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THE FIRE BEAR
 ONE evening in December, a few weeks after Liney had
saved Balser's life by means of the borrowed fire,
Balser's father and mother and Mr. and Mrs. Fox, went
to Marion, a town of two houses and a church, three
miles away, to attend "Protracted Meeting." Liney and
Tom and the Fox baby remained with Balser and Jim and
the Brent baby, at the Brent cabin.
When the children were alone Liney proceeded to put the
babies to sleep, and when those small heads of their
respective house-holds were dead to the world in
slumber, rocked to that happy condition in a cradle
made from the half of a round, smooth log, hollowed out
with an adze, the other children huddled together in
the fireplace to talk and to play games. Chief among
the games was
 that never failing source of
delight, "Simon says thumbs up."
Outside the house the wind, blowing through the tree of
the forest, rose and sank in piteous wails and moans,
by turns, and the snow fell in angry, fitful blasts,
and whirled and turned, eddied and drifted, as if it
were a thing of life. The weather was bitter cold; but
the fire on the great hearth in front of the children
seemed to feel that while the grown folks were away it
was its duty to be careful of the children, and to be
gentle, tender, and comforting to them; so it
spluttered, popped, and cracked like the sociable,
amiable, and tender-hearted fire that it was. It
invited the children to go near it and to take its
warmth, and told, as plainly as a fire could,—and a
fire can talk, not English perhaps, but a very
understandable language of its own,—that it would not
burn them for worlds. So, as I said, the children sat
inside the huge fireplace, and cared little whether or
not the cold north wind blew.
 After "Simon" had grown tiresome, Liney told
riddles, all of which Tom, who had heard them before,
spoiled by giving the answer before the others had a
chance to guess. Then Liney propounded a few riddles,
but Liney, who had often heard them, would not
disappoint her brother by telling the answers. Balser
noticed this, and said, "Limpy, you ought to take a few
lessons in good manners from your sister."
"Why ought I?" asked Tom, somewhat indignantly.
"Because she doesn't tell your riddles as you told
hers," answered Balser.
"He wants to show off," said Jim.
"No, he doesn't," said Liney. But she cast a grateful
glance at Balser, which said, "Thank you" as plainly as
if she had spoken the words. Tom hung his head, and
said he didn't like riddles anyway.
"Lit's crack some nuts," proposed Jim, who was always
This proposition seemed agreeable to all, so Balser
brought in a large gourd filled
 with nuts, and
soon they were all busy cracking and picking.
Then Liney told stories from "The Pilgrim's Progress"
and the Bible. She was at the most thrilling part of
the story of Daniel in the lions' den, and her
listeners were eager, nervous, and somewhat fearful,
when the faint cry of "Help!" seemed to come right down
through the mouth of the chimney.
"Listen!" whispered Balser, holding up his hands for
silence. In a moment came again the cry, "Help!" The
second cry was still faint, but louder than the first;
and the children sprang together with a common impulse,
and clung to Balser in unspoken fear.
"Help! help!" came the cry, still nearer and louder.
"Some one wants help," whispered Balser.
"I—must—go—to—him." The latter clause was spoken rather
"No, no!" cried Liney. "You must not go. It may be
Indians trying to get you
 out there to kill you,
or it may be a ghost. You'll surely be killed if you
Liney's remark somewhat frightened Balser, and
completely frightened the other children; but it made
Balser feel all the more that he must not be a coward
before her. However much he feared to go in response to
the cry for help, he must not let Liney see that he was
afraid. Besides, the boy knew that it was his duty to
go; and although with Balser the sense of duty moved
more slowly than the sense of fear, yet it moved more
surely. So he quickly grasped his gun, and carefully
examined the load and priming. Then he took a torch,
lighted it at the fire, and out he rushed into the
blinding, freezing storm.
"Who's there?" cried Balser, holding his torch on high.
