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How The Little Brother Set Free His Big Brothers

from The Brown Fairy Book





In a small hut, right in the middle of the forest, lived a man, his
wife, three sons and a daughter. For some reason, all the animals seemed
to have left that part of the country, and food grew very scarce; so,
one morning, after a night of snow, when the tracks of beasts might be
easily seen, the three boys started off to hunt.

They kept together for some time, till they reached a place where the
path they had been following split into two, and one of the brothers
called his dog and went to the left, while the others took the trail to
the right. These had not gone far when their dogs scented a bear, and
drove him out from the thicket. The bear ran across a clearing, and the
elder brother managed to place an arrow right in his head.

They both took up the bear, and carried it towards home, meeting the
third at the spot where they had parted from him. When they reached home
they threw the bear down on the floor of the hut saying,

'Father, here is a bear which we killed; now we can have some dinner.'

But the father, who was in a bad temper, only said:

'When I was a young man we used to get two bears in one day.'

The sons were rather disappointed at hearing this, and though there was
plenty of meat to last for two or three days, they started off early in
the morning down the same trail that they had followed before. As they
drew near the fork a bear suddenly ran out from behind a tree, and took
the path on the right. The two elder boys and their dogs pursued him,
and soon the second son, who was also a good shot, killed him instantly
with an arrow. At the fork of the trail, on their way home, they met
the youngest, who had taken the left-hand road, and had shot a bear for
himself. But when they threw the two bears triumphantly on the floor of
the hut their father hardly looked at them, and only said:

'When I was a young man I used to get three bears in one day.'

The next day they were luckier than before, and brought back three
bears, on which their father told them that HE had always killed four.
However, that did not prevent him from skinning the bears and cooking
them in a way of his own, which he thought very good, and they all ate
an excellent supper.

Now these bears were the servants of the great bear chief who lived in
a high mountain a long way off. And every time a bear was killed his
shadow returned to the house of the bear chief, with the marks of his
wounds plainly to bee seen by the rest.

The chief was furious at the number of bears the hunters had killed, and
determined that he would find some way of destroying them. So he called
another of his servants, and said to him:

'Go to the thicket near the fork, where the boys killed your brothers,
and directly they or the dogs see you return here as fast as ever you
can. The mountain will open to let you in, and the hunters will follow
you. Then I shall have them in my power, and be able to revenge myself.'

The servant bowed low, and started at once for the fork, where he hid
himself in the bushes.

By-and-by the boys came in sight, but this time there were only two of
them, as the youngest had stayed at home. The air was warm and damp, and
the snow soft and slushy, and the elder brother's bowstring hung loose,
while the bow of the younger caught in a tree and snapped in half. At
that moment the dogs began to bark loudly, and the bear rushed out
of the thicket and set off in the direction of the mountain. Without
thinking that they had nothing to defend themselves with, should the
bear turn and attack them, the boys gave chase. The bear, who knew quite
well that he could not be shot, sometimes slackened his pace and let the
dogs get quite close; and in this way the elder son reached the mountain
without observing it, while his brother, who had hurt his foot, was
still far behind.

As he ran up, the mountain opened to admit the bear, and the boy, who
was close on his heels, rushed in after him, and did not know where he
was till he saw bears sitting on every side of him, holding a council.
The animal he had been chasing sank panting in their midst, and the boy,
very much frightened, stood still, letting his bow fall to the ground.

'Why are you trying to kill all my servants?' asked the chief. 'Look
round and see their shades, with arrows sticking in them. It was I who
told the bear to-day how he was to lure you into my power. I shall take
care that you shall not hurt my people any more, because you will become
a bear yourself.'

At this moment the second brother came up--for the mountain had been
left open on purpose to tempt him also--and cried out breathlessly:
'Don't you see that the bear is lying close to you? Why don't you shoot
him?' And, without waiting for a reply, pressed forward to drive his
arrow into the heart of the bear. But the elder one caught his raised
arm, and whispered: 'Be quiet! can't you tell where you are?' Then the
boy looked up and saw the angry bears about him. On the one side were
the servants of the chief, and on the other the servants of the chief's
sister, who was sorry for the two youths, and begged that their lives
might be spared. The chief answered that he would not kill them, but
only cast a spell over them, by which their heads and bodies should
remain as they were, but their arms and legs should change into those of
a bear, so that they would go on all fours for the rest of their lives.
And, stooping over a spring of water, he dipped a handful of moss in
it and rubbed it over the arms and legs of the boys. In an instant the
transformation took place, and two creatures, neither beast nor human
stood before the chief.

Now the bear chief of course knew that the boys' father would seek
for his sons when they did not return home, so he sent another of his
servants to the hiding-place at the fork of the trail to see what would
happen. He had not waited long, when the father came in sight, stooping
as he went to look for his sons' tracks in the snow. When he saw the
marks of snow-shoes along the path on the right he was filled with joy,
not knowing that the servant had made some fresh tracks on purpose to
mislead him; and he hastened forward so fast that he fell headlong into
a pit, where the bear was sitting. Before he could pick himself up the
bear had quietly broken his neck, and, hiding the body under the snow,
sat down to see if anyone else would pass that way.

