Santal: A Fox and His Wife

This story is part of the Santal Folklore unit. Story source: Folklore of the Santal Parganas by Cecil Henry Bompas (1909).

A Fox and His Wife

Once upon a time, there were a fox and his wife who lived in a hole with their five little ones. Every evening the two foxes used to make their way to a bazar to feed on the scraps thrown away by the bazar people, and every night on their way home the following conversation passed between them.

The fox would say to his wife, “Come tell me how much wit you have,” and she would answer him by, “Only so much as would fill a small vegetable basket.”

Then she in her turn would ask, “And how much wit have you?”

“As much as would load twelve buffaloes.”

One night as they were on their way home as usual, the two suddenly found themselves face to face with a tiger, who greeted them by saying, “At last, my friends, I have got you.”

At this, the fox, for all his wit, could not utter a word but crouched down and shook with fright. Mrs. Fox, however, was not at all inclined to give way to despair. She saluted the tiger and said, “Ah, uncle, do not eat us up just now; I and my husband have a dispute and we want you to settle it for us.”

The tiger was mollified by being addressed by so respectful a name as uncle and answered in a gentler voice, “Well, my niece, tell me what is the point, and I will decide it for you.”

“It is this,” went on Mrs. Fox; “we have five children, and we wish to divide them between us, but we cannot decide how to do so. I say that I will take three and leave him two, while he wants to take three and leave me two. We came out to look for some man to settle the dispute but have not met one, and now providentially you have appeared before us like a god; no doubt you will be able to make the division for us.”

The tiger reflected that if he managed things well, he would be able to eat not only the two foxes but their young ones as well, so he graciously agreed to make the division.

The foxes then invited him to come back with them to the hole in which they lived, and when they reached it, Mr. Fox bolted into it saying that he was going to bring out the children. As, however, he did not come out again, Mrs. Fox said that it was clear that he could not manage the children by himself, and she would go and help, and thereupon proceeded to back into the hole, keeping her face turned towards the tiger.

Seeing her disappearing, the tiger thought to seize her, but as she kept her eyes on him, he could only say, “Hullo, what is the matter? Why are you going in backwards?”

“Oh, uncle,” replied Mrs. Fox, “how could I turn my back on so great a personage as you?” and with that she disappeared.

Presently the tiger heard the two foxes calling out from inside, “Goodbye, uncle, you can go away now; we have arranged how to divide the children ourselves.”

Then he saw how he had been fooled and flew into a terrible rage and tried to squeeze his way into the hole, but it was much too small and at last he had to go away baffled, and so the foxes were saved by Mrs. Fox’s wit.

(600 words)

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