A LONG time ago a fox felt very hungry, so he went down into a village where he caught a fine fat hen and ran away with her. In the woods nearby he built a fire of dry brush. When the brush had all burned up and left a pile of coals, the fox took his large hen and covered her all up with the ashes. That was how he always roasted meat for his dinner. It took some time for the large hen to roast, so the fox lay down and went to sleep.
Very soon a weasel came along. Sniff! sniff! He could smell meat roasting, and it smelt very delicious. He saw the fox was fast asleep; so he slipped quietly over to the pile of ashes, stuck his paw in and pulled out the hen. He ran behind a bush and ate as much meat he could and hid the rest somewhere else, behind a river. But he left the bones. Then he took a bone and greased the fox's mouth all around with a greasy end of it. After that he put the bone under the hot ashes and ran away.
When the fox awoke, he could smell hen grease. He licked his tongue and felt grease all around his mouth.
"Surely I have not eaten the hen while asleep. No, I feel too hungry; but where did this grease come from on my mouth, if I did not eat her?"
The fox was much puzzled. He went over the ashes and caught hold of a hen's foot and pulled. Out came a leg without any meat on it.
"This is funny," he thought. Just then he spied some tracks in the sand. "O ho!" he said. "Now I understand! The weasel has played a trick on me and taken my hen. I'll catch and kill him for this."
The fox trotted off, following the weasel tracks. He found the weasel by a cliff. The weasel saw the fox coming and he knew he was angry. He did not have time to run away, so he just leaned against the cliff and called,
"Oh, Reynard, come here quickly and help me! Look up there, this cliff is falling! It will kill us if we don't hold it up."
The fox looked up. The clouds were passing over the cliff and made them look as if they really were falling. The fox jumped quickly over to the weasel and leaned against the cliff just as hard as he could to hold it up. As soon as the fox leaned on the cliff, the weasel jumped away. He made a big jump, just as if the cliff might really fall on him.
"Hold the cliff up, Reynard, while I go to get a stick to prop it with," he said.
The weasel ran away and left the fox leaning hard against the cliff.
The fox stayed there all day waiting for the weasel to come with the stick. Late in the evening he looked up. There were no clouds passing at that time, so he could see that the cliff was not falling. Then he knew that the weasel had played another trick on him, and he was angrier than ever.
Again he followed the weasel tracks and found the weasel down by the river.
When the weasel saw the fox coming, he called:
"Oh, Reynard, come quickly and see what I have for you. I found a cheese and I saved half of it for you; but it has fallen into the river. Look!"
The fox looked down into the water. The reflection of the half-moon was in the water. It looked just like the half of a round cheese and the fox's mouth began to water for a taste of it. He was very hungry.
"I wonder how I can get that cheese!" he said.
"I'll tell you how. Let me tie the end of this rope" - for the weasel had a rope all ready - "around your tail and tie the other end to this big stone. Then you can ump into the river and get the cheese. When you've got hold of it, call me, and I will pull you out."
The fox thought that was a good scheme, so he let the weasel tie the rope around his tail ind around the stone. Then the fox jumped into the river with a big splash. As soon as he did, the weasel threw the stone in after him, and if the rope had not slipped off of the fox's tail when it got wet, that would have been the end of the fox.
[Adapted from a Native American tale]
FAR AWAY in the woods there were two little huts. In each of them lived a man who was a dependable hunter, his wife, and three or four children. On the other side of the wood there dwelt an old woman near the great river. She owned a very peculiar ball. When she just flung her ball in the direction of a little child, the ball was sure to reach it, no matter how far off it went. Then, as soon as the child saw it, the ball would begin rolling slowly back to the old woman. It kept rolling a little ahead of the child, so that he always thought that he could catch it the next minute.
The forest was large, and the old woman was clever and keep out of the way of other people. Now, one day she threw her ball toward the hunter's huts. A child stooped to pick the ball up. He could not let it roll away, the ball seemed always within his grasp, it went quicker and quicker, and the boy grew more and more excited. He sprang forward, tripped and fell, and found himself in the old woman's house!
