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Title: A Whaleman's Wife
Author: Bullen, Frank Thomas
Language: English
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A WHALEMAN’S WIFE


      *      *      *      *      *      *

WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

  THE CRUISE OF THE CACHALOT.
  THE LOG OF A SEA WAIF.
  THE MEN OF THE MERCHANT SERVICE.
  IDYLLS OF THE SEA.
  WITH CHRIST AT SEA.
  A SACK OF SHAKINGS.
  DEEP SEA PLUNDERINGS.
  THE APOSTLES OF THE SOUTH-EAST.
  WITH CHRIST IN SAILORTOWN.
  THE PALACE OF POOR JACK.
  THE WAY THEY HAVE IN THE NAVY.

      *      *      *      *      *      *


[Illustration: SHE STOOD THERE FRAMED IN THE PORTAL LIKE A GRACEFUL
PICTURE.

 _P. 11._]


A WHALEMAN’S WIFE

by

FRANK T. BULLEN


[decoration]



London: Hodder and
Stoughton [Decoration] 27
Paternoster Row: MCMII

Printed by
Spottiswoode and Co. Ltd., New-Street Square
London



TO

THEODORE ROOSEVELT

PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A SMALL TOKEN OF THE AUTHOR’S ESTEEM

FOR A STRONG CHRISTIAN



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                      PAGE
        I.  Unrequited Love                       1
       II.  ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’                    9
      III.  A Sudden Resolve                     17
       IV.  Departure                            25
        V.  Outward Bound                        34
       VI.  Disillusionment                      43
      VII.  A Stricken Demon                     54
     VIII.  A Disastrous Day                     69
       IX.  Reuben Eddy, Mariner                 85
        X.  The _Good_ Ship ‘Xiphias’            99
       XI.  At the Old Homestead                115
      XII.  Repairing Damages                   130
     XIII.  The Captain Goes Ashore             146
      XIV.  Among Right Whales                  162
       XV.  A Double Deliverance                176
      XVI.  A Reign of Terror                   192
     XVII.  Salvage Operations                  207
    XVIII.  Humanity Rewarded                   221
      XIX.  A Great Blow                        236
       XX.  The Cyclone                         251
      XXI.  A Strange Rescue                    267
     XXII.  The Meeting                         283
    XXIII.  Farewell to the _Xiphias_           297
     XXIV.  Check to the King, and a New Move   311
      XXV.  The Education of the Skipper        326
     XXVI.  The Loss of the _Grampus_           344
    XXVII.  And Last                            361
            Works by the Same Author            379



CHAPTER I

UNREQUITED LOVE


‘Yew don’ seem ter keer any gret amount fer me, Pris.’

The speaker was a young man of twenty or thereabouts, whose loosely
jointed frame showed, even under the shapely rig of homespun,
consisting of just a shirt and pants, a promise to the observant eye
that he would presently develop into a man of massive mould. He lay
upon the stubbly ground, his head resting on one arm, looking wistfully
up into the face of a girl about his own age. His clean-shaven face
wore that keenness of outline so characteristic of the true Yankee
blend in which the broad Saxon or Frisian features seem to have been
modified by the sharp facial angles of the indigenous owners of the
soil. But in the softness of his grey eyes a close observer would have
foreseen a well of trouble springing up for their owner on behalf of
others. It was the face of the typical burden-bearer.

In her face, on the other hand, there were evident manifestations of
discontent and weariness of restraint. A healthy, pleasant countenance
enough, with dark brown eyes and curling hair, well-shaped nose and
short upper lip just spotted with freckles. The eyes looked, however,
as if they could harden and grow black upon occasion, while the square
chin and firm curve of the shut mouth told a plain tale of self-will.
There was just a touch of petulance in the quick movement of her head
as she replied:

‘You’re so exactin’, Rube. An’ surely you wouldn’t want me to be a
hypocrite an’ gush over you when I don’t feel a bit like it. The honest
fact is that I like you better than anybody I’ve ever seen, but you
know I haven’t seen many people at all; and as for the men folks about
here, they’re almost as dull and stupid as the cattle themselves. An’
more than that, Rube, I’m afraid I don’t know what this love is that
you seem to be et up with, an’ I’m not going to say I do to please
anybody.’

There was silence. Over the wide stretches of newly reaped land not a
breath of air was stirring; at evening’s beckoning finger the voices
of the day were hushed. It was nearing the gloaming of one of those
heavenly days common in Vermont towards the end of harvest, when
Nature seems to be contemplating in satisfied peace the result of her
summer’s fruitage, and baring her bosom to the mellowing sun for a
while, as if to store up warmth against the coming of the fierce blasts
of the bitter Northern winter. The smell of the patient earth was
sweet, restful in its effect upon the senses, and insensibly moulding
impressions upon the mind that would remain through life ineffaceable
by any subsequent experiences, and assert themselves in after-years by
vivid reproductions of the present scene. Yet the calm beauty of their
surroundings had upon each of the two young people an almost entirely
opposite effect. He was permeated with a serene sense of satisfaction
with life in all its details but one--if only he could be certain that
Priscilla loved him! Born and bred upon the typical Green Mountain
farm, educated up to the simple standard of the village school, and
utterly unacquainted with the seething world beyond his horizon, he
was as nearly happy as it is good for man to be in this stage of his
existence. His parents, although, like himself, New Englanders born
and bred, had somehow escaped from the soul-withering domination of
that cruel creed that finds an awful satisfaction in the consignment to
eternal fires of all who by one hair’s-breadth should dare to differ
from its blindly ignorant conception of theology. Love formed the basis
of their faith, and their ideas of an immanent God were mainly derived
from the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Under such mild influences it was hardly wonderful that Reuben Eddy
had early ‘got religion,’ in the queer phraseology of the States,
although in his case, as in that of his parents, there was scarcely
any point of resemblance common to the ordinary religious professor.
Following none of the orthodox forms of worship, and pretending to no
formulated creed, the Eddys lived and moved and had their being in a
quiet consciousness of the friendliness of God. They looked as if they
would at no time have been surprised, as they certainly would have
been unafraid, to see His face with their mortal eyes. They seemed to
love God, as birds sing, from an inward impulse that is not a duty but
a part of the organism, as natural a necessity as the breath or the
heart-beat. Yet, or perhaps because of this, they were intensely human.
There was none of that aloofness from the interests of their kind that
some excellent people regard as the hall-mark of a Christian. In fact,
they were a lovable family whose influence was like that of the spring
sun upon all (though they were but few) with whom they came in contact.

Within this last year or two, however, Reuben had felt the deep placid
current of his life strangely disturbed. His life-long playmate,
Priscilla Fish, whose parents’ farm (three miles away) was the nearest
to that of the Eddys, had suddenly assumed a totally different
appearance in his eyes. For some time he went about dreamily wondering
whatever the change could be that had at once removed her so far above
the category of ordinary, everyday people, and at the same time had
made him long for her society so ardently that every hour spent away
from her seemed to drag, and every thought was shot through and through
with side-issues about her. Now between him and his father there had
been a life-long intimacy, gently sought and fostered by the elder man
as soon as Rube was old enough to know him. Thus they were more than
father and son--they were David and Jonathan, with no secrets from one
another. So after Reuben had wrestled with this new experience long
enough to be able to reduce it to some formulable expression, he took
it to his father, as he had done every other difficulty as long as
he could remember. The old man listened in sympathetic silence while
his son described his symptoms with a gravity that would have been
ludicrous but for its earnestness and sincerity. How he felt like a
caged bird until he saw Priscilla, yet when she appeared he became hot
and cold by turns, and felt so awkward and clumsy that he wanted to
hide himself in the earth, and so on, in the same old way that was all
so new and disconcerting to him.

Very gently the old man explained matters to him, winding up with a
merry twinkle in his eyes, as he said:

‘Haow en the name er pashense yeu’ve shun clar ov this complaint all
these years ez er merricle. Ef I know ye--en I ain’t so dead certain
of that as I wuz--yew’re just the kinder lad to fall in love fust go.
Anyhow, I’m goin’ ter chip in ’n ’elp ye if it kin be did et all.’

With all his fatherly instincts aroused, the fine old fellow trudged
over to his neighbour’s farm that same evening, and sought out old man
Fish. In quaint fashion, and blaming himself whimsically for his lack
of observation in not seeing how things were going before, he explained
the situation, finding, much to his gratification, that Priscilla’s
father was entirely agreeable to the match. Solemnly the two patriarchs
discussed ways and means, planning all manner of pleasant things
for the future of their children as far as their sober wishes would
allow them. That Reuben and Priscilla should marry, inherit the Eddy
homestead, and glide placidly along through life as their parents
had done, seemed to these two fond old hearts as roseate a prospect
as could be desired. So they sat on, exchanging their slow-moving
thoughts, until long past their usual early hour for bed. After a long
pause, Farmer Eddy stretched himself with a yawn and said:

‘Wall, Zeke, I reckon I’ll be gittin’ to’rds hum. Seems ter me we ben
havin’ er mighty long yarn to-night, ’relse I’m most amazin’ sleepy.
Good-night t’ye.’

There was no reply. It was perfectly dark, for they had been sitting in
the barn, and when the night closed softly down they had not thought
to get a lamp, in their earnestness of conversation. Slightly raising
his voice, Farmer Eddy repeated his salutation, but it fell upon the
unresponsive darkness around like a pebble dropped into a deep well.
With a chill creeping over his scalp the old man reached forward to
where his friend was sitting and groped for his hand. It was some
seconds before he could find what he sought, and when he did, the truth
sank into his marrow instantly: Ezekiel Fish was dead.

Trembling in every fibre, Eddy hastily made for the house, coming into
the well-lighted living-room with his message in his face. The family,
consisting of Mrs. Fish, her two grown-up sons, and Priscilla, were all
seated there, eagerly discussing a knotty point in some book Priscilla
had been reading aloud, but the entry of the old man and their first
glance at his face froze them into silence. Going straight up to the
mother, Eddy laid his trembling hand upon her shoulder, and said,
‘Hepziber, the Lord be good t’ye. He’s taken away yew’re husband.’

There was no outcry. Priscilla came swiftly to her mother’s side and
tried to soothe the heavily stricken woman, whose silent suffering was
pitiful to see; while the two sons and the old man, bearing lights,
returned to the barn and reverently carried in the body. The usual sad
offices were soon rendered to the remains, and with slow, uncertain
steps Eddy returned home to tell his sorrowful story and warn Reuben
that, for the present at any rate, a prior claim to attention had been
made upon their neighbour’s family.

Some months, therefore, elapsed before anything of the matter that lay
so close to his heart passed Reuben’s lips. But he was by no means
impetuous, and besides, he had always been trained to subordinate his
wishes to those of others, so that while his love was undoubtedly
rooting and grounding itself more firmly every day, he was able
to abstain from all mention of it to its object. Summer came, and
with it an opportunity during a long Sunday afternoon’s ramble with
Priscilla to broach the important matter to her. She listened--somewhat
listlessly, it is true, but still she listened; while Rube, growing
bolder as he went on, and marvelling at his own powers of speech,
poured out to her his hopes and plans. But no enthusiasm could hold out
long under the unconcealed air of indifference with which his fervent
speech was received, and he soon sobered down to wonder quietly how
it was she took his vehemence so coolly. Being ready, however, to
supply all deficiencies from his own abundant stock, he was not unduly
depressed. And as the days went by his sweet sunny temperament asserted
itself, and hope, almost amounting to certainty, arose within him that
she would presently, as he had done, find all things changed under the
new light of love. Yet in spite of his hopefulness, a weary sense of
the hilly road he was travelling would occasionally give him serious
pause, and he grew hungry for some return, however slight, of his
lavish affection. And it was with one of these moods that this chapter
and the story open.



CHAPTER II

‘VENI, VIDI, VICI’


After the death of Ezekiel Fish the care of the farm devolved upon the
two brothers, both of them typical Yankee farmers, but without a trace
of the kindliness so characteristic of the Eddys. Rube had never been a
favourite with them. They dared not despise him openly--he was too big
and strong for that; but they spoke of him behind his back in terms of
disparagement, and did all in their power to discourage the slightest
feeling of affection for him that they imagined their sister to have.
Jake, the elder brother, a man some three years older than Rube, had
by virtue of his seniority assumed full charge of affairs, and already
had begun to launch out in various speculative ways that troubled the
old lady sorely. His visits to Boston ‘on business’ were frequent and
prolonged, and already he was becoming known to a few of his less
reputable associates as a ’feller thet wuz makin’ things hum a bit.’

In these altered circumstances it was no wonder that Rube pressed his
suit more earnestly than ever. His unselfish nature was fully alarmed
for Priscilla’s immediate future, and his anxiety on her behalf gave
his love an added lustre which it had lacked before. But to his
distress and chagrin, the steady growth of his affection did not
awaken in her the slightest responsiveness. To a stranger it would
have been at once manifest that she merely tolerated the young man;
even to his love-blinded perceptions the fact stubbornly persisted in
revealing itself. Rube endured this coldness patiently for months,
until on the evening of the commencement of our story he had drifted
almost unconsciously into a protest against this treatment of himself
by Priscilla who, if she had never given him any encouragement worth
speaking of, had at least tacitly accepted him as a lover. She had
received his complaint in the manner already specified, speaking the
exact truth about the state of her feelings towards him as far as she
knew them. The trouble was that she had not quite realised the strength
of a feeling of unrest and discontent with her surroundings which had
been steadily eating into her mind for months past. It was largely due
to her brother Jake, who, in the elated condition generally noticeable
on his return from Boston, was wont to launch into extravagant praise
of city life with its light and bustle and abundant enjoyments.
Naturally he was correspondingly contemptuous of the well-ordered
procession of days characteristic of the country. The majestic
harmonies and sweet confidences of Nature, the changeful orchestra of
each day, and the placid stillness of the nights, had become to his
disorganised ideas like the stagnation of death. His was that subtle
malaise that stealthily undermines the natural order of things, and,
leaving the countryside to go out of cultivation, herds men and women
together in vast feverish crowds to stew and fret and die, but never to
return to the quiet of the country again.

This miserable change had, without her knowledge, infected Priscilla
also in such a manner that now every task was irksome, the stillness
of the evenings almost unbearable. Irritability, which had never
before disfigured her character, became increasingly noticeable. Even
Rube saw the change, but could not dream of its cause, and innocently
added to it by his dog-like untiring affection. Matters were in this
unsatisfactory state when one evening the sound of wheels through the
crisp air warned the inmates of the Fish place that Jake was returning
from one of his Boston jaunts. Priscilla dropped her knitting and went
to the door which looked across the wide paddock down the road. To her
surprise she saw in the fast approaching buggy two forms. Jake was
bringing a visitor! The prospect of any break in what had now become
almost an intolerable monotony so affected her that she felt nearly
intoxicated, her face flushed rosily, and a tingling thrill that was
almost pain rushed all over her. Yet she could not move, but stood
there framed in the portal like a graceful picture, while the buggy
drew up at the roadside and the men alighted. As they came across the
paddock towards her she saw that the stranger was tall and stalwart,
walking with the easy loose-jointed swing of the smart sailor. He
was dressed in the garb of an ordinary well-clothed townsman, but a
wide sombrero, of brown velvet apparently, shaded his face. Whether
by accident or design on his part, this hat completed his resemblance
to one of the old conquistadores or grandees of Spain painted by
Velasquez. For his visage was swarthy and oval, his eyes large, black,
and brilliant, and the lower half of his face was covered by a pointed
beard and immense moustache so black and thick and silky that it hardly
seemed of natural growth. To Priscilla’s eyes he looked as if he had
just stepped across the years out of Prescott’s living page, and, like
so many others of her sex, in that moment she gave him her whole heart,
offered herself up to the husk of a man, unknowing and uncaring what it
contained.

Her mind in a confused whirl of thought, she stood as if petrified
until the travellers reached her, and made no sign, even when Jake
said, ‘Thishyer’s my sister Priscilla, Cap’n. Pris, Cap’n Da Silva.’
The Captain bowed, gracefully enough because naturally, but with
evident signs that the movement was unusual, and held out his small and
well-shaped brown hand to meet Priscilla’s white and plump one. The
contact of their hands acted upon her like a vigorous restorative, and
the blood fled back again from her face and neck, leaving them for the
moment unnaturally pale as she found her voice and bade the stranger
welcome. Even Jake’s dull eyes could not fail to see how powerfully his
sister was impressed by the Captain, and it pleased him well. Selfish
and grasping, he was by no means sorry to get rid of his sister, nor
did the thought of his mother’s loneliness affect him in the slightest
degree. So that it was with a chuckle of satisfaction he turned away to
put up his horse and buggy, saying carelessly as he did so, ‘’Scuse me,
Cap. My sister’ll look after you in shape, won’t ye, Pris?’

Thenceforward Priscilla and the Captain were constant companions,
their intimacy tacitly encouraged by Jake, who was in a high state
of satisfaction at the prospect of getting rid of his sister finally.
The mother made many attempts to gain her daughter’s confidence,
for she felt an innate distrust of the handsome stranger. But
Priscilla, forgetting all her mother’s claims, avoided with intuitive
diplomacy any approach to the subject on her part, showing at times
an irritability of manner that sorely troubled the old lady, who,
having no one to turn to in her distress of mind, was lonely indeed.
At last, one day when Pris, the Captain, and Jake had driven off upon
some excursion of pleasure, she felt that she could bear the trouble
alone no longer, and taking advantage of her younger son’s absence at
a neighbouring farm, she made a pilgrimage over to the Eddy farmhouse,
intent upon pouring out her heart to Mrs. Eddy. The meeting between the
two old dames was full of pathetic interest, for Mrs. Eddy loved her
boy so fondly that, although she had never felt drawn to Priscilla,
it was enough for her that Rube loved the girl. His happiness was
the consideration that overtopped all others in her heart. So that
when Mrs. Fish unburdened herself, her hearer was torn by maternal
solicitude for her boy, and for the time her anxiety as to the effect
this news would have upon him was too great to allow her to reply. And
when she did speak, her words sounded hollow and unmeaning--so much so
that her visitor stared at her wonderingly. For Mrs. Eddy’s powers of
consolation and wisdom of counsel were matters of common knowledge over
a wide extent of country--she was looked up to as infallible. The look
in her visitor’s eyes recalled her to herself somewhat, and choking
down her feelings by a great effort, she said:

‘Wall, Hepziber, yewrs ’s surely a hard case, ’n’ I kain’t fur th’ life
of me see wut yew’re to do. Ef Pris is ’tarmined tu go her own way ’n’
wun’t listen to yew on the matter ’t all, ’n’ ef, ’s yew say, Jake’s
doin’ his best t’ encourage her, yew’re jest brought face to face with
th’ wall, ’s yew may say. My Rube w’d hev made her a good husband, an’
one ’bout whose record there couldn’t be any doubt; but I’ve seen fur a
long time that she wuz jest puttin’ up with him like--she didn’t love
him more ’n she did me, ’n’ you know she never took ter me, ner dad
eyther. Go home ’n’ pray about it, Hepziber; it’s all we kin do. As fur
myself, I’ve got ter wrassle with th’ Lord for my boy, fur how he’ll
b’ar this I kain’t begin ter think.’

And with this cold comfort (to her), Widow Fish had to depart for the
home she was beginning to feel a stranger in, after all these years,
leaving Mrs. Eddy with a heart overflowing with sorrowful love for her
only son. With a natural dread of the effect the news would have upon
him, she put in practice all the simple arts she knew to keep him in
ignorance of what was brewing, and finally succeeded, by the aid of her
husband, in despatching him to Boston on business without his calling
at the Fish place first. He was absent from home for a fortnight,
and when he returned, after an hour or two spent with his father and
mother, he rose and said, with a transparent attempt to conceal his
eagerness:

‘I guess I’ll jest stroll over an’ see Pris. I’d like to tell her ’bout
some o’ the Boston sights. ’N’ I’ve brought her a cunning little watch
for a birthday present.’

The mother looked appealingly at her husband, who, answering her gaze
with eyes full of fondness, rose, and laying his hand upon Rube’s
shoulder, said:

‘My son, yew’re a man in years an’ strength, ’n’ I’ve brung ye up to be
the _good_ man I b’lieve y’ are. Y’ haven’t hed enny big trouble yet,
but y’ know ther’ ain’t nothin’ in th’ world yew kin ’pend on till it’s
tested. Yew’re goin’ ter be tested now. Priscilla’s married.’

The watch dropped from the young man’s fingers on to the stone floor
and was broken. Except for that sound there was absolute silence: none
of the three seemed to breathe. Presently Rube spoke:

‘Thank ye, father, fur tellin’ me plain ’n’ prompt. Now I think I’ll go
upstairs ’n’ rest.’

And with heavy uncertain steps Rube left the kitchen, mounted to the
little room he had occupied since he was a child, and shut himself in.

It was true. With a haste that was explained by the Captain as
absolutely necessary on account of his ship being ordered to sea at
a very short notice, he had pressed his suit when once he found how
willing Priscilla was to take him at his own valuation. Mrs. Fish,
thoroughly bewildered by the whole hasty proceeding, wandered about the
house like an unquiet ghost, doing nothing either to help or hinder
the preparations. Jake was unwontedly lavish with the funds necessary,
and indefatigable in giving assistance, so that two days before Rube
returned from Boston the newly married pair had departed for New
Bedford with the intention of spending their honeymoon on board Captain
Da Silva’s ship as she journeyed southward on the commencement of her
long voyage. She was called the _Grampus_, and was one of the fine
fleet of South Sea whaleships then sailing from New Bedford, although
so ignorant were the farm-folk of Vermont of maritime matters that even
Jake, smart as he fancied himself, had but the dimmest, vaguest idea of
what the life was that his sister was going to be shut up to for the
next three or four years. Still less did he care. As for Priscilla, she
would have accepted unquestioningly any situation into which she might
be brought so long as she was by the side of the man she worshipped
with a fierce unreasoning intensity. Of Rube she never thought for more
than a minute at a time, and then it was only with a sense of relief
at the knowledge that he would trouble her no more. From her mother
she parted without regret: there seemed to be no room in her mind
for anything else but intense satisfaction in the prize she believed
herself to have won. Even the prospect of seeing the great world which
had once claimed all her desires was but a feeble unit now in the vast
sum of her delight in the possession of Ramon Da Silva. Nor was her joy
in the least damped by the masterful way in which he accepted all the
affection she lavished upon him. To do him justice, he was hardly to
blame for this. His career, from the time he had enlisted as a green
hand on board of an American whaler at Fayal, in his sixteenth year,
had been one long series of successes, due to the great force of his
character, his utter unscrupulousness, and entire absence of fear. Step
by step he had risen in his dangerous profession until he had become
master of a whaleship, while his name was a household word among the
fleet for smartness, courage, and--brutality.



CHAPTER III

A SUDDEN RESOLVE


When Rube came down the next morning and composedly met his father’s
and mother’s anxious looks, he had the listless air of a man whose
spirit had been broken. There was a droop in his shoulders, a dulness
in his eyes that contrasted painfully with the bright alertness of his
glance and carriage of the day before. But he said nothing of his blow,
and his parents wisely forbore to say anything either, trusting that
his young and healthy body would come to the assistance of his mind,
and that the wound would soon skin over. Unfortunately for their hopes,
his love had been the pivot of his life. While a good farmer, a good
son, and a good business man, he had no hobbies, he read little, and,
being much alone, he had allowed his passion for Priscilla to become so
interwoven with his every thought and action that the knowledge of her
loss had been like a rending of soul from body. So he went about his
duties like a somnambulist, seeking no comfort, making no confidences,
and apparently as insensible to externals as a hypnotised man would be.

In this dull round of daily tasks several weeks passed away, until it
happened that he found himself at the village grocery on some trivial
errand. There was the usual knot of loungers ready to talk, and
absurdly grateful for the coming of any stranger with something fresh
to say. As he passed through them with a brief nod of recognition
to one and another, and entered the store, he saw standing erect in
their midst a tall wiry-looking man, whose face was unfamiliar to him.
Pausing for an instant, with the first symptom of interest he had
manifested for many days, he heard the stranger say:

‘Yas, ’n’ if enny ov yew fellers hed th’ grit ov a chipmunk, yew
wouldn’t take twicet t’ think over yer anser. Wut man’d go on grindin’
mud all his life in a dead-’n’-alive God-fergotten corner like this
when he’s got ’n opportoonity of seein’ the world--all th’ world, mind
ye, east, west, north, and south--an’ makin’ a small forchin ’s well?
I dunno wuts come over the yewth ov Amurica to-day. Sims t’ me they’ve
lost their old vim ’n’ push altogether. Well, s’ long, boys; if I
kain’t persuade ye I kain’t, ’n’ there’s an eend on ’t, ’n’ I mus’ be
gittin’ ’long. But ef enny ov ye wants time t’ make up yer minds, I
sh’l be back this way ag’in ter-morrer ev’nin’, ’n’ that’ll be the las’
chance you’ll git, enny ov ye.’

