LITTLE MASTER MISERY
 ONCE upon a time there were two brothers, peasants, and one was kind
and the other was cunning. And the cunning one made money and became
rich—very rich—so rich that he thought himself far too good for the
village. He went off to the town, and dressed in fine furs, and
clothed his wife in rich brocades, and made friends among the
merchants, and began to live as merchants live, eating all day long,
no longer like a simple peasant who eats kasha one day, kasha the next
day, and for a change kasha on the third day also. And always he grew
richer and richer.
It was very different with the kind one. He lent money to a neighbour,
and the neighbour never paid it back. He sowed before the last frost,
and lost all his crops. His horse went lame.
 His cow gave no milk. If
his hens laid eggs, they were stolen; and if he set a night-line in
the river, some one else always pulled it out and stole the fish and
the hooks. Everything went wrong with him, and each day saw him poorer
than the day before. At last there came a time when he had not a crumb
of bread in the house. He and his wife were thin as sticks because
they had nothing to eat, and the children were crying all day long
because of their little empty stomachs. From morning till night he dug
and worked, struggling against poverty like a fish against the ice;
but it was no good. Things went from bad to worse.
At last his wife said to him: "You must go to the town and see that
rich brother of yours. He will surely not refuse to give you a little
And he said: "Truly, wife, there is nothing else to be done. I will go
to the town, and perhaps my rich brother will help me. I am sure he
would not let my children starve. After all, he is their uncle."
So he took his stick and tramped off to the town.
He came to the house of his rich brother. A fine house it was, with
painted eaves and a doorway carved by a master. Many servants were
there and food in plenty, and people coming and
 going. He went in and found his brother, and said,—
"Dear brother of mine, I beg you help me, even if only a little. My
wife and children are without bread. All day long they sit hungry and
waiting, and I have no food to give them."
The rich brother looks at him, and hums and strokes his beard. Then
says he: "I will help you. But, of course, you must do something in
return. Stay here and work for me, and at the end of a week you shall
have the help you have earned."
The poor brother thanked him, and bowed and kissed his hand, and
praised God for the kindness of his brother's heart, and set instantly
to work. For a whole week he slaved, and scarcely slept. He cleaned
out the stables and cut the wood, swept the yard, drew water from the
well, and ran errands for the cook. And at the end of the week his
brother called him, and gave him a single loaf of bread.
"You must not forget," says the rich brother, "that I have fed you all
the week you have been here, and all that food counts in the payment."
The poor brother thanked him, and was setting off to carry the loaf to
his wife and children when the rich brother called him back.
 "Stop a minute," said he; "I would like you to know that I am well
disposed towards you. To-morrow is my name-day. Come to the feast, and
bring your wife with you."
"How can I do that, brother? Your friends are rich merchants, with
fine clothes, and boots on their feet. And I have nothing but my old
coat, and my legs are bound in rags and my feet shuffle along in straw
slippers. I do not want to shame you before your guests."
"Never mind about that," says the rich brother; "we will find a place
"Very good, brother, and thank you kindly. God be praised for having
given you a tender heart."
And the poor brother, though he was tired out after all the work he
had done, set off home as fast as he could to take the bread to his
wife and children.
"He might have given you more than that," said his wife.
"But listen," said he; "what do you think of this? To-morrow we are
invited, you and I, as guests, to go to a great feast."
"What do you mean? A feast? Who has invited us?"
"My brother has invited us. To-morrow is
 his name-day. I always told
you he had a kind heart. We shall be well fed, and I dare say we shall
be able to bring back something for the children."
"A pleasure like that does not often come our way," said his wife.
So early in the morning they got up, and walked all the way to the
town, so as not to shame the rich brother by putting up their old cart
in the yard beside the merchants' fine carriages. They came to the
rich brother's house, and found the guests all assembled and making
merry; rich merchants and their plump wives, all eating and laughing
and drinking and talking.
