CHAPTER V. THE START OF THE SOUTHERN JOURNEY
No wonder that Scott, after they had left three weeks' provisions and a quantity of dog-food in Depôt B and had resumed their march, sounded a note of thankfulness: 'As I write I scarcely know how to describe the blessed relief it is to be free from our relay work. For one-and-thirty awful days we have been at it, and whilst I doubt if our human endurance could have stood it much more, I am quite sure the dogs could not. It seems now like a nightmare, which grew more terrible towards its end.' The sense of relief was, however, not destined to last, for on December 21 the dogs were in such a hopeless condition that they might at any moment have completely collapsed. This was a fact that had to be faced, and the question whether under such circumstances it was wise to push on had to be asked and answered. The unanimous answer was that the risk of going on should be taken, but on that same night Wilson, in view of future plans, reported to Scott that his medical examinations revealed that Shackleton had decidedly angry-looking gums, and that for some time they had been slowly but surely getting worse. It was decided not to tell Shackleton of these symptoms of scurvy, and as the bacon they were using seemed likely to be the cause of them, it was discarded and an increased allowance of seal given in its place. This was a loss in weight which was serious, for already they were reduced almost to starvation rations of about a pound and a half a day.
Supper was the best meal, for then they had a hoosh which ran from between three-quarters to a whole pannikin apiece, but even this they could not afford to make thick. While it was being heated in the central cooker, cocoa was made in the outer, but the lamp was turned out directly the hoosh boiled, and by that time the chill was barely off the contents of the outer cooker. Of course the cocoa was not properly dissolved, but they were long past criticizing the quality of their food. All they wanted was something to 'fill up,' but needless to say they never got it. Half an hour after supper was over they were as hungry as ever.
When they had started from the ship, there had been a vague idea that they could go as they pleased with the food, but experience showed that this would not do, and that there must be a rigid system of shares. Consequently they used to take it in turn to divide things into three equal portions, and as the man who made the division felt called upon to take the smallest share, the game of 'shut-eye' was invented to stop all arguments and remonstrances. The shares were divided as equally as possible by someone, then one of the other two turned his head away and the divider pointed to a portion and said, 'Whose is this?' He of the averted head named the owner, and thus this simple but useful game was played.
Wilson's examination of Shackleton on December 24 was not encouraging, but they had reached a much harder surface and under those conditions Scott and Wilson agreed that it was not yet time to say 'Turn.' Besides, Christmas Day was in front of them, and for a week they had all agreed that it would be a crime to go to bed hungry on that night. In fact they meant it to be a wonderful day, and everything conspired to make it so.
The sun shone gloriously from a clear sky, and not a breath of wind disturbed the calmness of the morning, but entrancing as the scene was they did not stay to contemplate it, because for once they were going to have a really substantial breakfast, and this was an irresistible counter-attraction.
And afterwards, when they felt more internally comfortable than they had for weeks, the surface continued to be so much better that the sledges could be pulled without any help from the dogs. On that day they had the satisfaction of covering nearly eleven miles, the longest march they had made for a long time. So when camp was pitched they were thoroughly pleased with the day, and ready to finish it off with a supper to be remembered. A double 'whack' of everything was poured into the cooking-pot, and in the hoosh that followed a spoon would stand without any support, and the cocoa was also brought to boiling-point.
'I am writing,' Scott says, 'over my second pipe. The sun is still circling our small tent in a cloudless sky, the air is warm and quiet. All is pleasant without, and within we have a sense of comfort we have not known for many a day; we shall sleep well tonight - no dreams, no tightening of the belt.
'We have been chattering away gaily, and not once has the conversation turned to food. We have been wondering what Christmas is like in England... and how our friends picture us. They will guess that we are away on our sledge journey, and will perhaps think of us on plains of snow; but few, I think, will imagine the truth, that for us this has been the reddest of all red-letter days.'