"Oh, never mind the string!" cried a great big hungry bearer; master or no master, I mean to have meat for my dinner!" Whereupon they killed the buffalo, and cooking its flesh, ate their dinner with a relish; then, offering the remains to the Rat, said carelessly, "Here, little Rat-skin, that is for you!"
"Now look here!" cried the Rat hotly; "I'll have none of your pottage, or your sauce, either. You don't suppose I am going to give my best buffalo, that gave quarts and quarts of milk-the buffalo I have been feeding all day-for a wee bit of rice? No! I got a loaf for a bit of stick; I got a pipkin for a little loaf; I got a buffalo for a pipkin; and now I'll have the Bride for my buffalo-the Bride, and nothing else!"
By this time the servants, having satisfied their hunger, began to reflect on what they had done, and becoming alarmed at the consequences, arrived at the conclusion it would be wisest to make their escape while they could. So, leaving the Bride in her palanquin, they took to their heels in various directions.
The Rat, being as it were left in possession, advanced to the palanquin, and drawing aside the curtain, with the sweetest of voices and best of bows begged the Bride to descend. She hardly knew whether to laugh or to cry, but as any company, even a Rat's, was better than being quite alone in the wilderness, she did what she was bidden, and followed the lead of her guide, who set off as fast as be could for his hole.
As he trotted along beside the lovely young Bride, who, by her rich dress and glittering jewels, seemed to be some king's daughter, he kept saying to himself, "How clever I am! What bargains I do make, to be sure!"
When they arrived at his hole, the Rat stepped forward with the greatest politeness, and said, "Welcome, madam, to my humble abode!
Pray step in, or if you will allow me, and as the passage is somewhat dark, I will show you the way."
Whereupon he ran in first, but after a time, finding the Bride did not follow, he put his nose out again, saying testily, "Well, madam, why don't you follow? Don't you know it's rude to keep your husband waiting?"
"My good sir," laughed the handsome young Bride, "I can't squeeze into that little hole!"
The Rat coughed; then after a moment's thought he replied, "There is some truth in your remark- you are overgrown, and I suppose I shall have to build you a thatch somewhere, For to-night you can rest under that wild plum tree."
"But I am so hungry!" said the Bride ruefully.
"Dear, dear! everybody seems hungry to-day!" returned the Rat pettishly; "however, that's easily settled-I'll fetch you Some supper in a trice."
So he ran into his hole, returning immediately with an ear of millet and a dry pea. "There!" said he, triumphantly, "isn't that a fine meal?"
"I can't eat that!" whimpered the Bride; "it isn't a mouthful; and I want rice pottage, and cakes, and sweet eggs, and sugar drops. I shall die if I don't get them!"
"Oh, dear me!" cried the Rat in a rage, "what a nuisance a bride is, to be sure! Why don't you eat the wild plums?"
"I can't live on wild plums!" retorted the weeping Bride; "nobody could; besides, they are only half ripe, and I can't reach them."
"Rubbish!" cried the Rat; "ripe or unripe, they must do you for to- night, and to-morrow you can gather a basketful, sell them in the city, and buy sugar drops and sweet eggs to your heart's content!"
So the next morning the Rat climbed up into the plum tree, and nibbled away at the stalks till the fruit fell down into the Bride's veil.
Then, unripe as they were, she carried them into the city, calling out through the streets-
"Green plums I sell! green plums I sell!
Princess am I, Rat's bride as well!"
As she passed by the palace, her mother, the Queen, heard her voice, and running out, recognized her daughter. Great were the rejoicings, for everyone thought the poor Bride had been eaten by wild beasts.
In the midst of the feasting and merriment, the Rat, who had followed the Princess at a distance, and had become alarmed at her long absence, arrived at the door, against which he beat with a big knobby stick, calling out fiercely, "Give me my wife! Give me my wife! She is mine by a fair bargain. I gave a stick and I got a loaf; I gave a loaf and I got a pipkin; I gave a pipkin and I got a buffalo; I gave a buffalo and I got a bride. Give me my wife! Give me my wife!"
"La! son-in-law! What a fuss you do make," said the wily old Queen through the door, "and all about nothing! Who wants to run away with your wife? On the contrary, we are proud to see you, and I only keep you waiting at the door till we can spread the carpets, and receive you in style."
