Read by Jana
Adapted by Bertie.
Sponsored by the wonderful Outschool
Hello, this is Jana and I’m here with a Russian folk tale. It has some interesting characters including a very clever little girl.And if you like solving riddles, you will love this story. Later we are going to hear from our wonderful sponsor. Outshool, and then we will have some music for you.
This story is about a Russian country-man. His name was Ivan Ivanovich. People said that he had an unbuttoned soul, meaning he was open and sincere. Not entirely by coincidence, he also happened to be rather poor. But he was happy. He lived in a small hut with his seven-year-old daughter who was the apple of his eye. She was extremely bright, and full of wisdom. For instance, when her dad complained that they had nothing for supper, she would say:
“Without effort, you won’t even pull a fish out of a pond.”
And he would understand her meaning, and take his net down from the hook on the wall, and go and catch a fish.
And when he was angry with himself for leaving the milk to boil over, she would say:
“Don’t worry Papa, even a grandmother can make mistakes.”
She was so clever, that sometimes her father wondered if she was the grown up, and he was the child. When he said this to her, she replied,
“You can live for 100 years and learn for 100 years.”
And he was even more in awe of his little daughter’s clever sayings.
Ivan Ivanovich had one possession that was of any value, and that was his horse, or more exactly, his mare, because she was a she-horse. As Ivan Ivanovich did not have anywhere to keep the mare, she lived in the stable belonging to his neighbour. Now the neighbour was a widow known for being less than truthful. In fact, people said that she had spit in her soul. Perhaps not entirely by coincidence, she was rather rich.
One day, the rich neighbour opened up the stable door and found a newly born foal lying under her cart. In case you don’t know, a foal is a baby horse. Later on, when she saw Ivan Ivanovich, she said:
“Guess what news I have?”
“ I don’t know, what news do you have?” replied Ivan Ivanovich.
“I have a new foal.”
“Well done. Where did you buy this gift from god?”
“I found him in my stable.”
“You found him in your stable? That will be because my mare gave birth to it.”
“Not at all. I found the little one lying under my cart, because my cart gave birth to it in my stable.”
“Surely you can see that it’s me the foal belongs to?”
“Not at all. Are you trying to steal a valuable animal from right under my nose? My cart gave birth to this foal, I say, and it chose to give birth to him in my stable, so he belongs to me.”
“What a story! My mare gave birth to the foal and therefore he’s mine.”
And so on and on they argued, until eventually they both went to court to settle the dispute. As luck would have it, the king of the Russians called the Tsar was visiting his country estate. And so Ivan and his neighbour went before the Tsar himself to resolve the rights and wrongs of who owned the foal.
“My mare gave birth to him, and therefore he’s mine.” said Ivan Ivanovich.
“I found him just born, lying under my cart in my stable, therefore I say my cart gave birth to him and he’s mine,” said the rich neighbour.
The Tsar listened to the arguments on both sides very attentively, and at last said:
“The truth of this matter is a mystery wrapped in a mystery, and only God himself knows if the mare or the cart gave birth to the foal. Therefore I have decided to set you both three questions. Come back in four days time and give me your answers. Whichever of you answers the questions truthfully shall win the dispute.
They thanked the Tsar for his wise ruling, and waited to hear the four questions which were as follows:
What is the strongest and swiftest thing in the world?
What is richer and fatter than anything else in the world?
What is the softest thing in the world?
What is the sweetest thing?
Ivan and the neighbour left the Tsar’s country palace and returned to their village feeling very puzzled.
The rich neighbour went to her godmother, who was the wisest person she knew, and pleaded with her for her help.
“Why, the answers to these riddles are very simple,” she told her.
“The strongest and swiftest thing in the world is my husband’s horse, Blackie.
The richest and fattest thing is our pig that we’ve been feeding up for over a year.
And nobody has a fatter pig than we do, I can tell you!
The softest thing is my pillow stuffed with feathers from our Christmas goose. I sleep so, so well on my pillow. It’s the softest thing that ever was.
And by far the sweetest thing in the world is our little grandson, Rodenka. I foretell that one day he will grow up to be a student in St. Petersburg and he will never ever hurt anyone or anything, not even a fly.”
