Source: The Complete Works of Count Tolstoy, Volume XII. 1904. Translated from the original Russian and edited by Leo Wiener. Boston, MA: Dana Estes & Co.
THE SNAKE’S HEAD AND TAIL
THE Snake’s Tail had a quarrel with the Snake’s Head about who was to walk in front. The Head said: “You cannot walk in front, because you have no eyes and no ears.” The Tail said: “Yes, but I have strength, I move you; if I want to, I can wind myself around a tree, and you cannot get off the spot.” The Head said: “Let us separate!” And the Tail tore himself loose from the Head, and crept on; but the moment he got away from the Head, he fell into a hole and was lost.
A Man ordered some fine thread from a Spinner. The Spinner spun it for him, but the Man said that the thread was not good, and that he wanted the finest thread he could get. The Spinner said: “If this is not fine enough, take this!” and she pointed to an empty space. He said that he did not see any. The Spinner said: “You do not see it, because it is so fine. I do not see it myself.” The Fool was glad, and ordered some more thread of this kind, and paid her for what he got.
THE PARTITION OF THE INHERITANCE
A Father had two Sons. He said to them: “When I die, divide everything into two equal parts.” When the Father died, the Sons could not divide without quarrelling. They went to a Neighbour to have him settle the matter. The Neighbour asked them how their Father had told them to divide. They said: “He ordered us to divide everything into two equal parts.” The Neighbour said: “If so, tear all your garments into two halves, break your dishes into two halves, and cut all your cattle into two halves!” The Brothers obeyed their Neighbour, and lost everything.
A Man went into the woods, cut down a tree, and began to saw it. He raised the end of the tree on a stump, sat astride over it, and began to saw. Then he drove a wedge into the split that he had sawed, and went on sawing; then he took out the wedge and drove it in farther down. A Monkey was sitting on a tree and watching him. When the Man lay down to sleep, the Monkey seated herself astride the tree, and wanted to do the same; but when she took out the wedge, the tree sprang back and caught her tail. She began to tug and to cry. The Man woke up, beat the Monkey, and tied a rope to her.
THE MONKEY AND THE PEAS
A Monkey was carrying both her hands full of peas. A pea dropped on the ground; the Monkey wanted to pick it up, and dropped twenty peas. She rushed to pick them up and lost all the rest. Then she flew into a rage, swept away all the pease and ran off.
THE MILCH COW
A Man had a Cow; she gave each day a pot full of milk. The Man invited a number of guests. To have as much milk as possible, he did not milk the Cow for ten days. He thought that on the tenth day the Cow would give him ten pitchers of milk. But the Cow’s milk went back, and she gave less milk than before.
THE DUCK AND THE MOON
A Duck was swimming in the pond, trying to find some fish, but she did not find one in a whole day. When night came, she saw the Moon in the water; she thought that it was a fish, and plunged in to catch the Moon. The other ducks saw her do it and laughed at her. That made the Duck feel so ashamed and bashful that when she saw a fish under the water, she did not try to catch it, and so died of hunger.
THE JACKALS AND THE ELEPHANT
The Jackals had eaten up all the carrion in the woods, and had nothing to eat. So an old Jackal was thinking how to find something to feed on. He went to an Elephant, and said: “We had a king, but he became overweening: he told us to do things that nobody could do; we want to choose another king, and my people have sent me to ask you to be our king. You will have an easy life with us. Whatever you will order us to do, we will do, and we will honour you in everything. Come to our kingdom!” The Elephant consented, and followed the Jackal. The Jackal brought him to a swamp. When the Elephant stuck fast in it, the Jackal said: “Now command! Whatever you command, we will do.” The Elephant said: “I command you to pull me out from here.” The Jackal began to laugh, and said: “Take hold of my tail with your trunk, and I will pull you out at once.” The Elephant said: “Can I be pulled out by a tail?” But the Jackal said to him: “Why, then, do you command us to do what is impossible? Did we not drive away our first king for telling us to do what could not be done?” When the Elephant died in the swamp the Jackals came and ate him up.
