WHH Short Fiction: “The Haunted Pampero”

Review: “The Haunted Pampero”, William Hope Hodgson, 1918.

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

The story is about Tom Pemberton taking his wife along on his first command of a ship.

Thirteen days into an uneventful voyage, a sailor falls from a broken crane line. A storm, lasting three days then comes up, and, on the fourteenth day a battered lifeboat from the Cyclops is spotted with a survivor in it.

The man’s name is Tarpin. Since the man who fell from the line unexpectedly died, Tarpin is hired to replace him. There is grumbling by the “Ordinaries” about the ship being haunted though no real reason is given for this view.

Tarpin turns out to be a good sailor especially handy at rope splicing though he’s a little too free in the use of his “peculiarly shaped marlinspike” for the comfort of the rest of the crew.

Weeks pass without further incident until, one day at dusk, Captain Tom hears the pigs penned on deck making noise. In the dim light, the men can’t see much when they investigate, but they do hear distinctly unporcine growls and snarls from the pen.

Getting a light, they see one dead pig bitten around the neck. The bite looks rather like a shark bite. It’s a mystery given the pen is still locked and intact.

A couple of weeks later Mrs. Pemberton hears growling in her cabin. When the Captain tries to say it’s nothing, she doesn’t buy it. Why is he carrying a revolver if he isn’t concerned?

She goes to sleep but is awakened by “a queer slurring sort of noise” like something rubbing against the side of the ship. A glimpse of a “queer, curved indentation” is against the porthole glass.

The Captain and First Mate and a couple of men investigate.

A man at the ship’s wheel saw a strange figure and ran. Tarpin is found, his face smashed after tripping on a ring-bolt as he rant to help the investigation.

A couple of nights later the Captain is in his cabin with his wife and hears something entering the room. He fires at it.

The Captain fears for his wife so arranges a man to stand watch outside his cabin while he and his wife sleep. One of the men assigned to the watch is Tarpin. His arm is bandaged up from his fall of the other night.

That night, the Captain suddenly rouses from sleep. The lamp has gone out, and he wonders why Tarpin didn’t keep it lit. Unlocking the door, he hears “a low grumbling purr” beyond it.

Opening the door to a dimly lit room he sees something at the threshold which snarls and turns on him. The Captain puts a couple of rounds in him, and the thing leaves.

In pursuit, the Captain, at the bottom of some stairs, sees something with two legs but that reminds him of a shark. As he fires at it again, it leaps into the sea.

The Captain and the Second Mate watch the thing in the sea where now seems to have two tails and not legs.

When a roll call is done, Tarpin is found missing. The Second Mate asks where he is. The Captain replies that he saw them in the sea.

Nothing more happens on the voyage.

Events seem to get mentioned in the press, and it is stated in one article, quoting from some manuscript called “Ghosts”, there is a legend where men who die at sea and come on lonely shores and eat sharks or devil fishes develop a hunger for human flesh and try to board ship. So, it is suggested, Tarpin was one such creature who killed who ever originally was in that lifeboat and took their price. So Hodgson has sort of given us a were-shark.

We’re not really sure what Pemberton makes of it all, but it is hinted that he resolutely, to protect his sanity, that Tarpin was just a man who went mad in a lifeboat and that Tarpin’s marlinspike just happens to be sharpened like a shark’s tooth.

It’s not quite up to Hodgson’s usual standard for weird sea tales but still interesting.


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