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The Trial Of Reynard The Fox

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]


The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

Table of Contents

THE TRIAL OF REYNARD THE FOX

I. HOW CHANTICLEER THE COCK MADE COMPLAINT AGAINST REYNARD

II. HOW BRUIN THE BEAR WAS SENT TO BRING REYNARD TO COURT

III. TYBERT’S MISSION AND HOW HE FARED

IV. HOW BLAIREAU THE BADGER BROUGHT REYNARD TO TRIAL

V. HOW REYNARD TOLD THE KING OF A HIDDEN TREASURE

 

THE TRIAL OF REYNARD THE FOX

I. HOW CHANTICLEER THE COCK MADE COMPLAINT AGAINST REYNARD

There was rejoicing among the animals, for it was said that Reynard the Fox—sly, spiteful Reynard—had at last repented him of his misdeeds and resolved to lead a new life. Such a thing was, indeed, very hard to believe, but nevertheless everybody said that it was true. Certainly he was seen no more in his usual haunts, or about the Court of King Lion. The news went round that he had put on the robe of piety and had become a hermit, endeavouring  to atone, by fasting and prayer, for all the sins of which he had been guilty.

At the Court of King Nobel, Reynard’s change of heart was the one topic of conversation. A few of the animals frankly expressed their doubts of the sincerity of such a tardy repentance, but the majority were quite willing to accept it, for, as a rule, one believes what one wishes to believe.

While the subject was still being eagerly discussed by the animals around the Lion’s throne, the sound of wailing was heard, and a strange procession was seen making its way towards the King’s throne. At the head of the procession marched Chanticleer the Cock, dressed in the deepest mourning and sobbing miserably, with bowed head. Behind him, borne by two hens, was a bier on which was stretched the headless body of a beautiful fowl, one of his daughters, and all the other hens of his family followed the bier, raising their voices to heaven in grievous lamentation. At this sad sight the whole Court stood in amaze, and many of the animals wept in sympathy with the bereaved father, who advanced towards the King’s throne, crying for justice.

“Whom do you accuse?” asked the Lion.

“Whom should I accuse but that accursed Reynard, the source of untold misery to me and mine? You know, O King, none better, how we have suffered from his cruelty in the past. The tale I now have to tell is a tale of wrong that would bring tears to the eyes of a stone image—a tale of treachery such as would abash the Evil One himself, a tale so base that I can hardly bring myself to utter it!”

“Say on,” said the King, “and rest content, for if what you say be true, the Fox shall receive his due reward—I swear it by my crown!”

“Lord,” continued Chanticleer, “I had six sons and fourteen daughters. We all dwelt together in the farmyard, a peaceable and happy family. The rigours of the winter were spent; spring had come again with its flowers and perfumes. The sun shone brightly, and insects abounded in the farmyard. We dwelt in the midst of abundance; we were happy, and as we thought, safe, for the farmer’s six faithful dogs guarded us from danger. Alas, for our beautiful hopes! A few days ago Reynard appeared—cruel, black-hearted  Reynard—and at one fell blow changed our happiness into misery.

“This is how it all happened, Sire. Reynard came to the farmyard one fine morning and brought me a letter bearing your Majesty’s own seal. I opened it, and read that your Majesty had commanded that all the animals should hence-forward live together in peace. A noble ordinance, Sire, such as would make the world a beautiful place—were it not for villains. I gave the document back to Reynard, expressing my joy at the news it contained, whereupon he said: ‘My heart is full, Cock, when I think of the cruelty with which I have treated you and your family in the past, but you need have no further fear, I have seen the error of my ways. Henceforth my life shall be given up to repentance and prayer. I have renounced all worldly pleasures. Even now I am on my way to a remote hermitage where, in fasting and solitude, I shall endeavour to atone for my sins.’

“Then the hypocritical wretch stretched his paw over my head and gave me his blessing and departed, reading his Book of Hours.

“Thinking no evil, and full of joy at the news, I called my children around me and cried: ‘Rejoice, my dear ones. No more will you live in daily terror of your lives. Our noble King has given us his protection and has commanded the Fox to leave us alone. Reynard himself has just brought me the news, so I know it is true, and he himself has gone away to become a holy hermit!’

“My children danced with glee when they heard my words, and I danced with them, O King! We danced in the farmyard and in the garden, and in the kitchen garden, for it was as though a black cloud had vanished from over us.

“This was the very moment Reynard had been waiting for. He had not gone far away—no farther in fact than the shelter of the wall by the kitchen garden, and as soon as we reached there, he rushed out, fell upon the finest of my daughters and slew her before my eyes. It all happened in a flash! We ran hither and thither, trying to escape, but all in vain. Before we had gone a dozen steps the Fox was among us again, and killed fifteen of my children. Last night he returned, and slew her whose body now lies upon the bier. I have brought her here to show you, O King, that the sight of her corpse may strike pity into your heart, for I claim justice upon her murderer!”

