He would not leave the shroud that the snow was knitting to perfection -- one he might have admired had he still his mind on the world. There was nothing to detain us further, now that Wilson and Bowers sat dead in the corner. I looked at them through iced lashes and wondered, idly, if they could hear the barrel-organ bellowing outside the tent. It sounded like the crack and thunder of an avalanche. I despise bombast. My art aspired to lightness and immateriality. Mrs. Burke, wife of the meat-packing king, called the summerhouse I had designed for her "a dream in chiffon!" Was it for this I had come to Antarctica, where all is ponderous yet curiously insubstantial? To build a house in chiffon spun of snow? Curious, how ice is a weld of fibers. If one could reproduce the mechanism and adapt it to temperate climes. . . . Of course, I had not come to the polar regions in the usual way. I had neither wished nor willed myself here, but had simply happened here. I had cursed Scott for his meddling, before I understood that I was alien to his imagination and therefore unwelcome to his kingdom. He had made the best of me and I, of him.
"Scott!" I called.
I had to call to make myself heard over the raging outside, if outside there was. I was not such a fool to think I might not have also died, with my two friends. Scott was not. A friend, I mean.
Scott was not. Funny rhyme and strangely true.
I shouted this time in spite of the fear it caused in me, as if shouting might shatter something beyond repair. A precious vase in which my life was collected -- soon to contain my ashes.
Japanese, like the one I had purchased for the meat-packer's wife, to stand in the embrasure behind the reflecting pool. Lovely thing -- red lacquer with slashes of blue! I remember how the moon's face looked one night, reflected in that pool. The air was so still! And my Elizabeth's face lying on the unruffled surface black and smooth as onyx. No.
No, she was never there. Where then? Perhaps it was the lake that I remember, where we had stayed the night in a hikers' cabin. I taste lake.
Taste lake -- I'm full of rhymes tonight.
"What is it?" he answered, peevishly. I had distracted him from his contemplation of an inner vision haunting him still. His hell, and ours. He had given us it -- made it our own. What a salesman you are!
"There is nothing now to stop our going," I said, nodding toward Wilson and Bowers, whose faces seemed to have been transformed into marble.
What kind of marble?
Scott, you have made me your architect!
Of your tomb!
"What are you laughing at?" Scott asked. His peevishness gone, he addressed me as a kind teacher would a backward child kept after school.
"You can leave them now," I said. "You have done your duty and your best. No man could have done more or asked more of himself. You have nothing to reproach yourself for, Scott. You have carried us as far as is possible. You cannot go further. No one expects you to carry us into the valley, the vale, beyond the bourn, et cetera. You cannot ask it of yourself. Perhaps if this were a ship, one final act of lunacy would be asked of you: to go down with it. But there is no ship, and Antarctica is as far down as it gets. We can't go any lower -- not in this world. You can only sit and do nothing. Inaction, Scott -- you have never been a man for inaction! What will the Royal Navy say about your. . . paralysis of will? It will be a black mark against you, if you forget your commission. It's your duty to lead, even if it's only me that's left to follow you. It's best to go now, Scott. You can do nothing more here."
"Leave them without burial?" Scott said, but it was to someone other than me he said it.
"The snow -- the beautiful snow is fixing their shroud." Christ, the disgusting poetry I am capable of when I am afraid. "And they will build for Wilson and Bowers a fine chiffon mausoleum. Look -- I've designed it myself!"
I held up nothing.
"The same ones who brought me here."
"I ought to say the Offices for them."
I nodded, and he said them.
"Now let us be off," I said cheerfully, taking his arm. "Our holiday is short. Soon, we will be going home."
The snow lay all about the world like powdered sugar on a cake. The sky was blue. I had not seen such a blue since leaving New Zealand aboard Terra Nova -- how long ago now?
"Look at the sky, Scott! Would you lift up your damned eyes a moment and see that blue!"
But he would not, preferring his boots, which wore little hats of snow on their toe-caps. I tell you it was wonderful -- the day was wonderful! I felt like a boy gone outside to see what a night of snow had done to the world!
A trolley-car appeared from out of the sun. It seethed to a stop for us. I shoved Scott inside; and it lurched forward, swaying on the clicking rails. Snow melted into rings around us where we stood, holding the leather straps. The bell clanged, leadenly.
"It wasn't a barrel-organ at all," I said to Scott. "It was a trolley-car! What a noise it makes!"
In the distance, a city trembled -- its towers and steeples shining. Just beyond, a thicket of masts stuck up, waiting for commissions, for favorable winds and tides -- waiting for captains.
"There's a ship for you, Scott!" I shouted into the wind that swept like a gale through the swinging car. "Her hold is full of snow -- a present for the Emperor. He will give you his favorite daughter."
"His daughter. . . ?"
"If you don't want her, give her to me."
Fickle I may be, but I know Scott had not forgotten his Kathleen!
"Is that what you're thinking of, Scott?" I asked. "Your wife?"
"I must go back," he said, looking at me now as if I were something more than glass or thin air.
"We are!" I said, but I knew he meant elsewhere than England.
"I must go back," he repeated, the steel in him showing once more.
"But you can't!" I shrieked; or perhaps it was the wind that shrieked -- a "Dies Irae" on Mt. Terror.
He was determined to get off. I might have fought him, overcome him, bound him standing to the leather thongs. What then? Already, the cold was annexing, for the Land of the Snow Men, his remains. In a moment, they would acclaim him their king. His eyes slid off mine. His gaze had been cold; and as it searched the narrow car, it clad everything in ice.
Scott was dead.
Jumping off, I left the empty trolley to him.
I stood in the snow-covered street and watched the car veer away -- Scott's funeral car -- toward Erebus and, beyond, to the Southern Ocean where the sun milled sheets of gold to pave the cities of the dead.
The trolley bell tolled for the last of the snow men.
Scott would return to them -- to Wilson and Bowers -- and search until he found a way back into the tomb. No matter how long he must look, no matter how cunningly it had been sealed by the wind's icy hands, he would find it. For there was this about Scott: he was faithful to his obsessions. He would climb into the grave with his men. No matter he did not love or understand them. He would enlarge the territory of our understanding of death, while his flesh turned to stone. To Luna marble brought down from the 5,000-ft. peak of Mt. Altissma -- stone the color of purest ivory. Yes, he had succeeded in making me his architect!
I went on toward the city, exulting -- exulting, I tell you! -- to be rid of Scott at last. He was one in love with death while I -- I wanted nothing more than to return to Quince Street and Elizabeth and build for the meat-packing king a folly for his garden.
You are well out of it, I told myself and wondered if I were wrong.
George Belden (1885-1952), architect, was commissioned by the Philadelphia Explorers' Club in 1913 to erect a memorial on Antarctica's Barrier Ice, commemorating the death of Captain Robert F. Scott and two of his colleagues the previous year. Belden went mad without ever fulfilling his commission. The text published here is taken from his journal, Land of the Snow Men, purporting to be an eyewitness account of Scott's 1910-12 polar expedition. Belden was confined for most of his life in the Waterbury Asylum, Vermont. Belden's journal was discovered by Norman Lock in 2002, during a convalescence in the sanitarium. Land of the Snow Men is available from Calamari Press.