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THE JUNIOR CLASSICS

 

THE BEAR'S BAD BARGAIN

By Flora Annie Steel

ONCE upon a time a very old Woodman lived with his very old Wife in a
tiny hut close to the orchard of a very rich man, so close that the
boughs of a pear tree hung right over the cottage yard. Now it was
agreed between the rich man and the Woodman that if any of the fruit
fell into the yard, the old couple were to be allowed to eat it; so you
may imagine with what hungry eyes they watched the pears ripening, and
prayed for a storm of wind, or a flock of flying foxes, or anything
which would cause the fruit to fall. But nothing came, and the old
Wife, who was a grumbling, scolding old thing, declared they would
infallibly become beggars. So she took to giving her husband nothing
but dry bread to eat, and insisted on his working harder than ever,
till the poor soul got quite thin; and all because the pears would not
fall down!

At last the Woodman turned round and declared he would not work more
unless his Wife gave him Khichri for his dinner; so with a very bad
grace the old woman took some rice and pulse, some butter and spices,
and began to cook a savory Khichri. What an appetizing smell it had,
to be sure! The Woodman was for gobbling it up as soon as ever it was
ready. "No, no," cried the greedy old Wife, not till you have brought
me in another load of Wood; and mind it is a good one. You must work
for your dinner."

So the old man set off to the forest and began to hack and to hew with
such a will that he soon had quite a large bundle, and with every
faggot he cut he seemed to smell the savory Khichri and think of the
feast that was coming.

Just then a Bear came swinging by, with its great black nose tilted in
the air, and its little keen eyes peering about; for bears, though good
enough fellows on the whole, are just dreadfully inquisitive.

"Peace be with you, friend," said the Bear, "and what may you be going
to do with that remarkably large bundle of wood?"

"It is for my Wife," returned the Woodman. "The fact is," he added
confidentially, smacking his lips, "she has made such a Khichri for
dinner! and if I bring in a good bundle of wood she is pretty sure to
give me a plentiful portion. Oh, my dear fellow, you should just smell
that Khichri."

At this the Bear's mouth began to water, for, like all bears, he was a
dreadful glutton.

"Do you think your Wife would give mite some, too, if I brought her a
bundle of wood?" he asked anxiously.

"Perhaps; if it is a very big load," answered the Woodman craftily.

"Would-would four hundredweight be enough?" asked the Bear.

"I'm afraid not," returned the 'Woodman, shaking his head; "you see
Khichri is an expensive dish to make-there is rice in it, and plenty of
butter, and pulse, and-"

"Would-would eight hundredweight do?"

"Say half a ton, and it's a bargain!" quoth the Woodman.

"Half a ton is a large quantity!" sighed the Bear.

"There is saffron in the Khichri," remarked the Woodman, casually.

The Bear licked his lips, and his little eyes twinkled with greed and
delight.

"Well it's a bargain! Go home sharp and tell your Wife to keep the
Khichri hot; I'll be with you in a trice."

Away went the Woodman in great glee to tell his Wife how the Bear had
agreed to bring half a ton of wood in return for a share of the
Khichri.

Now the wife could not help allowing that her husband had made a good
bargain, but being by nature a grumbler, she was determined not to be
pleased, so she began to scold the old man for not having settled
exactly the share the Bear was to have. "For," said she, "he will
gobble up the potful before we have finished our first helping."

On this the Woodman became quite pale. "In that case," he said, "we
had better begin now, and have a fair start." So without more ado they
squatted down on the floor, with the brass pot full of Khichri between
them, and began to eat as fast as they could.

"Remember to leave some for the Bear, Wife," said the Woodman, speaking
with his mouth crammed full.

"Certainly, certainly," she replied, helping herself to another
handful.

"My dear," cried the old woman in her turn, with her mouth so full she
could hardly speak, "remember the poor Bear!"

"Certainly, certainly, my love!" returned the old man, taking another
mouthful.

So it went on, till there was not a single grain left in the pot.

"What's to be done now?" said the Woodman; "it is all your fault, Wife,
for eating so much."

"My fault!" retorted his Wife scornfully, "why, you ate twice as much
as I did!"

"No, I didn't!"

"Yes, you did! Men always eat more than women.

"No, they don't!"

"Yes, they do!"

"Well, it's no use quarreling about it now," said the Woodman, "the
Khichri's gone, and the Bear will be furious."

"That wouldn't matter much if we could get the wood," said the greedy
old woman. "I'll tell you what we must do-we must lock up everything
there is to eat in the house, leave the Khichri pot by the fire, and
hide in the garret. When the Bear comes he will think we have gone out
and left his dinner for him. Then he will throw down his bundle and
come in. Of course he will rampage a little when he finds the pot is
empty, but he can't do much mischief, and I don't think he will take
the trouble of carrying the wood away."

So they made haste to lock up all the food and hide themselves in the
garret.

Meanwhile the Bear had been toiling and moiling away at his bundle of
wood, which took him much longer to collect than he expected; however,
at last he arrived quite exhausted at the woodcutter's cottage. Seeing
the brass Khichri pot by the fire, he threw down his load and went in.
And then-mercy! wasn't he angry when he found nothing in it-not even a
grain of rice, nor a tiny wee bit of pulse, but only a smell that was
so uncommonly nice that he actually cried with rage and disappointment.
He flew into the most dreadful temper, but though he turned the house
topsy-turvy, he could not find a morsel of food. Finally, he declared
he would take the wood away again, but, as the crafty old woman had
imagined, when he came to the task, he did not care, even for the sake
of revenge, to carry so heavy a burden.

"I won't go away empty-handed," said he to himself, seizing the Khichri
pot; "if I can't get the taste I'll have the smell!"

Now, as he left the cottage, he caught sight of the beautiful golden
pears hanging over into the yard. His mouth began to water at once,
for he was desperately hungry, and the pears were the best of the
season. In a trice he was on the wall, up the tree, and gathering the
biggest and ripest one he could find, was just putting it into his
mouth when a thought struck him.

"If I take these pears home I shall be able to sell them for ever so
much to the other bears, and then with the money I shall be able to buy
some Khichri. Ha, ha! I shall have the best of the bargain after
all!"

So saying, he began to gather the ripe pears as fast as he could and
put them in the Khichri pot, but whenever he came to an unripe one he
would shake his head and say, "No one would buy that, yet it is a pity
to waste it." So he would pop it into his mouth and eat it, making wry
faces if it was very sour.

Now all this time the Woodman's Wife had been watching the Bear through
a crevice, and holding her breath for fear of discovery; but, at last,
what with being asthmatic, and having a cold in her head, she could
hold it no longer, and just as the Khichri pot was quite full of golden
ripe pears, out she came with the most tremendous sneeze you ever
heard-"A-h-che-u !"

The Bear, thinking some one had fired a gun at him, dropped the Khichri
pot into the cottage yard, and fled into the forest as fast as his legs
would carry him.

So the Woodrnan and his Wife got the Khichri, the wood, and the coveted
pears, but the poor bear got nothing but a very bad stomachache from
eating unripe fruit.



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