By Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), 1886
The peasant, still railing at his wife, began to carry the drink round himself. Just then a poor peasant returning from work came in uninvited. He greeted the company, sat down, and saw that they were drinking. Tired with his day’s work he felt that he too would like a drop. He sat and sat, and his mouth kept watering, but the host instead of offering him any only muttered: ‘I can’t find drink for every one who comes along.’
This pleased the Devil; but the imp chuckled and said, ‘Wait a bit, there’s more to come yet!’
The rich peasants drank, and their host drank too. And they began to make false, oily speeches to one another. The Devil listened and listened, and praised the imp. ‘If,’ said he, ‘the drink makes them so foxy that they begin to cheat each other, they will soon all be in our hands.’
‘Wait for what’s coming,’ said the imp. ‘Let them have another glass all round. Now they are like foxes, wagging their tails and trying to get round one another; but presently you will see them like savage wolves.’
The peasants had another glass each, and their talk became wilder and rougher. Instead of oily speeches they began to abuse and snarl at one another. Soon they took to fighting, and punched one another’s noses. And the host joined in the fight, and he too got well beaten.
The Devil looked on and was much pleased at all this. ‘This is first-rate!’ said he.
But the imp replied: ‘Wait a bit — the best is yet to come. Wait till they have had a third glass. Now they are raging like wolves, but let them have one more glass, and they will be like swine.’
The peasants had their third glass, and became quite like brutes. They muttered and shouted, not knowing why, and not listening to one another. Then the party began to break up. Some went alone, some in twos, and some in threes, all staggering down the street. The host went out to speed his guests, but he fell on his nose into a puddle, smeared himself from top to toe, and lay there grunting like a hog. This pleased the Devil still more. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘you have hit on a first-rate drink, and have quite made up for your blunder about the bread. But now tell me how this drink is made. You must first have put in fox’s blood: that was what made the peasants sly as foxes. Then, I suppose, you added wolf’s blood: that is what made them fierce like wolves. And you must have finished off with swine’s blood, to make them behave like swine.’
‘No,’ said the imp, ‘that was not the way I did it. The blood of the beasts is always in man; but as long as he has only enough corn for his needs, it is kept in bounds. While that was the case, the peasant did not grudge his last crust. But when he had corn left over, he looked for ways of getting pleasure out of it. And I showed him a pleasure– drinking! And when he began to turn God’s good gifts into spirits for his own pleasure– the fox’s, wolf’s and swine’s blood in him all came out. If only he goes on drinking, he will always be a beast!’
The Devil praised the imp, forgave him for his former blunder, and advanced him to a post of high honor.
Proverbs 17:1 — Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.
Proverbs 15:16-17 — Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.
Proverbs 30:7-9 — “Two things I ask of thee, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; and give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and deny thee, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God…”
Heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but remember that we are ever walking in your sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer