Bosephus rose cautiously, and, balancing himself with the long cane pole, edged his way a few inches at a time toward the middle of the stream, pausing every little way to be sure that the log showed no sign of yielding. He could swim, but he did not wish for a wetting, and besides there were a good many alligators in these Louisiana waters and some very fierce snapping turtles. He had heard the negroes say that alligators were particularly fond of boys, and that snapping turtles never let go till it thundered. He had no wish to furnish supper for an alligator and there were no signs of a thunder storm. Hence he advanced with great prudence. When he had nearly reached the centre Horatio called to him.
"Try it from there, Bo! Your line's long enough to reach!"
The little boy steadied himself by a limb that projected from the log and swung his line in the direction the Bear had indicated. Then he waited, holding his breath almost, and watching his float, which lay silently on the water. Horatio was watching, too, with half closed eyes, and now and then giving instructions.
"Pull it a little more to the right, Bo—nearer that root," he whispered.
Bosephus obeyed, but the float still lay silently on the water.
"Draw it a little toward you, Bo; sometimes when they think its going away they make a rush for it."
Again the little boy did as directed, but without result.
"Lift out your bait and see if it's all right. Now fling it a little further toward the bank."
Bo lifted out the bait, which was still lively and untouched, and flung it far over toward the other shore. Then he waited in silence once more, but there was no sign of even so much as a nibble.
"Oh, pshaw, Ratio!" he said at last impatiently. "I don't believe you know anything about fishing. Either that or there are no fish in here—one of the two."
He had turned his head toward the Bear as he spoke and was not looking at his float. All at once the Bear sat straight up, pointing at the water.
"Your cork's gone!" he shouted. "You've got one! Pull, Bo, pull!"
The little boy turned so quickly that he almost lost his balance and could not immediately obey. Horatio was wild with excitement.
"Why don't you pull?" he howled. "Do you expect him to climb up your pole? Are you waiting for him to make his toilet before he appears? Well, talk about fishermen!"
Bosephus was struggling madly to follow instructions. He was holding to the dead limb like grim death and pulling fiercely at the pole with one hand. The fish must be a large one, for it swung furiously from side to side, but could not be brought to the surface. Horatio on the bank was still shouting and dancing violently.
"You'll lose him!" he yelled; "you'll never in the world land him that way. You ought to go fishing for tin fish in a tub! Just let me out there; I'll show you how to fish!" and Horatio made a rush toward the log on which Bo was standing.
"Go back! Go back!" screamed the little boy. "It won't hold us both!" But the Bear was too much excited by this time to heed any caution. He hurried to the centre of the log and seizing the pole from Bo's hand gave a fierce pull. The fish swung clear of the water and far out on the bank, but the strain on their support was too great. There was a loud cracking sound, and before they knew what had happened both were struggling in the water.
"Help! Help!" howled Horatio. "I'm drowning!"
"Hold to the end of the log!" shouted Bo. "I'll swim ashore and tow you in with the pole!"
He struck out as he spoke and in a few strokes was near enough to seize some bushes that overhung the water. Suddenly he heard Horatio give forth a scream so wild that he whirled about to look. Then he saw something that made him turn cold. In a half circle, a few feet away from where Horatio was clinging to the end of the broken log for dear life, there had risen from the water a number of long, black, ugly heads. A drove of alligators!
"Bo! Bo!" shrieked the wretched Bear. "They're after me! They'll eat me alive—skin and all! Save me! Save me!"
The little boy swung himself to the shore and dashed up the bank. His first thought had been to seize the fishing pole and with it to drag Horatio to safety. But at that instant his eye fell on the violin. He had learned to play very well himself during the last few weeks and he remembered the night of the panther dance in the Arkansaw woods. He snatched up the instrument and struck the bow across the strings.
"Sing, Horatio!" he shouted. "It's your turn to sing!" and Bosephus broke out into a song that after the first line the Bear joined as if he never expected to sing again on earth.
"Oh, there was an Old Bear went out for a swim, And the alligators came just to take a look at him,
And the Bear was glad to see 'em, and he wanted them to stay, And he sang a song to please 'em so they wouldn't go away."
As the music rolled out on the water there rose to the surface another half circle of dark objects. The Bear shut his eyes and his voice grew faint. They were snapping turtles.
"Stop, Bo!" he wailed. "It's no use. It only brings more of 'em, and new kinds."
"No, no; go on," whispered Bo, who had crept down quite to the water's edge. "Now—ready! sing!"
"Then 'tis 'Gator, Alligator, we expect to see you later, If you really have to leave us—if you can't remain to tea—
Then 'tis Turtle, Mr. Turtle, you will notice we are fertile, In providing entertainment for our com—pa—nee."
