Ivan the Fool by Leo Tolstoy
In a certain kingdom there lived a rich peasant, who had three
sons--Simeon (a soldier), Tarras-Briukhan (fat man), and Ivan (a
fool)--and one daughter, Milania, born dumb. Simeon went to
war, to serve the Czar; Tarras went to a city and became a
merchant; and Ivan, with his sister, remained at home to work on
For his valiant service in the army, Simeon received an estate
with high rank, and married a noble's daughter. Besides his
large pay, he was in receipt of a handsome income from his
estate; yet he was unable to make ends meet. What the husband
saved, the wife wasted in extravagance. One day Simeon went to
the estate to collect his income, when the steward informed him
that there was no income, saying:
"We have neither horses, cows, fishing-nets, nor implements; it
is necessary first to buy everything, and then to look for
Simeon thereupon went to his father and said:
"You are rich, batiushka [little father], but you have given
nothing to me. Give me one-third of what you possess as my
share, and I will transfer it to my estate."
The old man replied: "You did not help to bring prosperity to our
household. For what reason, then, should you now demand the
third part of everything? It would be unjust to Ivan and his
"Yes," said Simeon; "but he is a fool, and she was born dumb.
What need have they of anything?"
"See what Ivan will say."
Ivan's reply was: "Well, let him take his share."
Simeon took the portion allotted to him, and went again to serve
in the army.
Tarras also met with success. He became rich and married a
merchant's daughter, but even this failed to satisfy his desires,
and he also went to his father and said, "Give me my share."
The old man, however, refused to comply with his request, saying:
"You had no hand in the accumulation of our property, and what
our household contains is the result of Ivan's hard work. It
would be unjust," he repeated, "to Ivan and his sister."
Tarras replied: "But he does not need it. He is a fool, and
cannot marry, for no one will have him; and sister does not
require anything, for she was born dumb." Turning then to Ivan
he continued: "Give me half the grain you have, and I will not
touch the implements or fishing-nets; and from the cattle I will
take only the dark mare, as she is not fit to plow."
Ivan laughed and said: "Well, I will go and arrange matters so
that Tarras may have his share," whereupon Tarras took the brown
mare with the grain to town, leaving Ivan with one old horse to
work on as before and support his father, mother, and sister.
It was disappointing to the Stary Tchert (Old Devil) that the
brothers did not quarrel over the division of the property, and
that they separated peacefully; and he cried out, calling his
three small devils (Tchertionki).
"See here," said he, "there are living three brothers--Simeon the
soldier, Tarras-Briukhan, and Ivan the Fool. It is necessary
that they should quarrel. Now they live peacefully, and enjoy
each other's hospitality. The Fool spoiled all my plans. Now
you three go and work with them in such a manner that they will
be ready to tear each other's eyes out. Can you do this?"
"We can," they replied.
"How will you accomplish it?"
"In this way: We will first ruin them to such an extent that they
will have nothing to eat, and we will then gather them together
in one place where we are sure that they will fight."
"Very well; I see you understand your business. Go, and do not
return to me until you have created a feud between the three
brothers--or I will skin you alive."
The three small devils went to a swamp to consult as to the best
means of accomplishing their mission. They disputed for a long
time--each one wanting the easiest part of the work--and not
being able to agree, concluded to draw lots; by which it was
decided that the one who was first finished had to come and help
the others. This agreement being entered into, they appointed a
time when they were again to meet in the swamp--to find out who
was through and who needed assistance.
The time having arrived, the young devils met in the swamp as
agreed, when each related his experience. The first, who went to
Simeon, said: "I have succeeded in my undertaking, and to-morrow
Simeon returns to his father."
His comrades, eager for particulars, inquired how he had done
"Well," he began, "the first thing I did was to blow some courage
into his veins, and, on the strength of it, Simeon went to the
Czar and offered to conquer the whole world for him. The Emperor
made him commander-in-chief of the forces, and sent him with an
army to fight the Viceroy of India. Having started on their
mission of conquest, they were unaware that I, following in their
wake, had wet all their powder. I also went to the Indian ruler
and showed him how I could create numberless soldiers from straw.
Simeon's army, seeing that they were surrounded by such a vast
number of Indian warriors of my creation, became frightened, and
Simeon commanded to fire from cannons and rifles, which of course
they were unable to do. The soldiers, discouraged, retreated in
great disorder. Thus Simeon brought upon himself the terrible
disgrace of defeat. His estate was confiscated, and to-morrow he
is to be executed. All that remains for me to do, therefore,"
concluded the young devil, "is to release him to-morrow morning.
Now, then, who wants my assistance?"
The second small devil (from Tarras) then related his story.
"I do not need any help," he began. "My business is also all
right. My work with Tarras will be finished in one week. In the
first place I made him grow thin. He afterward became so
covetous that he wanted to possess everything he saw, and he
spent all the money he had in the purchase of immense quantities
of goods. When his capital was gone he still continued to buy
with borrowed money, and has become involved in such difficulties
that he cannot free himself. At the end of one week the date for
the payment of his notes will have expired, and, his goods being
seized upon, he will become a bankrupt; and he also will return
to his father."
At the conclusion of this narrative they inquired of the third
devil how things had fared between him and Ivan.
"Well," said he, "my report is not so encouraging. The first
thing I did was to spit into his jug of quass [a sour drink made
from rye], which made him sick at his stomach. He afterward went
to plow his summer-fallow, but I made the soil so hard that the
plow could scarcely penetrate it. I thought the Fool would not
succeed, but he started to work nevertheless. Moaning with pain,
he still continued to labor. I broke one plow, but he replaced
it with another, fixing it securely, and resumed work. Going
beneath the surface of the ground I took hold of the plowshares,
but did not succeed in stopping Ivan. He pressed so hard, and
the colter was so sharp, that my hands were cut; and despite my
utmost efforts, he went over all but a small portion of the
He concluded with: "Come, brothers, and help me, for if we do not
conquer him our whole enterprise will be a failure. If the Fool
is permitted successfully to conduct his farming, they will have
no need, for he will support his brothers."
Ivan having succeeded in plowing all but a small portion of his
land, he returned the next day to finish it. The pain in his
stomach continued, but he felt that he must go on with his work.
He tried to start his plow, but it would not move; it seemed to
have struck a hard root. It was the small devil in the ground
who had wound his feet around the plowshares and held them.
"This is strange," thought Ivan. "There were never any roots
here before, and this is surely one."
Ivan put his hand in the ground, and, feeling something soft,
grasped and pulled it out. It was like a root in appearance, but
seemed to possess life. Holding it up he saw that it was a
little devil. Disgusted, he exclaimed, "See the nasty thing,"
and he proceeded to strike it a blow, intending to kill it, when
the young devil cried out:
"Do not kill me, and I will grant your every wish."
"What can you do for me?"
"Tell me what it is you most wish for," the little devil replied.
Ivan, peasant-fashion, scratched the back of his head as he
thought, and finally he said:
"I am dreadfully sick at my stomach. Can you cure me?"
"I can," the little devil said.
"Then do so."
The little devil bent toward the earth and began searching for
roots, and when he found them he gave them to Ivan, saying: "If
you will swallow some of these you will be immediately cured of
whatsoever disease you are afflicted with."
Ivan did as directed, and obtained instant relief.
"I beg of you to let me go now," the little devil pleaded; "I
will pass into the earth, never to return."
"Very well; you may go, and God bless you;" and as Ivan
pronounced the name of God, the small devil disappeared into the
earth like a flash, and only a slight opening in the ground
Ivan placed in his hat what roots he had left, and proceeded to
plow. Soon finishing his work, he turned his plow over and
When he reached the house he found his brother Simeon and his
wife seated at the supper-table. His estate had been
confiscated, and he himself had barely escaped execution by
making his way out of prison, and having nothing to live upon had
come back to his father for support.
Turning to Ivan he said: "I came to ask you to care for us until
I can find something to do."
"Very well," Ivan replied; "you may remain with us."
Just as Ivan was about to sit down to the table Simeon's wife
made a wry face, indicating that she did not like the smell of
Ivan's sheep-skin coat; and turning to her husband she said, "I
shall not sit at the table with a moujik [peasant] who smells
Simeon the soldier turned to his brother and said: "My lady
objects to the smell of your clothes. You may eat in the
Ivan said: "Very well, it is all the same to me. I will soon
have to go and feed my horse any way."
Ivan took some bread in one hand, and his kaftan (coat) in the
other, and left the room.
The small devil finished with Simeon that night, and according to
agreement went to the assistance of his comrade who had charge of
Ivan, that he might help to conquer the Fool. He went to the
field and searched everywhere, but could find nothing but the
hole through which the small devil had disappeared.
"Well, this is strange," he said; "something must have happened
to my companion, and I will have to take his place and continue
the work he began. The Fool is through with his plowing, so I
must look about me for some other means of compassing his
destruction. I must overflow his meadow and prevent him from
cutting the grass."
The little devil accordingly overflowed the meadow with muddy
water, and, when Ivan went at dawn next morning with his scythe
set and sharpened and tried to mow the grass, he found that it
resisted all his efforts and would not yield to the implement as
Many times Ivan tried to cut the grass, but always without
success. At last, becoming weary of the effort, he decided to
return home and have his scythe again sharpened, and also to
procure a quantity of bread, saying: "I will come back here and
will not leave until I have mown all the meadow, even if it
should take a whole week."
Hearing this, the little devil became thoughtful, saying: "That
Ivan is a koolak [hard case], and I must think of some other way
of conquering him."
Ivan soon returned with his sharpened scythe and started to mow.
The small devil hid himself in the grass, and as the point of the
scythe came down he buried it in the earth and made it almost
impossible for Ivan to move the implement. He, however,
succeeded in mowing all but one small spot in the swamp, where
again the small devil hid himself, saying: "Even if he should cut
my hands I will prevent him from accomplishing his work."
