Tam and Cam – Pre-Intermediate Level

Long, long ago there was a man who lost his wife and lived with his little girl named Tam. Then he married again but his new wife Mai, who became Tam’s stepmother, was a wicked woman. The little girl found this out on the first day after they were married. Many people came to the house for a party. But Tam was not allowed to go to the party. She was shut up in a room all by herself and had to go to bed without any dinner.

Things grew worse when a new baby girl named Cam was born in the house. Mai loved Cam more than anything in the world and began to hate Tam. She told her husband so many lies about poor Tam that he stopped being kind to the poor girl.

As Cam got older, Mai decided that she should sleep in Tam’s bedroom. “Go and sleep in the kitchen and take care of yourself, you naughty child,” said the wicked woman to Tam. And she gave the little girl a dark, dirty corner in the kitchen. It was there that Tam was to live and work. At night, she was given a thin mat to lie on and torn sheet to cover herself with.

Tam had to work hard all day and into the evening. She had to clean the floors, cut the firewood, feed the animals, do all the cooking, wash the dishes and many other things. Her poor soft little hands were often cut and bleeding. But she bore all this quietly. She did not tell anyone about her problems.

Mai sent her to deep forests to get wood in the hope that wild animals might carry her off. When the well near the house was dry, she sent her to a dangerous river to get water in the hope that she might fall in and drown.

As poor little Tam worked and worked, her skin became dark and her hair messy. When she went to the well to get water, she often looked at herself in it. Sometimes she was surprised to see how dark and ugly she looked. She would take up some water in her hand and wash her face. Then she would comb her long straight hair with her fingers. The soft white skin and beautiful hair appeared again, and she looked pretty. But when Mai saw how pretty Tam could look, she hated her more than ever.

One day, Mai asked Tam and Cam to go fishing in a pool near the village. “Try to get as many fish as you can,” she said. “If you don’t come back with enough, I will beat you and send you to bed without dinner.” Tam knew that these words were meant for her because Mai would never hit Cam. But she always hit Tam as hard as she could for the smallest thing she did wrong.

Tam tried hard to fish and by the end of the day had a basket full of fish. But Cam spent the day playing in the long grass, laying in the warm sunshine, and picking wild flowers. The sun began to go down before Cam had even started her fishing. She looked at her empty basket and had a bright idea. “Sister, sister,” she said to Tam, “your face and hair are very dirty. Why don’t you step into the fresh water and have a good wash? If you go home like this, mother is going to be angry with you.”

Tam did as Cam said, and had a good wash. But, as she did this, Cam put her sister’s fish into her own basket and went home as quickly as she could. When Tam saw that her fish were taken, she became frightened and she began to cry sadly. Certainly, her stepmother would do something bad to her for not bringing home any fish!

Suddenly, she felt a soft, fresh wind. The sky seemed bluer and the clouds whiter. In front of Tam stood the smiling Goddess of Kindness. “What is the matter, sweet child?” asked the Goddess in a sweet voice.

Tam told her about her unhappy life and added: “Dear Goddess, what am I to do tonight when I go home? I am frightened to death, for my stepmother will not believe me and will hit me very, very hard.”

The Goddess of Kindness said to her, “Your unhappiness will be over soon. Believe in me and don’t be sad. Now, look at your basket to see whether there is anything left there.”

Tam looked and saw a lovely red fish with golden eyes. It smiled at her and she gave a little cry of surprise. The Goddess told her to take the fish home and put it in the well at the back of the house. Then, feed it three times a day with what she could save from her own food. She said that if Tam did this, she would soon find happiness.

Tam thanked the Goddess and did just as she was told. Whenever she went to the well, the fish would swim to the top of the water to see her. But should anyone else come, the fish would never show itself. Tam’s strange activity at the well was noticed by Mai. One day she and Cam hid behind a tree and watched Tam with the fish. After Tam had gone, they went to the well to look for the fish but it stayed in the deep water. Mai then decided to ask Tam to go to a far-away place to get some firewood. Taking advantage of Tam being away, she put on some of Tam’s torn clothes and went to call the fish. When it came up thinking she was Tam, Mai caught and killed it and then cooked it.

When Tam came back home, she went to the well and called and called. But there was no fish to be seen and she could see blood on the top of the water. The Goddess of Kindness appeared again, with a face as sweet as a loving mother. “Do not cry my child,” she said softly. “Your stepmother has killed the fish. You must try to find its bones and bury them under your bed. Whatever things you wish for as you lay on the bed will come to you.”

Tam looked for the fish bones everywhere but could find none. Cluck cluck!” said a hen, “Give me some rice and I will show them to you.”

Tam gave her a handful of rice and the hen said, “Cluck cluck! Follow me and I will take you to the place.” The hen led her to the far end of the garden. It then moved away some fallen leaves with its feet and uncovered the fish bones. Tam happily took them and buried them under her bed as she had been told. Soon she had many beautiful things that would have made the heart of any young girl happy.

One day the king decided that he would hold a special festival for all the people in the kingdom. Mai took a big basket of green beans and a big basket of black beans. She put the beans from both baskets on the table, and then mixed them all together. She then told Tam to sort out the beans into the original baskets. “You must get the work done,” she said, “before you can go to the festival.”

Then Mai and Cam put on their most beautiful dresses and went out by themselves.

After they left Tam began to cry and as she did this called: “O, Goddess of Kindness, please help me.” At once, the Goddess appeared and turned some flies into small birds which sorted the beans out for the young girl. In a short time, the work was done. Tam dried up her tears and put on a beautiful blue and silver dress. She now looked like a princess and went to the festival.

