The Phantom Ship

Chapter Twelve

Frederick Marryat

PHILIP had not been long on board, ere he found that they were not likely to have a very comfortable passage; for the Batavia was chartered to convey a large detachment of troops to Ceylon and Java, for the purpose of recruiting and strengthening the Company’s forces at those places. She was to quit the fleet off Madagascar, and run direct for the Island of Java; the number of soldiers on board being presumed sufficient to insure the ship against any attack or accidents from pirates or enemies’ cruisers. The Batavia, moreover, mounted thirty guns, and had a crew of seventy-five men. Besides military stores, which formed the principal part of her cargo, she had on board a large quantity of specie for the Indian market. The detachment of soldiers was embarking when Philip went on board, and in a few minutes the decks were so crowded that it was hardly possible to move. Philip, who had not yet spoken to the captain, found out the first mate, and immediately entered upon his duty, with which, from his close application to it during his former voyage and passage home, he was much better acquainted than might have been imagined.

In a short time all traces of hurry and confusion began to disappear, the baggage of the troops was stowed away, and the soldiers having been told off in parties, and stationed with their messing utensils between the guns of the main deck, room was thus afforded for working the ship. Philip showed great activity as well as method in the arrangements proposed and the captain, during a pause in his own arduous duties, said to him—

“I thought you were taking it very easy, Mr Vanderdecken, in not joining the ship before, but, now you are on board, you are making up for lost time. You have done more during the forenoon than I could have expected. I am glad that you are come, though very sorry you were not here when we were stowing the hold, which, I am afraid, is not arranged quite so well as it might be. Mynheer Struys, the first mate, has had more to do than he could well give attention to.”

“I am sorry that I should not have been here, sir,” replied Philip; “but I came as soon as the Company sent me word.”

“Yes, and as they know that you are a married man, and do not forget that you are a great shareholder, they would not trouble you too soon. I presume you will have the command of a vessel next voyage. In fact, you are certain of it, with the capital you have invested in their funds. I had a conversation with one of the senior accountants on the subject this very morning.”

Philip was not very sorry that his money had been put out to such good interest, as to be the captain of a ship was what he earnestly desired. He replied, that “he certainly did hope to command a ship after the next voyage, when he trusted that he should feel himself quite competent to the charge.”

“No doubt, no doubt, Mr Vanderdecken. I can see that clearly. You must be very fond of the sea.”

“I am,” replied Philip; “I doubt whether I shall ever give it up.”

Never give it up! You think so now. You are young, active, and full of hope; but you will tire of it by and bye, and be glad to lay by for the rest of your days.”

“How many troops do we embark?” inquired Philip.

“Two hundred and forty-five rank and file, and six officers. Poor fellows! there are but few of them will ever return: nay, more than one-half will not see another birthday. It is a dreadful climate. I have landed three hundred men at that horrid hole, and in six months, even before I had sailed, there were not one hundred left alive.”

“It is almost murder to send them there,” observed Philip.

“Pshaw! they must die somewhere, and if they die a little sooner, what matter? Life is a commodity to be bought and sold like any other. We send out so much manufactured goods and so much money to barter for Indian commodities. We also send out so much life, and it gives a good return to the Company.”

“But not to the poor soldiers, I am afraid.”

“No; the Company buy it cheap and sell it dear,” replied the captain, who walked forward.

True, thought Philip, they do purchase human life cheap, and make a rare profit of it, for without these poor fellows how could they hold their possessions in spite of native and foreign enemies? For what a paltry and cheap annuity do these men sell their lives? For what a miserable pittance do they dare all the horrors of a most deadly climate, without a chance, a hope of return to their native land, where they might haply repair their exhausted energies, and take a new lease of life! Good God! if these men may be thus heartlessly sacrificed to Mammon, why should I feel remorse if in the fulfilment of a sacred duty imposed on me by him who deals with us as He thinks meet, a few mortals perish? Not a sparrow fails to the ground without His knowledge, and it is for him to sacrifice or to save. I am but the creature of his will, and I but follow my duty,—but obey the commands of One whose ways are inscrutable. Still, if for my sake this ship be also doomed, I cannot but wish that I had been appointed to some other, in which the waste of human life might have been less.

It was not until a week after Philip arrived on board, that the Batavia and the remainder of the fleet were ready for sea.

