The Tale of Leopard’s Tail

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Leopard delights in eating monkeys, and is forever devising schemes to catch them. One day when he lay in a cool place thinking, he decided to make friends with all the monkeys so that he could quietly eat them one by one. Leopard was growing old, and could no longer climb trees easily. Therefore he went to a large mango tree where the Monkey Chief sat with his wives and family eating fruit, and began to make his talk.

When Leopard approached the tree the monkeys climbed up to the highest branches, which were too thin to bear Leopard’s weight, and from here they pelted him with rotten fruit and rude words. But Leopard raised a paw, and said:

“I come in peace, People of the Trees. In my youth I was a wild and savage animal; but now I grow old and soon will die, and before I die I wish to make friends with my enemies, and be loved instead of hated. I wish to live with you, my dear friends, and learn your jumping medicine.”

His hungry gaze fell on a plump young wife, and she shivered nervously.

“Your words are sweet,” the Monkey Chief agreed, “but your teeth, if old and yellow, are still sharp. This matter must be considered by our council. Call again tomorrow, and we will see.”

Before Leopard came again the Monkey Chief his smallest son inside a strong cane basket and securely fastened it. He placed the basket beneath the mango tree, and when Leopard came he said:

“O friendly Leopard, take this basket to your house, but do not open it. This is a test to see if we can trust you. Bring the basket here tomorrow, and we will show you our jumping medicine so that you may live with us.”

Leopard took the basket to his home. That night he and his wife talked of nothing but how they would feast on monkey meat, and grow fat in their old age.

The little monkey in the basket heard everything.

When morning came Leopard carried the basket back to the mango tree; the Monkey Chief took it into the tree and learned of the murderous plan his little son had overheard. The Chief thought deeply for some moments: he had suspected some such trick all along, for Leopard is wicked and has no friends, and never will have any. With two strong wives the Chief descended to a branch quite near the ground, and said:

“O Leopard, if you live with us you must eat the things we eat. Can you eat this banana?”

He tossed a banana to Leopard. Leopard sniffed and knew at once it was not leopard-food, but he managed to swallow it down, skin and all, despite the nasty taste.

The Monkey Chief threw him a mango; Leopard bit the thing and broke a tooth on the nut inside, but he pretended nothing had happened and he swallowed both tooth and mango. Next there was a chili, a hot red chili which caused poor Leopard’s mouth to burn, as he thought, to red-hot coals of fire. He gasped and choked, and tears rolled from his eyes.

“O Leopard,” the Monkey Chief announced, almost bursting his sides with stifled laughter, “I see you can eat the things we monkey-people eat; now we must show you our jumping medicine. To jump and swing as we monkeys do you must learn to use your tail, so raise your tail and we will show you how this thing is done.”

Leopard raised his tail, and the chief and his two wives firmly grasped it. In a moment they had pulled Leopard up into the air and knotted his tail about a branch: then all of them danced above him hurling rotten fruit and insults, while Leopard gnashed his teeth and swung in helpless fury.

“Swing, O Leopard, swing!” they cried. “Your crooked tale has earned a crooked tail!”

That is why Leopard’s tail swings to and fro when he is angry.

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