Once on a time there was a bear who sat on a hillside in the sun and slept. Just then Reynard came slouching by and caught sight of him.
"There you sit taking your ease, grandsire," said the fox. "Now, see if I don't play you a trick." So he went and caught three field-mice and laid them on a stump close under Bruin's nose, and then he bawled out into his ear, "Bo! Bruin, here's Peter the Hunter, just behind this stump;" and as he bawled this out he ran off through the wood as fast as ever he could.
Bruin woke up with a start, and when he saw the three little mice, he was as mad as a March hare, and was going to lift up his paw and crush them, for he thought it was they who had bellowed in his ear.
But just as he lifted it he caught sight of Reynard's tail among the bushes by the woodside, and away he set after him, so that the underwood crackled as he went, and, to tell the truth, Bruin was so close on Reynard, that he caught hold of his off hind-foot just as he was crawling into a passageway under a pine-root. So there was Reynard in a pinch; but for all that he had his wits about him, for he screeched out, "Let go of the pine-root and catch the fox-foot."
The silly bear let his foot slip and laid hold of the root instead. But by that time Reynard was safe inside the earth, and called out
"I cheated you that time too, didn't I, grandsire!"
"Out of sight isn't out of mind," growled Bruin down the earth, and was wild with rage.
ONCE on a time Bruin and Reynard were to own a field in common. They had a little clearing up in the wood, and the first year they sowed rye. "Now we must share the crop as is fair and right," said Reynard. "If you like to have the root, I'll take the top."
Yes, Bruin was ready to do that; but when they had threshed out the crop, Reynard got all the corn, but Bruin got nothing but roots and rubbish. He did not like that at all, but Reynard said it was how they had agreed to share it.
"This year I have the gain," said Reynard; "next year it will be your turn. Then you shall have the top, and I shall have to put up with the root."
But when spring came, and it was time to sow, Reynard asked Bruin what he thought of turnips.
"Aye, aye!" said Bruin, "that's better food than corn;" and so Reynard thought also. But when harvest came Reynard got the roots, while Bruin got the turnip-tops. And then Bruin was so angry with Reynard that he put an end at once to his partnership with him.
ONE day as Bruin lay by a horse which he had slain, and was hard at work eating it, Reynard was out that day too, and came up spying about and licking his lips, if he might get a taste of the horse-flesh. So he doubled and turned till he got just behind Bruin's back, and then he jumped on the other side of the carcass and snapped a mouthful as he ran by. Bruin was not slow either, for he made a grab at Reynard and caught the tip of his red brush in his paw; and ever since then Reynard's brush is white at the tip, as anyone may see.
But that day Bruin was merry, and called out
"Bide a bit, Reynard; and come here, and I'll tell you how to catch a horse for yourself."
Yes, Reynard was ready enough to learn, but he did not for all that trust himself to go very close to Bruin.
"Listen," said Bruin, "when you see a horse asleep, sunning himself in the sunshine, you must mind and bind yourself fast by the hair of his tail to your brush, and then you must make your teeth meet in the flesh of his thigh."
As you may fancy, it was not long before Reynard found out a horse that lay asleep in the sunshine, and then he did as Bruin had told him; for he knotted and bound himself well into the hair of his tail, and made his teeth meet in the horse's thigh.
Up sprang the horse, and began to kick and rear and gallop, so that Reynard was dashed against stock and stone, and got battered black and blue, so that he was not far off losing both wit and sense. And while the horse galloped, they passed Jack Longears, the hare.
"Where away so fast, Reynard?" cried Jack Longears.
"Post-haste, on business of life and death, dear Jack," cried Reynard.
And with that Jack stood up on his hind-legs, and laughed till his sides ached and his jaws split right up to his ears. It was so funny to see Reynard ride post-haste.
But you must know, since that ride Reynard has never thought of catching a horse for himself. For that once at least it was Bruin who had the best of it in wit, though they do say he is most often as simpleminded as the trolls.
ONCE on a time there was a husbandman who travelled ever so far up to the mountains to fetch a load of leaves for litter for his cattle in winter. So when he got to where the litter lay, he backed the sledge close up to the heap, and began to roll down the leaves on to the sledge. But under the heap lay a bear who had made his winter lair there, and when he felt the man trampling about he jumped outright down on to the sledge.
As soon as the horse got wind of Bruin he was afraid and ran off as though he had stolen both bear and sledge, and he went back faster by many times than he had come up.
Bruin, they say, is a brave fellow, but even he was not quite pleased with his drive this time. So there he sat, holding fast as well as he could, and he glared and grinned on all sides, and he thought of throwing himself off, but he was not used to sledge travelling, and so he made up his mind to sit still where he was.
Ehen he had driven a good bit he met a peddler.
"Where in heaven's name is the sheriff bound today? He has surely little time and a long way, he drives so fast."
But Bruin said never a word, for all he could do was to stick fast.
A little farther on a beggar-woman met him. She nodded to him and greeted him and begged for a penny in God's name. But Bruin said never a word, but stuck fast and drove on faster than ever.
When he had gone a bit farther, Reynard the fox met him.
"Ho, ho!" said Reynard, "are you out taking a drive? Stop a bit, and let me get up behind and be your postboy."
But still Bruin said never a word, but held on like grim death, and drove on as fast as the horse could lay legs to the ground.
"Well, well," screamed Reynard after him, "if you won't take me with you I'll foretell your fortune; and that is, though you drive like a daredevil today, you'll be hanging up tomorrow with the hide off your back."
But Bruin never heard a word that Reynard said. On and on he drove just as fast. But when the horse got to the farm, he galloped into the open stable door at full speed, so that he tore off both sledge and harness, and as for poor Bruin, he knocked his skull against the lintel, and there he lay dead on the spot.
All this time the man knew nothing of what had happened. He rolled down bundle after bundle of leaves, and when he thought he had enough to load his sledge, and went down to bind on the bundles, he could find neither horse nor sledge.
So he had to tramp along the road to find his horse again, and after a while he met the peddler.
"Have you met my horse and sledge?" he asked.
"No," said the peddler; "but lower down along the road I met the sheriff. He drove so fast, he was surely going to lay someone by the heels."
After a while he met the beggar-woman.
"Have you seen my horse and sledge?" said the man.
"No," said the beggar-woman; "but I met the parson lower down over there; he was surely going to a parish meeting, he drove so fast, and he had a borrowed horse."
After a while the man met the fox.
"Have you seen my horse and sledge?"
"Yes, I have," said the fox; "and Bruin Goodfellow sat on it and drove just as though he had stolen both horse and harness."
"Old Nick take him," said the man, "I'll be bound he'll drive my horse to death."
"If he does, flay him," said Reynard, "and roast him before the fire! But if you get your horse again you may give me a lift over the mountain, for I can ride well, and besides I have a fancy to see how it feels when one has four legs before one."
"What will you give for the lift?" said the man.
"You can have what you like," said Reynard; "either wet or dry. You may be sure you'll always get more out of me than out of Bruin Goodfellow, for he is a rough carle to pay off when he takes a fancy to riding and hangs on a horse's back."
"Well, you shall have a lift over the mountain," said the man, "if you will only meet me at this spot tomorrow."
He knew that Reynard was only playing off some of his tricks on him, and so he took with him a loaded gun on the sledge, and when Reynard came, thinking to get a lift for nothing, he got instead a charge of shot in his body. And so the husbandman flayed the coat off him too, and gave him a lift over the mountain so as to keep his word, and now he had got both Bruin's hide and Reynard's skin.