storytelling Miss Annie

fairytales Janet and Tam Lin

endings LaLlorona

technique The Lute Player

beauty Pretty Maid Ibronka

truth The Condiment Basketball Game

meaning Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, or Morgiana the Clever

meaning Chien Nang

Pretty Maid Ibronka

As told by Mary Grace Ketner
San Antonio, Texas

 

This is my retelling of a story collected in Hungary by Linda Degh. It is the story, not of a vampire, but of another creature, an oopir, and you shall see what the ways of that fellow will be.

Many years ago in a village there lived a girl named Ibronka who was very pretty. In fact, everyone called her "Pretty Maid Ibronka," but pretty as she was, she had no lover. When the girls gathered to spin and to sew in the evenings, the other girls all had sweethearts who came and sat with them and talked with them as they spun, but no one came and sat beside Ibronka or talked with her, until at last one day she said "Oh, if only God would give me a sweetheart, even if one of the devils he were!"

That night, all the girls came to Ibronka's house to spin, and soon their sweethearts came and sat beside them, but then there came another knock at the door. In walked a young man wearing a sheepskin cape and a cap with crane feathers. He came to Ibronka's side and sat and began talking, only to her. So nervous and pleased she was, that she dropped her spindle, and he and she both leaned over to pick it up. In feeling about to find it, Ibronka's hand chanced upon the young man's foot, and she felt that it was not a foot at all but a cloven hoof. And then, that night, when they were saying goodnight, they embraced in the way of the young, and Ibronka noticed that her hand did not hold to his back, but crossed right through his body.

The next morning she went to see a wise old woman of the village. She told her that she had wished for a lover, even if he be one of the devils, and that when the girls were at her house spinning in the evening, after their sweethearts had arrived, another young man came. He was wearing a sheepskin cape and a cap with crane feathers, and he sat by her and talked only with her, but that she had dropped her spindle, and in reaching for it, her hand happened upon his foot, but it was not afoot at all, it was a cloven hoof. And later, when she embraced him, her hand had passed right through his body. "And now, kind mother," Ibronka asked: "Put me wise? What should I do?"

So the wise woman told her to go, not with the same circle, but to other spinning groups, and that she did, but wherever she went the young man appeared. So Ibronka returned to the wise old woman. "Old woman" she said. "I shall never get rid of him this way. Who is he? And whence does he come, for I am afraid to ask him."

"Well, then," said the old woman, "Learn a trick from the young girls who cannot yet spin but wind the thread on spools. Tonight, when you are saying goodnight to him, pretend some awkwardness, and as you fumble with your fingers, run a needle threaded to a spool of thread into the back of his sheepskin cape; then as he leaves, unwind the spool until it stops. Then follow the thread and wind it up, and in this way, you will find where he lives.

That night, the girls were meeting at Ibronka's house, and when the girls and the sweethearts had arrived and another knock came at the door, they all stopped in silence and expectation. In walked the young man and sat at Ibronka's side. And when the evening was over, and they all had left, the sweethearts walking home the girls, Ibronka and the young man drew close to each other, and as they talked about this and that as they embraced, Ibronka sewed her needle into the back of his sheepskin cape. At last they said good night, and he went his way, and Ibronka began to unwind the spool. Fast did the thread unwind, and Ibronka began to speculate how much more there could be, and just then, the thread stopped and no more came off the spool.

Then Ibronka began to rewind it, walking as she wound, wondering where the thread could be leading her? It led her straight to the church.

"Well," she thought, "he must have passed this way." But the thread led her further on, straight into the church and to the door that opened to the churchyard, the cemetery. And the moonlight shone in through the keyhole, and Ibronka bent down and peeped through the keyhole, and whom does she behold there? Her own sweetheart? And what was he doing? As she watched, he sawed the head of a man in two, separating the two parts, just the same way one might cut a melon in two, and then she saw him feasting on the brains from the halves. Seeing that, she broke the thread, and in great haste made her way back to the house.

But her sweetheart must have caught sight of her and briskly set out after her. No sooner had she reached home and bolted the door safely on the inside, than her sweetheart was calling to her through the window:

"Pretty Maid Ibronka, what did you see
When you put your pretty eye to the hole for the key?"

When she heard those words, she was terrified! So terrified that, well, she lied.

"Pretty Maid Ibronka, what did you see
When you put your pretty eye to the hole for the key?"
"Nothing did I see!"
"Tell me, or your sister will die!"
"If she dies, then we'll bury her, but nothing did I spy."

Then nothing.

Ibronka did not sleep that night, but, next morning, her sister did not wake.

