7.THE BEAR IN THE FOREST HUT
There was once an old man, who was a widower. He then married an old woman, who was a widow. Both had had daughters by their first marriages.
The old man was an honest, hard-working, and good-natured old fellow, but too much under his wife’s thumb. This was very unfortunate, because she was wicked and cunning.
Her daughter was very like her in character but she was her mother’s darling.
But the old man’s daughter was a very good sweet girl .Nevertheless her stepmother hated her and was always tormenting her, and wishing her dead.
One day she had beaten her very cruelly, and pushed her out of doors. Then she said to the old man, “Your wretched daughter is always giving me trouble; she is such an ill-tempered, spoilt girl, that I cannot do anything with her. So if you wish for peace in the house, you must put her into your wagon, drive her away into the forest, and come back without her.”
The old man was very sorry to have to do this for he loved his own little daughter most dearly. But he was so afraid of his wife that he dared not refuse; so he put the poor girl into his wagon, drove a long way into the forest, took her out, and left her there alone.
She wandered about a long time, gathering wild strawberries, to eat with a little piece of bread, which her father had given her. Towards evening she came to the door of a hut in the forest, and knocked at the door.
Nobody answered her knock. So she lifted the latch, went in, and looked round—there was nobody there.
But there was a table in one corner, and benches all round the walls and an oven by the door. Near the table, close to the window, was a spinning-wheel, and a quantity of flax.
The girl sat down to the spinning-wheel, and opened the window, looked out, and listened but nobody came.
But as it grew dusk she heard a rustle not far off, and from somewhere not far from the hut, a voice was heard, singing,
“Wanderer, outcast, forsaken! Whom the night has overtaken; if no crime your conscience stain, in this hut tonight remain.”
When the voice stopped, she answered,
“I am outcast and forsaken; yet unstained by crime am I: Be you rich, or be you poor; for this night here let me lie!”
Once more there was a rustle in the branches; the door opened, and into the room came a bear!
The girl started up, very frightened; but the bear only said,
“Good evening, pretty maiden!”
“Good evening to you, whoever you are,” she replied, somewhat reassured.
“How did you come here?” he asked. “Was it of your own free will, or were you forced?”
The maiden told him all, weeping; but the bear sat down beside her, and stroking her face with his paw, replied, “Do not cry, pretty one; you shall be happy yet. But in the meantime you must do just what I tell you. Do you see that flax? You must spin it into thread; with that thread you must weave cloth, and with that cloth you must make me a shirt. I shall come here tomorrow at this same time, and if the shirt is ready I will reward you. Goodbye!”
Having said this, the bear made her a parting bow, and went out. At first the girl began to cry, and said to herself, “How can I do this in only twenty-four hours—spin all that flax, weave it into cloth, and make a shirt out of it? Well! I must set to work and do what I can…. He will at least see that I tried hard, though I was unable to perform the task.”
She dried her tears, ate some of her bread and strawberries, sat down at the spinning-wheel, and began to spin by the light of the moon.
The time went by quickly, as she worked, and it was daylight before she knew it.
There was no more flax left; she had spun out the last distaff-full.
She was astonished to see how fast the work had gone and began to wonder how she was to weave the thread without any loom.
Thinking, she fell asleep.
When she woke the sun was already high above. There was breakfast ready on the table, and a loom under the window.
She ran down to a stream, washed her face and hands, came back and ate her breakfast. Then she sat down to the loom.
The shuttle flew so fast that the cloth was all ready by noon.
She took it out into a meadow, sprinkled water on it from the stream, spread it out in the sun, and in one hour the cloth was bleached.
She came back with it to the hut, cut out the shirt, and began to stitch at it.
The sun was setting, and she was just putting in the last stitch, when the door opened, and the bear came in, and asked, “Is the shirt ready?”
She gave it to him.
“Thank you, my good girl; now I must reward you. You told me you had a bad stepmother. If you like, I will send my bears to tear her and her daughter to pieces.”
“Oh! Don’t do that! I don’t want to be revenged; let them live!”
“Let it be so then! Meanwhile make yourself useful in the kitchen and get me some porridge for supper. You will find everything you want in the cupboard in the wall. I will go and fetch my bedding, for I shall spend tonight at home.”
The bear left the room, and the maiden made up the fire in the oven, and began to get the porridge ready.
Just then she heard a sound under the bench, and out ran a poor, thin little mouse, which stood up on its hind-legs, and said in a human voice, “Mistress! Help me .A poor weak, little mouse am I! I am hungry, give me food and to you will I be good.”
The girl was sorry for the mouse, and threw it a spoonful of porridge.
