May 30, 2017
Another episode of tales at sea. Following on from the mysterious tales of the Dark Gentleman, we find another curious passenger on board…although will they turn out to be any less disturbing to the crew?
Music: Creepy — Bensound.com.
Andrew: Here are some Totally Made Up Tales, brought to you by the magic of the internet. This week: The Stowaway.
James: Martin, the First Mate, thought he knew everything about this ship, as First Mates really ought to.
Andrew: It was not the largest ship the world had ever seen, but nevertheless it contained many nooks and crannies and corners that men who had served on it across journeys of several months had still not managed to explore.
James: Martin, however, knew them all. But something was not quite right.
Andrew: There was a strange energy on board the ship, that was quite different to the masculine peace that settled aboard the boat once the shore was safely left behind.
James: It reminded him of the one or two times when they'd transported families from Southampton across to the New World looking for a new life.
Andrew: It was not as strange as the time when the famous occultist traveled with them and disappeared halfway across the ocean, but it was still something not quite right.
James: Martin didn't like it when things weren't quite right, it upset the smooth running of the ship and it made the men grumble, and that was one of the worst things to contend with.
Andrew: He decided that he would determine for himself whether there was anything untoward going on, on the ship, but he would do it in a subtle and determined manner.
James: He drew up a schedule where he could regularly walk every turn and every corner of every deck, both above and below.
Andrew: He began his exploration and very soon began to have an even more acute sense that there was something either just ahead of him or just behind him, but it was as if, whenever he turned his head, the thing it was that was following him or that he was following — and he could not be sure which it was — had disappeared, and he was left once more alone.
James: He had first had the sense a day or two out of port, and it continued for a full week, gradually making him more and more frustrated, until one day, Timothy, the old cook, came to him.
Andrew: Timothy was a grumpy man, perpetually red in the face with irritation, and missing his right leg. He had adapted his kitchen galley successfully so that he could navigate his way around, but in all other areas of the deck he moved on traditional sailor's wooden crutches.
James: He came to Martin with a complaint about theft.
Andrew: An entire barrel of biscuits, which he had been intending to use later that week, had disappeared from the kitchen, lock, stock, and barrel.
James: Martin knew that none of the men would have tried to secrete an entire barrel anywhere else about the ship, it was a ridiculous and foolhardy notion that you could even get away with it, and so he continued his pacing about the decks until he discovered the barrel, now empty, in one of the smaller holds.
Andrew: Scattered on the floor around the barrel here and there were biscuity crumbs.
James: Martin spent some time checking the rest of the hold, looking behind the crates and boxes, and underneath the tarpaulins, but he could not find any indication, other than the barrel and the crumbs, that anything was amiss.
Andrew: Later that day, in the evening, he sat down with the Captain for dinner, and the Captain turned to him with his customary question and said, "Well then, First Mate, what are the news?"
James: He recounted how Timothy had come to him and his investigation and what he'd discovered, and the Captain looked at him with suspicion crossing his face, "Have you felt a presence onboard ship?" he asked.
Andrew: "Well sir, as it happens," Martin replied, "I have felt a rather different atmosphere on the ship than usual… it has seemed that there has been something here."
"What do you make of… this?" said the Captain.
He opened the draw of his work desk and took out a piece of paper covered in a strange childish scrawl, and laid it out in front of the First Mate.
James: "Was that? It looks like it was drawn by a child, sir."
Andrew: "Yes, it could be a child or possibly a madman, or I'm not entirely sure. I dismissed it entirely of course, read it through for me."
James: "I can't make it out at all, sir. It doesn't seem to be written in English, or indeed any other language as I recognise."
Andrew: "Yes, I thought that," said the Captain. "But here, look, when you hold it up to a mirror, now try."
James: "Oh my word," said Martin. "You're right. It's a diary."
Andrew: "Yes, that's right. A page from a diary. A diary that's been kept while on this ship. I found it fluttering along the passage outside the door to the hold."
James: "Do you really think so sir? We have a stowaway?"
Andrew: "I think we should consider the possibility. Nothing has been quite right on this ship since the time that mysterious man disappeared after saving us from pirates, and I wonder if the forces of the occult have returned to haunt us."
James: "I shall organise the men to do a thorough inspection, sir. I'm sure we will catch them." And indeed Martin was sure that he would catch the stowaway.
