All the animals came together for a feast, and there was eating and dancing and drinking for a whole week. On the last evening of the feast three old men entered the town; and their names were Toad, Snail, and Hornbill. No one had ever seen people like them before, and no one knew where they came from; nor did any one know which of them was the oldest, so they were shown equal respect.
On the following day the Chief called all the criminals together and asked them to elect a new Chief, as he himself was about to die. The animals were not happy to hear this, for they loved the old Chief and feared his place might be taken by some young fool who would show no respect to the wise old men. Everyone agreed that the oldest animal among them should be elected chief; and since Toad, Snail and Hornbill were the oldest people anyone had ever seen, it was decided the oldest one of these should be elected.
“I’ll be the new Chief!” Toad croaked. “I’m the oldest, I’m the oldest!”“I have lived since time began!” Snail declared. “It is obvious that I’ll be Chief.” “I was old before time was,” said Hornbill; and none of the three could agree. The animals decided this important matter should be decided by a Judge. The Judge took his seat and demanded:
“Are you ready?”“Goo!” cried the animals, which meant “We have been ready for sometime.” Toad, Snail and Hornbill stood up. Turning to Toad, the Judge asked:
“Toad, can you tell us why you consider yourself older than Snail or Hornbill?”Toad said: “I am so old I knew the world when it was pimpled all over with little hills. Between the hills were holes where evil spirits dwelt, so that any living thing had to jump from hill to hill in order to avoid the spirit-holes. I was the only living thing, and that is how I learned to jump.”
Everyone clapped, and said among themselves: Truly, he is the most ancient of animals and must be our Chief.Snail’s turn came and he said:
“When the world was still a ball of soft mud, without hills or holes or anything else, no animal with legs would live. Only by sliding slowly on a slimy belly could one move, and that was how I moved, and still do. No other creature lived when I was young.”
The animals cheered. “Here indeed is the oldest animal in the world,” they said. “Snail must be our Chief!”But then Hornbill raised a wing for silence, and announced:“Of a truth, I am much older than either Toad or Snail. I was born before the world began. There was no mud, no hill, no hole and hornbills caught their food as they flew about the sky. And if a hornbill died he was buried in his beak, for there was no other place to bury him. So, look at my head! Do you not see my mother’s coffin there?”
The fact was evident, and the animals clapped and cheered. Hornbill had proved himself the oldest creature in the world, and was appointed Chief.