Folk-Lore and Legends: Russian and Polish | Annotated Tale

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Emelyan the Fool

IN A certain village there once lived a peasant who had three sons, of whom two were sensible, but the third was a fool, and his name was Emelyan. When the peasant had lived for a long time, and was grown very old, he called his three sons to him, and said to them—

              “My dear children, I feel that I have not very long to live, so I give you the house and cattle, which you will divide, share and share alike, among you. I also leave you, in money, a hundred roubles apiece.”

              Soon after the old man died, and his sons, after they had buried him, lived on happy and contented.

              Some time after Emelyan’s brothers took it into their heads to remove into the city, and carry on trade with the three hundred roubles which their father had left them. So they said to Emelyan—

              “Hark ye, fool! we are going to the city, and we will take your hundred roubles with us, and if we prosper in trade we will buy you a red coat, red boots, and a red cap. Do you, however, stay at home here, and when your sisters-in-law desire you to do anything, do as they bid you.”

              The fool, who had a great longing for a red coat, a red cap, and red boots, answered at once that he would do whatever his sisters-in-law told him. So his brothers went off to the city, and Emelyan stayed at home.

              One day, when the winter was come and the cold was great, his sisters-in-law told him to go out and fetch in water, but Emelyan remained lying on the stove, and said—

              “Ay, and who, then, are you?”

              “How now, fool!” said his sisters-in-law, “we are what you see. You know how cold it is, and that it is a man’s business to go.”

              “I am lazy,” replied he.

              “How!” cried they. “You are lazy! You will want to eat, and how can we cook if we have no water? Very well, then, we will tell our husbands not to give him anything when they have bought the fine red coat and all for him.”

              The fool heard what they said, and, as he was very desirous to get the red coat and cap, he saw that he must go. So he got down from by the stove, and began to put on his shoes and stockings, and to dress himself. When he was ready he took the buckets and the axe, and went down to the river, which ran near their village. When he arrived there, he cut an enormous hole in the ice. He then drew water in the buckets, and, setting them on the ice, he stood by the hole, looking into the water. As he looked he saw a large pike swimming about in the open water. Fool as Emelyan was he felt a wish to catch this pike. So he stole on softly and cautiously to the edge of the hole, and, making a sudden grasp at the pike, he caught him, and pulled him out of the water. Putting him in his bosom, he was hurrying home, when the pike cried out—

              “Ho, fool! why have you caught me?”

              “To take you home,” answered he, “to get my sisters-in-law to cook you.”

              “Ho, fool!” said the pike; “do not take me home, but let me go again into the water, and I will make a rich man of you.”

              Emelyan, however, would not consent, and was going on homewards. When the pike clearly saw that the fool was not inclined to let him go, he said—

              “Hark ye, fool! let me go, and I will do for you everything you do not like to do for yourself. You will only have to wish, and it will be done.”

              When the fool heard that he rejoiced very much, for, as he was uncommonly lazy, he thought to himself—

              “If the pike does everything that I have no mind to do, all will be done without my having any occasion to work.”

              So he said to the pike—

              “I will let you go in the water if you will do all you promise.”

              “Let me go first,” said the pike, “and then I will keep my promise.”

              The fool, however, said that the pike must first perform his promise, and then he would let him go. When the pike saw he would not put him into the water, he said—

              “If you wish, as I told you, that I should do all you desire, you must tell me now what your desire is.”

              “I wish,” said the fool, “that my buckets should go of themselves from the river up the hill, and that without spilling any of the water.”

              Then said the pike—

              “Remember the words I now say, and listen to what they are: ‘At the pike’s command, and at my request, go, buckets, of yourselves up the hill.’”

              The fool repeated after him—

              “At the pike’s command, and at my request, go, buckets, of yourselves up the hill.”

              Instantly, with the speed of thought, the buckets ran up the hill. When Emelyan saw that, he was amazed beyond expression, and he said to the pike—

              “But will it always be so?”

              “Everything you desire will be done,” said the pike; “but do not forget, I say, the words I have taught you.”

              Emelyan then put the pike into the water, and followed his buckets home.

              The neighbours were all amazed when they saw the buckets, and said to one another—

              “This fool makes the buckets come of themselves up from the river, and he follows them himself at his leisure.”

              But Emelyan took no notice of them, and went on home. The buckets were by this time in the house, and standing in their place on the foot-bench, and Emelyan himself lay down on the stove.

              After some time his sisters-in-law said to him again—

              “Emelyan, what are you loitering there for? Get up and cut wood.”

              But the fool said—

              “Ay! and you! who are you, then?”

              “You see,” cried they, “it is now winter, and if you do not go and cut wood you will be frozen.”

              “I am lazy,” said the fool.

