Two bears, male and female, swam across a large river. The current was so strong that it caught them and carried them on. The male bear succeeded in getting ashore, but the female was drowned. The male bear waited on shore for the body, and then dragged it up to a safe place. A Christian hunter was wandering about there. In the evening he stopped for the night, made a fire, and prepared some tea. All at once he saw a large male bear coming toward him. He caught up his bow; but in the bright light of the fire he saw that the bear was weeping like a man, so he laid down his bow and waited to see what would happen. The bear lay down near the fire and did not move. Early in the morning, with the first gray light of dawn, the bear arose and approached the man. He tugged at him with his paw, and nudged him, wanting him to get up. Then with his head and muzzle he indicated the direction in which he wanted him to go. The man was afraid, but at last obeyed the bear. They came to the river. The body of the female bear was up on shore, hidden in some moss. The bear pulled it out of the moss up to the middle of the breast, and then looked up at the man. He pushed her right foreleg upward with his muzzle and in every possible way tried to explain his desire. At last the man understood that the bear wanted him to skin this leg. He took off the skin, and on the
second finger of the paw, under the skin, was a gold ring with engraved initials on a seal. The bear ordered him to take off the ring and put it on his own finger. After that the bear dug a hole in the ground. It looked like a grave and the man helped him. The two worked together. The man dug with his ax and the bear with his mighty claws. When the grave was ready, the bear brought a number of tree trunks and arranged a framework within the grave. Then he lay down before the man, breast upward. He roared most piteously and stretched out his paws. He wanted the man to kill him and to bury them both in the same grave. He showed likewise with his paws that he wanted to have his breast bared. The man refused at first; but the bear was so insistent, that he gave in and stabbed him with his knife. He ripped up the skin of his breast, and saw a gold crucifix fastened to a thin silver chain, finely wrought. He took this off, and then buried both bears in the same grave. The name of the male bear was engraved on the chain. They were two lovers of the merchant class who used to meet in the form of bears; but one time, for some unknown reason, they were unable to assume human form again. That is all.
Told by John Sukhomyasoff, a Russian creole, clerk of the church, in the village of Nishne-Kolymsk, the Kolyma country, summer of 1896.