When Ivan came to the swamp he found that the grass was not very
thick. Still, the scythe would not work, which made him so angry
that he worked with all his might, and one blow more powerful
than the others cut off a portion of the small devil's tail, who
had hidden himself there.
Despite the little devil's efforts he succeeded in finishing his
work, when he returned home and ordered his sister to gather up
the grass while he went to another field to cut rye. But the
devil preceded him there, and fixed the rye in such a manner that
it was almost impossible for Ivan to cut it; however, after
continuous hard labor he succeeded, and when he was through with
the rye he said to himself: "Now I will start to mow oats."
On hearing this, the little devil thought to himself: "I could
not prevent him from mowing the rye, but I will surely stop him
from mowing the oats when the morning comes."
Early next day, when the devil came to the field, he found that
the oats had been already mowed. Ivan did it during the night,
so as to avoid the loss that might have resulted from the grain
being too ripe and dry. Seeing that Ivan again had escaped him,
the little devil became greatly enraged, saying:
"He cut me all over and made me tired, that fool. I did not meet
such misfortune even on the battle-field. He does not even
sleep;" and the devil began to swear. "I cannot follow him," he
continued. "I will go now to the heaps and make everything
Accordingly he went to a heap of the new-mown grain and began his
fiendish work. After wetting it he built a fire and warmed
himself, and soon was fast asleep.
Ivan harnessed his horse, and, with his sister, went to bring the
rye home from the field.
After lifting a couple of sheaves from the first heap his
pitchfork came into contact with the little devil's back, which
caused the latter to howl with pain and to jump around in every
direction. Ivan exclaimed:
"See here! What nastiness! You again here?"
"I am another one!" said the little devil. "That was my brother.
I am the one who was sent to your brother Simeon."
"Well," said Ivan, "it matters not who you are. I will fix you
all the same."
As Ivan was about to strike the first blow the devil pleaded:
"Let me go and I will do you no more harm. I will do whatever
"What can you do for me?" asked Ivan.
"I can make soldiers from almost anything."
"And what will they be good for?"
"Oh, they will do everything for you!"
"Can they sing?"
"Well, make them."
"Take a bunch of straw and scatter it on the ground, and see if
each straw will not turn into a soldier."
Ivan shook the straws on the ground, and, as he expected, each
straw turned into a soldier, and they began marching with a band
at their head.
"Ishty [look you], that was well done! How it will delight the
village maidens!" he exclaimed.
The small devil now said: "Let me go; you do not need me any
But Ivan said: "No, I will not let you go just yet. You have
converted the straw into soldiers, and now I want you to turn
them again into straw, as I cannot afford to lose it, but I want
it with the grain on."
The devil replied: "Say: 'So many soldiers, so much straw.'"
Ivan did as directed, and got back his rye with the straw.
The small devil again begged for his release.
Ivan, taking him from the pitchfork, said: "With God's blessing
you may depart"; and, as before at the mention of God's name, the
little devil was hurled into the earth like a flash, and nothing
was left but the hole to show where he had gone.
Soon afterward Ivan returned home, to find his brother Tarras and
his wife there. Tarras-Briukhan could not pay his debts, and was
forced to flee from his creditors and seek refuge under his
father's roof. Seeing Ivan, he said: "Well, Ivan, may we remain
here until I start in some new business?"
Ivan replied as he had before to Simeon: "Yes, you are perfectly
welcome to remain here as long as it suits you."
With that announcement he removed his coat and seated himself at
the supper-table with the others. But Tarras-Briukhan's wife
objected to the smell of his clothes, saying: "I cannot eat with
a fool; neither can I stand the smell."
Then Tarras-Briukhan said: "Ivan, from your clothes there comes a
bad smell; go and eat by yourself in the porch."
"Very well," said Ivan; and he took some bread and went out as
ordered, saying, "It is time for me to feed my mare."
The small devil who had charge of Tarras finished with him that
night, and according to agreement proceeded to the assistance of
the other two to help them conquer Ivan. Arriving at the plowed
field he looked around for his comrades, but found only the hole
through which one had disappeared; and on going to the meadow he
discovered the severed tail of the other, and in the rye-field he
found yet another hole.
"Well," he thought, "it is quite clear that my comrades have met
with some great misfortune, and that I will have to take their
places and arrange the feud between the brothers."
The small devil then went in search of Ivan. But he, having
finished with the field, was nowhere to be found. He had gone to
the forest to cut logs to build homes for his brothers, as they
found it inconvenient for so many to live under the same
The small devil at last discovered his whereabouts, and going to
the forest climbed into the branches of the trees and began to
interfere with Ivan's work. Ivan cut down a tree, which failed,
however, to fall to the ground, becoming entangled in the
branches of other trees; yet he succeeded in getting it down
after a hard struggle. In chopping down the next tree he met
with the same difficulties, and also with the third. Ivan had
supposed he could cut down fifty trees in a day, but he succeeded
in chopping but ten before darkness put an end to his labors for
a time. He was now exhausted, and, perspiring profusely, he sat
down alone in the woods to rest. He soon after resumed his work,
cutting down one more tree; but the effort gave him a pain in his
back, and he was obliged to rest again. Seeing this, the small
devil was full of joy.
"Well," he thought, "now he is exhausted and will stop work, and
I will rest also." He then seated himself on some branches and
Ivan again arose, however, and, taking his axe, gave the tree a
terrific blow from the opposite side, which felled it instantly
to the ground, carrying the little devil with it; and Ivan,
proceeding to cut the branches, found the devil alive. Very much
astonished, Ivan exclaimed:
"Look you! Such nastiness! Are you again here?"
"I am another one," replied the devil. "I was with your brother
"Well," said Ivan, "that makes no difference; I will fix you."
And he was about to strike him a blow with the axe when the devil
"Do not kill me, and whatever you wish you shall have."
Ivan asked, "What can you do?"
"I can make for you all the money you wish."
Ivan then told the devil he might proceed, whereupon the latter
began to explain to him how he might become rich.
"Take," said he to Ivan, "the leaves of this oak tree and rub
them in your hands, and the gold will fall to the ground."
Ivan did as he was directed, and immediately the gold began to
drop about his feet; and he remarked:
"This will be a fine trick to amuse the village boys with."
"Can I now take my departure?" asked the devil, to which Ivan
replied, "With God's blessing you may go."
At the mention of the name of God, the devil disappeared into the
The brothers, having finished their houses, moved into them and
lived apart from their father and brother. Ivan, when he had
completed his plowing, made a great feast, to which he invited
his brothers, telling them that he had plenty of beer for them to
drink. The brothers, however, declined Ivan's hospitality,
saying, "We have seen the beer moujiks drink, and want none of
Ivan then gathered around him all the peasants in the village
and with them drank beer until he became intoxicated, when he
joined the Khorovody (a street gathering of the village boys and
girls, who sing songs), and told them they must sing his praises,
saying that in return he would show them such sights as they had
never before seen in their lives. The little girls laughed and
began to sing songs praising Ivan, and when they had finished
they said: "Very well; now give us what you said you would."
Ivan replied, "I will soon show you," and, taking an empty bag in
his hand, he started for the woods. The little girls laughed as
they said, "What a fool he is!" and resuming their play they
forgot all about him.
Some time after Ivan suddenly appeared among them carrying in his
hand the bag, which was now filled.
"Shall I divide this with you?" he said.
"Yes; divide!" they sang in chorus.
So Ivan put his hand into the bag and drew it out full of gold
coins, which he scattered among them.
"Batiushka," they cried as they ran to gather up the precious
The moujiks then appeared on the scene and began to fight among
themselves for the possession of the yellow objects. In the
melee one old woman was nearly crushed to death.
Ivan laughed and was greatly amused at the sight of so many
persons quarrelling over a few pieces of gold.
"Oh! you duratchki" (little fools), he said, "why did you almost
crush the life out of the old grandmother? Be more gentle. I
have plenty more, and I will give them to you;" whereupon he
began throwing about more of the coins.
The people gathered around him, and Ivan continued throwing until
he emptied his bag. They clamored for more, but Ivan replied:
"The gold is all gone. Another time I will give you more. Now
we will r‚sum‚ our singing and dancing."
The little children sang, but Ivan said to them, "Your songs are
The children said, "Then show us how to sing better."
To this Ivan replied, "I will show you people who can sing better
than you." With that remark Ivan went to the barn and, securing
a bundle of straw, did as the little devil had directed him; and
presently a regiment of soldiers appeared in the village street,
and he ordered them to sing and dance.
The people were astonished and could not understand how Ivan had
produced the strangers.
The soldiers sang for some time, to the great delight of the
villagers; and when Ivan commanded them to stop they instantly
Ivan then ordered them off to the barn, telling the astonished
and mystified moujiks that they must not follow him. Reaching
the barn, he turned the soldiers again into straw and went home
to sleep off the effects of his debauch.
The next morning Ivan's exploits were the talk of the village,
and news of the wonderful things he had done reached the ears of
his brother Simeon, who immediately went to Ivan to learn all
"Explain to me," he said; "from whence did you bring the
soldiers, and where did you take them?"
"And what do you wish to know for?" asked Ivan.
"Why, with soldiers we can do almost anything we wish--whole
kingdoms can be conquered," replied Simeon.
This information greatly surprised Ivan, who said: "Well, why did
you not tell me about this before? I can make as many as you
Ivan then took his brother to the barn, but he said: "While I am
willing to create the soldiers, you must take them away from
here; for if it should become necessary to feed them, all the
food in the village would last them only one day."
Simeon promised to do as Ivan wished, whereupon Ivan proceeded to
convert the straw into soldiers. Out of one bundle of straw he
made an entire regiment; in fact, so many soldiers appeared as if
by magic that there was not a vacant spot in the field.
Turning to Simeon Ivan said, "Well, is there a sufficient
Beaming with joy, Simeon replied: "Enough! enough! Thank you,
"Glad you are satisfied," said Ivan, "and if you wish more I will
make them for you. I have plenty of straw now."
