THERE lived in a village a son with his mother, and the mother was a very old woman. The son was called Ivan the Fool. They lived in a poor little cottage with one window, and in great poverty. Such was their poverty that besides dry bread they ate almost nothing, and sometimes they had not even the dry bread. The mother would sit and spin, and Ivan the Fool would lie on the stove, roll in the ashes, and never wipe his nose. His mother would say to him time and again: "Ivanushka, thou art sitting there with thy nose unwiped. Why not go somewhere, even to the public-house? Some kind man may come along and take thee to work. Thou wouldst have even a bit of bread, while at home here we have nothing to keep the life in us."
"Very well, I'll go," said Ivan. He rose up and went to the public-house. On the way a man met him.
"Where art thou going, Ivan?"
"I am going to hire out to work."
"Come, work for me; I'll give thee such and such wages, and other things too."
Ivan agreed. He went to work.
The man had a dog with whelps; one of the whelps pleased Ivan greatly, and he trained it. A year passed, and the time came to pay wages for the work. The man was giving Ivan money, but he answered: "I need not thy money; give me that whelp of thine that I trained."
The man was glad that he had not to pay money, and gave the whelp.
Ivan went home; and when his mother found what he had done, she began to cry, saying: "All people are people, but thou art a fool; we had nothing to eat, and now there is another life to support."
Ivan the Fool said nothing, sat on the stove with unwiped nose, rolling in the ashes, and the whelp with him. Some time passed; whether it was short or long, his mother said again: "Why art thou sitting there without sense; why not go to the public-house? Some good man may come along and hire thee."
"Very good, I'll go," said the Fool.
He took his dog and started. A man met him on the road.
"Where art thou going, Ivan?"
"To find service," said he; "to hire out."
"Come, work for me."
"Very well," said Ivan.
They agreed, and Ivan went again to work; and that man had a cat with kittens. One of the kittens pleased the Fool, and he trained it. The time came for payment.
Ivan the Fool said to this man: "I need not thy money, but give me that kitten."
"If thou wilt have it," said the man.
Now the Fool went home, and his mother cried more than before. "All people are people, but thou wert born a fool. We had nothing to eat, and now we must support two useless lives!"
It was bitter for Ivan to hear this. He took his dog and cat and went out into the field. He saw in the middle of the field a fire burning in a great pile of wood,--such an awful pile of wood! When he drew nearer he saw that a snake was squirming in it, burning on hot coals.
The snake screamed to him in a human voice: "Oh, Ivan the Fool, save me! I will give thee a great ransom for my life."
Ivan took a stick and raised the snake out of the fire.
When he had thrown it out, there stood before him, not a snake, but a beautiful maiden; and she said: "Thanks to thee, Ivanushka. Thou hast done me great service; I will do thee still greater. We will go," said she, "to my mother. She will offer thee copper money: do not take it, because it is coals, and not money; she will offer thee silver coin: do not take that either, for that will be chips, and not silver; she will bring out to thee gold: take not even that, because instead of gold it is potsherds and broken bricks. But ask of her in reward the ring with twelve screws. It will be hard for her to give it; but be firm, she will give it for my sake."
Behold, all took place as she said. Though the old woman grew very angry, she gave the ring. Ivan was going along through the field, thinking, "What shall I do with this ring?"
He was looking at it, when that same young girl caught up with him and said: "Ivan, whatever thou wishest, thou wilt have. Only stand in the evening on the threshold, loosen all the twelve screws, and before thee twelve thousand men will appear: whatever thou wishest, command; all will be done."
Ivan went home, said nothing to his mother, sat on the stove, lay in the ashes with unwiped nose. Evening came; they lay down to sleep.
Ivan waited for the hour, went on the threshold, unscrewed the twelve screws, and twelve thousand men stood before him. "Thou art our master, we are thy men: declare thy soul's desire."
Said Ivan to the men: "Have it made that on this very spot a castle shall stand such as there is not in the world, and that I sleep on a bedstead of gold, on down of swans, and that my mother sleep in like manner; that coachmen, outriders, servants, and all kinds of powerful people be walking in my court and serving me."
"Lie down for thyself in God's name," said the men; "all will be done at thy word."
