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A Bear Story by Emily H. Leland

 

A good many years ago, when the century was young, there came to live in the big forests of Northern Vermont a man and his wife and their little boy. Partly because they liked to be high up out of the fogs and damp, and partly because there was little else but hilly land in that part of the country, they built their cabin at the top of a nice baby mountain, which was covered at the back with an immense orchard of maples and butternuts, but which was quite bare and steep at the east side, and had rocks cropping out which the farmer thought would be fine for building a good stone house with some day.

It was long, hard work starting a farm in a place where there was nothing but woods; but after a year or so had passed by, and enough trees had been cleared away to make room for a corn field and a potato patch, and a little chicken-house and cow-shed had been added to their log-cabin, the young farmer used to sit down before their rough stone fire-place, with its bright crackling fire, and trot his boy to sleep upon his knee, while he watched the pretty young mamma putting away the supper things, thinking all the time what a rich and happy man he was. And when at last a pig-pen was joined to the cow-shed, and two cunning little pink-nosed pigs had been bought of a neighbor five miles away, and placed in it, he felt richer and grander than many a man does nowadays who owns a railroad.

And how they grew, those pink-nosed pigs! They had a southern exposure, good drainage, plenty of dry leaves and moss for bedding, and an abundance of milk, with an occasional handful of cracked corn or a pint of mashed potatoes. How could they help growing? The farmer took great delight in feeding them, and his wife would sometimes ask him, with a laugh, "Now, Stephen, which do you love the most—the pigs or our little 'Lisha?"

Elisha was the baby's name. They hadn't thought of such names as Carl and Claude and Clarence in those days.

One fine moon-lit night, late in the fall, after the corn had been husked and carried into the loft, and some of the big yellow pumpkins had been cut into strips and hung on long poles near the kitchen ceiling to dry, and others had been stored away for the cow's luncheons and the Thanksgiving pies, and the potatoes were safe in the cellar, and the onions hung in long strings above the mantel-shelf, this young farmer covered up the glowing coals in the fire-place with ashes, so they would keep bright and hot for the morning fire, and went to bed feeling quite well prepared for winter, for he had that day "banked" the house clear up to its queer little windows, and made the cow-shed and pig-pen and hen-house very cozy with loads of hemlock and spruce boughs.

He was just dozing off to sleep, when all at once there sounded through the still, frosty air a long and terrible squeal from the pig-pen.

The farmer did not wait for it to end, but bounced out of bed, tore away the clumsy fastening of the door, and rushed out with a war-whoop that could have been heard a mile away if there had been anybody to hear it. As he rushed he caught up a corn stalk that happened to lie in his way. A corn stalk was a foolish thing for him to pick up, but people seldom stop to think twice in such moments. He was around by the pig-pen in no time, and there he saw a great burly something just lifting one of his dear little pigs over the top of the pen. He rushed upon him, and struck him over the head with the corn stalk. There was a joint in the corn stalk nearly as hard as a crust of bread, and the something seemed to almost feel it through his thick fur, for he turned about and looked at the farmer, as if saying,

"What do you want of me?"

And there he was—a great, black, full-grown bear!

"Drop him! drop him!" yelled the farmer; and he brought the corn stalk down upon the bear's nose. The bear dropped the pig very quickly, but he grabbed the man in place of it, and then commenced a grand wrestling match. The farmer was a strong man, and he was "fighting for the right." The bear was strong too, and being a little tired of wild honey and beech-nuts, he had made up his mind to have a little spring pig for his family's supper. As they pushed and pulled this way and that, the bear tripped against a stump, and down they came, bear and man, to the ground; and being near the steep hill-side, in about ten seconds they began rolling down, over and over, and faster and faster, bumping over rocks and hummocks, but never letting go, and never stopping until the bottom of the hill was reached.

And then—

Up got Mr. Bear, and made off down the valley at a slow trot, never stopping to say "good-night" or anything. And up got the farmer, and scrambled up the hill as fast as his bruised legs could carry him, and feeling of his ribs as he went, expecting to find half a dozen of them at least punching out through his night-gown. But they were not.

At the door he was met by his wife keeping guard with the birch broom over her sleeping boy.

"Oh, Stephen! what was it?" she said, in a shivering whisper.

"Oh! nothing but a bear, nothing but a bear," said the farmer.

But the little pigs slept in the hen-house for the rest of the night, and the next day they had a stout log roof built over their heads.