Russian Folk-Tales/Shemyák the Judge

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Once in a certain country, in a certain kingdom, there lived two brothers; one was rich and the other poor. One day the poor brother came to the rich and asked him for a horse to fetch wood out of the forest. The rich man lent him a horse. Then the poor man also asked him for a horse-collar: this the rich brother refused, and became angry. Then the poor man decided to tie the wood to the horse's tail. And so he drove into the wood. He cut down so much wood that the horse could hardly drag it. When he got home he opened the door, but he forgot to remove the cross-beam. The horse jumped over it, but wrenched his tail out.

The poor brother brought the rich man the horse back without a tail. When he saw the animal in this condition, he would not take it; but went with the poor man before Judge Shemyák. The poor man went with his brother, and surmised he would fare very badly, for the sentence would be exile; the poor man is a butt for all, as he cannot give anything.

The brothers came to a rich peasant and asked for a night's lodging. The peasant gave the rich man good food and drink, but the poor man nothing. The poor man lay on the oven and saw how merry the other two were making; and fell down and killed the child in the cradle.

Then the peasant decided to go with the brothers, to bring a further indictment against the poor man. They went off together, the peasant and the rich brother in front, and the poor man after them. Then they crossed a bridge: the poor man considered that he would hardly escape the Court with his life; so he jumped over the bridge, in order to commit suicide. But, under the bridge, a son was bathing his sick father, and the poor man fell plump on the old man and drowned him. Then the son also went up to the Court in order to bring a plaint against the poor man.

The rich man put in a plea to the Court that his poor brother had torn off the horse's tail. In the meantime the poor man had wrapped a stone in a cloth and was threatening the judge with it behind the brother's back, for he was thinking, "If the judge goes against me, I will kill him." The judge believed that the poor man was offering him a hundred roubles so as to prove his case, and he gave judgment that the rich man must leave the horse in the poor peasant's possession until the tail grew again.

Then the peasant came and complained that the poor man had killed his son. Once again the poor man lifted up the same stone in a menacing way against the judge, behind the peasant's back. And the judge this time felt perfectly sure of getting a hundred roubles more for the judgment. And he commanded the peasant to give his wife to the poor peasant until another son was born. "Then you can take your wife and the child back."

This time it was the son's turn. And he brought in a plea that the poor man had murdered his father. Once again the poor man took the stone out of his pocket and showed it to the judge. Then the judge felt sure he would get altogether three hundred roubles in the case, and he commanded the son to go to the bridge, "and you, poor man, go there; stop under the bridge; and the son is to jump into the water plump on to you and to kill you."

Judge Shemyak sent his servant to the poor man to ask for the three hundred roubles.

Then the poor man showed the servant the stone with which he had threatened the judge: "If the judge had not decided in my favour I should have killed him with this stone!"

When the judge heard of this, he crossed himself piously and said: "Thank God I decided for the right party."

The poor brother went to the rich brother to fetch the horse from him in accordance with the judge's decision, until the tail should grow again. The rich man did not want to give the horse, so he gave him instead five roubles, three quarters of corn, and a milch-goat; and made peace with him for all time.

Then the poor man went to the peasant, and in accordance with the judgment, asked for the wife, in order that she might remain with him until another child came. Then the peasant made a compromise with the poor man, gave him fifty roubles, a cow and a calf, and a mare with a foal, and four quarters of corn, and settled matters with him.

Then the poor man went to the son whose father he had killed, and read the judgment out to him, according to which the son was to jump on him from the bridge, so as to kill him. Then the son began to consider: "If I do jump, possibly I shall kill him, possibly I shall not; anyhow I shall be done for." So he made terms with the poor man, gave him two hundred roubles and a horse, and five quarters of corn; and lived in peace with him for ever.

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