In five minutes everything was packed on the sledges, but though the work was as heavy as before the workers were in a very different mood to tackle it. To reach those distant specks as quickly as possible was their one desire and all minor troubles were forgotten as they marched, for before them was the knowledge that they were going to have the fat hoosh which would once more give them an internal sense of comfort. In two hours they were at the depot, and there they found everything as they had left it.
On that same morning they had stripped off the German silver from the runners of one of their sledges, and now fortified by the fat hoosh of their dreams they completed the comparison between the two sledges, which respectively had metal and wood runners. Having equalized the weights as much as possible they towed the sledges round singly, and found that two of them could scarcely move the metalled sledge as fast as one could drag the other.
Of course they decided to strip the second sledge, and with only about 130 miles to cover to their next depot, a full three weeks' provisions, and the prospect of better traveling on wood runners, they went to bed [Page 129] feeling that a heavy load of anxiety had been lifted. The chief cause of worry left was the question of health, and the result of a thorough medical examination on the morning of the 14th did nothing to remove this. Shackleton was found to be very far indeed from well, but although Scott and Wilson both showed symptoms of scurvy they still felt that, as far as they were concerned, there was no danger of a breakdown.
On that day they made a fairly good march, but at the end of it Wilson had to warn Scott that Shackleton's condition was really alarming. Commenting on this Scott wrote: 'It's a bad case, but we must make the best of it and trust to its not getting worse; now that human life is at stake, all other objects must be sacrificed.... It went to my heart to give the order, but it had to be done, and the dogs are to be killed in the morning.
'One of the difficulties we foresee with Shackleton, with his restless, energetic spirit, is to keep him idle in camp, so to-night I have talked seriously to him. He is not to do any camping work, but to allow everything to be done for him.... Every effort must be devoted to keeping him on his legs, and we must trust to luck to bring him through.'
With the morning of the 15th came the last scene in the tragic story of the dogs, and poor Nigger and Jim, the only survivors of that team of nineteen, were taken a short distance from the camp and killed. 'I think we could all have wept.... Through our most troublous time we always looked forward to getting [Page 130] some of our animals home. At first it was to have been nine, then seven, then five, and at the last we thought that surely we should be able to bring back these two.'
During the part of the return journey which was now beginning, they had promised themselves an easier time, but instead of that it resolved itself into days of grim struggle to save a sick companion. The weather also added to their troubles, because it was so overcast that steering was extremely difficult. For nearly ten consecutive days this gloomy weather continued to harass them, but on the 20th it cleared as they were on their march, and on the following day with a brisk southerly breeze and their sail set they traveled along at a fine rate. The state of Shackleton's health was still a source of acutest anxiety, but each march brought safety nearer and nearer, and on the 23rd Scott was able to write in a much more hopeful spirit. Next day a glimpse of the Bluff to the north was seen, but this encouraging sight was accompanied by a new form of surface which made the pulling very wearisome. An inch or so beneath the soft snow surface was a thin crust, almost, but not quite, sufficient to bear their weight. The work of breaking such a surface as this would, Scott says, have finished Shackleton in no time, but luckily he was able to go on ski and avoid the jars. 'In spite of our present disbelief in ski, one is bound to confess that if we get back safely Shackleton will owe much to the pair he is now using.'
[Page 131] But in spite of bad surfaces and increasingly heavy work, Scott and Wilson were determined to leave as little as possible to chance, and to get their invalid along as quickly as his condition would allow. Directly breakfast was over Shackleton started off and got well ahead, while Scott and Wilson packed up camp; and after lunch the same procedure was adopted. By this means he was able to take things easily, and though eager to do his share of the work he was wise enough to see that every precaution taken was absolutely necessary.
Encouragements in this stern struggle were few and far between, but when the smoke of Erebus was seen on the 25th, it cheered them to think that they had seen something that was actually beyond the ship. Probably it was more than a hundred miles away, but they had become so accustomed to seeing things at a distance that they were not in the least astonished by this.
January 26, too, had its consolations, for while plodding on as usual the travelers suddenly saw a white line ahead, and soon afterwards discovered that it was a sledge track. There was no doubt that the track was Barne's on his way back from his survey work to the west, but it was wonderful what that track told them. They could see that there had been six men with two sledges, and that all of the former had been going strong and well on ski. From the state of the track this party had evidently passed about four days before on the homeward route, and from [Page 132] the zig-zagging of the course it was agreed that the weather must have been thick at the time. Every imprint in the soft snow added some small fact, and the whole made an excellent detective study. But the main point was that they knew for certain that Barne and his party were safe, and this after their own experiences was a great relief.
Another day and a half of labour brought them to the depot, and the land of plenty. 'Directly,' Scott wrote on the 28th, 'our tent was up we started our search among the snow-heaps with childish glee. One after another our treasures were brought forth: oil enough for the most lavish expenditure, biscuit that might have lasted us for a month, and, finally, a large brown provision-bag which we knew would contain more than food alone. We have just opened this provision-bag and feasted our eyes on the contents. There are two tins of sardines, a large tin of marmalade, soup squares, pea soup, and many other delights that already make our mouths water. For each one of us there is some special trifle which the forethought of our kind people has provided, mine being an extra packet of tobacco; and last, but not least, there are a whole heap of folded letters and notes—billets-doux indeed. I wonder if a mail was ever more acceptable.'
The news, too, was good; Royds, after desperate labour, had succeeded in rescuing the boats; Blissett had discovered an Emperor penguin's egg, and his messmates expected him to be knighted. But the meal itself, though 'pure joy' at first, was not an [Page 133] unqualified success, for after being accustomed to starvation or semi-starvation rations, they were in no condition either to resist or to digest any unstinted meal, and both Scott and Wilson suffered acutely.
On the next morning they awoke to find a heavy blizzard, and the first thought of pushing on at all hazards was abandoned when Shackleton was found to be extremely ill. Everything now depended upon the weather, for should the blizzard continue Scott doubted if Shackleton would even be well enough to be carried on the sledge. 'It is a great disappointment; last night we thought ourselves out of the wood with all our troubles behind us, and to-night matters seem worse than ever. Luckily Wilson and I are pretty fit, and we have lots of food.' By great luck the weather cleared on the morning of the 30th, and as Shackleton after a very bad night revived a little it was felt that the only chance was to go on. 'At last he was got away, and we watched him almost tottering along with frequent painful halts. Re-sorting our provisions, in half an hour we had packed our camp, set our sail, and started with the sledges. It was not long before we caught our invalid, who was so exhausted that we thought it wiser he should sit on the sledges, where for the remainder of the forenoon, with the help of our sail, we carried him.'
In Wilson's opinion Shackleton's relapse was mainly due to the blizzard, but fortune favored them during the last stages of the struggle homewards, and the glorious weather had a wonderful effect upon the [Page 134] sick man. By the night of February 2 they were within ten or twelve miles of their goal, and saw a prospect of a successful end to their troubles. During the afternoon they had passed round the corner of White Island, and as they did so the old familiar outline of the friendly peninsula suddenly opened up before them. On every side were suggestions of home, and their joy at seeing the well-known landmarks was increased by the fact that they were as nearly 'spent as three persons can well be.'
Shackleton, it is true, had lately shown an improvement, but his companions placed but little confidence in that, for they knew how near he had been, and still was, to a total collapse. And both Scott and Wilson knew also that their scurvy had again been advancing rapidly, but they scarcely dared to admit either to themselves or each other how 'done' they were. For many a day Wilson had suffered from lameness, and each morning had vainly tried to disguise his limp, but from his set face Scott knew well enough how much he suffered before the first stiffness wore off. 'As for myself, for some time I have hurried through the task of changing my foot-gear in an attempt to forget that my ankles are considerably swollen. One and all we want rest and peace, and, all being well, tomorrow, thank Heaven, we shall get them.'
These are the final words written in Scott's sledge-diary during this remarkable journey, for on the next morning they packed up their camp for the last time and set their faces towards Observation Hill. [Page 135] Brilliant weather still continued, and after plodding on for some hours two specks appeared, which at first were thought to be penguins, but presently were seen to be men hurrying towards them. Early in the morning they had been reported by watchers on the hills, and Skelton and Bernacchi had hastened out to meet them.
Then the tent was put up, and while cocoa was made they listened to a ceaseless stream of news, for not only had all the other travelers returned safe and sound with many a tale to tell, but the relief ship, the Morning, had also arrived and brought a whole year's news.
So during their last lunch and during the easy march that followed, they, gradually heard of the events in the civilized world from December, 1901, to December, 1902, and these kept their thoughts busy until they rounded the cape and once more saw their beloved ship.
