The Project Gutenberg eBook of A China cup, and other stories for children

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Title: A China cup, and other stories for children

Author: F. Volkhovskii

Illustrator: Mikhail Egorovich Malyshev

Release date: February 21, 2021 [eBook #64606]

Language: English

Credits: Carlos Colón, Harvard University and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This book was produced from images made available by the HathiTrust Digital Library.)


Transcriber's Notes:

Blank pages have been eliminated.

Variations in spelling and hyphenation have been left as in the original.

A few typographical errors have been corrected.

The cover page was created by the transcriber and can be considered public domain.




A CHINA CUP, and other Stories.

"Seizing a heavy silver candlestick, the Magnate flung it violently at the fowl."
Page 46.








I. A China Cup 3
II. How Scarlet-Comb the Cock defended the Right 37
III. The Tiny Screw 65
IV. The Dream 85
V. Browny 115
VI. The Old Sword's Mistake 125
VII. 'My Own' 141
VIII. The Tale about how all these Tales came to Light 167




waggon drove to the great pit dug in the clay—not common clay, but such as china vessels are made of. A man with an iron spade jumped from the waggon; he entered the pit and began to dig the clay. After the first stroke of the spade a little lump fell out of the native ground, and with a bitter, plaintive murmur rolled down. Nobody heard the murmur; it seemed to the workman that the Lump in rolling down made a slight noise, whereas it was[4] groaning: it was hard to be torn away from mother earth. 'All is over,' it whispered; 'oh, how hard it is to live in the world!'

The workman took it up on his spade with the other clay, and threw it into the waggon. 'Oh!' groaned the bit of clay from pain, as it fell on the bottom of the waggon; 'not only was I torn away from my mother, but thrown far away from her. Alas! is there any one more unhappy in this world than I? I should like to die!'

But the Lump did not die. The workman had soon filled up his waggon, jumped in himself, and drove away, carrying it to the china factory. It was pretty well while they were going along an even place, but when they went down a steep mountain-side, the horse ran fast, and our Lump was jolted, thrown from side to side, and knocked against the waggon. Nor did all its torments end then. As soon as it was brought to the china factory, it[5] was thrown with other clay into a large tub with water in it, and it felt with horror how it began gradually to get soft, and to be transformed into a sort of soft mud. It had no time to recover, as it was taken out with a great ladle and poured somewhere—it was into the funnel of the great millstones. The driver shouted, the horses went on, pulled one end of a bar, which was fastened by the other end to a big axle standing erect in the middle of the great millstones; the bar again turned the axle to which the upper millstone was fastened, and the millstones began to grind the water-softened clay, crushing its smallest particles. Our Lump no longer existed, but all its little particles which before formed it were now like clay-jelly, and kept close together.

Ah, how they suffered! The awful millstone pressed upon them with its whole weight—squeezed, flattened, ground them. They shrivelled, groaned,[6] cried from pain and said: 'Oh-o-o! what a torture! it is all over with us!'

But that was not all. After the grinding the clay-jelly was poured by means of gutters into the empty wooden tub to settle. There the hard particles, heavier than water, sank.... On the bottom was the sand, next the reddish clay, mixed with iron-rust, then the coarser parts of the white clay, and finally its lightest particles, quite free from all other mixture. All the particles of our Lump happened to be of the same weight and to be nicely ground; they sank together and formed again the same Lump, only soft, delicate, and free from all unnecessary admixture. It was very nice, of course, but the little Lump was so tired from all it suffered, so exhausted, that it did not wish to live in the world. 'I would rather death would come!' it said.

Death, however, did not come. A workman came instead, poured off the[7] water which was on the surface of the clay, cut the clay to the bottom, separated it into layers, and assorted them, so that the upper, more delicate layer was for the best china vessels, and the lower for the coarser plates. As our Lump was in the upper layer, it was taken to a workman who made the finest vessels.

The workman took our Lump, put it into the middle of a round table which turned on its centre, made this table spin round with his feet, and at the same time pressed the clay here and there till he had made a coarse cup without a handle. The workman then, with an instrument like a knife, began to turn the cup, till it became a fine, fine one. He then handed it to his neighbour, who put a nice little handle to it. 'Well,' thought the Lump, transformed now into a cup, 'it is not so bad. I suffered indeed, but what a beauty I am now!' ... and the Cup looked self-contentedly[8] around. She did not rejoice long. She was soon put with others into one of the pots of particular form called 'muffles,' and the muffles were put into a furnace, which began to heat the Cup by scorching degrees to make it red hot. 'Oh, how hot it is!' stammered the poor Cup, perspiring, crying, and groaning at once. 'Oh, what a torture! Oh, how hard it is to live in the world! I should like to die!'

Still, she did not die. She was taken from the furnace, watered with a certain mixture, burnt once more. A charming bouquet and garland were then painted on her, and the Cup did not recognise herself. 'Ah, how happy I am!' said she to herself; 'it was worth while to suffer all that I suffered. I am the most beautiful here, and there is and will be no one happier.'

Very soon the Cup went from the factory to the shop. She was delighted to see the fine hall with large[9] windows and nice glass cases. She enjoyed the society of china cups, teapots, plates, and all sorts of most beautiful things.

'Here,' thought she, 'they can appreciate my beauty!' and she immediately addressed her neighbour, a big, round teapot: 'Please, sir, have you been long here?'

'Yes,' answered the teapot gruffly, knocking with his coarse lid.

'And do you think there was ever before a cup with such fine ornament and delicate painting as I have?'

'Ho-ho-ho-ha-ha!' ... laughed the big teapot. 'Just listen!' shouted he to his companions, as big and coarse as himself; 'this damsel is asking whether there is in the world a beauty like her?... O-ho-ho-ho!'

'Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!' burst all the big teapots in laughter, holding their sides with their handles.

Our Cup was offended, and ashamed to tears.


'What are you laughing at?' whispered she in confusion.

'And how can we help laughing?' exclaimed her neighbour; 'you think too much of yourself; and what are you good for? To spend all your life on some nice shelf; you need cheapness and solidity to be of some use. And as for your ornament, look to your right, on the third shelf; there are more elegant ones there than you!'

The Cup looked to the right, and would have grown green from envy if she could have changed colour. There were standing fine cups on small feet; such delicate, fine cups, like white, pale, and pink rose petals! ... the beautiful bouquets, the prettiest heads, the finest gold lace, with black and green ornamentation, were painted upon them. These cups were also proud of their beauty, and as they were more beautiful than their new companion, they looked at her with contempt and haughtiness.


In the china factory the Cup thought herself the most beautiful in the world, and was quite happy; and now she was forced not only to acknowledge that there were more beautiful ones, but to listen to the mocking words and endure the most offensive looks. Envy, vexation, shame, tormented her, and she would fain run away somewhere, yet she could not move from the spot. This helplessness added still to her pain and anger. She would like to have sunk into the earth. 'Ah,' thought she, 'why did I not die before! Why does death not come now!'

Death did not come, however. The shop door opened, a fine lady, with a richly-dressed young girl of about ten years of age, came in.

'We want a nice cup, not too expensive,' said the lady to the shopman at the counter.

The shopman took our Cup and some others from the shelf and put[12] them on the counter. Oh, what our Cup felt at that moment! She was displayed with half a dozen of her companions, every one of whom thought herself more beautiful than the others, and was proud of it. Suppose these elegant purchasers should give the preference not to her, but to one of her conceited companions? She felt as if on burning coals. The little girl stretched her hand to one of our Cup's neighbours, and the Cup trembled with anxiety. But the little purchaser only touched the rival of our Cup and finally took the latter. 'This one, mamma,' said the child, and the mother bought her. Oh, with what a pride shone now this plaything, and how haughtily she looked at her companions! Her beauty is now openly acknowledged; she is preferred to others! She was bright with happiness, and slightly trembled when the shopman took her from the counter to wrap her in paper.


'Ah, how happy I am!' said the Cup in the evening, when fragrant tea was poured in, and all who were sitting at the tea-table admired her; 'of course there is and will be nobody happier than I.'

Just at this moment the pretty little girl who had chosen her at the shop came running in from the garden. She was very thirsty. She seized the Cup and took a sip at once, notwithstanding that they cried to her that the tea was too hot. The Cup certainly was not to blame that the girl from her own carelessness had scalded her mouth, and the girl treated her unjustly. 'Oh, you nasty Cup!' cried she, and threw her to the floor.

Crash! ... and the pieces of the poor innocent Cup tinkled plaintively, and drops of tea, like big tears, trickled on to the floor from her. The footman came, gathered the pieces of the broken Cup and threw them away into the backyard on the rubbish heap.[14] There she was with the bits of old leather, broken glass, rusty pieces of tin, and a pair of decaying cucumbers. She shivered from contact with the dirt, which she had never experienced since she was a nice cup, and she felt sick from the unpleasant odour. 'Oh, how unhappy I am!' said the broken Cup. 'All is over. I have nothing to expect from life. I have only to die!'

The Cup did not lie long in the rubbish heap. Early, early the next morning, when all were yet asleep in the house, there came into the backyard a poor, wrinkled, dirty, ragged, old woman. She had on her back a bag, and a big stick with a hook on its end in her hand. She was a rag-gatherer. She dug into the heaps with her hook, picked out of them the bones, rags, paper, nails, pieces of glass, and such things thrown away as seemed to the poor woman of some use. After having filled up the bag,[15] the rag-gatherer went home, sorted its contents, and then took the bones to the shoeblacking maker, rags and paper to the pasteboard maker, the iron to the dealer in old iron, and the glass to the glass factory. All these places were far from each other and from her lodging, and the poor woman was exceedingly tired in going from one place to another. She gained thus a few copecks,[1] without which neither she nor her sick granddaughter would have had anything to eat. On the following morning the old woman went again to dig among the heaps.

Coming near the rubbish heap where the broken Cup was lying, the woman began to work with her hook, seeking with her old, tearful, short-sighted eyes something worth having. She had already dug up all that she wanted, when her hook struck against some[16]thing hard; the old woman knew by this sound that there was something like glass in the heap. She stooped down and took up a fragment of the Cup with a nice nosegay on it.

'What fine flowers!' whispered she; 'I will take it home for Mary—a nice plaything for her—I must take it.'

The good old woman smiled, as she thought of her beloved granddaughter, called Mary. She began to search again among the rubbish, and found that there were many fine pieces, and those not too small. 'Oh, the pieces are all here,' said she; 'it is possible perhaps to cement them together.' And taking all the bits she put them by themselves into the pocket of her worn-out petticoat.

It was as dark as in a cellar in the pocket of the old woman, and as oppressively warm as in an uncared-for hospital-room in summer; there were besides an old onion and the crumbs of spoiled, ill-smelling cheese.[17] The broken Cup felt still more sick at heart than before; she shivered; her broken pieces tinkled plaintively at every step the woman took, and she thought, 'Oh, what suffering! I should like to die!'

She did not die. It was light when the old woman came to a large brick house six stories high, near a market-place, in a narrow, dirty lane. She entered through a dirty passage the courtyard, surrounded on all sides with buildings, passed through a gloomy basement door down to the ground-floor, where her lodging was. It was a dark, cheerless room, with small windows high above the brick floor. In every corner of the room there was a whole family of beggars. The old woman approached a heap of rags, groaning, removed from her shoulder the bag with her day's gains in it, and sat down on an old pine candle-box, turned upside down, near the rags; she then took from her[18] pocket all the pieces of the Cup, and put them on another box which stood there for a table. The first thing our Cup now heard was a harsh, noisy scolding from the farthest corner of the room; everybody in this beggars' haunt was so accustomed to it that nobody paid any attention. 'Oh,' thought the Cup, 'this is too much! In what company am I! What rough people there are! Oh, there is surely nobody in the world more unhappy than I! I would like to die as soon as possible!'

The rags in the corner now moved; under them was lying the sick, sallow, emaciated darling of the old woman. She looked at her grandmother with her wearied eyes, and nothing interested her.

'Here is a piece of pryáneek, Mary, which I brought for you,' said the old woman, taking out a piece of pryáneek, which she had bought for a copeck.


This was a cake of white, stone-like consistency, supposed to represent a horse, though it may be doubted whether four stumps instead of feet, a gilded head and a crimson tail, would give a really good idea of one. There was indeed enough flour in it, but little sweetness; still it was a thing as much to delight the heart of a Russian child as a gingerbread cat to rejoice the heart of an English one.

The girl looked at it, but shook her head, and did not eat it; she did not even touch it.

'Why don't you take it, Mary? Do take it, dear, such a nice piece of pryáneek; look!'

And the grandmother held up the present, turning it round to show all its beauty. The girl looked up once more at the cake, and then at her grandmother, without moving her head.

'I am so sore!' she whispered feebly.


'What ails you?' asked the old woman.

'Everything ails me,' said the sick girl softly, and two big tears rolled slowly down her cheeks.

The broken Cup looked at all this, and was very sorry, and her pieces tinkled plaintively together, and then she felt ashamed that she had thought herself so unhappy while there was in the world plenty of sorrow far greater than her own. The girl heard the tinkling, and silently looked up to see what it was that was tinkling so on the box. She noticed the beautiful flowers on the broken pieces of the Cup; her eyes brightened by degrees, and she whispered softly:

'Give it to me, grandmamma.'

'Take it, take it, darling! I brought it home for you.'

Mary took the pieces in her hands, trembling from weakness, and began to turn them over and over, admiring them. She had never any playthings,[21] and therefore the pretty pieces seemed to her so much the finer. The more she looked at them the more her eyes brightened, and at last she smiled. The old woman had not for a long time seen such an expression of pleasure on the worn-out face of her poor granddaughter, and the feeble smile of the sick child rejoiced her to tears.

