15. Crocodile’s Treachery
In the days when animals still could talk Crocodile was the acknowledged leader of all water creatures. But in those days it was his duty to care for all water animals, and when one year it was exceedingly dry, and the water of the river where they lived dried up and became scarce, he was forced to make a plan to trek over to another river a short distance from there.
He first sent Otter out to spy. He stayed away two days and brought back a report that there was still good water in the other river, that not even a drought of several years could dry it up.
When he learnt this, Crocodile called to his side Tortoise and Alligator.
“Look here,” he said, “I need you two tonight to carry a report to Lion. So then get ready; the plain is dry, and you will probably have to travel for a few days without any water. We must make peace with Lion and his subjects; otherwise we will utterly perish this year. And he must help us to trek over to the other river, especially past the Farmer’s land that lies in between, and to travel unmolested by any of the animals of the plain, so long as the trek lasts. A fish on land is sometimes a very helpless thing, as you all know.” The two had it mighty hard in the burning sun, and on the dry veldt, but eventually they reached Lion and handed him the treaty.
“What is going on now?” thought Lion to himself, when he had read it. “I must consult Jackal first,” he said. But to the envoys he gave back an answer that he would be the following evening with his advisers at the appointed place, at the big willow tree, at the farther end of the hole of water, where Crocodile had his headquarters.
When Tortoise and Alligator came back, Crocodile was exceedingly pleased with himself at the way things had turned out.
He allowed Otter and a few others to be present and ordered them on that evening to have ready plenty of fish and other dishes for their guests under the willow.
That evening as it grew dark Lion appeared with Hyena, Jackal, Baboon, and a few other important animals, at the appointed place, and they were received in the most open-hearted manner by Crocodile and the other water creatures.
Crocodile was so glad at the meeting of the animals that he now and then let fall a great tear of joy that disappeared into the sand. After the other animals had eaten, Crocodile laid out his plan. He wanted only peace among all animals; for they not only killed one another, but the Farmer, too, would in time destroy them all.
The Farmer had already stationed at the source of the river no less than three steam pumps to irrigate his land, and the water was becoming scarcer every day. More than this, he took advantage of their unfortunate position by making them sit in the shallow water and then, one after the other, bringing about their death. As Lion was, on this account, inclined to make peace and give his hand to these peace-making water creatures, and carry out their part of the contract, namely, escort them from the dried-up water, past the Farmer’s land and to the other river.
“And what benefit shall we receive from it?” asked Jackal.
“Well,” answered Crocodile, “the peace made is of great benefit to both sides. We will not kill each other. If you wish to come and drink water, you can do so with an easy mind, and not be the least bit nervous that I, or any one of us will seize you by the nose; and so also with all the other animals. And from your side we are to be freed from Elephant, who has the habit, whenever he gets the opportunity, of tossing us with his trunk up into some open and narrow fork of a tree and there allowing us to become dried meat.”
Lion and Jackal stepped aside to consult with one another, and then Lion wanted to know what form of security he would have that Crocodile would keep to his part of the contract.
“I stake my word of honor,” was the prompt answer from Crocodile, and he let drop a few more long tears of honesty into the sand.
Baboon then said it was all square and honest as far as he could see. He thought it was nonsense to attempt to attack one another; because he personally was well aware that his race would benefit from this contract of peace and friendship. And more than this, they must consider that use must be made of the fast disappearing water, for even in the best of times it was an unpleasant thing to be always carrying your life about in your hands. He would, however, like to suggest to the King that it would be well to have everything put down in writing, so that there would be nothing to regret in case it was needed.
Jackal did not want to listen to the agreement. He could not see that it would benefit the animals of the plain. But Hyena, who had fully satisfied himself with the fish, was in an exceptionally peace-loving mood, and he advised Lion again to accept the agreement.
After Lion had listened to all his advisers, and also the pleading tones of Crocodile’s followers, he held forth in a speech in which he said that he was inclined to enter into the agreement, seeing that it was clear that Crocodile and his subjects were in a very tight place.
There and then a document was drawn up, and it was resolved, before midnight, to begin the trek. Crocodile’s messengers swam in all directions to summon together the water animals for the trek.
Frogs croaked and crickets chirped in the long water grass. It was not long before all the animals had assembled at the willow. In the meantime Lion had sent out a few messengers to his subjects to raise a guard for an escort, and before midnight these also were at the willow in the moonlight.
The trek then was organized by Lion and Jackal. Jackal was to take the lead to act as spy, and when he was able to draw Lion to one side, he said to him, “See here, I do not trust this affair one bit, and I want to tell you straight out, I am going to make tracks! I will spy for you until you reach the river, but I am not going to be the one to await your arrival there.”
Elephant had to act as advance guard because he could walk so softly and could hear and smell so well. Then came Lion with one division of the animals, then Crocodile’s trek with a flank protection of both sides, and Hyena received orders to bring up the rear.
Meanwhile, while all this was being arranged, Crocodile was smoothly preparing his treachery. He called Yellow Snake to one side and said to him: “It is to our advantage to have these animals, who go among us every day, and who will continue to do so, fall into the hands of the Farmer. Listen, now! You remain behind unnoticed, and when you hear me shout you will know that we have arrived safely at the river. Then you must harass the Farmer’s dogs as much as you can, and the rest will look out for themselves.”
Thereupon the trek moved on. It was necessary to go very slowly as many of the water animals were not accustomed to the journey on land; but they trekked past the Farmer’s land in safety, and toward break of day they were all safely at the river. There most of the water animals disappeared suddenly into the deep water, and Crocodile also began to make preparations to follow their example. With tearful eyes he said to Lion that he was, oh, so grateful for the help, that, from pure relief and joy, he must first express his feelings by a few shouts. Then he shouted so loudly that even the mountains echoed, and then thanked Lion on behalf of his subjects, and purposely continued with a long speech, dwelling on all the benefits both sides would derive from the agreement of peace.
Lion was just about to say good day and take his departure, when the first shot rang out, and with it Elephant and a few other animals fell.
“I told you all so!” shouted Jackal from the other side of the river. “Why did you allow yourselves to be misled by a few Crocodile tears?”
Crocodile had disappeared into the water. All one saw was just a lot of bubbles; and on the banks there was an actual war against the animals.
But most of them, fortunately, came out of it alive.
Now when the Elephant gets the chance he pitches the Crocodile up into the highest forks of the trees.