A Fable (Told on the Pagoda TALES OF BURMAH, 1895) by Mimosa

TWO dogs walked in the jungle together. The day was intensely hot, the rays of the sun, hardly tempered with any shade, fell through the towering bamboos and palm-trees down on their tired heads.

They had come far; the way was very rough, the undergrowth very tangled and dense. There seemed to be no end to it. Their vision in front was obscured by the extraordinary wealth of orchids and green foliage that was gracefully but thickly festooned from branch to branch.

Snakes glided away in the deep grass. Monkeys, squirrels, and birds of all kinds contended for the undisputed possession of the different trees.

“I am very tired; I don’t think I can go much farther,” said the lady dog, who was small and delicate, to her companion.

“So also am I,” was the answer.

“It was foolish ever to have come,” grumbled the first.

“It was your fault,” snapped the second.

“I did not say it wasn’t, did I?” retorted the other, who, female-like, had the last word.

Then they went on in silence for awhile. They both felt cross and hungry; and when you are hungry and a dog bananas are not very satisfying, and they were the only things near.

Presently they came to where a small stream flowed; the water was quite warm, but they drank it and were grateful.

Then they rested, going on again just when the last rays of the sun still showed above the dusky palm tops.

They hoped to reach a village before nightfall; but they were doomed to be disappointed. There was not a sign of any habitation near when the darkness began to close around. The stars twinkled brightly in a clear violet sky of wondrous brilliancy. Close beside them was a tiger’s den—empty. They crept in and sank down, too weary to go further.

There were signs of its having been recently occupied, but they did not heed them; and gnawed ravenously at some half-eaten bones that were strewed about.

Then they curled themselves up in one corner and slept. After a few hours the lady dog woke up and looked about her. Through the opening she saw the moonlight falling on the country outside; everything was strangely still, save for the distant cry of the jackal, and the healthy snoring of her spouse, who reposed in the corner. She felt alarmed, she could not exactly have told why, and awakened her companion, who grumbled not a little at being thus rudely roused from his slumbers.

“Supposing,” began his companion, not heeding his displeasure, “that the tiger was to return.”

“What!” cried the listener, sharply jumping up in extreme alarm at the bare suggestion.

“Don’t make that unearthly noise,” said the lady, calmly. “I only said supposing, and I was going to ask you what we should do in such a case.”

“Do! why, what could we do?—nothing, of course,” was the somewhat contemptuous reply.

Just then an ominous crackling of the branches outside made them prick their ears. Creeping close to the opening, they looked out and saw in the distance a large tiger coming towards them, a white light, clear almost as the dawn, fell about him, showing his big head and striped back. The watchers trembled exceedingly, and their teeth rattled.

“There is no time to be lost,” exclaimed the lady in a hoarse whisper. “We must trust to his never having seen any like us before, and we must try and frighten him.”

“Humbug and nonsense! Fancy our frightening a tiger,” said the gentleman dog with infinite scorn.

“Never mind, we’ll try; you sit at the door while I remain in here. When I roar—well, you’ll see the effect.”

The dog very unwillingly took up his position at the entrance to the lair, and waited. In a second almost the great beast came slouching along; his gleaming eyes glanced hither and thither, and there was blood upon his mouth. Seeing the dog, he came to an abrupt pause, and stared, then came a little nearer, but very cautiously.

Just then there came a cry from within, accompanied by the words, “I am hungry, very hungry, and so are the little ones, they crave more tiger’s flesh; be quick and bring it.”

The tiger, hearing, waited for no more, but turned and fled into the night. He knew not what he had seen, but the words that he had heard had turned him cold with fear.

He flew on away into the wood, not heeding where he went. Then, just as the first rose flush of dawn overspread the sky, he sank down exhausted, with a cold perspiration all over him. He fell into a troubled, weary doze, from whence he was awakened by a banana dexterously aimed, hitting him in the eye. Looking up he saw a brown monkey swinging itself on the branch of a tree opposite, and regarding him with all that gleeful self-satisfaction which a monkey is alone capable of.

