The Six Hungry Beasts





Once upon a time there lived a man who dwelt with his wife in a little

hut, far away from any neighbours. But they did not mind being alone,

and would have been quite happy, if it had not been for a marten, who

came every night to their poultry yard, and carried off one of their

fowls. The man laid all sorts of traps to catch the thief, but instead

of capturing the foe, it happened that one day he got caught himself,

and falling down, struck his head against a stone, and was killed.



Not long after the marten came by on the look out for his supper. Seeing

the dead man lying there, he said to himself: 'That is a prize, this

time I have done well'; and dragging the body with great difficulty to

the sledge which was waiting for him, drove off with his booty. He

had not driven far when he met a squirrel, who bowed and said:

'Good-morning, godfather! what have you got behind you?'



The marten laughed and answered: 'Did you ever hear anything so strange?

The old man that you see here set traps about his hen-house, thinking

to catch me but he fell into his own trap, and broke his own neck. He is

very heavy; I wish you would help me to draw the sledge.' The squirrel

did as he was asked, and the sledge moved slowly along.



By-and-by a hare came running across a field, but stopped to see what

wonderful thing was coming. 'What have you got there?' she asked, and

the marten told his story and begged the hare to help them pull.



The hare pulled her hardest, and after a while they were joined by a

fox, and then by a wolf, and at length a bear was added to the company,

and he was of more use than all the other five beasts put together.

Besides, when the whole six had supped off the man he was not so heavy

to draw.



The worst of it was that they soon began to get hungry again, and the

wolf, who was the hungriest of all, said to the rest:



'What shall we eat now, my friends, as there is no more man?'



'I suppose we shall have to eat the smallest of us,' replied the bear,

and the marten turned round to seize the squirrel who was much smaller

than any of the rest. But the squirrel ran up a tree like lightning,

and the marten remembering, just in time, that he was the next in size,

slipped quick as thought into a hole in the rocks.



'What shall we eat now?' asked the wolf again, when he had recovered

from his surprise.



'We must eat the smallest of us,' repeated the bear, stretching out

a paw towards the hare; but the hare was not a hare for nothing, and

before the paw had touched her, she had darted deep into the wood.



Now that the squirrel, the marten, and the hare had all gone, the fox

was the smallest of the three who were left, and the wolf and the bear

explained that they were very sorry, but they would have to eat him.

Michael, the fox, did not run away as the others had done, but smiled

in a friendly manner, and remarked: 'Things taste so stale in a valley;

one's appetite is so much better up on a mountain.' The wolf and the

bear agreed, and they turned out of the hollow where they had been

walking, and chose a path that led up the mountain side. The fox trotted

cheerfully by his two big companions, but on the way he managed to

whisper to the wolf: 'Tell me, Peter, when I am eaten, what will you

have for your next dinner?'



This simple question seemed to put out the wolf very much. What would

they have for their next dinner, and, what was more important still, who

would there be to eat it? They had made a rule always to dine off the

smallest of the party, and when the fox was gone, why of course, he was

smaller than the bear.



These thoughts flashed quickly through his head, and he said hastily:



'Dear brothers, would it not be better for us to live together as

comrades, and everyone to hunt for the common dinner? Is not my plan a

good one?'



'It is the best thing I have ever heard,' answered the fox; and as they

were two to one the bear had to be content, though in his heart he would

much have preferred a good dinner at once to any friendship.



For a few days all went well; there was plenty of game in the forest,

and even the wolf had as much to eat as he could wish. One morning the

fox as usual was going his rounds when he noticed a tall, slender

tree, with a magpie's nest in one of the top branches. Now the fox was

particularly fond of young magpies, and he set about making a plan by

which he could have one for dinner. At last he hit upon something which

he thought would do, and accordingly he sat down near the tree and began

to stare hard at it.



'What are you looking at, Michael?' asked the magpie, who was watching

him from a bough.



