(Spoiler Alert! This posts discusses plot details from the story, “The Haunted Jarvee”. If you have not read this story, you can do so online here.)
“The Haunted Jarvee” is the seventh Carnacki story from William Hope Hodgson. It is also the last Carnacki story to appear before the 1947 Arkham House Collection. The tale appeared in Premier Magazine in March, 1929, which was eleven years after Hodgson’s death in WWI in 1918. This shows that Hodgson’s widow had not been lax in attempting to keep Hodgson’s writing and legacy alive. It remains a curious instance that she did not take advantage of the pulp boom of the 1920s and place some of Hodgson’s stories there.
The story begins as typical with the narrator and Carnacki’s other friends invited for a dinner and a story. Carnacki reveals that he has been away for a trip on “one of the real old-time sailing ships” named the Jessop. The captain, an old friend of Carnacki’s, has long talked about the ‘haunted’ nature of his vessel but gives few details:
‘“Can’t keep men in her no-how,” he often told me. “They get frightened and they see things and they feel things. An’ I’ve lost a power o’ men out of her. Fallen from aloft, you know. She’s getting a bad name.” And then he’d shake his head very solemnly.'”
The Captain goes so far as to have an entire cabin outfitted for Carnacki so he can bring all of his equipment and apparatus. For two weeks, Carnacki performs his usual tests but finds nothing amiss. All he notices is that there is an “abnormal calm” about the ship.
On the eighteenth day, as the Captain and Carnacki are taking their evening walk about the deck, the wind dies down and the Captain predicts that “there’ll be trouble tonight.”
The Captain focuses Carnacki’s gaze to a spot just under the setting sun:
“After a minute I saw it — a vague shadow upon the still surface of the sea that seemed to move towards us as I stared. For a moment I gazed fascinated, yet ready every moment to swear that I saw nothing and in the same instant to be assured that there was truly something out there upon the water, apparently coming towards the ship.”
The Captain turns Carnacki around and the Ghost-Finder sees that there are shadows advancing on the ship from three directions.
“’I’ve seen ’em before and thought sometimes I must be going mad. Sometimes they’re plain an’ sometimes they’re scarce to be seen, an’ sometimes they’re like livin’ things, an’ sometimes they’re like nought at all but silly fancies. D’ you wonder I couldn’t name ’em proper to you?’”
Staring south, Carnacki sees the final, fourth shadow appear as it heads towards the ship. The Captain orders the men to come off the masts as he’ll have no one up in the rigging that night.
‘“Gettin’ thin an’ disappearin’ as they come near,” he said presently. “I know, I’ve seen ’em do that oft an’ plenty before. They’ll be close round the ship soon but you nor me won’t see them, nor no one else, but they’ll be there. I wish ’twas mornin’. I do that!’”
It is dark by the time the men come off the masts and the Captain and Carnacki take a nervous walk along the poopdeck. Although pressed, the Captain cannot provide any more details about the shadows on the water. There is no one else for Carnacki to question as the Captain is the only old hand on the ship. All of the others are new to the vessel which speaks much about it’s reputation.
All is quiet until about eleven o’clock when a strong squall breaks overhead. The Captain orders the three t’gallants lowered and the sails shaken but the storm does not ease. The Captain is prepared to let the storm rip the sails to shreds rather then send men aloft. But, by eight bells, the situation is so dire that the Captain fears that the masts themselves will be ripped off the deck so he has no choice but to send men to make the sails fast.
Just after the sails are tightened, there is the sound of two sickening thuds on the deck. Two men have fallen to their deaths out of the rigging. The crew gathers around the fallen men but Carnacki senses something else:
“And all the time I was conscious of a most extraordinary sense of oppression and frightened distress and fearful expectation, for it seemed to me, standing there near the dead in that unnatural wind that a power of evil filled all the night about the ship and that some fresh horror was imminent.”
The men are buried at sea the following morning after which Carnacki has an idea which he discusses with the Captain. Gaining his approval, Carnacki spends much of the day setting up his electrical equipment.
“I believed the origin of the happenings to lie in a strange but perfectly understandable cause, i.e., in that phenomenon known technically as “attractive vibrations.” Harzam, in his monograph on ‘Induced Hauntings,’ points out that such are invariably produced by ‘induced vibrations,’ that is, by temporary vibrations set up by some outside cause.”
Carnacki believes that he can set up opposing vibrations that would counter the dangerous vibrations and is a technique which he had tried before with only partial success because of the quality of the equipment he had used. That night they keep watch for the four shadows which soon appear and head towards the ship.
The Captain, earlier in the day, had ordered the sails secured as he would not risk any man aloft that night. Carnacki switches on his equipment and sends the opposing vibrations out into the dark. When another squall hits later in the night and Carnacki rushes upstairs to find the wind and rain battering the ship mercilessly.
“At the time when it came I was lying down on a locker in the saloon, but I ran up on to the poop as the vessel canted under the enormous force of the wind. Here I found the air pressure tremendous and the noise of the squall stunning. And over it all and through it all I was conscious of something abnormal and threatening that set my nerves uncomfortably acute. The thing was not natural.”
The storm breaks about two a.m. and the clouds break suddenly. As Carnacki watches, he sees a shadow lying just above the deck but it quickly disappears. The Captain replies that he had only seen that happen once before and that instance had resulted in the deaths of half of the crew.