They wished a long life to the rich brother, and the poor brother
wanted to make a speech, congratulating him on his name-day. But the
rich brother scarcely thanked him, because he was so busy entertaining
the rich merchants and their plump, laughing wives. He was pressing
food on his guests, now this, now that, and calling to the servants to
keep their glasses filled and their plates full of all the tastiest
kinds of food. As for the poor brother and his wife, the rich one
forgot all about them, and they got nothing to eat and never a drop to
drink. They just sat there with empty plates and empty glasses,
 watching how the others ate and drank. The poor brother laughed with
the rest, because he did not wish to show that he had been forgotten.
The dinner came to an end. One by one the guests went up to the giver
of the feast to thank him for his good cheer. And the poor brother too
got up from the bench, and bowed low before his brother and thanked
The guests went home, drunken and joyful. A fine noise they made, as
people do on these occasions, shouting jokes to each other and singing
songs at the top of their voices.
The poor brother and his wife went home empty and sad. All that long
way they had walked, and now they had to walk it again, and the feast
was over, and never a bite had they had in their mouths, nor a drop in
"Come, wife," says the poor brother as he trudged along, "let us sing
a song like the others."
"What a fool you are!" says his wife. Hungry and cross she was, as
even Maroosia would be after a day like that watching other people
stuff themselves. "What a fool you are!" says she. "People may very
well sing when they have eaten tasty dishes and drunk good wine. But
 have you got for making a merry noise in the night?"
"Why, my dear" says he, "we have been at my brother's name-day feast.
I am ashamed to go home without a song. I'll sing. I'll sing so that
everyone shall think he loaded us with good things like the rest."
"Well, sing if you like; but you'll sing by yourself."
So the peasant, the poor brother, started singing a song with his dry
throat. He lifted his voice and sang like the rest, while his wife
trudged silently beside him.
But as he sang it seemed to the peasant that he heard two voices
singing—his own and another's. He stopped, and asked his wife,—
"Is that you joining in my song with a little thin voice?"
"What's the matter with you? I never thought of singing with you. I
never opened my mouth."
"Who is it then?"
"No one except yourself. Any one would say you had had a drink of wine
"But I heard some one ... a little weak voice ... a little sad
voice ... joining with mine."
"I heard nothing," said his wife; "but sing again, and I'll listen."
 The poor man sang again. He sang alone. His wife listened, and it was
clear that there were two voices singing—the dry voice of the poor
man, and a little miserable voice that came from the shadows under the
trees. The poor man stopped, and asked out loud,—
"Who are you who are singing with me?"
And a little thin voice answered out of the shadows by the roadside,
under the trees,—
"I am Misery."
"So it was you, Misery, who were helping me?"
"Yes, master, I was helping you."
"Well, little Master Misery, come along with us and keep us company."
"I'll do that willingly," says little Master Misery, "and I'll never,
never leave you at all—no, not if you have no other friend in the
And a wretched little man, with a miserable face and little thin legs
and arms, came out of the shadows and went home with the peasant and
It was late when they got home, but little Master Misery asked the
peasant to take him to the tavern. "After such a day as this has
been," says he, "there's nothing else to be done."
"But I have no money," says the peasant.
 "What of that?" says little Master Misery. "Spring has begun, and you
have a winter jacket on. It will soon be summer, and whether you have
it or not you won't wear it. Bring it along to the tavern, and change
it for a drink."
The poor man went to the tavern with little Master Misery, and they
sat there and drank the vodka that the tavern-keeper gave them in
exchange for the coat.
Next day, early in the morning, little Master Misery began
complaining. His head ached and he could not open his eyes, and he did
not like the weather, and the children were crying, and there was no
food in the house. He asked the peasant to come with him to the tavern
again and forget all this wretchedness in a drink.
"But I've got no money," says the peasant.
"Rubbish!" says little Master Misery; "you have a sledge and a
They took the cart and the sledge to the tavern, and stayed there
drinking until the tavern-keeper said they had had all that the cart
and the sledge were worth. Then the tavern-keeper took them and threw
them out of doors into the night, and they picked themselves up and
Next day Misery complained worse than before, and begged the peasant
to come with him to the
 tavern. There was no getting rid of him, no
keeping him quiet. The peasant sold his barrow and plough, so that he
could no longer work his land. He went to the tavern with little
A month went by like that, and at the end of it the peasant had
nothing left at all. He had even pledged the hut he lived in to a
neighbour, and taken the money to the tavern.
