Russian Folk-Tales/The Princess who would not Smile

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If you think of it, what a big world God's world is: in it rich and poor folk live, and there is room enough for them all; and the Lord overlooks and judges them all. There are fine folk who have holidays, there are wailful folk who must moil; every man has his lot.

In the Tsar's palace, in the Prince's chamber, every day the Princess Without a Smile grew fairer. What a life she had, what plenty, what beauty round her! There was enough of everything that exists that the soul may desire, but she never smiled, never laughed, and it seemed as though her heart could not rejoice at anything.

It was a bitter thing for the Tsar her father to gaze at his doleful daughter. He used to open his imperial palace to whoever would be his guest. "Come," he said, "come and try to enliven the Princess Without a Smile: any one who succeeds shall gain her as his wife." And as soon as he had said this all folk thronged up at the gates of the palace, driving up from all sides, coming on foot, Tsarévichi and princes' sons, boyárs and noblemen, military folk and civil. Feasts were celebrated, rivers of mead flowed, and the Princess would not smile.

But, at the other end of the town, in his own little hut, there dwelt an honourable labourer. Every morning he used to sweep out the courtyard: every evening he used to pasture the cattle, and he was engaged in ceaseless labour. His master was a rich man, a just man, and he did not begrudge pay. When the year came to an end he put a purse of money on the table, "Take," he said, "as much as you like"; and the master went outside.

The workman went up to the table and thought, "How shall I not be guilty in the eyes of God if I take too much for my labour?" So he took only one little coin, put it into the hollow of his hand and thought he would have a little drink. So he went to the well, and the coin slipped through his fingers and fell to the bottom. So the poor fellow had nothing left. Now, anybody else in his place would have cried out, would, have become melancholy and angry, might have put his hands up. He did nothing of the sort. "Everything," he said, "comes from God. The Lord knows what He gives to each man, whose money He divides, from whom He takes the last money. Evidently I have given bad care, I have done little work; and now am I to become angry?"

So he set to work once more. And all that his hand touched flew like fire. Then, when the term was over, when one year more had gone by, the master again put a purse of money on the table: "Take," he said, "as much as your soul desires"; and he himself went outside.

Then again the labourer thought how he should not offend God, how he should not take too much for his work. So he took one coin and he went to have a little drink at the well. In some way or other the money fell from his hands and the coin tumbled into the well and was lost.

So he set to work even more obstinately: at night he would not sleep and by day he would not eat. Other men saw their corn grow dry and yellow, but his master's corn prospered amain. Some men's cattle became bow-legged, but his master's gambolled in the street. And the horses of some masters fell downhill, but his master's could not be kept to the bridle. The master knew very well whom he must thank, to whom he must render gratitude. So, when the third year came to an end, he laid a pile of money on the table: "Take, my dear man, as much as your soul desires. It is your work, and it is your money"; and he went out of the room.

Once more the workman took a single coin, went to the well for a drink of water and looked, and the lost money floated up to the surface: so he took them, and he then felt sure that God had rewarded him for his labour. He was joyous and thought, "It is now the time for me to go and look at the white world and to learn of people." So he thought this, and he went out whither his eyes gazed.

He went on to the field, and he saw a mouse running: "My friend, my dear gossip, give me a coin; I will be of service to you."

So he gave the mouse a coin.

Then he went to the forest, and a beetle crept up and said, "My friend, my dear gossip, give me a coin; I will be of service to you."

So he gave him the second coin.

Then he came up to the stream, and he met a sheat-fish. "My friend, my dear gossip, give me a coin; I shall be of service to you."

And he could not refuse him, so he gave his last coin.

So then he came into the city. Oh, it was so thronged! All the doors were opened, and he looked, and the workman turned in all directions, and he did not know where to go. In front of him stood the Tsar's palace decked with gold and silver, and at the window the Tsarévna Without a Smile sat and gazed on him straight. What should he do? The light in his eyes turned dark, and a sleep fell on him, and he fell straight into the mud. Up came the sheat-fish with his big whiskers, and after him the beetle and the mouse: they all ran up, they all pressed round him and did all the service they could. The little mouse took his coat: the beetle cleaned his boots, and the sheat-fish drove away the flies. The Princess Without a Smile gazed on their services, and she smiled.

"Who is he who, has enlivened my daughter?" cried the King. One man said "I," and another man said "I."

"No," said the Princess, "that is the man there"; and she pointed out the workman.

Instantly he was taken into the palace, and the workman stood in the imperial presence, a youth such as never was; then the Tsar kept his princely word and gave what he had promised.

I am saying it. Was not this a mere dream? Did not the workman only dream it? They assure me this is not the fact, and that it all happened in real truth; so you must believe it.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.