The Ghost Pirates
William Hope Hodgson
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Alev Akman and PG Distributed Proofreaders
THE GHOST PIRATES
_"Strange as the glimmer of the ghastly light
That shines from some vast crest of wave at night."_
THE GHOST PIRATES
William Hope Hodgson
_To Mary Whalley_
"Olden memories that shine against death's night--
Quiet stars of sweet enchantments,
That are seen In Life's lost distances..."
_The World of Dreams_
This book forms the last of three. The first published was "_The Boats
of the 'Glen Carrig'_"; the second, "_The House on the Borderland_";
this, the third, completes what, perhaps, may be termed a trilogy; for,
though very different in scope, each of the three books deals with
certain conceptions that have an elemental kinship. With this book, the
author believes that he closes the door, so far as he is concerned, on a
particular phase of constructive thought.
The Hell O! O! Chaunty
Chaunty Man . . Man the capstan, bullies!
Men . . . . . . Ha!-o-o! Ha!-o-o!
Chaunty Man . . Capstan-bars, you tarry souls!
Men . . . . . . Ha!-o-o! Ha!-o-o!
Chaunty Man . . Take a turn!
Men . . . . . . Ha!-o-o!
Chaunty Man . . Stand by to fleet!
Men . . . . . . Ha!-o-o!
Chaunty Man . . Stand by to surge!
Men . . . . . . Ha!-o-o!
Chaunty Man . . Ha!--o-o-o-o!
Men . . . . . . TRAMP!
And away we go!
Chaunty Man . . Hark to the tramp of the
Men . . . . . . Hush!
O hear 'em tramp!
Chaunty Man . . Tramping, stamping--
While the cable
comes in ramping.
Men . . . . . . Hark!
O hear 'em stamp!
Chaunty Man . . Surge when it rides!
Surge when it rides!
handsome as it slacks!
Men . . . . . . Ha!-o-o-o-o!
hear 'em ramp!
hear 'em stamp!
Chorus . . . . They're shouting now; oh! hear 'em
A-bellow as they stamp:--
A-shouting as they tramp!
Chaunty Man . . O hark to the haunting chorus
of the capstan and the bars!
and rattle crash--
Bash against the stars!
Men . . . . . . Ha-a!-o-o-o!
Tramp and go!
Chaunty Man . . Hear the pawls a-ranting: with
the bearded men a-chaunting;
While the brazen dome above 'em
Bellows back the 'bars.'
Men . . . . . . Hear and hark!
O hear 'em!
Chaunty Man . . Hurling songs towards the
Men . . . . . . Ha-a!-o-o!
Chaunty Man . . Hush! O hear 'em!
Hark! O hear 'em!
Hurling oaths among their spars!
Men . . . . . . Hark! O hear 'em!
Hush! O hear 'em!
Chaunty Man . . Tramping round between the
Chorus . . . . They're shouting now; oh! hear
A-bellow as they stamp:--
A-shouting as they tramp!
Chaunty Man . . O do you hear the
Thunder round the pawls!
Men . . . . . . Click a-clack,
And scatter bawls!
Chaunty Man . . Click-a-clack, my bonny boys,
while it comes in handsome!
Men . . . . . . Ha-a!-o-o!
Hear 'em clack!
Chaunty Man . . Ha-a!-o-o! Click-a-clack!
Men . . . . . . Hush! O hear 'em pant!
Hark! O hear 'em rant!
Chaunty Man . . Click, a-clitter, clicker-clack.
Men . . . . . . Ha-a!-o-o!
Tramp and go!
Chaunty Man . . Surge! And keep away the slack!
Men . . . . . . Ha-a!-o-o!
Away the slack:
Chaunty Man . . Bustle now each jolly Jack.
Surging easy! Surging e-a-s-y!!
Men . . . . . . Ha-a!-o-o!
Chaunty Man . . Click-a-clatter--
Surge; and steady!
Man the stopper there!
Men . . . . . . Ha-a!-o-o!
Chaunty Man . . Click-a-clack, my bouncing boys:
Men . . . . . . Ha-a!-o-o!
Tramp and go!
Chaunty Man . . Lift the pawls, and come back
Men . . . . . . Ha-a!-o-o!
Chaunty Man . . Vast the chaunty!
Vast the capstan!
Drop the pawls! Be-l-a-y!
Chorus . . . . Ha-a!-o-o! Unship the bars!
Ha-a!-o-o! Tramp and go!
Ha-a!-o-o! Shoulder bars!
Ha-a!-o-o! And away we blow!
_The Figure Out of the Sea_
He began without any circumlocution.
I joined the _Mortzestus_ in 'Frisco. I heard before I signed on, that
there were some funny yarns floating round about her; but I was pretty
nearly on the beach, and too jolly anxious to get away, to worry about
trifles. Besides, by all accounts, she was right enough so far as grub
and treatment went. When I asked fellows to give it a name, they
generally could not. All they could tell me, was that she was unlucky,
and made thundering long passages, and had no more than a fair share of
dirty weather. Also, that she had twice had the sticks blown out of her,
and her cargo shifted. Besides all these, a heap of other things that
might happen to any packet, and would not be comfortable to run into.
Still, they were the ordinary things, and I was willing enough to risk
them, to get home. All the same, if I had been given the chance, I
should have shipped in some other vessel as a matter of preference.
When I took my bag down, I found that they had signed on the rest of the
crowd. You see, the "home lot" cleared out when they got into 'Frisco,
that is, all except one young fellow, a cockney, who had stuck by the
ship in port. He told me afterwards, when I got to know him, that he
intended to draw a pay-day out of her, whether any one else did, or not.
The first night I was in her, I found that it was common talk among the
other fellows, that there was something queer about the ship. They spoke
of her as if it were an accepted fact that she was haunted; yet they all
treated the matter as a joke; all, that is, except the young cockney--
Williams--who, instead of laughing at their jests on the subject, seemed
to take the whole matter seriously.
This made me rather curious. I began to wonder whether there was, after
all, some truth underlying the vague stories I had heard; and I took the
first opportunity to ask him whether he had any reasons for believing
that there was anything in the yarns about the ship.
At first he was inclined to be a bit offish; but, presently, he came
round, and told me that he did not know of any particular incident which
could be called unusual in the sense in which I meant. Yet that, at the
same time, there were lots of little things which, if you put them
together, made you think a bit. For instance, she always made such long
passages and had so much dirty weather--nothing but that and calms and
head winds. Then, other things happened; sails that he knew, himself,
had been properly stowed, were always blowing adrift _at night_. And
then he said a thing that surprised me.
"There's too many bloomin' shadders about this 'ere packet; they gets
onter yer nerves like nothin' as ever I seen before in me nat'ral."
He blurted it all out in a heap, and I turned round and looked at him.
"Too many shadows!" I said. "What on earth do you mean?" But he refused
to explain himself or tell me anything further--just shook his head,
stupidly, when I questioned him. He seemed to have taken a sudden, sulky
fit. I felt certain that he was acting dense, purposely. I believe the
truth of the matter is that he was, in a way, ashamed of having let
himself go like he had, in speaking out his thoughts about "shadders."
That type of man may think things at times; but he doesn't often put
them into words. Anyhow, I saw it was no use asking any further
questions; so I let the matter drop there. Yet, for several days
afterwards, I caught myself wondering, at times, what the fellow had
meant by "shadders."
We left 'Frisco next day, with a fine, fair wind, that seemed a bit like
putting the stopper on the yarns I had heard about the ship's ill luck.
He hesitated a moment, and then went on again.
For the first couple of weeks out, nothing unusual happened, and the
wind still held fair. I began to feel that I had been rather lucky,
after all, in the packet into which I had been shunted. Most of the
other fellows gave her a good name, and there was a pretty general
opinion growing among the crowd, that it was all a silly yarn about her
being haunted. And then, just when I was settling down to things,
something happened that opened my eyes no end.
It was in the eight to twelve watch, and I was sitting on the steps, on
the starboard side, leading up to the fo'cas'le head. The night was fine
and there was a splendid moon. Away aft, I heard the timekeeper strike
four bells, and the look-out, an old fellow named Jaskett, answered him.
As he let go the bell lanyard, he caught sight of me, where I sat
quietly, smoking. He leant over the rail, and looked down at me.
"That you, Jessop?" he asked.
"I believe it is," I replied.
"We'd 'ave our gran'mothers an' all the rest of our petticoated
relash'ns comin' to sea, if 'twere always like this," he remarked,
reflectively--indicating, with a sweep of his pipe and hand, the
calmness of the sea and sky.
