Many years ago there lived in Russia a very wealthy man named Ivan. But with all his wealth, Ivan never spent a solitary coin unless forced to. He would spend hours daily counting his money and gloating over every silver rouble.
Walking along the road one day, an elderly lame beggar pleaded for alms. Before Ivan could send the beggar away, a peasant passing by throwing a coin into the beggar’s tin cup.
Ivan thought here was the opportunity to show his generosity, so turning to the peasant, he said. “I have no small change, so would you be good enough to lend me a copeck to give to this poor man?”
“Here you are,” said the peasant, handing Ivan a copeck. “But tell me, when will you pay me back?”
“I will repay you tomorrow,” replied Ivan, giving the peasant his name and address.
To Ivan’s surprise, the peasant called at his house the following day for his copeck. Ivan greeted him like a bear with a sore head. “Fancy coming here to collect such a small debt. But unfortunately, I still have no change, so you had better come back tomorrow.”
The following day the peasant was knocking on the door for his copeck. Ivan was now extremely disgruntled that anyone should bug him for a measly copeck. “Change me a hundred rouble bank note,” said Ivan with a sly smile. “And then I can pay you the copeck.”
The peasant threw up his arms in dismay. “I have no roubles, sir. But I still want my copeck.”
“Then come back in a week,” Ivan shouted and slammed the door.
A week passed, and the peasant was standing on the doorstep. When Ivan saw him through the window, he called his wife. “I will lie down on the carpet. Cover me with a sheet and put a lighted candle at my head. Then you can tell this accursed peasant I am dead.”
When the peasant entered the house, Ivan’s wife sat beside a shrouded body, tearing her hair and wailing that her noble husband had died that morning.
“Good woman”, said the peasant, who suspected that Ivan was pretending to be dead merely to avoid paying his small debt. “I am sorry your husband has died so suddenly. But pray let me help you prepare the body for burial.”
With this, the peasant ran into the yard and returned with a bucket of water, which he promptly threw over the supposed corpse.
The shock of the cold water nearly made Ivan jump out of his skin. “And now, you miser,” shouted the peasant. “Pay me my copeck.”
But there was no answer from Ivan, and he lay still as death. The wife was now wailing over the ruined carpet and took little notice of the peasant when he said. “Your husband must be buried today, so I will send one of your servants to fetch a coffin.”
When the coffin was brought, the peasant lost no time bundling Ivan’s body and carrying it to the local graveyard.
As the gravediggers had decided to go home for the day, the burial could not occur until the following morning, so the peasant said he would watch over the coffin during the night.
As the church clock tolled the hour of midnight, the peasant heard the sound of footsteps and, peering over his shoulder, saw four villainous-looking men coming in his direction. Not being all that brave, he quickly hid behind a nearby tree.
The four men were robbers carrying several sacks of booty, which they emptied on the ground, and started sharing their ill-gotten gains. After some time and many arguments, the loot was shared between them, excepting a gold-hilted sword, which they all claimed as part of their share. Words soon led to a fight, and there was a free exchange of blows about who should possess the sword.
“Eh, friends,” shouted the peasant from behind the tree. “Why do you fight over a sword? The one who cuts off the head of the corpse with one blow shall be the owner.”
Hearing this, Ivan sprang out of the coffin like a jack-in-the-box. “Police! Police! I am being murdered.”
When the robbers saw this dead body come out of its coffin, they bolted as fast as their legs could carry them.
The peasant now came out of hiding and pacified the still-trembling Ivan. “Stop shivering, my friend,” said the peasant, pointing to the heaps of loot.
“Look, a fortune has fallen into our laps. We shall share it equally; perhaps you will repay me the copeck you owe.”
Ivan soon rubbed his hands joyfully, and the peasant ensured the loot was divided fairly.
Then, bundling up their windfall, they prepared to depart. Ivan was eager to get away from this awful graveyard. But the peasant caught him by the arm. “Just a minute, my friend. Where is the copeck you owe me?”
“Be reasonable, my dear chap,” replied Ivan with a sly grin. “In all this treasure, there was not a copper copeck. So how can I pay you?”
The peasant realised it was hopeless to argue further, be- cause no matter how much wealth Ivan possessed; it hurt him to pay out a solitary copeck.