VERY much of this story must remain untoldfor the reasonthat if it were definitely known what business I had aboard the trampsteam-freighter Glarusthree hundred miles off the South American coast on acertain summer's day some few years agoI would very likely be obliged toanswer a great many personal and direct questions put by fussy and impertinentexperts in maritime law -- who are paid to be inquisitive. AlsoI would get"Ally Bazan" Strokher and Hardenberg into trouble.
Supposeon that certain summer's dayyou had asked ofLloyd's agency where the Glarus wasand what was her destination and cargo. Youwould have been told that she was twenty days out from Callaobound north toSan Francisco in ballast; that she had been spoken by the bark Medea and thesteamer Benevento; that she was reported to have blown out a cylinder headbutbeing manageablewas proceeding on her way under sail.
That is what Lloyd's would have answered.
If you know something of the ways of ships and what isexpected of themyou will understand that the Glarus to be some half a dozenhundred miles south of where Lloyd's would have herand to be still going southunder full steamwas a scandal that would have made her brothers and sistersostracize her finally and forever.
And that is curioustoo. Humans may indulge in vagariesinnumerableand may go far afield in the way of lying; but a ship may not somuch as quibble without suspicion. The least lapse of "regularity"the least difficulty in squaring performance with intuitionand behold
And the Glarus was already on the blacklist. From thebeginning her stars had been malign. As the Bredashe had first lost herreputationseduced into a filibustering escapade down the South American coastswhere in the end a plain-clothes United States detective -- that is to say arevenue cutter -- arrested her off Buenos Ayres and brought her homea prodigaldaughterbesmirched and disgraced.
After that she was in some dreadful black-birding businessin a far quarter of the South Pacific; and after that -- her name changedfinally to the Glarus -- poached seals for a syndicate of Dutchmen who lived inTacomaand who afterwards built a club house out of what she earned.
And after that we got her.
We got herI saythrough Ryder's South PacificExploitation Company. The "President" had picked out a lovelylivelylittle deal for HardenbergStrokher and Ally Bazan (the three Black Crows)which he swore would make them "independent rich" the rest of theirrespective lives. It is a promising deal (B. 300 it is on Ryder's map)and ifyou want to know more about it you may write to ask Ryder what B. 300 is. If hechooses to tell you that is his affair.
For B. 300 -- let us confess it -- isas Hardenberg putsitas crooked as a dog's hind leg. It is as risky as barratry. If you pull itoff you may -- after paying Ryder his share -- divide sixty-fiveor possiblysixty-seventhousand dollars betwixt you and your associates. If you failandyou are perilously like to failyou will be sure to have a man or two of yourcompanions shotmaybe yourself obliged to pistol certain peopleand in the endfetch up at Tahitiprisoner in a French patrol boat.
Observe that B. 300 is spoken of as still open. It is sofor the reason that the Three Black Crows did not pull it off. It still standsmarked up in red ink on the map that hangs over Ryder's desk in the SanFrancisco office; and anyone can have a chance at it who will meet Cyrus Ryder'sterms. Only he can't get the Glarus for the attempt.
For the trip to the island after B. 300 was the lastoccasion on which the Glarus
And yet the Glarus on this very blessed day of 1902 isriding to her buoys off Sausalito in San Francisco baycomplete in every detail(bar a broken propeller shaft)not a rope missingnot a screw loosenot aplank started -- a perfectly equipped steam-freighter.
But you may go along the Front in San Francisco fromFisherman's Wharf to the China steamships' docks and shake your dollars underthe seamen's nosesand if you so much as whisper Glarus they will edge suddenlyoff and look at you with scared suspicionand thenas like as notwalk awaywithout another word. No pilot will take the Glarus out; no captain willnavigate her; no stoker will feed her fires; no sailor will walk her decks. TheGlarus is suspect. She has seen a ghost.
