fables of Aarne-Thompson type 92
selected and edited by
D. L. Ashliman
In the middle of a forest there lived a lion by the name of Bhâsuraka (Heroic One). In consequence of his great strength he unceasingly killed many gazelles, hares, and other animals.
One day all the forest creatures assembled. Gazelles, boars, buffalo, wild oxen, hares, and so forth, went to him and said, "Sir, why are you unnecessarily murdering all the wild animals, when one animal would be sufficient to fill you? Therefore enter into an agreement with us. From this day forth you may sit here quietly, and every day one animal will come to you, as his turn comes up, and allow you to eat him. In this manner you can effortlessly acquire your nourishment, and we will not be wholly exterminated. That is the right of a king, and let it thus be carried out."
After hearing their words, Bhâsuraka said, "What you say is true. But if ever an animal fails to come to me here, then I will surely devour all of you."
They sealed their promise with the words, "So be it!" and now, free of danger, they moved fearlessly about the forest. However, every day, in turn, one animal came to the lion: an old one, one who had renounced all earthly affairs, one who was torn by grief, or one who feared he might lose his wife and children. One animal presented himself to the lion every noon to serve as his meal.
Following the predetermined order, it became the hare's turn, and however little he liked it, he was sent to the lion by the other animals. He walked as slowly as possible and thus missed the established deadline. With a fearful heart he sought a way to escape death. Toward the end of the day he finally arrived.
The lion, famished from his long wait, was filled with anger. Licking the corners of his mouth, he thought, "Aha! Tomorrow I shall kill all the creatures in the forest."
Just as he was thinking this the hare walked up, bowed, and stood before him.
When the lion saw that this creature, who otherwise was so light-footed, was the one who had arrived so late, he was filled with anger and spoke threateningly, "Hey, you miserable little hare. It had to be you who come so long after the appointed time, you who otherwise are the most light-footed of them all! Because of your failure, after I have killed you, tomorrow I am going to exterminate all the rest of the animals."
To this the hare bowed and spoke humbly, "Sir, it is neither my fault nor the fault of the other animals. Would you like to hear the cause of my tardiness?"
The lion said, "Speak quickly, before you find yourself between my teeth!"
The hare said, "Sir, after learning from the other animals that today was my turn, I was sent away with four hares. On my way here I was approached by another large lion, who came from his den and said to me, 'Hey there! Where are you going? Pay homage to your guardian angel!' I answered, 'We are going, in keeping with our contract, to our lord Bhâsuraka, in order to serve as his meal.' To that he said, 'If that is so, then all of the animals must also enter into a contract with me, because this forest belongs to me. This Bhâsuraka is a miserable thief. But if he is king here, then leave the four hares here as hostages, and demand that he come here as quickly as possible, so that the one of us who can prove himself king through his strength will be able to eat all the animals here.' Then following his order I came here. That is the reason why I am late. Now your order is my command!"
Having heard this, Bhâsuraka said, "My dear, if this is the case then quickly show me this rogue of a lion so I can vent my anger against the other animals on him and become myself once again."
The hare said, "Sir, you are right. We warriors go to battle to protect our homeland and to fight against evil. This enemy lives in a castle. If he attacks us from his castle, we'll be threatened, but if he stays in his castle, he'll be difficult to overcome."
Bhâsuraka answered, "My dear, lead me to this rogue. Even if he is in a castle, I will kill him."
The hare said, "But I have seen that he is very powerful. Sir, it is not good for you to go without knowing his strength."
Bhâsuraka said, "Ha! What is this to you? Lead me to him, even if he does live in a castle."
The hare said, "If you insist, come with me, sir."
After saying this he set forth and went to a well. There he said to Bhâsuraka, "Sir, who is able to withstand your majesty? This rogue saw you coming from afar and has retreated into his castle. Come here and I will show him to you."
After hearing this Bhâsuraka said, "My dear, show me his castle at once!"
