Not because he was exactly the most capable or progressive fellow in the neighborhood, but because he always gave that idea—that is why Jackal slowly acquired among the neighbors the name of a “progressive man.” The truly well-bred people around him, who did not wish to hurt his feelings, seemed to apply this name to him, instead of, for instance, “cunning scamp,” or “all-wise rat-trap,” as so many others often dubbed him. He obtained this name of “a progressive man” because he spoke most of the time English, especially if he thought some of them were present who could not understand it, and also because he could always hold his body so much like a judge on public occasions.
He had a smooth tongue, could make quite a favorable speech, and especially with good effect could he expatiate on the backwardness of others. Underneath he really was the most unlettered man in the vicinity, but he had perfect control over his inborn cunningness, which allowed him for a long time to go triumphantly through life as a man of great ability.
One time, for instance, he lost his tail in an iron trap. He had long attempted to reach the Boer’s goose pen, and had framed many good plans, but when he came to his senses, he was sitting in front of the goose pen with his tail in the iron trap, the dogs all the time coming for him. When he realized what it meant, he mustered together all his strength and pulled his tail, which he always thought so much of, clean off.
This would immediately have made him the butt of the whole neighborhood had he not thought of a plan. He called together a meeting of the jackals, and made them believe that Lion had issued a proclamation to the effect that all jackals in the future should be tailless, because their beautiful tails were a thorn in the eyes of more unfortunate animals.
In his smooth way he told them how he regretted that the king should have the barbaric right to interfere with his subjects. But so it was; and he thought the sooner he paid attention to it the safer. Therefore he had had his tail cut off already and he should advise all his friends to do the same. And so it happened that once all jackals for a long time were without tails. Later on they grew again.
It was about the same time that Tiger hired Jackal as a schoolmaster. Tiger was in those days the richest man in the surrounding country, and as he had had to suffer a great deal himself because he was so untutored, he wanted his children to have the best education that could be obtained.
It was shortly after a meeting, in which it was shown how important a thing an education was, that Tiger approached Jackal and asked him to come and teach his children.
Jackal was very ready to do this. It was not exactly his vocation, he said, but he would do it to pass time and just out of friendship for his neighbor. His and Tiger’s farm lands lay next each other.
That he did not make teaching his profession and that he possessed no degree was of no account in the eyes of Tiger.
“Do not praise my goodness so much, Cousin Jackal,” laughed he. “We know your worth well enough. Much rather would I intrust my offspring to you than to the many so-called schoolmasters, for it is especially my wish, as well as that of their mother, to have our children obtain a progressive education, and to make such men and women of them that with the same ability as you have they can take their lawful places in this world.”
“One condition,” said Jackal, “I must state. It will be very inconvenient for me, almost impossible, to come here to your farm and hold school. My own farm would in that case go to pieces, and that I cannot let happen. It would never pay me.”
Tiger answered that it was not exactly necessary either. In spite of their attachment to the little ones, they saw that it would probably be to their benefit to place them for a while in a stranger’s house.
Jackal then told of his own bringing up by Wolf. He remembered well how small he was when his father sent him away to study with Wolf. Naturally, since then, he had passed through many schools, Wolf was only his first teacher. And only in his later days did he realize how much good it had done him.
“A man must bend the sapling while it is still young,” said he. “There is no time that the child is so open to impressions as when he is plastic, about the age that most of your children are at present, and I was just thinking you would be doing a wise thing to send them away for quite a while.”
He had, fortunately, just then a room in his house that would be suited for a schoolroom, and his wife could easily make some arrangement for their lodging, even if they had to enlarge their dwelling somewhat.
It was then and there agreed upon. Tiger’s wife was then consulted about one thing and another, and the following day the children were to leave.
“I have just thought of one more thing,” remarked Jackal, “seven children, besides my little lot, will be quite a care on our hands, so you will have to send over each week a fat lamb, and in order not to disturb their progress, the children will have to relinquish the idea of a vacation spent with you for some time. When I think they have become used to the bit, I will inform you, and then you can come and take them to make you a short visit, but not until then.
On the following day there was an unearthly howling and wailing when the children were to leave. But Tiger and their mother showed them that it was best and that some day they would see that it was all for their good, and that their parents were doing it out of kindness. Eventually they were gone.
The first Saturday dawned, and early that morning Mrs. Tiger was on her way to Jackal’s dwelling, because she could not defer the time any longer.
She was still a long way off when Jackal caught sight of her. He always observed neighborly customs, and so stepped out to meet her.
After they had greeted each other, Mrs. Tiger’s first question was: “Well, Cousin Jackal, how goes everything with the small team? Are they still all well and happy, and do they not trouble you, Cousin Jackal, too much?”
“Oh, my goodness, no, Mrs. Tiger,” answered Jackal enthusiastically, “but don’t let us talk so loud, because if they heard you, it certainly would cause them many heartfelt tears and they might also want to go back with you and then all our trouble would have been for nothing.”
“But I would like to see them, Cousin Jackal,” said Mrs. Tiger a little disturbed.
“Why certainly, Mrs. Tiger,” was his answer, “but I do not think it is wise for them to see you. I will lift them up to the window one by one, and then you can put your mind at rest concerning their health and progress.”
After Mr. and Mrs. Jackal and Mrs. Tiger had sat together for some time drinking coffee and talking over one thing and another, Jackal took Tiger’s wife to a door and told her to look through it, out upon the back yard. There he would show her the children one by one, while they would not be able to see her. Everything was done exactly as Jackal had said, but the sixth little tiger he picked up twice, because the firstborn he had the day before prepared in pickle for their Sunday meal.
And so it happened every Saturday until the last little tiger—which was the youngest—had to be lifted up seven times in succession.
And when Mrs. Tiger came again the following week all was still as death and everything seemed to have a deserted appearance on the estate. She walked straight to the front door, and there she found a letter in the poll grass near the door, which read thus:
“We have gone for a picnic with the children. From there we will ride by Jackalsdance for New Year. This is necessary for the completion of their progressive education.”Jackal.
Saturday after Saturday did Mrs. Tiger go and look, but every time Jackal’s house seemed to look more deserted; and after a while there was a spider’s web over the door and the trail of Snake showed that he, too, had taken up his abode there.