Russian Folk-Tales/God's Blessing Compasses all Things

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Once upon a time in a certain country, in a certain kingdom, there were two peasants, Iván and Naúm. They entered into a partnership and went together to look for work, and they rambled about until they came to a rich village and got work with different masters. For the whole week they kept at work and met on Sunday for the first time.

"Brother, how much have you earned?" asked Iván.

"God has given me five roubles."

"God gave them to you? He does not give much unless you work for it."

"No, Brother, without God's blessing you can do nothing; you cannot gain a groat."

So they quarrelled about this, and at last they decided, "We will each go our own way. We will ask the first man we meet which of us is right. He who loses the bet must sacrifice all his earnings."

So they went on some twenty paces. Afterwards they came across an unholy spirit in human guise, and they asked him and received his reply. "What you earn for yourself is the proper thing; place no reliance on God."

Naúm gave Iván his money and returned empty-handed to his master. One week later the two men met once again, and set about the same argument. Naúm said: "Though you took my money from me last week, still, this week God gave me yet more."

"If God gave it you as you said, we will once more ask the first person who meets us who is right. The loser of the bet shall have the money, and shall have his right hand hewn off."

Naúm consented. On their way they met the same devil, who returned the same reply. Iván gave Naúm his money, hacked off his right hand, and left it behind.

Naúm pondered for a long time what he should do without his right hand. Who would give him meat and drink? But God is merciful. So he went to the river, and he lay down on a boat on the shore. "I will sit down here, and to-morrow I may see what I shall do, for the morning is wiser than the evening."

And about midnight very many devils assembled on the boat and began to tell each other what tricks they had played. The first said: "I started a quarrel between two peasants, backed up the one who was in the wrong; and the one, who was in the right, had his hand hacked off."

"That's not much of a feat! If he were to wave his hand, three times over the dew, his hand would grow again," said the second.

Then the third began to boast, "I have sucked a lord's daughter dry, and she can hardly stir."

"What! if any one had any compassion on the lord, he would heal the daughter at once. It is as simple as possible. You have only to take this herb"—pointing to a herb on the shore—"cook it, boil her in the brew, and she will be healed."

"In a certain pond," a fifth devil said, "there is a peasant who has put up a water-mill, and for many years he has been striving to make it go, but whenever he lets the water through the sluice, I make a hole in it, and all the water flows through."

"What a fool your peasant is!" said the sixth devil. "He ought to dam it up well, and as soon as the water breaks through, throw in a sheaf of straw, and all your work would be no good."

Naúm had listened very attentively. Next day he grew his hand on again, then he saw to the peasant's dam, and he healed the lord's daughter. Both the peasant and the lord rewarded him richly, and he lived a fine life.

Once he met his former companion, who was very much astonished, and asked: "How is it you have become so rich, and how did you grow your hand on again?"

Naúm told him exactly what had happened, and kept nothing back.

Iván listened very attentively, and thought, "Ha! I shall do the same, and shall become richer than he!" So he went to the river and lay down on the shore, in the boat.

And at midnight all the devils gathered together. "Brothers," they said, "somebody must have been eavesdropping on us, for the peasant's hand grew again, the maiden is healed, and the mill-wheel is turning!"

So they burst on the boat, found Iván, and tore him into tiny bits.

Then the wolves wept cows' tears.

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