Return to Table of Contents of The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram"
A Day at Framheim
In order to understand our daily life better, we will now make a tour of Framheim. It is June 23, early in the morning. Perfect stillness lies over the Barrier -- such stillness as no one who has not been in these regions has any idea of. We come up the old sledge road from the place where the Fram used to lie. You will stop several times on the way and ask whether this can be real; anything so inconceivably beautiful has never yet been seen. There lies the northern edge of the Fram Barrier, with Mounts Nelson and Rönniken nearest; behind them, ridge after ridge, peak after peak, the venerable pressure masses rise, one higher than another. The light is so wonderful; what causes this strange glow? It is clear as daylight, and yet the shortest day of the year is at hand. There are no shadows, so it cannot be the moon. No; it is one of the few really intense appearances of the aurora australis that receives us now. It looks as though Nature wished to honour our guests, and to show herself in her best attire. And it is a gorgeous dress she has chosen. Perfectly calm, clear with a starry sparkle, and not a sound in any direction. But wait: what is that? Like a stream of fire the light shoots across the sky, and a whistling sound follows the movement. Hush! can't you hear? It shoots forward again, takes the form of a band, and glows in rays of red and green. It stands still for a moment, thinking of what direction it shall take, and then away again, followed by an intermittent whistling sound. So Nature has offered us on this wonderful morning one of her most mysterious, most incomprehensible, phenomena -- the audible southern light. "Now you will be able to go home and tell your friends that you have personally seen and heard the southern lights, for I suppose you have no doubt that you have really done so?" "Doubt? How can one be in doubt about what one has heard with one's own ears and seen with one's own eyes? "And yet you have been deceived, like so many others! The whistling northern and southern lights have never existed. They are only a creation of your own yearning for the mystical, accompanied by your own breath, which freezes in the cold air. Goodbye, beautiful dream! It vanishes from the glorious landscape." Perhaps it was stupid of me to call attention to that; my guests have now lost much of the beautiful mystery, and the landscape no longer has the same attraction.
Meanwhile we have come up past Nelson and Rönniken, and are just climbing the first ridge. Not far away a big tent rises before us, and in front of it we see two long, dark lines. It is our main depot that we are coming to, and you can see that we keep our things in good order, case upon case, as if they had been placed in position by an expert builder. And they all point the same way; all the numbers face the north. "What made you choose that particular direction?" is the natural question. "Had you any special object?" "Oh yes, we had. If you will look towards the east, you will notice that on the horizon the sky has a rather lighter, brighter colour there than in any other part. That is the day as we see it now. At present we cannot see to do anything by its light. It would have been impossible to see that these cases were lying with their numbers to the north if it had not been for the brilliant aurora australis. But that light colour will rise and grow stronger. At nine o'clock it will be in the north-east, and we shall be able to trace it ten degrees above the horizon. You would not then think it gave so much light as it really does, but you would be able without an effort to read the numbers. What is more, you would be able to read the makers' names which are marked on several of the cases, and when the flush of daylight has moved to the north, you will be able to see them even more clearly. No doubt these figures and letters are big -- about 2 inches high and 14 inches broad -- but it shows, nevertheless, that we have daylight here at the darkest time of the year, so there is not the absolute darkness that people think. The tent that stands behind there contains dried fish; we have a great deal of that commodity, and our dogs can never suffer hunger. But now we must hurry on, if we are to see how the day begins at Framheim.
"What we are passing now is the mark-flag. We have five of them standing between the camp and the depot; they are useful on dark days, when the east wind is blowing and the snow falling. And there on the slope of the hill you see Framheim. At present it looks like a dark shadow on the snow, although it is not far away. The sharp peaks you see pointing to the sky are all our dog tents. The but itself you cannot see; it is completely snowed under and hidden in the Barrier.
"But I see you are getting warm with walking. We will go a little more slowly, so that you won't perspire too much. It is not more than -51º, so you have every reason to be warm walking. With that temperature and calm weather like to-day one soon feels warm if one moves about a little .... The flat place we have now come down into is a sort of basin; if you bend down and look round the horizon, you will be able with an effort to follow the ridges and hummocks the whole way round. Our house lies on the slope we are now approaching. We chose that particular spot, as we thought it would offer the best protection, and it turned out that we were right. The wind we have had has nearly always come from the east, when there was any strength in it, and against such winds the slope provides an excellent shelter. If we had placed our house over there where the depot stands, we should have felt the weather much more severely. But now you must be careful when we come near to the house, so that the dogs don't hear us. We have now about a hundred and twenty of them, and if they once start making a noise, then good-bye to the peaceful Polar morning. Now we are there, and in such daylight as there is, you can see the immediate surroundings. You can't see the house, you say. No; I can quite believe it. That chimney sticking out of the snow is all there is left above the Barrier. This trap-door we are coming to you might take for a loose piece of boarding thrown out on the snow, but that is not the case: it is the way down into our home. You must stoop a bit when you go down into the Barrier. Everything is on a reduced scale here in the Polar regions; we can't afford to be extravagant. Now you have four steps down; take care, they are rather high. Luckily we have come in time to see the day started. I see the passage-lamp is not yet lighted, so Lindström has not turned out. Take hold of the tail of my anorak and follow me. This is a passage in the snow that we are in, leading to the pent-house. Oh! I'm so sorry; you must forgive me! Did you hurt yourself? I quite forgot to tell you to look out for the threshold of the pent-house door. It is not the first time someone has fallen over it. That's a trap we have all fallen into; but now we know it, and it doesn't catch us any more.
"If you will wait a second I'll strike a match, and then we shall see our way. Here we are in the kitchen. Now make yourself invisible and follow me all day, and you will see what our life is like. As you know, it is St. John's Eve, so we shall only work during the forenoon; but you will be able to see how we spend a holiday evening. When you send your account home, you must promise me not to paint it in too strong colours. Good-bye for the present."
Br-r-r-r-r-r! There's the alarm-clock. I wait and wait and wait. At home I am always accustomed to hear that noise followed by the passage of a pair of bare feet across the floor, and a yawn or so. Here -- not a sound. When Amundsen left me he forgot to say where I could best put myself. I tried to follow him into the room, but the atmosphere there -- no thanks! I could easily guess that nine men were sleeping in a room 19 feet by 13 feet; it did not require anyone to tell me that. Still not a sound. I suppose they only keep that alarm-clock to make themselves imagine they are turning out. Wait a minute, though. "Lindtrom! Lindtrom!" He went by the name of Lindtrom, not Lindström. "Now, by Jove! you've got to get up! The clock's made row enough." That's Wisting; I know his voice -- I know him at home. He was always an early bird. A frightful crash! That's Lindström slipping out of his bunk. But if he was late in turning out, it did not take him long to get into his clothes. One! two! three! and there he stood in the doorway, with a little lamp in his hand. It was now six o'clock. He looked well; round and fat, as when I saw him last. He is in dark blue clothes, with a knitted helmet over his head. I should like to know why; it is certainly not cold in here. For that matter, I have often felt it colder in kitchens at home in the winter, so that cannot be the reason. Oh, I have it! He is bald, and doesn't like to show it. That is often the way with bald men; they hate anyone seeing it. The first thing he does is to lay the fire. The range is under the window, and takes up half the 6 feet by 13 feet kitchen. His method of laying a fire is the first thing that attracts my attention. At home we generally begin by splitting sticks and laying the wood in very carefully. But Lindström just shoves the wood in anyhow, all over the place. Well, if he can make that barn, he's clever. I am still wondering how he will manage it, when he suddenly stoops down and picks up a can. Without the slightest hesitation, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, he pours paraffin over the wood. Not one or two drops -- oh no; he throws on enough to make sure. A match -- and then I understood how Lindström got it to light. It was smartly done, I must say -- but Hassel ought to have seen it! Amundsen had told me something of their arrangements on the way up, and I knew Hassel was responsible for coal, wood, and oil.
The water-pot had been filled the evening before, and he had only to push it to one side to make room for the kettle, and this did not take long to boil with the heat he had set going. The fire burned up so that it roared in the chimney -- this fellow is not short of fuel. Strange, what a hurry he is in to get that coffee ready! I thought breakfast was at eight, and it is now not more than a quarter past six. He grinds the coffee till his cheeks shake to and fro -- incessantly. If the quality is in proportion to the quantity, it must be good enough. "Devil take it" -- Lindström's morning greeting -- "this coffee-mill is not worth throwing to the pigs! Might just as well chew the beans. It wouldn't take so long." And he is right; after a quarter of an hour's hard work he has only ground just enough. Now it is half-past six. On with the coffee! Ah, what a perfume! I would give something to know where Amundsen got it from. Meanwhile the cook has taken out his pipe, and is smoking away gaily on an empty stomach; it does not seem to do him any harm. Hullo! There's the coffee boiling over.
