The Ice Master by Jennifer Niven

If only he didn’t feel responsible for Malloch and Templeman. He felt such a mix of pity and disgust for them, forever fluctuating between anger and sympathy. Malloch’s left foot got so frozen that Mamen held it against his own stomach for three hours just to get life into it. He was sick of taking care of this man. “I for my16 part will have nothing whatever to do with him now,” he wrote. “He will have to take care of himself. I have ruined myself completely for him.”

  The night before, Mamen had dislocated his knee yet again, but he had no time to think of himself. It was always Malloch now, and although he was not about to turn his back on his comrade, no matter what his private threats, he did ask the geologist for a written statement noting that Mamen had done all he could to help him, and that Malloch alone was to blame for the condition in which he found himself. But the worst part of it was that Mamen was overexerting himself on his colleagues’ behalf. They were too weak to make the trek to rejoin the main party, but Mamen sorely needed the help. “I feel weaker17 and weaker for every day that goes,” he wrote on May 6. “I don’t know22 how this will end, if only McKinlay could come down here and help me a little. This hard work with Malloch and Bob has been too much for me.”

  Mamen had taken over most of the culinary duties since the three of them had been together, but Templeman helped when he could, making Mamen hot water for tea or giving him a nip of whiskey to brace himself up. It was little comfort, though, and Mamen felt hopelessly and wretchedly alone. Malloch had been a good friend, but now he wasn’t himself. No one would have recognized this shell of a man, rambling and defeated, helpless as a child. The strapping, cocky fellow he had been only weeks before had vanished. Mamen knew that Malloch might lose his right foot and possibly the left one from frostbite, and now he worried that Malloch was losing his mind as well. “It is getting18 darker and darker for us instead of brighter,” Mamen wrote. “Malloch has truly been of much trouble to me from the beginning, I have worn myself out for him.. . . I suppose he is kind of insane. He became a little sad when I told him tonight in what condition his feet were, but right afterwards he was merry and content, They are not any worse than my fingers were, he said.. . . I sincerely hope that I may have strength to keep him alive until we are taken from here. It is my only wish.. . .”

  Malloch had not had many moments of mental clarity lately, but whenever he did, he realized that if it were not for Mamen, he would be dead. He was grateful then and, although such moments were fleeting, Mamen at least knew that Malloch was aware of all he was doing for him.

  Mamen prayed for the weather to clear and for his strength to grow so that he could make the trip to Skeleton Island for the supplies they had left behind. But by May 10, Mamen’s body was so swollen from head to toe that he had a great deal of trouble moving around. The strange thing was that he was not in pain—he just found it difficult to move or walk. There was no rest to be had, though, and on the eleventh he operated on Malloch’s finger, cutting off the nail and the dead skin. He hoped he would not have to remove the finger itself, especially since it appeared that one of Malloch’s toes would have to be amputated before long. To make matters worse, they were nearly out of bandages.

  Mamen fixed breakfast on the morning of the eleventh, and afterward had to lie down because he was feeling extremely weak. The next day, he could do nothing but lie in the tent, unable to eat or move. He wasn’t able to keep the pemmican down, and now he was in a great deal of pain. Malloch and Templeman prepared breakfast as best they could and Malloch washed and bandaged his own foot, doing such a bad job of it that Templeman had to redo it.

  Templeman was weak and Malloch helpless, but they were still fighting like cats and dogs, shouting insults and threats at each other until Mamen thought he would lose his mind. To make it all worse, Malloch urinated on himself again so the stench in the tent was unbearable for days afterward. His feet were worse because he refused to take care of them, and he was always running outside in his stockings. Templeman was doing the best he could to look after him; but his reserves of strength weren’t as strong or as deep as Mamen’s and he was quickly wearing out.

  Where there is life, there is hope. Mamen had clung to that axiom, but suddenly, he did not know if there was hope. He could not walk or move; there was no one to care for him or explain to him what was happening to his body or to tell him how to get better. For the first time, he truly could not imagine how it all would end.

  He wrote letters to his parents and to his fiancée to tell them he loved them, and to thank them for all they had done for him in this life. In case Mamen did not survive, he made Templeman promise to deliver the letters for him once the ship came and they returned home. Death, Mamen wrote his mother, would be a welcome release. He could only19 hope for the chance to do better work in the world beyond.

