Russian Folk-Tales/Never-wash

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Once upon a time there was a soldier who had served through three campaigns, but had never earned as much as an addled egg, and was then put on the retired list. Then, as he went on the road marching on and on, he became tired and sat down by a lake. And, as he rested, he began thinking things out: "Where shall I now betake myself, and how shall I feed myself, and how the devil shall I enter into any service?"

As soon as he had spoken these words a little devil rose up at once in front of him and said, "Hail, soldier, what do you wish? Did you just now not say that you wished to become one of our servants? Why, soldier, come up and be hired: we will pay you well."

"What is the work?"

"Oh, the work is easy enough: for fifteen years you must not shave, you must not have your hair cut, you must not blow your nose, and you must not change your garb. If you serve this service, then we will go to the king, who has three daughters. Two of them are mine, but the third shall be yours."

"Very well," said the soldier, "I will undertake the contract; but I require in return to get anything my soul hankers after."

"It shall be so; be at peace; we shall not be in default."

"Well, let it befall at once. Carry me at once into the capital and give me a pile of money; you know yourself how little of these goods a soldier ever gets."

So the little devil dashed into the lake, got out a pile of gold, and instantaneously carried the soldier into the great city, and all at once he was there!

"What a fool I have been!" said the soldier: "I have not done any service, no work, and I now have the money!" So he took a room, never cut his hair, never shaved, never wiped his nose, never changed his garb, and he lived on and grew wealthy, so wealthy he did not know what to do with his money. What was he to do with his silver and gold? "Oh, very well, I will start helping the poor: possibly they may pray for my soul." So the soldier began distributing alms to the needy, to the right and to the left, and he still had money over, however much he gave away! His fame spread over the whole kingdom, came to the ears of all.

So the soldier lived for fourteen years, and on the fifteenth year the Tsar's exchequer gave out. So he summoned the soldier. So the soldier came to him unwashed, unshaved, uncombed, with his nose unwiped and his dress unchanged.

"Health, your Majesty!"

"Listen, soldier. You, they say, are good to all folks: will you lend me some money? I have not enough to pay my troops. If you will I will make you a general at once."

"No, your Majesty, I do not wish to be a general; but if you will do me a favour, give me one of your daughters as my wife, and you shall have as much money as you wish for the Treasury."

So the king began to think: he was very fond of his daughters, but still he could not do anything whatsoever without money. "Well," he said, "I agree. Have a portrait taken of yourself; I will show it to my daughters and ask which of them will take you."

So the soldier returned, had the portrait painted, which was feature for feature, unshaved, unwashed, uncombed, his nose unwiped, and in his old garb, and sent it to the Tsar.

Now, the Tsar had three daughters, and the father summoned them and showed them the soldier's portrait. He said to the eldest, "Will you go and marry him? He will redeem me from very great embarrassment."

The Tsarévna saw what a monstrous animal had been painted, with tangled hair, uncut nails and unwiped nose. "I certainly won't!" she said, "I would sooner go to the Devil." And from somewhere or other the Devil appeared, stood behind her with pen and paper, heard what she said, and entered her soul on his register.

Then the father asked the next daughter, "Will you go and marry the soldier?"

"What! I would rather remain a maiden; I would rather tie myself up with the Devil than go with him." So the Devil went and inscribed her soul as well.

Then the father asked his youngest daughter, and she answered, "Evidently this must be my lot: I will go and marry him and see what God shall give."

Then the Tsar was very blithe at this, and he went and told the soldier to make ready for the betrothal, and he sent him twelve carts to carry the money away.

Then the soldier made use of his devil: "There are twelve carts; pile them all high at once with gold."

So the devil ran into the lake and the unholy ones set to work. Some of them brought up one sack, some two, and they soon filled the carts and sent them to the Tsar, into his palace.

Then the Tsar looked, and now summoned the soldier to him every day, sat with him at one table, and ate and drank with him. When they got ready for the marriage the term of fifteen years was over. So he called the little devil and said, "Now my service is over: turn me into a youth."

So the devil cut him up into little bits, threw them into a cauldron, and began to brew him—brewed him, washed him and collected all his bones, one by one, in the proper way, every bone with every bone, every joint with every joint, every nerve with every nerve: then he sprinkled them with the water of life, and the soldier arose, such a fine young man as no tale can tell and no pen can write. He then married the youngest Tsarévna, and they began to live a merry life of good.

I was at the wedding: I drank mead and beer. They also had wine, and I drank it to the very dregs.

But the little devil ran back into the lake, for his elder hauled him over the coals to answer for what he had done with the soldier. "He has served out his period faithfully and honourably: he has never once shaved himself, nor cut his hair, nor wiped his nose, nor changed his clothes."

Then the elder was very angry. He said, "In fifteen years you were not able to corrupt the soldier! Was all the money given in vain? What sort of a devil will you be after this?" And he had him thrown into the burning pitch.

"Oh no, please, grandfather," said the grandson, "I have lost the soldier's soul, but I have gained two others."


"Look: the soldier thought of marrying a Tsarévna; the two elder daughters both declined and said they would rather marry a devil than the soldier. So there they are, and they belong to us."

So the grandfather-devil approved what the grandson-imp had done, and set him free. "Yes," he said, "you know your business very well indeed."

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