“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. Someday 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.

Old Peter and the Golden Fish

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.”

 

 

 

————————-

From OLD PETER’S RUSSAIN TALES

ISBN: 978-1-907256-40-0

URL: http://www.abelapublishing.com/cg_oprt.html

 

Old Peters Russian Tales

 

 

 

Advertisements