Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Perfect Husband

About two days walk from the village of Gorkha, there lived in a den on the side of a mountain a very brave tiger, his wife, and three baby cubs. Nearby, in a drab hideaway, lived a very cowardly fox.

The fox noticed that all the animals of the forest admired the courage and daring of the tiger. “Why,” he thought to himself, “should everyone admire him and not admire me? I will make them think I am just as brave as the tiger.”

From that day on, the fox boasted of his exploits to anyone who would give him an audience, and many of his listeners began to believe him. The only he failed to convince was at all was the tigress.

“Oh, listen to him,” said the tigress one day when she heard him bragging to a cluster of monkeys. “What nonsense! All my husband has to do is to look at him and he runs away.”

The monkeys chattered and laughed but the fox was not pleased. “It is time,” he said to himself, “to teach that haughty tigress a lesson.”

The next morning he waited patiently behind a tree until he saw the father tiger leave to go hunting. Then he walked up to the den and shouted to the tigress.

“Oh, Elder Brother’s Wife! Where is Elder Brother?”

“He has gone hunting,” came the reply.

“Well, that’s lucky for him,” said the fox, “because if he had been here I would have kicked him for killing my chickens,”

None of the animals of the forest ever dared talk about the tiger this way. The tigress was surprised but she said nothing. The fox finally went away.

The next morning, after the tiger had gone hunting, again the fox returned and called out to the tigress in the same manner.

“Oh, Elder Brother’s Wife! Where is Elder Brother?”

“He has gone hunting,” she answered.

“Well, he is lucky,” shouted the fox. “If he had been here I would have pushed him over the cliff for stealing my rabbits.”

The tigress did not answer the fox, but when her husband came home that night she told him how the fox had come in the mornings and accused him of stealing his rabbits and killing his chickens.

“He said he would kick you or push you off the cliff,”

“Tell him I gave gone hunting and we will see how brave he is.”

The next morning, after the fox saw the tiger leave the den, he went up to the door and shouted to the tigress.

“Oh, Elder Brother’s Wife! Where is Elder Brother?”

“You just missed him,” answered the tigress. “He has already gone hunting.”

“What a coward!” shouted the fox in a voice that could be heard all over the forest. “Doesn’t he ever catch anything to eat that lasts more than a day? Why, if could see him now I would…”

The tiger, listening nearby, had heard enough. He sprang out of his hiding place, roaring with anger. The fox was terrified! He fled through the trees, dashing this way and that, trying desperately to think of an idea that would saw him from the jaws of the angry tiger. Suddenly he saw a hollow log beside the trail. He bolted into it, hoping the tiger would run by. But he tiger, seeing the end of the fox’s tail disappearing into the log, rushed in after him.

The tiger was running so fast he did not notice that the log was only big enough to let a fox through at the other end. About halfway in, he could go no farther. The more he struggled to get out, the worse things became-until he finally could not move at all. There in the middle of the log he stuck, while the fox squeezed through to freedom.

The fox hovered about warily until he was sure the tiger would never come out again. Then he ran back to the tigress to tell her what had happened.

“You should have seen me!” he boasted, kicking his heels and snapping his teeth. “Your husband was so frightened that he flung himself into the river. I tried to save him but be drowned.”

The tigress, at first, did not even see to be interested; she thought the fox was boasting as usual. But after many days had passed, and her husband did not return, she began to believe to the fox’s story. At last she said to her cubs:

“It is difficult for me to get food and to keep house at same time. I will marry the brave fox so we will have a good hunter in the family.”

The fox, who had been waiting for just such an opportunity, was delighted. He married the tigress and they settled down to housekeeping in the tiger’s den.

The following day the wife sent her new husband into the jungle to find some food. But he was more interested in sleeping than hunting, so he found a lovely glade of oak trees and lay down for a long nap. When he awoke, at sunset he was hungry. Quickly and quietly he stole into a farmer’s courtyard and caught a big fat chicken, but instead of taking it home to share with the tigress and her cubs, he sat down in a safe place in the forest and ate it all up. When he arrived back at the den empty-handed, the tigress was very upset.

