Scott, however, did manage to discover that a party of nine, In charge of Barne, had been sent back, and early in the day had reached the crest of the hills somewhere by Castle Rock. In addition, Wild told him, to the four who had returned, the party had [Page 63] consisted of Barne, Quartley, Evans, Hare and Vince. They had thought that they were quite close to the ship, and when the blizzard began they had left their tents and walked towards her supposed position. Then they found themselves on a steep slope and tried to keep close together, but it was impossible to see anything. Suddenly Hare had disappeared, and a few minutes after Evans went. Barne and Quartley had left them to try to find out what had become of Evans, and neither of them had come back, though they waited. Afterwards they had gone on, and had suddenly found themselves at the edge of a precipice with the sea below; Vince had shot past over the edge. Wild feared all the others must be lost; he was sure Vince had gone. Could he guide a search party to the scene of the accident? He thought he could—at any rate he would like to try.
The information was little enough but it was something on which to act, and though the first disastrous news had not been brought until 8.30 P.M. the relieving party had left the ship before 9 P.M. Owing to his knee Scott could not accompany the party, and Armitage took charge of it.
Subsequently the actual story of the original sledge party was known, and the steps that led to the disaster could be traced. On their outward journey they had soon come to very soft snow, and after three days of excessive labour Royds had decided that the only chance of making progress was to use snow-shoes; but unfortunately there were only three pairs of ski [Page 64] with the party, and Royds resolved to push on to Cape Crozier with Koettlitz and Skelton, and to send the remainder back in charge of Barne.
The separation took place on the 9th, and on the 11th the returning party, having found an easier route than on their way out, were abreast of Castle Rock. Scarcely, however, had they gained the top of the ridge about half a mile south-west of Castle Rock, when a blizzard came on and the tents were hastily pitched.
'We afterwards weathered many a gale,' Scott says, 'in our staunch little tents, whilst their canvas sides flapped thunderously hour after hour.... But to this party the experience was new; they expected each gust that swept down on them would bear the tents bodily away, and meanwhile the chill air crept through their leather boots and ill-considered clothing, and continually some frost-bitten limb had to be nursed back to life.'
At ordinary times hot tea or cocoa would have revived their spirits, but now the cooking apparatus was out of order, and taking everything into consideration it was small wonder that they resolved to make for the ship, which they believed to be only a mile or so distant.
'Before leaving,' Barne wrote in his report, 'I impressed on the men, as strongly as I could, the importance of keeping together, as it was impossible to distinguish any object at a greater distance than ten yards on account of the drifting snow.' But after they had struggled a very short distance, Hare, who [Page 65] had been at the rear of the party, was reported to be missing, and soon afterwards Evans 'stepped back on a patch of bare smooth ice, fell, and shot out of sight immediately.'
Then Barne, having cautioned his men to remain where they were, sat down and deliberately started to slide in Evans's track. In a moment the slope grew steeper, and he was going at such a pace that all power to check himself had gone. In the mad rush he had time to wonder vaguely what would come next, and then his flight was arrested, and he stood up to find Evans within a few feet of him. They had scarcely exchanged greetings when the figure of Quartley came hurtling down upon them from the gloom, for he had started on the same track, and had been swept down in the same breathless and alarming manner. To return by the way they had come down was impossible, and so they decided to descend, but within four paces of the spot at which they had been brought to rest, they found that the slope ended suddenly in a steep precipice, beyond which nothing but clouds of snow could be seen. For some time after this they sat huddled together, forlornly hoping that the blinding drift would cease, but at last they felt that whatever happened they must keep on the move, and groping their way to the right they realized that the sea was at their feet, and that they had been saved from it by a patch of snow almost on the cornice of the cliff. Presently a short break in the storm enabled them to see Castle Rock above their heads, and slowly making their way [Page 66] up the incline, they sought the shelter of a huge boulder; and there, crouched together, they remained for several hours.
Meanwhile the party had remained in obedience to orders at the head of the slope, and had shouted again and again in the lulls of the whirling storm. But after waiting for a long time they felt that something was amiss, and that it was hopeless to remain where they were. 'As usual on such occasions,' Scott says, 'the leading spirit came to the fore, and the five who now remained submitted themselves to the guidance of Wild, and followed him in single file as he again struck out in the direction in which they supposed the ship to lie.' In this manner they descended for about 500 yards, until Wild suddenly saw the precipice beneath his feet, and far below, through the wreathing snow, the sea. He sprang back with a cry of warning, but in an instant Vince had flashed past and disappeared.
Then, horror-stricken and dazed, they vaguely realized that at all costs they must ascend the slope down which they had just come. All of them spoke afterwards of that ascent with horror, and wondered how it had ever been made. They could only hold themselves by the soles of their boots, and to slip to their knees meant inevitably to slide backwards towards the certain fate below. Literally their lives depended on each foothold. Wild alone had a few light nails in his boots, and to his great credit he used this advantage to give a helping hand in turn to each [Page 67] of his companions. When, after desperate exertions, they did reach the top of the slope their troubles were not finished, for they were still ignorant of the position of the ship. Wild, however, again took the lead, and it was largely due to him that the party eventually saw the ship looming through the whirl of snow. 'It is little wonder that after such an experience they should have been, as I have mentioned, both excited and tired.'
The hours following the departure of Armitage and his search party on this fatal night were unforgettable. Scott, hatefully conscious of his inability to help on account of his injured leg, admits that he could not think of any further means to render assistance, but he says, 'as was always my experience in the Discovery, my companions were never wanting in resource.' Soon the shrill screams of the siren were echoing among the hills, and in ten minutes after the suggestion had been made, a whaler was swinging alongside ready to search the cliffs on the chance of finding Vince.
But for Scott and those who had to wait inactively on board there was nothing to do but stand and peer through the driving snow, and fully three hours passed before there was a hail from without, and Ferrar appeared leading three of the lost—Barne, Evans and Quartley. An hour later the main search party returned, having done all that men could do in such weather. A more complete search was impossible, but it had to be admitted that the chance of seeing [Page 68] Hare or Vince again was very small. Sadly it had to be realized that two men were almost certainly lost, but there was also no disguising the fact that a far greater tragedy might have happened. Indeed, it seemed miraculous that any of the party were alive to tell the tale, and had not Barne, Evans and Quartley heard the faint shrieks of the siren, and in response to its welcome sound made one more effort to save themselves, the sledge party would in all probability not have found them. All three of them were badly frost-bitten, and one of Barne's hands was in such a serious condition that for many days it was thought that his fingers would have to be amputated.
The end of this story, however, is not yet told, for on March 13 Scott wrote in his diary: 'A very extraordinary thing has happened. At 10 A.M. a figure was seen descending the hillside. At first we thought it must be some one who had been for an early walk; but it was very soon seen that the figure was walking weakly, and, immediately after, the men who were working in the hut were seen streaming out towards it. In a minute or two we recognized the figure as that of young Hare, and in less than five he was on board.... We soon discovered that though exhausted, weak, and hungry, he was in full possession of his faculties and quite free from frost-bites. He went placidly off to sleep whilst objecting to the inadequacy of a milk diet.'
Later on Hare, who like Vince had been wearing fur boots, explained that he had left his companions [Page 69] to return to the sledges and get some leather boots, and had imagined that the others understood what he intended to do. Soon after he had started back he was wandering backwards and forwards, and knew that he was walking aimlessly to and fro. The last thing he remembered was making for a patch of rock where he hoped to find shelter, and there he must have lain in the snow for thirty-six hours, though he required a lot of persuasion before he could be convinced of this. When he awoke he found himself covered with snow, but on raising himself he recognized Crater Hill and other landmarks, and realized exactly where the ship lay. Then he started towards her, but until his intense stiffness wore off he was obliged to travel upon his hands and knees.
But though Hare was safe, Vince was undoubtedly gone. 'Finally and sadly we had to resign ourselves to the loss of our shipmate, and the thought was grievous to all.... Life was a bright thing to him, and it is something to think that death must have come quickly in the grip of that icy sea.'
This fatal mishap naturally caused increased anxiety about the three men who had gone on, and anxiety was not diminished when, on the 19th, Skelton was seen coming down, the hill alone. The others, however, were close behind him, and all three of them were soon safely on board.
On the 15th Royds had been compelled to abandon the attempt to reach the record at Cape Crozier, but he did not turn back until it was evident that a better [Page 70] equipped party with more favorable weather would easily get to it. On comparing notes with his party, Scott recognized what a difference there might be in the weather conditions of places within easy reach of the ship, and not only in temperature but also in the force and direction of the wind. It had not occurred to anyone that within such a short distance of the ship any large difference of temperature was probable, and as the summer was barely over, Royds, Koettlitz and Skelton had only taken a light wolf-skin fur suit for night-wear. This, however, had proved totally inadequate when the thermometer fell to -42 deg., and on the night of the 16th uncontrollable paroxysms of shivering had prevented them from getting any sleep. The value of proper clothing and the wisdom of being prepared for the unexpected rigors of such a fickle climate, were two of the lessons learnt from the experiences of the Cape Crozier party.
