THE FOX AND THE LAPP 253
The man made no reply, for the white fur of the ermine, who was crouching with the mouse behind some stones, had just caught his eye. He hastily seized the iron hook which hung over the fire and flung it at the little creature ; but the ermine was too quick for him, and the hook only touched the top of its tail, and that has remained black to this day. As for the mouse, the Lapp threw a half-burnt stick after him, and though it was not hot enough to hurt him, his beautiful white skin was smeared all over with it, and all the washing in the world would not make him clean again. And the man would have been wiser if he had let the ermine and the mouse alone, for when he turned round again he found he was alone.
Directly the fox noticed that his enemy's attention had wandered from himself he watched his chance, and stole softly away till he had reached a clump of thick bushes, when he ran as fast as he could, till he reached a river, where a man was mending his boat.
' Oh, I wish, I do wish, I had a boat to mend too !' he cried, sitting up on his hind-legs and looking into the man's face.
' Stop your silly chatter !' answered the man crossly, ' or I will give you a bath in the river.'
' Oh, I wish, I do wish, I had a boat to mend,' cried the fox again, as if he had not heard. And the man grew angry and seized him by the tail, and threw him far out in the stream close to the edge of an island ; which was just what the fox wanted. He easily scrambled up, and, sitting on the top, he called: ' Hasten, hasten, O fishes, and carry me to the other side !' And the fishes left the stones where they had been sleeping, and the pools where they had been feeding, and hurried to see who could get to the island first.
' I have won,' shouted the pike. ' Jump on my back, dear fox, and you will find yourself in a trice on the opposite shore.'