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The Willow-Wren And The Bear

Once in summer-time the bear and the wolf were walking in the forest,and the bear heard a bird singing so beautifully th...

The Willow-Wren And The Bear

Once in summer-time the bear and the wolf were walking in the forest,and the bear heard a bird singing so beautifully that he said: «Brotherwolf, what bird is it that sings so well?» «That is the King of birds,’said the wolf, «before whom we must bow down.» In reality thebird was the willow-wren. «If that’s the case,» said the bear, «Ishould very much like to see his royal palace; come, take me thither.’«That is not done quite as you seem to think,» said the wolf; «youmust wait until the Queen comes,» Soon afterwards, the Queen arrivedwith some food in her beak, and the lord King came too, and they beganto feed their young ones. The bear would have liked to go at once, butthe wolf held him back by the sleeve, and said: «No, you must waituntil the lord and lady Queen have gone away again.» So they tookstock of the hole where the nest lay, and trotted away. The bear,however, could not rest until he had seen the royal palace, andwhen a short time had passed, went to it again. The King and Queen hadjust flown out, so he peeped in and saw five or six young ones lyingthere. «Is that the royal palace?» cried the bear; «it is a wretchedpalace, and you are not King’s children, you are disreputablechildren!» When the young wrens heard that, they were frightfullyangry, and screamed: «No, that we are not! Our parents are honestpeople! Bear, you will have to pay for that!»

The bear and the wolf grew uneasy, and turned back and went intotheir holes. The young willow-wrens, however, continued to cry andscream, and when their parents again brought food they said: «We willnot so much as touch one fly’s leg, no, not if we were dying ofhunger, until you have settled whether we are respectable children ornot; the bear has been here and has insulted us!» Then the old Kingsaid: «Be easy, he shall be punished,» and he at once flew with theQueen to the bear’s cave, and called in: «Old Growler, why have youinsulted my children? You shall suffer for it—we will punish you by abloody war.» Thus war was announced to the Bear, and all four-footedanimals were summoned to take part in it, oxen, asses, cows, deer, andevery other animal the earth contained. And the willow-wren summonedeverything which flew in the air, not only birds, large and small, butmidges, and hornets, bees and flies had to come.

When the time came for the war to begin, the willow-wren sent out spiesto discover who was the enemy’s commander-in-chief. The gnat, who wasthe most crafty, flew into the forest where the enemy was assembled,and hid herself beneath a leaf of the tree where the password was to beannounced. There stood the bear, and he called the fox before him andsaid: «Fox, you are the most cunning of all animals, you shall begeneral and lead us.» «Good,» said the fox, «but what signal shall weagree upon?» No one knew that, so the fox said: «I have a fine longbushy tail, which almost looks like a plume of red feathers. When Ilift my tail up quite high, all is going well, and you must charge;but if I let it hang down, run away as fast as you can.» When the gnathad heard that, she flew away again, and revealed everything, down tothe minutest detail, to the willow-wren. When day broke, and the battlewas to begin, all the four-footed animals came running up with such anoise that the earth trembled. The willow-wren with his army also cameflying through the air with such a humming, and whirring, andswarming that every one was uneasy and afraid, and on both sides theyadvanced against each other. But the willow-wren sent down the hornet,with orders to settle beneath the fox’s tail, and sting with all hismight. When the fox felt the first string, he started so that helifted one leg, from pain, but he bore it, and still kept his tail highin the air; at the second sting, he was forced to put it down for amoment; at the third, he could hold out no longer, screamed, and puthis tail between his legs. When the animals saw that, they thoughtall was lost, and began to flee, each into his hole, and the birds hadwon the battle.

Then the King and Queen flew home to their children and cried:«Children, rejoice, eat and drink to your heart’s content, we have wonthe battle!» But the young wrens said: «We will not eat yet, the bearmust come to the nest, and beg for pardon and say that we arehonourable children, before we will do that.» Then the willow-wren flewto the bear’s hole and cried: «Growler, you are to come to the nestto my children, and beg their pardon, or else every rib of your bodyshall be broken.» So the bear crept thither in the greatest fear, andbegged their pardon. And now at last the young wrens were satisfied, andsat down together and ate and drank, and made merry till quite lateinto the night.

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