Geist - - The Hand Of Franklin -

ir John Franklin is in a mar­ry­ing mood that se­cond sum­mer. By the mid­dle of June, he’s made matches for most of the Royal Marines; come July, he turns his at­ten­tion to the men of Ter­ror’s fore­top. Ru­mours flurry: there’s to be a mass wed­ding on St. Swithin’s Day, fol­lowed by hon­ey­moons for all—stag­gered through the fall, of course, in or­der to keep the ships manned. Franklin is said to be tak­ing care of the flo­ral ar­range­ments him­self, not to men­tion work­ing on per­son­al­ized vows for each cou­ple. If his ob­ject is to dis­tract the men from the Arc­tic’s white monotony, well then, yes, good job. And this, too, is true, the men agree: it’s been months since they’ve seen Sir John so cheery.

But while, to a man, the Marines are flat­tered by their com­man­der’s at­ten­tions, even those who are long since well and fully mar­ried, the fore­top­men take a prick­lier view. The last thing they want af­ter a long day high up in the shrouds is to be wor­ry­ing about woo­ing wives.

Henry Sait: “It’s very ap­prooshi­ated but I’m wed­ded to my ca­reer.”

Sa­muel Crispe: “Tell you some truth, I have an idea of wait­ing ’til I have some sav­ings put away. Plus mother would have to meet her.” Ge­orge Kin­naird: “Gr­rrr.” Harry Peglar: “Some­one should say some­thing.” When the Marines hear the grum­bling, they take it per­son­ally, as Marines so of­ten do. Sergeant Solomon Tozer, bristling: “You lot don’t know how to take a com­pli­ment. Think of the trou­ble he’s tak­ing, find­ing us all fi­ancées. You think he does it for an­other hobby?”

The wind blows. The sun dwin­dles. The ice waits. Win­ter has al­ready be­gun to close the lit sum­mer days in the lee of King William’s ac­cursed is­land. Soon Ter­ror and Ere­bus will be locked again in win­ter’s long blind­ness. Af­ter sum­mer


weeks free of worry the men, whose big con­cern is the blood slowly freez­ing in their veins, ask again, how likely is that? “Not very, I don’t think,” Mr. Good­sir, the As­sis­tant Sur­geon, tells them, “but let me get back to you.”

“What about a guitar?” says Cap­tain Fitz­james, when the talk turns again to what to get Sir John for his birth­day. Cap­tain Crozier nods. “We’ll put it on the list.” Al­though, of course, they’ve al­ready dis­cussed gui­tars, and ban­joes, guitar lessons, Van Mor­rison tickets, rul­ing them all out for one good rea­son and an­other. Guitar, Crozier writes any­way. “More ideas. What else?”

You never see the head­hunters. You hear them, some­times, a bump, snow crunch, sneezes. Rarely. They lurk in the gloom. Or­ders are shoot them if you have to, catch one if you can. Sir John prom­ises a sov­er­eign to any man who can hold one, bind him, keep him.

Sir John still wor­ries. The seals may be beaten, cowed even, but the head­hunters—he has a feel­ing the head­hunters are coming back. It’s more than a feel­ing: he knows they will be.

“Cow­ing the seals,” he tells him­self, “is twice the work of seal­ing the cows.”

He lights a new cig­a­rette from old, lapses into gang­ster dreams star­ring Humphrey Bog­art, Peter Lorre. Pre­tend­ing a Tommy gun with cradling hands, he mas­sacres the cabin with a raw laugh from a sore throat.

The ache of lone­li­ness. The asthma of re­spon­si­bil­ity. The arthri­tis of com­mand. The whoop­ing cough of… ac­tual whoop­ing cough. Dr. Stan­ley sug­gests a cig­a­rette cure. “Let’s try that,” he says. “Can’t hurt.”

“Righty-o,” says Sir John. “Can I put on my shirt?”

The Men Who Stop Look­ing at the Sky don’t tell any­body they’ve stopped look­ing at the sky: that’s im­por­tant to say.

AU­TUMN, 1846

Michael­mas. The sum­mer light dis­solves. Snow starts, black­eyed flakes that fall like the shreds of some­body’s news­pa­per. The sea fas­tens. When the ships are bound, be­set, all of a piece with the north, white of the white­ness in the dark of the night­ness, work­ing par­ties raise the deck­tents, rope lines across from Ter­ror to Ere­bus.

