Wisdom Stories

The Tiger’s Whisker

The Tiger’s Whisker

Once upon a time, a young wife was at her wit’s end. Her husband had always been a tender and loving soulmate before he had left for the wars but, ever since he returned home, he was cross, angry, and unpredictable. She was almost afraid to live with her own husband. Her husband was now a shadow of the husband she used to know and love.

When one ailment or another bothered people in her village, they would often rush for a cure to a hermit who lived deep in the mountains. She was desperate for help.

She visited the hermit and explained the situation. His back still to her, he said, “Ah yes, it’s often that way when soldiers return from the war. What do you expect me to do ?”

“Make me a potion!” cried the young wife. “Or an amulet, a drink, whatever it takes to get my husband back the way he used to be.” He said “It will take three days before I can even look into it. Come back then.”

Three days later, She returned to the hermit’s hut. He greeted her with a smile, “I have good news. There is a potion that will restore your husband to the way he used to be, but you should know that it requires a whisker from a live tiger.” “What?” she gasped. “Such a thing is impossible!”

“I cannot make the potion without it!” he insisted , startling her. He turned his back. “There is nothing more to say. I’m very busy.”

That night she tossed and turned. How could she get a whisker from a live tiger?

The next day before dawn, she crept out of the house with a bowl of rice covered with meat sauce. She went to a cave on the mountainside where a tiger was known to live. She crept up, her heart pounding, and carefully set the bowl on the grass. Then, trying to make as little noise as she could, she backed away.

The next day before dawn, she took another bowl of rice covered with meat sauce to the cave. She approached the same spot, clicking softly with her tongue. She saw that the bowl was empty, replaced the empty one with a fresh one, and again left, clicking softly and trying not to break twigs or rustle leaves, or do anything else to startle and unsettle the wild beast.

So it went, day after day, for several months. She never saw the tiger though she knew from footprints on the ground that the tiger and not a smaller mountain creature had been eating her food. Then one day as she approached, she noticed the tiger’s head poking out of its cave. Glancing downward, she stepped very carefully to the same spot and with as little noise as she could, set down the fresh bowl and, her heart pounding, picked up the one that was empty.

After a few weeks, she noticed the tiger would come out of its cave as it heard her footsteps, though it stayed a distance away.

Another month went by. Then the tiger would wait by the empty food bowl as it heard her approaching. As she picked up the old bowl and replaced it with a fresh one, she could smell its scent, as it could surely smell hers.

“Actually”, she thought, “it is a rather friendly creature, when you get to know it.” The next time she visited, she glanced up at the tiger briefly. A week later the tiger allowed her to gently rub its head, and it purred and stretched like a house cat.

Then she knew the time had come. The next morning, very early, she brought with her a small knife. After she set down the fresh bowl and the tiger allowed her to pet its head, she held one whisker at its base and, with the other hand, in one quick stroke, she carved the whisker off. She stood up and left, for the last time. What a relief !

The next morning seemed endless.At last her husband left for the rice fields. She ran to the hermit’s hut, clutching the precious whisker in her fist. Bursting in, she cried to the hermit: “I have done it! I have the tiger’s whisker!”

“You don’t say?” he said, turning around. “From a live tiger?” “Yes!” she said. “Tell me”, said the hermit, interested. “How did you do it?”

She told the hermit how, for the last six months, she had earned the trust of the creature and it had finally permitted her to cut off one of its whiskers. With pride she handed him the whisker. The hermit examined it, satisfied himself that it was indeed a whisker from a live tiger, then flicked it into the fire where it sizzled and burned in an instant. She was aghast.

The hermit said softly, “you no longer need the whisker. Tell me, is a man more vicious than a tiger? If a dangerous wild beast will respond to your gradual and patient care, do you think a man will respond any less willingly?”

She stood speechless. She had learnt the lesson.

Source: Korean fable

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