Review of “Vengeance in Her Bones” by Malcolm Routh Jameson

Retired Captain Tolliver was enjoying some sun when his dour housekeeper shows in a messenger from the recruiting office. Captain Tolliver has only one leg and one hand. The recruiting people must be confusing him with his son, who is already at sea. His own seafaring days are over.

“No, sir. It’s you he wants,” the messenger says. “He was very clear about that. He has a ship that only you can command. She’s a rogue. They say she a [sic] will obey no other skipper. He says they have waived your physical defects and will give you all the help you need. But they’ve got to have you.”

“There’s no such ship,” Captain Tolliver says.

The messenger mentions the Sadie Saxon. Now this ship, Tolliver knows. He commanded her during the Great War when they were both in their prime. And she was a vindictive wench. She was supposed to be scrapped and sold to the Japanese, but there were… problems.

“She knew it even before they attacked Pearl Harbor, but I might have told ’em,” Tolliver says.

“She won’t leave port,” the messenger tells Tolliver.

“Doesn’t that sound a little silly to you?”

The messenger then goes on to detail a series of unexplainable strandings, engine stoppages, and rudder jammings.

Tolliver still fits into his uniform and wears it with pride, even if the gold braid is tarnished. He takes command of the Sadie Saxon, dismissing men with German names, regardless of how sterling their backgrounds. He then sets sail without incident.

That is, until they are at sea and he’s awakened by the second who says she’s veered off course and won’t obey the wheel or the throttle.

Tolliver isn’t alarmed and orders she be given her head. He also gives orders to prepare to ram…

This is a poignant sea tale, written by a retired naval officer during the Second World War. The attack on Pearl Harbor was still fresh. Though the ending is not a surprise, and the language displays—as one might expect—the ethnic insensitivity of the time (Japanese are “Japs”), I rather liked this little tale. It made the cover story of the May 1942 issue of Weird Tales.

A 1963 episode of the Twilight Zone titled “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville,” was based on a novella by author Malcolm Routh Jameson, “Blind Alley,” first published in the June 1943 issue of Unknown.

Title: “Vengeance in her Bones”
Author: Malcolm Routh Jameson (AKA Malcolm Jamieson) (1891-1945)
First published: Weird Tales, May 1942 cover story
Source: ISFDB http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?87796
Read in: Haunts and Horrors

This, and all entries on this site, © 2017 Denise Longrie

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