While the coffee was boiling and Lindström smoked, I was still wondering why he was in such a hurry to get the coffee ready. You ass! I thought; can't you see? Of course, he is going to give himself a drink of fresh, hot coffee before the others are up; that's clear enough. When the coffee was ready, I sat down on a camp-stool that stood in a corner, and watched him. But I must say he surprised me again. He pushed the coffee-kettle away from the fire and took down a cup from the wall; then went to a jug that stood on the bench and poured out -- would you believe it? -- a cup of cold tea! If he goes on in this way, we shall have surprises enough before evening, I thought to myself. Then he began to be deeply interested in an enamelled iron bowl, which stood on a shelf above the range. The heat, which was now intense (I looked at the thermograph which hung from the ceiling; it registered 84ºF.), did not seem to be sufficient for its mysterious contents. It was also wrapped up in towels and cloths, and gave me the impression of having caught a severe cold. The glances he threw into it from time to time were anxious; he looked at the clock, and seemed to have something on his mind. Then suddenly I saw his face brighten; he gave a long, not very melodious whistle, bent down, seized a dust-pan, and hurried out into the pent-house. Now I was really excited. What was coming next? He came back at once with a happy smile all over his face, and the dust-pan full of -- coal! If I had been curious before, I was now anxious. I withdrew as far as possible from the range, sat down on the floor itself, and fixed my eyes on the thermograph. As I thought, the pen began to move upward with rapid steps. This was too bad. I made up my mind to pay a visit to the Meteorological Institute as soon as I got home, and tell them what I had seen with my own eyes. But now the heat seemed intolerable down on the floor, where I was sitting; what must it be like -- heavens above, the man was sitting on the stove! He must have gone out of his mind. I was just going to give a cry of terror, when the door opened, and in came Amundsen from the room. I gave a deep sigh. Now it would be all right the time was ten minutes past seven. "'Morning, Fatty!" -- "'Morning." -- "What's it like outside?" -- "Easterly breeze and thick when I was out; but that's a good while ago." This fairly took my breath away He stood there with the coolest air in the world and talked about the weather, and I could take my oath he had not been outside the door that morning. "How's it getting on to-day -- is it coming?" Amundsen looks with interest at the mysterious bowl. Lindström takes another peep under the cloth. "Yes, it's coming at last; but I've had to give it a lot to-day." -- " Yes, it feels like it," answers the other, and goes out. My interest is now divided between "it " in the bowl and Amundsen's return, with the meteorological discussion that will ensue. It is not long before he reappears; evidently the temperature outside is not inviting. "Let's hear again, my friend " -- he seats himself on the camp-stool beside which I am sitting on the floor -- "what kind of weather did you say it was?" I prick up my ears; there is going to be fun. "It was an easterly breeze and thick as a wall, when I was out at six o'clock." -- "Hm! then it has cleared remarkably quickly. It's a dead calm now, and quite clear." -- "Ah, that's just what I should have thought! I could see it was falling light, and it was getting brighter in the east." He got out of that well. Meanwhile it was again the turn of the bowl. It was taken down from the shelf over the range and put on the bench; the various cloths were removed one by one until it was left perfectly bare. I could not resist any longer; I had to get up and look. And indeed it was worth looking at. The bowl was filled to the brim with golden-yellow dough, full of air-bubbles, and showing every sign that he had got it to rise. Now I began to respect Lindström; he was a devil of a fellow. No confectioner in our native latitudes could have shown a finer dough. It was now 7.25; everything seems to go by the clock here.
Lindström threw a last tender glance at his bowl, picked up a little bottle of spirit, and went into the next room. I saw my chance of following him in. There was not going to be any fun out there with Amundsen, who was sitting on the camp-stool half asleep. In the other room it was pitch-dark, and an atmosphere -- no, ten atmospheres at least! I stood still in the doorway and breathed heavily. Lindström stumbled forward in the darkness, felt for and found the matches. He struck one, and lighted a spirit-holder that hung beneath a hanging lamp. There was not much to be seen by the light of the spirit flame; one could still only guess. Hear too, perhaps. They were sound sleepers, those boys. One grunted here and another there; they were snoring in every corner. The spirit might have been burning for a couple of minutes, when Lindström had to set to work in a hurry. He was off just as the flame went out, leaving the room in black darkness. I heard the spirit bottle and the nearest stool upset, and what followed I don't know, as I was unfamiliar with the surroundings -- but there was a good deal of it. I heard a click -- had no idea what it was -- and then the same movement back again to the lamp. Of course, he now fell over the stool he had upset before. Meanwhile there was a hissing sound, and a stifling smell of paraffin. I was thinking of making my escape through the door, when suddenly, just as I suppose it happened on the first day of Creation, in an instant there was light. But it was a light that defies description; it dazzled and hurt the eyes, it was so bright. It was perfectly white and extremely agreeable -- when one was not looking at it. Evidently it was one of the 200-candle Lux lamps. My admiration for Lindström had now risen to enthusiasm. What would I not have given to be able to make myself visible, embrace him, and tell him what I thought of him! But that could not be; I should not then be able to see life at Framheim as it really was. So I stood still. Lindström first tried to put straight what he had upset in his struggle with the lamp. The spirit had, of course, run out of the bottle when it fell, and was now flowing all over the table. This did not seem to make the slightest impression on him; a little scoop with his hand, and it all landed on Johansen's clothes, which were lying close by. This fellow seemed to be as well off for spirit as for paraffin. Then he vanished into the kitchen, but reappeared immediately with plates, cups, knives and forks. Lindström's laying of the breakfast-table was the finest clattering performance I have ever heard. If he wanted to put a spoon into a cup, he did not do it in the ordinary way; no, he put down the cup, lifted the spoon high in the air, and then dropped it into the cup. The noise he made in this way was infernal. Now I began to see why Amundsen had got up so early; he wanted to escape this process of laying the table, I expect. But this gave me at once an insight into the good-humour of the gentlemen in bed: if this had happened anywhere else, Lindström would have had a boot at his head. But here -- they must have been the most peaceable men in the world.
Meanwhile I had had time to look around me. Close to the door where I was standing a pipe came down to the floor. It struck me at once that this was a ventilating-pipe. I bent down and put my hand over the opening; there was not so much as a hint of air to be felt. So this was the cause of the bad atmosphere. The next things that caught my eye were the bunks -- nine of them: three on the right hand and six on the left. Most of the sleepers -- if they could be regarded as such while the table was being laid -- slept in bags -- sleeping-bags. They must have been warm enough. The rest of the space was taken up by a long table, with small stools on two sides of it. Order appeared to reign; most of the clothes were hung up. Of course, a few lay on the floor, but then Lindström had been running about in the dark, and perhaps he had pulled them down. On the table, by the window, stood a gramophone and some tobacco-boxes and ash-trays. The furniture was not plentiful, nor was it in the style of Louis Quinze or Louis Seize, but it was sufficient. On the wall with the window hung a few paintings, and on the other portraits of the King, Queen, and Crown Prince Olav, apparently cut out of an illustrated paper, and pasted on blue cardboard. In the corner nearest the door on the right, where there was no bunk, the space seem to be occupied by clothes, some hanging on the wall, some on lines stretched across. So that was the drying-place, modest in its simplicity. Under the table were some varnished boxes -- Heaven knows what they were for!
Now there seemed to be life in one of the bunks. It was Wisting, who was getting tired of the noise that still continued. Lindström took his time, rattling the spoons, smiling maliciously to himself, and looking up at the bunks. He did not make all this racket for nothing. Wisting, then, was the first to respond, and apparently the only one; at any rate, there was not a sign of movement in any of the others. "Good-morning, Fatty!" "Thought you were going to stop there till dinner." This is Lindström's greeting. "Look after yourself, old 'un. If I hadn't got you out, you'd have been asleep still." That was paying him in his own coin: Wisting was evidently not to be trifled with. However, they smiled and nodded to each other in a way that showed that there was no harm meant. At last Lindström had got rid of the last cup, and brought down the curtain on that act with the dropping of the final spoon. I thought now that he would go back to his work in the kitchen; but it looked as if he had something else to do first. He straightened himself, thrust his chin in the air and put his head back -- reminding me very forcibly of a young cockerel preparing to crow -- and roared with the full force of his lungs: "Turn out, boys, and look sharp!" Now he had finished his morning duty there. The sleeping-bags seemed suddenly to awake to life, and such remarks as, "That's a devil of a fellow!" or "Shut up, you old chatterbox!" showed that the inhabitants of Framheim were now awake. Beaming with joy, the cause of the trouble disappeared into the kitchen.
And now, one after the other they stick their heads out, followed by the rest of them. That must be Helmer Hanssen, who was on the Gjöa; he looks as if he could handle a rope. Ah, and there we have Olav Olavson Bjaaland! I could have cried aloud for joy -- my old friend from Holmenkollen. The great long-distance runner, you remember. And he managed the jump, too -- 50 metres, I think -- standing. If Amundsen has a few like him, he will get to the Pole all right. And there comes Stubberud, the man the Aftenpost said was so clever at double-entry book-keeping. As I see him now, he does not give me the impression of being a book-keeper -- but one can't tell. And here come Hassel, Johansen, and Prestrud; now they are all up, and will soon begin the day's work.
