The Tom-Tit And The Bear
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ONE summer day, as the wolf and the bear were walking together in a wood, they heard a bird singing most delightfully.
‘Brother,’ said the bear, ‘what can that bird be that is singing so sweetly?’
said the wolf, ‘that is his majesty the king of the birds, we must take care to show him all possible respect’ (Now I should tell you that this bird was after all no other than the tom tit.) ‘If that is the case,’ said the bear, ‘I should like to see the royal palace; so pray come ‘along aid show it to me.’
‘Gently, my friend,’ said the wolf; ‘we cannot see it just yet, we must wait till the queen comes home.’
Soon afterwards the queen came with food in her beak, and she and the king began to feed their young ones.
‘Now for it!’
said the bear; and was about to follow them, to see what was to be seen.
‘Stop a little, master Bruin,’ said the wolf, ‘we must wait now till their majesties are gone again.’
So they marked the hole where they had seen the nest, and went away.
But the bear, being very eager.
to see the royal palace, soon came back again, and peeping into the nest, saw five or six young birds lying at the bottom of it.
‘What nonsense I’ said Bruin, ‘this is not a royal palace: I never saw such a filthy place in my life; and you are no royal children, you little base-born brats!’
As soon as the young tom-tits beard this they were very angry, and screamed out, ‘We are not base-born, you stupid bear! our father and mother are honest good sort of people: and depend upon It you shall suffer for your insolence!’
At this the wolf and the bear grew frightened, and ran away to their dens.
But the young tom-tits kept crying and screaming; and when their father and mother came home and offered them food, they all said, ‘We will not touch a bit; no, not the leg of a fly, though we should die of hunger, till that rascal Brain has been punished for calling us base-born brats.’
‘Make yourselves easy, my darlings,’ said the old king, ‘you may be sure he shall meet with his deserts?’
So he went out and stood before the bear's den, and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Bruin the bear! thou hast shamefully insulted our lawful children: we therefore hereby declare bloody and cruel war against thee and thine, which shall never cease until thou hast been punished as thou so richly deservest.’
Now when the bear heard this, lie called together the ox, the ass, the stag, and all the beasts of the earth, in order to consult about the means of his defence.
And the tom-tit also enlisted on his side all the birds of the air, both great and small, and a very large army of hornets, gnats, bees, and flies, and other insects.
As the time approached when the war was to begin, the tom-tit sent out spies to see who was the commander-in-chief of the enemy's forces; and the gnat, who was by far the cleverest spy of them all, flew backwards and forwards in the wood where the enemy's troops were, and at last hid himself under a leaf on a tree, close by which the orders of the day were given out.
And the bear, who was standing so near the tree that the gnat could hear all he said, called to the fox and said, ‘Reynard, you are the cleverest of all the beasts; therefore you shall be our general and lead us to battle: but we must first agree upon some signal, by which we may know what you want us to do.’
‘Behold,’ said the fox, ‘I have a fine, long, bushy tail, which is very like a plume of red feathers, and gives me a very warlike air : now remember, when you see me raise up my tail, you may be sure that the battle is won, and you have then nothing to do but to rush down upon the enemy with all your force.
On the other hand, if I drop my tail, the day is lost, and you must run away as fast as you can.’
Now when the gnat had heard all this, she flew back to the tom-tit and told him every thing that had passed.
At length the day came when the battle was to be fought; and as soon as it was light, behold! the army of beasts came rushing forward with such a fearful sound that the earth shook.
And his majesty the tom-tit, with his troops, came flying along in warlike array, flapping and fluttering, and beating the air, so that it was quite frightful to hear; and both armies set themselves in order of battle upon the field.
Now the tom-tit gave orders to a troop of hornets that at the first onset they should march straight towards Captain Reynard, and fixing themselves about his tail, should sting him with all their might and main.
The hornets did as they were told: and when Reynard felt the first sting, he started aside and shook one of his legs, but still held up his tail with wonderful bravery; at the second sting he was forced to drop his tail for a moment; but when the third hornet had fixed itself, he could bear it no longer, but clapped his tail between his legs and scampered away as fast as he could.
As soon as the beasts saw this, they thought of course all was lost, and scoured across the country in the greatest dismay, leaving the birds masters of the field.
And now the king and queen flew back in triumph to their children, and said, ‘Now, children, eat, drink, and be merry, for the victory is ours!’
But the young birds said, ‘No: not till Bruin has humbly begged our pardon for calling us base-born.’
So the king flew back to the bear's den, and cried out, ‘Thou villain bear! come forthwith to my abode, and humbly beseech my children to forgive thee the insult thou hast offered them; for, if thou wilt not do this, every bone in thy wretched body shall be broken to pieces.’
So the bear was forced to crawl out of his den very sulkily, and do what the king bade him: and after that the young birds sat down together, and ate and drank and made merry till midnight.