The terror, p.69
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       The Terror, p.69
 

          

  “What did happen out there?” pressed Crozier.

  Golding shook his head. “I don’t know, Captain. Pocock and Greater and me was hunting seals, sir … we shot one, Captain, but it slipped through its hole in the ice and we couldn’t get to it. I’m sorry, sir. Then we heard the shotguns to the south. And a little later, an hour maybe, Mr. Des Voeux shows up with George Cann, who was bleeding on his face, and Fat Wilson, and Wilson was pulling Silence’s body on a blanket he was draggin’ and she was all torn to pieces, only … we’re supposed to hurry back, Captain. While the moon’s up.”

  Indeed, it was a rare, clear night after a rare, clear, red sunset — Crozier had been taking his sextant out of its box to get a star fix when he’d heard the commotion — and a huge, full, blue-white moon had just risen over the icebergs and ice jumble to the southeast.

  “Why tonight?” asked Crozier. “Can’t this wait for morning?”

  “Mr. Des Voeux said it can’t, Captain. He said to give you his compliments and would you be so kind as to bring Dr. Goodsir and come out about two miles — it ain’t longer than two hours’ walk, sir, even with the ice walls — to see what’s there by the polyanna.”

  “All right,” said Crozier. “You go tell Dr. Goodsir I want him and for him to bring his medical kit and to dress warmly. I’ll meet the two of you at the boats.”

  Golding led the four men out onto the ice — Crozier ignored the message from Des Voeux to come just with the surgeon and had ordered Bosun John Lane and Captain of the Hold William Goddard to come along with their shotguns — and then into the jumble of bergs and ice boulders, then over three high pressure ridges, and finally through serac forests where Golding’s earlier path back to the camp was marked not only by his boot prints in the blowing snow but also by the bamboo wands they’d hauled with them all the way from Terror. Des Voeux’s group had carried the wands with them two days earlier to mark their way back and to show the best pathway through the ice should they find open water and want the others to follow them with the boats. The moonlight was so bright that it threw shadows. Even the narrow bamboo wands were like moon dials throwing slashes of shadow lines onto the white-blue ice.

  For the first hour there was only the sound of the laboured breathing, their boots crunching on snow and ice, and the cracking and groans all around them. Then Crozier said, “Are you sure she’s dead, Golding?”

  “Who, sir?”

  The captain’s frustrated exhalation became a small cloud of ice crystals gleaming in the moonlight. “How many ‘she’s’ are there around here, God-damn it? Lady Silence.”

  “Oh, yes, sir.” The boy snickered. “She’s dead all right. Her titties was all tore off.”

  The captain glared at the boy as they climbed another low pressure ridge and passed into the shadow of a tall blue-glowing iceberg. “But are you sure it’s Silence? Could it be another native woman?”

  Golding seemed stumped by that question. “Is there more Esquimaux women out here, Captain?”

  Crozier shook his head and gestured for the boy to continue leading.

  They reached the “polyanna,” as Golding continued calling it, about an hour and a half after leaving camp.

  “I thought you said it was farther out,” said Crozier.

  “I ain’t never been even this far before,” said Golding. “I was back there hunting seals when Mr. Des Voeux found the thing.” He gestured vaguely behind and to the left of where they now stood by the opening in the ice.

  “You said some of our people were injured?” asked Dr. Goodsir.

  “Yes, sir. Fat Alex Wilson had blood on his face.”

  “I thought you said it was George Cann who had a bloody face,” said Crozier.

  Golding shook his head emphatically. “Uh-uh, Captain. It was Fat Alex who were bloody.”

  “Was it his own blood or someone or something else’s?” asked Goodsir.

  “I don’t know,” Golding replied, his voice almost sullen-sounding. “Mr. Des Voeux just told me to have you bring your surgeon’s things. I figured someone had to be hurt, if Mr. Des Voeux needed you to fix ’im.”

  “Well, there’s no one around here,” said the bosun, John Lane, walking carefully around the ice edge of the polynya — which was no more than twenty-five feet across — and staring first down into the dark water eight feet lower than the ice and then back at the forest of seracs on all sides. “Where are they? Mr. Des Voeux had eight other men besides you with him when he left, Golding.”

  “I don’t know, Mr. Lane. This is where he told me to bring you.”

