It was Edward Little who’d come up with the idea of shifting some stores to make a little cave of a sleeping area for the woman in the forepeak where the sick bay would have been. The one person awake all night, every night, was Mr. Diggle – dutifully baking his biscuits and frying his breakfast meats – and if Mr. Diggle had ever had an eye for the ladies, it was apparent that day had long passed. Also, reasoned Lieutenant Little and Captain Crozier, the proximity to the Frazer’s Patent Stove would help keep their guest warm.
It had succeeded in that, all right. Lady Silence was made sick by the heat, forcing her to sleep stark naked on her furs in her little crate-and-cask cave. The captain discovered this by accident and the image stayed with him.
Now Crozier takes a lantern from its hook, lights it, lifts the hatch, and goes down the ladder to the orlop deck before he starts to melt like one of those blocks of ice on the stove.
To say it’s cold on the orlop deck would be the kind of understatement Crozier knows he used to make before he first voyaged to the arctic. A drop of six feet of ladder down from the lower deck has dropped the temperature at least sixty degrees. The darkness here is almost absolute.
Crozier takes the usual captain’s minute to look around. The circle of light from his lantern is weak, illuminating mostly the fog of his breath in the air. All around him is the labyrinth of crates, hogsheads, tins, kegs, casks, coal sacks, and canvas-covered heaps crammed deck-to-beams with the ship’s remaining provisions. Even without the lantern, Crozier could find his way through the dark and rat-screech here; he knows every inch of his ship. At times, especially late at night with the ice moaning, Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier realizes that HMS Terror is his wife, mother, bride, and whore. This intimate knowledge of a lady made of oak and iron, oakum and ballast, canvas and brass is the one true marriage he can and will ever know. How could he have thought differently with Sophia?
At other times, even later at night when the ice’s moaning turns to screams, Crozier thinks that the ship has become his body and his mind. Out there – out beyond the decks and hull – lies death. Eternal cold. Here, even while frozen in the ice, there continues the heartbeat, however faint, of warmth and conversation and movement and sanity.
But traveling deeper into the ship, Crozier realizes, is like traveling too deeply into one’s body or mind. What one encounters there may not be pleasant. The orlop deck is the belly. This is where the food and needed resources are stored, each thing packed away in the order of its presumed need, easy to hand for those driven down here by Mr. Diggle’s shouts and blows. Lower, on the hold deck where he’s headed, are the deep guts and kidneys, the water tanks and the majority of the coal storage and more provisions. But it’s the mind analogy that bothers Crozier the most. Haunted and plagued by melancholia much of his life, knowing it as a secret weakness made worse by his twelve winters frozen in arctic darkness as an adult, feeling it recently triggered into active agony by Sophia Cracroft’s rejection, Crozier thinks of the partially lighted and occasionally heated but livable lower deck as the sane part of himself. The brooding mental lower world of the orlop deck is where he spends too much of his time these days – listening to the ice scream, waiting for the metal bolts and beam fastenings to explode from the cold. The bottom hold deck below, with its terrible smells and its waiting Dead Room, is madness.
Crozier shakes such thoughts away. He looks down the orlop-deck aisle running forward between the piled casks and crates. The lantern’s gleam is blocked by the bulkheads of the Bread Room and the aisles on either side constrict to tunnels even narrower than the officers’ country companionway on the lower deck above. Here men must squeeze between the Bread Room and the sleeves holding the last sacks of Terror’s coal. The carpenter’s storeroom is forward there on the starboard side, the boatswain’s storeroom opposite on the port side.
Crozier turns and shines his lantern aft. Rats flee somewhat lethargically from the light, disappearing between casks of salt meat and crates of tinned provisions.
Even in the dim lantern’s glow, the captain can see that the padlock is secure on the Spirit Room. Every day one of Crozier’s officers will come down here to fetch the amount of rum needed for that day’s doling out of the men’s noonday grog – one-fourth pint of 140-proof rum to three-fourths pint of water. Also in the Spirit Room are stored the officers’ wine and brandy, as well as two hundred muskets, cutlasses, and swords. As has always been the practice in the Royal Navy, scuttles lead directly from the officers’ mess and Great Cabin overhead to the Spirit Room. Should there be a mutiny, the officers would get to the weapons first.
