Ever so slowly the day was expanding in the northern sky. The varied colors lasted half an hour or so; and the gray dawn-light lingered for an hour on either side of noon. One day, on the hump of drift in the stovepipe's lee, I sat and watched the light wax and wane, telling myself that soon, beyond the Barrier's roll, the yellow blur of a tractor's headlights would show. But I could not bear to think of this for long; I had been through too much to risk fresh disappointment. If they do come, it will be a great thing, I told myself; but, if they turn back, you will certainly be no worse off than you are. When the dawn-light faded, the aurora sprang like an open fan across the sky; for a few minutes the Barrier glistened whitely. I could see for miles; and, though I may have been misled by shadows, I counted three flags, equal to half a mile, on the Little America road.
Today, for no reason that I can define, my hopes have risen that the tractor party will actually get through. Poulter is a hard man to stop, and I know the men will be safe in his hands. I really think I feel a little better, perhaps because my hopes now have the facts of the preparations at Little America to feed on. Yet, it has been terribly cold; the temperature today has been in the minus fifties. Yesterday it touched -68 degrees; the day before -71 degrees and the day before that was -71 degrees also.
. . . The thermograph trace touched -61 degrees today, but is now pushing up into the minus forties. I am praying that this will be the end of this cold spell. Today the kerosene congealed in the drums, and a primus stove left burning in the tunnel had little effect. I therefore had to keep the shack door open all afternoon, and the warmth spreading into the tunnel finally loosened the liquid so that I was able to siphon it off. But all this made the shack almost unbearably cold.
On Wednesday the 18th the cold started to break up. The wind, which had been funneling down through the Queen Mauds with the persistency of a trade wind, worked its way through west into north. In that quarter it freshened; the temperature climbed to -28 degrees. Next day the wind blew a little harder, shooting the temperature to a maximum of -23 degrees. I welcomed the change, because the break-up of the cold, though certain to be brief, promised well for the tractor party. However, it was a mixed blessing; for the winds which brought warmth also brought drift, adding to the difficulties of navigation. Indeed, Little America informed me in the afternoon over the radio schedule that a blizzard was whaling the camp and the visibility was zero. However, the meteorologists were forecasting that it would soon blow itself out. "Weather permitting," Murphy said, "the tractor will put out at 6 o'clock in the morning." He asked me to stand by for a weather report at that time.
"Can you make it that early without an alarm clock?" he asked.
"Is there anything you want them to bring out?"
"Yes, bromide of sodium, cod-liver oil, glucose."
"Well, we'll see how the Southern Mail works out," Charlie said. "Incidentally, Poulter is taking along three months' rations; and he has made for himself a really ingenious searchlight out of scrap metal."
As before, it was difficult to hear. Even with the most delicate adjustment, I was lucky to catch more than two words out of four. The fault, as I discovered long afterwards, lay in a loose connection deep within the maze of wiring of the receiver. Consequently, I had to ask them to repeat many messages, just as they had to ask me to repeat mine. I was fagged out from the cranking. It was all I could do to pump more than a word or two at a time. I had to ask them to wait while I rested.
"Sorry to make you crank again," Charlie said.
Thrashing around for a plausible explanation, I remembered how I had injured my arm late in March. He knew about that. "Have bad arm, hard to crank," I told him.
"Very bad?" he wanted to know.
"No, but bothersome cranking."
Just before we shut down, a change was made in the future schedules. Commencing at noon next day, Friday the 20th, Little America would broadcast progress bulletins to me every four hours. Although they would listen, it would not be necessary for me to reply unless I had instructions to give. Dyer's closing contribution was a time tick which he had picked up just a few hours before from Arlington.
What with the excitement over the start and the fear that I might not wake up in time for the 6 a.m. schedule, I scarcely slept that night. Before turning in, I filled the thermos jug with water and tucked it and the two remaining heat pads in at the foot of the sleeping bag. The realization that in a few hours men would actually be starting from Little America made me forget the pain. I wrote in the diary: ". . . This is such wonderful news that I can't seem to grasp the fact that I am actually about to see people again. For there have been many times when I was convinced that I hadn't the slightest chance of seeing a human being again. And the auspicious fact is that the weather has turned warm. It is a good omen. The red trace has swung up to the minus-thirty-degree line. For once everything seems to be breaking in the right direction. All this makes me feel as if I had had a shot in the arm. But there is no denying that I am still very, very weak. . ."
