Russian Folk-Tales/The Quarrelsome Wife

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"Father, I should like to marry! Mother, I should like to marry, I should really," said the youth.

"Well then, my child—marry."

So he married, and chose a lanky, black, squinting wife. She would have pleased Satan more than the clear-eyed hawk, and it was no good frothing at anybody: he was the only person in the wrong. So he lived with her and wrung his tears out with his fist.

One day he went out where audiences were being given, stood there, and came home.

"Wherever have you been sauntering?" asked his squint-eyed wife. "What have you seen?"

"Oh, they say that a new Tsar has come on the throne and has issued a new úkaz that wives are to command their husbands!"

He only meant to joke, but she sprang up, pulled his whiskers and said, "Go to the stream and wash the shirts, take the broom and sweep the house, then go and sit by the cradle and rock the child, cook the supper and grill and bake the cakes."

The man wanted to answer, "What are you talking about, woman? That is not a man's work." Then he looked at her, and he froze cold and his tongue clave to his throat.

So he got the washing together, baked the cakes, swept the cottage, and was no good for anything.

One year went by, and a second, and the good youth got rather weary of the yoke. But what on earth was he to do? He had married and he had tied himself for all eternity, and, may-be, his entire life would go by in this misery. From sheer wretchedness he contrived himself this contrivance. In the forest there was a deep pit of which neither end nor bottom could be seen. So he took and closed it up on the top with stakes, and strewed it over with straw. Then he came up to his wife: "My dear wife, you don't know that there is a treasure in the forest. It simply moans and groans with gold, and will not give itself up to me. It said, 'Send for your wife.'"

"Ha, ha! let us go: I will take it, and you say nothing about it."

So they went into the wood. "Sssh, woman, that is hollow ground out of which the treasure comes forth."

"Oh, what a fool you are of a peasant, frightened of everything! This is how I run up to it." So she ran up to the straw and was precipitated into the pit.

"Now, off you go," said the peasant; "I am now going to have a rest."

So he had a rest for a month, and a second month, but he soon became melancholy without his squint-eyed wife. So he went into the forest, and he went into the field, and he went to the river, and he could only think of her. "Possibly by now she has become quiet. Possibly I will take her out again." So he took a withy, let it into the ground, and he listened: she was sitting there. He drew it up, looked at it very near, looked very carefully, and in the basket there was a little devil sitting. At this the peasant was frightened, and almost let the cord fall out of his hands.

Then the little devil begged him and cried in his ear: "Do let me go, peasant. Your wife has been torturing and oppressing us. Tell me what to do: I will be your faithful servant. I will this very instant run into the boyárs' palace; I will in an instant cook the grill; by day and night I will knock and drive away the boyárs. You are to declare yourself a doctor to go and to call on me. I will leap up on the spot and vanish. Now, go and dig; shovel up your money."

So the peasant let the devil leap out, shake himself and vanish away. And from that day everything went upside down in the boyárs' house, and they began looking for some doctor: the good youth dubbed himself a doctor, exorcised the devil, and received good pay. Soon the rumour went forth that in the prince's palace, in the lofty castle home, familiar spirits were appearing, and never gave the princes rest. They sent for hunters in every part of the earth, and summoned them to assemble doctors. They collected from all the kings: it was no good. The familiar spirits still knocked and groaned.

At last our doctor arrived, recognised his old acquaintance, called for his little devil, and the little devil never thought of running away, and he would not leave the prince's palace. "Wait a little, if this is the case," cried the doctor. "Ho, my squint-eyed wife, just come up here!" Then the little devil could not stand it and took to his heels out of the stove.

So the doctor received honour and praise, and earned a mine of money. But it is said, not untruly, that, even in Paradise, it is sad to live alone. For the good youth grew melancholy, and he again went to seek his squint-eyed wife. So he let down the basket right away into the pit. There the woman was sitting, and he hauled her to the top. As soon as ever she came near she was breathing out fire and fury, gnashing her teeth and brandishing her fists. The peasant's hands shook with fear, and the withy broke, and the squint-eyed woman clashed down as before into Hell.

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