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The Cruise of the Cachalot

Part 2 out of 6

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ocean bed. Although they appear quite insignificant specks upon
the vast expanse of water, one could not help thinking how
sublime their appearance would be were they visible from the
plateau whence they spring. Their chief interest to us at the
time arose from the fact that, when within about three miles of
them, we were suddenly surrounded by a vast school of bonito,
These fish, so-named by the Spaniards from their handsome
appearance, are a species of mackerel, a branch of the SCOMBRIDAE
family, and attain a size of about two feet long and forty pounds
weight, though their average dimensions are somewhat less than
half that. They feed entirely upon flying-fish and the small
leaping squid or cuttle-fish, but love to follow a ship, playing
around her, if her pace be not too great, for days together.
Their flesh resembles beef in appearance, and they are warm-
blooded; but, from their habitat being mid-ocean, nothing is
known with any certainty of their habits of breeding.

The orthodox method of catching them on board ship is to cover a
suitable hook with a piece of white rag a couple of inches long,
and attach it to a stout line. The fisherman then takes his seat
upon the jibboom end, having first, if he is prudent, secured a
sack to the jibstay in such a manner that its mouth gapes wide.
Then he unrolls his line, and as the ship forges ahead the line,
blowing out, describes a curve, at the end of which the bait,
dipping to--the water occasionally, roughly represents a flying-
fish. Of course, the faster the ship is going, the better the
chance of deceiving the fish, since they have less time to study
the appearance of the bait. It is really an exaggerated and
clumsy form of fly-fishing, and, as with that elegant pastime,
much is due to the skill of the fisherman.

As the bait leaps from crest to crest of the wavelets thrust
aside by the advancing ship, a fish more adventurous or hungrier
than the rest will leap at it, and in an instant there is a dead,
dangling weight of from ten to forty pounds hanging at the end of
your line thirty feet below. You haul frantically, for he may
be poorly hooked, and you cannot play him. In a minute or two,
if all goes well, he is plunged in the sack, and safe. But woe
unto you if you have allowed the jeers of your shipmates to
dissuade you from taking a sack out with you.

The struggles of these fish are marvellous, and a man runs great
risk of being shaken off the boom, unless his legs are firmly
locked in between the guys. Such is the tremendous vibration that
a twenty-pound bonito makes in a man's grip, that it can be felt
in the cabin at the other and of the ship; and I have often come
in triumphantly with one, having lost all feeling in my arms and
a goodly portion of skin off my breast and side, where I have
embraced the prize in a grim determination to hold him at all
hazards, besides being literally drenched with his blood.

Like all our fishing operations on board the CACHALOT, this day's
fishing was conducted on scientific principles, and resulted in
twenty-five fine fish being shipped, which were a welcome
addition to our scanty allowance. Happily for us, they would not
take the salt in that sultry latitude soon enough to preserve
them; for, when they can be salted, they become like brine
itself, and are quite unfit for food. Yet we should have been
compelled to eat salt bonito, or go without meat altogether, if
it had been possible to cure them.

We were now fairly in the "horse latitudes," and, much to our
relief, the rain came down in occasional deluges, permitting us
to wash well and often. I suppose the rains of the tropics have
been often enough described to need no meagre attempts of mine to
convey an idea of them; yet I have often wished I could make
home-keeping friends understand how far short what they often
speak of as a "tropical shower" falls of the genuine article.
The nearest I can get to it is the idea of an ocean suspended
overhead, out, of which the bottom occasionally falls. Nothing
is visible or audible but the glare and roar of falling water,
and a ship's deck, despite the many outlets, is full enough to
swim about in in a very few minutes. At such times the whole
celestial machinery of rain-making may be seen in full working
order. Five or six mighty waterspouts in various stages of
development were often within easy distance of us; once, indeed,
we watched the birth, growth, and death of one less than a mile
away. First, a big, black cloud, even among that great
assemblage of NIMBI, began to belly downward, until the centre of
it tapered into a stem, and the whole mass looked like a vast,
irregularly-moulded funnel. Lower and lower it reached, as if
feeling for a soil in which to grow, until the sea beneath was
agitated sympathetically, rising at last in a sort of pointed
mound to meet the descending column. Our nearness enabled us to
see that both descending and rising parts were whirling violently
in obedience to some invisible force, and when they had joined
each other, although the spiral motion did not appear to
continue, the upward rush of the water through what was now a
long elastic tube was very plainly to be seen. The cloud
overhead grew blacker and bigger, until its gloom was terrible.
The pipe, or stem, got thinner gradually, until it became a mere
thread; nor, although watching closely, could we determine when
the connection between sea and sky ceased--one could not call it
severed. The point rising from the sea settled almost
immediately amidst a small commotion, as of a whirlpool. The
tail depending from the cloud slowly shortened, and the mighty
reservoir lost the vast bulge which had hung so threateningly
above. Just before the final disappearance of the last portion of
the tube, a fragment of cloud appeared to break off. It fell
near enough to show by its thundering roar what a body of water
it must have been, although it looked like a saturated piece of
dirty rag in its descent.

For whole days and nights together we sometimes lay almost "as
idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean," when the deep blue
dome above matched the deep blue plain below, and never a fleck
of white appeared in sky or sea. This perfect stop to our
progress troubled none, although it aggravates a merchant skipper
terribly. As for the objects of our search, they had apparently
all migrated other-whither, for never a sign of them did we see.
Finbacks, a species of rorqual, were always pretty numerous, and
as if they knew how useless they were to us, came and played
around like exaggerated porpoises. One in particular kept us
company for several days and nights. We knew him well, from a
great triangular scar on his right side, near the dorsal fin.
Sometimes be would remain motionless by the side of the ship, a
few feet below the surface, as distinctly in our sight as a gold-
fish in a parlour globe; or he would go under the keel, and
gently chafe his broad back to and fro along it, making queer
tremors run through the vessel, as if she were scraping over a
reef. Whether from superstition or not I cannot tell, but I
never saw any creature injured out of pure wantonness, except
sharks, while I was on board the CACHALOT. Of course, injuries
to men do not count. Had that finback attempted to play about a
passenger ship in such a fashion, all the loungers on board would
have been popping at him with their revolvers and rifles without
ever a thought of compunction; yet here, in a vessel whose errand
was whale-fishing, a whale enjoyed perfect immunity. It was very
puzzling. At last my curiosity became too great to hear any
longer, and I sought my friend Mistah Jones at what I considered
a favourable opportunity. I found him very gracious and
communicative, and I got such a lecture on the natural history of
the cetacea as I have never forgotten--the outcome of a quarter-
century's experience of them, and afterwards proved by me to be
correct in every detail, which latter is a great deal more than
can be said of any written natural history that ever I came
across. But I will not go into that now. Leaning over the rail,
with the great rorqual laying perfectly still a few feet below, I
was told to mark how slender and elegant were his proportions.
"Clipper-built," my Mentor termed him. He was full seventy feet
long, but his greatest diameter would not reach ten feet. His
snout was long and pointed, while both top and bottom of his head
were nearly flat. When he came up to breathe, which he did out
of the top of his head, he showed us that, instead of teeth, he
had a narrow fringe of baleen (whalebone) all around his upper
jaws, although "I kaint see whyfor, kase he lib on all sort er
fish, s'long's dey ain't too big. I serpose w'en he kaint get
nary fish he do de same ez de 'bowhead'--go er siftin eout dem
little tings we calls whale-feed wiv dat ar' rangement he carry
in his mouf." "But why don't we harpoon him?" I asked. Goliath
turned on me a pitying look, as he replied, "Sonny, ef yew wuz
ter go on stick iron inter dat ar fish, yew'd fink de hole bottom
fell eout kerblunk. W'en I uz young 'n foolish, a finback range
'longside me one day, off de Seychelles. I just done gone miss'
a spam whale, and I was kiender mad,--muss ha' bin. Wall, I let
him hab it blam 'tween de ribs. If I lib ten tousan year, ain't
gwine ter fergit dat ar. Wa'nt no time ter spit, tell ye;
eberybody hang ober de side ob de boat. Wiz--poof!--de line all
gone. Clar to glory, I neber see it go. Ef it hab ketch
anywhar, nobody eber see US too. Fus, I t'ought I jump ober de
side--neber face de skipper any mo'. But he uz er good ole man,
en he only say, 'Don't be sech blame jackass any more.' En I
don't." From which lucid narration I gathered that the finback
had himself to thank for his immunity from pursuit. "'Sides,"
persisted Goliath, "wa' yew gwine do wiv' him? Ain't six inch
uv blubber anywhere 'bout his long ugly carkiss; en dat, dirty
lill' rag 'er whalebone he got in his mouf, 'taint worf fifty
cents. En mor'n dat, we pick up, a dead one when I uz in de ole
RAINBOW--done choke hisself, I spec, en we cut him in. He stink
fit ter pison de debbil, en, after all, we get eighteen bar'l ob
dirty oil out ob him. Wa'nt worf de clean sparm scrap we use ter
bile him. G' 'way!" Which emphatic adjuration, addressed not to
me, but to the unconscious monster below, closed the lesson for
the time.

The calm still persisted, and, as usual, fish began to abound,
especially flying-fish. At times, disturbed by some hungry
bonito or dolphin, a shoal of them would rise--a great wave of
silver--and skim through the air, rising and falling for perhaps
a couple of hundred yards before they again took to the water; or
a solitary one of larger size than usual would suddenly soar into
the air, a heavy splash behind him showing by how few inches he
had missed the jaws of his pursuer. Away he would go in a long,
long curve, and, meeting the ship in his flight, would rise in
the air, turn off at right angles to his former direction, and
spin away again, the whir of his wing-fins distinctly visible as
well as audible. At last he would incline to the water, but just
as he was about to enter it there would be an eddy--the enemy was
there waiting--and he would rise twenty, thirty feet, almost
perpendicularly, and dart away fully a hundred yards on a fresh
course before the drying of his wing membranes compelled him to
drop. In the face of such a sight as this, which is of everyday
occurrence in these latitudes, how trivial and misleading the
statements made by the natural history books seem.

They tell their readers that the EXOCETUS VOLITANS "does not fly;
does not flutter its wings; can only take a prolonged leap," and
so on. The misfortune attendant upon such books seems, to an
unlearned sailor like myself, to be that, although posing as
authorities, most of the authors are content to take their facts
not simply at second-hand, but even unto twenty-second-hand. So
the old fables get repeated, and brought up to date, and it is
nobody's business to take the trouble to correct them.

The weather continued calm and clear, and as the flying-fish were
about in such immense numbers, I ventured to suggest to Goliath
that we might have a try for some of them. I verily believe he
thought I was mad. He stared at me for a minute, and then, with
an indescribable intonation, said, "How de ol' Satan yew fink yew
gwain ter get'm, hey? Ef yew spects ter fool dis chile wiv any
dem lime-juice yarns, 'bout lanterns 'n boats at night-time,
yew's 'way off." I guessed he meant the fable current among
English sailors, that if you hoist a sail on a calm night in a
boat where flying-fish abound, and hang a lantern in the middle
of it, the fish will fly in shoals at the lantern, strike against
the sail, and fall in heaps in the boat. It MAY be true, but I
never spoke to anybody who has seen it done, nor is it the method
practised in the only place in the world where flying-fishing is
followed for a living. So I told Mr. Jones that if we had some
circular nets of small mesh made and stretched on wooden hoops, I
was sure we should be able to catch some. He caught at the idea,
and mentioned it to the mate, who readily gave his permission to
use a boat. A couple of "Guineamen" (a very large kind of
flying-fish, having four wings) flew on board that night, as if
purposely to provide us with the necessary bait.

