A Russian Fairy Tale Story
In a certain village there lived two peasants, two brothers: one
of them poor, the other rich. The rich one went away to live
in a town, built himself a large house, and enrolled himself
among the traders. Meanwhile the poor man sometimes had
not so much as a morsel of bread, and his children--each one
smaller than the other--were crying and begging for food.
From morning till night the peasant would struggle, like a fish
trying to break through ice, but nothing came of it all. At last
one day he said to his wife:
"Suppose I go to town, and ask my brother whether he won't
do something to help us."
So he went to the rich man and said:
"Ah, brother mine! do help me a bit in my trouble. My
wife and children are without bread. They have to go whole
days without eating."
"Work for me this week, then I'll help you," said his brother.
What was there to be done! The poor man betook himself
to work, swept out the yard, cleaned the horses, fetched water,
At the end of the week the rich man gave him a loaf of bread,
"There's for your work!"
"Thank you all the same," dolefully said the poor man,
making his bow and preparing to go home.
"Stop a bit! come and dine with me to-morrow, and bring
your wife, too: to-morrow is my name-day, you know."
"Ah, brother! how can I? you know very well you'll
be having merchants coming to you in boots and pelisses,
but I have to go about in bast shoes and a miserable old grey
"No matter, come! there will be room even for you."
"Very well, brother! I'll come."
The poor man returned home, gave his wife the loaf, and
"Listen, wife! we're invited to a party to-morrow."
"What do you mean by a party? who's invited us?"
"My brother! he keeps his name-day to-morrow."
"Well, well! let's go."
Next day they got up and went to the town, came to the rich
man's house, offered him their congratulations, and sat down on
a bench. A number of the name-day guests were already seated
at table. All of these the host feasted gloriously, but he forgot
even so much as to think of his poor brother and his wife; not
a thing did he offer them; they had to sit and merely look on
at the others eating and drinking.
The dinner came to an end; the guests rose from table,
and expressed their thanks to their host and hostess; and the
poor man did likewise, got up from his bench, and bowed down
to his girdle before his brother. The guests drove off homewards,
full of drink and merriment, shouting, singing songs. But
the poor man had to walk back empty.
"Suppose we sing a song, too," he says to his wife.
"What a fool you are!" says she, "people sing because
they've made a good meal and had lots to drink; but why ever
should you dream of singing?"
"Well, at all events, I've been at my brother's name-day
party. I'm ashamed of trudging along without singing. If I
sing, everybody will think I've been feasted like the rest."
"Sing away, then, if you like; but I won't!"
The peasant began a song. Presently he heard a voice
joining in it. So he stopped, and asked his wife:
"Is it you that's helping me to sing with that thin little
"What are you thinking about! I never even dreamt of
such a thing."
"Who is it, then?"
"I don't know," said the woman. "But now, sing away,
and I'll listen."
He began his song again. There was only one person singing,
yet two voices could be heard. So he stopped, and asked:
"Woe, is that you that's helping me to sing?"
"Yes, master," answered Woe: "it's I that's helping you."
"Well then, Woe! let's all go on together."
"Very good, master! I'll never depart from you now."
When the peasant got home, Woe bid him to the _kabak_ or
"I've no money," says the man.
"Out upon you, moujik! What do you want money for? why
you've got on a sheep-skin jacket. What's the good of that? It
will soon be summer; anyhow you won't be wanting to wear it.
Off with the jacket, and to the pot-house we'll go."
So the peasant went with Woe into the pot-house, and they
drank the sheep-skin away.
The next day Woe began groaning--its head ached from
yesterday's drinking--and again bade the master of the house
have a drink.
"I've no money," said the peasant.
"What do we want money for? Take the cart and the
sledge; we've plenty without them."
There was nothing to be done; the peasant could not shake
himself free from Woe. So he took the cart and the sledge,
dragged them to the pot-house, and there he and Woe drank them
away. Next morning Woe began groaning more than ever, and
invited the master of the house to go and drink off the effects
of the debauch. This time the peasant drank away his plough
and his harrow.
