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 till war broke out again. The brothers, however, were hard-hearted and said, "What can we do with you? you are of no use to us; go and make a living for yourself."
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 you are in need of," said the man; "gold and possessions shall you have, as much as you can make away with do what you will, but first I must know if you are fearless, that I may not bestow my money in vain."
"A soldier and fear -how can those two things go together?" he answered; "you can put me to the proof."
"Very well, then," answered the man, "look behind you."
The soldier turned round, and saw a large bear, which came growling towards him.
"Oho!" cried the soldier, "I will tickle your nose for you, so that you shall soon lose your 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 you are not wanting in courage, but there is still another condition which you will have to fulfil."
"If it does not endanger my salvation," answered the soldier, who knew very well who was standing by him.
"If it does, I'll have nothing to do with it."
"You will look to that for yourself," answered Greencoat; "you shall for the next seven years neither wash yourself, nor comb your beard, nor your hair, nor cut your nails, nor say one paternoster. I will give you a coat and a cloak, which during this time you must wear. If you diest during these seven years, you are mine; if you remainest alive, you are free, and rich to boot, for all the rest of your 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 you have this coat on your back and puttest your hand into the pocket, you will always find it full of money."
Then he pulled the skin off the bear and said, "This shall be your cloak, and your bed also, for thereon shall you sleep, and in no other bed shall you lie, and because of this apparel shall you 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. Whoever 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 neighbouring 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 there, paid him and put a purse full of gold into the poor old man's pocket besides.
When the old man saw himself set free from all his troubles he did not know how to be grateful enough.
"Come with me," said he to Bearskin; "my daughters are all miracles of beauty, choose one of them for yourself as a wife. When she hears what you have done for me, she will not refuse you. You do in truth look a little strange, but she will soon put you to rights again."
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, you are 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 you give him your hand, he will strike his claws into it."
"Beware!" said the second. "Bears like sweet things, and if he takes a fancy to you, he will eat you up."
"You must always do as he likes," began the elder again, "or else he will growl." And the second went on, "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, "you 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, 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 your betrothed bridegroom, the one you saw 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, "Do you see, I have now got two souls in the place of your one!"
There was once a poor widow who lived in a lonely cottage. In front of the cottage was a garden, and in that garden stood two rose-trees. One tree bore white flowers and the other red roses. She had two children who were like the two rose-trees, and one was called Snow-white, and the other Rose-red. They were as good and happy, as busy and cheerful as ever two children in the world were, only Snow-white was more quiet and gentle than Rose-red. Rose-red liked better to run about in the meadows and fields seeking flowers and catching butterflies; but Snow-white sat at home with her mother, and helped her with her house-work, or read to her when there was nothing to do.
The two children were so fond of each other that they always held each other by the hand when they went out together, and when Snow-white said, "We will not leave each other," Rose-red answered, "Never so long as we live," and their mother would add, "What one has she must share with the other."
They often ran about the forest alone and gathered red berries, and no beasts did them any harm, but came close to them trustfully. The little hare would eat a cabbage-leaf out of their hands, the roe grazed by their side, the stag leapt merrily by them, and the birds sat still on the boughs and sang whatever they knew.
No mishap overtook them; if they had stayed too late in the forest and night came on, they laid themselves down near one another on the moss and slept till morning came. Their mother knew this and had no distress on their account.
Once when they had spent the night in the wood and the dawn had roused them, they saw a beautiful child in a shining white dress sitting near their bed. He got up and looked quite kindly at them, but said nothing and went away into the forest. And when they looked round they found that they had been sleeping quite close to a precipice, and would certainly have fallen into it in the darkness if they had gone only a few paces further. And their mother told them that it must have been the angel who watches over good children.
Snow-white and Rose-red kept their mother's little cottage so neat that it was a pleasure to look inside it. In the summer Rose-red took care of the house, and every morning laid a wreath of flowers by her mother's bed before she awoke, in which was a rose from each tree. In the winter Snow-white lit the fire and hung the kettle on the hook. The kettle was of copper and shone like gold, so brightly was it polished. In the evening, when the snowflakes fell, the mother said, "Go, Snow-white, and bolt the door," and then they sat round the hearth. The mother took her glasses and read aloud out of a large book, and the two girls listened as they sat and span. Close by them lay a lamb on the floor, and behind them on a perch sat a white dove with its head hidden beneath its wings.
