This is a story that is still a favorite among Russian kids and grownups. It is from the collection titled Malachite Box by Pavel Petrovich Bazhov, who spent years gathering and documenting the folklore of the Ural mountain miners.
There lived in our village an old man by the name of Kokovanya. He didn’t have any family, so he decided to adopt an orphan. He asked the neighbors if they knew someone, and the neighbors said, “A short while ago at Glinka the family of Grigoriy Potopayev became orphaned. The overseer sent the older girls to the owner’s seamstery, but the little one is only six, and no one wanted her. Why don’t you take her?”
“It would be awkward for me to raise a little girl. I’d rather have a boy. I’d teach him my craft, would raise me a helper. What would I do with a girl? What would I teach her?” Then he thought about it and said, “I used to know Grigoriy and his wife. They were merry folks and clever too. If the girl takes after the parents, it won’t be dull in the house with her. I’ll take her. Will she go?”
The neighbors explained, “She has it rough. The overseer gave Grigoriy’s cabin to some poor fellow and ordered him to feed the orphan until she grows up. He has his own family of more than ten. They don’t always have enough to eat. So, the mistress takes it out on the orphan and reproaches her for every crumb. Th girl might be small, she does understand that she's not wanted. Why wouldn’t she go from such a life? You could probably talk her into it.”
“That’s true,” Kokovanya replied, “I’ll convince her somehow.”
On a holiday he went to the people the orphan lived with. He saw that the house was full of people – both big ones and small ones. There was a girl sitting on a bench near the furnace with a brown cat next to her. The girl was small, and the cat was small and so thin and shabby, that a rare person would let it into the house. The girl petted the cat, and the cat meowed so loudly that the whole house could hear. Kokovanya looked at the little girl and asked, “Is that Grigoriy’s offspring?”
The hostess replied, “That would be her. As if that wasn’t enough, she picked up that shabby cat somewhere. We can’t chase it away, it scratched up all my kids, and we have to feed it!”
Kokovanya said, “Your kids must be unkind. Look how it meows for the her.”
Then he asked the orphan, “Well, podaryonushka, will you come and stay with me?”
The girl sat up with a start and replied, “How did you know that my name was Daryonka, grandpa?”
“It just came out,” he answered, “Didn’t think, didn’t guess, just stumbled onto it.”
“Who are you anyway?” the little girl asked.
“I am sort of a hunter,” he said, “In summer I rinse the sands and look for gold. In winter I chase this goat around the woods, but can’t find him.”
“Will you shoot him?”
“No,” Kokovanya replied, “I shoot regular goats, but not this one. I want to seem where he stomps his right front hoof.”
“If you come and live with me, then I’ll tell you,” Kokovanya answered.
The girl became curious to find out about the goat. She also saw that the old man was kind and gentle. She said, “I’ll go. But you have to take this cat Muryonka too. Look, how nice she is.”
“Don’t mention it,” Kokovanya replied, “I’d be a fool not to take such a loud cat. She’ll be for a balalaika in the house.”
The hostess heard them talking. She was only too happy that Kokovanya invited the orphan to stay with him. She rushed to collect Daryonka’s belongings, afraid that the old man might change his mind. The cat understood the matter too. She rubbed at their feet and meowed, “You’re r-r-ri-ight. Rr-right.” So Kokovanya lead the orphan to his place. He was a tall bearded man, and she was small with a little button nose. They walked along the street, the little shabby cat padding after them.
So they started living together – Kokovanya the old man, Daryonka the orphan, and Muryonka the cat. They weren’t wealthy but they didn’t complain. Everyone had something to do. Kokovanya went to work in the morning. Daryonka cleaned up in the house and made soup and porridge. Muryonka the cat went hunting for mice. In the evening they all got together and had fun.
The old man was a master in telling stories, and Daryonka liked listening to them. Muryonka the cat lay nearby and meowed, “He’s r-r-ri-ight. Rr-right.” After every story Daryonka reminded, “Grandpa, tell me about the goat. What’s he like?”
Kokovanya brushed her off at first, but then told her, “That goat is special. He has a silver hoof on the right front leg. Wherever he stomps with that hoof, there is a precious stone. If he stomps once – there is one stone, twice – there is two, and wherever he starts beating with his foot – there is a pile of precious stones.”
