The Ghost-ship





BY RICHARD MIDDLETON





Fairfield is a little village lying near the Portsmouth Road, about

halfway between London and the sea. Strangers, who now and then find it

by accident, call it a pretty, old-fashioned place; we who live in it

and call it home don't find anything very pretty about it, but we should

be sorry to live anywhere else. Our minds have taken the shape of the

inn and the church and the green, I suppose. At all events, we never

feel comfortable out of Fairfield.



Of course the cockneys, with their vasty houses and noise-ridden

streets, can call us rustics if they choose; but for all that, Fairfield

is a better place to live in than London. Doctor says that when he goes

to London his mind is bruised with the weight of the houses, and he was

a cockney born. He had to live there himself when he was a little chap,

but he knows better now. You gentlemen may laugh--perhaps some of you

come from London-way, but it seems to me that a witness like that is

worth a gallon of arguments.



Dull? Well, you might find it dull, but I assure you that I've listened

to all the London yarns you have spun to-night, and they're absolutely

nothing to the things that happen at Fairfield. It's because of our way

of thinking, and minding our own business. If one of your Londoners was

set down on the green of a Saturday night when the ghosts of the lads

who died in the war keep tryst with the lasses who lie in the

churchyard, he couldn't help being curious and interfering, and then the

ghosts would go somewhere where it was quieter. But we just let them

come and go and don't make any fuss, and in consequence Fairfield is the

ghostiest place in all England. Why, I've seen a headless man sitting on

the edge of the well in broad daylight, and the children playing about

his feet as if he were their father. Take my word for it, spirits know

when they are well off as much as human beings.



Still, I must admit that the thing I'm going to tell you about was queer

even for our part of the world, where three packs of ghost-hounds hunt

regularly during the season, and blacksmith's great-grandfather is busy

all night shoeing the dead gentlemen's horses. Now that's a thing that

wouldn't happen in London, because of their interfering ways; but

blacksmith he lies up aloft and sleeps as quiet as a lamb. Once when he

had a bad head he shouted down to them not to make so much noise, and

in the morning he found an old guinea left on the anvil as an apology.

He wears it on his watch-chain now. But I must get on with my story; if

I start telling you about the queer happenings at Fairfield, I'll never

stop.



It all came of the great storm in the spring of '97, the year that we

had two great storms. This was the first one, and I remember it well,

because I found in the morning that it had lifted the thatch of my

pigsty into the widow's garden as clean as a boy's kite. When I looked

over the hedge, widow--Tom Lamport's widow that was--was prodding for

her nasturtiums with a daisy grubber. After I had watched her for a

little I went down to the Fox and Grapes to tell landlord what she had

said to me. Landlord he laughed, being a married man and at ease with

the sex. "Come to that," he said, "the tempest has blowed something into

my field. A kind of a ship I think it would be."



I was surprised at that until he explained that it was only a

ghost-ship, and would do no hurt to the turnips. We argued that it had

been blown up from the sea at Portsmouth, and then we talked of

something else. There were two slates down at the parsonage and a big

tree in Lumley's meadow. It was a rare storm.



I reckon the wind had blown our ghosts all over England. They were

coming back for days afterward with foundered horses, and as footsore as

possible, and they were so glad to get back to Fairfield that some of

them walked up the street crying like little children. Squire said that

his great-grandfather's great-grandfather hadn't looked so dead-beat

since the battle of Naseby, and he's an educated man.



What with one thing and another, I should think it was a week before we

got straight again, and then one afternoon I met the landlord on the

green, and he had a worried face. "I wish you'd come and have a look at

that ship in my field," he said to me. "It seems to me it's leaning real

hard on the turnips. I can't bear thinking what the missus will say when

she sees it."



I walked down the lane with him, and, sure enough, there was a ship in

the middle of his field, but such a ship as no man had seen on the water

for three hundred years, let alone in the middle of a turnipfield. It

was all painted black, and covered with carvings, and there was a great

bay-window in the stern, for all the world like the squire's

drawing-room. There was a crowd of little black cannon on deck and

looking out of her port-holes, and she was anchored at each end to the

hard ground. I have seen the wonders of the world on picture-postcards,

but I have never seen anything to equal that.



"She seems very solid for a ghost-ship," I said, seeing that landlord

was bothered.



"I should say it's a betwixt and between," he answered, puzzling it

over; "but it's going to spoil a matter of fifty turnips, and missus

she'll want it moved." We went up to her and touched the side, and it

was as hard as a real ship. "Now, there's folks in England would call

that very curious," he said.



Now, I don't know much about ships, but I should think that that

ghost-ship weighed a solid two hundred tons, and it seemed to me that

she had come to stay; so that I felt sorry for landlord, who was a

married man. "All the horses in Fairfield won't move her out of my

turnips," he said, frowning at her.



