This exciting way of life did not appeal to the tortoise who suggested to the baboon one day that they would plant their own fig trees, far away from the farmer, his gun, and his fierce snarling dogs. The baboon agreed that this was a splendid idea but being a lazy animal he neglected his tree once he had planted it, while the tortoise watered his every day.
It is not surprising that while the tortoise’s tree was sprouting branches and leaves, the tree belonging to the baboon seemed to be dying. Finally it wilted, withered and was no more than a dry stick in the ground.
When the figs appeared on the tortoise’s tree, his mouth watered at the thought of eating them, and because he could not climb the tree himself he asked the baboon to help him. “Certainly,” said the baboon, climbing up the tree, picking the ripest figs and munching them till the juice was running out of his mouth.
“But you are eating my figs,” cried the tortoise, looking up. “Throw some down for me.”
“I’m seeking the ripest ones for you,” shouted back the baboon. “I’m testing them by tasting them. You’ll get your share by and by.” And he went on eating.
Finally, he came down. “I couldn’t find any really ripe ones so I didn’t bring any down for you.” And turning three somersaults while he laughed and laughed, he ran off.
The tortoise was looking very sad indeed when a robin redbreast came a hop-hop-hopping along the sand towards him, asking, “Why so sad, tortoise? You look as if you’ve lost something.”
“I have. All the figs are ripe on my tree but I can’t climb up to get them. I asked baboon to help me but he clambered up and guzzled himself and didn’t even give me the skin of one fig. Be a good citizen, robin redbreast, and help me now.”
The robin winged his way up to the topmost branches and started pecking holes in the ripe figs. “Do you like ripe figs, tortoise?”
“Yes, indeed, the riper the better.”
“Well, only unripe ones are left now, Do you like unripe figs, tortoise?”
“Yes, please, I like unripe figs as well.”
“Sorry, there are no unripe figs left now.”
And chirping merrily, the well-fed bird fluttered away, leaving the hungry tortoise with the corners of his mouth dropping farther down in his sadness and hunger. Since that day, it is said, tortoises have never lost their sad look, and nobody has ever seen a tortoise smiling or heard him laughing.
Next day the baboon was there again, eating his fill and mocking the tortoise who by now was hungry, miserable, and very very angry.
The day after that the shepherd came along, heard the tortoise’s sad story, and offered to help him to get his own back on the crafty baboon. After he had plucked some figs for the tortoise he loaded his gun and placed it high in the tree. To the trigger he tied a long string that hung down to the ground.
In no time at all the baboon came to the tree and seeing the string asked the tortoise what it was for. “Well,” said the tortoise, pointing to the gun in the tree, “do you see that stick up there? If I pull the string one way, it causes the stick to bring ripe figs falling down. If I pull it another way, it causes thunder and lightning and clouds.”
“Thunder and lightning and clouds!” roared the baboon, “Ha! Ha! You must think me as foolish as the owl who let the swallow escape.” And he pulled the string.
“Bang! Bang!” both barrels of the gun went off, and the baboon saw lightning and thunder and clouds and in his fright ran screaming across the sands. Since that time, baboons have always been frightened of guns. They can’t stand the sight of them.
Deep down inside, the tortoise was laughing, but his face itself looked as sad as it will always. His revenge, he felt, was not complete, and he wanted to punish the baboon still further.
Next time they met, the tortoise was standing next to a bees-nest, listening.
“What are you listening to?” inquired the baboon.
“To the music that’s coming from this hole.”
“But it’s so soft, no more than a gentle humming.”
“Of course it’s soft. That’s a church.”
“It’s so soft you can hardly hear it.”
“Well, if you like them to hum more loudly, take this stick, shove it through the door, move it up and down, and bang on the church with your fist.”
The baboon did so. The humming grew suddenly louder, anger came in the sound, and the bees came swarming out of their nest, a cloud of angry bees who attacked the baboon, stinging him all over his head and body.
Screaming with pain, he staggered down to the river, the swarm buzzing after him. Splash! He dived into the water to escape from his pursuers, but every time his head came out of the water so that he could breathe, the hovering swarm was on him again, stinging, stinging, until their anger had died and they droned back to their nest.
Back on dry land, the baboon – who now had bumps all over his face and body – started to pull out the stings (for a bee always leaves a sting behind) and began scratching himself all over as the pain grew. And baboons, as you may have noticed, have been scratching themselves ever since.
By the time he returned to the tortoise, wishing to bite him for what he had done, the little fellow was gazing up at a mango tree. “You’ll wish you’d never been born when I’ve finished with you,” he shouted; but the tortoise said – calmly, though he was really trembling – “Just a moment, my friend. I did not tell you to move that stick up and down with such force, nor did I tell you to bang on the church so hard that you almost punched a hole through it. You cannot really blame me for what happened.” And he went on gazing at the mango tree while the baboon’s anger calmed down and he became inquisitive.
“What are you gazing at so intently, tortoise?”
“I’m looking up at the nice juicy mangoes hanging up there, almost crying to be eaten.”
Now the baboon’s eyelids were all swollen from the stinging so he couldn’t see well enough to realize that what the tortoise said were mangoes were actually the nests of wasps hanging from the branches of the tree. His mouth watered and he forgot his pain and climbed into the tree, grabbing at the ‘mangoes’. When the wasps attacked him, the pain was even greater than the stinging of the bees, and with cries of pain he fell to the ground and shouted at the tortoise, “You’ll suffer for this. I’ll bite off your head before I’m through with you.”
“Please,” said the tortoise, “again you are blaming me for something I haven’t done. I pointed out the mangoes to you, and you go and grab the wasps’ nests. No wonder they turned on you. Wouldn’t you have done the same in their position?”
Before the baboon could reply, a cricket came hopping and chirping by. Now, as you know, baboons are fond of eating crickets, so the baboon chased the insect who went hop-hop into the hole in a hollow tree.
“Watch me catch him,” said the baboon, putting his hand into the hole and groping around to find the cricket.
A big snake came out of the hole, bit the baboon and flung his long body around him and squeezed tight, saying while the baboon screamed for mercy, “Why are you baboons such busybodies, always disturbing other animals? Let me teach you a lesson that might help you to mend your ways.” And he squeezed again while the poor baboon roared with pain. The tortoise felt that his revenge was now complete.
From that day on, bees, wasps, snakes and tortoises have all been friends together. And the bees, who ate of the sweetness of the tortoise’s figs, have ever since then been mad about fruit and anything that is sweet. The snake who lived in the hole in the tree never went back there after being disturbed by the baboon, but decided to live instead in the branches of the tree so that he could always observe his enemies approaching. The baboon is much less of a busybody than he used to be. And, as I said before, he never stops scratching himself.