The Phantom Ship

Chapter Eight

Frederick Marryat

BEFORE we follow Philip Vanderdecken in his venturous career, it will be necessary to refresh the memory of our readers, by a succinct recapitulation of the circumstances that had directed the enterprise of the Dutch towards the country of the East, which was now proving to them a source of wealth, which they considered as inexhaustible.

Let us begin at the beginning. Charles the Fifth, after having possessed the major part of Europe, retired from the world for reasons best known to himself, and divided his kingdoms between Ferdinand and Philip. To Ferdinand he gave Austria and its dependencies; to Philip, Spain; but to make the division more equal and palatable to the latter, he threw the Low Countries, with the few millions vegetating upon them, into the bargain. Having thus disposed of his fellow-mortals much to his own satisfaction, he went into a convent, reserving for himself a small income, twelve men, and a pony. Whether he afterwards repented his hobby, or mounted his pony is not recorded; but this is certain—that in two years he died.

Philip thought (as many have thought before and since) that he had a right to do what he pleased with his own. He therefore took away from the Hollanders most of their liberties: to make amends, however, he gave them the Inquisition; but the Dutch grumbled, and Philip, to stop their grumbling, burnt a few of them. Upon which the Dutch, who are aquatic in their propensities, protested against a religion which was much too warm for their constitutions. In short, heresy made great progress; and the duke of Alva was despatched with a large army to prove to the Hollanders that the Inquisition was the very best of all possible arrangements, and that it was infinitely better that a man should be burnt for half an hour in this world than for an eternity in the next.

This slight difference of opinion was the occasion of a war which lasted about eighty years, and which, after having saved some hundreds of thousands the trouble of dying in their beds, at length ended in the Seven United Provinces being declared independent.—Now we must go back again.

For a century after Vasco de Gama had discovered the passage round the Cape of Good Hope, the Portuguese were interfered with by other nations. At last the adventurous spirit of the English nation was roused. The passage to India by the Cape had been claimed by the Portuguese as their sole right: they defended it by force. For a long time no private company ventured to oppose them, and the trade was not of that apparent value to induce any government to embark in a war upon the question. The English adventurers, therefore, turned their attention to the discovery of a north-west passage to India, with which the Portuguese could have no right to interfere, and in vain attempts to discover that passage the best part of the fifteenth century was employed. At last they abandoned their endeavours, and resolved no longer to be deterred by the Portuguese pretensions.

After one or two unsuccessful expeditions, an armament was fitted out and put under the orders of Drake. This courageous and successful navigator accomplished more than the most sanguine had anticipated. He returned to England in the month of May, 1580, after a voyage which occupied him nearly three years; bringing home with him great riches, and having made most favourable arrangements with the king of the Molucca Islands.

His success was followed up by Cavendish and others, in 1600. The English East India Company, in the meanwhile, received their first charter from the government and had now been with various success carrying on the trade for upwards of fifty years.

During the time that the Dutch were vassals to the crown of Spain, it was their custom to repair to Lisbon for the productions of the East, and afterwards to distribute them through Europe; but when they quarrelled with Philip, they were no longer admitted as retailers of his Indian produce: the consequence was that, while asserting and fighting for their independence, they had also fitted out expeditions to India. They were successful; and in 1602 the various speculators were, by the government, formed into a company, upon the same principles and arrangement as those which had been chartered in England.

At the time, therefore, to which we are reverting, the English and Dutch had been trading in the Indian seas for more than fifty years; and the Portuguese had lost nearly all their power, from the alliances and friendships which their rivals had formed with the potentates of the East, who had suffered from the Portuguese avarice and cruelty.

Whatever may have been the sum of obligation which the Dutch owed to the English for the assistance they received from them during their struggle for independence, it does not appear that their gratitude extended beyond the Cape; for, on the other side of it, the Portuguese, English, and Dutch fought and captured each other’s vessels without ceremony; and there was no law but that of main force. The mother countries were occasionally called upon to interfere; but the interference up to the above time had produced nothing more than a paper war; it being very evident that all parties were in the wrong.

