The Three Wonderful Beggars – Pre-Intermediate Level

There once lived a merchant whose name was Mark, and whom people called ‘Mark the Rich.’ He was a very unkind man, for he would not help poor people. If he saw a beggar anywhere near his house, he would order his men to make him go away, or would send his hunting dogs after him.

One day three very poor old men came begging to the door. Just as he was about to set his dogs free, his little daughter, Anastasia, came up to him.

‘Dear daddy,’ she said, ‘Please let the poor old men sleep here tonight… for me.’

Her father could not bear to say no to her, and the three beggars were allowed to sleep in an empty store room. At night, when everyone in the house was fast asleep, little Anastasia got up, went to the store room, and looked inside.

The three old men were standing in the middle of the room leaning on their walking sticks. Their long grey beards were hanging down over their hands, and they were talking together in low voices.

‘What news is there?’ asked the oldest.

‘In the next village a very poor man named Ivan has just had his seventh son. What shall we name him, and what future shall we give him?’ said the second.

‘Call him Vassili,’ said the third. ‘As for a future, give him all the money and land of the mean man in whose house we stand, and who wanted to set his dogs after us.’

After a little more talk the three made themselves ready and quietly left the house.

Anastasia, who had heard every word, ran straight to her father, and told him all.

Mark was very much surprised. He thought, and thought, and in the morning he went to the next village to try and find out if such a child really had been born. He went first to the priest, and asked him about new children in his church area.

‘Yesterday,’ said the priest, ‘a boy was born in the house of Ivan, the poorest man in the village. I named the unlucky little thing Vassili. He is the seventh son, and the oldest is only seven years old. They have barely a mouthful of food among the whole family. I worry about the future of such a poor little boy.’

Mark’s heart beat fast, and his mind was full of bad thoughts about the poor child. He went to see Ivan. ‘I hear you have a new baby,’ he said to the man. ‘You are poor and don’t have the money to bring up the boy. I don’t have a son. Give him to me and I’ll make something of him. And I’ll give you a present of a thousand crowns. Do you agree?’

Ivan thought, and thought, and finally agreed. Mark counted out the money, dressed the baby in warm clothes, and set off with it towards his home. When he had gone some miles he stopped, carried the child to the edge of a cliff and threw it over. ‘There, now try to take my money and land!’ he said to himself.

Very soon after this some foreign merchants traveled along that same road. They were on the way to see Mark and pay him twelve thousand crowns for a some goods they had bought from him.

As they were passing near the cliff they heard the sound of a baby crying. On looking down they saw a little area of green grass sitting in the middle of the deep snow. On the grass lay a baby among some beautiful flowers.

The merchants picked up the child and drove on. When they saw Mark they told him what a strange thing they had found. Mark guessed at once that the child must be Vassili, and asked to see him.

‘That’s a nice little boy,’ he said. ‘I should like to keep him. If you give him to me, you won’t have to pay me the twelve thousand crowns.’

The merchants were very pleased with this. They left the child with Mark, and drove off.

At night Mark took the child, put it in a barrel, closed the lid, and threw it into the sea. The barrel floated away a great distance, until at last it floated close up to a monastery. The monks were just laying out their fishing nets to dry on the shore, when they heard the sound of a baby crying. It seemed to come from the barrel which was floating near the water’s edge. They pulled it onto land and opened it, and there was a little child! When the head monk heard the news, he decided to bring up the boy and named him Vassili.

The boy lived on with the monks, and grew up to be a clever, gentle, and handsome young man. No one could read, write, or sing better than he, and he did everything so well that the head monk made him wardrobe keeper.

Now, it happened about this time that Mark, came to the monastery in the course of a journey. The monks were very polite to him and showed him their house and church and all they had. When Mark went into the church, he heard singing. One voice was so clear and beautiful, that he asked who it was. Then the head monk told him about the young man and how he had come to them as a child in a barrel.

Mark saw clearly that this must be Vassili whom he had twice tried to kill. ‘I can’t tell you how much I enjoy that young man’s singing,’ he said to the head monk. If he could only come to me I would make him manager of all my business. As you say, he is so good and clever. Do let me take him. I will give him a good future, and will present your monastery with twenty thousand crowns.’