Simeon divided his soldiers into battalions and regiments, and
after having drilled them he went forth to fight and to conquer.
Simeon had just gotten safely out of the village with his
soldiers when Tarras, the other brother, appeared before Ivan--he
also having heard of the previous day's performance and wanting
to learn the secret of his power. He sought Ivan, saying: "Tell
me the secret of your supply of gold, for if I had plenty of
money I could with its assistance gather in all the wealth in the
Ivan was greatly surprised on hearing this statement, and said:
"You might have told me this before, for I can obtain for you as
much money as you wish."
Tarras was delighted, and he said, "You might get me about three
"Well," said Ivan, "we will go to the woods, or, better still, we
will harness the horse, as we could not possibly carry so much
The brothers went to the woods and Ivan proceeded to gather the
oak leaves, which he rubbed between his hands, the dust falling
to the ground and turning into gold pieces as quickly as it fell.
When quite a pile had accumulated Ivan turned to Tarras and asked
if he had rubbed enough leaves into money, whereupon Tarras
replied: "Thank you, Ivan; that will be sufficient for this
Ivan then said: "If you wish more, come to me and I will rub as
much as you want, for there are plenty of leaves."
Tarras, with his tarantas (wagon) filled with gold, rode away to
the city to engage in trade and increase his wealth; and thus
both brothers went their way, Simeon to fight and Tarras to
Simeon's soldiers conquered a kingdom for him and Tarras-Briukhan
made plenty of money.
Some time afterward the two brothers met and confessed to each
other the source from whence sprang their prosperity, but they
were not yet satisfied.
Simeon said: "I have conquered a kingdom and enjoy a very
pleasant life, but I have not sufficient money to procure food
for my soldiers;" while Tarras confessed that he was the
possessor of enormous wealth, but the care of it caused him much
"Let us go again to our brother," said Simeon; "I will order him
to make more soldiers and will give them to you, and you may then
tell him that he must make more money so that we can buy food for
They went again to Ivan, and Simeon said: "I have not sufficient
soldiers; I want you to make me at least two divisions more."
But Ivan shook his head as he said: "I will not create soldiers
for nothing; you must pay me for doing it."
"Well, but you promised," said Simeon.
"I know I did," replied Ivan; "but I have changed my mind since
"But, fool, why will you not do as you promised?"
"For the reason that your soldiers kill men, and I will not make
any more for such a cruel purpose." With this reply Ivan
remained stubborn and would not create any more soldiers.
Tarras-Briukhan next approached Ivan and ordered him to make more
money; but, as in the case of Tarras, Ivan only shook his head,
as he said: "I will not make you any money unless you pay me for
doing it. I cannot work without pay."
Tarras then reminded him of his promise.
"I know I promised," replied Ivan; "but still I must refuse to do
as you wish."
"But why, fool, will you not fulfill your promise?" asked Tarras.
"For the reason that your gold was the means of depriving
Mikhailovna of her cow."
"But how did that happen?" inquired Tarras.
"It happened in this way," said Ivan. "Mikhailovna always kept a
cow, and her children had plenty of milk to drink; but some time
ago one of her boys came to me to beg for some milk, and I asked,
'Where is your cow?' when he replied, 'A clerk of Tarras-Briukhan
came to our home and offered three gold pieces for her. Our
mother could not resist the temptation, and now we have no milk
to drink. I gave you the gold pieces for your pleasure, and you
put them to such poor use that I will not give you any more.'"
The brothers, on hearing this, took their departure to discuss as
to the best plan to pursue in regard to a settlement of their
Simeon said: "Let us arrange it in this way: I will give you the
half of my kingdom, and soldiers to keep guard over your wealth;
and you give me money to feed the soldiers in my half of the
To this arrangement Tarras agreed, and both the brothers became
rulers and very happy.
Ivan remained on the farm and worked to support his father,
mother, and dumb sister. Once it happened that the old dog,
which had grown up on the farm, was taken sick, when Ivan thought
he was dying, and, taking pity on the animal, placed some bread
in his hat and carried it to him. It happened that when he
turned out the bread the root which the little devil had given
him fell out also. The old dog swallowed it with the bread and
was almost instantly cured, when he jumped up and began to wag
his tail as an expression of joy. Ivan's father and mother,
seeing the dog cured so quickly, asked by what means he had
performed such a miracle.
Ivan replied: "I had some roots which would cure any disease, and
the dog swallowed one of them."
It happened about that time that the Czar's daughter became ill,
and her father had it announced in every city, town, and village
that whosoever would cure her would be richly rewarded; and if
the lucky person should prove to be a single man he would give
her in marriage to him.
This announcement, of course, appeared in Ivan's village.
Ivan's father and mother called him and said: "If you have any of
those wonderful roots, go and cure the Czar's daughter. You will
be much happier for having performed such a kind act--indeed, you
will be made happy for all your after life."
"Very well," said Ivan; and he immediately made ready for the
journey. As he reached the porch on his way out he saw a poor
woman standing directly in his path and holding a broken arm.
The woman accosted him, saying:
"I was told that you could cure me, and will you not please do
so, as I am powerless to do anything for myself?"
Ivan replied: "Very well, my poor woman; I will relieve you if I
He produced a root which he handed to the poor woman and told her
to swallow it.
She did as Ivan told her and was instantly cured, and went away
rejoicing that she had recovered the use of her arm.
Ivan's father and mother came out to wish him good luck on his
journey, and to them he told the story of the poor woman, saying
that he had given her his last root. On hearing this his parents
were much distressed, as they now believed him to be without the
means of curing the Czar's daughter, and began to scold him.
"You had pity for a beggar and gave no thought to the Czar's
daughter," they said.
"I have pity for the Czar's daughter also," replied Ivan, after
which he harnessed his horse to his wagon and took his seat ready
for his departure; whereupon his parents said: "Where are you
going, you fool--to cure the Czar's daughter, and without
anything to do it with?"
"Very well," replied Ivan, as he drove away.
In due time he arrived at the palace, and the moment he appeared
on the balcony the Czar's daughter was cured. The Czar was
overjoyed and ordered Ivan to be brought into his presence. He
dressed him in the richest robes and addressed him as his
son-in-law. Ivan was married to the Czarevna, and, the Czar
dying soon after, Ivan became ruler. Thus the three brothers
became rulers in different kingdoms.
The brothers lived and reigned. Simeon, the eldest brother, with
his straw soldiers took captive the genuine soldiers and trained
all alike. He was feared by every one.
Tarras-Briukhan, the other brother, did not squander the gold he
obtained from Ivan, but instead greatly increased his wealth, and
at the same time lived well. He kept his money in large trunks,
and, while having more than he knew what to do with, still
continued to collect money from his subjects. The people had to
work for the money to pay the taxes which Tarras levied on them,
and life was made burdensome to them.
Ivan the Fool did not enjoy his wealth and power to the same
extent as did his brothers. As soon as his father-in-law, the
late Czar, was buried, he discarded the Imperial robes which had
fallen to him and told his wife to put them away, as he had no
further use for them. Having cast aside the insignia of his
rank, he once more donned his peasant garb and started to work as
"I felt lonesome," he said, "and began to grow enormously stout,
and yet I had no appetite, and neither could I sleep."
Ivan sent for his father, mother, and dumb sister, and brought
them to live with him, and they worked with him at whatever he
chose to do.
The people soon learned that Ivan was a fool. His wife one day
said to him, "The people say you are a fool, Ivan."
"Well, let them think so if they wish," he replied.
His wife pondered this reply for some time, and at last decided
that if Ivan was a fool she also was one, and that it would be
useless to go contrary to her husband, thinking affectionately of
the old proverb that "where the needle goes there goes the thread
also." She therefore cast aside her magnificent robes, and,
putting them into the trunk with Ivan's, dressed herself in cheap
clothing and joined her dumb sister-in-law, with the intention of
learning to work. She succeeded so well that she soon became a
great help to Ivan.
Seeing that Ivan was a fool, all the wise men left the kingdom
and only the fools remained. They had no money, their wealth
consisting only of the products of their labor. But they lived
peacefully together, supported themselves in comfort, and had
plenty to spare for the needy and afflicted.
The old devil grew tired of waiting for the good news which he
expected the little devils to bring him. He waited in vain to
hear of the ruin of the brothers, so he went in search of the
emissaries which he had sent to perform that work for him. After
looking around for some time, and seeing nothing but the three
holes in the ground, he decided that they had not succeeded in
their work and that he would have to do it himself.
The old devil next went in search of the brothers, but he could
learn nothing of their whereabouts. After some time he found
them in their different kingdoms, contented and happy. This
greatly incensed the old devil, and he said, "I will now have to
accomplish their mission myself."
He first visited Simeon the soldier, and appeared before him as a
voyevoda (general), saying: "You, Simeon, are a great warrior,
and I also have had considerable experience in warfare, and am
desirous of serving you."
Simeon questioned the disguised devil, and seeing that he was an
intelligent man took him into his service.
The new General taught Simeon how to strengthen his army until it
became very powerful. New implements of warfare were introduced.
Cannons capable of throwing one hundred balls a minute were also
constructed, and these, it was expected, would be of deadly
effect in battle.
Simeon, on the advice of his new General, ordered all young men
above a certain age to report for drill. On the same advice
Simeon established gun-shops, where immense numbers of cannons
and rifles were made.
The next move of the new General was to have Simeon declare war
against the neighboring kingdom. This he did, and with his
immense army marched into the adjoining territory, which he
pillaged and burned, destroying more than half the enemy's
soldiers. This so frightened the ruler of that country that he
willingly gave up half of his kingdom to save the other half.
Simeon, overjoyed at his success, declared his intention of
marching into Indian territory and subduing the Viceroy of that
But Simeon's intentions reached the ears of the Indian ruler, who
prepared to do battle with him. In addition to having secured
all the latest implements of warfare, he added still others of
his own invention. He ordered all boys over fourteen and all
single women to be drafted into the army, until its proportions
became much larger than Simeon's. His cannons and rifles were of
the same pattern as Simeon's, and he invented a flying-machine
from which bombs could be thrown into the enemy's camp.
