A farmer once dug a pit to trap animals that had been stealing his grain. By a strange chance he fell into his own pit when he bent forward and a big sack full of bait that he was carrying on his back, slid over his head and was killed in the fall. The ermine found him there. "Hm," thought the ermine, "that's the farmer himself, isn't it? I better take the sack before anyone else gets it."
So the ermine dragged the farmer's bait-sack out of the pit, put it on a sledge, and then, after taking a bite, began hauling it away.
Then he met the squirrel who clapped his hands in surprise.
"God bless you, brother!" the squirrel exclaimed. "What's that you're hauling behind you?"
"It's a sack full of bait; the farmer wanted to trap us with it," the ermine explained. "He fell into the pit that he had dug for us poor forest folk and that serves him right, too! Take a bite of the bait he wanted to use on us animals, and then come along and help me pull."
"Very well," the squirrel said. He took a bite of the farmer's bait and then marched along beside the ermine, helping him to pull the sledge.
Now they met the hare. He looked at them in amazement, his eyes popping out of his head. "Mercy me!" he cried, "what's that you two are hauling?"
"It's bait that the farmer spends on us," the ermine explained. "When he was to place it in a pit he had dug for us poor forest folk, he fell into the pit himself and was killed on the spot. That serves him right! Take a good bite of the bait and then come along and help us pull."
The hare took a bite of the farmer's bait and then marched along beside the ermine and the squirrel helping them to pull the sledge.
Next they met the fox. "Goodness me!" he said, "what's that you three are hauling?"
The ermine again explained, "It's bait that the farmer has spent on us. He fell into a pit with it and broke his neck after he had dug the pit for us poor forest folk. It serves him right! Take a bite of the bait, and then come along and help us pull."
So the fox took a bite and then marched along beside the ermine and the squirrel and the hare helping them to pull the sledge.
Next they met the wolf.
"Good gracious!" he cried, "what's that you four are hauling?"
The ermine explained, "It's farmer bait. He fell into the pit with it and died from the fall, after he had dug the pit to trap us poor forest folks. It serves him right, don't you think? Take a bite of his bait and then help us pull."
So the wolf took a bite and then marched along beside the ermine, the squirrel, the hare, and the fox, helping them to pull the sledge.
Next they met the bear. "Good heavens!" he rumbled, "what's that you five are hauling?"
"It's a sack of bait that the farmer has spent on us," the ermine explained. "He fell with it into the pit that he had dug for us poor forest folk and died there. It served him right, too! Take a bite of his food and then help us pull."
The bear took a bite and then marched along beside the ermine, the squirrel, the hare, the fox, and the wolf, helping them to pull the sledge.
They pulled and pulled, and whenever they felt tired or hungry they stopped and took a bite till the farmer's bait was about finished.
Then the wolf said, "See here, brothers, we've eaten up every bit of the farmer's bait except a few bones. What are we going to eat now?"
The bear, grunted out, "Huh! That's easy! We'll eat the smallest of us next!"
He had no sooner spoken than the squirrel ran up a tree and the ermine slipped under a stone.
The wolf said, "But the smallest have escaped!"
The bear grunted again, "Huh! The smallest now is that pop-eyed hare Let's "
At mention of his name the hare went loping across the field and was soon at a safe distance.
The bear put his heavy paw on the fox's shoulder.
"It's your turn now," he said, "for you are the smallest of us three."
The fox pretended not to be at all afraid. "That's true," he said, "I'm the smallest. All right, brothers, I'm ready. But before you eat me I wish you'd take me to the top of the hill. Down here in the valley it's so gloomy."
"Very well," the others agreed, "we'll go where you say. It is more cheerful there."
As they climbed the hill the fox whispered to the wolf, "Psst! When you eat me, whose turn will it be then? Who will be the smallest then?"
"Mercy me!" the wolf cried, "it will be my turn then, won't it?" The terror of the thought quite took his appetite away.
"See here," he said to the bear, "I don't think it would be right for us to eat the fox. You and I and the fox ought to be friends and live together in peace. Now let's take a vote on the matter and we'll do whatever the majority says. I vote that we three be friends. What do you say, Mikko?"
The fox said that he agreed with the wolf. It would be much better all around if they three were friends.
"Well," grunted the bear, "it's no use my voting, for you two make a majority. But I must say I'm sorry to have you vote this way, for I'm hungry."
So the three animals, the bear, the wolf, and the fox, agreed from now on to be friends and planned to live near each other in the woods behind the farm.
The wolf and the fox made houses quite close together, and decided to go into partnership.
