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The Warmhearted Polar Bear.

He hated ice and snow. For real living, give him Miami Beach.

When Whitey, the young polar bear, wandered disconsolately around the vaguely familiar headland and saw the berg-dotted expanse of Foxe Basin stretching away to the south and the shapes of the two offshore islands in front of him, he knew for once where he was. He knew exactly, and pain stabbed him; for he had stood on this same spot, a year ago, wailing in anguish as the icebreaker Bonaventure so callously sailed off and left him alone. He remembered, as clearly as though it were yesterday, coming back ftom a little spring exploring trip inland and staring at the empty expanse of water where the ship had lain, frozen in since the autumn before. At first he hadn't believed his eyes; he had taken for granted that she would always be there; and then, far off, he saw her masts slowly diminish in size and finally disappear.

It had been a dreadful time, and the year that followed was more dreadful still. He had to learn the hard way that a polar bear's life was a matter of keeping ahead of two things: the ice and starvation. The two were closely related, for most of the arctic's life existed around the edge of the floe, and he had to follow the life if he wanted to dine upon it. In summer he had to go north and in winter come south again, walking until he thought his feet would drop off. In summer, clouds of insects nearly drove him mad and, in winter, cold congealed him to the marrow; he had to swim a great deal, and he was a little afraid of water; there was either too much daylight or none at all. And while he was living high and effortlessly on handouts, the prey he was soon to stalk was growing up learning how to avoid him. It was amazing how good they'd got at it.

All these things were bad, but the fact that he had to scramble for himself and the eternal lonely boredom were worse. For a time after they'd shot his mother and dragged him, squalling, back to the ship, he'd fought and sulked and swung at everything; but he had a cub's ravenous hunger and a cub's curiosity, and he'd learned with phenomenal quickness that hostility made for an empty belly and that men were entertaining creatures as well as pushovers for a cute act. Properly handled, the captain's wife was always ready to pet him, and the crew was always ready for games or wrestling matches. There were endless things to upset or take apart; they all ruined his palate with cooked meat and sweets, softened him up with warm places to sleep, developed his ear for harmony with accordion music, taught him to dance in a clumsy, shuffling fashion, and indoctrinated him with the notion that life was an endless, heedless picnic so long as he behaved himself and looked cuddly. Then they went off and left him with nothing but darkness, cold, trouble, hunger, monotony, and the horrid crashing and roaring of the ice.

When he recalled these things-the captain's wife, the bearded young Frenchman, Armand, and his accordion, and all the rest of it-he was filled with moral indignation, and then rage. On the anniversary of their perfidy he gave way to his feelings, roaring, throwing the cold rocks around, and tearing up everything within reach.

Later that afternoon, hoarse and weary from his tantrum, he sat down on the cold rocks, stared at the basin, empty of everything except frigid water and rotting ice, and considered his prospects for the future. He had often tried to do this before, but he wasn't the concentrating type and his mind soon wandered off the subject. This time he was more disgruntled than usual and managed to stay on the subject a little longer; long enough to decide that he should get out of the country, as his friends on the Bonaventure had done. There must be, he thought with an unusual flowering of logic, a better place to the south if they went there; food must be easier to come by, the way they treated it, and there was probably plenty of warmth and music. He might even see them again, especially the captain's wife or Armand.

When he reached this point he began to get restless, for he had thought a lot already, and the questions of how to get south without walking and how to eat on the way were complicated and the answers were singularly elusive. It made no difference whether he approached them directly or tried to creep up on them in a roundabout way; they failed to develop, and presently, weary of it all, he decided to think some more on another day, and he got up and wandered up the shore.

An hour or so later, muddy and wet from all the swollen streams he had crossed, he saw a spot of white far ahead and watched it for a time. It was moving; it vanished and reappeared among the rocks and, making sure that the wind was right, he turned inland to get a look at itfrom cover. He had encountered several old he-bears in his wanderings, and wanted no more of them, for they invariably took a dislike to him at sight and he'd had to put his best foot forward to get away from them. His dimly remembered mother, and the captain's wife, gave him more hope for females.