"Stubberud!" It is Lindström putting his head in at the door. "If you want any hot cakes, you must get some air down." Stubberud merely smiles; he looks as if he felt sure of getting them, all the same. What was it he talked about? Hot cakes? They must be connected with the beautiful dough and the delicate, seductive smell of cooking that is now penetrating through the crack of the door. Stubberud is going, and I must go with him. Yes, as I thought -- there stands Lindström in all his glory before the range, brandishing the weapon with which he turns the cakes; and in a pan lie three brownish-yellow buckwheat cakes quivering with the heat of the fire. Heavens, how hungry it made me! I take up my old position, so as not to be in anyone's way, and watch Lindström. He's the man -- he produces hot cakes with astonishing dexterity; it almost reminds one of a juggler throwing up balls, so rapid and regular is the process. The way he manipulates the cake-slice shows a fabulous proficiency. With the skimmer in one hand he dumps fresh dough into the pan, and with the cake-slice in the other he removes those that are done, all at the same time; it seems almost more than human!
There comes Wisting, salutes, and holds out a little tin mug. Flattered by the honour, the cook fills his mug with boiling water, and he disappears into the pent-house. But this interruption puts Lindström off his jugglery with the hot cakes-one of them rolls down on to the floor. This fellow is extraordinarily phlegmatic; I can't make out whether he missed that cake or not. I believe the sigh that escaped him at the same instant meant something like: "Well, we must leave some for the dogs."
And now they all come in single file with their little mugs, and get each a drop of boiling water. I get up, interested in this proceeding, and slip out with one of them into the pent-house and so on to the Barrier. You will hardly believe me, when I tell you what I saw -- all the Polar explorers standing in a row, brushing their teeth! What do you say to that? So they are not such absolute pigs, after all. There was a scent of Stomatol everywhere.
Here comes Amundsen. He has evidently been out taking the meteorological observations, as he holds the anemometer in one hand. I follow him through the passage, and, when no one is looking, take the opportunity of slapping him on the shoulder and saying "A grand lot of boys." He only smiled; but a smile may often say more than many words. I understood what it meant; he had known that a long while and a good deal more.
It was now eight o'clock. The door from the kitchen to the room was left wide open, and the warmth streamed in and mixed with the fresh air that Stubberud had now forced to come down the right way. Now it was pleasanter inside -- fresh, warm air everywhere. Then came a very interesting scene. As the tooth-brushing gentlemen returned, they had to guess the temperature, one by one. This gave occasion for much joking and fun, and, amid laughter and chat, the first meal of the day was taken. In after-dinner speeches, amid toasts and enthusiasm, our Polar explorers are often compared with our forefathers, the bold vikings. This comparison never occurred to me for a moment when I saw this assemblage of ordinary, everyday men-brushing their teeth. But now that they were busy with the dishes, I was bound to acknowledge its aptitude; for our forefathers the vikings could not possibly have attacked their food with greater energy than these nine men did.
One pile of "hot-chek" after another disappeared as if they had been made of air -- and I, in my simplicity, had imagined that one of them was a man's ration! Spread with butter and surmounted with jam, these cakes slipped down with fabulous rapidity. With a smile I thought of the conjurer, holding an egg in his hand one minute and making it disappear the next. If it is a cook's best reward to see his food appreciated, then, indeed, Lindström had good wages. The cakes were washed down with big bowls of strong, aromatic coffee. One could soon trace the effect, and conversation became general. The first great subject was a novel, which was obviously very popular, and was called "The Rome Express." It appeared to me, from what was said -- I have unfortunately never read this celebrated work -- that a murder had been committed in this train, and a lively discussion arose as to who had committed it. I believe the general verdict was one of suicide. I have always supposed that subjects of conversation must be very difficult to find on expeditions like these, where the same people mix day after day for years; but there was certainly no sign of any such difficulty here. No sooner had the express vanished in the distance than in steamed -- the language question. And it came at full steam, too. It was clear that there were adherents of both camps present. For fear of hurting the feelings of either party, I shall abstain from setting down what I heard: but I may say as much as this -- that the party of reform ended by declaring the maal to be the only proper speech of Norway, while their opponents maintained the same of their language.
After a while pipes came out, and the scent of "plug" soon struggled with the fresh air for supremacy. Over the tobacco the work for the day was discussed. "Well, I'll have enough to do supplying that woodswallower over the holiday," said Hassel. I gave a chuckle. If Hassel had known of the way the paraffin was used that morning, he would have added something about the "oil-drinker," I expect. It was now half-past eight, and Stubberud and Bjaaland got up. From the number of different garments they took out and put on, I guessed they were going out. Without saying anything, they trudged out. Meanwhile the others continued their morning smoke, and some even began to read, but by about nine they were all on the move. They put on their skin clothing and made ready to go out. By this time Bjaaland and Stubberud had returned from a walk, as I understood from such remarks as "Beastly cold," "Sharp snow by the depot," and the like. Prestrud was the only one who did not get ready to go out; he went to an open space underneath the farthest bunk, where there was a box. He raised the lid of this, and three chronometers appeared; at the same moment three of the men produced their watches, and a comparison was made and entered in a book. After each watch had been compared, its owner went outside, taking his watch with him. I took the opportunity of slipping out with the last man -- Prestrud and his chronometers were too serious for me; I wanted to see what the others were about.
There was plenty of life outside; dogs' howls in every key came from the tents. Some of those who had left the house before us were out of sight, so they had probably gone to their respective tents, and presently one could see by the lights that they were in the act of letting their dogs loose. How well the lighted-up tents looked against the dark, star-strewn sky! Though it could no longer be called dark: the little flush of dawn had spread and overpowered the glow of the aurora australis, which had greatly decreased since I last saw it; evidently it was near its end. Now the four-footed band began to swarm out, darting like rockets from the tents. Here were all colours-grey, black, red, brown, white, and a mixture of all of them. What surprised me was that they were all so small; but otherwise they looked splendid. Plump and round, well kept and groomed, bursting with life. They instantly collected into little groups of from two to five, and it was easy to see that these groups consisted of intimate friends -- they absolutely petted each other. In each of these clusters there was one in particular who was made much of; all the others came round him, licked him, fawned upon him, and gave him every sign of deference.
They all run about without a sign of unfriendliness. Their chief interest seems to be centred in two large black mounds that are visible in the foreground of the camp; what they are I am unable to make out -- there is not light enough for that -- but I am probably not far wrong in guessing that they are seals. They are rather hard eating, anyhow, for I can hear them crunching under the dogs' teeth. Here there is an occasional disturbance of the peace; they do not seem to agree so well over their food, but there is never a regular battle. A watchman is present, armed with a stick, and when he shows himself and makes his voice heard, they soon separate. They appear to be well disciplined.
What appealed to me most was the youngsters and the youngest of all. The young ones, to judge from their appearance, were about ten months old. They were perfect in every way; one could see they had been well cared for from their birth. Their coats were surprisingly thick -- much more so than those of the older dogs. They were remarkably plucky, and would not give in to anyone.
And there are the smallest of all -- like little balls of wool; they roll themselves in the snow and have great fun. I am astonished that they can stand the cold as they do; I should never have thought that such young animals could live through the winter. Afterwards I was told that they not only bore the cold well, but were far more hardy than the older ones. While the grown-up dogs were glad to go into their tents in the evening, the little ones refused to do so; they preferred to sleep outside. And they did so for a great part of the winter.
Now all the men have finished unchaining their dogs, and, with their lanterns in their hands, they move in various directions and disappear -- apparently into the Barrier surface. There will be many interesting things to see here in the course of the day -- I can understand that. What on earth became of all these people? There we have Amundsen; he is left alone, and appears to be in charge of the dogs. I go up to him and make myself known.
"Ah, I'm glad you came," he says; "now I can introduce you to some of our celebrities. To begin with, here is the trio -- Fix, Lasse, and Snuppesen. They always behave like this when I am out -- could not think of leaving me in peace for an instant. Fix, that big grey one that looks like a wolf, has many a snap on his conscience. His first exploit was on Flekkerö, near Christiansand, where all the dogs were kept for a month after they arrived from Greenland; there he gave Lindström a nasty bite when his back was turned. What do you think of a bite of a mouth like that?"
Fix is now tame, and without a growl allows his master to take hold of his upper and under jaws and open his mouth -- ye gods, what teeth! I inwardly rejoice that I was not in Lindström's trousers that day.
"If you notice," he continues, with a smile, "you will see that Lindström still sits down cautiously. I myself have a mark on my left calf, and a good many more of us have the same. There are several of us who still treat him with respect. And here we have Lassesen -- that's his pet name; he was christened Lasse -- almost pure black, as you see. I believe he was the wildest of the lot when they came on board. I had him fastened up on the bridge with my other dogs, beside Fix -- those two were friends from their Greenland days. But I can tell you that when I had to pass Lasse, I always judged the distance first. As a rule, he just stood looking down at the deck -- exactly like a mad bull. If I tried to make overtures, he didn't move -- stood quite still; but I could see how he drew back his upper lip and showed a row of teeth, with which I had no desire to become acquainted. A fortnight passed in this way. Then at last the upper lip sank and the head was raised a little, as though he wanted to see who it was that brought him food and water every day. But the way from that to friendship was long and tortuous. In the time that followed, I used to scratch him on the back with a stick; at first he jumped round, seized the stick, and crushed it between his teeth. I thought myself lucky that it was not my hand. I came a little nearer to him every day, until one day I risked my hand. He gave me an ugly look, but did nothing; and then came the beginning of our friendship. Day by day we became better friends, and now you can see what footing we are on. The third is Snuppesen, a dark red lady; she is their sworn friend, and never leaves them. She is the quickest and most active of our dogs. You can see that she is fond of me; she is generally on her hind legs, and makes every effort to get at my face. I have tried to get her out of the way of that, but in vain; she will have her own way. I have no other animals for the moment that are worth showing -- unless you would care to hear a song. If so, there is Uranus, who is a professional singer. We'll take the trio with us, and you shall hear."
