Jackal Or Tiger?





One hot night, in Hindustan, a king and queen lay awake in the palace

in the midst of the city. Every now and then a faint air blew through

the lattice, and they hoped they were going to sleep, but they never

did. Presently they became more broad awake than ever at the sound of

a howl outside the palace.



'Listen to that tiger!' remarked the king.



'Tiger?' replied the queen. 'How should there be a tiger inside the

city? It was only a jackal.'



'I tell you it was a tiger,' said the king.



'And I tell you that you were dreaming if you thought it was anything

but a jackal,' answered the queen.



'I say it was a tiger,' cried the king; 'don't contradict me.'



'Nonsense!' snapped the queen. 'It was a jackal.' And the dispute

waxed so warm that the king said at last:



'Very well, we'll call the guard and ask; and if it was a jackal I'll

leave this kingdom to you and go away; and if it was a tiger then you

shall go, and I will marry a new wife.'



'As you like,' answered the queen, 'there isn't any doubt which it

was.'



So the king called the two soldiers who were on guard outside and put

the question to them. But, whilst the dispute was going on, the king

and queen had got so excited and talked so loud that the guards had

heard nearly all they said, and one man observed to the other:



'Mind you declare that the king is right. It certainly was a jackal,

but, if we say so, the king will probably not keep his word about

going away, and we shall get into trouble, so we had better take his

side.'



To this the other agreed; therefore, when the king asked them what

animal they had seen, both the guards said it was certainly a tiger,

and that the king was right of course, as he always was. The king made

no remark, but sent for a palanquin, and ordered the queen to be

placed in it, bidding the four bearers of the palanquin to take her a

long way off into the forest and there leave her. In spite of her

tears, she was forced to obey, and away the bearers went for three

days and three nights until they came to a dense wood. There they set

down the palanquin with the queen in it, and started home again.



Now the queen thought to herself that the king could not mean to send

her away for good, and that as soon as he had got over his fit of

temper he would summon her back; so she stayed quite still for a long

time, listening with all her ears for approaching footsteps, but heard

none. After a while she grew nervous, for she was all alone, and put

her head out of the palanquin and looked about her. Day was just

breaking, and birds and insects were beginning to stir; the leaves

rustled in a warm breeze; but, although the queen's eyes wandered in

all directions, there was no sign of any human being. Then her spirit

gave way, and she began to cry.



It so happened that close to the spot where the queen's palanquin had

been set down, there dwelt a man who had a tiny farm in the midst of

the forest, where he and his wife lived alone far from any neighbours.

As it was hot weather the farmer had been sleeping on the flat roof of

his house, but was awakened by the sound of weeping. He jumped up and

ran downstairs as fast as he could, and into the forest towards the

place the sound came from, and there he found the palanquin.



'Oh, poor soul that weeps,' cried the farmer, standing a little way

off, 'who are you?' At this salutation from a stranger the queen grew

silent, dreading she knew not what.






'Oh, you that weep,' repeated the farmer, 'fear not to speak to me,

for you are to me as a daughter. Tell me, who are you?'



His voice was so kind that the queen gathered up her courage and

spoke. And when she had told her story, the farmer called his wife,

who led her to their house, and gave her food to eat, and a bed to lie

on. And in the farm, a few days later, a little prince was born, and

by his mother's wish named Ameer Ali.



Years passed without a sign from the king. His wife might have been

dead for all he seemed to care, though the queen still lived with the

farmer, and the little prince had by this time grown up into a strong,

handsome, and healthy youth. Out in the forest they seemed far from

the world; very few ever came near them, and the prince was

continually begging his mother and the farmer to be allowed to go away

and seek adventures and to make his own living. But she and the wise

farmer always counselled him to wait, until, at last, when he was

eighteen years of age, they had not the heart to forbid him any

longer. So he started off one early morning, with a sword by his side,

a big brass pot to hold water, a few pieces of silver, and a galail[2]

or two-stringed bow in his hand, with which to shoot birds as he

travelled.



Many a weary mile he tramped day after day, until, one morning, he saw

before him just such a forest as that in which he had been born and

bred, and he stepped joyfully into it, like one who goes to meet an

old friend. Presently, as he made his way through a thicket, he saw a

pigeon which he thought would make a good dinner, so he fired a pellet

at it from his galail, but missed the pigeon which fluttered away with

a startled clatter. At the same instant he heard a great clamour from

beyond the thicket, and, on reaching the spot, he found an ugly old

woman streaming wet and crying loudly as she lifted from her head an

earthen vessel with a hole in it from which the water was pouring.

When she saw the prince with his galail in his hand, she called out:



'Oh, wretched one! why must you choose an old woman like me to play

your pranks upon? Where am I to get a fresh pitcher instead of this

one that you have broken with your foolish tricks? And how am I to go

so far for water twice when one journey wearies me?'






