Adventures of a Bear, and a Great Bear Too

       Alfred Elwes / Young Adult

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Adventures of a Bear, and a Great Bear Too
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Yes, it is an ”at home” to which I am going to introduce you; but notthe at-home that many of you--I hope _all_ of you--have learnt to love,but the at-home of a bear. No carpeted rooms, no warm curtains, noglowing fireside, no pictures, no sofas, no tables, no chairs; no music,no books; no agreeable, cosy chat; no anything half so pleasant: butsoft moss or snow, spreading trees, skies with ever-changing, tintedclouds, some fun, some rough romps, a good deal of growling, and now andthen a fight. With these points of difference, you may believe the_at-home_ of a bear is not quite so agreeable a matter as the at-home ofa young gentleman or lady; yet I have no doubt Master Bruin is much moreat his ease in it than he would find himself if he were compelled toconform to the usages of human society, and behave as a gentleman oughtto do.

But there is a quality that is quite as necessary to adorn one home asthe other, without which the most delightful mansion and the warmestcavern can never be happy, and with which the simplest cottage and themeanest den may be truly blest; and that one quality is, good temper. Ofwhat avail are comforts, or even luxuries, when there is no seasoning ofgood temper to enjoy them with? How many deficiencies can there not beoverlooked, when good temper is present to cover them with a veil?Perhaps you have not yet learnt what a valuable treasure this goodtemper is; when you have read the history of my bear, you will be betterable to form an opinion.

I cannot tell you when this bear was born, nor am I quite sure where;bears are born in so many parts of the world now, that it becomes verydifficult to determine what country heard their first growl, and theynever think to preserve a memorandum of the circumstance. Let it sufficethat our bear was born, that he had a mamma and papa, and some brothersand sisters; that he lived in a cavern surrounded by trees and bushes;that he was always a big lump of a bear, invariably wore a brown coat,and was often out of temper, or rather, was always _in_ temper, onlythat temper was a very bad one.

No doubt his parents would have been very willing to cure this terribledefect, if they had known how; but the fact is, they seemed always toomuch absorbed in their own thoughts to attend much to their family. OldMr. Bruin would sit in his corner by the hour together sucking his paw;and his partner, Mrs. Bruin, would sit in her corner sucking her paw;whilst the little ones, or big ones, for they were growing up fast,would make themselves into balls and roll about the ground, or bite oneanother's ears by way of a joke, or climb up the neighbouring trees toadmire the prospect, and then slip down again, to the imminentdestruction of their clothes; not that a rent or two would have grievedtheir mother very much, for she was a great deal too old, and tooignorant besides, to think of mending them. In all these sports MasterBruin, the eldest, was ever the foremost; but as certain as he joined inthe romps, so surely were uproar and fighting the consequence. Thereason was clear enough; his temper was so disagreeable, that althoughhe was quite ready to play off his jokes on others, he could never bearto receive them in return; and being, besides, very fierce and strong,he came at length to be considered as the most unbearable bear that theforest had known for many generations, and in his own family was lookedon as quite a bug-bear.

Now I privately think, that if a good oaken stick had been applied tohis shoulders, or any other sensitive part of his body, whenever hedisplayed these fits of spleen, the exercise would have had a verybeneficial effect on his disposition; but his father, on such occasions,only uttered his opinion in so low a growl that it was impossible tomake out what he said, and then sucked his paw more vigorously thanever; and his mother was much too tender-hearted to think of mending hismanners in so rude a way: so Master Bruin grew apace, until his brothersand sisters were wicked enough to wish he might some day go out for awalk and forget to come home again, or that he might be persuaded by akind friend to emigrate, without going through the ceremony of takingleave of his family.

It began to be conjectured that some such event had occurred when, forthree whole days, he never made his appearance. The respectable familyof the Bruins were puzzled, but calm, notwithstanding, at this unusualabsence; it evidently made them thoughtful, though it was impossible toguess what they thought about: if one could form an idea from theattitudes of the different members, each of whom sat in a corner suckinghis right paw and his left paw alternately--it was a family habit, youmust know--I should say their thoughts were too deep for expression; butbefore their meditations were converted from uncertainty into mourning,the object of them made his appearance at the entrance of the cavern,with his coat torn, limping in his gait, and with an ugly wound in hishead, looking altogether as disconsolate a brute as you can wellconceive. He did not condescend to say where he had been, nor what hehad been doing; perhaps no one made the inquiry: but it was very evidenthe had been doing no good, and had got his reward accordingly. If,however, this great bear's ill temper was remarkable before, judge whatit must have been with such a sore head!

The experience of mankind has led to the opinion, that there are fewmore disagreeable beings in creation than ill-nurtured bears,--bearsthat have been ill-licked,--those great, fierce, sullen, cross-grainedand ill-tempered beasts, that are, unhappily, to be found in every partof this various world; but when all these unhandsome qualities are foundin one individual of the species, and that one happens to have a sorehead into the bargain, it is easy to believe the _at home_ which hehonours or dishonours with his presence can neither be very quiet norparticularly comfortable.