Next morning, about four bells, the sea being like: a mirror,
unruffled by a breath of wind, we lowered and paddled off from
the ship about a mile. When far enough away, we commenced
operations by squeezing in the water some pieces of fish that had
been kept for the purpose until they were rather high-flavoured.
The exuding oil from this fish spread a thin film for some
distance around the boat, through which, as through a sheet of
glass, we could see a long way down. Minute specks of the bait
sank slowly through the limpid blue, but for at least an hour
there was no sign of life. I was beginning to fear that I should
be called to account for misleading all hands, when, to my
unbounded delight, an immense shoal of flying-fish came swimming
round the boat, eagerly picking up the savoury morsels. We
grasped our nets, and, leaning over the gunwale, placed them
silently in the water, pressing them downward and in towards the
boat at the same time. Our success was great and immediate. We
lifted the wanderers by scores, while I whispered imploringly,
"Be careful not to scare them; don't make a sound." All hands
entered into the spirit of the thing with great eagerness. As
for Mistah Jones, his delight was almost more than he could bear.
Suddenly one of the men, in lifting his net, slipped on the
smooth bottom of the boat, jolting one of the oars. There was a
gleam of light below as the school turned--they had all
disappeared instanter. We had been so busy that we had not
noticed the dimensions of our catch; but now, to our great joy,
we found that we had at least eight hundred fish nearly as large
as herrings. We at once returned to the ship, having been absent
only two hours, during which we had caught sufficient to provide
all hands with three good meals. Not one of the crew had ever
seen or heard of such fishing before, so my pride and pleasure
may he imagined. A little learning may be a dangerous thing at
times, but it certainly is often handy to have about you. The
habit of taking notice and remembering has often been the means
of saving many lives in suddenly-met situations of emergency, at
sea perhaps more than anywhere else, and nothing can be more
useful to a sailor than the practice of keeping his weather-eye

In Barbadoes there is established the only regular flying-fishery
in the world, and in just the manner I have described, except
that the boats are considerably larger, is the whole town
supplied with delicious fish at so trifling a cost as to make it
a staple food among all classes.

But I find that I am letting this chapter run to an
unconscionable length, and it does not appear as if we were
getting at the southward very fast either. Truth to tell, our
progress was mighty slow; but we gradually crept across the belt
of calms, and a week after our never-to-be-forgotten haul of
flying-fish we got the first of the south-east trades, and went
away south at a good pace--for us. We made the Island of
Trinidada with its strange conical-topped pillar, the Ninepin
Rock, but did not make a call, as the skipper was beginning to
get fidgety at not seeing any whales, and anxious to get down to
where he felt reasonably certain of falling in with them. Life
had been very monotonous of late, and much as we dreaded still
the prospect of whale-fighting (by "we," of course, I mean the
chaps forward), it began to lose much of its terror for us, so
greatly did we long for a little change. Keeping, as we did, out
of the ordinary track of ships, we hardly ever saw a sail. We had
no recreations; fun was out of the question; and had it not been
for a Bible, a copy of Shakespeare, and a couple of cheap copies
of "David Copperfield" and "Bleak House," all of which were mine,
we should have had no books.




In a previous chapter I have referred to the fact of a bounty
being offered to whoever should first sight a useful whale,
payable only in the event of the prize being secured by the ship.
In consequence of our ill-success, and to stimulate the
watchfulness of all, that bounty was now increased from ten
pounds of tobacco to twenty, or fifteen dollars, whichever the
winner chose to have. Most of us whites regarded this as quite
out of the question for us, whose untrained vision was as the
naked eye to a telescope when pitted against the eagle-like sight
of the Portuguese. Nevertheless, we all did our little best, and
I know, for one, that when I descended from my lofty perch, after
a two hours' vigil, my eyes often ached and burned for an hour
afterwards from the intensity of my gaze across the shining waste
of waters.

Judge, then, of the surprise of everybody, when one forenoon
watch, three days after we had lost sight of Trinidada, a most
extraordinary sound was heard from the fore crow's-nest. I was,
at the time, up at the main, in company with Louis, the mate's
harpooner, and we stared across to see whatever was the matter,
The watchman was unfortunate Abner Cushing, whose trivial offence
had been so severely punished a short time before, and he was
gesticulating and howling like a madman. Up from below came the
deep growl of the skipper, "Foremast head, there, what d'ye say?"
"B-b-b-blow, s-s-sir," stammered Abner; "a big whale right in the
way of the sun, sir." "See anythin', Louey?" roared the skipper
to my companion, just as we had both "raised" the spout almost in
the glare cast by the sun. "Yessir," answered Louis; "but I
kaint make him eout yet, sir." "All right; keep yer eye on him,
and lemme know sharp;" and away he went aft for his glasses.

The course was slightly altered, so that we headed direct for the
whale, and in less than a minute afterwards we saw distinctly the
great black column of a sperm whale's head rise well above the
sea, scattering a circuit of foam before it, and emitting a
bushy, tufted burst of vapour into the clear air. "There she
white-waters! Ah bl-o-o-o-o-o-w, blow, blow!" sang Louis; and
then, in another tone, "Sperm whale, sir; big, 'lone fish,
headin' 'beout east-by-nothe." "All right. 'Way down from
aloft," answered the skipper, who was already half-way up the
main-rigging; and like squirrels we slipped out of our hoops and
down the backstays, passing the skipper like a flash as he toiled
upwards, bellowing orders as he went. Short as our journey down
had been, when we arrived on deck we found all ready for a start.
But as the whale was at least seven miles away, and we had a fair
wind for him, there was no hurry to lower, so we all stood at
attention by our respective boats, waiting for the signal. I
found, to my surprise, that, although I was conscious of a much
more rapid heart-beat than usual, I was not half so scared as I
expected to be--that the excitement was rather pleasant than
otherwise. There were a few traces of funk about some of the
others still; but as for Abner, he was fairly transformed; I
hardly knew the man. He was one of Goliath's boat's crew, and
the big darkey was quite proud of him. His eyes sparkled, and he
chuckled and smiled constantly, as one who is conscious of having
done a grand stroke of business, not only for himself, but for
all hands. "Lower away boats!" came pealing down from the
skipper's lofty perch, succeeded instantly by the rattle of the
patent blocks as the falls flew through them, while the four
beautiful craft took the water with an almost simultaneous
splash. The ship-keepers had trimmed the yards to the wind and
hauled up the courses, so that simply putting the helm down
deadened our way, and allowed the boats to run clear without
danger of fouling one another. To shove off and hoist sail was
the work of a few moments, and with a fine working breeze away we
went. As before, our boat, being the chief's, had the post of
honour; but there was now only one whale, and I rather wondered
why we had all left the ship. According to expectations, down he
went when we were within a couple of miles of him, but quietly
and with great dignity, elevating his tail perpendicularly in the
air, and sinking slowly from our view. Again I found Mr. Count

"Thet whale 'll stay down fifty minutes, I guess," said he, "fer
he's every gill ov a hundred en twenty bar'l; and don't yew
fergit it." "Do the big whales give much more trouble than the
little ones?" I asked, seeing him thus chatty. "Wall, it's jest
ez it happens, boy--just ez it happens. I've seen a fifty-bar'l
bull make the purtiest fight I ever hearn tell ov--a fight thet
lasted twenty hours, stove three boats, 'n killed two men. Then,
again, I've seen a hundred 'n fifty bar'l whale lay 'n take his
grooel 'thout hardly wunkin 'n eyelid--never moved ten fathom
from fust iron till fin eout. So yew may say, boy, that they're
like peepul--got thair iudividooal pekyewlyarities, an' thars no
countin' on 'em for sartin nary time." I was in great hopes of
getting some useful information while his mood lasted; but it was
over, and silence reigned. Nor did I dare to ask any more
questions; he looked so stern and fierce. The scene was very
striking. Overhead, a bright blue sky just fringed with fleecy
little clouds; beneath, a deep blue sea with innumerable tiny
wavelets dancing and glittering in the blaze of the sun; but all
swayed in one direction by a great, solemn swell that slowly
rolled from east to west, like the measured breathing of some
world-supporting monster. Four little craft in a group, with
twenty-four men in them, silently waiting for battle with one of
the mightiest of God's creatures--one that was indeed a terrible
foe to encounter were he but wise enough to make the best use of
his opportunities. Against him we came with our puny weapons, of
which I could not help reminding myself that "he laugheth at the
shaking of a spear." But when the man's brain was thrown into
the scale against the instinct of the brute, the contest looked
less unequal than at first sight, for THERE is the secret of
success. My musings were very suddenly interrupted. Whether we
had overrun our distance, or the whale, who was not "making a
passage," but feeding, had changed his course, I do not know;
but, anyhow, he broke water close ahead, coming straight for our
boat. His great black head, like the broad bow of a dumb barge,
driving the waves before it, loomed high and menacing to me, for
I was not forbidden to look ahead now. But coolly, as if coming
alongside the ship, the mate bent to the big steer-oar, and swung
the boat off at right angles to her course, bringing her back
again with another broad sheer as the whale passed foaming. This
manoeuvre brought us side by side with him before he had time to
realize that we were there. Up till that instant he had
evidently not seen us, and his surprise was correspondingly
great. To see Louis raise his harpoon high above his head, and
with a hoarse grunt of satisfaction plunge it into the black,
shining mass beside him up to the hitches, was indeed a sight to
be remembered. Quick as thought he snatched up a second harpoon,
and as the whale rolled from us it flew from his hands, burying
itself like the former one, but lower down the body. The great
impetus we had when we reached the whale carried us a long way
past him, out of all danger from his struggles. No hindrance was
experienced from the line by which we were connected with the
whale, for it was loosely coiled in a space for the purpose in
the boat's bow to the extent of two hundred feet, and this was
cast overboard by the harpooner as soon as the fish was fast. He
made a fearful. to-do over it, rolling completely over several
times backward and forward, at the same time smiting the sea with
his mighty tail, making an almost deafening noise and pother.
But we were comfortable enough, while we unshipped the mast and
made ready for action, being sufficiently far away from him to
escape the full effect of his gambols. It was impossible to
avoid reflecting, however, upon what WOULD happen if, in our
unprepared and so far helpless state, he were, instead of simply
tumbling about in an aimless, blind sort of fury, to rush at the
boat and try to destroy it. Very few indeed would survive such
an attack, unless the tactics were radically altered. No doubt
they would be, for practices grow up in consequence of the
circumstances with which they have to deal.

After the usual time spent in furious attempts to free himself
from our annoyance, he betook himself below, leaving us to await
his return, and hasten it as much as possible by keeping a severe
strain upon the line. Our efforts in this direction, however,
did not seem to have any effect upon him at all. Flake after
flake ran out of the tubs, until we were compelled to hand the
end of our line to the second mate to splice his own on to.
Still it slipped away, and at last it was handed to the third
mate, whose two tubs met the same fate. It was now Mistah Jones'
turn to "bend on," which he did with many chuckles as of a man
who was the last resource of the unfortunate. But his face grew
longer and longer as the never-resting line continued to
disappear. Soon he signalled us that he was nearly out of line,
and two or three minutes after he bent on his "drogue" (a square
piece of plank with a rope tail spliced into its centre, and
considered to hinder a whale's progress at least as much as four
boats), and let go the end. We had each bent on our drogues in
the same way, when we passed our ends to one another. So now our
friend was getting along somewhere below with 7200 feet of
l 1/2-inch rope, and weight additional equal to the drag of
sixteen 30-feet boats.