Then the hare showed him the well. The foolish lion, seeing his own reflection in the middle of the well, roared fiercely. A doubly loud roar echoed up from within the well.
Hearing this, he thought, "He is very powerful," and he threw himself on him, and thus he lost his life.
The hare, on the other hand, after having cheerfully reported back to the other animals, was greatly praised by them, and he lived happily in the forest.
One of India's most influential contributions to world literature, The Panchatantra (also spelled Pañcatantra or Pañca-tantra) consists of five books of animal fables and magic tales (some 87 stories in all) that were compiled in their current form between the third and fifth centuries AD. It is believed that even then the stories were already ancient. The tales' self-proclaimed purpose is to educate the sons of royalty.
Although the original author's or compiler's name is unknown, an Arabic translation from about 750 AD attributes The Panchatantra to a wise man called Bidpai, which is probably a Sanskrit word meaning "court scholar."
The fables of The Panchatantra found their way to Europe through oral folklore channels and by way of Persian and Arabic translations. They substantially influenced medieval writers of fables.
In the neighborhood of Baghdad there was a beautiful meadow, which was the home of many wild animals. They would have lived very happily there had it not been for one mischief-loving lion. Every day this lion wandered about, killing many helpless creatures for the mere sport of the slaying.
To put an end to this, the animals gathered in a body, and going to the lion, spoke to him in this manner, "King lion, we are proud to have such a brave and valiant beast to rule over us. But we do not think that it is fitting for one of your rank to hunt for his own food. We therefore wait upon you with this request: Henceforth do you remain quietly at home, and we your subjects will bring to your lair such food as it is fitting that a king should eat."
The lion, who was greatly flattered, immediately accepted their offer. Thus every day the animals drew lots to decide who among their number should offer himself for the lion's daily portion. In due time it came about that the lot fell upon the hare. Now the hare, when he learned that it was his turn to die, complained bitterly.
"Do you not see that we are still tormented by that lion?" he asked the other animals. "Only leave it to me, and I will release you for all time from his tyranny."
The other animals were only too glad at these words, and told the hare to go his way. The hare hid for some time in the bushes, and then hurried to the lion's lair. By this time the lion was as angry as he was hungry. He was snarling, and lashing his yellow tail on the ground.
When he saw the hare, he called out loudly, "Who are you, and what are my subjects doing? I have had no morsel of food today!"
The hare besought him to calm his anger and listen to him. "The lot fell today," he began, "on another hare and myself. In good season we were on our way here to offer ourselves for your dinner, when a lion sprang out of the bushes and seized my companion. In vain I cried to him that we were destined for the king's table, and, moreover, that no one was permitted to hunt in these royal woods except your majesty. He paid no heed to my words save to retort, 'You do not know what you are saying. I am the only king here. That other lion, to whom you all bow down, is a usurper.' Dumb with fright, I jumped into the nearest bush."
The lion grew more and more indignant as he listened to the hare's tale.
"If I could once find that lion," he roared, "I would soon teach him who is king of these woods."
"If your majesty will trust me," answered the hare, humbly, "I can take you to his hiding place."
So the hare and the lion went out together. They crossed the woods and the meadow, and came to an ancient well, which was full of clear, deep water.
"Yonder is the home of your enemy," whispered the hare, pointing to the well. "If you go near enough, you can see him. But," he added, "perhaps you had better wait until he comes out before you attack him."
These words only made the lion more indignant. "He shall not live a moment after I have laid eyes upon him," he growled.
So the hare and the lion approached stealthily to the well. As they bent over the edge and looked down into the clear water, they saw themselves reflected there. The lion, thinking that it was the other lion with the other hare, leaped into the well, never to come out again.
Once upon a time, in a great jungle, there lived a great lion. He was rajah of all the country round; and every day he used to leave his den, in the deepest shadow of the rocks, and roar with a loud, angry voice. And when he roared, the other animals in the jungle, who were all his subjects, got very much frightened, and ran here and there. And Singh Rajah [Lion King] would pounce upon them, and kill them, and gobble them up for his dinner.