The mouse ate it, thanked her, and ran away to its hole.
The bear soon came in, with a load of wood and stones which he placed on the stove, and having eaten a basin of porridge, he climbed on the bed, and said,”Here is a bunch of keys on a steel ring. Put out the fire. Then you must walk about the room all night, and keep on jingling these keys, till I get up. If I find you alive in the morning you shall be happy.”
Soon the bear began snoring and the old man’s daughter kept walking about the hut, jingling the keys.
Soon the mouse ran out of its hole, and said, “Give me the keys, mistress, I will jingle them for you but you must hide yourself behind the stove, for the stones will soon be flying about.”
So the mouse began to run up and down by the wall, under the bench. The maiden hid behind the oven, and at about midnight the bear woke up, and threw out a stone into the middle of the room.
But the mouse kept running about, and jingling the keys. The bear asked, “Are you alive?”
“I am,” replied the girl, from behind the oven.
The bear began to throw stones and pieces of wood, thick and fast from the stove, and every time he did so, he asked, “Are you alive?”
“I am,” replied the girl’s voice from behind the oven. The mouse still ran up and down, jingling the keys.
With the dawn the cocks began to crow, but the bear did not wake. The mouse gave back the keys, and ran back to its hole. The old man’s daughter began to walk about the room jingling the keys.
At sunrise the bear got up and said,
“Oh daughter of the old man! You are fortunate! For here am I, a powerful king, changed by magic into a bear, until some person should spend two nights in this hut. Now I shall soon become a man again, and return to my kingdom, taking you for my wife. But before this happens, look into my right ear.”
The old man’s daughter threw back her hair, and looked into the right ear of the bear. She saw a beautiful country, with millions of people, with high mountains, deep rivers, impenetrable forests, and pastures covered with flocks, well-to-do villages, and rich cities.
“What do you see?” asked the bear.
“I see a lovely country.”
“That is my kingdom. Look into my left ear.”
She looked, and could not admire enough what she saw—a magnificent palace, with many carriages and horses in the courtyard, and in the carriages rich robes, jewels, and all kinds of wonderful things.
“What do you see?” asked the bear.
She described it all.
“Which of those carriages do you prefer?”
“The one with four horses,” she replied.
“That is yours then,” answered the bear, as he opened the window.
There was a sound of wheels in the forest, and a golden carriage presently drew up before the cottage drawn by four splendid horses, although there was no driver.
The bear gave his beloved a gown of gold cloth, with diamond ear-rings, a necklace set with various precious stones, and diamond rings, saying, “Wait here a little while. Your father will come for you soon and in a few days, when the power of the enchantment is over, and I am a king again, I will come for you, and you shall be my queen.”
The bear then disappeared into the forest, and the old man’s daughter looked out of the window to watch for her father’s coming.
The old man, having left his daughter in the wood, came home very sad; but on the third day he harnessed his wagon again, and drove into the forest, to see if she were alive or dead; and if she were dead at least to bury her.
Towards evening the old woman and her own daughter looked out of the window, and a dog, the favourite of the old man’s daughter, suddenly rushed to the door, and began to bark,”Bow! wow! wow! The old man’s here! Bringing home his daughter dear, Decked with gold and diamonds’ sheen, Gifts to please a royal queen.”
The old woman gave the dog an angry kick. “You lie, you big ugly dog! Bark like this!
“Bow! wow! wow! the old man’s come! His daughter’s bones he’s bringing home!”
She opened the door and the dog leaped out and she went with her daughter into the courtyard. They stood dumbfounded!
For in drove the carriage with four galloping horses, the old man sitting on the box, cracking his whip, and his daughter sat inside, dressed in gold cloth, and adorned with jewels.
The old woman pretended she was overjoyed to see her, welcomed her with many kisses, and was anxious to know where she got all these rich and beautiful things.
The girl told her that they were all given to her by the bear in the forest hut.
Next day the old woman baked some delicious cakes, and gave them to her own daughter, saying to the old man, “If your wretched, worthless daughter has had such good luck, I am sure my sweet, pretty darling will get a great deal more from the bear, if he can only see her. So you must drive her out in the wagon, leave her in the forest, and come back without her.”
She gave the old man a good push, to hurry his departure, shut the door of the cottage in his face, and looked out of the window to see what would happen.
The old man went to the stable, got out the wagon, helped his stepdaughter in, and drove away with her into the forest.
There he left her, turned his horse round, and drove quickly home.
The old woman’s daughter was not long in finding the hut in the forest. Confident in the power of her charms she went straight into the little room. There was nobody inside but there was the same table in one corner, the benches round the walls, the oven by the door, and the spinning-wheel, under the window, with a great bundle of flax.
