The Phantom Ship

Chapter Nine

Frederick Marryat

WE must allow the Indian fleet to pursue its way to the Cape with every variety of wind and weather. Some had parted company; but the rendezvous was Table Bay, from which they were again to start together.

Philip Vanderdecken was soon able to render some service on board. He studied his duty diligently, for employment prevented him from dwelling too much upon the cause of his embarkation, and he worked hard at the duties of the ship, for the exercise procured for him that sleep which otherwise would have been denied.

He was soon a favourite of the captain, and intimate with Hillebrant, the first mate; the second mate, Struys, was a morose young man, with whom he had little intercourse. As for the supercargo, Mynheer Jacob Janz Von Stroom, he seldom ventured out of his cabin. The bear, Johannes, was not confined, and therefore Mynheer Von Stroom confined himself; hardly a day passed that he did not look over a letter which he had framed upon the subject, all ready to forward to the Company; and each time that he perused it he made some alteration, which he considered would give additional force to his complaint, and would prove still more injurious to the interests of Captain Kloots.

In the mean time, in happy ignorance of all that was passing in the poop-cabin, Mynheer Kloots smoked his pipe, drank his schnapps, and played with Johannes. The animal had also contracted a great affection for Philip, and used to walk the watch with him.

There was another party in the ship whom we must not lose sight of—the one-eyed pilot, Schriften, who appeared to have imbibed a great animosity towards our hero, as well as to his dumb favourite the bear. As Philip held the rank of an officer, Schriften dared not openly affront, though he took every opportunity of annoying him, and was constantly inveighing against him before the ship’s company. To the bear he was more openly inveterate, and seldom passed it without bestowing upon it a severe kick, accompanied with a horrid curse. Although no one on board appeared to be fond of this man, everybody appeared to be afraid of him, and he had obtained a control over the seamen which appeared unaccountable.

Such was the state of affairs on board the good ship Ter Schilling, when, in company with two others, she lay becalmed about two days’ sail to the Cape. The weather was intensely hot, for it was the summer in those southern latitudes, and Philip, who had been lying down under the awning spread over the poop, was so overcome with the heat, that he had fallen asleep. He awoke with a shivering sensation of cold over his whole body, particularly at his chest, and, half-opening his eyes, he perceived the pilot, Schriften, leaning over him, and holding between his finger and his thumb a portion of the chain which had not been concealed, and to which was attached the sacred relic. Philip closed them again, to ascertain what were the man’s intentions: he found that he gradually dragged out the chain, and, when the relic was clear, attempted to pass the whole over his head, evidently to gain possession of it. Upon this attempt Philip started up and seized him by the waist.

“Indeed!” cried Philip, with an indignant look, as he released the chain from the pilot’s hand.

But Schriften appeared not in the least confused at being detected in his attempt: looking with his malicious one eye at Philip, he mockingly observed—

“Does that chain hold her picture?—he! he!”

Vanderdecken rose, pushed him away, and folded his arms.

“I advise you not to be quite so curious, Master Pilot, or you may repent it.”

“Or perhaps,” continued the pilot quite regardless of Philip’s wrath, “it may be a child’s caul, a sovereign remedy against drowning.”

“Go forward to your duty, sir,” cried Philip.

“Or, as you are a Catholic, the finger-nail of a saint; or, yes, I have it—a piece of the holy cross.”

Philip started.

“That’s it! that’s it!” cried Schriften, who now went forward to where the seamen were standing at the gangway.

“News for you, my lads!” said he; “we’ve a bit of the holy cross aboard, and so we may defy the devil!”

Philip, hardly knowing why, had followed Schriften as he descended the poop-ladder, and was forward on the quarterdeck, when the pilot made this remark to the seamen.

“Ay! ay!” replied an old seaman to the pilot; “not only the devil, but the Flying Dutchman to boot.”

“Flying Dutchman,” thought Philip, “can that refer to—?” and Philip walked a step or two forward, so as to conceal himself behind the mainmast, hoping to obtain some information, should they continue the conversation. In this he was not disappointed.