Andrew: Duly assembled, the men set out in groups of two around the various passages of the ship in search of the mysterious diary writer.
James: Creeping down the passageways, hunting through the holds, peering into the dark corners, the men gradually covered every inch of the ship.
Andrew: Each pair in their turn, returned from their searching to the main deck to report to the First Mate, and came back empty handed. Not a sign, not a scrap, not the slightest clue as to the writer of the diary had been found.
James: Two by two, Martin ticked them off in his head until there were five pairs still out, then four, then three, then two. The last pair that had gone down into the holds below reported that they could see nothing out of the ordinary, and he was just wondering how the other pair was getting along when the sound of a struggle came from the cabins that they had been searching.
Andrew: The cries and thuds muffled by the several layers of decking nevertheless could be heard and stirred an immediate call to action in the First Mate. He grabbed two of the pairs nearest him, his trustiest men, and set off down the hatches to go and investigate for himself.
James: He burst in, the men hard behind him, on an amazing scene.
Andrew: Inside the passengers' cabin, standing quietly and unassumingly in the centre of the passenger cabin was a small elfin faced girl with close cropped hair, beaming at them with her hands on her hips. Lying on the ground of the cabin in front of her were the two burly sailors, out for the count.
James: A thought flashed through Martin's mind, wondering how on each how such a small child had managed to overcome such large men, but he was too well trained to voice this concern. "Seize her!" he cried.
Andrew: The men who had come down with him and to whom his order was addressed looked at the girl, looked at their fallen comrades, looked nervously at each other, and hesitated upon the threshold. "Didn't you hear me, men?" said the First Mate, "in and seize her!"
James: Greg looked at Harry, and Harry looked at Greg, and neither of them wanted to be the one to make the first move. So Martin reached forward and grabbed the girl by the scruff of the neck.
Andrew: At once, she burst into tears, and paying no heed to her bawling, Martin dragged her through the passageway, dragged her up onto the deck, into the Captain's cabin, where he threw her roughly to her knees in front of the ship's commander.
James: "Good work, Martin," said the Captain. "And what are you, eh?"
Andrew: The little girl looked at him, sobbing, wide eyed, and said, "oh please sir, please, have mercy on me."
James: Martin nudged her with his foot. "Captain asked you a question," he said.
Andrew: "Oh, oh, I am ..."
The girl took a deep breath in and looked directly at the Captain imploringly and said, "I am but a poor child, sir. My father was a sailor of many years standing and spent his life at sea and one day in a tragic accident was killed when his ship caught fire. My mother was unable to support herself, me and my brother, and my brother signed up to sail to the New World in the Navy and I decided that the only way forward for me was to follow him and so I ended up here on the first ship I was told was sailing to the New World and I hid in the hold."
James: The Captain looked at her sternly. "I cannot just let stowaways use my ship as free transport between the continents." He said. "We cannot throw you overboard, we're in the middle of the sea, but if you are to remain here, you must work to earn your keep."
Andrew: "We have no use for you on deck, this is man's work requiring a man's strength, but the kitchen is short of a boy, you shall serve there for the remainder of the voyage. Go, at once. You will be directed by Timothy the cook."
James: And so Martin took her down to the galley, and introduced her to Timothy, and Timothy immediately put her to work scrubbing the Brodie stove to keep it clean or at least as clean as Timothy deemed necessary for basic sanitary food production purposes.
Andrew: With a dedication and an application and a thoroughness that seemed uncharacteristic for someone that looked outwardly so delicate, the little girl scrubbed at the stove, scrubbed and polished and shined. Bucket after bucket of dirty water was emptied over the rail into the sea, until the Brodie stove was as good as new. She turned to the cook and said, "sir, I have scrubbed the stove. What would you have me do next?"
Tim looked at her and said, "sir? I'll have no sir in my kitchen! I'm Tim the cook, and what's your name?"
James: In a small voice, Elsie introduced herself and told her story of how she had come to be on the boat. In return, Timothy gave her a history of the vessel, including some of the rare goods that they had transported and the confusing and perplexing tale of the Master of the Dark Arts, who had recently bought passage with them to the New World.
