Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Life of William Hope Hodgson, Part 4

We continue the reprinting of R. Alain Everts’ biographical article on William Hope Hodgson.  This part speaks about a pivotal event in Hodgson’s life: his encounter with Harry Houdini.  This would be an event that would scar both men for the rest of their lives.


by R. Alain Everts

The Early Years, Part 4

Hope continued with his school of Physical Culture throughout 1902 and 1903; but in 1902 something interesting and important occurred—Hodgson met Houdini.  (And it is interesting to note that H. P. Lovecraft, who considered Hodgson an excellent writer, also met Houdini, but never knew the details of the following incident.)  The following notices appeared in the Northern Daily Telegraph (24 and 25 October 1902 respectively).

Challenge to The “Handcuff King” At Blackburn

Hodgson v. Houdini


Interest in the visit of Houdini, the handcuff magician, to the Palace Theatre, Blackburn, this week is intensified by the acceptance of his challenge by Mr. W. H. Hodgson, of the School of Physical Culture, Blackburn.  Letters have passed between the parties to the following effect:

The School of Physical Culture, Ainsworth Street, Blackburn

Mr. Harry Houdini


                Being interested in your apparently anatomically impossible handcuff feat, I have decided to take up your challenge to-night (Friday) on the following conditions:

1st           I bring and use my own irons (so look out).

2nd          I iron you myself.

3rd           If you are unable to free yourself, the £25 to be given to the Blackburn Infirmary.

                Should you succeed, I shall be the first one to offer congratulations.  If not, then the Infirmary will benefit.

W. Hope Hodgson


P.S.—Naturally, if your challenge is bona-fide, I shall expect the money to be deposited.  W.H.H.

Houdini’s Reply

I, Harry Houdini, accept the above challenge, and will deposit the £25 at the “Telegraph” Office.  Match to take place to-night (Friday).

H. Houdini

The results of the challenge were as follows:

Handcuff King’s Big Task

An Exciting Performance At Blackburn

The Challenge And Its Results

                At the Palace Theatre, Blackburn, last night, before a “house” packed from pit to gallery, Mr. W. H. Hodgson, principal of the Blackburn School of Physical Culture, took up the challenge issued by Houdini, the “Handcuff King” who engaged to forfeit £25 to the infirmary if he failed to free himself from any irons placed upon him.  The challenge and its acceptance aroused intense interest.  At the outset Houdini protested that the irons which Mr. Hodgson proposed to use had been tampered with, his challenge stipulating that they should be “regulation” irons.  Mr. Hodgson replied that one of the conditions of the challenge entitled him to use his own irons, and at length Houdini consented to this.  His wrists, arms and legs were then locked in a number of fetters and bars of various designs, and he retired to his curtained cabinet on the stage to commence the operation of escaping.  At the expiration of half an hour Houdini asked that his hands should be freed for a moment, so that the circulation might be restored.  Mr. Hodgson, however, would not consent to this, and although appeals were made to him by Houdini’s brother, he was obdurate, despite the fact that Dr. Bradley, who was called to the stage, stated that it was cruelty to go on with the performance.  Mr. Hodgson several times essayed to speak, but the house would not give him a hearing. He was then heard to say, however, “If Houdini is beaten then let him give in.”  When Houdini had been bound about three-quarters of an hour he announced to the audience, amidst loud cheering, that his hands were free and he would take a rest of ten minutes or a quarter of an hour to get the circulation back.  He continued, and after a prolonged and evidently terrible struggle he freed himself entirely.  Addressing the audience, he said he had performed fourteen years, and had never been so brutally treated.  He alleged that some of the irons were plugged.  Mr. Hodgson left the theatre before Houdini had freed himself, being ordered out by a police sergeant, who feared a disturbance.  Seen after the performance, he denied that the irons used were plugged.  He holds that he acted fairly in not with-drawing from the contest, which, he says, was not a love match.  It was 12:15, this morning when the great crowd left the theatre.

                The description by Milhouse Christopher in his biography of Houdini (entitled Houdini) of this episode is completely inaccurate, needless to say—Christopher practically accuses Hodgson of plugging the irons—omitting the fact that Hodgson denied doing so—which no doubt he did not do anyway.  Knowing anatomy and the structure of muscle, Hodgson would hardly have had to resort to such tactics to stump Houdini.  This was most likely the closest time that Houdini came to losing his career, and if one takes into account the length of time involved, perhaps Houdini was indeed licked this time.

Hodgson continued to run his school until late 1903 early 1904 when the family [went] to Borth for the summer, and Hope decided to remain the year round, exercising his new hobby—writing.

[The actual encounter had much more to it, of course, than what Everts quotes here.  It was, in fact, a pivotal event in the lives of both men.  Houdini carried physical scars from this challenge for the rest of his life and would never again allow himself to be placed so close to possible failure.  For his part, losing the challenge eventually doomed Hodgson’s school to close, leaving him to turn to writing as a means of making money.  Not, as Everts so blithely puts it, as a hobby.  For a more detailed analysis of this extremely important collision of two monumental personalities, please see my article “Houdini v. Hodgson–The Blackburn Challenge” which appeared in WEIRD FICTION REVIEW available from Centipede Press.   –Sam Gafford]



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CARNACKI Play Update!

We’ll be returning to more of our reprint of R. Alain Everts’ biographical article on WHH but we received word about the stage play based on Carnacki that recently premiered in London.

SONY DSCThis is from an email from creator M. J. Starling:

Thanks again for posting about Audience with the Ghost Finder. I thought you might be interested to know how the premiere went.
The premiere took place on 8 May. After three performances, tickets were selling so well that the producers, Blackshaw Theatre ( decided to add an extra performance to the original run of five. The sixth and final night, on 17 May, was completely sold out – standing room only.
Considering this was my first play, the reviews have been better than I could have hoped:
Lauren Mooney, A Younger Theatre: “having been raised on a diet of  ’70s sci-fi and TV repeats of The Devil Rides Out, I had a whale of a time”
Deborah Klayman, The Public Reviews: ★★★★ “brilliantly written … Alexander Pankhurst’s Carnacki is intriguing and terribly funny all at once”
Helen Gush, stage2page: “Double Thumbs Up … the audience are an integral part of the superstitious geometric symmetry, forming a protective circle around the two actors … Alexander Pankhurst is an excellent fit for Carnacki – very British, clipped, poised but with an edge of eccentricity … fun mystery”
Christianna Mason, What’s Peen Seen?: 4/5 “a great new play … highly recommended”
Not bad for Carnacki’s first time treading the boards! And nothing’s confirmed, so I can’t do much more than hint, but the show was well enough received that I’m now looking at ways to bring it to a wider audience.
There are loads of backstage and production photos on Blackshaw’s blog:
Congratulations to everyone involved in the play.  Let’s hope that it becomes so successful that it eventually jumps the pond over here so that we Hodgson-deprived Americans can see it!

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I am pleased to announce the contents of the forthcoming SARGASSO: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies Issue #1!  I think we have an outstanding selection of essays, fiction, poetry and art all devoted to WHH.  I’m sure you will agree.

1 sargasso



“Shadow Out of Hodgson” by John D. Haefele

“A Reassessment of William Hope Hodgson’s Poetry” by Phillip A. Ellis

“William Hope Hodgson’s Sales Log: The Pleasure and Consequences of Collecting” by Jane Frank

“The ‘Wonder Unlimited’–The Tales of Captain Gault” by Mark Valentine

“Always Sea and Sea: The Night Land as Sea-Scape” by Emily Alder

“The Long Apocalypse: The Experimental Eschatologies of H. G. Wells and William Hope Hodgson” by Brett Davidson

“Ab-Reality: The Metaphysical Vision of William Hope Hodgson” by Neal Alan Spurlock

“Things Invisible: Human and Ab-Human in Two of Hodgson’s Carnacki Stories” by Leigh Blackmore


“In Memory of Hope” by Phillip A. Ellis

“Beyond the Deaths of Worlds” by Phillip A. Ellis


“A Question of Meaning” by Pierre V. Comtois

“The Blue Egg” by William Meikle

Artwork from

Andrea Bonazzi

Steve Lines

Pete Von Sholly

Nick Gucker

Allen Koszowki

Not bad for a first issue, eh?

The only problem is how to top this?  I should probably start working on that now!


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Although not Hodgson related, here’s a book I read recently that I really enjoyed.

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The Life of William Hope Hodgson, Part 3

A early photo of WHH.  I am not sure of the year but probably roughly around 1903 or so.

A early photo of WHH. I am not sure of the year but probably roughly around 1903 or so.

This, the 3rd part of our reprinting of R. Alain Everts’ essay, relates some otherwise unknown glimpses of Hodgson’s early life and times with his family.  Sadly, WHH does not come off too well in some of these stories as you will see.  The article that is reprinted here did actually appear in a local Blackburn paper and it is generally believed that it was a publicity piece that Hodgson wrote himself.

Again, this article represents some vital biographical information that is not available anywhere else.  It is for that reason that we are reprinting it here.  No copyright infringement is intended or implied.


by R. Alain Everts

The Early Years, Part 3

Hope returned from sea permanently slightly before the turn of the century—and he was well known in Blackburn for the tales he spun of his many and varied adventures at sea.  Some of his excellent photographs of the sea in her many moods of storming were published about 1900 in the London Illustrated News. It was also at this time that his grandfather, William Hodgson died–in late 1900—which enable the Hodgson family to move to better quarters in Park Mount—a pleasant suburb of Blackburn—to a large house on Revidge Road.  And in early 1901, Hope was able to establish his celebrated School of Physical Culture in Blackburn—thanks to the money his grandfather left the family, as well as some beautiful antique furniture that Hope carted off to his school located on the second floor of 13 Ainsworth Street—of course over the protestations of his mother and sisters.  Needless to say, the furniture was ruined by Hope’s clientele.  Hope had continued his body-building exercises, and he was able at this point to lift a full-grown man over his head with one hand.

