Gateway to the Classics: West African Folk-Tales by William H. Barker
 
West African Folk-Tales by  William H. Barker

Quarcoo Bah-Boni (The Bad Boy)

O NCE upon a time in a certain village lived a man and his wife who were childless. One day, however, when the husband was away hunting, the woman had a baby son. She was greatly troubled at her husband's absence, because she was unable to let him know of the child's arrival. In that country it is the custom for the father to give the baby its name when it is a week old. As the time approached for the naming, the woman wondered to herself what name she could give the child if her husband did not return in time. To her amazement, the child himself answered, "My name is Quarcoo Bah-boni." As he was only a week old she was astonished to hear him talk. The next day she got a greater surprise. She had been grumbling because her husband was not there to go to the farm for her and fetch food. The baby announced, "I will go to the farm"—which he did.

When he was a few weeks old, she was one day very busy. She laid him down on the bed while she went on with her task. In a few minutes several boys came up to her in great anger. "Your son has been beating us and ill-treating us in the street," said they. "My son!" she cried. "Why, my son is only a tiny baby. He is lying asleep on my bed." To convince them she went indoors to show them the baby. Imagine her surprise when he was nowhere to be seen! She had to apologize to the boys and beg them to forgive the child. Shortly after, he came in and put himself to bed.

He continued these mischievous tricks till his mother could no longer endure them. So she turned him out of the house and forbade him to return. He departed in great glee.

After walking a few miles, he came to a building where a goat, wolf, tiger, lion, and elephant lived very happily together. These animals were all sitting round their fire when he approached. After many polite speeches, he begged their permission to stay and be their servant, as he was motherless. The animals, after a little discussion, agreed to this, thinking that he would be able to help them in many ways. He was given a seat and some food, which he ate with great relish.

These five animals usually took it in turns to go out to their farm—a few miles away every morning, to bring home food for the day. It being Goat's turn, he asked Quarcoo to come with him to carry back the load.

The basket was accordingly handed to the little boy and he set off meekly after the goat. When they reached the farm, Quarcoo set down the basket and ran off to play. He paid no heed at all to the goat's calls for assistance, but went on quietly playing. At last the goat was so annoyed that he came up to Quarcoo and boxed his ears. To his great astonishment, the boy gave him such a blow that he fell to the ground. Quarcoo then proceeded to beat him till he cried for mercy. Nor would he stop his blows till the goat had promised to finish the work, carry home the load, and tell no one what had happened. Having promised this, the goat was allowed to go free. By this time the poor animal's face was bruised and swollen.

When the time came to go home the goat had to pack up the load and put it on his head. Then they set out.

As soon as they came in sight of their cottage, Quarcoo took the basket from the goat and he himself carried it into the cottage.

The other animals all exclaimed in wonder when they saw the goat's face, and asked him how it had happened. "I was unfortunate enough to get into a swarm of bees when I was working. They stung me," answered the poor goat.

Next day it was the wolf's turn to go to the farm. He also returned, much bruised and swollen. Goat (guessing what had happened) listened with a smile to the excuses made by Wolf to the others.

Goat and Wolf afterward talked the matter over and wondered much at the strength of the little boy.

Each day another animal took his turn at the farm, and each day he returned in the same condition as his friends had done. At last all the animals had been, and all now came together to discuss how best they might get rid of Quarcoo Bah-boni.

They made up their minds that, early the following morning, they would start off together and leave the boy in possession of the house. They prepared a big basket of food and set it ready.

Unfortunately for them, Quarcoo had heard their discussion and decided that he also would go with them. He quietly got himself a large leaf, rolled it round him (for he was very tiny) and laid himself down in the basket of food.

At dawn the animals got up very quietly. Goat, being the youngest, was given the basket to carry. They started, feeling very thankful to get away from the tiresome boy—never dreaming that they were carrying him along with them.

When they had gone a fair distance Goat, feeling very hot and tired, sat down to rest for a little while. As soon as the others had gone out of sight, he opened the basket, meaning to have some food unknown to his friends. His greed was rewarded, however, by a terrible blow on the face. He then heard the words, "Shut the basket at once, and say nothing to the others." He obeyed and hurried after the others in fear of this terrible boy.

As soon as he reached them he called out, "Wolf, Wolf, it is your turn now to take the basket. I am very tired." Wolf took the load at once.

They had not gone far when Wolf began to think of all the nice things in the basket and he also said he was going to rest a little while in the shade. Having got rid of the others in this way, he hastily opened the basket. He was greeted by Quarcoo in the same way as Goat had been, and speedily closed the basket and followed the others. In this way each animal got his turn of carrying the basket, and each was punished for his greed.


[Illustration]

They scattered in all directions.

Finally, Elephant's turn came. When he rejoined the others and asked some one to relieve him of his load they cried out, "If you do not want to carry it any farther, throw it away." He did so, and they all took to their heels. They ran for several miles and only stopped when they came to a huge tree, in whose shade they sat down to rest, being quite breathless.

Quarcoo, however, had got there before them. He had quietly stepped out of the basket, taken a short cut across country and arrived at the tree some time before them. He guessed that they would probably rest there—so he climbed up into the branches. There he remained, hidden among the leaves, while the animals sat on the ground below.

There they discussed Quarcoo and all the trouble he had caused them. They blamed Goat for having been the one to persuade them to take the boy as a servant. Goat being the youngest of the company had the domestic work to do and he had welcomed the idea of help. Goat indignantly denied being the cause of all their troubles, saying: "If I am really to blame for the admission of Quarcoo—let him appear before us." Quarcoo promptly jumped down from the tree and stood in front of them. They were so alarmed at his appearance they scattered in all directions. The wolf ran to the woods—the tiger into the heart of the forest, the elephant to Nigeria, the lion to the desert, and the goat to the abode of human beings. That is the reason why they live now in these various places instead of all together as they did previously.


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