CHAPTER I. THROUGH STORMY SEAS
With rapid and complete changes of prospect they managed to progress - on the Monday - with much bumping and occasional stoppages, but on the following day they were again firmly and tightly wedged in the pack. To most of them, however, the novelty of the experience prevented any sense of impatience, though to Scott the strain of waiting and wondering what he ought to do as regards the question of coal was bound to be heavy.
This time of waiting was by no means wasted, for Gran gave hours of instruction in the use of ski, and Meares took out some of the fattest dogs and exercised them with a sledge. Observations were also constantly taken, while Wilson painted some delightful pictures and Ponting took a number of beautiful photographs of the pack and bergs. But as day followed day and hopes of progress were not realized, Scott, anxious to be free, decided on Monday, December 19, to push west. 'Anything to get out of these terribly heavy floes. Great patience is the only panacea for our ill case. It is bad luck.'
Over and over again when the end of their troubles seemed to be reached, they found that the thick pack was once more around them. And what to do under the circumstances called for most difficult decisions. If the fires were let out it meant a dead loss of two tons of coal when the boilers were again heated. But these two tons only covered a day under banked fires, so that for anything longer than twenty-four hours it was a saving to put out the fires. Thus at each stoppage Scott was called upon to decide how long it was likely to last.
Christmas Day came with the ice still surrounding the ship, but although the scene was 'altogether too Christmassy,' a most merry evening was spent. For five hours the officers sat round the table and sang lustily, each one of them having to contribute two songs to the entertainment. 'It is rather a surprising circumstance,' Scott remarks, 'that such an unmusical party should be so keen on singing.'
Christmas, however, came and went without any immediate prospect of release, the only bright side of this exasperating delay being that everyone was prepared to exert himself to the utmost, quite regardless of the results of his labors. But on Wednesday, December 28, the ponies, despite the unremitting care and attention that Oates gave to them, were the cause of the gravest anxiety. 'These animals are now the great consideration, balanced as they are against the coal expenditure.'
By this time, although the ice was still all around them, many of the floes were quite thin, and even the heavier ice appeared to be breakable. So, after a consultation with Wilson, Scott decided to raise steam, and two days later the ship was once more in the open sea.
From the 9th to the 30th they had been in the pack, and during this time 370 miles had been covered in a direct line. Sixty-one tons [Footnote: When the Terra Nova left Lyttelton she had 460 tons of coal on board.] of coal had been used, an average of six miles to the ton, and although these were not pleasant figures to contemplate, Scott considered that under the exceptional conditions they might easily have been worse. For the ship herself he had nothing but praise to give. 'No other ship, not even the Discovery, would have come through so well.... As a result I have grown strangely attached to the Terra Nova. As she bumped the floes with mighty shocks, crushing and grinding her way through some, twisting and turning to avoid others, she seemed like a living thing fighting a great fight. If only she had more economical engines she would be suitable in all respects.'
Scientifically as much as was possible had been done, but many of the experts had of necessity been idle in regard to their own specialties, though none of them were really idle; for those who had no special work to do were magnificently eager to find any kind of work that required to be done. 'Everyone strives to help everyone else, and not a word of complaint or anger has been heard on board. The inner life of our small community is very pleasant to think upon, and very wonderful considering the extremely small space in which we are confined. The attitude of the men is equally worthy of admiration. In the forecastle as in the wardroom there is a rush to be first when work is to be done, and the same desire to sacrifice selfish consideration to the success of the expedition. It is very good to be able to write in such high praise of one's companions, and I feel that the possession of such support ought to ensure success. Fortune would be in a hard mood indeed if it allowed such a combination of knowledge, experience, ability, and enthusiasm to achieve nothing.'
Fortune's wheel, however, was not yet prepared to turn in their favor, for after a very few hours of the open sea a southern blizzard met them. In the morning watch of December 31, the wind and sea increased and the outlook was very distressing, but at 6 A.M. ice was sighted ahead. Under ordinary conditions the safe course would have been to go about and stand to the east, but on this occasion Scott was prepared to run the risk of trouble if he could get the ponies into smoother water. Soon they passed a stream of ice over which the sea was breaking heavily, and the danger of being among loose floes in such a sea was acutely realized. But presently they came to a more compact body of floes, and running behind this they were agreeably surprised to find themselves in comparatively smooth water. There they lay to in a sort of ice bay, and from a dangerous position had achieved one that was safe as long as their temporary shelter lasted.