There’s sup­posed to be a process in place gov­ern­ing the se­lec­tion of the ex­pe­di­tion play but no­body seems to know what it is. A lot of them in the God­spell camp swear that they voted at the same time, on the same ballot, when they elected not to send out a res­cue party. Not so, says William Wentzall, act­ing spokesman for the suc­cess­ful Three Sis­ters bid: “If you didn’t tick the box to opt out of Chekhov’s beloved clas­sic when you signed your muster pa­pers, then too bad for you.”

So there’s re­sent­ment. The black­smiths feel es­pe­cially ag­grieved due to the lack of met­al­lur­gi­cal roles in Chekhov’s oeu­vre gen­er­ally, and there’s talk among them of how they want to go about mak­ing their point. A go-slow, work-torule, wild­cat strike? No. It’s the same old story; they end up hav­ing to feed their frus­tra­tions into smash­ing a ham­mer on an anvil.

Able Sea­man John Morfin, tabbed to di­rect, has to put this be­hind him. He can’t have it in front of him. He’s a con­tro­ver­sial choice for some be­cause, well, what are his the­atri­cal bona fides? No­body knows. The fact that he’s the one with the clip­board and the fierce opin­ions on how to stage an in­ti­mate pro­duc­tion with­out los­ing sight of the uni­ver­sal­ity of the provin­cial Pro­zorovs, is that not enough? For him, he feels this is the work that his ca­reer as a naval rat­ing has been lead­ing up to. He’s eas­ily miffed by questions, ques­tion­ing looks, un­friendly blink­ing. It does seem like he’s al­ready cast the pro­duc­tion


ahead of the au­di­tions and if so, that’s not fair. At the first readthrough, an­other sur­prise: he’s ren­o­vated the script, re­ar­ranged and, to a cer­tain ex­tent, rewrit­ten the play, in­clud­ing shift­ing many of the lines orig­i­nally al­lo­cated to the An­drey Sergeye­vich Pro­zorov (Boatswain Thomas Terry) to a new char­ac­ter, the Stage Man­ager (Caulker’s Mate Fran­cis Dunn), bor­rowed more or less whole­sale from Thorn­ton Wilder’s Our Town. “Yes, yes, I know,” John Morfin says, ad­dress­ing cast and crew in the ac­tor’s lounge, “ev­ery­body’s got an opin­ion. Let’s just give me a chance. Why not?”

Petty Of­fi­cer Luke Smith is the only one who ac­tu­ally both­ers to look for pas­sages, North­west or oth­er­wise. “I’ll take the first one I can find,” he tells Ed­win Work, who’s as much of a friend as he has on the ex­pe­di­tion. “Any one will do.” Smith dons oil­skins, hob­nailed boots, as­trakhan hat, mon­ster mit­tens. Checks his satchel: can­dles, cord, whis­tle. Okay. Good. Scoops from a pock­eted bag of trail mix, of­fers a laden hand to Ed­win Work. “Do you eat Brazil nuts?”

No, thanks. Ed­win Work watches as his for­lorn friend trudges out into the Arc­tic gloam­ing. He doesn’t have the heart to stop wav­ing un­til Smith’s lan­tern finds the hori­zon, blinks out, gone.

As Elec­tion Day ap­proaches, Sir John faces hard questions on the cam­paign trail, in­clud­ing Am I re­ally bet­ter off to­day than I was five years ago? and What ever hap­pened to us all get­ting mar­ried? He’s the lis­tener, the look-you-in-the-eye can­di­date, cham­pion of I-know-the-mid­dle-class-is-strug­gling, let’s-you-and-me-do-some­thing-about-that. “No new taxes,” he says. At his ral­lies he boasts: when no one else was will­ing to deal with the threat posed by the Men Who’ve Stopped Look­ing at the Sky, he didn’t hes­i­tate.

When Thomas Jopson re­calls the day in Portsmouth when the in­stall­ers came, he thinks of Mrs. Franklin, such a lovely woman, ask­ing af­ter his fam­ily, jok­ing that he was her only ri­val in Sir John’s af­fec­tions, which could have been awk­ward, and maybe should have been, but wasn’t—at all.

