William Wymark Jacobs was born on September 8th, 1863 in the Wapping district of London, England.  Jacobs grew up near the docks, where his father was a wharf manager.  The docks and river side would be a constant theme of his writing in years to come.


Although surrounded by poverty, he received a formal education in London, first at a private prep school and later at the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institute.


His working life began with a less than exciting clerical position at the Post Office Savings Bank. Jacobs put his imagination to good use writing short stories, sketches and articles, many for the Post Office house publication “Blackfriars Magazine.”


In 1896 Jacobs published Many Cargoes, a selection of sea-faring yarns, which established him as a popular writer with a knack for authentic dialogue and trick endings.


A year later he published a novelette, The Skipper’s Wooing, and in 1898 another collection of short stories; Sea Urchins. These works painted vivid pictures of dockland and seafaring London full of colourful characters.


By 1899, Jacobs was able to quit the post office and write full-time.


He married the noted suffragist Agnes Eleanor Williams (who had been jailed for her protest activities) in 1900. They set up households both in Loughton, Essex and in central London.


The publication in 1902 of At Sunwich Port and Dialstone Lane, in 1904, cemented Jacobs’ reputation as one of the leading British authors of the new century.


There followed a string of further successful publications, including Captain’s All (1905), Night Watches (1914), The Castaways (1916), and Sea Whispers (1926).


Though Jacobs would create little in the way of new work after 1911, he still wrote and was recognized as a leading humorist, ranked alongside such writers as P. G. Wodehouse.


William Wymark Jacobs died in a North London nursing home in Hornsey Lane, Islington on September 1st, 1943.



