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Japanese fairy tales    Tales of Kitsune


A Little princess sat beneath the cherry blooms in the royal garden. It was spring and the whole garden was a mass of radiant pink bloom, as soft as the sunset glow on the snows of Fuji San.
The little princess was as fair as the cherry blooms, and the petals had drifted lovingly upon her. They had powdered the ground about her like snowflakes, and rested upon her soft black hair like a coronet of pearl.
As she sat and dreamed in the sunshine, the little princess was very happy, and she said to herself, "What a beautiful world this is! I wish every one was as happy as I am!" This she said because her heart was as kind as her face was fair.
Then she heard a sudden rush and the patter of tiny feet, and a little baby fox sprang over the garden wall and ran right under the princess's robe. She stooped and took it in her arms.
"Poor little frightened foxling," she said. "What is the matter?"
But the little fox only tucked his sharp nose under her arm and trembled all over.
Then the princess heard a shout and looking up, she saw some boys on the wall.
"That is our fox," they cried roughly, for they did not know she was a princess. "Give it to us!"
"What are you going to do with it?" she asked.
"Kill it and eat the flesh for supper," cried the biggest boy. "Then we will sell the skin, and the liver can be sold to the magician doctor who cures fever with it. We shall get much money for the fox, and we can buy rice cakes and other things."
The little fox seemed to understand, for he cowered closer to the princess. He poked his nose into the palm of her hand and kissed it gently.
"You may have the price of the foxling, but you may not have his life, poor baby," said the little princess. "Here," she pulled her purse from her kimono sleeve— "here is a gold piece for the flesh, and one for the liver, one for the fur, and still another for the life of this poor little bundle of fur. And pray the gods to give you kinder hearts in your breasts, for neither the gods nor men like cruel souls."
The boys quickly took the gold which she offered them, lest she should change her mind and take back the coins, but she had no thought of doing that. Gold was nothing to her, because of it she had plenty; but the life of the fox baby seemed very precious.
"Fox Baby," she said as she untied a string from his neck. "Where are your father and mother?" The fox gave a sad little whine, and its eyes seemed full of tears. From a bamboo thicket nearby came some short, sharp barks. The fox baby barked in return, and the princess saw peering from between the bamboo branches two old foxes who looked anxiously at the baby.
"Really I believe these are your parents, foxling," she said. "I shall let you go to them. I would like to keep you for my playmate, you are so soft and pretty; but you would be lonely, no matter how much I loved you, and I never could be as your father and mother. So run along and be happy."
She stroked him gently and set him down, and with great leaps he was off to the bamboo thicket. Then the princess watched with pleasure, for the old foxes received him with joy; they licked him over and over, and then, one on either side the baby fox, they trotted happily away. The princess smiled 'neath the cherry blooms and was glad.
Summer bloomed and the lotus lay golden hearted on the waters' brim. It passed and the maples were scarlet and gold upon the hillsides. The sun was a glory of burnished gold in the heavens, but within the palace all was dark.
The little princess walked no more in the garden. She lay parched with fever upon her slumber mat and her mother and father watched beside her day and night. All the wise doctors in the land had been called to her side.
"She can not live," they said, "since sleep does not visit her eyelids." They tried by every means to make her sleep, but though her eyelids were heavy and she longed for slumber, it came not, and every day she grew weaker.
At last came the emperor's magician and he gazed upon her long and carefully. At last he said, "She is cast under a spell. Unless the spell is broken she must die. One must sit beside her from the going down of the sun until it rises again in golden splendor from behind the mountains. That one will break the charm."
"That is easy," cried the princess's maids. "We will watch to-night and save her;" for the little princess was so sweet and good that everyone loved her. But lo! when the midnight came, the maidens felt a strange charm steal over them, and a strange scent was wafted to them, and strange music filled their ears, and they slept.
When morning came they wept and felt very sad; for the princess was weaker and they had not broken the charm.
The princess's old nurse was very angry.
"Foolish ones," she cried. "You have idled and slept and my darling is not yet well. I will watch tonight, for she grows weaker each day,"
But alas! the old nurse was no more fortunate than the maidens, for the spell was woven about her also and she slept; and when she awoke, she, too, wept bitterly.
Then all manner of people tried to withstand the charm and watch with the sick maiden, and even the little princess's father and mother, but to no avail. And daily she grew weaker and weaker.
At last there came to the palace a young warrior, Ito San, who begged to be allowed to watch one night.
"I love the princess," he said. "Rather than sleep I shall die." Then he took his sword, keen and sharp, and placing the point beneath his chin, rested the handle upon the floor. Each time his head drooped in sleep, the point would bite and sting, and, struggling with the drowsiness which overtook him, he would sit upright again. In this way he conquered sleep.
When the princess opened her eyes she seemed less weak, and Ito gazed upon her with love in his eyes. Then sleepily, she smiled upon him, and at last she slept.
He sat beside her until morning not daring to move.
As the sunrise swept over the land, turning all to glowing beauty, he heard a strange, weird chant; and the words of it were stranger still, for the voice sang,
"Serve to the little princess
 Broth of the finest rice;
 Grate into it fox's liver
 For magical, healing spice.
 For a wildwood fox, search far and near,
 And the princess's ills will disappear."

"A fox's liver," cried the young warrior joyously. "My beloved, now shall you be saved!" He repeated the song of the sunrise to the mother of the princess and she told the emperor. Then he sent far and wide to all the great hunters of the hills.
"Bring us the liver of a fox," he commanded, "a clean and healthy fox. Do this as quickly as possible, for my daughter is sick unto death."
The hunters sought on every hill and in every valley, through every tangled wildwood and over every moor, but they found no fox.
"There are no foxes!" they cried to the emperor. "We have searched far and near, and not one is to be found."
Then the young warrior said, "I will find one. There must be a fox somewhere in the wildwood for this gentle little heart who loved all animals."
Then Ito San hunted far and wide, but he found no foxes; for the cunning animals had heard the proclamation of the emperor and had hidden themselves. So Ito San returned to the palace with grief in his heart, ready to slay himself in his despair.
At that moment he felt a hand touch his sleeve, and turning quickly he saw a little old woman, with a queer little pointed face, and a mantle of red fur wrapped about her. In her hand she bore a jar, and she said, "Take this quickly and the princess will be well." "What is the price?" he asked. "Alas!" she burst into tears. "The price is more than you could ever pay, but the princess paid it long ago. Hasten to her!"
Then Ito saw that the jar contained fox's liver and his heart bounded for joy. He hurried to the palace, the words of the song in his ears.
"Serve to the little princess
 Broth of the finest rice;
 Grate into it fox's liver
 For magical, healing spice.
 For a wildwood fox, search far and near,
 And the princess's ills will disappear."
They gave her the broth of rice with the liver grated into it, and lo! she was well. And as she lay dreaming happily of Ito San and his great love for her, there came to her in her dream, a fox cub who said, "Dear Princess, I am that little fox you saved long ago from the cruel boys. My father and mother were not ungrateful. So my father gave you his liver to make you well, and my mother, who would not live without him, sends her red fur to keep you warm. And this is because you were kind to the little foxling who was their baby."
Then the princess awoke, and upon the sleeping mat there lay, soft and warm and light, the skin of a red fox.