The story is about Tom Pemberton taking his wife along on his first command of a ship.
Thirteen days into an uneventful voyage, a sailor falls from a broken crane line. A storm, lasting three days then comes up, and, on the fourteenth day a battered lifeboat from the Cyclops is spotted with a survivor in it.
The man’s name is Tarpin. Since the man who fell from the line unexpectedly died, Tarpin is hired to replace him. There is grumbling by the “Ordinaries” about the ship being haunted though no real reason is given for this view.
Tarpin turns out to be a good sailor especially handy at rope splicing though he’s a little too free in the use of his “peculiarly shaped marlinspike” for the comfort of the rest of the crew.
Weeks pass without further incident until, one day at dusk, Captain Tom hears the pigs penned on deck making noise. In the dim light, the men can’t see much when they investigate, but they do hear distinctly unporcine growls and snarls from the pen.
The mystery is about the “Bad Business” of modern piracy.
For once Hodgson doesn’t set a nautical tale on a sailing ship but a steam vessel with the Chief Engineer not being Scottish.
The story opens with a drunken man hitting a steam pipe with a shovel and cracking it. While repairs are trying to be made to the Richard Harvey (the story is narrated by the captain), a whaler comes sniffing about.
Whalers, we learn, are the worse sort of pirates. They have a pretext for just hanging around in areas of the sea and have lots of men aboard.
Hodgson is quite good at describing the battles with the pirates, the desperate attempts to fix the pipe with some elements from the cargo and building a homemade cannon. Hodgson is typically inventive with such mechanical details.
One of Hodgson’s stories about a brutal ship’s officer, here Captain Bully Keller, a “hard-case skipper”.
The story opens with him abusing Nibby Tompkins, a ship’s boy of 14 or 15. On reaching San Francisco, Keller bribes a doctor to list Tompkins’s injuries as rheumatism though Tompkins has vowed there will be trouble when his father finds out about his mistreatment.
Keller loves to fight and provokes men into fighting him onboard ship. He’s more than happy when crew members flee him in terror when close to shore. He doesn’t have to pay them then.
The story becomes more interesting and humorous in the second part when Nibby meets his father and mother. They have been searching for the Alceste since Nibby is serving on it.
The story opens with Captain Gaskelt talking about when he was on a voyage as “a bit of a lad”, and he tells about his captain that saw the legendary island where “crossbones are cut in the side of the mountain”.
He’s not believed though. It’s just another sea story. His First Mate Maulk, since he’s morose and unsociable, doesn’t react much when he hears the story.
A bit later, Gaskelt disappears. So, later, does another man on watch three nights later.
Maulk helpfully takes many watches at the wheel.
One of the apprentices disappears later.
Double watches are posted at the wheel at night, and Maulk goes to relieve a watch at midnight.
This is something of the quintessential non-fantastic Hodgson sea story. It’s got his siege plot, and it touches on Hodgson’s unhappy days as apprentice seaman in the Mercantile Navy.
First published in 1912 as a serial in Wide World Magazine and sometimes known as “Mutiny”. Jeremy Lassen says in his introduction to The Ghost Pirates and Other Revenants of the Sea: Being the Third Volume of the Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson that the promotional copy and framing of the story on its first publication strongly suggested it was a true story. It was published in three installments.
Two apprentices, Harold Jones and Mercer Kinniks aged 15 and 16 respectively, are brutalized by Captain William Beston, Second Mate Jan Henricksen, and Bo’sun Carl Schieffs. The First Mate, Robert Jenkins, is decent enough, but he’s not in charge and not around the boys all the time. The boys are abused in various ways. (No, there is, of course, no mention or hint of sexual abuse.) The able-bodied seamen are of divided about how well the apprentices are treated: maybe they’re uppity or need to be “handled” a bit, or they are maltreated.
In San Francisco, six more apprentices are taken aboard. They hear about the bad life on the ship from the first two apprentices. (It’s noteworthy that Wyckliffe, aka Jumbo, is described as an “exceptionally powerful young man” and is perhaps Hodgson’s alter ego.) The apprentices form a compact. If any of them is mistreated, they will stand up for their rights. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “The ‘Prentices’ Mutiny””→
The first issue of this journal had lots of material. This one is thinner – whether from a lack of contributors or due to production costs, I don’t know.
“Andy Robertson R.I.P. (1955-2014)” remembers the man who sparked a mini-Hodgson revival with his creation of The Night Land website devoted to Hodgson’s eponymous novel, and Robertson also published and wrote stories set in the world of that work.
“Under the Skin: A Profile of William Hope Hodgson” by Jane Frank offers a brief look at Hodgson’s personality. By the age of five, three of Hodgson’s brothers had died. Hodgson’s unusual middle name – usually a female name – may have had theological implications for his clerical father and his wife. (They wanted a daughter.) Frank sees Hodgson as, from an early age, energetic, imaginative, and always wanting more. Part of the behavior that some saw as egotistical and self-centered (Frank quotes from editors who met him and letters Hodgson wrote) may have been the result of his desire for attention.
She sees Hodgson’s personality as shaped by the two ages he lived in: the “repressive” Victorian world of his youth where mores were important and the energetic Edwardian age of fortune-seeking and technology. Hence we see Hodgson as an early adopter of the typewriter and photography and his entrepreneurial streak and attempts to support himself after leaving the Mercantile Navy. Hodgson was in boarding school by age eight, and his family had moved five times by the time he was 13. He was a temperamental lad and, around his father, unruly and disobedient. Continue reading “Sargasso #2”→
“Shadow Out of Hodgson” by John D. Haefele lays out a case, even though S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz do not mention in Hodgson in their annotated version of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time, for the influence of Hodgson’s The Night Land on that work. First, Lovecraft mentioned Hodgson’s novel in several letters when the story was being written between November 10, 1934 and February 22, 1935. Second, there are several similarities in the narratives. First, like humanity in the Last Redoubt, the Great Race is under siege. Second, the consciousness of both narrators is projected into the future. Both stories feature libraries of metal bound books that the narrators access. Less convincing is Haefele seeing similarities between X descending the gorge on his way to the Lesser Redoubt and the narrator of The Shadow Out of Time, in contemporary times, descending into the uncovered structures of the Great Race.
Phillip A. Ellis’ “A Reassessment of William Hope Hodgson’s Poetry”, Phillip A. Ellis looks at almost all of Hodgson’s poetry and finds Hodgson’s poetry full of vivid physical tales as well as a preoccupation with, as Hodgson scholar Jane Frank noted, “strange visions, supernatural phenomena, hallucinatory events”. Poetry seems to have been a lifelong literary outlet for Hodgson. He took it up earlier than fiction writing and wrote most of his poems between 1899 and 1906. He even wrote poetry when he was in the army and Ellis thinks that, if would have had the chance to develop his facility more, he might have been a noted war poet. Ellis thinks most of the weaknesses in Hodgson’s poetry came from him being a self-educated poet lacking the necessary technical training. I’ve read a lot, but by no means all, of Hodgson’s poetry. Frankly, little stuck in my brain (but, then, most poetry doesn’t) apart from the prose poem “Grey Seas Are Dreaming of My Death”. I do agree with Ellis that Hodgson is best when he takes inspiration and metaphors from the sea. Continue reading “Sargasso #1”→