|Site Map > Electronic Library > Leo Tolstoy > The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories > CHAPTER XII.|
Listen to audiobooks at Litphonix
previous: CHAPTER XI.
The old devil, failing to ruin Ivan's kingdom with soldiers, transformed himself into a nobleman, dressed exquisitely, and became one of Ivan's subjects, with the intention of compassing the downfall of his kingdom - as he had done with that of Tarras.
The "nobleman" said to Ivan: "I desire to teach you wisdom and to render you other service. I will build you a palace and factories."
"Very well," said Ivan; "you may live with us."
The next day the "nobleman" appeared on the Square with a sack of gold in his hand and a plan for building a house, saying to the people: "You are living like pigs, and I am going to teach you how to live decently. You are to build a house for me according to this plan. I will superintend the work myself, and will pay you for your services in gold," showing them at the same time the contents of his sack.
The fools were amused. They had never before seen any money. Their business was conducted entirely by exchange of farm products or by hiring themselves out to work by the day in return for whatever they most needed. They therefore glanced at the gold pieces with amazement, and said, "What nice toys they would be to play with!" In return for the gold they gave their services and brought the "nobleman" the produce of their farms.
The old devil was overjoyed as he thought, "Now my enterprise is on a fair road and I will be able to ruin the Fool - as I did his brothers."
The fools obtained sufficient gold to distribute among the entire community, the women and young girls of the village wearing much of it as ornaments, while to the children they gave some pieces to play with on the streets.
When they had secured all they wanted they stopped working and the "noblemen" did not get his house more than half finished. He had neither provisions nor cattle for the year, and ordered the people to bring him both. He directed them also to go on with the building of the palace and factories. He promised to pay them liberally in gold for everything they did. No one responded to his call - only once in awhile a little boy or girl would call to exchange eggs for his gold.
Thus was the "nobleman" deserted, and, having nothing to eat, he went to the village to procure some provisions for his dinner. He went to one house and offered gold in return for a chicken, but was refused, the owner saying: "We have enough of that already and do not want any more."
He next went to a fish-woman to buy some herring, when she, too, refused to accept his gold in return for fish, saying: "I do not wish it, my dear man; I have no children to whom I can give it to play with. I have three pieces which I keep as curiosities only."
He then went to a peasant to buy bread, but he also refused to accept the gold. "I have no use for it," said he, "unless you wish to give it for Christ's sake; then it will be a different matter, and I will tell my baba [old woman] to cut a piece of bread for you."
The old devil was so angry that he ran away from the peasant, spitting and cursing as he went.
Not only did the offer to accept in the name of Christ anger him, but the very mention of the name was like the thrust of a knife in his throat.
The old devil did not succeed in getting any bread, and in his efforts to secure other articles of food he met with the same failure. The people had all the gold they wanted and what pieces they had they regarded as curiosities. They said to the old devil: "If you bring us something else in exchange for food, or come to ask for Christ's sake, we will give you all you want."
But the old devil had nothing but gold, and was too lazy to work; and being unable to accept anything for Christ's sake, he was greatly enraged.
"What else do you want?" he said. "I will give you gold with which you can buy everything you want, and you need labor no longer."
But the fools would not accept his gold, nor listen to him. Thus the old devil was obliged to go to sleep hungry.
Tidings of this condition of affairs soon reached the ears of Ivan. The people went to him and said: "What shell we do? This nobleman appeared among us; he is well dressed; he wishes to eat and drink of the best, but is unwilling to work, and does not beg for food for Christ's sake. He only offers every one gold pieces. At first we gave him everything he wanted, taking the gold pieces in exchange just as curiosities; but now we have enough of them and refuse to accept any more from him. What shallwe do with him? he may die of hunger!"
Ivan heard all they had to say, and told them to employ him as a shepherd, taking turns in doing so.
The old devil saw no other way out of the difficulty and was obliged to submit.
It soon came the old devil's turn to go to Ivan's house. He went there to dinner and found Ivan's dumb sister preparing the meal. She was often cheated by the lazy people, who while they did not work, yet ate up all the gruel. But she learned to know the lazy people from the condition of their hands. Those with great welts on their hands she invited first to the table, and those having smooth white hands had to take what was left.
