The Ghost Pirates
William Hope Hodgson
Part 2 out of 4
account, as you know.
"Go on," I said. "I'll listen; but you'd better keep an eye for the
Second Mate; he may pop up any minute."
For a moment, he said nothing, and I saw him peering stealthily about
"Go on," I said. "You'd better make haste, or he'll be up before you're
half-way through. What was he doing at the wheel when I came up to
relieve it? Why did he send you away from it?"
"He didn't," Tammy replied, turning his face towards me. "I bunked away
"What for?" I asked.
"Wait a minute," he answered, "and I'll tell you the whole business. You
know the Second Mate sent me to the wheel, after _that_--" He nodded his
"Yes," I said.
"Well, I'd been here about ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour, and I
was feeling rotten about Williams, and trying to forget it all and keep
the ship on her course, and all that; when, all at once, I happened to
glance to loo'ard, and there I saw it climbing over the rail. My God! I
didn't know what to do. The Second Mate was standing forrard on the
break of the poop, and I was here all by myself. I felt as if I were
frozen stiff. When it came towards me, I let go of the wheel, and yelled
and bunked forrard to the Second Mate. He caught hold of me and shook
me; but I was so jolly frightened, I couldn't say a word. I could only
keep on pointing. The Second kept asking me 'Where?' And then, all at
once, I found I couldn't see the thing. I don't know whether he saw it.
I'm not at all certain he did. He just told me to damn well get back to
the wheel, and stop making a damned fool of myself. I said out straight
I wouldn't go. So he blew his whistle, and sung out for someone to come
aft and take it. Then he ran and got hold of the wheel himself. You know
"You're quite sure it wasn't thinking about Williams made you imagine
you saw something?" I said, more to gain a moment to think, than because
I believed that it was the case.
"I thought you were going to listen to me, seriously!" he said,
bitterly. "If you won't believe me; what about the chap the Second Mate
saw? What about Tom? What about Williams? For goodness sake! don't try
to put me off like you did last time. I nearly went cracked with wanting
to tell someone who would listen to me, and wouldn't laugh. I could
stand anything, but this being alone. There's a good chap, don't pretend
you don't understand. Tell me what it all means. What is this horrible
man that I've twice seen? You know you know something, and I believe
you're afraid to tell anyone, for fear of being laughed at. Why don't
you tell me? You needn't be afraid of my laughing."
He stopped, suddenly. For the moment, I said nothing in reply.
"Don't treat me like a kid, Jessop!" he exclaimed, quite passionately.
"I won't," I said, with a sudden resolve to tell him everything. "I need
someone to talk to, just as badly as you do."
"What does it all mean, then?" he burst out. "Are they real? I always
used to think it was all a yarn about such things."
"I'm sure I don't know what it all means, Tammy," I answered. "I'm just
as much in the dark, there, as you are. And I don't know whether they're
real--that is, not as we consider things real. You don't know that I saw
a queer figure down on the maindeck, several nights before you saw that
thing up here."
"Didn't you see this one?" he cut in, quickly.
"Yes," I answered.
"Then, why did you pretend not to have?" he said, in a reproachful
voice. "You don't know what a state you put me into, what with my being
certain that I had seen it and then you being so jolly positive that
there had been nothing. At one time I thought I was going clean off my
dot--until the Second Mate saw that man go up the main. Then, I knew
that there must be something in the thing I was certain I'd seen."
"I thought, perhaps, that if I told you I hadn't seen it, you would
think you'd been mistaken," I said. "I wanted you to think it was
imagination, or a dream, or something of that sort."
"And all the time, you knew about that other thing you'd seen?" he
"Yes," I replied.
"It was thundering decent of you," he said. "But it wasn't any good."
He paused a moment. Then he went on:
"It's terrible about Williams. Do you think he saw something, up aloft?"
"I don't know, Tammy," I said. "It's impossible to say. It _may_ have
been only an accident." I hesitated to tell him what I really thought.
"What was he saying about his pay-day? Who was he saying it to?"
"I don't know," I said, again. "He was always cracked about taking a
pay-day out of her. You know, he stayed in her, on purpose, when all the
others left. He told me that he wasn't going to be done out of it, for
"What did the other lot leave for?" he asked. Then, as the idea seemed
to strike him--"Jove! do you think they saw something, and got scared?
It's quite possible. You know, we only joined her in 'Frisco. She had no
'prentices on the passage out. Our ship was sold; so they sent us aboard
here to come home."
"They may have," I said. "Indeed, from things I've heard Williams say,
I'm pretty certain, he for one, guessed or knew a jolly sight more than
we've any idea of."
"And now he's dead!" said Tammy, solemnly. "We'll never be able to find
out from him now."
For a few moments, he was silent. Then he went off on another track.
"Doesn't anything ever happen in the Mate's watch?"
"Yes," I answered. "There's several things happened lately, that seem
pretty queer. Some of his side have been talking about them. But he's
too jolly pig-headed to see anything. He just curses his chaps, and puts
it all down to them."
"Still," he persisted, "things seem to happen more in our watch than in
his--I mean, bigger things. Look at tonight."
"We've no proof, you know," I said.
He shook his head, doubtfully.
"I shall always funk going aloft, now."
"Nonsense!" I told him. "It may only have been an accident."
"Don't!" he said. "You know you don't think so, really."
I answered nothing, just then; for I knew very well that he was right.
We were silent for a couple of moments.
Then he spoke again:
"Is the ship haunted?"
For an instant I hesitated.
"No," I said, at length. "I don't think she is. I mean, not in that
"What way, then?"
"Well, I've formed a bit of a theory, that seems wise one minute, and
cracked the next. Of course, it's as likely to be all wrong; but it's
the only thing that seems to me to fit in with all the beastly things
we've had lately."
"Go on!" he said, with an impatient, nervous movement.
"Well, I've an idea that it's nothing _in_ the ship that's likely to
hurt us. I scarcely know how to put it; but, if I'm right in what I
think, it's the ship herself that's the cause of everything."
"What do you mean?" he asked, in a puzzled voice. "Do you mean that the
ship _is_ haunted, after all?"
"No!" I answered. "I've just told you I didn't. Wait until I've finished
what I was going to say."
"All right!" he said.
"About that thing you saw tonight," I went on. "You say it came over the
lee rail, up on to the poop?"
"Yes," he answered.
"Well, the thing I saw, _came up out of the sea, and went back into the
"Jove!" he said; and then: "Yes, go on!"
"My idea is, that this ship is open to be boarded by those things," I
explained. "What they are, of course I don't know. They look like men--
in lots of ways. But--well, the Lord knows what's in the sea. Though we
don't want to go imagining silly things, of course. And then, again, you
know, it seems fat-headed, calling anything silly. That's how I keep
going, in a sort of blessed circle. I don't know a bit whether they're
flesh and blood, or whether they're what we should call ghosts or
"They can't be flesh and blood," Tammy interrupted. "Where would they
live? Besides, that first one I saw, I thought I could see through it.
And this last one--the Second Mate would have seen it. And they would
"Not necessarily," I said.
"Oh, but I'm sure they're not," he insisted. "It's impossible--"
"So are ghosts--when you're feeling sensible," I answered. "But I'm not
saying they _are_ flesh and blood; though, at the same time, I'm not
going to say straight out they're ghosts--not yet, at any rate."
"Where do they come from?" he asked, stupidly enough.
"Out of the sea," I told him. "You saw for yourself!"
"Then why don't other vessels have them coming aboard?" he said. "How do
you account for that?"
"In a way--though sometimes it seems cracky--I think I can, according to
my idea," I answered.
"How?" he inquired again.
"Why, I believe that this ship is open, as I've told you--exposed,
unprotected, or whatever you like to call it. I should say it's
reasonable to think that all the things of the material world are
barred, as it were, from the immaterial; but that in some cases the
barrier may be broken down. That's what may have happened to this ship.
And if it has, she may be naked to the attacks of beings belonging to
some other state of existence."
"What's made her like that?" he asked, in a really awed sort of tone.
"The Lord knows!" I answered. "Perhaps something to do with magnetic
stresses; but you'd not understand, and I don't, really. And, I suppose,
inside of me, I don't believe it's anything of the kind, for a minute.
I'm not built that way. And yet I don't know! Perhaps, there may have
been some rotten thing done aboard of her. Or, again, it's a heap more
likely to be something quite outside of anything I know."
"If they're immaterial then, they're spirits?" he questioned.
"I don't know," I said. "It's so hard to say what I really think, you
know. I've got a queer idea, that my head-piece likes to think good; but
I don't believe my tummy believes it."
"Go on!" he said.
"Well," I said. "Suppose the earth were inhabited by two kinds of life.
We're one, and _they're_ the other."
"Go on!" he said.
"Well," I said. "Don't you see, in a normal state we may not be capable
of appreciating the _realness_ of the other? But they may be just as
_real_ and material to _them_, as _we_ are to _us_. Do you see?"
