Brother Fox's Tar Baby by Frederic Ortoli

TRANSLATED BY JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS

Once upon a time Brother Fox and Brother Rabbit lived near each other in the woods. But they had to go a long way each morning to get water from a spring.

One day Brother Fox said to Brother Rabbit: “What’s the use of taking a long walk every morning. Let us dig a well of our own.”

“I shall no longer go to the spring,” said Brother Rabbit. “From this time on I shall drink the dew from the grass and the flowers. Why should I work to dig a well?”

Brother Rabbit knew by the way Brother Fox talked that he was going to dig the well anyway.

“Just as you please,” said Brother Fox. “Then I will dig the well myself. And I will drink the water all by myself.”

The next morning Brother Fox began to dig a well by a big tree. He worked, and worked, and worked. Brother Rabbit was hiding in a bush near by and watching Brother Fox.

“Ha, ha, ha!” he said to himself. “How foolish Brother Fox is! I guess I shall soon have all the water I want. Ha, ha, ha!”

That night, while Brother Fox was asleep, Brother Rabbit stole quietly down to the well by the big tree, and drank and laughed, and drank and laughed.

“I guess I can have all the water I want,” said Brother Rabbit. “Brother Fox was foolish to do all the work.”

The next day, when Brother Fox went to get some water, he saw rabbit tracks in the mud.

“Ah, ha! Brother Rabbit,” said Brother Fox to himself, “so that’s the way you drink the dew from the grass and the flowers! Well, well, I think I can catch you at your trick!”

Brother Fox ran home as fast as he could and made a great big doll of wood, as big as a baby. He covered the wooden doll with black, sticky tar. Then he put a little cap on its head. At sunset, he put the tar baby out beside the well.

“I think I shall get Brother Rabbit this time,” he said, as he went home laughing to himself all the way.

Soon Brother Rabbit came hopping through the bushes. He looked first this way, then that. The least noise frightened him. When he saw the tar baby, he sat up straight and peeped at it through the leaves.

“Hullo, there! Who are you?” he said at last.

The tar baby said nothing.

“Who are you, I say?” he asked in a louder tone.

The tar baby said nothing.

Then Brother Rabbit went right up close to the tar baby.

“Why don’t you answer me?” he shouted.

The tar baby said nothing.

“See here!” he shouted. “Have you no tongue? Speak, or I’ll hit you!”

The tar baby said nothing.

Brother Rabbit raised his right hand and—biff! his hand stuck fast.

“Here! What’s this?” he cried. “Let me go, or I’ll hit you again.”

The tar baby said nothing.

At that—blip! he hit the tar baby with the other hand. That stuck fast, too.

“Listen to me, you rascal!” cried Brother Rabbit. “If you don’t let me go, I’ll kick you!”

The tar baby said nothing.

Bim! Brother Rabbit’s right foot stuck fast.

“See here, you imp!” he shrieked. “If I kick you with my left foot, you’ll think the world has come to an end!”

The tar baby said nothing.

Bom! the left foot stuck fast.

“Look out, now!” Brother Rabbit screamed. “Let me loose, or I’ll butt you into the well with my head! Let me go, I say!”

The tar baby said nothing.

Buff! Brother Rabbit’s head stuck fast.

And there was Brother Rabbit with both hands,  and both feet, and his head stuck fast.

The next morning Brother Fox came out to see how the tar baby was getting along. He saw Brother Rabbit, and he laughed to himself until his sides ached.

“Hey, Brother Rabbit!” he called. “What are you doing? How do you like my tar baby? I thought you drank dew from the grass and the flowers! I have you now, Brother Rabbit, I have you now.”

“Let me go, Brother Fox!” cried Brother Rabbit. “Let me go! I am your friend. Don’t hurt me!”

“Friend? You are a thief,” said Brother Fox. “Who wants a thief for a friend?” Then he ran quickly to his home in the woods and built a big fire.

Soon Brother Fox tore Brother Rabbit loose from the tar baby, threw him over his shoulder, and started for the fire.

“Roast rabbit is good,” said Brother Fox.

“Roast me! Burn me! Anything!” said Brother Rabbit, “Only don’t throw me into the brier patch.”

“I’ve a mind to throw you into the well,” said Brother Fox, as he turned and looked back.

“Drown me! Kill me! Anything! Only don’t throw me into the brier patch,” said Brother Rabbit. “The briers will tear my flesh and scratch my eyes out. Throw me into the fire! Throw me into the well!”

“Ah, ha, Brother Rabbit!” said Brother Fox. “So you don’t like briers? Then here you go!” and he threw Brother Rabbit away over into the brier patch.

As soon as Brother Rabbit touched the ground, he sat up and laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

“Ha, ha, ha! Brother Fox!” said Brother Rabbit. “Thank you, dear Brother Fox, thank you! I was born and reared in a brier patch.”

Then Brother Rabbit ran off in great glee, chuckling over the trick he had played on Brother Fox.