for the cigars. We had talked long, and the conversation as beginning to
languish; the tobacco smoke had got into the heavy curtains, the wine had
got into those brains which were liable to become heavy, and it was already
perfectly evident that, unless somebody did something to rouse our oppressed
spirits, the meeting would soon come to its natural conclusion, and we,
the guests, would speedily go home to bed, and most certainly to sleep.
No one had said anything very remarkable; it may be that no one had anything
very remarkable to say. Jones had given us every particular of his last
hunting adventure in Yorkshire. Mr. Tompkins, of Boston, had explained
at elaborate length those working principles, by the due and careful maintenance
of which the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fé Railroad not only extended
its territory, increased its departmental influence, and transported live
stock without starving them to death before the day of actual delivery,
but, also, had for years succeeded in deceiving those passengers who bought
its tickets into the fallacious belief that the corporation aforesaid was
really able to transport human life without destroying it. Signor Tombola
had endeavoured to persuade us, by arguments which we took no trouble to
oppose, that the unity of his country in no way resembled the average modern
torpedo, carefully planned, constructed with all the skill of the greatest
European arsenals, but, when constructed, destined to be directed by feeble
hands into a region where it must undoubtedly explode, unseen, unfeared,
and unheard, into the illimitable wastes of political chaos.
It is unnecessary
to go into further details. The conversation had assumed proportions which
would have bored Prometheus on his rock, which would have driven Tantalus
to distraction, and which would have impelled Ixion to seek relaxation
in the simple but instructive dialogues of Herr Ollendorff, rather than
submit to the greater evil of listening to our talk. We had sat at table
for hours; we were bored, we were tired, and nobody showed signs of moving.
called for cigars. We all instinctively looked towards the speaker. Brisbane
was a man of five-and-thirty years of age, and remarkable for those gifts
which chiefly attract the attention of men. He was a strong man. The external
proportions of his figure presented nothing extraordinary to the common
eye, though his size was above the average. He was a little over six feet
in height, and moderately broad in the shoulder; he did not appear to be
stout, but, on the other hand, he was certainly not thin; his small head
was supported by a strong and sinewy neck; his broad, muscular hands appeared
to possess a peculiar skill in breaking walnuts without the assistance
of the ordinary cracker, and, seeing him in profile, one could not help
remarking the extraordinary breadth of his sleeves, and the unusual thickness
of his chest. He was one of those men who are commonly spoken of among
men as deceptive; that is to say, that though he looked exceedingly strong
he was in reality very much stronger than he looked. Of his features I
need say little. His head was small, his hair is thin, his eyes are blue,
his nose is large, he has a small moustache, and a square jaw. Everybody
knows Brisbane, and when he asked for a cigar everybody looked at him.
a very singular thing," said Brisbane.
stopped talking. Brisbane's voice was not loud, but possessed a peculiar
quality of penetrating general conversation, and cutting it like a knife.
Everybody listened. Brisbane, perceiving that he had attracted their general
attention, lit his cigar with great equanimity.
very singular," he continued, "that thing about ghosts. People are always
asking whether anybody has seen a ghost. I have."
What, you? You don't mean to say so, Brisbane? Well, for a man of his intelligence!"
of exclamations greeted Brisbane's remarkable statement. Everybody called
for cigars, and Stubbs, the butler, suddenly appeared from the depths of
nowhere with a fresh bottle of dry champagne. The situation was saved;
Brisbane was going to tell a story.
I am an
old sailor, said Brisbane, and as I have to cross the Atlantic pretty often,
I have my favourites. Most men have their favourites. I have seen a man
wait in a Broadway bar for three-quarters of an hour for a particular car
which he liked. I believe the bar-keeper made at least one-third of his
living by that man's preference. I have a habit of waiting for certain
ships when I am obliged to cross that duck-pond. It may be a prejudice,
but I was never cheated out of a good passage but once in my life. I remember
it very well; it was a warm morning in June, and the Custom House officials,
who were hanging about waiting for a steamer already on her way up from
the Quarantine, presented a peculiarly hazy and thoughtful appearance.
I had not much luggage -- I never have. I mingled with the crowd of passengers,
porters, and officious individuals in blue coats and brass buttons, who
seemed to spring up like mushrooms from the deck of a moored steamer to
obtrude their unnecessary services upon the independent passenger. I have
often noticed with a certain interest the spontaneous evolution of these
fellows. They are not there when you arrive; five minutes after the pilot
has called 'Go ahead!' they, or at least their blue coats and brass buttons,
have disappeared from deck and gangway as completely as though they had
been consigned to that locker which tradition ascribes to Davy Jones. But,
at the moment of starting, they are there, clean shaved, blue coated, and
ravenous for fees. I hastened on board. The Kamtschatka was one of my favourite
ships. I saw was, because she emphatically no longer is. I cannot conceive
of any inducement which could entice me to make another voyage in her.
