CHAPTER V. THE START OF THE SOUTHERN JOURNEY
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To its full height...
...Shew us here
That you are worth your breeding, which I doubt not.
For there is none so mean or base
That have not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start.
During the later months of the dark season all thoughts had been turned to the prospects of the spring journeys, and many times the advantages and disadvantages of dogs for sledding were discussed. This question of the sacrifice of animal life was one on which Scott felt strongly from the time he became an explorer to the end of his life. Argue with himself as he might, the idea was always repugnant to his nature.
'To say,' he wrote after his first expedition, that dogs do not greatly increase the radius of action is absurd; to pretend that they can be worked to this end without pain, suffering, and death, is equally futile. The question is whether the latter can be justified by the gain, and I think that logically it may be; but the introduction of such sordid necessity must and does rob sledge-traveling of much of its glory. In my mind no journey ever made with dogs can approach the height of that fine conception which is realized when a party of men go forth to face hardships, dangers, and difficulties with their own unaided efforts, and by days and weeks of hard physical labor succeed in solving some problem of the great unknown. Surely in this case the conquest is more nobly and splendidly won.'
When the spring campaign opened in 1902 the original team of dogs had been sadly diminished. Of the nineteen that remained for the southern journey, all but one - and he was killed at an earlier period - left their bones on the great southern plains. This briefly is the history of the dogs, but the circumstances under which they met their deaths will be mentioned later on.
Before Scott started on the southern journey he decided to make a short trip to the north with the dogs and a party of six officers and men, his main purposes being to test the various forms of harness, and to find out whether the dogs pulled best in large or small teams. During part of this journey, which only lasted from September 2 to 5, the four sledges were taken independently with four dogs harnessed to each, and it was discovered that if the first team got away all right, the others were often keen to play the game of 'follow my leader.' Sometimes, indeed, there was a positive spirit of rivalry, and on one occasion two competing teams got closer and closer to each other, with the natural result that when they were near enough to see what was happening, they decided that the easiest way to settle the matter was by a free fight. So they turned inwards with one accord and met with a mighty shock. In a moment there was a writhing mass of fur and teeth, and an almost hopeless confusion of dog traces. But even in this short trip some experience had been gained; for results showed how unwise it was to divide the dogs into small parties, and also there was no mistaking which were the strong and which the weak dogs, and, what was of more importance, which the willing and which the lazy ones.
On September 10, Royds and Koettlitz started off to the south-west with Evans, Quartley, Lashly and Wild. And of this party Scott wrote: 'They looked very workmanlike, and one could see at a glance the vast improvement that has been made since last year. The sledges were uniformly packed.... One shudders now to think of the slovenly manner in which we conducted things last autumn; at any rate here is a first result of the care and attention of the winter.'
Armitage and Ferrar with four men left for the west on the following day, but owing to the necessity of making fresh harness for the dogs and to an exasperating blizzard, Scott was not able to start on his southern reconnaissance journey until September 17.
On the morning of that day he and his two companions, Barne and Shackleton, with thirteen dogs divided into two teams, left the ship in bright sunshine; but by 1.15 P.M., when they camped for lunch, the wind was blowing from the east and the thermometer was down to - 43°.
The sledges carried a fortnight's food for all concerned, together with a quantity of stores to form a depôt, the whole giving a load of about 90 lbs. per dog; but this journey was destined to be only a short and bitter experience.
The reason was that on the night of the 17th the travelers were so exhausted that they did not heap enough snow on the skirting of the tent, and when Scott woke up on the following morning he found himself in the open. 'At first, as I lifted the flap of my sleeping-bag, I could not think what had happened. I gazed forth on a white sheet of drifting snow, with no sign of the tent or my companions. For a moment I wondered what in the world it could mean, but the lashing of the snow in my face very quickly awoke me to full consciousness, and I sat up to find that in some extraordinary way I had rolled out of the tent.'