Ibronka went to the old woman. "Old grandmother, I need your advice."

"About what?"

"I did what you advised me to do."

"What happened then?"

"Oh, just imagine where I was led in following the thread. Straight to the churchyard."

"Well, what was his business there?"

"Oh, just imagine! At the door, I did not enter but looked through the keyhole. He was sawing a dead man's head in two, just the same way we'd go about cutting a melon, and as I watched he went to feasting on the brains of the severed head. I broke the thread and made my way back home, but he must have caught sight of me because as soon as I had the door safely bolted on the inside he was calling me through the window:

"Pretty Maid Ibronka, what did you see
When you put your pretty eye to the hole for the key?"
"Nothing did I see!"
"Tell me, or your sister will die!"
"If she dies, then we'll bury her, but nothing did I spy."

"Now listen," said the old woman, "Take my advice and put your sister in the cellar."

Ibronka did that, and that evening, she did not dare to go out to spin, but stayed at home, and what should happen but that her sweetheart came again to the window?

"Pretty Maid Ibronka, what did you see
When you put your pretty eye to the hole for the key?"
"Nothing did I see!"
"Tell me, or your mother will die!"
"If she dies, then we'll bury her, but nothing did I spy."

That night, Ibronka did not sleep, but in the morning, her mother did not wake. Ibronka put her mother in the cellar.

That night, as she waited fearfully at home, her sweetheart came again:

"Pretty Maid Ibronka, what did you see
When you put your pretty eye to the hole for the key?"
"Nothing did I see!"
"Tell me, or your father will die!"
"If he dies, then we'll bury him, but nothing did I spy."

That night, Ibronka did not sleep, but in the morning, her father did not wake.

She took her father to the cellar, and then went as fast as she could to the wise old woman. "Oh, grandmother," she said. "Give me some comfort in my distress. What is to become of me?"

"There is nothing you can do. Can't you see where this is leading? You are going to die. Now, go and tell your friends to be there when you die. And when you die, because die you will for certain, they must not take the coffin out either through the door or the window."

"How then?"

"They must cut a hole in the wall and push the coffin through that hole. But they should not carry it along the road but cut across through the gardens and the bypaths. And they should not bury it in the cemetery but in the ditch beside the churchyard."

Well, Ibronka went home and sent word to her friends, and they appeared when she called and sat with her.

In the evening, her sweetheart came to the window:

"Pretty Maid Ibronka, what did you see
When you put your pretty eye to the hole for the key?"
"Nothing did I see!"
"Tell me, or you shall die!"
"If I die, then they'll bury me,
But nothing did I spy."

For a while, she and her friends kept up the conversation. They were only half inclined to believe that she would die, and at last nodded off and went to sleep. But when they awoke, they found Ibronka dead. They were not long in bringing in a coffin and cutting a hole in the wall and passing the coffin through it and carrying it off, not on the raods, but cutting across the gardens, and they buried her in the ditch beside the churchyard.

The next night, Ibronka's sweetheart went to the house, and he asked "Doors and windows, was it through you that they carried Ibronka?" and the doors and windows answered "No, it was not."

He went to the road and said "Was it over you that they carried her coffin?" and the road answered "No, it was not."

He went to the churchyard and asked "Tell me churchyard, was it in your ground that they buried Pretty Maid Ibronka?" and the churchyard answered "No, it was not."

So, as he did not get any wiser from doors and windows, the road, or the churchyard, he said to himself, "Well, I see I shall have to find out for myself. I shall get myself some iron sandals and a staff, and I shall search for her until I wear them out."

Now, it happened that over her grave in the ditch beside the churchyard, there grew a beautiful rose, and one day a boyar was riding by in his coach and saw it and went to pick it. When he arrived home, he placed it in a vase of water in front of a mirror on a sideboard of his dining room, so that he might look upon it even as he ate.

That night, he became full before he finished his supper, and he said to his servant "Leave the food on the table; I may come back and eat it later."

Next morning, his servant said "I see you came into the dining room last night and finished the food."

And the boyar said "No, I did not. I thought you ate it."

That happened several times, until the boyar decided to watch and see what was happening to the leftover food. He hid himself in the dining room that night, and, when all was still, he saw the rose arise from the vase and shake itself and become a beautiful maid--the most beautiful maiden he had ever seen. He watched her eat, then she stood from the table and, just as she was about to shake herself and become a rose again, he came out of hiding, and held her with his arms and said to her "You must marry me, for I have fallen in love with you."

The girl insisted that she could not, but he pressed her further, saying that she must do so until she agreed but set one condition. She said "You must never ask me to go to church with you." The boyar said "There will be none of that, though I may go by myself sometime."

