The terror, p.46
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       The Terror, p.46
 

          

  “Hold off, I tell you!”

  Goodsir could now see Lieutenant Le Vesconte and the Marines there silhouetted against the flames, Le Vesconte standing and the Marines each on one knee, reloading their muskets as if they were in the midst of a battle. The surgeon thought that the walls, timbers, and loose casks and cartons toward the bow were all on fire. Sailors batted at the flames with blankets and rolls of canvas. Sparks flew everywhere.

  The burning silhouette of a man staggered out of the flames toward the Marines and clustered seamen.

  “Hold your fire!” shouted Fitzjames.

  “Hold your fire!” repeated Le Vesconte.

  The burning man collapsed into Fitzjames’s arms. “Mr. Goodsir!” called the captain. John Downing, the quartermaster, ceased beating a blanket against the fire in the corridor and stamped out the flames emanating from the wounded man’s smoldering clothes.

  Goodsir ran forward and took the weight of the collapsing man from Fitzjames. The right side of the man’s face was almost gone — not burned but clawed away, the skin and eye hanging loose — and parallel marks ran down the right side of his chest, the claw marks cutting deep through eight layers of fabric and flesh. Blood soaked his waistcoat. The man’s right arm was missing.

  Goodsir realized that he was holding Henry Foster Collins, the second master whom Fitzjames earlier had ordered to go toward the bow with Brown and Dunn, the caulker and his mate, to secure the forward hatch.

  “I need help getting him up to the surgery,” gasped Goodsir. Collins was a big man, even without his arm, and his legs had finally given way. The surgeon was able to hold him upright only because he was braced against the Bread Room bulkhead.

  “Downing!” Fitzjames called to the silhouette of the tall quartermaster who had returned to fighting flames with his burning blanket.

  Downing tossed the blanket away and ran back through the smoke. Without asking a question, the quartermaster hooked Collins’s remaining arm over his own shoulder and said, “After you, Mr. Goodsir.”

  Goodsir started up the ladderway but a dozen men with buckets were trying to come down through the smoke.

  “Make way!” bellowed Goodsir. “Wounded man coming up.”

  The boots and knees pressed back.

  As Downing carried the now unconscious Collins up the almost vertical ladder, Goodsir came up onto the lower deck where they all lived. Seamen gathered around and stared back at him. The surgeon realized that he must look like a casualty himself — his hands and clothes and face were bloody from crashing into the post, and he knew that they were also black with soot.

  “Aft to the sick bay,” ordered Goodsir as Downing lifted the burned and mauled man in his arms. The quartermaster had to twist sideways to carry Collins down the narrow companionway. Behind Goodsir, two dozen men were handing buckets down the ladder from the deck while others poured snow onto the steaming, hissing deck boards in the seamen’s berthing area around the stove and forward scuttle. If the deck there caught fire, Goodsir knew, the ship was lost.

  Henry Lloyd came out of the sick bay, his face pale and eyes wide.

  “Are my instruments laid out?” demanded Goodsir.

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Bone saw?”

  “Yes.”

  “Good.”

  Downing laid the unconscious Collins on the bare surgical table in the middle of the sick bay.

  “Thank you, Mr. Downing,” said Goodsir. “Would you be so kind as to get a seaman or two and help these other sick men to a bed in a cubicle somewhere? Any empty berth will do.”

  “Aye, Doctor.”

  “Lloyd, get forward to Mr. Wall and tell the cook and his mates that we need as much hot water from the Frazer’s stove as he can give us. But first, turn up those oil lamps. Then get back here. I’ll need your hands and a lantern.”

  For the next hour, Dr. Harry D. S. Goodsir was so busy that the sick bay could have caught fire and he would not have noticed except to be glad for the extra light.

  He stripped Collins’s upper body naked — the open wounds steamed in the freezing air — threw the first pan of hot water over them to cleanse them as best he could, not for hygiene but to briefly clear away the blood in order to see how deep they were, decided that the claw wounds themselves were not immediately life threatening, and went to work on the second master’s shoulder, neck, and face.

  The arm had come off cleanly. It was as if a huge guillotine had severed Collins’s arm with one drop. Used to industrial and shipboard accidents that mauled and twisted and tore flesh to shreds, Goodsir studied the wound with something like admiration, if not awe.

