WE played whist in the evening,
and I went to bed late. I will confess now that I felt a disagreeable sensation
when I entered my state-room. I could not help thinking of the tall man
I had seen on the previous night, who was now dead, drowned, tossing about
in the long swell, two or three hundred miles astern. His face rose very
distinctly before me as I undressed, and I even went so far as to draw
back the curtains of the upper berth, as though to persuade myself that
he was actually gone. I also bolted the door of the state-room. Suddenly
I became aware that the porthole was open, and fastened back. This was
more than I could stand. I hastily threw on my dressing-gown and went in
search of Robert, the steward of my passage. I was very angry, I remember,
and when I found him I dragged him roughly to the door of one hundred and
five, and pushed him towards the open porthole.
deuce do you mean, you scoundrel, by leaving that port open every night?
Don't you know it is against the regulations? Don't you know that if the
ship heeled and the water began to come in, ten men could not shut it?
I will report you to the captain, you blackguard, for endangering the ship!"
I was exceedingly
wroth. The man trembled and turned pale, and then began to shut the round
glass plate with the heavy brass fittings.
you answer me?" I said roughly.
please, sir," faltered Robert, "there's nobody on board as can keep this
'ere port shut at night. You can try it yourself, sir. I ain't a-going
to stop hany longer on board o' this vessel, sir; I ain't, indeed. But
if I was you, sir, I'd just clear out and go and sleep with the surgeon,
or something, I would. Look 'ere, sir, is that fastened what you may call
securely, or not, sir? Try it, sir, see if it will move a hinch."
the port, and found it perfectly tight.
sir," continued Robert triumphantly, "I wager my reputation as a A1 steward
that in 'arf an hour it will be open again; fasteneed back, too, sir, that's
the horful thing -- fastened back!"
the great screw and the looped nut that ran on it.
"If I find
it open in the night, Robert, I will give you a sovereign. It is not possible.
You may go."
did you say, sir? Very good, sir. Thank ye, sir. Good-night, sir. Pleasant
reepose, sir, and all manner of hinchantin' dreams, sir."
scuttled away, delighted at being released. Of course, I thought he was
trying to account for his negligence by a silly story, intended to frighten
me, and I disbelieved him. The consequence was that he got his sovereign,
and I spent a very peculiarly unpleasant night.
to bed, and five minutes after I had rolled myself up in my blankets the
inexorable Robert extinguished the light that burned steadily behind the
ground-glass pane near the door.
I lay quite still in the dark trying to go to sleep, but I soon found that
impossible. It had been some satisfaction to be angry with the steward,
and the diversion had banished that unpleasant sensation I had at first
experienced when I thought of the drowned man who had been my chum; but
I was no longer sleepy, and I lay awake for some time, occasionally glancing
at the porthole, which I could just see from where I lay, and which, in
the darkness, looked like a faintly-luminous soup-plate suspended in blackness.
I believe I must have lain there for an hour, and, as I remember, I was
just dozing into sleep when I was roused by a draught of cold air, and
by distinctly feeling the spray of the sea blown upon my face. I started
to my feet, and not having allowed in the dark for the motion of the ship,
I was instantly thrown violently across the state-room upon the couch which
was placed beneath the port-hole. I recovered myself immediately, however,
and climbed upon my knees. The port-hole was again wide open and fastened
things are facts. I was wide awake when I got up, and I should certainly
have been waked by the fall had I still been dozing. Moreover, I bruised
my elbows and knees badly, and the bruises were there on the following
morning to testify to the fact, if I myself had doubted it. The porthole
was wide open and fastened back -- a thing so unaccountable that I remember
very well feeling astonishment rather that fear when I discovered it. I
at once closed the plate again, and screwed down the loop nut with all
my strength. It was very dark in the state-room. I reflected that the port
had certainly been opened within an hour after Robert had at first shut
it in my presence, and I determined to watch it, and see whether it would
open again. Those brass fittings are very heavy and by no means easy to
move; I could not believe that the clamp had been turned by the shaking
of the screw. I stood peering out through the thick glass at the alternate
white and grey streaks of the sea that foamed beneath the ship's side.
