Our hearth and home was the living Hut and its focus
was the stove. Kitchen and stove were indissolubly linked, and beyond
their pale was a wilderness of hanging clothes, boots, finnesko,
mitts and what not, bounded by tiers of bunks and blankets, more
hanging clothes and dim photographs between the frost-rimed cracks
of the wooden walls.
One might see as much in the first flicker
of the acetylene through a maze of hurrying figures, but as his
eyes grew accustomed to the light, the plot would thicken: books
orderly and disorderly, on bracketed shelves, cameras great and
small in motley confusion, guns and a gramophone-horn, serpentine
yards of gas-tubing, sewing machines, a microscope, rows of pint-mugs,
until--thud! he has obstructed a wild-eyed messman staggering into
the kitchen with a box of ice.
The wilderness was always
inhabited, so much so that it often became a bear-garden in which
raucous good humour prevailed over everything.
a necessary evil, and it commenced at 7.30 A.M., with the subdued
melodies of the gramophone, mingled with the stirring of the porridge-pot
and the clang of plates deposited none too gently on the table.
At 7.50 A.M. came the stentorian: "Rise and shine!'' of
the night-watchman, and a curious assortment of cat-calls, beating
on pots and pans and fragmentary chaff. At the background, so to
speak, of all these sounds was the swishing rush of the wind and
the creaking strain of the roof, but these had become neglected.
In fact, if there were a calm, every one was restless and uneasy.
The seasoned sleeper who survived the ten minutes' bombardment
before 8 o'clock was an unusual person, and he was often the
Astronomer Royal. Besides his dignified name he possessed a wrist-watch,
and there was never a movement in his mountain of blankets until
7.59 A.M., unless the jocular night-watchman chose to make a heap
of them on the floor. To calls like "Breakfast all ready! Porridge
on the table getting cold!'' seventeen persons in varying
stages of wakefulness responded. No one was guilty of an elaborate
toilet, water being a scarce commodity. There were adherents of
the snow-wash theory, but these belonged to an earlier and warmer
epoch of our history.
For downright, tantalizing cheerfulness
there was no one to equal the night-watchman. While others strove
to collect their befuddled senses, this individual prated of "wind
eighty miles per hour with moderate drift and brilliant St. Elmo's
fire.'' He boasted of the number of garments he had washed,
expanded vigorously on bread making--his brown, appetizing specimens
in full public view--told of the latest escapade among the dogs,
spoke of the fitful gleams of the aurora between 1.30 and 2 A.M.,
of his many adventures on the way to the meteorological screen and
so forth; until from being a mere night-watchman he had raised himself
to the status of a public hero. For a time he was most objectionable,
but under the solid influence of porridge, tinned fruit, fresh bread,
butter and tea and the soothing aroma of innumerable pipes, other
public heroes arose and ousted this upstart of the night. Meanwhile,
the latter began to show signs of abating energy after twelve hours'
work. Soon some wag had caught him having a private nap, a whispered
signal was passed round and the unfortunate hero was startled into
life with a rousing "Rise and shine!'' in which all past
scores were paid off.
Every one was at last awake and the
day began in earnest. The first hint of this came from the messman
and cook who commenced to make a Herculean sweep of the pint-mugs
and tin plates. The former deferentially proceeded to scrape the
plates, the master-cook presiding over a tub of boiling water in
which he vigorously scoured knives, forks and spoons, transferring
them in dripping handfuls to the cleanest part of the kitchen-table.
Cooks of lyric inclination would enliven the company with the score
of the latest gramophone opera, and the messman and company would
often feel impelled to join in the choruses.
had sunk into log-like slumber, and the meteorologist and his merry
men were making preparations to go abroad. The merry men included
the ice-carrier, the magnetician, the two wardens of the dogs, the
snow-shoveller and coal-carrier and the storeman. The rest subdivided
themselves between the living Hut at 45 degrees F. and the outer
Hut below freezing-point, taking up their endless series of jobs.
The merry men began to make an organized raid on the kitchen.
