by W. W. Jacobs
An Extract from
"No, sir," said the night-watchman, as he took a seat on a post at
the end of the jetty, and stowed a huge piece of tobacco in his cheek.
"No, man an' boy, I was at sea forty years afore I took on this job,
but I can't say as ever I saw a real, downright ghost."
This was disappointing, and I said so. Previous experience of the
power of Bill's vision had led me to expect something very different.
"Not but what I've known some queer things happen," said Bill,
fixing his eyes on the Surrey side, and going off into a kind of
trance. "Queer things."
I waited patiently; Bill's eyes, after resting for some time on
Surrey, began to slowly cross the river, paused midway in reasonable
hopes of a collision between a tug with its flotilla of barges and a
penny steamer, and then came back to me.
"You heard that yarn old Cap'n Harris was telling the other day
about the skipper he knew having a warning one night to alter his
course, an' doing so, picked up five live men and three dead skeletons
in a open boat?" he inquired.
"The yarn in various forms is an old one," said I.
"It's all founded on something I told him once," said Bill. "I
don't wish to accuse Cap'n Harris of taking another man's true story
an' spoiling it; he's got a bad memory, that's all. Fust of all, he
forgets he ever heard the yarn; secondly, he goes and spoils it."
I gave a sympathetic murmur. Harris was as truthful an old man as
ever breathed, but his tales were terribly restricted by this
circumstance, whereas Bill's were limited by nothing but his own
"It was about fifteen years ago now," began Bill, getting the quid
into a bye-way of his cheek, where it would not impede his utterance
"I was A. B. on the Swallow, a barque, trading wherever we could pick
up stuff. On this v'y'ge we was bound from London to Jamaica with a
"The start of that v'y'ge was excellent. We was towed out of the
St. Katherine's Docks here, to the Nore, an' the tug left us to a
stiff breeze, which fairly raced us down Channel and out into the
Atlantic. Everybody was saying what a fine v'y'ge we was having, an'
what quick time we should make, an' the fust mate was in such a lovely
temper that you might do anything with him a'most.
"We was about ten days out, an' still slipping along in this
spanking way, when all of a sudden things changed. I was at the wheel
with the second mate one night, when the skipper, whose name was
Brown, came up from below in a uneasy sort o' fashion, and stood
looking at us for some time without speaking. Then at last he sort o'
makes up his mind, and ses he—
"'Mr. McMillan, I've just had a most remarkable experience, an' I
don't know what to do about it.'
"'Yes, sir?' ses Mr. McMillan.
"'Three times I Ve been woke up this night by something shouting in
my ear, "Steer nor'-nor'-west!"' ses the cap'n very solemnly, '"Steer
nor'-nor'-west!" that's all it says. The first time I thought it was
somebody got into my cabin skylarking, and I laid for 'em with a stick
but I've heard it three times, an' there's nothing there.'
"'It's a supernatural warning,' ses the second mate, who had a
great uncle once who had the second sight, and was the most unpopular
man of his family, because he always knew what to expect, and laid his
"'That's what I think,' ses the cap'n. 'There's some poor
shipwrecked fellow creatures in distress."
"'It's a verra grave responsebeelity,' ses Mr. McMillan 'I should
just ca' up the fairst mate.'
"'Bill,' ses the cap'n, 'just go down below, and tell Mr. Salmon I
'd like a few words with him partikler.'
"Well, I went down below, and called up the first mate, and as soon
as I'd explained to him what he was wanted for, he went right off into
a fit of outrageous bad language, an' hit me. He came right up on deck
in his pants an' socks. A most disrespekful way to come to the cap'n,
but he was that hot and excited he didn't care what he did.
"'Mr. Salmon,' ses the cap'n gravely, 'I've just had a most solemn
warning, and I want to—'
"'I know,' says the mate gruffly.
"'What! have you heard it too?' ses the cap'n, in surprise. 'Three
times?' "I heard it from him,' ses the mate, pointing to me.
'Nightmare, sir, nightmare.'
"'It was not nightmare, sir,' ses the cap'n, very huffy, 'an if I
hear it again, I 'm going to alter this ship's course.'
"Well, the fust mate was in a hole. He wanted to call the skipper
something which he knew wasn't discipline. I knew what it was, an' I
knew if the mate didn't do something he'd be ill, he was that sort of
man, everything flew to his head. He walked away, and put his head
over the side for a bit, an' at last, when he came back, he was,
comparatively speaking, calm.
