The Girl on the Water Buffalo

The Girl on the Water Buffalo

Illustrated By: Suzie Chang

IN CHINA THERE ONCE LIVED A WELL-TO-DO FARMER who owned his own farmland.  On his farm also lived his four sons and three daughters-in-law.  The three older sons had married within a few months of each other and all with young women from equally prosperous families. His youngest son refused to marry as he was in love with the daughter of a poor farmer, and the father would not allow such a match.

Now these three new daughters-in-law had recently been brought into the house. Their new father-in-law's wife had died a few years before, and having no mother-in-law with them in their new home, and being lonesome and homesick for their former families, they often asked the old man for permission to visit their former village.  You may wonder, why did they need to ask permission?  The truth is, those were the days when young wives who moved into the homes of their new husbands needed permission to leave the household. 

The Wise Young Girl

Annoyed by the continual pleas of his three new daughters-in-law, the old nobleman thought of a way to put an end to it.  He gave the young women permission in this way, saying, "You are always begging me to allow you to go and visit your mothers', and you think I am very hard-hearted for not letting you go. Now you may go, but only upon this condition.  When you come back, you must each bring me something that I want. One of you must bring me some fire in paper, the other must bring me some wind in paper, and the third must bring me some music in wind. Unless you promise to bring me this, you are never to ask me to let you go home.  And if you go and fail to get these for me, you are never to come back."

The Wise Young Girl

The old man did not suppose that these conditions would be accepted.  Of course they were hard to understand, much less to fulfill.  Even he had no idea what the answers to these riddles could be, as he had just made them up.  Nor did the daughters-in-law consider how the riddles might be solved, being young and careless, and anxious to see their mothers and old friends.  So they promised and made ready with speed.  In great glee, they started off on foot to visit their home village.

The Wise Young Girl

After they had walked a long distance, chatting about what they should do and whom they should see in their native village, a heel of one of their shoes came loose and fell off. They all stopped to fix her footgear, and in that pause they remembered what they had promised their father-in-law.  At once, they all began to despair as they had no idea what the strange requests really were, much less how to fulfill them.

While they sat wailing by the roadside, a young girl came riding along on a water buffalo. She stopped and asked them what was the matter, and if she could help. They told her she could do them no good, no one could.  But she persisted in offering her sympathy and inviting their confidence, till at last they told her their story.

The Wise Young GirlThe rider of the water buffalo said that if they would go home with her, she would show them a way out of their trouble. Their case seemed so hopeless, and the girl on the water buffalo seemed so sure of her power to help, that they followed her back to her home. And there, she did indeed show them how to comply with their father-in-law's demands.

For the first one, she showed them a paper lantern. When lighted, there's a fire and its paper surface encompasses the blaze, so it's truly "some fire wrapped in paper."

For the second, she showed them a paper fan. When flapped, wind surrounds the fan and thus satisfies the call for "wind wrapped in paper."

For the third, she showed them a set of chimes that creates music in the wind.

The Wise Young Girl

The three young women thanked the wise young girl for her good ideas and went on their way, rejoicing.

After a pleasant visit to their home village, they took a paper lantern, a paper fan and a set of chimes, and returned to their father-in-law's house.

As soon as he saw them approach he began to vent his anger at their light regard for his commands.  But they assured him that they had perfectly obeyed him, and showed him that what they had brought to fulfill the conditions.

Much astonished, the father asked how it was that they had suddenly become so clever, and they told him the story of their journey, and of the young girl on the water buffalo they met who had fortunately come to their relief. The father was impressed with her intelligence, especially as he had no clue himself how to solve the riddles he had given.

The father asked if the girl was married and finding that she was not, engaged a go-between to see if he could arrange for the clever girl to marry his youngest son.  He assumed that a girl of such fiber must be from a high family like his own.  His youngest son, he was certain, would relent and finally abide by his father's wishes.

When the girl arrived, much astonished was the youngest son to see that she was none other than the girl he had fallen in love with - the poor farmer's daughter! 

Everyone was shocked and none more so than the father.  Even more astounding was that his young guest was known for her skill in training water buffalos, a fearsome task even to experienced farmers.  Given her good reputation and the cleverness she had shown in solving his riddles, and also seeing his son happier than he had been for months and the girl apparently just as eager for the match, the nobleman agreed to allow the marriage to go forward. 

As there was no mother in the house, and the three older daughters-in-law were simply not up to the task of running a household, and since the new daughter-in-law had shown herself to be possessed of extraordinary wisdom, the father decided that she should be the head of household.  "I hope I won't regret this decision," he thought to himself.  

The father decided that she should be the head of the household.

When the wedding celebration was over, the sons made ready to return to their usual jobs on the farm.  However according to their father's order they first needed to see the young bride for instructions.  She told them they were never to go to or from the fields empty-handed.  When they went they must carry fertilizers of some sort for the land, and when they returned they must bring bundles of sticks for fuel.  They obeyed, and soon had the land in fine condition, and so much fuel gathered that none needed to be bought. 

When there were no more sticks, roots, or weeds to bring, she instructed them to bring stones instead.  Soon they accumulated an immense pile of stones that were heaped in a yard near their house.  

When there were no sticks, roots, or weeds to bring, she instructed them to bring stones instead.

One day an expert in the discovery of precious stones came along and saw in this pile a piece of jade of great value.  In order to get possession of this stone at a small cost, he undertook to buy the whole heap, pretending that he wished to use it in building.  The young head of the family, sensing that this buyer was very eager to obtain the stones, asked a huge price for them.  As he could not convince her to take less, he promised to pay her the sum she asked, and to come two days later to remove the stones. 

That night the girl thought about the reason for the buyer's being willing to pay so large a sum for the stones, and concluded that the heap must contain a gem.  The next morning, she sent her father-in-law to invite the buyer to supper, and instructed the men of her family in regard to his entertaining.  The best of wine was to be provided, and the father-in-law was to lead him to talk of precious stones, and encourage him to tell in what way they can be recognized from ordinary stones.   

The best of wine was to be provided, and the father-in-law was to lead him to talk of precious stones.

The head of the household, listening behind a curtain, heard how the valuable stone in her heap could be discovered. She hurried to find it and remove it from the pile.  When her guest recovered from the effect of the banquet and went out to conclude his purchase, he saw that the gemstone was no longer in the pile.  He tried to negotiate again with the seller, and she managed the conversation with such skill that she obtained the original price, despite the change.  All while retaining in her possession the block of jade of great value. 

Any reservation the father may have had, vanished.  He felt lucky to have found such a resourceful and wise young daughter-in-law to be the head of his household.  He would say in later years that anyone's birth or family circumstances mattered as much as "wind wrapped in paper."

The young wives bore many children, many happy and prosperous years passed, and all fared very well in the household together.





Posted in Asia, China, Riddles For Kids, STORIES FOR KIDS, World Tales and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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