A Folk Tale from Russia
One day an old, old man was wandering about the earth, and he asked for a night’s shelter from the peasant. “Certainly,” said the peasant—”I shall be only too glad; only, will you go on telling me stories all night long?”
“Yes, all right! I will tell you stories; only, let me rest here.”
“Then, pray, come in!”
So the old man entered the hut and lay down on the sleeping bench on the top of the stove.
And the master said: “Make yourself ready, honoured guest. We shall have supper. Now, old man, tell me a story.”
“Wait a bit; I had better tell you one in the morning.”
“As it please you!” And they lay down to sleep.
Then the old man went to sleep, and dreamed that there were two candles blazing in front of the images and two birds fluttering in the izbá. He felt thirsty, and wanted to drink, got off the sleeping bench, and there were newts running about on the floor. And he went up to the table, and saw frogs jumping and croaking on it. Then he looked up at the master’s eldest son, and there was a snake lying in between him and his wife. And he looked at the second son, and on the second son’s wife there was a cat which was yawning at the man. Then he looked at the third son, and between him and his wife there was a young man lying. This all seemed rather queer to the old man, and rather strange.
So he went and lay on the corn-kiln, and there he heard shrieks: “Sister! Sister! come and fetch me!” Then he went and lay under the fence, and there he heard a cry: “Pull me out and stick me in again!” Then he went and lay on the cauldron, and he heard a cry: “I am hanging on the cross-beam! I am falling on the cross-beam!” Then he went back into the hut.
The master woke up and said: “Now tell me a story.”
But the old man replied: “I shall not tell you a story, only the truth. Do you know what I have just dreamed? I went to sleep and thought I saw two candles blazing in front of the images and two birds fluttering inside the hut.”
“Those are my two angels fluttering about.”
“And I also saw a snake lying between your son and his wife.”
“That is because they quarrel.”
“And I looked also at your second son, and there was a cat sitting on his wife, and yawning at the man.”
“That means that they are bad friends, and the wife wants to get rid of the husband.”
“Then, when I looked at your next son, I saw a youth lying in between them.”
“That is not a youth, but an angel who was lying there; and that is why they are on such good and loving terms.”
“Why is it, then, master of the house, when I slipped off the sleeping shelf that there were newts running on the floor; and, when I wanted to drink at the table, I saw frogs leaping about and croaking?”
“Because,” the peasant answered, “my daughters-in-law do not sweep up the lathes; but put the kvas on the table when they are sitting round together without saying grace.”
“Then I went to sleep on the corn-kiln, and I heard a cry: ‘Sister! Sister! come and fetch me!'”
“That means that my sons never put the brush back into its place and say the proper blessing.”
“Then I went to lie under the fence, and I heard a cry: ‘Pull me out and stick me in again!'”
“That means that the stick’s upside-down.”
“Then I went and lay under the cauldron. And I heard a cry of ‘I am hanging on the cross-beam! I am falling on the cross-beam!'”
“That means,” said the master, “that, when I die, my entire house will fall.”