He advanced upon them with deep growls and stately tread and with one blow of his monstrous paw stretched the mocker lifeless at his feet.
The other ran away to his fellows and carried the news of the king's strange appearance. The result was a meeting of all the polar bears upon a broad field of ice, where they talked gravely of the remarkable change that had come upon their monarch.
"He is, in reality, no longer a bear," said one; "nor can he justly be called a bird. But he is half bird and half bear, and so unfitted to remain our king."
"Then who shall take his place?" asked another.
"He who can fight the bird-bear and overcome him," answered an aged member of the group. "Only the strongest is fit to rule our race."
There was silence for a time, but at length a great bear moved to the front and said:
"I will fight him; I--Woof--the strongest of our race! And I will be King of the Polar Bears."
The others nodded assent, and dispatched a messenger to the king to say he must fight the great Woof and master him or resign his sovereignty.
"For a bear with feathers," added the messenger, "is no bear at all, and the king we obey must resemble the rest of us."
"I wear feathers because it pleases me," growled the king. "Am I not a great magician? But I will fight, nevertheless, and if Woof masters me he shall be king in my stead."
Then he visited his friends, the gulls, who were even then feasting upon the dead bear, and told them of the coming battle.
"I shall conquer," he said, proudly. "Yet my people are in the right, for only a hairy one like themselves can hope to command their obedience."
The queen gull said:
"I met an eagle yesterday, which had made its escape from a big city of men. And the eagle told me he had seen a monstrous polar bear skin thrown over the back of a carriage that rolled along the street. That skin must have been yours, oh king, and if you wish I will sent an hundred of my gulls to the city to bring it back to you."
"Let them go!" said the king, gruffly. And the hundred gulls were soon flying rapidly southward.
For three days they flew straight as an arrow, until they came to scattered houses, to villages, and to cities. Then their search began.
The gulls were brave, and cunning, and wise. Upon the fourth day they reached the great metropolis, and hovered over the streets until a carriage rolled along with a great white bear robe thrown over the back seat. Then the birds swooped down--the whole hundred of them--and seizing the skin in their beaks flew quickly away.
They were late. The king's great battle was upon the seventh day, and they must fly swiftly to reach the Polar regions by that time.
Meanwhile the bird-bear was preparing for his fight. He sharpened his claws in the small crevasses of the ice. He caught a seal and tested his big yellow teeth by crunching its bones between them. And the queen gull set her band to pluming the king bear's feathers until they lay smoothly upon his body.
But every day they cast anxious glances into the southern sky, watching for the hundred gulls to bring back the king's own skin.
The seventh day came, and all the Polar bears in that region gathered around the king's cavern. Among them was Woof, strong and confident of his success.
"The bird-bear's feathers will fly fast enough when I get my claws upon him!" he boasted; and the others laughed and encouraged him.
The king was disappointed at not having recovered his skin, but he resolved to fight bravely without it. He advanced from the opening of his cavern with a proud and kingly bearing, and when he faced his enemy he gave so terrible a growl that Woof's heart stopped beating for a moment, and he began to realize that a fight with the wise and mighty king of his race was no laughing matter.
After exchanging one or two heavy blows with his foe Woof's courage returned, and he determined to dishearten his adversary by bluster.
"Come nearer, bird-bear!" he cried. "Come nearer, that I may pluck your plumage!"
The defiance filled the king with rage.