Little Toe Bone
Good morning, Mr. Tiger,” said the little, wee boy very politely. Then he went on playing a pretty little song on his reed pipe.
“Good morning,” growled the big Tiger, much surprised, for really he was just about to swallow the little, wee boy. “You are a very polite little boy, I see, so I’ll give you a choice. Would you rather I’d eat you or all your sheep?”
“Would you mind if I ask my auntie? She takes care of me, and these are her sheep. I watch them every day, and I think I ought to do just as she wishes me to, don’t you?” asked the little, wee boy very politely. Then he went on playing the pretty little song on his reed pipe.
“You are a very polite little boy, I see, so I’ll wait till you ask your auntie. Does she live far away?” growled the Tiger, looking rather hungry.
“Oh, yes, she lives far away in the village, and I must not drive the sheep home until sunset; but I’ll tell you the very first thing in the morning, Mr. Tiger,” said the little, wee boy very politely. Then he went on playing the pretty little song on his reed pipe.
When he reached home that evening he called, “Oh, Auntie, may I please ask you a question?”
“Well, and what is it?” snapped his auntie.
“If a big, big Tiger should come out of the jungle and ask, ‘Shall I eat you or the sheep?’ which should I tell him to eat?”
“Why, you, of course,” snapped his auntie.
So next morning, when the big, big Tiger came out of the jungle and said, “Well, little boy, shall I eat you or all of your sheep?” the little, wee boy answered, very politely, “Me, of course, Mr. Tiger.” But the little, wee boy did not play any pretty little song on his reed pipe.
Then the big, big Tiger looked at the little, wee boy, and he coughed, and he switched his tail; then he looked away up to the tiptop of the tree, then he looked away off into the jungle, but he did not seem in a very great hurry to eat the little, wee boy.
“If you please, Mr. Tiger, if you must eat me I wish you’d do it right away, for it isn’t any fun to wait,” said the little, wee boy very politely.
“You’re a very polite little boy,” said the Tiger, “and I don’t like to eat you at all, but I must live. Is there anything I can do for you after I eat you?”
“Yes,” said the little, wee boy. “After you’ve eaten me and picked all my bones very clean, will you lay them in a nice, tidy pile at the foot of this tree, and will you take my little toe bone and tie it up in the very tiptop of the tree?”
“Certainly I will,” said the Tiger, and he did, just so.
When the winds blew, the little toe bone rocked and swung on the topmost branch, and the little white bones lay in a nice, tidy pile at the foot of the tree.
One night five robbers stopped there to divide the money they had stolen. They sat under the tree, and began to count out the gold and silver into five piles.
Then the little toe bone in the tiptop of the tree began to rock and swing harder than ever. The tree flung its branches about, and the wind whistled by. Black clouds covered the stars, and the rain came down in torrents. The lightning flashed, the thunder roared, and right in the worst of the storm the little toe bone dropped from the tree right on top of the chief robber’s head.
“Oh, help!” he cried. “The sky is falling on us to punish us! Let us run! Let us run!”
Away they ran through the jungle, leaving all their silver and gold in piles under the trees.
Then the storm stopped, and the stars shone again on a wonderful sight. The little toe bone had rolled from off the robber’s head right upon the tidy pile of little white bones, and they had turned into the little boy once more, and there he sat, playing a pretty song on his reed pipe.
When day came he found clean stones, white and red, blue and green, and he dug a hole in the ground like a great cup, and lined it with the stones. The white stones were at the bottom, and the blue and red and green stones were about the top, like a border. Then he played on his reed pipe, very sweetly, and all the mother animals from the jungle came to him to feed him, just as they would their own little ones.
There were mother tigers and mother leopards, mother lions, and even mother deer. When he had had enough he put the rest of their milk in the little pool he had made of the stones. Every morning they came out of the jungle to feed him. He drank all he wished, and the rest of the warm, white milk he put in his pretty pool. Then all day long he sat under the tree and played on his pipe. All the sick and hungry animals came to him and he let them drink from his pool, and they always went away well and happy.
From Hindu tales retold by Teresa Peirce Williston.New York, Chicago, San Francisco: Rand McNally & Company, 1917.