* * * * * * *
It happened on our voyage to the Island after this same B.300. We had stood well off from shore for day after dayand Hardenberg hadshaped our course so far from the track of navigation that since the Beneventohad hulled down and vanished over the horizonno stitch of canvas nor smudge ofsmoke had we seen. We had passed the Equator long sinceand would fetch a longcircuit to the southardand bear up against the Island by a circuitous route.This to avoid being spoken. It was tremendously essential that the Glarus shouldnot be spoken. I supposeno doubtthat it was the knowledge of our isolationthat impressed me with the dreadful remoteness of our position. Certainly thesea in itself looks no different at a thousand than at a hundred miles fromshore. But as day after day I came out on deckat noonafter ascertaining ourposition on the chart (a mere pin point in a reach of empty paper)the sight ofthe ocean weighed down upon me with an infinitely great awesomeness -- and I wasno new hand to the high seas even then.
But at such times the Glarus seemed to me to be threading aloneliness beyond all words and beyond all conception desolate. Even in morepopulous waterswhen no sail notches the line of the horizonthe propinquityof one's kind is nevertheless a thing understoodand to an unappreciated degreecomforting. HerehoweverI knew we were outfar out in the desert. Never akeel for years upon years before us had parted these watersnever a sail hadbellied to these winds. Perfunctorilyday in and day out we turned our eyesthrough long habit towards the horizon. But we knewbefore the lookthat thesearching would be bootless. Forever and foreverunder the pitiless sun andcold blue sky stretched the indigo of the ocean floor. The ether between theplanets can be no less emptyno less void. I nevertill that momentcouldhave so much as conceived the imagination of such lonelinesssuch utterstagnant abomination of desolation. In an open boatbereft of comradesIshould have gone mad in thirty minutes.
I remember to have approximated the impression of suchempty immensity only once beforein my younger dayswhen I lay on my back on atreelessbushless mountain sideand stared up into the sky for the better partof an hour. You probably know the trick. If you do notyou must understand thatif you look up at the blue long enoughsteadily enoughthe flatness of thething begins little by little to expandto give here and there; and the eyetravels on and on and up and uptill at length (well for you that it lasts butthe fraction of a second)you all at once see space. You generally stop thereand cry outand -- your hands over your eyes -- are only too glad to grovelclose to the good old solid earth again. Just as Iso often on short voyagewas glad to wrench my eyes away from that horrid vacancyto fasten them uponour sailless masts and stackor to lay my grip upon the sooty smudged taffrailof the only thing that stood between me and the Outer Dark.
For we had come at last to that region of the Great Seaswhere no ship goesthe silent sea of Coleridge and the Ancient Onetheunplumbeduntrackeduncharted
So the Glarus plodded and churned her way onward. Every dayand all day the same pale blue sky and unwinking sun bent over that movingspeck. Every day and all day the same black-blue water-worlduntouched by anyknown windsmooth as a slab of syenitecolorful as an opalstretched out andaround and beyond and before and behind usforeverillimitableempty. Everyday the smoke of our fires veiled the streaked whiteness of our wake. Every dayHardenberg (our skipper) at noon pricked a pin-hole in the chart that hung inthe wheel houseand that showed we were so much farther into the wilderness.Every day the world of menof civilizationof newspaperspolicemenandstreet railwaysrecededand we steamed on alonelost and forgotten in thatsilent sea.
"Jolly lot o' room to turn raound in" observedAlly Bazanthe colonial"withaout steppin' on y'r neighbor's toes."
"We're cleanclean out o' the track of navigation"Hardenberg told him. "An' a blessed good thing for ustoo. Nobody evercomes down into these waters. Ye couldn't pick no course here. Everything leadsto nowhere."
"Might as well be in a bally balloon" saidStrokher.
I shall not tell of the nature of the venture on which theGlarus was boundfurther than to say it was not legitimate. It had to do withan ill thing done over two centuries ago. There was money in the venturebut itwas to be gained by a violation of metes and bounds which are better left intact.
The island toward which we were heading is associated inthe minds of men with a Horror. A Ship had called there oncetwo hundred yearsin advance of the Glarus -- a ship not much unlike the crank high-prowed caravelof Hudsonand her company had landedand having accomplished the evil they hadset out to domade shift to sail away. And thenjust after the palms of theisland had sunk from sight below the water's edgethe unspeakable had happened.The Death that was not Death had arisen from out the sea and stood before theShip; and over it and the blight of the thing lay along the decks like mouldand the ship sweated in the terror of that which is yet without a name. Twentymen died in the first weekall but six in the second. These sixwith theshadow of insanity upon themmade out to launch a boatreturned to the islandand died thereafter leaving a record of what had happened.