As the days of March went by Scott began really to wonder whether the sea ever intended to freeze over satisfactorily, and at such an advanced date there were many drawbacks in this unexpected state of affairs. Until the ship was frozen in, the security of their position was very doubtful; economy of coal had long since necessitated the extinction of fires in the boilers, and if a heavy gale drove the ship from her shelter, steam could only be raised with difficulty and after the lapse of many hours. There was, too, the possibility that the ship, if once driven off, would not be able to return, and so it was obviously unsafe [Page 71] to send a large party away from her, because if she went adrift most of them would be needed.
Another annoying circumstance was that until they had a solid sheet of ice around them they could neither set up the meteorological screen, nor, in short, carry out any of the routine scientific work which was such an important object of the expedition.
At this time Scott was eager to make one more sledding effort before the winter set in. The ostensible reason was to layout a depot of provisions to the south in preparation for the spring, but 'a more serious purpose was to give himself and those who had not been away already a practical insight into the difficulties of sledge traveling. But as this party would have to include the majority of those on board, he was forced to wait until the ship was firmly fixed, and it may be said that the Discovery was as reluctant to freeze-in as she was difficult to get out when once the process had been completed.
On March 28, however, Scott was able to write in his diary: 'The sea is at last frozen over, and if this weather lasts the ice should become firm enough to withstand future gales. We have completed the packing of our sledges, though I cannot say I am pleased with their appearance; the packing is not neat enough, and we haven't got anything like a system.'
Three days later a party of twelve, divided into two teams, each with a string of sledges and nine dogs, made a start. Their loads were arranged on the theory [Page 72] of 200 lbs. to each man, and 100 lbs. to each dog, but they very quickly discovered that the dogs were not going to have anything to do with such a theory as this. The best of them would only pull about 50 lbs., and some of the others had practically to be pulled.
Later on Scott learned that it was a bad plan to combine men and dogs on a sledge, because the dogs have their own pace and manner of pulling, and neither of these is adapted to the unequal movement caused by the swing of marching men. And on this occasion another reason for the inefficiency of the dogs was that they were losing their coats, and had but little protection against the bitterly cold wind. 'As a matter of fact, our poor dogs suffered a great deal from their poorly clothed condition during the next week or two, and we could do little to help them; but Nature seemed to realize the mistake, and came quickly to the rescue: the new coats grew surprisingly fast, and before the winter had really settled down on us all the animals were again enveloped in their normally thick woolly covering.
The refusal of the dogs to work on this trip meant that the men had to do far more than their share, and from the first they had no chance of carrying out their intentions. Each hour, however, was an invaluable experience, and when a return was made to the ship Scott was left with much food for thought. 'In one way or another each journey had been a failure; we had little or nothing to show for our labours. The errors were patent; food, clothing, everything was [Page 73] wrong, the whole system was bad. It was clear that there would have to be a thorough reorganization before the spring, and it was well to think that before us lay a long winter in which this might be effected.'
But in a sense even these failures were successful, for everyone resolved to profit by the mistakes that had been made and the experience that had been gained, and the successful sledge journeys subsequently made in the spring were largely due to the failures of the autumn.
[Page 74] CHAPTER IV
THE POLAR WINTER
The cold ice slept below, Above the cold sky shone, And all around With a chilling sound From caves of ice and fields of snow The breath of night like death did flow Beneath the sinking moon.—SHELLEY.
The sun was due to depart before the end of April, and so no time could be wasted if the outside work, which had been delayed by the tardy formation of the ice-sheet, was to be completed before the daylight vanished.
One of the most urgent operations was to get up the meteorological screen, which had been made under the superintendence of Royds. The whole of this rather elaborate erection was, placed about 100 yards astern of the ship, and consequently in a direction which, with the prevalent south-easterly winds, would be to windward of her. To obtain a complete record of meteorological observations was one of the most important scientific objects of the expedition, and it was decided that the instruments should be read and recorded every two hours. Consequently in calm or storm [Page 75] some member of the community had to be on the alert, and every other hour to make the rounds of the various instruments. On a fine night this was no great hardship, but in stormy weather the task was not coveted by anyone. On such occasions it was necessary to be prepared to resist the wind and snowdrift, and the round itself was often full of exasperating annoyances. In fact the trials and tribulations of the meteorological observers were numerous, and it was arranged that throughout the winter each officer should take it in turn to make the night observations from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. Wilson nobly offered always to take the 8 A.M. observation, but the lion's share of the work fell on Royds himself, since besides taking his share of the night work he also, throughout the first winter and a great part of the second, took all the observations between 10 A.M. and 10 P.M.
The magnetic huts and all that appertained to them were Bernacchi's special business, and many times daily he was to be seen journeying to and fro in attendance upon his precious charge. The general reader may well ask why so much trouble should be taken to ascertain small differences in the earth's magnetism, and he can scarcely be answered in a few words. Broadly speaking, however, the earth is a magnet, and its magnetism is constantly changing. But why it is a magnet, or indeed what magnetism may be, is unknown, and obviously the most hopeful way of finding an explanation of a phenomenon is to study it. For many reasons the Discovery's winter station in the [Page 76] Antarctic was an especially suitable place in which to record the phenomenon of magnetism.
Besides establishing the routine of scientific work many preparations had to be made for the comfort and well-being of the ship during the winter, and long before the sun had disappeared the little company had settled down to a regular round of daily life.
Later in the year Scott wrote in his diary: 'The day's routine for the officers gives four clear hours before tea and three after; during these hours all without exception are busily employed except for the hour or more devoted to exercise.... It would be difficult to say who is the most diligent, but perhaps the palm would be given to Wilson, who is always at work; every rough sketch made since we started is reproduced in an enlarged and detailed form, until we now possess a splendid pictorial representation of the whole coastline of Victoria Land.... At home many no doubt will remember the horrible depression of spirit that has sometimes been pictured as a pendant to the long polar night. We cannot even claim to be martyrs in this respect; with plenty of work the days pass placidly and cheerfully.'
Nearly seven months before Scott wrote in this cheerful spirit of the winter, he had expressed himself warmly about those who were to spend it with him. 'I have,' he said in a letter dispatched from Port Chalmers on the voyage out, 'the greatest admiration for the officers and men, and feel that their allegiance to me is a thing assured. Our little society in the [Page 77] wardroom is governed by a spirit of good fellowship and patience which is all that the heart of man could desire; I am everlastingly glad to be one of the company and not forced to mess apart.... The absence of friction and the fine comradeship displayed throughout is beyond even my best expectation.'
This spirit of good-fellowship and give-and-take was a remarkable feature of life during the time spent in the Discovery, and the only man Scott had a word to say against was the cook. 'We shipped him at the last moment in New Zealand, when our trained cook became too big for his boots, and the exchange was greatly for the worse; I am afraid he is a thorough knave, but what is even worse, he is dirty—an unforgivable crime in a cook.'
Under such circumstances it is obvious that tempers might have been overstrained, and apart from the sins of the cook the weather was unexpectedly troublesome. Almost without exception the North Polar winter has been recorded as a period of quiescence, but in the Antarctic the wind blew with monotonous persistency, and calm days were very few and far between. Nevertheless Scott had little reason to change his original opinion about his companions, all of whom were prepared to put up with some unavoidable discomforts, and to make the best of a long job.
During the winter a very regular weekly routine was kept up, each day having its special food and its special tasks. The week's work ended on Friday, and Saturday was devoted to 'clean ship,' the officers doing [Page 78] their share of the scrubbing. In the forenoon the living-spaces were thoroughly cleaned, holes and corners were searched, and while the tub and scrubber held sway the deck became a 'snipe marsh.' At this time the holds also were cleared up, the bilges pumped out, the upper deck was 'squared up,' and a fresh layer of clean snow was sprinkled over that which had been soiled by the traffic of the week. Then a free afternoon for all hands followed, and after dinner in the wardroom the toast was the time-honoured one of 'Sweethearts and Wives.'
On Sunday a different garment was put on, not necessarily a newer or a cleaner one, the essential point being that it should be different from that which had been worn during the week. By 9.30 the decks had been cleared up, the tables and shelves tidied, and the first lieutenant reported 'All ready for rounds.' A humble imitation of the usual man-of-war walk-round Sunday inspection followed, and Scott had the greatest faith in this system of routine, not only because it had a most excellent effect on the general discipline and cleanliness of the ship, but also because it gave an opportunity to raise and discuss each new arrangement that was made to increase the comfort of all on board.
After this inspection of both ship and men, the mess-deck was prepared for church; harmonium, reading-desk and chairs were all placed according to routine, and the bell was tolled. Scott read the service, Koettlitz the lessons, and Royds played the harmonium.
[Page 79] Service over, all stood off for the day and looked forward to the feast of mutton which was limited to Sunday. 'By using it thus sparingly the handsome gift of the New Zealand farmers should last us till the early spring. But it is little use to think of the sad day when it will fail; for the present I must confess that we always take an extra walk to make quite sure of our appetites on Sunday.'
On June 23 the festival of mid-winter was celebrated, and the mess-deck was decorated with designs in coloured papers and festooned with chains and ropes of the same materials. Among the messes there was a great contest to have the best decorations, and some astonishing results were achieved with little more than brightly coloured papers, a pair of scissors and a pot of paste. On each table stood a grotesque figure or fanciful erection of ice, which was cunningly lighted up by candles from within and sent out shafts of sparkling light. 'If,' Scott wrote in his diary, 'the light-hearted scenes of to-day can end the first period of our captivity, what room for doubt is there that we shall triumphantly weather the whole term with the same general happiness and contentment?'
