The Ghost Pirates
William Hope Hodgson
Part 3 out of 4
Again there was no reply.
"Is Stubbins here?--anyone!" The Second's voice sounded sharp and
There was a moment's pause. Then one of the men spoke:
"He's not here, Sir."
"Who saw him last?" the Second asked.
Plummer stepped forward into the light that streamed through the Saloon
doorway. He had on neither coat nor cap, and his shirt seemed to be
hanging about him in tatters.
"It were me, Sir," he said.
The Old Man, who was standing next to the Second Mate, took a pace
towards him, and stopped and stared; but it was the Second who spoke.
"Where?" he asked.
"'e were just above me, in ther crosstrees, when, when--" the man broke
"Yes! yes!" the Second Mate replied. Then he turned to the Skipper.
"Someone will have to go up, Sir, and see--" He hesitated.
"But--" said the Old Man, and stopped.
The Second Mate cut in.
"I shall go up, for one, Sir," he said, quietly.
Then he turned back to the crowd of us.
"Tammy," he sung out. "Get a couple of lamps out of the lamp-locker."
"i, i, Sir," Tammy replied, and ran off.
"Now," said the Second Mate, addressing us. "I want a couple of men to
jump aloft along with me and take a look for Stubbins."
Not a man replied. I would have liked to step out and offer; but the
memory of that horrible clutch was with me, and for the life of me, I
could not summon up the courage.
"Come! come, men!" he said. "We can't leave him up there. We shall take
lanterns. Who'll come now?"
I walked out to the front. I was in a horrible funk; but, for very
shame, I could not stand back any longer.
"I'll come with you, Sir," I said, not very loud, and feeling fairly
twisted up with nervousness.
"That's more the tune, Jessop!" he replied, in a tone that made me glad
I had stood out.
At this point, Tammy came up, with the lights. He brought them to the
Second, who took one, and told him to give the other to me. The Second
Mate held his light above his head, and looked round at the hesitating
"Now, men!" he sung out. "You're not going to let Jessop and me go up
alone. Come along, another one or two of you! Don't act like a damned
lot of cowards!"
Quoin stood out, and spoke for the crowd.
"I dunno as we're actin' like cowyards, Sir; but just look at _'im_,"
and he pointed at Plummer, who still stood full in the light from the
"What sort of a Thing is it 'as done that, Sir?" he went on. "An' then
yer arsks us ter go up agen! It aren't likely as we're in a 'urry."
The Second Mate looked at Plummer, and surely, as I have before
mentioned, the poor beggar was in a state; his ripped-up shirt was
fairly flapping in the breeze that came through the doorway.
The Second looked; yet he said nothing. It was as though the realisation
of Plummer's condition had left him without a word more to say. It was
Plummer himself who finally broke the silence.
"I'll come with yer, Sir," he said. "Only yer ought ter 'ave more light
than them two lanterns. 'Twon't be no use, unless we 'as plenty er
The man had grit; and I was astonished at his offering to go, after what
he must have gone through. Yet, I was to have even a greater
astonishment; for, abruptly, The Skipper--who all this time had scarcely
spoken--stepped forward a pace, and put his hand on the Second Mate's
"I'll come with you, Mr. Tulipson," he said.
The Second Mate twisted his head round, and stared at him a moment, in
astonishment. Then he opened his mouth.
"No, Sir; I don't think--" he began.
"That's sufficient, Mr. Tulipson," the Old Man interrupted. "I've made
up my mind."
He turned to the First Mate, who had stood by without a word.
"Mr. Grainge," he said. "Take a couple of the 'prentices down with you,
and pass out a box of blue-lights and some flare-ups."
The Mate answered something, and hurried away into the Saloon, with the
two 'prentices in his watch. Then the Old Man spoke to the men.
"Now, men!" he began. "This is no time for dilly-dallying. The Second
Mate and I will go aloft, and I want about half a dozen of you to come
along with us, and carry lights. Plummer and Jessop here, have
volunteered. I want four or five more of you. Step out now, some of
There was no hesitation whatever, now; and the first man to come forward
was Quoin. After him followed three of the Mate's crowd, and then old
"That will do; that will do," said the Old Man.
He turned to the Second Mate.
"Has Mr. Grainge come with those lights yet?" he asked, with a certain
"Here, Sir," said the First Mate's voice, behind him in the Saloon
doorway. He had the box of blue-lights in his hands, and behind him,
came the two boys carrying the flares.
The Skipper took the box from him, with a quick gesture, and opened it.
"Now, one of you men, come here," he ordered.
One of the men in the Mate's watch ran to him.
He took several of the lights from the box, and handed them to the man.
"See here," he said. "When we go aloft, you get into the foretop, and
keep one of these going all the time, do you hear?"
"Yes, Sir," replied the man.
"You know how to strike them?" the Skipper asked, abruptly.
"Yes, Sir," he answered.
The Skipper sung out to the Second Mate:
"Where's that boy of yours--Tammy, Mr. Tulipson?"
"Here, Sir," said Tammy, answering for himself.
The Old Man took another light from the box.
"Listen to me, boy!" he said. "Take this, and stand-by on the forrard
deck house. When we go aloft, you must give us a light until the man
gets his going in the top. You understand?"
"Yes, Sir," answered Tammy, and took the light.
"One minute!" said the Old Man, and stooped and took a second light from
the box. "Your first light may go out before we're ready. You'd better
have another, in case it does."
Tammy took the second light, and moved away.
"Those flares all ready for lighting there, Mr. Grainge?" the Captain
"All ready, Sir," replied the Mate.
The Old Man pushed one of the blue-lights into his coat pocket, and
"Very well," he said. "Give each of the men one apiece. And just see
that they all have matches."
He spoke to the men particularly:
"As soon as we are ready, the other two men in the Mate's watch will get
up into the cranelines, and keep their flares going there. Take your
paraffin tins with you. When we reach the upper topsail, Quoin and
Jaskett will get out on the yard-arms, and show their flares there. Be
careful to keep your lights away from the sails. Plummer and Jessop will
come up with the Second Mate and myself. Does every man clearly
"Yes, Sir," said the men in a chorus.
A sudden idea seemed to occur to the Skipper, and he turned, and went
through the doorway into the Saloon. In about a minute, he came back,
and handed something to the Second Mate, that shone in the light from
the lanterns. I saw that it was a revolver, and he held another in his
other hand, and this I saw him put into his side pocket.
The Second Mate held the pistol a moment, looking a bit doubtful.
"I don't think, Sir--" he began. But the Skipper cut him short.
"You don't know!" he said. "Put it in your pocket."
Then he turned to the First Mate.
"You will take charge of the deck, Mr. Grainge, while we're aloft," he
"i, i, Sir," the Mate answered and sung out to one of his 'prentices to
take the blue-light box back into the cabin.
The Old Man turned and led the way forrard. As we went, the light from
the two lanterns shone upon the decks, showing the litter of the
t'gallant gear. The ropes were foul of one another in a regular "bunch
o' buffers." This had been caused, I suppose, by the crowd trampling
over them in their excitement, when they reached the deck. And then,
suddenly, as though the sight had waked me up to a more vivid
comprehension, you know, it came to me new and fresh, how damned strange
was the whole business... I got a little touch of despair, and asked
myself what was going to be the end of all these beastly happenings.
You can understand?
[Footnote 1: Modified from the original.]
Abruptly, I heard the Skipper shouting, away forward. He was singing out
to Tammy to get up on to the house with his blue-light. We reached the
fore rigging, and, the same instant, the strange, ghastly flare of
Tammy's blue-light burst out into the night causing every rope, sail,
and spar to jump out weirdly.
I saw now that the Second Mate was already in the starboard rigging,
with his lantern. He was shouting to Tammy to keep the drip from his
light clear of the staysail, which was stowed upon the house. Then, from
somewhere on the port side, I heard the Skipper shout to us to hurry.
"Smartly now, you men," he was saying. "Smartly now."
The man who had been told to take up a station in the fore-top, was just
behind the Second Mate. Plummer was a couple of ratlines lower.
I caught the Old Man's voice again.
"Where's Jessop with that other lantern?" I heard him shout.
"Here, Sir," I sung out.
"Bring it over this side," he ordered. "You don't want the two lanterns
on one side."
