The foxes which infested the house and grounds of Major Counselor Yasumichi's old mansion were always making mischief, but since they never really did any harm Yasumichi let the matter pass. They got naughtier and naughtier as the years went by, though, until one day he angrily decided that enough was enough. Those foxes would have to go.
He announced a grand fox hunt to his household, for the next day. The servants were to bring bows and arrows, sticks, or whatever weapons they could devise, and flush out every last one. They would surround the house, and men would be posted not only on the garden wall but on the roof as well, and even in the space between the ceiling of the rooms and the roof. Every fox that showed itself would be killed.
Near dawn on the fateful day Yasumichi had a dream. A white-haired old man, looking rather like an aged menial, was kneeling under the tangerine tree in the garden, bowing respectfully to him.
"Who are you?" asked Yasumichi.
"Someone who has lived here in the mansion for many years, sir," the old man answered nervously. "My father lived here before me, sire, and by now I have many children and grandchildren. They get into a lot of mischief, I'm afraid, and I'm always after them to stop, but they never listen. And now, sir, you're understandably fed up with us. I gather that you're going to kill us all. But I just want you to know, sir, how sorry I am that this is our last night of life. Won't you pardon us, one more time? If we ever make trouble again, then of course you must act as you think best. But the young ones, sir -- I'm sure they'll understand when I explain to them why you're so upset. We'll do everything we can to protect you from now on, if only you'll forgive us, and we'll be sure to let you know when anything good is going to happen!"
The old man bowed again and Yasumichi awoke. When the sky had lightened, he got up and looked outside. Under the tangerine tree sat a hairless old fox which, and the sight of him, slunk under the house.The perplexed Yasumichi gave up his fox hunt. There was no more troublesome mischief, and every happy event around the house was announced by a fox's sharp bark.
A retainer who served the governor of Kai was heading home one sundown from the governor's mansion when he saw a fox, gave chase and shot at it with the kind of noisemaker arrow used for scaring off dogs. He hit it in the back leg.
The fox yelped in pain, rolled over, and dove limping into the brush. As the retainer went to retrieve his arrow the fox reappeared in front of him, and he was about to shoot at it again when it vanished.
A quarter of a mile from home he saw the fox running ahead of him carrying a flaming brand in its mouth. What could it be up to? He spurred his horse on. On reaching the house, the fox changed into a human being and set the house on fire. The retainer was ready to shoot as soon as he got within range, but the human changed right back into a fox and got away. The house burned down.Beings like that exact swift vengeance. It's better to leave them alone.
One day in a ravine he came upon a vixen, caught by the paw in a trapper's snare, which with many a moan and with tears running down her muzzle para-para seemed to beseech him for succor, so that in pity he would have released her. But being minded to rob no honest man, he trudged a long ri down the mountain to his hut, and taking from a hiding place in the thatch a piece of silver, the fruit of weeks of toil, he returned to the ravine and set the vixen free, and wrapped the silver piece in a bit of cotton cloth, he tied it to the snare and went his way. The vixen, when he released her, fled not, but as thought understanding his heart, fawned upon his feet and licked his hands and followed him limping tobo-tobo to the mouth of the ravine, where she gave three sharp barks and sprang into the thicket.
Now on the third evening thereafter, as the man squatted in the mouth of his hut resting from the sweaty labor of the day, on a sudden there appeared before him a damsel, clad in a brown-silk robe, who called to him, and he, seeing her rare beauty and thinking her some great lady strayed from her cavalcade, prostrated himself before her and begged her pleasure. Said she: "Abase not thyself. I am the fox which thy humanity set free the other night from the snare, and whose life thou didst purchase with thy silver piece. I have take this form in order to requite thy favor as I may, and I will serve thee with fealty so long as thou dost live." At which he cried: "Esteemed mistress of magic! Not for my unparalleled worthlessness is thy high condescension! I am eight times rewarded by this thy visit. I am but a beggarly forester and thou a repository of all beauty. I pray thee, make not sport of my low condition." The said she: "Thou art a poor man. Suffer me at least to set thee on the way to wealth." Asked he: "How may that be done?" She replied: "Tomorrow morning don thy best rob and thy stoutest sandals and come to the mouth of the ravine where thou didst rescue me. There thou shalt see me in my true form. Follow whither I lead and good fortune shall be thine. This I promise on the word of a fox." At that he prostrated himself before the damsel in gratitude, and when he lifted himself she had vanished.
