I T'S an odd story, but if it had not been for a big black bear there would not have been any Christmas at all in that poor little log hut in the woods—I mean any Christmas doings, of course. You see the father had gone off to the village to get a bag of meal. He had been away three days, and there were no signs of his coming. It was Christmas eve, and the very last spoonful of meal was boiling in the kettle for supper. Every minute the children were looking out of the one little window to see if Father were coming, and Mother was getting the bowls ready, and the mush was nearly done, when suddenly a shout came from the window.
"O Mother! there's a big black bear!" Mrs. Carson glanced out of the window. Bears were not so rare as to be startling in the woods; but with her husband away she felt nervous about everything.
Sure enough, there was a big bear, and what was worse he was plainly as much interested in them as they were in him. He was headed for the cabin, and shuffling along in a sort of trot, as if he had been invited to supper. Mrs. Carson turned pale.
"He looks hungry," she said, "and he's coming straight here, as if he knew we were alone. Children! hurry up into the loft, while I fasten the door!"
The little ones, Carry and Jack, needed no further orders; they hastily scrambled up the ladder to where a few boards had been laid across the beams and formed a loft used for storing things when they had any to store.
Frank, however, demurred. "Mother! let me take Father's gun and shoot him out of the window?" he cried.
"No, indeed!" said his mother, as she barred up the door; "you're not a good shot like your father, and a wounded bear is a terrible creature."
"He's coming right here!" shouted Frank; "straight for the window! Run! run!"
Up the ladder he went, his mother after him, and when they turned and looked down, the bear was staring in at the window in a most neighborly way. He saw, or perhaps he smelled, the boiling mush, for he sniffed as if it pleased him, and made up his mind to come in.
Now, of course, he didn't understand glass, and thought that where he could look in he could go in; and, in fact, he could; for one thrust of his enormous paw smashed every pane of glass and the sash besides, and in he scrambled.
"O Mother!" whispered Frank, "bears can climb."
"Sh!" his mother replied in the same tone; "we mustn't let him suspect we're here."
The little ones were already speechless with terror.
But the bear paid no attention to whispering, if he heard it; he looked neither at the ladder nor at the gun in the corner; he had eyes for only one thing—the kettle of boiling mush. He sniffed again, as if the odor were agreeable and mush his favorite food; and he shuffled straight across the room to the open fireplace where it hung. "He surely won't touch it so hot!" thought Mrs. Carson; but she did not know him. What could a bear out of the woods know about heat? He snatched the kettle, dragged it off the hook, held it in his arms, and thrust his nose into it.
A pang, and a low groan from above as the party in the loft saw their last chance of supper gone; but a howl of pain rose from the bear as his nose touched the boiling mass. He held on tighter; that was his way when anything hurt, to squeeze the life out of it. He clasped the kettle closer and closer to his breast, and louder and wilder grew his cries; but he never thought of giving up. He rolled on the floor with pain; still he held on to the kettle, and the mush poured out into his face and eyes, and in about two minutes there was nothing but a black mass rolling around, knocking over the chairs, wild and blinded. Now was Mrs. Carson's chance. The gun stood in a corner; she could use it. With white lips she bade the children keep still while she stole down the ladder, but Frank held her tightly.
"Mother! Mother!" he cried eagerly, "let me! I'm quicker 'n you! I'll bring the gun!"
She pushed him back. "Never!—if
But Frank was quick and light; he slipped between the bars and dropped to the floor. Then a shriek came from his mother; but in an instant he had seized the gun and was halfway up the ladder again. How he got up he never knew, but in a moment he was safe in the loft, again looking down on that roaring and tumbling mass below.
"Oh, if your father were here!" came tremblingly from Mrs. Carson's white lips.
"I can shoot, Mother!" cried Frank, and shoot he did. He could not take much aim, of course, but he shot at random. I spare you the particulars; it is enough that two or three shots put an end to the distress of the poor fellow on the floor, and when all was quiet the pale, trembling little group crept down the ladder. Frank, of course, was wild; he danced around the fallen foe.
"My first bear, Mother! and such a big one! won't Father be pleased! and now we can have a splendid supper! bear's meat's tip-top! And, Mother," as a new thought struck him, "now we can have a Christmas! now, youngsters,"—he turned to the little ones who sat on the lower rounds of the ladder ready to scamper up on the slightest movement of the big beast,—"now Santa Claus'll come here sure."
"You said he didn't know the way out here," began Carry.
"Yes, I know I did; but this splendid fellow'll show him the way—you'll see!"
"But, Frank," said his mother, "I can't see myself what you can do; the skin is worth something, but out here in the woods there's no one to buy it, and to-morrow's Christmas, you know."
"Yes; and to-morrow morning I'll cut this fellow up.
I'll take off his coat to-night,—I know how, for
Father taught me,—and I'll pack him, or what we
don't want ourselves, on to my big sled,
"And drag it five miles to the village?" said his mother, with a faint smile.
"Yes, Mother; why not? And then I can hunt up Father, too."
"I don't believe you can do it, with such a load."
"Well, I know I can; and I'll sell that skin and the
meat,—Mr. Brown buys them, I know,—and
"Now, Mother!" as he saw her lips open to reply, "please, please, let me have my way this time! I know I can do it, and besides," he said hesitatingly, "what did you say about 'trusting the Lord'? Can't you trust him to get me safe to the village?"
This was a home thrust, and Mrs. Carson closed her mouth. Sure enough, she had talked about "trusting;" it was now time to trust.