Though still held fast in her icy prison the Discovery looked trim and neat, and to mark the especial nature of the occasion a brave display of bunting floated gently in the breeze, while as they approached, the side and the rigging were thronged with their cheering comrades.
With every want forestalled, and every trouble lifted from their shoulders by companions vying with one another to attend to them, no welcome could have been more delightful, and yet at the time it appeared unreal to their dull senses. 'It seemed too good to be true that all our anxieties had so completely ended, [Page 136] and that rest for brain and limb was ours at last.' For ninety-three days they had plodded over a vast snow-field and slept beneath the fluttering canvas of a tent; during that time they had covered 960 statute miles; and if the great results hoped for in the beginning had not been completely achieved, they knew at any rate that they had striven and endured to the limit of their powers.
[Page 137] CHAPTER VII
A SECOND WINTER
As cold waters to a thirsty soul, So is good news from a far country. PROVERBS.
In a very short time Scott discovered that the sledding resources of the ship had been used to their fullest extent during his absence, and that parties had been going and coming and ever adding to the collection of knowledge.
On November 2 Royds had gone again to Cape Crozier to see how the Emperor penguins were faring, and in the meantime such rapid progress had been made in the preparations for the western party that November 9, being King Edward's birthday, was proclaimed a general holiday and given up to the eagerly anticipated athletic sports.
Of all the events perhaps the keenest interest was shown in the toboggan race, for which the men entered in pairs. Each couple had to provide their own toboggan, subject to the rule that no sledge, or part of a sledge, and no ski should be used. The start was high up the hillside, and as the time for it approached the [Page 138] queerest lot of toboggans gradually collected. The greater number were roughly made from old boxes and cask staves, but something of a sensation was caused when the canny Scottish carpenter's mate arrived with a far more pretentious article, though built from the same material. In secret he had devoted himself to making what was really a very passable sledge, and when he and his companion secured themselves to this dark horse, the result of the race was considered a foregone conclusion. But soon after the start it was seen that this couple had laboured in vain; for although they shot ahead at first, their speed was so great that they could not control their machine. In a moment they were rolling head-over-heels in clouds of snow, and while the hare was thus amusing itself a tortoise slid past and won the race.
By the end of November everything was ready for the western journey, and a formidable party set out on the 29th to cross McMurdo Sound and attack the mainland. In Armitage's own party were Skelton and ten men, while the supports consisted of Koettlitz, Ferrar, Dellbridge and six men. Excellent pioneer work was done by Armitage and his party during their seven weeks' journey. Without a doubt a practicable road to the interior was discovered and traversed, and the barrier of mountains that had seemed so formidable an obstruction from the ship was conquered. It was equally certain that the party could claim to be the first to set foot on the interior of Victoria Land but they had been forced to turn back at an extremely [Page 139] interesting point, and in consequence were unable to supply very definite information with regard to the ice-cap. They had, however, fulfilled their main object, and in doing so had disclosed problems that caused the deepest interest to be focussed upon the direction in which they had traveled.
Perhaps the most promising circumstance of all was that among the rock specimens brought back were fragments of quartz-grits. These, with other observations, showed the strong probability of the existence of sedimentary deposits which might be reached and examined, and which alone could serve to reveal the geological history of this great southern continent. At all hazards Scott determined that the geologist of the expedition must be given a chance to explore this most interesting region.
The extensive preparations for the western journey had practically stripped the ship of sledge equipment, and those who went out on shorter journeys were obliged to make the best of the little that remained. This did not, however, balk their energies, and by resorting to all kinds of shifts and devices they made many useful expeditions.
While these efforts at exploration were being carried out the ship was left in the charge of Royds, who employed everyone on board in the most important task of freeing the boats. Drastic measures had to be taken before they could be released from their beds of ice, and with sawing and blasting going on in the unseen depths, it was not possible [Page 140] that the task could be accomplished without doing considerable damage. When at length all of them had been brought to the surface their condition was exceedingly dilapidated; indeed only two of them were in a condition to float; but although it was evident that the carpenter would be busy for many weeks before they would be seaworthy, their reappearance was a tremendous relief.
Long before his departure to the south, Scott had given instructions that the Discovery should be prepared for sea by the end of January. Consequently, after the boats had been freed, there was still plenty of employment for everybody, since 'preparations for sea' under such circumstances meant a most prodigious amount of labour. Tons and tons of snow had to be dug out from the deck with pick-axes and shoveled over the side; aloft, sails and ropes had to be looked to, the running-gear to be re-rove, and everything got ready for handling the ship under sail; many things that had been displaced or landed near the shore-station had to be brought on board and secured in position; thirty tons of ice had to be fetched, melted, and run into the boilers; below, steam-pipes had to be rejointed, glands re-packed, engines turned by hand, and steam raised to see that all was in working order.
Not doubting that the ice would soon break up and release the ship, this work was carried on so vigorously that when the southern travelers returned all was ready for them to put to sea again.
[Page 141] But eleven days before Scott and his companions struggled back to safety the great event of the season had happened in the arrival of the Morning. How the funds were raised by means of which this ship was sent is a tale in itself; briefly, however, it was due to the untiring zeal and singleness of purpose shown by Sir Clements Markham that the Morning, commanded by Lieutenant William Colbeck, R.N.R., was able to leave the London Docks on July 9, 1902.
Long before the Discovery had left New Zealand the idea of a relief ship had been discussed, and although Scott saw great difficulties in the way, he also felt quite confident that if the thing was to be done Sir Clements was the man to do it. Obviously then it was desirable to leave as much information as possible on the track, and the relief ship was to try and pick up clues at the places where Scott had said that he would attempt to leave them. These places were Cape Adare, Possession Islands, Coulman Island, Wood Bay, Franklin Island and Cape Crozier.
On January 8 a landing was effected at Cape Adare, and there Colbeck heard of the Discovery's safe arrival in the south. The Possession Islands were drawn blank, because Scott had not been able to land there, and south of this the whole coast was so thickly packed that the Morning could not approach either Coulman Island or Wood Bay.
Franklin Island was visited on January 14, but [Page 142] without result; and owing to the quantities of pack ice it was not until four days later that a landing was made at Cape Crozier. Colbeck himself joined the landing party, and after spending several hours in fruitless search, he was just giving up the hunt and beginning despondently to wonder what he had better do next, when suddenly a small post was seen on the horizon. A rush was made for it, and in a few minutes Colbeck knew that he had only to steer into the mysterious depths of McMurdo Sound to find the Discovery, and practically to accomplish the work he had set out to do.
On board the Discovery the idea had steadily grown that a relief ship would come. For no very clear reason the men had begun to look upon it as a certainty, and during the latter part of January it was not uncommon for wild rumors to be spread that smoke had been seen to the north. Such reports, therefore, were generally received without much excitement, but when a messenger ran down the hill on the night of the 23rd to say that there was actually a ship in sight the enthusiasm was intense. Only the most imperturbable of those on board could sleep much during that night, and early on the 24th a large party set out over the floe. The Morning was lying some ten miles north of the Discovery, but it was far easier to see her than to reach her. At last, however, the party, after various little adventures, stood safely on deck and received the warmest of welcomes.
During the last week of January the weather was [Page 143] in its most glorious mood, and with some of the treacherous thin ice breaking away the Morning was able to get a mile nearer. Parties constantly passed to and fro between the two ships, and everyone—with unshaken confidence that the Discovery would soon be free—gave themselves up to the delight of fresh companionship, and the joy of good news from the home country. To this scene of festivity and cheeriness Scott, Wilson and Shackleton returned on February 3, and though the last to open their letters they had the satisfaction of knowing that the Morning had brought nothing but good news.
By a curious coincidence Colbeck chose the night of the Southern party's return to make his first visit to the Discovery, and soon after Scott had come out of his delicious bath and was reveling in the delight of clean clothes, he had the pleasure of welcoming him on board. 'In those last weary marches over the barrier,' Scott says, 'I had little expected that the first feast in our home quarters would be taken with strange faces gathered round our festive table, but so it was, and I can well remember the look of astonishment that dawned on those faces when we gradually displayed our power of absorbing food.'
But however difficult the appetites of the party were to appease, for a fortnight after they had reached the ship their condition was very wretched. Shackleton at once went to bed, and although he soon tried to be out and about again, the least exertion caused a return of his breathlessness, and he still suffered from [Page 144] the violent fits of coughing that had troubled him so much on the journey. With Wilson, who at one time had shown the least signs of scurvy, the disease had increased so rapidly at the end that on his return he wisely decided to go to bed, where he remained quietly for ten days. 'Wilson,' Scott wrote on February 16, 'is a very fine fellow, his pluck and go were everything on our southern journey; one felt he wouldn't give in till he dropped.' And this collapse when he got back to the ship was in itself a proof of the determination which must have upheld him during the last marches.
