Ivan The Fool And St Peter's Fife





There was once upon a time a man who had three sons, and two were

clever, but the third, called Ivan, was a fool. Their father divided

all his goods among them and died, and the three brothers went out

into the world to seek their fortunes. Now the two wise brothers left

all their goods at home, but Ivan the fool, who had only inherited a

large millstone, took it along with him. They went on and on and on

till it began to grow dark, when they came to a large forest. Then the

wise brothers said, "Let us climb up to the top of this oak and pass

the night there, and then robbers will not fall upon us."--"But what

will this silly donkey do with his millstone?" asked one of

them.--"You look to yourselves," said Ivan, "for I mean to pass the

night in this tree also." Then the wise brothers climbed to the very

tip-top of the tree and there sat down, and then Ivan dragged himself

up too, and the millstone after him. He tried to get up as high as his

brothers, but the thin boughs broke beneath him, so he had to be

content with staying in the lower part of the tree on the thicker

boughs; so there he sat, hugging the millstone in his arms. Presently

some robbers came along that way, red-handed from their work, and they

too prepared to pass the night under the tree. So they cut them down

firewood, and made them a roaring fire beneath a huge cauldron, and in

this cauldron they began to boil their supper. They boiled and boiled

till their mess of pottage was ready, and then they all sat down round

the cauldron and took out their large ladles, and were just about to

fall to--in fact they were blowing their food because it was so

boiling hot--when Ivan let his big millstone plump down into the

middle of the cauldron, so that the pottage flew right into their

eyes. The robbers were so terrified that they all sprang to their feet

straightway and scampered off through the forest, forgetting all the

booty of which they had robbed the merchantmen. Then Ivan came down

from the oak and cried to his brothers, "You come down here and divide

the spoil!" So the wise brothers came down, put all the merchandise on

the backs of the robbers' horses, and went home with it; but the only

thing that Ivan was able to secure for himself was a bag of incense.

This he immediately took to the nearest churchyard, placed it on the

top of a tomb, and began to pound away at it with his millstone.

Suddenly St Peter appeared to him and said, "What art thou doing, good

man?"--"I am pounding up this incense to make bread of it."--"Nay,

good man, I will advise thee better: give me the incense and take from

me whatever thou wilt."--"Very well, St Peter," said the fool; "thou

must give me a little fife, but a fife of such a sort that whenever I

play upon it, every one will be obliged to dance."--"But dost thou

know how to play upon a fife?"--"No, but I can soon learn." Then St

Peter drew forth a little fife from his bosom and gave it to him, and

took away the incense, and who can say where he went with it? But Ivan

stood up and gazed at the sky and said, "Look now! if St Peter hath

not already burnt my incense and made of it that large white cloud

that is sailing above my head!" Then he took up his fife and began to

play, and the moment he began to play, everything around him began to

dance; the wolves, and the hares, and the foxes, and the bears, nay,

the very birds lit down upon the ground and began to dance, and Ivan

went on laughing and playing all the time. Even the savage, surly

bears danced and danced till their legs tottered beneath them. Then

they clutched tight hold of the trees to stop themselves from dancing;

but it was of no use, dance they must. At last Ivan himself was tired,

and lay down to rest, and when he had rested a little, he got up again

and went on into the town. There all the people were in the bazaars,

buying and selling. Some were buying pancakes, others baskets of

bright-coloured eggs, others again pitchers of kvas. Ivan began

playing on his fife, and forthwith they all fell a-dancing. One man

who had a whole basket of eggs on his head danced them into bits, and

danced and danced till he looked like the yolk of an egg himself.

Those who were asleep got up and gave themselves up to dancing

straightway; there were some who danced without trousers, and some who

danced without smocks or shirts, and there were some who danced with

nothing on at all, for dance they must when Ivan began a-playing. The

whole town was turned upside down: the dogs, the swine, the cocks and

hens, everything that had life came out and danced. At last Ivan was

tired, so he left off playing and went into the town to seek service.

The parson there took a fancy to him, and said to him, "Good man! wilt

enter my service?"--"That will I, gladly," said Ivan.--"How much wages

dost thou want by the year then?"--"It won't come dear; five

karbovantsya[27] are all I ask."--"Good, I agree," said the parson.

So he engaged Ivan as his servant, and the next day he sent him out

into the fields to tend his cattle. Ivan drove the cattle into the

pastures, but he himself perched on the top of a haystack while the

cattle grazed. He sat there, and sat and sat till he grew quite dull,

and then he said to himself, "I'll play a bit on my fife, I haven't

played for a long time." So he began to play, and immediately all the

cattle fell a-dancing; and not only the cattle, but all the foxes, and

the hares, and the wolves, and everything in the hedges and ditches

fell a-dancing too. They danced and danced till the poor cattle were

clean worn out and at the last gasp. In the evening Ivan drove them

home, but they were so famished that they tugged at the dirty straw

roofs of the huts they passed, and so got a chance mouthful or two.

