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  • 1879
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I do not remember what answer I made to this remark, but I gazed out upon the situation as if it were an unrolled map.

“When you wrote your name in the book,” she said, “it seemed to me as if you had brought a note of introduction, and I am sure I am very glad to be acquainted with you, for, you know, you are my husband’s successor. He did not like teaching, but he was fond of his scholars, and he always had a great fancy for school-teachers. Whenever one of them stopped here–which happened two or three times–he insisted that he should be put into our best room, if it happened to be vacant, and that is the reason I have put you into it to-day.”

This was charming. She was such an extremely agreeable young person that it was delightful for me to think of myself in any way as her husband’s successor.

There was a step at the door. I turned and saw the elderly servant.

“Mrs. Chester,” she said, “I’m goin’ up,” and every word was flavored with citric acid.

“Good-night,” said Mrs. Chester, taking up her basket and her work. “You know, you need not retire until you wish to do so. There is a room opposite, where gentlemen smoke.”

I did not enter the big, lonely room. I went to my own chamber, which, I had just been informed, was the best in the house. I sat down in an easy-chair by the open window. I looked up to the twinkling stars.

Reading, studying, fishing, beautiful country, and all that. And he did not like school-teaching! No wonder he was happier here than he had ever been before! My eyes wandered around the tastefully furnished room. “Her husband’s successor,” I said to myself, pondering. “He did not like school-teaching, and he was so happy here.” Of course he was happy. “Died and left him some money.” There was no one to leave me any money, but I had saved some for the time when I should devote myself entirely to my profession. Profession–I thought. After all, what is there in a profession? Slavery; anxiety. And he chose a life of reading, studying, fishing, and everything else.

I turned to the window and again looked up into the sky. There was a great star up there, and it seemed to wink cheerfully at me as the words came into my mind, “her husband’s successor.”

When I opened my little valise, before going to bed, I saw the box the doctor’s daughter had given me.

After sitting so long at the open window, thought I, it might be well to take one of these capsules, and I swallowed one.

When I was called to breakfast the next morning I saw that the table was laid with covers for two. In a moment my hostess entered and bade me good-morning. We sat down at the table; and the elderly woman waited. I could now see that her face was the color of a shop-worn lemon.

As for the lady who had gone to school at Walford–I wondered what place in the old school-room she had occupied–she was more charming than ever. Her manner was so cordial and cheerful that I could not doubt that she considered the entry of my name in her book as a regular introduction. She asked me about my plan of travel, how far I would go in a day, and that sort of thing. The elderly woman was very grim, and somehow or other I did not take very much interest in my plan of travel, but the meal was an extremely pleasant one for all that.

The natural thing for me to do after I finished my breakfast was to pay my bill and ride away, but I felt no inclination for anything of the sort. In fact, the naturalness of departure did not strike me. I went out on the little porch and gazed upon the bright, fresh morning landscape, and as I did so I asked myself why I should mount my bicycle and wheel away over hot and dusty roads, leaving all this cool, delicious beauty behind me.

What could I find more enjoyable than this? Why should I not spend a few days at this inn, reading, studying, fishing? Here I wondered why that man told me such a lie about the fishing. If I wanted to exercise on my wheel I felt sure there were pretty roads hereabout. I had plenty of time before me–my whole vacation. Why should I be consumed by this restless desire to get on?

I could not help smiling as I thought of my somewhat absurd fancies of the night before; but they were pleasant fancies, and I did not wonder that they had come to me. It certainly is provocative of pleasant fancies to have an exceedingly attractive young woman talk of you in any way as her husband’s successor.

I could not make up my mind what I ought to do, and I walked back into the hall. I glanced into the parlor, but it was unoccupied. Then I went into the large room on the right; no one was there, and I stood by the window trying to make up my mind in regard to proposing a brief stay at the inn.

It really did not seem necessary to give the matter much thought. Here was a place of public entertainment, and, as I was one of the public, why should I not be entertained? I had stopped at many a road-side hostelry, and in each one of them I knew I would be welcome to stay as long as I was willing to pay.

Still, there was something, some sort of an undefined consciousness, which seemed to rise in the way of an off-hand proposal to stay at this inn for several days, when I had clearly stated that I wished to stop only for the night.

While I was still turning over this matter in my mind Mrs. Chester came into the room. I had expected her. The natural thing for her to do was to come in and receive the amount I owed her for her entertainment of me, but as I looked at her I could not ask her for my bill. It seemed to me that such a thing would shock her sensibilities. Moreover, I did not want her bill.

It was plain enough, however, that she expected me to depart, for she asked me where I proposed to stop in the middle of the day, and she suggested that she should have a light luncheon put up for me. She thought probably a wheelman would like that sort of thing, for then he could stop and rest wherever it suited him.

“Speaking of stopping,” said I, “I am very glad that I did not do as I was advised to do and go on to the Cheltenham. I do not know anything about that hotel, but I am sure it is not so charming as this delightful little inn with its picturesque surroundings.”

“I am glad you did not,” she answered. “Who advised you to go on to the Cheltenham?”

“Miss Putney,” said I. “Her father’s place is between here and Walford. I stopped there night before last.” And then, as I was glad of an opportunity to prolong the interview, I told her the history of my adventures at that place.

Mrs. Chester was amused, and I thought I might as well tell her how I came to be delayed on the road and so caught in the storm, and I related my experience with Miss Burton. I would have been glad to go still farther back and tell her how I came to take the school at Walford, and anything else she might care to listen to.

When I told her about Miss Burton she sat down in a chair near by and laughed heartily.

“It is wonderfully funny,” she said, “that you should have met those two young ladies and should then have stopped here.”

“You know them?” I said, promptly taking another chair.

“Oh yes,” she answered. “I know them both; and, as I have mentioned that your meeting with them seemed funny to me, I suppose I ought to tell you the reason. Some time ago a photographer in Walford, who has taken a portrait of me and also of Miss Putney and Miss Burton, took it into his head to print the three on one card and expose them for sale with a ridiculous inscription under them. This created a great deal of talk, and Miss Putney made the photographer destroy his negative and all the cards he had on hand. After that we were talked about as a trio, and, I expect, a good deal of fun was made of us. And now it seems a little odd–does it not?–that you have become acquainted with all the members of this trio as soon as you left Walford. But I must not keep you in this way.” And she rose.

Now was my opportunity to make known my desire to be kept, but before I could do so the boy hurriedly came into the room.

“The Dago wants to see you,” he said. “He’s in an awful hurry.”

“Excuse me,” said Mrs. Chester. “It is that Italian who was singing outside last night. I thought he had gone. Would you mind waiting a few minutes?”

It was getting harder and harder to enunciate my proposition to make a sojourn at the inn. I wished that I had spoken sooner. It is so much easier to do things promptly.

While I was waiting the elderly woman came in. “Do you want the boy to take your little bag out and strap it on?” said she.

Evidently there was no want of desire to speed the departing guest. “Oh, I will attend to that myself,” said I, but I made no step to do it. When my hostess came back I wanted to be there.

Presently she did come back. She ran in hurriedly, and her face was flushed. “Here is a very bad piece of business,” she said. “That man’s bear has eaten the tire off one of your wheels!”

“What!” I exclaimed, and my heart bounded within me. Here, perhaps, was the solution of all my troubles. If by any happy chance my bicycle had been damaged, of course I could not go on.

“Come and see,” she said, and, following her through the back hall door, we entered a large, enclosed yard. Not far from the house was a shed, and in front of this lay my bicycle on its side in an apparently disabled condition. An Italian, greatly agitated, was standing by it. He was hatless, and his tangled black hair hung over his swarthy face. At the other end of the yard was a whitish-brown bear, not very large, and chained to a post.

I approached my bicycle, earnestly hoping that the bear had been attempting to ride it, but I found that he had been trying to do something very different. He had torn the pneumatic tire from one of the wheels, and nearly the whole of it was lying scattered about in little bits upon the ground.

“How did this happen?” I said to the Italian, feeling very much inclined to give him a dollar for the good offices of the beast.

The man began immediately to pour out an explanation upon me. His English was as badly broken as the torn parts of my tire, but I had no trouble in understanding. The bear had got loose in the night. He had pulled up a little post to which he had been chained. The man had not known it was such a weak post. The bear was never muzzled at night. He had gone about looking for something to eat. He was very fond of India-rubber–or, as the man called it, “Injer-rub.” He always ate up India-rubber shoes wherever he could find them. He would eat them off a man’s feet if the man should be asleep. He liked the taste of Injer-rub. He did not swallow it. He dropped it all about in little bits.

[Illustration: BUT WE WERE NOT ALONE]

Then the man sprang towards me and seized the injured wheel. “See!” he exclaimed. “He eat your Injer-rub, but he no break your machine!”

This was very true. The wheel did not seem to be injured, but still I could not travel without a tire. This was the most satisfactory feature of the affair. If he and I had been alone together I would have handed the man two dollars, and told him to go in peace with his bear and give himself no more trouble.

But we were not alone. The stable-man who had lied to me about the fishing was there; the boy who had lied to me about the reception of cyclers was there; the lemon-faced woman was there, standing close to Mrs. Chester; and there were two maids looking out of the window of the kitchen.

“This is very bad indeed!” said Mrs. Chester, addressing the Italian. “You have damaged this gentleman’s wheel, and you must pay him for it.”

Now the Italian began to tear his hair. Never before had I seen any one tear his hair. More than that, he shed tears, and declared he had no money. After he had paid his bill he would not have a cent in the world. His bear had ruined him. He was in despair.

“What are you going to do?” said Mrs. Chester to me. “You cannot use your bicycle.”

Before I could answer, the elderly woman exclaimed: “You ought to come in, Mrs. Chester! This is no place for you! Suppose that beast should break loose again! Let the gentleman settle it with the man.”

I do not think my hostess wanted to go, but she accompanied her grim companion into the house.