Andrew: Over the days that followed, Tim and Elsie built up an extraordinary rapport. The cook, who was usually one of the grumpiest and least sociable fellows aboard the ship, had taken a shine to this little girl, and she to him. The atmosphere in the kitchen changed from one of shouting and swearing to one of laughter and camaraderie, and the quality of the food rose remarkably as a result, raising the morale of the rest of the crew.
James: Over dinner one night at the Captain's table, the Second Mate, Will, turned to the First Mate, Martin, and mentioned sotte voce that perhaps they should have a stowaway on every voyage.
Andrew: They laughed, looking at their empty plates wiped clean by freshly baked bread, when suddenly they were interrupted by a cry from the lookout tower. "Ship ahoy!"
James: Coming onto the deck, the Captain looked at the lookout, who was pointing hard astern. Behind, somewhere in the darkness, there was a light.
Andrew: A half a mile off or so it seemed, there was a ship shaped object bobbing backwards and forwards with the motion of the waves with an eerie glow that seemed almost otherworldly.
James: Slowly, the shadowy shape was gaining on them.
Andrew: The Captain summoned the crew to their action stations, called for the sails to be hoisted full up, and observed the mysterious shape still gaining on them.
James: The faster they went, the faster it pursued. As the spectre came closer, the lanterns from their own ship, and the light inside it, gradually made the shape clearer.
Andrew: The First Mate turned to the Second Mate and, furrowing his brow, said, "this is going to sound like a very strange thing to say, but does that look to you like a ship made out of smoke?"
James: "Not any ship," said the Captain. "That is the ship that we saw burn to the waterline."
And it was true, the superstructure looked identical, the rigging, the position of the masts and sails. It was the pirate ship that had chased them so recently.
Andrew: And as it came closer, the mysterious glow that had revealed it when it was at a distance to the lookout resolved into the flickering embers of the final burning pieces of wood floating on the water underneath the smoky shape.
James: "Can we even fight that, sir?" asked the Second Mate.
Andrew: "Do we need to fight it, sir?" said the First Mate. "What's its intention? It's just smoke."
James: "It's evil," said the Captain. "Prepare the cannon."
Andrew: "How do you know it's evil, sir?" said Will.
James: "I just have a feeling," said the Captain. "The feeling that evil has been dogging us ever since that ship burned."
Andrew: The cannon trundled forward on its heavy wheels to the ship's rail and was being loaded by the men responsible for it. They turned to the Captain and said, "Ready to fire, sir", and the Captain said, "Very well, fire at —"
But before he could finish the command, a small tug on his elbow revealed that Elsie had come up to the deck and was looking at him with a serious face. "Please sir," she said, "don't fire on the vessel, it's me that it's come for. Please let me go and speak to it."
James: Agog, the Captain let her pass. Elsie walked right up to the rail and held her hand out towards the ship that was now only a few dozen feet away.
Andrew: Out of the swirling mass of smoke that made up the shape of the ship, with its amorphous and shifting edge, there seemed to solidify an additional shape of a man standing opposite Elsie, face to face, where the rail of that ship would be if it had a rail, and it seemed to that an arm came out from his smoky body and extended across the water and gently, gently, gently made its dark tendrily way to her hand until it touched it.
James: As soon as it did, the smoky ship started to dissolve and waft away on the fresh breeze coming in from the ocean behind it. "Daddy," she called out gently. And in response, a deep thrumming sound seemed to make the word "Elsie" from across the water.
Andrew: With the contact between the two having been made, the form of the smoke ship dissolved and it became once more the mists that roll over the seas at night and ceased to have any shape or solidity.
James: And as it dissolved, so too did Elsie's form gradually fade away until the Captain, the First and Second Mate and the crew members could see plain through her.
Andrew: As she was on the verge of disappearing before their very eyes, she turned looking at the crew in turn and taking them all in with her penetrating gaze, finally her eyes rested on the Captain and she said, "thank you" — and vanished.
There came from the hatch leading down to the galley a sobbing which caused the First Mate to turn and there to his surprise he saw Tim with his face buried in his cook's apron, uncharacteristically emotional.
James: The crew were quiet for the rest of the journey, less banter and less grumbling than usual. In the Captain's cabin, a number of hushed conversations over dinner attempted to discern just what Elsie had been and where she had gone — but without coming to any conclusions.
Andrew: The only thing that everybody could agree on was that the quality of the food had improved, and from that day forward it remained the best on the high seas.