ONCE upon a time there was a family of six hares, who were all of them wise except one, who was the youngest, and although his brothers tried in every way to teach him and keep him from doing silly things, the other animals in the forest soon found out that at last there had been born a hare who was a fool.
One day this foolish hare was walking alone in the forest when he met a crafty old leopard, who said: "I was just coming to see you; I am in rather a difficulty, and I want you to lend me three goats." The foolish hare was quite flattered that a big animal like a leopard should borrow from him, and he ran home quickly and fetched the goats.
"I will pay you the day after to-morrow," said the leopard. But time passed, and no payment arrived, so the hare went to the leopard's house and said: "If you cannot pay me I shall have to tell my brothers, for I have to give them an account of all my things."
The leopard said: "I was just thinking of that debt when you arrived, and to-morrow I am going to fetch my goats from the islands and I will pay you, but if you have never been to the islands perhaps you would like to come with me."
The hare thought it would be a great adventure, and he foolishly said in his heart: "If I have been for a journey like that perhaps my brothers will believe that I am getting wise." So he arranged to meet the leopard at the lake shore next day, and bring with him three small parcels of food, which the leopard said would be needed.
The next morning they crossed over to the islands in a canoe, and near the landing-place was a big tree with a hole in it near the ground. "Put your three parcels in here," said the leopard, "for everyone who comes to these islands must pay tribute to Mukasa the wizard."
When they had walked some way the leopard sat down to rest and pulled some monkey-nuts out of his bag and began to eat. The poor hare had nothing, and the leopard only said: "Foolish people never look ahead–wise men are always prepared." A little farther on they came to a market, and the leopard called for banana beer, but when it was brought he said to the hare:
"This beer is full of dregs; I always drink banana beer through a straw; go and fetch one from the jungle near by." When the hare returned with the straw he found the leopard had drunk all the beer.
They walked on again until they came to the house where they were to spend the night, and the poor hare, hot and weary and hungry, lay down at once and was soon fast asleep.
Then the leopard crept out and stole a goat, and sprinkled some of the blood up the path to the house and smeared it on the paws of the hare, who was so sound asleep that he heard nothing.
In the early morning the owner of the goat found he had been robbed, and he followed the blood marks up to the house and found the little hare still sound asleep, all smeared and dirty, and he caught him and took him to the Island Council, and the chiefs said he was a cattle-stealer and must be killed.
The leopard went home much pleased, for he thought no one in the forest would know what he had done on the islands; but the forest is full of eyes and ears, and two weaver-birds who lived in a tree under his home had heard all his conversation with the hare, and they followed them to the islands and saw all that had happened, and came and told the five wise hares all about it. When the leopard returned the hares visited him and said:
"While you were away our young brother died and we are settling up his affairs and find that you owed him three goats."
The leopard was much annoyed, but he did not show it. He just said: "I keep all my goats on the islands where the pasture is very good; if one of you will come with me he shall choose three goats from my herd."
So one of the brothers went with him, and they arrived on the islands, and each put three parcels of food into the hollow tree for Mukasa the wizard.
In a little while the leopard sat down to rest and pulled out some monkey-nuts from his bag. The hare also began eating monkey-nuts, and said: "Wise men are always prepared; it is only foolish people who do not look ahead."
The leopard was very angry, but he did not show it, and they went on till they came to the market; but the hare cut a nice straw as they went through the jungle and hid it in his bag.
When the leopard called for banana beer the hare said politely: "Would you like a straw? Some people drink beer through a straw."
The leopard was almost too angry to speak, and they went on till they came to the house where they had arranged to spend the night. Then the hare took two bright polished cowrie shells and tied them over his eyes and lay down to sleep.
In the night the leopard crept out and stole a goat and sprinkled the blood on the path up to the house and went in, but he saw the gleaming white cowrie shells, and he thought they were the hare's eyes, and that he was still awake. So he waited and waited, and at last the day dawned, and the owner of the goat traced the blood marks up to the house and found the leopard all dirty and smeared, and took him to the Island Council, and the chiefs said he was a cattle-stealer and must be killed.
Then the wise hare returned to the forest and told his brothers all that had happened, and they thanked the weaver-birds for what they had done to help them in avenging their foolish young brother, and I never heard of another foolish hare from that time.