During the winter months the South Polar Times, edited by Shackleton, appeared regularly, and was read with interest and amusement by everyone. At first it had been decided that each number should contain, besides the editorial, a summary of the events and meteorological conditions of the past month, some scientifically instructive articles dealing with the work [Page 80] and surroundings, and others written in a lighter vein; but, as the scheme developed, it was found that such features as caricatures and acrostics could be added. One of the pleasantest points in connection with the Times was that the men contributed as well as the officers; in fact some of the best, and quite the most amusing, articles were written by the occupants of the mess-deck. But beyond all else the journal owed its excellence to Wilson, who produced drawings that deserved—and ultimately obtained—a far wider appreciation than could be given to them in the Antarctic. So great was the desire to contribute to the first number of the S. P. T. that the editor's box was crammed with manuscripts by the time the date for sending in contributions had arrived. From these there was no difficulty in making a selection, but as there was also some danger of hurting the feelings of those whose contributions had been rejected, a supplementary journal named The Blizzard was produced. This publication, however, had but a brief career, for in spite of some good caricatures and a very humorous frontispiece by Barne, it was so inferior to the S. P. T. that even its contributors realized that their mission in life did not lie in the paths of literary composition. The Blizzard, in short, served its purpose, and then ceased to exist.
In considering the arrangements to make the ship comfortable during the dark months, the question of artificial light was as difficult as it was important. Paraffin had from the first been suggested as the most [Page 81] suitable illuminant, its main disadvantage being that it is not a desirable oil to carry in quantities in a ship. 'Our luckiest find,' Scott says, 'was perhaps the right sort of lamp in which to burn this oil. Fortunately an old Arctic explorer, Captain Egerton, presented me with a patent lamp in which the draught is produced by a fan worked by clockwork mechanism, and no chimney is needed. One can imagine the great mortality there would be in chimneys if we were obliged to employ them, so that when, on trial, this lamp was found to give an excellent light, others of the same sort were purchased, and we now use them exclusively in all parts of the ship with extremely satisfactory results.'
There was, however, a still brighter illuminant within their reach in the shape of acetylene, but not until it became certain that they would have to spend a second winter in the Antarctic, did their thoughts fly to the calcium carbide which had been provided for the hut, and which they had not previously thought of using. 'In this manner the darkness of our second winter was relieved by a light of such brilliancy that all could pursue their occupations by the single burner placed in each compartment. I lay great stress on this, because I am confident that this is in every way the best illuminant that can be taken for a Polar winter, and no future expedition should fail to supply themselves with it.'
As has already been said, the meteorological observations had to be read and recorded every two hours, and on July 21 Scott gave in his diary a full and [Page 82] graphic account of the way he occupied himself during his 'night on.' 'Each of us has his own way of passing the long, silent hours. My own custom is to devote some of it to laundry-work, and I must confess I make a very poor fist of it. However, with a bath full of hot water, I commence pretty regularly after the ten o'clock observation, and labour away until my back aches. There is little difficulty with the handkerchiefs, socks and such-like articles, but when it comes to thick woolen vests and pajamas, I feel ready to own my incapacity; one always seems to be soaping and rubbing at the same place, and one is forced to wonder at the area of stuff which it takes to cover a comparatively small body. My work is never finished by midnight, but I generally pretend that it is, and after taking the observations for that hour, return to wring everything out. I am astonished to find that even this is no light task; as one wrings out one end the water seems to fly to the other; then I hang some heavy garment on a hook and wring until I can wring no more; but even so, after it has been hung for a few minutes on the wardroom clothes-line, it will begin to drip merrily on the floor, and I have to tackle it afresh. I shall always have a high respect for laundry-work in future, but I do not think it can often have to cope with such thick garments as we wear.
'Washing over, one can devote oneself to pleasanter occupations. The night-watchman is always allowed a box of sardines, which are scarce enough to be a great luxury, and is provided with tea or cocoa and a spirit-lamp. [Page 83] Everyone has his own ideas as to how sardines should be prepared... and I scarcely like to record that there is a small company of gourmets, who actually wake one another up in order that the night-watchman may present his fellow epicures with a small finger of buttered toast, on which are poised two sardines "done to a turn." The awakened sleeper devours the dainty morsel, grunts his satisfaction, and goes placidly off into dreamland again.
'I find that after my labours at the wash-tub and the pleasing supper that follows, I can safely stretch myself out in a chair without fear of being overcome by sleep, and so, with the ever-soothing pipe and one's latest demand on the library book-shelves, one settles down in great peace and contentment whilst keeping an eye on the flying hours, ready to sally forth into the outer darkness at the appointed time.
'The pleasure or pain of that periodic journey is of course entirely dependent on the weather. On a fine night it may be quite a pleasure, but when, as is more common, the wind is sweeping past the ship, the observer is often subjected to exasperating difficulties, and to conditions when his conscience must be at variance with his inclination.
'Sometimes the lantern will go out at the screen, and he is forced to return on board to light it; sometimes it will refuse to shine on the thin threads of mercury of the thermometer until it is obvious that his proximity has affected the reading, and he is forced to stand off until it has again fallen to the air temperature.... [Page 84] These and many other difficulties in taking observations which may be in themselves valueless are met in the right spirit. I think we all appreciate that they are part of a greater whole whose value must stand or fall by attention to detail.'
At the end of July a most unpleasant fact had to be faced in a mishap to the boats. Early in the winter they had been hoisted out to give more room for the awning, and had been placed in a line about a hundred yards from the ice-foot on the sea-ice. The earliest gale drifted them up nearly gunwale high, and thus for the next two months they remained in sight. But then another gale brought more snow, and was so especially generous with it in the neighborhood of the boats, that they were afterwards found to be buried three or four feet beneath the surface. With no feelings of anxiety, but rather to provide occupation, Scott ordered the snow on the top of them to be removed, and not until the first boat had been reached was the true state of affairs revealed. She was found lying in a mass of slushy ice with which she was nearly filled, and though for a moment there was a wild hope that she could be pulled up, this soon vanished; for the air temperature promptly converted the slush into hardened ice, and so she was stuck fast.
Nothing more could be done at that time to recover the boats, because as fast as the sodden ice could be dug out, more sea-water would have come in and frozen. But to try and prevent bad going to worse before the summer brought hope with it, parties were [Page 85] engaged day after day in digging away at the snow covering, and in the course of months many tons must have been removed. The danger was that fresh gales bringing more snow might have sunk the boats so far below the surface that they could never be recovered, and after each gale the diggers were naturally despondent, as to all appearances they had to begin all over again. The prospect, however, of having to leave the Antarctic without a single boat in the ship, and also the feeling that so much labour must tell in the end, spurred on the diggers to renewed vigour, but it was not until December that the boats were finally liberated.
Early in August another gale with blinding drift was responsible for an experience to Bernacchi and Skelton that once again emphasized the bewildering effect of a blizzard. They were in the smaller compartment of the main hut completing a set of pendulum observations, while Royds was in the larger compartment—the hut was used for many and various purposes—rehearsing his nigger minstrel troupe. Either because nigger minstrelsy and scientific work did not go hand in hand, or because their work was finished, Bernacchi and Skelton, soon after the rehearsal began, left the hut to return to the ship. Fully an hour and a half afterwards Royds and his troupe, numbering more than a dozen, started back, and found that the gale had increased and that the whirling snow prevented them from seeing anything. Being, however, in such numbers, they were able to join hands and sweep along until they caught the guide-rope leading to the gangway; [Page 86] and then as they traveled along it they heard feeble shouts, and again extending their line suddenly fell upon Bernacchi and Skelton, who, having entirely lost their bearings, had been reduced to shouting on the chance of being heard and rescued.
The hut was scarcely 200 yards from the ship, and the latter was not only a comparatively big object but was surrounded by guide-ropes and other means of direction, which if encountered would have informed the wanderers of their position. Additionally Bernacchi and Skelton could be trusted to take the most practical course in any difficulty, and so it seems the more incredible that they could actually have been lost for two hours. Both of them were severely frostbitten about the face and legs, but bitter as their experience was it served as yet another warning to those who were to go sledding in the spring that no risks could be taken in such a capricious climate. Had not Royds been rehearsing his troupe on this occasion the results to Bernacchi and Skelton must have been more disastrous than they were; consequently the idea of using the large hut as a place of entertainment was fortunate in more ways than one.
During the first week of May a concert had been given in the hut, but this was more or less in the nature of an experiment; for Royds, who took infinite pains over these entertainments, had arranged a long program with the object of bringing to light any possible talent. The result of this was that even the uncritical had to confess that most of the performers would have [Page 87] been less out of place among the audience. So much dramatic ability, however, was shown that Barne was entrusted with the work of producing a play, which, after many rehearsals conducted with due secrecy, was produced on June 25.
This play was entitled 'The Ticket of Leave,' 'a screaming comedy in one act,' and was produced with unqualified success. 'I for one,' Scott says, 'have to acknowledge that I have rarely been so gorgeously entertained.'