The six left the ship exactly as she wassails all setlanterns all litleft her in the shadow of the Death that was not Death. Thewind made at the timethey saidand as they bent to their barsshe sailedafter themfor all the world like a thing refusing to abandon them or beherself abandonedtill the wind died down. Then they left her behindand shestood therebecalmedand watched them go. She was never heard of again.
Or was she -- wellthat's as may be.
But the main point of the whole affair to my notionhasalways been this. The ship was the last friend of those six poor wretches whomade back for the island with their poor chests of plunder. She was theirguardianas it werewould have defended and befriended them to the last; andalso wethe Three Black Crows and myselfhad no right under heavennor beforethe law of mento come prying and peeping into this business -- into thisaffair of the dead and buried past. There was sacrilege in it. We were no betterthan body snatchers.
* * * * * *
When I heard the others complaining of the loneliness ofour surroundingsI said nothing at first. I was no sailor man and I was onboard only by tolerance. But I looked again at the maddening sameness of thehorizon -- the same vacantvoid horizon that we had seen now for sixteen dayson endand felt in my wits and in my nerves that same formless rebellion andprotest such as comes when the same note is reiterated
It may seem a little thing that the mere fact of meetingwith no other ship should have ground down the edge of the spirit. But let theincredulous -- bound upon such a hazard as ours -- sail straight intonothingness for sixteen days on endseeing nothing but the sunhearing nothingbut the thresh of his own screwand then put the question.
And yetof all thingswe desired no company. Stealth wasour one great aim. But I think there were moments -- toward the last -- when theThree Crows would have welcomed even a cruiser.
Besidesthere was more cause for depressionafter allthan mere isolation.
On the seventh dayHardenberg and I were forward by thecat-head adjusting the grain with some half-formed intent of spearing theporpoises that of late had begun to appear under our bowsand Hardenberg hadbeen computing the number of days we were yet to run.
"We are some five hundred odd miles off that island bynow" he said"and she's doing her thirteen knots handsome. All'swell so far -- but do you knowI'd just as soon raise that point o' land assoon as convenient."
"How so?" said Ibending on the line. "Expectsome weather?"
"Mr. Dixon" said hegiving me a curious glance"the sea is a queer propositionput it any ways. I've been a sea-farin'man since I was as big as a minuteand I know the seaand what's moretheFeel o' the Sea. Nowlook out yonder. Nothin'hey? Nothin' but the same ol'skyline we've watched all the way out. The glass is as steady as a steepleandthis ol' hookerI reckonis as sound as the day she went off the ways. Butjust the sameif I were to home nowa-foolin' about Gloucester way in mylittle dough-dish -- d'ye know what? I'd put into port. I sure would. Becausewhy? Because I got the Feel o' the SeaMr. Dixon. I got the Feel o' the Sea."
I had heard old skippers say something of this beforeandI cited to Hardenberg the experience of a skipper captain I
"I don't know" he answered moodilyand as if ingreat perplexitycoiling the rope as he spoke. "I don't know. There's someblame thing or other close to usI'll bet a hat. I don't know the name of itMr. Dixonand I don't know the game of itbut there's a big Bird in the airjust out of sight som-eresand" he suddenly exclaimedsmacking his kneeand leaning forward"I -- don't -- like -- it -- one -- dam' -- bit."
The same thing came up in our talk in the cabin that nightafter the dinner was taken offand we settled down to tobacco. Onlyat thistimeHardenberg was on duty on the bridge. It was Ally Bazan who spoke instead.
"Seems to me" he hazarded"as haow they'ssomethin' or other a-goin' to bump uppretty blyme soon. I shouldn't besurprizednaowy'knowif we piled her up on some bally uncharted reef alongo' to-night and went strite daown afore we'd had a bloomin' charnce to s'y 'Solonggen'lemen all.'"
He laughed as he spokebut whenjust at that momentapan clattered in the galleyhe jumped suddenly with an oathand looked hardabout the cabin.
Then Strokher confessed to a sense of distress also. He'dbeen having it since day before yesterdayit seemed.