One evening as they were thus sitting comfortably together, someone knocked at the door as if he wished to be let in. The mother said, "Quick, Rose-red, open the door, it must be a traveller who is seeking shelter."
Rose-red went and pushed back the bolt, thinking that it was a poor man, but it was not; it was a bear that stretched his broad, black head within the door.
Rose-red screamed and sprang back, the lamb bleated, the dove fluttered, and Snow-white hid herself behind her mother's bed. But the bear began to speak and said, "Do not be afraid! I'll do you no harm. I am half-frozen, and only want to warm myself a little beside you."
"Poor bear," said the mother, "lie down by the fire, only take care that you don't burn your coat."
Then she cried, "Snow-white, Rose-red, come out, the bear will do you no harm; he means well."
So they both came out, and by-and-by the lamb and dove came nearer and were not afraid of him. The bear said, "Here, children, knock the snow out of my coat a little;" so they brought the broom and swept the bear's hide clean; and he stretched himself by the fire and growled contentedly and comfortably.
It was not long before they grew quite at home, and played tricks with their clumsy guest. They tugged his hair with their hands, put their feet on his back and rolled him about, or they took a hazel-switch and beat him, and when he growled they laughed. But the bear took it all in good part, only when they were too rough he called out, "Leave me alive, children,
When it was bed-time, and the others went to bed, the mother said to the bear, "You can lie there by the hearth, and then you will be safe from the cold and the bad weather."
As soon as day dawned the two children let him out, and he trotted across the snow into the forest.
From now on the bear came every evening at the same time, laid himself down by the hearth and let the children amuse themselves with him as much as they liked; and they got so used to him that the doors were never fastened until their black friend had arrived.
When spring had come and all outside was green, the bear said one morning to Snow-white, "Now I must go away and cannot come back for the whole summer."
"Where are you going, then, dear bear?" asked Snow-white.
"I must go into the forest and guard my treasures from the wicked dwarfs. In the winter, when the earth is frozen hard, they have to stay below and cannot work their way through; but now when the sun has thawed and warmed the earth, they break through it and come out to pry and steal. And what once gets into their hands and in their caves, does not easily see daylight again."
Snow-white was quite sorry for his going away, but unbolted the door for him still. When the bear was hurrying out, he caught against the bolt and a piece of his hairy coat was torn off. It seemed to Snow-white as if she had seen gold shining through it, but she was not sure about it. The bear ran away quickly, and was soon out of sight behind the trees.
A short time afterwards the mother sent her children into the forest to get fire-wood. There they found a big tree which lay felled on the ground, and close by the trunk something was jumping backwards and forwards in the grass, but they could not make out what it was. When they came nearer they saw a dwarf with an old withered face and a snow-white beard a yard long. The end of the beard was caught in a crevice of the tree, and the little fellow was jumping backwards and forwards like a dog tied to a rope, and did not know what to do.
He glared at the girls with his fiery red eyes and cried, "Why do you stand there? Can't you come here and help me?"
"What are you about there, little man?" asked Rose-red.
"You prying goose!" answered the dwarf; "I was going to split the tree to get a little wood for cooking. The little bit of food that we little folks need gets burnt up directly with thick logs, and we do not swallow so much as you big, greedy folk. I had just driven the wedge safely in and everything was going as I wished, but the wretched wood was too smooth and suddenly sprang asunder and the tree closed so quickly that I could not pull out my beautiful white beard. So now it is tight in and I cannot get away, and you sleek, milk-faced girls laugh! Ugh! how odious you are!"
The children tried very hard, but they could not pull the beard out. It was caught too fast.
"I will run and fetch someone," said Rose-red.
"You senseless goose!" snarled the dwarf; why should you fetch someone? You are already two too many for me; can't you think of something better?"
"Don't be impatient," said Snow-white, "I will help you." She pulled her scissors out of her pocket and cut off the end of the beard.
