Captain Coffin at once ordered the men to get into our boat with their implements, and taking the smashed boat in tow, we returned to our own whale, which appeared to be fast dying.
The captain, after securing the end of the severed whale-line, attached it to the line in the third officer's boat, and then told me to get into the stoven boat, and remain by the whale, while he carried the rescued crew to the ship.
As he left me he sang out, "Don't let those Nantucketers steal the whale from you, boy, for I feel proud of my work to-day! That is the largest whale I ever saw." Turning to the third officer, he added, "And I killed it in the good old-fashioned hand-lance style, and didn't touch the new-fangled bomb-gun that the owners put in all our boats."
As the boats separated, I turned and watched the dying whale. It was slowly swimming around in a large circle, and the blood was just oozing from its spout-holes as it came to the surface to breathe.
The sun was about a handspike high from the horizon. There was considerable water left in the boat, which, empty of men, now floated high; so I took a bucket and busied myself in bailing it out. After bailing awhile, I leaned back against the thwarts and took another look at the whale. The creature was not dead yet, and there did not seem to be any blood coming from its spout-holes. In fact, it seemed to be spouting all right, and was not circling around any more, but was swimming slowly ahead. What did it mean?
Could Captain Coffin have fastened me to the wrong whale? I asked myself. I began to feel frightened, for all of a sudden the monster began to beat the water again with its flukes, and the boat was going at a faster rate of speed.
The sun had now reached the water's edge, and I could not see any boat coming. What should I do if the whale turned on me? I looked round for a knife to cut the whale-line, but could not find one.
The crew had taken all the knives with them. The whale had disappeared, and the line was fast running out of its tub. Faster and faster it ran, until, with a jerk, the end flew from the tub, and I thought I was free.
But alas, no! for when the crew were being changed one of them had fastened the small tub, which is used for a drag, in the end of the line, and it was yanked under the bow thwart and jammed there.
The boat now shot ahead with furious speed. It was growing darker, and I could scarcely make out the ship. In vain I looked for the boat. Would it never come!
To add to my trouble, the rest of the whales had joined the old bull, and were hoarsely spouting and leaping out of the water all around me. In fact, there were whales everywhere, on both sides of the boat, and down beneath it. I could dimly see their greenish-white reflections as they swam just beneath the surface.
One old cow whale and her calf were close beside me, and as they came up to spout I could feel the water from the splash of the little one's flukes. As a boy on shipboard I had often longed for a little whale to play with, but the desire had all left me now, for I crouched down in the boat and covered my face with my hands.
Oh, if the captain would only come and take me out of that boat! I would never go to sea again, I thought.
Suddenly the boat stopped with a jerk, and uncovering my face, I saw a sight that made me scream with fright. Right in front of me was a large sperm-whale's head, with its jaws wide open, and its long row of white, glistening teeth shining from the phosphorescent brightness of the water. With a snap its mouth closed, and it sank out of sight, while I, falling on my knees, asked God to save me.
After that I felt better, and managed to crawl under the stem-sheets for shelter, for I was chilled through. It was quite dark, although the stars shone brightly. The whale seemed to have got free, for the boat was idly rocking on the water.
In changing my cramped form to an upright position, my hand came against a hard, round piece of iron. A feeling of security, of advantage, of longing for battle ran through me as my hand rested on the cold steel. It was one of the captain's bomb-guns, which was so despised by him, but which might be the means of saving me from an awful death. I pulled it from its socket, and fondled it in my excitement and relief at finding some means of defence.
I found I was able to lift the gun to my shoulder, and my pulse beat with renewed vigor as I raised the hammer and found the gun was loaded. So great was my joy that I forgot for the moment the terrible uncertainty of my position, and almost wished the whale would come back. I did not feel so long, for the next instant the boat began to move.
Again I heard the whales' spouting, and right abreast was a monster swimming straight toward the boat. With an inward prayer to God, I raised the gun to my shoulder, and the next instant, as the monster thrust its head out of the water, I fired.
The recoil threw me against the side of the boat, where I lay, partially stunned and unable to move. I was conscious enough, however, to remember, and in silent, stupefied terror I awaited a second onslaught from the enraged animal. I seemed to feel the crunching of the boat's timbers in those awful jaws, and I must have swooned in looking forward to my own terrible fate.
When I regained my senses, all was quiet around me. Off the side of the boat, at some distance, a whale floated on the water. After waiting a few moments, I ventured to crawl forward on the thwarts, and found the whale-line was still attached to the bow. I went back to the stern and sat on the after thwart, thinking of the gun. I felt in the bottom of the boat for it, but could not find it. It must have fallen overboard when I fell down.
As I was groping, I felt an object in the bottom of the boat that I knew at once was the boat's lantern keg, which is kept in all whale-boats. In it are flint, tinder, a lantern, candles, and packed all around them are ship's biscuits. Instantly the memory of our officers' instructions in reference to their use came to me.
Quickly taking the keg to the stern of the boat, I struck its end against the loggerhead. It soon yielded to my pounding, and the head fell out. How sweet the hard pilot-bread tasted! It brought to my remembrance the water-keg which is also kept in a whale-boat.
I went to the midship thwart, and found the keg there, lashed firmly beneath it. I loosened it and drank heartily. Then I took the lantern and tinder from the keg, and striking the flint, I soon had one of the candles lighted. I sat down on the after thwart and held the light aloft till my arm ached.
