Tales of Old Lusitania/The Greedy Little Fox

Tales of Old Lusitania - chapter 31 headpiece.jpg


On a fine autumn day a fox, who was out on a plundering expedition, met some hounds, and just as she was on the point of avoiding them by running away, they cried out to her: "Oh, good neighbour, come along with us, and do not fear to join our party, because you may, perhaps, not be aware that a new decree has been put forth, forbidding all animals to harm each other by illtreatment, scratching, laming, biting, or wounding in any way whatsoever. So that there is to be peace and goodwill among us for the future."

"I am glad to hear it," replied the cunning fox; "but before I join you I wish to let my godfather know of this new decree, that he also may come with us."

The godfather of this fox was, by-the-bye, a fine plump cock.

A hunter who happened to pass at the time stopped to speak to the fox, and asked her if she would like to have a couple of fowls.

"Fowls!" said she, "they would certainly not come amiss just now when I am rather pressed by hunger."

"Well, then, come to my house this afternoon, and you can choose a couple for yourself out of my poultry yard."

The fox, not suspecting any treachery from the man, went to his house according to his invitation to pick out for herself a couple of fowls, and perhaps a few more by aid of her arts and cunning; the hunter, however, who had a number of fox-hounds safe in their kennels in a yard, on seeing her coming, let the hounds loose upon her; but she, seeing them, took to flight, and as she was running away from her pursuers an impudent cock flew on the wall of the yard, and with a crow cried out to her thus: "Show the dogs the new decree show the dogs the new decree!"

The fox having made her escape from the hounds, next went into a maize field, which belonged to the hunter, there to hide and rest after her run; and once there she began to meditate revenge against the hunter for the wrong he had done her. Seeing that the maize was well grown and ripe, and that a wall protected and enclosed the field, she saw at once with her usual perspicacity, an opportunity for venting her revenge, and, with great deliberation, she set about the work of destruction. She leaped on the wall, and standing upon it, began to detach stone after stone, jumping down each time to the ground; and this operation she repeated until she had made a breach wide enough for cattle to pass through into the field.

She had hardly finished her work when she saw a donkey pass by.

"Neighbour, would you like to come inside and have a good feed of ripe maize?" said the fox.

"I should like it very much indeed," replied the donkey.

"Well, then, come inside and make a good meal, as I wish to revenge myself for the hunter's treachery by destroying his fine crop of maize."

The donkey ate and gorged until there was very little maize left in the field.

After the fox had satisfied her revengeful feelings, and had left the maize field a wreck, she met a wolf, whom she addressed thus: "Oh, my good neighbour, I am glad to see you. What say you to seeking a little one for us to adopt?"

The wolf being nothing loth, they started off together, and after a while they perceived in the distance some labourers in a field who were tying up bundles of rye; the fox, turning to her companion, said: "I'll tell you what we'll do; just you go up to those men, and while they attempt to run after you to strike you with their flails, I, in the meantime, will rob them and carry away their pot of cooked rice, which they are keeping warm for dinner on their wood fire; and we can afterwards both enjoy it together in safety somewhere else."

The wolf, completely duped, innocently agreed to the proposition; and on approaching the men they instantly chased him, armed with flails and sticks, while the fox, making the best of the occasion, put her head inside the pot and devoured as much as she possibly could of the savoury mess of rice, and before she left the spot she broke the pot into pieces and dispersed the remainder of the rice in all directions. She then went to meet the wolf, and, as she approached him, said in a tone of much concern, "Well, neighbour, how did you fare with the men?"

"You may well ask me how I fared with the men, don't you see me out of breath. I had to run to save my life, for they ran after me, ready to strike me down with their sticks and flails, and now I feel nearly dead with exhaustion. Pray, do not give me such another job again."

"I daresay you are very tired after your run and fright; but what is that to what I have had to endure? Only look at me and see how the men, knocking my poor head about, have succeeded in extracting my brains."

What the fox called her brains were the grains of rice that stuck to her head after her dip into the savoury mess.

The wolf asked her to let him lick her brains which he knew to be delicious eating.

After this little game of hers, the fox said to the wolf: "Let's lie down for a while and have a rest, of which I have great need, for I am very tired, and my bones are aching all over."

But when the wily fox saw her companion fast asleep, she noiselessly left him and went to look out for some little creature whom she could adopt, which in her language meant to eat up, and having succeeded in her search and found a kid, she enjoyed another meal all to herself, and all this while she kept the poor sleeping wolf fasting. She then returned and lay down beside him, and was soon fast asleep herself, looking as innocent as a new-born babe.

After they had had their rest, they rose up and went through the country, plundering and carrying away whatever they could find, nothing coming amiss to them; and they left nothing undone which by their cunning, ingenuity, and impudence they could acquire, while the incorrigible glutton of a fox always managed to get the best of the feast; for though the wolf had more strength, his insidious companion had all the more cunning, and would stoop to practise tricks which the wolf only condescended to when hard pressed by hunger.

The fox parted company with the wolf and went her way, and, having met a heron, she asked him to join her in preparing a broth, some of which they were to partake together, while she would provide the materials. The heron offered to make the broth in his own particular way, and prepared it in a long narrow-necked vessel, knowing that the fox could not drink out of it, and then inserting his long beak into the vessel greedily drank up all the broth and then very coolly turned to the fox and said: "As you have been kind enough to invite me to such a feast, I shall return you the invitation by asking you to a marriage feast which is to take place in heaven."

"But how am I to get up there?" replied the fox.

"Oh, that's easily done. Get on my back, and I'll carry you there."

They accordingly began their flight; but before long the heron grew tired, and finding the weight of the fox insupportable, he jerked her off his back. As the fox was falling to the ground she mournfully cried out:

I swear by my skin,
If once I escape
From the horrible scrape
That now I am in
I will never more fly
At game so high.

On the ground where the fox fell there stood a large stone, and, just as she was falling upon it, she cried out, "Move out of the way, or I'll split you with my weight."

But as she fell upon the edge of the stone she was killed instantaneously.