In 1650 Cromwell usurped the throne of England, and the year afterwards, having, among other points, vainly demanded of the Dutch satisfaction for the murder of his regicide ambassador, which took place in this year, and some compensation for the cruelties exercised on the English at Amboyne some thirty years before, he declared war with Holland. To prove that he was in earnest, he seized more than two hundred Dutch vessels and the Dutch then (very unwillingly) prepared for war. Blake and Van Tromp met, and the naval combats were most obstinate. In the “History of England” the victory is almost invariably given to the English, but in that of Holland to the Dutch.—By all accounts, these engagements were so obstinate, that in each case they were both well beaten. However, in 1654, peace was signed; the Dutchman promising “to take his hat off” whenever he should meet an Englishman on the high seas—a mere act of politeness, which Mynheer did not object to, as it cost nothing. And now, having detailed the state of things up to the time of Philip’s embarkation, we shall proceed with our story.

As soon as Philip was clear of his own threshold he hastened away as though he were attempting to escape from his own painful thoughts. In two days he arrived at Amsterdam, where his first object was to procure a small, but strong, steel chain to replace the ribbon by which the relic had hitherto been secured round his neck. Having done this, he hastened to embark with his effects on board of the Ter Schilling. Philip had not forgotten to bring with him the money which he had agreed to pay the captain, in consideration of being received on board as an apprentice rather than a sailor. He had also furnished himself with a further sum for his own exigencies. It was late in the evening when he arrived on board of the Ter Schilling, which lay at single anchor, surrounded by the other vessels composing the Indian fleet. The captain, whose name was Kloots, received him with kindness, showed him his berth, and then went below in the hold to decide a question relative to the cargo, leaving Philip on deck to his own reflections.

And this, then, thought Philip, as he leaned against the taffrail and looked forward—this, then, is the vessel in which my first attempt is to be made. First and—perhaps last. How little do those with whom I am about to sail imagine the purport of my embarkation? How different are my views from those of others? Do I seek a fortune? No! Is it to satisfy curiosity and a truant spirit? No! I seek communion with the dead. Can I meet the dead without danger to myself and these who sail with me? I should think not, for I cannot join it but in death. Did they surmise my wishes and intentions, would they permit me to remain one hour on board? Superstitious as seamen are said to be, they might find a good excuse, if they knew my mission, not only for their superstition, but for ridding themselves of one on such an awful errand. Awful indeed! and how to be accomplished? Heaven alone, with perseverance on my part, can solve the mystery. And Philip’s thoughts reverted to his Amine. He folded his arms, and entranced in meditation, with his eyes raised to the firmament, he appeared to watch the flying scud.

“Had you not better go below?” said a mild voice, which made Philip start from his reverie.

It was that of the first mate, whose name was Hillebrant, a short, well-set man of about thirty years of age. His hair was flaxen, and fell in long flakes upon his shoulders, his complexion fair, and his eyes of a soft blue: although there was little of the sailor in his appearance, few knew or did their duty better.

“I thank you,” replied Philip; “I had, indeed, forgotten myself, and where I was: my thoughts were far away. Good night, and many thanks.”

The Ter Schilling, like most of the vessels of that period, was very different in her build and fitting from those of the present day. She was ship-rigged, and of about four hundred tons burden. Her bottom was nearly flat, and her sides fell in (as she rose above the water), so that her upper decks were not half the width of the hold.

All the vessels employed by the Company being armed, she had her main deck clear of goods, and carried six nine-pounders on each broadside; her ports were small and oval. There was a great spring in all her decks,—that is to say, she ran with a curve forward and aft. On her forecastle another small deck ran from the knight-heads, which was called the top-gallant forecastle. Her quarter-deck was broken with a poop, which rose high out of the water. The bowsprit staved very much, and was to appearance almost as a fourth mast: the more so, as she carried a square spritsail and sprit-topsail. On her quarter-deck and poop-bulwarks were fixed in sockets implements of warfare now long in disuse, but what were then known by the names of cohorns and patteraroes; they turned round on a swivel, and were pointed by an iron handle fixed to the breech. The sail abaft the mizzen-mast (corresponding to the driver or spanker of the present day) was fixed upon a lateen-yard. It is hardly necessary to add (after this description) that the dangers of a long voyage were not a little increased by the peculiar structure of the vessels, which (although with such top hamper, and so much wood above water, they could make good way before a favourable breeze) could hold no wind, and had but little chance if caught upon a lee-shore.

The crew of the Ter Schilling was composed of the captain, two mates, two pilots, and forty-five men. The supercargo had not yet come on board. The cabin (under the poop) was appropriated to the supercargo; but the main-deck cabin to the captain and mates, who composed the whole of the cabin mess.

