The Fox Steals the Butter

fables of Aarne-Thompson type 15
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2002


Contents

  1. Reynard and Bruin (Europe).

  2. The Fox Cheats the Bear out of His Yule Feast (Norway).

  3. Fox and Wolf (Netherlands).

  4. The Keg of Butter (Scotland).

  5. Cat and Mouse in Partnership (Germany).

  6. Mister Rabbit Nibbles Up the Butter (African-American).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Reynard and Bruin

Europe

You must know that once upon a time Reynard the Fox and Bruin the Bear went into partnership and kept house together. Would you like to know the reason? Well, Reynard knew that Bruin had a beehive full of honeycomb, and that was what he wanted. But Bruin kept so close a guard upon his honey that Master Reynard didn't know how to get away from him and get hold of the honey.

So one day he said to Bruin, "Pardner, I have to go and be gossip -- that means godfather, you know -- to one of my old friends."

"Why, certainly," said Bruin. So off Reynard goes into the woods, and after a time he crept back and uncovered the beehive and had such a feast of honey.

Then he went back to Bruin, who asked him what name had been given to the child. Reynard had forgotten all about the christening and could only say, "Just-Begun."

"What a funny name," said Master Bruin.

A little while after, Reynard thought he would like another feast of honey. So he told Bruin that he had to go to another christening. And off he went. And when he came back and Bruin asked him what was the name given to the child, Reynard said, "Half-Eaten."

The third time the same thing occurred, and this time the name given by Reynard to the child that didn't exist was "All-Gone." You can guess why.

A short time afterwards, Master Bruin thought he would like to eat up some of his honey and asked Reynard to come and join him in the feast. When they got to the beehive, Bruin was so surprised to find that there was no honey left, and he turned round to Reynard and said, "Just-Begun, Half-Eaten, All-Gone. So that is what you meant. You have eaten my honey."

"Why no," said Reynard. "How could that be?" I have never stirred from your side except when I went a-gossiping [serving as godfather], and then I was far away from here. You must have eaten the honey yourself, perhaps when you were asleep. At any rate we can easily tell. Let us lie down here in the sunshine, and if either of us has eaten the honey, the sun will soon sweat it out of us."

No sooner said than done, and the two lay side by side in the sunshine. Soon Master Bruin commenced to doze, and Mr. Reynard took some honey from the hive and smeared it round Bruin's snout. Then he woke him up and said, "See, the honey is oozing out of your snout. You must have eaten it when you were asleep."




The Fox Cheats the Bear out of His Yule Feast

Norway

A bear and a fox had once bought between them a tub of butter, which they intended to keep till Yule, and, therefore, hid it under a thick pine bush. They then went a little distance and lay down on a sunny bank to sleep. When they had lain some time, the fox started up and cried out, "Yes," and ran away towards the butter tub, out of which he ate a good third. When he returned the bear asked him where he had been, as he looked so greasy about the mouth.

He said, "What do you think of my being invited to a christening?"

"Oh, indeed! What is the name of the child?" asked the bear.

"Begun Upon," answered the fox.

Thereupon they lay down to sleep again. In a little while the fox sprang up again and cried out, "Yes," and ran to the butter tub. This time he also ate a good portion. When he came back, and the bear again asked where he had been, he answered, "Oh, would you believe it? I have again been invited to a christening."

"What is the name of the child?" asked the bear.

"Half Eaten," answered the fox.

The bear thought that was a strange name, though he did not wonder long about it, but gave a gape and went to sleep again. They had not lain long when the same took place as before. The fox sprang up and cried out, "Yes," and ran to the butter tub, and this time he ate the remainder. When he came back, he had been once more to a christening, and when the bear inquired the name of the child, he answered, "Licked to the Bottom!"

They now lay down and slept a long time.

At length they agreed to go and look after their butter, and when they found it all eaten up, the bear accused the fox, and the fox accused the bear, of having eaten it. One said that the other must have been to the butter tub while he slept.

"Well, well!" said Reynard. "We shall soon see which of us two has stolen the butter. Let us both now lie down on this sunny bank, and the one whose tail is the greasiest when we wake, must be the one who has stolen it."

The bear was willing to undergo the ordeal. So, feeling conscious of his innocence, and that he had not even tasted the butter, he lay down to have a good sound sleep in the sun. But Reynard, instead of sleeping, crept softly to the butter tub, and got a little that still remained between the staves. Then sneaking gently back to the bear, he rubbed his tail with it, and lay down to sleep as if nothing had happened. When they both woke, the sun had melted the butter on the bear's tail, so that he was proved to be the one that had eaten the butter.




Fox and Wolf

Netherlands

The fox and the wolf stole a keg of butter from a peasant and hid it in a safe place. However, the hiding-place was far from where they lived, and one day when the fox got the urge to have a taste of the butter by himself, he felt the necessity of borrowing the wolf's boots for the long journey. The wolf, of course, asked him why he needed the boots.