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

So saying, the Cock bowed his head again and wept bitterly into his handkerchief, and pitiful sobs echoed from among the beasts around. Even the King could hardly restrain his emotion.

“A terrible tale, indeed,” said he. “Our hearts are heavy for you, Cock, and it will go hard with this Reynard when he falls into our hands!” Then, addressing his courtiers, he asked for volunteers to go to the Fox’s retreat and bring the murderer to justice. For a time there was no response, for few of the animals relished the task, but at last the Bear, who had an old grudge against Reynard, offered to go. “Leave this to me,” said he. “If the Fox won’t come quietly, I’ll drag him here by his tail. He shall not escape!”

So the Bear set off to find Reynard, who had retreated to one of his châteaux—a veritable fortress—situated many miles away in the mountains at the very end of the kingdom. To reach it the Bear had to travel over lonely paths, and through dark woods, where he lost his way a hundred times, but at length he arrived at Reynard’s house, only to find the massive door locked, and the walls so high that he could not climb them.

“Open, in the name of the King!” cried Bruin, hammering at the  door. “Come out, Reynard! I have been sent to bring you up for trial. You have come to the end of your rope at last! Open the door, I say, or I’ll batter it down!”

From his safe retreat in the very heart of the fortress Reynard heard Bruin’s clamour. He stretched himself lazily and yawned. “Now who is this pestilent fellow making such a din?” said he to his wife. “Well, I suppose I’d better go and see.” So he made his way through the labyrinth of passages which led from his burrow to the open air, and peeped through the crack of the door. There was Bruin, hammering away at the massive oak, and roaring: “Come out, Reynard. Come out and be hanged!”

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“What! is that you, Uncle Bruin?” said Reynard, opening the wicket. “You are in a noisy mood this morning. What is the matter?”

“The matter is that the King has sent me to bring you to Court,” growled the Bear. “And you had best come quietly, for I represent the law.”

“By all means,” answered Reynard, opening the door. “My word,  but I’m glad to see you, uncle! And an ambassador, too—such an honour! How are you, and what sort of a journey have you had? Very trying, I’m afraid. Really it was a shame to impose upon your good nature and send you all this way!”

So saying the Fox led the way into his castle, keeping up a continual patter of talk, so that Bruin could not get a word in edgeways.

“I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting at the gate,” Reynard went on. “The fact is, I was dozing and did not hear you at first. I rarely sleep in the afternoon, but to-day I had such a heavy dinner that I felt extremely drowsy!”

“What did you have?” asked the Bear with interest.

“Oh, a simple meal enough. I am not rich, you know, and I have to eat what I can find. To-day it was a big comb of honey—not very much to my taste, but I was hungry and I ate it!”

Bruin pricked up his ears. “Eh?” said he. “Did you say honey?”

“Strange food for a fox, isn’t it?” said Reynard. “I wish I hadn’t touched the stuff now, for, to tell you the truth, it’s lying on my chest like a load of lead. I swear never to eat it again, although I know a place, not far from here, where there are immense quantities of it!”

By this time Bruin was all agog with excitement.

“Nephew,” said he, laying his paw on Reynard’s shoulder, “show me the place where that honey is. My mouth is watering at the very thought of it. I love honey better than anything else in the world, and I’d give all I possess for a taste of it!”

“You are joking, no doubt,” said Reynard laughingly. “How can any one like such stuff?”

“Joking, am I?” growled Bruin. “Just lead me to the honey and I’ll show you whether I’m joking. I tell you I’d give my eyes and ears for a taste!”

“Well, if that’s the case,” said Reynard, “you shall be satisfied. There’s a carpenter not far from here who keeps bees, and from time immemorial his family have been noted for the excellence of their honey. I’ll take you there, and I’m very glad to be able to render you this little service. In return, all I ask of you is that you will speak up for me when I come before the King.”

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“Of course I will,” answered Bruin. “Let us go at once. I can hardly contain myself for impatience.”

Reynard called upon Bruin to follow him and led the way to the carpenter’s yard. The afternoon was very hot, and the carpenter was taking a nap after dinner. His yard was empty and in the middle of it was the trunk of a great oak-tree which he had laid out ready to be cut up into planks. The trunk was split down the middle, and kept open by two wedges of wood.

“Here you are!” said Reynard, going up to the tree-trunk. “This is the place where the carpenter keeps his honey. Put your muzzle in and root it out from the bottom. Don’t eat too much!”

“Never fear,” answered Bruin. “I’ll be moderate.” And he plunged his head and his two front paws into the crack. The next moment Reynard knocked out the wedges which kept the two halves of the trunk apart. They sprang together with the force of a steel spring, catching Bruin firmly by the nose and paws.