This went on for a long, long time, until, at last, there were no living creatures left in the jungle but two little jackals, a rajah jackal and a ranee jackal, husband and wife.
A very hard time of it the poor little jackals had, running this way and that to escape the terrible Singh Rajah. And every day the little ranee jackal would say to her husband, "I am afraid he will catch us today. Do you hear how he is roaring? Oh dear, oh dear!"
And he would answer her, "Never fear. I will take care of you. Let us run on a mile or two. Come, come, -- quick, quick, quick!"
And they would both run away as fast as they could.
After some time spent in this way, they found, however, one fine day, that the lion was so close upon them that they could not escape.
Then the little ranee jackal said, "Husband, husband! I feel very frightened. The Singh Rajah is so angry he will certainly kill us at once. What can we do?"
But he answered, "Cheer up. We can save ourselves yet. Come, and I'll show you how we may manage it."
So what did these cunning little jackals do, but they went to the great lion's den; and when he saw them coming, he began to roar and shake his mane, and he said, "You little wretches, come and be eaten at once! I have had no dinner for three whole days, and all that time I have been running over hill and dale to find you. Ro-a-ar! Ro-a-ar! Come and be eaten, I say!"
And he lashed his tail and gnashed his teeth, and looked very terrible indeed.
Then the jackal rajah, creeping quite close up to him, said, "0 great Singh Rajah, we all know you are our master, and we would have come at your bidding long ago; but indeed, sir, there is a much bigger rajah even than you in this jungle, and he tried to catch hold of us and eat us up, and frightened us so much that we were obliged to run away."
"What do you mean?" growled Singh Rajah. "There is no king in this jungle but me!"
"Ah, sire," answered the jackal, "in truth one would think so, for you are very dreadful. Your very voice is death. But it is as we say, for we, with our own eyes, have seen one with whom you could not compete; whose equal you can no more be than we are yours; whose face is as flaming fire, his step as thunder, and his power supreme."
"It is impossible!" interrupted the old lion. "But show me this rajah of whom you speak so much, that I may destroy him instantly!"
Then the little jackals ran on before him until they reached a great well, and, pointing down to his own reflection in the water, they said, "See, sire, there lives the terrible king of whom we spoke."
When Singh Rajah looked down the well he became very angry, for he thought he saw another lion there. He roared and shook his great mane, and the shadow lion shook his, and looked terribly defiant. At last, beside himself with rage at the insolence of his opponent, Singh Rajah sprang down to kill him at once, but no other lion was there -- only the treacherous reflection.
And the sides of the well were so steep that he could not get out again, to punish the two jackals, who peeped over the top. After struggling for some time in the deep water, he sank to rise no more.
And the little jackals threw stones down upon him from above, and danced round and round the well, singing, "Ao! Ao! Ao! Ao! The king of the forest is dead, is dead. We have killed the great lion who would have killed us! Ao! Ao! Ao! Ao! Ring-a-ting -- ding-a-ting! Ring-a-ting -- ding-a-ting! Ao! Ao! Ao!"
When the jungle is destroyed, the deer are in trouble without jungle:So thinking the Raja made a proclamation throughout all the land that if any one could kill the Rakhas he would reward him with the hand of one of his daughters and half his kingdom. This proclamation was read out by the headman of a certain village to the assembled villagers and among the crowd was a mischievous youth, named Jhalka, who when he heard the proclamation called out that he could kill the Rakhas in ten minutes.
When the Raja is destroyed, the ryots are in trouble without their Raja:
When the good wife of the house is destroyed, good fortune flees away.
The villagers turned on him, "Why don't you go and do so: then you would marry the Raja's daughter and we should all bow down to you."
At the thought of this Jhalka began to skip about crying, "I will finish him off in no time."
The headman heard him and took him at his word and wrote to the Raja that in his village there was a man who undertook to kill the Rakhas. When Jhalka heard this he hurried to the headman and explained that he had only been joking.
