The Captain’s Vision: 1830s

Mary's ghost a pathetic ballad BL

The Captain’s Vision.

I t was on a miserable cold day in February that the good bark Emerald, in which I was second mate, weighed her anchor from the mud opposite Gravesend, and commenced her voyage for the Mauritius. I had sailed with the captain (Wharton) to the West Indies on a former voyage, and had been asked by him to take the second mate’s place this trip, although I was only twenty-one years old at the time. I thought it was a good berth, and accepted it, although I disliked the man.

He was a good sailor, there was no denying, but a bit of a bully, and, I always suspected, drank a good deal when quiet in his cabin. He had been married just before our voyage, and his honeymoon was rather curtailed by our departure. I saw his wife several times before we left England, for she was staying at Gravesend; and also came on board while we were lying in the docks. She was a pretty young girl, and seemed to be too quiet and good for the skipper, who, I thought, did not treat her as he ought to have done.

She told me that she was going to take a cottage at Gosport while her husband was away, and asked me, if I had time, to write her a few words to say how the ship got on, in case we met any of the homeward bound, or stopped at any port. I believe when she shook hands with me, and said, “good-by, sir; a happy voyage to you,” I felt much inclined to do her any service, and pitied her lonely situation more than her husband did. She told me that her only relation was an aged aunt. Well, we floundered across the Bay of Biscay, and ran down the trades, and in twenty-seven days from leaving England with a freezing north wind, we were baking under the line with 95 degrees in the shade shown on our thermometer. The skipper had shoved a couple of our men in irons for very slight offences during our run, and seemed to be a greater brute than ever. He was one of those fellows who acted like an angel on shore, so pleasant and kind, but when he got afloat in the blue water, he wasn’t an angel exactly, at least not the right sort of an angel.

We jogged on, however, till we passed round the Cape; we gave it a wide berth, and kept well off the bank, to avoid the current that runs from the east all down that coast for seventy miles distant. We were about off Cape L’Agulhas, when the northwest wind that we had carried with us from near South America, turned round and blew right in our teeth; we had plenty of wind in our jib then, it blew great guns, and we were under close-reefed topsails for a week.

One night I was on the watch, and finding it was blowing harder than ever, and the ship was making very bad weather of it, I thought I would go down and ask the skipper’s leave to lay to. I dived down the hatchway, and knocked twice at the captain’s door before I received an answer; at last I heard his “come in.” I opened the door and was about to report the gale increased, but was stopped by the appearance of the captain.

He was as white as a sheet, and his eyes were staring like a maniac’s. Before I could speak a word, he said, “Have you seen her?” I did not know what he meant, but said, “Beg pardon, sir, the ship is making very bad weather of it.”

He cursed the weather and repeated, “Did you see my wife as she came in?”

I said, “See your wife? No!

He stared at me for an instant and then dropped on his couch and said, “God have mercy on me!”

It was the first time that I had ever heard him use that sacred name, although the evil one’s was often enough in his mouth. I then asked him about the ship, when he told me to go and do what I thought best. I went up and took all the canvass off, with the exception of the mizzen trysail. I got the peak lowered down to the deck, and showed but a pocket-handkerchief sort of a sail; this kept her head to the wind. I had a guy made fast to the boom, which kept it firm, and lashed the helm; we then rode like a duck on the water. I turned in as usual after being relieved, and said nothing to anyone about what I had heard.

In the morning the captain sent for me, told me not to speak about what he said last night, but that he had been told that his days were numbered. He pointed to the log-book, in which he had put down that he had seen his wife come into the cabin, and that she spoke to him, and told him something about himself. He then requested me to sign his statement, in the book, and ordered me not to say a word to any one of the men as long as he lived. I told him not to think anything about it, as such things were only imaginations, and were caused by the stomach being a little out of order. I did not think it at the time, although I thought it would quiet him by telling him so. We lay to all that day; the captain came on deck once, but spoke to no one. In the afternoon I went down to ask him about getting a little sail on again; I found him reading his Bible, a thing I had never heard of his doing before.

He put it down and came on deck; ordered me to get up the foretopsail; I went forward to see about it, and the skipper walked to the poop; the helm was still lashed, and no one there but him.

“I was giving the men orders to go aloft, when I heard a crack astern and felt a jar through the whole ship. I turned round and found the pitching had caused the heavy boom of the try-sail to break the guy that fastened it, and it was swinging from side to side with every lurch of the ship. I ran aft with all the men, and with great, difficulty made it fast again; it took us some time to settle, and I then went down to tell the captain. His cabin was just as I left it before, and no one in it; came out and asked for him on deck, but no one had seen him there. The men said that he was on the poop when the guy gave way; there was a general call throughout the ship, but the captain was not found. The first mate and I went on the poop, and looked well round. On the bulwarks near the stern there was a slight dent, and close beside it a streak of blood; there was no doubt that the boom in its first swing had knocked the skipper clean overboard, and the chances were had smashed some of his limbs too.

We never saw him more. The first mate took the command, and I told him about the captain’s vision; he laughed at me, and told me I was a fool to believe in such rubbish, and recommended me not to talk about it. I quietly tore the leaf out of the log-book, and have got it now. I will show it to you. (Saying this he went down to his cabin and brought me up the sheet of paper, which I read and found it as he had described.)

We went on to the Mauritius, loaded and returned to England. I had no opportunity of fulfilling my promise of writing-to the captain’s wife; so immediately I could leave the ship, I started for Gosport to tell her about his loss. I found her house from the address she had given me, and walked once or twice up and down to consider all I should say to her. It was any way a difficult thing and one I did not much like doing, having to relate the death of her husband; and, besides, women are inclined to think there is always some neglect in others if an accident happens to those they love.

At last I plucked up courage and knocked at the door. A decent-looking servant came, and upon my asking if Mrs. Wharton was at home, she replied: “Mrs. Wharton don’t live here, Mrs. Somebody or other lives here, and she ain’t at home.” I asked if she could tell me where to find Mrs. Wharton—and was informed by the maid that she was a stranger, and knew nothing; but the baker over the way, she thought could tell me. I went over and asked the baker’s wife, and she informed me that Mrs. Wharton had been dead nearly five months, and her aunt had moved away. I was thunderstruck at this intelligence, and immediately inquired the date of her death. She looked over a day-book in the drawer, and told me. I put it down in my memorandum book, and when I got back to the ship I found the date the same as that noted on the leaf of the log-book as the one the captain had seen her off the Cape. Now, I never was superstitious before this, nor am I alarmed now at the idea of seeing ghosts; but still there is a queer sort of a feeling comes over me when I think of that night.

The Spiritual Age 22 May 1858

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well really, that is not the ending we have a right to expect. Not quite playing the game… The young man should have found the pretty young widow alive and well and, after a decent interval, he should have married her and made her happy. These authors who kill off perfectly innocent characters and deny their readers a satisfactory denouement are little better than Bolsheviks in Mrs Daffodil’s view.

Still, it is the narrator’s own story, told as a true one, and, to be fair, it has the consistency and symmetry one demands from a ghost story. Yet, while one was perfectly content to see the bullying Captain Wharton knocked over-board; one somehow feels that his young wife, whose honeymoon was cut as short as her life, deserved better.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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