THE CRUISE OF THE "CACHALOT"
ROUND THE WORLD AFTER SPERM WHALES
Frank T. Bullen, F.R.G.S.
Miss Emily Hensley
In grateful remembrance of thirty years' constant friendship and practical help this work is affectionately dedicated by her humble pupil.
In the following pages an attempt has been made—it is believed for the first time—to give an account of the cruise of a South Sea whaler from the seaman's standpoint. Two very useful books have been published—both of them over half a century ago—on the same subject; but, being written by the surgeons of whale-ships for scientific purposes, neither of them was interesting to the general reader. ["Narrative of a Whaling Voyage round the Globe," by F Debell Bennett, F.R.C.S. (2 vols). Bentley, London (1840). "The Sperm Whale Fishery," by Thomas Beale, M.R.C.S. London (1835).] They have both been long out of print; but their value to the student of natural history has been, and still is, very great, Dr. Beale's book, in particular, being still the authority on the sperm whale.
This book does not pretend to compete with either of the above valuable works. Its aims is to present to the general reader a simple account of the methods employed, and the dangers met with, in a calling about which the great mass of the public knows absolutely nothing. Pending the advent of some great writer who shall see the wonderful possibilities for literature contained in the world-wide wanderings of the South Sea whale-fishers, the author has endeavoured to summarize his experiences so that they may be read without weariness, and, it is hoped, with profit.
The manifold shortcomings of the work will not, it is trusted, be laid to the account of the subject, than which none more interesting could well be imagined, but to the limitations of the writer, whose long experience of sea life has done little to foster the literary faculty.
One claim may be made with perfect confidence—that if the manner be not all that could be wished, the matter is entirely trustworthy, being compiled from actual observation and experience, and in no case at second-hand. An endeavour has also been made to exclude such matter as is easily obtainable elsewhere—matters of common knowledge and "padding" of any sort—the object not being simply the making of a book, but the record of little-known facts.
Great care has been taken to use no names either of ships or persons, which could, by being identified, give annoyance or pain to any one, as in many cases strong language has been necessary for the expression of opinions.
Finally, the author hopes that, although in no sense exclusively a book for boys, the coming generation may find this volume readable and interesting; and with that desire he offers it confidently, though in all humility, to that great impartial jury, the public.
F.T.B. Dulwich, July, 1897.
CHAPTER I—OUTWARD BOUND Adrift in New Bedford—I get a ship—A motley crowd—"Built by the mile, and cut off as you want 'em"—Mistah Jones—Greenies—Off to sea.
CHAPTER II—PREPARING FOR ACTION Primitive steering-gear—Strange drill—Misery below—Short commons—Goliath rigs the "crow's-nest"—Useful information—Preparing for war—Strange weapons—A boat-load.
CHAPTER III—FISHING BEGINS The cleanliness of a whale-ship—No skulking—Porpoise-fishing—Cannibals—Cooking operations—Boat-drill—A good look-out—"Black-fishing"—Roguery in all trades—Plenty of fresh beef—The nursery of American whalemen.
CHAPTER IV—BAD WEATHER Nautical routine—The first gale—Comfort versus speed—A grand sea-boat—The Sargasso Sea—Natural history pursuits—Dolphin—Unconventional fishing—Rumours of a visit to the Cape Verdes—Babel below—No allowance, but not "full and plenty"—Queer washing—Method of sharing rations—The "slop-shop" opened—Our prospects.
CHAPTER V—ACTUAL WARFARE. OUR FIRST WHALE Premonitions—Discussion on whaling from unknown premisses—I wake in a fright—Sperm whales at last—The war begins—Warning—We get fast—and get loose—In trouble—an uncomfortable situation—No Pity-Only one whale—Rigging the "cutting-stage"—Securing the whale alongside.
CHAPTER VI—"DIRTY WORK FOR CLEAN MONEY" Goliath in trouble—Commence "cutting-in"—A heavy head—A tank of spermaceti—Decks running with oil—A "Patent" mincing-machine—Extensive cooking—Dangerous work—Three tuns of oil—A horrible mess—A thin-skinned monster—A fine mouth of teeth.
CHAPTER VII—GETTING SOUTHWARD Captain Slocum's amenities—Expensive beer—St. Paul's Rocks—"Bonito"—"Showery" weather—Waterspouts—Calms—A friendly finback—A disquisition on whales by Mistah Jones—Flying-fishing.
CHAPTER VIII—ABNER'S WHALE Abner in luck—A big "fish" at last—A feat of endurance—A fighting whale—The sperm whale's food—Ambergris—A good reception—Hard labour—Abner's reward—"Scrimshaw".
CHAPTER IX—OUR FIRST CALLING-PLACE A forced march—Tristan d'Acunha—Visitors—Fresh provisions—A warm welcome—Goliath's turn—a feathered host—Good gear—A rough time—Creeping north—Uncertainty—"Rule of thumb"—navigation—The Mozambique Channel.
CHAPTER X—A VISIT TO SOME STRANGE PLACES Tropical thunderstorms—A "record" day's fishing—Cetacean frivolities—Mistah Jones moralizes—A snug harbour—Wooding and watering—Catching a turtle—Catching a "Tartar"—A violent death—A crooked jaw—Aldabra Island—Primeval inhabitants—A strange steed—"Pirate" birds—Good eggs—Green cocoa-nuts—More turtle—A school of "kogia".
CHAPTER XI—ROUND THE COCOS AND SEYCHELLES We encounter a "cyclone"—A tremendous gust—a foundering ship—To anchor for repairs—The Cocos—Repairing damages—Around the Seychelles—A "milk" sea—A derelict prahu—A ghastly freight—A stagnant sea.
CHAPTER XII—WHICH TREATS OF THE KRAKEN "Eyes and no eyes" at sea—Of big mollusca—The origin of sea-serpent stories—Rediscovery of the "Kraken"—A conflict of monsters—"The insatiable nightmares of the sea"—Spermaceti running to waste—The East Indian maze.
CHAPTER XIII—OFF TO THE JAPAN GROUNDS A whale off Hong Kong—The skipper and his "'bomb-gun"—Injury to the captain—Unwelcome visitors—The heathen Chinee—We get safe off—"Death of Portagee Jim"—The Funeral—The Coast of Japan—Port Lloyd—Meeting of whale-ships.
CHAPTER XIV—LIBERTY DAY—AND AFTER Liberty day—I foregather with a "beach-comber"—A big fight—Goliath on the war-path—A court-martial—Wholesale flogging—a miserable crowd—Quite a fleet of whale-ships—I "raise" a sperm whale—Severe competition—An unfortunate stroke—The skipper distinguishes himself.
CHAPTER XV—WHICH COMES UNCOMFORTABLY NEAR BEING THE LAST I come to grief—Emulating Jonah—Sharing a flurry—A long spell of sick-leave—The whale's "sixth sense"—Off to the Kuriles—Prepare for "bowhead" fishing—The Sea of Okhotsk—Abundant salmon—The "daintiness" of seamen.
CHAPTER XVI—"BOWHEAD" FISHING Difference between whales—Popular ideas exploded—The gentle mysticetus—Very tame work—Fond of tongue—Goliath confides in me—An awful affair—Captain Slocum's death—"Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds"—I am promoted.
CHAPTER XVII—VISIT TO HONOLULU Towards Honolulu—Missionaries and their critics—The happy Kanaka—Honolulu—A pleasant holiday.
CHAPTER XVIII—ON THE "LINE" GROUNDS I get my opportunity—A new harpooner—Feats under the skipper's eye—Two whales on one line—Compliments Heavy towage—A grand haul.
CHAPTER XIX—EDGING SOUTHWARD Monotony—A school of blackfish—A boat ripped in half—A multitude of sharks—A curious backbone—Christmas Day—A novel Christmas dinner—A find of ambergris.
CHAPTER XX—"HUMPBACKING" AT VAU VAU "Gamming" again—a Whitechapel rover—arrive at Vau Vau—Valuable friends—a Sunday ashore—"Hollingside"—The natives at church—Full-dress—Very "mishnally"—Idyllic cruising—Wonderful mother-love—A mighty feast.
CHAPTER XXI—PROGRESS OF THE "HUMPBACK" SEASON A fruitless chase—Placid times—a stirring adventure—a vast cave—Unforeseen company—A night of terror—We provide a feast for the sharks—the death of Abner—An impressive ceremony—an invitation to dinner—Kanaka cookery.
CHAPTER XXII—FAREWELL TO VAU VAU Ignorance of the habits of whales—A terrific encounter—VAE VICTIS—Rewarding our "flems"—We leave Van Vau—The Outward bounder—Sailors' "homes"—A night of horror—Sudden death—Futuna.
CHAPTER XXIII—AT FUTUNA, RECRUITING A fleet of nondescripts—"Tui Tongoa" otherwise Sam—Eager recruits—Devout Catholics—A visit to Sunday Island—A Crusoe family—Their eviction—Maori cabbage—Fine fishing—Away for New Zealand—Sight the "Three Kings"—The Bay of Islands.