  They were able to move outside the tent on May 14. On May 15, Mamen took a three-mile walk, bringing back armfuls of wood to camp. He felt stronger afterward, but his body began to swell again so that he knew he had overdone it. Still, he craved the exercise and physical activity. Malloch, on the other hand, was a firm believer in lying in the tent all day without moving. He said he just couldn’t see the sense in wasting what little energy he had.

  Mamen’s strength continued to return, although his body was still swelling frightfully. Somehow he managed to cook breakfast and tend to Malloch’s feet, which had been sadly neglected ever since Mamen became so ill. But Malloch, as always, didn’t seem to care about anything anymore, least of all himself, and Mamen did not know what else he could do for him.

  On the morning of May 17, the sky cleared, the snow drifted about camp, and Malloch lost consciousness. Alarmed, Mamen and Templeman did all they could to rouse him, but nothing worked; he remained still and silent, his breathing falling evenly and steadily, as if he were sleeping.

  They spent an anxious day, not knowing what to do for him, and afraid of the worst. Finally, at 5:30 that evening, he “stretched his legs20 and drew his last breath . . ..” George Stewart Malloch, renowned Canadian geologist, was dead at thirty-three. Nearly a year ago, those in charge of the expedition had been afraid that the young topographer hired to assist him would be a hindrance and a burden to this talented, dynamic man. Now that young topographer felt an overwhelming sense of grief, having done all he could to save his friend’s life.

  All he could do was thank God that Malloch’s death had been a quiet one and that he was no longer in pain. For all of Malloch’s recent foolishness, Mamen would miss him and would mourn him.

  “Yes, this 17th21 of May has indeed been the worst I have had so far,” Mamen wrote in his journal. “It will in all events be a day that I shall remember as long as I live.”

  They were too weak to move Malloch’s body from the tent, and even if they had been strong enough to do so, they could not, in good conscience, leave him outside in the snow and the wind and the cold. So Malloch lay there as he had died, and as they slept beside him they tried not to notice the stench of death or his stiff, lifeless features, his eyes forever closed, his hands forever still. Mamen was haunted by him. The memory of his staring eyes as they clouded over in death was constantly before him.

  “I don’t know how this will end,” wrote Mamen. “Is it death for all of us? No, with God’s help we will get out of it, I am still weak, but as long as there is life there is hope. There is something that still keeps me alive, all my beloved ones, and with God’s help I hope to be at home, hale and hearty, and spend Christmas with them. It is two months today since Captain Bartlett left Icy Spit. I hope to see him again in two months now, at the latest.”

  THERE WEREN’T ANY DOGS to spare so McKinlay knew he would have to walk the entire way to Rodger’s Harbour—a good seventy miles. His eyes were still not completely healed. He didn’t have a gun, which he knew he should have, especially since Breddy had spotted bears at the Skeleton Island camp. And Bartlett had always warned the men against traveling anywhere alone. But McKinlay felt he had no choice. It
had been so long since they’d heard anything from Mamen, except for his rather urgent note, and besides, Mamen had in his possession some antiseptic, which they could use for the sick men.

  McKinlay left camp at ten o’clock in the morning on May 17, accompanied by Munro. The chief engineer had a lot on his mind and he needed someone to talk to. He walked with McKinlay for several miles, worrying about the state of relations back at camp and how best to handle the increasing tension between the men. Then he turned back.

  The snow, deep and difficult to walk in, was falling heavily and drifting badly. McKinlay sank with each step up to his thighs or his waist, and he could only see about twenty yards ahead. He had to lie down and rest over and over again, in order to keep on going.

  On May 18, at three o’clock in the morning, McKinlay reached Skeleton Island and collapsed. He didn’t care anymore about bears or the wind chill or frostbite. All he wanted was sleep. The roof of the igloo had fallen, but he found some old skins Mamen had left behind and brushed the snow from them and lay down, right there in the open. He awoke at noon, buried in snow.