When Philip awoke the next morning, he found that the topsails were hoisted, and the anchor short-stay apeak. Some of the other vessels of the fleet were under weigh and standing out. The weather was fine and the water smooth? and the bustle and novelty of the scene were cheering to his spirits. The captain, Mynheer Kloots, was standing on the poop with a small telescope, made of pasteboard, to his eye, anxiously looking towards the town. Mynheer Kloots, as usual, had his pipe in his mouth, and the smoke which he puffed from it for time obscured the lenses of his telescope. Philip went up the poop ladder and saluted him.

Mynheer Kloots was a person of no moderate dimensions, and the quantity of garments which he wore added no little to his apparent bulk. The outer garments exposed to view were, a rough fox-skin cap upon his head, from under which appeared the edge of a red worsted nightcap; a red plush waistcoat, with large metal buttons; a jacket of green cloth, over which he wore another of larger dimensions of coarse blue cloth, which came down as low as what would be called a spencer. Below he had black plush breeches, light-blue worsted stockings, shoes, and broad silver buckles; round his waist was girded, with a broad belt, a canvas apron, which descended in thick folds nearly to his knee. In his belt was a large broad-bladed knife in a sheath of shark’s skin. Such was the attire of Mynheer Kloots, captain of the Ter Schilling.

He was as tall as he was corpulent. His face was oval, and his features small in proportion to the size of his frame. His grizzly hair fluttered in the breeze, and his nose (although quite straight) was, at the tip, fiery red from frequent application to his bottle of schnapps, and the heat of a small pipe which seldom left his lips, except for him to give an order, or for it to be replenished.

“Good morning, my son,” said the captain, taking his pipe out of his mouth for a moment. “We are detained by the supercargo, who appears not over-willing to come on board; the boat has been on shore this hour waiting for him, and we shall be last of the fleet under weigh. I wish the Company would let us sail without these gentlemen, who are (in my opinion) a great hinderance to business; but they think otherwise on shore.”

“What is their duty on board?” replied Philip.

“Their duty is to look after the cargo and the traffic, and if they kept to that it would not be so bad; but they interfere with everything else and everybody, studying little except their own comforts; in fact, they play the king on board, knowing that we dare not affront them, as a word from them would prejudice the vessel when again to be chartered. The Company insist upon their being received with all honours. We salute with five guns on their arrival on board.”

“Do you know anything of this one whom you expect?”

“Nothing, but from report. A brother captain of mine (with whom he has sailed) told me that he is most fearful of the dangers of the sea, and much taken up with his own importance.”

“I wish he would come,” replied Philip; “I am most anxious that we should sail.”

“You must be of a wandering disposition, my son: I hear that you leave a comfortable home, and a pretty wife to boot.”

“I am most anxious to see the world,” replied Philip; “and I must learn to sail a ship before I purchase one, and try to make the fortune that I covet.” (Alas! how different from my real wishes, thought Philip, as he made this reply.)

“Fortunes are made, and fortunes are swallowed up too, by the ocean,” replied the captain. “If I could turn this good ship into a good house, with plenty of guilders to keep the house warm, you would not find me standing on this poop. I have doubled the Cape twice, which is often enough for any man; the third time may not be so lucky.”

“Is it so dangerous, then?” said Philip.

“As dangerous as tides and currents, rocks and sand-banks, hard gales and heavy seas, can make it,—no more! Even when you anchor in the bay, on this side of the Cape, you ride in fear and trembling, for you may be blown away from your anchor to sea or be driven on shore among the savages, before the men can well put on their clothing. But when once you’re well on the other side of the Cape, then the water dances to the beams of the sun as if it were merry, and you may sail for weeks with a cloudless sky and a following breeze, without starting tack or sheet, or having to take your pipe out of your mouth.”

“What ports shall we go into, Mynheer?”

“Of that I can say but little. Gambroon, in the Gulf of Persia, will probably be the first rendezvous of the whole fleet. Then we shall separate: some will sail direct for Bantam, in the island of Java; others will have orders to trade down the Straits for camphor, gum, benzoin, and wax; they have also gold and the teeth of the elephant to barter with us: there (should we be sent thither) you must be careful with the natives, Mynheer Vanderdecken. They are fierce and treacherous, and their curved knives (or creeses, as they call them) are sharp and deadly poisoned. I have had hard fighting in those Straits both with Portuguese and English.”

“But we are all at peace now.”

“True, my son; but when round the Cape, we must not trust to papers signed at home; and the English press us hard, and tread upon our heels wherever we go. They must be checked; and I suspect our fleet is so large and well appointed in expectation of hostilities.”

