More Celtic Fairy Tales/The Russet Dog
The Russet Dog
H, he's a rare clever fellow, is the Russet Dog, the Fox, I suppose you call him. Have you ever heard the way he gets rid of his fleas? He hunts about and he hunts about till he finds a lock of wool: then he takes it in his mouth, and down to the river and turns his tail to the stream, and goes in backwards. And as the water comes up to his haunches the little fleas come forward, and the more he dips into the river the more they come forward, till at last he has got nothing but his snout and the lock of wool above water; then the little fleas rush into his snout and into the lock of wool. Down he dips his nose, and as soon as he feels his nose free of them, he lets go the lock of wool, and so he is free of his fleas. Ah, but that is nothing to the way in which he catches ducks for his dinner. He will gather some heather, and put his head in the midst of it, and then will slip down stream to the place where the ducks are swimming, for all the world like a piece of floating heather. Then he lets go, and—gobble, gobble, gobble, till not a duck is left alive. And he is as brave as he is clever. It is said that once he found the bagpipes lying all alone, and being very hungry began to gnaw at them: but as soon as he made a hole in the bag, out came a squeal. Was the Russet Dog afraid? Never a bit: all he said was: "Here's music with my dinner."
Now a Russet Dog had noticed for some days a family of wrens, off which he wished to dine. He might have been satisfied with one, but he was determined to have the whole lot—father and eighteen sons—but all so like that he could not tell one from the other, or the father from the children.
"It is no use to kill one son," he said to himself, "because the old cock will take warning and fly away with the seventeen. I wish I knew which is the old gentleman."
He set his wits to work to find out, and one day seeing them all threshing in a barn, he sat down to watch them; still he could not be sure.
"Now I have it," he said; "well done the old man's stroke! He hits true," he cried.
"Oh!" replied the one he suspected of being the head of the family, "if you had seen my grandfather's strokes, you might have said that."
The sly fox pounced on the cock, ate him up in a trice, and then soon caught and disposed of the eighteen sons, all flying in terror about the barn.
For a long time a Tod-hunter had been very anxious to catch our friend the fox, and had stopped all the earths in cold weather. One evening he fell asleep in his hut; and when he opened his eyes he saw the fox sitting very demurely at the side of the fire. It had entered by the hole under the door provided for the convenience of the dog, the cat, the pig, and the hen.
"Oh! ho!" said the Tod-hunter, "now I have you." And he went and sat down at the hole to prevent Reynard's escape.
"Oh! ho!" said the fox, "I will soon make that stupid
fellow get up." So he found the man's shoes, and putting them into the fire, wondered if that would make the enemy move.
"I shan't get up for that, my fine gentleman," cried the Tod-hunter.
Stockings followed the shoes, coat and trousers shared the same fate, but still the man sat over the hole. At last the fox having set the bed and bedding on fire, put a light to the straw on which his jailer lay, and it blazed up to the ceiling.
"No! that I cannot stand," shouted the man, jumping up; and the fox, taking advantage of the smoke and confusion, made good his exit.
But Master Rory did not always have it his own way. One day he met a cock, and they began talking.
"How many tricks canst thou do?" said the fox.
"Well," said the cock, "I could do three; how many canst thou do thyself?"
"I could do three score and thirteen," said the fox.
"What tricks canst thou do?" said the cock.
"Well," said the fox, "my grandfather used to shut one eye and give a great shout."
"I could do that myself," said the cock.
"Do it," said the fox. And the cock shut one eye and crowed as loud as ever he could, but he shut the eye that was next the fox, and the fox gripped him by the neck and ran away with him. But the wife to whom the cock belonged saw him and cried out, "Let go the cock; he's mine."
"Say, 'Oh sweet-tongued singer, it is my own cock,' wilt thou not?" said the cock to the fox.
Then the fox opened his mouth to say as the cock did, and he dropped the cock, and he sprung up on the top of a house, and shut one eye and gave a loud crow.
But it was through that very fox that Master Wolf lost his tail. Have you never heard about that?
One day the wolf and the fox were out together, and they stole a dish of crowdie. Now in those days the wolf was the biggest beast of the two, and he had a long tail like a greyhound and great teeth.
The fox was afraid of him, and did not dare to say a word when the wolf ate the most of the crowdie, and left only a little at the bottom of the dish for him, but he determined to punish him for it; so the next night when they were out together the fox pointed to the image of the moon in a pool left in the ice, and said:
"I smell a very nice cheese, and there it is, too."
"And how will you get it?" said the wolf.
"Well, stop you here till I see if the farmer is asleep, and if you keep your tail on it, nobody will see you or know that it is there. Keep it steady. I may be some time coming back."
So the wolf lay down and laid his tail on the moonshine in the ice, and kept it for an hour till it was fast. Then the fox, who had been watching, ran in to the farmer and said: "The wolf is there; he will eat up the children—the wolf! the wolf!"
Then the farmer and his wife came out with sticks to kill the wolf, but the wolf ran off leaving his tail behind him, and that's why the wolf is stumpy-tailed to this day, though the fox has a long brush.
One day shortly after this Master Rory chanced to see a fine cock and fat hen, off which he wished to dine, but at his approach they both jumped up into a tree. He did not lose heart, but soon began to make talk with them, inviting them at last to go a little way with him.