Everything about me was made more weird by the gleam of the lantern. The swish of the water as it rippled beneath the boat and the screeching of sea-fowls that had now gathered around the floating carcass set me to thinking of the ship, and I wondered if they would see the light and come to my rescue. I did not know what time it was, but judged it must he near midnight. I tried to call, but my own voice frightened me--it sounded so strange; so once more I relapsed into silence.
Suddenly something seemed to be the matter with the whale. I thought I heard a sound like some one falling overboard. What could it be? At that moment a black body shot out of the water right beside the boat. It was followed by another and another. Soon I learned what it was, for I had seen them before. They were sharks, which, attracted by the dead whale, had come to feast on the carcass.
It made me shiver to see them rush at the monster, and tear big mouthfuls of flesh from its side. I tied the lantern to the loggerhead and crawled under the stern-sheets so as not to see them.
Now I was well-nigh exhausted, and began to feel drowsy. Sleep soon overcame me, and testing my head against the boat's side, I lost consciousness.
When I awoke I heard voices and recognized Captain Coffin, who had me in his arms, while the boat's crew were pulling us to the _Nimrod_. They had seen the lantern from the ship, and Captain Coffin had come himself in the boat to rescue me.
My shot from the bomb-gun had killed the bull whale, and it had also taught Captain Coffin two lessons: First, not to leave a whale merely because it is spouting blood, for it is liable, as in the present case, to clear its spouting, as its ruptured blood vessel is drained, and like a wounded animal, to fight with renewed vigor; second, not to despise the bomb-gun. Always use your bomb-gun on a whale, children.
We solemnly told Captain Daniel that we would do so, and then we bade him good night and went away from the _Greyhound_ with sea-pictures in our minds that can never go out of them as long as we live.
SAVED BY A SEAL
By Theodore A. Cutting
The liveliest seal that father and I ever caught, and the only one that ever got away from us after we had housed it, was Nab.
Although father has been catching seals for zoological gardens and circuses almost as long as I can remember, and knows all their tricks both in water and on land, yet Nab was too sharp for him.
It was my vain attempt to recapture him that terminated in the most exciting experience I ever had with a seal.
Our seal-shed, which stood at the edge of the rocks fifteen feet above the surf, held in Nab's day eight occupants, all nearly full-grown.
The circus seals, which are caught and trained while young, had all been sold; and these we expected to place in the zoological gardens at Philadelphia and Cincinnati. Nab had not been in our possession long, however, before he demonstrated his exceptional abilities, and was straightway singled out to be trained, since a clever circus seal is usually worth twice as much as a mere menagerie animal.
Father generally takes the training into his own hands and sends me out for the daily supply of fish; but I took such a liking to Nab that I spent every evening teaching him.
He first drew attention to himself by his skill in stealing fish from the others. Although I always gave him the first mouthful, to keep him quiet, he would swallow it and be ready for the next before I could get a second fish from the sack. He would eye a shad in my hand as closely as he had once watched the young salmon darting about in the waters of Monterey Bay. And the instant I let go of it, intending to drop it into the open mouth of the next seal, Nab would snap it as it fell.
He learned quickly the trick that all trained seals know--that of balancing a ball on the nose. But for a seal that is not much of a feat after the experience of keeping themselves constantly in poise amidst the rolling breakers and surging swells. I taught him to rise on his flippers and march, also to turn to right or left at the word.
But his education had not proceeded very far when he picked up of his own account the trick that none of his predecessors had been able to acquire--how to escape from the little shed, where all a seal's splashing must be in a square tank, and to be free again in the boundless Pacific.
There were two rooms in the seal-house, one at the back for the animals, and one in front for the boat, fish-lines and crates. The seal quarters had no outside door, the only exit being into the front room.
Father, unusually tired one night after we had both been out all day for fish, went down alone to feed the seals. It was nearly dark, and he closed the outside door without catching it. When he opened the inside door and began to distribute the bass, Nab took advantage of the dusk to steal every fish he could get his nose in reach of. It seemed impossible to get a mouthful to any other seal in the lot; and father, at last quite out of patience, gave him a smart cut over his stubby little ears with the training whip.
Nab gave a shrill yelp, dived between father's legs, and slid out into the boat room, the door to which had been left ajar. A seal presents an awkward appearance hobbling on his queer flippers, but he can make rapid progress. Before father could get his balance and start after him, Nab was well out into the boat room.
Father stopped only to close the door against the rest of the seals, and was again in pursuit; but Nab in the meantime had reached the far end, bumped against the unfastened door and was scuttling across the outer threshold. Father ran after him, only to see his body floundering from one rock to another and to hear its happy splash in the water below.
We both felt sorry to lose Nab, for the buyers will always pick out a lively fellow and pay a better price for him than for another, even though he be larger.
"Couldn't we trap him again?" I asked.
"I guess you'd have an interesting time catching as smart a seal as that after he's already been once landed," said father. "One or two of them that have slipped out of the lasso I've got hold of again; but if a seal gets away after he's had one full sniff of civilization he doesn't very often get near enough for a second."
"Would you know him if you should see him?" I asked.
"I don't think we'll ever get that near, but we might come to within hearing distance, and I could tell his yap out of a hundred," replied father.
Without saying anything to father about it, I made up my mind to get Nab back, if such a thing were possible.