"'You mustn't hear them words again, sir,' ses he; 'don't go to
sleep again to-night. Stay up, an' we'll have a hand o' cards, and in
the morning you take a good stiff dose o' rhoobarb. Don't spoil one o'
the best trips we've ever had for the sake of a pennyworth of
rhoobarb,' ses he, pleading-like.
"'Mr. Salmon,' ses the cap'n, very angry, 'I shall not fly in the
face o' Providence in any such way. I shall sleep as usual, an' as for
your rhoobarb,' ses the cap'n, working hisself up into a
passion—'damme, sir, I'll—I'll dose the whole crew with it, from
first mate to cabin- boy, if I have any impertinence.'
"Well, Mr. Salmon, who was getting very mad, stalks down below,
followed by the cap'n, an' Mr. McMillan was that excited that he even
started talking to me about it. Half-an-hour arterwards the cap'n
comes running up on deck again.
"'Mr. McMillan,' ses he excitedly, 'steer nor'-nor'-west until
further orders. I've heard it again, an' this time it nearly split the
drum of my ear.'
"The ship's course was altered, an' after the old man was satisfied
he went back to bed again, an' almost directly arter eight bells went,
an' I was relieved. I wasn't on deck when the fust mate come up, but
those that were said he took it very calm. He didn't say a word. He
just sat down on the poop, and blew his cheeks out.
"As soon as ever it was daylight the skipper was on deck with his
glasses. He sent men up to the masthead to keep a good look-out, an'
he was dancing about like a cat on hot bricks all the morning.
"'How long are we to go on this course, sir?' asks Mr. Salmon,
about ten o'clock in the morning.
"'I've not made up my mind, sir,' ses the cap'n, very stately; but
I could see he was looking a trifle foolish.
"At twelve o'clock in the day, the fust mate got a cough, and every
time he coughed it seemed to act upon the skipper, and make him madder
and madder. Now that it was broad daylight, Mr. McMillan didn't seem
to be so creepy as the night before, an' I could see the cap'n was
only waiting for the slightest excuse to get into our proper course
"'That's a nasty, bad cough o' yours, Mr. Salmon,' ses he, eyeing
the mate very hard.
"'Yes, a nasty, irritating sort o' cough, sir,' ses the other; 'it
worries me a great deal. It's this going up nor'ards what's sticking
in my throat,' ses he.
"The cap'n give a gulp, and walked off, but he comes back in a
minute, and ses he—
"'Mr. Salmon, I should think it a great pity to lose a valuable
officer like yourself, even to do good to others. There's a hard ring
about that cough I don't like, an' if you really think it's going up
this bit north, why, I don't mind putting the ship in her course
"Well, the mate thanked him kindly, and he was just about to give
the orders when one o' the men who was at the masthead suddenly shouts
"'Ahoy! Small boat on the port bow!'
"The cap'n started as if he'd been shot, and ran up the rigging
with his glasses. He came down again almost direckly, and his face was
all in a glow with pleasure and excitement.
"'Mr. Salmon,' ses he, 'here's a small boat with a lug sail in the
middle o' the Atlantic, with one pore man lying in the bottom of her.
What do you think o' my warning now?'
"The mate didn't say anything at first, but he took the glasses and
had a look, an' when he came back anyone could see his opinion of the
skipper had gone up miles and miles.
"'It's a wonderful thing, sir,' ses he, 'and one I'll remember all
my life. It's evident that you've been picked out as a instrument to
do this good work.'
"I'd never heard the fust mate talk like that afore, 'cept once
when he fell overboard, when he was full, and stuck in the Thames mud.
He said it was Providence; though, as it was low water, according to
the tide- table, I couldn't see what Providence had to do with it
myself. He was as excited as anybody, and took the wheel himself, and
put the ship's head for the boat, and as she came closer, our boat was
slung out, and me and the second mate and three other men dropped into
her, an' pulled so as to meet the other.
"'Never mind the boat; we don't want to be bothered with her,'
shouts out the cap'n as we pulled away—'Save the man!'
"I'll say this for Mr. McMillan, he steered that boat beautifully,
and we ran alongside o' the other as clever as possible. Two of us
shipped our oars, and gripped her tight, and then we saw that she was
just an ordinary boat, partly decked in, with the head and shoulders
of a man showing in the opening, fast asleep, and snoring like
"'Puir chap,' ses Mr. McMillan, standing up. 'Look how wasted he
"He laid hold o' the man by the neck of his coat an' his belt, an',
being a very powerful man, dragged him up and swung him into our boat,
which was bobbing up and down, and grating against the side of the
other. We let go then, an' the man we'd rescued opened his eyes as Mr.
