ONCE upon a time there was a family of Lions that lived in the Himalaya Mountains in a Golden Cave. They were three brothers and one sister. Near by was a silver mountain with a Crystal Cave, and in this Crystal Cave lived a Jackal.
The young Lions used to be out all day, hunting, while their sister kept everything neat and tidy at home. When they caught anything they used to keep a bit for her, because they were not greedy Lions, and they thought that if she did the work at home she deserved some of the game they got abroad.
Now this Jackal fell violently in love with the young Lioness. She was very beautiful, with soft brown fur, and large soft eyes, and fine whiskers; and he did not stop to think what a mongrel cur a Jackal looks beside a Lion, how small, and sneaking, and snarling; so that it was the height of impertinence even to think of such a thing. He did think of it, and more, he actually proposed to the Lioness! You shall hear how he did it.
He had the sense to wait until the three brothers had gone out hunting for food; and then he came and tapped on the rock at the mouth of the Golden Cave. The Lioness looked out, and very much surprised was the Lioness to see the Jackal there. She knew him by sight, of course, as a neighbour; and, indeed, when he was in his Crystal Cave you could always see him, perched up in the air as it might be; for you can see through crystal like glass, and it looked just as if there were nothing there. But they were not on visiting terms, so the Lioness was surprised to see him come tapping at her door. She gave him a distant bow, and waited.
"Beautiful Lioness!" said he, "I love you! see how much we are alike! You have four feet, and so have I; clearly we are made for one another. Will you marry me? We shall be so happy together!"
This offer so astonished the Lioness that she could say nothing. She hated the vile creature, vilest of all creatures; that he should dare to address himself to a royal lioness! a scavenger to a queen! The very thought of the insult made her furious. She resolved that, after such a thing as that had spoken to her, she might just as well die, either by holding her breath or by starving herself. As these thoughts passed through her mind the Jackal was waiting for his answer; but no answer he got. This seemed a pretty broad hint that he was not wanted there; so he went home again, very woebegone, with his tail between his legs, and lay down in his Crystal Cave in much misery.
By-and-by the eldest brother of the Lioness came home again, with a fine fat deer which he had killed. "Here, sister," he called out, "have a bit!"
She put on a very gloomy air. "No," she said, "I think I shall have to die."
"Why, what on earth is the matter?" asked he.
"A nasty, dirty Jackal came, and wanted to marry me!"
"The brute!" said her brother. "Where is he?"
"Can't you see him, lying up in the sky?" You know the crystal was transparent, and as she had never been there she could not tell he was really in a cave.
Off galloped the young Lion, furious with rage, and when he got near the place where the Jackal was lying in his Crystal Cave, he leaped at him, when--crack! went his skull against the wall of crystal, and down fell the Lion--dead!
Just as the Lioness was getting anxious about her eldest brother, the second came in. She told him the same tale, though she was beginning to be sorry that she was going to die. He had not hurt her, after all; and how nice the meat smelt! But the second Lion did not give her much time to think; he growled, and off he went, leaped into the air, cracked his crown against the wall of crystal, and fell down dead beside his brother.
Now when the third brother came in, the Lioness was quite sure she didn't mean to die. However, she looked as gloomy as ever, and told her brother what had happened; he had better go out and see what was become of the other two. Surely two Lions were a match for any Jackal! Still, there he was, as before, up in the air.
"Up in the air?" said the youngest brother, who was cleverer than all the rest put together. "Stuff and nonsense! Now let me think. There must be something for him to lie upon; and yet you can see through it." He scratched his head with one paw and looked wise. "I have it! Crystal, of course, or glass--that's what it is!" So up he jumped, and when he got near the Crystal Cave, there were his two brothers, dead, with their skulls cracked right across like a teacup.
He sat down again, and scratched his head with the other paw. "H'm! it looks as though it may be difficult to get at this Jackal. However, I'll try kindness first. Jackie, Jackie dear!" he called out.
Now you must know that Lions have a very loud voice, and, if you have heard them talking in the Zoo, you will know that even when they want to coax and purr they are enough to frighten you. And so the poor Jackal, who, after all, was not so bad as the proud Lioness made out, when he heard the Lion coaxing him down, thought "What an awful roar!" His heart was beating very hard before, but this time it gave such a leap that something went snap! And the Jackal was dead too.
Then the Lion looked up, and saw that the Jackal was dead. So he buried his brothers, and went and told his sister all about it. You might expect her to be sorry that her two brave brothers were dead, all because she held her nose so high in the air; but not a bit of it; she was quite satisfied so long as one was left to catch food for her. So she lived all the rest of her life in the Golden Cave, but I never heard that any other animal asked her to marry him.