Jopson stands still in the open door, backlit by the hazy morning outside. Sunlight filters through the transom window above his head, casting prisms over the otherwise dismal hallway of cherry-red wainscot and dusty Persian rugs.
“I know it’s not much, but…” Crozier’s voice trails as he stops at the foot of the stairs. “I promised I’d buy you a home, didn’t’ I?”
“I can’t accept this,” Jopson says, shaking his head.
“Of course you can.”
“Francis, I cannot.”
All Crozier sees is the sigh moving through Jopson before he turns to leave, a willowy I’m sorry settling into the empty space behind him.
As soon as Crozier receives Jopson’s letter stating he cannot accept the offered position on Terror, he sends a telegram demanding to see Jopson in person. They meet in a public house, where the noise is nearly enough to shatter Crozier’s brittle nerves, wounded by the recent refusals of both fiancée and steward.
Perhaps Crozier is so steeped in his own self-pity that he misses the tired angle of Jopson’s shoulders, the shadows beneath his eyes.
“I’m allowed the selection of only one crewmember, Thomas. I want you on that ship with me.”
It’s an underhanded tactic, but Crozier feels justified when Jopson nods.
“When do we leave?”
“It’s too much,” he groans, his cabin askew and nauseating, the candlelight burning his eyes.
Jopson’s face swims into his vision, and he repeats himself in a miserable whine.
“What’s too much, sir?”
“The pain…. I can’t take any more…"
Jopson shushes him, running his thumb over his cheek, brushing the hair from his forehead.
“I’m here, sir. You’ll push through. I know you will.”
He should be embarrassed by his bedside manner, how sentimental he becomes. He lies cradled on Jopson’s chest in his narrow berth, lulled by the man’s warmth and the beat of his heart.
“What can I give you, Thomas? Whatever you want.”
“I don’t require anything.”
Crozier sits up. “Nonsense! You deserve all the fine things money can buy; a house, silks, horses, silver…"
Jopson shakes his head, chuckling despite the melancholic slant to his mouth.
“I’m afraid that’s too much for the likes of me, sir.”
Jopson pulls Crozier aside after the meeting. His slops hang from his thin frame, as though he were a boy play-acting a role inside his father’s too-large coat. He holds his chin high, however, as he confronts Crozier.
“I can’t accept the promotion, sir.”
Crozier shakes his head. “I need men I trust, Thomas. I need you.”
For a second time in their relationship, Jopson disagrees.
“No. You need officers the others trust. Sir.”
Whiskey loosens his tongue and addles his brain; makes a lonely old man of him.
“You have pretty eyes, Jopson.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Stay a while,” he pleads, pulling Jopson against him with a kiss, stopping long enough to whisper, “This isn’t too much, is it?”
Jopson hesitates before closing his eyes and kissing him back.
“No, sir. It’s not.”