A month hadn't passed before he had got rid of everything
he possessed. Even his very cottage he pledged to a neighbor,
and the money he got that way he took to the pot-house.
Yet another time did Woe come close beside him and say:
"Let us go, let us go to the pot-house!"
"No, no, Woe! it's all very well, but there's nothing more
to be squeezed out."
"How can you say that? Your wife has got two petticoats:
leave her one, but the other we must turn into drink."
The peasant took the petticoat, drank it away, and said to
"We're cleaned out at last, my wife as well as myself. Not
a stick nor a stone is left!"
Next morning Woe saw, on waking, that there was nothing
more to be got out of the peasant, so it said:
"Why, look here. Go to your neighbor, and ask him to
lend you a cart and a pair of oxen."
The peasant went to the neighbor's.
"Be so good as to lend me a cart and a pair of oxen for a
short time," says he. "I'll do a week's work for you in return."
"But what do you want them for?"
"To go to the forest for firewood."
"Well then, take them; only don't overburthen them."
"How could you think of such a thing, kind friend!"
So he brought the pair of oxen, and Woe got into the cart
with him, and away he drove into the open plain.
"Master!" asks Woe, "do you know the big stone on this
"Of course I do."
"Well then if you know it, drive straight up to it."
They came to the place where it was, stopped, and got out
of the cart. Woe told the peasant to lift the stone; the peasant
lifted it, Woe helping him. Well, when they had lifted it there
was a pit underneath chock full of gold.
"Now then, what are you staring at!" said Woe to the
peasant, "be quick and pitch it into the cart."
The peasant set to work and filled the cart with gold;
cleared the pit to the very last ducat. When he saw there was
nothing more left:
"Just give a look, Woe," he said; "isn't there some money
left in there?"
"Where?" said Woe, bending down; "I can't see a thing."
"Why there; something is shining in yon corner!"
"No, I can't see anything," said Woe.
"Get into the pit; you'll see it then."
Woe jumped in: no sooner had it got there than the peasant
closed the mouth of the pit with the stone.
"Things will be much better like that," said the peasant:
"if I were to take you home with me, O Woeful Woe, sooner
or later you'd be sure to drink away all this money, too!"
The peasant got home, shovelled the money into his cellar,
took the oxen back to his neighbor, and set about considering
how he should manage. It ended in his buying a wood, building
a large homestead, and becoming twice as rich as his
After a time he went into the town to invite his brother and
sister-in-law to spend his name-day with him.
"What an idea!" said his rich brother: "you haven't a
thing to eat, and yet you ask people to spend your name-day
"Well, there was a time when I had nothing to eat, but
now, thank God! I've as much as you. If you come, you'll see
"So be it! I'll come," said his brother.
Next day the rich brother and his wife got ready, and went
to the name-day party. They could see that the former beggar
had got a new house, a lofty one, such as few merchants had!
And the moujik treated them hospitably, regaled them with all
sorts of dishes, gave them all sorts of meads and spirits to
drink. At length the rich man asked his brother:
"Do tell me by what good luck have you grown rich?"
The peasant made a clean breast of everything--how Woe
the Woeful had attached itself to him, how he and Woe had
drunk away all that he had, to the very last thread, so that the
only thing that was left him was the soul in his body. How
Woe showed him a treasure in the open field, how he took that
treasure, and freed himself from Woe into the bargain. The
rich man became envious.
"Suppose I go to the open field," thinks he, "and lift up the
stone and let Woe out. Of a surety it will utterly destroy my
brother, and then he will no longer brag of his riches before me!"
So he sent his wife home, but he himself hastened into the
plain. When he came to the big stone, he pushed it aside, and
knelt down to see what was under it. Before he had managed
to get his head down low enough, Woe had already leapt out
and seated itself on his shoulders.
"Ha!" it cried, "you wanted to starve me to death in here!
No, no! Now will I never on any account depart from you."
"Only hear me, Woe!" said the merchant: "it wasn't I at
all who put you under the stone."
