William John Hopkins.

She blows!, and sparm at that! online

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letters, as it turned out, chiefly on account of the mysteri-
ous behavior of the Battles, and the desertion of Wallet,


I suppose, although I never knew definitely. He let it be
known that any letters would be sent, and I wrote home,
but by a piece of carelessness of my own, my letter did
not go.

We did not get into Montevideo by Christmas, as we
had been more than three hundred miles from the coast;
and we had to be content with the usual ship's fare on
that day, with the addition of plum duff and a serving of
rum. I did not take the rum, of course, but I took the
duff, which tasted good enough, although it was nothing
more than soggy dumpling, with molasses over it. I
could not help thinking of my mother's dumplings
food of a different species and of the turkey and cran-
berry sauce, and the pumpkin and apple pies, and the
apples and nuts and raisins to which my family were
sitting down on that day. No doubt they were thinking
of me.

At Montevideo, which we reached in the afternoon
of the twenty-sixth, the captain sent his letters and tried
to ship another man. This he was unable to do, and he
had to sail without him, a man short. The men were dis-
appointed in their hoped-for liberty, only one boat's
crew getting two hours' liberty. This crew was chosen
with some care, as the men must be those who could
be relied upon to return at the end of their two hours.
We sailed at sunset, with some grumbling on the part of
the men.

Nothing was done about the second mate's berth for
more than a week, and I did not happen to hear him
mentioned, although I have an idea that the captain
talked the matter over with Mr. Baker. At last, how-
ever, he acted, having concluded, as I supposed, that


there was little" chance of getting Mr. Wallet back.
There was some show of letting the men choose, but it
amounted to nothing. Macy was made fifth mate, and
the other mates moved up a peg, so that Mr. Brown was
second mate. That pleased me, and the appointment of
Macy pleased Peter, for he said that there was not a
better man on the ship. I agreed with him in that.
Macy was one of the finest specimens of man I have ever
seen. He was over six feet tall, with a perfectly pro-
portioned figure, but his perfect proportions did not
give an adequate idea of his size unless he stood beside
another man. He had rather tightly curling flaxen hair
we called him 'Towhead* and deep blue eyes, and
a smile that won the heart of every one on whom it


THERE was no unfavorable change in the weather, and
we cruised for three weeks without getting a whale,
or even raising a spout. One morning, however, after a
rather thick haze had cleared away somewhat, we found
ourselves within half a mile of a pod of six or seven,
which were lying on the surface, spouting lazily. They
did not seem to be feeding, and I remember that I had
heard a distant splash while it was still too thick to
see them, and Peter, to whom I had turned inquiringly,
had said that it was likely a whale breaching. Almost
everybody on board had heard it, and the lookouts were
doubled. They fully expected to sight whales, and they
did sight them from the masthead before we could see
them from the deck. No cry was given, but the men
came down and reported.

There was hardly a breath of wind, and sound would
carry easily in that weather. Indeed, it was uncanny.
There seemed to be streaks or columns in the air which
reflected the sound in the strangest ways, or acted like a
lens for sound, at one moment utterly cutting off sounds
that originated but a short distance away, and at the
next moment sending to us clearly faint noises made by
the pod of whales at a half-mile distance. Boats were
lowered with the utmost care not to make a noise, even
being put into the water one end first, to avoid any
splash. The men were cautioned not to talk, and they
sat silent in their boats, cast off the falls quietly, and
took to their paddles as soon as the boats were in the


water. It was of no use, however. The whales were
keeping tabs on us, and went down quietly when a boat
was within quarter of a mile of them, coming up half a
mile away. It was exasperating. There were whales
almost at the side, more than we had taken in six
months, and we could not get near them; and after
trying for hours, the boats were called back to the ship.

I do not remember that I felt any disappointment,
however. To tell the truth, I was rather hoping for a
pampero. It is not a fish, but a wind.

I had my wish gratified, and I shall never make
another wish of that kind. We were sailing along easily
in a moderate northerly wind about the middle of the
afternoon when the Admiral's cry came down to us.
There were two spouts to the eastward. I watched
them rather listlessly, for I had rather lost interest in
spouts. An albatross or a frigate bird would have
roused much more interest. We were seeing albatrosses
occasionally, and one had followed the ship for two
days, picking up scraps from the galley, and finally
following the carcass of a whale when we cut it adrift.
But the whole whale business had become a matter of

Three boats were called away, Mr. Baker's, Mr.
Brown's, and Mr. Macy's. I had to move, for I was in
the way of one of them; and I moved as little as possible,
and gave them no further attention. Then I heard Mr.
Brown speaking to me.

