When (and Why) Hickey Fell in Love with Gibson
When I heard Adam Nagaitis say that Hickey loved Gibson, IN HIS OWN WORDS FROM HIS OWN MOUTH, well, my hands are still shaking. So much so, I needed to figure out that one for my own self.
Maybe it all started when “Hickey” was a child, a child named EC, possibly Edgar or Edward, probably Edward, and the last name was something common, Clark or Carter or Cooke perhaps, as they are amongst the most familiar surnames in Great Britain today. (I myself like Cooke as his last name. See below.)
BTW, there was a time when I was in love with Herman Melville and tried to be very good so I could go to Heaven and escort Herman to all the constant Elvis concerts being held in the serene ethereal. (This was about the same time I mentioned “Elvis Presley” to my husband who thought I said “Melville’s Presley”, which in turn started that heavenly dream I still live in. Elvis IS Billy Budd.) Oh, wait, what is my point? Melville was born in 1819, and so I have decided EC was born in 1820, making him the perfect age to set sail on “Terror” in 1845 (and thus help me dope out a time-line for EC’s life).
Was EC abandoned by his mother to a foundling’s home? I’ve no doubt; I think he lived with her long enough to bond (she a hoe; father unknown), and then she left without a word when he was three and a half years old. And did the drunk old men and women who ran the home try to give EC any solace? Of course not. Plus, meals were served on a very erratic basis, which is why Edward and his analogue David Young never got very big. But EC thought of his mother often, sometimes with an enormous anger which caused him to befoul his bedding, sometimes with a longing that causes him to dissociate completely.
Now the drunk old men and women who run the home would prefer that little Eddy not be so needy, but they have a solution. They know a rich man called (let’s say) Captain Autolycus Wilson, who likes very young boys. (Such a cliché.) The drunk old etcs. ask Captain Wilson if he would like to purchase, uh, sponsor very small Eddy with his big blue eyes and pretty reddish blond hair for a handsome fee. Captain Wilson is without a ward at the time, so he agrees to take care of Eddy, whom he calls Cookie. The expected things proceed.
Except: Wilson is fond of Cookie, finding him clever and amusing and witty, and Cookie becomes very fond of Captain Wilson too, fond to the point of adoration. The Captain sees to his education with private tutors (the less said about what went on with the tutoring the better: too depressing for words). But, despite the buggery and sodomy and orgies (many of which take place at the Captain’s private men’s club, The Sons of Phorcys, before interested audiences), Cookie becomes well educated, and something of a dandy too. These are the gifts Captain Wilson gives him in exchange for his complete oppression and dehumanization.
Okay, we knew it was coming. Cookie begins to show signs of manliness, which means he no longer interests Captain Wheeler. Captain Wheeler goes back to the foundling’s home and “adopts” a likely little carrot top who is nameless to us. But, before he kicks Cookie out, Captain Wilson offers him a drink from one of his cut glass, uh, glasses. Cookie goes completely catatonic.
Afterwards, with a five-dollar gold piece and the clothes on his back, Cookie finds himself on the streets of Victorian London.
It gets worse and then it gets more worse. He is Cookie no more.
So he runs with the dog pack. He steals cheap jewelry and silverware. Steals nice clothes too, so he is always well turned out. (Speaking of dogs, EC doesn’t like dogs. Too many high-tone toffs, too many coppers have sicced huge slavering four-legged beasts on him. Dogs, dogs are shit eaters.)
However, one useful trick he learns from his human dog pack is to hang around taverns, especially those catering to sailors who have returned to shore. He likes to chat with the sailors and hear their magical tales of life on the vast blue sea as he picks their pockets. These stories are why E.C. decides to dab Cornelius Hickey and put him in Regent’s Canal.
“You’ll be gone how long, Cornelius?”
“At least a year! And then I’ll be in Hawaii. Oahu.” His Irish accent is quite pronounced.
“Ain't they all cannibals who live there?”
“I think they prefer fish.” Both giggle.
“In other words, they’re Catholics!” EC says.
More giggles. “See, here are my sailing papers!”
“Look, Cornelius, you're already paid!”
“Yes, a handsome sum. Speaking of which, let’s have another drink.”
“Just a small ale for me.” EC takes a deep breath. “I bet your mam was glad to see your pay!”
“Me, I keep my money. I was a foundling, see.”
“I lived in an orphan’s home too.” (EC thinks to himself: I will always live in an orphan’s home.) “So when do you sail?”
Then there’s a small slice of time and the ex-Cornelius Hickey lies bleeding at the bottom of Regents Canal.
There’s not much variety on a ship; sailing and caulking is boring. So no one should be surprised that the new Cornelius Hickey grouses.
But one day, he shares a joke with Billy Gibson, and Billy laughs and says, “Now, that one’s worthy of Shakespeare.”
Hickey is pleased and intends to make Billy laugh again.
What was the joke? What is the joke in any office setting? Most office jokes are about those other people in The Office, who get to be more and more “other” as the jokes continue (think of Jim and Pam against Dwight), until Hickey and Billy have their own little two-man Eleusinian mystery cult going on.
They sit together at what serves as the library table and look at picture books together. Perhaps it’s a book of engraved Biblical illustrations. Hickey points at one and whispers, “Look, Billy, there’s Lieutenant Irving walkin’ on water in his nightshirt!”
Billy gets a bad case of the giggles.
Weekes is sitting nearby and hears them. “What’s this, laughin’ at the Holy Scriptures? Do you want the ship to sink?” (Weekes is like the Dansker in “Billy Budd”, a quiet type who utters oracular remarks and tries to keep the superstitious young sailors under control.)
Hickey and Billy like to look at maps too, especially maps of the Pacific. They move to a more secluded place to share their secret dreams. They decide they’ll jump ship in Oahu and live in the sun and sand forever.