The poor beast roared with pain, making a din that echoed back like thunder from the mountains. The carpenter woke up from his slumber, and seizing an axe, ran out into the yard. His wife came tumbling out of the scullery with a broom in her hand, and people from the neighbouring village came running to see what all the noise was about. When they saw that the Bear was a prisoner they fell upon him and began to belabour him with mighty blows, while the unhappy creature gave himself up for lost. Maddened with pain, he redoubled his efforts to tear himself free, and at last succeeded in getting away, although he left most of the skin of his nose and paws behind. With the blood flowing from his muzzle, and his eyes shining red with rage, he made such a terrible picture that the people fled hither and thither, leaving him a free passage, and he limped off into the shelter of the woods, moaning and breathing out threats against his betrayer.

From a safe distance Reynard watched him go, with a malicious grin. “Farewell, Uncle Bear,” said he. “I hope you found the honey good!”

King Lion was furious when he saw the miserable state in which his ambassador returned. He immediately called a council of his ministers, to whom Bruin related all that had happened.

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“This recreant must be punished,” said the King when the tale was ended. “It is a disgrace to our kingdom that he remains at large. Somebody else must go to bring him here. Who shall it be?”

After a good deal of discussion it was decided that Tybert the Cat should undertake the task, for he was reputed to be as cunning and artful as Reynard himself. “Do not be deceived by his wiles,” said the King. “No doubt he will try to flatter you, or to play upon your weaknesses, but pay no attention to his words. You must take this mission very seriously and not allow yourself to be led aside by  anything. On your head be it!”

The Cat promised to be very circumspect, and set off at once. He travelled quickly, and soon arrived at the door of Reynard’s castle, where he found the Fox playing with his cubs on the grass, tumbling them over and over, and having fine fun. It was a touching spectacle of domestic bliss. Reynard jumped to his feet when he saw Tybert.

“Why, cousin,” said he, “this is a pleasant surprise! What makes you desert the gaieties of the Court for my poor home?”

“I come in the King’s name,” answered the Cat sternly. “He has sent me to bring you to Court, where you are to answer for your revolting crimes. The Bear returned yesterday, and the tale he told has stiffened the King’s anger against you. I am to say that if you refuse to accompany me, your house shall be destroyed and your family wiped off the face of the earth!”

“Refuse,” said Reynard, “whoever thought of refusing? I am sure the King has no more obedient subject than I. As for that Bruin, he is a bad subject, and I expect he has been telling a pack of lies about me. Do I look as if I could do anybody any harm? As a matter of fact I spend all my time here in meditation and prayer. But come in, come in! You must have a meal, for you have had a long journey. To-morrow we will set out together.”

“It seems to me,” said the Cat, “that it would be better if we started at once.”

“Nonsense, my dear fellow,” said Reynard. “It is bad to make a journey on an empty stomach. What difference will an hour or two make? We shall travel all the faster if we start in good condition.”

“Well, there’s something in that,” said Tybert, who, to tell the truth, was not sorry of an excuse to break a fast of many hours. “What have you got for dinner?”

“What would you like?” asked Reynard. “Shall we say a comb of honey?”

“Bah!” cried the Cat. “Honey indeed! I loathe the stuff. Now if you had a nice fat mouse … !”

“Happy thought,” said Reynard. “As it happens, I know a house close by where there are hundreds of mice, the fattest and sleekest creatures you ever saw in your life, and so tame that one can literally  scoop them up by the score. I often catch a few myself when I am hungry and other game is scarce.”  

“Take me to this house,” said Tybert. “Tame or not, I’ll catch the mice if they are there. I love the creatures.” And he licked his lips and stretched out his paws.

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

Now Reynard had spoken the truth when he said that he knew a house where mice abounded, and it was true also that he often went there—not in search of mice, but of chickens. The last time he had paid a visit he had found that the farmer had put a string noose over the hole by which he was used to enter, but fortunately for himself Reynard had discovered it in time.

Towards this house he now led the unsuspecting Tybert, and having shown him the hole, bade him enter and take his fill of the mice. Tybert obeyed, but no sooner had he got his head through the hole than the trap was sprung, and there he was, caught. He gave a scream of pain and fear, and from behind Reynard answered mockingly: “Sing away, cousin. I love to hear your voice. But mind you don’t frighten the mice!” Then he took to his heels and ran back to his castle.

A minute or two later the farmer, having heard the Cat’s miaulings, arrived armed with a heavy stick. “Ah, you thief,” he cried, “I’ve got you at last, have I?” And he began to lay the stick on the Cat’s back with all his might. Tybert kicked and struggled, and managed at last to get free, but he was more dead than alive when he went limping back to the King’s Court.