Hope also had a great interest and ability in sports—he was an excellent boxer, a strong swimmer, a good horseman and cricket player.  He also loved to go on long walks, sometimes accompanied by the children.  Once he took his brother Chris on a long midnight walk—and Chris recalls that his brother Hope would stop from time to time to listen to sounds that Chris could not hear.  Hope was also quite a health-food addict—and also somewhat of a hypochondriac about his own health, fearing any small sign as some major illness.  He also delighted in practical jokes—often he would appear at the second story windows of his home or neighbors.  Of course, Hope was tickled to death at the reaction he provoked.  Another time, he loaned a neighbor, Mr. W. R. Horner, a copy of H. G. Wells’ book The Time Machine, and late at night, Hope climbed up the drainpipe on the outside of the house, scaring Homer.  Hope repeated this trick with his sisters several times—driving them to distraction with his stunts—especially climbing up the outside of the house at midnight.  One of his jokes really did backfire—Hope tried to make some fireworks, and was drying the powder in the family over, when it suddenly exploded, totally destroying the oven.

His brother Chris also recalls times when Hope would attempt more grandiose schemes.  Once, Hope made an eight-foot box kite, hoping to lift Chris with it, but fortunately he was only able to lift a chair.  Hope also tended to be very short with his sisters—whom he taunted and mocked quite severely at times.  Once one of them spoke back to him and he chased her around the dining room table several times waving a large knife—another time he got into a fight with Mary and in his anger threw a heavy crystal vase at her, missing her head by inches.  During this period, Hope’s mother began to deteriorate—she was to become an invalid before long; but also Hope would be extremely short with her from time to time—he was totally atheistic and quite contemptuous of the Church and religion in general.

Along with his temper, Hope carried an enormous amount of courage—all accounts remark his total lack of fear.  One of his fearless feats was long remembered in Blackburn; the article from the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph, 30 August 1902, also seems to have been written by Hope himself:


A Daring Feat at Blackburn

                Once upon a time a certain very daring young man issued a challenge to fate by riding down the steps of the Capitol at Washington.  He might have broken his neck, he might have barked his shins but he did neither.  He simply rode down the steps.  The story of his daring was wired the world over, his portrait appeared in the papers, the magazines treated his ride in progressive numbers—first step, second step, third step and so on—the nations gushed over him.

                In the natural order of things the feat should have been at once eclipsed by others still more daring and more wonderful—down the steps on one wheel, for example, down the steps backwards, down the steps in a millionth part of a second less time than no. 1, and so on, but no, nothing of the sort.  From that day to this he has reigned alone in all his glory—on the steps of the Capital.

                During the week however, Blackburn has produced a feat equally astonishing and equally daring—on all fours, in fact, with that of Washington.  And if the Washington hero was hoisted high on the pedestal of fame, why not also he of Blackburn?  Hence this article and hence this picture.

                During the summer months workmen have been busily engaged in improving the means of access to Revidge by the conversion of that old-time lovers’ lane, known to some as the Ginnell, to others as the Snickett, and in more recent times as Spion Kop, into a modern road to be known henceforth as Brantfell Road.  According to some authorities the town has one, or maybe two, hillside streets stepper than this one even, but the official mind holds a contrary view for it has ruled the Snickett, etc., too steep for ordinary treatment, and has turned it into a street of steps, the only one that Blackburn is able to boast.  Now the old narrow, limb-twisting lane lying at the bottom of a couple of ugly walls has been replaced by a wide road on which a series of steps has been laid—the said steps numbering sixty in all, each about a couple of feet in width.  On the Red Rake side a handsome wall, to be surmounted by iron railings, had been built, and as a protection to unwary drivers who might mistake the street for one of the common or garden variety, five iron posts have been implanted.  Don’t know why.  Perhaps it’s to keep the flies off.

                Now, although a cart or a carriage may not be squeezed between the posts, there is nothing on earth to prevent a bicycle being pedaled through.  Prudence would, of course, dictate a very wide detour in preference to a short cut down the steps, and ninety-nine men out of a hundred would vote such a ride a flat impossibility.  There are some men however, to whom fear is an unknown quantity and danger merely an element to be conquered, and one of these is Mr. W. H. Hodgson, the well-known professor of physical culture, who has this week cycled down the “steppy” precipice without breaking his neck.

                It was on Tuesday afternoon, and the workmen engaged in putting the finishing touches to the new thoroughfare were hard at work when Mr. Hodgson appeared on the scene and electrified them by dropping his well-braked free-wheel over the top step.  Breathlessly one and all watched him as he calmly hopped form ledge to ledge, every bound full of dire possibility.  Second followed second, the snap, the slip, the crash, fearfully looked for failed to come.  Mr. Hodgson’s guardian angel was on duty that day—and only a few more steps remained to be negotiated.

                At this point a touch of comedy was thrown into the scene.  Among the watchers was a good lady resident of the street, and just before the rider reached her dwelling she rushed out of her garden-gate, and with outstretched arms barred the path, exclaiming, “Here, this isn’t a road for carts and Bicycles”.  Her motive was not doubt good, but little did she realize how she was adding to the peril of the situation.  Happily Mr. Hodgson had is machine so completely under control that—most wonderful part of his performance—he had no difficulty in throwing himself from the saddle and landing on his feet.  This was on the 58th step, and having safely navigated the steep thus far Mr. Hodgson, determined not to be beaten, managed to mount again and proceed on his way rejoicing.

                Since then I have heard something of another attempt being projected, but it is to be hope that cycling “down the golden stairs” will not become one of the favored pastimes of Blackburn wheelers.  Else the corporation will surely have to be invited to equip the track with nets and all sorts of life-saving contrivances… And, of course, they will joyfully respond!

The Vagabond

[To be continued…]

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The Life of William Hope Hodgson, Part 2

One of the promo shots WHH did of himself for his "School of Physical Culture"

One of the promo shots WHH did of himself for his “School of Physical Culture”

Today we continue with the reprinting of R. Alain Everts biographical article about the life of William Hope Hodgson.  As mentioned in the last post, this comprehensive article has not been seen since the last reprint in 1987.  We are providing it here as a helping resource for those wanting to learn more about Hodgson’s life and, hopefully, wish to use it in their own research.

This particular portion contains some very sobering facts regarding the type of life that Hodgson’s family faced after the death of the Reverend Samuel Hodgson in 1892.  Except for some grammatical corrections, this article is being reprinted as it appeared in the 1987 Soft Books edition.


By R. Alain Everts

The Early Years, Part Two

In 1895, Hope qualified as a seaman, and shortly thereafter he became an office in the Merchant Marine.  At this time, he indulged in a lifelong hobby—photography—taking pictures not only aboard ship at sea, but also at home of his mother and brothers and sisters.  He also commences building his physique—this a lifelong interest to the remainder of his days.  As a friend reported:

When one day he saw the first mate knock down one of the crew, Hodgson, then senior ‘prentice, made up his mind that no man should do that to him without getting as good as he gave.  From that time onward he started training, and not only trained himself to become a first-rate boxer, but fired all of his junior ‘prentices to follow suit, so that the whole crowd were conspicuous for their physique and splendid general health.  To a landsman this many sound an easy thing to do; but to a sailorman it means much.  It means the sacrifice of much that makes life bearable on board.

During his service in the Merchant Marine, Hope sailed three times round the world, and between trips he continued his schooling—either attending the Blackburn technical school at this time, or later after his return from the sea, and meeting there his future wife, Bessie Farnworth, who sketched his face for the class—and once off Port Chalmers, New Zealand, Hope dived into the shark-infested sea in order to save a fellow sailor, on 28 March 1898.  The report to the Humane Society read:

Salvor:              William Hope Hodgson, Aged 20.

                        Ships Apprentice,

                        Henry Street,


Saved:              A. Seaman.

                        6.30. pm. 28th.  March 1898

                        Port Chalmbers, New Zealand.

Summary:         The man fell overboard from a height of 120 feet 600 yards from shore, 50 feet deep strong current and water infested with sharks.  Hodgson jumped after him and with the aid of a life buoy held him up for 25 minutes till they were picked up by a bot.

Honorary Award:         Bronze Medal.

For this act of courage, Hope received a medal from the Royal Humane Society.  Mary recalls the police coming to the house and taking Hope away (around 1899), and the entire family was worried and puzzled, thinking Hope was in trouble. But no, it was to be presented the medallion of bronze from the society.  However, Hope’s mother and the remaining children were not having things quite so easy.  In early 1896, the destitute Mrs. Hodgson applied to the Clergy Orphan Corporation in London to try and obtain entry for her daughter Lissie—for at this period, any children of deceased cleargy could apply for free schooling at the Corporation equivalent of the High School and Junior High School years (in America).  Lissie not yet 10 years old, was attending a day school on London Road in Blackburn, several blocks from the Hodgson house.  It was on one of Hope’s leaves from the Merchant Marine that Mary recalls Hope walking the children home from the day school that Chris, Mary, Lissie, Bertha and Eunice were attending, through the Corporation Park and reciting the tale of the statue with the monster beneath it.  This scared the children so that they were never able to set foot in the park again—the story appeared later in The Strand Magazine entitled “The Goddess of Death”.  Chad, who had graduated from Westminster prior to his father’s death, entered the British Army in April 1895, much against his Mother’s wishes—he was soon to marry also against his mother’s wishes and was rarely ever seen again at home.  Hope of course was away to sea for many months at a time—while both Frank and Hillyard were attending the Orphan’s School which their mother had successfully enrolled them during 1893.

In January of 1896, Mrs. Hodgson had no income, and nothing had been left to her or to her family by her late husband.  She and the children were completely at the mercy of Church charity—the family had in fact been given several donations–£15.0.0. in 1886 and another £15.0.0. in 1893 from the Rochester Diocesan Society—while friends in Blackburn, at the death of Reverend Hodgson, collected £30.0.0. for her family.  Mrs. Hodgson’s brother, the Reverend T.L. Brown wrote to the clergy Orphan Corporation:

Dear Sir,

            Mrs. Hodgson is my sister, therefore I can speak with certain knowledge as to her circumstances.

            Mr. Hodgson left her without a penny – he was not assured – we have done what we can.  My mother is a widow – and I am married and therefore our means are small.  I paid my sister a visit a few hours last August and was appalled to see the struggle for the bare necessities of life for herself and the children remaining at home.  Out of nine there is not one bringing in a farthing towards their maintenance, there are the two lads in the C.O.S., a girl at Belper, one boy, apprenticed at sea and the eldest has enlisted in the Line—in a York regiment.  There are now the four younger ones at home.  She tells me she had not more than £25.0.0. per annum to live on.

            The case is a hard one and needs help, and if your committee can possibly see your way clear to accept the child, Lissie Sarah, as a candidate I think it will be a real charity.

