Who Milked my Cow,
or, the Marine Ghost
BY THE AUTHOR OF "RATTLIN THE REEFER."
Captain the Honourable Augustus Fitzroy Fitzalban,
of that beautiful ship his Majesty's frigate Nænia, loved many things. He loved
his ship truly, and with a perdurable affection; yet he loved something
still more, his very aristocratic self. He had also vowed to
love and cherish another person; but what gallant spirit would yield
love, even if it were as plenty as blackberries, upon compulsion? The
less you give away, the more must remain to be employed in the
service of the possessor. Captain Augustus Fitzroy Fitzalban had a
great deal of unoccupied love at his disposal. Considering duly these
premises, there can be nothing surprising in the fact if he had a
surplus affection or two to dispose of, and that he most ardently
loved new milk every morning for breakfast.
Now Captain the Honourable Augustus Fitzroy Fitzalban—(how
delightful it is to give the whole title when it is either high-sounding
or euphonous!)—had large estates and wide pasture-lands populous
with lowing kine. But all these availed him not; for, though he was
sovereign lord and master pro tempore over all as far as the eye
could reach, on the morning of the 6th of June 1826, he could not
command so much of the sky-blueish composition that is sold for milk in
London, as could be bought for one halfpenny in that sovereign city
of many pumps. The fields spread around the honourable captain
were wide and green enough, but, alas! they were not pastured with
mammiferous animals. Neptune has never been known to take
cream to his chocolate and coffee. He would scorn to be called a
milk-and-water gentlemen. There is the sea-cow certainly, but we
never heard much respecting the quality of her butter.
We are careful. We will not lay ourselves open to animadversion.
We have read books. We have seen things. Therefore we cannot suffer
the little triumph to the little critics who were just going to tell
us that all the cetaceous tribes suckle their young. We can tell these
critics more than they know themselves. Whale's milk is good for
the genus homo. We know two brawny fellows, maintop-men, who,
being cast overboard when infants, were, like Romulus and Remus
with their she-bear, suckled by a sperm-whale; and, when their huge
wet-nurse wished to wean them, she cast them ashore on one of the
Friendly Islands. We think that we hear the incredulous exclaim,
"Very like a whale!" Why, so it was.
But to return to another matter of history. On the memorable
morning before indicated, the honourable captain, the first lieutenant,
the doctor, the marine officer, the officer and the midshipman of the
morning watch, had all assembled to breakfast in the cabin. They had
not forgotten their appetites, particularly the gentlemen of the
morning watch. They were barbarous and irate in their hunger, as
their eyes wandered over cold fowl and ham, hot rolls, grilled kidneys,
and devilled legs of turkey.
"By all the stars in heaven," said the honourable commander,
"no milk again this morning! Give me, you rascally steward," continued
the captain, "a plain, straightforward, categorical answer.
Why does this infernal cow, for which I gave such a heap of dollars,
give me no milk?"—"Well, sir," said the trembling servitor; "if,
sir, you must have a plain answer, I really—believe—it is—
because—I don't know."
"A dry answer," said the doctor, who was in most
senses a dry fellow.
"You son of a shotten herring!" said the captain,
"can you milk her?"—"Yes, sir."
"Then why, in the name of all that is good,
don't you?"—"I do, sir, but it won't come."
"Then let us go," said the captain, quite resignedly, "let
us go, gentlemen, and see what ails this infernal cow; I can't eat my breakfast
without milk, and breakfast is the meal that I generally enjoy most."
So he, leading the way, was followed by his company,
who cast many a longing, lingering look behind.
Forward they went to where the cow was stalled by
capstan-bars, as comfortably as a prebendary, between two of the guns on the
main-deck. She seemed in excellent condition; ate her nutritious
food with much appetite; and, from her appearance, the captain
might have very reasonably expected, not only an ample supply of
milk and cream for breakfast and tea, but also a sufficient quantity to
afford him custards for dinner.
Well, there stood the seven officers of his Majesty's naval
service round the arid cow, looking very like seven wise men just put to sea
in a bowl.
"Try again," said the captain to his servant. If the attempt
had been only fruitless, there had been no matter for wonder;
it was milkless.
"The fool can't milk," said the captain; then turning round
to his officers despondingly, he exclaimed, "gentlemen, can any of you?"
Having all protested that they had left off, some thirty,
some forty, and some fifty years, according to their respective ages, and the
marine officer saying that he never had had any practice at all,
having been brought up by hand, the gallant and disappointed hero
was obliged to order the boatswain's mates to pass the word fore and
aft, to send every one to him who knew how to milk a cow.
Seventeen Welshmen, sixty-five Irishmen, (all on board,) and
four lads from Somersetshire made their appearance, moistened their
fingers, and set to work, one after the other; yet there was no milk.