Simeon went forth to conquer the Viceroy with full confidence in
his own powers to succeed. This time luck forsook him, and
instead of being the conqueror he was himself conquered.
The Indian ruler had so arranged his army that Simeon could not
even get within shooting distance, while the bombs from the
flying-machine carried destruction and terror in their path,
completely routing his army, so that Simeon was left alone.
The Viceroy took possession of his kingdom and Simeon had to fly
for his life.
Having finished with Simeon, the old devil next approached
Tarras. He appeared before him disguised as one of the merchants
of his kingdom, and established factories and began to make
money. The "merchant" paid the highest price for everything he
purchased, and the people ran after him to sell their goods.
Through this "merchant" they were enabled to make plenty of
money, paying up all their arrears of taxes as well as the others
when they came due.
Tarras was overjoyed at this condition of affairs and said:
"Thanks to this merchant, now I will have more money than before,
and life will be much pleasanter for me."
He wished to erect new buildings, and advertised for workmen,
offering the highest prices for all kinds of labor. Tarras
thought the people would be as anxious to work as formerly, but
instead he was much surprised to learn that they were working for
the "merchant." Thinking to induce them to leave the "merchant,"
he increased his offers, but the former, equal to the emergency,
also raised the wages of his workmen. Tarras, having plenty of
money, increased the offers still more; but the "merchant" raised
them still higher and got the better of him. Thus, defeated at
every point, Tarras was compelled to abandon the idea of
Tarras next announced that he intended laying out gardens and
erecting fountains, and the work was to be commenced in the fall,
but no one came to offer his services, and again he was obliged
to forego his intentions. Winter set in, and Tarras wanted some
sable fur with which to line his great-coat, and he sent his man
to procure it for him; but the servant returned without it,
saying: "There are no sables to be had. The 'merchant' has
bought them all, paying a very high price for them."
Tarras needed horses and sent a messenger to purchase them, but
he returned with the same story as on former occasions--that none
were to be found, the "merchant" having bought them all to carry
water for an artificial pond he was constructing. Tarras was at
last compelled to suspend business, as he could not find any one
willing to work for him. They had all gone over to the
"merchant's" side. The only dealings the people had with Tarras
were when they went to pay their taxes. His money accumulated so
fast that he could not find a place to put it, and his life
became miserable. He abandoned all idea of entering upon the new
venture, and only thought of how to exist peaceably. This he
found it difficult to do, for, turn which way he would, fresh
obstacles confronted him. Even his cooks, coachmen, and all his
other servants forsook him and joined the "merchant." With all
his wealth he had nothing to eat, and when he went to market he
found the "merchant" had been there before him and had bought up
all the provisions. Still, the people continued to bring him
Tarras at last became so indignant that he ordered the "merchant"
out of his kingdom. He left, but settled just outside the
boundary line, and continued his business with the same result as
before, and Tarras was frequently forced to go without food for
days. It was rumored that the "merchant" wanted to buy even
Tarras himself. On hearing this the latter became very much
alarmed and could not decide as to the best course to pursue.
About this time his brother Simeon arrived in the kingdom, and
said: "Help me, for I have been defeated and ruined by the Indian
Tarras replied: "How can I help you, when I have had no food
myself for two days?"
The old devil, having finished with the second brother, went to
Ivan the Fool. This time he disguised himself as a General, the
same as in the case of Simeon, and, appearing before Ivan, said:
"Get an army together. It is disgraceful for the ruler of a
kingdom to be without an army. You call your people to assemble,
and I will form them into a fine large army."
Ivan took the supposed General's advice, and said: "Well, you may
form my people into an army, but you must also teach them to sing
the songs I like."
The old devil then went through Ivan's kingdom to secure recruits
for the army, saying: "Come, shave your heads [the heads of
recruits are always shaved in Russia] and I will give each of you
a red hat and plenty of vodki" (whiskey).
At this the fools only laughed, and said: "We can have all the
vodki we want, for we distill it ourselves; and of hats, our
little girls make all we want, of any color we please, and with
Thus was the devil foiled in securing recruits for his army; so
he returned to Ivan and said: "Your fools will not volunteer to
be soldiers. It will therefore be necessary to force them."
"Very well," replied Ivan, "you may use force if you want to."
The old devil then announced that all the fools must become
soldiers, and those who refused, Ivan would punish with death.
The fools went to the General; and said: "You tell us that Ivan
will punish with death all those who refuse to become soldiers,
but you have omitted to state what will be done with us soldiers.
We have been told that we are only to be killed."
"Yes, that is true," was the reply.
The fools on hearing this became stubborn and refused to go.
"Better kill us now if we cannot avoid death, but we will not
become soldiers," they declared.
"Oh! you fools," said the old devil, "soldiers may and may not be
killed; but if you disobey Ivan's orders you will find certain
death at his hands."
The fools remained absorbed in thought for some time and finally
went to Ivan to question him in regard to the matter.
On arriving at his house they said: "A General came to us with an
order from you that we were all to become soldiers, and if we
refused you were to punish us with death. Is it true?"
Ivan began to laugh heartily on hearing this, and said: "Well,
how I alone can punish you with death is something I cannot
understand. If I was not a fool myself I would be able to explain
it to you, but as it is I cannot."
"Well, then, we will not go," they said.
"Very well," replied Ivan, "you need not become soldiers unless
you wish to."
The old devil, seeing his schemes about to prove failures, went
to the ruler of Tarakania and became his friend, saying: "Let us
go and conquer Ivan's kingdom. He has no money, but he has
plenty of cattle, provisions, and various other things that would
be useful to us."
The Tarakanian ruler gathered his large army together, and
equipping it with cannons and rifles, crossed the boundary line
into Ivan's kingdom. The people went to Ivan and said: "The
ruler of Tarakania is here with a large army to fight us."
"Let them come," replied Ivan.
The Tarakanian ruler, after crossing the line into Ivan's
kingdom, looked in vain for soldiers to fight against; and
waiting some time and none appearing, he sent his own warriors to
attack the villages.
They soon reached the first village, which they began to plunder.
The fools of both sexes looked calmly on, offering not the least
resistance when their cattle and provisions were being taken from
them. On the contrary, they invited the soldiers to come and
live with them, saying: "If you, dear friends, find it is
difficult to earn a living in your own land, come and live with
us, where everything is plentiful."
The soldiers decided to remain, finding the people happy and
prosperous, with enough surplus food to supply many of their
neighbors. They were surprised at the cordial greetings which
they everywhere received, and, returning to the ruler of
Tarakania, they said: "We cannot fight with these people--take us
to another place. We would much prefer the dangers of actual
warfare to this unsoldierly method of subduing the village."
The Tarakanian ruler, becoming enraged, ordered the soldiers to
destroy the whole kingdom, plunder the villages, burn the houses
and provisions, and slaughter the cattle.
"Should you disobey my orders," said he, "I will have every one
of you executed."
The soldiers, becoming frightened, started to do as they were
ordered, but the fools wept bitterly, offering no resistance,
men, women, and children all joining in the general
"Why do you treat us so cruelly?" they cried to the invading
soldiers. "Why do you wish to destroy everything we have? If
you have more need of these things than we have, why not take
them with you and leave us in peace?"
The soldiers, becoming saddened with remorse, refused further to
pursue their path of destruction--the entire army scattering in
The old devil, failing to ruin Ivan's kingdom with soldiers,
transformed himself into a nobleman, dressed exquisitely, and
became one of Ivan's subjects, with the intention of compassing
the downfall of his kingdom--as he had done with that of Tarras.
The "nobleman" said to Ivan: "I desire to teach you wisdom and to
render you other service. I will build you a palace and
"Very well," said Ivan; "you may live with us."
The next day the "nobleman" appeared on the Square with a sack of
gold in his hand and a plan for building a house, saying to the
people: "You are living like pigs, and I am going to teach you
how to live decently. You are to build a house for me according
to this plan. I will superintend the work myself, and will pay
you for your services in gold," showing them at the same time the
contents of his sack.
The fools were amused. They had never before seen any money.
Their business was conducted entirely by exchange of farm
products or by hiring themselves out to work by the day in return
for whatever they most needed. They therefore glanced at the
gold pieces with amazement, and said, "What nice toys they would
be to play with!" In return for the gold they gave their
services and brought the "nobleman" the produce of their farms.
The old devil was overjoyed as he thought, "Now my enterprise is
on a fair road and I will be able to ruin the Fool--as I did his
The fools obtained sufficient gold to distribute among the entire
community, the women and young girls of the village wearing much
of it as ornaments, while to the children they gave some pieces
to play with on the streets.
When they had secured all they wanted they stopped working and
the "noblemen" did not get his house more than half finished. He
had neither provisions nor cattle for the year, and ordered the
people to bring him both. He directed them also to go on with
the building of the palace and factories. He promised to pay
them liberally in gold for everything they did. No one responded
to his call--only once in awhile a little boy or girl would call
to exchange eggs for his gold.
Thus was the "nobleman" deserted, and, having nothing to eat, he
went to the village to procure some provisions for his dinner.
He went to one house and offered gold in return for a chicken,
but was refused, the owner saying: "We have enough of that
already and do not want any more."
He next went to a fish-woman to buy some herring, when she, too,
refused to accept his gold in return for fish, saying: "I do not
wish it, my dear man; I have no children to whom I can give it to
play with. I have three pieces which I keep as curiosities
He then went to a peasant to buy bread, but he also refused to
accept the gold. "I have no use for it," said he, "unless you
wish to give it for Christ's sake; then it will be a different
matter, and I will tell my baba [old woman] to cut a piece of
bread for you."
The old devil was so angry that he ran away from the peasant,
spitting and cursing as he went.
Not only did the offer to accept in the name of Christ anger him,
but the very mention of the name was like the thrust of a knife
in his throat.