Just then we heard a noise on her deck, and we looked up and saw that a

man had come out of her front cabin and was looking down at us very

peaceably. He was dressed in a black uniform set off with rusty gold

lace, and he had a great cutlass by his side in a brass sheath. "I'm

Captain Bartholomew Roberts," he said in a gentleman's voice, "put in

for recruits. I seem to have brought her rather far up the harbor."



"Harbor!" cried landlord. "Why, you're fifty miles from the sea!"



Captain Roberts didn't turn a hair. "So much as that, is it?" he said

coolly. "Well, it's of no consequence."



Landlord was a bit upset at this. "I don't want to be unneighborly," he

said, "but I wish you hadn't brought your ship into my field. You see,

my wife sets great store on these turnips."



The captain took a pinch of snuff out of a fine gold box that he pulled

out of his pocket, and dusted his fingers with a silk handkerchief in a

very genteel fashion. "I'm only here for a few months," he said, "but

if a testimony of my esteem would pacify your good lady, I should be

content," and with the words he loosed a great gold brooch from the neck

of his coat and tossed it down to landlord.



Landlord blushed as red as a strawberry. "I'm not denying she's fond of

jewelry," he said; "but it's too much for half a sackful of turnips."

Indeed it was a handsome brooch.



The captain laughed. "Tut, man!" he said, "it's a forced sale, and you

deserve a good price. Say no more about it," and nodding good day to us,

he turned on his heel and went into the cabin. Landlord walked back up

the lane like a man with a weight off his mind. "That tempest has blowed

me a bit of luck," he said; "the missus will be main pleased with that

brooch. It's better than blacksmith's guinea any day."



'97 was Jubilee year--the year of the second Jubilee, you remember, and

we had great doings at Fairfield, so that we hadn't much time to bother

about the ghost-ship, though, anyhow, it isn't our way to meddle in

things that don't concern us. Landlord he saw his tenant once or twice

when he was hoeing his turnips, and passed the time of day and

landlord's wife wore her new brooch to church every Sunday. But we

didn't mix much with the ghosts at any time, all except an idiot lad

there was in the village, and he didn't know the difference between a

man and a ghost, poor innocent! On Jubilee day, however, somebody told

Captain Roberts why the church bells were ringing, and he hoisted a

flag and fired off his guns like a loyal Englishman. 'T is true the guns

were shotted, and one of the round shot knocked a hole in Farmer

Johnstone's barn, but nobody thought much of that in such a season of

rejoicing.



It wasn't till our celebrations were over that we noticed that anything

was wrong in Fairfield. 'T was shoemaker who told me first about it one

morning at the Fox and Grapes. "You know my great-great-uncle?" he said

to me.



"You mean Joshua, the quiet lad?" I answered, knowing him well.



"Quiet!" said shoemaker, indignantly. "Quiet you call him, coming home

at three o'clock every morning as drunk as a magistrate and waking up

the whole house with his noise!"



"Why, it can't be Joshua," I said, for I knew him for one of the most

respectable young ghosts in the village.



"Joshua it is," said shoemaker; "and one of these nights he'll find

himself out in the street if he isn't careful."



This kind of talk shocked me, I can tell you, for I don't like to hear a

man abusing his own family, and I could hardly believe that a steady

youngster like Joshua had taken to drink. But just then in came butcher

Aylwin in such a temper that he could hardly drink his beer. "The young

puppy! The young puppy!" he kept on saying, and it was some time before

shoemaker and I found out that he was talking about his ancestor that

fell at Senlac.



"Drink?" said shoemaker, hopefully, for we all like company in our

misfortunes, and butcher nodded grimly. "The young noodle!" he said,

emptying his tankard.



Well, after that I kept my ears open, and it was the same story all over

the village. There was hardly a young man among all the ghosts of

Fairfield who didn't roll home in the small hours of the morning the

worse for liquor. I used to wake up in the night and hear them stumble

past my house, singing outrageous songs. The worst of it was that we

couldn't keep the scandal to ourselves, and the folk at Greenhill began

to talk of "sodden Fairfield" and taught their children to sing a song

about us:



Sodden Fairfield, sodden Fairfield,

Has no use for bread and butter,

Rum for breakfast, rum for dinner,

Rum for tea, and rum for supper!



We are easy-going in our village, but we didn't like that.



Of course we soon found out where the young fellows went to get the

drink, and landlord was terribly cut up that his tenant should have

turned out so badly; but his wife wouldn't hear of parting with the

brooch, so he couldn't give the captain notice to quit. But as time went

on, things grew from bad to worse, and at all hours of the day you

would see those young reprobates sleeping it off on the village green.

