All at once Broke stumbled and would have fallen had I not held him tight. He uttered an oath and crouched down. The thing that had nearly tripped him up was a human body almost entirely covered in snow. It was only our involuntary and repeated straying off course that had facilitated its discovery at all.
I helped Broke to brush the snow off the corpse. The belief that death relaxes a person’s features is erroneous. This man’s face was frozen with panic, and he’s staring eyes must have looked their last on something horrific.”It’s the scientist Stine,” said Broke. “And he’s completely naked.”
It is a widely known phenomenon that persons exposed to extreme cold tend to strip off their clothing instead of dressing more warmly. At the time of our expedition, medical opinions were still divided as to the reasons for this. However, the most logical explanation was thought to be that, shortly before people lose consciousness, the previously contracted blood vessels on the surface of their bodies expand, thereby generating a sensation of heat. Therefore, although they are freezing to death, they tear off their clothes and hasten the lethal process.
Decomposition did not appear to be far advanced, but the poor visibility rendered a close inspection impossible. There could be no thought of transporting Stine’s remains back to the station under the present circumstances. If it continued to snow as heavily as it did now, we might never find the body again. I looked around vainly for something to mark the spot with. “There’s no point,” I said. “We must press on.” Broke peered at his compass. “This way!”
What had driven Stine out into the wilds? He must have known how dangerous it was to go off on his own like that. Or had he not been alone, perhaps? Were his companions lying dead nearby? And what had frightened him so terribly in extremis that it had left his face contorted with fear?
We were profoundly relieved when we reached the research station at last. The outlines of the huts loomed up quite suddenly out of the blizzard. The windows of the big accommodation hut were ablaze with light.
Colin Broke and I must have presented quite a sight because of the hut’s occupants-Malcolm Hurd and the two civil servants-stared at us in dismay.
Malcolm rose from his cozy place beside the cast-iron stove and limped over to us. The effect of the morphine was wearing off.
“Out of those clothes, quick,” he said, helping me off with my heavy coat. Sheridan drew up another two chairs to the stove while McCafferty plied us with hot tea.
Broke quickly informed the others of our gruesome discovery. “Where are Kinnock and Young?” I asked, shivering. I sensed only now how cold my body was. “We don’t know,” Malcolm replied. “What!” Broke exclaimed. “You mean they’re still out there?”
“I’m afraid it’s impossible to go looking for them in this blizzard,” McCafferty said apologetically. “It would be plain suicide. We’re relieved enough that you and Sir Arthur have found your way back here.”