I saw no reason for denying that, and he continued:
"If this ole packet is 'aunted, as some on 'em seems to think, well all
as I can say is, let me 'ave the luck to tumble across another of the
same sort. Good grub, an' duff fer Sundays, an' a decent crowd of 'em
aft, an' everythin' comfertable like, so as yer can feel yer knows where
yer are. As fer 'er bein' 'aunted, that's all 'ellish nonsense. I've
comed 'cross lots of 'em before as was said to be 'aunted, an' so some
on 'em was; but 'twasn't with ghostesses. One packet I was in, they was
that bad yer couldn't sleep a wink in yer watch below, until yer'd 'ad
every stitch out yer bunk an' 'ad a reg'lar 'unt. Sometimes--" At that
moment, the relief, one of the ordinary seamen, went up the other ladder
on to the fo'cas'le head, and the old chap turned to ask him "Why the
'ell" he'd not relieved him a bit smarter. The ordinary made some reply;
but what it was, I did not catch; for, abruptly, away aft, my rather
sleepy gaze had lighted on something altogether extraordinary and
outrageous. It was nothing less than the form of a man stepping inboard
over the starboard rail, a little abaft the main rigging. I stood up,
and caught at the handrail, and stared.
Behind me, someone spoke. It was the look-out, who had come down off the
fo'cas'le head, on his way aft to report the name of his relief to the
"What is it, mate?" he asked, curiously, seeing my intent attitude.
The thing, whatever it was, had disappeared into the shadows on the lee
side of the deck.
"Nothing!" I replied, shortly; for I was too bewildered then, at what my
eyes had just shown me, to say any more. I wanted to think.
The old shellback glanced at me; but only muttered something, and went
on his way aft.
For a minute, perhaps, I stood there, watching; but could see nothing.
Then I walked slowly aft, as far as the after end of the deck house.
From there, I could see most of the main deck; but nothing showed,
except, of course, the moving shadows of the ropes and spars and sails,
as they swung to and fro in the moonlight.
The old chap who had just come off the look-out, had returned forrard
again, and I was alone on that part of the deck. And then, all at once,
as I stood peering into the shadows to leeward, I remembered what
Williams had said about there being too many "shadders." I had been
puzzled to understand his real meaning, then. I had no difficulty _now_.
There _were_ too many shadows. Yet, shadows or no shadows, I realised
that for my own peace of mind, I must settle, once and for all, whether
the thing I had seemed to see stepping aboard out of the ocean, had been
a reality, or simply a phantom, as you might say, of my imagination. My
reason said it was nothing more than imagination, a rapid dream--I must
have dozed; but something deeper than reason told me that this was not
so. I put it to the test, and went straight in amongst the shadows--
There was nothing.
I grew bolder. My common sense told me I must have fancied it all. I
walked over to the mainmast, and looked behind the pinrail that partly
surrounded it, and down into the shadow of the pumps; but here again was
nothing. Then I went in under the break of the poop. It was darker under
there than out on deck. I looked up both sides of the deck, and saw that
they were bare of anything such as I looked for. The assurance was
comforting. I glanced at the poop ladders, and remembered that nothing
could have gone up there, without the Second Mate or the Time-keeper
seeing it. Then I leant my back up against the bulkshead, and thought
the whole matter over, rapidly, sucking at my pipe, and keeping my
glance about the deck. I concluded my think, and said "No!" out loud.
Then something occurred to me, and I said "Unless--" and went over to
the starboard bulwarks, and looked over and down into the sea; but there
was nothing but sea; and so I turned and made my way forrard. My common
sense had triumphed, and I was convinced that my imagination had been
playing tricks with me.
I reached the door on the portside, leading into the fo'cas'le, and was
about to enter, when something made me look behind. As I did so, I had a
shaker. Away aft, a dim, shadowy form stood in the wake of a swaying
belt of moonlight, that swept the deck a bit abaft the main-mast.
It was the same figure that I had just been attributing to my fancy. I
will admit that I felt more than startled; I was quite a bit frightened.
I was convinced now that it was no mere imaginary thing. It was a human
figure. And yet, with the flicker of the moonlight and the shadows
chasing over it, I was unable to say more than that. Then, as I stood
there, irresolute and funky, I got the thought that someone was acting
the goat; though for what reason or purpose, I never stopped to
consider. I was glad of any suggestion that my common sense assured me
was not impossible; and, for the moment, I felt quite relieved. That
side to the question had not presented itself to me before. I began to
pluck up courage. I accused myself of getting fanciful; otherwise I
should have tumbled to it earlier. And then, funnily enough, in spite of
all my reasoning, I was still afraid of going aft to discover who that
was, standing on the lee side of the maindeck. Yet I felt that if I
shirked it, I was only fit to be dumped overboard; and so I went, though
not with any great speed, as you can imagine.
I had gone half the distance, and still the figure remained there,
motionless and silent--the moonlight and the shadows playing over it
with each roll of the ship. I think I tried to be surprised. If it were
one of the fellows playing the fool, he must have heard me coming, and
why didn't he scoot while he had the chance? And where could he have
hidden himself, before? All these things, I asked myself, in a rush,
with a queer mixture of doubt and belief; and, you know, in the
meantime, I was drawing nearer. I had passed the house, and was not
twelve paces distant; when, abruptly, the silent figure made three quick
strides to the port rail, and _climbed over it into the sea_.
I rushed to the side, and stared over; but nothing met my gaze, except
the shadow of the ship, sweeping over the moonlit sea.
How long I stared down blankly into the water, it would be impossible to
say; certainly for a good minute. I felt blank--just horribly blank. It
was such a beastly confirmation of the _unnaturalness_ of the thing I
had concluded to be only a sort of brain fancy. I seemed, for that
little time, deprived, you know, of the power of coherent thought. I
suppose I was dazed--mentally stunned, in a way.
As I have said, a minute or so must have gone, while I had been staring
into the dark of the water under the ship's side. Then, I came suddenly
to my ordinary self. The Second Mate was singing out: "Lee fore brace."
I went to the braces, like a chap in a dream.
What Tammy the 'Prentice Saw
The next morning, in my watch below, I had a look at the places where
that strange thing had come aboard, and left the ship; but I found
nothing unusual, and no clue to help me to understand the mystery of the
For several days after that, all went quietly; though I prowled about
the decks at night, trying to discover anything fresh that might tend to
throw some light on the matter. I was careful to say nothing to any one
about the thing I had seen. In any case, I felt sure I should only have
been laughed at.
Several nights passed away in this manner, and I was no nearer to an
understanding of the affair. And then, in the middle watch, something
It was my wheel. Tammy, one of the first voyage 'prentices, was keeping
time--walking up and down the lee side of the poop. The Second Mate was
forrard, leaning over the break of the poop, smoking. The weather still
continued fine, and the moon, though declining, was sufficiently
powerful to make every detail about the poop, stand out distinctly.
Three bells had gone, and I'll admit I was feeling sleepy. Indeed, I
believe I must have dozed, for the old packet steered very easily, and
there was precious little to do, beyond giving her an odd spoke now and
again. And then, all at once, it seemed to me that I heard someone
calling my name, softly. I could not be certain; and first I glanced
forrard to where the Second stood, smoking, and from him, I looked into
the binnacle. The ship's head was right on her course, and I felt
easier. Then, suddenly, I heard it again. There was no doubt about it
this time, and I glanced to leeward. There I saw Tammy reaching over the
steering gear, his hand out, in the act of trying to touch my arm. I was
about to ask him what the devil he wanted, when he held up his finger
for silence, and pointed forrard along the lee side of the poop. In the
dim light, his face showed palely, and he seemed much agitated. For a
few seconds, I stared in the direction he indicated, but could see
"What is it?" I asked in an undertone, after a couple of moments'
further ineffectual peering. "I can't see anything."
"H'sh!" he muttered, hoarsely, without looking in my direction. Then,
all at once, with a quick little gasp, he sprang across the wheel-box,
and stood beside me, trembling. His gaze appeared to follow the
movements of something I could not see.
I must say that I was startled. His movement had shown such terror; and
the way he stared to leeward made me think he saw something uncanny.
"What the deuce is up with you?" I asked, sharply. And then I remembered
the Second Mate. I glanced forrard to where he lounged. His back was
still towards us, and he had not seen Tammy. Then I turned to the boy.
"For goodness sake, get to looard before the Second sees you!" I said.
"If you want to say anything, say it across the wheel-box. You've been
Even as I spoke, the little beggar caught at my sleeve with one hand;
and, pointing across to the log-reel with the other, screamed: "He's
coming! He's coming----" At this instant, the Second Mate came running
aft, singing out to know what was the matter. Then, suddenly, crouching
under the rail near the log-reel, I saw something that looked like a
man; but so hazy and unreal, that I could scarcely say I saw anything.
Yet, like a flash, my thoughts ripped back to the silent figure I had
seen in the flicker of the moonlight, a week earlier.
