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Story No. 785

The Two Friends

Book Name:

Russian Fairy Tales

Tradition: Russia ,Muscovite


In the days of old there lived in a certain village two young men. They were great friends, went to besyedas[403] together, in fact, regarded each other as brothers. And they made this mutual agreement. Whichever of the two should marry first was to invite his comrade to his wedding. And it was not to make any difference whether he was alive or dead.

About a year after this one of the young men fell ill and died. A few months later his comrade took it into his head to get married. So he collected all his kinsmen, and set off to fetch his bride. Now it happened that they drove past the graveyard, and the bridegroom recalled his friend to mind, and remembered his old agreement. So he had the horses stopped, saying:

“I’m going to my comrade’s grave. I shall ask him to come and enjoy himself at my wedding. A right trusty friend was he to me.”

So he went to the grave and began to call aloud:

“Comrade dear! I invite thee to my wedding.”

Suddenly the grave yawned, the dead man arose, and said:

“Thanks be to thee, brother, that thou hast fulfilled thy promise. And now, that we may profit by this happy chance, enter my abode. Let us quaff a glass apiece of grateful drink.”

“I’d have gone, only the marriage procession is stopping outside; all the folks are waiting for me.”

“Eh, brother!” replied the dead man, “surely it won’t take long to toss off a glass!”

The bridegroom jumped into the grave. The dead man poured him out a cup of liquor. He drank it off – and a hundred years passed away.

“Quaff another cup, dear friend!” said the dead man.

He drank a second cup – two hundred years passed away.

“Now, comrade dear, quaff a third cup!” said the dead man, “and then go, in God’s name, and celebrate thy marriage!”

He drank the third cup – three hundred years passed away.

The dead man took leave of his comrade. The coffin lid fell; the grave closed.

The bridegroom looked around. Where the graveyard had been, was now a piece of waste ground. No road was to be seen, no kinsmen, no horses. All around grew nettles and tall grass.

He ran to the village – but the village was not what it used to be. The houses were different; the people were all strangers to him. He went to the priest’s – but the priest was not the one who used to be there – and told him about everything that had happened. The priest searched through the church-books, and found that, three hundred years before, this occurrence had taken place: a bridegroom had gone to the graveyard on his wedding-day, and had disappeared. And his bride, after some time had passed by, had married another man.


[402] Afanasief, vi, p. 322, 323.

[403] Evening gatherings of young people.


[The “Rip van Winkle” story is too well known to require more than a passing allusion. It was doubtless founded on one of the numerous folk-tales which correspond to the Christian legend of “The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus” – itself an echo of an older tale (see Baring Gould, “Curious Myths,” 1872, pp. 93-112, and Cox, “Mythology of the Aryan Nations,” i. 413) – and to that of the monk who listens to a bird singing in the convent garden, and remains entranced for the space of many years: of which latter legend a Russian version occurs in Chudinsky’s collection (No. 17, pp. 92-4). Very close indeed is the resemblance between the Russian story of “The Two Friends,” and the Norse “Friends in Life and Death” (Asbjörnsen’s New Series, No. 62, pp. 5-7). In the latter the bridegroom knocks hard and long on his dead friend’s grave. At length its occupant appears, and accounts for his delay by saying he had been far away when the first knocks came, and so had not heard them. Then he follows the bridegroom to church and from church, and afterwards the bridegroom sees him back to his tomb. On the way the living man expresses a desire to see something of the world beyond the grave, and the corpse fulfils his wish, having first placed on his head a sod cut in the graveyard. After witnessing many strange sights, the bridegroom is told to sit down and wait till his guide returns. When he rises to his feet, he is all overgrown with mosses and shrub (var han overvoxen med Mose og Busker), and when he reaches the outer world he finds all things changed.]

But from these dim sketches of a life beyond, or rather within the grave, in which memories of old days and old friendships are preserved by ghosts of an almost genial and entirely harmless disposition, we will now turn to those more elaborate pictures in which the dead are represented under an altogether terrific aspect. It is not as an incorporeal being that the visitor from the other world is represented in the Skazkas. He comes not as a mere phantom, intangible, impalpable, incapable of physical exertion, haunting the dwelling which once was his home, or the spot to which he is drawn by the memory of some unexpiated crime. It is as a vitalized corpse that he comes to trouble mankind, often subject to human appetites, constantly endowed with more than human strength and malignity. His apparel is generally that of the grave, and he cannot endure to part with it, as may be seen from the following story –



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