Lost In The Forest
BALSER’S arm mended slowly, for it had been terribly bitten by the bear. The heavy sleeve of his buckskin jacket had saved him from a wound which might have crippled him for life; but the hurt was bad enough as it was, and Balser passed through many days and nights of pain before it was healed. He bore the suffering like a little man, however, and felt very “big” as he walked about with his arm in a buckskin sling.
Balser was impatient that he could not hunt; but he spent his time more or less satisfactorily in cleaning and polishing his gun and playing with the bear cubs, which his little brother Jim had named “Tom” and “Jerry.” The cubs soon became wonderfully tame, and drank eagerly from a pan of milk. They were too small to know how to lap, so the boys put their hands in the pan and held up a finger, at which the cubs sucked lustily. It was very laughable to see the little round black fellows nosing in the milk for the finger. And sometimes they would bite, too, until the boys would snatch away their hands and soundly box the cubs on the ears. A large panful of milk would disappear before you could say “Christmas,” and the bears’ silky sides would stand out as big and round as a pippin. The boys were always playing pranks upon the cubs, and the cubs soon learned to retaliate. They would climb everywhere about the premises, up the trees, on the roofs of the barn and house, and over the fence. Their great delight was the milk-house and kitchen, where they had their noses into everything, and made life miserable for Mrs. Brent. She would run after them with her broomstick if they but showed their sharp little snouts in the doorway. Then off they would scamper, yelping as though they were nearly killed, and ponder upon new mischief. They made themselves perfectly at home, and would play with each other like a pair of frisky kittens, rolling over and over on the sod, pretending to fight, and whining and growling as if they were angry in real earnest. One day Balser and his little brother Jim were sitting on a log, which answered the purpose of a settee, under the eaves in front of the house. The boys were wondering what had become of Tom and Jerry, as they had not seen them for an hour or more, and their quietness looked suspicious.
“I wonder if those cubs have run away,” said Balser.
“No,” said Jim, “bet they won’t run away; they’ve got things too comfortable here to run away. Like as not they’re off some place plannin’ to get even with us because we ducked them in the water trough awhile ago. They looked awful sheepish when they got out, and as they went off together I jus’ thought to myself they were goin’ away to think up some trick on us.”
Balser and Jim were each busily engaged eating the half of a blackberry pie. The eave of the house was not very high, per haps seven or eight feet from the ground, and Balser and Jim were sitting under it, holding the baby and eating their pie.
Hardly had Jim spoken when the boys heard a scraping sound from above, then a couple of sharp little yelps; and down came Tom and Jerry from the roof, striking the boys squarely on the head.
To say that the boys were frightened does not half tell it. They did not know what had happened. They fell over, and the baby dropped to the ground with a cry that brought her mother to the scene of action in a moment. The blackberry pie had in some way managed to spread itself all over the baby’s face, and she was a very comical sight when her mother picked her up.
The bears had retaliated upon the boys sooner than even Jim had anticipated, and they all had a great laugh over it; the bears seeming to enjoy it more than any body else. The boys were ready to admit that the joke was on them, so they took the cubs back to the milk-house, and gave them a pan of rich milk as a peace-offering.
The scrapes these cubs got themselves and the boys into would fill a large volume; but I cannot tell you any more about them now, as I want to relate an adventure having no fun in it, which befell Balser and some of his friends soon after his arm was well.
It was blackberry time, and several children had come to Balser’s home for the purpose of making a raid upon a large patch of wild blackberries that grew on the other side of the river, a half-hour’s walk from Mr. Brent’s cabin.
Soon after daybreak one morning, the little party, consisting of Balser and Jim, Tom Fox and his sister Liney (which is “short” for Pauline), and three children from the family of Mr. Neigh, paddled across the river in a canoe which Balser and his father had made from a large gum log, and started westward for the blackberry patch.
Tom and Jerry had noticed the preparations for the journey with considerable curiosity, and felt very much hurt that they were not to be taken along. But they were left behind, imprisoned in a pen which the boys had built for them, and their whines and howls of complaint at such base treatment could be heard until the children were well out of sight of the house.
The party hurried along merrily, little thinking that their journey home would be one of sadness; and soon they were in the midst of the blackberries, picking as rapidly as possible, and filling their gourds with the delicious fruit.
They worked hard all the morning, and the deerskin sacks which they had brought with them were nearly full.
Toward noon the children became hungry, and without a dissenting voice agreed to eat dinner.
They had taken with them for lunch a loaf of bread and a piece of cold venison, but Balser suggested that he should go into the woods and find a squirrel or two to help out their meal. In the meantime Tom Fox had started out upon a voyage of discovery, hoping that he, too, might contribute to the larder.
In a few minutes Balser’s gun was heard at a distance, and then again and again, and soon he was back in camp with three fat squirrels.
Almost immediately after him came Tom Fox carrying something in his coonskin cap.
“What have you there, Limpy?” cried Liney.
The children called Tom “Limpy” because he always had a sore toe or a stone bruise on his heel.
“You’ll never guess,” answered Tom, All the children took a turn at guessing, and then gave it up.
“Turkey eggs,” said Tom. “We’ll have eggs as well as squirrel for dinner today.”
“How will you cook them?” asked one of the Neigh children.
“I’ll show you,” answered Tom.
So now they were guessing how Limpy would cook the eggs, but he would not tell them, and they had to give it up.
The boys then lighted a fire from the flint-lock on the gun, and Balser, having dressed the squirrel, cut twigs as he had done when he and his father dined on Conn’s Creek, and soon pieces of tender squirrel were roasting near the flame, giving forth a most tempting odour.
In the meantime Limpy had gone away, and none of the children knew where he was, or what he was doing.