"What do you think of this, doctor?" said the captain to him,
taking him aside.—"That the animal has been milked a few hours before."
"Hah! If I was sure of that. And the cow could have been milked
only by some one who could milk?"—"The inference seems indisputable."
The captain turned upon the numerous aspirants for lacteal
honours with no friendly eye, exclaiming sorrowfully, "Too many to flog, too
many to flog. Let us return to our breakfast; though I shall not be
able to eat a morsel or drink a drop. Here, boatswain's-mate, pass
the word round the ship that I'll give five guineas reward to any one
who will tell me who milked the captain's cow."
The gentleman then all retired to the cabin, and, with the
exception of the captain, incontinently fell upon the good things. Now, the
midshipman of that morning's watch was a certain Mr. Littlejohn,
usually abbreviated into Jack Small. When Jack Small had disposed
of three hot rolls, half a fowl, and a pound of ham, and was handing
in his plate for a well devilled turkey's thigh, his eye fell
compassionately upon his fasting captain, and his heart opening to the
softer emotions as his stomach filled with his host's delicacies,
the latter's want of the milk of the cow stirred up within him his
own milk of human kindness.
"I am very sorry that you have no appetite," said Jack Small,
with his mouth very full, and quite protectingly, to his skipper; "very
sorry, indeed, sir: and, as you cannot make your breakfast without
any milk, I think, sir, that the midshipmen's berth could lend you a
"The devil they can, younker. Oh, oh! It's good and fresh, hey?"
"Very good and fresh, sir," said the midshipman,
ramming down the words with a large wadding of hot roll.
"We must borrow some of it, by all means," said the captain;
"but let the midshipmen's servant bring it here himself."
The necessary orders having been issued, the bottle
of milk and the boy appeared.
"Did you know," said Captain Fitzalban, turning to his
first lieutenant, "that the midshipmen's berth was provided with milk, and
that too after being at sea a month?"—"Indeed I did not; they are
better provided than we are, at least in this respect, in the ward-room."
"Do you think,—do you think," said the captain, trembling
with rage, "that any of the young blackguards dare milk my cow?"—"It
is not easy to say what they dare not do."
However, the cork was drawn, and the milk found not only
to be very fresh indeed, but most suspiciously new. In the latitude of the
Caribbean Islands liquids in general are sufficiently warm, so the captain
could not lay much stress upon that.
"As fine milk as ever I tasted," said the captain.
"Very good indeed, sir," said the midshipman, overflowing
his cup and saucer with the delicious liquid.
"Where do the young gentlemen procure it?" resumed the
captain, pouring very carefully what remained after the exactions of John
Small into the cream-jug, and moving it close to his own plate.—"It
stands us rather dear, sir," said Mr. Littlejohn,—"a dollar a bottle.
We buy it of Joe Grummet, the captain of the waisters."
The captain and first lieutenant
looked at each other unutterable things.
Joe Grummet was in the cabin in an instant, and the captain
bending upon him his sharp and angry glances. Joseph was a sly old file,
a seaman to the backbone; and let the breeze blow from what quarter
of the compass it would, he had always an eye to windward. Fifty
years had a little grizzled his strong black hair, and, though innovation
had deprived him of the massive tail that whilome hung behind,
there were still some fancy curls that corkscrewed themselves
down his weather-stained temples; and, when he stood before the
captain, in one of these he hitched the first bend of the immense
fore-finger of his right hand. He hobbled a little in his gait, owing to an
unextracted musket-ball that had lodged in his thigh; consequently
he never went aloft; and had been, for his merits and long services,
appointed captain of the waist.
The Honorable Augustus Fitzroy Fitzalban said to the veteran
mariner quickly, and pointing at the same time to the empty bottle,
"Grummet, you have milked my cow."—"Unpossible, sir," said
Grummet, bashing at a bow; "downright unpossible, your honour."
"Then, pray, whence comes the fresh milk you sell every morning
to the young gentlemen?"—"Please your honour, I took two or three
dozen of bottles to sea with me on a kind o' speculation."
"Grummet, my man, I am afraid this will turn out a bad one for
you. Go and show your hands to the doctor, and he'll ask you a few questions."
So Joseph Grummet went and expanded his flippers before
the eyes of the surgeon. They were nearly as large and as shapely as
the fins of a porpoise, and quite of the colour. They had been
tanned and tarred till their skin had become more durable than
bootleather, and they were quite rough enough to have rasped
"I don't think our friend could have milked your cow,
Captain Fitzalban," said the doctor; "at least, not with his hands: they
are rather calculated to draw blood than milk."
Joseph rolled his eyes about and looked his innocence most
pathetically. He was not yet quite out of danger.