And Mrs. Hodgson, who [was] by this time an ordained Deaconess—who did not preach, but rather administered to the poor—bringing them food and medicines, wrote from her new address of 16 Henry Street, on February 8, 1896:

Dear Sir,

            I am sorry your letter was not answered earlier.  I overworked and had to pay the penalty of doing the very least possible for a week or more.

            I did not see in the petition, any questions as to occupation or salary, I am sorry I omitted any answers I ought to have given.  And to answer is difficult and painful.  I am no in a situation: you will know how impossible it is for a gentlewoman between forty and fifty years of age, with a family of young children to get a situation.  Had my dear children been older I perhaps would have become matron in a School or Institution—but my precious children!  I would have just gone on from day to day, working away, doing my best, and trusting my heavenly Father’s promise to provide, and He has never let us want.  Friends kindly send me yard and old clothes, out of which I clothe the children and myself.  I sell what I do not use.  I buy articles wholesale, and retail them.  I make articles of clothing which I find a ready sale; I conduct meetings and have a class for women and girls to learn useful sewing.  It is impossible to say what my small earnings amount to—they vary much, and I have not time to keep a proper account.  Of course since last April I have found it harder, not having my eldest son’s wages, which were 17/- a week.  Our God very wonderfully undertook for us at Christmas and bought us through the extra expense of the dear boys home from Canterbury.  A friend paid their railway fares; another sent a load of coal,another a load of firewood, and ten dear friends sent money in sums from 3/- to £2.0.0.!! (in all nearly £10.0.0.), besides food.

            Forgive my troubling you with so much detail; but you will more clearly see my position.

            I daily praise God for His dear care in opening the doors of the C.O.S. to my boys.  I exult in it; for how otherwise could they have been educated!  If your committee are lead to alloy my little girl to become a candidate, my heart will indeed sing for joy.  She is the brightest of my four little girls, and I did so long for her to have an education.

            Pardon such a lengthy epistle.

 To be Continued in Part 3

[I do not know if Lissie was accepted into the C.O.S. but, based on these two letters, it would seem very likely.–Sam Gafford]

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The Life of William Hope Hodgson, Part 1

William Hope Hodgson

William Hope Hodgson

There has not been a great deal of biographical work done on the life of William Hope Hodgson.  In fact, there’s really only been three items of any merit.  There is the introduction by Sam Moskowitz to OUT OF THE STORM, Jane Frank’s introduction to THE WANDERING SOUL and a long article by R. Alain Everts.

Although the first two are relatively easy to come by, Everts’ article is not.

Originally published in two issues of the fanzine SHADOW in 1973, the article was later revised and reprinted as SOME FACTS IN THE CASE OF WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON: MASTER OF FANTASY (Strange Co., 1974 and later by Soft Books, 1987).  This article is important for several reasons: there is much biographical and genealogical data here as well as some family stories about Hodgson from his then remaining siblings.  Everts began his research in the 1960s when a few of Hodgson’s relatives were still alive and had access to many stories, memories and papers that no one else has had.

I am reprinting the version of the article from the Soft Book editions over the next few postings.  It is very likely that some will not appreciate my doing so but I believe it is important because the information contained herein deserves to be widely disseminated.  My copy of the Soft Books edition does not contain a copyright notice but it is not my intention to subvert or violate any copyright which, unless I hear otherwise, is the property of Everts.

Again, I reiterate that this blog makes me NO money.  I do not profit financially from it in any way, shape or form.  I am not seeking to make any compensation from this and request that, should anyone copy anything from these posts,  if re-posting or using for your own research, please credit Everts for the material.  Thank you.–Sam Gafford

PS–You will read in this section a VERY interesting comment that Everts makes regarding Hodgson and Machen.  All I can say on that is that I have been unable to independently verify this claim and would welcome input from anyone who can.  I am reprinting the essay as it appeared in the Soft Books version, starting with Everts own introduction.


By R. Alain Everts

This is not meant to be a critical evaluation of the works of W. Hope Hodgson, but primarily a brief account of his life, background, untimely death—excluding many details that I would have liked to include, due to bulk of material, time and other exigencies.  This essay was written with the generous cooperation of the divers Hodgson family members, who unhesitatingly opened their records and material to me for my use.  I am especially indebted to Chris and Mary—Hope’s last living brother and sister—and to D. Hope Waitt and Hope C. Hodgson and their families—nephews of W. Hope Hodgson, and his namesakes.  I am also more than indebted to the fine research ability of Mr. John Ringrose, one of the best and most patient scholars I have come across.


William Hope Hodgson, who never in his brief lifetime shewed the slightest religious bent, and in fact, had, as his sister described him, “an extreme disinterest in religion” which caused him some friction with his mother, came from a very religious background.  William Hodgson, grandfather of the celebrated writer who received his name, was born in Sheffield, the family seat of his forebears, in the year 1812.  At his marriage on 30 May 1838, his trade was given as tailor and that of his father, also named William, as labourer.  His bride, Ann Gillott, age 22, was the daughter of John Gillott whose profession was cutter.

Their only child, Samuel Hodgson, was born on 7 October 1846 at 149 West Street, Sheffield, and his father’s occupation was listed as tailor and draper.  In 1852, William Hodgson and his family moved to 32 Fitzwilliam Street, and in 1859, William’s occupation was listed as scripture reader.  This was the beginning of his rise from the working class to position of gentleman.  In 1868, he and his family moved to Cobden View, Crooker and from 1875 until his death on 16 December 1900, William Hodgson was listed as Mr. William Hodgson, gentleman.

William Hope Hodgson’s father, an ascetic, pallid and sternly religious man, was sent to the Lichfield Theological College located in Lichfield, Staffordshire, where he matriculated in 1869.  Samuel Hodgson was ordained a deacon of the Anglo-Catholic Church of England on 25 December 1871—and in 1874, a Priest of the Anglican Church.  From his ordination, the Reverend Samuel Hodgson became a roving Evangelist—due more to his temper and his disagreements with his Bishop than to his religious zeal—holding the position of Curate at South Darley, Derbyshire from 1871-1873; at St. James in Wednesbury, Staffordshire for one year and on to Pattiswick in Essex for one year.  On 1 February 1875, in Wednesbury, Samuel Hodgson married Miss Lizzie Sarah Brown, who had been born on 11 February 1852 in Chepstow Monmouth in Gloucester, the only daughter of Burdett Lambton Brown, a well-to-do engineer and owner of an engineering  factory in Birmingham, and his wife, Elizabeth Mary (Brown) Brown.  Their daughter was given the finest education for this period, graduating from a finishing school in Brussels, Belgium.  Subsequently, the Reverend Hodgson and his wife were sent to St. james Church in Greenstead Green, Essex in 1876, and later that year transferred to the town of Wethersfield in Esex where the Reverend Hodgson was appointed Curate and Windsey Lecturer of the Wethersfield Church, from 1876 until April 1878—and it was here that his most gifted son was born.

William Hope Hodgson, who was always called “Hope” by the family, was born at St. Mary the Virgin, the Blackmore End District Church of the Parish of Wethersfield, in the adjoining house known as St. Mary’s, on 1 November 1877, one of twelve children born to the Reverend and Mrs. Hodgson.  Shortly after his birth, on December 2 1877, William Hope Hodgson was baptized by his father in the Wethersfield Church in Blackmore En where he had been born.  His elder brother, Samuel Lambton Chad Hodgson (9 March 1876—ca. 1916), and always called “Chad”, had preceded Hope by twenty month—and in between Chad and Hope, another brother, Lawrence Burdett Hodgson who died at 19 months.  Following Hope came two other brothers who died before age two—Herbert Arthur Hodgson (1879-1880) and Thomas Edward Raphael Hodgson (1880-1882).  The remaining children followed rapidly: Hillyard Charles Earle Hodgson (19 October 1881—ca. 1926) called “Hillyard”; Mary Ellen Elizabeth Hodgson (2 Aprill 1883) called “Mary” or “Pearl”; Francis Xavier Hodgson (29 april 1884-22 October 1942) called “Frank”; Mary Bertha Ann Hodgson (11 July 1995-28 March 1961) called “Bertha”; Lissie Sarah Hodgson (31 July 1886-4 May 1959) called “Lissie”; Sophia Beatrice Eunice Hodgson (27 October 1887-30 January 1962) called “Eunice”, and Christopher George Hodgson (30 June 1890) called “Chris”.

In one of those remarkable literary coincidences, “Chad” Hodgson earned the ire of the family by running off with a divorced woman, some years older than he was.  They had one child only, a daughter named Una Hope Hodgson, born in 1909 and who died in 1959.  She married on Arthur Hilary Blair Machen, the only son of author Arthur Machen, and had one daughter who today is astounded to learn that she is related by marriage to the two greatest British horror authors of all time.

Meanwhile, the family was traveling and this lack of stability no doubt put a terrible strain on Mrs. Hodgson and the children, for as the family grew larger quite quickly, the income of the Reverend remained small and the family was continually on the move.  The lack of secure roots must have affected the sensitive Hope quite early in his childhood, for he ran away from home several times before he was thirteen years old.  From 1878-1879, the Reverend Hodgson was stationed as Curate at St. John’s in MIddlesbrough in Yorkshire, and the period 1879-1882 found the family in Skegby, in Stanton Hill, Nottinghamshire.  The next five children were all born in or around London, in Kent and in Essex—the Reverend was living in Battersea, London in 1886 for one year as the Curate of St. Andrew’s.  In middle 1887, the Reverend Hodgson was sent as a missionary to the “heathen” Catholics in Ardrahan, County Galway, Eire, where the family remained until the end of 1889.  During their stay there, Lissie’s father, Burdett Lambton Brown, died a rather wealthy man on February 13, 1888, but apparently his widow received the entire estate of over £600.0.0  It was only at the death of William Hodgson that William Hope Hodgson’s family began to prosper, as the entire fortune of £1,222.0.0 was left to Hope’s mother.

One of Mary’s earliest recollections of her brother Hope is from this period—when the family was living at the Old Rectory in Ardrahan, which had a mile-long drive up to the house.  Hope was thrashed by his father for climbing tree3s, and he immediately went to the top of another tree and remained there for several days, being feed by servants.  Some unfortunate happenings finally forced the family to leave Ardrahan—for the Catholics resented the presence of Hodgson, and spurred on by the local Catholic leaders, the peasants threatened the family several times.  There was fear that the small children might be kidnapped by some of the locals, and one evening the Reverend Hodgson was struck seriously on the head by an anonymously tossed rock—while the orchards of the estate were stripped at the order of the local Catholic hierarchy.

