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Receiving no reply, he repeated his question, glancing over his shoulder, and perceiving, as he thought, the captain busy writing on his slate. Still no answer. Thereupon he rose; and, as he fronted the cabin door, the figure he had mistaken for the captain raised its head, and disclosed to the astonished mate the features of an entire stranger.
Bruce was no coward; but as he met that fixed gaze looking directly at him in grave silence, and became assured that it was no one whom he had ever seen before, it was too much for him; and, instead of stopping to question the seeming intruder, he rushed upon deck in such evident alarm that it instantly attracted the captain's attention.
"Why, Mr. Bruce," said the latter, "what in the world is the matter with you?"
"The matter, sir? Who is that at your desk?" "No one that I know of."
"But there is, sir; there is a stranger there."
"A stranger? Why, man, you must be dreaming. You must have seen the steward there, or the second mate. Who else would venture down without orders?"
"But, sir, he was sitting in your arm-chair, fronting the door, writing on your slate. Then he looked up full in my face; and if ever I saw a man plainly and distinctly in this world, I saw him."
"Heaven knows, sir; I don't. I saw a man, and a man I had never seen in my life before."
"You must be going crazy, Mr. Bruce. A stranger, and we nearly six weeks out!"
"I know, sir; but then I saw him."
"Go down and see who it is."
"I never was a believer in ghosts," he said; "but, if the truth must be told, sir, I'd rather not face it alone."
66 Come, come, man. Go down at once, and don't make a fool of yourself before the crew."
"I hope you've always found me willing to do what's reasonable," Bruce replied, changing colour; "but if it's all the same to you, sir, I'd rather we should both go down together."
The captain descended the stairs, and the mate followed him. Nobody in the cabin! They examined the state rooms. Not a soul to be found!
"Well, Mr. Bruce," said the captain, "did not I tell you you had been dreaming?"
"It's all very well to say so, sir; but if I didn't see that man writing on your slate, may I never see my home and family again!"
"Ah! writing on the slate! Then it should be there still." And the captain took it up.
"See here!" he exclaimed, "here's something, sure enough! Is that your writing, Mr. Bruce?"
The mate took the slate; and there, in plain, legible characters, stood the words, "Steer to the nor'-west."
แ 'Have you been trifling with me, sir?" added the captain, in a stern manner.
"On my word as a man and as a sailor, sir," replied Bruce, "I know no more of this matter than I have told you the exact truth."
The captain sat down at his desk, the slate before him, in deep thought. At last, turning the slate over and pushing it towards Bruce, he said
"Write down, 'Steer to the nor'-west.''
The mate complied: and the captain, after narrowly comparing the two handwritings, said
"Mr. Bruce, go and tell the second mate to come down here."
He came and at the captain's request he also wrote the same words. So did the steward. So, in succession, did every man of the crew who could write at all. But not one of the various hands resembled in any degree the mysterious writing.
When the crew retired, the captain sat deep in thought.
"Could any one have been stowed away?" at last he
said. "The ship must be searched; and if I don't find the fellow, he must be a good hand at hide-and-seek. Order up all hands."
Every nook and corner of the vessel, from stem to stern, was thoroughly searched, and that with all the eagerness of excited curiosity, for the report had gone out that a stranger had shown himself on board; but not a living soul beyond the crew and officers was found.
Returning to the cabin after their fruitless search, “Mr. Bruce,” said the captain, "what do you make of all this?"
"Can't tell, sir. I saw the man write; you see the writing. There must be something in it.”
"Well, it would seem so. We have the wind free, and I have a great mind to keep her away and see what will come of it."
"I surely would, sir, if I were in your place. It's only a few hours lost, at the worst."
"Well, we'll see. Go on deck and give the course nor'-west. And, Mr. Bruce," he added, as the mate rose to go, "have a look-out aloft, and let it be a hand you can depend on.”
His orders were obeyed. About three o'clock the look-out reported an iceberg nearly ahead, and, shortly after, what he thought was a vessel of some kind close to it.
As they approached, the captain's glass disclosed the fact that it was a dismantled ship, apparently frozen to the ice, and with a good many human beings on it. Shortly after they hove to, and sent out the boats to the relief of the sufferers.
It proved to be a vessel from Quebec, bound to Liverpool, with passengers on board. She had got entangled in the ice, and finally frozen fast, and had passed several weeks in a most critical situation. She was stove, her decks swept, in fact, a mere wreck; all her provisions and almost all her water gone. Her crew and passengers had lost all hopes of being saved,
and their gratitude for the unexpected rescue was proportionately great.
As one of the men who had been brought away in the third boat that had reached the wreck was ascending the ship's side, the mate catching a glimpse of his face, started back in consternation. It was the very face he had seen three or four hours before, looking up at him from the captain's desk.
At first he tried to persuade himself it might be fancy; but the more he examined the man the more sure he became he was right. Not only the face, but the person and the dress, exactly corresponded.
As soon as the exhausted crew and famished passengers were cared for, and the barque on her course again, the mate called the captain aside. "It seems that was not a ghost I saw to-day, sir; the man's alive."
"What do you mean ? Who's alive?"
"Why, sir, one of the passengers we have just saved is the same man I saw writing on your slate at noon. I would swear to it in a court of justice."
"Upon my word, Mr. Bruce,' replied the captain, "this gets more and more singular. Let us go and see this man."
They found him in conversation with the captain of the rescued ship. They both came forward, and expressed, in the warmest terms, their gratitude for deliverance from a horrible fate,-slow-coming death by exposure and starvation.
The captain replied that he had but done what he was certain they would have done for him under the same circumstances, and asked them both to step down into the cabin. Then, turning to the passenger, he said, “I hope, sir, you will not think I am trifling with you; but I would be much obliged to you if you would write a few words on this slate." And he handed him the slate with that side up on which the mysterious writing was not.
"I will do anything you ask," replied the passenger; "but what shall I write ?"
"A few words are all I want. Suppose you write, 'Steer to the nor'-west.'"
The passenger, evidently puzzled to make out the motive for such a request, complied, however, with a smile. The captain took up the slate and examined it closely then, stepping aside so as to conceal the slate from the passenger, he turned it over, and gave it to him again with the other up.
"You say that is your handwriting ?" said he.
"I need not say so," rejoined the other, looking at it, "for you saw me write it."
"And this?" said the captain, turning the slate
The man looked first at one writing, then at the other, quite confounded. At last, "What is the meaning of this?" said he. "I only wrote one of these.
Who wrote the other?"
"That's more than I can tell you, sir. My mate here says you wrote it, sitting at this desk, at noon today."
The captain of the wreck and the passenger looked at each other, exchanging glances of intelligence and surprise; and the former asked the latter, "Did you dream that you wrote on this slate?"
"No, sir, not that I remember."
"You speak of dreaming," said the captain of the barque. "What was this gentleman about at noon today?"
"Captain," rejoined the other, "the whole thing is most mysterious and extraordinary; and I had intended to speak to you about it as soon as we got a little quiet. This gentleman" (pointing to the passenger), "being much exhausted, fell into a heavy sleep, or what seemed such, some time before noon. After an hour or more, he awoke and said to me, 'Captain, we shall be relieved this very day.' When I asked him what reason he had for saying so, he replied that he had dreamed that he was on board a barque, and that she was coming to our He described her appearance and rig and to