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"If you hadn't asked me," said the night watchman, "I should never have told you; but, seeing as you've put the question point blank, I will tell you my experience of it. You're the first person I've ever opened my lips to upon the subject, for it was so eggstraordinary that all our chaps swore as they'd keep it to theirselves for fear of being disbelieved and jeered at.
"It happened in '84, on board the steamer George Washington, bound from Liverpool to New York. The first eight days passed without anything unusual happening, but on the ninth I was standing aft with the first mate, hauling in the log, when we hears a yell from aloft, an' a chap what we called Stuttering Sam come down as if he was possessed, and rushed up to the mate with his eyes nearly starting out of his 'ed.
"'There's the s-s-s-s-s-s-sis-sis-sip!' ses he.
"'The what?' ses the mate.
"'The s-s-sea-sea-sssssip!'
"'Look here, my lad,' ses the mate, taking out a pocket-hankerchief an' wiping his face, 'you just tarn your 'ed away till you get your breath. It's like opening a bottle o' soda water to stand talking to you. Now, what is it?'
"'It's the ssssssis-sea-sea-sea-sarpint!' ses Sam, with a bust.
"'Rather a long un by your account of it,' ses the mate, with a grin.
"'What's the matter?' ses the skipper, who just came up.
"'This man has seen the sea-sarpint, sir, that's all,' ses the mate.
"'Y-y-yes,' said Sam, with a sort o' sob.
"'Well, there ain't much doing just now,' ses the skipper, 'so you'd better get a slice o' bread and feed it.'
"The mate bust out larfing, an' I could see by the way the skipper smiled he was rather tickled at it himself.
"The skipper an' the mate was still larfing very hearty when we heard a dreadful 'owl from the bridge, an' one o' the chaps suddenly leaves the wheel, jumps on to the deck, and bolts below as though he was mad. T'other one follows 'm a'most d'reckly, and the second mate caught hold o' the wheel as he left it, and called out something we couldn't catch to the skipper.
"'What the d—'s the matter?' yells the skipper.
"The mate pointed to starboard, but as 'is 'and was shaking so that one minute it was pointing to the sky an' the next to the bottom o' the sea, it wasn't much of a guide to us. Even when he got it steady we couldn't see anything, till all of a sudden, about two miles off, something like a telegraph pole stuck up out of the water for a few seconds, and then ducked down again and made straight for the ship.
"Sam was the fust to speak, and, without wasting time stuttering or stammering, he said he'd go down and see about that bit o' bread, an' he went afore the skipper or the mate could stop 'im.
"In less than 'arf a minute there was only the three officers an' me on deck. The second mate was holding the wheel, the skipper was holding his breath, and the first mate was holding me. It was one o' the most exciting times I ever had.
"'Better fire the gun at it,' ses the skipper, in a trembling voice, looking at the little brass cannon we had for signalling.
"'Better not give him any cause for offence,' ses the mate, shaking his head.
"'I wonder whether it eats men,' ses the skipper. 'Perhaps it'll come for some of us.'
"'There ain't many on deck for it to choose from,' ses the mate, looking at 'im significant like.
"'That's true,' ses the skipper, very thoughtful; 'I'll go an' send all hands on deck. As captain, it's my duty not to leave the ship till the LAST, if I can anyways help it.'
"How he got them on deck has always been a wonder to me, but he did it. He was a brutal sort o' a man at the best o' times, an' he carried on so much that I s'pose they thought even the sarpint couldn't be worse. Anyway, up they came, an' we all stood in a crowd watching the sarpint as it came closer and closer.
"We reckoned it to be about a hundred yards long, an' it was about the most awful-looking creetur you could ever imagine. If you took all the ugliest things in the earth and mixed 'em up—gorillas an' the like— you'd only make a hangel compared to what that was. It just hung off our quarter, keeping up with us, and every now and then it would open its mouth and let us see about four yards down its throat.
"'It seems peaceable,' whispers the fust mate, arter awhile.
"'P'raps it ain't hungry,' ses the skipper. 'We'd better not let it get peckish. Try it with a loaf o' bread.'
"The cook went below and fetched up half-a-dozen, an' one o' the chaps, plucking up courage, slung it over the side, an' afore you could say 'Jack Robinson' the sarpint had woffled it up an' was looking for more. It stuck its head up and came close to the side just like the swans in Victoria Park, an' it kept that game up until it had 'ad ten loaves an' a hunk o' pork.
"'I'm afraid we're encouraging it,' ses the skipper, looking at it as it swam alongside with an eye as big as a saucer cocked on the ship.
"'P'raps it'll go away soon if we don't take no more notice of it,' ses the mate. 'Just pretend it isn't here.'