The old devil did not succeed in getting any bread, and in his
efforts to secure other articles of food he met with the same
failure. The people had all the gold they wanted and what pieces
they had they regarded as curiosities. They said to the old
devil: "If you bring us something else in exchange for food, or
come to ask for Christ's sake, we will give you all you want."
But the old devil had nothing but gold, and was too lazy to work;
and being unable to accept anything for Christ's sake, he was
"What else do you want?" he said. "I will give you gold with
which you can buy everything you want, and you need labor no
But the fools would not accept his gold, nor listen to him. Thus
the old devil was obliged to go to sleep hungry.
Tidings of this condition of affairs soon reached the ears of
Ivan. The people went to him and said: "What shell we do? This
nobleman appeared among us; he is well dressed; he wishes to eat
and drink of the best, but is unwilling to work, and does not beg
for food for Christ's sake. He only offers every one gold
pieces. At first we gave him everything he wanted, taking the
gold pieces in exchange just as curiosities; but now we have
enough of them and refuse to accept any more from him. What
shallwe do with him? he may die of hunger!"
Ivan heard all they had to say, and told them to employ him as a
shepherd, taking turns in doing so.
The old devil saw no other way out of the difficulty and was
obliged to submit.
It soon came the old devil's turn to go to Ivan's house. He went
there to dinner and found Ivan's dumb sister preparing the meal.
She was often cheated by the lazy people, who while they did not
work, yet ate up all the gruel. But she learned to know the lazy
people from the condition of their hands. Those with great welts
on their hands she invited first to the table, and those having
smooth white hands had to take what was left.
The old devil took a seat at the table, but the dumb girl, taking
his hands, looked at them, and seeing them white and clean, and
with long nails, swore at him and put him from the table.
Ivan's wife said to the old devil: "You must excuse my
sister-in-law; she will not allow any one to sit at the table
whose hands have not been hardened by toil, so you will have to
wait until the dinner is over and then you can have what is left.
With it you must be satisfied."
The old devil was very much offended that he was made to eat with
"pigs," as he expressed it, and complained to Ivan, saying: "The
foolish law you have in your kingdom, that all persons must work,
is surely the invention of fools. People who work for a living
are not always forced to labor with their hands. Do you think
wise men labor so?"
Ivan replied: "Well, what do fools know about it? We all work
with our hands."
"And for that reason you are fools," replied the devil. "I can
teach you how to use your brains, and you will find such labor
Ivan was surprised at hearing this, and said:
"Well, it is perhaps not without good reason that we are called
"It is not so easy to work with the brain," the old devil said.
"You will not give me anything to eat because my hands have not
the appearance of being toil-hardened, but you must understand
that it is much harder to do brain-work, and sometimes the head
feels like bursting with the effort it is forced to make."
"Then why do you not select some light work that you can perform
with your hands?" Ivan asked.
The devil said: "I torment myself with brain-work because I have
pity for you fools, for, if I did not torture myself, people like
you would remain fools for all eternity. I have exercised my
brain a great deal during my life, and now I am able to teach
Ivan was greatly surprised and said: "Very well; teach us, so
that when our hands are tired we can use our heads to replace
The devil promised to instruct the people, and Ivan announced the
fact throughout his kingdom.
The devil was willing to teach all those who came to him how to
use the head instead of the hands, so as to produce more with the
former than with the latter.
In Ivan's kingdom there was a high tower, which was reached by a
long, narrow ladder leading up to the balcony, and Ivan told the
old devil that from the top of the tower every one could see him.
So the old devil went up to the balcony and addressed the people.
The fools came in great crowds to hear what the old devil had to
say, thinking that he really meant to tell them how to work with
the head. But the old devil only told them in words what to do,
and did not give them any practical instruction. He said that
men working only with their hands could not make a living. The
fools did not understand what he said to them and looked at him
in amazement, and then departed for their daily work.
The old devil addressed them for two days from the balcony, and
at the end of that time, feeling hungry, he asked the people to
bring him some bread. But they only laughed at him and told him
if he could work better with his head than with his hands he
could also find bread for himself. He addressed the people for
yet another day, and they went to hear him from curiosity, but
soon left him to return to their work.
Ivan asked, "Well, did the nobleman work with his head?"
"Not yet," they said; "so far he has only talked."
One day, while the old devil was standing on the balcony, he
became weak, and, falling down, hurt his head against a pole.
Seeing this, one of the fools ran to Ivan's wife and said, "The
gentleman has at last commenced to work with his head."
She ran to the field to tell Ivan, who was much surprised, and
said, "Let us go and see him."
He turned his horses' heads in the direction of the tower, where
the old devil remained weak from hunger and was still suspended
from the pole, with his body swaying back and forth and his head
striking the lower part of the pole each time it came in contact
with it. While Ivan was looking, the old devil started down the
steps head-first--as they supposed, to count them.
"Well," said Ivan, "he told the truth after all--that sometimes
from this kind of work the head bursts. This is far worse than
welts on the hands."
The old devil fell to the ground head-foremost. Ivan approached
him, but at that instant the ground opened and the devil
disappeared, leaving only a hole to show where he had gone.
Ivan scratched his head and said: "See here; such nastiness!
This is yet another devil. He looks like the father of the
Ivan still lives, and people flock to his kingdom. His brothers
come to him and he feeds them.
To every one who comes to him and says, "Give us food," he
replies: "Very well; you are welcome. We have plenty of
There is only one unchangeable custom observed in Ivan's kingdom:
The man with toil-hardened hands is always given a seat at the
table, while the possessor of soft white hands must be contented
with what is left.
A LOST OPPORTUNITY.
"Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother
sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" . . . .
"So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye
from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their
trespasses."--ST. MATTHEW xviii., 21-35.
In a certain village there lived a peasant by the name of Ivan
Scherbakoff. He was prosperous, strong, and vigorous, and was
considered the hardest worker in the whole village. He had three
sons, who supported themselves by their own labor. The eldest
was married, the second about to be married, and the youngest
took care of the horses and occasionally attended to the
The peasant's wife, Ivanovna, was intelligent and industrious,
while her daughter-in-law was a simple, quiet soul, but a hard
There was only one idle person in the household, and that was
Ivan's father, a very old man who for seven years had suffered
from asthma, and who spent the greater part of his time lying on
the brick oven.
Ivan had plenty of everything--three horses, with one colt, a cow
with calf, and fifteen sheep. The women made the men's clothes,
and in addition to performing all the necessary household labor,
also worked in the field; while the men's industry was confined
altogether to the farm.
What was left of the previous year's supply of provisions was
ample for their needs, and they sold a quantity of oats
sufficient to pay their taxes and other expenses.
Thus life went smoothly for Ivan.
The peasant's next-door neighbor was a son of Gordey Ivanoff,
called "Gavryl the Lame." It once happened that Ivan had a
quarrel with him; but while old man Gordey was yet alive, and
Ivan's father was the head of the household, the two peasants
lived as good neighbors should. If the women of one house
required the use of a sieve or pail, they borrowed it from the
inmates of the other house. The same condition of affairs
existed between the men. They lived more like one family, the
one dividing his possessions with the other, and perfect harmony
reigned between the two families.
If a stray calf or cow invaded the garden of one of the farmers,
the other willingly drove it away, saying: "Be careful, neighbor,
that your stock does not again stray into my garden; we should
put a fence up." In the same way they had no secrets from each
other. The doors of their houses and barns had neither bolts nor
locks, so sure were they of each other's honesty. Not a shadow
of suspicion darkened their daily intercourse.
Thus lived the old people.
In time the younger members of the two households started
farming. It soon became apparent that they would not get along
as peacefully as the old people had done, for they began
quarrelling without the slightest provocation.
A hen belonging to Ivan's daughter-in-law commenced laying eggs,
which the young woman collected each morning, intending to keep
them for the Easter holidays. She made daily visits to the barn,
where, under an old wagon, she was sure to find the precious egg.
One day the children frightened the hen and she flew over their
neighbor's fence and laid her egg in their garden.
Ivan's daughter-in-law heard the hen cackling, but said: "I am
very busy just at present, for this is the eve of a holy day, and
I must clean and arrange this room. I will go for the egg later
When evening came, and she had finished her task, she went to the
barn, and as usual looked under the old wagon, expecting to find
an egg. But, alas! no egg was visible in the accustomed place.
Greatly disappointed, she returned to the house and inquired of
her mother-in-law and the other members of the family if they had
taken it. "No," they said, "we know nothing of it."
Taraska, the youngest brother-in-law, coming in soon after, she
also inquired of him if he knew anything about the missing egg.
"Yes," he replied; "your pretty, crested hen laid her egg in our
neighbors' garden, and after she had finished cackling she flew
back again over the fence."
The young woman, greatly surprised on hearing this, turned and
looked long and seriously at the hen, which was sitting with
closed eyes beside the rooster in the chimney-corner. She asked
the hen where it laid the egg. At the sound of her voice it
simply opened and closed its eyes, but could make no answer.
She then went to the neighbors' house, where she was met by an
old woman, who said: "What do you want, young woman?"
Ivan's daughter-in-law replied: "You see, babushka [grandmother],
my hen flew into your yard this morning. Did she not lay an egg
"We did not see any," the old woman replied; "we have our own
hens--God be praised!--and they have been laying for this long
time. We hunt only for the eggs our own hens lay, and have no
use for the eggs other people's hens lay. Another thing I want
to tell you, young woman: we do not go into other people's yards
to look for eggs."
Now this speech greatly angered the young woman, and she replied
in the same spirit in which she had been spoken to, only using
much stronger language and speaking at greater length.
The neighbor replied in the same angry manner, and finally the
women began to abuse each other and call vile names. It happened
that old Ivan's wife, on her way to the well for water, heard the
dispute, and joined the others, taking her daughter-in-law's
Gavryl's housekeeper, hearing the noise, could not resist the
temptation to join the rest and to make her voice heard. As soon
as she appeared on the scene, she, too, began to abuse her
neighbor, reminding her of many disagreeable things which had
happened (and many which had not happened) between them. She
became so infuriated during her denunciations that she lost all
control of herself, and ran around like some mad creature.