And every day little Master Misery begged him to come. "There I am not
wretched any longer," says Misery. "There I sing, and even dance,
hitting the floor with my heels and making a merry noise."
"But now I have no money at all, and nothing left to sell," says the
poor peasant. "I'd be willing enough to go with you, but I can't, and
here is an end of it."
"Rubbish!" says Misery; "your wife has two dresses. Leave her one; she
can't wear both at once. Leave her one, and buy a drink with the
other. They are both ragged, but take the better of the two. The
tavern-keeper is a just man, and will give us more drink for the
The peasant took the dress and sold it; and Misery laughed and danced,
while the peasant thought to himself, "Well, this is the end. I've
 nothing left to sell, and my wife has nothing either. We've the
clothes on our backs, and nothing else in the world."
In the morning little Master Misery woke with a headache as usual, and
a mouthful of groans and complaints. But he saw that the peasant had
nothing left to sell, and he called out,—
"Listen to me, master of the house."
"What is it, Misery?" says the peasant, who was master of nothing in
"Go you to a neighbour and beg the loan of a cart and a pair of good
The poor peasant had no will of his own left. He did exactly as he
was told. He went to his neighbour and begged the loan of the oxen and
"But how will you repay me?" says the neighbour.
"I will do a week's work for you for nothing."
"Very well," says the neighbour; "take the oxen and cart, but be
careful not to give them too heavy a load."
"Indeed I won't," says the peasant, thinking to himself that he had
nothing to load them with. "And thank you very much," says he; and he
goes back to Misery, taking with him the oxen and cart.
 Misery looked at him and grumbled in his wretched little voice, "They
are hardly strong enough,"
"They are the best I could borrow," says the peasant; "and you and I
have starved too long to be heavy."
And the peasant and little Master Misery sat together in the cart and
drove off together, Misery holding his head in both hands and groaning
at the jolt of the cart.
As soon as they had left the village, Misery sat up and asked the
"Do you know the big stone that stands alone in the middle of a field
not far from here?"
"Of course I know it," says the peasant.
"Drive straight to it," says Misery, and went on rocking himself to
and fro, and groaning and complaining in his wretched little voice.
They came to the stone, and got down from the cart and looked at the
stone. It was very big and heavy, and was fixed in the ground.
"Heave it up," says Misery.
The poor peasant set to work to heave it up, and Misery helped him,
groaning, and complaining that the peasant was nothing of a fellow
because he could not do his work by himself. Well, they heaved it up,
and there below it was a
 deep hole, and the hole was filled with gold
pieces to the very top; more gold pieces than ever you will see copper
ones if you live to be a hundred and ten.
"Well, what are you staring at?" says Misery. "Stir yourself, and be
quick about it, and load all this gold into the cart."
The peasant set to work, and piled all the gold into the cart down to
the very last gold piece; while Misery sat on the stone and watched,
groaning and chuckling in his weak, wretched little voice.
"Be quick," says Misery; "and then we can get back to the tavern."
The peasant looked into the pit to see that there was nothing left
there, and then says he,—
"Just take a look, little Master Misery, and see that we have left
nothing behind. You are smaller than I, and can get right down into
Misery slipped down from the stone, grumbling at the peasant, and bent
over the pit.
"You've taken the lot," says he; "there's nothing to be seen."
"But what is that," says the peasant—"there, shining in the corner?"
"I don't see it."
 "Jump down into the pit and you'll see it. It would be a pity to waste
a gold piece."
Misery jumped down into the pit, and instantly the peasant rolled the
stone over the hole and shut him in.
"Things will be better so," says the peasant. "If I were to let you
out of that, sooner or later you would drink up all this money, just
as you drank up everything I had."
Then the peasant drove home and hid the gold in the cellar; took the
oxen and cart back to his neighbour, thanked him kindly, and began to
think what he would do, now that Misery was his master no longer, and
he with plenty of money.