"Well, we did pretend as well as we could; but everybody hugged the port side o' the ship, and was ready to bolt down below at the shortest notice; and at last, when the beast got craning its neck up over the side as though it was looking for something, we gave it some more grub. We thought if we didn't give it he might take it, and take it off the wrong shelf, so to speak. But, as the mate said, it was encouraging it, and long arter it was dark we could hear it snorting and splashing behind us, until at last it 'ad such an effect on us the mate sent one o' the chaps down to rouse the skipper.
"'I don't think it'll do no 'arm,' ses the skipper, peering over the side, and speaking as though he knew all about sea-sarpints and their ways.
"'S'pose it puts its 'ead over the side and takes one o' the men,' ses the mate.
"'Let me know at once,' ses the skipper firmly; an' he went below agin and left us.
"Well, I was jolly glad when eight bells struck, an' I went below; an' if ever I hoped anything I hoped that when I go up that ugly brute would have gone, but, instead o' that, when I went on deck it was playing alongside like a kitten a'most, an' one o' the chaps told me as the skipper had been feeding it agin.
"'It's a wonderful animal,' ses the skipper, 'an' there's none of you now but has seen the sea-sarpint; but I forbid any man here to say a word about it when we get ashore.'
"'Why not, sir?' ses the second mate.
"'Becos you wouldn't be believed,' said the skipper sternly. 'You might all go ashore and kiss the Book an' make affidavits an' not a soul 'ud believe you. The comic papers 'ud make fun of it, and the respectable papers 'ud say it was seaweed or gulls.'
"Why not take it to New York with us?' ses the fust mate suddenly.
"'What?' ses the skipper.
"'Feed it every day,' ses the mate, getting excited, 'and bait a couple of shark hooks and keep 'em ready, together with some wire rope. Git 'im to foller us as far as he will, and then hook him. We might git him in alive and show him at a sovereign a head. Anyway, we can take in his carcase if we manage it properly.'
"'By Jove! if we only could,' ses the skipper, getting excited too.
"'We can try,' ses the mate. 'Why, we could have noosed it this mornin' if we had liked; and if it breaks the lines we must blow its head to pieces with the gun.'
"It seemed a most eggstraordinary thing to try and catch it that way; but the beast was so tame, and stuck so close to us, that it wasn't quite so ridikilous as it seemed at fust.
"Arter a couple o' days nobody minded the animal a bit, for it was about the most nervous thing of its size you ever saw. It hadn't got the soul of a mouse; and one day when the second mate, just for a lark, took the line of the foghorn in his hand and tooted it a bit, it flung up its 'ead in a scared sort o' way, and, after backing a bit, turned clean round and bolted.
"I thought the skipper 'ud have gone mad. He chucked over loaves o' bread, bits o' beef and pork, an' scores o' biskits, and by-and-bye, when the brute plucked up heart an' came arter us again, he fairly beamed with joy. Then he gave orders that nobody was to touch the horn for any reason whatever, not even if there was a fog, or chance of collision, or anything of the kind; an' he also gave orders that the bells wasn't to be struck, but that the bosen was just to shove 'is 'ead in the fo'c's'le and call 'em out instead.
"Arter three days had passed, and the thing was still follering us, everybody made certain of taking it to New York, an' I b'leeve if it hadn't been for Joe Cooper the question about the sea-sarpint would ha' been settled long ago. He was a most eggstraordinary ugly chap was Joe.  He had a perfic cartoon of a face, an' he was so delikit-minded and sensitive about it that if a chap only stopped in the street and whistled as he passed him, or pointed him out to a friend, he didn't like it. He told me once when I was symperthizing with him, that the only time a woman ever spoke civilly to him was one night down Poplar way in a fog, an' he was so 'appy about it that they both walked into the canal afore he knew where they was.
"On the fourth morning, when we was only about three days from Sandy Hook, the skipper got out o' bed wrong side, an' when he went on deck he was ready to snap at anybody, an' as luck would have it, as he walked a bit forrard, he sees Joe a-sticking his phiz over the side looking at the sarpint.
"'What the d—are you doing?' shouts the skipper, 'What do you mean by it?'
"'Mean by what, sir?' asks Joe.
"'Putting your black ugly face over the side o' the ship an' frightening my sea-sarpint!' bellows the skipper, 'You know how easy it's skeered.'
"'Frightening the sea-sarpint?' ses Joe, trembling all over, an' turning very white.
"'If I see that face o' yours over the side agin, my lad,' ses the skipper very fierce, 'I'll give it a black eye. Now cut!'
"Joe cut, an' the skipper, having worked off some of his ill-temper, went aft again and began to chat with the mate quite pleasant like. I was down below at the time, an' didn't know anything about it for hours arter, and then I heard it from one o' the firemen. He comes up to me very mysterious like, an' ses, 'Bill,' he ses, 'you're a pal o' Joe's; come down here an' see what you can make of 'im.'
