The little Jackal was very fond of shell-fish. He used to go down by the river and hunt along the edges for crabs and such things. And once, when he was hunting for crabs, he was so hungry that he put his paw into the water after a crab without looking first,—which you never should do! The minute he put in his paw, snap!—the big Alligator who lives in the mud down there had it in his jaws.
"Oh, dear!" thought the little Jackal; "the big Alligator has my paw in his mouth! In another minute he will pull me down and gobble me up! What shall I do? what shall I do?" Then he thought, suddenly, "I'll deceive him!"
So he put on a very cheerful voice, as if nothing at all were the matter, and he said,—
"Ho! ho! Clever Mr Alligator! Smart Mr Alligator, to take that old bulrush root for my paw! I hope you'll find it very tender!"
The old Alligator was hidden away beneath the mud and bulrush leaves, and he couldn't see anything. He thought, "Pshaw! I've made a mistake." So he opened his mouth and let the little Jackal go.
The little Jackal ran away as fast as he could, and as he ran he called out,—
"Thank you, Mr Alligator! Kind Mr Alligator! So kind of you to let me go!"
The old Alligator lashed with his tail and snapped with his jaws, but it was too late; the little Jackal was out of reach.
After this the little Jackal kept away from the river, out of danger. But after about a week he got such an appetite for crabs that nothing else would do at all; he felt that he must have a crab. So he went down by the river and looked all around, very carefully. He didn't see the old Alligator, but he thought to himself, "I think I'll not take any chances." So he stood still and began to talk out loud to himself. He said,—
"When I don't see any little crabs on the land I generally see them sticking out of the water, and then I put my paw in and catch them. I wonder if there are any fat little crabs in the water to-day?"
The old Alligator was hidden down in the mud at the bottom of the river, and when he heard what the little Jackal said, he thought, "Aha! I'll pretend to be a little crab, and when he puts his paw in, I'll make my dinner of him." So he stuck the black end of his snout above the water and waited.
The little Jackal took one look, and then he said,—
"Thank you, Mr Alligator! Kind Mr Alligator! You are exceedingly kind to show me where you are! I will have dinner elsewhere." And he ran away like the wind.
The old Alligator foamed at the mouth, he was so angry, but the little Jackal was gone.
For two whole weeks the little Jackal kept away from the river. Then, one day he got a feeling inside him that nothing but crabs could satisfy: he felt that he must have at least one crab. Very cautiously, he went down to the river and looked all around. He saw no sign of the old Alligator. Still, he did not mean to take any chances. So he stood quite still and began to talk to himself,—it was a little way he had. He said,—
"When I don't see any little crabs on the shore, or sticking up out of the water, I usually see them blowing bubbles from under the water; the little bubbles go puff, puff, puff, and then they go pop, pop, pop, and they show me where the little juicy crabs are, so I can put my paw in and catch them. I wonder if I shall see any little bubbles to-day?"
The old Alligator, lying low in the mud and weeds, heard this, and he thought, "Pooh! That's easy enough; I'll just blow some little crab-bubbles, and then he will put his paw in where I can get it."
So he blew, and he blew, a mighty blast, and the bubbles rose in a perfect whirlpool, fizzing and swirling.
The little Jackal didn't have to be told who was underneath those bubbles: he took one quick look, and off he ran. But as he went, he sang,—
"Thank you, Mr Alligator! Kind Mr Alligator! You are the kindest Alligator in the world, to show me where you are, so nicely! I'll breakfast at another part of the river."
The old Alligator was so furious that he crawled up on the bank and went after the little Jackal; but, dear, dear, he couldn't catch the little Jackal; he ran far too fast.
After this, the little Jackal did not like to risk going near the water, so he ate no more crabs. But he found a garden of wild figs, which were so good that he went there every day, and ate them instead of shell-fish.
Now the old Alligator found this out, and he made up his mind to have the little Jackal for supper, or to die trying. So he crept, and crawled, and dragged himself over the ground to the garden of wild figs. There he made a huge pile of figs under the biggest of the wild fig trees, and hid himself in the pile.
After a while the little Jackal came dancing into the garden, very happy and free from care,—but looking all around. He saw the huge pile of figs under the big fig tree.
"H-m," he thought, "that looks singularly like my friend, the Alligator. I'll investigate a bit."
He stood quite still and began to talk to himself,—it was a little way he had. He said,—
"The little figs I like best are the fat, ripe, juicy ones that drop off when the breeze blows; and then the wind blows them about on the ground, this way and that; the great heap of figs over there is so still that I think they must be all bad figs."
The old Alligator, underneath his fig pile, thought,—
"Bother the suspicious little Jackal! I shall have to make these figs roll about, so that he will think the wind moves them." And straight-way he humped himself up and moved, and sent the little figs flying,—and his back showed through.
The little Jackal did not wait for a second look. He ran out of the garden like the wind. But as he ran he called back,—
"Thank you, again, Mr Alligator; very sweet of you to show me where you are; I can't stay to thank you as I should like: good-bye!"
At this the old Alligator was beside himself with rage. He vowed that he would have the little Jackal for supper this time, come what might. So he crept and crawled over the ground till he came to the little Jackal's house. Then he crept and crawled inside, and hid himself there in the house, to wait till the little Jackal should come home.
By and by the little Jackal came dancing home, happy and free from care,—but looking all around. Presently, as he came along, he saw that the ground was all raked up as if something very heavy had been dragged over it. The little Jackal stopped and looked.
"What's this? what's this?" he said.
Then he saw that the door of his house was crushed at the sides and broken, as if something very big had gone through it.
"What's this? What's this?" the little Jackal said. "I think I'll investigate a little!"
So he stood quite still and began to talk to himself (you remember, it was a little way he had), but loudly. He said,—
"How strange that my little House doesn't speak to me! Why don't you speak to me, little House? You always speak to me, if everything is all right, when I come home. I wonder if anything is wrong with my little House?"
The old Alligator thought to himself that he must certainly pretend to be the little House, or the little Jackal would never come in. So he put on as pleasant a voice as he could (which is not saying much) and said,—
"Hullo, little Jackal!"
Oh! When the little Jackal heard that, he was frightened enough, for once.
"It's the old Alligator," he said, "and if I don't make an end of him this time he will certainly make an end of me. What shall I do?"
He thought very fast. Then he spoke out pleasantly.
"Thank you, little House," he said, "it's good to hear your pretty voice, dear little House, and I will be in with you in a minute; only first I must gather some firewood for dinner."
Then he went and gathered firewood, and more firewood, and more firewood; and he piled it all up solid against the door and round the house; and then he set fire to it!
And it smoked and burned till it smoked that old Alligator to smoked herring!