We made for two black-and-white dogs that were lying by themselves on the snow a little way off, while the three jumped and danced about us. As we approached the other two, and they caught sight of the trio, they both jumped up as though at a word of command, and I guessed that we had found the singer. Lord save us, what an awful voice! I could see that the concert was for Lasse's benefit, and Uranus kept it up as long as we stood in his vicinity. But then my attention was suddenly aroused by the appearance of another trio, which made an extraordinary favourable impression. I turned to my companion for information.
"Yes," he continued, "those are three of Hanssen's team; probably some of our best animals. The big black-and-white one is called Zanko -- he appears to be rather old; the two others, which look like sausages with matches underneath, are Ring and Mylius. As you see, they are not very big, rather on the small side, but they are undoubtedly among our best workers. From their looks we have concluded that they are brothers -- they are as like as two drops of water. Now we will go straight through the mass and see whether we come across any more celebrities. There we have Karenius, Sauen, Schwartz, and Lucy; they belong to Stubberud, and are a power in the camp. Bjaaland's tent is close by; his favourites are lying there -- Kvaen, Lap, Pan, Gorki, and Jaala. They are small, all of them, but fine dogs. There, in the south-east corner, stands Hassel's tent, but we shall not see any of his dogs here now. They are all lying outside the entrance to the oil-store, where he is generally to be found. The next tent is Wisting's. We must take a turn round there and see if we can find his lot. There they are -- those four playing there. The big, reddish-brown one on the right is the Colonel, our handsomest animal. His three companions are Suggen, Arne, and Brun. I must tell you a little story about the Colonel when he was on Flekkerö. He was perfectly wild then, and he broke loose and jumped into the sea. He wasn't discovered till he was half-way between Flekkerö and the mainland, where he was probably going in search of a joint of mutton. Wisting and Lindström, who were then in charge of the dogs, put off in a boat, and finally succeeded in overtaking him, but they had a hard tussle before they managed to get him on board. Afterwards Wisting had a swimming-race with the Colonel, but I don't remember what was the result. We can expect a great deal of these dogs. There's Johansen's tent over in the corner; there is not much to be said about his dogs. The most remarkable of them is Camilla. She is an excellent mother, and brings up her children very well; she usually has a whole army of them, too.
"Now I expect you have seen dogs enough, so, if you have no objection, I will show you underground Framheim and what goes on there. I may just as well add that we are proud of this work, and you will probably find that we have a right to be. We'll begin with Hassel, as his department is nearest."
We now went in the direction of the house, passed its western end, and soon arrived at an erection that looked like a derrick. Underneath it was a large trap-door. Where the three legs of the derrick met, there was made fast a small block, and through the block ran a rope, made fast at one end to the trap-door. A weight hung at the other end, some feet above the surface of the snow.
"Now we are at Hassel's," said my companion. It was a good thing he could not see me, for I must have looked rather foolish. At Hassel's? I said to myself. What in the world does the man mean? We were standing on the bare Barrier.
"Do you hear that noise? That's Hassel sawing wood."
Now he bent down and raised the heavy trap-door easily with the help of the weight. Broad steps of snow led down, deep down, into the Barrier. We left the trap-door open, so as to have the benefit of the little daylight there was. My host went first; I followed. After descending four or five steps, we came to a doorway which was covered with a woollen curtain. We pushed this aside. The sound that had first reached me as a low rumbling now became sharper, and I could plainly hear that it was caused by sawing. We went in. The room we entered was long and narrow, cut out of the Barrier. On a solid shelf of snow there lay barrel after barrel arranged in exemplary order; if they were all full of paraffin, I began to understand Lindström's extravagance in lighting his fire in the morning: here was paraffin enough for several years. In the middle of the room a lantern was hanging, an ordinary one with wire netting round the glass. In a dark room it certainly would not have given much light, but in these white surroundings it shone like the sun. A Primus lamp was burning on the floor. The thermometer, which hung a little way from the Primus, showed -5º F., so Hassel could hardly complain of the heat, but he had to saw, so it did not matter. We approached Hassel. He looked as if he had plenty to do, and was sawing away so that the sawdust was flying. "'Morning." -- "'Morning." The sawdust flew faster and faster. "You seem to be busy to-day." -- "Oh yes!" -- the saw was now working with dangerous rapidity -- "if I'm to get finished for the holiday, I must hurry up." -- How's the coal-supply getting on?" That took effect. The saw stopped instantly, was raised, and put down by the wall. I waited for the next step in suppressed excitement; something hitherto undreamt of must be going to happen. Hassel looked round -- one can never be careful enough -- approached my host, and whispered, with every sign of caution "I did him out of twenty-five kilos last week." I breathed again; I had expected something much worse than that. With a smile of satisfaction Hassel resumed his interrupted work, and I believe nothing in the world would have stopped him again. The last I saw as we returned through the doorway was Hassel surrounded by a halo of sawdust.
We were back on the Barrier surface; a touch of the finger, and the trap-door swung over and fell noiselessly into its place. I could see that Hassel was capable of other things besides sawing birchwood. Outside lay his team, guarding all his movements -- Mikkel, Ræven, Masmas, and Else. They all looked well. Now we were going to see the others.
We went over to the entrance of the hut and raised the trap-door; a dazzling light met my eyes. In the wall of the steps leading down from the surface a recess had been cut to hold a wooden case lined with bright tin; this contained a little lamp which produced this powerful light. But it was the surroundings that made it so bright -- ice and snow everywhere. Now I could look about me for the first time; it had been dark when I came in the morning. There was the snow-tunnel leading to the pent-house; I could see that by the threshold that grinned at me. But there, in the opposite direction, what was there? I could see that the passage was continued, but where did it lead? Standing in the bright light, it looked quite dark in the tunnel.
"Now we will go and see Bjaaland first." With these words my companion bent down, and set off through the dark passage. "Look there, in the snow-wall -- just under our feet -- can you see the light?" By degrees my eyes had accustomed themselves to the darkness of the tunnel, and I could see a greenish light shining through the snow-wall where he pointed. And now another noise fell on my ears -- a monotonous sound -- coming from below.
"Look out for the steps!" Yes, he could be sure of that; I had come one cropper that day, and it was enough. We once more descended into the Barrier by broad, solid snow-steps covered with boards. Suddenly a door was opened -- a sliding-door in the snow-wall -- and I stood in Bjaaland's and Stubberud's premises. The place might be about 6 feet high, 15 feet long, and 7 feet wide. On the floor lay masses of shavings, which made it warm and cosy. At one end stood a Primus lamp with a large tin case over it, from which steam was issuing. "How is it going?" -- "All right. We're just bending the runners. I've made a rough estimate of the weight, and find I can bring it down to 48 pounds." This seemed to me almost incredible. Amundsen had told me on the way up this morning of the heavy sledges they had -- 165 pounds each. And now Bjaaland was going to bring them down to 48 pounds, less than a third of their original weight. In the snow-walls of the room were fixed hooks and shelves, where the tools were kept. Bjaaland's carpenter's bench was massive enough -- cut out in the snow and covered with boards. Along the opposite wall was another planing-bench, equally massive, but somewhat shorter than the first. This was evidently Stubberud's place. He was not here to-day, but I could see that he was engaged in planing down the sledge cases and making them lighter. One of them was finished; I leaned forward and looked at it. On the top, where a little round aluminium lid was let in, was written: "Original weight, 9 kilos; reduced weight, 6 kilos." I could understand what this saving of weight meant to men who were going on such a journey as these had before them. One lamp provided all the illumination, but it gave an excellent light. We left Bjaaland. I felt sure that the sledging outfit was in the best of hands.
We then made our way into the pent-house, and here we met Stubberud. He was engaged in cleaning up and putting things straight for the holiday. All the steam that came out of the kitchen, when the door was opened, had condensed on the roof and walls in the form of rime several inches thick, and Stubberud was now clearing this off with a long broom. Everything was going to be shipshape for Midwinter Eve; I could see that. We went in. Dinner was on, humming and boiling. The kitchen floor was scrubbed clean, and the linoleum with which it was covered shone gaily. It was the same in the living-room; everything was cleaned. The linoleum on the floor and the American cloth on the table were equally bright. The air was pure -- absolutely pure. All the bunks were made tidy, and the stools put in their places. There was no one here.
