Friday, March 09, 2007

Excerpt: Vikings of the Ice by George Allan England (#4)


The day arrived on which Cap'n Kean bade me go aboard - March 8, 1922 - and with my ditty bag, a battered suitcase, and no few misgivings, I embarked.

In the cabin I found men lying, smoking, sleeping in unlikely places. The steward - a thin, worried-looking chap with a sandy moustache - stretched out on a hard bench beside the table, was snoring like the Seven Sleepingers of Ephesus. The cabin looked a bit more cheery than erstwhile. A coal fire roared in the glowing bogey, and a certain warmth had begun to dispel the clammy cold. Nobody had much to say, but everybody stared. Who and what was I, anyhow, and what did I want? A writer, eh? "My glorianna, dat'm a quare t'ing, dough!" It passed comprehension - was "fair beyend ahl." Why the devil should anybody want to write - or read - anything about "de hard rowt o'swilin'?"

So I was heavily handicapped from the start, and found myself accepted only under suspicion.
Doctor Hollands arrived, a Kentish man who was to have charge of the health of a full 160 men; heavy responsibiity in the far icefields where no hospital facilities exist. Arrived, too, Cap'n Kean, somthing of a fashion plate in a fine felt hat, well-cut overcoat, and white collar. A fine old sea dog: proud, virile, dominant. One of the real "fore-now" men, which is to say, the genuine old heart-of-oak breed of mariners, now, alas, dying out.

Gloomily the old Terra Nova lies at her sno-muffled wharf as night comes on [says my notebook]. On deck, sealers are carrying shovels of live coals to start a fire somewhere, in preparation for a "scoff," as a feed is called. Sparks are eddying from the aft-galley funnel,. A stockish man, lumped down on a bench in the galley, is intoning a come-all-ye. No sleeping accommodations, or any of whatso kind, have been made for me. I have just dumped my "fit-out" and myself into a kind of little hellhole aft of the main cabin. This hellhole is partly occupied by the rudder stunk, partly by several rough black bunks. A tiny place it is, with a sign branded into a beam: "CERTIFIED TO ACCOMMODATE ONE SEAMAN." Here I am awaiting developments. Everything is dim, dark, smoky, glum.

To be continued.

George Allan England's tale of sailing to the ice with Captain Abram Kean on the Terra Nova in 1922, Vikings of the Ice, being the log of a Tenderfoot on the Great Newfoundland Seal Hunt was published in 1924 by Doubleday. Rattling Books will release an unabridged audio edition of Vikings of the Ice narrated by Frank Holden in the spring of 2007