THE RICHEST GROOM
From the book by Vladimir Megre "The Family Book"
(translated by Marian Schwartz)
Two neighbors lived in a certain village. Their families were friendly, they worked to their delight on their own land. In the spring, the orchards bloomed on the two plots, and each contained a small woods. A son was born to each in the family. When the sons of the two friendly families grew up, one day the two families issued a firm decision at a holiday table: to put everything in their sons’ hands.“Let our sons now decide what to sow and when, and you and I, my friend, now must not contradict our sons with a look or a hint,” one said.
“I agree,” the other answered. “Let our sons, if they want, modify the house their own way. They themselves can choose their clothing and decide what livestock and goods they need.”
“Fine,” the other answered. “Let our sons be independent, and let them choose themselves worthy brides. We will find brides for our sons together, my friend.”
Thus the two neighbors firmly decided. Their wives supported their initiative, and the families began to live under the control of their grown sons. However, from that time on, the lives of the two families began to differ.
In one, the son was energetic and took everyone into consideration. He began to be called first in the village. In the other, the son seemed pensive and sluggish, and people began to call him the second. The first cut and hauled off the young forest the father had planted to market. He bought a truck, to replace the horse, and a small tractor. The son of the first neighbor was considered enterprising. The entrepreneur determined that in the coming year the price of garlic was going to rise sharply. He wasn’t wrong. He pulled out all the plantings from his land and sowed a field with garlic. Since they had given their word, the father and mother tried to help their son in everything. The family sold the garlic at a large profit. They began to build a huge house of modern materials with a hired crew. Still, the son-entrepreneur would not let up and calculated from morning until night what would be most profitable to plant in the field come spring. By winter’s end he had determined that most profitable of all would be to sow the field in onions. Once again he sold his crop profitably, bought himself a car, and thought himself elegant.
One day, the sons of the two neighbors met on the road through the fields. One drove a car, the other a wagon harnessed to a frisky mare. The successful entrepreneur stopped his car, and a conversation took place between the two neighbors.
“Look, neighbor, I’m driving an elegant car, and you’re still getting around in a cart. I’m building a big house, and you’re living in your father’s old one. Our fathers and mothers were always friends, and I too want to give you neighborly help. If you want, I’ll suggest what’s most profitable to sow your field with.”
“Thank you for your desire to be helpful,” the second neighbor answered from his cart, “but I treasure only freedom for my thoughts.”
“Then I will not encroach upon the freedom of your thoughts. I only sincerely want to help you.”
“Thank you for your sincerity, too, good neighbor. The inanimate—the car you’re sitting in, for instance—takes away from freedom of thought.”
“How can a car take that away? It can easily overtake your wagon, and while you’re still riding to town, I can accomplish my business, all thanks to my car.”
“Yes, your car can overtake my wagon, of course, but at the same time you are sitting behind the wheel and forced to hold on continuously, and you are constantly fiddling with switches as you go, looking at the instruments and the road the whole time. My horse goes slower than an automobile, but at the same time I don’t have to do anything with it, so I’m not distracted from the movement of my thought. I can fall asleep and the horse will run home itself. You said you had problems with gasoline. The horse finds fodder in the pasture itself. Not only that, tell me where you’re in such a hurry to get to in your car?”
“I want to buy spare parts in advance. I know what might break down in my car soon.”
“So you mean you have learned so much about equipment that you can even picture all future breakdowns accurately?”
“Yes, I have! I studied equipment in special courses for three years. You remember, I invited you to attend the courses, too.”
“You gave your thought over to this equipment for three years. Equipment that breaks down and gets old.”
“Your horse will get old and die, too.”
“Yes, of course, it will. But before that it will give birth to a foal. It will grow up, and I will ride it. The animate serves man forever, but the dead only cuts his time short.”
“The whole village thinks your opinions strange. Everyone considers me successful and rich and you living merely at the expense of your aged father. You haven’t even changed the look of the trees and bushes a tiny bit on your father’s land.”
“But I loved them. I tried to understand the purpose of all of them and the connections between them. I encouraged those starting to wither with my gaze and touch. Now everything will bloom this spring in accord, by itself, requiring no intervention, merely thirsting to offer up its fruits by summer and fall.”