"You have only seen a fraction of our underground palaces, but I thought we would take a turn in the loft first and see what it is like. Follow me." We went out into the kitchen, and then up some steps fastened in the wall, and through the trap-door to the loft. With the help of a little electric lamp, we were able to look about us. The first thing that met my eyes was the library. There stood the Framheim library, and it made the same good impression as everything else -- books numbered from 1 to 80 in three shelves. The catalogue lay by the side of them, and I cast my eye over it. Here were books to suit all tastes; "Librarian, Adolf Henrik Lindström," I read at the end. So he was librarian, too-truly a many-sided man. Long rows of cases stood here, full of whortleberry jam, cranberries, syrup, cream, sugar, and pickles. In one corner I saw every sign of a dark-room; a curtain was hung up to keep the light off, and there was an array of developing-dishes, measuring-glasses, etc. This loft was made good use of. We had now seen everything, and descended again to continue our inspection.
Just as we reached the pent-house, Lindström came in with a big bucket of ice; I understood that it was to be used in the manufacture of water. My companion had armed himself with a large and powerful lantern, and I saw that we were going to begin our underground travels. In the north wall of the pent-house there was a door, and through this we went, entering a passage built against the house, and dark as the grave. The lantern had lost its power of illumination; it burned with a dull, dead light, which did not seem to penetrate beyond the glass. I stretched my hands in front of me. My host stopped and gave me a lecture on the wonderful order and tidiness they had succeeded in establishing among them. I was a willing listener, for I had already seen enough to be able to certify the truth of what he told me without hesitation. But in the place we were now in, I had to take his word for it, for it was all as black as bilge-water. We had just started to move on again, and I felt so secure, after all he had told me about the orderly way things were kept, that I let go my guide's anorak, which I had been holding. But that was foolish of me. Smack! I went down at full length. I had trodden on something round -- something that brought me down. As I fell, I caught hold of something -- also round -- and I lay convulsively clutching it. I wanted to convince myself of what it was that lay about on the floor of such a tidy house. The glimmer of the lantern, though not particularly strong, was enough to show me what I held in my arms -- a Dutch cheese! I put it back in the same place -- for the sake of tidiness -- sat up, and looked down at my feet. What was it I had stumbled over? A Dutch cheese -- if it wasn't another of the same family! I began to form my own opinion of the tidiness now, but said nothing. But I should like to know why he didn't fall over the cheeses, as he was walking in front. Oh, I answered myself, I guess he knew what sort of order the place was in.
At the eastern end of the house the passage was brilliantly lighted up by the window that looked out on this side; I could now see more clearly where I was. Opposite the window, in the part of the Barrier that here formed the other wall of the passage, a great hole had been dug; nothing was to be seen in it but black darkness. My companion knew his way, so I could rely upon him, but I should have hesitated to go in there alone. The hole extended into the Barrier, and finally formed a fairly large room with a vaulted roof. A spade and an axe on the floor were all I saw. What in the world was this hall used for? "You see, all the ice and snow from here has gone to our water-supply." So this was Lindström's quarry, from which he had hewn out ice and snow all these months for cooking, drinking, and washing. In one of the walls, close to the floor, there was a little hole just big enough for a man to crawl through.
"Now you must make yourself small and follow me; we are going to visit Hanssen and Wisting." And my companion disappeared like a snake into the hole. I threw myself down, quick as lightning, and followed. I would not have cared to be left alone there in pitch-darkness. I managed to get hold of one of his calves, and did not let go until I saw light on the other side. The passage we crept through was equally narrow all the way, and forced one to crawl on hands and knees; fortunately, it was not long. It ended in a fairly large, square room. A low table stood in the middle of the floor, and on it Helmer Hanssen was engaged in lashing sledges. The room gave one the impression of being badly lighted, though it had a lamp and candles. On a closer examination, I found that this was due to the number of dark objects the place contained. Against one of the walls there was clothing -- immense piles of skin -- clothing. Over this were spread blankets to protect it from the rime that was formed on the roof and fell down. Against the opposite wall was a stack of sledges, and at the end, opposite the door, were piles of woollen underclothing. Any outfitter in Christiania might have envied this stock; here one saw Iceland jackets, sweaters, underclothes of immense thickness and dimensions, stockings, mits, etc. In the corner formed by this wall and the one where the sledges stood was the little hole by which we had entered. Beyond the sledges, in the same wall, there was a door with a curtain in front of it, and from within it came a strange humming. I was much interested to know what this might be, but had to hear first what these two had to say.
"What do you think of the lashings now, Hanssen?"
"Oh, they'll hold right enough; at any rate, they'll be better than they were before. Look here, how they've pointed the ends!"
I leaned forward to see what was wrong with the sledge-lashings, and, I must say, what I saw surprised me. Is such a thing possible? The pointing of a lashing is a thing a sailor is very careful about. He knows that if the end is badly pointed, it does not matter how well the lashing is put on; therefore it is an invariable rule that lashings must be pointed as carefully as possible. When I looked at this one, what do you think I saw? Why, the end of the lashing was nailed down with a little tack, such as one would use to fasten labels. "That would be a nice thing to take to the Pole!" This final observation of Hanssen's was doubtless the mildest expression of what he thought of the work. I saw how the new lashings were being put on, and I was quite ready to agree with Hanssen that they would do the work. It was, by the way, no easy job, this lashing at -15ºF., as the thermometer showed, but Hanssen did not seem to mind it.
I had heard that Wisting also took part in this work, but he was not to be seen. Where could he be? My eyes involuntarily sought the curtain, behind which the humming sound was audible. I was now ready to burst with curiosity. At last the lashing question appears to be thrashed out, and my companion shows signs of moving on. He leaves his lantern and goes up to the curtain. "Wisting!" -- "Yes!" The answer seems to come from a far distance. The humming ceases, and the curtain is thrust aside. Then I am confronted by the sight that has impressed me most of all on this eventful day. There sits Wisting, in the middle of the Barrier, working a sewing-machine. The temperature outside is now -60ºF. This seems to me to require some explanation; I slink through the opening to get a closer view. Then -- ugh! I am met by a regular tropical blast. I glance at the thermometer; it shows +50º F. But how can this be? Here he is, sewing in an ice-cellar at +50º. I was told in my school-days that ice melts at about +32º. If the same law is still in operation, he ought to be sitting in a shower-bath. I go right in; the sewing-room is not large, about 6 feet each way. Besides the sewing-machine -- a modern treadle-machine -- the room contains a number of instruments, compasses, and so forth, besides the large tent he is now working on. But what interests me most is the way in which he circumvents the shower-bath. I see it now; it is very cleverly contrived. He has covered the roof and walls with tin and canvas, so arranged that all the melting ice goes the same way, and runs into a wash-tub that stands below. In this manner he collects washing water, which is such a precious commodity in these regions -- wily man! I afterwards hear that nearly all the outfit for the Polar journey is being made in this little ice-cabin. Well, with men like these I don't think Amundsen will deserve any credit for reaching the Pole. He ought to be thrashed if he doesn't.
Now we have finished here, and must in all probability have seen everything. My guide goes over to the wall where the clothing is lying and begins to rummage in it. A clothing inspection, I say to myself; there's no great fun in that. I sit down on the pile of sledges by the opposite wall, and am going over in my mind all I have seen, when suddenly he thrusts his head forward -- like a man who is going to make a dive -- and disappears among the bundles of skins. I jump up and make for the piles of clothing; I am beginning to feel quite lost in this mysterious world. In my hurry I collide with Hanssen's sledge, which falls off the table; he looks round furiously. It is a good thing he could not see me; he looked like murder. I squeeze in between the bundles of clothing, and what do I see? Another hole in the wall; another low, dark passage. I pluck up courage and plunge in. This tunnel is rather higher than the other, and I can walk, bending double. Fortunately, the light at the other end shows up at once, so that my journey in the dark is not a long one this time. I come out into another large room of about the same size as the last, and afterwards learn that it is known as the Crystal Palace. The name is appropriate, as crystals sparkle on every side. Against one wall a number of pairs of ski are resting; elsewhere there are cases, some yellow and some black. I guess the meaning of this at once, after my visit to Stubberud. The yellow cases are the original ones, and the black the improved ones. They think of everything here. Of course, in snow black is a far better colour than light yellow; the cases will be pleasanter to look at, and very much easier to see at a distance. And if they happen to run short of marks, all they need do will be to break up a case and make as many black marks as they want; they will be easily seen in the snow. The lids of these cases surprise me. They are no bigger than ordinary large milk-can lids, and of the same form; they are loose, as with a milk-can, and are put on in the same way. Then it suddenly occurs to me. When I was sitting on the sledges in Hanssen's workshop, I noticed little pieces of wire rope fixed to both ribs of the sledge. There were eight of them on each side -- just the right number. They are lashings for four cases, and they will hardly take more than that on a sledge. On one rib all the wire ropes ended in eyes; on the other they ended in thin lashings. Obviously there were four of them to each case -- two forward and two aft of the lid. If these were reeved and drawn taut, the cases would be held as in a vice, and the lids could be taken off freely at any time. It was an ingenious idea, which would save a lot of work.