"Not knowing what he meant, I follered 'im below to the engine-room, an' there was Joe sitting on a bucket staring wildly in front of 'im, and two or three of 'em standing round looking at 'im with their 'eads on one side.
"'He's been like that for three hours,' ses the second engineer in a whisper, 'dazed like.'
"As he spoke Joe gave a little shudder; 'Frighten the sea-sarpint!' ses he, 'O Lord!'
"'It's turned his brain,' ses one o' the firemen, 'he keeps saying nothing but that.'
"'If we could only make 'im cry,' ses the second engineer, who had a brother what was a medical student, 'it might save his reason. But how to do it, that's the question.'
 "'Speak kind to 'im, sir,' ses the fireman. 'I'll have a try if you don't mind.' He cleared his throat first, an' then he walks over to Joe and puts his hand on his shoulder an' ses very soft an' pitiful like:
"'Don't take on, Joe, don't take on, there's many a ugly mug 'ides a good 'art,'
"Afore he could think o" anything else to say, Joe ups with his fist an' gives 'im one in the ribs as nearly broke 'em. Then he turns away 'is 'ead an' shivers again, an' the old dazed look come back.
"'Joe,' I ses, shaking him, 'Joe!'
"'Frightened the sea-sarpint!' whispers Joe, staring.
"'Joe,' I ses, 'Joe. You know me, I'm your pal, Bill.'
"'Ay, ay,' ses Joe, coming round a bit.
"'Come away,' I ses, 'come an' git to bed, that's the best place for you.'
"I took 'im by the sleeve, and he gets up quiet an' obedient and follers me like a little child. I got 'im straight into 'is bunk, an' arter a time he fell into a soft slumber, an' I thought the worst had passed, but I was mistaken. He got up in three hours' time an' seemed all right, 'cept that he walked about as though he was thinking very hard about something, an' before I could make out what it was he had a fit.
"He was in that fit ten minutes, an' he was no sooner out o' that one than he was in another. In twenty-four hours he had six full-sized fits, and I'll allow I was fairly puzzled. What pleasure he could find in tumbling down hard and stiff an' kicking at everybody an' everything I couldn't see. He'd be standing quiet and peaceable like one minute, and the next he'd catch hold o' the nearest thing to him and have a bad fit, and lie on his back and kick us while we was trying to force open his hands to pat 'em.
"The other chaps said the skipper's insult had turned his brain, but I wasn't quite so soft, an' one time when he was alone I put it to him.
"'Joe, old man,' I ses, 'you an' me's been very good pals.'
"'Ay, ay,' ses he, suspicious like.
"'Joe,' I whispers, 'what's yer little game?'
"'Wodyermean?' ses he, very short.
"'I mean the fits,' ses I, looking at 'im very steady, 'It's no good looking hinnercent like that, 'cos I see yer chewing soap with my own eyes.'
"'Soap,' ses Joe, in a nasty sneering way, 'you wouldn't reckernise a piece if you saw it.'
"Arter that I could see there was nothing to be got out of 'im, an' I just kept my eyes open and watched. The skipper didn't worry about his fits, 'cept that he said he wasn't to let the sarpint see his face when he was in 'em for fear of scaring it; an' when the mate wanted to leave him out o' the watch, he ses, 'No, he might as well have fits while at work as well as anywhere else.'
"We were about twenty-four hours from port, an' the sarpint was still following us; and at six o'clock in the evening the officers puffected all their arrangements for ketching the creetur at eight o'clock next morning. To make quite sure of it an extra watch was kept on deck all night to chuck it food every half-hour; an' when I turned in at ten o'clock that night it was so close I could have reached it with a clothes-prop.
"I think I'd been abed about 'arf-an-hour when I was awoke by the most infernal row I ever heard. The foghorn was going incessantly, an' there was a lot o' shouting and running about on deck. It struck us all as 'ow the sarpint was gitting tired o' bread, and was misbehaving himself, consequently we just shoved our 'eds out o' the fore-scuttle and listened. All the hullaballoo seemed to be on the bridge, an' as we didn't see the sarpint there we plucked up courage and went on deck.
"Then we saw what had happened. Joe had 'ad another fit while at the wheel, and, NOT KNOWING WHAT HE WAS DOING, had clutched the line of the foghorn, and was holding on to it like grim death, and kicking right and left. The skipper was in his bedclothes, raving worse than Joe; and just as we got there Joe came round a bit, and, letting go o' the line, asked in a faint voice what the foghorn was blowing for. I thought the skipper 'ud have killed him; but the second mate held him back, an', of course, when things quieted down a bit, an' we went to the side, we found the sea-sarpint had vanished.
"We stayed there all that night, but it warn't no use. When day broke there wasn't the slightest trace of it, an' I think the men was as sorry to lose it as the officers. All 'cept Joe, that is, which shows how people should never be rude, even to the humblest; for I'm sartin that if the skipper hadn't hurt his feelings the way he did we should now know as much about the sea-sarpint as we do about our own brothers."