Sometime afterwards I fell asleep. It was 5:30 by my wrist watch when I awakened. At that hour I had little will and less strength; but somehow I managed to chivvy myself out of the sleeping bag, into my clothes, and up the hatch. A puffy norther, freezing to the touch, surged across the Barrier; but the sky was marvelously clear. A good omen, which was substantiated by the rising barometer. Nevertheless, my heart sank when I turned the flashlight on the thermograph sheet. The temperature had taken a nose dive, dropping from -24 degrees to -46.5 degrees; and the line was still falling steeply. Although the stove was going full blast, it gave off little heat; so, for that matter did the heat pads, whose chemicals were almost exhausted.
Dyer was on the air almost at the same instant I sat down astride the transmitter's bicycle seat. "Good morning," he said, after I acknowledged the call. "Have you the weather report ready? Haines is waiting for it."
The weather report having been disposed of, Poulter informed me that on Haines's recommendation the start had been postponed until noon, pending another weather report from Advance Base. Although yesterday's blizzard at Little America had from all appearances blown itself out, Haines was reluctant to give an "all clear" ruling until his own upper-air balloon soundings, plus another good report from Advance Base, indicated that conditions were stabilizing. "Still, Bill says to tell you it looks pretty good -- good and cold," Poulter concluded.
That extra effort, coming before I had had time to eat or get warm, did me in for a while. In fact, I petered out while I rested. The hot milk and cereal which I had downed for breakfast came up in a retching spasm before I could reach the tunnel. It made a vile mess. I retreated to the bunk to wait for noon. The hours dragged. By the storm lantern's light I could see the thermograph trace falling, steadily falling. At noon, when I went topside for a look at the weather, the thermometer read 61 degrees below; but the wind was dying; the barometer was still going up; and the sky was clear and, in the north, suffused by a rosy, promising glow.
"Haines is satisfied," Murphy said after I had passed this on. "It's getting cold here, too -- only 14 degrees below yesterday, but -40 degrees today. However, clear weather is what Poulter wants; and evidently he's getting it. He says he will shove off in an hour."
"Tell him be careful."
"Yes, indeed. Sorry to be so curt. See you at 4."
I hesitate to describe the events that followed. No doomed man pacing a cell in the hope of an eleventh-hour reprieve can possibly have endured more that I endured; for, besides my own skin to think about, I had the lives of five other men on my conscience. All the pre-start excitement drained out of me. In its place came remorse over having countenanced the trip in the first place and fear as to the consequences. I could neither lie quiet nor sit still. Once, for no reason at all, I climbed the hatch and stared aloft, as if the sky must in some manner testify to the inception of an heroic act. But there was only the moon, veiled by ice crystals, so cold that it chilled you to look at it.
The temperature worked to 62 degrees below. I now prepared for my beacon lights. In the box of navigation gear were eight or nine magnesium flares, fixed to wooden handles, which burn with a vivid light. I counted out six, which I cached in a small box at the foot of the ladder. Rummaging around, I found two spare ventilator-pipe sections, about three feet long. These I hauled to the surface on a line; then I stood them upright on the snow and laid a plank across. This gave me a work bench, and a higher platform for my gasoline pots. My idea was to stand the gasoline in open cans on the bench and fire them one after the other.
I was interrupted in the midst of these preparations by the 4 p.m. schedule. Dyer was too busy for more than a word. Poulter, he said, had put out from Little America at 2:30 o'clock and had just reported that he was four miles out, approaching the edge of Amundsen Arm. Before supper I managed to fill with gasoline four empty tins, none more than a gallon, three of which I hoisted to the surface. At 8 o'clock the thermograph read -65 degrees. Little America advised: "They've crossed Amundsen Arm and are now on high Barrier, about eleven miles south, preparing to square away on the Southern Trail. Evidently they are having trouble picking up the flags. See you at midnight."
