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The Nature Faker by Richard Harding Davis

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The Nature Faker

by Richard Harding Davis

Richard Herrick was a young man with a gentle disposition, much
money, and no sense of humor. His object in life was to marry Miss
Catherweight. For three years she had tried to persuade him this
could not be, and finally, in order to convince him, married some
one else. When the woman he loves marries another man, the rejected
one is popularly supposed to take to drink or to foreign travel.
Statistics show that, instead, he instantly falls in love with the
best friend of the girl who refused him. But, as Herrick truly
loved Miss Catherweight, he could not worship any other woman, and
so he became a lover of nature. Nature, he assured his men friends,
does not disappoint you. The more thought, care, affection you give
to nature, the more she gives you in return, and while, so he
admitted, in wooing nature there are no great moments, there are no
heart-aches. Jackson, one of the men friends, and of a frivolous
disposition, said that he also could admire a landscape, but he
would rather look at the beautiful eyes of a girl he knew than at
the Lakes of Killarney, with a full moon, a setting sun, and the
aurora borealis for a background. Herrick suggested that, while the
beautiful eyes might seek those of another man, the Lakes of
Killarney would always remain where you could find them. Herrick
pursued his new love in Connecticut on an abandoned farm which he
converted into a "model" one. On it he established model dairies
and model incubators. He laid out old-fashioned gardens, sunken
gardens, Italian gardens, landscape gardens, and a game preserve.

The game preserve was his own especial care and pleasure. It
consisted of two hundred acres of dense forest and hills and
of rock. It was filled with mysterious caves, deep chasms, tiny
gurgling streams, nestling springs, and wild laurel. It was
barricaded with fallen tree-trunks and moss- covered rocks that
never felt the foot of man since that foot had worn a moccasin.
Around the preserve was a high fence stout enough to keep
on the outside and to persuade the wild animals that inhabited it
to linger on the inside. These wild animals were squirrels,
rabbits, and raccoons. Every day, in sunshine or in rain,
through a private gate, Herrick would explore this holy of
For such vermin as would destroy the gentler animals he carried a
gun. But it was turned only on those that preyed upon his
favorites. For hours he would climb through this wilderness, or,
seated on a rock, watch a bluebird building her nest or a
laying in rations against the coming of the snow. In time he grew
to think he knew and understood the inhabitants of this wild
of which he was the overlord. He looked upon them not as his
tenants but as his guests. And when they fled from him in terror
caves and hollow tree-trunks, he wished he might call them back
explain he was their friend, that it was due to him they lived in
peace. He was glad they were happy. He was glad it was through
that, undisturbed, they could live the simple life.

His fall came through ambition. Herrick himself attributed it to
his too great devotion to nature and nature's children. Jackson,
of the frivolous mind, attributed it to the fact that any man is
sure to come to grief who turns from the worship of God's noblest
handiwork, by which Jackson meant woman, to worship chipmunks and
Plymouth Rock hens. One night Jackson lured Herrick into New York
to a dinner and a music hall. He invited also one Kelly, a mutual
friend of a cynical and combative disposition. Jackson liked to
hear him and Herrick abuse each other, and always introduced
subjects he knew would cause each to lose his temper.

But, on this night, Herrick needed no goading. He was in an
ungrateful mood. Accustomed to food fresh from the soil and the
farmyard, he sneered at hothouse asparagus, hothouse grapes, and
cold-storage quail. At the music hall he was even more difficult.
In front of him sat a stout lady who when she shook with laughter
shed patchouli and a man who smoked American cigarettes. At these
and the steam heat, the nostrils of Herrick, trained to the odor
balsam and the smoke of open wood fires, took offense. He refused
to be amused. The monologue artist, in whom Jackson found
caused Herrick only to groan; the knockabout comedians he hoped
would break their collar-bones; the lady who danced Salome, and
fascinated Kelly, Herrick prayed would catch pneumonia and die of
it. And when the drop rose upon the Countess Zichy's bears, his
dissatisfaction reached a climax.

