Old Peter's Russian Tales
by Arthur Ransome
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But the old man was too pleased with the goat to give much heed to what they said; and he hobbled home through the green forest as fast as he could, with the goat trotting and walking behind him, pulling leaves off the bushes to chew as they hurried along.

The old woman was waiting in the doorway of the house. She was still as angry as ever.

"Have you beaten the children?" she screamed. "Have you beaten the children for stealing my good turnips?"

"No," said the old man; "they paid for the turnips."

"What did they pay?"

"They gave me this goat."

"That skinny old goat! I have three already, and the worst of them is better than that."

"It has a cold in the head," says the old man.

"Worse than ever!" screams the old woman.

"Wait a minute," says the old man as quickly as he could, to stop her scolding.—"Sneeze, goat."

And the goat began to shake itself almost to bits, sneezing and sneezing and sneezing. The good gold pieces flew all ways at once. And the old woman threw herself after the gold pieces, picking them up like an old hen picking up corn. As fast as she picked them up more gold pieces came showering down on her like heavy gold hail, beating her on her head and her hands as she grubbed after those that had fallen already.

"Stop sneezing, goat," says the old man; and the goat stood there tired and panting, trying to get its breath. But the old woman did not look up till she had gathered everyone of the gold pieces. When she did look up, she said,—

"There's no supper for you. I've had supper already."

The old man said nothing. He tied up the goat to the doorpost of the house, where it could eat the green grass. Then he went into the house and lay down, and fell asleep at once, because he was an old man and had done a lot of walking.

As soon as he was asleep the old woman untied the goat and took it away and hid it in the bushes, and tied up one of her own goats instead. "They were my turnips," says she to herself, "and I don't see why he should have a share in the gold." Then she went in, and lay down grumbling to herself.

Early in the morning she woke the old man.

"Get up, you lazy fellow," says she; "you would lie all day and let all the thieves in the world come in and steal my turnips. Up with you to the dovecot and see how my turnips are getting on."

The old man got up and rubbed his eyes, and climbed up the rickety stairs, creak, creak, creak, holding on with both hands, till he came to the top of the house, to the top of the tower, to the top of the dovecot, and looked at the turnips.

He was afraid to come down, for there were hardly any turnips left at all.

And when he did come down, the scolding the old woman gave him was worse than the other two scoldings rolled into one. She was so angry that she shook like a rag in the high wind, and the old man put both hands to his ears and hobbled away into the forest.

He hobbled along as fast as he could hobble, until he came to the hut under the pine trees. This time the little queer children were not hiding under the blankets or in the stove, or chattering in the hut. They were all over the roof of the hut, dancing and crawling about. Some of them were even sitting on the chimney. And everyone of the little queer children was playing with a turnip. As soon as they saw the old man they all came tumbling off the roof, one after another, head over heels, like a lot of peas rolling off a shovel.

"We stole the turnips!" they shouted, before the old man could say anything at all.

"I know you did," says the old man; "but that does not make it any better for me. And it is I who get the scolding when the turnips fly away in the night."

"Never again!" shouted the children.

"I'm glad to hear that," says the old man.

"And we'll pay for the turnips."

"Thank you kindly," says the old man. He hadn't the heart to be angry with those little queer children.

Three or four of them ran into the hut and came out again with a wooden whistle, a regular whistle-pipe, such as shepherds use. They gave it to the old man.

"I can never play that," says the old man. "I don't know one tune from another; and if I did, my old fingers are as stiff as oak twigs."

"Blow in it," cried the children; and all the others came crowding round, laughing and chattering and whispering to each other. "Is he going to blow in it?" they asked. "He is going to blow in it." How they laughed!

The old man took the whistle, and gathered his breath and puffed out his cheeks, and blew in the whistle-pipe as hard as he could. And before he could take the whistle from his lips, three lively whips had slipped out of it, and were beating him as hard as they could go, although there was nobody to hold them. Phew! phew! phew! The three whips came down on him one after the other.

"Blow again!" the children shouted, laughing as if they were mad. "Blow again—quick, quick, quick!—and tell the whips to get into the whistle."

The old man did not wait to be told twice. He blew for all he was worth, and instantly the three whips stopped beating him. "Into the whistle!" he cried; and the three lively whips shot up into the whistle, like three snakes going into a hole. He could hardly have believed they had been out at all if it had not been for the soreness of his back.

"You take that home," cried the children. "That'll pay for the turnips, and put everything right."

"Who knows?" said the old man; and he thanked the children, and set off home through the green forest.

"Good-bye," cried the little queer children. But as soon as he had started they forgot all about him. When he looked round to wave his hand to them, not one of them was thinking of him. They were up again on the roof of the hut, jumping over each other and dancing and crawling about, and rolling each other down the roof and climbing up again, as if they had been doing nothing else all day, and were going to do nothing else till the end of the world.

The old man hobbled home through the green forest with the whistle stuck safely away into his shirt. As soon as he came to the door of the hut, the old woman, who was sitting inside counting the gold pieces, jumped up and started her scolding.

"What have the children tricked you with this time?" she screamed at him.

"They gave me a whistle-pipe," says the old man, "and they are not going to steal the turnips any more."

"A whistle-pipe!" she screamed. "What's the good of that? It's worse than the tablecloth and the skinny old goat."

The old man said nothing.

"Give it to me!" screamed the old woman. "They were my turnips, so it is my whistle-pipe."

"Well, whatever you do, don't blow in it," says the old man, and he hands over the whistle-pipe.

She wouldn't listen to him.

"What?" says she; "I must not blow my own whistle-pipe?"

And with that she put the whistle-pipe to her lips and blew.

Out jumped the three lively whips, flew up in the air, and began to beat her—phew! phew! phew!—one after another. If they made the old man sore, it was nothing to what they did to the cross old woman.

"Stop them! Stop them!" she screamed, running this way and that in the hut, with the whips flying after her beating her all the time. "I'll never scold again. I am to blame. I stole the magic tablecloth, and put an old one instead of it. I hid it in the iron chest." She ran to the iron chest and opened it, and pulled out the tablecloth. "Stop them! Stop them!" she screamed, while the whips laid it on hard and fast, one after the other. "I am to blame. The goat that sneezes gold pieces is hidden in the bushes. The goat by the door is one of the old ones. I wanted all the gold for myself."

All this time the old man was trying to get hold of the whistle-pipe. But the old woman was running about the hut so fast, with the whips flying after her and beating her, that he could not get it out of her hands. At last he grabbed it. "Into the whistle," says he, and put it to his lips and blew.

In a moment the three lively whips had hidden themselves in the whistle. And there was the cross old woman, kissing his hand and promising never to scold any more.

"That's all right," says the old man; and he fetched the sneezing goat out of the bushes and made it sneeze a little gold, just to be sure that it was that goat and no other. Then he laid the tablecloth on the table and told it to turn inside out. Up it flew, and came down again with the best dinner that ever was cooked, only waiting to be eaten. And the old man and the old woman sat down and ate till they could eat no more. The old woman rubbed herself now and again. And the old man rubbed himself too. But there was never a cross word between them, and they went to bed singing like nightingales.

"Is that the end?" Maroosia always asked.

"Is that all?" asked Vanya, though he knew it was not.

"Not quite," said old Peter; "but the tale won't go any quicker than my old tongue."

In the morning the old woman had forgotten about her promise. And just from habit, she set about scolding the old man as if the whips had never jumped out of the whistle. She scolded him for sleeping too long, sent him upstairs, with a lot of cross words after him, to go to the top of the dovecot to see how those turnips were getting on.

After a little the old man came down.

"The turnips are coming on grandly," says he, "and not a single one has gone in the night. I told you the children said they would not steal any more."

"I don't believe you," said the old woman. "I'll see for myself. And if any are gone, you shall pay for it, and pay for it well."

Up she jumped, and tried to climb the stairs. But the stairs were narrow and steep and twisting. She tried and tried, and could not get up at all. So she gets angrier than ever, and starts scolding the old man again.

"You must carry me up," says she.

"I have to hold on with both hands, or I couldn't get up myself," says the old man.

"I'll get in the flour sack, and you must carry me up with your teeth," says she; "they're strong enough."

And the old woman got into the flour sack.

"Don't ask me any questions," says the old man; and he took the sack in his teeth and began slowly climbing up the stairs, holding on with both hands.

He climbed and climbed, but he did not climb fast enough for the old woman.

"Are we at the top?" says she.

The old man said nothing, but went on, climbing up and up, nearly dead with the weight of the old woman in the sack which he was holding in his teeth.

