The Wolf and the Fox had so much in common that they were like brothers.
They both loved to steal and to hunt, but given the choice, they always prefer to steal. These two strong-pawed bandits of the animal world lived together in one den. But the Wolf was far bigger and more powerful than the Fox, and he thought himself to be the better of the pair. The Fox, though smaller, knew that he was much smarter than the Wolf, and he resented the way that the Wolf always acted like he was the big boss.
One day, as they sat in the sun outside their cave, the Fox said to the Wolf: “My friend, you are like a brother to me so let me give you some kind advice. Mend your ways; be a bandit no more; do not steal from the man again.”
The Wolf turned his great head to his friend, and lifted up one shaggy ear. The Fox went on: “I know how you love to creep into man’s vineyard, dig up his vines, and eat his grapes. I know how you like to jump into his fields and steal his lambs. I also see how he hates you for this, and how he is planning your destruction. You would be wise to fear him for he is full of cunning. He knows how to shoot birds down from the sky, how to lift fish from the water, how to burn wood, and how to cut up rocks, and steal from him no more. Someone that smart is bound to out-wit one like you eventually. So do as I advise: Make peace with man, and steal from him no more.”
The Wolf listened, and he did not welcome these words, for he felt deep down that the Fox was insulting him. Did he mean to hint that he was not that smart? Or at any rate, he realised that the Fox thought himself to be far cleverer than him. And so he lifted up his great paw, and punched his friend hard in the face. The poor animal went rolling over and over and was quite stunned. When he staggered back to his feet the Wolf growled at him: “It is not for you to advise your betters.”
It took the Fox a moment or two to recover himself. When he could manage a smile he said softly: “Of course, you are right brother Wolf, forgive me. I am full of regret for my sin against you, whom I love more than any other creature in the world.”
And the Wolf looked him up and down, saw that the Fox was fittingly afraid of him, and added in a stern voice: “Learn from this lesson. Don’t poke your nose into other people’s business.”
The Fox bowed his head and said: “To hear your voice is to obey, my brother.”
“That’s more like it,” said the Wolf. “At least those were wise words said in the right place.”
“Oh yes,” said the Fox, more humbly than ever. “As the poet once said, the blow of a teacher is at first hurtful, but in the end it is sweeter than honey.”
And from that time on, he was always careful to show the Wolf the greatest respect, and to flatter him whenever possible. But inwardly he despised him, and was looking for the chance to take his revenge.
The months passed, and the Wolf forgot all about the incident, but the Fox did not.
One day, he was skulking along the wall of the vineyard, looking for a way to sneak in and steal some grapes, when he found a hole large enough for a fox – even for a wolf – to creep through.
At first he was delighted, and then he thought to himself: “This is too good to be true. I think man is plotting something here.” And he stretched through the hole and gently tapped the ground on the other side with his paw. It was just as he thought. The man had laid sticks and leaves across a deep pit. It was a trap to catch a thief.
“Yeah, that I have found this cunning trap!” said the Fox happily. “And may my enemy the Wolf fall straight into it!” And he ran back to the den with a spring in his step.
“Good news,” he said as the Wolf was just shaking off his sleep. “I have found an easy way into the vineyard. You can sneak in and fill your belly with man’s juicy grapes. The ripe fruit is shining on the vines, ready for you to eat.”
The Wolf had no reason to doubt the Fox’s words, and he went trotting off to the vineyard in search of a delicious and easy breakfast. He found the hole in the wall, just where the Fox had told him to look, and he easily crawled through it – but on the other side he fell through the sticks and leaves and tumbled straight down into the trap.
The Fox saw his friend’s misfortune, and he was jubilant. “At last fortune has taken pity on me! Greed has pulled the Wolf down to his doom!”
And with tears in his eyes, he peered over the edge of the pit and saw the sorrowful Wolf looking up at him:
“My one true friend,” said the Wolf, “I see that you are crying for me.”
“No! Not one bit!” laughed the Fox. “I am crying because I am thinking how long you lived before this day, and I am sad because you didn’t fall into this deep hole sooner.”
These cruel words stunned and hurt the Wolf even more than his fall had done.
