ONCE upon a time, there were three Bears who lived in a castle in a great wood. One of them was a great big Bear, and one was a middling Bear, and one was a little Bear. And in the same wood there was a Fox who lived all alone, his name was Scrapefoot. Scrapefoot was very much afraid of the Bears, but for all that he wanted very much to know all about them. And one day as he went through the wood he found himself near the Bears' Castle, and he wondered whether he could get into the castle. He looked all about him everywhere, and he could not see any one. So he came up very quietly, till at last he came up to the door of the castle, and he tried whether he could open it. Yes! the door was not locked, and he opened it just a little way, and put his nose in and looked, and he could not see any one. So then he opened it a little way farther, and put one paw in, and then another paw, and another and another, and then he was all in the Bears' Castle. He found he was in a great hall with three chairs in it--one big, one middling, and one little chair; and he thought he would like to sit down and rest and look about him; so he sat down on the big chair. But he found it so hard and uncomfortable that it made his bones ache, and he jumped down at once and got into the middling chair, and he turned round and round in it, but he couldn't make himself comfortable. So then he went to the little chair and sat down in it, and it was so soft and warm and comfortable that Scrapefoot was quite happy; but all at once it broke to pieces under him and he couldn't put it together again! So he got up and began to look about him again, and on one table he saw three saucers, of which one was very big, one was middling, one was quite a little saucer. Scrapefoot was very thirsty, and he began to drink out of the big saucer. But he only just tasted the milk in the big saucer, which was so sour and so nasty that he would not taste another drop of it. Then he tried the middling saucer, and he drank a little of that. He tried two or three mouthfuls, but it was not nice, and then he left it and went to the little saucer, and the milk in the little saucer was so sweet and so nice that he went on drinking it till it was all gone.
Then Scrapefoot thought he would like to go upstairs; and he listened and he could not hear any one. So upstairs he went, and he found a great room with three beds in it; one was a big bed, and one was a middling bed, and one was a little white bed; and he climbed up into the big bed, but it was so hard and lumpy and uncomfortable that he jumped down again at once, and tried the middling bed. That was rather better, but he could not get comfortably in it, so after turning about a little while he got up and went to the little bed; and that was so soft and so warm and so nice that he fell fast asleep at once.
And after a time the Bears came home, and when they got into the hall the big Bear went to his chair and said, "WHO'S BEEN SITTING IN MY CHAIR?" and the middling Bear said, "WHO'S BEEN SITTING IN MY CHAIR?" and the little Bear said, "Who's been sitting in my chair and has broken it all to pieces?" And then they went to have their milk, and the big Bear said, "WHO'S BEEN DRINKING MY MILK?" and the middling Bear said, "WHO'S BEEN DRINKING MY MILK?" and the little Bear said, "Who's been drinking my milk and has drunk it all up?" Then they went upstairs and into the bedroom, and the big Bear said, "WHO'S BEEN SLEEPING IN MY BED?" and the middling Bear said, "WHO'S BEEN SLEEPING IN MY BED?" and the little Bear said, "Who's been sleeping in my bed?--and see here he is!" So then the Bears came and wondered what they should do with him; and the big Bear said, "Let's hang him!" and then the middling Bear said, "Let's drown him!" and then the little Bear said, "Let's throw him out of the window." And then the Bears took him to the window, and the big Bear took two legs on one side and the middling Bear took two legs on the other side, and they swung him backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, and out of the window. Poor Scrapefoot was so frightened, and he thought every bone in his body must be broken. But he got up and first shook one leg--no, that was not broken; and then another, and that was not broken; and another and another, and then he wagged his tail and found there were no bones broken. So then he galloped off home as fast as he could go, and never went near the Bears' Castle again.
SOURCE: Collected by Mr. Batten from Mrs. H., who heard it from her mother over forty years ago.
PARALLELS: It is clearly a variant of Southey's Three Bears (No. xviii.).
REMARKS: This remarkable variant raises the question whether Southey did anything more than transform Scrapefoot into his naughty old woman, who in her turn has been transformed by popular tradition into the naughty girl Silver-hair. Mr. Nutt ingeniously suggests that Southey heard the story told of an old vixen, and mistook the rustic name of a female fox for the metaphorical application to women of fox-like temper. Mrs. H.'s version to my mind has all the marks of priority. It is throughout an animal tale, the touch at the end of the shaking the paws and the name Scrapefoot are too volkstümlich to have been conscious variations on Southey's tale. In introducing the story in his Doctor, the poet laureate did not claim to do more than repeat a popular tale. I think that there can be little doubt that in Mrs. H.'s version we have now recovered this in its original form. If this is so, we may here have one more incident of the great Northern beast epic of bear and fox, on which Prof. Krohn has written an instructive monograph, Bär (Wolf.) und Fuchs (Helsingfors, 1889).
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ATU 171: The Three Bears