New arrivals appeared constantly until the water and logs and stumps by the water's edge were alive with listening creatures. Still remembering the panther dance the boy called in a whisper to Horatio:—
"Softly now; sing it again."
They repeated the song, letting their voices and music gradually blend into the whispering of the trees. Bo sang with closed eyes, but the watching Bear saw the listening circle of heads sink lower and lower so gently that he could not be sure when the water had closed over them. From roots and logs and stumps dark forms slid noiselessly into the stream and disappeared. The music died away and ceased. Horatio looked at the little boy eagerly.
"Quick, the pole, Bo," he called softly. "They're all gone."
A moment later he was holding on to the cane pole with teeth and claws and being towed to shore. As he marched up the bank he picked up the large fish that was still flopping at the end of the line.
"Very fine, Bosephus," he said, holding it up. "You wouldn't have had that fish for supper if it hadn't been for me, Bosephus."
THE ROAD HOME
"Going back to Arkansaw as fast as we can go— Never mind the winter time—never mind the snow, For the weather's not so chilly as the Louisiana law, And we'll feel a good deal safer in the Ar—kan—saw."
IT had happened in this way. The afternoon before Christmas had come and the little boy and the Bear had been talking over a Christmas dinner for the next day.
"Bosephus," Horatio had said, "we must have something extra. I should like a real old-fashioned dinner. One such as I used to have; but, of course, that is all over now." And there was an untamed, regretful look in his eyes.
"Ratio," said Bo, "we have got a lot of money—nearly two hundred dollars. We can afford to have something good. I will buy a duck and a turkey and maybe some pies. We'll take a holiday and eat from morning till night if we feel like it."
The Bear smiled at this thought and touched the strings of the violin.
"Oh, we'll buy a tender turkey, and we'll buy a youthful duck, And some pies, perhaps, and cookies, and some doughnuts, just for luck, And we'll take our Christmas dinner where the balmy breezes stray, And we'll spread it in the sunshine and we'll eat—all—day."
Suddenly he paused in his singing and listened. They were coming out into an open space and there was a sound of a voice speaking. Somebody was talking in a foreign language that Bo did not understand, but the Bear trembled with eagerness.
"Bo," he whispered, "that's Italian. That's the way my first teacher talked. The one that abused me—and died."
The Bear licked out his tongue fiercely at this memory and pushed forward into the open, the little boy following. As they stepped out where they could see, Bosephus uttered an exclamation and Horatio a snort of surprise. By the roadside sat a dark-browed, villainous-looking Italian and before him stood a miserable half-starved bear cub, which he was trying to teach. He would speak a few words to it and then beat it fiercely with a heavy stick. The little bear cowered and trembled and could not obey. Horatio gave a low dangerous growl as Bo held him back. The Italian turned and saw them.
"What are you beating that cub for?" asked Bo, sternly.
The Italian looked at him evilly.
"Maka him grow an' dance an' playa fid, lika yo' bear," he said, sullenly. "Soa he maka da mun'."
"That won't do it. You can teach him better with kindness. Throw that stick away. Aren't you ashamed of yourself."
"Minda yo' own biz," was the insolent reply.
The little boy saw that it would not be safe to stay there any longer. The cub was whining pitifully and Horatio was becoming furious. He turned away, the Bear following reluctantly. When they had gone perhaps a half a mile Horatio paused.
"Let's camp here," he said. "This is a nice place and I'm tired."
Bosephus was tired, too. The day before Christmas with its merry preparation had been a big day among the plantations and the friends had reaped a harvest.
"All right, Ratio," he said, and they made preparations for the night, though it was still quite early.
"Bo," said the Bear, reflectively, "Christmas always reminds me of when I was a little cub like that poor little fellow we saw back yonder. I was a Christmas present—by accident."
"A Christmas present by accident! How was that?"
"It was this way. I was always brave and adventurous, as you know. My folks lived in a very large tree and were all asleep for the winter except me. I stayed awake so as to run away and see the world. Well, I started out and I travelled and I travelled. It was all woods and I lost my way. By and by I got very tired and climbed up into a thick evergreen tree to rest. I suppose I went to sleep and some men who were out hunting for a Christmas tree must have picked out mine and tied the limbs together tight with cords and cut it down. Then I suppose they must have carried me home and set the tree up in its place and untied the cords, for the first I knew I was tumbling out on to a carpet in a big room, and a lot of children were screaming and running in every direction. I was bigger and some fatter than that cub we saw with the Italian—poor little fellow.
