Two Romanian Folk Tales
Adapted by George Stanculescu
From the collection of Ioan Creanga
Why the Bear Has no Tail
Once upon a time there was a cunning fox, as all foxes are. He had roamed all night hoping to find some food, but all his efforts were in vain. At dawn he went to the roadside and lay exhausted under a shrub. While resting there, nose on his forelegs, he smelled fish. This made him raise his head and look down the road. What he saw was a peasant with his ox-cart slowly coming along.
“That’s fine!” thought the fox. “Here comes my meal!” Instantly he slid out of the bush and lay down limp in the middle of the road, as if he were dead.
When he passed by, the peasant thought the fox dead, and stopped his oxen. “Poor fox!” muttered he. “I feel sorry your end came this way, but on the other hand, I am glad my wife can have a nice coat out of your shiny fur.” He took hold of the fox and threw him on the wagon, on top of some baskets well filled with fresh fish. Then he urged his oxen faster, eager to get home and skin the fox.
But as soon as the cart moved on the fox tore open one of the baskets and began to throw fish onto the road. Thus, facing an icy wind, the peasant urged his oxen, the old cart squeaked and wobbled, and fish falling behind on the lonely road.
Soon the fox jumped off and hurriedly went back, picking up the fish. Then he took it to his lair and began to eat, for he was hungry indeed.
He hadn’t quite finished his meal, when a bear walked in. “Good appetite to you,” my good friend. “But where did you get all that fine fish?”
“Caught it myself.”
“I wish I could get some.”
“If you really want fish,” said the fox, “go tonight to the big pond beyond the hill, dip your tail in the water and stand still until morning. Then pull hard toward the bank. In that way you will haul out a heavy load of fish. The longer you stay there, still as a mouse, the more fish will hang on your tail. That’s the way I caught mine.”
The bear left immediately and went to the lucky spot and as soon as evening came put his tail in the water.
That night a blizzard began to blow. It was so cold it could have frozen the tongue in one’s mouth. The water froze hard and held the bears tail as if caught in a vise. However he stood still and suffered, mindful of the fish he hoped to take home in the morning. But in the end, unable to stand the grip any longer, he twitched and pulled as hard as he could. The result was that the poor fool, instead of catching fish, lost his tail.
Now he started to growl and jump in great pain. Enraged at the fox, he went to give him a good beating. But the sly adviser knew what was bound to come and had prepared to avoid punishment. He had come out of his lair and crept into the hollow of a tree.
When the tailless bear came in sight the fox loudly called to him, “What did you do with your tail, my greedy friend? It seems you wanted to take home all the fish that big pond held.”
Surely that was adding insult to injury. The bear dashed madly at the sheltering tree only to find out that the entrance was too small for him. Then looking around he found a long stick hooked at one end. He used that weapon in trying to get the fox out. But when the bear got hold of his foot the fox would say, “Pull as hard as you like, for your hook has hold of the tree.” Likewise when the pole was hooking the inside of the tree he would cry out, “Please, please, let my poor foot loose!”
Vainly the bear tried to get the fox out. He was too stupid for this job. In the end he had to give up the idea of revenge and admit he was fated to be forever a blockhead, forever without a tail.
A Lazy Man
There once lived a very lazy man in a far-away village. He was so sluggish he didn’t even bother to chew his food. Seeing his dislike for work, the citizens decided to hang him so that other lazy people would learn a lesson. Thus two peasants from amongst them went to the man’s house, put him on an ox-cart, and took the gallows’ road. Such was the custom in those old days.
On the way to the execution place the three wayfarers met a fancy carriage in which rode a kind lady. She asked if the man lying flat on the cart wasn’t ill and whether they were taking him to a hospital.
“No, madam!” answered one of the peasants. “We are taking him to the gallows instead, because he is lazy, a public charge and a big nuisance.”
“It’s a pity for him to die like a dog!” spoke up the lady. “If he’s a burden on the village, why don’t you take him to my villa on that slope to the right? I have there a storeroom filled with hard biscuits which I save for famine years. He could eat of them and live around my summer house as best he could, without having to do any work.”
“Do you hear, sluggard?” asked the other peasant. “That’s the chance of your life. Jump off the wagon and give thanks to the lady!”
“But would there be someone to moisten the biscuits for me?” mumbled the lazy man without even turning his head.
“What did he say?” inquired the lady.
“He asks whether you wouldn’t serve him the biscuits already soaked in water,” explained the same man.
“But this is terrible!” said the woman. “Can’t he himself do the soaking as he eats them?”
“What do you say, big fellow?” asked the driver. “Would you agree to moisten the biscuits?”
“No!” answered the lazy man. “Rather move on to the gallows. Why should I go to so much trouble for this mouth of mine?”
(From “The New Pioneer,” pages 13-14, January, 1945.)
George Stanculeseu, a graduate of Western Reserve University’s Cleveland College, had been for many years editor-in-chief of “America,” Romanian daily of Cleveland. He is the author of numerous articles on Romanian folklore. He lives in Cleveland.