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A Very Old Fairy Tale: The Little Golden Fish
by Vyacheslav Checkanov

On the curved sea-shore in Fancyland there is an evergreen oak; on the oak is hung up a golden chain: all day and night the versed tomcat keeps stalking on the chain around; when it goes to the right it begins to sing a song, when it goes to the left it proceeds to tell a tale.
There are so many various miracles: there the wood-goblin wanders and the siren on the branches sits; on the unknown paths there are the traces of unprecedented beasts; the cabin without doors and windows there lies on piles; there hill and dale are full of ghosts; there waves gush over the both sandy and deserted coast and then thirty fine handsome heroes with their marine drill-master in single file leave clear waters; there a young prince takes off-hand the terrible king prisoner; there in the clouds in the face of people the sorcerer bears away the warrior-champion over forests and seas; there in the dark dungeon a beautiful princess bitterly grieves and the brown wolf faithfully serves her; there the morter of wood with the old witch moves by itself; there the covetous king fretting over heaps of gold fades, falls away and shrivels; there is the free spirit there... it there smells with freedom.






Listen, kids, I have a tale to tell you, it came down to us from the good old days: once upon a time many ages ago there lived an old man alone together with his old woman right beside the blue sea that was like a beautiful golden dream. They’d happily lived on short commons in their tumbledown earth-house for exactly three and thirty years, if a day, and didn’t twiddle their thumbs but so that to make a living the Old Man worked his guts out and fished everyday with his sweep-net as well as the Old Woman span her yarn for sale. In one the most exceedingly lovely and lucky Sunday morning at an ungodly hour when still in the sky the stars was shining and the crescent moon was seen the Old Man in very high spirits once threw out his sweep-net into the sea, it got back with nothing but slime. Another time he flung it, the sweep-net was back with nothing but seaweed. Well then, the third time the Old Man cast his sweep-net, it came back with nothing but a little fish, not an ordinary one but an exquisite irradiant golden thing. And then all of a sudden, would you believe it, the Little Golden Fish besought him, it said in human voice: ’Could you please, my dear old fellow, let me go free into the deep blue sea! I would be no end obliged, if you would do it. I shall give you the costly ransom for myself and buy off in anything at all you badly wish and like‘. At the first place the Old Man looked greatly amazed and with hair erect was even scared out of his wits: he’d fished at least for three and thirty years, yet never heard that any fish should speak. However, here a bright and affectionate smile that seemed to reveal his whole sweet soul came to his lips, he released the Little Golden Fish and from the bottom of his heart said to it endearing words: ’Lord love you, my darling little one? I hardly wish you any harm. By no means I need your ransom. Really there’s nothing I want more than that you should be happy and contented. Please, return into the deep and under widespread scope of the sea just do everything with pleasure and enjoy yourself in freedom.’


The Old Man came back to the Old Woman and in the simplicity of his heart made a clean breast and told her frankly a great miracle, thereby he added fuel to the flames and let himself in for a sea of trouble: ‘Believe it or not, that’s the time of day! Just fancy, today I was on the point of netting a little fish, not an ordinary one but an exquisite irradiant golden thing. The Little Golden Fish spoke plainly in our way. It asked to be allowed to go home into the deep blue sea and was about to pay off a high price in anything at all I’d badly like and wish. I didn’t dare to take its ransom but let it go into the sea for nothing!’ There the Old Man was given a fairly good scolding by his old woman, she flung a fact into her husband’s teeth: ’You don’t say! Beyond belief but if this be true, oh you’re a simpleton, I’m awfully surprised at you! Look here! Well, you are a proper fool, indeed. You wasn’t able to take the ransom from the little fish! With the same result you, gull liver, could at least have taken a new wash-tub even if just for a lark from it. Why, after all ours has entirely split’.