The Second Mate reached me, and I pointed, dumbly; and yet, as I did so,
it was with the knowledge that _he_ would not be able to see what I saw.
(Queer, wasn't it?) And then, almost in a breath, I lost sight of the
thing, and became aware that Tammy was hugging my knees.
The Second continued to stare at the log-reel for a brief instant; then
he turned to me, with a sneer.
"Been asleep, the pair of you, I suppose!" Then, without waiting for my
denial, he told Tammy to go to hell out of it and stop his noise, or
he'd boot him off the poop.
After that, he walked forward to the break of the poop, and lit his
pipe, again--walking forward and aft every few minutes, and eyeing me,
at times, I thought, with a strange, half-doubtful, half-puzzled look.
Later, as soon as I was relieved, I hurried down to the 'Prentice's
berth. I was anxious to speak to Tammy. There were a dozen questions
that worried me, and I was in doubt what I ought to do. I found him
crouched on a sea-chest, his knees up to his chin, and his gaze fixed on
the doorway, with a frightened stare. I put my head into the berth, and
he gave a gasp; then he saw who it was, and his face relaxed something
of its strained expression.
He said: "Come in," in a low voice, which he tried to steady; and I
stepped over the wash-board, and sat down on a chest, facing him.
"What was _it?_" he asked; putting his feet down on to the deck, and
leaning forward. "For God's sake, tell me what it was!"
His voice had risen, and I put up my hand to warn him.
"H'sh!" I said. "You'll wake the other fellows."
He repeated his question, but in a lower tone. I hesitated, before
answering him. I felt, all at once, that it might be better to deny all
knowledge--to say I hadn't seen anything unusual. I thought quickly, and
made answer on the turn of the moment.
"What was _what?_" I said. "That's just the thing I've come to ask you.
A pretty pair of fools you made of the two of us up on the poop just
now, with your hysterical tomfoolery."
I concluded my remark in a tone of anger.
"I didn't!" he answered, in a passionate whisper. "You know I didn't.
You know _you_ saw it yourself. You pointed it out to the Second Mate. I
The little beggar was nearly crying between fear, and vexation at my
"Rot!" I replied. "You know jolly well you were sleeping in your
time-keeping. You dreamed something and woke up suddenly. You were off
I was determined to reassure him, if possible; though, goodness! I
wanted assurance myself. If he had known of that other thing, I had seen
down on the maindeck, what then?
"I wasn't asleep, any more than you were," he said, bitterly. "And you
know it. You're just fooling me. The ship's haunted."
"What!" I said, sharply.
"She's haunted," he said, again. "She's haunted."
"Who says so?" I inquired, in a tone of unbelief.
"I do! And you _know_ it. Everybody knows it; but they don't more than
half believe it ... I didn't, until tonight."
"Damned rot!" I answered. "That's all a blooming old shellback's yarn.
She's no more haunted than I am."
"It's not damned rot," he replied, totally unconvinced. "And it's not an
old shellback's yarn ... Why won't you say you saw it?" he cried,
growing almost tearfully excited, and raising his voice again.
I warned him not to wake the sleepers.
"Why won't you say that you saw it?" he repeated.
I got up from the chest, and went towards the door.
"You're a young idiot!" I said. "And I should advise you not to go
gassing about like this, round the decks. Take my tip, and turn-in and
get a sleep. You're talking dotty. Tomorrow you'll perhaps feel what an
unholy ass you've made of yourself."
I stepped over the washboard, and left him. I believe he followed me to
the door to say something further; but I was half-way forward by then.
For the next couple of days, I avoided him as much as possible, taking
care never to let him catch me alone. I was determined, if possible, to
convince him that he had been mistaken in supposing that he had seen
anything that night. Yet, after all, it was little enough use, as you
will soon see. For, on the night of the second day, there was a further
extraordinary development, that made denial on my part useless.
The Man up the Main
It occurred in the first watch, just after six bells. I was forward,
sitting on the fore-hatch. No one was about the maindeck. The night was
exceedingly fine; and the wind had dropped away almost to nothing, so
that the ship was very quiet.
Suddenly, I heard the Second Mate's voice--
"In the main-rigging, there! Who's that going aloft?"
I sat up on the hatch, and listened. There succeeded an intense silence.
Then the Second's voice came again. He was evidently getting wild.
"Do you damn well hear me? What the hell are you doing up there? Come
I rose to my feet, and walked up to wind'ard. From there, I could see
the break of the poop. The Second Mate was standing by the starboard
ladder. He appeared to be looking up at something that was hidden from
me by the topsails. As I stared, he broke out again:
"Hell and damnation, you blasted sojer, come down when I tell you!"
He stamped on the poop, and repeated his order, savagely. But there was
no answer. I started to walk aft. What had happened? Who had gone aloft?
Who would be fool enough to go, without being told? And then, all at
once, a thought came to me. The figure Tammy and I had seen. Had the
Second Mate seen something--someone? I hurried on, and then stopped,
suddenly. In the same moment there came the shrill blast of the Second's
whistle; he was whistling for the watch, and I turned and ran to the
fo'cas'le to rouse them out. Another minute, and I was hurrying aft with
them to see what was wanted.
His voice met us half-way:
"Up the main some of you, smartly now, and find out who that damned fool
is up there. See what mischief he's up to."
"i, i, Sir," several of the men sung out, and a couple jumped into the
weather rigging. I joined them, and the rest were proceeding to follow;
but the Second shouted for some to go up to leeward--in case the fellow
tried to get down that side.
As I followed the other two aloft, I heard the Second Mate tell Tammy,
whose time-keeping it was, to get down on to the maindeck with the other
'prentice, and keep an eye on the fore and aft stays.
"He may try down one of them if he's cornered," I heard him explain. "If
you see anything, just sing out for me, right away."
"Well?" said the Second Mate, sharply.
"Nothing, Sir," said Tammy, and went down on to the maindeck.
The first man to wind'ard had reached the futtock shrouds; his head was
above the top, and he was taking a preliminary look, before venturing
"See anythin', Jock?" asked Plummer, the man next above me.
"Na'!" said Jock, tersely, and climbed over the top, and so disappeared
from my sight.
The fellow ahead of me, followed. He reached the futtock rigging, and
stopped to expectorate. I was close at his heels, and he looked down to
"What's up, anyway?" he said. "What's 'e seen? 'oo're we chasin' after?"
I said I didn't know, and he swung up into the topmast rigging. I
followed on. The chaps on the lee side were about level with us. Under
the foot of the topsail, I could see Tammy and the other 'prentice down
on the maindeck, looking upwards.
The fellows were a bit excited in a sort of subdued way; though I am
inclined to think there was far more curiosity and, perhaps, a certain
consciousness of the strangeness of it all. I know that, looking to
leeward, there was a tendancy to keep well together, in which I
"Must be a bloomin' stowaway," one of the men suggested.
I grabbed at the idea, instantly. Perhaps--And then, in a moment, I
dismissed it. I remembered how that first thing had stepped over the
rail _into the sea. That_ matter could not be explained in such a
manner. With regard to this, I was curious and anxious. I had seen
nothing this time. What could the Second Mate have seen? I wondered.
Were we chasing fancies, or was there really someone--something real,
among the shadows above us? My thoughts returned to that thing, Tammy
and I had seen near the log-reel. I remembered how incapable the Second
Mate had been of seeing anything then. I remembered how natural it had
seemed that he should not be able to see. I caught the word "stowaway"
again. After all, that might explain away _this_ affair. It would----
My train of thought was broken suddenly. One of the men was shouting and
"I sees 'im! I sees 'im!" He was pointing upwards over our heads.
"Where?" said the man above me. "Where?"
I was looking up, for all that I was worth. I was conscious of a certain
sense of relief. "It is _real_ then," I said to myself. I screwed my
head round, and looked along the yards above us. Yet, still I could see
nothing; nothing except shadows and patches of light.
Down on deck, I caught the Second Mate's voice.
"Have you got him?" he was shouting.
"Not yet, Zur," sung out the lowest man on the lee side.
"We sees 'im, Sir," added Quoin.
"I don't!" I said.
"There 'e is agen," he said.
We had reached the t'gallant rigging, and he was pointing up to the
"Ye're a fule, Quoin. That's what ye are."
The voice came from above. It was Jock's, and there was a burst of
laughter at Quoin's expense.
I could see Jock now. He was standing in the rigging, just below the
yard. He had gone straight away up, while the rest of us were mooning
over the top.
"Ye're a fule, Quoin," he said, again, "And I'm thinking the Second's
juist as saft."
He began to descend.
"Then there's no one?" I asked.
"Na'," he said, briefly.
As we reached the deck, the Second Mate ran down off the poop. He came
towards us, with an expectant air.
"You've got him?" he asked, confidently.