Now there was every reason in the world why this cow should
give the captain at least a gallon of milk per diem—but one, and
that he was most anxious to discover. The cow was in the best
condition; since she had been embarked, the weather had been fine
enough to have pleased Europa herself; she had plenty of provender,
both dry and fresh. There were fragrant clover closely packed in
bags, delicious oat-cakes—meal and water, and fine junks of juicy
plantain.—The cow throve, but gave no milk!
"So you brought a few dozen bottles of milk to sea with
you as a venture?" continued the man of medicine in his examination.—"I
"And where did you procure them?"—"At English Harbour, sir."
"May I ask of whom?"—"Madame Juliana, the fat free Negro woman."
"Now, my man," said the doctor, looking a volume and a half
of Galen, and holding up a cautionary fore-finger—"now, my man, do
not hope to deceive me. How did you prevent the acetous
fermentation from taking place in these bottles of milk?"
The question certainly was a puzzler. Joe routed with his
fingers among his hair for an answer. At length he fancied he perceived
a glimmering of the doctor's meaning; so he hummed and
ha-ed, until, the doctor's patience being exhausted, he repeated more
peremptorily, "How did you prevent acetous fermentation taking
place in these bottles of milk?"
"By paying ready money for them, sir,"
said the badgered seaman boldly.
"An excellent preventative against fermentation certainly,"
said the captain half smiling. "But you answer the doctor like a fool."
"I was never accused of such a thing, please your honour,
before, sir," said tarrybrecks, with all his sheets and tacks abroad.
"Very likely, my man, very likely," answered the captain,
with a look that would have been invaluable in a vinegar manufactory.
"How did you prevent this milk from turning sour?"
"Ah, sir!" said Grummet, now wide awake to his danger:
"if you please, sir, I humbly axes your pardon, but that's my secret."
"Then by all that's glorious I'll flog it out of you!"
"I humbly hopes not, sir. I am sure your honour won't
flog an old seaman who has fought with Howe and Nelson, and who was
wounded in the sarvice before your honour was born; you won't flog
him, sir, only because he can't break his oath."
"So you have sworn not to divulge it, hey?"
"Ah, sir: if I might be so bold as to say so,
your honour's a witch!"
"Take care of yourself, Joseph Grummet; I do advise you to
take care of yourself. Folly is a great betrayer of secrets, Joseph. Cunning
may milk cows without discovery: however, I will never punish
without proof. How many bottles of this excellent milk have you yet
left?"—"Eight or ten, sir, more or less, according to sarcumstances."
"Well! I will give you a dollar a-piece for all you have."
At this proposition Joseph Grummet shuffled about, not at
all at his ease, now looking very sagacious, now very foolish, till, at last,
he brought down his features to express the most deprecating humility
of which their iron texture was capable, and he then whined
forth, "I would not insult you, sir, by treating you all as one as a
midshipman. No, your honour: I knows the respect that's due to
you,—I couldn't think of letting you, sir, have a bottle under three
dollars—it wouldn't be at all respectful like."
"Grummet," said Captain Fitzalban, "you are not only
a thorough seaman, but a thorough knave. Now, have you the conscience to
make me pay three dollars a bottle for my own milk?"—"Ah, sir,
you don't know how much the secret has cost me."
"Nor do you know how dearly it may cost you yet."
Joseph Grommet then brought into the cabin his remaining
stock in trade, which, instead of eight or ten, was found to consist only of
two bottles. The captain, though with evident chagrin, paid for them
honourably; and whilst the milkman pro temp. was knotting up
the six dollars in the tie of the handkerchief about his neck, the
skipper said to him, "Now, my man, since we part such good friends,
tell me your candid opinion concerning this cow of mine?"—"Why, sir,
I thinks as how it's the good people as milks her."
"The good people! who the devil are they?"—"The
fairies, your honour."
"And what do they do with it?"—"Very few can tell,
your honour; but those who gets it are always desarving folks."
"Such as old wounded seamen, and captains of the waist
especially. Well, go along to your duty. Look out! cats love milk."
So Joseph Grummet went forth from the cabin shrugging up his
shoulders, with an ominous presentiment of scratches upon them. The
captain, the Honourable Augustus Fitzroy Fitzalban, gave the marine
officer orders to place a sentry night and day over his cow, and then
dismissed his guests.
The honourable commander was, for the rest of day, in a
most unconscionable ill humour. The ship's sails were beautifully trimmed,
the breeze was just what it ought to have been. The heavens above,
and the waters below, were striving to outsmile each other. What
then made the gallant captain so miserable? He was thinking only
of the temerity of the man who had dared to milk his cow.
The first lieutenant touched his hat most respectfully to
the Honourable Captain Augustus Fitzroy Fitzalban, and acquainted him
that the sun indicated it to be twelve o'clock.
"Milk my cow!" said the captain abstractedly.
