THE TWO FRIENDS
A Ghost Story from Russia
In the days of old there lived in a certain village two young
men. They were great friends, went to _besyedas_ together, in
fact, regarded each other as brothers. And they made this
mutual agreement. Whichever of the two should marry first
was to invite his comrade to his wedding. And it was not to
make any difference whether he was alive or dead.
About a year after this one of the young men fell ill and
died. A few months later his comrade took it into his head to
get married. So he collected all his kinsmen, and set off to
fetch his bride. Now it happened that they drove past the
graveyard, and the bridegroom recalled his friend to mind, and
remembered his old agreement. So he had the horses stopped,
"I'm going to my comrade's grave. I shall ask him to come
and enjoy himself at my wedding. A right trusty friend was
he to me."
So he went to the grave and began to call aloud:
"Comrade dear! I invite thee to my wedding."
Suddenly the grave yawned, the dead man arose, and said:
"Thanks be to thee, brother, that thou hast fulfilled thy
promise. And now, that we may profit by this happy chance,
enter my abode. Let us quaff a glass apiece of grateful drink."
"I'd have gone, only the marriage procession is stopping
outside; all the folks are waiting for me."
"Eh, brother!" replied the dead man, "surely it won't take
long to toss off a glass!"
The bridegroom jumped into the grave. The dead man
poured him out a cup of liquor. He drank it off--and a hundred
years passed away.
"Quaff another cup, dear friend!" said the dead man.
He drank a second cup--two hundred years passed away.
"Now, comrade dear, quaff a third cup!" said the dead
man, "and then go, in God's name, and celebrate thy marriage!"
He drank the third cup--three hundred years passed away.
The dead man took leave of his comrade. The coffin lid fell;
the grave closed.
The bridegroom looked around. Where the graveyard had
been, was now a piece of waste ground. No road was to be
seen, no kinsmen, no horses. All around grew nettles and tall
He ran to the village--but the village was not what it used
to be. The houses were different; the people were all strangers
to him. He went to the priest's--but the priest was not the one
who used to be there--and told him about everything that had
happened. The priest searched through the church-books, and
found that, three hundred years before, this occurrence had
taken place: a bridegroom had gone to the graveyard on his
wedding-day, and had disappeared. And his bride, after some
time had passed by, had married another man.
[The "Rip van Winkle" story is too well known to
require more than a passing allusion. It was doubtless
founded on one of the numerous folk-tales which
correspond to the Christian legend of "The Seven
Sleepers of Ephesus"--itself an echo of an older tale
(see Baring Gould, "Curious Myths," 1872, pp. 93-112,
and Cox, "Mythology of the Aryan Nations," i.
413)--and to that of the monk who listens to a bird
singing in the convent garden, and remains entranced
for the space of many years: of which latter legend a
Russian version occurs in Chudinsky's collection (No.
17, pp. 92-4). Very close indeed is the resemblance
between the Russian story of "The Two Friends," and
the Norse "Friends in Life and Death" (Asbjoernsen's
New Series, No. 62, pp. 5-7). In the latter the
bridegroom knocks hard and long on his dead friend's
grave. At length its occupant appears, and accounts
for his delay by saying he had been far away when the
first knocks came, and so had not heard them. Then he
follows the bridegroom to church and from church, and
afterwards the bridegroom sees him back to his tomb.
On the way the living man expresses a desire to see
something of the world beyond the grave, and the
corpse fulfils his wish, having first placed on his
head a sod cut in the graveyard. After witnessing many
strange sights, the bridegroom is told to sit down and
wait till his guide returns. When he rises to his
feet, he is all overgrown with mosses and shrub (var
han overvoxen med Mose og Busker), and when he reaches
the outer world he finds all things changed.]
But from these dim sketches of a life beyond, or rather within the
grave, in which memories of old days and old friendships are preserved
by ghosts of an almost genial and entirely harmless disposition, we
will now turn to those more elaborate pictures in which the dead are
represented under an altogether terrific aspect. It is not as an
incorporeal being that the visitor from the other world is represented
in the Skazkas. He comes not as a mere phantom, intangible,
impalpable, incapable of physical exertion, haunting the dwelling
which once was his home, or the spot to which he is drawn by the
memory of some unexpiated crime. It is as a vitalized corpse that he
comes to trouble mankind, often subject to human appetites, constantly
endowed with more than human strength and malignity. His apparel is
generally that of the grave, and he cannot endure to part with it, as
may be seen from the following story--