He climbed a little further, and the old woman screamed out,—

"Are we at the top now? We must be at the top. Let me out, you old fool!"

The old man said nothing; he climbed on and on.

The old woman raged in the flour sack. She jumped about in the sack, and screamed at the old man,—

"Are we near the top now? Answer me, can't you! Answer me at once, or you'll pay for it later. Are we near the top?"

"Very near," said the old man.

And as he opened his mouth to say that the sack slipped from between his teeth, and bump, bump, bumpety bump, the old woman in the sack fell all the way to the very bottom, bumping on every step. That was the end of her.

After that the old man lived alone in the hut. When he wanted tobacco or clothes or a new axe, he made the goat sneeze some gold pieces, and off he went to the town with plenty of money in his pocket. When he wanted his dinner he had only to lay the tablecloth. He never had any washing up to do, because the tablecloth did it for him. When he wanted to get rid of troublesome guests, he gave them the whistle to blow. And when he was lonely and wanted company, he went to the little hut under the pine trees and played with the little queer children.


Once upon a time there were two brothers, peasants, and one was kind and the other was cunning. And the cunning one made money and became rich—very rich—so rich that he thought himself far too good for the village. He went off to the town, and dressed in fine furs, and clothed his wife in rich brocades, and made friends among the merchants, and began to live as merchants live, eating all day long, no longer like a simple peasant who eats kasha one day, kasha the next day, and for a change kasha on the third day also. And always he grew richer and richer.

It was very different with the kind one. He lent money to a neighbour, and the neighbour never paid it back. He sowed before the last frost, and lost all his crops. His horse went lame. His cow gave no milk. If his hens laid eggs, they were stolen; and if he set a night-line in the river, some one else always pulled it out and stole the fish and the hooks. Everything went wrong with him, and each day saw him poorer than the day before. At last there came a time when he had not a crumb of bread in the house. He and his wife were thin as sticks because they had nothing to eat, and the children were crying all day long because of their little empty stomachs. From morning till night he dug and worked, struggling against poverty like a fish against the ice; but it was no good. Things went from bad to worse.

At last his wife said to him: "You must go to the town and see that rich brother of yours. He will surely not refuse to give you a little help."

And he said: "Truly, wife, there is nothing else to be done. I will go to the town, and perhaps my rich brother will help me. I am sure he would not let my children starve. After all, he is their uncle."

So he took his stick and tramped off to the town.

He came to the house of his rich brother. A fine house it was, with painted eaves and a doorway carved by a master. Many servants were there and food in plenty, and people coming and going. He went in and found his brother, and said,—

"Dear brother of mine, I beg you help me, even if only a little. My wife and children are without bread. All day long they sit hungry and waiting, and I have no food to give them."

The rich brother looks at him, and hums and strokes his beard. Then says he: "I will help you. But, of course, you must do something in return. Stay here and work for me, and at the end of a week you shall have the help you have earned."

The poor brother thanked him, and bowed and kissed his hand, and praised God for the kindness of his brother's heart, and set instantly to work. For a whole week he slaved, and scarcely slept. He cleaned out the stables and cut the wood, swept the yard, drew water from the well, and ran errands for the cook. And at the end of the week his brother called him, and gave him a single loaf of bread.

"You must not forget," says the rich brother, "that I have fed you all the week you have been here, and all that food counts in the payment."

The poor brother thanked him, and was setting off to carry the loaf to his wife and children when the rich brother called him back.

"Stop a minute," said he; "I would like you to know that I am well disposed towards you. To-morrow is my name-day. Come to the feast, and bring your wife with you."

"How can I do that, brother? Your friends are rich merchants, with fine clothes, and boots on their feet. And I have nothing but my old coat, and my legs are bound in rags and my feet shuffle along in straw slippers. I do not want to shame you before your guests."

"Never mind about that," says the rich brother; "we will find a place for you."

"Very good, brother, and thank you kindly. God be praised for having given you a tender heart."

And the poor brother, though he was tired out after all the work he had done, set off home as fast as he could to take the bread to his wife and children.

"He might have given you more than that," said his wife.

"But listen," said he; "what do you think of this? To-morrow we are invited, you and I, as guests, to go to a great feast."

"What do you mean? A feast? Who has invited us?"

"My brother has invited us. To-morrow is his name-day. I always told you he had a kind heart. We shall be well fed, and I dare say we shall be able to bring back something for the children."

"A pleasure like that does not often come our way," said his wife.

So early in the morning they got up, and walked all the way to the town, so as not to shame the rich brother by putting up their old cart in the yard beside the merchants' fine carriages. They came to the rich brother's house, and found the guests all assembled and making merry; rich merchants and their plump wives, all eating and laughing and drinking and talking.

They wished a long life to the rich brother, and the poor brother wanted to make a speech, congratulating him on his name-day. But the rich brother scarcely thanked him, because he was so busy entertaining the rich merchants and their plump, laughing wives. He was pressing food on his guests, now this, now that, and calling to the servants to keep their glasses filled and their plates full of all the tastiest kinds of food. As for the poor brother and his wife, the rich one forgot all about them, and they got nothing to eat and never a drop to drink. They just sat there with empty plates and empty glasses, watching how the others ate and drank. The poor brother laughed with the rest, because he did not wish to show that he had been forgotten.

The dinner came to an end. One by one the guests went up to the giver of the feast to thank him for his good cheer. And the poor brother too got up from the bench, and bowed low before his brother and thanked him.

The guests went home, drunken and joyful. A fine noise they made, as people do on these occasions, shouting jokes to each other and singing songs at the top of their voices.

The poor brother and his wife went home empty and sad. All that long way they had walked, and now they had to walk it again, and the feast was over, and never a bite had they had in their mouths, nor a drop in their gullets.

"Come, wife," says the poor brother as he trudged along, "let us sing a song like the others."

"What a fool you are!" says his wife. Hungry and cross she was, as even Maroosia would be after a day like that watching other people stuff themselves. "What a fool you are!" says she. "People may very well sing when they have eaten tasty dishes and drunk good wine. But what reason have you got for making a merry noise in the night?"

"Why, my dear" says he, "we have been at my brother's name-day feast. I am ashamed to go home without a song. I'll sing. I'll sing so that everyone shall think he loaded us with good things like the rest."

"Well, sing if you like; but you'll sing by yourself."

So the peasant, the poor brother, started singing a song with his dry throat. He lifted his voice and sang like the rest, while his wife trudged silently beside him.

But as he sang it seemed to the peasant that he heard two voices singing—his own and another's. He stopped, and asked his wife,—

"Is that you joining in my song with a little thin voice?"

"What's the matter with you? I never thought of singing with you. I never opened my mouth."

"Who is it then?"

"No one except yourself. Any one would say you had had a drink of wine after all."

"But I heard some one ... a little weak voice ... a little sad voice ... joining with mine."

"I heard nothing," said his wife; "but sing again, and I'll listen."

The poor man sang again. He sang alone. His wife listened, and it was clear that there were two voices singing—the dry voice of the poor man, and a little miserable voice that came from the shadows under the trees. The poor man stopped, and asked out loud,—

"Who are you who are singing with me?"

And a little thin voice answered out of the shadows by the roadside, under the trees,—

"I am Misery."

"So it was you, Misery, who were helping me?"

"Yes, master, I was helping you."

"Well, little Master Misery, come along with us and keep us company."

"I'll do that willingly," says little Master Misery, "and I'll never, never leave you at all—no, not if you have no other friend in the world."

And a wretched little man, with a miserable face and little thin legs and arms, came out of the shadows and went home with the peasant and his wife.

It was late when they got home, but little Master Misery asked the peasant to take him to the tavern. "After such a day as this has been," says he, "there's nothing else to be done."

"But I have no money," says the peasant.

"What of that?" says little Master Misery. "Spring has begun, and you have a winter jacket on. It will soon be summer, and whether you have it or not you won't wear it. Bring it along to the tavern, and change it for a drink."

The poor man went to the tavern with little Master Misery, and they sat there and drank the vodka that the tavern-keeper gave them in exchange for the coat.

Next day, early in the morning, little Master Misery began complaining. His head ached and he could not open his eyes, and he did not like the weather, and the children were crying, and there was no food in the house. He asked the peasant to come with him to the tavern again and forget all this wretchedness in a drink.

"But I've got no money," says the peasant.

"Rubbish!" says little Master Misery; "you have a sledge and a cart."