I ran round the fore side of the house. Then I saw him. He was in the
rigging, and making his way smartly aloft. One of the Mate's watch and
Quoin were with him. This, I saw as I came round the house. Then I made
a jump, gripped the sheerpole, and swung myself up on to the rail. And
then, all at once, Tammy's blue-light went out, and there came, what
seemed by contrast, pitchy darkness. I stood where I was--one foot on
the rail and my knee upon the sheerpole. The light from my lantern
seemed no more than a sickly yellow glow against the gloom, and higher,
some forty or fifty feet, and a few ratlines below the futtock rigging
on the starboard side, there was another glow of yellowness in the
night. Apart from these, all was blackness. And then from above--high
above--there wailed down through the darkness a weird, sobbing cry. What
it was, I do not know; but it sounded horrible.
The Skipper's voice came down, jerkily.
"Smartly with that light, boy!" he shouted. And the blue glare blazed
out again, almost before he had finished speaking.
I stared up at the Skipper. He was standing where I had seen him before
the light went out, and so were the two men. As I looked, he commenced
to climb again. I glanced across to starboard. Jaskett, and the other
man in the Mate's watch, were about midway between the deck of the house
and the foretop. Their faces showed extraordinary pale in the dead glare
of the blue-light. Higher, I saw the Second Mate in the futtock rigging,
holding his light up over the edge of the top. Then he went further, and
disappeared. The man with the blue-lights followed, and also vanished
from view. On the port side, and more directly above me, the Skipper's
feet were just stepping out of the futtock shrouds. At that I made haste
Then, suddenly, when I was close under the top, there came from above me
the sharp flare of a blue-light, and almost in the same instant, Tammy's
I glanced down at the decks. They were filled with flickering, grotesque
shadows cast by the dripping light above. A group of the men stood by
the port galley door--their faces upturned and pale and unreal under the
gleam of the light.
Then I was in the futtock rigging, and a moment afterwards, standing in
the top, beside the Old Man. He was shouting to the men who had gone out
on the craneline. It seemed that the man on the port side was bungling;
but at last--nearly a minute after the other man had lit his flare--he
got going. In that time, the man in the top had lit his second
blue-light, and we were ready to get into the topmast rigging. First,
however, the Skipper leant over the afterside of the top, and sung out
to the First Mate to send a man up on to the fo'cas'le head with a
flare. The Mate replied, and then we started again, the Old Man leading.
Fortunately, the rain had ceased, and there seemed to be no increase in
the wind; indeed, if anything, there appeared to be rather less; yet
what there was drove the flames of the flare-ups out into occasional,
twisting serpents of fire at least a yard long.
About half-way up the topmast rigging, the Second Mate sung out to the
Skipper, to know whether Plummer should light his flare; but the Old Man
said he had better wait until we reached the crosstrees, as then he
could get out away from the gear to where there would be less danger of
setting fire to anything.
We neared the crosstrees, and the Old Man stopped and sung out to me to
pass him the lantern by Quoin. A few ratlines more, and both he and the
Second Mate stopped almost simultaneously, holding their lanterns as
high as possible, and peered up into the darkness.
"See any signs of him, Mr. Tulipson?" the Old Man asked.
"No, Sir," replied the Second. "Not a sign."
He raised his voice.
"Stubbins," he sung out. "Stubbins, are you there?"
We listened; but nothing came to us beyond the blowing moan of the wind,
and the flap, flap of the bellying t'gallant above.
The Second Mate climbed over the crosstrees, and Plummer followed. The
man got out by the royal backstay, and lit his flare. By its light we
could see, plainly; but there was no vestige of Stubbins, so far as the
"Get out on to the yard-arms with those flares, you two men," shouted
the Skipper. "Be smart now! Keep them away from the sail!"
The men got on to the foot-ropes--Quoin on the port, and Jaskett on the
starboard side. By the light from Plummer's flare, I could see them
clearly, as they lay out upon the yard. It occurred to me that they went
gingerly--which is no surprising thing. And then, as they drew near to
the yard-arms, they passed beyond the brilliance of the light; so that I
could not see them clearly. A few seconds passed, and then the light
from Quoin's flare streamed out upon the wind; yet nearly a minute went
by, and there was no sign of Jaskett's.
Then out from the semi-darkness at the starboard yard-arm, there came a
curse from Jaskett, followed almost immediately by a noise of something
"What's up?" shouted the Second Mate. "What's up, Jaskett?"
"It's ther foot-rope, Sir-r-r!" he drew out the last word into a sort of
The Second Mate bent quickly, with the lantern. I craned round the after
side of the top-mast, and looked.
"What is the matter, Mr. Tulipson?" I heard the Old Man singing out.
Out on the yard-arm, Jaskett began to shout for help, and then, all at
once, in the light from the Second Mate's lantern, I saw that the
starboard foot-rope on the upper topsail yard was being violently
shaken--savagely shaken, is perhaps a better word. And then, almost in
the same instant, the Second Mate shifted the lantern from his right to
his left hand. He put the right into his pocket and brought out his gun
with a jerk. He extended his hand and arm, as though pointing at
something a little below the yard. Then a quick flash spat out across
the shadows, followed immediately by a sharp, ringing crack. In the same
moment, I saw that the foot-rope ceased to shake.
"Light your flare! Light your flare, Jaskett!" the Second shouted. "Be
Out at the yard-arm there came a splutter of a match, and then,
straightaway, a great spurt of fire as the flare took light.
"That's better, Jaskett. You're all right now!" the Second Mate called
out to him.
"What was it, Mr. Tulipson?" I heard the Skipper ask.
I looked up, and saw that he had sprung across to where the Second Mate
was standing. The Second Mate explained to him; but he did not speak
loud enough for me to catch what he said.
I had been struck by Jaskett's attitude, when the light of his flare had
first revealed him. He had been crouched with his right knee cocked over
the yard, and his left leg down between it and the foot-rope, while his
elbows had been crooked over the yard for support, as he was lighting
the flare. Now, however, he had slid both feet back on to the foot-rope,
and was lying on his belly, over the yard, with the flare held a little
below the head of the sail. It was thus, with the light being on the
foreside of the sail, that I saw a small hole a little below the
foot-rope, through which a ray of the light shone. It was undoubtedly
the hole which the bullet from the Second Mate's revolver had made in
Then I heard the Old Man shouting to Jaskett.
"Be careful with that flare there!" he sung out. "You'll be having that
He left the Second Mate, and came back on to the port side of the mast.
To my right, Plummer's flares seemed to be dwindling. I glanced up at
his face through the smoke. He was paying no attention to it; instead,
he was staring up above his head.
"Shove some paraffin on to it, Plummer," I called to him. "It'll be out
in a minute."
He looked down quickly to the light, and did as I suggested. Then he
held it out at arm's length, and peered up again into the darkness.
"See anything?" asked the Old Man, suddenly observing his attitude.
Plummer glanced at him, with a start.
"It's ther r'yal, Sir," he explained. "It's all adrift."
"What!" said the Old Man.
He was standing a few ratlines up the t'gallant rigging, and he bent his
body outwards to get a better look.
"Mr. Tulipson!" he shouted. "Do you know that the royal's all adrift?"
"No, Sir," answered the Second Mate. "If it is, it's more of this
"It's adrift right enough," said the Skipper, and he and the Second went
a few ratlines higher, keeping level with one another.
I had now got above the crosstrees, and was just at the Old Man's heels.
Suddenly, he shouted out:
"There he is!--Stubbins! Stubbins!"
"Where, Sir?" asked the Second, eagerly. "I can't see him!"
"There! there!" replied the Skipper, pointing.
I leant out from the rigging, and looked up along his back, in the
direction his finger indicated. At first, I could see nothing; then,
slowly, you know, there grew upon my sight a dim figure crouching upon
the bunt of the royal, and partly hidden by the mast. I stared, and
gradually it came to me that there was a couple of them, and further out
upon the yard, a hump that might have been anything, and was only
visible indistinctly amid the flutter of the canvas.
"Stubbins!" the Skipper sung out. "Stubbins, come down out of that! Do
you hear me?"
But no one came, and there was no answer.
"There's two--" I began; but he was shouting again:
"Come down out of that! Do you damned well hear me?"
Still there was no reply.
"I'm hanged if I can see him at all, Sir!" the Second Mate called out
from his side of the mast.
"Can't see him!" said the Old Man, now thoroughly angry. "I'll soon let
you see him!"
He bent down to me with the lantern.
"Catch hold, Jessop," he said, which I did.
