On a cold snowy day, in the middle of December, a quaint little cottage rested in the morning light, puffing bits of smoke into the misty shadows. Everywhere, trees grew thick, and foliage trailed about in an untamed fashion, creating a sort of wild garden. A rope of thick, green ivy climbed the sides of the house, framing the doorway and the windows. Two windows faced front. The first one, dressed with a homely flowered curtain, was to the left of the door; to the right of the door was the second window, its curtains pulled back to reveal bright firelight from within.
Around a little oakwood table were gathered three chairs, two of which were sat upon by two furry occupants. One bear was decisively larger than the other, taking up the biggest chair with the dignity and pride of being the head of the house. An old newspaper lay in Mr. Bear’s lap. Pretending to devour the latest stories, one claw slowly guided him down the page, through each line, meticulously stopping after every paragraph. Every once in a while, he set the paper down entirely, stretched his large, furry limbs, and gave such a long, enormous yawn, that one could almost count the number of teeth poking out of his pink gums twice. Thus relieving himself, he would at once return to his methodical, useless ‘reading’ of the magazine.
Across from him sat Little Bear. In truth, he was not really little, taking up as much space as a boy of thirteen. I only call him little to distinguish him from the larger of his family, who, being full-grown bears, match the height and stature of Goliath. Little Bear sat in the smallest chair, idly tapping his claws on the side of the wooden table. As the smells of breakfast drifted in from the kitchen, his nose involuntarily twitched, and his mouth began to water. He looked down at his empty stomach, giving it a consoling pat, while it, in return, growled with as much generosity as can be expected when one has not eaten since dinner the night before.
Let us now take a peep at Mrs. Bear, bustling about in the balmy kitchen as she waits for the porridge to thicken. A large, heavyset type, she wore a green apron that had to be squeezed to within an inch of its life to encircle her middle. Grey slippers fit snugly on her lower paws, and she was covered head to toe with flour. Dusting herself off, her bright eyes always saw everything, from the bread in the oven that was burning, to the tiniest speck of dust resting on one’s eyelash. She saw it all, and made a thorough, brisk cleaning of every day after the messes were made.
Now that we have made our introductions, let us return to the others.
Ah, porridge! thought Little Bear as he wandered into the kitchen. A steamy aroma beckoned to him from a small iron pot on the stove. As he watched, the thick, gooey substance began to rise, growing larger, and larger, and larger, until…
Pop! It exploded in his face. Little Bear hastily licked up the oats that had landed on his nose.
“Mama, is breakfast almost ready?” he asked eagerly.
“Hurry along, dear, the porridge is nearly ready. We don’t want it to spill over, do we, now? What on earth is Mr. Bear doing in there? Tommy, go and tell him to wash up. Breakfast is nearly ready. Oh!” She stopped short after the long stream of talk that never seemed to stop. Her quick eyes had noted two miniscule, gooey oats that we stuck to Tommy’s paw. Grabbing the kitchen towel, she swiped at them. “Tommy! How many times must I tell you? Oats are not for eating until they are on the table!”
Tommy licked the last oat off his nose and grinned sheepishly. “I’ll go call Papa.” With that, he made a quick exit, leaving Mrs. Bear to ponder why, after all these years of thorough bringing up, oh, why was Tommy such a tease? He could not be trusted to do his duty to call Mr. Bear. She must do it herself.
“Mr. Bear!” called Mrs. Bear to her husband, rapidly disposing of the oatful towel in her hands. “Breakfast is ready!”
Out the kitchen door she went, carrying with her a tray with three wooden bowls of steaming porridge laid on its top. One was a large bowl—for Mr. Bear, of course. Next to it sat a small bowl, meant for Mrs. Bear. And at the end was Tommy’s bowl, the middle-sized bowl. All had bear claw drawings of trees. And all found their places at the table before their owners. Mr. Bear said a solemn, slow grace, and then all began to dig in.
