The Rescue At Sea: A ghost story

The Rescue At Sea: A ghost story

 The following famous narrative is taken from Mr. Robert Dale Owen’s collection, printed in his Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, and The Debatable Land Between this World and the Next. It is quite a famous case and is vouched for by Mr. Owen. It is as follows: “Mr. Robert Bruce descended from some branch of the Scottish family of the same name, was born in humble circumstances about the close of the eighteenth century at Torbay, in the south of England, and there bred up to seafaring life. When about thirty years of age (in the year 1828), he was the first mate on board a bark trading between Liverpool and St. John’s, New Brunswick.

 

“On one of her voyages, bound westward, being then some five or six weeks out, and having near the eastern portion of the Banks of Newfoundland, the captain, and the mate had been on deck at noon, taking an observation of the sun; after which they both descended to calculate their day’s work. “The cabin, a small one, was immediately at the stern of the vessel, and the short stairway, descending to it, ran athwart-ships. Immediately opposite to this stairway, just beyond a small, square landing, was the mate’s stateroom; and from that landing, there were two doors, close to each other—the one opening aft into the cabin, the other fronting the stairway into the stateroom. The desk in the stateroom was in the forward part of it, close to the door; so that anyone sitting at it, and looking over his shoulder, could see into the cabin.

 

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“The mate, absorbed in his calculation, which did not result as he expected, varying considerably from the ‘dead reckoning,’ had not noticed the captain’s motions. When he had completed his calculations, he cried out, without looking round, ‘I make our latitude and longitude so-and-so. Can that be right? How is yours, sir?’ “Receiving no reply he repeated the question, glancing over his shoulder and perceiving, as he thought, the captain busy at his slate. Still no answer! Thereupon he arose, and, as he fronted the cabin door, the figure he had mistaken for the captain raised his head and disclosed to the astonished mate the features of an entire stranger

 

 

“Bruce was no coward, but as he met that fixed gaze, looking directly at him in grave silence, and became assured that it was no one whom he had ever seen before, it was too much for him; and, instead of stopping to question the seeming intruder, he rushed upon deck in such evident alarm that it instantly attracted the captain’s attention. “‘Why Mr. Bruce,’ said the latter, ‘what in the world is the matter with you?’ “‘The matter, sir? Who is that at your desk?’ “‘No one that I know of.’ “‘But there is, sir, there’s a stranger there.’ “‘A stranger? Why, man, you must be dreaming! You must have seen the steward there or the second mate. Who else would venture down without orders?’

 

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“‘But, sir, he was sitting in your armchair, fronting the door, writing on your slate. Then he looked up full in my face, and if ever I saw a man plainly and distinctly in the world I saw him.’ “‘Him! Who?’ “‘Heaven knows, sir; I don’t! I saw a man and a man I have never seen in my life before.’ “‘You must be going crazy, Mr. Bruce. A stranger, and we nearly six weeks out!’ “The captain descended the stairs, and the mate followed him. Nobody in the cabin! They examined the staterooms. Not a soul could be found. “‘Well, Mr. Bruce,’ said the Captain, ‘did not I tell you that you had been dreaming?’ “‘It’s all very well to say so, sir; but if I didn’t see that man writing on the slate may I never see home and family again!’ “‘Ah! Writing on the slate. Then it should be there still!’ And the captain took it up. ‘By heaven,’ he exclaimed, ‘here’s something sure enough! Is that your writing, Mr. Bruce?’

 

“The mate took the slate; and there, in plain, legible characters, stood the words: ‘Steer to the Nor’-west.’ “The captain sat down at his desk, the slate before him, in deep thought. At last, turning the slate over, and pushing it toward Bruce, he said: ‘Write down: “Steer to the nor’west.”’ “The mate complied; and the captain, comparing the two handwritings, said: ‘Mr. Bruce, go and tell the second mate to come down here.’ “He came, and at the captain’s request, he also wrote the words. So did the steward. So in succession did every man of the crew who could write at all. But not one of the various hands resembled, in any degree, the mysterious writing. “When the crew retired, the captain sat deep in thought. ‘Could anyone have been stowed away?’ at last he said. ‘The ship must be searched. Order up all hands.’ “Every nook and corner of the vessel was thoroughly searched; not a living soul was found.