It would be difficult to analyse the feelings of Philip Vanderdecken on this his second embarkation. His mind was so continually directed to the object of his voyage, that although he attended to his religious duty, yet the business of life passed before him as a dream. Assured of again meeting with the Phantom Ship, and almost equally assured that the meeting would be followed by some untoward event in all probability by the sacrifice of those who sailed with him, his thoughts preyed upon him, and wore him down to a shadow. He hardly ever spoke, except in the execution of his duty. He felt like a criminal; as one who, by embarking with them, had doomed all around him to death, disaster, and peril; and when one talked of his wife, and another of his children—when they would indulge in anticipations, and canvass happy projects, Philip would feel sick at heart, and would rise from the table and hasten to the solitude of the deck. At one time he would try to persuade himself that his senses had been worked upon in some moment of excitement, that he was the victim of an illusion; at another he would call to mind all the past—he would feel its terrible reality: and then the thought would suggest itself that with this supernatural vision Heaven had nothing to do; that it was but the work and jugglery of Satan. But then the relic—by such means the devil would not have worked. A few days after he had sailed, he bitterly repented that he had not stated the whole of his circumstances to Father Seysen, and taken his advice upon the propriety of following up his search; but it was now too late; already was the good ship Batavia more than a thousand miles from the port of Amsterdam, and his duty, whatever it might be, must be fulfilled.

As the fleet approached the Cape, his anxiety increased to such a degree that it was remarked by all who were on board. The captain and officers commanding the troops embarked, who all felt interested in him, vainly attempted to learn the cause of his anxiety. Philip would plead ill health; and his haggard countenance and sunken eyes silently proved that he was under acute suffering. The major part of the night he passed on deck, straining his eyes in every quarter, and watching each change in the horizon, in anticipation of the appearance of the Phantom Ship; and it was not till the day dawned that he sought a perturbed repose in his cabin. After a favourable passage, the fleet anchored to refresh at Table Bay, and Philip felt some small relief, that up to the present time the supernatural visitation had not again occurred.

As soon as the fleet had watered, they again made sail, and again did Philip’s agitation become perceptible. With a favouring breeze, however, they rounded the Cape, passed by Madagascar, and arrived in the Indian Seas, when the Batavia parted company with the rest of the fleet, which steered to Cambroon and Ceylon. “And now,” thought Philip, “will the Phantom Ship make her appearance? It has only waited till we should be left without a consort to assist us in distress.” But the Batavia sailed in a smooth sea and under a cloudless sky, and nothing was seen. In a few weeks she arrived off Java, and previous to entering the splendid roads of Batavia, hove-to for the night. This was the last night they would be under sail, and Philip stirred not from the deck, but walked to and fro, anxiously waiting for the morning. The morning broke—the sun rose in splendour, and the Batavia steered into the roads. Before noon she was at anchor, and Philip, with his mind relieved, hastened down to his cabin, and took that repose which he so much required.

He awoke refreshed, for a great weight had been taken off his mind. “It does not follow, then,” thought he, “that because I am on board the vessel that therefore the crew are doomed to perish; it does not follow that the Phantom Ship is to appear because I seek her. If so, I have no further weight upon my conscience. I seek her, it is true, and wish to meet with her; I stand, however, but the same chance as others; and it is no way certain, that, because I seek, I am sure to find. That she brings disaster upon all she meets, may be true, but not that I bring with me the disaster of meeting her. Heaven, I thank thee! Now can I prosecute my search without remorse.”

Philip, restored to composure by these reflections, went on deck. The debarkation of the troops was already taking place, for they were as anxious to be relieved from their long confinement, as the seamen were to regain a little space and comfort. He surveyed the scene. The town of Batavia lay about one mile from them, low on the beach; from behind it rose a lofty chain of mountains, brilliant with verdure, and, here and there, peopled with country seats belonging to the residents, delightfully embosomed in forests of trees. The panorama was beautiful; the vegetation was luxuriant, and, from its vivid green, refreshing to the eye. Near to the town lay large and small vessels, a forest of masts; the water in the bay was of a bright blue, and rippled to a soft breeze; here and there small islets (like tufts of fresh verdure) broke the uniformity of the waterline; even the town itself was pleasing to the eye, the white colour of the houses being opposed to the dark foliage of the trees which grew in the gardens and lined the streets.

“Can it be possible,” observed Philip to the captain of the Batavia, who stood by him, “that this beautiful spot can be so unhealthy? I should form a very different opinion from its appearance.”

“Even,” replied the captain, “as the venomous snakes of the country start up from among its flowers, so does Death stalk about in this beautiful and luxuriant landscape. Do you feel better, Mynheer Vanderdecken.”