Although he had not heard any of the stranger’s preliminary discourse,
and shrank from making inquiries, Rube’s interest was aroused to the
highest pitch. He returned to his home with the few words he had
heard seething and bubbling in his mind. For he felt that at last
here was a way of escape from the almost insupportable deadness of
his life. He could not realise that ‘the mind is its own place,’ and
so, like a caged animal, seeing a door of hope open to him, he felt
an unconquerable longing to flee. He said not a word throughout the
evening meal, but that was so much his habit now that it passed
unnoticed. Mechanically he bowed his head at ‘worship,’ but his
father’s reading of a chapter from the Bible might have been in the
original Hebrew for all he understood of it. After gaining the solitude
of his room, he sat on the bed, his head on his hands, trying hard to
reduce the whirlpool of his thoughts to some definite shape until far
into the night, but in vain. Only one idea seemed to stand out sharply
and distinctly against the misty tumult: he must _go_. At last, wearied
with mental conflict, he fell backward, dressed as he was, and went to
sleep.

He rose unrefreshed, with a racking headache for the first time in
his life, and went about his usual round of duties automatically. But
his face bore such evident traces of his last night’s conflict that
they could not escape his mother’s keen eye. She anxiously inquired
after his health, but was met with the careless reply that he was ‘all
right.’ She knew better, of course, but it had never been her way to
force confidence, and so she manifested no more curiosity. She only
looked wistfully at her boy when unobserved by him, and hovered about
him as if more than ordinarily solicitous for his comfort. All day long
he moved and looked like a man in a dream, every thought, every feeling
merged in one idea--escape. Strange, that it never occurred to him how
impossible it is for a man to flee from himself.

Without waiting for supper, and as if dreading to be questioned, no
sooner was the day’s work done than he strode off to the village
grocery, assuming, as he approached it, a most elaborate air of
unconcern, and lounging into the midst of the little knot of listless
men hanging about the door as if nothing mattered--an attitude common
to all of them. He had not long to wait. In about ten minutes after his
arrival a brisk footfall was heard, and turning the corner sharply the
lean, keen-looking stranger of the previous evening strode into the
midst of the group.

‘Evenin’, boys,’ he jerked out, diving into the pockets of his pants
at the same time and producing a formidable plug of hard tobacco and
a knife. Having provided himself with a fresh cud and passed on the
materials to his next neighbour, he proceeded:

‘Wall, boys, hev ye made up yer minds yet? This, as the paestor sez, is
the last time ov askin’. Ye’ve got ter speak up now, ’relse stay right
whar y’ are f’rever ’n’ ever. ’N’ that, _I_ sh’d say, ’d be ’nough t’
decide fr’anny young _man_. Veg’tables don’ count anyhaow.’

This short harangue ended, he looked slily at his hearers to see
whether he had made any impression upon them, but with the exception
of a vacant half laugh or two, accompanied by an uneasy shuffle on the
part of the utterers thereof, they might as well all have been deaf
for any notice they took of him. But suddenly, to his astonishment
(although he was careful not to show it), Rube, who was a stranger to
him, stepped forward and said:

‘Wall, stranger, I guess I’ll hitch hosses with ye. When d’ ye start,
an’ what’s th’ ’rangements?’

‘Right, my boy, I’m real proud of ye. I’m startin’ this evenin’ as
ever is; ’n’ as t’ ’rangements, ye’ve only got ter sign thishyer paper
agreein’ t’ join any ship I s’lect f’r ye, ’n’ take a little keepsake
from me in the shape of two-an’-a-haef dollars. Then ye’ll pack up
yer traps, ’n’ I’ll see ye booked through to Noo Bedford. Yew’ll start
first thing in the mornin’.’

Hardly looking at the form of agreement, Rube signed, the stranger
being provided with pen and ink, and dropping the money loosely into
his pocket, he strode off homewards, leaving the loungers all agape at
the idea of Rube Eddy, who was well known to be one of the steadiest
and most comfortably established young men in the county, going off at
a minute’s notice to foreign lands. Long and earnest was the discussion
that followed, all sorts of possible and impossible reasons for the
step Rube had taken being brought forward. The stranger lolled at his
ease, listening in the hope that Rube’s example might prove contagious,
but, to his disappointment, it seemed to have quite a contrary effect.
The talkers were like men who had just witnessed one of their number
take a plunge into the fathomless abyss, from the brink of which they
all drew back with horror. This state of mind soon became evident
to the stranger, who, jerking himself to his feet, shook himself,
stretched, yawned, and finally said:

‘Wall, boys, kain’t linger with ye always. I’m beginnin’ t’ feel like
Rip Van Winkle meself in thishyer slumbersom place. I reckon I shall
hev to hurry back to civilisation agen before I go to sleep too. How on
airth yew fellers keep ’wake long ’nough t’ eat ’n drink I d’no.’

With this parting shot he turned on his heel and disappeared into the
gathering darkness, and they saw him no more.

Meanwhile Rube, his mind a blank, reached home and, hastily ascending
to his room, busied himself gathering together his clothing. Good
serviceable homespun, most of it, such as would be fit for any work,
however rough, that might fall to his lot. Having made it into a
compact bundle, with a celerity that raised a dim wonder even in
himself, he drew himself up, as if bracing all his fortitude to meet
father and mother. Memories of the quiet, pleasant years began to
crowd in upon him, but with a gesture as if to crush them back, he
deliberately walked down the narrow stairway, whose every step seemed
to utter a reproachful creak. Entering the kitchen, he crossed over
to the fireside, where his parents sat facing each other and calmly
talking over some trivial happening of the day. Standing before them,
he waited a moment, while they both looked up at him, and in that one
swift glance his mother knew that a crisis had arrived. In a husky
voice, that sounded as if it belonged to someone else, he said:

‘Mother, Dad, I’m goin’ away termorrer mornin’. Fergive me fer leavin’
ye like this, but I jest had ter go. I’m no good here any more. I’m
goin’ t’ sea, ’n’ when I come back mebbe I’ll be a stronger man. Naow
I’m a wuthless, dreamy shote, ’n’ I feel ’s if thishyer quiet easy life
’d certainly drive me mad befo’ very long.’

‘_Must_ you go to-morrow, my son?’ murmured his mother hopelessly, for
she knew the breed, knew that once set upon a thing the Eddys were
immovable, and yet she felt obliged to make an effort.

‘Yes, mother. ’Greement’s signed, th’ airnest money’s in my pocket, an’
my duds are all packed. I’m goin’, sure.’

‘Rube,’ said his father, ‘we’ve been mighty cluss friends all our
lives, an’ we ain’t goin’ ter fall eout naouw, I’m dead shore o’ that.
But ye mout ha’ told me wut ye wuz meditatin’. ’T wan’t far t’ me, boy,
naow wuz it?’

For all answer Rube reached for his father’s hand and held it tight,
while the working of his face showed how hard the simple words had hit
him.

The father broke the silence again by saying, ‘Let us pray.’ With a
sudden return to his childhood Rube knelt at his mother’s knee, while
the old man, as had been his nightly wont ever since he first brought
home his young bride, but with an added solemnity born of the shadow of
his first bereavement, spoke to his Friend:

‘Father, eour hearts air troubled. Yew’ve brung us along a pleasant
road right inter the green valley of comfortable old age. We’ve hed a
happy time together, ’n’ this our son hez alwus ben a delight to us. We
looked that he sh’d still be so, that he sh’d close eour eyes when we
laid us down at last t’ sleep. P’raps we hev been selfish, ’n’ need a
lesson to teach us wut it means to spare an only son. He’s goin’ away
from us f’r a long time--where, he doesn’t know himself; but however
fur he goes, don’t let him get away from you. We don’t ask you t’ spare
him t’ us ef it’s necessary we sh’d never see him alive any more; but
ef it _might_ be, Father, you know how ’tis yourself, ’n’ therefore you
know what it’ll mean t’ us t’ have him back again. Make him through
all he’ll have t’ bear such a man as yew’d love to have him, ’n supply
his place at home, if it ken be supplied, by a truer sense of yew’re
presence with us. Bless my son, O Father, and bless us, f’r _yewr_
Son’s sake. Amen.’

Little more was said, although they sat hand in hand far into the
night. Rube wanted nothing that his father could give him, having
sufficient money for all his prospective needs; but he accepted his
mother’s Bible gratefully, feeling that it would be a palpable link
with her. At last they went to bed, where Rube, not from callousness,
but from sheer overstrain of mind, slept soundly. His mother lay all
through the hours silently praying, while the unhindered tears trickled
slowly and continuously down. And his father watched with her.



CHAPTER IV

DEPARTURE


Morning broke over the Eddy homestead grey and cheerless, a fitting
reflection of the frame of mind holding sway over its inmates. Rube
came down with his grip-sack in his hand, his best clothes donned, and
an air of stern resolve on his strong features. He found his father and
mother awaiting him in the humble room where he had met them ever since
his mind first awakened to the knowledge of worldly matters. For a few
moments after the ‘good mornings’ were said, no word further passed the
lips of the three. Suddenly the mother spoke, saying:

‘Rube, my son, you never told us _whar’_ you were goin’.’

To some of us perhaps it may seem strange that neither father nor
mother had asked this question before, but the fact is that in their
secluded lives the mere idea of one of them leaving home for so long
was sufficiently terrible, without any definition of the precise
locality to which the wanderer might be directing his steps being
thought of. But the mother’s heart was already in prospect reaching out
after the absent one, and therefore it was but fitting and natural that
she should be the first to desire to know whither he was going. Rube
flushed a deep red as the necessary vagueness of his reply dawned upon
him, but he said:

‘I’m goin’ ter sea, mother; thet’s all I know at present. When I git t’
Noo Bedford an’ find out whar’ I kin git letters or write frum, be sure
I’ll let you know to onct. I’m drefful sorry I kain’t tell you anythin’
more ’n thet.’

The morning meal, ample and palatable as it always is on these Eastern
farms, was spread, and the three took their places at the board; but
although they made a brave show of eating, the food would not be got
rid of, and suddenly Rube arose, as if the sight of his father’s worn
face and his mother’s eyes, bleared with weeping through the long
night, was too much for him, saying as he did so:

‘Wall, it’s time I wuz off. Good-bye, mother; good-bye, father. I know
yewr prayers’ll hover roun’ me wharever I go; and ez soon ez I hev
worn out this drefful restless feelin’ I’ll come back and settle down,
please God, never to go away any more.’

A silent kiss from the mother, a grave handshake from the father, and
Rube turned his back upon home. Nor did he once look behind him as he
strode down the road towards where, in the little village, a conveyance
was waiting to take him to the station, whence he might reach New
Bedford by railroad. He did not look back because he feared to see
his mother’s face. Not that his resolve to go would have been thereby
weakened, but that he could not help feeling guilty in that he was
weakly fleeing from what he could not help knowing was his duty--weakly
giving way to what he could not help knowing was after all, cowardice.
But who shall dare to judge the action of his fellow-men under
abnormal conditions? ‘Put yourself in his place’ is a good motto,
but how very rarely is it possible for us to act it out! Therefore,
although many of us may very well feel inclined to judge Rube harshly
for thus deserting father and mother and a life of usefulness, and
becoming a wanderer on the face of the deep simply because the woman
of his choice could not be his, let us not forget that ever since
the world began, and men and women have been able to recount their
experiences, strange things have been recorded as done by disappointed
lovers against their better judgment.

Rube’s mind as the train sped him onwards towards the beautiful New
England town whence he was to start upon his long sea journeyings was
almost a blank. Never given much to a habit of introspection, he was
by reason of the shock that he had recently received less able now to
devote himself to concentrated thought than ever; and so, had he been
asked what he was thinking about during that long railway journey, he
would have replied, no doubt with perfect frankness, ‘Hardly anything.’
I think this experience is not uncommon, even among men and women given
to meditation, when suddenly they have received a mental blow. Be that
as it may--and I will own that it is a debatable point--when Rube
arrived at New Bedford he had just the air of stolid bewilderment that
is generally noticeable upon the faces of country-bred people first
coming in contact with the strangeness of life in a seaport town. And
truly one might have sailed the wide world round and not have found
a more wonderful seaport than New Bedford was in those days. Men of
almost every nation under heaven, clad in outlandish garments, jostled
each other along the strongly smelling wharves and picturesque streets
bordering the bay. New Bedford was then in the height of her prosperity
as metropolis of the whaling world. Over six hundred fine ships came
and went on their adventurous sea-questings, bringing with them from
the uttermost ends of the earth queer-looking denizens of those far-off
lands. Kanakas from the multitudinous Isles of the Pacific, Aborigines
from Central America, Aleuts from Alaska, Japanese from Nippon,
Chinese, Malays, Papuans, and Dyaks from the East Indian Archipelago,
Lascars from Hindustan, Arabs from the Persian Gulf, and last, but
by far the most numerous of all these wanderers, Portuguese of every
hue, from deepest black to creamy white, from the Fortunate Isles.
The diversity of peoples was not more wonderful than the quaintness
of their costumes, which were, indeed, a chance medley of all the
national dresses of the world. Yet in every case a keen observer, and
one acquainted with the subject, might have recognised evidences of an
attempt on the part of the wearer to give to his nondescript raiment
some national peculiarity. Not only were the people a wonderful sight,
but another sense--that of smell--was overpoweringly arrested on the
crowded wharves, where scores of weatherbeaten ships discharged their
greasy spoils, the odour from which permeated the entire atmosphere,
seizing upon a stranger with almost intoxicating effect. Then the
sounds!--the loud cries of the labourers as they toiled to discharge
the cargoes from the ships, the wonderful medley of languages spoken
by the strange seafarers slouching along the shore, and, pervading
all, the hollow murmur of the sea as it rolled in on the beaches of the
beautiful bay under the stress of a strong landward gale.

Amidst these novel sights, sounds, and smells, Rube made his way like
a man in a dream towards the place whither he had been directed, not
without considerable difficulty, as three out of every four persons
of whom he inquired his direction did not understand a word that he
said. This, to a man who had never before met with anybody not speaking
his own tongue, was really bewildering, and it was not therefore
to be wondered at that by the time Rube had found the building he
sought, his mental processes, never too acute, were reduced almost
to numbness. Inquiring timidly at the door of the building to which
he had been directed as the place where he should find Mr. Sawtell,
he was answered nonchalantly by an elderly man, whose grey beard was
plentifully streaked with tobacco juice, that if he went right in
and took the first door on the left he’d find what he sought. Rube
meekly obeyed, and entered a large, high-ceilinged room, scantily
furnished, with several desks enclosed by a low fence and some benches.
Two men sat at the desks looking as unlike the embodiment of our
modern ideas of clerks as could well be imagined, for both of them
had soft wideawake hats perched on the backs of their heads, both
were smoking enormous cigars, and both bore in their countenances
the expression of temporarily out-of-work pirates more than that of
peaceful quill-drivers. As Rube approached the nearest desk he was
somewhat amazed to see the clerk with his chair tilted back and his
feet apparently resting upon the papers before him. He gazed at the
strongly-marked lineaments of the official, and that worthy returned
his look with interest, presently removing the cigar from his mouth
and saying: ‘Wal, young feller; an’ wut kin I hev the pleasure?’ Rube
stammered out, rather incoherently: ‘Mr. Sawtell engaged me th’ other
day to come down here to jine a ship to go to sea.’ ‘Oh!’ said the
clerk, ‘Sawtell engaged yer, did he? And wut mought be the name of
the ship?’ ‘I don’ know,’ replied Reuben, who was fast recovering his
equanimity; ’he jest told me to come right here.’ ‘That’s all right,
sonny,’ said the clerk. ‘Sit down thar an’ wait fer him; he’ll be roun’
bimeby.’

Reuben sat down as directed, and for nearly two hours had the interest
of seeing individuals, something like himself, enter, ask almost the
same question, and receive almost the same reply, until the room was
fairly full. Then, when Reuben began to think that the whole affair
must be a mistake, Sawtell entered. With him there came a man looking
more like an Eastern patriarch than a seafarer--a tall, loose-jointed,
hook-nosed, grey-bearded man, clad in homespun, a long coat reaching
nearly to his feet, and a soft steeple-crowned felt hat upon his head.
But quaint as his figure might be, there was no mistaking the keen,
eagle-like glance of his eyes as he swept them round on the silent
men meekly awaiting the arbiter of their fate. And it was he, the
Patriarch, who spoke first. ‘Is this the crowd you’ve gut fur me,
Sawtell?’ ‘Yes, Cap’n Hampden, an’ ez likely a lookin’ lot ’s ever
I see.’ ‘H’m, mebbe so, but jest naow I guess there’s a consid’ble
quantity of plough soil hangin’ to ’em. But they _do_ seem likely
enough, as yer say. However, I gut no time to spare. We’re bound out
first tide to-morrer, an’ if these gentlemen air _quite_ disengaged’
(waving his hand towards the clerks) ‘we’ll purceed to business to
once.’ Then, raising his voice, he addressed the waiting candidates
comprehensively, saying: ‘Wal, young men, so ye feel inclined to try
yewr fortunes upon the ragin’ deep, do ye?’ Muttered responses went up,
of which no man might gather the import, save that they were in the
affirmative. ‘Right an’ good,’ said the Patriarch; ‘step up here, and
hear this _gentleman_’ (with a sarcastic inflection upon the last word)
‘read eout t’ ye the conditions of sarvice.’

With an unexpected alacrity one of the clerks sprang to his feet,
and, from a somewhat grimy document, read in a high sing-song tone of
voice an agreement whereby the said crew covenanted to proceed in the
good ship _Xiphias_ to any port or ports of the navigable ocean in
pursuit of whales, seals, and any other denizens of the deep capable
of being made profitable to crew and owners; voyage not to exceed four
years. It must be confessed that, slurred over as the last two words
were (unintentionally, no doubt), several of the candidates suddenly
showed a wistfulness of countenance, as if they had a prospective idea
of what those four years might mean, but no word was spoken by any of
them. Then, one by one, they stepped up to the desk and signed their
names, first being told that they would be entitled to receive a good
and sufficient quantity of cooked provisions, and the 250th lay, in
return for their unquestioning obedience at all times to all orders
that Captain Hampden and his officers might issue to them. And this
important preliminary finished, they were all sternly ordered, as being
men now under command, to be down at the ship by six o’clock in the
morning at latest.

So the newly engaged crew filed out of the office and stood in a little
group on the sidewalk hesitatingly. A few words passed--invitations to
drink for the most part--and one or two spoke to Rube; but he answered
them unthinkingly, feeling, indeed, the need for being alone. It was
all so new and strange to the country-bred man, and he felt that
conversation with anybody would be insupportable. So, with muttered
excuses, he left the company, and went for a stroll along the wharves,
taking in all the wonders of this strange place with wide-open eyes,
but most of his other senses nearly out of action. At last, utterly
weary, he turned into a respectable-looking eatinghouse by the
waterside, and called for some food, inquiring of the young woman who
brought it whether he might take up his lodging there for the night.
She answered ‘Yes’ with a surprised air, and, apparently unable to
overcome her curiosity, put several questions to him, as to whence he
came and whither he was going, all of which he answered evasively,
conveying the idea that what he wanted was to be left alone in peace
with his own thoughts. Quite unaccustomed to such rudeness on the
part of her customers, the young woman tossed her head and departed,
leaving him to his solitary meal. Nor did she return again until,
rapping on the table, he summoned her and asked to be shown his room.
With a scornful look at a man who could be so utterly unresponsive to
the offer of polite conversation, she led the way to a very small,
barely-furnished chamber, showed him in and left him; and he, with the
same bewildered air that he had worn ever since reaching the town,
slowly took off his clothes and got into bed, although it was hardly
yet dark. In a few minutes the strain of the past twenty-four hours was
relaxed, and he was fast asleep.



CHAPTER V

OUTWARD BOUND


Rube awakened before dawn without being called, but with a momentary
feeling of terror lest he should have overslept himself. The sound of
a neighbouring church clock striking five reassured him, and hurriedly
dressing he made his way downstairs, paid his modest bill to the sleepy
landlord, who was peering out into the grey of the early morning, and
rapidly passed along the wharves in the direction of the ship which had
been pointed out to him the previous afternoon. Arriving alongside,
he was surprised to see how little bustle and apparent preparation
for seafaring was in evidence. Several men were slouching about the
decks, and one energetic individual was bellowing occasional orders
in an exceedingly loud voice, but beyond that the vessel might, for
all he could see, have been going to stay where she was indefinitely.
Presently, however, he noticed a little group coming with swaying steps
up the wharf, and soon they were alongside, several of them evidently
suffering from their potations of the previous evening. Then the tall
patriarchal figure of the Captain appeared, stepped on board, and
instantly the ship wakened into life.

All unaware of what was expected of him, Rube stood on deck just
where he had first stepped over the side, his few belongings in his
grip-sack lying by him, until a short, thick-set man, with a face
like unpolished mahogany, came up to him and said: ‘Naow, wut yew
doin’ here--hain’t shipped as passenger, hev ye? Them yewr duds? Get
’em below and be mighty smart abaout it, ’less you want consid’ble
trouble.’ Mechanically he obeyed the man’s actions more than his words,
which were, indeed, more than half of them almost unintelligible to
him. Going forward in the direction indicated by his interlocutor,
and finding his way below, he entered a large apartment wrapped in
the densest gloom, and it was not until somebody (who, he could not
see) struck a light, that he was able to discern its outlines, to
see all around it bunks, some occupied by bundles of clothing and
miscellaneous objects, and others by sleeping men. The atmosphere of
this dark den was foul in the extreme--so much so, in fact, that he
felt choking--and, without losing any time, he pushed his belongings
into the nearest corner that presented itself and hastened on deck.

The next hour passed with him like a fevered dream. What he was doing
or why he was doing it he knew not at all; for is there any creature
more helpless and ignorant than a grown-up man who, for the first time
in his life, takes part in the work of a ship putting out to sea? The
very language is unintelligible. Everything is so new, so strange,
and when presently to these mysteries is added the curious staggering
motion of the ship, the neophyte’s plight is a most unhappy one. But
it may be doubted whether of all the much-advertised remedies for
sea-sickness there are any so effectual as being kept at work, allowed
no respite, no moment to brood over the physical inconveniences that
assail the candidate for sea honours. The remedy is a terrible one, it
is true, but that it is effectual is equally true, and so Rube found
it. But when he was ordered aloft to loose a sail he gazed piteously up
the rigging and mentally commended himself to the care of God. For as
the ship was just feeling the inroll of the wide sea, and putting on
a most disconcerting motion, it appeared to him perfectly impossible
that he should be able to get up aloft and down again alive. Added to
this was the fact that he had not the remotest conception of what he
was intended to do. But a stalwart Portuguese standing near him when
the order was given murmured, ‘Kem along, Greenie; I shows you haow,’
and, gratefully willing, in spite of his wretched bodily condition,
he clumsily clambered up the rigging after his mentor, followed by a
perfect hurricane of opprobrium from the officer on deck, who felt
justly angered at his most reprehensible want of smartness. He gained
the foretopsail yard, and then, despite all his earnest endeavours to
learn from the Portuguese what he was supposed to do, was so overcome
with nausea that he could do nothing but hold on, just hanging there, a
limp, swaying body, unconscious of everything around and about him in
the utter misery of his inner man.

Perhaps it is as well that we draw a veil over the proceedings of the
next few days. To follow a novice like Rube through such an ordeal as
he was now undergoing, while it might certainly be interesting, could
not fail, if faithfully reported, to be very distressing to anybody
possessing a scintilla of sympathy. Let it, then, suffice to say that
on the third morning at daybreak Rube, while sitting between the main
stays keeping the look-out, began to realise that an interest in his
surroundings was rapidly beginning. Also, for the first time since he
had left home, he found himself thinking of how matters might be going
on at the farm, and then, as he pictured father and mother coming down
to the morning meal and offering up a prayer for the absent one, his
heart melted, familiar words of prayer formed upon his lips, he bowed
his head and sought the ante-chamber of the King. And, for the first
time since he had received the news that had wrought so tremendous a
change in his life, he coupled with his prayers the name of Priscilla,
that she might be blessed and helped wherever she might be, and that
her path in life might be made infinitely smoother for her than she
had, innocently enough, made his for him.

While engaged in this sacred reverie he allowed his head to droop
upon his hand, and became for the time utterly unconscious of his
surroundings.

And so it came to pass that the second mate, whose watch it happened
to be at the time, making his periodical prowl round the deck to see
that all was in order, peered up at the look-out place and saw, as he
thought, the watchman asleep. His next move was to procure a bucket of
water, which he launched with accurate aim at Rube’s crouching form.
Rube started upright, gasping and full of bewilderment at this strange
thing that had befallen him. But he was not left long in doubt, for
almost immediately came a storm of profanity, interspersed with grim
warnings as to the kind and quantity of evil that would befall him if
ever again he went to sleep on his look-out. At the first opportunity
Rube essayed to reply, and point out that he was not asleep, not
knowing, poor fellow, that no excuses of the kind are ever accepted on
board ship. His few stammered words only brought the bucket flying at
his head, and being, after all, a sensible young fellow, he took this
rough hint to mean that the only possible course for him to pursue,
under present conditions at any rate, was to take all that might be
tendered to him, making no reply unless ordered.

But the _Xiphias_ was not at all a bad ship. We may go farther, and
say she was a good ship, because Captain Hampden, stern grey Quaker
that he was, discountenanced all ill-usage of the crew that was not,
to his mind, absolutely necessary. And as he, being part owner, had
provided his crew with a plentiful supply of fairly good food, another
great source of misery on board ship was removed from them. But still
the life for a time seemed very hard to our hero, and would have
been much harder but for his magnificent physique and his splendid
patience. Moreover, he now found much comfort and a grand outlet for
his long pent-up affections in ministering to the many needs of his
hapless shipmates. For they, like himself, were drawn largely from
inland dwelling people, and several of them were much more helpless
than he. They had come to sea all unwittingly, without the slightest
foreknowledge of what awaited them, just as he had, and therefore, of
necessity, it would be some considerable time before they could settle
down to the stolid endurance which is absolutely necessary for all
those who go down to the sea in sailing ships.