"There wasn't anyone," I said.
"What!" he nearly shouted. "You're hiding something!" he continued,
angrily, and glancing from one to another. "Out with it. Who was it?"
"We're hiding nothing," I replied, speaking for the lot. "There's no one
The Second looked round upon us.
"Am I a fool?" he asked, contemptuously.
There was an assenting silence.
"I saw him myself," he continued. "Tammy, here, saw him. He wasn't over
the top when I first spotted him. There's no mistake about it. It's all
damned rot saying he's not there."
"Well, he's not, Sir," I answered. "Jock went right up to the royal
The Second Mate said nothing, in immediate reply; but went aft a few
steps and looked up the main. Then he turned to the two 'prentices.
"Sure you two boys didn't see anyone coming down from the main?" he
"Yes, Sir," they answered together.
"Anyway," I heard him mutter to himself, "I'd have spotted him myself,
if he had."
"Have you any idea, Sir, who it was you saw?" I asked, at this juncture.
He looked at me, keenly.
"No!" he said.
He thought for a few moments, while we all stood about in silence,
waiting for him to let us go.
"By the holy poker!" he exclaimed, suddenly. "But I ought to have
thought of that before."
He turned, and eyed us individually.
"You're all here?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir," we said in a chorus. I could see that he was counting us.
Then he spoke again.
"All of you men stay here where you are. Tammy, you go into _your_ place
and see if the other fellows are in their bunks. Then come and tell me.
The boy went, and he turned to the other 'prentice.
"You get along forrard to the fo'cas'le," he said. "Count the other
watch; then come aft and report to me."
As the youngster disappeared along the deck to the fo'cas'le, Tammy
returned from his visit to the Glory Hole, to tell the Second Mate that
the other two 'prentices were sound asleep in their bunks. Whereupon,
the Second bundled him off to the Carpenter's and Sailmaker's berth, to
see whether they were turned-in.
While he was gone, the other boy came aft, and reported that all the men
were in their bunks, and asleep.
"Sure?" the Second asked him.
"Quite, Sir," he answered.
The Second Mate made a quick gesture.
"Go and see if the Steward is in his berth," he said, abruptly. It was
plain to me that he was tremendously puzzled.
"You've something to learn yet, Mr. Second Mate," I thought to myself.
Then I fell to wondering to what conclusions he would come.
A few seconds later, Tammy returned to say that the Carpenter, Sailmaker
and "Doctor" were all turned-in.
The Second Mate muttered something, and told him to go down into the
saloon to see whether the First and Third Mates, by any chance, were not
in their berths.
Tammy started off; then halted.
"Shall I have a look into the Old Man's place, Sir, while I'm down
there?" he inquired.
"No!" said the Second Mate. "Do what I told you, and then come and tell
me. If anyone's to go into the Captain's cabin, it's got to be me."
Tammy said "i, i, Sir," and skipped away, up on to the poop.
While he was gone, the other 'prentice came up to say that the Steward
was in his berth, and that he wanted to know what the hell he was
fooling round his part of the ship for.
The Second Mate said nothing, for nearly a minute. Then he turned to us,
and told us we might go forrard.
As we moved off in a body, and talking in undertones, Tammy came down
from the poop, and went up to the Second Mate. I heard him say that the
two Mates were in their berths, asleep. Then he added, as if it were an
"So's the Old Man."
"I thought I told you--" the Second Mate began.
"I didn't, Sir," Tammy said. "His cabin door was open."
The Second Mate started to go aft. I caught a fragment of a remark he
was making to Tammy.
"--accounted for the whole crew. I'm--"
He went up on to the poop. I did not catch the rest.
I had loitered a moment; now, however, I hurried after the others. As we
neared the fo'cas'le, one bell went, and we roused out the other watch,
and told them what jinks we had been up to.
"I rec'on 'e must be rocky," one of the men remarked.
"Not 'im," said another, "'e's bin 'avin' forty winks on the break, an'
dreemed 'is mother-en-lore 'ad come on 'er visit, friendly like."
There was some laughter at this suggestion, and I caught myself smiling
along with the rest; though I had no reason for sharing their belief,
that there was nothing in it all.
"Might 'ave been a stowaway, yer know," I heard Quoin, the one who had
suggested it before, remark to one of the A.B's named Stubbins--a short,
rather surly-looking chap.
"Might have been hell!" returned Stubbins. "Stowaways hain't such fools
as all that."
"I dunno," said the first. "I wish I 'ad arsked the Second what 'e
thought about it."
"I don't think it was a stowaway, somehow," I said, chipping in. "What
would a stowaway want aloft? I guess he'd be trying more for the
"You bet he would, hevry time," said Stubbins. He lit his pipe, and
sucked at it, slowly.
"I don't hunderstand it, all ther same," he remarked, after a moment's
"Neither do I," I said. And after that I was quiet for a while,
listening to the run of conversation on the subject.
Presently, my glance fell upon Williams, the man who had spoken to me
about "shadders." He was sitting in his bunk, smoking, and making no
effort to join in the talk.
I went across to him.
"What do you think of it, Williams?" I asked. "Do _you_ think the Second
Mate really saw anything?"
He looked at me, with a sort of gloomy suspicion; but said nothing.
I felt a trifle annoyed by his silence; but took care not to show it.
After a few moments, I went on.
"Do you know, Williams, I'm beginning to understand what you meant that
night, when you said there were too many shadows."
"Wot yer mean?" he said, pulling his pipe from out of his mouth, and
fairly surprised into answering.
"What I say, of course," I said. "There _are_ too many shadows."
He sat up, and leant forward out from his bunk, extending his hand and
pipe. His eyes plainly showed his excitement.
"'ave yer seen--" he hesitated, and looked at me, struggling inwardly to
"Well?" I prompted.
For perhaps a minute he tried to say something. Then his expression
altered suddenly from doubt, and something else more indefinite, to a
pretty grim look of determination.
"I'm blimed," he said, "ef I don't tike er piy-diy out of 'er, shadders
or no shadders."
I looked at him, with astonishment.
"What's it got to do with your getting a pay-day out of her?" I asked.
He nodded his head, with a sort of stolid resolution.
"Look 'ere," he said.
"Ther crowd cleared"; he indicated with his hand and pipe towards the
"You mean in 'Frisco?" I said.
"Yus," he replied; "'an withart er cent of ther piy. I styied."
I comprehended him suddenly.
"You think they saw," I hesitated; then I said "shadows?"
He nodded; but said nothing.
"And so they all bunked?"
He nodded again, and began tapping out his pipe on the edge of his
"And the officers and the Skipper?" I asked.
"Fresh uns," he said, and got out of his bunk; for eight bells was
_The Fooling with the Sail_
It was on the Friday night, that the Second Mate had the watch aloft
looking for the man up the main; and for the next five days little else
was talked about; though, with the exception of Williams, Tammy and
myself, no one seemed to think of treating the matter seriously. Perhaps
I should not exclude Quoin, who still persisted, on every occasion, that
there was a stowaway aboard. As for the Second Mate, I have very little
doubt _now_, but that he was beginning to realise there was something
deeper and less understandable than he had at first dreamed of. Yet, all
the same, I know he had to keep his guesses and half-formed opinions
pretty well to himself; for the Old Man and the First Mate chaffed him
unmercifully about his "bogy." This, I got from Tammy, who had heard
them both ragging him during the second dog-watch the following day.
There was another thing Tammy told me, that showed how the Second Mate
bothered about his inability to understand the mysterious appearance and
disappearance of the man he had seen go aloft. He had made Tammy give
him every detail he could remember about the figure we had seen by the
log-reel. What is more, the Second had not even affected to treat the
matter lightly, nor as a thing to be sneered at; but had listened
seriously, and asked a great many questions. It is very evident to me
that he was reaching out towards the only possible conclusion. Though,
goodness knows, it was one that was impossible and improbable enough.
It was on the Wednesday night, after the five days of talk I have
mentioned, that there came, to me and to those who _knew_, another
element of fear. And yet, I can quite understand that, at _that_ time,
those who had seen nothing, would find little to be afraid of, in all
that I am going to tell you. Still, even they were much puzzled and
astonished, and perhaps, after all, a little awed. There was so much in
the affair that was inexplicable, and yet again such a lot that was
natural and commonplace. For, when all is said and done, it was nothing
more than the blowing adrift of one of the sails; yet accompanied by
what were really significant details--significant, that is, in the light
of that which Tammy and I and the Second Mate knew.
Seven bells, and then one, had gone in the first watch, and our side was
being roused out to relieve the Mate's. Most of the men were already out
of their bunks, and sitting about on their sea-chests, getting into
Suddenly, one of the 'prentices in the other watch, put his head in
through the doorway on the port side.
