Multilingual Folk Tale Database


Author: Alexander Afanasyev - 1855

Translated into English
  by Kathleen Cook

Original title (Russian):

Country of origin: Russia


English - aligned

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The Fortune-Teller

Alexander Afanasyev / Kathleen Cook

In a certain village there lived an aid woman, and she had a son, neither too big nor too small, but not old enough to work in the fields. Things came to such a pass that they had nothing in the larder. So the old woman put on her thinking cap and racked her brains to find a way to make ends meet and have a loaf of bread to eat. She thought and thought, until she had an idea. So she said to the boy: "Go lead away somebody's horses, tether 'em to that there bush and give 'em some hay, then untether 'em again, lead 'em to that there hollow and leave 'em there." Now her son was a smart lad, and no mistake. No sooner did he hear this, than off he went, led away some horses and did what his mother had told him. For it was said of her that she knew more than ordinary folk and could read the cards now and then when asked.
When the owners saw their horses had gone, they went in search of them, hunting high and low, poor devils, but there was not a sign of them. "What are we to do?" they cried. "We must get a fortune-teller to find 'em for us, even though it means paying through the nose." Then they remembered the old woman and said: "Let's go to her and ask her to read the cards; like as not she'll tell us summit about 'em." No sooner said than done. They went to the old woman and said: "Granny, dear. We have heard say that you know more than ordinary folk. That you can read the cards and tell all from 'em like an open book. Then read 'em for us, dear mistress, for our horses are gone." Then the old woman said to them: "My strength is failing, dear masters! I am forever a-wheezing and a-gasping, sirs." But they replied: "Do as we ask, dear mistress! It is not for naught. We shall reward you for your pains."
Shuffling and coughing, she laid out the cards, peered hard at them and although they told her nothing—what of it; hunger is no brother, it teaches you a thing or two—said: "Well, I never! Look here, sirs! It seems your horses are in that there place, tethered to a bush." The owners were overjoyed, rewarded the old woman for her pains and went for look for their beasts. They came to the bush, but there was no sign of the horses, though you could see where they had been tethered 'cause part of a bridle was hanging on the bush and there was lots of hay around. They had been there, but now they were gone. The men were grieved, poor devils, and didn't know what to do. They thought it over and went back to the old woman. If she had found out once, she would tell them again.
So they came to the old woman, who was lying on the stove-bed, a- wheezing and a-gasping like goodness knows what was ailing her. They begged her earnestly to read the cards for them again. She pretended to refuse as before, saying: "My strength is failing, I am plagued by old age!"—so that they would give her a bit more for her pains. They promised to begrudge her nothing if the horses were found and give her more than before. So the old woman climbed down from the stove-bed, shuffling and coughing, laid out the cards again, peered hard at them and said: "Go look for them in that there hollow. That's where they are for sure!" The owners rewarded her handsomely for her pains and set off again to look. They reached the hollow and found their horses safe and sound; so they took them and led them home.
After that the stories spread far and wide about the old woman with second sight who could read the cards and tell you surely what would come to pass. These rumours reached a certain rich gentleman who had lost a chest full of money. When he heard about the old fortune-teller, he sent his carriage to bring her to him without delay, no matter how poorly she felt. He also sent his two menservants, Nikolasha and Yemelya (it was they who had pinched their master's money). So they came for the old woman, all but dragged her into the carriage by force and set off home. On the way the old woman began to moan and groan, sighing and muttering to herself: "Oh, dear. If it weren't for no cash and an empty belly I would never be a fortune-teller, riding in a carriage for a fine gentleman to lock me up where the ravens would not take my bones. Alas, alack! No good will come of this!"
Nikolasha overheard her and said: "Hear that, Yemelya! The old girl's talking about us. Looks as if we're for it!" "Steady now, lad," said Yemelya. "Perhaps you just imagined it." But Nikolasha told him: "Listen for yourself, there she goes again." The old woman was scared out of her wits. She sat quiet for a while, then began moaning again: "Oh, dear! If it weren't for no cash and an empty belly this would never have happened!" The lads strained their ears to catch what she was saying. After a bit she went on again about "no cash and an empty belly", blathering all sorts of nonsense. When the lads heard this, they got a real fright. What were they to do? They agreed to ask the old woman not to give them away to their master, because she kept saying: "If it weren't for Nikolasha and Yemelya, this would never have happened." In their excitement the two rascals thought the old woman was talking about Nikolasha and Yemelya, not no cash and an empty belly!
No sooner said than done. They begged the old woman: "Have pity On us, Granny dear, and we'll say prayers for you forever more. Why
ruin us and tell the master all? Just don't mention us, keep quiet about it; we'll make it worth your while." Now the old woman was no fool. She put two and two together, and her fear vanished in a trice. "Where did you hide it, my children?" she asked. "It was the Devil himself tempted us to commit such a sin," they wailed. "But where is it?" repeated the old woman. "Where else could we hide it but under the bridge by the mill until the good weather comes." So they reached an agreement and then arrived at the rich gentleman's house. When he saw they had brought the old woman, their master was beside himself with joy. He led her into the house and plied her with all manner of food and drink, whatever she fancied, and when she had eaten and drunk her fill, he asked her to read the cards and find out where his money was. But the old woman had her wits about her and kept saying that her strength was failing and she could hardly stand. "Come now, Granny," said the gentleman. "Make yourself at home, sit down, if you like, or lie down if you don't feel well enough to sit, only read the cards and find out what I asked. And if you can tell me who took my money and I find it again, I'll not only wine and dine you, but reward you handsomely with anything that you fancy."
And so, a-wheezing and a-gasping as if afflicted by some terrible malady, the old woman took the cards, laid them out and peered hard at them, muttering to herself all the time. "Your lost chest is under the bridge by the mill," she said finally. No sooner had he heard the old woman's words, than the gentleman sent Nikolasha and Yemelya to find the money and bring it to him. He did not know it was they who had taken it. So they found it and brought it to their master; and their master was so overjoyed to see his money, that he did not count it, and gave the old woman a hundred rubles straightaway and a nice little present besides, promising not to forget her service to him in the future as well. Then, having entertained her lavishly, he sent her home in his carriage and gave her something for the road as well. On the way Nikolasha and Yemelya thanked the old woman for not betraying them to their master and gave her some money too.
After that the old woman was more famous than ever and settled down to a life of ease with all the bread she wanted, and other fare in abundance, and plenty of livestock too. And she and her son lived and prospered and drank beer and mead. For I was there and drank mead- wine, it touched my lips, but not my tongue.