Ivan The Fool

Many years ago, there lived a- farmer in Russia with three sons. The youngest of the three was called Ivan, but he was a halfwit. His family never gave him any work to do.

When the two elder boys had grown up and begun to work, the mother kept Ivan at home to help her in the house.

One morning she called Ivan and, handing him a basket of cakes, said, “Son, take these cakes which I have prepared for your brothers’ midday meal. They are out grazing the sheep in the fields.”

Ivan put the basket on his head and set off for the fields.

He had not gone far when looking back; he saw his own shadow. He was puzzled. If he walked, the shadow walked; if he stopped, it also stopped.

He turned upon the shadow and cried, “You, fool! Why do you follow me wherever I go?”

But the shadow made no reply. When he again looked back, there was the shadow, as he thought, at its old tricks again.

“I see !” Ivan exclaimed, “So you are after the cakes I carry in the basket.”

Taking a cake from it, Taking a cake from it, Ivan laid the basket down and threw it to the shadow to appease it.

Taking a few steps forward, Ivan turned to see if the shadow was still following him. There it was! So Ivan threw another cake at the shadow and walked on. He turned again and found the shadow still following him.

Every time he discovered the shadow following him, Ivan. Threw another cake at it—His basket. Soon the basket was empty, and with a curse, Ivan threw the empty basket at the shadow and walked on.

“What brings you here, Ivan?” his brothers asked when they found him coming to them empty-handed.

“Mother has sent me,” replied Ivan, “to give you your lunch.”

“Where is it then, you fool?” asked the brothers.

“As I was bringing it,” replied Ivan, pointing to his shadow,” This fellow begged of all the cakes from me and wouldn’t leave me till I had given him the lot.”

The two hungry brothers boxed Ivan on the ears and shouted, “We’ll go to the neighbouring village to get something to eat. Meanwhile, you watch the sheep. All you have to do is to see that they do not stray.”

After the brothers had gone, Ivan was incredibly annoyed that the sheep would wander in search of grass and not stay in one place. Failing in all his efforts to keep them together, Ivan took a cudgel and broke the legs of some of the sheep.

By the time the brothers had returned, quite a few sheep had been lamed, so the brothers gave Ivan a good beating and sent him home.

From then onwards, the mother never dared to send Ivan on any errand. Years he was passed by. Ivan had grown into manhood, and both his parents had died. Though he had grown, his mind remained as blank as before.

Ivan’s elder brother argued, “Mother has made a spoilt child of this fellow. How long can we feed him in his idleness? I know we can’t drive him out, for that would get us a bad name. But we can set him to do some useful work enabling him to earn his food.”

The harvest festival was approaching. Lots of things had to be bought from the city, so the brothers gave Ivan a long list of the goods and told Ivan to go to the town to buy them.

Ivan set out with a horse-drawn cart. In the city, he made the purchases. He began his return journey when he loaded the cart with his purchases of a bag of salt, a large wooden table, grain, pots, tin plates, cups, saucers, and spoons.

He had not gone far when the horse got tired and slowed down.

“Oh, I now see it,” Ivan exclaimed, “the horse goes slow because the cart is overloaded.”

Promptly he looked at all the things in the cart to see which he could throw away. He decided the wooden table could go, as it had four legs, the same as a horse, so it could very well walk home.

So out went the table onto the roadside with a clattering bang. As he rode away, Ivan called to the table, “Lazy bones, walk home!”

After journeying, Ivan found crows flying over his cart, pecking at the grain sack.

“Poor crows!” cried Ivan, “they seem hungry. I’ll feed them now.”

He took out the plates he had purchased from the city and, filling them with grain, laid them all on the roadside, saying, “Eat them to your fill, dear birds.”

A little later, Ivan soon came to a bit of wood. He found charred tree stumps and thought, ‘Poor stumps; you’ve nothing to cover your heads against the cold’. So he inverted a pot on each of the tree stumps.

Later on, Ivan came to a stream. Feeling thirsty, he got into it and cupped his hands, slake, cupping. Then he ought to make the horse drink, thinking it must also be thirsty after the long journey to and from the city.

The horse, however, flatly refused to drink. “Poor horse!” cried Ivan, “the water must be insipid.”

So he emptied the sack of salt into the stream, thinking that it would add to the taste of the water for the horse.

As the horse still refused to drink, Ivan began beating the horse, shouting, “You ungrateful thing! Take this and this for not drinking.”

Under the rain of blows, the poor horse wearily slumped to the ground.

Now the things Ivan had to take home had so dwindled in number that he could carry them on his back. They merely consisted of spoons, cups and saucers. The clanking sound they made as Ivan walked forward sounded in his ears like, “Ivan the fool, Ivan the empty head.”

Maddened at these imaginary taunts, he threw the sack into the forest.

Finally, when he reached home, he had nothing he had bought in the city. Even the horse and cart were no more.

When Ivan told his brothers all that had happened, they laid about him with a cudgel and cried, “You lout, if at least, you don’t get the pots you’ve crowned the tree stumps with, we’ll kill you.”

Ivan retraced his steps to the wood where the tree stumps stood. He made holes in the pots and passed a rope through. They bundled them up and carried them on his back.

When the brothers saw the holes in the pots, their wrath knew no bounds, and they gave him another sound of thrashing.

Finally, they had to set out to buy the things needed for the festival. But before they went, they asked their brother to watch the pot boiling on the stove.

Sore from the sound beating he had received from his brothers, Ivan sat nursing his bruised limbs, and as he watched the pot, it seemed to mock him, singing, “Ivan the halfwit! Ivan, the idiot!’

“Stop!” thundered Ivan at the pot.

But as the pot sang louder, Ivan lost his temper and be- laboured the pool with a cudgel. Bang! The jar broke, and the cooking food fragments lay over the floor.

When the brothers returned home and found what Ivan had done, they concluded that their brother was an empty head and that nothing would ever change him.

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