Ivan the Fool woke up next morning, and was frightened even himself. He looked around; he was sleeping on a golden bedstead on down of swans, and there were lofty chambers and so rich that even the Tsar had not such. In the court-yard were walking coachmen, outriders, servants, and all kinds of mighty and important people who were serving him. The Fool was amazed, and thought, "This is good." He looked in the mirror, and did not know his own self; he had become a beauty that could not be described with a pen or be told of in a tale. As was fitting, the lord was as fine as his chambers.
When the Tsar woke up at the same hour,--and the Tsar lived in that town,--he looked, and behold opposite his palace stood a castle just gleaming in gold.
The Tsar sent to learn whose it was. "Let the owner come to me," said he, "and show what sort of man he is."
They informed Ivan, and he said: "Tell him that this is the castle of Ivan Tsarevich; and if he wants to see me, he is not so great a lord, let him come himself."
There was no help for it. The Tsar had to go to Ivan the Fool's castle. They became acquainted, and after that Ivan the Fool went to the Tsar. The Tsar had a most beautiful young Tsarevna of a daughter, and she brought refreshments to Ivan; and right there she pleased him greatly, and straightway he begged the Tsar to give her in marriage to him. Now the Tsar in his turn began to put on airs.
"Give her,--why not give her? But thou, Ivan Tsarevich, perform a service for me. My daughter is not of common stock, and therefore she must marry only the very best among the whole people. Arrange this for me, that from thy castle to mine there be a golden road, and that I have a bridge over the river,--not a common one, but such a bridge that one side shall be of gold, and the other of silver; and let all kinds of rare birds be swimming on the river,--geese and swans; and on the other side of the river let there be a church,--not a simple one, but one all wax,--and let there grow around it wax apple-trees and bear ripe apples. If thou do this, my daughter shall be thine; and if not, blame thyself." ("Well," thought the Tsar, "I have joked enough with Ivan Tsarevich;" but he kept his own counsel.)
"Agreed," said Ivan. "Now do thou make ready the wedding to-morrow." With that he departed.
In the evening, when all had lain down to sleep, he stood on the threshold, unscrewed all the screws in the ring: twelve thousand men stood before him.
"Thou art our master, we are thy men: command what thy soul desires."
"Thus and thus," said he; "I want this and that."
"All right," said they; "lie down with God."
In the morning the Tsar woke up, went to the window; but his eyes were dazzled. He sprang back six paces. That meant that the bridge was there, one side silver, the other gold, just blazing and shining. On the river were geese and swans and every rare bird. On the opposite bank stood a church of white wax, and around the church apple-trees, but without leaves; the naked branches were sticking up.
"Well," thought the Tsar, "the trick has failed; we must prepare our daughter for the wedding."
They arrayed her and drove to the church. When they were driving from the palace, buds began to come out on the apple-trees; when they were crossing the bridge, the apple-trees were coming into leaf; when they were driving up to the church, white blossoms were bursting forth on the trees; and when the time came to go home from the marriage ceremony, the servants and all kinds of people met them, gave them ripe apples on a golden salver. Then they began to celebrate the wedding. Feasts and balls were given; they had a feast which lasted three days and three nights.
After that, whether it was a short time or a long one, the Tsarevna began to tease Ivan. "Tell me, my dear husband, how dost thou do all this? How dost thou build a bridge in one night, and a wax church?"
Ivan the Fool would not tell her for a long time; but as he loved her very much, and she begged very hard, he said: "I have a ring with twelve screws, and it must be handled in such and such fashion."
Well, they lived on. The misery of the matter was this: one of their servants pleased the Tsarevna,--he was a fine-looking, shapely, strong fellow, and she conspired with him to rob her husband, take away the ring, and the two would then go to live beyond the sea.
As soon as evening came she took out the ring quietly, stood on the threshold, and unscrewed the twelve screws: twelve thousand men stood before her.
"Thou art our mistress, we are thy men: command what thy soul desires."
She said: "Take this castle for me and bear it beyond the sea, with all that is in it; and on this spot let the old cabin stand, with my ragged husband, Ivan the Fool, inside."
"Lie down with God," said the men; "all will be done on thy word."
Next morning Ivan woke up, looked around. He was lying on a bark mat, covered with a ragged coat, and not a sign of his castle. He began to cry bitterly, and went to the Tsar, his father-in-law. He came to the palace, asked to announce to the Tsar that his son-in-law had come. When the Tsar saw him he said: "Oh, thou this and that kind of breechesless fellow, what son-in-law art thou to me? My sons-in-law live in golden chambers and ride in silver carriages. Take him and wall him up in a stone pillar."