Some careful maneuvering and the wind settled the question; it was a she-bear, and with her scent was combined the delectable smell of seal. She had meat. Whitey started for the beach at a lope. The she-bear and her seal were near the water, and she stopped eating and looked up as he paused a few feet away. Her expression was alert and noncommittal, but at least there was no immediate hostility in it. Whitey lowered his head and wagged his rear; he had often ingratiated himself in such a fashion with people, and he hoped it would work again. The she-bear looked at him, still chewing, but when he wagged even harder, she stopped chewing and stared at him with increasing doubt and puzzlement.

Neither of them said anything. The she-bear stared at him for a moment longer, grunted, and fell to eating again. Whitey began to drool; still wagging, he inched a little closer, stretched out his long neck, and licked up a little blood. The she-bear looked indecisive; most of the gentlemen she knew would have cuffed her off by this time and had the seal. The taste of blood made Whitey tremble with anticipation; and, very slowly, he moved a little closer still, rolled up his eyes beseechingly, and then got his teeth into a corner of the meat. This brought the she-bear to a decision; she took a sudden, full-armed swing and caught him on the car.

He sat up with his head ringing, six feet away, and looked groggily at the she-bear. She was eating again, and there wasn't much left. Things hadn't gone the way he'd expected, but he wasn't finished yet. He looked very pathetic and began to whimper.

"Please," he moaned. "Please give me some. I'm starving."

"You don't look starved to me," the she-bear said, between bites, "nor crippled either." She gestured toward the basin. "Go on out there and help yourself. There are plenty more where this came from."

Whitey collapsed on the beach and whimpered more loudly. "I can't catch them!" he wailed. "I never learned how. I'm an orphan-a poor deserted orphan-and I'm hungry."

He began to inch forward again. "Stay there," the she-bear said, and finished up the seal. She licked her chops and sat up. "Now then," she said. "If the welfare state has arrived, I haven't been advised of it yet. You might have been an orphan once, but it's perfectly obvious that you've been shifting for yourself for at least a year. I'll give you a word of advice: don't try that cute act on the next bear you meet or you might get your teeth knocked down your throat." She got up, shook herself, and started off.

After a momentary hesitation, Whitey started after her, He admitted to himself that he had made a tactical error in handling the matter of the seal, but he was already beginning to have a few other ideas. Flattery, now, was usually useful with females of the age of this one; and besides, he was lonesome.

"And don't try to follow me either," the she-bear said over her shoulder. "You look like a juvenile delinquent to me."

Whitey watched her out of sight, and hoped that the next walrus she met would get a tusk into her liver. She was an old harridan, and it was bad luck that he'd happened to come across her instead of a softer-hearted creature.

The memory of watching her eat and the lingering smell of seal had sharpened his appetite to the point where he was willing to face the water to get a meal. With distaste, he got into the basin and swam out among the ice floes.

He cruised around until he saw a seal asleep on an ice pan; lying close to its escape hole, it awoke every few minutes and raised its head to look about, and Whitey knew that he was too clumsy to get up on the pan unseen and stalk the seal. He would have to go through the other routine, which he abominated.

He sank lower in the water, until only his eyes and ears showed; when he came to the edge of the pan, he dived under it and swam toward the escape hole. It was dark under the ice, and it gave him horrid feelings of claustrophobia; he paddled his way to the edge of the hole and rapped sharply on the underside of the ice. The startled seal awoke and plunged through the hole. It should have landed in his waiting arms, but he had got out of position somehow, and it wiggled frantically past him and vanished into the dark water.

He made three more tries before he caught one, and by that time he was half-drowned and almost too exhausted to eat it. He finally fell asleep before he finished it, and while he slept the little arctic foxes crept in and finished it for him.

When he awoke again and discovered this, he was too depressed to fall into another rage. It was the last straw. He sat for a while looking at the gnawed bones that were left, stood up, and started along the shore of the basin toward the south. He didn't know how far he had to go or what he would find when he got there, but he was on his way.

For a day or two, while he moved in the direction the ship had taken, he knew that he was going the right way, but presently, what with the turns and twists of the coastline, he began to have fearful doubts. The long arm of Foxe Peninsula, thrusting out to the west, confused him still more; it didn't seem to go in the proper direction; he spent two days in indecision, running to and fro, trying to decide whether to cross the land or follow the coastline. He finally decided to follow the coast, because he couldn't remember seeing the ship try to get up on land, and so made his way around to the peninsula's western shore.