“I suppose there is no place near here where I can have a new tire put on this wheel?” said I to the stable-man.

“Not nearer than Waterton,” he replied; “but we could take you and your machine there in a wagon.”

“That’s so,” said the boy. “I’ll drive.”

I glared upon the two fellows as if they had been a couple of fiends who were trying to put a drop of poison into my cup of joy. To be dolefully driven to Waterton by that boy! What a picture! How different from my picture!

The Italian sat down on the ground and embraced his knees with his arms. He moaned and groaned, and declared over and over again that he was ruined; that he had no money to pay.

In regard to him my mind was made up. I would forgive him his debt and send him away with my blessing, even if I found no opportunity of rewarding him for his great service to me.

I would go in and speak to Mrs. Chester about it. Of course it would not be right to do anything without consulting her, and now I could boldly tell her that it would suit me very well to stop at the inn until my wheel could be sent away and repaired.

As I entered the large room the elderly woman came out. She was plainly in a bad humor. Mrs. Chester was awaiting me with an anxious countenance, evidently much more troubled about the damage to my bicycle than I was. I hastened to relieve her mind.

“It does not matter a bit about the damage done by the bear,” I said. “I should not wonder if that wheel would be a great deal better for a new tire, anyway. And, as for that doleful Italian, I do not want to be hard on him, even if he has a little money in his pocket.”

But my remarks did not relieve her, while my cheerful and contented tones seemed to add to her anxiety.

“But you cannot travel,” she said, “and there is no place about here where you could get a new tire.”

It was very plain that no one in this house entertained the idea that it would be a good thing for me to rest here quietly until my bicycle could be sent away and repaired. In fact, my first statement, that I wished to stop but for the night, was accepted with general approval.

I did not deem it necessary to refer to the man’s offer, to send me and my machine to Waterton in a wagon, and I was just on the point of boldly announcing that I was in no hurry whatever to get on, and that it would suit me very well to wait here for a few days, when the boy burst into the room, one end of his little neck-tie flying behind him.

“The Dago’s put!” he shouted. “He’s put off and gone!”

We looked at him in amazement.

“Gone!” I exclaimed. “Shall I go after him? Has he paid his bill?”

“No, you needn’t do that,” said the boy. “He cut across the fields like a chipmunk–skipped right over the fences! You’d never ketch him, and you needn’t try! He’s off for the station. I’ll tell you all about it,” said the boy, turning to his mistress, who had been too much startled to ask any questions. “When he went into the house”–jerking his head in my direction–“I was left alone with the Dago, and he begun to talk to me. He asked me a lot of things. He rattled on so I couldn’t understand half he said. He wanted to know how much a tire cost; he wanted to know how much his bill would be, and if he’d have to pay for the little post that was broke.

“Then he asked if I thought that if he’d promise to send you the money would the gentleman let him go without payin’ for the tire, and he wanted to know what your name was; and when I told him you hadn’t no husband, and what your name was, he asked me to say it over again, and then he made me say it once more–the whole of it; and while I was tellin’ him that I’d write it down for him if he wanted to send you the money, he give a big jump and he stuck his head out like a bull. He looked so queer that I was gettin’ skeered; and then he says, almost whisperin’: ‘I go! I go away! I leave my bear! If she sell him, that pay everything! I come back no more–never! never!’

“I saw he was goin’ to scoot, and I made a grab at him, but he give me a push that nearly tore my collar off, and away he went. You never see anybody run like he run. He was out of sight in no time.”

“And he left his bear!” she exclaimed, in horror. “What on earth am I to do with a bear?” She looked at me, and in spite of her annoyance and perplexity she could not help joining me when I laughed outright.

CHAPTER VIII

ORSO

Mrs. Chester and I hurried back to the yard. There was the bear, sitting calmly on his haunches, but there was no Italian.

“Now that his master is gone,” my hostess exclaimed, “I am afraid of him! I will not go any farther! Can you imagine anything that can be done with that beast?”

I had no immediate answer to give, and I was still very much amused at the absurdity of the situation. Had any one ever before paid his bill in such fashion? At this moment the stable-man approached us from one of the outbuildings. “This is my hostler,” she said. “Perhaps he can suggest something.”

“This is a bad go, ma’am,” said he. “The horse was out in the pasture all night, but this morning when I went to bring him up I couldn’t make him come near the stable. He smells that bear! It seems to drive him crazy!”

“It’s awful!” she said. “What are we going to do, John? Do you think the animal will become dangerous when he misses his master?”

“Oh, there’s nothin’ dangerous about him,” answered John. “I was sittin’ talkin’ to that Dago last night after supper, and he says his bear’s tamer than a cat. He is so mild-tempered that he wouldn’t hurt nobody. The Dago says he sleeps close up to him of cold nights to keep himself warm. There ain’t no trouble about his bein’ dangerous, but you can’t bring the horse into the stable while he’s about. If anybody was to drive into this yard without knowin’ they’d be a circus, I can tell you! Horses can’t stand bears.”

She looked at me in dismay. “Couldn’t he be shot and buried?” she asked.

I had my doubts on that point. A tame bear is a valuable animal, and I could not advise her to dispose of the property of another person in that summary way.

“But he must be got away,” she said. “We can’t have a bear here. He must be taken away some way or other. Isn’t there any place where he could be put until the Italian comes back?”

“That Dago’s never comin’ back,” said the boy, solemnly. “If you’d a-seen him scoot, you’d a-knowed that he was dead skeered, and would never turn up here no more, bear or no bear.”

Mrs. Chester looked at me. She was greatly worried, but she was also amused, and she could not help laughing.

“Isn’t this a dreadful predicament?” she said. “What in the world am I to do?” At this moment there was an acidulated voice from the kitchen. “Mrs. Whittaker wants to see you, Mrs. Chester,” it cried, “right away!”

“Oh, dear!” said she. “Here is more trouble! Mrs. Whittaker is an invalid lady who is so nervous that she could not sleep one night because she heard a man had killed a snake at the back of the barn, and what she will say when she hears that we have a bear here without a master I do not know. I must go to her, and I do wish you could think of something that I can do;” as she said this she looked at me as if it were a natural thing for her to rely upon me. For a moment it made me think of the star that had winked the night before.

Mrs. Chester hurried into the house, and in company with the stable-man I crossed the yard towards the bear.

“You are sure he is gentle?” said I.

“Mild as milk!” said the man. “I was a-playin’ with him last night. He’ll let you do anything with him! If you box his ears, he’ll lay over flat down on his side!”

When we were within a few feet of the bear he sat upright, dangled his fore paws in front of him, and, with his head on one side, he partly opened his mouth and lolled out his tongue. “I guess he’s beggin’ for his breakfust,” said John.

“Can’t you get him something to eat?” I asked. “He ought to be fed, to begin with.”

The man went back to the kitchen, and I walked slowly around the bear, looking at the chain and the post, and trying to see what sort of a collar was almost hidden under his shaggy hair. Apparently he seemed securely attached, and then–as he was at the end of his chain–I went up to him and gently patted one paw. He did not object to this, and turning his head he let his tongue loll out on the other side, fixing his little black eyes upon me with much earnestness. When the man came with the pan of scraps from the kitchen I took it from him and placed it on the ground in front of the bear. Instantly the animal dropped to his feet and began to eat with earnest rapidity.

“I wonder how much he’d take in for one meal,” said John, “if you’d give him all he wanted? I guess that Dago never let him have any more’n he could help.”

As the bear was licking the tin pan I stood and looked at him. “I wonder if he would be tame with strangers?” said I. “Do you suppose we could take him away from this post if we wanted to?”

“Oh yes,” said John. “I wouldn’t be afraid to take him anywheres, only there isn’t any place to take him to.” He then stepped quite close to the bear. “Hey, horsey!” said he. “Hey, old horsey! Good old horsey!”

“Is that his name?” I asked.

“That’s what the Dago called him,” said John. “Hey, horsey! Good horsey!” And he stooped and unfastened the chain from the post.

I imagined that the Italian had called the bear “Orso,” perhaps with some diminutive, but I did not care to discuss this. I was very much interested to see what the man was going to do. With the end of the chain in his hand, John now stepped in front of the bear and said, “Come along, horsey!” and, to my surprise, the bear began to shamble after him as quietly as if he had been following his old master. “See!” cried John. “He’ll go anywheres I choose to take him!” and he began to lead him about the yard.

As he approached the kitchen there came a fearful scream from the open window.

“Take him away! Take him away!” I heard, in the shrillest accents.

“They’re dreadfully skeered,” said John, as he led the bear back; “but he wouldn’t hurt nobody! It would be a good thing, though, to put his muzzle on; that’s it hangin’ over there by the shed; it’s like a halter, and straps up his jaws. The Dago said there ain’t no need for it, but he puts it on when he’s travellin’ along the road to keep people from bein’ skeered.”

“It would be well to put it on,” said I. “I wonder if we can get him into it?”

“I guess he’d let you do anything you’d a mind to,” replied John, as he again fastened the chain to the post.

I took down the muzzle and approached the bear. He did not growl, but stood perfectly still and looked at me. I put the muzzle over his head, and, holding myself in readiness to elude a sudden snap, I strapped up his jaws. The creature made no snap–he gazed at me with mild resignation.

“As far as he goes,” said John, “he’s all right; but as far as everything else goes–especially horses–they’re all wrong. He’s got to be got rid of some way.”

I had nothing more to say to John, and I went into the house. I met Mrs. Chester in the hall.

“I have had a bad time up-stairs,” she said. “Mrs. Whittaker declares that she will not stay an hour in a house where there is a bear without a master; but as she has a terrible sciatica and cannot travel, I do not know what she is going to do. Her trained nurse, I believe, is now putting on her bonnet to depart.”