CHAPTER XXIV—THE BAY OF ISLANDS AND NEW ZEALAND COAST Sleepy hollow—Wood and water—liberty day—A plea for the sailors' recreation—Our picnic—A a whiff of "May"—A delightful excursion—To the southward again—Wintry weather—Enter Foveaux Straits.
CHAPTER XXV—ON THE SOLANDER GROUNDS Firstfruits of the Solander—An easy catch—Delights of the Solander—Port William—The old CHANCE—"Paddy Gilroy"—Barbarians from the East End—Barracouta-Fishing—Wind-bound—An enormous school of cachalots—Misfortune—A bursting whale—Back on the Solander again—Cutting-in at Port William—Studying anatomy—Badly battered Yankees—Paddy in luck again.
CHAPTER XXVI—PADDY'S LATEST EXPLOIT We try Preservation Inlet—An astounding feat of Paddy Gilroy's.
CHAPTER XXVII—PORT PEGASUS Port Pegasus—Among old acquaintances—"Mutton birds"—Skilled auxiliaries—A gratifying catch—Leave port again—Back to the Solander—A grim escape—Our last whales—Into Port William again—Paddy's assistance—We part with our Kanakas—Sam's plans of conquest.
CHAPTER XXVIII—TO THE BLUFF, AND HOME And last—In high-toned company—Another picnic—Depart from the Bluff—Hey for the Horn!—Among the icebergs—"Scudding"—Favouring trades—A narrow escape from collision—Home at last.
Without attempting the ambitious task of presenting a comprehensive sketch of the origin, rise, and fall of whale-fishing as a whole, it seems necessary to give a brief outline of that portion of the subject bearing upon the theme of the present book before plunging into the first chapter.
This preliminary is the more needed for the reason alluded to in the Preface—the want of knowledge of the subject that is apparent everywhere. The Greenland whale fishery has been so popularized that most people know something about it; the sperm whale fishery still awaits its Scoresby and a like train of imitators and borrowers.
Cachalots, or sperm whales, must have been captured on the coasts of Europe in a desultory way from a very early date, by the incidental allusions to the prime products spermaceti and ambergris which are found in so many ancient writers, Shakespeare's reference—"The sovereign'st thing on earth was parmaceti for an inward bruise"—will be familiar to most people, as well as Milton's mention of the delicacies at Satan's feast—"Grisamber steamed"—not to carry quotation any further.
But in the year 1690 the brave and hardy fishermen of the north-east coasts of North America established that systematic pursuit of the cachalot which has thriven so wonderfully ever since, although it must be confessed that the last few years have witnessed a serious decline in this great branch of trade.
For many years the American colonists completely engrossed this branch of the whale fishery, contentedly leaving to Great Britain and the continental nations the monopoly of the northern or Arctic fisheries, while they cruised the stormy, if milder, seas around their own shores.
For the resultant products, their best customer was the mother country, and a lucrative commerce steadily grew up between the two countries. But when the march of events brought the unfortunate and wholly unnecessary War of Independence, this flourishing trade was the first to suffer, and many of the daring fishermen became our fiercest foes on board their own men-of-war.
The total stoppage of the importation of sperm oil and spermaceti was naturally severely felt in England, for time had not permitted the invention of substitutes. In consequence of this, ten ships were equipped and sent out to the sperm whale fishery from England in 1776, most of them owned by one London firm, the Messrs. Enderby. The next year, in order to encourage the infant enterprise, a Government bounty, graduated from L500 to L1000 per ship, was granted. Under this fostering care the number of ships engaged in the sperm whale fishery progressively increased until 1791, when it attained its maximum.
This method of whaling being quite new to our whalemen, it was necessary, at great cost, to hire American officers and harpooners to instruct them in the ways of dealing with these highly active and dangerous cetacea. Naturally, it was by-and-by found possible to dispense with the services of these auxiliaries; but it must be confessed that the business never seems to have found such favour, or to have been prosecuted with such smartness, among our whalemen as it has by the Americans.
Something of an exotic the trade always was among us, although it did attain considerable proportions at one time. At first the fishing was confined to the Atlantic Ocean; nor for many years was it necessary to go farther afield, as abundance of whales could easily be found.
As, however, the number of ships engaged increased, it was inevitable that the known grounds should become exhausted, and in 1788 Messrs. Enderby's ship, the EMILIA, first ventured round Cape Horn, as the pioneer of a greater trade than ever. The way once pointed out, other ships were not slow to follow, until, in 1819, the British whale-ship SYREN opened up the till then unexplored tract of ocean in the western part of the North Pacific, afterwards familiarly known as the "Coast of Japan." From these teeming waters alone, for many years an average annual catch of 40,000 barrels of oil was taken, which, at the average price of L8 per barrel, will give some idea of the value of the trade generally.
The Australian colonists, early in their career, found the sperm whale fishery easy of access from all their coasts, and especially lucrative. At one time they bade fair to establish a whale fishery that should rival the splendid trade of the Americans; but, like the mother country, they permitted the fishery to decline, so that even bounties could not keep it alive.
Meanwhile, the Americans added to their fleet continually, prospering amazingly. But suddenly the advent of the civil war let loose among those peaceable cruisers the devastating ALABAMA, whose course was marked in some parts of the world by the fires of blazing whale-ships. A great part, of the Geneva award was on this account, although it must be acknowledged that many pseudo-owners were enriched who never owned aught but brazen impudence and influential friends to push their fictitious claims. The real sufferers, seamen especially, in most cases never received any redress whatever.
From this crushing blow the American sperm whale fishery has never fully recovered. When the writer was in the trade, some twenty-two years ago, it was credited with a fleet of between three and four hundred sail; now it may be doubted whether the numbers reach an eighth of that amount. A rigid conservatism of method hinders any revival of the industry, which is practically conducted to-day as it was fifty, or even a hundred years ago; and it is probable that another decade will witness the final extinction of what was once one of the most important maritime industries in the world.
THE CRUISE OF THE "CACHALOT"
CHAPTER I. OUTWARD BOUND
At the age of eighteen, after a sea-experience of six years from the time when I dodged about London streets, a ragged Arab, with wits sharpened by the constant fight for food, I found myself roaming the streets of New Bedford, Massachusetts. How I came to be there, of all places in the world, does not concern this story at all, so I am not going to trouble my readers with it; enough to say that I WAS there, and mighty anxious to get away. Sailor Jack is always hankering for shore when he is at sea, but when he is "outward bound"—that is, when his money is all gone—he is like a cat in the rain there.
So as MY money was all gone, I was hungry for a ship; and when a long, keen-looking man with a goat-like beard, and mouth stained with dry tobacco-juice, hailed me one afternoon at the street-corner, I answered very promptly, scenting a berth. "Lookin' fer a ship, stranger?" said he. "Yes; do you want a hand?" said I, anxiously. He made a funny little sound something like a pony's whinny, then answered, "Wall, I should surmise that I want between fifty and sixty hands, ef yew kin lay me onto 'em; but, kem along, every dreep's a drop, an' yew seem likely enough." With that he turned and led the way until we reached a building around which were gathered one of the most nondescript crowds I had ever seen. There certainly did not appear to be a sailor among them. Not so much by their rig, though that is not a great deal to go by, but by their actions and speech. One thing they all had in common, tobacco chewing but as nearly every male I met with in America did that, it was not much to be noticed. I had hardly done reckoning them up when two or three bustling men came out and shepherded us all energetically into a long, low room, where some form of agreement was read out to us. Sailors are naturally and usually careless about the nature of the "articles" they sign, their chief anxiety being to get to sea, and under somebody's charge. But had I been ever so anxious to know what I was going to sign this time, I could not, for the language might as well have been Chinese for all I understood of it. However, I signed and passed on, engaged to go I knew not where, in some ship I did not know even the name of, in which I was to receive I did not know how much, or how little, for my labour, nor how long I was going to be away. "What a young fool!" I hear somebody say. I quite agree, but there were a good many more in that ship, as in most ships that I have ever sailed in.