'Oh,' thought the Cup, 'I never expected to give to any one so much pleasure after having been broken to pieces! And I am happier, indeed, than I was in the rich house where everybody at the tea-table admired me!'

'Mary, you know, we shall cement the cup; indeed we shall do it! It will be a pretty cup,' whispered the old woman.

Mary became more cheerful, and the Cup thought: 'Ah, it is possible I am really good for something! It seems to me I was in too great a[22] hurry to die; it is worth while living in the world.'

On the next day the old woman came home after her day's work with a little toóyes, a sort of cylindrical vessel of birch bark, in which there was a handful of curd and an egg. These she had received from some kind-hearted cook.

'You see, Mary, we are going to cement the Cup!' said she, sitting down on her box.

Mary had been groaning and fretting all the day and night, but now she smiled again. The old woman broke the egg, poured it into an old wooden basin, placed on the box some curd, mixed lime with it, and, kneading all together with the white of egg, she made a thick cement. Smearing the edges of the pieces of our Cup with the mixture, the old woman pressed them together, and placed the Cup carefully in a hot oven, that the cement might harden and become proof against water[23] or anything else. It was hot in the oven for the Cup—dreadfully hot! but she was ready to suffer anything to be the same complete beautiful cup as before. 'Oh, how happy I am!' thought she, awaiting with inward trembling the end of her trials in the oven. 'All is going on well; I will live again!'

Mary in the meantime grew worse: she fretted, groaned, and complained with bitter tears.

'Oh, grandmamma, how I ache! how I ache!'

'Oh, my poor darling!' said the old woman, sobbing, while hot tears rolled down her wrinkled, unwashed face; 'I cannot tell what to do for you, my dear pet.'

In the same room with the old woman, in another corner, there lived a beggar, an old discharged soldier of the time of the Russian Emperor Nicholas, when the discipline was so inhumanly severe and the term of service lasted a whole quarter of a cen[24]tury! He had been in the wars, fought bravely, and now he was quite alone in the wide world. The bullets were still in his body, old age prevented him from working, and he was obliged to get by begging here and there a few copecks. He became accustomed to sorrow; but now it grieved him to see the misery of the old woman and the sufferings of the little girl.

'You are foolish,' said he to the old woman; 'why do you cry, as if the child was dying? You must not do it! Go rather for the physician.'

'Will the physician come?' exclaimed the old woman. 'You are indeed like an innocent child, Nikítich.[2][25] Will the physician come to such a dirty place?'

'And why should he not come? One will not come, another will not come, but some one perhaps will come at last. There, I know a physician, Kótov, a nice gentleman! He always gives me a glass of tea and five copecks. He will not let me go without giving me something. "How do you do, Nikítich?" says he always to me. I tell you, go to him. Ask him; you needn't care.'

'Yes, at his home he will receive me perhaps, but he will not come here. No, we have nothing to do with physicians. I cannot afford to buy medicine, and very likely they will not even let me into the house. No, I dare not.'

[26] 'Well, if you dare not, I will go myself.'

At these words the old wounded soldier took his stick and hobbled away to the physician's.

The physician did come. He was a very good man, only he had the habit of speaking in an angry tone and even shouting, so that some were afraid of him. He examined the girl a long time, put his ear to her back and chest, tapped both with his fingers, spat in disgust, and complained angrily of the dirt and unwholesome air of the room. He ordered that nothing but broth be given to the girl, wrote a prescription on a bit of paper, and said that the medicine would be given gratuitously at the apothecary's.

In the evening the old woman brought the bottle with the medicine, poured some into a wooden spoon and presented it to her granddaughter. The girl shook her head feebly and turned away. She was afraid of the[27] medicine; she thought it was something so disagreeable, and for nothing in the world would she take it.

'Ah me!' said her grandmother, sighing, 'why won't you take it? It's too bad! What will the physician say? He ordered it and you will not take it. Wait, you will see what will happen to disobedient children!'

The girl was frightened; she began to sob, and when her grandmother offered her the spoon, she covered her mouth with her hand and hid her face in her pillow.

In the morning the old woman took our Cup out of the oven. Oh, how glad was our Cup when the old woman, looking all over her, said to herself, 'Oh, I see it is as good as new now!' Just at this moment Mary called for her grandmother and asked for a drink. The old woman went with the newly-cemented Cup for some water, and as she held her hand over the tub, the Cup saw herself in the water as in a[28] mirror. Alas! what did she see there? In many places were ugly cracks; the cement, applied by an unskilful hand, formed spots and patches. 'Oh,' groaned the Cup—'oh, how ugly I am! It would have been better for me to perish in the rubbish heap. Ah, now I would like to die as soon as possible!'

She did not die, however. The old woman was obliged to put her in haste on the window-sill, for just then the physician entered the room.

'How many spoonfuls of medicine did she take?' asked he angrily.

'She did not take any at all, sir. What shall I do with her? Such an obstinate, silly girl; she is not willing to take any; what shall I do?' answered the old woman.

'What? How does she dare? What does she mean? Give me the spoon!' cried the doctor.

At these words Mary screamed, her eyes opened wide from fear, and she[29] covered her head with the bedclothes. The doctor turned once more to the old woman.

'And did she take the broth?' he asked.

'But, my good sir, where should we get money for the broth?' said the rag-gatherer, with tears in her eyes.

'Well, why did you ask me to come if you did not intend to do what I ordered?' He then took at once a crushed three-rouble bank note from his pocket, threw it angrily on the box which served as a table, and turned away. When he reached the door he turned his head, and, flushed with excitement, said:

'All the medicine must be taken by to-morrow, and the broth must be ready, and that's the end of it!'

When the old woman saw the three roubles in her hand she could hardly realise her good fortune and believe in her happiness. Just think, three roubles! For three years or so she[30] had never had more than thirty copecks at one time, and now she had three roubles!

'God grant you every happiness, our benefactor!' repeated the poor woman over and over again.

As for Mary, she grew worse and worse. She groaned, her dilated eyes shone with the fire of fever, her lips became parched and black.

'Oh, you little dove, do take the medicine, and you will feel better,' entreated the old woman; but Mary obstinately refused to take any. Seeing the sufferings of the poor girl, the rag-gatherer suddenly clasped her gray head with her hands.

'Oh my God! what am I to do with her? what am I to do with her?' wept she in despair. 'She will die, I am sure, through her own foolishness. How hard it is to see her suffering just because she will not take a little medicine.'

The Cup saw and heard all this,[31] and once more she felt ashamed of having thought herself unhappy for not being as beautiful as formerly.

'Is this misery?' thought she now of her own appearance; 'there is misery indeed!' and the little Cup was herself ready to cry for pity. In the meantime the poor woman dried her tears and approached her sick grandchild.

'Do you know that I have mended the little Cup?' she said.

The face of the little girl brightened, and a faint smile played upon it. 'Let me see it,' lisped she.

The grandmother showed her the little Cup, and Mary's face expressed as much rapture as if she saw some masterpiece of beauty. The poor child had seen during her life so few beautiful things, that the mended Cup with the pretty nosegay on her transported her with delight.

'And wouldn't you take the medicine out of the Cup?' asked the old[32] woman, in an uncertain, coaxing tone of voice.

The girl made no reply, but smiled again.

'Well, will you take it out of the pretty little Cup?'

'I will,' answered Mary, in an almost inaudible voice.

The little Cup was standing at that moment on the window-sill, and was trembling with joy; hitherto no one had loved her so deeply as Mary did. Was it not for her sake alone that Mary consented to take the medicine? Perhaps the little girl will recover; perhaps she, the Cup, will have saved a human life. 'Oh, what a beautiful thing it is to live,' said the Cup to herself; 'never before was I so happy!'

It was a glorious summer day when Mary went the first time after her dangerous illness to take breath in the open air. She was still thin and[33] pale, but her large eyes were bright, and she looked happy. She was sitting in the nearest square, under a big green tree, with her Cup in both her hands. The little girl was evidently eager to have the Cup always with her; she would not part with her treasure. The Cup felt herself also happy—nay, happier than ever—although she was now broken and spotted with ugly cement patches. She was happy and proud to be the best friend of the little Mary whom she had helped to restore to life and health.



LL this happened long, long ago, in the days when birds and beasts could talk in human speech, and the Polish magnates went about in long 'kountoushi'[3]—coats embroidered with gold and silver, with sleeves slung on behind—and possessed serfs. Perhaps you do not know what a 'serf' was in the old times? Well, a serf was a person just like the rest of us, only he was bound to the land by law; he had not the right to go and live in any other place, and if the land was[38] sold, he was sold with it; he tilled the land, though not for his own profit, but for the profit of the landowner. It was not only in Poland that there used to be these serfs and landlords who owned them, but in all countries—in ours as well as every other; and everywhere the serfs had a hard time of it. Those landlords who had any conscience and commonsense, and who were not in any great need of money, made their serfs work for them a certain part of their time, and bring them eggs, flax, etc.; the rest of their time and goods the serfs could dispose of as they thought fit. Others regarded their peasants as beasts of burden, belonging to them body and soul; they forced the peasants to work for them as much as was possible, and thought they had a right to all the peasants' property. But whether the serf-owner was personally good or bad, it was a loathsome thing in itself that one human being should own another.

[39] One day a Polish 'Pan' (nobleman) of this kind was riding through a village on his land. The green sleeves of his bright-coloured koúntoush streamed back from his shoulders, fluttering in the breeze; his fine dappled horse stepped impatiently under its rider, tossing flakes of white foam from its mouth; and Pan Podliásski himself glanced haughtily to the right and left. The wretched, bare look of the peasants' huts and ruinous farmyards did not distress him at all; in Pan Podliásski's opinion a serf was a serf for nothing else but to be always ragged, dirty, and miserable. Suddenly, as he passed one of the huts, the landlord raised his eyebrows in angry surprise; in the bare and filthy yard stood a first-rate grindstone.

'Where did a rascally serf get such a capital grindstone?' he thought; and turning to his steward, who was riding behind with two or three noble retainers, he asked: 'Whose yard is this?'

[40] 'Stanislas Kogoútek's, most illustrious Pan,' respectfully answered the steward.

'Why is the grindstone here?'

'It does not belong to the manor; we have not such a good grindstone,' replied the steward, understanding the mistake of the magnate, who supposed the grindstone to be his, and to have come into the peasant's yard by chance.

'Here! Khlop!' (serf!), cried Pan Podliásski.

A middle-aged peasant, bareheaded, barefooted, and wearing nothing but a shirt and trousers of coarse sacking, ran out of the hut at this summons. He approached his master, bowing humbly, fell on his knees before him, bowed to the ground, and, rising, kissed his stirrup, after which he bowed again.

'Whose is the grindstone?' asked the landlord, frowning.

Kogoútek's terror increased, and his eyes glanced round in agitation;[41] he realised how foolish he had been not to hide the grindstone from his master's eyes.

'Whose is the grindstone, psia krew?'[4] cried the magnate angrily.

'Mine, most illustrious Pan,' answered Kogoútek, trembling with fear.

'How dare you, you rascal, when I myself haven't such a grindstone, the steward says?'

'I earned it, please your honour,' stammered Kogoútek faintly.

'Earned it.... What next!' exclaimed Pan Podliásski, amazed at the peasant's insolence, and reddening with anger. 'How dare you say that, when you yourself are my property, not only all your work; do you hear, you dog? Take it up to the manor, and give this scoundrel a good lesson,' he added, turning to the steward.

The unfortunate peasant knew what a 'good lesson' meant, and flung him[42]self, with a piteous cry, at the feet of his master's horse. But the magnate shook the reins and galloped off with his followers.

The next morning the grindstone was transferred to the manor yard, and the wretched Kogoútek was flogged in the manor stables.

Humiliated, crushed under the sense of injustice and lacerated with the whip, the unhappy peasant crept home and sank down on a bench with a groan.

'What is the matter with our master?' asked the young cock, Scarlet-Comb, of his mother, as they strolled about the yard with the white hen Top-knot and the old cock.

'Why, didn't you see that they took away the grindstone that he had worked so hard for, and then thrashed him for nothing besides?'

Scarlet-Comb was still a very young cock; his grand tail-feathers had not yet grown, so he did not know how cruel and unjust people can be. His[43] mother's words showed him this for the first time. He spread his wings and craned his little neck as if he would shout out what he had just heard to all the world; but a spasm in the throat prevented him from uttering a sound. When, however, his first burst of grief and indignation had somewhat abated, he again appealed to his mother.

'Well, and what will happen now, mother?'

'What? Why, nothing. Pan Podliásski will have the grindstone, and our poor master will have his bruises—that's all.'

'What! And no one will stand up for the right?'

'Oh, my child, how recklessly you talk!' hurriedly whispered the old hen. 'Supposing any one should overhear you, what then? Why, they would think you a rebel!... What is the use of talking about "right" and "standing up" when Pan Podliásski is a great lord, with fifty horses in his[44] stables, and hundreds of servants at his bidding, while our master is a poor peasant, wearing himself out with work!'

'Well, then, I will take our master's part! I will get justice done!' cried Scarlet-Comb.

'Hush, you silly child!' answered his mother more anxiously than ever, and gently seizing his comb with her bill. 'What else do you imagine you can do? You would like to set the whole world to rights, no doubt!'

'The thing is impossible!' cried Scarlet-Comb, and turning to the old cock, he added: 'Am I not right, father?'

The old cock majestically raised his head, stood on tiptoe, flapped his wings, and shouted at the top of his voice: 'Cock-a-doodle-doo-oo!...' then stooped down, and betook himself, with a hurried business walk, to the other end of the yard, where he stopped beside a squashed worm.[45] Every one could interpret his expression of opinion according to their personal taste: the mother was convinced that he was setting their son an example of thrift and good sense; the son, that the patriarch's martial air and cry were intended to spur him on to prowess. Without any further question Scarlet-Comb flew across the fence, and made straight for the castle of Pan Podliásski.