As she spoke, the joyful anticipation of a few days at the Holly Sprig Inn began to fade away. I did not blame the bear as the present cause of my disappointment. He had done all he could for me. It was his wretched master who had done the mischief by running away and leaving him. But no matter what had happened, I saw my duty plainly before me. I had not been encouraged to stay, but it is possible that I might have done so without encouragement, but now I saw that I must go. The Fates, who, as I had hoped, had compelled my stay, now compelled my departure.

“Do not give yourself another thought upon the subject,” I said. “I will settle the whole matter, and nobody need be frightened or disturbed. The Cheltenham Hotel is only a few miles farther on, and I shall have to walk there anyway. I will start immediately and take the bear with me. I am sure that he will allow me to lead him wherever I please. I have tried him, and I find that he is a great deal gentler than most children.”

She exclaimed, in horror: “You must not think of it! He might spring upon you and tear you to pieces!”

“Oh, he will not do that,” I answered. “He is not that sort of a bear–and, besides, he is securely muzzled. I muzzled him myself, and he did not mind it in the least. Oh, you need not be afraid of the bear; he has had his breakfast and he is in perfect good-humor with the world. It will not take me long to reach the hotel, and I shall enjoy the walk, and when I get there I will be sure to find some shed or out-house where the beast can be shut up until it can be decided what to do with him. I can leave him there and have him legally advertised, and then–if nothing else can be done–he can be shot. I shall be very glad to have his skin; it will be worth enough to cover his bill here, and the damages to my bicycle. I shall send for that as soon as I reach the hotel. I can go to Waterton by train and take it with me. I can have it made all right in Waterton. So now, you see, I have settled everything satisfactorily.”

She looked at me earnestly, and, although there was a certain solicitude in her gaze, I could also see there signs of great relief. “But isn’t there some other way of getting that bear to the hotel?” she said. “It will be dreadful for you to have to walk there and lead him.”

“It’s the only way to do it,” I answered. “You could not hitch a bear behind a wagon–the horse would run away and jerk his head off. The only way to take a bear about the country is to lead him, and I do not mind it in the least. As I have got to go without my bicycle I would like to have some sort of company. Anyway, the bear must go, and as I am on the road to the Cheltenham I shall be very glad to take him along with me.”

“I think you are wonderfully brave,” she said, “and very good. If I can persuade myself it will be perfectly safe for you, it will certainly be a great relief to me.”

I was now engaged in a piece of self-sacrifice, and I felt that I must do it thoroughly and promptly. “I will go and get my valise,” I said, “for I ought to start immediately.”

“Oh, I will send that!” she exclaimed.

“No,” I answered; “it does not weigh anything, and I can sling it over my shoulder. By-the-way,” I said, turning as I was about to leave the room, “I have forgotten something.” I put my hand into my pocket; it would not do to forget that I was, after all, only a departing guest.

“No, no,” she replied, quickly, “I am your debtor. When you find out how much damage you have suffered, and what is to be done with the bear, all that can be settled. You can write to me, but I will have nothing to do with it now.”

With my valise over my shoulder I returned to the hall to take leave of my hostess. Now she seemed somewhat contrite. Fate and she had conquered, I was going away, and she was sorry for me.

“I think it is wonderfully good of you to do all this,” she said. “I wish I could do something for you.”

I would have been glad to suggest that she might ask me to come again, and it would also have pleased me to say that I did not believe that her husband, if he could express his opinion, would commend her apparent inhospitality to his successor. But I made no such remarks, and offered my hand, which she cordially clasped as if I were an old friend and were going away to settle in the Himalayas.

I went into the yard to get Orso. He was lying down when I approached him, but I think he knew from my general appearance that I was prepared to take the road, and he rose to his feet as much as to say, “I am ready.” I unfastened the chain from the post, and, with the best of wishes for good-luck from John, who now seemed to be very well satisfied with me, I walked around the side of the house, the bear following as submissively as if he had been used to my leadership all his life.

I did not see the boy nor the lemon-faced woman, and I was glad of it. I believe they would have cast evil eyes upon me, and there is no knowing what that bear might have done in consequence.

Mrs. Chester was standing in the door as I reached the road. “Good-bye!” she cried, “and good fortune go with you!” I raised my hat, and gave Orso a little jerk with the chain.

CHAPTER IX

A RUNAWAY

He was a very slow walker, that bear. If I had been alone I would have been out of sight of the inn in less than five minutes. As it was, I looked back after a considerable time to see if I really were out of sight of the house, and I found I was not. She was still standing in the doorway, and when I turned she waved her handkerchief. Now that I had truly left and was gone, she seemed to be willing to let me know better than before what a charming woman she was. I took off my hat again and pressed forward.

For a couple of miles, perhaps, I walked thoughtfully, and I do not believe I once thought of the bear shambling silently behind me. I had been dreaming a day-dream–not building a castle in the air, for I had seen before me a castle already built. I had simply been dreaming myself into it, into its life, into its possessions, into the possession of everything which belonged to it.

It had been a fascinating vision. It had suited my fancy better than any vision of the future which I had ever had. I was not ambitious; I loved the loveliness of life. I was a student, and I had a dream of life which would not interfere with the society of my books. I loved all rural pleasures, and I had dreamed of a life where these were spread out ready for my enjoyment. I was a man formed to love, and there had come to me dreams of this sort of thing.

My dreams had even taken practical shape. As I was dressing myself that morning I had puzzled my brain to find a pretext for taking the first step, which would be to remain a few days at the inn.

The pretext for doing this had appeared to me. For a moment I had snatched at it and shown my joy, and then it had utterly disappeared–the vision, the fancy, the anticipations, the plans, the vine-covered home in the air, all were destroyed as completely as if it had been the tire of my bicycle scattered about in little bits upon the ground.

“Come along, old Orso!” I exclaimed, endeavoring to mend my pace, and giving the bear a good pull upon his chain. But the ugly creature did not walk any faster; he simply looked at me with an air as if he would say that if I kept long upon the road I would learn to take it easy, and maintained the deliberate slouch of his demeanor.

Presently I stopped, and Orso was very willing to imitate me in that action. I found, to my surprise, that I was not walking upon a macadamized road: such was the highway which passed the inn and led, I had been told, to the Cheltenham. I was now upon a road of gravel and clay, smooth enough and wide enough, but of a different character from that on which I had started that morning. I looked about me. Across a field to my left I saw a line of trees which seemed to indicate a road. I had a dim recollection of having passed a road which seemed to turn to the left, but I had been thinking very earnestly, and had paid little attention to it. Probably that road was the main road and this the one which turned off.

I determined to investigate. It would not do to wander out of my way with my present encumbrance. It was now somewhat after noon; the country people were eating their dinners or engaged about their barns; there was nobody upon the road. At some distance ahead of me was a small house standing well back behind a little group of trees, and I decided to go there and make inquiries. And as it would not do at all to throw a rural establishment into a state of wild confusion by leading a bear up to its door, I conducted Orso to the side of the road and chained him to a fence-post. He was perfectly satisfied and lay down, his nose upon his fore-paws.

[Illustration: “TO MY LEFT I SAW A LINE OF TREES”]

I found three women in the little house. They were in a side kitchen eating their dinner, and I wondered what the bear would have done if he had smelled that dinner. They told me that I was not on the main road, and would have to go back more than half a mile in order to regain it.

When I was out on the road again I said to myself that if I could possibly make Orso step along at a little more lively pace I might get to the hotel in time for a very late luncheon, and I was beginning to think that I had not been wise in declining portable refreshment, when I heard a noise ahead of me. At a considerable distance along the road, and not far from where I had left the bear, I saw a horse attached to a vehicle approaching me at a furious speed. He was running away! The truth flashed upon me–he had been frightened by Orso!

I ran a few steps towards the approaching horse. His head was high in the air, and the vehicle swayed from side to side. It was a tall affair with two wheels, and on the high seat sat a lady vainly tugging at the reins. My heart sank. What dreadful thing had I done!

I stood in the middle of the road. It seemed but a few seconds before the horse was upon me. He swerved to one side, but I was ready for that. I dashed at his bridle, but caught the end of his cumbrous bit in my right hand. I leaned forward with all the strength that dwelt in my muscles and nerves. The horse’s glaring eye was over my face, and I felt the round end of a shaft rise up under my arm. A pair of outstretched forelegs slid past me. I saw the end of a banged tail switching in the dust. The horse was on his haunches. He was stopped.

Before I had time to recover an erect attitude and to let up the horse the occupant of the vehicle was on the ground She had skipped down with wonderful alacrity on the side opposite to me, and was coming round by the back of the cart. The horse was now standing on his four legs, trembling in every fibre, and with eyes that were still wild and staring. Holding him firmly, I faced the lady as she stopped near me. She was a young woman in a jaunty summer costume and a round straw hat. She did not seem to be quite mistress of herself; she was not pale, but perhaps that was because her face was somewhat browned by the sun, but her step was not steady, and she breathed hard. Under ordinary circumstances she would have been assisted to the side of the road, where she might sit down and recover herself, and have water brought to her. But I could do nothing of that sort. I could not leave that shivering horse.

[Illustration: “HE WAS RUNNING AWAY”]

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she said, “but I am shaken up a bit. I cannot tell you how grateful I am! I don’t believe I ever can tell you!”

“Do not speak of that.” I said, quickly. “Perhaps you would feel better if you were to sit down somewhere.”

“Oh, I don’t want to sit down,” said she. “I am so glad to have my feet on the solid earth again that that is enough for me. It was a bear that frightened him–a bear lying down by the side of the road a little way back. He never ran away before, but when he saw that bear he gave a great shy and a bolt, and he was off. I just got a glimpse of the beast.”

I was very anxious to change the conversation, and suggested that I lead the horse into the shade, for the sun was blazing down upon us. The horse submitted to be led to the side of the road, but he was very nervous, and looked everywhere for the approach of shaggy bears.

