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whisper travel from this scurrilous world

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An officers’ steward. All knew the nature of the position, besides its far more routine and regular duties. There had been few pragmatic options for a choice of trade available to Jopson, such was his background, which would ensure he had enough income to let his mother, then his brother, live better than they had done previously. And it was clear who had the better standing: not a man for insalubrious hire on the corner of some Thames-side dry dock, but a man who is a member of Her Majesty's Royal Navy, and with the benefit of being provided food and board whenever at sea.

Jopson had been beside himself with happiness when Captain Crozier had personally selected him for this search for the Passage. Back when the then-Commander Crozier was interviewing for Ross’s Antarctic expedition, Jopson had tried to make himself as neat and comely as he could manage before their initial meeting, not knowing at that stage whether or not the commander’s personal preferences meant his appearance would be taken into consideration. The interview had not made whether or not this was the case entirely clear, Commander Crozier on that day being largely inscrutable, but Jopson had been pleased when the commander had informed him that he had heard a positive reference made to Jopson’s most recent employment: of his fastidious attention to duty and of his dexterity with needle and thread.

It had been a long voyage, but, in the balance of things, the commander had been in good spirits more often than not. They had come to know each other well and, in time, Commander Crozier had made use of Jopson, although Jopson suspected it was not thought of himself the commander held in his mind when he had cornered Jopson after the New Year’s ball with his hands at the waistband of Jopson’s trousers and slurred for him to lift up his skirts.

Now, on this expedition trapped at the opposite end of the earth, his use was the captain’s privilege alone, but that privilege could be extended to all commissioned officers of the expedition at the captain's discretion. Which is seemingly what Captain Crozier has just offhandedly done as he had rammed himself out of the wardroom like a baited bear exiting a freshly smashed-up china shop, riled by some comment from Captain Fitzjames. It has not been the first time as of late that his temper had been suchwise coarse. Jopson does worry so about the effects of his drinking.

He has sufficient experience from the handful of other times this has happened on their voyage so far to know what will occur next.

Not all partook. Sir John never had. Lieutenant Irving would dart out of the room with a fearful, spluttered-out excuse at the very earliest indication that proceedings were permitted to commence. He would give Jopson a single pained look before he went, as if he were a papist needing to be saved who could set aflame spontaneously at any moment. Jopson always made sure to smile kindly back.

Those who remained would sit, thrumming with the urge to fidget, and watch as Jopson cleared some space of plates and glasses so that he may be arranged over the wardroom table. He liked to do this as slowly as he dared: once events begun, they would be without care for them meaning Jopson will have to clean and polish down the surface of the table later, and the men might endeavour to hide it, but their hunger could always be sensed in this elongated moment of anticipation. Jopson found it thrilling: that amount of desperate want in the room, never to be discussed in the moment or at any point after.

Hodgson would remain in the wardroom but had not yet made use of him. Whether he stayed out of politeness or whether he gained anything from the sight of it all, Jopson did not know.

The smooth contraption of polished satin birch he wore, standard issue, kept him open, and was required to be worn when waiting on the officers’ dinner and at other formal occasions. Some, like Le Vesconte, liked to take it from out of him and push it straight into his mouth for safekeeping. Jopson did not mean to flush or make a sound when it was pushed past his lips and into his mouth, but the indecent feel of it usually got the better of him. Any pleasure of his own is incidental, nor, strictly speaking, permitted, and it would be of great embarrassment and dereliction of duty to spend himself untouched. Afterwards, when alone in his partitioned cabin at last, he would be able to take a hand to himself and find his own peace.

Le Vesconte, following a gentle touch at the line of Jopson’s jaw to retrieve it from his stopped mouth, liked to plug him back up straight away, if though this was somehow more sanitary, or as if he was trying to ensure a woman would become quick with child. Some men did not like the sight of leaving this action undone – a reminder that they were not the first to spend themselves here, tonight or ever.

Others did not do this, leaving him with a slow spread of mess down the middle of his thighs. Jopson does not mind this himself, for it tended to ease the way better for the men for having been there. Lieutenant Little, his mouth invariably set as troubled and gently open in the anticipated horror of defying some subtle rule of etiquette, all in the room looking at him in censure, hid the biggest and hardest prick of them all except the captain himself, and Jopson looked forward with a leap of his heart to taking it. It helped if Lieutenant Little was not the first to take his turn, and if he took up some extra grease. Nevertheless, whatever precaution was taken, Little tended to sound as though he had been punched in the ribs.

As first lieutenant, Little was the person responsible for supervising Jopson putting in his plug, in most circumstances knowing most likely that the captain would not make use of him later, nor would anyone else. Little did not watch, only stay present in the room, and it gave Jopson a chance from behind him to note how the occasional gasp or other noise Jopson couldn’t help making would make the line of Lieutenant Little’s back tense and stiffen.

