Cousin Greylegs, the Great Red Fox and Grandfather Mole
N those days the Great Red Fox and Cousin Greylegs, the wolf, were great cronies, and whenever you would see one you might be sure the other was not far away. The Great Red Fox was a master-hand at roguery, and Cousin Greylegs, the wolf, came close behind him. That was how they made their living.
By and by they fell out, so that they were never good friends again, and this was how it happened.
There was to be a great fair, and the world and his wife and the little dog behind the stove were to be there.
"We will go too," says the pair of scamps; so off they went.
By and by they came to an inn where the windows were red with the good things cooking in the kitchen—green geese and ducks and chickens, and sausages, and cabbage, and onions, and all the nice things you can think of. But the two rogues had no money, and one cannot buy something with nothing out in the wide world. But they found a ladder against the side of the wall, and climbed up into the loft above and lay in the hay.
Dear, dear, how nice the good things did smell down in the kitchen! "My goodness!" says Cousin Greylegs, "but I would like to have a taste of them."
As for the Great Red Fox, he had been nursing his wits all the time, and now he had a trick hatched. So down he climbed from the loft the same way he had climbed up; and nobody saw him, for he took good care of that. Over he went to the stables where the horses stood munching away at the corn in the mangers. He loosened a bridle here and a bridle there until not one of the nags was fastened where he belonged; then he slipped back into the loft once more. By and by began the kicking and squealing over at the stable; out ran the landlord and all the other folks with him, and not a soul was left in the kitchen. Then brother Greylegs and the Great Red Fox came down and helped themselves, and while they were about it the Great Red Fox stuffed a fistful of hazel-nuts into his pocket.
After a while the landlord and the rest of them came from the stable; but nothing was left for them of the good things but the leavings.
As for Cousin Greylegs and the Great Red Fox, why, they lay up in the loft among the straw, and ate and ate until they could eat no more.
By and by there came along somebody else on his way to the fair, and it was a rich corn-factor who made his money by buying corn cheap, and selling it dear to poor folks, so that he was as great a rogue as the two scamps up yonder in the loft. With him he brought a whole bag of money; but it bought him no supper that night, for all the good things had been stolen, and the corn-factor had to be contented with what pickings he could get. As for the bag of money, he put that in a great chest in the corner, and there he left it for safe-keeping.
Now up in the loft where the two rogues lay was a cowhide, which the landlord used for making straps and thongs and such like things. What does the Great Red Fox do but whip out his needle and thread and sew the cowhide fast to Cousin Greylegs' Jacket, though Cousin Greylegs knew no more of that than a mouse in a barrel. Then by and by the Great Red Fox was up to another of his tricks. "See," says he, "here I have a pocketful of hazel-nuts, and I am for cracking one."
"Tut, tut, brother," says Cousin Greylegs, "you must crack no nuts here."
"But I must crack a nut," says the Great Red Fox.
"But you must not," says Cousin Greylegs.
"But I must," says the Great Red Fox, and so he did.
"Hark!" says the landlord; "yonder is somebody up in the loft cracking the nuts that we were to have had for supper; it is a good beating he shall have for the trick he has been playing upon us."
When Cousin Greylegs heard this he did not stop to tarry or to think; down he jumped from the loft, and away he scampered as fast as he could lay foot to the ground; but with him went the cowhide which the Great Red Fox had sewed fast to his jacket.
"Hi!" bawled the landlord, "there is the thief who stole our supper, and he is taking my cowhide into the bargain."
Off they all scampered after Cousin Greylegs and the cowhide. The corn-factor first of all.
As for Cousin Greylegs, why, he laid down to the running as though he had never been born for anything else. But it is hard work running with a cowhide flapping about one's legs, so they caught him just over the hill, and then, dear, dear, what a drubbing they gave him.
But as soon as everybody was safe away after Cousin Greylegs and the cowhide, the Great Red Fox came down from the loft, and marched off with the corn-factor's money without anybody being about to say "No" to him.
Off he went as happy as a cricket, until he came to the cross-roads over the hill and back of the woods, and who should he see sitting there but Cousin Greylegs rubbing the places that smarted the most.
"Hi!" says the Great Red Fox, "and is that you, Cousin Greylegs? Why, I have been looking up and down, over hill and over hollow for you. Here is a whole bag of money that I found at the inn over yonder, and if it wasn't for the trick that I played you, there was never a penny of it that would have come into our pockets."
"So!" says Cousin Greylegs. "Well, that was a different matter;" and he swallowed the drubbing he had had, for it was to be share and share alike with the money, and that was a salve for sore bones. So off they went together arm in arm.
By and by they came to another inn. "We'll stop here," says Cousin Greylegs, "and have another bite to eat before we go any farther." And that suited the Great Red Fox well enough, so in they went, and gave the bag of money into the landlord's keeping and Cousin Greylegs ordered a supper fit for a lord.
