An old woman was going down to the river with a washbasin full of dirty clothes, when she heard something rustling in the bushes near her. She was shocked to see a very large crocodile only so near.
"Please do not run away, old woman," the crocodile said. "I have a favor to ask you."
The old woman remained rooted where she stood, more out of fear than curiosity.
"In a cave near here I have hidden away my three hatchlings. They are restless little things, and I cannot be with them all the time. I beg you, watch over them while I am away hunting, and I shall reward you richly."
The crocodile led the stupefied old woman to her cave. Sure enough, three crocodile babies were there, fierce-looking and listless. For a moment the old woman was afraid the crocodile mother would feed her to the ugly little things, but she could not even command her feet to run away.
So, since she could not run, the old woman said she would do as she was bidden. The crocodile thanked her politely and then stepped out of the cave. The old woman was left with the three hatchlings, and since she could do nothing with them, she decided to lull them to sleep.
She cradled the hatchlings in her arms as if they were human children, and sang them a gentle lullaby. When the mother crocodile returned, a few hours before dusk, she found her babies peacefully at rest in the old woman’s arms. She was very thankful to the old woman.
"I had promised you a reward," she said. "Go to the bamboo plant just beside the entrance to this cave. Strike it with your fist three times and it will pour gold for you."
The old woman trusted the crocodile. She went to the bamboo plant
and struck it three times with her fist. And soon enough, a tear appeared
in one of the bamboo shafts, and gold poured onto her shaking hands. She
took as much gold as she could carry, and then fled the site of the cave.
With that much gold in her possession, she did not have to go down to the
river to do the
washing again, and so she never saw the kind crocodile again.
On the other hand, the old woman had a neighbor who became curious when she saw the old woman rushing home with an unusually heavy washbasin. She spied on the old woman as she took out the gold pieces and counted them one by one. Then she jumped on the old woman, and demanded that she be told where the gold had been acquired.
"You won’t believe this," the old woman said, "but I got them by the river – from a crocodile who asked me to babysit her three hatchlings, and then rewarded me for doing such a good job."
"Hah! A crocodile! That’s absurd!" said the saucy old neighbor. But she had already begun to plan about visiting to the riverbank herself.
The saucy neighbor bullied the old woman into telling her the location of the crocodile’s cave. And then early the next morning, the saucy neighbor made her way to the very same cave.
She found the three hatchlings there: listless, as the old woman had said, and uglier than she had expected! But she had not come there to find them beautiful. She pressed the three hatchlings to her bosom, and when they did not calm down, she started getting angry and beating them with a stick. At last the crocodile babies were hurt so much that they fell into quiet whimpering, and, thus silenced, the saucy neighbor felt that it would already be easy to put them to sleep.
She sang them songs meant for ugly children, thinking that one lullaby was just like any other. The crocodile arrived and saw that her babies had fallen asleep, more out of pain than drowsiness. She was very angry with the saucy neighbor.
"I put your babies to sleep!" the saucy neighbor argued. "Give me some gold as payment for my efforts!"
The crocodile tucked away her anger, and coolly directed the old woman to the bamboo plant that stood by the entrance to her cave. She told the woman to strike the bamboo plant twice with her fist.
The saucy neighbor did so, impatiently. But instead of gold, scorpions came pouring out of the crack that appeared on a bamboo shaft immediately after her fist came away. The scorpions fell upon the saucy old neighbor and chased her off, as befitted a mean shrew.