The Old Woman and the Tiger

While hoeing in the field, an old woman was suddenly confronted with a fierce tiger whose vermilion mouth was opened to its utmost capacity to devour her. Terror-stricken at the frightful sight, the poor woman trembled from head to foot. With a great effort she said, "Tiger, what claim have you to my life? If you get the better of me in a weeding contest, I taking two ridges since I have only two hands and you four ridges since you have four hands, you shall eat me."

The tiger agreed to the terms and they began the fearful contest. When the old woman, frightened as well as weak, using her hands as slowly as a dying crab would do his limbs, had scarcely finished half a ridge, the beast had already done his fourth, and said, "Now make your word good."      "Since I am beaten, I will surely keep my promise," answered the old woman. "Well, whether I die right now or a little later, it is all the same to me, but I have a heartfelt desire to taste my favorite dish for the last time. So let me go home and prepare red-bean gruel and have my fill before you come in the dusk and eat me."

"I should be cruel indeed not to grant such a small favour as this." So saying, the beast withdraw to the wood.  The old woman hastened home and prepared a cauldron of gruel, but, remembering that this good world would be nothing to her within a few hours, she was so overcome with grief that she could not eat a drop. She gave way to a bitter sobbing. Presently an egg rolled up to her and asked, "Why are you weeping so, granny?"   "As I am to die in a few hours, sorrow makes me weep thus," replied the old woman.  "Then give me a bowl of gruel, and I will save you."  She rose and gave it a bowlful, which the egg ate up; then it rolled into the fireplace in the kitchen. By and by a drill rolled up and asked, "Why are you weeping so, granny?"  "Because I shall pass away this very evening, my love for life makes me weep," said she.  "Then favour me with a bowl of gruel, and I will help you in your need."

She rose and gave it a bowlful of her food, which it ate up; then it rolled away till it stood before the fireplace with its sharp end turned skyward. Before long, a lump of slippery clay came and asked, "Why are you weeping so, granny?"  "As I am going to the other world very soon, grief makes me weep so."  "Then give me some gruel, and I will do all I can for you."

She rose and gave it a bowlful of her favorite dish, which it drained noiselessly; then it went to the kitchen to sit on the floor. After a minute, a turtle crept up and asked, "Why are you weeping so, granny?"  "Since my hours are numbered, dread of death makes me weep."  "Then be so kind as to give me a bowl of gruel, and who knows but that I may be of use to you some time!"

She rose and gave him another bowlful of her relish, which he emptied in the twinkling of an eye. Then it crept into the water jar in the kitchen. Scarcely a minute had passed before a huge millstone rolled up to her, asking, "Why are you weeping, granny?"  "As I shall die this evening, from sorrow I am weeping."  "Then be not stingy of your cruel, and I will do you a good turn."

She rose and gave it a bowlful of her food, which it gulped down. Then it made its way to the old woman's room, hanging by a nail just above the sliding door. Another minute had not elapsed when a broad straw mat rolled up to her and said, "Why are you weeping so, granny?"  "As I shall cease to be before the day is out, grief causes me to weep so."  "Satisfy my hunger with your gruel, and you shall find a friend in me."

Rising, she gave it a bowlful of her relish, which it sipped up. Then it rolled away to the inner gate. Another minute, and a jigye, or device for carrying things on the back, came tottering to her and asked, "Why are you weeping so, granny?"  "As I am to breathe my last this very evening, from love of life I weep."  "Then give away another bowl of gruel, and I shall prove another friend."   She rose and gave it a bowlful of her favorite food which it consumed instantly. Then it withdrew to the gate.  Now after the generous distribution, no gruel was left for the poor old woman to taste. In the twilight, the tiger came and said, "Granny, are you at home? I have come to take you."  "Yes, I am and ready to die. But it is so dark here. Wouldn't you prefer to eat me in the light? Here is the match. Please take it to the fireplace and light it," answered the old woman, throwing out a piece of wood, one end of which was smeared with phosphorus. When the tiger was just about to light the match at the fireplace, the egg exploded, hit one of his eyes and blinded it. More frightened than pained, he jumped and, as ill luck would have it, fell upon the drill, which pierced into his body.

While jumping about maddened with pain, he chanced to fall over the lump of clay and tripped, spraining one of his legs badly. He sniffed at his foot to find out what it was that was so slippery. Being a dainty animal, he could not stand the dirty thing clinging to him. So he put his foot into the water jar to wash the dirt off. But, before he could move his foot, the turtle that was lurking there snapped off one of the toes like lightning.

Having lost a toe, the tiger came limping out of the kitchen, flinging the unlit match on the floor. He howled with pain. "Woe is me! Granny, your house is full of dreadful things. Now I must take you without a light." So saying, he opened the door of the room where the poor old woman lay ready to die. No sooner had he put in his head over the threshold than the heavy millstone crashed down upon his loins, neatly snapping his spine in two. At that moment, the straw mat came rolling up and, wrapping up the dead beast, waited for the jigye to come and bear it away, which it did without fail.