Hovhannes Tumanian: The Handless Girl
Translation of story by Hovhannes Tumanian
ONCE UPON A TIME, long, long ago there lived a brother and a sister. The sister was passing fair as lovely to behold as a ray of light, and her name was Lusig, which in Armenian indeed means a lovely ray of light.
The brother married and brought his wife home. The wife saw that everyone loved Lusig and her heart was gripped by jealousy. She began to gossip about Lusig, and made her cry almost every day.
The brother tried to keep his sister happy when he came home, and would bring her flowers, or a new dress, or some other gift.
And Lusing lived on happily, and kept her beauty, and everybody loved her.
The sister-in-law was so jealous she was beside herself with anger. She wondered what she could do to get rid of Lusig.
One day when her husband left for work, she turned all the furniture upside down, broke all the crockery and kitchen utensils, and then stood in the doorway with folded arms and waited for her husband’s return.
When she saw him coming, she began to lament, “Alas! Alack! Everything we had this lovely sister of yours has destroyed!”
“‘Tis of no matter, dear wife, why do you weep so? All these things we can buy. If it is a dish that is broken we can replace it. But if we break Lusig’s heart, we shall find it hard to make a new one.
The wife saw that her evil scheme had failed. Another day when her husband went out, she took his favourite horse and drove it far away into the fields, and then stood in the doorway with folded arms and waited for her husband’s return.
“Alas! This loving sister of yours took your favourite horse and lost him in the fields. She is simply trying to destroy our home.” “ ‘Tis nothing,” said the husband. “It is only a horse. If it is lost, I can work and buy another, but you know I cannot get another sister.”
When the wicked wife saw that this plan had also failed, she got even angrier.
One night she slew her baby in its cradle, and put the blood-stained knife among Lusig’s clothes. Then she tore her hair, and wailed, “Alas! My little child, my sweet innocent child. . . .“ The brother and sister awoke and saw that the baby had been slain in its cradle. They were horrified and heart-broken. But who could have done such a terrible thing?
“Who could it be?” The wife demanded. “No one has been in the house. Let us search and see in whose clothes we find the bloody knife. If we find it, then we have found the culprit.”
They agreed, and looking all around, finally found the knife in Lusig’s clothes. It was unbelievable, but there it was.
“And this is your beloved sister!” cried the wicked wife and clawed her face, and tore her hair, and wailed, “My child, my sweet only child..
In the morning the news spread throughout the land. The people were outraged, and demanded that Lusig be punished. The mother wept and demanded justice, and the fair Lusig was sent to prison. At the trial the judge ordered that her hands be cut off.
Later they took her to a distant wood and left her there alone.
Lusing walked along in the wilderness. In her restless wandering the plants and bushes tore her clothes to shreds, until she was almost naked. The bees stung her, rnosquitos bit her, and she had no hands to drive them away. In the end she hid herself in a hollow tree.
It happened that at that time the King’s son was hunting in the woods. The dogs ran this way and that and finally surrounded the tree in which Lusig was hiding and began to howl.
The King’s son and his men thought the dogs must have discovered a wild beast, and began to urge them to drive the animal out.
“Don’t set the dogs on me, my lord,” cried the maiden from the hollow tree, “I am a human being, not an animal.”
“If you are human, come forth,” said the prince.
“I can’t for 1 am naked and am ashamed.”
The prince jumped down from his horse took off his cloak and gave it to his men to carry to the tree. A lovely maiden walked out. She was so remarkably beautiful, that a man could have no mind to eat or drink when he could feast his eyes on such a beautiful creature. The prince was enchanted. “Who are you, fairest maid? And why did you hide ~n this hollow tree?”
“I’m just a girl who is all alone. At home I had a brother, but he and his wife have cast me out.”
“I shall not abandon you in your plight,” said the prince. He brought Lusig home, and told his parents that he loved her, and that they should prepare a splendid wedding.
“If you refuse to let me marry her,” he said, “I may well do something rash.”
“My son,” pleaded the Queen, ,“there are many beautiful maidens, daughters of kings, ministers, and envoys. They re all rich and beautiful. Why should you wed this girl who hasn’t even got hands, and no home or even clothes!”