THE HERON, THE FISHES, AND THE CRAB
A Heron was living near a pond. She grew old, and had no strength left with which to catch the fish. She began to contrive how to live by cunning. So she said to the Fishes: “You Fishes do not know that a calamity is in store for you: I have heard the people say that they are going to let off the pond, and catch every one of you. I know of a nice little pond back of the mountain. I should like to help you, but I am old, and it is hard for me to fly.” The Fishes begged the Heron to help them. So the Heron said: “All right, I will do what I can for you, and will carry you over: only I cannot do it at once, — I will take you there one after another.” And the Fishes were happy; they kept begging her: “Carry me over! Carry me over!” And the Heron started carrying them. She would take one up, would carry her into the field, and would eat her up. And thus she ate a large number of Fishes. In the pond there lived an old Crab. When the Heron began to take out the Fishes, he saw what was up, and said: “Now, Heron, take me to the new abode!” The Heron took the Crab and carried him off. When she flew out on the field, she wanted to throw the Crab down. But the Crab saw the fish-bones on the ground, and so squeezed the Heron’s neck with his claws, and choked her to death. Then he crawled back to the pond, and told the Fishes.
THE WATER-SPRITE AND THE PEARL
A Man was rowing in a boat, and dropped a costly pearl into the sea. The Man returned to the shore, took a pail, and began to draw up the water and to pour it out on the land. He drew the water and poured it out for three days without stopping. On the fourth day the Water-sprite came out of the sea, and asked: “Why are you drawing the water?” The Man said: “I am drawing it because I have dropped a pearl into it.” The Water-sprite asked him: “Will you stop soon?” The Man said: “I will stop when I dry up the sea.” Then the Water-sprite returned to the sea, brought back that pearl, and gave it to the Man.
THE BLIND MAN AND THE MILK
A Man born blind asked a Seeing Man: “Of what colour is milk?” The Seeing Man said: “The colour of milk is the same as that of white paper.” The Blind Man asked: “Well, does that colour rustle in your hands like paper?” The Seeing Man said: “No, it is as white as white flour.” The Blind Man asked: “Well, is it as soft and as powdery as flour?” The Seeing Man said: “No, it is simply as white as a white hare.” The Blind Man asked: “Well, is it as fluffy and soft as a hare?” The Seeing Man said: “No, it is as white as snow.” The Blind Man asked: “Well, is it as cold as snow?” And no matter how many examples the Seeing Man gave, the Blind Man was unable to understand what the white colour of milk was like.
THE WOLF AND THE BOW
A hunter went out to hunt with bow and arrows. He killed a goat. He threw her on his shoulders and carried her along. On his way he saw a boar. He threw down the goat, and shot at the boar and wounded him. The boar rushed against the hunter and butted him to death, and himself died on the spot. A Wolf scented the blood, and came to the place where lay the goat, the boar, the man, and his bow. The Wolf was glad, and said: “Now I shall have enough to eat for a long time; only I will not eat everything at once, but little by little, so that nothing may be lost: first I will eat the tougher things, and then I will lunch on what is soft and sweet.” The Wolf sniffed at the goat, the boar, and the man, and said: “This is all soft food, so I will eat it later; let me first start on these sinews of the bow.” And he began to gnaw the sinews of the bow. When he bit threw the string, the bow sprang back and hit him on his belly. He died on the spot, and other wolves ate up the man, the goat, the boar, and the Wolf.
THE BIRDS IN THE NET
A Hunter set out a net near a lake and caught a number of birds. The birds were large, and they raised the net and flew away with it. The Hunter ran after them. A Peasant saw the Hunter running, and said: “Where are you running?. How can you catch up with the birds, while you are on foot?” The Hunter said: “If it were one bird, I should not catch it, but now I shall” And so it happened. When evening came, the birds began to pull for the night each in a different direction: one to the woods, another to the swamp, a third to the field; and all fell with the net to the ground, and the Hunter caught them.
