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Margaret Read MacDonald

The Tiger's Whisker

Once long ago the mother of a young boy died. He was deeply saddened and lonely for he was an only child. His father was a rice farmer who worked in the fields every day. He believed it was important to find a new mother for his son as soon as possible so he went to the nearby village and found a young woman who was willing to be his wife and mother to his son. Sadly, though, when the farmer brought his wife home and introduced her to his son, the boy would not even look at her. He grew angry and resentful. “I don’t want a new mother,” he said. “I want only my own mother who has died.”

No matter what delicious foods the new wife made, the boy would not eat. No matter what she said to him or sang to him he would not look at her. She even made him beautiful new clothes but the boy would not even put them on. The new wife grew more and more frustrated and her husband grew more and more impatient with her. She longed to have the boy love her and call her mother.

At length, she climbed the mountain near the village where a wise old hermit lived. It was said that he could make a potion that could bring lovers together. “Maybe he can make a potion that will cause my stepson to care for me as he cared for his own mother,” she thought.

With hope in her heart she climbed the mountain to ask the wise hermit for a potion to make her husband’s son love her.

“I could make such a potion, it is true,” said the hermit. “But I lack a very important ingredient that would go into its making.”

“What is this ingredient? I’ll do anything to get it so the boy will care for me and we can have a happy household,” the woman said.

“What I need is the whisker of a wild tiger.”

“The whisker of a wild tiger!” she repeated. “How ever will I get such a thing?”

“You will figure out a way,” said the hermit.

The woman knew there was a tiger that lived in a cave in the hills above her husband’s fields because she had heard its fierce roar from time to time. She puzzled and prayed and puzzled some more as she walked home until she came up with a plan.

That night she left her house quietly in the deepest darkness and walked to the hills where the tiger lived. She took with her a dish of rice cooked in a little meat broth. She tiptoed, trembling, to the mouth of the tiger’s cave where she set the dish down on a flat rock. She backed away slowly but not so far that the tiger could not see and smell her. She took a deep breath and called to the tiger in a musical voice. At first, he did not come out, but she continued to call to him softly.

After a time, he did come out. He sniffed at the rice in the dish, raised his head and, looking straight at her, gave a terrible growl. She shivered but did not run away. Then, keeping his suspicious eyes on her, he ate all the rice from the dish and went back into the cave. The woman quickly removed the dish and ran home with it.

The next night she returned. She put the dish of rice at the mouth of the cave and stepped away, again singing the tiger’s name, but this time she did not step as far away as before. Again the tiger appeared, and though he growled as before he ate the rice more eagerly, seeming not to notice that she stood closer.

The next night after that she returned for a third time. This night the tiger came out of the cave more quickly, as if waiting for her and this night she stood even a little closer as he ate.

And so it went, night after night after night until the tiger no longer growled at her and she no longer trembled. Finally, one night she did not set the dish on the ground but held it in her hand for the tiger to eat out of. The night after that she did the same thing and with her free hand she scratched his soft furry head. The tiger looked up at her with his large golden eyes and stood very still. Gently, she spoke to him.

“Dear tiger,” she said, I would like one of your whiskers.” The woman reached slowly into her pocket, took out small scissors and very slowly clipped one of the tigers long whiskers. The tiger gave a low, not unfriendly growl and clawed the ground. Then he shook his head briskly and walked back into his cave.

The woman sighed, “Thank you, tiger,” she said.

She ran as fast as she could to the hut of the hermit and found him stirring something in a pot over a fire. “Look!” she said,”Look! I have brought the whisker of a tiger! Now you can make the potion that will make the boy love me!”

The wise hermit took the whisker in his fingers and examined it closely. He turned it this way and that. “Indeed,” he said, “it is truly the whisker of a wild tiger.” Saying this, he dropped it into the fire where it sizzled and burned to an ash.

“What!!! What have you done?!” she shouted. “It took me weeks and weeks to get near enough to the tiger to get that whisker for the potion. Now you have burned it up!”

“You do not need it,” said the hermit quietly. “Is the boy less responsive than a savage and blood thirsty tiger? I think not. Go and win over your stepson as you did the tiger… with gentleness, persistence and a great deal of patience.”

And so it was. One day the boy lovingly called her mother.

An adaptation of an old Asian folktale that has many versions as retold by Germaine Dietsch

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