Of course we knew that, unless he were dead and sinking, he could
not possibly remain much longer beneath the surface. The
exhibition of endurance we had just been favoured with was a very
unusual one, I was told, it being a rare thing for a cachalot to
take out two boats' lines before returning to the surface to

Therefore, we separated as widely as was thought necessary, in
order to be near him on his arrival. It was, as might be
imagined, some time before we saw the light of his countenance;
but when we did, we had no difficulty in getting alongside of him
again. My friend Goliath, much to my delight, got there first,
and succeeded in picking up the bight of the line. But having
done so, his chance of distinguishing himself was gone. Hampered
by the immense quantity of sunken line which was attached to the
whale, he could do nothing, and soon received orders to cut the
bight of the line and pass the whale's end to us. He had hardly
obeyed, with a very bad grace, when the whale started off to
windward with us at a tremendous rate. The other boats, having
no line, could do nothing to help, so away we went alone, with
barely a hundred fathoms of line, in case he should take it into
his head to sound again. The speed at which he went made it
appear as if a gale of wind was blowing and we flew along the sea
surface, leaping from crest to crest of the waves with an
incessant succession of cracks like pistol-shots. The flying
spray drenched us and prevented us from seeing him, but I fully
realized that it was nothing to what we should have to put up
with if the wind freshened much. One hand was kept bailing the
water out which came so freely over the bows, but all the rest
hauled with all their might upon the line, hoping to get a little
closer to the flying monster. Inch by inch we gained on him,
encouraged by the hoarse objurgations of the mate, whose
excitement was intense. After what seemed a terribly long chase,
we found his speed slackening, and we redoubled our efforts. Now
we were close upon him; now, in obedience to the steersman, the
boat sheered out a bit, and we were abreast of his labouring
flukes; now the mate hurls his quivering lance with such hearty
good-will that every inch of its slender shaft disappears within
the huge body. "Layoff! Off with her, Louey!" screamed the
mate; and she gave a wide sheer away from the whale, not a second
too soon. Up flew that awful tail, descending with a crash upon
the water not two feet from us. "Out oars! Pull, two! starn,
three!" shouted the mate; and as we obeyed our foe turned to
fight. Then might one see how courage and skill were such mighty
factors in the apparently unequal contest. The whale's great
length made it no easy job for him to turn, while our boat, with
two oars a-side, and the great leverage at the stern supplied by
the nineteen-foot steer-oar circled, backed, and darted ahead
like a living thing animated by the mind of our commander. When
the leviathan settled, we gave a wide berth to his probable place
of ascent; when he rushed at us, we dodged him; when he paused,
if only momentarily, in we flew, and got home a fearful thrust of
the deadly lance.

All fear was forgotten now--I panted, thirsted for his life.
Once, indeed, in a sort of frenzy, when for an instant we lay
side by side with him, I drew my sheath-knife, and plunged it
repeatedly into the blubber, as if I were assisting is his
destruction. Suddenly the mate gave a howl: "Starn all--starn
all! oh, starn!" and the oars bent like canes as we obeyed.
There was an upheaval of the sea just ahead; then slowly,
majestically, the vast body of our foe rose into the air. Up, up
it went, while my heart stood still, until the whole of that
immense creature hung on high, apparently motionless, and then
fell--a hundred tons of solid flesh--back into the sea. On
either side of that mountainous mass the waters rose in shining
towers of snowy foam, which fell in their turn, whirling and
eddying around us as we tossed and fell like a chip in a
whirlpool. Blinded by the flying spray, baling for very life to
free the boat from the water with which she was nearly full, it
was some minutes before I was able to decide whether we were
still uninjured or not. Then I saw, at a little distance, the
whale lying quietly. As I looked he spouted, and the vapour was
red with his blood. "Starn all!" again cried our chief, and we
retreated to a considerable distance. The old warrior's
practised eye had detected the coming climax of our efforts, the
dying agony or "furry" of the great mammal. Turning upon his
side, be began to move in a circular direction, slowly at first,
then faster and faster, until he was rushing round at tremendous
speed, his great head raised quite out of water at times,
clashing his enormous jaws. Torrents of blood poured from his
spout-hole, accompanied by hoarse bellowings, as of some gigantic
bull, but really caused by the labouring breath trying to pass
through the clogged air passages. The utmost caution and
rapidity of manipulation of the boat was necessary to avoid his
maddened rush, but this gigantic energy was short-lived. In a
few minutes he subsided slowly in death, his mighty body reclined
on one side, the fin uppermost waving limply as he rolled to the
swell, while the small waves broke gently over the carcass in a
low, monotonous surf, intensifying the profound silence that had
succeeded the tumult of our conflict with the late monarch of the
deep. Hardly had the flurry ceased, when we hauled up alongside
of our hard-won prize, in order to secure a line to him in a
better manner than at present for hauling him to the ship. This
was effected by cutting a hole through the tough, gristly
substance of the flukes with the short "boat-spade," carried for
the purpose. The end of the line, cut off from the faithful
harpoon that had held it so long, was then passed through this
hole and made fast. This done, it was "Smoke-oh!" The luxury of
that rest and refreshment was something to be grateful for,
coming, as it did, in such complete contrast to our recent
violent exertions.

The ship was some three or four miles off to leeward, so we
reckoned she would take at least an hour and a half to work up to
us. Meanwhile, our part of the performance being over, and well
over, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, lazily rocking on the
gentle swell by the side of a catch worth at least L800. During
the conflict I had not noticed what now claimed attention--
several great masses of white, semi-transparent-looking substance
floating about, of huge size and irregular shape. But one of
these curious lumps came floating by as we lay, tugged at by
several fish, and I immediately asked the mate if he could tell
me what it was and where it came from. He told me that, when
dying, the cachalot always ejected the contents of his stomach,
which were invariably composed of such masses as we saw before
us; that he believed the stuff to be portions of big cuttle-fish,
bitten off by the whale for the purpose of swallowing, but he
wasn't sure. Anyhow, I could haul this piece alongside now, if I
liked, and see. Secretly wondering at the indifference shown by
this officer of forty years' whaling experience to such a
wonderful fact as appeared to be here presented, I thanked him,
and, sticking the boat-hook into the lump, drew it alongside. It
was at once evident that it was a massive fragment of cuttle-
fish--tentacle or arm--as thick as a stout man's body, and with
six or seven sucking-discs or ACETABULA on it. These were about
as large as a saucer, and on their inner edge were thickly set
with hooks or claws all round the rim, sharp as needles, and
almost the shape and size of a tiger's.

To what manner of awful monster this portion of limb belonged, I
could only faintly imagine; but of course I remembered, as any
sailor would, that from my earliest sea-going I had been told
that the cuttle-fish was the biggest in the sea, although I never
even began to think it might be true until now. I asked the mate
if he had ever seen such creatures as this piece belonged to
alive and kicking. He answered, languidly, "Wall, I guess so;
but I don't take any stock in fish, 'cept for provisions er
ile--en that's a fact." It will be readily believed that I
vividly recalled this conversation when, many years after, I read
an account by the Prince of Monaco of HIS discovery of a gigantic
squid, to which his naturalist gave the name of LEPIDOTEUTHIS
GRIMALDII! Truly the indifference and apathy manifested by
whalers generally to everything except commercial matters is
wonderful--hardly to be credited. However, this was a mighty
revelation to me. For the first time, it was possible to
understand that, contrary to the usual notion of a whale's being
unable to swallow a herring, here was a kind of whale that could
swallow-well, a block four or five feet square apparently; who
lived upon creatures as large as himself, if one might judge of
their bulk by the sample to hand; but being unable, from only
possessing teeth in one jaw, to masticate his food, was compelled
to tear it in sizable pieces, bolt it whole, and leave his
commissariat department to do the rest.

While thus ruminating, the mate and Louis began a desultory
conversation concerning what they termed "ambergrease." I had
never even heard the word before, although I had a notion that
Milton, in "Paradise Regained," describing the Satanic banquet,
had spoken of something being "gris-amber steamed." They could
by no means agree as to what this mysterious substance was, how
it was produced, or under what conditions. They knew that it was
sometimes found floating near the dead body of a sperm whale--the
mate, in fact, stated that he had taken it once from the rectum
of a cachalot--and they were certain that it was of great value
--from one to three guineas per ounce. When I got to know more
of the natural history of the sperm whale, and had studied the
literature of the subject, I was so longer surprised at their
want of agreement, since the learned doctors who have written
upon the subject do not seem to have come to definite conclusions

By some it is supposed to be the product of a diseased condition
of the creature; others consider that it is merely the excreta,
which, normally fluid, has by some means become concreted. It is
nearly always found with cuttle-fish beaks imbedded in its
substance, showing that these indigestible portions of the sperm
whale's food have in some manner become mixed with it during its
formation in the bowel. Chemists have analyzed it with scanty
results. Its great value is due to its property of intensifying
the power of perfumes, although, strange to say, it has little or
no odour of its own, a faint trace of musk being perhaps
detectable in some cases. The Turks are said to use it for a
truly Turkish purpose, which need not be explained here, while
the Moors are credited with a taste for it in their cookery.
About both these latter statements there is considerable doubt; I
only give them for what they are worth, without, committing
myself to any definite belief in them.

The ship now neared us fast, and as soon as she rounded-to, we
left the whale and pulled towards her, paying out line as we
went. Arriving alongside, the line was handed on board, and in a
short time the prize was hauled to the gangway. We met with a
very different reception this time. The skipper's grim face
actually looked almost pleasant as he contemplated the colossal
proportions of the latest addition to our stock. He was indeed a
fine catch, being at least seventy feet long, and in splendid
condition. As soon as he was secured alongside in the orthodox
fashion, all hands were sent to dinner, with an intimation to
look sharp over it. Judging from our slight previous experience,
there was some heavy labour before us, for this whale was nearly
four times as large as the one caught off the Cape Verds. And it
was so. Verily those officers toiled like Titans to get that
tremendous head off even the skipper taking a hand. In spite of
their efforts, it was dark before the heavy job was done. As we
were in no danger of bad weather, the head was dropped astern by
a hawser until morning, when it would be safer to dissect it.
All that night we worked incessantly, ready to drop with fatigue,
but not daring to suggest, the possibility of such a thing.
Several of the officers and harpooners were allowed a few hours
off, as their special duty of dealing with the head at daylight
would be so arduous as to need all their energies. When day
dawned we were allowed a short rest, while the work of cutting up
the head was undertaken by the rested men. At seven bells (7.30)
it was "turn to" all hands again. The "junk " was hooked on to
both cutting tackles, and the windlass manned by everybody who
could get hold. Slowly the enormous mass rose, canting the ship
heavily as it came, while every stick and rope aloft complained
of the great strain upon them. When at last it was safely
shipped, and the tackles cast off, the size of this small portion
of a full-grown cachalot's body could be realized, not before.

It was hauled from the gangway by tackles, and securely lashed to
the rail running round beneath the top of the bulwarks for that
purpose--the "lash-rail"--where the top of it towered up as high
as the third ratline of the main-rigging. Then there was another
spell, while the "case" was separated from the skull. This was
too large to get on board, so it was lifted half-way out of water
by the tackles, one hooked on each side; then they were made
fast, and a spar rigged across them at a good height above the
top of the case. A small Block was lashed to this spar, through
which a line was rove. A long, narrow bucket was attached to one
end of this rope; the other end on deck was attended by two men.
One unfortunate beggar was perched aloft on the above-mentioned
spar, where his position, like the main-yard of Marryatt's
verbose carpenter was "precarious and not at all permanent." He
was provided with a pole, with which he pushed the bucket down
through a hole cut in the upper end of the "case," whence it was
drawn out by the chaps on deck full of spermaceti. It was a
weary, unsatisfactory process, wasting a great deal of the
substance being baled out; but no other way was apparently
possible. The grease blew about, drenching most of us engaged in
an altogether unpleasant fashion, while, to mend matters, the old
barky began to roll and tumble about in an aimless, drunken sort
of way, the result of a new cross swell rolling up from the
south-westward. As the stuff was gained, it was poured into
large tanks in the blubber-room, the quantity being too great to
be held by the try-pots at once. Twenty-five barrels of this
clear, wax-like substance were baled from that case; and when at
last it was lowered a little, and cut away from its supports, it
was impossible to help thinking that much was still remaining
within which we, with such rude means, were unable to save. Then
came the task of cutting up the junk. Layer after layer, eight
to ten inches thick, was sliced off, cut into suitable pieces,
and passed into the tanks. So full was the matter of spermaceti
that one could take a piece as large as one's head in the hands,
and squeeze it like a sponge, expressing the spermaceti in
showers, until nothing remained But a tiny ball of fibre. All
this soft, pulpy mass was held together by walls of exceedingly
tough, gristly integrument ("white horse"), which was as
difficult to cut as gutta-percha, and, but for the peculiar
texture, not at all unlike it.

