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Russian Fairy Tale and Folklore
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In a certain kingdom there lived an old couple in great poverty.
Sooner or later the old woman died. It was in winter, in severe
and frosty weather. The old man went round to his friends and
neighbors, begging them to help him to dig a grave for the old
woman; but his friends and neighbors, knowing his great poverty,
all flatly refused. The old man went to the pope, (but in that
village they had an awfully grasping pope, one without any
conscience), and says he:--
"Lend a hand, reverend father, to get my old woman buried."
"But have you got any money to pay for the funeral? if
so, friend, pay up beforehand!"
"It's no use hiding anything from you. Not a single copeck
have I at home. But if you'll wait a little, I'll earn some, and
then I'll pay you with interest--on my word I'll pay you!"
The pope wouldn't so much as listen to the old man.
"If you haven't any money, don't you dare to come here,"
"What's to be done?" thinks the old man. "I'll go to the
graveyard, dig a grave as I best can, and bury the old woman
myself." So he took an axe and a shovel, and went to the graveyard.
When he got there he began to prepare a grave. He
chopped away the frozen ground on the top with the axe, and
then he took to the shovel. He dug and dug, and at last he dug
out a metal pot. Looking into it he saw that it was stuffed full
of ducats that shone like fire. The old man was immensely delighted,
and cried, "Glory be to Thee, O Lord! I shall have
wherewithal both to bury my old woman, and to perform the
rites of remembrance."
He did not go on digging the grave any longer, but took the
pot of gold and carried it home. Well, we all know what money
will do--everything went as smooth as oil! In a trice there
were found good folks to dig the grave and fashion the coffin.
The old man sent his daughter-in-law to purchase meat and
drink and different kind of relishes--everything there ought to
be at memorial feasts--and he himself took a ducat in his hand
and hobbled back again to the pope's. The moment he reached
the door, out flew the pope at him.
"You were distinctly told, you old lout, that you were not to
come here without money; and now you've slunk back again."
"Don't be angry, batyushka," said the old man imploringly.
"Here's gold for you. If you'll only bury my old woman, I'll
never forget your kindness."
The pope took the money, and didn't know how best to
receive the old man, where to seat him, with what words to
smooth him down. "Well now, old friend! Be of good cheer;
everything shall be done," said he.
The old man made his bow, and went home, and the pope
and his wife began talking about him.
"There now, the old hunks!" they say. "So poor, forsooth,
so poor! And yet he's paid a gold piece. Many a defunct
person of quality have I buried in my time, but I never got so
from anyone before."
The pope got under weigh with all his retinue, and buried
the old crone in proper style. After the funeral the old man
invited him to his house, to take part in the feast in memory of
the dead. Well, they entered the cottage, and sat down to table--and
there appeared from somewhere or other meat and drink
and all sorts of snacks, everything in profusion. The (reverend)
guest sat down, ate for three people, looked greedily at what
was not his. The (other) guests finished their meal, and separated
to go to their homes; then the pope also rose from the
table. The old man went to speed him on his way. As soon
as they got into the farmyard, and the pope saw they were alone
at last, he began questioning the old man: "Listen, friend!
confess to me, don't leave so much as a single sin on your soul--it's
just the same before me as before God! How have you
managed to get on at such a pace? You used to be a poor
moujik, and now--marry! where did it come from? Confess,
friend, whose breath have you stopped? whom have you
"What are you talking about, batyushka? I will tell you the
exact truth. I have not robbed, nor plundered, nor killed anyone.
A treasure tumbled into my hands of its own accord."
And he told him how it all happened. When the pope
heard these words he actually shook all over with greediness.
Going home, he did nothing by night and by day but think,
"That such a wretched lout of a moujik should have come in
for such a lump of money! Is there any way of tricking him
now, and getting this pot of money out of him?" He told his
wife about it, and he and she discussed the matter together, and
held counsel over it.
"Listen, mother," says he; "we've a goat, haven't we?"
"All right, then; we'll wait until it's night, and then we'll do
the job properly."
Late in the evening the pope dragged the goat indoors, killed
it, and took off its skin--horns, beard, and all complete. Then
he pulled the goat's skin over himself and said to his wife:
"Bring a needle and thread, mother, and fasten up the skin
all round, so that it mayn't slip off."
So she took a strong needle, and some tough thread, and
sewed him up in the goatskin. Well, at the dead of night, the
pope went straight to the old man's cottage, got under the window,
and began knocking and scratching. The old man hearing
the noise, jumped up and asked:
"Ours is a holy spot!" shrieked the moujik, and began
crossing himself and uttering prayers.
"Listen, old man," says the pope, "From me thou will not
escape, although thou may'st pray, although thou may'st cross
thyself; much better give me back my pot of money, otherwise I
will make thee pay for it. See now, I pitied thee in thy misfortune,
and I showed thee the treasure, thinking thou wouldst
take a little of it to pay for the funeral, but thou hast pillaged it
The old man looked out of window--the goat's horns and
beard caught his eye--it was the Devil himself, no doubt of it.
"Let's get rid of him, money and all," thinks the old man;
"I've lived before now without money, and now I'll go on living
So he took the pot of gold, carried it outside, flung it on the
ground, and bolted indoors again as quickly as possible.
The pope seized the pot of money, and hastened home.
When he got back, "Come," says he, "the money is in our
hands now. Here, mother, put it well out of sight, and take a
sharp knife, cut the thread, and pull the goatskin off me before
anyone sees it."
She took a knife, and was beginning to cut the thread at the
seam, when forth flowed blood, and the pope began to howl:
"Oh! it hurts, mother, it hurts! don't cut mother, don't
She began ripping the skin open in another place, but with
just the same result. The goatskin had united with his body all
round. And all that they tried, and all that they did, even to taking
the money back to the old man, was of no avail. The goatskin
remained clinging tight to the pope all the same. God evidently
did it to punish him for his great greediness.
A somewhat less heathenish story with regard to money is the
following, which may be taken as a specimen of the Skazkas which bear
the impress of the genuine reverence which the peasants feel for their
religion, whatever may be the feelings they entertain towards its
ministers. While alluding to this subject, by the way, it may be as
well to remark that no great reliance can be placed upon the evidence
contained in the folk-tales of any land, with respect to the relations
between its clergy and their flocks. The local parson of folk-lore is,
as a general rule, merely the innocent inheritor of the bad reputation
acquired by some ecclesiastic of another age and clime.