At 7:46 pm, on March 29, 1847, John Gregory, the engineer, looked at William Pilkington, the marine, across the dinner table in the forecastle of Erebus, and then leaned over to give him the tenderest kiss the seamen surrounding the two had ever seen.
What followed was significantly less tender. William Pilkington pulled off John Gregory's coat and hurriedly opened his shirt, snapping off half his buttons in the process. Gregory managed to grip both Pilkington's trousers and long underwear at once, and pulled them halfway down his thighs. The two men half-stumbled, half-pushed each other to the floor and began grinding their bodies together right there between the rows of tables while their stupefied crew mates looked on.
The audience didn't stay frozen forever, though. After their initial shock, a few men scrambled to pull the crewmen apart -- only to find their hands full of disheveled men who turned their attentions on the sailors holding them instead. Despite the kisses and gropes, they managed to wrestle the amorous men to makeshift brigs.
These were the facts relayed to Mr. Goodsir when he arrived on the scene, summoned by a runner from Captain Fitzjames from business at the far bow of the ship, and he duly wrote them down in the notebook he carried with him. The captain had ordered him to look into the matter, and any part of it could be important.
Seamen and petty officers loitered about the edges of the room and in the passages. It was near the time for most of these men to retire for the night, but they couldn't hang their hammocks until the forecastle was cleared. There was little for the men to do now but stand and converse and complain under their breath. Mr. Goodsir went about the business of investigation under their restless eyes.
The forecastle looked much as it always did to Mr. Goodsir, save that Captain Fitzjames' order to clear the area made the large room the emptiest he'd ever seen it since starting this voyage. Besides the new space, there were also some signs of a disturbance. The sea chests acting as mealtime seating were pushed far back from the tables in a few areas. There were a number of plates on the floor, several broken. Goodsir went up and down the rows observing the scene and recording his observations.
A sudden clattering distracted Goodsir, and he looked over to see a ship's boy, George Chambers, righting a cracked glass that was still dripping grog on a particularly disheveled table which seemed to be at the center of the evidence of commotion.
"Wait! Put that glass down exactly was it was," Goodsir said, louder than intended.
Chambers put down the glass as slowly and as gently as if it had been filled with black powder.
“Was this where the two men in question were sitting?" Goodsir asked.
The boy swallowed, then nodded. "Yes, sir. Mr. Pilkington was here-" the boy pointed, "and Mr. Gregory was right here." He pointed to a spot roughly diagonal from the first.
"Please, leave everything as it was until I've had time to examine it."
Goodsir made a rough sketch of the current state of the table, upset dishes and all, and labeled where each man had been sitting at the time of the incident. A portion of the contents of each plate was scraped into the multitude of glass sample vials he was carrying, then each one was secured with a cork. Goodsir checked under the table and along the walls, searching for anything else out of the ordinary.
After a number of minutes, satisfied that he had not missed anything, he turned to Chambers, who was still hovering about.
"The men involved -- could you take me to them?"
The boy scrambled into action and began leading Mr. Goodsir through the tight maze of the ship. "Yes, sir. One's in the slop room, the other in a coal closet. We separated them; had to, really." Chambers lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "They were wild to get at each other, and at the other men too. Manson said they were banging on the doors trying to get out when they were first locked in. Now they've gone quiet."
Goodsir visited the makeshift cell of Pilkington first, then Gregory. Both men were restrained, completely disheveled, and, incongruously, asleep. Goodsir made note of their obvious erections, but then continued on with the other steps of his assessment. He pulled up their eyelids (which did not wake the men), noted the dilated pupils, the elevated heart rate, the deep breaths.
Mr. Goodsir started getting that feeling. That slowly focusing concentration that bubbled to the surface of his mind whenever he had a riddle in front of him to solve.
Dr. Stanley and Dr. McDonald had their hands full with their own patients. Dr. Stanley in particular had sneered that he was not going to leave his actual patients just to go coddle some drunken sodomites. Mr. Goodsir was to be left to his own devices.