“This is monstrous,” said King Nobel when he had heard Tybert’s  piteous tale. “It is no use paltering any longer. We must burn this caitiff’s castle about his ears.”

“One moment, Sire,” said Blaireau the Badger, who was a great friend of Reynard’s. “Our ancient laws demand that any person accused of crime shall be called three times before extreme measures are taken against him. Now Reynard has only been called twice. I propose, therefore, that he be given one more chance to render himself peacefully before your Majesty, and to defend himself. There are two sides to every story, and so far we have only heard one.”

“That is all very well,” said the King, “but who will be the messenger? It seems to me that the experiences of the other two will be little encouragement for a third.”

“If no one else will go,” answered Blaireau, “I will go myself. Reynard has been a very good friend of mine in the past, and I may be able to appeal to his better self.”

“I doubt it,” said the King; “but go by all means, and bring him back if you can. Should you fail, I will batter down his castle stone by stone.”

So Blaireau went off on his mission, and arriving at the château, found Reynard in the midst of his family.

“Look here, uncle,” said he, “there must be an end to all nonsense. The King is at the end of his patience, and unless you obey his commands he is determined to stick at nothing with you. Tybert and Bruin are both badly knocked about, and the sympathy of all the animals is with them. But for my pleadings the King would have sent an army to burn your castle about your ears. Be sensible now, and come back quietly with me. You have wits enough to defend yourself against all accusations and need not fear the issue. I tell you frankly, delay will be dangerous.”

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“Ah,” said Reynard, “if those others had only spoken to me as you have spoken, my dear nephew, things would have been very different. They were insolent and they paid the price, but nobody shall say that Reynard the Fox was impervious to good counsel. Of course I will go with you—the sooner the better. I have no fear of being able to silence my calumniators. The King can’t live without me—he knows it very well, and that fact alone will provide him with a good motive for giving me a free pardon.”

Then Reynard took a tender farewell of Hermeline, his wife, and Reynkin, his eldest son, and all the other children, and set off with Blaireau towards the King’s Court.

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

On the way Reynard said: “My dear Blaireau, this is a very solemn moment of my life! I cannot help feeling that I have not, perhaps, always lived as righteously as I might have done. It will relieve my  mind somewhat if I might make confession of some of the most heinous of my crimes. Will you hear me?”  

“Certainly,” answered Blaireau. “I am glad to hear you have a contrite heart, uncle. Speak on by all means. Confession is the first step towards repentance.”

“I have been a sad sinner,” Reynard went on. “My heart fails me when I think of all the misery I have caused! I weep for the poor Bear, whose nose and paws are skinless because of me, and for the Cat, who suffered a terrible beating at the hands of the farmer. Then there was the Wolf—did I ever tell you about the Wolf?”

“No,” said Blaireau, “you did not.”

“Well,” continued Reynard, “the Wolf and I were one day walking along the road when we came to a monastery. It was the time of evensong, and the sound of the bells made such a sweet music in the air that I felt my soul grow full of  enthusiasm. ‘Ah,’ said I, ‘if I were only one of the monks in that monastery, with what joy would I sound the bells!’ Isengrim thought the idea a splendid one, and wished to carry it into practice, so, as he was not a monk, I took it upon myself to introduce him into the monastery at dead of night. There I tied him to the bell-rope and bade him pull, for the good of his soul. He pulled—ah, nephew, how enthusiastically he pulled! The bells rang as they had never rung before, and all the monks in the monastery came running to see what was the matter. Isengrim would have run away if he could, but alas, I had tied him so firmly to the rope that he could not escape, and he got a sound beating for his pains.

“Another time, still under the influence of his monastic ideas, Isengrim proposed to me that I should shave his head. I agreed, and when I had him in the chair, to my eternal shame be it said, I planted a burning firebrand on his pate, and caused him to jump at least twenty feet into the air. Ah, I am a miserable sinner.” And Reynard broke into sobs and lamentations.

“Never mind,” said Blaireau consolingly, “since you are truly repentant, all will be forgiven you. See, there are the towers of the King’s palace. We shall soon be there. Get ready to make your speech of defence, for you will need all your eloquence this day.”

When Reynard arrived at the court he found all the animals assembled to witness his trial. King Nobel sat on his throne, with the Queen by his side, and very cold and stern was the glance which the monarch cast upon Master Fox as he stepped up and made his obeisance. “Reynard,” said the King, “you have been accused of crimes so many and so grievous that if only the half of all the accusations are true, you have merited death a hundred times. What have you to say?”