“They say that to meet with him is worse than meeting with the devil,” observed another of the crew.

“Who ever saw him?” said another.

“He has been seen, that’s sartain, and just as sartain that ill luck follows the vessel that falls in with him.”

“And where is he to be fallen in with?”

“O! they say that’s not so sartain—but he cruises off the Cape.”

“I should like to know the whole long and short of the story,” said a third.

“I can only tell what I’ve heard. It’s a doomed vessel; they were pirates, and cut the captain’s throat, I believe.”

“No! no!” cried Schriften, “the captain is in her now—and a villain he was. They say that, like somebody else on board of us now, he left a very pretty wife, and that he was very fond of her.”

“How do they know that, pilot?”

“Because he always wants to send letters home when he boards vessels that he falls in with. But, woe to the vessel that takes charge of them!—she is sure to be lost, with every soul on board!”

“I wonder where you heard all this,” said one of the men. “Did you ever see the vessel?”

“Yes, I did!” screamed Schriften; but, as if recovering himself, his scream subsided into his usual giggle, and he added, “but we need not fear her, boys; we’ve a bit of the true cross on board.” Schriften then walked aft as if to avoid being questioned, when he perceived Philip by the mainmast.

“So, I’m not the only one curious?—he! he! Pray did you bring that on board, in case we should fall in with the Flying Dutchman?”

“I fear no Flying Dutchman,” replied Philip, confused.

“Now I think of it, you are of the same name; at least they say that his name was Vanderdecken—eh?”

“There are many Vanderdeckens in the world besides me,” replied Philip who had recovered his composure; and having made this reply, he walked away to the poop of the vessel.

“One would almost imagine this malignant one-eyed wretch was aware of the cause of my embarkation,” mused Philip; “but no! that cannot be. Why do I feel such a chill whenever he approaches me? I wonder if others do; or whether it is a mere fancy on the part of Amine and myself. I dare ask no questions.—Strange, too, that the man should feel such malice towards me. I never injured him. What I have just overheard confirms all; but there needed no confirmation. Oh, Amine! Amine! but for thee, and I would rejoice to solve this riddle at the expense of life. God in mercy check the current of my brain,” muttered Philip, “or my reason cannot hold its seat!”

In three days the Ter Schilling and her consorts arrived at Table Bay, where they found the remainder of the fleet at anchor waiting for them. Just at that period the Dutch had formed a settlement at the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian fleets used to water and obtain cattle from the Hottentot tribes who lived on the coast, and who for a brass button or a large nail would willingly offer a fat bullock. A few days were occupied in completing the water of the squadron, and then the ships, having received from the Admiral their instructions as to rendezvous in case of parting company, and made every preparation for the bad weather which they anticipated, again weighed their anchors and proceeded on their voyage.

For three days they beat against light and baffling winds, making but little progress; on the third, the breeze sprang up strong from the southward, until it increased to a gale, and the fleet were blown down to the northward of the bay. On the seventh day the Ter Schilling found herself alone, but the weather had moderated. Sail was again made upon the vessel, and her head put to the eastward, that she might run in for the land.

“We are unfortunate in thus parting with all our consorts,” observed Mynheer Kloots to Philip, as they were standing at the gangway; “but it must be near meridian, and the sun will enable me to discover our latitude. It is difficult to say how far we may have been swept by the gale and the currents to the northward. Boy, bring up my cross-staff, and be mindful that you do not strike it against anything as you come up.”

The cross-staff at that time was the simple instrument used to discover the latitude, which it would give to a nice observer to within five or ten miles. Quadrants and sextants were the invention of a much later period. Indeed, considering that they had so little knowledge of navigation and the variation of the compass, and that their easting and westing could only be computed by dead reckoning, it is wonderful how our ancestors traversed the ocean in the way they did, with comparatively so few accidents.

“We are full three degrees to the northward of the Cape,” observed Mynheer Kloots, after he had computed his latitude. “The currents must be running strong; the wind is going down fast, and we shall have a change, if I mistake not.”

