The Ghost Pirates, by William Hope Hodgson


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 hatch.

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 took me.

“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 voice.

“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 you.”

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 something.

“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 limejuice 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 extraordinary.

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 careless manner.

“Did I speak?” I asked.

“Yes, mate,” he replied, eyeing me, curiously. “Yer said sumthin’ about a crew.”

“I must have been dreaming,” I said; and rose up to put away my plate.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55