Once upon a time in a certain village there lived two neighbours; one was rich, very rich, and the other so poor that he had nothing in the world but a little hut, and that was tumbling about his ears. At length things came to such a pass with the poor man that he had nothing to eat, and could get work nowhere. Full of grief, he bethought him what he should do. He thought and thought, and at last he said, “Look ye, wife! I’ll go to my rich neighbour. Perchance he will lend me a silver rouble; that, at any rate, will be enough to buy bread with.” So he went.

 

He came to the rich man. “Good health to my lord!” cried he.––“Good health!”––“I have come on an errand to thee, dear little master!”––“What may thine errand be?” inquired the rich man.––“Alas! would to God that I had no need to say it. It has come to such a pass with us that there’s not a crust of bread nor a farthing of money in the house. So I have come to thee, dear little master; lend us but a silver rouble and we will be ever thankful to thee, and I’ll work myself old to pay it back.”––“But who will stand surety for thee?” asked the rich man.––“I know not if any man will, I am so poor. Yet, perchance, God and St Michael will be my sureties,” and he pointed at the ikon in the corner. Then the ikon of St Michael spoke to the rich man from the niche and said, “Come now! lend it him, and put it down to my account. God will repay thee!”––“Well,” said the rich man, “I’ll lend it to thee.” So he lent it, and the poor man thanked him and returned to his home full of joy.

 

But the rich man was not content that God should give him back his loan by blessing him in his flocks and herds, and in his children, and in his health, and in the blessed fruits of the earth. He waited and waited for the poor man to come and pay him back his rouble, and at last he went to seek him. “Thou son of a dog,” he shouted, before the house, “why hast thou not brought me back my money? Thou knowest how to borrow, but thou forgettest to repay!” Then the wife of the poor man burst into tears. “He would repay thee indeed if he were in this world,” said she, “but lo now! he died but a little while ago!” The rich man snarled at her and departed, but when he got home he said to the ikon, “A pretty surety thou art!” Then he took St Michael down from the niche, dug out his eyes, and began beating him.

 

He beat St Michael again and again, and at last he flung him into a puddle and trampled on him. “I’ll give it thee for standing me surety so scurvily,” said he. While he was thus abusing St Michael, a young fellow about twenty years old came along that way, and said to him, “What art thou doing, my father?”––“I am beating him because he stood surety and has played me false. He took upon himself the repayment of a silver rouble, which I lent to the son of a pig, who has since gone away and died. That is why I am beating him now.”––“Beat him not, my father! I’ll give thee a silver rouble, but do thou give me this holy image!”––“Take him if thou wilt, but see that thou bring me the silver rouble first.”

 

Then the young man ran home and said to his father, “Dad, give me a silver rouble!”––“Wherefore, my son?”––“I would buy a holy image,” said he, and he told his father how he had seen that heathen beating St Michael.––“Nay, my son, whence shall we who are poor find a silver rouble to give to him who is so rich?”––“Nay, but give it me, dad!” and he begged and prayed till he got it. Then he ran back as quickly as he could, paid the silver rouble to the rich man, and got the holy image. He washed it clean and placed it in the midst of sweet-smelling flowers. And so they lived on as before.

 

Now this youth had three uncles, rich merchants, who sold all manner of merchandise, and went in ships to foreign lands, where they sold their goods and made their gains. One day, when his uncles were again making ready to depart into foreign lands, he said to them, “Take me with you!”––“Why shouldst thou go?” said they; “we have wares to sell, but what hast thou?”––“Yet take me,” said he.––“But thou hast nothing.”––“I will make me laths and boards and take them with me,” said he.––His uncles laughed at him for imagining such wares as these, but he begged and prayed them till they were wearied. “Well, come,” they said, “though there is naught for thee to do; only take not much of these wares of thine with thee, for our ships are already full.”––Then he made him laths and boards, put them on board the ship, took St Michael with him, and they departed.

 

They went on and on. They sailed a short distance and they sailed a long distance, till at last they came to another tsardom and another empire. And the Tsar of this tsardom had an only daughter, so lovely that the like of her is neither to be imagined nor divined in God’s fair world, neither may it be told in tales. Now this Tsarivna one day went down to the river to bathe, and plunged into the water without first crossing herself, whereupon the Evil Spirit took possession of her. The Tsarivna got out of the water, and straightway fell ill of so terrible a disease that it may not be told of. Do what they would––and the wise men and the wise women did their utmost––it was of no avail. In a few days she grew worse and died. Then the Tsar, her father, made a proclamation that people should come and read the prayers for the dead over her dead body, and so exorcise the evil spirit, and whosoever delivered her was to have half his power and half his tsardom.

 

And the people came in crowds––but none of them could read the prayers for the dead over her, it was impossible. Every evening a man went into the church, and every morning they swept out his bones, for there was naught else of him remaining. And the Tsar was very wrath. “All my people will be devoured,” cried he. And he commanded that all the foreign merchants passing through his realm should be made to read prayers for the dead over his daughter’s body. “And if they will not read,” said he, “they shall not depart from my kingdom.”

The Tsarivna Arose from her coffin

The Tsarivna arose from her coffin

So the foreign merchants went one by one. In the evening a merchant was shut up in the church, and in the early morning they came and found and swept away his bones. At last it came to the turn of the young man’s uncles to read the prayers for the dead in the church. They wept and lamented and cried, “We are lost! we are lost! Heaven help us!” Then the eldest uncle said to the lad, “Listen, good simpleton! It has now come to my turn to read prayers over the Tsarivna. Do thou go in my stead and pass the night in the church, and I’ll give thee all my ship.”––“Nay, but,” said the simpleton, “what if she tear me to pieces too? I won’t go!”––But then St Michael said to him, “Go and fear not! Stand in the very middle of the church, fenced round about with thy laths and boards, and take with thee a basket full of pears. When she rushes at thee, take and scatter the pears, and it will take her till cockcrow to pick them all up. But do thou go on reading thy prayers all the time, and look not up, whatever she may do.”

 

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From COSSACK FAIRY TALES AND FOLK TALES

Format: Currently only in PDF ebook format

ISBN: 978-1-907256-30-1

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

 

Cossack Folk Tales and Fairy Tales

 

 

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