A week elapsed, during which all hands were gradually being shaken down
into their several grooves. Every man on board had been allotted his
post in the boats or as a shipkeeper against the day of battle with the
monarchs of the deep. The various green hands had now some of their
greenness mellowed, and were learning, or had learned, to get aloft
and do something else beside hold on tightly when they got there. But
this was the smallest part--the mere rudiments, as it were--of their
education. Sailors on board whaling ships are, of course, required to
be fairly smart aloft, fairly smart at the ordinary avocations of a
sailor; but the principal object of their life is that they shall be
smart boatmen, and herein they differ entirely from any other merchant
seafarers whatever. And this was soon made evident to them, for at
the first opportunity, the weather being fine enough to admit of
boats being lowered with a crew of absolutely incompetent men without
danger of those valuable vessels being damaged, all hands, except four
retained to handle the ship under the charge of the captain, were sent
away to practise boatmanship.

This was a severe trial, and all the green hands suffered much. But
even here Rube’s patience and muscular development stood him in good
stead--saved him, in fact, from the energetic attentions lavishly
bestowed by the officer and harpooner of his boat upon the other
occupants. It must be confessed that he felt many misgivings upon
being so near that great heaving blue surface as he was in the frail
whaleboat. Different (and so much harder) as his life had already
been on board the ship from all his previous experiences, it was ease
and comfort as compared with this apparent tempting of fortune in a
mere cockleshell. However, given sufficient energy on the part of the
teachers, a modicum of courage and sufficient docility on the part of
the taught, men can speedily accommodate themselves to any alteration
in their habits of life, no matter how great it may be, and so, after
three days of tremendously hard training, Captain Hampden expressed
himself satisfied that his newly-gathered crew of clodhoppers might
safely be taken into battle with the great sperm whale, and have
a reasonable chance of emerging therefrom victorious. The weather
had, mercifully to those new-comers, been fairly fine for the time
of year--late autumn--although the wind had hung persistently from
the S.E., thus hindering their progress greatly; but one morning at
daybreak, the sky lowering threateningly, they were suddenly attacked
by a severe gale from the N.E. Amid the hoarse cries of the officers
and the blundering but hearty efforts of the crew, sail was shortened
to the two close-reefed topsails and foresail, and the old _Xiphias_
fled southward at a great rate for her. Then it was that Reuben, being
sent aloft upon some errand of fastening a loose end, was suddenly
seized with an attack of giddiness and fell, an inert mass, into the
sea. In a wonderfully short space of time the vessel was rounded to
and a boat lowered and manned, not by her own crew, but by picked men
capable of handling her as she _should_ be handled. So smart were their
efforts that in less than ten minutes they came up with the helpless
form of Rube as he lay unconscious upon the surface. He was seized and
hauled into the boat, brought on board, and immediately subjected to
the orthodox operations for restoring life to the apparently drowned.
Long and carefully they toiled to bring him back to life, and at last
succeeded in doing so, but when he opened his eyes upon the world
again all the details of his previous life seemed as if they had
been completely obliterated. Dismissed to the forecastle, he groped
forward like a man suddenly awakened from a long dream, and to all the
inquiries of his shipmates he turned a blank face, an uncomprehending
demeanour.

But his grand bodily powers enabled him to return to his duties almost
immediately, and from thenceforward, strangely enough, he seemed to
assimilate all that was taught him with wonderful ease--in fact, as
the hard-bitten officer to whose watch he belonged said: ‘Thet big
hayseed o’ mine seems as if ’e was a born sailorman.’ So fast did he
learn that his watchmates became absurdly jealous of him--a waste of
attention on their part, since of it he took not the slightest notice
whatever--seemed, indeed, really incapable of doing so.

Captain Hampden became interested in this peculiar development, and
occasionally condescended to ply him with questions as to his previous
experience, but all in vain. Nothing could be got out of him, and,
baffled, the good old skipper had to content himself by saying to his
chief officer: ‘Wall, at any rate, we seem to hev gut hold of a mighty
good man.’ And gradually his quiet perseverance in well doing, the
impossibility of making him angry, and the readiness with which he
would always help to the utmost of his power any of his shipmates that
were in trouble, won him a high place in the hearts of all on board;
even the Portuguese (never very friendly to men of northern breed)
could not withhold from him some uncouth tributes of affection.

And so the ship made her way slowly down to the Line, failing, however,
to the disgust of the officers, to raise a whale for the first month
after her departure from port. But the time was well spent, for all
hands, by dint of incessant practice, were now in a high state of
efficiency, only requiring their baptism of fire, if it may be called
so--their initiation into the art and mystery of whale-fighting--to
make them as good a crew as any whaling skipper could desire to
have under his command. All bullying, hazing, and what we should
call brutality, had ceased. The ship was quite as peaceful as any
‘limejuicer,’ and it was easy to see from the contented faces and
pleasant remarks of the officers how well satisfied they were with
the progress made by the men under their command in the direction of
becoming decent sailormen.



CHAPTER VI

DISILLUSIONMENT


Perhaps it is high time that we returned for a while to the career of
our heroine in her new sphere. It must be remembered that she, as so
many other young women have done, took a leap in the dark, committing
herself and her future to the care of a man about whose antecedents and
character she knew absolutely nothing, having only in the few short
days of their acquaintance seen him at his very best. But such was the
glamour with which she had invested her hero that, although she was
startled and troubled in mind by his brutal language and still more
brutal treatment of the men under his command from the first hour that
she came on board his ship, she attributed it all to the necessities of
a captain’s position. Every oath made her shudder, every blow made her
wince, yet she bore it all without remark, as belonging to a new order
of things of which she had hitherto been entirely ignorant, and upon
the merits of which at present she felt herself quite unable to give
an opinion. Perhaps, had she been able to hear the remarks that were
passed by the crew to one another when they thought such remarks might
safely be made, she would have shuddered still more. But, poor girl,
all such warning words were hidden from her, neither did she know--how
could she, indeed?--that her husband bore the unenviable reputation
of being the hardest skipper of all the hard-bitten crowd of such
men sailing from the whaling ports of North America. Still, even her
trustful heart could not fail to be wounded at the incessant cruelty
which she was now compelled to witness.

The crew, driven on board at the last moment before sailing like a pack
of cowed dogs, were a set of miserable ragamuffins, taken, apparently,
because none others could be obtained at any price. There were only
two Americans among them--two poor lads from the Western States, who
had run away from home to go to sea; the rest were representatives of
almost as many races as there were members. This, in itself, made for
the safety of the officers--made the brutality much less likely to be
resented successfully, because, among that medley of foreigners, there
could be no banding together for a common purpose of revenge. Not that
such an event was at all probable, because, according to the fixed plan
pursued on board the majority of such vessels, the precaution was taken
while yet the crew, who were nearly all green hands, were in the throes
of nausea and bewilderment at their strange surroundings, to beat them,
with or without pretext, until their spirits were thoroughly broken and
the possibility of their retaliating was hopelessly remote. Captain
Da Silva, in spite of the presence of his wife, which might have been
expected to have a humanising influence over him, was this voyage more
savagely brutal than ever he had been before. His four officers, who
knew him well, and who were all eager followers of his plans (had to
be, indeed, in order to keep their position with him), confessed one
to another that the old man seemed as if he wanted to show his bride
how black a demon he _could_ be. _He_ said, not by way of excuse, but
apparently stating a mournful fact, in conversation with his officers,
that in all his fishing he had never had such a crowd to deal with
as he had got this time, and before they had been at sea a week he
discussed with the officers elaborate plans for running across to the
Azores, driving his present crew overboard and shipping a crowd of his
fellow-countrymen therefrom. But this was going a little too far, for
three of his officers were Americans, and they by no means relished the
prospect of having an entire crew of Portuguese on board an American
ship. They felt that it would be indeed exchanging the devils they knew
for the devils they did _not_ know, and, as far as they dared, made
this plain to their brutal commander. And he, wise as well as wicked,
took the hint, for he could not afford to lose such splendid whalemen
as his officers had proved themselves to be. So, instead of working
to the eastward, they shaped a course for the Line, and met with such
good fortune in the shape of weather that, without the parting of a
rope-yarn, they found themselves at the end of a fortnight well within
the Tropics.

It was one of the characteristics of Da Silva’s career that he always
seemed to have extraordinary luck. This voyage was no exception, for
no sooner was the vessel shipshape, the whaling gear rigged, and all
fishing preparations made, than he, taking the masthead trip one
morning, sighted a grand school of sperm whales. Instantly his voice
rang throughout the ship, calling all hands to action, and even those
unhappy men who had had the hardest experience of his cruelty could not
withhold a tribute of admiration for his wonderful powers of command,
presence of mind, and exact knowledge of how to do the right thing at
the right moment.

That scratch crew of wastrels, broken-spirited as they were, seemed
to catch a spark of his enthusiasm, and exerted themselves in
extraordinary ways in order to gain his approval.

Priscilla, utterly neglected amid this hurly-burly, sat perched on
the taffrail looking with wide-eyed wonderment upon the busy scene. A
thrill of terror seized her as she saw her husband, standing erect in
the stern of the first boat lowered, urging his crew, with an unbroken
stream of profanity, to the highest efforts of which they were capable.
She could see the whales, but she hardly knew what was afoot. All that
was real to her was that the ship was deserted by almost all hands,
including the commander, only three or four being left to handle the
sails. So there she sat solitary, alarmed, full of fears for her
husband’s safety, for the result of this tremendous manœuvre, the
object of which she only dimly understood. The cries from the two men
at the masthead to those on deck she understood not at all, nor did she
dare to ask the helmsman for any information for fear that her innocent
inquiry might reach her husband’s ears later and be fiercely resented
by him. But he had obtained such a hold over her that even now she did
not blame him: she only felt sorry that he should not have had time (as
she put it to herself) to acquaint her with the reason for his hurried
departure.

Meanwhile the five boats, their crews straining at the oars to the
utmost limit of their strength, sped away at right angles to the
direction in which the whales lay. The Captain kept the lead, not that
the men in the other boats were not doing their best, but that he had a
picked crew, and that every man of them was working as if in imminent
bodily fear of some terrible punishment unless he exerted all his
muscular power. The oars rose and fell with the regularity of steam
pistons, the water foamed past the boats, but no other sound was heard
save the laboured panting of the men and the low, hissing execrations
of the Captain. It is popularly supposed that when rowing boats after
whales there is a great deal of shouted encouragement, either kindly or
the reverse, that the men themselves are apt to break into song, as Dr.
Beale permits himself to say, ‘The men sang the time-honoured whaling
chant of “Away, my boys, away, my boys, it’s time for us to go,”’ but
when it is remembered how very slight a sound, even at the distance of
miles, will suffice to alarm the valuable quarry, it will at once be
seen that experienced whale hunters would not be likely to do such a
foolish thing as to make unnecessary noises, even supposing that they
had breath to spare for doing so.

At last, when the rowers felt as if their arms would drop off at the
shoulders, the Captain’s deep voice was heard saying, ‘Peak oars, step
mast, up sprit.’ These actions were immediately copied by each of
the other boats, and, in three minutes from the time they had ceased
rowing, the five boats, under the steady stress of their big sails,
were bounding over the bright sea before the wind down on to the
whales. The propulsion with the oars had only been resorted to for the
purpose of obtaining a good weather gauge. That once reached, and the
sails set, the boats’ heads were turned at right angles to the course
they had been pursuing so that they might now, with the wind almost
astern, run down upon the whales at high speed, and with the least
possible amount of splash.

It was a splendid sight, that group of unconscious monsters calmly
and methodically pursuing their way, quietly attending to their own
business of procuring food and enjoying their life; and here, close
at hand, stealing upon them like pirates upon a helpless merchantman,
this little flotilla of destroyers. Each officer and harpooner was now
in the throes of expectation, every nerve tense, all their hopes high
that they would reach their prey before the periodical descent of the
whales took place. In nine cases out of ten this would not have been
the case, but here again, Captain Da Silva’s luck appeared to be in the
ascendant, for, as if the boats were living creatures, full of eager
desire to come to close quarters with the enemy, they leaped forward
with ever-accelerating speed, until the foremost whale, a large bull of
about seventy barrels (or, say, sixty feet in length) was only a couple
of lengths ahead of the skipper’s boat. Hoarsely he growled, ‘Stand up,
Jose!’ The harpooner’s crouching form straightened itself, and, raising
the harpoon in both hands while steadying himself by his left thigh in
the hollow of the clumsy cleat, he waited, a heroic figure, until,
by a skilful sweep of the steering oar, the boat swung end on to the
whale’s broad side, and struck it, at the same moment as the harpoon
flew from those nervous hands and buried itself in the quivering
blubber up to the hitches. Calmly pitching the stray line out of the
box over the boat’s side, the harpooner turned to go aft with the face
of a man knowing that his duty had been well done. Without taking the
slightest notice of the writhings of the tortured leviathan so near or
the tremendous commotion in the water, he superintended the rolling
up of the sail, the unshipping of the mast, and the passing of it aft
where it would be out of the way of the operations.

[Illustration: THE WHALE WENT STEADILY DOWN, DOWN, DOWN.

_P. 49._]

While the crew of the boat were thus engaged the Captain, with that
skill for which he was justly famous, had, by means of the big steering
oar, manipulated the boat so that she lay at a safe distance from the
whale. The hardly-pressed monster, in orthodox fashion, finding that
he could not free himself from the galling weapon, descended steadily,
taking out line at a gentle rate, while the Captain changed ends with
the harpooner, unsheathed his favourite lance, and awaited the return
of the whale to the surface. While so doing, his countenance was a
study in ferocity. The immediate prospect of bloodshed seemed to arouse
in him all the animal, and, as he glared fiercely around upon his crew,
they hardly dared meet his eye, so terrible did he look. But he was
compelled to forego his delightful occupation for a while, and remain
as quiet as it was possible for him to do while the whale went steadily
down, down, down. Meanwhile, by a piece of amazing good fortune, each
of the other boats had succeeded in getting fast to a whale without
any accident, and now they were all engaged in the same manner as the
Captain’s boat, waiting, with such patience as the officers could
command, for the rising to the surface of their respective whales.
The remainder of the school, having apparently lost all control of
themselves, wandered aimlessly around the little company of boats,
going slowly backwards and forwards, thrusting their great heads out of
the water without apparently the slightest idea of what to do or where
to go, and arousing in the minds of the officers, especially in that of
the Captain, the fiercest resentment at their inability to take more
advantage of so splendid an opportunity as was now offered them. After
a wait of nearly half an hour, all the harpooned whales came to the
surface at nearly the same moment, and immediately the scene underwent
a change as complete as it is possible to imagine. The wounded
monsters, rushing frantically in every direction in their vain efforts
to escape, the fierce guttural yells of the officers as they plied
their slender, gleaming lances upon those vast bodies, the welling
fountains of blood that befouled the bright sea surface, all went to
make up a picture of savagery which could hardly be equalled by that
presented in any land battle. So successful was the conduct of this
first encounter that hardly two hours had elapsed since the boats first
left the ship when the whole five whales were dead, the boats cleared
up, and all was in readiness for the prey to be taken alongside the
ship. She, being well and smartly handled by the three or four people
left on board, and having got well to windward of the area of battle,
now ran down to where the Captain’s boat lay by the side of his dead
whale. Having made the line fast to a hole in the whale’s fluke, he
ordered his boat to run alongside the ship, and, climbing smartly on
board, he superintended the hauling of the whale alongside. Now, the
ship being hampered by that gigantic body made fast to her, it became
necessary for the crews of the other boats to tow their whales as best
they could in the direction of the vessel. Fearfully long and tedious
was the process, and the impatience of the Captain rose to a height
of almost maniacal fury, although he knew full well that every man
was doing his utmost to perform the tremendous task allotted to him.
Without a break they toiled until the sun was nearly setting, nor was
one moment’s respite allowed them until the whole of the day’s catch
was secured alongside and astern of the ship. Then, and not till then,
the Captain shouted with a grudging note in his voice, ‘Mr. Court, send
the hands to dinner.’ The order was repeated by the mate, and the men
wearily dragged themselves below, where the food--cooked long ago--was
awaiting them. But as they went the Captain shouted again, ‘Look lively
now; yew wanter be on deck again in twenty minutes.’ Having delivered
himself thus, he turned towards his cabin, where, for the first time
that day, he greeted his wife. She, quite bewildered by the day’s
proceedings, summoned up all her affection, and came to greet him with
arms outspread, but he, glowering fiercely at her, said, ‘I got no time
for fooling now; I got something else to think about.’

This rebuff reduced her to a pitiable state of mind, for it was utterly
incomprehensible. That she had done anything to deserve it she could
not feel, and, indeed, it was a strange thing that a man in the height
of his success, having inaugurated his cruise in so splendid a fashion,
with enormous profits lying only waiting to be realised, should be so
hatefully morose and savage in his demeanour.

It was a puzzle beyond hope of solution. The meal was taken in utter
silence, the food being bolted in truly animal fashion; and, while yet
the last mouthfuls were being masticated, the skipper rose abruptly
from his seat and said, ‘Now, then, Mr. Court, start the hands again.’
While they had been at dinner the shipkeepers had completed their task
of getting the gear ready for cutting in, so that when the officers
came on deck and summoned the hands it only remained to commence
cutting in the whales at once. Loud orders resounded along the decks,
but, for perhaps half a minute, there was no response, and this seemed
to act upon the Captain maddeningly. Snatching a belaying-pin from the
rail, he strode forward muttering curses, and, beating his weapon upon
the scuttle hatch of the forecastle, he roared down into the gloomy
cavern, ‘D’ ye want to be smoked out like a nest of hornets?’ Full of
alarms, the weary men clambered up the steep ladder, but as the first
one reached the deck he was met by a tremendous blow full in the face,
which sent him reeling to the deck.

It must be admitted that captain and officers worked hardest of all;
in fact, they seemed like men of steel rather than of flesh and blood,
and even the weary seamen could hardly refuse a tribute of admiration
to the way in which they were led. By midnight, under the glare of
blazing cressets suspended from the davit heads, they had managed to
cut in two of the whales, and had decapitated the remaining three,
the great columnar heads being strung astern by hawsers. Then the
Captain reluctantly gave orders that half the crew should retire for an
hour while the other half busied themselves in making some sort of a
clearance on the deck, which was now piled almost from end to end with
blubber, and ankle-deep in oil. How speedily that hour passed for the
privileged ones only they could tell. Indeed, it seemed but a moment
before they were back at work again, and the other half were sent for
the same brief period to rest. But the savage brute of a captain took
no rest. He seemed superhuman, and when day dawned the whole of the
spoil had been taken on board, with the exception of the three heads,
for which no room could be found at present.



CHAPTER VII

A STRICKEN DEMON


It has been a frequent matter of remark, not merely by myself, but by
all the writers with whom I have conversed who have ever interviewed
old sailors on the subject of their experiences, how difficult it is
for the latter to tell what they have seen. Their memories are most
keen, but the mighty happenings they have witnessed seem to overwhelm
their simple vocabulary, and they will suddenly break off in the
midst of a splendid tale, and, holding up their hands in a gesture of
despair, cry out, ‘Oh, God, if I _could_ only tell ye what I’ve seen!’
I am led to think that perhaps it is this felt inability to do justice
to the memory of what they have really seen that has often made sailors
possessed of vivid imaginations invent magnificent lies, rushing by
some curious mental paradox into the opposite extreme, from the sober
recital of fact to an absurdly extravagant invention of fiction.

But be that as it may, there can be no doubt that even those who have
been most successful in the attempt to transport their readers to
the scenes which they themselves have witnessed, are often touched
by the same feeling of inability, as the grandeur of the scenes they
would fain depict flashes through their minds. They sit with poised
pen--present, indeed, as to the body at their desks, but in spirit, by
some unexplainable mystery, away back amid the surroundings of those
former years, going through it all again. And thus they sit waiting,
waiting, prisoners of hope, until relief comes in some commonplace word
or thought, and the pen is re-started, to run perchance glibly enough
until again arrested in like manner.

These reflections irresistibly arise as I recall similar scenes to the
one which I would now describe: that splendid silken circle of sea and
dome of sky just commencing to palpitate with the glories of the new
day; those low, tender ranges of softest cloud like carelessly piled
heaps of snowy down, with sober grey bases almost parallel with the
horizon, and summits blushing sweetly with all the warm tints of the
coming sun; through the eternal concave overhead running tremulous
sprays of liveliest colour throbbing and changing incessantly on their
background of deep violet, from which the modest stars are quietly
fading before the advent of morning. Across the mirror-like surface
of the ocean great splashes of colour come and go in never-ending
progression, although there be never a cloud from which they may be
reflected and their pure hues come direct from the impalpable ether
around. And in the centre of it all, grating at first upon the mind
as the only discordant note in the harmony otherwise reigning, is a
ship surrounded by the greasy, mutilated carcasses of her spoil--that
spoil which was so recently fulfilling the exhortation of that glorious
hymn, ‘O ye whales, and all that move in the waters, bless ye the
Lord, praise Him and magnify Him for ever.’ What a hideous scene of
squalor it does appear, to be sure! Great shapeless masses of flesh
and fat and bone, huge clots of black blood, an undefinable odour of
death--for the time has not yet come for corruption to defile air as
well as sea--and in the midst of it all, fiercely toiling, hacking,
thrusting, tearing, yelling, blaspheming, are the slayers. From every
pore the ship exudes oil warm from the body, at every roll a new extent
of ‘sleeky’ water is thrust out from her slimy sides. Gradually, as the
space in her main-hold known as the blubber-room becomes filled up, the
limited area on deck is piled with the masses of blubber, and the oil
which exudes from them fills up the carefully caulked decks and at each
wallowing roll she makes rises against the bulwarks, which are almost
as impervious as the deck itself. So inside, outside, half-way up the
mainmast, she reeks with blood and grease, while the water all around
is a seething mass of silent voracity. From who knows how far away the
hungry denizens of the deep sea have hastened to the feast, summoned by
some unerring sense, of which we know nothing at all. No one, as far as
I know, has ever attempted to compute the number of the host of sharks
alone which surround a whaleship while she secures her spoil; so I
shall not try. It would be only a wild guess, after all, for they come
and go incessantly in utmost haste, and as far as the eye can see the
water is aboil with their strugglings to secure at least some portion
of the great feast.

Of the other deep-sea citizens present I can say little. They are to be
seen of course, but only occasionally, for this feast is peculiarly the
shark’s great opportunity, and it is no easy matter for any other fish
to displace him. In the air, the hungry self-invited guests may be few
or many, according to the position of the ship. In the North Atlantic
birds are far less plentiful than they are in the South, for some
reason which I have never been able to find out, and consequently in
this great scene of spoliation which I am now attempting to limn there
were only about a dozen or twenty ’gulls.’

During its progress, as during the hunting, Priscilla sat on the top
of the after-house motionless under the influence of some horrible
fascination which she could not resist. She watched the lithe form of
her saturnine husband as, leaning over the rail of the cutting-stage,
he dealt blow after blow at the black and white masses beneath him,
or occasionally varied his labours by a sidelong thrust which severed
some thieving shark’s head from its body. But she noted that while
he appeared to be doing more than any other member of the crew, his
physical efforts never interfered with his mental energies in the
oversight of his men. He seemed to know where every man was, and what
he was, or ought to be, doing. An incessant stream of orders, threats,
and cursings poured from his throat, which was apparently of brass,
since it never got hoarse. The only physical sign of his vocal labours
was the foam with which his raven-black beard was flecked.

Utterly brutal, utterly callous and heartless as she now knew her
husband to be, she could not withhold from him a silent tribute of
admiration for his powers of command and organisation, and for his
courage. She felt shuddering pity for the poor men, who, against
the most urgent calls of Nature to rest their tortured limbs, went
fiercely toiling on as if only by that means could they avert sudden,
violent death. Once or twice she gave vent to a low moan of compassion
as she saw the Captain leap inboard with a tiger-like spring and fall
upon some man whom his eagle eye had detected lagging behind the
others, assailing him with the utmost ferocity by knocking him down,
jumping on him, kicking him as if determined to do him to death. Again
and again she turned to go, overcome by the horror of these constantly
recurring scenes, but she could not: she was compelled to remain and
witness them while powerless to help and unable even to pray that God
would have mercy upon these poor wretches upon whom man--at least her
man--had none.

What man has done, man can and will do unless restrained by powerful
laws, and what was done amid such scenes as I am recalling was
gentleness itself when compared with what went on aboard the galleys
of ancient days--scenes which no modern writer has dared, or would
dare, to put comprehensively into print. For even on board a whaler,
where one man embodied all the law or justice obtainable by anybody,
the blessed influences of Christianity in the modifying of cruelty were
felt, and things were thus not nearly as bad as they might have been;
nay, they were only in exceptional cases as bad as I have represented.
This fact, I think, deserves special emphasis, because it goes to show
that the majority of men in command of these ships, knowing full well
that they were never likely to be called to account for any cruelties
they might commit in the name of discipline, yet abstained from
exercising their autocratic power, or only used it when it became
undoubtedly necessary that they should do so.