Cold. The red trace worked lower. Christmas, is it to be their bad luck to choose the year's bitterest temperatures to come here? I exclaimed to myself. Dyer had told me the wave lengths on which he would exchange hourly reports with the tractor. I tried to overhear; but, while I caught the bustle of traffic, the sending was much too fast for me to handle. Approaching midnight, the wind trace on the register testified that the wind, after dallying briefly in the west, was again haunting the northwest at whisper strength; the barometer was still rising, which was a good sign; but in the last hour the temperature had twitched 5 degrees downward to 75 degrees below zero, the coldest reading of the year, and colder by over 2 degrees than the coldest temperature ever registered at Little America. Although I knew they would have warmer temperatures than these, nonetheless, the thought of five men on the Barrier, trying to keep themselves and a motor alive in such temperatures, drove me frantic.
At midnight Murphy sounded discouraged. "We've just heard from Poulter," he said. "The tractor is now seventeen miles south of us. They've slowed up but are still under way."
I spelled out, "All OK?"
The voice in the earphones seemed to come from very far off as Murphy repeated slowly: "Evidently not. It's snowing hard where they are, though clear here. Poulter says the visibility is zero. Apparently the flags are all snowed under. Only two inches of bunting show above the surface. So they're running on compass courses from flag to flag. When they miss one, they keep circling until they find it. And, because some of the flags have been blown down, leaving gaps in the line, they are necessarily making slow progress."
On account of the faults in my receiver, I had to make Murphy repeat two or three times; but this was the gist of his report. In the face of it I had no right to keep hoping. For I had traveled enough in the polar regions to appreciate what was happening in the oceanic darkness to the north. I could visualize Poulter sitting astride the engine hood, holding the searchlight in his hand, trying to pick up shreds of cloth no bigger than a man's hand, each spaced 293 yards from the next. He knew the courses steered by Innes-Taylor, who had marked the trail nearly five months earlier; but this information was of small help to him in running from flag to flag. Dog teams never travel in a straight line; rather, they make good their direction in short zigzags, first to one side and then to the other. The flags might therefore be twenty yards or more to the right or left of the true course. Hence, this business of circling after the tractor crew had run out their distance by the speedometer without fetching a marker.
"Dick, there's no sense in your staying up all night," Little America advised. "We'll be in touch with Poulter. Suppose we meet you again at 8 o'clock in the morning."
I framed a message to be relayed to Poulter telling him that, if they could fight through, they would find the flags better at this end. There was other advice I wished to give, but I never got it on the air because my arms gave out. That had happened before, and it would happen again, and nothing in life has ever given me such a feeling of utter futility.
When I shut down that night and pitched into the bunk, it was with the knowledge that affairs had indeed passed out of my control. The aches and pains and the nightmares returned to plague me. On Saturday morning, after a dreadful night, I seemed again to be suspended in that queer, truncated borderland between sensibility and unconsciousness. It was all I could do to get up. When I threw the light on the thermograph, I saw that the red trace had twitched past 80 degrees below zero at 3 o'clock in the morning and had not risen. The boric acid which I used for washing out my eyes had burst its bottle. Even the milk in the thermos jar was frozen, and that part of the wall behind the stove which until then had resisted the rise of the ice was now covered with the white film. The skin came off my fingers as I fussed over the stove. I was too weak to stay on my feet; so I slumped into the sleeping bag. When I aroused, the time was nearly noon; I had missed the first radio schedule.
At noon, and again on the 2 o'clock emergency schedule, I tried to regain touch with Little America. All I heard was the scraping of static. The thermograph trace held at 80 degrees below zero, as if rigid in its track. I was beside myself with anxiety. At 4 o'clock, when nothing came out of my third attempt to raise the main base, I broadcast blind: "Poulter, if still on the trail return to Little America. Await warmer weather." Dyer did not hear it, but I had no way of knowing.