There were three bears--a large papa bear, a mamma bear, and the
baby bear. On the programme they were described as Bruno, Clara,
and Ikey. They were of a dusty brown, with long, curling noses
tipped with white, and fat, tan-colored bellies. When father
on his hind legs and bare feet, waddled down the stage, he
resembled a Hebrew gentleman in a brown bathing suit who had lost
his waist-line. As he tripped doubtfully forward, with mincing
steps, he continually and mournfully wagged his head. He seemed
be saying: "This water is much too cold for me." The mamma bear
dressed in a poke bonnet and white apron, and resembled the wolf
who frightened Little Red Riding-Hood, and Ikey, the baby bear,
wore rakishly over one eye the pointed cap of a clown. To those
knew their vaudeville, this was indisputable evidence that Ikey
would furnish the comic relief. Nor did Ikey disappoint them. He
was a wayward son. When his parents were laboriously engaged in a
boxing-match, or dancing to the "Merry Widow Waltz," or balancing
on step-ladders, Ikey, on all fours, would scamper to the
foot-lights and, leaning over, make a swift grab at the head of
first trombone. And when the Countess Zichy, apprised by the
of the audience of Ikey's misconduct, waved a toy whip, Ikey
gallop back to his pedestal and howl at her. To every one, except
Herrick and the first trombone, this playfulness on the part of
Ikey furnished great delight.

The performances of the bears ended with Bruno and Clara dancing
heavily to the refrain of the "Merry Widow Waltz," while Ikey
pretended to conduct the music of the orchestra. On the final
Madame Zichy threw to each of the animals a beer bottle filled
milk; and the gusto with which the savage-looking beasts uncorked
the bottles and drank from them greatly amused the audience.
standing on his hind legs, his head thrown back, with both paws
clasping the base of the bottle, shoved the neck far down his
throat, and then, hurling it from him, and cocking his clown's
over his eyes, gave a masterful imitation of a very intoxicated

"That," exclaimed Herrick hotly, "is a degrading spectacle. It
degrades the bear and degrades me and you."

"No, it bores me," said Kelly.

"If you understood nature," retorted Herrick, "and nature's
children, it would infuriate you."

"I don't go to a music hall to get infuriated," said Kelly.

"Trained dogs I don't mind," exclaimed Herrick. "Dogs are not
animals. The things they're trained to do are of USE. They can
guard the house, or herd sheep. But a bear is a wild beast.
will be a wild beast. You can't train him to be of use. It's
degrading to make him ride a bicycle. I hate it! If I'd known
were to be performing bears to-night, I wouldn't have come!"

"And if I'd known you were to be here to-night, I wouldn't have
come!" said Kelly. "Where do we go to next?"

They went next to a restaurant in a gayly decorated cellar. Into
this young men like themselves and beautiful ladies were so
to hurl themselves that to restrain them a rope was swung across
the entrance and page boys stood on guard. When a young man
too anxious to spend his money, the page boys pushed in his shirt
front. After they had fought their way to a table, Herrick
ungraciously remarked he would prefer to sup in a subway station.
The people, he pointed out, would be more human, the decorations
were much of the same Turkish-bath school of art, and the air was
no worse.

"Cheer up, Clarence!" begged Jackson, "you'll soon be dead.
To-morrow you'll be back among your tree-toads and sunsets. And,
let us hope," he sighed, "no one will try to stop you!"

"What worries me is this," explained Herrick. "I can't help
thinking that, if one night of this artificial life is so hard
me, what must it be to those bears!"

Kelly exclaimed, with exasperation: "Confound the bears!" he
"If you must spoil my supper weeping over animals, weep over
cart-horses. They work. Those bears are loafers. They're as well
fed as pet canaries. They're aristocrats."

"But it's not a free life!" protested Herrick. "It's not the life
they love."

"It's a darned sight better," declared Kelly, than sleeping in a
damp wood, eating raw blackberries----"

"The more you say," retorted Herrick, "the more you show you know
nothing whatsoever of nature's children and their habits."

"And all you know of them," returned Kelly, is that a cat has
lives, and a barking dog won't bite. You're a nature faker."
Herrick refused to be diverted.

"It hurt me," he said. "They were so big, and good-natured, and
helpless. I'll bet that woman beats them! I kept thinking of them
as they were in the woods, tramping over the clean pine needles,
eating nuts, and--and honey, and----"

"Buns!" suggested Jackson.

"I can't forget them," said Herrick. "It's going to haunt me,
to-morrow, when I'm back in the woods; I'll think of those poor
beasts capering in a hot theatre, when they ought to be out in
open as God meant they----"

"Well, then," protested Kelly, "take 'em to the open. And turn
loose! And I hope they bite YOU!"

At this Herrick frowned so deeply that Kelly feared he had gone
far. Inwardly, he reproved himself for not remembering that his
friend lacked a sense of humor. But Herrick undeceived him.

"You are right!" he exclaimed. "To-morrow I will buy those bears,
take them to the farm, and turn them loose!"

