The Captain of the Polestar and Other Tales
That Little Square Box
All aboard?" said the captain.
"All aboard, sir!" said the mate.
"Then stand by to let her go."
It was nine o'clock on a Wednesday morning. The good ship Spartan was lying off
Boston Quay with her cargo under hatches, her passengers shipped, and everything
prepared for a start. The warning whistle had been sounded twice; the final bell had been
rung. Her bowsprit was turned towards England, and the hiss of escaping steam showed
that all was ready for her run of three thousand miles. She strained at the warps that held
her like a greyhound at its leash,
I have the misfortune to be a very nervous man. A sedentary literary life has helped to
increase the morbid love of solitude which, even in my boyhood, was one of my
distinguishing characteristics. As I stood upon the quarter-deck of the Transatlantic
steamer, I bitterly cursed the necessity which drove me back to the land of my
forefathers. The shouts of the sailors, the rattle of the cordage, the farewells of my fellow-
passengers, and the cheers of the mob, each and all jarred upon my sensitive nature. I felt
sad too. An indescribable feeling, as of some impending calamity, seemed to haunt me.
The sea was calm, and the breeze light. There was nothing to disturb the equanimity of
the most confirmed of landsmen, yet I felt as if I stood upon the verge of a great though
indefinable danger. I have noticed that such presentiments occur often in men of my
peculiar temperament, and that they are not uncommonly fulfilled. There is a theory that
it arises from a species of second-sight, a subtle spiritual communication with the future.
I well remember that Herr Raumer, the eminent spiritualist, remarked on one occasion
that I was the most sensitive subject as regards supernatural phenomena that he had ever
encountered in the whole of his wide experience. Be that as it may, I certainly felt far
from happy as I threaded my way among the weeping, cheering groups which dotted the
white decks of the good ship Spartan. Had I known the experience which awaited me in
the course of the next twelve hours I should even then at the last moment have sprung
upon the shore, and made my escape from the accursed vessel.
"Time's up!" said the captain, closing his chronometer with a snap, and replacing it in his
pocket. "Time's up!" said the mate. There was a last wail from the whistle, a rush of
friends and relatives upon the land. One warp was loosened, the gangway was being
pushed away, when there was a shout from the bridge, and two men appeared, running
rapidly down the quay. They were waving their hands and making frantic gestures,
apparently with the intention of stopping the ship. "Look sharp!" shouted the crowd.
"Hold hard!" cried the captain. "Ease her! stop her! Up with the gangway!" and the two
men sprang aboard just as the second warp parted, and a convulsive throb of the engine
shot us clear of the shore. There was a cheer from the deck, another from the quay, a