              “What! you are lazy!” said the sisters-in-law. “If you do not get up and cleave wood, we will tell our husbands not to give you the red coat, or the red cap, or the fine red boots.” The fool, who longed for the red cap, coat, and boots, saw that he must cleave the wood; but as it was bitter cold, and he did not like to leave the stove, he repeated, under his breath, as he lay there: “At the pike’s command, and at my request, up, axe, and hew wood; and do you, logs, come of yourselves into the house and lay yourselves in the stove.”

              The axe instantly jumped up, ran into the yard, and began to cut up the wood, and the logs came of themselves into the house, and went and laid themselves in the stove. When the sisters-in-law saw this they wondered exceedingly, and as the axe did the work of itself whenever Emelyan was wanted to cut up wood, he lived with them for some time in great tranquillity. At length the wood was cut, and they said to him—

              “Emelyan, we have no more wood, so you must go to the forest to cut some.”

              “Ay,” said the fool, “and you! who are you, then?”

              “The wood,” said the sisters-in-law, “is far off, and it is winter, and too cold for us to go.”

              “I am lazy,” said the fool.

              “How! you are lazy!” said they, “you will be frozen, then, and besides, when our husbands come home we will tell them not to give you the red coat, cap, and boots.”

              As the fool longed for the red clothes, he found that he must go and cut the wood. So he got off the stove, and began to put on his shoes and stockings, and to dress himself. When he was dressed, he went out into the yard, pulled the sledge out of the shed, took a rope and the axe with him, mounted the sledge, and called out to his sisters-in-law—“Open the gate!”

              When the sisters-in-law saw that he was going off in the sledge without any horses, for the fool had not put the horses to it, they cried out—

              “Why, Emelyan, you have got on the sledge without yoking the horses!”

              He answered that he did not want any horses, but asked them to open the gate. The sisters-in-law threw open the gate, and the fool, as he sat in the sledge, said—

              “At the pike’s command, and at my request, away, sledge, go to the wood.”

              At these words the sledge galloped out of the yard at such a rate that the people of the village, when they saw it, were filled with amazement. The sledge went on so very fast, that if a pair of horses had been yoked to it they could not have drawn it at anything like the same rate.

              As it was necessary for the fool to go through the town on his way to the wood, he came to it at full speed. Not knowing that he should cry out “Make way!” in order that he might not run over any one, he gave no notice, but rode on. So he ran over a great many people; and though they ran after him, no one was able to overtake him and bring him back. Emelyan, having got clear of the town, came to the wood, and stopped his sledge. He then got down, and said—

              “At the pike’s command, and at my request, up, axe, hew wood; and you, logs, lay yourselves on the sledge, and tie yourselves together.”

              The fool had scarcely uttered these words, when the axe began to cut wood, the logs to lay themselves in the sledge, and the rope to tie them down. When the axe had cut wood enough, he desired it to cut him a good cudgel, and when the axe had done this he mounted the sledge, and said—

              “Up and away! At the pike’s command, and at my request, go home, sledge.”

              Away went the sledge at the top of its speed. When Emelyan came to the town where he had hurt so many people, he found a crowd waiting to catch him, and as soon as he got into the town they laid hold of him, and began to drag him off his sledge and to beat him. When the fool saw how they were treating him, he said under his breath—

              “At the pike’s command, and at my request, up, cudgel, and thrash them.”

              Instantly the cudgel began to lay about it in all directions, and when the people were all driven away he made his escape, and came to his own village. The cudgel, having thrashed them all soundly, rolled to the house after him, and Emelyan, as usual when he got home, lay down on the stove.

              After he had left the town the people began everywhere to talk, not about the number of persons whom he had injured, but about the amazing fact of his riding in the sledge without horses; and from one to another the news spread till it reached the court, and came even to the ears of the king. When the king heard the story he felt an extreme desire to see Emelyan, so he despatched an officer with a party of soldiers in search of him. The officer whom the king sent lost no time in leaving the town, and he took the road that the fool had taken. When he came to the village where Emelyan lived, he summoned before him the Starosta (Head-man) of the village, and said to him—

              “I am sent by the king to take a certain fool, and bring him before his majesty.”

              The Starosta at once showed him the house where Emelyan lived, and the officer, entering it, asked where the fool was. Emelyan, who was lying on the stove, made answer and said—

              “What is it you want with me?”

              “How!” said the officer. “What do I want with you? Get up and dress yourself. I must take you to the king.”

              “What to do?” asked Emelyan.

              The officer was so enraged at the rudeness of his replies, that he gave him a slap on the cheek.

              “At the pike’s command, and at my request,” said the fool, under his breath, “up, cudgel, and thrash them.”

