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The Story of the Remarkable Man Who Married A Fox by Peter Freuchen

Translated by John Poole

Up on the Labrador side of the Hudson Bay there once lived a seal hunter. He was clever enough with his spear, but he could never hold his own with the other men and it was for this reason that he had no wife. Every time he tried to make friends with a woman, the other hunters came and took her away from him, and he was much too good- natured to do anything about it.

As time went by and he still remained a bachelor, he grew ashamed and moved to the end of a lonely creek where he lived by himself in a house of his own building. Being a man he had great difficulty in cleaning and curing the skins of the animals he caught, and although he managed this somehow, he found it almost impossible to make clothes and boots out of them. The things he made had no shape at all, and he told himself that he would never be able to return to his fellows since they would be bound to laugh at him and mock his ridiculous clothes.

One day he caught sight of a fox-cub near his house. It did not seem to be afraid of him and, since, as it was summer, the pelt was of no value, he refrained from killing the animal and instead amused himself by watching its antics. The cub became tamer every day until finally it would come and lick the blood and oil from his hands after he had finished cutting up and skinning his catch. As he had no women in the house he naturally never bothered to wash.

The man became more and more attached to his fox and, thinking that as it grew bigger it would probably run away from him, he fastened a cord round its neck and tied it to the doorpost.

Here now came a time when he caught very little, and he was only able to throw out a few bones from the stew for the young fox to gnaw.

One day he had been out hunting longer than usual, and when he came home he was astonished to find that some seal skins which he had scraped clean had been carefully prepared and were neatly stretched out on the ground in front of his house, kept taut with wooden pins such as women use.

He was most surprised at this, for he was quite alone, but seeing nobody around he went indoors, ate his food and lay down to sleep.

Next day he went out hunting again, and when he got home there was a dish of stew steaming on the table together with a bowlful of freshly- picked berries covered with fish oil. They were very tasty and melted in his mouth.

"I wonder who can have done this?" thought the man as he lay down to sleep.

He went out hunting again next day, and all day long he could only think of what new gifts might perhaps be waiting for him when he got home. He was so taken up with his speculations that he paid no attention to the seals and arrived back empty-handed. The first thing he noticed was that the stretched-out seal skins had disappeared, but when he went indoors he saw a beautifully made pair of boots lying on his couch. He was very pleased.

"Now I can show myself again," he said to himself, for his boots had been the shabbiest things he possessed. They were the most difficult to make, so no wonder.

Then he lay down to sleep, but he had been so surprised at what had happened that he dreamed all kinds of queer things and got very little rest.

When he set out in his kayak the next morning he decided to keep a watch on the house. He paddled behind a small iceberg close to the shore, hid the kayak and crawled up to a spot near the top from which he could see over to his house. He waited a long time while the sun moved across from one side of him to the other, and then at last he saw a beautiful woman come out of his house and almost immediately go back inside. It looked as if she had thrown something on to the rubbish heap. The man rushed down to his kayak and paddled home as fast as he could go. When he got back, the house was empty, but, wonder of wonders, it was swept quite clean. This was something which he had not done since he built it, for men never attend to such matters.

He was so determined to catch the woman that he worked out a stratagem. The very next day he paddled a short way down the coast, dragged his kayak on to the beach and hid it in cave. He then moved curiously inland, coming round to the back of the house from the high ground above.

The lovely woman came out of the house, and he was so filled with desire for her that he rushed down and chased her as she ran to the beach. There he caught her, and he immediately fell so much in love with her that he dragged her back to the house and there made her his wife. She did not offer much resistance and, indeed, found much pleasure in him.

They lived very happily together for a long time, and she turned out to be very clever at all kinds of domestic work and sewing. As the man was no mean hunter he brought back a great many skins so that it was not long before he was equipped with much fine clothing. She also made him a new covering for his kayak so that he could go on long trips, such as he had never been able to undertake in his old waterlogged craft.

One day he paddled to a far distant spot where he had once been able to catch ringed seals, and there he met a man from the settlement where he used to live.

"It looks as if you have found yourself a clever woman," said the stranger, looking at him closely. "What cleverly made clothes and fine boots."

"I have married an exceedingly beautiful woman," said the man. And now that he had begun to talk after having been so long away from other people, he started praising his wife in such detail that the other man felt quite embarrassed.

"I should very much like to make your wife's acquaintance," he said, "since she is so excellent in every way."

And he proceeded to suggest that the two of them should exchange wives for a time so that her qualities could be better known. The man was ashamed to reject the stranger's proposal and agreed to the exchange.

He paddled to the other man's house while the stranger set off on the long trip to the man's lonely dwelling.

When he arrived the woman had already retired to rest, so he crawled through the doorway to come into her. On the way in he was met by a very strong smell of fox which tore at his nose.

"What a frightful smell of fox there is in here," he said.

When the woman heard this she began to bark like a fox. Kak-kak-kak, she said, and turning into a fox she jumped down from the couch and slipped through the doorway and past the stranger before he could catch hold of her.