Quite shocked, he replied: “Have mercy on your brother. Go and speak to my mother. She will know what to do and will bring help.”
But the Fox was quite unmoved by the Wolf’s plea. He snarled up his muzzle to show his yellow teeth and said: “You silly, witless beast, why should I help you who have been a tyrant over me?”
“But, but” pleaded the Wolf, “you have always protested your love for me. You have sworn to be my servant. You have promised to look after me, even in my old age. How can you turn against me like this?”
“Oh you deluded, self-deceiving fool,” jeered the Fox. “That was my fear talking, not my heart. In truth I despise you for you are a bully and a brute.”
Still unable to fully believe these words, the Wolf, half thinking that his friend was joking, said: “I pray, do not speak to me with the tongue of an enemy. Do not look at me with the eyes of a foe. For the wise poet spoke well when he said: ‘Forgiveness is noble, and kindness is the best of treasures.”
“Oh now you beg and scrape,” said the Fox. “But that is only because you are down there in the dark hole, and I am up here in the sun.”
“If you rescue me from this pit, I shall repent my ways!” howled the Wolf. But the Fox just laughed at him.
And at last the Wolf realised that his former friend truly did despise him, that there was no hope in him helping him, and all was lost. He began to weep and howl more piteously than ever.
Now, even the Fox had a place in his heart that was not either filled with hatred or cunning, At last he was moved by the fate of the Wolf. He went over to the hole and said: “My friend. Why are you crying so? I was only joking when I said those words. Here, pull on my tail and heave yourself out.” And so saying he dangled his red bushy tail into the hole for the Wolf to take hold of.
But the Wolf, full of dumb desire for revenge, did not make use of the tail to save himself. Instead, he seized it and pulled the Fox down into the hole with him growling triumphantly: “So now you have fallen into the snare of your own intent, you traitor, and in it, you shall share my fate!”
The Fox, full of fear, began to beg and scrape: “Oh brave and powerful master, do not strike me now, or you will not benefit from my plan and we shall both die here. Is it not better that we should both save ourselves?”
The Wolf, already feeling a little calmer, began to regret that he had not saved himself when he had the chance, and he asked: “And how exactly do you propose to save us?”
“Easy,” said the Fox. “Lift me up on your head, and I can scramble out of this pit. I will run and fetch a vine to use as a rope to help you climb out.”
But the Wolf shook his shaggy head and said: “Oh Fox, I respect you for never giving up, but I am not the fool you take me to be. As the poet said, “The worst of enemies is your nearest friend. Greet him with a smiling face, but be ready to do battle with him.” And that is why I do not trust your words. No. It would be a bad thing for me to die here alone. You shall wait here with me, and we shall die together when the man comes and finds us trapped here.”
“Wise words,” said the Fox. “But not for every case. It cannot be right to always be suspicious. Trust is the glue of friendship. Without trust, each one of us is on his own. Without trust there can be no working together. The choice is yours, trust me or die. What have you to lose? For if you do not trust me, your number’s up anyway.”
Now the Wolf, who of course did hope to live, saw that he had little to lose by helping the Fox, and he lifted him up on his head. The Fox grasped at the edge of the hole with his claws, got a hold of a vine, and scrambled up into the daylight.
“Be sure to keep your word,” called up the Wolf. “Run and fetch that rope and pull me out.”
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” cried the Fox. “Not a chance! If I help you out, you will take your revenge and kill me.” And he ran off up the hill towards the village. There he started to make a great noise, so much so that the man came out holding a rake in his hand. He saw the Fox and started to chase him. The Fox turned and ran, meaning to lead him to the pit where he would find the Wolf and kill him. But as he ran, the Fox thought: “Is it not sad that we are all alone in this world, and can trust no one.”
And when he reached the pit, he dangled his tail down into the hole once again and said: “Wolf, quick, pull yourself out by my tail. If you drag me down into the pit once again, we are both dead because the man is no more than a minute away. Be wise. See that we are joined together by our common enemy. Either we live or die together.”
And the Wolf, seeing that he had but one chance to live, pulled himself out by the Fox’s tail and ran for the woods. The Fox ran too, but in a different direction, because he did not wish to debate trust and suspicion with the Wolf again. There was too much danger in that discussion.