They took the cart and the sledge to the tavern, and stayed there drinking until the tavern-keeper said they had had all that the cart and the sledge were worth. Then the tavern-keeper took them and threw them out of doors into the night, and they picked themselves up and crawled home.

Next day Misery complained worse than before, and begged the peasant to come with him to the tavern. There was no getting rid of him, no keeping him quiet. The peasant sold his barrow and plough, so that he could no longer work his land. He went to the tavern with little Master Misery.

A month went by like that, and at the end of it the peasant had nothing left at all. He had even pledged the hut he lived in to a neighbour, and taken the money to the tavern.

And every day little Master Misery begged him to come. "There I am not wretched any longer," says Misery. "There I sing, and even dance, hitting the floor with my heels and making a merry noise."

"But now I have no money at all, and nothing left to sell," says the poor peasant. "I'd be willing enough to go with you, but I can't, and here is an end of it."

"Rubbish!" says Misery; "your wife has two dresses. Leave her one; she can't wear both at once. Leave her one, and buy a drink with the other. They are both ragged, but take the better of the two. The tavern-keeper is a just man, and will give us more drink for the better one."

The peasant took the dress and sold it; and Misery laughed and danced, while the peasant thought to himself, "Well, this is the end. I've nothing left to sell, and my wife has nothing either. We've the clothes on our backs, and nothing else in the world."

In the morning little Master Misery woke with a headache as usual, and a mouthful of groans and complaints. But he saw that the peasant had nothing left to sell, and he called out,—

"Listen to me, master of the house."

"What is it, Misery?" says the peasant, who was master of nothing in the world.

"Go you to a neighbour and beg the loan of a cart and a pair of good oxen."

The poor peasant had no will of his own left. He did exactly as he was told. He went to his neighbour and begged the loan of the oxen and cart.

"But how will you repay me?" says the neighbour.

"I will do a week's work for you for nothing."

"Very well," says the neighbour; "take the oxen and cart, but be careful not to give them too heavy a load."

"Indeed I won't," says the peasant, thinking to himself that he had nothing to load them with. "And thank you very much," says he; and he goes back to Misery, taking with him the oxen and cart.

Misery looked at him and grumbled in his wretched little voice, "They are hardly strong enough,"

"They are the best I could borrow," says the peasant; "and you and I have starved too long to be heavy."

And the peasant and little Master Misery sat together in the cart and drove off together, Misery holding his head in both hands and groaning at the jolt of the cart.

As soon as they had left the village, Misery sat up and asked the peasant,—

"Do you know the big stone that stands alone in the middle of a field not far from here?"

"Of course I know it," says the peasant.

"Drive straight to it," says Misery, and went on rocking himself to and fro, and groaning and complaining in his wretched little voice.

They came to the stone, and got down from the cart and looked at the stone. It was very big and heavy, and was fixed in the ground.

"Heave it up," says Misery.

The poor peasant set to work to heave it up, and Misery helped him, groaning, and complaining that the peasant was nothing of a fellow because he could not do his work by himself. Well, they heaved it up, and there below it was a deep hole, and the hole was filled with gold pieces to the very top; more gold pieces than ever you will see copper ones if you live to be a hundred and ten.

"Well, what are you staring at?" says Misery. "Stir yourself, and be quick about it, and load all this gold into the cart."

The peasant set to work, and piled all the gold into the cart down to the very last gold piece; while Misery sat on the stone and watched, groaning and chuckling in his weak, wretched little voice.

"Be quick," says Misery; "and then we can get back to the tavern."

The peasant looked into the pit to see that there was nothing left there, and then says he,—

"Just take a look, little Master Misery, and see that we have left nothing behind. You are smaller than I, and can get right down into the pit...."

Misery slipped down from the stone, grumbling at the peasant, and bent over the pit.

"You've taken the lot," says he; "there's nothing to be seen."

"But what is that," says the peasant—"there, shining in the corner?"

"I don't see it."

"Jump down into the pit and you'll see it. It would be a pity to waste a gold piece."

Misery jumped down into the pit, and instantly the peasant rolled the stone over the hole and shut him in.

"Things will be better so," says the peasant. "If I were to let you out of that, sooner or later you would drink up all this money, just as you drank up everything I had."

Then the peasant drove home and hid the gold in the cellar; took the oxen and cart back to his neighbour, thanked him kindly, and began to think what he would do, now that Misery was his master no longer, and he with plenty of money.

"But he had to work for a week to pay for the loan of the oxen and cart," said Vanya.

"Well, during the week, while he was working, he was thinking all the time, in his head," said old Peter, a little grumpily. Then he went on with his tale.

As soon as the week was over, he bought a forest and built himself a fine house, and began to live twice as richly as his brother in the town. And his wife had two new dresses, perhaps more; with a lot of gold and silver braid, and necklaces of big yellow stones, and bracelets and sparkling rings. His children were well fed every day—rivers of milk between banks of kisel jelly, and mushrooms with sauce, and soup, and cakes with little balls of egg and meat hidden in the middle. And they had toys that squeaked, a little boy feeding a goose that poked its head into a dish, and a painted hen with a lot of chickens that all squeaked together.

Time went on, and when his name-day drew near he thought of his brother, the merchant, and drove off to the town to invite him to take part in the feast.

"I have not forgotten, brother, that you invited me to yours."

"What a fellow you are!" says his brother; "you have nothing to eat yourself, and here you are inviting other people for your name-day."

"Yes," said the peasant, "once upon a time, it is true, I had nothing to eat; but now, praise be to God, I am no poorer than yourself. Come to my name-day feast and you will see."

"Very well," says his brother, "I'll come; but don't think you can play any jokes on me."

On the morning of the peasant's name-day his brother, the merchant in the town, put on his best clothes, and his plump wife dressed in all her richest, and they got into their cart—a fine cart it was too, painted in the brightest colours—and off they drove together to the house of the brother who had once been poor. They took a basket of food with them, in case he had only been joking when he invited them to his name-day feast.

They drove to the village, and asked for him at the hut where he used to be.

An old man hobbling along the road answered them,—

"Oh, you mean our Ivan Ilyitch. Well, he does not live here any longer. Where have you been that you have not heard? His is the big new house on the hill. You can see it through the trees over there, where all these people are walking. He has a kind heart, he has, and riches have not spoiled it. He has invited the whole village to feast with him, because to-day is his name-day."

"Riches!" thought the merchant; "a new house!" He was very much surprised, but as he drove along the road he was more surprised still. For he passed all the villagers on their way to the feast; and every one was talking of his brother, and how kind he was and how generous, and what a feast there was going to be, and how many barrels of mead and, wine had been taken up to the house. All the folk were hurrying along the road licking their lips, each one going faster than the other so as to be sure not to miss any of the good things.

The rich brother from the town drove with his wife into the courtyard of the fine new house. And there on the steps was the peasant brother, Ivan Ilyitch, and his wife, receiving their guests. And if the rich brother was well dressed, the peasant was better dressed; and if the rich brother's wife was in her fine clothes, the peasant's wife fairly glittered—what with the gold braid on her bosom and the shining silver in her hair.

And the peasant brother kissed his brother from the town on both cheeks, and gave him and his wife the best places at the table. He fed them—ah, how he fed them!—with little red slips of smoked salmon, and beetroot soup with cream, and slabs of sturgeon, and meats of three or four kinds, and game and sweetmeats of the best. There never was such a feast—no, not even at the wedding of a Tzar. And as for drink, there were red wine and white wine, and beer and mead in great barrels, and everywhere the peasant went about among his guests, filling glasses and seeing that their plates were kept piled with the foods each one liked best.

And the rich brother wondered and wondered, and at last he could wait no longer, and he took his brother aside and said,—

"I am delighted to see you so rich. But tell me, I beg you, how it was that all this good fortune came to you."

The poor brother, never thinking, told him all—the whole truth about little Master Misery and the pit full of gold, and how Misery was shut in there under the big stone.

The merchant brother listened, and did not forget a word. He could hardly bear himself for envy, and as for his wife, she was worse. She looked at the peasant's wife with her beautiful head-dress, and she bit her lips till they bled.

As soon as they could, they said good-bye and drove off home.

The merchant brother could not bear the thought that his brother was richer than he. He said to himself, "I will go to the field, and move the stone, and let Master Misery out. Then he will go and tear my brother to pieces for shutting him in; and his riches will not be of much use to him then, even if Misery does not give them to me as a token of gratitude. Think of my brother daring to show off his riches to me!"

So he drove off to the field, and came at last to the big stone. He moved the stone on one side, and then bent over the pit to see what was in it.