"Welcome! welcome, my boy!" said she.
"No, I am not your own," replied the boy and sat down.
"Be that as it may. Mind our ways: you'll have to fast ruthlessly if you want the good, good winds to make you strong and healthy and wealthy and wise. But first you have to eat to strengthen yourself for it."
"Very well," said the boy. What else could he do? He was trapped in the home of the old woman, and knew that.
The woman brought him a bowl of good food and said,
"Lie down on those ox hides."
The boy lay down. After some time some squirrels and little bears and the birds came and seemed to talk to him. At the end of ten days the old woman came to him with a bowl of the same food that he had eaten before.
"Get up, dear. Have you seen or felt the good winds now? Has that given you the strength and wisdom that you might wish to have?"
"Some of them, I should say, but many must have stayed away from me."
"Why not fast ten days more?" said she.
So the boy lay down again on the ox hides and fasted for ten days. At last the old woman called to him, and said:
"Come and eat something, dear." At the sound of her voice the boy got up and ate the food she gave him. Then she said,
"Tell me, child, have not the good winds visited you all these many days that you have fasted?"
"I guess not all of them, madam," answered he; "there may still be some who keep away from me, I should say."
"Then why not fast again?" said the old woman.
The boy said nothing, but lay down for the third time on the ox hides and fasted for twenty days more. Then she fed him, and after some time he was able to sit up.
"You have fasted long - surely the good winds must be satisfied now?"
"I think so, madam," answered the boy, "shouldn't I say they all came and shared gifts with me?"
This pleased the old woman, and she said:
"On the other side of the great river is the home of a wizard. In his house is much gold and a little bridge which lengthens out when he waves his hand, so that even though he cannot swim, he may still cross any river or sea if he likes. Now I want that bridge and some of the gold for myself. You have been strong, and you can do this!
When you reach the river, tie this ball to your foot, and it will take you acrossyou can't manage it in any other way. Trust to the ball and feel quite safe!"
The boy took the ball and put it in a bag. He made himself a club and a bow and some arrows which would fly farther than other arrows because good winds blew from behind him. His eyes and ears were as fine as ever, and little escaped him. Much more help would be given to him as he needed it; he felt sure of that.
He was ready to do what she required, but for a while a mild panic seized him. Yet, in a minute or two he plucked up courage to go and have a look at the river. It was so wide that it frightened him. He turned back quite ashamed. But when he tried a third time he got safely to the other side.
There he put the ball in the bag, and looked carefully round him. The door of the wizard's hut was open, and he saw that the ceiling was supported by great wooden beams. Bags of gold and the little bridge were hanging from them. He also saw the wizard was sitting in the middle of his treasures, eating his dinner and drinking something out of a silver cup.
An idea came to the boy out of the blue, and he wished with all his might that the wizard should become very hungryso hungry that he could not wait a moment for fresh food to be brought to him. And sure enough, right then the wizard called out to his woman servant in the house,
"You didn't bring food that would satisfy a sparrow. Fetch some more at once, for I feel starved."
Then, without giving the woman time to go to the larder, he got up from his chair and rolled towards the kitchen, staggering from hunger.
As soon as the door had closed on the wizard, the boy ran in. He pulled down a bag of gold from the beam and tucked it under his left arm. Next he unhooked the little bridge and put it under his right arm. He didn't try to escape, for he saw that before he could reach the river and make use of the bridge, the wizard would track him by his footsteps and be upon him.
Therefore he tried to look very small and thin, and hid himself behind a pile of ox hides in the corner. He had hardly settled himself there when the woman entered the room. She cried to her master that someone had stolen the bag and the bridge. The wizard rushed in, mad with anger, and since he could not see any footsteps leading to the river, he began to move all the furniture, and finally discovering Ballio.
"Was it you who took my gold and bridge?" asked the wizard.
"Yes," answered Ballio. He was a truthful boy.