Yes, I know what you are going to say. She is uncommonly clean in the run
aft, she has enough bluffing off in the bows to keep her dry, and the lower
berths are most of them double. She has a lot of advantages, but I won't
cross in her again. Excuse the digression. I got on board. I hailed a steward,
whose red nose and redder whiskers were equally familiar to me.
and five, lower berth," said I, in the businesslike tone peculiar to men
who think no more of crossing the Atlantic than taking a whisky cocktail
at down-town Delmonico's.
took my portmanteau, greatcoat, and rug. I shall never forget the expression
on his face. Not that he turned pale. It is maintained by the most eminent
divines that even miracles cannot change the course of nature. I have no
hesitation in saying that he did not turn pale; but, from his expression,
I judged that he was either about to shed tears, to sneeze, or to drop
my portmanteau. As the latter contained two bottles of particularly fine
old sherry presented to me for my voyage by my old friend Snigginson van
Pickyns, I felt extremely nervous. But the steward did none of these things.
I'm d----d!" said he in a low voice, and led the way.
my Hermes, as he led me to the lower regions, had had a little grog, but
I said nothing, and followed him. One hundred and five was on the port
side, well aft. There was nothing remarkable about the state-room. The
lower berth, like most of those upon the Kamtschatka, was double. There
was plenty of room; there was the usual washing apparatus, calculated to
convey an idea of luxury to the mind of a North American Indian; there
were the usual inefficient racks of brown wood, in which it is more easy
to hand a large-sized umbrella than the common tooth-brush of commerce.
Upon the uninviting mattresses were carefully bolded together those blankets
which a great modern humorist has aptly compared to cold buckwheat cakes.
The question of towels was left entirely to the imagination. The glass
decanters were filled with a transparent liquid faintly tinged with brown,
but from which an odour less faint, but not more pleasing, ascended to
the nostrils, like a far-off sea-sick reminiscence of oily machinery. Sad-coloured
curtains half-closed the upper berth. The hazy June daylight shed a faint
illumination upon the desolate little scene. Ugh! how I hate that state-room!
deposited my traps and looked at me, as though he wanted to get away --
probably in search of more passengers and more fees. It is always a
good plan to start in favour with
those functionaries, and I accordingly gave him certain coins there and
and make yer comfortable all I can," he remarked, as he put the coins in
his pocket. Nevertheless, there was a doubtful intonation in his voice
which surprised me. Possibly his scale of fees had gone up, and he was
not satisfied; but on the whole I was inclined to think that, as he himself
would have expressed it, he was "the better for a glass". I was wrong,
however, and did the man injustice.
NOTHING especially worthy of mention
occurred during that day. We left the pier punctually, and it was very
pleasant to be fairly under way, for the weather was warm and sultry, and
the motion of the steamer produced a refreshing breeze. Everybody knows
what the first day at sea is like. People pace the decks and stare at each
other, and occasionally meet acquaintances whom they did not know to be
on board. There is the usual uncertainty as to whether the food will be
good, bad, or indifferent, until the first two meals have put the matter
beyond a doubt; there is the usual uncertainty about the weather, until
the ship is fairly off Fire Island. The tables are crowded at first, and
then suddenly thinned. Pale-faced people spring from their seats and precipitate
themselves towards the door, and each old sailor breathes more freely as
his sea-sick neighbour rushes from his side, leaving him plenty of elbow-room
and an unlimited command over the mustard.
across the Atlantic is very much like another, and we who cross very often
do not make the voyage for the sake of novelty. Whales and icebergs are
indeed always objects of interest, but, after all, one whale is very much
like another whale, and one rarely sees an iceberg at close quarters. To
the majority of us the most delightful moment of the day on board an ocean
steamer is when we have taken our last turn on deck, have smoked our last
cigar, and having succeeded in tiring ourselves, feel at liberty to turn
in with a clear conscience. On that first night of the voyage I felt particularly
lazy, and went to bed in one hundred and five rather earlier than I usually
do. As I turned in, I was amazed to see that I was to have a companion.
A portmanteau, very like my own, lay in the opposite corner, and in the
upper berth had been deposited a neatly-folded rug, with a stick and umbrella.
I had hoped to be alone, and I was disappointed; but I wondered who my
room-mate was to be, and I determined
to have a look at him.
