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A short story by William Ralston Shedden-Ralston

The Hasty Word

Title:     The Hasty Word
Author: William Ralston Shedden-Ralston [More Titles by Shedden-Ralston]

Translator: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889


In a certain village there lived an old couple in great poverty, and they had one son. The son grew up,[471] and the old woman began to say to the old man:

"It's time for us to get our son married."

"Well then, go and ask for a wife for him," said he.

So she went to a neighbor to ask for his daughter for her son: the neighbor refused. She went to a second peasant's, but the second refused too--to a third, but he showed her the door. She went round the whole village; not a soul would grant her request. So she returned home and cried--

"Well, old man! our lad's an unlucky fellow!"

"How so?"

"I've trudged round to every house, but no one will give him his daughter."

"That's a bad business!" says the old man; "the summer will soon be coming, but we have no one to work for us here. Go to another village, old woman, perhaps you will get a bride for him there."

The old woman went to another village, visited every house from one end to the other, but there wasn't an atom of good to be got out of it. Wherever she thrusts herself, they always refuse. With what she left home, with that she returned home.

"No," she says, "no one wants to become related to us poor beggars."

"If that's the case," answers the old man, "there's no use in wearing out your legs. Jump up on to the polati."[472]

The son was sorely afflicted, and began to entreat his parents, saying:

"My born father and my born mother! give me your blessing. I will go and seek my fate myself."

"But where will you go?"

"Where my eyes lead me."

So they gave him their blessing, and let him go whithersoever it pleased him.[473]

Well, the youth went out upon the highway, began to weep very bitterly, and said to himself as he walked:

"Was I born into the world worse than all other men, that not a single girl is willing to marry me? Methinks if the devil himself would give me a bride, I'd take even her!"

Suddenly, as if rising from the earth, there appeared before him a very old man.

"Good-day, good youth!"

"Good-day, old man!"

"What was that you were saying just now?"

The youth was frightened and did not know what reply to make.

"Don't be afraid of me! I sha'n't do you any harm, and moreover, perhaps I may get you out of your trouble. Speak boldly!"

The youth told him everything precisely.

"Poor creature that I am! There isn't a single girl who will marry me. Well, as I went along I became exceedingly wretched, and in my misery I said: 'If the devil offered me a bride, I'd take even her!'"

The old man laughed and said:

"Follow me, I'll let you choose a lovely bride for yourself."

By-and-by they reached a lake.

"Turn your back to the lake and walk backwards," said the old man. Scarcely had the youth had time to turn round and take a couple of steps, when he found himself under the water and in a white-stone palace--all its rooms splendidly furnished, cunningly decorated. The old man gave him to eat and to drink. Afterwards he introduced twelve maidens, each one more beautiful than the other.

"Choose whichever you like! whichever you choose, her will I bestow upon you."

"That's a puzzling job!" said the youth; "give me till to-morrow morning to think about it, grandfather!"

"Well, think away!" said the old man, and led his guest to a private chamber. The youth lay down to sleep and thought:

"Which one shall I choose?"

Suddenly the door opened; a beautiful maiden entered.

"Are you asleep, or not, good youth?" says she.

"No, fair maiden! I can't get to sleep, for I'm always thinking which bride to choose."

"That's the very reason I have come to give you counsel. You see, good youth, you've managed to become the devil's guest. Now listen. If you want to go on living in the white world, then do what I tell you. But if you don't follow my instructions, you'll never get out of here alive!"

"Tell me what to do, fair maiden. I won't forget it all my life."

"To-morrow the fiend will bring you twelve maidens, each one exactly like the others. But you take a good look and choose me. A fly will be sitting above my right eye--that will be a certain guide for you." And then the fair maiden proceeded to tell him about herself, who she was.

"Do you know the priest of such and such a village?" she says. "I'm his daughter, the one who disappeared from home when nine years old. One day my father was angry with me, and in his wrath he said, 'May devils fly away with you!' I went out on the steps and began to cry. All of a sudden the fiends seized me and brought me here; and here I am living with them!"

Next morning the old man brought in the twelve fair maidens--one just like another--and ordered the youth to choose his bride. He looked at them and took her above whose right eye sat a fly. The old man was loth to give her up, so he shifted the maidens about, and told him to make a fresh choice. The youth pointed out the same one as before. The fiend obliged him to choose yet a third time. He again guessed his bride aright.

"Well, you're in luck! take her home with you," said the fiend.

Immediately the youth and the fair maiden found themselves on the shore of the lake, and until they reached the high road they kept on walking backwards. Presently the devils came rushing after them in hot pursuit:

"Let us recover our maiden!" they cry.

They look: there are no footsteps going away from the lake; all the footsteps lead into the water! They ran to and fro, they searched everywhere, but they had to go back empty handed.

Well, the good youth brought his bride to her village, and stopped opposite the priest's house. The priest saw him and sent out his laborer, saying:

"Go and ask who those people are."

"We? we're travellers; please let us spend the night in your house," they replied.

"I have merchants paying me a visit," says the priest, "and even without them there's but little room in the house."

"What are you thinking of, father?" says one of the merchants. "It's always one's duty to accommodate a traveller, they won't interfere with us."

"Very well, let them come in."

So they came in, exchanged greetings, and sat down on a bench in the back corner.

"Don't you know me, father?" presently asks the fair maiden. "Of a surety I am your own daughter."

Then she told him everything that had happened. They began to kiss and embrace each other, to pour forth tears of joy.

"And who is this man?" says the priest.

"That is my betrothed. He brought me back into the white world; if it hadn't been for him I should have remained down there for ever!"

After this the fair maiden untied her bundle, and in it were gold and silver dishes: she had carried them off from the devils. The merchant looked at them and said:

"Ah! those are my dishes. One day I was feasting with my guests, and when I got drunk I became angry with my wife. 'To the devil with you!' I exclaimed, and began flinging from the table, and beyond the threshold, whatever I could lay my hands upon. At that moment my dishes disappeared!"

And in reality so had it happened. When the merchant mentioned the devil's name, the fiend immediately appeared at the threshold, began seizing the gold and silver wares, and flinging in their place bits of pottery.

Well, by this accident the youth got himself a capital bride. And after he had married her he went back to his parents. They had long ago counted him as lost to them for ever. And indeed it was no subject for jesting; he had been away from home three whole years, and yet it seemed to him that he had not in all spent more than twenty-four hours with the devils.



[470] Afanasief, v. No. 48.

[471] "Entered upon his matured years," from 17 to 21.

[472] The sleeping-place.

[473] Literally, "to all the four sides."

[The end]
William Ralston Shedden-Ralston's short story: Hasty Word