Then he pulled the blue light from his pocket, and as he was doing so, I
saw the Second peek round the back side of the mast at him. Evidently,
in the uncertain light, he must have mistaken the Skipper's action; for,
all at once, he shouted out in a frightened voice:
"Don't shoot, Sir! For God's sake, don't shoot!"
"Shoot be damned!" exclaimed the Old Man. "Watch!"
He pulled off the cap of the light.
"There's two of them, Sir," I called again to him.
"What!" he said in a loud voice, and at the same instant he rubbed the
end of the light across the cap, and it burst into fire.
He held it up so that it lit the royal yard like day, and straightway, a
couple of shapes dropped silently from the royal on to the t'gallant
yard. At the same moment, the humped Something, midway out upon the
yard, rose up. It ran in to the mast, and I lost sight of it.
"God!" I heard the Skipper gasp, and he fumbled in his side pocket.
I saw the two figures which had dropped on to the t'gallant, run swiftly
along the yard--one to the starboard and the other to the port
On the other side of the mast, the Second Mate's pistol cracked out
twice, sharply. Then, from over my head the Skipper fired twice, and
then again; but with what effect, I could not tell. Abruptly, as he
fired his last shot, I was aware of an indistinct Something, gliding
down the starboard royal backstay. It was descending full upon Plummer,
who, all unconscious of the thing, was staring towards the t'gallant
"Look out above you, Plummer!" I almost shrieked.
"What? where?" he called, and grabbed at the stay, and waved his flare,
Down on the upper topsail yard, Quoin's and Jaskett's voices rose
simultaneously, and in the identical instant, their flares went out.
Then Plummer shouted, and his light went utterly. There were left only
the two lanterns, and the blue-light held by the Skipper, and that, a
few seconds afterwards, finished and died out.
The Skipper and the Second Mate were shouting to the men upon the yard,
and I heard them answer, in shaky voices. Out on the crosstrees, I could
see, by the light from my lantern, that Plummer was holding in a dazed
fashion to the backstay.
"Are you all right, Plummer?" I called.
"Yes," he said, after a little pause; and then he swore.
"Come in off that yard, you men!" the Skipper was singing out. "Come in!
Down on deck, I heard someone calling; but could not distinguish the
words. Above me, pistol in hand, the Skipper was glancing about,
"Hold up that light, Jessop," he said. "I can't see!"
Below us, the men got off the yard, into the rigging.
"Down on deck with you!" ordered the Old Man.
"As smartly as you can!"
"Come in off there, Plummer!" sung out the Second Mate. "Get down with
"Down with you, Jessop!" said the Skipper, speaking rapidly. "Down with
I got over the crosstrees, and he followed. On the other side, the
Second Mate was level with us. He had passed his lantern to Plummer, and
I caught the glint of his revolver in his right hand. In this fashion,
we reached the top. The man who had been stationed there with the
blue-lights, had gone. Afterwards, I found that he went down on deck as
soon as they were finished. There was no sign of the man with the flare
on the starboard craneline. He also, I learnt later, had slid down one
of the backstays on to the deck, only a very short while before we
reached the top. He swore that a great black shadow of a man had come
suddenly upon him from aloft. When I heard that, I remembered the thing
I had seen descending upon Plummer. Yet the man who had gone out upon
the port craneline--the one who had bungled with the lighting of his
flare--was still where we had left him; though his light was burning now
"Come in out of that, _you!_" the Old Man sung out "Smartly now, and get
down on deck!"
"i, i, Sir," the man replied, and started to make his way in.
The Skipper waited until he had got into the main rigging, and then he
told me to get down out of the top. He was in the act of following,
when, all at once, there rose a loud outcry on deck, and then came the
sound of a man screaming.
"Get out of my way, Jessop!" the Skipper roared, and swung himself down
alongside of me.
I heard the Second Mate shout something from the starboard rigging. Then
we were all racing down as hard as we could go. I had caught a momentary
glimpse of a man running from the doorway on the port side of the
fo'cas'le. In less than half a minute we were upon the deck, and among a
crowd of the men who were grouped round something. Yet, strangely
enough, they were not looking at the thing among them; but away aft at
something in the darkness.
"It's on the rail!" cried several voices.
"Overboard!" called somebody, in an excited voice. "It's jumped over the
"Ther' wer'n't nothin'!" said a man in the crowd.
"Silence!" shouted the Old Man. "Where's the Mate? What's happened?"
"Here, Sir," called the First Mate, shakily, from near the centre of the
group. "It's Jacobs, Sir. He--he--"
"What!" said the Skipper. "What!"
"He--he's--he's--dead I think!" said the First Mate, in jerks.
"Let me see," said the Old Man, in a quieter tone.
The men had stood to one side to give him room, and he knelt beside the
man upon the deck.
"Pass the lantern here, Jessop," he said.
I stood by him, and held the light. The man was lying face downwards on
the deck. Under the light from the lantern, the Skipper turned him over
and looked at him.
"Yes," he said, after a short examination. "He's dead."
He stood up and regarded the body a moment, in silence. Then he turned
to the Second Mate, who had been standing by, during the last couple of
"Three!" he said, in a grim undertone.
The Second Mate nodded, and cleared his voice.
He seemed on the point of saying something; then he turned and looked at
Jacobs, and said nothing.
"Three," repeated the Old Man. "Since eight bells!"
He stooped and looked again at Jacobs.
"Poor devil! poor devil!" he muttered.
The Second Mate grunted some of the huskiness out of his throat, and
"Where must we take him?" he asked, quietly. "The two bunks are full."
"You'll have to put him down on the deck by the lower bunk," replied the
As they carried him away, I heard the Old Man make a sound that was
almost a groan. The rest of the men had gone forrard, and I do not think
he realised that I was standing by him
"My God! O, my God!" he muttered, and began to walk slowly aft.
He had cause enough for groaning. There were three dead, and Stubbins
had gone utterly and completely. We never saw him again.
A few minutes later, the Second Mate came forrard again. I was still
standing near the rigging, holding the lantern, in an aimless sort of
"That you, Plummer?" he asked.
"No, Sir," I said. "It's Jessop."
"Where's Plummer, then?" he inquired.
"I don't know, Sir," I answered. "I expect he's gone forrard. Shall I go
and tell him you want him?"
"No, there's no need," he said. "Tie your lamp up in the rigging--on the
sheerpole there. Then go and get his, and shove it up on the starboard
side. After that you'd better go aft and give the two 'prentices a hand
in the lamp locker."
"i, i, Sir," I replied, and proceeded to do as he directed. After I had
got the light from Plummer, and lashed it up to the starboard sherpole,
I hurried aft. I found Tammy and the other 'prentice in our watch, busy
in the locker, lighting lamps.
"What are we doing?" I asked.
"The Old Man's given orders to lash all the spare lamps we can find, in
the rigging, so as to have the decks light," said Tammy. "And a damned
good job too!"
He handed me a couple of the lamps, and took two himself.
"Come on," he said, and stepped out on deck. "We'll fix these in the
main rigging, and then I want to talk to you."
"What about the mizzen?" I inquired.
"Oh," he replied. "He" (meaning the other 'prentice) "will see to that.
Anyway, it'll be daylight directly."
We shoved the lamps up on the sherpoles--two on each side. Then he came
across to me.
"Look here, Jessop!" he said, without any hesitation. "You'll have to
jolly well tell the Skipper and the Second Mate all you know about all
"How do you mean?" I asked.
"Why, that it's something about the ship herself that's the cause of
what's happened," he replied. "If you'd only explained to the Second
Mate when I told you to, this might never have been!"
"But I don't _know_," I said. "I may be all wrong. It's only an idea of
mine. I've no proofs--"
"Proofs!" he cut in with. "Proofs! what about tonight? We've had all the
proofs ever I want!"
I hesitated before answering him.
"So have I, for that matter," I said, at length. "What I mean is, I've
nothing that the Skipper and the Second Mate would consider as proofs.
They'd never listen seriously to me."
"They'd listen fast enough," he replied. "After what's happened this
watch, they'd listen to anything. Anyway, it's jolly well your duty to
"What could they do, anyway?" I said, despondently. "As things are
going, we'll all be dead before another week is over, at this rate."
"You tell them," he answered. "That's what you've got to do. If you can
only get them to realise that you're right, they'll be glad to put into
the nearest port, and send us all ashore."
