CHAPTER IV. THE POLAR WINTER
The cold ice slept below,
Above the cold sky shone,
And all around
With a chilling sound
From caves of ice and fields of snow
The breath of night like death did flow
Beneath the sinking moon.
The sun was due to depart before the end of April, and so no time could be wasted if the outside work, which had been delayed by the tardy formation of the ice-sheet, was to be completed before the daylight vanished.
One of the most urgent operations was to get up the meteorological screen, which had been made under the superintendence of Royds. The whole of this rather elaborate erection was, placed about 100 yards astern of the ship, and consequently in a direction which, with the prevalent south-easterly winds, would be to windward of her. To obtain a complete record of meteorological observations was one of the most important scientific objects of the expedition, and it was decided that the instruments should be read and recorded every two hours. Consequently in calm or storm some member of the community had to be on the alert, and every other hour to make the rounds of the various instruments. On a fine night this was no great hardship, but in stormy weather the task was not coveted by anyone. On such occasions it was necessary to be prepared to resist the wind and snowdrift, and the round itself was often full of exasperating annoyances. In fact the trials and tribulations of the meteorological observers were numerous, and it was arranged that throughout the winter each officer should take it in turn to make the night observations from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. Wilson nobly offered always to take the 8 A.M. observation, but the lion's share of the work fell on Royds himself, since besides taking his share of the night work he also, throughout the first winter and a great part of the second, took all the observations between 10 A.M. and 10 P.M.
The magnetic huts and all that appertained to them were Bernacchi's special business, and many times daily he was to be seen journeying to and fro in attendance upon his precious charge. The general reader may well ask why so much trouble should be taken to ascertain small differences in the earth's magnetism, and he can scarcely be answered in a few words. Broadly speaking, however, the earth is a magnet, and its magnetism is constantly changing. But why it is a magnet, or indeed what magnetism may be, is unknown, and obviously the most hopeful way of finding an explanation of a phenomenon is to study it. For many reasons the Discovery's winter station in the Antarctic was an especially suitable place in which to record the phenomenon of magnetism.
Besides establishing the routine of scientific work many preparations had to be made for the comfort and well-being of the ship during the winter, and long before the sun had disappeared the little company had settled down to a regular round of daily life.
Later in the year Scott wrote in his diary: 'The day's routine for the officers gives four clear hours before tea and three after; during these hours all without exception are busily employed except for the hour or more devoted to exercise.... It would be difficult to say who is the most diligent, but perhaps the palm would be given to Wilson, who is always at work; every rough sketch made since we started is reproduced in an enlarged and detailed form, until we now possess a splendid pictorial representation of the whole coastline of Victoria Land.... At home many no doubt will remember the horrible depression of spirit that has sometimes been pictured as a pendant to the long polar night. We cannot even claim to be martyrs in this respect; with plenty of work the days pass placidly and cheerfully.'
Nearly seven months before Scott wrote in this cheerful spirit of the winter, he had expressed himself warmly about those who were to spend it with him. 'I have,' he said in a letter dispatched from Port Chalmers on the voyage out, 'the greatest admiration for the officers and men, and feel that their allegiance to me is a thing assured. Our little society in the wardroom is governed by a spirit of good fellowship and patience which is all that the heart of man could desire; I am everlastingly glad to be one of the company and not forced to mess apart.... The absence of friction and the fine comradeship displayed throughout is beyond even my best expectation.'
This spirit of good-fellowship and give-and-take was a remarkable feature of life during the time spent in the Discovery, and the only man Scott had a word to say against was the cook. 'We shipped him at the last moment in New Zealand, when our trained cook became too big for his boots, and the exchange was greatly for the worse; I am afraid he is a thorough knave, but what is even worse, he is dirty - an unforgivable crime in a cook.'
Under such circumstances it is obvious that tempers might have been overstrained, and apart from the sins of the cook the weather was unexpectedly troublesome. Almost without exception the North Polar winter has been recorded as a period of quiescence, but in the Antarctic the wind blew with monotonous persistency, and calm days were very few and far between. Nevertheless Scott had little reason to change his original opinion about his companions, all of whom were prepared to put up with some unavoidable discomforts, and to make the best of a long job.