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The Wise Girl, a Ukrainian fairy-tale

 

Once upon a time there lived two brothers. One was rich and the other one was poor. One day, the rich brother who saw that his poor brothers children did not get even milk for their meals, took pity on them and gave his brother a milch cow, saying,

Youll work it off, all right?

The poor brother began to work for his rich brother in payment for the cow but the rich brother felt greedy and wanted to have his cow back. So one day he says,

Look, I want my cow back.

And the poor brother says,

But Ive been working for you to work off my debt!

Youve actually done not enough work. In fact, youve done very little to work off a cow. So bring it back to me.

But the poor man felt it was unfair and refused to give the cow back to his rich brother. To solve the dispute they decided to find an arbiter to judge their dispute and they went to the local squire. But the squire did not feel like playing the role of a judge and he said,

Look, Ill tell you a riddle and the one who solves it will get the cow.

All right, tell us this riddle.

Now listen  who or what has the most food, who or what is the fastest and what is it that no one could do without?

The brothers went back to their houses. On his way home, the rich brother thinks to himself,

What a silly riddle! Who can possibly have more food than the squires pigs? Who can be faster than his hound dogs? And it is surely money that no one can do without! Im sure to get my cow back!

The poor man tried very hard to solve the riddle but failed. His daughter Marusya, seeing that her father is upset, says to him,

Father, why are you upset?

My dear daughter, my rich brother wants his cow back but I have already worked for him to work it off. We went to the squire for him to be an arbiter in our dispute and the squire said that the one who would solve the riddle he would tell us, would get the cow.

So, what the riddle?

Who or what has the most food, who or what is the fastest and what is the best to have?

Its a very simple riddle. It is the earth has the most food  it feeds all of us; it is the thought that is the fastest  a thought can take you anywhere in no time, and it is sleep that that no one can do without, no matter what you do or how much you have of anything you cannot help having a sleep.

Looks you are right! Tomorrow Ill go to the squire and tell him what youve just said.

The next day both brothers came to the squire with their solutions of the riddle.

The squire asks them:

So, did you solve the riddle?

The rich brother who wanted to be the first to answer, quickly stepped forward and said,

My answer, squire is this. Your pigs get the most food, your hounds are the fastest and it is money that no one can do without.

No, youve guessed wrong! says the squire. Then he turns to the poor brother.

And what do you say? Who or what has the most food?

It is the earth that has the most food  it feeds all of us.

And who or what is the fastest?

It is the thought that is the fastest  a thought can take you anywhere in no time.

And what is it that no one can do without?

It is sleep what is it that no one can do without because no matter what you do or how much you have of anything you cannot help having a sleep.

Youve got it right, cried out the squire. The cow is yours! But tell me  did you guess the correct answers yourself, or did anyone help you?

The poor man, being a very honest man, says,

It is my daughter Marusya who told me what I should say.

The squire was angered by this reply and he cried out,

I cant believe that a peasant girl can be smarter than me! It cant be! Now, listen to this. Here, take these boiled eggs  theres a dozen of them, and carry them home. When you get home, tell your daughter to get a chicken and make it sit on the eggs during one night so that by the morning the eggs would hatch. Then she has to feed the chicks so they get fat, then she should cook three of them for my breakfast, and then you bring this breakfast before I get up tomorrow morning. If you dont it, both you and your daughter will be in trouble. Now go.

The poor man goes back home, weeping all the way. When he comes home, his daughter Marusya asks him,

Father, why are you crying?

How possible for me is not to cry if the squire told me to bring these boiled eggs to you, and to have them hatched, and then to have three chicks fattened and cooked for breakfast, and for me then to bring the cooked chicks back to him before he rises from bed tomorrow morning!

Marusya picks a pot with porridge in it and gives it to her father, saying,

Take this to your squire and tell him this: Let him have a plot of land plowed, this oatmeal planted, and then when the seeds grow, collect the oats, then let him have the grain milled, and let him give it back to you so I could feed the chicks that will hatch from those eggs that he has given you.

The poor man took the pot with porridge to the squire and related to the squire, word for word, what his daughter had told him to tell the squire.

The squire stared at the porridge for some time and then threw it to the dogs. Then he said, Wait here, Ill be back in no time.

The squire leaves and then comes back holding a stem of flax in his hand.

Now, give this flax to your daughter and tell her to make a hundred cubits of linen by tomorrow. If you dont do it, both you and your daughter will be in trouble. Now go.

The poor man goes back home, weeping all the way. When he comes home, his daughter Marusya asks him,

Father, why are you crying?

How possible for me is not to cry if the squire told me to tell you that you should make a hundred cubits of linen out of this stem of flax!

Dont cry, Father. And dont worry.

Marusya took a knife, went to the nearest tree and cut a small twig from a branch.

Now, take this twig to your squire, and tell him to have a loom made out of it for me to weave that linen for him at!

The poor man took the twig to the squire and related to the squire, word for word, what his daughter had told him to tell the squire.

The squire stared at the twig for some time and then threw it away, thinking to himself, That girl is really difficult to outsmart! And taking some time for thinking over what to do next, he says to the poor man,

I tell you what  go to your daughter and tell her this: Let her come to my place in such a manner that she would be neither walking nor riding; let her be neither shod nor barefoot; let her be neither with a present for me nor without it! If you dont do it, both you and your daughter will be in trouble. Now go.

The poor man goes back home, weeping all the way. When he comes home, his daughter Marusya asks him,

Father, why are you crying?

How possible for me is not to cry if the squire told me to tell you that you should come to his place in such a manner that you should be neither walking nor riding; that you be neither shod nor barefoot; that you be neither with a present for him nor without it!

Dont cry, Father. And dont worry. Just go and buy a hare and bring it me.

The poor man did as he was told. Marusya put a shoe on one foot, leaving the other foot unshod. Then she caught a sparrow and put into a small bag. Then she brought down the old toboggan from the attic and harnessed a goat into it. Having done all that, she took the bag in one hand, the hare she carried under her arm, and with one foot on the ground she put the other foot onto the toboggan. And then she set off to the squires place, keeping one foot on the toboggan that was being pulled by the goat, and jumping with the other foot on the ground.

When she got close to the squires place, the squire spotted her going through the gate, and shouted to his servants to set the dogs on her. The girl released the hare and the dogs began to chase the hare, leaving her alone. The girl entered the house, greeted the squire and said, pulling the sparrow out of the bag,

Heres a present for you.

The squire reached out to take the bird, but the girl opened her hand and the sparrow flew away.

At that very moment two peasants came to the squires place to ask the squire to be an arbiter to judge a disputed issue between them.

One of the peasants says,

We have a problem here, squire. We spent last night in the field and we had our horses with us. During the night, when we were sleeping, one of the horses, gave birth to a foal. I claim it was my horse!

And I claim it was my horse that gave birth to that foal! cried out the other peasant. Pass your judgment, squire!

The squire thought for some time and then said,

All right, bring those horses and that foal here, and you, girl, stay here.

The peasants brought the horses and tethered them to a pole, but let the foal roam around.

So, whats your judgment, squire?

Let the girl decide.

Marusya tells the peasants,

Tether the foal to that pole and let the horses go free. The foals mother will immediately go to her foal.

They did as they were told, and lo and behold  one of the horses ran to the tethered foal, and the other one walked off in a different direction.

The squire, seeing that the girl could not be outsmarted, let her go in peace.

 

Art by Oleksandr Melnyk

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