"Yes," he said. "Go on!"
"Well," I said. "The earth may be just as _real_ to them, as to us. I
mean that it may have qualities as material to them, as it has to us;
but neither of us could appreciate the other's realness, or the quality
of realness in the earth, which was real to the other. It's so difficult
to explain. Don't you understand?"
"Yes," he said. "Go on!"
"Well, if we were in what I might call a healthy atmosphere, they would
be quite beyond our power to see or feel, or anything. And the same with
them; but the more we're like _this_, the more _real_ and actual they
could grow _to us_. See? That is, the more we should become able to
appreciate their form of materialness. That's all. I can't make it any
"Then, after all, you _really_ think they're ghosts, or something of
that sort?" Tammy said.
"I suppose it does come to that," I answered. "I mean that, anyway, I
don't think they're our ideas of flesh and blood. But, of course, it's
silly to say much; and, after all, you must remember that I may be all
"I think you ought to tell the Second Mate all this," he said. "If it's
really as you say, the ship ought to be put into the nearest port, and
jolly well burnt."
"The Second Mate couldn't do anything," I replied. "Even if he believed
it all; which we're not certain he would."
"Perhaps not," Tammy answered. "But if you could get him to believe it,
he might explain the whole business to the Skipper, and then something
might be done. It's not safe as it is."
"He'd only get jeered at again," I said, rather hopelessly.
"No," said Tammy. "Not after what's happened tonight."
"Perhaps not," I replied, doubtfully. And just then the Second Mate came
back on to the poop, and Tammy cleared away from the wheel-box, leaving
me with a worrying feeling that I ought to do something.
_The Coming of the Mist and That Which It Ushered_
We buried Williams at midday. Poor beggar! It had been so sudden. All
day the men were awed and gloomy, and there was a lot of talk about
there being a Jonah aboard. If they'd only known what Tammy and I, and
perhaps the Second Mate, knew!
And then the next thing came--the mist. I cannot remember now, whether
it was on the day we buried Williams that we first saw it, or the day
When first I noticed it, like everybody else aboard, I took it to be
some form of haze, due to the heat of the sun; for it was broad daylight
when the thing came.
The wind had died away to a light breeze, and I was working at the main
rigging, along with Plummer, putting on seizings.
"Looks as if 'twere middlin' 'ot," he remarked.
"Yes," I said; and, for the time, took no further notice.
Presently he spoke again:
"It's gettin' quite 'azy!" and his tone showed he was surprised.
I glanced up, quickly. At first, I could see nothing. Then, I saw what
he meant. The air had a wavy, strange, unnatural appearance; something
like the heated air over the top of an engine's funnel, that you can
often see when no smoke is coming out.
"Must be the heat," I said. "Though I don't remember ever seeing
anything just like it before."
"Nor me," Plummer agreed.
It could not have been a minute later when I looked up again, and was
astonished to find that the whole ship was surrounded by a thinnish haze
that quite hid the horizon.
"By Jove! Plummer," I said. "How queer!"
"Yes," he said, looking round. "I never seen anythin' like it before--
not in these parts."
"Heat wouldn't do that!" I said.
"N--no," he said, doubtfully.
We went on with our work again--occasionally exchanging an odd word or
two. Presently, after a little time of silence, I bent forward and asked
him to pass me up the spike. He stooped and picked it up from the deck,
where it had tumbled. As he held it out to me, I saw the stolid
expression on his face, change suddenly to a look of complete surprise.
He opened his mouth.
"By gum!" he said. "It's gone."
I turned quickly, and looked. And so it had--the whole sea showing clear
and bright, right away to the horizon.
I stared at Plummer, and he stared at me.
"Well, I'm blowed!" he exclaimed.
I do not think I made any reply; for I had a sudden, queer feeling that
the thing was not right. And then, in a minute, I called myself an ass;
but I could not really shake off the feeling. I had another good look at
the sea. I had a vague idea that something was different. The sea looked
brighter, somehow, and the air clearer, I thought, and I missed
something; but not much, you know. And it was not until a couple of days
later, that I knew that it was several vessels on the horizon, which had
been quite in sight before the mist, and now were gone.
During the rest of the watch, and indeed all day, there was no further
sign of anything unusual. Only, when the evening came (in the second
dog-watch it was) I saw the mist rise faintly--the setting sun shining
through it, dim and unreal.
I knew then, as a certainty, that it was not caused by heat.
And that was the beginning of it.
The next day, I kept a pretty close watch, during all my time on deck;
but the atmosphere remained clear. Yet, I heard from one of the chaps in
the Mate's watch, that it had been hazy during part of the time he was
at the wheel.
"Comin' an' goin', like," he described it to me, when I questioned him
about it. He thought it might be heat.
But though I knew otherwise, I did not contradict him. At that time, no
one, not even Plummer, seemed to think very much of the matter. And when
I mentioned it to Tammy, and asked him whether he'd noticed it, he only
remarked that it must have been heat, or else the sun drawing up water.
I let it stay at that; for there was nothing to be gained by suggesting
that the thing had more to it.
Then, on the following day, something happened that set me wondering
more than ever, and showed me how right I had been in feeling the mist
to be something unnatural. It was in this way.
Five bells, in the eight to twelve morning watch, had gone. I was at the
wheel. The sky was perfectly clear--not a cloud to be seen, even on the
horizon. It was hot, standing at the wheel; for there was scarcely any
wind, and I was feeling drowsy. The Second Mate was down on the maindeck
with the men, seeing about some job he wanted done; so that I was on the
Presently, with the heat, and the sun beating right down on to me, I
grew thirsty; and, for want of something better, I pulled out a bit of
plug I had on me, and bit off a chew; though, as a rule, it is not a
habit of mine. After a little, naturally enough, I glanced round for the
spittoon; but discovered that it was not there. Probably it had been
taken forrard when the decks were washed, to give it a scrub. So, as
there was no one on the poop, I left the wheel, and stepped aft to the
taffrail. It was thus that I came to see something altogether unthought
of--a full-rigged ship, close-hauled on the port tack, a few hundred
yards on our starboard quarter. Her sails were scarcely filled by the
light breeze, and flapped as she lifted to the swell of the sea. She
appeared to have very little way through the water, certainly not more
than a knot an hour. Away aft, hanging from the gaff-end, was a string
of flags. Evidently, she was signalling to us. All this, I saw in a
flash, and I just stood and stared, astonished. I was astonished because
I had not seen her earlier. In that light breeze, I knew that she must
have been in sight for at least a couple of hours. Yet I could think of
nothing rational to satisfy my wonder. There she was--of that much, I
was certain. And yet, how had she come there without my seeing her,
All at once, as I stood, staring, I heard the wheel behind me, spin
rapidly. Instinctively, I jumped to get hold of the spokes; for I did
not want the steering gear jammed. Then I turned again to have another
look at the other ship; but, to my utter bewilderment, _there was no
sign of her_--nothing but the calm ocean, spreading away to the distant
horizon. I blinked my eyelids a bit, and pushed the hair off my
forehead. Then, I stared again; but there was no vestige of her--
nothing, you know; and absolutely nothing unusual, except a faint,
tremulous quiver in the air. And the blank surface of the sea reaching
everywhere to the empty horizon.
Had she foundered? I asked myself, naturally enough; and, for the
moment, I really wondered. I searched round the sea for wreckage; but
there was nothing, not even an odd hen-coop, or a piece of deck
furniture; and so I threw away that idea, as impossible.
Then, as I stood, I got another thought, or, perhaps, an intuition and I
asked myself seriously whether this disappearing ship might not be in
some way connected with the other queer things. It occurred to me then,
that the vessel I had seen was nothing real, and, perhaps, did not exist
outside of my own brain. I considered the idea, gravely. It helped to
explain the thing, and I could think of nothing else that would. Had she
been real, I felt sure that others aboard us would have been bound to
have seen her long before I had--I got a bit muddled there, with trying
to think it out; and then, abruptly, the reality of the other ship, came
back to me--every rope and sail and spar, you know. And I remembered how
she had lifted to the heave of the sea, and how the sails had flapped in
the light breeze. And the string of flags! She had been signalling. At
that last, I found it just as impossible to believe that she had not
I had reached to this point of irresolution, and was standing with my
back, partly turned to the wheel. I was holding it steady with my left
hand, while I looked over the sea, to try to find something to help me
All at once, as I stared, I seemed to see the ship again.