When the man arrived back the next morning, his guest told him what had happened. Then he remembered that he had been so taken up with his new wife that he had quite forgotten the little fox which had been tied to the doorpost.

Only once had she reminded him that she had at one time been in the shape of a fox. That was when one evening as they lay together on the couch he had noticed that her gums were bleeding and he had asked her why this was.

"It's because you once threw out the bones from your stew for me to gnaw and it made my jaws bleed," she said. But they had talked no more about it after that.

The man was broken-hearted at losing his wife and ashamed at having made himself ridiculous in front of the stranger. He himself had got used to the smell of fox and it had not bothered him.

When the stranger had gone back to his own home, the man went out to look for his wife. He searched for many days and followed a fox trail which led up into the mountains. At the end of the first day he noticed that part of the tracks were human footprints. Several days after that it was all footprints, then it became part fox and part human, then all fox, and in this manner ranged between human and fox for many days.

The man was so eager to get back his wife that he kept on going and entirely forgot to sleep or eat. At long last he came to a cave, and there the tracks stopped. But the opening was so narrow that he could not get through, although he could hear his wife talking inside.

"Come out to me, come out to me! I have come to fetch you home."

"I will not come out. I can't forgive you for exchanging me for another man's wife." Then he heard her say to another woman inside: "You go out to him."

A little later a woman came out who was so extraordinarily ugly and had such long legs that the man would have nothing to do with her.

"I will be your wife," she said.

"I will not have you," said the man. "Your legs are too long," for it was a spider in human form. Then the spider went back and said to the woman:

"He will have nothing to do with me: he says my legs are too long." The man shouted once again for his wife to come out.

"I will not come out. How could you think of exchanging me for another man's wife!" Then she told someone else to go out to him.

A little later another woman came out, but she was even uglier than the previous one. She had two great eyes which hung down over her cheeks.

"I will be your wife," she said. But the man said that he would not have her, as she was far too ugly, for it was a blowfly in human form. Then the woman went back inside.

"He will not have me as his wife. He says my eyes are too big."

Once again the man shouted to his wife to come out to him.

"I will not come out to you. Did you not agree to exchange me for another man's wife?" she shouted back, and then he heard her say to another woman that she should go out to him. A woman came out that was uglier than either of the other two.

"I want to be your wife," she said.

The man saw that she had a whole row of legs on each side of her body just as if her ribs were sticking out through her clothes. It was a centipede in human form.

"I will not have you; you have far too many legs," said the man, and the worm returned to the cave.

"He will not have me because I have too many legs," he heard the woman say to the woman inside. Then he shouted again to his wife to come out to him. "I have come to fetch you home."

But she answered him: "No, you have heard what I said. I will not come out because you exchanged me for another man's wife. You come in to me."

"But how am I to make myself small enough to squeeze through this little hole?"

"Shut your eyes and try to get in by making yourself small and pushing your way in."

This he did, and managed to get through the narrow opening. When he opened his eyes he saw that he was in a tiny house and there was his wife sitting on a couch. He was so overjoyed that he went straight over to her, forgetting how angry he was that she had run away from him. He wanted to make it up with her so that she too could be happy, and so he laid his head on her lap and said: "Oh, it is such a long time since you picked the lice out of my hair. Please go through my hair again; my head itches so."

And the woman began to pick the lice out of his hair, and as she did so she sang him a song:

     Lie you now down to rest,
     Lie you now down to sleep,
     In the spring when the blowfly comes,
     You will wake up.
     In the spring when the terns fly around,
     You will wake up.
     In the spring when the ice has broken,
     You will wake up.

Her song was so sweet that he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. When he woke up he found that his wife was no longer by his side. He called out for her, but there was no answer. All he heard was a fox barking up in the mountains. Kak-kak-kak it said, and then everything was quiet again.

The man crawled outside and was amazed to find that it was spring, though it had been winter when he had gone to sleep. Blowflies buzzed around him as he walked, and when he came to the seashore he saw that the ice had broken and that the waves were breaking on the beach. He went on homewards and saw the terns diving head first into the water after fish.

The man walked on and on, and at last he came to his house. There he saw a woman sitting on the roof and was filled with joy, for he thought it was his wife who had gone on ahead of him and now sat waiting for his arrival. She sat with her back to him and did not move although he shouted words of greeting. When he came up and touched her, off fell her clothes, for it turned out that there was nothing but a heap of bones piled up underneath them. This was how his wife showed him that she was no longer in human form and had no further use for clothes.

After this the man went back to the life he had led before he took the little fox as his wife. He continued to catch a great many seals which he had to skin and clean himself. He bitterly regretted that he had tried to gain respect by changing wives with another man, for after that day he never saw his wife again.

This is the end of the story of the bachelor who took a fox as his wife. There is no more to it, for there is nothing more to tell. What happened to the man afterwards nobody has remembered to relate, and therefore nobody knows.

 
 
 

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