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Magnus Manson is waiting at the bottom of the ladder as Private Wilkes had said, but the huge able-bodied seaman is standing, not sitting arse-on-ladder. The big man’s head and shoulders are hunched beneath the low beams. His pale, lumpy face and stubbled jowls remind Crozier of a rotten white peeled potato stuffed under a Welsh wig. He will not meet his captain’s stare in the harsh lantern glow.

“What is this, Manson?” Crozier’s voice does not hold the bark he unleashed on his lookout and lieutenant. His tone is flat, calm, certain, with the power of flogging and hanging behind every syllable.

“It’s them ghosts, Cap’n.” For a huge man, Magnus Manson has the high, soft voice of a child. When Terror and Erebus had paused at Disko Bay on the west coast of Greenland in July of 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin had seen fit to dismiss two men from the expedition -a Marine private and a sailmaker from Terror. Crozier had made the recommendation that seaman John Brown and Private Aitken from his ship also be released – they were little better than invalids and never should have been signed on for such a voyage – but on occasion since, he wished he’d sent Manson home with those four. If the big man was not feebleminded, he was so close to it that it was impossible to tell the difference.

“You know there are no ghosts on Terror, Manson.”

“Yes, Cap’n.”

Look at me.”

Manson raises his face but does not meet Crozier’s gaze. The captain marvels at how tiny the man’s pale eyes are in that white lump of a face.

“Did you disobey Mr. Thompson’s orders to carry sacks of coal to the boiler room, Seaman Manson?”

“No, sir. Yes, sir.”

“Do you know the consequences of disobeying any order on this ship?” Crozier feels like he’s talking to a boy, although Manson must be at least thirty years old.

The big sailor’s face brightens as he is presented with a question he can answer correctly. “Oh, yes, Cap’n. Flogging, sir. Twenty lashes. A ’undred lashes if I disobeys more than once. ’Anging if I disobey a real officer rather’n jus’ Mr. Thompson.”

“That’s correct,” says Crozier, “but did you know that the captain can also inflict any punishment he finds appropriate to the transgression?”

Manson peers down at him, his pale eyes confused. He has not understood the question.

“I’m saying I can punish you any way I see fit, Seaman Manson,” says the captain.

A flood of relief flows over the lumpy face. “Oh, yes, right, Cap’n.”

“Instead of twenty lashes,” says Francis Crozier, “I could have you locked up in the Dead Room for twenty hours with no light.”

Manson’s already pale, frozen features lose so much blood that Crozier prepares to get out of the way if the big man faints.

“You… wouldn’t…” The child-man’s voice quavers toward a vibrato.

Crozier says nothing for a long, cold, lantern-hissing moment. He lets the sailor read his expression. Finally he says, “What do you think you hear, Manson? Has someone been telling you ghost stories?”

Manson opens his mouth but seems to have trouble deciding which question to answer first. Ice forms on his fat lower lip. “ Walker,” he says at last.

“You’re afraid of Walker?”

James Walker, a friend of Manson’s who had been about the same age as the idiot and not much brighter, was the last man to die on the ice, just a week earlier. Ship’s rules required that the crew keep small holes drilled in the ice near the ship, even when the ice was ten or fifteen feet thick as it was now, so that they could get at water to fight a fire should one break out aboard. Walker and two of his mates were on just such a drilling party in the dark, reopening an old hole that would freeze in less than an hour unless rammed with metal spikes. The white terror had come out from behind a pressure ridge, torn off the seaman’s arm, and smashed his ribs to splinters in an instant, disappearing before the armed guards on deck could raise their shotguns.

“ Walker told you ghost stories?” says Crozier.

“Yes, Cap’n. No, Cap’n. What Jimmy did was, ’e tells me the night before the thing killed ’im, ’e says, ‘Magnus, should that ’ellspawn out on the ice get me someday,’ ’e says, ‘I’ll come back in me white shroud to whisper in your ear how cold ’ell is.’ So help me God, Cap’n, that’s what Jimmy said to me. Now I ’ear ’im tryin’ to get out.”

As if on cue, the hull groans, the frigid deck moans under their feet, metal brackets on the beams groan back in sympathy, and there is a scraping, clawing noise in the dark around them that seems to run the length of the ship. The ice is restless.

“Is that the sound you hear, Manson?”

“Yes, Cap’n. No, sir.”

The Dead Room is thirty feet aft on the starboard side, just beyond the last metal-moaning iron water tank, but when the outside ice stops its noise, Crozier can hear only the muffled scrape and push of the shovels in the boiler room farther aft.

Crozier’s had enough of this nonsense. “You know your friend’s not coming back, Magnus. He’s there in the extra sail storage room securely sewn into his own hammock with the other dead men, frozen solid, with three layers of our heaviest sail canvas tied around them. If you hear anything from in there, it’s the damned rats trying to get at them. You know this, Magnus Manson.”

“Yes, Cap’n.”

“There will be no disobeying orders on this ship, Seaman Manson. You have to make up your mind now. Carry the coal when Mr. Thompson tells you to. Fetch the food stores when Mr. Diggle sends you down here. Obey all orders promptly and politely. Or face the court… face me… and the possibility that you’ll spend a cold, lanternless night in the Dead Room yourself.”

Without another word, Manson knuckles his forehead in salute, lifts a huge sack of coal from where he’s stowed it on the ladder, and hauls it aft into the darkness.

The engineer himself is stripped to his long-sleeved undershirt and corduroy trousers, shoveling coal alongside the ancient 47-year-old stoker named Bill Johnson. The other stoker, Luke Smith, is on the lower deck sleeping between his shoveling hours. Terror’s lead stoker, young John Torrington, was the first man of the expedition to die, on New Year’s Day 1846. But that had been from natural causes. It seems Torrington ’s doctor had urged the 19-year-old to go to sea to cure his consumption, and he’d succumbed after two months of being an invalid while the ships were frozen in the harbour at Beechey Island that first winter. Doctors Peddie and McDonald had told Crozier that the boy’s lungs were as solidly packed with coal dust as a chimney sweep’s pockets.