"And I put it to you the glass is lovely" hesaid"so it's no blow. I guess" he continued"we're all a bitseedy and ship sore."
And whether or not this talk worked upon my own nervesorwhether in very truth the Feel of the Sea had found me alsoI do not know; butI do know that after dinner that nightjust before going to beda queer senseof apprehension came upon meand that when I had come to my stateroomafter myturn upon deckI became furiously angry with nobody in particularbecause Icould not at once find the matches. But here was a difference. The other men hadbeen merely vaguely uncomfortable.
I could put a name to my uneasiness. I felt that we werebeing watched.
* * * * * * *
It was a strange ship's company we made after that. I speakonly of the Crows and myself. We carried a scant crew of stokersand there wasalso a chief engineer. But we saw so little of him that he did not count. TheCrows and I gloomed on the quarter-deck from dawn to darksilentirritableworking upon each other's nerves till the creak of a block would make a man jumplike cold steel laid to his flesh. We quarreled over absolute nothingsgloweredat each other for half a wordand each one of usat different timeswas atsome pains to declare that never in the course of his career had he beenassociated with such a disagreeable trio of brutes. Yet we were always togetherand sought each other's company with painful insistence.
Only once were we all agreedand that was when the cookaChinamanspoiled a certain batch of biscuits. Unanimously we fell foul of thecreature with so much vociferation as fish wives till he fled the cabin inactual fear of mishandlingleaving us suddenly seized with noisy hilarity --for the first time in a week. Hardenberg proposed a round of drinks from oursingle remaining case of beer. We stood up and formed an Elk's chain and thendrained our glasses to each other's health with profound seriousness.
That same eveningI rememberwe all sat on thequarter-deck till late and -- oddly enough -- related each one his life'shistory up to date; and then went down to the cabin for a game of euchre beforeturning in.
We had left Strokher on the bridge -- it was his watch --and had forgotten all about him in the interest of the gamewhen -- I supposeit was about one in the morning -- I heard him whistle long and shrill. I laiddown my cards and said:
In the silence that followed we heard at first only themuffled lope of our enginesthe cadenced snorting of the exhaustand theticking of Hardenberg's
And the cards fell from our handsandlike men turned tostonewe sat looking at each other across the soiled red cloth for what seemedan immeasurably long minute.
Then stumbling and swearingin a hysteria of hurrywegained the deck.
There was a moonvery low and reddishbut no wind. Thesea beyond the taffrail was as smooth as lavaand so still that the swells fromthe cutwater of the Glarus did not break as they rolled away from the bows.
I remember that I stood staring and blinking at the emptyocean -- where the moonlight lay like a painted stripe reaching to the horizon-- stupid and frowningtill Hardenbergwho had gone on aheadcried:
"Not here -- on the bridge!"
We joined Strokherand as I came up the others were asking:
And therebefore he had pointedI saw -- we all of us saw-- . And I heard Hardenberg's teeth come together like a spring trapwhile AllyBazan ducked as though to a blowmuttering:
"Gord'a mercywhat nyme do ye put to a ship like that?"
And after that no one spoke for a long minuteand we stoodtheremoveless black shadowshuddled together for the sake of the blessedelbow touch that means so incalculably muchlooking off over our port quarter.
For the ship that we saw there -- ohshe was not a halfmile distant -- was unlike any ship known to present day construction.
She was shortand high-poopedand her sternwhich wasturned a little towards uswe could seewas set with curious windowsnotunlike a house. And on either side of this stern were two great iron cressetssuch as once were used to burn signal fires in. She had three masts with mightyyards swung 'thwart shipbut bare of all sails save a few rotting streamers.Here and there about her a tangled mass of rigging drooped and sagged.
And there she layin the red eye of the setting mooninthat solitary oceanshadowyantiqueforlorna thing the most abandonedthemost sinister I ever remember to have seen.
Then Strokher began to explain volubly and with manyrepetitions.
"A derelictof course. I was asleep; yes I was asleep.Gross neglect of duty. I say I was asleep -- on watch. And we worked up to her.When I wokewhy -- you seewhen I wokethere she was" he gave a weaklittle laugh"and -- and nowwhythere she isyou see. I turned aroundand saw her sudden like -- when I woke upthat is."