'But, mother,' replied the prince, 'I played no trick upon you! I did

but shoot at a pigeon that should have served me for dinner, and as my

pellet missed it, it must have broken your pitcher. But, in exchange,

you shall have my brass pot, and that will not break easily; and as

for getting water, tell me where to find it, and I'll fetch it while

you dry your garments in the sun, and carry it whither you will.'



At this the old woman's face brightened. She showed him where to seek

the water, and when he returned a few minutes later with his pot

filled to the brim, she led the way without a word, and he followed.

In a short while they came to a hut in the forest, and as they drew

near it Ameer Ali beheld in the doorway the loveliest damsel his eyes

had ever looked on. At the sight of a stranger she drew her veil about

her and stepped into the hut, and much as he wished to see her again

Ameer Ali could think of no excuse by which to bring her back, and so,

with a heavy heart, he made his salutation, and bade the old woman

farewell. But when he had gone a little way she called after him:



'If ever you are in trouble or danger, come to where you now stand and

cry: "Fairy of the Forest! Fairy of the forest, help me now!" And I

will listen to you.'



The prince thanked her and continued his journey, but he thought

little of the old woman's saying, and much of the lovely damsel.

Shortly afterwards he arrived at a city; and, as he was now in great

straits, having come to the end of his money, he walked straight to

the palace of the king and asked for employment. The king said he had

plenty of servants and wanted no more; but the young man pleaded so

hard that at last the rajah was sorry for him, and promised that he

should enter his bodyguard on the condition that he would undertake

any service which was especially difficult or dangerous. This was just

what Ameer Ali wanted, and he agreed to do whatever the king might

wish.



Soon after this, on a dark and stormy night, when the river roared

beneath the palace walls, the sound of a woman weeping and wailing was

heard above the storm. The king ordered a servant to go and see what

was the matter; but the servant, falling on his knees in terror,

begged that he might not be sent on such an errand, particularly on a

night so wild, when evil spirits and witches were sure to be abroad.

Indeed, so frightened was he, that the king, who was very

kind-hearted, bade another to go in his stead, but each one showed the

same strange fear. Then Ameer Ali stepped forward:



'This is my duty, your majesty,' he said, 'I will go.'



The king nodded, and off he went. The night was as dark as pitch, and

the wind blew furiously and drove the rain in sheets into his face;

but he made his way down to the ford under the palace walls and

stepped into the flooded water. Inch by inch, and foot by foot he

fought his way across, now nearly swept off his feet by some sudden

swirl or eddy, now narrowly escaping being caught in the branches of

some floating tree that came tossing and swinging down the stream. At

length he emerged, panting and dripping wet, on the other side. Close

by the bank stood a gallows, and on the gallows hung the body of some

evildoer, whilst from the foot of it came the sound of sobbing that

the king had heard.



Ameer Ali was so grieved for the one who wept there that he thought

nothing of the wildness of the night or of the roaring river. As for

ghosts and witches, they had never troubled him, so he walked up

towards the gallows where crouched the figure of the woman.



'What ails you?' he said.



Now the woman was not really a woman at all, but a horrid kind of

witch who really lived in Witchland, and had no business on earth. If

ever a man strayed into Witchland the ogresses used to eat him up, and

this old witch thought she would like to catch a man for supper, and

that is why she had been sobbing and crying in hopes that someone out

of pity might come to her rescue.



So when Ameer Ali questioned her, she replied:



'Ah, kind sir, it is my poor son who hangs upon that gallows; help me

to get him down and I will bless you for ever.'



Ameer Ali thought that her voice sounded rather eager than sorrowful,

and he suspected that she was not telling the truth, so he determined

to be very cautious.






'That will be rather difficult,' he said, 'for the gallows is high,

and we have no ladder.'



'Ah, but if you will just stoop down and let me climb upon your

shoulders,' answered the old witch, 'I think I could reach him.' And

her voice now sounded so cruel that Ameer Ali was sure that she

intended some evil. But he only said:



'Very well, we will try.' With that he drew his sword, pretending that

he needed it to lean upon, and bent so that the old woman could

clamber on to his back, which she did very nimbly. Then, suddenly, he

felt a noose slipped over his neck, and the old witch sprang from his

shoulders on to the gallows, crying:



'Now, foolish one, I have got you, and will kill you for my supper.'



But Ameer Ali gave a sweep upwards with his sharp sword to cut the

rope that she had slipped round his neck, and not only cut the cord

but cut also the old woman's foot as it dangled above him; and with a

yell of pain and anger she vanished into the darkness.