Around and above the stove hung oddments like wolf-skin mitts, finnesko,
socks, stockings and helmets, which had passed from icy rigidity
through sodden limpness to a state of parchment dryness. The problem
was to recover one's own property and at the same time to avoid
the cook scraping the porridge saucepan and the messman scrubbing
The urbane storeman saved the situation by inquiring
of the cook: "What will you have for lunch?'' Then followed
a heated colloquy, the former, like a Cingalese vendor, having previously
made up his mind. The argument finally crystallized down to lambs'
tongues and beetroot, through herrings and tomato sauce, fresh herrings,
kippered herrings, sardines and corn beef.
The second question
was a preliminary to more serious business; "What would you like
Although much trouble might have been
saved by reference to the regulation programme, which was composed
to provide variety in diet and to eliminate any remote chance of
scurvy, most cooks adopted an attitude of surly independence, counting
it no mean thing to have wheedled from the storeman a few more ounces
of "glaxo,'' another tin of peas or an extra ration of
penguin meat. All this chaffering took place in the open market-place,
so to speak, and there was no lack of frank criticism from bystanders,
onlookers and distant eavesdroppers. In case the cook was worsted,
the messman sturdily upheld his opinions, and in case the weight
of public opinion was too much for the storeman, he slipped on his
felt mitts, shouldered a Venesta box and made for the tunnel which
led to the store.
He reaches an overhead vent admitting a
cool torrent of snow, and with the inseparable box plunges ahead
into darkness. An hour later his ruddy face reappears in the Hut,
and a load of frosted tins is soon unceremoniously dumped on to
the kitchen table. The cook in a swift survey notes the absence
of penguin meat. "That'll take two hours to dig out!''
is the storeman's rejoinder, and to make good his word, proceeds
to pull off blouse and helmet. By careful inquiry in the outer Hut
he finds an ice-axe, crowbar and hurricane lantern. The next move
is to the outer veranda, where a few loose boards are soon removed,
and the storeman, with a lithe twist, is out of sight.
have pushed the tools down and, following the storeman, painfully
squeezed into an Arcadia of starry mounds of snow and glistening
plaques of ice, through which project a few boulders and several
carcases of mutton. The storeman rummages in the snow and discloses
a pile of penguins, crusted hard together in a homogeneous lump.
Dislodging a couple of penguins appears an easy proposition, but
we are soon disillusioned. The storeman seizes the head of one bird,
wrenches hard, and off it breaks as brittle as a stalactite. The
same distracting thing happens to both legs, and the only remedy
is to chip laboriously an icy channel around it.
In a crouching
or lying posture, within a confined space, this means the expenditure
of much patience, not to mention the exhaustion of all invective.
A crowbar decides the question. One part of the channel is undermined,
into this the end of the crowbar is thrust and the penguin shoots
up and hits the floor of the Hut.
The storeman, plastered
with snow, reappears hot and triumphant before the cook, but this
dignitary is awkwardly kneading the dough of wholemeal scones, and
the messman is feeding the fire with seal-blubber to ensure a "quick''
oven. Every one is too busy to notice the storeman, for, like the
night-watchman, his day is over and he must find another job.
Jobs in the Hut were the elixir of life, and a day's cooking
was no exception to the rule. It began at 7 A.M., and, with a brief
intermission between lunch and afternoon tea, continued strenuously
till 8.30 P.M. Cooks were broadly classified as "Crook Cooks''
and "Unconventional Cooks'' by the eating public. Such
flattering titles as "Assistant Grand Past Master of the Crook
Cooks' Association'' or "Associate of the Society of
Muddling Messmen'' were not empty inanities; they were founded
on solid fact--on actual achievement. If there were no constitutional
affiliation, strong sympathy undoubtedly existed between the "Crook
Cooks' Association'' and "The Society of Muddling Messmen.''
Both contained members who had committed "championships.''
"Championship'' was a term evolved from the local dialect,
applying to a slight mishap, careless accident or unintentional
disaster in any department of Hut life. The fall of a dozen plates
from the shelf to the floor, the fracture of a table-knife in frozen
honey, the burning of the porridge or the explosion of a tin thawing
in the oven brought down on the unfortunate cook a storm of derisive
applause and shouts of "Championship! Championship!''
Thawing-out tinned foods by the heroic aid of a red-hot stove
was a common practice. One day a tin of baked beans was shattered
in the "port" oven, and fragments of dried beans were
visible on the walls and door for weeks. Our military cook would
often facetiously refer to "platoon-firing in the starboard oven.''
