One day, the beasts of the forest and the beasts of the field, resolved to have a just ruler whom all would fear and obey, called a meeting in order to talk it over and decide who among them was to be made tsar. But the biggest and strongest of them having failed to appear, the whole thing came to nothing. It was then agreed that another meeting should be held and everyone, from the smallest to the biggest of the animals ordered to be present, that the matter in question might be settled once and for all.
On the appointed day they were all there without exception: the Elephant, the Lion, the Tiger, the Hippo, the Rhino, the Bear, the Wolf, the Deer, the Camel, the Fox, the Hare, the Wild Boar, the Zebra, the Goat, the Sheep, the Horse, the Cow, the Dog, the Cat, the Polecat, the Gopher, the Rat, the Mouse, and even the Ass.
The first to speak was the Deer who stepped forward and said:
Hear me, o lords of the forest, you who are big and strong, and do not take it ill that we who are small and humble should have asked you to come here! We wish to make one from among you tsar, for there is nothing this forest needs more than a ruler who is fair and just and who will enforce law and order.
The Elephant spoke next.
You are right. It is time we had a tsar, if only to prevent robbery and theft and bring wrongdoers to justice. But think well, all of you, and choose wisely. Now, I am the biggest and strongest among you and the natural choice for tsar, but it is for you to say whether you want me or not. Whatever you decide I will abide by.
The Lion was on his feet before the Elephant had finished speaking.
The Elephant to be made tsar? he cried. Ridiculous! He is far too clumsy and slow. Now, I am quick and strong, and handsome too, and know how to make others obey me, so what better tsar could you have?
He was about to go on when the Fox pushed forward suddenly through the circle of animals, and, jumping up onto a tree stump, said:
We all know that you, Lion, and you, Elephant, both want to become tsar, and we also know that either of you would make a worthy one. So, in order to avoid a quarrel between you, we had better not vote in your presence but remove ourselves some distance away.
The Fox's words were met with approval and shouts of Hear, hear!” and it was decided to do as he said. The Lion and Elephant stayed where they were while the others took themselves off to a different part of the forest.
But now a clamor arose, the weaker and more defenseless of the animals saying that they wanted the Elephant to be tsar, and the stronger ones insisting that the Lion would make a better one.
The Fox, afraid to anger the Lion, who had asked him to sway public opinion in his favor and had warned him that he would make him pay for it if he did not, spoke louder than any in his support. Jumping up onto a tree stump again so that all could see him, he said:
There are those among us who would vote for the Elephant. A mistake, I assure you. True, he is wise and strong, and neither feeds on flesh himself nor will let others do it. But he is clumsy and slow, and, knowing that he'll never be able to catch them, no foes of ours will fear him and will only do more mischief than ever. Vote for the Lion, everybody! He will make a perfect tsar. For he is as wise as the Elephant and nearly as strong, but, unlike him, so quick that even the devil himself could not run away from him.
There is much in what you say, Fox, the Deer ventured. But in order that none may have reason to complain, I suggest that we cast lots.”
A good idea! the others agreed. Only how do we go about it?
It's very simple. See that tree hollow over there? Well, he who is in favor of the Lion will throw a pea into it, and he who is in favor of the Elephant, an acorn.
Good! That's the way to do it!”
They gathered a heap of acorns and peas and mixed them together, and then the Fox stood up on his hind legs and cried:
Time to vote, everyone!
A line was quickly formed, and each of the animals in turn began going up to the heap of peas and acorns, picking up an acorn or a pea, depending on who it was he was voting for, and throwing it into the hollow. The beasts of prey voted for the Lion, and the animals who fed on grass, berries and roots, for the Elephant.
Now, the Fox, seeing that more peas than acorns were left in the heap, which meant that the voting was going in the Elephant's favor, stole up to the voters. He would wink at each as they bent over the heap, and if it was a little animal, whisper in his ear: Vote for the Lion! He'll squash you like a bug if you don’t. And all the little animals, who feared to make an enemy of the Lion, complied.
But the Fox did not stop at that. Glancing behind him to see that no one was looking, he scooped up a whole handful of peas and threw them into the hollow.
In the end, when the peas and acorns were counted, there proved to be an equal number of them.
Something is wrong here, friends,” said the Bear. We'll have to vote again and watch carefully to see that no one votes more than once.”
The Fox did not let him finish.
