The farmer and the fox

Once upon a time there lived a fox who loved eating game birds. One day the fox happened to be very hungry and ate one of the pheasants reared by a local farmer. The farmer was very angry when he found out and set off to catch the thief. After searching for many days he found the fox hiding in a hollow log.

“Come out,” he ordered. “I am going to shoot you.”

The fox, shivering with fear, began to plead for his life. “Please don’t kill me,” he whined. “I have a wife and two cubs to feed. I didn’t know the pheasant belonged to you. I thought it was a wild one.”

The farmer was a kind man and very soft hearted. He agreed to let the fox go but only on condition the fox and his family became vegetarians. “Since you cannot tell the difference between my pheasants and wild ones,” the farmer said. “You must promise not to eat any meat whatsoever in future.”

The fox quickly agreed and true to his word he and his family stopped eating meat and lived on berries, nuts, fruit and roots.

As the years went by, the farmer noticed the number of birds, rats and mice on his land increasing at an alarming rate. Soon there were so many they were eating up all the fruit in his orchard and the grain in his fields. It got to the point that, every time he opened the door to the granary, the rodents would nearly knock him off his feet as they rushed out. They even dug up the seed he had planted in his fields. Since he had nothing to harvest or sell, the farmer and his family began to grow hungry.

One day, when the farmer was in his lands trying to stop flocks of pheasants and partridge from eating the seed he had just planted, he saw the fox watching him from the edge of the field. He noticed the fox was sitting quietly, perfectly at ease, smiling to himself.

“Why are you happy when I am suffering so much?” the farmer asked.

The fox pause to scratch behind his ear before answering. “Don’t you remember?” he said. “Years ago you made me promise to become a vegetarian. I have kept my part of the bargain and now you are reaping the result. It was I who kept the number of birds and rodents in check. They were never a problem in those days but you hunted me down for killing just one little pheasant.”

The farmer was very ashamed when he heard this. He realised that, by ordering the fox to change its habits, he had upset the balance of nature with dire consequences for himself and his family. It was now the farmer’s turn to plead with his old enemy.

“Please Mr Fox,” he sobbed. “Please go back to eating meat. I shan’t mind. Really I won’t.”

Mr Fox licked his paws with studied care before answering. “I will do as you ask,” he said at last. “But on one condition.”

“I’ll agree to anything,” the desperate farmer gabbled.

With a twinkle in his eye Mr Fox said: “I’ll only agree to eat meat if, when times are hard, I can take one or two of your prize pheasants.”

Source: “Dancing with Foxes,” by Henry Elwell.

— H.A.E.

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