No objections his friend could offer could divert him from his
purpose. When they urged that to spend so much money in such a
manner was criminally wasteful, he pointed out that he was
sufficiently rich to indulge any extravagant fancy, whether in
ponies or bears; when they warned him that if he did not look out
the bears would catch him alone in the woods, and eat him, he
retorted that the bears were now educated to a different diet;
they said he should consider the peace of mind of his neighbors,
assured them the fence around his game preserve would restrain an

"Besides," protested Kelly, "what you propose to do is not only
impracticable, but it's cruelty to animals. A domesticated animal
can't return to a state of nature, and live."

"Can't it?" jeered Herrick. "Did you ever read 'The Call of the

"Did you ever read," retorted Kelly, "what happened at the siege
Ladysmith when the oats ran low and they drove the artillery
out to grass? They starved, that's all. And if you don't feed
bears on milk out of a bottle they'll starve too."

"That's what will happen," cried Jackson; those bears have
forgotten what a pine forest smells like. Maybe it's a pity, but
it's the fact. I'll bet if you could ask them whether they'd
sleep in a cave on your farm or be headliners in vaudeville,
tell you they were 'devoted to their art.'"

"Why!" exclaimed Kelly, "they're so far from nature that if they
didn't have that colored boy to comb and brush them twice a day
they'd be ashamed to look each other in the eyes."

"And another thing," continued Jackson, "trained animals love to
'show off.' They're children. Those bears ENJOY doing those
They ENJOY the applause. They enjoy dancing to the 'Merry Widow
Waltz.' And if you lock them up in your jungle, they'll get so
homesick that they'll give a performance twice a day to the
squirrels and woodpeckers."

"It's just as hard to unlearn a thing as to learn it," said Kelly
sententiously. "You can't make a man who has learned to wear
enjoy going around in his bare feet."

"Rot!" cried Herrick. "Look at me. Didn't I love New York? I
it so I never went to bed for fear I'd miss something. But when I
went 'Back to the Land,' did it take me long to fall in love with
the forests and the green fields? It took me a week. I go to bed
now the same day I get up, and I've passed on my high hat and
coat to a scarecrow. And I'll bet you when those bears once scent
the wild woods they'll stampede for them like Croker going to a
third alarm."

"And I repeat," cried Kelly, "you are a nature faker. And I'll
leave it to the bears to prove it."

"We have done our best," sighed Jackson. "We have tried to save
money and trouble. And now all he can do for us in return is to
give us seats for the opening performance."

What the bears cost Herrick he never told. But it was a very
sum. As the Countess Zichy pointed out, bears as bears, in a
of nature, are cheap. If it were just a bear he wanted, he
could go to Pike County, Pennsylvania, and trap one. What he was
paying for, she explained, was the time she had spent in
the Bruno family, and added to that the time during which she
now remain idle while she educated another family.

Herrick knew for what he was paying. It was the pleasure of
rescuing unwilling slaves from bondage. As to their expensive
education, if they returned to a state of ignorance as rapidly as
did most college graduates he knew, he would be satisfied. Two
later, when her engagement at the music hall closed, Madame Zichy
reluctantly turned over her pets to their new manager. With Ikey
she was especially loath to part.

"I'll never get one like him," she walled Ikey is the funniest
four-legged clown in America. He's a natural-born comedian. Folks
think I learn him those tricks, but it's all his own stuff. Only
last week we was playing Paoli's in Bridgeport, and when I was
putting Bruno through the hoops, Ikey runs to the stage-box and
grabs a pound of caramels out of a girl's lap-and swallows the
And in St. Paul, if the trombone hadn't worn a wig, Ikey would
scalped him. Say, it was a scream! When the audience see the
trombone snatched bald-headed, and him trying to get back his
and Ikey chewing it, they went crazy. You can't learn a bear
like that. It's just genius. Some folks think I taught him to act
like he was intoxicated, but he picked that up, too, all by
himself, through watching my husband. And Ikey's very fond of
on his own account. If I don't stop them, the stage hands would
always slipping him drinks. I hope you won't give him none."

"I will not!" said Herrick.

