The Close Alliance by Flora Annie Steel
A TALE OF WOE
One day a farmer went with his bullocks to plough his field. He had
just turned the first furrow, when a tiger walked up to him and said,
'Peace be with you, friend! How are you this fine morning?'
'The same to you, my lord, and I am pretty well, thank you!' returned
the farmer, quaking with fear, but thinking it wisest to be polite.
'I am glad to hear it,' replied the tiger cheerfully, 'because
Providence has sent me to eat your two bullocks. You are a
God-fearing man, I know, so make haste and unyoke them.'
'My friend, are you sure you are not making a mistake?' asked the
farmer, whose courage had returned now that he knew it was merely a
question of gobbling up bullocks; 'because Providence sent me to
plough this field, and, in order to plough, one must have oxen. Had
you not better go and make further inquiries?'
'There is no occasion for delay, and I should be sorry to keep you
waiting,' returned the tiger. 'If you'll unyoke the bullocks I'll be
ready in a moment.' With that the savage creature fell to sharpening
his teeth and claws in a very significant manner.
But the farmer begged and prayed that his oxen might not be eaten, and
promised that if the tiger would spare them, he would give in exchange
a fine fat young milch cow, which his wife had tied up in the yard at
[Illustration: Farmer pleading with the tiger]
To this the tiger agreed, and, taking the oxen with him, the farmer
went sadly homewards. Seeing him return so early from the fields, his
wife, who was a stirring, busy woman, called out, 'What! lazybones!—back
already, and my work just beginning!'
Then the farmer explained how he had met the tiger, and how to save
the bullocks he had promised the milch cow in exchange. At this the
wife began to cry, saying, 'A likely story, indeed!—saving your
stupid old bullocks at the expense of my beautiful cow! Where will
the children get milk? and how can I cook my pottage and collops
'All very fine, wife,' retorted the farmer, 'but how can we make bread
without corn? and how can you have corn without bullocks to plough the
fields? Pottage and collops are very nice, but it is better to do
without milk and butter than without bread, so make haste and untie
'You great gaby!' wept the wife, 'if you had an ounce of sense in your
brain you'd think of some plan to get out of the scrape!'
'Think yourself!' cried the husband, in a rage.
'Very well!' returned the wife; 'but if I do the thinking you must
obey orders; I can't do both. Go back to the tiger, and tell him the
cow wouldn't come along with you, but that your wife is bringing it'
The farmer, who was a great coward, didn't half like the idea of going
back empty-handed to the tiger, but as he could think of no other plan
he did as he was bid, and found the beast still sharpening his teeth
and claws for very hunger; and when he heard he had to wait still
longer for his dinner, he began to prowl about, and lash his tail, and
curl his whiskers, in a most terrible manner, causing the poor
farmer's knees to knock together with terror.
Now, when the farmer had left the house, his wife went to the stable
and saddled the pony; then she put on her husband's best clothes, tied
the turban very high, so as to make her look as tall as possible,
bestrode the pony, and set off to the field where the tiger was.
She rode along, swaggering and blustering, till she came to where the
lane turned into the field, and then she called out, as bold as brass,
'Now, please the powers! I may find a tiger in this place; for I
haven't tasted tiger's meat since yesterday, when, as luck would have
it, I ate three for breakfast.'
[Illustration: Farmer's wife on a horse]
Hearing these words, and seeing the speaker ride boldly at him, the
tiger became so alarmed that he turned tail, and bolted into the
forest, going away at such a headlong pace that he nearly overturned
his own jackal; for tigers always have a jackal of their own, who, as
it were, waits at table and clears away the bones.
'My lord! my lord!' cried the jackal, 'whither away so fast?'
'Run! run!' panted the tiger; 'there's the very devil of a horseman in
yonder fields, who thinks nothing of eating three tigers for
At this the jackal sniggered in his sleeve. 'My dear lord,' said he,
'the sun has dazzled your eyes! That was no horseman, but only the
farmer's wife dressed up as a man!'
'Are you quite sure?' asked the tiger, pausing.
'Quite sure, my lord,' repeated the jackal; 'and if your lordship's
eyes had not been dazzled by—ahem!—the sun, your lordship would
have seen her pigtail hanging down behind.'
'But you may be mistaken!' persisted the cowardly tiger; 'it was the
very devil of a horseman to look at!'
'Who's afraid?' replied the brave jackal. 'Come! don't give up your
dinner because of a woman!'
'But you may be bribed to betray me!' argued the tiger, who, like all
cowards, was suspicious.
'Let us go together, then!' returned the gallant jackal.
'Nay! but you may take me there and then run away!' insisted the tiger
'In that case, let us tie our tails together, and then I can't!' The
jackal, you see, was determined not to be done out of his bones.
To this the tiger agreed, and having tied their tails together in a
reef-knot, the pair set off arm-in-arm.
Now the farmer and his wife had remained in the field, laughing over
the trick she had played on the tiger, when, lo and behold! what
should they see but the gallant pair coming back ever so bravely, with
their tails tied together.
'Run!' cried the farmer; 'we are lost! we are lost!'
'Nothing of the kind, you great gaby!' answered his wife coolly, 'if
you will only stop that noise and be quiet. I can't hear myself
Then she waited till the pair were within hail, when she called out
politely, 'How very kind of you, dear Mr. Jackal, to bring me such a
nice fat tiger! I shan't be a moment finishing my share of him, and
then you can have the bones.'
At these words the tiger became wild with fright, and, quite
forgetting the jackal, and that reef-knot in their tails, he bolted
away full tilt, dragging the jackal behind him. Bumpety, bump, bump,
over the stones!—crash, scratch, patch, through the briars!
In vain the poor jackal howled and shrieked to the tiger to stop,—the
noise behind him only frightened the coward more; and away he went,
helter-skelter, hurry-scurry, over hill and dale, till he was
nearly dead with fatigue, and the jackal was quite dead
from bumps and bruises.
Moral—Don't tie your tail to a coward's.