But the Great Red Fox had his wits about him all this time, for he was not one to be caught napping when the sun was up. "Yes, yes," says he to himself, "Cousin Greylegs is up to some of his tricks, sure enough; we'll put a stopper in the bottle before the luck has dribbled out." So while Cousin Greylegs was pottering about in the kitchen down-stairs, seeing that the cooking was done to his mind, the Great Red Fox took a bag like the one they brought with them, and filled it full of old rusty nails and bits of iron. Off he marched with it to the landlord. "See," says he, "Cousin Greylegs will come asking for a bag by and by; here it is, give it to him and he will be satisfied."
Sure enough, when the supper was over and the Great Red Fox was snoring in front of the fire, for all the world as though he were sound asleep, off packed Cousin Greylegs to the landlord. "Look," says he, "that bag that the Great Red Fox left here, just hand it over to me, will you? for I must be jogging. As for the Great Red Fox, you may let him have his sleep out."
Yes, that was all right, and the landlord knew nothing about the tricks of the two rogues, so he handed over the bag of rusty nails and bits of iron. And Cousin Greylegs never once thought of looking to see, for the bits of iron jingled, and the sound was enough for him, for that is the way with folks out in the world.
As for the Great Red Fox, he waited until Cousin Greylegs was well away on his own business, then off he stepped along the road that led the other way, and it was the bag of gold and silver money he carried with him.
"Pooh!" says the Great Red Fox, "when one has been sharp enough to trick such a keen blade as Cousin Greylegs, one is not going to step out of one's way for a little gray mole as blind as charity:" and so he was for going straight ahead.
But up jumped Grandfather Mole and caught hold of him, and then he felt the bag of gold and silver money the Great Red Fox carried. "Hi!" says he, "and here is a new card in the game." So he held on to the Great Red Fox and began to bawl with all his might and main, "Help, good folks! help! Here is the Great Red Fox stealing my bag of gold and silver money!"
"Hush! hush!" said the Great Red Fox, for he was for having as little said about the bag of money as need be, "let me go and I will promise to tread on nobody's house." But no, it was easier to get into that hole than it was to get out again, for Grandfather Mole held on and bawled for help louder than ever. "Help! help! here is one robbing a poor blind mole of all he has in the world!" That was the way he kept up the song, and he made such a hubbub that the folks came running and hauled them both up before the Master Judge to see what he had to say about the business.
"The bag of money is mine," said the Great Red Fox.
"Yes, good! but where did you get it?" says the judge, and that was a question easier asked than answered.
"See now," says Grandfather Mole, "it is easy enough to talk, for breath is cheap in this town, but the thing is to put it to trial and find out who is telling the truth. We'll build a fire and try who can stand it the longest, and that will show the right in this matter as clear as a morning in hay-season."
Well, that suited the fox well enough, "for," says he to himself, "it is a pretty business if I can't stand a scorching as long as an old blind mole;" and so that business was settled.
Out they all went, and it was Grandfather Mole who was to try the burning first of all. So they fetched sticks and twigs and covered him all over with them and then set fire to them.
Dear, dear, but it was a fine blaze that went up, but the mole had his wits about him; for as soon as he felt the heat of the fire he began digging down into the ground with all his might and main, so that not a spark touched him.
"Do you burn, Grandfather Mole?" says the Great Red Fox.
"No!" bawled Grandfather Mole. So they just threw on another armful of twigs.
By and by the Great Red Fox says again: "Do you burn, Grandfather Mole?" for he thought by this time that the mole must be as scorched as an old shoe under the stove.
But Grandfather Mole was ready for him. "No!!" he bawled, louder than ever.
Dear, dear, but here was a strange happening; all the same, the Great Red Fox threw on wood and threw on wood, until the blaze went up like a chimney afire. "And now do you burn, Grandfather Mole?" says he.
"NO!!!" bawled Grandfather Mole until you might have thought his throat would have split with the noise he made.
So they let the fire go out, and up came Grandfather Mole out of the ground looking as fresh and as sharp as a green gooseberry.
And now it was the Great Red Fox's turn; and they heaped the sticks and twigs over him as they had done over Grandfather Mole, and then set fire to them.
"Do you burn?" says Grandfather Mole after a bit.
"No!!!" bawled the Great Red Fox, as though his throat was made of leather.
So they threw on more sticks and twigs, but the Great Red Fox just shut his teeth and grinned, for he was bound that he would stand as much of a burning as an old blind mole.
"Do you burn now?" says Grandfather Mole.
"No," says the great Red Fox, but his voice was as small as peas in March. So they threw on another armful of wood, and the fire grew hotter and hotter.
"And do you burn now?" says Grandfather Mole.
"Thunder and lightning, yes!" bawled the Great Red Fox, and out he jumped and away he scampered, smoking like a charcoal kiln.
So all he gained by his roguery was a burnt skin and nothing to show for it; and that has happened more than once to rogues whose wits are so sharp that they cut their own fingers with them.
Now in our town we do not make pudding without plums, or tell a story without rhyme or reason, but if you wish to find any meaning in these words, you must put on your spectacles and look for it for yourself, even though the tale stands all legs and no head, as the man-in-the-moon said about his grandmother's tongs.