Buying Mittens


NIIMI Nankichi

Retold by OKUBO Yu

 It was a cold winter morning in the forest. A little fox, who lived alone with his mother, walked out of the hole that was their home.
 “Ow!” cried he, holding his eyes and tumbling back to his mother. “Mommy, I’ve got something in my eyes! Get it out, please!”
 The mother fox was very worried and cautiously pulled his paws away, but she found nothing in his eyes. Then, as soon as she stepped outside, she saw that the ground was all white with snow. With the morning sun shining in the sky, the field was dazzling. She realized that the little fox had been blinded by the strong light thrown back from the snow, which he had never seen before.
 The cub soon started playing in the snow. As he ran around, flakes of silk cotton flew up into the air, reflecting the sunlight in various colors.
 Then suddenly―plump-plop!―with a thud fell some powdered snow onto his head. The little fox rushed away in a panic, but when he stopped to look back, he saw no one. The snow had actually slipped off the branches of a fir tree. He watched some of it still sliding down like threads.
 Later, the little fox went home. “Mommy, my hands are cold―they’re tingling!” said he, holding out his sore wet paws to his mother. She blew on them with her warm breath and muffled them gently in her paws. “They’ll get better soon. Snow won’t hurt you,” said the mother fox. But she was worried that his paws might get swollen, and so she decided to go to town that evening to buy woolen mittens in her child’s size.
 Darkness came over the forest and the field; still the snow remained white during the night. Then the two animals left home. The child walked along, staying beneath his mother and looking all around with curious eyes.
 Presently, they saw a single light up ahead. “Look, Mommy!” said the little fox, “A star has fallen down to that low place, hasn’t it?” “That’s not a star,” replied the mother, as her legs trembled. “That light is coming from the town.” It reminded her of the accident that she and her friend had had in the town. Once, they had been forced to run for their very lives away from there because a farmer had seen her careless friend stealing a duck and had rushed to catch them.
 “Come on, Mommy. Let’s go!” shouted the little fox, walking underneath his mother. But her legs wouldn’t carry her farther; so she couldn’t but send her child alone into the town.
 “Give me your hand, dear,” said she. Then, as she clasped it lovingly, his paw turned into a little human hand. He opened it, closed it, and pinched it again and again. For a while, he sniffed at it, too. “How funny! What’s this?” asked the little animal, staring at his hand in the moonlight.
 “This is a human hand,” said the mother, “Listen, dear. Go into the town. You’ll see many houses. Find a sign of a top hat. Then knock on the door of that house, and say, ‘Excuse me.’ A man inside will open the door a little. Put this hand, your human hand, into the crack, and say, ‘I want mittens in just my size.’ OK? And you must not hold out your other hand!”
 “Why not?” asked the little fox.
 “Because then, human beings won’t sell us a pair of mittens. Instead, they will put us in a cage. They’re really terrifying!”
 “Oh, is that true?”
 “Don’t put your animal hand inside the door. Use your human one to buy the mittens,” reminded the mother, placing two coins onto her child’s human fingers.
 The little fox set off alone toward the bright town. As he toddled through the snowy field, the single light turned into two, three, and then a dozen lights. The scene gave him the idea that the lights were made up of many different colors―red, yellow, or blue―just as were stars. When he finally arrived at the town, all the houses were closed; only warm gleams spilled out from their high windows onto the streets.
 Small street lamps lit up most of the signboards. The little animal went through each one: a bicycle, glasses, and so forth. Some were newly painted and others worn off, but all were novel and strange to him because this was the first time he had visited a town.
 At last, he found the house, just as his mother had described it: with a top hat sign shining under a blue light. The little fox knocked on the door and called out, “Excuse me!”
 After some rattling inside, the door slowly opened just a little bit. A ray made its way through the crack to the snow-covered road. Its brightness was so dazzling to the little animal that he put the wrong paw inside, forgetting his mother’s warning. “I want mittens in just my size,” said the little fox.
 The hatter in the store looked at the fox’s paw in confusion. He suspected that the bad animal might buy mittens for fake coins made of leaves. “Please pay first,” said the hatter. The honest fox handed over the two coins. The man held them between his fingers and struck them against each other. The clicks of metal sounded credible enough, so he walked over to a shelf. He picked up a pair of woolen baby mittens and took them to the fox. After saying thanks, the little animal went off.
 “Mommy said,” he thought, “human beings were very terrifying, but that’s wrong because that man saw my hand and didn’t do anything.” Now the little fox felt interested in humans.
 As he passed a window, he heard a human voice singing a very sweet, tender, and beautiful song.
Slumber, slumber,
O my darling baby;
Gently rocked by
Mother’s gentle hand.
 The little fox knew that a human mother was singing, because his own mother often gave him a hug, lulling him in the same soft tone. Then he heard a child saying, “Mommy, tonight is very cold, so a little fox is crying about the coldness in the forest, isn’t it?” After a bit, the mother replied, “He is ready to sleep in a hole with his mother fox’s song, too. Time for beddy-bye, dear. Who can go nighty-night first? He or you? Go to sleep, good boy.”
 Their words brought back thoughts of his dear mother’s love, and the little fox hurried back to her. Trembling and very anxious, she was waiting for him to return safely; she had hardly seen her child when she held him tight in her joyful arms.
 The two animals were on their way home. The rising moon shone on their velvety coats and made their footprints glow cobalt.
 “Mommy, human beings are not terrifying,” said the little fox.
 “Why?” asked the mother.
 “I failed. I held out my real hand, but the man inside didn’t catch me. He gave me these nice warm mittens!” The little fox patted his muffled paws together.
 “Oh, dear!” sighed the mother.
 And she murmured to herself, “I wonder if human beings were really good. If human beings are really good...”
(First published on September 10th, 1943)

   2017(平成29)年7月30日 aozorablog 公開
※この翻訳は「クリエイティブ・コモンズ 表示 - 非営利 4.0 国際 ライセンス」(の下で公開されています。
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