The Shepherd’s Pipe is a folk-tale by Arthur Ransome. Probably written in 1916 according to Hugh Brogan (see his preface and introduction), it is set in the peasant world delightfully evoked in Old Peter's Russian Tales. But this world is no longer delightful, and we are shown the passion, dishonesty, cruelty and superstition of a world which would explode with the fall of the Tsar. The horrors of civil war and forced collectivisation will follow
A visitor to a middle-aged Russian country gentleman hears the music of a shepherd and is told that the romantic shepherds of Arcady do not exist; they are all scamps and thieves. The gentleman summons the player, and tells his visitor the story of Fedot the Holy.
Fedot was one of the worst shepherds, thieving from the villagers and the farm labourers, but attractive to the girls. But he falls in love with the daughter of the head man of the village, the Starosta. The Starosta has no sons, and says there was no-one in the village fit to be his son-in-law. When Fedot goes to him he is turned away, and when he hears the old women of the village laughing he curses the Starosa, and threatenes to burn his house down.
Some of the Starosa’s sheep die and his best cow has its leg broken. But one hot morning in July the cottage is set alight. Horse-thieves are killed if caught in the act, and a fire will spread and burn down the whole village. So to set fire to a cottage is an unforgiveable act, worse than horse-stealing. When Fedot shouts why don’t you stop the fire .... do you think every house belongs to the Starosa they attack him, bind his hands and legs and throw him into the burning ruins of the Starosa’s cottage: That is what they do to an incendary ....
But the cord burns. Fedot leaps out of the fire and shouts God of mine .... turn back the wind. The boy who had the cord cries Look, look, the wind has changed. The smoke is going the other way. The others say God heard him ... he is holy ... he is a miracle-worker ... like the holy Nicholas. So when Fedot comes back from his hut in the woods, he lives with the beasts. He understands what is said to him but never speaks. The servants leave food for him in the cattlesheds. The gentleman says That is the story of your Theocritan shepherd.
The unpublished typescript is in the Ransome papers in the Brotherton Collection, in the Brotherton Library of the University of Leeds (formerly Yorkshire College). The story was published by Hugh Brogan in Coots in the North and other stories in 1988.