Pan Podliásski was not alone. As he had to send to several very distinguished neighbours invitations for the next day's banquet, and as, like most of his peers in those days, he could not read or write, and considered it humiliating to do anything for himself, he had sent for his chaplain, and commissioned him to write the invitations. The chaplain had finished writing the letters, and it only remained to stamp upon them, instead of a signature, the crest of the house of Podliásski. The magnate took off his[46] signet-ring, which he wore hung round his neck by a gold chain, and handed it to the chaplain to be pressed upon the wax. At that moment there appeared in the open window, from which the magnate and his chaplain were divided by a large table, an ugly little cock.

'Pan, give back the grindstone!' he cried.

Reddening with anger, the magnate raised his eyes to the insolent fowl, and seizing a heavy silver candlestick, flung it violently at him. All happened so quickly, that before Scarlet-Comb had time to understand anything, his wings had carried him from the window and his quick little legs from the garden.

When he came to his senses, Scarlet-Comb was quite ashamed. 'Can it be that I was frightened?... it is impossible!' he thought. But the fact was plain; he had lost his head and run away from the landlord.


'Well, and what of that?' said the cock, consoling himself; 'the important thing is not to stand like a log while things are thrown at you that may smash your head, but to get justice done!'

And Scarlet-Comb once more made his way to the castle.

Pan Podliásski was standing on the front terrace among his retainers and domestics, giving orders for to-morrow's banquet, when he suddenly heard the already familiar words:

'Pan, give back the grindstone!'

Scarlet-Comb was standing perched upon the nearest post, to which several horses were tied.

The magnate became positively frantic, clenched his fists, and shouted to his servants to set all the hounds upon the insolent bird. The cock, terrified, rushed with all his might out of the garden. On he ran, helping himself along with his wings, and hearing how one dog was gaining on him....[48] Now it was quite near ... snap! and tore the very best feathers out of the cock's tail. In his desperation Scarlet-Comb made one last effort, flew up as high as he could, and perched on a tree by the wayside. The dog stood underneath, barking and whining, but, fortunately, the hunting-horn blew, calling back the scattered dogs, and his persecutor was obliged to go to kennel.

Meanwhile a discussion was going on in the yard between the servants and noble retainers.

'What a plucky little cock!' said some; 'wasn't afraid to tell the Pan himself the truth to his beard!'

'If I had him, I'd show him what truth is—with white sauce,' said the under-cook, laughing.

'Just think,' remarked another; 'if a silly little chicken like that can see that a Pan shouldn't take away a poor man's things, it must be a bad business after all.'


'Yes, it's a mean trick,' muttered one of the nobles, frowning.

Early next morning Pan Podliásski's guests began to arrive. Dear me, how gorgeous they all were! Satin, velvet, brocade, in the most brilliant colours, simply dazzled your eyes on their kountoushi, zhoupány (doublets), and trunk hose. Their elegant caps were bordered with valuable furs; both lords and ladies were adorned with ostrich feathers, pearls, gold, silver, and precious stones. Magnificent horses of all colours pranced under their graceful riders, who surrounded the clumsy but richly-decorated coaches in which the fair ladies sat. Often, on the way, the gallants would bend towards them and exchange merry jests. The innumerable apartments of the castle were thrown open for the crowd of guests.

For dinner all the visitors put on other still more gorgeous dresses. A gallant was placed at the right hand of[50] each lady. At the head of the table sat the host, beaming with pleasure and satisfaction.

The long dinner was almost ended. The guests had feasted upon a wild boar, which Pan Podliásski had killed in the chase, and which the cook had roasted whole and cunningly arranged standing erect upon a silver dish. The dessert was already finished; the noble retainers in their gala dress had carried round to the guests old mead of the finest quality, and German and Hungarian wines. The company was lively and merry. A handsome young nobleman stood up at the foot of the table. He had lately returned from France, where, at the king's court, he had grown accustomed to refined manners and courtly ways. Raising a golden goblet of wine in his right hand, and glancing round, he addressed the company:

'It is not the gratitude of a guest which persuades me to lift this goblet,[51] nor even the courtesy of a Pole. No; I lift it in honour of our well-beloved host, because by his virtues Pan Joseph Podliásski is an ornament to the ranks of the Polish nobility. Courageous in war, generous and hospitable in time of peace, he is incapable of any action unworthy of his noble standing.'

Every one listened to the orator with evident pleasure. Pausing a moment for breath he would have continued, when suddenly an ugly little cock appeared at one of the open windows of the banqueting-hall, and cried aloud:

'Pan, give back the peasant's grindstone!'

The guests, startled and confused, sat whispering to one another. The young orator hesitated whether to continue his speech or not. The host grew first white, then red, and turned to his servants.

'Why do you stand staring?' he cried. 'Do you suppose that is what[52] I maintain you for, that village fowls or cattle should disturb the pleasure of my guests?'

Then, turning back, Pan Podliásski tried to put on an airy manner.

'Excuse us, dear guests,' he said; 'the country is the country after all. We are not in Cracow, where fowls appear at noble banquets only on silver dishes or in the soup. Still, one can be as merry in the country as in Cracow, and I hope we shall prove it to be so.'

For all that, the magnate did not really feel at all so merry as he tried to appear; the guests, too, were no longer quite at ease.

'What's that about a grindstone?' many of them asked their neighbours; and those who had already heard from their servants about the persistent fowl related the history of the grindstone in a few words. A contemptuous expression appeared on many of the faces; and those magnates who disliked Podli[53]ásski went so far as to remark that it was unworthy of a great lord to soil his hands for a miserable grindstone.

All this did not escape the eyes of Pan Podliásski, and his blood boiled. Seizing a favourable moment, he beckoned to his most trustworthy servant, and, in a whisper, ordered him to find the cock, alive or dead. For that matter the servants had already been hunting the whole court and garden, but nothing came of it; the cock had long ago made his escape; and, hiding in the foliage of the highest tree in the neighbouring forest, waited till the danger was over.

The guests left earlier than they had intended. Pan Podliásski, standing on the great terrace to take leave of them, tried to conceal his annoyance under an affable manner. As soon, however, as the last rider disappeared from sight, his face grew dark, and he turned to the crowd of servants.

'Where is Doubinétzki?' he asked.


'Here I am, most illustrious Pan,' replied a warrior with gray moustaches, stepping forward.

'Look here, my faithful Ignatius; you have served me long and well; do me one more good service. Shoot that tiresome cock that gives me no peace.'

The honest face of the old nobleman, seamed with the scars of war, lighted up with an ironical smile, and his daring eyes flashed.

'Probably the Pan Voevoda has had too much to drink at dinner that he gives me such commands,' said he. 'How am I, Ignatius Doubinétzki, who have fought in fifty battles against Tartars, Turks, and Swedes; who last year, without assistance, drove away a whole marauding band of Tartars, and who in honourable combat have cut off the head of Akhmet Khan himself,—how I am now to go to war against barn-door fowls? No; I am a poor nobleman, and the Pan is a[55] great magnate; but our honour is the same. Indeed, since it has come to speaking truth, perhaps I have more in the way of honour than the Pan; with all my poverty I would have been ashamed to covet a peasant's grindstone. And if you want a word of honest advice from old Doubinétzki, here it is: Leave that sort of thing alone, Pan Voevoda; it's not an honourable business.'

For some minutes Pan Podliásski could not believe his ears. But at the close of the old man's speech he turned white with rage, drew his sword from its sheath, and made a dash forward at Doubinétzki.

'Seize him! bind him! cut the rebel down!' he shrieked in frenzy. But it had all happened so suddenly that for a moment no one obeyed the magnate, or could decide what to do; all the more so as every one loved old Doubinétzki, and knew what a glorious fire-eater he was.


Old Ignatius, meanwhile, in his turn unsheathed his sword, sprang on to his horse, which stood ready saddled beside the gate, and galloped away unharmed. He was a free gentleman and a first-rate warrior, and any magnate would be glad to take him into his service.

Utterly beside himself with fury, Pan Podliásski went into the castle, and shut himself up in his bedchamber. He paced up and down with long strides, brooding over all that had passed. The thought that a good-for-nothing little fowl could embitter his life made him frantic. He was ready to instantly call up all his retainers, and give them strict commands to secure the cock, alive or dead. But then he remembered the whispering of his guests at dinner, the furtive glances of his servants, and the open rebellion of Doubinétzki. What was the use of commanding? Would he not be exposing himself to new[57] failures, to new humiliations? And all this was the work of that cock!

Pan Podliásski felt as if he were stifled in the room, and went out into the garden. The barrels of pitch which had illuminated it during the banquet were almost burnt out; the pathways and arbours were deserted. Pan Joseph walked along several avenues, and then lay down upon a bench.

'Pan, give back the grindstone!' suddenly resounded over his head the hated voice of Scarlet-Comb.

Pan Podliásski started up as if he had been stung, drew the pistol from his belt, and fired upwards at random in the direction of the voice. Directly afterwards he heard a piteous shriek from the cock, and a warm drop of blood fell on to his hand.

'Ah! ah!' cried the magnate in angry delight; 'now you will leave off embittering my life, you loathsome little brute!'

Satisfied and triumphant, he peered[58] about in the dark to find the cock; but seeing nothing, lay down again upon the bench, and soon fell asleep. Before half an hour had passed, however, the magnate sprang to his feet with a fearful cry, clasping his hands over his left eye. He was conscious of an intolerable pain, and something wet and warm and sticky was trickling down his face and hands. Dazed and blind, the Voevoda rushed headlong to the castle. Suddenly behind him there rang out the well-known cry:

'Pan, give back the grindstone! give back the peasant's grindstone!'

'Holy Virgin! The creature has pecked out my eye,' thought the landowner in horror, and it was only then he vaguely understood that he had not killed, but merely wounded, his persecutor.

Pan Podliásski did not confide to any one the manner in which he had lost his eye. He said that he had struck against a branch in the dark. He[59] further declared that during his illness every noise disturbed him, and on this pretext he commanded all the windows in the castle to be tightly fastened, and placed sentinels at all the outer doors, with orders not only to admit no one, but even to let no one and nothing approach, neither dog, cat, nor bird. In reality the magnate was terribly afraid that Scarlet-Comb would peck out his right eye too.

The autumn set in. The stone castle was damp, cold, empty, and dreary. Its master, with a bandage over his left eye, sat in the huge dining hall, with its richly-carved oak walls, and warmed himself at the great open hearth where the embers lay smouldering and the fire still flickered in the remains of two logs. Suddenly, from somewhere in the distance, he heard a muffled but familiar cry:

'Pan, give back the grindstone!'

In an instant the Voevoda started up as though he had been scalded,[60] and shrieked frantically for his servants.

'Search the castle and everywhere round it instantly,' he ordered. 'There's a cock somewhere that sets my teeth on edge with his crowing.'

Fifty Cossack retainers of the magnate, led by three nobles and about forty servants under the leadership of the steward, rushed to fulfil the Pan's commands. But though they ransacked all the rooms, corridors, and doorways,—though they carefully searched the garden and the courtyard, they came back and reported to their illustrious master that not the slightest sign of any bird at all was anywhere to be found. This was not surprising; it did not occur to anybody to climb up on to the roof; and there, beside the chimney, sat Scarlet-Comb.

'It must have been my fancy,' thought Pan Podliásski, and sat down again before the fire. But just at the[61] moment when he was half falling asleep, there suddenly tumbled down the chimney into the fireplace something small and black, which instantly hopped out on to the floor with singed feathers, and cried:

'Pan, give back the grindstone!'

The Voevoda shrank away from the fowl in horror. Scarlet-Comb, taking advantage of his stupefaction, ran through the rooms, and succeeded in slipping past the sentinels and making his way right to the village.

The magnate stood breathless. 'One's not safe from him anywhere,' he thought; and a sense of dread fell upon him. He clapped his trembling hands, and ordered the servant who came in to fetch the steward instantly.

'Give the peasant Kogoútek his grindstone back again at once,' said Pan Podliásski, avoiding the steward's eyes; 'and give him ten ducats for compensation.'

The steward would have replied,[62] but the Voevoda looked at him with such an expression that the words died on his lips.

That very day the grindstone was returned to Stanislas Kogoútek's yard. Thereupon the little cock, Scarlet-Comb, although badly scorched, with blisters on both claws, with his tail-feathers gone and his wing shot through, jumped up on to the gate and, proudly raising his little head, shouted to all the world:

'Cock-a-doodle-doo! the Pan has given back the peasant's grindstone!'




N the watchmaker's bench, which was covered with white paper, so that all the little things needed for his trade should be easy to see, were spread out various small pincers, gimlets, screwdrivers, tiny hammers, watchkeys, files, and other delicate instruments. Under a glass case lay watches and clocks taken to pieces. There were some open boxes filled with cog-wheels, and some watch-glasses, in which lay some wee screws. Among these was a very pretty one, of blue, finely-tempered steel, but so tiny that he could not be seen properly[66] without a magnifying-glass. He looked round the workroom quite frightened at all his new surroundings. Until now he had lain in a dark, closed box and hardly had ever seen the light; now the watchmaker, Karl Ivánovich, had taken him out of the box and laid him in a watch-glass, evidently intending to use him. And now the little blue mite peered round, wondering and frightened.