She was more on the beam now, than on the quarter; but I thought little
of that, in the astonishment of seeing her once more. It was only a
glimpse, I caught of her--dim and wavering, as though I looked at her
through the convolutions of heated air. Then she grew indistinct, and
vanished again; but I was convinced now that she was real, and had been
in sight all the time, if I could have seen her. That curious, dim,
wavering appearance had suggested something to me. I remembered the
strange, wavy look of the air, a few days previously, just before the
mist had surrounded the ship. And in my mind, I connected the two. It
was nothing about the other packet that was strange. The strangeness was
with us. It was something that was about (or invested) our ship that
prevented me--or indeed, any one else aboard from seeing that other. It
was evident that she had been able to see us, as was proved by her
signalling. In an irrelevant sort of way, I wondered what the people
aboard of her thought of our apparently intentional disregard of their
After that, I thought of the strangeness of it all. Even at that minute,
they could see us, plainly; and yet, so far as we were concerned, the
whole ocean seemed empty. It appeared to me, at that time, to be the
weirdest thing that could happen to us.
And then a fresh thought came to me. How long had we been like that? I
puzzled for a few moments. It was now that I recollected that we had
sighted several vessels on the morning of the day when the mist
appeared; and since then, we had seen nothing. This, to say the least,
should have struck me as queer; for some of the other packets were
homeward bound along with us, and steering the same course.
Consequently, with the weather being fine, and the wind next to nothing,
they should have been in sight all the time. This reasoning seemed to me
to show, unmistakably, some connection between the coming of the mist,
and our inability to _see_. So that it is possible we had been in that
extraordinary state of blindness for nearly three days.
In my mind, the last glimpse of that ship on the quarter, came back to
me. And, I remember, a curious thought got me, that I had looked at her
from out of some other dimension. For a while, you know, I really
believed the mystery of the idea, and that it might be the actual truth,
took me; instead of my realising just all that it might mean. It seemed
so exactly to express all the half-defined thoughts that had come, since
seeing that other packet on the quarter.
Suddenly, behind me, there came a rustle and rattle of the sails; and,
in the same instant, I heard the Skipper saying:
"Where the devil have you got her to, Jessop?"
I whirled round to the wheel.
"I don't know--Sir," I faltered.
I had forgotten even that I was at the wheel.
"Don't know!" he shouted. "I should damned well think you don't.
Starboard your helm, you fool. You'll have us all aback!"
"i, i, Sir," I answered, and hove the wheel over. I did it almost
mechanically; for I was still dazed, and had not yet had time to collect
During the following half-minute, I was only conscious, in a confused
sort of way, that the Old Man was ranting at me. This feeling of
bewilderment passed off, and I found that I was peering blankly into the
binnacle, at the compass-card; yet, until then, entirely without being
aware of the fact. Now, however, I saw that the ship was coming back on
to her course. Goodness knows how much she had been off!
With the realisation that I had let the ship get almost aback, there
came a sudden memory of the alteration in the position of the other
vessel. She had appeared last on the beam, instead of on the quarter.
Now, however, as my brain began to work, I saw the cause of this
apparent and, until then, inexplicable change. It was due, of course, to
our having come up, until we had brought the other packet on to the
It is curious how all this flashed through my mind, and held my
attention--although only momentarily--in the face of the Skipper's
storming. I think I had hardly realised he was still singing out at me.
Anyhow, the next thing I remember, he was shaking my arm.
"What's the matter with you, man?" he was shouting. And I just stared
into his face, like an ass, without saying a word. I seemed still
incapable, you know, of actual, reasoning speech.
"Are you damned well off your head?" he went on shouting. "Are you a
lunatic? Have you had sunstroke? Speak, you gaping idiot!"
I tried to say something; but the words would not come clearly.
"I--I--I--" I said, and stopped, stupidly. I was all right, really; but
I was so bewildered with the thing I had found out; and, in a way, I
seemed almost to have come back out of a distance, you know.
"You're a lunatic!" he said, again. He repeated the statement several
times, as if it were the only thing that sufficiently expressed his
opinion of me. Then he let go of my arm, and stepped back a couple of
"I'm not a lunatic!" I said, with a sudden gasp. "I'm not a lunatic,
Sir, any more than you are."
"Why the devil don't you answer my questions then?" he shouted, angrily.
"What's the matter with you? What have you been doing with the ship?
Answer me now!"
"I was looking at that ship away on the starboard quarter, Sir," I
blurted out. "She's been signalling--"
"What!" he cut me short with disbelief. "What ship?"
He turned, quickly, and looked over the quarter. Then he wheeled round
to me again.
"There's no ship! What do you mean by trying to spin up a cuffer like
"There is, Sir," I answered. "It's out there--" I pointed.
"Hold your tongue!" he said. "Don't talk rubbish to me. Do you think I'm
"I saw it, Sir," I persisted.
"Don't you talk back to me!" he snapped, with a quick burst of temper.
"I won't have it!"
Then, just as suddenly, he was silent. He came a step towards me, and
stared into my face. I believe the old ass thought I was a bit mad;
anyway, without another word, he went to the break of the poop.
"Mr. Tulipson," he sung out.
"Yes, Sir," I heard the Second Mate reply.
"Send another man to the wheel."
"Very good, Sir," the Second answered.
A couple of minutes later, old Jaskett came up to relieve me. I gave him
the course, and he repeated it.
"What's up, mate?" he asked me, as I stepped off the grating.
"Nothing much," I said, and went forrard to where the Skipper was
standing on the break of the poop. I gave him the course; but the crabby
old devil took no notice of me, whatever. When I got down on to the
maindeck, I went up to the Second, and gave it to him. He answered me
civilly enough, and then asked me what I had been doing to put the Old
Man's back up.
"I told him there's a ship on the starboard quarter, signalling us," I
"There's no ship out there, Jessop," the Second Mate replied, looking at
me with a queer, inscrutable expression.
"There is, Sir," I began. "I--"
"That will do, Jessop!" he said. "Go forrard and have a smoke. I shall
want you then to give a hand with these foot-ropes. You'd better bring a
serving-mallet aft with you, when you come."
I hesitated a moment, partly in anger; but more, I think, in doubt.
"i, i, Sir," I muttered at length, and went forrard.
_After the Coming of the Mist_
After the coming of the mist, things seemed to develop pretty quickly.
In the following two or three days a good deal happened.
On the night of the day on which the Skipper had sent me away from the
wheel, it was our watch on deck from eight o' clock to twelve, and my
look-out from ten to twelve.
As I paced slowly to and fro across the fo'cas'le head, I was thinking
about the affair of the morning. At first, my thoughts were about the
Old Man. I cursed him thoroughly to myself, for being a pig-headed old
fool, until it occurred to me that if I had been in his place, and come
on deck to find the ship almost aback, and the fellow at the wheel
staring out across the sea, instead of attending to his business, I
should most certainly have kicked up a thundering row. And then, I had
been an ass to tell him about the ship. I should never have done such a
thing, if I had not been a bit adrift. Most likely the old chap thought
I was cracked.
I ceased to bother my head about him, and fell to wondering why the
Second Mate had looked at me so queerly in the morning. Did he guess
more of the truth than I supposed? And if that were the case, why had he
refused to listen to me?
After that, I went to puzzling about the mist. I had thought a great
deal about it, during the day. One idea appealed to me, very strongly.
It was that the actual, visible mist was a materialised expression of an
extraordinarily subtle atmosphere, in which we were moving.
Abruptly, as I walked backwards and forwards, taking occasional glances
over the sea (which was almost calm), my eye caught the glow of a light
out in the darkness. I stood still, and stared. I wondered whether it
was the light of a vessel. In that case we were no longer enveloped in
that extraordinary atmosphere. I bent forward, and gave the thing my
more immediate attention. I saw then that it was undoubtedly the green
light of a vessel on our port bow. It was plain that she was bent on
crossing our bows. What was more, she was dangerously near--the size and
brightness of her light showed that. She would be close-hauled, while we
were going free, so that, of course, it was our place to get out of her
way. Instantly, I turned and, putting my hands up to my mouth, hailed
the Second Mate:
"Light on the port bow, Sir."
The next moment his hail came back:
"He must be blind," I said to myself.
"About two points on the bow, Sir," I sung out.
Then I turned to see whether she had shifted her position at all. Yet,
when I came to look, there was no light visible. I ran forrard to the
bows, and leant over the rail, and stared; but there was nothing--
absolutely nothing except the darkness all about us. For perhaps a few
seconds I stood thus, and a suspicion swept across me, that the whole
business was practically a repetition of the affair of the morning.
Evidently, the impalpable something that invested the ship, had thinned
for an instant, thus allowing me to see the light ahead. Now, it had
closed again. Yet, whether I could see, or not, I did not doubt the fact
that, there was a vessel ahead, and very close ahead, too. We might run
on top of her any minute. My only hope was that, seeing we were not
getting out of her way, she had put her helm up, so as to let us pass,
with the intention of then crossing under our stern. I waited, pretty
anxiously, watching and listening. Then, all at once, I heard steps
coming along the deck, forrard, and the 'prentice, whose time-keeping it
was, came up on to the fo'cas'le head.
