There was once a man and his wife.
The man said to his wife, “Bake some pies, woman, while I go fishing.”
He caught a lot of fish – an entire cartful – and was bringing them home, when, on the way, he saw a vixen curled up at the side of the road.
The man got down from his cart and approached the vixen, but she didn’t stir. She just lay there, looking dead.
“This will make a fine gift for my wife,” he said, and picked up the vixen, put it into his cart and carried on straight ahead.
The vixen, however, took advantage of this time in the cart to start throwing the fish out, slowly, one at a time. Once she had thrown all the fish out, she jumped off the cart.
“Look, woman,” said the man . “I’ve brought you a beautiful fur collar for a coat.”
“Where is it?” she asked.
“Out there, in the cart. With the fish.”
The wife went out to the cart. No collar and no fish. So she began chiding her husband: “You so-and-so! And a liar, too!”
At this point, the man worked out that the vixen hadn’t been dead. He got very upset, but there was nothing he could do about it.
Meanwhile, the vixen gathered all the fish she had scattered on the road, piled them up in a heap and sat eating them.
A grey wolf came up to her. “Good day to you, sister.”
“Good day to you, neighbour.”
“Won’t you give me some of your fish?”
“Go and catch some yourself.”
“I don’t know how to.”
“Heavens! I managed. Look, neighbour, just go to the river, drop your tail through a hole in the ice, and the fish will cling to it of their own accord. Only make sure you sit there long enough or you won’t catch any.”
So the grey wolf went to the river and dropped his tail through a hole in the ice. It was winter time. He sat there and sat there, all through the night, until his tail froze. He tried to get up but couldn’t. “Heavens! So many fish that they’re too heavy to lift,” he thought.
He looked up and noticed a group of women coming to draw some water. When they saw the wolf, they began to shout, “A wolf! A wolf! Kill him! Kill him!”
They rushed at him and began to beat him with yokes, buckets and anything else they happened to have in their hands. The wolf tried to leap away and, finally, tore off his tail and ran off without looking back.
“Very well, sister,” he thought, “I will certainly pay you back for this!”
Meanwhile, having eaten all her fish, Sister Vixen was wondering if she could pull off another trick. So she broke into a hut where some women were making pancakes and dived, head first, into the vat of pancake mixture, got covered in it and ran away. She came across the wolf.
“A pretty lesson you taught me!” he said. “I got beaten to within an inch of my life!”
“Oh, neighbour,” Sister Vixen replied, “you may be losing blood but my brains are leaking out. I got beaten up worse than you did. It’s all I can do to stand up.”
“You’re right,” the wolf said. “Where do you need to go, sister? If you climb on my back, I’ll take you.”
So the vixen climbed on his back and the wolf carried her away. The vixen sat there and muttered to herself, “It’s the injured carrying the healthy. It’s the injured carrying the healthy.”
“What did you say, sister?”
“I was just saying, neighbour, that it’s the injured carrying the injured.”
“Quite so, sister, quite so.”
By Alexander Afanasyev
Translated by Katherine Gregor
Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev (1826–1871) was a Russian Empire Slavist who published nearly 600 Russian folktales and fairytales – one of the largest folktale collections in the world. The first edition of his collection was published from 1855–67, earning him the reputation of the Russian counterpart to the Brothers Grimm.
Katherine Gregor translates from Italian, French and Russian. She is also a writer and blogger at scribedoll.wordpress.com.
Read more on Russian literature in The Riveter. Edition Two – Riveting Russian Writing.