Reynard put a paw up to his face and brushed away a tear; then, with his voice broken with emotion, he answered: “My lord the King, I have been a miserable sinner, and there is nothing left for me to do  but to cast myself upon your royal mercy. Where King Nobel sits, there justice and mercy sit also. I am sure of the one; therefore I make bold to plead earnestly for the other. Perhaps, O King, I am not so bad as I have been painted. The tongues of enemies have uttered slanders before to-day, and brought upright men to ruin. All I ask, O King, is that you will let me state my case, and, when I shall have finished my tale, judge me according to my deserts. I will keep nothing back, for in this serious hour I wish to speak nothing but the naked truth. Listen to me, O King, and let these others listen also. Perchance the sad story of my wrongdoings, and of my gradual fall from righteousness, may be a lesson to many here, and by serving as an example help to keep them upon the strait and narrow path.”

“You have a glib tongue, Reynard,” said the King. “It has saved you before to-day, but this time the count is too serious to be hidden by a mist of words. Yet speak on. The accused has a right to make his own defence, and that right I should be the last to deny, even to one forsworn and treacherous, as you have proved yourself to be.”

Reynard sobbed aloud. “Hard words, O King,” said he, “and harder still because of the truth that is in them. I do not complain. Meekly I bow the head and make confession of my sins.”

At this all the animals settled themselves comfortably to listen. The idea of Reynard the Fox confessing anything was so new that not one of them would willingly have missed a word. Those of the animals who knew Reynard well regarded him a little uneasily, but nobody broke silence. Reynard remained for a time sobbing quietly with head bowed upon his paws, then, in a broken voice, he began to speak:  

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“From my very earliest years, O King,” said he, “I was mischievous and unruly. Had there been anybody to give me counsel and guidance I might perhaps have outgrown the errors of my youth and become a worthy subject. Unfortunately I fell into bad company, and, under the influence of evil companions went rapidly from bad to worse. Isengrim the Wolf was my friend in those early days. He it was who taught me to steal and to prey upon the defenceless creatures of the woods and fields. My first victim, I well remember, was a young lamb which had strayed from the fold. Isengrim led me to her and persuaded me to kill her, and afterwards, in the same way, a goat and two young deer fell victims to my raging thirst for blood. Soon not a hen-house, not a fold was safe from my depredations. I killed for the sake of killing, and that part of the meat which I could not devour I gave to the Wolf, who was only too willing to take it, or hid it in certain holes and crannies in the wood.”

All the time that Reynard had been speaking Isengrim had been making frantic efforts to speak, but a glance from the King had kept him silent. Now he could contain himself no longer. Trembling with fury, he rose to his feet and cried: “Lies! All lies, O King! Will your  Majesty believe anything it pleases this slanderous dog to say?”

“Silence!” cried the King. “Your turn will come later. For the present let the accused speak without interruption!”

“Thanks, O King,” said Reynard. “I can well understand the Wolf’s wrath when his connexion with so vile a creature as I is thus brought to light. Yet I have sworn to tell the truth, and the truth I will tell without regard to persons. Sorry as I am to say it, the Wolf was not the only one to lead me into bad ways. Among my companions of those early days were also the Bear and the Cat. They made me hunt for them when I was young, and such was their voracity that there was little left for myself, and I should have died of hunger were it not for the fact that I was fortunate enough to discover a hidden treasure!”

“Eh, what’s that?” said the King. “Did you say a treasure?”

“Aye,” answered Reynard, “a treasure of gold, my lord; so great a treasure that it would take your servants many days even to count it all. And not gold alone, but precious gems—diamonds of the purest water, rubies red as blood, and emeralds green as the sea when the sun shines upon it!”

The Queen leaned forward upon her throne and fixed Reynard with burning eyes. “And pearls too?” she whispered.

“Pearls too, O Queen. Ropes of pearls that well would adorn your Majesty’s fair neck. And jewelled crowns worthy of a royal brow! Hidden deep in the earth they lie, all those riches, and now they will lie there for ever, for nobody knows of them but myself. Perhaps it is as well. The lust of gold is the motive of many crimes, and this treasure has already been the cause of a serious attempt against the throne and the life of the King! But all this has nothing to do with my confession. With your Majesty’s leave I will go on with what I was about to say.”

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“One moment,” said the Queen. “Those crowns you spoke of—  describe them more fully. What stones had they, and how set?”

“Time enough for that,” cried the King. “You shall try the crowns upon your head before all is done. Let the Fox tell us where this treasure is hidden; that is the important thing!”

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“I had thought to carry the secret with me to the grave,” said Reynard, “but in this solemn hour I can hide nothing. If it is your Majesty’s will, I will tell all.”  

“Beware, O King!” cried the Bear. “He will deceive you now as he has deceived others. Believe not his lying words!”

“Silence!” cried the King. “This matter concerns me, and me alone. Let Reynard speak!”