"The Second Mate says he can't see any light Jessop," he said, coming
over to where I stood. "Whereabouts is it?"
"I don't know," I answered. "I've lost sight of it myself. It was a
green light, about a couple of points on the port bow. It seemed fairly
"Perhaps their lamp's gone out," he suggested, after peering out pretty
hard into the night for a minute or so.
"Perhaps," I said.
I did not tell him that the light had been so close that, even in the
darkness, we should _now_ have been able to see the ship herself.
"You're quite sure it was a light, and not a star?" he asked,
doubtfully, after another long stare.
"Oh! no," I said. "It may have been the moon, now I come to think about
"Don't rot," he replied. "It's easy enough to make a mistake. What shall
I say to the Second Mate?"
"Tell him it's disappeared, of course!"
"Where to?" he asked.
"How the devil should I know?" I told him. "Don't ask silly questions!"
"All right, keep your rag in," he said, and went aft to report to the
Five minutes later, it might have been, I saw the light again. It was
broad on the bow, and told me plainly enough that she had up with her
helm to escape being run down. I did not wait a moment; but sung out to
the Second Mate that there was a green light about four points on the
port bow. By Jove! it must have been a close shave. The light did not
_seem_ to be more than about a hundred yards away. It was fortunate that
we had not much way through the water.
"Now," I thought to myself, "the Second will see the thing. And perhaps
Mr. Blooming 'prentice will be able to give the star its proper name."
Even as the thought came into my head, the light faded and vanished; and
I caught the Second Mate's voice.
"Whereaway?" he was singing out.
"It's gone again, Sir," I answered.
A minute later, I heard him coming along the deck.
He reached the foot of the starboard ladder.
"Where are you, Jessop?" he inquired.
"Here, Sir," I said, and went to the top of the weather ladder.
He came up slowly on to the fo'cas'le head.
"What's this you've been singing out about a light?" he asked. "Just
point out exactly where it was you last saw it."
This I did, and he went over to the port rail, and stared away into the
night; but without seeing anything.
"It's gone, Sir," I ventured to remind him. "Though I've seen it twice
now--once, about a couple of points on the bow, and this last time,
broad away on the bow; but it disappeared both times, almost at once."
"I don't understand it at all, Jessop," he said, in a puzzled voice.
"Are you sure it was a ship's light?"
"Yes, Sir. A green light. It was quite close."
"I don't understand," he said again. "Run aft and ask the 'prentice to
pass you down my night glasses. Be as smart as you can."
"i, i, Sir," I replied, and ran aft.
In less than a minute, I was back with his binoculars; and, with them,
he stared for some time at the sea to leeward.
All at once he dropped them to his side, and faced round on me with a
"Where's she gone to? If she's shifted her bearing as quickly as all
that, she must be precious close. We should be able to see her spars and
sails, or her cabin light, or her binnacle light, or something!"
"It's queer, Sir," I assented.
"Damned queer," he said. "So damned queer that I'm inclined to think
you've made a mistake."
"No, Sir. I'm certain it was a light."
"Where's the ship then?" he asked.
"I can't say, Sir. That's just what's been puzzling me."
The Second said nothing in reply; but took a couple of quick turns
across the fo'cas'le head--stopping at the port rail, and taking another
look to leeward through his night glasses. Perhaps a minute he stood
there. Then, without a word, he went down the lee ladder, and away aft
along the main deck to the poop.
"He's jolly well puzzled," I thought to myself. "Or else he thinks I've
been imagining things." Either way, I guessed he'd think that.
In a little, I began to wonder whether, after all, he had any idea of
what might be the truth. One minute, I would feel certain he had; and
the next, I was just as sure that he guessed nothing. I got one of my
fits of asking myself whether it would not have been better to have told
him everything. It seemed to me that he must have seen sufficient to
make him inclined to listen to me. And yet, I could not by any means be
certain. I might only have been making an ass of myself, in his eyes. Or
set him thinking I was dotty.
I was walking about the fo'cas'le head, feeling like this, when I saw
the light for the third time. It was very bright and big, and I could
see it move, as I watched. This again showed me that it must be very
"Surely," I thought, "the Second Mate must see it now, for himself."
I did not sing out this time, right away. I thought I would let the
Second see for himself that I had not been mistaken. Besides, I was not
going to risk its vanishing again, the instant I had spoken. For quite
half a minute, I watched it, and there was no sign of its disappearing.
Every moment, I expected to hear the Second Mate's hail, showing that he
had spotted it at last; but none came.
I could stand it no longer, and I ran to the rail, on the after part of
the fo'cas'le head.
"Green light a little abaft the beam, Sir!" I sung out, at the top of my
But I had waited too long. Even as I shouted, the light blurred and
I stamped my foot and swore. The thing was making a fool of me. Yet, I
had a faint hope that those aft had seen it just before it disappeared;
but this I knew was vain, directly I heard the Second's voice.
"Light be damned!" he shouted.
Then he blew his whistle, and one of the men ran aft, out of the
fo'cas'le, to see what it was he wanted.
"Whose next look-out is it?" I heard him ask.
"Then tell Jaskett to relieve Jessop at once. Do you hear?"
"Yes, Sir," said the man, and came forrard.
In a minute, Jaskett stumbled up onto the fo'cas'le head.
"What's up, mate?" he asked sleepily.
"It's that fool of a Second Mate!" I said, savagely. "I've reported a
light to him three times, and, because the blind fool can't see it, he's
sent you up to relieve me!"
"Where is it, mate?" he inquired.
He looked round at the dark sea.
"I don't see no light," he remarked, after a few moments.
"No," I said. "It's gone."
"Eh?" he inquired.
"It's gone!" I repeated, irritably.
He turned and regarded me silently, through the dark.
"I'd go an' 'ave a sleep, mate," he said, at length. "I've been that way
meself. Ther's nothin' like a snooze w'en yer gets like that."
"What!" I said. "Like what?"
"It's all right, mate. Yer'll be all right in ther mornin'. Don't yer
worry 'bout me." His tone was sympathetic.
"Hell!" was all I said, and walked down off the fo'cas'le head. I
wondered whether the old fellow thought I was going silly.
"Have a sleep, by Jove!" I muttered to myself. "I wonder who'd feel like
having a sleep after what I've seen and stood today!"
I felt rotten, with no one understanding what was really the matter. I
seemed to be all alone, through the things I had learnt. Then the
thought came to me to go aft and talk the matter over with Tammy. I knew
he would be able to understand, of course; and it would be such a
On the impulse, I turned and went aft, along the deck to the 'prentices'
berth. As I neared the break of the poop, I looked up and saw the dark
shape of the Second Mate, leaning over the rail above me.
"Who's that?" he asked.
"It's Jessop, Sir," I said.
"What do you want in this part of the ship?" he inquired.
"I'd come aft to speak to Tammy, Sir," I replied.
"You go along forrard and turn-in," he said, not altogether unkindly. "A
sleep will do you more good than yarning about. You know, you're getting
to fancy things too much!"
"I'm sure I'm not, Sir! I'm perfectly well. I--"
"That will do!" he interrupted, sharply. "You go and have a sleep."
I gave a short curse, under my breath, and went slowly forrard. I was
getting maddened with being treated as if I were not quite sane.
"By God!" I said to myself. "Wait till the fools know what I know--just
I entered the fo'cas'le, through the port doorway, and went across to my
chest, and sat down. I felt angry and tired, and miserable.
Quoin and Plummer were sitting close by, playing cards, and smoking.
Stubbins lay in his bunk, watching them, and also smoking. As I sat
down, he put his head forward over the bunk-board, and regarded me in a
curious, meditative way.
"What's hup with ther Second hoffěcer?" he asked, after a short stare.
I looked at him, and the other two men looked up at me. I felt I should
go off with a bang, if I did not say something, and I let out pretty
stiffly, telling them the whole business. Yet, I had seen enough to know
that it was no good trying to explain things; so I just told them the
plain, bold facts, and left explanations as much alone as possible.
"Three times, you say?" said Stubbins when I had finished.
"Yes," I assented.
"An' ther Old Man sent yer from ther wheel this mornin', 'cause yer
'appened ter see a ship 'e couldn't," Plummer added in a reflective
"Yes," I said, again.
I thought I saw him look at Quoin, significantly; but Stubbins, I
noticed, looked only at me.
"I reckon ther Second thinks you're a bit hoff colour," he remarked,
after a short pause.
"The Second Mate's a fool!" I said, with some bitterness. "A confounded
"I hain't so sure about that," he replied. "It's bound ter seem queer
ter him. I don't understand it myself--"
He lapsed into silence, and smoked.
"I carn't understand 'ow it is ther Second Mate didn't 'appen to spot
it," Quoin said, in a puzzled voice.
It seemed to me that Plummer nudged him to be quiet. It looked as if
Plummer shared the Second Mate's opinion, and the idea made me savage.