              At the word, up sprang the cudgel, and began to lay about it on all sides, on officer and on men alike. The officer was forced to go back to town as fast as he could; and when he came before the king, and told him how the fool had cudgelled them all round, the king marvelled greatly, and would not believe that he had been able to cudgel them at all.

              The king then selected a wise man, commanding him to bring him the fool by craft, if nothing else would do. The envoy left the king, and went to the village where Emelyan lived. He called the Starosta before him, and said—

              “I am sent by the king to take your fool. So do you send for those with whom he lives.”

              The Starosta then ran and fetched the sisters-in-law. The king’s messenger asked them what it was the fool liked, and they answered—

              “Noble sir, if any one entreats our fool earnestly to do anything, he flatly refuses the first and the second time. The third time, however, he does not refuse, but does what one wants, for he does not like to be roughly handled.”

              The king’s messenger then dismissed them, charging them not to tell Emelyan that he had summoned them before him. He then bought raisins, baked plums, and grapes, and went to the fool. When he came into the room, he went up to the stove, and said—

              “Emelyan, why are you lying there?” and with that he gave him the raisins, baked plums, and grapes, and said—

              “Emelyan, we will go together to the king. I will take you with me.”

              “I am very warm here,” said the fool, for there was nothing he was so fond of as warmth.

              The messenger then began to entreat him.

              “Be so good, Emelyan,” said he; “let us go. You will like the court vastly.”

              “Ay,” said the fool; “I am lazy.”

              The messenger began once more to entreat him.

              “Be so good,” said he; “come with me, and the king will get you made a fine red coat, a red cap, and a pair of red boots.”

              When the fool heard the red coat mentioned, he said—

              “Go on before, I will follow.”

              The messenger then pressed him no further, but went out and asked the sisters-in-law if there was any danger of the fool’s deceiving him. They assured him that there was not, and he went his way. The fool, who was still lying on the stove, then said to himself—

              “How I hate this going to the king!”

              Then after a few minutes’ thought—

              “At the pike’s command, and at my request,” said he, “up stove, and away to the town.”

              Instantly the wall of the room opened, and the stove moved out. When it had got clear of the yard, it went at such a rate that there was no overtaking it, and it came up with the king’s messenger, and went after him, and entered the palace with him. When the king knew the fool had come, he went forth with all his ministers to see him, and when he saw that Emelyan was come riding on the stove, he was greatly amazed. Emelyan still lay where he was, and said nothing. Then the king asked him why he had hurt so many people when he went to the wood.

              “It was their own fault,” said the fool; “why did they not get out of the way?”

              Just at that moment the king’s daughter came to the window and looked at the fool, and Emelyan, happening suddenly to look up at the window where she stood observing him, and seeing that she was very handsome, said, quite softly to himself—

              “At the pike’s command, and at my request, let this lovely maiden fall in love with me.”

              Scarcely had he spoken the words, when the king’s daughter was desperately in love with him. He then said—

              “At the pike’s command, and at my request, up and away, stove, go home.”

              Immediately the stove left the palace, went through the town, got home, and set itself in its old place. There Emelyan lived for some time, comfortable and happy.

              Other people in the town, however, were far otherwise. At the word of Emelyan, the king’s daughter had fallen in love with him, and she began to implore her father to give her the fool for a husband. The king was in a great rage, both with her and the fool, but he knew not how he could lay hold of him. His minister, however, suggested that he should again send the officer whom he had before sent to take him. This advice pleased the king well, and he had the officer called to him. When he came the king said—

              “Hark ye, friend! I sent you before for the fool, and you came without him. To punish you I now send you for him a second time. If you bring him you shall be rewarded, but if you do not bring him you shall be punished.”

              When the officer heard that, he left the king, and lost no time in going in quest of the fool. When he came to the village, he called for the Starosta, and said to him—

              “Here is money for you. Buy everything for a good dinner to-morrow. Invite Emelyan, and when he comes make him drink till he falls asleep.”

              The Starosta, knowing that the officer came from the king, felt obliged to obey him, so he bought everything that was required, and invited the fool. When Emelyan said he would come, the officer was greatly pleased. So next day the fool came to dinner, and the Starosta plied him so well with drink that he fell fast asleep. As soon as the officer saw he was asleep, he laid hold of him, and ordered a carriage to be brought. When it came, they put the fool in it, and the officer, getting in himself, drove off to the town, and so to the palace. The minister informed the king that the officer had come, and as soon as he heard it, he ordered a large cask to be provided without delay, and to be hooped with strong iron hoops. When the cask was brought to the king, and he saw that everything had been done as he desired, he ordered his daughter and the fool to be put into it and the cask to be well pitched. When all this had been done, the king ordered the cask to be thrown into the sea, and left to the mercy of the waves. The king then returned to his palace, and the cask floated along for some time on the sea. All this time the fool was fast asleep. When he awoke, and found it was quite dark, he said to himself—

              “Where am I?” for he thought he was all alone; but the princess said—

              “You are in a cask, Emelyan, and I am shut up with you in it.”

