Tell Me a Story by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson

The Tiger's Teacher (A Chinese Tale)

Once upon a time, a wise old cat lived in the jungle. She was known as a great teacher, for she had taught many of the creatures around her to live by their wits and their wiles.

But the tiger scoffed at the stories of the cat's teachings. "What can such a little thing teach me?" he asked. But one day as he slinked through the jungle in search of food, he caught his paw in some tangled roots and stumbled to the ground. He heard a rustling in the leaves above him, and when he looked up, he saw the jungle cat leaping from one branch to the next.

She did look swift and graceful. Even the tiger had to admit that. He felt clumsy and awkward by comparison. He decided he would ask the cat to teach him her tricks.

And so he lumbered after her, calling out, "Teacher cat, teacher cat, please wait for me."

The cat, hearing the tiger's cries, stopped for a moment to listen. She could not believe her ears. Tiger had never before asked for help. But she was curious -- most cats are. And so she called, "What's that? Are you calling me?"

"I am," the tiger said, hurrying to catch up with her. "I want you to teach me."

"Ah," said the cat, though she spoke from a safe distance. "I'm afraid I cannot teach you, tiger. If I teach you my tricks, you may use your knowledge against me. I fear you will attack me with those claws and those teeth and all that weight of yours."

"Oh no, I won't," said the tiger, bowing low before the cat, who looked down upon him from her safety in a tall tree branch. "I swear to you, I would not turn your teachings upon you. I would never betray a teacher's trust, and I will not only honor your teaching, but I also will punish anyone who does not."

Now the cat was wise, but even a cat can be wooed, and so the cat agreed that she would teach the tiger. "All right," she said, and the tiger, overjoyed, tried to leap into the air. "You'll teach me to climb above the jungle floor and to catch prey and to leap with grace?" he asked. "Oh, I will be forever grateful."

The very next day, lessons began. The other animals gathered to stare in wonder at the cat and the tiger, together in the woods, practicing leaps and turns and jumps and long, elegant stretches. They could not believe their eyes, and so they whispered about the cat's folly, but after a while, they too began to trust the tiger's word, for he not only listened to his teacher, but every evening, as they said farewell, he bowed to her.

"Thank you, my teacher," he said, and they went their separate ways until morning.

The cat grew more trusting, but the cat was wiser than she sometimes seemed, and so she kept one trick to herself.

The lessons continued. Weeks passed, spring came to the land, and then one day the tiger looked at his teacher, and his mouth began to water with hunger. She looked so plump and so tender. She would make a fine meal, he thought, and besides, he thought he had learned all that he could.

"Any more lessons?" the tiger asked his teacher.

"I believe you know all you need to know from me," said the cat.

"You're certain, then?" asked the tiger, for he wanted to make very sure he had learned all the cat's tricks.

"Quite certain," the cat answered calmly.

"Then I am through with you, too," said the tiger, his eyes flashing. He opened his mouth wide, bared his teeth and extended his claws, but the cat, sensing the change in her student, was quick. She sped to the top of a tree.

"So you lied to me," she called from her perch.

The tiger paced below. "What? What's this? You never taught me to climb trees that high," and true enough, he did not know how to climb to the top of a tree, so he stood below and paced. He snarled at his teacher and accused her of cheating him, and all the animals -- watching from a safe distance -- applauded the wise teacher, who knew precisely what she ought not to offer her student.

And so it was the tiger learned one more lesson.

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