Dedicated to the legacy of Edward Stratemeyer, author & founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate

Story—A Perilous Skate (1892)

In the 1890s Edward Stratemeyer struck a deal with the editor of the Newark Sunday Call newspaper to offer occasional short stories.  Most often these were timed to coincide with a holiday of the year.  He wanted to gather some of these together and publish them as a book to be called “Holiday Stories for Boys.”  However, he could not interest either of the publishers to whom he presented the idea.

Some of the stories were edited for use in story papers like his own Bright Days. To make them appropriate for a national audience, references to Newark-specific locales were removed.  The stories were also edited to fit the desired length.

“A Perilous Skate—Grandpa Brown’s Thanksgiving Story for the Boys” was published in the Newark Sunday Call on November 20, 1892.

It was reprinted in Bright Days volume 1, number 6 (September 5, 1896) as “My First and Last Bear—A Grandfather’s Story for Boys and Girls.”

In the text below, the bold shows portions of the story that were cut or changed for the Bright Days reprint.

1887-01-22-goldenargosy-v5-n8-bear_attacking-p116-edited

A Perilous Skate.

Grandpa Brown’s Thanksgiving Story for the Boys.

By Edward Stratemeyer.

It was Thanksgiving day, cold and clear.  Outside the bracing wind swept over the hills and down the hollows, now thickly covered with the first snow of the season, a snow that the boys fondly hoped would last all winter.  Within, all was cozy and comfortable, the big open fireplace was being piled high with logs that crackled with seeming delight as they diffused their genial warmth

“Thanksgiving Day!  Hurrah!  hurrah!” shouted Ben, as he brought forth his old sled and adjusted a new rope to it.  “I think Thanksgiving Day is the best holiday in the whole year!”

And in another moment the sled was in proper trim, his Cousin Bess was bundled on top, and off he started as swift as the wind down the road.

His brothers, Jack and Will, with their cousins, Lucy and Mabel, were not slow to follow; and as the young people disappeared in the direction of Long Pond, Grandma Brown smiled and shook her head.

“Never saw such a parcel of boys in all my life!” she exclaimed.  “There isn’t one of them quiet a minute.”

“It shows that they are all strong and healthy,” replied Grandpa Brown, who sat by the fire watching what was in the oven.  “And that’s a deal to be thankful for.”

“So it is, and I wasn’t complaining.  I suppose boys will always be boys as long as any of them are born.”

“True for you,” asserted Grandpa Brown.  “And I like it so.  I think a boy ought to be a real boy until he is a man.  The troubles of manhood come quickly enough.  My! but when I saw them go off with such bright faces it made me feel fifty years younger!”

“I guess we won’t see anything of them again until dinner time,” said grandma.  “Then they will come home all tired out and as hungry as bears.”

“Well, we have enough in the house to feed them, no matter how hungry they get,” said grandpa, “and that’s another thing to be thankful for.”

“Right again,” replied grandma; and she added softly:  “God bless them every one!”

The old farmhouse was full of people.  In the sitting room there were Aunt Nellie and Uncle Frank, Grandpa Gaston from Brooklyn, Ben’s father and mother, and besides old Captain Brower with his dog Luff, and a dozen other young people.  It was the custom to meet at Grandpa and Grandma Brown’s once a year, and a right warm welcome every one who came received!

As Grandma Brown had prophesied, none of the young folks put in an appearance until noon.  Then, with shouts of laughter, they came up the road and burst pell mell into the kitchen.

“Such a jolly time as we have had!” cried Bess, shaking a mass of snow from her curls.  “But what do you suppose Ben did?  Dumped me right into a big snowdrift twice!  But Jack and Will made him pay up for it, for they pelted him with snowballs all the way home.”

“Yes, and half of the snow is down my back now,” laughed Ben.  “Ough! how cold does it feel!” he added, squirming around.

“Long Pond is cleared off,” put in Will.  “The boys have been at it all morning.  We helped for a while.”

“And we are all going skating this afternoon,” said Jack.

“Is it safe?” asked grandma, anxiously.

“Safe?  Why, it’s hard as a rock!  Doctor Small says he thinks it will bear a horse.”

“And we have all got our skates along,” remarked Mabel.

“Well, come into dinner now,” said grandpa.  “Everything is ready and waiting.”

So they filed into the dining room where all the others were already assembled and sat down.  Then Grandpa Gaston offered up a prayer of heartfelt thanksgiving, and they all fell to eating with great gusto.

Such a dinner as that was!  There was turkey with oyster dressing and cranberry sauce, splendid salad and celery, several kinds of vegetables, yams, plenty of nuts, and last, but not least, mince pie.

