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The Complete Works of Count Tolstoy/The Fiend Persists, but God Resists


In ancient times there lived a good master. He had plenty of everything, and many slaves served him. And the slaves prided themselves on their master. They said: "There is not a better master under heaven. He feeds us and dresses us well, and gives us work to do according to our strength, and never offends us with a word, and bears no grudge against any one; he is not like other masters who torture their slaves worse than cattle, and punish them with cause and without cause, and never say a good word to them. Our master wishes us good, and does us good, and speaks good words to us. We do not want any better life."

Thus the slaves boasted of their master. And the devil was annoyed to see the slaves living well and in love with their master. And the devil took possession of one of the master's slaves, Aleb. He took possession of him and commanded him to seduce other slaves. And when all the slaves were resting and praising their master, Aleb raised his voice and said:

"Brothers, in vain do you pride yourselves on the goodness of your master. Try to do the devil's bidding, and he, too, will be kind to you. We serve our master well, and please him in everything. He needs only to have a thing in mind, and we do it,—we guess his thoughts. Why, then, should he not be good to us? Stop doing his bidding and do him some wrong, and he will be like everybody else, and will repay evil with evil, much worse than the worst of masters."

And the other slaves began to dispute with Aleb. They disputed and made a wager. Aleb undertook to anger the good master. He undertook to do so oh condition that if he did not succeed in making him angry, he should lose his holiday garment, but if he did, each should give him his own holiday garment, and, besides, they promised to defend him against the master and to free him if the master should put him in irons or throw him into prison. They made this wager, and Aleb promised to anger the master on the following morning.

Aleb was serving in the master's sheepfold and tended on costly thoroughbred rams. And so, when the good master came the next morning with his guests to the sheepfold to show them his favourite expensive rams, the devil's labourer winked to his companions: "Watch me now! I am going to anger the master." All the slaves gathered and looked through the door and over the enclosure, and the devil climbed a tree and looked from there into the yard, to see how his labourer was going to serve him. The master walked through the yard, showing his guests the sheep and lambs, and he wanted to show them his best ram.

"The other rams are nice, too, but the one with the twisted horns is priceless, and I think more of him than of the pupil of my eye."

The sheep and the lambs were shying from the people in the yard, and the guests could not get a good look at the expensive ram. The moment the ram stopped, the labourer of the devil, as though by accident, frightened the sheep, and they got all mixed. The guests could not make out which was the expensive ram. The master got tired of it, so he said:

"Aleb, my dear friend, take the trouble carefully to catch the best ram with the twisted horns and to hold him awhile."

The moment the master had said that, Aleb rushed forward, like a lion, into the midst of the rams and caught the priceless ram by his fleece. He got hold of the wool, and with one hand he seized the left hind leg and raised it and in the eyes of the master jerked it in such a way that it snapped like a linden post. Aleb had broken the ram's leg beneath the knee. The ram began to bleat and fell down on his fore legs. Aleb grasped the right leg while the left hung loose like a whip-cord. The guests and all the slaves groaned, and the devil rejoiced, when he saw how cleverly Aleb had done his work. The master looked blacker than night. He frowned, lowered his head, and did not say a word. The guests and the slaves were silent. They waited to see what would happen.

The master was silent, then shook himself, as though he wanted to throw something off, and raised his head and lifted it to the sky. He looked at it for a short time, and the wrinkles on his face disappeared, and he smiled and lowered his eyes on Aleb. He looked at Aleb, and smiled, and said:

"О Aleb, Aleb! Your master has commanded you to anger me. But my master is stronger than yours: you have not angered me, but I will anger your master. You were afraid that I would punish you, and you wanted to be free, Aleb. Know, then, that you will receive no punishment from me, and, since you wanted to be free, I free you in the presence of these my guests. Go in all four directions and take your holiday garment with you!"

And the good master went with his guests to the house. But the devil ground his teeth and fell down from the tree and sank through the earth.

Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1939, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.