Towards the evening it fell calm, with a heavy swell setting towards the shore; shoals of seals appeared on the surface, following the vessel as she drove before the swell; the fish darted and leaped in every direction, and the ocean around them appeared to be full of life as the sun slowly descended to the horizon.

“What is that noise we hear?” observed Philip; “it sounds like distant thunder.”

“I hear it,” replied Mynheer Kloots. “Aloft there, do you see the land?”

“Yes,” replied the man after a pause in ascending the topmast shrouds. “It is right ahead—low sand-hills, and the sea breaking high.”

“Then that must be the noise we hear. We sweep in fast with this heavy ground-swell. I wish the breeze would spring up.”

The sun was dipping under the horizon, and the calm still continued: the swell had driven the Ter Schilling so rapidly on the shore that now they could see the breakers which fell over with the noise of thunder.

“Do you know the coast, pilot?” observed the captain to Schriften, who stood by.

“Know it well,” replied Schriften; “the sea breaks in twelve fathoms at least. In half an hour the good ship will be beaten into toothpicks, without a breeze to help us.” And the little man giggled as if pleased at the idea.

The anxiety of Mynheer Kloots was not to be concealed; his pipe was every moment in and out of his mouth. The crew remained in groups on the forecastle and gangway, listening with dismay to the fearful roaring of the breakers. The sun had sunk down below the horizon, and the gloom of night was gradually adding to the alarm of the crew of the Ter Schilling.

“We must lower down the boats,” said Mynheer Kloots to the first mate, “and try to tow her off. We cannot do much good, I’m afraid; but at all events the boats will be ready for the men to get into before she drives on shore. Get the tow ropes out and lower down the boats, while I go in to acquaint the supercargo.”

Mynheer Von Stroom was sitting in all the dignity of his office, and, it being Sunday, had put on his very best wig. He was once more reading over the letter to the Company, relative to the bear, when Mynheer Kloots made his appearance, and informed him in a few words that they were in a situation of peculiar danger, and that in all probability the ship would be in pieces in less than half an hour. At this alarming intelligence, Mynheer Von Stroom jumped up from his chair, and in his hurry and fear knocked down the candle which had just been lighted.

“In danger! Mynheer Kloots!—why the water is smooth and the wind down! My hat—where is my hat and my cane? I will go on deck. Quick! A light—Mynheer Kloots, if you please to order a light to be brought; I can find nothing in the dark. Mynheer Kloots, why do you not answer? Mercy on me! he is gone and has left me.”

Mynheer Kloots had gone to fetch a light, and now returned with it. Mynheer Von Stroom put on his hat, and walked out of the cabin. The boats were down, and the ship’s head had been turned round from the land: but it was now quite dark and nothing was to be seen but the white line of foam created by the breakers as they dashed with an awful noise against the shore.

“Mynheer Kloots, if you please, I’ll leave the ship directly. Let my boat come alongside—I must have the largest boat for the Honourable Company’s service—for the papers and myself.”

“I’m afraid not, Mynheer Von Stroom,” replied Kloots; “our boats will hardly hold the men as it is, and every man’s life is as valuable to himself as yours is to you.”

“But, Mynheer, I am the Company’s supercargo. I order you—I will have one—refuse if you dare.”

“I dare, and do refuse,” replied the captain, taking his pipe out of his mouth.

“Well, well,” replied Mynheer Von Stroom, who now lost all presence of mind—“we will, sir—as soon as we arrive—Lord help us!—we are lost. O Lord! O Lord!” And here Mynheer Von Stroom, not knowing why, hurried down to the cabin, and in his haste tumbled over the bear Johannes, who crossed his path, and in his fall his hat and flowing wig parted company with his head.

“O! mercy! where am I? Help—help here! for the Honourable Company’s supercargo!”

“Cast off there in the boats, and come on board,” cried Mynheer Kloots, “we have no time to spare. Quick now, Philip, put in the compass, the water, and the biscuit; we must leave her in five minutes.”