And all did full justice to what was set before them.  It was just such a feast as they loved to partake of at Grandpa Brown’s house, and so they ate and ate, util, as Jack declared, he guessed they “wouldn’t want another mouthful for a year!”

The young people did not wait to pick nuts.  Grandma knew how anxious they were to go skating, so she quietly filled every pocket and told them to go along and eat them on the pond.

I could not begin to tell of all the fun they had that afternoon.  How the boys “towed” around the girls, and how old Captain Brower came down later on and offere a silver quarter as a prize for the boy who could skate around the pond three times in the quickest time, and how Jack and Ben were a tie, and had to divide the money between them.  Nor can I stop to tell how Mabel skated on some thin ice and was in danger of breaking through when Will dashed in, caught her up and sped away just in the nick of time.

But allsuch good times must come to an end, and finally came the sound of the old horn over the hill, and it was time to go back.

When they arrived at the house Mabel told of what Will had done and declared he was quite a hero.  Grandma Brown thought so too, and said she was downright glad that no one had broken in and caught cold.

“That reminds me of the day when Hal Dover and I went skating fifty-five years ago,” said Grandpa Brown.  “But our adventure was much more serious than this.”

“Oh, tell us about it!” cried Bess.  “I love to hear stories.”

“Yes, do,” put in Lucy.  “I know, grandpa, that all of your stories are good ones.”

“Yes!  yes!  a story!” shouted the rest; and Grandpa Brown smiled.

“Well, since you want to hear it, I will tell a story after supper,” said he.  “You will not be able to go out, and along with some games it will help to pass the time.”

This was eagerly agreed to, and so after the repast was finished and everything cleared away the boys and girls gathered in the sitting room where the logs were crackling as merrily as ever, and, with Grandpa Brown in their midst, waited for him to begin.

“As all of you know,” he started, “I have lived here all my life and for a greater part of that time Hal Dover has been a close neighbor.  We were schoolboys together and Hal and I were great chums.  Of course, once in a while we had a falling out, but it never lasted very long, and when it was over we always stuck together more closely than ever.

“At the time of which I am going to tell the whole of this district had not half a hundred people in it.  Such a place as Mapletown was unknown.  There was a general store kept by Hal’s uncle, and a tavern, and that was all.  To go to school we had to tramp four miles over the hills to Dead Hollow, where my father had also to go to get feed and to have his horses shod.

“Both Hal and I did farm work all spring and summer and went to school five months of the autumn and winter.  To get to school we had to pass through a big woods that was situated on both sides of Long Pond, and it was here that the adventure I am about to relate happened.

“It was just about this time of the year, and Long Pond had been frozen over for fully two weeks.  The boys in those days were not given much to skating, but there was a good pair of skates in the garret and Hal had a splendid new set, so we two decided one day to take our skates to school and after the session was over to go to Long Pond and make a trip to its upper end.  We knew that the pond was some five miles long, and having never been to its northern extremity, thought it would prove quite an exploring tour.

“As agreed, we took our skates to school and hid them in the woodshed.  I am sorry to say that our heads were so full of the project on hand that neither paid the attention the lessons that our teacher required, and, as a consequence, both of us were compelled to remain in an hour or more after school was dismissed.

“Then when we did get out some one had found Hal’s skates and hidden them, and it took us a quarter of an hour to hunt them up, so it was getting toward sundown when we reached Long Pond.

“I was somewhat discouraged at this, and was in favor of postponing the trip to the next day, but Hal insisted on going ahead, so we started.

“We were soon well on our way.  Hal was a much smaller boy than I, but he was a good skater and had no difficulty in keeping up with me.

“In those days Long Pond was shaped very much as it is now, excepting that the trees and bushes hung everywhere over the bank, and that there were a number of small islands here and there, covered with elderberry bushes.

“We were soon over the wide part, and then the way narrowed down to little more than twenty or thirty feet across.  Here the overhanging trees made it quite dark, and we had to be careful not to catch our skates in some bits of sticks frozen fast to the top of the ice.  I was caught in this fashion once and was sent sprawling along for several yards, tearing the knee of my trousers and barking the skin from the back of my left hand.

“‘Don’t you think we had better go back?’ I said to Hal.  ‘It will be pitch dark when we return.’

“‘No; let us push on,’ said he.  ‘I hate to give up when once I start to do a thing.’

“And so we pushed on, though I had my misgivings as to how the trip might end.

“Presently the way got narrower and narrower, and often we were compelled to step over a fallen tree and make our way over some rocky spot where skating was impossible.