But Stubbins's next remark drew my attention.
"I don't hunderstand it," he said, again; speaking with deliberation.
"All ther same, ther Second should have savvied enough not to have slung
you hoff ther look-hout."
He nodded his head, slowly, keeping his gaze fixed on my face.
"How do you mean?" I asked, puzzled; yet with a vague sense that the man
understood more, perhaps, than I had hitherto thought.
"I mean what's ther Second so blessed cocksure about?"
He took a draw at his pipe, removed it, and leant forward somewhat, over
"Didn't he say nothin' ter you, after you came hoff ther look-hout?" he
"Yes," I replied; "he spotted me going aft. He told me I was getting to
imagining things too much. He said I'd better come forrard and get a
"An' what did you say?"
"Nothing. I came forrard."
"Why didn't you bloomin' well harsk him if he weren't doin' ther
imaginin' trick when he sent us chasin' hup ther main, hafter that
bogyman of his?"
"I never thought of it," I told him.
"Well, yer ought ter have."
He paused, and sat up in his bunk, and asked for a match.
As I passed him my box, Quoin looked up from his game.
"It might 'ave been a stowaway, yer know. Yer carn't say as it's ever
been proved as it wasn't."
Stubbins passed the box back to me, and went on without noticing Quoin's
"Told you to go an' have a snooze, did he? I don't hunderstand what he's
"How do you mean, bluffing?" I asked.
He nodded his head, sagely.
"It's my hidea he knows you saw that light, just as bloomin' well as I
Plummer looked up from his game, at this speech; but said nothing.
"Then _you_ don't doubt that I really saw it?" I asked, with a certain
"Not me," he remarked, with assurance. "You hain't likely ter make that
kind of mistake three times runnin'."
"No," I said. "I _know_ I saw the light, right enough; but"--I hesitated
a moment--"it's blessed queer."
"It _is_ blessed queer!" he agreed. "It's damned queer! An' there's a
lot of other damn queer things happenin' aboard this packet lately."
He was silent for a few seconds. Then he spoke suddenly:
"It's not nat'ral, I'm damned sure of that much."
He took a couple of draws at his pipe, and in the momentary silence, I
caught Jaskett's voice, above us. He was hailing the poop.
"Red light on the starboard quarter, Sir," I heard him sing out.
"There you are," I said with a jerk of my head. "That's about where that
packet I spotted, ought to be by now. She couldn't cross our bows, so
she up helm, and let us pass, and now she's hauled up again and gone
under our stern."
I got up from the chest, and went to the door, the other three
following. As we stepped out on deck, I heard the Second Mate shouting
out, away aft, to know the whereabouts of the light.
"By Jove! Stubbins," I said. "I believe the blessed thing's gone again."
We ran to the starboard side, in a body, and looked over; but there was
no sign of a light in the darkness astern.
"I carn't say as _I_ see any light," said Quoin.
Plummer said nothing.
I looked up at the fo'cas'le head. There, I could faintly distinguish
the outlines of Jaskett. He was standing by the starboard rail, with his
hands up, shading his eyes, evidently staring towards the place where he
had last seen the light.
"Where's she got to, Jaskett?" I called out.
"I can't say, mate," he answered. "It's the most 'ellishly funny thing
I've ever comed across. She were there as plain as me 'att one minnit,
an' ther next she were gone--clean gone."
I turned to Plummer.
"What do you think about it, _now_?" I asked him.
"Well," he said. "I'll admit I thought at first 'twere somethin' an'
nothin'. I thought yer was mistaken; but it seems yer did see
Away aft, we heard the sound of steps, along the deck.
"Ther Second's comin' forrard for a hexplanation, Jaskett," Stubbins
sung out. "You'd better go down an' change yer breeks."
The Second Mate passed us, and went up the starboard ladder.
"What's up now, Jaskett?" he said quickly. "Where is this light? Neither
the 'prentice nor I can see it!"
"Ther damn thing's clean gone, Sir," Jaskett replied.
"Gone!" the Second Mate said. "Gone! What do you mean?"
"She were there one minnit, Sir, as plain as me 'att, an' ther next,
"That's a damn silly yarn to tell me!" the Second replied. "You don't
expect me to believe it, do you?"
"It's Gospel trewth any'ow, Sir," Jaskett answered. "An' Jessop seen it
just ther same."
He seemed to have added that last part as an afterthought. Evidently,
the old beggar had changed his opinion as to my need for sleep.
"You're an old fool, Jaskett," the Second said, sharply. "And that idiot
Jessop has been putting things into your silly old head."
He paused, an instant. Then he continued:
"What the devil's the matter with you all, that you've taken to this
sort of game? You know very well that you saw no light! I sent Jessop
off the look-out, and then you must go and start the same game."
"We 'aven't--" Jaskett started to say; but the Second silenced him.
"Stow it!" he said, and turned and went down the ladder, passing us
quickly, without a word.
"Doesn't look to _me_, Stubbins," I said, "as though the Second did
believe we've seen the light."
"I hain't so sure," he answered. "He's a puzzler."
The rest of the watch passed away quietly; and at eight bells I made
haste to turn-in, for I was tremendously tired.
When we were called again for the four to eight watch on deck, I learnt
that one of the men in the Mate's watch had seen a light, soon after we
had gone below, and had reported it, only for it to disappear
immediately. This, I found, had happened twice, and the Mate had got so
wild (being under the impression that the man was playing the fool) that
he had nearly came to blows with him--finally ordering him off the
look-out, and sending another man up in his place. If this last man saw
the light, he took good care not to let the Mate know; so that the
matter had ended there.
And then, on the following night, before we had ceased to talk about the
matter of the vanishing lights, something else occurred that temporarily
drove from my mind all memory of the mist, and the extraordinary, blind
atmosphere it had seemed to usher.
_The Man Who Cried for Help_
It was, as I have said, on the following night that something further
happened. And it brought home pretty vividly to me, if not to any of the
others, the sense of a personal danger aboard.
We had gone below for the eight to twelve watch, and my last impression
of the weather at eight o'clock, was that the wind was freshening. There
had been a great bank of cloud rising astern, which had looked as if it
were going to breeze up still more.
At a quarter to twelve, when we were called for our twelve to four watch
on deck, I could tell at once, by the sound, that there was a fresh
breeze blowing; at the same time, I heard the voices of the men on the
other watch, singing out as they hauled on the ropes. I caught the
rattle of canvas in the wind, and guessed that they were taking the
royals off her. I looked at my watch, which I always kept hanging in my
bunk. It showed the time to be just after the quarter; so that, with
luck, we should escape having to go up to the sails.
I dressed quickly, and then went to the door to look at the weather. I
found that the wind had shifted from the starboard quarter, to right
aft; and, by the look of the sky, there seemed to be a promise of more,
Up aloft, I could make out faintly the fore and mizzen royals flapping
in the wind. The main had been left for a while longer. In the fore
riggings, Jacobs, the Ordinary Seaman in the Mate's watch, was following
another of the men aloft to the sail. The Mate's two 'prentices were
already up at the mizzen. Down on deck, the rest of the men were busy
clearing up the ropes.
I went back to my bunk, and looked at my watch--the time was only a few
minutes off eight bells; so I got my oilskins ready, for it looked like
rain outside. As I was doing this, Jock went to the door for a look.
"What's it doin', Jock?" Tom asked, getting out of his bunk, hurriedly.
"I'm thinkin' maybe it's goin' to blow a wee, and ye'll be needin' yer'
oilskins," Jock answered.
When eight bells went, and we mustered aft for roll-call, there was a
considerable delay, owing to the Mate refusing to call the roll until
Tom (who as usual, had only turned out of his bunk at the last minute)
came aft to answer his name. When, at last, he did come, the Second and
the Mate joined in giving him a good dressing down for a lazy sojer; so
that several minutes passed before we were on our way forrard again.
This was a small enough matter in itself, and yet really terrible in its
consequence to one of our number; for, just as we reached the fore
rigging, there was a shout aloft, loud above the noise of the wind, and
the next moment, something crashed down into our midst, with a great,
slogging thud--something bulky and weighty, that struck full upon Jock,
so that he went down with a loud, horrible, ringing "ugg," and never
said a word. From the whole crowd of us there went up a yell of fear,
and then, with one accord, there was a run for the lighted fo'cas'le. I
am not ashamed to say that I ran with the rest. A blind, unreasoning
fright had seized me, and I did not stop to think.
Once in the fo'cas'le and the light, there was a reaction. We all stood
and looked blankly at one another for a few moments. Then someone asked
a question, and there was a general murmur of denial. We all felt
ashamed, and someone reached up and unhooked the lantern on the port
side. I did the same with the starboard one; and there was a quick
movement towards the doors. As we streamed out on deck, I caught the
sound of the Mates' voices. They had evidently come down from off the
poop to find out what had happened; but it was too dark to see their
"Where the hell have you all got to?" I heard the Mate shout.