“It is perfectly dreadful,” she said, when she again approached me, “for people to leave bears about in that way. I suppose he was fastened, for it could not have been a wild beast. They do not lie down by the side of the road. I do not say that I was rattled, but I expected every second that there would be a smash, and there would have been if it had not been for–“

“It is a wonder you were not thrown out,” I interrupted, “those carts are so tall.”

“Yes,” she answered, “and if I hadn’t slipped off the driving-cushion at the first shy I would have been out sure. I never had anything happen like this, but who could have expected a great bear by the side of the road?”

“Have you far to go?” I asked.

“Not very–about three miles. I made a call this morning on the other road, and was driving home. My name is Miss Larramie. My father’s place is on this road. He is Henry Esmond Larramie.” I had heard of the gentleman, but had never met him. “I am not afraid of horses,” she continued, “but I do not know about driving this one now. He looks as if he were all ready to bolt again.”

“Oh, it would not do for you to drive him,” I said. “That would be extremely risky.”

“I might walk home,” she said, “but I could not leave the horse.”

“Let me think a minute,” said I. Then presently I asked, “Will this horse stand if he is hitched?”

“Oh yes,” she answered; “I always hitch him when I make calls. There is a big strap under the seat which goes around his neck, and then through a ring in his bit. He has to stand–he can’t get away.”

“Very well, then,” said I; “I will tell you what I will do. I will tie him to this tree. I think he is quieter, and if you will stand by him and talk to him–he knows you?”

“Oh yes,” she answered, “and I can feed him with grass. But why do you want to tie him? What are you going to do?”

As she spoke she brought me the tie strap, and I proceeded to fasten the horse to a tree.

“Now, then,” said I, “I must go and get the bear and take him away somewhere out of sight. It will never do to leave him there. Some other horse might be coming along.”

“You get the bear!” she said, surprised.

“Yes,” I answered; “he is my bear, and–“

She stepped back, her eyes expanded and her lower jaw dropped. “_Your_ bear!” she cried, and with that her glance seemed to run all over me as if she were trying to find some resemblance to a man who exhibited a bear.

“Yes,” I replied; “I left him there while I went to ask my way. It was a dreadful thing to do, but I must leave him there no longer. I will tell you all about it when I come back.”

I had decided upon a plan of action. I ran down the road to the bear, took down some bars of the fence, and then, untying him, I led him over a field to a patch of woodland. Orso shuffled along humbly as if it did not make any difference to him where he went, and when I reached the woods I entered it by an old cart-road, and soon struck off to one side among some heavy underbrush. Finding a spot where it would be impossible for the beast to be seen from the road, I fastened him securely to a tree. He looked after me regretfully, and I think I heard him whine, but I am not sure of that. I hurried back to the road, replaced the bars, and very soon had joined the young lady.

“Well,” said she, “never in this world would I have thought that was your bear! But what is to be done now? This horse gave a jump as soon as he heard you running this way.”

“Now,” said I, “I will drive you to your house, or, if you are afraid, you can walk, and I will take him home for you if you will give me the directions.”

“Oh, I am not a bit afraid,” she said. “I am sure you can manage him–you seem to be able to manage animals. But will not this be a great inconvenience to you? Are you going this way? And won’t you have to come back after your bear? I can’t believe that you are really leading a bear about.”

I laughed as I unfastened the horse. “It will not take me long to come back,” I said. “Now, I will get in first, and, when I have him properly in hand, you can mount on the other side.”

The young lady appeared to have entirely recovered from the effects of her fright, and was by my side in a moment. The horse danced a little as we started and tried to look behind him, but he soon felt that he was under control, and trotted off finely.

I now thought that I ought to tell her who I was, for I did not want to be taken for a travelling showman, although I really did not suppose that she would make such a mistake.

“So you are the school-master at Walford!” said she. “I have heard about you. Little Billy Marshall is one of your scholars.”

I admitted that he was, and that I was afraid he did not do me very much credit.

“Perhaps not,” she said, “but he is a good boy. His mother sometimes works for us; she does quite heavy jobs of sewing, and Billy brings them up by train. He was here a little more than a week ago, and I asked him how he was getting on at school, and if he had a good teacher, and he said the man was pretty good. But I want to know about the bear. How in the world did you happen to be leading a bear?”

I related the ursine incident, which amused her very much, and, as she was a wheelwoman herself, she commiserated with me sincerely on the damage to my machine.

“So you stopped at the Holly Sprig?” she said. “And how did you like the mistress of that little inn?”

I replied that I had found her very interesting.

“Yes, she is an interesting woman,” said my companion, “and a very pretty one, too. Some people wonder why she continues to keep the inn, but perhaps she has to. You know, her husband was murdered.”

[Illustration: “He soon felt that he was under control”]

“No, I did not!” I exclaimed, in surprise. “I knew he was not living–but murdered! That is dreadful! How did that happen?”

“Nobody knows,” she answered. “They had not been married very long–I do not know how long–when he was killed. He went to New York on business by himself, and did not come back. They were searching for him days and days–ever so long, and they could find no clew. At last–it may have been a month afterwards–or perhaps it was more–it was found that he had been murdered. His body had been discovered, and was supposed to be that of somebody else, and had been buried in whatever place the authorities buried people in such cases. Then it was too late to get it or to identify it, or to do anything. Wasn’t that perfectly awful?”

This story gave me a peculiar shock. I could not have imagined that that charming and apparently light-hearted young woman at the Holly Sprig had ever been crushed down by such a sorrow as this. But I did not ask any more questions. The young girl by my side probably knew no more than she had already told me. Besides, I did not want to hear any more.

“‘Royal’ goes along just as if nothing had happened,” she said, admiringly regarding the horse. “Now, I wonder if it will be safe for me to drive him again?”

“I should be very sorry,” I answered, “if my thoughtlessness had rendered him unsafe for you; but if he could be led up and down past the place where he saw the bear until he becomes convinced that there is now nothing dreadful in that spot, he may soon be all right again.”

“Do you know,” she said, suddenly turning towards me, “what I would like better than anything else in this world? I would like to be able to stand in the middle of the road and stop a horse as you did!”

I laughed and assured her that I knew there were a great many things in the world which it would be much better for her to do than that.

“Nothing would please me so much,” she said, decisively, “not one single, solitary thing! There’s our gate. Turn in here, please.”

I drove up a winding road which led to a house standing among trees on a slight elevation. “Please let me out here,” she said, when I reached the end of the porch. “I will send a man to take the horse.”

CHAPTER X

THE LARRAMIE FAMILY

I think I did not have to wait ten seconds after her departure, for a stable-man had seen us approach and immediately came forward. I jumped down from the cart and looked in the direction of the road. I thought if I were to make a cross-cut over the lawn and some adjacent fields I should get back to my bear much quicker than if I returned the way I had come. But this thought had scarcely shaped itself in my mind when I heard the approach of hurrying feet, and in the next moment a little army had thrown itself upon me.

There was a tall, bright-faced man, with side whiskers and a flowing jacket, who came forward with long steps and outstretched hand; there was a lady behind him, with little curls on the side of her head; and there were some boys and girls and other people. And nearly in front of the whole of them was the young lady I had brought to the house. Each one of them seized me by the hand; each one of them told me what a great thing I had done; each of them thanked me from the bottom of his or her heart for saving the life of his or her daughter or sister, and not one of them gave me a chance to say that as I had done all the mischief I could not be too thankful that I had been able to avert evil consequences. From the various references to the details of the incident I concluded that the young lady had dashed into the house and had given a full account of everything which had happened in less time than it would have taken me to arrange my ideas for such a recital.

As soon as I could get a chance I thanked them all for their gracious words, and said that as I was in a hurry I must take my leave. Thereupon arose a hubbub of voices. “Not at dinner-time!” exclaimed Mr. Larramie. “We would never listen to such a thing!”

“And you need not trouble yourself about your bear,” cried my young lady, whose Christian name I soon discovered to be Edith. “He can live on barks and roots until we have time to attend to him. He is used to that in his native wilds.”

[Illustration: “A LITTLE ARMY HAD THROWN ITSELF UPON US.”]

Now everybody wanted to know everything about the bear, and great was the hilarity which my account occasioned.

“Come in! Come in!” exclaimed Mr. Larramie. “The bear will be all right if you tied him well. You have just time to get ready for dinner.” And noticing a glance I had given to my garments, he continued: “You need not bother about your clothes. We are all in field costume. Oh, I did not see you had a valise. Now, hurry in, all of you!”

That dinner was a most lively meal. Everybody seemed to be talking at once, yet they all found time to eat. The father talked so much that his daughter Edith took the carving-fork from him and served out the mutton-chops herself. The mother, from the other end of the table, with tears in her eyes, continually asked me if I would not have something or other, and how I could ever screw up my courage to go about with an absolutely strange bear.

There was a young man, apparently the oldest son, with a fine, frank manner and very broad shoulders. He was so wonderfully developed about the bust that he seemed almost deformed, his breast projecting so far that it gave him the appearance of being round-shouldered in front. This, my practised eye told me, was the result of undue exercise in the direction of chest-expansion. He was a good-natured fellow, and overlooked my not answering several of his questions, owing to the evident want of opportunity to do so.

There was a yellow-haired girl with a long plait down her back; there was a half-grown boy, wearing a blue calico shirt with a red cravat; there was a small girl who sat by her mother; and there was a young lady, very upright and slender, who did not seem to belong to the family, for she never used the words “father” and “mother,” which were continually in the mouths of the others. This young lady talked incessantly, and fired her words after the manner of a Gatling gun, without taking aim at anybody in particular. Sometimes she may have been talking to me, but, as she did not direct her gaze towards me on such occasions, I did not feel bound to consider any suppositions in regard to the matter.

