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 tumble-down 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.

 

 

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From OLD PETER’S RUSSAIN TALES

ISBN: 978-1-907256-40-0

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

 

Old Peter's Russian Tales

 

 

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