“What do you expect us to do?” she complained. “the children are hungry and there is nothing for them to eat!”

“I roamed over the jungle all day,” whined the fox. “But nothing I found was good enough to feed my family. I wanted to bring home a surprise.”

“I like surprises,” retorted the tigress. “But I would have preferred something to eat. However,” she added, pleased that her husband thought she and her cubs were worthy of something special, “tomorrow I will go with you and we will get something good for all of us.”

The next morning the tigress left the cubs in the den and went out with her husband to get some food. The two had not been gone along, before they found some cattle grazing in a small valley that funneled into a narrow draw.

“You go up above them” whispered the tigress, “and chase them down the valley. I will hide at the foot of the draw and catch the fat bull as he comes by.”

The fox climbed above the cattle as his wife suggested. Then he ran down upon them and tried to chase them through the draw. Most of the animals were frightened and fled. But the fat bull did not like being chased. He stood very still, pretending to eat until the fox almost upon him. Then he ducked his horns between his legs and quickly swung his head upwards. The blow caught the fox between the ribs and lifted him into the air. He fell with a terrible thud and lay sprawled out on the ground as if he were dead. When he woke up he knew he had been lying in the hot sun for a long time.

“What on earth have you been doing?” asked the tigress when at last she saw him coming towards her. “Where is the big fat full?”

“I hunted all over but I could not find the animal you described,” replied the fox. “The sun was so hot I lay down for a minute, and I must have fallen asleep.”

The tigress was in no mood for excuses, but she did not want to start an argument with her new so she obligingly offered a compromise.

“I will find the big fat bull,” she suggested, “if you will stay here and catch him as he comes by.”

The fox thought this would be easy and he was glad to agree. He lay down and waited in the cool shade of the cliff, whisking the flies with his tail, while his wife went off to round up the cattle.

He had almost fallen asleep when he heard the cattle coming. The rumble of their hoofs echoed through the canyon and clouds of dust billowed up from the valley floor. This so frightened the fox he ran up onto a high ledge and let the bawling herd thunder past beneath him. When the dust settled he noticed an old bullock, that had been trampled to death by the others, lying in the bottom of the draw.

“What luck!” he said to himself. He picked up a big stick and ran down to stand beside the bullock, just as his wife came hurrying around the bend.

“This big fellow would not give up!” panted the fox, heaving his chest up and down as if the struggle had exhausted him.

The tigress looked once at the old bullock and began to complain. “But this is not the one I told you to get. This is just a tough old bullock. Why didn’t you catch the tender young bull?”

“My dear,” answered the fox in his most condescending manner, “it is obvious that you do not know meat the way I do. This animal you calla ‘tough old bullock’ is the best for eating. He is all meat. The fat young bull you wanted me to get would have been all fat. Fat without any mat tastes horrible!”

He made such a face the tigress thought that perhaps he knew what he was talking about.

“Well, at least he his big,” she admitted. “Now comes the work of carrying him home”

“Are you telling me I have to carry this bullock?” inquired the fox. “Ha! I am a man. A man should not have to carry anything if he has a wife along, but I want to be helpful so I will offer to carry the lungs.”

The tigress said nothing. With one sweep of her paws pulled the lungs out of the carcass and handed them to her husband. Then, like a dutiful wife, she picked up the rest of the bullock, flung it over her shoulder, and started home.

As the two traveled together through the forest, they came to a deep ravine that had washed away the trail during the summer rains. Someone had felled a huge tree and had wrestled it into place to make a bridge. The tigress stepped up onto the trunk of the tree and walked along it with ease, skillfully balancing her heavy load. But the fox was afraid to fall off. He scurried this way and that, trying to find enough courage to start across. When the tigress reached the other side, she dropped to the trail and turned around to see why the fox was not following.

“What’s the matter?” she called back. “Are you afraid you will fall off?”