There was something to be discovered here. And he believed he could do it.
When he returned to the forecastle, Goodsir requested an audience with Captain Fitzjames in the sick bay, which the captain granted. Goodsir drew the curtain separating them from rest of the forecastle, and the men's prying gaze.
"Captain, I would advise a delay in pronouncing a sentence for these men." Goodsir kept his voice low.
"And, why, pray tell, is that, Mr. Goodsir?" asked Captain Fitzjames, but not without real curiosity.
"These men are medically unsound. Something has compromised them."
The question, Mr. Goodsir thought, was what had caused it?
The question followed Goodsir into his dreams that night, and was still his companion when he awoke. He pondered it while he buttoned his over shirt, then his coat. He needed more pieces to solve this puzzle, and it was time to gather them.
Goodsir's first course of action was another visit to the unfortunate men themselves. He nodded to the marine posted outside John Gregory's chamber. This time when he entered, Gregory was awake, but looking much the worse for wear.
The man appeared to be even more haggard then he had been the night before, though considerably less aroused. There appeared to be vomit in the chamber pot, and when Gregory reached out to take the glass of water Goodsir offered, he could see that the man's hands had a slight tremor to them.
As Dr. Stanley would be more than happy to remind him, Mr. Goodsir was not a doctor. However, if he were to give his medical opinion, he would say that Gregory appeared to be suffering after-effects that were indistinguishable from those that affect men who had greatly over-indulged in alcohol the night before.
"How are you feeling this morning, Mr. Gregory?"
"If I may be blunt, sir," Gregory said with a rasping voice, "like a horse kicked me square in the forehead."
Goodsir marked that down. "Any other symptoms?"
The man's eyes flicked towards the chamber pot. "Nausea, earlier," he admitted. "And, I suppose, just feeling tired and a little sore all over. That part might be the result of all the pushing and pulling that came after."
"So you remember what occurred?"
"Yes, sir. Every bit," he said with some bitterness.
"And... what did you feel during the experience?"
Gregory let out a short bark of laughter. "What do you think I felt to make me jump over the table and try to have my way with Billy Pilkington?"
Before Goodsir could respond, Gregory winced and shook his head. "Sorry, sir, sorry. I always run my mouth when I feel out of sorts -- my mam always warned me about it. It's only that it's embarrassing, sir."
"This is a medical matter, Mr. Gregory. Unless it endangers the ship, I will hold it in my confidence."�
Mr. Gregory took a deep breath, then began: "At first it was just pins-and-needles along the back of my neck. Then I looked over at Billy and he just looked so... sweet. As if he was glowing. Then he turned to me, and when we met eyes I could see the color start to rise in his cheeks and-" Here Gregory paused.
"Yes?" Goodsir prompted.
"And I don't know that I will see anything so beautiful again for the rest of my days. Or anything so devilish. His eyes, his parted lips... well. You know what a man thinks."
Mr. Goodsir felt a spark of heat low in his gut, which he smothered as he recorded Gregory's words.
"Did anything out of the ordinary happen to you yesterday? Did you leave the ship?"
"No, sir, just was doing my daily duties as I always have. The boiler was acting up, as usual, so I spent the morning attending to it. The rest of the day was spent shoveling and checking the coal. Nothing that would take me off the Erebus. Closest I got was having to run ash duty."
Goodsir wrote Gregory's response, then made to go, already thinking of what questions to put to William Pilkington, when he felt a light tug on his wool sleeve.
Goodsir blinked in surprise. "Can I do something else for you, Mr. Gregory?"
"Yes." Gregory cleared his throat. "When you visit Billy, could you give him a quick once-over, sir? Make sure he's alright?"
"Yes. Yes, of course," Goodsir said, taken aback slightly.
Mr. Goodsir gathered up his notes and his books and wished Gregory a quick recovery from the lingering effect of yesterday. It felt wholly inadequate.