Gradually the mighty task drew to its close. One by one the vast
carcasses were cut adrift and floated away, each the centre of a
writhing mass of hungry creatures fiercely fighting for places at the
feast, which, great as it was, seemed but a trifle compared with the
host of candidates for it. One by one the huge square ‘cases’ were hove
up alongside and their bland contents ladled out into the tanks below.
But when the last but one was being emptied, as it hung, a weight of
some twenty tons, suspended from the cutting-in falls, Captain Da Silva
went to the waist, and, leaning up against the case, looked down to see
whether or not the precious spermaceti was draining away from some cut
in its walls, as he suspected it was. As he did so the ship rolled ever
so slightly, and without any warning the massive chain slings which
held the case aloft tore out. It fell like an avalanche descending,
a big flap of ‘white horse’ or head integument curling round the
Captain’s body and whirling him after it into the fathomless depths. It
was so terribly sudden that Priscilla was momentarily stunned, but with
returning breath she uttered a wild cry of terror and fell fainting,
her overwrought condition of nerves unable to bear this last great
shock. For one moment the crew also stood like statues, but ere one
could count five, the third mate and second boat-steerer had leaped
into the sea after their commander, although they knew (none better)
of the swarming sharks and the many other reasons why they should be
unsuccessful. But all traces of him had vanished, and realising that
not only were they most dangerously situated, but that they could
see better from above, they climbed on deck again with all the speed
they might, reaching it at the same moment as Captain Da Silva’s head
appeared on the other side above the rail.

For a few moments all who witnessed his rising stared with starting
eyes at what they deemed to be his wraith, but his hoarse voice, full
of anger, roused them instantly from their brief lethargy. ‘Naouw,
then, whutye all gapping at, like a lot er ---- suckers’s y’air. Git
along wi’ thet work, ’relse I’ll be ’mong ye in mighty short order,
naouw I’m telling ye.’ And each man sprang to his task as does a
mettled horse when the lash falls unexpectedly across his flanks. And
Captain Da Silva strode off muttering maledictions. Perhaps it was all
the formula of thanksgiving which he knew: certainly no word of praise
for the miracle of his escape out of the very jaws of death crossed
his lips. He had been carried down by that long sliver of skin which
had enwrapped him and held him tightly bound to the mighty mass of the
case until he felt as if his head were a boiler under a full pressure
of steam. But as the ‘case’ sank, by some mysterious influence it
spun round, or rather revolved, for its motion was but slow, and in
doing so it unwound the clinging band from the skipper’s body. Never
having lost his presence of mind, and being as nearly amphibious as the
rest of his island countrymen, he sprang upward to the surface, just
grazing the bilge on the opposite side of the ship to that from which
he had descended, and grasping a bight of the main sheet which dangled
invitingly alongside, he swung himself aboard, ready and alert to
resume the tyranny he loved.

The whole affair of his departure and return had been so dramatically
sudden that Captain Da Silva was in his cabin shouting for Priscilla
to give him dry garments before she had recovered from her swoon. His
angry demands brought the trembling steward at his best gait. To his
breath-bated inquiry the skipper shouted:

‘Whar’s Mrs. Da Silva, yew black beast; whar’s my wife?’

‘Please, sah, de madam’s done gone swounded, an’ I ain’t can fotch ’er
to yit. I----’

But flinging him aside as if he had been a bundle of rags, the skipper
rushed on deck to where Priscilla was sitting up wearily passing a
hand over her dazed eyes and wondering what strange thing had befallen
her. He seized her arm roughly, and in tones of deepest scorn demanded
what sort of ---- game she called this? Was he to wait in his wet
clothes while she lolled about on deck playing the (more unsavoury
adjectives) fool? Mechanically she staggered to her feet, and, like
some unreasoning but faithful animal, tottered towards the cabin. I
doubt if she would have been surprised had her husband accelerated her
progress by a kick, to such a numbness of brain had she come. But she
did his bidding, accepted all his blasphemous grumbling, and made no
sign. For she was, in the fullest sense of that much-abused brace of
words, heart-broken. Her spirit was crushed, never to awake again as it
had been; her love was dead, and only patient, animal-like obedience
remained. Did any compunction arise in the man’s mind for what he had
done to that trusting, loving woman? Those who think so little know
the capacity of man for cruelty. A grim smile lit up his diabolically
handsome features as he noted her quiet performance of his commands,
and although he said no word it was easy to see with what fiendish
pleasure he realised this new proof of his power to rule others with a
rod of iron.

Without pausing to do more than glance at his injuries--one long
black and green bruise which wound twice round his body, and another
extending from his right thigh to his heel, with the skin broken in
many places--he hastily dressed himself in dry clothes and, without
casting another glance at the submissive figure of his wife, rushed
on deck. Fortunately for all of them, the crew were working hard
to secure the masses of junk (solid pieces, each several tons in
weight, cut from the whale’s head), lashing jaw-bones, clearing away
try-works, getting up mincing-machine and tricing up gear out of the
way of the all-pervading grease. He cast one comprehensive, scowling
glance around, which deepened in its frown when he found no cause of
complaint, and at once assumed sole command. For the next hour his
orders flew like volleys of musketry, spurring on the almost spent men
to give up the last ounce of their strength. And then suddenly, as
if God had taken pity on those hapless men, the tyrant’s indomitable
strength and pluck gave out together, and he sank to the deck moaning
feebly, ‘Take me below, ---- ye, take me below.’ Even with what seemed
the last breath he needs must curse those upon whom he was now utterly
dependent for all his wants.

So, inert, all his great energy vanished, and his wiry limbs hanging
limply as loose ropes’ ends, he was borne below to his bunk, his
appearance in this guise startling Priscilla again, but arousing in
her now no such feelings as those with which she had witnessed his
disappearance over the rail so short a time before. With quiet dignity
she directed the bearers where to lay him, thanked them, and dismissed
them. Then, left alone with the man for whom she had given up her
life, and more than her own life, had she but known, she went about
the duty of attendance upon him methodically, carefully, but with no
more feeling than if he had been an utter stranger. All that she could
do for him she did, but of affection in her ministrations there was no
trace. Presently with a feeling of relief, such as usually accompanies
the successful conclusion of a difficult task, she saw him pass from
coma to sleep, heard him breathe naturally, and watched the ghastly
pallor of his face give place to its healthy olive hue. Then she took
some needlework and sat down by his side, ready to attend upon him when
he woke, determined to do her very utmost for him dutifully, and hoping
to make faithful service take the place of the love she knew she would
never feel for him again.

Perhaps I may be pardoned for anticipating criticism here by a word
or two. I know well that women can, and do, show love of the deepest,
truest, holiest kind for men who not merely speak to them harshly, but
beat, starve, or ill-treat them in every way. But Priscilla was not
one of these women. It may be, too, that her love for Ramon Da Silva
was not love in the best sense of the word, but merely a hurricane
gust of passion that for a season had changed the whole surface of
her being, while leaving unruffled the great depths below. I do not
know, nor do I care to dogmatise, but of this I am sure--that there
are many Priscillas about, worthy of all the love of a good man, and
fully capable of returning it, whose love, calmly, thoughtfully given,
would be changed into utter dislike and contempt for the once loved
one if they should have the misfortune to discover him to be cruel or
disgusting. And for one I dare not say that they are therefore in any
way worthy of blame, or are not perfectly true and lovable women.

Now ensued a period of calm satisfaction for all hands, tempered only
by the knowledge that it would soon come to an end. The exceedingly
heavy toil of mincing the blubber, boiling down the oil, storing it in
casks, and disposing those casks in easily accessible positions about
the decks, went on without intermission, but quietly. Every man worked
as if the knowledge of his tyrant’s impotence, for a time at any rate,
had supplied him with an incentive. But the Captain was suffering utter
torment below. Ordinarily he was quite wanting in what we vaguely
speak of as nerves: he worried about nothing. Now, however, his great
strength entirely gone from him, knowing how large a task was in hand
on deck, and knowing, too, how glad was every man on board that he,
their despot, was helpless, he raged and fumed, and thereby retarded
his recovery greatly. But for those who came in contact with him, this
time was a terrible one. His poor wife and the negro steward lived in
utter terror of him, although physically he was powerless to do them
harm.

Perhaps it may be thought that too severe a description of this man
has been given, and that thereby some injustice has been done to men
generally. But if so, I would like to ask objectors whether they have
never had the misfortune to know anybody, not necessarily a man, who
would, given the opportunity have behaved quite as badly as Captain
Da Silva. God knows, I have no wish to libel any of my fellow men or
women, but I am absolutely certain that but for the grace of God, the
sweet influences of Christianity, there are very few of us who can be
trusted with absolute power over our fellows. And if any doubt were
possible, surely the records of the National Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Children would dispel it. The sight of helplessness does
in some infernal way seem to generate in many minds an irresistible
desire to inflict suffering upon the helpless. And it needs all our
faith in God, as well as all our recollection of the tender love that
fills so many hearts, to keep us from feeling that mankind in general
is possessed by all those attributes which we have agreed to consider
as the characteristics of Satan. Of course, like all other qualities,
cruelty needs special opportunities for its full development as well as
a deliberate cultivation. And for this reason I have never been able to
understand why so many otherwise level-headed people should object to
corporal punishment for the perpetrators of cruelty, since it is almost
invariably the case that cruel people are most tenderly solicitous
for the care of their own susceptibilities to pain. Exceptions there
are to this rule, of course, and Captain Da Silva was one. No amount
of corporal punishment would have deterred him from being again the
merciless monster he was by nature, given fitting opportunity; for
he, as I have already endeavoured to point out, had an almost Chinese
disregard of personal suffering. But even he was certainly no worse for
the tasting in his own proper person of some of the pains he was wont
to bestow lavishly upon others.

Only two persons wished him speedily well, and for obvious reasons.
They were his personal attendants. The chief mate, whose business
brought him below periodically to report progress, always had to summon
up all his courage to face his suffering chief, always returned to
upper air again acutely conscious of relief, although he was a man of
great ability and resource, and, moreover, had the comforting knowledge
that under his (comparatively) mild rule the work was slipping along
on greased wheels. But (and this is one of the peculiarly subtle
depravities of some natures) he could not help feeling that his
commander’s irritation at his own helplessness was in no way lessened
by the knowledge that affairs were going on quite smoothly without his
interference--that, in fact, it would have been in some measure an
alleviation of his sufferings could he have known that, bereft of his
oversight, matters were at sixes and sevens. And each time the mate
came to report, and gave him the bland information that all was going
as well as possible, the men were working with a will, the weather
continued fine, and the blubber was yielding most richly, the skipper
was instant in cross-examination on every detail, apparently in the
hope that he might somehow find occasion to vent his long pent-up
spleen upon someone else beside his wife and the negro steward.

Nothing transpired, however, to gratify him, and at the end of the
sixth day from his accident the mate reported all oil barrelled
and half of it stowed; that the crew were busy now with lye and
sand cleaning up; that the mastheads were manned, and---- But right
in the middle of his flow of words came the most thrilling cry of
‘Blo-o-o-o-w.’ The mate stopped in the middle of a word and looked
round listeningly. But his skipper, maddened almost beyond endurance
at the knowledge of his own helplessness, and that his subordinates
would now have an opportunity of showing their capabilities without
any overlordship of his, hurled at the listening mate one long yell
of profanity which had the effect of sending the latter scampering
rabbit-wise up the tortuous cuddy stairs on deck.

Fortunately for Priscilla, the raging emotions of her husband,
conjoined with his bodily weakness, had the effect of rendering him
utterly helpless both in mind and body. For a while she busied herself
quietly in such necessary attentions as she was able to render, then,
hearing as in some realistic dream the weird tumult on deck, and
feeling her own utter loneliness, she did that which is, thank God,
open to us all, if in varying degrees. She lifted her tired heart to
God, remembering with a bitter pang of repentance the many perfunctory
repetitions of ‘Our Father’ she had performed; a remembrance which
brought a host of others in its wake. The quiet times of family worship
she had yawned over behind her hand, the glorious words of Holy Writ
passing her then unlistening ears like meaningless jargon, the tender
father who had never given her a harsh word during her recollection
of him, the faithful, plodding mother, whom she had forsaken at the
lightest word of a stranger, and the dog-like devotion of---- But no;
_that_ thought must not be encouraged. From her uneasy seat she slid
to her knees, and from her overloaded heart poured forth her unspoken
prayers--not for deliverance, but for strength, for peace of mind, for
knowledge how to do and say the right thing and word at the right time.
And as the subtle communications passed between that suffering heart
and the Centre of all Solace, the blessed dew of peace descended upon
her spirit, and she felt that the victory was won, for the present at
any rate.

Meanwhile, though unheeded by her, the uproar on deck had reached its
climax, then suddenly ceased, and a profound silence reigned. She
sat, listening intently, but in nowise alarmed: she felt past all
that. Until presently a comical black head, with wide white eyeballs,
protruded from the state-room door. Its glance, fearfully questing,
caught hers, and in reply to her whispered inquiry came a murmur:
‘Dey’s awl goen away, Mistis; on’y me an’ de cook, carpenter an’ cooper
an’ shipkeepers am lef’. But it looks laik a mighty fine school of spam
whales dey’s onter, an’ ef dey gets um may be de skipper please, an’t
it?’



CHAPTER VIII

A DISASTROUS DAY


Undoubtedly there was a certain fierce delight in Mr. Court’s mind,
as well as great relief, when he fled precipitately on deck from the
presence of the terrible man who was his present commander. As any
other man of his abilities and bravery would have done, he felt a
certain measure of contempt for himself that he should be so meekly
subservient to one whom he believed in his heart of hearts to be no
braver or more skilful than he was himself; but the deeply ingrained
habit of discipline prevented that feeling from reaching its logical
conclusion. And, unlike the Dago, he, being an Anglo-Saxon, also
felt a certain compassion for a man stricken down by accident in the
performance of his duty, and utterly unwilling to take the smallest
advantage thereof. More, in some dim manner he felt that if his part
were well played now, there might be some alleviation in the lot of
that pale saint (for in such a light had the mate come to regard
Priscilla--you cannot keep family secrets on board a ship); and so,
fired with all the best ambitions that can energise a man, he sprang on
deck, every sense keenly alert.

The air was full of wailing cries of ‘Bl-o-o-o-o-w.’ All hands were
waiting ready by their boats with an air of expectation, as if each
man was taking the highest personal interest in the outcome of the
present adventure. The second mate, standing on the little bridge over
the wheel conning the ship, no sooner saw his superior than he said,
‘School o’ th’ biggest sparm whale ever I sot eyes on, sir. Ain’t one
under a hundred an’ thutty bar’l, I swar. An’ thar’s one--ef he ain’t
the father of all the whales ever bo’n I ain’t ever seen one before.’

For all answer the mate shouted ‘’Way boats! Down from aloft.’ And
for the next few minutes the whirring of patent sheaves, as the
graceful boats ran waterwards, the hoarse, gasping orders given by
the boat-headers, and the sharp concussions in the water, filled the
air. What a scene of furious energy manifested by men who a little
while before were lolling uncouthly about as if incapable of any
exertion whatever, under no matter what stimulus or provocation!
Within five minutes the ship was deserted by all her crew, save only
the discontented half-dozen whose unhappy lot it was to abide by the
stuff and labour monotonously to keep the ship as far to windward of
the arena of battle as might be. In every man’s heart there was a deep
sensation of thankfulness that one ominous figure was absent from
this fray--that for once they were free to do their best unhampered
by the paralysing knowledge that, whatever they did, their efforts
would surely be rewarded by savage treatment which they must endure,
because no safe way of rebellion presented itself. How the rowers did
lay to their oars! How keenly when, a sufficient weather gauge being
reached, the sails were set and the boats bounded blithesomely over the
blue waves under the stress of the freshening breeze, did every man
peer forward for sight of their gigantic prey; and how fervently each
harpooner hoped that he might be privileged to strike the first blow!

I have never been able to understand how it is that all other seamen
seem to have cherished contemptuous feelings towards the whale-fishers.
That they always have done so is undoubtedly true, and possibly the
foundation of so utterly false a sentiment may have been that it is but
seldom that ordinary seafarers have been able to witness the mighty
conflict between men and whales. Usually when sailors meet whalers it
is at a time when the latter are conserving their energies against the
coming of the next great fight, or are greasily labouring to harvest
their spoil, an occupation which needs much true appreciation of the
romantic to see anything in it at all worthy of admiration. In the rare
cases that have occurred when sailors have been in at the death of a
whale, they have been simply stricken dumb with admiring wonder, and
thenceforward have enjoyed a vicarious popularity as the retailers of
yarns in the dog-watches to a gaping but utterly sceptical crowd of
their shipmates.

So, swiftly the four boats sped whalewards, the mate always ahead,
for his intense nervous energy had communicated itself to his crew,
who, not content with the pace being made under the pressure of the
wind, had each stealthily seized a paddle, and were thrusting them
deeply into the hissing waters alongside at every opportunity that was
presented, as if their overmastering impatience could not let them
rest for one instant. Strange to say, on this occasion, although it
seemed to the mate that, large as the whales were, they should have
long ago made their periodical descent, they did not do so, but lolled
about on the bright sea-surface in an orderly series of rows which
converged, until at the apex, as it were, of the whole school lay the
gigantic leader of whom the second mate had spoken in such breathless
terms of admiration. There could at last be no doubt about the matter:
that school of whales had seen their aggressors coming, and for some
mysterious reason had decided that on this occasion they would not obey
their natural promptings bidding them flee, but would await the foe and
do battle with him in befitting manner, with never a doubt as to the
issue.

The reason for this strange behaviour could not, of course, be known to
the mate, since even the keenest of human observers has never been able
to penetrate the motives influencing what we are pleased to call the
‘lower animals’ in their pursuance of any abnormal course of behaviour;
although there can be no doubt that had he known why the whales thus
awaited him, the knowledge would not have caused him to alter his
procedure in any way. For he was a perfectly brave man, whom no amount
of prospective peril could turn aside from what he considered to be the
path of duty. True, he was but an ordinary example of the New England
whale-fisher; but it must ever be remembered that this wonderful
calling--_i.e._, hunting the sperm whale--of necessity bred a most
extraordinary type of man, having as it did the grand old Puritan stock
to work upon.

So Mr. Court led his little flotilla into battle, every man watching
with keenest anticipation the gently heaving masses of the mighty
foes, and wondering much what so unusual an attitude portended. Some
of the fellows felt a queer clutching sensation at the pit of the
stomach as every bound of the buoyant craft brought them nearer those
silent, listless-looking whales. But it was not fear; it was but the
nerve-centres notifying the brain to call up all the energies of the
body to face the unknown, and it would at the first crash of battle be
replaced by a tautening of every muscle, an exaltation of spirit heady
as that produced by wine, and a great, if dimly understood, sense of
the power of man in the world.

A short, blast-like order, and Mr. Court, gripping his steer-oar
fiercely, bent his body almost double and swung his boat’s head round
at right angles to the leader of the great company. His harpooner,
Gonsalvo, one thigh firmly pressed into the ‘clumsy cleat,’ raised the
harpoon high overhead, and a hissing expiration burst from his clenched
teeth as the weapon flew from his hand and buried itself up to the
hitches in the whale’s broad side. One could see the convulsive quiver
run through that vast body as the stab was felt; but Gonsalvo did not
look; he snatched up his second iron and hurled it after the first to
such good purpose that it buried itself like the first one--only about
a foot higher up the body. Then, turning coolly round, the gratified
assailant cast adrift the backstays of the mast and proceeded to roll
up the sail as if quietly coming alongside a wharf. Meanwhile the
boat had swung up into the wind and lay side by side with the whale,
at a distance of about twenty feet. Hoarsely the mate encouraged his
crew in their efforts to get the hampering mast unshipped, keeping
at the same time a wary eye upon his prey. He was astonished beyond
measure to see that the whale made no sign beyond that quivering of
the skin before spoken of, but lay as if meditating upon this strange
event. Then without further sign the whale sank, sank with hardly a
ripple, and for a moment or two all was quiet, just giving Mr. Court
an opportunity to glance around and see that his lieutenants were all
busily engaged similarly to himself.

There was no lack of readiness or watchfulness; but suddenly a vast
black mass appeared on the other side of the boat, and with a perfectly
indescribable motion turned a somersault in the air, just missing, in
the downward sweep of that awful tail, the frail boat by an inch or so.
But the steer-oar was snapped off soundlessly, like a radish severed by
the sweeping blow of a knife, leaving the boat helpless. Mr. Court’s
orders flew; his men seconded him nobly, pulling first on this side,
then on that, to turn the boat; but, bereft of that great oar aft, her
movements were slow and hesitating. Then uprose that massive head, with
jaws wide extended, which, taking the boat amidships, crashed through
her as if she had been a stick of celery, destroying utterly two men
and seriously injuring the mate. His right arm and leg were broken, and
his whole side lacerated in appalling fashion.

In the suddenness of the shock the mate was mercifully spared the
full realisation of his injuries; but the absence of pain only made
his brain more active, and his mental agony was extreme. For not
only had he been the victim of a complete defeat, but he did not know
how matters were proceeding with his subordinates, and he feared
the worst. Then as he paddled mechanically, conscious of a whelming
drowsiness stealing over him, his left arm touched something hard--an
empty line-tub. With one last flash of energy he rove his arm through
its becket and passed immediately into blissful unconsciousness, that
merciful suspension of the ‘suffering’ faculties that has been Divinely
provided to smooth the way from life to death of shrinking, sensitive
flesh. His poor fellows, those who were left, were fortunately
uninjured, but thoroughly demoralised at the terrible shock they had
received. They also were able to support themselves amid the whirling
waters upon fragments of the broken boat; but, of course, like their
officer, in a most precarious and tentative fashion.

And round about them, in leisurely fashion, as if contemplating the
result of his strategical effort, swam the whale, neither doing nor
attempting to do them any harm, but putting them in serious danger of
drowning from the abnormal whirling of the water which the passage of
his monstrous bulk effected. Occasionally, too, there would appear,
cutting the water in erratic directions, the tall dorsal fin or ‘gaff
topsail’ of a great shark, hunger-driven almost to madness by the
taint of blood in the water, but (as yet) scrupulously respecting the
bodily integrity of the hapless men still living. Overhead flitted
restlessly a few birds, screaming mournfully, as if they realised that
in the effort of providing a great banquet for them man had utterly
failed this time. But of everything except the fast-weakening desire
of living the principal actors in this stormy scene were utterly
oblivious, and thus for a while we must leave them.

The other three boats, arriving upon the scene of conflict almost
simultaneously, saw their leader get fast to the monarch of the school.
And had they obeyed the regular rule, well known to them all, they
would certainly have deputed the fourth boat to lie off and watch
events, in case of need for assistance. But, freed from the baleful
overglance of the skipper and fired to utmost emulation of each other
as they were, it was easy to forget so necessary a precaution, and
consequently, each singling out his whale, the three boats rushed to
the attack, all harpooning about the same time. At once the scene
became almost indescribable. For the stricken whales, unlike their
leader, each fought with Titanic energy to free himself from the
galling weapon, rearing monstrous heads high in the air at one moment,
at the next flourishing with sufficient force to smash in a ship’s side
their mighty tails, the supple corners of which actually snapped like
whip-lashes from the vigour with which they were lashed to and fro.
Also the loose whales, apparently with some indefinite object in view
of rendering aid, glided about and between the combatants, making it
impossible for the men to do what they tried and converting the sea
into the semblance of the surface of a huge cauldron of water fiercely
boiling.

Yet such was the skill and energy displayed by these hardly bestead
hunters that for a considerable time they all escaped damage, although
they often did so by a couple of inches only. At last, as they were
weakening, the first calamity came, sudden and complete. The third
mate’s boat was towed swiftly in a certain direction (and so furious
had been the fight that the sail had not yet been secured) until the
crew found themselves between two ominously revolving bodies, one that
of the whale to which the fourth mate was fast, and the other their
own quarry. There was no room wherein to use oars, nor was there time
had there been place, when the two huge carcasses, rolling in opposite
directions, crashed against the tender shell of the boat, which
collapsed into matchwood, while the crew leapt madly upon the shiny,
slippery bodies of the monsters, and, slithering downwards, disappeared
in the smother of foam around.

With a groan of regret the fourth mate cut from his whale, and,
regardless of his own immediate danger, incited his crew with all his
powers to pick up their shipmates. And they did strive, literally for
dear life. The huge bulk of the whales brushing past them, the frantic
motions of their boat, apparently harassed them not at all. Intent upon
the orders of the erect, keenly observant figure at the stern, they
pulled, backed, peaked oars, or lay still as commanded, and while in
the full tide of their tremendous labours were suddenly hoisted, as
if by some submarine earthquake, upon the uprushing head of a whale
ten feet into the air. They were flung in a writhing heap from their
thwarts, and when they recovered themselves they were clinging sadly to
a wreck, for the boat, although still holding together as to her frame,
had her keel or backbone broken in three places, and, full of water,
just sufficed to sustain their weary heads occasionally above the sea
surface. Even at that dread time the minds of all were bent upon the
fate of those whom they had failed to rescue. For themselves they cared
nothing; they were comparatively safe with something floatable beneath
their uncertain feet; but alas for those who in that tormented whirl of
waves had not even a splinter unto which they might cling hopefully.

