The Ghost Pirates
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Pages (PDF): 162
Publication Date: 1909
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The Ghost Pirates is a novel presented as the transcribed testimony of Jessop, who we ultimately discover is the only survivor of the final voyage of the Mortzestus, having been rescued from drowning by the crew of the passing Sangier. Hodgson never describes the ghosts - if this is indeed what they are, since their true nature is left ambiguous - in any remarkable detail, he merely reports of their gradual commandeering of the ship.
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He began without any circumlocution.
I joined the Mortzestus in ’Frisco. I heard before I signed on, that there were some funny yarns floating round about her; but I was pretty nearly on the beach, and too jolly anxious to get away, to worry about trifles. Besides, by all accounts, she was right enough so far as grub and treatment went. When I asked fellows to give it a name, they generally could not. All they could tell me, was that she was unlucky, and made thundering long passages, and had no more than a fair share of dirty weather. Also, that she had twice had the sticks blown out of her, and her cargo shifted. Besides all these, a heap of other things that might happen to any packet, and would not be comfortable to run into. Still, they were the ordinary things, and I was willing enough to risk thern, to get home. All the same, if I had been given the chance, I should have shipped in some other vessel as a matter of preference.
When I took my bag down, I found that they had signed on the rest of the crowd. You see, the “home lot” cleared out when they got into ’Frisco, that is, all except one young fellow, a cockney, who had stuck by the ship in port. He told me afterwards, when I got to know him, that he intended to draw a pay-day out of her, whether any one else did, or not. The first night I was in her, I found that it was common talk among the other fellows, that there was something queer about the ship. They spoke of her as if it were an accepted fact that she was haunted; yet they all treated the matter as a joke; all, that is, except the young cockney — Williams — who, instead of laughing at their jests on the subject, seemed to take the whole matter seriously.
This made me rather curious. I began to wonder whether there was, after all, some truth underlying the vague stories I had heard; and I took the first opportunity to ask him whether he had any reasons for believing that there was anything in the yarns about the ship.
At first he was inclined to be a bit offish; but, presently, he came round, and told me that he did not know of any particular incident which could be called unusual in the sense in which I meant. Yet that, at the same time, there were lots of little things which, if you put them together, made you think a bit. For instance, she always made such long passages and had so much dirty weather — nothing but that and calms and head winds. Then, other things happened; sails that he knew, himself, had been properly stowed, were always blowing adrift at night. And then he said a thing that surprised me.
“There’s too many bloomin’ shadders about this ’ere packet; they gets onter yer nerves like nothin’ as ever I seen before in me nat’ral.”
He blurted it all out in a heap, and I turned round and looked at him.
“Too many shadows!” I said. “What on earth do you mean?” But he refused to explain himself or tell me anything further — just shook his head, stupidly, when I questioned him. He seemed to have taken a sudden, sulky fit. I felt certain that he was acting dense, purposely. I believe the truth of the matter is that he was, in a way, ashamed of having let himself go like he had, in speaking out his thoughts about “shadders.” That type of man may think things at times; but he doesn’t often put them into words. Anyhow, I saw it was no use asking any further questions; so I let the matter drop there. Yet, for several days afterwards, I caught myself wondering, at times, what the fellow had meant by “shadders.”
We left ’Frisco next day, with a fine, fair wind, that seemed a bit like putting the stopper on the yarns I had heard about the ship’s ill luck. And yet —
He hesitated a moment, and then went on again.
For the first couple of weeks out, nothing unusual happened, and the wind still held fair. I began to feel that I had been rather lucky, after all, in the packet into which I had been shunted. Most of the other fellows gave her a good name, and there was a pretty general opinion growing among the crowd, that it was all a silly yarn about her being haunted. And then, just when I was settling down to things, something happened that opened my eyes no end.
It was in the eight to twelve watch, and I was sitting on the steps, on the starboard side, leading up to the fo’cas’le head. The night was fine and there was a splendid moon. Away aft, I heard the timekeeper strike four bells, and the look-out, an old fellow named Jaskett, answered him. As he let go the bell lanyard, he caught sight of me, where I sat quietly, smoking. He leant over the rail, and looked down at me.
“That you, Jessop?” he asked.
“I believe it is,” I replied.
“We’d ’ave our gran’mothers an’ all the rest of our petticoated relash’ns comin’ to sea, if ’twere always like this,” he remarked, reflectively — indicating, with a sweep of his pipe and hand, the calmness of the sea and sky.
I saw no reason for denying that, and he continued:
“If this ole packet is ’aunted, as some on ’em seems to think, well all as I can say is, let me ’ave the luck to tumble across another of the same sort. Good grub, an’ duff fer Sundays, an’ a decent crowd of ’em aft, an’ everythin’ comfertable like, so as yer can feel yer knows where yer are. As fer ’er bein’ ’aunted, that’s all ’ellish nonsense. I’ve comed ’cross lots of ’em before as was said to be ’aunted, an’ so some on ’em was; but ’twasn’t with ghostesses. One packet I was in, they was that bad yer couldn’t sleep a wink in yer watch below, until yer’d ’ad every stitch out yer bunk an’ ’ad a reg’lar ’unt. Sometimes —”
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