Talking Thrush, The: And Other Tales from India | Annotated Tale

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Cunning Jackal, The; or, the Biter Bit

A JACKAL lived on one side of a deep river, and on the other side were fields upon fields of ripe melons. The Jackal was always hungry, and he had eaten everything within reach; so he used to sit on the river bank and bemoan his luck. "All those ripe melons," said he, "and nobody to eat them but men. It is really a shame. I don't know what Providence is doing, to treat me so scurvily."

               Perhaps Providence knew what it was about, and the Jackal, as you shall hear, deserved no better than he got.

               As he sat one day by the river, moaning and groaning, a big Tortoise popped up his funny head out of the water. There was a big tear in each of the Tortoise's round eyes.

               The Jackal stopped moaning and groaning when he saw the Tortoise. "What's the matter, Shelly?" said he. "Aren't you well?"

               "Quite well, thank you," said the Tortoise, and the tears slowly rolled down his nose. He was going to call the Jackal Snarly, which was the nickname the Jackal went by; but he thought better of it, because it would have been rather rude. All the same, he did not like being called Shelly in that offhand way.

               "Wife and brats all right?" asked the Jackal. "No measles or mumps?"

               This was also very rude of the Jackal, because a Tortoise is sensitive about mumps. If he gets mumps when his head is inside his shell, he can't put it out; and if his head is outside, that is still worse, for it swells up so that he can't get it in again.

               "No, thank you, my wife is all right," said the Tortoise, who was rather confused; "at least, she would be all right if I had one, but that's just it--I can't get a wife! Nobody will look at me! and that is my trouble," and two more big tears trickled down his nose.

               At this moment an idea came into the Jackal's crafty head. "What a pity you didn't tell me before," said he; "I could easily have found you a wife last week, but now she has gone to live on the other side of the river."

               "Do you really mean it?" said the Tortoise.

               "Honour bright," answered the Jackal; "do I look like a person who would tell a lie?" He certainly did, only the Tortoise was too simple to see it.

               The Tortoise rubbed away his tears on a stump, for he had no handkerchief, and brightened up considerably.

               "I can carry you across, friend," said he, "if you will jump on my back."

               The Jackal wanted nothing better, so down he jumped on the back of the Tortoise, and the Tortoise swam across. When they got across, the Tortoise was quite tired, because the Jackal was very heavy for a Tortoise to carry.

               A fine time the Jackal had on the further side of the river. He ran about among the fields, and ate melons till he was nearly bursting. Every day the Tortoise came to the bank, asking whether the match was yet arranged, and every day the Jackal told him that all was going well. "You have no notion how pleased they are," said the Jackal. "Just see how fat I am getting. They feed me like a fighting-cock, all because of you." It was indeed because of the Tortoise that the Jackal was so well fed, but not as he meant it.

               By-and-by the season of melons came to an end, and all that the Jackal had left were cut and sold in the market. Melons were dear that season, because the Jackal had eaten so many of them before they could be cut. Then the Jackal stole a white dress and a veil, and hung them on the stump of a tree which stood near the river side; and next day, when the Tortoise popped his funny head out of the water, said the Jackal--

               "There's your wife at last, old Shelly! There she stands, dumb as a stone. Not a word will she have to say to you till I am out of the way, because she is too modest. Come, hurry up, Shell-fish, and take me across."

               The Tortoise was angry at being called a shell-fish, because tortoises are not fish at all, and they feel insulted if you call them so. However, he was so glad to get a wife at last, that he said nothing, only presented his back for the Jackal to jump on. Flop! came the Jackal, so heavy by this time that it was all the Tortoise could do to get him across safely. If he was tired before, he was nearly dead now. But he swam across at last; and the Jackal ran off into the forest, chuckling at the simplicity of the poor Tortoise.

               Back went our Tortoise across the river, and climbed up on the bank.

               "Wife!" he called out, in a tender voice.

               No answer.

               Again he called "Wife!" but still no answer.

               He could not make it out a bit. He crawled up to the stump which the Jackal had decked out in wedding finery, and put out his flapper to touch his wife's hand: lo and behold, it was only an old tree-stump.

               The rage of the Tortoise knew no bounds, and he determined to have his revenge.

               Next day the Jackal came down to drink at the river. The Tortoise was watching for him under water; and while the Jackal was drinking, the Tortoise nipped his teeth into the Jackal's leg.

               How the Jackal did howl, to be sure! He was a great coward, and even used to cry when his teeth were pulled out by the dentist. So now he howled at the top of his voice, "Let me go! Let me go!"

But the Tortoise held on like grim death. He was           
too weak to pull the Jackal under, but he was too heavy           
for the Jackal to pull out; so there he bides his time.           
By-and-by the tide began to rise. The tide rose to the           
Jackal's middle, it rose to his head; and his last howls           
came up from underneath the water in big           
bubbles, which showed that the crafty           
Jackal would play his mean           
tricks never more.           


Told by Bal Bír Prasád, teacher of the school at Sultánpur, Oudh.

A Jackal sees melons on the other side of a river—Sees a Tortoise—"How are you and your family?" "I am well, but I have no wife." "Why did you not tell me? some people on the other side have asked me to find a match for their daughter." "If you mean it I will take you across"—Takes him across on his back—When the melons are over the Jackal dresses up a jhau-tree as a bride—"There is your bride, but she is too modest to speak till I am gone"—Tortoise carries him back—Calls to the stump—No answer—Goes up and touches it—Finds it is a tree—Vows revenge—As Jackal drinks, catches his leg—"You fool, you have got hold of a stump by mistake; see, here is my leg," pointing to a stump—Tortoise leaves hold—Jackal escapes—Tortoise goes to Jackal's den—Jackal returns and sees the footprints leading into the den—Piles dry leaves at the mouth, and fires them—Tortoise expires.

This is an unpublished variant of the "Jackal and the Crocodile" (Temple, "Wide-awake Stories," 243).

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Cunning Jackal, The; or, the Biter Bit
Tale Author/Editor: Crooke, W. & Rouse, W. H. D.
Book Title: Talking Thrush, The: And Other Tales from India
Book Author/Editor: Crooke, W. & Rouse, W. H. D.
Publisher: E. P. Dutton & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1922
Country of Origin: India
Classification: unclassified

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