Sagas from the Far East; or, Kalmouk and Mongolian Traditionary Tales | Annotated Tale

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Perfidious Friend, The


Wherefore the Well-and-wise-walking Khan once more took the way of the cool grove, and having brought thence the Siddhî-kür bound in his bag, and having eaten of his cake that never diminished to strengthen him for the journey, as they went along the Siddhî-kür told him this tale, saying,--


LONG ages ago there lived in a northern country of India a lioness who had her den in the side of a snow-capped mountain. One day she had been so long without food that she was near to have devoured her cub; determining, however, to make one effort first to spare it, she went out on a long journey till she came to a fair plain where there were a number of cows grazing. When she saw the herd of cows she could not refrain a terrible roar; but the cows, hearing the roar of the lioness, said one to another, "Let us make haste to escape from the lioness," and they all went their way. But there was one of the cows which had a calf, and because she could neither make the calf go fast enough to escape the lioness, nor could bring herself to forsake it, she remained behind and fell a prey to the wild beast. The lioness accordingly made a great feast, chiefly on the blood of the cow, and carried the flesh and the bones to her den.

               The calf followed the traces of its mother's flesh, and when the lioness lay down to sleep the calf came along with her own cub to suck, and the lioness being overcome, and as it were drunken with the blood she had taken, failed to perceive what the calf did. In the morning, as the calf had drunk her milk, she forbore to slay it, and the calf and the cub were suckled together. After two or three days, when there was nothing left for the lioness to eat but a few bones of the cow, she devoured them so greedily in her hunger that one big knuckle-bone stuck in her throat, and as she could by no means get it out again, she was throttled by it till she died. Before dying she spoke thus to the calf and the cub, "You two, who have been suckled with the same milk, must live at peace with each other. If some day an enemy comes to you and tries to set you one against the other, pay no heed to his words, but remain at one as before." Thus she charged them.

               When the lioness was dead the cub betook himself into the forest, and the calf found its way to the sunny slope of a mountain side; but at the hour of evening they went down to the stream together to drink, and after that they disported themselves together.

               There was a fox, however, who had been used to feed on the remnants of the lion's meals, and continued now to profit by those of the cub; he saw with a jealous eye this growing intimacy with the calf, and determined to set them at variance (2).

               One day, therefore, when the cub had just killed a beast and lay sucking its blood, the fox came to him with his tail no longer cockily curled up on his back, but low, sweeping the ground, and his ears drooping. When the cub saw him in this plight, he exclaimed, "Fox! what hath befallen thee? Tell me thy grief, and console thyself the while with a bite of this hind." But the fox, putting on a doleful tone, answered him, "How should I, thine uncle, take pleasure in eating flesh when thou hast an enemy? hence is all pleasure gone from me." But the cub answered carelessly, "It is not likely any one should be my enemy, fox; therefore set to and eat this hind's flesh." "If thou refusest in this lighthearted way to listen to the words of thine uncle," answered the fox, "so shall the day come when thou wilt berue it." "Who then, pray, is this mine enemy?" at last inquired the cub. "Who should it be but this calf? Saith he not always, 'The lioness killed my mother; therefore when I am strong enough I will kill the cub.'" "Nay, but we two are brothers," replied the cub; "the calf has no bad thoughts towards me." "Knowest thou then really not that thy mother killed his mother?" exclaimed the fox. And the cub thought within himself, "What the fox says is nevertheless true; and, further, is he not mine uncle, and what gain should he have to deceive me?" Then said he aloud, "By what manner of means does the calf purpose to kill me? tell me, I pray." And the fox made answer, "When he wakes to-morrow morning, observe thou him, and if he stretches himself and then digs his horns into the earth, and shakes his tail and bellows, know that it is a sure token he is minded to kill thee." The cub, his suspicions beginning to be excited, promised to be upon his guard and to observe the calf.

               Having succeeded thus far the fox went his way, directing his steps to the sunny side of the mountain slope where the calf was grazing. With his tail trailing on the ground, and his ears drooping, he stood before the calf. "Fox! what aileth thee?" inquired the calf cheerily; "come and tell me thy grief." But the fox answered, "Not for myself do I grieve. It is because thou, O calf! hast an enemy; therefore do I grieve." But the calf answered, "Be comforted, fox, for it is not likely any should be an enemy to me." Then replied the fox, "Beware thou disregard not my words, for if thou do, of a certainty a day shall come when thou shalt berue it." But the calf inquired, saying, "Who then could this enemy possibly be?" And the fox told him, saying, "Who should it be other than the lion-cub in the forest on the other side the mountain? Behold! doth he not use to say, 'Even as my mother killed and devoured his mother, so also will I kill and devour him.'" "Let not this disturb thee, fox," interposed the calf, "for we two are brothers; he hath no bad thoughts against me." But the fox warned him again, saying, "Of a surety, if thou disregard my words thou shalt berue it. Behold! I have warned thee." Then the calf began to think within himself, "Is it not true what he says that the cub's mother killed my mother; and, further, what gain should he, mine uncle, have in deceiving me?" Then said he aloud, "If thy warning be so true, tell me further, I pray thee, by what manner of means doth he design to put me to death?" And the fox told him, saying, "When he wakes to-morrow morning observe thou him, and if he stretch himself and shake his mane, if he draws his claws out and in, and scratches up the earth with them, then know that it is a sure token he is minded to slay thee." The calf, his suspicions beginning to be awakened, promised to be upon his guard and to observe the cub.