So appalling was the roar of the breakers, that it was with difficulty that the orders could be heard. In the mean time Mynheer Von Stroom lay upon the deck, kicking, sprawling, and crying for help.

“There is a light breeze off the shore,” cried Philip, holding up his hand.

“There is, but I’m afraid it is too late. Hand the things into the boats, and be cool, my men. We have yet a chance of saving her, if the wind freshens.”

They were now so near to the breakers that they felt the swell in which the vessel lay becalmed turned over here and there on its long line, but the breeze freshened and the vessel was stationary! The men were all in the boats, with the exception of Mynheer Kloots, the mates, and Mynheer Von Stroom.

“She goes through the water now,” said Philip.

“Yes, I think we shall save her,” replied the captain: “steady as you go, Hillebrant,” continued he to the first mate, who was at the helm. “We leave the breakers now—only let the breeze hold ten minutes.”

The breeze was steady, the Ter Schilling stood off from the land, again it fell calm, and again she was swept towards the breakers; at last the breeze came off strong, and the vessel cleaved through the water. The men were called out of the boats; Mynheer Von Stroom was picked up along with his hat and wig, carried into the cabin, and in less than an hour the Ter Schilling was out of danger.

“Now we will hoist up the boats,” said Mynheer Kloots, “and let us all, before we lie down to sleep, thank God for our deliverance.”

During that night the Ter Schilling made an offing of twenty miles, and then stood to the southward; towards the morning the wind again fell, and it was nearly calm.

Mynheer Kloots had been on deck about an hour, and had been talking with Hillebrant upon the danger of the evening, and the selfishness and pusillanimity of Mynheer Von Stroom, when a loud noise was heard in the poop-cabin.

“What can that be?” said the captain; “has the good man lost his senses from the fright? Why, he is knocking the cabin to pieces.”

At this moment the servant of the supercargo ran out of the cabin.

“Mynheer Kloots, hasten in—help my master—he will be killed—the bear!—the bear!”

“The bear! what Johannes?” cried Mynheer Kloots. “Why, the animal is as tame as a dog. I will go and see.”

But before Mynheer Kloots could walk into the cabin, out flew in his shirt the affrighted supercargo. “My God! my God! am I to be murdered?—eaten alive?” cried he, running forward, and attempting to climb the fore-rigging.

Mynheer Kloots followed the motions of Mynheer Von Stroom with surprise, and when he found him attempting to mount the rigging, he turned aft and walked into the cabin, when he found to his surprise that Johannes was indeed doing mischief.

The panelling of the state cabin of the supercargo had been beaten down, the wig boxes lay in fragments on the floor, the two spare wigs were lying by them, and upon them were strewed fragments of broken pots and masses of honey, which Johannes was licking up with peculiar gusto.

The fact was, that when the ship anchored at Table Bay, Mynheer Von Stroom, who was very partial to honey, had obtained some from the Hottentots. This honey his careful servant had stowed away in jars, which he had placed at the bottom of the two long boxes, ready for his master’s use during the remainder of the voyage. That morning, the servant fancying that the wig of the previous night had suffered when his master tumbled over the bear, opened one of the boxes to take out another. Johannes happened to come near the door, and scented the honey. Now, partial as Mynheer Von Stroom was to honey, all bears are still more so, and will venture everything to obtain it. Johannes had yielded to the impulse of his species, and, following the scent, had come into the cabin, and was about to enter the sleeping berth of Mynheer Stroom, when the servant slammed the door in his face; whereupon Johannes beat in the panels, and found an entrance. He then attacked the wig-boxes, and, by showing a most formidable set of teeth, proved to the servant, who attempted to drive him off, that he would not be trifled with. In the meanwhile, Mynheer Von Stroom was in the utmost terror: not aware of the purport of the bear’s visit, he imagined that the animal’s object was to attack him. His servant took to his heels after a vain effort to save the last box, and Mynheer Von Stroom, then finding himself alone, at length sprang out of his bed-place, and escaped, as we have mentioned, to the forecastle, leaving Johannes master of the field, and luxuriating upon the spolia opima. Mynheer Kloots immediately perceived how the case stood. He went up to the bear and spoke to him, then kicked him, but the bear would not leave the honey, and growled furiously at the interruption. “This is a bad job for you, Johannes,” observed Mynheer Kloots; “now you will leave the ship, for the supercargo has just grounds of complaint. Oh, well! you must eat the honey, because you will.” So saying, Mynheer Kloots left the cabin, and went to look after the supercargo, who remained on the forecastle, with his bald head and meagre body, haranguing the men in his shirt, which fluttered in the breeze.