' Here, Tim,' he said. * If you think you can pull one of
these oars, tumble in here, but be quick about it.'

Instantly I was all attention. I jumped for the boat,
but stopped.


'The Captain said,' I objected, 'that I couldn't go
until he '

'Captain's orders,' he interrupted sharply. 'Go or
not, but be quick or the other boats '11 get away first.'

I made no reply, but gave a little nervous laugh of
delight, and tumbled in. I did not know whether I
could row one of the long, heavy oars or not, but I could
take two hands to it, and I had rowed all my life in every
kind of a boat, light and heavy. We took the water, and
cast off the falls, and shoved clear. Then we stepped the
mast and set the sail, and were off after my first whale.
All the men were kind and helpful, but the Prince took
me especially under his wing, and told me what my
duties were in stepping the mast. When we were under
sail he gave me rapid instructions as to my duties in
meeting every emergency that ever arose in connection
with the capture of a whale. I could not remember a
quarter of them. It was all I could do to understand

Fortunately I did not have to remember. No emer-
gency arose. We came up with our whale without much
pulling, the Prince planted both his irons, and we
backed off furiously. The whale stopped, astonished,
Mr. Baker came up on the other side, and Starbuck got
an iron fast; but not before the whale had recovered his
power of motion, so that Starbuck's iron entered at the
small, and not near the side fin, where he had meant to
place it. Mr. Baker's boat was deluged with water by a
sweep of the flukes, and the whale was under way, head
out. Mr. Macy, I saw later, had struck the other whale,
and was having no trouble.

Our whale had turned about to the eastward, and was


running. We had to give him line at first, and the whale
line went twisting and writhing out past me like a living
snake, making a scraping, hissing noise on my oar
handle. I shrank away from it. Then, with another
turn around the loggerhead, it straightened and taut-
ened, and did not go so fast, but edged by me foot by
foot; and the spray began to rise in a miniature cascade
on each side of the bow. Then another turn around the
loggerhead, and the progress of the line past me was by
inches, slower and slower, and I could hear it creaking.
Then it stopped, and we were fairly off on my first
sleigh-ride behind a whale. The Prince had gone aft
and taken the steering oar, and Mr. Brown had come

The boats were going at a rate which seemed terrific,
nine or ten knots. Our boat rolled viciously in the cross-
sea, and veered and bucked. I could see the Prince
putting all his strength and weight on the long steering
oar, first one way and then the other, to meet her as she
yawed, and keep her on a straight course. The cascades
of spray rose from her keel now, about a foot or two aft
of the stem, higher than the gunwale; and the northerly
wind caught one of them, and blew it inboard. I was
drenched with it, and so was the man aft of me. We
seemed to leap from sea to sea. When I gathered cour-
age enough to look at Mr. Baker's boat, I saw that
that was a mistaken impression; but I felt as if I were
on a shingle swung skittering along the top of the
waves at the end of a pole.

Mr. Brown ordered us to heave in on the line. We
strained our backs to the last muscle, but could only
gain a fraction of an inch. Mr. Baker's crew could do


no better, and there was nothing for it but to hang on
and wait for the whale to tire and slacken speed. I
looked back I continued to look back and saw the
Clearchus already hull down. I could see no sign of Mr.
Macy. I watched the ship until she sank to her tops,
then farther; then I could no longer make her out at all.
And still that whale kept up his furious gait, head out,
as though he were bound to take ii to the Cape of Good
Hope or to the Carroll grounds at least.

We must have been going on in that way for an hour
and a half or more before the whale showed any sign of
weariness. It needed a man of more experience than I
had to tell the symptoms, or to perceive that our speed
was slackening. Mr. Baker's boat was just about abeam
of ours, and a couple of oars' lengths away. He had
dropped back a boat's length or so to avoid fouling us,
but the two boats were within easy speaking distance,
and Mr. Baker and Mr. Brown looked at each other,
and spoke at the same instant.


Then they both nodded, and we got the order. We
heaved, and gained a couple of inches; heaved again, and
six inches of line came in. Mr. Brown was not a yelling
mate. He spoke only loud enough for us to hear.