"Who was it then, if it wasn't you?"
"It was my brother put you there, but I came on purpose to
let you out."
"No, no! that's a lie. You tricked me once; you shan't
trick me a second time!"
Woe gripped the rich merchant tight by the neck; the man
had to carry it home, and there everything began to go wrong
with him. From the very first day Woe began again to play
its usual part, every day it called on the merchant to renew his
drinking. Many were the valuables which went in the pot-house.
"Impossible to go on living like this!" says the merchant to
himself. "Surely I've made sport enough for Woe! It's time
to get rid of it--but how?"
He thought and thought, and hit on an idea. Going into the
large yard, he cut two oaken wedges, took a new wheel, and
drove a wedge firmly into one end of its axle-box. Then he
went to where Woe was:
"Hallo, Woe! why are you always idly sprawling there?"
"Why, what is there left for me to do?"
"What is there to do! let's go into the yard and play at
Woe liked the idea. Out they went into the yard. First
the merchant hid himself; Woe found him immediately. Then
it was Woe's turn to hide.
"Now then," says Woe, "you won't find me in a hurry!
There isn't a chink I can't get into!"
"Get along with you!" answered the merchant. "Why you
couldn't creep into that wheel there, and yet you talk about
"I can't creep into that wheel? See if I don't go clean out
of sight in it!"
Woe slipped into the wheel; the merchant caught up the
oaken wedge, and drove it into the axle-box from the other
side. Then he seized the wheel and flung it, with Woe in it,
into the river. Woe was drowned, and the merchant began to
live again as he had been wont to do of old.
In a variant of this story found in the Tula Government we have, in
the place of woe, _Nuzhda_, or Need. The poor brother and his wife are
returning home disconsolately from a party given by the rich brother
in honor of his son's marriage. But a draught of water which they take
by the way gets into their heads, and they set up a song.
"There are two of them singing (says the story), but three voices
prolong the strain.
"'Whoever is that?' say they.
"'Thy Need,' answers some one or other.
"'What, my good mother Need!'
"So saying the man laid hold of her, and took her down from his
shoulders--for she was sitting on them. And he found a horse's head
and put her inside it, and flung it into a swamp. And afterwards he
began to lead a new life--impossible to live more prosperously."
Of course the rich brother becomes envious and takes Need out of the
swamp, whereupon she clings to him so tightly that he cannot get rid
of her, and he becomes utterly ruined.
In another story, from the Viatka Government, the poor man is invited
to a house-warming at his rich brother's, but he has no present to
take with him.
"We might borrow, but who would trust us?" says he.
"Why there's Need!" replies his wife with a bitter laugh. "Perhaps
she'll make us a present. Surely we've lived on friendly terms with
her for an age!"
"Take the feast-day sarafan," cries Need from behind the stove;
"and with the money you get for it buy a ham and take it to your
"Have you been living here long, Need?" asks the moujik.
"Yes, ever since you and your brother separated."
"And have you been comfortable here?"
"Thanks be to God, I get on tolerably!"
The moujik follows the advice of Need, but meets with a cold reception
at his brother's. On returning sadly home he finds a horse standing by
the road side, with a couple of bags slung across its back. He strikes
it with his glove, and it disappears, leaving behind it the bags,
which turn out to be full of gold. This he gathers up, and then goes
indoors. After finding out from his wife where she has taken up her
quarters for the night, he says:
"And where are you, Need?"
"In the pitcher which stands on the stove."
After a time the moujik asks his wife if she is asleep. "Not yet,"
she replies. Then he puts the same question to Need, who gives no
answer, having gone to sleep. So he takes his wife's last sarafan,
wraps up the pitcher in it, and flings the bundle into an
In one of the "chap-book" stories (a _lubochnaya skazka_), a poor man
"obtained a crust of bread and took it home to provide his wife and
boy with a meal, but just as he was beginning to cut it, suddenly out
from behind the stove jumped Kruchina, snatched the crust from
his hands, and fled back again behind the stove. Then the old man
began to bow down before Kruchina and to beseech him to give back
the bread, seeing that he and his had nothing to eat. Thereupon
Kruchina replied, "I will not give you back your crust, but in return
for it I will make you a present of a duck which will lay a golden egg
every day," and kept his word.