My stomach would hold down nothing but hot milk. Most of the time I was screwed up in the sleeping bag in a kind of daze. There was a fire in the stove all day; yet, the shack was almost unbearably cold. In the evening my senses revived; my eyes were smarting and running water; my head ached, and so did my back; and I realized that the room must be filling with fumes. So I forced myself out of the bunk to do whatever could be done. The outlet ventilator was nearly solid with ice, which I chipped out with the spiked stick. The stovepipe, when I put my hand on it near the top, was cold; so it was clogged as well. And, realizing that I must somehow insulate it, I poked around in the veranda until I found a strip of asbestos. With this in my hand, and a piece of string, I climbed topside. The inside thermograph tracing showed 82 degrees below zero -- so cold that, when I opened the hatch, I couldn't breathe on account of the constriction of the breathing passages. The layer of air next to the surface must have been at least 84 degrees below. Anyhow, I had to duck into the shack to catch my breath. Armed this time with the mask and holding my breath until I was out of the hatch, I started again for the stovepipe. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the ventilator spouting like a broken steam line.
I tried not to look northward, knowing that I must only be disappointed; nevertheless, I did, on the chance that the tractor's headlights might be topping a distant rise. A wavering light set my blood pounding, but it was only a star on the horizon. Except for a pale arc of aurora in the northeast quadrant, the sky was absolutely clear. I was glad of that for the sake of the tractor party; at least they could see. But wherever they were, I told myself, nothing mortal could travel for long in such cold. My lungs seemed to contract with each breath; and the spent air exhaled through the vent in the mask pinged and crackled.
A queer thing happened. I was on my knees, crawling. In one hand I had the flashlight, and on my back the asbestos. Halfway to the stovepipe, everything was blotted out. I thought at first the flashlight had gone out from the cold. But, when I looked up, I could not see the aurora. I was blind, all right; the first thought was that my eyeballs were frozen. I groped back in the direction of the hatch, and presently my head collided with one of the steel guys anchoring the anemometer pole. I crouched there to think. I felt no pain. I took my gloves off and massaged the eye sockets gently. Little globules of ice clung to the lashes, freezing them together; when these came off, I could see again. But meanwhile the fingers of my right hand were frozen, and I had to slip the hand down into the crotch to warm them.
I was a longish time wrapping the asbestos around the pipe. My mittened hands were clumsy and unsure. The pipe, I noticed, was choked with ice. The only opening was a little hole not much bigger than my thumb. Before I was done, my eyelashes froze again; this time I nipped two fingers of the left hand. In my hurry to get out of the cold I slid, rather than climbed, down the ladder. When I removed the mask, the skin came off my cheeks, just below the eyes. I was half an hour bringing life back into my fingers; it returned, finally, with hot rushes of excruciating pain.
Weary as I was, I did not dare turn in without trying to get rid
of the ice in the stovepipe. To start the thawing, I filled a soup
can with meta tablets and played the flame up and down the sides
of the pipe, thus supplying additional heat which the asbestos
held. After the water started to run, the heat of the stove was
enough to keep the flow going. Before it stopped, I collected a
pail of water through the hole in the elbow crook. The thermograph
trace was crossing 83 degrees below zero, and the water was
freezing on the floor as it struck. I hesitated to shut off the
stove lest the instruments -- not to mention myself -- stop from
the cold. I lay in the bag, thinking of warm, tropical places;
doing this seemed to make me feel warmer. After a little while I
got up and turned off the stove.
Sunday the 22nd I was nearly frantic with anxiety about the tractor men. When I awakened, the head of the sleeping was a mass of ice. I had to heat up the feed line from the tank with burning alcohol before the kerosene would flow into the stove. Three times -- in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening -- I tried to raise Little America. Although my hands were in wretched shape, I took the receiver completely apart. But this accomplished nothing. The air was dead. If I raised the trapdoor once to look north, I raised it at least a dozen times. And nearly always I was deceived by tremulous, winking lights which always turned out to be stars. The temperature went up into the minus sixties, but a sixteen-mile wind out of the southeast rose with it. Again the kerosene congealed, and I had to heat up the tunnel, at the expense of the shack.
