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Title: Emelian the Fool - a tale
Author: Borrow, George Henry, 1803-1881 [Translator], Wise, Thomas James, 1859-1937 [Editor]
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the 1913 Thomas J. Wise pamphlet by David Price, email

                            EMELIAN THE FOOL
                                A TALE

                      _Translated from the Russian_
                              GEORGE BORROW




The tale of _Emelian_, of which we give here a version, is highly popular
amongst the peasantry of Russia, and is told by them at their
merry-makings from the upper shores of the Gulf of Finland to the Ural
Mountains.  It bears some resemblance to the tale of _Aladdin_, the pike
playing in the Russian story much the same part as the lamp in the
Arabian one, and it is by no means impossible that both tales are derived
from the same myth.  But from whatever source the story of _Emelian_ may
have sprung, the manner in which it is wrought is essentially Russian,
and from it, as here rendered, the English reader may form a better idea
of the way of life, and the feelings of the Russian mujiks, or peasantry,
than from a dozen common books of travels in Russia.  Emelian is
represented as a fool, but there is much in what he says and does common
to the Russian mujik in general.  He lies in the izbushka, or cabin, upon
the petsch, or stove, and when told to get up, he says: “What should I
get up for?—Mnie zdies teplo, i ia lieniós—’tis warm here, and I am
lazy.”  There spoke the genuine mujik, the most prominent features of
whose character are a love of warmth and a hatred of exertion, though,
when he chooses to get up and rouse himself, he is capable of very great
things, can outwit the tchort himself, bear hunger and fatigue better
than any other man, and contend even with the Briton at the game of the
bayonet.  Perhaps we may hereafter present to the public in an English
dress some other popular tales illustrative of the manner of life and
ideas of the mujiks, to whom the attention of the English public has of
late been much directed, owing to the ukase of the present Tsar, by which
they are emancipated from serfdom,—a measure likely to be productive of
much weal or woe throughout his extensive dominions.

The tale is as follows:—


In a certain village there lived a mujik, or yeoman, who had three sons;
two were clever, but the third was a fool, who was called Emelian.  When
the good man had reached an extreme old age, he called all his sons to
him, and said:

“Dear children, I feel that I have not long to live; I therefore leave
you house and cattle, which you will divide in equal portions.  I also
leave you money: a hundred roubles for each.”

Soon after these words he died, and his children, having given him a
decent funeral, lived very comfortably.  After a little time, the
brothers of Emelian took it into their heads to start for the city, and
employ in traffic the three hundred roubles which their father had left
them; so they said to the fool Emelian:

“Harkee, fool, we are going to the city, and will take your hundred
roubles with us, and if our traffic goes on profitably we will buy you a
red caftan, a red cap, and red boots; but do you remain at home, and if
your sisters-in-law, our wives (for they were married) order you to do
anything, be sure you do it.”

The fool, wishing to receive the red caftan, red cap, and red boots, told
his brothers in reply that he would do whatever his sisters-in-law should
order him.  After this, his brothers set out for the city, and the fool
remained at home, and lived with his sisters-in-law.  After some time, on
a certain day, when it was winter, and there was a terrible frost, his
sisters-in-law told him to go for water; but the fool, who was lying on
the petsch, or stove, said:

“Yes, indeed, and why not you?”

“Why not we, you fool?” cried the sisters-in-law; “don’t you see what a
frost it is? and that none but a man can go out in such weather?”

“But,” said he, “I am lazy.”

“Lazy?” screamed his sisters-in-law; “won’t you presently want something
to eat?  And if there be no water how can we boil anything?”  Thereupon
they added, “Very well, when our husbands come home with the red caftan
and cap they promised him, we will tell them to give him nothing.”

When the fool heard this he thought it best to go, for he wished very
much to get the red caftan and cap.  So getting down from the petsch he
began to put on his stockings and boots, and to dress himself; and when
he was quite dressed, he took with him a couple of pails and a hatchet,
and went to the river: for the village in which they lived stood very
near the river.  When he had come to the stream, he began to hew away at
the ice, and when he had made a very big hole, he filled his pails with
water, and placing them on the ice, he stood beside the hole, and looked.
Now as the fool stood and looked he saw a very large pike swimming in the
hole.  Fool as Emelian was, he nevertheless wished to catch the pike.  He
therefore advanced softly, and coming near to it, seized it suddenly with
his hand, and pulling it out of the water, placed it in his bosom, and
began to make for home.  But the pike said to him:

“How’s this, fool? for what do you seize me?”