* * * * *



Ameer Ali then sat down to collect himself a little, and felt upon the

ground by his side an anklet that had evidently fallen off the old

witch's foot. This he put into his pocket, and as the storm had by

this time passed over he made his way back to the palace. When he had

finished his story, he took the anklet out of his pocket and handed it

to the king, who, like everyone else, was amazed at the glory of the

jewels which composed it. Indeed, Ameer Ali himself was astonished,

for he had slipped the anklet into his pocket in the dark and had not

looked at it since. The king was delighted at its beauty, and having

praised and rewarded Ameer Ali, he gave the anklet to his daughter, a

proud and spoiled princess.



Now in the women's apartments in the palace there hung two cages, in

one of which was a parrot and in the other a starling, and these two

birds could talk as well as human beings. They were both pets of the

princess who always fed them herself, and the next day, as she was

walking grandly about with her treasure tied round her ankle, she

heard the starling say to the parrot:



'Oh, Tote' (that was the parrot's name), 'how do you think the

princess looks in her new jewel?'



'Think?' snapped the parrot, who was cross because they hadn't given

him his bath that morning, 'I think she looks like a washerwoman's

daughter, with one shoe on and the other off! Why doesn't she wear two

of them, instead of going about with one leg adorned and the other

empty?'



When the princess heard this she burst into tears; and sending for her

father she declared that he must get her another such an anklet to

wear on the other leg, or she would die of shame. So the king sent for

Ameer Ali and told him that he must get a second anklet exactly like

the first within a month, or he should be hanged, for the princess

would certainly die of disappointment.



Poor Ameer Ali was greatly troubled at the king's command, but he

thought to himself that he had, at any rate, a month in which to lay

his plans. He left the palace at once, and inquired of everyone where

the finest jewels were to be got; but though he sought night and day

he never found one to compare with the anklet. At last only a week

remained, and he was in sore difficulty, when he remembered the Fairy

of the forest, and determined to go without loss of time and seek her.

Therefore away he went, and after a day's travelling he reached the

cottage in the forest, and, standing where he had stood when the old

woman called to him, he cried:



'Fairy of the forest! Fairy of the forest! Help me! help me!'



Then there appeared in the doorway the beautiful girl he had seen

before, whom in all his wanderings he had never forgotten.



'What is the matter?' she asked, in a voice so soft that he listened

like one struck dumb, and she had to repeat the question before he

could answer. Then he told her his story, and she went within the

cottage and came back with two wands, and a pot of boiling water. The

two wands she planted in the ground about six feet apart, and then,

turning to him, she said:



'I am going to lie down between these two wands. You must then draw

your sword and cut off my foot, and, as soon as you have done that,

you must seize it and hold it over the cauldron, and every drop of

blood that falls from it into the water will become a jewel. Next you

must change the wands so that the one that stood at my head is at my

feet, and the one at my feet stands at my head, and place the severed

foot against the wound and it will heal, and I shall become quite well

again as before.'



At first Ameer Ali declared that he would sooner be hanged twenty

times over than treat her so roughly; but at length she persuaded him

to do her bidding. He nearly fainted himself with horror when he found

that, after the cruel blow which lopped her foot off, she lay as one

lifeless; but he held the severed foot over the cauldron, and, as

drops of blood fell from it, and he saw each turn in the water into

shining gems, his heart took courage. Very soon there were plenty of

jewels in the cauldron, and he quickly changed the wands, placed the

severed foot against the wound, and immediately the two parts became

one as before. Then the maiden opened her eyes, sprang to her feet,

and drawing her veil about her, ran into the hut, and would not come

out or speak to him any more. For a long while he waited, but, as she

did not appear, he gathered up the precious stones and returned to the

palace. He easily got some one to set the jewels, and found that there

were enough to make, not only one, but three rare and beautiful

anklets, and these he duly presented to the king on the very day that

his month of grace was over.



The king embraced him warmly, and made him rich gifts; and the next

day the vain princess put two anklets on each foot, and strutted up

and down in them admiring herself in the mirrors that lined her room.



'Oh, Tote,' asked the starling, 'how do you think our princess looks

now in these fine jewels?'






'Ugh!' growled the parrot, who was really always cross in the

mornings, and never recovered his temper until after lunch, 'she's got

all her beauty at one end of her now; if she had a few of those fine

gew-gaws round her neck and wrists she would look better; but now, to

my mind, she looks more than ever like the washerwoman's daughter

dressed up.'



Poor princess! she wept and stormed and raved until she made herself

quite ill; and then she declared to her father that, unless she had

bracelets and necklace to match the anklets she would die.



Again the king sent for Ameer Ali, and ordered him to get a necklace

and bracelets to match those anklets within a month, or be put to a

cruel death.



