36. The Kind Fox and The Wicked Fox
ONCE there was a man who greatly venerated foxes. He had built an altar for them in his room and there he burnt incense every day. Every day of the year he placed on it food and drink offerings of chickens and wine. As a result, his possessions increased from day to day. In his trading he always made a big profit and whenever he planted a crop it yielded a double harvest.
At the time of the Taiping rebellion the man took his entire store of grain to the city, to the house of a kinsman, to escape looting. His kinsman, however, had a son who Was a drunkard and a gambler. He stole the man’s grain, sold it, and got through the money in no time. Altogether he must have helped himself to a hundred bushels. When the bandits had left the neighbourhood the man took his grain back home. One might have thought that, upon measuring it, he would have noticed that it had diminished. But it had not only not diminished but in fact increased by nearly a hundred bushels. From then onwards the man grew so rich that throughout the region he was known as the rich man by the grace of the foxes.
Now this man had a neighbour who had always been wealthy. He was a strong brave man and skilled in the art of swordsmanship. He could lift six men into the air at a time and carry them away. He was fond of wine and company, and whenever warriors came to the neighbourhood they would visit him. His house was always full of guests, that, over the years, his fortune diminished a little after all. In the end he grew old and his strength declined. Then fox began to plague his home. But fox did not manifest himself by possessing a human but simply caused all kinds of trouble. He would not leave the occupants of the house alone. One moment he would appear outside a window as a devil’s mask, the next a blue hand would appear through the door and snatch away food, or else a millstone would leap up and spin to the ground with a loud crash, or else dog and chicken dirt would appear in the food just as it was being cooked. One moment lumps of clay the size of a hand would crash down from the ceiling while the women were working in the house, the next a glow would appear under the eaves and when it was challenged bright flames would burst from it. One day when the housewife complained angrily about these happenings tongues of flame leaped out from under her skirts. The occupants of the house were for ever falling ill with fright.
The spirits affected all the members of the family except the master of the house evidently, the fox dared not molest. But even he was powerless against him. There was a magician in the next village who was reputed to be able to drive out the foxes. He was summoned. But before he would come he demanded ten plummet-weights of silver.
Only then did he start on his magic in the hall. He painted runes and recited magic formulas and then at last the fox’s bark was heard. The magician reached out his hand for him but then he said with surprise: ‘He got away. I merely pulled out a handful of his hairs.’
And true enough in his hand was a fistful of hair. No sooner had the magician left the house than the spook started anew. It seems probable that he himself produced the barking of the fox and had the foxes hair hidden up his sleeve all the time.
But the master of the house had made up his mind to get hold of the fax at all costs. He therefore armed his sons and servants with shotguns. Whenever a spirit appeared they fired at it. So long as the firing continued the spirit did nothing, but the moment the firing ceased it started again. In short, they made no headway against it.
One of the tenant farmers of the family had a wife who was a witch. One day she said: ‘The fox god likes humans to revere him. You should not fight against him. You should serve him a meal as an offering, and then I shall entreat the fox god to make peace with you and to turn all your sufferings to joy.’
The master of the household would have no truck with her, but his wife secretly agreed with the witch. One of the rooms was prepared, choice wine and exquisite dishes were placed there, and the witch spent the night in the room on her own. When the next day dawned and the others entered the room they found the food and wine gone and the witch completely drunk.
Slurring her words she said: ‘Quite a number of great gods came and sat down and partook of the wine and the food and enjoyed themselves. They even allowed me to eat with them. I told them about the good intentions of the master of the house and advised them to make peace with him. This the gods promised to do.’
But before she had even finished speaking a stone came flying in from outside and landed on the table, smashing all plates and cups. The witch covered her face with her hands and rushed out.
During the night one of the servants had been eavesdropping on her. She had not said any prayers at all but had secretly invited her son and together with him had eaten and drunk her fill, and anything that was left over her son had carried Off in a basket.
Eventually a young maid servant was possessed by the fox and was compelled to steal food and jewellery. For that she was beaten by her mistress. Then the urge carne upon her to hang herself in the mill. Several times she was saved, but in the end she hanged herself. The maidservant’s father started a law suit. As a result the entire fortune of the family was lost and the master of the house was reduced to penury.
He had to sell his house and move into a simple thatched hut.
One evening he was sitting in his courtyard on his own, enjoying a cup of wine. Suddenly he saw something black cowering on the wall, about the size of a dog, with eyes glinting like lightning. The master acted as though he had not seen it but secretly reached for his horsewhip. Then he struck at it with all his might and hit it right the forehead. It turned a somersault and fell to the ground on the far side of the wall. When a search was made it had disappeared. That was the end of the spirit. The family, however, had been reduced to poverty.