Once there was a great big jungle; and in the jungle there was a great big Lion; and the Lion was king of the jungle. Whenever he wanted anything to eat, all he had to do was to come up out of his cave in the stones and earth and roar. When he had roared a few times all the little people of the jungle were so frightened that they came out of their holes and hiding-places and ran, this way and that, to get away. Then, of course, the Lion could see where they were. And he pounced on them, killed them, and gobbled them up.
He did this so often that at last there was not a single thing left alive in the jungle besides the Lion, except two little Jackals,—a little father Jackal and a little mother Jackal.
They had run away so many times that they were quite thin and very tired, and they could not run so fast any more. And one day the Lion was so near that the little mother Jackal grew frightened; she said,—
"Oh, Father Jackal, Father Jackal! I b'lieve our time has come! the Lion will surely catch us this time!"
"Pooh! nonsense, mother!" said the little father Jackal. "Come, we'll run on a bit!"
And they ran, ran, ran very fast, and the Lion did not catch them that time.
But at last a day came when the Lion was nearer still and the little mother Jackal was frightened almost to death.
"Oh, Father Jackal, Father Jackal!" she cried; "I'm sure our time has come! The Lion's going to eat us this time!"
"Now, mother, don't you fret," said the little father Jackal; "you do just as I tell you, and it will be all right."
Then what did those cunning little Jackals do but take hold of hands and run up towards the Lion, as if they had meant to come all the time. When he saw them coming he stood up, and roared in a terrible voice,—
"You miserable little wretches, come here and be eaten, at once! Why didn't you come before?"
The father Jackal bowed very low.
"Indeed, Father Lion," he said, "we meant to come before; we knew we ought to come before; and we wanted to come before; but every time we started to come, a dreadful great lion came out of the woods and roared at us, and frightened us so that we ran away."
"What do you mean?" roared the Lion. "There's no other lion in this jungle, and you know it!"
"Indeed, indeed, Father Lion," said the little Jackal, "I know that is what everybody thinks; but indeed and indeed there is another lion! And he is as much bigger than you as you are bigger than I! His face is much more terrible, and his roar far, far more dreadful. Oh, he is far more fearful than you!"
At that the Lion stood up and roared so that the jungle shook.
"Take me to this Lion," he said; "I'll eat him up and then I'll eat you up."
The little Jackals danced on ahead, and the Lion stalked behind. They led him to a place where there was a round, deep well of clear water. They went round on one side of it, and the Lion stalked up to the other.
"He lives down there, Father Lion!" said the little Jackal. "He lives down there!"
The Lion came close and looked down into the water,—and a lion's face looked back at him out of the water!
When he saw that, the Lion roared and shook his mane and showed his teeth. And the lion in the water shook his mane and showed his teeth. The Lion above shook his mane again and growled again, and made a terrible face. But the lion in the water made just as terrible a one, back. The Lion above couldn't stand that. He leaped down into the well after the other lion.
But, of course, as you know very well, there wasn't any other lion! It was only the reflection in the water!
So the poor old Lion floundered about and floundered about, and as he couldn't get up the steep sides of the well, he was at last drowned. And when he was drowned, the little Jackals took hold of hands and danced round the well, and sang,—
"The Lion is dead! The Lion is dead!
"We have killed the great Lion who would have killed us!