At this period, Hope, who had been attending the new school in Margate during the years 1885-1889, spent the holidays with his family, and the above incident showed that he was all ready somewhat temperamental and unruly, and with his father, rebellious and disobedient.  Even at this early age, Hope expressed a desire to run away to sea and become a sailor, completely against the wishes of his father.  In 1890, the family moved back to England and settled in Blackburn where the Reverend Hodgson was Curate at All Saints Church—and the family moved into the Fraser Villa at 42 Longshaw Street.  Hope returned to the new school and matriculated, but the friction between himself and his father increased, culminating finally in late 1891 when Hope ran away for good.  With the assistance of his Uncle, the Reverend Thomas Lumsdon Brown (11 April 1859-5 October 1948), who paid the boy’s expenses and accompanied him to Liverpool where Hope indentured himself on 28 August 1891—apprenticing himself to Master W. W. Nelson, of the firm of Shaw and Savill for four years as a seaman in the Merchant Marine.  Although barely 14 years old, the mature and sturdily build youngster gave his age as the minimum 15 years old in order to be accepted.  Back in Blackburn, in May, 1892, Hope’s parents opened the Gospel and Salvation Mission together with Mrs. Hodgson assisting her husband’s priestly duties—in fact after his death she was to become an ordained Deaconess.  About this same time, a cancerous irritation on the neck of the Reverend Hodgson became malignant, perhaps inflamed by years of wearing the stiff and uncomfortable “dog collar”, and he died on 11 November 1892, only 46 years of age.

(To Be Continued in Part 2)


Filed under Hodgson, William Hope Hodgson

“The Derelict” by William Hope Hodgson

Since it’s first appearance in The Red Magazine in 1912, “The Derelict” has remained one of Hodgson’s most popular, and reprinted, stories.  It’s mixture of the sea, science and horror is unique and sets the tone for many similar tales by H. P. Lovecraft (although Lovecraft did not read Hodgson until 1934, long after writing most of his fiction).  The story is truly one of Hodgson’s best and has also had several audio adaptations as well.  For those of you unfamiliar with the story, I present it here.  If you’ve already read it, I encourage you to revisit this singularly strange tale.

I shall have something new on Friday to post and it could possibly get me in some trouble for doing so!  Be sure to tune in and find out!–Sam

The Derelict

“IT’S the material,” said the old ship’s doctor–“the material plus the conditions–and, maybe,” he added slowly, “a third factor–yes, a third factor; but there, there — ” He broke off his half-meditative sentence and began to charge his pipe.

“Go on, doctor,” we said encouragingly, and with more than a little expectancy. We were in the smoke-room of the Sand-a-lea, running across the North Atlantic; and the doctor was a character. He concluded the charging of his pipe, and lit it; then settled himself, and began to express himself more fully.

“The material,” he said with conviction, “is inevitably the medium of expression of the life-force–the fulcrum, as it were; lacking which it is unable to exert itself, or, indeed, to express itself in any form or fashion that would be intelligible or evident to us. So potent is the share of the material in the production of that thing which we name life, and so eager the life-force to express itself, that I am convinced it would, if given the right conditions, make itself manifest even through so hopeless seeming a medium as a simple block of sawn wood; for I tell you, gentlemen, the life-force is both as fiercely urgent and as indiscriminate as fire–the destructor; yet which some are now growing to consider the very essence of life rampant. There is a quaint seeming paradox there,” he concluded, nodding his old grey head.

“Yes, doctor,” I said. “In brief, your argument is that life is a thing, state, fact, or element, call it what you like, which requires the material through which to manifest itself, and that given the material, plus the conditions, the result is life. In other words, that life is an evolved product, manifested through matter and bred of conditions–eh?”

“As we understand the word,” said the old doctor. “Though, mind you, there may be a third factor. But, in my heart, I believe that it is a matter of chemistry–conditions and a suitable medium; but given the conditions, the brute is so almighty that it will seize upon anything through which to manifest itself. It is a force generated by conditions; but, nevertheless, this does not bring us one iota nearer to its explanation, any more than to the explanation of electricity or fire. They are, all three, of the outer forces–monsters of the void. Nothing we can do will create any one of them, our power is merely to be able, by providing the conditions, to make each one of them manifest to our physical senses. Am I clear?”

“Yes, doctor, in a way, you are,” I said. “But I don’t agree with you, though I think I understand you. Electricity and fire are both what I might call natural things, but life is an abstract something–a kind of all-permeating wakefulness. Oh, I can’t explain it! Who could? But it s spiritual, not just a thing bred out of a condition, like fire, as you say, or electricity. It’s a horrible thought of yours. Life’s a kind of spiritual mystery — ”

“Easy, my boy!” said the old doctor, laughing gently to himself. “Or else I may be asking you to demonstrate the spiritual mystery of life of the limpet, or the crab, shall we say.” He grinned at me with ineffable perverseness. “Anyway,” he continued, “as I suppose you’ve all guessed, I’ve a yarn to tell you in support of my impression that life is no more a mystery or a miracle than fire or electricity. But, please to remember, gentlemen, that because we’ve succeeded in naming and making good use of these two forces, they’re just as much mysteries, fundamentally as ever. And, anyway, the thing I’m going to tell you won’t explain the mystery of life, but only give you one of my pegs on which I hang my feeling that life is as I have said, a force made manifest through conditions–that is to say, natural chemistry–and that it can take for its purpose and need, the most incredible and unlikely matter; for without matter it cannot come into existence–it cannot become manifest — ”

“I don’t agree with you, doctor,” I interrupted. “Your theory would destroy all belief in life after death. It would — ”

“Hush, sonny,” said the old man, with a quiet little smile of comprehension. “Hark to what I’ve to say first; and, anyway, what objection have you to material life after death? And if you object to a material framework, I would still have you remember that I am speaking of life, as we understand the word in this our life. Now do be a quiet lad, or I’ll never be done:

“It was when I was a young man, and that is a good many years ago, gentlemen. I had passed my examinations, but was so run down with overwork that it was decided that I had better take a trip to sea. I was by no means well off, and very glad in the end to secure a nominal post as doctor in the sailing passenger clipper running out to China.

“The name of the ship was the Bheospsé, and soon after I had got all my gear aboard she cast off, and we dropped down the Thames, and next day were well away out in the Channel.

“The captain’s name was Gannington, a very decent man, though quite illiterate. The first mate, Mr. Berlies, was a quiet, sternish, reserved man, very well-read. The second mate, Mr. Selvern, was, perhaps, by birth and upbringing, the most socially cultured of the three, but he lacked the stamina and indomitable pluck of the two others. He was more of a sensitive, and emotionally and even mentally, the most alert man of the three.

“On our way out, we called at Madagascar, where we landed some of our passengers; then we ran eastward, meaning to call at North-West Cape; but about a hundred degrees east we encountered very dreadful weather, which carried away all our sails, and sprung the jibboom and foret’gallantmast.

“The storm carried us northward for several hundred miles, and when it dropped us finally, we found ourselves in a very bad state. The ship had been strained, and had taken some three feet of water through her seams; the maintopmast had been sprung, in addition to the jibboom and foret’gallantmast, two of our boats had gone, as also one of the pigstys, with three fine pigs, these latter having been washed overboard but some half-hour before the wind began to ease, which it did very quickly, though a very ugly sea ran for some hours after.

“The wind left us just before dark, and when morning came it brought splendid weather–a calm, mildly undulating sea, and a brilliant sun, with no wind. It showed us also that we were not alone, for about two miles away to the westward was another vessel, which Mr. Selvern, the second mate, pointed out to me.

“‘That’s a pretty rum-looking, packet, doctor,’ he said, and handed me his glass.

“I looked through it at the other vessel, and saw what he meant; at least, I thought I did.

“‘Yes, Mr. Selvern,’ I said. ‘She’s got a pretty old-fashioned look about her.’

“He laughed at me in his pleasant way.

“‘It’s easy to see you’re not a sailor, doctor,’ he remarked. ‘There’s a dozen rum things about her. She’s a derelict, and has been floating round, by the look of her, for many a score of years. Look at the shape of her counter, and the bows and cutwater. She’s as old as the hills, as you might say, and ought to have gone down to Davy Jones a good while ago. Look at the growths on her, and the thickness of her standing rigging; that’s all salt encrustations, I fancy, if you notice the white colour. She’s been a small barque; but, don’t you see, she’s not a yard left aloft. They’ve all dropped out of the slings; everything rotted away; wonder the standing rigging hasn’t gone, too. I wish the old man would let us take the boat and have a look at her. She’d be well worth it.’

“‘There seemed little chance, however, of this, for all hands were turned to and kept hard at it all day long repairing the damage to the masts and gear; and this took a long while, as you may think. Part of the time I gave a hand heaving on one of the deck capstans, for the exercise was good for my liver. Old Captain Gannington approved, and I persuaded him to come along and try some of the same medicine, which he did; and we got very chummy over the job.

“We got talking about the derelict, and he remarked how lucky we were not to have run full tilt on to her in the darkness, for she lay right away to leeward of us, according, to the way that we had been drifting in the storm. He also was of the opinion that she had a strange look about her, and that she was pretty old; but on this latter point he plainly had far less knowledge than the second mate, for he was, as I have said, an illiterate man, and knew nothing of seacraft beyond what experience had taught him. He lacked the book knowledge which the second mate had of vessels previous to his day, which it appeared the derelict was.

“‘She’s an old ‘un, doctor,’ was the extent of observations in this direction.

“Yet, when I mentioned to him that it would be interesting to go aboard and give her a bit of an overhaul, he nodded his head as if the idea had been already in his mind and accorded with his own inclinations.

“‘When the work’s over, doctor,’ he said. ‘Can’t spare the men now, ye know. Got to get all shipshape an’ ready as smart as we can. But, we’ll take my gig, an’ go off in the second dog-watch. The glass is steady, an’ it’ll be a bit of gam for us.’

“That evening, after tea, the captain gave orders to clear the gig and get her overboard. The second mate was to come with us, and the skipper gave him word to see that two or three lamps were put into the boat, as it would soon fall dark. A little later we were pulling across the calmness of the sea with a crew of six at the oars, and making very good speed of it.