Reynard cast a look of triumph at Bruin and Isengrim, and, smiling faintly, went on with his tale.

“The treasure was discovered first of all by my father. He came upon it one day when he was hunting in the forest, among the ruins of a palace that once belonged to an ancient king. There, in a deep hole, under a big stone, he found the gold and gems, and for ever afterwards he was a changed creature. No longer blithe and care-free, he slunk about as though overburdened with responsibility. He knew himself rich beyond compare—richer than any king in all the world, and gradually into his heart there crept the desire to win, by means of his riches, a  place of power.

“At that time, O King, my father was bitter against your Majesty because of your disapproval of his manner of life, and I am sorry to say that he determined to wrest you from the throne and to set up another in your place. Full of this project, he took Tybert the Cat into his confidence. The two met together secretly in the forest of the Ardennes, and after much discussion they decided to offer the throne to Bruin the Bear!”

“Ah!” ejaculated the King, turning his gaze upon Bruin, who was too furious to speak. “So now we know why you wished to still Reynard’s tongue.”

“The Bear was delighted with the prospect,” Reynard went on, “and strutted about the forest as though he were already crowned. He was always talking of the fine laws he would make and the splendid time he would have, but he was too stupid to be of much use as a plotter. Indeed, it was for reason of his stupidity that my father and Tybert chose him as king, for they thought they could make of him a useful tool. They had, however, to lay their plans without him, and the better to carry them out, they called Isengrim the Wolf, and Grimbard the Ape, into conference. The five met together at a certain place between Heyst and Gand, and it was there, O King, that your death was decided upon. Each of the conspirators took a solemn oath not to divulge the proceedings to a living soul, and having settled the very hour and day of your Majesty’s assassination, they departed to their homes.

“Now, like all apes, Grimbard was a chatterer, and no sooner was he within his house than he told his wife all that had happened, explaining to her that it was a great secret and she was not to tell a soul. Of course she promised faithfully to keep a still tongue in her head, and as a matter of fact I believe she did manage to keep the secret for a whole day. Then she happened to meet my wife in the woods, and having sworn her to secrecy, told her the whole thing. My wife, out of a feeling of love and regard to your Majesty, thought it her duty to inform me, which she did, immediately she returned home, without keeping back a single detail.

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“I could not believe my ears at first. ‘What! Bruin, king!’ I cried. ‘That great fat lump of hairy stupidity, king of the animals! Is the world going mad? Would they dethrone our loved and gracious lord in favour of so base a beast?’ There and then, O King, I raised my hand above my head and swore to defend your Majesty’s life to the last. ‘While Reynard lives,’ I said, ‘the King’s throne shall be secure, cost what it may!’

“From that moment I thought of nothing else but how best to thwart my father’s base plans. It seemed to me that if I could only discover the treasure I might stop the whole thing, for the conspirators relied upon the gold to pay the armies they intended to raise. For days, therefore, I lurked about the woods, following my father wherever he went, in the hope that, sooner or later, he would betray the treasure’s whereabouts. But he was far too wary to go near it, and had it not been for the stupidity of the Ape I might have remained none the wiser. One day I noticed Grimbard wheeling a barrow through the forest with an air of great secrecy, and following him unseen, at a safe distance, I saw him stop in the midst of the ruins of that ancient palace in the forest. There, at the foot of a great tree, he lifted a heavy stone, discovering a deep hole, from which he took several vases filled to the brim with golden coins. These he placed upon his barrow, and having carefully covered up the hole again, trundled off into the forest.

“No sooner had he disappeared amid the shade of the trees than I  ran forward and lifted the stone. What a sight met my eyes! There lay the treasure—chest upon chest of shining gold, and heaps of jewels flashing with rays of many-coloured light. My eyes were nearly blinded by the splendour.

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“Even as I stood gazing in a sort of dazed trance, I realized what I must do. If I could get this treasure away from the place where it was hidden, and, unknown to the conspirators, transport it somewhere  else, their plot would be strangled at its birth. Unfortunately the treasure was heavy and I had no means of conveyance—not even a barrow, but I took counsel of Hermeline, my wife, and she, noble soul as she is, strengthened me in my resolve. ‘Though we wear our paws to the bone,’ said she, ‘we must take the treasure away and save the life of our noble and our beloved King.’ That very night we began our task, and little by little we moved the treasure, hiding it in a safe place known only to ourselves. For the best part of a month we laboured, working only at night, and fearful every moment that we should be discovered. At last everything was finished, and the whole of the treasure removed.

