen and find out.

Oh before we begin, grown ups out there, you know one of the many things I love about stories is that they connect us to each other, to other places and to other people from the past and in the future, and recently we at JWS got connected to – another storytelling podcast called Storypillar.  I thought you and your little listeners might enjoy this podcast too – Here’s Meg from Storypillar to tell you more and you can find more in our episode notes too.

Now, let’s take a journey with… The Good Stepmother.

Long ago and far away there once lived a king who had a little daughter, whom he loved with all his heart.  Her name was Elena and her mother had died shortly after she was born. To her father’s great joy,  Elena was just like her mother – fair of face and wise beyond telling, with a heart of gold.  From far and near people admired and loved the little princess.

As Elena grew, she had all that any child could ever wish for.  She lived in a huge palace with more rooms than she could count, a different outfit for every day of the week, her very own pony, and a nursery crammed with books and dolls and every kind of puppet you could imagine.  She even had a retinue of kind and wise servants who looked after her ever need, and most of all, she had a father who cherished her more than all the jewels in his palace.

But despite all this, the little princess was sad.  She she watched her ladies-in-waiting playing with their own children, she pined for her mother.  How she wished she had a mother’s lap to sit in and share her secrets or troubles.  Most of all she wished for a mother’s hug.

It wasn’t long before the king noticed his sweet daughter was pining for something.  His heart was heavy with sadness to see her crestfallen face each day.

“Tell me, dear child,” he said, “what ails you so?”

But the princess did not want to upset her dear father and so she shook her head in reply, “Nothing, father, nothing at all.”

But as the weeks passed and the king saw no improvement, he questioned Elena again and again.

“Cherub, please tell me why are you so unhappy?”

Finally, Elena told him of her feelings.  “Father, you are the best father any child could want.  But…but…you see, I need a mother too as well as a father.  Could you…well do you think you might ever…find a new wife who could be a good mother to me?”

The king shook his head and sighed.  “Oh, Elena my dearest child.  It is said that there is only one sun in the sky, and only one mother for each of us.  Suppose I were to make a bad choice.  It would break my heart if I chose a bad stepmother for my dearest girl.”

“Then, please, Father, choose a good one!” Elena sobbed.

“But that is not easy,” said the king.  “How am I to judge who is a good person? How can I look into her heart and know her thoughts? And how can I be sure I am making the best choice?”

Elena thought about this for a while and then she cried out, “I know how to do this!  Let ME be the one who finds you a good wife who will also be a good stepmother to me.  I can choose for us both.”

The king gasped in astonishment.  How could he possibly let his young daughter make such a huge decision.  And yet….and yet…it was true that Elena had shown herself to be wise beyond her years and so the king listened as Elena continued.

“Have the servants search out all the young maidens in the kingdom.  Bring them here to our palace wearing wedding dresses they have sewn by hand for themselves.  They need  to have spun the thread, woven the cloth, stitched, sewed, and embroidered with no help from anyone else.  Then if you agree, Father, I will choose the one who will become your bride…and MY good stepmother.”

The king flung his arms around his daughter, saying, “I will do anything to make you happy, dear child.  All will be done as you ask.”

The next day, the king sent his servants to every corner of the kingdom, announcing his wishes.  Word spread quickly.  Young ladies dashed to and fro in a frenzy of excitement, each one of them eager to win the heart of the king and become the new queen of the land.

For the next few months spinning wheels hummed, scissors snipped, weaving looms clicked and clacked, as reams of cloth turned into magnificent gowns or every color of the rainbow.

Finally the day came when it was time for Elena to make her choice.  All the young girls were gathered in the grand ballroom dizzy with excitement.  How radiant they looked dressed in gowns embroidered with satin pink rosebuds, velvet peacocks, sprigs of lavender and countless other intricate adornments.  Their faces shone with hope and wonder as they stood inside the grand palace marveling at its splendour and beauty.

The king admired all of the lovely young maidens before him.  Every one of them was beguiling in her own way and he wondered which one his little daughter would choose.

The king’s chamberlain sorted the young ladies inot three rows.  The first row were those from noble families.  The second row were those from the landed gentry and traveling merchants.  The third row were those from peasant families who worked long and hard hours day after day.

The king welcome all of them to his palace, while wondering where Elena was and why she was taking so long to appear.

Meanwhile, Elena was in her room, putting the finishing touches to her outfit when, just before she left the room, she had an idea. She decided to add one more thing – not another tiara or sparkling bauble, but….a tiny bandage for her little finger.  It was so tiny in fact, that only someone who was paying very close attention would ever notice it.  Now, at last, she was ready.

Into the ballroom, Elena bustled all beams and smiles.  The maidens curtsied with one gigantic rustling of petticoats.  Elena thanked them for attending and without further delay, she embarked on her search.

She stood before each young lady in turn, staring deeply into her eyes.  Then she ran her hands all over the gown tracing every single detail of the embroidery.  Finally, she asked each of them one or two questions.  “Did you design this embroidery yourself?  Tell me, how did you decide to choose this color of fabric?”

As each young girl answered her question, Elena would smile and nod, sometimes stopping to feel the fabric again, or lingering over a velvet ribbon or satin thread.  Then on she would move to the next maiden.  “You wove this cloth yourself?  You stitched this all on your own?”  Over and over she asked the same questions.  After she had finished talking with those in the first two rows, she  came near the end of the third row and there stood Meshenka, a young peasant girl.  Her gown was one of the simplest dresses, but she herself was more beautiful than all the maidens in the room.

But that was because her inner kindness flowed out into her radiant face.

Elena looked into Mashenka’s eyes.  She fingered the delicate embroidered edging on her sleeves.  “ You sewed the dress yourself?  You embroidered it yourself?”she asked.

But instead of answering as all the other young ladies had, Mashenka knelt down and took the princess’s hand into hers, “Oh, my dear child,” she cried, “you have hurt yourself. Does it hurt, my dear?”  And with that Mashenka pressed the bandaged finger to her lips.

Elena’s eyes filled with tears – tears of happiness.  Not one other maiden had noticed her bandaged finger.  Elena gazed up into Mashenka’s face and asked, “Would you like to be a mother to me?”

“Yes, yes,” cried Mashenka, “there is nothing I want more!”

Elena led Mashenka by the hand to her father, the king.  “Father,” she said, “ I have found her- a loving wife and the kindest of all mothers for me.”

And since Elena was as wise as she was kind, her words proved true – for many a year and a day, the three of them lived in great peace and joy and happiness as did all of those they ruled over.

Well, do you think Elena’s test was a good one? Could you think of a different test that would also prove someone’s goodness? What do you think the story’s souvenir is?

Don’t forget, you can send us your drawings inspired by our episodes at www.journeywithstory.com  Go to the contact page and download your drawing there so we can share with others.

Cheerio then, join me next time for journey with story.

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