"Well," said the fox, "I must travel a great distance to a baptism."

"Good," said the wolf, and the fox, wearing the wolf's boots, took off for the keg.

When he returned, the wolf asked him what the child's name was.

"Beginning" said the fox, and wolf thought to himself, "That is a nice name."

A short time later the fox came again and asked to borrow the boots, saying that once again he had to go to a baptism.

"Good," said the wolf, and once again the fox set forth wearing the wolf's boots.

When he returned, the wolf asked him, "What is the child's name?"

"Middle-of-the-Keg" said the fox, and the wolf thought, "That is an even nicer name."

Some time later the fox came again and said that still another child was to be baptized. When he brought back the boots, the wolf again asked him what name the child had been given.

"Well," said the fox, "this time his name is Bottom-of-the-Keg."

When the fox came a fourth time, the wolf grew somewhat impatient and asked if there would be no end to the baptisms.

"Yes," said the fox. "This is the last time."

"If that is so," said the wolf, "then go ahead and put on the boots."

The fox went again to the keg, and licked it clean. Then he filled it with stones, spread a thin layer of butter over them, and went home.

The wolf again asked him what the child's name was, and the fox answered, "Scrape-out-the-Keg."

Some time later the fox proposed to the wolf that the two of them should go to the keg of butter and have a real feast. Arriving there, they began quarreling with one another which one should have the first serving. Unable to decide, they drew straws. The wolf was lucky and drew the longer one, so he was to begin first. He started eating vigorously, but, of course, got only a mouthful of stones.

You should have seen the wolf and the fox. Each one accused the other one of eating up the butter.

"You did it when you were going to the baptisms," said the wolf.

"No," said the fox. "You did it when you knew that I wasn't at home."

But none of this led anywhere. The keg was empty and remained empty, so they decided to return home without further delay.

On their way home they found an old horse in a mire. They wanted to take it with them and asked one another how they might manage.

The fox said, "You are the strongest. Tie the horse's tail around your body and pull, while I prod the horse with a stick."

That happened, and soon the horse was out of the mud, but it then ran off with the wolf tied to its tail.

"Claw your paws into the ground!" cried the fox.

"But I can see neither heaven nor earth!" answered the wolf.

Finally the wolf succeeded in breaking loose, and he and the fox continued on their way, but without the horse.

When they arrived at home the wolf sat down with his back to the fire, for he was wet to the bone. Sitting there, he fell asleep. The fox took some butter and spread it under the wolf's tail. Because of the warmth it soon melted.

Then the fox woke up the wolf and shouted, "Now it is clear who licked out the butter keg."




The Keg of Butter

Scotland

The russet dog and the wild dog (the fox and the wolf) were going together. And they went round about the seashore, and they found a keg of butter, and they buried it.

On the morrow the fox went out, and when he returned, he said that a man had come to ask him to a baptism. The fox went, and he arrayed himself in excellent attire, and he went away. And where should he go but to the butter keg. And when he came home, the wolf asked him, "What name was given to the child?"

And he said that it was Foveeal (under its mouth).

On the morrow the fox said that a man had sent to ask him to a baptism. And he went to the keg, and he took out about half.

The wolf asked, when he came home, "What name was given to the child?"

"Well," said he, "It is a queer name that I myself would not give to my man child, if I had one. It is Moolay Moolay (about half and half)."

On the morrow the fox said that a man had come to ask him to a baptism again. And he went to the keg, and he ate it all up. When he came home, the wolf asked him, "What name was given to the child?"

And he said that it was Booill Eemlich (licking all up).

On the morrow the fox said to the wolf that they ought to bring the keg home. They went, and when they reached the keg, there was not a shadow of the butter in it.

"Well," said the fox, "you came here without me!"

The other one swore that he had not come near it.

"You need not be claiming that you did not come here. I know that you did come, and that it was you who took the butter. And when we go home, I will see if you ate the butter," said the fox.

When they arrived home, the fox hung the wolf by his hind legs, with his head dangling below him. Then he put a dab of the butter under the wolf's mouth, as though it had come out of the wolf's belly.

"You red thief!" said the fox. "I said before, that it was you who ate the butter!"




Cat and Mouse in Partnership

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

A cat had made the acquaintance of a mouse, and had said so much to her about the great love and friendship that he felt for her, that at last the mouse agreed that they should live and keep house together. "But we must make preparations for winter, or else we shall suffer from hunger," said the cat, "and you, little mouse, cannot venture out everywhere, or in the end you will be caught in a trap."

This good advice was followed, and they bought a pot of fat, but they did not know where to store it. Finally, after much consideration, the cat said, "I know of no place where it will be better stored up than in the church. No one dares take anything away from there. We will put it beneath the altar, and not touch it until we are need it."

