The Story of Zirac, An Oriental Tale

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.



“oh, why have you ventured to come?”


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.