“Much better,” replied Philip.

“Still, in your enfeebled state, I should recommend you to go on shore.”

“I shall avail myself of your permission, with thanks. How long shall we stay here?”

“Not long, as we are ordered to run back. Our cargo is all ready for, us, and will be on board soon after we have discharged.”

Philip took the advice of his captain; he had no difficulty in finding himself received by a hospitable merchant, who had a house at some distance from the town, and in a healthy situation. There he remained two months, during which he re-established his health, and then re-embarked a few days previous to the ship being ready for sea. The return voyage was fortunate, and in four months from the date of their quitting Batavia, they found themselves abreast of St. Helena; for vessels, at that period, generally made what is called the eastern passage, running down the coast of Africa, instead of keeping towards the American shores. Again they had passed the Cape without meeting with the Phantom Ship; and Philip was not only in excellent health, but in good spirits. As they lay becalmed, with the island in sight, they observed a boat pulling towards them, and in the course of three hours she arrived on board. The crew were much exhausted from having been two days in the boat, during which time they had never ceased pulling to gain the island. They stated themselves to be the crew of a small Dutch Indiaman, which had foundered, at sea two days before; she had started one of her planks, and filled so rapidly that the men had hardly time to save themselves. They consisted of the captain, mates, and twenty men belonging to the ship and an old Portuguese Catholic priest, who had been sent home by the Dutch governor, for having opposed the Dutch interests in the Island of Japan. He had lived with the natives, and been secreted by them for some time, as the Japanese government was equally desirous of capturing him with the intention of taking away his life. Eventually he found himself obliged to throw himself into the arms of the Dutch, as being the less cruel of his enemies.

The Dutch government decided that he should be sent away from the country; and he had, in consequence, been put on board of the Indiaman for a passage home. By the report of the captain and crew, one person only had been lost; but he was a person of consequence, having for many years held the situation of President in the Dutch factory in Japan. He was returning to Holland with the riches which he had amassed. By the evidence of the captain and crew, he had insisted, after he was put into the boat, upon going back to the ship to secure a casket of immense value, containing diamonds and other precious stones, which he had forgotten; they added, that while they were waiting for him the ship suddenly plunged her bowsprit under, and went down head foremost, and that it was with difficulty they had themselves escaped. They had waited for some time to ascertain if he would rise again to the surface, but he appeared no more.

“I knew that something would happen,” observed the captain of the sunken vessel, after he had been sitting a short time in the cabin with Philip and the captain of the Batavia; “we saw the Fiend or Devil’s Ship, as they call her, but three days before.”

“What! the Flying Dutchman, as they name her?” asked Philip.

“Yes; that, I believe, is the name they give her,” replied the captain. “I have often heard of her; but it never was my fate to fall in with her before, and I hope it never will be again, for I am a ruined man, and must begin the world afresh.”

“I have heard of that vessel,” observed the captain of the Batavia. “Pray, how did she appear to you?”

“Why, the fact is, I did not see anything but the loom of her hull,” replied the other. “It was very strange; the night was fine, and the heavens clear; we were under top-gallant sails, for I do not carry on during the night, or else we might have put the royals on her; she would have carried them with the breeze. I had turned in, when about two o’clock in the morning, the mate called me to come on deck. I demanded what was the matter, and he replied he could hardly tell, but that the men were much frightened, and that there was a Ghost Ship, as the sailors termed it, in sight. I went on deck; all the horizon was clear, but on our quarter was a sort of fog, round as a ball, and not more than two cables’ length from us. We were going about four knots and a half free, and yet we could not escape from this mist. ‘Look there,’ said the mate. ‘Why, what the devil can it be?’ said I, rubbing my eyes. ‘No banks up to windward, and yet a fog in the middle of a clear sky, with a fresh breeze, and with water all around it;’ for you see the fog did not cover more than half a dozen cables’ length, as we could perceive by the horizon on each side of it. ‘Hark, sir!’ said the mate—‘they are speaking again.’ ‘Speaking!’ said I, and I listened; and from out this ball of fog I heard voices. At last, one cried out, ‘Keep a sharp look out forward, d’ye hear?’ ‘Ay, ay, sir!’ replied another voice. ‘Ship on the starboard bow, sir.’ ‘Very well; strike the bell there forward.’ And then we heard the bell toll. ‘It must be a vessel,’ said I to the mate. ‘Not of this world, sir,’ replied he. ‘Hark!’ ‘A gun ready forward.’ ‘Ay, ay, sir!’ was now heard out of the fog, which appeared to near us; ‘all ready, sir.’ ‘Fire!’ The report of the gun sounded in our ears like thunder, and then—“

“Well, and then?” said the captain of the Batavia, breathless.