As it happened, though, Mr. Pilkington was, indeed, all right.
Or, at least in as good of health as Mr. Gregory had been. Mr. Pilkington looked similarly bedraggled and exhausted, with dark circles under his eyes even after a night's sleep. After bemoaning the state of his head too for a bit, he said that he and Mr. Gregory had been next to each other in the slop line, and that nothing particularly unusual had happened to him either the day before.
An idea was beginning to form in Goodsir's mind. It had been percolating since yesterday, but each new bit of information gathered just strengthened it.
It was this idea that led him to the alcove containing the cookstoves, just off the forecastle. There was Mr. Diggle, as he nearly always was, working the stoves like a master craftsman. The tables had been cleared of breakfast just an hour ago, but preparations for lunch were already underway.
"Good morning, Mr. Diggle." Goodsir had to raise his voice to be heard over the clatter of pots and pans.
"Good morning yourself, Mr. Goodsir! Is this about all the trouble yesterday evening?" Diggle kept up his intricate juggling act at the stove even while his gruff voice responded to Goodsir.
"Yes. Did you witness it?"
"Not as such. Mostly just heard the shouts and the clatter of my good dishware on the deck. At first, I thought it was just a little roughhousing," said Mr. Diggle. "Gregory and Pilkington usually get on very well, but they'd been squabbling the entire time they were in the mess queue earlier."
"Oh, this and that. Nothing that seemed to signify."
"And they were next to each other in the queue?"
"Aye, sir. Opened a fresh can of ox cheek soup for them to split myself." Mr. Diggle paused to heave a huge pot of water from one stove top to another. "Problem with one of the stoves meant there was no time to heat and mix everything before the dinner rush started, and those two were towards the back of the queue."
Mr. Goodsir's pen raced like wildfire across the page as Diggle spoke.
It just then seemed to occur to Diggle to be suspicious of Goodsir's questions. "Sir, you're not of a mind that something from the kitchen had anything to do with the behavior of a couple of lads that've simply been at sea too long?"
"Mr. Diggle, I can only go where the evidence leads me."
When Mr. Goodsir was granted entry to the officer's dining area that afternoon, he was surprised to see Captains Crozier and Franklin present, along with the more familiar Fitzjames. He hadn't thought the commander of the expedition or his second would be concerned with the matter.
Indeed, as it turned out, they weren't. Or, at least Sir John was not. He seemed uncomfortable while Mr. Goodsir surmised the incident in the forecastle, and excused himself from the room on other business before Goodsir had fully explained his research.
"It is my belief, Captain, that the peculiar behavior of Mr. Pilkington and Mr. Gregory was caused by a heretofore unknown chemical or biological agent. An agent that fomented inside one of these cans," Goodsir finished to the remaining two captains.
Captain Crozier raised his brows over half-lidded eyes. "Forgive me, Mr. Goodsir, but I've yet to see a bite of turned beef cause a man to become beside himself with lust."
Goodsir had expected a question like this; he'd wondered it himself. "In this, as in many other ways, we are in uncharted waters here, Captain. Goldner's new method for sealing the cans, the environment's extreme temperature changes, the passage of a significant amount of time, unknown Arctic flora -- any one of these factors, or perhaps the interplay thereof, could have set into motion the events that transpired yesterday."
There was a beat of silence. Captain Fitzjames looked at Captain Crozier. Crozier let out a short puff of air through his nose. "You are engaging in a passel of baseless speculation for man of science, Mr. Goodsir."
"Captain, this is not something you have to take on faith. You've heard my hypothesis -- and, if you'll allow it -- all that remains is to test it."
Goodsir proposed a double blind structure for the experiment. A portion of last night's dinner for each of the participants; one spoonful suspected of contamination, one known to be clean, with neither the men nor the administrator to know which they they received. If indeed the contents of the can held the impetus for what had occurred in the mess hall, each man would get a much lower dose.