I shook my head.
"Well, anyway, they'll have to do something," he replied, in answer to
my gesture. "We can't go round the Horn, with the number of men we've
lost. We haven't enough to handle her, if it comes on to blow."
"You've forgotten, Tammy," I said. "Even if I could get the Old Man to
believe I'd got at the truth of the matter, he couldn't do anything.
Don't you see, if I'm right, we couldn't even see the land, if we made
it. We're like blind men...."
"What on earth do you mean?" he interrupted. "How do you make out we're
like blind men? Of course we could see the land--"
"Wait a minute! wait a minute!" I said. "You don't understand. Didn't I
"Tell what?" he asked.
"About the ship I spotted," I said. "I thought you knew!"
"No," he said. "When?"
"Why," I replied. "You know when the Old Man sent me away from the
"Yes," he answered. "You mean in the morning watch, day before
"Yes," I said. "Well, don't you know what was the matter?"
"No," he replied. "That is, I heard you were snoozing at the wheel, and
the Old Man came up and caught you."
"That's all a darned silly yarn!" I said. And then I told him the whole
truth of the affair. After I had done that, I explained my idea about
it, to him.
"Now you see what I mean?" I asked.
"You mean that this strange atmosphere--or whatever it is--we're in,
would not allow us to see another ship?" he asked, a bit awestruck.
"Yes," I said. "But the point I wanted you to see, is that if we can't
see another vessel, even when she's quite close, then, in the same way,
we shouldn't be able to see land. To all intents and purposes we're
blind. Just you think of it! We're out in the middle of the briny, doing
a sort of eternal blind man's hop. The Old Man couldn't put into port,
even if he wanted to. He'd run us bang on shore, without our ever seeing
"What are we going to do, then?" he asked, in a despairing sort of way.
"Do you mean to say we can't do anything? Surely something can be done!
For perhaps a minute, we walked up and down, in the light from the
different lanterns. Then he spoke again.
"We might be run down, then," he said, "and never even see the other
"It's possible," I replied. "Though, from what I saw, it's evident that
_we're_ quite visible; so that it would be easy for them to see us, and
steer clear of us, even though we couldn't see them."
"And we might run into something, and never see it?" he asked me,
following up the train of thought.
"Yes," I said. "Only there's nothing to stop the other ship from getting
out of our way."
"But if it wasn't a vessel?" he persisted. "It might be an iceberg, or a
rock, or even a derelict."
"In that case," I said, putting it a bit flippantly, naturally, "we'd
probably damage it."
He made no answer to this and for a few moments, we were quiet.
Then he spoke abruptly, as though the idea had come suddenly to him.
"Those lights the other night!" he said. "Were they a ship's lights?"
"Yes," I replied. "Why?"
"Why," he answered. "Don't you see, if they were really lights, we
_could_ see them?"
"Well, I should think I ought to know that," I replied. "You seem to
forget that the Second Mate slung me off the look-out for daring to do
that very thing."
"I don't mean that," he said. "Don't you see that if we could see them
at all, it showed that the atmosphere-thing wasn't round us then?"
"Not necessarily," I answered. "It may have been nothing more than a
rift in it; though, of course, I may be all wrong. But, anyway, the fact
that the lights disappeared almost as soon as they were seen, shows that
it was very much round the ship."
That made him feel a bit the way I did, and when next he spoke, his tone
had lost its hopefulness.
"Then you think it'll be no use telling the Second Mate and the Skipper
anything?" he asked.
"I don't know," I replied. "I've been thinking about it, and it can't do
any harm. I've a very good mind to."
"I should," he said. "You needn't be afraid of anybody laughing at you,
now. It might do some good. You've seen more than anyone else."
He stopped in his walk, and looked round.
"Wait a minute," he said, and ran aft a few steps. I saw him look up at
the break of the poop; then he came back.
"Come along now," he said. "The Old Man's up on the poop, talking to the
Second Mate. You'll never get a better chance."
Still I hesitated; but he caught me by the sleeve, and almost dragged me
to the lee ladder.
"All right," I said, when I got there. "All right, I'll come. Only I'm
hanged if I know what to say when I get there."
"Just tell them you want to speak to them," he said. "They'll ask what
you want, and then you spit out all you know. They'll find it
"You'd better come too," I suggested. "You'll be able to back me up in
lots of things."
"I'll come, fast enough," he replied. "You go up."
I went up the ladder, and walked across to where the Skipper and the
Second Mate stood talking earnestly, by the rail. Tammy kept behind. As
I came near to them, I caught two or three words; though I attached no
meaning then to them. They were: "...send for him." Then the two of them
turned and looked at me, and the Second Mate asked what I wanted.
"I want to speak to you and the Old M--Captain, Sir," I answered.
"What is it, Jessop?" the Skipper inquired.
"I scarcely know how to put it, Sir," I said. "It's--it's about these--
"What things? Speak out, man," he said.
"Well, Sir," I blurted out. "There's some dreadful thing or things come
aboard this ship, since we left port."
I saw him give one quick glance at the Second Mate, and the Second
Then the Skipper replied.
"How do you mean, come aboard?" he asked.
"Out of the sea, Sir," I said. "I've seen them. So's Tammy, here."
"Ah!" he exclaimed, and it seemed to me, from his face, that he was
understanding something better. "Out of the Sea!"
Again he looked at the Second Mate; but the Second was staring at me.
"Yes Sir," I said. "It's the _ship_. She's not safe! I've watched. I
think I understand a bit; but there's a lot I don't."
I stopped. The Skipper had turned to the Second Mate. The Second nodded,
gravely. Then I heard him mutter, in a low voice, and the Old Man
replied; after which he turned to me again.
"Look here, Jessop," he said. "I'm going to talk straight to you. You
strike me as being a cut above the ordinary shellback, and I think
you've sense enough to hold your tongue."
"I've got my mate's ticket, Sir," I said, simply.
Behind me, I heard Tammy give a little start. He had not known about it
The Skipper nodded.
"So much the better," he answered. "I may have to speak to you about
that, later on."
He paused, and the Second Mate said something to him, in an undertone.
"Yes," he said, as though in reply to what the Second had been saying.
Then he spoke to me again.
"You've seen things come out of the sea, you say?" he questioned. "Now
just tell me all you can remember, from the very beginning."
I set to, and told him everything in detail, commencing with the strange
figure that had stepped aboard out of the sea, and continuing my yarn,
up to the things that had happened in that very watch.
I stuck well to solid facts; and now and then he and the Second Mate
would look at one another, and nod. At the end, he turned to me with an
"You still hold, then, that you saw a ship the other morning, when I
sent you from the wheel?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir," I said. "I most certainly do."
"But you knew there wasn't any!" he said.
"Yes, Sir," I replied, in an apologetic tone. "There was; and, if you
will let me, I believe that I can explain it a bit."
"Well," he said. "Go on."
Now that I knew he was willing to listen to me in a serious manner all
my funk of telling him had gone, and I went ahead and told him my ideas
about the mist, and the thing it seemed to have ushered, you know. I
finished up, by telling him how Tammy had worried me to come and tell
what I knew.
"He thought then, Sir," I went on, "that you might wish to put into the
nearest port; but I told him that I didn't think you could, even if you
"How's that?" he asked, profoundly interested.
"Well, Sir," I replied. "If we're unable to see other vessels, we
shouldn't be able to see the land. You'd be piling the ship up, without
ever seeing where you were putting her."
This view of the matter, affected the Old Man in an extraordinary
manner; as it did, I believe, the Second Mate. And neither spoke for a
moment. Then the Skipper burst out.
"By Gad! Jessop," he said. "If you're right, the Lord have mercy on us."
He thought for a couple of seconds. Then he spoke again, and I could see
that he was pretty well twisted up:
"My God!... if you're right!"
The Second Mate spoke.
"The men mustn't know, Sir," he warned him. "It'd be a mess if they
"Yes," said the Old Man.
He spoke to me.
"Remember that, Jessop," he said. "Whatever you do, don't go yarning
about this, forrard."
"No, Sir," I replied.
"And you too, boy," said the Skipper. "Keep your tongue between your
teeth. We're in a bad enough mess, without your making it worse. Do you
"Yes, Sir," answered Tammy.
The Old Man turned to me again.
"These things, or creatures that you say come out of the sea," he said.
"You've never seen them, except after nightfall?" he asked.
"No, Sir," I replied. "Never."