Indeed, what wonder! Round the walls, in shallow cupboards with glass doors, in flat cases with sloping glass lids, on the large table, on the benches—everywhere, hung or lay or stood watches and clocks of all kinds and sizes, and most of them were moving and ticking like live things. The cheap clocks with tin or china faces, decorated with rather clumsily-painted roses, wagged their pendulums hastily backwards and forwards, as though hurrying to work or to business. The huge clocks in wooden and glass cases,[67] on the contrary, swung their pendulums with a hardly perceptible motion, as though they feared to compromise their dignity by any haste. All sorts of wonderful things were on the table. There was a clock in the shape of a great fallen tree-trunk, across which a log was thrown, with boys sitting on the ends of it, swinging in time to the ticking of the clock. Another represented a gray hare squatting on his haunches, holding the dial between his forefeet and moving his ears in time as the clock ticked. But our tiny Screw was most impressed by a large clock, standing at one corner of the shop in a huge glass case. The clock itself represented an Indian temple with a dome, all carved in black wood. Inside the temple was the dial, also black, with gold letters; the hands were gold snakes. Under the dial, a little in front, sat a gray-haired magician in a long robe and high cap, holding in his right hand a silver[68] hammer. The old man, with his grave expression of face, was so well carved that he looked quite alive. But the most wonderful thing of all was that he never stopped slowly turning his eyes from side to side, keeping time with the solemn, hardly audible ticking of the clock; he seemed as if watching to see that all was in order in his kingdom of time. At his right hand stood a shining silver bell on a tall and slender pedestal; and at his left a black cat was sitting on a cushion; it had real fur, and its green eyes glittered as if alive.

Our little Screw gazed intently at the magician in his Indian temple, at his cat and bell—he gazed upon them with involuntary reverence and awe—and finally decided that the enigmatic old man must be the ruler of time, and that all the clocks in the place must be in his service. He was still meditating upon this, when suddenly the black clock began to hiss, the[69] magician raised his left hand with the forefinger extended, as if commanding attention, and began slowly striking the silver bell with his hammer. He struck it ten times, and every time the cat opened its mouth and mewed at each stroke of the hammer.

The moment the magician had finished, an indescribable confusion arose in the shop: in three clocks, which represented houses, windows opened; from each window a cuckoo jumped out and called 'cuckoo' ten times. The other clocks, with the tin, china, and copper dials, all began striking in emulation of each other. Some struck rapidly and with a thin sound, others slowly and heavily; the first jarred on the ear with their harsh notes, while the others had a mellow ring; but all struck at once, as though trying to catch one another up. The brass alarum, which stood on the table, rattled long and mercilessly, as if it were determined to silence all the[70] others with its deafening noise; then, when the other clocks had finished striking, it too struck ten. After that all the clocks continued busily ticking, just as if nothing had happened.

All this ringing, banging, and noise made our Screw quite dizzy; the poor little fellow lay in his watch-glass trembling all over. But when he recovered from his agitation, he was overwhelmed with silent ecstasy. He understood for what purpose clocks exist. He knew that they show to man the divisions of time, thus helping him in both his intellectual work and his ordinary life. Two men, however far apart from one another, can, if only they have good watches, come at the same moment to a particular spot, or do whatever they may have agreed upon—even the height of mountains is determined by means of watches. The little Screw understood all this, and his wee frame thrilled all over with enthusiasm. 'How useful[71] they all are!' he thought. This set him involuntarily thinking of himself, and he grew sad—sad even to tears. How tiny he was! how insignificant and pitiable compared with all these clocks! If you were to hang up even the worst of them in a house where there was before no clock at all, there would at once be in that house more order, more reason and utility. But he! wherever you were to put him, it would make no difference.

Our Screw was very unhappy; he tried so long to be of use to some one, and he felt that he was fit for nothing! Once more he looked attentively round the bench. There were a great number of little axles, wires, pendulums, pinions, and springs. He did not understand for what they could be used, but he saw one thing—that every one of these little objects was larger than himself. 'Oh dear!' he thought, 'even if all these little things are useless in themselves, still, some[72]thing useful can be made out of them. But what can be made of such a non-entity as I am—I, who cannot even be seen with the naked eye? Nothing, absolutely nothing!...' And all the tiny person of the Screw quivered with grief.

At that moment there ran into the workshop a little boy and girl, the children of Karl Ivánovich. Their father had gone to fetch his pipe; his assistant, Yegór,[5] had also left the shop, and the children had a chance to enjoy a peep at the wonders of the workshop, into which Karl Ivánovich generally would not let them come. The boy ran up to his father's bench and began quickly examining the things lying upon it.

'Look, look at the little Screw!' he said to his sister in a loud whisper, turning to take the blue steel Screw from the watch-glass.

'Don't touch! Don't touch; you'll[73] drop it!' whispered the little girl, half frightened, but also looking inquisitively at our Screw.

'What next! Drop it!' repeated the boy, mimicking her. 'We're not all such butter-fingers as you!' and in a fit of obstinacy he picked up the Screw. But the Screw was so small that the boy could scarcely hold him with the tips of his fingers.

'Indeed, you'll drop it!... Papa will be cross!...' continued the little girl in the utmost anxiety.

Suddenly they heard the creaking of Karl Ivánovich's boots in the next room, and he blew his nose as loud as if it were a trumpet. The boy started, and dropped the Screw from his fingers on to the floor.

'Aha! aha! There, you see! I told you so!' whispered the girl again.

'Hush!' answered her brother, also in a whisper, stooping down to look for the Screw. But it was too late; Karl Ivánovich came into the work[74]shop, and in his presence the boy was afraid to show what he had done.

Our Screw, meanwhile, lay on the floor, and did not grieve over what had happened.

'It is all the same,' he thought,—'to be crushed under somebody's foot, or to go through a whole life such a feeble and useless creature as I am!'

Just at that moment Karl Ivánovich came into the workshop, puffing at his pipe. He was a thorough German, with a flat, red face, and an embroidered cap with a tassel. Although he had lived in Russia for about thirty years, and owed his good fortune to Russian people, yet he had not learnt Russian properly, and thought even that it was a merit not to know it. He was of the opinion that the Russians were mere cattle; and when he contrived to gain 50 per cent in selling some watch to a Russian, this was in his eyes one proof more how right he was to think contemptu[75]ously of the nation. He therefore always spoke German in his domestic life.

'Kinder, fort! fort!' said Karl Ivánovich sternly. But observing at once from the frightened faces of the children that something must be amiss, he frowned still more severely, and going up to the bench, began inspecting it closely.

'What mischief have you been up to here, eh?' asked the watchmaker.

The children hung their heads in silence.

Karl Ivánovich once more carefully examined his bench, and suddenly his attention was caught by the watch-glass in which he had laid the wee blue steel Screw.

'Where's the Screw? Who has taken the Screw?' shouted Karl Ivánovich at the top of his voice.

The little girl got frightened for her brother and began to cry bitterly; the boy remained silent.


'Well, are you going to speak or not?' cried the watchmaker, still louder.

'It's on the floor,' whispered the girl.

'That was you dropped it, I'll be bound!' said the watchmaker, shaking his finger before his little son's face. The boy still held his tongue, and only hung his head lower and lower.

'Oh, welch ein wilder Bube!' cried Karl Ivánovich in a fury. 'Do you understand what you've done? It was the only screw of that kind that I had left, and the new order has got delayed on the journey here. How am I to mend the chronometer from the telegraph station now, eh?'

'Papa, it was so tiny,' said the little girl through her tears; she wanted to say something in her brother's defence and did not know what plea to put forward.

'Oh, du dummes Ding!' cried the angry watchmaker. 'Do you suppose[77] because the Screw is small it's of no consequence? Why, can't you see the value of it is just that it's so small; nothing else will go into the hole. Without it I can't screw the pieces together in the chronometer, and how long do you think it will go without being screwed? Can't you understand that, you little goose?'

Ah! with what joy our little Screw listened to this speech as he lay on the floor beside the bench. He was not ill-natured, and felt very sorry for the children when Karl Ivánovich scolded them so; but how could the little creature help rejoicing when his dearest wish was thus suddenly fulfilled? He had been grieving because he was so small, had been ashamed of his weakness, and had believed himself utterly useless. He had so longed to be useful—even as useful as any lump of metal that has not been made into anything; but he had thought himself incapable even of that.... And now it[78] appeared that he, small as he was, could be as useful as a first-rate chronometer! Yes, for without him, the tiny Screw, the chronometer itself would not keep time properly.

The Screw was wild with joy; he positively choked with delight!

Soon, however, his rapture was changed into terrible anxiety. Karl Ivánovich made the children look for the lost Screw, called his assistant to look too, and finally, straddling his short legs apart, and leaning his red hands on his knees, stooped down himself with a magnifying-glass at his eye, and began carefully inspecting the floor. But all their searching was in vain: the whole four of them looked, crawled over the floor, felt about with their hands quite close to the Screw, and could not find him.

'Oh dear!' thought the poor little fellow, 'what if they don't find me after all? That would be terrible!'

It would indeed be terrible; after[79] passing through such bitter moments, to be at the very point of reaching the utmost possible happiness, and then after all to miss it and be crushed under a dirty boot! He would have cried out, 'Here I am! here!' but did not know how to do that in human speech.

In his extremity the little Screw looked up at the mighty magician who ruled over all the clocks. As before, the magician was gravely turning his eyes from side to side, watching over his kingdom.

'Oh great, good magician! king of time! benefactor of men! surely thou wilt not let me perish here for no cause, when I too might be of use? Help me, oh help me, to be found!' entreated our wee friend.

The magician glanced benevolently down on the poor little Screw, and instantly raising his left hand to command attention, began striking on his bell with the hammer he held in his[80] right; the cat at once began to mew.

A ray of sunshine fell through the window straight upon the magician. When he raised and dropped his hammer, the ray flashed on its smooth surface and was reflected from it right on to the Screw. The Screw glittered like a spark of fire, and Karl Ivánovich's little girl cried out joyfully, 'I've found it!'

Karl Ivánovich instantly picked up his recovered treasure with a pair of small pincers and laid him again in the watch-glass. Then he sat down at his bench and set to work at the telegraph chronometer. Presently came the turn of our Screw; the watchmaker picked him up again with the pincers, placed him in a hole in one part of the chronometer, and screwed him tight with a delicate little screwdriver.

On finishing his work Karl Ivánovich wound up the watch, held it to his[81] ear and listened. It was ticking away merrily, and our Screw sat firmly in his place and held the pieces together as a conscientious screw should. Then the watchmaker hung up the chronometer in a glass case to be tested.

One morning, about a fortnight afterwards, the outer door of Karl Ivánovich's shop opened, and the director of the telegraph station came in.

'Good morning, Karl Ivánovich,' he said; 'what about my watch?'

'It's ready—quite ready.'

'And goes well?'

'Goes perfectly. There was just one screw wanting, and I've put it in. That was the whole matter.'

The telegraph director opened the inner lid of the watch and looked at our Screw; then he shut the lid again and put the chronometer into his waistcoat pocket. It ticked bravely, and the little blue steel Screw sat in his hole, saying to himself joyfully: 'And I, too, am of use!'




HERE once lived a little boy called Basil. He had a good mamma, who worked hard to educate her child. They lived alone: they had no relatives, no servants. His mamma tried never to leave Basil alone in the evening; when she had some work to carry to her employer she always tried to do it in the daytime.

A friend once presented Basil's mamma with a ticket for the theatre. This took place in her absence. When she returned home Basil met her with great joy. 'Mamma dearest, Petr[86] Petróvich (Mr. Peter) has been here and left a ticket for you. You shall go to hear the opera to-night. You like the opera, don't you?'

'But, my dear boy, what shall I do with the ticket? I cannot go.'

'And why, mamma?'

'Why, I can't leave you all alone at home; if we had two tickets we could both go; but without you I can't go.'

'No, no, you must go, mamma,' insisted Basil.

'No, my darling, I can't leave you,' said his mother, sighing; 'you would be afraid, and something might happen to you.'

'You might ask Mrs. Lookina to stay with me.'

Mrs. Lookina was their neighbour, living on the same landing in the same large house.

'It is hard to be under an obligation to any one, my dear; the last time when I had to take home some[87] hurried work I asked Mrs. Lookina to stay some time with you. I cannot do so too often; she has work of her own.'

'Then I shall stay alone, and will not be afraid,' answered Basil; 'and if anything happens, I shall call Mrs. Lookina; and if nothing happens, I shall not call her.'

Basil's mother saw very well that the boy wished her to go to the theatre. She was much pleased; she kissed him tenderly, but did not say what she intended to do. But by the glance she cast at the ticket, the way she put it aside, the sigh which followed, Basil understood all very well; his mamma would very much like to go to the opera, and it was hard for her to deprive herself of so rare a pleasure, which she could now have for nothing; but yet she could not decide to go. Basil was so disappointed that tears were ready to fall.

'Oh mamma! you often said that we must help one another, and not[88] find it difficult. You made a collar for Mrs. Lookina.... And if you do not go to the theatre I shall cry,' he added, quite unexpectedly beginning to weep.

'Don't, dearest, don't cry,' said his mother, taking her boy on her lap and kissing him; but the child wept, repeating continually:

'Poor mamma, you never can go to the theatre—you would so much like to go; I know it.'

'Well, well, I will go; only don't cry.'

Then his mamma went to Mrs. Lookina and asked her to give Basil some tea, put him to bed, and stay with him until her return. When she was dressed she kissed her boy and set off.

Soon it was tea-time. Mrs. Lookina never before had had to give Basil his tea, and did not know that he took very weak tea. She poured him out some strong tea, and as the boy liked it very much, he took more of it than[89] usual. Basil well remembered what his mamma said, and did not wish to tire Mrs. Lookina, so he told her he would undress himself and go to bed, and she might lock the door from the outside and go home.

