Gateway to the Classics: The Tale of Cuffy Bear by Arthur Scott Bailey
The Tale of Cuffy Bear by  Arthur Scott Bailey

The Forest Fire

I T was quite late in the fall. And Blue Mountain looked very different from the way it had looked all summer. The leaves had turned to brown and yellow and scarlet, except where there were clumps of fir-trees, as there were around Mr. Bear's house. Indeed, Blue Mountain looked almost as if it were all aflame, so bright were the autumn colors. Mr. Bear remarked as much to Mrs. Bear one day.

"For goodness' sake, don't say that!" she exclaimed. "Don't mention fire to me. The very thought of it makes me nervous. Everything's so  dry! I shall be glad when it rains again."

"It is  dry," Mr. Bear agreed. "But don't worry. It's like this every fall." And he went slowly down the mountain.

Cuffy and Silkie were playing together that morning. Cuffy was teaching Silkie to box, though, to be sure, he knew very little about boxing. But he found it easy to tap Silkie on the nose. And he had tapped her so hard that Mrs. Bear heard a sound very much like quarreling; and she came to the door to see what was the trouble.

Mrs. Bear was just going to call to her children, when she noticed a peculiar odor in the air. And she stood quite still, and sniffed, just as Cuffy had when he smelled the haymakers' lunch. You remember that the more Cuffy sniffed, the less alarmed he had been. But it was different with Mrs. Bear. The longer she stood there, with her nose twitching, and snuffing up the air, the more uneasy she became. And pretty soon she saw something that gave her a great start.

It was something white that Mrs. Bear saw, and it hung over the tree-tops; and where the wind had caught it it was spun out thin, like a veil.

It was exactly what Mrs. Bear had feared—it was smoke! The forest was afire! And Mrs. Bear was very much alarmed. She sent Cuffy and Silkie into the house, because she wanted to be sure that they wouldn't wander off into the woods. And then their mother stood in the doorway and watched. She was looking for Mr. Bear. While she waited there the smoke kept rising more and more until there were great clouds of it; and at last Mrs. Bear could see red flames licking up to the tops of the trees.

Several deer came bounding past, and a great number of rabbits and squirrels. And then followed other animals that couldn't run so fast—such as raccoons, and skunks, and woodchucks. Not for years had Mrs. Bear seen so many of the forest-people—and they were all so frightened, and in such a hurry to get away from the fire, that not one of them noticed Mrs. Bear as she stood in her doorway.

"Where are they going, Mother?" It was Cuffy who asked the question. He had crept up behind his mother and had been looking at the strange sight for some time.

"They're going over to the lake, on the other side of the mountain," Mrs. Bear said.

"Are they going fishing?" Cuffy inquired.

Mrs. Bear shook her head. And then Cuffy squeezed past her and saw what was happening.

"Oh-h, hurrah! hurrah!" he shouted.

His mother looked at him in astonishment.

"It's father's birthday!" he cried. You remember that Cuffy's mother had told him that Mr. Bear was born on the day of a great forest fire, and that he never had a birthday except when the woods caught fire again. "Now maybe father will bring home another little pig for a feast!" Cuffy said hopefully.

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