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Roshow Bezone Jr.
[pseudonym of W. H. Macy]

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. 74, No. 5 (Nov 1891)
pp. 399-402


. . . .


by roshow bezone, jr.

      Sometime in the summer of 1837, the American ship Ellen Malcolm, of and from Charleston, S.C., lay at anchor in the Bay of Palermo, on the northern coast of Sicily, from whence she was making arrangements to sail for home. James Morgan, a noble-hearted fellow, who belonged in Chesterfield, Virginia, was commander of the ship, and with the exception of two negroes, the crew were all sons of Columbia – truehearted lovers of the "stars and stripes," and fit representatives of the warm-hearted and chivalrous children of the South.

      The cargo consisted of wines and fruits, and the ship was now only waiting for two thousand jars of olives, which were being unloaded from a small felucca that had arrived a day or two previous from Civita Vecchia, and when they at length came on board, they had been packed in large boxes, each box being capable of holding one hundred jars, and were without difficulty stowed away in the forward part of the hold. The most valuable item, however, that had been entered upon the ship's papers, was the snug little sum of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in Spanish gold, which had been brought over from Messina, and was destined for a heavy banking-house in New Orleans. The money, mostly in doubloons, was secured in small oaken boxes, and deposited in the run beneath the cabin floor.

      It was a pleasant morning, with a good easterly breeze sweeping across the broad bosom of the Mediterranean, when the Ellen Malcolm hove up her anchors and sheeted home her sails; and when the crew sat down to their breakfast, the city of Palermo looked but a dim, undefined mass in the distance. For two days the wind held nearly the same, and the ship had left Sardinia upon the starboard quarter, when, towards night on the third day, the breeze lulled for a short time, and then came out from the northward and westward with a seeming intention of freshening into a gale, and thereby the ship's head was knocked off from her course three points to the southward. A thick haze came sweeping down from the wind, and before the second dogwatch was set, the surrounding atmosphere presented anything but a pleasing aspect, while the suddenly changed wind cut the rolling swells up into short, chopping seas, which had just force enough to pitch and rock the vessel with a succession of quick, irregular movements. But though all the precautions for a gale had been taken, still no gale came; but the wind seemed rather to fall than otherwise, while the dense haze continued to increase, and by midnight there was bardly breeze enough to tauten the sheets, the ship being tossed about in all sorts of abrupt and summary menaces.

      The mid-watch had been set, and Jack Marden had the wheel. Bill Stokes and Zeb Follet were on the look-out forward, while Ike Thomas, the second mate, was


perched upon the taffrail, keeping a look-out over the quarters. Jack had just struck one bell (the bell was swung directly above the binnacle), and was in the act of jogging the compass to see that the card moved freely, when his attention was arrested by a shuffling sound near the lee gangway, and casting his eyes iq that direction, he saw a dark figure moving off towards the bows; but supposing that it might be one of the forward look-outs, he thought but little of the matter.

      Did you not, dear reader, ever pass an object without bestowing upon it any particular attention, and yet a few moments after have an idea of some peculiarity about it enter your mind, which entirely escaped your observation when the said object was in sight? Thus it was with Jack Marden. When the moving object was in sight he thought but little of it; but hardly had he got out of sight ere he began to remember one or two circumstances that wore a mysterious aspect. In the first place, Bill Stokes and Zeb Follet were the only men forward, and they both had on white frocks, while he was sure that the thing he had seen was perfectly dark. Then there was another thing that seemed more unaccountable still; as the object passed along the gangway, its head very nearly touched the foot of the mainsail, and he knew there was not a man on board the ship who could touch the footrope of the sail with his hand while standing upon the deck. The more Jack thought about the matter, the more was he puzzled, and at length, as the circumstances began to grow serious in his mind, he called Ike Thomas down from the look-out and requested him to take the wheel a few moments, while he went forward. He gave up the wheel without saying anything of what ho had seen, and hastening forward, he at once went below into the forecastle. He went to every bunk, but not a soul was awake – all were as sound as nightheads; and as he came on deck again, he hailed Zeb Follet.



      "Have either you or Bill becu aft this watch?"

      "No," returned Zeb. "Been perched up here ever since the watch was set, both of us."

      "Well, have you seen anynody come forward?"

      "Not till I saw you."

      "Blow me, if 'tain't strange, anyhow!" muttered Jack, rather to himself than otherwise.

      "Strange?" iterated Bill Stokes and Zeb simultaneously. "What is it, Jack? what's in the wind now?"

