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W. H. Macy

Flag of Our Union
Vol. 24, No. 49 (Dec 4, 1869)
p. 782

[Written for The Flag of our Union.]



      I had lain awake in my bunk until four bells in the first watch, reading in an old stray copy of a sensational magazine – a blood-freezing story of a haunted ship. She had finally been lost, and all hands had perished, so the narrative ran; thus relieving the ingenious author from the troublesome task of giving any natural explanation of the miracles which had occurred on board of her.

      But the ill-fated ship, I venture to say, was never half so thoroughly haunted as was my young brain for hours after having finished the unsatisfactory story. Boy-like, I let my thoughts dwell upon the subject after the little hanging lamp was blown out, until every creak of the deck beams seemed an unearthly yell. And I nearly broke my head against one of those same deck beams, by jumping suddenly erect at the apparition of a spectre in white, enveloped in an atmosphere of sulphurous flame; said spectre, at a second glance, being transformed into honest Yanson, the Swede, in a duck jacket, who had come silently down, a few minutes before the time of calling the watch, and struck a match to relight the lamp.

      I went on deck, laughing at my foolish fears, but still unable to shake off entirely the impression which had been made upon my susceptible nerves.

      "Ashton," said I to my watchmate, a fine, sensible old seaman, as we walked the deck together, "do you believe in ghosts?"

      "Ghosts!" he repeated, with a laugh. No, boy. They are all 'my eye and Botty Martin.'"

      "Do you believe there's any such thing as haunted ships?"

      He laughed again. "I did once," he replied. "I believed it for several years."

      "And why don't you now, then?"

      "Because the whole thing was explained to my satisfaction, and what had seemed to be miraculous, I found to be traceable to natural causes. I'll tell you the story now, as we're not likely to be disturbed for an hour or two,"

      I shipped in the Norway, for the run from Cronstadt to New York, and another American, who went by the name of Jack Hastings, joined her at the same time. He and I had boarded together on shore, and become somewhat acquainted before we became shipmates. He was a fellow of considerable information, and, from his talk, had seen his share of the world, especially of our own country, but was not much of a sailor, as I had already surmised from the cut of his jib.

      We found Captain Phelps, of the Norway, a Tartar in the worst sense of the word, and the voyage was anything but a pleasant one, especially to Hastings. He had shipped for able seaman's wages, and his deficiencies were soon apparent, especially to a skipper who had a hawk's eye for the weak points in a man, that he might come down on him. As I had a strong feeling of friendship for the young man, I stood his friend whenever I could, by trying to do more than my own share of duty, and covering up his shortcomings; but I couldn't always be at hand, of course.

      One night, when it was blowing quite fresh, and I was at the wheel, the captain was up and had all hands putting reefs in the topsails. The men had lain down on deck, and were manning the halyards to hoist away, whom poor Pilgarlic (Hastings) instead of the reef-tackle, let go the weather foretopsail brace, and away went the yard fore and aft. However, by luffing up smartly, we managed to get it checked in again without carrying away anything. But Captain Phelps, frothing at the mouth, vowed he would tan the clumsy lubber's hide that did it, and would "ride him down like a main-tack." He rushed at Hastings with a piece of ratline-stuff, and brought it down once with a terrific cut over his neck and shoulders. As he raised it again to repeat the blow, while all hands stood looking on, hushed into silence, a voice from aloft roared out:

      "Hold your hand!'

      The sound, which was wonderfully loud and clear, seemed to come down out of the maintop. The captain fell back, aft, so as to look up, but could see nothing.

      "Aloft there!" be yelled, in a rage.

      No answer.

      "Maintop there!"

      "Halloo!" was answered, spitefully.

      "Come down on deck!"

      "Come up here, and see how you like it!"

      The captain's rage was now fearful to behold.

      "Who's aloft there? Who is it, Mr. Raynor?" he demanded, of the mate.

      "Nobody's I know of, sir," answered the officer. "They're all here in sight."

