`The Biggest Bear'

Story Time

April 28, 1999|By Lynd Ward

Editor's note: Young Johnny Orchard befriends a baby bear, who grows up to be a problem to the whole valley. When he takes the bear out to the woods one last time, unexpected visitors change the outcome.

Johnny Orchard lived on the farm farthest up the valley and closest to the woods.

On the hill behind the barn Johnny's grandfather had planted a few apple trees. These were the only apple trees in the valley, and they were known as Orchard's orchard.

Whenever Johnny went down the road to the store for a piece of maple sugar or something, he always felt humiliated. The other barns in the valley usually had a bearskin nailed up to dry. But never Johnny's barn.

Johnny said, "If I ever see a bear I'll shoot him so fast he won't know what hit him. And we'll have the biggest bearskin in the valley."

After he had gone quite a way into the woods he came to a place where there was a big stump, and something seemed to be moving in the bushes behind it!

It was a bear all right.

He seemed hungry, so Johnny gave him a piece of maple sugar.

On the way home, the bear ate all the maple sugar Johnny had in his pocket.

The bear liked the milk that was meant for the calves.

He liked the mash meant for the chickens.

He liked the apples in the orchard.

He liked pancakes on Sunday morning.

And most especially he liked the maple sugar Johnny brought him from the store.

There was hardly anything he didn't like, and Johnny's mother got pretty upset when he started looking for things on the kitchen shelves.

Johnny's father explained to Johnny that the bear would have to go back to the woods.

So the next morning Johnny started out. They walked for miles due west, on an old lumber road, way past Baldwin's hill, to an old clearing that was overgrown with raspberries.

Johnny explained to the bear that the time had come for him to go and live in the woods like other bears. He gave the bear a last hug, and started the long walk home.

While he was doing the chores next morning, Johnny saw that the bear hadn't stayed in the woods very long.

Johnny and his father talked it over and they decided there was only one thing to do. Johnny said he would do it.

They didn't really have to go very far, but Johnny somehow kept on walking. They went north this time. There were no roads here, and it was a part of the woods where Johnny had never been before.

At last they stopped. Johnny seemed to have a hard time getting a bullet in the gun. While he was working with it, the bear seemed to get a whiff of something.

Without warning, he took off through the woods. Johnny went with him.

They went through the woods so fast that Johnny lost his gun. But he held on to the rope. They seemed to be heading for a sort of little log house.

They went through the doorway pretty fast and something came down with a bang and they were prisoners.

When Johnny looked around, he saw the bear was happily chewing on a big lump of maple sugar that had been put in the trap for bait.

Pretty soon some men came. They were a little surprised to see Johnny in there.

They explained to Johnny that they were getting animals for the zoo in the city. They were delighted with Johnny's bear -- he was much bigger than they had ever hoped for. "He will have a fine place to live, and all he wants to eat," the men told Johnny. "And you can come and see him whenever you want to." "And I'll always bring him maple sugar," said Johnny.

From THE BIGGEST BEAR by Lynd Ward. Copyright c 1952 by Lynd Ward. Copyright c renewed 1980 by Lynd Ward. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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