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
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
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 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
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.