THE KING AND THE FALCON
A certain King let his favourite Falcon loose on a hare, and galloped after him. The Falcon caught the hare. The King took him away, and began to look for some water to drink. The King found it on a knoll, but it came only drop by drop. The King fetched his cup from the saddle, and placed it under the water. The water flowed in drops, and when the cup was filled, the King raised it to his mouth and wanted to drink it. Suddenly the Falcon fluttered on the King’s arm and spilled the water. The King placed the cup once more under the drops. He waited for a long time for the cup to be filled even with the brim, and again, as he carried it to his mouth, the Falcon flapped his wings and spilled the water. When the King filled his cup for the third time and began to carry it to his mouth, the Falcon again spilled it. The King flew into a rage and killed him by flinging him against a stone with all his force. Just then the King’s servants rode up, and one of thetn ran up-hill to the spring, to find as much water as possible, and to fill the cup. But the servant did not bring the water; he returned with the empty cup, and said: “You cannot drink that water; there is a snake in the spring, and she has let her venom into the water. It is fortunate that the Falcon has spilled the water. If you had drunk it, you would have died.” The King said: “How badly I have repaid the Falcon! He has saved my life, and I killed him.”
THE KING AND THE ELEPHANTS
An Indian King ordered all the Blind People to be assembled, and when they came, he ordered that all the Elephants be shown to them. The Blind Men went to the stable and began to feel the Elephants. One felt a leg, another a tail, a third the stump of a tail, a fourth a belly, a fifth a back, a sixth the ears, a seventh the tusks, and an eighth a trunk. Then the King called the Blind Men, and asked them: “What are my Elephants like?” One Blind Man said: “Your Elephants are like posts.” He had felt the legs. Another Blind Man said: “They are like bath brooms.” He had felt the end of the tail. A third said: “They are like branches.” He had felt the tail stump. The one who had touched a belly said: “The Elephants are like a clod of earth.” The one who had touched the sides said: “They are like a wall.” The one who had touched a back said: “They are like a mound.” The one who had touched the ears said: “They are like a mortar.” The one who had touched the tusks said: “They are like horns.” The one who had touched the trunk said that they were like a stout rope. And all the Blind Men began to dispute and to quarrel.
WHY THERE IS EVIL IN THE WORLD
A Hermit was living in the forest, and the animals were not afraid of him. He and the animals talked together and understood each other. Once the Hermit lay down under a tree, and a Raven a Dove, a Stag, and a Snake gathered in the same place, to pass the night. The animals began to discuss why there was evil in the world. The Raven said: “All the evil in the world comes from hunger. When I eat my fill, I sit down on a branch and croak a little, and it is all jolly and good, and everything gives me pleasure; but let me just go without eating a day or two, and everything palls on me so that I do not feel like looking at God’s world. And something draws me on, and I fly from place to place, and have no rest. When I catch a glimpse of some meat, it makes me only feel sicker than ever, and I make for it without much thinking. At times they throw sticks and stones at me, and the wolves and dogs grab me, but I do not give in. Oh, how many of my brothers are perishing through hunger! All evil comes from hunger.” The Dove said: “According to my opinion, the evil does not come from hunger, but from love. If we lived singly, the trouble would not be so bad. One head is not poor, and if it is, it is only one. But here we live in pairs. And you come to like your mate so much that you have no rest: you keep thinking of her all the time, wondering whether she has had enough to eat, and whether she is warm. And when your mate flies away from you, you feel entirely lost, and you keep thinking that a hawk may have carried her off, or men may have caught her; and you start out to find her, and fly to your ruin, — either into the hawk’s claws, or into a snare. And when your mate is lost, nothing gives you any joy. You do not eat or drink, and all the time search and weep. Oh, so many of us perish in this way! All the evil is not from hunger, but from love.” The Snake said: “No, the evil is not from hunger, nor from love, but from rage. If we lived peacefully, without getting into a rage, everything would be nice for us. But, as it is, whenever a thing does not go exactly right, we get angry, and then nothing pleases us. All we think about is how to revenge ourselves on some one. Then we forget ourselves, and only hiss, and creep, and try to find some one to bite. And we do not spare a soul, — we even bite our own father and mother. We feel as though we could eat ourselves up. And we rage until we perish. All the evil in the world comes from rage.” The Stag said: “No, not from rage, or from love, or from hunger does all the evil in the world come, but from terror. If it were possible not to be afraid, everything would be well. We have swift feet and much strength: against a small animal we defend ourselves with our horns, and from a large one we flee. But how can I help becoming frightened? Let a branch crackle in the forest, or a leaf rustle, and I am all atremble with fear, and my heart flutters as though it wanted to jump out, and I fly as fast as I can. Again, let a hare run by, or a bird flap its wings, or a dry twig break off, and you think that it is a beast, and you run straight up against him. Or you run away from a dog and run into the hands of a man. Frequently you get frightened and run, not knowing whither, and at full speed rush down a steep hill, and get killed. We have no rest. All the evil comes from terror.” Then the Hermit said: “Not from hunger, not from love, not from rage, not from terror are all our sufferings, but from our bodies comes all the evil in the world. From them come hunger, and love, and rage, and terror.”