“Well, my friend,” it cried, mockingly, “what has put you out? You look strangely pale and upset this morning.”

“I have had sufficient cause,” answered the tiger, rising and shaking himself; “for when I went home last night I found it filled by the most peculiar-looking animals that I have ever seen, who shouted for my flesh.”

The listener cocked its ugly little head on one side as it munched bananas, and asked, “What were they like?”

“Don’t ask me,” exclaimed the tiger. “I was too frightened to see anything save that they were white.”

The monkey flung itself up higher among the boughs and laughed loudly and long.

“If you don’t stop that hideous noise I’ll kill you,” called out the tiger very angrily, regardless of the fact that he could not get within miles of his tormentor.

“Ha, ha! my friend,” shouted the monkey, “the things that you were frightened of were two poor lean dogs, that went by here yesterday. What a great coward you are!”

“Coward or no coward, they would have killed me and eaten me.”

“Eaten you! Oh, you great silly goose! With all your travels you don’t know any more than that dogs can’t kill you. You can kill dogs.”

“I don’t believe you,” protested the tiger stolidly.

“Don’t then,” said the monkey, laconically, as he turned a somersault.

There was silence for a while. The tiger sat down dejectedly while the monkey watched him through the leaves and chuckled maliciously, continuing to eat noiselessly as he watched.

Having once had sufficient himself, he was not indisposed to be a little generous, so, taking some berries in one brown paw, he climbed down nearer the ground, and tendered them to his melancholy friend as an overture, saying as he did so—

“Eat and forget for awhile.”

“I can never forget the loss of my dear home,” was the melancholy reply.

“Nonsense,” retorted the other one, who was practical, not sentimental, and who had a hundred homes all equally comfortable in the forest.

“It’s no nonsense,” said the tiger, shaking his head.

“Well,” exclaimed the monkey, after a few seconds, “if you really are afraid to go back, which is ridiculous, I will come with you, for I fear no dogs.”

“I wouldn’t trust you,” replied the tiger, ungraciously. “You have played me a scurvy trick or two before now.”

The monkey became indignant, saying, “It is just like your mean, suspicious nature to speak so to a friend who, out of pure good nature, is willing to do you a turn. What motive can I have save generosity?—no good can accrue to me personally.”

The tiger grunted an unwilling assent, and began to think seriously of accepting the offer.

“Well,” he said at last, “if you will consent to be tied to my tail, and to go in first to the den, my back being to you, and face the dog, I am willing.”

“Agreed,” answered the monkey, who was an interfering little creature, and was longing to have his finger in the pie.

So they went, the monkey tied to his friend’s tail, chattering all the way.

“Now,” said the tiger, who was sullen and afraid as they came in sight of his lair, “if you don’t behave fairly to me I will murder you, that’s all.”

“Never fear; I won’t give you the opportunity of carrying out your amiable intention, because I shall act only as your true friend,” replied the monkey.

Then he pushed aside the thick-growing foliage and entered into the cave, the tiger keeping as far away as possible, his hind-legs inside and the rest of him out. The dogs were lying down, but roused themselves on seeing their visitor.

“Well, monkey,” shouted one, “so you have come at last, but that,” looking behind him, “is a very lean tiger that you have brought. Why do you do so when you know that we like them so sleek and fat, and——” but the monkey heard no more. He was gone—jerked violently away by the tiger, who, suspecting his fidelity all along, was convinced of his perfidy by the words of the dog’s greeting.

Away, away he sped, without turning back, over hill and dale, bump, bump, bang, bang, went the poor monkey’s body, while he vainly protested his innocence in breathless, terrified shrieks. At last death came and ended his pain.

The two dogs sat and watched them till their eyes grew tired.

They laughed greatly as one said to the other, “See what happened to the monkey for interfering in other people’s business.”

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