OF ALL the animals in the forest the hare is the wisest, and the animals all know this.
Most of the animals hunt at night and sleep during the day, but the hare sleeps all night in his cosy little house and spends the day wide awake learning things. Sometimes he hides under a bush or the thick grass by the roadside, and his bright little eyes see all that passes, and he knows all about men and their customs, and he has learnt their language, so he understands what they are talking about.
In Uganda there is a great forest called the Mabira Forest, and once upon a time the animals in it were very unhappy, for they were ruled over by an old king lion who was fierce and cruel, and had only one friend in the forest, the hyena, who always went hunting with him and ate up any scraps the king lion left.
The hyena was a good-for-nothing, useless creature, who never did anything for anybody, a stupid animal with no brains and an idiotic laugh which all the other animals found most annoying.
Of all the creatures in the forests the one who hated him most was the hare.
Every night when he had settled down to sleep the lion would come by roaring on his way to hunt, and when he had passed and the hare had cuddled down again to sleep the hyena would pass, laughing in his silly way.
At last the animals could stand it no longer, and the hare thought of a plan to be rid of both of them.
"Sir," he said to the king lion, "I have bought a piece of land and want to farm it, but I am a weak and foolish creature; will you go into partnership with me and protect me?" The lion consented, for he thought in his cruel heart: "If there is any trouble I will eat up the hare and the land will be mine. "
"Let us have the hyena as third partner," said the hare; "he is so wise and so much respected in the forest."
The hyena was very much pleased, for he was too stupid to see that this was only flattery; he just laughed.
"Let us go and see this land at once," said the lion. So they started out.
"It is very dull just walking along," said the hare; "let us play a game as we go."
"What game can we play?" said the lion crossly. "All games are so silly."
"I know a nice game," said the hare. "If anyone trips he must tell the others what he was thinking about, and if it isn't interesting they will eat him."
The two partners agreed, for they knew the little hare couldn't eat them.
On they went, and suddenly the hare tripped. "What were you thinking about?" said the lion. "I was thinking," said the hare, "how the rocks grow. Is there as much under the ground as above?"
"That is a great thought," said the lion; "anyone might trip thinking that." So they went on.
Suddenly the hare tripped again. "What were you thinking about?" they asked him. "I was thinking," said the hare, "what happens to all the barkcloths. Every year the cloth-makers take the bark from the tree, and hammer it into barkcloth with mallets, and dry it in the Sun, and every year people buy new barkcloths. There must be thousands and thousands of barkcloths in the country; one would think they would be lying about in heaps, but it is not so."
"That is a great idea," said the lion, "and enough to make anyone trip."
The hyena just laughed, and they went on again. Suddenly the hyena tripped.
"What were you thinking of?" they asked. But the hyena had never thought of anything in his life; he just laughed in his silly way, and the lion said: "We will eat him now, I am hungry." But the hare said: "You may have my share; I don't eat hyenas," and he lay down and rested in the cool grass while the lion ate up his only friend.
When they started off again the hare said: "There is a hill over there from which there is a lovely view right over the River Nile, but I don't think we have time to go there."
"If I say there is time there is time," said the lion. "Let us go at once." So they began to climb the hill. At the top there were two great rocks with a narrow path between them, and the hare ran ahead to show the way, and the lion followed, but he was so fat after his big meal that he got stuck halfway through, and the hare rolled down a rock from above to block the path behind him, and the lion could not go either backwards or forwards, and he roared with rage.
Then the hare ran back to the forest and called the other animals to come to kill the lion, but when they arrived they found him dead. Then they all returned rejoicing, and chose the big grey elephant to be their king, and for many years there was peace and happiness in the Mabira Forest.