Balser at once lay down upon the hillside above the wolf den, and Tom took his place to whine.
The boys understood their job thoroughly, and Tom's whines soon brought out the old she-wolf. She looked cautiously about her for a moment, stole softly over to her dead mate, and dropped by his side with a bullet through her heart.
Tom was about to rise, but Balser
"Whine again; whine again, and the young ones will come out."
Tom whined, and sure enough, out came two scrawny, long-legged wolf whelps.
The boys rushed upon them, and caught them by the back of the neck, to avoid being bitten, for the little teeth of the pups were as sharp as needles and could inflict an ugly wound. Balser handed the whelp he had caught to Tom, and proceeded to cut two forked sticks from a tough bush, which the children called "Indian arrow." These forked branches the boys tied about the necks of the pups, with which to lead them home.
"Caught them by the back of the neck."
Tom then cut a strong limb from a tree with his pocket-knife. This was quite an undertaking, but in time he cut it through, and trimmed off the smaller branches. The boys tied together the legs of the old wolves and swung them over the pole, which they took upon their shoulders, and started home leading the pups. They arrived home an hour or two before sunset, and found that Liney and Sukey had arranged supper under the elms.
"The boys tied together the legs of the old wolves and swung them
over the pole . . . and started home leading the pups."
The boys scoured their faces and hands with soft soap, for that was the only soap they had, and sat down to supper with cheeks shining, and hair pasted to their heads slick and tight.
"When a fellow gets washed up this way, and has his hair combed so slick, it makes him feel like it was Sunday," said Tom, who was uneasily clean.
"Tom, I wouldn't let people know how seldom I washed my face if I were you," said Liney, with a slight blush. "They'll think you clean up only on Sunday."
Tom, however, did not allow Liney's remarks to interrupt his supper, but continued to make sad havoc among the good things on the log.
There was white bread made from wheat flour, so snowy and light that it beat cake "all holler!" the boys "allowed." Wheat bread was a luxury to the settler folks in those days, for the mill nearest to the Blue River settlement was over on Whitewater, at Brookville, fifty miles away. Wheat and the skins of wild animals were the only products that the farmers could easily turn into cash, so the small crops were too precious to be used daily, and wheat flour bread was used only for special occasions such as Christmas, or New Year's or company dinner.
Usually three of four of the farmers joined in a little caravan and went in their wagons to Brookville twice a year. They would go in the spring with the hides of animals killed during the winter, that being the hunting season, and the hides then taken being of superior quality to those taken at any other time.
Early in the fall they would go again to Brookville, to market their summer crop of wheat.
Mr. Fox and a few neighbours had returned from an early trip to market only a day or two before the children's party at Balser's home, and had brought with them a few packages of a fine new drink called coffee. That is, it was new to the Western settler, at the time of which I write, milk sweetened with "tree sugar" being the usual table drink.
Liney had brought over a small gourdful of coffee as a present to Mrs. Brent, and a pot of the brown beverage had been prepared for the supper under the elms.
The Yates children and Tom were frank enough to admit that the coffee was bitter, and not fit to drink; but Liney had made it, and Balser drank it, declaring it was very good indeed. Liney knew he told a story, but she thanked him for it, nevertheless, and said that the Yates children and Tom were so thoroughly "country" and green that she couldn't expect them to like a civilized drink.
This would have made trouble with Tom, but Balser, who
saw it coming,
"Now you shut up, Tom Fox." And Balser had so recently whipped Tom that his word bore the weight of authority.
Besides the coffee and the white bread there was a great gourd full of milk with the cream mixed in, just from the spring-house, delicious and cold. There was a cold loin of venison, which had been spitted and roasted over a bed of hot coals in the kitchen fireplace that morning. There was a gourd full of quail eggs, which had been boiled hard and then cooled in the spring-house. There were heaping plates of fried chicken, and rolls of glorious yellow butter just from the churn, rich with the genuine butter taste, that makes one long to eat it by the spoonful; then there was a delicious apple pie, sweet and crusty, floating in cream almost as thick as molasses in winter.
They were backwoods, homely children; but the supper to which they sat down under the elms was fit for a king, and the appetite with which they ate it was too good for any king.
