The Man with a Bear in his Pocket

Another little something from Kinloch’s aforementioned ‘bear’ folder. This story seems to have been one of Kinloch’s favourites – and it has certainly received its fair share of attention from feminists, Freudians and farmers-turned-literary-critics over the last few years. Like most folk tales it exists in several, slightly different forms. I reproduce an edited version of the so-called ‘1895 text’, a copy of which was owned by Kinloch himself.

One day a stranger came to live in the village. He was not remarkable in any shape or form, except one. He wore a heavy coat, one pocket of which bulged unnaturally. When speaking to people, his hand would sometimes stray into this pocket, often remaining there for a minute or so.

‘It’s money,’ said the men. ‘He is stroking a bag of gold.’ ‘It’s a small rabbit,’ said some of the women. ‘A fairy,’ said some other women. ‘It’s a large pile of nothing,’ said the village idiot. No one listened to him.

One day someone asked the man what it was he kept in his pocket of his. ‘A full grown grizzly bear,’ said the man. ‘Ridiculous,’ they said, ‘a grizzly bear is far too big for that pocket of yours’. He smiled. ‘If you don’t believe me, put your hand in and see’. And so the person – a young lady, as it was – put her hand into his pocket. There came the sound of a faint growl. When she withdrew her arm, her hand was gone. The bear had bitten it off. She was too stunned to scream. She was so stunned, indeed, that she never spoke again, and was unable to tell anyone of her ordeal.

A little later, another person confronted the man. ‘What is it you keep in your pocket?’ they asked – a young boy this time, not more than twelve years old. ‘A full grown grizzly bear,’ replied the man, ‘and if you don’t believe me, put your hand in and see’. The boy did so. There came the sound of a faint growl. When he withdrew his arm, his hand was gone. The bear had bitten it off. He was too stunned to scream. He was so stunned, indeed, that he never spoke again, and was unable to tell anyone of his ordeal.

This happened many times more, until the village was crawling with mute, one-handed citizens. It remained no more than a rumour, all the same, that the man with the bulging pocket was responsible for these accidents. After all, who would believe that a man could keep a full-grown grizzly bear in his pocket? ‘Oh, but it isn’t a bear at all,’ grumbled some. ‘It’s no more than a metal trap. The growl he makes himself, by throwing his voice. That’s all it is.’

Others, however, were not so sure. ‘What is it you keep in your pocket?’ they asked. ‘Put in your hand and see,’ said he – and for some reason they did. And they too lost their hands.

This went on for some time – with many more people losing their hands and voices. One day, the village idiot went up to the man and asked him. ‘What is it you keep in your pocket?’. ‘A full grown grizzly bear,’ replied the man, ‘and if you don’t believe me, put your hand in and see’. ‘No’, said the idiot – ‘why don’t you put your hand in and take it out to show me?’ The man smiled. ‘Fine by me,’ he said, and put his hand into the pocket. He pulled out an inflated pig’s bladder. ‘What else?’ said the idiot. The man put his hand back into his pocket and pulled out a shrunken monkey’s head. ‘What else?’ said the idiot. The man put his hand back into his pocket and pulled out an envelope addressed to the King. ‘What else?’ said the idiot. The man put his hand back into his pocket and pulled out a hundred hands. ‘Thank you,’ said the idiot – ‘you have been most kind. To show I am grateful let me shake you by the hand’. ‘Fine by me,’ said the man, and the idiot shook his hand off. He was so stunned he never spoke again. One year later he was mauled by a grizzly bear. His body was buried by the side of a palm tree.

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