Do you know what a Brahmin is? A Brahmin is a very good and gentle kind of man who lives in India, and who treats all the beasts as if they were his brothers. There is a great deal more to know about Brahmins, but that is enough for the story.
One day a Brahmin 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 for his wickedness.
"Oh, Brother Brahmin, Brother Brahmin," said the Tiger, "please let me out, to get a little drink! I am so thirsty, and there is no water here."
"But Brother Tiger," said the Brahmin, "you know if I should let you out, you would spring on me and eat me up."
"Never, Brother Brahmin!" said the Tiger. "Never in the world would I do such an ungrateful thing! Just let me out a little minute, to get a little, little drink of water, Brother Brahmin!"
So the Brahmin unlocked the door and let the Tiger out. The moment he was out he sprang on the Brahmin, and was about to eat him up.
"But, Brother Tiger," said the Brahmin, "you promised you would not. It is not fair or just that you should eat me, when I set you free."
"It is perfectly right and just," said the Tiger, "and I shall eat you up."
However, the Brahmin argued so hard that at last the Tiger agreed to wait and ask the first five whom they should meet, whether it was fair for him to eat the Brahmin, and to abide by their decision.
The first thing they came to, to ask, was an old Banyan Tree, by the wayside. (A banyan tree is a kind of fruit tree.)
"Brother Banyan," said the Brahmin, eagerly, "does it seem to you right or just 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, oh, Brother Bullock, does it seem to you a fair thing that this Tiger should eat me up, after I have just 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 at last he went on again with the Brahmin. And after a time they saw an Eagle, high overhead. The Brahmin called up to him imploringly,—
"Oh, Brother Eagle, Brother Eagle! Tell us if it seems to you 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 eyrie, men stone my young and rob my nest 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. And in a little while they saw an old Alligator, lying half buried in mud and slime, at the river's edge.
"Brother Alligator, oh, 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, and snorted; then he said,
"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!" he begged.
Finally, the Tiger walked on with him.
After a time, they met the little Jackal, coming gayly down the road toward them.
"Oh, Brother Jackal, dear 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?" said the little Jackal.
"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 little Jackal, vacantly.
"Yes, yes, his cage," said the Brahmin. "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," said the Brahmin, "it is right for this Tiger to eat me, when I set him free from his cage?"
"What cage?" said the little Jackal.
"Why, the cage he was in," said the Brahmin. "You see—"
"But I don't altogether understand," said the little 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 little 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 little 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 little Jackal walked back together to the spot where the cage was.
"Now, let us understand the situation," said the little Jackal. "Brahmin, where were you?"
"I stood here by the roadside," said the Brahmin.
"Tiger, where were you?" said the little Jackal.
"Why, in the cage, of course," roared the Tiger.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, Father Tiger," said the little 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 little 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 little 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 to.
"Yes; but I don't see any lock," said the little 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 little 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!"
Then he made a very low bow to the Brahmin.
"Good-by, Brother," he said. "Your way lies that way, and mine lies this; good-by!"