The head monk thought about this for a long time and talked to all the other monks. At last they decided that they should not to stand in the way of Vassili’s good luck.

Then Mark wrote a letter to his wife and gave it to Vassili to take to her. In the letter he said, ‘Take the person carrying this letter into the building where we make soap. When you pass near the great pot with the hot soap in it, push him in. If you don’t follow my orders I shall be very angry. This young man is very bad and will cause us to lose all that we have if he lives.’

Vassili was sent back across the sea, and on landing set off on foot for Mark’s home. On the way he met three beggars. ‘Where are you going, Vassili?’ they asked.

‘I am going to the house of Mark the Merchant, and have a letter for his wife,’ answered Vassili.

‘Show us the letter,’ they said.

Vassili handed them the letter. They blew on it and gave it back. ‘Now go and give the letter to Mark’s wife,’ they said, ‘and you will be well treated.’

Vassili reached the house and gave the letter. When the she read it Mark’s wife could not believe her eyes and called for her daughter. In the letter was written, quite clearly: ‘Let the person carrying this letter be married next day to our daughter, Anastasia. If you don’t follow my orders I shall be very angry.’

Anastasia saw the bearer of the letter and he pleased her very much. They dressed Vassili in fine clothes and next day he was married to Anastasia.

Some time later, Mark returned from his travels. His wife, daughter, and Vassili all went out to meet him. When Mark saw Vassili he became terribly angry with his wife. ‘How could you marry my daughter to this man without my agreement?’ he asked.

‘I only carried out your orders,’ said she. ‘Here is your letter.’

Mark read it. It certainly was his handwriting, but by no means his wishes.

‘Well,’ thought he, ‘you’ve escaped me three times, but I think I shall get the better of you now.’ And he waited a month and was very kind and pleasant to his daughter and her husband.

At the end of that time he said to Vassili one day, ‘I would like you to go for me to my friend the Snake King, in his beautiful country at the world’s end. Twelve years ago he built a castle on some land of mine. He agreed to pay me for the use of the land and I want you to ask for this money. I also want you to ask him him what has happened to twelve of my ships which sailed for his country three years ago.’

Vassili felt that he must go. He said good-bye to his young wife, who cried sadly at the parting, and set out.

I really cannot tell you whether the journey was long or short. As he walked along he suddenly heard a voice saying: ‘Vassili! where are you going?’

Vassili looked about him, and, seeing no one, called out: ‘Who spoke to me?’

‘I did; this old oak tree. Tell me where you are going.’

‘I am going to see the Snake King,’ said Vassili.

‘When the time comes,’ said the oak tree, ‘remember me and ask him a question. Say to the king: “Dead inside, half dead outside but still green, stands the old oak. Is it to stand much longer on the earth?”‘

‘Very well,’ said Vassili; ‘I’ll ask him.’

He went on further and came to a river. As he got into a ferry boat to cross to the other side, the old ferryman asked: ‘Are you going far, my friend?’

‘I am going to see the Snake King,’ said Vassili.

‘When the time comes,’ said the ferryman, ‘remember me and ask him a question. Say to the king: “For thirty years the ferryman has taken people across the river and back again. Will the tired old man have to row much longer?”‘

‘Very well,’ said Vassili; ‘I’ll ask him.’

He walked on and in time came to the sea. He could see the land of the Snake King across the water. It was not very far, and between the two countries lay a great whale over whose back people walked and rode their horses as they travelled from one to the other. As he stepped on the whale it said: ‘Do tell me where you are going.’

‘I am going to see the Snake King,’ said Vassili.

‘When the time comes,’ said the whale, ‘remember me and ask him a question. Say to the king: “The poor whale has been a living bridge for three years, and men and horses have nearly broken its back. Is he to lie there much longer?”‘

‘Very well,’ said Vassili; ‘I’ll ask him.’