He turned to the Second Mate.
"So far as I can make out, Mr. Tulipson," he remarked, "the danger seems
to be only at night."
"It's always been at night, Sir," the Second answered.
The Old Man nodded.
"Have you anything to propose, Mr. Tulipson?" he asked.
"Well, Sir," replied the Second Mate. "I think you ought to have her
snugged down every night, before dark!"
He spoke with considerable emphasis. Then he glanced aloft, and jerked
his head in the direction of the unfurled t'gallants.
"It's a damned good thing, Sir," he said, "that it didn't come on to
blow any harder."
The Old Man nodded again.
"Yes," he remarked. "We shall have to do it; but God knows when we'll
"Better late than not at all," I heard the Second mutter, under his
Out loud, he said:
"And the lights, Sir?"
"Yes," said the Old Man. "I will have lamps in the rigging every night,
"Very good, Sir," assented the Second. Then he turned to us.
"It's getting daylight, Jessop," he remarked, with a glance at the sky.
"You'd better take Tammy with you, and shove those lamps back again into
"i, i, Sir," I said, and went down off the poop with Tammy.
_The Shadow in the Sea_
When eight bells went, at four o'clock, and the other watch came on deck
to relieve us, it had been broad daylight for some time. Before we went
below, the Second Mate had the three t'gallants set; and now that it was
light, we were pretty curious to have a look aloft, especially up the
fore; and Tom, who had been up to overhaul the gear, was questioned a
lot, when he came down, as to whether there were any signs of anything
queer up there. But he told us there was nothing unusual to be seen.
At eight o'clock, when we came on deck for the eight to twelve watch, I
saw the Sailmaker coming forrard along the deck, from the Second Mate's
old berth. He had his rule in his hand, and I knew he had been measuring
the poor beggars in there, for their burial outfit. From breakfast time
until near noon, he worked, shaping out three canvas wrappers from some
old sailcloth. Then, with the aid of the Second Mate and one of the
hands, he brought out the three dead chaps on to the after hatch, and
there sewed them up, with a few lumps of holy stone at their feet. He
was just finishing when eight bells went, and I heard the Old Man tell
the Second Mate to call all hands aft for the burial. This was done, and
one of the gangways unshipped.
We had no decent grating big enough, so they had to get off one of the
hatches, and use it instead. The wind had died away during the morning,
and the sea was almost a calm--the ship lifting ever so slightly to an
occasional glassy heave. The only sounds that struck on the ear were the
soft, slow rustle and occasional shiver of the sails, and the continuous
and monotonous creak, creak of the spars and gear at the gentle
movements of the vessel. And it was in this solemn half-quietness that
the Skipper read the burial service.
They had put the Dutchman first upon the hatch (I could tell him by his
stumpiness), and when at last the Old Man gave the signal, the Second
Mate tilted his end, and he slid off, and down into the dark.
"Poor old Dutchie," I heard one of the men say, and I fancy we all felt
a bit like that.
Then they lifted Jacobs on to the hatch, and when he had gone, Jock.
When Jock was lifted, a sort of sudden shiver ran through the crowd. He
had been a favourite in a quiet way, and I know I felt, all at once,
just a bit queer. I was standing by the rail, upon the after bollard,
and Tammy was next to me; while Plummer stood a little behind. As the
Second Mate tilted the hatch for the last time, a little, hoarse chorus
broke from the men:
"S'long, Jock! So long, Jock!"
And then, at the sudden plunge, they rushed to the side to see the last
of him as he went downwards. Even the Second Mate was not able to resist
this universal feeling, and he, too, peered over. From where I had been
standing, I had been able to see the body take the water, and now, for a
brief couple of seconds, I saw the white of the canvas, blurred by the
blue of the water, dwindle and dwindle in the extreme depth. Abruptly,
as I stared, it disappeared--too abruptly, it seemed to me.
"Gone!" I heard several voices say, and then our watch began to go
slowly forrard, while one or two of the other, started to replace the
Tammy pointed, and nudged me.
"See, Jessop," he said. "What is it?"
"What?" I asked.
"That queer shadow," he replied. "Look!"
And then I saw what he meant. It was something big and shadowy, that
appeared to be growing clearer. It occupied the exact place--so it
seemed to me--in which Jock had disappeared.
"Look at it!" said Tammy, again. "It's getting bigger!"
He was pretty excited, and so was I.
I was peering down. The thing seemed to be rising out of the depths. It
was taking shape. As I realised what the shape was, a queer, cold funk
"See," said Tammy. "It's just like the shadow of a ship!"
And it was. The shadow of a ship rising out of the unexplored immensity
beneath our keel. Plummer, who had not yet gone forrard, caught Tammy's
last remark, and glanced over.
"What's 'e mean?" he asked.
"That!" replied Tammy, and pointed.
I jabbed my elbow into his ribs; but it was too late. Plummer had seen.
Curiously enough, though, he seemed to think nothing of it.
"That ain't nothin', 'cept ther shadder er ther ship," he said.
Tammy, after my hint, let it go at that. But when Plummer had gone
forrard with the others, I told him not to go telling everything round
the decks, like that.
"We've got to be thundering careful!" I remarked. "You know what the Old
Man said, last watch!"
"Yes," said Tammy. "I wasn't thinking; I'll be careful next time."
A little way from me the Second Mate was still staring down into the
water. I turned, and spoke to him.
"What do you make it out to be, Sir?" I asked.
"God knows!" he said, with a quick glance round to see whether any of
the men were about.
He got down from the rail, and turned to go up on to the poop. At the
top of the ladder, he leant over the break.
"You may as well ship that gangway, you two," he told us. "And mind,
Jessop, keep your mouth shut about this."
"i, i, Sir," I answered.
"And you too, youngster!" he added and went aft along the poop.
Tammy and I were busy with the gangway when the Second came back. He had
brought the Skipper.
"Right under the gangway, Sir" I heard the Second say, and he pointed
down into the water.
For a little while, the Old Man stared. Then I heard him speak.
"I don't see anything," he said.
At that, the Second Mate bent more forward and peered down. So did I;
but the thing, whatever it was, had gone completely.
"It's gone, Sir," said the Second. "It was there right enough when I
came for you."
About a minute later, having finished shipping the gangway, I was going
forrard, when the Second's voice called me back
"Tell the Captain what it was you saw just now," he said, in a low
"I can't say exactly, Sir," I replied. "But it seemed to me like the
shadow of a ship, rising up through the water."
"There, Sir," remarked the Second Mate to the Old Man. "Just what I told
The Skipper stared at me.
"You're quite sure?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir," I answered. "Tammy saw it, too."
I waited a minute. Then they turned to go aft. The Second was saying
"Can I go, Sir?" I asked.
"Yes, that will do, Jessop," he said, over his shoulder. But the Old Man
came back to the break, and spoke to me.
"Remember, not a word of this forrard!" he said.
"No Sir," I replied, and he went back to the Second Mate; while I walked
forrard to the fo'cas'le to get something to eat.
"Your whack's in the kettle, Jessop," said Tom, as I stepped in over the
washboard. "An' I got your lime-juice in a pannikin."
"Thanks," I said, and sat down.
As I stowed away my grub, I took no notice of the chatter of the others.
I was too stuffed with my own thoughts. That shadow of a vessel rising,
you know, out of the profound deeps, had impressed me tremendously. It
had not been imagination. Three of us had seen it--really four; for
Plummer distinctly saw it; though he failed to recognise it as anything
As you can understand, I thought a lot about this shadow of a vessel.
But, I am sure, for a time, my ideas must just have gone in an
everlasting, blind circle. And then I got another thought; for I got
thinking of the figures I had seen aloft in the early morning; and I
began to imagine fresh things. You see, that first thing that had come
up over the side, had come _out of the sea_. And it had gone back. And
now there was this shadow vessel-thing--ghost-ship I called it. It was a
damned good name, too. And the dark, noiseless men ... I thought a lot
on these lines. Unconsciously, I put a question to myself, aloud:
"Were they the crew?"
"Eh?" said Jaskett, who was on the next chest.
I took hold of myself, as it were, and glanced at him, in an apparently
"Did I speak?" I asked.
"Yes, mate," he replied, eyeing me, curiously. "Yer said sumthin' about
"I must have been dreaming," I said; and rose up to put away my plate.