One junior member of the "Crook Cooks' Association''
had the hardihood to omit baking powder in a loaf of soda-bread,
trusting that prolonged baking would repair the omission. The result
was a "championship'' of a very superior order. Being somewhat
modest, he committed it through the trap-door to the mercy of the
wind, and for a time it was lost in the straggling rubbish which
tailed away to the north. Even the prowling dogs in their wolfish
hunger could not overcome a certain prejudice. Of course some one
found it, and the public hailed it with delight. A searching inquiry
was made, but the perpetrator was never discovered. That loaf, however,
like the proverbial bad penny, turned up for months. When the intricate
system of snow-tunnels was being perfected, it was excavated. In
the early summer, when the aeroplane was dug out of the Hangar,
that loaf appeared once more, and almost the last thing we saw when
leaving the Hut, nearly two years after, was this petrifaction on
an icy pedestal near the Boat Harbour.
No one ever forgot
the roly-poly pudding made without suet; synthetic rubber was its
scientific name. And the muddling messman could never be surpassed
who lost the cutter of the sausage machine and put salt-water ice
in the melting-pots.
There appeared in the columns of "The
Adelie Blizzard' an article by the meteorologist descriptive
of an occasion when two members of the "Crook Cooks' Association''
officiated in the kitchen:
TEREBUS AND ERROR IN ERUPTION
Affair in One Act
BY A SURVIVOR
| Crook Cooks
Scene: Kitchen, Winter Quarters.
ERROR. Now, Terebus, just bring me a nice
clean pot, will you?
TEREBUS [from his bunk]. Go
on, do something yourself!
ERROR. Do something? I've
done everything that has been done this
TEREBUS. Well, you ought to feel pretty fresh.
ERROR. And all the melting-pots are empty and I'm
not going to fill
them. Besides, it's not in the
Voices. Who's going crook? Error!
[TEREBUS climbs from his bunk and exit for ice. ERROR
extricate a pot from the nails in the shelves.
without. Loud cries of "Door!'' Enter TEREBUS with
of ice; fills all the pots on the stove.
Good heavens, man, you've filled up the tea water with
TEREBUS [with hoarse laugh]. Never mind, they
won't want so much
glaxo to cool it.
[who has meanwhile been mixing bread]. What shall we bake
bread in? I believe it is considered that a square
tin is more
suitable for ordinary ovens, but, on the
other hand, Nansen in his
"Farthest North' used flat
TEREBUS. Use a tin. There'll be less
surface exposed to the cold
all this water on the floor? I thought my feet
cold. Some one must have upset a bucket.
Oh, it's one of the taps turned on. Never mind, there's
plenty more ice where that came from. Get your sea-boots.
[Enter METEOROLOGICAL STAFF and others with snow-covered
mitts, etc., crowd kitchen and hang impedimenta
round the stove.
out of the kitchen. This isn't the time to worry the
ERROR. Take those burberrys away, please,
old man. They're dripping
into the soup.
Give it some flavour at least.
[Great activity in
the crater of ERROR while TEREBUS clears the
ERROR continues stirring Soup and tapioca custard on the
stove. Strong smell of burning.
VOICES [in peculiarly
joyful chorus]. Something burning!
ERROR [aside to
TEREBUS]. It's all right. It will taste all right.
Say it's cloth on the stove.
burberrys burning against the stove!!
to the stove.
TEREBUS. It's all right, I've
taken them away.
[Interval, during which much sotto
voce discussion is heard in the
We haven't put the spinach on to thaw and it's after
TEREBUS. Warm it up and put it
on the table with the tin-openers.
afraid that's against the regulations. Put it in the
and shut the door.
[TEREBUS does so. Later,
terrific explosion, followed by strong
smell of spinach.
VOICES. What's the matter? Terebus in eruption!
TEREBUS [wiping spinach off his face]. Nothing wrong.
Only a tin of
spinach opened automatically.
It's plastered all over the oven and on everything.
TEREBUS. Don't worry, it will be served up with
the baked penguin.
[Period of partial quiescence
of TEREBUS and ERROR, which is regarded
as an evil omen.
ERROR [in persuasive tone]. Have you made the tea, old
nearly half-past six.
off the lid of the tea-boiler, peers inside, making a
scoop with his hand.
ERROR. Here, don't do that.
Mind your hands.
