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Once upon a time there lived an old blacksmith who had an only son, a bright, intelligent boy of six.
One day the blacksmith went to church, and began praying before a large holy picture. On looking at the picture more attentively, he saw painted on it a very big devil, such a dreadful-looking creature — all black, with long horns and fierce tail.
"That is something like a devil!" thought the blacksmith to himself. "I think I shall have one painted exactly like it, in the smithy!"
So when he returned home he engaged a housepainter, and told him to paint on the door of the smithy a devil exactly like the one he saw in the holy picture at church. The house-painter obeyed, and in a very short time he completed his order.
From that day forth, whenever the blacksmith entered the smithy, he used to look at the devil on the door, and say in a friendly way,—
"Good-day to you, my countryman; I hope I see you well!"
He would then make a roaring fire, and betake himself to his work. After living for over ten years in perfect harmony with the devil, the blacksmith died, and left his son to continue the business, who, being very fond of that sort of work, got on remarkably well. But one thing the young blacksmith would not do, and that was to regard the devil with the same respect with which his father had treated it before him. When he went into the smithy in the morning he never by any chance greeted the devil, and instead of saying a kind word or two, he would take up a large iron hammer, and give the unfortunate devil three blows on the forehead, and then go on with his work.
Three years went by, during which he continually treated the evil-spirit to the hammer. The devil bore all this very patiently for some time, but at last he could stand it no longer.
"I have had enough of this!" thought the devil. "I can stand these insults no more. I will be artful, and pay him out somehow or another!"
So the devil changed himself into a young man, and entered the smithy.
"Good-day, uncle!" the devil said.
"Good-day, young fellow; what do you want?"
"I have come to ask you whether you would take me for an apprentice. I can, at any rate, carry the coals for you, and blow the bellows, to commence with!"
The blacksmith was delighted.
"Yes; why not?" he cried. "It will be more amusing to have some one else with me!"
So the devil began to learn and help the blacksmith, and in about a month's time he knew everything much better than the master himself. What the blacksmith could not do, the devil did for him; and very soon he won the affections of the blacksmith, who became so fond of him, and so pleased with everything he did, that it would be impossible to relate in this story. In fact, he very soon left off coming to the smithy, for he had such perfect confidence in the devil that he let him manage everything himself, and left the shop in his charge. One day the blacksmith was away from home, and the devil was quite alone in the smithy. After working a little, he went to the door to have a look at the passers-by. As he stood there he saw an old lady driving along in her carriage; he made a sign to the coachman to stop, and then cried out to the old lady,—
"Walk in here, my lady. A new business has been started, whereby we can turn all old people into young ones again! Pray walk in!"
The old lady did not wait to think, but getting out of her carriage, entered the smithy.
"Is this really so?" asked the old lady. "Can you change old people into young ones, or are you only boasting?"
"If I did not understand my business, my lady' said the evil spirit, "I should not have invited you in!"
"What do you charge?"
"Five hundred roubles."
"Very well, here is the money. Now make me young once more."
The evil spirit took the money, and then sent the coachman into the village, saying,—
"Go, and bring me two buckets full of milk."
This done, he seized the old lady, and threw her into the furnace, where she was burnt up to her bones, which alone were left whole. When the coachman brought the two pails of milk the devil poured them into a very large tub, and taking all the bones threw them into the milk. And in about three minutes out came a young lady, alive and beautiful!
She thanked the devil, and seating herself in her carriage drove home to her husband, who stared at her in amazement when she entered the room in which he sat, and did not recognize his wife!
"Why do you stand staring there, like an idiot?'' cried the lady. "Don't you see that I have become young and stately again? But now I do not wish to have a husband who is old and grey, so go to the blacksmith at once and be made young again, or I do not wish to know you, or have anything more to do with you. Go!"
The husband had to obey, or he knew he would suffer for it; so away he went.
Meanwhile the real blacksmith had returned, and on going into the smithy he found his workman missing. He searched and searched, but all in vain. He asked his neighbours whether they had seen him; but no, no one knew anything, and no trace of him was to be found. The blacksmith then set to work by himself, and began hammering away. Just as he was in the midst of his work, up drove a carriage, and the old lady's husband entered the shop.
"Make me into a young man!" he cried.
The blacksmith stared.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, "but are you in your right senses? How can I make you young again?"
"You ought to know that best yourself."
"But I assure you, sir, I don't know anything."
"You lie, you rascal! If you could make my wife young again, I suppose you can do the same with me. If you don't do this, I shall never be able to live with her any more."
"But I never set eyes on your wife."
"Never mind! Then your workman must have seen her, and made her young again; and if he could do so, then you, who are the master, ought certainly to be able to do it also! Now, then, look alive, my friend! If you don't, woe betide you!"
The blacksmith was thus forced to change the old man into a young one, but how? He began asking the man what his workman had done, and how he did it and what it was he used, and any amount of other questions, which the old man answered as best he could, for his wife had told him something about the milk being ordered, and also about her sudden plunge into the fiery furnace.
"Well," thought the blacksmith to himself, "whatever happens, I must try and obey the extraordinary order. If I succeed, so much the better; if not, then I shall get into as bad a mess as if I had not obeyed the order at all."
So he caught the old man by the legs and threw him into the furnace, and then began blowing at him with the bellows. The unfortunate man was soon burnt to ashes, and nothing but the bones remained. These the blacksmith took and threw into the large tub, which he filled with milk, and waited, hoping to see a young man make his appearance. He waited an hour, and then another, yet nothing came. He looked into the tub, but only saw all the bones swimming about on the surface, and those were burnt almost black.
The wife was getting rather impatient, so she sent one of her servants round to the smithy to ask,—
"Whether her husband would be ready soon?"
The unfortunate blacksmith could only say in reply that,—
"Her husband had wished her and all at home a long life, and asked them to remember his name."
When the wife heard this, she knew that the blacksmith had burnt her husband to ashes, and had not made him young again. She flew into a great rage, and ordered her servants to run to the smithy, seize the blacksmith, and lead him to the gallows.
No sooner said than done. The servants ran into the smithy, caught hold of the unfortunate blacksmith, and dragged him to the gallows.
Just as they were on their way, who should overtake them but the young fellow who had lived with the blacksmith as workman — in other words, the devil.
"Whither are they taking you, master?" he asked.
"They want to hang me," replied the blacksmith; and then he told the devil all that had happened.
"Well, uncle," the evil spirit whispered, "I am no other than the painting of the devil on the smithy door, but as you treated me so shamefully I changed myself into a man, and vowed to pay you out. However, I will forgive you if you fall down on your knees and promise faithfully to treat me with the same respect that your father treated me before you. If you promise this, the husband of the old lady who is sending you to the gallows shall become alive and well again."
The blacksmith did not wait to be told twice; anything would be better than being hung. So he fell down before the devil and stammered out his promise, saying that he would never again think of knocking him about with the hammer, but would from henceforth treat him with all possible respect and courtesy.
The devil then ran to the smithy, and very soon returned with the old gentleman, who had become youthful again.
"Stop!" cried the devil to the servants, who were about to hang the blacksmith. "Don't hang him! Here is your master for you!"
They at once untied the rope from around the blacksmith's neck, and set him free again to do what he pleased.
From that day forth the blacksmith never attempted or even thought of giving the devil on the door of the smithy a blow with his hammer,or otherwise ill-treating him, but he always greeted the painting with the greatest possible politeness, and lived on happily and prospered all his life; but his workman disappeared and was seen no more by any one.
The husband and wife, whom the devil had turned into young people again, lived on double their time, and were as rich and happy as ever, and I believe they are still alive if not dead!