  Collins was bleeding to death, but the flames he’d been caught in had cauterized the gaping shoulder wound to some extent. It had saved his life. So far.

  Goodsir could see the shoulder bone — a glistening white knob — but there was no remaining arm bone that he had to cut away. With Lloyd shakily holding a lantern close and sometimes putting his finger where Goodsir ordered — often on a spurting artery — Goodsir deftly tied off the severed veins and arteries. He had always been good at this sort of thing — his fingers worked almost by themselves.

  Amazingly, there seemed to be little or no fabric or foreign material in the wound. This lowered the chance of fatal sepsis, although that was still a probability. Goodsir cleansed what he could see with the second and final pan of hot water brought aft by Downing. Then he cut away any loose shards of flesh and sutured where he could. Luckily there were flaps of skin long enough that the surgeon could fold them back over the wound and sew them with broad stitches.

  Collins moaned and stirred.

  Goodsir worked as quickly as he could now, wanting to finish the worst of it before the man came fully awake.

  The right side of Collins’s face hung down on his shoulder like a loosened Carnivale mask. It reminded Goodsir of the many autopsies he had performed, cutting away the face and folding it up over the top of the skull like a tight wet cloth.

  He had Lloyd pull the long flap of facial skin as far up and as tight as he could — his assistant turned away to vomit on the deck but then immediately returned, wiping his sticky fingers on his wool waistcoat — and Goodsir quickly stitched the loose part of Collins’s face to a thick flap of skin and flesh just below the man’s receding hairline.

  He could not save the second master’s eye. He tried pressing it back into place, but the man’s suborbital ridge had been shattered. Bone splinters were in the way. Goodsir snapped off the splinters, but the eyeball itself was too damaged.

  He took shears out of Lloyd’s shaking hands and cut away the retinal nerve, throwing the eye into the bucket already filled with bloody rags and shreds of Collins’s flesh.

  “Hold that lantern closer,” ordered Goodsir. “Quit shaking.”

  Amazingly, there was some eyelid left. Goodsir pulled it down as far as he could and deftly stitched it to a flap of loose skin below the eye. These stitches he made closer together since they would have to serve for years.

  If Collins survived.

  Having done the best he could on the second master’s face for the time being, Goodsir turned his attention to the burns and claw wounds. The burns were superficial. The claw wounds ran deep enough that Goodsir could see the always shocking whiteness of exposed ribs here and there.

  Directing Lloyd to apply salve to the burns with his left hand while holding the lantern close with his right, Goodsir cleaned and closed the torn muscles and sewed the surface flesh and skin back in place where he could. Blood continued to flow from the shoulder wound and Collins’s neck, but at a much reduced rate. If the flames had cauterized the flesh and veins enough, the second mate might have enough blood left in him to allow for his survival.

  Other men were being carried in, but they were suffering only from burns — some serious but none life threatening — and now that the most urgent part of his work on Collins was finished, Goodsir hung the lantern on the brass hook above the table and
ordered Lloyd to help the others with salve, water, and dressings.

  He was just finishing with Collins — administering opium so the waking, screaming man would sleep — when he turned to find Captain Fitzjames standing next to him.

  The captain was as sooty and bloody as the surgeon.

  “Will he live?” asked Fitzjames.

  Goodsir set down a scalpel and opened and then closed his bloody hands as if to say only God knows.

  Fitzjames nodded. “The fire is contained,” said the captain. “I thought you’d want to know.”

  Goodsir nodded. He’d not thought about the fire at all in the past hour. “Lloyd, Mr. Downing,” he said. “Would you be so kind as to carry Mr. Collins to that cot nearest the forward bulkhead. It’s the warmest there.”

  “We lost all of the carpenter’s stores on the orlop deck,” continued Fitzjames, “and many of our remaining food stores that were in crates near the forward scuttle and bow area, and a good part of the Bread Room stores as well. I’d say a third of our remaining supply of canned and casked food is gone. And we’re sure there is damage on the hold deck, but we haven’t been back down there yet.”

  “How did the fire begin?” asked the surgeon.