“Truly, my friend, you are an odd one.” The entrepreneur sighed. “You are always walking around and admiring your homestead, your orchard and flowers. You say in this way that you are presenting your thoughts with freedom?”
“But why do you need free thought? What is the point of freedom of thought?”
“In order to know all the great creations. To be happier, to help you.”
“Help me? You really have gone too far! I can take the best maiden in the village for my wife. Any of them would marry me. Everyone wants to be rich, to live in a spacious house and ride in my car.”
“Being rich does not mean being happy.”
“And being poor?”
“Being poor isn’t good, either.”
“Neither poor nor rich, then what?”
“Everyone needs enough. It is not bad to have a sufficiency as well, and an awareness of what is going on around you. After all, happiness does not come to people all of a sudden.”
The entrepreneur grinned and drove away quickly. A year later, the two neighbor fathers met to consult. They decided it was time to find brides for their sons. When asked which of the village girls he would like to take for a wife, the son entrepreneur answered his father, “The daughter of the village elder is to my taste, and I want to take her for my wife.”
“I see, my son, you have done wonderfully. The daughter of the village elder is the most beautiful in the entire district. Everyone who comes to visit our village from nearby villages and distant places goes into raptures when they see her. However, she is willful, you know. Even her parents cannot understand the mind of this unusual maiden. She could even be considered strange. Women from different villages have started coming to this young maiden more and more for advice and healing from their illnesses, and they are bringing their children as well.”
“What of it, father? I am nobody’s fool, either. In our village there is no home more spacious, no car better, than mine. In addition, I have twice seen her look at me long and hard.”
The second father asked his son the same question.
“Who in the village is most to your liking, son?”
The youth replied, “I love the daughter of the village elder, father.”
“What does she think of you, my son? Have you seen her loving gaze?”
“No, father. When I met her by chance, the maiden lowered her eyelashes.”
The two neighbors decided to go together to propose marriage for their sons. They came and sat down in a dignified way.
The village elder called in his daughter and said to her, “Here, my daughter, matchmakers have come to see you, from two young men wishing to take you for a wife. We have come to a joint decision to let you determine which of the two is your chosen one. Can you tell us who he is right away or will you take until dawn to think it over?”
“I have spent quite a few dawns in dreams, Father,” the young maiden said softly, “and I can give you an answer right away.”
“Then speak, we are all waiting impatiently.”
The beauty answered the matchmakers who had come as follows.
“Thank you, fathers, for your attention. Thank you to the matchmakers’ sons for their desire to join their life to mine. You have raised handsome sons, fathers, and the choice as to which of the two to entrust my fate to might be difficult. But I want to bear children and I want my children to be happy. I want my children to live in plenty, in freedom and love, and so I have come to love the one who is richest of all.”
The entrepreneur’s father rose proudly. The second father sat with downcast eyes. But the maiden walked up to the second father, knelt before him, and said, without raising her eyelashes, “I want to live with your son.”
The village elder rose from his seat as well. He wanted to see his daughter living in the house considered the finest in the village and so said sternly, “You have spoken correctly, my daughter. Your prudence has brought joy to a father’s heart, but you did not approach and kneel to the richest in the village. The richest here is the other. Here he is.”
The elder, pointing to the entrepreneur’s father, added, “Their son has built a spacious house. They have a car, a tractor, and money.”
The maiden moved closer to her father.
“Naturally, you are right, dear papa. But I was talking about children. What good will there be for children in the things you listed? The tractor will break down while they are growing up. The car will rust, and the house will fall into decay.”
“That may be, but the children will have a lot of money, and they will acquire a new tractor, and car, and clothing.”
“How much is ‘a lot,’ I wonder?”
The entrepreneur’s father proudly smoothed his mustache and beard and answered gravely. “My son has so much money that if necessary he could immediately buy three farms like the one he already has. Furthermore, we can acquire not only two horses like the ones our neighbor has, but an entire herd.”
Modestly lowering her eyelashes, the maiden replied, “I wish you and your son happiness, but there is not enough money on the whole Earth that could buy a father’s garden, where each twig reaches out with love to the person who raised it. Money cannot buy the loyalty of a horse that played with your child as a foal. Your homestead will bring money. The homestead of my beloved will bring a sufficiency and love.”
From the book by Vladimir Megre "The Family Book" (translated by Marian Schwartz)