Behind the Spirit Room is the Gunner’s Storeroom with its kegs of powder and shot. On either side of the Spirit Room are various storage and locker spaces, including chain cable lockers; the Sail Room, with all its cold canvas; and the Slop Room, from which Mr. Helpman, the ship’s clerk, issues their outdoor clothing.
Behind the Spirit Room and the Gunner’s Storeroom is the Captain’s Storeroom, holding Francis Crozier’s private – and personally paid for – hams, cheeses, and other luxuries. It is still the custom for the ship’s captain to set the table from time to time for his officers, and while the victuals in Crozier’s storeroom pale in comparison to the luxurious foodstuffs crammed into the late Captain Sir John Franklin’s private store on Erebus, Crozier’s pantry – almost empty now – has held out for two summers and two winters in the ice. Also, he thinks with a smile, it has the benefit of containing a decent wine cellar from which the officers still benefit. And many bottles of whiskey upon which he, the captain, depends. The poor commander, lieutenants, and civilian officers aboard Erebus had done without spirits for two years. Sir John Franklin was a teetotaler and so, when he was alive, had been his officers’ mess.
A lantern bobs toward Crozier down the narrow aisle leading back from the bow. The captain turns in time to see something like a hairy black bear squeezing its bulk between the coal sleeves and the Bread Room bulkhead.
“Mr. Wilson,” says Crozier, recognizing the carpenter’s mate from his rotundity and from the sealskin gloves and deerskin trousers which had been offered to all the men before departure but which only a few had chosen over their flannel and woolen slops. Sometime during the voyage out, the mate had sewn wolf skins they’d picked up at the Danish whaling station at Disko Bay into a bulky – but warm, he insisted – outer garment.
“Captain.” Wilson, one of the fattest men aboard, is carrying the lantern in one hand and has several boxes of carpenter’s tools tucked under his other arm.
“Mr. Wilson, my compliments to Mr. Honey and would you ask him to join me on the hold deck.”
“Aye, sir. Where on the hold deck, sir?”
“The Dead Room, Mr. Wilson.”
“Aye, sir.” The lantern light reflects on Wilson ’s eyes as the mate keeps his curious gaze up just a second too long.
“And ask Mr. Honey to bring a pry bar, Mr. Wilson.”
Crozier stands aside, squeezing between two kegs to let the larger man pass up the ladder to the lower deck. The captain knows he might be rousing his carpenter for nothing – making the man go to the trouble of getting into his cold-weather slops right before lights-out for no good reason – but he has a hunch and he’d rather disturb the man now than later.
When Wilson has squeezed his bulk up through the upper hatch, Captain Crozier lifts the lower hatch and descends to the hold deck.
Because the entire deck-space lies beneath the level of outside ice, the hold deck is almost as cold as the alien world beyond the hull. And darker, with no aurora, stars, or moon to relieve the ever-present blackness. The air is thick with coal dust and coal smoke – Crozier watches the black particles curl around his hissing lantern like a banshee’s claw – and it stinks of sewage and bilge. A scraping, sliding, scuttling noise comes from the darkness aft, but Crozier knows it’s just the coal being shoveled in the boiler room. Only the residual heat from that boiler keeps the three inches of filthy water sloshing at the foot of the ladder from turning to ice. Forward, where the bow dips deeper into the ice, there is almost a foot of icy water, despite men working the pumps six hours and more a day. The Terror, like any living thing, breathes out moisture through a score of vital functions, including Mr. Diggle’s ever-working stove, and while the lower deck is always damp and rimed with ice and the orlop deck frozen, the hold is a dungeon with ice hanging from every beam and meltwater sloshing above one’s ankles. The flat black sides of the twenty-one iron water tanks lining the hull on either side add to the chill. Filled with thirty-eight tons of fresh water when the expedition sailed, the tanks are now armored icebergs and to touch the iron is to lose skin.