Once upon a time there lived an exceedingly proud Princess. If any
suitor for her hand ventured to present himself, she would give him some
riddle or conundrum to guess, and if he failed to do so, he was hunted
out of the town with scorn and derision. She gave out publicly that all
comers were welcome to try their skill, and that whoever could solve her
riddle should be her husband.
Now it happened that three tailors had met together, and the two elder
thought, that after having successfully put in so many fine and strong
stitches with never a wrong one amongst them, they were certain to do
the right thing here too. The third tailor was a lazy young scamp who
did not even know his own trade properly, but who thought that surely
luck would stand by him now, just for once, for, if not, what _was_ to
become of him?
The two others said to him, ‘You just stay at home, you’ll never get on
much with your small allowance of brains.’ But the little tailor was not
to be daunted, and said he had set his mind on it and meant to shift for
himself, so off he started as though the whole world belonged to him.
The three tailors arrived at Court, where they had themselves duly
presented to the Princess, and begged she would propound her riddles,
‘for,’ said they, ‘here were the right men at last, with wits so sharp
and so fine you might almost thread a needle with them.’
Then said the Princess, ‘I have on my head two different kinds of hair.
Of what colours are they?’
‘If that’s all,’ said the first tailor, ‘they are most likely black and
white, like the kind of cloth we call pepper-and-salt.’
‘Wrong,’ said the Princess.
‘Then,’ said the second tailor, ‘if they are not black and white, no
doubt they are red and brown, like my father’s Sunday coat.’
‘Wrong again,’ said the Princess; ‘now let the third speak. I see he
thinks he knows all about it.’
Then the young tailor stepped boldly to the front and said, ‘The
Princess has one silver and one golden hair on her head, and those are
the two colours.’
When the Princess heard this she turned quite pale, and almost fainted
away with fear, for the little tailor had hit the mark, and she had
firmly believed that not a soul could guess it. When she had recovered
herself she said, ‘Don’t fancy you have won me yet, there is something
else you must do first. Below in the stable is a bear with whom you must
spend the night, and if when I get up in the morning I find you still
alive you shall marry me.’
She quite expected to rid herself of the tailor in this way, for the
bear had never left anyone alive who had once come within reach of his
claws. The tailor, however, had no notion of being scared, but said
cheerily, ‘Bravely dared is half won.’
When evening came on he was taken to the stable. The bear tried to
get at him at once and to give him a warm welcome with his great paws.
‘Gently, gently,’ said the tailor, ‘I’ll soon teach you to be quiet,’
and he coolly drew a handful of walnuts from his pocket and began
cracking and eating them as though he had not a care or anxiety in the
world. When the bear saw this he began to long for some nuts himself.
The tailor dived into his pocket and gave him a handful, but they were
pebbles, not nuts. The bear thrust them into his mouth, but try as he
might he could not manage to crack them. ‘Dear me,’ thought he, ‘what
a stupid fool I must be--can’t even crack a nut,’ and he said to the
tailor, ‘I say, crack my nuts for me, will you?’
‘You’re a nice sort of fellow,’ said the tailor; ‘the idea of having
those great jaws and not being able even to crack a walnut!’ So he took
the stone, quickly changed it for a nut, and crack! it split open in a
‘Let me try again,’ said the bear; ‘when I see the thing done it looks
so easy I fancy I _must_ be able to manage it myself.’
So the tailor gave him some more pebbles, and the bear bit and gnawed
away as hard as he could, but I need hardly say that he did not succeed
in cracking one of them.
Presently the tailor took out a little fiddle and began playing on it.
When the bear heard the music he could not help dancing, and after he
had danced some time he was so pleased that he said to the tailor, ‘I
say, is fiddling difficult?’ ‘Mere child’s play,’ replied the tailor;
‘look here! you press the strings with the fingers of the left hand, and
with the right, you draw the bow across them, so--then it goes as easily
as possible, up and down, tra la la la la--’
‘Oh,’ cried the bear, ‘I do wish I could play like that, then I could
dance whenever the fancy took me. What do you think? Would you give me
‘With all my heart,’ said the tailor, ‘if you are sharp about it. But
just let me look at your paws. Dear me, your nails are terribly long; I
must really cut them first.’ Then he fetched a pair of stocks, and the
bear laid his paws on them, and the tailor screwed them up tight.
‘Now just wait whilst I fetch my scissors,’ said he, and left the bear
growling away to his heart’s content, whilst he lay down in a corner and
fell fast asleep.
When the Princess heard the bear growling so loud that night, she made
sure he was roaring with delight as he worried the tailor.
Next morning she rose feeling quite cheerful and free from care, but
when she looked across towards the stables, there stood the tailor in
front of the door looking as fresh and lively as a fish in the water.
After this it was impossible to break the promise she had made so
publicly, so the King ordered out the state coach to take her and the
tailor to church to be married.
As they were starting, the two bad-hearted other tailors, who were
envious of the younger one’s happiness, went to the stable and unscrewed
the bear. Off he tore after the carriage, foaming with rage. The
Princess heard his puffing and roaring, and growing frightened she
cried: ‘Oh dear! the bear is after us and will certainly catch us up!’
The tailor remained quite unmoved. He quietly stood on his head, stuck
his legs out at the carriage window and called out to the bear, ‘Do you
see my stocks? If you don’t go home this minute I’ll screw you tight
When the bear saw and heard this he turned right round and ran off as
fast as his legs would carry him. The tailor drove on unmolested to
church, where he and the Princess were married, and he lived with her
many years as happy and merry as a lark. Whoever does not believe this
story must pay a dollar.