I had been long in bed he entered. He was, as far as I could see, a very
tall man, very thin, very pale, with sandy hair and whiskers and colourless
grey eyes. He had about him, I thought, an air of rather dubious fashion;
the short of man you might see in Wall Street, without being able precisely
to say what he was doing there -- the sort of man who frequents the Café
Anglais, who always seems to be alone and who drinks champagne; you might
meet him on a racecourse, but he would never appear to be doing anything
there either. A little over-dressed -- a little odd. There are three or
four of his kind on every ocean steamer. I made up my mind that I did not
care to make his acquaintance, and I went to sleep saying to myself that
I would study his habits in order to avoid him. If he rose early, I would
rise late; if he went to bed late, I would go to bed early. I did not care
to know him. If you once know people of that kind they are always turning
up. Poor fellow! I need not have taken the trouble to come to so many decisions
about him, for I never saw him again after that first night in one hundred
I was sleeping
soundly when I was suddenly waked by a loud noise. To judge from the sound,
my room-mate must have sprung with a single leap from the upper berth to
the floor. I heard him fumbling with the latch and bolt of the door, which
opened almost immediately, and then I heard his footsteps as he ran at
full speed down the passage, leaving the door open behind him. The ship
was rolling a little, and I expected to hear him stumble or fall, but he
ran as though he were running for his life. The door swung on its hinges
with the motion of the vessel, and the sound annoyed me. I got up and shut
it, and groped my way back to my berth in the darkness. I went to sleep
again; but I have no idea how long I slept.
awoke it was still quite dark, but I felt a disagreeable sensation of cold,
and it seemed to me that the air was damp. You know the peculiar smell
of a cabin which has been wet with sea-water. I covered myself up as well
as I could and dozed off again, framing complaints to be made the next
day, and selecting the most powerful epithets in the language. I could
hear my room-mate turn over in the upper berth. He had probably returned
while I was asleep. Once I thought I heard him groan, and I argued that
he was sea-sick. That is particularly unpleasant when one is below. Nevertheless
I dozed off and slept till early daylight.
was rolling heavily, much more than on the previous evening, and the grey
light which came in through the porthole changed in tint with every movement
according as the angle of the vessel's side turned the glass seawards or
skywards. It was very cold -- unaccountably so for the month of June. I
turned my head and looked at the porthole, and saw to my surprise that
it was wide open and hooked back. I believe I swore audibly. Then I got
up and shut it. As I turned back I glanced at the upper berth. The curtains
were drawn close together; my companion had probably felt cold as well
as I. It struck me that I had slept enough. The state-room was uncomfortable,
though, strange to say, I could not smell the dampness which had annoyed
me in the night. My room-mate was still asleep -- excellent opportunity
for avoiding him, so I dressed at once and went on deck. The day was warm
and cloudy, with an oily smell on the water. It was seven o'clock as I
came out -- much later than I had imagined. I came across the doctor, who
was taking his first sniff of the morning air. He was a young man from
the West of Ireland -- a tremendous fellow, with black hair and blue eyes,
already inclined to be stout; he had a happy-go-lucky, healthy look about
him which was rather attractive.
I remarked, by way of introduction.
said he, eyeing me with an air of ready interest, "it's a fine morning
and it's not a fine morning. I don't think it's much of a morning."
no -- it is not so very fine," said I.
what I call fuggly weather," replied the doctor.
very cold last night, I thought," I remarked. "However, when I looked about,
I found that the porthole was wide open. I had not noticed it when I went
to bed. And the state-room was damp, too."
said he. "Whereabouts are you?"
To my surprise
the doctor started visibly, and stared at me.
the matter?" I asked.
nothing," he answered; "only everybody has complained of that state-room
for the last three trips."
complain too," I said. "It has certainly not been properly aired. It is
believe it can be helped," answered the doctor. "I believe there is something
-- well, it is not my business to frighten passengers."
not be afraid of frightening me," I replied. "I can stand any amount of
damp. If I should get a bad cold I will come to you."
the doctor a cigar, which he took and examined very critically.
not so much the damp," he remarked. "However, I dare say you will get on
very well. Have you a room-mate?"
deuce of a fellow, who bolts out in the middle of the night, and leaves
the door open."
doctor glanced curiously at me. Then he lit the cigar and looked grave.
come back?" he asked presently.
was asleep, but I waked up, and heard him moving. Then I felt cold and
went to sleep again. This morning I found the porthole open."
said the doctor quietly, "I don't care much for this ship. I don't care
a rap for her reputation. I tell you what I will do. I have a good-sized
place up here. I will share it with you, though I don't know you from Adam."