Mr. Baker was an accomplished swearer, a linguist of
parts. I did not know there was such* a variety of oaths
in the language until I heard him swearing at his crew,
urging them to heave, and calling them more vile names
than you would think any men would be willing to hear
quietly. Swearing was very general on the Clearchus,
and none of Mr. Baker's language was to be taken seri-
ously, which, of course, the men knew.


With all Mr. Baker's flow of language, his crew did
not gain an inch more than we did; but the heaving must
have had its effect on the whale. There was still a good
deal of line out, perhaps fifteen or twenty fathoms, when
he seemed to stop suddenly. There was a general cry of
'Flukes!' and his flukes went into the air, and he

When Starbuck had struck, as I have said, he was a
trifle late. He succeeded in getting one iron fast in
the small but had to heave the other overboard.
This second harpoon had been skittering over the waves
ever since, here and there, according to its whim. It had
not touched our line, although Mr. Brown had been
afraid that it would; and it might easily have touched
our line, for a whale swims low in the water, and there is
seldom any part of him continually visible aft of his
hump, so that there is nothing in the way. But the
harpoon had touched Mr. Baker's line several times
a good many times; each touch lasting but an instant,
like the bite of a shark. A harpoon is even sharper than
a shark's tooth, and each touch had severed some of the
tough strands. It was a wonder that the line had sur-
vived the heaving. It must have only just survived.
When the whale sounded, Mr. Baker did not give him
line, but was holding until the last second. This may
have been the proverbial last straw, or it may have
been simply that the time had come for the line to part.
At any rate, it parted. Mr. Baker cursed fluently in
a really heartfelt way, and the line was rapidly hauled
in. The last fathom of it was a mere feather of manila.

This left us alone fast to the whale. He did not go
deep, however, and Mr. Baker was waiting, near us, for


him to come up, which he did in about five minutes a
few feet ahead of Mr. Baker's boat. He came up almost
vertically, his head and body shooting out of the water,
and exposing his side fin. Then he fell over with a tre-
mendous splash; but Mr. Baker had shot his lance into
him, and quickly withdrawn it. The shank was bent,
but Mr. Baker straightened it by knocking it on the gun-
wale, and let him have it again.

Meanwhile we had been taking in our slack line as
fast as we could, and when it tautened, heaving in on it
to bring us up close enough for Mr. Brown to use his
lance. We had not been able to keep the slack ahead of
the whale, with all our haste, and he had got a turn
around his flukes, like a half hitch, so that we could not
shake it loose. It was impossible for us to haul in ahead
of his flukes, and lancing them would be no more than
an annoyance to the whale, like a mosquito bite. If he
should take it into his head to slap that mosquito, it
might prove more than an annoyance for us. There was
nothing to be done but to slack off the line and try to
row up to his side fin, where Mr. Brown wanted to be.
We could not have hoped to do this if the whale's at-
tention had not been taken up with Mr. Baker's boat.
He seemed to attribute all his troubles to that boat,
and was putting up a half-hearted sort of a fight; but
even a half-hearted fight by a fairly husky whale is not
to be taken lightly. - Mr. Baker was having his hands

We pulled up to within a boat's length, lay there for a
few minutes watching for an opening; then, putting all
our strength into our oars, we drove the boat in close to
the side fin. Mr. Brown plunged the lance in deep, and


began churning it slowly up and down, feeling for the
heart or the great reservoir of arterial blood near it. The
whale had lobtailed once upon feeling the lance, without
doing any damage; but in a few strokes Mr. Brown's
lance had found the life. A tremor passed through the
great body, a spout rose slowly from his spiracle black
with clotted blood, he bestirred himself, and we backed
off hastily. He was going into his flurry.

That flurry was not an elevating spectacle, but we all
watched it. I was fascinated, and so the others seemed
to be, all in Mr. Baker's boat as well as in ours. Our
attention for a long time had been so entirely taken up
by the whale that not a man of the twelve counting
myself as a man had looked about him, or been aware
of anything but the whale and the two boats, and what
was happening there. Suddenly Mr. Baker broke out in
a perfect stream of curses. Mr. Brown smiled.

'Look!' he said. 'Like a bad penny.'

