The Brown Fairy Book
Tale of a Tortoise and of a Mischievous Monkey
Once upon a time there was a country where the rivers were larger, and the forests
deeper, than anywhere else. Hardly any men came there, and the wild creatures had it all
to themselves, and used to play all sorts of strange games with each other. The great
trees, chained one to the other by thick flowering plants with bright scarlet or yellow
blossoms, were famous hiding-places for the monkeys, who could wait unseen, till a
puma or an elephant passed by, and then jump on their backs and go for a ride, swinging
themselves up by the creepers when they had had enough. Near the rivers huge tortoises
were to be found, and though to our eyes a tortoise seems a dull, slow thing, it is
wonderful to think how clever they were, and how often they outwitted many of their
There was one tortoise in particular that always managed to get the better of everybody,
and many were the tales told in the forest of his great deeds. They began when he was
quite young, and tired of staying at home with his father and mother. He left them one
day, and walked off in search of adventures. In a wide open space surrounded by trees he
met with an elephant, who was having his supper before taking his evening bath in the
river which ran close by. 'Let us see which of us two is strongest,' said the young tortoise,
marching up to the elephant. 'Very well,' replied the elephant, much amused at the
impertinence of the little creature; 'when would you like the trial to be?'
'In an hour's time; I have some business to do first,' answered the tortoise. And he
hastened away as fast as his short legs would carry him.
In a pool of the river a whale was resting, blowing water into the air and making a lovely
fountain. The tortoise, however, was too young and too busy to admire such things, and
he called to the whale to stop, as he wanted to speak to him. 'Would you like to try which
of us is the stronger?' said he. The whale looked at him, sent up another fountain, and
answered: 'Oh, yes; certainly. When do you wish to begin? I am quite ready.'
'Then give me one of your longest bones, and I will fasten it to my leg. When I give the
signal, you must pull, and we will see which can pull the hardest.'
'Very good,' replied the whale; and he took out one of his bones and passed it to the
The tortoise picked up the end of the bone in his mouth and went back to the elephant. 'I
will fasten this to your leg,' said he, 'in the same way as it is fastened to mine, and we
must both pull as hard as we can. We shall soon see which is the stronger.' So he wound
it carefully round the elephant's leg, and tied it in a firm knot. 'Now!' cried he, plunging
into a thick bush behind him.