Friday, March 6, 2009

The Fox and the Sheepskin Jacket

Once upon a time a fox living in Palestine lifted his head from the undergrowth where he had been hiding, and saw an eagle.

‘Hallo!’ cried the eagle as it swooped down close to the fox. ‘How you can bear to live all your life down there on the ground, I do not know. You really are a most un-enterprising creature.’

Then the eagle soared up into the blue sky again, and as the fox watched it he half wished that he could fly too.

In a few moments the eagle was swooping down again, saying, ‘Did you hear what I said?’

‘Yes I did,’ called the fox. ‘What does the world look like from so high?’

The eagle alighted beside him and replied, ‘Sometimes it is so far away this it is almost invisible.’

The fox laughed scornfully. ‘I don’t believe you,’ he said.

This annoyed the eagle who had always hated the fox for his cunning underhanded ways, and now he suddenly thought of a plan to get rid of him.

‘Jump on my back and I’ll take you up to see for yourself,’ he said.

The fox hesitated for a moment and then he climbed on to the strong back of the eagle, settled himself among the feathers and cried: ‘I’m ready! Up you go!’

The eagle soared upwards and the fox closed his eyes in alarm, for he had never travelled as fast as this on the ground, let alone in the air.

‘How big does the earth look now?’ asked the eagle presently.

The fox opened his eyes and gasped as he peered downwards. ‘It looks about as big as one of those straw baskets they make at Lydda,’ he said.

‘Aha!’ said the eagle. ‘But it won’t look as big as that in a minute.’ Up and up they went, and then the eagle asked again, ‘How big does the earth look now?’

‘It looks about as big as an onion,’ replied the fox, hoping that the eagle would soon begin flying down again.

But the eagle continued to soar upwards, while the fox clung to its feathers, feeling very alarmed and still scarcely daring to open his eyes.

‘How big does it look now?’ asked the eagle at last.

Peering down through half-closed eyes, the fox could see nothing at all. Even when he opened his eyes wide in surprise, he could still not see the earth, as it was so far away below them.

‘I can’t see anything at all!’ he said. ‘How far away do you think the earth is now?’

‘That I can’t tell,’ replied the eagle. ‘But I leave it to you to find out.’ So saying the eagle turned right over onto his back so that the fox was shaken off.

With a scream the fox began to fall down. Through the air he rushed, sometimes the right way up, sometimes the wrong, but all the time wondering what would happen to him when he hit the earth.

Suddenly he knew! He had landed on a ploughboy’s soft sheepskin coat, in the middle of a ploughed field, and because this had broken his fall, he was still alive.

Heaving a sigh of relief, the fox scrambled under the sheepskin jacket. Using this as a disguise in case anybody saw him and tried to kill him again, he ran swiftly into some woods to take cover.

But he was not safe here, for immediately he came face to face with a leopard. But instead of attacking the fox and eating him, the leopard was so surprised at the coat he was wearing that he asked, ‘Where did you get that warm coat, Fox? I’ve never seen you wearing one of those before.’

‘I’ve changed my way of living,’ replied the fox quickly. ‘No longer do I steal the farmers’s chickens, because I have become a furrier and have learned how to sew. Would you like me to make you a sheepskin jacket like mine?’

‘Yes I would,’ said the leopard, thinking what good camouflage it would be when he was stalking game for his dinner.

‘Very well,’ said the fox, ‘You’re a much better hunter than I am, so if you can bring me six sheep, I will make you a jacket with their coats, and will eat their meat for my payment.’

The unsuspecting leopard went off to steal the sheep from a near-by hillside, while the fox lay down and laughed to himself, feeling very pleased at his own cleverness.

When the leopard came back with the six dead sheep, the fox persuaded him to help him to carry them close to his den. Then, promising the leopard that the jacket would be ready next week, he sent him away.

Now the fox had a wife and six little cubs, and when they saw all the meat that the leopard had provided for them, they were delighted. Never had they had such a feast before! For days they all ate as much as they could and each night they slept deeply and rested well, for there was no need to go hunting now.

