(A French Folktale)
Once upon a time, Bruin the Bear had a beehive full of honeycomb. He was quite proud of it, so he walked through the forest boasting. When Reynard the Fox heard about the honeycomb, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Honey, he thought — rich, sweet, mouth-watering honey. Who wouldn’t want to taste that?
Reynard thought about how he might steal that honeycomb, but Bruin kept careful watch over it. He slept with the beehive beneath his big, furry body, and when he was awake, he guarded it fiercely. When he had to leave the beehive for any reason, his bear friends watched it for him.
Reynard kept looking for an opportunity to steal the beehive, and as he did, his mouth watered. At long last he had an idea. One day while Bruin was guarding his honeycomb, Reynard pretended to be casually strolling past. He stopped and said, “Bruin, old friend, how would you like to go into partnership with me?”
“Partnership?” Bruin asked. “What kind of partnership?” The whole idea puzzled him because Reynard the Fox had never been his friend.
“Well, you know,” Reynard explained, “I have a great many connections, and I would like to share my bounty with you. If we were partners and shared a house, half of everything I own would be yours. And half of your belongings would be mine, of course.”
Bruin was surprised to learn that Reynard the Fox had many connections, but he liked the idea of having a powerful, important fox as his partner. Reynard certainly was that, and so Bruin agreed.
So the two went into partnership, and set up house together. That’s where Bruin kept his honeycomb.
One beautiful spring day Reynard said to Bruin, “I have to go to a christening today. My friend has asked me to be godfather to his child. I’m afraid I’ll be away a long time.”
“Have a good day,” Bruin said and he waved goodbye.
Soon after Reynard had left, Bruin thought how nice a long walk on this pretty day might be. So he set off, leaving his honeycomb safely behind in their house. At least, he thought it was safe.
But Reynard simply sneaked outside and hid beside the house, waiting for Bruin to leave. When he saw his partner leave, Reynard went back inside, uncovered the honeycomb and began to feast. Oh, was he happy. When Reynard was full, he covered the honeycomb up again and walked outside and waited for Bruin to return.
Late that evening, long after Bruin was home, Reynard returned.
“How was the christening?” Bruin asked. “What did your friend name the child?”
Reynard grinned. “Just begun,” he chuckled quietly to himself, for that is precisely what he had done.
“Strange name,” Bruin said.
A few days passed, and Reynard began to dream of that honey again. When Bruin woke, Reynard said, “It’s amazing. There is another christening today. I’ll be gone most of the day. Farewell, friend!”
Off Reynard ran — to hide beside the house.
Bruin decided it might be a nice day to visit his bear friends, so that is what he did. He came home in the late afternoon, not knowing that Reynard had sneaked back inside and eaten more honey.
That night when Reynard returned home, Bruin said, “What was this child’s name?”
“Half-eaten,” Reynard said, once again laughing under his breath.
“Strange,” said Bruin. “That is a difficult name for a child.”
“I agree,” Reynard said. “It is that.”
A few days later, the same thing happened. This time when Bruin asked the child’s name, Reynard answered, “All gone.” That is because when Bruin went out to roam the woods that day, Reynard sneaked back in and ate all the remaining honey.
“Your friends choose some odd names for their children,” Bruin said to Reynard, but the fox only smiled slyly.
A few weeks had passed when one day Bruin began to think how nice it would be to eat a little honey again. He woke Reynard with a shake and said, “Let’s have a honey feast today!”
“Sounds good,” Reynard said, and still half-asleep, he followed Bruin to the spot where the honeycomb was hidden.
When Bruin looked and discovered the honeycomb was gone, his eyes opened wide. His mind began to spin.
“Just begun,” he said. “Half-eaten. All gone.”
It took Bruin a while, but he understood at last and cried, “Reynard, you ate my honey!”
Reynard shook his head. “Your honey?” he asked. “First of all, that honey is ours. But second, that is impossible. We have never been apart except for the days I was at the christenings. Bruin, it seems you must have eaten up this honey yourself!”
Once again Bruin’s mind whirled. “That’s impossible,” he said. “I haven’t eaten any.”
Reynard pretended to think and after some moments he said, “I have an idea. Let us go outside and lie in the sun. If either of us ate the honey, the sun will sweat it out of us.”
Outside, under the warm spring sun, they lay down side by side.
Before long, Bruin was asleep. He slept so soundly that his snores seemed to shake the whole world. Reynard sneaked away and took the last dab of honey from the hive. Then he smeared that honey on Bruin’s big snout.
“Bruin!” Reynard cried. “Look! There’s honey oozing out of your nose! You must have eaten our honey while you were sleeping!”
Poor old Bruin woke up and felt his head spinning again. What a tragedy, he thought. How would he ever pay Reynard back?
“You owe me half a honeycomb,” Reynard said. “But never mind that. I’m a generous fellow. I’ll let you off this time, but that’s the end of our deal. I just can’t trust you!”
That was the end of Reynard and Bruin’s partnership.