The long summer day had gone and twilight was just merging into night. A ray of light from the lantern at the end of the quay went trembling across the sea, and in the little harbour the dusky shapes of a few small craft lay motionless on the dark water.


The master of the schooner Harebell came slowly towards the harbour, accompanied by his mate. Both men had provided ashore for a voyage which included no intoxicants, and the dignity of the skipper, always a salient feature, had developed tremendously under the influence of brown stout. He stepped aboard his schooner importantly, and then, turning to the mate, who was about to follow, suddenly held up his hand for silence.


"What did I tell you?" he inquired severely as the mate got quietly aboard.


"About knocking down the two policemen?" guessed the mate, somewhat puzzled.


"No," said the other shortly. "Listen."


The mate listened. From the foc’sle came low gruff voices of men, broken by the silvery ring of women’s laughter.


"Well, I’m a Dutchman," said the mate the air of one who felt he was expected to say something.


"After all I said to ’em," said the skipper with weary dignity. "You ’eard what I said to them Jack?"


"Nobody could ha’ swore louder," testified the mate.


"An’ here they are," said the skipper, "defying of me. After all I said to ’em. After all the threats I—I employed."


"Employed," repeated the mate with relish.


"They’ve been and gone and asked them females down the foc’sle again. You know what I said I’d do, Jack, if they did."


"Said you’d eat ’em without salt," quoted the other helpfully.


"I’ll do worse than that, Jack," said the skipper after a moment’s discomfiture. "What’s to hinder us casting off quietly and taking them along with us?


"If you ask me," said the mate, "I should think you couldn’t please the crew better."


"Well, we’ll see," said the other, nodding sagaciously, "don’t make no noise, Jack."


He set an example of silence himself, and aided by the mate, cast off the warps which held his unconscious visitors to their native town, and the wind being off the shore the little schooner drifted silently away from the quay.


The skipper went to the wheel, and the noise of the mate hauling on the jib brought a rough head out of the foc’sle, the owner of which, after a cry to his mates below, sprang up on deck and looked round in bewilderment.


"Stand by, there!" cried the skipper as the others came rushing on deck. "Shake ’em out."


"Beggin’ your pardin’, sir," said one of them with more politeness in his tones than he had ever used before, "but—"


"Stand by!" said the skipper.


"Now then!" shouted the mate sharply, "lively there! Lively with it!"


The men looked at each other helplessly and went to their posts as a scream of dismay arose from the fair beings below who, having just begun to realise their position, were coming on deck to try and improve it.


"What!" roared the skipper in pretended astonishment, "what! Gells aboard after all I said? It can’t be; I must be dreaming!"


"Take us back!" wailed the damsels, ignoring the sarcasm; "take us back, captain."


"No, I can’t go back," said the skipper. "You see what comes o’ disobedience, my gells. Lively there on that mains’l, d’ye hear?"


"We won’t do it again," cried the girls, as the schooner came to the mouth of the harbour and they smelt the dark sea beyond. "Take us back."


"It can’t be done," said the skipper cheerfully.


"It’s agin the lor, sir," said Ephraim Biddle solemnly.


"What! Taking my own ship out?" said the skipper in affected surprise. "How was I to know they were there? I’m not going back; ’tain’t likely. As they’ve made their beds, so they must lay on ’em."


"They ain’t got no beds," said George Scott hastily. "It ain’t fair to punish the gals for us, sir."


"Hold your tongue," said the skipper sharply.


"It’s agin the lor, sir," said Biddle again. "If so be they’re passengers, this ship ain’t licensed to carry passengers. If so be as they’re took out agin their will, it’s abduction—I see the other day a chap had seven years for abducting one gal, three sevens—three sevens is—three sevens is—well, it’s more years than you’d like to be in prison, sir."


"Bosh," said the skipper, "they’re stowaways, an’ I shall put ’em ashore at the first port we touch at—Plymouth."


A heartrending series of screams from the stowaways rounded his sentence, screams which gave way to sustained sobbing, as the schooner, catching the wind, began to move through the water.


"You’d better get below, my gals," said Biddle, who was the eldest member of the crew, consolingly.


"Why don’t you make him take us back?" said Jenny Evans, the biggest of the three girls, indignantly.


"’Cos we can’t, my dear," said Biddle reluctantly; "it’s agin the lor. You don’t want to see us put into prison, do you?"


"I don’t mind," said Miss Evans tearfully, "so long as we get back. George, take us back."


"I can’t," said Scott sullenly.


"Well, you can look for somebody else, then," said Miss Evans with temper. "You won’t marry me. How much would you get if you did make the skipper put back?"


"Very likely six months," said Biddle solemnly.


"Six months would soon pass away," said Miss Evans briskly, as she wiped her eye.