But there sits Johansen in the middle of the Palace, packing. He seems to have a difficult problem to solve; he looks so profoundly thoughtful. Before him is a case half packed, marked "Sledge No. V., Case No. 4." More singular contents I have never seen -- a mixture of pemmican and sausage. I have never heard of sausages on a sledge journey; it must be something quite new. The pieces of pemmican are cylindrical in shape, about 2 inches high and 4 and 3/4 inches in diameter; when they are packed, there will be large star-shaped openings between every four of them. Each of these openings is filled up with a sausage, which stands straight up and down, and is of exactly the height of the case. But sausage -- let me see. Ah! there's a sausage with a tear in its skin; I run across and look at it. Oh, the cunning rascals! if it isn't milk-powder they are smuggling in like this! So every bit of space is utilized. The gaps left by these round pieces of pemmican at the sides of the cases are, of course, only half as large as the rest, and so cannot take a milk-sausage; but don't imagine that the space is wasted. No; chocolate is broken up into small pieces and stowed in there. When all these cases are packed, they will be as full as if they were of solid wood. There is one ready packed; I must see what it contains. Biscuits -- 5,400 biscuits is marked on the lid. They say that angels are specially gifted with patience, but theirs must be a trifle compared with Johansen's. There was absolutely not a fraction of an inch left in that case.
The Crystal Palace at present reminds one strongly of a grocer's and chandler's store -- pemmican, biscuits, chocolate, and milk-sausage, lie about everywhere. In the other wall, opposite the ski, there is an opening. I see my companion making for it, but this time I intend to keep an eye on him. He goes up two steps, pushes a trap-door, and there he stands on the Barrier -- but I am there, too. The trap-door is replaced, and I see that we are close to another door in the Barrier, but this is a modern sliding-door. It leads into the clothing store. I turn to my host and give him my best thanks for the interesting circular trip through the Barrier, expressing my admiration of all the fine engineering works I have seen, and so on. He cuts me short with the remark that we are not nearly done yet. He has only brought me up this way to save my having to crawl back again. "We are going in now," he adds, "to continue our journey under the surface." I see that there is no getting out of it, although I am beginning to have enough of these underground passages. My host seems to guess my thoughts, as he adds: "We must see them now when the men are working. Afterwards they will not have the same interest." I see that he is right, pull myself together, and follow him.
But Fate wills it otherwise. As we come out on the Barrier, Hanssen is standing there with his sledge and six fresh dogs harnessed. My companion has just time to whisper to me, " Jump on; I'll wait here," when the sledge starts off at a terrific pace with me as a passenger, unsuspected by Hanssen.
We went along so that the snow dashed over us. He had his dogs well in hand, this fellow, I could see that; but they were a wild lot of rascals he had to deal with. I heard the names of Hok and Togo in particular; they seemed inclined for mischief. All of a sudden they darted back on their companions under the traces, and got the whole team in a tangle; but they were not able to do very much, as the whip, which was wielded with great dexterity, constantly sang about their ears. The two sausages I had noticed on the slope -- Ring and Mylius -- were leaders; they, too, were full of pranks, but kept their places. Hai and Rap were also in the team. Rap, whose ear was split, would have liked very much to get his friend Hai to join in a little fight with Hok and Togo, but for the whip. It swished to and fro, in and out, among them without mercy, and made them behave like good boys. After us, some yards behind, came Zanko. He seemed to be put out because he had not been harnessed. Meanwhile we went at a gallop up the hill to the depot, and the last flag was passed. There was a marked difference in the daylight here now. It was eleven o'clock, and the flush of dawn had risen a good way in the sky and was approaching the north. The numbers and marks on the cases were easily visible.
Hanssen drew up smartly by the rows of cases and halted. We stepped off the sledge. He stood still for a moment and looked round, then turned the sledge over, with the runners in the air. I supposed he did this to prevent the dogs making off when his back was turned; personally, I thought it was a poor safeguard. I jumped up on a case, and sat there to await what developments might come. And they came in the form of Zanko. Hanssen had moved off a little way with a piece of paper in his hand, and seemed to be examining the cases as he went along. Zanko had now reached his friends, Ring and Mylius, and the meeting was a very cordial one on both sides. This was too much for Hok; he was on to them like a rocket, followed by his friend Togo. Hai and Rap never let such an opportunity escape them, and they eagerly flung themselves into the thick of the fight. "Stop that, you blackguards!" It was Hanssen who threw this admonition in advance, as he came rushing back. Zanko, who was free, had kept his head sufficiently to observe the approaching danger; without much hesitation, he cut away and made for Framheim with all possible speed. Whether the others missed their sixth combatant, or whether they, too, became aware of Hanssen's threatening approach, I am unable to determine; certain it is that they all got clear of each other, as though at a given signal, and made off the same way. The capsized sledge made no difference to them; they went like the wind over the slope, and disappeared by the flagstaff. Hanssen did not take long to make up his mind, but what was the use? He went as fast as he could, no doubt, but had reached no farther than to the flagstaff, when the dogs, with the capsized sledge behind them, ran into Framheim and were stopped there.
I went quietly back, well pleased with the additional experience. Down on the level I met Hanssen on his way to the depot a second time; he looked extremely angry, and the way in which he used the whip did not promise well for the dogs' backs. Zanko was now harnessed in the team. On my return to Framheim I saw no one, so I slipped into the pent-house, and waited for an opportunity of getting into the kitchen. This was not long in coming. Puffing and gasping like a small locomotive, Lindström swung in from the passage that led round the house. In his arms he again carried the big bucket full of ice, and an electric lamp hung from his mouth. In order to open the kitchen-door, he had only to give it a push with his knee; I slipped in. The house was empty. Now, I thought, I shall have a good chance of seeing what Lindström does when he is left alone. He put down the bucket of ice, and gradually filled up the water-pot which was on the fire. Then he looked at the clock: a quarter-past eleven -- good; dinner will be ready in time. He drew a long, deep sigh, then went into the room, filled and lit his pipe. Thereupon he sat down and took up a doll that was sitting on a letter-weight. His whole face lighted up; one could see how pleased he was. He wound up the doll and put it on the table; as soon as he let it go, it began to turn somersaults, one after another, endlessly. And Lindström? Well, he laughed till he must have been near convulsions, crying out all the while: "That's right, Olava; go it again!" I then looked at the doll carefully, and it was certainly something out of the common. The head was that of an old woman -- evidently a disagreeable old maid -- with yellow hair, a hanging under-jaw, and a love-sick expression. She wore a dress of red-and-white check, and when she turned head over heels it caused, as might be expected, some disturbance of her costume. The figure, one could see, had originally been an acrobat, but these ingenious Polar explorers had transformed it into this hideous shape. When the experiment was repeated, and I understood the situation, I could not help roaring, too, but Lindström was so deeply occupied that he did not hear me. After amusing himself for about ten minutes with this, he got tired of Olava, and put her up on the weight again. She sat there nodding and bowing until she was forgotten.
Meanwhile Lindström had gone to his bunk, and was lying half in it. Now, I thought to myself, he is going to take a little nap before dinner. But no; he came out again at once, holding a tattered old pack of cards in his hand. He went back to his place, and began a quiet and serious game of patience. It did not take long, and was probably not very complicated, but it served its purpose. One could see what a pleasure it was to him whenever a card came in its right place. Finally, all the cards were in order; he had finished the game. He sat a little while longer, enjoying the sight of the finished packs; then he picked them all up with a sigh, and rose, mumbling: "Yes, he'll get to the Pole, that's sure; and, what's more, he'll get there first." He put the cards back on the shelf in his bunk, and looked well pleased with himself.
Then the process of laying the table began once more, but with far less noise than in the morning; there was nobody to be annoyed by it now. At five minutes to twelve a big ship's bell was rung, and not long after the diners began to arrive. They did not make any elaborate toilet, but sat down to table at once. The dishes were not many: a thick, black seal soup, with all manner of curious things in it -- seal meat cut into " small dice" is no doubt the expression, but it would be misleading here; "large dice" we had better call them -- with potatoes, carrots, cabbage, turnips, peas, celery, prunes, and apples. I should like to know what our cooks at home would call that dish. Two large jugs of syrup and water stood on the table. Now I had another surprise; I was under the impression that a dinner like this passed off in silence, but that was by no means the case here. They talked the whole time, and the conversation chiefly turned on what they had been doing during the forenoon. For dessert they had some green plums. Pipes and books soon made their appearance.
By about two o'clock the boys gave fresh signs of life. I knew they were not going to work that afternoon -- St. Hans' Eve -- but habit is a strange thing. Bjaaland rose in a peremptory fashion, and asked who was going to have the first turn. After a lot of questions and answers, it was decided that Hassel should be the first. What it was I could not make out. I heard them talk about one or two Primuses, and say that half an hour was the most one could stand, but that did not mean anything to me. I should have to stick to Hassel; he was going first. If there should be no second man, I should, at any rate, have seen what the first one did. Everything became quiet again; it was only in the kitchen that one could tell that the Barrier was inhabited.
