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An Indian Folk Tale
Translated by M.Mints
Illustrated by N.Sustova
People say that if a Tiger has the heart of a Mouse beating in his breast, he had better avoid Cats.
Once upon a time a Raven was flying over a forest, carrying a little Mouse in his beak.
Suddenly he dropped his prey. In that forest there lived a Man who could work miracles. And the little Mouse happened to fall down at the feet of this very Man.
The Man saw the little Mouse, picked her up and took her home with him. Many days passed and the Mouse was still living in his hut. The Man gave her something to eat and drink, and she was contented. Then there came a day when the Mouse went out of the hut. Close by she noticed a very big Tomcat. Away the little Mouse ran as fast as she could.
She darted into her corner, where she lay hidden, trembling with fright.
The Man noticed that and said:
“What’s the matter with you? Why are you trembling like that?”
“Oh, my Master!” squeaked the little Mouse, “Not far away from our hut I came upon a Tomcat, and he frightened me to death!”
The Man thought a while, then said:
“Well, I can do something you should never again be afraid of Cats. Go to bed and sleep! In the morning when you awake you will no longer be a Mouse. You will be a Pussy-cat.”
The Man was as good as his word. In the morning on awakening, the little Mouse had become a Pussy-cat.
“Never again need you be afraid of Cats! You yourself are a Cat now!” the Man said.
The Cat-Who-Had-Been-A-Mouse ran out of the hut as happy as happy could be.
She was about to lie in the sun warming herself, when she suddenly saw the Tomcat again. The poor creature forgot at once that she was a Pussy-cat now, and no longer a little Mouse.
“What’s the matter with you?” the Man questioned her. “Who’s frightened you this time?”
The Pussy-cat was so ashamed of herself she could not confess that she was still afraid of Cats, and she lied to the Man:
“I met a Dog in the forest. He ran after me and it’s a miracle that I got away from him alive!”
Again the Man said, “Go to bed and sleep! In the morning when you awake you will no longer be a Pussy-cat. You will be a Dog, and then you needn’t ever again be afraid of Dogs.”
And indeed: in the morning when the Pussy-cat awoke, she was a huge Dog. Barking loudly, she ran out into the forest. Near a tree she again saw the Tomcat. And the Tomcat saw the Dog, too. It seemed to the Tomcat that the Dog was about to pounce on him, and he got ready to defend himself: he snorted, lifted a paw and began to miaow loudly. The miaowing frightened the Dog, and she ran back into the hut.
“And who’s frightened you this time?” the Man said.
The Dog was so ashamed of herself that she could not confess a Tomcat had frightened her, and the Dog lied to the Man:
“Oh, my Master! Not far from our hut I met a Tiger. Even now I cannot understand how I managed to escape from his terrible claws!”
“Well then. I’ll again do something you should not ever be afraid of anybody. Go to bed and sleep! Tomorrow morning when you awake you will be a Tiger!”
And so it turned out: in the morning the Dog awoke in the shape of a Tiger.
“It is not fit for me,” he thought, “King of the Animals, to live in such a poor hut with a Man! I’ll go to the forest and all the animals there will tremble at the sight of me!”
Full of his own importance with this thought in mind, the Tiger marched off into the forest.
Suddenly he saw the Tomcat! And the Tomcat saw the Tiger, too. Scared to death, the Tomcat’s hair bristled, his back arched, his eyes glared!
“This is the end of me!” the Tomcat thought. “There’s no escape from a Tiger!”
In the meantime the Tiger in whose breast was beating the heart of a little Mouse, rushed like mad back to the Man’s hut when he saw the Tomcat.
He came flying into the hut, hid himself in the darkest corner and lay there, his teeth clattering from fright.
The man was greatly surprised. “Why are you trembling like that again? Or is there an animal in our forest more powerful than a Tiger?”
“There is...” said the Tiger, more dead than alive.
“But who can he be?” the Man wanted to know.
“Its — it’s — it’s the Cat!”
Now everything became clear to the Man and he said:
“A Tiger in whose breast there beats the heart of a little Mouse is weaker than a Cat. Therefore, whoever has the heart of a Mouse beating in his breast, forever remains a Mouse.”
With these words he changed the Tiger back into a good-for-nothing little Mouse.
Author: An Indian Folk Tale; illustrated by Sustova N.
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