  Captain of the Hold Goddard cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Halloooo? Mr. Des Voeux? Hallooo?”

  There came an answering shout from their right. The voice was indistinct, muffled, but sounded excited.

  Motioning Golding back, Crozier led the way through the forest of twelve-foot-high ice seracs. The wind through the sculpted towers made a moaning, crooning sound, and they all knew that the serac edges were as sharp as knife blades and stronger than most ship knives.

  Ahead of them in the moonlight, in the center of a small, flat ice clearing amid the seracs, the dark form of one man stood alone.

  “If that’s Des Voeux,” Lane whispered to his captain, “he’s got eight men missing.”

  Crozier nodded. “John, William, you two go ahead — slowly — keep your shotguns ready and on half-cock. Dr. Goodsir, please be so kind as to stay back with me. Golding, you wait here.”

  “Aye, sir,” whispered William Goddard. He and John Lane tugged off their mittens with their teeth so they could use their gloved fingers, raised their weapons, half-cocked one of the heavy hammers on their double-barreled guns, and moved forward cautiously toward the moonlit clearing beyond the edge of the serac forest.

  A huge shadow came out from behind the last serac and slammed Lane’s and Goddard’s skulls together. The two men went down like cattle beneath a slaughterhouse sledgehammer.

  Another shadowy figure struck Crozier in the back of the head, pinned his arms behind his back when he tried to rise, and held a knife to his neck.

  Robert Golding grabbed Goodsir and set a long blade alongside his throat. “Don’t move, Doctor,” whispered the boy, “or I’ll do my own bit o’ surgery on you.”

  The huge shadow lifted Goddard and Lane by the scruff of their greatcoats and dragged them out into the ice clearing. The toes of their boots made grooves in the snow. A third man came from behind the seracs, picked up Goddard’s and Lane’s shotguns, handed one to Golding, and kept the other for himself.

  “Get out there,” said Richard Aylmore, gesturing with the barrels of the shotgun.

  With a knife still held to his throat by the shadowy shape Crozier now recognized by smell as the slackard George Thompson, the captain stood and half stumbled, was half pushed, out of the serac shadows and toward the man waiting in the moonlight.

  Magnus Manson dumped the bodies of Lane and Goddard in front of his master, Cornelius Hickey.

  “Are they alive?” rasped Crozier. The captain’s arms were still pinned behind him by Thompson, but now that the muzzles of two shotguns were trained on him, the blade was no longer at his throat.

  Hickey leaned over as if to inspect the men, and, with two smooth, easy moves, cut both their throats with a knife that had suddenly appeared in his hand.

  “Not now they ain’t alive, Mr. High-and-Mighty Crozier,” said the caulker’s mate.

  The blood pouring out onto the ice looked black in the moonlight.

  “Is that the technique you used to slaughter John Irving?” asked Crozier, his voice shaking with fury.

  “Fuck you,” said Hickey.

  Crozier glared at Robert Golding. “I hope you got your thirty pieces of silver.”

  Golding snickered.

  “George,” said the caulker’s mate to Thompson, standing behind the captain, “Crozier carries a pistol in his right greatcoat pocket. Pull it out. Dickie, you bring the pistol back to me. I
f Crozier moves, kill him.”

  Thompson removed the pistol while Aylmore kept his purloined shotgun aimed. Then Aylmore walked over, took the pistol and the box of cartridges Thompson had found, and backed away, shotgun raised again. He crossed the short moonlit space and handed the pistol to Hickey.

  “All this natural misery,” Dr. Goodsir said suddenly. “Why do you men have to add to it? Why does our species always have to take our full measure of God-given misery and terror and mortality and then make it worse? Can you answer me that, Mr. Hickey?”

  The caulker’s mate, Manson, Aylmore, Thompson, and Golding stared at the surgeon as if he had begun speaking Aramaic.

  So did the only other living man there, Francis Crozier.

  “What do you want, Hickey?” asked Crozier. “Other than more good men dead as meat for your trip?”

  “I want you to shut the fuck up and then die slow and hard,” said Hickey.

  Robert Golding laughed a demented boy’s laugh. The barrels of the shotgun he was holding beat a tattoo on the back of Goodsir’s neck.

  “Mr. Hickey,” said Goodsir, “you do realize, do you not, that I shall never serve your purposes by dissecting my shipmates.”