Later on Royds began to organize his nigger minstrel troupe, and when the doors of the Royal Terror Theatre opened at 7.30 on August 6, the temperature outside them was -40 deg., while inside it was well below zero. Under these conditions it is small wonder that the audience was glad when the curtain went up.
'There is no doubt,' Scott says in reference to this performance, 'that sailors dearly love to make up; on this occasion they had taken an infinity of trouble to prepare themselves.... "Bones" and "Skins" had even gone so far as to provide themselves with movable top-knots which could be worked at effective moments by pulling a string below.... To-night the choruses and plantation-songs led by Royds were really well sung, and they repay him for the very great pains he has taken in the rehearsals.'
So with entertainments to beguile the time, and with blizzards to endure, and with preparations to make for sledding, the days passed by until on August 21 the sun was once more due to return. But on that [Page 88] day a few hours of calm in the morning were succeeded by whirling snow-squalls from the south, and each lull was followed by a wild burst of wind. Scott was glad enough to have everyone on board in such weather, and at noon when he had hoped to be far over the hills only vast sheets of gleaming snow could be seen. The following day, however, was an ideal one for the first view of the long-absent sun, and Scott went to the top of Crater Hill to watch and welcome. 'Over all the magnificent view the sunlight spreads with gorgeous effect after its long absence; a soft pink envelops the western ranges, a brilliant red gold covers the northern sky; to the north also each crystal of snow sparkles with reflected light. The sky shows every gradation of light and shade; little flakes of golden sunlit cloud float against the pale blue heaven, and seem to hover in the middle heights, whilst far above them a feathery white cirrus shades to grey on its unlit sides.'
But when the men were told that the sun could be seen from Hut Point, to Scott's astonishment they displayed little or no enthusiasm. Everyone seemed glad to think that it had been punctual in keeping its appointment, but after all they had seen the sun a good many times before, and in the next few months they would in all probability see it a good many times again, and there was no sense in getting excited about it. Some of them did set off at a run for the point, while others, since it seemed the right thing to do, followed at a walk, but a good [Page 89] number remained on board and had their dinner. On August 25 the Feast of the Sun was duly celebrated, and the days that followed were fuller than ever with preparations for the spring journeys. The only sewing-machine clattered away all day long, and the whole company plied their needles as if they were being sweated by iron-handed taskmasters. The long winter was at an end, and everyone, in the best of spirits, was looking forward eagerly to the spring sledge journeys, and making garments in which to bid defiance to the wind and the weather. As regards the actual sledge equipment which was taken to the south, Scott had depended on the experience of others, and especially on that of Armitage, but owing to a variety of reasons the difficulty of providing an efficient sledding outfit had been immense.
In England twenty-five years had passed since any important sledding expedition had been accomplished, and during that time not a single sledge, and very few portions of a sledge equipment, had been made in the country. The popular accounts of former expeditions were not written to supply the minute details required, and no memory could be expected to retain these details after such a lapse of time. In fact the art of sledge-making was lost in England, but fortunately the genius of Nansen had transferred it to Norway. In the autumn of 1900 Scott had visited Christiania, and there received much advice and assistance from Nansen himself. It was not, however, until Armitage agreed to serve as second in [Page 90] command of the expedition that Scott had anyone on whom he could rely to provide the sledding outfit.
In making these preparations for long journeys in the south, there was no previous experience to go upon except that which had been gained in the north; indeed it was necessary to assume that southern conditions would be more or less similar to those of the north, and in so far as they proved different the sledding outfit ran the risk of failure. Experience taught Scott that in many respects the sledding conditions of the south were different from those of the north, and so it is only fair to consider the sledge journeys taken by the Discovery expedition as pioneer efforts. These differences are both climatic and geographical. For instance, the conditions in the south are more severe than those in the north, both in the lowness of the temperatures and in the distressing frequency of blizzards and strong winds. And the geographical difference between the work of the northern and the southern sledge-traveler is as great as the climatic, if not greater, for the main part of northern traveling has been and will be done on sea-ice, while the larger part of southern traveling has been and will be done over land surfaces, or what in this respect are their equivalents.
So impressed was Scott by the impossibility of dragging a sledge over the surfaces of the Great Barrier to the South at the rate maintained by the old English travelers on the northern sea-ice, that he began seriously to think that the British race of explorers [Page 91] must have deteriorated rapidly and completely in stamina. But later on, in carrying out exploration to the west, he had to travel over the sea-ice of the strait, and then he discovered that—given the surface there was nothing wrong with the pace at which his sledge parties could travel. Probably, however, the distances recorded by the northern travelers will never be exceeded in the south, for the Antarctic explorer has to meet severer climatic conditions, and while pulling his sledge over heavier surfaces he is not likely to meet with fewer obstacles in his path. To make marching records is not, of course, the main purpose of sledge-travelers, but all the same, where conditions are equal, speed and the distance traveled are a direct test of the efficiency of sledding preparations, and of the spirit of those who undertake this arduous service.
The main differences between the sledges used by the Discovery expedition and those used by other explorers were a decrease in breadth and an increase in runner surface. Measured across from the center of one runner to the center of the other Scott's sledges were all, with one exception, 1 foot 5 inches. The runners themselves were 3-3/4 inches across, so that the sledge track from side to side measured about 1 foot 8-3/4 inches. The lengths varied from 12 feet to 7 feet, but the 11-foot sledges proved to be by far the most convenient—a length of 12 feet seeming to pass just beyond the limit of handiness.
Taking then 11 feet as about the best length for this type of sledge, it will be seen that it differed [Page 92] considerably from the old Arctic type, which was 10 feet long and 3 feet broad. The weight of such all 11-foot sledge was anything between 40 and 47 lbs., and this was none too light when the full strength of the structure was required. Generally speaking, the full load that could be put upon them was about 600 lbs. The most important part of the sledge is the runner, in which the grain must be perfectly straight and even, or it will splinter very easily; but it surprised Scott to find what a lot of wear a good wood runner would stand, provided that it was only taken over snow. 'Some of our 9-foot sledges must,' he says, 'have traveled 1,000 miles, and there was still plenty of wear left in the runners.'
In point of numbers the Discovery's crew was far behind the old Northern expeditions; and it was this fact that made Scott decide, in arranging a sledge equipment where men and not dogs would do most of the haulage, to divide his parties into the smallest workable units. The old Northern plan had allowed for parties of at least eight, who, having a common tent and cooking arrangements, could not be subdivided. Scott's plan was not necessarily to limit the number of men in his parties, but to divide them into units of three, which should be self-contained, so that whenever it was advisable a unit could be detached from the main party. Under such a system it is obvious that each unit must have its own tent, sleeping-bag, cooker, and so on; and therein lay a disadvantage, as economy of material and weight can [Page 93] be better carried out with a large unit than with a small one.
The weights of a party naturally divide themselves under two headings: the permanent, which will not diminish throughout the trip, and the consumable, including food, oil, &c. The following is a list of the permanent weights carried on Scott's journey to the west, and it will give some idea of the variety of articles, exclusive of provisions. The party numbered six.
lbs. 2 Sledges with fittings complete 130 Trace 5 2 Cookers, pannikins and spoons 30 2 Primus lamps, filled 10 2 Tents complete 60 2 Spades 9 2 Sleeping-bags with night-gear 100 Sleeping jackets, crampons, spare finnesko 50 Medical bag 6 3 Ice-axes 8 Bamboos and marks 11.5 Instruments and camera 50 Alpine rope 9 Repair and tool bags, sounding-line, tape, sledge brakes 15 Ski boots for party 15 Ski for party 60
[Footnote 1: Reindeer-fur boots.]
[Page 94] Roughly speaking, a man can drag from 200 to 240 lbs., but his load was rarely above 200 lbs. This for six men gave a total carrying capacity of 1,200 lbs. and hence about 630 lbs. could be devoted to provisions.
Again, speaking very roughly, this amount is about six weeks' food for a party of six, but as such a short period is often not long enough to satisfy sledge-travelers, they are compelled to organize means by which their journey can be prolonged. This can be done in two ways; they may either go out earlier in the season and lay a depot at a considerable distance towards their goal, or they may arrange to receive assistance from a supporting party, which accompanies them for a certain distance on the road and helps their advance party to drag a heavier load than they can accomplish alone.
Both of these plans were adopted by Scott on the more important journeys, and his parties were able to be absent from the ship for long periods and to travel long distances.
[Page 95] CHAPTER V
THE START OF THE SOUTHERN JOURNEY
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit To its full height...
...Shew us here That you are worth your breeding, which I doubt not. For there is none so mean or base That have not noble lustre in your eyes. I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start. —SHAKESPEARE.
During the later months of the dark season all thoughts had been turned to the prospects of the spring journeys, and many times the advantages and disadvantages of dogs for sledding were discussed. This question of the sacrifice of animal life was one on which Scott felt strongly from the time he became an explorer to the end of his life. Argue with himself as he might, the idea was always repugnant to his nature.
