THERE lived once an old man and his wife. The man was called Abrosim, and his wife Fetinia. They were very poor and miserable, and had a son named Little Ivan, who was fifteen years old. One day old Abrosim brought a crust of bread home for his wife and son. He had scarcely begun to eat, however, when Krutschina (Sorrow) sprang up from behind the stove, seized the crust out of his hand, and ran away behind the stove again. The old man made a bow to Krutschina, and begged her to give him the crust back again, as he and his wife had nothing else to eat.
“I will not give you the crust again,” said Krutschina, “but instead of it I will give you a duck which lays a gold egg every day.”
“Very well,” said Abrosim. “I shall be supperless to-night. Do not deceive me, but tell me where I shall find the duck.”
“Early to-morrow morning,” said Krutschina, “when you are up, go into the town; there you will see a duck in a pond, catch it, and carry it home.”
When Abrosim heard this he lay down and went to sleep.
The next morning he rose early, and went to the town, and was very much pleased to see the duck swimming about on a pond. He called it to him, carried it off to his home, and gave it to his wife Fetinia. They were both delighted, and put the duck in a big basin, placing a sieve over it. In an hour’s time they went to look at it, and discovered that the duck had laid a golden egg. Then they took the duck out, and let it walk a little on the floor, and the old man, taking the egg, set off to town. There he sold the egg for a hundred roubles, took the money, and, going to the market, bought different kinds of vegetables and set off home.
The next day the duck laid another egg like the first, which Abrosim sold in the same manner. So the duck went on laying a golden egg every day, and the old man became, in a short time, very rich. He bought a large house, a great many shops, all kinds of wares, and set up in business.
His wife Fetinia made a favourite of a young clerk in her husband’s employ, and used to supply him with money. One day when Abrosim was away from home, buying some goods, the clerk called to have a talk with Fetinia, and it chanced that he then saw the duck that laid the golden eggs. He was pleased with the bird, and, examining it, found written under its wing in gold letters—
“Whoever eats this duck will be a Czar.”
He did not say anything to Fetinia about what he had seen, but asked her to roast the duck for him. Fetinia said she could not kill the duck, for all their fortune depended on it, but the clerk begged her so earnestly that she at last consented and killed it, and put it in the oven. The clerk then went off saying he would return soon, and Fetinia also went out in the town. While they were gone in came little Ivan. He felt very hungry, and, looking about him for something to eat, he chanced to see the roast duck in the oven, so he took it out and ate all of it but the bones. Then he went off again to the shop.
In a little while the clerk came back, and, having called Fetinia, asked her to bring out the duck. The woman went to the oven, but when she saw that the duck was not there, she was terribly put out, and told the clerk that the duck had disappeared. At that the clerk flew into a great rage, and said—
“You have eaten the duck yourself, of course,” and he got up and walked out of the house.
In the evening Abrosim and his son, Little Ivan, came home. When Abrosim did not see the duck, he asked his wife where it was, and she told him that she did not know. Then Little Ivan said to his father—
“My dear father, when I came home, in the middle of the day, for dinner, my mother was not in, so I looked in the oven, and there found a roast duck. I took it out and ate it all but the bones, but I do not know whether it was our duck or a strange one.”
Then old Abrosim was in such a rage that he thrashed his wife till she was half dead, and he turned Little Ivan out of doors.
Little Ivan began his journey. Where should he go? He determined to follow his nose. For ten days and nights he went on. Then he came to a town, and as he stepped to the gate he saw a great many people assembled together. Now these folk had been taking council, their Czar being dead, as to who should succeed him. In the end they agreed that the first person who came in at the city gate should be made Czar. Just then in came Little Ivan through the gate, so all the people cried out together—
“Here is our Czar!”
The chief folk took Little Ivan by the arms, conducted him to the royal apartments, put on him the Czar’s robes, seated him on the throne, made obeisance to him as to their Czar, and waited for his commands. Then Little Ivan thought he must surely be asleep and dreaming all this; but at last he knew that he must be really Czar. He was heartily pleased, began to rule over the people, and to appoint his officers. A short time after he called one of them, named Luga, to him, and said—
“My true friend and good knight Luga, I want you to do me a service. Go to my own country, go to the Czar, salute him from me, and ask him to deliver to you the shopkeeper Abrosim and his wife, so that you may bring them to me. If he will not deliver them up to you, tell him that I will lay waste his country with fire, and will make him himself my prisoner.”
When the servant Luga was come into Little Ivan’s country he went to the Czar and asked him to let Abrosim and Fetinia go away with him. The Czar was unwilling to let Abrosim go, for he wanted to keep the rich merchant in his own country. He knew, however, that Ivan’s kingdom was very large and populous, and being therefore afraid, he let Abrosim and Fetinia depart. Luga received them from the Czar, and conducted them to his own native country.
When he brought them to Little Ivan, the Czar said to his father—
“Yes, father, you turned me away from your house, and I therefore bring you to mine. Come, live with me, you and my mother, till the end of your days.”
Abrosim and Fetinia rejoiced exceedingly to find that their son was become Czar, and they lived with him many years, until they died.
Little Ivan ruled for thirty years in good health, and was very happy, and all his people loved him sincerely to the last hour of his life.