He had scarcely put his head over the edge before Misery sprang up out of the pit, seated himself firmly on his shoulders, squeezed his neck between his little wiry legs, and pulled out handfuls of his hair.

"Scream away!" cried little Master Misery. "You tried to kill me, shutting me up in there, while you went off and bought fine clothes. You tried to kill me, and came to feast your eyes on my corpse. Now, whatever happens, I'll never leave you again."

"Listen, Misery!" screamed the merchant. "Ai, ai! stop pulling my hair. You are choking me. Ai! Listen. It was not I who shut you in under the stone...."

"Who was it, if it was not you?" asked Misery, tugging out his hair, and digging his knees into the merchant's throat.

"It was my brother. I came here on purpose to let you out. I came out of pity."

Misery tugged the merchant's hair, and twisted the merchant's ears till they nearly came off.

"Liar, liar!" he shouted in his little, wretched, angry voice. "You tricked me once. Do you think you'll get the better of me again by a clumsy lie of that kind? Now then. Gee up! Home we go."

And so the rich brother went trotting home, crying with pain; while little Master Misery sat firmly on his shoulders, pulling at his hair.

Instantly Misery was at his old tricks.

"You seem to have bought a good deal with the gold," he said, looking at the merchant's house. "We'll see how far it will go." And every day he rode the rich merchant to the tavern, and made him drink up all his money, and his house, his clothes, his horses and carts and sledges—everything he had—until he was as poor as his brother had been in the beginning.

The merchant thought and thought, and puzzled his brain to find a way to get rid of him. And at last one night, when Misery had groaned himself to sleep, the merchant went out into the yard and took a big cart wheel and made two stout wedges of wood, just big enough to fit into the hub of the wheel. He drove one wedge firmly in at one end of the hub, and left the wheel in the yard with the other wedge, and a big hammer lying handy close to it.

In the morning Misery wakes as usual, and cries out to be taken to the tavern.

"We've sold everything I've got," says the merchant.

"Well, what are you going to do to amuse me?" says Misery.

"Let's play hide-and-seek in the yard," says the merchant.

"Right," says Misery; "but you'll never find me, for I can make myself so small I can hide in a mouse-hole in the floor."

"We'll see," says the merchant.

The merchant hid first, and Misery found him at once.

"Now it's my turn," says Misery; "but what's the good? You'll never find me. Why, I could get inside the hub of that wheel if I had a mind to."

"What a liar you are!" says the merchant; "you never could get into that little hole."

"Look," says Misery, and he made himself little, little, little, and sat on the hub of the wheel.

"Look," says he, making himself smaller again; and then, pouf! in he pops into the hole of the hub.

Instantly the merchant took the other wedge and the hammer, and drove the wedge into the hole. The first wedge had closed up the other end, and so there was Misery shut up inside the hub of the cart wheel.

The merchant set the wheel on his shoulders, and took it to the river and threw it out as far as he could, and it went floating away down to the sea.

Then he went home and set to work to make money again, and earn his daily bread; for Misery had made him so poor that he had nothing left, and had to hire himself out to make a living, just as his peasant brother used to do.

But what happened to Misery when he went floating away?

He floated away down the river, shut up in the hub of the wheel. He ought to have starved there. But I am afraid some silly, greedy fellow thought to get a new wheel for nothing, and pulled the wedges out and let him go; for, by all I hear, Misery is still wandering about the world and making people wretched—bad luck to him!


Sometimes in spring, when the big river flooded its banks and made lakes of the meadows, and the little rivers flowed deep, old Peter spent a few days netting fish. Also in summer he set night-lines in the little river not far from where it left the forest. And so it happened that one day he sat in the warm sunshine outside his hut, mending his nets and making floats for them; not cork floats like ours, but little rolls of the silver bark of the birch tree.

And while he sat there Vanya and Maroosia watched him, and sometimes even helped, holding a piece of the net between them, while old Peter fastened on the little glistening rolls of bark that were to keep it up in the water. And all the time old Peter worked he smoked, and told them stories about fish.

First he told them what happened when the first pike was born, and how it is that all the little fish are not eaten by the great pike with his huge greedy mouth and his sharp teeth.

* * * * *

On the night of Ivanov's Day (that is the day of Saint John, which is Midsummer) there was born the pike, a huge fish, with such teeth as never were. And when the pike was born the waters of the river foamed and raged, so that the ships in the river were all but swamped, and the pretty young girls who were playing on the banks ran away as fast as they could, frightened, they were, by the roaring of the waves, and the black wind and the white foam on the water. Terrible was the birth of the sharp-toothed pike.

And when the pike was born he did not grow up by months or by days, but by hours. Every day it was two inches longer than the day before. In a month it was two yards long; in two months it was twelve feet long; in three months it was raging up and down the river like a tempest, eating the bream and the perch, and all the small fish that came in its way. There was a bream or a perch swimming lazily in the stream. The pike saw it as it raged by, caught it in its great white mouth, and instantly the bream or the perch was gone, torn to pieces by the pike's teeth, and swallowed as you would swallow a sunflower seed. And bream and perch are big fish. It was worse for the little ones.

What was to be done? The bream and the perch put their heads together in a quiet pool. It was clear enough that the great pike would eat everyone of them. So they called a meeting of all the little fish, and set to thinking what could be done by way of dealing with the great pike, which had such sharp teeth and was making so free with their lives.

They all came to the meeting—bream, and perch, and roach, and dace, and gudgeon; yes, and the little ersh with his spiny back.

The silly roach said, "Let us kill the pike."

But the gudgeon looked at him with his great eyes, and asked, "Have you got good teeth?"

"No," says the roach, "I haven't any teeth."

"You'd swallow the pike, I suppose?" says the perch.

"My mouth is too small."

"Then do not use it to talk foolishness," said the gudgeon; and the roach's fins blushed scarlet, and are red to this day.

"I will set my prickles on end," says the perch, who has a row of sharp prickles in the fin on his back. "The pike won't find them too comfortable in his throat."

"Yes," said the bream; "but you will have to go into his throat to put them there, and he'll swallow you all the same. Besides, we have not all got prickles."

There was a lot more foolishness talked. Even the minnows had something to say, until they were made to be quiet by the dace.

Now the little ersh had come to the meeting, with his spiny back, and his big front fins, and his head all shining in blue and gold and green. And when he had heard all they had to say, he began to talk.

"Think away," says he, "and break your heads, and spoil your brains, if ever you had any; but listen for a moment to what I have to say."

And all the fish turned to listen to the ersh, who is the cleverest of all the little fish, because he has a big head and a small body.

"Listen," says the ersh. "It is clear enough that the pike lives in this big river, and that he does not give the little fish a chance, crunches them all with his sharp teeth, and swallows them ten at a time. I quite agree that it would be much better for everybody if he could be killed; but not one of us is strong enough for that. We are not strong enough to kill him; but we can starve him, and save ourselves at the same time. There's no living in the big river while he is here. Let all us little fish clear out, and go and live in the little rivers that flow into the big. There the waters are shallow, and we can hide among the weeds. No one will touch us there, and we can live and bring up our children in peace, and only be in danger when we go visiting from one little river to another. And as for the great pike, we will leave him alone in the big river to rage hungrily up and down. His teeth will soon grow blunt, for there will be nothing for him to eat."

All the little fish waved their fins and danced in the water when they heard the wisdom of the ersh's speech. And the ersh and the roach, and the bream and the perch, and the dace and the gudgeon left the big river and swam up the little rivers between the green meadows. And there they began again to live in peace and bring up their little ones, though the cunning fishermen set nets in the little rivers and caught many of them on their way. From that time on there have never been many little fish in the big river.

And as for the monstrous pike, he swam up and down the great river, lashing the waters, and driving his nose through the waves, but found no food for his sharp teeth. He had to take to worms, and was caught in the end on a fisherman's hook. Yes, and the fisherman made a soup of him—the best fish soup that ever was made. He was a friend of mine when I was a boy, and he gave me a taste in my wooden spoon.

* * * * *

Then he told them the story of other pike, and particularly of the pike that was king of a river, and made the little fish come together on the top of the water so that the young hunter could cross over with dry feet. And he told them of the pike that hid the lover of the princess by swallowing him and lying at the bottom of a deep pool, and how the princess saw her lover sitting in the pike, when the big fish opened his mouth to snap up a little perch that swam too near his nose. Then he told them of the big trial in the river, when the fishes chose judges, and made a case at law against the ersh, and found him guilty, and how the ersh spat in the faces of the judges and swam merrily away.

