THE FIDDLER IN HELL
A Folktale and Ghost Story From Russia
There was a certain moujik who had three sons. His life was
a prosperous one, and he laid by money enough to fill two pots.
The one he buried in his corn-kiln, the other under the gate of
his farmyard. Well, the moujik died, and never said a word
about the money to any one. One day there was a festival in
the village. A fiddler was on his way to the revel when, all of
a sudden, he sank into the earth--sank right through and
tumbled into hell, lighting exactly there where the rich moujik
was being tormented.
"Hail, friend!" says the Fiddler.
"It's an ill wind that's brought you hither!" answers the
moujik; "this is hell, and in hell here I sit."
"What was it brought you here, uncle?"
"It was money! I had much money: I gave none to the
poor, two pots of it did I bury underground. See now, they
are going to torment me, to beat me with sticks, to tear me with
"Whatever shall I do?" cried the Fiddler. "Perhaps
they'll take to torturing me too!"
"If you go and sit on the stove behind the chimney-pipe,
and don't eat anything for three years--then you will remain
The Fiddler hid behind the stove-pipe. Then came fiends,
and they began to beat the rich moujik, reviling him the while,
"There's for thee, O rich man. Pots of money didst thou
bury but thou couldst not hide them. There didst thou bury
them that we might not be able to keep watch over them. At
the gate people are always riding about, the horses crush our
heads with their hoofs, and in the corn-kiln we get beaten with
As soon as the fiends had gone away the moujik said to the
"If you get out of here, tell my children to dig up the money--one
pot is buried at the gate, and the other in the corn-kiln--and
to distribute it among the poor."
Afterwards there came a whole roomful of evil ones, and
they asked the rich moujik:
"What have you got here that smells so Russian?"
"You have been in Russia and brought away a Russian
smell with you," replied the moujik.
"How could that be?" they said. Then they began looking,
they found the Fiddler, and they shouted:
"Ha, ha, ha! Here's a Fiddler."
They pulled him off the stove, and set him to work fiddling.
He played three years, though it seemed to him only three
days. Then he got tired and said:
"Here's a wonder! After playing a whole evening I used
always to find all my fiddle-strings snapped. But now, though
I've been playing for three whole days, they are all sound. May
the Lord grant us his blessing!"
No sooner had he uttered these words than every one of the
"There now, brothers!" says the Fiddler, "you can see
for yourselves. The strings are snapped; I've nothing to
"Wait a bit!" said one of the fiends. "I've got two hanks
of catgut; I'll fetch them for you."
He ran off and fetched them. The Fiddler took the strings,
screwed them up, and again uttered the words:
"May the Lord grant us his blessing!"
In a moment snap went both hanks.
"No, brothers!" said the Fiddler, "your strings don't suit
me. I've got some of my own at home; by your leave I'll go
The fiends wouldn't let him go. "You wouldn't come back,"
"Well, if you won't trust me, send some one with me as an
The fiends chose one of their number, and sent him with the
Fiddler. The Fiddler got back to the village. There he could
hear that, in the farthest cottage, a wedding was being celebrated.
"Let's go to the wedding!" he cried.
"Come along!" said the fiend.
They entered the cottage. Everyone there recognized the
Fiddler and cried:
"Where have you been hiding these three years?"
"I have been in the other world!" he replied.
They sat there and enjoyed themselves for some time.
Then the fiend beckoned to the Fiddler, saying, "It's time to
be off!" But the Fiddler replied: "Wait a little longer! Let
me fiddle away a bit and cheer up the young people." And so
they remained sitting there till the cocks began to crow. Then
the fiend disappeared.
After that, the Fiddler began to talk to the sons of the rich
moujik, and said:
"Your father bids you dig up the money--one potful is
buried at the gate and the other in the corn-kiln--and distribute
the whole of it among the poor."
Well, they dug up both the pots, and began to distribute
the money among the poor. But the more they gave away the
money, the more did it increase. Then they carried out the
pots to a crossway. Every one who passed by took out of
them as much money as his hand could grasp, and yet the
money wouldn't come to an end. Then they presented a petition
to the Emperor, and he ordained as follows. There was a
certain town, the road to which was a very roundabout one.
It was some fifty versts long, whereas if it had been made in a
straight line it would not have been more than five. And so
the Emperor ordained that a bridge should be made the whole
way. Well, they built a bridge five versts long, and this piece
of work cleared out both the pots.
About that time a certain maid bore a son and deserted him
in his infancy. The child neither ate nor drank for three years
and an angel of God always went about with him. Well, this
child came to the bridge, and cried:
"Ah! what a glorious bridge! God grant the kingdom of
heaven to him at whose cost it was built!"
The Lord heard this prayer, and ordered his angels to
release the rich moujik from the depths of hell.
With the bridge-building episode in this "legend" may be compared the
opening of another Russian story. In it a merchant is described as
having much money but no children. So he and his wife "began to pray
to God, entreating him to give them a child--for solace in their
youth, for support in their old age, for soul-remembrance after
death. And they took to feeding the poor and distributing alms.
Besides all this, they resolved to build, for the use of all the
faithful, a long bridge across swamps and where no man could find a
footing. Much wealth did the merchant expend, but he built the bridge,
and when the work was completed he sent his manager Fedor, saying--
"'Go and sit under the bridge, and listen to what folks say about
me--whether they bless me or revile me.'
"Fedor set off, sat under the bridge, and listened. Presently three
Holy Elders went over the bridge, and said one to another--
"'How ought the man who built this bridge to be rewarded?' 'Let there
be born to him a fortunate son. Whatsoever that son says--it shall be
done: whatsoever he desires--that will the Lord bestow!'"
The rest of the story closely resembles the German tale of "The
Pink." In the corresponding Bohemian story of "The Treacherous
Servant," it may be observed, the bridge-building incident has
But I will not dwell any longer on the story of the Fiddler, as I
propose to give some account in the next chapter of several other
tales of the same class, in most of which such descriptions of evil
spirits are introduced as have manifestly been altered into what their
narrators considered to be in accordance with Christian teaching. And
so I will revert to those ideas about the dead, and about their
abiding-place, which the modern Slavonians seem to have inherited from
their heathen ancestors, and I will attempt to illustrate them by a
few Russian ghost-stories. Those stories are, as a general rule, of a
most ghastly nature, but there are a few into the composition of which
the savage element does not enter. The "Dead Mother," which has
already been quoted, belongs to the latter class; and so does the
following tale--which, as it bears no title in the original, we may