And again Ameer Ali spent nearly the whole month searching for the

jewels, but all in vain. At length he made his way to the hut in the

forest, and stood and cried:



'Fairy of the forest! Fairy of the forest! Help me! help me!'



Once more the beautiful maiden appeared at his summons and asked what

he wanted, and when he had told her she said he must do exactly as he

had done the first time, except that now he must cut off both her

hands and her head. Her words turned Ameer Ali pale with horror; but

she reminded him that no harm had come to her before, and at last he

consented to do as she bade him. From her severed hands and head there

fell into the cauldron bracelets and chains of rubies and diamonds,

emeralds and pearls that surpassed any that ever were seen. Then the

head and hands were joined on to the body, and left neither sign nor

scar. Full of gratitude, Ameer Ali tried to speak to her, but she ran

into the house and would not come back, and he was forced to leave her

and go away laden with the jewels.



When, on the day appointed, Ameer Ali produced a necklace and

bracelets each more beautiful and priceless than the last, the king's

astonishment knew no bounds, and as for his daughter she was nearly

mad with joy. The very next morning she put on all her finery, and

thought that now, at least, that disagreeable parrot could find no

fault with her appearance, and she listened eagerly when she heard the

starling say:



'Oh, Tote, how do you think our princess is looking now?'



'Very fine, no doubt,' grumbled the parrot; 'but what is the use of

dressing up like that for oneself only? She ought to have a

husband--why doesn't she marry the man who got her all these splendid

things?'



Then the princess sent for her father and told him that she wished to

marry Ameer Ali.



'My dear child,' said her father, 'you really are very difficult to

please, and want something new every day. It certainly is time you

married someone, and if you choose this man, of course he shall marry

you.'



So the king sent for Ameer Ali, and told him that within a month he

proposed to do him the honour of marrying him to the princess, and

making him heir to the throne.



On hearing this speech Ameer Ali bowed low and answered that he had

done and would do the king all the service that lay in his power, save

only this one thing. The king, who considered his daughter's hand a

prize for any man, flew into a passion, and the princess was more

furious still. Ameer Ali was instantly thrown into the most dismal

prison that they could find, and ordered to be kept there until the

king had time to think in what way he should be put to death.



Meanwhile the king determined that the princess ought in any case to

be married without delay, so he sent forth heralds throughout the

neighbouring countries, proclaiming that on a certain day any person

fitted for a bridegroom and heir to the throne should present himself

at the palace.



When the day came, all the court were gathered together, and a great

crowd assembled of men, young and old, who thought that they had as

good a chance as anyone else to gain both the throne and the princess.

As soon as the king was seated, he called upon an usher to summon the

first claimant. But, just then, a farmer who stood in front of the

crowd cried out that he had a petition to offer.



'Well, hasten then,' said the king; 'I have no time to waste.'



'Your majesty,' said the farmer, 'has now lived and administered

justice long in this city, and will know that the tiger who is king

of beasts hunts only in the forest, whilst jackals hunt in every place

where there is something to be picked up.'



'What is all this? what is all this?' asked the king. 'The man must be

mad!'



'No, your majesty,' answered the farmer, 'I would only remind your

majesty that there are plenty of jackals gathered to-day to try and

claim your daughter and kingdom: every city has sent them, and they

wait hungry and eager; but do not, O king, mistake or pretend again to

mistake the howl of a jackal for the hunting cry of a tiger.'



The king turned first red and then pale.



'There is,' continued the farmer, 'a royal tiger bred in the forest

who has the first and only true claim to your throne.'



'Where? what do you mean?' stammered the king, growing pale as he

listened.



'In prison,' replied the farmer; 'if your majesty will clear this

court of the jackals I will explain.'



'Clear the court!' commanded the king; and, very unwillingly, the

visitors left the palace.



'Now tell me what riddle this is,' said he.



Then the farmer told the king and his ministers how he had rescued the

queen and brought up Ameer Ali; and he fetched the old queen herself,

whom he had left outside. At the sight of her the king was filled with

shame and self-reproach, and wished he could have lived his life over

again, and not have married the mother of the proud princess, who

caused him endless trouble until her death.



'My day is past,' said he. And he gave up his crown to his son Ameer

Ali, who went once more and called to the forest fairy to provide him

with a queen to share his throne.



'There is only one person I will marry,' said he. And this time the

maiden did not run away, but agreed to be his wife. So the two were

married without delay, and lived long and reigned happily.



As for the old woman whose pitcher Ameer Ali had broken, she was the

forest maiden's fairy godmother, and when she was no longer needed to

look after the girl she gladly returned to fairyland.



The old king has never been heard to contradict his wife any more. If

he even looks as if he does not agree with her, she smiles at him and

says:



'Is it the tiger, then? or the jackal?' And he has not another word to

say.





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