Finally, he told them the story of the Golden Fish. But that is a long story, and a chapter all by itself, and begins on the next page.


"This," said old Peter, "is a story against wanting more than enough."

Long ago, near the shore of the blue sea, an old man lived with his old woman in a little old hut made of earth and moss and logs. They never had a rouble to spend. A rouble! they never had a kopeck. They just lived there in the little hut, and the old man caught fish out of the sea in his old net, and the old woman cooked the fish; and so they lived, poorly enough in summer and worse in winter. Sometimes they had a few fish to sell, but not often. In the summer evenings they sat outside their hut on a broken old bench, and the old man mended the holes in his ragged old net. There were holes in it a hare could jump through with his ears standing, let alone one of those little fishes that live in the sea. The old woman sat on the bench beside him, and patched his trousers and complained.

Well, one day the old man went fishing, as he always did. All day long he fished, and caught nothing. And then in the evening, when he was thinking he might as well give up and go home, he threw his net for the last time, and when he came to pull it in he began to think he had caught an island instead of a haul of fish, and a strong and lively island at that—the net was so heavy and pulled so hard against his feeble old arms.

"This time," says he, "I have caught a hundred fish at least."

Not a bit of it. The net came in as heavy as if it were full of fighting fish, but empty ——.

"Empty?" said Maroosia.

"Well, not quite empty," said old Peter, and went on with his tale.

Not quite empty, for when the last of the net came ashore there was something glittering in it—a golden fish, not very big and not very little, caught in the meshes. And it was this single golden fish which had made the net so heavy.

The old fisherman took the golden fish in his hands.

"At least it will be enough for supper," said he.

But the golden fish lay still in his hands, and looked at him with wise eyes, and spoke—yes, my dears, it spoke, just as if it were you or I.

"Old man," says the fish, "do not kill me. I beg you throw me back into the blue waters. Some day I may be able to be of use to you."

"What?" says the old fisherman; "and do you talk with a human voice?"

"I do," says the fish. "And my fish's heart feels pain like yours. It would be as bitter to me to die as it would be to yourself."

"And is that so?" says the old fisherman. "Well, you shall not die this time." And he threw the golden fish back into the sea.

You would have thought the golden fish would have splashed with his tail, and turned head downwards, and swum away into the blue depths of the sea. Not a bit of it. It stayed there with its tail slowly flapping in the water so as to keep its head up, and it looked at the fisherman with its wise eyes, and it spoke again.

"You have given me my life," says the golden fish. "Now ask anything you wish from me, and you shall have it."

The old fisherman stood there on the shore, combing his beard with his old fingers, and thinking. Think as he would, he could not call to mind a single thing he wanted.

"No, fish," he said at last; "I think I have everything I need,"

"Well, if ever you do want anything, come and ask for it," says the fish, and turns over, flashing gold, and goes down into the blue sea.

The old fisherman went back to his hut, where his wife was waiting for him.

"What!" she screamed out; "you haven't caught so much as one little fish for our supper?"

"I caught one fish, mother," says the old man: "a golden fish it was, and it spoke to me; and I let it go, and it told me to ask for anything I wanted."

"And what did you ask for? Show me."

"I couldn't think of anything to ask for; so I did not ask for anything at all."

"Fool," says his wife, "and dolt, and us with no food to put in our mouths. Go back at once, and ask for some bread."

Well, the poor old fisherman got down his net, and tramped back to the seashore. And he stood on the shore of the wide blue sea, and he called out,—

"Head in air and tail in sea, Fish, fish, listen to me."

And in a moment there was the golden fish with his head out of the water, flapping his tail below him in the water, and looking at the fisherman with his wise eyes.

"What is it?" said the fish.

"Be so kind," says the fisherman; "be so kind. We have no bread in the house."

"Go home," says the fish, and turned over and went down into the sea.

"God be good to me," says the old fisherman; "but what shall I say to my wife, going home like this without the bread?" And he went home very wretchedly, and slower than he came.

As soon as he came within sight of his hut he saw his wife, and she was waving her arms and shouting.

"Stir your old bones," she screamed out. "It's as fine a loaf as ever I've seen."

And he hurried along, and found his old wife cutting up a huge loaf of white bread, mind you, not black—a huge loaf of white bread, nearly as big as Maroosia.

"You did not do so badly after all," said his old wife as they sat there with the samovar on the table between them, dipping their bread in the hot tea.

But that night, as they lay sleeping on the stove, the old woman poked the old man in the ribs with her bony elbow. He groaned and woke up.

"I've been thinking," says his wife, "your fish might have given us a trough to keep the bread in while he was about it. There is a lot left over, and without a trough it will go bad, and not be fit for anything. And our old trough is broken; besides, it's too small. First thing in the morning off you go, and ask your fish to give us a new trough to put the bread in."

Early in the morning she woke the old man again, and he had to get up and go down to the seashore. He was very much afraid, because he thought the fish would not take it kindly. But at dawn, just as the red sun was rising out of the sea, he stood on the shore, and called out in his windy old voice,—

"Head in air and tail in sea, Fish, fish, listen to me."

And there in the morning sunlight was the golden fish, looking at him with its wise eyes.

"I beg your pardon," says the old man, "but could you, just to oblige my wife, give us some sort of trough to put the bread in?"

"Go home," says the fish; and down it goes into the blue sea.

The old man went home, and there, outside the hut, was the old woman, looking at the handsomest bread trough that ever was seen on earth. Painted it was, with little flowers, in three colours, and there were strips of gilding about its handles.

"Look at this," grumbled the old woman. "This is far too fine a trough for a tumbledown hut like ours. Why, there is scarcely a place in the roof where the rain does not come through. If we were to keep this trough in such a hut, it would be spoiled in a month. You must go back to your fish and ask it for a new hut."

"I hardly like to do that," says the old man.

"Get along with you," says his wife. "If the fish can make a trough like this, a hut will be no trouble to him. And, after all, you must not forget he owes his life to you."

"I suppose that is true," says the old man; but he went back to the shore with a heavy heart. He stood on the edge of the sea and called out, doubtfully,—

"Head in air and tail in sea, Fish, fish, listen to me."

Instantly there was a ripple in the water, and the golden fish was looking at him with its wise eyes.

"Well?" says the fish.

"My old woman is so pleased with the trough that she wants a new hut to keep it in, because ours, if you could only see it, is really falling to pieces, and the rain comes in and ——."

"Go home," says the fish.

The old fisherman went home, but he could not find his old hut at all. At first he thought he had lost his way. But then he saw his wife. And she was walking about, first one way and then the other, looking at the finest hut that God ever gave a poor moujik to keep him from the rain and the cold, and the too great heat of the sun. It was built of sound logs, neatly finished at the ends and carved. And the overhanging of the roof was cut in patterns, so neat, so pretty, you could never think how they had been done. The old woman looked at it from all sides. And the old man stood, wondering. Then they went in together. And everything within the hut was new and clean. There were a fine big stove, and strong wooden benches, and a good table, and a fire lit in the stove, and logs ready to put in, and a samovar already on the boil—a fine new samovar of glittering brass.

You would have thought the old woman would have been satisfied with that. Not a bit of it.

"You don't know how to lift your eyes from the ground," says she. "You don't know what to ask. I am tired of being a peasant woman and a moujik's wife. I was made for something better. I want to be a lady, and have good people to do the work, and see folk bow and curtsy to me when I meet them walking abroad. Go back at once to the fish, you old fool, and ask him for that, instead of bothering him for little trifles like bread troughs and moujiks' huts. Off with you."

The old fisherman went back to the shore with a sad heart; but he was afraid of his wife, and he dared not disobey her. He stood on the shore, and called out in his windy old voice,—

"Head in air and tail in sea, Fish, fish, listen to me."

Instantly there was the golden fish looking at him with its wise eyes.

"Well?" says the fish.

"My old woman won't give me a moment's peace," says the old man; "and since she has the new hut—which is a fine one, I must say; as good a hut as ever I saw—she won't be content at all. She is tired of being a peasant's wife, and wants to be a lady with a house and servants, and to see the good folk curtsy to her when she meets them walking abroad."

"Go home," says the fish.

The old man went home, thinking about the hut, and how pleasant it would be to live in it, even if his wife were a lady.

But when he got home the hut had gone, and in its place there was a fine brick house, three stories high. There were servants running this way and that in the courtyard. There was a cook in the kitchen, and there was his old woman, in a dress of rich brocade, sitting idle in a tall carved chair, and giving orders right and left.

"Good health to you, wife," says the old man.