He told her that and regretted it. From then on Daryonka would talk of nothing else but that goat. “Grandpa, is he big?” Kokovanya told her that the goat was no taller than the table, had slender legs, and a light graceful head. Daryonka asked again, “Grandpa, does he have horns?”
“He has excellent horns,” he replied, “Regular goats only have two branches, but this one has five.”
“Grandpa, who does he eat?”
“He doesn’t eat anyone,” he answered, “He feeds on grass and leaves. And some hay from the stacks in winter, of course.”
“Grandpa, what kind of fur does he have?”
“In summer,” he said, “it’s brown, like our Muryonka, and in winter it turns gray.”
“Grandpa, is he stinky?”
Kokovanya got angry, “How can he be stinky? Domestic goats are stinky, but a wild goat lives in the woods and smells like the woods.”
In the fall Kokovanya started getting ready to go to the woods. He wanted to see which way more goats were grazing. Daryonka started asking, “Take me with you, grandpa. Maybe I’ll see that little goat at least from afar.”
Kokovanya explained to her, “You can’t tell him from others from afar. All goats have horns in the fall. You can’t see how many branches there are. In winter is another story. Regular goats walk around without horns, but this one, Silver Hoof, always has them – both in summer and in winter. Then you can recognize him from the distance.”
He managed to convince her. Daryonka stayed home, and Kokovanya went to the woods. Five days later Kokovanya came home and told Daryonka, “There are many goats grazing off to the east. That’s where I’ll go in winter.”
“Where will you sleep in the woods in winter?” Daryonka asked.
He replied, “I have a winter cabin there near the hay ravines. It’s a good cabin with a fireplace and a window. It’s nice out there.”
Daryonka asked, “Is Silver Hoof grazing that way?”
“Who knows? Maybe he’s there too.”
Daryonka started begging, “Please take me with you, grandpa. I’ll stay at the cabin. Maybe Silver Hoof will come close and I’ll take a peek.”
The old man refused at first, “No way! No way! It’s no place for a little girl to walk around the woods in winter! I’ll be on skis, and you don’t know how. You’ll get stuck in the snow. What am I going to do with you? You’ll freeze!”
But Daryonka wouldn’t leave him alone, “Take me, grandpa! I know how to ski a little bit.”
Kokovanya tried talking her out of it, then thought to himself, “Should I take her? She’ll try it once, won’t ask the next time.” So he said, “Fine, I’ll take you. But promise not to whine in the woods and not to ask to go home early.”
As winter went into full swing, they started getting ready for the woods. Kokovanya put two sacks of dried bread on the sleigh, hunting supplies and whatever else he needed. Daryonka made a bundle for herself too with some rags to make a dress for her doll, a ball of thread, a needle and a rope. “Perhaps, I could catch Silver Hoof with this rope?” she thought. Daryonka was sorry to leave her cat, but what could she do? She petted the cat before leaving and said to her, “Grandpa and I are going to the woods, Muryonka, and you stay home and catch mice. As soon as we see Silver Hoof, we’ll come home. I’ll tell you everything.” The cat looked at her slyly and meowed, “You’re r-r-ri-ight. Rr-right.”
Kokovanya and Daryonka started on their way. The neighbors wondered, “The old man must be nuts! Taking such a little girl to the woods in winter!” As Kokovanya and Daryonka were leaving the plant, they suddenly heard all the local dogs making ruckus. They started such barking and squealing, as if there was a wild beast on the street. They turned around and saw Muryonka running down the middle of the street, beating away the dogs. Muryonka had filled out by then. She became big and healthy. The dogs couldn’t get near her.
Daryonka wanted to catch the cat and take her home, but no such luck! Muryonka ran to the woods and jumped on a pine tree. Go catch her! Daryonka called her, but couldn’t bring her down. What to do? They went on. Then they saw Muryonka running along to the side. So they got to the cabin and there were three of them again. Daryonka boasted, “It’s merrier this way.”
Kokovanya was in agreement, “Sure it’s merrier.”
Muryonka the cat curled up near the fireplace and meowed loudly, “You’re r-r-ri-ight. Rr-right.”
There were many goats around that winter. …The regular ones that is… Kokovanya brought one or two to the cabin every day. They stocked so many goat skins and smoked meat that it couldn’t all be loaded on a hand sleigh. He needed to go to the village and get a horse, but didn’t want to leave Daryonka and the cat alone in the woods! Daryonka, however, got used to the woods. She said to the old man herself, “Grandpa, why don’t you go to the village for a horse? All that meat needs to be taken home somehow.”