No, no, we mustn't vote a second time, it isn't done!” he cried. Let us rejoin the Lion and the Elephant and tell them that we were unable to choose between them. We can decide on the spot which of them is to be tsar.”
The animals did as the Fox said. They went back to where they had left the Lion and the Elephant and told them how the vote had gone. And the Fox stepped forward again, and, addressing the Lion and the Elephant, said:
My dear Mr. Lion, my dear Mr. Elephant, since no clear decision regarding you two has been reached, I propose that you run a race and that the winner be made tsar.”
Preposterous! Not to be thought of!” said the Elephant. I cannot run fast, nor, to my mind, does a tsar need to run fast. All that is asked of him is that he rule wisely and justly. And if one of his subjects commits an offense and runs away, he can always send another to catch him.
Oh, well, if you don't like to run, you can jump,” the Fox said. He who jumps the higher will be made tsar.”
No, I will not jump either, I am far too heavy,” the Elephant said. Well, then, let the Lion be tsar!” those who favored the Lion cried. Not that I mind, but it wouldn't be fair!” the Elephant brought out. What the Lion can do I cannot do, and what I can do he cannot do. But we could fight it out, though. Now, what do you say to that?”
A good idea!” said the Fox, who had thought of a way of tricking the Elephant. But not now. We're all tired and hungry now. Better put it off till tomorrow morning. And we won't come to watch you, the rest of us, I mean. We'll come later, to see who has won.”
To this they all agreed, and the meeting broke up.
Night came, and the Elephant felt sleepy. He went to the forest, leaned against an oak tree and dozed away. Elephants always sleep standing up, for if they were to lie down they would be unable to get up again by themselves.
Now, the Fox had been watching from afar, and, seeing that the Elephant was asleep, ran to tell the Lion about it.
Come quickly, Mr. Lion, there's no time to be lost, he said. The Elephant is asleep and you can well get the better of him.”
How can I do that? the Lion asked. He's sure to wake if I try to kill him.”
No, no, I did not mean for you to kill him. I have something else in mind. You see, he always leans against a tree when he sleeps. So what the two of us can do is chew through the tree. The tree will fall, the Elephant with it, and, seeing him stretched out on the ground, the others will believe us when we say that you won the fight.
A good idea! Only we'll never fell the tree before morning by ourselves, we'll only get a toothache. You must go and get someone to help us.
Away ran the Fox, but he was back soon bringing twelve Wolves. They chewed away at the oak tree, they chewed and they chewed, but it was dawn, and the tree still stood.
Something had to be done, for it was getting lighter and the Elephant could be expected to wake any minute.
The Fox thought it over, and then he called three Bears and said to them:
Mr. Elephant, who is to be our tsar, found some honey in the hollow of that oak tree yonder, and told me to tell you just before he went to sleep to get it for him, for he wants it for his breakfast. You must do as he bade or he'll punish you.”
The Bears were only too glad to oblige and began climbing the tree. And the Fox who stood there watching them, pointed to a rook's nest high up in the tree and called, trying to keep his voice low:
The hollow's up there, Bears!
The Bears climbed to the very top of the tree, and lo! – it creaked and groaned and went down with a crash, and it brought them down with it and killed them. The Elephant too fell down. He lay on the ground, his legs up in the air, and could not move!
The other animals had had their breakfast by then and now came running up. They looked, and there was the Elephant stretched out on the ground with the Lion standing over him, and the Fox a few steps away.
See how strong Mr. Lion is! said the Fox, twirling his tail. Not •only did he get the better of Mr. Elephant, but brought down this tree as well! A good strong tree like that, and it cracked and fell! And see those three Bears? They tried to stand up for Mr. Elephant, but Mr. Lion hurled them from him with such force that they were killed on the spot.
The animals shook with fear.
Let the Lion be tsar! they cried with one voice.
And so it was that the Lion became tsar, and he made the Wolf, Governor o/ the Plains, the Tiger, Governor of the Forests, and the Fox, Governor of the Fields.
The three governors thanked the Lion and went off with him, and the other animals stood there and said:
Why should those three have been honored so? There are many who deserve it far more.
Something is very wrong indeed, said the Deer. I'm sure the Lion got the better of the Elephant by cunning and that the Fox was behind it. And of course the Wolves helped the Lion too, to get into his good graces. It's different with the Tiger. He is big and strong and is a good choice for governor. And the Lion could not pass him up for he would have found a way of revenging himself on him. He is quite as strong as the Lion, and the Lion knows it!