When we had finished separating the junk, there was nearly a foot
of oil on deck in the waist, and uproarious was the laughter when
some hapless individual, losing his balance, slid across the deck
and sat down with a loud splash in the deepest part of the

The lower jaw of this whale measured exactly nineteen feet in
length from the opening of the mouth, or, say the last of the
teeth, to the point, and carried twenty-eight teeth on each side.
For the time, it was hauled aft out of the way, and secured to
the lash-rail. The subsequent proceedings were just the same as
before described, only more so. For a whole week our labours
continued, and when they were over we had stowed below a hundred
and forty-six barrels of mingled oil and spermaceti, or fourteen
and a half tuns.

It was really a pleasant sight to see Abner receiving as if being
invested with an order of merit, the twenty pounds of tobacco to
which he was entitled. Poor fellow! he felt as if at last he
were going to be thought a little of, and treated a little
better. He brought his bounty forrard, and shared it out as far
as it would go with the greatest delight and good nature
possible. Whatever he might have been thought of aft, certainly,
for the time, he was a very important personage forrard; even the
Portuguese, who were inclined to be jealous of what they
considered an infringement of their rights, were mollified by the
generosity shown.

After every sign of the operations had been cleared away, the jaw
was brought out, and the teeth extracted with a small tackle.
They were set solidly into a hard white gum, which had to be cut
away all around them before they would come out. When cleaned of
the gum, they were headed up in a small barrel of brine. The
great jaw-pans were sawn off, and placed at the disposal of
anybody who wanted pieces of bone for "scrimshaw," or carved
work. This is a very favourite pastime on board whalers, though,
in ships such as ours, the crew have little opportunity for doing
anything, hardly any leisure during daylight being allowed. But
our carpenter was a famous workman at "scrimshaw," and he started
half a dozen walking-sticks forthwith. A favourite design is to
carve the bone into the similitude of a rope, with "worming" of
smaller line along its lays. A handle is carved out of a whale's
tooth, and insets of baleen, silver, cocoa-tree, or ebony, give
variety and finish. The tools used are of the roughest. Some
old files, softened in the fire, and filed into grooves something
like saw-teeth, are most used; but old knives, sail-needles, and
chisels are pressed into service. The work turned out would, in
many cases, take a very high place in an exhibition of turnery,
though never a lathe was near it. Of course, a long time is
taken over it, especially the polishing, which is done with oil
and whiting, if it can be got--powdered pumice if it cannot. I
once had an elaborate pastry-cutter carved out of six whale's
teeth, which I purchased for a pound of tobacco from a seaman of
the CORAL whaler, and afterwards sold in Dunedin, New Zealand,
for L2 10s., the purchaser being decidedly of opinion that he had
a bargain.




Perhaps it may hastily be assumed, from the large space already
devoted to fishing operations of various kinds, that the subject
will not bear much more dealing with, if my story is to avoid
being monotonous. But I beg to assure you, dear reader, that
while of course I have most to say in connection with the
business of the voyage, nothing is farther from my plan than to
neglect the very interesting portion of our cruise which relates
to visiting strange, out-of-the-way corners of the world. If
--which I earnestly deprecate--the description hitherto given of
sperm whale-fishing and its adjuncts be found not so interesting
as could be wished, I cry you mercy. I have been induced to give
more space to it because it has been systematically avoided in
the works upon whale-fishing before mentioned, which, as I have
said, were not intended for popular reading. True, neither may
my humble tome become popular either; but, if it does not, no one
will be so disappointed as the author.

We had made but little progress during the week of oil
manufacture, very little attention being paid to the sails while
that work was about; but, as the south-east trades blew steadily,
we did not remain stationary altogether. So that the following
week saw us on the south side of the tropic of Capricorn, the
south-east trade done, and the dirty weather and variable
squalls, which nearly always precede the "westerlies," making our
lives a burden to us. Here, however, we were better off than in
an ordinary merchantman, where doldrums are enough to drive you
mad. The one object being to get along, it is incessant "pully-
hauly," setting and taking in sail, in order, on the one hand, to
lose no time, and, on the other, to lose no sails. Now, with us,
whenever the weather was doubtful or squally-looking, we
shortened sail, and kept it fast till better weather came along,
being quite careless whether we made one mile a day or one
hundred. But just because nobody took any notice of our progress
as the days passed, we were occasionally startled to find how far
we had really got. This was certainly the case with all of us
forward, even to me who had some experience, so well used had I
now become to the leisurely way of getting along. To the laziest
of ships, however, there comes occasionally a time when the
bustling, hurrying wind will take no denial, and you've got to
"git up an' git," as the Yanks put it. Such a time succeeded our
"batterfanging" about, after losing the trades. We got hold of a
westerly wind that, commencing quietly, gently, steadily, taking
two or three days before it gathered force and volume,
strengthened at last into a stern, settled gale that would brook
no denial, to face which would have been misery indeed. To
vessels bound east it came as a boon and blessing, for it would
be a crawler that could not reel off her two hundred and fifty
miles a day before the push of such a breeze. Even the CACHALOT
did her one hundred and fifty, pounding and bruising the ill-used
sea in her path, and spreading before her broad bows a far-
reaching area of snowy foam, while her wake was as wide as any
two ordinary ships ought to make. Five or six times a day the
flying East India or colonial-bound English ships, under every
stitch of square sail, would appear as tiny specks on the horizon
astern, come up with us, pass like a flash, and fade away ahead,
going at least two knots to our one. I could not help feeling a
bit, home-sick and tired of my present surroundings, in spite of
their interest, when I saw those beautiful ocean-flyers devouring
the distance which lay before them, and reflected that in little
more than one month most of them would be discharging in
Melbourne, Sydney, Calcutta, or some other equally distant port,
while we should probably be dodging about in our present latitude
a little farther east.

After a few days of our present furious rate of speed, I came on
deck one morning, and instantly recognized an old acquaintance.
Right ahead, looking nearer than I had ever seen it before, rose
the towering mass of Tristan d'Acunha, while farther away, but
still visible, lay Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands. Their
aspect was familiar, for I had sighted them on nearly every
voyage I had made round the Cape, but I had never seen them so
near as this. There was a good deal of excitement among us, and
no wonder. Such a break in the monotony of our lives as we were
about to have was enough to turn our heads. Afterwards, we
learned to view these matters in a more philosophic light; but
now, being new and galled by the yoke, it was a different thing.
Near as the island seemed, it was six hours before we got near
enough to distinguish objects on shore. I have seen the top of
Tristan peeping through a cloud nearly a hundred miles away, for
its height is tremendous. St. Helena looks a towering, scowling
mass when you approach it closely but Tristan d'Acunha is far
more imposing, its savage-looking cliffs seeming to sternly
forbid the venturesome voyager any nearer familiarity with their
frowning fastnesses. Long before we came within working distance
of the settlement, we were continually passing broad patches of
kelp (FUCUS GIGANTEA), whose great leaves and cable-laid stems
made quite reef-like breaks in the heaving waste of restless sea.
Very different indeed were these patches of marine growth from
the elegant wreaths of the Gulf-weed with which parts of the
North Atlantic are so thickly covered. Their colour was deep
brown, almost black is some cases, and the size of many of the
leaves amazing, being four to five feet long, by a foot wide,
with stalks as thick as one's arm. They have their origin around
these storm-beaten rocks, which lie scattered thinly over the
immense area of the Southern Ocean, whence they are torn, in
masses like those we saw, by every gale, and sent wandering round
the world.

When we arrived within about three miles of the landing-place, we
saw a boat coming off, so we immediately hove-to and awaited her
arrival. There was no question of anchoring; indeed, there
seldom is in these vessels, unless they are going to make a long
stay, for they are past masters in the art of "standing off and
on." "The boat came alongside--a big, substantially-built craft
of the whale-boat type, but twice the size--manned by ten sturdy-
looking fellows, as unkempt and wild-looking as any pirates.
They were evidently put to great straits for clothes, many
curious makeshifts being noticeable in their rig, while it was so
patched with every conceivable kind of material that it was
impossible to say which was the original or "standing part."
They brought with them potatoes, onions, a few stunted cabbages,
some fowls, and a couple of good-sized pigs, at the sight of
which good things our eyes glistened and our mouths watered.
Alas! none of the cargo of that boat ever reached OUR hungry
stomachs. We were not surprised, having anticipated that every
bit of provision would be monopolized by our masters; but of
course we had no means of altering such a state of things.

The visitors had the same tale to tell that seems universal--bad
trade, hard times, nothing doing. How very familiar it seemed,
to be sure. Nevertheless, it could not be denied that their sole
means of communication with the outer world, as well as market
for their goods, the calling whale-ships, were getting fewer and
fewer every year; so that their outlook was not, it must be
confessed, particularly bright. But their wants are few, beyond
such as they can themselves supply. Groceries and clothes, the
latter especially, as the winters are very severe, are almost the
only needs they require to be supplied with from without. They
spoke of the "Cape" as if it were only across the way, the
distance separating them from that wonderful place being over
thirteen hundred miles in reality. Very occasionally a schooner
from Capetown does visit them; but, as the seals are almost
exterminated, there is less and less inducement to make the

Like almost all the southern islets, this group has been in its
time the scene of a wonderfully productive seal-fishery. It used
to be customary for whaling and sealing vessels to land a portion
of their crews, and leave them to accumulate a store of seal-
skins and oil, while the ships cruised the surrounding seas for
whales, which were exceedingly numerous, both "right" and sperm
varieties. In those days there was no monotony of existence in
these islands, ships were continually coming and going, and the
islanders prospered exceedingly. When they increased beyond the
capacity of the islands to entertain them, a portion migrated to
the Cape, while many of the men took service in the whale-ships,
for which they were eminently suited.

They are, as might be expected, a hybrid lot, the women all
mulattoes, but intensely English in their views and loyalty.
Since the visit of H.M.S. GALATEA, in August, 1867, with the Duke
of Edinburgh on board, this sentiment had been intensified, and
the little collection of thatched cottages, nameless till then,
was called Edinburgh, in honour of the illustrious voyager. They
breed cattle, a few sheep, and pigs, although the sheep thrive
but indifferently for some reason or another. Poultry they have
in large numbers, so that, could they commend a market, they
would do very well.

The steep cliffs, rising from the sea for nearly a thousand feet,
often keep their vicinity in absolute calm, although a heavy gale
may be raging on the other side of the island, and it would be
highly dangerous for any navigator not accustomed to such a
neighbourhood to get too near them. The immense rollers setting
inshore, and the absence of wind combined, would soon carry a
vessel up against the beetling crags, and letting go an anchor
would not be of the slightest use, since the bottom, being of
massive boulders, affords no holding ground at all. All round
the island the kelp grows thickly, so thickly indeed as to make a
boat's progress through it difficult. This, however, is very
useful in one way here, as we found. Wanting more supplies,
which were to be had cheap, we lowered a couple of boats, and
went ashore after them. On approaching the black, pebbly beach
which formed the only landing-place, it appeared as if getting
ashore would be a task of no ordinary danger and difficulty. The
swell seemed to culminate as we neared the beach, lifting the
boats at one moment high in air, and at the next lowering them
into a green valley, from whence nothing could be seen but the
surrounding watery summits. Suddenly we entered the belt of
kelp, which extended for perhaps a quarter of a mile seaward,
and, lo! a transformation indeed. Those loose, waving fronds of
flexible weed, though swayed hither and thither by every ripple,
were able to arrest the devastating rush of the gigantic swell,
so that the task of landing, which had looked so terrible, was
one of the easiest. Once in among the kelp, although we could
hardly use the oars, the water was quite smooth and tranquil.
The islanders collected on the beach, and guided us to the best
spot for landing, the huge boulders, heaped in many places, being
ugly impediments to a boat.