The bears, Ikey in one cage and Bruno and Clara in another,
travelled by express to the station nearest the Herrick estate.
There they were transferred to a farm wagon, and grumbling and
growling, and with Ikey howling like an unspanked child, they
conveyed to the game preserve. At the only gate that entered it,
Kelly and Jackson and a specially invited house party of youths
maidens were gathered to receive them. At a greater distance
all of the servants and farm hands, and as the wagon backed
the gate, with the door of Ikey's cage opening against it, the
entire audience, with one accord, moved solidly to the rear.
Herrick, with a pleased but somewhat nervous smile, mounted the
wagon. But before he could unlock the cage Kelly demanded to be
heard. He insisted that, following the custom of all great
the bears should give a farewell performance."

He begged that Bruno and Clara might be permitted to dance
together. He pointed out that this would be the last time they
could listen to the strains of the "Merry Widow Waltz." He called
upon everybody present to whistle it.

The suggestion of an open-air performance was received coldly. At
the moment no one seemed able to pucker his lips into a whistle,
and some even explained that with that famous waltz they were

One girl attained an instant popularity by pointing out that the
bears could waltz just as well on one side of the fence as the
other. Kelly, cheated of his free performance, then begged that
before Herrick condemned the bears to starve on acorns, he should
give them a farewell drink, and Herrick, who was slightly
replied excitedly that he had not ransomed the animals only to
degrade them. The argument was interrupted by the French chef
falling out of a tree. He had climbed it, he explained, in order
obtain a better view.

When, in turn, it was explained to him that a bear also could
a tree, he remembered he had left his oven door open. His
reminded other servants of duties they had neglected, and one of
the guests, also, on remembering he had put in a long-distance
call, hastened to the house. Jackson suggested that perhaps they
had better all return with him, as the presence of so many people
might frighten the bears. At the moment he spoke, Ikey emitted a
hideous howl, whether of joy or rage no one knew, and few
to find out. It was not until Herrick had investigated and
that Ikey was still behind the bars that the house party
returned. The house party then filed a vigorous protest. Its
members, with Jackson as spokesman, complained that Herrick was
relying entirely too much on his supposition that the bears would
be anxious to enter the forest. Jackson pointed out that, should
they not care to do so, there was nothing to prevent them from
doubling back under the wagon; in which case the house party and
all of the United States lay before them. It was not until a
lawn-tennis net and much chicken wire was stretched in intricate
thicknesses across the lower half of the gate that Herrick was
allowed to proceed. Unassisted, he slid back the cage door, and
without a moment's hesitation Ikey leaped from the wagon through
the gate and into the preserve. For an instant, dazed by the
sunlight, he remained motionless, and then, after sniffing
delightedly at the air, stuck his nose deep into the autumn
Turning on his back, he luxuriously and joyfully kicked his legs,
and rolled from side to side.

Herrick gave a shout of joy and triumph. "What did I tell you!"
called. "See how he loves it! See how happy he is."

"Not at all," protested Kelly. "He thought you gave him the sign
'roll over.' Tell him to 'play dead,' and he'll do that." " Tell
ALL the bears to 'play dead,'" begged Jackson, "until I'm back in
the billiard-room."

Flushed with happiness, Herrick tossed Ikey's cage out of the
wagon, and opened the door of the one that held Bruno and Clara.
their part, there was a moment of doubt. As though suspecting a
trap, they moved to the edge of the cage, and gazed critically at
the screen of trees and tangled vines that rose before them.

"They think it's a new backdrop," explained Kelly.

But the delight with which Ikey was enjoying his bath in the
leaves was not lost upon his parents. Slowly and clumsily they
dropped to the ground. As though they expected to be recalled,
turned to look at the group of people who had now run to peer
through the wire meshes of the fence. But, as no one spoke and no
one signalled, the three bears, in single file, started toward
edge of the forest. They had of cleared space to cover only a
little distance, and at each step, as though fearful they would
stopped and punished, one or the other turned his head. But no
halted them. With quickening footsteps the bears, now almost at a
gallop, plunged forward. The next instant they were lost to
and only the crackling of the underbrush told that they had come
into their own.

Herrick dropped to the ground and locked himself inside the

"I'm going after them," he called, "to see what they'll do."

There was a frantic chorus of entreaties.

"Don't be an ass!" begged Jackson. "They'll eat you." Herrick
his hand reassuringly.

"They won't even see me," he explained. "I can find my way about
this place better than they can. And I'll keep to windward of
and watch them. Go to the house," he commanded. "I'll be with you
in an hour, and report."

