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How The Leopard Got His Spots

from Just So Stories





IN the days when everybody started fair, Best Beloved, the Leopard
lived in a place called the High Veldt. 'Member it wasn't the Low Veldt,
or the Bush Veldt, or the Sour Veldt, but the 'sclusively bare, hot,
shiny High Veldt, where there was sand and sandy-coloured rock and
'sclusively tufts of sandy-yellowish grass. The Giraffe and the Zebra
and the Eland and the Koodoo and the Hartebeest lived there; and they
were 'sclusively sandy-yellow-brownish all over; but the Leopard, he was
the 'sclusivest sandiest-yellowish-brownest of them all--a
greyish-yellowish catty-shaped kind of beast, and he matched the
'sclusively yellowish-greyish-brownish colour of the High Veldt to one
hair. This was very bad for the Giraffe and the Zebra and the rest of
them; for he would lie down by a 'sclusively yellowish-greyish-brownish
stone or clump of grass, and when the Giraffe or the Zebra or the Eland
or the Koodoo or the Bush-Buck or the Bonte-Buck came by he would
surprise them out of their jumpsome lives. He would indeed! And, also,
there was an Ethiopian with bows and arrows (a 'sclusively
greyish-brownish-yellowish man he was then), who lived on the High Veldt
with the Leopard; and the two used to hunt together--the Ethiopian with
his bows and arrows, and the Leopard 'sclusively with his teeth and
claws--till the Giraffe and the Eland and the Koodoo and the Quagga and
all the rest of them didn't know which way to jump, Best Beloved. They
didn't indeed!

After a long time--things lived for ever so long in those days--they
learned to avoid anything that looked like a Leopard or an Ethiopian;
and bit by bit--the Giraffe began it, because his legs were the
longest--they went away from the High Veldt. They scuttled for days and
days and days till they came to a great forest, 'sclusively full of
trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-blatchy shadows, and there
they hid: and after another long time, what with standing half in the
shade and half out of it, and what with the slippery-slidy shadows of
the trees falling on them, the Giraffe grew blotchy, and the Zebra grew
stripy, and the Eland and the Koodoo grew darker, with little wavy grey
lines on their backs like bark on a tree trunk; and so, though you could
hear them and smell them, you could very seldom see them, and then only
when you knew precisely where to look. They had a beautiful time in the
'sclusively speckly-spickly shadows of the forest, while the Leopard and
the Ethiopian ran about over the 'sclusively greyish-yellowish-reddish
High Veldt outside, wondering where all their breakfasts and their
dinners and their teas had gone. At last they were so hungry that they
ate rats and beetles and rock-rabbits, the Leopard and the Ethiopian,
and then they had the Big Tummy-ache, both together; and then they met
Baviaan--the dog-headed, barking Baboon, who is Quite the Wisest Animal
in All South Africa.


Quite the Wisest Animal in All South Africa. I have drawn him from a
statue that I made up out of my own head, and I have written his name on
his belt and on his shoulder and on the thing he is sitting on. I have
written it in what is not called Coptic and Hieroglyphic and Cuneiformic
and Bengalic and Burmic and Hebric, all because he is so wise. He is not
beautiful, but he is very wise; and I should like to paint him with
paint-box colours, but I am not allowed. The umbrella-ish thing about
his head is his Conventional Mane.]

Said Leopard to Baviaan (and it was a very hot day), 'Where has all the
game gone?'

And Baviaan winked. He knew.

Said the Ethiopian to Baviaan, 'Can you tell me the present habitat of
the aboriginal Fauna?' (That meant just the same thing, but the
Ethiopian always used long words. He was a grown-up.)

And Baviaan winked. He knew.

Then said Baviaan, 'The game has gone into other spots; and my advice to
you, Leopard, is to go into other spots as soon as you can.'

And the Ethiopian said, 'That is all very fine, but I wish to know
whither the aboriginal Fauna has migrated.'

Then said Baviaan, 'The aboriginal Fauna has joined the aboriginal Flora
because it was high time for a change; and my advice to you, Ethiopian,
is to change as soon as you can.'

That puzzled the Leopard and the Ethiopian, but they set off to look
for the aboriginal Flora, and presently, after ever so many days, they
saw a great, high, tall forest full of tree trunks all 'sclusively
speckled and sprottled and spottled, dotted and splashed and slashed and
hatched and cross-hatched with shadows. (Say that quickly aloud, and you
will see how very shadowy the forest must have been.)

