The Little Nut Twig

Ludwig Bechstein ; Germany.

Ludwig Bechstein (November 24, 1801 - May 14, 1860) was a German writer and collector of folk fairy tales. Ludwig grew up his first nine years in very poor economic conditions. His situation improved only when his uncle Johann Matthäus Bechstein, a renowned naturalist and forester living in Meiningen in the district of Schmalkalden-Meiningen in Thuringia, adopted him in 1810. He was sent to school, and in 1818, started an apprenticeship as an pharmacist. From 1829 to 1831 he studied philosophy and literature in Leipzig and Munich thanks to a stipendiate granted by Duke Bernhard II of Sachsen-Meiningen, who hired him subsequently as a librarian. This life-time post provided Bechstein with a continuous income, while leaving him a lot of freedom to pursue his own interests and writing. Bechstein published many works and was a successful author of his time. He published several collections of folk tales, but also romances, poems, and novels.

Once upon a time there was a rich merchant whose business required him to travel abroad. Taking leave, he said to his three daughters, "Dear daughters, I would like to have something nice for you when I return. What should I bring home for you?"

The oldest one said, "Father dear, a beautiful pearl necklace for me!"

The second one said, "I would like a finger ring with a diamond stone."

The youngest one cuddled up to her father and whispered, "Daddy, a pretty green nut twig for me."

"Good, my dear daughters," said the merchant, "I will remember. Farewell."

The merchant traveled far and purchased many goods, but he also faithfully remembered his daughters' wishes. To please his eldest he had packed a costly pearl necklace into his baggage, and he had also purchased an equally valuable diamond ring for the middle daughter. But, however much he tried, he could not find a green nut twig. For this reason he went on foot a good distance on his homeward journey. His way led him in large part through the woods, and he hoped thus finally to find a nut twig. However, he did not succeed, and the good father became very depressed that he had not been able to fulfill the harmless request of his youngest and dearest child.

Finally, as he was sadly making his way down a path that led through a dark forest and next to a dense thicket, his hat rubbed against a twig, and it made a sound like hailstones falling on it. Looking up he saw that it was a pretty green nut twig, from which was hanging a cluster of golden nuts. The man was delighted. He reached his hand up and plucked the magnificent twig. But in that same instant, a wild bear shot out from the thicket and stood up on his back paws, growling fiercely, as though he were about to tear the merchant to pieces.

With a terrible voice he bellowed, "Why did you pick my nut twig, you? Why? I will eat you up!"

Shaking and trembling with fear the merchant said, "Dear bear, don't eat me. Let me go on my way with the little nut twig. I'll give you a large ham and many sausages for it!"

But the bear bellowed again, "Keep your ham and your sausages! I will not eat you, only if you will promise to give me the first thing that meets you upon your arrival home."

The merchant gladly agreed to this, for he recalled how his poodle usually ran out to greet him, and he would gladly sacrifice the poodle in order to save his own life.

Following a crude handshake the bear lumbered back into the thicket. The merchant, breathing a sigh of relief, went hurriedly and happily on his way.

The golden nut twig decorated the merchant's had splendidly as he hurried homeward. Filled with joy, the youngest girl ran to greet her dear father. The poodle followed her with bold leaps. The oldest daughters and the mother were not quite so fast to step out the door and greet home-comer.

The merchant was horrified to see that the first one to greet him was his youngest daughter. Concerned and saddened, he withdrew from the happy child's embrace, and -- following the initial greetings -- told them all that had happened with the nut twig.

They all cried and were very sad, but the youngest daughter showed the most courage, and she resolved to fulfill her father's promise.

The mother soon thought up a good plan. She said, "Dear ones, let's not be afraid. If the bear should come to hold you to your promise, dear husband, instead of giving him our youngest daughter, let's give him the herdsman's daughter. He will be satisfied with her."

This proposal was accepted. The daughters were happy once again, and they were very pleased with their beautiful presents. The youngest one always kept her nut twig with her, and she soon forgot the bear and her father's promise.

But one day a dark carriage rattled through the street and up to the front of the merchant's house. The ugly bear climbed out and walked into the house growling. He went up to the startled man and asked that his promise be fulfilled. Quickly and secretly they fetched the herdsman's daughter, who was very ugly, dressed her in good clothes, and put her in the bear's carriage.

The journey began. Once outside the town, the bear laid his wild shaggy head in the shepherd girl's lap and growled,

Tussle me, scuffle me
Soft and gentle, behind my ears,
Or I will eat you, skin and bone

The girl began to do so, but she did not do it the way the bear wanted her to, and he realized that he had been deceived. He was about to eat the disguised shepherd girl, but in her fright she quickly fled from the carriage.

Then the bear rode back to the merchant's house and, with terrible threats, demanded the right bride. So the dear maiden had to come forward, and -- following a bitterly sorrowful farewell -- she rode away with the ugly bridegroom.

 Once outside the town, he laid his coarse head in the girl's lap and growled again,

Tussle me, scuffle me
Soft and gentle, behind my ears,
Or I will eat you, skin and bone

And the girl did just that, and she did it so softly that it pacified him, and his terrible bearish expression became friendly. Gradually the bear's poor bride began to gain some trust toward him. The journey did not last long, for the carriage traveled extremely fast, like a windstorm through the air. They soon came to a very dark forest, and the carriage suddenly stopped in front of a dark and yawning cave. This was where the bear lived. Oh, how the girl trembled!

The bear embraced her with his claw-arms and said to her with a friendly growl, "This is where you will live, my little bride; and you will be happy, as long as you behave yourself here, otherwise my wild animals will tear you apart."

As soon as they had gone a few steps inside the dark cave, he unlocked an iron door and stepped with his bride into a room that was filled with poisonous worms. They hissed at them rapaciously. The bear growled into his little bride's ear,

Do not look around!
Neither right nor left,
Straight ahead, and you'll be safe!

 Then the girl did indeed walk through the room without looking around, and all the while not a single worm stirred or moved. And in this manner they went through ten more rooms, and the last one was filled with the most terrible creatures: dragons and snakes, toads swollen with poison, basilisks and lindorms. And in each room the bear growled,

Do not look around!
Neither right nor left,
Straight ahead, and you'll be safe!

The girl trembled and quaked with fear, like the leaves of an aspen, but she remained steadfast and did not look around, neither right nor left. When the door to the twelfth room opened up, a glistening stream of light shone toward the two of them. The most beautiful music sounded from within, and everywhere there were cries of joy.

 Before the bride could comprehend this -- she was still trembling from seeing such horrible things, and now this surprising loveliness -- there was a terrible clap of thunder, and she thought that earth and heaven were breaking apart.

It was soon quiet once again. The forest, the cave, the poisonous animals, and the bear had all disappeared. In their place stood a splendid castle with rooms decorated in gold and with beautifully dressed servants. And the bear had been transformed into a handsome young man. He was the prince of this magnificent castle, and he pressed his little bride to his heart, thanking her a thousand times that she had redeemed him and his servants -- the wild animals -- from their enchantment.

She was now a high and wealthy princess, but she always wore the beautiful nut twig on her breast. It never wilted, and she especially liked to wear it, because it had been the key to her good fortune.

Her parents and sisters were soon informed of this happy turn of events. The bear prince had them brought to the castle, where they lived in splendid happiness forever after.