The Ghost Pirates
William Hope Hodgson
Part 4 out of 4
Below it, we saw quite clearly, after a few moment's staring, the shadow
of a royal-yard, and, deeper, the gear and standing-rigging of a great
mast. Far down among the shadows I thought, presently, that I could make
out the immense, indefinite stretch of vast decks.
"My God!" whispered Tammy, and shut up. But presently, he gave out a
short exclamation, as though an idea had come to him; and got down off
the spar, and ran forrard on to the fo'cas'le head. He came running
back, after a short look into the sea, to tell me that there was the
truck of another great mast coming up there, a bit off the bow, to
within a few feet of the surface of the sea.
In the meantime, you know, I had been staring like mad down through the
water at the huge, shadowy mast just below me. I had traced out bit by
bit, until now I could clearly see the jackstay, running along the top
of the royal mast; and, you know, the royal itself was _set_.
But, you know, what was getting at me more than anything, was a feeling
that there was movement down in the water there, among the rigging. I
_thought_ I could actually see, at times, things moving and glinting
faintly and rapidly to and fro in the gear. And once, I was practically
certain that something was on the royal-yard, moving in to the mast; as
though, you know, it might have come up the leech of the sail. And this
way, I got a beastly feeling that there were things swarming down there.
Unconsciously, I must have leant further and further out over the side,
staring; and suddenly--good Lord! how I yelled--I overbalanced. I made a
sweeping grab, and caught the fore brace, and with that, I was back in a
moment upon the spar. In the same second, almost, it seemed to me that
the surface of the water above the submerged truck was broken, and I am
sure _now,_ I saw something a moment in the air against the ship's side
--a sort of shadow in the air; though I did not realise it at the time.
Anyway, the next instant, Tammy gave out an awful scream, and was head
downwards over the rail, in a second. I had an idea _then_ that he was
jumping overboard. I collared him by the waist of his britchers, and one
knee, and then I had him down on the deck, and sat plump on him; for he
was struggling and shouting all the time, and I was so breathless and
shaken and gone to mush, I could not have trusted my hands to hold him.
You see, I never thought _then_ it was anything but some influence at
work on him; and that he was trying to get loose to go over the side.
But I know _now_ that I saw the shadow-man that had him. Only, at the
time, I was so mixed up, and with the one idea in my head, I was not
really able to notice anything, properly. But, afterwards, I
comprehended a bit (you can understand, can't you?) what I had seen at
the time without taking in.
And even now looking back, I know that the shadow was only like a
faint-seen greyness in the daylight, against the whiteness of the decks,
clinging against Tammy.
And there was I, all breathless and sweating, and quivery with my own
tumble, sitting on the little screeching beggar, and he fighting like a
mad thing; so that I thought I should never hold him.
And then I heard the Second Mate shouting and there came running feet
along the deck. Then many hands were pulling and hauling, to get me off
"Bl--y cowyard!" sung out someone.
"Hold him! Hold him!" I shouted. "He'll be overboard!"
At that, they seemed to understand that I was not ill-treating the
youngster; for they stopped manhandling me, and allowed me to rise;
while two of them took hold of Tammy, and kept him safe.
"What's the matter with him?" the Second Mate was singing out. "What's
"He's gone off his head, I think," I said.
"What?" asked the Second Mate. But before I could answer him, Tammy
ceased suddenly to struggle, and flopped down upon the deck.
"'e's fainted," said Plummer, with some sympathy. He looked at me, with
a puzzled, suspicious air. "What's 'appened? What's 'e been doin'?"
"Take him aft into the berth!" ordered the Second Mate, a bit abruptly.
It struck me that he wished to prevent questions. He must have tumbled
to the fact that we had seen something, about which it would be better
not to tell the crowd.
Plummer stooped to lift the boy.
"No," said the Second Mate. "Not you, Plummer. Jessop, you take him." He
turned to the rest of the men. "That will do," he told them and they
went forrard, muttering a little.
I lifted the boy, and carried him aft.
"No need to take him into the berth," said the Second Mate. "Put him
down on the after hatch. I've sent the other lad for some brandy."
Then the brandy came, we dosed Tammy and soon brought him round. He sat
up, with a somewhat dazed air. Otherwise, he seemed quiet and sane
"What's up?" he asked. He caught sight of the Second Mate. "Have I been
ill, Sir?" he exclaimed.
"You're right enough now, youngster," said the Second Mate. "You've been
a bit off. You'd better go and lie down for a bit."
"I'm all right now, Sir," replied Tammy. "I don't think--"
"You do as you're told!" interrupted the Second. "Don't always have to
be told twice! If I want you, I'll send for you."
Tammy stood up, and made his way, in rather an unsteady fashion, into
the berth. I fancy he was glad enough to lie down.
