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A Byelorussian Folk Tale
Translated by Irina Zheleznova
Illustrated by Y.Rachov
Rumour has it that in olden times only the Lion, the tsar of the beasts, had a tail. None of the other animals, wild or tame, had one and it was a poor life they led. They got along somehow in winter but when summer came, the flies and midges gave them no peace, for they could not chase them off! Many were the animals bitten to death by gadflies and breezes. Once they fell on them there was just nothing they could do to save themselves.
Now, the Lion learned of this and, wishing to help them, sent out a summons for all the animals to come to him that he might present them with tails.
The Tsar's messengers rushed to all ends of the realm. Like the wind they flew, on the trumpets they blew, and they beat on a drum dum-dee-dum! They saw the Wolf and they told him of the Tsar's summons. They saw the Bull and the Badger and they told them about it. And they called the Fox, the Marten, the Hare, the Elk, the Wild Boar and even the Bear whom they found in his lair fast asleep and had to shake awake.
But whoever heard of the Bear hurrying! He went along slowly, tramp-a-tramp, a single step at a time, letting his gaze stray to all sides of him, and kept sniffing the air. All of a sudden he looked, and there before him, in the hollow of a lime-tree, he saw a beehive.
"The road to the Tsar’s palace is long," said the Bear to himself. "I had better have something to eat to help me along."
And he climbed the tree and found the hollow as full of honey as could be! With a growl of delight he began scraping it out and cramming himself full. By and by, feeling that he had had enough, he looked at himself and found that his coat was all sticky with honey and pieces of honeycomb.
"How can I show myself to the Tsar now?" the Bear asked himself.
He went to the river, washed his coat and lay down on a hillside to dry. And the sun was so warm that before he knew where he was he was fast asleep and snoring gently.
Meanwhile the animals were beginning to gather at the Lion's palace. The first to come was the Fox. She looked around her, and there, in front of the palace, she saw a whole heap of tails long and short ones, bushy and hairless ones. The Fox bowed to the Lion.
"O most Radiant Majesty!" said she. "I was the first to come at your call, and so I beg you to allow me to take for myself the tail I like best."
Now, the Lion cared not a whit which tail the Fox would get.
"Very well, said he, you may choose a tail to your liking."
So the Fox, who was very sly, went through the whole heap of tails, and, choosing the most beautiful one of all, rushed away with it before the Tsar had had time to think better of his generosity.
Soon afterwards the Squirrel came hopping up, and she picked herself a tail that was quite as fine as the Fox's but smaller. The next to come was the Marten, and he too made off with a handsome, bushy tail.
The Elk picked the longest of the tails with a thick brush at the end of it with which to wave away the gadflies and breezes, and the Badger took one that was broad and thick.
The Horse chose a tail that was all hair and nothing much else. He stuck it on, swept it over his right side and then over his left, and, seeing that the flies were now an easy target for him, whinnied in delight.
"This'll mean the death of all flies!” said he, and he galloped off to his paddock.
The last to come running up was the Hare.
"Where have you been?" the Tsar asked him, "All I have left is a tiny little tail."
"It will do for me nicely, thank you," said the Hare happily. "A little tail is as good as any other. It won't be in the way when I'm running from a wolf or a dog!"
And the Hare stuck his wisp of a tail to the place where it belonged, gave a hop and another and ran home.
And the Lion, having now given away all the tails, went to bed.
As for the Bear, he awoke only towards evening, and it was then that he remembered that he had to hurry if he was to get a tail at all. He looked, and there was the sun rolling down the sky beyond the forest. So he lumbered off on all fours for all he was worth. He ran so hard, poor soul, that he was soon in a sweat. He rushed up to the Lion’s palace, and lo! — not a tail did he see, for not one was left.
"What am I going to do now?" the Bear asked himself. "Everyone will have a tail except me."
And the Bear turned back and tramped off again to his own forest as angry as could be! He moved slowly along, and by and by whom did he see but the Badger who was twisting and turning on a tree stump and admiring his handsome tail.
"Look here, Badger," said the Bear, "you don’t really need a tail, do you? Give it to me!"
"What strange notions you have, Bear!" the Badger returned, taken aback, "Who would want to part with such a beautiful tail!"
"Well, if you won't give it to me of your own free will, I'll take it away by force!" the Bear roared, laying his heavy paw on the Badger's tail.
"You shan’t have it!" the Badger cried, and he wrenched himself free with all the strength he had in him and broke into a run.
The Bear looked, and there, clinging to his claws, was a piece of the Badger’s coat and the very tip of his tail. He threw the piece of coat away, and, sticking on the bit of tail, went off to finish the honey in the tree hollow.
As for the Badger, he was so frightened that he did not know what to do with himself. No matter where he hid it always seemed to him that the Bear would come at any moment and take the rest of his tail away. So he dug out a large hole in the ground and made his home there. The wound on his back healed and only a long dark stripe was left to show where it had been. And it has never grown any lighter since.
One day the Fox came scuttling near, she looked, and she saw a hole in the ground from which came loud snores. She squeezed into the hole, and lo! — there was the Badger, fast asleep.
"Isn’t there enough room for you up on top, neighbour," asked the Fox in surprise, "that you have hidden yourself here, under the ground?”
"No, Foxy dear, there isn't," sighed the Badger. "If it weren't that I have to hunt for food, I would never leave this hole, not even at night."
And the Badger told the Fox why it was he felt there was no room for him above ground.
"Hm," said the Fox to herself, "if the Bear has tried to steal the Badger's tail, then I am in danger of losing mine, for it is a hundred times more handsome."
And she ran off in search of a place in which to hide from the Bear. She searched all the night through, hut no such place could she find. At last, towards morning, she dug herself a hole just like the Badger's, scrambled into it, covered herself with her bushy tail and went peacefully to sleep.
And so the Bear was left with nothing but a poor little button of a tail which he boasts to this day. However, he still has a lair for a home, while the Badger and the Fox live in holes.Author: Byelorussian Folk Tale; illustrated by Rachov Y.
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