From the time we signed the articles, we were never left to ourselves. Truculent-looking men accompanied us to our several boarding-houses, paid our debts for us, finally bringing us by boat to a ship lying out in the bay. As we passed under her stern, I read the name CACHALOT, of New Bedford; but as soon as we ranged alongside, I realized that I was booked for the sailor's horror—a cruise in a whaler. Badly as I wanted to get to sea, I had not bargained for this, and would have run some risks to get ashore again; but they took no chances, so we were all soon aboard. Before going forward, I took a comprehensive glance around, and saw that I was on board of a vessel belonging to a type which has almost disappeared off the face of the waters. A more perfect contrast to the trim-built English clipper-ships that I had been accustomed to I could hardly imagine. She was one of a class characterized by sailors as "built by the mile, and cut off in lengths as you want 'em," bow and stern almost alike, masts standing straight as broomsticks, and bowsprit soaring upwards at an angle of about forty-five degrees. She was as old-fashioned in her rig as in her hull; but I must not go into the technical differences between rigs, for fear of making myself tedious. Right in the centre of the deck, occupying a space of about ten feet by eight, was a square erection of brickwork, upon which my wondering gaze rested longest, for I had not the slightest idea what it could be. But I was rudely roused from my meditations by the harsh voice of one of the officers, who shouted, "Naow then, git below an' stow yer dunnage, 'n look lively up agin." I took the broad hint, and shouldering my traps, hurried forward to the fo'lk'sle, which was below deck. Tumbling down the steep ladder, I entered the gloomy den which was to be for so long my home, finding it fairly packed with my shipmates. A motley crowd they were. I had been used in English ships to considerable variety of nationality; but here were gathered, not only the representatives of five or six nations, but 'long-shoremen of all kinds, half of whom had hardly ever set eyes on a ship before! The whole space was undivided by partition, but I saw at once that black men and white had separated themselves, the blacks taking the port side and the whites the starboard. Finding a vacant bunk by the dim glimmer of the ancient teapot lamp that hung amidships, giving out as much smoke as light, I hurriedly shifted my coat for a "jumper" or blouse, put on an old cap, and climbed into the fresh air again. For a double reason, even MY seasoned head was feeling bad with the villainous reek of the place, and I did not want any of those hard-featured officers on deck to have any cause to complain of my "hanging back." On board ship, especially American ships, the first requisite for a sailor who wants to be treated properly is to "show willing," any suspicion of slackness being noted immediately, and the backward one marked accordingly. I had hardly reached the deck when I was confronted by a negro, the biggest I ever saw in, my life. He looked me up and down for a moment, then opening his ebony features in a wide smile, he said, "Great snakes! why, here's a sailor man for sure! Guess thet's so, ain't it, Johnny?" I said "yes" very curtly, for I hardly liked his patronizing air; but he snapped me up short with "yes, SIR, when yew speak to me, yew blank lime-juicer. I'se de fourf mate ob dis yar ship, en my name's Mistah Jones, 'n yew, jest freeze on to dat ar, ef yew want ter lib long'n die happy. See, sonny." I SAW, and answered promptly, "I beg your pardon, sir, I didn't know." "Ob cawse yew didn't know, dat's all right, little Britisher; naow jest skip aloft 'n loose dat fore-taupsle." "Aye, aye, sir," I answered cheerily, springing at once into the fore-rigging and up the ratlines like a monkey, but not too fast to hear him chuckle, "Dat's a smart kiddy, I bet." I had the big sail loose in double quick time, and sung out "All gone, the fore-taupsle," before any of the other sails were adrift. "Loose the to-gantsle and staysles" came up from below in a voice like thunder, and I bounded up higher to my task. On deck I could see a crowd at the windlass heaving up anchor. I said to myself, "They don't waste any time getting this packet away." Evidently they were not anxious to test any of the crew's swimming powers. They were wise, for had she remained at anchor that night I verily believe some of the poor wretches would have tried to escape.
The anchor came aweigh, the sails were sheeted home, and I returned on deck to find the ship gathering way for the heads, fairly started on her long voyage.
What a bear-garden the deck was, to be sure! The black portion of the crew—Portuguese natives from the Western and Canary Islands—were doing their work all right in a clumsy fashion; but the farmers, and bakers, and draymen were being driven about mercilessly amid a perfect hurricane of profanity and blows. And right here I must say that, accustomed as I had always been to bad language all my life, what I now heard was a revelation to me. I would not, if I could, attempt to give a sample of it, but it must be understood that it was incessant throughout the voyage. No order could be given without it, under the impression, apparently, that the more curses the more speed.
Before nightfall we were fairly out to sea, and the ceremony of dividing the crew into watches was gone through. I found myself in the chief mate's or "port" watch (they called it "larboard," a term I had never heard used before, it having long been obsolete in merchant ships), though the huge negro fourth mate seemed none too well pleased that I was not under his command, his being the starboard watch under the second mate.
As night fell, the condition of the "greenies," or non-sailor portion of the crew, was pitiable. Helpless from sea-sickness, not knowing where to go or what to do, bullied relentlessly by the ruthless petty officers—well, I never felt so sorry for a lot of men in my life. Glad enough I was to get below into the fo'lk'sle for supper, and a brief rest and respite from that cruelty on deck. A bit of salt junk and a piece of bread, i.e. biscuit, flinty as a pantile, with a pot of something sweetened with "longlick" (molasses), made an apology for a meal, and I turned in. In a very few minutes oblivion came, making me as happy as any man can be in this world.
CHAPTER II. PREPARING FOR ACTION
The hideous noise always considered necessary in those ships when calling the watch, roused me effectively at midnight, "eight bells." I hurried on deck, fully aware that no leisurely ten minutes would be allowed here. "Lay aft the watch," saluted me as I emerged into the keen strong air, quickening my pace according to where the mate stood waiting to muster his men. As soon as he saw me, he said, "Can you steer?" in a mocking tone; but when I quietly answered, "Yes, sir," his look of astonishment was delightful to see. He choked it down, however, and merely telling me to take the wheel, turned forrard roaring frantically for his watch. I had no time to chuckle over what I knew was in store for him, getting those poor greenies collected from their several holes and corners, for on taking the wheel I found a machine under my hands such as I never even heard of before.
The wheel was fixed upon the tiller in such a manner that the whole concern travelled backwards and forwards across the deck in the maddest kind of way. For the first quarter of an hour, in spite of the September chill, the sweat poured off me in streams. And the course—well, if was not steering, it was sculling; the old bumboat was wobbling all around like a drunken tailor with two left legs. I fairly shook with apprehension lest the mate should come and look in the compass. I had been accustomed to hard words if I did not steer within half a point each way; but here was a "gadget" that worked me to death, the result being a wake like a letter S. Gradually I got the hang of the thing, becoming easier in my mind on my own account. Even that was not an unmixed blessing, for I had now some leisure to listen to the goings-on around the deck.
Such brutality I never witnessed before. On board of English ships (except men-of-war) there is practically no discipline, which is bad, but this sort of thing was maddening. I knew how desperately ill all those poor wretches were, how helpless and awkward they would be if quite hale and hearty; but there was absolutely no pity for them, the officers seemed to be incapable of any feelings of compassion whatever. My heart sank within me as I thought of what lay before me, although I did not fear that their treatment would also be mine, since I was at least able to do my duty, and willing to work hard to keep out of trouble. Then I began to wonder what sort of voyage I was in for, how long it would last, and what my earnings were likely to be, none of which things I had the faintest idea of.
Fortunately, I was alone in the world. No one, as far as I knew, cared a straw what became of me; so that I was spared any worry on that head. And I had also a very definite and well-established trust in God, which I can now look back and see was as fully justified as I then believed it to be. So, as I could not shut my ears to the cruelties being carried on, nor banish thought by hard work, I looked up to the stately stars, thinking of things not to be talked about without being suspected of cant. So swiftly passed the time that when four bells struck: (two o'clock) I could hardly believe my ears.
I was relieved by one of the Portuguese, and went forward to witness a curious scene. Seven stalwart men were being compelled to march up and down on that tumbling deck, men who had never before trodden anything less solid than the earth.
The third mate, a waspish, spiteful little Yankee with a face like an angry cat, strolled about among them, a strand of rope-yarns in his hand, which he wielded constantly, regardless where he struck a man. They fell about, sometimes four or five at once, and his blows flew thick and fast, yet he never seemed to weary of his ill-doing. It made me quite sick, and I longed to be aft at the wheel again. Catching sight of me standing irresolute as to what I had better do, he ordered me on the "look-out," a tiny platform between the "knight heads," just where the bowsprit joins the ship. Gladly I obeyed him, and perched up there looking over the wide sea, the time passed quickly away until eight bells (four o'clock) terminated my watch. I must pass rapidly over the condition of things in the fo'lk'sle, where all the greenies that were allowed below, were groaning in misery from the stifling atmosphere which made their sickness so much worse, while even that dreadful place was preferable to what awaited them on deck. There was a rainbow-coloured halo round the flame of the lamp, showing how very bad the air was; but in spite of that I turned in and slept soundly till seven bells (7.20 a.m.) roused us to breakfast.
American ships generally have an excellent name for the way they feed their crews, but the whalers are a notable exception to that good rule. The food was really worse than that on board any English ship I have ever sailed in, so scanty also in quantity that it kept all the foremast hands at starvation point. But grumbling was dangerous, so I gulped down the dirty mixture mis-named coffee, ate a few fragments of biscuit, and filled up (?) with a smoke, as many better men are doing this morning. As the bell struck I hurried on deck—not one moment too soon—for as I stepped out of the scuttle I saw the third mate coming forward with a glitter in his eye that boded no good to laggards.
Before going any farther I must apologize for using so many capital I's, but up till the present I had been the only available white member of the crew forrard.