"Had not that better be postponed till to-morrow morning,
Captain Fitzalban?" said the lieutenant, with a very little smile; "and
in the mean time may we strike the bell, and pipe to dinner?"
The captain gazed upon the gallant officer sorrowfully, and,
as he shook his head, his looks said as plainly as looks could speak, and
with the deepest pathos, "They never milked his cow."
"Do what is necessary," at last he uttered; then, pulling
his hat more over his eyes, he continued to pace the quarter-deck.
Now, though the Honourable Captain Augustus Fitzroy
Fitzalban was the younger son of a nobleman, and enjoyed a very handsome
patrimony, and his temper had been thoroughly spoiled by that process
that is too often called education, yet his heart was sound, English,
and noble. He revolted from doing an unjust action; yet he
smarted dreadfully under the impression that he was cheated and
laughed at to his very face. He did not think that Joseph Grummet
had milked his cow, but he felt assured that the same milk-dealing
Joseph knew who did; yet was he too humane to introduce the Inquisition
on board his ship by extracting the truth by torture.
The Honourable Captain Fitzroy Fitzalban slept late on the
succeeding morning. He had been called at daylight, pro forma, but
had merely turned from his left side to the right, muttering something
about a cow. It must be supposed that the slumbers of the
morning indemnified him for the horrors of the night, for breakfast
was on the table, and the usual guests assembled, when the captain
emerged from the after-cabin.
There was no occasion to ask the pale and trembling
steward if the cow had given any milk that morning.
The breakfast remained untouched by the captain, and passed
off in active silence by his guests. Not wishing to excite more of the
derision of Jack than was absolutely necessary, the Honourable the
Captain Augustus Fitzroy Fitzalban, when he found that the various
officers whom he had invited to breakfast had sufficiently "improved
the occasion," as the methodists say, turned to the first lieutenant,
who was again his guest, and asked him if nothing had transpired on
the over-night to warrant a suspicion as to the lacteal felony.
The first luff looked very mysterious, and not wholly disposed
to be communicative upon the subject. He had been piously brought up,
and was not at all inclined to be sarcastic upon the score of visions or
the visited of ghosts; yet, at the same time, he did not wish to subject
himself to the ridicule of his captain, who had rationally enough
postponed his belief in apparitions until he had seen one. Under
these difficulties, he replied hesitatingly, that a ghost had been
reported as having "come on board before daylight in the morning,
"A ghost, Mr. Mitchell, come on board, and I not called!" said
the indignant captain: "By G—, sir, I would have turned out a guard
of honour to have received him! I would have sooner had a visit
from his spirituality than from his Excellency the Spanish
Ambassador.—The service, sir, has come to a pretty pass, when a ghost
can come on board, and leave the ship too, I presume, without even so
much as the boatswain to pipe the side. So the ghost came, I suppose,
and milked my cow?"
The first lieutenant, in answer, spoke with all manner of
humility. He represented that he had been educated as a seaman and as an
officer, and not for a doctor of divinity; therefore he could not pretend
to account for these preternatural visitations. He could only
state the fact, and that not so well as the first lieutenant of marines.
"He begged, therefore, to refer to him."
That officer was immediately sent for, and he made his
appearance accompanied by one of the serjeants, and then it was asserted that,
when the guard went round to relieve the sentries, they found the
man who had been stationed over the cow, lying on the deck senseless
in a fit, and his bayonet could nowhere be found. When by the means
of one of the assistant-surgeons, who had been immediately summoned,
he had been sufficiently recovered to articulate, all the explanation
they could get from him was, that he had seen a ghost; and the
very mention of the fact, so great was his terror, had almost caused a
"Send the poltroon here immediately: I'll ghost him!"
cried the enraged captain. In answer to this he was informed, that the man
lay seriously ill in his hammock in the sick-bay, and that the doctor
was at that very moment with the patient.
"I'll see him myself," said the captain.
As the honourable captain, with his cortège of officers,
passed along the decks on his way to the sick-bay, he thought—or his sense
of hearing most grievously deceived him—that more than once he
heard sneering and gibing voices exclaim, "Who milked my cow?"
but the moment he turned his head in the direction from whence the
sounds proceeded, he saw nothing but visages the most sanctimonious:
indeed they, instead of the unfortunate sentry, appeared to have
seen the ghost. The captain's amiability that morning might have
been expressed by the algebraical term—minus a cipher.
When the skipper hauled alongside the sick man, he found
that the doctor, having bled him, was preparing to blister his head, the
ship's barber at the time being occupied in very sedulously shaving it.
The patient was fast putting himself upon an equality to contend
with his supernatural visitant, by making a ghost of himself. He was
in a high fever and delirious,—unpleasant things in the West Indies!
All the captain could get from him was, "The devil—flashes of fire—milk
cow—horrible teeth—devil's cow—ship haunted—nine yards of
blue flame—throw cow overboard—go to heaven—kicked the pail
down—horns tipped with red-hot iron," and other rhapsodies to the same effect.
