Wednesday, December 19, 2018

C184. Why the Bear Is a Wrestler

Seven Tales of Uncle Remus, 6: Why the Bear Is a Wrestler. The dialect version of this story remained unpublished during Harris's lifetime, but he did publish a version in Mr. Rabbit at Home, online at Hathi Trust. Harris removed the dialect forms and I have removed the frame material; click here for notes to the story.

Well, one time when Brother Bear was young, the time came for him to scratch around and scuffle for himself. He had already learned how to grabble for sweet potatoes, how to tote an armful of roasting ears, and how to shut his eyes and rob a bee-tree, and so his daddy thought it was about time for him to go off and earn his own living.

Brother Bear said he was more than willing, and when he came to tell his folks good-by, his daddy gave him seven pieces of honey-in-the-comb, saying, "This is all I have to give you, but it's enough. Whoever eats this honey with you will have to wrestle with you seven years or give you everything he owns."

So Brother Bear put his seven pieces of honey-in-the-comb in a bag, slung the bag over his back, and went shuffling down the big road. He traveled all that day, and camped out in the woods at night. The next morning, just as he was about to eat breakfast, he heard a rustling in the bushes, and presently Brother Tiger came skippping and sliding along, hunting for his breakfast.

Brother Bear howdied, and Brother Tiger said he was only tolerable — not as pert as he might be, and yet perter than he had been. Then Brother Tiger sat and watched Brother Bear take out a piece of his honey-in-the-comb, and the sight made his mouth water. Brother Bear noticed this, and he says, says he, "I wish you mighty well, Brother Tiger, and I'd like to ask you to have some of my breakfast, for I have more than a plenty for two. But the trouble is, that whoever eats any of this honey-in-the-comb will have to wrestle with me seven years or give me all his belongings."

"Don't let that bother you," says Brother Tiger, says he. "I'm a pretty good wrestler myself, and I don't mind trying my hand with you after I've tasted your honey-in-the-comb."

But Brother Bear hemmed and hawed, and acted so that Brother Tiger thought he was either afraid to wrestle or mighty stingy with his honey-in-the-comb. He thought so, and he said so, and this put Brother Bear on his mettle.

So he says, says he, "Well, Brother Tiger, come and get a piece of my honey-in-the-comb. I'm more than glad to give it to you, and sorry, too, because, as sure as you eat it, you'll be put under a spell, and you'll be obliged to wrestle with me seven long years or give me all your belongings."

Brother Tiger grinned from ear to ear. Says he, "If I don't have to wrestle before I get the honey-in-the-comb, it will be all right. Just let me get my fill of that, and I'll wrestle with you seven times seven years. I'll promise to make you tired of wrestling."

"So be it," says Brother Bear. "Come and get the honey-in-the-comb, and take all you want, for I won't need any after I've wrestled with you a time or two," says he.

Brother Tiger went up and tasted the honey-in-the-comb, and it was so good that he smacked his lips and asked for more. Brother Bear gave him some. After both had eaten as much as they wanted, Brother Tiger took a notion to go home, but something held him back. The spell was working. But finally he pulled himself together, and said he believed he'd go home and see his old woman.

But Brother Bear chuckled to himself. Says he, "Now that you've gobbled up my honey-in-the-comb, you don't want to wrestle. You can't help yourself. When I say wrestle, you'll have to wrestle. You can go home now, but to morrow, bright and early, I'll knock at your door, and you'll have to come out and wrestle."

Says Brother Tiger, says he, "I'll be more than glad to accommodate you. Just knock at the door any hour after daybreak, and you'll find me on hand."

Says Brother Bear, "I'll do so, I'll do so. Just remember your spoken word, Brother Tiger!"

Brother Tiger started home, but before he had gone very far he began to feel mighty queer. He had a buzzing noise in his head and a creepy, crawly feeling on his hide. He began to get scared. Once he thought the honey had poisoned him, but he wasn't sick. He never felt better in his life. He wanted to jump and run, and I believe the tale does say that he capered around a time or two. But every time he'd start home he'd have that buzzing sound in his head and that creepy, crawly feeling in his hide.

So, by and by, he thought he would turn back and see what Brother Bear thought about it. No sooner said than done. He went back at a hand gallop, and found Brother Bear curled up at the foot of a tree fast asleep. The honey had made him feel so good that he concluded to enjoy himself by taking another nap. But he got up brisk enough when he heard Brother Tiger calling him, and by the time he had rubbed his eyes once or twice, and gaped and stretched himself, he was as wide awake as ever.

Says he, "I knew you'd come back, Brother Tiger, and so I just waited for you; and while I was waiting I ups and drops off to sleep. But anyhow and anyway, here you are, and there's no harm done."

Says Brother Tiger, says he, 'I just came back to ask you about the queer feeling I have."