No matter how much the cursory observations pointed towards a contaminant in the cans as a cause, the results of the experiment would have to bear that out before he could give his professional opinion to the captains.
Now, who to test?
Goodsir immediately volunteered. After all, many notable scientists conducted their experiments on themselves. Sir Humphrey Davy, Stubbons Ffirth, and many others had done it quite successfully. Captain Crozier said he would put the question to a few men who he believed would be amenable.
The next day, he was told that Lieutenant Little had also put himself forward as a volunteer. Idlely, as he prepared the necessary materials, Goodsir wondered why. Loyalty to Captain Crozier, perhaps? Latent scientific curiosity? In any case, he was a good choice -- able to be pulled from his duties for a time, but also a trusted officer who would understand the need for discretion. Lieutenant Irving would be part of the experiment as well. He would serve as the administrator, as well as recorder for the data they collected.
That afternoon found all three men gathered in the empty carpenter's workroom on Erebus' orlop deck. Lieutenant Irving's demeanor struck Goodsir as stiff and uncomfortable; Lieutenant Little merely seemed vaguely interested. While there were no strangers among a company of men currently numbering over one hundred twenty souls combined that had already spent a year together, Goodsir did not know these two men particularly well. However, that had not been the result of conscious choice, there was something about Crozier's lieutenants that often made Goodsir yearn for a closer familiarity. Little especially had qualities command that Goodsir couldn't help but admire.
Little and Goodsir were sat in two dinner chairs that had been turned to face one other, about five feet apart. As the administrator, Irving sat off to the side, a journal and stopwatch laid out on the desk next to him.
"I trust you're both ready?" Irving asked as he spooned a small amount of the extremely unappetizing-looking congealed soup from one stoppered bottle and passed it to Little, then opened the second bottle and scooped a sample for Goodsir.
"You've always been too trusting," Little responded, one end of his mouth quirking up, earning an answering smile from Irving. Goodsir's gaze flicked between the two of them for a moment, absorbing their camaraderie.
"Cheers, doctor," Little said to Goodsir before he tipped his spoon back into his mouth. Awkwardly copying the little toasting motion, Goodsir did the same.
Mr. Goodsir suspected right away that he was the one who had ingested the suspected contaminant. Both samples had been very heavily salted, so one couldn't tell by taste, but Goodsir's lips began to tingle and warm directly after swallowing his spoonful. This was currently his only symptom, however. He wondered if the dosage was not high enough, or if the potency of the unknown agent had decreased over the last day. Perhaps he had simply been mistaken.
As the minutes wore on, however, Goodsir reconsidered. The tingling sensation in his mouth did not subside, but in fact increased in intensity. His lips felt sensitive, but not unpleasantly so. After a while, the sensitivity spread to his cheeks and neck, making Goodsir very aware of his neckerchief and the collar of his coat. His pulse seemed elevated and... hot, was the only way he could describe it.
"Lieutenant Little, please report," Lieutenant Irving said, prompting for the status report that it had been decided that each man would give at five-minute intervals. Goodsir nearly startled as the silence was broken.
"Heartbeat and breathing unchanged," Little said, sounding almost bored under his ever-present professional demeanor. Irving duly recorded his answer.
"And Mr. Goodsir?" Irving asked.
Goodsir's tongue seemed stuck to the roof of his mouth. He was feeling a good many things right now -- most of them difficult to put into words.
"Mr. Goodsir?" Lieutenant Irving was looking at him expectantly.
"My... my heart rate is noticeably elevated. As is my rate of respiration. My body temperature, too, appears to have risen, though that could merely be a flight of the imagination."
Little's brow furrowed. "Are you too ill to continue, Mr. Goodsir?"
"No, no -- not at all. In fact, there's something nearly... pleasant, I suppose, about the effects." Goodsir rubbed a hand across his mouth.
"...Right," Irving said, clearing his throat. "We will wait the predetermined five minutes and then you will report again." He turned his eyes to the gold-chained watch in his hand and did not look back up.