The decks were scrubbed spotlessly clean, and everything was neat and tidy as on board a man-of-war, contrary to all usual notions of the condition of a whaler. The mate was in a state of high activity, so I soon found myself very busily engaged in getting up whale-lines, harpoons, and all the varied equipment for the pursuit of whales. The number of officers carried would have been a good crew for the ship, the complete afterguard comprising captain, four mates, four harpooners or boat-steerers, carpenter, cooper, steward and cook. All these worthies were on deck and working with might and main at the preparations, so that the incompetence of the crowd forrard was little hindrance. I was pounced upon by "Mistah" Jones, the fourth mate, whom I heard addressed familiarly as "Goliath" and "Anak" by his brother officers, and ordered to assist him in rigging the "crow's-nest" at the main royal-mast head. It was a simple affair. There were a pair of cross-trees fitted to the mast, upon which was secured a tiny platform about a foot wide on each side of the mast, while above this foothold a couple of padded hoops like a pair of giant spectacles were secured at a little higher than a man's waist. When all was fast one could creep up on the platform, through the hoop, and, resting his arms upon the latter, stand comfortably and gaze around, no matter how vigorously the old barky plunged and kicked beneath him. From that lofty eyrie I had a comprehensive view of the vessel. She was about 350 tons and full ship-rigged, that is to say, she carried square sails on all three masts. Her deck was flush fore and aft, the only obstructions being the brick-built "try-works" in the waist, the galley, and cabin skylight right aft by the taffrail. Her bulwarks were set thickly round with clumsy looking wooden cranes, from which depended five boats. Two more boats were secured bottom up upon a gallows aft, so she seemed to be well supplied in that direction. Mistah Jones, finding I did not presume upon his condescension, gradually unbent and furnished me with many interesting facts about the officers. Captain Slocum, he said, was "de debbil hisself, so jess yew keeps yer lamps trim' fer him, sonny, taint helthy ter rile him." The first officer, or the mate as he is always called PAR EXCELLENCE, was an older man than the captain, but a good seaman, a good whaleman, and a gentleman. Which combination I found to be a fact, although hard to believe possible at the time. The second mate was a Portuguese about forty years of age, with a face like one of Vandyke's cavaliers, but as I now learned, a perfect fiend when angered. He also was a first-class whaleman, but an indifferent seaman. The third mate was nothing much but bad temper—not much sailor, nor much whaler, generally in hot water with the skipper, who hated him because he was an "owner's man." "An de fourf mate," wound up the narrator, straightening his huge bulk, "am de bes' man in de ship, and de bigges'. Dey aint no whalemen in Noo Bedford caynt teach ME nuffin, en ef it comes ter man-handlin'; w'y I jes' pick 'em two't a time 'n crack 'em togerrer like so, see!" and he smote the palms of his great paws against each other, while I nodded complete assent.
The weather being fine, with a steady N.E. wind blowing, so that the sails required no attention, work proceeded steadily all the morning. The oars were sorted, examined for flaws, and placed in the boats; the whale-line, manilla rope like yellow silk, 1 1/2 inch round, was brought on deck, stretched and coiled down with the greatest care into tubs, holding, some 200 fathoms, and others 100 fathoms each. New harpoons were fitted to poles of rough but heavy wood, without any attempt at neatness, but every attention to strength. The shape of these weapons was not, as is generally thought, that of an arrow, but rather like an arrow with one huge barb, the upper part of which curved out from the shaft. The whole of the barb turned on a stout pivot of steel, but was kept in line with the shaft by a tiny wooden peg which passed through barb and shaft, being then cut off smoothly on both sides. The point of the harpoon had at one side a wedge-shaped edge, ground to razor keenness, the other side was flat. The shaft, about thirty inches long, was of the best malleable iron, so soft that it would tie into a knot and straighten out again without fracture. Three harpoons, or "irons" as they were always called, were placed in each boat, fitted one above the other in the starboard bow, the first for use being always one unused before, Opposite to them in the boat were fitted three lances for the purpose of KILLING whales, the harpoons being only the means by which the boat was attached to a fish, and quite useless to inflict a fatal wound. These lances were slender spears of malleable iron about four feet long, with oval or heart-shaped points of fine steel about two inches broad, their edges kept keen as a surgeon's lancet. By means of a socket at the other end they were attached to neat handles, or "lance-poles," about as long again, the whole weapon being thus about eight feet in length, and furnished with a light line, or "lance-warp," for the purpose of drawing it back again when it had been darted at a whale.
Each boat was fitted with a centre-board, or sliding keel, which was drawn up, when not in use, into a case standing in the boat's middle, very much in the way. But the American whalemen regard these clumsy contrivances as indispensable, so there's an end on't. The other furniture of a boat comprised five oars of varying lengths from sixteen to nine feet, one great steering oar of nineteen feet, a mast and two sails of great area for so small a craft, spritsail shape; two tubs of whale-line containing together 1800 feet, a keg of drinking water, and another long narrow one with a few biscuits, a lantern, candles and matches therein; a bucket and "piggin" for baling, a small spade, a flag or "wheft," a shoulder bomb-gun and ammunition, two knives and two small axes. A rudder hung outside by the stern.
With all this gear, although snugly stowed, a boat looked so loaded that I could not help wondering how six men would be able to work in her; but like most "deep-water" sailors, I knew very little about boating. I was going to learn.
All this work and bustle of preparation was so rapidly carried on, and so interesting, that before supper-time everything was in readiness to commence operations, the time having gone so swiftly that I could hardly believe the bell when it sounded four times, six o'clock.
CHAPTER III. FISHING BEGINS
During all the bustle of warlike preparation that had been going on, the greenhorns had not suffered from inattention on the part of those appointed to look after them. Happily for them, the wind blew steadily, and the weather, thanks to the balmy influence of the Gulf Stream, was quite mild and genial. The ship was undoubtedly lively, as all good sea-boats are, but her motions were by no means so detestable to a sea-sick man as those of a driving steamer. So, in spite of their treatment, perhaps because of it, some of the poor fellows were beginning to take hold of things "man-fashion," although of course sea legs they had none, their getting about being indeed a pilgrimage of pain. Some of them were beginning to try the dreadful "grub" (I cannot libel "food" by using it in such a connection), thereby showing that their interest in life, even such a life as was now before them, was returning. They had all been allotted places in the various boats, intermixed with the seasoned Portuguese in such a way that the officer and harpooner in charge would not be dependant upon them entirely in case of a sudden emergency. Every endeavour was undoubtedly made to instruct them in their duties, albeit the teachers were all too apt to beat their information in with anything that came to hand, and persuasion found no place in their methods.
The reports I had always heard of the laziness prevailing on board whale-ships were now abundantly falsified. From dawn to dark work went on without cessation. Everything was rubbed and scrubbed and scoured until no speck or soil could be found; indeed, no gentleman's yacht or man-of-war is kept more spotlessly clean than was the CACHALOT.
A regular and severe routine of labour was kept up; and, what was most galling to me, instead of a regular four hours' watch on and off, night and day, all hands were kept on deck the whole day long, doing quite unnecessary tasks, apparently with the object of preventing too much leisure and consequent brooding over their unhappy lot. One result of this continual drive and tear was that all these landsmen became rapidly imbued with the virtues of cleanliness, which was extended to the den in which we lived, or I verily believe sickness would have soon thinned us out.
On the fourth day after leaving port we were all busy as usual except the four men in the "crow's-nests," when a sudden cry of "Porps! porps!" brought everything to a standstill. A large school of porpoises had just joined us, in their usual clownish fashion, rolling and tumbling around the bows as the old barky wallowed along, surrounded by a wide ellipse of snowy foam. All work was instantly suspended, and active preparations made for securing a few of these frolicsome fellows. A "block," or pulley, was hung out at the bowsprit end, a whale-line passed through it and "bent" (fastened) on to a harpoon. Another line with a running "bowline," or slip-noose, was also passed out to the bowsprit end, being held there by one man in readiness. Then one of the harpooners ran out along the backropes, which keep the jib-boom down, taking his stand beneath the bowsprit with the harpoon ready. Presently he raised his iron and followed the track of a rising porpoise with its point until the creature broke water. At the same instant the weapon left his grasp, apparently without any force behind it; but we on deck, holding the line, soon found that our excited hauling lifted a big vibrating body clean out of the smother beneath. "'Vast hauling!" shouted the mate, while as the porpoise hung dangling, the harpooner slipped the ready bowline over his body, gently closing its grip round the "small" by the broad tail. Then we hauled on the noose-line, slacking away the harpoon, and in a minute had our prize on deck. He was dragged away at once and the operation repeated. Again and again we hauled them in, until the fore part of the deck was alive with the kicking, writhing sea-pigs, at least twenty of them. I had seen an occasional porpoise caught at sea before, but never more than one at a time. Here, however, was a wholesale catch. At last one of the harpooned ones plunged so furiously while being hauled up that he literally tore himself off the iron, falling, streaming with blood, back into the sea.