"The Mate wants to know," he said, "which of you chaps made fast the
fore royal, last watch."
"Wot's 'e want to know that for?" inquired one of the men.
"The lee side's blowing adrift," said the 'prentice. "And he says that
the chap who made it fast is to go up and see to it as soon as the watch
"Oh! does 'e? Well 'twasn't me, any'ow," replied the man. "You'd better
arsk sum of t'others."
"Ask what?" inquired Plummer, getting out of his bunk, sleepily.
The 'prentice repeated his message.
The man yawned and stretched himself.
"Let me see," he muttered, and scratched his head with one hand, while
he fumbled for his trousers with the other. "'oo made ther fore r'yal
fast?" He got into his trousers, and stood up. "Why, ther Or'nary, er
course; 'oo else do yer suppose?"
"That's all I wanted to know!" said the 'prentice, and went away.
"Hi! Tom!" Stubbins sung out to the Ordinary. "Wake up, you lazy young
devil. Ther Mate's just sent to hinquire who it was made the fore royal
fast. It's all blowin' adrift, and he says you're to get along up as
soon as eight bells goes, and make it fast again."
Tom jumped out of his bunk, and began to dress, quickly.
"Blowin' adrift!" he said. "There ain't all that much wind; and I tucked
the ends of the gaskets well in under the other turns."
"P'raps one of ther gaskets is rotten, and given way," suggested
Stubbins. "Anyway, you'd better hurry up, it's just on eight bells."
A minute later, eight bells went, and we trooped away aft for roll-call.
As soon as the names were called over, I saw the Mate lean towards the
Second and say something. Then the Second Mate sung out:
"Sir!" answered Tom.
"Was it you made fast that fore royal, last watch?"
"How's that it's broken adrift?"
"Carn't say, Sir."
"Well, it has, and you'd better jump aloft and shove the gasket round it
again. And mind you make a better job of it this time."
"i, i, Sir," said Tom, and followed the rest of us forrard. Reaching the
fore rigging, he climbed into it, and began to make his way leisurely
aloft. I could see him with a fair amount of distinctness, as the moon
was very clear and bright, though getting old.
I went over to the weather pin-rail, and leaned up against it, watching
him, while I filled my pipe. The other men, both the watch on deck and
the watch below, had gone into the fo'cas'le, so that I imagined I was
the only one about the maindeck. Yet, a minute later, I discovered that
I was mistaken; for, as I proceeded to light up, I saw Williams, the
young cockney, come out from under the lee of the house, and turn and
look up at the Ordinary as he went steadily upwards. I was a little
surprised, as I knew he and three of the others had a "poker fight" on,
and he'd won over sixty pounds of tobacco. I believe I opened my mouth
to sing out to him to know why he wasn't playing; and then, all at once,
there came into my mind the memory of my first conversation with him. I
remembered that he had said sails were always blowing adrift _at night_.
I remembered the, then, unaccountable emphasis he had laid on those two
words; and remembering that, I felt suddenly afraid. For, all at once,
the absurdity had struck me of a sail--even a badly stowed one--blowing
adrift in such fine and calm weather as we were then having. I wondered
I had not seen before that there was something queer and unlikely about
the affair. Sails don't blow adrift in fine weather, with the sea calm
and the ship as steady as a rock. I moved away from the rail and went
towards Williams. He knew something, or, at least, he guessed at
something that was very much a blankness to me at that time. Up above,
the boy was climbing up, to what? That was the thing that made me feel
so frightened. Ought I to tell all I knew and guessed? And then, who
should I tell? I should only be laughed at--I--
Williams turned towards me, and spoke.
"Gawd!" he said, "it's started agen!"
"What?" I said. Though I knew what he meant.
"Them syles," he answered, and made a gesture towards the fore royal.
I glanced up, briefly. All the lee side of the sail was adrift, from the
bunt gasket outwards. Lower, I saw Tom; he was just hoisting himself
into the t'gallant rigging.
Williams spoke again.
"We lost two on 'em just sime way, comin' art."
"Two of the men!" I exclaimed.
"Yus!" he said tersely.
"I can't understand," I went on. "I never heard anything about it."
"Who'd yer got ter tell yer abart it?" he asked.
I made no reply to his question; indeed, I had scarcely comprehended it,
for the problem of what I ought to do in the matter had risen again in
"I've a good mind to go aft and tell the Second Mate all I know," I
said. "He's seen something himself that he can't explain away, and--and
anyway I can't stand this state of things. If the Second Mate knew all--"
"Garn!" he cut in, interrupting me. "An' be told yer're a blastid
hidiot. Not yer. Yer sty were yer are."
I stood irresolute. What he had said, was perfectly correct, and I was
positively stumped what to do for the best. That there was danger aloft,
I was convinced; though if I had been asked my reasons for supposing
this, they would have been hard to find. Yet of its existence, I was as
certain as though my eyes already saw it. I wondered whether, being so
ignorant of the form it would assume, I could stop it by joining Tom on
the yard? This thought came as I stared up at the royal. Tom had reached
the sail, and was standing on the foot-rope, close in to the bunt. He
was bending over the yard, and reaching down for the slack of the sail.
And then, as I looked, I saw the belly of the royal tossed up and down
abruptly, as though a sudden heavy gust of wind had caught it.
"I'm blimed--!" Williams began, with a sort of excited expectation. And
then he stopped as abruptly as he had begun. For, in a moment, the sail
had thrashed right over the after side of the yard, apparently knocking
Tom clean from off the foot-rope.
"My God!" I shouted out loud. "He's gone!"
For an instant there was a blur over my eyes, and Williams was singing
out something that I could not catch. Then, just as quickly, it went,
and I could see again, clearly.
Williams was pointing, and I saw something black, swinging below the
yard. Williams called out something fresh, and made a run for the fore
rigging. I caught the last part----
Straightway, I knew that Tom had managed to grab the gasket as he fell,
and I bolted after Williams to give him a hand in getting the youngster
Down on deck, I caught the sound of running feet, and then the Second
Mate's voice. He was asking what the devil was up; but I did not trouble
to answer him then. I wanted all my breath to help me aloft. I knew very
well that some of the gaskets were little better than old shakins; and,
unless Tom got hold of something on the t'gallant yard below him, he
might come down with a run any moment. I reached the top, and lifted
myself over it in quick time. Williams was some distance above me. In
less than half a minute, I reached the t'gallant yard. Williams had gone
up on to the royal. I slid out on to the t'gallant foot-rope until I was
just below Tom; then I sung out to him to let himself down to me, and I
would catch him. He made no answer, and I saw that he was hanging in a
curiously limp fashion, and by one hand.
Williams's voice came down to me from the royal yard. He was singing out
to me to go up and give him a hand to pull Tom up on to the yard. When I
reached him, he told me that the gasket had hitched itself round the
lad's wrist. I bent beside the yard, and peered down. It was as Williams
had said, and I realised how near a thing it had been. Strangely enough,
even at that moment, the thought came to me how little wind there was. I
remembered the wild way in which the sail had lashed at the boy.
All this time, I was busily working, unreeving the port buntline. I took
the end, made a running bowline with it round the gasket, and let the
loop slide down over the boy's head and shoulders. Then I took a strain
on it and tightened it under his arms. A minute later we had him safely
on the yard between us. In the uncertain moonlight, I could just make
out the mark of a great lump on his forehead, where the foot of the sail
must have caught him when it knocked him over.
As we stood there a moment, taking our breath, I caught the sound of the
Second Mate's voice close beneath us. Williams glanced down; then he
looked up at me and gave a short, grunting laugh.
"Crikey!" he said.
"What's up?" I asked, quickly.
He jerked his head backwards and downwards. I screwed round a bit,
holding the jackstay with one hand, and steadying the insensible
Ordinary with the other. In this way I could look below. At first, I
could see nothing. Then the Second Mate's voice came up to me again.
"Who the hell are you? What are you doing?"
I saw him now. He was standing at the foot of the weather t'gallant
rigging, his face was turned upwards, peering round the after side of
the mast. It showed to me only as a blurred, pale-coloured oval in the
He repeated his question.
"It's Williams and I, Sir," I said. "Tom, here, has had an accident."
I stopped. He began to come up higher towards us. From the rigging to
leeward there came suddenly a buzz of men talking.
The Second Mate reached us.
"Well, what's up, anyway?" he inquired, suspiciously. "What's happened?"
He had bent forward, and was peering at Tom. I started to explain; but
he cut me short with:
"Is he dead?"
"No, Sir," I said. "I don't think so; but the poor beggar's had a bad
fall. He was hanging by the gasket when we got to him. The sail knocked
him off the yard."
"What?" he said, sharply.
"The wind caught the sail, and it lashed back over the yard--"
"What wind?" he interrupted. "There's no wind, scarcely." He shifted his
weight on to the other foot. "What do you mean?"
