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This story is a classic variation on the themes of "Always be kind to strangers" and "Be careful what you wish for."  There are four characters, a Mother, her two daughters and an old woman.

This plays well with older elementary students.

Once, a long ago in a mountain village, there lived a woman with two daughters.  Both were fair of form and face, but their mother doted constantly on the older, not even making an effort to conceal her preference from her daughters.

As a consequence, the older daughter grew spoiled and vain, thinking herself far above every person in their village.  The younger daughter, never knowing anything other then being treated as little more than a servant, bore her circumstances with good grace.  She became much loved in the village because of her good nature and admired because of her ability to cope with her mother and sister.

One morning, the older sister awakened early (which was not at all her custom), and cried to their mother that there was no fresh water for her to wash with.  The mother chastised her younger daughter, who had been up working in the kitchen since dawn, for not fetching fresh water first thing that morning.

The younger daughter accepted her mother's harsh words and set off, bucket in hand, to the stream at the bottom of the hill to draw fresh water.

As she climbed the hill to return to the house, she met and old woman with a crooked back.  The woman stopped her and said, "Oh, my dear. I am so thirsty, may I have a drink of your water?"

"Of course," the girl replied.  She watched in wonder as the old woman drained the whole bucket.

"Thank you," the woman said and turned to go.

"Your welcome," the girl said and picked up the bucket without complaint to return to the stream.

As the girl turned to go, the old woman said, "Your kindness and good nature will surely be rewarded."

When the younger daughter returned home, her mother demanded to know what had taken her so long.  When the girl opened her mouth, a diamond fell from it, clattering onto the floor.

Her mother demanded an explanation.  By the time she had described her encounter with the old woman, another diamond, a sapphire, and two perfect pearls had fallen from her mouth.

Determined that her favorite daughter should share in this magic, she called to the older girl and sent her out the door with the bucket in hand.

The older daughter protested loudly, but at last obeyed her mother and walked to the stream to draw water.

On her way up the hill, she met the same old woman.  The crone stopped her and asked "Oh, my dear. I am so thirsty. May I have a drink of water?"

"Certainly not!"  The girl replied.  "I have labored long and hard to drag this wretched water up the hill.  I see no reason to give it to a vagabond.  The stream is right down there if you are so thirsty."

"Then you will not give a drink to a poor tired old woman?" she asked.

"I'd as soon kiss a serpent," the girl said, hauling the bucket towards the house.

"So be it then," the woman said looking after her.

When she reached the house, her mother asked her what had transpired. When the girl opened her mouth, a snake fell to the ground and slithered away. She screamed and a lizard, another snake, and two spiders fell from her mouth before she forced it shut.

So it came to pass that the older sister became very quiet and reserved, while the younger became much sought after by many suitors.  Eventually, the younger daughter married and brought her mother and sister to live with her and her husband, but that is a story for another time.

Diamonds & Serpents is copyrighted (1999) by the Amergin Press and is subject to the Terms of Use.

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