“In the meantime, the conspiracy gained adherents every day. My father was the life and soul of the plot. He sent messengers far and near, into every corner of the land, to win the animals over to his side. ‘Those who enrol under my banner,’ said he, ‘shall receive a large sum of money paid in advance. I do not ask them to trust my word, but to come to me and let me pour the money into their hands.’ In such circumstance what wonder that his supporters grew every hour. Before long he had gathered together an immense army, which was increased by troops raised by the Bear, the Wolf, and the Cat. Bruin, in particular, was very proud of his success in raising soldiers. He already fancied himself king, and walked about giving orders to everybody who crossed his path.

“Now the time for payment had come, so my father, accompanied by Grimbard and the Cat, made his way to the hiding-place of the treasure to bring out the gold. I watched them from afar, and saw them uncover the hole, and never to my dying day shall I forget the scream my father uttered when he saw that the treasure was no longer there. Frantically the two of them dug up the soil around the place in the hope that they were mistaken, but not a single gold piece could they find. At last Grimbard, chattering with fear, turned and slunk away, while my father crept home and hanged himself with a cord to a nail just outside the back door. A terrible end, O King, but though he was my father, I cannot help feeling he deserved the misery he had brought upon himself. As for Bruin, he found himself faced with the necessity of explaining to the soldiers that no money  was forthcoming, and being a coward at heart, he shirked the task. He, too, fled secretly, and Tybert the Cat soon followed. To-day, sire, these three stand among the foremost of my accusers. If I have sinned, have they not sinned too, and in greater measure?”

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

  

The King waved his paw impatiently. “We will deal with them presently,” said he. “For the present, keep to your tale. Where is the treasure hidden? Speak, and lie not, on your life!”

“Why should I lie, O King?” asked Reynard in an aggrieved tone. “Have I not sworn to tell the truth? In Western Flanders there is a little wood called Husterloo. In the midst of that wood lies a pool, which is known by the name of Krekelput.   [1]  It is a dreary place, O King, and solitary, for it lies among marshes where no man can pass. No sound is heard in that place save only the call of the carrion-crow by day, and the dismal hooting of the owl by night. There, close to that pool, I hid the treasure, in a hole in the earth which I covered with soil, marking the place with three great stones. Remove those stones, and dig up the soil, and you will discover three enormous golden vases, beautifully  carved and modelled. In the first is the royal crown of the ancient King Emrik, which Bruin thought to wear. In the second is the crown of Emrik’s queen—a thing of wonder, flashing with splendid gems; and in the third is the suit of golden armour Emrik wore. Beneath these three vases lies the rest of the treasure—chest after chest of golden coins, ropes of pearls, necklaces of diamonds and rubies, so many gems that I cannot describe them all. If your Majesty will send trusty messengers to Krekelput, they can easily prove the truth of what I say!”

During this recital the King had raised himself from his throne in his excitement, and now he turned to the assembled animals and cried: “Which of you knows Krekelput? Who will go and fetch the treasure?”

Nobody answered, for, as a matter of fact, not a soul present had ever heard of Krekelput before Reynard mentioned the name.

“Come, come,” cried the King. “One of you must know the wood of Husterloo and the pool of which Reynard speaks!”

“Be patient with them, Sire,” said Reynard. “They are afraid to speak. The Hare knows the place very well. Do you not remember, friend,” said he, fixing the Hare with a menacing glance, “you took refuge in the wood of Husterloo one day when the hounds were after you!”

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“I cannot remember very well,” stammered the Hare,  who was nearly out of his senses with fright. “Perhaps I did!”

“Of course you did,” said Reynard, “and you could find the place again, no doubt?”

“I am not sure,” said the poor Hare, who indeed had never heard of Husterloo.

“A truce to all this!” cried the King impatiently. “If you cannot remember, Reynard shall go with you to refresh your memory, and Bellyn the Ram shall accompany the two of you to see that you do not run away. Be off with you at once, and bring back the treasure as quickly as you can, for my eyes are aching for a sight of Emrik’s crown and the suit of golden armour Emrik wore.”

“And forget not the ropes of pearls and the jewelled coronet!” cried the Queen. “Bring those first!”

“I will bring everything in good time,” said Reynard; “trust me for that. But before I set out on this journey I must go to Rome to ask absolution of the Pope for all the sins I have committed. Suffer me first of all to go on this pilgrimage, O King, and, if you will, send Bellyn and the Hare with me to see that I do not escape. Nothing is further from my thoughts, but after what has happened I cannot expect your Majesty to trust my word, and I am content to go in ward.”

“Be it so!” said the King. “Set off at once and return as soon as may be. And now there is another little affair to settle! Where is Bruin, our would-be king. Stand forth, Bruin, with your precious conspirators, the Wolf, the Cat, and the Ape.” But nobody answered, for seeing how affairs were going all the four had quietly slipped away, fearing to stay and face the vengeance of the King.

Reynard smiled maliciously as he put on a pilgrim’s cloak and marched away with Bellyn and the Hare along the road that led from the Court.