Habit makes many things supportable which at first would seem beyond ourpowers of endurance. Mr. and Mrs. B., and, indeed, all the other B.'s,male and female, had got so used to the tyranny of this ill-temperedanimal, that they put up with his moroseness almost without a growl; butthere is a limit to sufferance, beyond which neither men nor bears cantravel, and that boundary was at last attained with the B.'s. As what Iam now about to relate is, however, rather an important fact in mybiography, I must inform you how the matter occurred, and what were thecircumstances which led to it.

You are, perhaps, aware that bears, being of rather an indolentdisposition, are not accustomed to hoard up a store of provision fortheir wants in winter, but prefer--in their own country, atleast--sleeping through the short dreary days and long bitter nights,and thus avoid the necessity of taking food for some weeks, althoughthey grow very thin during their lengthened slumbers. I forget what thistime is called in bears' language, but we give it the name ofhybernation. Now it happened that Mrs. Bruin had taken it into her headto lay by this winter a nice little stock, which she very carefullyburied at a short distance from the mouth of the cavern, when she feltthe usual drowsiness of the season coming on, and having covered thespot with a heap of dead leaves that she might know it again when shewoke up, she crawled into bed, and turning her back to her old partner,who was already in a comfortable state of forgetfulness, went fastasleep.

The whole family rather overslept themselves, for the sun was quitebrilliant when they awoke, and it was very evident that they had beendozing away for some months. The ill-tempered bear was the first on hislegs, and kicking his two nearest brothers as he got up, just to hint tothem that he was awake again, he opened his mouth to its wholeextent--and a very great extent it was, too--and stretching his limbsone after another, and giving himself a hearty shake instead of washing,shaving, and combing, he scuffled to the entrance of the cavern andsniffed at the fresh air. He sniffed and sniffed, and the more hesniffed, the more certainly did his nose whisper that there wassomething else besides fresh air which he was inhaling. The smell of thefresh air, too, or the _something else_, caused him a tremendousappetite, which was every moment becoming greater; and then it enteredhis bearish brain that where there was a smell there must be somethingto occasion it. Whereupon, following that great nose of his--and hecould not have had a better guide--he scuffled out of the cavern anddown the path, till he reached a little mound of earth and leaves,where, the odour being strongest, he squatted down. With his great pawshe soon demolished the entrance to his mamma's larder, and lost no timein pulling out some of the dainties it contained, which, without moreado, he set about devouring. Meanwhile his brothers, who had beenaroused by the affectionate conduct of the eldest, were by this timealso wide awake, and had quite as good appetites as Bruin himself; andthough on ordinary occasions they stood in great awe of that mostill-tempered brute, it must be admitted that this was an_extra_-ordinary occasion, and they acted accordingly. Just fancy beingmonths without anything to eat, and having appetites fierce enough todevour one another!

So they rushed to the spot where Bruin was making so excellent a meal,and without any other apology than a short grunt or two, they seizedupon some of the hidden treasures, and with little ceremony crammed theminto their hungry jaws. Bruin was thunderstruck! Never before had theyever presumed to dip their paws into his dish, and now they wereactually before his face, converting the most delicate morsels to theirown use, and, as it were, taking the food out of his very mouth! Afteran internal struggle of a few seconds, during which it seemed doubtfulwhether his emotions or his greediness in filling his jaws so full wouldchoke him, he uttered a savage growl, and, with one stroke of his hugepaw, felled his younger brother to the ground. Then turning to thesecond, he flew at him like a fury, and seemed resolved to make himshare a similar fate; but the other, who was not wanting in courage, andwho was strengthened by the idea that there was something still in thelarder worth fighting for, and which he would certainly lose if he ranaway, warded off his blows, and, by careful management, now dodging, nowstriking, kept his brother at bay, and avoided coming to such closequarters as to subject himself to Bruin's hug: for he knew, if he oncefelt that embrace, there was not much chance of his having any appetiteleft with which to complete his half-finished breakfast.

The noise of the combat had now, however, roused the family. Mrs. B. wasthe first to make her appearance, and she was soon followed by the rest.Explanations ensued, although the facts of the case were sufficientlyclear, and Bruin's character was well known. Old Ursus Major drewhimself up, and, for once in his life, assumed a dignified demeanour.The ill-tempered bear stood abashed before his parents, although hemoved his head to and fro in an obstinate manner, as though rejectingall interference.

It is a pity I cannot relate to you what was said upon this occasion,for Old Bruin is reported to have made a very eloquent discourse on thehorrible effects of ill-temper and greediness; and good advice is worthhaving, whether uttered by a bear or any other animal. Suffice it, thatafter lecturing his son on the enormity of his offences,--which probablyhe was himself partly the cause of, through not punishing many of hisprevious errors,--he bid him quit for ever his paternal roof, and seekhis fortune elsewhere; cautioning him at the same time, that if he everexpected to get through the world with credit to his name, and evencomfort to his person, he must be honest, good-tempered, and forbearing.

Bruin took this advice in most ungracious part; and without exchanging aword with any of the family, although it was evident his poor old motherlonged to hug him in her arms, he growled out some unintelligible words,and set forth upon his travels.

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