One day, a man, a peasant, took his team of bullocks to the forest. He loaded his cart with wood and turned homeward, but as he was crossing a small glade, the cart came to a sudden halt. Startled, he struck his horse's side with his whip, but instead of moving on, the horse reared and neighed, and, pricking up its ears, stared fixedly at something in the forest. The man got off the cart and glanced over the glade. What was his surprise when there, coming toward him, he saw a bear.
"What are you doing, Bear? Are you looking for something?'" the man asked.
"I am trying to find a place to hide,"' the Bear replied.
"Not from you or any other man, as you well know, but from the coming cold. It will be winter soon, and I'm afraid of it.”
"What have you to fear? Aren't you stronger than winter?”
"Ah, if only I could seize it with my paws! I would crush it to death and never have to go hungry any more."
"That a bear should go hungry! How very strange. Not that fasting
would not do you some good. You've sinned enough, God knows! Must have eaten up no end of sheep!"
"Don't people kill sheep for food, then? Or is it only a sin when we bears do it?" Danilo-Burmilo returned. "I feed on berries mostly, and as for the smaller animals that I sometimes eat, they are the very ones that cause you damage. But of course when I'm very hungry I'm forced to kill a sheep. Now, I know you lose by it, but I can't be expected to die of hunger, can I! And I'm worse off by far than you are in winter. You'll have stored your crops and your firewood long before, and you have your clothes to keep you warm, so winter "is nothing to you, it can whistle and howl all it pleases for all you care. But I have nothing to
protect me from the cold save this skin of mine, and that isn”t much.
So, you see, nothing remains for me but to go looking for a lair in which to hide, and that is what I'm doing now.'"
"Well and good, you'll have your lair. But what'll you eat and what'll you wear?"
"Bears are not like you people. We can do without food in winter, for we sleep through it. I have plenty of fat under this skin of mine, and I feed on that in winter. I could not have survived till spring otherwise. This way, I do, even if I'm nothing but skin and bones by the time it arrives. What I need most is to have a warm place to sleep in!"
"Well, then, why don't you come with me? You'll be warm and have enough to eat, and all you'll have to do is watch over my beehives in summer.”
To this Danilo-Burmilo agreed. He climbed into the cart, and the man took him home.
The man's wife gave Danilo-Burmilo a bowl of borshch, and when he had eaten, the man led him to the barn where it was as dark as in a lair on a dark autumn night.
Danilo-Burmilo thought himself very lucky. He had a place to live in, he was warm, and he did not have to do a thing, and when summer came – well, he'd watch over the bees and have a lick of honey now and then, and it would all be very, very nice.
But it was not for long that he was fated to stay with his new master. One day, when the man's wife brought him food, a dog ran into the barn after her and nearly tore him to bits. And there were cows in the neighboring barn whose angry snorting made his blood rim cold. Everyone seemed to hate him, and the thick chain he wore round his neck kept him from going out and roaming freely about.
Danilo-Burmilo thought it over and he asked his master to let him go for a walk. The man opened the barn door, and Danilo-Burmilo stretched himself and stepped out into the yard. Far from being warm as it was in the barn, it was cold there, and he shivered, but he said to the man: "Thank you for the food and shelter, master, but I cannot stay with you any longer."
And before the man knew what he was about he turned and ran away down the road! Straight for the forest he made, and when he got there, sat down for a rest and said to himself:
"Freedom, even if it means having to go hungry, is better any day than captivity, however well fed you may be!"
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