In Little-Russia the peasantry believe in the existence of small
beings, of vaguely defined form, called _Zluidni_ who bring _zlo_ or
evil to every habitation in which they take up their quarters. "May
the Zluidni strike him!" is a Little-Russian curse, and "The Zluidni
have got leave for three days; not in three years will you get rid of
them!" is a White-Russian proverb. In a Little-Russian skazka a poor
man catches a fish and takes it as a present to his rich brother, who
says, "A splendid fish! thank you, brother, thank you!" but evinces no
other sign of gratitude. On his way home the poor man meets an old
stranger and tells him his story--how he had taken his brother a fish
and had got nothing in return but a "thank ye."
"How!" cries the old man. "A _spasibo_ is no small thing. Sell it
"How can one sell it?" replies the moujik. "Take it pray, as a
"So the _spasibo_ is mine!" says the old man, and disappears, leaving
in the peasant's hands a purse full of gold.
The peasant grows rich, and moves into another house. After a time his
wife says to him--
"We've been wrong, Ivan, in leaving our mill-stones in the old house.
They nourished us, you see, when we were poor; but now, when they're
no longer necessary to us, we've quite forgotten them!"
"Right you are," replies Ivan, and sets off to fetch them. When he
reaches his old dwelling, he hears a voice saying--
"A bad fellow, that Ivan! now he's rich, he's abandoned us!"
"Who are you?" asks Ivan. "I don't know you a bit."
"Not know us! you've forgotten our faithful service, it seems! Why,
we're your Zluidni!"
"God be with you!" says he. "I don't want you!"
"No, no! we will never part from you now!"
"Wait a bit!" thinks Ivan, and then continues aloud, "Very good, I'll
take you; but only on condition that you bring home my mill-stones for
So he laid the mill-stones on their backs, and made them go on in
front of him. They all had to pass along a bridge over a deep river;
the moujik managed to give the Zluidni a shove, and over they went,
mill-stones and all, and sank straight to the bottom.
There is a very curious Servian story of two brothers, one of whom is
industrious and unlucky, and the other idle and prosperous. The poor
brother one day sees a flock of sheep, and near them a fair maiden
spinning a golden thread.
"Whose sheep are these?" he asks.
"The sheep are his whose I myself am," she replies.
"And whose art thou?" he asks.
"I am thy brother's Luck," she answers.
"But where is my Luck?" he continues
"Far away from thee is thy Luck," she replies.
"But can I find her?" he asks.
"Thou canst; go and seek her," she replies.
So the poor man wanders away in search of her. One day he sees a
grey-haired old woman asleep under an oak in a great forest, who
proves to be his Luck. He asks who it is that has given him such a
poor Luck, and is told that it is Fate. So he goes in search of Fate.
When he finds her, she is living at ease in a large house, but day by
day her riches wane and her house contracts. She explains to her
visitor that her condition at any given hour affects the whole lives
of all children born at that time, and that he had come into the world
at a most unpropitious moment; and she advises him to take his niece
Militsa (who had been born at a lucky time) to live in his house, and
to call all he might acquire her property. This advice he follows, and
all goes well with him. One day, as he is gazing at a splendid field
of corn, a stranger asks him to whom it belongs. In a forgetful moment
he replies, "It is mine," and immediately the whole crop begins to
burn. He runs after the stranger and cries, "Stop, brother! that field
isn't mine, but my niece Militsa's," whereupon the fire goes out and
the crop is saved.
On this idea of a personal Fortune is founded the quaint opening of
one of the Russian stories. A certain peasant, known as Ivan the
Unlucky, in despair at his constant want of success, goes to the king
for advice. The king lays the matter before "his nobles and generals,"
but they can make nothing of it. At last the king's daughter enters
the council chamber and says, "This is my opinion, my father. If he
were to be married, the Lord might allot him another sort of Fortune."