I, of course, was the principal object of general attention. They wanted to know what I really thought of Billy Marshall as a scholar. They wanted to know if I would have some more. They wanted to know if I had had any previous experience with bears. The father asked which I thought it would be easier to manage, a boy or a bear. The boy Percy wanted to know how I placed my feet when I stood up in front of a runaway horse. Others asked if I intended to go back to my school at Walford, and how I liked the village, and if I were president of the literary society there, which Mrs. Larramie thought I ought to be, on account of my scholastic position.

[Illustration: “‘WOULD IT BE EASIER TO MANAGE A BOY OR A BEAR?'”]

But before the meal was over the bear had come to be the absorbing subject of conversation. I was asked my plans about him, and they were all disapproved.

“It would be of no use to take him to the Cheltenham,” said Walter, the oldest son. “They couldn’t keep him there. They have too many horses–a livery-stable. They wouldn’t let you come on the place with him.”

“Of course not,” said Mr. Larramie. “And, besides, why should you take him there? It would be a poor place anyway. They wouldn’t keep him until his owner turned up. They wouldn’t have anything to do with him. What you want to do is to bring your bear here. We have a hay-barn out in the fields. He could sleep in the hay, and we could give him a long chain so that he could have a nice range.”

The younger members of the family were delighted with this suggestion. Nothing would please them better than to have a bear on the place. Each one of them was ready to take entire charge of it, and Percy declared that he would go into the woods and hunt for wild-bee honey with which to feed it. Even Mrs. Larramie assured me that if a bear were well chained, at a suitable distance, she would have no fears whatever of it.

I accepted the proposition, for I was glad to get rid of the animal in a way which would please so many people, and after dinner was over, and I had smoked a cigar with my host and his son Walter, I said that it was time for me to go and get the bear.

“But you won’t go by the main road,” said Mr. Larramie. “That makes a great curve below here to avoid a hill. If I understood you properly, you left the bear not far from a small house inhabited by three women?”

“They’re the McKenna sisters,” added Walter.

“Yes,” said the father, “and their house is not more than two miles from here by a field road. I will go with you.”

I exclaimed that I would not put him to so much trouble, but my words were useless. The Walter son declared that he would go also, that he would like the walk; the Percy son declared he was going if anybody went; and Genevieve, the girl with the yellow plait, said that she wished she were a boy so that she could go too, and she wished she could go anyway, boy or no boy, and as her father said that there was no earthly reason why she should not go, she ran for her hat.

Miss Edith looked as if she would like to go, but she did not say so; and, as for me, I agreed to every proposition. It would certainly be great fun to do things with this lively household.

We started off without the boy, but it was not long before he came running after us, and to my horror I perceived that he carried a rifle.

“What are you going to do with that, Percy?” exclaimed his father.

“I don’t expect to do anything with it,” the boy replied, “but I thought it would be a good thing to bring it along–especially as Genevieve is with us. Nobody knows what might happen.”

“That’s true,” exclaimed Walter, “and the fact that Genevieve is along is the best reason in the world for your not bringing a gun. You better go take it back.”

To this Percy strongly objected. He was going out on a sort of a bear-hunt, and to him half the pleasure would be lost if he did not carry a gun. I am not a coward, but a boy with a gun is a terror to me. My expression may have intimated my state of mind, for Mr. Larramie said to me that we had now gone so far that it would be a pity to send Percy back, and that he did not think there would be any danger, for his boy had been taught how to carry a gun properly.

“We are all out-of-door people and sportsmen,” he said, “and we begin early. But I suppose what you are thinking about is the danger of some of us ending soon. But we need not be afraid of that. Walk in front, Percy, and keep the barrel pointed downward.”

When we came in sight of the house of the three McKennas, Walter proposed that we make a detour towards the woods. “For,” said he, “if those good women see a party like this with a gun among them, they will be sure to think it is a case of escaped criminal, or something of that kind, and be frightened out of their wits.”

We skirted the edge of the trees until we came to the opening of the wood road, which I recognized immediately, and, asking Percy and the others to keep back, I went on by myself.

“I don’t think people would frighten that sort of a bear,” I heard Genevieve say. “He must be used to crowds around him when he’s dancing.”

I presently reached the place where I had turned from the road. It was a natural break in the woods. There was the tree to which I had tied the bear, but there was no bear.

I stood aghast, and in a moment the rest of the party were clustered around me. “Is this where you left him?” they cried. “And is he gone? Are you sure this is the place?”

Yes, I was sure of it. I have an excellent eye for locality, and I knew that I had chained the bear to the small oak in front of me. At that moment there was a scream from Genevieve. “Look! Look!” she cried. “There he is, just ready to spring!”

We all looked up, and, sure enough, on the lower branch of the oak, half enveloped in foliage, we saw the bear extended at full length and blinking down at us. I gave a shout of delight.

“Now, keep back, all of you!” I cried. “Bears don’t spring from trees, but it will be better for you to be out of the way while I try to get him down.”

I walked up to the oak-tree, and then I found that the bear was still firmly attached to it. His chain had been fastened loosely around the trunk; he had climbed up to the branch and pulled the chain with him.

I now called upon Orso to come down, but apparently he did not understand English, and lay quietly upon the branch, his head towards the trunk of the tree. I extended my hand up towards the chain, and found that I could nearly reach it. “Shall I give you a lift?” cried Walter, and I accepted the offer. It was a hard piece of work for him, but he was a professed athlete, and he would have lifted me if it had cracked his spine. I reached up and unhooked the chain. It was then long enough for me to stand on the ground and hold the end of it.

Now I began to pull. “Come down!” I said. “Come down, Orso!” But Orso did not move.

“Bears don’t come down head-foremost,” cried Percy; “they turn around and come down backwards. You ought to have a chain to his tail if you want to pull him down.”

“He hasn’t got any tail!” exclaimed Genevieve.

I was in a quandary. I might as well try to break the branch as to pull the bear down. “If we had only thought of bringing a bucket of meat!” cried Percy.

“Would you mind holding the chain,” I said to Walter, “while I try to drive him down?” Of course the developed young man was not afraid to do anything I was not afraid to do, and he took the chain. There was a pine-tree growing near the oak, and, mounting into this, I found that with a long stick which Mr. Larramie handed me I could just reach the bear. “Go down!” I said, tapping him on the haunches, but he did not move.

“Can’t you speak to him in Italian?” said Genevieve. “Tame bears know Italian. Doesn’t anybody know the Italian for ‘Come down out of a tree?'” But such knowledge was absent from the party.

“Try him in Latin,” cried Percy. “That must be a good deal like Italian, anyway.”

To this suggestion Mr. Larramie made no answer; he had left college before any of the party present had been born; Mr. Walter looked a little confused; he had graduated several years before, and his classics were rusty. I felt that my pedagogical position made it incumbent upon me to take immediate action, but for the life of me I could not think of an appropriate phrase.

“Give him high English!” cried Mr. Larramie. “That’s often classic enough! Tell him to descend!”

“Orso, descend!” I cried, giving a little foreign twang to the words. Immediately the bear began to twist like a caterpillar upon the limb, he extended his hind-legs towards the trunk, he seized it with his fore-paws. He began slowly to move downward.

“Hurrah!” cried Percy, “that hit him like a rifle-ball! Hurrah for high English! That’s good enough for me!”

“Look at his hind hands!” cried Genevieve. “He has worn all the hair off his palms!”

I hurried from the tree and reached the ground before the bear. Then taking the end of the chain, I advised the others to move out of the woods while I followed with the bear. They all obeyed except Genevieve, who wanted very much to linger behind and help me lead him. But this I would not permit.

The bear followed me with his usual docility until we had emerged from the woods. Then he gave a little start, and fixed his eyes upon Percy, who stood at a short distance, his rifle in his hand. I had not supposed that this bear was afraid of anything, but now I had reason to believe that he was afraid of guns, for the instant he saw the armed boy he made the little start I have mentioned, and followed it up by a great bolt which jerked the chain from my hand, and the next instant Orso was bounding away in great lopes, his chain rattling behind him.

Promptly Percy brought his rifle to his shoulder. “Don’t you fire!” I shouted. “Put down your gun and leave it here. It frightens him!” And with that we were all off in hot pursuit.

“Cut him off from the woods!” shouted Mr. Walter, who was in advance. “If he gets in the woods we’ll lose him sure!”

We followed this good advice, and at the top of our speed we endeavored to get between the beast and the trees. To a certain extent we succeeded in our object, for some of us were fast runners, and Orso, perceiving that he might be cut off from a woody retreat, turned almost at right angles and made directly for the house.

“He’s after the three McKennas!” screamed Genevieve, as she turned to follow the bear, and from being somewhat in the rear she was now in advance of us, and dashed across the field at a most wonderful rate for a girl.

The rest of us soon passed her, but before we reached the house the bear disappeared behind some out-buildings. Then we saw him again. He dashed through the gate of a back yard. He seemed to throw himself against the house. He disappeared through a door-way. There was a great crash as of crockery and tin. There were screams. There was rattling and banging, and then all was still. When we reached the house we heard no sound.

CHAPTER XI

THE THREE McKENNAS

I was in advance, and as I entered the door-way through which the bear had disappeared, I found myself in the kitchen where I had seen the three women at their dinner. Wild confusion had been brought about in a second. A table had been over-turned, broken dishes and tin things were scattered on the floor, a wooden chair lay upon its back, and the room seemed deserted. The rest of the party quickly rushed in behind me, and great were their exclamations at the scene of havoc.

“I hope nothing has happened to the McKenna sisters,” cried Mr. Larramie. “They must have been in here!”

I did not suppose that anything serious had occurred, for the bear’s jaws were securely strapped, but with anxious haste I went into the other part of the house. Across a hallway I saw an open door, and from the room within came groans, or perhaps I should call them long-drawn wails of woe.