"Help! help!" came the cry from a short distance down
the river, evidently in the forest back of the barn.
Balser hurried in the direction whence the cry had
come, and when he had proceeded one hundred yards
 or so, he met a man running toward him almost out of
breath from fright and exhaustion. Balser's torch had
been extinguished by the wind, snow, and sleet, and he
could not see the man's face.
"Who are you, and what's the matter with you?" asked
brave little Balser, meanwhile keeping his gun ready to
shoot, if need be.
"Don't you know me, Balser?" gasped the other.
"Is it you, Polly?" asked Balser. "What on earth's the
"The Fire Bear! The Fire Bear!" cried Poll. "He's been
chasin' me fur Lord knows how long. There he goes!
There! Don't you see him? He's movin' down to the
river. He's crossin' the river on the ice now. There!
There!" And he pointed in the direction he wished
Balser to look. Sure enough, crossing on the ice below
the barn, was the sharply defined form of a large bear,
glowing in the darkness of the night as if it were on
 This was more than even Balser's courage
could withstand; so he started for the house as fast as
his legs could carry him, and Polly came panting and
screaming at his heels.
Polly's name, I may say, was Samuel Parrott. He was a
harmless, simple fellow, a sort of hanger-on of the
settlement, and his surname, which few persons
remembered, had suggested the nickname of Poll, or
Polly, by which he was known far and wide.
By the time Balser had reached the house he was ashamed
of his precipitate retreat, and proposed that he and
Polly should go out and further investigate the Fire
This proposition met with such a decided negative from
Polly, and such a vehement chorus of protests from
Liney and the other children, that Balser, with
reluctance in his manner, but gladness in his heart,
consented to remain indoors, and to let the Fire Bear
take his way unmolested.
 "When did you first see him?" asked Balser of
" 'Bout a mile down the river, by Fox's Bluff,"
responded Polly. "I've been runnin' every step of the
way, jist as hard as I could run, and that there Fire
Bear not more'n ten feet behind me, growlin' like
thunder, and blazin' and smokin' away like a bonfire."
"Nonsense," said Balser. "He wasn't blazing when I saw
"Of course he wasn't," responded Poll. "He'd about
burned out. D'ye think a bear could blaze away forever
like a volcano?" Poll's logical statement seemed to be
convincing to the children.
"And he blazed up, did he?" asked Liney, her bright
eyes large with wonder and fear.
"Blazed up!" ejaculated Polly. "Bless you soul, Liney,
don't you see how hot I am? Would a man be sweatin'
like I am on such a night as this, unless he's been
powerful nigh to a mighty hot fire?"
 Poll's corroborative evidence was too strong for
doubt to contend against, and a depressing conviction
fell upon the entire company, including Balser, that it
was really the Fire bear which Polly and Balser had
seen. Although Balser, in common with most of the
settlers, had laughed at the stores of the Fire Bear
which had been told in the settlement, yet now he was
convinced, because he had seen it with his own eyes. It
was true that the bear was not ablaze when he saw him,
but certainly he looked like a great glowing ember,
and, with Polly's testimony, Balser was ready to
believe all he had heard concerning this most frightful
spectre of Blue River, the Fire Bear.
One of the stories concerning the Fire Bear was to the
effect that when he was angry he blazed forth into a
great flame, and that when he was not angry he was
simply aglow. At times, when the forest were burned, or
when barns or straw-stacks were destroyed by fire, many
persons, especially of
 the ignorant class,
attributed the incendiarism to the Fire Bear. Others,
who pretended to more wisdom, charged the Indians with
the crimes. Of the latter class had been Balser. But to
see is to believe.