When Vassili got to the other side, he walked, and walked, and walked, till he came to a great green field. In the field was the grand castle of the Snake King. Its smooth white stone walls shone in the sunlight. The bright sun made the roof look like a rainbow and the windows look golden. Vassili walked in, and went from one room to another looking at all the wonderful things inside.

When he reached the last room of all, he found a beautiful girl sitting on a bed.

As soon as she saw him she said: ‘What brings you to this terrible place?’

Vassili told her why he had come, and all he had seen and heard on the way.

The girl said: ‘You have not been sent here to get money, but so that the Snake King will eat you.’

She had not time to say more, when the whole castle shook. There was a terrible noise and the sound of something heavy moving over the floor towards the room. The girl quickly pushed Vassili into a large box under the bed. As she locked it she said, ‘Listen to what the Snake King and I talk about.’

Then she stood up to meet the Snake King.

The monster came into the room, and threw itself onto the bed. ‘I’ve flown half over the world,’ it cried. ‘I’m tired, VERY tired, and want to sleep.’

The beautiful girl sat down near him, stroking his ugly head, and said in a sweet voice: ‘You know everything in the world. After you left, I had such a wonderful dream. Will you tell me what it means?’

‘Out with it then, quick! What was it?’

‘I dreamed I was walking on a wide road. An oak tree said to me: “Dead inside, half dead outside, and yet green stands the old oak. Is it to stand much longer on the earth?”‘

‘It must stand till some one comes and pushes it down with his foot. Then it will fall, and under it will be found more gold and silver than even Mark the Rich has got.’

‘Then I dreamed I came to a river. The old ferryman said to me: “For thirty year’s the ferryman has taken people across the river and back again. Will the tired old man have to row much longer?”‘

‘That is up to him. If someone gets into the boat to be taken across, the old man has only to push the boat off, and go his way without looking back. The man in the boat will then have to take his place.’

‘And last I dreamed that I was walking over a bridge made of a whale’s back. It spoke to me and said: “I have been used as a living bridge these three years, and men and horses have nearly broken my back. Must I lie here much longer?”‘

‘He will have to lie there till he has thrown up the twelve ships of Mark the Rich which he swallowed. Then he can dive back into the sea and his back will get better.’

And the Snake King closed his eyes, turned round on his other side, and began to snore so loud that the windows shook.

The lovely girl quickly helped Vassili out of the box. He thanked her very politely, and started home.

When he reached the sea the whale asked: ‘Have you thought of me?’

‘Yes, as soon as I am on the other side I will tell you what you want to know.’

When he was on the other side Vassili said to the whale: ‘Throw up those twelve ships of Mark’s which you swallowed three years ago. Then you will be free to swim away.’

The great fish lifted its head, threw up all the twelve ships and their sailors who were all alive and well. It then happily dove down into the sea.

Vassili went on further till he reached the ferry boat, where the old man asked: ‘Did you think of me?’

‘Yes, and as soon as you have taken me across I will tell you what you want to know.’

When they had crossed over, Vassili said: ‘Let the next man who comes sit in the boat while you step on shore. Then push the boat off and walk away without looking back. You will be free, and the other man must take your place.

Then Vassili went on further still, and soon came to the old oak tree, pushed it with his foot, and it fell over. There, in the hole left when the tree fell, was more gold and silver than even Mark the Rich had.

And now the twelve ships which the whale had thrown up came sailing along and stopped close by. On the first ship were the three beggars whom Vassili had met before. They got off and called to him. ‘God has been good to you, Vassili,’ they said. ‘Make sure that you are good to others.’ Then they disappeared and he never saw them again.

The sailors carried all the gold and silver onto the ships. They all then they set sail for home, with Vassili on the first ship.

As all this was happening Mark became angrier and angrier. He had his horses made ready and set off himself to see the Snake King. When he reached the river he jumped into the ferry boat. The ferryman, however, did not get in but pushed the boat off…

Vassili led a good and happy life with his dear wife and her kind mother who continued to live with them. All Mark’s riches became his, and throughout his life he helped the poor and gave food and clothing to anyone in need.

For many years Mark has been taking people across the river. His face is brown from the sun, his hair and beard are snow white, and he doesn’t see very well. But still he rows on.