Chinese Folktales

4. The Animals’ Cave

ONCE there was a couple who had seven daughters. One day the father went out to collect firewood and found seven wild duck eggs. He took them home with him but he did not intend to give them to his children. He wanted to eat them all with his Wife. Towards evening the eldest daughter woke up and asked her mother what she was cooking. Her mother said: ‘l am cooking Wild duck eggs. I’ll give you one, but must not tell your sisters.’ And she gave her One. At that moment the second daughter awoke and asked her mother what she was cooking. She said: ‘Wild duck eggs. If you won’t tell your sisters, I’ll give you one.’ And so it continued. In the end the daughters had eaten up all the eggs and none were left.

In the morning the father was very angry with his children and said: “Who is coming with me to your grandmother’s? ‘ But he really wanted to take the children into the mountains and leave them there to be devoured by the wolves. The eldest daughters suspected this and said: ‘We are not coming.’ But the two youngest said: ‘We’ll go with you.’ They set out with their father. When they had driven in the donkey cart for a long time they asked: ‘When are we getting to grandmother’s?’ Their father said: ‘Soon.’ And When they had got into the mountains the father said: “You wait here. I am going ahead to the village to tell your grandmother you are coming.’ And he drove off. The girls Waited and waited, but their father did not return. In the end they realized that he was not coming back for them and had left them in the mountains alone. They wandered on farther into the mountains, seeking shelter for the night. They chose a large stone for a pillow. They were about to roll it to the spot where they wanted to lie down and sleep when they saw that the stone was the door to a cave. From the Cave Came a glow of light and they went in. The light came from a mass of precious Stones and jewels of all kinds. The cave belonged to a wolf and fox, who had many pots full of precious stones and pearls which glowed by night. So the girls said: ‘This is a fine cave, let us lie down on the beds straight away.’ For there Were two golden beds there, with gold embroidered covers. And they lay down on them and fell asleep. During the night the wolf and the fox returned. The wolf said: ‘I can smell human flesh.’ The fox said: ‘Human flesh? Never! No humans Can get into our Cave. It’s much too well hidden.’ And the wolf said: ‘Well then, let’s go to bed and sleep.’ But the fox said: ‘Let’s lie down in the cauldrons on the fire. There is still some Warmth in them ‘ One of the cauldrons Was of gold and the other of silver. So they lay down in them.

When the girls got up in the morning they saw the fox and the wolf lying there and were much afraid. So they covered the cauldrons and piled a great many big stones On the lids so the wolf and the fox could not get out again. Then they lit the fire. The wolf and the fox said: ‘What a nice warm morning! How can that be?’ But soon they were too hot. They discovered that the two girls had lit the fire and they called out: ‘Let us out! We’ll give you plenty of precious stones and a pile of gold and we shan’t do you any harm.’ But the girls did not listen to them and built up the fire even higher, So the wolf and the fox died in the cauldrons.

For many days the girls lived happily in the Cave. But the father was seized with a longing to see his daughters again and went out into the mountains to look for them. He had just sat down on the stone outside the cave to rest himself and was knocking the ash from his pipe. Then the girls called out from inside: ‘Who is that knocking at our door?’ And the father said: ‘Aren’t those my daughters’ voices?’ And the daughters called: ‘Isn’t that our father’s voice?’ So they moved away the Stone and saw that it was their father, and their father was happy to see them again. He was astonished to see them in this cave full of pearls and precious stones, and they told him everything. So the father went and got neighbours to help him carry the precious stones home, and when they returned the wife was amazed to see all these treasures. Then the father and his daughters told her the whole story and they became a very rich family and lived happily for the rest of their days.