More Tales from Tolstoi/The Children Wiser than the Elders

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The Holy-Tide fell early. Only in sledges could one fare quickly along. The snow lay upon the houses, and in the country the little streams were trickling. A large puddle was oozing from a manure heap between two houses into an alley. And two little children from different houses, one very small and the other somewhat older, had been drawn towards this puddle. The mothers of both children had dressed them in new sarafans.[1] The tinier child wore a blue one, the bigger child a yellow one with a nice pattern. Both had pretty kerchiefs tied round their heads. The children had gone out after dinner to the puddle, showed each other their pretty things, and begun to play. And then the desire seized them to go splashing about in the water. The little girl crept down in her slippers to the puddle, but the elder one said:

"Don't go, Malashka, mother will scold us. But if you like I'll take off my shoes and you take off your shoes too."

The children took off their shoes, tucked up their clothes, and went down to the puddle from different sides. Malashka went in over her ankles and cried:

"It is so deep, Akulyushka, I'm afraid."

"Oh, it's nothing. It won't get any deeper, come straig'ht towards me!"

They drew nearer. Presently Akul'ka said:

"Look out, Malashka! don't splash so much! Go more quietly!"

No sooner were the words out of her mouth than Malashka went plump! with her foot in the water, and splashed Akul'ka's sarafan all over. The sarafan was splashed all over, and the water went into the eyes and nose of Akul'ka also. On seeing the great stains on her sarafan Akul'ka began to be very angry with Malashka, scolded her, ran after her, and would have beaten her. Malashka grew frightened, saw that she had done mischief, leaped out of the puddle, and ran off home. Akul'ka's mother passed by, saw her daughter's sarafan all splashed, and her bodice all dirty.

"Where have you been, you dirty little wretch?" cried she.

"Malashka splashed me on purpose," said she. Akul'ka's mother seized Malashka and boxed her ears. Malashka howled so that the whole street could hear it. Malashka's mother came rushing out.

"Why do you beat my little one?" cried she, and she began to abuse her neighbour.

One word led to another, and the women reviled one another to their hearts' content. Then the muzhiks[2] themselves came out and formed quite a large group in the street. All of them jabbered together, not one of them would listen to the others. They cursed and swore, then one of them hit his neighbour, and there was a general scrummage till an old woman, Akul'ka's grandmother, intervened. She went into the midst of the muzhiks and began to speak soothingly to them:

"What is this, my kinsmen? Is this the way to spend your days? We ought to rejoice, and you sin like this?"

But they did not listen to the old woman, and all but knocked her off her legs. Nor would the old woman have pacified them but for Akul'ka and Malashika. While the women were squabbling, Akul'ka had dried her little sarafan and came out again to the puddle in the lane. She picked up a little stone and began to fill up the puddle with earth in order to make the water flow over into the street. Whilst she was digging Malashka also came out and began to help her to dig a channel with a little chip of wood. The muzhiks still kept on wrangling, and all the time the water was' running into the street through the channel made by the little girls, running right to the very place where the old woman was trying to bring the muzhiks to reason. The little girls began running one on one side and the other on the other side of the little rivulet they had made.

"Stop it, Malashka! stop it!" shrieked Akul'ka. Malashka, too, wanted to say something, but could not utter a word for sheer laughter.

So the little girls ran along, laughing at the chip of wood as it bobbed up and down on the rivulet. And they ran right into the midst of the muzhiks.

The old woman perceived them, and said to the muzhiks:

"Do ye not fear God that ye wrangle so! Here are all ye muzhiks quarrelling and striving together about these very children, while they themselves have long ago forgotten all about it, and are playing together again in all heartiness and loving kindness. They are wiser than you."

The muzhiks looked at the little girls and they were ashamed. And then the muzhiks began laughing at themselves, and separated, each man going to his own house.

"If ye do not become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven."

  1. A long buttoned frock, without sleeves.
  2. Peasants.