We were as warmly welcomed as if we had been old friends, and
hospitable attentions were showered upon us from every side. The
people were noticeably well-behaved, and, although there was
something Crusoe-like in their way of living, their manners and
conversation were distinctly good. A rude plenty was evident,
there being no lack of good food--fish, fowl, and vegetables. The
grassy plateau on which the village stands is a sort of shelf
jutting out from the mountain-side, the mountain being really the
whole island. Steep roads were hewn out of the solid rock,
leading, as we were told, to the cultivated terraces above.
These reached an elevation of about a thousand feet. Above all
towered the great, dominating peak, the summit lost in the clouds
eight or nine thousand feet above. The rock-hewn roads and
cultivated land certainly gave the settlement an old-established
appearance, which was not surprising seeing that it has been
inhabited for more than a hundred years. I shall always bear a
grateful recollection of the place, because my host gave me what
I had long been a stranger to--a good, old-fashioned English
dinner of roast beef and baked potatoes. He apologized for
having no plum-pudding to crown the feast. "But, you see," he
said, "we kaint grow no corn hyar, and we'm clean run out ov
flour; hev ter make out on taters 's best we kin." I sincerely
sympathized with him on the lack of bread-stuff among them, and
wondered no longer at the avidity with which they had munched our
flinty biscuits on first coming aboard. His wife, a buxom,
motherly woman of about fifty, of dark, olive complexion, but
good features, was kindness itself; and their three youngest
children, who were at home, could not, in spite of repeated
warnings and threats, keep their eyes off me, as if I had been
some strange animal dropped from the moon. I felt very unwilling
to leave them so soon, but time was pressing, the stores we had
come for were all ready to ship, and I had to tear myself away
from these kindly entertainers. I declare, it seemed like
parting with old friends; yet our acquaintance might have been
measured by minutes, so brief it had been. The mate had
purchased a fine bullock, which had been slaughtered and cut up
for us with great celerity, four or five dozen fowls (alive),
four or five sacks of potatoes, eggs, etc., so that we were
heavily laden for the return journey to the ship. My friend had
kindly given me a large piece of splendid cheese, for which I was
unable to make him any return, being simply clad in a shirt and
pair of trousers, neither of which necessary garments could be

With hearty cheers from the whole population, we shoved off and
ploughed through the kelp seaweed again. When we got clear of
it, we found the swell heavier than when we had come, and a rough
journey back to the ship was the result. But, to such boatmen as
we were, that was a trifle hardly worth mentioning, and after an
hour's hard pull we got alongside again, and transhipped our
precious cargo. The weather being threatening, we at once hauled
off the land and out to sea, as night was falling and we did not
wish to be in so dangerous a vicinity any longer than could be
helped in stormy weather. Altogether, a most enjoyable day, and
one that I have ever since had a pleasant recollection of.

By daybreak next morning the islands were out of sight, for the
wind had risen to a gale, which, although we carried little sail,
drove us along before it some seven or eight knots an hour.

Two days afterwards we caught another whale of medium size,
making us fifty-four barrels of oil. As nothing out of the
ordinary course marked the capture, it is unnecessary to do more
than allude to it in passing, except to note that the honours
were all with Goliath. He happened to be close to the whale when
it rose, and immediately got fast. So dexterous and swift were
his actions that before any of the other boats could "chip in" he
had his fish "fin out," the whole affair from start to finish
only occupying a couple of hours. We were now in the chosen
haunts of the great albatross, Cape pigeons, and Cape hens, but
never in my life had I imagined such a concourse of them as now
gathered around us. When we lowered there might have been
perhaps a couple of dozen birds in sight, but no sooner was the
whale dead than from out of the great void around they began to
drift towards us. Before we had got him fast alongside, the
numbers of that feathered host were incalculable. They
surrounded us until the sea surface was like a plain of snow, and
their discordant cries were deafening. With the exception of one
peculiar-looking bird, which has received from whalemen the
inelegant name of "stinker," none of them attempted to alight
upon the body of the dead monster. This bird, however, somewhat
like a small albatross, but of dirty-grey colour, and with a
peculiar excrescence on his beak, boldly took his precarious
place upon the carcase, and at once began to dig into the
blubber. He did not seem to make much impression, but he
certainly tried hard.

It was dark before we got our prize secured by the fluke-chain,
so that we could not commence operations before morning. That
night it blew hard, and we got an idea of the strain these
vessels are sometimes subjected to. Sometimes the ship rolled
one way and the whale another, being divided by a big sea, the
wrench at the fluke-chain, as the two masses fell apart down
different hollows, making the vessel quiver from truck to keelson
as if she was being torn asunder. Then we would come together
again with a crash and a shock that almost threw everybody out of
their bunks. Many an earnest prayer did I breathe that the chain
would prove staunch, for what sort of a job it would be to go
after that whale during the night, should he break loose, I could
only faintly imagine. But all our gear was of the very best; no
thieving ship-chandler had any band in supplying our outfit with
shoddy rope and faulty chain, only made to sell, and ready at the
first call made upon it to carry away and destroy half a dozen
valuable lives. There was one coil of rope on board which the
skipper had bought for cordage on the previous voyage from a
homeward-bound English ship, and it was the butt of all the
officers' scurrilous remarks about Britishers and their gear. It
was never used but for rope-yarns, being cut up in lengths, and
untwisted for the ignominious purpose of tying things up
--"hardly good enough for that," was the verdict upon it.

Tired as we all were, very little sleep came to us that night--we
were barely seasoned yet to the exigencies of a whaler's life
--but afterwards I believe nothing short of dismasting or running
the ship ashore would wake us, once we got to sleep. In the
morning we commenced operations in a howling gale of wind, which
placed the lives of the officers on the "cutting in" stage in
great danger. The wonderful seaworthy qualities of our old ship
shone brilliantly now. When an ordinary modern-built sailing-
ship would have been making such weather of it as not only to
drown anybody about the deck, but making it impossible to keep
your footing anywhere without holding on, we were enabled to cut
in this whale. True, the work was terribly exhausting and
decidedly dangerous, but it was not impossible, for it was done.
By great care and constant attention, the whole work of cutting
in and trying out was got through without a single accident; but
had another whale turned up to continue the trying time, I am
fully persuaded that some of us would have gone under from sheer
fatigue. For there was no mercy shown. All that I have ever
read of "putting the slaves through for all they were worth" on
the plantations was fully realized here, and our worthy skipper
must have been a lineal descendent of the doughty Simon Legree.

The men were afraid to go on to the sick-list. Nothing short of
total inability to continue would have prevented them from
working, such was the terror with which that man had inspired us
all. It may be said that we were a pack of cowards, who, without
the courage to demand better treatment, deserved all we got.
While admitting that such a conclusion is quite a natural one at
which to arrive, I must deny its truth. There were men in that
forecastle as good citizens and as brave fellows as you would
wish to meet--men who in their own sphere would have commanded
and obtained respect. But under the painful and abnormal
circumstances in which they found themselves--beaten and driven
like dogs while in the throes of sea-sickness, half starved and
hopeless, their spirit had been so broken, and they were so kept
down to that sad level by the display of force, aided by deadly
weapons aft, that no other condition could be expected for them
but that of broken-hearted slaves. My own case was many degrees
better than that of the other whites, as I have before noted; but
I was perfectly well aware that the slightest attempt on my part
to show that I resented our common treatment would meet with the
most brutal repression, and, in addition, I might look for a
dreadful time of it for the rest of the voyage.

The memory of that week of misery is so strong upon me even now
that my hand trembles almost to preventing me from writing about
it. Weak and feeble do the words seem as I look at them, making
me wish for the fire and force of Carlyle or Macaulay to portray
our unnecessary sufferings.

Like all other earthly ills, however, they came to an end, at
least for a time, and I was delighted to note that we were
getting to the northward again. In making the outward passage
round the Cape, it is necessary to go well south, in order to
avoid the great westerly set of the Agulhas current, which for
ever sweeps steadily round the southern extremity of the African
continent at an average rate of three or four miles an hour. To
homeward-bound ships this is a great boon. No matter what the
weather may be--a stark calm or a gale of wind right on end in
your teeth--that vast, silent river in the sea steadily bears you
on at the same rate in the direction of home. It is perfectly
true that with a gale blowing across the set of this great
current, one of the very ugliest combinations of broken waves is
raised; but who cares for that, when he knows that, as long as
the ship holds together, some seventy or eighty miles per day
nearer home must be placed to her credit? In like manner, it is
of the deepest comfort to know that, storm or calm, fair or foul,
the current of time, unhasting, unresting, bears us on to the
goal that we shall surely reach--the haven of unbroken rest.

Not the least of the minor troubles on board the CACHALOT was the
uncertainty of our destination; we never knew where we were
going. It may seem a small point, but it is really not so
unimportant as a landsman might imagine. On an ordinary passage,
certain well-known signs are as easily read by the seaman as if
the ship's position were given out to him every day. Every
alteration of the course signifies some point of the journey
reached, some well-known track entered upon, and every landfall
made becomes a new departure from whence to base one's
calculations, which, rough as they are, rarely err more than a
few days.

Say, for instance, you are bound for Calcutta. The first of the
north-east trades will give a fair idea of your latitude being
about the edge of the tropics somewhere, or say from 20deg. to
25deg. N., whether you have sighted any of the islands or not.
Then away you go before the wind down towards the Equator, the
approach to which is notified by the loss of the trade and the
dirty, changeable weather of the "doldrums." That weary bit of
work over, along come the south-east trades, making you brace
"sharp up," and sometimes driving you uncomfortably near the
Brazilian coast. Presently more "doldrums," with a good deal
more wind in them than in the "wariables" of the line latitude.
The brave "westerly" will come along by-and-by and release you,
and, with a staggering press of sail carried to the reliable
gale, away you go for the long stretch of a hundred degrees or so
eastward. You will very likely sight Tristan d'Acunha or Gough
lsland; but, if not, the course will keep you fairly well
informed of your longitude, since most ships make more or less of
a great circle track. Instead of steering due East for the whole
distance, they make for some southerly latitude by running along
the arc of a great circle, THEN run due east for a thousand miles
or so before gradually working north again. These alterations in
the courses tell the foremast hand nearly all he wants to know,
slight as they are. You will most probably sight Amsterdam
Island or St. Paul's in about 77deg. E.; but whether you do or
not, the big change made in the course, to say nothing of the
difference in the weather and temperature, say loudly that your
long easterly run is over, and you are bound to the northward
again, Soon the south-east trades will take you gently in hand,
and waft you pleasurably upward to the line again, unless you
should be so unfortunate as to meet one of the devastating
meteors known as "cyclones" in its gyration across the Indian
Ocean. After losing the trade, which signals your approach to
the line once more, your guides fluctuate muchly with the time of
year. But it may he broadly put that the change of the monsoon
in the Bay of Bengal is beastliness unadulterated, and the south-
west monsoon itself, though a fair wind for getting to your
destination, is worse, if possible. Still, having got that far,
you are able to judge pretty nearly when, in the ordinary course
of events, you will arrive at Saugor, and get a tug for the rest
of the journey.