The next instant, they must have seen the light from our lanterns; for I
heard their footsteps, coming along the deck at a run. They came the
starboard side, and just abaft the fore rigging, one of them stumbled
and fell over something. It was the First Mate who had tripped. I knew
this by the cursing that came directly afterwards. He picked himself up,
and, apparently without stopping to see what manner of thing it was that
he had fallen over, made a rush to the pin-rail. The Second Mate ran
into the circle of light thrown by our lanterns, and stopped, dead--
eyeing us doubtfully. I am not surprised at this, _now_, nor at the
behaviour of the Mate, the following instant; but at that time, I must
say I could not conceive what had come to them, particularly the First
Mate. He came out at us from the darkness with a rush and a roar like a
bull and brandishing a belaying-pin. I had failed to take into account
the scene which his eyes must have shown him:--the whole crowd of men in
the fo'cas'le--both watches--pouring out on to the deck in utter
confusion, and greatly excited, with a couple of fellows at their head,
carrying lanterns. And before this, there had been the cry aloft and the
crash down on deck, followed by the shouts of the frightened crew, and
the sounds of many feet running. He may well have taken the cry for a
signal, and our actions for something not far short of mutiny. Indeed,
his words told us that this was his very thought.
"I'll knock the face off the first man that comes a step further aft!"
he shouted, shaking the pin in my face. "I'll show yer who's master
here! What the hell do yer mean by this? Get forrard into yer kennel!"
There was a low growl from the men at the last remark, and the old bully
stepped back a couple of paces.
"Hold on, you fellows!" I sung out. "Shut up a minute."
"Mr. Tulipson!" I called out to the Second, who had not been able to get
a word in edgeways, "I don't know what the devil's the matter with the
First Mate; but he'll not find it pay to talk to a crowd like ours, in
that sort of fashion, or there'll be ructions aboard."
"Come! come! Jessop! This won't do! I can't have you talking like that
about the Mate!" he said, sharply. "Let me know what's to-do, and then
go forrard again, the lot of you."
"We'd have told you at first, Sir," I said, "only the Mate wouldn't give
any of us a chance to speak. There's been an awful accident, Sir.
Something's fallen from aloft, right on to Jock--"
I stopped suddenly; for there was a loud crying aloft.
"Help! help! help!" someone was shouting, and then it rose from a shout
into a scream.
"My God! Sir!" I shouted. "That's one of the men up at the fore royal!"
"Listen!" ordered the Second Mate. "Listen!" Even as he spoke, it came
again--broken and, as it were, in gasps.
"Help!... Oh!... God!... Oh!... Help! H-e-l-p!"
Abruptly, Stubbins's voice struck in.
"Hup with us, lads! By God! hup with us!" and he made a spring into the
fore rigging. I shoved the handle of the lantern between my teeth, and
followed. Plummer was coming; but the Second Mate pulled him back.
"That's sufficient," he said. "I'm going," and he came up after me.
We went over the foretop, racing like fiends. The light from the lantern
prevented me from seeing to any distance in the darkness; but, at the
crosstrees, Stubbins, who was some ratlines ahead, shouted out all at
once, and in gasps:
"They're fightin' ... like ... hell!"
"What?" called the Second Mate, breathlessly.
Apparently, Stubbins did not hear him; for he made no reply. We cleared
the crosstrees, and climbed into the t'gallant rigging. The wind was
fairly fresh up there, and overhead, there sounded the flap, flap of
sailcloth flying in the wind; but since we had left the deck, there had
been no other sound from above.
Now, abruptly, there came again a wild crying from the darkness over us.
A strange, wild medley it was of screams for help, mixed up with
violent, breathless curses.
Beneath the royal yard, Stubbins halted, and looked down to me.
"Hurry hup ... with ther ... lantern ... Jessop!" he shouted, catching
his breath between the words. "There'll be ... murder done ... hin a
I reached him, and held the light up for him to catch. He stooped, and
took it from me. Then, holding it above his head, he went a few ratlines
higher. In this manner, he reached to a level with the royal yard. From
my position, a little below him, the lantern seemed but to throw a few
straggling, flickering rays along the spar; yet they showed me
something. My first glance had been to wind'ard, and I had seen at once,
that there was nothing on the weather yard arm. From there my gaze went
to leeward. Indistinctly, I saw something upon the yard, that clung,
struggling. Stubbins bent towards it with the light; thus I saw it more
clearly. It was Jacobs, the Ordinary Seaman. He had his right arm
tightly round the yard; with the other, he appeared to be fending
himself from something on the other side of him, and further out upon
the yard. At times, moans and gasps came from him, and sometimes curses.
Once, as he appeared to be dragged partly from his hold, he screamed
like a woman. His whole attitude suggested stubborn despair. I can
scarcely tell you how this extraordinary sight affected me. I seemed to
stare at it without realising that the affair was a real happening.
During the few seconds which I had spent staring and breathless,
Stubbins had climbed round the after side of the mast, and now I began
again to follow him.
From his position below me, the Second had not been able to see the
thing that was occurring on the yard, and he sung out to me to know what
"It's Jacobs, Sir," I called back. "He seems to be fighting with someone
to looard of him. I can't see very plainly yet."
Stubbins had got round on to the lee foot-rope, and now he held the
lantern up, peering, and I made my way quickly alongside of him. The
Second Mate followed; but instead of getting down on to the foot-rope,
he got on the yard, and stood there holding on to the tie. He sung out
for one of us to pass him up the lantern, which I did, Stubbins handing
it to me. The Second held it out at arm's length, so that it lit up the
lee part of the yard. The light showed through the darkness, as far as
to where Jacobs struggled so weirdly. Beyond him, nothing was distinct.
There had been a moment's delay while we were passing the lantern up to
the Second Mate. Now, however, Stubbins and I moved out slowly along the
foot-rope. We went slowly; but we did well to go at all, with any show
of boldness; for the whole business was so abominably uncanny. It seems
impossible to convey truly to you, the strange scene on the royal yard.
You may be able to picture it yourselves. The Second Mate standing upon
the spar, holding the lantern; his body swaying with each roll of the
ship, and his head craned forward as he peered along the yard. On our
left, Jacobs, mad, fighting, cursing, praying, gasping; and outside of
him, shadows and the night.
The Second Mate spoke, abruptly.
"Hold on a moment!" he said. Then:
"Jacobs!" he shouted. "Jacobs, do you hear me?"
There was no reply, only the continual gasping and cursing.
"Go on," the Second Mate said to us. "But be careful. Keep a tight
He held the lantern higher and we went out cautiously.
Stubbins reached the Ordinary, and put his hand on his shoulder, with a
"Steady hon now, Jacobs," he said. "Steady hon."
At his touch, as though by magic, the young fellow calmed down, and
Stubbins--reaching round him--grasped the jackstay on the other side.
"Get a hold of him your side, Jessop," he sung out. "I'll get this
This, I did, and Stubbins climbed round him.
"There hain't no one here," Stubbins called to me; but his voice
expressed no surprise.
"What!" sung out the Second Mate. "No one there! Where's Svensen,
I did not catch Stubbins's reply; for suddenly, it seemed to me that I
saw something shadowy at the extreme end of the yard, out by the lift. I
stared. It rose up, on the yard, and I saw that it was the figure of a
man. It grasped at the lift, and commenced to swarm up, quickly. It
passed diagonally above Stubbins's head, and reached down a vague hand
"Look out! Stubbins!" I shouted. "Look out!"
"What's up now?" he called, in a startled voice. At the same instant,
his cap went whirling away to leeward.
"Damn the wind!" he burst out.
Then all at once, Jacobs, who had only been giving an occasional moan,
commenced to shriek and struggle.
"Hold fast onto him!" Stubbins yelled. "He'll be throwin' himself off
I put my left arm round the Ordinary's body--getting hold of the
jackstay on the other side. Then I looked up. Above us, I seemed to see
something dark and indistinct, that moved rapidly up the lift.
"Keep tight hold of him, while I get a gasket," I heard the Second Mate
A moment later there was a crash, and the light disappeared.
"Damn and set fire to the sail!" shouted the Second Mate.
I twisted round, somewhat, and looked in his direction. I could dimly
make him out on the yard. He had evidently been in the act of getting
down on to the foot-rope, when the lantern was smashed. From him, my
gaze jumped to the lee rigging. It seemed that I made out some shadowy
thing stealing down through the darkness; but I could not be sure; and
then, in a breath, it had gone.
"Anything wrong, Sir?" I called out.
"Yes," he answered. "I've dropped the lantern. The blessed sail knocked
it out of my hand!"
"We'll be all right, Sir," I replied. "I think we can manage without it.
Jacobs seems to be quieter now."
"Well, be careful as you come in," he warned us.
