(illustration by Otto Ubbelohde)
This pleased Bearskin well, and he went.
When the eldest saw him, she was so terribly alarmed at his face that she screamed and ran away.
The second stood still and looked at him from head to foot, but then she said, "How can I accept a husband who no longer has a human form? The shaven bear that once was here and passed itself off for a man pleased me far better, for at any rate it wore a hussar's dress and white gloves. If it were nothing but ugliness, I might get used to that."
The youngest, however, said, "Dear father, that must be a good man to have helped you out of your trouble, so if you have promised him a bride for doing it, your promise must be kept."
It was a pity that Bearskin's face was covered with dirt and with hair, for if not, they might have seen how delighted he was when he heard these words. He took a ring from his finger, broke it in two, and gave her one half; the other he kept for himself. He wrote his name, however, on her half, and hers on his, and begged her to keep her piece carefully, and then he took his leave and said, "I must still wander about for three years, and if I do not return then, thou art free, for I shall be dead. But pray to God to preserve my life."
The poor betrothed bride dressed herself entirely in black, and when she thought of her future bridegroom, tears came into her eyes.
Nothing but contempt and mockery fell to her lot from her sisters. "Take care," said the eldest; "if thou givest him thy hand, he will strike his claws into it."
"Beware!" said the second. "Bears like sweet things, and if he takes a fancy to thee, he will eat thee up."
"Thou must always do as he likes," began the elder again, "or else he will growl."
And the second continued, "But the wedding will be a merry one, for bears dance well."
The bride was silent and did not let them vex her. Bearskin, however, travelled about the world from one place to another, did good where he was able, and gave generously to the poor that they might pray for him.
At length, as the last day of the seven years dawned, he went once more out on to the heath and seated himself beneath the circle of trees. It was not long before the wind whistled, and the Devil stood before him and looked angrily at him; then he threw Bearskin his old coat and asked for his own green one back.
"We have not got so far as that yet," answered Bearskin; "thou must first make me clean."
Whether the Devil liked it or not, he was forced to fetch water and wash Bearskin, comb his hair, and cut his nails. After this, he looked like a brave soldier and was much handsomer than he had ever been before.
When the Devil had gone away, Bearskin was quite lighthearted. He went into the town, put on a magnificent velvet coat, seated himself in a carriage drawn by four white horses, and drove to his bride's house.
No one recognized him; the father took him for a distinguished general and led him into the room where his daughters were sitting. He was forced to place himself between the two eldest; they helped him to wine, gave him the best pieces of meat, and thought that in all the world they had never seen a handsomer man.
The bride, however, sat opposite to him in her black dress and never raised her eyes nor spoke a word. When at length he asked the father if he would give him one of his daughters to wife, the two eldest jumped up and ran into their bedrooms to put on splendid dresses, for each of them fancied she was the chosen one.
The stranger, as soon as he was alone with his bride, brought out his half of the ring and threw it in a glass of wine which he reached across the table to her. She took the wine, but when she had drunk it and found the half ring lying at the bottom, her heart began to beat. She got the other half, which she wore on a ribbon round her neck, joined them, and saw that the two pieces fitted exactly together.
Then said he, "I am thy betrothed bridegroom, whom thou sawest as Bearskin, but through God's grace I have again received my human form and have once more become clean."
He went up to her, embraced her, and gave her a kiss. In the meantime, the two sisters came back in full dress, and when they saw that the handsome man had fallen to the share of the youngest and heard that he was Bearskin, they ran out full of anger and rage. One of them drowned herself in the well; the other hanged herself on a tree.
In the evening, someone knocked at the door, and when the bridegroom opened it, it was the Devil in his green coat, who said, "Seest thou, I have now got two souls in the place of thy one!"
Next: Hans the Hedgehog