In the spring he and his people retreated from the floes to the rocky mainland, where they put up tents of skins, and snared the sea-birds, or speared the young seal basking on the beaches.
The smashing and rebound of the floes as they grounded and splintered marked the borders of it, and a friendly shoal ran out to the northward, and turned aside the rush of the heaviest ice, exactly as a ploughshare turns over loam.
The edge of the floe off which the seal were used to fish in winter lay perhaps twenty miles beyond this barrier, and out of reach of the Tununirmiut.
Then they could see the ridged and furrowed surface of the floe tipped and laced with strange colours--red, copper, and bluish; but in the ordinary starlight everything turned to one frost-bitten gray.
Also, the strong current which sets east out of Lancaster Sound carried with it mile upon mile of what they call pack-ice--rough ice that has not frozen into fields; and this pack was bombarding the floe at the same time that the swell and heave of the storm-worked sea was weakening and undermining it.
If the floe broke up there would be no more waiting and suffering.
The Thing moved off slowly and clumsily across the ridges, heading always toward the westward and the land, and they followed, while the growling thunder at the edge of the floe rolled nearer and nearer.
That showed that the floe was being jammed home against the iron cliffs of Bylot's Island, the land to the southward behind them.
When we have eaten those we will all follow the seal on the floe.
But the fear of sinking passed away like their vigour, like their hopes; the shocks of the floes
knocking against the ship's side could not rouse them from their apathy: and the Borgmester Dahl drifted out again un harmed into open water.
I was heard aft, and we managed to clear the sunken floe
which had come all the way from the Southern ice-cap to have a try at our unsuspecting lives.
Then as if I had in sober truth rescued her from an Alpine height or an Arctic floe
, I busied myself with nothing but lighting the gas and starting the fire.