Moreover, she was getting very anxious about her husband, who she knew would not have left them so long alone unless something had happened. So she went to work to patch up the window with a piece of white cloth tacked over it, the best she could do, and to make up the fire and restore the room to order, while Frank proceeded to his part of the work, taking off Master Bruin's warm thick overcoat, which he would not need any more.
Before long, too, a delicious fragrance filled the little log house, and if a bear had come along just then, he'd have smelled something more savory than mush. It was quite late that night before Mrs. Carson and Frank were in bed, for it was a pretty big piece of work for a boy of twelve; but boys of that age can do a good many things when they happen to live in the woods and have a father to teach them.
With the first light the family were astir. Frank packed his long sled which was made to drag wood to the house, and after an early breakfast wrapped himself up and started.
"Mind," said his mother, as she bade him good-by, "get Mr. Brown to bring you back if Father isn't ready to come, or if anything's the matter. I shall be worried to death if you're not home before dark."
"Don't you worry, Mother. It's Christmas day and I'm bound to be home. Carry and Jack, hang up your stockings before you go to bed, if I'm not here! I'm sure old Santa'll be around," and off he went. Mrs. Carson watched him out of sight, and then turned with a sigh to her work in the house, for children must eat and work must go on, you know, whatever happens.
Frank started off bravely, though the load was heavy and the way was long, but how he would have got on, and whether he would ever have reached the village all by himself, nobody can tell; for when he got up onto the main road, and just as he was trying to persuade himself that his arms didn't ache the least bit, a man came along with a yoke of oxen and an empty wood-sled. As soon as Frank saw him he knew him; he lived in the village, and no doubt was going right home, and, to tell you the truth, it took Frank about one minute to make a bargain with him to drag his load and him, and take part of the bear's meat in payment. When everything was arranged and Frank climbed up under the buffalo-robe beside the driver, he had to admit to himself that his arms were a little tired, and "How I wish Mother knew," he thought all the way.
Just before noon Frank and his sled were dropped before the door of Mr. Brown's store, and having paid for his passage, and feeling at least a foot taller than he did yesterday, he walked in.
"Mr. Brown," he said, trying to make his voice steady,—it did shake so,—"do you want to buy a bear skin, and some meat?"
"Why, bless me! it's Frank Carson!" said the good-natured storekeeper. "Where's your bear, sonny?"
"Out here," said Frank, trying very hard not to look proud.
Half a dozen men of the kind that always hang around a country store started up and rushed to the door.
"Well! the boy wasn't lying," said one, surprised.
"Humph!" said Mr. Brown, "I knew that. He doesn't come of that sort of stock. How's your mother, boy?"
"Well," said Frank, "but can you tell me about Father?"
"Your father," said Mr. Brown, undoing the fastenings preparatory to spreading out the skin, "your father calculated to go home this very afternoon: he's had a spell of sickness; hasn't set up since the day he come. He's been most wild about you all, and he's upstairs in my store this identical minute. Why, what a big fellow!" he interrupted himself, "how did you get him?"
Then Frank had to tell the story of his capture while his audience laughed and thought it was the first time a bear had been caught in a mush-kettle trap. In an hour more a very happy load set off behind Mr. Brown's mule for the little log house. Mr. Carson, wrapped and bolstered up in a big chair, so that he would not get too tired, and Frank, with more money than he ever had in his life, and a big bundle besides—a very mysterious package that even his father didn't know about, and that Mr. Brown had helped him hide under the straw of the sleigh. Not least of all, there was a new sash for the window, and a board out of which to make a strong shutter, so that the next hungry bear that chose to come smelling around after their mush might not find it quite so easy to get in.
"Though I'm mighty glad he did get in, Father," said Frank.
"Yes, since it ended well," said his father. "But suppose it had been night." And he shuddered at the thought of what might have been.
It was after dark when the little light of the log house was seen, and the children were fast asleep. After having some supper and much talk on both sides, Frank begged his father and mother to go to bed and let him play Santa Claus. They were very willing, and thus it was done.
The next morning there was almost as much noise in the house as when that bear was hugging the mush-kettle. Two wilder or happier children could not be found anywhere. Their stockings were full and running over, and besides there was a nice warm dress for Mother and a subscription to a weekly paper for Father; and all the rest of the money handed to Mrs. Carson with, "There, Mother! I've had all the fun I want out of that bear. You may have the rest. But aren't you glad he came to see us, anyway?"
"But where is your present?" said Mother. "What did you get for yourself?"
"Oh, Mother! I didn't think anything about it," said Frank.
"But I thought of it," said his father; and then he brought out of the folds of Mr. Brown's big cloak that he had been wrapped up in to take his long ride the day before, the prettiest, neatest, brightest, best little gun you ever saw.
What did Frank say?
Well, his eyes grew big; he stared and gasped, but all
"Now, Auntie," said Kristy with shining eyes, when the story ended, "you always told me you couldn't tell stories."
"No more I can," said Aunt Joe.
"Well, we'll see!" said Kristy threateningly. "I shall not forget this one, and you may as well rack your brains for more."
Aunt Joe laughed, and everybody turned to Cousin Harry, who sat next.
"My story," said he at once, "is about a great snowstorm. It happened away out on the prairies to a family I knew. Perhaps you remember them, Grandma. George Barnes was the man's name; they used to live near here."
"To be sure I do," said Grandma with interest; "what about them?"