Edwin Webster, The news & observer, August 12, 1900, Raleigh (North Carolina)
“The story about old Bill Brown, the bear gambler, was a huge scandal in our parish!” Deacon Todgers told a group of gentlemen gathered in a corner of a grocery store on Saturday evening. – But after the intervention of the priest and Warden Howard – and your humble servant also had a hand in this! – the matter was put on hold. Bill doesn't dare touch the cards anymore. I don't think she and the bear can count on forgiveness, even considering how abruptly and brutally their unholy partnership at the poker table ended.
Many years ago, Bill found a bear cub in the forest, brought him home, and began training him. The animal's intelligence turned out to be remarkable even for a bear from Pike County. When he grew up, he followed Bill like your little dog, and many said that the bear understood more than Bill himself.
One evening, Tom Wilson, having once again deprived Bill of some money, praised the animal: “I would swear that your bear can do everything, except play poker!” Bill didn't answer, but when I went to visit him the next evening, I saw him and the bear sitting at the table. The owner had cards in his hands, which he showed to the surprisingly interested pet.
“I surrounded this bear with love and care,” Bill answered my question, “I fed him, provided a roof over his head, and all for free. I think it's time to repay my kindness and increase old man Brown's bank account."
“Of course, any kind-hearted person should teach a bear to play cards,” I muttered, still not understanding what was happening. – "Nothing warms the soul of an animal on long winter evenings like playing solitaire next to the fireplace. But how will this put at least a couple of dollars into your pockets? Or are you going to open a school for bears? How about you put an ad in the newspaper: dancing lessons, card games, etc. for bears from good families at reasonable prices!”
Bill thought I was making fun of him and got really angry:
“Tell me, Deacon, do I look like the kind of man who would run through the hills of Pike County and teach the bears the inspired practice of playing solitaire? How will they pay me – National Bear Bank checks? The bear sitting before you, ennobled by many years of the company of honest old Bill Brown, may be taught the rules of card games, but this exciting activity will never gain widespread popularity among more ordinary bears. In any case, I’m not teaching him solitaire, but poker.”
“Is it worthy for a good Christian to push a bear into the path of sin, who has never voluntarily picked up cards in his paws? – I doubted. – Let the lion fight, and the bear – the animals cannot do otherwise: that’s what the glorious song says, it seems? But neither in Scripture nor in hymns have I found permission to teach innocent bears either gambling in general or poker in particular.”
However, Bill did not consider himself guilty.
“Your reproaches would be fair if I really taught this smart beast to play poker. But I’m too conscientious and too poor for that. All I'm trying to do is teach my bear to recognize poker hands. Soon he will be able to recognize each of them and will give me subtle signals. Even the embodiment of virtue, the holiest person, will not be able to blame the bear, who, in his innocence, accidentally ends up behind Tom Wilson during a poker game and decides to share what he saw with his owner. No matter how I dispose of the knowledge I have acquired, neither the guardian angel nor the respectable society of Pike County can blame my innocent animal for this.”
“Well, if you put the question that way, I also don’t see how the moral integrity of your bear can be affected in this case. Tom Wilson would probably object, but he's already won so much that limiting his income somewhat would be seen as a commendable act. Only Bill Brown may suffer, but his conscience has long earned the reputation of being bulletproof. I'm extremely interested in seeing how your bear handles poker, so I see no reason to inform Tom Wilson about your plan."
It is impossible to deny that the bear was born a poker player. After several weeks of training, the smart animal remembered all the combinations from a pair of deuces to a royal flush. Bill taught him to give signals with the claws of his front paws, as soon as the owner looked inquisitively at the pet. The correct answer was rewarded with a piece of meat, honey, or other delicacy close to the bear's heart and taste. For a mistake, he received a slap on the head. At last, Bill considered the course over, and there was no man in Pike County more pleased with himself.
“And you say – higher education! – Bill was happy when I stopped by to see how things were going. – Let those who do not appreciate the power of love, care, and honey, seasoned with rare slaps, become familiar with the intellectual achievements of the black bear, honest old Bill Brown! Pike County has seen its share of savvy bears, but mine was the first to fully master the noble game of poker. From now on, sadness and empty wallets await those who try to beat Bill Brown and his bear at cards.”
