The Fiddler in Hell
There was a certain moujik who had three sons. His life was a prosperous one, and he laid by money enough to fill two pots. The one he buried in his corn-kiln, the other under the gate of his farmyard. Well, the moujik died, and never said a word about the money to any one. One day there was a festival in the village. A fiddler was on his way to the revel when, all of a sudden, he sank into the earth—sank right through and tumbled into hell, lighting exactly there where the rich moujik was being tormented.
“Hail, friend!” says the Fiddler.
“It’s an ill wind that’s brought you hither!” answers the moujik; “this is hell, and in hell here I sit.”
“What was it brought you here, uncle?”
“It was money! I had much money: I gave none to the poor, two pots of it did I bury underground. See now, they are going to torment me, to beat me with sticks, to tear me with nails.”
“Whatever shall I do?” cried the Fiddler. “Perhaps they’ll take to torturing me too!”
“If you go and sit on the stove behind the chimney-pipe, and don’t eat anything for three years—then you will remain safe.”
The Fiddler hid behind the stove-pipe. Then came fiends, and they began to beat the rich moujik, reviling him the while, and saying:
“There’s for thee, O rich man. Pots of money didst thou bury but thou couldst not hide them. There didst thou bury them that we might not be able to keep watch over them. At the gate people are always riding about, the horses crush our heads with their hoofs, and in the corn-kiln we get beaten with flails.”
As soon as the fiends had gone away the moujik said to the Fiddler:
“If you get out of here, tell my children to dig up the money—one pot is buried at the gate, and the other in the corn-kiln—and to distribute it among the poor.”
Afterwards there came a whole roomful of evil ones, and they asked the rich moujik:
“What have you got here that smells so Russian?”
“You have been in Russia and brought away a Russian smell with you,” replied the moujik.
“How could that be?” they said. Then they began looking, they found the Fiddler, and they shouted:
“Ha, ha, ha! Here’s a Fiddler.”
They pulled him off the stove, and set him to work fiddling. He played three years, though it seemed to him only three days. Then he got tired and said:
“Here’s a wonder! After playing a whole evening I used always to find all my fiddle-strings snapped. But now, though I’ve been playing for three whole days, they are all sound. May the Lord grant us his blessing!”
No sooner had he uttered these words than every one of the strings snapped.
“There now, brothers!” says the Fiddler, “you can see for yourselves. The strings are snapped; I’ve nothing to play on!”
“Wait a bit!” said one of the fiends. “I’ve got two hanks of catgut; I’ll fetch them for you.”
He ran off and fetched them. The Fiddler took the strings, screwed them up, and again uttered the words:
“May the Lord grant us his blessing!”
In a moment snap went both hanks.
“No, brothers!” said the Fiddler, “your strings don’t suit me. I’ve got some of my own at home; by your leave I’ll go for them.”
The fiends wouldn’t let him go. “You wouldn’t come back,” they say.
“Well, if you won’t trust me, send some one with me as an escort.”
The fiends chose one of their number, and sent him with the Fiddler. The Fiddler got back to the village. There he could hear that, in the farthest cottage, a wedding was being celebrated.
“Let’s go to the wedding!” he cried.
“Come along!” said the fiend.
They entered the cottage. Everyone there recognized the Fiddler and cried:
“Where have you been hiding these three years?”
“I have been in the other world!” he replied.
They sat there and enjoyed themselves for some time. Then the fiend beckoned to the Fiddler, saying, “It’s time to be off!” But the Fiddler replied: “Wait a little longer! Let me fiddle away a bit and cheer up the young people.” And so they remained sitting there till the cocks began to crow. Then the fiend disappeared.
After that, the Fiddler began to talk to the sons of the rich moujik, and said:
“Your father bids you dig up the money—one potful is buried at the gate and the other in the corn-kiln—and distribute the whole of it among the poor.”
Well, they dug up both the pots, and began to distribute the money among the poor. But the more they gave away the money, the more did it increase. Then they carried out the pots to a crossway. Every one who passed by took out of them as much money as his hand could grasp, and yet the money wouldn’t come to an end. Then they presented a petition to the Emperor, and he ordained as follows. There was a certain town, the road to which was a very roundabout one. It was some fifty versts long, whereas if it had been made in a straight line it would not have been more than five. And so the Emperor ordained that a bridge should be made the whole way. Well, they built a bridge five versts long, and this piece of work cleared out both the pots.