      The men looked from one to another, but the count was correct. The second mate, without waiting for orders, sprang up aloft and looked over the top-rim, then made the circuit of it, looking all round the mast-head, and reported himself alone, The captain dropped his rope's and went below, his mind in a strange chaos of rage and fear; and Hastings escaped further beating for that night.

      But a few days were sufficient for the captain to forgot his fears, and I myself was the next victim of his wrath. He had ordered me to make a lanyard- knot in the end of an old, fagged rope, to be used for a lashing somewhere. I did so, and returned it to him, telling him I had made the best job of it that I could.

      "Well, if that's your best," said he, "you're as much of a lubber as your partner Hastings. I'll dock you both to or'nary seaman's pay."

      In vain I remonstrated, saying that the rope was too much worn and fagged to make a neat piece of work.

      "Fagged, is it? Well, I'll finish it up over your lubberly back!"

      "No you wont!" sang out a voice from behind the long-boat.

      He rushed round in the direction of the sound; but there was no one there.

      "Who was that that spoke?" he cried. "If I know who he was, I'd cut his heart out!"

      "Ha, ha, would ye?" was answered, derisively – from the main-top, now. It was broad daylight, and all could see that there was no one up there. I was quite as much startled and mystified as my tyrant could possibly be; but the diversion served as good a purpose as on the previous occasion, for he did not attack me again. Had he done so, I meant to resist, and grapple with him, if it had cost me my life,

      That night, the captain's slumbers were disturbed by a fierce cry, which appeared to come in at the side-light in his state-room, left open for fresh air. The cry had been heard by the mate on the quarterdeck, and by Hastings at the wheel, who could give no explanation of it, and seemed to share his astonishment and fear, when he rushed on deck, and looked vainly over the quarter in search of the cause.

      From that day, he was harassed and persecuted at every turn by an "invisible presence," which gave him no peace of his life. Whether on deck or below, he found no escape from it, and especially when he began to abuse or swear at any of the ship's company the voice of the hidden champion invariably took their part. The insolent laugh rang to his ears on every such occasion, seeming to come from overhead.

      But no such manifestations ever troubled us in the forecastle, nor did the unearthly voice over address any one on board but Captain Phelps. The more superstitious part of our crew would rather have borne his tyrannical treatment than have lived in a haunted ship, while some of us welcomed a firm friend in this unaccountable spiritual presence, or whatever it might be.

      The captain's angry passions were, to some extent, checked by it; though now and then they broke forth so suddenly that the object of his fury received a blow before it could interfere. We had arrived within a couple of days' sail of the American coast, when, becoming exasperated at some blunder of Hastings's, he hurled a belaying-pin, which struck him on the head. The poor fellow suddenly clapped both hands to the spot, with a wild yell, and rushed into the forecastle. The captain, after having thrown the missile, appeared, as I thought, surprised at not hearing anything, and I noticed him glance nervously aloft. But still hearing nothing, he recovered his courage, and ordered Mr. Raynor to "call that man on deck again."

      The mate, getting no answer to his call, went below and found Hastings delirious. He reported that he believed the man to be in a critical condition, and the captain directed him to do whatever he thought best for his relief. I think Captain Phelps, like some other hard cases that I have sailed with, did not dare to venture into the forecastle himself, for fear he might never get out again alive.

      That night, it became necessary to call all hands out to reef again; and while we were on the yards, a thrilling cry arose from the bows, such as might well have been raised by a maniac. A human form was seen by several of us, erect on the rail, near the fore-swifter, and then a loud splash was heard in the water under our lee.

      Mr. Raynor and the captain, who were on deck, rushed to the side; a hat was seen for a moment, bobbing up on the crest of a sea, and the same dreadful yell of insanity was repeated, even more shrill than before. Captain Phelps echoed the cry, but faintly, and fell insensible to the deck.

      Mr. Raynor hailed us on the topsail yard with a voice like a trumpet blast:

      "Lay down from aloft! Clear away the small boat!"