  Hickey showed his small teeth in the moonlight. “You will, surgeon. I guarantee you will. Or you’ll watch us cut your pieces off one at a time and then have us feed them to you.”

  Goodsir said nothing.

  “Tom Johnson and the others are going to find you,” Crozier said, never removing his gaze from Cornelius Hickey’s face.

  The caulker’s mate laughed. “Johnson already found us, Crozier. Or rather, we found ’im.”

  The caulker’s mate reached behind him and pulled a burlap bag from the snow. “What’d you always call Johnson in private, King Crozier? Your strong right arm? Here.” He tossed a naked and bloody right arm, severed just above the elbow, white bone gleaming, through the air and watched it land at Crozier’s feet.

  Crozier did not look down at it. “You pathetic little smear of spittle. You are — and always have been — nothing.”

  Hickey’s face contorted as if the moonlight were changing him into something nonhuman. His thin lips drew far back from his tiny teeth in a way that the others had seen only with scurvy victims in their last hours. His eyes showed something beyond madness, far beyond mere hatred.

  “Magnus,” said Hickey, “strangle the captain. Slow.”

  “Yes, Cornelius,” said Magnus Manson, and shuffled forward.

  Goodsir tried to rush forward, but the boy, Golding, held him fast with one hand while holding the shotgun to his head with the other.

  Crozier did not move a muscle as the giant lumbered toward him. When Manson’s shadow fell over both the captain and George Thompson holding him, Thompson himself flinched just a bit, Crozier sagged back, lunged forward, freed his left arm, and thrust his hand into the left pocket of his greatcoat.

  Golding almost pulled the shotgun’s trigger, thus almost blowing Goodsir’s head off by accident, so startled was he as the captain’s coat pocket burst into flame and the muted double boom of an explosion rolled past them and echoed back from the seracs.

  “Ouch,” said Magnus Manson, slowly raising his hands to his belly.

  “God-damn it,” Crozier said calmly. He had inadvertently fired both barrels of a two-shot pistol.

  “Magnus!” cried Hickey and rushed forward to the giant.

  “I think the captain shot me, Cornelius,” said Manson. The big man sounded confused and a little bemused.

  “Goodsir,” shouted Crozier amid the confusion. The captain whirled, kneed Thompson in the bollocks and broke free. “Run!”

  The surgeon tried. He pulled, shoved, and almost won his freedom before the younger Golding tripped him, knocked him onto his belly, and set the full pressure of his knee on Goodsir’s back and the full force of two shotgun barrels against the back of Goodsir’s skull.

  Crozier was loping for the seracs.

  Hickey calmly seized a shotgun from Richard Aylmore, aimed, and fired both barrels.

  The top of a serac splintered and fell at the same time that Crozier was thrown forward on his face, sliding on the ice and on a film of his own blood.

  Hickey handed the shotgun back and unbuttoned Manson’s coats and waistcoasts, ripping open the big man’s shirts and filthy undershirt. “Bring the fucking surgeon over here,” he shouted at Golding.

  “It don’t hurt much, Cornelius,” rumbled Magnus Manson. “Tickles, more like.”

  Golding shoved, prodded, and dragged Goodsir over. The surgeon put on his glasses and inspected the twin wounds. “I’m not certain, but I don’t believe the small-caliber bullets penetrated Mr. Manson’s subcutaneous fat, much less his muscle layer. It’s little more than two minor punctures, I fear. Now may I go attend to Captain Crozier, Mr. Hickey?”

  Hickey laughed.

  “Cornelius!” shouted Aylmore.

  Crozier, leaving a trail of blood and shredded outer clothing, had gotten to his knees and begun crawling toward the seracs and serac shadows. Now he painfully got to his feet. He staggered drunkenly toward the ice columns.

  Golding giggled and raised his shotgun.

  “No!” cried Hickey. He pulled Crozier’s big percussion-cap pistol from his coat pocket and took careful aim.

  Twenty feet from the seracs, Crozier looked back over his shredded shoulder.

  Hickey fired.

  The bullet spun Crozier around and dropped him to his knees. His body sagged, but he flailed and thrust one hand down onto the ice in an attempt to rise.

  Hickey took five steps forward and fired again.

  Crozier was thrown backward and lay on his back with only his knees in the air.