'To say,' he wrote after his first expedition, that dogs do not greatly increase the radius of action is absurd; to pretend that they can be worked to this end without pain, suffering, and death, is equally futile. The question is whether the latter can be justified by the gain, and I think that logically it may be; [Page 96] but the introduction of such sordid necessity must and does rob sledge-traveling of much of its glory. In my mind no journey ever made with dogs can approach the height of that fine conception which is realized when a party of men go forth to face hardships, dangers, and difficulties with their own unaided efforts, and by days and weeks of hard physical labour succeed in solving some problem of the great unknown. Surely in this case the conquest is more nobly and splendidly won.'
When the spring campaign opened in 1902 the original team of dogs had been sadly diminished. Of the nineteen that remained for the southern journey, all but one—and he was killed at an earlier period—left their bones on the great southern plains. This briefly is the history of the dogs, but the circumstances under which they met their deaths will be mentioned later on.
Before Scott started on the southern journey he decided to make a short trip to the north with the dogs and a party of six officers and men, his main purposes being to test the various forms of harness, and to find out whether the dogs pulled best in large or small teams. During part of this journey, which only lasted from September 2 to 5, the four sledges were taken independently with four dogs harnessed to each, and it was discovered that if the first team got away all right, the others were often keen to play the game of 'follow my leader.' Sometimes, indeed, there was a positive spirit of rivalry, and on one occasion two [Page 97] competing teams got closer and closer to each other, with the natural result that when they were near enough to see what was happening, they decided that the easiest way to settle the matter was by a free fight. So they turned inwards with one accord and met with a mighty shock. In a moment there was a writhing mass of fur and teeth, and an almost hopeless confusion of dog traces. But even in this short trip some experience had been gained; for results showed how unwise it was to divide the dogs into small parties, and also there was no mistaking which were the strong and which the weak dogs, and, what was of more importance, which the willing and which the lazy ones.
On September 10, Royds and Koettlitz started off to the south-west with Evans, Quartley, Lashly and Wild. And of this party Scott wrote: 'They looked very workmanlike, and one could see at a glance the vast improvement that has been made since last year. The sledges were uniformly packed.... One shudders now to think of the slovenly manner in which we conducted things last autumn; at any rate here is a first result of the care and attention of the winter.'
Armitage and Ferrar with four men left for the west on the following day, but owing to the necessity of making fresh harness for the dogs and to an exasperating blizzard, Scott was not able to start on his southern reconnaissance journey until September 17.
On the morning of that day he and his two companions, [Page 98] Barne and Shackleton, with thirteen dogs divided into two teams, left the ship in bright sunshine; but by 1.15 P.M., when they camped for lunch, the wind was blowing from the east and the thermometer was down to -43 deg..
The sledges carried a fortnight's food for all concerned, together with a quantity of stores to form a depot, the whole giving a load of about 90 lbs. per dog; but this journey was destined to be only a short and bitter experience.
The reason was that on the night of the 17th the travelers were so exhausted that they did not heap enough snow on the skirting of the tent, and when Scott woke up on the following morning he found himself in the open. 'At first, as I lifted the flap of my sleeping-bag, I could not think what had happened. I gazed forth on a white sheet of drifting snow, with no sign of the tent or my companions. For a moment I wondered what in the world it could mean, but the lashing of the snow in my face very quickly awoke me to full consciousness, and I sat up to find that in some extraordinary way I had rolled out of the tent.'
At the time a violent gale was raging, and through the blinding snow Scott could only just see the tent, though it was flapping across the foot of his bag; but when he had wriggled back to the tent the snow was whirling as freely inside as without, and the tent itself was straining so madly at what remained of its securing, that something had to be done at once to prevent it from blowing away altogether. [Page 99] So with freezing fingers they gripped the skirting and gradually pulled it inwards, and half sitting upon it, half grasping it, they tried to hold it against the wild blasts of the storm, while they discussed the situation. Discussion, however, was useless. An attempt to secure the tent properly in such weather was impossible, while they felt that if once they loosed their grip, the tent would hasten to leave them at once and for ever. Every now and then they were forced to get a fresh hold, and lever themselves once more over the skirt. And as they remained hour after hour grimly hanging on and warning each other of frostbitten features, their sleeping-bags became fuller and fuller of snow, until they were lying in masses of chilly slush. Not until 6 P.M. had they by ceaseless exertions so far become masters of the situation, that there was no further need for the tent to be held with anything except the weight of their sleeping-bags. Then an inspection of hands showed a number of frostbites, but Barne, whose fingers had not recovered from the previous year, had suffered the most. 'To have hung on to the tent through all those hours must have been positive agony to him, yet he never uttered a word of complaint.'
By 10 P.M. the worst of the storm had passed, and after a few hours' sleep and a hot meal, they soon decided that to push on after this most miserable experience was very unwise, since by returning to the ship they would only lose one day's march and everything could be dried for a fresh start.
[Page 100] Apart from 'Brownie,' who spent his time inside the tent, the rest of the dogs never uttered a sound during the storm, and were found quite happily sleeping in their nests of snow. On the journey back the thermometer recorded -53 deg., and the effect of such a temperature upon wet clothing may be imagined. 'I shall remember the condition of my trousers for a long while; they might have been cut out of sheet iron. It was some time before I could walk with any sort of ease, and even when we reached the ship I was conscious of carrying an armor plate behind me.... It will certainly be a very long time before I go to sleep again in a tent which is not properly secured.'
On September 24 Scott was ready to start again, but Barne's fingers had suffered so severely that his place was taken by the boatswain, Feather, who had taken a keen interest in every detail of sledding. Owing to the dogs refusing to do what was expected of them, and to gales, slow progress was made, but the wind had dropped by the morning of September 29, and Scott was so anxious to push on that he took no notice of a fresh bank of cloud coming up from the south, with more wind and drift. Taking the lead himself, he gave orders to the two teams to follow rigidly in his wake, whatever turns and twists he might make. Notwithstanding the bad light he could see the bridged crevasses, where they ran across the bare ice surface, by slight differences in shade, and though he could not see them where they dived into the valleys, he found that the bridges were strong enough to bear. In [Page 101] his desire to use the snowy patches as far as possible, the course he took was very irregular, and the dogs invariably tried to cut corners. In this manner they proceeded for some time, until Scott suddenly heard a shout, and looking back saw to his horror that Feather had vanished. The dog team and sledges were there all right, but their leader was lost to sight. Hurrying back he found that the trace had disappeared down a formidable crevasse, but to his great relief Feather was at the end of the trace, and was soon hauled up. One strand of Feather's harness was cut clean through where it fell across the ice-edge, and although, being a man of few words, he was more inclined to swear at 'Nigger' for trying to cut a corner than to marvel at his own escape, there is no doubt that he had a very close call.
After this accident the dog teams were joined, and reluctant to give up they advanced again; but very soon the last of the four sledges disappeared, and was found hanging vertically up and down in an ugly-looking chasm. To the credit of the packing not a single thing had come off, in spite of the jerk with which it had fallen. It was, however, too heavy to haul up as it was, but, after some consultation, the indefatigable Feather proposed that he should be let down and undertake the very cold job of unpacking it. So he was slung with one end of the Alpine rope, while the other was used for hauling up the various packages; and at last the load was got up, and the lightened sledge soon followed.
After this incident they thought it prudent to treat these numerous crevasses with more respect, and on [Page 102] proceeding they roped themselves together; but although no more mishaps occurred, Scott afterwards was more inclined to attribute this to good luck than to good judgment. 'Looking back on this day, I cannot but think our procedure was extremely rash. I have not the least doubt now that this region was a very dangerous one, and the fact that we essayed to cross it in this light-hearted fashion can only be ascribed to our ignorance. With us, I am afraid, there were not a few occasions when one might have applied the proverb that "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."'
The depot, leaving six weeks' provision for three men and 150 lbs. of dog-food, was made on the morning of October 1, and besides marking it with a large black flag, Scott was also careful to take angles with a prismatic compass to all the points he could see. Then they started home, and the dogs knowing at once what was meant no longer required any driving. On the homeward march the travelers went for all they were worth, and in spite of perpetual fog covered eighty-five statute miles in less than three days.
On returning to the ship Scott admits that he found it a most delightful place. The sense of having done what he wanted to do had something to do with this feeling of satisfaction, but it was the actual physical comfort after days of privation that chiefly affected him. The joy of possessing the sledding appetite was sheer delight, and for many days after the travelers returned from their sledding-trips, they retained a hunger which it seemed impossible to satisfy.
[Page 103] In short Scott, on the night of his return, was very pleased with himself and the world in general, but before he went to bed all his sense of comfort and peace had gone. For he had discovered what Armitage, wishing to give him some hours of unmixed enjoyment, had not meant to mention until the following morning, and this was that there had been an outbreak of scurvy—the disease that has played a particularly important, and often a tragic, part in the adventures of Polar travelers, and the seriousness of which everyone who has read the history of Polar explorations cannot fail to realize.
This outbreak had occurred during Armitage's journey, and when he, after much anxiety, had got his men back to the ship, Wilson's medical examination proved that Ferrar, Heald and Cross were all attacked, while the remainder of the party were not above suspicion.
Very soon, however, symptoms of the disease began to abate, but the danger lurking around them was continually in Scott's thoughts, and he was determined not to give the dreaded enemy another chance to break out.