'I shall not be afraid,' concluded he; 'and if anything happens, I shall knock like this.'

'But why, my boy? I can stay with you,' answered the neighbour.

'No, no, you have some work at home,' said Basil, and wrapping himself up in his quilt with decision, he closed his eyes and said: 'There, I am asleep already.'

'Very well, my boy,' said Mrs. Lookina, smiling; 'but you must promise me to knock as soon as you need anything.'

'Yes, yes; I shall knock this way,' and kneeling up on his bed, Basil showed how he would knock.

Mrs. Lookina left him. Basil heard her leaving their lodging, taking the[90] candle with her; heard her locking the door. And now Basil was alone. All was quiet around. He opened his eyes; all was dark. Basil felt uneasy, to tell the truth, but he tried not to think about it; he again closed his eyes, and turned his back to the wall. A long time he lay thus, and the strong tea he had taken kept him awake. He began to rock himself slightly in his bed and sing—

'Sleep, sleep, come to me.
Sleep, sleep, take me now.
Sleep, lull me into sleep.'

Basil repeated these words several times, and all at once it seemed to him as if the room were not as dark as before. He opened his eyes wide, and was lost in astonishment. The room was full of pale light—something like moonlight—and not far from his bed Basil noticed a queer little being. It was a tiny little old man, not more than six inches high. He wore a short jacket made of red corn-poppy[91] petals; his trousers were of the same material; his arms and legs were very thin, like poppy stems, and he wore green stockings; his shoes and gloves were composed of green poppy leaves. But the Old Man's head was the most interesting part of his little person. It was a little round head, perfectly bald and brown, just like the dried fruit of a poppy. On his head there was a crown such as you see in the poppy. His face was brown also; it was calm and kind. He smiled fondly as he looked on Basil. Above the Little Man's head trembled a bluish flame, from which spread an agreeable light about the room. This flame did not touch the Old Man's head, but it followed him. When the Little Man stooped, the flame stooped also; when he rose, it rose with him.

"Not far from his bed Basil noticed a queer little being."

'You called me?' asked he of Basil. His voice was so agreeable, and sounded so like that of an old acquaintance.


'I—I—don't know,' stammered the child.

'But you could not fall asleep, and you kept repeating—

' "Sleep, sleep, come to me.
Sleep, sleep, take me now.
Sleep, lull me into sleep." '

'Yes, Mr. Old Man, I have been repeating all this, but I did not mean to disturb you; it is hard to be under an obligation to any one. I am not afraid to be alone, Mr. Old Man.'

'Oh!' said the Old Man, smiling, 'where did you learn such words; of all things, as to be under an obligation? He! he! he!'

'No, no, Mr. Old Man; you see, I told Mrs. Lookina to go home. Why should I disturb you? You have your own business.'

'Ho! ho! ho!' laughed the Old Man. 'What a sensible young man you are! But don't trouble yourself about this. My duty consists in being[93] where people want to sleep, so you only help me to do what I ought to do. You want to sleep, don't you?'

'Yes, Mr. Old Man.'

'And so I will put you to sleep if you like, soundly.' Then the Little Old Man began to blink with evident enjoyment, and to yawn slowly and loudly. Somebody immediately yawned in answer, and Basil, who had also a great desire to yawn, looked around. He saw to his great astonishment that at the foot of his bed sat a new old man. It was he who had yawned in answer to the first Old Man.

This Old Man much resembled the other, only he was a little smaller. His jacket and trousers were made of lilac poppy petals instead of red ones, and he had no light on his head.

'Listen, Basil,' said the little lilac-coloured creature, and with a gentle voice, like a mother telling fairy tales to her child, he began to speak:

'A gnat was born on the moors.[94] It stood on its thin little legs, it spread its wings, and thought to itself: "It is time to fly after some booty! If I meet a man or a bull, I will eat him up."

'The gnat flew away, spread its little legs in the wind, and vanished. Hardly anybody would notice it—so small, and thin, and weak it was. Nevertheless, as it flew, it blew its own trumpets—

Here I come!
I will slay
Man and beast!
I will feast
All the day!"

'Whether the gnat flew for a long or a short time no one knows. Anyhow it came to a reddish mound. This was a heap of bricks. Some time ago a hut stood here, but the hut had been burnt down; its brick stove had fallen to pieces, and now stood in view—a heap of fragments. The gnat looked[95] at the mound and thought: "This is a fine portion; it will just suit my appetite." It flew with all its might, settled on a brick, then flew on to another, and tried to drive its proboscis into it. The gnat held the brick fast, and fought with its proboscis the best it could; but it found it hard. Brick was brick, you know; it was not soft stuff. The gnat raced from place to place. It tried the brick in every way, but without avail.

'"No," thought the gnat, "this does not please me; it is not worth while troubling about." It moved on again, and flew away. It flew on and blew its own trumpets—

' "Fi-fo-fum!
Here I come!
I will slay
Man and beast!
I will feast
All the day!"

'Presently the gnat came across something large and high, surmounted[96] by a sharp-pointed deep-green dunce's cap. It was a fir-tree with resin oozing out.

'The gnat thought: "This is more in my line; this will suit my appetite; I will begin at this yellow spot."

'It flew towards the resin, and, settling down, drove its proboscis into it. Oh, wonder! It was bitter and sticky. The gnat after a great effort dragged its proboscis out, and then tried to free its legs. It tugged and tugged, and managed to free five, but could not succeed with the sixth.

'The gnat got angry. "Let go," he called to the fir-tree; "I know a trick worth two of that." But the fir-tree held the leg tight. The gnat got still angrier; dashed about until its leg came off, and then flew away with only five legs; the sixth had remained in the resin. It flew on, and again blew its own trumpets—

' "Fi-fo-fum!
Here I come!
I will slay
Man and beast![97]
I will feast
All the day!"

'A tale is quicker told than actions can be done.

'Our gnat flew over hill and vale, furrowed fields, green meadows, quick flowing rivers, and whispering woods. It flew along roads, past cornfields. Nowhere did it find anything profitable. In the meantime some fine raindrops began to fall. The gnat was not dejected; it hurried on. Suddenly it met a whole herd of cattle; the young calves went on in front and the large oxen behind. The gnat's eyes glistened. It wished to settle on the first calf and fix its proboscis into it, but it bethought itself: "I see you are small, little calf; it is better to eat a big ox." He began to examine the oxen. The herd went on and the gnat still looked around. This one seemed too thin—that one, though stout, yet not big enough; then came one[98] that looked worse than the preceding ones. Thus all passed by, and the gnat had not made a choice.

'It suddenly flew after the herd, for the purpose of settling down on the first it could reach. But now it met with a new misfortune. The rain soaked its wings and made them heavy; it could not fly any farther, and got angry and began to scold the rain: "So you intend to wet my wings? you cannot find another place to drop on? Beware! do you think to take me in with your tricks?" The gnat had hardly spoken thus, when a large drop of rain fell on its back and maimed it; it was choked by its last word, and fell head over heels on to the grass.

'Nobody knows how long the gnat remained there. Anyhow, when the bright sun peeped out from the clouds and shone upon the earth, the gnat contrived to creep out of the grassy thicket and to dry itself. Then it flew[99] on farther, and again, flying, it blew its trumpets—

' "Fi-fo-fum!
Here I come!
I will slay
Man and beast!
I will feast
All the day!"

Suddenly it perceived before it, at some distance, a mare harnessed to a cart, moving on slowly. A peasant was sitting in the cart.

'The gnat rejoiced: "Now I can eat my fill; when I shall have dined off the man I'll taste the horse." So it flew straight on to the man's forehead, and stung with all its force.

'The peasant passed the palm of his hand over his forehead, crushed the gnat, and threw it behind the cart, and all was over with it.'

The Lilac Old Man had finished his tale.

'Basil, are you not asleep?' asked the first Old Man.

[100] 'Not yet, Mr. Old Man,' answered Basil.

'Do you wish to sleep?'

'I do.'

'Aaa!' yawned the Red Old Man.

'Aaa!' yawned after him the Lilac Old Man.

'Aaa!' yawned after them Basil.

'Aaa!' yawned yet another near them. When Basil looked round he saw that a third old man sat on his pillow, looking exactly like the two others; the only difference was that his coat and trousers were of white poppy petals. The White Old Man smiled caressingly, laid his hand on Basil's head, and Basil could not refrain from closing his eyes and smiling back at him. Meanwhile the new old man gently rocked himself. Basil heard him sing a little song in a very soft and lulling voice:

'Gentle dreams with pinions light
By the window did alight,
Whisp'ring through their tresses bright:
'Has sweet sleep been here to-night?"
Wearied out a sick man lies[101]
Tossing on a fever bed,
Gazing with wide, hopeless eyes
Through the darkness thick and dread.
Fairy dreams come trooping, shining,
Hand in hand with quiet sleep,
And their tresses, intertwining,
Softly o'er his pillow sweep,
Till his eyelids sink and close
While their song around him flows:
"Sleep, oh sleep!
Night and rest
From thee keep
Sprites unblest!
When to-morrow
Sunbeams peep,
Be thy sorrow
Laid asleep!"

'Gentle dreams with pinions light
By the window did alight,
Whisp'ring through their tresses bright:
'Has sweet sleep been here to-night?"
'See! A haggard seamstress, bending,
Bloodless cheek and aching head,
O'er the toil that, never ending,
Hardly gives her children bread.
Cometh sleep, and from her fingers[102]
Steals away the half-turned seam,
And with noiseless footstep lingers,
Weaving many a joyous dream,
Till her eyelids sink and close,
While their song around her flows:
"Work is over!
And we hover
Round thee lightly,
Bringing nightly
Short relief,
Till thy grief
Again is born
With each new morn!"

'Gentle dreams with pinions light
By the window did alight,
Whisp'ring through their tresses bright:
'Has sweet sleep been here to-night?"
'No! I hear a baby crying,
Though the curly little head
Long ago should have been lying
Cradled in a cosy bed.
Fairy dreams come round him flocking,
And on many a snowy arm
Lift and bear him, softly rocking,
Covering with kisses warm,
Till his eyelids sink and close,
While their song around him flows:
"Hush, my sweetest![103]
Shut thine eyes
Till thou greetest
Fair sunrise,
Till dawn's hour
Laughs again;
Like a flower
After rain!"'

The White Old Man had long finished singing, but Basil was still listening, longing for more; it pleased him so much.

'Basil, are you asleep?' suddenly asked the Red Old Man, in a low voice.

'Not yet, Mr. Old Man,' answered Basil.

'Do you wish to sleep?'

'I do.'

Here the Red Old Man yawned again very loudly; then the Lilac one yawned; and the White one did the same. Basil also yawned. But then it seemed as if he heard another yawn still louder than the others very near to him, somewhere above. Basil[104] looked round and saw on the side rail of his bedstead, above his head, a fourth old man, who was dangling his legs. He much resembled the Lilac and White Men, but he was dressed in many colours.

The old man smiled, and strewed, as if in fun, many, many poppy petals on Basil.

Basil felt so very sleepy that he hardly could keep his eyes open; yet he wished very much to look at the new old man.

'Shut your eyes, and I will show you my pictures,' whispered the Many-Coloured Old Man, and poured a whole handful of poppies on Basil.

The boy closed his eyelids gladly, and at once saw a beautiful street in which mamma never allowed Basil to walk alone.

Now Basil went along with both his hands in his pockets. One pocket was full of apples, the other full of pears. Basil took them out by turns,[105] first one and then the other, and ate to his great content. When he got tired of the fruit he felt nuts in his pockets instead of apples, and dates and dried figs instead of pears. After a while he could not help thinking of sweets. And as soon as he did so the nuts turned into chocolate, and the dates and figs into sugar-candy.

Besides this, at every curbstone stood a prettily-dressed girl, very like those who served Basil at the confectioner's when Petr Petróvich took him there and offered him some choice morsel.

One regaled him with grapes, another with ice cream, a third with pineapple, a fourth with strawberries, and a fifth with apricots; and so on.

Basil walked on gaily, looking around on all sides, and taking a good piece from each plate. What was the most wonderful was that he never suffered after it.

Basil walked on and on in the[106] happiest frame of mind. Nevertheless he could not help noticing that the street was somewhat long. He had hardly thought this when he perceived that the street had vanished, and he stood in the middle of a toy-shop. Goodness me! what beautiful things he saw there! Drums, swords, guns, mechanical dogs, balls, furniture, rocking-horses, loto, pictures—a regular furnished house.... But no! let us stop enumerating. It would be impossible to remember all the splendid things displayed in the shop. Basil's eyes were simply dazzled at the cupboards and shelves. After a good while, when he had surveyed all these treasures, his attention became attracted by a crossbow with a steel spring, a capital bowstring, and the butt end well polished. Next to the crossbow was a quiver attached to a strap with all sorts of arrows. For a long time Basil had longed for such a bow. With this bow you might hit[107] any mark, and you might even, if on the watch, shoot the raven that was in the habit of stealing small chickens from the yard. Basil had seen just such a bow at a little friend's house. How easy it was to shoot with it! Basil had asked his mamma to buy him such a bow, but his mamma said she could not afford it; it cost five roubles.[6] And now Basil saw his pet bow in the shop. Suddenly the door creaked, and Basil's mamma entered. She paid down the money, took the bow and the quiver, and walked out. Basil was so overjoyed that he nearly jumped out of his bed; but at the same moment the shop vanished from his sight, and in its place stood a shoemaker's workshop, where his mamma used to order her boots. How happy he was walking with her and holding his bow in his hands. He looked around on all sides, and thought all other people were happy to see him[108] with his beautiful bow. Suddenly he perceived how greatly he was mistaken, for he saw the master of the workshop, a rather short, square-built man, standing before his apprentice, scolding him, and preparing by his gestures to thrash him. The unhappy boy cried hard, trembled with fear, and begged for mercy, but the master was angry, and did not listen to him. Seeing some visitors, the master in a moment put on an amiable expression, turned to them, and threw away the strap. The trembling apprentice drew back towards the door. Basil pitied the boy dreadfully. He went up to the poor fellow and asked in a whisper, 'What does he want to beat you for?' The boy did not answer, and drew back towards the door with downcast eyes. Basil went after him and asked again: 'Did you do anything?'