During the supper the bear cubs had been nosing about the log table, begging each one by turns for a bite to eat. They were so troublesome that Jim got a long stick, and whenever they came within reach he gave them a sharp rap upon the head, and soon they waddled away in a pet of indignant disgust.
For quite a while after Jim had driven them off there had been a season of suspicious quietude on the part of the cubs.
Suddenly a chorus of yelps, howls, growls, and whines came from the direction of the wolf pups. The attention of all at the table was, of course, at once attracted by the noise, and those who looked beheld probably the most comical battle ever fought. Tom and Jerry, with their everlasting desire to have their noses into everything that did not concern them, had gone to investigate the wolf pups, and in the course of the investigation a fight ensued, whereby the wolves were liberated. The cubs were the stronger, but the wolves were more active, thus the battle was quite even. The bears, being awkward, of course, were in each other's way most of the time, and would fall over themselves and roll upon the ground for a second or two, before they could again get upon their clumsy feet. The consequence was that the wolves soon had the best of the fight, and, being once free from the cubs, scampered off to the woods and were never seen again.
When the wolves had gone the cubs turned round and round, looking for their late antagonists; but, failing to find them, sat down upon their haunches, grinned at each other in a very silly manner, and then began to growl and grumble in the worst bear language any one had every heard.
Balser scolded the cubs roundly, and told them he had taught them better than to swear, even in bear talk. He then switched them for having liberated the wolves, and went back to supper.
The switching quieted the bears for a short time, but soon their spirit of mischief again asserted itself.
After another period of suspicious silence on the part
of the cubs, Jim put a general inquiry to the
"What do you s'pose they're up to this time?"
"Goodness only knows," responded Balser. "But if I hear another grunt out of them, I'll take a stick to them that'll hurt, and off they'll go to their pen for the night,"
The settlers frequently caught swarms of bees in the woods, and Balser's father had several hives near the house. These hives were called "gums," because they were made from sections of a hollow gum tree, that being the best wood for the home of the bees. These hollow gums were placed on end upon small slanting platforms, and were covered with clapboards, which were held tightly in their place by heavy stones. There was a small hole, perhaps as large as the end of your finger, cut in the wood at the base, through which the bees entered, and upon the inside of the hive they constructed their comb and stored their honey.
"These hives were called 'gums.' "
I told you once before how bears delight to eat fish and blackberries. They are also very fond of honey. In fact, bears seem to have a general appetite and enjoy everything, from boys to blackberries.
Hardly had Balser spoken his threat when another duet of howls and yelps reached his ears.
"Now what on earth is it?" he asked and immediately started around the house in the direction whence the howls had come.
"Geminy! I believe they've upset the bee-gum," said Jim.
"Don't you know they have?" asked Balser. By that time the boys were in sight of the bears.
"Well, I know now they have, if that suits you any better. Golly! Look at them paw and scratch, and rub their eyes when the bees sting. Good enough for you. Give it to 'em, bees!" And Jim threw back his head and almost split his sides with laughter.
Sure enough, the bears had got to nosing about the bee-gums, and in their every hungry greediness had upset one. This, of course, made the bees very angry, and they attacked the cubs in a buzzing, stinging swarm that set them yelping, growling, and snapping, in a most desperate and comical manner. All their snapping and growling, however, did no good, for the bees continued to buzz and sting without any indication of being merciful. A little of this sort of thing went a long way with the black mischief-makers, and they soon ran to Balser and Jim for help. The bees, of course, followed, and when the boys and girls saw the bees coming toward them they broke helter-skelter in all directions, and ran as fast as they could go. The bears then ran to the river, and plunged in to escape their tormentors.
When the gum had been placed in position again and the bees had become quiet, the cubs, thinking the field clear, came out of the water dripping wet. Then they waddled up close to the girls, and out of pure mischief shook themselves and sprinkled the dainty clean frocks with a shower from their frowzy hides.
That sealed the fate of the cubs for the day, and when Balser marched them off to their pen they looked so meek and innocent that one would have thought that they had been attending bear Sunday-school all their lives, and were entirely lacking in all unwarrantable and facetious instincts.
They went to bed supperless that evening, but had their revenge, for their yelps and whines kept the whole family awake most of the night.
By the time the bears had been put to bed, darkness was near at hand, so the supper dishes and gourds were washed and carried to the kitchen. Then the visitors said good night and left for home.