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The Stag And The Snail

Source: Folk-tales Of The Khasis

On the day of the animals' fair at Luri Lura, the stag and the snail
met. It was a very hot day, and the animals as they travelled to
the fair eagerly sought the shelter of the trees. There was a large
Rubber grove in the forest, and thither many of the animals hasted,
panting from the great heat, and there laid down their burdens for
a while and rested in the cool shades.

It was a familiar rendezvous, and many of the animals turned there,
as much from habit as from fatigue, glad to meet old acquaintances. On
the day which concerns this story there was an unusually large throng,
and they chatted together sociably about the different events of
their lives and the circumstances of their neighbours.

In one corner a group were noisily comparing notes with one
another about the length of time it had taken them to travel
certain distances. In this group was the stag, who monopolised the
conversation, and boasted of his own speed, and the buffalo, trying to
be affable, said that they were bound to admit that the stag was now
the swiftest animal in the jungle, since the dog had run away to Man,
and the entire company nodded in agreement.

There was, however, a little grey snail in the grass with her shell on
her back, who was very disgusted with the boastings of the animals,
especially of the stag, as if swiftness was the only virtue to which
an animal ought to aspire. In order to put a stop to their talk,
she called out mockingly for them to look at the lather that covered
their bodies from over-exertion, and to compare her own cool skin,
which had not perspired at all in spite of the journey; consequently,
she claimed the honours for good travelling for herself.

This was received with much displeasure by the animals, who felt that
their dignity had been flouted, for the snail was an insect in their
estimation, not fit to be admitted to their august company. The stag
began to canter gracefully round the grove to prove his superiority,
his fellow animals applauding admiringly; but the little snail was
not to be silenced, and to show her contempt she challenged the stag
to run a long race with her, declaring that she would beat him.

Many of the animals urged the stag not to heed the challenge of the
snail, as it was only given to affront him, but he said that unless
he would run she would always insult him and call him a coward who
had shown fear of a snail. So it was settled that the stag and the
snail should run a long race, from the Rubber grove to the top of
Mount Shillong, on the animals' return from Luri Lura.

The name of this little grey snail was Ka Mattah. As soon as the
animals left the grove she summoned together all her tribe to consider
how to proceed so as to beat the stag in the long race. Many of the
snail family found fault with her for her foolish challenge, but they
were all prepared to help her out of her difficulty, and to save her
from the disgrace of defeat. It was decided in the family council
that the snails should form themselves into a long line edging the
path all the way from the Rubber grove to Mount Shillong, and hide
themselves in the grass, so as not to be discovered by the stag. So
the snails dispersed and formed themselves into a long line on the
edge of the path.

As soon as they had sold their wares, the animals hastened to the
grove, laughing among themselves as they walked at the foolishness of
Ka Mattah in setting herself up against the swiftest of the animals,
and they planned how to make her the general laughing-stock of the
jungle for her audacity. When they reached the Rubber grove they found
Ka Mattah ready for the race, having discarded her cumbersome shell
and put herself into a racing attitude on the path, which caused them
no little amusement. As soon as the signal was given she dived into
the grass and was lost to sight, while the stag cantered towards the
mountains. After going some distance, he stopped, thinking that there
would be no need to run further, as he imagined that the snail was
far behind and likely to have given up the race; so he called out,
"Heigh, Mattah, art thou coming?"

To his surprise, the voice of the snail answered close beside him
saying, "I am here, I am here." Thereupon he ran on more swiftly, but
after running several miles he stopped again and called out as before,
"Heigh, Mattah, art thou coming?" And again the voice answered close
to his heels, "I am here, I am here"; upon which the stag tore off
at a terrific pace through the forest, only stopping at intervals
to call out to the snail. As often as he called, the voice answered
close to his feet, "I am here, I am here," which set him racing
with ever-increasing speed. When he reached the Iei Tree Mountain,
he was panting and quivering from his great exertions and longed
to lie down to rest, but he saw before him the goal to which he was
bound, and spurred himself to a last effort. He was so exhausted as
he climbed up the slopes of Shillong that he was giddy and faint,
and could scarcely move his wearied limbs, and, to his dismay, before
he reached the summit, he heard the tormenting voice of the snail
calling out from the goal, "I have won, I have won."

Exhausted and defeated, the stag threw himself full length on
the ground, and his disappointment and the sickness due to the
terrible strain he had put on himself caused him to spit out his
gall-bladder. To this day no gall-bladder is to be found in the anatomy
of the stag; so he carries in his body the token of the great defeat
he sustained through the wiles of Ka Mattah, the little grey snail,
and the pathetic look has never gone out of his eyes.

Next: The Leap Of Ka Likai

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