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The Pouch, a Ukrainian fairy tale
Once upon a time there lived a husband and wife who had a pair of oxen, and their neighbor had a wagon. On Sundays or on holidays, when it was necessary to go to a fair or to visit someone, the couple borrowed the neighbor’s wagon — or, alternately, the neighbor borrowed their oxen to harness them to the wagon.
One day the woman says to her husband,
“Listen, why don’t we sell the oxen and buy a horse and a wagon instead? It will be so much more convenient for us to go to see our relatives or to go to the fair in town. Our neighbor does not have to feed his wagon and we have to feed our two oxen. It’ll be much easier to feed one horse. Let’s do it, shall we?”
And her husband, being a complaisant man, easily agreed to take their oxen to town to sell them. On his way he was overtaken by a rider. The rider says,
“Where are you going with these oxen?”
“I’m going to town to sell them.”
“Are you going to buy anything with the money you get for them?”
“Yeah, a horse.”
“Oh, then, would you trade your oxen for my good horse?”
“All right, let’s do it.”
And the man with the oxen exchanged them for the horse. He got on the horse and rode on his way. Soon he sees a man with a cow.
“Hello,” says the man with the cow.
“Hello,” says the man on the horse.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to town to sell this horse.”
“Why bother to go such a long way? Would you trade your horse for my cow here and now?”
“All right, let’s do it.”
And they did it. The man with the cow went on on his way. Soon he saw pigs and sheep grazing in the field. He liked the pigs and offered the shepherd, whom he spotted in the field, to trade his cow for a big pig. Once he got the pig, he thought that he liked sheep even better and swapped the pig for a sheep. It was a very good sheep too.
The man set on his way home, driving the sheep in front of him. But when he got to the river he had to cross, he saw that the river had flooded and there was no way to cross at that place. He walked along the bank looking for a place to cross. And then he spotted a great many excellent geese grazing in the field. He, thinking that it would be much easier to cross the river with a goose rather than with a sheep, asked the people who tended the geese whether they would trade the biggest goose they had for his sheep. When he got the goose he wanted, he was mighty glad he had fobbed the sheep off, and went on on his way.
When he got to a village he saw a woman with a rooster walking towards him. He said,
“Hello,” she said.
“Look, would you care to trade your rooster for my goose?”
The woman gladly accepted the offer.
In no time the man was overtaken by a villager who said,
“Hello, I saw your rooster and I’ve got something I could offer you for it.”
“Look, I have a wonderful leather pouch that could be very useful.”
And the man traded the goose for that pouch, and went on on his way. At last he spotted a place where there was a crossing at which he could get across the flooded river.
At the crossing were some chumaks who could ferry the man with the pouch across the river to the other side but they charged money for it. The man who did not have a single kopeck on him, offered the chumaks his pouch in exchange for being taken across the river. The chumaks agreed to do it. When they took him across, they asked him where he had gotten that pouch from. The man told them his story of how he had left home to sell oxen and wound up with the pouch. The chumaks burst into laughter,
“Oh man, what will your wife do to you when you come home empty-handed? No oxen, no money, no nothing.”
And the man says,
“Oh, she’ll do nothing bad. She’ll just say, Oh good you’ve come back alive.”
The chumaks did not believe the man. He insisted that those would be her own very words — “and there will be no violence.” They had a bet that if the man’s wife said what he claimed she would, they would give him twelve wagonloads of their goods and deliver him and them right to his house.
They chose one person among themselves and sent him to the man’s wife.
He finds her at home, greets her and says,
“Hello, and good day to you.”
“Good day to you too.”
“Have you had any news of your husband lately?”
“No, I have not. Is he alive?”
“Yes he is. And he swapped two oxen for a horse.”
“Good boy. That’s what he had to do. We wanted a wagon too, but it is not too expensive to get one. We’ll manage somehow.”
“But listen — then he traded the horse for a cow.”
“Oh good. We’ll have plenty of milk.”
“But it’s not all. He traded the cow for a pig.”
“Clever of him. We’ll have piglets.”
“Wait, then he swapped the pig for a sheep.”
“I always knew he was good at trading. We’ll have lambs and there’ll be enough wool to make warm things for the winter.”
“But he traded the sheep for a goose!”
“Goose? Good. We’ll have eggs and feathers and soft down.”
“You don’t know the whole story yet — he traded the goose for a rooster.”
“How thoughtful of him! The rooster will wake us in the morning in time for us to get down to work.”
“It won’t get you up in the morning because your husband traded the rooster for a pouch!”
“Good. We’ll keep the money we’ll earn in that pouch.”
“You won’t be able to do it because he gave away the pouch as a fee for being taken across the river.”
“But is he alive?”
”Yes, I told you already — he is safe and sound!”
“Great! As long as he is alive, nothing else matters.”
The chumaks were true to their word — when their envoy related to them what the man’s wife had told him, they brought the man to his house and gave him twelve wagonloads of their goods.
Art by Oleksandr Melnyk
* Chumak — a trader who carried bread, salt and some other goods across Ukraine on his wagon in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.