My hopes died that afternoon; and with them the emotional life which had been generated by the knowledge that my friends were on their way. I was all hollow inside. Everything that was reasonable had been tried, and it had all added up to nothing. The fear grew that Poulter's party had met with tragedy; it was terrible to concede that, but I had no reason to think otherwise. Nevertheless, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon I heaved myself to the surface and fired two cans of gasoline as a signal. Fully a dozen matches went out in my hand before I managed to bring a flame near the fluid. The gasoline caught fire with a violent uprush of light; and, after the dimness to which my eyes had become accustomed, I was momentarily blinded.
The smoke towered high in the sky, leaning on the wind. No beacon light answered from the north. Later on, I set off a magnesium flare which I lashed to a bamboo pole and held aloft. It was brighter by far than the other, making a tremendous blue hole in the night. It burned for about ten minutes. Then the darkness rushed in, and I was sensible of the ultimate meaning of loneliness.
No word. I've been to the surface again and again; there is nothing to see -- nothing except those deceiving, dancing stars. I knew it was useless; but, nonetheless, I fired two more charges of gasoline late in the afternoon. This is the way to midwinter-night madness. I mustn't give in too easily to senseless hopes. But in spite of my despair I found my spirits lifted by the broadening twilight at noon and the suspicion of color from the sun climbing toward the horizon; all this presages the coming day, now only a month off. The temperature this morning was 73.5 degrees below zero by the inside thermograph. For a while I could not lift myself out of the bunk. I may have been close to freezing. My left cheek was frostbitten, and the flaps of the sleeping bag and even my hair were stiff with frost from my breath.
No word. I wish to God I knew where Poulter is. I'll never forgive myself if anything happens to him. It's blowing and drifting fairly hard from the southeast. But the temperature is easing through the minus fifties and sixties. . .
Nothing -- nothing but wind and more snow. I've had the radio apart again; yet, I hear nothing. Sometimes I tell myself that this is so because there is nothing to hear; that a disaster has overwhelmed Little America and struck its radio dumb. This can't be; I record it only as a reflection of the state of my mind.
On Thursday the 26th it was still snowing and blowing and drifting; but the wind, after being anchored for three days in the southeast, began to let up. One good thing came out of it: the inrush of wind dissipated the cold; and the thermograph trace climbed into the minus teens, which was the warmest level in thirty-two days. Wherever Poulter and his men were, I told myself, they must be grateful for this letup. Twice that morning I listened for Little America. It was no use. I sank down in the bunk, with two candles burning, watching the drift sift down the stovepipe, hissing and melting as it touched.
At 2 o'clock in the afternoon I roused myself for another try. Just as I was about to give up, the name Poulter cleaved through the deadness. With fingers trembling I adjusted the receiver. Then a mumbo jumbo of words came through, distorted by static. I recognized Charlie Murphy's voice. He was evidently speaking with great deliberation and repeating his sentences two or three times. I hardly dared to breathe lest I miss something. From fragments I was able to piece together a picture of what had happened to the tractor. On the morning of the third day, Poulter had reached 50-Mile Depot, on the edge of the Valley of Crevasses; but on the jog eastward, following the detour, he had missed the flags entirely. Unable to proceed, he had finally turned back to Little America in obedience to my instructions not to continue if they lost the trail. From the frequent references to wind, I judged that halfway back a terrific blizzard (actually a hurricane, as Poulter described it later) had caused them to heave to. They waited a day, then made good the retreat. Nevertheless, Poulter was even then preparing for a second attempt.
Actually, this was the right of it; but in the confused state of my mind I couldn't be sure. I tried to break through and intercept Dyer. I cranked out the call letters, but my arms gave out after a few turns, and the room went black. I became sick at my stomach, throwing up the cereal which I had eaten at breakfast. I gave up then, for there was nothing left to fall back on. But later on, brooding in the bunk, I thought of another way to make use of my dwindling strength.
