8.THE TIGER, THE MAN, AND THE JACKAL
Once upon a time a tiger was caught in a trap. He tried in vain to get out through the bars, and rolled and bit with rage when he failed.
By chance a poor man came by. ‘Let me out of this cage good man!’ cried the tiger.
‘No, my friend,’ replied the man mildly, ‘you would probably eat me if I did.’
‘Not at all!’ swore the tiger; ‘on the contrary, I should be forever grateful, and serve you as a slave!’
Now when the tiger sobbed and sighed and wept and swore, the good man’s heart softened, and at last he agreed to open the door of the cage. Out popped the tiger, and, seizing the poor man, cried, ‘What a fool you are! What is to prevent my eating you now, for after being cooped up so long I am terribly hungry!’
In vain the man pleaded for his life. The most he could gain was a promise to accept the decision of the first three things he chose to question as to the fairness of the tiger’s action.
So the man first asked a tree what it thought of the matter, but the tree replied coldly, ‘What have you got to complain about? Don’t I give shade and shelter to everyone who passes by, and don’t they in return tear down my branches to feed their cattle? Don’t complain—be a man!’
Then the man, sad at heart, went farther until he saw a buffalo working in a field; but he fared no better from it, for it answered, ‘You are a fool to expect gratitude! Look at me! While I gave milk they fed me on the best grass, but now I have no more milk they put me here, and give me old hay as food!’
The man, still more sad, asked the road to give him its opinion.
‘My dear sir,’ said the road, ‘how foolish you are to expect anything else! Here am I, useful to everybody, yet all, rich and poor, great and small, trample on me as they go past, giving me nothing but the ashes of their pipes and the husks of their grain!’
The man turned back sadly, and on the way he met a jackal, who called out, ‘Why, what’s the matter, Mr. Man? You look as miserable as a fish out of water!’
Then the man told him what had happened. ‘How very confusing!’ said the jackal, when the man finished; ‘would you mind telling me over again for everything seems so mixed up!’
The man told it all over again, but the jackal shook his head in a puzzled sort of way, and still could not understand.
‘It’s very odd,’ he said sadly, ‘but it all seems to go in at one ear and out at the other! I will go to the place where it all happened, and then perhaps I shall be able to give a judgment.’
So they returned to the cage, where the tiger was waiting for the
man, and sharpening his teeth and claws.
‘You’ve been away a long time!’ growled the savage beast, ‘but now let us begin our dinner.’
‘Give me five minutes!’ he pleaded, ‘in order that I may explain matters to the jackal here, who is somewhat slow in his wits.’
The tiger agreed, and the man began the whole story over again, not missing a single detail, and telling the story as long as possible.
‘Oh, my poor brain! Oh, my poor brain!’ cried the jackal, wringing his paws. ‘Let me see! How did it all begin? You were in the cage, and the tiger came walking by——’
‘Pooh!’ interrupted the tiger,’ what a fool you are! I was in the cage.’
‘Of course!’ cried the jackal, pretending to tremble with fright; ‘yes! I was in the cage—no, I wasn’t—dear, dear! Where are my wits? Let me see—the tiger was in the man, and the cage came walking by—-no, that’s not it either! Well, don’t mind me, but begin your dinner, for I shall never understand!’
‘Yes, you shall!’ replied the tiger, in a rage at the jackal’s stupidity; ‘I’ll make you understand! Look here—I am the tiger—-‘
‘Yes, my lord!’
‘And that is the man—-‘
‘Yes, my lord!’
‘And that is the cage—-‘
‘Yes, my lord!’
‘And I was in the cage—do you understand?’
‘Yes—no—Please, my lord—-‘
‘Well?’ cried the tiger, impatiently.
‘Please, my lord!—how did you get in?’
‘How!—why, in the usual way, of course!’
‘Oh dear me!—my head is beginning to whirl again! Please don’t be angry, my lord, but what is the usual way?’
At this the tiger lost patience, and, jumping into the cage, cried,
‘This way! Now do you understand how it was?’
‘Perfectly!’ grinned the jackal, as he quickly shut the door; ‘and if you will permit me to say so, I think matters will stay as they were!’