"I cannot treat such things as a joke," answered the headman. "Don't you know that this is a Raja's matter: to deal with Rajas is the same as to deal with bongas: you may make a promise to the bongas in jest, but they will not let you off it on that plea. You are much too fond of playing the fool."
Ten or twelve days later sipahis came from the Raja to fetch Jhalka: he told them that he had only spoken in jest and did not want to go to the Raja, but they took him away all the same.
Before he started he picked out a well-tempered battle axe and begged his father to propitiate the bongas and pray that he might be saved from the Rakhas.
When he was produced before the Raja, Jhalka again tried to explain that there had been a mistake, but the Raja told him that he would be taken at his word and must go and kill the Rakhas. Then he saw that there was nothing left for him but to put his trust in God: so he asked that he might be given two mirrors and a large box and when these were brought he had the box taken to the foot of a large banyan tree which grew by a ford in the river which flowed by the hill in which the Rakhas lived: it was at this ford that the Rakhas used to lie in wait for prey.
Left alone there Jhalka put one of the mirrors into the box and then tightened his cloth and climbed the banyan tree with his battle axe and the other mirror.
He was not at all happy as he waited for the Rahkas, thinking of all the people who had been killed as they passed along the road below the tree: however he was determined to outwit the Rakhas if he could.
All night long he watched in vain but just at dawn the Rakhas appeared. At the sight of him Jhalka shook so much with fright that the branches of the tree swayed. The Rakhas smelt that there was a human being about and looking up into the tree saw the branches waving.
"Ha," said he, "here is my breakfast."
Jhalka retorted "Ha! here is another Rakhas to match those I have got."
"What are you talking about?" asked the Rakhas.
"I am glad to have met you at last" returned Jhalka.
"Why?" asked the Rakhas, "and what are you trembling for?"
"I am trembling with rage: we shall now see whether I am to eat you or you are to eat me."
"Come down and try."
"No, you come up here and try."
Jhalka would not leave the tree, and the Rakhas would not climb it: so they waited.
At last the Rahhas asked, "Who are you? I have seen a thousand men like you."
And Jhalka answered, "Who are you? I have seen a thousand like you."
At this the Rakhas began to hesitate and wonder whether Jhalka was really his equal in strength, so he changed the subject and asked what the big box was.
"That is the box into which I put Rakhases like you when I catch them; I have got plenty more at home."
"How many are there in the box?"
"Two or three."
The Rakhas asked to see them, but Jhalka would not leave the tree until the Rakhas had sworn an oath to do him no harm; then he came down and opened the box and made the Rakhas look into the mirror inside the box; and he also held up the second mirror saying that there was another Rakhas.
The Rakhas was fascinated at the sight of his own reflection; when he grinned or opened his mouth the reflection did the same; and while he was amusing himself with making different grimaces Jhalka suddenly cut him down with the battle axe, and he fell down dead.
Then Jhalka cut off the ears and tongue and toes and hastened with them to the Raja. When it was found that the Rakhas was really dead the Raja assembled all his subjects and in their presence married Jhalka to his daughter and made over to him half the kingdom and gave him horses and elephants and half of everything in his palace.
There was a saltlick in the jungle to which all the beasts of the forest resorted, but they were greatly afraid by reason of an old tiger which killed one of them every day. At length, therefore, Plando the mouse-deer said to the tiger, "Why not permit me to bring you a beast every day, to save you from hunting for your food?"
The tiger consented, and Plando went off to make arrangement with the beasts. But he could not persuade any of them to go, and after three days he set off, taking nobody with him but Kuwis the smallest of the flying squirrels.
On their arrival Plando said to the tiger, "I could not bring you any of the other beasts because the way was blocked by a fat old tiger with a flying squirrel sitting astride its muzzle."
On hearing this the tiger exclaimed, "Let us go and find it and drive it away."
The three therefore set out, the flying squirrel perched upon the tiger's muzzle and the mouse-deer sitting astride upon its hind quarters.