Then all the women began to shout at the same time, each trying
to say two words to another's one, and using the vilest language
in the quarreller's vocabulary.
"You are such and such," shouted one of the women. "You are a
thief, a schlukha [a mean, dirty, low creature]; your
father-in-law is even now starving, and you have no shame. You
beggar, you borrowed my sieve and broke it. You made a large
hole in it, and did not buy me another."
"You have our scale-beam," cried another woman, "and must give it
back to me;" whereupon she seized the scale-beam and tried to
remove it from the shoulders of Ivan's wife.
In the melee which followed they upset the pails of water. They
tore the covering from each other's head, and a general fight
Gavryl's wife had by this time joined in the fracas, and he,
crossing the field and seeing the trouble, came to her rescue.
Ivan and his son, seeing that their womenfolk were being badly
used, jumped into the midst of the fray, and a fearful fight
Ivan was the most powerful peasant in all the country round, and
it did not take him long to disperse the crowd, for they flew in
all directions. During the progress of the fight Ivan tore out a
large quantity of Gavryl's beard.
By this time a large crowd of peasants had collected, and it was
with the greatest difficulty that they persuaded the two families
to stop quarrelling.
This was the beginning.
Gavryl took the portion of his beard which Ivan had torn out,
and, wrapping it in a paper, went to the volostnoye (moujiks'
court) and entered a complaint against Ivan.
Holding up the hair, he said, "I did not grow this for that bear
Ivan to tear out!"
Gavryl's wife went round among the neighbors, telling them that
they must not repeat what she told them, but that she and her
husband were going to get the best of Ivan, and that he was to be
sent to Siberia.
And so the quarrelling went on.
The poor old grandfather, sick with asthma and lying on the brick
oven all the time, tried from the first to dissuade them from
quarrelling, and begged of them to live in peace; but they would
not listen to his good advice. He said to them: "You children
are making a great fuss and much trouble about nothing. I beg of
you to stop and think of what a little thing has caused all this
trouble. It has arisen from only one egg. If our neighbors'
children picked it up, it is all right. God bless them! One egg
is of but little value, and without it God will supply sufficient
for all our needs."
Ivan's daughter-in-law here interposed and said, "But they called
us vile names."
The old grandfather again spoke, saying: "Well, even if they did
call you bad names, it would have been better to return good for
evil, and by your example show them how to speak better. Such
conduct on your part would have been best for all concerned." He
continued: "Well, you had a fight, you wicked people. Such
things sometimes happen, but it would be better if you went
afterward and asked forgiveness and buried your grievances out of
sight. Scatter them to the four winds of heaven, for if you do
not do so it will be the worse for you in the end."
The younger members of the family, still obstinate, refused to
profit by the old man's advice, and declared he was not right,
and that he only liked to grumble in his old-fashioned way.
Ivan refused to go to his neighbor, as the grandfather wished,
saying: "I did not tear out Gavryl's beard. He did it himself,
and his son tore my shirt and trousers into shreds."
Ivan entered suit against Gavryl. He first went to the village
justice, and not getting satisfaction from him he carried his
case to the village court.
While the neighbors were wrangling over the affair, each suing
the other, it happened that a perch-bolt from Gavryl's wagon was
lost; and the women of Gavryl's household accused Ivan's son of
They said: "We saw him in the night-time pass by our window, on
his way to where the wagon was standing." "And my kumushka
[sponsor]," said one of them, "told me that Ivan's son had
offered it for sale at the kabak [tavern]."
This accusation caused them again to go into court for a
settlement of their grievances.
While the heads of the families were trying to have their
troubles settled in court, their home quarrels were constant, and
frequently resulted in hand-to-hand encounters. Even the little
children followed the example of their elders and quarrelled
The women, when they met on the riverbank to do the family
washing, instead of attending to their work passed the time in
abusing each other, and not infrequently they came to blows.
At first the male members of the families were content with
accusing each other of various crimes, such as stealing and like
meannesses. But the trouble in this mild form did not last long.
They soon resorted to other measures. They began to appropriate
one another's things without asking permission, while various
articles disappeared from both houses and could not be found.
This was done out of revenge.
This example being set by the men, the women and children also
followed, and life soon became a burden to all who took part in
Ivan Scherbakoff and "Gavryl the Lame" at last laid their trouble
before the mir (village meeting), in addition to having been in
court and calling on the justice of the peace. Both of the
latter had grown tired of them and their incessant wrangling.
One time Gavryl would succeed in having Ivan fined, and if he was
not able to pay it he would be locked up in the cold dreary
prison for days. Then it would be Ivan's turn to get Gavryl
punished in like manner, and the greater the injury the one could
do the other the more delight he took in it.
The success of either in having the other punished only served to
increase their rage against each other, until they were like mad
dogs in their warfare.
If anything went wrong with one of them he immediately accused
his adversary of conspiring to ruin him, and sought revenge
without stopping to inquire into the rights of the case.
When the peasants went into court, and had each other fined and
imprisoned, it did not soften their hearts in the least. They
would only taunt one another on such occasions, saying: "Never
mind; I will repay you for all this."
This state of affairs lasted for six years.
Ivan's father, the sick old man, constantly repeated his good
advice. He would try to arouse their conscience by saying: "What
are you doing, my children? Can you not throw off all these
troubles, pay more attention to your business, and suppress your
anger against your neighbors? There is no use in your continuing
to live in this way, for the more enraged you become against each
other the worse it is for you."
Again was the wise advice of the old man rejected.
At the beginning of the seventh year of the existence of the feud
it happened that a daughter-in-law of Ivan's was present at a
marriage. At the wedding feast she openly accused Gavryl of
stealing a horse. Gavryl was intoxicated at the time and was in
no mood to stand the insult, so in retaliation he struck the
woman a terrific blow, which confined her to her bed for more
than a week. The woman being in delicate health, the worst
results were feared.
Ivan, glad of a fresh opportunity to harass his neighbor, lodged
a formal complaint before the district-attorney, hoping to rid
himself forever of Gavryl by having him sent to Siberia.
On examining the complaint the district-attorney would not
consider it, as by that time the injured woman was walking about
and as well as ever.
Thus again Ivan was disappointed in obtaining his revenge, and,
not being satisfied with the district-attorney's decision, had
the case transferred to the court, where he used all possible
means to push his suit. To secure the favor of the starshina
(village mayor) he made him a present of half a gallon of sweet
vodki; and to the mayor's pisar (secretary) also he gave
presents. By this means he succeeded in securing a verdict
against Gavryl. The sentence was that Gavryl was to receive
twenty lashes on his bare back, and the punishment was to be
administered in the yard which surrounded the court-house.
When Ivan heard the sentence read he looked triumphantly at
Gavryl to see what effect it would produce on him. Gavryl turned
very white on hearing that he was to be treated with such
indignity, and turning his back on the assembly left the room
without uttering a word.
Ivan followed him out, and as he reached his horse he heard
Gavryl saying: "Very well; my spine will burn from the lashes,
but something will burn with greater fierceness in Ivan's
household before long."
Ivan, on hearing these words, instantly returned to the court,
and going up to the judges said: "Oh! just judges, he threatens
to burn my house and all it contains."
A messenger was immediately sent in search of Gavryl, who was
soon found and again brought into the presence of the judges.
"Is it true," they asked, "that you said you would burn Ivan's
house and all it contained?"
Gavryl replied: "I did not say anything of the kind. You may
give me as many lashes as you please--that is, if you have the
power to do so. It seems to me that I alone have to suffer for
the truth, while he," pointing to Ivan, "is allowed to do and say
what he pleases." Gavryl wished to say something more, but his
lips trembled, and the words refused to come; so in silence he
turned his face toward the wall.
The sight of so much suffering moved even the judges to pity,
and, becoming alarmed at Gavryl's continued silence, they said,
"He may do both his neighbor and himself some frightful injury."
"See here, my brothers," said one feeble old judge, looking at
Ivan and Gavryl as he spoke, "I think you had better try to
arrange this matter peaceably. You, brother Gavryl, did wrong to
strike a woman who was in delicate health. It was a lucky thing
for you that God had mercy on you and that the woman did not die,
for if she had I know not what dire misfortune might have
overtaken you! It will not do either of you any good to go on
living as you are at present. Go, Gavryl, and make friends with
Ivan; I am sure he will forgive you, and we will set aside the
verdict just given."
The secretary on hearing this said: "It is impossible to do this
on the present case. According to Article 117 this matter has
gone too far to be settled peaceably now, as the verdict has been
rendered and must be enforced."
But the judges would not listen to the secretary, saying to him:
"You talk altogether too much. You must remember that the first
thing is to fulfill God's command to 'Love thy neighbor as
thyself,' and all will be well with you."
Thus with kind words the judges tried to reconcile the two
peasants. Their words fell on stony ground, however, for Gavryl
would not listen to them.
"I am fifty years old," said Gavryl, "and have a son married, and
never from my birth has the lash been applied to my back; but now
this bear Ivan has secured a verdict against me which condemns me
to receive twenty lashes, and I am forced to bow to this decision
and suffer the shame of a public beating. Well, he will have
cause to remember this."
At this Gavryl's voice trembled and he stopped speaking, and
turning his back on the judges took his departure.
It was about ten versts' distance from the court to the homes of
the neighbors, and this Ivan travelled late. The women had
already gone out for the cattle. He unharnessed his horse and
put everything in its place, and then went into the izba (room),
but found no one there.
The men had not yet returned from their work in the field and the
women had gone to look for the cattle, so that all about the
place was quiet. Going into the room, Ivan seated himself on a
wooden bench and soon became lost in thought. He remembered how,
when Gavryl first heard the sentence which had been passed upon
him, he grew very pale, and turned his face to the wall, all the
while remaining silent.