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“Accordingly, the captain decided to change the vessel’s course according to the instructions received. A look-out was posted; which shortly reported an iceberg, and then, shortly after, a vessel close to it. “As they approached, the captain’s glass disclosed the fact that it was a dismantled ship, apparently frozen to the ice... It proved to be a vessel from Quebec, bound for Liverpool, with passengers on board. She had got entangled in the ice, and finally frozen fast, and had passed several weeks in a most critical situation. She was a stove, her decks swept; in fact, a mere wreck; all her provisions and almost all her water gone. Her crew and passengers had lost all hope of being saved, and their gratitude at the unexpected rescue was proportionately great. “As one of the men who had been brought away in the third boat ascended the ship’s side, the mate, catching a glimpse of his face, started back in consternation. It was the very face he had seen three or four hours before, looking up at him from the captain’s desk! He communicated this fact to the captain.

 

 

“After the comfort of the passengers had been seen to, the captain turned to the stranger, and said to him: ‘I hope, sir, you will not think I am trifling with you, but I would be much obliged to you if you would write a few words on this slate.’ And he handed him the slate, with that side up on which the mysterious writing was not. “‘I will do anything you ask,’ replied the passenger, ‘but what shall I write?’ “‘A few words are all I want. Suppose you write: ‘Steer to the nor’-west.’ “The passenger, evidently puzzled to make out the motive of such a request, complied, however, with a smile. The captain took up the slate and examined it closely; then stepping aside so as to conceal the slate from the passenger, he turned it over and gave it to him the other side up. “‘You say that this is your handwriting?’ said he. “‘I need not say so,’ replied the other, looking at it, ‘for you saw me write it.’ “‘And this?’ said the captain, turning the slate over.

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“The man looked first at one writing, then at the other, quite confounded. At last: ‘What is the meaning of this?’ said he. ‘I only wrote one of these. Who wrote the other?’ “‘That’s more than I can tell you, sir. My mate here says you wrote it, sitting at this desk, at noon today!’ “The captain of the wreck and the passenger looked at each other, exchanging glances of intelligence and surprise; then the former asked the latter: ‘Did you dream that you wrote on this slate?’ “‘No, sir, not that I remember.’ “‘You speak of dreaming,’ said the captain of the bark. ‘What was this gentleman about at noon today?’

 

 

“‘Captain,’ rejoined the other, (the captain of the wreck), ‘the whole thing is most mysterious and extraordinary; and I had intended to speak to you about it as soon as we got a little quiet. This gentleman—pointing to the passenger—being much exhausted, fell into a heavy sleep, or what seemed such, sometime before noon. After an hour or more, he awoke, and said to me: ‘Captain, we shall be relieved this very day.’ When I asked him what reason he had for saying so, he replied that he had dreamed that he was on board a bark and that she was coming to our rescue. He described her appearance and rig, and, to our utter astonishment, when your vessel hove in sight, she corresponded exactly to his description of her! We had not put much faith in what he said; yet still, we hoped there might be something in it, for drowning men, as you know, catch at straws. As it turned out, I cannot doubt that it was all arranged by some overruling Providence.’

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“‘There is not a doubt,’ replied the captain of the bark, ‘that the writing on the slate, let it come there as it may, saved all your lives. I was steering at the time considerably south of west, and I altered my course for the nor’-west, and had a look-out aloft, to see what would come of it. But you say,’ he added, turning to the passenger, ‘that you did not dream of writing on a slate?’ “‘No, sir. I have no recollection whatever of doing so. I got the impression that the bark I saw in my dream was coming to rescue us, but how that impression came I cannot tell. There is another very strange thing about it,’ he added. ‘Everything here on

board seems to be quite familiar, yet I am very sure that I was never in your vessel before. It is all a puzzle to me! What did your mate see?’ “Thereupon Mr. Bruce related to them all the circumstances above detailed.”

 

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