From the man the captain went to the cow; but she was
looking excessively sleek, and mild, and amiable, and eating her breakfast
with the relish of an outside mail-coach passenger. The captain
shook his head, and thought himself the most persecuted of beings.
When this self-estimated injured character gained the
quarter-deck, he commenced ruminating on the propriety of flogging Joseph
Grummet; for, with the loss of his cow's milk, he had lost all due
sense of human kindness. But, as the Lords of the Admiralty had
lately insisted upon a report being forwarded to them of every punishment
that took place, the number of lashes, and the crime for which
they were inflicted, the Honourable the Captain Augustus Fitzroy
Fitzalban thought that a report would look rather queer running thus:
"Joseph Grummet, captain of the waist, six dozen, because my cow
gave no milk," or "because private-marine Snickchops saw a ghost,"
or "for selling the midshipmen sundry bottles of milk;" and this last
imagination reminded him that there was one of this highly-gifted
class walking to leeward of him. "Mr. Littlejohn!" said the captain
with a voice that crawled over the nerves like the screeching of an
Small Jack touched his hat with more than usual respect to the
exasperated officer, and then, stepping to windward, humbly confronted him.
The captain was too angry for many words; so, looking fearfully
into the happy countenance of the reefer, and pointing his fore-finger
down perpendicularly, he laconically uttered, "Milk this morning?"—"Yes, sir."
The well-breakfasted midshipman licked his lips, and smiled.
"Tell the boatswain's mate to send him aft."—"Ay, ay, sir."
And there stood the captain of the waist, with his hat in his
hand, opposite to the captain of the ship. There was some difference between
those two captains:—one verging upon old age, the other
upon manhood. The old man with but two articles of dress upon his
person, a canvass shirt and a canvass pair of trousers,—for in those
latitudes shoes and stockings are dispensed with by the foremast
men, excepting on Sundays and when mustering at divisions; the
other gay, and almost gorgeous, in white jeans, broad-cloth, and gold.
There they stood, the one the personification of meekness, the other
of haughty anger. However firm might have been the captain's intentions
to convict the man before him by an intricate cross-examination,
his warmth of temper defeated them at once, for the old seaman
looked more than usually innocent and sheepish. This almost
stolid equanimity was sadly provoking.
"You insolent scoundrel!—who milked my cow last
night?"— "The Lord in heaven knows, your honour. Who could it be, sir,
without it was the ghost who has laid that poor lad in his sick hammock?"
"And I suppose that the ghost ordered you to hand the milk to
the young gentlemen when he had done?"—"Me, sir! Heaven
save me! I never se'ed a ghost in my life."
"Hypocrite! the bottle you sold the midshipmen!"—"One,
your honour, I brought from Antigua, and which I overlooked yesterday."
"I shall not overlook it when I get you to the gangway.
Go, Mr. Littlejohn, give orders to beat to quarters the moment the men have
had their time."
All that forenoon the captain kept officers and men
exercising the great guns, running them in and out, pointing them here and
there;—sail-trimmers aloft—boarders on the starboard bow—firemen
down in the fore-hold: the men had not a moment's respite, nor the officers
either. How potently in their hearts they d—d the cow, even from
the tips of her horns unto the tuft at the end of her tail! Five secret
resolves were made to poison her that hard-worked morning. Mr.
Small Jack, who was stationed at the foremost main-deck guns near
her, gave her a kick every time the order came from the quarter-deck
to ram home wad and shot.
Well, this sweltering work, under a tropical sun, proceeded
till noon, the captain alternately swearing at the officers for want of
energy, and exclaiming to himself indignantly, "D—them! how
dare they milk my cow! There must be several concerned. Send
the carpenter aft. Mr. Wedge, rig both the chain-pumps,—turn the
water on in the well. Waisters! man the pumps. Where's that
Grummet? Boatswain's mates, out with your colts and lay them
over the shoulders of any man that shirks his duty; keep a sharp
eye on the captain of the waist."
And thus the poor fellows had, for a finish to their morning's
labour, a half-hour of the most overpowering exertion to which you
can set mortal man,—that of working at the chain-pumps. When Mr.
Littlejohn saw elderly Joseph Grummet stripped to the waist, the
perspiration streaming down him in bucket-fulls, and panting as it
were for his very life, he, the said Small Jack, very rightly opined
that no milk would be forthcoming next morning.
At noon the men were as usual piped to dinner, with an excellent
appetite for their pork and pease, and a thirsty relish for their grog;
for which blessings they had the cow alone to thank. They were very ungrateful.
No sooner was the hour of dinner over than the captain all of a
sudden discovered that his ship's company were not smart enough in
reefing topsails. So at it they went, racing up and down the rigging,
tricing up and laying out, lowering away and hoisting, until six bells,
three o'clock, when the angry and hungry captain went to his dinner.