Ivan's heart ached when he thought of the disgrace which he had
been the means of bring- ing upon Gavryl, and he wondered how he
would feel if the same sentence had been passed upon him. His
thoughts were interrupted by the coughing of his father, who was
lying on the oven.
The old man, on seeing Ivan, came down off the oven, and slowly
approaching his son seated himself on the bench beside him,
looking at him as though ashamed. He continued to cough as he
leaned on the table and said, "Well, did they sentence him?"
"Yes, they sentenced him to receive twenty lashes," replied Ivan.
On hearing this the old man sorrowfully shook his head, and said:
"This is very bad, Ivan, and what is the meaning of it all? It
is indeed very bad, but not so bad for Gavryl as for yourself.
Well, suppose his sentence IS carried out, and he gets the twenty
lashes, what will it benefit you?"
"He will not again strike a woman," Ivan replied.
"What is it he will not do? He does not do anything worse than
what you are constantly doing!"
This conversation enraged Ivan, and he shouted: "Well, what did
he do? He beat a woman nearly to death, and even now he
threatens to burn my house! Must I bow to him for all this?"
The old man sighed deeply as he said: "You, Ivan, are strong and
free to go wherever you please, while I have been lying for years
on the oven. You think that you know everything and that I do
not know anything. No! you are still a child, and as such you
cannot see that a kind of madness controls your actions and
blinds your sight. The sins of others are ever before you, while
you resolutely keep your own behind your back. I know that what
Gavryl did was wrong, but if he alone should do wrong there would
be no evil in the world. Do you think that all the evil in the
world is the work of one man alone? No! it requires two persons
to work much evil in the world. You see only the bad in Gavryl's
character, but you are blind to the evil that is in your own
nature. If he alone were bad and you good, then there would be
The old man, after a pause, continued: "Who tore Gavryl's beard?
Who destroyed his heaps of rye? Who dragged him into court?--and
yet you try to put all the blame on his shoulders. You are
behaving very badly yourself, and for that reason you are wrong.
I did not act in such a manner, and certainly I never taught you
to do so. I lived in peace with Gavryl's father all the time we
were neighbors. We were always the best of friends. If he was
without flour his wife would come to me and say, 'Diadia Frol
[Grandfather], we need flour.' I would then say: 'My good woman,
go to the warehouse and take as much as you want.' If he had no
one to care for his horses I would say, 'Go, Ivanushka
[diminutive of Ivan], and help him to care for them.' If I
required anything I would go to him and say, 'Grandfather Gordey,
I need this or that,' and he would always reply, 'Take just
whatever you want.' By this means we passed an easy and peaceful
life. But what is your life compared with it? As the soldiers
fought at Plevna, so are you and Gavryl fighting all the time,
only that your battles are far more disgraceful than that fought
The old man went on: "And you call this living! and what a sin it
all is! You are a peasant, and the head of the house; therefore,
the responsibility of the trouble rests with you. What an
example you set your wife and children by constantly quarrelling
with your neighbor! Only a short time since your little boy,
Taraska, was cursing his aunt Arina, and his mother only laughed
at it, saying, 'What a bright child he is!' Is that right? You
are to blame for all this. You should think of the salvation of
your soul. Is that the way to do it? You say one unkind word to
me and I will reply with two. You will give me one slap in the
face, and I will retaliate with two slaps. No, my son; Christ
did not teach us foolish people to act in such a way. If any one
should say an unkind word to you it is better not to answer at
all; but if you do reply do it kindly, and his conscience will
accuse him, and he will regret his unkindness to you. This is
the way Christ taught us to live. He tells us that if a person
smite us on the one cheek we should offer unto him the other.
That is Christ's command to us, and we should follow it. You
should therefore subdue your pride. Am I not right?"
Ivan remained silent, but his father's words had sunk deep into
The old man coughed and continued: "Do you think Christ thought
us wicked? Did he not die that we might be saved? Now you think
only of this earthly life. Are you better or worse for thinking
alone of it? Are you better or worse for having begun that
Plevna battle? Think of your expense at court and the time lost
in going back and forth, and what have you gained? Your sons
have reached manhood, and are able now to work for you. You are
therefore at liberty to enjoy life and be happy. With the
assistance of your children you could reach a high state of
prosperity. But now your property instead of increasing is
gradually growing less, and why? It is the result of your pride.
When it becomes necessary for you and your boys to go to the
field to work, your enemy instead summons you to appear at court
or before some kind of judicial person. If you do not plow at the
proper time and sow at the proper time mother earth will not
yield up her products, and you and your children will be left
destitute. Why did your oats fail this year? When did you sow
them? Were you not quarrelling with your neighbor instead of
attending to your work? You have just now returned from the
town, where you have been the means of having your neighbor
humiliated. You have succeeded in getting him sentenced, but in
the end the punishment will fall on your own shoulders. Oh! my
child, it would be better for you to attend to your work on the
farm and train your boys to become good farmers and honest men.
If any one offend you forgive him for Christ's sake, and then
prosperity will smile on your work and a light and happy feeling
will fill your heart."
Ivan still remained silent.
The old father in a pleading voice continued: "Take an old man's
advice. Go and harness your horse, drive back to the court, and
withdraw all these complaints against your neighbor. To-morrow
go to him, offer to make peace in Christ's name, and invite him
to your house. It will be a holy day (the birth of the Virgin
Mary). Get out the samovar and have some vodki, and over both
forgive and forget each other's sins, promising not to transgress
in the future, and advise your women and children to do the
Ivan heaved a deep sigh but felt easier in his heart, as he
thought: "The old man speaks the truth;" yet he was in doubt as
to how he would put his father's advice into practice.
The old man, surmising his uncertainty, said to Ivan: "Go,
Ivanushka; do not delay. Extinguish the fire in the beginning,
before it grows large, for then it may be impossible."
Ivan's father wished to say more to him, but was prevented by the
arrival of the women, who came into the room chattering like so
many magpies. They had already heard of Gavryl's sentence, and
of how he threatened to set fire to Ivan's house. They found out
all about it, and in telling it to their neighbors added their
own versions of the story, with the usual exaggeration. Meeting
in the pasture-ground, they proceeded to quarrel with Gavryl's
women. They related how the latter's daughter-in-law had
threatened to secure the influence of the manager of a certain
noble's estate in behalf of his friend Gavryl; also that the
school-teacher was writing a petition to the Czar himself against
Ivan, explaining in detail his theft of the perchbolt and partial
destruction of Gavryl's garden--declaring that half of Ivan's
land was to be given to them.
Ivan listened calmly to their stories, but his anger was soon
aroused once more, when he abandoned his intention of making
peace with Gavryl.
As Ivan was always busy about the household, he did not stop to
speak to the wrangling women, but immediately left the room,
directing his steps toward the barn. Before getting through with
his work the sun had set and the boys had returned from their
plowing. Ivan met them and asked about their work, helping them
to put things in order and leaving the broken horse-collar aside
to be repaired. He intended to perform some other duties, but it
became too dark and he was obliged to leave them till the next
day. He fed the cattle, however, and opened the gate that
Taraska might take his horses to pasture for the night, after
which he closed it again and went into the house for his supper.
By this time he had forgotten all about Gavryl and what his
father had said to him. Yet, just as he touched the door-knob,
he heard sounds of quarrelling proceeding from his neighbor's
"What do I want with that devil?" shouted Gavryl to some one.
"He deserves to be killed!"
Ivan stopped and listened for a moment, when he shook his head
threateningly and entered the room. When he came in, the
apartment was already lighted. His daughter-in-law was working
with her loom, while the old woman was preparing the supper. The
eldest son was twining strings for his lapti (peasant's shoes
made of strips of bark from the linden-tree). The other son was
sitting by the table reading a book. The room presented a
pleasant appearance, everything being in order and the inmates
apparently gay and happy--the only dark shadow being that cast
over the household by Ivan's trouble with his neighbor.
Ivan came in very cross, and, angrily throwing aside a cat which
lay sleeping on the bench, cursed the women for having misplaced
a pail. He looked very sad and serious, and, seating himself in
a corner of the room, proceeded to repair the horse-collar. He
could not forget Gavryl, however--the threatening words he had
used in the court-room and those which Ivan had just heard.
Presently Taraska came in, and after having his supper, put on
his sheepskin coat, and, taking some bread with him, returned to
watch over his horses for the night. His eldest brother wished
to accompany him, but Ivan himself arose and went with him as far
as the porch. The night was dark and cloudy and a strong wind
was blowing, which produced a peculiar whistling sound that was
most unpleasant to the ear. Ivan helped his son to mount his
horse, which, followed by a colt, started off on a gallop.
Ivan stood for a few moments looking around him and listening to
the clatter of the horse's hoofs as Taraska rode down the village
street. He heard him meet other boys on horseback, who rode quite
as well as Taraska, and soon all were lost in the darkness.
Ivan remained standing by the gate in a gloomy mood, as he was
unable to banish from his mind the harassing thoughts of Gavryl,
which the latter's menacing words had inspired: "Something will
burn with greater fierceness in Ivan's household before long."
"He is so desperate," thought Ivan, "that he may set fire to my
house regardless of the danger to his own. At present everything
is dry, and as the wind is so high he may sneak from the back of
his own building, start a fire, and get away unseen by any of us.
He may burn and steal without being found out, and thus go
unpunished. I wish I could catch him."
This thought so worried Ivan that he decided not to return to his
house, but went out and stood on the street-corner.
"I guess," thought Ivan to himself, "I will take a walk around
the premises and examine everything carefully, for who knows what
he may be tempted to do?"
Ivan moved very cautiously round to the back of his buildings,
not making the slightest noise, and scarcely daring to breathe.