"There was no danger," he said, "nor fear of his hurting them, for there was peace between men and beasts, and among all animals."
At last after much parleying the cock said to the hen, "My dear, do you not see a couple of hounds coming across the field?"
"Yes," said the hen, "and they will soon be here."
"If that is the case, it is time I should be off," said the sly fox, "for I am afraid these stupid hounds may not have heard of the peace."
And with that he took to his heels and never drew breath till he reached his den.
Now Master Rory had not finished with his friend the wolf. So he went round to see him when his stump got better.
"It is lucky you are," he said to the wolf. "How much better you will be able to run now you haven't got all that to carry behind you."
"Away from me, traitor!" said the wolf.
But Master Rory said: "Is it a traitor I am, when all I have come to see you for is to tell you about a keg of butter I have found?"
After much grumbling the wolf agreed to go with Master Rory.
So the Russet Dog and the wild dog, the fox and the wolf, were going together; and they went round about the sea-shore, and they found the keg of butter, and they buried it.
On the morrow the fox went out, and when he returned in he said that a man had come to ask him to a baptism. He arrayed himself in excellent attire, and he went away, and where should he go but to the butter keg; and when he came home the wolf asked him what the child's name was; and he said it was Head Off.
On the morrow he said that a man had sent to ask him to a baptism, and he reached the keg and he took out about half. The wolf asked when he came home what the child's name was.
"Well," said he, "it is a queer name that I myself would not give to my child, if I had him; it is Half and Half."
On the morrow he said that there was a man there came to ask him to a baptism again; off he went and he reached the keg, and he ate it all up. When he came home the wolf asked him what the child's name was, and he said it was All Gone.
On the morrow he said to the wolf that they ought to bring the keg home. They went, and when they reached the keg there was not a shadow of the butter in it.
"Well, thou wert surely coming here to watch this, though I was not," quoth the fox.
The other one swore that he had not come near it.
"Thou needst not be swearing that thou didst not come here; I know that thou didst come, and that it was thou that took it out; but I will know it from thee when thou goest home, if it was thou that ate the butter," said the fox.
Off they went, and when they got home he hung the wolf by his hind legs, with his head dangling below him, and he had a dab of the butter and he put it under the wolf's mouth, as if it was out of the wolf's belly that it came.
"Thou red thief!" said he, "I said before that it was thou that ate the butter."
They slept that night, and on the morrow when they rose the fox said:
"Well, then, it is silly for ourselves to be starving to death in this way merely for laziness; we will go to a town-land, and we will take a piece of land in it."
They reached the town-land, and the man to whom it belonged gave them a piece of land the worth of seven Saxon pounds.
It was oats that they set that year, and they reaped it and they began to divide it.
"Well, then," said the fox, "wouldst thou rather have the root or the tip? thou shalt have thy choice."
"I'd rather the root," said the wolf.
Then the fox had fine oaten bread all the year, and the other one had fodder.
On the next year they set a crop; and it was potatoes that they set, and they grew well.
"Which wouldst thou like best, the root or the crop this year?" said the fox.
"Indeed, thou shalt not take the twist out of me any more; I will have the top this year," quoth the wolf.
"Good enough, my hero," said the fox.
Thus the wolf had the potato tops, and the fox the potatoes. But the wolf used to keep stealing the potatoes from the fox.
"Thou hadst best go yonder, and read the name that I have in the hoofs of the grey mare," quoth the fox.
Away went the wolf, and he begun to read the name; and on a time of these times the white mare drew up her leg, and she broke the wolf's head.
"Oh!" said the fox, "it is long since I heard my name. Better to catch geese than to read books."
He went home, and the wolf was not troubling him any more.
But the Russet Dog found his match at last, as I shall tell you.
One day the fox was once going over a loch, and there met him a little bonnach, and the fox asked him where he was going. The little bonnach told him he was going to such a place.
"And whence camest thou?" said the fox.
"I came from Geeogan, and I came from Cooaigean, and I came from the slab of the bonnach stone, and I came from the eye of the quern, and I will come from thee if I may," quoth the little bonnach.
"Well, I myself will take thee over on my back," said the fox.
"Thou'lt eat me, thou'lt eat me," quoth the little bonnach.
"Come then on the tip of my tail," said the fox.
"Oh no! I will not; thou wilt eat me," said the little bonnach.
"Come into my ear," said the fox.
"I will not go; thou wilt eat me," said the little bonnach.
"Come into my mouth," said the fox.
"Thou wilt eat me that way at all events," said the little bonnach.
"Oh no, I will not eat thee," said the fox. "When I am swimming I cannot eat anything at all."
He went into the fox's mouth.
"Oh! ho!" said the fox, "I may do my own pleasure on thee now. It was long ago said that a hard morsel is no good in the mouth."
The fox ate the little bonnach. Then he went to a loch, and he caught hold of a duck that was in it, and he ate that.
He went up to a hillside, and he began to stroke his sides on the hill.
"Oh, king! how finely a bullet would spank upon my rib just now."
Who was listening but a hunter.
"Ill try that upon thee directly," said the hunter.
"Bad luck to this place," quoth the fox, "in which a creature dares not say a word in fun that is not taken in earnest."
The hunter put a bullet in his gun, and he fired at him and killed him, and that was the end of the Russet Dog.