'I've done nothing, and I'm not guilty,' answered the apprentice, after a long silence.


'What does he want to beat you for then?'

'Peter informed about me.'

'Which Peter?'

'The son of my master.'

'Tell me all.'

'My master bought Peter a bow—a beautiful bow like yours—and told him to take care of it; and he broke it, and he pretended I had broken it; and I swear I didn't.' (Here the boy made the sign of the cross in token of his innocence.) 'The master is going to beat me,' he added in a whisper, and the tears flowed from his eyes.

'Now, don't cry,' said Basil, taking the apprentice by the hand. He pitied the boy dreadfully, but he did not know how to console him.

'It's all very well for you to say, Don't cry. If you felt his strap you wouldn't talk like that; my master has a heart of stone.'

Basil looked at his own bow; the bow was beautiful, and Basil had not[110] even had time to shoot with it. He sighed and turned away; it would be too hard for him to part with his bow. But when the unhappy boy began to cry again Basil could not bear it. He took him by the hand, and said: 'Here you are; if you wish I'll give you my bow; you can give it to your master, so that he won't beat you.'

'How?' asked the apprentice, hardly believing that Basil would give up his toy, and after looking at him attentively, added: 'Won't you be sorry to give it up? It is such a beautiful bow. I know what to do: let him beat me—I'm not afraid. Better keep it and allow me to shoot with it. Peter never allowed me to shoot, but you will. I'm not afraid.'

Basil pitied the boy still more, and called out: 'No, no, I don't want it; take it;' and Basil put the bow in the apprentice's hands. Immediately after the boy and the bow and the workshop vanished. The Many-Coloured Old[111] Man left off showing pictures, and at the same time the Red Man asked in a well-known voice: 'Basil, are you asleep?'

'No, Mr. Old Man,' answered Basil, with great difficulty.

'With what Old Man are you talking?' asked the same voice, laughing. Basil opened his eyes; it was already morning. The sun shone brightly through the red cotton curtains at the window, and his mamma stood at his bedside.

'Mamma?' asked Basil, with wonder. 'Then it was all dream?'


'The Little Old Man?'

'Why, certainly it was;' and the mother tenderly kissed her boy.




certain peasant had a dog called Browny. So long as the dog was young and strong his master fed him; but when he grew old, and the master saw that he was no longer fit for a watchdog, he began to grudge him his food, and turned him out of doors. Browny went out into the fields and wandered on, not caring where—on and on he went, weeping bitterly.

A wolf came up to him and asked: 'Why do you cry so?'

'I have something to cry for,'[116] answered the dog. 'So long as I was strong, and could feed myself, I served my master truly and faithfully, and now, when I have grown old in his service, he says: "Be off with you!" Where am I to go now? I have not even the strength to catch a hare.'

'Ah, that's too bad!' said the Wolf. 'Now, look here: we wolves are supposed to be downright robbers, because we have to procure our food in some way or other. Yet I wouldn't do such a meanness as your master did. Well, if he does not remember your faithful service, there is another way of making him give you the food that you have honestly deserved from him.'

'Oh! if you could manage that, some day I would repay you for it!' exclaimed poor Browny, licking his lips at the very thought of a good dinner.

'We'll manage it,' said the Wolf. 'When your master comes out into the field with his family to reap the corn, his[117] wife will lay down the baby under a rick; you keep close by, so that I may know which is their field. I will seize the child and run off; you rush after me and make believe to snatch the child away from me, and I will let it go as if I were afraid of you. Then everything will go as you wish.'

No sooner said than done. At harvest-time the man came out into the field with his family to reap. His wife laid down the baby under a rick, took a sickle, and went with her husband to reap. Suddenly the Wolf rushed up, snatched the baby, and ran off. Browny sprang out of the corn and after him. The baby's father and mother were dreadfully frightened: the father tore along, shouting, 'Catch him, Browny—bite him! bite him!...' And Browny did his best: he caught up the Wolf, took the child from him, and brought it to his master.

'Good dog, Browny!' said the[118] master. 'Oh you good dog! I thought he wasn't fit for anything now, and see what a plucky fellow he is!' and he took half a loaf and a piece of lard out of his bag and gave them to Browny.

In the evening the peasants went home, and Browny with them. When they got in, the man said to his wife: 'Light the fire and make us some buck-wheat dough-dumplings, with plenty of lard.'

Browny's mistress made the dumplings—capital dumplings—so nice that they would make your mouth water to look at them! The master gave Browny a seat at the table as if the dog were his best friend, and sat down beside him. Browny, on his part, made an agreeable face, and expressed by his whole appearance that he would know how to behave himself, even if he were the starosta (elder) of the village.

'Now, wife,' said the man, 'turn the dumplings out into the bowl, and let us have supper!'


The wife filled the bowl, and the husband put a helping for Browny into a smaller bowl, and blew it a long time, so that Browny should not burn his muzzle. He had become such an important person all of a sudden!

Browny lived in peace and plenty, but he did not forget his benefactor, the Wolf. He used to think: 'Perhaps the Wolf is wandering about the steppes now, starving!' Then he would grow quite melancholy, and shake his head, sighing.

Meanwhile, Carnival came round, and the peasant began making wedding preparations—his daughter was to be married. Then Browny shook off all his melancholy. He went far away from the village, and called the Wolf. When the Wolf came up, they hardly recognised one another: Browny had grown fat and glossy, while as for the unhappy Wolf, he was thin, worn-out—nothing but skin and bones; his fur hung in ragged tufts, and his teeth[120] chattered from hunger. When Browny looked at his friend his heart ached for pity.

'Come on Sunday evening, brother, to my master's garden-plot,' said the Dog to the Wolf; 'I'll give you such a feast as you have not had in all your life!'

Now a good dinner was a rare thing to the poor Wolf; his eyes shone with delight, and he felt quite sick with hunger.

On Sunday evening the Wolf came to the place agreed upon. That very evening was the wedding feast in the house of Browny's master. Browny came out to his friend, and, seizing a moment when there was no one in the cottage, led him in and hid him under the table. The feast began. When the food was put on the table, Browny instantly snatched a big hunch of bread and the best slice of roast meat and carried it under the table. The guests shouted at him; some[121] wanted to strike him; but the master of the house stopped them, saying: 'Don't touch him; that dog is allowed to do anything he likes; he saved my child, and I will keep him till he dies!' That was just what Browny wanted: he pulled all the best things off the table, and gave them to his friend—pies, everything, even a bottle of horílka[7]. The horílka made the Wolf tipsy, and he said to Browny:

'I want to sing a song!'

'Heaven forbid!' answered Browny; 'there'll be the devil to pay here! I'll bring you a bottle of nalívka[8], only hold your tongue!'

But after drinking the nalívka, the Wolf grew merrier than ever.

'You can do as you like,' said he; 'but now I am going to sing.' He lifted up his muzzle, and such a howl as he set up under the table!

[122] Every one was terrified. Some ran right out of the cottage, some caught up sticks and spades and wanted to kill the Wolf there and then. Browny, seeing that it was a bad job, flew at his friend as if to strangle him. Then the host called out to his guests: 'Don't hit the Wolf, or you will kill my Browny. Let them alone; Browny will settle the Wolf by himself.'

The dog, meanwhile, struggling and pretending to bite, managed to get his friend first out of the cottage, then out of the garden and right across the fields. Then he stopped.

'There, brother,' said he to the Wolf; 'you did me a good turn, and I've done you one. Good-bye!'

'Thank you!' said the Wolf. 'Good luck to you!'

And so they parted.




NCE upon a time there was a steel sword, whose blade was forged and tempered in a most excellent manner. The handle was of precious wood, with beautiful inlaid work of mother-of-pearl and gold. From his very birth the Sword was in the service of a gallant knight; and a sturdy, faithful sword he was. He fought for the sake of truth and of every fair lady, and against all oppressors of the weak. All who, even by word or glance, injured a lady dreaded the steel weapon: there was no man, no arms in the world, whom the steel[126] warrior feared. But the valiant knight was killed in a hard fight, and the Sword remained lying on the battle-field. There the wind blew sand upon him, and leaves, fallen during the autumn from the neighbouring bushes, covered him. And many long years he lay there buried and unseen, until a peasant proposed to clear the ground, and his plough ran by chance against the Sword. The first thing that the ploughman did was to utter an oath, for his coulter, in striking against the stout weapon, received a notch. Then the Sword was dug out, taken to town, and sold to an old curiosity shop. The shopman hung the Sword on a nail.

From his lofty resting-place the old warrior, in glancing about the shop, saw in the corner of the hall a white lady of astonishing beauty. She was clad only in a loose-fitting garment about her fair form. Her neck, arms, and feet were bare; her hair was all[127] combed back, then caught up by a diadem, from which it hung down in a shower of curls. She stood erect, and did not move. On her fair lips played an enigmatic smile, while her beautiful arms hung loose beside her, and her whole form seemed to breathe with free, powerful peace. One thing alone appeared to the steel warrior somewhat strange: the fair one was all white; her cheeks, eyes, hair; her hands and feet; her garments and diadem,—all were like fresh snow. But this seemed only to give a new charm to her beauty. The longer the old Sword gazed at the white unknown woman, the brighter grew his blade, the more merrily danced all the rainbow tints in his mother-of-pearl inlaid work, and the stronger grew his wish to fight as of old for truth's and a lady's sake—nay, for this very lady.

The steel warrior longed to speak to the white beauty, but he did not venture. 'I am so old,' he thought;[128] 'so notched; even somewhat rusty ... while she is so fair!... No, no, it would not do. Methinks she would not even mind me or look at me.'...

Now the old Sword glanced at the lady in the corner, and she gazed at him, smiling enigmatically....

'Oh,' thought the sturdy warrior, 'if only I could do something for her!' But there seemed no chance of being of use to the fair creature. The Sword could no longer bear such suspense. He summoned up all his courage, and uttered in a faltering clang: 'Queen of my soul! tell me what you desire. Only tell me, and I will do it; at least I will attempt anything for you!' But the White Beauty remained speechless, and only smiled enigmatically as before.

'Why does she keep silence?' This was the question that tormented the old Sword, and he looked at the fair lady with anguish. Oh how much she might say if she would but speak![129] What power breathes through her apparent calm! And her smile! what a rich soul it hides! Nay, if this heavenly creature does not speak it is certainly only in consequence of some spell laid upon her! And the old fighter looked around, pondering over the question, Who could be the malicious sorcerer? It could not be the gigantic snake, stuffed with tow, that stood in an opposite corner, for its eyes were but glass, and though they say snakes fascinate birds and little animals, they need living eyes for the purpose. Nor could it be yonder ivory-headed cane near the shelf; it had the shape of an old man's head in a nightcap, with saucy, black goggle eyes. The insolent creature smiled, it is true, very mockingly, and was capable, as it seemed, of any rude trick; but he was so placed as not to be able even to see the White Lady. Somewhat higher than the Sword, hung on the same wall a red-nosed[130] man, with a mass of tangled hair upon his head. He had a wine-glass in his hand, and he looked straight at the beauty with winking, roguish eyes. But that fellow could not have bewitched the lady either; he was too commonplace and good-natured for such a thing. The old Sword had seen scores of such fellows in old times, when his knight was banqueting in some wayside inn, or carousing in some friar's cellar, after the conquest of a town. Revellers of those days were clad differently, but they were evidently birds of the same feather. The Sword even felt some special interest in the old toper—he seemed to be a clever fellow.

'Look here, old boy,' said the old warrior in a whisper to his neighbour, 'who do you think has bewitched the lady in the corner?'

'And why do you imagine the girl to be bewitched?' retorted the red-nosed one, in a hoarse, loud bass[131] voice, making no scruples about the matter, though his companion evidently wished to speak in an undertone.

'H'm, h'm ... well, well!' said the old Sword; 'hold your peace! indeed you speak too loud.... One must be more discreet in delicate matters.... As to the spell, it is evident: have you not noticed the lady to be absolutely silent?'

'Well, what can she say if she has nothing to say? Ha! ha! ha!'

'What!' roared the Sword, and was about to teach the reveller politeness in his own way, but the latter checked his ardour with these words—

'Listen to what I am going to tell you, old fellow: if you do not intend to hear me quietly, why then do you ask my opinion?'

This remark seemed to the Sword to be reasonable, therefore he restrained himself and resumed his speech, though not without anger.

'You have drowned your reason[132] in wine, that's all. How can it be that such a woman as this has nothing to say? Just look at her smile!'

'But perhaps she does not know anything but how to smile enigmatically.'

But such things the old warrior could no longer endure. Indeed, he would have made a cut at the toper's red nose had he not been taken down at that moment by the owner of the shop to show to some customer.

'Very good indeed,' said the latter; 'but it is not to my taste. I like this far better.' And the customer pointed to the White Beauty.

'Ha! ha! ha!... I should think you do,' laughed the shopman merrily. 'It is my luck she cannot speak, else she would have been married long ago, and I should have lost instead of gained by her.'

'Ah!' thought the old Sword, 'here is the sorcerer; I might have guessed it long ago. The owner of the shop[133] is the mightiest here; he may do with us what he will. And that hideous man intends to sell that heavenly woman! But he shall smart for it.'