But the leopard was not so happy. He kept coming back to the fox’s den and shouting: ‘Isn’t my jacket ready yet?’

The fox put him off with various excuses, until all the meat had gone, and then he said, ‘You are a much bigger animal than I am, Leopard, so I’m afraid I shall need more than six sheepskins for your coat. Will you bring me three more sheep tomorrow? Then I think I can finish making it.’

The leopard was getting a little suspicious by now, but off he went and killed three more sheep, and brought them back to the fox.

Now the family could eat their fill again, and they all feasted happily until the meat had gone. But the fox was beginning to regret his behavior, as he knew the leopard would want to be revenged when he found out that there was to be no sheepskin jacket after all, for he had no idea how to sew.

He began to go hunting in a different part of the country, and always looked around carefully to make sure the leopard was nowhere near when he went in or out of his hole. When he did meet the leopard he made excuses about the jacket, saying that he had run out of thread, or just broken his needle; he even pretended that he was not the fox who had eaten the sheep, and since all foxes are very much alike, the leopard could not be sure which was which.

But at last the leopard knew that he had been tricked, and he decided that it was time to get even with the fox.

Hiding behind a boulder one night, he lay still, scarcely breathing, until he heard the sound of the fox returning from a hunting expedition. With a bound the leopard pounced on the fox, intending to kill him, but the fox was so quick in reaching his hole, that all the leopard managed to catch was the fox’s bushy tail.

‘All right! I’ve missed you this time,’ the leopard shouted. ‘But I shall know you from all the other foxes now, as you will be the only one without a tail.’

Then to make sure that the fox would suffer a few days’ starvation, the leopard took a hornets’ nest and put it on the ground beside the opening to the fox’s den. He knew that the humming sound the hornets made was very much like the noise of a leopard purring, and he hoped that the fox would stay inside, not daring to go hunting while he thought the leopard was waiting for him.

For almost a week, the fox family went hungry, until at last the fox began to get suspicious, for he wondered how the leopard could stay in one place for so long without going away to get food.

Creeping close to the opening, the fox peered cautiously outside, and discovered the hornets’ nest.

He was furious that he had been tricked so easily, but he dared not show himself to the leopard, as he would easily recognize him now that he had lost his tail.

However, he had to take some risks if he were going to put into practice the plan which he had been working out, while listening to the hornets’ humming.

So, waiting until darkness fell, the fox rushed hither and thither, calling at the homes of all his friends and relations.

‘Come with me! I have found you a splendid vineyard full of ripe grapes. Come and feast with me, while it is dark and the owner is asleep at home.’

Soon dozens of foxes were following behind him and he led them to a secluded vineyard some way from his den. ‘What a feast! What juicy grapes!’ all the foxes exclaimed as they began to eat them hungrily.

‘Wait a minute,’ commanded the fox. ‘We mustn’t all eat from the same vine. I will show you each your place, and then you can eat unhindered by anyone else, and we shall not have any quarrels.’

One by one, he led the foxes to a different vine, and said to each, ‘Now you must not mind if I tie your tail to your particular vine. This will show the others that the vine belongs to you, and it will prevent any greed fox from straying to his brother’s place and eating his grapes.’

All the foxes agreed quite readily, until eventually nothing could be heard but the steady munching of grapes.

Silently the fox left the vineyard and made his way to the owner’s house, where he banged on the door and woke up the whole household, crying: ‘Go to your vineyard! The foxes are robbing it! Take up your sticks and drive them away.’

The people in the house were soon awake, and ran shouting towards the vineyard, waving their heavy sticks.

The foxes heard them coming and tried to run away, but their tails were tied so tightly to the vines that the only way the could escape was by tugging so hard that they left their tails behind them.

After this every fox in the district had a short tail, and so the leopard never found out which was the fox who had tricked him. He was so annoyed that he went away to live in a different part of the country, and then the fox, his wife and his six little cubs were able to roam about freely, and to hunt wherever they liked.

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