A Lost Opportunity By Leo Tolstoy

In a certain village there lived a peasant by the name of Ivan
. He was prosperous, strong, and vigorous, and was considered
the hardest worker in the whole village. He had three sons, who
supported themselves by their own labor. The eldest was married, the
second about to be married, and the youngest took care of the horses and
occasionally attended to the plowing.

The peasant’s wife, Ivanovna, was intelligent and industrious, while her
daughter-in-law was a simple, quiet soul, but a hard worker.

There was only one idle person in the household, and that was Ivan’s
father, a very old man who for seven years had suffered from asthma, and
who spent the greater part of his time lying on the brick oven.

Ivan had plenty of everything–three horses, with one colt, a cow
with calf, and fifteen sheep. The women made the men’s clothes, and in
addition to performing all the necessary household labor, also worked in
the field; while the men’s industry was confined altogether to the farm.

What was left of the previous year’s supply of provisions was ample for
their needs, and they sold a quantity of oats sufficient to pay their
taxes and other expenses.

Thus life went smoothly for Ivan.

The peasant’s next-door neighbor was a son of Gordey Ivanoff, called
“Gavryl the Lame.” It once happened that Ivan had a quarrel with him;
but while old man Gordey was yet alive, and Ivan’s father was the head
of the household, the two peasants lived as good neighbors should.
If the women of one house required the use of a sieve or pail, they
borrowed it from the inmates of the other house. The same condition of
affairs existed between the men. They lived more like one family, the
one dividing his possessions with the other, and perfect harmony reigned
between the two families.

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If a stray calf or cow invaded the garden of one of the farmers, the
other willingly drove it away, saying: “Be careful, neighbor, that your
stock does not again stray into my garden; we should put a fence up.”
In the same way they had no secrets from each other. The doors of their
houses and barns had neither bolts nor locks, so sure were they of
each other’s honesty. Not a shadow of suspicion darkened their daily

Thus lived the old people.

In time the younger members of the two households started farming. It
soon became apparent that they would not get along as peacefully as the
old people had done, for they began quarrelling without the slightest

A hen belonging to Ivan’s daughter-in-law commenced laying eggs, which
the young woman collected each morning, intending to keep them for the
Easter holidays. She made daily visits to the barn, where, under an old
wagon, she was sure to find the precious egg.

One day the children frightened the hen and she flew over their
neighbor’s fence and laid her egg in their garden.

Ivan’s daughter-in-law heard the hen cackling, but said: “I am very busy
just at present, for this is the eve of a holy day, and I must clean and
arrange this room. I will go for the egg later on.”

When evening came, and she had finished her task, she went to the barn,
and as usual looked under the old wagon, expecting to find an egg. But,
alas! no egg was visible in the accustomed place.

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Greatly disappointed, she returned to the house and inquired of her
mother-in-law and the other members of the family if they had taken it.
“No,” they said, “we know nothing of it.”

Taraska, the youngest brother-in-law, coming in soon after, she also
inquired of him if he knew anything about the missing egg. “Yes,”
he replied; “your pretty, crested hen laid her egg in our neighbors’
garden, and after she had finished cackling she flew back again over the

The young woman, greatly surprised on hearing this, turned and looked
long and seriously at the hen, which was sitting with closed eyes beside
the rooster in the chimney-corner. She asked the hen where it laid the
egg. At the sound of her voice it simply opened and closed its eyes, but
could make no answer.

She then went to the neighbors’ house, where she was met by an old
woman, who said: “What do you want, young woman?”

Ivan’s daughter-in-law replied: “You see, babushka [grandmother], my hen
flew into your yard this morning. Did she not lay an egg there?”

“We did not see any,” the old woman replied; “we have our own hens–God
be praised!–and they have been laying for this long time. We hunt
only for the eggs our own hens lay, and have no use for the eggs other
people’s hens lay. Another thing I want to tell you, young woman: we do
not go into other people’s yards to look for eggs.”

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