  He had a difficult time of it the last thirty or so miles to Rodger’s Harbour. His right leg was cramping and his left leg was bleeding from the constant chafing it endured on the journey. At times, he had to lie down in the drifts, always on the lookout for bears. But he kept on and finally he saw it, there in the distance: Rodger’s Harbour. The black mark on the beach a little over a mile away was Mamen’s camp.

  Mamen and Templeman greeted him with gratitude and joy. Malloch had died the day before, they said, and he still lay in the tent. There was already a horrible smell emitting from the body, and during the night, McKinlay was violently ill. Mamen and Templeman were still too weak to move the body and McKinlay too exhausted from his long hike. But he did what he could for Mamen, especially, who appeared to be on the verge of collapse. McKinlay summoned up every consoling word he could think of to try to make Mamen forget the hell he had been through since they had last seen each other.

  The next morning, McKinlay and Mamen rolled Malloch’s body into the tent cover and placed it out of harm’s way. They placed logs around him to keep the wind away until they could give him a proper burial. It was all they had the strength to do. The three of them stood over him and bowed their heads and, at Mamen’s request, McKinlay said a few words of prayer.

  Afterward, they went back inside the tent and lay down. They agreed that their best hope was to go back to Skeleton Island and then to Icy Spit. Mamen had left the main party to get away from Munro and the crewmen, which McKinlay couldn’t blame him for—after all, “the ‘scientist’ was23 not a ‘persona grata’ with many members of the party, which did not tend to make life agreeable.. . .” But now going back seemed the only sensible thing to do. They must have food and fresh meat and be looked after.

  They were set to leave on May 20, but Templeman was not feeling well, so they postponed the trip until the next morning. Mamen was alarmingly swollen but anxious to leave. Both he and McKinlay prayed he would have the strength to make it to Skeleton Island.

  Then a blizzard came from nowhere, bringing with it winds and snow, which hammered the men relentlessly. Everything was so white, heavy, and thick that it was impossible to tell the land from the sky. McKinlay tried repeatedly to go outside in search of the game they badly needed, but the gale was too fierce. The three men stayed in the tent. Neither Templeman nor McKinlay was in great shape, but Mamen was terribly weak. The Underwood pemmican grew increasingly unappetizing and Mamen couldn’t hold it down anymore; so McKinlay gave him warm milk from the rest of his own milk ration. It was the first food Mamen had had in four days.

  “It is a24 most curious illness,” McKinlay observed, “I cannot understand it; it seems to get worse after he eats. The only meat they have had besides one bear ham, is a fox.. . . What is the cause of this strange sickness? Can it be the pemmican?”

  McKinlay stumbled out briefly to check on Malloch’s body and added logs and stones to cover him so that any animals that happened by would leave him alone. If the ground had not been frozen, they could have given the dead man a proper burial, but there were no tools to dig with anyway.

  There was nothing to do but wait out the storm and hope that Templeman and Mamen would grow strong enough to travel. McKinlay was exhausted but could not sleep. Instead, he lay awake, thinking of poor Malloch, and worrying about Mamen and Templeman. He fretted about getting them to Skeleton Island and then to Icy Spit. He worried that Mamen would not be able to make the journey. He prayed for strength, for himself, for Templeman, and especially for Mamen.

  Finally, on May 23, the weather cleared and the men were free to set out. Templeman and McKinlay packed up a few necessary supplies and checked on Malloch’s body one last time. Then there was only one problem—Mamen couldn’t walk. They helped him to his feet and he collapsed. After that, they couldn’t raise him, and even if they could have, they knew they wouldn’t be able to carry him all the way back to Icy Spit.

  They hadn’t had any fresh meat since McKinlay had arrived, and Mamen still was not able to eat the Underwood pemmican. At a loss, McKinlay suddenly remembered that he had left some of the Hudson’s Bay pemmican back at Skeleton Island and thought if he could get this to Mamen it might give him strength and make him better. It was more digestible than the Underwood brand he had been eating, and McKinlay thought the variety, at least, might sustain Mamen until he could find some game for him.

  He left Templeman to look after Mamen, and at 3:00 P.M. on May 23, McKinlay set out alone for Skeleton Island. He took only tea, matches, and a tin of condensed milk. He was planning to make the trip as quickly as possible because he knew that every minute was precious, and crucial to Mamen’s survival. He would bring back the Hudson’s Bay pemmican and the biscuit scraps that he had seen in camp. And soon they would have Mamen well again.