But Ivan went in and had supper and a comfortable night's rest

afterward. The next day he again drove the cattle into the pastures.

They began grazing till he took out his fife again, when they all fell

a-dancing like mad. He played on and on till evening, when he drove

the cattle home again, and they were all as hungry as could be, and

wearied to death from dancing.



[27] A karbovanets is about four shillings.






Now the parson was not a little astonished when he saw his cattle.

"Where on earth has he been feeding them?" thought he; "they are quite

tired out and almost famished! I'll take care to go myself to-morrow,

and see exactly whither he takes them, and what he does with them." On

the third day the neat-herd again drove the cattle into the pastures,

but this time the parson followed after them, and went and hid himself

behind the hedge near to which Ivan was watching the cattle graze.

There he sat then, and watched to see what the man would do. Presently

Ivan mounted on to the haystack and began to play. And immediately all

the cattle fell a-dancing, and everything in the hedge, and the parson

behind the hedge danced too. Now the hedge was a quickset hedge, and

as the parson began capering about in it, he tore to shreds his

cassock and his breeches, and his under-coat, and his shirt, and

scratched his skin and wrenched out his beard as if he had been very

badly shaved, and still the poor parson had to go on dancing in the

midst of the prickly hedge till there were great weals and wounds all

over his body, and the red blood began to flow. Then the parson saw he

was in evil case, and shrieked to his herdsman to leave off playing;

but the herdsman was so wrapped up in his music that he did not hear

him; but at last he looked in the direction of the hedge, and when he

saw the poor parson skipping about like a lunatic, he stopped. The

parson darted away as fast as his legs could carry him toward the

village, and oh! what a sight he looked as he dashed through the

streets! The people didn't know him, and--scandalized that anybody

should run about in rags and tatters so that his whole body could be

seen--began to hoot him. Then the poor man turned aside from the

public road, crawled off through the woods, and dashed off through the

tall reeds of the gardens, with the dogs after him. For wherever he

went they took him for a robber, and hounded on the dogs. At last the

parson got home, all rags and tatters, so that when his wife saw him

she did not know him, but called to the labourers, "Help, help! here's

a robber, turn him out!" They came rushing up with sticks and cudgels,

but he began talking to them, and at last they recognized him, led him

home, and he told his wife all about Ivan. The parson's wife was so

amazed she could scarce believe it. In the evening Ivan drove home the

oxen, put them into their stalls, gave them straw to eat, and then

came into the house himself to have supper. He came into the house,

and the parson said to him, "Come now, Ivan, when thou hast rested a

bit, play my wife a little song!" But as for the parson, he took good

care to tie himself first of all to the pillar which held up the roof

of the house. Ivan sat down on the ground near to the threshold and

began to play. The parson's wife sat down on the bench to listen to

him while he played; but immediately she leaped up from the bench and

began to dance, and she danced with such hearty good-will that the

place became too small for her. Then the Devil seemed to take

possession of the cat too, for pussy leaped from under the stove and

began to spring and bound about also. The parson held on and held on

to the pillar with all his might, but it was of no use. He had no

power to resist; he let go with his hands, and tugged and tugged till

the rope that held him grew slacker and slacker, and then he went

dancing round and round the pillar at a furious rate, with the rope

chafing his hands and feet all the time. At last he could endure it no

longer, and bawled to Ivan to stop. "The deuce is in thee!" cried he.

Then Ivan stopped playing, put his fife into his breast-pocket, and

went and lay down to sleep. But the parson said to his wife, "We must

turn away this Ivan to-morrow, for he will be the death of ourselves

and our cattle!" Ivan, however, overheard what the parson said to his

wife, and getting up early in the morning, he went straight to the

parson, and said to him, "Give me one hundred karbovantsya, and I'll

be off; but if you won't give them to me, I'll play and play till you

and your wife have danced yourselves to death, and then I'll take your

place and live at mine ease." The parson scratched himself behind the

ears and hesitated; but at last he thought he had better give the

money and be quit of him. So he took the hundred karbovantsya out of

his satchel and gave them to Ivan. Then Ivan played them a parting

song, till the parson and his wife fell down to the ground, dead-beat,

with their tongues lolling out of their mouths; and then he put his

fife into his breast-pocket, and wandered forth into the wide world.





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