"Ah, you, clown that you are, how dare you call me your wife! Can't you see that I'm a lady? Here! Off with this fellow to the stables, and see that he gets a beating he won't forget in a hurry."

Instantly the servants seized the old man by the collar and lugged him along to the stables. There the grooms treated him to such a whipping that he could hardly stand on his feet. After that the old woman made him doorkeeper. She ordered that a besom should be given him to clean up the courtyard, and said that he was to have his meals in the kitchen. A wretched life the old man lived. All day long he was sweeping up the courtyard, and if there was a speck of dirt to be seen in it anywhere, he paid for it at once in the stable under the whips of the grooms.

Time went on, and the old woman grew tired of being only a lady. And at last there came a day when she sent into the yard to tell the old man to come before her. The poor old man combed his hair and cleaned his boots, and came into the house, and bowed low before the old woman.

"Be off with you, you old good-for-nothing!" says she. "Go and find your golden fish, and tell him from me that I am tired of being a lady. I want to be Tzaritza, with generals and courtiers and men of state to do whatever I tell them."

The old man went along to the seashore, glad enough to be out of the courtyard and out of reach of the stablemen with their whips. He came to the shore, and cried out in his windy old voice,—

"Head in air and tail in sea, Fish, fish, listen to me."

And there was the golden fish looking at him with its wise eyes.

"What's the matter now, old man?" says the fish.

"My old woman is going on worse than ever," says the old fisherman. "My back is sore with the whips of her grooms. And now she says it isn't enough for her to be a lady; she wants to be a Tzaritza."

"Never you worry about it," says the fish. "Go home and praise God;" and with that the fish turned over and went down into the sea.

The old man went home slowly, for he did not know what his wife would do to him if the golden fish did not make her into a Tzaritza.

But as soon as he came near he heard the noise of trumpets and the beating of drums, and there where the fine stone house had been was now a great palace with a golden roof. Behind it was a big garden of flowers, that are fair to look at but have no fruit, and before it was a meadow of fine green grass. And on the meadow was an army of soldiers drawn up in squares and all dressed alike. And suddenly the fisherman saw his old woman in the gold and silver dress of a Tzaritza come stalking out on the balcony with her generals and boyars to hold a review of her troops. And the drums beat and the trumpets sounded, and the soldiers cried "Hurrah!" And the poor old fisherman found a dark corner in one of the barns, and lay down in the straw.

Time went on, and at last the old woman was tired of being Tzaritza. She thought she was made for something better. And one day she said to her chamberlain,—

"Find me that ragged old beggar who is always hanging about in the courtyard. Find him, and bring him here."

The chamberlain told his officers, and the officers told the servants, and the servants looked for the old man, and found him at last asleep on the straw in the corner of one of the barns. They took some of the dirt off him, and brought him before the Tzaritza, sitting proudly on her golden throne.

"Listen, old fool!" says she. "Be off to your golden fish, and tell it I am tired of being Tzaritza. Anybody can be Tzaritza. I want to be the ruler of the seas, so that all the waters shall obey me, and all the fishes shall be my servants."

"I don't like to ask that," said the old man, trembling.

"What's that?" she screamed at him. "Do you dare to answer the Tzaritza? If you do not set off this minute, I'll have your head cut off and your body thrown to the dogs."

Unwillingly the old man hobbled off. He came to the shore, and cried out with a windy, quavering old voice,—

"Head in air and tail in sea, Fish, fish, listen to me."

Nothing happened.

The old man thought of his wife, and what would happen to him if she were still Tzaritza when he came home. Again he called out,—

"Head in air and tail in sea, Fish, fish, listen to me."

Nothing happened, nothing at all.

A third time, with the tears running down his face, he called out in his windy, creaky, quavering old voice,—

"Head in air and tail in sea, Fish, fish, listen to me."

Suddenly there was a loud noise, louder and louder over the sea. The sun hid itself. The sea broke into waves, and the waves piled themselves one upon another. The sky and the sea turned black, and there was a great roaring wind that lifted the white crests of the waves and tossed them abroad over the waters. The golden fish came up out of the storm and spoke out of the sea.

"What is it now?" says he, in a voice more terrible than the voice of the storm itself.

"O fish," says the old man, trembling like a reed shaken by the storm, "my old woman is worse than before. She is tired of being Tzaritza. She wants to be the ruler of the seas, so that all the waters shall obey her and all the fishes be her servants."

The golden fish said nothing, nothing at all. He turned over and went down into the deep seas. And the wind from the sea was so strong that the old man could hardly stand against it. For a long time he waited, afraid to go home; but at last the storm calmed, and it grew towards evening, and he hobbled back, thinking to creep in and hide amongst the straw.

As he came near, he listened for the trumpets and the drums. He heard nothing except the wind from the sea rustling the little leaves of birch trees. He looked for the palace. It was gone, and where it had been was a little tumbledown hut of earth and logs. It seemed to the old fisherman that he knew the little hut, and he looked at it with joy. And he went to the door of the hut, and there was sitting his old woman in a ragged dress, cleaning out a saucepan, and singing in a creaky old voice. And this time she was glad to see him, and they sat down together on the bench and drank tea without sugar, because they had not any money.

They began to live again as they used to live, and the old man grew happier every day. He fished and fished, and many were the fish that he caught, and of many kinds; but never again did he catch another golden fish that could talk like a human being. I doubt whether he would have said anything to his wife about it, even if he had caught one every day.

* * * * *

"What a horrid old woman!" said Maroosia.

"I wonder the old fisherman forgave her," said Ivan.

"I think he might have beaten her a little," said Maroosia. "she deserved it."

"Well," said old Peter, "supposing we could have everything we wanted for the asking, I wonder how it would be. Perhaps God knew what He was doing when He made those golden fishes rare."

"Are there really any of them?" asked Vanya.

"Well, there was once one, anyhow," said old Peter; and then he rolled his nets neatly together, hung them on the fence, and went into the hut to make the dinner. And Vanya and Maroosia went in with him to help him as much as they could; though Vanya was wondering all the time whether he could make a net, and throw it in the little river where old Peter fished, and perhaps pull out a golden fish that would speak to him with the voice of a human being.


Once upon a time a horse's skull lay on the open plain. It had been picked clean by the ants, and shone white in the sunlight.

Little Burrowing Mouse came along, twirling his whiskers and looking at the world. He saw the white skull, and thought it was as good as a palace. He stood up in front of it and called out,—

"Little house, little house! Who lives in the little house?"

No one answered, for there was no one inside.

"I will live there myself," says little Burrowing Mouse, and in he went, and set up house in the horse's skull.

Croaking Frog came along, a jump, three long strides, and a jump again.

"Little house, little house! Who lives in the little house?"

"I am Burrowing Mouse; who are you?"

"I am Croaking Frog."

"Come in and make yourself at home."

So the frog went in, and they began to live, the two of them together.

Hare Hide-in-the-Hill came running by.

"Little house, little house! Who lives in the little house?"

"Burrowing Mouse and Croaking Frog. Who are you?"

"I am Hare Hide-in-the-Hill."

"Come along in."

So the hare put his ears down and went in, and they began to live, the three of them together.

Then the fox came running by.

"Little house, little house! Who lives in the little house?"

"Burrowing Mouse and Croaking Frog and Hare Hide-in-the-Hill. Who are you?"

"I am Fox Run-about-Everywhere."

"Come along in; we've room for you."

So the fox went in, and they began to live, the four of them together.

Then the wolf came prowling by, and saw the skull.

"Little house, little house! Who lives in the little house?"

"Burrowing Mouse, and Croaking Frog, and Hare Hide-in-the-Hill, and Fox Run-about-Every-where. Who are you?"

"I am Wolf Leap-out-of-the-Bushes."

"Come in then."

So the wolf went in, and they began to live, the five of them together.

And then there came along the Bear. He was very slow and very heavy.

"Little house, little house! Who lives in the little house?"

"Burrowing Mouse, and Croaking Frog, and Hare Hide-in-the-Hill, and Fox Run-about-Every-where, and Wolf Leap-out-of-the-Bushes. Who are you?"

"I am Bear Squash-the-Lot."

And the Bear sat down on the horse's skull, and squashed the whole lot of them.

* * * * *

The way to tell that story is to make one hand the skull, and the fingers and thumb of the other hand the animals that go in one by one. At least that was the way old Peter told it; and when it came to the end, and the Bear came along, why, the Bear was old Peter himself, who squashed both little hands, and Vanya or Maroosia, whichever it was, all together in one big hug.


