Mawson's Will by Lennard Bickel

Mawson's Will by Lennard Bickel

Author:Lennard Bickel
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi, azw3
Publisher: Steerforth Press
Published: 2000-11-02T05:00:00+00:00

Eight hours after Ninnis was killed—at nine in the evening of December 14—they pulled with the dogs along the old tracks until they came to the rise that would hide the Black Crevasse from their view. They halted briefly to look back for the last, silent farewell. Now opened the long, painful march to the west.

They did not stop again that night. They were driven on by the crucial urge to reach the previous camp. Where the snowy slopes rose they plodded doggedly on. Where the line ran downhill Mertz—on skis—and Mawson on the sledge allowed their load to rush downward, without regard to danger in the crevassed slopes, knowing the risks were there, with all the consequences, but disregarding them with a languid carelessness that Mawson knew was caused by the death of Ninnis. Through the hours of the hovering midnight sun, onward they marched into the early morning light, a light blown snow filling their goggles and raising their silent prayers that there had been no snowfall to mask the location of their precious rubbish dump.

The blur of the dark smudge came through the white haze at 2:30 in the morning. Dogs and men, with an objective ahead, rushed toward the site; then, with wearied, wobbling legs, trembling from the long sustained effort and from cold, they all dropped into the snow. The animals lay with their heads on their front paws, crying from hunger and tiredness, their eyes sad and their breath forming crystals on their faces like frozen tears. Mawson regarded them with utter pity: old George, defeated, unable to walk again; Mary and Haldane and the old battler Johnson—who'd stood up to a three-ton sea elephant; then gallant, loyal Ginger; and on the end of the line, dear Pavlova.

Something had to be found for them this night. He rummaged among the discarded materials and found two holed wolfskin gloves, a pair of worn finnesko boots, and a short length of hide strapping. With his sharp sheath knife he cut them into six equal portions; then he and Mertz fed them to the dogs, one by one. The prospect of something to swallow was electrifying to their wild hunger; yelping, howling, they each gulped their portions in a flash. They licked the snow for the last trace, for the last hair. There was no more; and they buried themselves in the snow to sleep as well as hunger would allow.

The two men needed shelter, and with Mawson's Bonzer knife—an adjustable complex to which they could attach a small saw, little hammer, and a file—they cut a runner from the old sledge. Mertz sawed this into halves and then, with frozen fingers, they had to lash the struts of wood to the two snowshoes to fashion a frame for their makeshift tent—a nightly task that was to bear increasingly on them in the weeks ahead. At last they threw the light cover over the squared frame—praying there would be no strong wind—and pinned the skirt down with snow heaped by hand and with pieces of their sledging equipment.


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