The Priest Who Begot a Calf

A priest and his wife had for their servant a Cossack named Vanka, who—owing to the avaricious character of the popadia [Russian Orthodox priest’s wife]—did not live at all well in his master’s house. One day the priest went with his man to make hay at a place about seven miles off. They came to the field, set to work, and loaded two carts. Presently a drove of cows approached the hay, so taking a thick stick in his hand the priest rushed at the animals, drove them a long way off, and returned, covered with sweat, to where the Cossack was working. They soon finished their work, and set out to return home. Night fell whilst they were on the road. ‘Vanka,’ said the priest, ‘would it not be better to lodge at Gvoyd’s house in the next village? He is an honest moujik [Russian peasant], and his court is roofed.’ ‘Very good, batouchka [little father (a hypocoristic often applied to priests),’ replied Vanka.

They came to the village, and asked and obtained permission to lodge at the moujik’s house. The Cossack entered the izba [cottage, Russian peasant dwelling], uttered a prayer, and after having saluted the master of the house, said to him: ‘Listen, master: when supper is ready, say, “Sit down, all you who have been baptised.” If you say to the priest, “sit down, spiritual father,” he would be offended, and would not sit at the table, for he does not like to be addressed in that way.’

During this time, the priest was unharnessing the horses; when he appeared in the izba, the peasant ordered his wife to serve the repast, and when all was ready, said, ‘Come to supper, all you who are baptised.’ Everyone took his place at the table, except the batouchka, who sat upon a bench, for he expected to receive a special invitation; but was disappointed in his expectations. When supper was finished, the master of the house said to the priest, ‘Why did you not sit at table with us, father Mikhail?’—‘I was not hungry,’ replied the priest.

All went to bed. The peasant led his guests to the skotnaia [shed where the cowherd sleeps and cows are milked], because it was warmer there than in the izba. The priest lay on the stove, and the Cossack in the loft. Vanka fell asleep at once; as to the priest, he would have liked to find something to eat, but there was nothing in the skotnaia except a trough with some dough in it. He woke up the Cossack. ‘What is it you want, batouchka?’—‘Cossack, I am hungry.’—‘Well! why do you not eat? In the trough there is the same sort of bread as on the table,’ replied Vanka; then he came down from the loft, tipped up the trough, and said: ‘There is enough there to satisfy you.’ The priest began to gobble up the dough, but Vanka pushed the trough, as though by accident, and spilled all the contents over his master. The priest, having satisfied his hunger, lay down, and was soon fast asleep.

During the night a cow calved in the stable. On hearing the animal’s lowing, the mistress of the house came. She took the calf, carried it to the skotnaia, and put it on the stove by the side of the priest; then she retired. A little later the priest was awakened by feeling a tongue lick his face. His first proceeding was to awaken Vanka. ‘What is it you want now?’ asked the Cossack. ‘Vanka, there is a calf close to me on the stove, and I don’t know how it came there.’—‘What is the matter with you? You have brought forth the calf yourself, and you say, “I don’ know how it came there.”’—‘But how can that be?’ demanded the priest. ‘Why, this is how it is. Don’t you remember that while we were loading the hay, you ran after the cows? So now you have given birth to a calf.’—‘Vanka, what shall I do to hide that from my wife’s knowledge?’—‘Give me three hundred roubles, and I will manage so that nobody in the world shall know about it.’ The priest gave him the money. ‘But pay attention to what I tell you,’ continued the Cossack. ‘Return home at once, but steal away quietly and leave your boots here. You can wear my bark shoes.’

As soon as the priest had gone, the Cossack went to the master of the house. ‘Oh what an ass you are! Do you know that your calf has eaten up the priest, and left only his boots? Come and see!’ The peasant, thoroughly frightened, offered three hundred roubles to the Cossack as the price of his silence, and Vanka promised to hold his tongue. He took the three hundred roubles, mounted his horse, and went after the priest. When he overtook him, he said, ‘Batouchka, the moujik is going to take the calf to your wife, and tell her that you are its father.’ More frightened than ever, the priest gave another hundred roubles to the Cossack.

‘Only,’ he begged, ‘arrange this matter for me!’ ‘Return home, and I will undertake to prevent all scandal,’ replied Vanka; and he returned to the moujik, and said: ‘The priest’s wife went out of her mind when she heard of the death of her husband. You will get into a sad mess.’ The foolish peasant begged the Cossack to accept another hundred roubles. ‘Only,’ he added, ‘be sure to deceive the popadia, and don’t say a word to any one.’ ‘All right, all right!’ replied the Cossack. When he arrived at the parsonage, Vanka extorted some more money from the priest; after which he took leave of him, married, and from that day saw his affairs prosper.


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