There was once a peasant who had two sons: the younger son went out into the world and the elder one stayed at home. On his death-bed the father left all he possessed to the son who had stayed at home, and gave the younger son nothing, thinking that his brother would see to it. But when the father died, the elder son buried him and took everything for himself. The younger son came home and wept bitterly at not finding his father alive. Then the elder son said to him: "Father has left everything to me!" He had no children, but his brother, the younger son, had a son and a foster-daughter. So the elder son inherited everything, grew rich and began to trade in fine wares; but the younger son was poor, chopped wood in the forest and sold it at the market. The neighbours pitied him, got together and offered him money so that he could set himself up in trade, albeit in trifles. But the poor son was afraid and said to them: "No, good folk, I will not take your money. If I were to trade at a loss, how would I repay the debt?" Then two neighbours thought of a plan to give him the money. One day when the poor man set off to cut firewood, one of them overtook him on the way and said: "I am going on a long journey, friend. Someone has just repaid me three hundred rubles, and I don't know what to do with it! I don't want to go home; take the money for me and look after it, or better still use it to set yourself up in trade. I won't be back for some time. You can pay the money back little by little later."
The poor man took the money home, afraid that he would lose it or his wife would find it and spend it. He racked his brains and hid it in a pot of ash, then went out. While he was away the men who buy up ashes and exchange them for goods came. The woman gave them the pot. When the man came home he saw the pot had gone and asked: "Where are the ashes?" "I sold them to the ashmen." The man began to grieve and worry, but said nothing. Seeing that he was distressed, his wife went to him and said: "What misfortune has befallen you? Why are you so downcast?" Then he told her that someone else's money had been hidden in the ashes. The woman was angry, she stamped her foot, burst into tears and wailed: "Why didn't you trust me? I would have hidden it in a better place."
The man set off again for firewood, to sell it at the market and buy some corn. On the way he met the other neighbour, who told him the same story and gave him five hundred rabies to keep. The poor man did not want to take it and kept refusing, but the other man thrust it into his hand and galloped off. The money was in paper notes. The
poor man racked his brains about where to put it. In the end he stuffed it into the lining of his cap. When he reached the forest he hung the cap on a fir-tree and began to chop wood. To his misfortune a jackdaw flew up and carried away the cap with the money. The poor man grieved and worried for a while, then resigned himself to his lot and began to live as before, selling firewood and other trifles and just making ends meet. Seeing that some time had passed and the poor man's trade was not prospering his neighbours asked him: "Why is your trade going so badly, brother? Are you afraid of using our money? If that's the case, you'd better give it back." The poor man burst into tears and told them that he had lost the money. The neighbours did not believe him and went to court to get it back. "How can I pass judgement on this case?" pondered the judge. "The man is a harmless fellow with no money to pay back. If I put him in jail, he'll die of hunger!"
The judge sat deep in thought by the window. At that moment some boys were playing in the street outside. One of them, a chirpy lad, said: "I'll be the bailiff. You bring me your petitions and I'll pass judgement on them." So he sat down on a stone, then another boy came up to him and said: "I lent that man some money and he won't pay it back to me. I have come to ask you to judge the matter." "Did you accept the loan?" the bailiff asked the culprit. "Yes." "Then why don't you repay it?" "I've nothing to repay it with, Your Worship." "Listen, petitioner! This man does not deny that he took money from you, but he is not able to pay it back, so give him five or six years to settle the debt. In that time his fortunes may change and he'll repay it with interest. Do you agree?" The boys both bowed to the bailiff: "Thank you, Your Worship! We agree," The judge heard this and was overjoyed, saying: "That boy has given me the answer. I'll tell my petitioner to defer repayment too." At his bidding the rich neighbours agreed to wait for two or three years, by which time the poor man's fortunes might change.
So the poor man again went off to the forest for wood. He had only chopped half a cartload when it grew dark. So he decided to spend the night in the forest. "Tomorrow morning I'll go home with a full cartload." Then he looked about for somewhere to sleep. It was a deserted spot with many wild animals. If he lay down beside the horse, the beasts might eat them. So he went into a. thicket and climbed a big fir tree. That night seven robbers came to that very spot and said:
"Open, doors, open!" Straightway some doors opened up into an underground cave. The robbers stowed away their booty and said: "Close, doors, close!" The doors closed, and the robbers went off for more booty. The poor man saw all this and when it was quiet again all
around he climbed down from the tree. "Let's see if the doors will open for me," he thought. No sooner had he said "Open, doors, open!" than they opened wide before him. He went into the cave and saw piles of gold, silver and all manner of precious things lying there. The poor man was overjoyed and set about moving the sacks of money at sunrise. He took the firewood off his cart, loaded it with gold and silver and hurried home.
"There you are, dear husband!" cried his wife. "I was worried to death, wondering what had happened to you. I thought you had been crushed by a tree or eaten by a wild beast." "Don't worry, wife!" said the man happily. "The Lord has been kind to us. I have found some treasure. Help me carry in the sacks." When they had finished, he went to his rich brother, told him what had happened and invited him to come and share the treasure. His brother agreed. Off they went together, found the fir tree and shouted: "Open, doors, open!" The doors opened and they began to drag out the sacks of money. The poor brother filled up his cart and was satisfied, but the rich one wanted more. "You go on ahead, brother," said the rich one. "I'll catch you up right away." "Very well! But don't forget to say 'Close, doors, close!' " "I won't forget." The poor brother drove off, but the rich one could not tear himself away. There was too much to take at one go, but he was loath to leave it. He was still there at nightfall. The robbers came, found him in the underground cave and cut off his head; they took the sacks of money off the cart, put the dead brother on it, whipped the horse and let it go. The horse galloped out of the forest and took the dead man home. Then the robber chief cursed the one who had killed the rich brother. "Why did you kill him so soon? We should have found out where he lived first. Lots of our stuff has gone; he must have made several journeys. How can we get it back now?"
