Croziers sarcasm that day hadnt dampened the young gunnery officers enthusiasm Irving and the other two remained more eager than ever to go get frozen in the ice for several winters. Of course, that had been on a warm May day in England in 1845.
And now the poor young pup is in love with an Esquimaux witch, Crozier mutters aloud.
As if understanding his words, Silence turns slowly toward him.
Usually her face is invisible down the deep tunnel of her hood, or her features are masked by the wide ruff of wolf hair, but tonight Crozier can see her tiny nose, large eyes, and full mouth. The pulse of the aurora is reflected in those black eyes.
Shes not attractive to Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier; she has too much of the savage about her to be seen as fully human, much less as physically attractive even to a Presbyterian Irishman and besides that, his mind and lower regions are still filled with clear memories of Sophia Cracroft. But Crozier can see why Irving, far from home and family and any sweetheart of his own, might fall in love with this heathen woman. Her strangeness alone and perhaps even the grim circumstances of her arrival and the death of her male companion, so strangely intertwined with the first attacks from that monstrous entity out there in the dark must be like a flame to the fluttering moth of so hopeless a young romantic as Third Lieutenant John Irving.
Crozier, on the other hand, as he discovered both in Van Diemens Land in 1840 and again for the final time in England in the months before this expedition sailed, is too old for romance. And too Irish. And too common.
Right now he just wishes this young woman would take a walk out onto the dark ice and not return.
Crozier remembers the day four months earlier when Dr. McDonald had reported to Franklin and him after examining her, on the same afternoon the Esquimaux man with her had died choking in his own blood. McDonald said, in his medical opinion, the Esquimaux girl appeared to be between fifteen and twenty years old it was so hard to tell with native peoples had experienced menarche, but was, by all indications, virgo intacta. Also, Dr. McDonald reported, the reason that the girl had not spoken or made a sound even after her father or husband had been shot and lay dying was because she had no tongue. In Dr. McDonalds opinion, her tongue had not been sliced off but had been chewed off near its root, either by Silence herself or by someone or something else.
Crozier had been astonished not so much by the fact of the missing tongue, but from hearing that the Esquimaux wench was a virgin. Hed spent enough time in the northern arctic especially during Parrys expedition, which wintered near an Esquimaux village to know that the local natives took sexual intercourse so lightly that men would offer their wives and daughters to whalers or Discovery Service explorers in exchange for the cheapest trinket. Sometimes, Crozier knew, the women just offered themselves up for the fun of it, giggling and chatting with other women or children even as the sailors strained and puffed and moaned between the laughing womens legs. They were like animals. The furs and hairy hides they wore might as well be their own beastlike skins as far as Francis Crozier was concerned.
The captain raises his gloved hand to the bill of his cap, secured under two wraps of heavy comforter and therefore impossible to doff or tip, and says, My compliments to you, madam, and I would suggest you consider going below to your quarters soon. Its getting a bit nippy out here.
Silence stares at him. She does not blink, although somehow her long lashes are free of ice. She does not, of course, speak. She watches him.
Crozier symbolically tips his hat again and continues his tour around the deck, climbing to the ice-raised stern and then down the starboard side, pausing to speak to the other two men on watch, giving Irving time to get below and out of his cold-weather slops so that the captain doesnt seem to be following hard on his lieutenants heels.
Copyright © 2007 by Dan Simmons. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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