We all looked. There was the Annie Battles, not a
mile away, bearing down directly upon us. Not one of
us said a word, but two or three were grinning. It was
beginning to seem funny.

Mr. Baker did not seem to think it funny. He had
stopped his flow of profanity, whether because he had
exhausted his stock, or because his choicest gems were
inadequate, I could not guess; and now, standing in his
place in the bow like a gaunt statue of a man, silent and
motionless, he watched the Battles grow rapidly, and
the foam under her forefoot, and the men upon her
deck. He held his lance loosely in his hand, the shank
resting on the gunwale. If she had shown any sign of
changing her course, I knew that he would have ordered


his crew to pull hard for her, in the hope of boarding
her before she got away. She did not; and there is no
sense in hard pulling to meet a vessel which is coming
to meet you as straight and as fast as she can. And,
although Mr. Baker was holding his lance loosely, I
knew that his great fist would grip it hard at the slight-
est provocation.

At last the Battles put her helm down, slacked off
her sheets, backed one topsail, and hung there, almost
near enough for us to heave a line aboard of her. No
one on her hailed us, but some of her men were standing
at the rail like wooden images, watching us, while others
were going lazily aloft. By this time our whale had
spouted his last spout, and lay quiet in the sea, with our
irons still in him and our line fast to them. Mr. Baker's
men had their oars in the water, and his boat seemed to
be drifting toward the Battles. I saw Mr. Wallet and
another standing by the man at the wheel. I could see
even his feeble smile and his pale blue eyes and his tight
curling hair, almost like a negro's but for the color. Mr.
Wallet's was sandy, with a reddish tinge, like brown
sandstone; some of our men had called his hair his
brownstone front. When he saw Mr. Baker's boat
drifting toward them, he moved uneasily, his smile
faded, and he spoke to the man standing with him. He
knew Mr. Baker of old.

Mr. Baker did not wait to get there. 'If you try to
steal this whale,' he shouted, 'why, damn your souls,
there'll be blood spilled.'

The man to whom Mr. Wallet had spoken was leaning
on the rail. He laughed. * There's been blood spilled al-
ready, ain't there? Seems to me I see it on your lance.'


* That's good clean blood of a whale!' retorted Mr.
Baker. 'There's other blood waiting that ain't so clean.
I'd hate to dirty a good lance with it.'

'Cheap talk!' said the other contemptuously. 'We
don't steal whales.'

The boat was now within an oar's length of the side of
the Battles.

'I'm coming aboard,' said Mr. Baker, 'to see Cap'n
Coffin about it and about another matter.'

'You can't see Cap'n Coffin,' replied the other, who
seemed to be one of the mates, and in command of the
vessel at the moment, 'and you don't come aboard of us.
Sheer off there!'

A number of the men at the rail of the Battles showed
themselves to have spades in their hands. They put the
spades over the side, and held them suspended there.

'Keep off!' said the mate of the Battles. 'We'll
smash it!'

For Mr. Baker had taken the boathook, and had
hooked on to their chains. He was drawing the boat up
close, when a spade smashed down on the boathook just
back of the iron, and cut it off clean.

Perhaps it was too serious a matter for mere cursing.
At any rate, Mr. Baker said nothing at all for some
seconds, to our great surprise.

'Very well,' he said then, quietly, 'if you'd rather
have it that way, so be it. I'll report it fully. Now I
make demand upon you for Alonzo Wallet, formerly
second mate of the Clearchus, a deserter from his ship.'
The mate of the Battles smiled, and beckoned Mr.
Wallet. He came, with his weak smile again upon his


'What's wanted of me?' he asked.

'Cap'n Nelson wants you,' Mr. Baker replied,
* strange as it may seem; for you're the most good-for-
nothing officer that ever I shipped with.'

With those spades between him and Mr. Baker,
Wallet's courage had revived, but he no longer smiled.
He leaned over the rail as far as he could, and shook a
feeble finger at Mr. Baker.

*Tell the old man to go to hell,' he said; 'and go to
hell yourself, will you, Jehoram? You're bound there
now if you don't look sharp.'

He pointed to the southwest. The sun had disap-
peared behind a heavy mass of black cloud, in which
there appeared, as we looked at it, the glare of lightning.
I had thought that it seemed early for it to be getting
dark, but it had not occurred to me to look. The mass
of clouds was but just above our horizon. A few men in
the two boats had observed it. Mr. Brown and Mr.
Baker had seen it for fifteen or twenty minutes past.
It may have accounted for Mr. Baker's readiness to cut
short his controversy with the Battles.

