The Fox That Wanted Nine Golden Tails
THE FOX THAT WANTED
NINE GOLDEN TAILS
The Fox That Wanted
Nine Golden Tails
Kathleen Gray Nelson
THE DEVIN-ADAIR COMPANY
Copyright, 1915, by
THE DEVIN-ADAIR COMPANY
All rights reserved
THE FOX THAT WANTED
NINE GOLDEN TAILS
HE WAS a Japanese fox, and althoughhe looked just like any otherfox, he knew a few things that his Americanbrothers have never heard about evento this day. One of these things was thatif he lived to be one hundred years oldwithout ever being chased by a dog, hecould become a beautiful woman; if helived for five hundred years and never adog pursued him, he could be changed intoa mighty wizard who would know morethan any man on earth; but, better thanall, after a thousand years of peace he[Pg 6]would turn into a celestial fox and havenine golden tails.
Now a beautiful woman does very wellin her place and it is a great honor to bea wise man, but a fox with nine goldentails is the most wonderful thing in all theworld. For that reason when the fox wasvery young, only about sixty or seventy-five,he thought he would refuse to bechanged into either a woman or a wizardand would wait for his thousandth birthday.
“There are enough pretty women andwise men in the world now,” he explainedto his friends of the forest. “The prettywomen make the trouble and the wise mentry to straighten it out, and they are bothkept busy. They don’t have half as muchfun as a fox.” But as the years went byhe grew so tired of skulking and hiding[Pg 7]about, and being nothing but a common,every-day, bushy-tailed gray fox that healmost decided to compromise the matter.
“After all, there are worse things in theworld than pretty women,” he said,scratching his ear, “and wise men havetheir uses.”
What settled the question quite suddenlywas a most exciting adventure hehad just when he had begun to think hewas cunning enough to outwit all the dogson the Island of Japan. Now, he had hada great deal of experience in this line, andit was no wonder he flattered himself hisdodging tactics were perfect. His ear wasso trained he could hear a dog barkingmiles away, and he could smell a pack ofhounds even further than he could hearthem. Besides, when he looked at theirtracks he knew exactly how long it had[Pg 8]been since they passed that way, and ashe had many acquaintances among thebirds and bees and butterflies, they, too,often gave him timely warning.
He had also traveled extensively andknew all the safe places for a fox to stop.At last, after enduring many hardshipsand sleeping in swamps and on beds ofnettles, and sometimes having to run allnight and not sleep at all, and beingforced to move so many times that henever had any home feeling, he had discoveredthe most delightful spot imaginable.
It was a beautiful wood toward thenorth of the island, where the gnarled oldtrees were so thick and crooked and theweeds so tall that the sun never touchedthe ground, and it was so dark and gloomythere men said it was the home of gnomes[Pg 9]and goblins and no one could be inducedto pass through it. Even the little streamsgurgled hoarsely and their waters wereblack, and the great owls couldn’t tellwhen it was night and so hooted throughoutthe day, and bats were always flyingabout with shrill screams.
As many wild creatures looking forpeace found their way here and neveragain went out of the forest, he had muchgood company. There were foxes, bears,birds, deer, monkeys, rabbits, squirrels,pigeons, ducks, and a host of tiny thingslike worms, beetles, scorpions, mice, ants,lizards, centipedes, frogs, grasshoppers,eels, snails, crabs and caterpillars, and alsoa wild hen and her mate, who had a veryhard time ever raising a family, a pouyoubrought all the way from South Americawith the initials of a sailor who would[Pg 10]never see it again cut on its brown shellarmor, crickets that the Japanese callgrass larks and that sing more sweetlythere than any place in the world, a tortoiseso many hundreds of years old hedidn’t remember when he was born, arusty old crocodile who called himselfLuxuriant-Thick-Mud-Master and a parrotthat had known the misery of living ina cage until once the door was left open.Then he went away without saying good-byand flew straight over the hills andrivers and rice fields until he lit on a treein this wood. How he chuckled when heknew he had reached the land he had sooften heard about, the land the birds callNapatantutu, which in their languagemeans Stay Here Always. And at firsthe thought it a great joke to scream “Lookout,” and a few other human words not[Pg 11]so polite, and throw all the animals in apanic. But after he had been there awhile he either reformed or forgot howmen talked and so bothered them no more.
The tortoise having lived longer thanany of the others, had had time to find outmore, and he said there was a huge monsterin a far-distant part of the wood thatwas neither man nor beast, but more dangerousthan either.
he declared, and when it roared the wholeearth grew dark with the smoke from itssteaming nostrils, and when it laughed aflame came out of its mouth that lit upthe sky, and this Terrible Thing wascalled a dragon. It goes without sayingthey were all very careful to keep away[Pg 12]from the particular place where thedragon was said to live, and as none ofthem had ever seen it, they were not sureit was there.
