Buster Bear yawned as he lay on his comfortable bed of leaves and watched the first early morning sunbeams creeping through the Green Forest to chase out the Black Shadows. Once more he yawned, and slowly got to his feet and shook himself. Then he walked over to a big pine tree, stood up on his hind legs, reached as high up on the trunk of the tree as he could, and scratched the bark with his great claws. After that he yawned until it seemed as if his jaws would crack, and then sat down to think what he wanted for breakfast.
While he sat there, trying to make up his mind what would taste best, he was listening to the sounds that told of the waking of all the little people who live in the Green Forest. He heard Sammy Jay way off in the distance screaming, “Thief! Thief!” and grinned. “I wonder,” thought Buster, “if someone has stolen Sammy’s breakfast, or if he has stolen the breakfast of someone else. Probably he is the thief himself.”
He heard Chatterer the Red Squirrel scolding as fast as he could make his tongue go and working himself into a terrible rage. “Must be that Chatterer got out of bed the wrong way this morning,” he thought.
He heard Blacky the Crow cawing at the top of his lungs, and he knew by the sound that Blacky was getting into mischief of some kind. He heard the sweet voices of happy little singers, and they were good to hear. But most of all he listened to a merry, low, silvery laugh that never stopped but went on and on, until he just felt as if he must laugh too. It was the voice of the Laughing Brook. And as Buster listened it suddenly came to him just what he wanted for breakfast.
“I’m going fishing,” said he in his deep grumbly-rumbly voice to no one in particular. “Yes, Sir, I’m going fishing. I want some fat trout for my breakfast.” He shuffled along over to the Laughing Brook, and straight to a little pool of which he knew, and as he drew near he took the greatest care not to make the teeniest, weeniest bit of noise.
Now it just happened that early as he was, someone was before Buster Bear. When he came in sight of the little pool, who should he see but another fisherman there, who had already caught a fine fat trout. Who was it? Why, Little Joe Otter to be sure. He was just climbing up the bank with the fat trout in his mouth. Buster Bear’s own mouth watered as he saw it. Little Joe sat down on the bank and prepared to enjoy his breakfast. He hadn’t seen Buster Bear, and he didn’t know that he or any one else was anywhere near.
Buster Bear tiptoed up very softly until he was right behind Little Joe Otter. “Woof, woof!” said he in his deepest, most grumbly-rumbly voice. “That’s a very fine looking trout. I wouldn’t mind if I had it myself.”
Little Joe Otter gave a frightened squeal and without even turning to see who was speaking dropped his fish and dove headfirst into the Laughing Brook. Buster Bear sprang forward and with one of his big paws caught the fat trout just as it was slipping back into the water.
“Here’s your trout, Mr. Otter,” said he, as Little Joe put his head out of water to see who had frightened him so. “Come and get it.”
But Little Joe wouldn’t. The fact is, he was afraid to. He snarled at Buster Bear and called him a thief and everything else he could think of. Buster didn’t seem to mind. He chuckled as if he thought it all a great joke and repeated his invitation to Little Joe to come and get his fish. But Little Joe just turned his back and went off down the Laughing Brook in a great rage.
“It’s too bad to waste such a fine fish,” said Buster thoughtfully. “I wonder what I’d better do with it.” And while he was wondering, he ate it all up. Then he started down the Laughing Brook to catch some fish for himself.
Presently he came to another little pool. He stole up to it very, very softly, so as not to frighten the fish. Then he sat down close to the edge of it and didn’t move. Buster learned a long time ago that a fisherman must be patient unless, like Little Joe Otter, he is just as much at home in the water as the fish themselves, and can swim fast enough to catch them by chasing them. So Buster didn’t move so much as an eyelash. He was so still that he looked almost like the stump of an old tree. Perhaps that is what the fish thought he was, for pretty soon, two or three swam right in close to where he was sitting.
Now Buster Bear may be big and clumsy looking, but there isn’t anything that can move much quicker than one of those big paws of his when he wants it to. One of them moved now, and quicker than a wink had scooped one of those foolish fish out onto the bank.
Buster’s little eyes twinkled, and he smacked his lips as he moved on to the next little pool, for he knew that it was of no use to stay longer at the first one. The fish were so frightened that they wouldn’t come back for a long, long time.
At the next little pool the same thing happened. By this time Buster Bear was in fine spirits. It was fun to catch the fish, and it was still more fun to eat them. What finer breakfast could anyone have than fresh-caught trout? No wonder he felt good! But it takes more than three trout to fill Buster Bear’s stomach, so he kept on to the next little pool.
But this little pool, instead of being beautiful and clear so that Buster could see right to the bottom of it and tell if there were any fish there, was so muddy that he couldn’t see into it at all. It looked as if someone had just stirred up all the mud at the bottom. “Huh!” said Buster Bear. “It’s of no use to try to fish here. I would just waste my time. I’ll try the next pool.”
So he went on to the next little pool. He found this just as muddy as the other. Then he went on to another, and this was no better. Buster sat down and scratched his head. It was puzzling. Yes, Sir, it was puzzling. He looked this way and he looked that way suspiciously, but there was no one to be seen. Everything was still except for the laughter of the Laughing Brook. Somehow, it seemed to Buster as if the Brook were laughing at him.
“It’s very curious,” muttered Buster, “very curious indeed. It looks as if my fishing is spoiled for to-day. I don’t understand it at all. It’s lucky I caught what I did. It looks as if somebody is trying to—ah ha!” A sudden thought had popped into his head. Then he began to chuckle and finally to laugh. “I do believe that scamp Joe Otter is trying to get even with me for eating that fat trout!”
And then, because Buster Bear always enjoys a good joke even when it is on himself, he laughed until he had to hold his sides, which is a whole lot better than going off in a rage as Little Joe Otter had done. “You’re pretty smart, Mr. Otter! You’re pretty smart, but there are other people who are smart too,” said Buster Bear, and still chuckling, he went off to think up a plan to get the best of Little Joe Otter.