Nearly every afternoon a ghost-wagon used to jolt down to the ship with

a lading of rum, and though the older ghosts seemed inclined to give the

captain's hospitality the go-by, the youngsters were neither to hold nor

to bind.



So one afternoon when I was taking my nap, I heard a knock at the door,

and there was parson, looking very serious, like a man with a job before

him that he didn't altogether relish.



"I'm going down to talk to the captain about all this drunkenness in the

village, and I want you to come with me," he said straight out.



I can't say that I fancied the visit much myself, and I tried to hint to

parson that as, after all, they were only a lot of ghosts, it didn't

much matter.



"Dead or alive, I'm responsible for their good conduct," he said, "and

I'm going to do my duty and put a stop to this continued disorder. And

you are coming with me, John Simmons."



So I went, parson being a persuasive kind of man.



We went down to the ship, and as we approached her, I could see the

captain tasting the air on deck. When he saw parson, he took off his hat

very politely, and I can tell you that I was relieved to find that he

had a proper respect for the cloth. Parson acknowledged his salute, and

spoke out stoutly enough.



"Sir, I should be glad to have a word with you."



"Come on board, sir; come on board," said the captain, and I could tell

by his voice that he knew why we were there.



Parson and I climbed up an uneasy kind of ladder, and the captain took

us into the great cabin at the back of the ship, where the bay-window

was. It was the most wonderful place you ever saw in your life, all full

of gold and silver plate, swords with jeweled scabbards, carved oak

chairs, and great chests that looked as though they were bursting with

guineas. Even parson was surprised, and he did not shake his head very

hard when the captain took down some silver cups and poured us out a

drink of rum. I tasted mine, and I don't mind saying that it changed my

view of things entirely. There was nothing betwixt and between about

that rum, and I felt that it was ridiculous to blame the lads for

drinking too much of stuff like that. It seemed to fill my veins with

honey and fire.



Parson put the case squarely to the captain, but I didn't listen much to

what he said. I was busy sipping my drink and looking through the window

at the fishes swimming to and fro over landlord's turnips. Just then it

seemed the most natural thing in the world that they should be there,

though afterward, of course, I could see that that proved it was a

ghost-ship.



But even then I thought it was queer when I saw a drowned sailor float

by in the thin air, with his hair and beard all full of bubbles. It was

the first time I had seen anything quite like that at Fairfield.



All the time I was regarding the wonders of the deep, parson was telling

Captain Roberts how there was no peace or rest in the village owing to

the curse of drunkenness, and what a bad example the youngsters were

setting to the older ghosts. The captain listened very attentively, and

put in a word only now and then about boys being boys and young men

sowing their wild oats. But when parson had finished his speech, he

filled up our silver cups and said to parson with a flourish:



"I should be sorry to cause trouble anywhere where I have been made

welcome, and you will be glad to hear that I put to sea to-morrow night.

And now you must drink me a prosperous voyage."



So we all stood up and drank the toast with honor, and that noble rum

was like hot oil in my veins.



After that, captain showed us some of the curiosities he had brought

back from foreign parts, and we were greatly amazed, though afterward I

couldn't clearly remember what they were. And then I found myself

walking across the turnips with parson, and I was telling him of the

glories of the deep that I had seen through the window of the ship. He

turned on me severely.



"If I were you, John Simmons," he said, "I should go straight home to

bed." He has a way of putting things that wouldn't occur to an ordinary

man, has parson, and I did as he told me.



Well, next day it came on to blow, and it blew harder and harder, till

about eight o'clock at night I heard a noise and looked out into the

garden. I dare say you won't believe me,--it seems a bit tall even to

me,--but the wind had lifted the thatch of my pigsty into the widow's

garden a second time. I thought I wouldn't wait to hear what widow had

to say about it, so I went across the green to the Fox and Grapes, and

the wind was so strong that I danced along on tiptoe like a girl at the

fair. When I got to the inn, landlord had to help me shut the door. It

seemed as though a dozen goats were pushing against it to come in out of

the storm.



"It's a powerful tempest," he said, drawing the beer. "I hear there's a

chimney down at Dickory End."



"It's a funny thing how these sailors know about the weather," I

answered. "When captain said he was going to-night, I was thinking it

would take a capful of wind to carry the ship back to sea; and now

here's more than a capful."



"Ah, yes," said landlord; "it's to-night he goes true enough, and mind

you, though he treated me handsome over the rent, I'm not sure it's a

loss to the village. I don't hold with gentrice, who fetch their drink

from London instead of helping local traders to get their living."



"But you haven't got any rum like his," I said, to draw him out.



His neck grew red above his collar, and I was afraid I'd gone too far;

but after a while he got his breath with a grunt.