But on this strange voyage I was quite as much in the dark
concerning our approximate position as any of the chaps who had
never seen salt water before they viewed it from the bad eminence
of the CACHALOT's deck. Of course, it was evident that we were
bound eastward, but whether to the Indian seas or to the South
Pacific, none knew but the skipper, and perhaps the mate. I say
"perhaps" advisedly. In any well-regulated merchant ship there
is an invariable routine of observations performed by both
captain and chief officer, except in very big vessels, where the
second mate is appointed navigating officer. The two men work
out their reckoning independently of each other, and compare the
result, so that an excellent check upon the accuracy of the
positions found is thereby afforded. Here, however, there might
not have been, as far as appearances went, a navigator in the
ship except the captain, if it be not a misuse of terms to call
him a navigator. If the test be ability to take a ship round the
world, poking into every undescribed, out-of-the-way corner you
can think of, and return home again without damage to the ship of
any kind except by the unavoidable perils of the sea, then
doubtless he WAS a navigator, and a ripe, good one. But anything
cruder than the "rule-of-thumb" way in which he found his
positions, or more out of date than his "hog-yoke," or quadrant,
I have never seen. I suppose we carried a chronometer, though I
never saw it or heard the cry of "stop," which usually
accompanies a.m. or p.m. "sights" taken for longitude. He used
sometimes to make a deliberate sort of haste below after taking a
sight, when he may have been looking at a chronometer perhaps.
What I do know about his procedure is, that he always used a very
rough method of equal altitudes, which would make a mathematician
stare and gasp; that his nautical almanac was a ten-cent one
published by some speculative optician is New York; that he never
worked up a "dead reckoning;" and that the extreme limit of time
that he took to work out his observations was ten minutes. In
fact, all our operations in seamanship or navigation were run on
the same happy-go-lucky principle. If it was required to "tack"
ship, there was no formal parade and preparation for the
manoeuvre, not even as much as would be made in a Goole billy-
boy. Without any previous intimation, the helm would be put
down, and round she would come, the yards being trimmed by
whoever happened to be nearest to the braces. The old tub seemed
to like it that way, for she never missed stays or exhibited any
of that unwillingness to do what she was required that is such a
frequent characteristic of merchantmen. Even getting under way
or coming to an anchor was unattended by any of the fuss and
bother from which those important evolutions ordinarily appear

To my great relief we saw no more whales of the kind we were
after during our passage round the Cape. The weather we were
having was splendid for making a passage, but to be dodging about
among those immense rollers, or towed athwart them by a wounded
whale in so small a craft as one of our whale-boats, did not have
any attractions for me. There was little doubt in any of our
minds that, if whales were seen, off we must go while daylight
lasted, let the weather be what it might. So when one morning I
went to the wheel, to find the course N.N.E. instead of E. by N.,
it may be taken for granted that the change was a considerable
relief to me. It was now manifest that we were bound up into the
Indian Ocean, although of course I knew nothing of the position
of the districts where whales were to be looked for. Gradually
we crept northward, the weather improving every day as we left
the "roaring forties" astern. While thus making northing we had
several fine catches of porpoises, and saw many rorquals, but
sperm whales appeared to have left the locality. However, the
"old man" evidently knew what he was about, as we were not now
cruising, but making a direct passage for some definite place.

At last we sighted land, which, from the course which we had been
steering, might have been somewhere on the east coast of Africa,
but for the fact that it was right ahead, while we were pointing
at the time about N.N.W. By-and-by I came to the conclusion that
it must be the southern extremity of Madagascar, Cape St. Mary,
and, by dint of the closest, attention to every word I heard
uttered while at the wheel by the officers, found that my surmise
was correct. We skirted this point pretty closely, heading to
the westward, and, when well clear of it, bore up to the
northward, again for the Mozambique Channel. Another surprise.
The very idea of WHALING in the Mozambique Channel seemed too
ridiculous to mention; yet here we were, guided by a commander
who, whatever his faults, was certainly most keen in his
attention to business, and the unlikeliest man imaginable to take
the ship anywhere unless he anticipated a profitable return for
his visit.




We had now entered upon what promised to be the most interesting
part of our voyage. As a commercial speculation, I have to admit
that the voyage was to me a matter of absolute indifference.
Never, from the first week of my being on board, had I cherished
any illusions upon that score, for it was most forcibly impressed
on my mind that, whatever might be the measure of success
attending our operations, no one of the crew forward could hope
to benefit by it. The share of profits was so small, and the
time taken to earn it so long, such a number of clothes were worn
out and destroyed by us, only to be replaced from the ship's
slop-chest at high prices, that I had quite resigned myself to
the prospect of leaving the vessel in debt, whenever that
desirable event might happen. Since, therefore, I had never made
it a practice to repine at the inevitable, and make myself
unhappy by the contemplation of misfortunes I was powerless to
prevent, I tried to interest myself as far as was possible in
gathering information, although at that time I had no idea,
beyond a general thirst for knowledge, that what I was now
learning would ever he of any service to me. Yet I had been dull
indeed not to have seen how unique were the opportunities I was
now enjoying for observation of some of the least known and
understood aspects of the ocean world and its wonderful
inhabitants, to say nothing of visits to places unvisited, except
by such free lances as we were, and about which so little is
really known.

The weather of the Mozambique Channel was fairly good, although
subject to electric storms of the most terrible aspect, but
perfectly harmless. On the second evening after rounding Cape
St. Mary, we were proceeding, as usual, under very scanty sail,
rather enjoying the mild, balmy air, scent-laden, from
Madagascar. The moon was shining in tropical splendour, paling
the lustre of the attendant stars, and making the glorious Milky
Way but a faint shadow of its usual resplendent road. Gradually
from the westward there arose a murky mass of cloud, fringed at
its upper edges with curious tinted tufts of violet, orange, and
crimson. These colours were not brilliant, but plainly visible
against the deep blue sky. Slowly and solemnly the intruding
gloom overspread the sweet splendour of the shining sky, creeping
like a death-shadow over a dear face, and making the most
talkative feel strangely quiet and ill at ease. As the pall of
thick darkness blotted out the cool light, it seemed to descend
until at last we were completely over-canopied by a dome of
velvety black, seemingly low enough to touch the mast-heads. A
belated sea-bird's shrill scream but emphasized the deep silence
which lent itself befittingly to the solemnity of nature.
Presently thin suggestions of light, variously tinted, began to
thread the inky mass. These grew brighter and more vivid, until
at last, in fantastic contortions, they appeared to rend the
swart concave asunder, revealing through the jagged clefts a
lurid waste of the most intensely glowing fire. The coming and
going of these amazing brightnesses, combined with the Egyptian
dark between, was completely blinding. So loaded was the still
air with electricity that from every point aloft pale flames
streamed upward, giving the ship the appearance of a huge
candelabrum with innumerable branches. One of the hands, who
had been ordered aloft on some errand of securing a loose end,
presented a curious sight. He was bareheaded, and from his hair
the all pervading fluid arose, lighting up his features, which
were ghastly beyond description. When he lifted his hand, each
separate finger became at once an additional point from which
light streamed. There was no thunder, but a low hissing and a
crackling which did not amount to noise, although distinctly
audible to all. Sensations most unpleasant of pricking and
general irritation were felt by every one, according to their
degree of susceptibility.

After about an hour of this state of things, a low moaning of
thunder was heard, immediately followed by a few drops of rain
large as dollars. The mutterings and grumblings increased until,
with one peal that made the ship tremble as though she had just
struck a rock at full speed, down came the rain. The windows of
heaven were opened, and no man might stand against the steaming
flood that descended by thousands of tons per minute. How long
it continued, I cannot say; probably, in its utmost fierceness,
not more than half an hour. Then it slowly abated, clearing away
as it did so the accumulation of gloom overhead, until, before
midnight had struck, all the heavenly host were shedding their
beautiful brilliancy upon us again with apparently increased
glory, while the freshness and invigorating feel of the air was
inexpressibly delightful.

We did not court danger by hugging too closely any of the ugly
reefs and banks that abound in this notably difficult strait, but
gave them all a respectfully wide birth. It was a feature of our
navigation that, unless we had occasion to go near any island or
reef for fishing or landing purposes, we always kept a safe
margin of distance away, which probably accounts for our
continued immunity from accident while in tortuous waters. Our
anchors and cables were, however, always kept ready for use now,
in case of an unsuspected current or sudden storm; but beyond
that precaution, I could see little or no difference in the
manner of our primitive navigation.

We met with no "luck" for some time, and the faces of the
harpooners grew daily longer, the great heat of those sultry
waters trying all tempers sorely. But Captain Slocum knew his
business, and his scowling, impassive face showed no signs of
disappointment, or indeed any other emotion, as day by day we
crept farther north. At last we sighted the stupendous peak of
Comoro mountain, which towers to nearly nine thousand feet from
the little island which gives its name to the Comoro group of
four. On that same day a school of medium-sized sperm whales
were sighted, which appeared to be almost of a different race to
those with which we had hitherto had dealings. They were
exceedingly fat and lazy, moving with the greatest deliberation,
and, when we rushed in among them, appeared utterly bewildered
and panic-stricken, knowing not which way to flee. Like a flock
of frightened sheep they huddled together, aimlessly wallowing in
each other's way, while we harpooned them with the greatest ease
and impunity. Even the "old man" himself lowered the fifth boat,
leaving the ship to the carpenter, cooper, cook, and steward, and
coming on the scene as if determined to make a field-day of the
occasion. He was no "slouch" at the business either. Not that
there was much occasion or opportunity to exhibit any prowess.
The record of the day's proceedings would be as tame as to read
of a day's work in a slaughter-house. Suffice it to say, that we
actually killed six whales, none of whom were less than fifty
barrels, no boat ran out more than one hundred fathoms of line,
neither was a bomb-lance used. Not the slightest casualty
occurred to any of the boats, and the whole work of destruction
was over in less than four hours.

Then came the trouble. The fish were, of course somewhat widely
separated when they died, and the task of collecting all those
immense carcasses was one of no ordinary magnitude. Had it not
been for the wonderfully skilful handling of the ship, the task
would, I should think, have been impossible, but the way in which
she was worked compelled the admiration of anybody who knew what
handling a ship meant. Still, with all the ability manifested,
it was five hours after the last whale died before we had
gathered them all alongside, bringing us to four o'clock in the

A complete day under that fierce blaze of the tropical sun,
without other refreshment than an occasional furtive drink of
tepid water, had reduced us to a pitiable condition of weakness,
so much so that the skipper judged it prudent, as soon as the
fluke-chains were passed, to give us a couple of hours' rest. As
soon as the sun had set we were all turned to again, three
cressets were prepared, and by their blaze we toiled the whole
night through. Truth compels me to state, though, that none of
us foremast hands had nearly such heavy work as the officers on
the stage. What they had to do demanded special knowledge and
skill; but it was also terribly hard work, constant and
unremitting, while we at the windlass had many a short spell
between the lifting of the pieces. Even the skipper took a hand,
for the first time, and right manfully did be do his share,

By the first streak of dawn, three of the whales had been
stripped of their blubber, and five heads were bobbing astern at
the ends of as many hawsers. The sea all round presented a
wonderful sight. There must have been thousands of sharks
gathered to the feast, and their incessant incursions through the
phosphorescent water wove a dazzling network of brilliant tracks
which made the eyes ache to look upon. A short halt was called
for breakfast, which was greatly needed, and, thanks to the cook,
was a thoroughly good one. He--blessings on him!--had been busy
fishing, as we drifted slowly, with savoury pieces of whale-beef
for bait, and the result was a mess of fish which would have
gladdened the heart of an epicure. Our hunger appeased, it was
"turn to" again, for there was now no time to be lost. The
fierce heat soon acts upon the carcass of a dead whale,
generating an immense volume of gas within it, which, in a
wonderfully short space of time, turns the flesh putrid and
renders the blubber so rotten that it cannot be lifted, nor, if
it could, would it be of any value. So it was no wonder that our
haste was great, or that the august arbiter of our destinies
himself condescended to take his place among the toilers. By
nightfall the whole of our catch was on board, excepting such
toll as the hungry hordes of sharks had levied upon it in
transit. A goodly number of them had paid the penalty of their
rapacity with their lives, for often one would wriggle his way
right up on to the reeking carcass, and, seizing a huge fragment
of blubber, strive with might and main to tear it away. Then the
lethal spade would drop upon his soft crown, cleaving it to the
jaws, and with one flap of his big tail he would loose his grip,
roll over and over, and sink, surrounded by a writhing crowd of
his fellows, by whom he was speedily reduced into digestible

The condition of the CACHALOT's deck was now somewhat akin to
chaos. From the cabin door to the tryworks there was hardly an
inch of available space, and the oozing oil kept some of us
continually baling it up, lest it should leak out through the
interstices in the bulwarks. In order to avoid a breakdown, it
became necessary to divide the crew into six-hour watches, as
although the work was exceedingly urgent on account of the
weather, there were evident signs that some of the crew were
perilously near giving in. So we got rest none too soon, and the
good effects of it were soon apparent. The work went on with
much more celerity than one would have thought possible, and soon
the lumbered-up decks began to resume their normal appearance.