Away went all the school after him, tearing at him with their long well-toothed jaws, some of them leaping high in the air in their eagerness to get their due share of the cannibal feast. Our fishing was over for that time. Meanwhile one of the harpooners had brought out a number of knives, with which all hands were soon busy skinning the blubber from the bodies. Porpoises have no skin, that is hide, the blubber or coating of lard which encases them being covered by a black substance as thin as tissue paper. The porpoise hide of the boot maker is really leather, made from the skin of the BELUGA, or "white whale," which is found only in the far north. The cover was removed from the "tryworks" amidships, revealing two gigantic pots set in a frame of brickwork side by side, capable of holding 200 gallons each. Such a cooking apparatus as might have graced a Brobdingnagian kitchen. Beneath the pots was the very simplest of furnaces, hardly as elaborate as the familiar copper-hole sacred to washing day. Square funnels of sheet-iron were loosely fitted to the flues, more as a protection against the oil boiling over into the fire than to carry away the smoke, of which from the peculiar nature of the fuel there was very little. At one side of the try-works was a large wooden vessel, or "hopper," to contain the raw blubber; at the other, a copper cistern or cooler of about 300 gallons capacity, into which the prepared oil was baled to cool off, preliminary to its being poured into the casks. Beneath the furnaces was a space as large as the whole area of the try-works, about a foot deep, which, when the fires were lighted, was filled with water to prevent the deck from burning.
It may be imagined that the blubber from our twenty porpoises made but a poor show in one of the pots; nevertheless, we got a barrel of very excellent oil from them. The fires were fed with "scrap," or pieces of blubber from which the oil had been boiled, some of which had been reserved from the previous voyage. They burnt with a fierce and steady blaze, leaving but a trace of ash. I was then informed by one of the harpooners that no other fuel was ever used for boiling blubber at any time, there being always amply sufficient for the purpose.
The most interesting part of the whole business, though, to us poor half-starved wretches, was the plentiful supply of fresh meat. Porpoise beef is, when decently cooked, fairly good eating to a landsman; judge, then, what it must have been to us. Of course the tit-bits, such as the liver, kidneys, brains, etc., could not possibly fall to our lot; but we did not complain, we were too thankful to get something eatable, and enough of it. Moreover, although few sailors in English ships know it, porpoise beef improves vastly by keeping, getting tenderer every day the longer it hangs, until at last it becomes as tasty a viand as one could wish to dine upon. It was a good job for us that this was the case, for while the porpoises lasted the "harness casks," or salt beef receptacles, were kept locked; so if any man had felt unable to eat porpoise—well, there was no compulsion, he could go hungry.
We were now in the haunts of the Sperm Whale, or "Cachalot," a brilliant look-out being continually kept for any signs of their appearing. One officer and a foremast hand were continually on watch during the day in the main crow's-nest, one harpooner and a seaman in the fore one. A bounty of ten pounds of tobacco was offered to whoever should first report a whale, should it be secured, consequently there were no sleepy eyes up there. Of course none of those who were inexperienced stood much chance against the eagle-eyed Portuguese; but all tried their best, in the hope of perhaps winning some little favour from their hard taskmasters. Every evening at sunset it was "all hands shorten sail," the constant drill rapidly teaching even these clumsy landsmen how to find their way aloft, and do something else besides hold on to anything like grim death when they got there.
At last, one beautiful day, the boats were lowered and manned, and away went the greenies on their first practical lesson in the business of the voyage. As before noticed, there were two greenies in each boat, they being so arranged that whenever one of them "caught a crab," which of course was about every other stroke, his failure made little difference to the boat's progress. They learned very fast under the terrible imprecations and storm of blows from the iron-fisted and iron-hearted officers, so that before the day was out the skipper was satisfied of our ability to deal with a "fish" should he be lucky enough to "raise" one. I was, in virtue of my experience, placed at the after-oar in the mate's boat, where it was my duty to attend to the "main sheet" when the sail was set, where also I had the benefit of the lightest oar except the small one used by the harpooner in the bow.
The very next day after our first exhaustive boat drill, a school of "Black Fish" was reported from aloft, with great glee the officers prepared for what they considered a rattling day's fun.
The Black Fish (PHOCAENA SP.) is a small toothed whale, not at all unlike a miniature cachalot, except that its head is rounded at the front, while its jaw is not long and straight, but bowed. It is as frolicsome as the porpoise, gambolling about in schools of from twenty to fifty or more, as if really delighted to be alive. Its average size is from ten to twenty feet long, and seven or eight feet in girth, weight from one to three tons. Blubber about three inches thick, while the head is almost all oil, so that a good rich specimen will make between one and two barrels of oil of medium quality.
The school we were now in sight of was of middling size and about average weight of individuals, and the officers esteemed it a fortunate circumstance that we should happen across them as a sort of preliminary to our tackling the monarchs of the deep.
All the new harpoons were unshipped from the boats, and a couple of extra "second" irons, as those that have been used are called, were put into each boat for use if wanted. The sails were also left on board. We lowered and left the ship, pulling right towards the school, the noise they were making in their fun effectually preventing them from hearing our approach. It is etiquette to allow the mate's boat first place, unless his crew is so weak as to be unable to hold their own; but as the mate always has first pick of the men this seldom happens. So, as usual, we were first, and soon I heard the order given, "Stand up, Louey, and let 'em have it!" Sure enough, here we were right among them. Louis let drive, "fastening" a whopper about twenty feet long. The injured animal plunged madly forward, accompanied by his fellows, while Louis calmly bent another iron to a "short warp," or piece of whale-line, the loose end of which he made a bowline with around the main line which was fast to the "fish." Then he fastened another "fish," and the queer sight was seen of these two monsters each trying to flee in opposite directions, while the second one ranged about alarmingly as his "bridle" ran along the main line. Another one was secured in the same way, then the game was indeed great. The school had by this time taken the alarm and cleared out, but the other boats were all fast to fish, so that didn't matter. Now, at the rate our "game" were going it would evidently be a long while before they died, although, being so much smaller than a whale proper, a harpoon will often kill them at a stroke. Yet they were now so tangled or "snarled erp," as the mate said, that it was no easy matter to lance them without great danger of cutting the line. However, we hauled up as close to them as we dared, and the harpooner got a good blow in, which gave the biggest of the three "Jesse," as he said, though why "Jesse" was a stumper. Anyhow, it killed him promptly, while almost directly after another one saved further trouble by passing in his own checks. But he sank at the same time, drawing the first one down with him, so that we were in considerable danger of having to cut them adrift or be swamped. The "wheft" was waved thrice as an urgent signal to the ship to come to our assistance with all speed, but in the meantime our interest lay in the surviving Black Fish keeping alive. Should HE die, and, as was most probable, sink, we should certainly have to cut and lose the lot, tools included.
We waited in grim silence while the ship came up, so slowly, apparently, that she hardly seemed to move, but really at a good pace of about four knots an hour, which for her was not at all bad. She got alongside of us at last, and we passed up the bight of our line, our fish all safe, very much pleased with ourselves, especially when we found that the other boats had only five between the three of them.
The fish secured to the ship, all the boats were hoisted except one, which remained alongside to sling the bodies. During our absence the ship-keepers had been busy rigging one of the cutting falls, an immense fourfold tackle from the main lowermast-head, of four-inch rope through great double blocks, large as those used at dockyards for lifting ships' masts and boilers. Chain-slings were passed around the carcases, which gripped the animal at the "small," being prevented from slipping off by the broad spread of the tail. The end of the "fall," or tackle-rope, was then taken to the windlass, and we hove away cheerily, lifting the monsters right on deck. A mountainous pile they made. A short spell was allowed, when the whole eight were on board, for dinner; then all hands turned to again to "flench" the blubber, and prepare for trying-out. This was a heavy job, keeping all hands busy until it was quite dark, the latter part of the work being carried on by the light of a "cresset," the flames of which were fed with "scrap," which blazed brilliantly, throwing a big glare over all the ship. The last of the carcases was launched overboard by about eight o'clock that evening, but not before some vast junks of beef had been cut off and hung up in the rigging for our food supply.
The try-works were started again, "trying-out" going on busily all night, watch and watch taking their turn at keeping the pots supplied with minced blubber. The work was heavy, while the energetic way in which it was carried on made us all glad to take what rest was allowed us, which was scanty enough, as usual.
By nightfall the next day the ship had resumed her normal appearance, and we were a tun and a quarter of oil to the good. Black Fish oil is of medium quality, but I learned that, according to the rule of "roguery in all trades," it was the custom to mix quantities such as we had just obtained with better class whale-oil, and thus get a much higher price than it was really worth.
Up till this time we had no sort of an idea as to where our first objective might be, but from scraps of conversation I had overheard among the harpooners, I gathered that we were making for the Cape Verde Islands or the Acores, in the vicinity of which a good number of moderate-sized sperm whales are often to be found. In fact, these islands have long been a nursery for whale-fishers, because the cachalot loves their steep-to shores, and the hardy natives, whenever and wherever they can muster a boat and a little gear, are always ready to sally forth and attack the unwary whale that ventures within their ken. Consequently more than half of the total crews of the American whaling fleet are composed of these islanders. Many of them have risen to the position of captain, and still more are officers and harpooners; but though undoubtedly brave and enterprising, they are cruel and treacherous, and in positions of authority over men of Teutonic or Anglo-Saxon origin, are apt to treat their subordinates with great cruelty.
