How The Little Brother Set Free His Big Brothers

: 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 th
y 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