'I've known about that for some time, Wallet,' said
Mr. Baker; 'and let me tell you that you're in much
more danger of going to hell in the next hour than I am.
A whaleboat's the safest thing that rides the sea. May-
be you didn't know it. And you'd better shorten sail
some more,' he added, 'if you hope to ride it out.'

For the only answer to this the mate if he was the
mate and Mr. Wallet both turned and looked up at
the sails. The men who had gone aloft had been engaged
in reefing the topsails in a very leisurely manner. Now
they had to put in another reef in response to orders


yelled by the mate, and they worked faster. Mr. Baker
came back to the whale, and the Battles slowly drifted
to the southward, taking in her great mainsail and her
foresail and two of her jibs, leaving her under staysail
and double-reefed topsails. By the time that was done,
she had got well away from us, and the black cloud
covered half the heavens. Mr. Baker had rowed up to
the whale, and had deliberately planted another iron
deep in the small, near his first one. I asked no ques-
tions, but Mr. Brown must have read them in my face.
* Getting ready to ride it out, Tim,' he said, smiling
kindly. We had nothing to do, having fifteen or twenty
fathoms of line out, and he was leaning against the
cleat, watching. 'A whale's a ready made sea-anchor,
if he only stays afloat; and I guess he will. And we shall


be in his lee, where the seas won't be quite so high
although there's not much of the carcass showing.'

I turned and looked at the whale doubtfully.

'I should think, sir,' I ventured, 'that Mr. Baker
might foul us, or we him, if he has about the same length
of line that we have.'

'No,' Mr. Brown replied, smiling again. 'A drifting
body always drifts broadside to the wind to the
resistance. I could prove that to you by mathematics
if we had the chance, and if I hadn't forgotten the proof.
But experience proves the proof to be correct, which
is much more convincing than mere mathematics. You

I nodded. 'Yes, sir, I will, if '

Mr. Brown laughed. 'If we get out of this, eh? We
shall. Make your mind easy.'

The carcass of the whale was lying nearly east and


west under the northerly wind. As the squall pam-
pero or whatever it was advanced, the wind dropped,
until we were heaving on an oily swell in a flat calm.
The men in Mr. Baker's boat took that chance of
backing water, and of working the body of the whale
slowly around until it lay very nearly north and south,
while the squall was coming from the southwest. Then
there was nothing to do but to watch the clouds, and to
wait for the wind to strike.

The edge of the cloud seemed to be directly over us,
writhing and twisting, and it was almost as dark as night.

'There she comes,' said Mr. Brown quietly; and I saw
what seemed a blank wall of mist, with the black cloud
above. We could see it some miles away, and it was
coming fast.

'Fog, sir?' I asked, puzzled.

'Rain, and hail, probably, and wind,' said Mr.

As it came on I could see the line of rain and hail, as
sharp as the cut side of a cheese; and there was a queer
foaming commotion in the water at the foot of the
advancing wall. It had got almost to the carcass of the
whale before we felt the first cold puffs of air. Those
first cold puffs were from every direction, some straight
up; and the foaming commotion in the water resolved
itself into an infinite series of small geysers, from one to
two feet high, like columns of water sent up by explo-
sions of shells, such as I have seen many times in the
last few years when the Fort has been at target practice.
At a distance of six or seven miles, even through a
powerful glass, they look no higher than these did.

The edge of the wall reached the carcass, and there


was a curious effect of bombardment with small white
rubber balls I should have thought at once of tennis
balls if I had then ever seen a tennis ball the balls
bounding high from the elastic surface of the carcass.
I knew it then for hail. The wall was past the whale,
and completely hid it from sight, less than a hundred
feet off, and the wind struck us like a blow from a chunk
of ice. Then the hail struck us, hail mixed with rain.

We hardly knew what to do to protect our heads. It
was like being pelted with rocks rocks which there
was no escaping. They were everywhere. I instinc-
tively put up my hands over my head, and had to take
them down again, for the bones of my hands were being
bruised, and I was really afraid they might be broken.
None of us had a stiff hat, but all wore soft hats or

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Online LibraryWilliam John HopkinsShe blows!, and sparm at that! → online text (page 11 of 21)