She wouldn’t come aboard. Wouldn’t take Sir John’s kiss or the card he’d made, slapped his reach­ing hand away—play­fully? When she’d gone, Sir John su­per­vised the work of the tele­phone men, hov­er­ing, a ques­tion at each new tool they pro­duced. What’s this red wire for, the blue? When he said, “Let’s just keep this be­tween us, yes?” Thomas Jopson wasn’t a hun­dred per cent sure whether that in­cluded him, too.

No­body knows what Sir John is work­ing on in his lit­tle lab—some kind of for­mula that smells of licorice. There are ru­mours, of course—of a time ma­chine; of laser-spec­ta­cles; some kind of am­phibi­ous ro­bot, now in his last wiring, named Bar­row. The smart money is on Purser Orme’s no­tion that Sir John is brew­ing a cure for cu­rios­ity: only when they lose all in­ter­est in what he’s up to will they know that he’s suc­ceeded.

Gouts and gob­bets of snow fall. Snow clumps and clots. It heaps as only snow can: high. It plays tricks, shows off, pro­vides its own ice. Sifts, salts. It foothills and moun­tains. It builds its own snow­men, mobs of snow­men be­tween the two ships, masses them there, be­fore van­ish­ing them with a few blasts of winds. Snow flours and bak­ing so­das.

Of­ten­times, while the men are busy with play prac­tice, art class, Math­let­ics, Sir John con­tin­ues his hasty searches through their per­sonal ef­fects. Back in his cabin, he forces him­self to read ev­ery line of ev­ery con­fis­cated re­sumé and cover let­ter as though he’s the one who’s hir­ing. There’s no deny­ing it: this re­ally is a fan­tas­tic crew he’s got here.

At Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil, Mon­day morn­ing, first o’clock, Sir John calls on Fitz­james to walk them through the fall cal­en­dar. Fash­ion Week, Gold


Rush Days, Día de los Muer­tos, Spa Mon­day. He works quickly through the list while Sir John takes notes. He writes hastily, dash­ing his pen across the page, but it’s not enough to keep him from drows­ing. Cap­tain Crozier, for his part, lets his at­ten­tion drift. He wishes he could stop look­ing at the sky. What I wouldn’t give, he thinks.

Look­ing for a bit of peace be­tween watches, a quiet cor­ner, the com­fort of po­ems, sanc­tu­ary in a story, the men slip down to the li­brary when­ever the op­por­tu­nity arises—only to find Le­muel Blanky scowl­ing at them by the door. In his reg­u­lar work as Master’s Mate he’s friendly as a cat, quick with a joke, ea­ger to lend his hand. At the busi­ness cen­tre, too—just very pro­fes­sional. It’s a whole other story at the li­brary, a nasty one that makes the men won­der whether it’s bet­ter just to steer clear.

He sits there at the lit­tle desk with the tiny globe and the mini date stam­per, the diminu­tive In and Out boxes, the wee gavel. Why, he’d like to know, is every­thing so feck­ing small? Not to men­tion new. As Master’s Mate he’s used to worn down old tools, an­cient stink­ing ropes, de­crepi­tude and brown rot—the new­ness of the li­brary is what of­fends his own de­nuded, cal­loused, limp­ing self. The books, all those gleam­ing new­borns clad in morocco and gold. When no one’s there he prowls the cabin, crack­ing spines for spite be­fore he turns to the reshelv­ing.

“I’m as sur­prised as any­one,” Sir John is heard to say not long af­ter declar­ing that he’s lost in­ter­est in the lab­o­ra­tory. “I don’t have any­thing to hide,” he says in his press re­lease, “and no re­grets. I’ll look back on this as a spe­cial time in my life.”

Thomas Jopson cleans up. Test tubes strewn amid dirty beakers, crum­pled pe­ri­odic ta­bles, the dry, white stains on table­tops, the chem­i­cal crys­tals, un­stopped tinc­tures, like the tomb of a lost civ­i­liza­tion of sloppy al­chemists.

Sir John, with help­ful in­tent and even kind­ness: “Why must you say I’ve been to shop­ping?”

Cap­tain Crozier: “I’m sorry?” Sir John: “You al­ways say I’ve been to shop­ping.”

Cap­tain Crozier: “Well, I don’t—i’ve been to the shop­ping?”

