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.

 

————————-

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

 

 

 

Advertisements