"I'd like to talk to that villain about five minutes alone," continued Horatio, grimly. "I'm sure I could interest him. I'd tell him about the man that used to beat me, and I might give him an imitation of what happened to him," and the big fellow rose and walked back and forth in excitement.
"But go on with your story, Ratio; what happened to you after you fell out of the Christmas tree?"
"Oh! the children tamed me and fed me till I got so big they were afraid of me, and then I ate up some young pigs and a calf and went away."
"You ran away, you mean. What happened then?"
"Well, I went quite a distance and fell in with a circus. I learned to dance there and stayed with them a while. But one day the young ibex came in to see me and they couldn't find anything of him after that except his horns, and seemed suspicious of me, so I went away again."
"Yes; I travelled and changed about a good deal till by and by I fell in with the Italian who promised to teach me to play the violin, and he did teach me some, as you know, but he wasn't kind to me, so I—I wore mourning for him a while, and went away again. Then I met up with you, and you taught me the second part of our tune, and we went into partnership and I reformed, and we've been together ever since. We've been in some pretty close places together, Bosephus, but I've always managed to pull us through safely, and you have behaved very nobly, too, at times, Bosephus—very nobly, indeed."
"Are you sure you have reformed, Horatio?"
Horatio swung the violin to his shoulder and drew the bow across the strings. Then he sang softly:—
"Oh, there's some folks say a nigger won't steal, But I caught one in my corn-fiel'.
And there's other folks say that a Bear will tame, But I wouldn't trust him with my——"
he hesitated, and then, with a final flourish,
"with my money all the same."
The little boy laughed. The Bear seemed to have forgotten the cruel Italian and was in his usual good humor.
"I think I can trust you, Horatio; I'm not a bit afraid of you."
"Bo," said Ratio, speaking suddenly, "speaking of Christmas trees, we ought to have one. I saw a beautiful one up the stream yonder. I think I'll go and get it, if you'll look after the supper while I'm gone."
"Why, yes, Horatio, only don't be long about it."
Horatio struck the violin with a long vigorous sweep.
"Oh, we'll have a tree for Christmas in this Louisiana isthmus, Where the orange trees are waving and the jasmines are in bloom;
And I'll have a Christmas dinner, if I don't I am a sinner, And I'll eat it if it sends me to my doom—doom—doom."
Bo laughed again. He had never seen Horatio in a better humor.
"If you eat too much pie it may send you to your doom—doom—doom," he said. "Hurry back, now, with that tree. You can pull it up by the roots and we'll plant it again here. Then it will keep right on growing."
The bear set out up the stream and the boy busied himself with building a fire and taking out of a sack a lot of food that had been given them by the planters during the afternoon. He spread this on the leaves and moss and then sat down and gazed into the bright blaze. It was pleasant and warm and he was quite tired. After a while he wondered sleepily why the Bear didn't come back, and concluded he was having a hard time pulling up the tree. Then he began thinking of all the adventures they had had together and of the little cub bear and the cruel Italian.
"I was tempted to let Horatio at him," he thought. "A man like that should be beaten until he couldn't stand. That poor little creature! How wistfully he looked at us. He kept whining—perhaps he was telling Ratio something."
The little boy's head nodded forward now and then and presently he slept. He slept soundly and the moments flew by unheeded. He was having a long dream about old man Todd and the girls and the two candy hearts, when suddenly there arose close at hand such a commotion, such a mingling of excited language, fierce snarls and crashing of brush that the little boy leaped to his feet wildly.
"Ratio!" he shouted. "Ratio! where are you?"
The only answer was the redoubled fury of the furious uproar, which Bo now located at the edge of the road but a few feet away. He tore through the brush hastily in that direction. As he reached the spot the turmoil ceased and he heard the sound of running feet. Dashing through into the road he beheld a strange sight. A half-naked man was disappearing over the hill just beyond, and Horatio, holding some rags of clothing in one hand and the paw of the little bear in the other, was looking after him hungrily, as if about to pursue. Before him lay the Christmas tree badly broken and bruised.
"Ratio!" exclaimed Bo. "What have you been doing?"
The Bear looked at Bo sheepishly.
"I went for the Christmas tree," he said, meekly, "and just as I was coming back the Italian man came along, and he was beating this little chap, and so I tried the Christmas tree on him to see how he liked it. Then we got into an argument, and when he went away he left the cub with us and didn't take all of his clothing."
The little boy reflected a moment.
"I hope, Horatio," he said, gravely, "you did not mean to break your agreement about, you know—about dinners."
"I didn't, Bo; honest, I didn't. I wouldn't touch that fellow if I was starving. But I did pretty nearly break his neck, Bo, and I'm glad of it!"