As soon as the dwarf felt himself free he laid hold of a bag that lay among the roots of the tree, and was full of gold. He lifted it up, grumbling to himself, "Uncouth people, to cut off a piece of my fine beard. Oh! Ugh!" and then he swung the bag on his back and went off without even once looking at the children.
Some time after that, Snow-white and Rose-red went to catch a dish of fish. As they came near the brook, they saw something like a large grasshopper jumping towards the water, as if it were going to leap in. They ran to it and found it was the dwarf.
"Where are you going?" said Rose-red; "you surely don't want to go into the water?"
"I am not such a fool!" cried the dwarf; don't you see that the fish wants to pull me in?" The little man had been sitting there fishing. Unluckily the wind had twisted his beard with the fishing-line and just then a big fish bit. The feeble dwarf did not have the strength needed to pull it out of the water, so the fish kept the upper hand and pulled the dwarf towards him. The dwarf held on to all the reeds and rushes, but it was of little good, he was forced to follow the movements of the fish and was in urgent danger of being dragged into the water.
The girls came just in time; they held him fast and tried to free his beard from the line, but all in vain, beard and line were entangled fast together. Nothing was left but to bring out the scissors and cut the beard. And so a small part of it was lost. When the dwarf saw that, he screamed out, "Is that civil, to disfigure one's face? Was it not enough to clip off the end of my beard? Now you have cut off the best part of it. I cannot let myself be seen by my people. Ugh!" Then he took out a sack of pearls which lay in the rushes, and without saying a word more he dragged it away and disappeared behind a stone.
Soon afterwards the mother sent the two children to the town to buy needles and thread, and laces and ribbons. The road led them across a heath where huge pieces of rock lay strewn here and there. Now they noticed a large bird hovering in the air, flying slowly round and round above them. It sank lower and lower and at last settled near a rock not far off. Directly afterwards they heard a loud, piteous cry. They ran up and saw with horror that the eagle had seized their old acquaintance, the dwarf, and was going to carry him off.
The children, full of pity, at once took tight hold of the little man and pulled against the eagle so long that at last he let his booty go. As soon as the dwarf had recovered from his first fright he cried with his shrill voice, "Couldn't you have done it more carefully! You dragged at my brown coat so that it is all torn and full of holes! Ugh!" Then he took up a sack full of precious stones, and slipped away again under the rock into his hole. The girls, who by this time were used to his thanklessness, went on their way and did their business in the town.
As they crossed the heath again on their way home they surprised the dwarf: he had emptied out his bag of precious stones in a clean spot, and had not thought that anyone would come there so late. The evening sun shone on the brilliant stones; they glittered and sparkled with all colors so beautifully that the children stood still and looked at them.
"Why do you stand gaping there?" cried the dwarf, and his ashen-gray face became copper-red with rage. He was going on with his bad words when a loud growling was heard and a black bear came trotting towards them out of the forest. The dwarf sprang up in a fright, but he could not get to his cave, for the bear was already close. Then in the dread of his heart he cried, "Dear bear, spare me, I will give you all my treasures; look, the beautiful jewels lying there! Oh, let me live; what do you want with such a slender little fellow as I? You would hardly feel me between your teeth. Come, take these two girls, they are tender morsels for you, fat as young quails. For mercy's sake eat them!" The bear took no heed of his words, but gave the wicked creature a single blow with his paw, and the gruesome dwarf did not move again.
The girls had run away, but the bear called to them, "Snow-white and Rose-red, do not be afraid; wait, I will come with you."
Then they knew his voice and waited, and when he came up to them, suddenly his bearskin fell off, and he stood there, a handsome man, clothed all in gold.
"I am a king's son," he said, "and I was bewitched by that wicked dwarf, who had stolen my treasures. I have had to run about the forest as a savage bear until I was freed by his death. Now he has got his well-deserved punishment."
Snow-white was married to him, and Rose-red to his brother, and they divided between them the great treasure that the dwarf had gathered in his cave. The old mother lived peacefully and happily with her children for many years. She took the two rose-trees with her and they stood before her window and every year bore the most beautiful roses, white and red. [Edited]