Merry Tales  by Eleanor L. Skinner

The Forest Bailiff

Russian Legend

O NCE upon a time a peasant owned a cat which was so disagreeable and mischievous that all the neighbors complained about him. Finally the peasant became impatient and said to his wife, "I have decided to get rid of our cat. He is such a nuisance that I feel we ought not to keep him any longer."

"I do not blame you," replied his wife. "My patience, too, is worn out listening to the stories told about that mischievous animal."

In a few days the peasant put the cat into a large sack and walked far into a leafy forest. Then he opened the sack and let the cat bound away. How many interesting things there were in the depths of the beautiful wood! After wandering about for a few hours the cat began to feel quite at home, especially when he found a little deserted cabin where he took up his abode and dined bountifully on mice and birds.

One day when Master Cat was walking proudly along a path which led to a pond, he met Miss Fox, who looked at him with great interest and curiosity. When she came close enough to be heard, she said, "Your pardon, good sir, but may I ask who you are, and why you are walking in the forest?"

Master Cat raised his head very high and replied proudly: "I am the bailiff of the forest. My name is Ivan, and I have been sent from Siberia to become governor of this vast wood."

"Oh, indeed," said Miss Fox. "Dear Master Bailiff, will you not honor me with your presence at dinner? I shall be most proud to entertain such a distinguished guest."

"Lady, I accept your invitation," replied Master Cat, making a profound bow.

Now Miss Fox knew well how to entertain. She not only provided the greatest delicacies for her table, but she chatted in the merriest fashion and told the bailiff many interesting things about life in the forest.

"My dear Sir Bailiff; do have another serving of this savory pie. The forest, you know, gives one a good appetite," said she, with a side glance at her visitor.

"Thank you, dear lady," returned Master Ivan. "It is indeed delicious. I have tasted nothing so good for weeks. What a cozy home you have here."

"It is very comfortable," replied Miss Fox. "But I am often a little lonely. May I ask, sir, are you married or single?"

"I am single," replied Mr. Bailiff.

"Why, so am I," said his companion, dropping her eyes shyly. "Master Ivan, the Bailiff, will you not marry me?"

The guest was a little astonished, but he finally consented to marry Miss Fox. Their wedding was attended with much ceremony, and the bailiff came to live in his wife's cozy home.

A few days after their marriage Ivan said: "Madam, I am very hungry. Go on a little hunting trip and bring me home a fine dinner." Away went the wife toward a deep hollow. She had not gone very far when she met her old friend the wolf.

"Good morning, my dear friend," he began. "I have been looking in vain for you in the forest. Do tell me where you have been."

Madam Fox replied coyly: "Oh, I am married, you know. My husband is the bailiff of the forest."

"Indeed," said the wolf. "How I should like to see his honor, your husband."

"That can be managed if you will follow my advice closely. You see, my husband is very ferocious, and unless you do as I say he might devour you. However, I'll see what can be done. Let me see. You had better get a lamb and place it on our doorstep. Then hide in the bushes which grow near. When my husband opens the door, you can get a very good look at him," said Madam Fox, proudly.

The wolf ran away in search of a lamb, and Madam continued on her way. In a short time she met a bear. "Good day, my good friend," he said. "I have missed you for some time. May I ask where you have been?"

"Oh," said Madam, "is it possible you have not heard of my marriage with Ivan, the bailiff of the forest?"

"Is it true? Then I offer you my sincere congratulations! The bailiff of the forest, you say?" said the bear, in a puzzled tone. "Madam, it would give me the greatest pleasure to see his honor, your husband."

"Yes," said Madam, "that would be a great privilege, but I must tell you that the bailiff is very fierce. In fact, he is likely to devour anyone who does not please him. But perhaps I can help you out a little. Let me see. You had better procure an ox. And be sure to offer your gift very humbly. The wolf, who is also most anxious to see my husband, is going to bring a lamb for a present."

Away went the bear in search of his gift, which he soon found; then he hurried clumsily along, and in a little while he met the wolf with a lamb.

"Good day to you, my friend," began the wolf. "May I ask where you are going with such a burden?"

"I am going to see the husband of Madam Fox, to whom I shall give this ox. Will you tell me where you are going?" said the bear.

"Why, I am bound for the same place, my friend. Madam Fox told me her husband is terrible. He devours anyone who displeases him, so I am taking a lamb for a present." The wolf's voice trembled a little as he continued, "I do hope he will take kindly to me."

The friends went on their way, and in a short time they came to the house of the cat. The wolf pushed the bear a little ahead and whispered, "Go, my good comrade, knock on the door and say to the husband of Madam Fox that we have brought an ox and a lamb as gifts."

"Oh," shivered the bear, "I dare not! I am so filled with fear. Indeed, indeed, I cannot. You go, good wolf! Do."

"Impossible," returned the wolf, in a quaking voice. "I am trembling all over. I haven't strength enough to walk there much less to rap on the door. Come, let us hide ourselves and bide our time."

So the wolf hid himself under some dry leaves, and the bear jumped into a tree and carefully hid himself among the branches. In a few moments Madam Fox and her husband, who had been walking in the forest, came home.

"How very small the bailiff is," whispered the wolf.

"He is, indeed," gasped the bear, a little scornfully.

The cat now saw the ox and leaped to the step saying, "Oh, a small meal for me."

"A small  meal," said the bear, with surprise. "How very, very hungry the bailiff must be! And he is so small, too. Why, a bull is a good meal for four bears. What an immense appetite he must have!"

The wolf was too much frightened to answer. There was a slight rustling sound in the dry leaves and, thinking a mouse was hidden there, the cat gave a bound and fastened his claws in the snout of the wolf. With a gasp of fear the wolf leaped up and ran away as fast as he could go. Now, the cat was very much afraid of a wolf, and so he gave one leap into the tree where the bear lay hidden. "Oh, mercy, mercy!" cried the bear. "The cat is after me. He will devour me. Oh, help, help!" and down the tree scrambled the bear. Off he ran, as fast as he could go, after the wolf. Madam Fox screamed out: "My husband is terrible! He will devour you! He will devour you!"

Away sped the wolf and the bear, and they told their adventure to the other animals of the forest, who took good care to stay far away from the terrible bailiff. Meanwhile the cat and the fox were very happy, and they had plenty to eat for a long time.