Saturday, July 12, 2014

Grimm: Bearskin

This story is part of the Brothers Grimm (Hunt) unit. Story source: Household Tales by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, translated by Margaret Hunt (1884).

(illustration by Otto Ubbelohde)


Bearskin

THERE was once a young fellow who enlisted as a soldier, conducted himself bravely, and was always the foremost when it rained bullets. So long as the war lasted, all went well, but when peace was made, he received his dismissal, and the captain said he might go where he liked. His parents were dead, and he had no longer a home, so he went to his brothers and begged them to take him in and keep him until war broke out again.

The brothers, however, were hard-hearted and said, "What can we do with thee? Thou art of no use to us; go and make a living for thyself."

The soldier had nothing left but his gun; he took that on his shoulder and went forth into the world. He came to a wide heath, on which nothing was to be seen but a circle of trees; under these he sat sorrowfully down, and began to think over his fate.

"I have no money," thought he; "I have learnt no trade but that of fighting, and now that they have made peace, they don't want me any longer. So I see beforehand that I shall have to starve."

All at once he heard a rustling, and when he looked round, a strange man stood before him who wore a green coat and looked right stately, but had a hideous cloven foot.

"I know already what thou art in need of," said the man; "gold and possessions shall thou have, as much as thou canst make away with do what thou wilt, but first I must know if thou art fearless, that I may not bestow my money in vain."

"A soldier and fear — how can those two things go together?" he answered; "thou canst put me to the proof."

"Very well, then," answered the man; "look behind thee."

The soldier turned round and saw a large bear, which came growling towards him.

"Oho!" cried the soldier. "I will tickle thy nose for thee so that thou shalt soon lose thy fancy for growling," and he aimed at the bear and shot it through the muzzle; it fell down and never stirred again.

"I see quite well," said the stranger, "that thou art not wanting in courage, but there is still another condition which thou wilt have to fulfil."

"If it does not endanger my salvation," replied the soldier, who knew very well who was standing by him. "If it does, I'll have nothing to do with it."

"Thou wilt look to that for thyself," answered Greencoat; "thou shalt for the next seven years neither wash thyself, nor comb thy beard, nor thy hair, nor cut thy nails, nor say one paternoster. I will give thee a coat and a cloak, which during this time thou must wear. If thou diest during these seven years, thou art mine; if thou remainest alive, thou art free, and rich to boot, for all the rest of thy life."

The soldier thought of the great extremity in which he now found himself, and as he so often had gone to meet death, he resolved to risk it now also and agreed to the terms. The Devil took off his green coat, gave it to the soldier, and said, "If thou hast this coat on thy back and puttest thy hand into the pocket, thou wilt always find it full of money."

Then he pulled the skin off the bear and said, "This shall be thy cloak, and thy bed also, for thereon shalt thou sleep, and in no other bed shalt thou lie, and because of this apparel shalt thou be called Bearskin."

After this the Devil vanished.

The soldier put the coat on, felt at once in the pocket, and found that the thing was really true. Then he put on the bearskin and went forth into the world and enjoyed himself, refraining from nothing that did him good and his money harm.

During the first year his appearance was passable, but during the second he began to look like a monster. His hair covered nearly the whole of his face, his beard was like a piece of coarse felt, his fingers had claws, and his face was so covered with dirt that if cress had been sown on it, it would have come up. Whosoever saw him, ran away, but as he everywhere gave the poor money to pray that he might not die during the seven years and as he paid well for everything, he still always found shelter.

In the fourth year, he entered an inn where the landlord would not receive him, and would not even let him have a place in the stable, because he was afraid the horses would be scared. But as Bearskin thrust his hand into his pocket and pulled out a handful of ducats, the host let himself be persuaded and gave him a room in an outhouse. Bearskin was, however, obliged to promise not to let himself be seen, lest the inn should get a bad name.

As Bearskin was sitting alone in the evening and wishing from the bottom of his heart that the seven years were over, he heard a loud lamenting in a neighboring room. He had a compassionate heart, so he opened the door and saw an old man weeping bitterly and wringing his hands. Bearskin went nearer, but the man sprang to his feet and tried to escape from him.

At last when the man perceived that Bearskin's voice was human, he let himself be prevailed on, and by kind words Bearskin succeeded so far that the old man revealed the cause of his grief. His property had dwindled away by degrees, he and his daughters would have to starve, and he was so poor that he could not pay the innkeeper and was to be put in prison.

"If that is your only trouble," said Bearskin, "I have plenty of money." He caused the innkeeper to be brought thither, paid him, and put a purse full of gold into the poor old man's pocket besides.


(1000 words)





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