Like a snake he crawled on his belly after the others and begged wretchedly to come with them.
Freezing stones burnt his worn flesh.
Though he called desperately for his Captain, none of the men disappearing below the curve of the landscape ahead looked back at him.
In the end all his hard work and love meant nothing.
In the end no one would spare him even a goodbye.
He scorned death in his heart. He would not surrender to it.
He Imagined his goal; his Captain before him. He struggled towards Crozier. Never a thought for what he would do if he could catch him.
Reaching him was a greater need than food, water, even air. He needed his Captain.
Thomas woke up in his bed.
He could barely walk, but he managed to prop himself up with an ice pick.
He looked out of the tent and saw the reality of his nightmare. He had been abandoned with the sick.
A death sentence. Without a last meal. Damn god and damn the captain’s blood. What did I do to deserve such a fate?
He noticed the other man in his tent watching him in a sad, confused daze.
“William, you should drink some water.” Jopson’s voice cracked dryly.
Wentzall shifted weakly in his bed, an empty drinking flask fell from his blankets and clattered on the ground. He reached his hand out desperately but he did not have the strength to get it.
Slowly, Jopson limped over to retrieve the flask and refilled it after using it to break the thin layer of ice on the tent’s water pail.
“You should try to conserve that.” Jopson advised as handed it back to Wentzall, who smiled gratefully at him.
“Thank you, sir.” Wentzall forced in a scratchy whisper before taking a sip.
With pain as his mistress, and only one good leg, Jopson struggled to don his coat and then limp into the next tent.
“Wait.. where are you going?” Wentzall asked fearfully, but he was barely audible.
Jopson encouraged the sick to wake and berth in one tent. To drink and eat. He was the only one with the strength to open the cans and he’d be gone soon.
Those who would wake pushed little envelopes, gold chains and watches at him, muttering the names of their loved ones with their last breaths.
“I’ll come back for you all. I promise.” Jopson told them as he left.
He ensured he was taking promethean matches, a water flask, one Goldners’ can and a compass. His pockets were fit to burst with additional paper notes and watches.
He was armed with his pick and Lieutenant Little’s pistol.
Little, Le Vesconte and a few other men were huddled in one of the many tents still belonging to the larger group, eating from the Goldners’ cans.
A fierce, northernly gale battered the tent canvas.
“Something’s coming… down from the North.” Little warned in foreboding.
The others fell quiet. There was a strange sound in the wind. A distorted moaning.
Little peaked out of the tent. Le Vesconte shuffled beside him but everyone else coward together and watched them.
“Can you see anything?” asked Le Vescotne.
“I can hear it… it sounds like something big.” George Chambers cautioned from behind them.
“The monster?” Helpman questioned and clung fearfully to the back of Le Vesconte’s tunic.
“I… don’t know.” Le Vesconte answered.
Slowly, Little stepped out of the tent with his rifle at the ready and looked around.
It was difficult to make anything out in the whirling mists surrounding the camp.
The haunting cries grew louder. Little could make out a tall, black smudge coming up the hill. It did not appear to be two legged.
Little was shrunken pupiled, white as snow and trembling from fear as he hurried back into the tent. He scrambled to hide behind the others and bury his head under the covers.
They watched him in confusion. There was a silent consensus that if Lieutenant Little was so frightened, whatever was coming must be truly horrible.
Helpman fidgeted and whimpered at the thought of it. “We’re dead, we’re dead…”
“Be quiet. I want to listen!” Le Vesconte hushed.
“It’s a ghost!” Little stammered.
“Rubbish. Don’t be such a coward!” Le Vesconte snapped.
“Alright then.” Little gulped, half petrified, he walked slowly out of the tent again. “I’ll go… I’ll go. I’m the one it wants.”
“Edward! Don’t!” Le Vesconte whispered.
When he looked at the shape again, Little soon realised how wrong he was, but by now nearly all the men in camp were cautiously regarding the gaunt figure stumbling into camp with an ice pick as a cane.
Jopson’s face was red with weeping, dark shadows ringed his eyes. He screamed so desperately he nearly tore his throat, and afterwards tasted blood.
“I am abandoned and bleeding! I am lost and no one can find me! I’m sick and no one can cure me!” he wailed, his voice growing weaker as he wore it down.
