Once upon a time there lived in a little village in the very middle of France a widow and her only son, a boy about fifteen, whose name was Antoine, though no one ever called him anything but Toueno-Boueno. They were very poor indeed, and their hut shook about their ears on windy nights, till they expected the walls to fall in and crush them, but instead of going to work as a boy of his age ought to do, Toueno-Boueno did nothing but lounge along the street, his eyes fixed on the ground, seeing nothing that went on round him.
‘You are very, very stupid, my dear child,’ his mother would sometimes say to him, and then she would add with a laugh, ‘Certainly you will never catch a wolf by the tail.’
One day the old woman bade Antoine go into the forest and collect enough dry leaves to make beds for herself and him. Before he had finished it began to rain heavily, so he hid himself in the hollow trunk of a tree, where he was so dry and comfortable that he soon fell fast asleep. By and by he was awakened by a noise which sounded like a dog scratching at the door, and he suddenly felt frightened, why he did not know. Very cautiously he raised his head, and right above him he saw a big hairy animal, coming down tail foremost.
‘It is the wolf that they talk so much about,’ he said to himself, and he made himself as small as he could and shrunk into a corner.
The wolf came down the inside of the tree, slowly, slowly; Antoine felt turned to stone, so terrified was he, and hardly dared to breathe. Suddenly an idea entered his mind, which he thought might save him still. He remembered to have heard from his mother that a wolf could neither bend his back nor turn his head, so as to look behind him, and quick as lightning he stretched up his hand, and seizing the wolf’s tail, pulled it towards him.
Then he left the tree and dragged the animal to his mother’s house.
‘Mother, you have often declared that I was too stupid to catch a wolf by the tail. Now see,’ he cried triumphantly.
‘Well, well, wonders will never cease,’ answered the good woman, who took care to keep at a safe distance. ‘But as you really have got him, let us see if we can’t put him to some use. Fetch the skin of the ram which died last week out of the chest, and we will sew the wolf up in it. He will make a splendid ram, and to- morrow we will drive him to the fair and sell him.’
Very likely the wolf, who was cunning and clever, may have understood what she said, but he thought it best to give no sign, and suffered the skin to be sewn upon him.
‘I can always get away if I choose,’ thought he, ‘it is better not to be in a hurry;’ so he remained quite still while the skin was drawn over his head, which made him very hot and uncomfortable, and resisted the temptation to snap off the fingers or noses that were so close to his mouth.
The fair was at its height next day when Toueno-Boueno arrived with his wolf in ram’s clothing. All the farmers crowded round him, each offering a higher price than the last. Never had they beheld such a beautiful beast, said they, and at last, after much bargaining, he was handed over to three brothers for a good sum of money.
It happened that these three brothers owned large flocks of sheep, though none so large and fine as the one they had just bought.
‘My flock is the nearest,’ observed the eldest brother; ‘we will leave him in the fold for the night, and to-morrow we will decide which pastures will be best for him.’ And the wolf grinned as he listened, and held up his head a little higher than before.