Russian Folk-Tales/The Soldier and the Tsar in the Forest

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In a certain kingdom, in a certain State, lived a peasant who had two sons. The recruiting-sergeant came round and took the elder brother. So the elder brother served the Tsar with faith and loyalty, and was so fortunate in his service that in a few years he attained a general's rank.

Now at this same time there was a new enlistment, and the lot fell on his younger brother, and they shaved his brow. And it so happened that he was made to serve in the very same regiment in which his brother was a general. The soldier recognised the general, but it was no good, because the general would not acknowledge him at all: "I do not know you, and you must not claim acquaintance with me!"

One day the soldier was standing on sentry-go at the ammunition-wagons just outside the general's quarters, and the general was giving a great dinner, and a multitude of officers and gentlemen were going to him. The soldier saw that it was jollity within, but that he himself had nothing at all, and he began to weep bitter tears.

Then the guests began to ask him, "Tell us, soldier, why are you crying?"

"Why should I not cry? There is my own brother faring abroad and making merry, but he forgets me!"

Then the guests told the general of this; but the general was angry: "Do not believe him, he is an utter liar." So he ordered him to be taken away from sentry-go, and to be given thirty blows with the cat, so that he should not dare to claim kinship.

This offended the soldier, so he put on undress uniform and decamped.

In some time, maybe long, maybe short, he found himself in a wood so wild, so dreamy, that he could not get out of it anywhere, and he began killing time and feeding on berries and roots.

Just about this time the Tsar was setting out, and made a mighty hunt with a splendid suite. They galloped into the open fields, let loose the hounds, and sounded trumpets, and began to press in. Suddenly from somewhere or other a beautiful stag leapt out straight in front of the Tsar, dived into the river, and swam across to the other side right into the wood. The Tsar followed after him, swam over the river, leapt and leapt and looked; but the stag had vanished from view, and he had left the hunters far behind, and all around him was the thick dark forest. Where should he go? He did not know: he could not see a single path. So until the fall of the evening he ambled about and tired himself out.

On his way the runaway soldier met him. "Hail, good man, where are you going?"

"Oh, I was out on a hunt and I lost my way in the wood; will you lead me to the right path, brother?"

"Who are you?"

"A servant of the Tsar."

"Well, it is dark now; we had better take shelter somewhere in the thickets, and to-morrow I will show you the way."

So they went to look where they might pass the night, went on and on, and they saw a little hut. "Oho! God has sent us a bed for the night; let us go there," said the soldier. So they went into the little hut.

There an old woman sat. "Hail, bábushka!"

"Hail, soldier!"

"Give us something to eat and drink."

"I have eaten it all up myself, and there is not anything to be had."

"You are lying, old devil!" said the soldier, and began rummaging about in the stove and on the shelves. And he found plenty in the old woman's hut: wine and food, and all ready. So they sat down at the table, feasted to their fill, and went to lie down in the attic.

Then the soldier said to the Tsar, "God guards him who guards himself; let one of us rest and the other stand guard." So they cast lots, and the Tsar had to take the first watch. Then the soldier gave him his sharp cutlass, put him at the door, bade him not go to sleep, and arouse him if anything should happen. Then he himself lay down to sleep. But he thought, "Will my comrade be able to stand sentry-go? Possibly he is unaccustomed to it; I will take watch over him." Then the Tsar stood there and stood, and soon began to nod.

"What are you nodding for?" asked the soldier: "are you going to sleep?"

"No!" said the Tsar.

"Well, then, keep a good look-out!"

So the Tsar stood a quarter of an hour, and again dozed off.

"Ho, friend, you are not dozing?"

"No, I don't think so." And he again dozed off.

"Ho, friend, you are not dozing?"

"I don't think so: if you go to sleep do not blame me."

Then the Tsar stood a quarter of an hour longer, and his legs bowed in, he fell on the ground and went to sleep.

The soldier jumped up, took the cutlass and went to recall him and to have a talk: "Why do you keep guard in this way? I have served for ten years, and my colonel never forgave me a single sleep: evidently they have not taught you anything. I forgave you once before; a third guilt is unpardonable. Well, now go to sleep; I will stand and watch."

So the Tsar went and lay down to sleep, and the soldier went sentry-guard and did not close his eyes.

Very soon there was a whistling and a knocking, and robbers came into that hut. The old woman met them and told them, "Guests have come in to spend the night."

"That is very well, bábushka; we have been rambling the woods in vain all night, and our luck has come into the hut; give us supper."

"But our guests have eaten and drunk everything up."

"What bold fellows they must be: where are they?"

"They have gone to sleep in the garret."

"Very well; I will go and settle them!"

So a robber took a big knife and crept up into the garret; but as soon as ever he had poked his head into the door, the soldier swept his cutlass round, and off came his head.

Then the soldier took a drink and stood and waited on eventualities. So the robbers waited and waited and waited. "What a long time he has been!" So they sent a man to look after him and the soldier killed him also, and in a short time he had chopped off the heads of all the robbers.

At dawn the Tsar awoke, saw the corpses, and asked, "Ho, soldier, into what danger have we fallen?"

So the soldier told him all that had happened. Then they came down from the attic. When the soldier saw the old woman he cried out to her, "Here, stop, you old devil! I must have some business with you. Why are you acting as a receiver for robbers? Give us all the money now." So the old woman opened a box full of gold, and the soldier filled his knapsack with gold and all of his pockets. He then said to his companion: "You also take some."

So the Tsar answered, "No, brother, I need not; our Tsar has money enough without this; and if he has it, we shall also have it."

"Well, I suppose you ought to know!" said the soldier, and he took him out of the wood into the broad road. "Go," he said, "on this road, and in an hour you will reach the town."

"Farewell," said the Tsar. "Thank you for the service you have done me; come and see me, and I will make you a happy man."

"Very well; but that's a fine tale! I am a runaway soldier: if I show my head in the town I shall be seized on the spot."

"Have no fear, soldier: the Tsar is very fond of me; and, if I ask him for a favour on your behalf and tell him of your bravery, he will forgive you and have pity on you."

"Where can I find you?"

"Go into the palace."

"Very well; I will go there to-morrow."

So the Tsar and the soldier said good-bye. And the Tsar went on the broad road into his capital, and without delay he ordered all the staffs and the watches and the sentries to keep their eyes open, and as soon as a certain soldier came to give him the honour due to a general.

Next day, as soon as ever the soldier had appeared at the barriers, a sentry ran out and gave him a generous honour. So the soldier wondered, "What does this mean?" And he asked, "To whom are you showing these honours?"

"To you, soldier."

So he took a handful of gold out of his wallet and gave it to the sentry as a tip. Then he entered the town. Wherever he went all the sentries gave him honours, and he always paid them back in tips. "What a wretched dolt was this servant of the Tsar's: he has given a hint to everybody that I have plenty of money on me!" So he came up to the palace, and the entire army was assembled there, and the Tsar met him in the same dress in which he had gone hunting.

Then the soldier at last saw with whom he had passed the night in the wood, and he was terribly frightened.

"This was the Tsar," he said, "and I threatened him with my cutlass, just as though he had been my brother!" But the Tsar took him by the hand and rewarded him with a generalship, and degraded the brother into the ranks, telling him he must not disown his own kin.

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