"Ratio," said Bo, solemnly, "it's very wrong, I suppose; very wrong, indeed; but I'm glad, too. Only we've got to postpone that Christmas dinner. That fellow will be back here to-night with officers, and we've had all the law we want. We start for Arkansaw in five minutes. A bite of supper and then right about! ready! march!"
And this was the reason Horatio and Bosephus and the little cub bear were travelling swiftly northward in spite of the winter weather that was not yet over. The cub was small and weak and Horatio, who loved him and sometimes called him "little brother," often carried him. They gave no performances, but only pushed forward, mile after mile, chanting solemnly:—
"Going back to Arkansaw as fast as we can go— Never mind the winter time and never mind the snow, For the weather's not so chilly as the Louisiana law, And we'll feel a good deal safer in the Ar—kan—saw."
THE BEAR COLONY AT LAST. THE PARTING OF BOSEPHUS AND HORATIO
"Oh, the wind blows fair and the snow is gone In the Arkansaw when the spring comes on. Oh, the sun shines warm and the wind blows fair, For the boy and the cub and the Old—Black—Bear."
SO sang Bosephus and Horatio as they sat side by side in the doorway of a deserted lumberman's cabin in the depths of an Arkansaw forest. The cub rescued from the brutal Italian and brought with them on their hasty journey out of Louisiana, stood a few feet away watching them intently. Now and then he made an awkward attempt at dancing, which caused Bosephus and Horatio to stop their music and laugh. He had grown fat and saucy with good treatment, and seemed to enjoy the amusement he caused. At a little distance behind him, some seated and some standing, and all enjoying the entertainment, were seven other bears of various sizes. The colony so long planned by Horatio and Bosephus was established.
The long journey out of Louisiana had been made rapidly and with no delays. Though midwinter when begun, the weather had been beautiful at the start, and there had been few storms and but little cold since. The cub had gradually confided his story to Horatio, who loved him and continued to call him affectionately "little brother." He had been captured in a very deep woods, he said, by hunters, who sold him to the Italian. He did not know where these woods were, but as the friends crossed the Louisiana line and entered lower Arkansaw he grew more and more excited every day, for he declared these were so like his native woods that he could almost hear his mother's voice crooning the evening lullaby. Soon after, they came one evening upon a deserted lumberman's camp and took possession of the one cabin that still remained. It was a good shelter and there was a stream with fine fish in it close at hand. But when the friends awoke next morning the little bear was gone.
They were very sorry, for they had grown much attached to the little chap and he had seemed to be fond of them also. It was very lonely in the deep forest without him. Horatio sighed.
"He didn't appreciate us, Bo," he said, sadly. "He's gone back to be a wild bear. He never got the taste of men—tastes, I mean, and I suppose these woods made him homesick. They are like my old woods, too, and I get homesick sometimes—even now." Then the boy and the Bear went to the brook to fish and the day passed gloomily.
But that night, when Bo had built a fire in the big fireplace which almost filled one end of the cabin, and was cooking the fish, there came a muffled scratching sound at the door. Horatio sprang to his feet instantly.
"That's Cub," he said, excitedly.
The boy ran to the door and opened it. Sure enough, the little cub stood before him, and out of the darkness behind gleamed seven other pairs of eyes. The boy was brave, but as he saw that row of fiery orbs he felt his flesh creep and his hair began to prickle.
"Horatio!" he called, softly, "come quick."
The Bear was already by his side, and a moment later with the cub stepped out into the night. Then Bosephus heard low growls followed by a strange commotion, which he at first took to be the sound of fighting. Suddenly Horatio ran to him in great excitement.
"Bo, Bo!" he exclaimed, "it's my family! and, oh, Bosephus, it's Cub's family, too! We're really brothers, and we didn't know it!" Then he ran back into the dark and presently returned with the cub and the seven other bears, following. The newcomers stared and blinked at the little boy as they entered the lighted cabin and then withdrew to a darker corner, where they sat silently regarding everything that passed, like strangers from the country. The cub sat with them and whispered softly, in the bear tongue, and Horatio now and then went over, too, and no doubt told them marvellous tales of his strange adventures. Late that night all lay down to sleep—the little boy in the arms of his faithful friend.
And so the Bear Colony had begun, even sooner than Bo and Ratio had expected, and they had given up all notion of travelling any further. The lumber camp was deserted for good by the woodcutters, for the largest trees had been cut out and taken away long before. The cabin was headquarters—Bosephus was president, Horatio prime minister, and the cub, because of his adventures and slight educational advancement, was chief assistant. Early spring was upon the land, and the woods were beginning to be sweet with song and blossom. Bosephus was almost afraid at first that, with the native woods and the renewal of home ties, Horatio might return more or less to his savage instincts, but he became gentler and more docile than ever. His place as prime minister and chief instructor made him realize his advancement and the importance of good behavior. He was grave and dignified, and about the fire in the evening, played the violin with an air of skill and superiority that was very impressive. Bosephus at first enjoyed it all immensely. The bears were obedient and submissive, and were gradually learning to understand his language. He had more money than he would ever need and was lord of all he surveyed.