Meanwhile the mother at home was wondering what had become of her two
sons, and as the hours went on, and their father never returned, she
made up her mind to go and look for him. The youngest boy begged her to
let him undertake the search, but she would not hear of it, and told him
he must stay at home and take care of his sister. So, slipping on her
snow-shoes, she started on her way.

As no fresh snow had fallen, the trail was quite easy to find, and she
walked straight on, till it led her up to the pit where the bear was
waiting for her. He grasped her as she fell and broke her neck, after
which he laid her in the snow beside her husband, and went back to tell
the bear chief.

Hour after hour dragged heavily by in the forest hut, and at last the
brother and sister felt quite sure that in some way or other all the
rest of the family had perished. Day after day the boy climbed to the
top of a tall tree near the house, and sat there till he was almost
frozen, looking on all sides through the forest openings, hoping that he
might see someone coming along. Very soon all the food in the house was
eaten, and he knew he would have to go out and hunt for more. Besides,
he wished to seek for his parents.

The little girl did not like being left alone in the hut, and cried
bitterly; but her brother told her that there was no use sitting down
quietly to starve, and that whether he found any game or not he would
certainly be back before the following night. Then he cut himself some
arrows, each from a different tree, and winged with the feathers of four
different birds. He then made himself a bow, very light and strong, and
got down his snow-shoes. All this took some time, and he could not start
that day, but early next morning he called his little dog Redmouth, whom
he kept in a box, and set out.

After he had followed the trail for a great distance he grew very
tired, and sat upon the branch of a tree to rest. But Redmouth barked so
furiously that the boy thought that perhaps his parents might have been
killed under its branches, and stepping back, shot one of his arrows at
the root of the tree. Whereupon a noise like thunder shook it from top
to bottom, fire broke out, and in a few minutes a little heap of ashes
lay in the place where it had stood.

Not knowing quite what to make of it all, the boy continued on the
trail, and went down the right-hand fork till he came to the clump of
bushes where the bears used to hide.

Now, as was plain by his being able to change the shape of the two
brothers, the bear chief knew a good deal of magic, and he was quite
aware that the little boy was following the trail, and he sent a very
small but clever bear servant to wait for him in the bushes and to try
to tempt him into the mountain. But somehow his spells could not have
worked properly that day, as the bear chief did not know that Redmouth
had gone with his master, or he would have been more careful. For the
moment the dog ran round the bushes barking loudly, the little bear
servant rushed out in a fright, and set out for the mountains as fast as
he could.

The dog followed the bear, and the boy followed the dog, until the
mountain, the house of the great bear chief, came in sight. But along
the road the snow was so wet and heavy that the boy could hardly get
along, and then the thong of his snow-shoes broke, and he had to stop
and mend it, so that the bear and the dog got so far ahead that he could
scarcely hear the barking. When the strap was firm again the boy spoke
to his snow-shoes and said:

'Now you must go as fast as you can, or, if not, I shall lose the dog as
well as the bear.' And the snow-shoes sang in answer that they would run
like the wind.

As he came along, the bear chief's sister was looking out of the window,
and took pity on this little brother, as she had on the two elder ones,
and waited to see what the boy would do, when he found that the bear
servant and the dog had already entered the mountain.

The little brother was certainly very much puzzled at not seeing
anything of either of the animals, which had vanished suddenly out of
his sight. He paused for an instant to think what he should do next,
and while he did so he fancied he heard Redmouth's voice on the opposite
side of the mountain. With great difficulty he scrambled over steep
rocks, and forced a path through tangled thickets; but when he reached
the other side the sound appeared to start from the place from which he
had come. Then he had to go all the way back again, and at the very top,
where he stopped to rest, the barking was directly beneath him, and he
knew in an instant where he was and what had happened.

'Let my dog out at once, bear chief!' cried he. 'If you do not, I shall
destroy your palace.' But the bear chief only laughed, and said nothing.
The boy was very angry at his silence, and aiming one of his arrows at
the bottom of the mountain, shot straight through it.


As the arrow touched the ground a rumbling was heard, and with a roar a
fire broke out which seemed to split the whole mountain into pieces.
The bear chief and all his servants were burnt up in the flames, but his
sister and all that belonged to her were spared because she had tried to
save the two elder boys from punishment.

As soon as the fire had burnt itself out the little hunter entered
what was left of the mountain, and the first thing he saw was his two
brothers--half bear, half boy.

'Oh, help us! help us!' cried they, standing on their hind legs as they
spoke, and stretching out their fore-paws to him.

'But how am I to help you?' asked the little brother, almost weeping.
'I can kill people, and destroy trees and mountains, but I have no power
over men.' And the two elder brothers came up and put their paws on his
shoulders, and they all three wept together.

The heart of the bear chief's sister was moved when she saw their
misery, and she came gently up behind, and whispered:

'Little boy, gather some moss from the spring over there, and let your
brothers smell it.'

With a bound all three were at the spring, and as the youngest plucked a
handful of wet moss, the two others sniffed at it with all their might.
Then the bearskin fell away from them, and they stood upright once more.

'How can we thank you? how can we thank you?' they stammered, hardly
able to speak; and fell at her feet in gratitude. But the bear's sister
only smiled, and bade them go home and look after the little girl, who
had no one else to protect her.

And this the boys did, and took such good care of their sister that, as
she was very small, she soon forgot that she had ever had a father and
mother.





Next: The Sacred Milk Of Koumongoe

Previous: Habogi



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