You are right, said the Bear. We have all been tricked, the Elephant and my three brothers with the rest of us. I’m certain they were the ones to have brought down the tree. Paid with their lives for it, too, poor things!
They did, and that's a fact! the others cried. But the words died on their lips when they saw the Fox coming toward them.
Silence!” hissed the Fox. We'll be in trouble if anyone overhears you.
He came nearer, and they bowed and curtsied in greeting.
Why have you all gathered here? he asked. Not plotting a revolt, are you?
Oh, no! We were only talking about yesterday. Such a happy day! The Lord be thanked for sending us so wise a tsar and such excellent governors!
All right, then. But you are not to gather in such numbers for whatever reason. Secret meetings are forbidden by law.
From then on the animals kept apart from one another. Those who fed on grass and roots led peaceful lives and touched no one, but the beasts of prey molested the weak and helpless and did much mischief, and in order to clear themselves of blame, declared that whatever they did they did not of their own free will but because it was demanded of them. And whenever the Lion asked one or the other of them to explain why they had killed a hare or some other small animal, their answer was that they had only done so because the hare had made fun of them or else had plotted to kill them. The Lion believed these lies and rewarded his governors for their faithful service.
And so it went.
One day, tiring of his diet of mice and other small animals, for what else was there to be found in the fields, and eager to try chicken or goose for a change, the Fox went to see the Lion.
If it please Your Majesty, I should like to be relieved of the post of Governor of the Fields,” he said. It is my humble wish to be put in charge of the henhouses, for I want to protect the chickens from robbers and thieves.
Did you say chickens? asked the Lion, surprised. But my powers do not extend that far. Chickens are birds, and birds have their own tsar. Who, may I ask, are these robbers and thieves you mention?
Polecats and rats, Your Majesty. They keep killing hens and chickens all the time. A rooster told me about it. He said everyone was laughing at Your Majesty for allowing such tiny creatures to rob and pillage.”
The Lion believed the Fox and gave him the post he sought.
The Fox was overjoyed. He made off for the village in great haste, and as soon as it was dark paid his charges a visit. From that day on he did this every day and would kill two or three chickens every time.
But one day the farmer who owned one of the henhouses and had been sitting in wait for him caught him red handed. The Fox had only just crept into the henhouse and gone after the chickens when the man seized him by the tail and gave him such a beating that it left him more dead than alive. Then the man tied a rope round his tail, hanged him from a fence post and went to bed.
By and by, the Fox, having revived a little, began straining and tugging at the rope, but as it did not give, sank his teeth into his tail, and, hard as the pain was to bear, bit it off. Once free, he took to his heels and made for the open field.
What am I going to do?” he asked himself. How will I show myself to the others? They will refuse to obey me. And they'll laugh at me behind my back. Not that I care! It's the Lion I'm worried about. What will I tell him if he asks about my tail? A governor without a tail – why, I'll never live down the shame of it! Better for the man to have killed me than this!.. Ah, well, there is nothing to be done! I'll have to live out my life somehow. I think I'll go to the Hare's house and stay there till my wound heals.”
And this decided upon, he made straight for the Hare's house.
Let me in for the night, Hare!” he called. I will do you a good turn too some day!”
I can't let you in, there isn't room enough for anyone but my children in the house,” the Hare replied.
Open up, I tell you!” the Fox called, more loudly now. Don't you knoyr who I am? I am the Governor of the Fields and Supervisor of the Henhouses. The tsar himself put me in charge of them.”
The Hare was frightened and opened the door, and the Fox came inside, and, pushing the Hare's children off the bed, curled himself up on it. The Hare said nothing, for he did not like to anger him.
By and by the Hare went oufc to fetch his children some food, and the Fox, who was beginning to feel very hungry by then, seized one of them and ate it up.
The Hare came back, and lo! – one of his children w^s gone.
Where is my little one, Your Honor? asked he of the Fox.
How dare you ask me about your brats, I am not their nursemaid!- the Fox shouted. You have about a hundred of them, so don't expect me to keep count of them. And pray behave yourself if you don't want the tsar to punish you!
