Part V — Among the Ice Packs
At last, there came a morning when my father said: "My son, I think we are to see home. We are almost through the ice. See! the open water lies before us."
However, there were a few icebergs that had floated far northward into the open water still ahead of us on either side, stretching away for many miles. Directly in front of us, and by the compass, which had now righted itself, due north, there was an open sea.
"What a wonderful story we have to tell to the people of Stockholm," continued my father, while a look of pardonable elation lighted up his honest face. "And think of the gold nuggets stowed away in the hold!"
I spoke kind words of praise to my father, not alone for his fortitude and endurance, but also for his courageous daring as a discoverer, and for having made the voyage that now promised a successful end. I was grateful, too, that he had gathered the wealth of gold we were carrying home.
While congratulating ourselves on the goodly supply of provisions and water we still had on hand, and on the dangers we had escaped, we were startled by hearing a most terrific explosion, caused by the tearing apart of a huge mountain of ice. It was a deafening roar like the firing of a thousand cannon. We were sailing at the time with great speed, and happened to be near a monstrous iceberg which to all appearances was as immovable as a rockbound island. It seemed, however, that the iceberg had split and was breaking apart, whereupon the balance of the monster along which we were sailing was destroyed, and it began dipping from us. My father quickly anticipated the danger before I realized its awful possibilities. The iceberg extended down into the water many hundreds of feet, and, as it tipped over, the portion coming up out of the water caught our fishing-craft like a lever on a fulcrum, and threw it into the air as if it had been a foot-ball.
Our boat fell back on the iceberg, that by this time had changed the side next to us for the top. My father was still in the boat, having become entangled in the rigging, while I was thrown some twenty feet away.
I quickly scrambled to my feet and shouted to my father, who answered: "All is well." Just then a realization dawned upon me. Horror upon horror! The blood froze in my veins. The iceberg was still in motion, and its great weight and force in toppling over would cause it to submerge temporarily. I fully realized what a sucking maelstrom it would produce amid the worlds of water on every side. They would rush into the depression in all their fury, like white-fanged wolves eager for human prey.
In this supreme moment of mental anguish, I remember glancing at our boat, which was lying on its side, and wondering if it could possibly right itself, and if my father could escape. Was this the end of our struggles and adventures? Was this death? All these questions flashed through my mind in the fraction of a second, and a moment later I was engaged in a life and death struggle. The ponderous monolith of ice sank below the surface, and the frigid waters gurgled around me in frenzied anger. I was in a saucer, with the waters pouring in on every side. A moment more and I lost consciousness.
When I partially recovered my senses, and roused from the swoon of a half-drowned man, I found myself wet, stiff, and almost frozen, lying on the iceberg. But there was no sign of my father or of our little fishing sloop. The monster berg had recovered itself, and, with its new balance, lifted its head perhaps fifty feet above the waves. The top of this island of ice was a plateau perhaps half an acre in extent.
I loved my father well, and was grief-stricken at the awfulness of his death. I railed at fate, that I, too, had not been permitted to sleep with him in the depths of the ocean. Finally, I climbed to my feet and looked about me. The purple-domed sky above, the shoreless green ocean beneath, and only an occasional iceberg discernible! My heart sank in hopeless despair. I cautiously picked my way across the berg toward the other side, hoping that our fishing craft had righted itself.
Dared I think it possible that my father still lived? It was but a ray of hope that flamed up in my heart. But the anticipation warmed my blood in my veins and started it rushing like some rare stimulant through every fiber of my body.
I crept close to the precipitous side of the iceberg, and peered far down, hoping, still hoping. Then I made a circle of the berg, scanning every foot of the way, and thus I kept going around and around. One part of my brain was certainly becoming maniacal, while the other part, I believe, and do to this day, was perfectly rational.
I was conscious of having made the circuit a dozen times, and while one part of my intelligence knew, in all reason, there was not a vestige of hope, yet some strange fascinating aberration bewitched and compelled me still to beguile myself with expectation. The other part of my brain seemed to tell me that while there was no possibility of my father being alive, yet, if I quit making the circuitous pilgrimage, if I paused for a single moment, it would be acknowledgment of defeat, and, should I do this, I felt that I should go mad. Thus, hour after hour I walked around and around, afraid to stop and rest, yet physically powerless to continue much longer. Oh! horror of horrors! to be cast away in this wide expanse of waters without food or drink, and only a treacherous iceberg for an abiding place. My heart sank within me, and all semblance of hope was fading into black despair.
Then the hand of the Deliverer was extended, and the death-like stillness of a solitude rapidly becoming unbearable was suddenly broken by the firing of a signal-gun. I looked up in startled amazement, when, I saw, less than a half-mile away, a whaling-vessel bearing down toward me with her sail full set.
Evidently my continued activity on the iceberg had attracted their attention. On drawing near, they put out a boat, and, descending cautiously to the water's edge, I was rescued, and a little later lifted on board the whaling-ship.
I found it was a Scotch whaler, "The Arlington." She had cleared from Dundee in September, and started immediately for the Antarctic, in search of whales. The captain, Angus MacPherson, seemed kindly disposed, but in matters of discipline, as I soon learned, possessed of an iron will. When I attempted to tell him that I had come from the "inside" of the earth, the captain and mate looked at each other, shook their heads, and insisted on my being put in a bunk under strict surveillance of the ship's physician.
I was very weak for want of food, and had not slept for many hours. However, after a few days' rest, I got up one morning and dressed myself without asking permission of the physician or anyone else, and told them that I was as sane as anyone.