Once upon a time there was a deep and wide river, and in this river lived a crocodile. I do not know whether you have ever seen a crocodile; but if you did see one, I am sure you would be frightened. They are very long, twice as long as your bed; and they are covered with hard green or yellow scales; and they have a wide flat snout, and a huge jaw with hundreds of sharp teeth, so big that it could hold you all at once inside it. This crocodile used to lie all day in the mud, half under water, basking in the sun, and never moving; but if any little animal came near, he would jump up, and open his big jaws, and snap it up as a dog snaps up a fly. And if you had gone near him, he would have snapped you up too, just as easily.
On the bank of this river lived a monkey. He spent the day climbing about the trees, and eating nuts or wild fruit; but he had been there so long, that there was hardly any fruit left upon the trees.
Now it so happened that the crocodile’s wife cast a longing eye on this Monkey. She was very dainty in her eating, was Mrs. Crocodile, and she liked the tit-bits. So one morning she began to cry. Crocodile’s tears are very big, and as her tears dropped into the water, splash, splash, splash, Mr. Crocodile woke up from his snooze, and looked round to see what was the matter.
“Why, wife,” said he, “what are you crying about?”
“I’m hungry!” whimpered Mrs. Crocodile.
“All right,” said he, “wait a while. I’ll soon catch you something.”
“But I want that Monkey’s heart!” said Mrs. Crocodile. Splash, splash, splash, went her tears again.
“Come, come, cheer up,” said Mr. Crocodile. He was very fond of his wife, and he would have wiped away her tears, only he had no pocket-handkerchief. “Cheer up!” said he; “I’ll see what I can do.”
His wife dried her tears, and Mr. Crocodile lay down again on the mud, thinking. He thought for a whole hour. You see, though he was very big, he was very stupid. At last he heaved a sigh of relief, for he thought he had hit upon a clever plan.
He wallowed along the bank to a place just underneath a big tree. Up on the tree our Monkey was swinging by his tail, and chattering to himself.
“Monkey!” he called out, in the softest voice he could manage. It was not very soft, something like a policeman’s rattle; but it was the best he could do, with all those sharp teeth.
The Monkey stopped swinging, and looked down. The Crocodile had never spoken to him before, and he felt rather surprised.
“Monkey, dear!” called the Crocodile, again.
“Well, what is it?” asked the Monkey.
“I’m sure you must be hungry,” said Mr. Crocodile. “I see you have eaten all the fruit on these trees; but why don’t you try the trees on the other side of the river? Just look, apples, pears, quinces, plums, anything you could wish for! And heaps of them!”
“That is all very well,” said the Monkey. “But how can I get across a wide river like this?”
“Oh!” said the cunning Crocodile, “that is easily managed. I like your looks, and I want to do you a good turn. Jump on my back, and I’ll swim across; then you can enjoy yourself!”
Never had the Monkey had an offer so tempting. He swung round a branch three times in his joy; his eyes glistened, and without thinking a moment, down he jumped on the Crocodile’s back.
The Crocodile began to swim slowly across. The Monkey fixed his eyes on the opposite bank with its glorious fruit trees, and danced for joy. Suddenly he felt the water about his feet! It rose to his legs, it rose to his middle. The Crocodile was sinking!
“Mr. Crocodile! Mr. Crocodile! take care!” said he. “You’ll drown me!”
“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed the Crocodile, snapping his great jaws. “So you thought I was taking you across out of pure good nature! You are a green monkey, to be sure. The truth is, my wife has taken a fancy to you, and wants your heart to eat! If you had seen her crying this morning, I am sure you would have pitied her.”
“What a good thing you told me!” said the Monkey. (He was a very clever Monkey, and had his wits about him.) “Wait a bit, and I’ll tell you why. My heart, I think you said? Why, I never carry my heart inside me; that would be too dangerous. If we Monkeys went jumping about the trees with our hearts inside, we should knock them to bits in no time.”
The Crocodile rose up to the surface again. He felt very glad he had not drowned the Monkey, because, as I said, he was a stupid creature, and did not see that the Monkey was playing him a trick.
“Oh,” said he, “where is your heart, then?”
“Do you see that cluster of round things up in the tree there, on the further bank? Those are our hearts, all in a bunch; and pretty safe too, at that height, I should hope!” It was really a fig-tree, and certainly the figs did look very much like a bunch of hearts. “Just you take me across,” he went on, “and I’ll climb up and drop my heart down; I can do very well without it.”
“You excellent creature!” said the Crocodile, “so I will!”
And he swam across the river. The Monkey leapt lightly off the Crocodile’s back, and swung himself up the fig-tree. Then he sat down on a branch, and began to eat the figs with great enjoyment.
“Your heart, please!” called out the Crocodile. “Can’t you see I’m waiting?”
“Well, wait as long as you like!” said the Monkey. “Are you such a fool as to think that any creature keeps its heart in a tree? Your body is big, but your wit is little. No, no; here I am, and here I mean to stay. Many thanks for bringing me over!”
The Crocodile snapped his jaws in disgust, and went back to his wife, feeling very foolish, as he was; and the Monkey had such a feast in the fig-tree as he never had in his life before.