_The Ghost Ships_
At four o'clock, when again we went on deck, the Second Mate told me to
go on with a paunch mat I was making; while Tammy, he sent to get out
his sinnet. I had the mat slug on the fore side of the mainmast, between
it and the after end of the house; and, in a few minutes, Tammy brought
his sinnet and yarns to the mast, and made fast to one of the pins.
"What do you think it was, Jessop?" he asked, abruptly, after a short
I looked at him.
"What do you think?" I replied.
"I don't know what to think," he said. "But I've a feeling that it's
something to do with all the rest," and he indicated aloft, with his
"I've been thinking, too," I remarked.
"That it is?" he inquired.
"Yes," I answered, and told him how the idea had come to me at my
dinner, that the strange men-shadows which came aboard, might come from
that indistinct vessel we had seen down in the sea.
"Good Lord!" he exclaimed, as he got my meaning. And then for a little,
he stood and thought.
"That's where they live, you mean?" he said, at last, and paused again.
"Well," I replied. "It can't be the sort of existence _we_ should call
He nodded, doubtfully.
"No," he said, and was silent again.
Presently, he put out an idea that had come to him.
"You _think_, then, that that--vessel has been with us for some time, if
we'd only known?" he asked.
"All along," I replied. "I mean ever since these things started."
"Supposing there are others," he said, suddenly.
I looked at him.
"If there are," I said. "You can pray to God that they won't stumble
across us. It strikes me that whether they're ghosts, or not ghosts,
they're blood-gutted pirates.
"It seems horrible," he said solemnly, "to be talking seriously like
this, about--you know, about such things."
"I've tried to stop thinking that way," I told him. "I've felt I should
go cracked, if I didn't. There's damned queer things happen at sea, I
know; but this isn't one of them."
"It seems so strange and unreal, one moment, doesn't it?" he said. "And
the next, you _know_ it's really true, and you can't understand why you
didn't always know. And yet they'd never believe, if you told them
ashore about it."
"They'd believe, if they'd been in this packet in the middle watch this
morning," I said.
"Besides," I went on. "They don't understand. We didn't ... I shall
always feel different now, when I read that some packet hasn't been
Tammy stared at me.
"I've heard some of the old shellbacks talking about things," he said.
"But I never took them really seriously."
"Well," I said. "I guess we'll have to take this seriously. I wish to
God we were home!"
"My God! so do I," he said.
For a good while after that, we both worked on in silence; but,
presently, he went off on another tack.
"Do you think we'll really shorten her down every night before it gets
dark?" he asked.
"Certainly," I replied. "They'll never get the men to go aloft at night,
after what's happened."
"But, but--supposing they _ordered_ us aloft--" he began.
"Would you go?" I interrupted.
"No!" he said, emphatically. "I'd jolly well be put in irons first!"
"That settles it, then," I replied. "You wouldn't go, nor would any one
At this moment the Second Mate came along.
"Shove that mat and that sinnet away, you two," he said. "Then get your
brooms and clear up."
"i, i, Sir," we said, and he went on forrard.
"Jump on the house, Tammy," I said. "And let go the other end of this
rope, will you?"
"Right" he said, and did as I had asked him. When he came back, I got
him to give me a hand to roll up the mat, which was a very large one.
"I'll finish stopping it," I said. "You go and put your sinnet away."
"Wait a minute," he replied, and gathered up a double handful of shakins
from the deck, under where I had been working. Then he ran to the side.
"Here!" I said. "Don't go dumping those. They'll only float, and the
Second Mate or the Skipper will be sure to spot them."
"Come here, Jessop!" he interrupted, in a low voice, and taking no
notice of what I had been saying.
I got up off the hatch, where I was kneeling. He was staring over the
"What's up?" I asked.
"For God's sake, hurry!" he said, and I ran, and jumped on to the spar,
alongside of him.
"Look!" he said, and pointed with a handful of shakins, right down,
directly beneath us.
Some of the shakins dropped from his hand, and blurred the water,
momentarily, so that I could not see. Then, as the ripples cleared away,
I saw what he meant.
"Two of them!" he said, in a voice that was scarcely above a whisper.
"And there's another out there," and he pointed again with the handful
"There's another a little further aft," I muttered.
"Where?--where?" he asked.
"There," I said, and pointed.
"That's four," he whispered. "Four of them!"
I said nothing; but continued to stare. They appeared to me to be a
great way down in the sea, and quite motionless. Yet, though their
outlines were somewhat blurred and indistinct, there was no mistaking
that they were very like exact, though shadowy, representations of
vessels. For some minutes we watched them, without speaking. At last
"They're real, right enough," he said, in a low voice.
"I don't know," I answered.
"I mean we weren't mistaken this morning," he said.
"No," I replied. "I never thought we were."
Away forrard, I heard the Second Mate, returning aft. He came nearer,
and saw us.
"What's up now, you two?" he called, sharply. "This isn't clearing up!"
I put out my hand to warn him not to shout, and draw the attention of
the rest of the men.
He took several steps towards me.
"What is it? what is it?" he said, with a certain irritability; but in a
"You'd better take a look over the side, Sir," I replied.
My tone must have given him an inkling that we had discovered something
fresh; for, at my words, he made one spring, and stood on the spar,
alongside of me.
"Look, Sir," said Tammy. "There's four of them."
The Second Mate glanced down, saw something and bent sharply forward.
"My God!" I heard him mutter, under his breath.
After that, for some half-minute, he stared, without a word.
"There are two more out there, Sir," I told him, and indicated the place
with my finger.
It was a little time before he managed to locate these and when he did,
he gave them only a short glance. Then he got down off the spar, and
spoke to us.
"Come down off there," he said, quickly. "Get your brooms and clear up.
Don't say a word!--It may be nothing."
He appeared to add that last bit, as an afterthought, and we both knew
it meant nothing. Then he turned and went swiftly aft.
"I expect he's gone to tell the Old Man," Tammy remarked, as we went
forrard, carrying the mat and his sinnet.
"H'm," I said, scarcely noticing what he was saying; for I was full of
the thought of those four shadowy craft, waiting quietly down there.
We got our brooms, and went aft. On the way, the Second Mate and the
Skipper passed us. They went forrard too by the fore brace, and got up
on the spar. I saw the Second point up at the brace and he appeared to
be saying something about the gear. I guessed that this was done
purposely, to act as a blind, should any of the other men be looking.
Then the Old Man glanced down over the side, in a casual sort of manner;
so did the Second Mate. A minute or two later, they came aft, and went
back, up on to the poop. I caught a glimpse of the Skipper's face as he
passed me, on his return. He struck me as looking worried--bewildered,
perhaps, would be a better word.
Both Tammy and I were tremendously keen to have another look; but when
at last we got a chance, the sky reflected so much on the water, we
could see nothing below.
We had just finished sweeping up when four bells went, and we cleared
below for tea. Some of the men got chatting while they were grubbing.
"I 'ave 'eard," remarked Quoin, "as we're goin' ter shorten 'er down
"Eh?" said old Jaskett, over his pannikin of tea.
Quoin repeated his remark.
"'oo says so?" inquired Plummer.
"I 'eard it from ther Doc," answered Quoin, "'e got it from ther
"'ow would 'ee know?" asked Plummer.
"I dunno," said Quoin. "I 'spect 'e's 'eard 'em talkin' 'bout it arft."
Plummer turned to me.
"'ave you 'eard anythin', Jessop?" he inquired.
"What, about shortening down?" I replied.
"Yes," he said. "Weren't ther Old Man talkin' ter yer, up on ther poop
"Yes," I answered. "He said something to the Second Mate about
shortening down; but it wasn't to me."
"They are!" said Quoin, "'aven't I just said so?"
At that instant, one of the chaps in the other watch, poked his head in
through the starboard doorway.
"All hands shorten sail!" he sung out; at the same moment the Mate's
whistle came sharp along the decks.
Plummer stood up, and reached for his cap.
"Well," he said. "It's evydent they ain't goin' ter lose no more of us!"
Then we went out on deck.
It was a dead calm; but all the same, we furled the three royals, and
then the three t'gallants. After that, we hauled up the main and
foresail, and stowed them. The crossjack, of course, had been furled
some time, with the wind being plumb aft.
