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In Mid-atlantic
by [?]

“No, sir,” said the night-watchman, as he took a seat on a post at the end of the jetty, and stowed a huge piece of tobacco in his cheek. “No, man an’ boy, I was at sea forty years afore I took on this job, but I can’t say as ever I saw a real, downright ghost.”

This was disappointing, and I said so. Previous experience of the power of Bill’s vision had led me to expect something very different.

“Not but what I’ve known some queer things happen,” said Bill, fixing his eyes on the Surrey side, and going off into a kind of trance. “Queer things.”

I waited patiently; Bill’s eyes, after resting for some time on Surrey, began to slowly cross the river, paused midway in reasonable hopes of a collision between a tug with its flotilla of barges and a penny steamer, and then came back to me.

“You heard that yarn old Cap’n Harris was telling the other day about the skipper he knew having a warning one night to alter his course, an’ doing so, picked up five live men and three dead skeletons in a open boat?” he inquired.

I nodded.

“The yarn in various forms is an old one,” said I.

“It’s all founded on something I told him once,” said Bill. “I don’t wish to accuse Cap’n Harris of taking another man’s true story an’ spoiling it; he’s got a bad memory, that’s all. Fust of all, he forgets he ever heard the yarn; secondly, he goes and spoils it.”

I gave a sympathetic murmur. Harris was as truthful an old man as ever breathed, but his tales were terribly restricted by this circumstance, whereas Bill’s were limited by nothing but his own imagination.

“It was about fifteen years ago now,” began Bill, getting the quid into a bye-way of his cheek, where it would not impede his utterance “I was A. B. on the Swallow, a barque, trading wherever we could pick up stuff. On this v’y’ge we was bound from London to Jamaica with a general cargo.

“The start of that v’y’ge was excellent. We was towed out of the St. Katherine’s Docks here, to the Nore, an’ the tug left us to a stiff breeze, which fairly raced us down Channel and out into the Atlantic. Everybody was saying what a fine v’y’ge we was having, an’ what quick time we should make, an’ the fust mate was in such a lovely temper that you might do anything with him a’most.

“We was about ten days out, an’ still slipping along in this spanking way, when all of a sudden things changed. I was at the wheel with the second mate one night, when the skipper, whose name was Brown, came up from below in a uneasy sort o’ fashion, and stood looking at us for some time without speaking. Then at last he sort o’ makes up his mind, and ses he–

“‘Mr. McMillan, I’ve just had a most remarkable experience, an’ I don’t know what to do about it.’

“‘Yes, sir?’ ses Mr. McMillan.

“‘Three times I Ve been woke up this night by something shouting in my ear, “Steer nor’-nor’-west!”‘ ses the cap’n very solemnly, ‘”Steer nor’-nor’-west!” that’s all it says. The first time I thought it was somebody got into my cabin skylarking, and I laid for ’em with a stick but I’ve heard it three times, an’ there’s nothing there.’

“‘It’s a supernatural warning,’ ses the second mate, who had a great uncle once who had the second sight, and was the most unpopular man of his family, because he always knew what to expect, and laid his plans according.

“‘That’s what I think,’ ses the cap’n. ‘There’s some poor shipwrecked fellow creatures in distress.”

“‘It’s a verra grave responsebeelity,’ ses Mr. McMillan ‘I should just ca’ up the fairst mate.’

“‘Bill,’ ses the cap’n, ‘just go down below, and tell Mr. Salmon I ‘d like a few words with him partikler.’