For several miles they walked in silence. Then Reynard sighed and said: “Ah, friends, how I long to see my dear wife and children just once more before I go on this long journey that lies before us. Let us take the road that leads past my castle of Malpertuis. It is not much out of our way, and we can enter there and refresh ourselves.”

The Hare was too frightened to dispute the matter, and Bellyn on  his part good-humouredly agreed, so the three of them took the road to Malpertuis, and before long came to the gate of Reynard’s castle.

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“Here we are at last, Cousin Bellyn,” said Reynard. “Did you ever see such fine pastures! You must be famished after our long tramp. Take a rest a while and eat some of this sweet grass, while I and the Hare go into the house and console my wife for the long separation that is before her. We shall not stay more than a few minutes.”

“Well, hurry up,” said Bellyn, who had already begun to graze. “I will wait for you, but don’t stay talking all day!”

So Reynard and the Hare went into the house, where they were met by Hermeline, Reynard’s devoted spouse.

“What, husband,” said she, “are you back already? How did things go at Court?”

“Just as I said they would,” answered Reynard. “When the King  heard my tale he acquitted me of the charges that had been brought against me, and allowed me to return here in honour. The Wolf, the Bear, and the Cat, who were my most powerful enemies, have fled the Court, so that, for the time being, they have escaped my vengeance; but I have brought with me this fellow whom you see at my side, for he was among the foremost of my accusers!”

When he heard these words the poor Hare trembled with fright, and turned to flee, but in a moment Reynard sprang at his throat. One loud cry he gave for help, but Bellyn, peacefully cropping the grass outside, did not hear, and the next moment the Hare was dead. Then Reynard and Hermeline and all the little foxes had a splendid feast, and in less than half an hour nothing was left of the Hare’s carcass but the head.

While they were still feasting there came a loud knocking at the door. It was Bellyn, who, having eaten his fill, was now impatient with waiting.

Snatching up the head of the Hare Reynard put it into a bag, which he carefully sealed. Then, running to the door, he threw it open.

“You have been a long time!” grumbled Bellyn. “Where is the Hare?”

“Oh, he is just inside, playing with my little ones,” said Reynard. “He’s a merry fellow, that one, and so fond of children that it is beautiful to watch him. Leave him alone for a time. He’ll be out presently. While you are waiting, you might run back to the King with this bag, which he asked me to send him. It contains papers referring to the conspiracy—papers which involve a great many people at Court, in fact nearly all of the animals except yourself. Hurry off with it, and give it into the King’s own hands, and, as you value your life, do not open the bag upon the road, or the King will suspect that you also are involved and have erased your name on the way.”

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“Did the King say I was to take back the papers?” asked Bellyn.

“Of course he did!” answered Reynard. “ ‘Send them back by my trusty Bellyn’—those were his very words, and he whispered in my ear that you were the only one among the whole court that he could trust. I should not be surprised if he gave you a handsome reward, and perhaps made you a peer of the realm!”

“Give me the bag!” cried Bellyn. “I’ll take it to the King. I shall not be long. Wait until I come back, and tell the Hare that he is on no account to set out without me.”

“Never fear,” said Reynard. “He’ll not stir a step out of my castle—I’ll answer for that. Farewell, good Bellyn. I will be waiting here when you return!”

Full of pride at his important mission, Bellyn trotted off down the road, bearing the bag very carefully with him, and Reynard, with a spiteful smile, stood and watched him till he was out of sight.

In good time Bellyn returned to the Court and handed to the astonished King the bag which Reynard had sent. The King broke the seal, and gazed inside, while the Queen pressed close to him, peering over his shoulder. The next moment he gave a cry of horror, as he drew forth the head of the poor Hare. The Queen fell to the ground in a dead faint, and for a time the King remained holding the head in his hands, gazing at it vacantly. Then he cast it from him, and without a word turned his steps towards his palace, where he immediately took to his bed, for the shock of the thing had made him ill. Not for several weeks afterwards, when he had somewhat recovered, was he able to turn his thoughts to vengeance. Then he gave orders for a large army to march to Reynard’s castle of Malpertuis to raze it to the ground, and bring back the Fox in chains.

The army set out, but when they arrived at Malpertuis they found the birds had flown. Reynard and Hermeline and all the little foxes had left the country, and were never seen again.

Some people say that they took up their abode in a distant land, where Reynard soon began once more to play his old tricks, until the King of that land caught him one day red-handed, and hanged him on the nearest tree without giving him a chance to say a word. I do not know whether this story is true, although I hope it is. All that I can say for certain is that Reynard and his family were never seen in King  Nobel’s dominions from that day on.

The Trial Of Reynard The Fox [Folk Tales Of Flanders]


 [1]  Snail’s well.  

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