Story of the doomed Franklin Expedition
March 3, 1845
The night John Hartnell knocked on the Torringtons' door might have been the end of the beginning or perhaps only the beginning, but was certainly not yet the end.
Hartnell looked less brutish than usual standing there in the twilight, the street lamp casting a J-shape of light from his temple to his jaw. "Are you going to let me in?" He asked Molly Torrington as she stood behind the half-opened door. At his very sight little Molly felt salt tears well in the bottoms of her eyes because she knew; she knew what his presence meant. It meant a night alone with her Mum when she should've been on her brother's lap playing cards.
"Be polite, Molly," Mrs. Torrington warned as she came and opened the door for Hartnell. "John!" she hollered, "Hartnell's here for you!"
From the rickety staircase came a great rumble as a slight, fair young man descended, "I'm here," he said and reached for his corduroy cap on the banister.
"John, you promised to play rummy with me tonight," Molly reminded him.
"Tomorrow night, then."
"But that's what you said-" but the two boys were already out the door into the foggy city night.
"Don't be too long!" Mrs. Torrington yelled after them.
Molly dug her nails deep into her palms. She was full of tears and frustration.
Mrs. Torrington, or Mum as she was called by her two children, sat back down and resumed mending the boning on a crinoline.
She put down the pins she had been clenching between her lips, "I'll play rummy with you, Molly," she said.
"No thanks," replied Molly, "I wanted to play with John. I'm going to bed," she sighed.
Hartnell and John Torrington walked down Giffen Street to ‘The Harp’, a pub with poorly adhered frescos of lions and and flakes of pink plaster clinging to its lifeless boards. Inside, however, it had a more threatening ambience, humming with smoke-haze and drunkenness. At a table sat a large but lean man, brooding over a glass of milk.
Thomas Hartnell did not drink.
John Hartnell, his younger brother, did.
The two men joined Thomas and Hartnell ordered flashes of gin for himself and John Torrington.
The two Hartnell brothers sat facing John, their shoulders hunched with the same depth and their brows furrowed similarly.
Thomas: Have you enlisted yet?
John Torrington: I haven’t made up my mind to go yet.
John Hartnell: I don’t know why you wouldn’t. You could feed your family for years on that pay alone.
Hartnell drained his glass of gin in one painful swallow and asked for another.
John: What is the pay?
Thomas: Seventy pounds.
Hartnell: With five months advanced pay and three hot meals a day.
John: But isn’t it dangerous?
Thomas: Not with this new equipment it’s not. Figure we’ll be back in half the time they say it will take. A year at the most.
Hartnell: You better sign up soon. All the boys back from the war are rushing to enlist.
John wiped the condensation off the rim of his glass.
John: I’ll do it tomorrow.