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Who Killed The Otter's Babies

The Otter said to the Mouse-deer, "Friend Mouse-deer, will you be so good as to take charge of the children till I come back ? I am going down to the river to catch fish, and when I come back, I'll share the catch with you." The Mouse-deer replied, "Very well! go along, and I'll look after the children." So the Otter went down to the river to catch fish.
(Here the story of What the Otter Did stops and the story of What Happened when the Woodpecker Sounded the War-gong commences.) The Mouse-deer was Chief Dancer of the War-dance, and as he danced he trod on the Otter's babies and crushed them flat. Presently the Otter returned home, bringing a string of fish with him. On arriving he saw that his children had been killed, and exclaimed, "How comes it, Friend Mouse-deer, that my babies have died ?" The Mouse-deer replied: "The Woodpecker came and sounded the war-gong, and I, being Chief War-Dancer, danced; and, forgetting about your children, I trod upon them and crushed them flat."
On hearing this the Otter went and made complaint unto King Solomon, prostrating himself and saying: "Your Majesty's most humble slave craves pardon for presuming to address your Majesty, but Friend Mouse-deer has murdered your slave's children, and your slave desires to learn whether he is guilty or not according to the Law of the Land." King Solomon replied, saying, "If the Mouse-deer hath done this thing wittingly, assuredly he is guilty of death." Then he summoned the Mouse-deer before him.
And when the Mouse-deer came into the presence of the King, the King inquired of the Otter, "What is your charge against him?" The Otter replied, "Your slave accuses him of the murder of your slave's children; your slave would hear the Law of the Land." Then the King said unto the Mouse-deer, "Was it your doing that the Otter's children were killed ?" The Mouse-deer replied, "Assuredly it was, but I crave pardon for doing so." "How was it, then," said the King, "that you came to kill them?" The Mouse-deer replied, "Your slave came to kill them because the Woodpecker appeared and sounded the War-gong. Your slave, as your Majesty is aware, is Chief Dancer of the War-dance; therefore your slave danced, and, forgetting about the Otter's children, your slave trod upon them and crushed them flat." Here the King sent for the Woodpecker also, and the Woodpecker came before him.
"Was it you, Woodpecker," said the King, "who sounded the war-gong?" "Assuredly it was," said the Woodpecker,--"forasmuch as your slave saw the Great Lizard wearing his sword." The King replied, "If that is the case, there is no fault to be found in the Woodpecker" (for the Woodpecker was Chief Beater of the War-gong). Then the King commanded the Great Lizard to be summoned, and when he arrived, the King inquired, "Was it you, Lizard, wearing your sword?" The Great Lizard replied, "Assuredly it was, your Majesty."
"And why were you wearing your sword ?" The Great Lizard replied, "Your slave wore it forasmuch as your slave saw that the Tortoise had donned his coat of mail." So the Tortoise was summoned likewise. "Why did you, Tortoise, don your coat of mail?" The Tortoise replied, "Your slave donned it forasmuch as your slave saw the King-crab trailing his three-edged pike." Then the King-crab was sent for. "Why were you, King-crab, trailing your three-edged pike?" ': Because your slave saw that the Crayfish had shouldered his lance." Then the King sent for the Crayfish, and said, "Was it you, Crayfish, who was shouldering your lance ?" And the Crayfish replied, "Assuredly it was, your Majesty." "And why did you shoulder it ?" "Because your slave saw the Otter coming down to devour your slave's own children." "Oh"said King Solomon, "if that is the-case, you, Otter are the guilty party, and your complaint of your children's death cannot be sustained against the Mouse-deer by the Law of the Land."

Adapted By Walter Skeat

 

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