The wizard made a sign to the woman, and she asked where he had hidden the treasures. He lifted his left arm, and there was the gold. He lifted his right arm, and there was the bridge. The woman took all of the treasures, and the wizard looked well pleased now.
"Be sure that he doesn't run away," chuckled he. "Boil some water, and get him ready for cooking, while I go and invite friends who live among water-melons to the feast."
Then the boy said:
"I'm lean now; but if you keep me two days and give me plenty of food, I could get fatter for the feast, and no one would think you're a lousy host."
"Perhaps you're right," answered the wizard and decided to keep him and feed him for two days.
They led him into a little shed. There the woman chained him up to a ring in the wall while the wizard looked at. Food was given the boy every third hour, and at the end of two days he was as fat and big as a one year old brown bear at the end of Autumn.
"He'll do now," said the wizard. "Put the kettle on the fire, but don't ever taste the broth."
The woman built up the fire, which had got very low, filled the kettle with water, oil and herbs, and brought in Ballio.
The kettle soon began to sing and bubble, and Ballio was to be lifted in. The woman knew that her master had forbidden her to taste the broth, but now that he had put the idea into her head, it was hard to get rid of, and the smell from the kettle was so delicious. Thus she plunged a long ladle into the kettle.
"Why not go a little nearer?" said the boy.
As she did so he gave her a kick and she fell into the kettle. The hot water scalded and killed her. She screamed terribly for a half a minute, but no one was near to hear her.
Now the boy seized the gold and the bridge once again, picked up his club and bow and arrows, and then he set fire to the wizard's hut. He ran down to the river and crossed it safely by the help of the bridge.
The wooden hut was burned to the ground before the wizard came back with a large basket of water-melons his friends had given him, before he went ahead of them to make sure all was ready. There was not a sign of anyone or anything, so he started for the river. When he came to the riverside, he got terribly excited when he saw the boy on the other side. As he jumped up and down in anger he slipped and fell into the stream. That was the last anyone saw of him; he had not learnt to swim.
[Adapted from a Native American tale]
AFTER Ballio had seen the wizard drown, he forgot the way to the old woman's house and his home. He started to wander and came to many places in the far.
One day he came to a hut where there lived a young girl. He was tired and hungry and asked her to let him in and rest, and he stayed a long while, and the girl became his wife.
Then one morning he saw two children playing in front of the hut, and went out to speak to them. But they just cried in fear and ran away.
"They are the girls of my sister. She is back from a long travel, and she is not fond of folks," said his wife.
At this moment the sister-in-law came up and challenged him to combat. "How do you do. Let's try which is the strongest."
"That will be delightful," he answered.
Therefore she decided to see who could run the fastest.
"The south of Sweden is flat. No one knows how many miles it stretches. Let us run to the end and back again," said he.
Both made ready for the race and set off.
He managed to pass her and held his ground so long that he fancied she was quite beaten. She began to be afraid of it too, and forced herself a lot, and more, till she was in the lead. At length the south of Sweden was in sight, but they had to run the other way also.
When they were midway on the way back home, her eyes grew dim with fatigue, and she hardly saw that Ballio speeded up and went past her. Thus, when she came back to the house and went it, Ballio was standing there waiting. Thus, he beat her.
For a long while Ballio was content to stay. He was tired of adventures. But one day he ate some poisonous berries and felt he was going to die.
"When I'm dead don't bury me at all," he said to his wife, and then he laid down to rest for a long time - so long that everybody thought he was dead while lying there. Then his wife laid his body on a platform in a fine little grove away from the house.
As he lay flat there, a traveller came to his home and liked one of the girls so much that he decided to take her as his wife. But first he had to travel home and arrange the matter there. He went off, but forgot to secure food for them.
On the day he left, one of the girls had had no breakfast, and no supper the day before, so she went into the wood to look for cranberries. Although she was quite near home she was surprised to see a large hut there. She was sure it had not been there when last she had come that way. No one was about, so she ventured to peep in. She was even more surprised when she saw much food of all sorts heaped up in a corner, and a little robin redbreast stood perched on a beam where he was looking down on her.