Hearing this, the Rat was mollified, and waited patiently outside while the cunning old Queen prepared for his reception, which she did by cutting a hole in the very middle of a stool, putting a red hot stone underneath, covering it over with a stew-pan lid, and then spreading a beautiful embroidered cloth over all. Then she went to the door, and receiving the Rat with the greatest respect, led him to the stool, praying him to be seated.
"Dear! dear! how clever I am! What bargains I do make, to be sure!"
said he to himself as he climbed on to the stool. "Here I am, son-in- law to a real live Queen! What will the neighbors say?"
At first he sat down on the edge of the stool, but even there it was warm, and after a while he began to fidget, saying, "Dear me, mother- in-law, how hot your house is! Everything I touch seems burning!"
"You are out of the wind there, my son," replied the cunning old Queen; "sit more in the middle of the stool, and then you will feel the breeze and get cooler."
But he didn't! for the stewpan lid by this time had become so hot that the Rat fairly frizzled when he sat down on it; and it was not until he had left all his tail, half his hair, and a large piece of his skin behind him, that he managed to escape, howling with pain, and vowing that never, never, never again would he make a bargain!
THE JACKAL AND THE PARTRIDGE
By Flora Annie Steel
A JACKAL and a partridge swore eternal friendship; but the Jackal was very exacting and jealous. "You don't do half as much for me as I do for you," he used to say, "and yet you talk a great deal of your friendship. Now my idea of a friend is one who is able to make me laugh or cry, give me a good meal, or save my life if need be. You couldn't do that!"
"Let us see," answered the Partridge; "follow me at a little distance, and if I don't make you laugh soon you may eat me!"
So she flew on till she met two travelers trudging along, one behind the other. They were both foot-sore and weary, and the first carried his bundle on a stick over his shoulder, while the second had his shoes in his hand.
Lightly as a feather the Partridge settled on the first traveler's stick. He, none the wiser, trudged on, but the second traveler, seeing the bird sitting so tamely just in front of his nose, said to himself, "What a chance for a supper!" and immediately flung his shoes at it, they being ready to hand. Whereupon the Partridge flew away, and the shoes knocked off the first traveler's turban.
"What a plague do you mean?" cried he, angrily turning on his companion. "Why did you throw your shoes at my head?"
"Brother," replied the other mildly, "do not be vexed. I didn't throw them at you, but at a Partridge that was sitting on your stick."
"On my stick! Do you take me for a fool?" shouted the injured man, in a great rage. "Don't tell me such cock-and-bull stories. First you insult me, and then you lie like a coward; but I'll teach you manners!"
Then he fell upon his fellow traveler without more ado, and they fought until they could not see out of their eyes, till their noses were bleeding, their clothes in rags, and the Jackal had nearly died of laughing.
"Are you satisfied?" asked the Partridge of her friend.
"Well," answered the Jackal, "you have certainly made nine laugh, but I doubt if you could make me cry. It is easy enough to be a buffoon; it is more difficult to excite the highest emotions."
"Let us see," retorted the Partridge, somewhat piqued; "there is a huntsman with his dogs coming along the road. Just creep into that hollow tree and watch me; if you don't weep scalding tears, you must have no feeling in you!"
The Jackal did as he was bid, and watched the Partridge, who began fluttering about the bushes till the dogs caught sight of her, when she flew to the hollow tree where the Jackal was hidden. Of course the dogs smelt him at once, and set up such a yelping and scratching that the huntsman came up, and seeing what it was, dragged the Jackal out by the tail. Whereupon the dogs worried him to their heart's content, and finally left him for dead.
By and by he opened his eyes-for he was only foxing-and saw the Partridge sitting on a branch above him.
"Did you cry?" she asked anxiously. "Did I rouse your high emo---"
"Be quiet, will you!" snarled the Jackal; half dead with fear!"
So there the Jackal lay for some time, getting the better of his bruises, and meanwhile he became hungry.
"Now is the time for friendship!" said he to the Partridge. "Get me a good dinner, and I will acknowledge you a true friend."
"Very well!" replied the Partridge; "only watch me, and help yourself when the time comes."
Just then a troop of women came by, carrying their husbands dinners to the harvest field. The Partridge gave a little plaintive cry, and began fluttering along from bush to bush as if she were wounded.