Once upon a time there were two orphan children, a little boy and a little girl. Their father and mother were dead, and they had not even an old grandfather to spend his time in telling them stories. They were alone. The little boy was called Vanoushka,[3] and the little girl's name was Alenoushka.[3]

They set out together to walk through the whole of the great wide world. It was a long journey they set out on, and they did not think of any end to it, but only of moving on and on, and never stopping long enough in one place to be unhappy there.

[Footnote 3: That means that they were called Ivan and Elena. Vanoushka and Alenoushka are affectionate forms of these names.]

They were travelling one day over a broad plain, padding along on their little bare feet. There were no trees on the plain, no bushes; open flat country as far as you could see, and the great sun up in the sky burning the grass and making their throats dry, and the sandy ground so hot that they could scarcely bear to set their feet on it. All day from early morning they had been walking, and the heat grew greater and greater towards noon.

"Oh," said little Vanoushka, "my throat is so dry. I want a drink. I must have a drink—just a little drink of cool water."

"We must go on," said Alenoushka, "till we come to a well. Then we will drink."

They went on along the track, with their eyes burning and their throats as dry as sand on a stove.

But presently Vanoushka cried out joyfully. He saw a horse's hoofmark in the ground. And it was full of water, like a little well.

"Sister, sister," says he, "the horse has made a little well for me with his great hoof, and now we can have a drink; and oh, but I am thirsty!"

"Not yet, brother," says Alenoushka. "If you drink from the hoofmark of a horse, you will turn into a little foal, and that would never do."

"I am so very thirsty," says Vanoushka; but he did as his sister told him, and they walked on together under the burning sun.

A little farther on Vanoushka saw the hoofmark of a cow, and there was water in it glittering in the sun.

"Sister, sister," says Vanoushka, "the cow has made a little well for me, and now I can have a drink."

"Not yet, brother," says Alenoushka. "If you drink from the hoofmark of a cow, you will turn into a little calf, and that would never do. We must go on till we come to a well. There we will drink and rest ourselves. There will be trees by the well, and shadows, and we will lie down there by the quiet water and cool our hands and feet, and perhaps our eyes will stop burning."

So they went on farther along the track that scorched the bare soles of their feet, and under the sun that burned their heads and their little bare necks. The sun was high in the sky above them, and it seemed to Vanoushka that they would never come to the well.

But when they had walked on and on, and he was nearly crying with thirst, only that the sun had dried up all his tears and burnt them before they had time to come into his eyes, he saw another footprint. It was quite a tiny footprint, divided in the middle—the footprint of a sheep; and in it was a little drop of clear water, sparkling in the sun. He said nothing to his sister, nothing at all. But he went down on his hands and knees and drank that water, that little drop of clear water, to cool his burning throat. And he had no sooner drunk it than he had turned into a little lamb...

"A little white lamb," said Maroosia.

"With a black nose," said Vanya.

A little lamb, said old Peter, a little lamb who ran round and round Alenoushka, frisking and leaping, with its little tail tossing in the air.

Alenoushka looked round for her brother, but could not see him. But there was the little lamb, leaping round her, trying to lick her face, and there in the ground was the print left by the sheep's foot.

She guessed at once what had happened, and burst into tears. There was a hayrick close by, and under the hayrick Alenoushka sat down and wept. The little lamb, seeing her so sad, stood gravely in front of her; but not for long, for he was a little lamb, and he could not help himself. However sad he felt, he had to leap and frisk in the sun, and toss his little white tail.

Presently a fine gentleman came riding by on his big black horse. He stopped when he came to the hayrick. He was very much surprised at seeing a beautiful little girl sitting there, crying her eyes out, while a white lamb frisked this way and that, and played before her, and now and then ran up to her and licked the tears from her face with its little pink tongue.

"What is your name," says the fine gentleman, "and why are you in trouble? Perhaps I may be able to help you."

"My name is Alenoushka, and this is my little brother Vanoushka, whom I love." And she told him the whole story.

"Well, I can hardly believe all that," says the fine gentleman, "But come with me, and I will dress you in fine clothes, and set silver ornaments in your hair, and bracelets of gold on your little brown wrists. And as for the lamb, he shall come too, if you love him. Wherever you are there he shall be, and you shall never be parted from him."

And so Alenoushka took her little brother in her arms, and the fine gentleman lifted them up before him on the big black horse, and galloped home with them across the plain to his big house not far from the river. And when he got home he made a feast and married Alenoushka, and they lived together so happily that good people rejoiced to see them, and bad ones were jealous. And the little lamb lived in the house, and never grew any bigger, but always frisked and played, and followed Alenoushka wherever she went.

And then one day, when the fine gentleman had ridden far away to the town to buy a new bracelet for Alenoushka, there came an old witch. Ugly she was, with only one tooth in her head, and wicked as ever went about the world doing evil to decent folk. She begged from Alenoushka, and said she was hungry, and Alenoushka begged her to share her dinner. And she put a spell in the wine that Alenoushka drank, so that Alenoushka fell ill, and before evening, when the fine gentleman came riding back, had become pale, pale as snow, and as thin as an old stick.

"My dear," says the fine gentleman, "what is the matter with you?"

"Perhaps I shall be better to-morrow," says Alenoushka.

Well, the next day the gentleman rode into the fields, and the old hag came again while he was out.

"Would you like me to cure you?" says she. "I know a way to make you as well as ever you were. Plump you will be, and pretty again, before your husband comes riding home."

"And what must I do?" says Alenoushka, crying to think herself so ugly.

"You must go to the river and bathe this afternoon," says the old witch. "I will be there and put a spell on the water. Secretly you must go, for if any one knows whither you have gone my spell will not work."

So Alenoushka wrapped a shawl about her head, and slipped out of the house and went to the river. Only the little lamb, Vanoushka, knew where she had gone. He followed her, leaping about, and tossing his little white tail. The old witch was waiting for her. She sprang out of the bushes by the riverside, and seized Alenoushka, and tore off her pretty white dress, and fastened a heavy stone about her neck, and threw her from the bank into a deep place, so that she sank to the bottom of the river. Then the old witch, the wicked hag, put on Alenoushka's pretty white dress, and cast a spell, and made herself so like Alenoushka to look at that nobody could tell the difference. Only the little lamb had seen everything that had happened.

The fine gentleman came riding home in the evening, and he rejoiced when he saw his dear Alenoushka well again, with plump pink cheeks, and a smile on her rosy lips.

But the little lamb knew everything. He was sad and melancholy, and would not eat, and went every morning and every evening to the river, and there wandered about the banks, and cried, "Baa, baa," and was answered by the sighing of the wind in the long reeds.

The witch saw that the lamb went off by himself every morning and every evening. She watched where he went, and when she knew she began to hate the lamb; and she gave orders for the sticks to be cut, and the iron cauldron to be heated, and the steel knives made sharp. She sent a servant to catch the lamb; and she said to the fine gentleman, who thought all the time that she was Alenoushka, "It is time for the lamb to be killed, and made into a tasty stew."

The fine gentleman was astonished.

"What," says he, "you want to have the lamb killed? Why, you called it your brother when first I found you by the hayrick in the plain. You were always giving it caresses and sweet words. You loved it so much that I was sick of the sight of it, and now you give orders for its throat to be cut. Truly," says he, "the mind of woman is like the wind in summer."

The lamb ran away when he saw that the servant had come to catch him. He heard the sharpening of the knives, and had seen the cutting of the wood, and the great cauldron taken from its place. He was frightened, and he ran away, and came to the river bank, where the wind was sighing through the tall reeds. And there he sang a farewell song to his sister, thinking he had not long to live. The servant followed the lamb cunningly, and crept near to catch him, and heard his little song. This is what he sang:—

"Alenoushka, little sister, They are going to slaughter me; They are cutting wooden fagots, They are heating iron cauldrons, They are sharpening knives of steel."

And Alenoushka, lamenting, answered the lamb from the bottom of the river:—

"O my brother Ivanoushka, A heavy stone is round my throat, Silken grass grows through my fingers, Yellow sand lies on my breast."

The servant listened, and marvelled at the miracle of the lamb singing, and the sweet voice answering him from the river. He crept away quietly, and came to the fine gentleman, and told him what he had heard; and they set out together to the river, to watch the lamb, and listen, and see what was happening.

The little white lamb stood on the bank of the river weeping, so that his tears fell into the water. And presently he sang again:—

"Alenoushka, little sister, They are going to slaughter me; They are cutting wooden fagots, They are heating iron cauldrons, They are sharpening knives of steel."