Scott, though the least affected of the three, was also by no means fit and well. Both his legs were swollen and his gums were very uncomfortable, but in addition to these troubles he was attacked by an overwhelming feeling of both physical and mental weariness. 'Many days passed,' he says, 'before I could rouse myself from this slothful humour, and it was many weeks before I had returned to a normally vigorous condition. It was probably this exceptionally relaxed state of health that made me so slow to realize that the ice conditions were very different from what they had been in the previous season.... The prospect of the ice about us remaining fast throughout the season never once entered my head.' His diary, however, for the month shows how he gradually awakened to the true state of affairs, and on February 13 he decided to begin the transport of stores from the Morning to the Discovery, so that the former ship 'should run no risk of being detained.' And on the 18th when [Page 145] he paid his first visit to the Morning and found the journey 'an awful grind,' he had begun to wonder whether the floe was ever going to break up.
A week later he was clearly alive to the situation. 'The Morning must go in less than a week, and it seems now impossible that we shall be free by that time, though I still hope the break-up may come after she has departed.' Some time previously he had decided that if they had to remain the ship's company should be reduced, and on the 24th he had a talk with the men and told them that he wished nobody to stop on board who was not willing. On the following day a list was sent round for the names of those who wanted to go, and the result was curiously satisfactory—for Scott had determined that eight men should go, and not only were there eight names on the list, but they were also precisely those which Scott would have put there had he made the selection. Shackleton also had to be told that he must go, as in his state of health Scott did not think that any further hardships ought to be risked; but in his place Scott requisitioned Mulock who by an extraordinary chance is just the very man we wanted. We have now an immense amount of details for charts... and Mulock is excellent at this work and as keen as possible. It is rather amusing, as he is the only person who is obviously longing for the ice to stop in, though of course he doesn't say so. The other sporting characters are still giving ten to one that it will go out, but I am bound to confess that I am not sanguine.'
[Page 146] The letter from which the last extract is taken was begun on February 16, and before the end of the month all hope of the Discovery being able to leave with the Morning had been abandoned. On March 2 nearly the whole of the Discovery's company were entertained on board the Morning, and on the following day the relief ship slowly backed away from the ice-edge, and in a few minutes she was turning to the north, with every rope and spar outlined against the black northern sky. Cheer after cheer was raised as she gathered way, and long after she had passed out of earshot the little band stood gazing at her receding hull, and wondering when they too would be able to take the northern track.
In the Morning went a letter from Scott which shows that although in a sense disappointed by the prospect of having to remain for another winter, both he and his companions were not by any means dismayed. 'It is poor luck,' he wrote, 'as I was dead keen on getting a look round C. North before making for home. However we all take it philosophically, and are perfectly happy and contented on board, and shall have lots to do in winter, spring and summer. We will have a jolly good try to free the ship next year, though I fear manual labour doesn't go far with such terribly heavy ice as we have here; but this year we were of course unprepared, and when we realized the situation it was too late to begin anything like extensive operations. I can rely on every single man that remains in the ship and I gave them all the option of leaving... [Page 147] the ship's company is now practically naval-officers and men—it is rather queer when one looks back to the original gift of two officers.'
Referring to the Southern journey he says, 'We cut our food and fuel too fine.... I never knew before what it was to be hungry; at times we were famished and had to tighten our belts nightly before going to sleep. The others dreamt of food snatched away at the last moment, but this didn't bother me so much.'
But characteristically the greater part of this long letter refers not to his own doings, but to the admirable qualities of those who were with him. Wilson, Royds, Skelton, Hodgson, Barne and Bernacchi are all referred to in terms of the warmest praise, and for the manner in which Colbeck managed the relief expedition the greatest admiration is expressed. But in some way or other Scott discovered good points in all the officers he mentioned, and if they were not satisfactory in every way his object seemed to be rather to excuse than to blame them. He was, however, unaffectedly glad to see the last of the cook, for the latter had shown himself far more capable at talking than at cooking, and had related so many of his wonderful adventures that one of the sailors reckoned that the sum total of these thrilling experiences must have extended over a period of five hundred and ninety years—which, as the sailor said, was a fair age even for a cook.
By March 14 even the most optimistic of the company were compelled to admit the certainty of a second winter, and orders were given to prepare the [Page 148] ship for it. Compared with the previous year the weather had been a great deal worse, for there had been more wind and much lower temperatures, and under such conditions it was hopeless to go on expecting the ice to break up. But it was not to be wondered at that they found themselves wondering what their imprisonment meant. Was it the present summer or the last that was the exception? For them this was the gravest question, since on the answer to it their chance of getting away next year, or at all, depended.
While, however, the situation as regards the future was not altogether without anxiety, they sturdily determined to make the best of the present. To ward off any chance of scurvy, it was determined to keep rigidly to a fresh-meat routine throughout the winter, and consequently a great number of seals and skuas had to be killed. At first the skua had been regarded as unfit for human food, but Skelton on a sledding trip had caught one in a noose and promptly put it into the pot. And the result was so satisfactory that the skua at once began to figure prominently on the menu. They had, however, to deplore the absence of penguins from their winter diet, because none had been seen near the ship for a long time.
On Wednesday, April 24, the sun departed, but Scott remarks upon this rather dismal fact with the greatest cheerfulness: 'It would be agreeable to know what is going to happen next year, but otherwise we have no wants. Our routine goes like clock-work; [Page 149] we eat, sleep, work and play at regular hours, and are never in lack of employment. Hockey, I fear, must soon cease for lack of light, but it has been a great diversion, although not unattended with risks, for yesterday I captured a black eye from a ball furiously driven by Royds.'
Of the months that followed little need be said, except that Scott's anticipations were fully realized. In fact the winter passed by without a hitch, and their second mid-winter day found them even more cheerful than their first. Hodgson continued to work away with his fish-traps, tow-nets and dredging; Mulock, who had been trained as a surveyor and had great natural abilities for the work, was most useful, first in collecting and re-marking all the observations, and later on in constructing temporary charts; while Barne generally vanished after breakfast and spent many a day at his distant sounding holes.
Throughout the season the routine of scientific observations was carried out in the same manner as in the previous year, while many new details were added; and so engaged was everyone in serviceable work that when the second long Polar night ended, Scott was able to write: 'I do not think there is a soul on board the Discovery who would say that it has been a hardship.... All thoughts are turned towards the work that lies before us, and it would be difficult to be blind to the possible extent of its usefulness. Each day has brought it more home to us how little we know and how much there is to be learned, and we [Page 150] realize fully that this second year's work may more than double the value of our observations. Life in these regions has lost any terror it ever possessed for us, for we know that, come what may, we can live, and live well, for any reasonable number of years to come.'
[Page 151] CHAPTER VIII
THE WESTERN JOURNEY
Path of advance! but it leads A long steep journey through sunk Gorges, o'er mountains in snow.—M. ARNOLD.
During the second winter much time and attention had to be given to the sledge equipment, for there was scarcely an article in it that did not need to be thoroughly overhauled and refitted. But in spite of all their efforts, the outfit for the coming season was bound to be a tattered and makeshift affair. Skins of an inferior quality had to be used for sleeping-bags; the tents were blackened with use, threadbare in texture, and patched in many places; the cooking apparatus was considerably the worse for wear; the wind clothes were almost worn out, while for all the small bags, which were required for provisions, they were obliged to fall back on any sheets and tablecloths that could be found. This state of things, however, was very far from daunting their spirits, and long before the winter was over the plan of campaign for the next season had been drawn up.
In making the program Scott knew that extended [Page 152] journeys could only be made by properly supported parties, and it was easy to see that his small company would not be able to make more than two supported journeys, though it might be just possible to make a third more or less lengthy journey without support. The next thing to decide was in what direction these parties should go, and in this connection the greatest interest undoubtedly lay in the west. To explore the Ferrar Glacier from a geological point of view and find out the nature of the interior ice-cap must, Scott determined, be attempted at all costs, and this journey to the west he decided to lead himself.
In the south it was evident that without dogs no party could hope to get beyond the point already reached. But Scott's journey had been made a long way from land, and consequently had left many problems unsolved, chief among which were the extraordinary straits that had appeared to run through the mountain ranges without rising in level. It was therefore with the main object of exploring one of them that the second supported party, under the leadership of Barne and Mulock, was to set out.
The credit in arranging the direction in which the unsupported party should go belongs to Bernacchi, who was the first to ask Scott what proof they had that the barrier surface continued on a level to the eastward; and when Scott began to consider this question, he discovered that there was no definite proof, and decided that the only way to get it was to go and see.
[Page 153] Besides the longer journeys, the program included a number of shorter ones for specific purposes, and the most important of these were the periodic visits to the Emperor penguin rookery, as it was hoped that Wilson would be able to observe these birds from the beginning of their breeding season.