What of the second mate? Well, some might call him a coward, for
although he had got fast like the rest, before three minutes had
passed, having witnessed the disaster which had overtaken his senior
officer, he had coolly cut his line and withdrawn with all the speed
he could command from the arena. One thing, and one only, was in his
mind, and that was how he could avoid being entangled in a fight, so
that he might, as soon as opportunity offered, rush in and rescue
some of the drowning ones. But, as he afterwards said, never in all
his fishing had such a task fallen to his lot. For every whale in the
school seemed to make for him, and although they did not attack, whales
being magnanimous beyond all other powerful and sensible animals, they
circled about him with majestic movement, occasionally scarifying the
faces of himself and his patient men with the blistering drops from
their condensed spoutings as they blew across his boat, and clearly
made him understand that he existed only by their favour. And he was
fretting his heart to fragments over his inactivity, and wondering how
long it would be ere he could emerge from his august environment, and
save those shipmates of his whom he knew to be perishing so near. Even
then he had no notion of the completeness of the disaster. But his
heart failed him as he thought of meeting the tyrant of his life, on
that terrible man’s recovery, and endeavouring to explain away so great
a failure.

Meanwhile as far as the eye could reach the boat was hemmed in by
whales, that with majestic movement circled around their tiny captive,
or, perpendicularly erected in the water, protruded their vast
cylindrical heads from the surface like symmetrical columns of black
rock. Then, as if at a given signal, the great assemblage divided,
leaving between their closely packed ranks a lane of clear water. Not
an instant was lost by Mr. Winslow; if his hand trembled, in its grip
of the steer-oar, his voice did not; if his men looked wistfully at
one another and at their gigantic escort, they pulled none the less
lustily at the word of command. And presently they came upon a pitiful
sight. In an area that might have been covered by a big ship’s mainsail
floated listlessly six men, each clinging to some derelict portion of
their late vessel’s equipment. None of them appeared able to appreciate
their most perilous position; no gasp of fear passed their cracked and
blistered lips when the long, quivering body of some ravening shark
glided closely past them. No; for them nothing mattered any longer:
they had passed beyond the reach of either hope or fear. And had one
remembered how painful were their lives, how remote the possibilities
of brightness ever lightening their dreary way through the world, the
thought would inevitably have compelled admission that it was almost
criminal to bring them back again to the suffering they had left
behind--especially remembering how full of pain to them would be the
process.

Such an idea, however, never occurred to those tender-hearted if
ruffianly looking rescuers. Forgetting all their own danger--oblivious,
indeed, to anything else but the manifestly urgent needs of the
perishing ones they saw around them--they toiled furiously to get the
exhausted men into their boat. Nor did they desist until, the gunwale
of the boat being just awash, they were warned that any further
attempts to pick up men would certainly mean the loss of all, both
rescuers and rescued. Six were still a-missing, but that could not be
helped, and with the utmost care they moved heavily off towards the
ship, which was standing down the wind in their direction. A careful
shipkeeper of a whaleship always devotes all his energies, as soon
as boats have left, to keeping his vessel to windward of the scene
of conflict--a position of advantage whence, when the great fight is
over, he may run down with a free sheet and pick up the boats and their
gigantic prizes.

So that, although the time seemed interminably long, it was really
only a matter of minutes before the boat was alongside the ship and
the broken men were being hauled on board. All the time this work
was going on the ship was the centre of a vast assemblage of whales,
seemingly satisfied that their enemies were now powerless to harm them,
and, although majestically refusing to attack a helpless foe, quite
determined to let that foe see unmistakably what might be his fate
should his late prospective victims become aggressive. No sooner were
the rescued men on board than Mr. Winslow, as if he and his crew were
machines of iron rather than men of weariable muscles, pushed off from
the ship’s side and carefully steering between the bulky bodies of the
assembled whales, made the best of their way back to where they hoped
to find the remainder of their shipmates. Six were still missing, among
them the mate, who since the captain’s accident had endeared himself
to all hands. But it really seemed as if their colossal escort knew
the errand they were upon, for their progress was hindered in the most
extraordinary manner by the whales crowding about them. No assault was
made; had it been, however slight, they must all have perished; but it
was as if they were incessantly reminded by the whales that forbearance
had, even with such magnanimous monsters, its limits, and that while no
advantage would be taken of primary helplessness, they (the whalers)
would not lightly be permitted to help those who were receiving the due
reward of their own aggression.

So, with infinite pains, the second mate and his hardly entreated
boat’s crew made their way back to the scene of conflict, and found one
man, the mate, still afloat, and possibly alive. They could not be sure
of the latter, but took him in on the chance. Further search, although
prolonged to the utmost limit of their endurance, failed to show them
any more of their lost shipmates, and at last in a faint voice Mr.
Winslow ordered them to give way for the ship. As his men doggedly
obeyed, and called up their final reserve of energy, the attendant
whales, as if satisfied with the progress of the day’s events, drew
off, and with their great leader well ahead, took their departure
to windward along the bright glorious path of the setting sun, whose
rays touched their mighty bodies with gold and made every little spray
they threw upwards in their stately progress glisten like a shower of
diamonds.

The overburdened crew reached the ship without further incident, and,
once alongside, realised how terrible had been the strain imposed. For
even the simple business of hoisting the boat, usually a matter of at
most two minutes, became a herculean task hardly to be accomplished
by the united efforts of all hands remaining capable of standing on
their feet. Once secured on her cranes, Mr. Winslow dismissed his
boat from his mind and wearily slouched to where the mate lay on a
mattress brought up by one of the harpooners. So great was his loss of
vigour, that although he saw the mate had recovered consciousness and
was now peacefully asleep in his drying clothes, he felt a dull want
of interest in that fact, as in everything else, and without taking
further interest of his surroundings or of the claims of his position,
he cast himself down in the little clear space abaft the wheel on the
starboard side, pillowed his head upon his right arm, and immediately
fell asleep.

The shipkeepers--that is, the four petty officers, carpenter, cooper,
steward, and cook, with the four men appointed to assist them in the
duty of managing the ship during the process of catching whales--had
been hardly pressed both by work and anxiety. But they saw and realised
how easy had been their lot as compared with that of the hunters; and
although they had well earned a relief, they said nothing, but went
grimly on with their by no means easy task of preparing the vessel for
the night, clearing away gear, &c.

Now during this terrible day Priscilla had found great peace. We left
her at its beginning comforted as only those heavy-laden ones can be
comforted who are in direct communication with the Comforter. Permeated
by that Peace which passeth all understanding, she felt content to
abide in quiet security any event that might happen, and she looked
down upon the insensible form by her side with something of the Divine
compassion, although without one spark of the human love which should
exist between husband and wife. All that her simple ideas of nursing
could suggest as good to be done for him she did assiduously, while his
face twitched convulsively, unintelligible muttering flowed ceaselessly
from his lips, and every muscle of his body seemed as if under the
influence of a powerful galvanic battery.

It was very quiet down in the small cabin. The workers on deck went
about their duties softly in dread of rousing the skipper, and only a
faint echo of an occasional carefully modulated cry from aloft came
stealing softly to her ears. She did not feel hunger, weariness, or
anxiety. Whenever the good darkey steward could spare a few minutes
from the work of the ship he stole down to see if he could do anything
for her; but beyond accepting a cup of tea and a biscuit at midday, she
gently declined all his kindly offers. The only feeling, as she said
afterwards, that did occasionally shoot athwart the placid state of her
mind was one of thankfulness that her husband was so long oblivious of
all that must, she knew, be going on, for she could not help realising
what his fury would be if, with all his senses about him, he should be
unable to take part in the hunting.

And so quietly the long day wore to its close. She remained in utter
ignorance of the outcome until, at about 7 P.M., the steward crept
to her side with a cup of soup, and begged her to sup it. While she
languidly did so, he sketched for her in a few hurried whispers the
condition of things, and wound up by saying, his swart face looking a
ghastly green in the dim light of the swinging lamp: ‘An’ de good Lawd
Hisself only knows wa’s gwine happen t’ us wen _he_ comes to an’ fine’s
eout abaout it. Lawd hab massy on us all den.’ She answered him not a
word, but, handing back the cup, laid her tired head back in her chair
and passed peacefully to sleep.



CHAPTER IX

REUBEN EDDY, MARINER


We left Rube not only entered conclusively upon his new career, the
very antithesis of all his previous experiences, but, by one of those
mysterious happenings which prove how little we know of the workings of
the human brain, completely dissociated from that former life of his as
if it had never been. And yet by some merciful connection, inexplicable
in view of his entire loss of memory, but certainly bridging the dark
gulf, his former Christian training not merely influenced him, but
its effect was intensely deepened and strengthened. So with all his
old attributes of patience, of kindliness, of love; attributes which
all must confess may exist without any acknowledgment on the part of
their possessor of the power of Christianity at all. Also his physical
powers developed amazingly. Seemingly quite careless what he ate, but
always with bared head returning thanks to God for it, he throve upon
that poor food until his torso would have served as a model for an
ancient Greek statue of Hercules. Upon his bright face the shadow of
a frown was never seen, his serenity of mind seemed proof against all
the pettiness of aggravation that men allow to do so much harm in the
world, the gnat-bites of daily intercourse which fester into various
plagues far more deadly in their continual evil than all the great
crimes which shock us so by the horrors of their incidence upon the
life of man.

And with all this he was essentially a _man_, taking with highest
intelligence his daily part in all around him, excelling in ability
as he did in strength every one of his shipmates until he came to be
looked upon by them as a kind of demi-god whose superiority in all
things they ungrudgingly acknowledged because he himself was obviously
entirely unconscious of it. Forward and aft it was the same. If any
felt they had aught to teach him they immediately did so for the sheer
joy of the thing; he was so eager to learn, so keen-witted in absorbing
new knowledge, so humble and entirely grateful. At first this attitude
of his was looked upon with suspicion by his shipmates, for suspicion
and jealousy are baleful plants that thrive apace on shipboard among
the crew, especially on long voyages; then, when the impossibility of
being suspicious or jealous of such a man had been fully demonstrated,
good-natured, bantering toleration took its place. This was succeeded
by reverence, which gradually overcame the most sceptical, those who
longest maintained that ‘Rube wuz jest a easy-goin’ loony ’at y’ c’d
do anythin’ y’ liked with.’ This latter phase of feeling towards him
arose, I think, as far as the foc’s’le was concerned, in consequence of
the stand he took against rows in their common abiding place. Whenever
men quarrelled (and shore-folk can hardly imagine how difficult it is
to keep the peace in a small apartment tenanted by thirty men), Rube
was at once on hand, unless it happened to be his wheel or masthead
look-out. And, owing to his great size and strength and utter
disregard of himself, it was impossible to bring off a fight when he
was about. For he would propose the most absurd things, such as that
the two belligerents, if they felt they must beat somebody, should beat
him in turn; but beat one another they should not while he was able to
prevent them, and they could not doubt his ability to do that. Once an
infuriated man did strike him a heavy blow full in the mouth. It was
like striking a rock. Rube leaped at the striker, caught his fist, and,
holding it up, said, ‘Poor feller, jes’ look at them knuckles, they’re
all cut about shameful. Less get a bit er rag an’ tie ’em up.’

What could they do with a man like that but love him? Nothing. And
surely never was man so loved aboard ship before. When in the long
evenings after the first dog-watch the crew lolled about the fore part
of the deck smoking, it became quite an institution for Rube to sit
(he didn’t smoke) and tell them stories in his own quaint language out
of the Bible from memory. He possessed the only one on board, and read
it continually in his watch below, giving up to its delights much of
the time his great frame needed for sleep. Perhaps the quotation of a
sample of his Bible yarns (as the fellows termed them) may be admitted.

‘Way back in the old days, boys, it seems t’ me thet most people hed
a mighty rough time of it. In th’ cities, frum what I c’n see, they
wuz pow’ful little ’musement fur the wealthy folks ’cept buildin’
uncomfortable palaces, stuffin’ grub down their necks they didn’t feel
to want, gettin’ drunk, an’ seein’ a lot of poor people suffer. Funny
how a man or woman should _like_ to see _sufferin_’, ain’t it? Even
then when these rich folks was havin’ what they persuaded themselves
wuz a hot ole time, they wuz always expectin’ some feller’d come along
an’ make a big hole in ’em with one o’ them old-fashioned stickers you
see in pictures, about a foot long, four inches wide, and razzur sharp
on both edges. But they was a lot o’ people hadn’t got no palaces.
They was something like sailors ashore--always on th’ move, carryin’
their grub with ’em, an’ only stoppin’ any length o’ time where there
was water an’ plenty grass fur th’ live stock. ’Course they managed
t’ steal a lot of poor fellers ’at didn’t know enough t’ keep out er
the way, and make these slaves do all the work. We’re most of us built
like that. Comfort was a word that hadn’t come into use those days;
but then neither had indigestion, nerves, corns, or rheumatics. Well,
among these people was one a good deal better’n most ov ’em, though, of
course, he had his faults, an’ his name was Isaac. Only that. Jest a
given name, an’ no more: easy to remember. Now this good man was well
off as those days went. He had lots o’ sheep ’n’ goats an’ donkeys an’
camels, an’ a mighty big country to travel about in, an’ let ’em feed
wherever they would, with no rent or taxes to pay. He had a wife he was
very fond of--only one, which was sing’lar for those times, when th’
best o’ men didn’t seem able to get along without a bunch o’ wives.
An’ he had two sons. One of these sons was a fine fellow, free an’
open an’ brave, fond of all manly sports, but one of those chaps such
as we say’ll never get on in th’ world. He was his father’s darlin’.
The other was a quiet, say-nothin’-t’-nobody sort o’ feller, fond of
hangin’ around the tents and looking after the breedin’ o’ the cattle
an’ sheep, an’ he was what we call a good business man. But you had to
watch him close, or he’d get t’ wind’ard of ye every time. His name was
a sort o’ warning to anybody t’ keep their weather eye liftin’ when he
was havin’ truck with ’em. It was Jacob, meanin’ a feller that gets
into another feller’s place after he’s jockeyed him out of it. An’ he
wasn’t partikler who it was he bested, his father or his brother jes’
as soon as anybody else. He was his mother’s favourite.

‘Well, after both boys had grown up, an’ Jacob had ben workin’ off his
little schemes pretty frequent, ’specially on his twin brother Esau,
his dotin’ mother puts him up to a dodge to take in the old man, who
was gettin’ pretty shaky, so’s he’d scratch Esau outer his will, and
put Jacob in. And between ’em they rigged up Jacob in goatskins to make
him feel like Esau, who was one of those big, burly, hairy men, so as
his poor old father, who was blind, shouldn’t know the difference, an’
give him all the property as well as his blessin’, which counted in
them days fur even more than property. And th’ scheme worked all right.
But when Esau come home from the country, and found it out, Jacob had
to quit, or else Esau would have killed him sure. So his mother lost
him altogether. I don’t s’pose that bothered him greatly. Anyhow, he
did just as well in the new country he run to, and in just the same
way. An’ he kem back a good many years after with quite a procession of
wives an’ children an’ no end of property, an’ who should meet him but
Esau, without any wives an’ children or property, but an army, which
was almost the best thing to have in those days, ’cause when you’d got
it you could get the other things whenever you wanted ’em by taking ’em
away from somebody else.

‘And Jacob, bein’ scared ’most to death, offers to buy Esau off from
what he s’posed was goin’ to be his revenge, with a whole heap of his
property. But Esau says, “Thanks, old man, I don’t want to take away
what belongs to you; I’ve got all I want. But I’ll send a bit of my
army along with you to see that nobody else comes and robs ye.” But
Jacob says to himself, “Oh, no, this is just a scheme for taking all
I’ve got away bymeby.” So he refused. An’ they parted, an’ never saw
one another again.’

Loud cries of ‘Bully for Esau!’ and opprobrious remarks about Jacob,
changing into utter bewilderment when next evening Jacob’s subsequent
history was told in the same quaintly familiar fashion, and the
justification of his being chosen by God was pointed out. For not
only did Rube tell Bible stories, but in the most artless manner he
based conversation upon them; never arguing, but gently suggesting;
familiarising his hearers with Scripture in the most pleasing way, and
never attempting to compel belief by his efforts. It is no exaggeration
to say that in spite of the disappointment felt by the men at the long
period of unsuccessful searching, Rube’s sweet influence was felt by
all hands. And although many of them still had their occasional doubts
of his sanity, none doubted the perfect goodness and beauty of his
character.

They became a very smart crew. Every duty they were called upon to
perform they did as if they loved it, and the skipper’s rugged face
glowed with eagerness to see how they would behave on whales if and
when the chance came. But it was not until they were midway between
the Line and Cape Horn that they sighted their first sperm whale. He
was a lone whale of enormous size, and evidently making a passage to
some other feeding-ground, since he kept his course as if steering by
compass, spouting with the utmost regularity a given number of times,
descending and rising again as if timed by a chronometer. Cautiously,
but with all the attention possible, the ship was worked to windward
of him, until, in a suppressed shout, Captain Hampden gave the order,
‘’Way boats!’ It had previously been decided that only two boats were
needed for the job, so the first and second mates’ boats started,
dropped alongside lightly as foam flakes, and with a long, swinging
stroke they pulled away to windward. Rube was in the mate’s boat
pulling midship oar--the heaviest of the five--and the mate simply
gasped with astonishment to see how this recent yokel handled his
eighteen-foot oar, how all his powers were given to its manipulation,
and what a beautiful stroke he had. They pulled for half an hour, then
with sails set to the strong breeze that was blowing, bore down upon
the unconscious whale, the other boat following hard after them at a
cable’s distance. Nearer, nearer they drew, all hands holding their
breath. Now a wide sheer to port because of that little eye’s power of
seeing astern. They gain rapidly; they are abeam. A strong sweep of the
steer oar, the main sheet is slacked off, and the boat sweeps round and
leaps at the whale’s broadside like a living thing. Before she strikes,
the harpooner has hurled his iron, and it sinks its length into the
black side; the whale is fast. Haul aft the sheet, flat as possible,
the boat flies up into the wind, the harpooner casting out the stray
line meanwhile, and there, although tossing tremendously because of the
fuss being made by the indignant whale, they get the hampering sail
rolled up and mast unshipped and fleeted aft out of the way.

Before they have finished their task the second mate is alongside
awaiting orders. He is told not to go near, but wait and see what
the whale is going to do, always an uncertain factor in scenes like
this. The whale is going to behave in orthodox fashion--_i.e._,
descend to where beyond these voices there is peace. Downward he goes
deliberately, as if hurry were never less needed, but apparently taking
no heed of the strain kept on the line by the buoyant boat above.
Presently it becomes evident that he is a stayer, for the second
line-tub is nearly empty, and he shows no signs of slackening in his
downward path. So the second mate is called upon to pass the end of his
line aboard, and it is spliced on at once. (The strands are always kept
plaited up, so that a splice may be made almost as rapidly as a knot,
and much neater and more safe.) Still he goes down, down, down; while
faces gather blackness as fake after fake of line disappears. Will he
_never_ weaken? The heavy drogue (equal in retarding strain to four
boats) has been bent on at the splice, but seems to have no effect upon
him. The mate’s heart sinks. Up goes the urgent wheft, a signal to the
ship that more line is needed immediately; but, alas! it is too late.
There is a short interval of almost agonising suspense, and the end of
the line flips over the bows. He is gone!

Then the mate gives vent to his feelings. His cursings comprehensively
embrace everything he can bring to memory, himself chiefly. When he is
exhausted Rube’s lips are seen to be moving, and the mate, fiercely
desirous of some animate object whereupon to vent his rage, yells,
‘You hayseed, what _you_ mumblin’ about?’ (I suppress even the blank
profanity with which every word or two is loaded.) Rube softly replies,
‘I was so sorry for your disappointment and the skipper’s that I was
just askin’ God that all our labour shouldn’t be lost.’

The mate was dumb--what could he say to this? And every man in the
boat looked at Rube as if he were uncanny--they had no more idea than
most professing Christians have of the simple faith that believes in
an immanent God always ready and willing to hear the requests of His
children. And up into the midst of their wonderment rose the whale, the
long line trailing behind him, evidently exhausted by his tremendous
efforts to reach a depth of safety. A dozen strokes in reply to the
swiftly shouted orders of the mate, and they were alongside of him,
the harpooner had hooked up the line and passed it into the boat, and
the mate had thrust his long lance so fiercely in between the third
and fourth ribs of the leviathan that the whole vast body quivered
from snout to flukes with the pangs of approaching death. Secure in
the knowledge that he had dealt a deathblow, the mate shouted to the
harpooner to cut the loose line adrift; but even that small loss was
avoided, for the second mate’s boat sheered alongside in the nick of
time and took it.

No other stroke was needed; a thin stream of blood was seen to be
trickling over the edge of the spiracle, and the next great expiration
hurled into the air, with a bursting groan, masses of clotted blood
so large that it was almost miraculous how they had been forced along
the single air-tube which supplies the lungs with breath. Filled with
a great awe, the new hands drew off slowly in obedience to the orders
given, unable to take their eyes off the dying giant. And then, to
their horror, they saw him suddenly rear his gigantic head high in air,
and hurl his body along the blood-stained sea-surface in hundred-foot
leaps, swaying first to this side and then to that as if under the
influence of an agony so intolerable that he was endowed with at least
ten times his usual great strength. All around his awful way the sea
was torn into a thousand fantastic shapes, and blocks of purple foam
were flung on high and caught by the wind, which drove them like
some dreadful snow in showers of flakes far to leeward. At last--and
although the paroxysm had only lasted about three minutes, they seemed
like hours--there was a momentary lull: the whale disappeared. But
almost immediately after there was an upheaval like the rearing of a
suddenly formed volcano in the midst of the sea, and high into the
air soared the whole mighty mass, apparently hung suspended there for
an appreciable space, and fell! In the thundering noise and violent
commotion occasioned by that great act, the hunters lost for a moment
their strained attention on the whale. When they regained it he lay an
inert mass, gently undulating to the touch of the waves, with his head
as usual pointed straight towards the wind’s eye.

[Illustration: HIGH INTO THE AIR SOARED THE WHOLE MIGHTY MASS.]

There was a great peace succeeding the tumult, and a moaning little
voice in the wind which filled the air with mournfulness. Also the
plash of the wavelets over the quiet bank of flesh had in it, to all
seeming, a murmur of regret. The influences of that restful time
affected all for a brief space, and Rube’s eyes glistened as he thought
of the cruel end so suddenly befalling the brave, strong, harmless
monster, a short hour ago so placidly enjoying his life, and perfectly
filling his appointed place in the scheme of things. But with a jerk
all musings were ended, for the mate’s voice broke harshly upon the
accented silence, as he shouted, ‘Naow, then, m’ lads, pull two, starn
three, an’ le’s git th’ tow line fast, ’relse the ship’ll be here ’fore
we’re half ready.’ She was coming straight for them before the wind,
and only about a mile away--a homely, clumsy-looking craft enough,
but invested for each of the green hands with a new character now, a
home of rest after their late heavy toil, a place where they would be
met with a great satisfaction as returning conquerors bringing their
gigantic spoil with them, warriors who had abundantly justified the
training they had received. They had been able in that one fleeting
hour of tremendous experiences to attain unto the highest physical
pleasure of which man is capable--the sense that, by the use of his
puny powers, rightly directed, he is able to overcome what seems to
be at first sight the most overwhelming odds brought against him. All
the solemnity of the first moments of victory was forgotten, and even
Rube’s eyes sparkled with delight as he watched the look of content
glowing on the mate’s face, as with his short boat spade he hacked at
the great limber tail until he had cut a hole in it through which the
tow-line could be passed.

The ship rounded to as easily as one of the boats would have done, only
about her own length from the whale. And the mate with a triumphant
roar of ‘Give way, m’lads!’ steered for her, no man prouder than he
of the way in which his ‘greenies’ had acquitted themselves on their
maiden venture. The grizzled leonine head of the skipper loomed in the
waist, where, the boards out, all was in readiness to receive them.
And as ready hands hooked up the tow-line, and prepared to walk up
alongside the huge mass of their prize, he said to the mate standing
beneath him erect in the stern of the boat: ‘Wall, Mr. Pease, yew
du seem t’ hev got on t’ a logy this time. I sh’d say he’s all ov
a hundred an’ forty bar’l be his look, ’less he’s dry-skin.’ ‘Nary
dry-skin ’baout him, Cap’n Hampden,’ replied the mate, cheerfully.
‘He’s jest a-teemin’ outer him. Iron went in’s if it hed fell into a
kag er butter. Fattes’ whale ever I struck, ’n’ thet’s the cole truth,
sir.’

Then with a joyful noise all hands tallied on to the tow-line, and
snaked that whale alongside in great shape. Everything had been
prepared for the arrival, cutting falls rove, spades ranged, cutting
stage ready, and although the experience was absolutely novel to
most of the men, they were so keen, so eager to do as they were told
to the best of their ability, that really I doubt whether the most
seasoned crew could have made a better show than they did. And this in
spite of the almost feverish desire possessed by all to look upon the
gigantic prize they had won in fair fight from his appointed realm,
the vasty deep. It was all so wonderful, so new, so strange. And then
in hurried glimpses they saw coming up in the clear blue around hosts
of queer-looking creatures (to them, for none of the new hands had
ever seen a shark before). One fellow, a lank Kentuckian, in a stolen
moment remarked in a stage whisper to a shipmate, as they leaned over
the rail hauling at the fluke-chain, ‘Gosh! look’t all them little
fish daown thar.’ Said little fish, rising rapidly, presently revealed
themselves as sharks averaging ten feet in length, who, regardless
of consequences, hurled themselves end-ways at the whale’s body, and
gouged at it furiously, as if driven mad by hunger.