  “Collins or one of his men threw a lantern at the thing when it came up out of the scuttle at them,” said the captain.

  “What happened to the … thing?” asked Goodsir. Suddenly, he was so exhausted that he had to reach for the edge of the bloody surgical table to keep from falling.

  “It must have gone out the way it came in,” said Fitzjames. “Back down the forward scuttle and out somewhere down on the hold deck. Unless it’s waiting down there still. I have armed men at each of the scuttles. It’s so cold and smoky down there on the orlop deck that we’ll have to change the guard every half hour.

  “Collins saw it best. That’s why I came up … to see if I could talk to him. The others just saw the shape across the flames — eyes, teeth, claws, a white mass or black silhouette. Lieutenant Le Vesconte had the Marines fire at it, but no one saw if it was hit. There is blood all forward of the burned-out carpenter’s storeroom, but we don’t know if any of it is from the beast. Can I speak to Collins?”

  Goodsir shook his head. “I’ve just doused the second master with an opiate. He’ll sleep for hours. I have no idea if he will ever awaken. The odds are against it.”

  Fitzjames nodded again. The captain looked as exhausted as the surgeon felt.

  “What about Dunn and Brown?” asked Goodsir. “They went forward with Collins. Have you found them?”

  “Yes,” Fitzjames said dully. “They’re alive. They escaped to the starboard side of the Bread Room when the fire started and the thing went after poor Collins.” The captain took a breath. “The smoke below is dissipating, so I need to lead some men down to the hold to retrieve the bodies of Engineer Gregory and Stoker Tommy Plater.”

  “Oh my God,” said Goodsir. He told Fitzjames about the bare arm he’d seen protruding from the coal bunker.

  “I didn’t see that,” said the captain. “I was so eager to get to the forward scuttle that I did not look down, just ahead.”

  “I should have looked ahead,” the surgeon said ruefully. “I banged into a pillar or post.”

  Fitzjames smiled. “So I see. Physician, heal thyself. You have a deep laceration from your hairline to your brow and a blue swelling the size of Magnus Manson’s fist.”

  “Really?” said Goodsir. He gingerly touched his forehead. His bloody fingers came away bloodier even though he could feel the thick crust of dried blood on the huge contusion up there. “I’ll sew it up with a mirror or have Lloyd do it later,” he said tiredly. “I’m ready to go, Captain.”

  “Go where, Mr. Goodsir?”

  “Down to the hold,” said the surgeon, feeling his guts twist with nausea at the thought of it. “To see who’s lying in the coal bunker. He might be alive.”

  Fitzjames looked him in the eye. “Our carpenter, Mr. Weekes, and his mate, Watson, are missing, Dr. Goodsir. They were working in a starboard coal bunker, shoring up a breach in the hull. But they must be dead.”

  Goodsir had heard the “doctor.” Franklin and his commander had almost never called the surgeons that, not even Stanley and Peddie, the chief surgeons. They — and Goodsir — had almost always been the lower “Mister” to Sir John and the aristocratic Fitzjames.

  But not this time.

  “We have to go down to see,” said Goodsir. “I have to go down to see. One or the other might still be alive.”

  “The thing from the ice might be alive and waiting down there as well,” Fitzjames said softly. “No one saw or heard it leave.”

  Goodsir nodded tiredly and lifted his medical bag. “May I have Mr. Downing to come with me?” he asked. “I may need someone to hold the lantern.”

  “I’ll come with you, Dr. Goodsir,” said Captain Fitzjames. He held up an extra lamp that Downing had carried in. “Lead on, sir.”

  32

  CROZIER

  Lat. 70°-05′ N., Long. 98°-23′ W.

  22 April, 1848

  Lieutenant Little,” said Captain Crozier, “please pass the order to abandon ship.”

  “Yes, Captain.” Little turned and shouted the order down the crowded deck. The other officers and surviving second mate were absent, so John Lane, the bosun, picked up the order and bellowed it toward the bow. Thomas Johnson, the bosun’s mate and the man who had administered the lashes to Hickey and the other two men in January, shouted the order down the open hatchway before finally closing and battening down the scuttle.

