The Heart of the Snow

No-one was guilty of an elaborate toilet, water being a scarce commodity. There were adherents of the snow-wash theory, but these belonged to an earlier and warmer epoch of our history … Laurence tried an early morning bath which was the last voluntary dip attempted by anyone.

Their bodies look so white as they rub them down with snow. The faces, hands, rough, brown with weather, work – wrinkled as mummies; but their limbs are pure and smooth as alabaster. There is a little party of four or five who run out every week or so into the wind to cleanse their limbs with cold fingers of snow. Since my immersion in the bay, I have felt no temptation to join them.

It was necessary, of course – the packing case had to be recovered, and you cannot ask a man to do what you will not do yourself. I stripped off all my clothes (God knows that was hard enough in itself), and trod gingerly down to the shore. Then plunged in, as fast as I could.

The water burned like liquid fire. It was so cold I was almost beyond feeling – layers and layers of compression and pain. I had thought that I would be numb in an instant, but there is a numbing pain within the numbness, and a greater pain, an agony of the larger organs, within that. I was at full stretch to reach that wretched case, cursing as hard as I could to keep my brain alive, language the enemy of ice. Oh, and when I put my head under I thought it would explode, blood rushing to every corner of the skin to buoy it up against this unheard-of enemy. I reached the slippery bottom – a moment’s panic before I grasped the case (which I had located already with my feet), then a mighty pull up to the waiting hands above. Some of them seized hold of me and pulled me up. And then I was being rubbed down with rough towels, and brandy in the mouth, and I was putting my clothes on as fast as I ever have, faster than with that whore in Melbourne, faster than on the morning I woke up too late for my biology final.

It was the wrong packing case, of course.

Afterwards, my teeth rattled so that I thought they would never stop, that they would ricochet out of my head and keep chattering along the ground. My head felt swollen to bursting point, and ached for hours afterwards, while my

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