Ex-soldier serves devil 7 years, then does a lot of good, wins youngest of 3 sisters as wife. He is free again. Who serves devil now?
Once upon a time there was a young fellow who enlisted as a soldier, held his own bravely, and was always the foremost when it rained blue beans. As long as the war lasted, everything went well, but when peace was concluded, he received his discharge, and the captain said he could go wherever he wanted. His parents were dead and he had no home, so he went to his brothers and asked them to support him until the war started again. But the brothers were hard-hearted and said, "What shall we do with you? We can't use you, see how you get along. The soldier had nothing left but his rifle, which he took on his shoulder and wanted to go into the world. He came to a large heath, on which nothing was to be seen but a ring of trees: under it he sat down quite sadly and pondered his fate. I have no money,' he thought, 'I have learned nothing but the trade of war, and now that peace has been concluded, they no longer need me; I see ahead I must starve.
Suddenly he heard a roar, and as he looked around, an unknown man stood in front of him, wearing a green skirt, looking quite handsome, but with a nasty horse's foot. 'I already know what you lack,' said the man, 'money and goods you shall have, as much as you can get by with all your might, but I must first know if you are not afraid, lest I spend my money in vain.' 'A soldier and fear, how does that fit together?' he replied, 'you can put me to the test.' 'Well,' replied the man, 'look behind you.' The soldier turned around and saw a big bear trotting toward him, growling. I want to tickle you on the nose, so that you won't feel like growling,' the soldier shouted, and shot the bear on the snout, so that it collapsed and didn't move anymore. I see,' said the stranger, 'that you do not lack courage, but there is still one condition, which you must fulfill. If it does not harm my happiness,' replied the soldier, who well realized whom he had before him, 'otherwise I will not agree to anything. You will see for yourself,' replied the greencoat, 'for the next seven years you must not wash, comb your beard and hair, cut your nails, or pray the Lord's Prayer. Then I will give you a skirt and coat, which you must wear during this time. If you die during these seven years, you are mine, but if you stay alive, you are free and rich for life. The soldier thought of the great trouble he was in, and since he had gone to his death so often, he wanted to dare to do it now, too, and agreed. The devil took off the green skirt, handed it to the soldier and said, 'if you have the skirt on your body and reach into your pocket, you will always have a hand full of money'. Then he skinned the bear and said 'this shall be your coat and also your bed, for you must sleep on it and not get into any other bed.' And because of this costume you shall be called Bear Skin.' Then the devil disappeared.
The soldier put on the skirt, immediately reached into his pocket and found that the matter was justified. Then he put on the bear skin, went out into the world, was in good spirits and did nothing that was good for him and bad for the money. In the first year he was doing well, but in the second year he looked like a monster. His hair covered almost his entire face, his beard resembled a piece of coarse felt cloth, his fingers had claws, and his face was so covered with dirt that if you had sown cress in it, it would have sprouted. Whoever saw him ran away, but because he gave money to the poor in all places so that they would pray for him that he would not die during the seven years, and because he paid everything well, he still received shelter. In the fourth year he came to an inn, where the innkeeper did not want to take him in and would not even give him a place in the stable, because he feared his horses would become shy. But when the bear skinner reached into his pocket and took out a handful of ducats, the innkeeper relented and gave him a room in the back building, but he had to promise not to show his face, so that his house would not get a bad reputation.
As the bear-skinner sat alone in the evening, wishing with all his heart that the seven years were over, he heard a loud wailing in an adjoining room. He had a compassionate heart, opened the door and saw an old man crying profusely and beating his hands over his head. The bear skinner approached, but the man jumped up and wanted to escape. At last, hearing a human voice, he was moved, and by friendly coaxing the bear-skinner made him reveal the cause of his grief. His fortune had gradually dwindled, he and his daughters were starving, and he was so poor that he could not even pay the innkeeper and was to be put in prison. If you have no further worries," said the bear-skinner, "I have enough money. He sent for the host, paid him, and put another bag of gold in the unfortunate man's pocket. When the old man saw himself released from his worries, he did not know how to show his gratitude. Come with me," he said to him, "my daughters are wonders of beauty, choose one of them as your wife. When she hears what you have done for me, she will not refuse. You look a little strange, of course, but she will fix you up.' The bear-skinner liked that and went along. When the eldest saw him, she was so frightened by his face that she cried out and ran away. The second one stopped and looked at him from head to toe, but then she said, "How can I take a man who is no longer human? I liked the shaved bear even better, who was seen here once and pretended to be a man, but he had a hussar's coat on and white gloves. If he were only ugly, I could get used to him. The youngest, however, said, "Dear father, this must be a good man who has helped you out of trouble; if you have promised him a bride in return, then your word must be kept. It was a pity that the bear-skin's face was covered with dirt and hair, otherwise one could have seen how his heart laughed in his body when he heard these words. He took a ring from his finger, broke it in two and gave her one half, keeping the other for himself. In her half he wrote his name and in his half he wrote her name and asked her to keep her piece. Then he took his leave and said, "I have to wander for another three years, but if I don't come back, you will be free, because I will be dead. But ask God to preserve my life.
The poor bride dressed all in black, and when she thought of her bridegroom, tears came to her eyes. Her sisters gave her nothing but scorn and ridicule. Be careful,' said the eldest, 'if you shake hands with him, he will hit you with his paw. Beware,' said the second, 'the bears love sweetness, and if you please him, he will eat you up. You must always do his will," said the eldest again, "otherwise he will start growling. And the second continued, 'but the wedding will be fun, bears dance well.' The bride was silent and did not let herself be misled. The bear-skinner, however, went about the world from one place to another, doing good where he could and giving abundantly to the poor so that they would pray for him. Finally, when the last day of the seven years dawned, he went out again to the heath and sat down under the ring of trees. Not long after, the wind blew, and the devil stood before him and looked at him glumly; then he threw him the old skirt and demanded his green one back. 'We are not that far yet,' replied the bear-skinner, 'first you shall clean me.' The devil may or may not have wanted to, but he had to fetch water, wash the bearskin, comb his hair and cut his nails. Then he looked like a brave warrior and was much more beautiful than ever before.
When the devil had happily departed, the bear's heart was light. He went into town, put on a splendid tunic, got into a carriage with four white horses and drove to his bride's house. No one recognized him; his father took him for a noble field officer and led him into the room where his daughters were sitting. He had to sit down between the two oldest ones: they poured him wine, put the best morsels before him and said they had not seen a more beautiful man in the world. The bride, however, sat opposite him in a black dress, did not open her eyes and did not speak a word. When he finally asked the father if he wanted to give him one of his daughters as a wife, the two oldest jumped up, ran into their chamber and wanted to put on splendid clothes, because each of them imagined that she was the chosen one. The stranger, as soon as he was alone with his bride, took out half the ring and threw it into a cup of wine, which he handed to her across the table. She accepted it, but when she had drunk and found half the ring lying at the bottom, her heart sank. She fetched the other half, which she wore on a ribbon around her neck, held it to it, and it turned out that both parts fitted perfectly to each other. Then he said, "I am your betrothed bridegroom, whom you have seen as a bear skinner, but by the grace of God I have regained my human form and have become pure again. He went up to her, embraced her and gave her a kiss. Then the two sisters came in in full costume, and when they saw that the handsome man had been given to the youngest, and heard that it was the bear-skinner, they ran out in anger and rage; one drowned herself in the well, the other hanged herself on a tree. In the evening someone knocked at the door, and when the bridegroom opened it, it was the devil in the green skirt, who said, 'You see, now I have two souls for your one.