CHAPTER IV. BAD WEATHER
Nautical routine in its essential details is much the same in all ships, whether naval, merchant, or whaling vessels. But while in the ordinary merchantman there are decidedly "no more cats than can catch mice," hardly, indeed, sufficient for all the mousing that should be done, in men-of-war and whaleships the number of hands carried, being far more than are wanted for everyday work, must needs be kept at unnecessary duties in order that they may not grow lazy and discontented.
For instance, in the CACHALOT we carried a crew of thirty-seven all told, of which twenty-four were men before the mast, or common seamen, our tonnage being under 400 tons. Many a splendid clipper-ship carrying an enormous spread of canvas on four masts, and not overloaded with 2500 tons of cargo on board, carries twenty-eight or thirty all told, or even less than that. As far as we were concerned, the result of this was that our landsmen got so thoroughly drilled, that within a week of leaving port they hardly knew themselves for the clumsy clodhoppers they at first appeared to be.
We had now been eight days out, and in our leisurely way were making fair progress across the Atlantic, having had nothing, so far, but steady breezes and fine weather. As it was late autumn the first week in October—I rather wondered at this, for even in my brief experience I had learned to dread a "fall" voyage across the "Western Ocean."
Gradually the face of the sky changed, and the feel of the air, from balmy and genial, became raw and cheerless. The little wave tops broke short off and blew backwards, apparently against the wind, while the old vessel had an uneasy, unnatural motion, caused by a long, new swell rolling athwart the existing set of the sea. Then the wind became fitful and changeable, backing half round the compass, and veering forward again as much in an hour, until at last in one tremendous squall it settled in the N.W. for a business-like blow, Unlike the hurried merchantman who must needs "hang on" till the last minute, only shortening the sail when absolutely compelled to do so, and at the first sign of the gales relenting, piling it on again, we were all snug long before the storm burst upon us, and now rode comfortably under the tiniest of storm staysails.
We were evidently in for a fair specimen of Western Ocean weather, but the clumsy-looking, old-fashioned CACHALOT made no more fuss over it than one of the long-winged sea-birds that floated around, intent only upon snapping up any stray scraps that might escape from us. Higher rose the wind, heavier rolled the sea, yet never a drop of water did we ship, nor did anything about the deck betoken what a heavy gale was blowing. During the worst of the weather, and just after the wind had shifted back into the N.E., making an uglier cross sea than ever get up, along comes an immense four-masted iron ship homeward bound. She was staggering under a veritable mountain of canvas, fairly burying her bows in the foam at every forward drive, and actually wetting the clews of the upper topsails in the smothering masses of spray, that every few minutes almost hid her hull from sight.
It was a splendid picture; but—for the time—I felt glad I was not on board of her. In a very few minutes she was out of our ken, followed by the admiration of all. Then came, from the other direction, a huge steamship, taking no more notice of the gale than as if it were calm. Straight through the sea she rushed, dividing the mighty rollers to the heart, and often bestriding three seas at once, the centre one spreading its many tons of foaming water fore and aft, so that from every orifice spouted the seething brine. Compared with these greyhounds of the wave, we resembled nothing so much as some old lightship bobbing serenely around, as if part and parcel of the mid-Atlantic.
Our greenies were getting so well seasoned by this time that even this rough weather did not knock any of them over, and from that time forward they had no more trouble from sea-sickness.
The gale gradually blew itself out, leaving behind only a long and very heavy swell to denote the deep-reaching disturbance that the ocean had endured. And now we were within the range of the Sargasso Weed, that mysterious FUCUS that makes the ocean look. like some vast hayfield, and keeps the sea from rising, no matter how high the wind. It fell a dead calm, and the harpooners amused themselves by dredging up great masses of the weed, and turning out the many strange creatures abiding therein. What a world of wonderful life the weed is, to be sure! In it the flying fish spawn and the tiny cuttle-fish breed, both of them preparing bounteous provision for the larger denizens of the deep that have no other food. Myriads of tiny crabs and innumerable specimens of less-known shell-fish, small fish of species as yet unclassified in any work on natural history, with jelly-fish of every conceivable and inconceivable shape, form part of this great and populous country in the sea. At one haul there was brought on board a mass of flying-fish spawn, about ten pounds in weight, looking like nothing so much as a pile of ripe white currants, and clinging together in a very similar manner.
Such masses of ova I had often seen cast up among the outlying rocks on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, when as a shipwrecked lad I wandered idly about unburying turtle eggs from their snug beds in the warm sand, and chasing the many-hued coral fish from one hiding-place to another.
While loitering in these smooth waters, waiting for the laggard wind, up came a shoal of dolphin, ready as at all times to attach themselves for awhile to the ship. Nothing is more singular than the manner in which deep-sea fish will accompany a vessel that is not going too fast—sometimes for days at a time. Most convenient too, and providing hungry Jack with many a fresh mess he would otherwise have missed. Of all these friendly fish, none is better known than the "dolphin," as from long usage sailors persist in calling them, and will doubtless do so until the end of the chapter. For the true dolphin (DELPHINIDAE) is not a fish at all, but a mammal a warm-blooded creature that suckles its young, and in its most familiar form is known to most people as the porpoise. The sailor's "dolphin," on the other hand, is a veritable fish, with vertical tail fin instead of the horizontal one which distinguishes all the whale family, scales and gills.
It is well known to literature, under its sea-name, for its marvellous brilliancy of colour, and there are few objects more dazzling than a dolphin leaping out of a calm sea into the sunshine. The beauty of a dying dolphin, however, though sanctioned by many generations of writers, is a delusion, all the glory of the fish departing as soon as he is withdrawn from his native element.
But this habit of digression grows upon one, and I must do my best to check it, or I shall never get through my task.
To resume then: when this school of dolphin (I can't for the life of me call them CORIPHAENA HIPPURIS) came alongside, a rush was made for the "granes"—a sort of five-pronged trident, if I may be allowed a baby bull. It was universally agreed among the fishermen that trying a hook and line was only waste of time and provocative of profanity! since every sailor knows that all the deep-water big fish require a living or apparently living bait. The fish, however, sheered off, and would not be tempted within reach of that deadly fork by any lure. Then did I cover myself with glory. For he who can fish cleverly and luckily may be sure of fairly good times in a whaler, although he may be no great things at any other work. I had a line of my own, and begging one of the small fish that had been hauled up in the Gulf weed, I got permission to go aft and fish over the taffrail. The little fish was carefully secured on the hook, the point of which just protruded near his tail. Then I lowered him into the calm blue waters beneath, and paid out line very gently, until my bait was a silvery spot about a hundred feet astern. Only a very short time, and my hopes rose as I saw one bright gleam after another glide past the keel, heading aft. Then came a gentle drawing at the line, which I suffered to slip slowly through my fingers until I judged it time to try whether I was right or wrong, A long hard pull, and my heart beat fast as I felt the thrill along the line that fishermen love. None of your high art here, but haul in hand over hand, the line being strong enough to land a 250 pound fish. Up he came, the beauty, all silver and scarlet and blue, five feet long if an inch, and weighing 35 pounds. Well, such a lot of astonished men I never saw. They could hardly believe their eyes. That such a daring innovation should be successful was hardly to be believed, even with the vigorous evidence before them. Even grim Captain Slocum came to look and turned upon me as I thought a less lowering brow than usual, while Mr. Count, the mate, fairly chuckled again at the thought of how the little Britisher had wiped the eyes of these veteran fishermen. The captive was cut open, and two recent flying-fish found in his maw, which were utilized for new bait, with the result that there was a cheerful noise of hissing and spluttering in the galley soon after, and a mess of fish for all hands.
Shortly afterwards a fresh breeze sprang up, which proved to be the beginning of the N.E. trades, and fairly guaranteed us against any very bad weather for some time to come.
Somehow or other it had leaked out that we were to cruise the Cape Verd Islands for a spell before working south, and the knowledge seemed to have quite an enlivening effect upon our Portuguese shipmates.
Most of them belonged there, and although there was but the faintest prospect of their getting ashore upon any pretext whatever, the possibility of seeing their island homes again seemed to quite transform them. Hitherto they had been very moody and exclusive, never associating with us on the white side, or attempting to be at all familiar. A mutual atmosphere of suspicion, in fact, seemed to pervade our quarters, making things already uncomfortable enough, still more so. Now, however, they fraternized with us, and in a variety of uncouth ways made havoc of the English tongue, as they tried to impress us with the beauty, fertility and general incomparability of their beloved Cape Verds. Of the eleven white men besides myself in the forecastle, there were a middle-aged German baker, who had bolted from Buffalo; two Hungarians, who looked like noblemen disguised—in dirt; two slab-sided Yankees of about 22 from farms in Vermont; a drayman from New York; a French Canadian from the neighbourhood of Quebec; two Italians from Genoa; and two nondescripts that I never found out the origin of. Imagine, then, the babel of sound, and think—but no, it is impossible to think, what sort of a jargon was compounded of all these varying elements of language.