On reaching the river, the mouse-deer pointed to the tiger's likeness in the water and exclaimed, "Look there! That is the fat old tiger that I saw."
On hearing this, the tiger sprang into the river to attack his own shadow [reflection], and was drowned immediately.
In a certain forest there once lived a fierce tiger, which was in the habit of hunting down the rest of the animals for mere sport, whether hunger impelled him thereto or not. All the animals, therefore, met together by common consent to consider their grievances.
"Let us agree," said the jackal, "that one of us shall be chosen by lot day by day as a sacrifice to the tiger."
"All right," assented the others, "but first let us see the tiger, and let us offer him a petition."
So they all marched together to the tiger's den and humbly sought him to refrain from indiscriminate slaughter, and to be satisfied with the animal which should voluntarily come to him day by day.
"Do not hunt us poor fellows down," said they, "for one of us will always come to be devoured by you, and this plan will save you trouble as well."
"No, no," cried the tiger. "I shall use my claws and my teeth, and so eat my food."
"But," answered the animals, "God has said that we ought to live in hope."
"True," answered the tiger, "but he has also bidden everyone to earn his own bread."
At last, after much argument, the tiger suffered himself to be persuaded, and made a solemn promise to remain at home in his den. Thenceforward every day an animal chosen by lot went to the den to be eaten.
But when the hare's turn came, she flatly said, "I shall not go. I shall live my life."
In vain the other animals tried to persuade or coerce her. Twelve o'clock, the tiger's usual feeding time, came and went, then came one, two, and three.
At last the hare suddenly started up, and exclaiming "Now I'm off!" she set out for the den.
As she drew near she noticed the famished tiger tearing up the earth in fury, and heard him bellowing, "Who is this ridiculous hare to keep me waiting?"
"But I have an excuse," protested the hare.
"What excuse can you have?" demanded the tiger.
"Today," said the hare, "it was not my turn to come at all. It was my brother's. I am thin, but my brother is plump and fat. My brother had started for your den, but on the way he fell in with another tiger which wanted to eat him, and, in fact, he caught him and was carrying him away, when I came up and said to him, 'This country is not your country, but the country of another tiger who will punish you.' To which the strange tiger answered, 'You go at once and call that tiger of yours out, and then he and I shall have a fight.' So here I am, sir, sent to deliver his challenge. Come and kill the villain for us."
Full of rage and jealousy, the tiger said to the hare, "Lead on!" and the pair started forth to seek the rival tiger.
As they went along, the hare began to look alarmed and shrink back, and made as though she would have hidden herself in a thicket.
"What is the matter now?" inquired the tiger. "What are you afraid of?"
"I am afraid," answered she, "because the other tiger's den lies close in front of us."
"Where? Where?" cried the tiger, peering forward with searching eyes. "I see no den whatever."
"It is there. See!" answered the hare. "Almost at your very feet!"
"I can see no den," said the tiger. "Is there no means of persuading you to come forward and show me the place?"
"Yes," replied the hare, "if you will please carry me under your arm."
So the tiger lifted the cunning hare under his arm, and, guided by her directions, he unexpectedly found himself at the edge of a large deep well.
"The is the den I told you of," whispered the hare. "Look in and you will see the robber."
Standing on the brink and looking down into the clear depths, the tiger saw at the bottom the reflected image of himself and the hare, and imagining that he saw his enemy in proud possession of the fat brother, he dropped the nimble hare, which easily escaped, and with a roar leaped down, where, after struggling in the water for many hours, he finally expired, and thus the forest was at last rid of the tyrant.
In a certain wood, where dwelt many jackals and foxes, a tiger came and took up his abode. And what did he do? This is what he used to do. Every day he would kill a jackal or two.
So the jackals and foxes gathered together, and said, "If he goes on this way he will destroy us all, so, as we are now assembled here, let us agree that each will take his turn to be devoured."
And so they did. Every day they used to give to the tiger the one whose turn it was. One day it was a fox's turn.