I was in the room in a moment, and the others crowded through the door-way behind me. It was a good-sized bedroom, probably the “spare-room” of the first floor. In one corner was a tall and wide high-posted bedstead, and in the very middle of it sat an elderly woman drawn up into the smallest compass into which she could possibly compress herself. Her eyes were closed, her jaws were dropped, her spectacles hung in front of her mouth, her gray hair straggled over her eyes, and her skin was of a soapy whiteness.

She paid no attention to the crowd of people in the room. Evidently she was frightened out of her senses. Every moment she emitted a doleful wail. As we stood gazing at her, and before we had time to speak to her, she seemed to be seized by an upheaving spasm, the influence of which was so great that she actually rose in the air, and as she did so her wail intensified itself into a shriek, and as she came down again with a sudden thump all the breath in her body seemed to be bounced out in a gasp of woe.

“It’s Susan McKenna!” exclaimed Walter. “What in the world is the matter with her? Miss Susan, are you hurt?”

She made no answer, but again she rose, again she gave vent to a wild wail, and again she came down with a thump.

Percy was now on his knees near the bed. “It’s the bear!” he cried. “He’s under there, and he’s humping himself!”

“Sacking bottom!” cried the practical Genevieve “There isn’t room enough for him!”

Stooping down I saw the bear under the bed, now crowding himself back as far as possible into a corner. No part of his chain was exposed to view, and for a moment I did not see how I was going to get him out. But the first thing was to get rid of the woman.

“Come, Miss Susan,” said Mr. Larramie, “let me help you off the bed, and you can go into another room, and then we will attend to this animal. You need not be afraid to get down. He won’t hurt you.”

But the McKenna sister paid no attention to these remarks. She kept her eyes closed; she moaned and wailed. So long as that horrible demon was under the bed she would not have put as much as one of her toes over the edge for all the money in the world!

In every way I tried to induce the bear to come out, but he paid no attention to me. He had been frightened, and he was now in darkness and security. Suddenly a happy thought struck me. I glanced around the room, and then I rushed into the hall. Genevieve followed me. “What do you want?” she said.

“I am looking for some overshoes!” I cried. “India-rubber ones!”

Instantly Genevieve began to dash around. In a few moments she had opened a little closet which I had not noticed. “Here is one!” she cried, “but it’s torn–the heel is nearly off! Perhaps the other one–“

“Give me that!” I exclaimed. “It doesn’t matter about its being torn!” With the old overshoe in my hand I ran back into the room, where Mr. Larramie was still imploring the McKenna sister to get down from the bed. I stooped and thrust the shoe under as far as I could reach. Almost immediately I saw a movement in the shaggy mass in the corner. I wriggled the shoe, and a paw was slightly extended. Then I drew it away slowly from under the bed.

Now, Miss Susan McKenna rose in the air higher than she had yet gone. A maddening wail went up, and for a moment she tottered on the apex of an elevation like a wooden idol upheaved by an earthquake. Before she had time to tumble over she sank again with a thump. The great hairy bear, looking twice as large in that room as he appeared in the open air, came out from under the foot of the bed, and as I dangled the old rubber shoe in front of his nose he would have seized upon it if his jaws had not been strapped together. I got hold of the chain and conducted him quietly outside, amid the cheers and hand-clapping of Percy and Genevieve.

I chained Orso to a post of the fence, and, removing his muzzle, I gave him the old rubber shoe.

“Shall I bring him some more?” cried Genevieve, full of zeal in good works. But I assured her that one would do for the present.

I now hurried into the house to find out what had happened to the persons and property of the McKenna sisters.

“Where are the other two?” cried Genevieve, who was darting from one room to another; “the bear can’t have swallowed them.”

It was not long before Percy discovered the two missing sisters in the cellar. They were seated on the ground with their aprons over their heads.

It was some time before quiet was restored in that household. To the paralyzing terror occasioned by the sudden advent of the bear succeeded wild lamentations over the loss of property. I assured them that I was perfectly willing to make good the loss, but Mr. Larramie would not allow me to say anything on the subject.

“It is not your affair,” said he. “The bear would have done no damage whatever had it not been for the folly of Percy in bringing his gun–I suppose the animal has been shot at some time or other–and my weakness in allowing him to keep it. I will attend to these damages. The amount is very little, I imagine, principally cheap crockery, and the best thing you can do is to start off slowly with your bear. The women will not be able to talk reasonably until it is off the premises. I will catch up with you presently.”

When the bear and I, with the rest of the party, were fairly out of sight of the house, we stopped and waited for Mr. Larramie, and it was not long before he joined us.

When we reached the hay-barn we were met by the rest of the Larramie family, all anxious to see the bear. Even Miss Edith, who had had one glimpse of the beast, was very glad indeed to assure me that she did not wonder in the least that I had supposed there would be no harm in leaving such a mild creature for a little while by the side of the road, and I was sure from the exclamations of the rest of the family that Orso would not suffer for want of care and attention during his stay in the hay-barn.

I was immensely relieved to get rid of the bear and to leave him in such good quarters, for it now appeared to me quite reasonable that I might have had difficulty in lodging him anywhere on the premises of the Cheltenham, and under any circumstances I very much preferred appearing at that hotel without an ursine companion. As soon as we reached the house I told Mr. Larramie that it was now necessary for me to hurry on, and asked if there were not some way to the hotel which would not make it necessary for me to go back to the main road.

The good gentleman fairly shouted at me. “You aren’t going to any hotel!” he declared. “Do you suppose we are heathens, to let you start off at this late hour in the afternoon for a hotel? You have nothing to do with hotels–you spend the night with us, sir! If you are thinking about your clothes, pray dismiss the subject from your mind. If it will make you feel better satisfied, we will all put on golf suits. In the morning we will get your machine from the Holly Sprig, and when you want to go on we will send you and it to Waterton in a wagon. It is not a long drive, and it is much the pleasanter way to manage your business.”

The family showed themselves delighted when they heard that I was to spend the night with them, and I did not object to the plan, for I had not the slightest desire to go to a summer hotel. Just before I went up to my room to get ready for supper, the young Genevieve came to me upon the porch.

“Would you mind,” she said, “letting me feel your muscle?”

Very much surprised, I reached out my arm for her inspection, and she clasped her long thin fingers around my _biceps flexor cubiti._ Apparently, the inspection was very satisfactory to her.

“I would give anything,” she said, “if I had muscle like that!”

I laughed heartily. “My dear little girl,” said I, “you would be sorry, indeed, if you had anything of the sort. When you grow up and go to parties, how would you like to show bare arms shaped like mine? You would be a spectacle, indeed.”

“Well,” said she, “perhaps you are right. I might not care to have them bulge, but I would like to have them hard.”

It was a lively supper and an interesting evening. Miss Edith sat opposite to me at table–I gave her this title because I was informed that there was an elder sister who was away on a visit. I could see that she regarded me as her especial charge. She did not ask me what I would have, but she saw that every possible want was attended to. As the table was lighted by a large hanging-lamp, I had a better view of her features than I had yet obtained. She was not handsome. Her eyes were too wide apart, her nose needed perhaps an eighth of an inch in length, and her well-shaped mouth would not have suffered by a slight reduction. But there was a cheerful honesty in her expression and in her words which gave me the idea that she was a girl to believe in.

After supper we played round games, and the nervous young lady talked. She could not keep her mind on cards, and therefore played no game. In the course of the evening Mrs. Larramie took occasion to say to me, and her eyes were very full as she spoke, that she did not want me to think she had forgotten that that day I had given her her daughter, and although the others–greatly to my satisfaction–did not indulge in any such embarrassing expressions of gratitude, they did not fail to let me know the high estimation in which they held me. The little girl, Clara, sat close to me while I was playing, every now and then gently stroking my arm, and when she was taken off to bed she ran back to say to me that the next time I brought a bear to their house she hoped I would also bring some little ones. Even Percy took occasion to let me know that, under the circumstances, he was willing to overlook entirely the fact of my being a school-master.

After the games, when the family was scattering–not to their several bed-chambers, but apparently to various forms of recreation or study which seemed to demand their attention–Miss Edith asked me if I would not like to take a walk and look at the stars. As this suggestion was made in the presence of her parents, I hesitated a moment, expecting some discreet objection. But none came, and I assented most willingly to a sub-astral promenade.

There was a long, flagged walk which led to the road, and backward and forward upon this path we walked many, many times.

“I like starlight better than moonlight,” said Miss Edith, “for it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is. You cannot do anything by starlight except simply walk about, and if there are any trees, that isn’t easy. You know this, you don’t expect anything more, and you’re satisfied. But moonlight is different. Sometimes it is so bright out-of-doors when the moon is full that you are apt to think you could play golf or croquet, or even sit on a bench and read. But it isn’t so. You can’t do any of these things–at least, you can’t do them with any satisfaction. And yet, month after month, if you live in the country, the moon deceives you into thinking that for a great many things she is nearly as good as the sun. But all she does is to make the world beautiful, and she doesn’t do that as well as the sun does it. The stars make no pretences, and that is the reason I like them better.

“But I did not bring you out here to tell you all this,” she continued, offering me no opportunity of giving my opinions on the stars and moon. “I simply wanted to say that I am so glad and thankful to be walking about on the surface of the earth with whole bones and not a scratch from head to foot”–at this point my heart began to sink: I never do know what to say when people are grateful to me–“that I am going to show you my gratitude by treating you as I know you would like to be treated. I shall not pour out my gratitude before you and make you say things which are incorrect, for you are bound to do that if you say anything–“

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” I said; “but now let us talk some more about the stars.”

“Oh, bother the stars!” said she. “But I will drop the subject of gratitude as soon as I have said that if you ever come to know me better than you do now, you will know that in regard to such things I am the right kind of a girl.”

I had not the slightest doubt that she was entirely correct. And then she began to talk about golf, and after that of croquet.

“I consider that the finest out-door game we have,” she said, “because there is more science in it than you find in any of the others. Your brains must work when you play croquet with intelligent opponents.”

“The great trouble about it is,” I said, “that it is often so easy.”