The peaches were good, thought Mr. Bear as he licked the yellow fruits off the top of his porridge. It was almost like eating dessert before the real meal. But no one cared. Suddenly, Mrs. Bear gasped.
“My tongue, oh my tongue!” cried she, with the drama of a queen, only it sounded something like “ny tonn, o ny tonn!” for, you see, Mrs. Bear had tasted her porridge and found it just a little too hot. Mr. Bear, after the first shock, merely smiled and said,
“Have an ice cube, my dear.”
“Yowch!” yelped Tommy. He, egged on by curiosity, had put a whole spoonful down his throat. Little white spots began to appear on his tongue, proving indeed the warmth of the porridge.
Now, if Mr. Bear had been sensible, he would have learned from the experiences of his wife and son and would not have tasted his porridge just yet. But Mr. Bear, I regret to say, was not of the sensible type, and, to see what his family was talking about, stuck the tip of his nose into the middle of his bowl. A sort of unearthly snuffling then burst forth—I cannot describe the noise, so terrible, loud, and comical it was.
Suffice to say, they all three of them left the table wiser bears than before.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” mourned Mrs. Bear. “What shall we do?”
None of them seemed to have any idea of what to do. Upon looking in the window a second time, one could see three furry heads hanging and wagging themselves, as they wondered what to do. Finally, a walk in the fresh air was suggested; and as no one had any objections, it was decided upon: a stroll would by all means be the best thing to do!
And so, upon a third peep through the panes, an empty table with three full bowls of porridge and three empty chairs sitting around it are the only occupants of the house, as the bears meander out the door, through the surrounding hedge, and into the forest awaiting beyond.
Almost as soon as the three bears exit the stage, yet another little character decides to make her appearance on the scene.
“Hullo?” said the little girl, as she stopped at the edge of the trees. “Why, there’s a cottage! How strange; I didn’t know anyone lived in the wood.”
She smoothed the white pinafore that hung over the bright blue of her dress, quietly wondering where she was. After a pause, she decided it would be best to see if anyone were home. Anyone who owned such a sweet little cottage could not turn down a sweet, blond little girl such as Goldie, especially if she were lost. Taking small steps, she danced through the brambles to the ivy-framed door. Catching her breath, a dainty little hand shot out from one of her blue pockets, stopping to rest on one of the leafy greens. Then, with no misgivings, she rapped smartly on the door.
“Hullo? Is anyone there?” she asked, her bell-like voice ringing through the trees. Eerie silence was her only answer. The wind moaned and whipped her hair about. Her bare arms were covered in goosebumps; she shivered. “Fine, then,” she said to herself firmly. “If they aren’t home, then I must go in. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.” Would they?
The wooden door opened with a creak and a groan. Bright firelight streamed out of the doorway and into the mist, inviting the poor child to enjoy its warmth. Resolutely, she gathered up her skirts and stepped over the threshold. Ah, the steamy aroma of fresh porridge greeted her, as she pulled off her moist boots and frozen cloak. Drawing near to the table, she saw the three bowls, undisturbed. Then, making up her mind, she said, “I don’t care if they do mind. They’re not here, and I am.” With that, she sat down. Taking in hand the unused spoon of Mrs. Bear, she dipped it in the oats. As it entered her mouth, a grimace spread over her pretty face, all the way up to the yellow curls at the top. Who eats their porridge cold? she wondered, hastily moving on to Mr. Bear’s bowl. It was still steaming at least. Placing her hands around it, she sought to warm them and was rewarded by a sudden burn. Jumping backwards, she stared indignantly at the ever-steaming food. She sat down to Tommy’s bowl, retaining the hope that it might not be too cold or too hot. She took a slow bite.
“At last!” she cried triumphantly. “Here’s one to my taste.” And sitting down, she began to eat ravenously.
We all know that when one has eaten one’s full share, and sits contentedly by the fire, sleep soon creeps up to overtake them and transport them to clouds of deep slumber. So it was with Goldie. Stretching her arms with a yawn, she started on the journey to the unknown upstairs in search of a bed.