Finally, one important factor was to dominate all the sledding arrangements, for although the Discovery was mainly at the mercy of natural causes, Scott made up his mind that everything man could do to free her from the ice should be done. As soon as they could hope to make any impression upon the great ice-sheet around them, the whole force of the company was to set to work at the task of extrication, and so all sledding journeys were to start in time to assure their return to the ship by the middle of December.
On September 9 Scott got away with his own party of Skelton, Dailey, Evans, Lashly and Handsley, their object being to find a new road to the Ferrar Glacier, and on it to place a depot ready for a greater effort over the ice-cap. The Ferrar Glacier descends gradually to the inlet, which had been named New Harbor, but Armitage had reported most adversely on this inlet as a route for sledges, and in conducting his own party had led it across the high foot-hills. As yet Scott had not been to this region, but in the nature of things he could not help thinking that some practical route must exist up the New Harbour inlet, and that if it could be found the journey to the west would be much easier. And the result of this little journey [Page 154] was really important, for whereas Armitage, at the foot of the Ferrar Glacier, had seen the disturbance on the south side, and had concluded that it must extend right across, Scott's party fortunately pushed over this disturbance and found much easier conditions beyond it.
The fact thus discovered, and which was amply supported by further observations, was that invariably in the Antarctic regions where glaciers run more or less east and west, the south side will be found to be much broken up and decayed, while the north side will be comparatively smooth and even. The reason of this, of course, is simple enough, for the sun achieves its highest altitude in the north, and consequently its warmest and most direct rays fall on the south side of a valley. Here, therefore, the greater part of the summer melting takes place, and a wild chaos of ice disturbance is caused.
Scott's party, by taking a different route, laid a depot at a spot which Armitage had taken three weeks to reach, and was back again at the ship in less than a fortnight.
'We were,' Scott says, 'inclined to be exceedingly self-satisfied; we had accomplished our object with unexpected ease, we had done a record march, and we had endured record temperatures—at least, we thought so, and thought also how pleasant it would be to tell these things in front of a nice bright fire. As we approached the ship, however, Hodgson came out to greet us, and his first question was, "What temperatures [Page 155] have you had?" We replied by complacently quoting our array of minus fifties, but he quickly cut us short by remarking that we were not in it.'
In fact during those few days there had been a very cold snap throughout the region. Barne's party on the barrier, where they had been laying a depot, had the coldest time, and after their thermometer had fallen lower and lower its spirit-column broke at -67.7 deg.. Royds and his party also had to endure -62 deg., but in other respects they were in luck. For on arriving at Cape Crozier they found that the Emperor penguins had already hatched out their young, and Wilson was delighted to get the opportunity of studying the chicks at such a tender age. Commenting upon this and another journey to Cape Crozier, Wilson wrote: 'The Emperor penguin stands nearly four feet high, and weighs upward of eighty to ninety pounds.... I think the chickens hate their parents, and when one watches the proceedings in a rookery it strikes one as not surprising. In the first place there is about one chick to ten or twelve adults, and each adult has an overpowering desire to "sit" on something. Both males and females want to nurse, and the result is that when a chicken finds himself alone there is a rush on the part of a dozen unemployed to seize him. Naturally he runs away, and dodges here and there till a six-stone Emperor falls on him, and then begins a regular football scrimmage, in which each tries to hustle the other off, and the end is too often disastrous to the chick.... I think it is not [Page 156] an exaggeration to say that of the 77 per cent. that die no less than half are killed by kindness.'
From Cape Crozier Cross resolved to try to bring two chickens back to the ship, and by giving up his sleeping jacket to keep them warm and tending them with the utmost care, he succeeded in his attempt. But eventually they died from unnatural feeding, and Wilson says: 'Had we even succeeded in bringing them to the age when they put on their feathers, I fear that the journey home through the tropics would have proved too much for them, as we had no means of making a cool place for them on the ship.'
September 21 brought with it a grievous disappointment, as on that day the nautical almanac announced that nine-tenths of the sun would be obscured. For this event Bernacchi had made the most careful preparations, and everyone was placed under his orders during the day. Telescopes and the spectroscopic camera were trained in the right direction, magnetic instruments were set to run at quick speed, and observers were told off to watch everything on which the absence of sun could possibly have the smallest effect. Everything, in short, was ready except the sun itself which obstinately refused to come out. 'There may,' Scott says, 'have been an eclipse of the sun on September 21, 1903, as the almanac said, but we should none of us have liked to swear to the fact.'
The next three weeks or so were spent in preparations for the long journeys, and on October 12 Scott [Page 157] left the ship with a party of twelve, and four 11-foot sledges. First came his own party, which included Skelton, Feather, Evans, Lashly and Handsley; secondly there was a small party for the geologist, Ferrar, who was accompanied by Kennar and Weller; and thirdly there were the supports, consisting of Dailey, Williamson and Plumley.
Scott guessed rightly that in many respects this was going to be the hardest task he had yet undertaken, but he knew also that experience would be a thing to be reckoned upon, and that it would take a good deal to stop the determined men whom he had chosen. At the start their loads were a little over 200 lbs. per man, but most of the party were by this time in thoroughly good condition, and by hard marching they covered the forty-five miles to New Harbour and reached the snow-cape early on the 14th.
This snow-cape in future was to be known as Butter Point, for here on their return journey they could hope to obtain fresh seal-meat, and in preparation for this great event a tin of butter was carried and left at the point for each party.
At first all went well with the travelers, and it was not until the evening of the 17th, when they were camped amid indescribably beautiful scenery, that the first cloud of trouble arose. Then Dailey the carpenter reported that the German silver had split under the runners of two sledges, and this was a most serious blow; for although the wood runners were capable of running on snow without protection, on [Page 158] hard, sharp ice, especially if the sledge was heavily laden, they would be knocked to pieces in a very short time. It was, therefore, absolutely necessary to protect the runners on this journey, but unfortunately the German silver protection had already stood a season's work, and had worn thin without giving any outward sign.
From start to finish of the Ferrar Glacier about ninety miles of hard ice were to be expected, and the problem that immediately arose was how to get the sledges over this without damage.
By lunch-time on the 18th they had achieved a height of over 6,000 feet, and by that time the sledges were in such a parlous state that Scott had all of them unpacked and the runners turned up for inspection. Horrid revelations followed; one sledge remained sound, and Scott promptly decided that there was one course and only one to take, and that was to return to the ship as fast as they could. Had two sledges been available the advance party might have struggled on, but with one they could do nothing; so they left the sound sledge with everything else except the half-week's provisions necessary to take them back, and on the following days they 'came as near flying as is possible with a sledge party.' On the morning of the 19th they had eighty-seven miles to cover, and by 8.30 P.M. on the 21st they had reached the ship.
During this march Scott had determined to test his own party to the utmost, but seeing no necessity [Page 159] for the supports to be dragged into this effort he told them to take their own time. The supporting party, however, did not mean to be left behind if they could help it, and later on the night of the 21st they also reached the ship. In the hard struggle of the last hours some of the members of the supporting party, though determined not to give in, had been comically astounded by the pace which was set, and Kennar, presumably referring to Scott, kept on repeating, 'If he can do it, I don't see why I can't: my legs are as long as his.
Five days after their flying return they were off again, and although the material for repairing sledges was very scanty, one sound 11-foot sledge had been made and also a 7-foot one for Ferrar's glacier work. Trouble, however, almost at once began with the runners, and on the 29th Ferrar's sledge gave out and caused a long delay. But in spite of being held up by wind for two days, they reached their depot on November 1, and thought at first that everything was safe. On examination, however, they discovered that a violent gale had forced open the lid of the instrument box, and that several things were missing, among which Scott found to his dismay was the 'Hints to Travelers.'
'The gravity of this blow,' he wrote in his diary on November 1, 'can scarcely be exaggerated; but whilst I realized the blow I felt that nothing would induce me to return to the ship a second time; I thought it fair, however, to put the case to the others, [Page 160] and I am, as I expected, fortified by their willing consent to take the risks of pushing on.'
In traveling to the west, Scott expected to be—as indeed he was—out of sight of landmarks for some weeks. In such a case as this the sledge-traveler is in precisely the same position as a ship or a boat at sea: he can only obtain a knowledge of his whereabouts by observation of the sun or stars, and with the help of these observations he finds his latitude and longitude, but to do this a certain amount of data is required. 'Hints to Travelers' supplies these necessary data, and it was on this book that Scott had been relying to help him to work out his sights and fix accurately the position of his party. Unless he went back to the ship to make good his loss, he was obliged to take the risk of marching into the unknown without knowing exactly where he was or how he was to get back. 'If,' he says, 'the loss of our "Hints to Travelers" did not lead us into serious trouble it caused me many a bad half-hour.'