“Now, gentlemen, I have detailed to you with great exactness all the facts, both big and little, so that you can follow step by step each incident in this extraordinary affair, and I want you now to pay the closest attention. I was sitting in the stern-sheets with the second mate and the captain, who was steering, and as we drew nearer and nearer to the stranger I studied her with an ever-growing attention, as, indeed, did Captain Gannington and the second mate. She was, as you know, to the west-ward of us, and the sunset was making a great flame of red light to the back of her, so that she showed a little blurred and indistinct by reason of the halation of the light, which almost defeated the eye in any attempt to see her rotting spars and standing rigging, submerged, as they were, in the fiery glory of the sunset.

“It was because of this effect of the sunset that we had come quite close, comparatively, to the derelict before we saw that she was all surrounded by a sort of curious scum, the colour of which was difficult to decide upon by reason of the red light that was in the atmosphere, but which afterwards we discovered to be brown. This scum spread all about the old vessel for many hundreds of yards in a huge, irregular patch, a great stretch of which reached out to the eastward, upon the starboard side of the boat some score or so fathoms away.

“‘Queer stuff,’ said Captain Gannington, leaning to the side and looking over. ‘Something in the cargo as ‘as gone rotten, and worked out through ‘er seams.’

“‘Look at her bows and stern,’ said the second mate. ‘Just look at the growth on her!’

“There were, as he said, great clumpings of strange-looking sea-fungi under the bows and the short counter astern. From the stump of her jibboom and her cutwater great beards of rime and marine growths hung downward into the scum that held her in. Her blank starboard side was presented to us–all a dead, dirtyish white, streaked and mottled vaguely with dull masses of heavier colour.

“‘There’s a steam or haze rising off her,’ said the second mate, speaking again. ‘You can see it against the light. It keeps coming and going. Look!’

“I saw then what he meant–a faint haze or steam, either suspended above the old vessel or rising from her. And Captain Gannington saw it also.

“‘Spontaneous combustion!’ he exclaimed. ‘We’ll ‘ave to watch when we lift the ‘atches, ‘nless it’s some poor devil that’s got aboard of ‘er. But that ain’t likely.’

“We were now within a couple of hundred yards of the old derelict, and had entered into the brown scum. As it poured off the lifted oars I heard one of the men mutter to himself, ‘Dam’ treacle!’ And, indeed, it was not something unlike it. As the boat continued to forge nearer and nearer to the old ship the scum grew thicker and thicker, so that, at last, it perceptibly slowed us.

“‘Give way, lads! Put some beef to it!’ sang out Captain Gannington. And thereafter there was no sound except the panting of the men and the faint, reiterated suck, suck of the sullen brown scum upon the oars as the boat was forced ahead. As we went, I was conscious of a peculiar smell in the evening air, and whilst I had no doubt that the puddling of the scum by the oars made it rise, I could give no name to it; yet, in a way, it was vaguely familiar.

“We were now very close to the old vessel, and presently she was high about us against the dying light. The captain called out then to ‘in with the bow oars and stand by with the boat-hook,’ which was done.

“‘Aboard there! Ahoy! Aboard there! Ahoy!’ shouted Captain Gannington; but there came no answer, only the dull sound his voice going lost into the open sea, each time he sung out.

“‘Ahoy! Aboard there! Ahoy!’ he shouted time after time, but there was only the weary silence of the old hulk that answered us; and, somehow as he shouted, the while that I stared up half expectantly at her, a queer little sense of oppression, that amounted almost to nervousness, came upon me. It passed, but I remember how I was suddenly aware that it was growing dark. Darkness comes fairly rapidly in the tropics, though not so quickly as many fiction writers seem to think; but it was not that the coming dusk had perceptibly deepened in that brief time of only a few moments, but rather that my nerves had made me suddenly a little hypersensitive. I mention my state particularly, for I am not a nervy man normally, and my abrupt touch of nerves is significant, in the light of what happened.

“‘There’s no one on board there!’ said Captain Gannington. ‘Give way, men!’ For the boat’s crew had instinctively rested on their oars, as the captain hailed the old craft. The men gave way again; and then the second mate called out excitedly, ‘Why, look there, there’s our pigsty! See, it’s got Bheospsé painted on the end. It’s drifted down here and the scum’s caught it. What a blessed wonder!’

“It was, as he had said, our pigsty that had been washed overboard in the storm; and most extraordinary to come across it there.

“‘We’ll tow it off with us, when we go,’ said the captain, and shouted to the crew to get down to their oars; for they were hardly moving the boat, because the scum was so thick, close in around the old ship, that it literally clogged the boat from moving. I remember that it struck me, in a half-conscious sort of way, as curious that the pigsty, containing our three dead pigs, had managed to drift in so far unaided, whilst we could scarcely manage to force the boat in, now that we had come right into the scum. But the thought passed from my mind, for so many things happened within the next few minutes.

“The men managed to bring the boat in alongside, within a couple of feet of the derelict, and the man with the boat-hook hooked on.

“”Ave ye got ‘old there, forrard?’ asked Captain Gannington.

“‘Yessir!’ said the bowman; and as he spoke there came a queer noise of tearing.

“‘What’s that?’ asked the Captain.

“‘It’s tore, sir. Tore clean away!’ said the man, and his tone showed that he had received something of a shock.

“‘Get a hold again, then!’ said Captain Gannington irritably. ‘You don’t s’pose this packet was built yesterday! Shove the hook into the main chains’ The man did so gingerly, as you might say, for it seemed to me, in the growing dusk, that he put no strain on to the hook, though, of course there was no need–you see the boat could not go very far of herself, in the stuff in which she was imbedded. I remember thinking this, also as I looked up at the bulging side of the old vessel. Then I heard Captain Gannington’s voice:

“‘Lord, but she s old! An’ what a colour, doctor! She don’t half want paint, do she? Now then, somebody, one of them oars.’ An oar was passed to him, and he leant it up against the ancient, bulging side; then he paused, and called to the second mate to light a couple of the lamps, and stand by to pass them up, for darkness had settled down now upon the sea.

“The second mate lit two of the lamps, and told one of the men to light a third, and keep it handy in the boat; then he stepped across, with a lamp in each hand, to where Captain Gannington stood by the oar against the side of the ship.

“‘Now, my lad,’ said the captain to the man who had pulled stroke, ‘up with you, an’ we’ll pass ye up the lamps.’

“The man jumped to obey, caught the oar, and put his weight upon it; and as he did so, something seemed to give way a little.

“‘Look!’ cried out the second mate, and pointed, lamp in hand. ‘It’s sunk in!’

“This was true. The oar had made quite an indentation into the bulging, somewhat slimy side of the old vessel.

“‘Mould, I reckon,’ said Captain Gannington, bending towards the derelict to look. Then to the man:

“‘Up you go, my lad, and be smart! Don’t stand there waitin’!’

“At that the man, who had paused a moment as he felt the oar give beneath his weight began to shin’ up, and in a few seconds he was aboard, and leant out over the rail for the lamps. These were passed up to him, and the captain called to him to steady the oar. Then Captain Gannington went, calling to me to follow, and after me the second mate.

“As the captain put his face over the rail, he gave a cry of astonishment.

“‘Mould, by gum! Mould–tons of it. Good lord!’

“As I heard him shout that I scrambled the more eagerly after him, and in a moment or two I was able to see what he meant–everywhere that the light from the two lamps struck there was nothing but smooth great masses and surfaces of a dirty white coloured mould. I climbed over the rail, with the second mate close behind, and stood upon the mould covered decks. There might have been no planking beneath the mould, for all that our feet could feel. It gave under our tread with a spongy, puddingy feel. It covered the deck furniture of the old ship, so that the shape of each article and fitment was often no more than suggested through it.

“Captain Gannington snatched a lamp from the man and the second mate reached for the other. They held the lamps high, and we all stared. It was most extraordinary, and somehow most abominable. I can think of no other word, gentlemen, that so much describes the predominant feeling that affected me at the moment.

“‘Good lord!’ said Captain Gannington several times. ‘Good lord!’ But neither the second mate nor the man said anything, and, for my part I just stared, and at the same time began to smell a little at the air, for there was a vague odour of something half familiar, that somehow brought to me a sense of half-known fright.

“I turned this way and that, staring, as I have said. Here and there the mould was so heavy as to entirely disguise what lay beneath, converting the deck-fittings into indistinguishable mounds of mould all dirty-white and blotched and veined with irregular, dull, purplish markings.

“There was a strange thing about the mould which Captain Gannington drew attention to–it was that our feet did not crush into it and break the surface, as might have been expected, but merely indented it.

“‘Never seen nothin’ like it before! Never!’ said the captain after having stooped with his lamp to examine the mould under our feet. He stamped with his heel, and the mould gave out a dull, puddingy sound. He stooped again, with a quick movement, and stared, holding the lamp close to the deck. ‘Blest if it ain’t a reg’lar skin to it!’

“The second mate and the man and I all stooped and looked at it. The second mate progged it with his forefinger, and I remember I rapped it several times with my knuckles, listening to the dead sound it gave out, and noticing the close, firm texture of the mould.

“‘Dough!’ the second mate. ‘It’s just like blessed dough! Pouf!’ He stood up with a quick movement. ‘I could fancy it stinks a bit,’ he said.

“As he said this I knew, suddenly, what the familiar thing was in the vague odour that hung about us–it was that the smell had something animal-like in it; something of the same smell, only heavier, that you would smell in any place that is infested with mice. I began to look about with a sudden very real uneasiness. There might be vast numbers of hungry rats aboard. They might prove exceedingly dangerous, if in a starving condition; yet, as you will understand, somehow I hesitated to put forward my idea as a reason for caution, it was too fanciful.

“Captain Gannington had begun to go aft along the mould-covered main-deck with the second mate, each of them holding their lamps high up, so as to cast a good light about the vessel. I turned quickly and followed them, the man with me keeping close to my heels, and plainly uneasy. As we went, I became aware that there was a feeling of moisture in the air, and I remembered the slight mist, or smoke, above the hulk, which had made Captain Gannington suggest spontaneous combustion in explanation.

“And always, as we went, there was that vague, animal smell; suddenly I found myself wishing we were well away from the old vessel.

“Abruptly, after a few paces, the captain stopped and pointed at a row of mould-hidden shapes on each side of the maindeck. ‘Guns,’ he said. ‘Been a privateer in the old days, I guess–maybe worse! We’ll ‘ave a look below, doctor; there may be something worth touchin’. She’s older than I thought. Mr. Selvern thinks she’s about two hundred years old; but I scarce think it.’

