One evening, when they were sitting round the table after their supper, old Peter asked the children what story they would like to hear. Vanya asked whether there were any stories left which they had not already heard.
"Why," said old Peter, "you have heard scarcely any of the stories, for there is a story to be told about everything in the world."
"About everything, grandfather?" asked Vanya.
"About everything," said old Peter.
"About the sky, and the thunder, and the dogs, and the flies, and the birds, and the trees, and the milk?"
"There is a story about everyone of those things."
"I know something there isn't a story about," said Vanya.
"And what's that?" asked old Peter, smiling in his beard.
"Salt," said Vanya. "There can't be a story about salt." He put the tip of his finger into the little box of salt on the table, and then he touched his tongue with his finger to taste.
"But of course there is a story about salt," said old Peter.
"Tell it us," said Maroosia; and presently, when his pipe had been lit twice and gone out, old Peter began.
Once upon a time there were three brothers, and their father was a great merchant who sent his ships far over the sea, and traded here and there in countries the names of which I, being an old man, can never rightly call to mind. Well, the names of the two elder brothers do not matter, but the youngest was called Ivan the Ninny, because he was always playing and never working; and if there was a silly thing to do, why, off he went and did it. And so, when the brothers grew up, the father sent the two elder ones off, each in a fine ship laden with gold and jewels, and rings and bracelets, and laces and silks, and sticks with little bits of silver hammered into their handles, and spoons with patterns of blue and red, and everything else you can think of that costs too much to buy. But he made Ivan the Ninny stay at home, and did not give him a ship at all. Ivan saw his brothers go sailing off over the sea on a summer morning, to make their fortunes and come back rich men; and then, for the first time in his life, he wanted to work and do something useful.