[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Chinese Fairy Tales unit. Story source: The Chinese Fairy Book, ed. by R. Wilhelm and translated by Frederick H. Martens (1921).
Then the farmer realized that it was a fox who was preparing the elixir of life. He hid in the grass and waited until the ball of fire came down again at about the height of his own head. Then he stepped hastily from his hiding-place, took it away, and at once swallowed it. And he could feel it glow as it passed down his throat into his stomach.
When the fox saw what had happened, he grew angry. He looked furiously at the farmer but feared his strength. For this reason he did not dare attack him but went angrily on his way.
From that time on the farmer-boy could make himself invisible, was able to see ghosts and devils, and had intercourse with the spirit-world. In cases of sickness, when people lay unconscious, he could call back their souls, and if someone had committed a sin, he could plead for them. He earned much money owing to these gifts.
When he reached his fiftieth year, he withdrew from all things and would no longer exercise his arts. One summer evening he was sitting in his courtyard, enjoying the cool air. While there he drank a number of goblets of wine, and by midnight had fallen fast asleep. Suddenly he awoke, feeling ill. It seemed as though some one were patting him on the back and, before he knew it, the ball of fire had leaped out from his throat.
At once a hand reached for it, and a voice said: “For thirty long years you kept my treasure from me, and from a poor farmer-lad you have grown to be a wealthy man. Now you have enough, and I would like to have my fire-ball back again!”
Then the man knew what had happened, but the fox was gone.
Next: The Talking Silver Foxes