Sir John: “No, no: I’ve been shop­ping. That’s what you say. There’s no to. No need for it.”

Cap­tain Crozier: “I’ve been to—i’ve been shop­ping. I see.”

The Men Who Hear Church­bells hear them clearly, as though they were them­selves stand­ing in the church­yard, strolling up for even­song. They don’t hear them ev­ery hour or even ev­ery day; they do al­ways end up weep­ing.

The Birth­day Board comes to a de­ci­sion: this year, they’re tak­ing Sir John out for sup­per to cel­e­brate. “What’s his favourite restau­rant?” says Crozier, who never knows these things. “Beg a par­don?” says Fitz­james, who gen­er­ally does. What they both un­der­stand is that their com­man­der’s trou­bled restau­rant his­tory can’t be ig­nored. Some­thing about Sir John in a restau­rant—as ev­ery King William bistro and brasserie has learned, all the steak­houses and bode­gas, the lit­tle sushi huts with the ici­cle lights adorn­ing their awnings—he can’t just sit there and en­joy his sup­per like a nor­mal per­son. The bois­ter­ous or­der­ing, crying out com­mands to the kitchen, in­spect­ing the cut­lery, bliz­zard­ing his food with salt. The cap­tains are di­vided on what it re­flects; de­light or boor­ish­ness, maybe a brew of the both?

What about Gian­carlo’s? He’s open­ing up a new lo­ca­tion in the new ho­tel—may be al­ready open. Ev­ery­body loves the old chef, not to men­tion his wife/som­me­lier Magda, a fa­mous beauty who may also be the nicest per­son in the whole of the east­ern Arc­tic. Plus, it’s been a while since Crozier had a good scal­lop­ini. “And you know,”


he tells Fitz­james, “how I do en­joy a scal­lop­ini.”

No­body speaks of the Seal War, but seal dread still wakes the men up and their screams split the night. Oh, yes. Even though the seals have not re­turned since the day of their de­feat. That’s the deal for the seals— you lose the war, you get the hell out of these parts, fair­ness and square­ness.

John Morfin’s actors are a mut­ter­ing bunch, a clutch of whis­per­ers, a band of try­ing-to-re­mem­ber tap­pers of fin­gers to lips. Out be­yond the bounds of re­hearsal, they work on their lines, on tone, rhythm, in­ten­sity, as they go about their du­ties. What be­gins as a wres­tle with an an­gry stranger be­comes a con­ver­sa­tion with your soul. That’s John Morfin talk­ing; that’s what he tells them. As the actors grow more con­fi­dent with their parts some of them seem to be div­ing so deep into their char­ac­ters that they don’t have any room to be them­selves. “I don’t mind,” John Morfin tells John Cowie (An­fisa). “I’m not say­ing it’s the health­i­est, but it’s not go­ing to kill you, ei­ther.”

The men who take it upon them­selves to get at chop­ping the ships out of the ice en­joy Sir John’s whole­hearted sup­port. They tell him they’re mak­ing progress. They show him the ice they’ve got piled up astern Ere­bus. “Poor id­iots,” Sir John tells Fitz­james. “But hey—what­ever floats your boat, right?”

The Men Who Hear the Th­wock of Ten­nis Balls take no plea­sure in… well, any of it. The idea that some­where nearby there may be a ten­nis game un­der­way that they can hear but not see is, to them, not as charm­ing as it might be to some­one who’s not con­demned to what feels like a life sen­tence in a frozen prison hulk. They never won­der what the score is. Mem­o­ries of Wim­ble­don he­roes do not leap to mind. They spend no time try­ing to chase the source of the thwock­ing. Doesn’t in­ter­est them.

The Men Who Hear Church­bells hon­estly be­lieve that their moral su­pe­ri­or­ity is be­yond dis­pute. They think church­bells re­flect on the lives they’ve lived and are liv­ing and show God’s good opin­ion of them. Not say­ing it’s wrong to hear the th­wock of ten­nis balls but it’s not ex­actly dig­ni­fied. Not say­ing it’s evil but come on, be hon­est: doesn’t it kind of seem a bit like a re­port card on your char­ac­ter?

The wind is a big elec­tion is­sue, as is the grub. A lot of the elec­torate who show up to take a ride on Sir John’s horse want to talk about tax cuts. What’s he of­fer­ing there? “Care­ful, now,” Sir John tells them. “Ran­goon tends to be a bit of a biter.”

