Russian Folk-Tales/Sorrow

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Once upon a time, in a wretched village, there lived two peasants, who were own brothers. One was poor, however, and the other rich. The rich man settled in the town, built himself a fine house, and became a merchant. Sometimes the poor brother had not a crumb of bread and the children (each of whom was smaller than the others) cried and begged for something to eat. From morning to evening the peasant trudged away like a fish on ice, but it was all of no good.

One day he said to his wife: "I am going into the town, in order to beg my brother to help me."

So he came to the rich man and asked him: "Brother, help me in my sorrow, for my wife and children sit at home without any bread and are starving."

"If you will work for me this week I will help you."

What was the poor fellow to do? He set to work, cleaned out the courtyard, groomed the horses, carried the water, hewed the wood. When the week had gone by the rich man gave him a loaf of bread. "There, you have a reward for your pains."

"I thank you for it," said the poor man, and bowed down, and was going home.

"Stay," the rich brother said to him: "Come with your wife to-morrow and be my guests. To-morrow is my name-day."

"Oh, brother, how can I? As you know, merchants who wear boots and furs come to see you, whilst I have only bast shoes, and I only have my grey coat."

"Never mind! Come to-morrow; I shall still have room for you."

"Good brother! I will come."

So the poor man went home, gave his wife the loaf of bread, and said: "Listen, wife. To-morrow you and I are to be guests."

"Who has asked us?"

"My brother. To-morrow is his name-day."

"All right, let's go."

Next day they got up and went into the town. They came to the rich man's door, greeted him, and sat down on a bench. And at table there were many guests, and the master of the house entertained them all magnificently. Only he forgot the poor brother and his wife, and he gave them nothing. They sat there, and could only look at the others eating and drinking. When the meal was over the guests rose from table and bowed their thanks to the master and mistress, and the poor man also stood up from his bench and bowed down deep before his brother; and the guests went home drunken and merry, noisily singing songs.

But the poor man went home with an empty stomach. "We too must sing a song!" he said to his wife.

"Oh, you fool, the others sing, for they have had a good dinner and have drunk well. Why should we sing?"

"Well, after all, I was a guest at my brother's name-day, and I am ashamed of going back so silently. If I sing they will all think, anyhow, that I have been served as well."

"Sing if you will! I shall not!"

So the peasant sang and sang, and he heard two voices. So he stopped and asked his wife: "Are you helping me to sing with a thin voice?"

"What are you thinking of? I was doing nothing of the sort."

"What was it, then?"

"I don't know," said the wife. "Sing. I will listen."

So he went on singing by himself, and again the two voices were heard. So he stayed still, and said, "Sorrow, are you aiding me to sing?"

And Sorrow answered: "Yes, I am aiding you."

"Now, Sorrow, we will go on together."

"Yes, I will ever remain with you."

So the peasant went home. But Sorrow called him into the inn.

He said: "I have no money."

"Never mind, Hodge; what do you want money for?" Why, you still have half of a fur; what is the use of it? It will soon be summer, and you will be no longer requiring it. We will go into the inn and drink it up."

So the peasant and Sorrow went into the inn, and they drank up the half-fur. Next day Sorrow groaned and said he had a headache, a fearful headache, owing to last night's treat. And he enticed the peasant once more to bib wine.

"But I have no money!"

"There is no need of money. Take your sleigh and your carriage; that will be sufficient for us!"

It was not any good. The peasant could not escape Sorrow. So he took his sleigh and his carriage, drove them to the inn, and drank them with Sorrow. And in the morning Sorrow groaned yet further, and reduced the master to further drinking; and the peasant drank away his ploughshare and his plough.

One month had gone by, and he had drunk all his property away, pledged his izbá[1] to a neighbour, and spent all the money in the inn. Then Sorrow came to him once more. "Let us go to the inn!"

"No, Sorrow, I have no more."

"Why, your wife has two sarafáns, one will be sufficient for her."

So the peasant took the sarafán, drank it up; and he thought: "Now I have not anything left, neither house, nor clothes, nor anything else for myself or my wife!"

