The Cunning Muzkik

ONCE there was an older woman who had two sons. One died, and the other went off to a far country. He had not been gone three days when a soldier came to the older woman and said:

“Let me in for the night, Granny.”

“Come in, my good man. Where are you from?”

“I’m from the Other World.” “Think of that! My boy died not so long ago. You didn’t see him there by any chance, did you?”

“Yes, I did. He and I shared the same room.”

“Think of that!”

“He is herding cranes in the Other World, Granny.”

“Ah, poor lad, it must be a worrisome job.”

“That it is, Granny. You know what cranes are forever straying among the briars.”

“And he’s out at elbows and heels; I’ll be bound?”

“You’d be surprised how ragged he is.”

“I have forty yards of cloth, my good man, and about ten roubles. Take it to my son.”

“With pleasure, Granny.”

Sometime after that, the older woman’s son returned from his travels.

“Good day, Mother.”

“Good day, son. A man from the Other World came here while you were away. He told me all about your dead brother. This man shared a room with him in the Other World. I gave him a roll of cloth and ten rubles to take to your dead brother.”

“Well, if that’s how it is, then farewell, Mother,” said her son. “I’m going out into the wide world, and if I find a greater fool than you, I shall come back. If not, I shall stay away.”

“Well, if that’s how it is, then farewell, Mother,” said her son. “I’m going out into the wide world, and if I find a greater fool than you, I shall come back. If not, I shall stay away.”

And he turned and was gone.

He came to a village and stopped near the corral of a lord’s mansion where a sow was browsing with her litter. The Muzhik went down on his knees and bowed to the ground before the sow. The lady saw this from a window and said to her maid:

“Go and ask that Muzhik what he is bowing for.”

The maid said, “What are you kneeling for, Muzhik, and why are you bowing to our SOW?”

“Good woman, tell the lady’ your sow is thin, she’s my wife’s next of kin, so I am asking her to my son’s wedding tomorrow. Will she let the sow come and be the matron of honour and her piglets the brides-maids?”

When the lady heard this, she said to her maid:

“What a fool to invite a sow and her litter to a wedding! Very well, let people laugh at him. Dress the sow in my fur coat and have a pair of horses put into a carriage. They shall ride to the wedding in state.”

So they harnessed the horses to a carriage, seated the sow and her piglets in it, and gave the turn-out to the peasant. He got in and rode back.

When the Lord came home (he had been out hunting), his wife met him, holding her sides with laughter.

“Oh, my dear, what a good laugh you have missed! There was a Muzhik here, and he bowed to our sow. ‘Your sow,’ he says, ‘is thin; she’s my wife’s next of kin,’ so he asked for her to be the matron of honour and the piglets the bridesmaids at his son’s wedding.”

“I know what you did,” said the Lord. “You gave him the pig and the litter, didn’t you?”

“I did, my sweet. I dressed the show in my fur coat and gave him a carriage with horses beside me.”

“Where does that Muzhik come from?”

“I don’t know, love.”

“It turns out that you’re the fool, not he!”

The Lord was angry with his wife for letting herself be fooled, and he ran out of the house, jumped onto his horse and galloped after the Muzhik. The Muzhik heard someone coming after him, so he turned the horses and the carriage into a thick forest and left them there. Then he took off his cap, put it on the ground, and sat next to it.

“Hey, you with the hat!” shouted the Lord. “Have you seen a Muzhik hereabouts with a pair of horses and a sow with piglets in the carriage?”

“Yes, sir, I have. It’s hours since he rode by.”

“Which way did he go? I’ve got to catch him.”

“He’ll take plenty of catching. It’s a good long way; you may go astray. Do you know these parts well?”

“Look here, my good fellow, go and catch that Muzhik for me.”

“No, sir, that I cannot. I have a falcon sitting under my hat here.”

“I will look after your falcon for you.”

“Mind you, don’t let it out. It is a valuable bird. My master will make my life a burden if I lose it.”

“How much is it worth?”

“All of three hundred rubles.”

“Do not fear if I lose it; I will pay you for it.”

“Fine words, butter, no parsnips, sir.”

“I see that you do not trust me. Here, take three hundred rubles to be on the safe side.”

The Muzhik took the money, got on to the gentleman’s horse and galloped off into the woods while the Lord stayed behind to guard the empty hat. He sat there waiting for hours on end. The sun began to set, but still, there was no sign of the Muzhik. “Here, let me see if there is any falcon under this hat. If there is, he will come back; if not, it is no use waiting for him.”

He lifted the hat, but there was no falcon under it.

“The rascal! It must have been the same Muzhik who fooled my lady.”

He spat in disgust and footed it home. The Muzhik had reached home long before then.

“Well, Mother,” he said to the old woman, “let us live together. You are not the most foolish person in the world by far. Look, they have given me three horses and a carriage, three hundred roubles and a sow with her litter-and all for nothing.”

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