Mutiny looks like one of the big ballot box questions. Asked about his stance, Sir John crowds his eye­brows to­gether. The key here is not to give away too much be­fore you know ex­actly where the voter stands. “It’s a scourge,” he says, “a scurvy. Have you heard, by the way, about our tough-on­scurvy agenda?”

At Steer­ing Com­mit­tee, they speak of vict­ualling and cordage, cooper­ing, of leak­ages, oakum, fresh wa­ter, morale. There’s almost no dis­cus­sion at all of ac­tual steer­ing—stuck fast, they hold off on nav­i­ga­tion talk. They do fo­cus on fleet se­cu­rity: any sight­ings by sen­tries of seals or head­hunters? No and no. Fitz­james al­lows him­self a grin. “By the Lord Harry,” he says. “Who would have thunk it?”

“To go back to Moscow,” says Giles Mcbean, Se­cond Master (Irina). “To sell the house, to make an end to every­thing here, and off to Moscow…”

It’s ac­cepted as a mat­ter of faith among the men that they will live for­ever. Forever­more is what some of them say to them­selves. Also: foreveryever. There are dif­fer­ent con­ven­tions re­gard­ing the rules by which this prom­ise of eter­nity is gov­erned. Some talk of a deal hav­ing been struck with an agent of the Devil, of­ten iden­ti­fied as Roger Ver­recky, Ice Master. Most be­lieve that if you talk about ev­ery­body’s im­mor­tal­ity you’ll an­nul the whole deal. For ev­ery­body or just your­self? No­body’s too clear


on this, so no­body dares to take a chance by ask­ing the ques­tion, or any ques­tion.

To a man, the Ter­ror crew be­lieves that the big wal­rus that likes to sun it­self on the ice off the port bow is if not God him­self at least on God’s pay­roll, keep­ing an eye. On Ere­bus they think the same of the cheeky ful­mar who perches each morn­ing on the ship’s bell to squawk for mut­ton. Terry, they call him, and let him feed straight from the tin. He re­wards them with skies a blue mile high and ever­last­ing ice.

Sir John hears the th­wock of ten­nis balls. To him, they sound like first serves. It never oc­curs to him that they might not be in.

P.O. Smith drags him­self over one more hum­mock. His heart is full. His head is heavy. It’s been an hour al­ready since he caught sight of the ships but all the trudg­ing he’s do­ing doesn’t seem to be bring him any closer to home. He’s not him­self. He knows that. It doesn’t mat­ter: so long as he can de­liver his mes­sage to Sir John Whathishoo­ley, that’s what mat­ters. It’s an­other hour be­fore he fi­nally reaches Ter­ror’s side. It’s not easy, with a frozen head, to get him­self aboard. It gets worse when it starts to thaw. It’s hard to speak and to think what he might have to say. He waits for words, then for his voice, which sounds bot­tled. “Found it,” Smith fi­nally says, point­ing, “over there, that way.”

The first time Thomas Jopson an­swers the tele­phone, he keeps his eyes closed. A woman’s voice says, “Not now doesn’t mean not never.”

With­out a war, the War Coun­cil strug­gles to find en­ergy and fo­cus. Smok­ing their cigar­il­los in Crozier’s cabin, drink­ing their claret, play­ing an­other hand of Whist, they even­tu­ally have to con­cede that none of them ac­tu­ally knows the rules of Whist. “Not even a sin­gle rule,” says Fitz­james, who’s as amazed as the rest of them. “Not a man jack of us.” But even as they’re all shar­ing a good laugh, no one wants to be the first to throw down his cards. Sun­days there’s di­vine ser­vice, fol­lowed by Sir John open­ing up the floor to dis­cus­sion. “FAQ,” he’ll of­ten say, even when the Q in ques­tion isn’t FA, or even (for that mat­ter) a Q at all. The Men Who’ve Stopped Look­ing at the Sky aren’t in­vited: once they’ve said their prayers Marines march them away.

Sir John smiles. “FAQ: how we all do­ing to­day?”

“Pass the word,” says one of the mates, Hornby, and the word passes: “Any­one know how to play Whist?”