It was while we were up at the foresail, that the sun went over the edge
of the horizon. We had finished stowing the sail, out upon the yard, and
I was waiting for the others to clear in, and let me get off the
foot-rope. Thus it happened that having nothing to do for nearly a
minute, I stood watching the sun set, and so saw something that
otherwise I should, most probably, have missed. The sun had dipped
nearly half-way below the horizon, and was showing like a great, red
dome of dull fire. Abruptly, far away on the starboard bow, a faint mist
drove up out of the sea. It spread across the face of the sun, so that
its light shone now as though it came through a dim haze of smoke.
Quickly, this mist or haze grew thicker; but, at the same time,
separating and taking strange shapes, so that the red of the sun struck
through ruddily between them. Then, as I watched, the weird mistiness
collected and shaped and rose into three towers. These became more
definite, and there was something elongated beneath them. The shaping
and forming continued, and almost suddenly I saw that the thing had
taken on the shape of a great ship. Directly afterwards, I saw that it
was moving. It had been broadside on to the sun. Now it was swinging.
The bows came round with a stately movement, until the three masts bore
in a line. It was heading directly towards us. It grew larger; but yet
less distinct. Astern of it, I saw now that the sun had sunk to a mere
line of light. Then, in the gathering dusk it seemed to me that the ship
was sinking back into the ocean. The sun went beneath the sea, and the
thing I had seen became merged, as it were, into the monotonous greyness
of the coming night.
A voice came to me from the rigging. It was the Second Mate's. He had
been up to give us a hand.
"Now then, Jessop," he was saying. "Come along! come along!"
I turned quickly, and realised that the fellows were nearly all off the
"i, i, Sir," I muttered, and slid in along the foot-rope, and went down
on deck. I felt fresh dazed and frightened.
A little later, eight bells went, and, after roll call, I cleared up, on
to the poop, to relieve the wheel. For a while as I stood at the wheel
my mind seemed blank, and incapable of receiving impressions. This
sensation went, after a time, and I realised that there was a great
stillness over the sea. There was absolutely no wind, and even the
everlasting creak, creak of the gear seemed to ease off at times.
At the wheel there was nothing whatever to do. I might just as well have
been forrard, smoking in the fo'cas'le. Down on the main-deck, I could
see the loom of the lanterns that had been lashed up to the sherpoles in
the fore and main rigging. Yet they showed less than they might, owing
to the fact that they had been shaded on their after sides, so as not to
blind the officer of the watch more than need be.
The night had come down strangely dark, and yet of the dark and the
stillness and the lanterns, I was only conscious in occasional flashes
of comprehension. For, now that my mind was working, I was thinking
chiefly of that queer, vast phantom of mist, I had seen rise from the
sea, and take shape.
I kept staring into the night, towards the West, and then all round me;
for, naturally, the memory predominated that she had been coming towards
us when the darkness came, and it was a pretty disquieting sort of thing
to think about. I had such a horrible feeling that something beastly was
going to happen any minute.
Yet, two bells came and went, and still all was quiet--strangely quiet,
it seemed to me. And, of course, besides the queer, misty vessel I had
seen in the West I was all the time remembering the four shadowy craft
lying down in the sea, under our port side. Every time I remembered
them, I felt thankful for the lanterns round the maindeck, and I
wondered why none had been put in the mizzen rigging. I wished to
goodness that they had, and made up my mind I would speak to the Second
Mate about it, next time he came aft. At the time, he was leaning over
the rail across the break of the poop. He was not smoking, as I could
tell; for had he been, I should have seen the glow of his pipe, now and
then. It was plain to me that he was uneasy. Three times already he had
been down on to the maindeck, prowling about. I guessed that he had been
to look down into the sea, for any signs of those four grim craft. I
wondered whether they would be visible at night.
Suddenly, the time-keeper struck three bells, and the deeper notes of
the bell forrard, answered them. I gave a start. It seemed to me that
they had been struck close to my elbow. There was something
unaccountably strange in the air that night. Then, even as the Second
Mate answered the look-out's "All's well," there came the sharp whir and
rattle of running gear, on the port side of the mainmast.
Simultaneously, there was the shrieking of a parrel, up the main; and I
knew that someone, or something, had let go the main-topsail haul-yards.
From aloft there came the sound of something parting; then the crash of
the yard as it ceased falling.
The Second Mate shouted out something unintelligible, and jumped for the
ladder. From the maindeck there came the sound of running feet, and the
voices of the watch, shouting. Then I caught the Skipper's voice; he
must have run out on deck, through the Saloon doorway.
"Get some more lamps! Get some more lamps!" he was singing out. Then he
He sung out something further. I caught the last two words.
"...carried away," they sounded like.
"No, Sir," shouted the Second Mate. "I don't think so."
A minute of some confusion followed; and then came the click of pawls. I
could tell that they had taken the haulyards to the after capstan. Odd
words floated up to me.
"...all this water?" I heard in the Old Man's voice. He appeared to be
asking a question.
"Can't say, Sir," came the Second Mate's.
There was a period of time, filled only by the clicking of the pawls and
the sounds of the creaking parrel and the running gear. Then the Second
Mate's voice came again.
"Seems all right, Sir," I heard him say.
I never heard the Old Man's reply; for in the same moment, there came to
me a chill of cold breath at my back. I turned sharply, and saw
something peering over the taffrail. It had eyes that reflected the
binnacle light, weirdly, with a frightful, tigerish gleam; but beyond
that, I could see nothing with any distinctness. For the moment, I just
stared. I seemed frozen. It was so close. Then movement came to me, and
I jumped to the binnacle and snatched out the lamp. I twitched round,
and shone the light towards it. The thing, whatever it was, had come
more forward over the rail; but now, before the light, it recoiled with
a queer, horrible litheness. It slid back, and down, and so out of
sight. I have only a confused notion of a wet glistening Something, and
two vile eyes. Then I was running, crazy, towards the break of the poop.
I sprang down the ladder, and missed my footing, and landed on my stern,
at the bottom. In my left hand I held the still burning binnacle lamp.
The men were putting away the capstan-bars; but at my abrupt appearance,
and the yell I gave out at falling, one or two of them fairly ran
backwards a short distance, in sheer funk, before they realised what it
From somewhere further forrard, the Old Man and the Second Mate came
"What the devil's up now?" sung out the Second, stopping and bending to
stare at me. "What's to do, that you're away from the wheel?"
I stood up and tried to answer him; but I was so shaken that I could
"I--I--there--" I stuttered.
"Damnation!" shouted the Second Mate, angrily. "Get back to the wheel!"
I hesitated, and tried to explain.
"Do you damned well hear me?" he sung out.
"Yes, Sir; but--" I began.
"Get up on to the poop, Jessop!" he said.
I went. I meant to explain, when he came up. At the top of the ladder, I
stopped. I was not going back alone to that wheel. Down below, I heard
the Old Man speaking.
"What on earth is it now, Mr. Tulipson?" he was saying.
The Second Mate made no immediate reply; but turned to the men, who were
evidently crowding near.
"That will do, men!" he said, somewhat sharply.
I heard the watch start to go forrard. There came a mutter of talk from
them. Then the Second Mate answered the Old Man. He could not have known
that I was near enough to overhear him.
"It's Jessop, Sir. He must have seen something; but we mustn't frighten
the crowd more than need be."
"No," said the Skipper's voice.
They turned and came up the ladder, and I ran back a few steps, as far
as the skylight. I heard the Old Man speak as they came up.
"How is it there are no lamps, Mr. Tulipson?" he said, in a surprised
"I thought there would be no need up here, Sir," the Second Mate
replied. Then he added something about saving oil.
"Better have them, I think," I heard the Skipper say.
"Very good, Sir," answered the Second, and sung out to the time-keeper
to bring up a couple of lamps.
Then the two of them walked aft, to where I stood by the skylight.
"What are you doing, away from the wheel?" asked the Old Man, in a stern
I had collected my wits somewhat by now.
"I won't go, Sir, till there's a light," I said.
The Skipper stamped his foot, angrily; but the Second Mate stepped
"Come! Come, Jessop!" he exclaimed. "This won't do, you know! You'd
better get back to the wheel without further bother."
"Wait a minute," said the Skipper, at this juncture. "What objection
have you to going back to the wheel?" he asked.
"I saw something," I said. "It was climbing over the taffrail, Sir--"
"Ah!" he said, interrupting me with a quick gesture. Then, abruptly:
"Sit down! sit down; you're all in a shake, man."
I flopped down on to the skylight seat. I was, as he had said, all in a
shake, and the binnacle lamp was wobbling in my hand, so that the light
from it went dancing here and there across the deck.
