The Bear by Andrew Lang
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
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
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
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
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.