When the Marines bring up the Men Who’ve Stopped Look­ing at the Sky, the rest of the men make a close study of how it might be pos­si­ble to avoid the look­ing. With the sky right there and all it just seems like you’d have to be work­ing very hard to keep from mak­ing eye con­tact. Cap­tain Fitz­james is about to crack his knuck­les when he re­mem­bers that he hurts him­self when­ever he cracks his knuck­les. He must be do­ing it wrong. “You can’t force a man to look at the sky,” he tells Lieu­tenant Fairholme, “but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.”

A sea­man presents him­self. They bring him in to see Cap­tain Crozier. What about Cut­throat Whist? Will Cut­throat Whist do?

WIN­TER, 1846

The se­cond time the tele­phone rings, Thomas Jopson stands at at­ten­tion. The ring­ing is more of a rat­tling. He waits un­til it stops be­fore he sits back down.

Par­ents’ Night is a bust.

Sun­day af­ter­noon, while the men are en­joy­ing the big Grey Cup party, the Marines form up on deck un­der Sir John’s watch­ful eye be­fore march­ing to Ter­ror’s busi­ness cen­tre amid­ships. A cor­po­ral se­cures the pho­to­copier. One of the pri­vates puts his bay­o­net through a ream of pa­per and has


to be spo­ken to about ex­u­ber­ance.

The first Le­muel Blanky learns of it is when he finds a sen­try on the door. Why should H.M.’S Navy be help­ing men who are try­ing to leave her? That’s what Sir John wants to know. It’s been a long time since his ire was stirred like this, the thought of all this Navy pa­per, the printer car­tridges, used up for re­sumés, the damned gall of the thing. He makes a fist. It’s not the first time he’s chewed all the way through a cig­a­rette, prob­a­bly not the last.

Out on the stump, Sir John says, “I’d ap­pre­ci­ate your vote” and “Vote!” Peo­ple are telling him they’re tired of the old pol­i­tics, the old way of do­ing pol­i­tics. They want a new way, a new do. “Me too,” Sir John says. “Why the hell not?”

In his cabin, in front of the not-big-enough mir­ror Sir John tries on cos­tume af­ter cos­tume: the Robin Hood, the Ho­ra­tio Nel­son, the Jane Austen. He smokes his cigar­illo, sips his dou­ble espresso. In wist­ful mo­ments he thinks of what it would mean to have been born a hun­dred years ear­lier, or two. Would he have been a good knight? A king? What about a bow­man in green fringes, cham­pion of the peo­ple, hero of the leafy woods? Maidenly Mar­ian wait­ing for him in the secret place by the secret river, ly­ing with long legs and sleepy smile on the for­est floor with her plen­ti­ful pic­nic. Though if the river it­self were secret, would it re­ally be nec­es­sary to keep the place by it—the ren­dezvous—so very hush-hush, too? The words her plen­ti­ful pic­nic make him laugh. His imag­i­na­tion drifts hence­for­ward to the decks of search­ing ships, with he­li­copters and speedy Zo­di­acs, side-scan­ning sonar; he re­ally would have been a great searcher in the nor­thy north, wear­ing his big red Canada Goose and po­lar­ized sun­glasses, scour­ing the shores of Ere­bus Bay, and head­ing for Vic­tory Point on a snow ma­chine, think of that, a ma­chine made of snow! And in­tro­duc­ing Mar­ian to Peter Mans­bridge, who’s clearly wowed, and telling him I think we’re close and then wait­ing for the Prime Min­is­ter to come and to be shak­ing ev­ery­body’s hand and say­ing, yes, it was a great mo­ment when we re­al­ized we had the bas­tard be­neath us, gave us the shiv­ers, Your Grace, hard to sit still, and giv­ing the PM a look at the beau­ti­ful brassy sonar im­ages say­ing—ly­ing—oh, no, your em­i­nence, we don’t yet know which ship of them she is.

John Morfin knows ex­actly, down to the minute, when his cast is ready to go: when they ac­tu­ally go. “No, I’m not re­ally sur­prised,” he tells Crozier when it’s dis­cov­ered that all of them—olga, Masha, Irina, all the Army of­fi­cers—have de­parted. For Moscow? John Morfin nods. “I as­sume. I hope so.” His smile is rue­ful. “I think I al­ways knew this is how it was go­ing to end. A part of me knew.”