“We continued our way aft, and I remember that I found myself walking as lightly and gingerly as possible, as if I were subconsciously afraid of treading through the rotten, mould-hid decks. I think the others had a touch of the same feeling, from the way that they walked. Occasionally the soft stuff would grip our heels, releasing them with a little sullen suck.

“The captain forged somewhat ahead of the second mate; and I know that the suggestion he had made himself, that perhaps there might be something below worth carrying away, had stimulated his imagination. The second mate was, however, beginning to feel somewhat the same way that I did; at least I have that impression. I think, if it had not been for what I might truly describe as Captain Gannington’s sturdy courage, we should all of us have just gone back over the side very soon, for there was most certainly an unwholesome feeling abroad that made one feel queerly lacking in pluck; and you will soon see that this feeling was justified.

“Just as the captain reached the few mould-covered steps leading up on to the short half-poop, I was suddenly aware that the feeling of moisture in the air had grown very much more definite. It was perceptible now, intermittently, as a sort of thin, moist, fog-like vapour, that came and went oddly, and seemed to make the decks a little indistinct to the view, this time and that. Once an odd puff of it beat up suddenly from somewhere, and caught me in the face, carrying a queer, sickly, heavy odour with it that somehow frightened me strangely with a suggestion of a waiting and half-comprehended danger.

“We had followed Captain Gannington up the three mould covered steps, and now went slowly along the raised after-deck. By the mizzenmast Captain Gannington paused, and held his lantern near to it. ‘My word, mister,’ he said to the second mate, ‘it’s fair thickened up with mould! Why, I’ll g’antee it’s close on four foot thick.’ He shone the light down to where it met the deck. ‘Good lord!’ he said. ‘Look at the sea-lice on it!’ I stepped up, and it was as he had said; the sea-lice were thick upon it, some of them huge, not less than the size of large beetles, and all a clear, colourless shade, like water, except where there were little spots of grey on them.

“‘I’ve never seen the like of them, ‘cept on a live cod,’ said Captain Gannington, in an extremely puzzled voice. ‘My word! But they’re whoppers!’ Then he passed on; but a few paces farther aft he stopped again, and held his lamp near to the mould-hidden deck.

“‘Lord bless me, doctor,’ he called out, in a low voice, ‘did ye ever see the like of that? Why, it’s a foot long, if it’s a hinch!’

“I stooped over his shoulder, and saw what he meant; it was a clear, colourless creature about a foot long, and about eight inches high, with a curved back that was extraordinarily narrow. As we stared, all in a group, it gave a queer little flick, and was gone.

“‘Jumped!’ said the captain. ‘Well, if that ain’t a giant of all the sea-lice that ever I’ve seen. I guess it’s jumped twenty foot clear.’ He straightened his back, and scratched his head a moment, swinging the lantern this way and that with the other hand, and staring about us. ‘Wot are they doin’ aboard ‘ere?’ he said. ‘You’ll see ’em–little things–on fat cod an’ such-like. I’m blowed, doctor, if I understand.’

“He held his lamp towards a big mound of the mould that occupied part of the after portion of the low poop-deck, a little foreside of where there came a two-foot high ‘break’ to a kind of second and loftier poop, that ran away aft to the taffrail. The mound was pretty big, several feet across, and more than a yard high. Captain Gannington walked up to it.

“‘I reck’n this’s the scuttle,’ he remarked, and gave it a heavy kick. The only result was a deep indentation into the huge, whiteish hump of mould, as if he had driven his foot into a mass of some doughy substance. Yet I am not altogether correct in saying that this was the only result, for a certain other thing happened. From the place made by the captain’s foot there came a sudden gush of a purplish fluid, accompanied by a peculiar smell, that was, and was not, half familiar. Some of the mould-like substance had stuck to the toe of the captain’s boot, and from this likewise there issued a sweat, as it were, of the same colour.

“‘Well?’ said Captain Gannington, in surprise, and drew back his foot to make another kick at the hump of mould. But he paused at an exclamation from the second mate:

“‘Don’t sir,’ said the second mate.

“I glanced at him, and the light from Captain Gannington’s lamp showed me that his face had a bewildered, half-frightened look, as if he were suddenly and unexpectedly half afraid of something, and as if his tongue had given away his sudden fright, without any intention on his part to speak. The captain also turned and stared at him.

“‘Why, mister?’ he asked, in a somewhat puzzled voice, through which there sounded just the vaguest hint of annoyance. ‘We’ve got to shift this muck, if we’re to get below.’

“I looked at the second mate, and it seemed to me that, curiously enough he was listening less to the captain than to some other sound. Suddenly he said, in a queer voice, ‘Listen, everybody!’

“Yet we heard nothing, beyond the faint murmur of the men talking together in the boat alongside.

“‘I don’t, hear nothing,’ said Captain Gannington, after a short pause. ‘Do you, doctor?’

“‘No,’ I said.

“‘Wot was it you thought you heard?’ the captain, turning again to the second mate. But the second mate shook his head in a curious, almost irritable way, as if the captain’s question interrupted his listening. Captain Gannington stared a moment at him, then held his lantern up and glanced about him almost uneasily. I know I felt a queer sense of strain. But the light showed nothing beyond the greyish dirty-white of the mould in all directions.

“‘Mister Selvern,’ said the captain, at last, looking at him, ‘don’t get fancying, things. Get hold of your bloomin’ self. Ye know ye heard nothin’?’

“‘I’m quite sure I heard something, sir,’ said the second mate. ‘I seemed to hear — ‘ He broke off sharply, and appeared to listen with an almost painful intensity.

“‘What did it sound like?’ I asked.

“‘It’s all right, doctor,’ said Captain Gannington, laughing gently. ‘Ye can give him a tonic when we get back. I’m goin’ to shift this stuff.’ He drew back, and kicked for the second time at the ugly mass which he took to hide the companionway. The result of his kick was startling, for the whole thing wobbled sloppily, like a mound of unhealthy-looking jelly.

“He drew his foot out of it quickly, and took a step backward, staring, and holding his lamp towards it. ‘By gum,’ he said, and it was plain that he was generally startled, ‘the blessed thing’s gone soft!’

“The man had run back several steps from the suddenly flaccid mound, and looking horribly frightened. Though of what, I am sure he had not the least idea. The second mate stood where he was, and stared. For my part, I know I had a most hideous uneasiness upon me. The captain continued to hold his light towards the wobbling mound and stare.

“‘It’s gone squashy all through,’ he said. ‘There’s no scuttle there. There’s no bally woodwork inside that lot! Phoo! What a rum smell!’

“He walked round to the after side of the strange mound, to see whether there might be some signs of an opening, into the hull at the back of the great heap of mould-stuff. And then:

“‘Listen!’ said the second mate again, in the strangest sort of voice.

“Captain Gannington straightened himself upright, and there succeeded a pause of the most intense quietness, in which there was not even the hum of talk from the men alongside in the boat. We all heard it–a kind of dull, soft thud, thud, thud, thud, somewhere in the hull under us, yet so vague as to make me half doubtful I heard it, only that the others did so, too.

“Captain Gannington turned suddenly to where the man stood.

“‘Tell them — ‘ he began. But the fellow cried out something, and pointed. There had come a strange intensity into his somewhat unemotional face, so that the captain’s glance followed his action instantly. I stared also as you may think. It was the great mound at which the man was pointing. I saw what he meant. From the two gapes made in the mould-like stuff by Captain Gannington’s boot, the purple fluid was jetting out in a queerly regular fashion, almost as if it were being forced out by a pump. My word! But I stared! And even as I stared a larger jet squirted out, and splashed as far as the man, spattering his boots and trouser legs.

“The fellow had been pretty nervous before, in a stolid, ignorant sort of way, and his funk had been growing steadily; but at this he simply let out a yell, and turned about to run. He paused an instant,as if a sudden fear of the darkness that held the decks, between him and the boat, had taken him. He snatched at the second mate’s lantern, tore it out of his hand, and plunged heavily away over the vile stretch of mould.

“Mr. Selvern, the second mate, said not a word; he was just staring, staring at the strange-smelling twin-streams of dull purple that were jetting out from the wobbling mound. Captain Gannington, however, roared an order to the man to come back, but the man plunged on and on across the mould, his feet seeming to be clogged by the stuff, as if it had grown suddenly soft. He zigzagged as he ran, the lantern swaying, in wild circles as he wrenched his feet free with a constant plop, plop; and I could hear his frightened gasps even from where I stood.

“‘Come back with that lamp!’ roared the captain again; but still the man took no notice.

“And Captain Gannington was silent an instant, his lips working in a queer, inarticulate fashion, as if he were stunned momentarily by the very violence of his anger at the man’s insubordination. And in the silence I heard the sounds again–thud, thud, thud, thud! Quite distinctly now, beating, it seemed suddenly to me, right down under my feet, but deep.

“I stared down at the mould on which I was standing, with a quick, disgusting sense of the terrible all about me; then I looked at the captain, and tried to say something, without appearing frightened. I saw that he had turned again to the mound, and all the anger had gone out of his face. He had his lamp out towards the mound, and was listening. There was another moment of absolute silence, at least, I knew that I was not conscious of any sound at all in all the world, except that extraordinary thud, thud, thud, thud, down somewhere in the huge bulk under us.

“The captain shifted his feet with a sudden, nervous movement, and as he lifted them the mould went plop, plop! He looked quickly at me, trying to smile, as if he were not thinking anything very much about it.

“‘What do you make of it, doctor?’ he said.

“‘I think — ‘ I began. But the second mate interrupted with a single word, his voice pitched a little high, in a tone that made us both stare instantly at him.

“‘Look!’ he said, and pointed at the mound. The thing was all of a slow quiver. A strange ripple ran outward from it, along the deck, like you will see a ripple run inshore out of a calm sea. It reached a mound a little foreside of us, which I had supposed to be the cabin skylight, and in a moment the second mound sank nearly level with the surrounding decks, quivering floppily in a most extraordinary fashion. A sudden quick tremor took the mould right under the second mate, and he gave out a hoarse little cry, and held his arms out on each side of him, to keep his balance. The tremor in the mould spread, and Captain Gannington swayed, and spread out his feet with a sudden curse of fright. The second mate jumped across to him, and caught him by the wrist.