And so he went to the sea and beheld: the blue sea rose slightly. He began calling the Little Golden Fish, it came swimming to him and asked: ‘Hail, my dear old fellow, what do you want? Can I be of service to you? Just say the word, I’m ready to do whatever you wish!’ Bowing low the Old Man answered it restlessly: ‘Your Excellency Lord Fish, have mercy on us! Please, be so nice as to do us a kindness! My old woman have scolded me and disturbed the peace of my mind. She wants a new wash-tub, now as ours has utterly split’. The Little Golden Fish replied definitely to him with favor: ‘It will be all right on the night. Don’t get excited. You shall have a new wash-tub. What’s there to be unsure about? Take heart, go and may Heaven bless you!’ The Old Woman had already had a new wash-tub, when the Old Man came back to his wife. Yet she apparently wasn’t quite satisfied and scolded him even worse than in former time, that’s why to tell you the truth he was greeted with a turbulent stream of abuse. ‘Oh you’re a simpleton! Well, who would have thought it! That knocks me, by all that’s blue! I say, you, fool, have got the wash-tub. I’m very happy, glad and delighted to hear the news, but that’s the question: what on earth is any real profit or use of it? Will you, dolt, return to the Little Golden Fish, bow low and try to get a peasant’s cottage at least, since I want to live in comparative material comfort’.


So he went to the sea, the blue sea grew turbid. He began calling the Little Golden Fish, the fish came swimming to him and asked: ‘Hail, my dear old fellow, what do you want? Can I be of service to you? Just say the word and I will do whatever you tell me to’. The Old Man bowed low and answered it restlessly: ‘Your Excellency Lord Fish, please help us and have mercy on us! Could you be so nice as to do a good turn? My old woman have scolded me more than in last time and disturbed the peace of my mind. Now this shrew asks for a cottage’. The Little Golden Fish said to him gently in reply: ‘Let it be so, sure thing you shall have your cottage. Take it easy, go and may success attend you!’ The Old Man went deliberately back to their wretched hole, but in the twinkling of an eye the earth-house had vanished into thin air. Well, you can easily imagine his surprise. The Old Man stood like a dummy blinking with his eyelashes lost in wonder. He felt completely puzzled and dazed and could scarcely trust his own eyes: a cottage with an attic, a whitewashed brick chimney and oaken board gates lay before him. In the shade of the bush of a brittle willow the Old Woman leaning her elbow and stroking with satisfaction her full stomach sat on the bench under the window. She swore blue murder at her husband, in all his born days he’d never heard anything like this: ‘Oh you duffer! What a score, just think of it! I walk on air. You, poor fish, have got the cottage, this is quite something! There isn’t that lovely! Really and truly, one must be a jolly fool to do it! Will you, oaf, return and bow to the Little Golden Fish. I don’t want to be a common peasant woman, but desire to live life of ease as a noble lady’.


The Old Man went to the sea, the blue sea got troubled. He began calling the Little Golden Fish, it came swimming to him and asked: ‘Hail, my dear old fellow, what do you want? Can I be of service to you? Just say the word, I’m ready to do whatever you wish!’ The Old Man bowed low and answered it restlessly: ‘Your Excellency Lord Fish, please help us and have mercy on us! Would you be so nice as to do a good deed? My old woman have grown more silly then she was formerly and disturbed the peace of my mind. Since she took to nagging me I haven’t enjoyed even a moment’s rest. Now she doesn’t want to be a common peasant woman any longer, but desires to be a noble lady. The Little Golden Fish said to him kindly in reply: ‘Don’t be too fussy and go on so! It shall be as you wish. Make yourself easy on this point I shall attend to it. More power to your elbow!’


The Old Man returned to his wife. Well, and what did he see? If you don’t know, don’t guess and jump to conclusions. On the top of the cliff there soared a high ivory tower, ravens had built their nest on its roof. Being in an expensive colorful sable-lined sleeveless jacket, a brocade headdress and with a massive pearl necklace the Old Woman giving herself airs stood on the steps. She was wearing the deep blue-green iridescent velvet skirt, the nice red satin shoes and great many all kinds gold finger-rings decorated with the rare big fantastic brilliant genuine jewels. Before her there were her assiduous attendants. They sweated blood to suit her. She lorded it over them, named them rascals, beat them eagerly and pulled by the forelock. ’Well, and how are you getting on, my dear lady? You look fine! Most probably now you’re quite satisfied!’ ' Are you kidding? Go on! You don’t mean it. What the joker’s jests! One ought to know, it is as clear as daylight: it all depends’, then the Old Woman gave her husband a rap on the knuckles and put him to work cleaning out the stables.