Everything possible was done to make the ship and everything in her sweet and clean, and after a large seal-killing party, sent out at Wilson's suggestion, had returned, the order was given that no tinned meat of any description should be issued. By October 20 this grave disease had to all intents and purposes passed away, but although evidence showed that it was [Page 104] caused by tinned meats which were to all appearances of the best quality, and by apparently fresh mutton taken in small quantities, there was no positive proof that these were the causes of the trouble.
This attack of scurvy came as a great surprise to everyone, for when the long winter was over and all of them were in good health and high spirits, they had naturally congratulated themselves on the effectiveness of their precautions. The awakening from this pleasant frame of mind was rude, and though the disease vanished with astonishing rapidity, it was—quite apart from the benefit lost to medical science—very annoying not to be able to say definitely from what the evil had sprung.
But although the seriousness of this outbreak was not underrated, and every precaution was taken to prevent its recurrence, preparations for the various journeys were pushed on with no less vigour and enthusiasm. The game to play was that there was nothing really to be alarmed about, and everyone played it with the greatest success.
Scott's journey to the south had indicated that the main party would have to travel directly over the snow-plain at a long distance from, and perhaps out of sight of, land; and as in all probability no further depots could be established, it was desirable that this party should be supported as far as possible on their route. To meet these requirements it was decided that Barne, with a party of twelve men, should accompany the dog-team, until the weights were reduced to an amount [Page 105] which the dogs could drag without assistance. Then Barne was to return to the ship, and after a short rest start again with six men, to follow the coast-line west of the Bluff. As soon as this was in train, Armitage was to have at his disposal all the men and material left in the ship for his attack on the western region.
On Friday, October 24, Royds, who had left the ship three weeks before with Skelton, Lashly, Evans, Quartley and Wild, returned with the good news that he had been able to communicate with the 'Record' post at Cape Crozier. If a relief ship was going to be sent out, Scott now had the satisfaction of knowing that she had a good prospect of being guided to the winter quarters of the expedition. It was also a great source of satisfaction to find that although Royds and his party had left almost immediately after the outbreak of scurvy, they had all returned safe and with no symptom of the disease.
From the 13th to the 18th this party had been kept in their tents by a most persistent blizzard, and before the blizzard ceased they were practically buried in the heart of a snowdrift; in fact one tent had literally to be dug out before its occupants could be got into the open, while the sledges and everything left outside were completely buried. As the snow gradually accumulated round the tents it became heavier and heavier on every fold of canvas, and reduced the interior space to such an extent that those inside were obliged to lie with their knees bent double. Royds, whose reports were invariably very brief and to [Page 106] the point, dismissed the tale of these five days in half a page, but no great effort of imagination is needed to grasp the horrible discomforts everyone must have endured. And yet when this party recounted their adventures on board the ship, the hardships were scarcely mentioned, and all that the men seemed to remember were the amusing incidents that had happened.
On this journey a colony of Emperor penguins was discovered, and among them were several which were nursing chicks. 'I will only testify,' Scott says, 'to the joy which greeted this discovery on board the ship. We had felt that this penguin was the truest type of our region. All other birds fled north when the severity of winter descended upon us: the Emperor alone was prepared to face the extremest rigors of our climate; and we gathered no small satisfaction from being the first to throw light on the habits of a creature, which so far surpasses in hardihood all others of the feathered tribe.'
Before the end of October everything was prepared for the southern journey; every eventuality seemed to be provided for, and as it was expected that the dogs would travel faster than the men Barne and his party started off on October 30, while the dog team left a few days later. 'The supporting party started this morning, amidst a scene of much enthusiasm; all hands had a day off, and employed it in helping to drag the sledges for several miles... Barne's banner floated on the first, the next bore a Union Jack, and [Page 107] another carried a flag with a large device stating "No dogs needs apply"; the reference was obvious. It was an inspiriting sight to see nearly the whole of our small company step out on the march with ringing cheers, and to think that all work of this kind promised to be done as heartily.'
And then the day that Scott had been so eagerly looking forward to arrived, and at ten o'clock on the morning of November 2, he, Shackleton and Wilson, amidst the wild cheers of their comrades, started on the southern journey. 'Every soul was gathered on the floe to bid us farewell, and many were prepared to accompany us for the first few miles.' The dogs, as if knowing that a great effort was expected of them, had never been in such form, and in spite of the heavy load and the fact that at first two men had to sit on the sledges to check them, it was as much as the rest of the party could do to keep up. By noon the volunteers had all tailed off, and the three travelers were alone with the dogs, and still breathlessly trying to keep pace with them. Soon afterwards they caught sight of a dark spot ahead and later on made this out to be the supporting party, who, when they were overtaken on the same evening, reported that they had been kept in their tents by bad weather. Having relieved them of some of their loads, Scott camped, while they pushed on to get the advantage of a night march.
During the next few days the two parties constantly passed and re-passed each other, since it was [Page 108] impossible for Scott to push on ahead of Barne's party, and the latter's progress was very slow, as they could get no hold with their fur boots, and they found their ski leather boots dreadfully cold for their feet. To add to the slowness of the journey the weather was very unfavorable, and the greater parts of the 8th and 9th were entirely wasted by a blizzard. On the 10th Depot A, that had previously been laid, was reached and Scott wrote: 'Already it seems to me that the dogs feel the monotony of a long march over the snow more than we do; they seem easily to get dispirited, and that it is not due to fatigue is shown when they catch a glimpse of anything novel.... To-day, for instance, they required some driving until they caught sight of the depot flag, when they gave tongue loudly and dashed off as though they barely felt the load behind them.'
The names of the dogs were:
Nigger Birdie Wolf Jim Nell Vic Spud Blanco Bismarck Snatcher Grannie Kid Fitzclarence Lewis Boss Stripes Gus Brownie Joe
Each of them had his peculiar characteristics, and what the Southern party did not already know concerning their individualities, they had ample opportunities of finding out in the course of the next few weeks.
[Page 109] Nigger was the leader of the team; a place he chose naturally for himself, and if he was put into any other position he behaved so unpleasantly to his neighbors, and so generally upset things, that he was quickly shifted. A more perfect sledge-dog could scarcely be imagined. He seemed to know the meaning of every move, and in camp would be still as a graven image until he saw the snow being shoveled from the skirting of the tent, when he would spring up and pace to and fro at his picket, and give a low throaty bark of welcome if anyone approached him. A few minutes later, when the leading man came to uproot his picket, he would watch every movement, and a slow wagging of the tail quite obviously showed his approval: then, as the word came to start, he would push affectionately against the leader, as much as to say, 'Now come along!' and brace his powerful chest to the harness. At the evening halt after a long day he would drop straight in his tracks and remain perfectly still, with his magnificent black head resting on his paws. Other dogs might clamor for food, but Nigger knew perfectly well that the tent had first to be put up. Afterwards, however, when the dog-food was approached his deep bell-like note could always be distinguished amid the howling chorus, and if disturbance was to be avoided it was well to attend to him first of all.
Of the other dogs Lewis was noisily affectionate and hopelessly clumsy; Jim could pull splendidly when he chose, but he was up to all the tricks of the trade and was extraordinarily cunning at pretending to pull; [Page 110] Spud was generally considered to be daft; Birdie evidently had been treated badly in his youth and remained distrustful and suspicious to the end; Kid was the most indefatigable worker in the team; Wolf's character possessed no redeeming point of any kind, while Brownie though a little too genteel for very hard work was charming as a pet, and it may also be said of him that he never lost an opportunity of using his pleasant appearance and delightful ways to lighten his afflictions. The load for this dog team after Depot A had been passed was 1,850 lbs., which, considering that some of the dogs were of little use, was heavy. But it must not be forgotten that the men also expected to pull, and that each night the weight would be reduced by thirty or forty pounds. By the 13th the travelers were nearly up to the 79th parallel, and therefore farther south than anyone had yet been. 'The announcement of the fact caused great jubilation, and I am extremely glad that there are no fewer than fifteen of us to enjoy this privilege of having broken the record.' A photograph of the record-breakers was taken, and then half of the supporting party started to return, and the other half stepped out once more on a due south line, with the dogs following.
By the 15th, however, when the rest of the supporting party turned back, Scott had begun to be anxious about the dogs. 'The day's work has cast a shadow on our high aspirations, and already it is evident that if we are to achieve much it will be only by extreme toil, for the dogs have not pulled well to-day.... [Page 111] We have decided that if things have not improved in the morning we will take on half a load at a time; after a few days of this sort of thing the loads will be sufficiently lightened for us to continue in the old way again.'
On the following day an attempt to start with the heavy loads promptly and completely failed, and the only thing to do was to divide the load into two portions and take half on at a time. This meant, of course, that each mile had to be traveled three times, but there was no alternative to this tedious form of advance. Even, however, with the half-loads the dogs seemed to have lost all their spirit, and at the end of the march on the 18th they were practically 'done.' Only five geographical miles were gained on that day, but to do it they had to cover fifteen.
[Footnote 1: 7 geographical miles = a little more than 8 statute miles.]