“‘The boat, sir!’ he said, saying the very thing that I had lacked the pluck to say. ‘For God’s sake — ‘

“But he never finished, for a tremendous hoarse scream cut off his words. They hove themselves round and looked. I could see without turning. The man who had run from us was standing in the waist of the ship, about a fathom from the starboard bulwarks. He was swaying from side to side, and screaming, in a dreadful fashion. He appeared to be trying to lift his feet, and the light from his swaying lantern showed an almost incredible sight. All about him the mould was in active movement. His feet had sunk out of sight. The stuff appeared to be lapping at his legs and abruptly his bare flesh showed. The hideous stuff had rent his trouser-leg away as if it were paper. He gave out a simply sickening scream, and, with a vast effort, wrenched one leg free. It was partly destroyed. The next instant he pitched face downward, and the stuff heaped itself upon him, as if it were actually alive, with a dreadful, severe life. It was simply infernal. The man had gone from sight. Where he had fallen was now a writhing, elongated mound, in constant and horrible increase, as the mould appeared to move towards it in strange ripples from all sides.

“Captain Gannington and the second mate were stone silent, in amazed and incredulous horror, but I had begun to reach towards a grotesque and terrific conclusion, both helped and hindered by my professional training.

“From the men in the boat alongside there was a loud shouting. and I saw two of their faces appear suddenly above the rail. They showed clearly a moment in the light from the lamp which the man had snatched from Mr. Selvern; for, strangely enough, this lamp was standing upright and unharmed on the deck, a little way foreside of that dreadful, elongated, growing mound, that still swayed and writhed with an incredible horror. The lamp rose and fell on the passing ripples of the mould, just–for all the world–as you will see a boat rise and fall on little swells. It is of some interest to me now, psychologically, to remember how that rising and falling lantern brought home to me more than anything the incomprehensible dreadful strangeness of it all.

“The men’s faces disappeared with sudden yells, as if they had slipped, or been suddenly hurt; and there was a fresh uproar of shouting from the boat. The men were calling to us to come away–to come away. In the same instant I felt my left boot drawn suddenly and forcibly downward, with a horrible, painful grip. I wrenched it free, with a yell of angry fear. Forrard of us, I saw that the vile surface was all amove, and abruptly I found myself shouting in a queer, frightened voice, ‘The boat, captain! The boat, captain!’

“Captain Gannington stared round at me, over his right shoulder, in a peculiar, dull way, that told me he was utterly dazed with bewilderment and the incomprehensibleness of it all. I took a quick, clogged, nervous step towards him, and gripped his arm, and shook it fiercely. ‘The boat!’ I shouted at him. ‘The boat! For God’s sake, tell the men to bring the boat aft!’

“Then the mound must have drawn his feet down, for abruptly he bellowed fiercely with terror, his momentary apathy giving place to furious energy. His thickset, vastly muscular body doubled and writhed with his enormous effort, and he struck out madly dropping the lantern. He tore his feet free, something ripping as he did so. The reality and necessity of the situation had come upon him brutishly real, and he was roaring to the men in the boat, ‘Bring the boat aft! Bring ‘er aft! Bring ‘er aft!’ The second mate and I were shouting the same thing madly.

“‘For God’s sake, be smart, lads!’ roared the captain, and stooped quickly for his lamp, which still burned. His feet were gripped again, and he hove them out, blaspheming breathlessly, aud leaping a yard high with his effort. Then he made a run for the side, wrenching his feet free at each step. In the same instant the second mate cried out something, and grabbed at the captain.

“‘It’s got hold of my feet! It’s got hold of my feet!’ he screamed. His feet, had disappeared up to his boot-tops, and Captain Gannington caught him round the waist with his powerful left arm, gave a mighty heave, and the next instant had him free; but both his boot-soles had gone. For my part, I jumped madly from foot to foot, to avoid the plucking of the mould; and suddenly I made a run for the ship’s side. But before I could get there, a queer gape came in the mould between us and the side, at least a couple of feet wide, and how deep I don’t know. It closed up in an instant, and all the mould where the cape had been vent into a sort of flurry of horrible ripplings, so that I ran back from it; for I did not dare to put my foot upon it. Then the captain was shouting to me:

“‘Aft, doctor! Aft, doctor! This way, doctor! Run!’ I saw then that he had passed me, and was up on the after raised portion of the poop. He had the second mate, thrown like a sack, all loose and quiet, over his left shoulder; for Mr. Selvern had fainted, and his long legs flogged limp and helpless against the captain’s massive knees as he ran. I saw, with a queer, unconscious noting of minor details, how the torn soles of the second mate’s boots flapped and jigged as the captain staggered aft.

“‘Boat ahoy! Boat ahoy! Boat ahoy!’ shouted the captain; and then I was beside him, shouting also. The men were answering with loud yells of encouragement, and it was plain they were working desperately to force the boat aft through the thick scum about the ship.

“We reached the ancient, mould-hid taffrail, and slewed about breathlessly in the half-darkness to see what was happening. Captain Gannington had left his lantern by the big mound when he picked up the second mate; and as we stood, gasping we discovered suddenly that all the mould between us and the light was full of movement. Yet, the part on which we stood, for about six or eight feet forrard of us, was still firm.

“Every couple of seconds we shouted to the men to hasten, and they kept on calling to us that they would be with us in an instant. And all the time we watched the deck of that dreadful hulk, feeling, for my part, literally sick with mad suspense, and ready to jump overboard into that filthy scum all about us.

“Down somewhere in the huge bulk of the ship there was all the time that extraordinary dull, ponderous thud, thud, thud, thud growing ever louder. I seemed to feel the whole hull of the derelict, beginning to quiver and thrill with each dull beat. And to me, with the grotesque and hideous suspicion of what made that noise, it was at once the most dreadful and incredible sound I have ever heard.

“As we waited desperately for the boat, I scanned incessantly so much of the grey white bulk as the lamp showed. The whole of the decks seemed to be in strange movement. Forrard of the lamp, I could see indistinctly the moundings of the mould swaying and nodding hideously beyond the circle of the brightest rays. Nearer, and full in the glow of the lamp, the mound which should have indicated the skylight, was swelling steadily. There were ugly, purple veinings on it, and as it swelled, it seemed to me that the veinings and mottlings on it were becoming plainer, rising as though embossed upon it, like you will see the veins stand out on the body of a powerful, full-blooded horse. It was most extraordinary. The mound that we had supposed to cover the companionway had sunk flat with the surrounding mould, and I could not see that it jetted out any more of the purplish fluid.

“A quaking movement of the mound began away forrard of the lamp, and came flurrying away aft towards us, and at the sight of that I climbed up on to the spongy-feeling taffrail, and yelled afresh for the boat. The men answered with a shout, which told me they were nearer, but the beastly scum was so thick that it was evidently a fight to move the boat at all. Beside me, Captain Gannington was shaking the second mate furiously, and the man stirred and began to moan. The captain shook him again, ‘Wake up! Wake up, mister!’ he shouted.

“The second mate staggered out of the captain’s arms, and collapsed suddenly, shrieking: ‘My feet! Oh, God! My feet!’ The captain and I lugged him off the mound, and got him into a sitting position upon the taffrail, where he kept up a continual moaning.

“‘Hold ‘im, doctor,’ said the captain. And whilst I did so, he ran forrard a few yards, and peered down over the starboard quarter rail. ‘For God’s sake, be smart, lads! Be smart! Be smart!’ he shouted down to the men, and they answered him, breathless, from close at hand, yet still too far away for the boat to be any use to us on the instant.

“I was holding the moaning, half-unconscious officer, and staring forrard along the poop decks. The flurrying of the mould was coming aft, slowly and noiselessly. And then, suddenly, I saw something closer:

“‘Look out, captain!’ I shouted. And even as I shouted, the mould near to him gave a sudden, peculiar slobber. I had seen a ripple stealing towards him through the mould. He gave an enormous, clumsy leap, and landed near to us on the sound part of the mould, but the movement followed him. He turned and faced it, swearing fiercely. All about his feet there came abruptly little gapings, which made horrid sucking noises. ‘Come back, captain!’ I yelled. ‘Come back, quick!’ As I shouted, a ripple came at his feet–lipping at them; and he stamped insanely at it, and leaped back, his boot torn half off his foot. He swore madly with pain and anger, and jumped swiftly for the taffrail.

“‘Come on, doctor! Over we go!’ he called. Then he remembered the filthy scum, and hesitated, and roared out desperately to the men to hurry. I stared down, also.

“‘The second mate?’ I said.

“‘I’ll take charge doctor,’ said Captain Gannington, and caught hold of Mr. Selvern. As he spoke, I thought I saw something beneath us, outlined against the scum. I leaned out over the stern, and peered. There was something under the port-quarter.

“‘There’s something down there, captain!’ I called, and pointed in the darkness. He stooped far over, and stared.

“‘A boat, by gum! A boat!’ he yelled, and began to wriggle swiftly along the taffrail, dragging the second mate after him. I followed. ‘A boat it is, sure!’ he exclaimed a few moments later, and, picking up the second mate clear of the rail, he hove him down into the boat, where he fell with a crash into the bottom.

“‘Over ye go, doctor!’ he yelled at me, and pulled me bodily off the rail and dropped me after the officer. As he did so, I felt the whole of the ancient, spongy rail give a peculiar, sickening quiver, and begin to wobble. I fell on to the second mate, and the captain came after, almost in the same instant, but, fortunately, he landed clear of us, on to the fore thwart, which broke under his weight, with a loud crack and splintering of wood.

“‘Thank God!’ I heard him mutter. ‘Thank God! I guess that was a mighty near thing to going to Hades.’

“He struck a match, just as I got to my feet, and between us we got the second mate straightened out on one of the after fore-and-aft thwarts. We shouted to the men in the boat, telling them where we were, and saw the light of their lantern shining round the starboard counter of the derelict. They called back to us to tell us they were doing their best, and then, whilst we waited, Captain Gannington struck another match, and began to overhaul the boat we had dropped into. She was a modern, two-bowed boat, and on the stern there was painted ‘Cyclone, Glasgow.’ She was in pretty fair condition, and had evidently drifted into the scum and been held by it.

“Captain Gannington struck several matches, and went forrard towards the derelict. Suddenly he called to me, and I jumped over the thwarts to him. ‘Look, doctor,’ he said, and I saw what he meant–a mass of bones up in the bows of the boat. I stooped over them, and looked; there were the bones of at least three people, all mixed together in an extraordinary fashion, and quite clean and dry. I had a sudden thought concerning the bones, but I said nothing, for my thought was vague in some ways, and concerned the grotesque and incredible suggestion that had come to me as to the cause of that ponderous, dull thud, thud, thud thud, that beat on so infernally within the hull, and was plain to hear even now that we had got off the vessel herself. And all the while, you know, I had a sick, horrible mental picture of that frightful, wriggling mound aboard the hulk.

