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The Story of Freginald
By Walter R. Brooks, Kurt Wiese
The Overlook Press Copyright © 1936 Walter R. Brooks
All rights reserved.
There was once a bear named Louise. Most bears are named Ed or George or Bill or some regular name, but this bear's father and mother couldn't agree on a name for him.
His father wanted to call him Fred.
His mother said: "I don't like Fred. I want to call him Reginald."
"Nonsense!" said his father. "Reginald indeed! What a name to give a child! His name is Fred."
"Reginald!" said his mother.
"Fred!" said his father.
"Look here," said his grandmother, "why don't you call him George? It's a family name. George, Jr. That's the name for him."
But they wouldn't agree to that. Indeed, they couldn't agree on any name that anyone suggested. So finally they went to see the head of the family, the little bear's great-grandfather, who lived all alone in a cave over the hill and was very wise. Sometimes he didn't say anything for several days at a time. And when he did speak, it was usually to ask a question. That's how wise he was.
They knocked on the door of the cave, and pretty soon the old bear came blinking out into the sunlight.
"Humph!" he grunted. "What's the matter now?"
"We can't agree on a name for this child," said the mother bear, pushing the little bear forward. "We want you to help us."
"Humph!" the old bear said again. "Should think you could do that much for yourselves. However, now you're here, I'll name her. Only, you understand, there's to be no changing afterwards. No coming back and asking for a different name."
"No, grandfather," said the mother bear. "Only it's not a her, it's a—"
"Do be quiet!" snapped the old bear. "How can I think of a name for her if you keep talking?"
"But, grandfather," said the father bear, "we just wanted to tell you—"
"I don't want you to tell me anything!" interrupted the head of the family crossly. "I'm not going to take all day at this. One more word and I'll have nothing further to do with it."
The parents looked at each other and wrinkled up their noses, but they didn't dare say anything more. The old bear shut his eyes and didn't say anything for a long time. Then he opened his eyes very wide and: "Louise!" he said.
"But that's a girl's name," protested the mother bear, "and he's a boy."
"Can't help it now," said the old bear. "That's his name. Should have told me before. Too late now."
The parents looked at each other again and wrinkled up their noses tighter than ever, but they knew it was no use saying anything.
"Well, thank you anyway," said the father bear. And they trudged off homeward. They weren't at all satisfied with the name, but they had agreed to give it to their son, so they had to do it. And so the little bear was named Louise.
Of course all of Louise's playmates made fun of him because he had a girl's name. When he wanted to play with them they chased him away. "We don't want to play with girls," they said. So he would wander off disconsolately, down by the brook, or out into the open fields where bears seldom go; and sometimes he would play by himself, and sometimes he would play with the smaller animals—rabbits and squirrels and foxes and mice—that bears don't usually play with. From them he learned to do a lot of things that bears can't usually do—he could hop like a rabbit and swim like a muskrat and sneak along as quietly as a fox. But most of the time he played by himself.
That was the way he got to making up poetry. For to keep from being lonesome he would sing to himself—using any words that ran through his head. At first they were just words strung together and didn't make much sense. Sometimes he didn't even listen himself to the words he sang. But one day he was sitting on a big flat rock at the edge of the little river that ran through the woods. He was just sitting there, warm in the sun, and watching the water slide past, and singing to himself. And suddenly from above his head came a small sharp voice:
"Very pretty, Louise! Very pretty indeed! Didn't know you were a poet."
He looked up and saw a kingfisher sitting on a branch above him. "Poet?" he said. "I'm not a poet."
"Well, you made up that song you were singing, didn't you?" asked the bird.
Louise tried to remember what he had been singing, but he could only think of the last part of it:
Oh, the river hurries and runs and leaps,
And it never rests, and it never sleeps.
And it's very funny, is it not,
That it never gets out of breath, or hot?
"Why, that isn't a poem," he said. "I was just talking to myself."
"Well, you talk pretty good poetry to yourself, that's all I've got to say," said the kingfisher as he swooped off to the other side of the river.
So after that Louise began paying more attention to the things he sang to himself, and he remembered them and sang them to his friends. Of course, Shakspere might not have thought them very good poetry, but they were pretty good for a little bear. And the animals in those parts sing some of those songs to this day.
Now, although the young bears made fun of Louise and wouldn't play with him, all the older bears in the neighborhood liked him. He ran errands for them and he was good-natured, and he wasn't always fidgeting to get away from them and go play. In return they taught him many useful and interesting things that most little bears don't learn until they are much older, and some never learn at all. Just the same, it made him feel badly that he had no playmates of his own kind, and he was sometimes very lonely. Here is one of the songs he made up when he was lonesome, and I think you will agree that it is a very sad song:
Oh, the rabbits play with the rabbits,
And the hares like to play with the hares,
And I'd like to play with my own people—
I'd like to play with the bears.