              “But who are you?” asked he.

              “I am the king’s daughter,” answered the princess; and then she told him why she had been shut up there with him. She then besought him to deliver himself and her out of the cask, but the fool said—

              “I am very warm here.”

              “Grant me the favour,” said the princess; “have pity on my tears, and deliver me out of this cask.”

              “Why,” said Emelyan; “I am lazy.”

              The princess began once more to entreat him.

              “Grant me the favour, Emelyan,” said she; “deliver me out of this cask, and let me not die.”

              The fool was moved by her tears and entreaties, and said—

              “Well, I will do this for you.”

              He then said softly—

              “At the pike’s command, and at my request, cast us, O sea, on the shore, where we may dwell on a dry place, only let us be near our own country, and do thou, cask, fall to pieces on the dry land.”

              Scarcely had the fool spoken the words, when the waves began to roll, and the cask was thrown up on a dry place and fell to pieces of itself. Emelyan got up and went with the princess about the place where they were cast. The fool saw that they were in a very fine island, where there was an abundance of trees, with all kinds of fruit on them. When the princess saw that, she rejoiced greatly at their being on such an island, and she said—

              “But, Emelyan, where shall we live? there is not even a nook here.”

              “You want too much,” said the fool.

              “Grant me the favour,” said the princess; “let there be, if nothing more, a little cottage in which we may shelter us from the rain”—for the princess knew he could do anything he wished.

              “I am lazy,” said the fool.

              The princess began again to urge him, and Emelyan, overcome by her entreaties, was obliged to do as she desired.

              He went away from her, and said—

              “At the pike’s command, and at my request, let me have, in the middle of this island, a finer castle than the king’s, and let a crystal bridge lead from my castle to the royal palace, and let there be people of all conditions in the court.”

              The words were scarcely spoken than there appeared a splendid castle with a crystal bridge. The fool went with the princess into the castle, and saw that the apartments were all magnificently furnished, and that there were many people there, such as footmen, and all kinds of officers, who waited for the fool’s commands. When he saw that all these men were like men, and that he alone was ugly and stupid, he wished to be better, so he said—

              “At the pike’s command, and at my request, let me become such a youth that I shall have no equal, and let me be extremely wise.”

              He had scarcely spoken the words before he became so handsome and so wise that all were amazed.

              Emelyan then sent one of his servants to the king to invite him and all his ministers to the castle. The servant went along the bridge which the fool had made, and when he came to the court the ministers brought him before the king, and Emelyan’s messenger said—

              “Please your majesty, I am sent by my master to ask you to dinner.”

              The king asked him who his master was, but he answered—

              “Please your majesty, I can tell you nothing about my master, but if you come to dine with him he will inform you himself.”

              The king, who was curious to know who it was who had sent to invite him, told the messenger that he would come without fail.

              The servant went away, and when he got home the king and his ministers set out along the crystal bridge to visit the fool. When they arrived at the castle, Emelyan came forth to meet the king, took him by the white hands, kissed him on the mouth, led him into his castle, and made him sit behind the oak tables, with fine diapered table-cloths, at sugar-meats and honey-drinks. The king and his ministers ate and drank, and made themselves merry. When they got up from table and retired, the fool said to the king—

              “Does your majesty know who I am?”

              As Emelyan was now dressed in fine clothes, and was very handsome, it was not possible to recognise him; so the king said that he did not know him. Then said the fool—

              “Does not your majesty recollect how a fool came on a stove to your court, and how you fastened him up in a pitched cask with your daughter, and cast them into the sea? Know me then now, for I am that Emelyan.”

              When the king saw him thus before him, he was greatly terrified, and knew not what to do. But the fool went to the king’s daughter, and brought her out to him. When the king saw her he was very pleased, and said—

              “I have been very unjust towards you, so I give you my daughter for your wife.”

              Hearing that, Emelyan thanked the king, and when he had prepared everything for the wedding, it was celebrated with great magnificence, and the following day Emelyan gave a feast to the ministers and to the common people. There were barrels of wine set forth; and when all these festivities were at an end, the king wanted to give up his kingdom to him, but Emelyan had no mind to take it. So the king went back to his kingdom, and Emelyan remained in his castle, and lived happily.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Emelyan the Fool
Tale Author/Editor: Tibbitts, Charles John
Book Title: Folk-Lore and Legends: Russian and Polish
Book Author/Editor: Tibbitts, Charles John
Publisher: W. W. Gibbings
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1890
Country of Origin: Russia
Classification: ATU 675: The Lazy Boy

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