None of them looked too much at each other. They officers half-watch, half-bored, or otherwise make polite, slightly strained conversation. Jopson still makes sure to listen when he can, just in case there is some useful enlightening their views on the captain or problems for the ships caused by the pressure of the ice.

Captain Crozier having stormed away, most likely to the frigid deck, Commander Fitzjames would be able to bide his time until the others were done and take Jopson via the Great Cabin through to the captain’s berth, away from the prying eyes of other men. This was not the done thing, but in practice his rank and popularity allowed him some flexibility. Jopson was certain that Captain Crozier was unaware that his private room was being used in such a manner, which was the main part of the matter than personally scandalised him.

The true reason why Fitzjames would corral him away so privately, Jopson had found, was because he wished to lie back against the berth and play Jopson’s part himself. This certainly was not the done thing – Jopson’s duties were clearly defined, and Fitzjames was of a senior rank – but Fitzjames would ask so charmingly, with a raise of his brow and the arch of his body, the tilting apart of his thighs above the leather of his spotless boots; Jopson had not yet refused him. The most difficult challenge tended to be not to spend within Fitzjames after everything else that had already happened, who was tight as a vice and gasped so happily when Jopson got into him at last. Jopson envied his singular ability to lie back, close his eyes and not take any kind of active part; act wholly as a recipient of pleasure.

It was all to happen tonight, and happen it did. Jopson at the centre of room, but only as a conduit of pleasure, his own self incidental.

*

Captain Crozier bursts back into the wardroom not long after the officers has departed, so soon enough after that Jopson remains dishevelled still as he begins to right the room again. He has only just finished attempting to straighten up the captain’s bunk in the limited time available after Fitzjames had gone to return to Erebus.

The captain has been above to stew, alone or perhaps with Mister Blanky. Jopson helps him out of his slops. Perhaps it is the captain’s anger, or the ache of how he has been used still hot within him, but Jopson feels just bold enough to voice a timely reminder.

“If you want for anything, you have your right to me over anyone else. At any time. I am at your service, sir.”

“I am too deep in my cups for any of that,” Captain Crozier sighs, his voice dropping to a tone of great weariness. “I cast you out to them like a jealous man.”

“I hold fast to the idea that there is no shame in pleasing the men,” Jopson says quietly, affecting a self-conscious smile. “Even if a great deal of the world thinks I should feel otherwise.”

“But do they treat you poorly, lad. Do they make you feel well, or ill?”

Jopson feels the throb of the sweat on the back of his neck. All the while he and the captain have been talking, he has been sitting here obscene, having hastily thrown his discarded jacket over the front of his trousers, his braces still unbuttoned at the waist. He is desperate to spend.

“They make me feel well,” Jopson says, flushed at the cheeks. He grips the middle of the jacket with one hand, able at a moment’s notice to pull it away. With the heel of his palm he is able to exert a small amount of pressure through layers of wool. The captain, flint-eyed, helplessly follows the movement. “Would you see the evidence?”

“I would,” murmurs Captain Crozier, his gaze adequately distracted. “Show me; it is nothing I have not seen before.”

As Jopson opens his flies, he thinks of the mess inside him and what has happened to cause it. All officers who desired it, just as the captain had set it up: Jopson has made good as per the captain’s wishes. He could have taken more if he had needed to; if he had been asked. He wonders if he can succeed in obliging Lieutenant Irving, one day, given enough time.

Captain Crozier’s hands by now have warmed closer to the temperature of the room, and Jopson wonders with a whimper if he might be persuaded to provide Jopson some relief, even though it is not his duty. It should not even be something to hope for. Jopson shifts his seat against the surface of the table in time to his long, slow pulls on himself.

The captain sees it for what it is. “Come here, son,” he says, arm on Jopson’s waist to pull him forward so that he is leaning against rather than sitting on the table, and he reaches in to the back of Jopson’s trousers.

“My God,” Captain Crozier says, as his fingers slide through the viscous stickiness half in and half out of Jopson, and he actually looks scandalised, as well as managing to look ever more morose, and a little ashamed. Yet the push of him feels so good that Jopson feels the closeness of completion threaten to overwhelm him. “How many officers—”

Oh,” Jopson’s gasps, at last releasing copiously into his own hand from the captain’s comprehension of him and his dexterous attentions. He breathes in hard to centre himself to an appropriate demeanour of attentiveness, but not without first taking a few moments to enjoy an unusual lightness of feeling.

“I shouldn’t dream of telling anyone about this,” Jopson says. The captain looks at him aghast, as if to say I should think not, but Jopson only meant himself to reiterate that he would never betray the captain’s confidence. The smell of drink lingers in the room. It comes from the captain’s breath and from his skin.

“Do you wish to retire, sir,” Jopson says, pulling up his trousers over everything sodden without much mind and proffering his arm to steady Captain Crozier against Terror’s tilt in the ice. The captain’s hand clutches Jopson’s woollen sleeve, and his dependent grip against Jopson’s arm sinks warmly into the whole of his proud being.