He had made himself more unpopular in that day than any other
commander in the fleet.
The dinner was unsocial enough. When a man is not satisfied
with himself, it is rarely that he is satisfied with any body else. Now
the whole ship's company, officers as well as men, were divided into
parties, and into only two, respecting this affair of the cow; one believed
in a supernatural, the other in a roguish agency; in numbers
they were about equal, so that the captain stood in the pleasant predicament
of being looked upon in a sinful light by one half of his
crew, and in a ludicrous one by the other.
However, as the night advanced, and the marine who had
seen the cow-spirit grew worse, the believers in the supernatural increased
rapidly; and as one sentinel was found unwilling to go alone, the cow
had the distinguished compliment of a guard of honour of two all
night. The captain, with a scornful defiance of the spiritual, would
allow of no lights to be shown, or of no extraordinary precautions to
be taken. He only signified his intentions of having himself an interview
with the ghost, and for that purpose he walked the deck till
midnight; but the messenger from the land of spirits did not choose
to show himself so early.
Let me hear no more any querulous talk of the labour of
getting butter to one's bread—no person could have toiled more than
the Honourable Captain Augustus Fitzroy Fitzalban to get milk for his
The two sentries were relieved at twelve o'clock, and, for a
quarter of an hour after, everything remaining dark and quiet about the
haunted cow, the captain went below and turned in, joyfully anticipative
of milk and cream in the morning. He left, of course, the
most positive orders that the moment the ghost appeared he should
Mr. Mitchell, the pious first lieutenant, remained on deck,
determined to see the sequel; told the master he was much troubled in
spirit, and he thought, with all due deference to the articles of war,
and respect for the captain, that he was little better than an infidel,
and an overbold tempter of God's providence. The master remarked
in reply that it was an affair entirely out of soundings; but very sagely
concluded that they should see what they should see, even if they
It was a beautiful night, darkly, yet, at the same time,
brightly beautiful. There was no moon. The pure fires above were like
scintillations from the crown of God's glory. Though the heavens
were thus starred with splendours, it was deeply, though clearly,
dark on the ocean. There was a gentle breeze that was only sufficient
to make the sails draw, and the noble frigate walked stately,
yet majestically onwards.
Forward on the main-deck the darkness was Cimmerian. When
lights had been last there at the relieving of the sentinels, the cow
had laid herself quietly down upon her litter, and seemed to be in a
profound sleep; the first hour after midnight was passed, and all was
hushed as death, save those noises that indicate what else would be
absolute silence more strongly. There was the whispering ripple of
the sea, the dull creaking of the tiller-ropes, and the stealthy step of
the sentinels: these sounds, and these only, were painfully distinct.
One bell struck, and its solemn echoes seemed to creep through the
decks as if on some errand of death, and the monotonous cry of the
look-outs fell drearily on the ear.
The first lieutenant and the officers of the watch had just
begun to shake off their dreamy and fearful impressions, to breathe more freely,
and to walk the deck with a firmer tread, when, from what was
supposed to be the haunted spot, a low shriek was heard, then a
bustle, followed by half-stifled cries of "The guard! the guard!"
The officers of the watch jumped down on to the main-deck,
the midshipmen rushed into the cabin to call the captain, and men with
and without lights rushed forward to the rescue.
Deep in the darkness of the manger there glared an apparition
that might more than justify the alarm. The spot where the phantom
was seen, (we pledge ourselves that we are relating facts,) was
that part of a frigate which seamen call "the eyes of her," directly
under the foremost part of the forecastle, where the cables run
through the hawse-holes, and through which the bowsprit trends upwards.
The whole place is called the manger. It is very often appropriated
to the use of pigs until they take their turn for the butcher's
knife. This was the strange locality that the ghost chose to
honour with its dreadful presence.
From the united evidences of the many who saw this ghastly
avatar, it appeared only to have thrust its huge head and a few feet of the
forepart of its body through the hawse-hole, the remainder of its
vast and voluminous tail hanging out of the ship over its bows. The
frightful head and the sockets of its eyes were distinctly
marked in lineaments of fire. Its jaws were stupendous, and its triple
row of sharp and long-fanged teeth seemed to be gnashing for something
mortal to devour. It cast a pale blue halo of light around it,
just sufficient to show the outlines of the den it had selected in which
to make its unwelcome appearance. Noise it made none, though several
of the spectators fancied that they heard a gibbering of unearthly
sounds; and Mr. Littlejohn swore the next day upon his John
Hamilton Moore, that it mooed dolefully like a young bullock crossed
To describe the confusion on the main-deck, whilst officers,
seamen, and marines were gazing on this spectre, so like the fiery spirit of
the Yankee sea-serpent, is a task from which I shrink, knowing that language
cannot do it adequately. The first lieutenant stood in the
middle of the group, not merely transfixed, but paralysed with fear;
men were tumbling over each other, shouting, praying, swearing. Up
from the dark holds, like shrouded ghosts, the watch below, in their
shirts, sprang from their hammocks; and for many, one look was
enough, and the head would vanish immediately in the dark profound.
