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367 A Fugitive Soldier and the Devil 154. A soldier requested leave, gathered up his kit, and set off. He walked and walked, but nowhere did he see any water with which he might moisten his hardtack on the road along the way, and his stomach was long since empty. There was nothing else to be done. He trudged on. He looked about and saw a stream running. He approached it, got three hard biscuits out of his knapsack, and put them in the water. This soldier also had a fiddle. When he had free time, he’d play various songs on it to idle away boredom. So this soldier sat down next to the little stream, took his fiddle, and started in playing. Suddenly, out of nowhere there came up to him the unclean spirit in the image of an old man. He had a book in his hands.“Greetings, Mr. Soldier!”“Greetings, good man!” The devil frowned when the soldier called him a good man. “Listen, my friend, let’s make an exchange: I’ll give you my book, and you give me your fiddle.” “Oh, old man, what do I need that book for? Although I’ve served the sovereign for ten years, I’ve never been literate. I wasn’t before, and it’s too late to learn now!” “Never mind, Soldier! I’ve such a book that whoever looks in it will be able to read it!” “Then hand it over, I’ll try!” The soldier opened the book and began reading, just as if he’d learned letters from infancy. He was delighted and immediately exchanged it for his fiddle. The devil took the fiddle and began drawing the bow . . . but things didn’t go so well. There was no tune in his playing. “Listen, Brother,” he said to the soldier,“stay here as my guest for three days and teach me to play the fiddle. I’ll thank you for it!”“No, old man,” answered the soldier,“I have to go back to my homeland, and in three days I’ll have gone far away.”“Please, soldier, if you stay here and teach me to play the fiddle, I’ll get you home in a single day. I’ll get you there by a postal troika .” The soldier sat in contemplation: Should he remain or not? And he took a biscuit out of the little stream, wanting to take a bite.“Hey, brother soldier,” said the devil,“your food is bad. Eat some of mine!” He untied 368 h A Fugitive Soldier and the Devil a bag and took out some white bread, roast beef, vodka, and all sorts of foods.“Eat, I don’t want any!” The soldier ate and drank as much as he wished, and agreed to stay with the unfamiliar old man and teach him to play the fiddle. He spent three days and then asked to go home. The devil led him out of his chambers , and there in front of the porch stood a troika of good horses.“Get in, Soldier! I’ll have you there in a flash.” The soldier sat down in the carriage with the devil. How those horses went through their paces! They carried them along, and the versts just flashed by their eyes. They got there in one deep breath. “Well, do you recognize this village?” the evil spirit asked.“How could I not recognize it!” replied the soldier.“Why, I was born in this village and grew up here!”“Well, farewell!” The soldier got down from the carriage and went to his relatives, exchanged greetings with them, and started telling them about how and for how long they had released him from his unit. It had seemed to him that he’d spent only three days with the devil, but in fact he’d spent three years there. His leave had long since ended, and in the unit they were no doubt considering him a runaway. The soldier became timid. He didn’t know what he should do! And he couldn’t get that revelry out of his mind! He went to the outskirts of the village and thought, “Where shall I go now? If I return to my unit, they’ll run me through the gauntlet. Oh, you devil, you’ve really played a trick on me!” He’d no sooner uttered these words than the devil was right there! “Don’t be so sorrowful, Soldier. Stay here with me...


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