The other men gawked at him in fear and astonishment.
To them he was either a walking corpse or a lunatic.
Some men were so frightened of his screaming they hid themselves away, even after recognising him. Others examined him cautiously, from a safe distance, with their guns.
“Captain! You have killed me! I’m dead and no one can help me!” Jopson fell to his knees in the middle of camp and wept, “Where is my captain!?”
Little and Le Vesconte hesitated to approach him.
“No one fire! Everyone put your guns down!” Little shouted.
Only half the men still had an instinct to obey him.
“Please, don’t hurt him.” Little implored.
“The men can do as they please, Edward. You’ve no authority to tell them not to put him down if they think he’s dangerous.” Said Le Vesconte.
“Show them you’re not mad Thomas!” Little beckoned urgently.
“Where is my Captain!?” Jopson wheezed desperately.
“He’s not here.” Little informed him shakily.
“Not here?” Jopson gasped. His scorn was immediately quelled. His eyes turned cloudy. Now he sat and stared emptily at Little and Le Vesconte. “… then where is he?”
“Thomas, you must show the other’s you’ve not gone mad, they’re all frightened of you.” Little cautioned.
Jopson looked around in confusion and fear at the men surrounding him. “What should I do?” Thomas whimpered, his eyes now shimmering with desperation for Little’s help.
Slowly, afraid he may be shot along with Jopson, Little approached with his hand held out.
Jopson took it and Little helped him stand.
There was a gunshot fired, immediately followed by another, Thomas clamped his eyes shut and ducked behind Little.
When he opened his eyes again, he saw that one of the men in the ring had taken a shot at him but missed, and Little had in turn shot and killed the attacker.
“Who was that?” Jopson asked sadly.
“Pocock. I- I think.” Little answered exhaustedly.
“He’s nobody now.” Le Vesconte reminded coldly.
Little put an arm around Jopson's shoulders and guided him carefully into a tent. He helped the lad out of his coat and into a bed.
“Sorry, I smell like a thousand-year-old armpit.” Jopson murmured shyly.
“We all do.” Little assured him.
Mr Helpman brought him some tea and seemed relieved that Jopson was alive, but none of the others dared to go near him.
“You alright?” Helpman smiled.
“Edwin, in my coat pockets there’s watches, trinkets and letters from some of the sick men who were left behind, would you please take care of those for me? I don’t think I’ll be returning to England.” Jopson panted exhaustedly.
Helpman nodded sadly and began sorting through Jopson’s coat, which Little had folded up and placed nearby.
Le Vesconte lingered in the tent entrance with his arms folded. “Something’s off about this. It's not possible for a mortal man to walk thirty miles in his condition.”
“Maybe he’s getting better.” Said Little.
“It sounds as if you’ve been hauling in circles, sir. I traveled only twelve miles in six hours to catch up with you. And I traveled lightly.” Jopson explained meekly.
“Am I to believe a miserable manservant has a better sense of navigation then me?” Le Vesconte snorted.
“Why not? Mr Bridgens had better medical knowledge than you, sir.” Jopson reminded.
“I don’t believe you are Thomas Jopson. You’re something that’s ran away with his corpse.”
“You shut your mouth, Le Vesconte!” Little growled defensively.
“I’m not the only one thinking it, Edward.” Said Le Vesconte. “The other men are frightened; they need a scapegoat. There’s talk of burning him.”
“We must not revert to such barbarism.” Little insisted.
“Please, sir… where is the Captain?” Jopson muttered weakly and pulled at Little's tunic.
“I’m the Captain now, Thomas.” Little doted.
“Is he dead?” Jopson asked fearfully.
“I don’t know… the mutineers took him captive before we moved out.” Little confessed reluctantly.
“Why have you made no attempt to rescue him?” Jopson gasped in horror.
Jopson followed Little’s sad gaze, aimed at Le Vesconte.
Le Vescotne glared at both of them.
Jopson awaited some sort of answer from the Erebite Lieutenant.
After a long hesitation he gave one, “Crozier told us not to waste time going after him. To March south.”
“Admiralty protocol to rescue the captain outweighs the captain’s orders.” Jopson argued.