"Let the one who killed him find out where he lived," said his second in command.
A little later the robber who had killed him set out to try and find the gold. He marched into the poor brother's shop, bold as brass, bought a few things, saw the shopkeeper was sad, thought for a moment and asked: "Why are you so downcast?" "I had an elder brother, and a terrible thing happened," said the poor brother. "Someone killed him. Two days ago his horse brought him home with his head chopped off, and we buried him today." Seeing that he was on the right track, the robber began asking questions, pretending to be very sorry. He learned that the dead man had left a widow and asked: "Does the poor woman have a roof over her head?" "Yes, a big house!" "Where is it? Show me." The man went and showed the robber his
brother's house; the robber took some red paint and painted a sign on the gate. "What's that for?" asked the man. "I'd like to help the poor woman, so I have painted a sign to help me find the house," replied the robber. "Why, friend! My sister-in-law lacks nothing. She lives in plenty, thank the Lord." "And where do you live?" "This is my house." The robber painted the same sign on his gate too. "What's that for?" "I've taken a liking to you," said the robber. "I'll drop in now and then to spend the night. You won't regret it, friend, believe me." The robber returned to the band, and told them what had happened. They agreed to go that night, rob and kill everyone in both houses and get their gold back.
The poor man came home and said: "I've just met a young fellow who put a sign on my gate and said he would drop in now and then to spend the night here. Such a kind soul! He was so sorry about my brother and wanted to help his widow!" His wife and son just listened to him, but his foster-daughter said: "Perhaps you were wrong, father. Perhaps it won't be alright. What if uncle was killed by the robbers, and now they want to get their booty back and have come looking for us? They might turn up and kill the lot of us for it." The man became alarmed: "I might have guessed. I'd never seen him in my life before. Oh, dear! What shall we do?" "Take some paint, father," said the girl, "and paint the same sign on all the gates in the neighbourhood." The man went out and painted the sign on all the gates in the neighbourhood. The robbers came and could not find what they wanted; they went back and beat the first robber for painting signs everywhere. In the end they decided: "We must be dealing with a cunning devil!" A little later they prepared seven barrels; they hid a robber in six of them and filled the seventh with oil.
The first robber set off with the barrels to the poor brother's house. He arrived towards evening and asked if he might stay the night. The brother received him like an old friend. The foster-daughter went into the yard and began to examine the barrels. She opened one and found oil, then tried to open another — but no, she could not. She bent down and put her ear to it. Something was moving and breathing inside it. "Ha, ha," she thought. "Someone's up to nasty tricks!" She came into the house and said: "How shall we entertain our guest, father? Let me stoke up the stove at the back and cook something nice for supper." "Very well." The foster-daughter went and stoked the stove. While she was cooking, she boiled some water and poured it into the barrels, scalding the robbers to death. While her father and the guest had supper, the girl sat at the back waiting to see what would happen. When the master and mistress had gone to sleep, the guest went into
the yard and whistled. Nothing stirred. He went up to the barrels and called to his mates. There was no reply. Then he opened the barrels and the steam poured out. Realising what had happened, the robber harnessed the horses and drove off with the barrels.
The foster-daughter locked the gates, woke up the household and told them what had happened. Her father said: "You've saved our lives, my lass. You shall be my son's lawful wife." There was a wedding and a merry feast. The young woman kept urging her father-in-law to sell his old house and buy another. She feared the robbers greatly! Who knows, they might turn up again one day! And so they did. A little later the robber who had brought the barrels dressed up as an officer, came to the poor brother's house and asked if he could stay the night. They took him in, suspecting nothing. But the young woman guessed who it was and said: "Father! It is the robber who came before!" "No, it isn't, lass."
She said nothing more, but before lying down, fetched a sharp axe and put it by her bedside. She did not sleep a wink, but lay awake keeping watch. At dead of night the officer got up, took his sabre and made to cut off her husband's head. Quick as a flash she swung her axe and cut off his right arm, then swung it again and chopped off his head. Now the poor brother could see that his daughter-in-law was a wise lass, indeed. So he did as she said, sold the house and bought an inn. He settled down there and began to do a brisk trade and prosper.
One day his old neighbours, the ones who had lent him money and taken him to court, dropped in. "What are you doing here?" they asked. "It's my house, I've just bought it not long ago." "And a fine house it is too. You must be doing well. Why don't you pay back your debt?" The man bowed and said: "Praise the Lord! He has been kind to me. I found some treasure and will gladly pay you back threefold!" "So be it, friend. Let's celebrate the house-warming." "Let us indeed." So they ate, drank and made merry. Now the house had a fine garden. "Can we take a look at the garden," they asked. "With pleasure, dear sirs. I will take you round it myself." So out they went for a walk in the garden and in a far corner found a pot of ashes. The brother took one look at it and exclaimed: "Dear sirs! This is the very pot that my wife sold." "Well, let's see if the money is still in it." They shook the pot and out fell the money. So the neighbours could see that the man had been telling the truth. "Let's take a look at that tree," they said. "The jackdaw that stole the cap may have built a nest in it." They searched around, saw a nest, got it down with a boathook, and there it was—the very same cap! They pulled out the twigs and found the money. Then
the brother paid them what he owed and settled down happily to live a life of plenty.