At first he hid himself, but then he thought, "Now I have to go, for I am hemmed in on both sides. I'll go, but I'll try by some trick to keep my breath in me."
So on he went, shivering as he went, till he came to the tiger's presence.
"Ah!" says the tiger, "You fox, why have you been so long?"
"Sire," said the fox, "another tiger has come to live in your country."
"Where is that tiger?" said the tiger.
"Come with me," said the fox, "and I will show him to you."
So the fox went in front and the tiger went behind, and they went on till they came to a well.
They came and stood at the mouth of the well, and then the fox said, "Oh, my lord tiger! That other tiger has just come home after feeding on a jackal, and he is now sitting inside this well."
Then the tiger said, "What kind of tiger can he be to come to my country! Either I must stay here alone, or he can stay alone, but we cannot live together."
Then he went up to the well and looked in, and saw a tiger sitting there. But really it was only his own shadow [reflection], and no tiger. With that he leapt into the well, and there was drowned and perished.
Then the fox went back to his home, jumping for joy as he went. He called out to his brethren, "Come here, foxes and jackals!"
They came up at his call, and were very angry, and said, "You fox, it was your turn to be eaten by the tiger! Why have you come back? Now the tiger will be in a rage and will come and kill two or three jackals and two or three foxes."
But the fox answered them, "Don't you be afraid. I have killed that tiger."
They all said, "You are a fox, and he is a tiger. How then could you kill him?"
He said, "Come, and I'll show him to you."
They set out in great fear after the fox, and trembling with fright, they came and stoood at the mouth of the well.
The fox gave a shout and said, "Come and see how I have slain the tiger and cast him into this well."
They peeped in, and said that it was the truth, and that the tiger was lying dead in the well. And they all rejoiced exceedingly.
It chanced one day that while the lion was hunting for something to eat, he came across a hare sleeping behind a boulder; and seizing the hare in his great paws he was just about to devour him, when the hare spoke as follows: "Oh! Uncle Lion," said he, "before eating me I just want to tell you about another animal who lives in that pond down there in the valley. He is very big and fierce, and I think he must be even stronger than you are. But if you will allow me to do so I will show you where he lives, and if you can succeed in killing him, he will make a very much better meal for you than a poor little beast like me."
On hearing this the lion was very indignant. "What!" said he, "do you mean to tell me that there is any animal in this country stronger and more powerful than I am? Don't you know that I am the lord of this district, and that I should never allow anyone else to dispute the mastery with me. Show me at once where this creature lives, and I will show you how I shall deal with him."
"Oh! Uncle Lion," said the hare, "let me beg you to be careful. You have no idea what a big, strong creature this is; you must on no account allow yourself to be injured by fighting with him. Think what a grief it would be to us all if you were to come to any harm."
This remark of the hare's made the lion more angry than before, and he insisted that the hare should at once lead him down and show him where the other animal lived. So the hare, after again begging him to be careful of himself, preceded him down the hill until they arrived at the edge of a square-built stone tank, which was nearly full of water.
"Now, Uncle Lion," said the hare, "if you will go to the edge of that tank and look down into the water you will see the animal I speak of."
So saying he moved on one side, and the lion, stalking to the edge, peered down into the tank. The water was very smooth, and on the clear surface he saw his own head reflected.
"There he is," called out the hare from the background; "there he is, Uncle Lion, I can see him quite plainly in the water. You see how fierce he is looking; please be careful not to start fighting with him."
These remarks made the lion more angry than ever, and he moved up and down on the brink of the tank, glaring fiercely at his own reflection in the water, and growling and showing his teeth at it.
"That's right, Uncle Lion," called out the hare; "I am so glad you are taking good care of yourself. Don't on any account come to grips with that beast in the water, or he might do you an injury. You are certainly much safer on the bank, and no doubt you will frighten him if you continue to growl and show your teeth."