Bill was so proud of his plan that he let it slip to the priest and Warden Howard, who also tried to dissuade him, emphasizing the danger to Bill’s immortal soul and the moral decline of the good beast. Bill objected that he was in no way setting his bear on the path of evil:
“You can't call this bear a gambler: I will make sure that all the money won by Brown Bear and Co. goes into Brown's pocket. not a bear. As for me, I just want my money back that Tom Wilson stole. Although it cannot be completely ruled out that I will not go further, even if this is associated with the risk of remorse.”
Neither the priest nor the headman approved of his plan, but they both considered Tom Wilson a dangerous troublemaker and agreed to keep Bill's plan a secret.
The next evening Bill walked into the tavern and sat down opposite Tom Wilson. The smart bear settled comfortably behind his opponent’s back, from where it was convenient to peek at the cards. Tom, like all of us, was accustomed to the presence of a tame bear, and did not suspect anything. But not a single hand of his escaped the gaze of Bill’s pet. Old Brown always knew what cards his opponent had in his hand. As a result of the match, Bill had more coins in his pockets, and Tom gained experience that he would be glad to get rid of at the lowest price.
“I’ve seen good poker players,” he said with surprise the next day, “but I’ve never encountered such an amazing ability to read opponents as Bill Brown showed yesterday. But before, I considered him an easy prey!”
But Tom was a pretty cunning guy when it came to playing cards. All day he thought about how this happened, and in the evening he sat down at the table with Bill again. And again Bill showed miraculous insight. Little by little, Tom noticed that his opponent was constantly looking at the bear, so intently, as if the animal was also participating in the game. It looks like the bear is helping its owner in some way. And a sinister plan developed in Tom's head...
“I think your poor beast is pretty hungry!" – Tom said with a tinge of pity. “Wait, I have a piece of raw meat for him.” In the kitchen, he cut the meat and stuffed it with red pepper to his heart's content. Returning to the bar, he handed the treat to Bill and said: “This is your bear after all. Better feed him yourself."
Bill handed the meat to the bear, which he instantly swallowed. A minute later, the bear began to dance around the room, holding his stomach with both paws, and his growl was difficult to confuse with a friendly greeting. After that, he began to roll on the floor, and then rushed to the door and rushed home, breaking all bear sprint records. Thinking that his pet was having some kind of seizure, Bill rushed after him. When he got home, he saw the bear greedily drinking water and rubbing its belly. Bill was furious:
“Here is the bear that I spent so much effort on, surrounded with care, spared no time in training, and what is he doing? Decides to have a fun fit just as I'm winning Tom Wilson's money at record speed! I’ll give him a couple of lessons, let him forever remember that even seizures should be timely!”
With these words, he took a stick and beat the unfortunate bear.
“Even a Christian in his place would harbor a grudge for such treatment,” I told Bill the next day, “and black bears have never been known for their ability to forgive. Your pet blames you for both the suffering last night and the beating. If I understand anything about bears, he will want revenge on you.”
“This bear is tame, he is my pride,” Bill disagreed. “I fed him and took care of him. An animal who, like this bear, knows me well, will not plot anything bad because of a few convincing blows with a stick.”
But Tom Wilson seemed to have a good understanding not only of human nature, but also of bear nature. He realized that the bear was angry with Bill Brown and would not help him anymore, so he did not object to the continuation of the match and did not protest when the bear, as usual, settled behind him.
The game continued the same as the previous two days. Bill won thanks to the signals given by the bear, but, as subsequent events showed, this was part of the cunning plan of the vengeful animal. Finally, Bill got a full house with his aces, but Wilson hit quad threes. Bill looked at the bear, and he showed him signs that Tom had a full house. Poor old Bill decided that since he had the strongest full house, it was time to play for all the money – all the winnings from the previous days, plus a fair share of his own capital. Tom showed four of a kind and scooped the pot.
Shocked, Bill stared at the bear, unable to believe that his once loyal pet could make a mistake. The smug expression on the woolly deceiver's face made it clear that the mistake was deliberate. Bill grabbed a chair and began to bludgeon the bear with it, but he clearly decided that he had had enough of being beaten by a man. When they were somehow pulled apart, Bill looked like he had gotten into a fight with a rock crusher, and the bear slipped out the open door. No one else saw him in our area.
Bill was inconsolable.
“I don’t feel so sorry for the lost money,” he exclaimed pathetically, “although, of course, it was painful. But for the bear to repay honest old Bill Brown for his kindness with such a dastardly trick, that really broke my heart.”