And thus about a week or a fortnight went. The Old Woman became still more stupid than she had been previously and sent the Old Man to the Little Golden Fish again: ‘Will you kindly return and bow to the Little Golden Fish. I don’t want to be a noble lady, but most ardently desire to live in grand style in careless abundance, so that they to make a fuss of me as a sovereign queen!’ The Old Man was afraid and implored her: ‘Ah me, wife, you will drive me mad. Have you taken leave of your senses? How crazy can you get? No, do you really think it is feasible? You have neither an imposing bearing nor any correct articulation and will make the laughing-stock of yourself for the whole kingdom!’ The Old Woman got more angry and out of spite splendidly fetched him a box on the ear, a whole skin of his cheek had been terribly burnt. And then like out of the frying-pan into the fire: ‘That’s the limit! What impudence! Bite your tongue and shut your mouth! How dare you, fisherman, contradict me? I’m a lady! Let me give you some advice, keep your breath to cool your porridge, do you hear, I’ll thank you not to argue with me and to split hairs. There’s one thing more, blockhead, that I must tell you. You are not attending at all. Listen, rogue, to me when I speak. There’s no standing still. So you’d better go to the sea while the going’s good. Also, mind you don’t put your foot in it and make a real mess of things. Take care of playing square, or else, it’s quite likely you’ll have to go against your will’.


The Old Man went to the sea, the blue sea became black. He began calling the Little Golden Fish, it came swimming to him and asked: ‘Hail, my dear old fellow, what do you want? Can I be of service to you? Just say the word, I’m ready to do whatever you wish!’ The Old Man bowed low and answered it restlessly: ‘Your Excellency Lord Fish, have mercy! Pardon and help us! Would you mind doing a great favor? My old woman is in a white rage again, she doesn’t want to be a noble lady any longer, but desires to be a sovereign queen’. The Little Golden Fish said to him nicely in reply: ‘Don’t worry, be happy! You may well rest assured. The Old Woman shall be a queen. Cheer up, go and may God help you!’


In the next place the Old Man came back home. Well, and what was all that? Little he dreamt such a thing was possible. The powerful impregnable walls of a king’s castle there rose before his astonished eyes. In the castle he saw his old woman, she sat on the throne in the state-room as a queen. The dukes and the earls richly dressed in smart clothes regarded it high honor to serve her. They poured with much consideration good foreign wine into her goblet. Imagine that, Great Scott, the Old Woman was given to the bottle! She drank wine as a fish and tasted a piece of the gilt sweet honey gingerbread after it. The redoubtable able-bodied black-bearded bodyguard with halberds stood around swaggering in a prodigious number. They held their formidable arms over their square broad shoulders. When the Old Man had seen them he was so highly frightened that he bowed down to the very ground before his old woman: ’How goes it, my terrible queen? Well, I see you’re doing fine! I wonder now whether you can be feeling inclined to sing delirious with delight?’ But the Old Woman didn’t even bat an eyelid and give him so much as a glance. In fact, she merely bade to get him directly taken out of her sight. Here straight away at short notice a whole crowd of nobles came tearing up. They caught the Old Man by the scruff of the neck and chucked him exultantly out. Then in the passage the bodyguard ran rapidly up and very nearly killed him with their sharp halberds. After a while in the market-place the common folk jeered and sneered and had a fling and a tilt at him: ’It serves you right, old lout! Next time you, boor, shall keep your distance! The cobbler must stick to his last!’


