CHAPTER VI. THE RETURN
How many weary steps
Of many weary miles you have o'ergone,
Are numbered to the travel of one mile.
Some days passed before the pleasing effects of Christmas Day wore off, for it had been a delightful break in an otherwise uninterrupted spell of semi-starvation, and the memories lingered long after hunger had again gripped the three travelers. By this time they knew that they had cut themselves too short in the matter of food, but the only possible alteration that could now be made in their arrangements was to curtail their journey, and rather than do that they were ready cheerfully to face the distress of having an enormous appetite, and very little with which to appease it.
Thinking over the homeward marches after he had returned to the ship, Scott expresses his emphatic opinion that the increasing weariness showed that they were expending their energies at a greater rate than they could renew them, and that the additional weight, caused by carrying a proper allowance of food, would have been amply repaid by the preservation of their full strength and vigor.
Apart, however, from the actual pangs of hunger, there was another disadvantage from this lack of food, for try as they would it was impossible not to think and talk incessantly of eating. Before they went to sleep it was almost certain that one of them would give a detailed description of what he considered an ideal feast, while on the march they found themselves counting how many footsteps went to the minute, and how many, therefore, had to be paced before another meal.
But if, during these days of hunger, thoughts of what they could eat if only the chance was given to them kept constantly cropping up, there were also very real compensations for both their mental and physical weariness. Day by day, as they journeyed on, they knew that they were penetrating farther and farther into the unknown. Each footstep was a gain, and made the result of their labors more assured. And as they studied the slowly revolving sledge-meter or looked for the calculated results of their observations, it is not surprising that above all the desires for food was an irresistible eagerness to go on and on, and to extend the line which they were now drawing on the white space of the Antarctic chart.
Day by day, too, the magnificent panorama of the Western land was passing before their eyes. 'Rarely a march passed without the disclosure of some new feature, something on which the eye of man had never rested; we should have been poor souls indeed had we not been elated at the privilege of being the first to gaze on these splendid scenes.'
From the point of view of further exploration their position on December 26 was not very hopeful. On their right lay a high undulating snow-cap and the steep irregular coast-line, to the south lay a cape beyond which they could not hope to pass, and to all appearances these conditions were likely to remain to the end of their journey. But on that night they had christened a distant and lofty peak 'Mount Longstaff,' in honor of the man whose generosity had alone made the expedition possible, and although they thought that this was the most southerly land to which they would be able to give a name, they were in no mood to turn back because the outlook was unpromising. Arguing on the principle that it was impossible to tell what may turn up, they all decided to push on; and their decision was wise, for had they returned at that point one of the most important features of the whole coast-line would have been missed.
On the 26th and 27th Wilson had a very bad attack of snow-blindness, which caused him the most intense agony. Some days before Scott had remarked in his diary upon Wilson's extraordinary industry: 'When it is fine and clear, at the end of our fatiguing days he will spend two or three hours seated in the door of the tent sketching each detail of the splendid mountainous coast-scene to the west. His sketches are most astonishingly accurate; I have tested his proportions by actual angular measurements and found them correct.... But these long hours in the glare are very bad for the eyes; we have all suffered a good deal from snow-blindness of late, though we generally march with goggles, but Wilson gets the worst bouts, and I fear it is mainly due to his sketching.'