I was very
much surprised at the proposition. I could not imagine why he should take
such a sudden interest in my welfare. However, his manner as he spoke of
the ship was peculiar.
very good, doctor," I said. "But, really, I believe even now the cabin
could be aired, or cleaned out, or something. Why do you not care for the
not superstitious in our profession, sir," replied the doctor, "but the
sea makes people so. I don't want to prejudice you, and I don't want to
frighten you, but if you will take my advice you will move in here. I would
as soon see you overboard," he added earnestly, "as know that you or any
other man was to sleep in one hundred and five."
Why?" I asked.
on the last three trips the people who have slept there actually have gone
overboard," he answered gravely.
was startling and exceedingly unpleasant, I confess. I looked hard at the
doctor to see whether he was making game of me, but he looked perfectly
serious. I thanked him warmly for his offer, but told him I intended to
be the exception to the rule by which every one who slept in that particular
state-room went overboard. He did not say much, but looked as grave as
ever, and hinted that, before we got across, I should probably reconsider
his proposal. In the course of time we went to breakfast, at which only
an inconsiderable number of passengers assembled. I noticed that one or
two of the officers who breakfasted with us looked grave. After breakfast
I went into my state-room in order to get a book. The curtains of the upper
berth were still closely drawn. Not a word was to be heard. My room-mate
was probably still asleep.
As I came
out I met the steward whose business it was to look after me. He whispered
that the captain wanted to see me, and then scuttled away down the
passage as if very anxious to avoid
any questions. I went toward the captain's cabin, and found him waiting
said he, "I want to ask a favour of you."
that I would do anything to oblige him.
had disappeared," he said. "He is known to have turned in early last night.
Did you notice anything extraordinary in his manner?"
coming, as it did, in exact confirmation of the fears the doctor had expressed
half an hour earlier, staggered me.
mean to say he has gone overboard?" I asked.
he has," answered the captain.
the most extraordinary thing----" I began.
the fourth, then?" I exclaimed. In answer to another question from the
captain, I explained, without mentioning the doctor, that I had heard the
story concerning one hundred and five. He seemed very much annoyed at hearing
that I knew of it. I told him what had occurred in the night.
say," he replied, "coincides almost exactly with what was told me by the
room-mates of two of the other three. They bolt out of bed and run down
the passage. Two of them were seen to go overboard by the watch; we stopped
and lowered boats, but they were not found. Nobody, however, saw or heard
the man who was lost last night -- if he is really lost. The steward, who
is a superstitious fellow, perhaps, and expected something to go wrong,
went to look for him, this morning, and found his berth empty, but his
clothes lying about, just as he had left them. The steward was the only
man on board who knew him by sight, and he has been searching everywhere
for him. He has disappeared! Now, sir, I want to beg you not to mention
the circumstance to any of the passengers; I don't want the ship to get
a bad name, and nothing hangs about an ocean-goer like stories of suicides.
You shall have your choice of any one of the officers' cabins you like,
including my own, for the rest of the passage. Is that a fair bargain?"
said I; "and I am much obliged to you. But since I am alone, and have the
state-room to myself, I would rather not move. If the steward will take
out that unfortunate man's things, I would as leave stay where I am. I
will not say anything about the matter, and I think I can promise you that
I will not follow my room-mate."
tried to dissuade me from my intention, but I preferred having a state-room
alone to being the chum of any officer on board. I do not know whether
I acted foolishly, but if I had taken his advice I should have had nothing
more to tell. There would have remained the disagreeable coincidence of
occurring among men who had slept
in the same cabin, but that would have been all.
not the end of the matter, however, by any means. I obstinately made up
my mind that I would not be disturbed by such tales, and I even went so
far as to argue the question with the captain. There was something wrong
about the state-room, I said. It was rather damp. The porthole had been
left open last night. My room-mate might have been ill when he came on
board, and he might have become delirious after he went to bed. He might
even now be hiding somewhere on board, and might be found later. The place
ought to be aired and the fastening on the port looked to. If the captain
would give me leave, I would see that what I thought necessary were done
you have a right to stay where you are if you please," he replied, rather
petulantly; "but I wish you would turn out and let me lock the place up,
and be done with it."
I did not
see it in the same light, and left the captain, after promising to be silent
concerning the disappearance of my companion. The latter had had no
acquaintances on board, and was
not missed in the course of the day. Towards evening I met the doctor again,
and he asked me whether I had changed my mind. I told him I had not.
will before long," he said, very gravely.
End of PART ONE..... GO TO PART