About that time a certain maid bore a son and deserted him in his infancy. The child neither ate nor drank for three years and an angel of God always went about with him. Well, this child came to the bridge, and cried:
“Ah! what a glorious bridge! God grant the kingdom of heaven to him at whose cost it was built!”
The Lord heard this prayer, and ordered his angels to release the rich moujik from the depths of hell.
The Ride on the Gravestone
Late one evening a certain artisan happened to be returning home from a jovial feast in a distant village. There met him on the way an old friend, one who had been dead some ten years.
“Good health to you!” said the dead man.
“I wish you good health!” replied the reveller, and straight way forgot that his acquaintance had ever so long ago bidden the world farewell.
“Let’s go to my house. We’ll quaff a cup or two once more.”
“Come along. On such a happy occasion as this meeting of ours, we may as well have a drink.”
They arrived at a dwelling and there they drank and revelled.
“Now then, good-bye! It’s time for me to go home,” said the artisan.
“Stay a bit. Where do you want to go now? Spend the night here with me.”
“No, brother! don’t ask me; it cannot be. I’ve business to do to-morrow, so I must get home as early as possible.”
“Well, good-bye! but why should you walk? Better get on my horse; it will carry you home quickly.”
“Thanks! let’s have it.”
He got on its back, and was carried off—just as a whirlwind flies! All of a sudden a cock crew. It was awful! All around were graves, and the rider found he had a gravestone under him!
In a certain village there was a girl who was lazy and slothful, hated working but would gossip and chatter away like anything. Well, she took it into her head to invite the other girls to a spinning party. For in the villages, as every one knows, it is the lazybones who gives the spinning-feast, and the sweet-toothed are those who go to it.
Well, on the appointed night she got her spinners together. They span for her, and she fed them and feasted them. Among other things they chatted about was this—which of them all was the boldest?
Says the lazybones (lezhaka):
“I’m not afraid of anything!”
“Well then,” say the spinners, “if you’re not afraid, go past the graveyard to the church, take down the holy picture from the door, and bring it here.”
“Good, I’ll bring it; only each of you must spin me a distaff-ful.”
That was just her sort of notion: to do nothing herself, but to get others to do it for her. Well, she went, took down the picture, and brought it home with her. Her friends all saw that sure enough it was the picture from the church. But the picture had to be taken back again, and it was now the midnight hour. Who was to take it? At length the lazybones said:
“You girls go on spinning. I’ll take it back myself. I’m not afraid of anything!”
So she went and put the picture back in its place. As she was passing the graveyard on her return, she saw a corpse in a white shroud, seated on a tomb. It was a moonlight night; everything was visible. She went up to the corpse, and drew away its shroud from it. The corpse held its peace, not uttering a word; no doubt the time for it to speak had not come yet. Well, she took the shroud and went home.
“There!” says she, “I’ve taken back the picture and put it in its place; and, what’s more, here’s a shroud I took away from a corpse.”
Some of the girls were horrified; others didn’t believe what she said, and laughed at her.
But after they had supped and lain down to sleep, all of a sudden the corpse tapped at the window and said:
“Give me my shroud! Give me my shroud!”
The girls were so frightened they didn’t know whether they were alive or dead. But the lazybones took the shroud, went to the window, opened it, and said:
“There, take it.”
“No,” replied the corpse, “restore it to the place you took it from.”
Just then the cocks suddenly began to crow. The corpse disappeared.
Next night, when the spinners had all gone home to their own houses, at the very same hour as before, the corpse came, tapped at the window, and cried:
“Give me my shroud!”
Well, the girl’s father and mother opened the window and offered him his shroud.
“No,” says he, “let her take it back to the place she took it from.”
“Really now, how could one go to a graveyard with a corpse? What a horrible idea!” she replied.
Just then the cocks crew. The corpse disappeared.
Next day the girl’s father and mother sent for the priest, told him the whole story, and entreated him to help them in their trouble.
“Couldn’t a service be performed?” they said.
The priest reflected awhile; then he replied:
“Please to tell her to come to church to-morrow.”
Next day the lazybones went to church. The service began, numbers of people came to it. But just as they were going to sing the cherubim song, there suddenly arose, goodness knows whence, so terrible a whirlwind that all the congregation fell flat on their faces. And it caught up that girl, and then flung her down on the ground. The girl disappeared from sight; nothing was left of her but her back hair.