“Bugger the officers, Billy!” Hickey whispers. “‘Orlop!’ I’ll feckin orlop ye, Irving!”
Hickey’s minor blasphemies appeal to Gibson, who must also feel underappreciated.
(By the way, Melville was discharged in Maui in 1843 where he worked as, among other things, a pin-setter in a bowling alley before he returned to New York in 1844.)
But more than jokes happen. Billy sews a nice shirt for Hickey and knits him a warm red scarf. “Look here,” Billy says to the other sailors sitting around. “Now doesn’t Cornelius look smart!” They all applaud, somewhat sarcastically, but Hickey is pleased.
It appears that Hickey can sit in Billy’s little cabinette, I won’t say anytime he wants, but he CAN sit there. Which is where the friendship goes to the next level. Again, there isn’t a lot to do on an exploration. I like to think of Hickey and Billy sitting right beside each other, CURTAIN OPEN, Hickey making his small jokes, perhaps about Mr. Diggle’s bad bread, and then he puts his hand on Billy’s knee. When they hear someone coming, Hickey rapidly removes his hand. With this negative evidence, Billy learns what Hickey meant by touching his knee.
The first kiss: this is as tricky in fan fic as it is in real life. How do you know when to take that first step? My experience has been that it is “The Man” who kisses first. (Don’t get mad! Last century, when I was first getting kissed, that rule of courtship was ratified in iron.)
We can imagine that Hickey finds the simple warmth coming from Billy’s frame . . . nice. Better still, he has no obligation to be (or do) anything to Billy. He is free with Billy.
One night in the summer of 1846, they are sitting on Billy’s little cot when the bedtime bells ring (I don’t really know ships work). Hickey says, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Billy,” and, because it’s been building inside him for several months, he leans over to the seated Billy and kisses his cheek. Billy looks up in pleased surprise (giving Hickey the same look he gave him when Hickey put Young’s ring on his finger).
Now, lessee. “Go for Broke” is September 1846. So just let me make up some stuff. In that sexy sexy month October 1846, they get to first base (they make out until their lips are chapped.) Second base occurs in early November 1846 (running their hands over each other’s quivering but clothed skin). Late November 1846 brings a firm third base (petting to orgasm: yup, that was a phrase much in use when Mamie Eisenhower and I were college roommates). And on Christmas Day 1846, HOME RUN is achieved in costumes and crannies as drunken sailors overwhelm the air. Hickey and Billy are in love! They run up and down the deck with the snow falling on their pink boyish cheeks. Young, beautiful, in love, just the two in their icy mystery cult.
Uhoh, here comes June 1847 and “The Ladder” which I think of as the SEXIPODE. Now you know goddam well Irving isn’t going down to the orlop deck just to “find” the “caulker’s mate”. He’s been smoldering over his suspicions for months (he and Hickey exchange stink-eyes all the time at Sunday services). Finally, Irving gets a double-header: he achieves a major vicarious thrill AND a chance to save souls at the same time!!!! Still, Hickey and Gibson are busted.
Stuff happens, Silna and Sir John and Tuunbaq, all that arga warga. Not to mention, Gibson’s nervous conversation with Irving. Which Hickey sees. (Notice how I rigged the timeline to make sure Hickey got to see Gibson’s postern “all winter”, i.e. the winter of ’46-’47.)
Hickey is angry, but he never learned how to express anger towards someone he loves. First he reverts to an infantile state; then it seems he finds a new love: The Captain.
The Captain offers him a drink. A drink! Who would do that but a devious seducer! Hickey scours his brain. What do you say to an Irishman? “Here’s to us Micks!” OH GOD OH GOD HOW COULD HE BE SO STUPID! THAT HAS TO BE THE STUPIDEST THING ANYONE HAS EVER SAID TO ANYBODY!!!!! OH GOD! But Crozier’s face doesn’t freeze, doesn’t close down; it’s still open and pink. EC will remember that.
The Captain continues the conversation, meanwhile WHAT IS THE CAPTAIN DOING? IS HE CHECKING CORNELIUS OUT! IT SURE SEEMS LIKE IT! And if it weren’t for that Bible-beating bastard Irving barging in on them, who knows what would have happened next?
Still, Hickey keeps trying to shine up to the Captain; he brings him a trophy, the guilty Eski girl. Which makes Hickey victim to that most unfair cross-examination by Crozier and his big shiny toff buddy. (I have to say, I feel for Hickey in this scene. He really thought he was being useful to Crozier, and Crozier is completely dismissive. How often have I misunderstood what other people wanted from me! Only always!) They quarrel, Hickey loses his cool and ends up getting flogged. Oh, sure, there’s worst things than bein’ lashed, but still . . .
Then there’s the tobacco in his hammock. Just as you and I would, Hickey uses Occam’s useful razor and sees the tobacco as a love gift from . . . Billy. Billy! Billy the steward with access to supplies! Billy must still love him!
Sound the music cues, for here comes the bride! In the next episode “First Shot a Winner”, Hickey marries Billy. The reasons for this marriage are numerous (hey! Just like real life!), but one reason is Billy’s ability to spy on those in command.
Now, I won’t pretend that Hickey thinks this, but I DO! Hickey will never never never forgive Crozier and determines to destroy him. Then he HE Hickey will become King of the Expedition, just like Crozier is now, and Hickey will even have his own super-tall willowy delicate queen at his side.
It doesn’t work out that way, as we know, because nothing ever works out. Still, Hickey loves Billy to the end, taking Billy’s head in his hands to say good-bye as lovers do. The stabbing is a favor to the suffering man, and, if the murder turns out to have its useful aspects, well, so be it.
That’s my story, and, being a Libra, I can be easily persuaded that I’m wrong about everything.