      "Oh, nothing," returned Jack, who seemed to be half afraid that he might have been mistaken, and that a laugh might be turned on him, "only I thought I saw somebody come forward out o' the gangway, that's all."

      "Well, I s'pose 'twas some o' your chaps aft," said Zeb, as he turned himself once more to his duty.

      Jack made no answer to Zeb's remark, but he knew, nevertheless, that it wasn't one of the hands aft, for with the exception of Ike Thomas and himself, they were all caulking in the bunt of the main spencer, and of that fact he assured himself as be went back to the wheel. He said nothing to the mate of what he had seen, but was determined to wait and see if anything would turn up to clear the mystery. The remainder of the watch passed off quietly, however, and when Jack was relieved, he had almost succeeded in persuading himself that he must have been mistaken; but still the dim outlines of that tall, dark figure floated in his mind long after he had turned into his bunk, and even his dreams were troubled with evil ocean spirits, that sometimes haunt ill-fated ships.

      The next day passed over very quietly. Jack was still unable to account for the strange appearance that had been revealed to him; but as he could discover no signs among the rest of the crew that seemed to indicate anything out of the regular order of things, he made no remark upon the subject of his thoughts. On the morning of tbe fifth day, however, Jack Marden was struck by the peculiar appearance of the countenances of several of the men, aud shortly after breakfast he discovered two or three of them collected around Dick Day, an old foretop-man, who was just in the act of imparting something which, to judge from the features of his listeners, was mysteriously important.

      "Anything in the wind, Dick?" anxiously asked Jack, as he approached the spot.

      "I was just goin' to spin it out," replied Dick, as the men made way for the newcomer upon the windlass. "You see I took the wheel at midnight, an' as the old ship


was jogging along kind o' easy through the water, the boys as was stationed aft all went to sleep 'mong the riggin'. For the first hour everything was as quiet as a mouse, but just as I struck two bells, I saw somebody drawin' water out o' the larboard butt. At first I thought it might be one o' the other watch come up to wet bis whistle, but when the chap rose up to walk off, blast my eyes I if he wasn't as tall as our long-boat's mainmast – an' with a kind o' sneakin' crawl he got under the lee of the long-boat. I knew there wasn't no such man as that aboard the old Ellen Malcolm; an' so, catching a bight o' the spanker sheet around one o' the spoken of the wheel, I gave her a heave a-weather, an' then started for'ard. I hunted the deck all over, an' then went below; but I couldn't see the first show of the chap I'd seen at the butt. Now, I tell ye, shipmates, our old ship's haunted, and there ain't no use denyin' it, for I've hearn noises this two or three nights back such as never come from mortal man, I know."

      The effect of this strange piece of information upon the minds of thje credulous seamen was electrical; but when Jack Marden gave in his testimony, they actually started with affright, and each looked about him as if he expected to see a ghost or some species of hobgoblin at his back. Each man now remembered some strange noise that he had heard, some sight that he had seen, or something that had troubled him in his sleep, and it was not a very difficult task for them all to persuade themselves that the ship was of a verity haunted.

      Captain Morgan could not, of course, remain long in ignorance of the excitement that was rife among his crew, and learning that Jack Marden and Dick Day were the only two men who had been favored with a sight of the mysterious night-wanderer, he at once sent for them to his cabin, where he heard the story from their own lips.

      "Did you ever hear of the old ship's bein' haunted afore?" asked Dick, as he closed his narrative.

      "No," answered the captain, who felt a strong inclination to laugh at the almost ridiculous appearance of the old foretopman, but who, nevertheless, felt the matter to be a little too serious for mirth. "But tell me," he continued, "what did these noises sound like, that you heard?"

      "O cap'n," replied Dick, "they sounded just like something groaning an' sighing; and then they'd rumble, just as we read of in the Arabian Night's."

      Captain Morgan smiled at Dick's odd connection of ideas, and believing that he had got all the information from the two men that could be gleaned from their knowledge, he dismissed them.

      For some time after they had gone, the captain sat in deep thought on what he had heard. That there was something in the wind, he could not doubt; but that there was any supernatural agency in the affair, he, of course, did not believe. At length a tangible idea flashed across his mind, and he revolved the matter over in his thoughts. He commenced pacing his cabin. For nearly half an hour he thus walked to and fro, and when he stopped, the expression of his countenance plainly indicated that he had not only come to a satisfactory conclusion with regard to the matter, but that he had also made up his mind upon a decided course of action. He sent for his first mate, and for Mr. Thomas, and ordered them to get up the ship's muskets and load them, and also to provide each man with a cutlass.

