Asia | Western Europe

How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin

level 2
Difficulty **
Themes: Animals

Summary: This Is a tale about how the rhinoceros got its characteristic skin.

Once upon a time, on an uninhabited island on the shores of the Red Sea, there lived a Parsee whose hat reflected the rays of the sun in more-than-oriental splendour. The Parsee lived there with nothing but his hat, his knife and a cooking-stove of the kind that you must never touch.

One day he took flour, water, currants, plums, sugar and things, and made one cake which was two feet long and three feet thick. It was indeed a Superior Comestible (that’s magic), and he put it on stove and he baked it until it was done – brown and smelt sentimental.

Just as he was going to eat, came down to the beach from the Altogether Uninhabited Interior, one Rhinoceros with a horn on his nose, two piggy eyes, and few manners.

In those days the Rhinoceros’s skin fitted him quite tight. There were no wrinkles anywhere. He looked exactly like a Noah’s Ark Rhinoceros, but much bigger. All the same, he had no manners then, and he has no manners now, and he never will have any manners.

He said, ‘How!’ and the Parsee left that cake and climbed to the top of a palm tree with nothing on but his hat, from which the rays of the sun were always reflected in more-than-oriental splendour.

And the Rhinoceros upset the oil-stove with his nose, and the cake rolled on the sand, and he spiked that cake on the horn of his nose, and he ate it, and he went away, waving his tail, to the desolate and Exclusively Uninhabited Interior which is on the islands of Mazanderan, Socotra, and Promontories of the Larger Equinox.

Then the Parsee came down from his palm-tree and put the stove on its legs and recited the following:

Them that takes cakes

Which the Parsee-man bakes

Makes dreadful mistakes.

Five weeks later, there was a heat wave in the Red Sea, and everybody took off all the clothes they had.

The Parsee took off his hat; but the Rhinoceros took off his skin and carried it over his shoulder as he came down to the beach to bathe.

In those days it buttoned underneath with three buttons and looked waterproof. He said nothing whatever about the Parsee’s cake, because he had eaten it all; and he never had any manners. He walked straight into the water and blew bubbles through his nose, leaving his skin on the beach.

Presently the Parsee came by and found the skin, and he smiled a smile that ran all round his face two times. He danced three times around the skin and rubbed his hands. Then he went to his camp and filled his hat with cake-crumbs, for the Parsee never ate anything but cake, and never swept out his camp.

He took that skin, and he shook it, and he scrubbed it, and he rubbed it, just as full of old, dry, stale, tickly cake-crumbs and some burned currants as possible. Then he climbed to the top of his palm-tree and waited for the Rhinoceros to come out of the water and put it on. And the Rhinoceros did. He buttoned it up with the three buttons, and it tickled like cake crumbs in bed.

Then he wanted to scratch, but that made it worse; and then he lay down on the sands and rolled and rolled and rolled, and every time he rolled the cake crumbs tickled him worse and worse and worse.

Then he ran to the palm-tree and rubbed himself against it. He rubbed so hard that he got his skin into a great fold over his shoulders, and another fold underneath, where the buttons used to be (but he rubbed the buttons off), and he rubbed some more folds over his legs. And it spoiled his temper, but it didn’t make the least difference to the cake-crumbs. They were inside his skin and they tickled.

So, he went home, very angry and horribly scratchy; and from that day to this every rhinoceros has great folds in his skin and a very bad temper, all on account of the cake-crumbs inside.

But the Parsee came down from his palm-tree, wearing his hat, from which the rays of the sun were reflected in more-than-oriental splendour, packed up his cooking-stove, and went away in the direction of Orotavo, Amygdala, the Upland Meadows of Anantarivo, and the Marshes of Sonaput.