The whale fairly secured alongside, the skipper’s voice rose above the
tumult, commanding instant attention from everybody. ‘Mr. Pease, let
th’ boys go to dinner. I guess we won’t miss an hour, and th’ weather
looks sorter settled.’ ‘Dinner!’ shouted the mate, and there was a
stampede forward, for every man, as soon as he had time to think of it,
was ravenously hungry. The cook had, under orders from the skipper,
made a few additions to the usual dietary, and it is not too much to
say that every man there when he sat down to enjoy his well-earned meal
was, for the time being, as happy as ever he had been in his life. And
only because the man who controlled their destinies for the time had
in addition to his fund of common-sense, a little of the milk of human
kindness.

A little judicious appreciation costs nothing, and is so valuable: it
often lifts weary men over the dead centres of life; indeed, it often
makes a youth who, full of fear lest in his very anxiety to do well
he has made some irreparable mistake, feel that no effort can be too
great to please a man who has recognised his desire to do his duty. And
when, at the call of ‘Turn to!’ the rested, well-fed crowd climbed on
deck again into the keen, pure air, and found that while they had been
dining the skipper and his officers had been toiling at the stupendous
task of cutting off the whale’s head, they almost felt ashamed at
having taken so long over their meal.

I know very well that there will be many a cynical sneer at this, but
that does not matter at all so long as the thing is true. If men (and
I care not whether they be white, black, brown, or yellow) are treated
like cattle they will yield worse than bovine service; if they are
pampered and allowed to feel that they can do as they like, they will,
their natural depravity getting the upper hand, become practically
worthless; but if, as under Captain Hampden, they are kept under
discipline, yet made to feel that their efforts to do well are fully
appreciated, they will behave as men should behave who realise to the
full the dignity of obeying the call of duty, who realise abundantly
how good it is to be a _man_.



CHAPTER X

THE _GOOD_ SHIP ‘XIPHIAS’


Of definite purpose I have italicised the adjective in the heading of
this chapter because I have often feared that readers of ‘The Cruise
of the _Cachalot_’ may have been led to believe that there could not
be such a thing as a good whaleship. And yet even there I did try to
show how vast a difference a change of captains made. The _Xiphias_,
however, was good from the beginning. A certain amount of unavoidable
suffering was endured by the new hands at the beginning of the cruise,
consequent entirely upon the sudden violent change in their lives. And
perhaps the officers were just a trifle exuberant in their attentions
to the helpless, clumsy men they were endeavouring to lick into
shape. But there never was any actual cruelty. Discipline once firmly
established, and rudimentary ideas of the work they must do instilled
into the men’s minds, their lives became as comfortable as a sailor’s
life can ever be at sea. They worked hard, but only at necessary
duties, and they were never wantonly deprived of needed rest. Their
food was none too good, but it was certainly better than usual and
always plentiful. Even here the genial spirit of the skipper was able
to exercise itself beneficially for the comfort of his men. He and his
officers were always on the keenest look-out for fish of any sort, and
no effort was spared to catch them, all sorts of fishing tackle being
carried for the purpose. He knew, too, many little dodges by means of
which sea-fowl could be rendered palatable, and was a past master in
the art of devising changes of dietary for his crew.

But more than all this, the man himself was one of those glorious old
Yankees who combine with a supreme ability to command their fellows--a
power of enforcing discipline among the roughest with splendid,
never-failing courage--the simple, fun-loving, joyous instincts of a
child: terrible in their just anger to meet as a tiger in the jungle,
but happy and light-hearted as any child when their men behave like
men. So that Captain Hampden was not merely obeyed, he was loved both
by officers and men, and all the more because not one of them would
have dared to impose upon him in any way. I speak feelingly, for I
know the man, who now, midway between eighty and ninety years of age,
is not in his second childhood, but his first, his broad back unbent,
his hawk-like eye undimmed, his huge limbs as steady as they were half
a century ago. To him the children flock as to one who understands
them. They talk to him as to one of themselves, and parents laughingly
upbraid him with being foremost among the mischief-loving urchins of
the sweet little New England town in which he lives. And I am sure that
when the call comes for him to close his long and useful schooling
here, he will lie down to sleep with the perfect confidence of a little
child. It would be an impertinence to say ‘God bless him,’ for God has
blessed him exceedingly abundantly, and made him also a blessing to
many thousands who are the happier for his having lived.

But I must get back apologetically to the _Xiphias_, with her crew
girding their loins to the great task in front of them. The cutting-in
of the first whale of a voyage is always a serious matter, since the
crew, however willing, must needs be educated in the performance of
an entirely novel task. I am anxious not to repeat myself, but the
work of collecting the spoil from a dead whale is of so wonderful a
character--is, in spite of the greasy nature of the surroundings, so
truly romantic--that the temptation to dwell upon its description is
ever present. To the casual unthinking observer there may seem nothing
very wonderful in the operation of cutting-in, except the astounding
magnitude of the masses raised from the body and disposed of in the
blubber-room and on deck. But really it is a piece of work requiring
not merely the utmost skill and care on the part of its directors,
but a certain natural aptitude as well, for want of this latter
characteristic always entails an enormous amount of extra labour upon
the crew. Take, for instance, the preliminary operation of cutting off
the huge head. Even with the utmost skill this task demands an amazing
amount of muscular force, but if that be wrongly applied it is indeed
a heart-breaking job. There is practically nothing to guide the eye
in the selection of a line upon which to start cutting down into the
body and finding the junction of the neck. And there is in a whale of
the size captured by the _Xiphias_ fully six feet of muscular tissue
to be severed by the spades before the central bone is reached. In
other words, the diameter of the body there is about fourteen feet.
A few inches to one side or the other, and the work may take double
the number of hours it should do, while the able whaleman will plunge
unerringly down through the mass blow after blow of his razor-edged
spade until he feels--he cannot see--his blade strike the exact spot
in the centre of the joint, a ball-and-socket about fourteen inches in
diameter.

So well had Captain Hampden and his officers performed their task that
when the crew rushed on deck eager for work the joint had been severed,
a hole had been bored through the snout, and the end of a snout-chain
was already passed through this hole and dangling down under water,
awaiting the turning over of the carcass to be got hold of. This was
for the purpose of dropping the head astern when it was cut off, for it
is always the last to be dealt with.

Swiftly the chain-sling was passed round the base of the lower jaw,
hooked to one of the big tackles, with a cheery shout the windlass
levers were manned, and presently, upward pointing, arose the shaft of
bone, studded with foot-long teeth, while the officers cut vigorously
away at the throat, and started the unwinding of that thick overcoating
of rich fat their prize had worn so long. And all the while the busy
spades of the skipper and mate went plunging almost with the regularity
of a pair of pistons down into the scarph dividing the head from the
body, until as the first blanket piece rose alongside the head slipped
easily aft and floated, an almost cylindrical mass of some thirty-five
tons in weight, at the end of a hawser passed over the taffrail.

All plain sailing now for a time. Merrily clattered the pawls,
accentuated by the occasional cries of ‘Heave on yer whale!’ ‘Surge
on yer piece!’ ‘’Vast heaving!’ ‘Lower away!’ ‘Walk back!’ and the
like, all so definite in their application with seamen, and so utterly
unintelligible ashore. So briskly, indeed, did the work go on that
in less than an hour from the time that the first blanket piece was
lowered into the blubber-room, all hands were gratified to see the
great flukes dangling at the end of a tackle, the last joint of the
backbone having been cut through and the mountainous mass of black
flesh allowed to drift slowly away, torn at by innumerable sharks on
all sides, and the centre of a perfect cloud of screaming sea-birds.

Now for the head. Smart as the work had been, there was no time to be
lost. Although the whale had been struck at 8 A.M., it was now nearly
3 P.M. Barely three hours of daylight remained; and, besides, on the
south-eastern horizon there was rising a mass of cloud, with outlines
as sharp and clearly defined as those of a mountain. It loomed ever
higher, vast, menacing, and deepening into blackness. But although
the skipper could not help casting an anxious glance to windward
occasionally, his manner was cheery as ever, and he and his officers
toiled as if fatigue was to them a word without meaning. Certainly,
whatever other virtues be denied them, the Yankee whaling officers
could never be accused of laziness. If they worked their men almost to
death they never spared themselves: they always led the way, and showed
by their example what a man could do if he tried.

The task of dividing the ‘case’ and ‘junk’ from the head, which was now
taken in hand, is the heaviest of all, not excepting cutting off the
head. For the case is a huge oblong tank, full of pure spermaceti, and
extending almost the whole length of the head, of which, indeed, it
forms nearly half the bulk. It must be cut out, for in a whale of this
size it contains nearly three tons of spermaceti as fluid as oil, and
there is no way of getting at this precious substance without lifting
the whole case. Lifting the head entirely is sometimes effected, but
only when the whale is small. In so large a one as this the lifting
of the case alone when detached is a task demanding the utmost energy
of all hands, and often, when a heavy sea is running, straining the
ship dangerously. Even then it cannot be taken on board, but must be
suspended alongside, and the spermaceti baled out of it with a bucket
in a most cumbrous and unsatisfactory way. The junk, being one solid
mass cut off the point of the snout, and weighing about four or five
tons, is easier dealt with, since a slip of the spade in cutting it off
does not mean a possible leakage of all its valuable contents, for in
it the spermaceti is contained in cells as water is held in a sponge,
and is, moreover, almost congealed.

By dint of the most strenuous toil, the junk and case were separated,
and the former hove on deck and secured, half an hour before dark. Then
the mighty case was hooked on and held up alongside. As the ship was
beginning to roll uneasily in the new cross swell coming up from the
south-east, precursor of the impending storm, it was necessary to pass
a heavy chain around it to bind it in to the side. Then a light spar
was rigged across the two tackles, high above the case, and a single
whip or pulley, with a rope running through it, to one end of which was
attached a long bucket. Then a man--he happened to be a merry little
Irish teamster, named MacManus--mounted nimbly aloft, and sat upon the
spar grasping a spade pole, with which to push the bucket down into
the case after he had slit open the top of it. Then, at his word, the
waiting men on deck hauled the bucket out and lowered it to the tank
awaiting its contents on deck.

Meanwhile all on deck were as busy as ants. Inspired by the skipper,
they toiled to get the decks clear, and certain of them, at the word,
rushed aloft to furl the few remaining sails that were set, except the
close-reefed main topsail. Rube, being on the leeside, did not trouble
to cross the deck and go up in orthodox fashion, but as he climbed
somewhat wearily he saw MacManus take a header from his precarious
seat into the yawning cavity of the case. A scream of horror burst
from his lips, but overcoming the paralysis that momentarily affected
his bodily powers, he leaped like a cat from the main shrouds to the
cutting falls, and, grabbing the bucket in one hand, slid down into
the yawning chasm beneath. As he went he felt the slimy walls of the
great case embracing him all round, and thought with agony of the
depth beneath him--fourteen feet at least of oil--then soundlessly the
bland greasiness closed over his head, and all was darkness. But his
mind was clear, and his hope was high that those who saw him go would
spring to the whip and haul up ere it was too late. And while he thus
thought he groped with one arm through the bucket loop, and, feeling
something hard, seized it with a drowning man’s grip just as he felt
himself ascending. Reluctantly those sucking walls yielded up their
prey; his arms felt as if they were being torn from their sockets;
but although there was a roaring as of loudest thunder in his ears,
he held on. And presently he hung limply in mid-air, one arm still
through the bucket loop, the other around the body of MacManus. Four
eager and willing men slid down the falls and seized the pair. Securing
them with ropes passed to them from the main-top, they lowered them as
rapidly as possible on deck. Even then there was no time to be lost,
for both were apparently dead--ears, nostrils, and mouths being clogged
with the rapidly coagulating spermaceti. But after the application of
some highly original methods of clearing it away, and most patient
artificial respiration following it, the pair gradually returned from
their visit to the shades, and sat up wonderingly.

It was not for several hours that either of them could recall what had
befallen them, and when they did both fell a-trembling violently as
they again realised the sensation of sliding down into that darksome
well of grease. But Rube recovered first, having, as he said, the need
laid upon him to offer up thanks to God for permitting him to save his
shipmate’s life. He remembered how, as he slid out of the fast-fading
daylight, his heart said, ‘O God, make me save him,’ and he felt that
by nothing short of a miracle he had been able to do so. Poor MacManus
could not speak of it, so broken up was he, but for hours, emitting
every now and then a rending sob, he lay holding Rube’s hand in his as
if only by so doing could he be prevented from gliding back again into
that pit of death.

This accident had, of course, caused much delay, but still, through
the now almost pitchy blackness of the night, by the aid of cressets
of blazing fuel suspended from the boat-davits, the work had gone on,
until at four bells (10 P.M.) a few strokes of a spade released the
ponderous mass from its slings, and with a sullen, thunderous boom it
fell back into the sea. Immediately upon its disappearance the skipper
ordered half the crew below for a couple of hours’ rest, and himself
hastened to visit the victims of the late mishap. He found MacManus
asleep, nervously twitching all over, but Rube lying with hands folded
on his breast, his lips moving slowly as he murmured praises for his
deliverance.

‘Well, Rube, ’n’ haow d’ye seem t’ be hittin’ it b’ now, hey?’ said the
old man cheerily.

Rube turned on him a dazzling smile, and answered in a quiet tone: ‘Jes
’s grand ’s grand kin be, Cap’n. I don’t know as I was ever so happy in
all m’ life. Only one thing I’m sorry fur, ’at I kain’t be up ’n’ doin’
my share o’ th’ work thet’s goin’ on. But as yew’re all so kind, I
don’t feel able t’ worry nearly ’s much ’bout thet ’s I feel I oughter.’

‘Jes’ yew stop right thar,’ said the skipper. ‘Don’t wanter hyar ‘et
yew’re worryin’ any ‘t all. Why, blame my cats, I want ye well, ’n’
haow in thunder air ye goin’ t’ git well ef you lays thar a-worryin’?
Guess me an’ th’ rest ov yew’re shipmates ’ll dew all th’ worryin’
thet’s called fur till yew’re round again. We kain’t git ’long ’thout
yew a bit, ’n’ thet’s a fact.’

‘Ah, Cap’n,’ murmured Rube, ‘it does sound good ov ye to say so, and
say it so kinder tender like. Fact is, yew’re all of ye so kind ’at
I’m’s happy as a man k’n be. Nothin’ don’t seem able t’ hurt me. Naow
and then thar’s a set o’ blurred pictures comes up in my mind of a long
time ago, when I was very unhappy an’ looked ahead to see nawthin’
but trouble an’ misery waitin’ fur me all my days. But it never gits
quite clear. I never remember anything fur certain, and I don’t seem
ter--I kain’t seem ter--feel ’at I keer a row o’ pins what’s goin’ t’
happen ter-morrer. I seem ter ben here all my life, ’n’ don’t want a
little bit t’ be anywhere else. I ain’t gut a care ner a fret ner a
want in the world.’ Then, as the Captain turned as if about to leave
abruptly--for the need upon him to do so was great--Rube gently laid
a detaining hand upon his arm, saying: ‘Cap’n, I believe it’s all the
goodness of God. Some of us don’t think as much of Him as we might. I
know I don’t, but I b’lieve ther’ ain’t one of _us_ but what thinks
more about God’s love to ’em than they do ’bout anythin’ else in this
world.’ ‘Stop,’ almost shouted the skipper, ‘yew’re hurtin’ me wuss ’n
ye know. I dassent say a word ’at w’d hurt yer faith in us, but fur
God’s sake don’t make us out like that. I kain’t tell ye haow mean an’
low down an’ ord’nary yew make me feel when yew talk like that. Naow I
must git, fur yew’re mighty low, ’n’ I got work wants doin’. Try an’
git t’ sleep an’ be about among us as quickly as ever yew can.’ And the
skipper hurriedly departed.

In truth he was glad to get away from what was rapidly becoming an
intolerable situation. Back to his mind had been brought with startling
clearness the old Quaker home, the sweet placid face of his mother, as
with a cooing gentleness she taught him to utter his earliest prayers
to the All-Father with whom she was on such beautifully intimate terms.
He remembered how the light upon his mother’s face always seemed to him
to be reflected from the sky, and how he used to shut his eyes tight
and wish that he might have a vision of that dear Friend whom he felt
sure that mother could see and hear so clearly. Also the grave face of
his father came up before him, never, as far as he could remember, lit
by a smile, always looking as if the tremendous realities of life had
left their indelible impress there. He knew that while he had loved
his mother he had reverenced his father, but never seemed able to get
beyond that feeling of awe-stricken admiration. Then came the death
of both those holy ones, the breaking up of the old home, and the
gradual loss through the struggling years that followed of personal
communion with his mother’s Friend, while still retaining through all
the hardnesses of a whaler’s life a blend of her sweet temper and his
father’s exalted rectitude. And now he was set a-wondering in the
presence of this gentle ‘greenie’ how much he had lost through his
gradually letting slip his acquaintance with his mother’s God. But
like most men of Anglo-Saxon race, he felt a strange fear lest he
should betray to anyone around him these ennobling, uplifting thoughts
that welled up from his heart. His face burned and his voice trembled
curiously as he walked among his toiling men, glancing furtively at
each familiar face as if wondering whether any of them could detect
any difference in him--for difference he knew there was--from what he
had been yesterday.

After a short interval of oversight, a few words with the officers
who were superintending the commencement of the trying-out process,
and an entirely contented look around at the storminess of the night,
he said to the second mate, who was in charge of the watch at the
time: ‘Wall, Mr. Peck, I guess I’ll go and turn in fur a spell. It’s
goin’t’ be a dirty night, an’ ye mout’s well rig up the cover over
th’ try-works, ’case it rains, ’r she ships any water. Don’t want th’
pots bilin’ over ’n catchin’ light, do we? Nawthin’ else yew’d like t’
talk t’ me abaout, is there, ’fore I go below?’ ‘No, sir,’ said the
officer; ‘everythin’ seems to be goin’ in good shape so far, ’n’ as fur
this dirt, wall, I reckon the moon’s ’bout due at seven bells ’n’ I
shouldn’t wonder if she scorfs it all.’ ‘Ha, ha,’ laughed the old man;
‘it’s mighty certain she wunt scorf the fly jib anyhaow. It’s too well
fast fur thet. Good-night.’ He alluded to the old, old yarn at sea of
the careful mate who, because the night was threatening in appearance,
asked the skipper whether he shouldn’t ‘take some of the kites off
her.’ ‘Oh, no,’ said the skipper, ‘the moon’ll scorf (eat) all that’
(alluding to the ugly appearance of the clouds). But when aroused by
the tumult on deck an hour or two latter the skipper came rushing on
deck and anxiously inquired what had become of the flying jib, the mate
replied nonchalantly, ‘Oh, the moon’s scorfed that, sir.’

Diving below, the old man took a searching look at his barometer,
noted the direction of the ship’s head, and then passed on to his own
tiny state-room, slipped off his boots and sat down. Alone with his
thoughts, they flew back again to that far-off time to which they had
been directed by his contemplation of Rube. Slowly his head dropped
upon his hands, lower and lower he bowed himself, until, utterly
oblivious of all the sea-noises around him, of the uneasy motion of his
ship as she headed the rising sea, or of his responsibility for the
welfare of every soul on board, he slipped down upon his knees, and
as simply as ever he did when a child, but with an added fervour, he
lifted up his heart to God.

It was at least half an hour before he rose from his knees, but in the
space of that brief period he had learned more than most men learn
during the whole of their lives. Confessing his sins he asked for
pardon, admitting his blindness he asked for sight, acknowledging his
ignorance he asked for teaching; and he obtained all his desires. Then
with a sense of lightness and freedom from care never before felt he
lay down on his little settee to be ready for a call, and in about the
space of one minute was fast asleep.

On deck, the scene to an uninitiate would have been appalling. With a
monotonous, never-ceasing, and ever-increasing wail the wild wind bore
down out of the windward blackness upon the brave old ship. A peep
over the weather bulwarks revealed the long, long ranges of gleaming
wave-crests rolling down upon her, their uncanny greenish light
flickering against the black background and showing by the distances
they were apart longitudinally how mightily the waves had grown. There
was a fascination about them, too, which held the observer gazing until
like a splash of small shot a spray of spindrift struck him in the face
and sent him smarting to shelter. But as if it had been the finest of
summer evenings the steady stress of labour continued. Up from the
blubber-room were hurled the massive horse-pieces of blubber, carved
with so much labour from the great blanket pieces by the slipping,
struggling labourers below. Of all the strange places I have ever seen
I think the blubber-room of a whaleship at night in a gale of wind is
beyond comparison the strangest. It is a square space of about thirty
feet each way and between six and seven feet high. Into it are piled
the blanket pieces, those immense widths of blubber, each weighing
a ton or so, which have been ripped from the carcass of the whale.
In uncouth masses they lie one upon another, piled often almost to
touching the beams overhead. As the ship rolls they glide and heave
upon one another as if still actuated by the breath of the monster
they so lately covered. From a beam, generally in a corner, swings a
primitive lamp, little more than accentuating the darkness. And at the
beginning of operations two dim forms crawl precariously about among
those greasy masses, occasionally slipping a leg down into a temporary
crevice and having it squeezed into numbness before being able to
withdraw it. They wield short-handled spades like Dutch hoes, and with
infinite labour hew off blocks from the masses of blubber of a fit
size to pass through the mincer. When they have a dozen or so of these
blocks ready they must needs in some unexplainable fashion balance
themselves under the hatchway, and with a sort of diminutive pitchfork
hurl the blocks (horse-pieces) upwards into a shallow trough secured
to the coaming or upper edge of the hatch, whence the attendant on the
mincer loads a tub with them and drags them away. And unless these
blubber-room men be exceedingly skilful as well as strong, they will
not only never have a breathing space during the six hours of their
stay below, but will, in addition, have to bear much contumely from the
officer in charge, who will be instant in his sarcastic inquiries as to
what they may be doing below--whether they are asleep or not.

The clank-clank of the mincer is unceasing, tall tongues of flame from
the funnels of the try-works make long red smears upon the gloom as
they stream away to leeward, and the two harpooners feed the bubbling
cauldrons with minced blubber, bale out the sufficiently boiled oil,
and watch with unceasing care against a sudden splash of cold water
into the pots, which may cause the oil to rise in a moment, and,
overflowing into the furnaces, set fire to the ship. All the watch is
so busy that there is no time to notice the weather, or moralise upon
this most romantic scene--a ship’s company who, having succeeded in
winning from a hostile element the spoil of the mightiest creature
known, have now converted their vessel into a floating factory, and
under the most extraordinarily difficult conditions conceivable are
engaged in realising that spoil in order to convey it to their home
port thousands of miles away.

Here let us leave them for awhile, and exercising our privilege of
instant transition, glance back at the quiet village whence the
departure of our hero withdrew so much consolation and manly assistance
in the old age of his parents.



CHAPTER XI

AT THE OLD HOMESTEAD


Saturday night in the Eddy homestead. In their respective chairs,
occupied by them with hardly a break through thirty-eight years of
ideally happy married life, sat Farmer Eddy and his wife. The labours
of the week were ended, the hired people gone to rest, and husband
and wife sat face to face as they had done for so many years, but
never until the last six months with such weary hearts. Mrs. Eddy had
aged very much. Not that any care for her boy’s spiritual welfare
worried her--she felt as certain of him in that respect as if he had
been always under her eye. But since his departure from New Bedford
in the _Xiphias_ it was as if he had passed into the eternal silence,
and although she said little her heart-hunger was terrible. His
last letter was but half-a-dozen lines, hastily scrawled and posted
without signature, telling his parents that he was outward bound on a
South Sea whaling voyage, and in the hurry of the moment omitting to
mention even the name of his ship. Naturally, therefore, as the days
went by lengthening into weeks, the weeks into months, the disease of
uncertainty made her its prey, and she aged fast, perhaps as much from
the heroic effort she made to conceal her anxiety from her husband as
from its direct effect.

Alas, what Mrs. Eddy endured has too often been the lot of American
mothers. For in those days recruiting agents for the New England
whalers prowled about the country beguiling simple young men with
specious tales of the glories of a roving life and the wealth they
would by-and-by bring home. And as the recruits never knew where they
were going except that it was out upon the wide ocean, nor when they
might possibly return, except that it must not _legally_ be longer than
four years, the news they were able to send their people at the time
of shipment, even supposing they felt in good heart enough to do so,
was of necessity extremely meagre. Nor were opportunities for sending
letters frequent afterwards. An occasional whaler was spoken which
might or might not be homeward bound in the course of a year or so. It
was hardly worth while entrusting letters to such a casual packet as
that. And the land touched was almost always carefully selected for its
aloofness from civilisation, as well as its offering few inducements to
a would-be deserter who was anxious to return home.