"I mean what I say, Sir. The wind brought the foot of the sail over the
top of the yard and knocked Tom clean off the foot-rope. Williams and I
both saw it happen."
"But there's no wind to do such a thing; you're talking nonsense!"
It seemed to me that there was as much of bewilderment as anything else
in his voice; yet I could tell that he was suspicious--though, of what,
I doubted whether he himself could have told.
He glanced at Williams, and seemed about to say something. Then, seeming
to change his mind, he turned, and sung out to one of the men who had
followed him aloft, to go down and pass out a coil of new, three-inch
manilla, and a tailblock.
"Smartly now!" he concluded.
"i, i, Sir," said the man, and went down swiftly.
The Second Mate turned to me.
"When you've got Tom below, I shall want a better explanation of all
this, than the one you've given me. It won't wash."
"Very well, Sir," I answered. "But you won't get any other."
"What do you mean?" he shouted at me. "I'll let you know I'll have no
impertinence from you or any one else."
"I don't mean any impertinence, Sir--I mean that it's the only
explanation there is to give."
"I tell you it won't wash!" he repeated. "There's something too damned
funny about it all. I shall have to report the matter to the Captain. I
can't tell him that yarn--" He broke off abruptly.
"It's not the only damned funny thing that's happened aboard this old
hooker," I answered. "You ought to know that, Sir."
"What do you mean?" he asked, quickly.
"Well, Sir," I said, "to be straight, what about that chap you sent us
hunting after up the main the other night? That was a funny enough
affair, wasn't it? This one isn't half so funny."
"That will do, Jessop!" he said, angrily. "I won't have any back talk."
Yet there was something about his tone that told me I had got one in on
my own. He seemed all at once less able to appear confident that I was
telling him a fairy tale.
After that, for perhaps half a minute, he said nothing. I guessed he was
doing some hard thinking. When he spoke again it was on the matter of
getting the Ordinary down on deck.
"One of you'll have to go down the lee side and steady him down," he
He turned and looked downwards.
"Are you bringing that gantline?" he sang out.
"Yes, Sir," I heard one of the men answer.
A moment later, I saw the man's head appear over the top. He had the
tail-block slung round his neck, and the end of the gantline over his
Very soon we had the gantline rigged, and Tom down on deck. Then we took
him into the fo'cas'le and put him in his bunk. The Second Mate had sent
for some brandy, and now he started to dose him well with it. At the
same time a couple of the men chafed his hands and feet. In a little, he
began to show signs of coming round. Presently, after a sudden fit of
coughing, he opened his eyes, with a surprised, bewildered stare. Then
he caught at the edge of his bunk-board, and sat up, giddily. One of the
men steadied him, while the Second Mate stood back, and eyed him,
critically. The boy rocked as he sat, and put up his hand to his head.
"Here," said the Second Mate, "take another drink."
Tom caught his breath and choked a little; then he spoke.
"By gum!" he said, "my head does ache."
He put up his hand, again, and felt at the lump on his forehead. Then he
bent forward and stared round at the men grouped about his bunk.
"What's up?" he inquired, in a confused sort of way, and seeming as if
he could not see us clearly.
"What's up?" he asked again.
"That's just what I want to know!" said the Second Mate, speaking for
the first time with some sternness.
"I ain't been snoozin' while there's been a job on?" Tom inquired,
He looked round at the men appealingly.
"It's knocked 'im dotty, strikes me," said one of the men, audibly.
"No," I said, answering Tom's question, "you've had--"
"Shut that, Jessop!" said the Second Mate, quickly, interrupting me. "I
want to hear what the boy's got to say for himself."
He turned again to Tom.
"You were up at the fore royal," he prompted.
"I carn't say I was, Sir," said Tom, doubtfully. I could see that he had
not gripped the Second Mate's meaning.
"But you were!" said the Second, with some impatience. "It was blowing
adrift, and I sent you up to shove a gasket round it."
"Blowin' adrift, Sir?" said Tom, dully.
"Yes! blowing adrift. Don't I speak plainly?"
The dullness went from Tom's face, suddenly.
"So it was, Sir," he said, his memory returning. "The bloomin' sail got
chock full of wind. It caught me bang in the face."
He paused a moment.
"I believe--" he began, and then stopped once more.
"Go on!" said the Second Mate. "Spit it out!"
"I don't know, Sir," Tom said. "I don't understand--"
He hesitated again.
"That's all I can remember," he muttered, and put his hand up to the
bruise on his forehead, as though trying to remember something.
In the momentary silence that succeeded, I caught the voice of Stubbins.
"There hain't hardly no wind," he was saying, in a puzzled tone.
There was a low murmur of assent from the surrounding men.
The Second Mate said nothing, and I glanced at him, curiously. Was he
beginning to see, I wondered, how useless it was to try to find any
sensible explanation of the affair? Had he begun at last to couple it
with that peculiar business of the man up the main? I am inclined _now_
to think that this was so; for, after staring a few moments at Tom, in a
doubtful sort of way, he went out of the fo'cas'le, saying that he would
inquire further into the matter in the morning. Yet, when the morning
came, he did no such thing. As for his reporting the affair to the
Skipper, I much doubt it. Even did he, it must have been in a very
casual way; for we heard nothing more about it; though, of course, we
talked it over pretty thoroughly among ourselves.
With regard to the Second Mate, even now I am rather puzzled by his
attitude to us aloft. Sometimes I have thought that he must have
suspected us of trying to play off some trick on him--perhaps, at the
time, he still half suspected one of us of being in some way connected
with the other business. Or, again, he may have been trying to fight
against the conviction that was being forced upon him, that there was
really something impossible and beastly about the old packet. Of course,
these are only suppositions.
And then, close upon this, there were further developments.
_The End of Williams_
As I have said, there was a lot of talk, among the crowd of us forrard,
about Tom's strange accident. None of the men knew that Williams and I
had seen it _happen_. Stubbins gave it as his opinion that Tom had been
sleepy, and missed the foot-rope. Tom, of course, would not have this by
any means. Yet, he had no one to appeal to; for, at that time, he was
just as ignorant as the rest, that we had seen the sail flap up over the
Stubbins insisted that it stood to reason it couldn't be the wind. There
wasn't any, he said; and the rest of the men agreed with him.
"Well," I said, "I don't know about all that. I'm a bit inclined to
think Tom's yarn is the truth."
"How do you make that hout?" Stubbins asked, unbelievingly. "There haint
nothin' like enough wind."
"What about the place on his forehead?" I inquired, in turn. "How are
you going to explain that?"
"I 'spect he knocked himself there when he slipped," he answered.
"Likely 'nuffli," agreed old Jaskett, who was sitting smoking on a chest
"Well, you're both a damn long way out of it!" Tom chipped in, pretty
warm. "I wasn't asleep; an' the sail did bloomin' well hit me."
"Don't you be impertinent, young feller," said Jaskett.
I joined in again.
"There's another thing, Stubbins," I said. "The gasket Tom was hanging
by, was on the after side of the yard. That looks as if the sail might
have flapped it over? If there were wind enough to do the one, it seems
to me that it might have done the other."
"Do you mean that it was hunder ther yard, or hover ther top?" he asked.
"Over the top, of course. What's more, the foot of the sail was hanging
over the after part of the yard, in a bight."
Stubbins was plainly surprised at that, and before he was ready with his
next objection, Plummer spoke.
"'oo saw it?" he asked.
"I saw it!" I said, a bit sharply. "So did Williams; so--for that
matter--did the Second Mate."
Plummer relapsed into silence; and smoked; and Stubbins broke out
"I reckon Tom must have had a hold of the foot and the gasket, and
pulled 'em hover the yard when he tumbled."
"No!" interrupted Tom. "The gasket was under the sail. I couldn't even
see it. An' I hadn't time to get hold of the foot of the sail, before it
up and caught me smack in the face."
"'ow did yer get 'old er ther gasket, when yer fell, then?" asked
"He didn't get hold of it," I answered for Tom. "It had taken a turn
round his wrist, and that's how we found him hanging."
"Do you mean to say as 'e 'adn't got 'old of ther garsket?," Quoin
inquired, pausing in the lighting of his pipe.
"Of course, I do," I said. "A chap doesn't go hanging on to a rope when
he's jolly well been knocked senseless."
"Ye're richt," assented Jock. "Ye're quite richt there, Jessop."
Quoin concluded the lighting of his pipe.
"I dunno," he said.
I went on, without noticing him.
"Anyway, when Williams and I found him, he was hanging by the gasket,
and it had a couple of turns round his wrist. And besides that, as I
said before, the foot of the sail was hanging over the after side of the
yard, and Tom's weight on the gasket was holding it there."