“And then?” replied the other captain, solemnly, “the fog and all disappeared as if by magic, the whole horizon was clear and there was nothing to be seen.”

“Is it possible?”

“There are twenty men on deck to tell the story,” replied the captain, “and the old Catholic priest to boot, for he stood by me the whole time I was on deck. The men said that some accident would happen and in the morning watch, on sounding the well, we found four feet water. We took to the pumps, but it gained upon us, and we went down, as I have told you. The mate says that the vessel is well known—it is called the Flying Dutchman.”

Philip made no remarks at the time, but he was much pleased at what he had heard. “If,” thought he “the Phantom Ship of my poor father appears to others as well as to me, and they are sufferers, my being on board can make no difference. I do but take my chance of falling in with her, and do not risk the lives of those who sail in the same vessel with me. Now my mind is relieved, and I can prosecute my search with a quiet conscience.”

The next day Philip took an opportunity of making the acquaintance of the Catholic priest, who spoke Dutch and other languages as well as he did Portuguese. He was a venerable old man, apparently about sixty years of age, with a white flowing beard, mild in his demeanour, and very pleasing in his conversation.

When Philip kept his watch that night, the old man walked with him, and it was then, after a long conversation, that Philip confided to him that he was of the Catholic persuasion.

“Indeed, my son, that is unusual in a Hollander.”

“It is so,” replied Philip; “nor is it known on board—not that I am ashamed of my religion, but I wish to avoid discussion.”

“You are prudent, my son. Alas! if the reformed religion produces no better fruit than what I have witnessed in the East, it is little better than idolatry.”

“Tell me, father,” said Philip—“they talk of a miraculous vision—of a ship not manned by mortal men. Did you see it?”

“I saw what others saw,” replied the priest; “and certainly, as far as my senses would enable me to judge, the appearance was most unusual—I may say supernatural; but I had heard of this Phantom Ship before, and moreover that its appearance was the precursor of disaster. So did it prove in our case, although, indeed, we had one on board, now no more, whose weight of guilt was more than sufficient to sink any vessel; one, the swallowing up of whom, with all that wealth from which he anticipated such enjoyment in his own country, has manifested that the Almighty will, even in this world, sometimes wreak just and awful retribution on those who have merited His vengeance.”

“You refer to the Dutch President, who went down with the ship when it sank.”

“I do; but the tale of that man’s crime is long; to-morrow night, I will walk with you, and narrate the whole. Peace be with you, my son, and good night.”

The weather continued fine, and the Batavia hove-to in the evening, with the intention of anchoring the next morning in the roadstead of St. Helena. Philip, when he went on deck to keep the middle watch, found the old priest at the gangway waiting for him. In the ship all was quiet; the men slumbered between the guns, and Philip, with his new acquaintance, went aft, and seating themselves on a hencoop, the priest commenced as follows:—

“You are not, perhaps, aware that the Portuguese, although anxious to secure for themselves a country discovered by their enterprise and courage, and the possession of which, I fear, has cost them many crimes, have still never lost sight of one point dear to all good Catholics—that of spreading wide the true faith, and planting the banner of Christ in the regions of idolatry. Some of our countrymen having been wrecked on the coast, we were made acquainted with the islands of Japan; and seven years afterwards, our holy and blessed St. Francis, now with God, landed on the Island of Ximo, where he remained for two years and five months, during which he preached our religion and made many converts. He afterwards embarked for China, his original destination, but was not permitted to arrive there; he died on his passage, and thus closed his pure and holy life. After his death, notwithstanding the many obstacles thrown in our way by the priests of idolatry, and the persecutions with which they occasionally visited the members of our faith, the converts to our holy religion increased greatly in the Japanese islands. The religion spread fast, and many thousands worshipped the true God.

“After a time, the Dutch formed a settlement at Japan, and when they found that the Japanese Christians around the factories would deal only with the Portuguese, in whom they had confidence, they became our enemies; and the man of whom we have spoken, and who at that period was the head of the Dutch Factory, determined, in his lust for gold, to make the Christian religion a source of suspicion to the emperor of the country, and thus to ruin the Portuguese and their adherents. Such, my son, was the conduct of one who professed to have embraced the reformed religion as being of greater purity than our own.

