Russian Folk-Tales/The Poor Widow
THE POOR WIDOW
A very long time ago Christ and the twelve Apostles walked on earth. They went about like simple people, and nobody could have known that it was Christ and the twelve Apostles.
Once they came to a village and they asked a rich peasant for a bed. The rich peasant would not let them in, telling them: "Over there there lives a widow who receives beggars; go to her." So they asked the widow for a night's rest, and the widow was poor, poor of the poorest; she had nothing at all. She had only a very little crust of bread and a mere handful of flour, and she also had a cow, but the cow had no milk.
"Yes, fathers," the widow said, "my little hut is very small, and there is nowhere to lie down."
"Never mind; we can manage somehow!"
So the widow received the wanderers, and did not know how to feed them.
"How shall I feed you?" the widow said. "I only have one little crust of bread and a mere handful of flour, and my cow is calving and has no milk. I have to wait for her to calve. You cannot look for bread and salt here."
"Well, woman," the Saviour said, "have no fear—we shall all be satisfied. Give us all you have. We will eat the crust. Everything, woman, comes of God."
So they sat down to table and began to feast, and they were all fed on the one crust of bread. There were even crumbs left behind.
"Lo and behold! woman, you said that there was nothing to feed us on," the Saviour said. "Look, we are all satisfied, and there are some crumbs over. Everything, woman, comes of God!" And so Christ and the Apostles stayed with the poor widow.
In the morning the widow told her sister: "Go and scrape up any flour you can find in the corn-bin; possibly we may make a tiny pancake so as to feed our guests." The girl went and brought up a clay pot full. The old woman was not astonished when so much came—she simply took it as it came and started making a pancake. And the girl told her: "There is as much again in the corn-bin." So the woman cooked the pancake for the Saviour and the twelve Apostles, telling them: "Come and eat of the good fare, kinsmen, which God has sent." And so they ate and bade farewell to the aged widow and went on the road.
And when they were on the way there was a grey wolf sitting on a knoll. He bowed low to Christ and asked for food.
"Lord," he bayed, "I am hungry. Lord, I should like to eat."
"Go," said the Saviour to him, "to the old widow and eat her cow with the calf."
And the Apostles were astonished and said: "Lord, why do you bid him snatch the poor widow's cow? She received you so kindly and fed us, and she was so happy in the expectation of the calf, for then the cow would have had milk, which is food for every home."
"That is how it must be," the Saviour replied. And they went on.
The wolf ran and snatched up the poor widow's cow, and when the old woman saw this she said contentedly:
"The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away. Hallowed be His will!"
So Christ and the Apostles went on, and they met a keg with money in it on the way. The Saviour said: "Keg, go and roll to the rich peasant's door."
And again the Apostles were astonished.
"Lord, it would have been better had you bidden the keg roll to the poor widow's door, for the rich man has so much."
"That is how it must be," the Saviour said. And they went on.
And the keg with the money in it rolled straight to the rich peasant's door, and the peasant took and hid the money and was still discontented. "Surely the Lord might have sent me more," he mused.
Christ and the Apostles went on their way and travelled still further. At midday the sun was very hot, and the Apostles wanted to drink.
"Lord," they said, "we should like to drink."
"Go," replied the Saviour, "and on this road you will find a well. There take your fill."
So the Apostles went on and on and on, and they saw a well. When they looked into it there was filth and dirt, toads, snakes and frogs, and everything vile, and the Apostles would not drink of it, and swiftly returned to the Saviour.
"Why did you not drink the water?" Christ asked them.
"As you, Lord, told us, the well was there, but it was so horrible that we could hardly look into it."
Christ answered never a word.
And they went forward on their road. They went on and on and on, and the Apostles again said to the Saviour: "We are thirsty."
So the Saviour sent them in another direction. "There you will see a well. Go and drink your fill."
The Apostles went to the other well, and there it was, beautiful—oh, so delightful! Enchanted trees were there and birds of paradise. They did not ever want to leave it, and they drank of it, and the water was so pure, so chilled, and so sweet. And they came back, "Why have you been so long?" the Saviour asked them.
"Why, we only took a short drink," the Apostles answered, "and we were only away three little minutes."
"You were not there three little minutes, but three whole years," the Lord answered. "As it was in the first well, so ill shall in the next world deal by the rich peasant; and as it was in the second well, so good shall be the poor widow's fare."