      We thought the mate was quite as mad as the poor suicide; and so he was, for the moment. By the time we reached the deck, he was ready to countermand the order. Everything was hidden in darkness, the wind and sea fast increasing, and it was hardly possible, even then, for the clumsy little boat to live. The captain, still unconscious, was carried below, with many a muttered wish that he might never come up again; and bitter were the oaths of vengeance, mingled with kind words and tears for our departed messmate, that went round among our wakeful little circle, during that stormy, dismal night.

      When the Sandy Hook pilot boarded us, forty-eight hours afterwards, Captain Phelps was at his post, trying to look like himself, but still pale and trembling. The mate had told us that he should have him arrested as soon as we arrived in New York. But I think he must have relented, and connived at his escape, for he was missing before the ship was fairly secured to the pier. I don't think he was ever brought to justice, though I did not wait to see. I was glad enough to shake the dust of the Norway off my feet, and to forget, if possible, the history of the voyage.

      But I often found myself, while on subsequent voyages, puzzling my brain to account for the strange phenomena of which I have spoken. Five years passed away, and I was none the wiser in that respect, when I found myself in Baltimore, where I had arrived from a South American voyage, and been paid off with nearly a hundred dollars; a considerable sum for me to have in possession at one time.

      Strolling along the streets at early evening, ready for anything in the way of amusement that might turn up, my attention was caught by a poster, announcing the performances of "Professor Holbrook, the unrivalled and world-renowned ventriloquist." I had never soon a performance of that sort; but, after reading the bill, I resolved to go. I was just in time when I reached the hall of exhibition, and, buying a ticket, I entered and took a seat. I thought the professor's entertainment the most wonderful thing I had ever witnessed or heard. After a variety of sounds and voices had been imitated with marvelous skill, he informed as that he would hold a conversation with an imaginary person up the chimney. When the responsive "ha! ha!" came down, I was startled to such a degree as to rise from my seat, It was the same voice, in precisely the same peculiar tones, that I had heard so many times from the Norway's maintop!

      A minute later, the professor, having finished his part, came forward to the front of the stage; and, spite of his flowing beard and other disguises, I recognized one whom 1 had supposed to be dead five years before.

      "Jack Hastings!" said I, aloud, forgetting, in my excitement, where I was.

      "Sit down!" "Put him out!" cried a dozen voices at once.

      I subsided, of course, but not before I had received a sign of recognition from the ventriloquist.

      When the performance was over, he beckoned to me, and, in the privacy of his own room, grasped my hand with a hearty pressure.

      "Hastings," I asked, "how in the name of miracles were you saved?"

      "Saved! where?"

      "When you jumped overboard, raving mad"

      He laughed – his own natural, hearty laugh, not the unearthly one which he sent down from chimneys and mastheads.

      "I never jumped overboard, Ashton," said he; "and I never was any more mad than I am at this moment. It was only a plan to frighten old Phelps, and I think it succeeded but too well. If he had been tried for his life, and I had thought him in danger, I should have appeared in court, and frightened him again to save his life. But he could not be found, and I have never heard of him since. My madness was all sham, and the man overboard was only a bundle of old duds, surmounted by my old hat. I slipped down into the fore-peak, and lay concealed till the night after the ship arrived, when I stole ont and went ashore. Of course you understand the cries you heard?"

      "Certainly, and all the other strange sounds on board. Your ventriloquism explains the whole matter."

      "I performed in most of the cities and large towns in the United States before I knew you; but I was then dissipated in my habits, and squandered all that I made. While on one of my sprees, I shipped and want to sea, and that is how you found me in Cronstadt. But I was never fit stock to make a sailor of. Since I returned, I have done well, and saved money; and you must allow that I acquit myself better on this stage than I did on board the Norway."

      And that's the only haunted ship that ever I was in. I've heard of others; but probably those cases might all be explained in some similar way.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: How The Norway was Haunted.
Publication: Flag of Our Union.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 24, No. 49 (Dec 4, 1869)
Pages: 782