And so they were married and lived quietly, the boyar and the girl, whom you must have guessed was Ibronka. After a few years, she had a child, a son, and after a few more years, she had another. Her husband took the boys to church with him, but Ibronka never went with them.

Now this might have been fine, but it happened that some of the people in the church--you know how people can be!--they said to the boyar "Why is it that you bring your sons to church with you, but your wife never comes with you." He would make some excuse or other for her, but the question began to wear on him, and, as there was always some new reason, tongues began to wag until one day he said to her "Won't you come to church with me and our sons?"

"You agreed that you would never ask me to do that," she said.

"Must we abide by that bargain forever?" he said. "Come with me."

"Very well," she said. "But no good can come of this." And she went to dress for church.

And she went with them, and it made the people rejoice to see them. "That is the right thing to do," they said.

At the end of the mass, as they were leaving, a man came up the aisle wearing a pair of iron sandals worn to holes, carrying an iron staff in his hand. He pounded it on the floor and it broke, and he said "I pledged myself, Ibronka, that I would put on a pair of iron sandals and take an iron staff, and go out looking for you, even if I should wear them to naught, and at last I have found you. Tonight, I shall come to you."

And on the way home, the boyar said to his wife "What did he mean?" and she said "Never mind, you shall see."

But Ibronka was no longer that young maid who felt unloved. She had a husband who called her "my dear," and two sons who called her "mother," and she did not wish to hear the question which she knew the oopir would put to her again.

That night, he came to her window and asked "Pretty Maid Ibronka, what did you see
when you put your pretty eye to the hole for the key?"

And Ibronka said: "I was the prettiest girl in the vallage, but I had no sweetheart. Once, I let it out that I wished God would give me one, even if one of the devils he were! There must have been something in the way I said it, for that evening when we gathered to do our spinning, myself and my friends and their sweethearts, there appeared a young lad in a sheepskin cape with a hat graced with the feather of a crane. He greeted us and took a seat at my side, and when I dropped my spindle, my hand chanced to touch his foot, but it was not a foot at all, but a cloven hoof! Then when I embraced him, my hand passed right through his body, BUT IT IS A DEAD AND NOT A LIVING SOUL TO WHOM I AM SPEAKING."

And all the while, he stood outside her window, shouting at the top of his voice, drowning her words: "PRETTY MAID IBRONKA, WHAT DID YOU SEE WHEN YOU PUT YOUR PRETTY EYE TO THE HOLE FOR THE KEY?"

"I sought advice from a wise woman in the village, and she told me to go to a different house to spin, but he followed still, then she told me to pass a needle with thread through his cape, and unwind the thread as he left and to follow it and rewind it to find out where he lived. I did that and followed him to the church and into the churchyard, the cemetery."

And he was outside overshouting her: "PRETTY MAID IBRONKA, WHAT DID YOU SEE WHEN YOU PUT YOUR PRETTY EYE TO THE HOLE FOR THE KEY?"

"But he must have seen me, for he followed me home and demanded I tell him what I saw,"

"WHEN YOU PUT YOUR PRETTY EYE TO THE HOLE FOR THE KEY?"

"And through my fear, I brought about the deaths of my sister and my mother and my father, BUT IT IS A DEAD AND NOT A LIVING SOUL TO WHOM I AM SPEAKING!"

"PRETTY MAID IBRONKA, WHAT DID YOU SEE ... "

"But now I tell you that I looked through the keyhole, and in the moonlight,"

"WHEN YOU PUT YOUR PRETTY EYE TO THE HOLE FOR THE KEY?"

"I saw him cut in half the head of a corpse, just as I might cut a melon in half..."

"...WHAT DID YOU SEE"

"And place each half to his lips. . ."

"... PUT YOUR PRETTY EYE TO THE HOLE FOR THE KEY?"

"And he drank the brains, BUT IT IS A DEAD SOUL AND NOT A LIVING ONE TO WHOM I AM SPEAKING!"

And when he heard this, the oopir uttered a cry which rent the night and shook the castle to its bottom, and collapsed beneath the window. And when Ibronka looked to where he had been standing, there was nothing but a patch of scorched earth. She turned away from the window, and there saw, standing behind her, her husband and sons, and behind them, her sister, her father her mother, the spell broken at last, and she knew...

She knew...that she would not hear it again:

PRETTY MAID IBRONKA, WHAT DID YOU SEE
WHEN YOU PUT YOUR PRETTY EYE TO THE HOLE FOR THE KEY?

Never...again.

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