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Drinking Partner

Scholar Che’s household was of lower income but he used to indulge in drinking. At night, if he didn’t down three cups, he couldn’t sleep, so the pitcher at the head of his bed was usually kept full. One night he woke from his sleep and, as he turned over, there seemed to be someone lying beside him. Thinking it was just an overcoat that had fallen down, he felt it and found it was a fluffy creature, like a cat but bigger. He shone a light on it and it was a fox, utterly drunk and laid out flat. Taking a look at the pitcher, he found it empty. So he laughed and said, “This is my drinking partner.”

   Not wanting to disturb it, he covered its shoulders with a robe and shared the bed with it, while keeping the light on to observe how it changed. At midnight, the fox yawned and stretched. The scholar said with a laugh, “What a beautiful sleep!”

   He lifted the cover for a look and it was now a handsome scholar. The fox got up and bowed before the bed, thanking the scholar for not killing him. The scholar said, “I’m addicted to alcohol and people take me for an idiot. But you are my kindred spirit. If you don’t mind, we can be boon companions in liquor.”

   He pulled him up onto the bed and, as they went back to sleep, he added, “You can be a regular visitor. There’s nothing to worry about.” The fox promised.

   When the scholar awoke, he found the fox had already gone. So he arranged a bowl of delicious wine, especially for the fox. That evening, he indeed came and they sat knee to knee, drinking merrily. The fox had a heroic capacity for drink and was full of wit, so Che regretted not knowing him earlier. The fox said, “I’m much obliged to you for this fine beverage. How can I repay you?”

   The scholar said, “For the pleasure of drinking with you, it’s hardly worth mentioning.”

   “Though that’s so,” said the fox, “you’re a poor scholar and getting the money for tippling really isn’t easy. Let me think of some ways to raise drinking funds for you.”

   The next evening, the fox told him, “Two miles south-east of here, on the roadside there’s some lost silver. We can go early and get it.”

   Come dawn they went there and indeed found two bits of silver, so Che bought some delicacies to go with that night’s pleasure. Another time the fox told him, “In your back yard there’s a storage pit. You should open it.”

   Che did as he said and indeed found over a hundred strings of cash. Delighted, he said, “That’s already enough for my wallet. You needn’t worry anymore about drinking money.”

   “Not at all,” said the fox. “How long can the water in a puddle be scooped up? I ought to make further plans.”

   On a different day, he said to the scholar, “The price of buckwheat in the market is cheap. It’s a rare commodity worth hoarding.”

   Doing as he said, Che gathered over forty hectolitres of buckwheat. Everyone mocked him, but before long there was a great drought – grain and beans all withered, only buckwheat could be grown. He sold the seeds at a ten-fold profit.

   From then on he was increasingly rich and controlled two hundred mu of fertile land. He would simply ask the fox whether he should gather more wheat to plant or more millet, and the timing of the planting was all decided by the fox.

   Day by day they became more familiar, until the fox called the scholar’s wife sister-in-law and regarded the scholar’s son as his nephew. After the scholar died, the fox no longer came around.

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