“For what?” said he; “I shall carry you home, and tell my sisters-in-law
to boil you.”

“Not so, fool, don’t carry me home, but put me back into the water, and I
will make you a rich man.”

But the fool did not believe him, and was making for home.  The pike,
seeing that the fool did not let him go, said:

“Listen, fool, do but put me into the water, and I will do for you
whatsoever you wish, so that every desire of your heart shall be

The fool, hearing these words, was very glad; for, as he was excessively
lazy, he thought to himself—

“If the pike does whatever I ask all will be got ready for me, and I
shall have no need to work.”

He therefore said to the pike:

“I will let you go, only do what you promise.”

Thereupon the pike made answer:

“First place me in the water, and I will fulfil my promise.”

But the fool said to him that he must first of all perform his promise,
and that he would then let him go.

The pike, seeing that he would not put him into the water, said:

“If you wish me to do for you what you want, you must now tell me what it
is that you desire.”

The fool said:

“I desire that my pails of water should march of themselves up the hill”
(for the village stood upon a hill), “but so that none of the water be
spilt out of them.”

The pike immediately said to him:

“Remember, Emelian, the words which I am about to say to you, and the
words are as follows: ‘At the pike’s behest, and at my request, march,
pails, by yourselves up the hill.’”

The fool repeated the words after the pike:

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request march, pails, by yourselves up
the hill.”

Forthwith the pails, and the yoke by which he was wont to carry them,
marched of themselves up the hill.  Emelian, seeing this, was very much
surprised, and said to the pike:

“Will it always be so?”

To which the pike made answer:

“All things you wish will be done, even as this has been done: only don’t
forget the words which I have taught you.”

Thereupon he released the pike into the water, and went himself after his
pails.  The neighbours, seeing what was going on, were filled with
wonder, and said, amongst, themselves—

“What is the fool about?  The pails of water walk of themselves, and he
walks after them.”

But Emelian, without saying anything to them, went home, and the pails
went of themselves into the keeping-room, and placed themselves on the
bench, while the fool mounted upon the petsch.  A little time after, his
sisters-in-law said to him again:

“Emelian, what do you lie there for? go and cut some wood.”

But the fool said:

“Yes, indeed, and why not you?”

“We?” screamed his sisters-in-law; “it is now winter, and if you do not
go and cut some wood you will soon be cold.”

“I am lazy,” said the fool.

“Lazy?” said his sisters-in-law to him, “then you will be frozen.”

Thereupon they added:

“If you don’t go and cut wood we will tell our husbands not to give you
the red caftan, nor the red cap, nor the boots.”

The fool, from the desire which he felt to obtain the red caftan, cap,
and boots, was obliged to comply with their request.  But as he was
thoroughly lazy, and did not wish to get down from the petsch, he said
these words softly as he lay:

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request, go, hatchet, now, and cut down
wood; and do you, wood, come of yourself to the room, and stow yourself
within the stove.”

Forthwith, the hatchet, without anyone taking it, hopped forth, and began
to cut away, and the wood of itself came into the room, and stowed itself
in the stove, at the sight of which the sisters-in-law wondered much at
the craft of Emelian; and every day, when the fool only ordered the
hatchet to go out and cut wood, the hatchet went and cut some.  And in
this manner he lived with his sisters-in-law for some time.  At length,
his sisters-in-law said to him:

“Emelian! we have no wood, so pray go out into the forest and cut some.”

The fool said: “Why don’t you go yourselves?”

“How should we go?” replied his sisters-in-law; “the forest is a great
way off, and as it is now winter, it is too cold for us to go to the
forest for wood.”

But the fool said to them:

“I am lazy.”

“Lazy!” cried his sisters-in-law; “if you don’t go you will soon be cold.
But if you refuse to go, when your brothers, our husbands, come home we
will order them to give you neither red caftan, red cap, nor red boots.”

The fool, wishing to obtain the red caftan, cap and boots, felt obliged
to go to the forest for wood, and getting up from the petsch, he began to
put on his stockings and boots, and to dress himself; and when he was
quite dressed he went out into the court, and drawing the sledge out of
the shed, and taking with him a rope and hatchet, he mounted the sledge,
and bade his sisters-in-law open the gate.  The sisters-in-law, seeing
that he got into the sledge without putting the horses to it, for the
fool did not lead out the horses, said to him:

“How is this, Emelian? you have got into the sledge without putting the
horses to it.”