The snail had been heard to stoutly declarehe wouldn’t run from it anyway,but as the orang-outang reminded him,it was very easy to be brave before you sawit coming, but he had heard of snails thatgot in such a hurry they left their housesbehind them. The bear asked the very importantquestion: “How many legs has adragon?” And when the tortoise said itmust have at least a million, since a centipedehad a hundred, the bear was comforted,for as he wisely told the fox, oneneed not be afraid of anything if it hasmore than four legs.
Now there wasn’t much difference betweenday and night in Napatantutu, for[Pg 13]both were happy times, and they could eatwhen they wished and sleep when theywished, and they didn’t have to do anythingunless they liked to do it. Sometimesthey would eat and sleep all day,and at night, when the green eyes of theowls shone like lanterns and the fireflieslit up the wood with their little lamps, theywould meet in a wonderful dell all linedwith moss softer than velvet carpet, andthere they would romp and play untilmorning.
The frogs would sit in a solemn circleon toadstools, the worms, because theywanted to see what was going on, wouldcrawl up on the grand stand, which was thepouyou’s back, the ants would hold weepink and blue flowers over them for parasolsbecause they tried to be fashionable,the monkey was always the clown, the[Pg 14]quiet tortoise the judge and the fox wasthe mischief maker, but too sly to ever becaught in his tricks.
The frog liked to show how far he couldjump, the deer always wanted to run arace, the monkey would put up a targetfor them to throw at, the bear would danceon his hind legs, while the crickets and thegrasshoppers were the band, and when thecircus was over the porcupine would invitethem to a quill-ting party.
Or if they grew tired of fun and frolicthe pouyou would tell them stories abouta land far beyond the Sun’s Nest, wherethe birds and butterflies, the parrots andlizards were redder than red and greenerthan green; and again of a wide world ofwater with houses that rocked all the timefloating on it, but where these houses camefrom or where they went he had been too[Pg 15]sick to find out, although he had been inone for many sad months.
And when the thunder rumbled andflashes of lightning shot through theleaves, and the owls shut their eyes interror and the poor little fireflies put outtheir lights, they would whisper to eachother that the dragon was around, andscamper away and hide until morning.
And then when it was daylight theywouldn’t be a bit frightened, and each onewould say the other ran first, and he onlyran because some one behind pushed himand he couldn’t help it. And they wouldpooh! pooh! and declare in a chorus theydidn’t believe there was any such thing asa dragon. But the fox, who was usually abig talker, never had anything to say exceptonce, when he told them quite seriously[Pg 16]he hoped there was a real, true, livedragon. But no one believed him.
They did not know that when he was ababy fox, only about the size of a cat, andlived in the Fertile Plain of Sweet Flags,one cool and dewy night his mother madea bed of leaves behind a log, and as shecuddled him close to her warm bosom shetold him how to know if the dogs wereanywhere around.
She said when the wind brought him ahot breath out of a cold nose, a breaththat smelt like it had a bark in it, he mustlisten with both ears, and after that if heheard a sound that was neither hungry norangry, but came full tilt out of a throatjust bursting with joy, he would knowthat the dogs were on his trail, for theyonly chased animals for the fun of catchingthem, and because a fox was so cunning,[Pg 17]it was great sport to run him down.And if he saw strange tracks, in which hadlodged a caterpillar’s hair or an ant’s egg,the dogs had passed the day before, but ifthe tracks were bare, the feet that madethem were not far away.
And she added if he were smart enoughto never, never let the dogs get after him,when he was a thousand years old adragon would give him nine golden tails.It was true no one had ever seen a fox withmore than one tail, but in the Kojiri, orTails of Ancient Things, which was writtenon the bark of the oldest trees, it hadalways been told that there would be onefox who would in this way become the heroof his race, and perhaps he would be thatvery one if he learned to be clever andcareful. And as his mother was the wisestfox on earth, he knew that she knew what[Pg 18]she was talking about, and he was gladnow to hear there was a dragon handy.
In fact, Napatantutu was exactly thekind of a home the fox was looking for,dragon and all, and he was quite sure hecould pass a thousand quiet years herewithout ever hearing the bark of a dog.He no longer jumped at the sound ofevery crackling twig or put his ear to theground before he sat down to rest, andoften he would lie for hours on some coolknoll licking his paws and thinking upsome prank to play on his neighbors. Andhe grew fat and saucy and lazy, andwhisked his one insignificant tail proudlyas he walked.
But, alas! there came an end to thesedelightful days. Late in the afternoon ofhis hundredth birthday, as he stood watchingtwo ants wage a fierce battle over a[Pg 19]grain of rice, close behind him he heard asound that made his very blood run cold.He raised his head and sniffed the air, thenstood trembling.
“The dogs!” he groaned, as a secondtime, and nearer now, came the awfulnoise, and he darted like an arrow throughthe forest.
NOW Nio Kuro, a Prince and themost famous hunter in the kingdom,had come in his boat down the riverthat ran through the haunted wood. Withhim he had brought many servants and hispack of trained leopards, with