Another superstition about the Fire Bear was, that any
person who should be so unfortunate as to behold him
would die within three months after seeing him, unless
perchance he could kill the Fire Bear,—a task which
would necessitate the use of a potent charm, for the
Fire Bear bore a charmed life. The Fire Bear had been
seen, within the memory of the oldest inhabitant, by
eight or ten persons, always after night. Each one who
had seen the bear had died within the three months
following. He had been stalked by many hunters, and
although several opportunities to kill him had
occurred, yet no one had accomplished that much-desired
You may be sure there was no more games, riddles, or
nut-cracking that evening in the Brent cabin. The
children stood for
 a few moments in a frightened
group, and then took their old places on the logs
inside the fireplace. Polly, who was stupid with
fright, stood for a short time silently facing the
fire, and then said mournfully: "Balser, you and me had
better jine the church. We're goners inside the next
three months,—goners, just as sure as my name's Polly."
Then meditatively, "A durned sight surer than that; for
my name ain't Polly at all; but Samuel, or Thomas, or
Bill, or something like tat, I furgit which; but we're
goners, Balser, and we might as well git ready. No
livin' bein' ever seed that bear and was alive three
Then Liney, who was sitting next to Balser, touched his
arm gently, and said:—
"I saw him too. I followed you a short way when you
went out, and I saw something bright crossing the river
on the ice just below the barn. Was that the bear?"
"Yes, yes," cried Balser. "For goodness' sake, Liney,
why didn't you stay in the house?"
 "You bet I stayed in," said Jim.
"And so did I," said Tom.
No one paid any attention to what Jim and Limpy said,
and in a moment Liney was weeping gently with her face
in her hands.
Jim and Limpy than began to cry, and soon Polly was
boohooing as if he were already at the point of death.
It required all of Balser's courage and strength to
keep back the tears, but in a moment he rose to his
feet and said; "Stop your crying, everybody. I'll kill
that bear before the three month has passed. If Liney
saw him the bear dies; that settles it."
Liney looked up to Balser gratefully and then, turning
to Polly, said:—
"He'll save us, Polly; he killed the one-eared bear,
and it was enough sight worse to fight than the Fire
Bear. The one-eared bear was a —was a devil."
Polly did not share Liney's confidence, so he sat down
upon the hearth, and gazed sadly at the fire awhile.
Then, taking his
 elbow for his pillow, he lay
upon the floor and moaned himself to sleep.
The children sat in silence for a short time; and Jim
lay down beside Polly, and closed his eyes in slumber.
Then Limpy's head began to nod, and soon Limpy was in
the land of dreams. Balser and Liney sat upon the spare
backlog for perhaps half an hour, without speaking.
The deep bed of live coals cast a rosy glow upon their
faces, and the shadows back in the room grew darker, as
the flame of the neglected fire died out. Now and then
a fitful blaze would start from a broken ember, and the
shadows danced for a moment over the floor and ceiling
like sombre spectres, but Balser and Liney saw then
Despite their disbelief in the existence of the Fire
Bear, the overwhelming evidence of the last tow hours
had brought to them a frightful conviction of the truth
of all they had heard about the uncanny, fatal monster.
Three short months of life was all that was left to
them. Such had been the fate of all
 who had
beheld the Fire Bear. Such certainly would be their
fate unless balser could kill him—an event upon which
Liney built much greater hope than did Balser.
After a long time Balser spoke, in a low tone, that he
might not disturb the others:—
"Liney, if I only had a charm, I might kill the Fire
Bear: but a gun by itself can do nothing against a
monster that bears a charmed life. We mush have a
charm. You've read so many books and you know so much;
can't you think of a charm that would help me?"
"No, no, Balser," sighed Liney, "you know more than I,
a thousand times."
"Nonsense, Liney. Didn't you spell down everybody—even
the grown folks—over at Caster's bee?"
"Yes, I know I did; but spelling isn't everything,
Balser. It's mighty little, and don't teach us anything
about charms. You might know how to spell every word in
a big book, and still know nothing about charms."
"I guess you're right," responded Balser,
 dolefully. "I wonder how we can learn to make a charm."