'I'm looking at this tree. It has just struck me what a good tree it

would be to cut my new snow-shoes out of.' But at this answer the magpie

screeched loudly, and exclaimed: 'Oh, not this tree, dear brother, I

implore you! I have built my nest on it, and my young ones are not yet

old enough to fly.'



'It will not be easy to find another tree that would make such good

snow-shoes,' answered the fox, cocking his head on one side, and gazing

at the tree thoughtfully; 'but I do not like to be ill-natured, so

if you will give me one of your young ones I will seek my snow-shoes

elsewhere.'



Not knowing what to do the poor magpie had to agree, and flying back,

with a heavy heart, he threw one of his young ones out of the nest. The

fox seized it in his mouth and ran off in triumph, while the magpie,

though deeply grieved for the loss of his little one, found some comfort

in the thought that only a bird of extraordinary wisdom would have

dreamed of saving the rest by the sacrifice of the one. But what do you

think happened? Why, a few days later, Michael the fox might have been

seen sitting under the very same tree, and a dreadful pang shot through

the heart of the magpie as he peeped at him from a hole in the nest.



'What are you looking at?' he asked in a trembling voice.



'At this tree. I was just thinking what good snowshoes it would make,'

answered the fox in an absent voice, as if he was not thinking of what

he was saying.



'Oh, my brother, my dear little brother, don't do that,' cried the

magpie, hopping about in his anguish. 'You know you promised only a few

days ago that you would get your snow-shoes elsewhere.'



'So I did; but though I have searched through the whole forest, there

is not a single tree that is as good as this. I am very sorry to put you

out, but really it is not my fault. The only thing I can do for you is

to offer to give up my snow-shoes altogether if you will throw me down

one of your young ones in exchange.'



And the poor magpie, in spite of his wisdom, was obliged to throw

another of his little ones out of the nest; and this time he was not

able to console himself with the thought that he had been much cleverer

than other people.



He sat on the edge of his nest, his head drooping and his feathers all

ruffled, looking the picture of misery. Indeed he was so different from

the gay, jaunty magpie whom every creature in the forest knew, that a

crow who was flying past, stopped to inquire what was the matter. 'Where

are the two young ones who are not in the nest?' asked he.



'I had to give them to the fox,' replied the magpie in a quivering

voice; 'he has been here twice in the last week, and wanted to cut down

my tree for the purpose of making snow-shoes out of it, and the only way

I could buy him off was by giving him two of my young ones.'



Oh, you fool,' cried the crow, 'the fox was only trying to frighten you.

He could not have cut down the tree, for he has neither axe nor knife.

Dear me, to think that you have sacrificed your young ones for nothing!

Dear, dear! how could you be so very foolish!' And the crow flew away,

leaving the magpie overcome with shame and sorrow.



The next morning the fox came to his usual place in front of the tree,

for he was hungry, and a nice young magpie would have suited him very

well for dinner. But this time there was no cowering, timid magpie to do

his bidding, but a bird with his head erect and a determined voice.



'My good fox,' said the magpie putting his head on one side and looking

very wise--'my good fox, if you take my advice, you will go home as fast

as you can. There is no use your talking about making snow-shoes out of

this tree, when you have neither knife nor axe to cut it down with!'



'Who has been teaching you wisdom?' asked the fox, forgetting his

manners in his surprise at this new turn of affairs.



'The crow, who paid me a visit yesterday,' answered the magpie.



'The crow was it?' said the fox, 'well, the crow had better not meet me

for the future, or it may be the worse for him.'



As Michael, the cunning beast, had no desire to continue the

conversation, he left the forest; but when he came to the high road he

laid himself at full length on the ground, stretching himself out, just

as if he was dead. Very soon he noticed, out of the corner of his eye,

that the crow was flying towards him, and he kept stiller and stiffer

than ever, with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. The crow, who

wanted her supper very badly, hopped quickly towards him, and was

stooping forward to peck at his tongue when the fox gave a snap, and

caught him by the wing. The crow knew that it was of no use struggling,

so he said:



'Ah, brother, if you are really going to eat me, do it, I beg of you, in

good style. Throw me first over this precipice, so that my feathers may

be strewn here and there, and that all who see them may know that your

cunning is greater than mine.' This idea pleased the fox, for he had

not yet forgiven the crow for depriving him of the young magpies, so

he carried the crow to the edge of the precipice and threw him over,

intending to go round by a path he knew and pick him up at the bottom.

