I have a habit of not reading the Preface to books. As a rule It gives me opinion and background that I find confusing and hard to correlate before I have read the book itself. This is especially true in the case of non fiction if I have little or no prior knowledge of the subject. This was the case with The Worst Journey in the World. However, going back, unable to quite leave the experience behind me, by reading the Preface afterwards I discovered an extraordinary thing.
The fact is Oates and Cherry Garrard were linked in a way that is not stated in the book itself.
On the final leg to the Pole, Scott changed the plan and decided that four men instead of three, that is including himself, should go on.This is discussed in the book as well as an afterthought of Cherry Garrard in the introduction as everything, rations, all supplies and equipment, even the tent was originally designed for only three persons.
Oates told another member of the returning party that he did not care to go on! He had a leg injury from an old wound before coming on the expedition and the extreme conditions were already causing it to bother him. We have to remember it was this attitude of pulling together in the honorable tradition of British bravado and camaraderie of the epoch that decided him to say nothing to Scott.To Oates, it was the unselfish gesture of loyalty to their leader, a heroic and determined decision not to let Scott down; if he had chosen him then he was needed.
Now comes my point; if Oates had owned to his private misgivings as to his state of health his replacement would have been Cherry.In fact Scott had debated which of the two men to choose. He chose Oates as an old friend over Cherry the younger fitter man. I realized that these two men, the very two men who most touched me on their journey, would perhaps have exchanged destinies. Would the younger man have helped the others pull through? Would Oates, back at the lower camp have made a different decision about the rescue party? Or would Cherry Garrard have died with the others and the book never have been written?
Is it Destiny or rather our Free Will to choose? The unforseen, that split second when we make a decision that affects our whole life, its outcome and its end.