The old Sword broke loose from the nail, and, flashing dreadfully with his blade, struck the shopkeeper's shoulder. No doubt the man would have been wounded had the blade been sharp.

'Dear me,' cried the shopman, rubbing the injured spot, 'such a heavy old fool! How did those knights in old times fight with such cudgels?'

All of a sudden there arose a stir in the house. Along the passages and staircases people were heard running to and fro, shouting 'Fire! fire!' The owner of the old curiosity shop and his customer were rushing up and down about the hall, not knowing what to do. At last one of them seized a pot of withered geranium, and the other his rubbers, and both hurried out. The White Lady stood near one of the windows with her usual quiet[134] smile, whilst on the window-sill there sat a pretty little naked bronze boy. For many long years he had carried on his back a basket, into which a candlestick was to be put. Though the boy, as I have said, was only a child, he knew very well what 'fire' meant: he knew it from the time when the bronze of which he was formed was melted in a blast furnace. A deadly fear overspread his lovely face, and in a tender, tinkling voice he addressed his pretty neighbour: 'Pray ... oh pray ... throw me down into the street.... The fall can do me no harm, I know ... but the fire will melt me.... Do, I beseech you; you have only to raise your arm.'

But the White Beauty remained silent and motionless. She continued to smile in a most winning and most promising manner, but made no gesture, uttered no sound.

The old Sword also knew what 'fire' meant. How many times[135] had he witnessed in old times the conflagration of whole cities taken by assault! He saw how unhappy citizens and desperate artisans fled from their homes; how women sobbed and lamented when they saw the ruins, and when their little ones were slaughtered or burnt. All this the old Sword now remembered, and his steel blade ached at the thought: 'What will happen to the White Lady?'

The old curiosity shop was situated on the third floor, and the window, near which stood the beautiful woman who charmed the Sword, was only a few feet distant from the neighbouring roof. The old Sword collected all his strength, swung on his nail, and flung himself through the window, placing his handle on the sill and his point on the cornice of the neighbouring house.

'Queen of my soul, hasten! Pass along, treading upon me, and you will be safe,' so he rang out in a trembling[136] voice. The beauty smiled in her enigmatic, winning manner, but did not utter a word or make a motion. 'Make haste, I beseech you!' rang once more the anxious Sword. 'As soon as the fire reaches our hall my handle will be burnt, I shall fall down, and your escape will be impossible.'

But these words made on the lady as little impression as his previous ones: she remained motionless and dumb, but smiling in a bewitching manner. Suddenly several firemen hurried in and began to seize everything that their eyes fell upon, and to fling it through the windows without any distinction. First went the sardonic, goggle-eyed old man on the cane, and, without injury, tumbled headlong down. Then came the red-nosed old toper, smiling as usual, his wine-glass still in his hand; he dashed against a broken stool, and the canvas on which he was painted was torn to[137] pieces. Scores of solid and fragile things followed.... One of the firemen seized the Sword and threw him into the courtyard below. The jagged fighter made several somersaults in the air, and plunging into the earth stood upright. A few moments he shivered and made a dull sound. But one thought overpowered him now: 'What would be the fate of his lady?' All of a sudden he noticed something white falling from the window, and ... recognised his goddess: it was she! The old Sword uttered a groan.

'Oh, why did she not speak? Why did she not avail herself of his devotion? Why did she answer all his entreaties only by an enigmatic smile? O Heavens, why?' At this very moment the White Lady fell down upon the pavement and broke in two, just where men have a heart....

Many a time the old Sword had pierced men's hearts, and then their hot blood flowed along his blade. He[138] therefore cast a shuddering and anxious look upon the fracture, expecting to see it bleed. He saw, however, nothing but stone; the whole beauty consisted of marble.... The marble was white as snow; it was irreproachably fair, but yet it was only marble, and nothing more.


(A Siberian Fairy Tale)


HE banks of the Vagaï are beautiful—very beautiful[9]—in some places at least. Steep, almost overhanging, and high as the walls of a fortress bastion, they rise frowning above the river sternly; yet they are fair with the rich verdure of the forest that crowns their heights. This forest is of many kinds. The century-old fir-trees, with trunks that three men[142] could not gird with outstretched arms, rise in straight, dark-red columns, so high that to look up at even the lowest branches you must throw your head back till your hat falls off; beside them the gray-barked aspens quiver in every leaf, as if frightened at the twisted, snaky black trunks of the bird-cherry—the tree that smells so sweet in early spring when the white blossoms cover it like a sheet of snow. The gentle rowan is not noticeable for its height; its feathery leaves are the only thing that could attract your attention. But wait till autumn comes; then it is hung all over with clusters of scarlet berries, and brightens up the forest. The mighty cedar, with its long, grand sweeps of feathery needles, towers up higher even than its comrade the fir; here and there beneath the trees is scattered about an undergrowth of young pines, almost branchless, like bristles or long sticks standing up out of the earth. But[143] the commonest trees in this forest are certainly silver birches. The trunks of these birches stand out sometimes straight and slender, with delicate heads of foliage, looking like cadets in their white shirts; sometimes gnarled, branchy, knotted, with the air of a burly peasant, rugged with labour.

Underneath, at the base of all these tree-trunks, so different in thickness, height, and colour, all the ground is covered with masses of bright flowers, and a carpet of grass that buries you waist-deep when you walk. And the longer you look upon this forest scene the more varied, the more exquisite, it appears to you. There are so many beautiful shades of green—pale and delicate on the birch-trees, dark on the cedars, almost black on the pikhta. Here the trees cluster together on the river-bank, pressing one against the other, forming an impassable barrier,—there they draw back, as if wearied of[144] following the course of the river, and leave a wide, open space, where you can see the edge of the nearest bank, and the barren precipice of the opposite one, also crowned with glorious green forest; and if you advance to the edge you can see, far below, the torrent itself, swift and mighty.

Ah yes, the Vagaï is beautiful! And not only is it beautiful, but it is a merry life there—in any case it is a merry life for the birds who live there. So many joys are theirs! The woodpeckers can find in the bark of the trees (especially the old stumps of fallen trees) fat caterpillars and beetles; for the snipe and woodcocks there are endless strawberries, bilberries, cranberries, thick clumps of wild oats and other edible grasses. The great cones, with their juicy nuts, cluster on the branches of the pines and giant cedars, like candles on a Christmas-tree, then late in autumn they fall to the ground. The clear, fresh water of the Vagaï[145] seems to call you to bathe and drink. And then the bright sunshine, the transparent, fragrant air, the green carpet of the forest, the joyous company of comrades, with whom one can sing, chirp, hop, dart about, and fly like an arrow on light wings. What more can heart desire? Living such a life, should one not rejoice in this bright world, fling away all envy and malice, and share together with one's fellow-creatures all the delights which our common mother, Nature, gives?

So thought all the birds of the forest tract we are speaking of, and so they lived. Early, very early, in the morning, when the first scarlet flush shone in the sky to herald the golden sunbeams, one little bird would wake up and open its eyes, and there beside it another would have begun fluttering its wings, drinking the bright dewdrops from the leaves, pecking seeds from the grasses. Then the[146] first bird would look at its friend, thinking, 'There's plenty for all;' and it, too, would begin chirruping, delighted to have a companion with whom to share both its labour and its rest. And both together would dart off and fly to the Vagaï to bathe. So the little birds lived happily, neither quarrelling nor disagreeing, helping one another in their work and dangers, and sharing together all that the bright world gave them.

But this way of living and thinking did not suit a certain broad-beaked, ponderous cedar-crow[10], who had taken up her abode in a huge cedar.

This cedar stood apart in a glade, and the Cedar-crow liked it just on account of its separate position.

'I will settle here; this shall be my estate. I don't want any one else's property, and no one shall touch mine![147] It's comfortable and private and nice!' The clumsy bird flew all round the cedar, and, being satisfied with it, settled there.

The Cedar-crow stopped there a day, two days ... the other birds darted past, chirping, flying races, playing with one another, rejoicing together in the good gifts of their mother-earth, the bright sun, and the Vagaï, and the delights of companionship; but the thick-billed Cedar-crow dared not leave her tree; there she sat watching that no other bird should touch her private nuts. When a woodcock did but pass, she flew to him in anxiety, crying out: 'Go away!—go away! There's nothing here for you; go back where you came from! I don't touch your things; you let mine alone.'

'But do you suppose the rest of the forest is only ours?' said the Woodcock. 'You can have them too; of course any one may take as much as[148] they want. There's enough for every one.'

'Yes, I dare say. You can do as you like. But I feel safer when I have something of my own.'

'Why, you foolish one!' exclaimed a thrush, which had flown up to them, 'we always live in whole companies—thousands together—and never cut up things into "mine" and "thine"; and yet no harm happens to us.'

'Yes; so long as there is plenty for all, but afterwards there's no saying what will happen,' thought the Cedar-crow, though she did not say so aloud. 'If the land is divided between all of us, how much will each one have? Now I've got the whole of this huge cedar to myself; it will last my time, and I can leave it to my children and grandchildren; there will be more for them than for your fledglings....'

'You're just gone silly with greediness,' said the other birds, and flew away, chirruping and darting after one[149] another in the air. But the Cedar-crow, the forest landowner, seeing that she was alone, pulled a cone from her cedar, and began picking out the nuts. She ate as much as she could, and then returned to the work of guarding her estate. She sat and looked about her, and occasionally flew round the tree, constantly afraid that some one was touching her property.

The time for nest-building came. All the birds paired and got to work: one carried a feather, another a straw; each one wove in its contribution properly; then they would hop about, chirp to one another, and fly off together to fetch more material.

The Cedar-crow became more anxious than ever. 'There!' she thought; 'they will lay eggs and hatch new fledglings, and they, too, will all want to eat and drink; they will simply ravage my cedar. I shall have nothing left!'

She even left off going down to the[150] Vagaï to drink. Yet she was tormented with thirst: her tongue hung out; her eyes distended; she could hardly breathe; and still she dared not leave her tree. She endured it till nightfall. At night all the birds settled down to rest sweetly after their day's work; only here and there an owl with great round eyes would flit past. But the Cedar-crow could not go to sleep; she had to fly to the river and drink; and this misery was not only once—at dawn to-morrow it would begin again!

At last the envious bird could bear it no longer. Clearly she could not manage alone. She began thinking how to get out of the difficulty. It occurred to her that it might be better to take another cedar-crow into partnership with her, and build a nest; certainly it would be another mouth to feed, but then the two of them together could guard their property, and not lose a single cone. And even if they had fledglings, it would still be[151] better than now: in the first place, she would feel safer; in the second place, with so many to keep watch, not a single nut would be lost, let alone a cone. And the cedar was very big; it would be enough for five, even ten families.

The Cedar-crow polished her beak, pecked off a cone, glancing about her as she did so, flew round the cedar, and settled herself to look out for a mate. There, just opposite her, on a neighbouring fir-tree, sat another cedar-crow, large and heavy, with a great strong beak. It sat looking at the cedar; evidently it wanted some nuts.

The forest landowner flew across to it, and began to explain: 'This is my estate; no one has a right to touch it; but, if you like, I will take you into companionship, if you will help me to guard our cedar from intruders.' The male looked at the cedar-tree, and saw that it was a fine one. 'You won't get such a cedar every day.'


'All right,' said he; 'if one lets every one in to share in God's blessings one will just starve. I've seen enough of these fools that do nothing and lay by nothing: just fly in coveys, peck everything bare, and there's not a thing left. I myself was just looking for a good cedar, to take possession of it, and let no one come near.'

They paired, and set to work to build their nest; one would bring the materials, or go down to drink, while the other guarded the estate.

Well, some time passed, and behold their little fledglings peeped out of the nest. The old Cedar-crows were more anxious than ever about their property; formerly they had only watched over the cones, now they let no one so much as fly past the cedar-tree.

But how were they to prevent the birds from ever flying past, when forests and meadows and water alike swarm with them? The greedy birds drove away their comrades day after day and the[153] whole day long; by the evening they could hardly move their wings for weariness. At last they got worn out. What were they to do? They thought and thought, and at last an idea struck them.

The male Cedar-crow flew to the Plover. 'Call a meeting of all the birds,' said he; 'on business.'

'What business?' asked the Plover.

'Well, that doesn't matter. Important business.'

'But still, I must know why to call the birds to a meeting; may be you want to disturb them for some trifle?'

'Not for a trifle at all; we want to give up our claim to the forest.'

'How do you mean "Give up your claim"?'

'Why, simply to give it up! We are worried out of our lives. And all because every one considers that we are their comrades, and that they can poke their beaks into our place as if it were their own.'


The Plover saw that there was something very strange, and not only strange, but dismal. The more he thought of it, the worse it seemed to him. However, there was nothing for it but to call a council. 'All right,' he said; 'come again at this time to-morrow.'

The next day the Plover flew over fields, pastures, and forests, wailing more mournfully than ever: 'Pity! Pity! Pity!...'

The birds, wondering at the melancholy cry, flew down in countless numbers to the Vagaï; on all sides resounded chirruping and twittering. Here the mellow call of the cuckoo predominated; there the elaborate whistle of the goldhammer. The Cedar-crow, the forest landowner, was there waiting. She came forward and made her speech—

'It is a custom among you, respected birds, to live together and hold everything in common. That is your own affair; but we cannot live so. We[155] have children, and are bound to think of them and have something to leave them. Among you every one snatches the food from his neighbour's beak, and robs his neighbour without any question; and we find that all this ends in nothing but anxiety. We don't want things that belong to others, and we feel it hard when others give us no peace. So we have resolved to announce to you that we want no part in your communal forest, and will not touch it; we will not take from it a single seed or stalk; but you, on your side, agree together that no one shall peck our nuts, or perch on our cedar, or fly across our glade. This is our request to you, respected birds.'