I must have remained there a quarter of an hour.
as I stood, I distinctly heard something moving behind me in one of the
berths, and a moment afterwards, just as I turned instinctively to look
-- though I could, of course, see nothing in the darkness -- I heard a
very faint groan. I sprang across the state-room, and tore the curtains
of the upper berth aside, thrusting in my hands to discover if there were
any one there. There was some one.
that the sensation as I put my hands forward was as though I were plunging
them into the air of a damp cellar, and from behind the curtains came a
gust of wind that smelled horribly of stagnant sea-water. I laid hold of
something that had the shape of a man's arm, but was smooth, and wet, and
icy cold. But suddenly, as I pulled, the creature sprang violently forward
against me, a clammy oozy mass, as it seemed to me, heavy and wet, yet
endowed with a sort of supernatural strength. I reeled across the state-room,
and in an instant the door opened and the thing rushed out. I had not had
time to be frightened, and quickly recovering myself, I sprang through
the door and gave chase at the top of my speed, but I was too late. Ten
yards before me I could see -- I am sure I saw it -- a dark shadow moving
in the dimly lighted passage, quickly as the shadow of a fast horse thrown
before a dog-cart by the lamp on a dark night. But in a moment it had disappeared,
and I found myself holding on to the polished rail that ran along the bulkhead
where the passage turned towards the companion. My hair stood on end, and
the cold perspiration rolled down my face. I am not ashamed of it in the
least: I was very badly frightened.
doubted my senses, and pulled myself together. It was absurd, I thought.
The Welsh rare-bit I had eaten had disagreed with me. I had been in a nightmare.
I made my way back to my state-room, and entered it with an effort. The
whole place smelled of stagnant sea-water, as it had when I had waked on
the previous evening. It required my utmost strength to go in, and grope
among my things for a box of wax lights. As I lighted a railway reading
lantern which I always carry in case I want to read after the lamps are
out, I perceived that the porthole was again open, and a sort of creeping
horror began to take possession of me which I never felt before, nor wish
to feel again. But I got a light and proceeded to examine the upper berth,
expecting to find it drenched with sea-water.
But I was
disappointed. The bed had been slept in, and the smell of the sea was strong;
but the bedding was as dry as a bone. I fancied that Robert had not had
the courage to make the bed after the accident of the previous night --
it had all been a hedeous dream. I drew the curtains back as far as I could
and examined the place very carefully. It was perfectly dry. But the porthole
was open again. With a sort of dull bewilderment of horror I closed it
and screwed it down, and thrusting my heavy stick through the brass loop,
wrenched it with all my might, till the thick metal began to bend under
the pressure. Then I hooked my reading lantern into the red velvet at the
head of the couch, and sat down to recover my senses if I could. I sat
there all night, unable to think of rest -- hardly able to think at all.
But the porthole remained closed, and I did not believe it would now open
again without the application of a considerable force.
dawned at last, and I dressed myself slowly, thinking over all that had
happened in the night. It was a beautiful day and I went on deck, glad
to get out into the early, pure sunshine, and to smell the breeze from
the blue water, so different from the noisome, stagnant odour of my state-room.
Instinctively I turned aft, towards the surgeon's cabin. There he stood,
with a pipe inhis mouth, taking his morning airing precisely as on the
said he quietly, but looking at me with evident curiosity.
you were quite right," said I. "There is something wrong about that place."
you would change your mind," he answered, rather triumphantly. "You have
had a bad night, eh? Shall I make you a pick-me-up? I have a capital
I cried. "But I would like to tell you what happened."
tried to explain as clearly as possible precisely what had occurred, not
omitting to state that I had been scared as I had never been scared in
my whole life before. I dwelt particularly on the phenomenon of the porthole,
which was a fact to which I could testify, even if the rest had been an
illusion. I had closed it twice in the night, and the second time I had
actually bent the brass in wrenching it with my stick. I believe I insisted
a good deal on this point.
to think I am likely to doubt the story," said the doctor, smiling at my
detailed account of the state of the porthole. "I do not doubt in the least.
I renew my invitation to you. Bring your traps here, and take half my cabin."
take half of mine for one night," I said. "Help me to get at the bottom
of this thing."
get to the bottom of something else if you try," answered the doctor.
of the sea. I am going to leave this ship. It is not canny."
will not help me to find out----"
said the doctor quickly. "It is my business to keep my wits aobut me --
not to go fiddling about with ghosts and things."
really believe it is a ghost?" I enquired, rather contemptuously. But as
I spoke I remembered very well the horrible sensation of the supernatural
which had got possession of me during the night. The doctor turned sharply
any reasonable explanation of these things to offer?" he asked. "No; you
have not. Well, you say you will find an explanation. I say that you won't,
sir, simply because there is not any."
dear sir," I retorted, "do you, a man of science, mean to tell me that
such things cannot be explained?"
he answered stoutly. "And, if they could, I would not be concerned in the
I did not
care to spend another night alone in the state-room, and yet I was obstinately
determined to get at the root of the disturbances. I do not believe there
are many men who would have slept there alone, after passing two such nights.
But I made up my mind to try it, if I could not get any one to share a
watch with me. The doctor was evidently not inclined for such an experiment.
