Many years ago, a peasant was driving a water buffalo before the plow in his master's rice field. "Van Dich! Van Dich!" he called exhortingly. "Move along; it is almost noon. A few more furrows and our work will be finished".
Two handsome young men, who were walking along the path that bordered the rice-field, happened to overhear the peasant's words. They stopped in their tracks and looked at each other with astonishment. To whom was the peasant speaking? There was no other person in the field with him. Was it possible that he had called the buffalo by a man's name? It was all very strange.
The last furrow was plowed.
"Van Dich," said the peasant to the buffalo then, "you did a good job. It is time to rest."
The peasant wiped the sweat beats from his brow and then unharnessed the buffalo. The great beast plodded to the edge of the field to graze. The peasant drank some tea from a bowl and munched a few mouthfuls of rice; then, to protect himself from the unbearable heat, he removed his conical hat of palm-straw and began to fan his face with it. Absorbed in his own thoughts, he failed to notice the approach of the two strangers.
"Dear friend," one of. them called to the peasant, "is your buffalo perchance named Van Dich?"
"Yes", replied the peasant, "that is his name. Does it seem odd to you?"
"Very odd," was the reply. "Why did you give him that name?" The farmer considered for a moment.
"Well," he said then, "you are not the first ones who have asked that question. There is an unusual story connected with this buffalo. You see, my master is a wealthy landowner. I have worked for him for a long time and always with this buffalo. I call him Van Dich because he was born with that name as you can plainly see from the two characters inscribed on his hack. He is the cleverest and most industrious buffalo I have ever seen."
The two young men, who were brothers, looked at each other significantly. They thanked the peasant for the information given them and then set off in the direction of the neighboring village.
"Younger brother," said the elder of the two, "how strange all this is. After an absence of many years, we are returning to our native village, which we left as children. I am ashamed to learn that a buffalo has been given our father's name. We must speak to the buffalo's owner about it."
On reaching the village, the two young men inquired about the location of the rich landowner's home. They went there then and knocked at the door. As they were well-dressed and did not look like beggars, they were admitted at once. Tea was served them and water-pipes brought forward. Finally, after a period of polite silence, the elder brother asked the master of the house, an old man with snow-white hair, to tell them about the buffalo called Van Dich.
The old man seemed surprised at their question but not unwilling to tell the story.
"I come from this village," he said. "I started as an ordinary farmer. Heaven was kind to me and my wealth increased from year to year. I acquired large holdings of land. I became richer and richer and many peasants came to work for me. My young neighbor, however, a farmer named Chu Van Dich, had no luck at all although he was an honest and righteous man. One misfortune after another happened to him, and in the end he had no more than a few crumbs of rice for his wife and two sons. He came to me to borrow some money. I gave him what he needed since I was certain that the money would bear good interest. For some time his luck seemed to change; but then his wife fell ill and his two buffaloes died in the same night. A farmer cannot live without a buffalo. I lent him some more money, with which he purchased a new buffalo. But after he had brought in a good harvest and seemed to have saved himself., a fire destroyed his house and all his grain. Chu Van Dich died then from sheer despair. His wife and children left the village and it appeared that I had lost a considerable sum of money."
The two brothers hardly dared breathe. They had just heard the story of their father's ruin.
"Several years ago," continued the landowner, "Chu Van Dich appeared to me in a dream. He was in a pitiable condition. He said that as he had not been able to pay his debts to me during his earthly existence, his soul had been unable to find peace in the Kingdom of the Bead. He said further that he would come to work for me in order to pay off his debt."
The old man stopped to sip his tea. The brothers held their faces in their hands.
"The next morning," he continued, "before I had risen, a servant came running and informed me that a buffalo cow had given birth to a calf that had the characters "Van Dich" imprinted on his back. Was I not to assume then that Chu Van Dich's soul had passed into the calf's body?"
After a long silence, the two brothers raised their heads.
"Chu Van Dich was our father," they said. "After his death, our mother left the village, taking us with her. In a distant province, Lord Buddha had compassion on us and we became well-to-do. we have come here to pay our father's debts. And then you will of course give us the buffalo."
"You owe me nothing," replied the landowner. "I will gladly give you all your father's notes for he has amply repaid me through the work of the buffalo. Ever since the time that he began working for me, we have had a large measure of good fortune. We took good care of him, which was as it should have been, and I am sorry to see him go."
The landowner then gave the brothers their father's notes and ordered the buffalo released to them. After thanking the man for his generosity, they returned to the village, leading the buffalo. There they burned the notes; at that moment the buffalo was seen to fall to the ground dead!
Chu Van Dich's soul thus returned to the Kingdom of the Dead, where it would live eternally in peace.
GEORGE F. SCHULTZ