She sat down on one of the benches, undid her bundle, and began eating the cakes, looking out the window all the time.
It soon began to get dark, a strong wind began to blow, and a voice was heard singing outside,
“Wanderer! outcast, forsaken! Whom the night has overtaken; if no crime your conscience stain, here this night you may remain.”
When the voice ceased she answered, “I am outcast and forsaken; yet unstained by crime am I: Be you rich, or be you poor, for this night here let me lie.”
Then the door opened, and the bear walked in.
The girl stood up, gave him a big smile, and waited for him to bow first.
The bear looked at her narrowly, made a bow, and said, “Welcome, maiden … but I have not much time to stay here. I must go back to the forest; but between now and tomorrow evening you must make me a shirt, out of this flax. So you must set at once about spinning, weaving, bleaching, washing, and then sewing it. Goodbye!”
Then the bear turned, and went out.
“That’s not what I came here for,” said the girl as soon as his back was turned, “to do your spinning, weaving, and sewing! You will have to do without a shirt from me!”
Having said that, she made herself comfortable on one of the benches, and went to sleep.
Next day, at sunset, the bear came back, and asked, “Is the shirt ready?”
She made no answer.
“What’s this? The distaff has not been touched.”
Silence as before.
“Get me ready my supper at once. You will find water in that pail, and the oats in that cupboard. I must go and fetch my bedding, for tonight I will sleep at home.”
The bear went out, and the old woman’s daughter lit the fire in the stove, and began to prepare the porridge. Then the little mouse came out, stood on its hind-legs, and said, “Mistress! Help me, or I die! A poor, weak little mouse am I! I am hungry, give me food; And to you will I be good.”
But the unkind girl only picked up the spoon with which she was stirring the porridge, and flung it at the poor mouse, which ran away in a fright.
The bear soon came back with a huge load of stones and wood. Instead of a mattress he arranged a layer of stones on the top of the stove, and covered this with the wood, in place of a sheet. He ate up the porridge, and said, “Here! Take these keys; walk all night about the hut and keep on jingling them. If, when I get up tomorrow, I find you still alive, you shall be happy.”
The bear was snoring at once, and the old woman’s daughter walked up and down drowsily, jingling the keys.
But at about midnight the bear woke up, and flung a stone towards where he heard the jingling. It hit the old woman’s daughter.
She gave one shriek, fell, and died instantly.
Next morning the bear came down from the top of the oven, looked once at the dead girl, opened the cottage door, stood upon the threshold, and stamped upon it three times with all his force. There was thunder and lightning and in one moment the bear became a handsome young king, with a golden sceptre in his hand, and a diamond crown on his head.
Then a carriage, bright as sunshine with six horses, drew up before the cottage. The coachman cracked his whip, till the leaves fell from the trees, and the king got into the carriage, and drove away from the forest to his own capital city.
The old man having left his stepdaughter in the forest came home rejoicing in finding his daughter. She was expecting the king every day. In the meantime he busied himself with looking after the four splendid horses and cleaning the golden carriage.
On the third day after his return the old woman came down and said, “Go and fetch my darling; she is no doubt all dressed in gold by this time, or married to a king so I shall be a queen’s mother.”
The old man, obedient as ever, harnessed the wagon, and drove off.
When evening came the old woman was gazing out the window; when the dog began to bark, “Bow! wow! wow! The old man’s come! Your daughter’s bones he’s bringing home!”
“You lie!” exclaimed the old woman; “bark like this,’Bow! wow! wow! the old man’s here! Driving home your daughter dear, Decked in gold and diamonds’ sheen, Gifts to please a royal queen.'”
She ran out of the house to meet the old man, coming back in the wagon but she stood as if thunderstruck, sobbed, and wept, and was hardly able to speak.
“Where is my sweetest daughter?”
The old man scratched his head, and replied, “She has met with a great misfortune. This is all I have found of her — a few bare bones and blood-stained garments in the wood, in the old hut … she has been devoured by wolves.”
The old woman, wild with grief and despair, gathered up her daughter’s bones, went to some graveyard. She buried them there with great weeping. Then she fell face downward on the grave—and was turned to stone.
Meanwhile a royal carriage drew up in the courtyard of the old man’s cottage, bright as the sun, with four splendid horses, and the coachman cracked his whip—till the cottage fell to pieces with the sound.
The king took both the old man and his daughter into the carriage, and they drove away to his capital, where the marriage soon took place.
The old man lived happily as the father-in-law of a king, and with his sweet daughter, who had once been so miserable, a queen.