"But he had to work for a week to pay for the loan of the oxen and
cart," said Vanya.
"Well, during the week, while he was working, he was thinking all the
time, in his head," said old Peter, a little grumpily. Then he went on
with his tale.
As soon as the week was over, he bought a forest and built himself a
fine house, and began to live twice as richly as his brother in the
town. And his wife had two new dresses, perhaps more; with a lot of
gold and silver braid, and necklaces of big yellow stones, and
bracelets and sparkling rings. His children were well fed every
 rivers of milk between banks of kisel jelly, and mushrooms with
sauce, and soup, and cakes with little balls of egg and meat hidden in
the middle. And they had toys that squeaked, a little boy feeding a
goose that poked its head into a dish, and a painted hen with a lot of
chickens that all squeaked together.
Time went on, and when his name-day drew near he thought of his
brother, the merchant, and drove off to the town to invite him to take
part in the feast.
"I have not forgotten, brother, that you invited me to yours."
"What a fellow you are!" says his brother; "you have nothing to eat
yourself, and here you are inviting other people for your name-day."
"Yes," said the peasant, "once upon a time, it is true, I had nothing
to eat; but now, praise be to God, I am no poorer than yourself. Come
to my name-day feast and you will see."
"Very well," says his brother, "I'll come; but don't think you can
play any jokes on me."
On the morning of the peasant's name-day his brother, the merchant in
the town, put on his best clothes, and his plump wife dressed in all
her richest, and they got into their cart—a fine cart it was too,
painted in the brightest colours—
 and off they drove together to the
house of the brother who had once been poor. They took a basket of
food with them, in case he had only been joking when he invited them
to his name-day feast.
They drove to the village, and asked for him at the hut where he used
An old man hobbling along the road answered them,—
"Oh, you mean our Ivan Ilyitch. Well, he does not live here any
longer. Where have you been that you have not heard? His is the big
new house on the hill. You can see it through the trees over there,
where all these people are walking. He has a kind heart, he has, and
riches have not spoiled it. He has invited the whole village to feast
with him, because to-day is his name-day."
"Riches!" thought the merchant; "a new house!" He was very much
surprised, but as he drove along the road he was more surprised still.
For he passed all the villagers on their way to the feast; and every
one was talking of his brother, and how kind he was and how generous,
and what a feast there was going to be, and how many barrels of mead
and, wine had been taken up to the house. All the folk were hurrying
 along the road licking their lips, each one going faster than the
other so as to be sure not to miss any of the good things.
The rich brother from the town drove with his wife into the courtyard
of the fine new house. And there on the steps was the peasant brother,
Ivan Ilyitch, and his wife, receiving their guests. And if the rich
brother was well dressed, the peasant was better dressed; and if the
rich brother's wife was in her fine clothes, the peasant's wife fairly
glittered—what with the gold braid on her bosom and the shining
silver in her hair.
And the peasant brother kissed his brother from the town on both
cheeks, and gave him and his wife the best places at the table. He fed
them—ah, how he fed them!—with little red slips of smoked salmon,
and beetroot soup with cream, and slabs of sturgeon, and meats of
three or four kinds, and game and sweetmeats of the best. There never
was such a feast—no, not even at the wedding of a Tzar. And as for
drink, there were red wine and white wine, and beer and mead in great
barrels, and everywhere the peasant went about among his guests,
filling glasses and seeing that their plates were kept piled with the
foods each one liked best.
And the rich brother wondered and wondered,
 and at last he could wait
no longer, and he took his brother aside and said,—
"I am delighted to see you so rich. But tell me, I beg you, how it was
that all this good fortune came to you."
The poor brother, never thinking, told him all—the whole truth about
little Master Misery and the pit full of gold, and how Misery was shut
in there under the big stone.
The merchant brother listened, and did not forget a word. He could
hardly bear himself for envy, and as for his wife, she was worse. She
looked at the peasant's wife with her beautiful head-dress, and she
bit her lips till they bled.