One fortunate thing, there was peace below. Indeed, the spirit seemed completely taken out of all of them, and by some devilish ingenuity the afterguard had been able to sow distrust between them all, while treating them like dogs, so that the miseries of their life were never openly discussed. My position among them gave me at times some uneasiness. Though I tried to be helpful to all, and was full of sympathy for their undeserved sufferings, I could not but feel that they would have been more than human had they not envied me my immunity from the kicks and blows they all shared so impartially. However, there was no help for it, so I went on as cheerily as I could.
A peculiarity of all these vessels, as I afterwards learned, was that no stated allowance of anything was made. Even the water was not served out to us, but was kept in a great scuttle-butt by the cabin door, to which every one who needed a drink had to go, and from which none might be carried away. No water was allowed for washing except from the sea; and every one knows, or should know, that neither flesh nor clothes can be cleansed with that. But a cask with a perforated top was lashed by the bowsprit and kept filled with urine, which I was solemnly assured by Goliath was the finest dirt-extractor in the world for clothes. The officers did not avail themselves of its virtues though, but were content with lye, which was furnished in plenty by the ashes from the galley fire, where nothing but wood was used as fuel. Of course when rain fell we might have a good wash, if it was night and no other work was toward; but we were not allowed to store any for washing purposes. Another curious but absolutely necessary custom prevailed in consequence of the short commons under which we lived. When the portion of meat was brought down in its wooden kid, or tub, at dinner-time, it was duly divided as fairly as possible into as many parts as there were mouths. Then one man turned his back on the carver, who holding up each portion, called out, "Who's this for?" Whatever name was mentioned by the arbitrator, that man owning it received the piece, and had perforce to be satisfied therewith. Thus justice was done to all in the only way possible, and without any friction whatever.
As some of us were without clothes except what we stood upright in, when we joined, the "slop chest" was opened, and every applicant received from the steward what Captain Slocum thought fit to let him have, being debited with the cost against such wages as he might afterwards earn. The clothes were certainly of fairly good quality, if the price was high, and exactly suited to our requirements. Soap, matches, and tobacco were likewise supplied on the same terms, but at higher prices than I had ever heard of before for these necessaries. After much careful inquiry I ascertained what, in the event of a successful voyage, we were likely to earn. Each of us were on the two hundredth "lay" or share at $200 per tun, which meant that for every two hundred barrels of oil taken on board, we were entitled to one, which we must sell to the ship at the rate of L40 per tun or L4 per barrel. Truly a magnificent outlook for young men bound to such a business for three or four years.
CHAPTER V. ACTUAL WARFARE. OUR FIRST WHALE
Simultaneous ideas occurring to several people, or thought transference, whatever one likes to call the phenomenon is too frequent an occurrence in most of our experience to occasion much surprise. Yet on the occasion to which I am about to refer, the matter was so very marked that few of us who took part in the day's proceedings are ever likely to forget it.
We were all gathered about the fo'lk'sle scuttle one evening, a few days after the gale referred to in the previous chapter, and the question of whale-fishing came up for discussion. Until that time, strange as it may seem, no word of this, the central idea of all our minds, had been mooted. Every man seemed to shun the subject, although we were in daily expectation of being called upon to take an active part in whale-fighting. Once the ice was broken, nearly all had something to say about it, and very nearly as many addle-headed opinions were ventilated as at a Colney Hatch debating society. For we none of us KNEW anything about it. I was appealed to continually to support this or that theory, but as far as whaling went I could only, like the rest of them, draw upon my imagination for details. How did a whale act, what were the first steps taken, what chance was there of being saved if your boat got smashed, and so on unto infinity. At last, getting very tired of this "Portugee Parliament" of all talkers and no listeners, I went aft to get a drink of water before turning in. The harpooners and other petty officers were grouped in the waist, earnestly discussing the pros and cons of attack upon whales. As I passed I heard the mate's harpooner say, "Feels like whale about. I bet a plug (of tobacco) we raise sperm whale to-morrow." Nobody took his bet, for it appeared that they were mostly of the same mind, and while I was drinking I heard the officers in dignified conclave talking over the same thing. It was Saturday evening, and while at home people were looking forward to a day's respite from work and care, I felt that the coming day, though never taken much notice of on board, was big with the probabilities of strife such as I at least had at present no idea of. So firmly was I possessed by the prevailing feeling.
The night was very quiet. A gentle breeze was blowing, and the sky was of the usual "Trade" character, that is, a dome of dark blue fringed at the horizon with peaceful cumulus clouds, almost motionless. I turned in at four a.m. from the middle watch and, as usual, slept like a babe. Suddenly I started wide awake, a long mournful sound sending a thrill to my very heart. As I listened breathlessly other sounds of the same character but in different tones joined in, human voices monotonously intoning in long drawn-out expirations the single word "bl-o-o-o-o-w." Then came a hurricane of noise overhead, and adjurations in no gentle language to the sleepers to "tumble up lively there, no skulking, sperm whales." At last, then, fulfilling all the presentiments of yesterday, the long dreaded moment had arrived. Happily there was no time for hesitation, in less than two minutes we were all on deck, and hurrying to our respective boats. There was no flurry or confusion, and except that orders were given more quietly than usual, with a manifest air of suppressed excitement, there was nothing to show that we were not going for an ordinary course of boat drill. The skipper was in the main crow's-nest with his binoculars presently he shouted, "Naow then, Mr. Count, lower away soon's y'like. Small pod o'cows, an' one'r two bulls layin' off to west'ard of 'em." Down went the boats into the water quietly enough, we all scrambled in and shoved off. A stroke or two of the oars were given to get clear of the ship, and one another, then oars were shipped and up went the sails. As I took my allotted place at the main-sheet, and the beautiful craft started off like some big bird, Mr. Count leant forward, saying impressively to me, "Y'r a smart youngster, an' I've kinder took t'yer; but don't ye look ahead an' get gallied, 'r I'll knock ye stiff wi' th' tiller; y'hear me? N' don't ye dare to make thet sheet fast, 'r ye'll die so sudden y' won't know whar y'r hurted." I said as cheerfully as I could, "All right, sir," trying to look unconcerned, telling myself not to be a coward, and all sorts of things; but the cold truth is that I was scared almost to death because I didn't know what was coming. However, I did the best thing under the circumstances, obeyed orders and looked steadily astern, or up into the bronzed impassive face of my chief, who towered above me, scanning with eagle eyes the sea ahead. The other boats were coming flying along behind us, spreading wider apart as they came, while in the bows of each stood the harpooner with his right hand on his first iron, which lay ready, pointing over the bow in a raised fork of wood called the "crutch."
All of a sudden, at a motion of the chief's hand, the peak of our mainsail was dropped, and the boat swung up into the wind, laying "hove to," almost stationary. The centre-board was lowered to stop her drifting to leeward, although I cannot say it made much difference that ever I saw. NOW what's the matter, I thought, when to my amazement the chief addressing me said, "Wonder why we've hauled up, don't ye?" "Yes, sir, I do," said I. "Wall," said he, "the fish hev sounded, an' 'ef we run over 'em, we've seen the last ov'em. So we wait awhile till they rise agin, 'n then we'll prob'ly git thar' 'r thareabonts before they sound agin." With this explanation I had to be content, although if it be no clearer to my readers than it then was to me, I shall have to explain myself more fully later on. Silently we lay, rocking lazily upon the gentle swell, no other word being spoken by any one. At last Louis, the harpooner, gently breathed "blo-o-o-w;" and there, sure enough, not half a mile away on the lee beam, was a little bushy cloud of steam apparently rising from the sea. At almost the same time as we kept away all the other boats did likewise, and just then, catching sight of the ship, the reason for this apparently concerted action was explained. At the main-mast head of the ship was a square blue flag, and the ensign at the peak was being dipped. These were signals well understood and promptly acted upon by those in charge of the boats, who were thus guided from a point of view at least one hundred feet above the sea.
"Stand up, Louey," the mate murmured softly. I only just stopped myself in time from turning my head to see why the order was given. Suddenly there was a bump, at the same moment the mate yelled, "Give't to him, Louey, give't to him!" and to me, "Haul that main sheet, naow haul, why don't ye?" I hauled it flat aft, and the boat shot up into the wind, rubbing sides as she did so with what to my troubled sight seemed an enormous mass of black india-rubber floating. As we CRAWLED up into the wind, the whale went into convulsions befitting his size and energy. He raised a gigantic tail on high, threshing the water with deafening blows, rolling at the same time from side to side until the surrounding sea was white with froth. I felt in an agony lest we should be crushed under one of those fearful strokes, for Mr. Count appeared to be oblivious of possible danger, although we seemed to be now drifting back on to the writhing leviathan. In the agitated condition of the sea, it was a task of no ordinary difficulty to unship the tall mast, which was of course the first thing to be done. After a desperate struggle, and a narrow escape from falling overboard of one of the men, we got the lone "stick," with the sail bundled around it, down and "fleeted" aft, where it was secured by the simple means of sticking the "heel" under the after thwart, two-thirds of the mast extending out over the stern. Meanwhile, we had certainly been in a position of the greatest danger, our immunity from damage being unquestionably due to anything but precaution taken to avoid it.