"Now then, Jessop," exclaimed the Second Mate, turning to me. "What's
been the cause of all this? Out with it now, smart!"
I commenced to tell him; but, almost directly, he put up his hand.
"Hold on a minute," he said. "There's the breeze!"
He jumped up the port ladder, and sung out to the chap at the wheel.
Then down again.
"Starboard fore brace," he sung out. He turned to me. "You'll have to
finish telling me afterwards," he said.
"i, i, Sir," I replied, and went to join the other chaps at the braces.
As soon as we were braced sharp up on the port tack, he sent some of the
watch up to loose the sails. Then he sung out for me.
"Go on with your yarn now, Jessop," he said.
I told him about the great shadow vessel, and I said something about
Tammy--I mean about my not being sure _now_ whether he _had_ tried to
jump overboard. Because, you see, I began to realise that I had seen the
shadow; and I remembered the stirring of the water above the submerged
truck. But the Second did not wait, of course, for any theories, but was
away, like a shot, to see for himself. He ran to the side, and looked
down. I followed, and stood beside him; yet, now that the surface of the
water was blurred by the wind, we could see nothing.
"It's no good," he remarked, after a minute. "You'd better get away from
the rail before any of the others see you. Just be taking those halyards
aft to the capstan."
From then, until eight bells, we were hard at work getting the sail upon
her, and when at last eight bells went, I made haste to swallow my
breakfast, and get a sleep.
At midday, when we went on deck for the afternoon watch, I ran to the
side; but there was no sign of the great shadow ship. All that watch,
the Second Mate kept me working at my paunch mat, and Tammy he put on to
his sinnet, telling me to keep an eye on the youngster. But the boy was
right enough; as I scarcely doubted now, you know; though--a most
unusual thing--he hardly opened his lips the whole afternoon. Then at
four o'clock, we went below for tea.
At four bells, when we came on deck again, I found that the light
breeze, which had kept us going during the day, had dropped, and we were
only just moving. The sun was low down, and the sky clear. Once or
twice, as I glanced across to the horizon, it seemed to me that I caught
again that odd quiver in the air that had preceded the coming of the
mist; and, indeed on two separate occasions, I saw a thin whisp of haze
drive up, apparently out of the sea. This was at some little distance on
our port beam; otherwise, all was quiet and peaceful; and though I
stared into the water, I could make out no vestige of that great shadow
ship, down in the sea.
It was some little time after six bells that the order came for all
hands to shorten sail for the night. We took in the royals and
t'gallants, and then the three courses. It was shortly after this, that
a rumour went round the ship that there was to be no look-out that night
after eight o'clock. This naturally created a good deal of talk among
the men; especially as the yarn went that the fo'cas'le doors were to be
shut and fastened as soon as it was dark, and that no one was to be
allowed on deck.
"'oo's goin' ter take ther wheel?" I heard Plummer ask.
"I s'pose they'll 'ave us take 'em as usual," replied one of the men.
"One of ther officers is bound ter be on ther poop; so we'll 'ave
Apart from these remarks, there was a general opinion that--if it were
true--it was a sensible act on the part of the Skipper. As one of the
"It ain't likely that there'll be any of us missin' in ther mornin', if
we stays in our bunks all ther blessed night."
And soon after this, eight bells went.
_The Ghost Pirates_
At the moment when eight bells actually went, I was in the fo'cas'le,
talking to four of the other watch. Suddenly, away aft, I heard
shouting, and then on the deck overhead, came the loud thudding of
someone pomping with a capstan-bar. Straightway, I turned and made a run
for the port doorway, along with the four other men. We rushed out
through the doorway on to the deck. It was getting dusk; but that did
not hide from me a terrible and extraordinary sight. All along the port
rail there was a queer, undulating greyness, that moved downwards
inboard, and spread over the decks. As I looked, I found that I saw more
clearly, in a most extraordinary way. And, suddenly, all the moving
greyness resolved into hundreds of strange men. In the half-light, they
looked unreal and impossible, as though there had come upon us the
inhabitants of some fantastic dream-world. My God! I thought I was mad.
They swarmed in upon us in a great wave of murderous, living shadows.
From some of the men who must have been going aft for roll-call, there
rose into the evening air a loud, awful shouting.
"Aloft!" yelled someone; but, as I looked aloft, I saw that the horrible
things were swarming there in scores and scores.
"Jesus Christ--!" shrieked a man's voice, cut short, and my glance
dropped from aloft, to find two of the men who had come out from the
fo'cas'le with me, rolling upon the deck. They were two
indistinguishable masses that writhed here and there across the planks.