"It would be a rest," said Miss Williams coaxingly.


The men not seeing things in quite the same light, they announced their intention of having nothing more to do with them, and crowding together in the bows beneath two or three blankets, condoled tearfully with each other on their misfortunes. For some time the men stood by offering clumsy consolations, but, tired at last of repeated rebuffs and insults, went below and turned in, leaving the satisfied skipper at the wheel.


The night was clear and the wind light. As the effects of his libations wore off the skipper had some misgivings as to the wisdom of his action, but it was too late to return, and he resolved to carry on.


Looking at all the circumstances of the case, he thought it best to keep the wheel in his own hands for a time, and the dawn came in the early hours and found him still at his post.


Objects began to stand out clearly in the growing light, and three dispirited girls put their heads out from their blankets and sniffed disdainfully at the sharp morning air. Then after an animated discussion they arose, and casting their blankets aside, walked up to the skipper and eyed him thoughtfully.


"As easy as easy," said Jenny Evans confidently, as she drew herself up to her full height, and looked down at the indignant man.


"Why, he isn’t any bigger than a boy," said Miss Williams savagely.


"Pity we didn’t think of it before," said Miss Davies. "I s’pose the crew won’t help him?"


"Not they," said Miss Evans scornfully. "If they do, we’ll serve them the same."


They went off, leaving the skipper a prey to gathering uneasiness, watching their movements with wrinkled brow. From the forecastle and the galley they produced two mops and a broom, and he caught his breath sharply as Miss Evans came on deck with a pot of white paint in one hand and a pot of tar in the other.


"Now, girls," said Miss Evans.


"Put those things down," said the skipper in a peremptory voice.


"Sha’n’t," said Miss Evans bluntly. "You haven’t got enough on yours," she said, turning to Miss Davies. "Don’t spoil the skipper for a ha’porth of tar."


At this new version of an old saw they laughed joyously, and with mops dripping tar and paint on the deck, marched in military style up to the skipper, and halted in front of him, smiling wickedly.


Then the heart of the skipper waxed sore faint within him, and, with a wild yell, he summoned his trusty crew to his side.


The crew came on deck slowly, and casting furtive glances at the scene, pushed Ephraim Biddle to the front.


"Take those mops away from ’em," said the skipper haughtily.


"Don’t you interfere," said Miss Evans, looking at them over her shoulder.


"Else we’ll give you some," said Miss Williams bloodthirstily.


"Take those mops away from ’em!" bawled the skipper, instinctively drawing back as Miss Evans made a pass at him.


"I don’t see as ’ow we can interfere, sir," said Biddle with deep respect.


"What!" said the astonished skipper.


"It would be agin the lor for us to interfere with people," said Biddle, turning to his mates, "dead agin the lor."


"Don’t you talk rubbish," said the skipper anxiously. "Take ’em away from ’em. It’s my tar and my paint, and—"


"You shall have it," said Miss Evans reassuringly.


"If we touched ’em," said Biddle impressively, "it’d be an assault at lor. ’Sides which, they’d probably muss us up with ’em. All we can do, sir, is to stand by and see fair play."


"Fair play!" cried the skipper dancing with rage, and turning hastily to the mate, who had just come on the scene. "Take those things away from ’em, Jack."


"Well, if it’s all the same to you," said the mate, "I’d rather not be drawn into it."


"But I’d rather you were," said the skipper sharply. "Take ’em away."


"How?" inquired the mate pertinently.


"I order you to take ’em away," said the skipper. "How, is your affair."


"I’m not goin’ to raise my hand against a woman for anybody," said the mate with decision. "It’s no part of my work to get messed up with tar and paint from lady passengers."


"It’s part of your work to obey me, though," said the skipper, raising his voice; "all of you. There’s five of you, with the mate, and only three gells. What are you afraid of?"


"Are you going to take us back?" demanded Jenny Evans.


"Run away," said the skipper with dignity. "Run away."


"I shall ask you three times," said Miss Evans sternly. "One—are you going back? Two—are you going back? Three—"


In the midst of a breathless silence she drew within striking distance, while her allies, taking up a position on either flank of the enemy, listened attentively to the instructions of their leader.


"Be careful he doesn’