The king flies into a passion and exclaims:
"Since you've settled the question better than all of us, go and marry
The marriage takes place, and brings Ivan good luck along with
Similar references to a man's good or bad luck frequently occur in
the skazkas. Thus in one of them (from the Grodno Government) a poor
man meets "two ladies (_pannui_), and those ladies are--the one
Fortune and the other Misfortune." He tells them how poor he is,
and they agree that it will be well to bestow something on him. "Since
he is one of yours," says Luck, "do you make him a present." At length
they take out ten roubles and give them to him. He hides the money in
a pot, and his wife gives it away to a neighbor. Again they assist
him, giving him twenty roubles, and again his wife gives them away
unwittingly. Then the ladies bestow on him two farthings (_groshi_),
telling him to give them to fishermen, and bid them make a cast "for
his luck." He obeys, and the result is the capture of a fish which
brings him in wealth.
In another story a young man, the son of a wealthy merchant, is
so unlucky that nothing will prosper with him. Having lost all that
his father has left him, he hires himself out, first as a laborer,
then as a herdsman. But as, in each capacity, he involves his masters
in heavy losses, he soon finds himself without employment. Then he
tries another country, in which the king gives him a post as a sort of
stoker in the royal distillery, which he soon all but burns down. The
king is at first bent upon punishing him, but pardons him after
hearing his sad tale. "He bestowed on him the name of Luckless,
and gave orders that a stamp should be set on his forehead, that no
tolls or taxes should be demanded from him, and that wherever he
appeared he should be given free board and lodging, but that he should
never be allowed to stop more than twenty-four hours in any one
place." These orders are obeyed, and wherever Luckless goes, "nobody
ever asks him for his billet or his passport, but they give him food
to eat, and liquor to drink, and a place to spend the night in; and
next morning they take him by the scruff of the neck and turn him out
We will now turn from the forms under which popular fiction has
embodied some of the ideas connected with Fortune and Misfortune, to
another strange group of figures--the personifications of certain days
of the week. Of these, by far the most important is that of Friday.
The Russian name for that day, _Pyatnitsa_, has no such
mythological significance as have our own Friday and the French
_Vendredi_. But the day was undoubtedly consecrated by the old
Slavonians to some goddess akin to Venus or Freyja, and her worship in
ancient times accounts for the superstitions now connected with the
name of Friday. According to Afanasief, the Carinthian name for
the day, _Sibne dan_, is a clear proof that it was once holy to Siva,
the Lithuanian Seewa, the Slavonic goddess answering to Ceres. In
Christian times the personality of the goddess (by whatever name she
may have been known) to whom Friday was consecrated became merged in
that of St. Prascovia, and she is now frequently addressed by the
compound name of "Mother Pyatnitsa-Prascovia." As she is supposed to
wander about the houses of the peasants on her holy day, and to be
offended if she finds certain kinds of work going on, they are (or at
least they used to be) frequently suspended on Fridays. It is a sin,
says a time-honored tradition, for a woman to sew, or spin, or weave,
or buck linen on a Friday, and similarly for a man to plait bast
shoes, twine cord, and the like. Spinning and weaving are especially
obnoxious to "Mother Friday," for the dust and refuse thus produced
injure her eyes. When this takes place, she revenges herself by
plagues of sore-eyes, whitlows and agnails. In some places the
villagers go to bed early on Friday evening, believing that "St.
Pyatinka" will punish all whom she finds awake when she roams through
the cottage. In others they sweep their floors every Thursday evening,
that she may not be annoyed by dust or the like when she comes next
day. Sometimes, however, she has been seen, says the popular voice,
"all pricked with the needles and pierced by the spindles" of the
careless woman who sewed and spun on the day they ought to have kept
holy in her honor. As for any work begun on a Friday, it is sure to go
These remarks will be sufficient to render intelligible the following