He said he was a surgeon, and that in case any accident occurred on board
he must be always in readiness. He could not afford to have his nerves
unsettled. Perhaps he was quite right, but I am inclined to think that
his precaution was prompted by his inclination. On enquiry, he informed
me that there was no one on board who would be likely to join me in my
investigations, and after a little more conversation I left him. A little
later I met the captain, and told him my story. I said that, if no one
would spend the night with me, I would ask leave to have the light burning
all night, and would try it alone.
said he, "I will tell you what I will do. I will share your watch myself,
and we will see what happens. It is my belief that we can find out between
us. There may be some fellow skulking on board, who steals a passage by
frightening the passengers. It is just possible that there may be something
queer in the carpentering of that berth."
taking the ship's carpenter below and examining the place; but I was overjoyed
at the captain's offer to spend the night with me. He accordingly sent
for the workman and ordered him to do anything I required. We went below
at once. I had all the bedding cleared out of the upper berth, and we examined
the place thoroughly to see if there was a board loose anywhere, or a panel
which could be opened or pushed aside. We tried the planks everywhere,
tapped the flooring, unscrewed the fittings of the lower berth and took
it to pieces -- in short, there was not a square inch of the state-room
which was not searched and tested. Everything was in perfect order, and
we put everything back in its place. As we were finishing our work, Robert
came to the door and looked in.
sir -- find anything, sir?" he asked, with a ghastly grin.
right about the porthole, Robert," I said, and I gave him the promised
sovereign. The carpenter did his work silently and skilfully, following
my directions. When he had done he spoke.
plain man, sir," he said. "But it's my belief you had better just turn
out your things, and let me run half a dozen four-inch screws through the
door of this cabin. There's no good never came o' this cabin yet, sir,
and that's all about it. There's been four lives lost out o' here to my
own remembrance, and that is four trips. Better give it up, sir -- better
give it up!"
try it for one night more," I said.
give it up, sir -- better give it up! It's a precious bad job," repeated
the workman, putting his tools in his bag and leaving the cabin.
spirits had risen considerably at the prospect of having the captain's
company, and I made up my mind not to be prevented from going to the end
of this strange business. I abstained from Welsh rare-bits and grog that
evening, and did not even join in the customary game of whist. I wanted
to be quite sure of my nerves, and my vanity made me anxious to make a
good figure in the captain's eyes.
THE captain was one of those splendidly
tough and cheerful specimens of seafaring humanity whose combined courage,
hardihood, and calmness in difficulty leads them naturally into high posiitons
of trust. He was not the man to be led away by an idle tale, and the mere
fact that he was willing to join me in the investigation was proof that
he thought there was something seriously wrong, which could not be accounted
for on ordinary theories, nor laughed down as a common superstition. To
some extent, too, his reputation was at stake, as well as the reputation
of the ship. It is no light thing to lose passengers overboard, and he
o'clock that evening, as I was smoking a last cigar, he came up to me,
and drew me aside from the beat of the other passengers who were patrolling
the deck in the warm darkness.
a serious matter, Mr. Brisbane," he said. "We must make up our minds either
way -- to be disappointed or to have a pretty rough time of it. You see
I cannot afford to laugh at the affair, and I will ask you to sign your
name to a statement of whatever occurs. If nothing happens tonight we will
try it again tomorrow and next day. Are you ready?"
So we went
below, and entered the state-room. As we went in I could see Robert the
steward, who stood a little further down the passage, watching us, with
his usual grin, as though certain that something dreadful was about to
happen. The captain closed the door behind us and bolted it.
we put your portmanteau before the door," he suggested. "One of us can
sit on it. Nothing can get out then. Is the port screwed down?"
it as I had left it in the morning. Indeed, without using a lever, as I
had done, no one could have opened it. I drew back the curtains of the
upper berth so that I could see well into it. By the captain's advice I
lighted my reading lantern, and placed it so that it shone upon the white
sheets above. He insisted upon sitting on the portmanteau, declaring that
he wished to be able to swear that he had sat before the door.
requested me to search the state-room thoroughly, an operation very soon
accomplished, as it consisted merely in looking beneath the lower berth
and under the couch below the porthole. The spaces were quite empty.
impossible for any human being to get in," I said, "or for any human being
to open the port."
said the captain calmly. "If we see anything now, it must be either imagination
or something supernatural."
I sat down
on the edge of the lower berth.
time it happened," said the captain, crossing his legs and leaning back
against the door, "was in March. The passenger who slept here, in the upper
berth, turned out have been a lunatic -- at all events, he was known to
have been a little touched, and he had taken his passage without the knowledge
of his friends. He rushed out in the middle of the night, and threw
himself overboard, before the officer who had the watch could stop him.
We stopped and lowered a boat; it was a quiet night, just before that heavy
weather came on; but we could not find him. Of course his suicide was afterwards
accounted for on the ground of his insanity."
that often happens?" I remarked, rather absently.
-- no," said the captain; "never before in my experience, though I have
heard of it happening on board of other ships. Well, as I was saying, that
occurred in March. On the very next trip ---- What are you looking at?"
he asked, stopping suddenly in his narration.
