CHAPTER III. IN SEARCH OF WINTER QUARTERS
Meanwhile the party had remained in obedience to orders at the head of the slope, and had shouted again and again in the lulls of the whirling storm. But after waiting for a long time they felt that something was amiss, and that it was hopeless to remain where they were. 'As usual on such occasions,' Scott says, 'the leading spirit came to the fore, and the five who now remained submitted themselves to the guidance of Wild, and followed him in single file as he again struck out in the direction in which they supposed the ship to lie.' In this manner they descended for about 500 yards, until Wild suddenly saw the precipice beneath his feet, and far below, through the wreathing snow, the sea. He sprang back with a cry of warning, but in an instant Vince had flashed past and disappeared.
Then, horror-stricken and dazed, they vaguely realized that at all costs they must ascend the slope down which they had just come. All of them spoke afterwards of that ascent with horror, and wondered how it had ever been made. They could only hold themselves by the soles of their boots, and to slip to their knees meant inevitably to slide backwards towards the certain fate below. Literally their lives depended on each foothold. Wild alone had a few light nails in his boots, and to his great credit he used this advantage to give a helping hand in turn to each of his companions. When, after desperate exertions, they did reach the top of the slope their troubles were not finished, for they were still ignorant of the position of the ship. Wild, however, again took the lead, and it was largely due to him that the party eventually saw the ship looming through the whirl of snow. 'It is little wonder that after such an experience they should have been, as I have mentioned, both excited and tired.'
The hours following the departure of Armitage and his search party on this fatal night were unforgettable. Scott, hatefully conscious of his inability to help on account of his injured leg, admits that he could not think of any further means to render assistance, but he says, 'as was always my experience in the Discovery, my companions were never wanting in resource.' Soon the shrill screams of the siren were echoing among the hills, and in ten minutes after the suggestion had been made, a whaler was swinging alongside ready to search the cliffs on the chance of finding Vince.
But for Scott and those who had to wait inactively on board there was nothing to do but stand and peer through the driving snow, and fully three hours passed before there was a hail from without, and Ferrar appeared leading three of the lost - Barne, Evans and Quartley. An hour later the main search party returned, having done all that men could do in such weather. A more complete search was impossible, but it had to be admitted that the chance of seeing Hare or Vince again was very small. Sadly it had to be realized that two men were almost certainly lost, but there was also no disguising the fact that a far greater tragedy might have happened. Indeed, it seemed miraculous that any of the party were alive to tell the tale, and had not Barne, Evans and Quartley heard the faint shrieks of the siren, and in response to its welcome sound made one more effort to save themselves, the sledge party would in all probability not have found them. All three of them were badly frost-bitten, and one of Barne's hands was in such a serious condition that for many days it was thought that his fingers would have to be amputated.
The end of this story, however, is not yet told, for on March 13 Scott wrote in his diary: 'A very extraordinary thing has happened. At 10 A.M. a figure was seen descending the hillside. At first we thought it must be some one who had been for an early walk; but it was very soon seen that the figure was walking weakly, and, immediately after, the men who were working in the hut were seen streaming out towards it. In a minute or two we recognized the figure as that of young Hare, and in less than five he was on board.... We soon discovered that though exhausted, weak, and hungry, he was in full possession of his faculties and quite free from frost-bites. He went placidly off to sleep whilst objecting to the inadequacy of a milk diet.'
Later on Hare, who like Vince had been wearing fur boots, explained that he had left his companions to return to the sledges and get some leather boots, and had imagined that the others understood what he intended to do. Soon after he had started back he was wandering backwards and forwards, and knew that he was walking aimlessly to and fro. The last thing he remembered was making for a patch of rock where he hoped to find shelter, and there he must have lain in the snow for thirty-six hours, though he required a lot of persuasion before he could be convinced of this. When he awoke he found himself covered with snow, but on raising himself he recognized Crater Hill and other landmarks, and realized exactly where the ship lay. Then he started towards her, but until his intense stiffness wore off he was obliged to travel upon his hands and knees.
But though Hare was safe, Vince was undoubtedly gone. 'Finally and sadly we had to resign ourselves to the loss of our shipmate, and the thought was grievous to all.... Life was a bright thing to him, and it is something to think that death must have come quickly in the grip of that icy sea.'
This fatal mishap naturally caused increased anxiety about the three men who had gone on, and anxiety was not diminished when, on the 19th, Skelton was seen coming down, the hill alone. The others, however, were close behind him, and all three of them were soon safely on board.