At half-past two Bjaaland, who had been out, came in and announced that now it was all a mass of steam. I watched Hassel anxiously. Yes; this announcement seemed to put life into him. He got up and began to undress. Very strange, I thought; what can this be? I tried the Sherlock Holmes method -- first Bjaaland goes out; that is fact number one. Then he comes back; that I could also make sure of. So far the method worked well. But then comes the third item "It is all a mass of steam." What in the world does that mean? The man has gone out -- if not out on to the Barrier, then certainly into it -- into snow-ice, and then he comes back and says that it is all a mass of steam. It seems ridiculous -- absurd. I send Sherlock Holmes to the deuce, and watch Hassel with increasing excitement; if he takes any more off -- I felt I was blushing, and half turned my head, but there he stopped. Then he picked up a towel, and away we went: out through the pent-house door -- it was all I could do to follow him -- along the snow tunnel in nothing but -- Here steam really began to meet us, getting thicker and thicker as we came into the Barrier. The tunnel became so full of steam that I could see nothing. I thought with longing of the tail of Amundsen's anorak that was so useful on such occasions, but here there was nothing to take hold of. Far away in the fog I could see a light, and made my way to it with caution. Before I knew where I was, I stood at the other end of the passage, which led into a large room, covered with rime, and closed overhead by a mighty dome of ice. The steam was troublesome, and spoilt my view of the room. But what had become of Hassel? I could only see Bjaaland. Then suddenly the fog seemed to clear for an instant, and I caught sight of a bare leg disappearing into a big black box, and a moment later I saw Hassel's smiling face on the top of the box. A shudder passed through my frame -- he looked as if he had been decapitated. On further consideration, his features were too smiling; the head could not be severed from the body yet. Now the steam began to clear away little by little, and at last one could see clearly what was going on. I had to laugh; it was all very easy to understand now. But I think Sherlock Holmes would have found it a hard-nut to crack if he had been set down blindfold on the Antarctic Barrier, as I was, so to speak, and asked to explain the situation. It was one of those folding American vapour-baths that Hassel sat in. The bathroom, which had looked so spacious and elegant in the fog, reduced itself to a little snow-hut of insignificant appearance. The steam was now collected in the bath, and one could see by the face above that it was beginning to be warm there. The last thing I saw Bjaaland do was to pump two Primus lamps that were placed just under the bath up to high pressure, and then disappear. What a lesson an actor might have had in watching the face before me! It began with such a pleasant expression -- well-being was written upon it in the brightest characters -- then by degrees the smile wore off, and gave place to seriousness. But this did not last long; there was a trembling of the nostrils, and very soon it could clearly be seen that the bath was no longer of a pleasant nature. The complexion, from being normal, had changed to an ultra-violet tint; the eyes opened wider and wider, and I was anxiously awaiting a catastrophe.
It came, but in a very different form from that I had expected. Suddenly and noiselessly the bath was raised, and the steam poured out, laying a soft white curtain over what followed. I could see nothing; only heard that the two Primuses were turned down. I think it took about five minutes for the steam to disappear, and what did I see then? -- Hassel, bright as a new shilling, dressed in his best for St. Hans' Eve. I availed myself of the opportunity to examine the first, and probably the only, vapour-bath on the Antarctic Barrier. It was, like everything else I had seen, very ingeniously contrived. The bath was a high box without bottom, and with a hole, large enough for the head, in the top. Ail the walls were double and were made of windproof material, with about an inch between for the air to circulate. This box stood on a platform, which was raised a couple of feet above the snow surface. The box fitted into a groove, and was thus absolutely tight. In the platform immediately under the bath a rectangular opening was cut, lined round with rubber packing, and into this opening a tin box fitted accurately. Under the tin box stood two Primus lamps, and now everyone will be able to understand why Hassel felt warm. A block hung from the top of the hut, with a rope reeved in it; one end was made fast to the upper edge of the bath, and the other went down into the bath. In this way the bather himself could raise the bath without assistance, and free himself when the heat became too great. The temperature outside the snow-wall was -65º F. Cunning lads! I afterwards heard that Bjaaland and Hassel had constructed this ingenious bath.
I now went back to the house, and saw how they all -- almost -- made use of the vapour-bath. By a quarter-past five all the bathing was concluded, and everyone put on his furs; it was evident that they were going out. I followed the first man who left the hut; he was provided with a lantern, and indeed it was wanted. The weather had changed: a south-west wind had sprung up suddenly, and now the air was thick with snow. It was not a fall of snow, for one could see the stars in the zenith, but snow caught up by the wind and whirled along. A man had to know the surroundings well to find his way now; one had to feel -- it was impossible to keep one's eyes open. I took up a position in lee of a snow-drift, and waited to see what would happen. The dogs did not seem to be inconvenienced by the change of weather; some of them lay curled up in a ring, with their nose under their tail, on the snow, while others were running about. One by one the men came out; each had a lantern in his hand. As they arrived at the place where the dogs were, each was surrounded by his team, who followed him to the tents with joyous howls. But everything did not pass off peacefully; I heard -- I think it was in Bjaaland's tent -- a deafening noise going on, and looked in at the door. Down there, deep below the surface, they were having a warm time. All the dogs were mixed up together in one mass: some were biting, some shrieking, some howling. In the midst of this mass of raging dogs I saw a human figure swinging round, with a bunch of dog-collars in one hand, while he dealt blows right and left with the other, and blessed the dogs all the time. I thought of my calves and withdrew. But the human figure that I had seen evidently won the mastery, as the noise gradually subsided and all became quiet. As each man got his dogs tied up, he went over to the meat-tent and took a box of cut-up seal meat, which stood on the wall out of the dogs' reach. This meat had been cut up earlier in the day by two men. They took it in turns, I heard; two men had this duty daily. The dogs were then fed, and half an hour after this was done the camp again lay as I had found it in the morning, quiet and peaceful. With a temperature of -65º F., and a velocity of twenty-two miles an hour, the south-wester swept over the Barrier, and whirled the snow high into the air above Framheim; but in their tents the dogs lay, full-fed and contented, and felt nothing of the storm.
In the hut preparations for a feast were going on, and now one could really appreciate a good house. The change from the howling wind, the driving snow, the intense cold, and the absolute darkness, was great indeed when one came in. Everything was newly washed, and the table was gaily decorated. Small Norwegian flags were everywhere, on the table and walls. The festival began at six, and all the "vikings" came merrily in. Lindström had done his best, and that is not saying a little. I specially admired his powers and his liberality -- and I think, even in the short time I have observed him, he has shown no sign of being stingy -- when he appeared with the "Napoleon" cakes. Now I must tell you that these cakes were served after every man had put away a quarter of a plum-pudding. The cakes were delightful to look at -- the finest puff-pastry, with layers of vanilla custard and cream. They made my mouth water. But the size of them! -- there could not be one of those mountains of cake to every man? One among them all, perhaps -- if they could be expected to eat Napoleon cakes at all after plum-pudding. But why had he brought in eight -- two enormous dishes with four on each? Good heavens! -- one of the vikings had just started, and was making short work of his mountain. And one after another they all walked into them, until the whole eight had disappeared. I should have nothing to say about hunger, misery, and cold, when I came hone. My head was going round; the temperature must have been as many degrees above zero in here as it was below zero outside. I looked up at Wisting's bunk, where a thermometer was hanging: +95º F. The vikings did not seem to take the slightest notice of this trifle; their work with the "Napoleons" continued undisturbed.
Soon the gorgeous cake was a thing of the past, and cigars came out. Everyone, without exception, allowed himself this luxury. Up to now they had not shown much sign of abstinence; I wanted to know what was their attitude with regard to strong drinks. I had heard, of course, that indulgence in alcohol on Polar expeditions was very harmful, not to say dangerous. "Poor boys!" I thought to myself; "that must be the reason of your fondness for cake. A man must have one vice, at least. Deprived of the pleasure of drinking, they make up for it in gluttony." Yes, now I could see it quite plainly, and I was heartily sorry for them. I wondered how the "Napoleons" felt now; they looked rather depressed. No doubt the cake took some time to settle down.
Lindström, who now seemed unquestionably the most wideawake of them all, came in and began to clear the table. I expected to see every man roll into his bunk to digest. But no; that side of the question did not appear to trouble them much. They remained seated, as though expecting more. Oh yes, of course; there was coffee to come. Lindström was already in the doorway with cups and jugs. A cup of coffee would be just the thing after such a meal.