The seconds ticked by. To Mr. Goodsir, they flowed like molasses, each one slower than the last. Tiny pinpricks of sweat broke out along his hairline. Goodsir ran a hand over his forehead; lines of sensation followed his fingers.
Little's gaze met his, then darted away again.
Goodsir did not look away. In fact, he felt that he never wanted to look away. Goodsir's eyes trailed down from the brim of Little's hat and along the whiskers on his jaw.
Goodsir felt the heat rise in his own face. Could the others observe it? He found the question didn't concern him as much as it ought.
His thinking was disordered. He still had enough presence of mind to sense that. There was a veil over everything that didn't concern his immediate surroundings. Some of his thoughts moved too slow, others moved too fast, like a waterwheel caught under a roaring cascade. The only thing that truly felt right to Goodsir was allowing his eyes trace the lines of Little's face.
"Five more minutes have elapsed -- report." Irving said, as formal as you please.
"As best I can judge such things, all my functions continue to be nominal," Little said.
They both looked curiously at Mr. Goodsir, waiting for his update.
"There is a tingling sensation -- that is the only way I can think to describe it -- at several points in my body. My fingertips, my lips, my --" only pursuit of scientifically-sound results made him say it, "--groin. It does not quite feel like an allergic reaction, though there are some similarities."
"I'm feeling warm -- pleasantly so. It's been perhaps a year or more since I've felt this warm. Do either of you gentlemen mind?" Goodsir gestured at his overcoat, then proceeded to remove it before they could respond. His hat, too, was dispensed with.
It was still March, and that meant that, in the Arctic, the temperatures continued to be bitterly cold outside. Even in the shelter of the ship, the air was still uncomfortably cold. Goodsir didn't care; there was a heat in his belly that warmed him from the inside and spread outward. It was comparable to intense intoxication, or perhaps to stepping out comfortably into the cold from the sauna he'd visited in Greenland. If he looked down now and found that he was glowing, he couldn't say he would be wholly surprised.
"Mr. Goodsir, are you feeling too unwell to continue?" Little asked again. "Do you feel that your health is in danger? We could help you purge if--"
"No, no, that's not necessary. Despite these... effects, I'm feeling very fine. Happy, even."
Goodsir thought he saw something like jealousy flit across Irving's face. Happiness was a rare commodity among the crew these days.
"And there are other effects on my faculties. Primarily, I'm finding it quite difficult to concentrate on anything other than Lieutenant Little."
"Lieutenant Little, sir?" Irving asked. Little's eyebrows raised.
Goodsir's words flowed like honey. "Yes -- can you not see it? Or, it must just be me. There is a... shine to him that draws me in. It has always been there, perhaps, and I was simply blind to it before. I would like to be closer to it -- to him."
Goodsir was aware that what he was saying surpassed the threshold for the short report, but still the words came. He felt that if he couldn't say the words, he must act on them.
Now the Lieutenants Little and Irving were staring at him like he'd grown a second head. It was almost comical; these were men of action, England's finest. And here was unassuming Mr. Goodsir, shocking them as if they were a pair of maiden aunts.
Oh yes, the two Lieutenants certainly could discern what he was feeling now. But... why shouldn't they know? This was for science, after all. Irving should be studying his face, his body, making notes of all he saw, perhaps stating if he approved of what met his eye.
And Little could come closer. He could put his hand against Goodsir's forehead and compare their temperatures. More than just his forehead -- Little could check the back of Goodsir's neck, the soft of his stomach under his shirt, his hot inner thighs. Irving, too, could lend a hand, if the results needed to be confirmed.
Now everything Goodsir was wearing was far too stifling and irritating to the skin. He wanted out, he wanted the slide of something human against him instead of cotton and wool. Good God, how had those men in the mess survived after eating a whole bowl of the stuff?