As soon as they could, they said good-bye and drove off home.
The merchant brother could not bear the thought that his brother was
richer than he. He said to himself, "I will go to the field, and move
the stone, and let Master Misery out. Then he will go and tear my
brother to pieces for shutting him in; and his riches will not be of
much use to him then, even if Misery does not give them to me as a
token of gratitude. Think of my brother daring to show off his riches
So he drove off to the field, and came at last
 to the big stone. He
moved the stone on one side, and then bent over the pit to see what
was in it.
He had scarcely put his head over the edge before Misery sprang up out
of the pit, seated himself firmly on his shoulders, squeezed his neck
between his little wiry legs, and pulled out handfuls of his hair.
Misery seated himself firmly on his shoulders and
pulled out handfuls of his hair.
"Scream away!" cried little Master Misery. "You tried to kill me,
shutting me up in there, while you went off and bought fine clothes.
You tried to kill me, and came to feast your eyes on my corpse. Now,
whatever happens, I'll never leave you again."
"Listen, Misery!" screamed the merchant. "Ai, ai! stop pulling my
hair. You are choking me. Ai! Listen. It was not I who shut you in
under the stone...."
"Who was it, if it was not you?" asked Misery, tugging out his hair,
and digging his knees into the merchant's throat.
"It was my brother. I came here on purpose to let you out. I came out
Misery tugged the merchant's hair, and twisted the merchant's ears
till they nearly came off.
"Liar, liar!" he shouted in his little, wretched, angry voice. "You
tricked me once. Do you
 think you'll get the better of me again by a
clumsy lie of that kind? Now then. Gee up! Home we go."
And so the rich brother went trotting home, crying with pain; while
little Master Misery sat firmly on his shoulders, pulling at his
Instantly Misery was at his old tricks.
"You seem to have bought a good deal with the gold," he said, looking
at the merchant's house. "We'll see how far it will go." And every day
he rode the rich merchant to the tavern, and made him drink up all his
money, and his house, his clothes, his horses and carts and
sledges—everything he had—until he was as poor as his brother had
been in the beginning.
The merchant thought and thought, and puzzled his brain to find a way
to get rid of him. And at last one night, when Misery had groaned
himself to sleep, the merchant went out into the yard and took a big
cart wheel and made two stout wedges of wood, just big enough to fit
into the hub of the wheel. He drove one wedge firmly in at one end of
the hub, and left the wheel in the yard with the other wedge, and a
big hammer lying handy close to it.
In the morning Misery wakes as usual, and cries out to be taken to the
 "We've sold everything I've got," says the merchant.
"Well, what are you going to do to amuse me?" says Misery.
"Let's play hide-and-seek in the yard," says the merchant.
"Right," says Misery; "but you'll never find me, for I can make myself
so small I can hide in a mouse-hole in the floor."
"We'll see," says the merchant.
The merchant hid first, and Misery found him at once.
"Now it's my turn," says Misery; "but what's the good? You'll never
find me. Why, I could get inside the hub of that wheel if I had a mind
"What a liar you are!" says the merchant; "you never could get into
that little hole."
"Look," says Misery, and he made himself little, little, little, and
sat on the hub of the wheel.
"Look," says he, making himself smaller again; and then, pouf! in he
pops into the hole of the hub.
Instantly the merchant took the other wedge and the hammer, and drove
the wedge into the hole. The first wedge had closed up the other
and so there was Misery shut up inside the hub of the cart wheel.
The merchant set the wheel on his shoulders, and took it to the river
and threw it out as far as he could, and it went floating away down to
Then he went home and set to work to make money again, and earn his
daily bread; for Misery had made him so poor that he had nothing left,
and had to hire himself out to make a living, just as his peasant
brother used to do.
But what happened to Misery when he went floating away?
He floated away down the river, shut up in the hub of the wheel. He
ought to have starved there. But I am afraid some silly, greedy fellow
thought to get a new wheel for nothing, and pulled the wedges out and
let him go; for, by all I hear, Misery is still wandering about the
world and making people wretched—bad luck to him!