The old devil took a seat at the table, but the dumb girl, taking his hands, looked at them, and seeing them white and clean, and with long nails, swore at him and put him from the table.
Ivan's wife said to the old devil: "You must excuse my sister-in-law; she will not allow any one to sit at the table whose hands have not been hardened by toil, so you will have to wait until the dinner is over and then you can have what is left.
With it you must be satisfied."
The old devil was very much offended that he was made to eat with "pigs," as he expressed it, and complained to Ivan, saying: "The foolish law you have in your kingdom, that all persons must work, is surely the invention of fools. People who work for a living are not always forced to labor with their hands. Do you think wise men labor so?"
Ivan replied: "Well, what do fools know about it? We all work with our hands."
"And for that reason you are fools," replied the devil. "I can teach you how to use your brains, and you will find such labor more beneficial."
Ivan was surprised at hearing this, and said:
"Well, it is perhaps not without good reason that we are called fools."
"It is not so easy to work with the brain," the old devil said. "You will not give me anything to eat because my hands have not the appearance of being toil-hardened, but you must understand that it is much harder to do brain-work, and sometimes the head feels like bursting with the effort it is forced to make."
"Then why do you not select some light work that you can perform with your hands?" Ivan asked.
The devil said: "I torment myself with brain-work because I have pity for you fools, for, if I did not torture myself, people like you would remain fools for all eternity. I have exercised my brain a great deal during my life, and now I am able to teach you."
Ivan was greatly surprised and said: "Very well; teach us, so that when our hands are tired we can use our heads to replace them."
The devil promised to instruct the people, and Ivan announced the fact throughout his kingdom.
The devil was willing to teach all those who came to him how to use the head instead of the hands, so as to produce more with the former than with the latter.
In Ivan's kingdom there was a high tower, which was reached by a long, narrow ladder leading up to the balcony, and Ivan told the old devil that from the top of the tower every one could see him.
So the old devil went up to the balcony and addressed the people.
The fools came in great crowds to hear what the old devil had to say, thinking that he really meant to tell them how to work with the head. But the old devil only told them in words what to do, and did not give them any practical instruction. He said that men working only with their hands could not make a living. The fools did not understand what he said to them and looked at him in amazement, and then departed for their daily work.
The old devil addressed them for two days from the balcony, and at the end of that time, feeling hungry, he asked the people to bring him some bread. But they only laughed at him and told him if he could work better with his head than with his hands he could also find bread for himself. He addressed the people for yet another day, and they went to hear him from curiosity, but soon left him to return to their work.
Ivan asked, "Well, did the nobleman work with his head?"
"Not yet," they said; "so far he has only talked."
One day, while the old devil was standing on the balcony, he became weak, and, falling down, hurt his head against a pole.
Seeing this, one of the fools ran to Ivan's wife and said, "The gentleman has at last commenced to work with his head."
She ran to the field to tell Ivan, who was much surprised, and said, "Let us go and see him."
He turned his horses' heads in the direction of the tower, where the old devil remained weak from hunger and was still suspended from the pole, with his body swaying back and forth and his head striking the lower part of the pole each time it came in contact with it. While Ivan was looking, the old devil started down the steps head-first - as they supposed, to count them.
"Well," said Ivan, "he told the truth after all - that sometimes from this kind of work the head bursts. This is far worse than welts on the hands."
The old devil fell to the ground head-foremost. Ivan approached him, but at that instant the ground opened and the devil disappeared, leaving only a hole to show where he had gone.
Ivan scratched his head and said: "See here; such nastiness! This is yet another devil. He looks like the father of the little ones."
Ivan still lives, and people flock to his kingdom. His brothers come to him and he feeds them.
To every one who comes to him and says, "Give us food," he replies: "Very well; you are welcome. We have plenty of everything."
There is only one unchangeable custom observed in Ivan's kingdom: The man with toil-hardened hands is always given a seat at the table, while the possessor of soft white hands must be contented with what is left.
Turn to the next chapter: A LOST OPPORTUNITY.