Next morning Sorrow woke up and saw that there was nothing more he could take. So he said: "Master, what is your wish? Go to your neighbour and borrow a pair of oxen and a carriage."

So the peasant went to his neighbour and said, "Can you lend me a car and a pair of oxen for a short time, and I will do a week's work for them?"

"What do you want with them?"

"To fetch wood out of the forest."

"Well, then, take them, but don't overload them."

"Oh, of course not, uncle!"

So the peasant took the oxen, went with Sorrow into the carriage, and drove into the field.

"Do you know the big stone in this field?" Sorrow asked.

"Oh, yes!"

"Well, then, drive up to it."

So they arrived at the stone and dismounted. Sorrow bade the peasant lift up the stone, and he aided him in the work. Under the stone there was a hollow filled with gold.

"Now, what do you see?" said Sorrow. "Load it all up quickly on to the coach."

So the peasant set to work sharply, loaded all the gold up, to the very last ducats. And when he noticed there was not anything left, he said, "Sorrow, is there no more gold there?"

"I don't see any."

"Down there in the corner I see something glittering."

"No; I cannot see anything."

"Get down into the pit, and you will see it."

So Sorrow went into the pit, and as soon as he was in the peasant cast the stone in. "Things will now go better," said the peasant, "for if I were to take you back with me, Sorrow, you would drink up all of this money!"

So the peasant went home, and he poured out the gold in the cellar. He took the oxen back to his neighbour, and he began to set up house again, bought a wood, built a big house, and became twice as rich as his brother. Soon he rode to the town, in order to invite his brother and his sister-in-law to his own name-day.

"Whatever do you mean?" said the rich brother, "why, you have nothing to eat, and you are giving festivals!"

"I had nothing to eat before, but I am now as well off as you are."

"All right; I will come."

So next day the rich man, with his wife, went to the name-day; and they saw that the poor starveling had a big new house, much finer than many merchants' houses. And the peasant gave them a rich dinner, with all kinds of meat and drink.

So the rich man asked his brother: "Tell me, how did you become so rich?"

Then the peasant told him the bare truth—how Sorrow had followed on his heels and how he and his sorrow had gone into the inn, and he had drunk away all his goods and chattels to the last shred, until he had only his soul left in his body; and then how Sorrow had showed him the treasure-trove in the field, and he had thus freed himself from the thraldom of Sorrow.

And the rich man became envious and thought: "I will go into the field and will lift the stone up. Sorrow will rend my brother's body asunder, so that he cannot then brag of his riches in front of me."

So he left his wife behind and drove into the field, to the big stone. He whirled it off to the side and bowed down to see what was under the stone. And he had hardly bowed down, when Sorrow sprang up and sat on his shoulders.

"O!" Sorrow cried. "You wanted to leave me here under the earth. Now I shall never depart from you."

"Listen, Sorrow: I was not the person who locked you up here!"

"Who was it, then, if it was not you?"

"My brother. I came in order to set you free."

"No, you are lying and deceiving me again. This time it shall not come off."

So Sorrow sat fast on the wretched merchant's shoulders. He brought Sorrow with him home, and his household went from bad to worse. Sorrow began early in the morning enticing the merchant into the beer-house day after day, and much property was drunk away.

"This life is absolutely unbearable!" thought the merchant. "I have done Sorrow too good a service. I must now set myself free from him. How shall I?" So he thought and he thought it out. He went into his courtyard, cut two oak wedges, took a new wheel, and knocked one wedge from one end into the axle. He went up to Sorrow. "Now, Sorrow, must you lie about like that?"

"What should I be doing? What else is there to do?"

"Come into the courtyard; let us play hide-and-seek."

This suited Sorrow down to the ground, and at first the merchant hid and Sorrow found him at once.

Then Sorrow had to hide. "You will not find me so easily: I can hide myself in any crack."

"What!" said the merchant. "Why, you could never get into this wheel, much less into a crack!"

"What! I could not get into the wheel? Just look how I manage to hide myself in it!"

So Sorrow crept into the wheel, and the merchant took the other oak wedge and drove it into the hub from the other side, and threw the wheel, with Sorrow inside, into the river. Sorrow was drowned, and the merchant lived as before.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

  1. Hut.