Cam was very surprised to see such a beautiful woman at the festival. “Is that rich woman not strangely like my sister Tam?” she said quietly to her mother. Tam became frightened when she saw that Mai and Cam were watching her so closely. She ran away so quickly that she lost one of her fine slippers and did not stop to pick it up.

A soldier took Tam’s lost slipper to the King. He examined it carefully and saw that it was a work of art such as he had never seen before. He decided that the woman who wore the slipper would become queen. First he asked all the women of the palace try it on. But the slipper was too small, even for those who had the smallest feet. Then he ordered all the women of the kingdom to try it.

At first the slipper would fit none of them, but finally Tam tried and the slipper fitted her. She then put on the other slipper, and appeared in her beautiful blue and silver dress.

Tam was then taken to the palace with much excitement. She became Queen and began an unbelievably wonderful and happy time in her life. Mai and Cam could not bear to see her so happy and would have killed her most willingly. But they were too frightened of the King to do anything.

On her father’s birthday, Tam went home to spend the day with him. In Tam’s country, children are taught that they should always do as their parents ask. Knowing this, Mai asked Tam to climb a tall tree to get some nuts to make betel for her father. As Tam was Queen, she could of course have said “no”. But she was a good daughter and wanted to please her stepmother.

When Tam reached to the top of the tree, she felt it moving from side to side in a very dangerous way. “What are you doing?” she asked Mai.

“I am only trying to scare away some insects which might bite you, my dear child,” was the answer. But in fact, the wicked woman was cutting the tree down. It fell to earth with a loud noise, killing poor Tam at once.

“Now she has finally gone from our lives,” said Mai with a hateful and ugly laugh. “We shall report to the King that she has died in an accident.”

In Tam’s country, the usual thing when a queen dies was for her younger sister to take her place. Mai knew this and things happened just the way she had hoped. Cam became queen.

But Tam’s good and kind soul could not find any rest. It was turned into the shape of a beautiful little bird. The bird lived in the King’s garden and sang sad, sweet songs.

One day, a woman who worked in the palace brought the golden dragon coat of the King into the garden. She had just washed it and wanted to hang it up in the sun to dry. The bird sang in her own sad way: “0, sweet woman, be careful with my husband’s coat. Do not tear it by putting it near anything sharp.” The bird sang on more sweetly still and moved the hearts of all who heard her. She sang so sadly that when the King heard her, tears came into his eyes. “Most beautiful bird,” he said. “If you are the soul of my much loved Queen, be pleased to fly over here and sit in my hand.”

Then the little bird went straight into the King’s hand and rubbed her head against him. The bird was now put in a golden cage in the King’s bedroom. The King would stay all day long near it. He loved listening to her sad and beautiful songs. As she sang to him, his eyes became wet with tears, and she sang more sweetly than ever.

Cam became jealous of the bird, and asked her mother what to do about it. Her mother told her that the next time the King was away she must kill the bird and bury its body in the garden.

“What is the meaning of this?” said the King when he came back and saw the empty cage. Everybody looked for the bird but could not find it. “Perhaps she was bored and has flown away to be with other birds,” said Cam. The King was very sad but there was nothing he could do about it. He went about his life as usual.

But once more, Tam’s restless soul was changed. This time it was turned into a great tree which only bore a single fruit. But what a fruit! It was round, big and golden and had a very sweet smell.

One day an old woman stopped to rest as she was passing the tree. Seeing the beautiful fruit, she said: “Golden fruit, golden fruit, drop into the bag of this old woman. This one will keep you and enjoy your sweet smell, but will never eat you.” The fruit at once dropped into the old woman’s bag. She brought it home, and put it in a special place to enjoy its smell.

The next morning, to the old woman’s great surprise, she found her house clean with everything in its place. And when she came back from her daily work at the market, a nice hot meal was waiting for her. It was if some magic hand had been working while she was away.

She went out again the following morning, but quietly came back and hid herself behind the door. As she watched, she saw a beautiful young woman come out of the golden fruit and start to clean the house. She quickly ran in and tore up the skin of the fruit so that the woman could no longer hide herself in it. The young woman could not help but stay there and think of the old woman as her own mother.

One day the King went hunting and lost his way. The evening came and he could see from the cloudy sky that it would soon rain. He saw the old woman’s house and went to it to get away from the rain.

As was usual in the country, the woman offered him some tea and betel. The King saw the careful way the betel had been prepared. “Who is the person who made this?” he asked. “It looks so much like the way it used to be prepared by my late much loved Queen.”

“Great King, it is only my daughter,” said the old woman in a frightened voice. “She is a sad soul that I found born again in the golden fruit of a great tree.”

The King then ordered the daughter to be brought to him. When she came he saw, like in a dream, that it was Tam, his deeply missed Queen. Both of them cried with happiness. Tam was then taken back to the palace where she took her place as Queen.

The King did not spend any more time with Cam. This made Cam think: “If I were as beautiful as my sister, I would win the King’s heart.”

She asked Tam: “Dearest Sister, how could I become as white as you?”

“It is very easy,” answered Tam. “You have only to jump into a big bowl of boiling water to get beautifully white.” Cam believed her and did as suggested. Naturally she died without being able to say a word! When Mai heard about this she cried until she could no longer see. Soon, she died of a broken heart. Tam lived longer than both of them, and lived happily ever after, for she certainly deserved it.