“‘Just that,’ he agreed. ‘I said, mister, you’d see if you’d wait. And this ain’t the half. You wait till you sees ’em looking like little black clouds all over the sea round the ship and movin’ steady with the ship. All the same, I ain’t seen ’em aboard but the once. Guess we’re in for it.”
The Captain resumes pacing on the deck while Carnacki keeps a watch for the shadows. Although Carnacki thinks he sees them several times, they dissipate too quickly for him to see clearly. Towards the end of the watch, the Captain sees something on the deck:
“In the place he had indicated there was a faint, dull shadowy spot seeming suspended about a foot above the deck. This grew more visible and there was movement in it and a constant, oily-seeming whirling from the centre outwards. The thing expanded to several feet across, with the lighted planks of the deck showing vaguely through. The movement from the centre outwards was now becoming very distinct, till the whole strange shape blackened and grew more dense, so that the deck below was hidden.”
The shadow eventually dissipates leaving the two men to stare at the wooden deck.
The pattern continues for a week. The calm sea and the thunderous squall repeat every night. Carnacki continues his “counter vibrations” during this time and, although at first they do not appear successful, he eventually concludes that it is ‘attracting’ something rather than repelling it because, every night, a grey cloud appears in all directions immediately after Carnacki powers up his machine.
After a week of this, Carnacki proposes to the Captain that he power up his machine at dusk and let it run all night, taking note of the effects. The men are ordered into the fo’c’sle and told not to leave it under any circumstance. Carnacki seals them in with the SaaaMaaa Ritual. The men are safe and, although Carnacki suggests that the Captain and the three mates go below decks, they insist on staying.
Carnacki constructs his electric pentacle and then turns on the machine. The vibrations go out into the night. A shadow appears on the horizon, encircling the boat as it moves closer.
Silence falls until, a little while later, lightning fills the sky but without any thunder. Carnacki finds himself feeling that it is not ‘real’ lightning at all but “a representation of lightning rather than the physical electricity itself”. A strange quivering runs through the ship:
“I can give you no better illustration of the strangeness of the movement on that glass-like sea than to say that it was just such a movement as might have been given her had an invisible giant hand lifted her and toyed with her, canting her this way and that with a certain curious and rather sickening rhythm of movement.”
This subsides and there are several hours of silence. The lightning continues and increases in intensity. Each flash shows the haze closing in upon the ship. Their breathing becomes labored.
Suddenly, Carnacki notices that there are “grey things floating in the air”. They are insubstantial but they are there all the same. They begin to circle around the ship, vibrating as they float. Carnacki feels the ship beginning to vibrate in the same way. The bow lifts, then the starboard side before slowing to a stop. A deathly silence comes over them until the ship is suddenly pushed upward from the starboard side. It continues in a form of rocking as they realize that something is trying to capsize the ship.
The Captain cries out to Carnacki to shut off his equipment. The deck rises up, almost like a wall, as the men struggle to hang on before Carnacki switches off the machine and the vibrations end. The ship rights itself just in time to be hit by a massive surge of wind. “It was as if all the night on that side were a vast cliff, sending down high and monstrous echoes upon us.”
The wind gets stronger and it is as if the sea itself were screaming at them:
“Then the wind rushed out at us and stunned us wit its sound and force and fury. We were smothered and half-stunned. The vessel went over on to her port side merely from pressure of the wind on her naked spars and side. The whole night seemed one yell and the foam roared and snowed over us in countless tons. I have never known anything like it. We were all splayed about the poop, holding on to anything we could, while the pentacle was smashed to atoms so that we were in complete darkness. The storm-burst had come down on us.”
The storm calms by the morning and, by evening, they are traveling under a brisk wind. However, the ship has sprung serious leaks and sinks several days later. When pressed by his friends for an explanation for why the ship had become like this, Carnacki has a ready theory:
‘Well,’ replied Carnacki, ‘in my opinion she was a focus. That is a technical term which I can best explain by saying that she possessed the “attractive vibration” that is the power to draw to her any psychic waves in the vicinity, much in the way of a medium. The way in which the “vibration” is acquired — to use a technical term again — is, of course, purely a matter for supposition. She may have developed it during the years, owing to a suitability of conditions or it may have been in her (“of her” is a better term) from the very day her keel was laid. I mean the direction in which she lay the condition of the atmosphere, the state of the “electric tensions,” the very blows of the hammers and the accidental combining of materials suited to such an end — all might tend to such a thing. And this is only to speak of the known. The vast unknown it is vain to speculate upon in a brief chatter like this.
‘I would like to remind you here of that idea of mine that certain forms of so-called “hauntings” may have their cause in the “attractive vibrations.” A building or a ship — just as I have indicated — may develop “vibrations,” even as certain materials in combination under the proper conditions will certainly develop an electric current.”
“The Haunted Jarvee” is an odd mix of Hodgson’s interest in the supernatural, science and the ocean. Although the haunting is never completely explained, the scenes of the shadows creeping upon the ship are especially effective and echo his novel, THE GHOST PIRATES. Carnacki’s recklessness is in full view here as he puts the entire ship at danger to prove his theory about ‘counter vibrations’.
No other ‘lost’ cases are mentioned in the story and only the Saaamaaa Ritual is used. It truly is a standalone case with little to connect it to Carnacki’s others cases. It remained the last new Carnacki story to see print for nearly 20 years.