Is Lady Silence still on deck? asks Crozier.
Oh, yes, Captain, shes almost always up here, says Hickey, whispering now as if it made a difference. Even if Silence could hear them, she couldnt understand their English. But the men believe more and more every day the thing on the ice stalks them that the young Esquimaux woman is a witch with secret powers.
Shes at the port station with Lieutenant Irving, adds Hickey.
Lieutenant Irving? His watch should have been over an hour ago.
Aye, sir. But wherever Lady Silence is these days, theres the lieutenant, sir, if you dont mind me mentioning it. She dont go below, he dont go below. Until he has to, I mean . None of us can stay out here as long as that wi that woman.
Keep your eyes on the ice, and your mind on your job, Mr. Hickey.
Croziers gruff voice makes the caulkers mate start again, but he shuffles his shrug salute and turns his white nose back toward the darkness beyond the bow.
Crozier strides up the deck toward the port lookout post. The previous month, he prepared the ship for winter after three weeks of false hope of escape in August. Crozier had once again ordered the lower spars to be swung around along the parallel axis of the ship, using them as a ridgepole. Then they had reconstructed the tent pyramid to cover most of the main deck, rebuilding the wooden rafters that had been stowed below during their few weeks of optimism. But even though the men work hours every day shoveling avenues through the foot or so of snow left for insulation on deck, hacking away ice with picks and chisels, clearing out the spindrift that has come under the canvas roof, and finally putting lines of sand down for traction, there always remains a glaze of ice. Croziers movement up the tilted and canted deck is sometimes more a graceful half-skating motion than a stride.
The appointed port lookout for this watch, midshipman Tommy Evans Crozier identifies the youngest man on board by the absurd green stocking cap, obviously made by the boys mother, that Evans always pulls down over his bulky Welsh wig has moved ten paces astern to allow Third Lieutenant Irving and Silence some privacy.
This makes Captain Crozier want to kick someone everyone in the arse.
The Esquimaux woman looks like a short round bear in her furry parka, hood, and pants. She has her back half turned to the tall lieutenant. But Irving is crowded close to her along the rail not quite touching, but closer than an officer and gentleman would stand to a lady at a garden party or on a pleasure yacht.
Lieutenant Irving. Crozier didnt mean to put quite so much bark into the greeting, but hes not unhappy when the young man levitates as if poked by the point of a sharp blade, almost loses his balance, grabs the iced railing with his left hand, and as he insists on doing despite now knowing the proper protocol of a ship in the ice salutes with his right hand.
Its a pathetic salute, thinks Crozier, and not just because the bulky mittens, Welsh wig, and layers of cold-weather slops make young Irving look something like a saluting walrus, but also because the lad has let his comforter fall away from his clean-shaven face perhaps to show Silence how handsome he is and now two long icicles dangle below his nostrils, making him look even more like a walrus.
As you were, snaps Crozier. God-damn fool, he mentally adds.
Irving stands rigid, glances at Silence or at least at the back of her hairy hood and opens his mouth to speak. Evidently he can think of nothing to say. He closes his mouth. His lips are as white as his frozen skin.
Copyright © 2007 by Dan Simmons. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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