He would probably have walked all the way around Baffin Island and continued on to the Pole if he hadn't blundered into a party of Cape Dorset Eskimos who were out looking for the wife of one of their number, by name Kikortaloriak, who had disappeared the day before. As Whitey walked out from behind one end of a rock fall at the base of a cliff, the Eskimos appeared from behind the other, about a hundred yards away. Whitey would probably have tried to join them, inasmuch as they were men, but they had a few huskies with them which started roaring for him as the first rifle bullet sang off a rock close to his head.

It had a malignant and bloodthirsty sound, and if Whitey was still inclined to harbor his delusions after hearing it, the huskies, pouring over the rocks around him, soon dispelled them. They were big, vicious, and hungry, and their single ambition at the moment was to take him apart. They were all over him before he realized what they were; their teeth were long and sharp, and their jaws were capable of cracking caribou leg bones at a bite. They did shield him from more rifle fire, because the Eskimos were afraid to shoot into the melee, but they were far from an unmixed blessing. Whitey was soon shaken from his hopeful frame of mind, and fighting for his life.

He rolled and roared and raked about him, finally driving them back for a moment; and, as he was facing the water at the time, he ran for it. It was the best thing he could have done, for in the water he soon outdistanced the dogs, and they straggled back to shore. The firing began again and bullets tore up the water about him, but he dived and swam underwater and got an ice pan between himself and the Eskimos. He kept going until he came to a great iceberg slowly and majestically moving down the channel.

It was a beautiful thing, long, high, and fantastically carved, white on top and lime green and rosy pink along the cleavage planes where it had broken off the mother glacier; he crawled up on it and flopped down to rest. He was lacerated, stiff, and weary, and he remembered now that his mother had told him to stay far away from Eskimos. After a while he climbed to the top of a pinnacle of the iceberg to see if the men were following him, but the berg had drifted past them and they were not insight.

As he thought about them, the evil way they'd treated him, and his battle with the dogs, he began to feel a stirring of something akin to pride in himself. At first the feeling puzzled him, for he had never felt it before. He had had many fits of temper, but this affair was different; he had never been attacked and fought back, and he remembered the blows he'd struck with an awakening satisfaction. The more he recalled the fight the more blows he seemed to have struck, and presently, in his mind's eye, he was pursuing a great pack of very large dogs all over, knocking them about at will. It was a fine thing, and soon his chest swelled so much that it was almost uncomfortable.

In this pleasant frame of mind he decided to explore the rest of the berg, and set out, mumbling happily to himself. He climbed higher still, to the summit of it, and from there could see that its shape was roughly rectangular. He was not far from one end, and started for the other.

He stayed on top for a little while, rejoicing in the view and in the fact that he was being taken somewhere at no cost to himself, and then got a bit bored with it. He went down one side and continued along near the water line. That was better; there were many caves and irregularities along the sides, and the waves broke just below him. He found a dead fish and ate it, but its small size brought to his mind the fact that he was hungry. His happy mumble changed a little and became slightly peevish, and his pace picked up. He found no more fish, but as he approached the other end the berg flattened out and suddenly, near the end and not far from the water line, there appeared a most splendid sight-the huge bulks of two dead walruses.

This was eating for a long time to come, and he started at a run for it. He was within 50 yards of the corpses when the figure of an Eskimo moved into sight around one of the walrus' heads; the Eskimo saw him, stopped, and stood staring. Whitey also stopped, so quickly that he fell over himself. He bounced up again and stood staring back, shaken and dismayed, and his belly began to yammer desperately at him.

The Eskimo, who was the lost wife, Kikortaloriak, had been left to watch the walrus while the hunting party moved on, and was marooned when the berg broke from the glacier. She shook the skirt of her woman's parka at him in the ancient gesture of peace between women and bears, but Whitey hadn't been instructed in that matter. All he saw was an Eskimo standing between him and the meat; his belly filled his head with its clamor, it knotted and writhed within him, and his caution was overborne by these things and his new warlike picture of himself. He started anew, purposefully, for the Eskimo.