"It's damned queer," said Stubbins, in a puzzled voice. "There don't
seem to be no way of gettin' a proper hexplanation to it."
I glanced at Williams, to suggest that I should tell all that we had
seen; but he shook his head, and, after a moment's thought, it seemed to
me that there was nothing to be gained by so doing. We had no very clear
idea of the thing that had happened, and our half facts and guesses
would only have tended to make the matter appear more grotesque and
unlikely. The only thing to be done was to wait and watch. If we could
only get hold of something tangible, then we might hope to tell all that
we knew, without being made into laughing-stocks.
I came out from my think, abruptly.
Stubbins was speaking again. He was arguing the matter with one of the
"You see, with there bein' no wind, scarcely, ther thing's himpossible,
The other man interrupted with some remark I did not catch.
"No," I heard Stubbins say. "I'm hout of my reckonin'. I don't savvy it
one bit. It's too much like a damned fairy tale."
"Look at his wrist!" I said.
Tom held out his right hand and arm for inspection. It was considerably
swollen where the rope had been round it.
"Yes," admitted Stubbins. "That's right enough; but it don't tell you
I made no reply. As Stubbins said, it told you "nothin'." And there I
let it drop. Yet, I have told you this, as showing how the matter was
regarded in the fo'cas'le. Still, it did not occupy our minds very long;
for, as I have said, there were further developments.
The three following nights passed quietly; and then, on the fourth, all
those curious signs and hints culminated suddenly in something
extraordinarily grim. Yet, everything had been so subtle and intangible,
and, indeed, so was the affair itself, that only those who had actually
come in touch with the invading fear, seemed really capable of
comprehending the terror of the thing. The men, for the most part, began
to say the ship was unlucky, and, of course, as usual! there was some
talk of there being a Jonah in the ship. Still, I cannot say that none
of the men realised there was anything horrible and frightening in it
all; for I am sure that some did, a little; and I think Stubbins was
certainly one of them; though I feel certain that he did not, at that
time, you know, grasp a quarter of the real significance that underlay
the several queer matters that had disturbed our nights. He seemed to
fail, somehow, to grasp the element of personal danger that, to me, was
already plain. He lacked sufficient imagination, I suppose, to piece the
things together--to trace the natural sequence of the events, and their
development. Yet I must not forget, of course, that he had no knowledge
of those two first incidents. If he had, perhaps he might have stood
where I did. As it was, he had not seemed to reach out at all, you know,
not even in the matter of Tom and the fore royal. Now, however, after
the thing I am about to tell you, he seemed to see a little way into the
darkness, and realise possibilities.
I remember the fourth night, well. It was a clear, star-lit, moonless
sort of night: at least, I think there was no moon; or, at any rate, the
moon could have been little more than a thin crescent, for it was near
the dark time.
The wind had breezed up a bit; but still remained steady. We were
slipping along at about six or seven knots an hour. It was our middle
watch on deck, and the ship was full of the blow and hum of the wind
aloft. Williams and I were the only ones about the maindeck. He was
leaning over the weather pin-rail, smoking; while I was pacing up and
down, between him and the fore hatch. Stubbins was on the look-out.
Two bells had gone some minutes, and I was wishing to goodness that it
was eight, and time to turn-in. Suddenly, overhead, there sounded a
sharp crack, like the report of a rifle shot. It was followed instantly
by the rattle and crash of sailcloth thrashing in the wind.
Williams jumped away from the rail, and ran aft a few steps. I followed
him, and, together, we stared upwards to see what had gone.
Indistinctly, I made out that the weather sheet of the fore t'gallant
had carried away, and the clew of the sail was whirling and banging
about in the air, and, every few moments, hitting the steel yard a blow,
like the thump of a great sledge hammer.
"It's the shackle, or one of the links that's gone, I think," I shouted
to Williams, above the noise of the sail. "That's the spectacle that's
hitting the yard."
"Yus!" he shouted back, and went to get hold of the clewline. I ran to
give him a hand. At the same moment, I caught the Second Mate's voice
away aft, shouting. Then came the noise of running feet, and the rest of
the watch, and the Second Mate, were with us almost at the same moment.
In a few minutes we had the yard lowered and the sail clewed up. Then
Williams and I went aloft to see where the sheet had gone. It was much
as I had supposed; the spectacle was all right, but the pin had gone out
of the shackle, and the shackle itself was jammed into the sheavehole in
the yard arm.
Williams sent me down for another pin, while he unbent the clewline, and
overhauled it down to the sheet. When I returned with the fresh pin, I
screwed it into the shackle, clipped on the clewline, and sung out to
the men to take a pull on the rope. This they did, and at the second
heave the shackle came away. When it was high enough, I went up on to
the t'gallant yard, and held the chain, while Williams shackled it into
the spectacle. Then he bent on the clewline afresh, and sung out to the
Second Mate that we were ready to hoist away.
"Yer'd better go down an' give 'em a 'aul," he said. "I'll sty an' light
up ther syle."
"Right ho, Williams," I said, getting into the rigging. "Don't let the
ship's bogy run away with you."
This remark I made in a moment of light-heartedness, such as will come
to anyone aloft, at times. I was exhilarated for the time being, and
quite free from the sense of fear that had been with me so much of late.
I suppose this was due to the freshness of the wind.
"There's more'n one!" he said, in that curiously short way of his.
"What?" I asked.
He repeated his remark.
I was suddenly serious. The _reality_ of all the impossible details of
the past weeks came back to me, vivid, and beastly.
"What do you mean, Williams?" I asked him.
But he had shut up, and would say nothing.
"What do you know--how much do you know?" I went on, quickly. "Why did
you never tell me that you--"
The Second Mate's voice interrupted me, abruptly:
"Now then, up there! Are you going to keep us waiting all night? One of
you come down and give us a pull with the ha'lyards. The other stay up
and light up the gear."
"i, i, Sir," I shouted back.
Then I turned to Williams, hurriedly.
"Look here, Williams," I said. "If you think there is _really_ a danger
in your being alone up here--" I hesitated for words to express what I
meant. Then I went on. "Well, I'll jolly well stay up with you."
The Second Mate's voice came again.
"Come on now, one of you! Make a move! What the hell are you doing?"
"Coming, Sir!" I sung out.
"Shall I stay?" I asked definitely.
"Garn!" he said. "Don't yer fret yerself. I'll tike er bloomin' piy-diy
out of 'er. Blarst 'em. I ain't funky of 'em."
I went. That was the last word Williams spoke to anyone living.
I reached the decks, and tailed on to the haulyards.
We had nearly mast-headed the yard, and the Second Mate was looking up
at the dark outline of the sail, ready to sing out "Belay"; when, all at
once, there came a queer sort of muffled shout from Williams.
"Vast hauling, you men," shouted the Second Mate.
We stood silent, and listened.
"What's that, Williams?" he sung out. "Are you all clear?"
For nearly half a minute we stood, listening; but there came no reply.
Some of the men said afterwards that they had noticed a curious rattling
and vibrating noise aloft that sounded faintly above the hum and swirl
of the wind. Like the sound of loose ropes being shaken and slatted
together, you know. Whether this noise was really heard, or whether it
was something that had no existence outside of their imaginations, I
cannot say. I heard nothing of it; but then I was at the tail end of the
rope, and furthest from the fore rigging; while those who heard it were
on the fore part of the haulyards, and close up to the shrouds.
The Second Mate put his hands to his mouth.
"Are you all clear there?" he shouted again.
The answer came, unintelligible and unexpected. It ran like this:
"Blarst yer ... I've styed ... Did yer think ... drive ... bl--y
piy-diy." And then there was a sudden silence.
I stared up at the dim sail, astonished.
"He's dotty!" said Stubbins, who had been told to come off the look-out
and give us a pull.
"'e's as mad as a bloomin' 'atter," said Quoin, who was standing
foreside of me. "'e's been queer all along."
"Silence there!" shouted the Second Mate. Then:
"Williams!" more loudly.
Still no answer.
"Damn you, you jumped-up cockney crocodile! Can't you hear? Are you
There was no answer, and the Second Mate turned to me.
"Jump aloft, smartly now, Jessop, and see what's wrong!"
"i, i, Sir," I said and made a run for the rigging. I felt a bit queer.
Had Williams gone mad? He certainly always had been a bit funny. Or--and
the thought came with a jump--had he seen--I did not finish. Suddenly,
up aloft, there sounded a frightful scream. I stopped, with my hand on
the sheerpole. The next instant, something fell out of the darkness--a
heavy body, that struck the deck near the waiting men, with a tremendous
crash and a loud, ringing, wheezy sound that sickened me. Several of the
men shouted out loud in their fright, and let go of the haulyards; but
luckily the stopper held it, and the yard did not come down. Then, for
the space of several seconds, there was a dead silence among the crowd;
and it seemed to me that the wind had in it a strange moaning note.