“But you can get rid of that objection,” she replied, “if you have a bad ground. Croquet needs hazards just as much as golf does. The finest games I have ever seen were played on a bad ground.”

So we talked and walked until some of the lights in the upper windows of the house had gone out. We ascended to the porch, and just before entering the front door she turned to me.

“I wish I could go to sleep to-night with the same right to feel proud, self-confident, superior, that you have. Good-night.” And she held out her hand and gave mine a strong, hearty shake.

I smiled as she left me standing on the porch. This was the same spot on which her sister Genevieve had felt my muscle. “This is an appreciative family,” I said, and, guided by the sound of voices, I found Mr. Larramie and his son Walter in the billiard-room.

CHAPTER XII

BACK TO THE HOLLY SPRIG

Before going to bed that night I did not throw myself into an easy-chair and gaze musingly out into the night. On the contrary, I stood up sturdily with my back to the mantel-piece, and with the forefinger of my right hand I tapped my left palm.

“Now, then,” said I to myself, “as soon as my bicycle is put into working order I shall imitate travellers in hot countries–I shall ride all night, and I shall rest all day. There are too many young women in Cathay. They turn up one after another with the regularity of a continuous performance. No sooner is the curtain rung down on one act than it is rung up on another. Perhaps after a while I may get out of Cathay, and then again I may ride by day.”

In taking my things from my valise, I pulled out the little box which the doctor’s daughter had given me, but I did not open it. “No,” said I, “there is no need whatever that I should take a capsule to-night.”

[Illustration: “I TAPPED MY LEFT PALM.”]

After breakfast the next day Mr. Larramie came to me. “Do you know,” said he, “I feel ashamed on account of the plans I made for you.”

I did not know, for I could see no earthly reason for such feeling.

“I arranged,” said he, “to send to the Holly Sprig for your machine, and then to have you and it driven over to Waterton. Now this I consider brutish. My wife told me that it was, and I agree with her perfectly. It will take several days to repair that injured wheel–Walter tells me you cannot expect it in less than three days–and what will you do in Waterton all that time? It isn’t a pretty country, the hotels are barely good enough for a night’s stop, and there isn’t anything for you to do. Even if you hired a wheel you would find it stupid exploring that country. Now, sir, that plan is brushed entirely out of sight. Your bicycle shall be sent on, and when you hear that it is repaired and ready for use, you can go on yourself if you wish to.”

“My dear sir,” I exclaimed, “this is entirely too much!”

He put his hands upon my shoulders and looked me squarely in the face. “Too much!” said he, “too much! That may be your opinion, but I can tell you you have the whole of the rest of the world against you. That is, you would have if they all knew the circumstances. Now you are only one, and if you want to know how many people are opposed to you, I have no doubt Percy can tell you, but I am not very well posted in regard to the present population of the world.”

There was no good reason that I could offer why I should go and sit solitary in Waterton for three days, and if I had had any such reason I know it would have been treated with contempt. So I submitted–not altogether with an easy mind, and yet seeing cause for nothing but satisfaction and content.

“Another thing,” said Mr. Larramie; “I have thought that you would like to attend to your bicycle yourself. Perhaps you will want to take it apart before you send it away. Percy will be glad to drive to the Holly Sprig, and you can go with him. Then, when you come back, I will have my man take your machine to Waterton. I have a young horse very much in need of work, and I shall be glad to have an excuse for giving him some travelling to do.” I stood astounded. Go back to the Holly Sprig! This arrangement had been made without reference to me. It had been supposed, of course, that I would be glad to go and attend to the proper packing of my bicycle. Even now, Percy, running across the yard, called to me that he would be ready to start in two minutes.

When I took my seat in the wagon, Mr. Larramie was telling me that he would like me to inform Mrs. Chester that he would keep the bear until it was reasonable to suppose that the owner would not come for it, and that then he would either sell it or buy it himself, and make satisfactory settlement with her.

I know I did not hear all that he said, for my mind was wildly busy trying to decide what I ought to do. Should I jump down even now and decline to go to the Holly Sprig, or should I go on and attend to my business like a sensible man? There was certainly no reason why I should do anything else, but when the impatient Percy started, my mind was not in the least made up; I remained on the seat beside him simply because I was there.

Percy was a good driver, and glad to exhibit his skill. He was also in a lively mood, and talked with great freedom. “Do you know,” said he, “that Edith wanted to drive you over to the inn? Think of that! But it had all been cut and dried that I should go, and I was not going to listen to any such nonsense. Besides, you might want somebody to help you take your machine apart and pack it up.”

I was well satisfied to be accompanied by the boy and not by his sister, and with the wheels and his tongue rattling along together, we soon reached the inn.

Percy drove past it and was about to turn into the entrance of the yard, but I stopped him. “I suppose your wheel is back there,” he said.

“Yes,” said I, “but I will get out here.”

“All right,” he replied, “I’ll drive around to the sheds.”

At the open door of the large room I met Mrs. Chester, evidently on her way out-of-doors. She wore a wide straw hat, her hands were gloved, and she carried a basket and a pair of large shears. When she saw me there was a sudden flush upon her face, but it disappeared quickly. Whether this meant that she was agreeably surprised to see me again, or whether it showed that she resented my turning up again so soon after she thought she was finally rid of me, I did not know. It does not do to predicate too much upon the flushes of women.

[Illustration: “THERE WAS A SUDDEN FLUSH”]

I hastened to inform her why I had come, and now, having recovered from her momentary surprise, she asked me to walk in and sit down, an invitation which I willingly accepted, for I did not in the least object to detaining her from her garden.

Now she wanted to know how I had managed to get on with the bear, and what the people at the Cheltenham said about it, and when I went on to tell her the whole story, which I did at considerable length, she was intensely interested. She shuddered at the runaway, she laughed heartily at the uprising of the McKenna sister, and she listened earnestly to everything I had to say about the Larramies.

“You seem to have a wonderful way,” she exclaimed, “of falling in with–” I think she was going to say “girls,” but she changed it to “people.”

“Yes,” said I. “I should not have imagined that I could make so many good friends in such a short time.”

Then I went on to give her Mr. Larramie’s message, and to say more things about the bear. I was glad to think of any subject which might prolong the conversation. So far she was interested, and all that we said seemed perfectly natural to the occasion, but this could not last, and I felt within me a strong desire to make some better use of this interview.

I had not expected to see her again, certainly not so soon, and here I was alone with her, free to say what I chose; but what should I say? I had not premeditated anything serious. In fact, I was not sure that I wished to say anything which should be considered absolutely serious and definite, but if I were ever to do anything definite–and the more I talked with this bright-eyed and merry-hearted young lady the stronger became the longing to say something definite–now was the time to prepare the way for what I might do or say hereafter.

I was beginning to grow nervous, for the right thing to say would not present itself, when Percy strode into the room. “Good-morning, Mrs. Chester,” said he, and then, turning to me, he declared that he had been waiting in the yard, and began to think I might have forgotten I had come for my wheel.

Of course I rose and she rose, and we followed Percy to the back door of the house. Outside I saw that the boy of the inn was holding the horse, and that the wheel was already placed in the back part of the wagon.

“I’ve got everything all right, I think,” said Percy. “I didn’t suppose it was necessary to wait for you, but you’d better take a look at it to see if you think it will travel without rubbing or damaging itself.”

I stepped to the wagon and found that the bicycle was very well placed. “Now, then,” said Percy, taking the reins and mounting to his seat, “all you’ve got to do is to get up, and we’ll be off.”

I turned to the back door, but she was not there. “Wait a minute,” said I, and I hurried into the house. She was not in the hall. I looked into the large room. She was not there. I went into the parlor, and out upon the front porch. Then I went back into the house to seek some one who might call her. I was even willing to avail myself of the services of citric acid, for I could not leave that house without speaking to her again.

In a moment Mrs. Chester appeared from some inner room. I believe she suspected that I had something to say to her which had nothing to do with the bear or the Larramies, for I had been conscious that my speech had been a little rambling, as if I were earnestly thinking of something else than what I was saying, and that she desired I should be taken away without an opportunity to unburden my mind; but now, hearing me tramping about and knowing that I was looking for her, she was obliged to show herself.

As she came forward I noticed that her expression had changed somewhat. There was nothing merry about her eyes; I think she was slightly pale, and her brows were a little contracted, as if she were doing something she did not want to do.

“I hope you found everything all right,” she said.

I looked at her steadily. “No,” said I, “everything is not all right.”

A slight shade of anxiety came upon her face. “I am sorry to hear that,” she said. “Was your wheel injured more than you thought?”

“Wheel!” I exclaimed. “I was not thinking of wheels! I will tell you what is not all right! It is not right for me to go away without saying to you that I–“

At this moment there was a strong, shrill whistle from the front of the house. A most unmistakable sense of relief showed itself upon her face. She ran to the front door, and called out, “Yes, he is coming.”

[Illustration: “THE SCENE VIVIDLY RECURRED TO MY MIND”]

There was nothing for me to do but to follow her. I greatly disliked going away without saying what I wanted to say, and I would have been willing to speak even at the front door, but she gave me no chance.

“Good-bye,” she said, extending her hand. It was gloved. It gave no clasp–it invited none. As I could not say the words which were on my tongue, I said nothing, and, raising my cap, I hurried away.

To make up for lost time, Percy drove very rapidly. “I came mighty near having a fight while you were in the house,” said he. “It was that boy at the inn. He’s a queer sort of a fellow, and awfully impertinent. He was talking about you, and he wanted to know if the bear had hurt you. He said he believed you were really afraid of the beast, and only wanted to show off before the women.

“I stood up for you, and I told him about Edith’s runaway, and then he said, fair and square, that he didn’t believe you stopped the horse. He said he guessed my sister pulled him up herself, and that then you came along and grabbed him and took all the credit. He said he thought you were that sort of a fellow.