“There’s been a vote. Now all the men can do as they please. We all want to march south. Abandoning the sick and the Captain was no more drastic a decision than abandoning our ships. We do what we have to do to survive.” Le Vesconte reasoned.
“Do you actually intend to get home, sir?” Jopson asked with a disappointed and skeptical squint.
Le Vesconte nodded seriously.
“And after breaking every protocol what exactly do you intend to tell the court-martial?” Jopson questioned.
“Whatever I need to tell them to save my neck!” Le Vesconte bellowed.
“We’ll worry about court-martials when we actually get back to England.” Little advised.
“I have no intention of going back.” confessed Jopson. “…And yet, without the threat of a court-martial or the rules of the admiralty, I want to find Captain Crozier... or whatever's left of him. I see now how wrong I was, to curse him in my heart on the way here. He is not the one who abandoned me. You two… are the traitors.”
“You dig your own grave here with that talk, boy!” Le Vesconte yelled and stormed towards Jopson. “Call me a traitor again and I’ll throw you in the fire myself!”
“Traitor! Defector! Renegade! Judas!” Jopson called fearlessly, further provoking Le Vesconte’s wrath.
Helpman grew frightened and fled the tent.
Little stood up from where he was kneeling at Jopson’s side and grabbed Le Vesconte by the collar with ferocious force, “You keep away from him or I will cut your throat!”
“Try explaining that one to the admiralty!” Le Vesconte retorted.
“I won’t have to! I’ll cut your throat and then I will kill myself after!” Little roared. “Get out! Get out!” he shouted and forced Le Vesconte back.
Le Vesconte struggled out of Little’s grip and showed himself out.
Little pulled at the ropes on the tent entrance and knotted them tightly. “I suppose you still think I’m a traitor and all the other things too. And you still don’t trust me.” Little grumbled as he tried to make the tent more comfortable. “But listen, I tried to organize a rescue party for Captain Crozier but Le Vesconte wouldn’t have it. I couldn’t very well take on the mutineers by myself, they have guns. I’d be letting myself get shot for nothing!” Little exclaimed.
“…Thank you for protecting me. What would you like for me to do for you, sir?” Jopson asked softly.
Little stared at Jopson in astonishment. He felt a pang of guilt for leaving him behind, and for letting his thoughts turn still more selfish when Jopson offered to do something in return for his protection in such a warm, silky voice.
“…Just get some rest.” Little bade frustratedly and sat down a few feet away from Jopson.
“I will leave tomorrow morning. Before sunrise.” Jopson muttered tiredly.
“Where will you go?”
“Find the mutineers' camp. Save Captain Crozier.”
“All by yourself? But you’ll die!” Edward warned and shuffled closer to Thomas.
“I’m closer to death here than there.”
“Dundy’s not going to hurt you, Thomas. You deliberately provoked him, you know he’s lost his closest friends on this expedition. He considers his allegiance to dead men now. So, he believes he has betrayed nothing.” Edward reasoned.
“…What about the others?”
“I’ll talk to them. I’ll make it safe for you.”
“Come with me, Edward.” Thomas beckoned with big, pleading eyes.
Edward shook his head fearfully.
Thomas looked disappointedly at the floor.
“Please don’t go, Thomas.”
“Those words... coming out of your mouth… how very ironic.” Thomas scoffed.
“… what is your plan? …Just walk in and get shot?”
“Yes, Edward, I’m a complete idiot!” Jopson clucked sarcastically.
“Des Voeux shot Tom Hartnell on sight! For nothing!”
“… I didn’t know Hartnell was dead. If it were you me and him, we would have made a good rescue party.” Jopson said sadly.
“You see? It’s folly.” Edward hoped he was getting somewhere with his persuasions.
“I’ve had to contend with the pressure of being shot on sight many times before, it doesn’t frighten me.” Thomas pressed on.
“Will you try to join them? You are the last person they’d trust.” Edward emphasised.
“… It starts with a stake out. I will try to find out who is in which tent. Then at night I’ll sneak into the tents of the men who seem least loyal to Hickey and try to persuade them over to my side. It’s just like what Captain Fitzjames did in the Egyptian-Ottoman war.”
“You’re not Fitzjames. You’re not made of that.” Edward shook his head.
“It’s the best plan I can come up with.”