But no sooner had the fox let the crow go than he soared up into the

air, and hovering just out of teach of his enemy's jaws, he cried with a

laugh: 'Ah, fox! you know well how to catch, but you cannot keep.'



With his tail between his legs, the fox slunk into the forest. He did

not know where to look for a dinner, as he guessed that the crow would

have flown back before him, and put every one on their guard. The

notion of going to bed supperless was very unpleasant to him, and he was

wondering what in the world he should do, when he chanced to meet with

his old friend the bear.



This poor animal had just lost his wife, and was going to get some one

to mourn over her, for he felt her loss greatly. He had hardly left his

comfortable cave when he had come across the wolf, who inquired where he

was going. 'I am going to find a mourner,' answered the bear, and told

his story.



'Oh, let me mourn for you,' cried the wolf.



'Do you understand how to howl?' said the bear.



'Oh, certainly, godfather, certainly,' replied the wolf; but the bear

said he should like to have a specimen of his howling, to make sure that

he knew his business. So the wolf broke forth in his song of lament:

'Hu, hu, hu, hum, hoh,' he shouted, and he made such a noise that the

bear put up his paws to his ears, and begged him to stop.



'You have no idea how it is done. Be off with you,' said he angrily.



A little further down the road the hare was resting in a ditch, but when

she saw the bear, she came out and spoke to him, and inquired why he

looked so sad. The bear told her of the loss of his wife, and of his

search after a mourner that could lament over her in the proper style.

The hare instantly offered her services, but the bear took care to ask

her to give him a proof of her talents, before he accepted them. 'Pu,

pu, pu, pum, poh,' piped the hare; but this time her voice was so small

that the bear could hardly hear her. 'That is not what I want,' he said,

'I will bid you good morning.'



It was after this that the fox came up, and he also was struck with

the bear's altered looks, and stopped. 'What is the matter with you,

godfather?' asked he, 'and where are you going?'



'I am going to find a mourner for my wife,' answered the bear.



'Oh, do choose me,' cried the fox, and the bear looked at him

thoughtfully.



'Can you howl well?' he said.



'Yes, beautifully, just listen,' and the fox lifted up his voice and

sang weeping: 'Lou, lou, lou! the famous spinner, the baker of good

cakes, the prudent housekeeper is torn from her husband! Lou, lou, lou!

she is gone! she is gone!'



'Now at last I have found some one who knows the art of lamentation,'

exclaimed the bear, quite delighted; and he led the fox back to his

cave, and bade him begin his lament over the dead wife who was lying

stretched out on her bed of grey moss. But this did not suit the fox at

all.



'One cannot wail properly in this cave,' he said, 'it is much too damp.

You had better take the body to the storehouse. It will sound much finer

there.' So the bear carried his wife's body to the storehouse, while

he himself went back to the cave to cook some pap for the mourner. From

time to time he paused and listened for the sound of wailing, but he

heard nothing. At last he went to the door of the storehouse, and called

to the fox:



'Why don't you howl, godfather? What are you about?'



And the fox, who, instead of weeping over the dead bear, had been

quietly eating her, answered:



'There only remain now her legs and the soles of her feet. Give me five

minutes more and they will be gone also!'



When the bear heard that he ran back for the kitchen ladle, to give

the traitor the beating he deserved. But as he opened the door of the

storehouse, Michael was ready for him, and slipping between his legs,

dashed straight off into the forest. The bear, seeing that the traitor

had escaped, flung the ladle after him, and it just caught the tip of

his tail, and that is how there comes to be a spot of white on the tails

of all foxes.



[From Finnische Mahrchen.]





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