McMillan tumbled over one of the thwarts with him, and, letting off a
roar like a bull, tried to jump back into his boat.
"'Hold him!' shouted the second mate. 'Hold him tight! He's mad,
"By the way that man fought and yelled, we thought the mate was
right, too. He was a short, stiff chap, hard as iron, and he bit and
kicked and swore for all he was worth, until at last we tripped him up
and tumbled him into the bottom of the boat, and held him there with
his head hanging back over a thwart.
"'It's all right, my puir feller,' ses the second mate; 'ye're in
good hands—ye're saved.'
"'Damme!' ses the man; 'what's your little game? Where's my
boat—eh? Where's my boat?'
"He wriggled a bit, and got his head up, and, when he saw it
bowling along two or three hundred yards away, his temper got the
better of him, and he swore that if Mr. McMillan didn't row after it
he'd knife him.
"'We can't bother about the boat,' ses the mate; 'we've had enough
bother to rescue you.'
"'Who the devil wanted you to rescue me?' bellowed the man. 'I'll
make you pay for this, you miserable swabs. If there's any law in
Amurrica, you shall have it!'
"By this time we had got to the ship, which had shortened sail, and
the cap'n was standing by the side, looking down upon the stranger
with a big, kind smile which nearly sent him crazy.
"'Welcome aboard, my pore feller,' ses he, holding out his hand as
the chap got up the side.
"'Are you the author of this outrage?' ses the man fiercely. "'I
don't understand you,' ses the cap'n, very dignified, and drawing
"'Did you send your chaps to sneak me out o' my boat while I was
having forty winks?' roars the other. 'Damme! that's English, ain't
"'Surely,' ses the cap'n, 'surely you didn't wish to be left to
perish in that little craft. I had a supernatural warning to steer
this course on purpose to pick you up, and this is your gratitude.'
"'Look here!' ses the other. 'My name's Cap'n Naskett, and I'm
doing a record trip from New York to Liverpool in the smallest boat
that has ever crossed the Atlantic, an' you go an' bust everything
with your cussed officiousness. If you think I'm going to be kidnapped
just to fulfil your beastly warnings, you've made a mistake. I'll have
the law on you, that's what I'll do. Kidnapping's a punishable
"'What did you come here for, then?' ses the cap'n.
"'Come!' howls Cap'n Naskett. 'Come! A feller sneaks up alongside
o' me with a boat-load of street-sweepings dressed as sailors, and
snaps me up while I'm asleep, and you ask me what I come for. Look
here. You clap on all sail and catch that boat o' mine, and put me
back, and I'll call it quits. If you don't, I'll bring a law-suit agin
you, and make you the laughing-stock of two continents into the
"Well, to make the best of a bad bargain, the cap'n sailed after
the cussed little boat, and Mr. Salmon, who thought more than enough
time had been lost already, fell foul o' Cap'n Naskett. They was both
pretty talkers, and the way they went on was a education for every
sailorman afloat. Every man aboard got as near as they durst to listen
to them; but I must say Cap'n Naskett had the best of it. He was a
sarkastik man, and pretended to think the ship was fitted out just to
pick up shipwrecked people, an' he also pretended to think we was
castaways what had been saved by it. He said o' course anybody could
see at a glance we wasn't sailormen, an' he supposed Mr. Salmon was a
butcher what had been carried out to sea while paddling at Margate to
strengthen his ankles. He said a lot more of this sort of thing, and
all this time we was chasing his miserable little boat, an' he was
admiring the way she sailed, while the fust mate was answering his
reflexshuns, an' I'm sure that not even our skipper was more pleased
than Mr. Salmon when we caught it at last, and shoved him back. He was
ungrateful up to the last, an', just before leaving the ship, actually
went up to Cap'n Brown, and advised him to shut his eyes an' turn
round three times and catch what he could.
"I never saw the skipper so upset afore, but I heard him tell Mr.
McMillan that night that if he ever went out of his way again after a
craft, it would only be to run it down. Most people keep pretty quiet
about supernatural things that happen to them, but he was about the
quietest I ever heard of, an', what's more, he made everyone else keep
quiet about it, too. Even when he had to steer nor'-nor'-west arter
that in the way o' business he didn't like it, an' he was about the
most cruelly disappointed man you ever saw when he heard afterwards
that Cap'n Naskett got safe to Liverpool."