Multilingual Folk Tale Database


Author: Alexander Afanasyev - 1855

Translated into English
  by Kathleen Cook

Original title (Russian):
Правда и Кривда

Country of origin: Russia


English - aligned

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Right and Wrong

Alexander Afanasyev / Kathleen Cook

In a certain realm there lived two peasants, Ivan and Naum. They made friends and set off together to look for work. On and on they went until they came to a prosperous village and hired themselves out to different masters. They worked for a week and met up on Sunday. "How much have you earned, brother?" asked Ivan. "The Lord has given me five rubles." "The Lord! He won't give you a brass farthing, if you don't earn it for yourself." "No, you are wrong, brother. Without the Lord's help you can do nothing, not even earn a farthing!" Thereupon they began to argue and at last agreed on this: "We'll both walk along the road and ask the first person we meet who is right. The one who loses must give all the money he has earned to the other." So off they went. They had barely gone twenty paces, when they met an evil spirit in human guise. They asked him their question, and he replied: "What you earn, you earn yourself. It's no good relying on the Lord. He won't give you a brass farthing!" So Naum gave all his money to Ivan and returned to his master empty-handed. Another week passed. The following Sunday the two men met again and had the same argument. Naum said: "Even though you took all my money last week, the Lord has given me more!" "Well," said Ivan, "if you really think that the Lord gave it to you and not that you earned it, let's ask the first person we meet again who is right. The one who is wrong must hand over all his money and lose his right arm." Naum consented.
Off they went along the road and met the evil spirit again, who gave the same answer as before. Ivan took his friend's money, cut off his right arm and left him there. Naum wondered what he would do now without an arm and who would feed him. But the Lord is merciful! He went to the river and lay down on the bank under a boat. "I'll spend the night here and decide what to do in the morning. Morning's wiser than evening."
At the stroke of midnight a host of evil spirits assembled in the boat and began to boast of the mischief they had wrought. One said: "I gave false judgement in a quarrel between two men, and the man who was right had his arm cut off." To which another replied: "That's nothing! He need only roll in the dew three times and his arm will grow again!" "I put the evil eye on a rich man's only daughter and she's almost wasted away!" bragged a third. "Listen to that!" sneered a fourth. "Anyone who feels sorry for the man can easily cure his daughter. Just get hold of such-and-such a plant, boil it up and bathe her in the water. She'll be as fit as a fiddle!" "I know a man who built a water mill and
has worked hard for years, all for nothing. As soon as he finishes the weir, I make a hole in it and let the water out..." "Your miller's a fool!" scoffed a sixth evil spirit. "He should line the weir with brushwood and throw a sheaf of hay in when the water begins to run out: that would be the end of you!"
Naum overheard all this. The next day he made his right arm grow again, fixed the miller's weir and cured the rich man's daughter. The miller and the rich man rewarded him generously, and he began to prosper. One day he met his old friend, who was most surprised and asked him how he had made his money and got his right arm back. Naum told him the whole story, concealing nothing. Ivan listened and thought: "Why don't I do the same and get even richer!" He went to the river and lay down on the bank under the boat. At midnight the evil spirits assembled. "Someone must be eavesdropping, brothers," said one of them. "That man's arm has grown again, the rich man's daughter is cured, and the weir is working properly."
They rushed to look under the boat, found Ivan and made mincemeat of him. And so the biter was bit!