A Bear Story


There was a Bear — alas! that we must bear
The loss of such a bear. He was the pet
And plaything of the children, men, and maids;
The ladies, too, wept briny tears for him,
'Till all the springs were salt. For much he loved
To play his tricks before them, and to take
From their fair hands the dainties they would bring;
And they would stroke his sable fur, and feel
His velvet paws; and then he licked his paws,
And paws so touched, he could have licked, and lived
Long on such licking. But, alas! he died. —
Now a bare bear-skin, and some bare bear bones,
Are all that's left of Bruin — save at night
When blaze the lights upon the mountain side,
And music o'er the valley floats, and calls
The bright-eyed maidens to the sprightly dance —
Upon the glossy curls that shade the cheek
And brow of beauty, Bruin's fat is there,
Soft'ning and polishing the silken locks
Bruin, thy chops were savory — so said
The chaps that did thereon their chops regale;
The ladies ate thee not — they would not feed
Upon a tame and educated bear;
Nor me, could steak or cutlet, fried or broiled,
Stewed paw, or garnished head, tempt to that feast;
For I had seen thy death. It was a death
Unseemly for a bear, unworthy of thy race
But had'st thou died among thy native wilds,
When hound, and horse, and horn, had from thy lair
Aroused thee, and thou nobly stood'st at bay,
And many a fierce foe howled his last, within
Thy perilous embrace, and gallant hunters
Closed round thee slowly, marking thy dread glance,
Admiring thy stern courage, giving death
In honorable wounds; — then had'st thou died
A death of glory, and had I been one
Of that proud ring, I could have joined the feast
Won by fair chase, and combat — eat thy steaks
And picked thy bones unscrupulous. Alas!
Far other was thine end; a felon's death
The cowards gave thee; threw around thy neck
A noose, and thrice essayed to drag thee back
As a vile prisoner.
Once when escaped, I marked
His noble bearing, when his fierce pursuers
Fled from his glance. He looked upon the mountain,
And I then hoped to see him climb its top
And turn, and growl defiance. One there was
Of courage dauntless in the crowd of foes,
Caesar by name, Caesar by nature too
He calls to Bruin as he slow retires,
In words of scorn and menace. Quick he turns —
They meet — they close — more doubtful conflict never
Did battle-field display. Well were they matched:
Both brave, both black, and equal both in height,
For Bruin boldly raised himself erect
Upon his hinder limbs, and brandished high
And huge as giant's arms, his fierce fore-paws
Soon Caesar, seized with dext'rous jerk, the rope
Pendant from Bruin's neck — as soon, the paws
Of Bruin, o'er the shoulders broad, and back
Of Caesar, closed in deadly grip: that hug
There was no standing, and so Caesar tripped him —
For Bruin, though he stood on two feet well,
Had never practiced one in his gymnastics:
He falls, Caesar above him; still the strife
Is desperate. And lo! now Bruin turns
Upon him with a growl, and fiercer grasp.
Now, Caesar! ply thy rope — thy life depends
Upon the hold it takes; thy foe's strong throat
Must be compressed that not a breath may pass
Thy ribs now almost touch, the heart scarce beats
Between them, quivers, and must soon be still.
One other little breath, one other strain
Of those strong arms — and Caesar is no more
That other breath comes not; one desperate pull,
And the rope closed the passage. See — he gasps;
One last convulsive struggle ends the strife.
Those mighty paws, now weak as baby's hands,
Caesar has thrown aside. His heart has room
Again to beat — he rises conqueror.
Such was the end of Bruin. Yet before
That fierce encounter, other means were tried
To lure him back to bondage. It was said
" Music had charms to soothe the savage breast, "
And that he often seemed, when the full tones
Of richest harmony flowed from the lips
Of his kind mistress, to drink in the sounds
With rapture, like all other listeners.
Music was therefore tried. The band was called,
And captivating were the strains they poured
In Bruin's ears; but it was vain, for he
Would not be captivated. Then they called
Two of that band, with voices sweet as notes
Of nightingale, of power to charm the ear
Of every listener, and calm the heart
With all the magic influence of song
They came and breathed in sweetest melody
A plaintive ditty to this angry bear,
Beseeching him to lay aside his wrath,
Resume his chain, and live among his friends
He heard, and heeded not. And when you hear
The song that he received so sullenly,
You'll wonder that the bear was such a brute,
And think he justly died. The song ran thus


O, B RUIN ! O, Bruin! come back to thy chain,
Nor seek thy far home o'er the mountain again,
For the mother that bore thee will know thee no more,
And thy brother cubs drive thee away from the door.

Why would'st thou return where thou nightly must howl
In thy hunger, as through the dark forest you prowl
To fight the wild bees for their hoard of sweet food,
Or spoil thy teeth cracking the nuts of the wood?
What a life thou hast led since thou haply wast caught,
And here to this sweet little valley wast brought!
Its blest waters thy drink, its rich dainties thy fare:
What more could be wished for man, woman, or bear?

It is true you are tied; but, Bruin, you know
It is all for your good that you are kept so;
How many are here who would gladly agree
To be tied to a tree, could they fatten like thee.

We have tamed you, and fed you, and now, you are here,
Your polite education engages our care;
Your manners are mended, some clever things taught,
But greater attainments are still to be sought.

Carusi is here, and shall teach you to dance,
How to enter the ball-room, and bow, and advance
To the ladies, who sit in a beautiful row,
Each waiting to see if the bear 'll be her beau.

Then the waltzing — O, Bruin! think only of that,
Of a lady's bare arms with thy bear arms enwrapt;
Thy bear-skin, her bare skin shall touch; O! what bear
Can bear any pleasure with this to compare?

And think of thy paws — when the dancing is done,
And the summer is o'er, and the ladies are gone,
Through the long winter nights, when the snow flakes fall thick,
Thy lady-pressed paws will be luscious to lick.
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