He laughed againand as he laughedthe engines far belowour feet gave a sudden hiccough. Something crashed and struck the ship's sidestill we lurched as we stood. There was a shriek of steama shout -- and thensilence.
The noise of the machinery ceased; the Glarus slid throughthe still watermoving only by her own decreasing momentum.
Hardenberg sang"Stand by!" and called down thetube to the engine room.
I was standing close enough to him to hear the answer in asmall faint voice:
Hardenberg faced about.
"Come below. We must talk." I do not think any ofus cast a glance at the Other Ship again. Certainly I kept my eyes away from her.But as we started down the companionwayI laid my hand on Strokher's shoulder.The rest were ahead. I looked him straight between the eyes as I asked:
"Were you asleep? Is that why you saw her so suddenly?"
It is now five years since I asked the question. I am stillwaiting for Strokher's answer.
Wellour shaft was broken. That was flat. We went downinto the engine room and saw the jagged fracture that
We came up from the engine room and sat down to the cabintable.
"Now what?" said Hardenbergby way of beginning.
Nobody answered at first.
It was by now three in the morning. I recall it allperfectly. The ports opposite where I sat were open and I could see. The moonwas all but full set. The dawn was coming up with a copper murkiness over theedge of the world. All the stars were yet out. The seafor all the red moon andcopper dawnwas grayand thereless than half a mile awaystill lay ourconsort. I could see her through the portholes with each slow careening of theGlarus.
"I vote for the island" cried Ally Bazan"shaftor no shaft. We rigs a bit o' syley'know -- " and thereat the discussionbegan.
For upwards of two hours it ragedwith loud words andshaken forefingersand great noisy bangings of the tableand how it would haveended I do not knowbut at last -- it was then maybe five in the morning -- thelookout passed word down to the cabin:
"Will you come on deckgentlemen?" It was themate who spokeand the man was shaken -- I could see that -- to the very vitalsof him. We started and stared at one anotherand I watched little Ally Bazan goslowly white to the lips. And even then no word of the Shipexcept as it mightbe this from Hardenberg:
"What is it? Good God AlmightyI'm no cowardbutthis thing is getting one too many for me."
Then without further speech he went on deck.
The air was cool. The sun was not yet up. It was thatstrangequeer mid-period between dark and dawnwhen the night is over and theday not yet comejust the gray that is neither light nor darkthe dim deadblink as of the refracted light from extinct worlds.
We stood at the rail. We did not speakwe stood watching.It was so still that the drip of steam from some loosened pipe far below wasplainly audibleand it sounded in that lifelesssilent graynesslike -- Godknows what -- a death tick.
"You see" said the matespeaking just above awhisper"there's no mistake about it. She is moving -- this way."
"Oha currentof course" Strokher tried to saycheerfully"sets her toward us."
Would the morning never come?
Ally Bazan -- his parents were Catholic -- began to mutterto himself.
Then Hardenberg spoke aloud.
"I particularly don't want -- that -- out -- there --to cross our bows. I don't want it to come to that. We must get some sails onher."
"And I put it to you as man to man" saidStrokher"where might be your wind."
He was right. The Glarus floated in absolute calm. On allthat slab of ocean nothing moved but the Dead Ship.
She came on slowly; her bowsthe high clumsy bows pointedtoward usthe water turning from her forefoot. She came on; she was near athand. We saw her plainly -- saw the rotted planksthe crumbling riggingtherust corroded metal workthe broken railthe gaping deckand I could imaginethat the clean water broke away from her sides in refluent wavelets as though inrecoil from a thing unclean. She made no sound. No single thing stirred aboardthe hulk of her -- but she moved.
We were helpless. The Glarus could stir no boat in anydirection; we were chained to the spot. Nobody had thought to put out our lightsand they still burned on through the dawnstrangely out of place in their redand green garishnesslike masquers surprised by daylight.
And in the silence of that empty oceanin that queer halflight between dawn
I do not know how long after this the Ship disappearedorwhat was the time of day when we at last pulled ourselves together. But we cameto some sort of decision at last. This was to go on -- under sail. We were tooclose to the Island now to turn back for -- for a broken shaft.
The afternoon was spent fitting on the sails to herandwhen after nightfall the wind at length came up fresh and favorableI believewe all felt heartened and a deal more hardy -- until the last canvass went aloftand Hardenberg took the wheel.