Having, however, decided to push on, they wasted no time about it, and although the sledge-runners continued to need constant attention they arrived at the base of the upper glacier reach on the 2nd, and on the following day gained a height of 7,000 feet.
So far nothing exceptionally eventful had occurred, but November 4 was destined to begin a time that Scott described afterwards as 'the most miserable week I have ever spent.' In the morning of the 4th there was bright sunshine with a cold, increasing wind, [Page 161] but later on the sun disappeared and the weather became very threatening. Still, however, they battled on and were half-way up the bare, icy slope they were climbing, when the air became thick with driving snow and the full force of the gale burst upon them. Pushing on at almost a run they succeeded in reaching the top, and hurriedly started to search for a patch of snow on which to camp, but nothing could be found except bare, blue ice. By this time the position was becoming serious, all of them were frost-bitten in the face, and although the runners of the sledges were split again so badly that they could barely pull them over the surface, they did not dare to leave the sledges in the thick drift.
At last a white patch was seen and a rush was made for it, but the snow discovered was so ancient and wind-swept that it was almost as hard as the ice itself. Nevertheless they knew it was this or nothing, and Scott seized a shovel for his own tent-party, and dug for all he was worth without making the least impression. At this moment Feather, the boatswain, luckily came to help him, and being more expert with the shovel managed to chip out a few small blocks. Then they tried to get up a tent, but again and again it and the poles were blown flat, and at least an hour passed before the tents were erected. 'Nothing,' Scott wrote, 'but experience saved us from disaster to-day, for I feel pretty confident that we could not have stood another hour in the open.'
Little, however, did they expect when shelter [Page 162] was gained that a week would pass before they could resume their march. From November 4-11 the gale raged unceasingly, and meanwhile not a vision of the outer world came to them, for they were enveloped continuously in a thick fog of driving snow.
In Scott's tent there was one book, Darwin's 'Cruise of the Beagle,' and first one and then another would read this aloud, until frozen fingers prevented the pages from being turned over. Only one piece of work were they able to perform, and this on the first day when, thinking the storm would soon blow over, they hauled the sledges beneath one of the tents and stripped the German silver ready for the onward march.
By the fifth day of their imprisonment sleep began to desert them, and Scott, realizing that the long inactivity was telling on the health of the party, determined that whatever the conditions might be he would try to start on the following morning.
This attempt, however, resulted in complete failure. In ten minutes both of Scott's hands were 'gone,' Skelton had three toes and the heel of one foot badly frost-bitten, and Feather lost all feeling in both feet. 'Things are looking serious,' Scott wrote after this unsuccessful effort to be up and doing, 'I fear the long spell of bad weather is telling on us. The cheerfulness of the party is slowly waning; I heard the usual song from Lashly this morning, but it was very short-lived and dolorous.... Something must be done to-morrow, but what it will be, to-morrow only can show.'
Fortunately the next morning brought a lull in the [Page 163] storm, and though the air was still as thick as a hedge it was possible at last to break away from 'Desolation Camp.' Then Scott's party separated from Ferrar's, the former making for the ice-fall and eventually and miraculously reaching the top without accident. On starting they could not see half-a-dozen yards ahead, and at once went as nearly as possible into an enormous chasm; and when they began to ascend they crossed numerous crevasses without waiting to see if the bridges would bear. 'I really believe that we were in a state when we none of us really cared much what happened; our sole thought was to get away from that miserable spot.'
But during the succeeding days fortune was with them, and by the night of the 13th the fight was won and the summit reached. With five weeks' provisions in hand, and the prospect of covering many miles before a return to the glacier would be necessary, they were, as they camped at the elevation of 8,900 feet, a very different party from the one which had struggled out of 'Desolation Camp' on the morning of the 11th.
But they had scarcely gained the summit of the icecap and started the journey to the west before troubles again began to gather round them. The long stay in 'Desolation Camp' had covered their sleeping-bags and night-jackets with ice, and with falling temperatures this ice had so little chance to evaporate that camping arrangements were acutely uncomfortable; and as each night the thermometer fell a little lower, [Page 164] the chance of relief from this state of things could scarcely be said to exist. The wind, too, was a constant worry, for though it was not very strong, when combined with the low temperature and rarefied air its effect was blighting.
'I do not think,' Scott wrote, 'that it would be possible to conceive a more cheerless prospect than that which faced us at this time, when on this lofty, desolate plateau we turned our backs upon the last mountain peak that could remind us of habitable lands. Yet before us lay the unknown. What fascination lies in that word! Could anyone wonder that we determined to push on, be the outlook ever so comfortless?'
So they plodded forward with all their strength, but in spite of every effort their progress gradually became slower. By the 17th the sledges had been divided, Scott, Feather, and Evans leading with one, while Skelton, Handsley, and Lashly followed with the other. But Scott found very soon that the second sledge had great difficulty in keeping up, and that although he himself felt thoroughly strong and well, some of his companions were beginning to fail. As was natural with such men not one of them would own that he was exhausted, and in consequence it was only by paying the keenest attention that he could detect those who from sheer incapacity were relaxing their strain on the traces. And his position was not pleasant even when he knew, for to tell any of these brave people that they must turn back was a most unenviable [Page 165] task. Thus it came about that all six of them marched on, though Scott was sure that better progress would have been made had the party been divided.
Something like a climax was reached on the 20th, when Handsley more or less broke down. Not for a moment, however, did he mean to give up, and when he was relieved of some part of his work he begged Scott not again to make an example of him. In Handsley's opinion his breakdown was a disgrace, and no arguments would make him change it. Small wonder then that Scott wrote in his diary: 'What children these men are, and yet what splendid children! The boatswain has been suffering agonies from his back; he has been pulling just behind me, and in some sympathy that comes through the traces I have got to know all about him, yet he has never uttered a word of complaint, and when he knows my eye is on him he straightens up and pretends he is just as fit as ever. What is one to do with such people?'
What Scott did was to try for another day to go on as before, but on November 22 he had to tell Skelton, Feather, and Handsley that they must turn back, and though 'they could not disguise their disappointment, they all seemed to understand that it had to be.'
From the date on which Scott reluctantly came to this decision, three weeks of the hardest physical toil followed for him and his companions, Evans and Lashly. Nevertheless Scott looked back upon this strenuous time with unmixed satisfaction, and paid a [Page 166] high tribute of praise to his companions for their part in the successful work that was done.
'With these two men behind me,' he says, 'our sledge seemed to be a living thing, and the days of slow progress were numbered.... Troubles and discomforts were many, and we could only guess at the progress we made, but we knew that by sticking to our task we should have our reward when our observations came to be worked out on board the ship.'
Regularly each night the temperature fell to -40 deg. or below, while during the marching hours it rarely rose much above -25 deg., and with this low temperature there was a constant wind. In fact the wind was the plague of their lives and cut them to pieces. So cracked were their faces that laughing hurt horribly, and the first half-hour of the morning march, before they were warmed up to the work, was dreadful, as then all their sore places got frost-bitten. In short the last week of their outward march was a searching test of endurance, but they had resolved to march on until November 30, and in spite of the miserable conditions there was no turning back before the month had ended.
Scott, however, was most undisguisedly glad when November 30 had come and gone. 'We have finished our last outward march, thank heaven! Nothing has kept us going during the past week but the determination to carry out our original intention of going on to the end of the month, and so here we have pitched our last camp.'
[Page 167] CHAPTER IX
THE RETURN FROM THE WEST
Ceaseless frost round the vast solitude Bound its broad zone of stillness.—SHELLEY.
'We are all,' Scott wrote in his diary, 'very proud of our march out. I don't know where we are, but I know we must be a long way to the west from my rough noon observation of the compass variation.' But not for anything in the world did he want again to see the interior of Victoria Land. Writing two years after this great march he says: 'For me the long month which we spent on the Victoria Land summit remains as some vivid but evil dream. I have a memory of continuous strain on mind and body, lightened only by the unfailing courage and cheerfulness of my companions.'
From first to last the month of November had been a struggle to penetrate into this barren, deserted, wind-swept, piercingly cold, and fearfully monotonous region, and although on turning homewards the travelers were relieved by having the wind at their backs, the time of trial was by no means over. Only by utilizing all their powers of marching could they hope [Page 168] to retreat in safety from their position, and December opened with such overcast weather that valuable time had to be spent in the tent. During the next few days, however, good marches were made, until on December 9 everything changed abruptly for the worse.