"Come on, Jacobs," I said. "Come on; we'll go down on deck."
"Go along, young feller," Stubbins put in. "You're right now. We'll take
care of you." And we started to guide him along the yard.
He went willingly enough, though without saying a word. He seemed like a
child. Once or twice he shivered; but said nothing.
We got him in to the lee rigging. Then, one going beside him, and the
other keeping below, we made our way slowly down on deck. We went very
slowly--so slowly, in fact, that the Second Mate--who had stayed a
minute to shove the gasket round the lee side of the sail--was almost as
"Take Jacobs forrard to his bunk," he said, and went away aft to where a
crowd of the men, one with a lantern, stood round the door of an empty
berth under the break of the poop on the starboard side.
We hurried forrard to the fo'cas'le. There we found all in darkness.
"They're haft with Jock, and Svenson!" Stubbins had hesitated an instant
before saying the name.
"Yes," I replied. "That's what it must have been, right enough."
"I kind of knew it all ther time," he said.
I stepped in through the doorway, and struck a match. Stubbins followed,
guiding Jacobs before him, and, together, we got him into his bunk. We
covered him up with his blankets, for he was pretty shivery. Then we
came out. During the whole time, he had not spoken a word.
As we went aft, Stubbins remarked that he thought the business must have
made him a bit dotty.
"It's driven him clean barmy," he went on. "He don't hunderstand a word
that's said ter him."
"He may be different in the morning," I answered.
As we neared the poop, and the crowd of waiting men, he spoke again:
"They've put 'em hinter ther Second's hempty berth."
"Yes," I said. "Poor beggars."
We reached the other men, and they opened out, and allowed us to get
near the door. Several of them asked in low tones, whether Jacobs was
all right, and I told them, "Yes"; not saying anything then about his
I got close up to the doorway, and looked into the berth. The lamp was
lit, and I could see, plainly. There were two bunks in the place, and a
man had been laid in each. The Skipper was there, leaning up against a
bulkshead. He looked worried; but was silent--seeming to be mooding in
his own thoughts. The Second Mate was busy with a couple of flags, which
he was spreading over the bodies. The First Mate was talking, evidently
telling him something; but his tone was so low that I caught his words
only with difficulty. It struck me that he seemed pretty subdued. I got
parts of his sentences in patches, as it were.
"...broken," I heard him say. "And the Dutchman...."
"I've seen him," the Second Mate said, shortly.
"Two, straight off the reel," said the Mate "...three in...."
The Second made no reply.
"Of course, yer know ... accident." The First Mate went on.
"Is it!" the Second said, in a queer voice.
I saw the Mate glance at him, in a doubtful sort of way; but the Second
was covering poor old Jock's dead face, and did not appear to notice his
"It--it--" the mate said, and stopped.
After a moment's hesitation, he said something further, that I could not
catch; but there seemed a lot of funk in his voice.
The Second Mate appeared not to have heard him; at any rate, he made no
reply; but bent, and straightened out a corner of the flag over the
rigid figure in the lower bunk. There was a certain niceness in his
action which made me warm towards him.
"He's white!" I thought to myself.
Out loud, I said:
"We've put Jacobs into his bunk, Sir."
The Mate jumped; then whizzed round, and stared at me as though I had
been a ghost. The Second Mate turned also; but before he could speak,
the Skipper took a step towards me.
"Is he all right?" he asked.
"Well, Sir," I said. "He's a bit queer; but I think it's possible he may
be better, after a sleep."
"I hope so, too," he replied, and stepped out on deck. He went towards
the starboard poop ladder, walking slowly. The Second went and stood by
the lamp, and the Mate, after a quick glance at him, came out and
followed the Skipper up on to the poop. It occurred to me then, like a
flash, that the man had stumbled upon a portion of the _truth_. This
accident coming so soon after that other! It was evident that, in his
mind, he had connected them. I recollected the fragments of his remarks
to the Second Mate. Then, those many minor happenings that had cropped
up at different times, and at which he had sneered. I wondered whether
he would begin to comprehend their significance--their beastly, sinister
"Ah! Mr. Bully-Mate," I thought to myself. "You're in for a bad time if
you've begun to understand."
Abruptly, my thoughts jumped to the vague future before us.
"God help us!" I muttered.
The Second Mate, after a look round, turned down the wick of the lamp,
and came out, closing the door after him.
"Now, you men," he said to the Mate's watch, "get forrard; we can't do
anything more. You'd better go and get some sleep."
"i, i, Sir," they said, in a chorus.
Then, as we all turned to go forrard, he asked if anyone had relieved
"No, sir," answered Quoin.
"Is it yours?" the Second asked.
"Yes, Sir," he replied.
"Hurry up and relieve him then," the Second said.
"i, i, Sir," the man answered, and went forrard with the rest of us.
As we went, I asked Plummer who was at the wheel.
"Tom," he said.
As he spoke, several spots of rain fell, and I glanced up at the sky. It
had become thickly clouded.
"Looks as if it were going to breeze up," I said.
"Yes," he replied. "We'll be shortenin' 'er down 'fore long."
"May be an all-hands job," I remarked.
"Yes," he answered again. "'Twon't be no use their turnin' in, if it
The man who was carrying the lantern, went into the fo'cas'le, and we
"Where's ther one, belongin' to our side?" Plummer asked.
"Got smashed hupstairs," answered Stubbins.
"'ow were that?" Plummer inquired.
"The Second Mate dropped it," I replied. "The sail hit it, or
The men in the other watch seemed to have no immediate intention of
turning-in; but sat in their bunks, and around on the chests. There was
a general lighting of pipes, in the midst of which there came a sudden
moan from one of the bunks in the forepart of the fo'cas'le--a part that
was always a bit gloomy, and was more so now, on account of our having
only one lamp.
"Wot's that?" asked one of the men belonging to the other side.
"S--sh!" said Stubbins. "It's him."
"'oo?" inquired Plummer. "Jacobs?"
"Yes," I replied. "Poor devil!"
"Wot were 'appenin' w'en yer got hup _ther'_?" asked the man on the
other side, indicating with a jerk of his head, the fore royal.
Before I could reply, Stubbins jumped up from his sea-chest.
"Ther Second Mate's whistlin'!" he said. "Come hon," and he ran out on
Plummer, Jaskett and I followed quickly. Outside, it had started to rain
pretty heavily. As we went, the Second Mate's voice came to us through
"Stand by the main royal clewlines and buntlines," I heard him shout,
and the next instant came the hollow thutter of the sail as he started
to lower away.
In a few minutes we had it hauled up.
"Up and furl it, a couple of you," he sung out.
I went towards the starboard rigging; then I hesitated. No one else had
The Second Mate came among us.
"Come on now, lads," he said. "Make a move. It's got to be done."
"I'll go," I said. "If someone else will come."
Still, no one stirred, and no one answered.
Tammy came across to me.
"I'll come," he volunteered, in a nervous voice.
"No, by God, no!" said the Second Mate, abruptly.
He jumped into the main rigging himself. "Come along, Jessop!" he
I followed him; but I was astonished. I had fully expected him to get on
to the other fellows' tracks like a ton of bricks. It had not occurred
to me that he was making allowances. I was simply puzzled then; but
afterwards it dawned upon me.
No sooner had I followed the Second Mate, than, straightway, Stubbins,
Plummer, and Jaskett came up after us at a run.
About half-way to the maintop, the Second Mate stopped, and looked down.
"Who's that coming up below you, Jessop?" he asked.
Before I could, speak, Stubbins answered:
"It's me, Sir, an' Plummer an' Jaskett."
"Who the devil told you to come _now_? Go straight down, the lot of
"We're comin' hup ter keep you company, Sir," was his reply.
At that, I was confident of a burst of temper from the Second; and yet,
for the second time within a couple of minutes I was wrong. Instead of
cursing Stubbins, he, after a moment's pause, went on up the rigging,
without another word, and the rest of us followed. We reached the royal,
and made short work of it; indeed, there were sufficient of us to have
eaten it. When we had finished, I noticed that the Second Mate remained
on the yard until we were all in the rigging. Evidently, he had
determined to take a full share of any risk there might be; but I took
care to keep pretty close to him; so as to be on hand if anything
happened; yet we reached the deck again, without anything having
occurred. I have said, without anything having occurred; but I am not
really correct in this; for, as the Second Mate came down over the
crosstrees, he gave a short, abrupt cry.
"Anything wrong, Sir?" I asked.
"No--o!" he said. "Nothing! I banged my knee."
And yet _now_, I believe he was lying. For, that same watch, I was to
hear men giving just such cries; but, God knows, they had reason enough.
_Hands That Plucked_
Directly we reached the deck, the Second Mate gave the order:
"Mizzen t'gallant clewlines and buntlines," and led the way up on to the
poop. He went and stood by the haulyards, ready to lower away. As I
walked across to the starboard clewline, I saw that the Old Man was on
deck, and as I took hold of the rope, I heard him sing out to the Second
"Call all hands to shorten sail, Mr. Tulipson."
