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The Judgment of Shemyaka

Two brothers once lived upon a little plot of ground—one rich, the other poor. The poor brother went to the rich one to beg of him a horse that he might fetch wood from the forest. His brother gave him the horse; but the poor one begged of him likewise a horse-collar, whereat the other was angry and would not give it him. So the poor fellow in his trouble fastened the sledge to the horse’s tail and thus drove to the forest, and got such a load of wood that the horse had scarcely strength to draw it. When he came home, he opened the gate, but forgot to remove the foot-board, fastened to the side posts to keep the snow from coming in under the door; and the horse stumbled against the board and lost his tail. The poor fellow took the horse back, but when his brother saw the beast without a tail, he would not have him, and set out to go before the judge, Shemyaka, to make a complaint. The poor man saw that he would fall into trouble, and the judge would send for him: he considered for a long while that he had nothing to give, and he followed his brother on foot.

On the way, as night came on, they stopped at the house of a merchant. The rich brother was taken in to supper and well treated, but the poor man was not given anything to eat, and had to take his night’s rest on the kitchen stove. All night he was tossing and rolling about hungry, and at last he fell off the stove on to a cradle lying beside it, and killed the merchant’s baby in the fall. So the merchant was very angry, and next morning went with him to get the poor man punished by the judge Shemyaka.

It so happened that on the way to town the party had to go over a bridge, and the poor man was so frightened at the thought of what the judge Shemyaka might do to him that he threw himself over the bridge, to put an end to his life; but just at that instant a young man was driving his sick father to the bath-house, and the poor man fell upon the sledge and crushed the old man. So the son went with the rich brother and the merchant to the judge to make his complaint that the poor man had killed his father.

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