And Alenoushka answered him, lamenting, from the bottom of the river:—

"O my brother Ivanoushka, A heavy stone is round my throat, Silken grass grows through my fingers, Yellow sand lies on my breast."

The fine gentleman heard, and he was sure that the voice was the voice of his own dear wife, and he remembered how she had loved the lamb. He sent his servant to fetch men, and fishing nets and nets of silk. The men came running, and they dragged the river with fishing nets, and brought their nets empty to land. Then they tried with nets of fine silk, and, as they drew them in, there was Alenoushka lying in the nets as if she were asleep.

They brought her to the bank and untied the stone from her white neck, and washed her in fresh water and clothed her in white clothes. But they had no sooner done all this than she woke up, more beautiful than ever she had been before, though then she was pretty enough, God knows. She woke, and sprang up, and threw her arms round the neck of the little white lamb, who suddenly became once more her little brother Vanoushka, who had been so thirsty as to drink water from the hoofmark of a sheep. And Vanoushka laughed and shouted in the sunshine, and the fine gentleman wept tears of joy. And they all praised God and kissed each other, and went home together, and began to live as happily as before, even more happily, because Vanoushka was no longer a lamb. But as soon as they got home the fine gentleman turned the old witch out of the house. And she became an ugly old hag, and went away to the deep woods, shrieking as she went.

"And did she ever come back again?" asked Ivan.

"No, she never came back again," said old Peter. "Once was enough."

"And what happened to Vanoushka when he grew up?"

"He grew up as handsome as Alenoushka was pretty. And he became a great hunter. And he married the sister of the fine gentleman. And they all lived happily together, and ate honey every day, with white bread and new milk."


Once upon a time a strong and powerful Tzar ruled in a country far away. And among his servants was a young archer, and this archer had a horse—a horse of power—such a horse as belonged to the wonderful men of long ago—a great horse with a broad chest, eyes like fire, and hoofs of iron. There are no such horses nowadays. They sleep with the strong men who rode them, the bogatirs, until the time comes when Russia has need of them. Then the great horses will thunder up from under the ground, and the valiant men leap from the graves in the armour they have worn so long. The strong men will sit those horses of power, and there will be swinging of clubs and thunder of hoofs, and the earth will be swept clean from the enemies of God and the Tzar. So my grandfather used to say, and he was as much older than I as I am older than you, little ones, and so he should know.

Well, one day long ago, in the green time of the year, the young archer rode through the forest on his horse of power. The trees were green; there were little blue flowers on the ground under the trees; the squirrels ran in the branches, and the hares in the undergrowth; but no birds sang. The young archer rode along the forest path and listened for the singing of the birds, but there was no singing. The forest was silent, and the only noises in it were the scratching of four-footed beasts, the dropping of fir cones, and the heavy stamping of the horse of power in the soft path.

"What has come to the birds?" said the young archer.

He had scarcely said this before he saw a big curving feather lying in the path before him. The feather was larger than a swan's, larger than an eagle's. It lay in the path, glittering like a flame; for the sun was on it, and it was a feather of pure gold. Then he knew why there was no singing in the forest. For he knew that the fire-bird had flown that way, and that the feather in the path before him was a feather from its burning breast.

The horse of power spoke and said,—

"Leave the golden feather where it lies. If you take it you will be sorry for it, and know the meaning of fear."

But the brave young archer sat on the horse of power and looked at the golden feather, and wondered whether to take it or not. He had no wish to learn what it was to be afraid, but he thought, "If I take it and bring it to the Tzar my master, he will be pleased; and he will not send me away with empty hands, for no Tzar in the world has a feather from the burning breast of the fire-bird." And the more he thought, the more he wanted to carry the feather to the Tzar. And in the end he did not listen to the words of the horse of power. He leapt from the saddle, picked up the golden feather of the fire-bird, mounted his horse again, and galloped back through the green forest till he came to the palace of the Tzar.

He went into the palace, and bowed before the Tzar and said,—

"O Tzar, I have brought you a feather of the fire-bird."

The Tzar looked gladly at the feather, and then at the young archer.

"Thank you," says he; "but if you have brought me a feather of the fire-bird, you will be able to bring me the bird itself. I should like to see it. A feather is not a fit gift to bring to the Tzar. Bring the bird itself, or, I swear by my sword, your head shall no longer sit between your shoulders!"

The young archer bowed his head and went out. Bitterly he wept, for he knew now what it was to be afraid. He went out into the courtyard, where the horse of power was waiting for him, tossing its head and stamping on the ground.

"Master," says the horse of power, "why do you weep?"

"The Tzar has told me to bring him the fire-bird, and no man on earth can do that," says the young archer, and he bowed his head on his breast.

"I told you," says the horse of power, "that if you took the feather you would learn the meaning of fear. Well, do not be frightened yet, and do not weep. The trouble is not now; the trouble lies before you. Go to the Tzar and ask him to have a hundred sacks of maize scattered over the open field, and let this be done at midnight."

The young archer went back into the palace and begged the Tzar for this, and the Tzar ordered that at midnight a hundred sacks of maize should be scattered in the open field.

Next morning, at the first redness in the sky, the young archer rode out on the horse of power, and came to the open field. The ground was scattered all over with maize. In the middle of the field stood a great oak with spreading boughs. The young archer leapt to the ground, took off the saddle, and let the horse of power loose to wander as he pleased about the field. Then he climbed up into the oak and hid himself among the green boughs.

The sky grew red and gold, and the sun rose. Suddenly there was a noise in the forest round the field. The trees shook and swayed, and almost fell. There was a mighty wind. The sea piled itself into waves with crests of foam, and the fire-bird came flying from the other side of the world. Huge and golden and flaming in the sun, it flew, dropped down with open wings into the field, and began to eat the maize.

The horse of power wandered in the field. This way he went, and that, but always he came a little nearer to the fire-bird. Nearer and nearer came the horse. He came close up to the fire-bird, and then suddenly stepped on one of its spreading fiery wings and pressed it heavily to the ground. The bird struggled, flapping mightily with its fiery wings, but it could not get away. The young archer slipped down from the tree, bound the fire-bird with three strong ropes, swung it on his back, saddled the horse, and rode to the palace of the Tzar.

The young archer stood before the Tzar, and his back was bent under the great weight of the fire-bird, and the broad wings of the bird hung on either side of him like fiery shields, and there was a trail of golden feathers on the floor. The young archer swung the magic bird to the foot of the throne before the Tzar; and the Tzar was glad, because since the beginning of the world no Tzar had seen the fire-bird flung before him like a wild duck caught in a snare.

The Tzar looked at the fire-bird and laughed with pride. Then he lifted his eyes and looked at the young archer, and says he,—

"As you have known how to take the fire-bird, you will know how to bring me my bride, for whom I have long been waiting. In the land of Never, on the very edge of the world, where the red sun rises in flame from behind the sea, lives the Princess Vasilissa. I will marry none but her. Bring her to me, and I will reward you with silver and gold. But if you do not bring her, then, by my sword, your head will no longer sit between your shoulders!"

The young archer wept bitter tears, and went out into the courtyard, where the horse of power was, stamping the ground with its hoofs of iron and tossing its thick mane.

"Master, why do you weep?" asked the horse of power.

"The Tzar has ordered me to go to the land of Never, and to bring back the Princess Vasilissa."

"Do not weep—do not grieve. The trouble is not yet; the trouble is to come. Go to the Tzar and ask him for a silver tent with a golden roof, and for all kinds of food and drink to take with us on the journey."

The young archer went in and asked the Tzar for this, and the Tzar gave him a silver tent with silver hangings and a gold-embroidered roof, and every kind of rich wine and the tastiest of foods.

Then the young archer mounted the horse of power and rode off to the land of Never. On and on he rode, many days and nights, and came at last to the edge of the world, where the red sun rises in flame from behind the deep blue sea.

On the shore of the sea the young archer reined in the horse of power, and the heavy hoofs of the horse sank in the sand. He shaded his eyes and looked out over the blue water, and there was the Princess Vasilissa in a little silver boat, rowing with golden oars.

The young archer rode back a little way to where the sand ended and the green world began. There he loosed the horse to wander where he pleased, and to feed on the green grass. Then on the edge of the shore, where the green grass ended and grew thin and the sand began, he set up the shining tent, with its silver hangings and its gold embroidered roof. In the tent he set out the tasty dishes and the rich flagons of wine which the Tzar had given him, and he sat himself down in the tent and began to regale himself, while he waited for the Princess Vasilissa.

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