[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the African Stories (Lang) unit. Story source: The Lilac Fairy Book by Andrew Lang and illustrated by H. J. Ford (1910).
The Heart of a Monkey:
The Washerman's Donkey
The Washerman's Donkey
(see previous page for audio)A washerman once lived in the great forest on the other side of the town, and he had a donkey to keep him company and to carry him wherever he wanted to go. For a time they got on very well, but by and by the donkey grew lazy and ungrateful for her master's kindness and ran away several miles into the heart of the forest where she did nothing but eat and eat and eat, till she grew so fat she could hardly move.
One day as she was tasting quite a new kind of grass and wondering if it was as good as what she had had for dinner the day before, a hare happened to pass by.
"Well, that is a fat creature," thought she and turned out of her path to tell the news to a lion who was a friend of hers.
Now the lion had been very ill and was not strong enough to go hunting for himself, and when the hare came and told him that a very fat donkey was to be found only a few hundred yards off, tears of disappointment and weakness filled his eyes.
"What is the good of telling me that?" he asked, in a weepy voice; "you know I cannot even walk as far as that palm."
"Never mind," answered the hare briskly. "If you can't go to your dinner your dinner shall come to you," and nodding a farewell to the lion she went back to the donkey.
"Good morning," said she, bowing politely to the donkey, who lifted her head in surprise. "Excuse my interrupting you, but I have come on very important business."
"Indeed," answered the donkey, "it is most kind of you to take the trouble. May I inquire what the business is?"
"Certainly," replied the hare. "It is my friend the lion who has heard so much of your charms and good qualities that he has sent me to beg that you will give him your paw in marriage. He regrets deeply that he is unable to make the request in person, but he has been ill and is too weak to move."
"Poor fellow! How sad!" said the donkey. "But you must tell him that I feel honoured by his proposal, and will gladly consent to be Queen of the Beasts."
"Will you not come and tell him so yourself?" asked the hare.
Side by side they went down the road which led to the lion's house. It took a long while, for the donkey was so fat with eating she could only walk very slowly, and the hare, who could have run the distance in about five minutes, was obliged to creep along till she almost dropped with fatigue at not being able to go at her own pace.
When at last they arrived, the lion was sitting up at the entrance, looking very pale and thin. The donkey suddenly grew shy and hung her head, but the lion put on his best manners and invited both his visitors to come in and make themselves comfortable.
Very soon the hare got up and said, "Well, as I have another engagement I will leave you to make acquaintance with your future husband," and winking at the lion she bounded away.
The donkey expected that as soon as they were left alone, the lion would begin to speak of their marriage and where they should live, but as he said nothing she looked up. To her surprise and terror she saw him crouching in the corner, his eyes glaring with a red light, and with a loud roar he sprang towards her. But in that moment the donkey had had time to prepare herself, and jumping on one side dealt the lion such a hard kick that he shrieked with the pain. Again and again he struck at her with his claws, but the donkey could bite too, as well as the lion, who was very weak after his illness, and at last a well-planted kick knocked him right over, and he rolled on the floor, groaning with pain. The donkey did not wait for him to get up, but ran away as fast as she could and was lost in the forest.
Now the hare, who knew quite well what would happen, had not gone to do her business, but hid herself in some bushes behind the cave where she could hear quite clearly the sounds of the battle. When all was quiet again she crept gently out and stole round the corner.
"Well, lion, have you killed her?" asked she, running swiftly up the path.
"Killed her, indeed!" answered the lion sulkily, "it is she who has nearly killed me. I never knew a donkey could kick like that, though I took care she should carry away the marks of my claws."
"Dear me! Fancy such a great fat creature being able to fight!" cried the hare. "But don't vex yourself. Just lie still, and your wounds will soon heal," and she bade her friend, goodbye, and returned to her family.