'What is this,' said the Leopard, 'that is so 'sclusively dark, and yet
so full of little pieces of light?'

'I don't know,' said the Ethiopian, 'but it ought to be the aboriginal
Flora. I can smell Giraffe, and I can hear Giraffe, but I can't see
Giraffe.'

'That's curious,' said the Leopard. 'I suppose it is because we have
just come in out of the sunshine. I can smell Zebra, and I can hear
Zebra, but I can't see Zebra.'

'Wait a bit,' said the Ethiopian. 'It's a long time since we've hunted
'em. Perhaps we've forgotten what they were like.'

'Fiddle!' said the Leopard. 'I remember them perfectly on the High
Veldt, especially their marrow-bones. Giraffe is about seventeen feet
high, of a 'sclusively fulvous golden-yellow from head to heel; and
Zebra is about four and a half feet high, of a 'sclusively grey-fawn
colour from head to heel.'

'Umm,' said the Ethiopian, looking into the speckly-spickly shadows of
the aboriginal Flora-forest. 'Then they ought to show up in this dark
place like ripe bananas in a smoke-house.'

But they didn't. The Leopard and the Ethiopian hunted all day; and
though they could smell them and hear them, they never saw one of them.

'For goodness' sake,' said the Leopard at tea-time, 'let us wait till it
gets dark. This daylight hunting is a perfect scandal.'

So they waited till dark, and then the Leopard heard something breathing
sniffily in the starlight that fell all stripy through the branches, and
he jumped at the noise, and it smelt like Zebra, and it felt like Zebra,
and when he knocked it down it kicked like Zebra, but he couldn't see
it. So he said, 'Be quiet, O you person without any form. I am going to
sit on your head till morning, because there is something about you that
I don't understand.'

Presently he heard a grunt and a crash and a scramble, and the Ethiopian
called out, 'I've caught a thing that I can't see. It smells like
Giraffe, and it kicks like Giraffe, but it hasn't any form.'

'Don't you trust it,' said the Leopard. 'Sit on its head till the
morning--same as me. They haven't any form--any of 'em.'

* * * * *

So they sat down on them hard till bright morning-time, and then Leopard
said, 'What have you at your end of the table, Brother?'

The Ethiopian scratched his head and said, 'It ought to be 'sclusively a
rich fulvous orange-tawny from head to heel, and it ought to be Giraffe;
but it is covered all over with chestnut blotches. What have you at
your end of the table, Brother?'

And the Leopard scratched his head and said, 'It ought to be 'sclusively
a delicate greyish-fawn, and it ought to be Zebra; but it is covered all
over with black and purple stripes. What in the world have you been
doing to yourself, Zebra? Don't you know that if you were on the High
Veldt I could see you ten miles off? You haven't any form.'

'Yes,' said the Zebra, 'but this isn't the High Veldt. Can't you see?'

'I can now,' said the Leopard. 'But I couldn't all yesterday. How is it
done?'

'Let us up,' said the Zebra, 'and we will show you.'

They let the Zebra and the Giraffe get up; and Zebra moved away to some
little thorn-bushes where the sunlight fell all stripy, and Giraffe
moved off to some tallish trees where the shadows fell all blotchy.

'Now watch,' said the Zebra and the Giraffe. 'This is the way it's done.
One--two--three! And where's your breakfast?'

Leopard stared, and Ethiopian stared, but all they could see were stripy
shadows and blotched shadows in the forest, but never a sign of Zebra
and Giraffe. They had just walked off and hidden themselves in the
shadowy forest.

'Hi! Hi!' said the Ethiopian. 'That's a trick worth learning. Take a
lesson by it, Leopard. You show up in this dark place like a bar of soap
in a coal-scuttle.'

'Ho! Ho!' said the Leopard. 'Would it surprise you very much to know
that you show up in this dark place like a mustard-plaster on a sack of
coals?'

Well, calling names won't catch dinner, said the Ethiopian. 'The long
and the little of it is that we don't match our backgrounds. I'm going
to take Baviaan's advice. He told me I ought to change; and as I've
nothing to change except my skin I'm going to change that.'