The shouting for lights, and loaded muskets and pistols was terrible;
and the orders to advance were so eagerly reiterated, that none had
leisure to obey them.
But the cow herself did not present the least imposing feature
in this picture of horror. She formed, as it were, the barrier between
mortality and spirituality—all beyond her was horrible and spectral; by
her fright she seemed to acknowledge the presence of a preternatural
being. Her legs were stiff and extended, her tail standing out like
that of an angered lion, and she kept a continued strain upon the halter
with which she was tethered to a ring-bolt in the ship's side.
By this time several of the ward-room officers, and most
of the midshipmen, had reached the scene of action. Pistols were no longer
wanting, and loaded ones too. Three shots were fired into the manger,
with what aim it is impossible to specify, at the spectre. They did
not seem to annoy his ghostship in the least; without an indication of
his beginning to grow hungry, might be deemed so. As the shot
whistled past him, he worked his huge and fiery jaws most ravenously.
"Well," said the second lieutenant, "let us give the
gentleman another shot, and then come to close quarters. Mr. Mitchell, you
have a pistol in your hand: fire!"
"In the name of the Holy Trinity!" said the superstitious first,
"there!" Bang! and the shot took effect deep in the loins of the unfortunate cow.
At this precise moment, Captain the Honourable Augustus
Fitzroy Fitzalban rushed from his cabin forward, attired in a rich flowered
silk morning-gown, in which scarlet predominated. He held a pistol
cocked in each hand; and, as he broke through the crowd, he bellowed
forth lustily, "Where's the ghost! let me see the ghost!" He was
soon in the van of the astonished gazers; but, disappointed Fitzalban!
he saw no ghost, because, as the man says in the Critic, "'twas not
Immediately the honourable captain had gained his station,
the much wronged and persecuted cow, galled by her wound, with a
mortal effort snapped the rope with which she was fastened, and then
lowering her horned head nearly level with the deck, and flourishing
her tail after the manner that an Irishman flourishes his shillelagh
before he commences occipital operations, she rushed upon the
crowded phalanx before her. At this instant, as if its supernatural
mission had been completed, the spirit vanished.
The ideal having decamped, those concerned had to save
themselves from the well followed up assaults of the real. The captain
flew before the pursuing horns, d—ning the cow in all the varieties
of condemnation. But she was generous, and she attached herself to
him with an unwonted, or rather an unwanted, fidelity. Lanterns
were crushed and men overthrown, and laughter now arose amidst
the shouts of dismay. The seamen tried to impede the progress
of the furious animal by throwing down before her lashed-up hammocks,
and by seizing her behind by the tail: but, woe is me! the
Honourable the Captain Augustus Fitzroy Fitzalban could not run so
fast in his variegated and scarlet flowered silk dressing-gown as a
cow in the agonies of death; for he had just reached that asylum
of safety, his cabin-door, when the cow took him up very carefully
with her horns, and first giving him a monitory shake, then with
an inclination to port, she tossed him right over the ward-room
skylight, and deposited him very gingerly in the turtle-tub that stood
lashed on the larboard side of the half-deck. This exertion was her
last; for immediately alter falling upon her knees, and then gently
rolling over, to use an Homeric expression, her soul issued from
her wound, and sought the shades below appropriated to the souls
In the mean time, the captain was sprawling about, and
contending with his turtle for room, and he stood a very good chance of
being drowned even in a tub; but assistance speedily arriving, he was
drawn out, and thus the world was spared a second tale of a tub.
But there was something in the spirit of the aristocratic Fitzalban
that neither cows, ghosts, nor turtle-haunted water could subdue.
Wet as he was, and suffering also from the contusions of the cow's
horns, he immediately ordered more light, and proceeded to search
for the ghost,—prolific parent of all his mishaps.
Well escorted he visited the manager, but the most
scrutinising search could discover nothing extraordinary. The place seemed
to have been undisturbed, nor once to have departed from its usual
solitariness and dirt. There was not even so much as a smell
of sulphur on the spot where the spectre had appeared, nor were
there any signs of wet, which, supposing the thing seen had been
a real animal, would have been the case, had it come from the
sea through one of the hawse-holes. The whole affair was involved
in the most profound mystery. The honourable captain, therefore,
came to the conclusion that nothing whatever had appeared, and
that the whole was the creation of cowardice.
