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How The Fox Got His White Breast

Source: Folk-tales Of The Khasis

Once a fox, whose name was U Myrsiang, lived in a cave near the
residence of a Siem (Chief). This fox was a very shameless marauder,
and had the impudence to conduct his raids right into the Siem's
private barn-yard, and to devour the best of his flocks, causing him
much annoyance and loss.

The Siem gave his servants orders to catch U Myrsiang, but though they
laid many traps and snares in his way he was so wily and so full of
cunning that he managed to evade every pitfall, and to continue his
raids on the Siem's flocks.

One of the servants, more ingenious than his fellows, suggested that
they should bring out the iron cage in which the Siem was wont to lock
up state criminals, and try and wheedle the fox into entering it. So
they brought out the iron cage and set it open near the entrance to
the barn-yard, with a man on guard to watch.

By and by, U Myrsiang came walking by very cautiously, sniffing the
air guardedly to try and discover if any hidden dangers lay in his
path. He soon reached the cage, but it aroused no suspicion in him,
for it was so large and so unlike every trap he was familiar with
that he entered it without a thought of peril, and ere he was aware
of his error, the man on guard had bolted the door behind him and
made him a prisoner.

There was great jubilation in the Siem's household when the capture
of the fox was made known. The Siem himself was so pleased that he
commanded his servants to prepare a feast on the following day as a
reward for their vigilance and ingenuity. He also gave orders not to
kill the fox till the next day, and that he should be brought out of
the cage after the feast and executed in a public place as a warning
to other thieves and robbers. So U Myrsiang was left to pine in his
prison for that night.

The fox was very unhappy, as all people in confinement must be. He
explored the cage from end to end but found no passage of egress. He
thought out many plans of escape, but not one of them could be put
into execution, and he was driven to face the doom of certain death. He
whined in his misery and despair, and roamed about the cage all night.

Some time towards morning he was disturbed by the sounds of footsteps
outside his cage, and, thinking that the Siem's men had come to kill
him, he lay very still, hardly venturing to breathe. To his relief
the new-comer turned out to be a belated traveller, who, upon seeing
a cage, sat down, leaning his weary body against the bars, while
U Myrsiang kept very still, not wishing to disclose his presence
until he found out something more about his unexpected companion,
and hoping also to turn his coming to some good account.

The traveller was an outlaw driven away from a neighbouring state for
some offence, and was in great perplexity how to procure the permission
of the Siem (into whose state he had now wandered) to dwell there and
be allowed to cultivate the land. Thinking that he was quite alone,
he began to talk to himself, not knowing that a wily fox was listening
attentively to all that he was saying.

"I am a most unfortunate individual," said the stranger. "I have been
driven away from my home and people, I have no money and no friends,
and no belongings except this little polished mirror which no one is
likely to buy. I am so exhausted that if they drive me out of this
State again I shall die of starvation on the roadside. If I could
only find a friend who could help me to win the favour of the Siem,
so that I may be permitted to live here unmolested for a time, till
my trouble blows over!"

U Myrsiang's heart was beating very fast with renewed hope when he
heard these words, and he tried to think of some way to delude the
stranger to imagine that he was some one who had influence with the
Siem, and to get the man to open the cage and let him out. So with
all the cunning he was capable of, he accosted the man in his most
affable and courteous manner:

"Friend and brother," he said, "do not despair. I think I can put
you in the way, not only to win the Siem's favour, but to become a
member of his family."

The outlaw was greatly embarrassed when he discovered that some one
had overheard him talking. It was such a dark night he could not
see the fox, but thought that it was a fellow-man who had accosted
him. Fearing to commit himself further if he talked about himself,
he tried to divert the conversation away from himself, and asked his
companion who he was and what he was doing alone in the cage at night.

The fox, nothing loth to monopolise the conversation, gave a most
plausible account of his misfortunes, and his tale seemed so sincere
and apparently true that it convinced the man on the instant.

"There is great trouble in this State," said U Myrsiang. "The only
daughter of the Siem is sick, and according to the divinations she
is likely to die unless she can be wedded before sunset to-morrow,
and her bridegroom must be a native of some other State. The time was
too short to send envoys to any of the neighbouring States to arrange
for the marriage, and as I happened to pass this way on a journey, the
Siem's men forcibly detained me, on finding that I was a foreigner, and
to-morrow they will compel me to marry the Siem's daughter, which is
much against my will. If you open the door of this cage and let me out,
you may become the Siem's son-in-law by taking my place in the cage."

"What manner of man are you," asked the outlaw, "that you should
disdain the honour of marrying the daughter of a Siem?"

"You are mistaken to think that I disdain the honour," said the
fox. "If I had been single I should have rejoiced in the privilege,
but I am married already, and have a wife and family in my own village
far from here, and my desire is to be released so that I may return
to them."

"In that case," replied the man, "I think you are right to refuse,
but as for me it will be a most desirable union, and I shall be only
too glad to exchange places with you."

Thereupon he opened the door of the cage and went in, while U Myrsiang
slipped out, and bolted the door behind him.

The man was so pleased with his seeming good fortune that at parting
he took off his polished mirror which was suspended round his neck by
a silver chain, and begged his companion to accept it in remembrance
of their short but strange encounter. As he was handing it to U
Myrsiang, his hand came into contact with the fox's thick fur, and he
realised then that he had been duped, and had, owing to his credulity,
released the most thieving rogue in the forest. Regrets were vain. He
was firmly imprisoned within the cage, while he heard the laughter
of U Myrsiang echoing in the distance as he hurried away to safety,
taking the polished mirror with him.

The fox was well aware that it was unsafe for him to remain any longer
in that locality, so, after fastening the mirror firmly round his neck,
he hastened away with all speed, and did not halt till he came to a
remote and secluded part of the jungle, where he stopped to take his
breath and to rest.

Unknown to U Myrsiang, a big tiger was lying in wait for prey in that
part of the jungle, and, upon seeing the fox, made ready to spring
upon him. But the fox, hearing some noise, turned round suddenly,
and by that movement the polished mirror came right in front of the
tiger's face. The tiger saw in it the reflection of his own big jaws
and flaming eyes, from which he slunk away in terror, thinking that U
Myrsiang was some great tiger-demon haunting the jungle in the shape
of a fox, and from that time the tiger has never been known to attack
the fox.

One day, when hotly pursued by hunters, the fox plunged into a deep
river. As he swam across, the flood carried away his polished mirror,
but the stamp of it remains to this day on his breast in the form of
a patch of white fur.

Next: How The Tiger Got His Strength

Previous: How The Cat Came To Live With Man

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