“That’s the time I was going to pitch into him, but then I thought it would be a pretty low-down thing for me to be fighting a country tavern-boy, so I simply gave him my opinion of him. I don’t believe he’d have held the horse, only he thought it would make you get away quicker. He hates you. Did you ever kick him or anything?”

I laughed, and, telling Percy that I had never kicked the boy, I thanked him for his championship of me.

CHAPTER XIII

A MAN WITH A LETTER

When my unfortunate bicycle had been started on its way to Waterton, I threw myself into the family life of the Larramies, determined not to let them see any perturbations of mind which had been caused by the extraordinary promptness of the younger son. If a man had gone with me instead of that boy, I would have had every opportunity of saying what I wanted to say to the mistress of the Holly Sprig. I may state that I frequently found myself trying to determine what it was I wanted to say.

I did my best to suppress all thoughts relating to things outside of this most hospitable and friendly house. I went to see the bear with the younger members of the family. I played four games of tennis, and in the afternoon the whole family went to fish in a very pretty mill-pond about a mile from the house. A good many fish were caught, large and small, and not one of the female fishers, except Miss Willoughby, the nervous young lady, and little Clara, would allow me to take a fish from her hook. Even Mrs. Larramie said that if she fished at all she thought she ought to do everything for herself, and not depend upon other people.

As much as possible I tried to be with Mr. Larramie and Walter. I had not the slightest distaste for the company of the ladies, but there was a consciousness upon me that there were pleasant things in which a man ought to restrict himself. There was nothing chronic about this consciousness. It was on duty for this occasion only.

That night at the supper-table the conversation took a peculiar turn. Mr. Larramie was the chief speaker, and it pleased him to hold forth upon the merits of Mrs. Chester. He said, and his wife and others of the company agreed with him, that she was a lady of peculiarly estimable character; that she was out of place; that every one who knew her well felt that she was out of place; but that she so graced her position that she almost raised it to her level. Over and over again her friends had said to her that a lady such as she was–still young, of a good family, well educated, who had travelled, and moved in excellent society–should not continue to be the landlady of a country inn, but the advice of her friends had had no effect upon her.

It was not known whether it was necessary for her to continue the inn-keeping business, but the general belief was that it was not necessary. It was supposed that she had had money when she married Godfrey Chester, and he was not a poor man.

Then came a strange revelation, which Mr. Larramie dwelt upon with considerable earnestness. There was an idea, he said, that Mrs. Chester kept up the Holly Sprig because she thought it would be her husband’s wish that she should do so. He had probably said something about its being a provision for her in case of his death. At any rate, she seemed desirous to maintain the establishment exactly as he had ordered it in his life, making no change whatever, very much as if she had expected him to come back, and wished him to find everything as he had left it.

“Of course she doesn’t expect him to come back,” said Mr. Larramie, “because it must now be four years since the time of his supposed murder–“

“Supposed!” I cried, with much more excited interest than I would have shown if I had taken proper thought before speaking.

“Well,” said Mr. Larramie, “that is a fine point. I said ‘supposed’ because the facts of the case are not definitely known. There can be no reasonable doubt, however, that he is dead, for even if this fact had not been conclusively proved by the police investigations, it might now be considered proved by his continued absence. It would have been impossible for Mr. Chester alive to keep away from his wife for four years–they were devoted to each other. Furthermore, the exact manner of his death is not known–although it must have been a murder–and for these reasons I used the word ‘supposed.’ But, really, so far as human judgment can go, the whole matter is a certainty. I have not the slightest doubt in the world that Mrs. Chester so considers it, and yet, as she does not positively know it–as she has not the actual proofs that her husband is no longer living–she refuses in certain ways, in certain ways only, to consider herself a widow.”

“And what ways are those?” I asked, in a voice which, I hope, exhibited no undue emotion.

“She declines to marry again,” said Mrs. Larramie, now taking up the conversation. “Of course, such a pretty woman–I may say, such a charming woman–would have admirers, and I know that she has had some most excellent offers, but she has always refused to consider any of them. There was one gentleman, a man of wealth and position, who had proposed to her before she married Mr. Chester, who came on here to offer himself again, but she cut off everything he had to say by telling him that as she did not positively know that her husband was not living, she could not allow a word of that sort to be said to her. I know this, because she told me so herself.”

There was a good deal more talk of the sort, and of course it interested me greatly, although I tried not to show it, but I could not help wondering why the subject had been brought forward in such an impressive manner upon the present occasion. It seemed to me that there was something personal in it–personal to me. Had that boy Percy been making reports?

In the evening I found out all about it, and in a very straightforward and direct fashion. I discovered Miss Edith by herself, and asked her if all that talk about Mrs. Chester had been intended for my benefit, and, if so, why.

She laughed. “I expected you to come and ask me about that,” she said, “for of course you could see through a good deal of it. It is all father’s kindness and goodness. Percy was a little out of temper when he came back, and he spun a yarn about your being sweet on Mrs. Chester, and how he could hardly get you away from her, and all that. He had an idea that you wanted to go there and live, at least for the summer. Something a boy said to him made him think that. So father thought that if you had any notions about Mrs. Chester you ought to have the matter placed properly before you without any delay, and I expect his reason for mentioning it at the supper-table was that it might then seem like a general subject of conversation, whereas it would have been very pointed indeed if he had taken you apart and talked to you about it.”

“Indeed it would,” said I. “And if you will allow me, I will say that boys are unmitigated nuisances! If they are not hearing what they ought not to hear, they are imagining what they ought not to imagine–“

“And telling things that they ought not to tell,” she added, with a laugh.

“Which is an extremely bad thing,” said I, “when there is nothing to tell.”

For the rest of that evening I was more lively than is my wont, for it was a very easy thing to be lively in that family. I do not think I gave any one reason to suppose that I was a man whose attention had been called to a notice not to trespass.

As usual, I communed with myself before going to bed. Wherefore this feeling of disappointment? What did it mean? Would I have said anything of importance, of moment, to Mrs. Chester, if the boy Percy had given me an opportunity? What would I have said? What could I have said? I could see that she did not wish that I should say anything, and now I knew the reason for it. It was all plain enough on her side. Even if she had allowed herself any sort of emotion regarding me, she did not wish me to indulge in anything of the land. But as for myself. I could decide nothing about myself.

I smiled grimly as my eyes fell upon the little box of capsules. My first thought was that I should take two of them, but then I shook my head. “It would be utterly useless,” I said; “they would do me no good.”

In the course of the next morning I found myself alone. I put on my cap, lighted a pipe, and started down the flag walk to the gate. In a few moments I heard running steps behind me, and, turning, I saw Miss Edith. “Don’t look cross,” she said. “Were you going for a walk?”

I scouted the idea of crossness, and said that I had thought of taking a stroll.

“That seems funny,” said she, “for nobody in this house ever goes out for a lonely walk. But you cannot go just yet. There’s a man at the back of the house with a letter for you.”

“A letter!” I exclaimed. “Who in the world could have sent a letter to me here?”

“The only way to find out,” she answered, “is to go and see.”

Under a tree at the back of the house I found a young negro man, very warm and dusty, who handed me a letter, which, to my surprise, bore no address. “How do you know this is for me?” said I.

He was a good-natured looking fellow. “Oh, I know it’s for you, sir,” said he. “They told me at the little tavern–the Holly something–that I’d find you here. You’re the gentleman that had a bicycle tire eat up by a bear, ain’t you?”

I admitted that I was, and still, without opening the letter, I asked him, where it came from.

“That was given to me in New York, sir,” said he, “by a Dago, one of these I-talians. He gave me the money to go to Blackburn Station in the cars, and then I walked over to the tavern. He said he thought I’d find you there, sir. He told me just what sort of a lookin’ man you was, sir, and that letter is for you, and no mistake. He didn’t know your name, or he’d put it on.”

“Oh, it is from the owner of the bear,” said I.

“Yes, sir,” said the man, “that’s him. He did own a bear–he told me–that eat up your tire.”

I now tore open the blank envelope, and found it contained a letter on a single sheet, and in this was a folded paper, very dirty. The letter was apparently written in Italian, and had no signature. I ran my eye along the opening lines, and soon found that it would be a very difficult piece of business for me to read it. I was a fair French and German scholar, but my knowledge of Italian was due entirely to its relationship with Latin. I told the man to rest himself somewhere, and went to the house, and, finding Miss Edith, I informed her that I had a letter from the bear man, and asked her if she could read Italian.

“I studied the language at school,” she said, “but I have not practised much. However, let us go into the library–there is a dictionary there–and perhaps we can spell it out.”

We spread the open sheet upon the library-table, and laid the folded paper near by, and, sitting side by side, with a dictionary before us, we went to work. It was very hard work.

“I think,” said my companion, after ten minutes’ application, “that the man who sent you this letter writes Italian about as badly as we read it. I think I could decipher the meaning of his words if I knew what letters those funny scratches were intended to represent. But let us stick to it. After a while we may get a little used to the writing, and I must admit that I have a curiosity to know what the man has to say about his bear.”

After a time the work became easier. Miss Edith possessed an acuteness of perception which enabled her to decipher almost illegible words by comparing them with others which were better written. We were at last enabled to translate the letter. The substance of it was as follows:

The writer came to New York on a ship. There was a man on the ship, an Italian man, who was very wicked. He did very wicked things to the writer. When he got to New York he kept on being wicked. He was so wicked that the writer made up his mind to kill him. He waited for him one night for two hours.

[Illustration: DECIPHERING THE DAGO’S LETTERS]

At last the moment came. It was very dark, and the victim came, walking fast. The avenger sprang from a door-way and plunged his knife into the back of the victim. The man fell, and the moment he fell the writer of the letter knew that he was not the man he had intended to kill. The wicked man would not have been killed so easily. He turned over the man. He was dead. His eyes were used to the darkness, and he could see that he was the wrong man.