On the afternoon of the 9th the surface became so abominably bad, that by pulling desperately they could not get the sledge along at more than a mile an hour. Oil was growing short, and in view of the future Scott had to propose that marching hours should be increased by one hour, that they should use half allowance of oil, and that if they did not sight landmarks within a couple of days their rations should be reduced. 'When I came to the cold lunch and fried breakfast poor Evans' face fell; he evidently doesn't much believe in the virtue of food, unless it is in the form of a hoosh and has some chance of sticking to one's ribs.'
Land was sighted on the 10th, 11th, and 12th, but the weather was as overcast as ever, and Scott was still in dreadful uncertainty of their whereabouts, because he was unable to recognize a single point. Ten hours' pulling per day was beginning to tell upon them, and although apart from the increasing pangs of hunger there was no sign of sickness, Scott remarks, on the 12th, that they were becoming 'gaunt shadows.'
During the morning of the 13th Evans' nose, which had been more or less frost-bitten for some weeks, had an especially bad attack. His attitude [Page 169] to this unruly member was one of comic forbearance, as though, while it scarcely belonged to him, he was more or less responsible for it and so had to make excuses. On this occasion when told that it had 'gone,' he remarked in a resigned tone, 'My poor old nose again; well, there, it's chronic!' By the time it had been brought round a storm was blowing, and though they continued to march, the drift was so thick that at any moment they might have walked over the edge of a precipice—a fitting prelude to what, by general consent, was admitted to be the most adventurous day in their lives.
Prospects, when they started to march on the next morning, were at first a little brighter, but soon a bitterly cold wind was blowing and high ice hummocks began to appear ahead of them. In this predicament Scott realized that it was both rash to go forward, as the air was becoming thick with snow-drift, and equally rash to stop, for if they had to spend another long spell in a blizzard camp, starvation would soon be staring them in the face. So he asked Evans and Lashly if they were ready to take the risk of going on, and promptly discovered that they were. Then they marched straight for the ice disturbance, and as the surface became smoother and the slope steeper their sledge began to overrun them. At this point Scott put Evans and Lashly behind to hold the sledge back, while he continued in front to guide its course, and what happened afterwards is described most graphically in the diary of the 15th.
[Page 170] 'Suddenly Lashly slipped, and in an instant he was sliding downward on his back; directly the strain came on Evans, he too was thrown off his feet. It all happened in a moment, and before I had time to look the sledge and the two men hurtled past me; I braced myself to stop them, but might as well have attempted to hold an express train. With the first jerk I was whipped off my legs, and we all three lay sprawling on our backs and flying downward with an ever-increasing velocity. For some reason the first thought that flashed into my mind was that someone would break a limb if he attempted to stop our mad career, and I shouted something to this effect, but might as well have saved my breath. Then there came a sort of vague wonder as to what would happen next, and in the midst of that I was conscious that we had ceased to slide smoothly and were now bounding over a rougher incline, sometimes leaving it for several yards at a time; my thought flew to broken limbs again, for I felt we could not stand much of such bumping.
'At length we gave a huge leap into the air, and yet we traveled with such velocity that I had not time to think before we came down with tremendous force on a gradual incline of rough, hard, wind-swept snow. Its irregularities brought us to rest in a moment or two, and I staggered to my feet in a dazed fashion, wondering what had happened.
'Then to my joy I saw the others also struggling to their legs, and in another moment I could thank heaven that no limbs were broken. But we had by [Page 171] no means escaped scathless; our legs now show one black bruise from knee to thigh, and Lashly was unfortunate enough to land once on his back, which is bruised and very painful.... I, as the lightest, escaped the easiest, yet before the two men crawled painfully to their feet their first question was to ask if I had been hurt.
'As soon as I could pull myself together I looked round, and now to my astonishment I saw that we were well on towards the entrance of our own glacier; ahead and on either side of us appeared well-remembered landmarks, whilst behind, in the rough broken ice-wall over which we had fallen, I now recognized at once the most elevated ice cascade of our valley....
'I cannot but think that this sudden revelation of our position was very wonderful. Half an hour before we had been lost; I could not have told whether we were making for our own glacier or any other, or whether we were ten or fifty miles from our depot; it was more than a month since we had seen any known landmark. Now in this extraordinary manner the curtain had been raised... and down the valley we could see the high cliffs of the Depot Nunatak where peace and plenty awaited us.'
The sledge had not capsized until they all rolled over at the end, but the jolting had scattered their belongings and broken open the biscuit box, with the result that they had no provisions left, except the few scraps they could pick up and the meager contents of their food bag. As quickly as stiffening limbs would [Page 172] allow they collected their scattered articles, repacked the sledge and marched on towards the depot. Before them lay a long plateau, at the edge of which Scott knew that they would find a second cascade, and beneath it the region of Desolation Camp and a more gradual icy surface down to the depot.
Fortune favored them in descending the second cascade, and quite unsuspicious of any further danger they joined up their harness to their usual positions in front of the sledge. This brought Scott in the middle and a little in advance, with Lashly on his right and Evans on his left. Presently the sledge began to skid, and Scott told Lashly to pull wide to steady it. Scarcely had this order been obeyed when Scott and Evans stepped on nothing and disappeared, while Lashly miraculously saved himself from following and sprang back with his whole weight on the trace. The sledge flashed by him and jumped the crevasse down which Scott and Evans had gone, one side of the sledge being cracked by the jerk but the other side mercifully holding. 'Personally,' Scott says, 'I remember absolutely nothing until I found myself dangling at the end of my trace with blue walls on either side and a very horrid looking gulf below; large ice-crystals dislodged by our movements continued to shower down on our heads. As a first step I took off my goggles; I then discovered that Evans was hanging just above me. I asked him if he was all right, and received a reassuring reply in his calm, matter-of-fact tones.'
[Page 173] Then Scott began to grope about on every side with his cramponed feet, but not until his struggles set him swinging did his leg suddenly strike a projection. At a glance he saw that by raising himself he could get a foothold on this, and after a short struggle he stood upon a thin shaft of ice, which was wedged providentially between the walls of the chasm, and could look about him. To the right or left, above or below, there was not the vestige of another such support, nothing, in fact, but the smooth walls of ice. The projection seemed to have got there by a miracle, but miracle or not the thing to do was to help Evans, and when the latter had slipped his harness well up beneath his arms Scott found that he could pilot his feet to the bridge.
'All this had occupied some time, and it was only now that I realized what had happened above us, for there, some twelve feet over our heads, was the outline of the broken sledge. I saw at once what a frail support remained, and shouted to Lashly to ask what he could do, and then I knew the value of such a level-headed companion; for whilst he held on grimly to the sledge and us with one hand, his other was busily employed in withdrawing our ski. At length he succeeded in sliding two of these beneath the broken sledge, and so making our support more secure.'
But clever as this device was it still left them without Lashly's active assistance, because directly he relaxed his hold the sledge began to slip. The only [Page 174] possible course, therefore, was for Scott and Evans to climb out unaided, and, after a word with Evans Scott decided to try first; though he confessed afterwards that he never expected to reach the top. Not for a longtime had he swarmed a rope, and to do so in thick clothing, heavy crampons, and with frost-bitten fingers seemed to him impossible. Of the struggle that followed he remembered little except that he got a rest when he could plant his foot in the belt of his own harness, and again when his feet held on the rings of the belt. 'Then came a mighty effort, till I reached the stirrup formed by the rope span of the sledge, and then, mustering all the strength that remained, I reached the sledge itself and flung myself on to the snow beyond. Lashly said, "Thank God!" and it was perhaps then that I realized that his position had been the worst of all.'
But having arrived at the top he was completely out of action for several minutes, for his hands were white to the wrists, and not until their circulation came back could he get to work. With two on top and only one below the position, however, was very different, and presently Evans, badly frost-bitten, was landed on the surface. For a minute or two they could only stand and look at one another. Then Evans said, 'Well, I'm blowed,' which was the first sign of surprise he had shown.
By six o'clock on that same evening they reached their depot, and passed from abject discomfort to rest and peace. Bruised, sore and tired as they were, [Page 175] Lashly sang merrily as he stirred the pot, while Scott and Evans sat on the sledge, shifted their foot-gear, spread out their clothes to dry, and talked cheerily about the happenings of the day.
From this time onward their camp-life was wholly, pleasant, except to Lashly who had an attack of snow-blindness. Apart from that they were in the best of condition for the hard marching in front of them, and when on the night of the 20th they reached their second depot and could look out towards the sea, they did not care how far round they might have to walk if only that stubborn sheet of ice had broken away. But it was too evident that their homeward track might be as straight as they chose, as only in the far distance was open water to be seen, and with sorrow they realized that there must still be many miles of ice between it and the Discovery.
