- Vol. 06
- Chapter 10
When the guard turned his back for a moment Tam slipped behind a rock. Through the edge of the sheet ice that coated it he watched the movement of the others at work, but nobody came near his hiding place. Fear held him rigid enough not to shiver, and when the short day faded in a flash of green light, the guard was too eager for his hot meal to count heads. Tam was free!
It took him ten agonised minutes to stand upright, another five to get his legs moving, and then he ran. Years of working on the ice field had taught him to wrap his feet well in rags, and he didn’t slip, even at full speed.
He insinuated himself into the penguin colony so gently that they simply shuffled aside to make room for him, though the parent bird from which he stole an egg landed a few nasty pecks as Tam sidled away.
Before daybreak he left the warmth of the colony, heading for the harbour, intent on stowing away on one of the whaling ships. To his dismay they were all out in the bay at anchor, and he couldn’t handle a tender single-handed. He would have to swim.
His entire body cringed as he slid into the icy water, but he managed a dozen strokes before the first ice floe nudged him. Another came, then another. He was surrounded by them, and couldn’t even see a ship for the icicles on his lashes. A floe hit his throat, and when another clipped the back of his neck he tried diving to get free, but a third closed in from the side. He opened his mouth to yell and swallowed freezing water tainted with whale-oil.
He was held fast in a collar of ice until the polar bear found him.