Translated from the story “Le lièvre et la tortue au bord du bassin du roi” taken from the book “Les Littératures Populaires de Toutes les Nations – Le Folk-lore de l’île Maurice” written by Charles Baissac in 1888. (Found on openlibrary.org)
The hare, the tortoise and the king’s pond
Once upon a time, there was in the island of Mauritius a king who had a big pond. He came to bathe in his pond every morning, following his doctor’s prescription.
One day, as he comes towards the pond as usual, the water is very dirty. It is so dirty that he cannot bathe in it. The king calls his watchman and scolds him.
On the second day, the water is dirty.
On the third day, the water is dirty.
The king grabs his watchman, gives him a good shake and says to him: “Hey you! Rascal! Do you want me to get scabies in that water! If tomorrow my pond is not clean, you will see what I’m made of!!!”
The watchman is really scared. As the evening comes, he takes his gun and hides in the leaves next to the pond. The night is dark, no moon shines in the sky.
As the night canon is fired, he hears someone coming, tac, tac, tac. It is a hare. The watchman doesn’t have time to lift his gun as the hare walks straight to him and says: “Hello! Hello there, watchman! I am so happy to see you. I’ve been looking to meet you for such a long time as I’ve got something so delicious for you. Taste this honey that my parents sent me from the ‘Trois Ilots’ and you’ll tell me if you have ever tasted better honey!”
The watchman takes the calabash and drinks some honey.
– Yes, I believe you’re right. This honey is delightful!
The watchman doesn’t let go of the calabash and drinks all the honey. We will never know what kind of herb the hare had mixed to the honey… all the same, the watchman only has time to lie down before he starts to sleep and snore loudly!
The hare laughs while he undresses and dives into the water.
This was a mischievous hare. When he has had enough, he comes out of the pond, chooses a long stick and moves the mud at the bottom of the pond. He moves the water until it becomes like a cup of hot chocolate, and then goes on his way.
Early in the morning comes the king. He only takes one look at his pond and shakes with anger!
The watchman was still sleeping next to the water. The king grabs the same stick the hare had used to disturb the water and falls onto his watchman. Under this volley of blows, the watchman doesn’t take long to wake up. Once up, he flees into the wood where he has never come back from.
The king calls on to everyone: “A watchman is needed to keep a pond. Eight piastres for the month, half a bag of rice and supplies from the shop. But if the watchman lets the pond’s water get dirty, he will have his head cut off!”
All the animals hear this threat and are very scared. Nobody asks for the job. The rooster is scared. The dog is scared. The goose is scared.
Three days go by. The hare comes every night and every time moves the water to make it dirty and muddy. The king doesn’t know what to do. His body is starting to itch all over! He hasn’t been able to swim in his pond for seven days.
On the fourth day, his captain comes to tell him that somebody asks for the watchman’s job. “Let him in!” It was a poor tortoise that didn’t seem like much. The king looks at him and starts to get angry:
– You? Do you really think that you can forbid people to dirty my water?
– Yes, my King! I believe I can.
– You are aware of the terms: if the water is dirty, you will have your neck cut off.
– Yes, my King. I know the terms, and as the tortoise’s flesh is good to eat, you will be able to make a good curry out of me. But I don’t think you’ll have the chance to taste me this time, you’d better tell your cook to find some nice chicken to pluck.
– Okay, we will see tomorrow morning. You can have the job tonight.
The tortoise gets out. She first goes to a friend’s place and asks for her shell to be coated with tar. At sunset, she arrives at the King’s pond. She settles on the side of the road, where the hare will be passing by, and she waits.
Tac, tac, tac. The hare comes. The hare sees this black object on the side of the road, he stops and looks. The tortoise has hidden her head and legs under her shell. Nothing moves. Tac, tac, tac. The hare approaches cautiously: nothing moves. He stays there a moment motionless. The tortoise doesn’t move more than a rock. The hare thinks. He turns around, looks some more: nothing moves. This time, he calms the beating of his heart, he is no longer fearful and says:
– It is definitely a rock! I know for sure now. Hey! What a nice King we have. He asked a servant to put this nice bench by the water, I am sure, so that I can sit on it while I undress to dive in the water.
The hare laughs and sits on the rock. The rock moves slightly. The hare, feeling it move:
– Ha! See how the servants work in Mauritius! They forgot to fix my seat!
And he tries to get down so that he can wedge something under his seat. Impossible! He is stuck to the tar. The tortoise takes his head out of his shell.
– How do you feel, sir companion? To me, it looks like this time you’ve been had!
The hare is stunned, but he tries to save his life…
– Hey you, tale-teller! Hey you! You’re joking, aren’t you? I can hear your trick, see, I’m talking calmly. Let me go! I’m telling you, let me go, and I won’t get angry.
The tortoise has started to walk to bring him to the King. He only says:
– Talk, talk if it makes you feel better.
– One time! Two time! You don’t want to let me go!!!
Bam! The hare hits him with his hind feet. His feet gets stuck. The tortoise doesn’t stop and carries on walking.
The hare tells him:
– Hey you! I’m stronger with my front legs, listen to me and let me go graciously.
The tortoise carries on walking and doesn’t listen to him. Bam. He hits the tortoise with his left leg. Bam. He hits the tortoise with his right leg. Stuck. And stuck. Here is the hare, his four legs tied up, like a pig brought to the market. But the poor soul tries once more to get away. He says to the tortoise with a threatening tone:
– Listen closely, this is the last time I’m talking. All my strength is in my head, my head is a sledgehammer. If I hit you with it, you’ll be crushed like a ripe pawpaw. Let me go. I tell you, let me go!
The tortoise walks and doesn’t answer.
The hare lifts his head as high as he can and hits the tortoise as hard as he can. Bam! His head is stuck.
They finally arrive at the King’s. The tortoise laughs. The hare cries.
When the King sees the hare stuck like that on the tortoise, in spite of its anger, he starts to laugh. The tortoise tells him:
– Here he is, my King. You won’t have a tortoise to eat for your dinner, but a hare. Cooked with wine, it’s quite nice!
The King takes out his sabre, cut off the hare’s head and sends him to the kitchen. Then he calls his servant:
– Come with me. I’m going to my pond. Come brush my back! My body is so dirty, yes!
This is probably one of the most well known and liked Mauritian tale. Many different versions exist, most of the time the hare dies in some way or another, but in some versions he still manages to escape!
French version: Le lièvre et la tortue au bord du bassin du roi
Creole version (Recommended!!!): Iève ek tourtie dans bord bassin léroi