Late on Christmas Eve they were once more on board the ship after an absence of fifty-nine days, during which they had traveled 725 miles. Taking the eighty-one days of absence which had constituted the whole sledding season, Scott, Evans and Lashly had covered 1,098 miles, and, not including minor undulations, had climbed heights which totaled to 19,000 feet. On getting back to the Discovery Scott found only Koettlitz, Handsley and Quartley on board, because all the rest of the company had gone to the north to saw through the ice; and during the few days of rest that he allowed himself before going to the sawing-camp, he was able to read the reports of the [Page 176] officers who had led the other journeys, and to see what excellent work had been done during his absence.
Ferrar's survey and Skelton's photographic work had added materially to the value of the western journey; the party led by Barne and Mulock to the south had met with ill-fortune from the start, but throughout the journey Mulock used the theodolite indefatigably, with the results that this stretch of coast-line was more accurately plotted than any other part of Victoria Land, and that the positions and height of over two hundred mountain peaks were fixed. Barne also obtained a very good indication of the movement of the Great Barrier ice-sheet. During Royds' journey, on which the party went on very short food allowance, Bernacchi took a most interesting series of magnetic observations. And although to Bernacchi himself belongs the greatest credit, some reflected glory, at any rate, fell upon his companions, because they had to stay shivering outside the tent while he was at work inside it.
Wilson had not only been busy with the penguins at Cape Crozier, but had also made a complete examination of the enormous and interesting pressure ridges which form the junction of the Great Barrier ice-mass with the land, and subsequently had spent much time in studying the windless area to the south of Ross Island. Also, with Armitage and Heald, he had made an excellent little journey, on which Armitage obtained some very good photographs, [Page 177] sufficient in themselves to prove the receding glacial conditions of the whole continent.
In short during Scott's absence his companions had been working strenuously to increase the supply of information; so when the second sledding-season ended, they could with reason congratulate themselves that the main part of their work was done.
[Page 178] CHAPTER X
And Thor Set his shoulder hard against the stern To push the ship through... ...and the water gurgled in And the ship floated on the waves and rock'd. M. ARNOLD.
After a few days on board Scott became restless to see what was going on in the sawing-camp, and on the morning of the 31st he started off with Evans, Lashly and Handsley to march the ten and a half miles to the north. When the instructions for this attempt to free the Discovery were drawn up, there had been, of course, no telling how broad the ice-sheet would be when operations began, and Scott had been obliged to assume that it would be nearly the same as in the previous year, when the open water had extended to the Dellbridge Islets about eleven miles from the ship. There he directed that the camp should be made, and Armitage, on whom in Scott's absence the command had devolved, made all preparations in accordance with the instructions he had received.
At the outset, however, a difficulty awaited him, [Page 179] as in the middle of December the open water, instead of being up to the islets, ended at least ten miles farther to the north. Under the circumstances he considered it dangerous to take the camp out to the ice-edge, and so the sawing work had been begun in the middle of the ice-sheet instead of at its edge.
Thirty people were in the camp when Scott arrived, and though at first the work had been painful both to arms and backs they were all in splendid condition and spirits. Fortunately this was a land of plenty, penguins and seals abounded, and everyone agreed that, apart from the labour, they were having a most enjoyable time, though no one imagined that the work would be useful.
In two days Scott was as convinced as anyone that the work must be in vain, and ordered the sawing to stop. 'I have been much struck,' he wrote, 'by the way in which everyone has cheerfully carried on this hopeless work until the order came to halt. There could have been no officer or man among them who did not see from the first how utterly useless it was, and yet there has been no faltering or complaint, simply because all have felt that, as the sailor expresses it, "Them's the orders."'
With twenty miles of ice between the Discovery and freedom, the possibility of yet another winter had to be considered, so although most of the company returned to the ship, Lashly, Evans, Handsley and Clarke were left behind to make sure of an adequate stock of penguins. And then Scott being unable [Page 180] to do any good by remaining in the ship started off to the north with Wilson, the former being anxious to watch the ice-edge and see what chance there was of a break-up, while Wilson wanted to study the life of that region. This journey was to be 'a real picnic,' with no hard marching and plenty to eat; and, pursuing their leisurely way, on January 4 they were within half a mile of the open water when Wilson suddenly said, 'There they are.' Then Scott looked round, and on the rocks of Cape Royds saw a red smudge dotted with thousands of little black and white figures. Without doubt they had stumbled upon a penguin rookery, but interesting as it was to have made the discovery, it was at the same time exasperating to think of the feast of eggs they had missed in the last two years. During the rest of the day they watched the penguins and the skua gulls which were nesting around them; and before supper they took soap and towels down to a rill of thaw-water that ran within a few yards of their tent, and washed in the warm sunlight. 'Then,' Scott says, 'we had a dish of fried penguin's liver with seal kidneys; eaten straight out of the frying-pan, this was simply delicious. I have come to the conclusion that life in the Antarctic Regions can be very pleasant.'
Still in the proper picnic spirit they dawdled over their breakfast on the following day, and were lazily discussing plans when Scott, looking through the open door of the tent to the clear sea beyond, suddenly caught sight of a ship. In a moment haste and bustle reigned supreme, and while they were searching for [Page 181] boots and other things necessary for the march, Wilson said, 'Why, there's another,' and without any doubt two vessels were framed in the doorway. It had at once been taken for granted that the first ship was the Morning, but what in the name of fortune was the meaning of the other neither Scott nor Wilson could imagine. The easiest and quickest way to find out was to go straight on board, for the ships were making for the ice-edge some five miles to the westward, but if they had followed this simple plan their companions on the Discovery would have known nothing about it, and would have been compelled to wait for their mails. So they started southward to find the penguin hunters, and then to send them to establish communications with the ship. For a long time no sight of the men could be seen, but after traveling about six miles Scott and Wilson saw the tent, though without any signs of life about it; indeed they were within a hundred yards before in answer to their shouts four very satisfied figures emerged, still munching the remains of a meal. 'Of course,' Scott says, 'I thought they had not seen the ships, but they had, only, as they explained, they didn't see there was any cause for them to do anything in the matter. I said, "But, good heavens, you want your mails, don't you?" "Oh, yes, sir," they replied, "but we thought that would be all right." In other words, they as good as said that life was so extremely easy and pleasant that there was no possible object in worrying over such a trifle as the arrival of a relief expedition.' When, however, they [Page 182] had got their orders they were off at once, and Scott and Wilson went back to the ships and soon found out from Colbeck why the Terra Nova had accompanied the Morning, and how strangely the aspect of affairs had altered. Writing in his diary on that night Scott says, 'I can only record that in spite of the good home news, and in spite of the pleasure of seeing old friends again, I was happier last night than I am to-night.'
Briefly the reasons for the sending of the two ships instead of one were these. Scott's report taken by the Morning had left the strong impression that the relief ship must again be sent to the south in 1903. The 'Morning' fund, however, was inadequate to meet the requirements of another year, and there was not time enough to appeal to the public and to explain the full necessities of the case. In these circumstances there was nothing for the Societies to do but to appeal to the Government, and eventually the latter agreed to undertake the whole conduct of the relief expedition, provided that the Morning, as she stood, was delivered over to them. The Government naturally placed the management of affairs in the hands of the Admiralty, and once having taken the responsibility it was felt that two ships must be sent, in order that there should be no risk of the pledge being unfulfilled.
The Terra Nova, one of the finest of the whaling ships, was bought, and a whaling crew, under the command of Captain Harry MacKay, was engaged to navigate her. Towards the end of November 1903 she layoff Hobart Town in Tasmania, and in [Page 183] December she was joined by the Morning, Captain Colbeck being directed to take charge of this joint venture until both ships could come under Scott's command.
Thus it happened that, much to every one's surprise, two ships arrived off the edge of the fast ice on January 4, 1904. It was not, however, the arrival of the Terra Nova, whose captain from the first was anxious to help in every way, but quite another matter that made Scott so sad—and naturally sad—at this time.
In England the majority of those competent to judge the situation had formed the opinion that the Discovery was stuck fast in the ice for all time. Whether the Admiralty held this opinion or not is of no consequence, because in any case it was their duty to see that the expense of another relief expedition should be avoided. Consequently there was no other course open to them except to tell Scott to abandon the Discovery, if she could not be freed in time to accompany the relief ships to the north. But necessary as this order was, it placed Scott and his companions in a very cruel position. Under the most ordinary conditions a sailor would go through much rather than abandon his ship, but the ties which bound Scott and his company to the Discovery were very far beyond the ordinary; indeed they involved a depth of sentiment not in the least surprising when their associations with her are remembered.
In spite of their long detention in the ice, the thought of leaving her had never entered their heads. [Page 184] Some time she would be free again, and even if they had to spend a third winter in her they had determined to go through with it, and make themselves as comfortable as possible.