"John Simmons," he said, "if you've come down here this windy night to

talk a lot of fool's talk, you've wasted a journey."



Well, of course then I had to smooth him down with praising his rum, and

Heaven forgive me for swearing it was better than captain's. For the

like of that rum no living lips have tasted save mine and parson's. But

somehow or other I brought landlord round, and presently we must have a

glass of his best to prove its quality.



"Beat that if you can," he cried, and we both raised our glasses to our

mouths, only to stop halfway and look at each other in amaze. For the

wind that had been howling outside like an outrageous dog had all of a

sudden turned as melodious as the carol-boys of a Christmas eve.



"Surely that's not my Martha," whispered landlord, Martha being his

great-aunt who lived in the loft overhead.



We went to the door, and the wind burst it open so that the handle was

driven clean into the plaster of the wall, but we didn't think about

that at the time; for over our heads, sailing very comfortably through

the windy stars, was the ship that had passed the summer in landlord's

field. Her port-holes and her bay-window were blazing with lights, and

there was a noise of singing and fiddling on her decks. "He's gone!"

shouted landlord above the storm, "and he's taken half the village with

him." I could only nod in answer, not having lungs like bellows of

leather.



In the morning we were able to measure the strength of the storm, and

over and above my pigsty, there was damage enough wrought in the village

to keep us busy. True it is that the children had to break down no

branches for the firing that autumn, since the wind had strewn the woods

with more than they could carry away. Many of our ghosts were scattered

abroad, but this time very few came back, all the young men having

sailed with captain; and not only ghosts, for a poor half-witted lad was

missing, and we reckoned that he had stowed himself away or perhaps

shipped as cabin-boy, not knowing any better.



What with the lamentations of the ghost girls and the grumblings of

families who had lost ancestors, the village was upset for a while, and

the funny thing was that it was the folk who had complained most of the

carryings-on of the youngsters who made most noise now that they were

gone. I hadn't any sympathy with shoemaker or butcher, who ran about

saying how much they missed their lads, but it made me grieve to hear

the poor bereaved girls calling their lovers by name on the village

green at nightfall. It didn't seem fair to me that they should have lost

their men a second time, after giving up life in order to join them, as

like as not. Still, not even a spirit can be sorry forever, and after a

few months we made up our mind that the folk who had sailed in the ship

were never coming back; and we didn't talk about it any more.



And then one day, I dare say it would be a couple of years after, when

the whole business was quite forgotten, who should come trapesing along

the road from Portsmouth but the daft lad who had gone away with the

ship without waiting till he was dead to become a ghost. You never saw

such a boy as that in all your life. He had a great rusty cutlass

hanging to a string at his waist, and he was tattooed all over in fine

colors, so that even his face looked like a girl's sampler. He had a

handkerchief in his hand full of foreign shells and old-fashioned pieces

of small money, very curious, and he walked up to the well outside his

mother's house and drew himself a drink as if he had been nowhere in

particular.



The worst of it was that he had come back as soft-headed as he went, and

try as we might, we couldn't get anything reasonable out of him. He

talked a lot of gibberish about keelhauling and walking the plank and

crimson murders--things which a decent sailor should know nothing about,

so that it seemed to me that for all his manners captain had been more

of a pirate than a gentleman mariner. But to draw sense out of that boy

was as hard as picking cherries off a crab-tree. One silly tale he had

that he kept on drifting back to, and to hear him you would have thought

that it was the only thing that happened to him in his life.



"We was at anchor," he would say, "off an island called the Basket of

Flowers, and the sailors had caught a lot of parrots and we were

teaching them to swear. Up and down the decks, up and down the decks,

and the language they used was dreadful. Then we looked up and saw the

masts of the Spanish ship outside the harbor. Outside the harbor they

were, so we threw the parrots into the sea, and sailed out to fight. And

all the parrots were drowneded in the sea, and the language they used

was dreadful."



That's the sort of boy he was--nothing but silly talk of parrots when we

asked him about the fighting. And we never had a chance of teaching him

better, for two days after he ran away again, and hasn't been seen

since.



That's my story, and I assure you that things like that are happening at

Fairfield all the time. The ship has never come back, but somehow, as

people grow older, they seem to think that one of these windy nights

she'll come sailing in over the hedges with all the lost ghosts on

board. Well, when she comes, she'll be welcome. There's one ghost lass

that has never grown tired of waiting for her lad to return. Every night

you'll see her out on the green, straining her poor eyes with looking

for the mast-lights among the stars. A faithful lass you'd call her, and

I'm thinking you'd be right.



Landlord's field wasn't a penny the worse for the visit; but they do say

that since then the turnips that have been grown in it have tasted of

rum.





The Ghost-extinguisher The Ghostly Adventurer facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback