Any sea voyage regardless of duration and destination required careful planning, and plenty of it. A voyage to the Arctic, and one expected to take an indeterminate but certainly lengthy measure of time, a hundred times so.
Francis didn’t mind the planning stage. In fact he rather enjoyed it, or at the very least enjoyed knowing that he was directly in charge of the details that would spell life or death for him and his own in the immediate future. Francis had been in the Navy for too long not to be suspicious of how much incompetence might be allowed to run amuck if unchecked. Too many people had too much gold braid on their shoulders and too little sense to accompany it.
Luckily enough, Thomas Jopson was not among the rather large roster of characters making Francis’s life difficult. Quite the opposite.
Jopson had been attached the expedition only recently, and all became noticeably easier the minute that he’d gotten involved. Jopson had always been almost insultingly effective at corralling his life to order, Francis thought as he watched Jopson run a critical eye about the hold. He was onboard the refitted Terror for the first time today, Francis having thought it important that he reacquaint himself with the ship and her new additions.
Of course, it was the duty of every man onboard to know the ship better than the back of his own hand, to be able to dash about her decks and holds with his eyes closed at any time of day or night. Francis certainly didn’t need to give a personal tour to each and every seaman under his command. If questioned, he might have said something vague about Jopson being his personal steward and as such being privy to a higher level of information than any run of the mill topman who could spend his own time figuring out the heads and halyards. If pressed, he might have snapped that it was his own prerogative to spend time with whichever members of his crew he so pleased, thank you very much.
In any case, they were in the hold.
“I won’t pretend it’s easy on the eyes, sir,” said Jopson, stepping over to rap his knuckles against the iron curve of the locomotive. “It’ll take a minute for me to wrap my head around.”
“Don’t worry about managing it right this minute,” Francis said, amused. “We’ll have plenty of time to puzzle over the thing, I’m sure.” It was indeed an odd sight. The engine had been relieved of its driver’s cab and wheels, but with the funnel blatantly visible and the unmistakable curve of the boiler, it was still without question a steam engine smugly situated in the lower hold of a sailing ship, and it was difficult to come across such a sight and feel anything but confused.
“Odd as it is, the extra power will certainly be welcome,” Jopson concluded. The strike of his knuckles relaxed, and he smoothed a hand across the metal. It was, Francis thought with a private chuckle, rather like a man deciding he liked a dog previously frowned upon. The locomotive should count itself lucky to have won Jopson’s good opinion so quickly. A valuable asset to have.
“Particularly when the ice comes.”
“Oh?” Francis raised an eyebrow and kept his tone light. “Am I to take it that your opinion is not, then, that we will be cruising through the Passage in one fell swoop, to be enjoying sunny tropical shores within a few months?”
“Not quite my expectation, no sir.”
They shared a knowing look. He might have only been a steward, but frequently Francis was struck by the fact that Jopson was also one of the few people with whom he felt comfortable enough to air his grievances about his superiors and the Admiralty and the bloody Crown itself. Jopson knew almost all of Francis’s more seditious opinions.
It would be good having someone like Jopson along. Jopson was reliable and steady, and could be depended upon to keep a cool head in a crisis. Not that Francis was particularly expecting a crisis, but then again he never wasn’t expecting one, either. Jopson was good to have along. And hell, Francis liked the man. He could admit that to himself. Liked him a lot more than just a captain’s appreciation for a competent steward, to be entirely honest.
A good captain was as much a servant to his crew as his crew was to him. It helped when the crew was likeable and hardworking and effective. It helped when the crew was Jopson. A winter in the ice with Jopson for company might not be so bad.
There had never been a question of Thomas accepting the position of captain’s steward onboard Terror. Crozier had apologised for the relatively short notice and had made himself very gracious in explaining that he wouldn’t be without Thomas- all very well but unnecessary. The offer was accepted before he’d even heard the whole of it. He was itching to get away in any case.
“I have to say, if I heard you had once more set sail for strange lands with another steward I would have felt quite insulted, sir,” Thomas had said after Crozier had finished explaining why the appointment had come rather late, and why he hoped that Thomas wouldn’t feel too ill-used at being swept back up for a few more years on the ice. He hadn’t spoken with Crozier in some time, but permitted himself the familiar manner all the same and was satisfied to see Crozier’s stern lip tilt at the corner in amusement.
“Well then, as I would never want to lose your good opinion you had better come along,” Crozier had said, and from then on Thomas would have had to be dragged away from the expedition. He had enjoyed the Antarctic far more than he had expected, and Crozier, despite what some might gather from initial appearances, was a warm and personable commander to those he liked and trusted. A shame that Sir James wouldn’t be accompanying them this time, but Thomas felt confident. Crozier made him so. Even in the face of trouble, how could Thomas not have trusted Crozier?
The winter was far from unexpected: waking to find the ships frozen in, dark painted dots on a vast blank canvas of ice, was nothing more or less than what he was prepared for.
“You’re likely wishing you’d stayed home now,” Crozier said that same morning, splashing freshly heated water on his face and neck from the porcelain basin Thomas had brought him.
“Not at all,” Thomas said, and meant it. “I would have been poorly prepared if I hadn’t known this a possibility, sir.”
“Ah, I have to remind myself that you’re an old hand at exploration, Jopson.” Crozier chuckled, drying his face with the linen handed to him. “Good to have experience onboard. Even if I can’t help but see catastrophe around every corner.” His good cheer faded as quickly as it had come and he fixed Thomas with a shrewd eye. “I know that you’ll be aware of my disagreement with Sir John, so don’t bother pretending you don’t know. Do you think me over-cautious?”
“I think you prudent.”
“At least someone does.”
“I’m not the only one and you well know that, sir.” Thomas whisked the basin and damp linen towel away, and turned to the cabinet built beneath Crozier’s bunk to extract him a fresh shirt.
“I hope you’re not just humouring me, Jopson. Even if that is practically your job.”
“I would never, sir,” said Thomas with a grin. “I would let you know if I thought you were barking up the wrong tree. Or the wrong iceberg, perhaps.”
Crozier laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. His hand was warm even though the layers of wool sweater and vest. “That’s true enough. I can always rely on your honest opinion at least.”
“Indeed you can.” Thomas paused. “And to you give one opinion now, sir, being frozen in on Terror is still preferable to sitting about in Marylebone. So you needn’t worry about me having second thoughts.”
Crozier grinned at him, a wide honest grin rather than the sour, polite baring of teeth he sometimes forced when it was required of him. “I’m glad to hear it,” he said, and surely Thomas wasn’t imagining the gentle edge in his voice.
As a steward it was his job to be loyal to his captain. But Thomas had to be honest with himself and allow that much of the time, it was more that he was simply loyal to Crozier.
It was possible that Crozier knew it, too. Thomas hadn’t exactly been subtle- well, no, that was incorrect. He had been subtle. That was the entire point of stewardship: subtlety. But recently he just hadn’t been as discreet by his own standards. Not to the point of impropriety, obviously, but all the same. Crozier might have noticed.
It would be unthinkable to say or do anything now. But once they were returned to England, then perhaps he might be more bold. Without the complexities of rank and command hanging immediately over their heads, things would be different.
Yes, once they returned. Whether or not that return would be preceded by a jaunt to the Pacific remained uncertain, and from what Jopson had gleaned from command meetings and his own knowledge of Crozier’s moods, it seemed quite possible that the thing might tip either way, but it didn’t matter. He could wait. He was a patient man. Jopson was quite satisfied biding his time, particularly since so much of that time was spent in Crozier’s company already. He would wait until they were home again.