One day a priest was walking along a country road when he came upon a tiger, shut up in a strong iron cage. The villagers had caught him and shut him up there because he had started preying on their fowl and cattle.
As soon as the tiger saw the priest, he pleaded, “Oh, Brother Brahmin, please let me out to get a little drink! I am so thirsty, and there is no water here.”
“But,” said the Brahmin, “you know if I should let you out, you will spring on me and eat me up.”
“Never, Brother Brahmin!” said the tiger with much force. “Never in the world would I do such an ungrateful thing! Just let me out for a minute, to get a little drink of water.”
So the priest unlocked the door and let the tiger out. The moment the creature was out he sprang on the priest, and was about to eat him up.
The frightened priest quickly said, “But, Brother Tiger, you promised you would not eat me. It is not fair that you should eat me, when I was the one who set you free.”
The tiger refused to give up his dinner. “It is perfectly right and just,” he growled, “and I shall eat you up.” However, the priest argued so hard that at last the tiger agreed to wait and ask the first five creatures whom they met, whether it was fair for him to eat the priest or not.
The first thing they came to was an old banyan tree. “Brother Banyan,” said the priest eagerly, “Does it seem right that this Tiger should eat me, when I set him free from his cage?”
The Banyan Tree looked down at them and spoke in a tired voice. “In the summer,” he said, “when the sun is hot, men come and sit in the cool of my shade and refresh themselves with the fruit of my branches. But when evening falls, and they are rested, they break my twigs and scatter my leaves, and stone my boughs for more fruit. Men are an ungrateful race. Let the Tiger eat the Brahmin.”
The Tiger sprang to eat the Brahmin, but the Brahmin said,– “Wait, wait; we have asked only one. We have still four to ask.” Presently they came to a place where an old Bullock was lying by the road.
The Brahmin went up to him and said,– “Brother Bullock, does it seem fair that this tiger should eat me up, after I have freed him from a cage?”
The Bullock looked up, and answered in a deep, grumbling voice, “When I was young and strong my master used me hard, and I served him well. I carried heavy loads and carried them far. Now that I am old and weak and cannot work, he leaves me without food or water, to die by the wayside. Men are a thankless lot. Let the Tiger eat the Brahmin.”
The Tiger sprang, but the Brahmin spoke very quickly, “Oh, but this is only the second, Brother Tiger; you promised to ask five.” The tiger grumbled a good deal, but he went on again with the Brahmin.
After a time they saw an Eagle flying high overhead. The Brahmin called up to him imploringly, “Oh, Brother Eagle, tell us if it seems fair that this tiger should eat me up, when I have just saved him from a frightful cage?”
The Eagle soared slowly overhead a moment, then he came lower, and spoke in a thin, clear voice. “I live high in the air,” he said, “and I do no man any harm. Yet as often as they find my nest, men stone my young and rob my nest of eggs and shoot at me with arrows. Men are a cruel breed. Let the Tiger eat the Brahmin!”
The Tiger sprang upon the Brahmin, to eat him up; and this time the Brahmin had very hard work to persuade him to wait. At last he did persuade him, however, and they walked on together.
In a while they saw an old Alligator, lying half buried in mud and slime, at the river’s edge. “Brother Alligator!” said the Brahmin, “does it seem at all right or fair to you that this Tiger should eat me up, when I have just now let him out of a cage?”
The old Alligator turned in the mud, and grunted, “I lie here in the mud all day, as harmless as a pigeon; I hunt no man, yet every time a man sees me, he throws stones at me, and pokes me with sharp sticks, and jeers at me. Men are a worthless lot. Let the Tiger eat the Brahmin!”
At this the Tiger was bound to eat the Brahmin at once. The poor Brahmin had to remind him, again and again, that they had asked only four. “Wait till we’ve asked one more! Wait until we see a fifth! That will be the last.” he begged.
Seeing that the end was in sight and he would finally be able to wolf down the priest, the tiger walked on with him. After a time, they met a jackal, who was merrily prancing down the road towards them.
“Oh, Brother Jackal,” said the Brahmin, “give us your opinion! Do you think it right or fair that this Tiger should eat me, when I set him free from a terrible cage?”
“Beg pardon?” replied the Jackal, with a blank expression on his face.
“I said,” said the Brahmin, raising his voice, “do you think it is fair that the Tiger should eat me, when I set him free from his cage?”
“Cage?” said the Jackal, vacantly. “Yes, yes, his cage,” said the Brahmin impatiently. “We want your opinion. Do you think–”
“Oh,” said the little Jackal, “you want my opinion? Then may I beg you to speak a little more loudly, and make the matter quite clear? I am a little slow of understanding. Now what was it?”
“Do you think,” repeated the priest slowly, “it is right for this Tiger to eat me, when I set him free from his cage?”
“What cage?” asked the Jackal.
“Why, the cage he was in,” replied the Brahmin.
“You see–” “But I don’t altogether understand,” said the Jackal, “You `set him free,’ you say?” “Yes, yes, yes!” said the Brahmin. “It was this way: I was walking along, and I saw the Tiger–”
“Oh, dear, dear!” interrupted the Jackal; “I never can see through it, if you go on like that, with a long story. If you really want my opinion you must make the matter clear. What sort of cage was it?”
“Why, a big, ordinary cage, an iron cage,” said the Brahmin.
“That gives me no idea at all,” said the Jackal. “See here, my friends, if we are to get on with this matter you’d best show me the spot. Then I can understand in a jiffy. Show me the cage.”
So the Brahmin, the Tiger, and the Jackal walked back together to the spot where the cage was. “Now, let us understand the situation,” said the Jackal. “Brahmin, where were you?” “I stood here by the roadside,” said the Brahmin. “Tiger, where were you?” asked the Jackal. “Why, in the cage, of course,” roared the Tiger, who was quite angry by now.
“Oh, I beg your pardon, Father Tiger,” said the Jackal, “I really am SO stupid; I cannot QUITE understand what happened. If you will have a little patience,–HOW were you in the cage? What position were you in?”
“I stood here,” said the Tiger, leaping into the cage, “with my head over my shoulder, so.” “Oh, thank you, thank you,” said the Jackal, “that makes it MUCH clearer; but I still don’t QUITE understand–forgive my slow mind–why did you not come out, by yourself?”
“Can’t you see that the door shut me in?” said the Tiger. “Oh, I do beg your pardon,” said the Jackal. “I know I am very slow; I can never understand things well unless I see just how they were. If you could show me now exactly how that door works I am sure I could understand. How does it shut?”
“It shuts like this,” said the Brahmin, pushing it shut.
“Yes; but I don’t see any lock,” said the Jackal, “does it lock on the outside?”
“It locks like this,” said the Brahmin. And he shut and bolted the door!
“Oh, does it, indeed?” said the Jackal. “Does it, INDEED! Well, Brother Brahmin, now that it is locked, I should advise you to let it stay locked! As for you, my friend,” he said to the Tiger, “I think you will wait a good while before you’ll find any one to let you out again!
With that, the clever Jackal made a low bow to both the priest and the tiger, and sauntered off through the forest.