THE WOLF AND THE HUNTERS
A Wolf devoured a sheep. The Hunters caught the Wolf and began to beat him. The Wolf said: “In vain do you beat me: it is not my fault that I am gray, — God has made me so.” But the Hunters said: “We do not beat the Wolf for being gray, but for eating the sheep.”
THE TWO PEASANTS
Once upon a time two Peasants drove toward each other and caught in each other’s sleighs. One cried: “Get out of my way, — I am hurrying to town.” But the other said: “Get out of my way, I am hurrying home.” They quarreled for some time. A third Peasant saw them and said: “If you are in a hurry, back up!”
THE PEASANT AND THE HORSE
A Peasant went to town to fetch some oats for his Horse. He had barely left the village, when the Horse began to turn around, toward the house. The Peasant struck the Horse with his whip. She went on, and kept thinking about the Peasant: “Whither is that fool driving me? He had better go home.” Before reaching town, the Peasant saw that the Horse trudged along through the mud with difficulty, so he turned her on the pavement; but the Horse began to turn back from the street. The Peasant gave the Horse the whip, and jerked at the reins; she went on the pavement, and thought: “Why has he turned me on the pavement? It will only break my hoofs. It is rough underfoot.” The Peasant went to the shop, bought the oats, and drove home. When he came home, he gave the Horse some oats. The Horse ate them and thought: “How stupid men are! They are fond of exercising their wits on us, but they have less sense than we. What did he trouble himself about? He drove me somewhere. No matter how far we went, we came home in the end. So it would have been better if we had remained at home from the start: he could have been sitting on the oven, and I eating oats.”
THE TWO HORSES
Two Horses were drawing their carts. The Front Horse pulled well, but the Hind Horse kept stopping all the time. The load of the Hind Horse was transferred to the front cart; when all was transferred, the Hind Horse went along with ease, and said to the Front Horse: “Work hard and sweat! The more you try, the harder they will make you work.” When they arrived at the tavern, their master said: “Why should I feed two Horses, and haul with one only? I shall do better to give one plenty to eat, and to kill the other: I shall at least have her hide.” So he did.
THE AXE AND THE SAW
Two Peasants went to the forest to cut wood. One of them had an axe, and the other a saw. They picked out a tree, and began to dispute. One said that the tree had to be chopped, while the other said that it had to be sawed down. A third Peasant said: “I will easily make peace between you: if the axe is sharp, you had better chop it; but if the saw is sharp you had better saw it.” He took the axe, and began to chop it; but the axe was so dull that it was not possible to cut with it. Then he took the saw; the saw was worthless, and did not saw. So he said: “Stop quarrelling awhile; the axe does not chop, and the saw does not saw. First grind your axe and file your saw, and then quarrel.” But the Peasants grew angrier still at one another, because one had a dull axe, and the other a dull saw. And they came to blows.
THE DOGS AND THE COOK
A Cook was preparing a dinner. The Dogs were lying at the kitchen door. The Cook killed a calf and threw the guts out into the yard. The Dogs picked them up and ate them, and said: “He is a good Cook: he cooks well.” After awhile the Cook began to clean peas, turnips, and onions, and threw out the refuse. The Dogs made for it; but they turned their noses up, and said: “Our Cook has grown worse: he used to cook well, but now he is no longer any good.” But the Cook paid no attention to the Dogs, and continued to fix the dinner in his own way. The family, and not the Dogs, ate the dinner, and praised it.
THE HARE AND THE HARRIER
A Hare once said to a Harrier: “Why do you bark when you run after us? You would catch us easier, if you ran after us in silence. With your bark you only drive us against the hunter: he hears where we are running; and he rushes out with his gun and kills us, and does not give you anything.” The Harrier said: “That is not the reason why I bark. I bark because, when I scent your odour, I am angry, and happy because I am about to catch you; I do not know why, but I cannot keep from barking.”