On the night of the 19th matters had gone from bad to worse, and it had to be acknowledged that the fish diet the dogs were eating permanently disagreed with them. Originally Scott had intended to take ordinary dog-biscuits for the animals, but in an unlucky moment he was persuaded by an expert in dog-driving to take fish. The fish taken was the Norwegian stock-fish, such as is split, dried and exported from that country in great quantities for human food. But one important point was overlooked, namely the probability of the fish being affected on passing through the tropics. The lesson, Scott said, was obvious, that in future travelers in the south should safeguard their [Page 112] dogs as carefully as they do their men, for in this case it was the dogs that called the halts; and so the party had to spend hours in their tent which might have been devoted to marching.
Day after day relay work continued, the only relief from the monotony of their toil being that land was sighted on the 21st, and as the prospects of reaching a high latitude were steadily disappearing, it was decided to alter their course to S. S. W. and edge towards it. Then the surface over which they were traveling showed signs of improvement, but the travelers themselves were beginning to suffer from blistered noses and cracked lips, and their eyes were also troubling them. Appetites, however, were increasing by leaps and bounds. 'The only thing to be looked to on our long marches is the prospect of the next meal.'
On November 24 a new routine was started which made a little variation in the dull toil of relay work. After pushing on the first half-load one of the three stopped with it, and got up the tent and prepared the meal while the other two brought up the second half-load. And then on the following day came one of those rewards which was all the sweeter because it had been gained by ceaseless and very monotonous toil.
'Before starting to-day I took a meridian altitude,' Scott wrote, 'and to my delight found the latitude to be 80 deg. 1'. All our charts of the Antarctic region show a plain white circle beyond the eightieth parallel... It has always been our ambition to get inside that white [Page 113] space, and now we are there the space can no longer be a blank; this compensates for a lot of trouble.'
A blizzard followed upon this success, but the dogs were so exhausted that a day's rest had been thought of even if the weather had not compelled it. Wilson, to his great discomfort, was always able to foretell these storms, for when they were coming on he invariably suffered from rheumatism; so, however reluctant, he could not help being a very effective barometer.
After the storm had passed an attempt was made on the morning of the 27th to start with the full load, but it took next to no time to discover that the dogs had not benefited by their rest, and there was nothing to do except to go on with the old routine of relay work. As the days passed with no signs of improvement in the dogs, it became more and more necessary to reach the land in hopes of making a depot; so the course was laid to the westward of S. W., which brought the high black headland, for which they were making, on their port bow. 'I imagine it to be about fifty miles off, but hope it is not so much; nine hours' work to-day has only given us a bare four miles.'
Then for some days the only change in the toil of relay work and the sickening task of driving tired dogs on and on was that they marched by night, and rested by day. The breakfast hour was between 4 and 5 P.M., the start at 6 P.M., and they came to camp somewhere between three and four in the morning. Thus they rested while the sun was at its greatest [Page 114] height; but although there were certainly advantages in this, Scott could not get rid of a curious feeling that something was amiss with such a topsy-turvy method of procedure.
By December 3 they were close enough to the land to make out some of its details. On their right was a magnificent range of mountains, which by rough calculations Scott made out to be at least fifty miles away. By far the nearest point of land was an isolated snow-cape, an immense, and almost dome-shaped, snow-covered mass. At first no rock at all could be seen on it, but as they got nearer a few patches began to appear. For one of these patches they decided to make so that they might establish a depot, but at the rate at which they were traveling there was little hope of reaching it for several days.
By this time the appetites of the party were so ravenous that when the pemmican bag was slung alongside a tin of paraffin, and both smelt and tasted of oil, they did not really mind. But what saddened them more than this taste of paraffin was the discovery, on December 5, that their oil was going too fast. A gallon was to have lasted twelve days, but on investigation it was found on an average to have lasted only ten, which meant that in the future each gallon would have to last a fortnight. 'This is a distinct blow, as we shall have to sacrifice our hot luncheon meal and to economize greatly at both the others. We started the new routine to-night, and for lunch ate some frozen seal-meat and our allowance of sugar and biscuit.'
[Page 115] It was perhaps fortunate that their discovery about the oil was not delayed any longer, but nevertheless it came at a time when the outlook was dreary and dispiriting enough without additional discomforts. On the 6th Spud gnawed through his trace, and when Scott went outside before breakfast, one glance at the dog's balloon-like appearance was enough to show how he had spent his hours of freedom. He had, in fact, eaten quite a week's allowance of the precious seal-meat, and though rather somnolent after his gorge, he did not seem to be suffering any particular discomfort from the enormous increase of his waist. On the next day there was a blizzard, duly predicted by Wilson's twinges of rheumatism, and on the 8th Scott reluctantly records that the dogs were steadily going downhill. 'The lightening of the load is more than counter-balanced by the weakening of the animals, and I can see no time in which we can hope to get the sledges along without pulling ourselves.'
By the 10th they were within ten or twelve miles of the coast, but so exhausted that they felt no certainty of reaching it; and even supposing they did get there and make a depot, they doubted very much if they would be in any condition to go on. One dog, Snatcher, was already dead, and some of the others had only been got to move with the second load by the ignominious device of carrying food in front of them. To see the dogs suffering was agony to those who had to drive and coax them on, and though Scott refers often in these days to the hunger that was nipping him, [Page 116] no one can read his diary without seeing how infinitely more he was concerned over the suffering of the dogs than about his own troubles. 'It is terrible,' he says, 'to see them.'
At last, on December 14, they arrived, when they were almost spent, at a place where dog-food could be left. In their march they had only managed to do two miles after the most strenuous exertions, for the snow became softer as they approached the land, and the sledge-runners sank from three to four inches. On any particularly soft patch they could do little more than mark time, and even to advance a yard was an achievement.
No wonder that Scott, after they had left three weeks' provisions and a quantity of dog-food in Depot B and had resumed their march, sounded a note of thankfulness: 'As I write I scarcely know how to describe the blessed relief it is to be free from our relay work. For one-and-thirty awful days we have been at it, and whilst I doubt if our human endurance could have stood it much more, I am quite sure the dogs could not. It seems now like a nightmare, which grew more terrible towards its end.' The sense of relief was, however, not destined to last, for on December 21 the dogs were in such a hopeless condition that they might at any moment have completely collapsed. This was a fact that had to be faced, and the question whether under such circumstances it was wise to push on had to be asked and answered. The unanimous answer was that the risk [Page 117] of going on should be taken, but on that same night Wilson, in view of future plans, reported to Scott that his medical examinations revealed that Shackleton had decidedly angry-looking gums, and that for some time they had been slowly but surely getting worse. It was decided not to tell Shackleton of these symptoms of scurvy, and as the bacon they were using seemed likely to be the cause of them, it was discarded and an increased allowance of seal given in its place. This was a loss in weight which was serious, for already they were reduced almost to starvation rations of about a pound and a half a day.
Supper was the best meal, for then they had a hoosh which ran from between three-quarters to a whole pannikin apiece, but even this they could not afford to make thick. While it was being heated in the central cooker, cocoa was made in the outer, but the lamp was turned out directly the hoosh boiled, and by that time the chill was barely off the contents of the outer cooker. Of course the cocoa was not properly dissolved, but they were long past criticizing the quality of their food. All they wanted was something to 'fill up,' but needless to say they never got it. Half an hour after supper was over they were as hungry as ever.
When they had started from the ship, there had been a vague idea that they could go as they pleased with the food, but experience showed that this would not do, and that there must be a rigid system of shares. Consequently they used to take it in turn to divide [Page 118] things into three equal portions, and as the man who made the division felt called upon to take the smallest share, the game of 'shut-eye' was invented to stop all arguments and remonstrances. The shares were divided as equally as possible by someone, then one of the other two turned his head away and the divider pointed to a portion and said, 'Whose is this?' He of the averted head named the owner, and thus this simple but useful game was played.
Wilson's examination of Shackleton on December 24 was not encouraging, but they had reached a much harder surface and under those conditions Scott and Wilson agreed that it was not yet time to say 'Turn.' Besides, Christmas Day was in front of them, and for a week they had all agreed that it would be a crime to go to bed hungry on that night. In fact they meant it to be a wonderful day, and everything conspired to make it so.
The sun shone gloriously from a clear sky, and not a breath of wind disturbed the calmness of the morning, but entrancing as the scene was they did not stay to contemplate it, because for once they were going to have a really substantial breakfast, and this was an irresistible counter-attraction.
And afterwards, when they felt more internally comfortable than they had for weeks, the surface continued to be so much better that the sledges could be pulled without any help from the dogs. On that day they had the satisfaction of covering nearly eleven miles, the longest march they had made for a long [Page 119] time. So when camp was pitched they were thoroughly pleased with the day, and ready to finish it off with a supper to be remembered. A double 'whack' of everything was poured into the cooking-pot, and in the hoosh that followed a spoon would stand without any support, and the cocoa was also brought to boiling-point.
'I am writing,' Scott says, 'over my second pipe. The sun is still circling our small tent in a cloudless sky, the air is warm and quiet. All is pleasant without, and within we have a sense of comfort we have not known for many a day; we shall sleep well tonight—no dreams, no tightening of the belt.
'We have been chattering away gaily, and not once has the conversation turned to food. We have been wondering what Christmas is like in England... and how our friends picture us. They will guess that we are away on our sledge journey, and will perhaps think of us on plains of snow; but few, I think, will imagine the truth, that for us this has been the reddest of all red-letter days.'