The Hare left the hut, and, the tears streaming from his eyes, went off to find some food for his children again. He was back soon, and lo! – another of his children was gone. He said nothing to the Fox about it, fed his remaining children, and went outside. He stood there and wept, and another Hare, a neighbor of his, who happened to be passing by, saw him and asked why he was crying.
How can I help it! the first Hare replied. Mr. Fox is living in my house and eating up my children, and I dare not say a word, for he threatens to tell the tsar about me.”
Why don't you complain to the tsar yourself?
What good will it do! No complaint coming from the likes of us will ever reach him, his hangers-on will see to it. They are all hand in glove with the Fox and will side with him. No one will say a word in my defense.
The second Hare went away, and the first Hare returned to his house. He opened the door, and oh, horror of horrors! – every last one of his children was gone. Fearing to so much as show himself to the Fox, he went back to the field, sat down on the ground and began to cry. Now, a Wolf happened to be passing by just then and he saw him and asked why he was crying.
How can I help it! the Hare replied. The Fox got into my house and ate up all my children, and I am afraid to so much as show my face inside, for he might eat me up too.
Do not be sad, Hare, I’ll come with you and drive him out.
They went back to the house, and the Wolf came up to the door and called:
Come out of the house, whoever you are, and leave the Hare in peace!
I am the Governor of the Fields! Who dares to speak so to me? the Fox called back.
Oh, so it's you, Fox, the Wolf said. You should be ashamed of yourself treating the poor Hare so badly! I too am a governor, the Governor of the Plains, and I order you to leave his house at once. If you don’t, I will go to the tsar and tell him what you have done.
I doubt that he'll be greatly pleased.
My affairs are no concern of yours, Wolf, so don't interfere! said the Fox.
The Wolf, angered at having been talked to in this uncivil way, went to see the tsar.
It is my painful duty, Your Majesty, to inform you that the Fox has robbed the henhouses, said he. Instead of protecting the chickens he ate them up. The Hare too has suffered at his hands. The Fox took over his house and killed his children and nearly killed the Hare as well.
I told him to leave the poor thing alone, but he said it was none of my or anyone else’s business and that he would do whatever he had a mind to.
The Lion heard out the Wolf and instructed him to send the Deer with a summons to the Fox to present himself at court where he would be tried and punished.
Hearing what he was wanted for, the Fox began to think what to do, and it was only when he had thought of a way of mollifying the Lion that he set out for the palace. The Lion was apprised of his coming and ordered him to be ushered into his presence.
What is this I hear about you behaving in this unlawful manner? he roared. How dared you treat the Hare so? How dared you eat up the
chickens and put the blame for it on others?
The Fox saw that the Lion was in no jesting mood. He fell on his knees before him and bowed his head.
Wait, I pray you, Your Majesty, let me speak in my defense! he cried.
Your Majesty, I can well imagine what the Wolf in his spite said to you about me. But, Your Majesty, believe me, it is he who is the culprit and not I. It was he who ate up the Hare's children, and when I tried to stand up for the Hare he bit off my tail. Just see what dishonor he has brought upon me! A Fox without a tail, Your Majesty, – how will I ever live down the shame of it! And now he is trying to make me shoulder all the blame!”
For a minute the Lion was lost in thought.
It's regretful, of course, and I can well understand you,' said he.
But don't expect me to keep you on as governor, I am putting you in charge of the palace guard instead. The Wolf shall be punished as he deserves.
He sent for the Wolf and himself began to think the matter over. He was not sure which of the two was the culprit, the Fox or the Wolf, but felt that both were lying. One of them deserved to die, but the question was which one? The Fox was a rascal, of course, but how could he punish him when it was through his wiles that he had been made tsar in the first place! Now, to the Wolf he owed far less. For while it was true that he had helped fell the oak tree, any fool could have done as much!
It was thus the Lion reasoned, and when the Wolf was brought into his presence he seized him with his paws and crushed him to death.
When the other wolves learnt about it they were beside themselves with rage and thirsted for vengeance. The Fox had to be made to pay for the death of their brother and so had the Lion, and war seemed the only way. They gathered into packs and attacked the foxes in their homes, plundering and pillaging and killing and showing no mercy to young or old.
Now, this might never have had an end had not the farmers grown weary of losing their chickens, lambs and calves and resolved to round up the thieves. They trapped the Lion and caged him, and they gave the wolves a beating, which so frightened the other animals that they hid themselves wherever they could, After that, order was restored in the countryside, and they all lived in peace again.