I took the generator head off its tripod and lashed it to a heavy box which was nailed to the floor. In that way, by cranking with my feet while sitting in the chair, I could apply more leverage than it was possible with my arms. I tried it out and found it satisfactory. Although the generator wobbled when I cranked, the strain on me seemed somewhat less; and there was an additional advantage, too, in that I would be able to shift from my legs to my arms when I tired. I ended the diary entry for that day with the one solacing thought I had been able to draw from it: "He [Poulter] did a good job in returning safety to Little America -- my relief is boundless. The news is most opportune, for I've been very low."
Friday brought an overcast sky; the temperature rose nearly to zero. Now that the weather was softening, I gained in hopefulness; for Poulter now had a real chance. Yet, as I weighed the possibilities, it was clear that with so many flags either blown down or buried, he hadn't even the ghost of a show of reaching Advance Base unless the original order not to leave the trail was abrogated. And this in my desperation I proposed to do. I was to be ashamed of it afterwards, I admit; but at the time I saw no alternative. It was questionable just how much longer I could last, especially in view of the demands made upon me by the radio; the bouts of unmitigated cranking were leaving me as if beaten within an inch of my life.
I puttered around, killing time until the 2 p.m. schedule. Ransacking the Base for more flares, I happened to find out in the tunnel the sections of a seven-foot, T-shaped signal kite, which I had almost forgotten about. It didn't take me long to put the kite together. I also adapted it for serving as an aerial beacon by making a longish tail of antenna wire, to which I bent pieces of paper and cloth. When the time came, I would soak them in gasoline, touch a match, and fly the kite as a signal. I was rather proud of that idea.
At 2 o'clock I hear Dyer dimly calling KFZ. With my chair braced against the wall and my feet pedaling the generator handles bicycle-wise, I started the message. It was to the effect that, if they proposed to make another attempt, better come now during the warm weather, when the moon, the twilight, and the temperature were all in favorable conjunction, and navigate a new trail around the crevasses; I would keep a light burning on the anemometer pole; and at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and at 8 o'clock in the evening I would fly a kite with a light hanging from it. It was a galling chore. I had to stop several times to rest. When it was done, I said I would try to pick up their reply.
Either Dyer or Murphy replied, I'm not sure which. I couldn't make out what was said, except a request to repeat the message. I made five attempts, but finally had to give up in order to preserve my small store of strength. My knees were knocking together, and my feet kept slipping off the handles. Switching to the receiver, I heard somebody talking; but it was all a blur. I let the earphones fall from my hands. Yet, in spite of my inadequacies, I was more successful than I realized.
[This is what was pieced together in the Little America log: "If you hear me cone noudsrimn (come now during) very warm weather. Navigate nertrail around and be cond (beyond) . . . wait." We waited, then in two or three minutes came the whine of the generator. ". . . be cond crevasses near as possible tsald (to old?) kailci (trail?). Will have light outside wait." We waited again, two or three minutes. Then: "sutside anneat (and at?) three pnp delight (and at eight?) p.m. irill (I will?) fly kite kite kite with light. Wait." We waited. Then: ". . . Poulter bring kite and fly at same time . . ."
Although I had no way of telling, Little America's resolve was
already steeled. After consultation with the camp officers, Dr.
Poulter decided to make a dash of it to Advance Base. He reduced
his party to three men -- himself; Demas, chief of the tractor
department; and Waite, who was radio operator. With his own tracks
to follow to 50-Mile Depot, Poulter expected to make good time
over the first half of the journey; and for maneuvering around the
Valley of Crevasses he had meanwhile worked out his own patient
method. So close to the magnetic pole, he couldn't rely upon
ordinary compasses for exact steering -- in high latitudes
compasses turn sluggish and unreliable. Beside, no one at Little
America had been able to figure out an effective way to mount a
compass on a tractor, on account of the proximity of metal.
