Once upon a time there lived a woman with three children. One day, as it was grandmother's birthday, the mother went back to see her, leaving the three children at home.
"Sheng, Dou, Boji, my sweet babies," she said to them before she left, "now mind you're good while I'm away. Be sure to shut the door and latch it tight when the sun goes down. Mama won't be back tonight."
No sooner had the mother left than an old wolf who lived in the mountains heard the news.
When dusk fell, this old wolf, disguised as an old woman, came to their house. "Rap, rap!..." she knocked at the door.
"Who's there?" asked Sheng.
"Sheng, Dou, Boji, my little darlings, it's your grandmother."
"Oh, grannie," said Sheng, "mama has gone to see you."
"To see me? Well, I must have come one way while she went another," said the wolf. "I never met her."
"Grannie," asked Sheng, "why do you come at this hour, so late at night? Why didn't you come earlier?"
"The way is long but the day is short. By the time I got here, it was already dark," the wolf replied.
Sheng suspected something from the voice. It did not sound like her grandmother's, so she said: "Grannie, grannie, why is your voice different today?"
"Grannie's got a cold. My nose is stuffed up and I can't speak properly!" answered the wolf, going on cunningly. "Dear children, it is dark and windy out here. Open the door quickly and let grannie enter!"
Sheng was still suspicious and wanted to ask more first, but Dou and Boji were impatient. One released the hatch and the other opened the door wide. "Grannie, grannie, come in!" they shouted.
As soon as the wolf stepped into the house she blew the light out.
"Grannie, we need the light in the room! Why did you blow it out?" asked Sheng.
"Grannie's eyes are sore, I cannot bear the light," replied the old wolf.
Sheng felt for the bench and pulled it forward for her grandmother to sit on.
As she flung herself down on the bench, the wolf hurt her tail and cried out with pain.
"What is the matter, grannie?" asked Sheng.
"Grannie's got a nasty boil, dearie. I think I'll be better sitting on this basket," answered grannie, sitting down again as she spoke. Her tail hung down inside and knocked the sides.
"Grannie, what is that noise in the basket?" asked Sheng.
"That's a hen grannie brought you," was the answer.
Sheng stretched out her arm to catch the hen but the old wolf hurriedly stopped her, saying: "Don't touch it or it'll fly away across the river."
Dou and Boji went to the wolf, and wanted her to pick them up.
"What a nice child! So plump and fat," said the old wolf, stroking Dou. "And what a sweet baby you are, Boji, so pretty and healthy." She put her front paws around Boji and said, "Dear child, grannie loves you! Grannie's going to take you into her bed tonight!" She pretended to yawn and said: "All the chickens are in their coops and the sleepworm is in my head. Come on, my dear children, bed time!"
The wolf took Boji with her, and Sheng took Dou. The wolf and Boji slept at the one end of the bed, and Sheng and Dou slept at the other.
Sheng put her legs out straight and felt a big fluffy tail with her toes.
"Grannie, grannie, whatever's that fluffy thing on you?" she cried.
"Grannie makes jute rope, you know," answered the wolf. "I brought along a bunch of jute with me."
As Sheng moved her arm, she touched the sharp claws on 'grandmother's' feet.
"Grannie, grannie, whatever makes your feet so prickly?"
"Grannie sews shoes, and always carries an awl with her."
Sheng lit the light and saw that 'grannie' had hair all over her head and face. Frightened at the light, the wolf hurried to blow it out. Sheng thought of a way to escape, and quickly sat up, holding Boji. "Ah," she said, "Boji wants to wee-wee!"
"Let her do it under the bed," said the wolf.
"She can't! There is the God of the Bed under there," said Sheng.
"Let her do it by the window then," said the wolf.
"There is the Window God there," answered Sheng.
"Behind the door, then," said the wolf.
"There's the Door God there," was the reply.
"Go out to the kitchen!" said the wolf.
"There's the Kitchen God," said Sheng.