As if to exasperate the "old man" beyond measure on the third day
of our operations a great school of sperm whales appeared,
disporting all around the ship, apparently conscious of our
helplessness to interfere with them. Notwithstanding our
extraordinary haul, Captain Slocum went black with impotent rage,
and, after glowering at the sportive monsters, beat a retreat
below, unable to bear the sight any longer. During his absence
we had a rare treat. The whole school surrounded the ship, and
performed some of the strangest evolutions imaginable. As if
instigated by one common impulse, they all elevated their massive
heads above the surface of the sea, and remained for some time in
that position, solemnly bobbing up and down amid the glittering
wavelets like movable boulders of black rock. Then, all suddenly
reversed themselves, and, elevating their broad flukes in the
air, commenced to beat them slowly and rhythmically upon the
water, like so many machines. Being almost a perfect calm, every
movement of the great mammals could be plainly seen; some of
them even passed so near to us that we could see how the lower
jaw hung down, while the animal was swimming in a normal

For over an hour they thus paraded around us, and then, as if
startled by some hidden danger, suddenly headed off to the
westward, and in a few minutes were out of our sight.

We cruised in the vicinity of the Comoro Islands for two months,
never quite out of sight of the mountain while the weather was
clear. During the whole of that time we were never clear of oil
on deck, one catch always succeeding another before there had
been time to get cleared up. Eight hundred barrels of oil were
added to our cargo, making the undisciplined hearts of all to
whom whaling was a novel employment beat high with hopes of a
speedy completion of the cargo, and consequent return. Poor
innocents that we were! How could we know any better? According
to Goliath, with whom I often had a friendly chat, this was quite
out of the ordinary run to have such luck in the "Channel."

"'Way back in de dark ages, w'en de whaleships war de pi'neers ob
commerce, 'n day wan't no worryin', poofity-plukity steamboats a-
poundin' along, 'nough ter galley ebery whale clean eout ob dere
skin, dey war plenty whaleships fill up in twelve, fifteen,
twenty monf' after leabin' home. 'N er man bed his pick er
places, too--didn' hab ter go moseyin erroun' like some ol' hobo
lookin' fer day's work, 'n prayin' de good Lord not ter let um
fine it. No, sah; roun yer China Sea, coas' Japan, on de line,
off shore, Vasquez, 'mong de islan's, ohmos' anywhar, you couldn'
hardly git way from 'em. Neow, I clar ter glory I kaint imagine
WAR dey all gone ter, dough we bin eout only six seven monf' 'n
got over tousan bar'l below. But I bin two year on er voy'ge and
doan hardly SEE a sparm while, much less catch one. But"--and
here he whispered mysteriously--"dish yer ole man's de bery
debbil's own chile, 'n his farder lookin' after him well--dat's
my 'pinion. Only yew keep yer head tight shut, an' nebber say er
word, but keep er lookin', 'n sure's death you'll see." This
conversation made a deep and lasting impression upon me, for I
had not before heard even so much as a murmur from an officer
against the tyranny of the skipper. Some of the harpooners were
fluent enough, too.

Yet I had often thought that his treatment of them, considering
the strenuous nature of their toil, and the willingness with
which they worked as long as they had an ounce of energy left,
was worth at least a little kindness and courtesy on his part.

What the period may have been during which whales were plentiful
here, I do not know, but it was now May, and for the last few
days we had not seen a solitary spout of any kind. Preparations,
very slight it is true, were made for departure; but before we
left those parts we made an interesting call for water at
Mohilla, one of the Comoro group, which brought out, in
unmistakable fashion, the wonderful fund of local knowledge
possessed by these men. At the larger ports of Johanna and
Mayotte there is a regular tariff of port charges, which are
somewhat heavy, and no whaleman would be so reckless as to incur
these unless driven thereto by the necessity of obtaining
provisions; otherwise, the islands offer great inducements to
whaling captains to call, since none but men hopelessly mad would
venture to desert in such places. That qualification is the
chief one for any port to possess in the eyes of a whaling

Our skipper, however, saw no necessity for entering any port.
Running up under the lee of Mohilla, we followed the land along
until we came to a tiny bight on the western side of the island,
an insignificant inlet which no mariner in charge of a vessel
like ours could be expected even to notice, unless he were
surveying. The approaches to this tiny harbour (save the mark)
were very forbidding. Ugly-looking rocks showed up here and
there, the surf over them frequently blinding the whole entry.
But we came along, in our usual leisurely fashion, under two
topsails, spanker, and fore-topmast staysail, and took that ugly
passage like a sailing barge entering the Medway. There was
barely room to turn round when we got inside, but all sail had
been taken off her except the spanker, so that her way was almost
stopped by the time she was fairly within the harbour. Down went
the anchor, and she was fast--anchored for the first time since
leaving New Bedford seven months before. Here we were shut out
entirely from the outer world, for I doubt greatly whether even a
passing dhow could have seen us from seaward. We were not here
for rest, however, but wood and water; so while one party was
supplied with well-sharpened axes, and sent on shore to cut down
such small trees as would serve our turn, another party was
busily employed getting out a number of big casks for the
serious business of watering. The cooper knocked off the second
or quarter hoops from each of these casks, and drove them on
again with two "beckets" or loops of rope firmly jammed under
each of them in such a manner that the loops were in line with
each other on each side of the bunghole. They were then lowered
overboard, and a long rope rove through all the beckets. When
this was done, the whole number of casks floated end to end,
upright and secure. We towed them ashore to where, by the
skipper's directions, at about fifty yards from high-water mark,
a spring of beautiful water bubbled out of the side of a mass of
rock, losing itself in a deep crevice below. Lovely ferns, rare
orchids, and trailing plants of many kinds surrounded this fairy-
like spot in the wildest profusion, making a tangle of greenery
that we had considerable trouble to clear away. Having done so,
we led a long canvas hose from the spot whence the water flowed
down to the shore where the casks floated. The chief officer,
with great ingenuity, rigged up an arrangement whereby the hose,
which had a square month about a foot wide, was held up to the
rock, saving us the labour of bailing and filling by hand. So we
were able to rest and admire at our ease the wonderful variety of
beautiful plants which grew here so lavishly, unseen by mortal
eye from one year's end to another. I have somewhere read that
the Creator has delight in the beautiful work of His will,
wherever it may be; and that while our egotism wonders at the
waste of beauty, as we call it, there is no waste at all, since
the Infinite Intelligence can dwell with complacency upon the
glories of His handiwork, perfectly fulfilling their appointed

All too soon the pleasant occupation came to an end. The long
row of casks, filled to the brim and tightly bunged, were towed
off by us to the ship, and ranged alongside. A tackle and pair
of "can-hooks " was overhauled to the water and hooked to a cask.
"Hoist away!" And as the cask rose, the beckets that had held it
to the mother-rope were cut, setting it quite free to come on
board, but leaving all the others still secure. In this way we
took in several thousand gallons of water in a few hours, with a
small expenditure of labour, free of cost; whereas, had we gone
into Mayotte or Johanna, the water would have been bad, the price
high, the labour great, with the chances of a bad visitation of
fever in the bargain.

The woodmen had a much more arduous task. The only wood they
could find, without cutting down big trees, which would have
involved far too much labour in cutting up, was a kind of iron-
wood, which, besides being very heavy, was so hard as to take
pieces clean out of their axe-edges, when a blow was struck
directly across the grain. As none of them were experts, the
condition of their tools soon made their work very hard. But
that they had taken several axes in reserve, it is doubtful
whether they would have been able to get sufficient fuel for our
purpose. When they pitched the wood off the rocks into the
harbour, it sank immediately, giving them a great deal of trouble
to fish it up again. Neither could they raft it as intended, but
were compelled to lend it into the boats and make several
journeys to and fro before all they had cut was shipped.
Altogether, I was glad that the wooding had not fallen to my
share. On board the ship fishing had been going on steadily most
of the day by a few hands told off for the purpose. The result
of their sport was splendid, over two hundred-weight of fine fish
of various sorts, but all eatable, having been gathered in.

We lay snugly anchored all night, keeping a bright look-out for
any unwelcome visitors either from land or sea, for the natives
are not to be trusted, neither do the Arab mongrels who cruise
about those waters in their dhows bear any too good a reputation.
We saw none, however, and at daylight we weighed and towed the
ship out to sea with the boats, there being no wind. While busy
at this uninteresting pastime, one of the boats slipped away,
returning presently with a fine turtle, which they had surprised
during his morning's nap. One of the amphibious Portuguese
slipped over the boat's side as she neared the sleeping SPHARGA,
and, diving deep, came up underneath him, seizing with crossed
hands the two hind flippers, and, with a sudden, dexterous twist,
turned the astonished creature over on his back. Thus rendered
helpless, the turtle lay on the surface feebly waving his
flippers, while his captor, gently treading water, held him in
that position till the boat reached the pair and took them on
board. It was a clever feat, neatly executed, as unlike the
clumsy efforts I had before seen made with the same object as
anything could possibly be.

After an hour's tow, we had got a good offing, and a light air
springing up, we returned on board, hoisted the boats, and made
sail to the northward again.

With the exception of the numerous native dhows that crept lazily
about, we saw no vessels as we gradually drew out of the
Mozambique Channel and stood away towards the Line. The part of
the Indian Ocean in which we now found ourselves is much dreaded
by merchantmen, who give it a wide berth on account of the
numerous banks, islets, and dangerous currents with which it
abounds. We, however, seemed quite at home here, pursuing the
even tenor of our usual way without any special precautions being
taken. A bright look-out, we always kept, of course--none of
your drowsy lolling about such as is all too common on the
"fo'lk'sle head" of many a fine ship, when, with lights half
trimmed or not shown at all, she is ploughing along blindly at
twelve knots or so an hour. No; while we were under way during
daylight, four pairs of keen eyes kept incessant vigil a hundred
feet above the deck, noting everything, even to a shoal of small
fish, that crossed within the range of vision. At night we
scarcely moved, but still a vigilant lookout was always kept both
fore and aft, so that it would have been difficult for us to
drift upon a reef unknowingly.

Creeping steadily northward, we passed the Cosmoledo group of
atolls without paying them a visit, which was strange, as, from
their appearance, no better fishing-ground would be likely to
come in our way. They are little known, except to the wandering
fishermen from Reunion and Rodriguez, who roam about these islets
and reefs, seeking anything that may be turned into coin, from
wrecks to turtle, and in nowise particular as to rights of
ownership. When between the Cosmoledos and Astove, the next
island to the northward, we sighted a "solitary" cachalot one
morning just as the day dawned. It was the first for some time
--nearly three weeks--and being all well seasoned to the work
now, we obeyed the call to arms with great alacrity. Our friend
was making a passage, turning neither to the right hand nor the
left as he went. His risings and number of spouts while up, as
well as the time he remained below, were as regular as the
progress of a clock, and could be counted upon with quite as much

Bearing in mind, I suppose, the general character of the whales
we had recently met with, only two boats were lowered to attack
the new-comer, who, all unconscious of our coming, pursued his
leisurely course unheeding.

We got a good weather gage of him, and came flying on as usual
getting two irons planted in fine style. But a surprise awaited
us. As we sheered up into the wind away from him, Louis shouted,
"Fightin' whale, sir; look out for de rush!" Look out, indeed?
Small use in looking out when, hampered as we always were at
first with the unshipping of the mast, we could do next to
nothing to avoid him. Without any of the desperate flounderings
generally indulged in on first feeling the iron, he turned upon
us, and had it not been that he caught sight of the second mate's
boat, which had just arrived, and turned his attentions to her,
there would have been scant chance of any escape for us. Leaping
half out of water, he made direct for our comrades with a vigour
and ferocity marvellous to see, making it a no easy matter for
them to avoid his tremendous rush. Our actions, at no time slow,
were considerably hastened by this display of valour, so that
before he could turn his attentions in our direction we were
ready for him. Then ensued a really big fight, the first, in
fact, of my experience, for none of the other whales had shown
any serious determination to do us an injury, but had devoted all
their energies to attempts at escape. So quick were the
evolutions, and so savage the appearance of this fellow, that
even our veteran mate looked anxious as to the possible result.
Without attempting to "sound," the furious monster kept mostly
below the surface; but whenever he rose, it was either to deliver
a fearful blow with his tail, or, with jaws widespread, to try
and bite one of our boats in half. Well was it for us that he
was severely handicapped by a malformation of the lower jaw. At
a short distance from the throat it turned off nearly at right
angles to his body, the part that thus protruded sideways being
deeply fringed with barnacles, and plated with big limpets.

