Once upon a time there was a young man — let’s call him Ivan — who decided to go out in the world to seek his fortune. When he told his parents of his decision, his father gave Ivan his blessing, and some money for the trip. Ivan used part of this money to buy two fine horses, then off he went.
After traveling a while, he stopped to spend the night at a roadside inn. The inn wasn’t in very good repair, and the woman who ran the inn seemed troubled. As he ate his supper, Ivan noticed some surly-looking men arrive. They peered suspiciously around the place, and spoke to the innkeeper in rude, even threatening tones. After they left, Ivan asked the woman if anything was wrong. She burst into tears.
“My husband died two years ago,” she told Ivan. “But when he died he owed money to those men you saw — and to many other people, too. I can’t pay them back, and so they harass me, and curse my husband’s name — and curse me, too! I don’t know what to do.”
“How much did your husband owe?” Ivan asked.
The widow named a sum. It was exactly the amount of money Ivan had. So Ivan offered to pay the innkeeper’s debts.
The widow was so happy! The next day, when more creditors came by to bother the innkeeper, Ivan paid them off. Word got around, and soon all the dead man’s creditors arrived. Ivan gave each of them their money.
But the widow hadn’t calculated correctly; she’d forgotten a couple of creditors, who of course came by just as Ivan had paid out his last ruble. So Ivan offered them each one of his horses as payment, which they took.
Now the widow and the inn were secure; but Ivan was broke. Should he go back home? What would his father say? Ivan got back on the road, trying to decide what to do.