At what? My prick?

I heard a shout from Filippo, the rear-runner, and turned my head to look. Nothing appeared amiss, but he was waving his arms and shouting. Laurence was nowhere in sight, but that was scarcely unusual. Then I bethought me of the crevasse.

Running back, having taken the precaution of quickly tethering the dogs, I found Filippo bending over a great hole in the snow. Looking down, I could see nothing save blackness, but Filippo claimed to be able to make out one of the dogs hanging from a ledge far below. The extent of the catastrophe was too great to be grasped at once, as we shouted like madmen into the dark depths.

There were echoes, but no reply. After a bit I went back to my sledge and got some rope, with which we attempted to sound the hole. There was an impediment 150 feet down, possibly the ledge which Filippo claimed to have seen. After that – nothing. The rope was not long enough to reach the bottom. Nor could we span the hole with our one remaining sledge.

Even if he had struck the ledge rather than plunging straight into the depths, Laurence could hardly have survived. We both had visions at first of our friend hanging miraculously unhurt (winded, perhaps, half-stunned) from some icy impediment, but as the minutes ticked by, we realised how unlikely it was. After an hour of shouting and sounding we paused and began to take stock.

Almost all the food was gone – our spare clothes, the main tent, the sailing tackle for the sledge, knives , spoons, cups. We were left with our sleeping-bags, the spare tent without poles, and (God be praised!) the kerosene cooker.

In one fell stroke our trip had been transformed from a surveying expedition to a desperate race for survival. I scarcely felt up to it at first, but I could see that Filippo was looking to me for direction, so I decided that after a brief reading from the burial service we should at once turn back. There was indeed no reason to linger.

As I read I fancied I heard a dog whining deep down in the black hole beneath my feet, but from first to last we heard no sound which might have been interpreted as human. So far as I can see, Laurence, young, light-footed Laurence has been literally eaten by the earth. Pluto and Persephone. He was the youngest of us, and the best. What perilous pomegranate seeds did he swallow, without thinking, to be swallowed up in his turn?

No comments: