The Phantom Ship

Chapter Ten

Frederick Marryat

THE sudden gloom which had succeeded to the pale light, had the effect of rendering every object still more indistinct to the astonished crew of the Ter Schilling. For a moment or more not a word was uttered by a soul on board. Some remained with their eyes still strained towards the point where the apparition had been seen, others turned away full of gloomy and foreboding thoughts. Hillebrant was the first who spoke: turning round to the eastern quarter, and observing a light on the horizon, he started, and seizing Philip by the arm, cried out, “What’s that?”

“That is only the moon rising from the bank of clouds,” replied Philip, mournfully.

“Well!” observed Mynheer Kloots wiping his forehead, which was damped with perspiration, “I have been told of this before, but I have mocked at the narration.”

Philip made no reply. Aware of the reality of the vision, and how deeply it interested him, he felt as if he were a guilty person.

The moon had now risen above the clouds, and was pouring her mild pale light over the slumbering ocean. With a simultaneous impulse, every one directed his eyes to the spot where the strange vision had last been seen; and all was a dead, dead calm.

Since the apparition the pilot, Schriften, had remained on the poop; he now gradually approached Mynheer Kloots, and looking round, said—

“Mynheer Kloots, as pilot of this vessel, I tell you that you must prepare for very bad weather.”

“Bad weather!” said Kloots, rousing himself from a deep reverie.

“Yes, bad weather, Mynheer Kloots. There never was a vessel which fell in with—what we have just seen but met with disaster soon afterwards. The very name of Vanderdecken is unlucky—He! he!”

Philip would have replied to this sarcasm, but he could not; his tongue was tied.

“What has the name of Vanderdecken to do with it?” observed Kloots.

“Have you not heard, then? The captain of that vessel we have just seen is a Mynheer Vanderdecken—he is the Flying Dutchman!”

“How know you that, pilot?” inquired Hillebrant.

“I know that, and much more, if I chose to tell,” replied Schriften; “but never mind, I have warned you of bad weather, as is my duty;” and, with these words, Schriften went down the poop-ladder.

“God in heaven! I never was so puzzled and so frightened in my life,” observed Kloots. “I don’t know what to think or say.—What think you, Philip? was it not supernatural?”

“Yes,” replied Philip, mournfully. “I have no doubt of it.”

“I thought the days of miracles had passed,” said the captain, “and that we were now left to our own exertions, and had no other warnings but those the appearance of the heavens gave us.”

“And they warn us now,” observed Hillebrant. “See how that bank of clouds has risen within these five minutes—the moon has escaped from it but it will soon catch her again—and see, there is a flash of lightning in the north-west.”

“Well, my sons, I can brave the elements as well as any man, and do my best. I have cared little for gales or stress of weather; but I like not such a warning as we have had tonight. My heart’s as heavy as lead, and that’s the truth. Philip, send down for the bottle of schnapps, if it is only to clear my brain a little.”

Philip was glad of an opportunity to quit the poop; he wished to have a few minutes to recover himself and collect his own thoughts. The appearance of the Phantom Ship had been to him a dreadful shock; not that he had not fully believed in its existence; but still, to have beheld, to have been so near that vessel—that vessel in which his father was fulfilling his awful doom—that vessel on board of which he felt sure that his own destiny was to be worked out—had given a whirl to his brain. When he had heard the sound of the boatswain’s whistle on board of her, eagerly had he stretched his earing to catch the order given—and given, he was convinced, in his father’s voice. Nor had his eyes been less called to aid in his attempt to discover the features and dress of those moving on her decks. As soon, then, as he had sent the boy up to Mynheer Kloots Philip hastened to his cabin and buried his face in the coverlid of his bed, and then he prayed—prayed until he had recovered his usual energy and courage, and brought his mind to that state of composure which could enable him to look forward calmly to danger and difficulty, and feel prepared to meet it with the heroism of a martyr.

Philip remained below not more than half an hour. On his return to the deck, what a change had taken place! He had left the vessel floating motionless on the still waters, with her lofty sails hanging down listlessly from the yards. The moon then soared aloft in her beauty, reflecting the masts and sails of the ship in extended lines upon the smooth sea. Now all was dark: the water rippled short and broke in foam; the smaller and lofty sails had been taken in, and the vessel was cleaving through the water; and the wind, in fitful gusts and angry moanings, proclaimed too surely that it had been awakened up to wrath, and was gathering its strength for destruction. The men were still busy reducing the sails, but they worked gloomily and discontentedly. What Schriften, the pilot, had said to them, Philip knew not; but that they avoided him and appeared to look upon him with feelings of ill-will, was evident. And each minute the gale increased.

“The wind is not steady,” observed Hillebrant: “there is no saying from which quarter the storm may blow: it has already veered round five points. Philip, I don’t much like the appearance of things, and I may say with the captain that my heart is heavy.”

“And, indeed, so is mine,” replied Philip; “but we are in the hands of a merciful Providence.”

“Hard a-port! flatten in forward! brail up the trysail, my men! Be smart!” cried Kloots, as from the wind’s chopping round to the northward and westward, the ship was taken aback, and careened low before it. The rain now came down in torrents, and it was so dark that it was with difficulty they could perceive each other on the deck.

“We must clew up the topsails while the men can get upon the yards. See to it forward, Mr Hillebrant.”

The lightning now darted athwart the firmament, and the thunder pealed.

“Quick! quick, my men, let’s furl all!”

The sailors shook the water from their streaming clothes, some worked, others took advantage of the night to hide themselves away, and commune with their own fears.

All canvass was now taken off the ship, except the fore-staysail, and she flew to the southward with the wind on her quarter. The sea had now risen, and roared as it curled in foam, the rain fell in torrents, the night was dark as Erebus, and the wet and frightened sailors sheltered themselves under the bulwarks. Although many had deserted from their duty, there was not one who ventured below that night. They did not collect together as usual—every man preferred solitude and his own thoughts. The Phantom Ship dwelt on their imaginations and oppressed their brains.

It was an interminably long and terrible night—they thought the day would never come. At last the darkness gradually changed to a settled sullen grey gloom—which was day. They looked at each other, but found no comfort in meeting each other’s eyes. There was no one countenance in which a beam of hope could be found lurking. They were all doomed—they remained crouched where they had—sheltered themselves during the night, and said nothing.

The sea had now risen mountains high, and more than once had struck the ship abaft. Kloots was at the binnacle, Hillebrant and Philip at the helm, when a wave curled high over the quarter, and poured itself in resistless force upon the deck. The captain and his two mates were swept away, and dashed almost senseless against the bulwarks—the binnacle and compass were broken into fragments—no one ran to the helm—the vessel broached to—the seas broke clear over her, and the mainmast went by the board.

All was confusion. Captain Kloots was stunned, and it was with difficulty that Philip could persuade two of the men to assist him down below. Hillebrant had been more unfortunate—his right arm was broken, and he was otherwise severely bruised; Philip assisted him to his berth, and then went on deck again to try and restore order.

Philip Vanderdecken was not yet much of a seaman, but, at all events, he exercised that moral influence over the men which is ever possessed by resolution and courage. Obey willingly they did not, but they did obey, and in half an hour the vessel was clear of the wreck. Eased by the loss of her heavy mast, and steered by two of her best seamen, she again flew before the gale.

Where was Mynheer Von Stroom during all this work of destruction? In his bed-place, covered up with the clothes, trembling in every limb, and vowing that it ever again he put his foot on shore, not all the companies in the world should induce him to trust to salt-water again. It certainly was the best plan for the poor man.

But although for a time the men obeyed the orders of Philip, they were soon seen talking earnestly with the one-eyed pilot, and after a consultation of a quarter of an hour, they all left the deck, with the exception of the two at the helm. Their reasons for so doing were soon apparent—several returned with cans full of liquor, which they had obtained by forcing the hatches of the spirit-room. For about an hour Philip remained on deck, persuading the men not to intoxicate themselves, but in vain; the cans of grog offered to the men at the wheel were not refused, and, in a short time, the yawing of the vessel proved that the liquor had taken its effect. Philip then hastened down below to ascertain if Mynheer Kloots was sufficiently recovered to come on deck. He found him sunk into a deep sleep, and with difficulty it was that he roused him, and made him acquainted with the distressing intelligence. Mynheer Kloots followed Philip on deck; but he still suffered from his fail: his head was confused, and he reeled as he walked, as if he also had been making free with the liquor. When he had been on deck a few minutes, he sank down on one of the guns in a state of perfect helplessness; he had, in fact, received a severe concussion of the brain. Hillebrant was too severely injured to be able to move from his bed, and Philip was now aware of the helplessness of their situation. Daylight gradually disappeared, and as darkness came upon them, so did the scene become more appalling. The vessel still ran before the gale, but the men at the helm had evidently changed her course, as the wind that was on the starboard was now on the larboard quarter. But compass there was none on deck, and, even if there had been, the men in their drunken state would have refused to listen to Philip’s orders or expostulations. “He,” they said, “was no sailor, and was not to teach them how to steer the ship.” The gale was now at its height. The rain had ceased, but the wind had increased, and it roared as it urged on the vessel, which, steered so wide by the drunken sailors, shipped seas over each gunnel; but the men laughed, and joined the chorus of their songs to the howling of the gale.

Schriften, the pilot, appeared to be the leader of the ship’s company. With the can of liquor in his hand, he danced and sang, snapped his fingers, and, like a demon, peered with his one eye upon Philip; and then would he fall and roll with screams of laughter in the scuppers. More liquor was handed up as fast as it was called for. Oaths shrieks laughter, were mingled together; the men at the helm lashed it amid-ships, and hastened to join their companions and the Ter Schilling flew before the gale; the fore-staysail being the only sail set, checking her, as she yawed to starboard or to port. Philip remained on deck by the poop-ladder. Strange, thought he, that I should stand here, the only one left now capable of acting,—that I should be fated to look by myself upon this scene of horror and disgust—should here wait the severing of this vessel’s timbers,—the loss of life which must accompany it—the only one calm and collected, or aware of what must soon take place. God forgive me, but I appear, useless and impotent as I am, to stand here like the master of the storm,—separated, as it were, from my brother mortals by my own peculiar destiny. It must be so. This wreck then must not be for me, I feel that it is not,—that I have a charmed life, or rather a protracted one, to fulfil the oath I registered in heaven. But the wind is not so loud, surely the water is not so rough: my forebodings may be wrong and all may yet be saved. Heaven grant it! For how melancholy, how lamentable is it to behold men created in God’s own image, leaving the world, disgraced below the brute creation!

Philip was right in supposing that the wind was not so strong, nor the sea so high. The vessel, after running to the southward till past Table Bay, had, by the alteration made in her course, entered into False Bay, where, to a certain degree, she was sheltered from the violence of the winds and waves. But although the water was smoother, the waves were still more than sufficient to beat to pieces any vessel that might be driven on shore at the bottom of the bay, to which point the Ter Schilling was now running. The bay so far offered a fair chance of escape, as, instead of the rocky coast outside, against which, had the vessel run, a few seconds would have insured her destruction, there was a shelving beach of loose sand. But of this Philip could, of course, have no knowledge, for the land at the entrance of the bay had been passed unperceived in the darkness of the night. About twenty minutes more had elapsed, when Philip observed that the whole sea around them was one continued foam. He had hardly time for conjecture before the ship struck heavily on the sands, and the remaining masts fell by the board.

The crush of the falling masts, the heavy beating of the ship on the sands, which caused many of her timbers to part, with a whole sea which swept clean over the fated vessel, checked the songs and drunken revelry of the crew. Another minute, and the vessel was swung round on her broadside to the sea, and lay on her beam ends. Philip, who was to windward clung to the bulwark, while the intoxicated seamen floundered in the water to leeward, and attempted to gain the other side of the ship. Much to Philip’s horror, he perceived the body of Mynheer Kloots sink down in the water (which now was several feet deep on the lee side of the deck), without any apparent effort on the part of the captain to save himself. He was then gone, and there were no hopes for him. Philip thought of Hillebrant, and hastened down below; he found him still in his bed-place, lying against the side. He lifted him out, and with difficulty climbed with him on deck, and laid him in the long-boat on the booms as the best chance of saving his life. To this boat the only one which could be made available, the crew had also repaired; but they repulsed Philip who would have got into her; and, as the sea made clean breakers over them, they cast loose the lashings which confined her. With the assistance of another heavy sea which lifted her from the chocks she was borne clear of the booms and dashed over the gunnel into the water, to leeward, which was comparatively smooth—not, however, without being filled nearly up to the thwarts. But this was little cared for by the intoxicated seamen, who, as soon as they were afloat, again raised their shouts and songs of revelry as they were borne away by the wind and sea towards the beach. Philip, who held on by the stump of the mainmast, watched them with an anxious eye, now perceiving them borne aloft on the foaming surf, now disappearing in the trough. More and more distant were the sounds of their mad voices, till, at last, he could hear them no more,—he beheld the boat balanced on an enormous rolling sea, and then he saw it not again.

Philip knew that now his only chance was to remain with the vessel, and attempt to save himself upon some fragment of the wreck. That the ship would long hold together he felt was impossible; already she had parted her upper decks, and each shock of the waves divided her more and more. At last, as he clung to the mast, he heard a noise abaft, and he then recollected that Mynheer Von Stroom was still in his cabin. Philip crawled aft, and found that the poop-ladder had been thrown against the cabin door, so as to prevent its being opened. He removed it and entered the cabin, where he found Mynheer Von Stroom clinging to windward with the grasp of death,—but it was not death, but the paralysis of fear. He spoke to him, but could obtain no reply, he attempted to move him, but it was impossible to make him let go the part of the bulk-head that he grasped. A loud noise and the rush of a mass of water told Philip that the vessel had parted amid-ships, and he unwillingly abandoned the poor supercargo to his fate, and went out of the cabin door. At the after-hatchway he observed something struggling,—it was Johannes the bear, who was swimming, but still fastened by a cord which prevented his escape. Philip took out his knife and released the poor animal, and hardly had he done this act of kindness, when a heavy sea turned over the after part of the vessel, which separated in many pieces, and Philip found himself struggling in the waves. He seized upon a part of the deck which supported him, and was borne away by the surf towards the beach. In a few minutes he was near to the land, and shortly afterwards the piece of planking to which he was clinging struck on the sand, and then, being turned over by the force of the running wave, Philip lost his hold, and was left to his own exertions. He struggled long, but, although so near to the shore, could not gain a footing; the returning wave dragged him back, and thus was he hurled to and fro until his strength was gone. He was sinking under the wave to rise no more when he felt something touch his hand. He seized it with the grasp of death. It was the shaggy hide of the bear Johannes, who was making for the shore, and who soon dragged him clear of the surf, so that he could gain a footing. Philip crawled up the beach above the reach of the waves, and, exhausted with fatigue, sank down in a swoon.

When Philip was recalled from his state of lethargy, his first feeling was intense pain in his still-closed eyes, arising from having been many hours exposed to the rays of an ardent sun. He opened them, but was obliged to close them immediately, for the light entered into them like the point of a knife. He turned over on his side, and covering them with his hand remained some time in that position, until, by degrees, he found that his eyesight was restored. He then rose, and, after a few seconds, could distinguish the scene around him. The sea was still rough, and tossed about in the surf fragments of the vessel; the whole sand was strewed with her cargo and contents. Near him was the body of Hillebrant, and the other bodies who were scattered on the beach told him that those who had taken to the boat had all perished.

It was, by the height of the sun, about three o’clock in the afternoon, as near as he could estimate; but Philip suffered such an oppression of mind, he felt so wearied, and in such pain, that he took but a slight survey. His brain was whirling, and all he demanded was repose. He walked away from the scene of destruction, and having found a sand-hill, behind which he was defended from the burning rays of the sun, he again lay down, and sank into a deep sleep, from which he did not wake until the ensuing morning.

Philip was roused a second time by the sensation of something pricking him on the chest. He started up, and beheld a figure standing over him. His eyes were still feeble, and his vision indistinct; he rubbed them for a time, for he first thought it was the bear Johannes, and again, that it was the supercargo Von Stroom, who had appeared before him; he looked again, and found that he was mistaken, although he had warrant for supposing it to be either, or both. A tall Hottentot, with an assaguay in his hand, stood by his side; over his shoulder he had thrown the fresh-severed skin of the poor bear, and on his head, with the curls descending to his waist, was one of the wigs of the supercargo Von Stroom. Such was the gravity of the black’s appearance in this strange costume (for in every other respect he was naked), that, at any other time, Philip would have been induced to laugh heartily; but his feelings were now too acute. He rose upon his feet, and stood by the side of the Hottentot, who still continued immovable, but certainly without the slightest appearance of hostile intentions.

A sensation of overpowering thirst now seized upon Philip, and he made signs that he wished to drink. The Hottentot motioned to him to follow, and led over the sand-hills to the beach, where Philip discovered upwards of fifty men, who were busy selecting various articles from the scattered stores of the vessel. It was evident by the respect paid to Philip’s conductor, that he was the chief of the kraal. A few words, uttered with the greatest solemnity, were sufficient to produce, though not exactly what Philip required, a small quantity of dirty water from a calabash, which, however, was to him delicious. His conductor then waved to him to take a seat on the sand.

It was a novel and appalling, and, nevertheless, a ludicrous scene: there was the white sand, rendered still more white by the strong glare of the sun, strewed with the fragments of the vessel, with casks, and bales of merchandise; there was the running surge with its foam, throwing about particles of the wreck: there were the bones of whales which had been driven on shore in some former gale and which, now half-buried in the sand, showed portions of huge skeletons; there were the mangled bodies of Philip’s late companions, whose clothes, it appeared, had been untouched by the savages, with the exception of the buttons, which had been eagerly sought after; there were naked Hottentots (for it was summer time, and they wore not their sheepskin krosses) gravely stepping up and down the sand, picking up everything that was of no value, and leaving all that civilised people most coveted;—to crown all, there was the chief, sitting in the still bloody skin of Johannes, and the broad-bottomed wig of Mynheer Stroom, with all the gravity of a vice-chancellor in his countenance, and without the slightest idea that he was in any way ridiculous. The whole presented, perhaps, one of the most strange and chaotic tableaux that ever was witnessed.

Although, at that time, the Dutch had not very long formed their settlement at the Cape, a considerable traffic had been, for many years, carried on with the natives for skins and other African productions. The Hottentots were, therefore, no strangers to vessels, and, as hitherto they had been treated with kindness, were well-disposed towards Europeans. After a time, the Hottentots began to collect all the wood which appeared to have iron in it, made it up into several piles, and set them on fire. The chief then made a sign to Philip, to ask him if he was hungry; Philip replied in the affirmative, when his new acquaintance put his hand into a bag made of goat-skin, and pulled out a handful of very large beetles, and presented them to hum. Philip refused them with marks of disgust, upon which, the chief very sedately cracked and ate them; and having finished the whole handful, rose, and made a sign to Philip to follow him. As Philip rose, he perceived floating on the surf, his own chest; he hastened to it, and made signs that it was his, took the key out of his pocket and opened it, and then made up a bundle of articles most useful, not forgetting a bag of guilders. His conductor made no objection, but calling to one of the men near, pointed out the lock and hinges to him, and then set off, followed by Philip, across the sand-hills. In about an hour they arrived at the kraal, consisting of low huts covered with skins, and were met by the women and children, who appeared to be in high admiration at their chief’s new attire: the showed every kindness to Philip, bringing him milk, which he drank eagerly. Philip surveyed these daughters of Eve, and, as he turned from their offensive, greasy attire, their strange forms, and hideous features, he sighed and thought of his charming Amine.

The sun was now setting, and Philip still felt fatigued. He made signs that he wished to repose. They led him into a hut, and, though surrounded as he was with filth and his nose assailed by every variety of bad smell attacked, moreover, by insects, he laid his head on his bundle, and uttering a short prayer of thanksgiving, was soon in a sound sleep.

The next morning he was awakened by the chief of the kraal, accompanied by another man who spoke a little Dutch. He stated his wish to be taken to the settlement where the ships came and anchored, and was fully understood; but the man said that there were no ships in the bay at the time. Philip, nevertheless, requested he might be taken there, as he felt that his best chance of getting on board of any vessel would be by remaining at the settlement, and, at all events, he would be in the company of Europeans, until a vessel arrived. The distance, he discovered, was but one day’s march, or less. After some little conversation with the chief, the man who spoke Dutch desired Philip to follow him and that he would take him there. Philip drank plentifully from a bowl of milk brought him by one of the women, and again refusing a handful of beetles offered by the chief, he took up his bundle, and followed his new acquaintance.

Towards evening they arrived at the hills, from which Philip had a view of Table Bay and the few houses erected by the Dutch. To his delight, he perceived that there was a vessel under sail in the offing. On his arrival at the beach, to which he hastened, he found that she had sent a boat on shore for fresh provisions. He accosted the people, told them who he was, told them also of the fatal wreck of the Ter Schilling, and of his wish to embark.

The officer in charge of the boat willingly consented to take him on board, and informed Philip that they were homeward bound. Philip’s heart leaped at the intelligence. Had she been outward bound, he would have joined her; but now he had a prospect of again seeing his dear Amine before he re-embarked to follow out his peculiar destiny. He felt that there was still some happiness in store for him, that his life was to be chequered with alternate privation and repose, and that his future prospect was not to be one continued chain of suffering until death.

He was kindly received by the captain of the vessel, who freely gave him a passage home; and in three months, without any events worth narrating, Philip Vanderdecken found himself once more at anchor before the town of Amsterdam.

The Phantom Ship - Contents    |     Chapter Eleven

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