Two Gentlemen in Fur Cloaks

THIS is the name given to the bears in Kamschatka by the Laplanders, who think they will be offended if they are called by their real name; and we may give the same name to the bears in the picture. They are Polar bears, who live in the seas round the North Pole, and fine white fur coats they have of their own. They are white on purpose, so that they may not be seen easily among all the snow and ice in which they live. The head of the Polar bear is very long and flat, the mouth and ears are small in comparison with other bears, the neck is long and thick, and the sole of the foot very large. Perhaps you will wonder how the bear manages to walk on the ice, as nobody is very likely to give him skates or snow-boots. To be sure, he has strong, thick claws, but they would not be of much use—they would only make him slip on the hard ice—but the sole of the foot is covered nearly all over with thick, woolly hair, so the bear walks as safely as old ladies do when they wrap list round their boots.

Two polar bears with a seal they have caught



The Polar bear likes to eat fish, though he will eat roots and berries when he can get no better, and he is a very good swimmer; he can dive, too, and make long leaps in the water. If he wants a boat, he has only to get on a loose piece of ice, and then he can float about at his ease.

This is a full-grown bear, of course. Young bears cannot do all these things; they have to stay with their mothers on shore, where they eat seals and seaweed; the seaweed is their vegetable, I suppose. When the young bears travel and get tired, they get on their mother’s back, and ride there quite safely, whether in the water or on land.

Bears are very fond of their young, and will do anything to defend them. There is a story told of a poor mother-bear and her two cubs which is almost too sad to tell, but it will make us think kindly of the bear, so I will tell it to you.

Years ago a ship which had gone to the North Pole to make discoveries got fixed tight in the ice; one morning, while the ship was still unable to get loose, a man at the lookout gave warning that three bears were coming across the ice toward the ship. The crew had killed a walrus a few days before, and no doubt the bears had smelled it. The flesh of the walrus was roasting in a fire on the ice, and two of the bears ran eagerly to it, dragged out the bits that were not burnt, and began to eat them; they were the cubs, but were almost as large as their mother.

The sailors threw some more of the flesh they had on board on to the ice. These the old bear fetched; and putting them before her cubs, she divided them, giving them each a large piece, and only keeping a small bit for herself. When she came to fetch the last piece the sailors shot at the cubs, killing them; they also wounded the mother, but not mortally; the poor mother never thought of herself, only of her cubs. They were not quite dead, only dying, and she crawled to where they lay, with the lump of meat she had fetched, and put it down before them, as she had done the first time. When she found they did not eat, she took hold first of one, then of the other, and tried to lift them up, moaning pitifully all the time, as if she thought it would be of no use. Then she went a little way off and looked back. But the cubs were dead now, and could not move, so she went back to them and began to lick their wounds. Once more she crawled away from them, and then again came back, and went round and round them, pawing them and moaning. At last she seems to have found out that they were dead; and turning to the ship, she raised her head and uttered a loud growl of anger and despair. The cruel sailors fired at her in reply, and she fell between her poor dead cubs, and died licking their wounds.