Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Excerpt: Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, installment #4

The following excerpt is from Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. A true account of Grenfell's near death experience, the story was first published in 1909 by Houghton Mifflin Company. The unabridged audio edition narrated by Chris Brookes, Jay Roberts and Janis Spence is available from rattlingbooks.com


It was impossible to make any progress through the sish ice by swimming, so I lay there and thought all would soon be over, only wondering if any one would ever know how it happened. There was no particular horror attached to it, and in fact I began to feel drowsy, as if I could easily go to sleep, when suddenly I saw the trace of another big dog that had himself gone through before he reached the pan, and though he was close to it was quite unable to force his way out. Along this I hauled myself, using him as a bow anchor, but mch bothered by the other dogs as I passed them, one of which got on my shoulder, pushing me farther down into the ice. There was only a yard or so more when I had passed my living anchor, and soon I lay with my dogs around me on the little piece of slob ice. I had to help them on to it, working them through the lane that I had made.

The piece of ice we were on was so small it was obvious we must soon all be drowned, if we remained upon it as it drifted seaward into more open water. If we were to save our lives, no time was to be lost. When I stood up, I could see about twenty yards away a larger pan floating amidst the sish, like a great flat raft, and if we could get on to it we should postpone at least for a time the death that already seemed almost inevitable. It was impossible to reach it with0ut a life line, as I had already learned to my cost, and the next problem was how to get one there. Marvelous to relate, when I had first fallen through, after I had cut the dogs a drift without any hope let of saving myself, I had not let my knife sink, but had fastened it by two half hitches to the back of one of the dogs. To my great joy there it was still, and shortly I was at work cutting all the sealskin traces still hanging from the dogs' harnesses, and splicing them together into one long line. These I divided and fastened to the backs of my two leaders, tying the near ends round my two wrists. I then pointed out to “Brin” the pan I wanted to reach and tried my best to make them go ahead, giving them the full length of my lines from two coils. My long sealskin moccasins, reaching to my thigh, were full of ice and water. These I took off and tied separately on the dogs' backs. My coat, hat, gloves, and overalls I had already lost. At fist, nothing would induce the two dogs to move, and though I threw them off the pan two or three times, they struggled back upon it, which perhaps was only natural, because as soon as they fell through they could see nowhere else to make for. To me, however, this seemed to spell “the end.” Fortunately, I had with me a small black spaniel, almost a featherweight, with large furry paws, called “Jack,” who acts as my mascot and incidentally as my retriever. This at once flashed into my mind, and I felt I had still one more chance for life. So I spoke, to him and showed him the direction, and then threw a piece of ice toward the desired goal. Without a moment's hesitation he made a dash for it, and to my great joy got there safely, the tough scale of sea ice carrying his weight bravely. At once I shouted to him to “lie down,” and this, too, he immediately did, looking like a little black fuzz ball on the white setting.

My leaders could now see him seated there on the new piece of floe, and when once more I threw them off they understood what I wanted, and fought their way to where they saw the spaniel, carrying with them the line that gave me the one chance for my life. The other dogs followed them, and after painful struggling, all got out again except one. Taking all the run that I could get on my little pan, I made a dive, slithering with the impetus along the surface till once more I sank through. After a long fight, however, I was able to haul myself by the long traces on to this new pan, having taken carre beforehand to tie the harnesses to which I was holding under the dogs' bellies, so that they could not slip them off. But alas! The pan I was now on was not large enough to bear us and was already beginning to sink, so this process had to be repeated immediately.

I now realized that, though we had been working toward the shore, we had been losing ground all the time, for the off-shore wind had already driven us a hundred yards farther out. But the widening gap kept full of the pounded ice, through which no man could possibly go.

To be continued.