Irving glanced back at his watch again, and it seemed just in time too, since he soon made the now-familiar announcement that another five minutes had elapsed.
Merely five minutes? It didn't seem possible. Goodsir would have found it more believable had Irving announced it had been five millennia. Lieutenant Irving looked almost apprehensive at having to ask what he must.
"Mr. Goodsir, how are--"
Goodsir rose from his chair and stepped towards Little. He couldn't not. Every inch of that man was a magnet that pulled at Goodsir. Little's startled face tilted up to follow him. The new angle only made Little more alluring; turned up to better catch the yellow glow from the oil lamps, Goodsir could better see the small details of his face: the light creases beneath his eyes, the brush of his whiskers trailing along his strong jaw, brown eyes trained right upon Goodsir.
It was a heady feeling. Neither of these men had paid this amount of undivided attention to him during this entire journey. No one had. And now both these young lieutenants, with their dark, dark coats and handsome faces were focused on him.
What if he were to remove his trousers next? Then his cotton layer, then his drawers? They would see that he was just as much a man as either of them - hard and wanting. Perhaps Little would take it upon himself to relieve Goodsir of this ache, as his superior officer.
Goodsir swayed on his feet, his need to touch Little warring with the sudden tide of exhaustion that was rising within him. He wanted to fall forward into Little's arms, and damn the consequences. He wanted to sink to the depths of the icy water beneath them and never open his eyes again.
He reached something of a compromise. "And now, gentlemen, I'm feeling an intense wave of exhaustion, yet my vigor remains undiminished."
Little's eyes remained on his face, but Irving couldn't seem to help looking down at the front of Goodsir's trousers to check exactly how 'undiminished' Goodsir was. Irving's face colored.
"I will prepare a more detailed report for the Captains in the morning. But, for now, I will retire," Goodsir continued.
"Mr. Goodsir, what--" Little tried, rising from his seat. His height and the breadth of his shoulders sent a jolt of heat through Goodsir like a galvanic cell.
"Lieutenant Little, Lieutenant Irving: good afternoon," Goodsir said abruptly.
Two confused and somewhat belated 'good afternoons' followed Goodsir as he turned away from his fellows. Though it was not, perhaps, the cleanest way (scientifically speaking) to end an experiment, they let him go. It took all the self-control that Goodsir possessed to walk out the door of the carpenter's workshop, maintain a normal walking speed through the inner corridors of the ship, and find himself back in the forecastle.
He pulled the curtain separating the sick bay from the rest of the forecastle shut behind him with a rattle of rings sliding across metal. As soon as he was out of sight, his hands flew to the buttons of his trousers.
By Goodsir's usual standards of these things, the act was brutal, even animalistic. Truly self-abuse, for once.
Yet he felt no aggression or frenzy. It was all fantasy. With his eyes closed, Lieutenant Little was in the room with him. It was Little's hands on him, and the rough breathing he heard was Little's hot breaths in his ear, just as lust-addled as Goodsir.
When Goodsir came, it wasn't just his own warm seed cooling on his stomach, it was Little's too.
After, though it was still afternoon, and not even yet close to the dinner hour at that, Goodsir collapsed into his bunk and slept soundly through for the next fourteen hours.
Unsurprisingly, the next morning Mr. Goodsir had a pounding headache. He downed the glass of water next to him and poured another from the mercifully unfrozen pitcher on the desk. It was only after he was partway through the fourth glass that his stomach began to steady and the worst of his headache recede.
So, it was a contaminant in the cans, Goodsir was certain of it now. And, whatever this element may be, it drove men to such heights of desire that he would not have believed if he had not experienced the thing for himself. His hands still shook from it.
Goodsir stared helplessly at the pile of neat white paper on the desk. An inkwell and a sharpened quill rested right next to it, waiting.
How was he to explain this to Sir John?
While the successful replication of the results of any given experiment was the bedrock of modern scientific thought, Mr. Goodsir decided that particular step could wait a while.