"Take her outside then," said the wolf.
"Dou, Dou," yelled Sheng, "take Boji out, she's got to go."
So Dou took Boji out.
"Grannie, grannie," said Sheng, "have you ever eaten gingko nuts?"
"Oh, it is wonderful! It is as soft and tender as a baby's skin and if you take but one piece you will become a fairy and live forever."
"Does it taste better than human flesh?" asked the wolf.
"Yes, much better."
"Do you know where you can get it then?" asked the wolf.
"Oh yes, it grows on trees," said Sheng.
"Oh dear! Grannie is old, and her bones are stiff! She can't climb trees," said the wolf with a sigh.
"Dear grannie, I'll pluck some for you."
"That's my sweet child!" said the wolf, very pleased. "Get me some as quick as you can!"
Sheng jumped out of bed and ran out to find Dou and Boji. She told them about her plan, and the three of them climbed up a big tree.
Back in bed, the wolf waited and waited. Boji did not return, nor did Sheng and Dou, and no one brought her any gingko. She lost patience, got up and ran out, shouting: "Sheng, Dou, Boji! Where are you?"
"We're up here on the tree, eating gingko nuts, grannie!" said Sheng.
"Get some for me, my dear child!" demanded the wolf.
"Grannie," said Sheng, "gingko is a fairy fruit. It changes when it leaves the tree. You will have to get up here, or else give up any thought of eating it."
"Oh, grannie," called Dou, "this gingklo is lovely!"
The wolf paced backwards and forwards under the tree, her mouth watering. There was a pause and then Sheng said, "Grannie, grannie, I have an idea. There is a wicker-basket by the doorstep, and a piece of rope behind it. Tie the rope on the basket, bring it over here, and then you can sit in it and throw the other end of the rope up to me. We'll pull you up here."
"Good child! That's a fine idea!" said the wolf, cheering up, and going over to get the basket and the rope.
She threw the rope up to Sheng, and Sheng began to pull her up. Half way up, she let go, and down fell the wolf, getting a bad shaking.
"Oh!" cried Sheng, pretending to be sorry. "I'm not very big, nor very strong. Poor grannie! You must be badly hurt."
"Grannie," said Dou, "let's try again. This time I'll help sister to pull."
The wolf had only one thought: she wanted the gingko, so she got back into the basket again and Sheng and Dou pulled on the rope together. They pulled the basket up higher this time before they let go of the rope. Down it went again with a heavy thud. This time the wolf broke one of her legs and hit her head. She was very angry, and began to swear terribly.
"Don't be so upset, grannie!" begged Sheng.
"One gingko nut will make you quite well again," said Dou.
"I'll help my sisters to pull!" put in Boji.
"This time we'll be sure not to fail," said Sheng.
With a terrible curse, the wolf threw herself into the basket again. "Be careful, be careful!" she howled. "I'll make you sorry! I'll bite your heads off, one by one."
The children all held the rope and pulled for all they were worth. "Hai-yo, hai-yo," they sang as they hauled. Up went the basket...higher than the first time...higher than the second time...and still higher, until it was thirty feet from the ground. Stretching out her front paws, the wolf could almost reach the branches of the tree.
It was just then that Sheng gave a cough. They all three let go together, and the basket crashed down. The wolf's skull was broken and her stomach split open.
"Grannie!" called Sheng. There was no answer. "Grannie!" called Dou. Still no answer. "Grannie!" called Boji. No answer. The children all climbed over to have a good look at the wolf. She was quite dead.
They scrambled down the tree happily, went in and shut the door, latched it tight and went to sleep in peace.
The next day their mother returned. She brought back lots of nice things for them to eat from their real grannie.
As they sat enjoying the sweetmeats, they told their mother all about their adventure.
The Chinese folktale Grandmother Wolf was published in The Water-Buffalo and the Tiger. Folk Tales from China (Second series). 1980. Peking. 62-69. The illustration is by Mi Gu.
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