Kikortaloriak had little hope for her life, except to prolong it with the meat. She ran behind the walrus, picked up the heavy shaft of a spear ftom which the point had been broken, ran back, swung the shaft, and by luck hit Whitey square on the nose with it. He fell over backward; lights exploded before his eyes, and pain filled him all the way back to his tail. He rolled about, howling, and, when the anguish diminished somewhat, retreated farther and presently sat up. Kikortaloriak stood by the walrus, holding the shaft, and for a moment Whitey, seeing the tons of meat once more through his watering eyes, thought of going for her again, with more care. But his head was throbbing, his nose was on fire, and he discovered that his taste for combat had evaporated. He remembered that there were easier ways to get a meal. He moved closer; Kikortaloriak picked up the shaft. Whitey at once abased himself; wagging his rear, he slowly crept closer, and the closer he crept the more rapidly he wagged himself.

Kikortaloriak for a moment was nonplused, but as Whitey rolled up his eyes, panted supinely, and eyed the walrus, she got the idea. She had fed huskies all her life and had often seen such antics. She watched him for a moment, took a knife from her belt, and cut him a great wedge of meat. Still wagging now and then, he ate it and sat looking happily at her. Her relief was so great that after a bit she began to sing. She had a voice like a crow, but it had been a long time since Whitey had heard any music. He was ravished by it; he sat for a bit with his head canted and his eyes closed in ecstasy, and then, unable to bear the joy of it quietly, he stood up and went into his clumsy, shuffling dance. Kikortaloriak laughed with pleasure and renewed hope, and sang on. When she was tired, she stopped; Whitey sat down again, and they beamed upon each other while the berg moved majestically on.

And so they were carried south by the currents that move out the arctic's ice, through Hudson Strait, out into the Atlantic, down the coast of Labrador and around Newfoundland. The berg slowly diminished as the water warmed, and the walrus diminished with it. Kikortaloriak was content to be drifting south, having heard in summer camps around Cape Dorset that there were many people in that direction, and Whitey didn't care where he went.

They got on together very well until they came to the limit of drift ice below Nova Scotia, where the current swings east, away from the coast. Kikortaloriak didn't want to go east; she knew vaguely that there was a lot of empty ocean that way; she was determined to go south, and so she became possessed by a minor devil. First she sat brooding, and then she ran about, saying, "Pin-ung-nak! Pin-ung-nak!" which means "South! South!"

Then a brilliant idea occurred to her. She took Whitey to the end of the berg, got into the water, and began to kick with her feet. She indicated to Whitey that he was to do the same thing. He stared at her, amused, and she began to scream at him. He was amused no longer, and wandered off, whereupon she ran for the spear shaft and pursued him. Whitey finally had to give in and start paddling.

Whatever minute propulsive effort Whitey was able to exert would ordinarily have done nothing but increase his appetite, but an odd and uncharacteristic wind came up. For a time it just equalized the current; and so Whitey's energy, like the fabled straw that broke some camel's back, started them south again.

The wind held, and well out off Nantucket a Navy plane spotted them, circled the berg, and saw Kikortaloriak. Presently a helicopter came out and hovered like a huge bird of prey. It frightened Whitey, who hid in the last remaining cave and watched them take off Kikortaloriak to unimaginable horrors. Before she went, she argued and even struggled with the man who came down the ladder, crying, "Nahnook! Nahnook!" The man didn't understand Eskimo, and couldn't comprehend that she wanted to save her bear. He was anxious to be gone, so Kikortaloriak was finally bundled, weeping, up the ladder, and the bird flew away.

Boredom would have descended upon Whitey again if he'd had time for it, but the berg was rapidly melting now and breaking up. Its center of gravity shifted several times as it melted, and occasionally it would roll over, catapulting him and his larder into the sea. When this happened, he would have to struggle desperately to save himself from a watery grave and drag what was left of his rations back onto the ice again. These affairs kept him moderately busy, and in the quiet intervals the force of habit sent him to the end of the berg, where he paddled away. Kikortaloriak would have been delighted with this tribute to the force of her personality if she had been able to see him.

Aircraft occasionally came out to report on the location and drift of Whitey's ice menace to navigation, but otherwise he was left pretty much alone; the Coast Guard had ordered all boats to stay wide of it because of its unpredictable rollings. It shrank to the size of a football field, then an auditorium, then a house, and then a split-level cottage; Whitey's efforts and the wind combined to bring the berg between the Gulf Stream and the Florida coast, until late one afternoon it stood off Miami Beach. By this time the last of the walrus was gone and the berg would just hold Whitey up.