"The first thing we ought to do," said the wolf, "is make a clearing in the forest and plant some crops."
The fox agreed and the very next day they started out to work. Each had a crock with three pats of butter for his dinner. They left their crocks in the cool water of a little spring in the forest not far from the place where they had decided to make a clearing.
It was hard work felling trees, and the fox, soon tiring of it, made some sort of excuse to run off. When he came back, he said to the wolf, "The folks at the farm are having a christening and have sent me an invitation to attend."
"It's too bad we're so busy today," the wolf said. "Another day you might have gone."
"But I must go," the fox insisted. "They've been good neighbours to us and they would be insulted if I refused."
"Very well," the wolf said, "if you feel that way about it you better go. But hurry back, for we have a lot to do."
So the fox trotted off, but he got no farther than the spring where the butter crocks were cooling. He took the wolf's crock and licked off the top layer of butter. Then after a while he went back to the clearing.
"Well," the wolf said, "is the christening over?"
"Yes, it's over."
"What did they name the child?"
"They named it Top."
"Top? That's a strange name!"
In a few moments the fox again ran off and returned with the announcement that there was to be another christening at the farm and again they wanted him to attend.
"Another christening!" the wolf exclaimed. "How can that be?"
"This time the daughter has a baby."
"You're not going, are you? You cannot always be going to christenings."
"That's true, that's true," said the fox, "but I think I must go this time."
The wolf sighed. "You will hurry back, won't you? This work is too much for me alone."
"Yes," the fox promised, "I'll hurry back as quickly as I can."
So he trotted off again to the spring and the wolf's butter crock. This time he ate the middle pat of the wolf's butter, and then slowly sauntered back to the clearing.
"Well," said the wolf, pausing a moment in his work, "what did they name the baby this time?"
"This one they named Middle."
"Middle? That's a strange name to give a baby!"
For a few moments the fox pretended to work hard. Then he ran off again. When he came back, he said, "Do you know they're having another christening at the farm and they say that I just must come."
"Another christening! Now, that's too much! How can they be having another christening?"
"Well, this time it's the daughter-in-law that has a baby."
"I don't care who it is," the wolf said, "you just cannot go. You've got some work to do, you have!"
The fox agreed, "You're right, you're right! I'm entirely too busy to be running off all the time to christenings! I'd say, 'No!' in a minute if it wasn't that we are new settlers and they are our nearest neighbours. As it is I'm afraid they'd think it wasn't neighbourly if I didn't come. But I'll hurry back, I promise you!"
So for the third time the fox trotted off to the little spring and this time he licked the wolf's butter crock clean to the bottom. Then he went slowly back to the clearing and told the wolf about the christening and the baby.
"They've named this one Bottom," he said.
"Bottom!" the wolf echoed. "What funny names they give children nowadays!"
The fox pretended to work hard for a few minutes, then threw himself down exhausted.
"Heigh-ho!" he said, with a yawn, "I'm so tired and hungry it must be dinner time!"
The wolf looked at the sun and said, "Yes, I think we had better rest now and eat."
So they went to the spring and got their butter crocks. The wolf found that his had already been licked clean.
At once he cried, "have you been at my butter?"
"Me?" the fox said in a tone of great innocence. "How could I have been at your butter when you know perfectly well that I've been working right beside you all morning except when I was away at the christenings? You must have eaten up your butter yourself!"
"Of course I haven't eaten it up myself!" the wolf declared. "I bet you took it!"
The fox pretended to be much aggrieved.
"I won't have you saying such a thing! We must get at the bottom of this! I tell you what we'll do: we'll both lie down in the sun and the heat of the sun will melt the butter and make it run. Now then, if butter runs out of my nose then I'm the one that has eaten your butter; if it runs out of your nose, then you've eaten it yourself. Do you agree to this test?"
The wolf said, yes, he agreed, and at once lay down in the sun. He had been working so hard that he was very tired and in a few moments he was sound asleep. Thereupon the fox slipped over and daubed a little lump of butter on the end of his nose. The sun melted the butter and then, of course, it looked as if it were running out of the wolf's nose.
"Wake up! Wake up!" the fox cried. "There's butter running out of your nose!"
The wolf awoke and felt his nose with his tongue.
"Why," he said in surprise, "so there is! Well, I suppose I must have eaten that butter myself, but I give you my word that I don't remember doing it!"
"Well," said the fox, pretending still to feel hurt, "you shouldn't always suspect me."
When they went back to the clearing, the wolf began pulling the brush together to burn it up and the fox slipped away and lay down behind some brushes.
