Once upon a time, a woman decided she would buy a calf as a surprise for her son. So she sent him to school and set off for the market. There, with all the coins she had, she bought a milk-white calf.
She turned for home, leading her calf behind her. As she walked, she dreamed of the money they would earn with the milk provided by their cow, and she imagined great wealth and happiness. She hoped her son would be grateful.
As she crossed a field, the woman came to a ditch. The calf refused to jump. The woman pushed and pulled, but the calf would not budge.
The woman was at her wit’s end when suddenly she saw a dog trotting toward her. “Dog,” she cried, “I need your help. I want you to bite this calf so that she will jump over the ditch.”
The dog shook his head. “What harm has the calf done to me? I won’t bite her.”
Shaking her head, the woman ran into the forest where she came upon a woodcutter at work. “Sir,” she said, “I need you to give me a stick to beat the dog who will not bite my calf who will not leap the ditch.”
“The dog’s done nothing to harm me,” the woodcutter said. “I won’t give you a branch to beat an innocent.”
The woman threw up her hands and then ran on until she reached the village, where she raced into the grocer’s shop. “Give me some matches,” she panted. “I want to burn down the forest to punish the woodcutter who will not give me a stick to beat the dog who will not bite my calf who will not leap the ditch.”
The grocer shook his head. “I won’t do that,” he said. “Neither forest nor woodcutter has caused me any harm.”
“I’ll show you,” she cried, and she ran through the back alleys of the village until she came to a group of thieves. “I want you to rob the grocer’s shop,” she said to the thieves. “He refused to give me matches to burn the forest to punish the woodcutter who will not give me a stick to beat the dog who will not bite my calf who will not leap the ditch.”
“Oh no,” the thieves said. “We don’t steal on someone else’s whim.”
“I’ll show you too,” the woman said, shaking her fist. She ran until she came to the watchtower. She climbed the stairs and, breathless, said to the watchman, “There are thieves in that alley there,” and she pointed. “Arrest them. They refused to rob the grocer who will not give me matches to burn the forest to punish the woodcutter who will not give me a stick to beat the dog who will not bite my calf who will not leap the ditch.”
The watchman laughed. “I can’t arrest someone for not committing a crime.”
The woman ran to the chief justice. “I demand justice,” she said. “I need your help.”
“Explain,” the chief justice said calmly.
“Sir, I bought a calf today, but when we came to a ditch, she would not leap it, and so I looked around and saw a dog, and I told the dog to bite the calf to make her jump over the ditch. But the dog would not bite the calf, so I asked the woodcutter for a stick to beat the dog to make him bite the calf, but the woodcutter would give me no stick. So I asked a grocer for some matches to set fire to the forest, but the grocer refused, so I asked some thieves to rob the grocer’s shop, but they would do nothing at all. And so I ran to the watchman and asked him to arrest the thieves, and even he refused. And so I have come to you to state my case, good sir. Tell me, please, what I should do to make my calf jump the ditch?”
The chief justice thought for a while. He was a wise and just man. Finally, he said, “I shall punish the watchman for refusing to help you,” and he sent word for the watchman’s punishment.
The moment the watchman heard he was to be punished, he ran to catch the thieves, and when the thieves heard that the watchman was after them, they ran to rob the grocer’s shop, but when the grocer heard he was to be robbed, he gave the thieves some matches and sent them to set the forest afire, and when the woodcutter heard his forest was to burn, he ran to find the woman.
“Here’s a stick to beat the dog,” he told the woman, and she returned to the dog, stick in hand.
When the dog saw that she would hit him with a stick, he raced to bite the calf, but the calf, sensing danger, quickly leaped over the ditch.
And the woman led her calf home.
There she was grooming the calf when her son returned from school.
“Ah, mother,” he said, “so you have bought a calf.”
“Is that all you can say?” the woman cried, and she told him her tale. “From now on,” she added, “you will take care of the calf yourself. I’m tired.”
The boy decided it would not be wise to argue with his mother. After all, she was quite a clever woman!