But he said to them that he had no need of horses, and only wanted them
to open the gate.  The sisters-in-law did so, and the fool as he sat in
the sledge, said:

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request, set forward, sledge, to the

At these words the sledge forthwith went forth.  The country people
living around were quite astounded to see Emelian riding in the sledge
without horses, and going with such speed that, even if the best pair of
horses in the world had been fastened to the sledge, it would have been
impossible to go quicker.  Now as it was necessary for the fool, in order
to reach the forest, to go through the town, he drove through it at full
speed; but as he did not know that it was necessary for him to cry out,
in order that the people might not be run over, he drove through the city
without crying to the people to get out of the way, and ran over a great
number of them, and although they gave chase to him, yet it was
impossible to overtake him.  Emelian, having passed through the city and
reached the wood, stopped the sledge.  The fool then getting out of the
sledge, said:

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request, fall, hatchet, now to cutting
wood; and do you, wood, gather yourself into the sledge and be corded.”

Scarcely had the fool said these words when the hatchet began to cut
wood, and the wood, gathering itself up, placed itself in the sledge, and
tied itself with the cord.  After he had cut as much wood as he wanted,
he ordered the hatchet to cut down a small oak; and when the hatchet had
done so, he placed himself upon the load, and said:

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request, O sledge, now travel home.”

The sledge instantly set off very briskly.  But when Emelian arrived at
the city in which he had run over so many people, the folks were waiting
for him in order to seize him, and as soon as he drove into the city they
set about dragging him off the load and began to belabour him.  The fool,
seeing that they were pulling him and beating him, said these words, in
an undertone:

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request, now, sapling, break their arms
and legs.”

Forthwith the sapling, springing out, began to beat them in a pretty
manner, and the people taking to flight, the fool drove out of the town
to his own village, whilst the sapling drubbed all soundly, and went in
pursuit of them.  Emelian, on reaching his home, mounted upon the petsch.

In the meantime, after he had driven out of the city, there was much talk
of him everywhere,—not because he had driven over a number of people, but
because he had come driving to the city on a sledge without horses; and
by degrees the news reached the court, and came to the ears of the king
himself.  The king, on hearing the story, felt no little desire to see
the fool, and sent an officer with some soldiers to seek him.  The
officer proceeded without delay out of the city, taking the road by which
the fool had travelled in order to go to the forest.  On arriving at the
village where Emelian lived, the officer sent for the starost, or head
man of the village, and said to him:

“I am sent by the king to take your fool, and convey him to his

The starost immediately showed him the house where Emelian lived, and the
officer, going into the kitchen, demanded—

“Where’s the fool?”

The fool, who was lying on the petsch, answered—

“What’s that to you?”

“What’s that to me?  Dress yourself quickly that I may carry you to the
presence of the king.”

Quoth Emelian:

“What have I to do there?”

The officer, enraged at his answering so disrespectfully, struck him on
the cheek.  The fool, feeling himself struck, said softly:

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request, oak sapling, break their hands
and shins.”

The sapling hopping forth, began to beat them, drubbing them all
preciously, both officer and soldiers, so that the officer was obliged to
return discomfited.  Arriving at the city, he related to the king how the
fool had beaten them all.  The king was very much astonished, and did not
believe it possible that he could have beaten so many.  The king,
however, selected a prudent man, whom he sent with an injunction to bring
the fool to him if possible, even though he should have recourse to
deceit.  The king’s envoy, arriving at the village where Emelian lived,
sent for the starost, and said to him:

“I am sent by the king to fetch your fool; but first of all, bring before
me the people with whom he lives.”

The starost instantly ran and brought the sisters-in-law; and the envoy
asked them—

“What does the fool like?”

The sisters-in-law replied:

“Gracious, sir, our fool likes to be intreated to do a thing; he refuses
once and twice in order to be entreated a third time, when he never
refuses, but does all that he is asked,—but he does not like to be spoken
to roughly.”

The envoy then dismissed them, warning them not to tell Emelian that he
had sent for them.  After that, having bought some raisins, prunes, and
dried figs, he proceeded to the house of the fool, and on his arrival he
went up to the petsch, and said:

“How’s this, Emelian, why are you lying on the petsch?”

Then, giving him the raisins, prunes, and dried figs, he said:

“Come, Emelian, I will carry you to the king.”

But the fool answered:

“I am warm here,” for he loved nothing but warmth.

“Let us go, Emelian,” said the envoy, “you will be quite comfortable

“Aye,” said the fool, “but I am lazy.”

Thereupon the envoy began to beseech him once more.

“Pray let us go, Emelian, the king has ordered a red caftan to be made
for you, and also a red cap, and red boots.”