When the Cedar-crow left off speaking there was silence: the birds sat with their bills wide open, and could not utter a word for amazement.

The first to recover himself was a starling. 'Why—you—idiot!' he cried. 'Think yourself what a fool you are![156] All the wide world is here before you, and you want to give it up for one little glade!'

'Oh, the world! The world is not mine—it's every one's—not much of it will fall to my share; it's all very well to be so sure! but the cedar, if it is small, at least it's mine!' That is what the Cedar-crow thought; but aloud she only said: 'Well, if you think it better to possess the whole world in common than one little glade separately, what is there to argue about? The world remains to you, so it must be a good bargain for you; and there's nothing more to be said. Then give us our glade, leave us in peace, and that is all we ask.'

'You foolish creature!' exclaimed the other birds; 'he spoke for your advantage; of course, your glade will be no loss to us; but it's piteous to see a creature so blind! He only wanted to bring you to your senses.'

'You must have a lot of good[157] advice to spare if you can give away so much of it without being asked,' replied the Cedar-crow, polishing her broad beak.

Seeing that the Cedar-crow was hopelessly wrong-headed, the birds talked the matter over, and decided that she and her mate should be left in undisturbed possession of their cedar glade, and that no one should approach within twenty fathoms of it.

The Cedar-crows were delighted. Now, they thought, at last we shall be at peace! And so they were. No one ever came near; they had no longer any need to guard their cedar, or to do anything but eat, drink, and sleep. The rest of their time they spent in gazing at one another, and comparing who had the longest beak. Once it chanced that a nightingale, coming from a far country to seek her lost mate (he had been trapped by bird-catchers), flew to the cedar. She did not know of the agreement among[158] the birds of the Vagaï concerning the cedar glade, and she flew into it. The Cedar-crows were so bored that they were almost glad to see her! They flew out, however, and entered into a polite explanation.

'You probably do not know of the agreement concerning this glade. No one has the right to fly within twenty fathoms of it, because it is ours. We have renounced our claim to all the rest of the forest, and do not take a single seed or stalk from it; but this glade belongs to us.'

'Whatever is that for?' asked the Nightingale, in amazement. 'Why, supposing there's a bad harvest on your cedar, what will become of you then?'

It was the first time that such a question had been put to the Cedar-crows, and they did not know what to answer.

'A bad harvest!' Indeed it was possible. It often happens that in[159] one place the harvest fails, and close by, or very near, such a quantity ripens that it goes to waste. But the young birds reassured their parents: on that cedar they had been hatched, and had grown up; they had always lived upon its fruits; they had always seen it the same—mighty and burdened with cones—could they imagine it different?

'A bad harvest! What do you mean?' they cried in chorus. 'The harvest cannot fail on our cedar!'

'Of course it can't!' echoed the parent birds in delight.

The Nightingale shook her little gray head, but made no further comment.

'Then it is forbidden to fly here?' she said. 'I beg your pardon, I did not know.'

'Oh, we are not angry; indeed, as you are on a journey, we shall be glad to offer you some refreshment,' replied the female Cedar-crow, glancing at her mate; and she laid before the Nightingale a single nut.


'Thank you,' said the Nightingale, and flew away without touching the nut.

The Cedar-crows settled down again to their ordinary life, and there is no saying how long they would have gone on in the same way if a runaway tramp had not happened to make a bonfire in the taïgá[11]. It was a long time since he had enjoyed a hot drink, and he was thirsty. He made some tea, drank it, and was just going to start on again, when he heard bells, then a rustling sound and footsteps. The poor fellow was terrified: 'The Ispravnik!'[12] he thought. 'I shall be caught!' He rushed into the thicket, not stopping even to scatter the burning brands or stamp out the embers. In the meantime a light wind rose, the embers glowed, the dry pine-needles caught fire, and soon the flames were creeping on from one fallen trunk to[161] another—farther and farther, wider and wider, licking the trees, curling round whole thickets—and the taïgá was on fire. That is a common thing in Siberia.

For some time the Cedar-crows had noticed that the air was of a milky colour. For some time the sun had been dull-red by day, and by night they could see a far-off crimson glare in the sky. Now the smell of burning was in the air, and still the Cedar-crows could not believe that their estate was in danger of fire. It disturbed them far more that innumerable birds began flying past their glade to the Vagaï; the beasts, too, hurrying to the river, ran straight by the cedar.... Soon it grew difficult to breathe, yet still the Cedar-crows could not bear to part from their estate; they still dreaded lest some other birds or beasts might take possession of their glade. At last, though, they could bear it no longer; they were forced to[162] go. But when, after all, they made up their minds to leave the cedar, it was too late. The fire attacked their glade from all sides at once, and when they attempted to fly upwards they dropped, stifled with smoke, on to the ground. The cool, green grass refreshed them, and, in desperation, they struggled again to reach the river. But all around them rose terrible fiery pillars, and the unhappy birds, scorched and half dead, sank again to the ground, and rose no more.

Presently rain began to pour in torrents, and put out the fire within a few yards of the glade. That glade was now a dismal scene of ruin: the tall grass was burnt brown, the mighty cedar was a charred and naked corpse. All around stood the trees—aspens, birches, limes, and bird-cherries—burnt to skeletons, or with dead and shrivelled leaves hanging from them here and there. Mournfully they raised their barren branches towards[163] the heavens, as though praying for mercy; and thus, with lifted hands, they perished.

But beyond that bare skeleton thicket stood in the distance the fresh and untouched forest. The female Cedar-crow, lying helpless on the ground, gazed upon it despairingly. Beside her lay her fledgling—the only one left alive. He was feebly fluttering his scorched wings and uttering piteous cries.

'Oh, if only some of the birds would come to us!' thought the unhappy mother; 'surely they would have pity on my child, and would carry him down to the waterside and feed him. He would recover there; he would not die of hunger and thirst!...'

But no one came near the glade. All the birds remembered the general agreement: not to disturb the Cedar-crows in their seclusion, and not to approach within twenty fathoms of[164] their estate. And not one of the birds knew what had happened to the Cedar-crow family.

When the bright sun rose next morning no one of that family saw it—they were all dead....

Meanwhile the other birds, leaving the fire-ravaged places for other parts of the forest that were still fresh and green, rejoiced as formerly in the fair world, sharing everything together; and far along the clear Vagaï the air was filled with their joyous and friendly twittering.




N our times, but not in this country, there lived a little girl, with a pair of brown eyes that shone like two big radiant stars. Every time that she looked with those eyes on her father or her mother, and a sweet smile beamed on her countenance, the father's and mother's souls brightened, and it seemed to them as if music, which nobody heard except themselves, resounded in their hearts.

Very often on such occasions the father took his beloved girl on his lap,[168] kissed her tenderly, and asked what she would like.

'I should like you to tell me a fairy tale,' invariably answered the little girl, pressing her rosy face to her father's breast.

'That is in our hands. We can afford that,' answered her father.

Then he tried to recall what he had ever read or heard from his grandmother or other old folk, and related some story, while the little girl listened attentively. Her big eyes became still larger; they beamed like a pair of evening stars, and she now and then slightly and slowly nodded, taking to heart everything that happened in the story. If her father told of some evil, unjust person, she exclaimed: 'I do not like him!' But if the story ran about some one kind-hearted and good, she was very glad of it, and said: 'That is good!'

And again it was as if beautiful music resounded in her father's soul.[169] He saw that his little one was grieved with other people's grievances and rejoiced in other people's happiness. He saw how she pondered over what he said, and he thought of the time when they, the father and mother, will grow old, while their little one will become a grown-up girl. They will live together, as to-day, in mutual love and thorough friendship. Yet then it will be she, their sweet daughter, that will take care of them and feed them, as they now take care of her and feed her. And the father again pressed his lips on his beloved pet's head.

As for the mother, she was never weary of caressing her child and doing everything for her. But as she had to take care also of the father and of our girl's baby-sister, who had a pair of eyes like two little suns, she very often was quite exhausted towards the close of the day. Therefore when the little girl with starlike eyes went to bed, and, clasping her mother by the neck[170] with both her hands, asked her to tell some fairy tale, her mother could not recall any.... Still the little girl repeated her request again and again....

Then the father said to the mother she should go and rest, while he sat down at the child's bedside and tried to narrate something.

At last there came a day when all the stories he ever knew were at an end, while the little girl still entreated for one. The father looked in his girl's big, starlike eyes and saw that she could not sleep. He looked also at the mother, who was worried out of her senses by daily work; and now sat mending the baby's socks. It was evident some story ought to be told. But what story? What about?

The father looked around. A china cup was standing on the table. It was half-broken, and he could not help thinking that it had had a trying life. It had surely had its story. Well, what kind of a story was it?

[171] And after having pondered a little, the father told to his girl the story of the cup, as he imagined it, and as you have found it in this very little book.

When he finished the little girl rose in her bed, with her starlike eyes shining more than usual, and asked: 'Where did you get that story, father? Did you read it somewhere?'

'No; I just told it out of my head.'

Then the little girl clasped her little hands around her father's neck, kissed him most enthusiastically, and seemed to be very happy.

Since that time father heard only too often the little girl ask him: 'Father, do tell me some tale of your own.'

And so he did. But as he repeated his stories again and again he now and then altered them, as he could not remember everything as he told it the first time. And if the alterations[172] were happy, the little girl was pleased, but if he omitted anything, she said: 'You told it differently the other day,' and would not be happy until he recalled all the exact words and details of his best narrative.

Then it became clear that the father should write his stories down. After having written some new story he now read it to the girl with a pair of stars instead of eyes, and sometimes she most emphatically objected to some turn of the story.

'You wrote it wrongly,' she said on such occasions; 'you must alter it thus and thus.'

And indeed the father altered until she said it was all right.

One morning a little boy came to visit our little girl, his great friend. They ran about and played together all the forenoon; but in the afternoon, when her father lay down on a couch to take a moment's rest, he was struck by the general stillness which was[173] reigning in the house. To tell you the truth, the boy was a real mischievous monkey, and there was little hope to have any peace in the house as long as he was in it. Still, the fact was that everything was quiet, and only in the neighbouring room the star-eyed girl's voice sounded in an even, moderate tone.

The father got up, and went on tiptoe to the next room to look what all this meant. He saw his little girl sitting on a footstool; her visitor was beside her on a box, and was all attention.

... 'A-a-a! yawned the Little Old Man, ...' related the little hostess, showing to the boy how the old man did yawn....

At this moment she perceived her father on the threshold.

'I am telling him your fairy tale about the little old men, you know,' she said to her father, and then there was a pause, with a lingering smile on her face.


'Well, go on,' said the boy, pulling her by the sleeve.

The father returned to his couch, and there was a smile on his face too. He saw clearly that there was something in his stories which made little folk breathe with indignation, compassion, or joy, when they heard them. He well knew what it was. He put a good deal of his soul into his tales, and this soul, coming into contact with those little souls of his readers, made them bound with delight, or long for redress of some injustice. Was it not a joy for him too? And if the little girl with a pair of stars instead of eyes, and the boy, her friend, found pleasure in his fairy tales, should not the other children have an opportunity to try the same pleasure? Why should he not print his stories?

Thus he decided to print them. He sent them into a printing-office, and before long a little volume came[175] out of the press in many copies. The little girl with starlike eyes read and re-read the book. Her little friends, with blue, black, brown, or gray eyes, read and re-read it. And when, after all that reading and all the chatter about it, bright sparks of delight and animation appeared in those eyes, these sparks found their way into his heart and warmed it up, and he too felt happy.

Now, I did not tell you that all this happened in Russia, a far-away country, and that when the man who wrote the stories came afterwards to England, together with his daughter, he was sorry to find that he had left all those children's sparkling eyes, shining with emotion when reading his tales, behind.

But then he was struck by the thought that in England there were as many little souls and hearts as in Russia, nay, he has had already some friends among these little souls both in England and in America; and[176] thus, perhaps, if he put his stories into English, he might see as many smiling faces and radiant eyes after the book was read as he did in his native country? He decided to try at once, and now here is the volume before you. We will see whether the man was right. He would like to hear something about it from you.


Printed by R. & R. Clark, Edinburgh


[1] A copeck (in Russian kopéika) is a Russian copper; 100 copecks form one rouble. A rouble is worth 2s. 0-2/5d. in English money.

[2] Pronounce 'Neekeéteech.' The reader should rather be told here that the Russian fashion of calling a person, when addressing him or her, is not by his or her surname, but by the Christian name, with the addition of his or her father's name, somewhat altered in a way to express 'son of' or 'daughter of' such-a-one; for example—Iván Nikítich (John, son of Nikíta). Among common people and among friends they address only in one's Christian name without the addition of the father's name ('ót-chest-vo'); but if, in addressing a common person, you wish to express some deference, you use only the 'ótchestvo,' without the person's Christian name; for example, 'Nikítich' instead of 'Iván Nikítich.' Such is the case in our tale.

[3] The plural of the Polish word 'koúntoush.'

[4] A Polish term of abuse; literally, blood (or race) of a dog.

[5] Yegór means George in Russian.

[6] About twelve shillings.

[7] Oukraïnïen whisky.

[8] Nalívka—sweet pleasant Oukraïnïen liquor made of whisky and fruit.

[9] The Vagaï is one of the largest tributaries of Irtýsh, a mighty stream, which flows into one of the most gigantic rivers of Siberia, the Obi.

[10] A rather large brown bird, with white spots, belonging to the crow family. Its Latin name is Nucifraga Caryocatœ.

[11] Virgin forest in Siberia.

[12] A police-officer, acting as chief of the district.