THE OAK AND THE HAZELBUSH
An old Oak dropped an acorn under a Hazelbush. The Hazelbush said to the Oak: “Have you not enough space under your own branches? Drop your acorns in an open space. Here I am myself crowded by my shoots, and I do not drop my nuts to the ground, but give them to men.” “I have lived for two hundred years,” said the Oak, “and the Oakling which will sprout from that acorn will live just as long.” Then the Hazelbush flew into a rage, and said: “If so, I will choke your Oakling, and he will not live for three days.” The Oak made no reply, but told his son to sprout out of that acorn. The acorn got wet and burst, and clung to the ground with his crooked rootlet, and sent up a sprout. The Hazelbush tried to choke him, and gave him no sun. But the Oakling spread upwards and grew stronger in the shade of the Hazelbush. A hundred years passed. The Hazelbush had long ago dried up, but the Oak from that acorn towered to the sky and spread his tent in all directions.
THE HEN AND THE CHICKS
A Hen hatched some Chicks, but did not know how to take care of them. So she said to them: “Creep back into your shells! When you are inside your shells, I will sit on you as before, and will take care of you.” The Chicks did as they were ordered and tried to creep into their shells, but were unable to do so, and only crushed their wings. Then one of the Chicks said to his mother: “If we are to stay all the time in our shells, you ought never to have hatched us.”
THE CORN-CRAKE AND HIS HATE
A Corn-crake had made a nest in the meadow late in the year, and at mowing time his Mate was still sitting on her eggs. Early in the morning the peasants came to the meadow, took off their coats, whetted their scythes, and started one after another to mow down the grass and to put it down in rows. The Corn-crake flew up to see what the mowers were doing. When he saw a peasant swing his scythe and cut a snake in two, he rejoiced and flew back to his Mate and said: “Don’t fear the peasants! They have come to cut the snakes to pieces; they have given us no rest for quite awhile.” But his Mate said: “The peasants are cutting the grass, and with the grass they are cutting everything which is in their way, — the snakes, and the Corn-crake’s nest, and the Corn-crake’s head. My heart forebodes nothing good: but I cannot carry away the eggs, nor fly from the nest, for fear of chilling them.” When the mowers came to the nest of the Corn-crake, one of the peasants swung his scythe and cut off the head of the Corn-crake’s Mate, and put the eggs in his bosom and gave them to his children to play with.
THE COW AND THE BILLY GOAT
An old woman had a Cow and a Billy Goat. The two pastured together. At milking the Cow was restless. The old woman brought out some bread and salt, and gave it to the Cow, and said: “Stand still, motherkin; take it, take it! I will bring you some more, only stand still.” On the next evening the Goat came home from the field before the Cow, and spread his legs, and stood in front of the old woman. The old woman wanted to strike him with the towel, but he stood still, and did not stir. He remembered that the woman had promised the Cow some bread if she would stand still. When the woman saw that he would not budge, she picked up a stick, and beat him with it. When the Goat went away, the woman began once more to feed the Cow with bread, and to talk to her. “There is no honesty in men,” thought the Goat. “I stood still better than the Cow, and was beaten for it.” He stepped aside, took a run, hit against the milk-pail, spilled the milk, and hurt the old woman.
THE FOX’S TAIL
A Man caught a Fox, and asked her: “Who has taught you Foxes to cheat the dogs with your tails?” The Fox asked: “How do you mean, to cheat? We do not cheat the dogs, but simply run from them as fast as we can.” The Man said: “Yes, you do cheat them with your tails. When the dogs catch up with you and are about to clutch you, you turn your tails to one side; the dogs turn sharply after the tail, and then you run in the opposite direction.” The Fox laughed, and said: “We do not do so in order to cheat the dogs, but in order to turn around; when a dog is after us, and we see that we cannot get away straight ahead, we turn to one side, and in order to do that suddenly, we have to swing the tail to the other side, just as you do with your arms, when you have to turn around. That is not our invention; God himself invented it when He created us, so that the dogs might not be able to catch all the Foxes.”