I like to play with the chipmunks,
But they're really a lot too small.
I ought to play with my own people
If I'm going to play at all.
But the bears think my name is funny,
And they jeer and point their claws
Whenever I try. If I ask them why,
They only say: "Oh, because—"
Then they giggle and grin and whisper,
And say: "Oh, go climb a tree!"
I'd like to play with the bears, but they
Don't want to play with me.
If my name was Eddie or Henry
Or Jimmie or Joe or James
Or even as silly a name as Willie,
They'd let me in on their games.
Why, suppose that George Washington's parents
Had picked a ridiculous name.
He couln't have got to be President,
Or won any honor or fame.
I don't really want to be President,
For riches I really don't care,
I can do without fame, but I do want a name
That will show I'm a regular bear.
One day Louise was walking along alone through the woods. He was alone, but he wasn't lonesome. He had watched the wind in the tops of some pine trees for quite a while, and he had tried to make up a poem about it, but just watching it and hearing it swish-swish made him so sleepy that he hadn't got any farther than "Oh, wind!" Which isn't after all much of a poem. So he went down to the river and tried to talk to the fish that were darting about in the shallows. But the fish were in a bad temper and pretended they couldn't hear what he said, and made him repeat everything three or four times, and then gave the wrong answers, which is very annoying, even to as good-natured a bear as Louise. So he left them and went back to the woods.
He was walking along slowly, still listening to the wind, and wondering why it sang a different song in the leaves of each different kind of tree, when he heard a queer noise that wasn't the wind. It sounded a little like the motor-boats that occasionally came up the river, but it wasn't steady—it sounded, he thought, like a very distant motor-boat that had gone to sleep and was snoring. But the noise wasn't on the river; it was in the woods; and he followed it up and presently came out in a little open glade. And in the middle of the glade was a big yellowish animal such as he had never seen before. The animal's eyes were shut and it seemed to be snoring gently.
Louise sat down and watched it quietly for a few minutes, and then he got impatient and coughed gently.
The animal opened its eyes. "Hello, bear," it said.
"Hello," said Louise. And added politely: "I'm sorry I disturbed you when you were asleep."
"Asleep?" said the animal. "Who's asleep?"
"I—you were snoring," said Louise, "so I thought you were asleep."
"I was not asleep!" said the other indignantly. "I was purring."
"Oh," said Louise. "Excuse me. But you're not a cat."
"I'm a lion," said the animal. "I'm the chief of the cat family and the king of all the animals." He tossed his mane self-consciously.
"Oh," said Louise again.
"My name is Leo," said the lion.
Louise nodded thoughtfully. "Leo," he repeated. "Think of that! How do you do, Leo?"
"Very well, thank you," said Leo. "And what might your name be?"
The little bear looked embarrassed. "Well, I—that is—well, it's Louise," he stammered.
But the lion didn't laugh. Instead he sat up suddenly. "Louise!" he exclaimed. "Well, dye my hair! Why, that's amazing! Amazing? It's magnificent! By George, what a find for Mr. Boomschmidt! There's a drawing card for you! A bear named Louise!" And he began to purr again, so loud that the near-by branches trembled.
"You mean—you mean that you don't think it's a funny name?" asked the bear.
"Funny!" exclaimed Leo. "It's—" He waved a paw hopelessly. "I haven't the words for it! But good gracious!" he added, getting up; "you must come along with me at once and meet Mr. Boomschmidt."
Louise was rather bewildered. "But I don't understand," he said. "I don't know what you are talking about."
The lion frowned impatiently, then his face cleared and he sat down again. "Well, well," he said, "perhaps I should explain. You see, I'm with a circus. We travel around the country giving shows. Mr. Boomschmidt is the owner of the circus. But we haven't been doing very well this season. Mr. Boomschmidt is quite discouraged. He says that the trouble is that the menagerie is weak. He says you can't succeed with a weak menagerie. Only a few people come to the shows, and they say: 'Oh, we've seen all these lions and tigers and elephants and monkeys before. Why don't you get some different animals? We'd come to your shows if you had something new, something novel.' Now most of them stay away. Mr. Boomschmidt says we've got to get something different to show the people, but we haven't been able to think of anything different. We tried dressing up the monkeys in fancy costumes and advertising them as members of the wild African tribe of the Bwango-Bwango, but the people saw through the disguise. They said: 'Aw, they're just monkeys dressed up!'
"But now you come along! Just in the nick of time! A bear named Louise! I bet they never saw anything like that before I Come along and meet Mr. Boomschmidt. He'll be delighted."
Louise didn't know whether to go along or not. He thought it would be fun to be in a circus. He had often thought of going traveling, but if he did so, he wanted to leave his name behind him. That was the chief reason for going away—to be able to change his name. But if he went with this circus not only would he keep his name, but it would be the most important thing about him.