Had it not been for this impediment, I verily believe he would
have beaten us altogether. As it was, he worked us nearly to
death with his ugly rushes. Once he delivered a sidelong blow
with his tail, which, as we spun round, shore off the two oars on
that side as if they had been carrots. At last the second mate
got fast to him, and then the character of the game changed
again. Apparently unwearied by his previous exertions, he now
started off to windward at top speed, with the two boats sheering
broadly out upon either side of his foaming wake. Doubtless
because he himself was much fatigued, the mate allowed him to run
at his will, without for the time attempting to haul any closer
to him, and very grateful the short rest was to us. But he had
not gone a couple of miles before he turned a complete somersault
in the water, coming up BEHIND us to rush off again in the
opposite direction at undiminished speed. This move was a
startler. For the moment it seemed as if both boats would be
smashed like egg-shells against each other, or else that some of
us would be impaled upon the long lances with which each boat's
bow bristled. By what looked like a handbreadth, we cleared each
other, and the race continued. Up till now we had not succeeded
in getting home a single lance, the foe was becoming warier,
while the strain was certainly telling upon our nerves. So Mr.
Count got out his bomb-gun, shouting at the same time to Mr.
Cruce to do the same. They both hated these weapons, nor ever
used them if they could help it; but what was to be done?

Our chief had hardly got his gun ready, before we came to almost
a dead stop. All, was silent for just a moment; then, with a
roar like a cataract, up sprang the huge creature, head out, jaw
wide open, coming direct for us. As coolly as if on the quarter-
deck, the mate raised his gun, firing the bomb directly down the
great livid cavern of a throat fronting him. Down went that
mountainous head not six inches from us, but with a perfectly
indescribable motion, a tremendous writhe, in fact; up flew the
broad tail in air, and a blow which might have sufficed to stave
in the side of the ship struck the second mate's boat fairly
amidships. It was right before my eyes, not sixty feet away, and
the sight will haunt me to my death. The tub oarsman was the
poor German baker, about whom I have hitherto said nothing,
except to note that he was one of the crew. That awful blow put
an end summarily to all his earthly anxieties. As it shore
obliquely through the centre of the boat, it drove his poor body
right through her timbers--an undistinguishable bundle of what
was an instant before a human being. The other members of the
crew escaped the blow, and the harpooner managed to cut the line,
so that for the present they were safe enough, clinging to the
remains of their boat, unless the whale should choose to rush
across them.

Happily, his rushing was almost over. The bomb fired by Mr.
Count, with such fatal result to poor Bamberger, must have
exploded right in the whale's throat. Whether his previous
titanic efforts had completely exhausted him, or whether the bomb
had broken his massive backbone, I do not know, of course, but he
went into no flurry, dying as peacefully as his course had been
furious. For the first time in my life, I had been face to face
with a violent death, and I was quite stunned with the awfulness
of the experience. Mechanically, as it seemed to me, we obeyed
such orders as were given, but every man's thoughts were with the
shipmate so suddenly dashed from amongst us. We never saw sign
of him again.

While the ship was running down to us, another boat had gone to
rescue the clinging crew of the shattered boat, for the whole
drama had been witnessed from the ship, although they were not
aware of the death of the poor German. When the sad news was
told on board, there was a deep silence, all work being carried
on so quietly that we seemed like a crew of dumb men. With a
sentiment for which I should not have given our grim skipper
credit, the stars and stripes were hoisted half-mast, telling the
silent sky and moaning sea, sole witnesses besides ourselves, of
the sudden departure from among us of our poor shipmate.
We got the whale cut in as usual without any incident worth
mentioning, except that the peculiar shape of the jaw made it an
object of great curiosity to all of us who were new to the whale-
fishing. Such malformations are not very rare. They are
generally thought to occur when the animal is young, and its
bones soft; but whether done in fighting with one another, or in
some more mysterious way, nobody knows. Cases have been known, I
believe, where the deformed whale does not appear to have
suffered from lack of food in consequence of his disability; but
in each of the three instances which have come under my own
notice, such was certainly not the case. These whales were what
is termed by the whalers "dry-skins;" that is, they were in poor
condition, the blubber yielding less than half the usual quantity
of oil. The absence of oil makes it very hard to cut up, and
there is more work in one whale of this kind than in two whose
blubber is rich and soft. Another thing which I have also
noticed is, that these whales were much more difficult to tackle
than others, for each of them gave us something special to
remember them by. But I must not get ahead of my yarn.

The end of the week brought us up to the Aldabra Islands, one of
the puzzles of the world. For here, in these tiny pieces of
earth, surrounded by thousands of miles of sea, the nearest land
a group of islets like unto them, is found the gigantic tortoise,
and in only one other place in the wide world, the Galapagos
group of islands in the South Pacific. How, or by what strange
freak of Dame Nature these curious reptiles, sole survivals of
another age, should come to be found in this lonely spot, is a
deep mystery, and one not likely to he unfolded now. At any
rate, there they are, looking as if some of them might be coeval
with Noah, so venerable and storm-beaten do they appear.

We made the island early on a Sunday morning, and, with the usual
celerity, worked the vessel into the fine harbour, called, from
one of the exploring ships, Euphrates Bay or Harbour. The anchor
down, and everything made snug below and aloft, we were actually
allowed a run ashore free from restraint. I could hardly believe
my ears. We had got so accustomed to our slavery that liberty
was become a mere name; we hardly knew what to do with it when we
got it. However, we soon got used (in a very limited sense) to
being our own masters, and, each following the bent of his
inclinations, set out for a ramble. My companion and I had not
gone far, when we thought we saw one of the boulders, with which
the island was liberally besprinkled, on the move. Running up to
examine it with all the eagerness of children let out of school,
we found it to be one of the inhabitants, a monstrous tortoise.
I had some big turtle around the cays of the Gulf of Mexico, but
this creature dwarfed them all. We had no means of actually
measuring him, and had to keep clear of his formidable-looking
jaws, but roughly, and within the mark, he was four feet long by
two feet six inches wide. Of course he was much more dome-shaped
than the turtle are, and consequently looked a great deal bigger
than a turtle of the same measurement would, besides being much
thicker through. As he was loth to stay with us, we made up our
minds to go with him, for he was evidently making for some
definite spot, by the tracks he was following, which showed
plainly how many years that same road had been used. Well, I
mounted on his back, keeping well astern, out of the reach of
that serious-looking head, which having rather a long neck,
looked as if it might be able to reach round and take a piece out
of a fellow without any trouble. He was perfectly amicable,
continuing his journey as if nothing had happened, and really
getting over the ground at a good rate, considering the bulk and
shape of him. Except for the novelty of the thing, this sort of
ride had nothing to recommend it; so I soon tired of it, and let
him waddle along in peace. By following the tracks aforesaid, we
arrived at a fine stream of water sparkling out of a hillside,
and running down a little ravine. The sides of this gully were
worn quite smooth by the innumerable feet of the tortoises, about
a dozen of which were now quietly crouching at the water's edge,
filling themselves up with the cooling fluid. I did not see the
patriarch upon whom a sailor once reported that he had read the
legend carved, "The Ark, Captain Noah, Ararat for orders";
perhaps he had at last closed his peaceful career. But strange,
and quaint as this exhibition of ancient reptiles was, we had
other and better employment for the limited time at our disposal.
There were innumerable curious things to see, and, unless we were
to run the risk of going on board again and stopping there,
dinner must be obtained. Eggs of various kinds were exceedingly
plentiful; in many places the flats were almost impassable for
sitting birds, mostly "boobies."

But previous experience of boobies' eggs in other places had not
disposed me to seek them where others were to be obtained, and as
I had seen many of the well-known frigate or man-o'-war birds
hovering about, we set out to the other side of the island in
search of the breeding-place.

These peculiar birds are, I think, misnamed. They should be
called pirate or buccaneer birds, from their marauding habits.
Seldom or never do they condescend to fish for themselves,
preferring to hover high in the blue, their tails opening and
closing like a pair of scissors as they hang poised above the
sea. Presently booby--like some honest housewife who has been a-
marketing--comes flapping noisily home, her maw laden with fish
for the chicks. Down comes the black watcher from above with a
swoop like an eagle. Booby puts all she knows into her flight,
but vainly; escape is impossible, so with a despairing shriek she
drops her load. Before it has touched the water the graceful
thief has intercepted it, and soared slowly aloft again, to
repeat the performance as occasion serves.

When we arrived on the outer shore of the island, we found a
large breeding-place of these birds, but totally different to the
haunt of the boobies. The nests, if they might be so called,
being at best a few twigs, were mostly in the hollows of the
rocks, the number of eggs being two to a nest, on an average. The
eggs were nearly as large as a turkey's. But I am reminded of
the range of size among turkeys' eggs, so I must say they were
considerably larger than a small turkey's egg. Their flavour was
most delicate, as much so as the eggs of a moor-fed fowl. We saw
no birds sitting, but here and there the gaunt skeleton forms of
birds, who by reason of sickness or old age were unable to
provide for themselves, and so sat waiting for death, appealed
most mournfully to us. We went up to some of these poor
creatures, and ended their long agony; but there were many of
them that we were obliged to leave to Nature.

We saw no animals larger than a rat, but there were a great many
of those eerie-looking land-crabs, that seemed as if almost
humanly intelligent as they scampered about over the sand or
through the undergrowth, busy about goodness knows what. The
beautiful cocoa-nut palm was plentiful, so much so that I
wondered why there were no settlers to collect "copra," or dried
cocoa-nut, for oil. My West Indian experience came in handy now,
for I was able to climb a lofty tree in native fashion, and cut
down a grand bunch of green nuts, which form one of the most
refreshing and nutritious of foods, as well as a cool and
delicious drink. We had no line with us, so we took off our
belts, which, securely joined together, answered my purpose very
well. With them I made a loop round the tree and myself; then as
I climbed I pushed the loop up with me, so that whenever I wanted
a rest, I had only to lean back in it, keeping my knees against
the trunk, and I was almost as comfortable as if on the ground.

After getting the nuts, we made a fire and roasted some of our
eggs, which, with a biscuit or two, made a delightful meal. Then
we fell asleep under a shady tree, upon some soft moss; nor did
we wake again until nearly time to go on board. A most enjoyable
swim terminated our day's outing, and we returned to the beach
abreast of the ship very pleased with the excursion.

We had no adventures, found no hidden treasure or ferocious
animals, but none the less we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
While we sat waiting for the boat to come and fetch us off, we
saw a couple of good-sized turtle come ashore quite close to us.
We kept perfectly still until we were sure of being able to
intercept them. As soon as they had got far enough away from
their native element, we rushed upon them, and captured them
both, so that when the boat arrived we were not empty-handed. We
had also a "jumper," or blouse, full of eggs, and a couple of
immense bunches of cocoa-nuts. When we got on board we felt quite
happy, and, for the first time since leaving America, we had a
little singing. Shall I be laughed at when I confess that our
musical efforts were confined to Sankey's hymns? Maybe, but I do
not care. Cheap and clap-trap as the music may be, it tasted
"real good," as Abner said, and I am quite sure that that Sunday
night was the best that any of us had spent for a very long time.

A long, sound sleep was terminated at dawn, when we weighed and
stood out through a narrow passage by East Island, which was
quite covered with fine trees--of what kind I do not know, but
they presented a beautiful sight. Myriads of birds hovered
about, busy fishing from the countless schools that rippled the
placid sea. Beneath us, at twenty fathoms, the wonderful

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