By Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), 1886
A poor peasant set out early one morning to plow, taking with him for his breakfast a crust of bread. He got his plow ready, wrapped the bread in his coat, put it under a bush, and set to work.
After a while when his horse was tired and he was hungry, the peasant fixed the plow, let the horse loose to graze and went to get his coat and his breakfast. He lifted the coat, but the bread was gone! He looked and looked, turned the coat over, shook it out– but the bread was gone. The peasant could not make this out at all.
‘That’s strange,’ thought he, ‘I saw no one, but all the same someone has been here and has taken the bread!’ It was an imp (a small demon) who had stolen the bread while the peasant was plowing, and at that moment he was sitting behind the bush, waiting to hear the peasant swear and call on the Devil.
The peasant was sorry to lose his breakfast, but ‘It can’t be helped,’ said he. ‘After all, I shan’t die of hunger! No doubt whoever took the bread needed it. May it do him good!’ And he went to the well, had a drink of water, and rested a bit. Then he caught his horse, harnessed it, and began plowing again.
The imp was crestfallen at not having made the peasant sin, and he went to report what had happened to the Devil, his master. He came to the Devil and told how he had taken the peasant’s bread, and how the peasant instead of cursing had said, ‘May it do him good!’
The Devil was angry, and replied: ‘If the man got the better of you, it was your own fault– you don’t understand your business! If the peasants, and their wives after them, take to that sort of thing, it will be all up with us. The matter can’t be left like that! Go back at once and put things right. If in three years you don’t get the better of that peasant, I’ll have you ducked in holy water!’
The imp was frightened. He scampered back to earth, thinking how he could redeem his fault. He thought and thought, and at last hit upon a good plan. He turned himself into a laboring man, and went and took service with the poor peasant.
The first year he advised the peasant to sow corn in a marshy place. The peasant took his advice, and sowed in the marsh. The year turned out a very dry one, and the crops of the other peasants were all scorched by the sun, but the poor peasant’s corn grew thick and tall and full-eared. Not only had he grain enough to last him for the whole year, but he had much left over besides. The next year the imp advised the peasant to sow on the hill; and it turned out a wet summer. Other people’s corn was beaten down and rotted and the ears did not fill; but the peasant’s crop, up on the hill, was a fine one. He had more grain left over than before, so that he did not know what to do with it all.
Then the imp showed the peasant how he could mash the grain and distill spirit from it; and the peasant made strong drink, and began to drink it himself and to give it to his friends.
So the imp went to the Devil, his master, and boasted that he had made up for his failure. The Devil said that he would come and see for himself how the case stood.
He came to the peasant’s house, and saw that the peasant had invited his well-to-do neighbors and was treating them to drink. His wife was offering the drink to the guests, and as she handed it round she tumbled against the table and spilled a glassful.
The peasant was angry, and scolded his wife: ‘What do you mean, you slut? Do you think it’s ditchwater, you cripple, that you must go pouring good stuff like that over the floor?’
The imp nudged the Devil, his master, with his elbow: ‘See,’ said he, ‘that’s the man who did not grudge his last crust!’ (continued…)
Ephesians 6:12 — For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
I Thessalonians 3:5 — For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.
I Peter 5:8, 9a — Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. —Book of Common Prayer