“Oh, no, mother, this is the only girl I will love.”
The King and Queen summoned the wise men of the land and asked their advice. Should they let their son marry this handless girl or not?
The wise men said that the love that existed between a man and a wife was born in their hearts. “It seems to us that the love of your son is for that girl, for his heart is burning for her. God has seen that there is good in their union.”
When the King and Queen heard this advice, they both agreed to their son s marriage to Lusig. The wedding feast lasted seven days and seven nights, and the prince had the beautiful Lusig for his wife.
Some time later the prince went away to distant lands. During his absence Lusig bore a beautiful boy with golden hair.
The King and Queen were as overjoyed as though the whole world had been given to them. They wrote a happy letter and gave it to a messenger to take to their son. Now, while on his way this messenger stopped off at Lusig’ s brother’s home, and happened to spend the night as a guest there. While he was chatting with the man and his wife, the messenger told them of the events at court and how he was carrying glad tidings to the prince.
The wicked sister-in-law at once understood what had happened. At midnight she arose, took the letter from the messenger s pocket, threw it into the fire, and wrote a new one which she slipped into the messenger’s pocket. This letter said: “After you left home, your wife gave birth to a monster. We are dishonoured before the people and the whole world. Please write and tell us what we should do.”
The messenger took this letter and delivered it to the prince. When the prince read it he was overcome with grief. He wrote to his parents: “Probably such is my fate. Whatever God has given to me is mine. Don’t say any bitter words to my wife. Wait for my return.
He gave the letter to the messenger and sent him back. On the way the messenger again passed the night in the same house.
The wicked sister-in-law again arose at mid-night, read the letter and destroyed it. In its place she put a new one she had written, which said: “Whatever my wife has borne, tie it to her breast and drive her out, so that when I come back, I won’t have to see her. If you do anything contrary to my will, it may lead to disaster.”
When the King and Queen got the letter, they felt very sorry for their daughter-in-law and grandchild. But they felt they must do as their son had instructed.
So they tied the baby to its mother’s breast, blessed them weeping, and drove them out of the palace.
The grief-stricken mother wept as she wandered on with her baby. She passed many fords, dark woods, and wildernesses and then came to an arid desert.
In the desert she walked on and on hungry and thirsty, until finally she reached a well. She looked into the water, and it seemed very close, but as she leaned forward to drink, the baby fell into the well. She rushed this way and that around the well crying bitterly when suddenly she heard a voice behind her saying: “Don’t be afraid, my dear girl, don’t be afraid, my dear. Reach down and rescue it.”
Turning, she saw an old man whose white beard reached down to his belt. “How can I rescue my baby, dear father!” she cried. “I have no hands.”
“Take him out, take him out. You have hands, reach down.
Lusig reached down and—b and behold—she had hands, and lifted the baby out of the well. When she turned round to thank the old man, she found that he had disappeared.
In the meantime, the prince had returned home and learned all that had happened in his absence. He refused to enter his father’s palace, and instead went searching everywhere for his wife and child, questioning people at every step.
One day he met a man.
“Good day,” he said.
“God’s blessing on you,” answered the stranger.
“Where are you going?”
“I am looking for my sister.”
“And I am looking for my wife and child. Let us go together in our search.”
The two set off together. They wandered one year, two years, three years, and still did not find their lost ones, or learn any news of them. Finally the prince put up at an inn, and his companion went to fetch his wife. He brought her and their belongings to the inn, and they lived there together, hoping to get some news from the inn-keeper, or his guests.
One day a poor woman came there with her little boy. The prince said to his companion, “Let us talk to this poor woman and her boy. These people know good tales, and tell them well. We men of sorrow will listen to them and the night will pass quickly.
The companion s wife rejected the idea, saying that they had just established themselves there with their belongings, and how could they find a place for this stranger and her child.
However, at the prince s insistence they took in the beggar woman and her son. The mother sat sadly against the wall with her son at her side.
The King’s son said, “We cannot sleep, sister. Perhaps you know some legends or tales. Tell us what you know, and we will listen to you and the night will pass quickly.”
The poor woman said,
“I know a true story which happened in our lifetime, and is very interesting. I will tell it to you if you wish.”