  There was no one left belowdecks, of course. Crozier and Lieutenant Little had walked the ship stern to bow on each deck, looking into every compartment — from the cold boiler room with its banked furnaces to the hold deck’s empty coal scuttles to the cramped but empty forward cable locker and then up through the decks. On the orlop deck they had checked that the Spirit Room and Gunner’s Storeroom were empty of all muskets, shotguns, powder, and shot — only rows of cutlasses and bayonets remained in the racks overhead, gleaming coldly in the lantern light. Two officers had checked that all necessary clothing had been removed from the Slop Room over the past month and a half and then gone on to the empty Captain’s Storeroom and equally empty Bread Room. On the foredeck, Little and Crozier had looked into every cabin and berth, noticing how neat the officers had left their bunks and shelves and remaining possessions, then seeing the seamen’s hammocks tucked up for the final time, their sea chests lightened but still in place as if awaiting the call to supper, going aft then to notice the missing books in the Great Room where men had made their choices from the volumes and carried scores of them onto the ice with them. Finally, standing next to the huge stove that was absolutely cold for the first time in almost three years, Lieutenant Little and Captain Crozier had called again down the forward scuttle, making sure that no one had remained behind. They would do a head count above, but this was part of the protocol of abandoning ship.

  Then they had gone up on deck and left the scuttle open behind them.

  The men standing on deck now were not surprised by the order to abandon ship. They had been called up and assembled for it. There were only about twenty-five Terrors present this morning; the rest were at Terror Camp two miles south of Victory Point or sledging materials to the camp or out hunting or reconnoitering near Terror Camp. An equal number of Erebuses waited below on the ice, standing near sledges and piles of gear where the Erebus gear-and-supply tents had been pitched since the first of April when that ship had been abandoned.

  Crozier watched his men file down the ice ramp, leaving the ship forever. Finally only he and Little were left standing on the canted deck. The fifty-some men on the ice below looked up at them with eyes almost made invisible under low-pulled Welsh wigs and above wool comforters, all squinting in the cold morning light.

  “Go ahead, Edward,” Crozier said softly. “Over the side with you.”

  The lieuten
ant saluted, lifted his heavy pack of personal possessions, and went down first the ladder and then the ice ramp to join the men below.

  Crozier looked around. The thin April sunlight illuminated a world of tortured ice, looming pressure ridges, countless seracs, and blowing snow. Tugging the bill of his cap lower and squinting toward the east, he tried to record his feelings at the moment.

  Abandoning ship was the lowest point in any captain’s life. It was an admission of total failure. It was, in most cases, the end of a long Naval career. To most captains, many of Francis Crozier’s personal acquaintance, it was a blow from which they would never recover.

  Crozier felt none of that despair. Not yet. More important to him at the moment was the blue flame of determination that still burned small but hot in his breast — I will live.

  He wanted his men to survive — or at least as many as possibly could. If there was the slightest hope of any man from HMS Erebus or HMS Terror surviving and going home to England, Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier was going to follow that hope and not look back.

  He had to get the men off the ship. And then off the ice.

  Realizing that almost fifty sets of eyes were looking up at him, Crozier patted the gunwale a final time, scrambled down the ladder they’d set on the starboard side as the ship had begun to cant more steeply to port in recent weeks, and then walked down the well-worn ice ramp to the waiting men.

  Hoisting his own pack and stepping into line near the men in harness at the rearmost sledge, he looked up a final time at the ship and said, “She looks fine, doesn’t she, Harry?”

  “She does that, Captain,” said Captain of the Foretop Harry Peglar. As good as his word, he and the topmen had managed to steep all of the stored masts and restore the yards and rigging in the past two weeks, despite blizzards, low temperatures, lightning storms, surging ice pressures, and high winds. Ice gleamed everywhere on the now top-heavy ship’s restored topmasts, spars, and rigging. She looked to Crozier as if she were bedecked in jewels.

  After the sinking of HMS Erebus on the last day of March, Crozier and Fitzjames had decided that even though Terror had to be abandoned soon if they were to have any chance of walking or taking the boats to safety before winter, the ship should be restored to sailing shape. Should they be stuck at Terror Camp on King William Land for months into summer and the ice miraculously open, they could, theoretically, take the boats back to Terror and try sailing to freedom.

 
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