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We may end this section with the story of a man who failed to raise a treasure through fear.
ONE Christmas Eve the people at a farm-house a couple of versts from a church went to bed early, intending to go to early morning service by candle-light. The farmer woke up, and on going out to see p. 227 how the weather was, he saw the church lit up, and thinking he had overslept himself, called his people and they set out. They found the church lit up and full of people, but the singing sounded rather strange. When they reached the open door, the lights and people disappeared, and a stranger came out, who told them to return, saying, “This is our service; yours begins to-morrow.” But he took one youth of the party aside, and told him to come again at midnight three days before St. John’s Eve and he would make his fortune, but he warned him to keep it secret.
As the party returned to the farm-house, the sky cleared, and they saw from the position of the stars that it was midnight. When the matter came to the pastor’s ears, he tried to persuade the people that it was only a dream; but the matter could not be hushed up.
The youth who had received an invitation from the stranger felt very doubtful about keeping the appointment, especially as he had been commanded to keep it secret; but a fortnight before the time, he was going home one evening after sunset, when he saw an old woman sitting by the roadside, who asked him what he was thinking about so deeply. p. 228 He made no answer, and then she asked to see, his hand to tell his fortune, assuring him that she meant him well. She put on her spectacles, and after examining his hand for some time, promised him great good fortune, and told him to go with the stranger without fear. But if he wished to take a wife, let him not do so without great consideration, or he might fall into misfortune. She refused any payment, and hurried away as lightly as a young girl.
Three days before St. John’s Eve, the youth set out a little before midnight. A voice cried in his ear, “You are not going right!” and he was about to turn back when he heard voices singing in the air, which urged him not to throw away his good fortune, and encouraged him to proceed. He found the church-door closed, but the stranger came from behind the left side of the church. He told the youth he feared he might not have come; and that the church service was held at Christmas only once in seven years, at a time when men are all asleep. The stranger then told the youth that there was a grave mound in a certain meadow on which grew three junipers, and under the middle one a great treasure was buried. In order to propitiate the p. 229 guardians of the treasure, it was needful to slaughter three black animals, one feathered and two hairy, and to take care that not a drop of the sacrificial blood was lost, but all offered to the guardians. A bit of silver was to be scraped from the youth’s buckle that the gleam of the costly silver might lead him to that which was buried. “Then cut a stick from the juniper three spans long, turn the point three times toward the grass where you have offered the blood, and walk nine times round the juniper bush from west to east. But at every round strike the grass under the bush three times with the stick, and at every blow say ‘Igrek!’1 At the eighth round you will perceive a subterranean jingling of money, and after the ninth round you will see the gleam of silver. Then fall on your knees, bend your face to the ground, and cry out nine times ‘Igrek,’ when the treasure will rise.” The seeker must wait patiently till the treasure has risen, and not allow himself to be frightened by the spectres which would appear, for they were only soulless phantoms,2 to try the seeker’s courage. If it failed, he would return home with empty hands. p. 230 The seeker must go to the hill on St. John’s Eve, when the bonfires were burning and the people merrymaking. A third of the treasure was to be given to the poor; the rest belonged to the finder.
The stranger repeated his directions three times word for word that the youth should not forget them, when the sexton’s cock crew and the stranger vanished suddenly.
Next day the youth obtained a black cock and a black dog from some neighbours, and next night be caught a mole. On St. John’s Eve he took the three animals, and carried out his instructions at midnight, slaughtering first the cock, then the mole, and lastly the dog, taking care that every drop of blood should fall on the appointed spot. But when he had called “Igrek!” at the conclusion of the ceremony, a fiery-red cock rose suddenly under the juniper, flapped his wings, crowed and flew away. A shovelful of silver was then cast up at the youth’s feet. Next a fiery-red cat with long golden claws rose from under the juniper, mewed, and darted away, when the earth opened and threw up another shovelful of silver. Next appeared a great fiery-red dog, with a golden head and tail, who barked, and ran away, when a shovelful of roubles was cast p. 231 up at the youth’s feet. This was followed by a red fox with a golden tail, a red wolf with two golden heads, and a red bear with three golden heads; and behind each animal money was thrown out in the grass, but behind the bear there came about a ton of silver, and the entire heap rose to the height of a haycock. When the bear had disappeared, there was a rushing and roaring under the juniper as if fifty smiths were blowing the bellows at once. Then appeared from the juniper a huge head, half man, half beast, with golden horns nine feet long, and with golden tusks two ells long. Still more dreadful were the flames which shot from mouth and nostrils, and which caused the rushing and roaring. The youth was now beside himself with terror, and rushed away, fancying himself closely pursued by the spectre, and at last he fell down in his own farmyard and fainted. In the morning the sunbeams roused him; and when he came to himself, he took six sacks with him from the barn to carry off the treasure. He found the hill with the three junipers, the slaughtered animals, and the wand; but the earth showed no signs of having been disturbed, and the treasure had vanished. Probably it still rests beneath the hill, waiting for a bolder man to raise it.
The grandson of the unlucky treasure-seeker, who relates this story, could not say if his grandfather had been equally unfortunate in his marriage, as he never alluded to the subject.
1 Kergi (rise up), spelt backwards.
2 As in the story of Joodar (Thousand and One Nights).