Entering the big room, she noticed three of them, pushed up against the wall. With a sigh, she sat down on the first one. It was rock hard. Frowning, she quickly flopped down on the next. As she sank into it, her first thought was of heavenly delight. But no sooner had this thought crossed her mind when this particular bed proved just as bad as the other one, so soft that one could fall right through to the hard bedstead below. With a huff, her eyes flashed indignantly at having to get up yet a third time. Goldie's head ached violently, and it was all she could do to keep from crying. Finally, she tried the last bed, holding her breath until she was sure she had gone all the way down. She smiled. A bed that was perfect for her. The shores of sleep beckoned to her, and without further delay, she followed.
Within half an hour, outside of the girl's window, three furry creatures would have been seen to scuffle up the steps and into the cozy little cottage. But Goldie had no knowledge, for she lay fast asleep in a warm bed.
“Who’s been eating my porridge?” asked a bewildered Tommy, staring aghast at the empty bowl upon the table. Mrs. Bear gave a cry of astonishment, and for a moment, Mr. Bear actually stopped wiping his feet on the rug to stare. Everything froze...
Mrs. Bear suddenly ran for the kitchen.
"Thieves!" was the only word she found to say, but say it, or rather scream it, she did, as her apron flapped in her flurry of excitement.
"My dear," said Mr. Bear, placidly cocking his head. "Where are you going?"
"To get the knife!" she shouted back through the doorway. "Tommy? Tommy! Where did you put the knife, you little..."
Tommy lumbered in after his mother, really quite concerned that something must have gone wrong, and hoping the thieves had not taken the jars of honey stored under his bed.
At that moment, a sweet voice trembled, "Hullo?"
All bears turned towards the staircase; and lo and behold! There stood Goldie, pinafore and all, shivering in the cool air that drifted through the open door. Through all the noise, Goldie awakened, and, with a frightened countenance, slipped downstairs to find a puzzling sight indeed.
Three bears stood stock still before her, and she surveyed them with little alarm, and much curiosity, for nature had not yet taught Goldie to fear the unknown.
"A child!" gasped Mrs. Bear, dropping the knife with a clatter on the wooden floor. "What are you doing here?"
"Why...why I don't know!" she replied, with a little smile beginning to brighten her face. "What are you doing here?"
"What are we...?" and Mrs. Bear trailed off into silence. Her lips, usually pressed in a firm line, hung open, revealing a mouth which I have the mercy not to describe to you. She could not believe what she was hearing and seeing with her own ears and eyes.
"Little girl, this is our house," huffed Mr. Bear, strutting, or rather awkwardly lumbering up to her. His limbs sagged, but he lifted his head and asked, "Why have you trespassed?"
Goldie shook her fair hair back from her face, shock and amazement, and a little fright, mixing together in the deep pools of her eyes. "Your house?" she cried, timidly pulling back away from the bears. "Truly your house?'
"Of course, child!" Mrs. Bear had recovered herself well enough to undo her apron. She now approached the girl to inspect her. Seeming pleased with her appearance and her neatness, she asked straight away, "But what on earth are you doing here?"
And so, of course, Goldie was made to sit down by the fire and tell her story—I leave you to guess how it went—and Mrs. Bear nodded understandingly the whole time, and Tommy stared stupidly, and Mr. Bear merely sat. And when her enthralling recital had done, her soft eyes were raised to Mrs. Bear's stern ones, as if asking whether or not her report had been satisfactory. And of course, no one could resist Goldie when she pleaded with her eyes. Mrs. Bear melted under her gaze, which led her to remark,
"Well, Goldie child, you may as well stay with us and have a decent home."
And so it was. Goldie was to stay, and I leave the rest of her story up to you, for I have only heard all that I have written. Suffice to say, the little girl was happy with the bear family, and, as far as I know, lived happily ever after.