It was commanded and done. They took Ivan and walled him up in a stone pillar. But the cat and the dog did not leave him, they were there too, and dug out a hole for themselves; through the hole they gave food to Ivan. But one time they thought: "Why do we sit here, dog and cat, with folded hands? Let's run beyond the sea and get the ring."
As they decided to do that, they did it. They swam through the sea, found their castle. The Tsarevna was walking in the garden with the servant, laughing at her husband.
"Well, do thou remain here a while, and I'll go to the chamber and get the ring," said the cat; and she went her way, mi-au, mi-au, under the door. The Tsarevna heard her, and said: "Ah, here is that scoundrel's cat; let her in and feed her." They let her in and fed her. The cat walked through the chambers all the time and looked for the ring. She saw on the stove a glass box, and in the box the ring.
The cat was delighted. "Glory be to God!" thought she. "Now only wait for night; I'll get the ring, and then for home!"
When all had lain down, the cat sprang on to the stove and threw down the glass box; it fell, and was broken. She caught the ring in her mouth and hid under the door. All in the house were roused; the Tsarevna herself got up, and saw that the box was broken.
"Oh!" said she, "it must be the cat of that scoundrel broke it. Drive her out; drive her out!"
They chased out the cat, and she was glad; she ran to the dog.
"Well, brother dog," said she, "I have the ring. Now if we could only get home quickly!"
They swam through the sea, were a long time swimming. When the dog was tired, he sat on the cat; when the cat was tired, she sat on the dog; and so they worked on and it was not far from land. But the dog was growing weak. The cat saw this, and said, "Sit thou on me; thou art tired." The minute she said this the ring fell out of her mouth into the water. What was to be done? They swam to shore and wept tears. Meanwhile they grew hungry. The dog ran through the field and caught sparrows for himself, and the cat ran along the shore catching little fish thrown up by the waves; that was how she fed herself.
But all at once the cat cried out: "Oh, thou dog, come here quickly to me; I have found the ring! I caught a fish, began to eat it, and in the fish was the ring."
Now they were both powerfully glad; they ran to Ivan and brought him the ring.
Ivan waited till evening, unscrewed all the twelve screws, and twelve thousand men stood before him.
"Thou art our master, we are thy men: tell us to do what thy soul desires."
"Break in a minute this stone pillar so that dust from it shall not remain; and from beyond the sea bring hither my castle with all who are in it, and every one as sleeping now, and put it in the old place."
Straightway all this was done. In the morning Ivan went to his father-in-law. The Tsar met him, seated him in the first place, and said: "Where hast thou been pleased to pass thy time, my dear son-in-law?"
"I was beyond the sea," said Ivan.
"That's it," said the Tsar, "beyond the sea. 'Tis clear that thou hadst pressing business, for thou didst not come to take farewell of thy father-in-law. But while thou wert gone, some sort of bare-legged fellow came to me and called himself my son-in-law. I gave command to wall him up in a stone pillar; he has perished there, doubtless. Well, beloved son-in-law, where hast thou been pleased to spend thy time; what sights hast thou seen?"
"I have seen," said Ivan, "various sights; and beyond the sea there was an affair of such kind that no man knew how to settle it."
"What was the affair?"
"Well, this is the kind of affair it was; and if thou art a wise man, decide it according to thy wisdom of Tsar: A husband had a wife, and while he was living she found a sweetheart for herself; she robbed her husband, and went away with the sweetheart beyond the sea; and now she is with that man. What, to thy thinking, should be done with that wife?"
"According to my wisdom of Tsar I will utter the following sentence: Tie them both to the tails of horses, and let the horses loose in the open field,--let that be their punishment."
"If that is thy judgment, very well," said Ivan. "Come with me as a guest; I will show thee other sights and another wonder."
They went to Ivan's castle, and found there the Tsar's daughter and the servant. As Ivan had commanded, they were still asleep.
There was no help for it; according to the word of the Tsar they tied them both to the tails of horses and urged the horses into the open field,--that was their punishment. But Ivan afterwards married that beautiful, most beautiful maiden whom he had saved from the fire, and they began to live and win wealth.