"Very good, Sir," the Second Mate replied. Then he raised his voice:
"Go forrard, you, Jessop, and call all hands to shorten sail. You'd
better give them a call in the bosun's place, as you go."
"i, i, Sir," I sung out, and hurried off.
As I went, I heard him tell Tammy to go down and call the Mate.
Reaching the fo'cas'le, I put my head in through the starboard doorway,
and found some of the men beginning to turn-in.
"It's all hands on deck, shorten sail," I sung out.
I stepped inside.
"Just wot I said," grumbled one of the men.
"They don't damn well think we're goin' aloft to-night, after what's
happened?" asked another.
"We've been up to the main royal," I answered. "The Second Mate went
"Wot?" said the first man. "Ther Second Mate hisself?"
"Yes," I replied. "The whole blooming watch went up."
"An' wot 'appened?" he asked.
"Nothing," I said. "Nothing at all. We just made a mouthful apiece of
it, and came down again."
"All the same," remarked the second man, "I don't fancy goin' upstairs,
after what's happened."
"Well," I replied. "It's not a matter of fancy. We've got to get the
sail off her, or there'll be a mess. One of the 'prentices told me the
glass is falling."
"Come erlong, boys. We've got ter du it," said one of the older men,
rising from a chest, at this point. "What's it duin' outside, mate?"
"Raining," I said. "You'll want your oilskins."
I hesitated a moment before going on deck again. From the bunk forrard
among the shadows, I had seemed to hear a faint moan.
"Poor beggar!" I thought to myself.
Then the old chap who had last spoken, broke in upon my attention.
"It's awl right, mate!" he said, rather testily. "Yer needn't wait.
We'll be out in er minit."
"That's all right. I wasn't thinking about you lot," I replied, and
walked forrard to Jacobs's bunk. Some time before, he had rigged up a
pair of curtains, cut out of an old sack, to keep off the draught.
These, some one had drawn, so that I had to pull them aside to see him.
He was lying on his back, breathing in a queer, jerky fashion. I could
not see his face, plainly; but it seemed rather pale, in the half-light.
"Jacobs," I said. "Jacobs, how do you feel now?" but he made no sign to
show that he had heard me. And so, after a few moments, I drew the
curtains to again, and left him.
"What like does 'e seem?" asked one of the fellows, as I went towards
"Bad," I said. "Damn bad! I think the Steward ought to be told to come
and have a look at him. I'll mention it to the Second when I get a
I stepped out on deck, and ran aft again to give them a hand with the
sail. We got it hauled up, and then went forrard to the fore t'gallant.
And, a minute later, the other watch were out, and, with the Mate, were
busy at the main.
By the time the main was ready for making fast, we had the fore hauled
up, so that now all three t'gallants were in the ropes, and ready for
stowing. Then came the order:
"Up aloft and furl!"
"Up with you, lads," the Second Mate said. "Don't let's have any hanging
back this time."
Away aft by the main, the men in the Mate's watch seemed to be standing
in a clump by the mast; but it was too dark to see clearly. I heard the
Mate start to curse; then there came a growl, and he shut up.
"Be handy, men! be handy!" the Second Mate sung out.
At that, Stubbins jumped into the rigging.
"Come hon!" he shouted. "We'll have ther bloomin' sail fast, an' down
hon deck again before they're started."
Plummer followed; then Jaskett, I, and Quoin who had been called down
off the look-out to give a hand.
"That's the style, lads!" the Second sung out, encouragingly. Then he
ran aft to the Mate's crowd. I heard him and the Mate talking to the
men, and presently, when we were going over the foretop, I made out that
they were beginning to get into the rigging.
I found out, afterwards, that as soon as the Second Mate had seen them
off the deck, he went up to the mizzen t'gallant, along with the four
On our part, we made our way slowly aloft, keeping one hand for
ourselves and the other for the ship, as you can fancy. In this manner
we had gone as far as the crosstrees, at least, Stubbins, who was first,
had; when, all at once, he gave out just another such cry as had the
Second Mate a little earlier, only that in his case he followed it by
turning round and blasting Plummer.
"You might have blarsted well sent me flyin' down hon deck," he shouted.
"If you bl--dy well think it's a joke, try it hon some one else--"
"It wasn't me!" interrupted Plummer. "I 'aven't touched yer. 'oo the
'ell are yer swearin' at?"
"At you--!" I heard him reply; but what more he may have said, was lost
in a loud shout from Plummer.
"What's up, Plummer?" I sung out. "For God's sake, you two, don't get
fighting, up aloft!"
But a loud, frightened curse was all the answer he gave. Then
straightway, he began to shout at the top of his voice, and in the lulls
of his noise, I caught the voice of Stubbins, cursing savagely.
"They'll come down with a run!" I shouted, helplessly. "They'll come
down as sure as nuts."
I caught Jaskett by the boot.
"What are they doing? What are they doing?" I sung out. "Can't you see?"
I shook his leg as I spoke. But at my touch, the old idiot--as I thought
him at the moment--began to shout in a frightened voice:
"Oh! oh! help! hel--!"
"Shut up!" I bellowed. "Shut up, you old fool. If you won't do anything,
let me get past you."
Yet he only cried out the more. And then, abruptly, I caught the sound
of a frightened clamour of men's voices, away down somewhere about the
maintop--curses, cries of fear, even shrieks, and above it all, someone
shouting to go down on deck:
"Get down! get down! down! down! Blarst--" The rest was drowned in a
fresh outburst of hoarse crying in the night.
I tried to get past old Jaskett; but he was clinging to the rigging,
sprawled on to it, is the best way to describe his attitude, so much of
it as I could see in the darkness. Up above him, Stubbins and Plummer
still shouted and cursed, and the shrouds quivered and shook, as though
the two were fighting desperately.
Stubbins seemed to be shouting something definite; but whatever it was,
I could not catch.
At my helplessness, I grew angry, and shook and prodded Jaskett, to make
"Damn you, Jaskett!" I roared. "Damn you for a funky old fool! Let me
get past! Let me get past, will you!"
But, instead of letting me pass, I found that he was beginning to make
his way down. At that, I caught him by the slack of his trousers, near
the stern, with my right hand, and with the other, I got hold of the
after shroud somewhere above his left hip; by these means, I fairly
hoisted myself up on to the old fellow's back. Then, with my right, I
could reach to the forrard shroud, over his right shoulder, and having
got a grip, I shifted my left to a level with it; at the same moment, I
was able to get my foot on to the splice of a ratline and so give myself
a further lift. Then I paused an instant, and glanced up.
"Stubbins! Stubbins!" I shouted. "Plummer! Plummer!"
And even as I called, Plummer's foot--reaching down through the gloom--
alighted full on my upturned face. I let go from the rigging with my
right hand, and struck furiously at his leg, cursing him for his
clumsiness. He lifted his foot, and in the same instant a sentence from
Stubbins floated down to me, with a strange distinctness:
"_For God's sake tell 'em to get down hon deck!_" he was shouting.
Even as the words came to me, something in the darkness gripped my
waist. I made a desperate clutch at the rigging with my disengaged right
hand, and it was well for me that I secured the hold so quickly, for the
same instant, I was wrenched at with a brutal ferocity that appalled me.
I said nothing, but lashed out into the night with my left foot. It is
queer, but I cannot say with certainty that I struck anything; I was too
downright desperate with funk, to be sure; and yet it seemed to me that
my foot encountered something soft, that gave under the blow. It may
have been nothing more than an imagined sensation; yet I am inclined to
think otherwise; for, instantly, the hold about my waist was released;
and I commenced to scramble down, clutching the shrouds pretty
I have only a very uncertain remembrance of that which followed. Whether
I slid over Jaskett, or whether he gave way to me, I cannot tell. I know
only that I reached the deck, in a blind whirl of fear and excitement,
and the next thing I remember, I was among a crowd of shouting, half-mad
_The Search for Stubbins_
In a confused way, I was conscious that the Skipper and the Mates were
down among us, trying to get us into some state of calmness. Eventually
they succeeded, and we were told to go aft to the Saloon door, which we
did in a body. Here, the Skipper himself served out a large tot of rum
to each of us. Then, at his orders, the Second Mate called the roll.
He called over the Mate's watch first, and everyone answered. Then he
came to ours, and he must have been much agitated; for the first name he
sung out was Jock's.
Among us there came a moment of dead silence, and I noticed the wail and
moan of the wind aloft, and the flap, flap of the three unfurled
The Second Mate called the next name, hurriedly:
"Jaskett," he sung out.
"Sir," Jaskett answered.
"Sir," I replied.
There was no answer.
"Stubbins," again called the Second Mate.
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