Harold the woodcutter lived near the edge of a forest that some believed to be enchanted. He was an honest man, frugal and hardworking. Although he had few worldly possessions, he considered himself fortunate. He owned a sharp axe, a goat, a few chickens and a tiny cottage that stood in a clearing near a clump of gigantic oak trees. Greta, his wife of many years, was of a happy and contented disposition and they had three lovely daughters.
Opal, the eldest daughter, was tall and slender with a fair face, long blonde locks that cascaded down her back and eyes the color of a summer sky. She sang like a nightingale and often wished for a lute to strum as she warbled plaintive melodies.
Sable, the middle daughter, was slim and willowy with hair as dark as midnight, a peaches-and-cream completion and eyes like soft brown velvet. She was an accomplished artist and often wished for oils and canvas instead of sketching on used paper with charcoal.
Pearl, the youngest daughter, was short and voluptuous. Her hair was as red as flame and her eyes were the color of cut emeralds. A dusting of freckles sprinkled themselves across her tiny, upturned nose. Pearl had no special talent, or so she believed. She was content to dream of Prince Charming who would someday come and carry her away to his castle.
Harold struggled daily to provide his family with food and clothing. He regretted that he had no extra money to buy the lute Opal wished for, or the oils and canvas Sable desired. As for Pearl, she seemed content to dream, which was probably the wisest course to pursue considering the family's poor outlook and poverty-stricken condition.
Who knows how long Opal would have wished, Sable would have desired, Pearl would have dreamed or Harold would have harbored regret had not fate stepped in to alter fortune and transform their destinies?
One Thursday evening in late autumn, Harold and his family sat beside a roaring fire in their warm kitchen. Harold smoked his pipe, Greta mended socks, Opal hummed softly, Sable sketched a picture and Pearl stared into space. Outside, rain fell in torrents. A cold wind complained through the eaves of the little cottage. Quite suddenly and without notice, the residents heard a sharp rap-rap-rap on the back door. Harold struggled to his feet. "Who can that be?"
Greta looked up from her mending. "Some poor soul must be lost--and on a night such as this--hasten, husband, open the door and bid him enter."
Rheumatism slowed Harold's haste to a shuffling walk. He lifted the bar and opened the door just a fraction. To his utter amazement, a great brown bear stood on the back stoop of the little cottage.
In a deep, booming voice the big, wet, brown bear roared, "Good-evening to you."
Harold was too surprised to do more than answer, "Good-evening to you, sir."
Greta called, "Invite the poor sojourner to come inside and sit beside our cozy fire."
Harold opened the door a little wider. "Would you like to come inside and sit with my family and me?"
That was all the invitation the brown bear needed. "I would be delighted." He lumbered through the door and with heavy tread, came across the floor to stretch out very near the open fire. He was a magnificent creature, sleek and furry with huge paws, bright round eyes and little pointed ears. "I have traveled far and I am weary."
Although they had little food, the kind woodcutter and his family shared their simple fare with the brown bear. As they dined on crusts of bread and porridge, Harold asked the brown bear why he was out on a night such as this.
The brown bear licked porridge from his lips. "I am on a mission." He hung his shaggy head. "Alas, it is a difficult undertaking that lies before me."
Harold was touched by the noble brown bear's obvious suffering. "Is there some way I might be of assistance to you?"
The brown bear wiped one mammoth paw across his eyes. "There is one thing, but I am reluctant to ask for one of your treasured possessions."
Harold had no worldly wealth and he quickly said so before adding, "What I have, you are welcome to take."
The brown bear shifted his bulk. "Will you give me one of your daughters?" Before Harold could respond, he added, "If you will, you shall be as rich as you are now poor."
Harold certainly had no objection to being rich. "I must ask my daughters about this." He turned to Opal, Sable and Pearl. "What say the three of you?"
Opal shook her shiny blonde head as she lowered her big blue eyes. "Father, I would gladly go, but I have aspirations of someday singing before lords and ladies in a great music hall." Raising her eyes, she smiled at the brown bear. "No offense, sir, but it would be a shame to deprive the world of my lovely singing voice."
The brown bear nodded his shaggy head. "That is true and I understand."
Harold addressed Sable, "What say you, daughter number two?"