“There was a Japanese lord of great wealth and influence, who lived near us, and who, with two of his sons, had embraced Christianity, and had been baptised. He had two other sons, who lived at the emperor’s court. This lord had made us a present of a house for a college and school of instruction: on his death, however, his two sons at court, who were idolaters, insisted upon our quitting this property. We refused, and thus afforded the Dutch principal an opportunity of inflaming these young noblemen against us: by this means he persuaded the Japanese emperor that the Portuguese and Christians had formed a conspiracy against his life and throne for, be it observed, that when a Dutchman was asked if he was a Christian, he would reply, ‘No; I am a Hollander.’

“The emperor, believing in this conspiracy, gave an immediate order for the extirpation of the Portuguese, and then of all the Japanese who had embraced the Christian faith: he raised an army for this purpose and gave the command of it to the young nobleman I have mentioned, the sons of the lord who had given us the college. The Christians, aware that resistance was their only chance, flew to arms, and chose as their generals the other two sons of the Japanese lord, who, with their father, had embraced Christianity. Thus were the two armies commanded by four brothers, two on the one side and two on the other.

“The Christian army amounted to more than 40,000 men, but of this the emperor was not aware, and he sent a force, of about 25,000 to conquer and exterminate them. The armies met, and after an obstinate combat (for the Japanese are very brave) the victory was on the part of the Christians, and, with the exception of a few who saved themselves in the boats, the army of the emperor was cut to pieces.

“This victory was the occasion of making more converts, and our army was soon increased to upwards of 50,000 men. On the other hand, the emperor, perceiving that his troops had been destroyed, ordered new levies and raised a force of 150,000 men, giving directions to his generals to give no quarter to the Christians, with the exception of the two young lords who commanded them, whom he wished to secure alive, that he might put them to death by slow torture. All offers of accommodation were refused, and the emperor took the field in person. The armies again met, and on the first day’s battle the victory was on the part of the Christians; still they had to lament the loss of one of their generals, who was wounded and taken prisoner, and, no quarter having been given, their loss was severe.

“The second day’s combat was fatal to the Christians. Their general was killed; they were overpowered by numbers, and fell to a man. The emperor then attacked the camp in the rear, and put to the sword every old man, woman, and child. On the field of battle, in the camp, and by subsequent torture, more than 60,000 Christians perished. But this was not all; a rigorous search for Christians was made throughout the Islands for many years; and they were, when found, put to death by the most cruel torture. It was not until fifteen years ago, that Christianity was entirely rooted out of the Japanese empire, and during a persecution of somewhat more than sixteen years, it is supposed that upwards of 400,000 Christians were destroyed; and all this slaughter, my son, was occasioned by the falsehood and avarice of that man who met his just punishment but a few days ago. The Dutch Company, pleased with his conduct, which procured for them such advantages, continued him for many years as the president of their factory in Japan. He was a young man when he first went there, but his hair was grey when he thought of returning to his own country. He had amassed immense wealth—immense, indeed, must it have been to have satisfied avarice such as his! All has now perished with him, and he has been summoned to his account. Reflect a little, my son. Is it not better to follow up our path of duty; to eschew the riches and pleasures of this world, and, at our summons hence, to feel that we have hopes of bliss hereafter?”

“Most true, holy father,” replied Philip, musing.

“I have but a few years to live,” continued the old man, “and God knows I shall quit this world without reluctance.”

“And so could I,” replied Philip.

You, my son!—no. You are young, and should be full of hopes. You have still to do your duty in that station to which it shall please God to call you.”

“I know that I have a duty to perform,” replied Philip. “Father, the night air is too keen for one so aged as you. Retire to your bed, and leave me to my watch and my own thoughts.”

“I will, my son; may Heaven guard you! Take an old man’s blessing. Good night.”

“Good night,” replied Philip, glad to be alone. “Shall I confess all to him?” thought Philip. “I feel I could confess to him—but no. I would not to Father Seysen—why to him? I should put myself in his power, and he might order me—No, no! my secret is my own. I need no advisers.” And Philip pulled out the relic from his bosom, and put it reverently to his lips.

The Batavia waited a few days at St. Helena, and then continued her voyage. In six weeks Philip again found himself at anchor in the Zuyder Zee, and having the captain’s permission, he immediately set off for his own home, taking with him the old Portuguese priest, Mathias, with whom he had formed a great intimacy, and to whom he had offered his protection for the time he might wish to remain in the Low Countries.

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