The brutes fairly covered them. From them, came muffled little shrieks
and gasps; and there I stood, and with me were the other two men. A man
darted past us into the fo'cas'le, with two grey men on his back, and I
heard them kill him. The two men by me, ran suddenly across the fore
hatch, and up the starboard ladder on to the fo'cas'le head. Yet, almost
in the same instant, I saw several of the grey men disappear up the
other ladder. From the fo'cas'le head above, I heard the two men
commence to shout, and this died away into a loud scuffling. At that, I
turned to see whether I could get away. I stared round, hopelessly; and
then with two jumps, I was on the pigsty, and from there upon the top of
the deckhouse. I threw myself flat, and waited, breathlessly.
All at once, it seemed to me that it was darker than it had been the
previous moment, and I raised my head, very cautiously. I saw that the
ship was enveloped in great billows of mist, and then, not six feet from
me, I made out someone lying, face downwards. It was Tammy. I felt safer
now that we were hidden by the mist, and I crawled to him. He gave a
quick gasp of terror when I touched him; but when he saw who it was, he
started to sob like a little kid.
"Hush!" I said. "For God's sake be quiet!" But I need not have troubled;
for the shrieks of the men being killed, down on the decks all around
us, drowned every other sound.
I knelt up, and glanced round and then aloft. Overhead, I could make out
dimly the spars and sails, and now as I looked, I saw that the
t'gallants and royals had been unloosed and were hanging in the
buntlines. Almost in the same moment, the terrible crying of the poor
beggars about the decks, ceased; and there succeeded an awful silence,
in which I could distinctly hear Tammy sobbing. I reached out, and shook
"Be quiet! Be quiet!" I whispered, intensely. "THEY'LL hear us!"
At my touch and whisper, he struggled to become silent; and then,
overhead, I saw the six yards being swiftly mast-headed. Scarcely were
the sails set, when I heard the swish and flick of gaskets being cast
adrift on the lower yards, and realised that ghostly things were at work
For a moment or so there was silence, and I made my way cautiously to
the after end of the house, and peered over. Yet, because of the mist, I
could see nothing. Then, abruptly, from behind me, came a single wail of
sudden pain and terror from Tammy. It ended instantly in a sort of
choke. I stood up in the mist and ran back to where I had left the kid;
but he had gone. I stood dazed. I felt like shrieking out loud. Above me
I heard the flaps of the course being tumbled off the yards. Down upon
the decks, there were the noises of a multitude working in a weird,
inhuman silence. Then came the squeal and rattle of blocks and braces
aloft. They were squaring the yards.
I remained standing. I watched the yards squared, and then I saw the
sails fill suddenly. An instant later, the deck of the house upon which
I stood, became canted forrard. The slope increased, so that I could
scarcely stand, and I grabbed at one of the wire-winches. I wondered, in
a stunned sort of way, what was happening. Almost directly afterwards,
from the deck on the port side of the house, there came a sudden, loud,
human scream; and immediately, from different parts of the decks, there
rose, afresh, some most horrible shouts of agony from odd men. This grew
into an intense screaming that shook my heart up; and there came again a
noise of desperate, brief fighting. Then a breath of cold wind seemed to
play in the mist, and I could see down the slope of the deck. I looked
below me, towards the bows. The jibboom was plunged right into the
water, and, as I stared, the bows disappeared into the sea. The deck of
the house became a wall to me, and I was swinging from the winch, which
was now above my head. I watched the ocean lap over the edge of the
fo'cas'le head, and rush down on to the maindeck, roaring into the empty
fo'cas'le. And still all around me came crying of the lost sailor-men. I
heard something strike the corner of the house above me, with a dull
thud, and then I saw Plummer plunge down into the flood beneath. I
remembered that he had been at the wheel. The next instant, the water
had leapt to my feet; there came a drear chorus of bubbling screams, a
roar of waters, and I was going swiftly down into the darkness. I let go
of the winch, and struck out madly, trying to hold my breath. There was
a loud singing in my ears. It grew louder. I opened my mouth. I felt I
was dying. And then, thank God! I was at the surface, breathing. For the
moment, I was blinded with the water, and my agony of breathlessness.
Then, growing easier, I brushed the water from my eyes and so, not three
hundred yards away, I made out a large ship, floating almost motionless.
At first, I could scarcely believe I saw aright. Then, as I realised
that indeed there was yet a chance of living, I started to swim towards
You know the rest----
"And you think--?" said the Captain, interrogatively, and stopped short.
"No," replied Jessop. "I don't think. I _know. None of us _think_. It's
a gospel fact. People _talk_ about queer things happening at sea; but
this isn't one of them. This is one of the _real_ things. You've all
seen queer things; perhaps more than I have. It depends. But they don't
go down in the log. These kinds of things never do. This one won't; at
least, not as it's really happened."