The lights ashore began to come on; they sparkled in their myriads up and down the beach and glittered high in the air. The world was filled with lights, and the sepulchral blues and screeching reds of neon, in counterpoint, flashed off and on to remind the dwellers of the place of the delights of chewing gum, whiskey, and somebody's matzoth.

Whitey was enthralled; it seemed to him much more intimate, friendly, and exciting than the northern lights. The ice rolled a little under his feet and he decided to go ashore. He got into the water-the deliciously warm water-and struck out. It was like being gently enwrapped in summer, without the maddening nuisance of clouds of blood-sucking mosquitoes and flies. He basked in it and paddled on, bemused, finally coming ashore in front of the Roney Plaza.

He ambled happily across the beach, and as he came, big and white and dripping, to the sidewalk, into the glitter of the lights and crowds of people, there was a rippling gasp, a storm of yells and screams, and then a stampede. The noise died away as a passing wind dies, and in the following silence he stood confused a moment until he heard somewhere in front of him the lively and wonderful singing of an accordion. He started for it, through the Roney Beach Club. The caged monkeys and parrots screamed at him and thrashed about, but above the uproar he could still hear the accordion; he increased his pace and lumbered into the bar.

There was another stampede, the accordion stopped, and after a moment of whirling confusion, he was facing Armand across the overturned tables and chairs of the empty bar. Armand stared at him in disbelief; Armand didn't know whether to stand or flee. They stared at one another for a long minute, and then Whitey, in his joy, began to wag himself furiously. Armand struck a chord tentatively, then another, and then several more. Whitey stood up and he began to dance.

"Whitey!" Armand shouted. "Ah, mon vieux, mon ami!" He dropped the accordion and ran across the room, throwing wide his arms. "Ah, pauvre petit!. A mon bras!" They embraced, crooning, wagging, talking; stood off to admire each other; and embraced again. Armand, with his jacket and shirt in tatters, sat Whitey down and fed him with what solid refreshment he could find in the trampled place.

He was still doing it when the sirens came wailing, and a hastily gathered detail of police with riot guns moved rather gingerly in. They stood staring until one of them recalled their mission and shouted to Armand to get out of the way. Armand jumped up and stood in front of his new-found friend, spreading his arms.

"No! No!" he said. "You cannot shoot him! When I was a sailor at the North Pole I caught him! I trained him! He is fond of people! He came looking for me! He is my friend! I sue anybody that hurts him! Look! He wags himself! . . . Wag, Whitey!" Whitey wagged. "He dances!" He ran across the room, got his accordion, and began to play. Whitey got to his feet and began his clumsy shuffle. He was the center of attention, everyone was looking at him, and he gave it all he had.

The police detail relaxed and even began to applaud. Presently the manager stuck his head fearfully around the edge of the door and saw what was going on.

"Shoot him!" he screeched. "Shoot him! I should be having one of my acts playing house with bears while the customers all run to the airport? Shoot!"

Armand ran furiously up to him. "Ah, cochon!" he said to the manager. "Ah, stupid pig! He is mine! He is tame! Comprehend how much money will come in if we have him in the Garden Zoo, the only bear of the arctic that comes to Miami Beach. And where does he come? To the Roney Plaza, naturellement. Where else?"

The manager emerged a little from behind the door and looked at Armand. "H'm," he said; and then again, "H'm. A pool we'll get for him, hah? A pool and a nice big place to have his picture taken. So. I raise your pay, and take more publicity men on the payroll. One or two maybe."

"I have the little house," Armand said "I take him there until you have this arranged, yes?"

"H'm?" the manager said, his mind busily engaged in framing his newspaper release. "Sure. I get them started now."

He ran out, and Armand and Whitey soon followed him. Practically arm in arm they emerged into the street and set out for Armand's little house. The air was soft as cream, there was a rustle of palms on the wind; the world was full of delightful smells, and Armand began to play softly a happy tune on his accordion as they marched.

Whitey ambled along beside him, touching him frequently, bemused with bliss. He had come home; it was characteristic of him that he never thought of Kikortaloriak, who had brought all this about.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Murphy, Robert
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Dec 1, 1988
Previous Article:The Post picks gifts for Christmas.
Next Article:Sleeping is out on Christmas morning.

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