God Knows How to Punish Man (Russian Folk Tale)

Folk Tales, Russian Folk Tales9003

There was a wealthy, a very wealthy proprietor; he had buildings enough; there was where and wherewith for every purpose. Once upon a time he had guests at his house, and said to them: “If my buildings were to be burnt down, I should know where and how to rebuild them.” He said, and it came to pass. While he was conversing thus with his guests, somebody went out into the courtyard, but returned still quicker and said: “You”re on fire!” But the proprietor said: “Never mind; I wish it to be so.” He neither attempted to extinguish the fire himself nor allowed others to do so, and thus all was reduced to ashes; only the site was left. But he didn”t trouble himself a bit, but went and lived by the waterside, and kept his money in a willow-tree, being thus a source of danger to himself. Unexpectedly a heavy rain fell, and before he could look about him the water had already undermined the willow and carried it away. He then became poor, so that it became his lot to serve others. He was obliged to carry letters for gentlemen.

Well, it came to pass once that he was going with a letter, and night overtook him on the way; what was he now to do? He begged a night”s lodging at a certain man”s house; this man was rich and kindly, so he said: “Good! you shall not pass my house.” Meanwhile the mistress prepared supper, and after supping they prayed to God, but before they lay down to sleep they conversed together about this and that. The traveller began to relate how he had himself been wealthy, how he had been burnt out, and had come to poverty. “I had,” said he, “still a little money, and kept it in a willow-tree, but great floods came, undermined the willow, and carried my money away with the water! Thus I remained with nothing, and now it has been my lot more than once to beg for bread.”

Scarcely had his host heard this when he looked at his wife, for the willow had floated to shore under their barn, and when they began to cut it up, the money tumbled out a little at a time. They both went out into a room, and began to consult how to return the money to him without his knowing whence it came. They consulted. Then said the host: “Well, what shall we do? Let us cut off the under part of a loaf; take out the crumb, put the money inside, then cover it again with the crust; and when he is on the point of departing let us give it him, as if it were provision for his journey.” And so they did. The next day when he was starting to proceed on his way, they gave him the loaf of bread, and said: “Here”s for you; it will be of use on the road.” He took it, made his bow, and went on his way. On the road there met him some merchants–pardon me, some drovers–purchasing swine, who had formerly visited him more than once, and they asked him: “Of course you know what we”re after?” and he replied: “Formerly it was at my house; misfortune has come upon me; I've been burnt out, and now I serve others.” When he had spoken these words he all at once gave his knapsack a tap, and said: “Come! buy some bread.” (He took it out.) “Somehow I'm not hungry, and it”s heavy to carry; some money would be more advantageous on my journey.” Bargain and sale. They came to an agreement. The merchants took the bread and he the money, and they parted.

The merchants came to that very same village, and went to the house of that very same proprietor, from whom the bread came, and began to make inquiries of him respecting their business. “Not I, but God!” said he; “sit down, meanwhile, and rest;” and he sent for a snack for them. But they said to him that he needn”t trouble himself. “On the road we bought a loaf of excellent bread from a man who was going with a letter.” They (the host and his wife) felt a quaking at the heart; they had a suspicion; but the merchants soon took it out and placed it on the table, the very same loaf, which they had given to the traveller. The proprietor looked at his wife, and said to their guests: “Before anything is done, let us go and have a look round; maybe you will make a purchase.” “Let us go and they went out of the house, but he winked to his wife, and she knew at once what he wanted. When they went out on their business, the mistress brought out another loaf and placed it on the table, but removed the first one. They returned, breakfasted, either did or didn”t come to terms, and went away.

After some time the man came again with a letter, and turned in again at the proprietor”s, just as at an old acquaintance”s, for the night. They received him and were glad, for they thought they might now be successful in returning the money somehow or other. They waited; they passed the night, and when he had gone out of the house, they wrapped the money in a cloth, put it in his knapsack, gave him breakfast, and dismissed him, He went off, and as he went by a footpath through the orchard, he bethought himself: “Ah! what beautiful apples! Come! let me pluck a few for my journey.” He took off his knapsack and hung it on a tree, that it mightn”t embarrass him, and began himself to reach after the apples. Just then up came his host, the proprietor. He saw him, and took flight so much the quicker, leaving his knapsack on the tree.

The proprietor espied the knapsack hanging on a branch, began to think, and afterwards also said: “The poor fellow was frightened, and has forgotten his knapsack.” He took down the knapsack, and said: “His road goes to the foot-bridge; he ran away through the bushes that he mightn”t see me. I'll put it on the bridge, and then he”ll be sure to take it up.” Even so he did. He ran round sideways, placed the money on the bridge, and went himself behind a bush not very far off, to keep a look-out and see what would happen.

Suddenly the traveller came up to the bridge, and looking downwards thought, and afterwards said: “It”s good that I still have some sight, at any rate, and can go on my way and earn something to get my bread. What should I do if I were to go blind? How should I get across this bridge? Come, I'll see whether I could do it successfully.” Then, closing his eyes, tap, tap, with his stick over the bridge, he went straight forwards, stepped over the money, and went his way. The proprietor, recovering from his astonishment, said aloud: “He has angered God!”

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