               The next morning, when they woke, each observed the other as he had promised the fox, and each by natural habit, which the fox had observed of old, but they not, gave the signs he had set before them for a token. At this each was filled with wrath and suspicion against the other, and when at sunrise they both went down to the stream to drink, the cub growled at the calf, and the calf bellowed at the cub. Hence further convinced of each other's bad intentions, they each determined at the same instant to be beforehand with the other. The calf dug his horns into the breast of the cub and gored it open, and the cub sprang upon the calf's throat and made a formidable wound, from whence the blood poured out. Thus they contended together till all the blood of both was poured out, and they died there before the face of the fox.

               Then came a voice out of svarga (3), saying, "Put never thy trust in a false friend, for so doing he shall put thee at enmity with him who is thy friend in truth."

               "Nevertheless, as the cub was killed as well as the calf, the perfidy of the fox profited him nothing as soon as he had made an end of eating their flesh!" exclaimed the Khan.

               And as he let these words escape him, the Siddhî-kür replied, "Forgetting his health, the Well-and-wise-walking Khan hath opened his lips." And with the cry, "To escape out of this world is good!" he sped him through the air, swift out of sight.


(1) See note 2, Tale XVII.

(2) The fox plays a similar part in many an Eastern fable. The first book of the Pantscha Tantra Collection is entitled Mitrabheda, or the Art of Mischief-making. A lion-king who has two foxes for his ministers falls into great alarm one day, because he hears for the first time in his life the roaring of an ox, which some merchants had left behind them because it was lame and sick. The lion consults his two ministers in this strait, and the two while laughing at his fears determine to entertain them in order to enhance their own usefulness. First they visit the ox and make sure he is quite infirm and harmless, and then they go to the lion, and tell him it is the terrible Ox-king, the bearer of Shiva, and that Shiva has sent him down into that forest to devour all the animals in it small and great. The lion is not surprised to hear his fears confirmed and entreats his ministers to find him a way out of the difficulty. The foxes pretend to undertake the negotiation and then go back to the ox and tell him it is the command of the king that he quit the forest. The ox pleads his age and infirmities and desolate condition, and the foxes having made him believe in the value of their services as intermediaries bring him to the lion. Both parties are immensely grateful to the ministers for having as each thinks softened the heart of the other, but the foxes begin to see they have taken a false step in bringing the ox to the lion, as they become such fast friends, that there is danger of their companionship being no longer sought by their master. They determine, therefore, the ox must be killed; but how are they to kill so disproportioned a victim? They must make the lion do the execution himself. But how? they are such sworn friends. They find the lion alone and fill his mind with alarm, assure him the ox is plotting to kill him. They hardly gain credit, but the lion promises to be on his guard; while they are on the watch also for any accident which may give colour to their design. Meantime, they keep up each other's courage by the narration of fables showing how by perseverance in cunning any perfidy may be accomplished. At last it happens one day that a frightful storm comes on while the ox is out grazing. He comes galloping back to seek the cover of the forest, shaking his head and sides to get rid of the heavy raindrops, tearing up the ground with his heavy hoofs in his speed, and his tail stretched out wildly behind. "See!" say the foxes to the lion; "see if we were not right. Behold how he comes tramping along ready to devour thee; see how his eyes glisten with fury, see how he gnashes his teeth, see how he tears up the earth with his powerful hoofs!" The lion cannot remain unconvinced in presence of such evidence. "Now is your moment," cry the foxes; "be beforehand with him before he reaches you." Thus instigated the lion falls upon the ox. The ox surprised at this extraordinary reception, and already out of breath, is thrown upon the defensive, and in his efforts to save himself the lion sees the proof of his intention to attack. Accordingly he sets no bounds to his fury, and has soon torn him in pieces. The foxes get the benefit of a feast for many days on his flesh, besides being reinstated in the full empire over their master. In one of the fables, however, the tables are cleverly turned on Reynard by "the sagacity of the bearded goat." An old he-goat having remained behind on the mountains, one day, when the rest of the herd went home, found himself suddenly in presence of a lion. Remembering that a moment's hesitation would be his death, he assumed a bold countenance and walked straight up to the lion. The lion, astonished at this unwonted procedure, thinks it must be some very extraordinary beast; and instead of setting upon it, after his wont, speaks civilly to it, saying, "Thou of the long beard, whence art thou?" The goat answered, "I am a devout servant of Shiva to whom I have promised to make sacrifice of twenty-one tigers, twenty-five elephants, and ten lions; the tigers and the elephants have I already slain, and now I am seeking for ten lions to slay." The lion hearing this formidable declaration, without waiting for more, turned him and fled. As he ran he fell in with a fox, who asked him whither he ran so fast. The lion gives a ridiculous description of the goat, dictated by his terror; the fox recognizes that it is only a goat, and thinking to profit by the remains of his flesh perfidiously urges him to go back and slaughter him. He accordingly goes back with this intention, but the goat is equal to the occasion, and turning sharply upon the fox, exclaims, "Did I not send thee out to fetch me ten lions for the sacrifice? How then darest thou to appear before me having only snared me one?" The lion thinking his reproaches genuine, once more turns tail and makes good his escape. It has much similarity with the episode of the hare and the wolf in the next tale.

(3) Svarga. See note 2, Tale XVII.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Perfidious Friend, The
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Sagas from the Far East; or, Kalmouk and Mongolian Traditionary Tales
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Griffith and Farran
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1873
Country of Origin: Mongolia & Russia
Classification: unclassified

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