Russian Folk-Tales/The Sorry Drunkard

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Once there lived an old man, and he was such a sorry drunkard as words cannot describe. He used to go to the drinking-booth, drink green wine, and crawl away home through the hops.[1] And his road lay across a river.

When he came to the river, he did not dally to think; but slipped off his boots, hung them on his head, and wandered at ease till he came into the middle, stumbled and fell into the water, and was heard of no more.

But he had a son, Ugly Peter, Petrúsha. When Petrúsha saw that his father had vanished utterly, he became melancholy, and wept, had a Requiem Mass sung for his soul, and began to adminster the property.

One day, on a Sunday, he went to church to pray to God. As he was going on his way, in front of him there was a woman crawling along, going slowly, slowly, stumbling on the reeds[2], and scolding hard: "What the devil knocks you against me!"

Petrúsha heard her ugly language, and said: "Good-day, Auntie; where are you going?"

"I am off to church, Gossip, to pray to God."

"But is not it very sinful of you, going to church to pray to God, and then invoking the Unholy Spirit? You stumbled, and then invoked the devil!"

Well, he went on, and he heard Mass, and went on and on; and suddenly, from somewhere or other, there stood in front of him a fine youth who bowed down to him and said: "Thank you, Petrúsha, for your good word."

"What are you? Why do you thank me?" Petrúsha asked.

"Oh, I am the Devil, and I am thanking you because when the old woman was stumbling along and barking at me uselessly, you put in a good word for me." And he began to beseech him: "Do come, Petrúsha, and be my guest, and I will give you a reward—gold and silver—all you wish."

"All right!" said Petrúsha; "I will come."

And the Devil gave him his directions, and instantly vanished, and Petrúsha went back home.

Next day Petrúsha went to pay a visit to the Devil—went on and went on for three whole days; and he got into a deep wood—into the dreary and darksome forest where he could not see the sky. And in that forest there stood a rich palace; and when he came to the palace, a fair maiden saw him. She had been stolen from a village by the Unholy Spirit. She saw him and asked: "Why have you come here, doughty youth? Here the devils live, and they will tear you to tatters."

Petrúsha told her how and why he had come to this palace.

"Well, look you to it," the fair maiden said; "the devils are going to give you gold and silver—do not take any of it. Only ask them to give you the sorry horse on which the unholy spirits load their fuel and water. This horse is your father. When he got drunk and fell into the water, the devils instantly got hold of him, turned him into a horse, and now he serves as the beast of burden to carry their wood and water for them."

Then that same youth came forward who had invited Petrúsha to pay him a visit, and he began to entertain him with all sorts of sweetmeats and drinks. Then the time came for Petrúsha's departure home.

"As a parting gift," the Devil said to him, "I will give you money, and a splendid horse, and you shall ride home royally."

"This is of no use to me," Petrúsha answered. "But if you will give me anything, give me that sorry jade—that battered jade which carries your wood and water."

"Whatever use is that sorry nag to you? Why, you will hardly get home on it! Why, it tumbles down if you look at it!"

"I don't mind about that; give it to me; it is the only thing I will take."

So the devils gave him the sorry jade. Petrúsha took it and led it out to the entrance. As soon as he was at the outside, he met the fair maiden, who asked: "Have you got the horse?"

"Yes, I have."

"Then, fair youth, when you arrive at your village, take the cross off from your neck and pass it round the horse three times, and then hang the cross on its head."

Petrúsha bowed down to her, and set on his way; and he arrived at his village, and did all the maiden had commanded: took his copper cross from his neck, passed it three times round the horse, and hung the cross on its head. And all at once it was the horse no longer; but, instead, became his own father.

The son looked at the father, shed hot tears, and took him into his own izbá.[3] The old man lived for three days without speaking, and could not unseal his tongue. After that, they lived on in all good luck and happiness.

The old man altogether forsook being drunk; and to his last day not a drop of wine passed his lips.

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

  1. Russian: во хмелю, literally 'in the hops' means 'in a drunken state'. (Wikisource contributor note)
  2. Russian: о камышек, literally 'on little stones'. (Wikisource contributor note)
  3. Hut.