Just as he reached a corner of the house he looked toward the
fence, and it seemed to him that he saw something moving, and
that it was slowly creeping toward the corner of the house
opposite to where he was standing. He stepped back quickly and
hid himself in the shadow of the building. Ivan stood and
listened, but all was quiet. Not a sound could be heard but the
moaning of the wind through the branches of the trees, and the
rustling of the leaves as it caught them up and whirled them in
all directions. So dense was the darkness that it was at first
impossible for Ivan to see more than a few feet beyond where he
After a time, however, his sight becoming accustomed to the
gloom, he was enabled to see for a considerable distance. The
plow and his other farming implements stood just where he had
placed them. He could see also the opposite corner of the house.
He looked in every direction, but no one was in sight, and he
thought to himself that his imagination must have played him some
trick, leading him to believe that some one was moving when there
really was no one there.
Still, Ivan was not satisfied, and decided to make a further
examination of the premises. As on the previous occasion, he
moved so very cautiously that he could not hear even the sound of
his own footsteps. He had taken the precaution to remove his
shoes, that he might step the more noiselessly. When he reached
the corner of the barn it again seemed to him that he saw
something moving, this time near the plow; but it quickly
disappeared. By this time Ivan's heart was beating very fast,
and he was standing in a listening attitude when a sudden flash
of light illumined the spot, and he could distinctly see the
figure of a man seated on his haunches with his back turned
toward him, and in the act of lighting a bunch of straw which he
held in his hand! Ivan's heart began to beat yet faster, and he
became terribly excited, walking up and down with rapid strides,
but without making a noise.
Ivan said: "Well, now, he cannot get away, for he will be caught
in the very act."
Ivan had taken a few more steps when suddenly a bright light
flamed up, but not in the same spot in which he had seen the
figure of the man sitting. Gavryl had lighted the straw, and
running to the barn held it under the edge of the roof, which
began to burn fiercely; and by the light of the fire he could
distinctly see his neighbor standing.
As an eagle springs at a skylark, so sprang Ivan at Gavryl,
saying: "I will tear you into pieces! You shall not get away
from me this time!"
But "Gavryl the Lame," hearing footsteps, wrenched himself free
from Ivan's grasp and ran like a hare past the buildings.
Ivan, now terribly excited, shouted, "You shall not escape me!"
and started in pursuit; but just as he reached him and was about
to grasp the collar of his coat, Gavryl succeeded in jumping to
one side, and Ivan's coat became entangled in something and he
was thrown violently to the ground. Jumping quickly to his feet
he shouted, "Karaool! derji!"(watch! catch!)
While Ivan was regaining his feet Gavryl succeeded in reaching
his house, but Ivan followed so quickly that he caught up with
him before he could enter. Just as he was about to grasp him he
was struck on the head with some hard substance. He had been hit
on the temple as with a stone. The blow was struck by Gavryl,
who had picked up an oaken stave, and with it gave Ivan a
terrible blow on the head.
Ivan was stunned, and bright sparks danced before his eyes, while
he swayed from side to side like a drunken man, until finally all
became dark and he sank to the ground unconscious.
When he recovered his senses, Gavryl was nowhere to be seen, but
all around him was as light as day. Strange sounds proceeded
from the direction of his house, and turning his face that way he
saw that his barns were on fire. The rear parts of both were
already destroyed, and the flames were leaping toward the front.
Fire, smoke, and bits of burning straw were being rapidly whirled
by the high wind over to where his house stood, and he expected
every moment to see it burst into flames.
"What is this, brother?" Ivan cried out, as he beat his thighs
with his hands. "I should have stopped to snatch the bunch of
burning straw, and, throwing it on the ground, should have
extinguished it with my feet!"
Ivan tried to cry out and arouse his people, but his lips refused
to utter a word. He next tried to run, but he could not move his
feet, and his legs seemed to twist themselves around each other.
After several attempts he succeeded in taking one or two steps,
when he again began to stagger and gasp for breath. It was some
moments before he made another attempt to move, but after
considerable exertion he finally reached the barn, the rear of
which was by this time entirely consumed; and the corner of his
house had already caught fire. Dense volumes of smoke began to
pour out of the room, which made it difficult to approach.
A crowd of peasants had by this time gathered, but they found it
impossible to save their homes, so they carried everything which
they could to a place of safety. The cattle they drove into
neighboring pastures and left some one to care for them.
The wind carried the sparks from Ivan's house to Gavryl's, and
it, too, took fire and was consumed. The wind continued to
increase with great fury, and the flames spread to both sides of
the street, until in a very short time more than half the village
The members of Ivan's household had great difficulty in getting
out of the burning building, but the neighbors rescued the old
man and carried him to a place of safety, while the women escaped
in only their night-clothes. Everything was burned, including
the cattle and all the farm implements. The women lost their
trunks, which were filled with quantities of clothing, the
accumulation of years. The storehouse and all the provisions
perished in the flames, not even the chickens being saved.
Gavryl, however, more fortunate than Ivan, saved his cattle and a
few other things.
The village was burning all night.
Ivan stood near his home, gazing sadly at the burning building,
and he kept constantly repeating to himself: "I should have taken
away the bunch of burning straw, and have stamped out the fire
with my feet."
But when he saw his home fall in a smouldering heap, in spite of
the terrible heat he sprang into the midst of it and carried out
a charred log. The women seeing him, and fearing that he would
lose his life, called to him to come back, but he would not pay
any attention to them and went a second time to get a log. Still
weak from the terrible blow which Gavryl had given him, he was
overcome by the heat, and fell into the midst of the burning
mass. Fortunately, his eldest son saw him fall, and rushing into
the fire succeeded in getting hold of him and carrying him out of
it. Ivan's hair, beard, and clothing were burned entirely off.
His hands were also frightfully injured, but he seemed
indifferent to pain.
"Grief drove him crazy," the people said.
The fire was growing less, but Ivan still stood where he could
see it, and kept repeating to himself, "I should have taken,"
The morning after the fire the starosta (village elder) sent his
son to Ivan to tell him that the old man, his father, was dying,
and wanted to see him to bid him good-bye.
In his grief Ivan had forgotten all about his father, and could
not understand what was being said to him. In a dazed way he
asked: "What father? Whom does he want?"
The elder's son again repeated his father's message to Ivan.
"Your aged parent is at our house dying, and he wants to see you
and bid you good-bye. Won't you go now, uncle Ivan?" the boy
Finally Ivan understood, and followed the elder's son.
When Ivan's father was carried from the oven, he was slightly
injured by a big bunch of burning straw falling on him just as he
reached the street. To insure his safety he was removed to the
elder's house, which stood a considerable distance from his late
home, and where it was not likely that the fire would reach it.
When Ivan arrived at the elder's home he found only the latter's
wife and children, who were all seated on the brick oven. The
old man was lying on a bench holding a lighted candle in his hand
(a Russian custom when a person is dying). Hearing a noise, he
turned his face toward the door, and when he saw it was his son
he tried to move. He motioned for Ivan to come nearer, and when
he did so he whispered in a trembling voice: "Well, Ivanushka,
did I not tell you before what would be the result of this sad
affair? Who set the village on fire?"
"He, he, batiushka [little father]; he did it. I caught him. He
placed the bunch of burning straw to the barn in my presence.
Instead of running after him, I should have snatched the bunch of
burning straw and throwing it on the ground have stamped it out
with my feet; and then there would have been no fire."
"Ivan," said the old man, "death is fast approaching me, and
remember that you also will have to die. Who did this dreadful
thing? Whose is the sin?"
Ivan gazed at the noble face of his dying father and was silent.
His heart was too full for utterance.
"In the presence of God," the old man continued, "whose is the
It was only now that the truth began to dawn upon Ivan's mind,
and that he realized how foolish he had acted. He sobbed
bitterly, and fell on his knees before his father, and, crying
like a child, said:
"My dear father, forgive me, for Christ's sake, for I am guilty
before God and before you!"
The old man transferred the lighted candle from his right hand to
the left, and, raising the former to his forehead, tried to make
the sign of the cross, but owing to weakness was unable to do so.
"Glory to Thee, O Lord! Glory to Thee!" he exclaimed; and
turning his dim eyes toward his son, he said: "See here,
Ivanushka! Ivanushka, my dear son!"
"What, my dear father?" Ivan asked.
"What are you going to do," replied the old man, "now that you
have no home?"
Ivan cried and said: "I do not know how we shall live now."
The old man closed his eyes and made a movement with his lips, as
if gathering his feeble strength for a final effort. Slowly
opening his eyes, he whispered:
"Should you live according to God's commands you will be happy
and prosperous again."
The old man was now silent for awhile and then, smiling sadly, he
"See here, Ivanushka, keep silent concerning this trouble, and do
not tell who set the village on fire. Forgive one sin of your
neighbor's, and God will forgive two of yours."
Grasping the candle with both hands, Ivan's father heaved a deep
sigh, and, stretching himself out on his back, yielded up the
* * * * * * *
Ivan for once accepted his father's advice. He did not betray
Gavryl, and no one ever learned the origin of the fire.
Ivan's heart became more kindly disposed toward his old enemy,
feeling that much of the fault in connection with this sad affair
rested with himself.
Gavryl was greatly surprised that Ivan did not denounce him
before all the villagers, and at first he stood in much fear of
him, but he soon afterward overcame this feeling.
The two peasants ceased to quarrel, and their families followed
their example. While they were building new houses, both
families lived beneath the same roof, and when they moved into
their respective homes, Ivan and Gavryl lived on as good terms as
their fathers had done before them.
Ivan remembered his dying father's command, and took deeply to
heart the evident warning of God that A FIRE SHOULD BE
EXTINGUISHED IN THE BEGINNING. If any one wronged him he did not
seek revenge, but instead made every effort to settle the matter
peaceably. If any one spoke to him unkindly, he did not answer
in the same way, but replied softly, and tried to persuade the
person not to speak evil. He taught the women and children of
his household to do the same.
Ivan Scherbakoff was now a reformed man.
He lived well and peacefully, and again became prosperous.
Let us, therefore, have peace, live in brotherly love and
kindness, and we will be happy.