"Now," he went on. "Just tell us what you saw."
I told them, at length, and while I was doing so, the time-keeper
brought up the lights and lashed one up on the sheerpole in each
"Shove one under the spanker boom," the Old Man sung out, as the boy
finished lashing up the other two. "Be smart now."
"i, i, Sir," said the 'prentice, and hurried off.
"Now then," remarked the Skipper when this had been done "You needn't be
afraid to go back to the wheel. There's a light over the stern, and the
Second Mate or myself will be up here all the time."
I stood up.
"Thank you, Sir," I said, and went aft. I replaced my lamp in the
binnacle, and took hold of the wheel; yet, time and again, I glanced
behind and I was very thankful when, a few minutes later, four bells
went, and I was relieved.
Though the rest of the chaps were forrard in the fo'cas'le, I did not go
there. I shirked being questioned about my sudden appearance at the foot
of the poop ladder; and so I lit my pipe and wandered about the
maindeck. I did not feel particularly nervous, as there were now two
lanterns in each rigging, and a couple standing upon each of the spare
top-masts under the bulwarks.
Yet, a little after five bells, it seemed to me that I saw a shadowy
face peer over the rail, a little abaft the fore lanyards. I snatched up
one of the lanterns from off the spar, and flashed the light towards it,
whereupon there was nothing. Only, on my mind, more than my sight, I
fancy, a queer knowledge remained of wet, peery eyes. Afterwards, when I
thought about them, I felt extra beastly. I knew then how brutal they
had been ... Inscrutable, you know. Once more in that same watch I had a
somewhat similar experience, only in this instance it had vanished even
before I had time to reach a light. And then came eight bells, and our
_The Great Ghost Ship_
When we were called again, at a quarter to four, the man who roused us
out, had some queer information.
"Toppin's gone--clean vanished!" he told us, as we began to turn out. "I
never was in such a damned, hair-raisin' hooker as this here. It ain't
safe to go about the bloomin' decks."
"'oo's gone?" asked Plummer, sitting up suddenly and throwing his legs
over his bunk-board.
"Toppin, one of the 'prentices," replied the man. "We've been huntin'
all over the bloomin' show. We're still at it--but we'll never find
him," he ended, with a sort of gloomy assurance.
"Oh, I dunno," said Quoin. "P'raps 'e's snoozin' somewheres 'bout."
"Not him," replied the man. "I tell you we've turned everythin' upside
down. He's not aboard the bloomin' ship.
"Where was he when they last saw him?" I asked.
"Someone must know something, you know!"
"Keepin' time up on the poop," he replied. "The Old Man's nearly shook
the life out of the Mate and the chap at the wheel. And they say they
don't know nothin'."
"How do you mean?" I inquired. "How do you mean, nothing?"
"Well," he answered. "The youngster was there one minute, and then the
next thing they knew, he'd gone. They've both sworn black an' blue that
there wasn't a whisper. He's just disappeared off of the face of the
I got down on to my chest, and reached for my boots.
Before I could speak again, the man was saying something fresh.
"See here, mates," he went on. "If things is goin' on like this, I'd
like to know where you an' me'll be befor' long!"
"We'll be in 'ell," said Plummer.
"I dunno as I like to think 'bout it," said Quoin.
"We'll have to think about it!" replied the man. "We've got to think a
bloomin' lot about it. I've talked to our side, an' they're game."
"Game for what?" I asked.
"To go an' talk straight to the bloomin' Capting," he said, wagging his
finger at me. "It's make tracks for the nearest bloomin' port, an' don't
you make no bloomin' mistake."
I opened my mouth to tell him that the probability was we should not be
able to make it, even if he could get the Old Man to see the matter from
his point of view. Then I remembered that the chap had no idea of the
things I had seen, and _thought out_; so, instead, I said:
"Supposing he won't?"
"Then we'll have to bloomin' well make him," he replied.
"And when you got there," I said. "What then? You'd be jolly well locked
up for mutiny."
"I'd sooner be locked up," he said. "It don't kill you!"
There was a murmur of agreement from the others, and then a moment of
silence, in which, I know, the men were thinking.
Jaskett's voice broke into it.
"I never thought at first as she was 'aunted--" he commenced; but
Plummer cut in across his speech.
"We mustn't 'urt any one, yer know," he said. "That'd mean 'angin', an'
they ain't been er bad crowd.
"No," assented everyone, including the chap who had come to call us.
"All the same," he added. "It's got to be up hellum, an' shove her into
the nearest bloomin' port."
"Yes," said everyone, and then eight bells went, and we cleared out on
Presently, after roll-call--in which there had come a queer, awkward
little pause at Toppin's name--Tammy came over to me. The rest of the
men had gone forrard, and I guessed they were talking over mad plans for
forcing the Skipper's hand, and making him put into port--poor beggars!
I was leaning over the port rail, by the fore brace-lock, staring down
into the sea, when Tammy came to me. For perhaps a minute he said
nothing. When at last he spoke, it was to say that the shadow vessels
had not been there since daylight.
"What?" I said, in some surprise. "How do you know?"
"I woke up when they were searching for Toppin," he replied. "I've not
been asleep since. I came here, right away." He began to say something
further; but stopped short.
"Yes," I said encouragingly.
"I didn't know--" he began, and broke off. He caught my arm. "Oh,
Jessop!" he exclaimed. "What's going to be the end of it all? Surely
something can be done?"
I said nothing. I had a desperate feeling that there was very little we
could do to help ourselves.
"Can't we do something?" he asked, and shook my arm. "Anything's better
than _this_! We're being _murdered!"_
Still, I said nothing; but stared moodily down into the water. I could
plan nothing; though I would get mad, feverish fits of thinking.
"Do you hear?" he said. He was almost crying.
"Yes, Tammy," I replied. "But I don't know! I _don't_ know!"
"You don't know!" he exclaimed. "You don't know! Do you mean we're just
to give in, and be murdered, one after another?"
"We've done all we can," I replied. "I don't know what else we can do,
unless we go below and lock ourselves in, every night."
"That would be better than this," he said. "There'll be no one to go
below, or anything else, soon!"
"But what if it came on to blow?" I asked. "We'd be having the sticks
blown out of her."
"What if it came on to blow _now_?" he returned. "No one would go aloft,
if it were dark, you said, yourself! Besides, we could shorten her
_right_ down, first. I tell you, in a few days there won't be a chap
alive aboard this packet unless they jolly well do something!"
"Don't shout," I warned him. "You'll have the Old Man hearing you." But
the young beggar was wound up, and would take no notice.
"I will shout," he replied. "I want the Old Man to hear. I've a good
mind to go up and tell him."
He started on a fresh tack.
"Why don't the men do something?" he began. "They ought to damn well
make the Old Man put us into port! They ought--"
"For goodness sake, shut up, you little fool!" I said. "What's the good
of talking a lot of damned rot like that? You'll be getting yourself
"I don't care," he replied. "I'm not going to be murdered!"
"Look here," I said. "I told you before, that we shouldn't be able to
see the land, even if we made it."
"You've no proof," he answered. "It's only your idea."
"Well," I replied. "Proof, or no proof, the Skipper would only pile her
up, if he tried to make the land, with things as they are now."
"Let him pile her up," he answered. "Let him jolly well pile her up!
That would be better than staying out here to be pulled overboard, or
chucked down from aloft!"
"Look here, Tammy--" I began; but just then the Second Mate sung out for
him, and he had to go. When he came back, I had started to walk to and
from, across the fore side of the mainmast. He joined me, and after a
minute, he started his wild talk again.
"Look here, Tammy," I said, once more. "It's no use your talking like
you've been doing. Things are as they are, and it's no one's fault, and
nobody can help it. If you want to talk sensibly, I'll listen; if not,
then go and gas to someone else."
With that, I returned to the port side, and got up on the spar, again,
intending to sit on the pinrail and have a bit of a talk with him.
Before sitting down I glanced over, into the sea. The action had been
almost mechanical; yet, after a few instants, I was in a state of the
most intense excitement, and without withdrawing my gaze, I reached out
and caught Tammy's arm to attract his attention.
"My God!" I muttered. "Look!"
"What is it?" he asked, and bent over the rail, beside me. And this
is what we saw: a little distance below the surface there lay a
pale-coloured, slightly-domed disc. It seemed only a few feet down.
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