“Thank you krestnaya mama,” said the rich peasant, who was very happy with her replies.
Meanwhile, Ivan Ivanovich went back to his hut where he was very quiet and gloomy. His little girl asked him what the matter was, and he told her all about the cunning and impossible questions set by the Tsar.
“Even if I live to be 100 I shall never think of the answers,” he told her.
“What are the riddles, Papa?” asked the little girl. And holding back the tears, he repeated them to her.
“What, the answers to those questions are simple,” she said.
“The strongest and swiftest thing in the world is the wind. No animal can outrun the wind. It can even make an oak tree bend before it’s force.
The richest thing in the world is the black earth which gives us all our food.
The softest thing in the world is a hand, as anyone will gladly put their own hand under their head when they sleep.
And the sweetest thing in the world is love.”
Those are the answers to your question, Papa. Now, is there anything else I can help you with?”
Ivan Ivanovich was more astonished at the cleverness of his little girl than ever. He kissed her and thanked her with tears in his eyes. After the four days had passed, the neighbours again appeared before the Tsar and recited the answers they had found to his questions.
The Tsar listened to both of them, and then turning to the rich woman, he asked,
“Who helped you with your answers?”
“Why, nobody sir,” said the rich neighbour. “I thought up the answers all by myself.”
The Tsar did not believe her, though he did not say so, and then turning to Ivan Ivanovich he asked:
“And who helped you with your homework?”
“Why your majesty, I asked my daughter, since she is the smartest person in this whole wide world, accepting yourself, of course, Sir.”
“And how old is this daughter of yours?”
“Seven years old, Sir.”
“Well if she’s so clever, ask her to do this for me. Take some thread, which you shall be given on the way out, and ask her to weave a patterned handkerchief by the morning.”
Ivan Ivanovich bowed, and on the way out a servant gave him a piece of thread no longer than his finger. He went home to his daughter, tears in his eyes, and told her what the Tsar had said.
“No matter, Papa,” said the clever little girl. “Tomorrow, return to the Tsar and give him this twig of wood. Tell him that if he makes it into a loom in one night, then I shall use it to weave a patterned handkerchief in one night.”
Ivan Ivanovich did exactly as his little girl said, and the Tsar was very satisfied with her answer. Then he decreed:
“If your little girl is so clever, bring her to me tomorrow carrying a gift, but make sure she doesn’t bring a gift.”
Ivan Ivanovich bowed deeply, but he was more puzzled than ever. What did the Tsar mean? Was his little girl to bring a gift or not?”
“Don’t worry Papa,” said the little girl when he told her about the Tsar’s puzzling command. “I know what to do.”
And so the next morning, Ivan Ivanovich brought his daughter to the Tsar, who was very curious to behold this little person who was so wise at such a tender age. She knelt down before his throne holding something in her hands which were clasped in front of her.
“And what gift have you not brought me?” asked the Tsar in his riddling way.
“Why Sir, I have brought you the gift of a quail,” said the little girl, who unclasped her hands and released a little bird that fluttered up to the rafters of the palace. The Tsar gazed up as the bird flew out of an open window.
“I see you are very clever and follow instructions very carefully. You brought me a gift and made sure that you didn’t bring me a gift. All is just as I asked. Now, you and your father seem very poor. Tell me, little girl, how do you live?”
“Very well sir,” said the little girl. “Papa catches the fish that live in the trees and I pick blackberries that grow in the stream.”
“What riddle is this?’ asked the Tsar. “What you say is impossible, because fishes don’t live in trees and blackberries don’t grow in the stream.”
“Yes sir,” replied the Wise Little Girl. “And carts don’t give birth to foals!”
The Tsar saw that the girl was even cleverer than he had thought, and had made her point most elegantly.
With that in mind, he decided to invite the little girl and her father to come and stay in the palace, where they lived very comfortably. And years later when she was grown up, she married his son, and eventually she became the Tsarina and ruled very wisely to the end of her days.
And that was ‘The Wise Girl’, read by me Jana for Storynory.com.