Short Stories/A Real Ghost
A REAL GHOST
"Yes, I have seen a ghost—once," I said in answer to an inquiry while my company was standing round the stove of a wayside station waiting to connect with a train bound east from St. Paul.
"After I left sea, I went out gold mining to Australia—made money, failed—and at last found myself installed second mate of a large English clipper full of passengers and bound for London. We cleared away from Sandridge pier about mid-day, and our last passenger to come on board, was a young fellow in a long brown ulster—ulsters were new then and remarkable. The only other one I knew was worn by Fanny ——, a beautiful young girl who had lately arrived from England and to whom I had become greatly attached.
"The passenger was shipped home by his friends with special instructions to our captain to keep him away from liquor. He was an absolute wreck from drink. Our booby hatch had been filled at the last with a quantity of colonial wine, one of the first shipments home from the colonier; but there was plenty of room in the cut of the hatchway for a man to stand.
"Well, we had been to sea some weeks, and were battering away 'round the Horn with a head wind and cold as the deuce. The snow and ice were thick everywhere, and it was blowing hard. I swore if I once got out of it I would never voluntarily go to sea again. One night I had the middle watch, that is from twelve to four in the morning, and I was sitting on a hen-coop under the weather cloth in the mizzen rigging, when I heard the captain come up. He had with him the young man in the brown ulster. The captain gave me orders; took a turn up and down, said good night, and went below.
"There was no one left on the poop but myself and the man at the wheel, for it was so cold I gave the youngster who had to strike the bells, leave to go below until I called.
"I suppose I must have got numbed by the cold and slept, for I was awakened by the relief wheel, at four bells, who gave me the course as he went below. I took a turn aft and saw the young man with the brown ulster leaning over the taffrail; but when I turned aft again he had gone down the companion, which faced the helmsman, and was the only entrance on deck from the saloon.
"I asked the helmsman how long the young man had been on deck. I was somewhat taken back when he assured me there had been no one there. I thought I had been dreaming, so did not press the matter.
"Shortly afterward the moon, which had been obscured through the clouds and made everything—covered as it was with snow—bright as day. As I turned aft in my walk I saw the man in the ulster leaning over the lee rail close to the helm. I walked aft to speak to him. As I approached he turned toward me in the moonlight, and to my horror I saw the face of Fanny ——. The figure stood for a moment and then seemed to go overboard.
"I shouted out 'Down with the helm! Man overboard!"
"The watch came tumbing aft. In a moment all hands were on deck. The ship flew up the wind and I swung her main-yard aback.
"'Who is it, Mr. Bellew?' asked the Captain.
"'The passenger, sir,' I answered, 'with the long ulster.' We lowered a boat, but there was no trace of him. The muster-roll was called and the young fellow was gone sure enough.
"We braced up our yards and filled away again, and after a few days ran into fine weather and forgot all about the lost passenger, who was duly entered in the log book as lost overboard.
"One day in the tropics the captain gave orders to have the hatches off and let some air into the hold. The last hatch to be removed was the booby hatch aft, an ornamental teakwood affair on which passengers used to sit, and which formed quite a feature of the quarter-deck. As we raised the hatches a peculiarly sickening smell came up from the hold.
"'There's dead rats there, sir, sure,' said the carpenter to me.
"Off came the hatches, and there, to our horror, in the fierce sunlight of the tropics, with everything bright and gay about us—children laughing and playing, every one happy—we disclosed the bloated and composed corpse of the young man in the brown ulster. By his side was a broken case of wine, and two or three empty bottles, showing plainly how he had died.
"The problem of how he got into the hold was soon solved. There was a large brass ventilator just abaft the main fife-rail, and knowing that drink was stowed down there he had lowered himself down to get it.
"On my arrival in the Thames our long-looked-for mail was brought on board by our agents. Among the first letters I opened was one bearing the Melbourne post-mark. I opened it hurriedly, for I was anxious for news. It was from a stranger, simply inclosing a newspaper paragraph:
"'On Sunday last at No.— —— Street, East Melbourne, Fanny, only daughter of Thomas ——, Esq., died, of inflammation of the lungs.'
"My mind rushed back to the night off Cape Horn when I had seen her face in the moonlight. I turned the leaves of the log-book and there, on the same date as the notice in the newspaper clipping was the entry: 'Richard ——, passenger; jumped or fell overboard, 3 A.M., signed, 'KYRLE BELLEW, Second Officer, Ship T—— S——.'"