These last observations of the hare goaded the lion to desperation, and with a fierce roar he sprang straight at the image in the water. Once in the tank he was unable to get out, for its sides were built of masonry, and it was impossible for him to climb them. So he swam about for some time in the tank, whilst the hare, sitting on the bank, threw stones at him and made nasty remarks; and finally, when quite wearied out, he sank to the bottom and was drowned.
The hare was very pleased at having accomplished the destruction of the lion, and he now turned his attention to the lioness.
It happened that nearby there was a thick wall standing, which was part of the remains of a ruined castle; and in one portion of the wall there was a hole, very large at one end and tapering down to quite a small opening at the other. The hare, having studied his ground, went off next morning to find the lioness. He soon came across her stalking up and down near her den, very much perturbed at the disappearance of her lord and master.
"Good-morning, Aunt Lioness," said the hare, going up cautiously towards her; "what is the matter with you this morning? How is it I find you pacing here in front of your den instead of hunting your prey as usual on the hillside?"
The lioness took no notice of the hare, except to growl at him in an angry manner, and to lash her sides with her tail.
"I suppose," went on the hare, "you are anxious about Mr. Lion, but I am sorry to tell you that you are not likely to see him again for some time. The fact is, he and I had a little argument yesterday, in which we both lost our tempers. It ended in our having a free fight, and I regret to say that I was obliged to injure Mr. Lion rather severely before I could make him see reason, and he is now lying in a dying state in the valley below."
This impudence so enraged the lioness that she sprang towards the hare and endeavoured to seize him; but he eluded her and galloped off down the hill hotly pursued by the angry beast.
The hare made straight for the ruined wall, and entering the breach in the wall at the large end he emerged safely at the other side by the smaller recess, which was just large enough for him to pass through. The lioness, following closely at his heels, was so blind with rage that she did not see that she was being led into a trap; so she rushed head-foremost into the opening in the wall, and before she had time to stop herself was wedged tightly in the tapering hole. She struggled violently, trying to extricate herself, but all in vain.
Meanwhile the hare, having cantered round to the other side, took up its position in rear of the lioness, and began pelting her with stones and calling her all the bad names he could think of. When he was tired of this he went off home very pleased with himself, and the lioness, being unable to free herself from the trap she was in, shortly afterwards starved to death.
There was a time when Brer Lion was sort of playing overseer with the other creatures. It seems like he got the idea that all of them had to pay him a toll, because he was the strongest and the most ferocious. He claimed one out of every family: one sheep from the sheep, one goat from the goats, and one from all the kinds.
By and by, after a long time, he sent word to Brer Rabbit that his turn had come, and Brer Rabbit sent back word that everything was all right. Of course this made old Mrs. Rabbit and the children feel mighty bad. The children sat around whimpering and sniffling, and old Mrs. Rabbit went about crying and wiping her eyes on her apron. But Brer Rabbit, he sat up and smoked his cigar and told them to quit worrying and to learn how to not be afraid.
He said, "Old woman, if I'm not back by suppertime, just set my vittles down there on the hearth so they'll keep sort of warm."
Old Mrs. Rabbit said that instead of wanting vittles, he'd be vittles himself, and then she sniffled worse and worse.
But Brer Rabbit just hooted at her, and then he took down his walking cane and set out to see Brer Lion.
The little rabbits hollered out, "Good-bye, daddy!" and Brer Rabbit hollered back, "So long!"
Old Mrs. Rabbit looked after him, she did, and then she flung her apron over her head and just boo-hooed.
But Brer Rabbit marched down the road as happy if he were going to a frolic. He marched on, he did, and just before he got to the place where old Brer Lion stayed, he hid his walking cane in the fence corner, rumpled up his hair, and drew himself in until he looked like he wasn't any bigger than a pound of soap after a hard day's washing.
Then he went where there was a big, deep spring a little piece away from the road, and he looked at himself in the water. He sort of pulled back his ears and made himself look topsy-turvy, and then he closed one eye and shook his fist at his reflection in the water.