The Second Mate was the first to speak. His voice came so abruptly that
it startled me.
"Get a light, one of you, quick now!"
There was a moment's hesitation.
"Fetch one of the binnacle lamps, you, Tammy."
"i, i, Sir," the youngster said, in a quavering voice, and ran aft.
In less than a minute I saw the light coming towards us along the deck.
The boy was running. He reached us, and handed the lamp to the Second
Mate, who took it and went towards the dark, huddled heap on the deck.
He held the light out before him, and peered at the thing.
"My God!" he said. "It's Williams!"
He stooped lower with the light, and I saw details. It was Williams
right enough. The Second Mate told a couple of the men to lift him and
straighten him out on the hatch. Then he went aft to call the Skipper.
He returned in a couple of minutes with an old ensign which he spread
over the poor beggar. Almost directly, the Captain came hurrying forward
along the decks. He pulled back one end of the ensign, and looked; then
he put it back quietly, and the Second Mate explained all that we knew,
in a few words.
"Would you leave him where he is, Sir?" he asked, after he had told
"The night's fine," said the Captain. "You may as well leave the poor
He turned, and went aft, slowly. The man who was holding the light,
swept it round so that it showed the place where Williams had struck the
The Second Mate spoke abruptly.
"Get a broom and a couple of buckets, some of you."
He turned sharply, and ordered Tammy on to the poop.
As soon as he had seen the yard mast-headed, and the ropes cleared up,
he followed Tammy. He knew well enough that it would not do for the
youngster to let his mind dwell too much on the poor chap on the hatch,
and I found out, a little later, that he gave the boy something to
occupy his thoughts.
After they had gone aft, we went into the fo'cas'le. Every one was moody
and frightened. For a little while, we sat about in our bunks and on the
chests, and no one said a word. The watch below were all asleep, and not
one of them knew what had happened.
All at once, Plummer, whose wheel it was, stepped over the starboard
washboard, into the fo'cas'le.
"What's up, anyway?" he asked. "Is Williams much 'urt?"
"Sh!" I said. "You'll wake the others. Who's taken your wheel?"
"Tammy--ther Second sent 'im. 'e said I could go forrard an' 'ave er
smoke. 'e said Williams 'ad 'ad er fall."
He broke off, and looked across the fo'cas'le.
"Where is 'e?" he inquired, in a puzzled voice.
I glanced at the others; but no one seemed inclined to start yarning
"He fell from the t'gallant rigging!" I said.
"Where is 'e?" he repeated.
"Smashed up," I said. "He's lying on the hatch."
"Dead?" he asked.
"I guessed 'twere somethin' pretty bad, when I saw the Old Man come
forrard. 'ow did it 'appen?"
He looked round at the lot of us sitting there silent and smoking.
"No one knows," I said, and glanced at Stubbins. I caught him eyeing me,
After a moment's silence, Plummer spoke again.
"I 'eard 'im screech, when I was at ther wheel. 'e must 'ave got 'urt up
Stubbins struck a match and proceeded to relight his pipe.
"How d'yer mean?" he asked, speaking for the first time.
"'ow do I mean? Well, I can't say. Maybe 'e jammed 'is fingers between
ther parrel an' ther mast."
"What about 'is swearin' at ther Second Mate? Was that 'cause 'e'd
jammed 'is fingers?" put in Quoin.
"I never 'eard about that," said Plummer. "'oo 'eard 'im?
"I should think heverybody in ther bloomin' ship heard him," Stubbins
answered. "All ther same, I hain't sure he _was_ swearin' at ther Second
Mate. I thought at first he'd gone dotty an' was cussin' him; but
somehow it don't seem likely, now I come to think. It don't stand to
reason he should go to cuss ther man. There was nothin' to go cussin'
about. What's more, he didn't seem ter be talkin' down to us on deck--
what I could make hout. 'sides, what would he want ter go talkin' to
ther Second about his pay-day?"
He looked across to where I was sitting. Jock, who was smoking, quietly,
on the chest next to me, took his pipe slowly out from between his
"Ye're no far oot, Stubbins, I'm thinkin'. Ye're no far oot," he said,
nodding his head.
Stubbins still continued to gaze at me.
"What's your idee?" he said, abruptly.
It may have been my fancy, but it seemed to me that there was something
deeper than the mere sense the question conveyed.
I glanced at him. I couldn't have said, myself, just what my idea was.
"I don't know!" I answered, a little adrift. "He didn't strike me as
cursing at the Second Mate. That is, I should say, after the first
"Just what I say," he replied. "Another thing--don't it strike you as
bein' bloomin' queer about Tom nearly comin' down by ther run, an' then
"It would have been all hup with Tom, if it hadn't been for ther
He paused. After a moment, he went on again.
"That was honly three or four nights ago!"
"Well," said Plummer. "What are yer drivin' at?"
"Nothin'," answered Stubbins. "Honly it's damned queer. Looks as though
ther ship might be unlucky, after all."
"Well," agreed Plummer. "Things 'as been a bit funny lately; and then
there's what's 'appened ter-night. I shall 'ang on pretty tight ther
next time I go aloft."
Old Jaskett took his pipe from his mouth, and sighed.
"Things is going wrong 'most every night," he said, almost pathetically.
"It's as diff'rent as chalk 'n' cheese ter what it were w'en we started
this 'ere trip. I thought it were all 'ellish rot about 'er bein'
'aunted; but it's not, seem'ly."
He stopped and expectorated.
"She hain't haunted," said Stubbins. "Leastways, not like you mean--"
He paused, as though trying to grasp some elusive thought.
"Eh?" said Jaskett, in the interval.
Stubbins continued, without noticing the query. He appeared to be
answering some half-formed thought in his own brain, rather than
"Things is queer--an' it's been a bad job tonight. I don't savvy one bit
what Williams was sayin' of hup aloft. I've thought sometimes he'd
somethin' on 'is mind--"
Then, after a pause of about half a minute, he said this:
"_Who_ was he sayin' that to?"
"Eh?" said Jaskett, again, with a puzzled expression.
"I was thinkin'," said Stubbins, knocking out his pipe on the edge of
the chest. "P'raps you're right, hafter all."
_Another Man to the Wheel_
The conversation had slacked off. We were all moody and shaken, and I
know I, for one, was thinking some rather troublesome thoughts.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of the Second's whistle. Then his voice came
along the deck:
"Another man to the wheel!"
"'e's singin' out for some one to go aft an' relieve ther wheel," said
Quoin, who had gone to the door to listen. "Yer'd better 'urry up,
"What's ther time?" asked Plummer, standing up and knocking out his
pipe. "Must be close on ter four bells, 'oo's next wheel is it?"
"It's all right, Plummer," I said, getting up from the chest on which I
had been sitting. "I'll go along. It's my wheel, and it only wants a
couple of minutes to four bells."
Plummer sat down again, and I went out of the fo'cas'le. Reaching the
poop, I met Tammy on the lee side, pacing up and down.
"Who's at the wheel?" I asked him, in astonishment.
"The Second Mate," he said, in a shaky sort of voice. "He's waiting to
be relieved. I'll tell you all about it as soon as I get a chance."
I went on aft to the wheel.
"Who's that?" the Second inquired.
"It's Jessop, Sir," I answered.
He gave me the course, and then, without another word, went forrard
along the poop. On the break, I heard him call Tammy's name, and then
for some minutes he was talking to him; though what he was saying, I
could not possibly hear. For my part, I was tremendously curious to know
why the Second Mate had taken the wheel. I knew that if it were just a
matter of bad steering on Tammy's part, he would not have dreamt of
doing such a thing. There had been something queer happening, about
which I had yet to learn; of this, I felt sure.
Presently, the Second Mate left Tammy, and commenced to walk the weather
side of the deck. Once he came right aft, and, stooping down, peered
under the wheel-box; but never addressed a word to me. Sometime later,
he went down the weather ladder on to the main-deck. Directly
afterwards, Tammy came running up to the lee side of the wheel-box.
"I've seen it again!" he said, gasping with sheer nervousness.
"What?" I said.
"That _thing_," he answered. Then he leant across the wheel-box, and
lowered his voice.
"It came over the lee rail--_up out of the sea_," he added, with an air
of telling something unbelievable.
I turned more towards him; but it was too dark to see his face with any
distinctness. I felt suddenly husky. "My God!" I thought. And then I
made a silly effort to protest; but he cut me short with a certain
"For God's sake, Jessop," he said, "do stow all that! It's no good. I
must have someone to talk to, or I shall go dotty."
I saw how useless it was to pretend any sort of ignorance. Indeed,
really, I had known it all along, and avoided the youngster on that very
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