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tale of a tortoise and of a mischievous monkey.

From The Brown Fairy book by Andrew Lang.
Age Rating 8.

Start of Story

Once upon a time there was a country where the rivers were larger, and the forests deeper, than anywhere else. Hardly any men came there, and the wild creatures had it all to themselves, and used to play all sorts of strange games with each other. The great trees, chained one to the other by thick flowering plants with bright scarlet or yellow blossoms, were famous hiding-places for the monkeys, who could wait unseen, till a puma or an elephant passed by, and then jump on their backs and go for a ride, swinging themselves up by the creepers when they had had enough. Near the rivers huge tortoises were to be found, and though to our eyes a tortoise seems a dull, slow thing, it is wonderful to think how clever they were, and how often they outwitted many of their livelier friends. There was one tortoise in particular that always managed to get the better of everybody, and many were the tales told in the forest of his great deeds. They began when he was quite young, and tired of staying at home with his father and mother. He left them one day, and walked off in search of adventures. In a wide open space surrounded by trees he met with an elephant, who was having his supper before taking his evening bath in the river which ran close by. 'Let us see which of us two is strongest,' said the young tortoise, marching up to the elephant. 'Very well,' replied the elephant, much amused at the impertinence of the little creature; 'when would you like the trial to be?' 'In an hour's time; I have some business to do first,' answered the tortoise. And he hastened away as fast as his short legs would carry him.

In a pool of the river a whale was resting, blowing water into the air and making a lovely fountain. The tortoise, however, was too young and too busy to admire such things, and he called to the whale to stop, as he wanted to speak to him. 'Would you like to try which of us is the stronger?' said he. The whale looked at him, sent up another fountain, and answered: 'Oh, yes; certainly. When do you wish to begin? I am quite ready.' 'Then give me one of your longest bones, and I will fasten it to my leg. When I give the signal, you must pull, and we will see which can pull the hardest.' 'Very good,' replied the whale; and he took out one of his bones and passed it to the tortoise. The tortoise picked up the end of the bone in his mouth and went back to the elephant. 'I will fasten this to your leg,' said he, 'in the same way as it is fastened to mine, and we must both pull as hard as we can. We shall soon see which is the stronger.' So he wound it carefully round the elephant's leg, and tied it in a firm knot. 'Now!' cried he, plunging into a thick bush behind him. The whale tugged at one end, and the elephant tugged at the other, and neither had any idea that he had not the tortoise for his foe. When the whale pulled hardest the elephant was dragged into the water; and when the elephant pulled the hardest the whale was hauled on to the land. They were very evenly matched, and the battle was a hard one.

At last they were quite tired, and the tortoise, who was watching, saw that they could play no more. So he crept from his hiding-place, and dipping himself in the river, he went to the elephant and said: 'I see that you really are stronger than I thought. Suppose we give it up for to-day?' Then he dried himself on some moss and went to the whale and said: 'I see that you really are stronger than I thought. Suppose we give it up for to-day?' The two adversaries were only too glad to be allowed to rest, and believed to the end of their days that, after all, the tortoise was stronger than either of them. A day or two later the young tortoise was taking a stroll, when he met a fox, and stopped to speak to him. 'Let us try,' said he in a careless manner, 'which of us can lie buried in the ground during seven years.' 'I shall be delighted,' answered the fox, 'only I would rather that you began.' 'It is all the same to me,' replied the tortoise; 'if you come round this way to-morrow you will see that I have fulfilled my part of the bargain.' So he looked about for a suitable place, and found a convenient hole at the foot of an orange tree. He crept into it, and the next morning the fox heaped up the earth round him, and promised to feed him every day with fresh fruit. The fox so far kept his word that each morning when the sun rose he appeared to ask how the tortoise was getting on. 'Oh, very well; but I wish you would give me some fruit,' replied he. 'Alas! the fruit is not ripe enough yet for you to eat,' answered the fox, who hoped that the tortoise would die of hunger long before the seven years were over. 'Oh dear, oh dear! I am so hungry!' cried the tortoise. 'I am sure you must be; but it will be all right to-morrow,' said the fox, trotting off, not knowing that the oranges dropped down the hollow trunk, straight into the tortoise's hole, and that he had as many as he could possibly eat.

So the seven years went by; and when the tortoise came out of his hole he was as fat as ever. Now it was the fox's turn, and he chose his hole, and the tortoise heaped the earth round, promising to return every day or two with a nice young bird for his dinner. 'Well, how are you getting on?' he would ask cheerfully when he paid his visits. 'Oh, all right; only I wish you had brought a bird with you,' answered the fox. 'I have been so unlucky, I have never been able to catch one,' replied the tortoise. 'However, I shall be more fortunate to-morrow, I am sure.' But not many to-morrows after, when the tortoise arrived with his usual question: 'Well, how are you getting on?' he received no answer, for the fox was lying in his hole quite still, dead of hunger. By this time the tortoise was grown up, and was looked up to throughout the forest as a person to be feared for his strength and wisdom. But he was not considered a very swift runner, until an adventure with a deer added to his fame. One day, when he was basking in the sun, a stag passed by, and stopped for a little conversation. 'Would you care to see which of us can run fastest?' asked the tortoise, after some talk. The stag thought the question so silly that he only shrugged his shoulders. 'Of course, the victor would have the right to kill the other,' went on the tortoise. 'Oh, on that condition I agree,' answered the deer; 'but I am afraid you are a dead man.' 'It is no use trying to frighten me,' replied the tortoise. 'But I should like three days for training; then I shall be ready to start when the sun strikes on the big tree at the edge of the great clearing.' The first thing the tortoise did was to call his brothers and his cousins together, and he posted them carefully under ferns all along the line of the great clearing, making a sort of ladder which stretched for many miles. This done to his satisfaction, he went back to the starting place.


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