Next morning, when he came to the ravine, he found awaiting him the vixen, who barked thrice and turning, trotted before him, leading him by paths he knew not across the mountain. So they proceeded, she disappearing in the thicket whenever a chance traveler came in view, and he satisfying his hunger with fruits and berries and slaking his thirst from the rivulets, and at night sleeping under the starts. Thus the reaches of the sun wound up the days till on fourth noontide they descended into a vale where lay a city. At sundown they came to a grove hard by the city's outer barrier where was a shrine to the fox deity, Inari. Before this the vixen barked thrice, and bounded through its door. And presently the woodsman beheld the damsel issuing therefrom, robed now in rich garments and beauteous as a lover's dream leaping from the golden heart of a plum blossom.
Said she: "Take me now - who am they daughter - to the richest brothel in yonder city, and sell me to it's master for a goodly price." He answered: "Barter thee, to the red-hell hands of a conscienceless virgin-buyer? Never!" Then, with a laugh like the silver potari of a fountain, she said: "Nay, but they soul shall be blameless. So soon as thou hast closed the bargain and departed, I shall take on my fox shape in the garden and get me gone, and thus the reward shall be thine and evil intent shall receive its just deserts."
So, as she bad him, he entered the city with her and inquiring the way to the quarter of houses of public women, came to it's most splendid rendezvous, which was patronized only by brazen spendthrifts and purse-proud princes, where all night the painted drums went don-a-don and the samisen were never silent, and whose satiny corridors lisped with the shu-shu of the velvet foot-palms of scarlet-lipped courtesans. So great was the damsel's beauty that a crowd trooped after them, and the master of the house, when he saw her, felt his back teeth itch with pleasure. The faggot-cutter told him his tale, as he had been prompted, averring that he was a man whose life had fallen on gloomy ways so that he who had been a man of substance was now constrained to sell his only daughter to bondage. At which the proprietor, his mouth watering at her loveliness and bethinking him of his wealthy clientele, thrust ink-brush into his fist and planked before him a bill-of-agreement providing for her three years' service for a sum of thirty gold ryo paid that hour into his hand.
The woodsman would joyfully have signed, but the damsel put forth her hand and stopped him saying: "Nay, my august father! I joyfully obey thy will in this as in all else, yet I pray thee bring not reproach upon our unsullied house by esteeming me of so little value." And, to the master of the place she said: "Methinks thou saidst sixty ryo." He answered: "Were I to give a rin more than forty, I were robbing my children." Said she: "The perfume I used in our brighter days cost me ten each month. Sixty!" Cried he: "A thousand curses upon my beggarly poverty, which constraineth me. Have mercy and take fifty!" At this she rose, saying: "Honorable parent, there is a house in a nearby street frequented, I hear, by a certain prince who may deem me not unattractive. Let us go thither, for this place seemeth of lesser standing and reputation than we had heard." But the master ran and barred the door and, although groaning like an ox before the knacker, flung down the sixty gold ryo, and the woodsman set his name to the bill-of-agreement and farewelled her and went home rejoicing with the money.
Then the master, glad at the capture of such a peerless pearl of maidenhood, gave her into the care of his tire-woman to be robed in brocades and jewels, and set her on a balcony, where her beauty shone so dazzling that the halted palanquins made the street impassable, and the proprietor of the establishment across the way all but slit his throat in sheer envy. Moreover, the son of the daimyo of the province, hearing of the newcome marvel, sent to the place a gift of gold, requesting her presence at a feast he was to give there that same evening.
Now this feast was held in an upper room overhanging the river, and among the damsels who attended the noble guests, the fox-woman was as the moon to a horde of broken paper lanterns, so that the princely host could not unhook his eyes from her and each and every of his guests gave black looks to whoever touched her sleeve. As the sake cup took its round, she turned her softest smile now to this one and now to that, beckoning to each to folly till his blood bubbled butsu-butsu with passion and all were balanced on the thin knife-edge of a quarrel.
