Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe

Remarkable Degrees of Cold

A trustworthy friend once told me that when he was sailing in the Arctic regions the cold was so intense that if any one brought a lighted wax or tallow candle on deck it froze immediately, flame and all! I have never actually seen this myself, and should be inclined to discredit the story had I not experienced cold equally intense in Russia. It is easy enough to shake one's head unbelievingly because something or other seems impossible, but as the proverb says, 'Live and learn.'

"One very severe winter in Russia I was out hunting for bears. The cold was so bitter that at every shot I fired the flint of my gun flew into several pieces. I had just shot a gigantic she-bear when the same thing happened, and before I had time to take a fresh flint-stone out of my pouch I heard a terrible roar close to me, and, turning my head in the direction of the noise, I beheld the mate of the dead bear making towards me with its fore-paws outstretched and wide open jaws. As I had no desire to be embraced by the newly made widower, and my gun was for the moment useless, I climbed hastily up the nearest tree in order to be prepared to shoot again. In a few moments I had reached a high branch, and, sitting down comfortably on it, I soon loaded my gun. I then hastily set about screwing in a fresh flint, when suddenly the screw-driver fell from my benumbed hands to the ground. There I sat defenseless, expecting every moment that Bruin would climb the tree after me. Fortunately his attention was attracted first by his murdered companion, and he walked straight up to her to find out why she was lying in a pool of blood on the snow. He pushed the stiffened corpse with his muzzle, sniffed at it several times, and then felt it with his formidable claws. Finding this of no avail, he turned the body over and tried to make it stand upright—all, of course, in vain.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe


"This took some little time, and I employed it to repossess myself of my screw-driver. I could not descend from the tree to regain it, but the freezing cold was my help. In my pocket I had a piece of bread, left over from my early breakfast; this I chewed up, pushed the end of my dog-leash through it, and let down the piece of bread, which clung firmly round the leash, on to the spot where the screw-driver was lying. In a second the two froze together, and I hurriedly drew up the line with the bread, my screw-driver and a lump of ice, all sticking to the end of it.

"You can easily guess what followed. I put a new flint into my gun, and sent a shot through the bear's heart, which forthwith stretched him lifeless on the ground beside his mate.

"I was unfeignedly glad at the lucky ending of this adventure, for you can imagine that I was almost in despair, as I sat on the branch listening to the bear mourning over his dead, and vowing deadly vengeance against me."