Hot with rage and agueish with cold, he retired to
his cabin, vowing all manner of impossible vengeance, muttering about
courts-martial, and solemnly protesting that Mr. Mitchell, the first
lieutenant, should pay him for the cow that he had so wantonly shot.
Blank were the countenances of many the next morning.
The first lieutenant was not, as usual, asked to breakfast. There was
distrust and division in his Majesty's ship Nænia, and the Honourable
the Captain Augustus Fitzroy Fitzalban had several severe contusions
on his noble person, a bad cold, and no milk for breakfast;
an accumulation of evils that one of the aristocracy ought not
to be obliged to bear. Though Mr. Mitchell did not breakfast
with the captain, Jack Small, alias Small Jack, alias Mr. Littlejohn,
did. The only attempt of the captain that morning at conversation
was as follows. With a voice that croaked like a raven's at the
point of death, evidence externe of an abominable sore-throat, the
captain merely said to the reefer, pointing his fore-finger downwards
as he did the day before, "Milk?"
Mr. Littlejohn shook his head dolefully,
and replied, "No, sir."
"My cow died last night," said the afflicted commander
with a pathos that would have wrung the heart of a stone statue—if it
could have heard it.
"If you please, sir," said the steward, "Mr. Mitchell
sends his compliments, and would be very glad to know what you would have
done with the dead cow."—"My compliments to Mr. Mitchell and
he may do whatever he likes with it. He shot it, and must pay
me for it: let him eat it if he will."
The first lieutenant and the captain were, after this,
not on speaking terms for three months. Several duels had very nearly
been fought about the ghost; those who had not seen it, branding
those who had with an imputation only a little short of cowardice;
those who had seen it, becoming for a few weeks very religious,
and firmly resolving henceforward to get drunk only in pious company.
The carcase of the cow was properly dressed and cut up,
but few were found who would eat of it; the majority of the seamen
thinking that the animal had been bewitched: the captain of
course would take none of it unless Mr. Mitchell would permit
him to pay him for it at so much per pound, as he pertinaciously
pretended to consider it to be the property of the first lieutenant.
Consequently, the animal was neatly shared between
the midshipmen's berth and the mess of which Joseph Grummet,
the captain of the waist, was an unworthy member.
The day following the death of the cow, Joseph Grummet
was found loitering about the door of the young gentlemen's berth.
"Any milk to-morrow, Joseph?" said the caterer.—"No, sir,"
with a most sensible shake of the head.
"Oh!—the cow has given up the ghost!"—"And somebody
else too!" This simple expression seemed to have much relieved Joe's
overcharged bosom: he turned his quid in his month with evident satisfaction,
grinned, and was shortly after lost in the darkness forward.
There never yet was a ghost story that did not prove a very
simple affair when the key to it was found. The captain of the Nænia
never would believe that anything uncommon was ever seen at all.
He was, however, as much in the wrong as those who believed that
they had seen a ghost. The occurrence could not be forgotten,
though it ceased to be talked of.
Two years after the ship came to England, and was paid off.
Joseph Grummet bagged his notes and his sovereigns with much satisfaction;
but he did not jump like a fool into the first boat, and rush
ashore to scatter his hard-earned wages among Jews, and people still
worse: he stayed till the last man, and anxiously watched for the
moment when the pennant should be hauled down. When he saw
this fairly done, he asked leave to speak to the captain. He was
ushered into the cabin, and he there saw many of the officers who
were taking leave of their old commander.
"Well, Grummet," said the skipper, "what now?"
"Please your honour, you offered five guineas to anybody who
would tell you who milked the cow."
"And so I will gladly," said the captain, pleasantly, "if
the same person will unravel the mystery of the ghost." And he turned a
triumphant look upon the believers in spirits who stood around him.
"I milked your cow, sir."
"Ah! Joseph, Joseph! it was unkindly done. But with your
hands?"—"We widened a pair of Mr. Littlejohn's kid-gloves, sir."
"I knew that little rascal was at the bottom of it! but
there is honour in the midshipmen's berth still. What is the reason that
they thus sought to deprive me of my property?"—"You wouldn't
allow them to take any live stock on board that cruise, sir."
"So—so—wild justice, hey? But come to the
ghost."—"Why, sir, I wanted to have the cow unwatched for a quarter of
an hour every middle watch; so I took the shark's head we had caught a day
or two before, scraped off most of the flesh, and whipped it in a
bread-bag,—it shone brighter in the dark than stinking mackerel;—so
I whips him out when I wants him, and wabbles his jaws about.
I was safely stowed under the bowsprit from your shot; and when
your honour walked in on one side of the manger, I walked, with my
head under my arm, out of the other."
"Well, Joseph, there are your five guineas: and, gentlemen,"
said the Honourable the Captain Augustus Fitzroy Fitzalban, bowing to
his officers, "I wish you joy of your ghost!"