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The Story Of Zirac

from Boys And Girls Bookshelf - JAPANESE AND OTHER ORIENTAL TALES]





Once upon a time a raven, a rat, and a tortoise, having agreed to be
friends together, were having a pleasant chat when they saw a wild goat
making its way toward them with surprising swiftness. They took it for
granted by her speed that she was pursued by some hunter, and they at
once without ceremony separated, every one to take care of himself. The
tortoise slipped into the water, the rat crept into a hole, which he
fortunately found near at hand, and the raven hid himself among the
boughs of a very high tree. In the meantime the goat stopped quite
suddenly, and stood to rest herself by the side of a fountain, when the
raven, who had looked all round and perceived no one, called to the
tortoise, who immediately peeped above the water, and seeing the goat
afraid to drink, said: "Drink boldly, my friend, for the water is very
clear."

After the goat had done so, the tortoise continued: "Pray tell me what
is the reason you appear in such distress?"

"Reason enough," said the goat; "for I have just made my escape out of
the hands of a hunter, who pursued me with an eager chase."

"Come," said the tortoise, "I am glad you are safe. I have an offer to
make you. If you like our company, stay here and be one of our friends;
you will find our hearts honest and our company useful to you. The sages
say that a number of friends lessens trouble."

After this short speech the raven and the rat joined in the invitation,
so that the goat at once promised to become one of them, each promising
the other to prove himself a real and true friend whatever might happen
in days to come. After this agreement these four friends lived in
perfect harmony for a very long time, and spent their time pleasantly
together. But one day, as the tortoise, the rat, and the raven were met,
as they used to do, by the side of the fountain, the goat was missing.
This gave great trouble to them, as they knew not what had happened.
They very soon came to a resolution, however, to seek for and assist the
goat, so the raven at once mounted into the air to see what discoveries
he could make; and looking round about him, at length, to his great
sorrow, saw at a distance the poor goat entangled in a hunter's net. He
immediately dropped down in order to acquaint the rat and tortoise with
what he had seen; and you may be sure that these ill tidings caused
great grief.

"What shall we do?" said they.

"We have promised firm friendship to one another and lived very happily
together so long," said the tortoise, "that it would be shameful to
break the bond and not act up to all we said. We cannot leave our
innocent and good-natured companion in this dire distress and great
danger. No! we must find some way to deliver our poor friend goat out of
captivity."

Said the raven to the rat, who was nicknamed Zirac: "Remember, O
excellent Zirac, there is none but thyself able to set our friend at
liberty; and the business must be quickly done for fear the huntsman
should lay his hands upon her."

"Doubt not," replied Zirac, "but that I will do my best, so let us go at
once that no time may be lost."

On this the raven took up Zirac in his bill and flew with him to the
place where the poor goat was confined in the net. No sooner had he
arrived than he at once commenced to gnaw the meshes of the net that
held the goat's foot and had almost set him at liberty when the tortoise
arrived.

As soon as the goat saw the tortoise she cried out with a loud voice:
"Oh, why have you ventured to come hither, friend tortoise?"

"Because I could no longer bear your absence," replied the tortoise.

"Dear friend," said the goat, "your coming to this place troubles me as
much as the loss of my own liberty; for if the hunter should happen to
come, what would you do to make your escape? For my part I am almost
free, and my being able to run will prevent me from falling into his
hands again; our friend the raven can find safety in flight, and Zirac
can run into any hole. Only you, who are so slow of foot, will become
the hunter's prey." No sooner had the goat thus spoken, when sure enough
the hunter appeared; but the goat, being free, swiftly ran away; the
raven mounted into the air, and Zirac slipped into a hole, and true
enough, as the goat had said, only the slow-paced tortoise remained
without help.

When the hunter arrived he was a little surprised to see his net broken
and the goat missing. This was no small vexation to him, and caused him
to look closely around, to see if he could discover who had done the
mischief; and unfortunately, in thus searching, he spied the tortoise.

"Oh! oh!" said he. "Very good; I am glad to see you here. I find I shall
not go home empty-handed after all; here is a plump tortoise, and that
is worth something, I'm sure." Thus saying, he took up the tortoise, put
it in a sack, threw the sack over his shoulder, and was soon trudging
home.

After he had gone the three friends came out from their several
hiding-places, and met together, when, missing the tortoise, they at
once judged what had become of him. Then, uttering bitter cries and
lamentations, they shed torrents of tears. At length the raven broke the
silence, and said: "Dear friends, our moans and sorrow do not help the
tortoise. We must, if it be at all possible, devise some means of saving
his life. Our sages have often told us that there are three persons that
are never well known but on special occasions--men of courage in fight,
men of honesty in business, and a true friend in extreme necessity. We
find, alas! our dear companion the tortoise is in a sad condition, and
therefore we must, if possible, help him."

"It is first-class advice," replied Zirac. "Now I think I know how it
can be done. Let our friend the goat go and show herself to the hunter,
who will then be certain to lay down the sack to run after her."

"All right," said the goat, "I will pretend to be lame, and run limping
at a little distance before him, which will encourage him to follow me,
and thus draw him a good way from his sack, which will give Zirac time
to set our friend at liberty."

This plan appeared such a good one that it was at once approved of, and
immediately the goat ran halting before the hunter, and appeared to be
so feeble and faint that her pursuer thought he had her safe in his
clutches again, and so, laying down his sack, ran after the goat with
all his might. That cunning creature suffered him now and again almost
to come up to her, and then led him another wild-goose chase till at
last she had lured him out of sight; which Zirac seeing, began gnawing
the string that tied the mouth of the sack, and soon set free the
tortoise, who went at once and hid himself in a thick bush.



At length the hunter, tired of running after his prey, gave up the
chase, and returned to take up his sack.

"Here," said he, "I have something safe; thou art not quite so swift as
that plaguing goat; and if thou wert, art too well confined here to find
the way to make thy little legs any use to thee." So saying, he went to
the bag, but not finding the tortoise he was amazed, and thought himself
in a region of hobgoblins and spirits, since he had by some mysterious
means lost two valuable objects, a goat and a tortoise! He did not know,
you see, what wonders true friendship can work when all are pledged to
help one another.

The four friends soon met together again, congratulated one another on
their escapes, made afresh their vows of friendship, and declared that
they would never separate until death parted them.





Next: My Lord Bag Of Rice

Previous: The Selfish Sparrow And The Houseless Crows



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