ONE summer’s day the bear and the wolf were walking in the forest, and the bear heard a bird singing very sweetly, and said: “Brother Wolf, what kind of bird is that which is singing so delightfully?”
“That is the King of the birds, before whom we must do reverence,” replied the wolf; but it was only the wren.
“If that be so,” said the bear, “I should like to see his royal palace; come, lead me to it.” “That cannot be as you like,” replied the wolf. “You must wait till the Queen returns.” Soon afterward the Queen arrived with some food in her bill, and the King, too, to feed their young ones, and the bear would have gone off to see them, but the wolf, pulling his ear, said: “No, you must wait till the Queen and the King are both off again.”
So, after observing well the situation of the nest, the two tramped off, but the bear had no rest, for he wished still to see the royal palace, and after a short delay he set off to it again. He found the King and Queen absent, and, peeping into the nest, he saw five or six young birds lying in it. “Is this the royal palace?” exclaimed the bear; “this miserable place! You are no King’s children, but wretched young vagabonds.” “No, no, that we are not!” burst out the little wrens together in a great passion, for to them this speech was addressed. “No, no, we are born of honorable parents, and you, Mr. Bear, shall make your words good!” At this speech the bear and the wolf were much frightened, and ran back to their holes; but the little wrens kept up an unceasing, clamor till their parents’ return. As soon as they came back with food in their mouths the little birds began, “We will none of us touch a fly’s leg, but will starve rather, until you decide whether we are fine and handsome children or not, for the bear has been here and insulted us!”
“Be quiet,” replied the King, “and that shall soon be settled.” And thereupon he flew with his Queen to the residence of the bear, and called to him from the entrance, “Old grumbler, why have you insulted my children? That shall cost you dear, for we will decide the matter by a pitched battle.”
War having thus been declared against the bear, all the four-footed beasts were summoned: the ox, the ass, the cow, the goat, the stag, and every animal on the face of the earth. The wren, on the other hand, summoned every flying thing; not only the birds, great and small, but also the gnat, the hornet, the bee, and the flies.
When the time arrived for the commencement of the war, the wren King sent out spies to see who was appointed commander-in-chief of the enemy. The gnat was the most cunning of all the army, and he, therefore, buzzed away into the forest where the enemy was encamped, and alighted on a leaf of the tree beneath which the watchword was given out. There stood the bear and called the fox to him, and said: “You are the most crafty of animals, so you must be general, and lead us on.” “Well,” said the fox, “but what sign shall we appoint?” Nobody answered. Then the fox said: “I have a fine long bushy tail, which looks like a red feather at a distance; if I hold this tail straight up, all is going well and you must march after me; but if I suffer it to hang down, run away as fast as you can.” As soon as the gnat heard all this she flew home and told the wren King everything to a hair.
When the day arrived for the battle to begin, the four-footed beasts all came running along to the field, shaking the earth with their roaring and bellowing. The wren King also came with his army, whirring and buzzing and humming enough to terrify any one out of his senses. Then the wren King sent the hornet forward to settle upon the fox’s tail and sting it with all his power. As soon as the fox felt the first sting he drew up his hind leg with the pain, still carrying, however, his tail as high in the air as before; at the second sting he was obliged to drop it a little bit; but at the third he could no longer bear the pain, but was forced to drop his tail between his legs. As soon as the other beasts saw this, they thought all was lost, and began to run each one to his own hole; so the birds won the battle without difficulty.
When all was over the wren King and his Queen flew home to their children, and cried out: “Rejoice! rejoice! we have won the battle; now eat and drink as much as you please.”
The young wrens, however, said: “Still we will not eat till the bear has come to our nest and begged pardon, and admitted that we are fine and handsome children.”
So the wren King flew back to the cave of the bear, and called out, “Old grumbler, you must come to the nest and beg pardon of my children for calling them wretched young brats, else your ribs shall be crushed in your body!”
In great terror the bear crept out and begged pardon; and afterward the young wrens, being now made happy in their minds, settled down to eating and drinking, and I am afraid they were over-excited and kept up their merriment far too late.