So the pot was stored safely away, but it was not long before the cat took a great longing for it, and said to the mouse, "I wanted to tell you, little mouse, that my cousin has brought a little son into the world, and she has asked me to be his godfather. He is white with brown spots, and I am to hold him over the baptismal font. Let me go out today, and you look after the house by yourself."

"Yes, yes," answered the mouse. "By all means go, and if you get anything good to eat, think of me. I would like to drink a drop of sweet red christening wine myself."

All this, however, was untrue. The cat had no cousin, and had not been asked to be godfather. He went straight to the church, crept up to the pot of fat, began to lick at it, and licked off the top of the fat. Then he went for a stroll on the roofs of the town, looked out for opportunities, and then stretched out in the sun, licking his whiskers whenever he thought of the pot of fat. He did not return home until it was evening.

"Well, here you are again," said the mouse. "You must have had a happy day."

"Everything went well," answered the cat.

"What name did they give the child?" asked the mouse.

"Top-Off," said the cat quite coolly.

"Top-Off?" cried the mouse. "That is a very odd and uncommon name. Is it a usual one in your family?"

"What does that matter?", said the cat. "It is no worse than Crumb-Thief, as your godchildren are called."

Before long the cat was seized by another fit of longing. He said to the mouse, "You must do me a favor, and once more manage the house alone for a day. I have been asked again to be godfather, and since the child has a white ring around its neck, I cannot refuse."

The good mouse consented. However, the cat crept behind the town wall to the church, and devoured half the pot of fat. "Nothing tastes as good as that which one eats by oneself," he said, and was quite satisfied with his day's work.

When he arrived home the mouse asked, "What name was this child christened with?"

"Half-Gone," answered the cat.

"Half-Gone? What are you saying? I have never heard that name in all my life. I'll wager it is not in the almanac."

The cat's mouth soon again began to water for the delicious goods. "All good things come in threes," he said to the mouse. "I have been asked to be godfather again. The child is totally black, only it has white paws. Otherwise it has not a single white hair on its whole body. This only happens once every few years. You will let me go, won't you?"

"Top-Off. Half-Gone," answered the mouse. "They are such odd names, that they make me stop and think."

"Here you sit at home," said the cat, "with your dark gray fur coat and long braid of hair capturing fantasies. That is because you do not go out in the daytime."

During the cat's absence the mouse cleaned the house, and put it in order, but the greedy cat devoured all the rest of the fat. "One has peace only after everything is eaten up," he said to himself. Well filled and fat, he did not return home until nighttime.

The mouse immediately asked what name had been given to the third child.

"You will not like it either," said the cat. "His name is All-Gone."

"All-Gone!", cried the mouse. "That is the most worrisome name of all. I have never seen it in print. All-Gone! What can that mean?" Then she shook her head, curled herself up, and lay down to sleep.

From this time forth no one invited the cat to be godfather, but when winter had come and there was no longer anything to be found outside, the mouse thought of their stored food, and said, "Come cat, we will go to our pot of fat which we have stored up for ourselves. It will taste good now."

"Yes," answered the cat. "You will enjoy it as much as you would enjoy sticking that dainty tongue of yours out of the window."

They set out on their way, but when they arrived, the pot of fat, to be sure, was still in its place, but it was empty. "Alas," said the mouse, "now I see what has happened. Now it comes to light. You are a true friend. You ate everything when you were serving as a godfather. First top off, then half done, then ..."

"Be quiet!" cried the cat. "One more word, and I will eat you too."

"All gone" was already on the poor mouse's lips. She had scarcely spoken it before the cat sprang on her, seized her, and swallowed her down. You see, that is the way of the world.




Mr. Rabbit Nibbles up the Butter

African-American

"The animals and the creatures," said Uncle Remus, shaking his coffee around in the bottom of his tin cup, in order to gather up all the sugar,

