CHAPTER X. RELEASE
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, 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 labor, 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 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.'