Maria, from an upper window, spied the children coming, tugging the basket along.
She called down to Old Uncle and Aunt Susan on the piazza.
“If them children ar’n’t bringing home a cub!”
Old Uncle stirred in his hammock. Aunt Susan went down the steps. “What will they do next?” said Old Uncle. As the twins came up with a joyful outcry, to exhibit their treasure, he rose and peered into the basket. “’Tis a cub surely,” he said. He looked at the children from under his shaggy eyebrows. “Will you fetch in a catamount to-morrow?” he asked sternly.
“We—we thought you would be pleased,” Essie faltered.
“Why, Uncle,” cried Ally, “why, Old Uncle, don’t you love a baby bear? I just want you to see him suck my fingers! You can’t help loving him!”
“I love you,” teased Old Uncle, catching her up to a place in the hammock beside himself. “But you can’t keep him alive on your fingers, even if he only sucked up one a day.”
“You’re just funning!” said Ally. “Pincher knows how to feed him, and so does Michael. I reckon Essie and I could too.”
“Old Uncle, we won’t let him be a bit of trouble,” said Essie.
“Of course he won’t be any trouble,” said Aunt Susan. She and Aunt Rose had brought a bottle of warm milk with a rag over the top of it. They put it into the little bear’s mouth, and the whole family gathered round to see him take his dinner. His grunts of satisfaction were very funny. At last the little fellow let go the bottle, stretched himself, and rolled over on the grass, and looked so good-natured you would almost have said he was laughing; and Aunt Susan said, “A little bear is a little dear!”
The cub must have been pretty tired with all the attention and endearments he received that day, not to say anything about Master Will’s efforts to make him stand on his hind legs, when he tumbled over every time like a mould of jelly.
But at last, and after his supper, he was put to sleep in the shed on a little truss of hay, under an old blanket, where, as soon as he was alone, he began to whimper for his mother. But the children did not hear him; they had trooped up-stairs to their own beds, all of them as tired as the cub himself, and were presently sound asleep.
The great moon rose white and solemn above the hills, and poured her silver over the forests, and the whole world seemed asleep too.
It was just in their first sweet slumber that everyone in that house was waked by the strangest, the most melancholy, the most frightful sound they had ever heard. Now it was loud, high, and shrill. “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!” it came. Now it was a long, low growl. Now again it was a series of sharp cries like barks. Now it was a roar; and something was knocking about the chairs on the piazzas, scratching at the windows, lumbering down the steps and plowing and plunging over the grass—something with heavy jaws and coming clap, clap, along the front of the house. Finally it made off clumsily in the direction of the shed, and raised such an uproar there that the sky rang with it.
Every one was out of bed and at the windows. The twins, half hiding behind the curtains in fright, shivered as they saw plainly in the moonlight a big creature standing erect, cuffing away at the side of the shed, and whining and growling all the more when a little whine and a little yelp answered from within.
Pincher saw the children, and laughed. He was standing at the window at the other end of the long hall.
“It’s Mother Bear,” he called. “Hear her! ‘Where’s my little bear?’ she’s askin’. ‘Where’s my baby? You folks, give him back or I’ll eat your babies. Little Bruin, I’m a-hearin’ of ye. Ye want your mammy, don’t you? She’s smelled ye all the way here. How ’m I goin’ ter fetch ye out blest ef I know! But I’m goin’ ter fetch ye! I say! Give me my little bear! He’s a dreffle bright bear! Ef you folks only seen him eatin’ of blackberries you’d know how smart he wuz. Say, I jest can’t lend him! I’ve got to get him real fat ’fore we go into winter quarters. How’d ye get here, any way, ye little scamp? Can’t I leave ye five minutes? Ye was safe asleep in a soft holler, an’ then w’en I was wadin’ inter the river with a bee-hive in my arms, so’s to drown the bees an’ git the honey, off ye go! Don’t ye know little bears should mind their mother? Oh, somebody tuk ye. Br-r-r! I won’t leave so much as their aprons if I can lay paws on them! that is, onless so be it’s Ally and Essie. But I’ll hev to box their ears for ’em, I guess. I say, now, folks! Br-r-r! Br-r-r! I’ll tear the place down if ye don’t give me my cub!’”
“Oh, Pincher! does she say all that?” asked Ally.
“Pincher! would she tear the house down?” cried Essie.
“The poor mother!” Aunt Susan was exclaiming, hurrying into her dressing-gown and slippers. And then she and Old Uncle ran down the back way, followed by Pincher; and they took up the cub, and opened the shed-door a crack, and pushed him through, and banged and bolted the door behind him.
Everybody looked out that could. The mother bear stood off a moment on her hind legs. Then she fell on the cub like an avalanche, and held him in her arms as any mother holds her baby, and licked him from top to toe, and lay down and gave him his dinner. After that, gazing back at the house every step or two with a growl, she lurched off, little Bruin laboriously following. But Pincher declared that the last he saw, as he watched her out of sight, she was up on her hind legs carrying her baby in her arms like anybody.
The twins watched as long as they could see her. Then Essie began to cry. “I wanted to keep him,” she said, “I—I loved him so.”
“So did I,” said Ally, with her arms round Essie. “But I guess, Essie, we’ll have to get along with Bobbo. I wonder how Pincher knew his name was Bruin. Some day we’ll go into the woods, and call ‘Bruin, Bruin,’ and perhaps he will remember us. His mother loved him, you know, Essie. I suppose she was so sorry when she found him gone. Mothers must have their babies, you know, Essie; why, they belong to them!”
“If you foolish children don’t go to sleep,” cried Uncle Billy from some remote quarter, “I’ll call Mother Bear back!”
“Oh! do you believe you could?” answered Ally. “Oh, Uncle Billy! I wish you would.”