Farmer Eddy went about much the same as usual but noticeably graver,
and, if possible, more gentle than ever. He never spoke to his
neighbours about his son, and scarcely ever to his wife, but this
latter omission mattered little, since at the evening prayer he had
ever since Rube’s departure devoted at least half of that pleasant
season to pleading with his Father for his son. Together as the old
couple knelt they saw with the eye of faith Rube upheld in right-doing,
cleansed by affliction, drawn nearer to God, and never unmindful of
them. Their simple assurance that all was well with him never wavered,
nor, although they so seldom mentioned his name at any other than
these sacred times, did either of them lose his image from their
mental vision for one waking hour. Here, however, Farmer Eddy had one
advantage over his wife--the usual one, she was the mother. And as such
she could no more help yearning over her absent son than she could help
breathing. Her faith was as robust as her husband’s without doubt, but,
oh, she wanted her boy back so badly.

In a worldly sense all had prospered with them, and looked as if that
prosperity would continue. And they had been almost compelled to extend
their possessions by the acquisition of the Fish farm. For after
Priscilla’s departure with her husband, Mrs. Fish, feeling utterly
alone except for the hired girls who came and went, visibly drooped day
by day. Mrs. Eddy came as often as she could to visit her old friend,
but that was not often, and moreover her visits were of necessity very
short. Not only was Mrs. Fish lonely, but her heart was a prey to all
sorts of apprehensions. Jake, her eldest son, was steadily going from
bad to worse, leaving the oversight of the farm more and more to his
younger brother Will, who, instead of rising to the occasion, chafed
and fretted at his position of, as he put it, farm-bailiff without
salary, except what Jake was minded to fling him occasionally with an
air of lofty contempt. Unknown to either his mother or brother, but not
unsuspected, Jake was also mortgaging the farm up to the very roof-tree
of the house, and, with an infatuation almost amounting to lunacy,
was spending the money in riotous trips to New York and Boston. He
apparently did not permit himself to think at all of the certain ruin
he was courting, nor spend one thought upon the unmerited suffering he
was bringing upon his mother and brother.

The climax was reached at last by his returning from one of his New
York trips accompanied by an exceedingly handsome but vulgar young
woman, whom he swaggeringly announced as his intended bride. His
brother and mother were sitting at their evening meal when this
happened, and when he made the announcement his mother, with one swift
and comprehensive glance at her son’s female companion, rose from her
seat, saying, ‘Will, he’p me up stairs.’ Jake, his face flaring with
rage, interposed between the departing pair and the door, demanding
almost in a shout and with many oaths what they meant by insulting him
and his intended wife. Releasing his mother’s arm, Will took a step
towards his brother, saying quietly and distinctly: ‘Yew misbul shote,
ain’t it ’nough fur yew t’ break mother’s heart with yer goin’s on but
yew must insult her ole age by bringin’ _thet_ home an’ flauntin’ it in
her face. Naow, ’r ye goin’ t’ git aout o’ eour way or ain’t ye----?’

There were no more words. Jake, maddened, flew at his brother’s throat,
and the pair, both strong young men, but the elder much debilitated
by his recent excesses, writhed and wrestled and tumbled about the
living-room like a pair of tigers. The woman Jake had brought with
him, retreating to a safe corner, eyed the wretched struggle with a
serene aloofness befitting a Roman amphitheatre, but the mother sat
wringing her hands and feebly calling upon her sons for God’s sake to
cease their unnatural strife. Suddenly, over the wreck of the table,
the pair collapsed, Will uppermost. Hoarsely he shouted, as with one
knee on his brother’s breast, one hand clutching Jake’s throat, he
raised himself a little: ‘Y’ onnatural beast, will y’ git eout o’ this,
’r sh’ll I kill ye t’ onct? Y’ ain’t fit t’ live, I know, but b’ th’
’Tarnal y’ ain’t fit t’ die. Will y’ git ’r shall I mash y’r face into
a jelly?’ ‘Yes, I’ll go,’ gasped the almost choking man, and Will,
carefully releasing him, watched him out of the house, and into the
buggy, which had been waiting ever since he arrived. No sooner had the
pair taken their seats, and the horse, under a merciless cut of Jake’s
whip, had bounded off, than Will returned to his mother, finding her
in a dead faint; indeed, looking as if coming to again was a quite
unlikely contingency. Desperately alarmed, Will called for the hired
girl, who had been busy outside, and leaving his mother to her care,
hitched up his cart and drove furiously over to the Eddy place. It did
not take many minutes for him to persuade Mrs. Eddy to return with
him to the aid of his suffering mother. But when they arrived she was
past all earthly comfort. Her mind wandered from the good man of her
youthful days to Priscilla and Jake; the only one she did not mention
in her rambling remarks was Will. But he, good fellow, made no sign of
how this omission smote upon his heart. Nevertheless, could anyone have
read his thoughts, it would have been seen how deeply he was wounded,
and how sincere was his unspoken resolve that, should his mother die,
the home of his youth, grown hateful to him, should know him no more.

At 4 A.M. Mrs. Fish passed away, still unconscious of those around,
still talking more or less intelligibly of her husband and elder son
and daughter. And Mrs. Eddy, tired out, having first persuaded Will to
retire, went to her own well-earned rest against the labours of the
coming day. The following week tried her and her husband to the utmost,
for Will, besides being almost penniless (his brother having had every
cent he could lay hands on), manifested much eagerness to be gone and
leave everything just as it was. Farmer Eddy was at his wits’ end what
to do, and it was no small relief to him when a Boston lawyer came
down empowered to sell the place and all that was on it to the highest
bidder for the benefit of the mortgagees. Then it was that Mr. Eddy
decided to buy, being, as he said, desirous that the heart-broken young
man, now so eager to be gone, should, if he were ever able, be allowed
to redeem the home of his childhood from the careful hand of a friend
instead of seeing it pass into the unsympathetic grip of a stranger.
Will professed entire indifference, but no doubt the unostentatious
kindness of his father’s old friend did him much good--especially
when in the kindest manner possible Farmer Eddy pressed upon him
a sufficient store of dollars to allow him time to look around in
Chicago, whither he was bent upon going.

Farmer Eddy saw him off, gave him his blessing, but very little
advice (wise man!--full well he knew how advice at such a time would
be received), but earnest encouragement to keep up communication
between himself and his old home; ‘for--who knows?’ said the good old
fellow--‘your sister may want a home some day.’ To his utter amazement
Will turned upon him almost fiercely, saying: ‘That wouldn’t be a
bad thing for her. It might throw for her the true light upon how she
treated mother. Don’t talk t’ me of Pris. I don’t care a cent what
becomes of her----’ But the farmer, with uplifted hand, stayed him,
saying: ‘Don’t, Will. Yew’re het up naow, an’ say wut ye don’t at all
mean. Thar, we won’t persoo th’ subjec’. Let me know as often as ye
can haow yew’re gittin’ along, an’ I’ll be glad. Good-bye, my boy,
good-bye.’ And the last of the Fish family departed.

Thenceforward the Fish place received even more attention than did his
own homestead from old man Eddy. He looked upon it in the light of a
sacred trust, a view in which he was keenly supported by his wife. For
he did cherish an earnest hope that some day his old friends’ children
might be reunited, purged by suffering, and, returning to their old
home, find with grateful hearts how good to them had been the God of
whom they had thought so little. And to this end he and his wife added
to their nightly intercourse with their Friend the petition that these
wayward ones might yet be gathered in and find peace at home.

Of Priscilla, of course, they had never heard a word since her
departure, but without a shade of resentment they remembered her and
wondered how she was faring. Their ideas, naturally, could be only of
the vaguest, since they knew no more than they did of Reuben where
she was or whither she was going. But from what they had heard from
Will, applying sensibly considerable allowance for pique, they feared
that she had before now found how great a mistake she had made, and
had repented too late to avoid the suffering it had entailed. But
none of these reflections had the effect of making them despair of a
righting of matters at the long last, and so they cheerfully took up
the additional burden of their self-imposed duties, finding that, so
far from their being irksome to perform, they brought with them many
consolations. If only they could have heard from Rube! But apparently
that could not be, and so they waited, in patient well-doing, for the
breaking of the day.

When Jake, driven forth ignominiously from the home he had so wronged,
by the brother he had despised, returned to New York, he was utterly
reckless. Without troubling to look into his affairs, he and his
companion were driven from the depot to a high-class hotel, where
they immediately resumed the course of high living and deplorable
extravagance which seemed to have become necessary to Jake’s life.
Now, the squandering of money is a thing that requires very little
teaching, and can be carried on successfully in most so-called centres
of civilisation, but I doubt very much whether any great city can
afford the spendthrift more facilities for speedily reaching the end of
his resources than New York. For its plethora of supereminently wealthy
men have perhaps unconsciously raised such a standard of expenditure
as does not obtain anywhere else in the world, and, of course, this is
ever before those fools who have neither sufficient money nor brains
as a shining example to go and do likewise as closely as circumstances
will permit them. Without blaming the multi-millionaires too much,
there can be no doubt that the example most of them set in the
direction of foolish waste of money is wholly evil.

So it came about that a fortnight after Jake Fish’s return to New
York he had exhausted every possible means of raising funds, and was
confronted with the prospect of being utterly unable to meet his
bill due on Saturday at the Hoffman House. Sobered a little by this,
he consulted his companion on the matter, and suggested her parting
with some of the costly jewellery he had given her. Vain fool! She
sympathised with him tearfully, avowed her willingness to share a
crust with him rather than live in luxury with any other man, said
the shock had so unnerved her that she must go and lie down awhile to
recover herself, after which she would come with him and dispose of
all the glittering ‘trash’--yes, she called it that--when they would
go away to some quiet spot and be very happy. Overjoyed, Jake lavished
multitudinous caresses upon her, sent her up stairs, and retired to
the smoke-room to work out some plan for making these new funds go as
far as possible without too much appearance of retrenchment. Then in
his easy chair, surrounded by every luxury of appointment a man could
desire, he fell asleep.

He was awakened by a waiter, who handed him a scented note. At
first he stared at the man stupidly, only half awake, and utterly
uncomprehending. Then as sense returned he tore open the envelope and
read:

 ‘Dear Jake,--You’ve had a pretty high old time, and so have I. But you
 might have the savvy to let it go at that. You must be a bigger fool
 than even I took you for if you imagine that I am going to slide down
 to the bottom along with you, and begin by coughing up all the stuff
 you’ve paid me with. No, no; you’ve been playing long enough: now run
 along like a wise little man and _earn_ something. I’m off on a much
 better campaign. Good luck.--Not yours,

                                                ‘A. C.

 ‘P.S.--If you feel inclined to kick, watch out how you do it. It isn’t
 very healthy exercise for you.’

Jake read this letter thrice without understanding a word of it. Its
general import he knew, and it had paralysed him. He sat staring
stupidly at the paper until the waiter, nudging him, politely called
his attention to the fact that his bill was before him. That roused
him as does the far-heard crack of the fowling-piece arouse the timid
hare. Summoning all his energies, he dismissed the waiter with a curt
‘All right, I’ll ’tend t’ this d’reckly,’ and rising, lounged toward
the lift, his head throbbing furiously. Poor wretch, he was really
more fool than rogue--thoroughly selfish, yet beaten by one more
selfish than himself, upon whom he had lavished all he had; heartless
towards his own, yet punished for his benevolence to a stranger who
had befooled him; he was really a fair type of a large class of men
everywhere who are only virtuous because they lack opportunity or
initiative to be otherwise. Reaching his sumptuous room, he found
his clothes bestrewing the floor, showing how thorough had been the
search made by the departed one for portable plunder. He felt his head
beginning to swim, and realising that he _must_ escape or make the
acquaintance of a Tombs gaoler, he pulled himself together, slammed his
door, and, descending by another lift, passed from the hotel and was
soon lost in the crowd.

Now, there is one tremendous difference between the cities of North
America and those of Great Britain in respect of their harbourage of
such men as Jake Fish was now in a fair way to become. London, for
instance, seems to offer a premium to the most worthless. A loafing,
shiftless vagabond need exercise no ingenuity, no originality of
resource, in order to be better looked after in every way than,
let us say, a seaman in a merchant ship. London workhouses swarm
with humans of this type, well fed, well clothed, well housed, and,
oh, _so_ tenderly entreated as to work. Any little ailment that a
working man would never notice is considered sufficient warrant for
lapping these spoilt children of fortune in cotton wool and tenderly
nursing them back to convalescence again in palace chambers fitted
with all the appliances for the healing of disease that the mind of
benevolence and medical skill can devise. And for all this the sorely
burdened ratepayer must needs provide, although he, in common with
most of England’s working poor, thinks of the workhouse as the home
of disgrace, and would in most instances rather die of starvation in
silence than go there.

But in North America, while there is great store of loafers, not
confined either to the lowest class, they must have some original
talent, some inventive enterprise about them, whether in criminal way
or merely low trickery. Otherwise they become hoboes, or as we should
call them in England ‘tramps,’ whose chief qualifications must be an
unconquerable aversion to work, great powers of passive endurance, a
love of filth--in fact, a reversion to the worst type of savage without
one savage virtue. There is little room, however, for the hobo in
a city. The exercise of his chosen calling needs great open spaces
sparsely peopled, where there are hardly any police. Moreover, the
hoboes, according to Mr. Josiah Flynt, are a close corporation looking
with much disfavour upon would-be recruits, so that admission to their
ranks is not easily gained.

Jake Fish then, had he realised it, was in evil case. He was a
veritable prodigal, unrepentant, and with no father’s house to return
to in case of repentance. Only fit for farming, and hating that
furiously, he had no idea of doing anything else for his bread, and,
as we have seen, his tastes were costly. Consequently, now that he had
spent all, he felt that he had a bitter grievance against society for
not graciously providing him with the means to continue his career of
viciousness. But he was, besides, an arrant coward, an essentially
worthless man, such as may be, by a miracle, made into a useful member
of society, but, alas, very seldom is. He drifted down, down, down. The
few dollars in his pockets when he left the hotel were squandered with
the same utter absence of forethought as had always characterised him,
and then, when, driven by hunger, he would have obtained some labouring
work, he found himself fiercely shoved aside by far better men.

He disappeared. Not that there is not work and food for all in the
Great Republic, but the conditions of life are strenuous, and if a man
will not work, and work hard, he must scheme, and that cleverly, or he
will certainly disappear as Jake did, and no one will take any trouble
to inquire whither.

Will, on the other hand--bright, eager, and industrious--arrived in
Chicago with resolute determination to take his fate by the throat,
also to husband his small resources with the utmost care while seeking
among the busy throngs for something that he could do. And he was
determined not to stand choosing, but to do as he had read that so
many others had done--take the first employment offered, no matter how
deficient in qualification he might feel himself to be for it, and,
having once got work, to strive manfully to keep it, and rise from
one point to another by ceaseless attention and industry, and, above
all, to avoid the saloon (public-house) as he would a plague-spot.
Fortunately for him, he had never acquired the taste for dissipation
which had destroyed his brother, for opportunity had been lacking. It
was not a question of moral principle at all. And now, although he did
not know it, would not have believed it had he been told, he was in a
position of the utmost danger. Without any home ties, with no religious
convictions, nothing to safeguard him from ruin, he might easily have
sunk; but he had no physical inclination for the destroying vices,
having never been tempted.

At this juncture he was standing one day watching a busy little knot of
porters loading up packages of hardware from a warehouse into a couple
of heavy waggons. The swiftness and apparent eagerness with which
they did their work, without any appearance of being driven, appealed
to him, and unconsciously his face took on a wistful expression--he
would so much have liked to be one of that busy band. A keen-eyed,
pleasant-faced man of middle age, who stood in the doorway with a book
in his hand making certain entries, caught sight of the waiting,
earnest-looking man. And being of an imaginative, romantic turn of mind
(which, scoff at the idea as you may, is almost essential to the making
of a successful business man), he began in a side alley of his brain to
build up a theory concerning this evidently country-bred young fellow
who was watching manual labour being carried on with such manifest
desire to take part in it. Moreover, the owner of the warehouse, for
it was he, was a kindly Christian, whose interest in all men, but
specially his own employés, was proverbial in Chicago--that humming
hive of business that contains so much that is evil, but, thank God,
has also so much that is pre-eminently good.

Will began to move away slowly, but Mr. Schermer made half-a-dozen
swift strides after him, and tapping him smartly upon the shoulder,
said, ‘Say, young man, are you looking for work?’ ‘I am, sir,’ Will
replied smartly. ‘Then come right in here, and I’ll start you at
once. I’m wanting a young fellow of your build pretty bad.’ And in
ten minutes Will felt that he was on the high road to fortune. Plenty
of work, not difficult to learn, good thews and muscle to do it, and
a hearty, appreciative man at the head of things; he was delighted.
More by a turn of Fortune’s wheel than any design discoverable by man,
Will had fallen into just the place he needed, where not only did he
receive fair play, but where the employer kept ever before himself the
fact that each of his men was an individual soul for whom Christ died,
and not just the cog of a machine; where the employer shouldered his
responsibility for his men as he did the bills he endorsed, and with
just the same absence of consciousness that he was doing anything more
than his obvious duty. No one praised him for meeting his bills as they
fell due; why should they praise him for considering the men who were
serving him faithfully, and all the more faithfully because they knew
full well that their employer had their interests at heart as well as
his own--nay, that he regarded their interests and his as inseparable?

I must leave Will here, under the most favourable conditions, to push
his manful way up the ladder of prosperity, and to preserve, if he can,
a measure of humility with it all, in that it was his lot to fall into
good hands without any seeking of his own. Also I have a half-guilty
feeling that this has been a prosy old chapter, quite at variance with
the strain of high adventure which I have endeavoured to maintain
throughout the rest of the book. And now we must return to Priscilla.



CHAPTER XII

REPAIRING DAMAGES


The old _Grampus_, all unknowing of the hopes and fears and aches and
pains she bore, rolled uneasily throughout that terribly long night. To
tell the exact truth, she was often left entirely to herself, existing
only by the good will of the elements or any passing ship. In much the
same condition as the remnant of a beaten army, whose outposts, weary
to death, fall down and sleep weltering in mud and blood because poor
human nature has said her last word, the broken mate lay sleeping,
his fractured leg, benumbed from heel to thigh, straightened out, and
his utterly worn-out body not disturbing it by a single movement.
The battered men below in the stifling reek of the foc’s’le also lay
asleep (blessed be God for sleep and death), utterly unconscious of
their woes. The shipkeepers, whom a sense of duty kept, desperate as
their need was, from sleeping too long at one spell, lay in uncouth
attitudes about the moonlit deck. Occasionally one of them would rise
and aimlessly rove aft to the binnacle, gaze into its glittering oval
with eyes that distinguished not North from South, and then with
another owl-like glance aloft would stagger forward and tumble down
asleep again. And the missing ones, six stalwart men who yesterday
morning were each a centre of activity and private hopes, desires, and
possibilities? At any rate their rest would be long and sound.

Priscilla woke about midnight, and looked uneasily about her. The
almost stifling atmosphere of the tiny cabin, the reek of the lamp,
and the innumerable exhalations from below, made the place almost
unbearable. And as with a feeling of nausea overpowering her she
surveyed her prison, there came to her, like a voice from a previous
life, the most vivid recollection possible of the sweet breath stealing
over the fields of her old home; of the careless days when singing she
went about her household work; of the many delights brought by the
changing seasons, each with its own particular charm; yes, even the
hard, bitter winters when all the land was held in a grip of steel, and
only amusement, out of doors, seemed possible. That seemed to her like
a glimpse of paradise, from which, by her own act and because she did
not value its joys, she had been shut out: she had exchanged it for
this. And her eyes filled, her heart swelled with self-pity, regret,
repentance, until suddenly a hoarse murmur by her side resolved itself
into: Pris, whar air ye?’

Immediately she was recalled to present realities. Swift as thought she
had asked and received strength, and leaning over her helpless husband,
she said, quite tenderly, ‘Yes, dear, I am here. What can I do for
you?’ Apparently ignoring her gentle question, he muttered savagely but
disconnectedly, ‘What’s th’ matter? whar’s everybody? what’s doin’?
call th’ mate.’ I do not see any necessity for indicating the stream
of fantastic blasphemies which followed, apparently to emphasise his
demand for information. They made her shrink, as does a delicate skin
upon meeting a cold blast; but as soon as she was able she said, ‘The
mate has been badly hurt, Ramon, but I can call the second mate if
you will. He can explain so much better than I can what has happened.’
‘Well, whyn’t yew call him, then? Kain’t ye see, yo’ pulin’ idiot,
’at I want t’ know--t’ _know_, d’ ye hear?’ More horrible emphasis,
in the midst of which Priscilla crept from the cabin, and, going to
the companion, rung a little handbell, an agreed signal for summoning
the steward. That worthy man was lapped in profoundest slumber by
the side of the galley, but at almost the first tinkle of the little
bell he sprang to his feet, and, hastening to the companion, listened
breathlessly to his mistress’s orders (he called them so, but they
sounded more like entreaties).

As soon as he understood them he departed, and returning in two minutes
announced to Priscilla that he had succeeded in arousing the second
mate, who was coming immediately. Receiving Priscilla’s instructions to
keep handy in case she wanted anything, he retired to the lee-side of
the skylight and waited. In about a minute the second mate appeared,
still heavy with sleep (the deep sleep of utter exhaustion from which
he had been aroused), and lumberingly made his way down into the
darksome cabin. Tapping gently at the skipper’s state-room door, he
was greeted with a torrent of oaths, and understood that if he didn’t
hurry in nameless consequences awaited him. Trembling in every limb, he
instantly obeyed, and presently stood beside his commander’s couch like
an utterly abject coward. Yet he was, as we have seen, nothing less
than a hero. His deeds on the preceding day were those of a man who
counted the preservation of his own life but a very little thing, if
haply he might save some of his shipmates from death. In the midst of
those aggressive monsters he did not quail, but led his men on to deeds
as noble as any that have ever been recorded--yet here he stood abashed
and quivering before a helpless man morally as much his inferior as it
was possible for a man to be. Mystery of mysteries, and one that men
have never yet taken sufficient account of, even with the stupendous
object-lesson of that utterly contemptible animal, but supereminent
commander of men, Napoleon, before their eyes. The meanest soldier
of Napoleon’s armies was a greater hero than he; but the possession
of that awful power of domination enabled this utter egotist, this
unutterable cad, to rule Europe and send to sordid deaths rejoicingly
hundreds of thousands of men, most of whom were in a moral and physical
sense immeasurably superior to himself.

Thus Mr. Winslow stood before his skipper, who, glaring up at him with
an expression of fiercest contempt in his black eyes, demanded of him
why he had not reported before the doings of that disastrous day.
Falteringly, as if personally to blame for the skipper’s incapability
of receiving any information before, Mr. Winslow began his melancholy
narration. His nervousness, coupled with a most excusable desire to
make the best account he could of an exceedingly bad job, caused him at
times to be almost unintelligible, and subjected him to the fiercest
abuse from the skipper. But this incitement had one good effect. It
tended to brevity of account, and in ten minutes there was little left
to tell. For a moment or two after he ceased speaking there was a dead
silence, through which the ceaseless wash of the watchful waves outside
against the topsides could be felt rather than heard.

Then suddenly the skipper spoke again. ‘’Spose ye’re all hard at it
repairin’ damages, hey?’ ‘Well, sir,’ stammered the officer, ‘ye see,
sir----’ ‘Give _me_ none o’ yer lyin’ backin’ an’ fillin’, y’ lazy
hog, ’r I’ll----’ He got no further. All Mr. Winslow’s manhood came
to his assistance, breaking through the mysterious bonds that had held
him so long. With all his nervousness gone, he made one stride nearer
the skipper, a dangerous light gleamed in his blue eyes, and he said:
‘Stop right thar, Cap’n Da Silva. Ther’ ain’t a man aboard this ship
but wut’s done his duty like a man, an’ no one could ha’ done any
better. We’re all nearly dead with fightin’ fag, all ’cept me sleepin’
w’ere we fell down, an’ some of us is broke up so in body ’at it’ll
be months before we’re fit again. An’ you dare t’ lie there ’n’ speak
t’ me ov lyin’ and laziness. Say it again, an’ jes’ ’s if yew wuz any
other varmint I’ll choke th’ life outen ye where ye lie.’ He wound up
with a terrible oath. But Priscilla rose and confronted him, her grave
eyes looking unnaturally large in the whiteness of her face. ‘Go on
deck, Mr. Winslow,’ she said; ‘you forget yourself. The Captain is very
ill and irritable, and cannot be held responsible for what he says.’
Without a word the second mate bowed his head and departed, leaving her
alone to face the fiendish malice of her husband, who, as soon as his
officer had departed, turned upon her and exhausted even his perverted
ingenuity in abuse.

Strange to say, this bad exercise seemed to improve his bodily
condition, for in about an hour, during which Priscilla waited on him
with the utmost care and in as perfect a silence as if she were stone
deaf to his shameful words, he ordered her to assist him to dress. When
she had done so he staggered to the state-room door, rudely thrusting
aside her proffered arm, and dragged himself on deck. As soon as he was
gone from the room she prayed with all her heart on her lips for peace,
filled with pity for the poor men above now that their tyrant was
unloosed again. A hoarse cry of pain sent a thrill of sympathy through
her, but she _would_ not be distressed, believing that in some way she
would have a satisfying answer to her prayer.