Suddenly, then, the lights in the apartment flickered out and there was confusion, in the midst of which the damsel cried out in a loud voice: "O my Prince! One of thy guests hath fumbled me! Make a light quickly and thou shalt know this false friend, for he is the one whose hat-tassel I have torn off." But cried the Prince (for he was true-hearted and of generous mind): "Nay, do each one of you, my comrades, tear off his hat-tassel and put it on his sleeve. For we have all drunk overmuch, and ignorance is sometimes better than knowledge." Then after a moment he clapped his hands, and lights were brought, lo, there was no hat left with a tassel upon it. At this, one of the young blades, laughing at the success of the artifice, began to sing the ancient song which saith:
The hat thou lovedst,But the damsel, crying that with the affront unavenged she would not choose longer to live, ran into the next chamber and, stripping of her clothes, cast them from the window into the swift current, while she herself, taking on her fox form, leaped down and hid in a burrow under the riverbank. So the party of the Prince rushed in and, finding the window wide and her vanished and seeing the splendid robe borne away by the rushing water, deeming that she had indeed drowned herself, made outcry, and the master of the house plucked out his eyebrows, and his folk and the gallants put forth in many a boat, searching for her fair body all that night, but naught did they discover save only her loincloth.
Now on the fourth evening after that, as the faggot-cutter sat in his doorway, the damsel appeared before him, robed in a kimono of pine-and-bamboo pattern, with an obi of jeweled dragonflies tangled in a purple mist. Asked she: "Have I kept my fox-word?" He answered. "Aye, eight times over. This morning I purchased a plot of rich rice land, and tomorrow the builders, with what remaineth, begin to erect my mansion." Said she then: "Thou art no faggot-cutter henceforth, but a man of substance. Look upon me. Wouldst thou not have me to wife?" But he, seeing how her carriage was as graceful as the swaying of a willow branch, her flawless skin the texture of a magnolia petal, her eyebrows like sable rainbows, and her hair glossy as a sun-tinted crow's wing, and knowing himself for an untutored hind, knelt in abasement before her and said: "Nay, wise one! Doth the smutty raven mate with the snow-white heron?" Then she said, smiling: "Do my bidding once again. Tomorrow return to the city and to the brothel where thou didst leave me, and offer, as the bargain provided, to buy me back. Since the master of the house cannot produce me, he must need pay over to thee damage money, and see that thou accept not less than two hundred gold ryo." So saying, she became a fox and vanished in the bushes.
So next morning he took his purse and crammed it with copper pieces and betook himself across the mountain, and on the third day he arrived at the city. There he hastened to the brothel and demanded its master, to whom he said, jingling the purse beneath his nose: "Good fortune is mine. For, returning to my village three days since to pay my obligations with thy sixty ryo, I found that my elder brother had died suddenly in the next province, leaving to me (since he was without issue) all his wide estates. So I am come to redeem my beloved daughter and to return thee thy gold plus the legal interest." At that the master of the house felt his liver shrink and sought to put him off with all kinds of excuses, but the woodsman insisted the more, so that the other at length had no choice but to tell him that the girl had drowned herself. When he heard this the woodsman's lamentations filled all the place, and he beat his head upon the mats hata-to, crying out that naught but ill treatment had driven her to such a course, and swearing to denounce the proprietor to the magistrates for a bloody murderer, till from dread to see his establishment sunk in evil repute, the man ran to his strongbox and sought to offer the breaved one golden solace. Thus, with two hundred more ryo in gold (for mindful of the maiden's rede, he would take no less) the woodsman returned to his village, with an armed guard of ten men for an escort, where he rented a stout godown for the money's safekeeping.
The night of his return, as he sat on his doorstep, thanking all the deities for his good luck, the fox-maiden again appeared before him, this time clad only in the soft moon-whiteness of her adorable body, so that he turned away his face from the sight of it. Asked she: "Have I kept my fox-word?" And he answered, stammering: "Eight hundred times! Today I am the richest man in these parts." Said she: "Look upon me. Wouldst thou not posses me as thy concubine?" Then, peeping despite himself betwixt his fingers, he beheld the clear and lovely luster of her satiny skin, her breasts like twin snow-hillocks, her bending waist, and the sweet hidden curves of her thighs, and all his senses clamored like bells, so that he covered his eyes with his sleeve. And said he: "O generous bestower! Forgive the unspeakable meanness of this degraded nonentity. My descendants to the tenth generation shall burn richest incense before the golden shrine which I shall presently erect to thee. But I am a man and thou art a fox, with whom I may not knowingly consort without deadly sin!"Then suddenly he saw a radiance of the five colors shine rainbow-like around her, and she cried out in a voice of exceeding great joy, saying: "Blessing and benison upon thee, O incorruptible one! As a fox I have dwelt upon the earth for five hundred years, and never before have I found among humankind one whose merit had the power to set me free. Know that by the virtue of thy purity I may now quit this animal road for that of humankind." Then she vanished, and he built a shrine to her in the mouth of the mountain ravine, and it is told that his children's grandchildren worship before it to this day.