"Friend" the wolf called. "Aren't you going to help me burn the brush?"
"You set it a-fire," the fox called back, "and I'll stay here to guard against any flying sparks. We don't want to burn down the whole forest!"
So the wolf burned up all the brush while the fox took a pleasant nap.
Then when he was ready to plant the seed in the rich wood ashes, the wolf again called out to the fox to come help him.
"You do the planting," the fox called back, "and I'll stay here and frighten off the birds. If I don't, they'll come and pick up every seed you plant."
So the rascal fox, took another nap while the poor wolf planted the field he had already cleared and burned.
In a short time the field that the wolf had planted began to sprout. He was delighted.
"See," he said to the fox, "our grain is growing and we shall soon be harvesting it!"
The fox turned up his nose indifferently. "If we don't get something to eat before that grain ripens," he said, "we'll starve, both of us! While we wait for the harvest I think we better go out hunting. I'm going this minute for I tell you I'm hungry!"
The fox went sniffing into the forest and finally came to the tree where the magpie, had her nest. The fox, cocking his head, paced slowly round and round the tree, looking at it from every angle. The magpie, sitting on her nest among her fledglings began to feel nervous.
"Say," she called down, "what are you looking at?"
At first the fox made no answer. Deep in thought, apparently, he nodded his head and murmured, "Yes, the very tree!"
The magpie again called down, "What are you looking at, fox?"
The fox started as though he had heard the question for the first time.
"Ah, is that you? Good day to you! I hope you are well! I hope the children are all well! I was so busy looking for the right tree that I didn't recognize you at first. You see I have to cut down a tree to get wood for a new pair of skis. This tree is just the one I want."
"Oh, mercy me!" the magpie cried. "You cannot cut down this tree! Do you want to kill all my children? This is our home!"
The dishonest fox pretended to be very sympathetic.
"I'm awfully sorry to have to disturb you, truly I am, but I'm afraid I do have to cut down this tree. I cannot find another that suits me as well."
The magpie flapped her wings in despair. "You hard-hearted wretch! What will you take not to cut down this tree?"
The fox put his paw to his head and pretended to think hard. After a moment he said, "Well, I'll make you this offer: I'll leave this tree standing if you throw me down one of your fledglings."
"What!" the magpie shrieked. "Give you one of my babies! I'll never do that!"
"Oh, very well! Just as you like! If I cut the tree down I can get them all. But I thought for the sake of old times I'd ask for only one. However, do as you think best."
What could the magpie say? If the tree were felled and her fledglings thrown out of the nest they would certainly all perish. Perhaps it would be wise to sacrifice one to save the rest.
"Do you promise to let the tree stand," she said, "if I give you one of my children?"
"Yes," the rascal promised, "just drop me one of your fledglings, a nice plump one, and I won't cut down the tree."
With shaking claw the mother magpie pushed one of her children over the edge of the nest. It fluttered to the ground and the fox carried it off.
Next day the fox came back and began pacing around the tree again. "Yes," he said, pretending to talk to himself, "this is the best tree I can find. I might as well cut it down at once."
"But," cried the magpie, "you forget! You said you wouldn't cut down this tree if I gave you one of my children, and I did give you one!"
The fox flipped his tail indifferently. "I know," he said, "I did promise, but I thought then I could find another tree that would suit me as well as this one, but I cannot. I've looked everywhere and I cannot. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that I'll just have to take this tree."
"O dear, O dear!" the magpie mother wept. "Will nothing make you leave this tree stand?"
The fox smacked his lips. "Well, drop me down another of your fledglings and I won't disturb the tree. I promise."
"What! Another of my babies! You wretch!"
"Well, suit yourself," the fox said. "One of your fledglings and you can keep the others safe in the nest, or I'll cut the tree down."
The distraught magpie hoped that sacrificing another fledgling would give her a chance of saving the rest, so she pushed another out of the nest. It fluttered to the ground, and the rascal fox carried it off.
That afternoon the crow came to call on the magpie. "Why, my dear," she said, looking over the fledglings, "two of your children are missing! Whatever has become of them?"
"It's that rascally fox!" the magpie cried, and thereupon she told her friend the whole story.
The crow listened carefully and then said, "My dear, that miserable fox has been fooling you! Why, he cannot cut down this tree or any other tree for that matter! He hasn't even got an axe! Don't let him impose on you a third time!"
So the very next day when the fox came and again tried the same little trick, the magpie, tossed her head scornfully and said, "Go along, you rascal! You cannot fool me again! How can you cut down this tree or any other tree when you haven't even got an axe!"
