South African Folk Tale
by James A. Honey
Crocodile was, in the days when animals
still could talk, the acknowledged
foreman of all water creatures and if
one should judge from appearances one would
say that he still is. But in those days it was
his especial duty to have a general care of all
water animals, and when one year it was exceedingly
dry, and the water of the river where they
had lived dried up and became scarce, he was
forced to make a plan to trek over to another
river a short distance from there.
He first sent Otter out to spy. He stayed
away two days and brought back a report that
there was still good water in the other river,
real sea-cow holes, that not even a drought of
several years could dry up.
After he had ascertained this, Crocodile called
to his side Tortoise and Alligator.
"Look here," said he, "I need you two to-night
to carry a report to Lion. So then get
ready; the veldt is dry, and you will probably
have to travel for a few days without any water.
We must make peace with Lion and his subjects,
otherwise we utterly perish this year.
And he must help us to trek over to the other
river, especially past the Boer's farm that lies in
between, and to travel unmolested by any of the
animals of the veldt, so long as the trek lasts.
A fish on land is sometimes a very helpless thing,
as you all know." The two had it mighty hard
in the burning sun, and on the dry veldt, but
eventually they reached Lion and handed him
"What is going on now?" thought Lion to
himself, when he had read it. "I must consult
Jackal first," said he. But to the commissioners
he gave back an answer that he would be
the following evening with his advisers at the
appointed place, at the big vaarland willow tree,
at the farther end of the hole of water, where
Crocodile had his headquarters.
When Tortoise and Alligator came back,
Crocodile was exceedingly pleased with himself
at the turn the case had taken.
He allowed Otter and a few others to be present
and ordered them on that evening to have
ready plenty of fish and other eatables for their
guests under the vaarland willow.
That evening as it grew dark Lion appeared
with Wolf, Jackal, Baboon, and a few other important
animals, at the appointed place, and
they were received in the most open-hearted manner
by Crocodile and the other water creatures.
Crocodile was so glad at the meeting of the
animals that he now and then let fall a great tear
of joy that disappeared into the sand. After the
other animals had done well by the fish, Crocodile
laid bare to them the condition of affairs
and opened up his plan. He wanted only peace
among all animals; for they not only destroyed
one another, but the Boer, too, would in time
destroy them all.
The Boer had already stationed at the source
of the river no less than three steam pumps to
irrigate his land, and the water was becoming
scarcer every day. More than this, he took advantage
of their unfortunate position by making
them sit in the shallow water and then, one
after the other, bringing about their death. As
Lion was, on this account, inclined to make
peace, it was to his glory to take this opportunity
and give his hand to these peace-making
water creatures, and carry out their part
of the contract, namely, escort them from the
dried-up water, past the Boer's farm and to the
long sea-cow pools.
"And what benefit shall we receive from it?"
"Well," answered Crocodile, "the peace made
is of great benefit to both sides. We will not
exterminate each other. If you desire to come
and drink water, you can do so with an easy
mind, and not be the least bit nervous that I,
or any one of us will seize you by the nose; and
so also with all the other animals. And from
your side we are to be freed from Elephant, who
has the habit, whenever he gets the opportunity,
of tossing us with his trunk up into some open
and narrow fork of a tree and there allowing us
to become biltong."
Lion and Jackal stepped aside to consult with
one another, and then Lion wanted to know what
form of security he would have that Crocodile
would keep to his part of the contract.
"I stake my word of honor," was the prompt
answer from Crocodile, and he let drop a few
more long tears of honesty into the sand.
Baboon then said it was all square and honest
as far as he could see into the case. He
thought it was nonsense to attempt to dig pitfalls
for one another; because he personally was
well aware that his race would benefit somewhat
from this contract of peace and friendship.
And more than this, they must consider
that use must be made of the fast disappearing
water, for even in the best of times it was
an unpleasant thing to be always carrying your
life about in your hands. He would, however,
like to suggest to the King that it would be
well to have everything put down in writing,
so that there would be nothing to regret in case
it was needed.
Jackal did not want to listen to the agreement.
He could not see that it would benefit
the animals of the veldt. But Wolf, who had
fully satisfied himself with the fish, was in an
exceptionally peace-loving mood, and he advised
Lion again to close the agreement.
After Lion had listened to all his advisers,
and also the pleading tones of Crocodile's followers,
he held forth in a speech in which he
said that he was inclined to enter into the agreement,
seeing that it was clear that Crocodile and
his subjects were in a very tight place.
There and then a document was drawn up,
and it was resolved, before midnight, to begin
the trek. Crocodile's messengers swam in all
directions to summon together the water animals
for the trek.
Frogs croaked and crickets chirped in the
long water grass. It was not long before all
the animals had assembled at the vaarland willow.
In the meantime Lion had sent out a few
despatch riders to his subjects to raise a commando
for an escort, and long ere midnight these
also were at the vaarland willow in the moonlight.
The trek then was regulated by Lion and
Jackal. Jackal was to take the lead to act
as spy, and when he was able to draw Lion to
one side, he said to him:
"See here, I do not trust this affair one bit,
and I want to tell you straight out, I am going
to make tracks! I will spy for you until you
reach the sea-cow pool, but I am not going to
be the one to await your arrival there."
Elephant had to act as advance guard because
he could walk so softly and could hear
and smell so well. Then came Lion with one division
of the animals, then Crocodile's trek with
a flank protection of both sides, and Wolf received
orders to bring up the rear.
Meanwhile, while all this was being arranged,
Crocodile was smoothly preparing his treason.
He called Yellow Snake to one side and said to
him: "It is to our advantage to have these animals,
who go among us every day, and who will
continue to do so, fall into the hands of the
Boer. Listen, now! You remain behind unnoticed,
and when you hear me shout you will
know that we have arrived safely at the sea-cow
pool. Then you must harass the Boer's
dogs as much as you can, and the rest will look
out for themselves."
Thereupon the trek moved on. It was necessary
to go very slowly as many of the water
animals were not accustomed to the journey on
land; but they trekked past the Boer's farm
in safety, and toward break of day they were
all safely at the sea-cow pool. There most of
the water animals disappeared suddenly into the
deep water, and Crocodile also began to make
preparations to follow their example. With
tearful eyes he said to Lion that he was, oh,
so thankful for the help, that, from pure relief
and joy, he must first give vent to his feelings
by a few screams. Thereupon he suited his
words to actions so that even the mountains
echoed, and then thanked Lion on behalf of his
subjects, and purposely continued with a long
speech, dwelling on all the benefits both sides
would derive from the agreement of peace.
Lion was just about to say good day and
take his departure, when the first shot fell, and
with it Elephant and a few other animals.
"I told you all so!" shouted Jackal from
the other side of the sea-cow pool. "Why did
you allow yourselves to be misled by a few Crocodile
Crocodile had disappeared long ago into the
water. All one saw was just a lot of bubbles;
and on the banks there was an actual war against
the animals. It simply crackled the way the
Boers shot them.
But most of them, fortunately, came out of
Shortly after, they say, Crocodile received his
well-earned reward, when he met a driver with
a load of dynamite. And even now when the
Elephant gets the chance he pitches them up
into the highest forks of the trees.