"Maybe the Bible would teach us," said Liney. "They say
it teaches us nearly everything."
"I expect it would," responded Balser. "Suppose you try
"I will," answered Liney. Silence ensued once more,
broken only by the moaning wind and the occasional
popping of the backlog.
After a few minutes Liney said in a whisper:—
"Balser, I've been thinking, and I'm going to tell you
about something I have. It's a great secret. No one
knows of it but mother and father and I. I believe it's
the very thing we want for a charm. It looks like it,
and it has strange words engraved upon it."
Balser was alive with interest.
"Do you promise never to tell any one about it?" asked
"Yes, yes, indeed. Cross my heart, 'pon honour, hope to
 Balser's plain, unadorned promise was enough to
bind him to secrecy under ordinary circumstances, for
he was a truthful boy; but when his lips were sealed by
such oaths as "cross my heart," and "Hope to die,"
death had no terrors which would have forced him to
"What is it? Quick, quick, Liney!"
"You'll never tell?"
"No, cross my—"
"Well, I'll tell you. I've a thing at home that's
almost like a cross, only the pieces cross each other
in the middle and are broad at each end. It's a little
larger than a big button. It's gold on the back and has
a lot of pieces of glass, each the size of a small pea,
on the front side. Only I don't believe they're glass
at all. They are too bright for glass. You can see them
in the dark, where there's no light at all. They shine
and glitter and sparkle, so that it almost makes you
blink your eyes. Now you never saw glass like that, did
"No," answered Balser, positively.
 Liney continued; "That's what makes me think it's
a charm; for you couldn't see it in the dark unless it
was a charm, could you, Balser?"
"I should think not."
"There's a great big piece of glass, or whatever it is,
in the centre of it—as big as a large pea, and around
this big piece are four words in some strange language
that nobody can make out,—at least, mother says that
nobody in this country can make them out. Mother told
me that the charm was given to her for me by a gypsy
man, when I was a baby. Mother says there's something
more to tell me about it when I become a woman. Maybe
that's the charm of it; I'm sure it is." And she looked
up to Balser with her soft, bright eyes full of inquiry
"I do believe that thing is a charm," said Balser. Then
meditatively: "I know it's a charm. Don't tell me,
Liney, that you don't know a lot of things."
Liney's sad face wore a dim smile of satisfaction at
Balser's compliments, and again
 they both became
silent. Balser remained in a brown study for a few
moments, and then asked:—
"Where does you mother keep the—the charm?"
"She keeps it in a box under my bed."
"Good! good!" responded Balser. "Now I'll tell you what
to do to make it a sure enough charm."
"Yes, yes," eagerly interrupted Liney.
"You take the charm and hold it on your lips while you
pray seven times that I may kill the bear. Do that
seven times for seven nights, and Polly, Limey, and I
will go out and kill the bear, just as sure as you're
The plan brought comfort to the boy and girl.
Soon Liney's eyes became heavy, and she fell asleep;
and as Balser looked upon her innocent beauty, he felt
in his heart that if seven times seven prayers from
Liney's lips could not make a charm which would give
him strength from on high to kill the bear,
was no strength sufficient for that task to be had any
Late in the night—nine o'clock—the parents of the
children came home. The sleepers were aroused, and all
of them tried to tell the story of the Fire Bear at one
and the same time.
"Tell me about it, Balser," said Mr. Fox, seriously;
for he, too, was beginning to believe in the story of
the Fire Bear. Then Balser told the story, assisted by
Polly, and the strange event was discussed until late
into the night, without, however, the slightest
reference to the charm by either Balser or Liney. That
was to remain their secret.
Mr. and Mrs. Fox remained with the Brents all night,
and before they left next morning, Liney whispered to
"I'll begin to-night, as you told me to do, with the
charm. Seven nights from this the charm will be
ready—if I can make it."
"And so will I be ready," answered Balser, and both
felt that the fate of the Fire Bear was sealed.