“Good, tell us your story.”
The poor woman began her tale.
“In our time there lived a brother and sister. The brother married and brought home a very wicked wife.
The wife of the prince’s companion was extremely displeased and exclaimed angrily, “What a story.”
“What’s the matter with you? Why do you spoil her story? Come, let her speak,” the man chided his wife, and turning to the poor woman added, “We’ll listen to you, sister. Go ahead and tell your story.
The poor woman continued.
“The sister was a kind-hearted girl, and everybody loved her. Every time her brother came home, he brought her something—flowers, fruit or a dress, and he always had a kind word for her. The sister-in-law became jealous and took to inventing schemes to get rid of the beautiful girl.”
“What a stupid story. the wife interrupted again.
“What’s the matter with you? Let us hear her out, and see what she has to say. Continue, dear sister, don’t pay any attention to her.
The poor woman continued.
“The wicked sister-in-law thought up many evil schemes: one day she destroyed all the furniture and crockery In the house and blamed it onto the girl. Another day she let her husband’s horse run away, and again put the blame on his sister. When she saw that this scheme had also failed, she murdered her own baby in its cradle, and put the knife among the girl’s clothes....
“Be silent, you shameless hussy! Who ever heard of a mother murdering her baby?” the wife interrupted angrily.
“Why do you keep interrupting?” the man shouted at his wife. “Let her tell her story. Don’t you see what an interesting tale she’s telling us?”
The poor woman continued:
“They took the case to court. They cut off the hands of the innocent girl, and left her helpless in a far away land. She wandered through the woods in a desperate condition, until one day the King’s son happened to be hunting in the forest, and found this beautiful girl and married her. After a time the King’s son left for a foreign land. While he was away, his wife bore a golden-haired child. The King and Queen wrote the glad tidings to their son. On the way the messenger chanced to stop at the home of the handless girl s brother. During the night while everyone was asleep, the wicked sister-in-law destroyed the letter and wrote a new one to the King’s son, saying that his wife had given birth to a monster...
“Cut your story short, you have said foolish things enough. I don’t want to hear any more or even see your face!” the wife shouted angrily.
“Brother, tell your wife to keep quiet. Let us hear her out. You see what an interesting tale she tells,” begged the prince.
The poor woman continued:
“The King's son was grief-stricken when he read the letter, yet he wrote to his parents that they should keep her and the child until he returned. On the way back, the messenger again stopped at the same house. The wicked sister-in-law once again changed the letter, and wrote: “As soon as you receive my letter, tie the child to its mother’s breast and drive them out.” When the parents received the letter, although they pitied the mother and the lovely child, they obeyed their son s instructions and threw out both the mother and the baby.”
“Whence did this bitch come to our house?” cried the wife.
“That’s enough!” shouted both the husband and the prince. Go on, sister . . . then what happened?”
The poor woman resumed:
“Later the King’s son came home, heard what had happened, and set out to look for his wife and son. On the way, he chanced to meet the brother of the handless girl who was searching for his sister. They continued their search together, but neither could find the one he was looking for. Finally they came to a large roadside inn.”
“She’s a liar!” cried the wife.
The man and the King’s son waited breathlessly to hear the end.
And the poor woman finished her story thus:
“Hungry and in rags the woman tramped around with her golden-haired boy. In the end, tired and thirsty, she came to the door of the roadside inn. The brother and husband took pity on her, invited her in and asked her to tell them a story.~~
The wife began to scream hysterically.
“My dearest Lusig, can it be you. . . .?“ burst out the King’s son.
“Dear, sweet Lusig, is it you?” cried his companion.
“Yes, I am Lusig, here is my brother, here is my husband, here is my golden curly-haired boy, and here is the wicked sister—in—law."
Their joy was beyond description. After all their long searching, they had finally found each other.
They tied the wicked sister-in-law to the tail of a mad horse, and turned him loose in the fields. Wherever the blood dripped there grew thorns and briars; where tears dropped, lakes formed, in the depths of which appeared a baby asleep in its cradle, a knife beneath the pillow.
It is said that there is also a monastery in that region and that in that monastery a woman kneels, and weeps and weeps, endlessly.