Kokovanya was surprised, “What a smart lady you are, Darya Grigoryevna. You figured it out like a grownup. Won’t you be scared by yourself?”
“What’s there to be scared of?” she replied, “Our cabin is strong, wolves can’t get in. And I’ll have Muryonka with me. I won’t be scared. Still, you come back soon.”
Kokovanya left. Daryonka and Muryonka remained by themselves. They were used to stay without Kokovanya during the day, while he tracked the goats… As it grew darker, the girl became afraid. Then she saw that Muryonka curled up nearby. So Daryonka felt better. She sat near the window looking out at the hay ravines and suddenly saw a small bundle rolling through the woods. As it got closer she saw that it was a goat running. He had slender legs,a light graceful head, and horns of five branches each.
Daryonka ran out to look, but there was nothing there. She came back and said, “I must have dosed off and dreamt it up.”
Muryonka meowed, “You’re r-r-ri-ight. Rr-right.”
Daryonka curled up next to the cat and fell asleep until morning. Another day passed. Kokovanya wasn’t back. Daryonka became sad, but didn’t cry. She petted Muryonka and said, “Don’t worry, Muryonushka! Grandpa will be back tomorrow for sure.”
Muryonka kept singing her song, “You’re r-r-ri-ight. Rr-right.”
Daryonushka sat at the window again, marveling at the stars. Just as she was ready to go to sleep, there was suddenly a light knocking on the wall. Daryonka got scared, and the knocking went to the other wall, then the one with the window, then the one with the door and then to the top. It wasn’t loud, as if someone light and quick was walking there. Daryonka thought, “Would that be the yesterday’s goat?” She wanted to look at him so badly, that even the fear couldn’t hold her back.
She opened the door and saw that the goat was right there, real close. He lifted his right front leg as if he was ready to stomp, and there was the silver hoof glittering on it, and each of his horns had five branches. Daryonka didn’t know what else to do and beckoned him as she would a domestic goat, “Me-ka! Me-ka!” The goat made a sound like laughter, then turned around and ran.
Daryonka went back into the cabin and told Muryonka, “I saw Silver Hoof. Saw his horns and his little hoof. I didn’t get to see how that goat stomps out precious stones with his hoof. Maybe he’ll show me next time.”
Muryonka just sang her usual song, “You’re r-r-ri-ight. Rr-right.”
Third day passed, and Kokovanya still wasn’t there. Daryonka grew really sad. Tears started falling. The girl wanted to talk to Muryonka, but discovered that the cat was gone. Daryonushka became really frightened. She ran out of the cabin to look for the cat.
The moon was out, the night was light, you could see far away. Daryonka saw the cat sitting at a nearby hay ravine and the goat standing in front of her. He stood with his front leg raised with the silver hoof glittering on it.
Muryonka was nodding and so was the goat, as if they were talking. Then they started running around the hay ravines. The goat would run some and then stop and beat with his silver hoof. Muryonka would get closer, then the goat would jump farther away and beat with his hoof again. They ran around for a while and got out of sight. Then they returned to the cabin.
The goat jumped on the roof and started beating with his silver hoof. The stones flew from under his little foot like sparks. There were red ones, blue ones, green ones, turquoise ones – all sorts of them.
Just then Kokovanya came back. He couldn’t recognize his cabin. It all looked like a pile of precious stones. It shone and sparkled with different colors. The goat stood at the top and kept beating with his silver hoof, and the stones kept falling and falling. Suddenly Muryonka jumped up there too. She stood next to the goat, meowed loudly, and both Muryonka and Silver Hoof vanished.
Kokovanya gathered up a hat-full of stones, but then Daryonka begged, “Don’t touch them, grandpa! We’ll look at them some more tomorrow in daylight.” Kokovanya agreed. But by morning there was a big snowfall that covered up all the stones. They picked at the snow later, but didn’t find anything. Well, they had plenty enough with what Kokovanya collected in his hat.
All was well, only they missed Muryonka. They never saw her again, and Silver Hoof didn’t show up anymore. One time must have been enough for him. As for the hay ravines where the goat ran around, people started finding stones there – the large green ones, called chrysolites. Have you seen them?