These trees lay in confusion, their tops, which had not yet rotted, being filled with frozen snow. On the edge of them I paused, having lost the track. Then I went forward again, casting wide as a hound does, while behind came Ragnar and Steinar, walking straight past the edge of the glade, and purposing to meet me at its head. This, indeed, Ragnar did, but Steinar halted because of a crunching sound that caught his ear, and then stepped to the right between two fallen birches to discover its cause. Next moment, as he told me afterwards, he stood frozen, for there behind the boughs of one of the trees was the huge white bear, eating some animal that it had killed. The beast saw him, and, mad with rage at being disturbed, for it was famished after its long journey on the floe, reared itself up on its hind legs, roaring till the air shook. High it towered, its hook-like claws outstretched.
Steinar tried to spring back, but caught his foot, and fell. Well for him was it that he did so, for otherwise the blow which the bear struck would have crushed him to a pulp. The brute did not seem to understand where he had gone—at any rate, it remained upreared and beating at the air. Then a doubt took it, its huge paws sank until it sat like a begging dog, sniffing the wind. At this moment Ragnar came back shouting, and hurled his spear. It stuck in the beast’s chest and hung there. The bear began to feel for it with its paws, and, catching the shaft, lifted it to its mouth and champed it, thus dragging the steel from its hide.
Then it bethought it of Steinar, and, sinking down, discovered him, and tore at the birch tree under which he had crept till the splinters flew from its trunk. Just then I reached it, having seen all. By now the bear had its teeth fixed in Steinar’s shoulder, or, rather, in his leathern garment, and was dragging him from under the tree. When it saw me it reared itself up again, lifting Steinar and holding him to its breast with one paw. I went mad at the sight, and charged it, driving my spear deep into its throat. With its other paw it struck the weapon from my hand, shivering the shaft. There it stood, towering over us like a white pillar, and roared with pain and fury, Steinar still pressed against it, Ragnar and I helpless.
“He’s sped!” gasped Ragnar.
I thought for a flash of time, and—oh! well do I remember that moment: the huge beast foaming at the jaws and Steinar held to its breast as a little girl holds a doll; the still, snow-laden trees, on the top of one of which sat a small bird spreading its tail in jerks; the red light of evening, and about us the great silences of the sky above and of the lonely forest beneath. It all comes back to me—I can see it now quite clearly; yes, even the bird flitting to another twig, and there again spreading its tail to some invisible mate. Then I made up my mind what to do.
“Not yet!” I cried. “Keep it in play,” and, drawing my short and heavy sword, I plunged through the birch boughs to get behind the bear. Ragnar understood. He threw his cap into the brute’s face, and then, after it had growled at him awhile, just as it dropped its great jaws to crunch Steinar, he found a bough and thrust it between them.