He nodded his head, slowly, and went on, addressing the Captain more
"I'll bet," he said, deliberately, "that you'll enter it in the
log-book, something like this:
"'May l8th. Lat.--S. Long.--W. 2 p.m. Light winds from the South and
East. Sighted a full-rigged ship on the starboard bow. Overhauled her in
the first dog-watch. Signalled her; but received no response. During the
second dog-watch she steadily refused to communicate. About eight bells,
it was observed that she seemed to be settling by the head, and a minute
later she foundered suddenly, bows foremost, with all her crew. Put out
a boat and picked up one of the men, an A.B. by the name of Jessop. He
was quite unable to give any explanation of the catastrophe.'
"And you two," he made a gesture at the First and Second Mates, "will
probably sign your names to it, and so will I, and perhaps one of your
A.B.s. Then when we get home they'll print a report of it in the
newspapers, and people will talk about the unseaworthy ships. Maybe some
of the experts will talk rot about rivets and defective plates and so
He laughed, cynically. Then he went on.
"And you know, when you come to think of it, there's no one except our
own selves will ever know how it happened--really. The shellbacks don't
count. They're only 'beastly, drunken brutes of _common sailors_'--poor
devils! No one would think of taking anything they said, as anything
more than a damned cuffer. Besides, the beggars only tell these things
when they're half-boozed. They wouldn't then (for fear of being laughed
at), only they're not responsible--"
He broke off, and looked round at us.
The Skipper and the two Mates nodded their heads, in silent assent.
_The Silent Ship_
I'm the Third Mate of the _Sangier_, the vessel that picked up Jessop,
you know; and he's asked us to write a short note of what we saw from
our side, and sign it. The Old Man's set me on the job, as he says I can
put it better than he can.
Well, it was in the first dog-watch that we came up with her, the
_Mortzestus_ I mean; but it was in the second dog-watch that it
happened. The Mate and I were on the poop watching her. You see, we'd
signalled her, and she'd not taken any notice, and that seemed queer, as
we couldn't have been more than three or four hundred yards off her port
beam, and it was a fine evening; so that we could almost have had a
tea-fight, if they'd seemed a pleasant crowd. As it was, we called them
a set of sulky swine, and left it at that, though we still kept our
All the same, you know, we watched her a lot; and I remember even then I
thought it queer how quiet she was. We couldn't even hear her bell go
and I spoke to the Mate about it, and he said he'd been noticing the
Then, about six bells they shortened her right down to top-sails; and I
can tell you that made us stare more than ever, as anyone can imagine.
And I remember we noticed then especially that we couldn't hear a single
sound from her even when the haul yards were let go; and, you know,
without the glass, I saw their Old Man singing out something; but we
didn't get a sound of it and we _should_ have been able to hear every
Then, just before eight bells, the thing Jessop's told us about
happened. Both the Mate and the Old Man said they could see men going up
her side a bit indistinct, you know, because it was getting dusk; but
the Second Mate and I half thought we did and half thought we didn't;
but there was something queer; we all knew that; and it looked like a
sort of moving mist along her side. I know I felt pretty funny; but it
wasn't the sort of thing, of course, to be too sure and serious about
until you _were_ sure.
After the Mate and the Captain had said they saw the men boarding her,
we began to hear sounds from her; very queer at first and rather like a
phonograph makes when it's getting up speed. Then the sounds came
properly from her, and we heard them shouting and yelling; and, you
know, I don't know even now just what I really thought. I was all so
queer and mixed.
The next thing I remember there was a thick mist round the ship; and
then all the noise was shut off, as if it were all the other side of a
door. But we could still see her masts and spars and sails above the
misty stuff; and both the Captain and the Mate said they could see men
aloft; and I thought I could; but the Second Mate wasn't sure. All the
same though, the sails were all loosed in about a minute, it seemed, and
the yards mastheaded. We couldn't see the courses above the mist; but
Jessop says they were loosed too and sheeted home along with the upper
sails. Then we saw the yards squared and I saw the sails fill bang up
with wind; and yet, you know, ours were slatting.
The next thing was the one that hit me more than anything. Her masts
took a cant forrard, and then I saw her stem come up out of the mist
that was round her. Then, all in an instant, we could hear sounds from
the vessel again. And I tell you, the men didn't seem to be shouting,
but screaming. Her stern went higher. It was most extraordinary to look
at; and then she went plunk down, head foremost, right bang into the
It's all right what Jessop says, and when we saw him swimming (I was the
one who spotted him) we got out a boat quicker than a wind-jammer ever
got out a boat before, I should think.
The Captain and the Mate and the Second and I are
all going to sign this.
WILLIAM NAWSTON _Master_.
J.E.G. ADAMS _First Mate_.
ED. BROWN _Second Mate_.
JACK T. EVAN _Third Mate_.
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