Once upon a time, on the plains of East Pakistan, a fox and his wife lived in a little hole. They had five children who were too young to feed themselves, and so every evening Mr. and Mrs. Fox crept out of their hole and made their way to the bazaar or market place, which was full of roughly-made stalls.
But they didn’t go there to buy anything. They waited until all the people had gone home to their suppers, and then the two foxes crept amongst the stalls looking for scraps of food for their children.
Sometimes they found nothing but a few grains of rice or shreds of pumpkin but at other times they picked up quite large pieces of fish or meat which had been dropped un-noticed by a stall-holder.
Then the two foxes were overjoyed and would hurry home talking happily together. But no matter who had found the most food – and to be truthful it was nearly always Mrs. Fox who was the better scavenger – Mr. Fox was so full of pride at his cleverness that he could not stop boasting.
‘How much sense have you got, my dear?’ he would ask his wife as they hurried along between large tufts of brown grass and withered-looking bushes.
‘About as much as would fill a small vegetable basket,’ Mrs. Fox would reply modestly.
Then after a few minutes she would say, ‘And how much sense have you got, my good husband?’
‘As much as would fill twelve large sacks, needing twelve strong oxen to carry them,’ the conceited Mr. Fox would reply, time and time again.
Now one evening, when the two foxes were on their way home with food for their children, and Mr. Fox had just told his wife for the hundredth time how clever he was, a large tiger suddenly stepped out from behind a bush and barred their way.
‘At last I’ve got you,’ growled the tiger, showing them his sharp white teeth which glistened in the moonlight.
Mr. Fox began to tremble and his legs gave way, so that he crumpled up into a heap and lost the power to speak.
But clever Mrs. Fox held her head high, and looking straight into the flashing eyes of the tiger, she said with a smile, ‘How glad we are to have met you, O Uncle! My husband and I have been having an argument, and since neither will give way to the other, we decided that we would ask the first superior animal who crossed our path to settle the matter for us.’
The tiger was surprised at being spoken to so politely, and also very flattered at being called ‘Uncle’, which is a term of great respect in Pakistan.
So he did not spring at the foxes to kill and eat them, but replied, ‘Very well. I will help you if I can. Tell me what you were arguing about.’
‘My husband and I have decided to part company,’ said Mrs. Fox in a clear, calm voice, while her husband, who had closed his eyes in fear, now opened them wide in surprise. ‘But we have five children waiting at home for us, and we cannot decide how to divide them between us fairly. I think that I should have three, since I have had to spend more time in looking after them than my husband, and that he should have only two. But my husband insists that I let him have the three boy-cubs, and that I keep only the two girl-cubs. Now, O wise Uncle, who do you think is right?’
When Mrs. Fox saw the tiger licking his lips she knew that he was thinking that somehow he must have the five fox cubs as well as their parents for his dinner. And this was exactly what she had hoped for.
‘I must see the cubs for myself before I can make a decision,’ said the tiger. ‘Will you take me to your home?’
‘Certainly,’ said Mrs. Fox. ‘We will lead the way, and you shall follow.’
Poor Mr. Fox was completely at a loss to know what his wife was doing, but thinking that anything would be better than being eaten alive by a tiger, he staggered to his feet and followed his wife along the rough track, until they reached their home.
‘Wait here,’ said Mrs. Fox to the tiger. ‘You are too big to get inside our hole, so we will bring the children outside for you to see.’
She turned to her husband to tell him to go in, but he, needing no encouragement to get away from the tiger, shot into the opening like a flash.
Mrs. Fox went in more slowly, talking all the time, saying that she would not keep him waiting more than a moment, and thanking him for being so gracious as to promise to judge their case for them.
‘Once inside their hole, the foxes gathered their children together as far away from the opening as possible, and in whispers told them what happened.
‘Don’t make a sound,’ said Mrs. Fox, ‘and presently the tiger will realize he has been tricked, and will go away.’
She was right. The tiger waited for hours, first patiently, then furiously, as it gradually dawned on him that the foxes had no intention of letting him see their children, and when the sun rose the next morning, he had to go hungrily away.
After this, Mr. and Mrs. Fox went by a different path to the bazaar, and kept a sharp look-out for tigers.
Mr. Fox never again asked his wife how much sense she had, but once or twice, when he showed signs of becoming proud again she would say to him, ‘How much sense have you got, my dear?’ and he would answer with an embarrassed laugh, ‘Oh! About as much as would fill a small vegetable basket – a very small one, I’m afraid.'