Russian Folk-Tales/A Tale of the Dead (1)

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A TALE OF THE DEAD


One day a peasant was going by night with pots on his head. He journeyed on and on, and his horse became tired and came to a spot in front of God's acre. The peasant ungirded the horse, set it to graze, but he could not get any sleep. He lay down and lay down, suddenly the grave began opening under him, and he felt it and leaped to his feet. Then the grave opened and the corpse with the coffin lid got out, with his white shroud on; got out and ran up to the church door, laid the coffin lid at the gate and himself went into the village.

Now this peasant was a bold fellow: so he took the coffin lid and set it by his teléga, and went to see what would come of it. Very soon the corpse came back, looked about him and could not find the coffin lid anywhere, and began to hunt for it. And at last he came up to the peasant, and said, "Give me my coffin lid, or else I will smash you to atoms."

"What are you bragging for?" answered the peasant, "I will break you up into little bits."

"Do, please, give it me, dear good man," asked the corpse.

"Well, I will give it you if you will tell me where you have been and what you have done."

"Oh, I have been in the village, and I there slew two young lads!"

"Well, tell me how to revive them."

The corpse had no choice, so he answered, "Cut off the left lappet from my shroud and take it with you. When you come to the house where the lads have died, scatter hot sparks into a pot and put the piece of my shirt there, then close the door and at the breath of it they will revive at once."

So the peasant cut off the left lappet from the shroud and gave him back the coffin lid. Then the dead man went back into the grave and laid himself down in it. Then the cocks crowed and he could not lock it down properly: one corner of the coffin lid would perk upwards. The peasant noticed all this. Day was breaking, so he yoked his horse and went into the village.

In a certain house he could hear the sound of lamentation and cries of grief: he went in there, and two youths lay dead. "Do not weep: I can revive them."

"Do revive them, kinsman: half of our goods we will give you," said the relations.

So the peasant did as the corpse had told him, and the lads revived. The parents were delighted, and they seized hold of the peasant, and they pinioned him with ropes. "Now, doctor, we are going to take you up to the authorities: if you can revive them it must be you who killed them!"

"What, good Christians! Have some fear for God!" the peasant shrieked: and he told what he had seen at night.

Soon the news spread through the village, and the people assembled and rushed up to the cemetery, looked at the grave out of which the corpse had come, tore it up and dug into the dead man's heart an oaken stake, so that he should never rise up and kill folks. And they rewarded the peasant greatly and led him home with honour.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.