“How long do you expect your voyage may occupy us?”

“That’s as may be: but I should say about two years;—nay, if not detained by the factors, as I expect we shall be, for some hostile service, it may be less.”

“Two years,” thought Philip, “two years from Amine!” and he sighed deeply, for he felt that their separation might be for ever.

“Nay, my son, two years is not so long,” said Mynheer Kloots, who observed the passing cloud on Philip’s brow. “I was once five years away, and was unfortunate, for I brought home nothing, not even my ship. I was sent to Chittagong, on the east side of the great Bay of Bengala, and lay for three months in the river. The chiefs of the country would detain me by force; they would not barter for my cargo, or permit me to seek another market. My powder had been landed and I could make no resistance. The worms ate through the bottom of my vessel and she sank at her anchors. They knew it would take place, and that then they would have my cargo at their own price. Another vessel brought us home. Had I not been so treacherously served, I should have had no need to sail this time; and now my gains are small, the Company forbidding all private trading. But here he comes at last; they have hoisted the ensign on the staff in the boat; there—they have shoved off. Mynheer Hillebrant, see the gunners ready with their linstocks to salvo the supercargo.”

“What duty do you wish me to perform?” observed Philip. “In what can I be useful?”

“At present you can be of little use, except in those heavy gales in which every pair of hands is valuable. You must look and learn for some time yet; but you can make a fair copy of the journal kept for the inspection of the Company, and may assist me in various ways, as soon as the unpleasant nausea, felt by those who first embark, has subsided. As a remedy, I should propose that you gird a handkerchief tight round your body so as to compress the stomach, and make frequent application of my bottle of schnapps, which you will find always at your service. But now to receive the factor of the most puissant Company. Mynheer Hillebrant, let them discharge the cannon.”

The guns were fired, and soon after the smoke had cleared away, the boat, with its long ensign trailing on the water, was pulled alongside. Philip watched the appearance of the supercargo—but he remained in the boat until several of the boxes with the initials and arms of the Company were first handed on the deck; at last the supercargo appeared.

He was a small, spare, wizen-faced man with a three-cornered cocked-hat, bound with broad gold lace, upon his head, under which appeared a full-bottomed flowing wig, the curls of which descended low upon his shoulders. His coat was of crimson velvet, with broad flaps: his waistcoat of white silk, worked in coloured flowers, and descending half-way down to his knees. His breeches were of black satin, and his legs were covered with white silk stockings. Add to this, gold buckles at his knees and in his shoes, lace ruffles to his wrists, and a silver-mounted cane in his hand, and the reader has the entire dress of Mynheer Jacob Janz Von Stroom, the supercargo of the Honourable Company, appointed to the good ship Ter Schilling.

As he looked round him, surrounded at a respectful distance, by the captain, officers, and men of the ship, with their caps in their hands, the reader might be reminded of the picture of the “Monkey who had seen the world,” surrounded by his tribe. There was not, however, the least inclination on the part of the seamen to laugh, even at his flowing, full-bottomed wig: respect was at that period paid to dress; and although Mynheer Von Stroom could not be mistaken for a sailor, he was known to be the supercargo of the Company, and a very great man. He therefore received all the respect due to so important a personage.

Mynheer Von Stroom did not, however, appear very anxious to remain on deck. He requested to be shown into his cabin, and followed the captain aft, picking his way among the coils of ropes with which his path was encumbered. The door was opened, and the supercargo disappeared. The ship was then got under weigh, the men had left the windlass, the sails had been trimmed, and they were securing the anchor on board, when the bell of the poop-cabin (appropriated to the supercargo) was pulled with great violence.

“What can that be?” said Mynheer Kloots (who was forward), taking the pipe out of his mouth. “Mynheer Vanderdecken, will you see what is the matter?”

Philip went aft, as the pealing of the bell continued, and opening the cabin door, discovered the supercargo perched upon the table and pulling the bell-rope, which hung over its centre, with every mark of fear in his countenance. His wig was off, and his bare skull gave him an appearance peculiarly ridiculous.

“What is the matter, sir?” inquired Philip.

“Matter!” spluttered Mynheer Von Stroom—“call the troops in with their firelocks. Quick, sir. Am I to be murdered, torn to pieces, and devoured? For mercy’s sake, sir, don’t stare, but do something—look, it’s coming to the table! O dear! O dear!” continued the supercargo, evidently terrified out of his wits.

