This section is from the book "Myths And Folk-Tales Of The Russians, Western Slavs, And Magyars", by Jeremiah Curtin. Also available from Amazon: Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and the Magyars.
BEFORE times long past, there lived in a little cottage an old father, with his three sons. The eldest son was called Martin; the second, Mihal; and the third, Yanek.
"Martin," the father used to say often, as they were sitting in the evening at a bowl of skimmed milk, "I shall not be long alive; I feel it in my body. When I die, the cottage will come to thee; but do not cheat thy old mother and thy brothers".
Martin always promised; but while the others were listening to their father, he looked sharply at the food, and picked out every piece of bread from the milk. Mihal saw this with astonishment; but Yanek was always grieved from his father's talk, and did not even think of eating.
The father spoke the truth. In no long time he groaned his last; but when he saw his death-hour, he had all summoned for the parting. He reminded Martin again that he was never to let the cottage go out of his possession; and then turning to Yanek, whom he loved most, he said: "Yanichek, thou art simple, 't is true; but what the Lord has kept from thee in wit, he has added in heart. Only be ever as kind as thou hast been, and obey thy brothers;' with that he coughed, and was no more.
Martin and Mihal gave themselves up to lamentation, but Yanek was silent; he stood by his father's bedside as if without sense. Only after a long time did he go out, sit in the garden under a tree, and cry like a little child.
After the funeral, Martin and Mihal decided to go out in the world, and leave Yanek with his mother. "The world is wide," said they; "there fortune may meet us quickly, while in this little cottage we should never come to anything as long as we lived".
It was all one to Yanek; but his mother who was still in good strength, did not like to have Yanek lose his fortune, and talked with his brothers so long that they took him with them. This was not agreeable to Martin and Mihal, but they reverenced their mother, and obeyed her.
All three made ready; Martin and Mihal put food in bags for themselves, and went out into the world. On the road Yanek said to his brothers, "I shall be glad to see if that fortune meets us soon".
"Thou mayest run to meet it," snapped the brothers, "since thou hast nothing to carry." They were angry that Yanek had taken nothing, while they must carry heavy bags on their backs.
They walked on a whole half-day; the sun.was burning, and the brothers were tired and hungry.
They sat down at the roadside under a tree, in the shade, took out provisions, and began to eat, - that is, Martin and Mihal; but Yanek sat by himself and began to cry, either because he remembered his father's death or was hungry. His brothers ridiculed him and said: "See now, thou wilt not be so lazy another time, and then thou wilt not be hungry".
Yanek brushed away his tears with his sleeve, and said: "Ye might have a little shame. Ye are going out into the world so as to be able to support your mother when ye go home; but now ye have taken from her everything!"
Such an answer the brothers did not expect from simple Yanek. They were silent; and after a while, as if moved from kindness, they asked Yanek to eat with them; but they did not do it from compassion or brotherly love, but to lessen their fault. When they had eaten, they rose and went on their way. In the evening they came to a cottage and asked for lodgings. The cottager took them under his roof, and asked them to sup. Martin thanked him with a certain boastfulness, saying that he had provisions enough of his own.
The man sat down to supper with his wife. Yanek sat with downcast face alone in a corner. The woman went to the kitchen, and when returning, saw that Yanek had nothing to eat. "Oh, little boy, come and eat with us!" said she kindly. Turning to Martin she asked if that was their servant.
"What servant!" said Martin. "He is our brother, but such a lazy fellow, he would not bring anything for himself".
Yanek did not wish to go to the table, but consented at last. Martin squinted at the dish; and when he saw soup, he hated Yanek. Soup was his favorite dish, and now he must look on and see how Yanek enjoyed it, and must be satisfied with dry bread and a bit of cheese. Full of hatred he went to bed in the place which the cottager showed him, with his brothers. For a long time he lay awake, and when he fell asleep he saw in a dream, Yanek eating soup. In the morning the brothers rose before breakfast, because they wanted Yanek to have nothing to eat. Martin went through the nearest forest, hoping that they would find no house all day, and so Yanek would have no food.
The whole forenoon they walked through the thick forest, and Martin wished to eat his dinner; but the forest began to grow thin and soon they came to an open country. They looked for a road, went on a small hill, and then saw in the valley a great castle as high as ten houses placed one on the other. Yanek laughed, but Martin was not pleased: "We have lost the road," said he; "we must go back".
"But, foolish fellow," said Mihal, who was tired, "we are going out in the world, what difference does it make; it is all the same whether we go one way or another".
Without saying a word or looking at his brothers, Yanck went straight toward the castle. That started off Martin, and soon he caught up with Yanek. "Walk behind," said he, "I 'm the eldest; I must go ahead".
They soon came to the castle, but did not see a living thing; they were greatly afraid. Martin wished to run away; but when he saw Yanek open the door, he followed him. They entered a splendid hall. How astonished were they! On the floor was a pile of copper money five ells high. Martin and Mihal, blinded by the glitter of the money, threw out their remaining provisions, filled their bags, and wanted to run away; but Yanek opened the next door, through which the brothers saw in another hall a still greater pile of money, but silver. They emptied their bags of the copper money with all speed, and filled them with silver. They had barely done this when Yanek opened a third door, and cried out with wonder, - a thing which he seldom did, - "Ai!" The brothers threw their bags on the floor, rushed to the door, but had to cover their eyes with their hands, for it was as bright as the sun in the next chamber. They saw this was gold. Still more quickly than before, they threw the silver out of their bags, and panting for breath, filled them with gold pieces.