[Rawson, however, worked out an ingenious system in time for the
spring journeys. The compass was mounted on the sledge towed
behind; an observer stretched out there directed the driver by
working switches which flashed two lights -- one for left and the
other for right -- that were mounted on the dashboard.] Poulter's
idea was to build ten-foot snow beacons every 500 yards or so,
mount little lights powered by flashlight batteries on the top,
and sight back on them as he moved along. Laborious and slow as it
promised to be, the method nevertheless was a fairly sure way of
laying a straight course past the crevasses in and around the
Valley of Crevasses.
Time was no longer like a river running, but a deep still pool. It was enough to immerse myself in it, quietly and unresentfully, and not struggle any more. The past was done, and the future would adduce its own appropriate liquidation. My one thought was not to endanger further the fragile equilibrium within which my physical being was temporarily balanced and try to keep my mind calm and stable by the methods I had been using right along. Everything that remained of me was centered upon the radio. I kept up the weather data, made the observations, and wound the clocks; but all this was automatic. Whatever else that was truly alive and reasoning was devoted toward keeping the channel of communication open, not merely on my account, but on account of the men bound for Advance Base. From the beginning I had loathed the radio; now I hated it with a hate that transcended reason. Each day it left me helpless for hours. If I had smashed it with a hammer, as I was more than once tempted to do, I might not have suffered nearly so much. But there was a moral aspect which restrained me. For I had set in motion certain forces which I was powerless to control; and, as long as men were proposing to grope in the darkness between me and Little America, there could be no letup.
On Saturday the 28th the wind flickered into the south and died; and, after falling for three days, the snow stopped. On Sunday the cold again moved in. The temperature pushed down to -57 degrees. I heard Little America calling, but Dyer could not hear me. At first I thought that Poulter was again on his way; then I decided not, since Dyer made no mention of it, but went on repeating his patient formula. Nonetheless, I set off two signal pots in the afternoon. Weariness took me then. In the tunnels, at the foot of the ladder, was a gallon tin of grain alcohol used in the instruments. I poured myself a stiff hooker, which I mixed with water, and gulped it down. Instead of giving me a temporary lift, it seemed instead to knock me to pieces. I was nearly helpless most of the day, with terrible pains in my stomach, and the top of my head seemed ready to blow off. I decided this one experiment was enough.
I'm still groggy; but, in spite of the haze in my mind, I've been worrying over my canceling the instructions to Poulter to remain on the trail. . . . It's a rotten leadership and, worse than that, a God-damned mess.
On Monday the minimum thermometer in the shelter crept to 64
degrees below zero; the mean for the day was only 6 degrees
warmer. The next day was hardly better; I froze an ear while
bringing in some corn meal from the tunnel. That day, also I heard
nothing. My heart misgave me. At the schedule time I broadcast a
message blind, urging Poulter not to attempt to force his way
through any dangerous crevasses, but to return to Little America
if the going turned hard. It went unheard. As best I could, I
salved my conscience by setting off two more charges of gasoline,
plus a flare, which I tied to a line and threw across the radio
antenna, where it burned fifteen feet off the ground. The furious
light elicited no response.
Thus ended July. It ended in cold, as it had been born in cold. I have the meteorological records before me now. Twenty days were 60 degrees below or colder; on six days the temperature crossed -70 degrees. When I folded the sheet back on the calendar, I said to myself: This is the sixty-first day since the first collapse in the tunnel; nothing has really changed meanwhile; I am still alone. The men at Little America were no nearer. And all around me was the evidence of my ruin. Cans of half-eaten, frozen food were scattered on the deck. The parts of the dismantled generator were heaped up in a corner, where I had scuffed them three weeks before. Books had tumbled out of the shelves, and I had let them lie where they fell. And now the film of ice covered the floor, four walls, and the ceiling. There was nothing left for it to conquer.
And yet, the situation was not simply one of unrelieved
disintegration. My life wasn't just moving backwards. Although I
was losing on some fronts, I was gaining on others. For the day
was coming on; it was heaving ponderously into the north, pushing
back the darkness a little bit more every day, firing its own
gorgeous signal pots along the horizon to a man who had little
else to look for. So there was that on my side: the miraculous
expansion and growth of the light, the soundless prelude to the
sun which was only twenty-seven days north of me.