We had drifted a good deal since the morningand the bowsof the Glarus were pointed homewardbut as soon as the breeze blew strongenough to get steerage wayHardenberg put the wheel overand as the boomsswung across the deck headed for the island again.
We had not gone on this course half an hour -- nonottwenty minutes -- before the wind shifted a whole quarter of the compass andtook the Glarus square in the teethso that there was nothing for it but totack. And then the strangest thing befell.
I will make allowance for the fact that there was no centerboard nor keel to speak of to the Glarus. I will admit that the sails upon anine hundred ton freighter are not calculated to speed hernor steady her. Iwill even admit
And instead of thisour stolidsteadytrusty old boatwas -- what shall I say?
I will say that no man may thoroughly understand a ship --after all. I will say that new ships are cranky and unsteadythat old andseasoned ships have their little crotchetstheir little fussinesses that theirskippers must learn and humor if they are to get anything out of themthat eventhe best ships may sulk at timesshirk their workgrow unstableperverseandrefuse to answer helm and handling. And I will say that some ships that foryears have sailed blue water as soberly and as docilely as a street-car horsehas plodded the treadmill of the 'tween-trackshave been known to balkasstubbornly and as conclusively as any old Bay Billy that ever wore a bell. Iknow this has happenedbecause I have seen it. I sawfor instancethe Glarusdo it.
Quite literally and truly we could do nothing with her. Wewill sayif you likethat that great jar and wrench when the shaft gave wayshook her and crippled her. It is truehoweverthat whatever the cause mayhave beenwe could not force her toward the island. Of coursewe all said"Current;" but why didn't the log-line trail?
For three days and three nights we tried it. And the Glarusheaved and plunged and shook herself just as you have seen a horse plunge andrear when his rider tries to force him at the steam roller.
I tell you I could feel the fabric of her tremble andshudder from bow to stern postas though she were in a storm; I tell you shefell off from the windand broad-on drifted back from her course till thesensation of her shrinking was as plain as her own staring lights and a thingpitiful to see.
We rowelled her and we crowded sail upon herand we coaxedand bullied and humored hertill the Three Crowstheir fortune only a plainsail two days aheadraved and swore like insensate brutesor shall we say likemahoutstrying to drive their stricken elephant upon the tiger -- and all to nopurpose. "Damn the damned current and the damned luck and the damned shaftand all" Hardenberg would exclaimas from the wheel he would watch theGlarus falling off. "Go onyou old hooker -- you tub of junk! My Godyou'd think she was scared!"
Perhaps the Glarus was scaredperhaps not; that point isdebatable. But it was beyond doubt or debate that Hardenberg was scared.
A ship that will not obey is only one degree less terriblethan a mutinous crew. And we were in a fair way to have both. The stokers whomwe had impressed into duty as A. B.'swere of course superstitious. They hadseen -- what we had seen; and they knew how the Glarus was acting and it wasonly a question of time before they got out of hand.
That was the end. We held a final conference in the cabinand decided that there was no help for it -- we must turn back.
And back we accordingly turnedand at once the windfollowed usand the "current" helped usand the water churned underthe forefoot of the Glarusand the wake whitened under her sternand the logline ran out from the rail and strained back as the ship worked homeward.
We had never a mishap from the time we finally swung herabout; andconsidering the circumstancesthe voyage back to San Francisco waspropitious.
But an incident happened just after we had started back. Wewere perhaps some five miles on the homeward track. It was early evening andStrokher had the watch. At about seven o'clock he called me up on the bridge.
"See her?" he said.
And therefar behind usin the shadow of the twilightloomed the Other Ship againdesolatelonely beyond words. We were leaving herrapidly astern. Strokher and I stood looking at her till she dwindled to a dot.Then Strokher said:
"She's on post again."
And when months afterward we limped into the Golden Gateand cast anchor off the "Front" our crew went ashore as soon asdischargedand in half a dozen
It is still thereand that is why no pilot will take theGlarus outno captain will navigate herno stoker feed her firesno sailorwalk her decks. The Glarus is suspect. She will never smell blue water againnor taste the trades. She has seen a Ghost.