"Stubberud!" -- this was Lindström's voice, calling from some place in the far distance -- "hurry up, before they get warm!" I rushed after Stubberud to see what the things were that were not to get warm; I thought it might possibly be something that was to be taken outside. Great Heaven! there was Lindström lying on his stomach up in the loft, and handing down through the trap-door -- what do you think? -- a bottle of Benedictine and a bottle of punch, both white with frost! Now I could see that the fish were to swim -- what's more, they were to be drowned. A happier smile than that with which Stubberud received the bottles, or more careful and affectionate handling than they received on their way through the kitchen, I have never seen. I was touched. Ah, these boys knew how a liqueur should be served! "Must be served cold," was on the label of the punch bottle. I can assure P. A. Larsen that his prescription was followed to the letter that evening. Then the gramophone made its appearance, and it did me good to see the delight with which it was received. They seemed to like this best, after all, and every man had music to suit his taste. All agreed to honour the cook for all his pains, and the concert therefore began with "Tarara-boom-de-ay," followed by the "Apache" waltz. His part of the programme was concluded with a humorous recitation. Meanwhile he stood in the doorway with a beatific smile; this did him good. In this way the music went the round, and all had their favourite tunes. Certain numbers were kept to the last; I could see that they were to the taste of all. First came an air from "The Huguenots," sung by Michalowa; this showed the vikings to be musical. It was beautifully sung. "But look here," cried an impatient voice: "aren't we going to have Borghild Bryhn to-night?" "Yes," was the answer; "here she comes." And Solveig's Song followed. It was a pity Borghild Bryhn was not there; I believe the most rapturous applause would not have moved her so much as the way her song was received here that evening. As the notes rang clear and pure through the room, one could see the faces grow serious. No doubt the words of the poem affected them all as they sat there in the dark winter night on the vast wilderness of ice, thousands and thousands of miles from all that was dear to them. I think that was so; but it was the lovely melody, given with perfect finish and rich natural powers, that opened their hearts. One could see how it did them good; it was as though they were afraid of the sound of their own voices afterwards. At last one of them could keep silence no longer. "My word, how beautifully she sings!" he exclaimed; "especially the ending. I was a little bit afraid that she would give the last note too sharp, in spite of the masterly way in which she controls her voice. And it is outrageously high, too. But instead of that, the note came so pure and soft and full that it alone was enough to make a better man of one." And then this enthusiastic listener tells them how he once heard the same song, but with a very different result. "It went quite well," he says, "until it came to the final note. Then you could see the singer fill her mighty bosom for the effort, and out came a note so shrill that -- well, you remember the walls of Jericho." After this the gramophone is put away. No one seems to want any more.
Now it is already half-past eight, it must be nearly bed-time. The feast has lasted long enough, with food, drink, and music. Then they all get on their feet, and there is a cry of "Bow and arrows." Now, I say to myself, as I withdraw into the corner where the clothes are hanging -- now the alcohol is beginning to take effect. It is evident that something extraordinarily interesting is going to take place, as they are all so active. One of them goes behind the door and fetches out a little cork target, and another brings out of his bunk a box of darts. So it is dart-throwing -- the children must be amused. The target is hung up on the door of the kitchen leading to the pent-house, and the man who is to throw first takes up his position at the end of the table at a distance of three yards. And now the shooting competition begins, amid laughter and noise. There are marksmen of all kinds, good, bad, and indifferent. Here comes the champion -- one can see that by the determined way in which he raises the dart and sends it flying; his will, no doubt, be the top score. That is Stubberud; of the five darts he throws, two are in the bull's-eye and three close to it. The next is Johansen; he is not bad, either, but does not equal the other's score. Then comes Bjaaland; I wonder whether he is as smart at this game as he is on ski? He places himself at the end of the table, like the others, but takes a giant's stride forward. He is a leery one, this; now he is not more than a yard and a half from the target. He throws well; the darts describe a great round arch. This is what is known as throwing "with a high trajectory," and it is received with great applause. The trajectory turns out to be too high, and all his darts land in the wall above the door. Hassel throws with "calculation." What he calculates it is not easy to understand. Not on hitting the target, apparently; but if his calculations have to do with the kitchen-door, then they are more successful. Whether Amundsen "calculates" or not makes very little difference; his are all misses in any case. Wisting's form is the same. Prestrud is about half-way between the good shots and the bad. Hanssen throws like a professional, slinging his dart with great force. He evidently thinks he is hunting walrus. All the scores are carefully entered in a book, and prizes will be given later on.
Meanwhile Lindström is playing patience; his day's work is now done. But, besides his cards, he is much interested in what is going on round the target, and puts in a good word here and there. Then he gets up with a determined look; he has one more duty to perform. This consists of changing the light from the big lamp under the ceiling to two small lamps, and the reason for the change is that the heat of the big lamp would be too strongly felt in the upper bunks. This operation is a gentle hint that the time has come for certain people to turn in. The room looks dark now that the great sun under the ceiling is extinguished; the two lamps that are now alight are good enough, but one seems, nevertheless, to have made a retrograde step towards the days of pine-wood torches.
By degrees, then, the vikings began to retire to rest. My description of the day's life at Framheim would be incomplete if I did not include this scene in it. Lindström's chief pride, I had been told, was that he was always the first man in bed; he would willingly sacrifice a great deal to hold this record. As a rule, he had no difficulty in fulfilling his desire, as nobody tried to be before him; but this evening it was otherwise. Stubberud was far advanced with his undressing when Lindström came in, and, seeing a chance at last of being "first in bed," at once challenged the cook. Lindström, who did not quite grasp the situation, accepted the challenge, and then the race began, and was followed by the others with great excitement. Now Stubberud is ready, and is just going to jump into his bunk, which is over Lindström's, when he suddenly feels himself clutched by the leg and held back. Lindström hangs on to the leg with all his force, crying out, in the most pitiable voice: "Wait a bit, old man, till I'm undressed too!" It reminded me rather of the man who was going to fight, and called out: "Wait till I get a hold of you!" But the other was not to be persuaded; he was determined to win. Then Lindström let go, tore off his braces -- he had no time for more -- and dived head first into his bunk. Stubberud tried to protest; this was not fair, he was not undressed, and so on.
"That doesn't matter," replied the fat man; "I was first, all the same."
The scene was followed with great amusement and shouts of encouragement, and ended in a storm of applause when Lindström disappeared into his bunk with his clothes on. But that was not the end of the business, for his leap into the bunk was followed by a fearful crash, to which no one paid any attention in the excitement of the moment, himself least of all. But now the consequences appeared. The shelf along the side of his bunk, on which he kept a large assortment of things, had fallen down, and filled the bunk with rifles, ammunition, gramophone-discs, tool-boxes, sweetmeat-boxes, pipes, tins of tobacco, ash-trays, boxes of matches, etc., and there was no room left for the man himself. He had to get out again, and his defeat was doubly hard. With shame he acknowledged Stubberud as the victor; "but," he added, "you shan't be first another time." One by one the others turned in; books were produced -- here and there a pipe as well -- and in this way the last hour was passed. At eleven o'clock precisely the lamps were put out, and the day was at an end.
Soon after, my host goes to the door, and I follow him out. I had told him I had to leave again this evening, and he is going to see me off. "I'll take you as far as the depot," he says; "the rest of the way you can manage by yourself." The weather has improved considerably, but it is dark -- horribly dark. "So that we may find the way more easily," he says, "I'll take my trio. If they don't see the way, they'll smell it out." Having let loose the three dogs, who evidently wonder what the meaning of it may be, he puts a lantern on a stack of timber -- to show him the way back, I suppose -- and we go off. The dogs are evidently accustomed to go this way, for they set off at once in the direction of the depot.
"Yes," says my companion, "it's not to be wondered at that they know the way. They have gone it every day -- once at least, often two or three times -- since we came here. There are three of us who always take our daily walk in this direction -- Bjaaland, Stubberud, and I. As you saw this morning, those two went out at half-past eight. They did that so as to be back to work at nine. We have so much to do that we can't afford to lose any time. So they take their walk to the depot and back; at nine I generally do the same. The others began the winter with the same good resolution; they were all so enthusiastic for a morning walk. But the enthusiasm didn't last long, and now we three are the only enthusiasts left. But, short as the way is -- about 650 yards -- we should not venture to go without those marks that you saw, and without our dogs. I have often hung out a lantern, too; but when it is as cold as this evening, the paraffin freezes and the light goes out. Losing one's way here might be a very serious matter, and I don't want to run the risk of it.
" Here we have the first mark-post; we were lucky to come straight upon it. The dogs are on ahead, making for the depot. Another reason for being very careful on the way to the depot is that there is a big hole, 20 feet deep, just by a hummock on that slope where, you remember, the last flag stands. If one missed one's way and fell into it, one might get hurt." We passed close to the second mark. "The next two marks are more difficult to hit off -- they are so low; and I often wait and call the dogs to me to find the way -- as I am going to do now, for instance. It is impossible to see anything unless you come right on it, so we must wait and let the dogs help us. I know exactly the number of paces between each mark, and when I have gone that number, I stop and first examine the ground close by. If that is no good, I whistle for the dogs, who come at once. Now you'll see" -- a long whistle -- "it won't be long before they are here. I can hear them already." He was right; the dogs came running out of the darkness straight towards us. "To let them see that we want to find the way to the depot, we must begin to walk on." We did so. As soon as the dogs saw this, they went forward again, but this time at a pace that allowed us to keep up with them at a trot, and soon after we were at the last mark.
"As you see, my lantern over at the camp is just going out, so I hope you will excuse my accompanying you farther. You know your way, anyhow."
With these words we parted, and my host went back, followed by the faithful trio, whilst I ...
This is a chapter from The South Pole (e-book).
Previous: Preparing for Winter | Table of Contents | Next: The End of the Winter