TEREBUS. It's all right, it's
ERROR. What shall we do, then? We'll
never keep them quiet if we
are late with the tea.
TEREBUS. Put the tea in now. It will be warmed up by
[TEREBUS puts the infusers
in the pot and stirs them round.
ERROR. Taste it.
[BOTH taste with a dirty spoon.
like your soup--'orrible!
nothing wrong with the soup. You attend to the tea.
TEREBUS. I think we'll have coffee. Pass the coffee
and I'll put
that in and bring it to the boil. The
coffee will kill the taste of
Hope you make it stronger than that.
stage while each is thinking of a retort, 6.30 P.M.
and the soup is put on the table. Interval elapses during
which the victims are expected to eat the soup.
[in loud chant from the table]. How did you do it, Error?
TEREBUS [after a suitable period]. Any one like any
A VOICE. Couldn't risk it, Governor.
TEREBUS. Bowls up! Lick
[Bowls are cleared
away and baked penguin is put on the table.
Cooks have got their penguin, gentlemen.
glances exchanged at table. Later, monotonous chant goes
up, preceded by a soft "One, two, three.'' "Didn't
blubber off, Error.''
cleared away and scraped into dogs' bucket. ERROR takes
tapioca custard from oven in two dishes.
to TEREBUS]. Take some out of this one for us and don't
forget to put that dish in front of the Doctor, because
I spilled soda
in the other.
[TEREBUS takes two
large helpings out and puts rest on table as
TEREBUS. You need not remember the cooks, gentlemen.
A VOICE. Don't want to, if I can manage it.
ERROR [aside to TEREBUS]. Put on the Algerian sweets,
and then we can
TEREBUS [taking several
handfuls]. We'll put these aside for perks.
sweets on the table, TEREBUS and ERROR retire to kitchen
ERROR. Is this my pudding?
It's only an ordinary share.
[TEREBUS is too
busy to reply, and further eruption is prevented by
temporary plugging of ERROR.
Cooking, under the inspiration of Mrs. Beeton, became
a fine art:
On bones we leave no meat on,
study Mrs. Beeton.
So said the song. On birthdays and other auspicious
occasions dishes appeared which would tempt a gourmet. Puff-pastry,
steam-puddings, jellies and blancmanges, original potages and consommes,
seal curried and spiced, penguin delicately fried, vegetables reflavoured,
trimmed and adorned were received without comment as the culinary
Birthdays were always greeted with special
enthusiasm. Speeches were made, toasts were drunk, the supple boards
of the table creaked with good things, cook and messman vied with
each other in lavish hospitality, the Hut was ornate with flags,
every man was spruce in his snowiest cardigan and neck-cloth, the
gramophone sang of music-hall days, the wind roared its appreciation
through the stove-pipe, and rollicking merriment was supreme. On
such occasions the photographer and the biologist made a genial
The dark-room was the nursery of the topical
song. There, by lantern or candle-stump, wit Rabelaisian, Aristophanic
or Antarctic was cradled into rhyme. From there, behind the scenes,
the comedian in full dress could step before the footlights into
salvoes of savage applause. "A Pair of Unconventional Cooks are
we, are we,'' and the famous refrain, "There he is, that's
him,'' were long unrivalled in our musical annals.
Celebrations were carried on into the night, but no one forgot
the cook and the messman. The table was cleared by many willing
hands, some brought in ice and coal or swept the floor, others scraped
plates or rinsed out mugs and bowls. Soon, everything had passed
through the cauldron of water, soap and soda to the drying-towels
and on to the shelves. The main crowd then repaired with pipes and
cigars to "Hyde Park Corner,'' where the storeman, our
raconteur par excellence, entertained the smokers' club. A mixed
concert brought the evening to the grand finale--"Auld Lang Syne.''
After events of this character, the higher shelves of the kitchen,
in the interstices between thermographs, photographic plates ink
bottles, and Russian stout, abounded with titbits of pie crust,
blancmange, jelly, Vienna rusks, preserved figs, and other "perks.''
Such perks,'' or perquisites, were the property of the presiding
cook or night-watchman and rarely survived for more than a day.
The mania for celebration became so great that reference was
frequently made to the almanac. During one featureless interval,
the anniversary of the First Lighting of London by Gas was observed
with extraordinary eclat.