  EARLY ON THE MORNING of May 16, Bartlett and his companions passed Chechokium and crossed the divide to Emma Harbor. The fog and mist were still thick around them, parting now and then to reveal the mountain peaks on the peninsula that lay between Emma Harbor and Providence Bay. Bartlett thought the peaks “stern and forbidding.” To reach the harbor, they had to climb up the great divide, a ragged cliff that acted as a fierce and protective barrier, its sides steep and unyielding. It took all that was left of their strength to make the climb, and when they reached the top, Bartlett “could look down25 to Emma Harbor and see open water out into Providence Bay. The land was white with snow and the ice nearer shore was unbroken, so that the open water beyond seemed as black as coal-tar, shining against the white.”

  They tumbled down the other side of the divide, nearly breaking their necks as the dogs ran free and the sled slid out of control, teetering from side to side in a maniacal zigzag, so fast and hard that it “almost took a26 man’s breath away.”

  They reached the Baron’s home in Emma Harbor at 7:00 A.M. on May 16. It had taken them six days to make Emma Harbor from East Cape and, as Bartlett noted somberly, “two months had27 gone by since I had parted from the men on Icy Spit, Wrangel Island. If all went well I should be back for them in two months more and I hoped they were holding out all right and would be in good shape when I reached them again.”

  The Baron’s personal physician, Dr. Golovkoff, tended to Bartlett after he arrived. He still had some swelling in his legs and feet, although he was feeling much stronger now, and his throat, though mending, was still giving him pain. Golovkoff was attentive and highly skilled, and Bartlett was soon feeling, if not like a new man, at least a much-improved one.

  He was anxious to reach Alaska, and he began to send word out that he was looking for Captain Pedersen. Pedersen’s Elvira, it turned out, had been crushed, sinking off the northern coast of Alaska during the fall of 1913, at the same time Karluk was enduring the stormy season and being carried offshore. After his ship sank, Pedersen had hiked overland to Fairbanks and traveled on to San Francisco, where he t
ook over the whaler Herman. Bartlett met a trader named Thompson at Emma Harbor, who told him Pedersen had passed through on his new ship. Through Thompson, Bartlett sent a letter to Pedersen and told him his situation and where he could be reached. In the letter, he also broached the possibility of hitching a ride on the Herman to the American shore.

  Bartlett sent out several other letters to Pedersen, sending them by different Chukches who, he hoped, would be able to reach the captain. On May 19, one of the Eskimos arrived on the Baron’s doorstep and reported that he had searched for Pedersen in John Holland Bay, but that by the time he got there, the Herman had already sailed for Cape Bering. Bartlett sent word there to try to catch Pedersen, but there was no need. Pedersen had already heard of Bartlett’s quest to find him and on May 21, the Herman steamed into Emma Harbor.

  AFTER HE HAD WALKED several miles, the winds started up again and McKinlay reached into his overshirt for his goggles. The pocket was empty. He stopped walking. Frantically, he searched all of his pockets. The goggles weren’t there. This was very dangerous, and he knew it. To travel in the Arctic without eye protection was slow suicide. The reflection of the sun on the ice and snow was blinding, and the murderous wind flung sand and dirt into your eyes, often swelling them shut. One of the deadliest problems an Arctic traveler could face was snow blindness, especially while traveling alone and unarmed. If his eyes closed up, he would be helpless.

  In his mind, McKinlay retraced his steps. He had already been traveling for a couple of hours and he could have lost his glasses anywhere along the way. They could be buried in snow by now. Or he could have left them back at Rodger’s Harbour.

  Against his better judgment, McKinlay decided to keep going, but before too long he wished he’d gone back for them. His eyes were starting to bother him and he was afraid. He knew that snow blindness, once you had it, could come back more easily, and he had already suffered one unforgettable bout. He was struck with an image of himself, stranded in the snow, blind and helpless, while Mamen and Templeman wasted away back at Rodger’s Harbour, waiting for him to bring help. Mamen was depending on him. Mamen needed the pemmican to survive.

 
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