The bird piped, "Come in. It is here for you. Take what you please."
She did and ran back to the others and told them of the marvel. And from that day the robin would hop on their shoulders and let them feed him with the food they knew he liked best.
When the suitor came back, he found the girl was so much prettier and fatter that he insisted that they should marry on the spot. The girl's mother didn't know how to get rid of him, so she gave in.
The husband spent his time in hunting, but no matter how little he came home wit, his new family was fat and well nourished, for they saw the robin redbreast in his hut nearby. The husband had not been told about it, and could not understand how they could thrive in his care. Then one morning he pretended to go out to hunt, but he hid in a thicket to watch them. Very soon they all left the house and walked to the other hut, which was hid in a hollow.
The girl's husband followed and noticed that each one went up to the redbreast and shook him by the claw. Then he too entered and shook the bird's claw. And as he took part of the secret from then on, they sat down to dinner with the robin redbreast. Afterwards they all returned to their own hut.
Next day the husband said he was very ill and could not eat anything at all. The family were all distressed and begged him to tell them what food he fancied.
"I could not eat any food," he answered every time, "Well, then, I think, if I had thatredbreast, nicely roasted, I could eat a little bit of his wing!"
The girl he had married started back in horror. Weeping and wringing her hands she went down to her mother and sister. They were very angry when they heard the story, and declared that if anyone were to die, it should not be the robin. But all that night the man seemed to get weaker and weaker, so the wife crept out, and stole to the hut. There she killed the bird and brought him home to her husband.
Just as she was going to cook it her mother, sister and aunt came in. They cried out in horror at the sight and rushed out of the hut while they cried that they would never see her again.
With a heavy heart the poor girl took the body of the redbreast up to her husband. But when she entered the room with the bird on a dish, the man told her that he felt much better. He would rather have a piece of bear's flesh, well boiled. His young wife felt very miserable to think that she had killed their beloved redbreast for nothing, and begged him to try a little bit. But he flew into a rage and flung the bird out of the window. Then he got up and went out and never came back.
"Wake up," she said. At once Ballio stepped down from the platform, brought his club and bow and arrows out of the hut, and looked about for his family.
"They are all gone," the old woman told. "Now, did you manage to get that gold from the wizard?"
"Yes, I carry it with me. It is here it in my left arm-pit," he answered.
She picked up a knife and scraped away all the gold which had stuck to his skin. It was not little. After she had finished she asked again:
"And did you manage to get that bridge from the wizard?"
"Yes, I got that too," answered he, lifted his right arm, and pointed to his arm-pit.
"Here is the bridge," he said.
She took the gold and said something that surprised him,
"This gold must be hidden, for if people think they can get it when they choose, they will get more greedy, and lazy and stupid too. Let us therefore hide it in different places. Then they will have to work a lot for it if they want it, and then will only find a little at a time."
As she spoke, she pulled up one of the poles of the hut. Underneath was a hole, but where was the bottom? Ballio could not see it. Down this hole she poured all the gold he had carried in his arm-pit.
"The gold will spread out underneath the surface," the old woman told him. "People who dig hard may find a bit of it from time to time."
Next she took a rusty spade from a shelf, dug a very small hole and said,
"Give me the bridge. If others get hold of it and find that they could cross rivers and seas without any trouble, they would never discover how to cross them for themselves."
He gave it to her and she hid it carefully, saying,
"You have been taught to tackle troubles fast, to plan how to get what you want, and know how the good winds are blowing through open windows. The worst dangers should be over for you too. In that hut which you can just see far away, live your father and mother. They are old now, and need a son to hunt for them. Do that and be glad. For in one's everyday life, one has it all. Still, never forget to go for giant ideas to help you further. Those who keep their hearts open to major, good ideas, may find them blowing in."
And Ballio went back to care for his parents just as he was told.
[Adapted from a Native American tale]