He looked down at himself in horror. Silk covered the lower half of his body.
“What is this?” he cried in alarm. “What is this? There’s a flag thrown over me!”
Lady Jane stood, aghast. “You looked cold, John. You were shivering. I put it over you as a blanket.”
“My God!” cried Captain Sir John Franklin. “My God, woman, do you know what you’ve done? Don’t you know they lay the Union Jack over a corpse!”
Captain Crozier descends the short ladder to the lower deck, pushes through the sealed double doors, and almost staggers in the sudden blast of warmth. Even though the circulating hot-water heat has been off for hours, body heat from more than fifty men and residual warmth from cooking have kept the temperature here on the lower deck high – just below freezing – almost 80 degrees warmer than outside. The effect on someone who’s been out on deck for half an hour is the equivalent of walking into a sauna fully clothed.
Since he’s continuing down to the unheated orlop and hold decks and thus keeping his cold-weather slops on, Crozier doesn’t tarry long here in the heat. But he does pause for a moment – as any captain would – taking the time to glance around and make sure that everything hasn’t gone to hell in the half hour he’s been away.
Despite the fact that this is the only berthing, eating, and living deck on the ship, it’s still as dark as a working Welsh mine with its small skylights snowed over in the daytime and the night now twenty-two hours long. Whale-oil lamps, lanterns, or candles throw small cones of illumination here and there, but mostly the men make their way through the gloom by memory, remembering where to dodge the innumerable half-seen heaps and hanging masses of stored food, clothing, gear, and other men sleeping in their hammocks. When all the hammocks go up – fourteen inches allowed per man – there will be no room to walk at all except for two 18-inch-wide aisles along the hull on either side. But only a few hammocks are up now – men catching some sleep before late watches – and the din of conversation, laughter, cursing, coughing, and Mr. Diggle’s inspired clankings and obscenities is loud enough to drown out some of the press and moan of the ice.
The ship’s diagrams show seven feet of clearance, but in reality, between the heavy ship’s timbers overhead and the tons of lumber and extra wood stored on racks hanging from those timbers, there’s less than six feet of headroom on this lower deck and the few truly tall men on Terror, like the coward Manson waiting below, have to walk in a perpetual hunched-over posture. Francis Crozier is not that tall. Even with his cap and comforter on, he doesn’t have to duck his head as he turns.
To his right and running aft from where Crozier stands is what looks to be a low, dark, narrow tunnel, but it is actually the companionway leading to the “officers’ quarters,” a warren of sixteen tiny sleeping cubicles and two cramped mess quarters for the officers and warrant officers. Crozier’s cabin is the same size as the others’ – six feet by five feet. The companionway is dark and barely two feet wide. Only one man can pass at a time, ducking his head to avoid hanging stores, and heavy men have to turn sideways to shuffle down the narrow passage.
The officers’ quarters are crammed into 60 feet of the 96-foot length of the ship, and since Terror is only 28 feet wide here on the lower deck, the narrow companionway is the only straight-line access aft.
Crozier can see light from the Great Cabin at the stern, where – even in this Stygian cold and gloom – some of his surviving officers are relaxing at the long table, smoking their pipes or reading from the 1,200-volume library shelved there. The captain hears music playing: one of the metal disks for the hand organ playing a tune that had been popular in London music halls five years ago. Crozier knows that it’s Lieutenant Hodgson playing the tune; it’s his favorite, and it drives Lieutenant Edward Little, Crozier’s executive officer and a lover of classical music, absolutely mad with irritation.
All apparently being well in officers’ country, Crozier turns and glances forward. The regular crew’s quarters take up the remaining third of the length of the ship – 36 feet – but into it are crammed 41 of the surviving able-bodied seamen and midshipmen from the original ship’s muster of 44.
There are no classes being taught tonight and it’s less than an hour until they will unfurl their hammocks and turn in, so the majority of the men are sitting on their sea chests or heaps of stowed material, smoking or talking in the dim light. The centre of the space is taken up by the gigantic Frazer’s Patent Stove, where Mr. Diggle is baking biscuits. Diggle – the best cook in the fleet as far as Crozier is concerned and a prize, most literally, since Crozier had stolen the obstreperous cook right off Captain Sir John Franklin’s flagship just before the expedition departed – is always cooking, usually biscuits, and curses and bangs and kicks and berates his assistants all the while. Men are literally scuttling near the giant stove, disappearing down the scuttle there to bring up stores from the lower decks, hurrying to avoid Mr. Diggle’s voluble wrath.
Frazer’s Patent Stove itself appears, to Crozier’s eye, almost as large as the locomotive engine in the hold. Besides its gigantic oven and six large burners, the bulking iron contraption has a built-in desalinator and a prodigious hand pump to bring water in from either the ocean or the rows of huge water-storage tanks down in the hold. But both the sea outside and the water in the hold now are frozen solid, so the huge pots bubbling on Mr. Diggle’s burners are busy melting chunks of ice chipped out of the water tanks below and hauled up for that purpose.
The captain can see, beyond the partition of Mr. Diggle’s shelves and cupboards where forward bulwarks had once stood, the sick bay in the forepeak of the ship. For two years there had been no sick bay. The area was stacked from deck to beams with more crates and casks and those crewmen who needed to see the ship’s surgeon or assistant surgeon at 7:30 a.m. lubber’s time did so near Mr. Diggle’s stove. But now, with the amount of stores depleted and the number of sick and injured men multiplying, the carpenters had created a more permanent and separate section of the forepeak to serve as sick bay. Still, the captain could see the tunnellike entrance through the crates where they’d made a space for Lady Silence to sleep.
That discussion had taken the better part of a day last June – Franklin had insisted that the Esquimaux woman not be allowed on his ship. Crozier had accepted her, but his discussion with his executive officer, Lieutenant Little, as to where to berth her had been almost absurd. Even an Esquimaux wench, they knew, would freeze to death on deck or on the lower two decks, which left only the main lower deck. She certainly could not sleep in the crew’s berthing area, even though they had empty hammocks by this time thanks to that thing out on the ice.
In Crozier’s day as a teenaged lad before the mast and then as a midshipman, women smuggled aboard were put in the lightless, almost airless stinking hawser room in the lowest and most forward part of the ship, within reach of the fo’c’sle for the lucky man or men who smuggled her aboard. But even last June, when Silence appeared, it was below zero in HMS Terror’s hawser room.
No, berthing her with the crew was not an idea to be considered.
Officers’ country? Perhaps. There were empty cabins, with some of his officers dead and torn apart. But both Lieutenant Little and his captain had quickly agreed that the presence of a woman just a few thin partitions and sliding doors away from the sleeping men would be unhealthy.
What then? They couldn’t assign her a sleeping place and then post an armed guard over her all the time.