And thus about a month or two passed. The Old Woman lost definitely her reason and became unusually crazy. She sent her courtiers out for her husband. They found the Old Man and brought him around to her. Here quite unexpectedly the Old Man let himself go and behaved with complete abandon. You’ve got to hand it him for dauntless courage, because he rose above himself on tiptoes, even if that’s not the way to behave to a queen. Without a moment’s hesitation he had the nerve to put her a question: ’Well, and what the deuce are you wanting this time, I wonder?’ Yet the Old Woman contrived to take him down a peg and to bring him to heel, she hit with her fist on the table and wagged her finger at him. Then she said sheer nonsense to the Old Man’s face: ’What a load of old cobblers! That’s rich. Don’t pull my leg and talk at random and out of turn. I have a bone to pick with you. Let’s be frank. Most certainly, hangdog, this is your last chance. Don’t throw it away. Now then, blackguard, return at once and bow to the Little Golden Fish. And out mind be quick about it! I don’t want to be a sovereign queen, but my only cherished hope is to steal the show, the matter allows of no delay: I have felt a desire to be Mistress of the Seas and to live in the boundless ocean, so that the very Little Golden Fish should serve me and run on my indispensable errands’.


'But why should I? Not bloody likely! I won’t hear of it and entertain such a foolish idea. Now you bit more than you can chew’, the Old Man thought to himself. Still he didn’t venture on to contradict her and dare to argue her out of this course of action. For, if you know what I mean-it’s plain as the nose on your face, the Old Woman being mad with rage, knitting badly her brows nailed the Old Man thoroughly down and he only shook obstinately his head in silence. He did go then to the sea and beheld: the blue sea was raging like hell! The storm-clouds spread themselves over the sky. There were huge angry waves heaving and a strong fierce gale raving and howling. No ship could live in such a rough sea. He began calling the Little Golden Fish, it came swimming to him and asked: ’Hail, my dear old fellow, well met! What can I do for you? Just say the word, I shall arrange all things as you wish and like’. Bowing low the Old Man answered it restlessly: ’Please help us and have mercy on us, your Excellency! Would you render a good grace? What the mischief am I to do with this awful scold of wife? She doesn’t want to be a sovereign queen any longer, but it’s her sole and exclusive desire to be Mistress of the Seas and to live in the boundless ocean, so that you, Lord Fish, should bow to her whims, dance attendance upon her and rush on her wild errands. I would be very, very grateful, if you would. I should never forget your kindness’. Nevertheless the Little Golden Fish said absolutely nothing in reply. Only splashing with its tail of irradiant scales on the water it silently dived into the deep blue sea. Right away the storm had calmed down as quick as a flash of lightning. In vain on the shore of the sea on his bended knees after that quite a while the Old Man had been patiently waiting for answer till he couldn’t wait any longer! ‘Oh well, that’s, so to speak, that then. It seems to me that my good luck is played out. Well, I never. Just go ahead. It can’t be that hard. And even if it were so, why should I care! What I’ve got to do with it? But after all, it’s not the end of the world and then from me all like water off a duck’s back. It is as it is. Come what may. Let it be. Things are working round in my favor. All is fish that comes in my net. Well, actually anything may happen, but all the same it will turn out well somehow‘, in long run he said to himself and pretending that nothing was wrong he went back to his old woman. And now, what the blazes? Lo and behold! Funky shit, it made his flesh creep and took his breath away. The tears rose to his eyes. Drops of sweat stood on his forehead. At last he spat and burst out laughing: ‘Oh, my! Ye gods and little fishes! Well, to be sure! Fine goings on!’ And what did all this mean? Their miserable earth-house was there before him again, the Old Woman upset utterly down, supporting her chin on the palm of her hand, sat lost in reverie on the threshold ( ‘They always say: there’s no justice in the world. But there’s no one in the beyond! I can see that with the utmost clarity, just as if it were a common scale…’) and the exact same split wash-tub, pretty kettle of fish and a rather dirty trick of fortune, lay just in front of her as far as the arm could reach. Well, my dear friends, and what the dickens one can say to that? It stands to reason: the morning sun never lasts a day!


Although as a matter of fact the fairy-tale might well be a lie, yet it contains a suggestion of truth which can serve some lesson for the youth. When you’re smiling and do anything with pleasure, you obtain your peace and freedom; if you fly into a passion, will you please take your leave of indulgence of your destiny.
Oh how many smart words, whose sense I understand not thoroughly or they are clear to me not perfectly. In vain I endeavor to substitute by means of them reality. After all, it is virtually not feasible.

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