Russian Folk-Tales/The Thoughtless Word

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Once upon a time an old man lived in a village with his wife, and they were very poor: they had only one son. And when he grew up, the mother said to her husband: "It is full time that we secured a wife for our son."

"Well, go and see if you can bargain for a wife."

The old woman went to her neighbour and asked him if her son could marry his daughter. But the neighbour said, "No!" And she went to the next peasant, who also declined the honour. And she searched the whole village, and not a single soul would hear a single word of it. When she came back she said: "Goodman, I fear our son is born under an unlucky star!"


"I went through the whole village, and there is nobody who will give me his daughter."

"That looks bad!" said the husband. "It will soon be summer, and we shall not have anybody to help us at the harvest. Woman, go into the next village, as you may find somebody there."

The old woman went to the next village, went from one end to the other, went through all the courtyards and houses of the peasants, but it was all in vain. Wherever she showed her nose, she was put off. And she came back home as she had left. "No one wants to be kin with such poor folk as us!"

"In that case it is no good running oneself off one's legs. Go and sit behind the oven."

But the son was indignant, and asked: "Father, bless me, and I will go and seek my own fate."

"Where then will you go?"

"Wherever my eyes lead me!"

So they blessed him and they let him go wherever the four winds blow.

When the boy was on the road, he wept bitterly and spoke to himself: "Am I then the feeblest man in the world, and no maiden will really have me? If the Devil would only send me a bride I think I would rake[1] her!"

Suddenly, just as though he had grown out of the earth, an old man came to meet him. "Good day, doughty youth!"

"Good day, old father!"

"What were you saying just now?"

Then the boy was frightened and did not know what to answer.

"You need not fear me. I will do you no harm, and perhaps I can help you in your need. Speak out boldly."

So the boy told him all the truth. "Oh, I am a sorry fellow, and no maiden will marry me. That is making me angry; and I said in my indignation that if the Devil himself came and gave me a girl, I would make her my bride."

So the old man laughed and said: "I can give you a bride, oh, as many brides as you like"; and they then came to a lake. "Stand with your back to the water, and step backwards," the old man told the boy.

As soon as he had turned round, and had gone four steps, he found himself under the water, in a white stone palace.[2] All the rooms were splendidly furnished and finely decorated.

The old man gave him meat and drink, and afterwards showed him twelve maidens, each of whom was fairer than the others. "Choose which you will of them. You shall have any of them."

"It is a difficult choice, grandfather! Let me have till to-morrow to think of it."

"Well, you can have until to-morrow," said the old man, and he took him into a large room.

The boy lay down to sleep and began to think which he would take. Suddenly the door opened and a beautiful maiden came in. "Are you asleep, doughty youth, or not?"

"No, fair maiden, I cannot sleep. I am thinking which is the bride I shall take."

"That is the very reason I came to see you, in order to give you counsel; for, good man, you have become the Devil's guest. So, listen to me; if you ever wish to return to the light of day, you must do as I say. If you do not, you will not leave this place alive."

"Give me your counsel, fair maiden. I shall not forget it all my life long."

"To-morrow the Evil Spirit will show you twelve maidens, one like the other. You must choose me, and look at me very carefully. There will be a patch[3] over my right eye; that will be the sign." And the maiden told him her story. "Do you know the pope in a neighbouring village? I am his daughter, and was stolen from his house nine years ago. One day my father was angry with me and made a hasty wish that the Devil might take me. I went in front of the house and cried, and the Unholy Spirit soon snatched me on the spot, carried me here; and I have never left the place since."

Next day the old man set the twelve maidens in a row before the boy, and commanded him to choose one of them. He looked until he had seen the one with the patch[3] over the right eye, and chose her. The old man was angry, but he had to give her up. And he therefore mixed the maidens together and told him to make a second choice. The boy hit on the same one, and after a third choice he took his fated bride.

"This has been your piece of luck. Now take her home!"

All at once the boy and the maiden found themselves on the bank of the lake, and they walked backwards until they reached the high road. The Devil wanted to hunt after them; but all at once the lake vanished, and there was no trace of the water.

When the boy had taken his bride into the village, he stopped at the pope's house. The pope saw her, and sent a servant out and asked what they desired.

"We are wandering folk, and ask for shelter."

"I have guests staying here, and my hut would be too small anyhow."

"But, father!" said the merchants, "wandering folk must be always taken in: they will not disturb us."

"Well, come in."

The boy and the maiden came in, made due greetings, and sat behind, on a corner of the fire bank.

"Do you know me, father? I am your own daughter!" She told him what had happened; and they kissed, and embraced, and shed tears of joy.

"Who is he?" said the pope, pointing to the boy.

"That is my own chosen bridegroom, who brought me back to light of day, but for whom I should have remained beneath for ever!" Thereupon the fair maiden opened her bag, and there were golden and silver vessels in it which she had stolen from the devils.

A merchant looked at them and said: "Those are my plate. Once I was dining with guests, and became rather drunk, quarrelled with my wife, and I wished them all to the Devil. And since then all my plate has vanished!"

And this was the truth, for as soon as ever the man mentioned the Devil, the Evil Spirit appeared on the threshold, gathered up all the gold and silver plate, and threw skeleton bones down instead.

So the boy got a fine bride, married her, and drove to see his parents. They had long given him up for dead, and it was no wonder; for he had been away for three years, although it had seemed to him only twenty-four hours that he had stayed with the Devil.

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

  1. Russian: взял (take) (Wikisource contributor note)
  2. The Devil in this story is the popular myth of the water-god or spirit, The Vodyanóy.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Russian:мошка (midge, small fly) (Wikisource contributor note)