The Heart of a Monkey
Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.
The sun had risen and set six times when the shark suddenly said, 'My friend, we have now performed half our journey, and it is time that I should tell you something.'
'What is it?' asked the monkey. 'Nothing unpleasant, I hope, for you sound rather grave?'
'Oh, no! Nothing at all. It is only that shortly before we left I heard that the sultan of my country is very ill, and that the only thing to cure him is a monkey's heart.'
'Poor man, I am very sorry for him,' replied the monkey; 'but you were unwise not to tell me till we had started.'
'What do you mean?' asked the shark; but the monkey, who now understood the whole plot, did not answer at once, for he was considering what he should say.
'Why are you so silent?' inquired the shark again.
'I was thinking what a pity it was you did not tell me while I was still on land, and then I would have brought my heart with me.'
'Your heart! Why isn't your heart here?' said the shark, with a puzzled expression.
'Oh, no! Of course not. Is it possible you don't know that when we leave home we always hang up our hearts on trees, to prevent their being troublesome? However, perhaps you won't believe that, and will just think I have invented it because I am afraid, so let us go on to your country as fast as we can, and when we arrive you can look for my heart, and if you find it you can kill me.'
The monkey spoke in such a calm, indifferent way that the shark was quite deceived, and began to wish he had not been in such a hurry.
'But there is no use going on if your heart is not with you,' he said at last. 'We had better turn back to the town, and then you can fetch it.'
Of course, this was just what the monkey wanted, but he was careful not to seem too pleased.
'Well, I don't know,' he remarked carelessly, 'it is such a long way; but you may be right.'
'I am sure I am,' answered the shark, 'and I will swim as quickly as I can,' and so he did, and in three days they caught sight of the kuyu tree hanging over the water.
With a sigh of relief the monkey caught hold of the nearest branch and swung himself up.
'Wait for me here,' he called out to the shark. 'I am so hungry I must have a little breakfast, and then I will go and look for my heart,' and he went further and further into the branches so that the shark could not see him. Then he curled himself up and went to sleep.
'Are you there?' cried the shark, who was soon tired of swimming about under the cliff, and was in haste to be gone.
The monkey awoke with a start, but did not answer. 'Are you there?' called the shark again, louder than before, and in a very cross voice.
'Oh, yes. I am here,' replied the monkey; 'but I wish you had not wakened me up. I was having such a nice nap.'
'Have you got it?' asked the shark. 'It is time we were going.'
'Going where?' inquired the monkey.
'Why, to my country, of course, with your heart. You CAN'T have forgotten!'
'My dear friend,' answered the monkey, with a chuckle, 'I think you must be going a little mad. Do you take me for a washerman's donkey?'
'Don't talk nonsense,' exclaimed the shark, who did not like being laughed at. 'What do you mean about a washerman's donkey? And I wish you would be quick, or we may be too late to save the sultan.'
'Did you really never hear of the washerman's donkey?' asked the monkey, who was enjoying himself immensely. 'Why, he is the beast who has no heart. And as I am not feeling very well, and am afraid to start while the sun is so high lest I should get a sunstroke, if you like, I will come a little nearer and tell you his story.'
'Very well,' said the shark sulkily, 'if you won't come, I suppose I may as well listen to that as do nothing.'
Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:
Source: Andrew Lang, Lilac Fairy Book (1910). Weblink. [Lang notes: From 'Swahili Tales,' by Edward Steere, LL.D.]
Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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