Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Salt Peddler and the White Fox

Long, long ago, there was a salt peddler who was very poor. One day, as he had been doing everyday, he left his house early in the morning with a sackful of salt on his back. He travelled from one village to another, peddling salt to the villagers. After his last visit for the day to a remote village, he headed for home. He was virtually dragging his feet due to exhaustion from the day's work. He was still far away from his home when dusk settled in. It became completely dark in the middle of a rugged mountain with the dense growth of brushes and trees. Overwhelmed by fatigue and darkness, he could proceed any longer; so, he looked around to find some shelter for the night.

After a while, a huge rock caught his eye, He managed to reach the rock, whose top could be seen against the night sky. He put down his empty A-frame back carrier. He then noticed a cave-like hollow spot at a corner of the underside of the rock. The cave was large enough for him to crawl into and stretch himself; so, he settled in for the night. His eyelids became heavier and heavier. He was about to fall asleep, when he heard a strange sound. He became wide awake. So frightened was he that his hair stood on end. "What could it be?" With both jaws pressed against each other and holding his breath, he peered into the dark. He could not see anything unusual. He stuck out his head slightly. He could hear the sound more distictly. it was a faint voice of a woman.

Since it was unmistakably a human voice, he felt a little relieved. "But, what is she doing at this time of the night and in this rugged mounatin?" Curious, he crawled out of the cave to look around. However, he could not see a woman or anything else unusual. So, he came back to his shelter and lay down, hoping to sleep.

The salt peddler tried to forget everything and was ready to sleep, when he heard something, again. It sounded even more strange coming from somewhere above. He crawled quietly out of the cave, again, and looked up at the top of the rock. And he almost screamed! He saw a white fox, with her long tail drooping, sitting on top of the rock and grinding a human skull against the surface of the rock. The peddler was all but petrified at the frightful sight. But with all the courage he could muster, he crawled ever quietly toward a big tree nearby and watched every move of the fox behind it. The fox apparently did not notice him. She kept grinding the skull, occasionally turning it and apparently making it into some kind of container. After a while, the
fox was trying the skull container on her head and, when it did not fit well, she muttered with an irritated voice. She kept grinding and then tried it on, again. She repeated these several times, until finally she was satisfied. "Now, it fits! It's perfect." She wore the skull container and made several tumbling feats like an accomplished acrobat.

The whole scene gave the peddler icy chills in his spine. Though scared and shaking, he was staring at the fox so that he would not miss anything she did. After several more tumbling feats, the white fox suddenly disappeared and, instead, there stood a stooped old woman. Tidying up her hair, she talked to herself: "Oh, dear me, I'm a little late; they must be waiting for me anxiously." Then, she jumped down and started walking toward the village the peddler visited last that day.

The peddler soon became more curious than frightened, and decided to follow the old woman. Often he had to run to catch up with her. When the granny finally reached the village, she went straight into the house of the wealthiest in the village. "Here I am...finally!" When she announced her arrival, there was a commotion in the house, people dashing out to meet and greet her and asking why she was so late. The old woman seemed to know why she was expected there. She went straight into the room reserved for the housewife and her guests.

The peddler then approached the gate and asked for an overnight stay. Well known to the villagers, he was led to a male guest room across the women's living quarters. It was close to mid-night. The peddler lay down on the floor, trying to listen to every sound coming from the women's room across a small court yard. He could hear only indistinguishable noises. After a while, everything quieted down. Then, suddenly, there was a loud gong sound, followed by someone chanting incantations with intermittent interruptions by low, steady gong sounds. The peddler could swear that the chanting voice he heard was that of the old fox-woman. He sensed that something terribly wrong was going on in that room. "Without knowing the real identity of that old woman, they are letting her chant spells. The old fox must be cursing on someone, pretending to be exorcising some evil spirit," he thought. He felt he must do something about it. Just then, a farmhand of the house came into the room to sleep. "What's going on there? Is anybody ill?" asked the peddler. The farmhand casually said that because the old master of the household suddenly fell seriously ill, the family invited the granny, an old acquaintance who had the reputation of being the magic chanter in the vicinity, for her service. He hardly said that before he started snoring. Things were as the peddler had suspected. Except for occaslonal gong sounds, it was rather quiet. Perhaps, family members all fell asleep.

The salt peddler came out of the guest room and tiptoed across the court yard toward the women's quarters. The old woman's chanting was almost imperceptively low and mumbled. He stepped quietly up onto the wooden floor and sat in front of the paper-pasted sliding door of the room. Wetting his forefinger and gently pushed it through the paper door. Then he peeped into the room through the hole. All but the old woman were sleeping. The old fox-woman was still chanting spells with her eyes closed and with a gong stick in her right hand. The peddler listened carefully to her chantings in order to discern what was being said. "...this is mine, my feast... if this old stock ... Dies.... Die...die...hurry up and die! After you are dead, your soul, too, will be mine. Die! Die! Hurry up and go to hell! The sooner..., the better...." This old witch must be smiling, too, though the peddler could not see it.

The peddler felt indignation. It was upsetting to see the family members sleep without knowing what was really going on. He could not merely sit there doing nothing about it. He slipped down from the floor and went to a storage room. He came out with a wooden pestle and dashed into the family room. Everyone got up from sleep and looked at this mid-night intruder with a pestle in his hand. Without a single word, the peddler struck the old chanter hard on the head with the pestle. Everyone in the room jumped up and stepped aside, astonished and dumbfounded. And the old fox-woman fell flat with the barking sounds of a fox, and turned back into a white fox with a cracked human skull on its head. While all this was happening everyone in the whole house gathered in the room, looking at one another and at the blood-covered fox. The peddler then told them about what had happened since that evening in the mountain. "How horrible! It was close! The master would have died...."

Next morning, the old master recovered as suddenly as he had fallen ill. The salt peddler was richly rewarded by the master, and from that day on he lived happily without having to peddle salt any longer.

No comments:

Post a Comment