"I—I don't know," he began hesitantly. But the lion clapped him on the back.
"Oh, come along," he said. "See Mr. Boomschmidt anyway. You'll like him. A great card, Mr. Boomschmidt is. You don't have to decide until you've talked to him."
So Louise said all right, he'd go see Mr. Boomschmidt.
The lion led the way down through the woods toward the river, and when they came out on the bank, Louise saw that a big tent had been put up in one of the fields on the other side of the water, and a number of little tents were going up around it, and a lot of people and animals were running in and out and talking and halloing and being very busy. They waded the river, which was shallow at this point, and walked up toward the tents.
When they had nearly reached them they passed a number of very beautiful circus wagons all painted in red and gold, and the lion stopped in front of one that had LEO, KING OF THE BEASTS, painted on it in big letters. "That's my wagon," he said proudly.
"My, it's handsome!" said Louise.
"You'll have one like it if you come with us," said Leo.
They went on between the tents, picking their way round ropes and tent pegs. Louise would have liked to stop and watch the men at work and stare at the animals, for there were zebras and monkeys and tigers and buffaloes and many others that he had never seen before, but Leo hurried him on.
An ostrich passed them and Leo stopped and said: "Hello, Oscar. Where's the boss?"
But the ostrich said haughtily: "I don't know, I'm sure," and stalked off.
Leo grunted disgustedly. "I'd claw his tail-feathers out for him, only Mr. Boomschmidt wouldn't like it," he said. "Those ostriches! Take it from me, young bear, the bigger the bird, the smaller the brain. When you don't know enough to be civil, you're pretty dumb.—Oh, hello, Gus," he said suddenly, as he caught sight of an elephant who was helping two men haul on a rope. "Where's the boss?"
"Hi, Leo," said the elephant. "He's over with the snakes. One of 'em's sick. Been eating popcorn again, I guess. Who's your friend?"
"Introduce you to him later," said Leo. "He's going to join the show."
Presently they came to a small tent in front of which several men were putting up a big sign which had snakes painted all over it. They looked in the door and saw a small fat round-faced man in a plaid suit with a silk hat crammed on the back of his head. He had two bottles and a spoon in his hands and was looking severely at three snakes who were coiled up on the ground in front of him. The snakes looked rather embarrassed.
"I've told you again and again," he was saying, "that you must not eat popcorn. You get good food and plenty of it, of the right kind. You know that popcorn disagrees with you—" He stopped as he saw the lion. "Oh, hello, Leo," he said. "What am I going to do with these boys? They've been at the popcorn again."
"Do as you said you would," said Leo. "Give 'em castor oil—"
"Oh, please!" said one of the snakes. "We hate castor oil! And the peppermint will cure our stomach-aches."
"Yes," said Leo. "And then you'll go eat some more popcorn. Give 'em the oil, chief."
"Well," said the man doubtfully, "maybe the stomach-ache is punishment enough. You boys have got so much stomach that there's more of it to ache." He hesitated a moment, then poured some of the peppermint onto a lump of sugar. "Peppermint this time," he said. "But this is the last time. Next time you get oil!"
"It's a mistake, chief," said Leo grumpily. "It'll be the same thing all over again tomorrow. But look here. I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. Mr. Boomschmidt: Louise."
Louise put his paw into the hand that Mr. Boomschmidt held out. It was a warm, comfortable sort of hand, and Mr. Boomschmidt smiled a warm, comfortable sort of smile. Louise liked him right away.
"Louise?" said Mr. Boomschmidt. "Did you say Louise?"
"Nothing else, chief," said Leo.
"My word!" exclaimed Mr. Boomschmidt, smiling delightedly and pushing his silk hat still farther back on his head. "A bear named Louise! That'll bring 'em! Where'd you find him, Leo?"
"Excuse me, sir," said Louise. "I can't help that name. I think it's just as funny as you do. But—"
"Funny!" interrupted Mr. Boomschmidt. "It's magnificent! You'll join us, of course?"
All this had taken Louise so much by surprise that he didn't know just what to say. It would be wonderful to be with a circus; it would be even more wonderful to be with animals who didn't laugh at his name. But to go right away from home, out into the wide world—"I—I'd like to, sir," he said. "Of course, I'd have to speak to my parents. But do you really think I'd help the show, sir?"
"Help it!" exclaimed Mr. Boomschmidt. "You'll be the show. A bear named Louise! Not a man, woman, or child in the United States has ever seen—yes, or even heard of such a thing. Only of course you'll have to have a few tricks. Is there anything special you can do?"
"I can hop like a rabbit," said Louise doubtfully.
Excerpted from The Story of Freginald by Walter R. Brooks, Kurt Wiese. Copyright © 1936 Walter R. Brooks. Excerpted by permission of The Overlook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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