‘My dear little aunt! I want to ask you...’—‘Well, speak up, what is it you want?’ ‘I want “you know.”’ The aunt understood at once what was the matter. ‘So be it, Ivanouchka; I would like to do you a favour, but you do not know what mischief a woman can make.’— ‘Perhaps, aunt, I am not altogether incapable of it myself.’—‘Very well; come tonight under our window.’
The lad was delighted and awaited the evening with impatience, and as soon as it was dark went into his uncle’s farm-yard; but the ground was covered with hemp-boon which crackled under his feet. ‘See who is there, old man,’ said the aunt to her husband. ‘Someone is walking round the izba [cottage, dwelling-place of a Russian peasant]: is it a thief?’ The uncle opened the window, and asked: ‘Who is wandering round here?’ ‘It is I, uncle,’ replied the nephew. ‘What the devil has brought you here?’—‘Why, uncle, I have had a dispute with my father. He declared that there were nine rows of beams in your izba and I maintained there were ten. So I have come to count them.’—‘Has the old devil lost his senses?’ said the uncle. ‘He helped me to build the house himself, and he ought to know there are ten rows of timbers.’—‘That is so, uncle, that is so. I will go back and spit in my father’s face.’
The next day the lad said to his aunt: ‘Well, aunt. Is there no method of having a turn with you?’—‘How silly you are! How could I come to you while your uncle was taIking to you? But you know the place where we drive in the sheep: go there to-night and you will certainly see me.’ The night came and the lad did not fail to be at the appointed place. He hid himself in a corner, and awaited his aunt. But she said to her husband. ‘Listen, old man! There is a noise in our farm-yard: it sounds as though some wild beast has come in. Our sheep are frightened. Can a wolf have got into our sheep-fold?’
The old man went into the farmyard and called out. ‘Who is there?’—‘It is I, uncle.’—‘What the devil brings you here at such an hour?’—‘How can I help it, uncle? My father gives me no rest: just now we nearly came to blows.’—‘Why so?’—‘He said that you had nine sheep and a ram: I maintained that you had only nine sheep, because you had slaughtered the ram.’—‘Yes: you are right; I slaughtered the ram for a christening dinner. The old devil was even present at that dinner, and helped to eat the ram! Although he is my own brother, tomorrow, when I see him, I will spit in his face.’—‘And I, although he is my own father, I will pull his beard out; he will not even let his own family sleep in peace! Good night, uncle.’—‘Take care of yourself!’ During this conversation, the aunt was almost convulsed with laughter.
On the morrow, the nephew, when he met her, said: ‘Oh, aunt, aunt! Are you not ashamed? I shall never be able to have you!’—‘Oh, Vania, how silly you are! Could I come whilst your uncle was talking to you? That makes twice you have failed; try to be more fortunate the third time. Come to night to our izba: you know where we sleep. You will be able to feel me, I shall have my bottom in the air.’
When the aunt got into bed with her husband, she spoke to him as follows. ‘Listen to what I have to say to you. I cannot stand it any longer. For six years I have slept on the edge of the bed; now let us change places. I want to be against the wall.’—‘It’s all the same to me,’ replied the old man, and he lay down on the edge. After some time, the woman again spoke. ‘Eh, master, how hot it is in our izba! Just look and see if the stove is closed.’ So saying, she placed her hand on her husband’s backside. ‘Ah, you always wear drawers! That is not allowed. Ask Loukian or Karp if they ever wear drawers when they sleep with their wives.’
The husband felt the justness of this observation, so he took off his drawers, and went to sleep with his backside in the air. Just after first cock-crow, the nephew slipped into the vestibule, and put his ear to the door: silence reigned in the izba. He opened the door gently, entered the room, and began to feel round the bed. His hand encountered a bottom which he took to be that of his aunt, and which he attacked vigorously.
The uncle, being assailed in this manner, uttered loud cries, and laid hold of the guilty member. ‘What is the matter, old man?’ asked the aunt. ‘Get up quickly, and light a shaving,’ said he in a loud voice. ‘I have caught a thief.’
The aunt jumped hurriedly out of bed, and pretending to believe that the house was on fire, ran and fetched some water and put out what fire there was in the stove. ‘Why are you puttering about?’—‘There is no fire here.’—‘Well, then run quickly to the neighbour’s house and ask for a light.’—‘What, go out now? It is dark, and wolves prowl about the village.’—‘May the devil take you! I will go myself and fetch a light! You hold the thief, and see that he does not get away.’ The uncle snatched up a lantern, opened the door, went to his neighbour’s house, woke him, told him what had happened, and asked for a light: during this time the aunt remained in the izba with the nephew. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘you can do what you like with me.’ He laid her on the bed, and trussed her twice; after which he slipped away quietly.
The young man having gone, the aunt began to reflect: ‘What shall I say to my husband when he reproaches me for having let the thief escape?’ Fortunately for her, a cow had calved a little time before, and the calf was fastened to the bed. The cunning woman seized the calf’s tongue, and held it tightly in her hand. When the husband returned with a light, he asked: ‘What are you holding there, wife?’—‘I am holding what you put into my hand.’—The peasant flew into a violent rage, drew his knife, and cut off the poor animal’s head. ‘What are you doing?’ cried his wife. ‘Have you lost your senses? Are you mad?’ He let down his drawers and showed his backside. ‘Look how he licked me! I don’t think I should have survived another touch of his tongue.’
When the aunt next met her nephew, she said: ‘Vania, will you buy me some new shoes?’—‘Why not? Tomorrow I shall be going to the town, and I will buy them.’—‘Buy them, Vania, and I will reward you.’
But the lad was not a fool: he went into the garden and cut a cabbage, and after he had tied it up in a handkerchief, took it to his aunt. ‘Have you brought me the shoes, Ivanouchka?’—‘Yes.’—‘Give them to me, so that I may try them on!’—‘First, earn them.’ He led her into a barn, placed the handkerchief under her head, and began to futter her. During the operation, the cabbage, which served as a pillow, gave forth a series of squeaks. ‘You may cry or not,’ she said, ‘but you shall soon be on my feet.’—‘You may also eat them boiled,’ remarked the nephew.