“‘We have about reached the end,’ said I.  ‘Let us get back before it gets so dark that we lose our way.’

“‘We can’t lose our way on this stream,’ said Hal.  ‘See, there is a big rock and a tree right ahead.  That is the end and no mistake.  We will go as high up as that and cut out initials in the tree to prove we have been here.’

“So we skated as far as he had said, and, sitting on the rock, began to carve our initials in the bark of the tree.  Both of our knives were sharp and we worked rapidly.

“I had just finished two of my letters, and was beginning on the B, when a frightful growl close at hand caused us both to jump up in alarm.

“‘What is that?’ cried Hal, and his face turned awfully pale, and I guess mine did, too.

“‘I don’t know,” I replied.  ‘Sounded like a bear.’

“‘We had better get out of here,’ he went on.  ‘There must be some dangerous animals in these woods.  I never thought of them when we came.’

“‘Nor I,’ I replied.  ‘Come on; never mind those last letters.  We can—’

“I never finished what I was going to say, for just then the growl was repeated, and an instant later a big, clumsy black bear appeared at one side of the opening.

“All of you can well understand how frightened we were.  Neither Hal nor myself had ever seen a bear loose in the woods before, and we hadn’t a single thing with us in the shape of firearms.

“No sooner had the bear made his appearance than we turned and took to our heels—I should have said skates—as fast as we could.

“But, as I have mentioned, there was a very rocky spot in the stream, and over this we made slow progress.  Meantime that bear let out another growl that made our hair stand on ends, and came after us as lively as his bulky form would permit.

“Both of us managed to reach a clear opening, where the stream widened considerably, but here Hal tripped and fell headlong.

“I was ahead at the time, and did not know what had happened until he uttered a loud cry for help.  Then I looked back and saw not only that he was down, but that the bear was close at hand.

“The sight thrilled me with horror, and for a moment I could neither move nor speak.  Hal uttered a fearful cry again, and then the bear pounced upon him.

“What could I do?  The thought that my companion was in immediate danger of being torn to death filled me with horror.  A moment later and any action of mine might come too late.

“I do not claim to be a very brave man, and certainly I was not a brave boy.  Looking back, I think I did what I did not out of valor, but because I was afraid to return home with the story on my lips that my companion had been killed in the woods.  Hal was Mr. Dover’s only son, and I knew that both he and Mrs. Dover would feel terrible over such a calamity.

“I hesitated but an instant, and then, with the open jackknife still in my hand, rushed forward.

“By this time the bear had given Hal one blow on the side with his paw, and was about to follow it up by another.  The unfortunate boy yelled with fear and pain, and this nerved me to a temporary bravery.  I sprang upon the brute and plunged the jackknife into his face.

“The blow was a most fortunate one, for it caught the bear in the right eye, completely destroying the sight of that member.  With a fearful roar of pain he threw himself around to see who had thus attacked him.

“Seeing this Hal attempted to rise; but the blow had so weakened him that he could not, and he called on me to help him.

“With a strength born only of the excitement of the scene I stooped and picked him up.  To me at that instant his weight seemed like that of a feather, and I easily threw his body over my shoulder.

“As I did so the bear came for me again, his uninjured eye rolling and his teeth snapping.  His faced covered with blood, he was a hideous-looking creature, calculated to strike terror to a heart much stouter than mine.

“Grasping the jackknife firmly I aimed again at the brute’s head.  It missed its mark, but was, nevertheless, a most fortunate blow, for it caught the beast in the throat and caused him to tumble back in great haste, uttering a howl of pain as he did so.

“I did not wait to see what the effects of my second blow might be, but with Hal on my shoulder dashed down the stream as fast as my skates could carry me.  Nor did I slacken my speed until I was a goodly half mile on my way.

“When I set Hal on his feet he was so weak he could hardly strike out.  As for myself, now that tow worst of the encounter was over, I found that I was trembling in every limb and that my hand was deeply cut in the spot where I had held the blade of the jackknife to prevent it from closing.

“By this time it was quite dark and soon it began to snow, though not very strongly.  We pushed on as best we could, and reached our homes about an hour later, utterly tired out, but thankful that our lives had been spared.”

“And what became of the bear?” asked Ben, who had been deeply interested in Grandpa Brown’s story, as indeed had all the others also.

“The next morning early my father and Mr. Dover put on their skates, took their guns and went up the stream to find the bear.  They went up as far as the big rock, and there they found the brute dead in his hole, which was only a short distance away.  Hal had struck him with his jackknife when first attacked, and these wounds, along with those I had inflicted, had caused his death.”

_____

Newark Sunday Call, 20 Nov 1892.

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