By the time the oars were handled, and the mate had exchanged places with the harpooner, our friend the enemy had "sounded," that is, he had gone below for a change of scene, marvelling no doubt what strange thing had befallen him. Agreeably to the accounts which I, like most boys, had read of the whale fishery, I looked for the rushing of the line round the logger-head (a stout wooden post built into the boat aft), to raise a cloud of smoke with occasional bursts of flame; so as it began to slowly surge round the post, I timidly asked the harpooner whether I should throw any water on it. "Wot for?" growled he, as he took a couple more turns with it. Not knowing "what for," and hardly liking to quote my authorities here, I said no more, but waited events. "Hold him up, Louey, bold him up, cain't ye?" shouted the mate, and to my horror, down went the nose of the boat almost under water, while at the mate's order everybody scrambled aft into the elevated stern sheets.
The line sang quite a tune as it was grudgingly allowed to surge round the loggerhead, filling one with admiration at the strength shown by such a small rope. This sort of thing went on for about twenty minutes, in which time we quite emptied the large tub and began on the small one. As there was nothing whatever for us to do while this was going on, I had ample leisure for observing the little game that was being played about a quarter of a mile away. Mr. Cruce, the second mate, had got a whale and was doing his best to kill it; but he was severely handicapped by his crew, or rather had been, for two of them were now temporarily incapable of either good or harm. They had gone quite "batchy" with fright, requiring a not too gentle application of the tiller to their heads in order to keep them quiet. The remedy, if rough, was effectual, for "the subsequent proceedings interested them no more." Consequently his manoeuvres were not so well or rapidly executed as he, doubtless, could have wished, although his energy in lancing that whale was something to admire and remember. Hatless, his shirt tail out of the waist of his trousers streaming behind him like a banner, he lunged and thrust at the whale alongside of him, as if possessed of a destroying devil, while his half articulate yells of rage and blasphemy were audible even to us.
Suddenly our boat fell backward from her "slantindicular" position with a jerk, and the mate immediately shouted, "Haul line, there! look lively, now, you—so on, etcetera, etcetera" (he seemed to invent new epithets on every occasion). The line came in hand over hand, and was coiled in a wide heap in the stern sheets, for silky as it was, it could not be expected in its wet state to lie very close. As it came flying in the mate kept a close gaze upon the water immediately beneath us, apparently for the first glimpse of our antagonist. When the whale broke water, however, he was some distance off, and apparently as quiet as a lamb. Now, had Mr. Count been a prudent or less ambitious man, our task would doubtless have been an easy one, or comparatively so; but, being a little over-grasping, he got us all into serious trouble. We were hauling up to our whale in order to lance it, and the mate was standing, lance in hand, only waiting to get near enough, when up comes a large whale right alongside of our boat, so close, indeed, that I might have poked my finger in his little eye, if I had chosen. The sight of that whale at liberty, and calmly taking stock of us like that, was too much for the mate. He lifted his lance and hurled it at the visitor, in whose broad flank it sank, like a knife into butter, right up to the pole-hitches. The recipient disappeared like a flash, but before one had time to think, there was an awful crash beneath us, and the mate shot up into the air like a bomb from a mortar. He came down in a sitting posture on the mast-thwart; but as he fell, the whole framework of the boat collapsed like a derelict umbrella. Louis quietly chopped the line and severed our connection with the other whale, while in accordance with our instructions we drew each man his oar across the boat and lashed it firmly down with a piece of line spliced to each thwart for the purpose. This simple operation took but a minute, but before it was completed we were all up to our necks in the sea. Still in the boat, it is true, and therefore not in such danger of drowning as if we were quite adrift; but, considering that the boat was reduced to a mere bundle of loose planks, I, at any rate, was none too comfortable. Now, had he known it, was the whale's golden opportunity; but he, poor wretch, had had quite enough of our company, and cleared off without any delay, wondering, no doubt, what fortunate accident had rid him of our very unpleasant attentions.
I was assured that we were all as safe as if we were on board the ship, to which I answered nothing; but, like Jack's parrot, I did some powerful thinking. Every little wave that came along swept clean over our heads, sometimes coming so suddenly as to cut a breath in half. If the wind should increase—but no—I wouldn't face the possibility of such a disagreeable thing. I was cool enough now in a double sense, for although we were in the tropics, we soon got thoroughly chilled.
By the position of the sun it must have been between ten a.m. and noon, and we, of the crew, had eaten nothing since the previous day at supper, when, as usual, the meal was very light. Therefore, I suppose we felt the chill sooner than the better-nourished mate and harpooner, who looked rather scornfully at our blue faces and chattering teeth.
In spite of all assurances to the contrary, I have not the least doubt in my own mind that a very little longer would have relieved us of ALL our burdens finally. Because the heave of the sea had so loosened the shattered planks upon which we stood that they were on the verge of falling all asunder. Had they done so we must have drowned, for we were cramped and stiff with cold and our constrained position. However, unknown to us, a bright look-out upon our movements had been kept from the crow's-nest the whole time. We should have been relieved long before, but that the whale killed by the second mate was being secured, and another boat, the fourth mate's, being picked up, having a hole in her bilge you could put you head through. With all these hindrances, especially securing the whale, we were fortunate to be rescued as soon as we were, since it is well known that whales are of much higher commercial value than men.
However, help came at last, and we were hauled alongside. Long exposure had weakened us to such an extent that it was necessary to hoist us on board, especially the mate, whose "sudden stop," when he returned to us after his little aerial excursion, had shaken his sturdy frame considerably, a state of body which the subsequent soaking had by no means improved. In my innocence I imagined that we should be commiserated for our misfortunes by Captain Slocum, and certainly be relieved from further duties until we were a little recovered from the rough treatment we had just undergone. But I never made a greater mistake. The skipper cursed us all (except the mate, whose sole fault the accident undoubtedly was) with a fluency and vigour that was, to put it mildly, discouraging. Moreover, we were informed that he "wouldn't have no adjective skulking;" we must "turn to" and do something after wasting the ship's time and property in such a blanked manner. There was a limit, however, to our obedience, so although we could not move at all for awhile, his threats were not proceeded with farther than theory.
A couple of slings were passed around the boat, by means of which she was carefully hoisted on board, a mere dilapidated bundle of sticks and raffle of gear. She was at once removed aft out of the way, the business of cutting in the whale claiming precedence over everything else just then. The preliminary proceedings consisted of rigging the "cutting stage." This was composed of two stout planks a foot wide and ten feet long, the inner ends of which were suspended by strong ropes over the ship's side about four feet from the water, while the outer extremities were upheld by tackles from the main rigging, and a small crane abreast the try-works.
These planks were about thirty feet apart, their two outer ends being connected by a massive plank which was securely bolted to them. A handrail about as high as a man's waist, supported by light iron stanchions, ran the full length of this plank on the side nearest the ship, the whole fabric forming an admirable standing-place from whence the officers might, standing in comparative comfort, cut and carve at the great mass below to their hearts' content.
So far the prize had been simply held alongside by the whale-line, which at death had been "rove" through a hole cut in the solid gristle of the tail; but now it became necessary to secure the carcase to the ship in some more permanent fashion. Therefore, a massive chain like a small ship's cable was brought forward, and in a very ingenious way, by means of a tiny buoy and a hand-lead, passed round the body, one end brought through a ring in the other, and hauled upon until it fitted tight round the "small" or part of the whale next the broad spread of the tail. The free end of the fluke-chain was then passed in through a mooring-pipe forward, firmly secured to a massive bitt at the heel of the bowsprit (the fluke-chain-bitt), and all was ready.
But the subsequent proceedings were sufficiently complicated to demand a fresh chapter.
CHAPTER VI. "DIRTY WORK FOR CLEAN MONEY"
If in the preceding chapter too much stress has been laid upon the smashing of our own boat and consequent sufferings, while little or no notice was taken of the kindred disaster to Mistah Jones' vessel, my excuse must be that the experience "filled me right up to the chin," as the mate concisely, if inelegantly, put it. Poor Goliath was indeed to be pitied, for his well-known luck and capacity as a whaleman seemed on this occasion to have quite deserted him. Not only had his boat been stove upon first getting on to the whale, but he hadn't even had a run for his money. It appeared that upon striking his whale, a small, lively cow, she had at once "settled," allowing the boat to run over her; but just as they were passing, she rose, gently enough, her pointed hump piercing the thin skin of half-inch cedar as if it had been cardboard. She settled again immediately, leaving a hole behind her a foot long by six inches wide, which effectually put a stop to all further fishing operations on the part of Goliath and his merry men for that day, at any rate. It was all so quiet, and so tame and so stupid, no wonder Mistah Jones felt savage. When Captain Slocum's fluent profanity flickered around him, including vehemently all he might be supposed to have any respect for, he did not even LOOK as if he would like to talk back; he only looked sick and tired of being himself.