“I am very sorry, Mynheer Von Stroom,” said Kloots, “but the bear shall be sent out of the vessel.”

“Yes, yes, Mynheer Kloots; but this is an affair for the most puissant Company—the lives of their servants are not to be sacrificed to the folly of a sea-captain. I have nearly been torn to pieces.”

“The animal did not want you; all he wanted was the honey,” replied Kloots. “He has got it, and I myself cannot take it from him. There is no altering the nature of an animal. Will you be pleased to walk down into my cabin until the beast can be secured? He shall not go loose again.”

Mynheer Von Stroom who considered his dignity at variance with his appearance, and who perhaps was aware that majesty deprived of its externals was only a jest, thought it advisable to accept the offer. After some trouble with the assistance of the seamen, the bear was secured and dragged away from the cabin, much against his will, for he had still some honey to lick off the curls of the full-bottomed wigs. He was put into durance vile, having been caught in the flagrant act of burglary on the high seas. This new adventure was the topic of the day, for it was again a dead calm, and the ship lay motionless on the glassy wave.

“The sun looks red as he sinks,” observed Hillebrant to the captain, who with Philip was standing on the poop; “we shall have wind before to-morrow, if I mistake not.”

“I am of your opinion,” replied Mynheer Kloots. “It is strange that we do not fall in with any of the vessels of the fleet. They must all have been driven down here.”

“Perhaps they have kept a wider offing.”

“It had been as well if we had done the same,” said Kloots. “That was a narrow escape last night. There is such a thing as having too little as well as having too much wind.”

A confused noise was heard among the seamen, who were collected together and, looking in the direction of the vessel’s quarter, “A ship! No—Yes, it is!” was repeated more than once.

“They think they see a ship,” said Schriften, coming on the poop. “He! he!”


“There in the gloom!” said the pilot, pointing to the darkest quarter in the horizon, for the sun had set.

The captain, Hillebrant, and Philip directed their eyes to the quarter pointed out, and thought they could perceive something like a vessel. Gradually the gloom seemed to clear away, and a lambent pale blaze to light up that part of the horizon. Not a breath of wind was on the water—the sea was like a mirror—more and more distinct did the vessel appear, till her hull, masts, and yards were clearly visible. They looked and rubbed their eyes to help their vision, for scarcely could they believe that which they did see. In the centre of the pale light, which extended about fifteen degrees above the horizon, there was indeed a large ship about three miles distant; but although it was a perfect calm, she was to all appearance buffeting in a violent gale, plunging and lifting over a surface that was smooth as glass, now careening to her bearing, then recovering herself. Her topsails and mainsail were furled, and the yards pointed to the wind; she had no sail set, but a close-reefed foresail, a storm staysail, and trysail abaft. She made little way through the water, but apparently neared them fast, driven down by the force of the gale. Each minute she was plainer to the view. At last she was seen to wear, and in so doing, before she was brought to the wind on the other tack, she was so close to them that they could distinguish the men on board: they could see the foaming water as it was hurled from her bows; hear the shrill whistle of the boatswain’s pipes, the creaking of the ship’s timbers, and the complaining of her masts; and then the gloom gradually rose, and in a few seconds she had totally disappeared!

“God in heaven!” exclaimed Mynheer Kloots.

Philip felt a hand upon his shoulder, and the cold darted through his whole frame. He turned round and met the one eye of Schriften, who screamed in his ear—

“PHILIP VANDERDECKEN—that’s the Flying Dutchman!”

The Phantom Ship - Contents    |     Chapter Ten

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