It was from this passably contented frame of mind that they were rudely awakened. Now they were obliged to face the fact that unless a twenty-mile plain of ice broke up within six weeks, they must bid a long farewell to their beloved ship and return to their homes as castaways. So with the arrival of the relief ships there fell the first and last cloud of gloom which was ever allowed on board the Discovery. And as day followed day with no improvement in the ice conditions, the gloom deepened until anyone might easily have imagined that an Antarctic expedition was a most dismal affair.
On January 10 Scott wrote: 'Reached the ship this morning, and this afternoon assembled all hands on the mess-deck, where I told them exactly how matters stood. There was a stony silence. I have not heard a laugh in the ship since I returned.'
For some time a flagstaff had been erected on Tent Islet, ten miles to the north, and a system of signals had been arranged to notify any changes in the ice, but day after day the only signal was 'No change in the ice conditions.'
On the 15th to relieve the weariness of waiting for something that did not happen, Scott arranged that their collections and instruments should be transported to the relief ships. Whatever the future held [Page 185] in store he saw no reason why this should not be done, and to have anything at all to do during this trying time was a blessing; though he had by no means given up hope that the Discovery would be freed.
After a long spell at Cape Royds camp, Wilson returned to the ship on the night of the 21st with news that was all the more welcome at such an anxious time. Strolling over the beach one day to inspect what he thought was a prodigiously large seal he saw that it was quite different from any of the ordinary seals, and went back to the camp for his gun. Two of the Morning officers were in camp with him, and all three of them proceeded to stalk this strange new beast. Their great fear was that they might only succeed in wounding it and that it might escape into the sea; so in spite of the temperature of the water they waded round it before they attacked. These tactics were successful, but their quarry when dispatched was far too heavy for them to move, or for Wilson to examine where it lay. On the following day, however, Colbeck came over in the Morning, and with the aid of boats and ropes the carcass was landed on his decks. Then Wilson came to the conclusion that the animal was a sea-elephant commonly found at Macquarie Island, but never before seen within the Antarctic circle.
No change in the ice occurred until the 18th when some large pieces broke away, and by the 23rd Scott reckoned that the relief ships were four or five miles nearer than they had been a fortnight before. But, [Page 186] if the conditions were to be as they had been two years before, thirteen or fourteen miles of ice must go out in fifteen days, a far more rapid rate than it had been going during the previous fortnight. On the 28th, however, the first sign of real promise occurred, for the whole ice-sheet began to sway very slightly under the action of a long swell, its edge against the land rising and falling as much as 18 inches. 'We are all very restless, constantly dashing up the hill to the lookout station or wandering from place to place to observe the effects of the swell. But it is long since we enjoyed such a cheerful experience as we get on watching the loose pieces of ice jostling one another at Hut Point.'
Days of hope and anxiety followed, until the 14th of February arrived and brought the best of news with it. During the day nothing unusual happened, and it was not until Scott was at dinner that the excitement began. Then he heard a shout on deck, and a voice sang out down the hatchway, 'The ships are coming, sir!'
'There was no more dinner, and in a moment we were racing for Hut Point, where a glorious sight met our view. The ice was breaking up right across the strait, and with a rapidity which we had not thought possible. No sooner was one great floe borne away. Than a dark streak cut its way into the solid sheet that remained and carved out another, to feed the broad stream of pack which was hurrying away to the north-west.
'I have never witnessed a more impressive sight; [Page 187] the sun was low behind us, the surface of the ice-sheet in front was intensely white, and in contrast the distant sea and its forking leads looked almost black. The wind had fallen to a calm, and not a sound disturbed the stillness about us. Yet, in the midst of this peaceful silence, was an awful unseen agency rending that great ice-sheet as though it had been none but the thinnest paper.'
But fast as the ice was breaking, it was not fast enough for the relief ships. Evidently there was a race between them to be the first to pass beyond the flagstaff round which the small company of spectators had clustered; although the little Morning, with her bluff bows and weak engines, could scarcely expect to hold her own against such a powerful competitor. By half-past ten those on shore could see the splintering of the ice as the ships crashed into the floes, and the shouts of the men as with wild excitement they cheered each fresh success, could be distinctly heard.
Scarcely half a mile of ice remained and the contest became keener and keener. On came the Terra Nova, but in spite of all her mighty efforts the persistent little Morning, dodging right and left and seizing every chance opening, kept doggedly at her side, and still seemed to have a chance of winning the race.
Meanwhile the spectators, in their nondescript tattered garments, stood breathlessly watching this wonderful scene.
'For long intervals we remained almost spell-bound, and then a burst of frenzied cheering broke out. It [Page 188] seemed to us almost too good to be real. By eleven o'clock all the thick ice had vanished, and there remained only the thin area of decayed floe which has lately made the approach to the ships so dangerous; a few minutes later the Terra Nova forged ahead and came crashing into the open, to be followed almost immediately by her stout little companion, and soon both ships were firmly anchored to all that remains of the Discovery's prison, the wedge that still holds in our small bay....
'And so to-night the ships of our small fleet are lying almost side by side; a rope from the Terra Nova is actually secured to the Discovery. Who could have thought it possible? Certainly not we who have lived through the trying scenes of the last month.'
The small wedge of sea-ice that still remained in the bay was cracked in many places, and would doubtless have departed of its own accord in a few days; but Scott, naturally impatient to get away, decided to hasten matters by explosions. Consequently at 1 A.M. on February 16 there was an explosion which shook the whole bay, and rudely disturbed not only the ice but also the slumbers of those who were not members of the explosion party.
A few hours later another explosive charge was borne out, and when all was ready Scott pressed the firing key. 'There was a thunderous report which shook the ship throughout, and then all was calm again. For a brief moment one might have imagined that nothing had happened, but then one saw that each [Page 189] crack was slowly widening; presently there came the gurgle of water as it was sucked into our opening ice-bed, and in another minute there was a creaking aft and our stern rose with a jump as the keel was freed from the ice which had held it down. Then, as the great mass of ice on our port hand slowly glided out to sea, our good ship swung gently round and lay peacefully riding to her anchors with the blue water lapping against her sides.... Thus it was that the Discovery came to her own again—the right to ride the high seas.'
On that day it would have been impossible to find a prouder or happier ship's company, but with all their feelings of elation they did not imagine that everything would run smoothly after such a long period of disuse, and they knew also that much hard work lay in front of them if they were to carry out the remainder of their program. If the Discovery was free before the navigable season closed Scott had resolved to spend the remaining time in exploring the region to the westward of Cape North, but now after two years' imprisonment coal was lacking for such a scheme. Directly the relief ships had arrived he had asked them for as great a quantity as possible, but although the replies had at first been satisfactory, a long month's fight with wind and ice had sadly reduced the amount they could afford to give. The only thing to do was to get without any delay what could be spared, and on the afternoon of the 16th the Terra Nova came alongside to hand over her supply. 'The afternoon,' Scott says, 'was beautifully calm and [Page 190] bright, and the weather seemed to smile peacefully on the termination of our long and successful struggle with the ice.... We little guessed what lay before us.'
On the 15th a large wooden cross, bearing a simply carved inscription to the memory of poor Vince, was erected on the summit of Hut Point, and on the following day the small company landed together and stood bareheaded round this memorial, while Scott read some short prayers.
The water was oily calm and the sky threatening as they pulled back to the ship after paying this last tribute of homage to their shipmate, but weather of this kind had been too common to attract attention. On that night Captain MacKay was dining in the Discovery for the first time, and a great effort had been made to show him how good an Antarctic feast could be. In the middle of dinner, however, word came down to Scott that the wind had sprung up, and although he expected nothing serious he went up to see what was happening. Then he saw they were in for a stiff blow, and reluctantly had to inform his guests of the fact. One glance at the sky satisfied MacKay, who was over the rail like a shot, and in a few minutes the Terra Nova was steaming for the open and lost in the drift.'
Very soon both wind and sea had risen, but although Scott did not altogether like the look of things and determined to get up steam as soon as possible, he did not want to hurry those in the engine-room after such a long period of disuse. But early in the morning [Page 191] of the 17th the situation became really dangerous, and the Discovery began to jerk at her cables in the most alarming manner.
'I knew,' he wrote on the night of that eventful day, 'that in spite of our heavy anchor the holding ground was poor, and I watched anxiously to see if the ship dragged.
'It came at last, just as Skelton sent a promise of steam in half an hour. The sea was again breaking heavily on the ice-foot astern and I walked up and down wondering which was coming first, the steam or this wave-beaten cliff. It was not a pleasant situation, as the distance grew shorter every minute, until the spray of the breaking waves fell on our poop, and this was soon followed by a tremendous blow as our stern struck the ice. We rebounded and struck again, and our head was just beginning to falloff and the ship to get broadside on (heaven knows what would have happened then) when steam was announced.'