[Page 120] CHAPTER VI
How many weary steps Of many weary miles you have o'ergone, Are numbered to the travel of one mile. SHAKESPEARE.
Some days passed before the pleasing effects of Christmas Day wore off, for it had been a delightful break in an otherwise uninterrupted spell of semi-starvation, and the memories lingered long after hunger had again gripped the three travelers. By this time they knew that they had cut themselves too short in the matter of food, but the only possible alteration that could now be made in their arrangements was to curtail their journey, and rather than do that they were ready cheerfully to face the distress of having an enormous appetite, and very little with which to appease it.
Thinking over the homeward marches after he had returned to the ship, Scott expresses his emphatic opinion that the increasing weariness showed that they were expending their energies at a greater rate than they could renew them, and that the additional [Page 121] weight, caused by carrying a proper allowance of food, would have been amply repaid by the preservation of their full strength and vigour.
Apart, however, from the actual pangs of hunger, there was another disadvantage from this lack of food, for try as they would it was impossible not to think and talk incessantly of eating. Before they went to sleep it was almost certain that one of them would give a detailed description of what he considered an ideal feast, while on the march they found themselves counting how many footsteps went to the minute, and how many, therefore, had to be paced before another meal.
But if, during these days of hunger, thoughts of what they could eat if only the chance was given to them kept constantly cropping up, there were also very real compensations for both their mental and physical weariness. Day by day, as they journeyed on, they knew that they were penetrating farther and farther into the unknown. Each footstep was a gain, and made the result of their labours more assured. And as they studied the slowly revolving sledge-meter or looked for the calculated results of their observations, it is not surprising that above all the desires for food was an irresistible eagerness to go on and on, and to extend the line which they were now drawing on the white space of the Antarctic chart.
Day by day, too, the magnificent panorama of the Western land was passing before their eyes. 'Rarely a march passed without the disclosure of some new [Page 122] feature, something on which the eye of man had never rested; we should have been poor souls indeed had we not been elated at the privilege of being the first to gaze on these splendid scenes.'
From the point of view of further exploration their position on December 26 was not very hopeful. On their right lay a high undulating snow-cap and the steep irregular coast-line, to the south lay a cape beyond which they could not hope to pass, and to all appearances these conditions were likely to remain to the end of their journey. But on that night they had christened a distant and lofty peak 'Mount Longstaff,' in honour of the man whose generosity had alone made the expedition possible, and although they thought that this was the most southerly land to which they would be able to give a name, they were in no mood to turn back because the outlook was unpromising. Arguing on the principle that it was impossible to tell what may turn up, they all decided to push on; and their decision was wise, for had they returned at that point one of the most important features of the whole coast-line would have been missed.
On the 26th and 27th Wilson had a very bad attack of snow-blindness, which caused him the most intense agony. Some days before Scott had remarked in his diary upon Wilson's extraordinary industry: 'When it is fine and clear, at the end of our fatiguing days he will spend two or three hours seated in the door of the tent sketching each detail of the splendid mountainous coast-scene to the west. His sketches [Page 123] are most astonishingly accurate; I have tested his proportions by actual angular measurements and found them correct.... But these long hours in the glare are very bad for the eyes; we have all suffered a good deal from snow-blindness of late, though we generally march with goggles, but Wilson gets the worst bouts, and I fear it is mainly due to his sketching.'
The attack, however, after Christmas was very much worse than anything that had gone before, and all day long during the 27th Wilson was pulling alongside the sledges with his eyes completely covered. To march blindfold with an empty stomach must touch the bottom of miserable monotony, but Wilson had not the smallest intention of giving in. With Scott walking opposite to him and telling him of the changes that were happening around them he plodded steadily on, and during the afternoon of the 27th it happened that a most glorious mountainous scene gradually revealed itself. With some excitement Scott noticed that new mountain ridges were appearing as high as anything they had seen to the north, and his excitement increased when these ridges grew higher and higher. Then, instead of a downward turn in the distant outline came a steep upward line, and as they pressed on apace to see what would happen next, Scott did his best to keep Wilson posted up in the latest details. The end came in a gloriously sharp double peak crowned with a few flecks of cirrus cloud, and all they could think of in camp that night was this splendid twin-peaked mountain, which even in such [Page 124] a lofty country looked like a giant among pigmies. 'At last we have found something which is fitting to bear the name of him whom we must always the most delight to honour, and "Mount Markham" it shall be called in memory of the father of the expedition.'
Wilson, in spite of his recent experiences, did not mean to miss this, and however much his eyes had to suffer the scene had to be sketched. Fortunately a glorious evening provided a perfect view of their surroundings, for very soon they knew that the limit of their journey would be reached, and that they would have but few more opportunities to increase their stock of information.
After a day that had brought with it both fine weather and most interesting discoveries, they settled down in their sleeping-bags, full of hope that the morrow would be equally kind. But instead of the proposed advance the whole day had to be spent in the tent while a strong southerly blizzard raged without, and when they got up on the following morning they found themselves enveloped in a thick fog.
Reluctantly the decision was made that this camp must be their last, and consequently their southerly limit had been reached. Observations gave it as between 82.16 S. and 82.17 S., and though this record may have compared poorly with what Scott had hoped for when leaving the ship, it was far more favorable than he anticipated when the dogs had begun to fail. 'Whilst,' he says, 'one cannot help a deep sense of disappointment in reflecting on the "might have been" [Page 125] had our team remained in good health, one cannot but remember that even as it is we have made a greater advance towards a pole of the earth than has ever yet been achieved by a sledge party.'
With less than a fortnight's provision to take them back to Depot B, they turned their faces homewards on the last day of the year, and it was significant of the terrible condition of the surviving dogs that the turn did not cause the smallest excitement. Many of them were already dead, killed to keep the others alive, but those which remained seemed to guess how poor a chance they had of getting back to the ship. Again and again Scott refers to the suffering of the dogs on the homeward march, and how intensely he felt for them is proved beyond all manner of doubt. 'January 3. This afternoon, shortly after starting, "Gus" fell, quite played out, and just before our halt, to our greater grief, "Kid" caved in. One could almost weep over this last case; he has pulled like a Trojan throughout, and his stout little heart bore him up till his legs failed beneath him.' Only seven of the team now remained, and of them Jim seemed to be the strongest, but Nigger, though weak, was still capable of surprising efforts. But at the end of a week on the return journey, all of the remaining dogs were asked to do nothing except walk by the sledges.
For several hours on January 7 the men pulled steadily and covered ten good miles. But the distance they succeeded in traveling was as nothing compared with the relief they felt at no longer having to drive [Page 126] a worn-out team. In the future no more cheering and dragging in front would be needed, no more tangled traces would have to be put straight, and above all there would be no more whip. So far steady though rather slow progress had been made, but January 8 brought an unpleasant surprise. Try as they would the sledge could scarcely be made to move, and after three hours of the hardest work only a mile and a quarter had been gained. Sadly they were compelled to admit that the surface had so completely changed that the only thing to do was to remain in camp until it improved. But whether it would improve was an anxious matter, for they had less than a week's provisions and were at least fifty miles from Depot B.
The next day, however, saw an improvement in the surface, and a fairly good march was done. By this time only four dogs were left, Nigger, Jim, Birdie and Lewis, and poor Nigger was so lost out of harness that he sometimes got close to the traces and marched along as if he was still doing his share of the pulling. But this more or less ordinary day was followed on the 10th by a march in a blizzard that exhausted Scott and Wilson, and had even a more serious effect upon Shackleton. With the wind behind them they had gained many miles, but the march had tired them out, because instead of the steady pulling to which they were accustomed they had been compelled sometimes to run, and sometimes to pull forwards, backwards, sideways, and always with their senses keenly alert and their muscles strung up for instant action.
[Page 127] On that night Scott in no very cheerful frame of mind wrote: 'We cannot now be far from our depot, but then we do not exactly know where we are; there is not many days' food left, and if this thick weather continues we shall probably not be able to find it.' And after two more days of bad surface and thick weather he wrote again: 'There is no doubt we are approaching a very critical time. The depot is a very small spot on a very big ocean of snow; with luck one might see it at a mile and a half or two miles, and fortune may direct our course within this radius of it; but, on the other hand, it is impossible not to contemplate the ease with which such a small spot can be missed.... The annoying thing is that one good clear sight of the land would solve all our difficulties.'
At noon on January 13 the outlook was more hopeless than ever. Three hours' incessant labour had gained only three-quarters of a mile, and consequently they had to halt though their food-bag was a mere trifle to lift, and they could have finished all that remained in it at one sitting and still have been hungry. But later on Scott caught a glimpse of the sun in the tent, and tumbled hastily out of his sleeping-bag in the hope of obtaining a meridional altitude; and after getting the very best result he could under the very difficult conditions prevailing, he casually lowered the telescope and swept it round the horizon. Suddenly a speck seemed to flash by, and a vehement hope as suddenly arose. Then he brought the telescope slowly back, and there it was again, and accompanied this [Page 128] time by two smaller specks on either side of it. Without a shadow of doubt it was the depot which meant the means of life to them. 'I sprang up and shouted, "Boys, there's the depot." We are not a demonstrative party, but I think we excused ourselves for the wild cheer that greeted this announcement.'