He went back to the big road, he did, and crept along like he was ailing -- limping first on one foot and then on the other one, and by and by he came to the place where old Brer Lion was staying.
Brer Rabbit sort of dragged himself along and made a bow. Brer Lion looked at him sideways and asked him where he was going. Brer Rabbit said he was all the more willing to come, became it was his turn, and he had been feeling poorly for a long time. He talked mighty weak and trembly.
Brer Lion looked at him closely and said, "You won't make a mouthful. It's time that I eat you. I'm just getting good and hungry."
Brer Rabbit said, "Yes, sir. I know I'm not fat, and I suspect I have lots of fleas on me, but I'm mighty willing. I've got a bad cough, and I'm tired of being sick. I'm just about as fat as the mule the man had, and he had to tie a knot in its tail to keep it from slipping through the collar."
Brer Lion looked at him and thought that Brer Rabbit was so scared he was talking weaker and weaker.
Brer Rabbit said, "While I was coming along just now I saw a creature that was almost as big and fat as you are, and I said to myself that I wished to goodness that I was as fat as he was, so Brer Lion could have a good dinner."
Brer Lion said, "Who was he?"
Brer Rabbit said, "I didn't ask him his name. He refused to respond to my howdy, and he looked so ferocious that I got out of there."
Brer Lion said, "Come, show me where he is."
Brer Rabbit said, "I'd do it in a minute, Brer Lion, but I'm afraid he'll hurt you."
Brer Lion sort of bristled up at that. He said, "Hurt whom? Come on and go with me to where he is, and I'll show you who'll get hurt, and that in short order!"
Brer Rabbit shook his head. He said, "You'd better eat me, Brer Lion. I'm not much, but I'm something, and that other creature that I saw will surely hurt you. He's got claws and he's got teeth, because I saw them. Don't go where he is, Brer Lion, if you have any friendly feelings for your family. That creature will surely cripple you!"
This made Brer Lion mighty mad. He said, "Get right into the road and show me where he is!"
Brer Rabbit said, "Well, if I need to go, Brer Lion, I'll go. I told you so, and that's all I can do."
They went on, they did, and Brer Rabbit took Brer Lion to the spring.
When they got there, Brer Rabbit looked around and said, "He was right around here somewhere, and he's not so mighty far off now, because I feel it in my bones."
Then he crept up, he did, and looked into the spring. As he did this, he let out a yell and jumped back. "Ouch, Brer Lion! He's in there! Let's run! He'll get us for sure!"
Brer Lion walked up to the spring and looked in. Sure enough, there was a big creature looking back at him.
Brer Lion hollered at him. The creature in the spring didn't say anything. Brer Lion shook his head. The creature shook his. Brer Lion showed his teeth. The creature grinned at him. They kept on this way until by and by Brer Lion got so mad that he jumped into the spring head foremost.
When he was in there, he couldn't get out again, and so there he was, strangled with water and drowned for the want of sense and breath.
Brer Rabbit capered around there some little time, and then he put out for home, and when he got there, he took his children on his knee and told them a mighty tale about how he made out with old Brer Lion.
So finally he came across a well. The thought came to him as he looked into the well, he saw his shader, he had a scheme to fool the lion. He had been told by the other animals that any way he could get rid of the lion, they would pay him, give him praise of being the wisest animal of the forest.
He entered the lion's room pretendin' he had been runnin', doin' all he could to get there on time.
The lion asked him why he was so late.
The rabbit began to tell him the story why he was so late. So he tol' the lion, if he didn' believe what he had tol' him, to follow him, and he would show him.
So the lion went with the rabbit to the well. The rabbit tol' the lion to get up on the curb of the well and look down into the well, and he would see what had delayed him. So he did.
When he looked into the water, he saw another face, not knowing that it was himself. He frowned, he grit his teeth, and the other lion did the same thing. The lion on top, thinking that he was master of all the beasts of the forest, jumped into the well, and that was the last of the lion.
And the rabbit got the praise of being the wisest beast of the forest.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
Revised March 22, 2013.