      The officers were somewhat surprised at this order, but as the captain's appearance indicated no very communicative mood, they asked no questions, but proceeded at once to obey his instructions; and soon after the weapons had been brought up on the deck, Captain Morgan made his appearance, and without a word of explanation, he called the men aft and bade them arm themselves. The ship had now reached that part of the sea where it begins to narrow between Carthagena and Arseo; the wind was still from the northward and westward.

      "Now," said the captain, as the men had collected upon the quarter-deck, "I am going to overhaul the ship, and see if we can't find some cause for these strange events that have transpired. We may find something that will call for decided action; but I trust that no man on board my ship will show the white flag. Will you follow?"

      The response to this call was not so hearty as might have been expected from a "Yankee ship and a Yankee crew;" but, nevertheless, Captain Morgan saw that they were all up to the sticking-point, and without further remark he led the way forward, aud proceeded at once to clear the fore-hatchway, and as soon as the hatch was removed, he cocked bis pistols and jumped into the hold, bidding some of the men to follow him.


      "Now start yourselves out of that, every one of you, or, by the holy saints, I'll shoot you down like dogs!" shouted the captain earnestly, as his feet struck the boxes.

      The men who had followed Captain Morgan were thunder-struck at this command, given, as they supposed, to invisible spirits; but in a moment more their wonder assumed a deeper phase.

      The cover of one of the boxes which was supposed to have contained olives was slowly raised, and the head of a man made its appearance from its mystic depths! A slight exclamation of alarm escaped from the lips of the strange inhabitant of the olive box, and be was about to drop the cover again, when Morgan sprang forward, and seizing him by the hair of the head, which was long and bushy, with a lion's strength, he drew him forth into the light. The biped thus exhumed proved to be an Italian lazzaroni, and as he could not speak English, of course but little information was obtained from him; but as his appearance gave unmistakable signs of earthly origin, all fears of supernatural agencies were at once banished from the minds of the men, and as the captain proceeded with his investigations, they now were eager to cope with the danger. Seven of the olive boxes were found to have their covers loosened, and in due course of time seven men were dragged from them, who were armed with pistols and knives, but who made little or no resistance as they found a dozen muskets leveled at them. They were soon conveyed to the deck and securely bound, and two of them turned out to be Americans, who had deserted from a Yankee frigate a year or two before in Messina.

      It seems that these two fellows, who gave their names as Philip Jones and Enoch Carter, the former of whom, from his enormous height, had gained the sobriquet of "Seven Foot Jones," had been knocking around the island of Sicily since their desertion from the naval service, and by the merest accident they learned that a large amount of money was to be sent over to Palermo to be shipped on board the Ellen Malcolm, and they at once went to work to contrive some method by which they might get possession of the treasure.

      They at length found five desperate fellows – Neapolitan lazzaroni, who were sojourning at Messina for their personal safety – who agreed to assist them, and together they footed it over the mountains to Melazzo, where they expected to find a passage by water. Circumstances seemed to conspire to aid them on in the consummation of their plans, for at the latter place they found a felucca which had just arrived from Civita Vicchia, and which was bound for Palermo with a cargo of olives for the very ship they wished to get on board of. The captain of the felucca was easily bribed to serve them, and on their arrival at Palermo, after the olives had been duly inspected and passed, he assisted them in taking up their quarters in some of the boxes, which were provided with sufficient passages for the air; and he also provided them with food entugh to last four days.

      Thus they made their way on board the ship; and it was arranged that when they had arrived within a day's sail of Gibraltar, they were to take the most favorable opportunity during the night to leave their retreat and fall upon the crew, thinking that the watch on deck could easily be put out of the way before those below could come to their assistance, and then the other watch were to have been murdered at their leisure.

      After all this had been accomplished, the money was to have been placed in the boat at the stern, the ship then scuttled, and finally these worthies intended to have pulled for the nearest point of the African coast with their booty. Jones had taken it upon himself to slip quietly on the deck during the night to ascertain the position of the ship, and as the head wind had knocked their calculations a little in the head, he was obliged to come once after water, which he effected by means of a passage through the forecastle bulkhead. But his unusual height betrayed him; and by the coolness and decision of Captain Morgan, not only were the lives of his crew saved, but in all probability the lives of many others – for Jones and Carter both admitted on their trial at Charleston that they intended to have seized the first small craft that fell in their way, and turned regular pirates.


Author: Roshow Bezone Jr. (pseud.)
Title: The Haunted Ship.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol 74, No. 5 (Nov 1891)
Pages: 399-402.