  Hickey took two more steps, aimed, and fired again. One of Crozier’s legs was knocked aside and down as the bullet tore through the knee or the muscle just below the knee. The captain made no sound.

  “Cornelius, honey.” Magnus Manson’s voice had the tone of an injured child. “My stomach is starting to hurt.”

  Hickey wheeled. “Goodsir, give him something for the pain.”

  The surgeon nodded. His voice, when he spoke, was very thin and very tight and very flat. “I brought an entire bottle of Dover’s Powder — mostly made from a derivative of the coca plant, sometimes called cocaine. I’ll give him that. All of it, if you like. With a chaser of Mandragora, laudanum, and morphine. That will take away the pain.” He reached into his medical kit.

  Hickey raised the pistol and aimed it at the surgeon’s left eye. “If you even make Magnus sick to his stomach, much less if your fucking hand comes out of that bag with a scalpel or other blade, I swear to fucking Christ I’ll shoot you in the balls and keep you alive long enough to make you eat them. Do you understand, Surgeon?”

  “I understand,” said Goodsir. “But it is the Hippocratic oath that determines my next actions.” He brought out a bottle and spoon and poured out a tiny bit of liquid morphine. “Sip this,” he said to the giant.

  “Thank you, Doctor,” said Magnus Manson. He slurped soundly.

  “Cornelius!” cried Thompson, pointing.

  Crozier was gone. Bloody smears led into the seracs.

  “Oh, fuck me,” said the caulker’s mate with a sigh. “This arsehole is more trouble than he is worth. Dickie, have you reloaded?” Hickey was reloading the pistol as he asked the question.

  “Aye,” said Aylmore, lifting the shotgun.

  “Thompson, pick up the extra shotgun I brought and stay here with Magnus and the surgeon. If the good doctor does anything at all that you don’t like — even farts — blow his private parts off.”

  Thompson nodded. Golding giggled. Hickey with his pistol and Golding and Aylmore with their shotguns advanced slowly across the moonlit ice and then tentatively, single file, into the forest of seracs and shadows.

  “He could be hard to find in here,” whispered Aylmore as they stepped into the stripes of moonlight and darkness.

 
“I don’t think so,” said Hickey, and pointed at the broad smear of blood that led straight ahead between the ice columns like a telegraph code of black dots and dashes between the shadows.

  “He still has a little pistol with him,” whispered Aylmore, moving cautiously from serac to serac.

  “Fuck him and fuck his pistol,” said Hickey, striding straight ahead, his boots slipping a bit on the blood and ice.

  Golding giggled loudly. “Fuck him and fuck his little pistol,” he said in a singsong voice, snickering again.

  The blood trail ended forty feet in at the black polynya. Hickey rushed forward and stared down at where the horizontal smears became vertical smears on the side of the eight-foot ice slab. Something had gone into the water here.

  “God-damn it to God-damn fucking hell,” cried Hickey, pacing back and forth. “I wanted to put that last bullet into the high-and-mighty king’s fucking face while he watched, God-damn him. He robbed me.”

  “Look, Mr. Hickey, sir,” said Golding, giggling. He pointed to what might be a body floating facedown in the dark water.

  “It’s only the fucking coat,” said Aylmore, who had come cautiously out of the shadows with his shotgun raised.

  “Only the fucking coat,” repeated Robert Golding.

  “So he’s dead down there,” said Aylmore. “Can we get out of here before Des Voeux or someone comes to the sound of all the shooting? It’s two days back to the others and we still have the bodies to cut up before we can leave.”

  “No one’s going anywhere yet,” said the caulker’s mate. “Crozier may still be alive.”

  “All shot up like that, without his coat?” asked Aylmore. “And look at the greatcoat, Cornelius. The shotgun tore it apart.”

  “He may still be alive. We’re going to make sure he’s not. And maybe the body will float to the surface.”

  “What are you going to do?” asked Aylmore. “Shoot his dead body?”

  Hickey wheeled on the man and glared, making the much-taller Aylmore step back. “Yes,” said Cornelius Hickey. “That’s precisely what I’m going to do.” To Golding he barked, “Go bring Thompson and Magnus and the surgeon. We’ll tie up the doctor tight to one of them seracs while Aylmore and Thompson and me search and you watch over Magnus and cut Lane and Goddard into small enough to haul easylike bits.”

 
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