Sacred Texts  Household Tales Index  Previous: The Spirit In The Bottle  Next: The Willow-Wren And The Bear 

      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 until war broke out again. The brothers, however,
 were hard-hearted and said, "What can we do with thee? thou art of no use;
 go and make a living for thyself." 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
 trees 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 thou art in need
 of," said the man; "gold and possessions shalt thou have, as much as thou
 canst make away with, do what thou wilt, but first I must know if thou art
 fearless, that I may not bestow my money in vain." "A soldier and fear - how
 can those two things go together?" he answered; "thou canst put me to the
 proof." "Very well, then," answered the man, "look behind thee." The soldier
 turned round, and saw a large bear, which came growling towards him. "Oho!"
 cried the soldier, "I will tickle thy nose for thee, so that thou shalt soon
 lose thy 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 thou art not wanting in courage, but there is still another
 condition which thou wilt have to fulfil." "If it does not endanger my
 salvation," replied the soldier, who knew very well who was standing beside
 him. "If it does, I'll have nothing to do with it." "Thou wilt look to that
 for thyself," answered Greencoat; "thou shalt for the next seven years neither
 wash thyself, nor comb thy beard, nor thy hair, nor cut thy nails, nor say one
 paternoster. I will give thee a coat and a cloak, which during this time thou
 must wear. If thou diest during these seven years, thou art mine; if thou
 remainest alive, thou art free, and rich to boot, for all the rest of thy
 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 thou hast this coat on thy back and puttest thy
 hand into the pocket, thou wilt always find it full of money." Then he pulled
 the skin off the bear and said, "This shall be thy cloak, and thy bed also,
 for thereon shalt thou sleep, and in no other bed shalt thou lie, and because
 of this apparel shalt thou 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. Whosoever 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
 thither, paid him and put a purse full of gold into the poor old man's pocket
      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 thyself as a
 wife. When she hears what thou hast done for me, she will not refuse thee.
 Thou dost in truth look a little strange, but she will soon put thee 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, thou art
 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 thou givest him thy hand, he will strike his claws into it."
 "Beware!" said the second. "Bears like sweet things, and if he takes a fancy
 to thee, he will eat thee up." "Thou must always do as he likes," began the
 elder again, "or else he will growl." And the second continued, "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, "thou
 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
      When the Devil had gone away, Bearskin was quite light-hearted. 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 thy betrothed bridegroom, whom
 thou sawest 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 mean time 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, some one knocked at the door, and when the bridegroom opened
 it, it was the Devil in his green coat, who said, "Seest thou, I have now got
 two souls in the place of thy one!"