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From rags to riches and back to rags. A fairy-tale

 

Once upon a time there lived an old couple who were not only old but very poor too. One day, when the cold season was near, the old woman told her husband,

Go to the forest and cut down a tree for firewood. Dont choose a big one  find such a tree that youd be able to drag it back to our house. Well chop it for firewood so that it will last us some time to stoke our stove and keep us warm.

Yes, Ill do it, said the old man. He got his old axe and trudged to the nearby forest.

Once there, he looked around and saw a little linden that looked exactly what he was looking for.

The old man swings his axe but when he is about to bring it down, all of a sudden he hears the linden say in a human voice,

Spare me, old man, and Ill stand you in good stead.

The old man was so stunned by what he heard that he dropped his axe. He stood there, in front of the tree, in shock for some time. He thought he had taken leave of his senses. After a time, he regained his senses and walked home.

He comes in and tells his old wife what happened to him in the forest. She listens to him, and then starts berating him,

You, old fool, it must have been a magic tree! Go back right now, find that tree and ask it to give you something for your sparing it!

What kind of thing should it give us?

A good horse and a sturdy wagon would do nicely!

Thats a good idea, says the old man and leaves to go back to the forest.

Once there, he starts looking for the little linden which talked to him, finds it and says,

Dear little linden, my wife told me to ask you for a good horse and a sturdy wagon. Is it all right?

Yes, youll have it. Go back home.

The old man comes back home and sees a good horse harnessed to a sturdy wagon standing in front of his house.

His wife is waiting for him on the threshold.

Look, now we are not as poor as we used to be. Your linden is really a miracle worker. Go back to it and tell it to give us a good house. Your house is so old and rickety it can collapse any moment.

The old man plods across the field back to the forest, comes to the linden and asks for a house.

The linden tells him to go back home and look at his new house.

The old man returns to find a new spacious house complete with a beautiful porch instead of their old squat and lopsided one. His old wife and he rejoice greatly in their unexpected boon.

A little while later, the old woman says,

Look, why dont you go to that linden of yours and ask for some cattle or poultry?

The old man does not have the courage to argue with his wife and goes back to the linden. The little linden complies with the request this time too and the old man, upon his return home, discovers an animal farm with all kinds of cattle and poultry in it. The old man looks admiringly at this amazing sight and says,

Now we have everything that one may wish for, dont we?

Not quite, my old man. We have to hire someone to take care of the farm, and we have to hire servants, and for that we have to have money, a lot of money.

This request was also granted. But the old woman who was now rich and occupied herself with counting the gold coins she had found in leather bags sent by the magic of the little linden, desired to have someone to protect her.

Go to that tree of yours, old man, she says peremptorily, and tell it to give us soldiers and police to protect us and our farm.

The old man drags himself into the forest and unhappily passes on his old womans command. The tree sighs but promises to grant what is requested.

When he returns, he finds a sentry at the gate who does not let him in at first. He calls out for his wife who appears on the porch and shouts to the guard to let that wretch in.

Are you fully satisfied now? asks the old man miserably looking around and seeing armed men in uniform posted around.

Not quite, replies the old woman haughtily. I want all the people in our village to be our slaves. Go back and demand that the tree make them our slaves.

Much as he was loath to do it, the old man did as he was told. The little linden tree heaved a heavy sigh and said,

All right, go back, old man, go back. Ill do what I can for you. But that will be the last time.

In his misery, the old man treads warily back only to discover that the farm, the new house, the cattle, the poultry and the guards have disappeared, and there stands their old, squat and lopsided house, with his old wife sitting gloomily on the ground, her head bent low.

 

Art by Oleksandr MELNYK

 

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