This is one of only three Hodgson stories directly touching on World War One.
Presumably Hodgson didn’t have a lot of time to after World War One broke out. He and his wife moved from their home in France back to England when war broke out. I’m not sure when he joined the British Army, but he was commissioned as a lieutenant in June 1915. He was assigned to the Salisbury Plain Royal Field Artillery training facility where he trained men in moving large artillery pieces with horses. In June 1916, he was thrown from a horse, suffered a severe head injury, and was discharged from the army. He rejoined the Royal Field Artillery Service in March 1917, and his unit was sent to the Western Front in October 1917.
This story, from Cornhill Magazine, is rather like Hodgson’s “The Real Thing: On the Bridge” in that it’s a short slice of sea life. It details the Cornucopia racing through storm waters to rescue people on the Vanderfield as it sinks.
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””→