'What to?' said the Leopard, tremendously excited.

'To a nice working blackish-brownish colour, with a little purple in it,
and touches of slaty-blue. It will be the very thing for hiding in
hollows and behind trees.'

So he changed his skin then and there, and the Leopard was more excited
than ever; he had never seen a man change his skin before.

'But what about me?' he said, when the Ethiopian had worked his last
little finger into his fine new black skin.

'You take Baviaan's advice too. He told you to go into spots.'

'So I did,' said the Leopard. 'I went into other spots as fast as I
could. I went into this spot with you, and a lot of good it has done
me.'

'Oh,' said the Ethiopian, 'Baviaan didn't mean spots in South Africa. He
meant spots on your skin.'

'What's the use of that?' said the Leopard.

'Think of Giraffe,' said the Ethiopian. 'Or if you prefer stripes,
think of Zebra. They find their spots and stripes give them perfect
satisfaction.'

'Umm,' said the Leopard. 'I wouldn't look like Zebra--not for ever so.'

'Well, make up your mind,' said the Ethiopian, 'because I'd hate to go
hunting without you, but I must if you insist on looking like a
sun-flower against a tarred fence.'

'I'll take spots, then,' said the Leopard; 'but don't make 'em too
vulgar-big. I wouldn't look like Giraffe--not for ever so.'

'I'll make 'em with the tips of my fingers,' said the Ethiopian.
'There's plenty of black left on my skin still. Stand over!'

Then the Ethiopian put his five fingers close together (there was plenty
of black left on his new skin still) and pressed them all over the
Leopard, and wherever the five fingers touched they left five little
black marks, all close together. You can see them on any Leopard's skin
you like, Best Beloved. Sometimes the fingers slipped and the marks got
a little blurred; but if you look closely at any Leopard now you will
see that there are always five spots--off five fat black finger-tips.


after they had taken Wise Baviaan's advice and the Leopard had gone
into other spots and the Ethiopian had changed his skin. The Ethiopian
was really a negro, and so his name was Sambo. The Leopard was
called Spots, and he has been called Spots ever since. They are out
hunting in the spickly-speckly forest, and they are looking for Mr.
One-Two-Three-Where's-your-Breakfast. If you look a little you will see
Mr. One-Two-Three not far away. The Ethiopian has hidden behind a
splotchy-blotchy tree because it matches his skin, and the Leopard is
lying beside a spickly-speckly bank of stones because it matches his
spots. Mr. One-Two-Three-Where's-your-Breakfast is standing up eating
leaves from a tall tree. This is really a puzzle-picture like 'Find the
Cat.']

'Now you are a beauty!' said the Ethiopian. 'You can lie out on
the bare ground and look like a heap of pebbles. You can lie out on the
naked rocks and look like a piece of pudding-stone. You can lie out on a
leafy branch and look like sunshine sifting through the leaves; and you
can lie right across the centre of a path and look like nothing in
particular. Think of that and purr!'

'But if I'm all this,' said the Leopard, 'why didn't you go spotty too?'

'Oh, plain black's best for a nigger,' said the Ethiopian. 'Now come
along and we'll see if we can't get even with Mr.
One-Two-Three-Where's-your-Breakfast!'

* * * * *

So they went away and lived happily ever afterward, Best Beloved. That
is all.

Oh, now and then you will hear grown-ups say, 'Can the Ethiopian
change his skin or the Leopard his spots?' I don't think even grown-ups
would keep on saying such a silly thing if the Leopard and the Ethiopian
hadn't done it once--do you? But they will never do it again, Best
Beloved. They are quite contented as they are.


I AM the Most Wise Baviaan, saying in most wise tones,
'Let us melt into the landscape--just us two by our lones.'
People have come--in a carriage--calling. But Mummy is there....
Yes, I can go if you take me--Nurse says she don't care.
Let's go up to the pig-sties and sit on the farmyard rails!
Let's say things to the bunnies, and watch 'em skitter their tails!
Let's--oh, anything, daddy, so long as it's you and me,
And going truly exploring, and not being in till tea!
Here's your boots (I've brought 'em), and here's your cap and stick,
And here's your pipe and tobacco. Oh, come along out of it--quick.





Next: The Elephant's Child

Previous: How The Rhinoceros Got His Skin



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