The fox was furious at losing his dinner. "You didn't think that out yourself!" he said, "Someone's been talking to you! Who was it?"
"It was my dear friend, the crow," the magpie said. "She's on to your tricks!"
"I'll teach that crow to interfere with my affairs!" the fox muttered to himself as he trotted off. He went to an open field and lay down with his mouth open, pretending to be dead.
"I'm sure the crow will soon spy me!" he said to himself. He was right. Soon the crow began circling above him. She flew nearer and nearer and at last alighted on his head. His tongue was hanging out, and the crow decided to have her first bite there. She gave it a sharp peck.
The fox jumped up and caught her in his paws."Ha! Ha!" he cried. "So you're the one who spoiled my little game with the magpie are you? Well, I'll teach you not to interfere with me! As I haven't got one of the magpie's fledglings for my dinner, I'm going to take you!"
"You don't mean you're going to eat me!" cried the crow in terror.
"I'll teach that crow to interfere with my affairs!" the fox muttered to himself as he trotted off. "That's exactly what I mean!"
"No, no! Don't do that!"
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm going to do! I'm going to teach you birds that I'm not an animal to be played jokes on!"
"I suppose," the crow said, sighing, "if it must be, it must be! But if you really want to use me as a warning to the other birds, you oughtn't to eat me right down. It would be much better if you dragged me along the ground first. Then they'd see a wing here, a leg there, and a long trail of feathers. That really would terrify them."
"I believe you're right," the fox said.
He put the crow down on the ground and lifted his paw for a moment to change his hold. The crow instantly jerked away and escaped.
"Ha! Ha!" she cawed as she flew off. "You were clever enough to catch me, but not clever enough to eat me when you had me!"
And that was one of the times when the fox was outwitted.
"Mercy me!" thought the fox to himself as he watched the crow fly away, "this is certainly my unlucky day! There I had my dinner right in my hand and then lost it!"
Sighing and shaking his head he sauntered slowly back to the forest.
Now it happened that the bear had just lost his wife and was out looking for someone to bewail her death. The first person he met was the wolf.
He said, "my wife's dead and I'm out looking for a good strong mourner. Can you mourn?"
"Me? Indeed I can I Just listen!"
The wolf, pointed his nose to the sky and let out a long shivery howl.
"There!" he said. "I don't believe you'll find any one that can do any better than that!"
But the bear shook his head.
"No, you won't do. I don't like your mourning at all!"
The bear ambled on and presently he met the hare.
"Good day," he said. "Are you any good at mourning? Show me what you can do."
The hare gave some frightened squeaks as his idea of mourning the dead.
"No, no," said the bear, "I don't like your mourning either."
So he walked on farther till by chance he met the fox.
"Hello," he said, "my wife's dead and I'm out looking for a good strong mourner. Can you mourn?"
"Can I? Indeed I can!" the fox declared. "I'm a marvel at mourning! I can wail high and low and soft and loud and just any way you want! Listen!" And the fox, beginning with a little whimpering sound, slowly rose to a high heartrending cry.
This is what he wailed,
"Med! Med! Med!
The bear was deeply moved. "Beautiful! Beautiful!" he grunted hoarsely. "How well you knew her! Come along home with me and start right in! Oh, how beautifully you wail!"
So the fox went home with the bear. The old bear wife was laid out on a bench in the kitchen. "Now then," the bear said, "you begin the wailing while I cook the porridge."
"No, no," the fox said, "I couldn't possibly wail in here! The place is full of smoke and my voice would get husky in two minutes! Can't you lay her out in the storehouse?"
The bear demurred, but the fox insisted and at last had his way. So together they dragged the body of the old bear wife out to the storehouse. The fox stood beside the body ready to begin his wailing and the bear went back to the kitchen.
The moment the bear was out of sight, the fox started to gobble up the old bear wife instead of bewailing her. He just gobbled and gobbled and gobbled as fast as he could.
"What's the matter?" the bear called out after a few minutes. "Why don't you begin?"
The fox made no reply but kept on gobbling as hard as he could.
The bear called out again. "What's the matter? Why aren't you howling?"
By this time the fox had made a good dinner, so he called back, "Don't bother me! I'm busy eating! Yum! Yum! Yum! Bear meat is awful good! Just give me a few more minutes and I'll be finished!"
At that the bear rushed out of the kitchen in a terrible rage, but the fox was already running off and the bear was unable to catch him. He did hit the end of his tail with the long spoon that he had been measuring the meal with, but that was all.
The fox got safely away. However, to this day his tail shows the white mark of the meal.