Philip, whose eyes had been fixed on Mynheer Von Stroom, turned them in the direction pointed out, and much to his astonishment perceived a small bear upon the deck, who was amusing himself with the supercargo’s flowing wig, which he held in his paws, tossing it about and now and then burying his muzzle in it. The unexpected sight of the animal was at first a shock to Philip; but a moment’s consideration assured him that the animal must be harmless, or it never would have been permitted to remain loose in the vessel.

Nevertheless, Philip had no wish to approach the animal, whose disposition he was unacquainted with, when the appearance of Mynheer Kloots put an end to his difficulty.

“What is the matter, Mynheer?” said the captain. “O! I see: it is Johannes,” continued the captain, going up to the bear, and saluting him with a kick, as he recovered the supercargo’s wig. “Out of the cabin, Johannes! Out, sir!” cried Mynheer Kloots, kicking the breech of the bear till the animal had escaped through the door. “Mynheer Von Stroom, I am very sorry,—here is your wig. Shut the door, Mynheer Vanderdecken, or the beast may come back, for he is very fond of me.”

As soon the door was shut between Mynheer Von Stroom and the object of his terror, the little man slid off the table to the high-backed chair near it, shook out the damaged curls of his wig, and replaced it on his head; pulled out his ruffles, and, assuming an air of magisterial importance, struck his cane on the deck, and then spoke.

“Mynheer Kloots, what is the meaning of this disrespect to the supercargo of the puissant Company?”

“God in Heaven! no disrespect, Mynheer;—the animal is a bear, as you see; he is very tame, even with strangers. He belongs to me. I have had him since he was three months old. It was all a mistake. The mate, Mynheer Hillebrant, put him in the cabin, that he might be out of the way while the duty was carrying on, and he quite forgot that he was here. I am very sorry, Mynheer Von Stroom; but he will not come here again, unless you wish to play with him.”

“Play with him! I! supercargo to the Company, play with a bear! Mynheer Kloots, the animal must be thrown overboard immediately.”

“Nay, nay; I cannot throw overboard an animal that I hold in much affection, Mynheer Von Stroom; but he shall not trouble you.”

“Then, Captain Kloots, you will have to deal with the Company, to whom I shall represent this affair. Your charter will be cancelled, and your freight-money will be forfeited.”

Kloots was, like most Dutchmen, not a little obstinate, and this imperative behaviour on the part of the supercargo raised his bile. “There is nothing in the charter that prevents my having an animal on board,” replied Kloots.

“By the regulations of the Company,” replied Von Stroom, falling back in his chair with an important air, and crossing his thin legs, “you are required to receive on board strange and curious animals, sent home by the governors and factors to be presented to crowned heads,—such as lions, tigers, elephants, and other productions of the East;—but in no instance is it permitted to the commanders of chartered ships to receive on board, on their own account, animals of any description, which must be considered under the head and offence of private trading.”

“My bear is not for sale, Mynheer Von Stroom.”

“It must immediately be sent out of the ship, Mynheer Kloots. I order you to send it away,—on your peril to refuse.”

“Then we will drop the anchor again, Mynheer Von Stroom, and send on shore to head-quarters to decide the point. If the Company insists that the brute be put on shore, be it so; but recollect, Mynheer Von Stroom, we shall lose the protection of the fleet, and have to sail alone. Shall I drop the anchor, Mynheer?”

This observation softened down the pertinacity of the supercargo: he had no wish to sail alone, and the fear of this contingency was more powerful than the fear of the bear.

“Mynheer Kloots, I will not be too severe; if the animal is chained, so that it does not approach me, I will consent to its remaining on board.”

“I will keep it out of your way as much as I can; but as for chaining up the poor animal, it will howl all day and night and you will have no sleep, Mynheer Von Stroom,” replied Kloots.

The supercargo, who perceived that the captain was positive and that his threats were disregarded, did all that a man could do who could not help himself. He vowed vengeance in his own mind, and then, with an air of condescension, observed—“Upon those conditions, Mynheer Kloots, your animal may remain on board.”

Mynheer Kloots and Philip then left the cabin; the former, who was in no very good humour, muttering as he walked away—“If the Company send their monkeys on board, I think I may well have my bear.” And pleased with his joke, Mynheer Kloots recovered his good humour.

The Phantom Ship - Contents    |     Chapter Nine

Back    |    Words Home    |    Frederick Marryat Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback