The Miser

From RUSSIAN FAIRY TALES, collected by Aleksandr Afanas’ev

Translated by Norbert Guterman (1973) Random House

There was once a wealthy merchant named Marka, and never was anyone so stingy as he!  One day he went for a walk, and on his way he saw an old beggar asking for alms.

“For Christ’s sake, pious men, give me something!”

Marka the Wealthy passed him by, but a poor peasant coming behind him felt pity for the beggar and gave him a kopek.  Marka felt ashamed, stopped and said to the peasant, “Please lend me a kopek.  I want to give something to the beggar, but I have no small coins.”

The peasant gave him a kopek and asked, “When shall I come to collect my loan?”

“Come tomorrow.”

The next day the poor man went to the rich man for his kopek.  He entered the broad courtyard.  “Is Marka the Wealthy at home?”

“He is.  What do you want?” asked Marka.

“I have come for my kopek.”

“Ah brother, come some other time.  I have no small coins now.”

The poor man bowed and said, “I will come tomorrow.”

The following day he came again and was told, “I have no small coins.  Can you change a hundred rubles?  Then I’ll give you your kopek.  If not, come in two weeks.”

Two weeks later the poor man went again to the rich man.  When Marka the Wealthy saw him through the window, he said to his wife, “Listen, I will take off all my clothes and lie beneath the icons.  You cover me with a shroud and groan and weep and mourn as if I were dead.  When that peasant comes for his kopek, tell him I died today.”

His wife did just that.  She sat down before his shrouded body and wept burning tears.  The poor man came in.  He said softly, “I have come to collect my loan.”

“Ah little peasant, Marka the Wealthy wished you a long life.  He has just died!”

“May he go to heaven.  Permit me, hostess, to do something for him for my kopek—at least I can wash his sinful body.”  He quickly got a kettle of boiling water and poured it over Marka the Wealthy.  Marka could barely stand it.  He gritted his teeth and jerked his feet.  The poor man said, “I don’t care how much you jerk.  Give me back my kopek!”  He washed the body and prepared it for burial.  “Now, hostess, buy a coffin and have it taken to the church.  I will read the Psalter over him.”

Marka the Wealthy was put in a coffin and taken to the church, and the peasant began to read the Psalter over him.  Dark of night came.

Suddenly a window opened and thieves broke into the church.  The peasant saw them hauling in their booty, and he hid behind the altar.  They divided up everything right before the coffin.  Only a golden saber remained, and each one of them wanted it and refused to yield it to the others.  In the middle of their squabble the peasant jumped out from the altar and cried, “Why do you quarrel?  Whoever cuts off the dead man’s head shall have the saber!”

This frightened Marka the Wealthy, and he jumped out of his coffin.  The thieves dropped their money, scrambled away through the window and ran off in the night.

“Now, little peasant,” said Marka, “let us share the money.”  They shared it evenly and they both got quite a bit.

“And how about my kopek?” said the poor man.

“Well, brother, you can see for yourself I have no small coins!”  And so Marka the Wealthy never returned the kopek.

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