The Hermit and the Bear
A traditional fable, retold by Edward Baldwin in 1854.
A very old man, who had lost his wife and all his children, took it into his head that he would go and live by himself in a cave, surrounded on all sides by a vast desolate forest. He was a very good man, doing kindness to everybody when he was able, and everybody loved him. If a traveller lost his way in the forest and was hungry and weary and benighted, the old man would give him a part of his supper and invite him to lodge in his cave. This good creature was kind even to animals; he would not hurt a spider; and in the winter the little robins came and fed upon the crumbs of bread that he scattered for them at the mouth of his cave. They saw that he never hurt or frightened them, and they would pick out of his hand the biscuit he crumbled for their breakfast.One day as this good hermit was taking a walk, he heard the groans of an animal in pain. He looked through the bushes and saw a vast overgrown bear stretched out at the foot of a tree. At first he was rather alarmed; but when he looked a little longer he saw the bear was very ill. He then came round and showed himself, and the bear looked at him in a pitiful manner and held up his foot.The hermit saw that it was very sore and very much swelled. The poor creature had somehow got a hurt in it a week before, and it had grown worse and worse till the bear could not walk. The bear could not go for victuals, and victuals did not come to the bear, so that he was in danger of being starved. The hermit took compassion on the animal; he ran and got water and washed his foot; he put a little balsam to it that he had in his pocket, and then fetched him something to eat. He now visited the bear every day till he was well enough to walk.The first walk the bear took, he would go home with the hermit. The old man did not much like it; he would have been better pleased with a dog for his companion; but the bear did it all out of love. When they came home, the bear would stay and live with the hermit. Bears are clever animals and can do many tricks; though bad people use them very cruelly, pretending to teach them to dance. Particularly they can climb trees. The hermit was feeble and stiff in his limbs, and he could not do that; so this bear climbed trees for him and shook the boughs and made apples and chestnuts fall for the old man's supper.One day the hermit had taken a longer walk than usual, in a dry hot sun, and after dinner he laid him down near his cave and fell asleep. The bear, as usual, watched close by him to take care of him. The old man shook his head, but did not awake; the bear growled, but the hermit was in a sound sleep and the flies did not care for his growling. At last one sauc fly pitched upon the old man's nose. Now, thought the bear, I shall have you; and with that he took up his paw to give the fly a good knock. The fly was killed; but the poor hermit's nose was terribly bruised and after a time turned quite black. Immediately the hermit awoke and began to be very angry; but he put up his hand to his nose, and the dead fly fell upon it; then he knew what the bear had been doing. "Go, go," said he to the bear, shaking his head with the pain: "I will alway do you all the good I can, but we will not live together any more." He that admits into his company an awkward and ill-matched favourite, will some time or other have reason to grieve, even for things that were intended in kindness.