Slavonic Fairy Tales/The Plague and the Peasant
THE PLAGUE AND THE PEASANT.
(from the polish.)
A peasant sat down in the shade of a larch tree to rest. The sun was high and glowing. Suddenly he perceived something approaching him from a distance. As it came nearer he saw that it was a woman wrapped in a large cloak. Her legs were of a wonderful length.
The peasant was greatly frightened, and tried hard to run away, but the spectre seized him with her bony arms, and said,—
"Do you know the Plague? It is I. Take me on your shoulders and carry me over the whole country. You must not miss a town, a village, or even a hamlet; I must be carried everywhere. For yourself, be not afraid: in the midst of death and misery you shall remain alive and well."
She put her long arms round his neck. The peasant started, but surprised at feeling no weight, he turned his head, and then saw that the spectre was sitting on his shoulders.
He took her first to a town. There was music and dancing in the taverns, and joy in every place; mirth and pleasure held their sway. When the peasant entered into the market-place, the woman shook her pestilential garments. Soon the music and dancing ceased, joy disappeared, and terror reigned supreme. The terrified peasant saw coffins and dead bodies on every side. He heard the funeral bells everywhere. Soon the cemetery was filled and there was no more room to bury the dead. Even in the market-place many a corpse was left without a grave!
On went the miserable peasant. Whenever he passed through a village the houses were left empty. The inhabitants, pale and trembling, fled; men were dying on the roads, in the woods, and in the fields,
His native village stood on a high hill: there lived his wife, his little children, and his aged parents. At the sight of it his heart bled within him. Seizing the spectre with all his strength, lest she should escape, he hurried past his home.
Before him flowed the river Pruth, with its blue waters; on the other side arose green hills; and far beyond, dark mountains, capped with snow, lost their summits in the clouds. His resolution was quickly taken. He rushed on and plunged headlong into the river, hoping by meeting death himself to drown the Plague also, and thus to save the country from further desolation.
The unhappy peasant perished in the waters, but the Plague, as a spirit, could not be drowned. Overcome, however, by this courageous act, she fled away in terror and hid herself among the mountains. Thus the peasant not only saved his village and all those who were dear to him, but also that part of his native land into which the Plague had not been carried.