The great medium of monetary exchange
in the Hut was chocolate. A ration of thirty squares was distributed
by the storeman every Saturday night, and for purposes of betting,
games of chance, "Calcutta sweeps'' on the monthly wind-velocity
and general barter, chocolate held the premier place.
the "sweeps,'' the meteorologist stood with a wooden hammer
behind the table, and the gaming public swarmed on the other side.
Numbers ranging from "low field'' and forty-five to sixty-five
and "high field'' were sold by auction to the highest bidder.
Excitement was intense while the cartographer in clerical glasses
worked out the unknown number.
As a consequence of wild speculation,
there were several cases of bankruptcy, which was redeemed in the
ordinary way by a sale of the debtor's effects.
indifferent to the charms of chocolate, established a corner or
"Bank'' in the commodity. "The Bank,'' by barter
and usurious methods, amassed a great heap of well-thumbed squares,
and, when accused of rapacity, invented a scheme for the common
good known as "Huntoylette.'' This was a game of chance
similar to roulette, and for a while it completely gulfed the trusting
public. In the reaction which followed, there was a rush on "The
Bank,'' and the concern was wound up, but the promoters
escaped with a large profit
in candles and chocolate.
Throughout the winter months, work went on steadily even after dinner,
and hours of leisure were easy to fill. Some wrote up their diaries,
played games, or smoked and yarned;others read, developed photos,
or imitated the weary cook and went to bed. The MacKellar Library,
so called after the donor, was a boon to all, and the literature
of polar exploration was keenly followed and discussed. Taste in
literature varied, but among a throng of eighteen, the majority
of whom were given to expressing their opinions in no uncertain
terms--there were no rigid conventions in Adelie Land--every book
had a value in accordance with a common standard.
not a dissenting voice to the charm of "Lady Betty across the Water',
and the reason for this was a special one. The sudden breath of
a world of warmth and colour, richness and vivacity and astute,
American freshness amid the somewhat grim attractions of an Antarctic
winter was too much for every one. Lady Betty, in the realm of bright
images, had a host of devoted admirers. Her influence spread beyond
the Hut to the plateau itself. Three men went sledging, and to shelter
themselves from the rude wind fashioned an ice-cavern, which, on
account of its magical hues and rare lustre, could be none other
than "Aladdin's Cave.'' Lady Betty found her hero in
a fairy grotto of the same name.
"Lorna Doone', on the
other hand, was liked by many. Still there were those who thought
that John Ridd was a fool, a slow, obtuse rustic, and so on, while
Lorna was too divine and angelic for this life.
of the Carolinas' took the Hut by storm, but it was a "nine
days' wonder'' and left no permanent impression on the
thinking community. Mostly, the story was voted delightfully funny,
but very foolish and farcical after all. A few exclusive critics
predicted for it a future.
Then there was "The Trail of '98'.
For power and blunt realism there was nothing like it, but the character
of the hero was torn in the shreds of debate. There was general
agreement on two points: that the portrayal of the desolate Alaskan
wild had a touch of "home,'' and that the heroine was a
All those who had ever hauled on
the main braces, sung the topsail- halliard chanty, learned the
intricate Matty Walker, the bowline-and-a-bite and a crowd of kindred
knots, had a warm spot for any yarn by Jacobs. Night after night,
the storeman held the audience with the humorous escapades of "Ginger
Dick', "Sam' and "Peter Russet'.
there was a more serious, if divided interest in "Virginibus Puerisque',
"Marcus Aurelius', "The Unveiling of Lhassa'--but the list
is rather interminable.
The whole world is asleep except
the night-watchman, and he, having made the bread, washed a tubful
of clothes, kept the fire going, observed and made notes on the
aurora every fifteen minutes and the weather every half-hour, and,
finally, having had a bath, indulges in buttered toast and a cup
The Hut is dark, and a shaded burner hangs by
a canvas chair in the kitchen. The wind is booming in gusts, the
dogs howl occasionally in the veranda, but the night-watchman and
his pipe are at peace with all men. He has discarded a heavy folio
for a light romance, while the hours scud by, broken only by the
observations. The romance is closed, and he steals to his bunk with
a hurricane lamp and finds a bundle of letters. He knows them well,
but he reads them--again!
Pearly light rises in the north-east
through the lessening drift, and another day has come.
IX - MIDWINTER AND ITS WORK