The Blessed Goat (A Russian Tale)
Once upon a time a poor old man and woman-owned a goat. They loved their goat as if he were a child, for they had no children of their own.
People talked about the old man and woman behind their backs. “Fools,” they whispered, “treating a goat as if he were a son.” “It’s ridiculous,” others said. “How can anyone love a goat?”
But the old man and woman did not care about gossip. They enjoyed their goat’s company, and they treated him with tender affection.
One day the old man went into the forest to gather wood. As always, his goat trotted behind him. As he worked, the goat searched for bits of grass to munch among the fallen leaves.
When the old man had gathered all the wood he needed, he turned to call his goat. He noticed that the goat had dug a hole in the ground. The man looked into the hole, and at the bottom, he saw an old, rusting trunk.
Without a moment’s hesitation, he climbed into the hole. He got hold of the trunk and, breathing heavily, lifted it out of the hole.
Imagine his joy when he found inside hundreds of shining gold coins! He threw aside his wood, picked up the chest and hurried home. His faithful goat trotted closely behind him.
His wife was overjoyed at the sight of the gold. “This is our reward for all our hard years of work,” she cried. “Now, at last, we shall live in comfort.”
“My dear wife,” the old man said, “We must not forget that this is our goat’s fortune, for he is the one who found it. We will use it for his benefit.” The old woman agreed, of course.
From that day on, the goat led a life of ease and comfort. Every morning the old man walked him to the farthest fields so that he might graze on the best grass. At night they laid him in a fleecy bed beside the fire.
For years the three lived very well and happily together. But, sad to say, one day the goat got sick, and before long he died.
“I shall dearly miss our goat,” the old man said. “I will ask the priest to prepare a service for him.” The old woman thought that a splendid idea.
The old man went to the church and bowed to the priest. “Father,” he said humbly, “our old goat has died, and my wife and I want you to give him a fine funeral. He was very devout.”
The priest was furious. “How dare you ask me to bury a useless old goat?” he cried.
But the old man was no fool. He looked into the priest’s eyes and said, “Father, I forgot to say that our goat left you 200 rubles in his will.”
“Ahh,” said the priest. “Of course your goat deserves a funeral. I only wish you had explained which goat it was that died.” And so the priest took the 200 rubles and sent the old man to the deacon to make preparations for the funeral.
“Good deacon,” said the old man, “I want you to prepare a funeral.”
“Of course, good man,” said the deacon. “Tell me, who has died?”
“You never had the pleasure of meeting him, sir,” said the old man, “but he was the finest goat in this whole land.”
“How dare you tease me with foolish requests! Go away!” the deacon shouted.
“But deacon, my old goat was no ordinary creature. He was as devout as could be, and before he died he asked me to give you 100 rubles.”
“Why did you not tell me which goat it was you meant?” exclaimed the deacon. “Go quickly now and tell the bell ringer to ring the bells. We must all pray together for the good goat’s soul.”
The old man ran to the bell ringer. “Please ring the bells for my goat, who has died this very day.”
“Off with you!” the bell ringer bellowed, losing his temper. “Do not treat me like a fool!”
“But sir,” said the old man, “my goat was generous. He left you 50 rubles in his will.”
“Oh,” said the bell ringer. “I thought you meant another goat.” And he seized the ropes and pulled with all his strength. Soon the whole village rang with the sound.
Not long afterward, the priest and the deacon appeared at the old man’s house. Behind them came hundreds of people. In the long procession, they all walked to the graveyard. There the people placed the goat in a beautiful oak coffin and lowered it into a grave.
Several days later, the bishop came to town and heard the news of the goat’s funeral. He called the priest, the deacon, the bell ringer, and the old man. “How dare you grant a burial to a poor, shoddy goat!” he roared.
“But good sir,” said the old man, “this goat left you 1,000 rubles for your goodness and generosity.”
For a moment the bishop did not speak. Then he smiled and said: “Good sirs, please understand, I was not criticizing you for your burial. This goat was far too splendid for plain things. I only regret that you did not allow me to bless him with holy oil. Now I shall leave you with one thought, and one thought only: May the good goat rest in peace, forever and ever.”
The old man walked home and told his wife of the bishop’s blessing. Forever after, they always remembered their dear creature and all that he had given them. And no one ever called them fools again.