Russian Folk-Tales/The Priest with the Envious Eyes


There was once a priest who lived in the parish of St. Nicholas. He served St. Nicholas for some years, and all his earnings were that he had neither house nor home, nor a roof over his head. So our good priest got together all his keys, and seeing the icon of St. Nicholas, struck it down, and left his parish to go whithersoever his eyes should guide him. And he went roaming on his way.

Suddenly an unknown man met him. "How do you do, good man?" he said to the pope.[1] "Whither are you going? and whence do you come?" "Take me with you as a companion." So they went off together. They went on some versts, and became tired. It was time to rest.

Now the pope had two biscuits, and his new friend had two wafers[2]. The pope said to him: "We will first of all eat up your wafers, and we will then go on with the biscuits."

"All right!" the unknown man said to him. "Let us first eat up my wafers, and leave your biscuits for a dessert."

So they ate the wafers, ate them all up, and they were fully sated, and there were still wafers over.

So the pope became envious. "Why," he thought, "I will steal them." The old man lay down to sleep after dinner, and the pope was all agog to see how he could steal those wafers. The old man went to sleep; so the pope abstracted the wafers from his pocket and silently began eating them.

The old man woke up and felt for his wafers, and could not find them anywhere. "Where are my wafers? Who has eaten them up? Have you, pope?"

"No, I did not," answered the pope.

"Well, all right; I don't mind."

So they shook themselves up, and they went on their way and journey, went on and on, and the roads suddenly divided and they came to a carfax. So they both went on a single road and arrived at a kingdom. Now, in this kingdom the Tsar's daughter was near her death, and the Tsar had promised any one who should cure her half of his reign and rule and realm; but any one who failed was to have his head cut off and placed on a pole.

When they arrived in front of the Tsar's courtyard, they got themselves up finely, and they called themselves doctors. The henchmen sallied out of the Tsar's courtyard, and asked them: "What sort of people are you? What is your race? What is your city? What do you require?"

"We," they answered, "are doctors, and we can cure the Tsarévna."

"Well, if you are doctors, come into the palace."

So they went into the palace, looked at the Tsarévna, asked for special huts from the Tsar, for a can of water, for a curved sabre, and a large table. The Tsar gave them all they required.

They then locked themselves up in the huts, tied the princess down on the big table, cut her up with the curved sabre into little bits, put them all into the cauldron, washed them, and rinsed them out. Then they began to put them together—bit by bit, fragment by fragment. And the old man breathed on them. Piece clove to piece, and made one. Then he took all the pieces, breathed on them for the last time, and the princess trembled all over, and woke alive and well.

The Tsar himself came into their hut. "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost!"

"Amen!" they answered.

"Have you cured the Tsarévna?" asked the Tsar.

"Yes," the doctors answered—"there she is!" The Tsarévna came out with the Tsar alive and well.

The Tsar said to the doctors: "What good thing do you desire—gold or silver? Ask and you shall have." So they began to bring gold and silver. And the old man took as much as he could take with his thumb and two fingers, but the pope took it by handfuls, and he rammed it all into his wallet and hid it away, concealed it, lifted it up as much as ever his power could.

The old man then said to the pope: "Let us bury all the money in the earth and again go a-healing."

So they went on and went on, and they arrived at another kingdom in which there also was a princess on the verge of death, and the Tsar promised any one who should cure her half of his realm and rule and reign; but any one who failed was to have his head cut off.

But the Evil One was tempting the envious pope—how he should manage to tell nothing to the old man, but to cure her by himself, and so get all the gold and silver for himself. So he dubbed himself a doctor, arrayed himself finely, and arrived at the Tsar's courtyard, just as they had done before. In the same way he asked for the same implements from the Tsar, shut himself up in the special hut, tied the princess down on the table, took out the curved sabre; and however much the Tsarévna might cry out and wriggle, the pope disregarded all her shrieks, and all her yelpings, poor girl, and cut her to bits like mincemeat. He then cut it all up fine, threw it into the cauldron, washed it and rinsed it, took it out, put piece to piece exactly the same as the old man had done. And he then wanted to put them altogether, breathed on them—and nothing happened! He pumped his lungs out, but nothing happened. It was all to no purpose. So he put all the fragments back into the water, rinsed and scoured them through, fitting the pieces together, and breathed on them. It was all of no good.

"Oh, whatever shall I do?" the pope thought. "This is simply horrible!"

In the morning the Tsar went to him and saw that the doctor had had no luck. He had mixed up the whole body on the floor. So the Tsar ordered the doctor to the gallows.

The pope then began to beg. "Tsar! Tsar! I am a free man. Give me a short space of time. I will go and look out for another old man who can really cure the Tsarévna." So the pope went to look for the old man, found him, and said: "Old man, I am a depraved sinner. The fiends tempted me. I wanted to cure the Tsar's daughter all by myself, and I was not able, and they are now going to hang me. Do come and help me!"

So the old man went with the pope, and the noose was put round the pope's neck. Then the old man said to the pope: "Pope, who ate up my wafers?"

"I really didn't; I swear I didn't!"

So they made him mount one rung higher, and again the old man said to him: "Pope, who ate my wafers up?"

"I really didn't; I swear I didn't!"

So he went up the third rung, and again said he didn't. This time he had his head in the noose tight, and still he said: "I did nothing of the sort!"

So the old man said to the Tsar: "I am a free man. Will you let me cure the Tsarévna, and if I do not succeed, have a second noose got ready for my neck: one for me and one for the pope."

Then the old man took the morsels of the Tsarévna's body, bit by bit, breathed on them, and she arose alive and well.

Then the Tsar rewarded them both with gold and silver.

"Now let us go and divide the money," said the old man.

So they started. They put all the money into three little piles, and the pope looked on, and said: "What do you mean? There are only two of us. Who is to have the third?"

Said the old man: "That is for the thief who ate up my wafers."

"Oh, it was I who ate them up!" the pope cried out. "I really did! I swear it!"

"Then you may have all the money, and my own share as well. Henceforth serve your parish faithfully. Do not be a miser, and do not beat St. Nicholas on the shoulders with the keys!" the old man said, and vanished.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

  1. Village priest.
  2. Russian: просвирки, i.e. prosphora (Wikisource contributor note)