Says Brother Bear, "That's easy enough. You just wanted to wrestle, and so you had to come back. I have the feeling most all the time when I'm not sleeping or eating. It's a sort of zooming sound in the ears, and a sort of ticklish feeling on the hide. Well, there isn't anything the matter at all. You just want to wrestle, and as the feeling is new to you, you didn't know what it was."

Says Brother Tiger, "I believe you are right, Brother Bear; I believe that's the whole trouble."

"Well," says Brother Bear, "I'll try you one round, just to loosen up my hide and put me in traveling trim. I'll not wrestle with you very hard, because you are not used to it, and it's too soon to get down to business with you. I told you about it when you wanted to eat the honey, but you would eat it, and now you'll have to wrestle with me, off and on, first and last, for seven long years; and if you don't, you'll have to give me your house and all your belongings."

So they took off their coats and made ready to wrestle. "As you are not used to these capers," says Brother Bear, "I'll give you all-under hold, and promise not to use the in-turn, the ham-twist, or the knee-lock."

Now, Brother Tiger didn't know whether Brother Bear was talking Latin or Chinese, but he said nothing; he just stood up and grabbed Brother Bear around the waist, or where the waist ought to be.

"When you are ready," says Brother Bear, "just give the word."

"Well," says Brother Tiger, "I reckon I'm as ready now as I ever will be."

With that Brother Bear hugged Brother Tiger pretty tight, whirled around with him a time or two, fell on him, and then cuffed him, first on one ear and then on the other. It was all done so quick that Brother Tiger didn't have time to say don't. He got up and felt of his ribs to see if they were still whole, and then he rubbed the side of his head where Brother Bear had cuffed him. It had already begun to swell. His breeches were badly ripped, and he was sore all over.

Says he, "And so this is what you call wrestling — this is what I was itching for, is it?"

"Oh, no!" says Brother Bear. "It wouldn't do to call that wrestling. That was only playing. I was just showing you the first few capers; you can't wrestle until you learn how. I'll drop by your house to-morrow morning, bright and early, and give you another whirl."

Brother Tiger looked mighty solemn, but he didn't say anything. He ambled off home as well as he could in his condition, and got his old woman to mend his breeches. She wanted to know who he had been fighting with, but he told her he had just been playing with Brother Bear. She laughed, and said that when he had played that way a few more times there wouldn't be enough of him left, neither breeches, body, nor bones, to sew up in a bag.

Well, the next morning, bright and early, Brother Bear rapped at Brother Tiger's door, and told him to come out and take some exercise before breakfast. Brother Tiger didn't like this invitation at all. He said he wanted to sleep a little longer; but Brother Bear sent in word that the night was made for sleeping, while the day was made for work and play.

Now, it so happened that the honey which Brother Tiger had ate had put a spell on him, and when Brother Bear asked him out to wrestle he had to come. He pulled on his clothes with no good heart, for he was still very sore, and came limping out, trying to put a good face on the affair. Brother Bear laughed, and told Brother Tiger howdy, but Brother Tiger didn't make much of a reply.

So Brother Bear says, says he, "I hope you are not begrudging your bargain, Brother Tiger, but you made it yourself, and at no invitation of mine. I had the seven pieces of honey-in-the- comb, and you had the bad taste in the mouth. I told you how it would be, but you would have the honey, and now you'll have to stand to your bargain; you can't help yourself now. I told you the plain truth about it, but you wouldn't believe it. You'll find out the truth before you get the taste of that honey out of your mouth."

Then they made a few passes at each other; but Brother Bear finally grabbed Brother Tiger around his striped waist, squeezed the breath out of him, dashed him on the ground, cuffed his ears, and then stood there on his hind legs, waiting to see what Brother Tiger was going to do. But Brother Tiger didn't want any more wrestling for that day. He went into the house and washed his face and hands, and sat down and licked his bruises the best he could.

(illustration by Oliver Herford)

But the next morning he had to come out and wrestle again, and this happened until he was so weak he could hardly walk. His hide was split, his ears were swollen, and every stripe on his long body was crossed by a scar. Wrestling was fine fun for Brother Bear, who was used to it, but it was no fun for Brother Tiger, who didn't know how. Every time he wrestled he got new bruises, and his head swelled until he could hardly get in the door of his house without backing his ears.

Finally, one day he told Brother Bear candidly that he would rather give up his house and lot than to be tossed around and cuffed at that rate. Brother Bear said that he would rather wrestle and have a jolly time than to take Brother Tiger's house; but Brother Tiger wouldn't hear to that. He said he couldn't stay in that part of the country and hear the talk of the neighbors. They would pester him mighty near to death on the week days, and fairly kill him out on Sunday, when they had nothing to do but sit around and gossip.

So Brother Tiger moved out, and Brother Bear moved in; and it has come to pass that Brother Tiger won't stay in the same country with Brother Bear for fear that he will have to do some more wrestling.

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