Taissumani, May 16
The Bear in the Ice Hole — Conclusion
Last week I presented the story of Knud Rasmussen falling into a hole in the ice with a polar bear, and of how he came to see the empathy and gratitude in the polar bear’s eyes when he caused his dogs to back off and apparently saved the bear’s life.
Rasmussen had promised himself that, if he escaped his predicament, he would spare the bear.
This week, Rasmussen presents the conclusion to his story:
“I had scarcely been in the water more than ten minutes; but it was ten degrees below zero and every minute seemed an eternity. I could not keep up very much longer, and if help did not come soon my arms would weaken and I would slip down under the ice.
“I had almost given up hope when Qulutanguaq suddenly appeared from the pack ice a few hundred yards away. No sooner had he seen me almost shoulder to shoulder with the big bear, with the dogs at a distance, seemingly uninterested in the game, than he got so furious he emitted a loud roar, jumped off his sledge, and doubled his speed. I knew that I was saved. In a minute or two I should be out of the hole. Now was the time to think of my promise, and gathering all my strength I shouted to Qulutanguaq: ‘Don’t shoot the bear – don’t shoot the bear!’
“My teeth were chattering to such an extent that the shout became an inarticulate yell. I had to repeat my words several times before he understood them. At first he was dumbfounded. He thought I had gone mad; but at length he seemed to guess my meaning and shouted back:
“’No, of course – I’m going to help you first’.
So saying, he let loose all his dogs, and while they rushed to the edge of the ice in order to fall on the bear, he seized a long harpoon line he had on the sledge, extended it with a whip, and threw it out to me; the line reached me and I grasped it. I turned away from the edge of the ice and hung on to it with the back of my neck, and thus having both hands free I tied the line round my waist. It was then only a matter of a moment before Qulutanguaq had hauled me up.
“The last I saw of the bear was a bound which it made across the ice in order to keep the new enemy at a distance. But the dogs stopped it and it slipped back into the hole.
“Scarcely was I out of the water before the cold hit me with such violence that I lost consciousness. I tried to speak, but the words died away on my lips like a whisper: ‘Don’t shoot – don’t shoot –.’ And then all around me was black.
“When I came to again my wet clothes lay frozen stiff on the ice beside me. I myself lay naked, but warm and full of life in my sleeping-bag. The Eskimo stood smiling in front of me with a steaming cup of tea which he held to my lips.
“My first thought was for the bear.
“’But the bear — where’s the bear?’
“The Eskimo laughed heartily, tickled at the thought that the slayer of a bear is not always the man who is first on its track and the first to catch up with it.
“’Never mind the bear,’ he teased, ‘I’ve already skinned it.’”