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The Bear

from The Grey Fairy Book





Once on a time there was a king who had an only daughter. He was
so proud and so fond of her, that he was in constant terror that
something would happen to her if she went outside the palace, and
thus, owing to his great love for her, he forced her to lead the
life of a prisoner, shut up within her own rooms.

The princess did not like this at all, and one day she complained
about it very bitterly to her nurse. Now, the nurse was a witch,
though the king did not know it. For some time she listened and
tried to soothe the princess; but when she saw that she would not
be comforted, she said to her: 'Your father loves you very
dearly, as you know. Whatever you were to ask from him he would
give you. The one thing he will not grant you is permission to
leave the palace. Now, do as I tell you. Go to your father and
ask him to give you a wooden wheel-barrow, and a bear's skin.
When you have got them bring them to me, and I will touch them
with my magic wand. The wheel-barrow will then move of itself,
and will take you at full speed wherever you want to go, and the
bear's skin will make such a covering for you, that no one will
recognise you.'

So the princess did as the witch advised her. The king, when he
heard her strange request, was greatly astonished, and asked her
what she meant to do with a wheel-barrow and a bear's skin. And
the princess answered, 'You never let me leave the house--at
least you might grant me this request' So the king granted it,
and the princess went back to her nurse, taking the barrow and
the bear's skin with her.

As soon as the witch saw them, she touched them with her magic
wand, and in a moment the barrow began to move about in all
directions. The princess next put on the bear's skin, which so
completely changed her appearance, that no one could have known
that she was a girl and not a bear. In this strange attire she
seated herself on the barrow, and in a few minutes she found
herself far away from the palace, and moving rapidly through a
great forest. Here she stopped the barrow with a sign that the
witch had shown her, and hid herself and it in a thick grove of
flowering shrubs.

Now it happened that the prince of that country was hunting with
his dogs in the forest. Suddenly he caught sight of the bear
hiding among the shrubs, and calling his dogs, hounded them on to
attack it. But the girl, seeing what peril she was in, cried,
'Call off your dogs, or they will kill me. What harm have I ever
done to you?' At these words, coming from a bear, the prince was
so startled that for a moment he stood stock-still, then he said
quite gently, 'Will you come with me? I will take you to my
home.'

'I will come gladly,' replied the bear; and seating herself on
the barrow it at once began to move in the direction of the
prince's palace. You may imagine the surprise of the prince's
mother when she saw her son return accompanied by a bear, who at
once set about doing the house-work better than any servant that
the queen had ever seen.

Now it happened that there were great festivities going on in the
palace of a neighbouring prince, and at dinner, one day, the
prince said to his mother: 'This evening there is to be a great
ball, to which I must go.'

And his mother answered, 'Go and dance, and enjoy yourself.'

Suddenly a voice came from under the table, where the bear had
rolled itself, as was its wont: 'Let me come to the ball; I, too,
would like to dance.'

But the only answer the prince made was to give the bear a kick,
and to drive it out of the room.

In the evening the prince set off for the ball. As soon as he had
started, the bear came to the queen and implored to be allowed to
go to the ball, saying that she would hide herself so well that
no one would know she was there. The kind-hearted queen could not
refuse her.

Then the bear ran to her barrow, threw off her bear's skin, and
touched it with the magic wand that the witch had given her. In a
moment the skin was changed into an exquisite ball dress woven
out of moon-beams, and the wheel-barrow was changed into a
carriage drawn by two prancing steeds. Stepping into the carriage
the princess drove to the grand entrance of the palace. When she
entered the ball-room, in her wondrous dress of moon-beams, she
looked so lovely, so different from all the other guests, that
everyone wondered who she was, and no one could tell where she
had come from.

From the moment he saw her, the prince fell desperately in love
with her, and all the evening he would dance with no one else but
the beautiful stranger.

When the ball was over, the princess drove away in her carriage
at full speed, for she wished to get home in time to change her
ball dress into the bear's skin, and the carriage into the
wheel-barrow, before anyone discovered who she was.

The prince, putting spurs into his horse, rode after her, for he
was determined not to let her out of his sight. But suddenly a
thick mist arose and hid her from him. When he reached his home
he could talk to his mother of nothing else but the beautiful
stranger with whom he had danced so often, and with whom he was
so much in love. And the bear beneath the table smiled to itself,
and muttered: 'I am the beautiful stranger; oh, how I have taken
you in!'

The next evening there was a second ball, and, as you may
believe, the prince was determined not to miss it, for he thought
he would once more see the lovely girl, and dance with her and
talk to her, and make her talk to him, for at the first ball she
had never opened her lips.

And, sure enough, as the music struck up the first dance, the
beautiful stranger entered the room, looking even more radiant
than the night before, for this time her dress was woven out of
the rays of the sun. All evening the prince danced with her, but
she never spoke a word.

When the ball was over he tried once more to follow her carriage,
that he might know whence she came, but suddenly a great
waterspout fell from the sky, and the blinding sheets of rain hid
her from his sight.

When he reached his home he told his mother that he had again
seen the lovely girl, and that this time she had been even more
beautiful than the night before. And again the bear smiled
beneath the table, and muttered: 'I have taken him in a second
time, and he has no idea that I am the beautiful girl with whom
he is so much in love.'

On the next evening, the prince returned to the palace for the
third ball. And the princess went too, and this time she had
changed her bear's skin into a dress woven out of the star-light,
studded all over with gems, and she looked so dazzling and so
beautiful, that everyone wondered at her, and said that no one so
beautiful had ever been seen before. And the prince danced with
her, and, though he could not induce her to speak, he succeeded
in slipping a ring on her finger.

When the ball was over, he followed her carriage, and rode at
such a pace that for long he kept it in sight. Then suddenly a
terrible wind arose between him and the carriage, and he could
not overtake it.

When he reached his home he said to his mother, 'I do not know
what is to become of me; I think I shall go mad, I am so much in
love with that girl, and I have no means of finding out who she
is. I danced with her and I gave her a ring, and yet I do not
know her name, nor where I am to find her.'

Then the bear laughed beneath the table and muttered to itself.

And the prince continued: 'I am tired to death. Order some soup
to be made for me, but I don't want that bear to meddle with it.
Every time I speak of my love the brute mutters and laughs, and
seems to mock at me. I hate the sight of the creature!'

When the soup was ready, the bear brought it to the prince; but
before handing it to him, she dropped into the plate the ring the
prince had given her the night before at the ball. The prince
began to eat his soup very slowly and languidly, for he was sad
at heart, and all his thoughts were busy, wondering how and where
he could see the lovely stranger again. Suddenly he noticed the
ring at the bottom of the plate. In a moment he recognised it,
and was dumb with surprise.

Then he saw the bear standing beside him, looking at him with
gentle, beseeching eyes, and something in the eyes of the bear
made him say: 'Take off that skin, some mystery is hidden beneath
it.'

And the bear's skin dropped off, and the beautiful girl stood
before him, in the dress woven out of the star-light, and he saw
that she was the stranger with whom he had fallen so deeply in
love. And now she appeared to him a thousand times more beautiful
than ever, and he led her to his mother. And the princess told
them her story, and how she had been kept shut up by her father
in his palace, and how she had wearied of her imprisonment. And
the prince's mother loved her, and rejoiced that her son should
have so good and beautiful a wife.

So they were married, and lived happily for many years, and
reigned wisely over their kingdom.





Next: The Sunchild

Previous: The Jackal And The Spring



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