Crozier: “In some ways, it’s a great tri­umph. I bet Chekhov would have said so.”

At the secret trial of the Men Who’ve Stopped Look­ing at the Sky, Sir John ar­gues both for and against the ac­cused and why, if it please the court, the sky must al­ways be looked at as well as, if a man chooses to cease re­gard­ing it, what does that mat­ter to sky or man? “Are we not free to de­cide,” he thun­ders, “as well as duty bound never to stray from the path we’re walk­ing down?”

Thomas Jopson pleads in­no­cence to the last. “This is a mis­take,” he says. He doesn’t hear bells or balls, shirks from noth­ing. “I look. Please. Ask any­one. That’s pretty much all I do.”

Sir John leaves the court ex­hausted. His calves ache and while he can see his hands he can’t feel them. In his cabin he banks the ashes in the stove. He thinks of sup­per­ing but falls asleep in­stead, with­out un­dress­ing, drool­ing like an in­fant, never once shift­ing his weight the whole night through. In the morn­ing he wakes up sore, know­ing what he has to do. He takes his boots off and puts them back on, touches the tas­sel on his sabre and stokes the stove be­fore go­ing out to the fo’c’sle to gulp


the caus­tic air. In the mo­ment that the ex­e­cu­tion party takes aim and fires, Sir John con­demns and par­dons the doomed ex­on­er­ated dead men. Some of them use their last words to ap­peal to Terry, oth­ers to curse his feath­ers.

Exit polls point to a slen­der win for Sir John but when all the votes are counted, a sur­prise: he’s run­ning se­cond be­hind the Net­si­lik mod­er­ate In-nook-poo-zhe­jook. “It’s dis­ap­point­ing,” he tells his cam­paign work­ers, “but those fellers ran one hell of a cam­paign. Thank you all for your hard work.” In pri­vate to Crozier, he can only shake his head. “No use rak­ing the ashes,” he says. “I hope they know what they’ve voted for. I hope they re­al­ize what’s at stake here.”


e don’t know how they lured Sir John to the Ocean­view: the his­tory of the ruse is sim­ply per­ma­nently lost. What­ever Sir John did or didn’t sus­pect, we know that it was the clerk at re­cep­tion who ru­ined the sur­prise as he checked Sir John in, and that the clerk’s name was Carl, and that he was the one to frown over a prob­lem with Sir John’s credit card. We know that Sir John was dis­ap­pointed to dis­cover that the Ocean­view wasn’t a ho­tel made en­tirely of ice, as he’d read some­where. We know, too, that when he laid his palms on the front desk, he felt the names of previous guests and their spilled im­pa­tience soak­ing up from the cool creamy mar­ble into his hands.

We have it on good author­ity that Sir John was pleased with his room, a Strait-view ju­nior suite on the fifth floor—thrilled. We know that he went around open­ing clos­ets and draw­ers and that his en­thu­si­asm was such that it in­fected the bell­man, Emilio, and pos­si­bly even made his day. It was from Emilio that Sir John learned that the sev­enth floor was in­deed made en­tirely of ice, but that you had to book it months in ad­vance. “That makes sense,” he said. We know that Sir John’s first act once Emilio had closed the door was to check out the ex­pen­sive snacks in the mini-bar. With­out rul­ing out help­ing him­self later, he turned to what seemed like more of a pri­or­ity: trans­fer­ring all gratis soaps, sham­poos, sewing kits, and sta­tionery to his suit­case.

It’s not out of the ques­tion that clerk Carl, see­ing Sir John leav­ing the el­e­va­tor on his re­turn to the lobby, felt the need to bus­tle over to ex­plain that the trou­ble wasn’t so much to do with Sir John’s credit card as it was that some­times, if some­body was send­ing a fax at the same time as some­one else was try­ing to process a pay­ment, the ma­chine crapped out. Sir John was in full rear­ad­mi­ral kit now, sword and spyglass, sextant in its holster. The head­hunters he saw chat­ting on the big lobby couches were, he as­sumed, off the clock. Find­ing his way to the con­fer­ence level by way of the mez­za­nine, he paid cash for an early-bird pass to the job fair and took a turn through the aisles of booths car­ry­ing his hat. He saw that while there were good jobs to be had—guides, wait­ers, tree-planters, an­i­ma­teurs, English-as-a-sec­ond­lan­guage teach­ers—they were largely sea­sonal jobs. We know that he signed up for a Fri­day In­ter­view­ing Skills Ses­sion and that in ev­ery case in which brochures, flyers, coupons or cat­a­logues were made avail­able by ex­hibitors, he took them and clutched them to his medals.