I gave no answer. My eyes were riveted upon the porthole. It seemed to
me that the brass loop-nut was beginning to turn very slowly upon the screw
-- so slowly, however, that I was not sure it moved at all. I watched it
intently, fixing its position in my mind, and trying to ascertain whether
it changed. Seeing where I was looking, the captain looked too.
he exclaimed, in a tone of conviction. "No, it does not," he added, after
were the jarring of the screw," said I, "it would have opened during the
day; but I found it this evening jammed tight as I left it this morning."
and tried the nut. It was certainly loosened, for by an effort I could
move it with my hands.
thing," said the captain, "is that the second man who was lost is supposed
to have got through that very port. We had a terrible time over it. It
was in the middle of the night, and the weather was very heavy; there was
an alarm that one of the ports was open and the sea running in. I came
below and found everything flooded, the water pouring in every time she
rolled, and the whole port swinging from the top bolts -- not the porthole
in the middle. Well, we managed to shut it, but the water did some damage.
Ever since that the place smells of sea-water from time to time. We supposed
the passenger had thrown himself out, though the Lord only knows how he
did it. The steward kept telling me that he cannot keep anything shut here.
Upon my word -- I can smell it now, cannot you?" he
enquired, sniffing the air suspiciously.
distinctly," I said, and I shuddered as that same odour of stagnant sea-water
grew stronger in the cabin. "Now, to smell like this, the place must be
damp," I continued, "and yet when I examined it with the carpenter this
morning everything was perfectly dry. It is most extraordinary -- hallo!"
lantern, which had been placed in the upper berth, was suddenly extinguished.
There was still a good deal of light from the pane of ground glass near
the door, behind which loomed the regulation lamp. The ship rolled heavily,
and the curtain of the upper berth swung far out into the state-room and
back again. I rose quickly from my seat on the edge of the bed, and the
captain at the same moment started to his feet with a loud cry of surprise.
I had turned with the intention of taking down the lantern to examine it,
when I heard his exclamation, and immediately afterwards his call for help.
I sprang towards him. He was wrestling with all his might with the brass
loop of the port. It seemed to turn against his hands in spite of all his
efforts. I caught up my cane, a heavy oak stick I always used to carry,
and thrust it through the ring and bore on it with all my strength. But
the strong wood snapped suddenly and I fell upon the couch. When I rose
again the port was wide open, and the captain was standing with his back
against the door, pale to the lips.
is something in that berth!" he cried, in a strange voice, his eyes almost
starting from his head. "Hold the door, while I look -- it shall not escape
us, whatever it is!"
of taking his place, I sprang upon the lower bed, and seized something
which lay in the upper berth.
something ghostly, horrible beyond words, and it moved in my grip. It was
like the body of a man long drowned, and yet it moved, and had the strength
of ten men living; but I gripped it with all my might -- the slippery,
oozy, horrible thing -- the dead white eyes seemed to stare at me out of
the dusk; the putrid odour of rank sea-water was about it, and its shiny
hair hung in foul wet curls over its dead face. I wrestled with the dead
thing; it thrust itself upon me and forced me back and nearly broke my
arms; it wound its corpse's arms about my neck, the living death, and overpowered
me, so that I, at last, cried aloud and fell, and left my hold.
As I fell
the thing sprang across me, and seemed to throw itself upon the captain.
When I last saw him on his feet his face was white and his lips set. It
seemed to me that he struck a violent blow at the dead being, and then
he, too, fell forward upon his face, with an inarticulate cry of horror.
paused an instant, seeming to hover over his prostrate body, and I could
have screamed again for very fright, but I had no voice left. The thing
vanished sudddenly, and it seemed to my disturbed senses that it made its
exit through the open port, though how that was possible, considering the
smallness of the aperture, is more than any one can tell. I lay a long
time on the floor, and the captain lay beside me. At last I partially recovered
my senses and moved, and instantly I knew that my arm was broken -- the
small bone of my left forearm near the wrist.
I got upon
my feet somehow, and with my remaining hand I tried to raise the captain.
He groaned and moved, and at last came to himself. He was not hurt, but
he seemed badly stunned.
you want to hear any more? There is nothing more. That is the end of my
story. The carpenter carried out his scheme of running half a dozen four-inch
screws through the door of one hundred and five; and if ever you take a
passage in the Kamtschatka, you may ask for a berth in that state-room.
You will be told that it is engaged -- yes -- it is engaged by that dead
the trip in the surgeon's cabin. He doctored my broken arm, and advised
me not to "fiddle about with ghosts and things" any more. The captain was
very silent, and never sailed again in that ship, though it is still running.
And I will not sail in her either. It was a very disagreeable experience,
and I was very badly frightened, which is a thing I do not like. That is
all. That is how I saw a ghost -- if it was a ghost. It was dead, anyhow.