Tortoise had used up all his salt, and he found his meals so tasteless
without it that he decided to call on his brother and ask him if he had
any to spare. His brother had plenty. "How will you get it back to your
home?" he asked Tortoise. "If you will wrap the salt in a piece of bark
cloth, and tie it up with string, then I can put the string over my shoulder
and drag the parcel along the ground behind me," said Tortoise. "A splendid
idea!" exclaimed his brother, and between them they made a tidy package
of the salt.
Then Tortoise set off for his long, slow journey home, with
the bundle going bump, bump, bump, along the ground behind him. Suddenly
he was pulled up short, and turning round, he saw that a large lizard had
jumped on to the parcel of salt and was sitting there, staring at him.
"Get off my salt!" exclaimed Tortoise. "How do you expect me to drag it
home with you on top of it?"
"It's not your salt!' replied the lizard.
"I was just walking along the path when I found this bundle lying there,
so I took possession of it and now it belongs to me."
"What rubbish you
talk!" said Tortoise. "You know well it is mine, for I am holding the string
that ties it.
" But the lizard still insisted that he had found the parcel
lying in the road, and he refused to get off unless Tortoise went with
him to the elders, to have their case tried in court. Poor Tortoise had
to agree and together they went before the old men at the court.
Tortoise put his case, explaining that as his arms and legs were so short
he always had to carry bundles by dragging them along behind him. Then
the lizard put his side of the matter, saying that he had found the bundle
lying in the road. '"Surely anything that is picked up on the road belongs
to the one who picks it up?" cried the lizard.
The old men discussed the
matter seriously for some time; but many of them were related to the lizard and
thought that they might perhaps get a share of the salt, so eventually
they decreed that the bundle should be cut into two, each animal taking
half. Tortoise was disappointed, because he knew it really was his salt,
but he sighed with resignation and let them divide the parcel.
immediately seized the half that was covered with the biggest piece of
cloth, leaving poor Tortoise with most of his salt escaping from his half
of the parcel, and spilling out on to the ground.
In vain did Tortoise
try to gather his salt together. His hands were too small and there was
too little cloth to wrap round it properly. Finally he departed for home,
with only a fraction of his share, wrapped up in leaves and what remained
of the bark cloth, while the elders scraped up all that had been spilled,
dirty though it was, and took it back to their wives.
Tortoise's wife was
very disappointed when she saw how little salt he had brought with him,
and when he told her the whole story she was most indignant at the way
he had been treated. The long, slow journey had tired him, and he had to
rest for several days.
But although Tortoise was so slow, he was very cunning
and eventually thought up a plan to get even with the lizard.
good-bye to his wife, he plodded along the road towards the lizard's home
with a gleam in his eye, and after some time he caught sight of the lizard,
who was enjoying a solitary meal of flying ants.
Slowly and silently Tortoise
came upon him from behind and put his hands on the middle of the lizard's
body. "See what I've found!" called Tortoise loudly.
"What are you doing?"
asked the perplexed lizard. "I was just walking along the path when I found
something lying there," explained Tortoise. "So I picked it up and now
it belongs to me, just as you picked up my salt the other day."
lizard continued to wriggle and demanded that Tortoise set him free, Tortoise
insisted that they go to the court and get the elders to judge.
men listened attentively to both sides of the story, and then one said:
"If we are to be perfectly fair, we must give the same judgment that we
gave concerning the salt."
"Yes," said the others, nodding their white
heads, "and we had the bag of salt cut in two.
Therefore we must cut the
lizard in two, and Tortoise shall have half."
"That is fair," replied Tortoise,
and before the lizard could escape, he seized a knife from an elder's belt
and sliced him in half, and that was the end of the greedy lizard.