The Grateful Foxes
: Nature Myths And Stories For Little Children
It was springtime in Japan, and the blossoms hung thick on the cherry
Butterflies and dragon flies fluttered over the golden colza flowers in
The rice birds chirped merrily. Everything seemed to say, "How good it
is to live in days like these."
A beautiful princess, O Haru San, sat on the bank of a stream gaily
pulling the lilies.
All the maidens of her court were with her.
Along the river bank came a troop of noisy, laughing boys, carrying a
young cub fox. They were trying to decide who should have its skin and
who its liver.
At a safe distance from them, in a bamboo thicket, father fox and mother
fox sat looking sadly after their little cub.
The princess' heart was filled with pity, and she said:
"Boys, pray loose the little fox. See his parents weeping in the rocks."
The boys shook their heads.
"We shall sell the fox's skin," they said. "The liver, too, if well
powdered, will be used to cure fevers in the fall."
"Listen," cried O Haru San, "It is springtime, and everything rejoices.
How can you kill such a small soft beast?
"See, here is twice your price; take it all," and she drew copper money
and silver money from her girdle.
The boys placed the little frightened animal in her lap and ran away,
pleased to be so rich.
The cub felt the touch of her soft hand, and trembled no longer. She
loosened carefully the knot and noose and string.
She stroked the red fur smooth again, and bound up the little bleeding
leg. She offered it rice and fish to eat, but the black eyes plainly
said, "This is very nice, but I hear my parents grieving near yonder
beanstraw stack. I long to go and comfort them."
She set the little fox gently on the ground, and, forgetting its wounded
leg, it leaped through the bushes at one happy bound.
The two old foxes gravely looked it over neck and breast.
They licked it from its bushy tail to its smooth, brown crown. Then,
sitting up on their haunches, they gave two sharp barks of gratitude.
That was their way of saying, "We send you thanks, sweet maid."
As she walked home by the river side, all the world seemed more
beautiful to O Haru San.
* * * * *
The summer time came and the blossoms upon the cherry trees became rich,
ripe fruit. But there was no joy in the emperor's house.
His daughter, the gentle O Haru San, was ill. She grew paler and weaker
each day. Physicians came from far and near, and shook their wise heads
When the emperor's magician saw her, he said, "No one can heal such
sickness. A charm falls upon her every night which steals away her
strength. He alone can break the spell, who, with sleepless eyes, can
watch beside her bedside until sunrise."
Gray haired nurses sat by her until morning, but a deep sleep fell upon
them at midnight.
Next fourscore maidens of the court, who loved her well, kept bright
lights burning all the night, yet they, too, fell asleep.
Five counselors of state watched with her father at the bedside. Though
they propped their eyes open with their fingers, yet in the middle of
the night slumber overcame them.
All believed that the gentle maid must die.
The emperor was in despair, but Ito, a brave soldier, said, "I shall not
sleep; let me one night guard the sweet O Haru San."
Her father led him to the chamber. Just at midnight Ito felt his eyes
He rose and held his sword above his head. "Rather will I die than
sleep," he said.
Then came a great struggle. Often his head nodded, but by his love and
strength Ito conquered sleep.
Suddenly he heard a voice which said, "Grate foxes' livers in the
princess' rice broth and all her ills will disappear."
The next morning the hunters searched far and near for foxes. They knew
that to the emperor a fox was worth its weight in gold. All day and
night they were in the woods without food or rest.
At last they came sadly back to their homes. They brought no fox.
"All the foxes know," they said, "and have hidden themselves away."
The emperor in grief and anger cried, "Must my child perish? Shall a
princess die for the lack of one poor fox?
"She was never willing that one should be slain and this is her reward."
Ito said, "I will get the fox." He started out with knife and net to
At the entrance of the town he met a woman dressed in strange garments.
Very small and stooped she seemed to Ito. She carried a jar in her arms.
She bowed low before Ito, and said, "What you seek is in the jar. I
have brought it from afar."
"Here is gold," said Ito. "What is the price?"
The woman pulled the blue hood farther over her face and said, "Another
time will do, I can wait. Hasten now to the princess."
Gladly Ito obeyed.
They made the broth in a bowl of beaten gold and fed it to O Haru San.
Immediately she was well and all was joy in the emperor's house.
The emperor said, "Ito, is she, who brought this blessing, paid?"
Ito answered, "Yonder she waits at the entrance of the town."
The emperor himself in his great joy went with Ito to meet her.
But they found only a dog-fox dead.
Around his neck they read this message, "This is my husband here.
"For his child he gives his liver to the princess, dear. I, his very
lowly wife, have brought it."