Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Once upon a time there was a young fellow who enlisted as a soldier, conducted himself bravely, and was always at the very front when it was raining bullets. As long as the war lasted all went well, but when peace was made he was dismissed, and the captain said he could go wherever he wanted to.
His parents were dead, and he had no longer a home, so he went to his brothers and asked them to support him until there was another war.
The brothers, however, were hardhearted and said, "What can we do with you? We have no work for you. See that you go and make a living for yourself."
The soldier had nothing left but his gun, so, putting it on his shoulder, he went forth into the world. He came to a large heath, on which nothing was to be seen but a circle of trees. Filled with sorrow, he sat down beneath them and thought about his fate.
"I have no money," he thought, "and the only trade I have learned is that of making war, and now that they have made peace they can no longer use me, so I see that I shall starve."
Suddenly he heard a rustling sound, and when he looked around, a strange man was standing before him. He wore a green jacket and looked quite stately, but he had a hideous horse's foot.
"I know what you are in need of," said the man. "You shall have money and property, as much as you, with all your might, can squander away, but first I must know if you are fearless, so that I won't be giving away my money for nothing."
"A soldier and fear —— how can those go together?" he answered, "You can put me to the test."
"Very well," answered the man, "look behind you."
The soldier turned around and saw a large growling bear running towards him.
"Aha," shouted the soldier, "I'll tickle your nose until you lose your desire for growling." Then taking aim at the bear, he shot it in the snout, and it fell down motionless.
"I see quite well," said the stranger, "that you do not lack for courage, but there is one more condition that you will have to fulfill."
"If it does not endanger my salvation," answered the soldier, who knew quite well who was standing before him. "Otherwise I'll have nothing to do with it."
"You'll see about that for yourself," answered Greenjacket. "For the next seven years you are neither to wash yourself, nor comb your beard and hair, nor cut your nails, nor say the Lord's prayer. I will give you a jacket and a cloak, which you must wear during this time. If you die during these seven years, you are mine. If you stay alive, you are free, and rich as well, for all the rest of your life."
The soldier thought about his desperate situation, and having faced death so often before, he decided to risk it now as well, and he entered into the agreement.
The devil took off his green jacket and gave it to the soldier, saying, "Whenever you wear this jacket and reach into its pocket, you will find a handful of money."
Then he pulled the skin off the bear and said, "This shall be your cloak, and your bed as well, for you are to sleep on it, and you are not allowed to lie in any other bed. Because of your clothing you shall you be called Bearskin." With that the devil disappeared.
The soldier put on the jacket, immediately reached into the pocket, and found that the promise was really true. Then he put on the bearskin and went forth into the world. He did whatever he pleased, refraining from nothing that did him good and his money harm.
During the first year his appearance was still acceptable, but during the second he looked like a monster. His hair covered nearly his entire face. His beard looked like a piece of coarse felt cloth. His fingers had claws, and his face was so covered with dirt that if someone had planted cress on it, it would have grown. Everyone who saw him ran away. However, because everywhere he went he gave money to the poor to pray that he might not die during the seven years, and because he paid well for everything, he always found shelter.
In the fourth year he arrived an inn. The innkeeper would not let him enter, refusing even to let him have a place in the stable because he was afraid he would frighten the horses. However, when Bearskin reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of ducats, the innkeeper softened and gave him a room in an outbuilding. Bearskin, however, had to promise not to let himself be seen, lest the inn should get a bad name.
One evening Bearskin was sitting alone, wishing with all his heart that the seven years were over, he heard a loud moaning in a neighboring room. He had a compassionate heart, so he opened the door and saw an old man weeping bitterly and striking his hands together above his head. Bearskin went nearer, but the man jumped to his feet and tried to run away. At last, hearing a human voice, the man let Bearskin talk to him, and with friendly words Bearskin succeeded in getting the old man to reveal the cause of his grief. Slowly but surely the old man had lost his wealth, and now he and his daughters would have to starve. He was so poor that he could not pay the innkeeper and was to be sent to prison.