“What if you get taken prisoner? Hickey has a personal gripe against you. If he gets the chance, he may do worse things to you then just kill you.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes.”
“Damn your eyes. Why are you so persistent?” Edward sighed.
Thomas smiled sweetly up at Edward, “Because that’s my Job.” He answered.
“Oh Thomas… you’re so…” Edward breathed shyly.
“… never mind. Go to sleep.” He lay down next to the younger man.
Thomas shuffled closer to Edward and rearranged their covers, so they were sharing the extra layers. The warmth and comfort sent them both to sleep very quickly.
Thomas woke up at the crack of dawn, when the civil twilight seeped through the tent walls. He and Edward had wrapped their arms around each other at some point during the night.
Thomas gently wriggled out of the embrace.
It was not until the cold air flooded into the tent through the opened flap that Edward woke also.
“Thomas, wait.” Edward muttered wearily.
Thomas gave Edward one last pitiful look over his shoulder before stepping out.
Jopson was almost immediately ambushed. He struggled against his assailants, but he could not bring himself to use his ice pick on them, so he dropped it. With Le Vesconte’s hand over his mouth he could not shout for help.
Little heard his muffled cries and the rattle of the stones being kicked during the skirmish.
He loaded his rifle and came out of the tent.
Chambers and Helpman began shouting at Le Vesconte, Hammond, Sinclair and the rest of the small rabble harassing the third lieutenant, that they should leave Jopson alone.
Jopson screamed into Le Vesconte’s palm and dug the heels of his boots into the stones as he was dragged backwards, towards the fire.
Little fired a shot in the air, and everyone hit him with their eyes.
“Let him go, lads! This needn’t be a second mutiny!” He bellowed.
“Don’t you understand!? Your authority doesn’t mean anything anymore! We must show the men we are on their side!” Le Vesconte pulled his pistol on Little.
Jopson bit his captor’s hand, nearly losing some of his weakened teeth in the process.
Le Vesconte yelped in pain and threw Jopson backwards, at Hammond and Sinclair, who got to work tying his hands together behind his back and pulling him into the fire.
“Are you really this superstitious or are you just getting rid of me because I remind you that you still have a duty to someone other than yourself!?” Jopson questioned frantically.
“Be silent, you miserable creature!” Le Vesconte barked.
“Let him go or I’ll fire!” Little threatened waveringly.
“You don’t have the guts!” Le Vesconte snarled.
“Le Vesconte! You only let the men have a vote because you don’t know how to take care of them! Take responsibility and stop this hysteria!” Jopson appealed.
“I am in hell!” Le Vesconte screamed. “Hell, Jopson! Why are you trying to appeal to me now!? Don’t you see the men are starving? What use is a man who cannot haul? Other than that his flesh can be used to save the others!”
“Have you lost your mind!? Do you have any conception of what you’re doing, sir!?” Jopson begged fearfully.
Even after escaping from Hammond and Sinclair’s hands he fell to his knees without his ice pick to steady him and was quickly snatched up again. He could feel the painful heat of the flames against his back and hands.
Jopson was no sooner set alight then he was doused in water, Helpman had poured a bucket over the fire.
Having simultaneously wasted water and fire, Helpman had made himself the target of the rabble’s anger.
The other men turned on each other and Jopson was thrown aside.
He started crawling on his belly back to where his ice pick lay. Little quickly brought it to him and helped him stand.
“Run, Thomas! Just get out of here and stay away!” Little begged.
Little went to aid Helpman and the more reasonable half of the men in the fight.
Jopson limped quickly to the outskirts of the camp and took cover behind a boat sled.
He hurriedly took his dampened coat off, nearly yelping from the fear of water seeping through his other layers and fusing his clothes with his flesh. He felt his shirt and trousers worriedly and was relieved to find they were still dry.
He leaned back against the curved belly of the boat behind him and caught his breath.
He could hear the others still fighting and screaming at each other in the middle of camp.
There was a fur blanket and a pair of cold weather slops poking out from beneath the waterproof cover of the boat sled. Jopson quickly bundled himself in the extra layers. He draped the blanket over his shoulders like a cloak. Then he tied the sleeves of his dampened black coat around his neck so he would not have to waste time sorting his possessions out.
He made a steady, determined limp away from the camp.