But gradually there came a change. He grew tired of seeing only the black faces and shining eyes of his subjects and of hearing only the singing of bees and birds. At first he did not realize what was the matter. Then it came to him at last that this life of the forest was palling upon him and that, like the cub, he yearned for his own kind—the faces of men.
One morning he divided up the money into two equal parts and slipped out to where Horatio was sunning himself and playing softly before the cabin.
"Horatio," he said, tenderly, "I have divided up the money. Here is your half. You have been the best friend I ever had and it breaks my heart to leave you, but I can't live away from my own race any longer. I am going back to Louisiana, to the planter who told me to come back and he would send me to school and college and make a man of me," and then the little boy suddenly broke down and fell weeping into his companion's arms.
For some moments Horatio could not speak. Then he spoke, sobbing between every word.
"Bo—Bo—you—you're—not—not going to—to leave me! Oh, Bo!" and the poor Bear gave way completely and wept on the little boy's shoulder. They were all alone, as the others had gone out together for a walk. At last Horatio put the boy gently from him and took up his violin. He began to play very softly and sang in a breaking voice:—
"Oh, he's going away to leave me to the Lou'siana shore, And I'll never see my darling, my Bosephus, any more; He's divided up the money, and he's going far away, And my poor old heart is breaking but he—will—not—stay. We have battled with the weather—we have faced the world together— Never caring why or whether—never minding when or where— But he says we now must sever—happy days are done forever, For Bosephus and the fiddle and the Old—Black—Bear!"
An hour later Bo was wending his way southward through the sweet spring woods alone. In his inner breast pocket was stored every dollar the friends had earned together.
"I will never need it now, Bo," Horatio had said at parting, "and you will need a great many times as much. Take it and sometimes think of your far off faithful Ratio." And then, after one long embrace, they had parted. And now the little boy was trying to keep up courage to carry out what he had undertaken. At every turn in the path he was tempted to return and throw himself in Horatio's arms. But he pressed on, hoping to arrive at some sort of habitation for the night, which he did not like to pass alone in the woods.
"Poor old Ratio," he thought. "He will be happier with his own people after a while. And perhaps he will really civilize them." He turned and cast one long look in the direction of the colony which he could no longer see. Then facing about again he hurried forward. About a mile further on he paused at a little brook for a drink. He was bending over the water when he heard a sudden crashing in the bushes behind him. He started up instantly and seized a heavy stick that lay close at hand. Nearer and nearer came the tearing through the brush, like some heavy animal in fierce chase. The boy stepped out of the path to let the creature pass, and then, all at once, he gave a cry of joy and surprise. Headlong out of the bushes, stumbling and rolling at his feet, with tears streaming from his eyes and violin under his arm, was Horatio.
"Bo, Bo!" he cried. "I couldn't stand it. I'm going with you. That kind planter will give me a place to stay, I know, and maybe if he sends you to college he'll let me go, too. I could play for the college boys, Bo, and help pay your way. Don't send me back, Bo! Don't send me back!"
Bo embraced him silently.
"Why, of course not, Ratio," he said at last, "but I thought you wanted to have a colony of your own people."
"I did, Bo, but I have turned it over to Cub. He can take care of it. Like you, Bo, I have been civilized too long to live away from men! And, besides, Bo, you need me to protect you." Horatio recovered his dignity at this point and continued, gravely, "You are brave and noble, Bosephus, but you need some one near you who is ever ready to face any danger. Let us sing now, Bosephus, as we travel onward."
And with a joyful scrape of the strings and a sweet burst of melody the friends set their faces once more to the South.
"Oh, there was a little boy and his name was Bo, Went out into the woods when the moon was low.
And he met an Old Bear who was hungry for a snack, And the folks are still waiting for Bosephus to come back.
"For the boy became the teacher of this kind and gentle creature, Who was faithful in his friendship and was watchful in his care,
And they travelled on forever and they'll never, never sever, Bosephus and the fiddle and the Old—Black—Bear."
* * * * *
Obvious punctuation errors repaired.
Page 20, "TO" changed to "BO" (BO was awake first)
Page 66, two lines of text were transposed. The original read:
of them——" down here are mighty fond of bear meat, and there's such a lot