It’s pos­si­ble that as the sailors from Ter­ror and Ere­bus filed into the back room at Pe­paiola, the sense was strong in the air that this was a night to which his­to­ri­ans would re­turn in years to study, recre­at­ing it in colour­ful de­tail as the stan­dard open­ing scene in their books about the Franklin Ex­pe­di­tion, with­out men­tion­ing that the


pre­vail­ing smell was that of br­uschetta. We can say with the con­fi­dence of eye­wit­nesses that the room it­self was done up as a con­vinc­ing jun­gle. Palm trees curved up from swales of ex­otic fern. A mon­key screeched as the steamy mist parted to re­veal a thick stand of bam­boo, over by the rough vil­lage in the cor­ner. Magda stood by the door in a long, mag­nif­i­cent turtleneck dress adorned with what seemed to be tiny mir­rors, so that the men, even as they ogled her, found their own nasty faces leer­ing back at them, thou­san­di­fied—very off-putting. Be­cause there wasn’t enough room in the back for all the sailors, Magda acted as gate­keeper/bouncer. You, you and you, she said, not you, you. No one dis­puted her, ar­gued. They waited on her word, star­ing at them­selves in her shoul­der while she de­cided their fates.

We do have sev­eral ac­counts of the sur­prise that Sir John feigned even as he felt none. We know that when Magda stopped by to say hello and happy birth­day, she held Sir John’s el­bow lightly in her hand as they talked. He thanked her and said that as an ex­plorer, he was obliged to ask her where she’d found all this jun­gle stuff here in the Arc­tic, the suc­cu­lents and Mayan ru­ins, the plaster ocelots.

At nine, just be­fore the presents, Sir John slipped away. No­body saw. The light in the lobby was bright un­der­wa­ter light, every­thing a lit­tle larger than life-size and trem­bling. It’s pos­si­ble that as he passed by the el­e­va­tors he as­sumed the slight­est of limps but if so, who’s to say why? He took a pic­ture with a hand­some fam­ily of French tourists and the mother said what about one with your sword drawn and Sir John said he wasn’t re­ally al­lowed to do that but what the hey, and then af­ter that he took an­other one with a lit­tle boy who made a truly ter­ri­ble face at his fa­ther’s cam­era that kind of set the tone for the rest of his life, though no one could have known that at the time.

We can’t guess what was on Sir John’s mind as he took a stool in the ho­tel bar. There was a ball game on the ra­dio and he asked what the score was and the bar­tender opened his mouth to say but paused, smiled, as though catch­ing him­self about to lie. He said he’d find out but then never did or for­got. Sir John or­dered a half-litre of Aus­tralian shi­raz. For the bar­tender’s ben­e­fit he pre­tended, as you do, to con­sider its qual­i­ties. He was still look­ing through the bar menu when the bar­tender came back and said Sir John had a phone call. The bar­tender pro­duced a ready phone from un­der the bar dif­fer­ent from the one he must have first an­swered and with one hand deftly guided the cord and the bell vi­brated in the phone when he put it down. When he lifted the re­ceiver for Sir John, Sir John made a face, mostly with his eye­brows, to con­firm For me? and the bar­tender re­sponded with his eye­brows, uh-huh, yep, en­cour­ag­ing, even hope-filled, and Sir John stretched his mouth wide as if it had been a long time since he’d talked to any­one and he needed to lim­ber up to make sure he could speak and then he was lean­ing for­ward, el­bows on the bar and his eyes went up to where the rec­om­mended wines were writ­ten on the chalk­board amid draw­ings of corkscrews and he waited while who­ever was on the other end waited, too, and then Sir John Franklin said, “Yes, hello. Hello there. Go ahead.” Stephen Smith has writ­ten for the Globe and Mail, Toronto Life, Cana­dian Geo­graphic, Out­side, Quill & Quire and the New York Times Mag­a­zine. He lives in Toronto and at puck­


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