There is an old saying: Where the lion’s skin will not reach, there you must patch it out with the fox’s. One must admire the courage of the deep-roaring lion, and also the artful planning of the fox. However many foxes sow their own undoing, for they know too well that they are cunning, and from their pride they forget that there is such a thing as being too clever.
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There is a tale: An old peasant was working his field when a bear set upon him and roared, “I have come to eat you!” The peasant did not move, but calmly replied, “Do not do that, for I am planting turnips, and come the harvest I will take the roots and give you the tops.”
“As you like!” cried the bear, “But if you see fit to cheat me, do not dare come into my forest, for I shall be waiting there to break your bones.”
At harvest time, the peasant gathered his turnips, sliced their tops, and went to the forest to give them to the bear. The bear was pleased, but as the peasant turned to leave the bear said, “Old peasant, where are you taking the roots?” “To the city to sell them,” replied the peasant. “Let me try a root.” the bear demanded, and the peasant gives him one.
The bear tasted the turnip and roared, “You have cheated me, old man! The roots are sweet and generously filling, yet the leaves you have given me were only bitter. If you ever enter my forest again, I shall have your bones for a meal.”
The peasant hurried off with his cart, and sold his turnips at the marketplace. Soon after, winter arrived, and the peasant needed to gather wood. He delayed as long as he could, burning his shelves, his fence posts, and his chairs. He even burned the wooden barrel that he used as a bath tub. Finally there was no more delaying: He had to enter the woods.
The peasant entered the forest quietly with his ax and sled, but the fox noticed and called to him, “Why do you tiptoe about, old peasant?” “I am afraid if the bear hears me, he will break my bones.” “Leave that to me,” said the fox, “for I will make strange sounds like the hunters make, and if the bear appears, tell him they are the sounds of a bear hunt.”
The peasant began to slowly chop wood, but the bear soon appeared. “What is the meaning of this?" What are these sounds?” “It is a bear hunt.” replied the peasant. The bear’s hair stood on end. “Quickly!” he cried, “let me lay flat on your sled, and cover me with wood and tie me so that I look like a log. Then they will not notice me.” The peasant did this, but as soon as he was done tying the bear he struck the beast with his ax, and the bear was slain.
As the fox watched this happen, he said “Well, old peasant, my plan has worked. Now you must treat me to your hens.” The peasant replied “Please, little fox, come to my house. I shall indeed treat you.”
The fox, thinking of all the ways he might boast of his cleverness when he returned to the forest, did not care to notice that they were walking back through an open field, with not a lick of cover in sight. So proud in fact was the fox that he ran ahead of the peasant towards the house. But as soon as they were close, the peasant whistled for his dogs, which came running for the fox immediately. The fox found only a little hole to hide in, which was too small to conceal him. He cried to himself, “Oh, little eyes, you saw to it that I did not stumble, and little ears, you heard the dogs as soon as you could. But my tail! You scoundrel, it was your fault the dogs could see me.” And he threw up his tail out of the too-small hole. The dogs dragged out the fox by his tail, and ate him.
So it happens to many: Because of the tail’s doing, the head perishes. Consider it as I do, and live longer.
William Kirby, 1829