“As Captain Gannington struck a final match, I saw something that sickened me and the captain saw it in the same instant. The match went out, and he fumbled clumsily for another, and struck it. We saw the thing again. We had not been mistaken. A great lip of grey-white was protruding in over the edge of the boat–a great lappet of the mould was coming stealthily towards us–a live mass of the very hull itself! And suddenly Captain Gannington yelled out in so many words the grotesque and incredible thing I was thinking: ‘She’s alive!’

“I never heard such a sound of comprehension and terror in a man’s voice. The very horrified assurance of it made actual to me the thing that before had only lurked in my subconscious mind. I knew he was right; I knew that the explanation my reason and my training both repelled and reached towards was the true one. Oh, I wonder whether anyone can possibly understand our feelings in that moment? The unmitigated horror of it and the incredibleness!

“As the light of the match burned up fully, I saw that the mass of living matter coming towards us was streaked and veined with purple, the veins standing out, enormously distended. The whole thing quivered continuously to each ponderous thud, thud, thud, thud, of that gargantuan organ that pulsed within the huge grey-white bulk. The flame of the match reached the captain’s fingers, and there came to me a little sickly whiff of burned flesh, but he seemed unconscious of any pain. Then the flame went out in a brief sizzle, yet at the last moment I had seen an extraordinary raw look become visible upon the end of that monstrous, protruding lappet. It had become dewed with a hideous, purplish sweat. And with the darkness there came a sudden charnel-like stench.

“I heard the matchbox split in Captain Gannington’s hands as he wrenched it open. Then he swore, in a queer frightened voice, for he had come to the end of his matches. He turned clumsily in the darkness, and tumbled over the nearest thwart, in his eagerness to get to the stern of the boat; and I after him. For we knew that thing was coming towards us through the darkness, reaching over that piteous mingled heap of human bones all jumbled together in the bows. We shouted madly to the men, and for answer saw the bows of the boat emerge dimly into view round the starboard counter of the derelict.

“‘Thank God!’ I gasped out. But Captain Gannington roared to them to show a light. Yet this they could not do, for the lamp had just been stepped on in their desperate efforts to force the boat round to us.

“‘Quick! Quick!’ I shouted.

“‘For God’s sake, be smart, men!’ roared the captain.

“And both of us faced the darkness under the port-counter, out of which we knew–but could not see–the thing was coming to us.

“‘An oar! Smart, now–pass me an oar!’ shouted the captain; and reached out his hands through the gloom towards the on-coming boat. I saw a figure stand up in the bows, and hold something out to us across the intervening yards of scum. Captain Gannington swept his hands through the darkness, and encountered it.

“‘I’ve got it! Let go there!’ he said, in a quick, tense voice.

“In the same instant the boat we were in was pressed over suddenly to starboard by some tremendous weight. Then I heard the captain shout, ‘Duck y’r head, doctor!’ And directly afterwards he swung the heavy, fourteen-foot oar round his head, and struck into the darkness. There came a sudden squelch, and he struck again, with a savage grunt of fierce energy. At the second blow the boat righted with a slow movement, and directly afterwards the other boat bumped gently into ours.

“Captain Gannington dropped the oar, and, springing across to the second mate, hove him up off the thwart, and pitched him with knee and arms clear in over the bows among the men; then he shouted to me to follow, which I did, and he came after me, bringing the oar with him. We carried the second mate aft, and the captain shouted to the men to back the boat a little; then they got her bows clear of the boat we had just left, and so headed out through the scum for the open sea.

“‘Where’s Tom ‘Arrison?” gasped one of the men, in the midst of his exertions. He happened to be Tom Harrison’s particular chum, and Captain Gannington answered him briefly enough:

“‘Dead! Pull! Don’t talk!”

“Now, difficult as it had been to force the boat through the scum to our rescue, the difficulty to get clear seemed tenfold. After some five minutes pulling, the boat seemed hardly to have moved a fathom, if so much, and a quite dreadful fear took me afresh, which one of the panting men put suddenly into words, ‘It’s got us!’ he gasped out. ‘Same as poor Tom!’ It was the man who had inquired where Harrison was.

“‘Shut y’r mouth an’ pull!’ roared the captain. And so another few minutes passed. Abruptly, it seemed to me that the dull, ponderous thud, thud, thud, thud came more plainly through the dark, and I stared intently over the stern. I sickened a little, for I could almost swear that the dark mass of the monster was actually nearer–that it was coming nearer to us through the darkness. Captain Gannington must have had the same thought, for, after a brief look into the darkness, he jumped forrard, and began to double-bank the stroke-oar.

“‘Get forrid under the oars, doctor,’ he said to me rather breathlessly. ‘Get in the bows, an’ see if you can’t free the stuff a bit round the bows.’

“I did as he told me, and a minute later I was in the bows of the boat, puddling the scum from side to side, and trying to break up the viscid, clinging muck. A heavy almost animal-like smell rose off it, and all the air seemed full of the deadening, heavy smell. I shall never find words to tell anyone on earth the whole horror of it all–the threat that seemed to hang in the very air around us, and but a little astern that incredible thing, coming, as I firmly believed, nearer, and scum holding us, like half-melted glue.

“The minutes passed in a deadly, eternal fashion, and I kept staring back astern into the darkness but never ceasing to puddle that filthy scum, striking at it and switching it from side to side until I sweated.

“Abruptly Captain Gannington sang out: ‘We’re gaining, lads. Pull!’ And I felt the boat forge ahead perceptibly, as they gave way with renewed hope and energy. There was soon no doubt of it, for presently that hideous thud, thud, thud, thud had grown quite dim and vague somewhere astern and I could no longer see the derelict, for the night had come down tremendously dark and all the sky was thick, overset with heavy clouds. As we drew nearer and nearer to the edge of the scum, the boat moved more and more perceptibly, until suddenly we emerged with a clean, sweet, fresh sound into the open sea.

“‘Thank God!’ I said aloud, and drew in the boathook, and made my way aft again to where Captain Gannington now sat once more at the tiller. I saw him looking anxiously up at the sky and across to where the lights of our vessel burned, and again he would seem to listen intently, so that I found myself listening also.

“‘What’s that, Captain?’ I said sharply; for it seemed to me that I heard a sound far astern, something, between a queer whine and a low whistling. ‘What’s that?’

“‘It’s wind, doctor.’ he said in a low voice. ‘I wish to God we were aboard.’ Then to the men: ‘Pull! Put y’r backs into it, or ye’ll never put y’r teeth through good bread again!’ The men obeyed nobly, and we reached the vessel safely, and had the boat safely stowed before the storm came, which it did in a furious white smother out of the west. I could see it for some minutes beforehand, tearing the sea in the gloom into a wall of phosphorescent foam; and as it came nearer, that peculiar whining, piping sound grew louder and louder, until it was like a vast steam whistle rushing towards us. And when it did come, we got it very heavy indeed, so that the morning showed us nothing but a welter of white seas, with that grim derelict many a score of miles away in the smother, lost as utterly as our hearts could wish to lose her.

“When I came to examine the second mate’s feet, I found them in a very extraordinary condition. The soles of them had the appearance of having been partly digested. I know of no other word that so exactly describes their condition, and the agony the man suffered must have been dreadful.

“Now,” concluded the doctor, “that is what I call a case in point. If we could know exactly what the old vessel had originally been loaded with, and the juxtaposition of the various articles of her cargo, plus the heat and time she had endured, plus one or two other only guessable quantities, we should have solved the chemistry of the life-force, gentlemen. Not necessarily the origin, mind you; but, at least, we should have taken a big step on the way. I’ve often regretted that gale, you know–in a way, that is, in a way. It was a most amazing discovery, but at the same time I had nothing but thankfulness to be rid of it. A most amazing chance. I often think of the way the monster woke out of its torpor. And that scum! The dead pigs caught in i! I fancy that was a grim kind of a net, gentlemen. It caught many things. It — ”

The old doctor sighed and nodded.

“If I could have had her bill of lading,” he said, his eyes full of regret. “If — It might have told me something to help. But, anyway — ” He began to fill his pipe again. “I suppose,” he ended, looking round at us gravely, “I s’pose we humans are an ungrateful lot of beggars at the best! But–but, what a chance? What a, chance, eh?”


Filed under William Hope Hodgson


scholarFor some time now, I’ve wondered if there might be little caches of Hodgson letters squirreled about in various libraries and universities and the like.  So, I am issuing the call to all those readers of this blog to help me find them!

Seriously, the cause of Hodgson research and criticism has long suffered from a lack of primary sources such as letters and the such.  We need to find out if there are any out there which are available for scholars and historians to use.  This is a project that will benefit everyone looking to do research on/about Hodgson and those who want to read it!  And we’re not just looking for letters that Hodgson may have written but those by his family, friends, etc.

Please use all your resources.  Check everywhere you can!  Post your findings here in the comments section.  I will take all of them (hopefully, there will be some) and create a new page here on the blog listing these resources and those scholars who brought it to my attention.

The only collection I am aware of is the letters that form part of a collection at the Harry Ransom center at the University of Texas at Austin.  Anything else is fair game.

So, as Carnacki would say at the end of a story, “out you go!”


Filed under Carnacki, Hodgson

CARNACKI Submissions Deadline EXTENDED!


I’m hearing from a number of writers and its been going something like this: “Just found out about your new anthology of Carnacki stories but I’ve missed the deadline!”  Well, luckily, I’m still in the process of reading stories and would like to add a few more so I’m extending the deadline until May 20, 2013. 

Which means that if you’ve got a Carnacki story in you, there’s still time to send it in!  The guidelines are pretty simple:

  • Stories no longer than 5,000 words
  • Electronically submitted in a Microsoft Word or RTF format
  • Double-spaced
  • Times New Roman font no large than 12pt
  • No gore or excessive violence
  • Payment in two (2) contributors copies of final book
  • Book will be available in print and electronic formats

I’ve got a line up of some really excellent stories here but I’m always on the hunt for more so send them to me at my email: with “CARNACKI SUBMISSION” in the subject line. 

Please feel free to share this post everywhere you can and remember to use the forgotten line from the SaaaMaaa Ritual when the outside forces attack!



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Filed under Carnacki, Hodgson