Death Ship, episode 2

If you’ve opened this because you read part one and wanted to know what happened next, thanks for coming back.  If you’re here by accident and are vaguely interested, maybe you could try episode one to discover whether it’s worth persevering.
It’s a longish story which will be made up of seven episodes. This is:


Mr Anderson was our employer. One of the most successful of Aberdeen’s many rich merchants, he’d built a fleet of vessels which carried people to the Americas and brought back timber. To my delight, he was resisting the call of the new steamships, reasoning that they were not always faster than sail and that boilers, engines and coal took up space that could be better used for cargo. He still preferred the traditional ways and his growing fortune seemed to confirm that he was right to do so. The ship we were sailing, the Christian Rose, would soon be expanding his influence even further, taking labourers and mechanics to Jamaica and, if the captain was willing, shepherds and agricultural labourers to New South Wales, at the bottom of the world.

Usually, as his shipwright, it was I who was charged with building any additions to his fleet, but news had come to him that the Norwegian merchant who had commissioned the Christian Rose had been killed in a dockside accident and that the builders were anxious to find a new buyer. With his customary skill, he’d not only negotiated a good price but also found a cargo of pulp and timber to bring back to Scotland. I’d inspected the final fitting out and was now part of the crew which was taking her back to Aberdeen.

We’d sailed across to Norway in another of his ships, not as passengers but as extra hands. It had been a crowded trip but, with a strong south-westerly on our quarter and a double crew to haul canvas, we’d flown across in little more than three days. This return voyage, though, was a different story. It gave us little time to brood on Davie’s death because, with a strong westerly blowing, the sailing was hard. We had to lay well off our preferred course and, when the time came to tack or wear ship, all hands were needed to clew up the sails, brace round the yards and get her on her new heading.


It was the continual bucking and crashing of the ship that explained the condition of the second body. Less than twenty-four hours after Davie had been sewn into his bag, the new discovery fell, once again, to Jack Stretton. He’d gone forward to the point of the bows to relieve Rab Robertson as lookout and was surprised to see no-one there. It was a cold, lonely, uncomfortable watch, but everyone knew how important it was and no-one, not even Rab, would be foolish enough to leave before his relief arrived. Jack had been in position for several minutes, scanning the grey sea with its boiling white crests, when he noticed that one of the forward belaying pins had no rope around it. It should have held the outer jib downhaul and, when he followed the line of the bowsprit out to where the rope was attached to the sail, he saw that it was hanging down into the water, held taut by some sort of load. He raised the alarm, the rest of his watch were called forward and, after some heavy hauling, they brought the load inboard and laid it on the foredeck.

It was the remains of Rab. The end of the rope had been knotted around his throat and the angle of his head showed that his neck had been broken. As the ship had ploughed through the big seas, he had constantly been smashed against the hull down at the waterline. His limbs all lay at unnatural angles and the ship’s bow had flayed and chopped the flesh from various parts of his body.

When Big John and I arrived, the men were standing or squatting around Rab. No-one was speaking. Jack Stretton’s eyes kept flicking from the sea ahead to the bundle of rags and blood beside him. I looked round at them all. These were the men who, on the way over, had been singing and hauling away, laughing and cursing as we rushed across the water. Now, in their faces, there was just fear.

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