“Of course not,” came the injured reply. “I just wanted to see if this would make a good pounding pole for hulling rice.”

The tigress had not expected for an answer. “Imagine having a husband who thinks about pounding poles for rice while he is out hunting,” she mused as she walked ahead.

When the tigress had disappeared, the fox dashed down into the ravine and up the other side to join her.

A little farther along, they came to a larger boulder that had fallen across the trail. The tigress skimmed over it easily and walked on. Suddenly she realized that her husband was not coming behind her. She turned around and saw him leaping and clawing at the top of the rock, his head bobbling into view with every jump.

“Are you having trouble?” she shouted. “Is it too high for you?”

“Don’t be silly?” answered the indignant fox. “I am just testing this rock to see if it will make a good grindstone.”

“My other husband never noticed these things,” thought the happy tigress to herself as she turned again to the trail.

The fox waited to be sure she would not see him. Then he ran around the rock as fast as he could and dashed after her.

At a bend in the trail they came to a place where there had been a small landslide. There was no way to cross without jumping. This posed no problem for the tigress. She leaped across without any trouble. But the fox was afraid of falling into the river.

“Aren’t you coming?” called the tigress when she failed to hear her husband’s footsteps behind her. But his time there was no answer. When the tigress turned around, the fox was nowhere in sight. She ran back to the landslide and there he was, far below, swinging in a vice.

“Oh dear! You fell!” she exclaimed.

“No, I did not fall,” the fox assured her, “ I wanted to see if this would make a good rope to tie our buffalo.”

The tigress grinned down at him, unable to conceal her pleasure. She had never known a man to be so interested in pounding poles and grindstones and ropes, before he actually needed them.

“Shall I help you climb up?” she asked with an air of affection.

“Oh, no. That won’t be necessary,” answered the fox. He must not appear to need his wife’s assistance. “You run along and I will catch up with you when I get this vine measured properly.”

As soon as the tigress had gone beyond hearing distance, the fox began to struggle to get back to the trail. He pulled and tugged and scratched his way upward, tearing the lungs to shreds on the thorns that stood in his way.

When he finally caught up with the tigress, she noticed he had only a little piece of lungs left.

“What happened to the rest of the lungs?” she asked, looking at him suspiciously.

“Well, my dear,” began the fox, “I met many of my friends along the way. I had to give them something as a token of my respect, so I gave each one a piece of the lungs.”

“You don’t have that many friends!” jeered the tigress.

“How do you know how many friends I have?” retorted the fox. “I have many more than you do.”

“Well, you don’t!” said the tigress emphatically.

“All right, if you have so many friends, call them,” challenged the fox. “Let me see how many there are.”

The tigress, now offended, dropped the old bullock she had. She threw back her head and started to roar. Soon she was roaring so loudly that she could be heard in every village in the valley. And the more she roared the more she frightened everyone, until at last the only answered to her roars was the whisper of the wind in the high branches.

When the tigress was hoarse from roaring, the fox said: “Now I will show you how may friends I have.” He sauntered out to a point overlooking the valley and began to bark. As soon as the other foxes in the jungle heard him, they began to bark too. The jackals and the village dogs began to bark. Soon the whole valley seemed to be filled with barking animals.

The tigress was amazed. She couldn’t believe it. But what more did she need to convince her that the fox had friends in every village in the district of Gorkha? She looked at her husband with new respect. Had he not been very brave in his fight with the tiger? Was he not clever at picking out good meat? And did he not always try to find better tools to make housekeeping easier? Now he had also shown her he was famous. She picked up the old bullock and headed once more toward home. “In fact,” she muttered to herself as she trotted along, “for a husband he is just about perfect.”

When the fox and his wife arrived at the den, the three little cubs greeted them eagerly, and they all sat down for a long feast on the old bullock.

Walking two days distance from the village of Gorkha, any traveler will find, even today, the little family living happy together. If the traveler stops briefly, he will observe the fox still trying to prove himself the perfect husband for a tigress.

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