It was with real relief that, on assembling for dinner, the house
party found Herrick, in high spirits, with the usual number of
limbs, and awaiting them. The experiment had proved a great
success. He told how, unheeded by the bears, he had, without
difficulty, followed in their tracks. For an hour he had watched
them. No happy school-children, let loose at recess, could have
embraced their freedom with more obvious delight. They drank from
the running streams, for honey they explored the hollow
tree-trunks, they sharpened their claws on moss-grown rocks, and
among the fallen oak leaves scratched violently for acorns. So
satisfied was Herrick with what he had seen, with the success of
his experiment, and so genuine and unselfish was he in the
of the happiness he had brought to the beasts of the forests,
for him no dinner ever passed more pleasantly. Miss Waring, who
next to her host, thought she had seldom met a man with so kind
simple a nature. She rather resented the fact, and she was
indignant that so much right feeling and affection could be
on farmyard fowls, and four-footed animals. She felt sure that
nice girl, seated at the other end of the table, smiling through
the light of the wax candles upon Herrick, would soon make him
forget his love of "Nature and Nature's children." She even saw
herself there, and this may have made her exhibit more interest
Herrick's experiment than she really felt. In any event, Herrick
found her most sympathetic' and when dinner was over carried her
off to a corner of the terrace. It was a warm night in early
October, and the great woods of the game preserve that stretched
below them were lit with a full moon.

On his way to the lake for a moonlight row with one of the house
party who belonged to that sex that does not row, but looks well
the moon-light, Kelly halted, and jeered mockingly.

"How can you sit there," he demanded, "while those poor beasts
freezing in a cave, with not even a silk coverlet or a
You and your valet ought to be down there now carrying them

"Kelly," declared Herrick, unruffled in his moment of triumph, "I
hate to say, 'I told you so,' but you force me. Go away," he
commanded. "You have neither imagination nor soul."

"And that's true," he assured Miss Waring, as Kelly and his
companion left them. "Now, I see nothing in what I accomplished
that is ridiculous. Had you watched those bears as I did, you
have felt that sympathy that exists between all who love the
out-of-door life. A dog loves to see his master pick up his stick
and his hat to take him for a walk, and the man enjoys seeing the
dog leaping and quartering the fields before him. They are both
happier. At least I am happier to-night, knowing those bears are
peace and at home, than I would be if I thought of them being
whipped through their tricks in a dirty theatre." Herrick pointed
to the great forest trees of the preserve, their tops showing
in the mist of moonlight. "Somewhere, down in that valley, he
murmured, "are three happy animals. They are no longer slaves and
puppets--they are their own masters. For the rest of their lives
they can sleep on pine needles and dine on nuts and honey. No one
shall molest them, no one shall force them through degrading
tricks. Hereafter they can choose their life, and their own home
among the rocks, and the ----" Herrick's words were frozen on his
tongue. From the other end of the terrace came a scream so
so long, so full of human suffering, that at the sound the blood
all that heard it turned to water. It was so appalling that for
instant no one moved, and then from every part of the house,
the garden walks, from the servants' quarters, came the sound of
pounding feet. Herrick, with Miss Waring clutching at his sleeve,
raced toward the other end of the terrace. They had not far to
Directly in front of them they saw what had dragged from the very
soul of the woman the scream of terror.

The drawing-room opened upon the terrace, and, seated at the
Jackson had been playing for those in the room to dance. The
windows to the terrace were open. The terrace itself was flooded
with moonlight. Seeking the fresh air, one of the dancers stepped
from the drawing-room to the flags outside. She had then raised
cry of terror and fallen in a faint. What she had seen, Herrick a
moment later also saw. On the terrace in the moon-light, Bruno
Clara, on their hind legs, were solemnly waltzing. Neither the
scream nor the cessation of the music disturbed them.
proudly, they continued to revolve in hops and leaps. From their
happy expression, it was evident they not only were enjoying
themselves, but that they felt they were greatly affording
immeasurable delight to others. Sick at heart, furious, bitterly
hurt, with roars of mocking laughter in his ears, Herrick ran
toward the stables for help. At the farther end of the terrace
butler had placed a tray of liqueurs, whiskeys, and soda bottles.
His back had been turned for only a few moments, but the time had

Lolling with his legs out, stretched in a wicker chair, Herrick
beheld the form of Ikey. Between his uplifted paws he held aloof
the base of a decanter; between his teeth, and well jammed down
throat, was the long neck of the bottle. From it issued the sound
of gentle gurgling. Herrick seized the decanter and hurled it
crashing upon the terrace. With difficulty Ikey rose. Swaying and
shaking his head reproachfully, he gave Herrick a perfectly
accurate imitation of an intoxicated bear.

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