The fool, hearing that a red caftan had been ordered to be made for him,
provided he went, said: “Do you go before, and I will follow.”

The envoy, not wishing to trouble him any more, left him, and asked
privately of the sisters-in-law whether the fool would not deceive him;
but they assured him that he never deceived anybody.  The envoy then set
forth on his return, and the fool, placing himself once more on the
petsch, said:

“O how I wish that I had not to go to court, but was there already.”

Thereupon he said:

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request, move straight, O petsch, to the

Thereupon the walls of the room gave a crack, and the petsch sallied
forth, and when the petsch was clear of the house it drove along with
such rapidity that it was impossible to overtake it.  On the road it
overtook the envoy, and drove in his company to the court.  The king,
being told that the fool had arrived, went out to look at him, with all
his ministers, and seeing that Emelian came on the petsch, he was filled
with wonder.  As for the fool, he lay still, and said nothing.  After a
little time the king asked him why he had run over so many people when he
went to the forest for wood.

“How could I help it?” said Emelian; “why did they not get out of my

Just then, the king’s daughter came to a window, and looked at the fool.
Emelian, chancing to turn his eye to the window from which she was
looking, and seeing that she was very handsome, said in an undertone:

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request, may yon beauty fall in love
with me.”

No sooner had he pronounced these words than the daughter of the king
fell in love with him as she gazed upon him.  And the fool, after that,

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request, move back, petsch, to our own

The petsch, without a moment’s delay, marched out of the court, drove
through the city, and made for home, where, on arriving, it resumed its
former place.

After that Emelian lived for some time quite at his ease; but the king,
in the city, fared very differently, for the princess, having fallen in
love with the fool at the words which he had uttered, began to beg of her
father to give her the fool for a husband.  The king was very much
incensed both against her and the fool, and wished very much to lay
violent hands on the latter, but did not know how.  Thereupon the king’s
ministers proposed that the officer who had before gone for Emelian, and
had failed to bring him, should be sent again for him on account of his
former failure.  The king, approving of their counsel, summoned the
officer to his presence, and when he appeared before him, the king said:

“Listen, friend, I sent thee for the fool before: but thou didst not
bring him; now for that offence I will send thee a second time, and in
order that thou mayest bring him without fail, I tell thee that if thou
dost bring him thou shalt be rewarded, and if thou dost not thou shalt be

The officer, on hearing the words of the king departed without delay in
quest of the fool, and having arrived at the village, he sent again for
the starost, and said to him:

“Here is money for you, buy all that is necessary for a good dinner
to-morrow, invite Emelian, and when he is dining with you ply him with
drink until he falls under the table.”

The starost, knowing that he was sent by the king, did not dare to
disobey him, but purchased all that was necessary, and invited the fool.
Emelian having promised to come, the officer expected him with great joy;
and the fool coming the next day, they plied him so hard with drink that
Emelian lay down and fell dead asleep.  The officer, seeing that he was
asleep, immediately ordered his kabitka to be got ready, and to draw up
to the door, and when it drew up they placed the fool in it.  After that
the officer got into the kabitka, and carried him straight to the court.
The ministers forthwith gave information to the king of the arrival of
the officer, and the king no sooner heard of it than he gave orders for a
great barrel to be well fenced with iron hoops, which was forthwith done,
and the barrel was brought to the king, who, seeing that all was ready,
ordered his daughter and the fool to be placed in the barrel, and the
barrel to be covered with pitch.  No sooner had this been done than he
commanded the barrel to be cast into the sea, and was forthwith obeyed.
The king then returned to his palace, and the barrel, abandoned to its
fate, floated about for some hours.  The fool all this time was asleep;
awaking, however, at last, and perceiving that he was in darkness, he
asked of himself—“Where am I?” for he imagined that he was alone.

“You are in a barrel, Emelian,” said the princess; “and they have placed
me with you.”

“And who are you?” asked the fool.

“I am the king’s daughter,” she replied; and then she related on what
account she had been placed in the barrel with him.

Thereupon she begged him to deliver himself and her from the barrel.  But
the fool made no other reply than—

“I am warm enough here.”

“Pray have mercy upon me,” said the princess.  “Take compassion on my
tears, and deliver me out of this barrel.”

“I’ll do no such thing,” said Emelian, “I am lazy.”

The princess began again to beseech him:

“Have mercy upon me, Emelian; save me out of this barrel, and do not let
me die.”

