Once upon a time a sly fox lived in a deep forest which bordered a river. One fine winter day he was lying in the sun near a brush heap with his eyes closed, and he was thinking: “It has been several days since I had a dainty supper. How I should enjoy a fine large fish this evening. I’ll slip over to the edge of the forest and watch the fishermen as they go home with their day’s catch. Perhaps good luck will do something for me.”
Now one old man had caught a very fine lot of fish of all sizes. Indeed, he had so many that he was obliged to hire a cart in which to carry them home. He was driving along slowly when suddenly he noticed a red fox crouched under the bush near the road. He stopped his horse, jumped down from the cart, and carefully crept near the spot where he had seen Master Reynard. The fox, Master Reynard, did not open his eyes or move a muscle.
“Well,” said the old fisherman, “I do believe he is dead! What a fine coat he has. I will take him home and give him to my wife for a present.” He lifted the fox and put him into the cart among the fish. The old man then got on his seat and drove merrily on, thinking how pleased his wife would be with the fine fish and the fox. When they were well on their way, the sly fox threw one fish after another out of the cart until they all lay scattered along on the road; then he slipped out of the cart.
When the old man reached his cottage, he called out to his wife, “Come and see the fine fish I caught today. And I have brought you a beautiful gift, also.”
His wife hurried to the cart and said, “Where are the fish, my husband, and where is my present?”
“Why, there in the cart,” he replied.
“In the cart!” exclaimed his wife. “Why, there is nothing here; neither fish nor present, so far as I can see.”
The old man looked and to his great surprise and disappointment he discovered that what his wife said was true.
Meanwhile, the sly fox had gathered up the fish and had taken them to the forest in order to enjoy a fine supper. Soon he heard a pleasant voice saying, “Good evening, Brother Reynard.”
He looked up and saw his friend Bruin. “Oh, good evening to you,” answered the fox. “I have been fishing today, and, as you see, luck certainly found me.”
“It did, indeed,” answered the bear. “Could you not spare me one fish? I should consider the gift a great favor.”
“Oh,” answered the fox, “why don’t you go fishing yourself? I assure you when one becomes a fisherman, he thoroughly enjoys the fruits of patience.”
“Go fishing, my friend,” said Bruin, in astonishment. “That is impossible. I know nothing about catching fish, I assure you.”
“Pah, it is very easy, especially in the winter time when ice nearly covers the river. Let me tell you what to do. Make a hole in the ice and stick your tail down into it. Hold it there just as long as you can and keep saying, ‘Come, little fish; come, big fish.’ Don’t mind if the tail smarts a little; that only means that you will have a bite, and I assure you the longer you hold it there the more fish you will catch. Then all at once, out with your tail. Give a strong pull sideways, then upward, and you’ll have enough fish to last you several days. But mind you, follow my directions closely.”
“Oh, my friend, I am very grateful for your kind information,” said Bruin, and off he went to the river where he proceeded to follow Master Fox’s directions.
In a short time sly Reynard passed by, and he saw Bruin patiently sitting on the ice with his tail in a hole. The fox laughed until his sides ached. He said, wickedly, under his breath: “A clear sky, a clear sky! Bruin’s tail will freeze, Bruin’s tail will freeze.”
“What did you say, my friend?” asked the bear.
“Oh, I was making a wish,” replied the fox.
All night long Bruin sat there, fishing patiently. Then he decided to go home. How very heavy his tail felt. He thought to himself that all the fish in the river must be fastened there. In a little while the women of the village came to get water from the river, and when they saw the bear, they called out at the top of their voices: “Come, come! A bear, a bear! Catch him! Catch him!”
The men came quickly with great sticks in their hands. Poor Bruin gave a short pull sideways and his tail snapped off short. He made off to the woods as fast as he could go, but to this day the bears go about with a stumpy tail.