they just kept on getting more and more familiar with one another, until by and by it wasn't long before Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and Brer Possum got to sort of bunching their provisions together in the same shanty. After a while the roof sort of began to leak, and one day Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and Brer Possum assembled to see if they couldn't kind of patch it up. They had a big day's work in front of them, and they fetched their dinner with them. They lumped the vittles up in one pile, and the butter that Brer Fox brought, they went and put it in the spring-house to keep it cool, and then they went to work, and it wasn't long before Brer Rabbit's stomach began to sort of growl and pester him. Brer Fox's butter sat heavy on his mind, and his mouth watered every time he remembered it.
Presently he said to himself that he would like to have a nip at the butter, and then he laid out his plans, he did. First thing you know, while they were working along, Brer Rabbit raised his head quickly and flung his ears forward, and hollered out, "Here I am. What do you want with me?" and off he went, like something was after him.
He sallied around, old Brer Rabbit did, and after he made sure that nobody was following, he bounced into the spring-house, and there he stayed until he got a helping of butter. Then he sauntered on back and went to work.
"Where have you been?" said Brer Fox.
"I heard my children calling me," said Brer Rabbit, "and I had to go see what they wanted. My old woman has gone and taken sick," he said.
They worked on until by and by the butter tasted so good that old Brer Rabbit wanted some more. Then he raised up his head, he did, and hollered out, "Heyo! Hold on! I'm a-coming!" And off he went.
This time he stayed a good while, and when he got back, Brer Fox asked him where he'd been.
"I've been to see my old woman, and she's sinking," he said.
Directly Brer Rabbit heard them calling him again, and off he went, and this time, bless your soul, he got the butter out so clean that he could see himself in the bottom of the bucket. He scraped it clean and licked it dry, and then he went back to work looking like a black man that had been picked up by the plantation patrol.
"How's your old woman this time?" said Brer Rabbit.
"I'm obliged to you, Brer Fox," said Brer Rabbit, "but I'm afraid that she's gone by now," and that sort of made Brer Fox and Brer Possum feel in mourning with Brer Rabbit.
By and by, when dinnertime came, they all got out their vittles, but Brer Rabbit kept on looking lonesome, and Brer Fox and Brer Possum, they sort of rustled around to see if they couldn't make Brer Rabbit feel sort of splimmy.

"What is that, Uncle Remus?" asked the little boy.

"Sort of splimmy-splammy [feeling fine], honey. Sort of like he was among friends, sort of like his old woman wasn't dead after all. You know what folks do when they are around people who are mourning?

The little boy didn't know, fortunately for him, and Uncle Remus went on:

Brer Fox and Brer Possum rustled around, they did, getting out the vittles, and by and by Brer Fox, he said, "Brer Possum, you run down to the spring and fetch the butter, and I'll sail around you and set the table," he said.
Brer Possum, he loped off after the butter, and directly he came loping back with his ears a-trembling and his tongue a-hanging out.
"Brer Fox!" he hollered out.
"What's the matter now, Brer Possum?" he said.
"You all had better run, folks" said Brer Possum. "The last drop of that butter is gone."
"Where did it go?" said Brer Fox.
"It looks like it dried up," said Brer Possum.
Then Brer Rabbit, he looked sort of solemn, he did, and he up and said, "I suspect that the butter melted in somebody's mouth," he said.
Then they went down to the spring with Brer Possum, and sure enough, the butter was gone. While they were talking about the mystery, Brer rabbit said that he could see tracks all around there, and he pointed out that if they would all go to sleep, he could catch the chap that stole the butter.
They all lay down, and Brer Fox and Brer Possum, they soon dropped off to sleep, but Brer Rabbit, he stayed awake, and when the time came, he got up easy, and smeared Brer Possum's mouth with the butter on his paws, and then he ran off and nibbled up the best of the dinner that they had left lying out, and then he came back and woke up Brer Fox and showed him the butter on Brer Possum's mouth. Then they woke up Brer Possum and told him about it, but of course Brer Possum denied it to the last.
Now Brer Fox, he's kind of a lawyer, and he argued this way: that Brer Possum was the first one at the butter, and the first one to miss it, and more than that, there were the signs on his mouth.
Brer Possum could see that they had him jammed up in a corner, and then he up and said that the way to catch the man that stole the butter was to build a big brush heap and set it on fire, and everyone would try to jump over it, and the one that fell in, that would be the chap that stole the butter.
Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, they both agreed, they did, and they whirled in and built the brush heap, and they built it high, and they built it wide, and then they touched it off. When it got to blazing up good, Brer Rabbit he took the first turn. He sort of stepped back, and looked around and giggled, and over he went, just like a bird flying.
Then came Brer Fox. He got back a little further, and spit on his hands, and lit out and made the jump, and he came so close to falling in that his tail caught fire.

"Haven't you ever seen a fox, honey?" inquired Uncle Remus, in a tone that implied both conciliation and information.

The little boy thought probably he had, but he wouldn't commit himself.

"Well then, continued the old man, "next time you see one of them, you look right close and see if the end of his tail isn't white. It's just like I tell you. They bear the scar of that brush right down to this day. They are marked, that's what they are. They are marked."

"And what about Brother Possum?" asked the little boy.

"Old Brer Possum, he took a running start, he did, and he came lumbering along, and he lit -- kerblam! -- right in the middle of the fire, and that was the last of old Brer Possum."

"But, Uncle Remus, Brother Possum didn't steal the butter after all," said the little boy, who was not at all satisfied with such summary injustice.

"That's what makes me say what I say, honey. In this world, lots of folks have to suffer for other folks' sins. It looks like it's mighty wrong, but it's just that way. Tribulation seems like it's a-waiting just around the corner to catch one and all of us, honey."




Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised Halloween, 2002.