The fool, being moved by her entreaties and tears, said to her:

“Very well, I will do this one thing for you.”  After that, he said
softly to himself: “At the pike’s behest, and at my request, cast up, O
sea, this barrel, in which we lie, on some dry place, as near as possible
to our own country; and do thou, barrel on coming to dry ground, go to
pieces of thyself.”

Scarcely had the fool uttered these words when the sea began to heave,
and forthwith cast the barrel on dry ground, whereupon the barrel went to
pieces of itself.  Emelian arose, and went with the princess farther up
the land on which they were cast, and the fool perceived that they were
upon a very beautiful island, on which were a great number of trees of
different kinds, and with all kinds of fruits; and the princess, seeing
these things, was very much rejoiced that they were upon so beautiful an
island.  In a little time, however, she said:

“But Emelian, where are we to live, for here I don’t see a hut or any
kind of shelter?”

But the fool said:

“You are already hankering for something more.”

“Do be so kind, Emelian, as to order some kind of house to be built,”
said the princess, “in order that we may have some place to take shelter
in when it rains;” for by this time the princess knew that he could do
anything if he did but please.

But the fool said:

“I am lazy.”

Whereupon she began to beseech him again, and Emelian, touched by her
entreaties, was obliged to do what she desired; and going a little way
apart from her, said:

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request, may there be erected, in the
midst of this island, a palace which shall be twice better than the
king’s; and may there be from the palace a crystal bridge to cross the
water by; and may there be in the palace all kinds of servants.”

Scarcely had he pronounced these words when an enormous palace with a
crystal bridge made its appearance.  The fool and the princess, entering
the palace, perceived that there was plenty of magnificent furniture in
the rooms, and that there were numbers of people, both lackeys and
officers, of various descriptions, who were awaiting the commands of the
fool.  The fool, seeing that all these people had a decent and honourable
appearance, and that he alone was a lout, wished to be made better, and
therefore said:

“At the pike’s behest, and at my request, be I now made a youth so
handsome as to have no equal, and possest of the very best of

These words were scarcely uttered when he became so handsome and
intelligent that everybody wondered.  After this, Emelian sent one of his
servants to the king, to invite him and all his ministers to the palace.
The messenger of Emelian rode to the king over that same crystal bridge
which the fool had built.  On his arrival at court the ministers
presented him to the king, whom the messenger addressed in this manner:

“Gracious sir, I am sent by my master with his humble compliments to
invite you to dinner.”

“Who is thy master?” demanded the king.

But the messenger replied:

“I cannot tell you, gracious sir, anything of my master” (for the fool
had forbidden him to say who he was); “but after you have dined together
he will give you a full account of himself.”

The king, filled with curiosity to know who it could be that invited him
to dinner, told the messenger that he would come without fail; and the
messenger forthwith returned.  Scarcely had he arrived when the king,
with all his ministers, came riding over the bridge to dine with the
fool.  On the arrival of the king at the palace Emelian went out to meet
him, took him by the hand white as snow, kissed him on the mouth sweet as
sugar, and leading him into his palace of white marble, set him down to
the oaken table to the feast of sweet things and mead; and the king and
his ministers, sitting at the table, drank, ate, and were merry.  Now
when they got up from table, and sat in their places, the fool said to
the king:

“Gracious sir; do you know me, and who I am?”

But as Emelian was then in a splendid dress, and moreover as his face was
very handsome, it was impossible to recognise him.  Therefore the king
said that he did not know him.  But the fool said to him:

“Gracious sir, do you not remember how a certain fool came driving to
your court on a petsch, and how you shut him up with your daughter in a
barrel, which you covered over with pitch, and cast out upon the sea?
Know now that I am that very same Emelian.”

The king, seeing that it was the fool who was now before him, was very
much frightened, and did not know what to do.  But the fool at that
moment went for the princess, and led her before the king.  The king on
seeing his daughter was very much delighted, and said to the fool:

“I have sinned grievously against you; I therefore give you my daughter
as a wife.”

The fool, on hearing these words, most humbly thanked the king; and as
Emelian had everything ready for the marriage, it was celebrated that day
with great magnificence.  On the next day the fool gave a magnificent
banquet to all the ministers, whilst for the common people hogsheads were
brought out, full of all kinds of drinks.  When the rejoicing was over
the king offered to resign his kingdom to him, but he refused to accept
it.  Thereupon the king returned to his dominions.  But the fool remained
in his palace, and lived in great happiness and prosperity.

                                * * * * *

               Printed for THOMAS J. WISE, Hampstead, N.W.
                   _Edition limited to Thirty Copies_.

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allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.