On deck the skipper, his cold heart full of malicious intent, had
stumbled over the body of the steward lying by the side of the cabin
skylight, and kicking savagely at the prostrate man had aroused him to
an immediate sense of his peril. Scrambling to his feet, the frightened
black man was slinking below, when the hoarse command of the skipper to
‘Come here’ arrested him, and he obeyed with shaking knees. ‘Whar’s the
helmsman?’ demanded the Captain. ‘I d’ no, sah,’ pleaded the steward.
‘I’ll go see, sah.’ ‘Stop right whar y’ air, will ye?’ was the fierce
answer, and in the dim light of the binnacle the steward saw the
skipper’s hand go to his hip-pocket, produce something that glittered,
and immediately a couple of shots rang out startlingly through the
quiet night. At that dread summons men began to appear from all around,
first of them all the second mate, with wild inquiry in his eyes. ‘Mr.
Winslow,’ snarled the skipper, whose voice was growing stronger with
each word he spoke, ‘call all hands t’ make sail. A hand ’t th’ wheel
at once.’ By this time all those who were able to do so had mustered,
and with the instinctive habit of obedience, as if all recollection of
their recent interview had disappeared from his mind, the second mate
replied in his usual tone, ‘Aye, aye, sir,’ then roaring, ‘All hands
make sail, loose taups’ls ’n t’gallants’ls fore and aft. Clear away
stays’ls, jib, ’n’ spanker. Naow git a move on yerselves, d’ ye hear?’

There was a rush to obey, for all felt somehow that their brief season
of relief from the skipper’s oversight had come to an end, and as they
disappeared in different directions with their old frantic haste, the
skipper said to the second mate in a voice that could not be overheard
by any other: ‘See hyar, Mr. Winslow, fur what yew said to me to-night
I’ll pay ye full price an’ interest, ef it takes me all this voy’ge.
But fur now yew go scot free ’cause I need yer assistance, ’n’ I hain’t
goin’ t’ hev enny limejuicer rot of bullyin’ my officers ’fore the men
an’ destroyin’ disciplin’. Only ef thar’s enny sign ov ye playin’ it on
me, wall, yew’ll hev to shoot quick ’r yew’ll be a goner. I’m heeled
an’ I’m watchin’ fur ye.’ Again the second mate replied steadily, ‘Aye,
aye, sir,’ and almost instantly after his shouts of ‘Sheet home fore
taups’l, sheet home mizen taups’l, histe away stays’ls,’ &c., made the
solemn night hideous.

A low groan a little forward of where the skipper stood caused him to
move that way, and, stooping, he found the mate, who had been aroused
to a miserable consciousness of bone-wrenching pain by the clamour
around him. Stooping towards him, the skipper said in a grating tone,
‘Wall, ’n’ wut’s wrong with yew? Whyn’t yew gettin’ abaout yer dooties?
Pretty fine condition yew’ve let the ship git into in a few days.’
Pausing as if for a reply, and receiving none, the skipper went on,
‘What in thunder yew lyin’ thar fur? Don’t ye know it’s “all hands”?’
‘Kain’t move, sir,’ came slowly from the mate’s parched lips, as if
dragged thence by torture, ‘fur me right arm an’ leg seem’s if they wuz
one big pain. Fact, I seem to be all raw on thet side of me. _Kain’t_ I
hev a drink o’ water, sir?’ ‘Wall, I guess yew kin. Here, boy!’ to one
of the younger men hastening across the deck, ‘give the mate a drink of
water, an’ look slippy.’ The skipper looked on while the unfortunate
man drank as if his poor throat had been a bed of unslaked lime. Then
he said, ‘I guess yew wun’t du any wuss till daylight, ’n’ I’ll be
all th’ better fit to see wut kin be done with ye. But yew’ve made a
hell ov a mess ov th’ cruise, naow, ain’t ye?’ The sufferer drew in
his breath sharply as this mental blow was added to all his physical
sufferings, but he did not--indeed, he could not--answer. The merciful
climax of suffering was reached, the broken human machinery protested
vainly to the surcharged brain, and Mr. Court, relapsing into blessed
insensibility, passed into a place where neither the malignity of man
nor the liabilities of the body could trouble him.

The Captain strode away muttering until he stood by the wheel and
gazed into the face of the compass. He was revolving in his mind the
possibilities of fetching the Cape Verde Islands, as they were now on
the edge of the Doldrums, those neutral latitudes between the trade
winds that are such a sore trial to the patience of sailing-ship
masters. Only a gentle zephyr was stirring, like the last breath of
the departing N.E. trade winds, and it was rather a serious question
to decide whether to struggle eastward to Brava, or keep on southward,
doing all the repairs possible until reaching Rio de Janeiro. One thing
only was needed to turn the scale--the personal touch. And it availed.
He knew the place so well; although he had not been born there, much
of his youth had been spent there, and he was sure not only of getting
a few fresh hands who would be devoted to himself, but there would not
be the faintest opportunity given for any one of his remaining crew
to desert. So he gave a muttered order to the helmsman, followed by a
shout of ‘Square away the mainyard,’ as the old ship fell off the wind.
With his usual skill and alertness he conned her as she slowly wore
round on to the port tack, and to his grim satisfaction he found that
she would head a little to the northward of east, and that the breeze
was even then freshening a little.

By this time the whole of the available canvas had been set, and the
men were busy coiling up the gear. Again the skipper called Winslow
to him, and in a quiet, passionless tone gave him certain orders
concerning the repairing of damage that would keep all hands busy
for some time to come. Then the carpenter and cooper were summoned,
and each received a few vitriolic remarks concerning their so-called
laziness, coupled with a warning that before long they would have paid
very dearly for the advantage they had taken of his helplessness.
Moreover, he told them that, being now quite well again, he was fully
prepared to keep them at their work, if he had to do it at the mouth
of a revolver. They stood perfectly silent and submissive, neither
attempting the faintest justification of himself, and when dismissed
with the contemptuous remark, ‘Naow git t’ hell eout er this, an’ do
some work,’ they turned and slunk away like beaten curs. Both were
Americans of the best type, both were splendid workmen of middle
age, with whose way of performing their duties it would seem utterly
impossible to find any fault, and yet both endured such utterly
undeserved and blistering contumely as this without a word, and, what
is more, without a thought of retaliation. So well had they been
trained in whaleship ways.

Thus having resumed the reins of power in altogether vigorous fashion,
and reasserted his ability to make himself feared as well as obeyed
fore and aft, the skipper went below, growling as he passed the
helmsman, ‘Naow jes’ keep her full an’ bye, an’ ef I hear anythin’
shakin’, by ---- I’ll shake _yew_, till y’ don’ know whether yew’re dead
’r alive.’ The man replied cheerfully in the stereotyped phrase, ‘Aye,
aye, sir,’ relieved beyond measure to find that he should be free of
the presence of his enemy for a little while, at any rate.

The skipper’s first action on getting below was to send for the steward
by ringing his bell, and on the darkey’s immediate appearance to order
some food and coffee to be prepared for himself. Of his wife he took
not the slightest heed. Then going to his medicine-chest he took out
the little book of simple instructions in surgery and medicine that is
always part of the furniture of a ship’s medicine-chest, and, seating
himself at the cabin table, with one hand fiercely tugging at his
black beard, he began to study the chapter on setting broken limbs. A
sardonic smile twitched upwards the corners of his mouth as he imagined
how the poor mate would suffer. There was just a glint of pleasure in
the thought lighting the otherwise beclouded horizon of his mind. When
he had settled to his own satisfaction the course of his operations
upon his mate (fancy learning to set a broken arm and leg in an hour!),
he sulkily called to his wife, ‘Here, you, git me some bandages ready,
an’ be quick abaout it.’ She, watching for his lightest word, came on
the instant, and quietly asked how long and how wide he wanted them.
Even this essential question seemed to afford him an opportunity of
venting more of his spleen upon her, but wearying of that soon (indeed,
he was as yet far from strong), he supplied the information, and
went on with his studies. Then lying down upon the transom locker he
composed himself to sleep, well satisfied with his watches work.

On deck the ship hummed like a hive. Even the men who had been so
badly bruised that the most elementary exercise of humanity would
have allowed them to rest, dragged themselves wearily up out of
the forecastle, and did whatever they could do towards the general
refitment which was going on. Some were hoisting on deck coils of
‘tow-line,’ the beautiful rope which is fastened to the harpoons;
others were taking the superfluous turns out of it, and stretching it
by passing it through a block as high as the topgallant crosstrees,
and coiling it again and again the reverse way of the lay. Others,
again, were fitting harpoons to poles, and securing to them their
bridles of tow-line; others were doing the same to lances, or putting
keen edges on new weapons. Several, under the carpenter’s orders, were
working away at the repairing of the one boat which had been picked
up, sawing timbers and planks, and carefully unriveting broken knees
from splintered skin. Two men were assisting the cooper to make new
line-tubs. And amidst it all Mr. Winslow moved alert, with eyes like
a cat’s, unhindered by the encompassing darkness, but for all that
earnestly desirous of the day.

Unto these toilers at last came the blessing of light, bringing with
it a certain satisfaction, as it always does, to those who have been
working in the dark, but also sadly associated with the idea that the
skipper would soon be on deck among them. Every now and then one of
them would glance furtively aft in search of his dreaded appearance,
and, relieved temporarily by the assurance that he was not yet among
them, would renew energetically his efforts to accomplish his task.
Suddenly all hands were startled by his voice, all its old vigour
having returned, shouting, ‘Mr. Winslow.’ The second mate immediately
hurried aft, and saying inquiringly, ‘Yes, sir,’ awaited his orders.
‘Clear away the carpenter’s bench, an’ bring it aft here!’ snarled the
Captain. ‘Pedro, Bibra, come here.’ The carpenter’s bench having been
placed on the fore side of the skylight, athwart the deck, the steward
made his appearance, carrying the bandages and certain bottles, also
some pieces of rough but thin boards, just portions of canned meat
cases with the nails drawn, split to necessary narrowness, and cut
in proper lengths. At an order from the Captain, the two Portuguese
harpooners lifted the still insensible body of the mate on to the
bench, and began to bare his broken limbs, a most difficult task, owing
to their having become glued to the clothing with dried blood.

This operation roused him at once from his stupor, and with groans
that shook his whole frame his glazed eyes opened. He muttered feebly,
‘For God’s sake go easy: ain’t I sufferin’ enough?’ But a glance at
the skipper showed these rough attendants that, even had they been
inclined to yield to the mate’s prayer, and ‘go easy,’ they dare not,
so, disregarding his agony, they persevered, and after dragging and
slitting and soaking his clothes, succeeded at last in exposing the
leg and arm, each with fragments of bone protruding through the torn
and swollen flesh. By the time this had been done the mate could only
feebly gasp, ‘Water! water!’ and the steward, with a fearful glance at
the skipper for permission, put a pannikin full to his cracked lips.
Then with a corner of the towel he carried he was about to wipe the
sweat from the mate’s drawn face, but an execration from the skipper
caused him to scuttle back into his place like a frightened rabbit.

The operation began, and really it is questionable whether the utter
callousness and brutality of the operator were not more merciful to the
sufferer than the tender, half-afraid manipulations of a kindhearted
and unskilful man would have been. For in any case much pain had to
be endured, and, as I have before noted, the human body can only feel
a certain amount. When that has been borne, whatever you may have to
endure does not matter in the least as far as your consciousness of
it goes. It is a comforting thought when reading of the infliction of
ancient tortures. So now, before the mangled arm had been straightened,
the fragments of bone drawn within the swollen muscles, the mate had
again lapsed into insensibility. The attendants glanced fearfully at
the white, set face, and from it to the scowling visage of the skipper,
but dared not utter their fears that the patient was dead. The operator
worked on with a skill amazing to see in one who had never performed
such an operation before, nor had ever seen such a thing done. Without
again referring to his book, without a moment’s hesitation, he placed
the splints, passed the bandages, saturated them with carbolic lotion,
and then, having satisfied himself that, in spite of the ghastly
appearance of the mate’s side, it was only an extensive superficial
laceration--there were no ribs broken--he ordered the two harpooners to
carry the patient to a mattress placed for his reception on the after
corner of the deck behind the tiller, and leave him there. The steward
was given orders to keep an eye on him, and feed him occasionally with
a little soup and bread, and again the skipper retired below.

By this time the meal-hour had arrived--eight bells--and a brief
respite from their labours was enjoyed by all hands. The day was fair
and bright, the wind was steady at about north, and the old ship was
making good progress. So Mr. Winslow sent everybody but the helmsman
to breakfast, and himself came aft and sat beside his brother officer,
full of pity, but oppressed by his own utter inability to do anything
for him. But he had the satisfaction of noting how well the work of
repairing the broken limbs had been done, and, as he was thinking how
even the worst of men sometimes compel our admiration, he was intensely
gratified to see Mr. Court open his eyes and look wearily round. ‘Wall,
haow d’ ye feel abaout it naow, sir?’ said he earnestly. The mate
stifled a groan, and at last managed to reply, ‘Winslow, I’d rather ten
thousan’ times ’a’ died than ben thro’ wut I’ve suffered this laest
twenty-four hours. But I don’t feel’s much pain’s I did, an’ if only
I k’n git a little food ’at I k’n eat I think I sh’ll do. Ole man’s
awful mad, ain’t he?’ Bending his head close down, Winslow gave the
mate a hurried outline of the proceedings since the skipper’s return to
command, and wound up by saying, ‘He ain’t said nawthin’ abaout it, but
I believe he’s makin’ fur Cape Verdes. We’re carryin’ all sail to th’
eastward.’ ‘Thank God fur that,’ murmured the mate; ‘thar’ll be some
chance ov seem’ a doctor if I need one by then. Say, Winslow, ef ye k’n
git one o’ th’ fellows t’ give an eye to me now an’ then, I’ll be glad.’

For all answer Winslow patted his cheek, and in response to the
breakfast bell departed below. He and the mate, while respecting each
other, had not been chums in any sense of the word, but the recent
happenings had drawn them very close, this feeling especially affecting
Winslow. And he began to feel as if he could do anything, endure
anything on the mate’s behalf while he was so helpless--yes, even dare
the risk of being shot by the skipper, if he should go too far in his
calculated brutality.



CHAPTER XIII

THE CAPTAIN GOES ASHORE


Favoured by exquisite weather, and trade-winds hanging well to the
northward, the _Grampus_ ploughed steadily along towards her objective,
no one but the skipper knowing that it was Brava. After the first three
days of almost frantic labour the skipper’s experienced eye noted
how stale the men had become; want of rest and poor food had reduced
them so that threats and blows no longer goaded them; they were fast
approaching that stage when nothing matters, and suffering least of
all, because it had become a normal condition. So Captain Da Silva,
being anything but a fool, ‘let up’ on them as he termed it, not
because he considered their punishment at all adequate to the crime
they had committed of being beaten in spite of having done their best,
but because he needed their services in the future. He restored their
regular watches, and although the amount of quite unnecessary work
still carried on would have caused a mutiny in any British merchant
ship, this crew chuckled to think what a good time they were now
having. And, besides, their lives were not so devoid of interest, for
there could be no doubt that they were bound to some anchorage--it did
not matter much where--they would see the land again and perhaps taste
vegetables.

And the sorely wounded mate, despite the roughness of his treatment,
the almost utter absence of nursing, steadily improved. His iron
constitution, a certain ox-like patience, and the absence of drugs
combined with perfectly pure air--all these helped to make his recovery
marvellously rapid. But he almost had a relapse ten days after the
accident. He had so far progressed as to be able to sit up upon an
improvised little platform by the taffrail, and was watching the
sea, when his dull eye suddenly brightened, his form stiffened, and
lifting up his voice he raised the cry of ‘Blow!’ The skipper since
the surgical operation had held no conversation with the injured man,
except one or two of the briefest remarks passed each day, just what
were absolutely necessary. But now he spun round on his heel, his black
eyes flaming, and shouted, ‘Whar away, Mr. Court? Aloft there! wut ye
doin’? Kain’t ye see ’t all?’ Springing up on the little hurricane
deck peculiar to all whaleships, he at once caught sight of the whale,
a big lone fellow, proceeding in leisurely fashion due south. Without
apparently considering for one moment the fact that he had only two
boats to use, he issued his orders, sharp and sudden like rifle-shots.
Sail was shortened to the topsails, the vessel put upon the other
tack; then, springing upon the starboard quarter, where the best boat
hung, he shouted, ‘’Way boats!’ sweeping contemptuously away the third
mate, who of course was standing by to take his place in his regular
craft. A whirring of the sheaves followed, and down went the boat,
striking the water fairly and being released at once with a smartness
delightful to see. Then, grasping the dangling falls with one hand,
the skipper turned to the mate, who lay fretting himself into a fever
at his inability to move, saying as coolly as if just setting off for
a pleasure trip, ‘Guess yew k’n con th’ ship whar y’ air, Mr. Court,
kain’t ye?’ ‘Sure, sir,’ murmured the mate, the prospect of being able
to do something seeming delightful to him. No answer, but for a moment
the skipper’s body was outlined against the sky as he launched himself
downwards, struck the boat, seized the steer oar, and issued his
orders. Away flew both boats as if the lives of their crews depended
upon their utmost speed.

Now, I do not wish to weary my readers with repeated accounts of
whale-fights, and therefore I must omit all the circumstantial
details of this one. But I do need to say that Captain Da Silva had
apparently found exceeding compensation for his late tribulations in
this opportune encounter, and he behaved as one possessed of a demon of
destruction, to whom no mishap could possibly come. Yet he was by no
means reckless. Every precaution that could be taken against disaster
he took, but, on the other hand, he neglected no opportunity of rushing
in whenever and wherever the slightest opening presented itself.
Scorning bomb-lances, he used only the long primitive spear, and with
fiendish howls he ordered the second mate to keep aloof in readiness
to aid in case of accident. The whale, evidently an old hand at the
game, tried every ruse known to whales, but in vain, for, rolling over
towards the oncoming boat, and sinking his body in the middle in order
to get a grip of the boat with his gaping jaws, he felt suddenly the
diamond-shaped head of a lance gliding through the thick muscles of
his throat downward to his mighty heart. Six feet from that searching
point the captain leaned his shoulder upon the lance-butt, lending all
his great strength to the thrust. The boat passed to the other side of
the body. ‘Pull ahead all!’ yelled the skipper, and out drew the steel,
distorted to the likeness of a conventional lightning flash. ‘Pull
all!’ again yelled the skipper, and in response the boat shot away from
the vast writhing body, so fatally pierced that in three minutes, with
a few gigantic convulsions, it lay still, dead.

Again the voice of the skipper arose--no note of triumph in it, no
suggestion of rest for his crew. ‘Hull in thet line, lively naow. Hyar
yew,’ to the after oarsman, ’histe thet wheft’ (small blue signal
flag) ‘’n’ wave fur th’ secon’ mate t’ come up.’ So they hauled up
alongside of the whale and cut the line from the harpoon, by which time
Mr. Winslow, who had kept close to the fight all the time, was also
alongside. ‘Naow,’ shouted the skipper to him, ‘git thet fluke-rope
passed ’s if ye knew haow, an’ be ready with yer eend to pass aboard
when I come. Pull two, starn three, so, all together,’ and away shot
the boat towards the ship, which was coming down towards them at a fine
rate. So fast, indeed, did the two craft draw together, that barely
ten minutes had elapsed from the time the skipper’s boat left the
whale until he was again on board and, hoisting his boat, was issuing
his orders as if he were an engineer handling the cranks, levers, and
throttle-valves of his engines. Now he was in his element--now he
felt the primal delight of power--to rule his fellows and bend to his
moulding will. The whale was not large as regards bulk, but full of
fatness--so full, indeed, that the utmost care must needs be exercised
lest the hoisting gear should tear out of the almost rotten blubber.
The operations were conducted in peerless fashion, the skipper being
apparently the mind of all hands--his late disablement appeared to
have given him an impetus that none of his previous experiences had
supplied. So great, indeed, was he that muttering passed from man to
man after this fashion: ‘Oh, but he’s a horse, ain’t he?’ ‘Don’t he do
it?’ ‘What a man he is!’ &c.

The work of securing the spoil was carried on with such vigour, such
exquisite skill, and due apportionment of labour, that before the day
was closed all the worst of the duty was done, and the skipper strode
proudly the scanty limits of his quarter-deck with the mien of a man
who could not possibly learn from any a better way of doing his work.
And, as I have already noted, he had also earned the intense admiration
of all hands, although each one of those men was aching from head to
heel with the extraordinary strain put upon him.

And Priscilla? Well, she had not suffered. She had learnt to wait in
patience the outcome of all things--not to be distressed by strange
noises as of strife, or no less strange interludes of silence, when
it seemed as if everyone but herself was dead. Even when upon the
deep quiet (as of the grave) which enwrapped her there impinged a
great noise, she did not shrink or shudder: she just looked up and was
comforted. That she should have been thus becalmed, as it were, in the
midst of tempests, that to her wilful, wayward heart should have come
so bountiful a measure of the Divine patience, will naturally seem
incredible to many--quite as great a miracle as the raising of the
widow’s son. But, thank God! there are also many of us who know that
such miracles are daily wrought by the direct interposition of God.
Sometimes man is honoured by being the instrument in such cases, but
more often they are the outcome of an answer given by the trembling,
tired soul out into the darkness whence comes the comforting, still
small voice.

When at last the skipper came down he wore all the self-conferred
honours of a successful tyrant. He had vindicated his position as the
one man who could do things without making mistakes, who could be
depended upon to come upon the scene when disaster seemed imminent,
and, taking the helm of affairs, conduct them triumphantly to victory.
And the knowledge was almost too much for him. He strode into his
state-room and flung his orders at Priscilla much as if she had been a
negro slave--with little distinction between her and the steward. And
she, with calmest demeanour, obeyed him to the foot of the letter. She
gave him no cause of complaint, and to his intense surprise he found
himself looking furtively at her and wondering how it was she did not
cry or protest or do something, anything except act like one whom
nothing could make unhappy or disobedient. At last he could no longer
endure the spur of his curiosity, and he said, in strangely subdued
tones (the steward having gone on deck), ‘Wut’s th’ matter with ye,
Pris? Ain’t feelin’ sick, air ye? Yer lookin’ kinder curis, y’ know.’
She turned her calm face to him and said, ‘No, Ramon; I’m feeling very
well, thank you. Is there anything more I can do for you?’ He did not
answer. For his keen Latin wits had come up against something that was
quite outside of his experience. Something of the baffled rage of the
early persecutors possessed him as he realised that his wife had passed
into a region from which he was quite shut out. So he hurled a savage
curse, a farrago of Portuguese blasphemy, at her, which sounded like
the rattling of manacles, and passed on deck again.

Remember, if you would blame Priscilla for not trying to win this bad
man, that she knew him, knew that any language she might use would be
utterly unintelligible to him, knew that his long and successful career
of cruelty had hardened in him all the baser attributes, and she felt
it would be hopeless to try. She felt, too, that she would only be
bringing more suffering down upon herself, and was not at all confident
as to the limit of her endurance. She was wrong, of course: she had not
a sufficiently ample idea of the power of God to save. But we dare not
blame her: many of us in her position would have gone mad. And she did
pray for him, but without the faintest belief that her prayer would
be answered. She felt, as Mr. Moody once expressed it, as if when she
prayed for that man the heavens above her were as brass, that prayers
on his behalf could not ascend.

So the _Grampus_ sped onward towards Brava under the most favourable
conditions possible. The work of securing the spoil of the whale was
carried through in marvellous fashion; the wind held true to the north,
even sometimes a point to the westward of north, and freshened enough
to give the old ship a speed, rap-full, of five knots an hour. Whether
it was any anticipation of meeting old acquaintances (a man like that
never has friends) or not, the skipper, too, was certainly less severe
than usual in his treatment of his men. He even condescended to inquire
occasionally after the health of his mate, who was doing wonderfully
well in the pure air and utter lack of all medicine, aided by his
splendid constitution. So well, indeed, did the old ship progress, that
by the time she had been restored to her ordinary condition of spotless
cleanliness, the beautiful outlines of the islands were sighted, and
all hands, with quickened pulse-beats, began to look forward to a
little change in the ordered monotony of their lives. But great was
their disappointment when they found that, instead of going as closely
in as was safe, the Captain anchored his ship in thirty fathoms of
water--far out to sea. And without the loss of an hour he ordered his
boat to be manned (by Portuguese only), and, dressed like a bridegroom,
mounted the rail preparatory to descending. The second mate stood
near; the mate listened from the corner aft, where he sat helpless,
with painful earnestness for any word the skipper might drop of his
intentions.

‘See here, Mr. Winslow,’ drawled the skipper, ‘ye’ll keep the men at
work, watch on watch, same’s at sea. Yew’ll keep a bright look-out
for me comin’ back, as I shall be ’fore long, anyway. An’ if anythin’
happens ’at ye want me sudden, set the ensign at the peak.’ And without
another word he was gone, and his boat’s crew, with the splendid stroke
of the trained American whaleman, was making the pretty craft fly
towards the shore, its captain standing erect in the stern, handling
his steer-oar, like a figure of stone. The second mate watched him
out of definition range, then, descending from the rail with a sigh,
he sought the mate, saying, ‘Well, Mr. Court, whut ye think of him?
Ain’t he a daisy? I really dunno haow it es, but th’ wuss he is th’
more I admire at him, until his back’s turned, ’n’ then I want t’ kill
him. An’,’ dropping his voice, ‘d’ jever before in a ’Merican ship see
a lady treated like this one? I have stood, I k’n stand, a good deal
frum him, but if ever he raises his hand t’ thet poor broken-hearted
woman when I’m erroun’ I’m goin’t’ kill him right in his tracks--naow,
yew hear me!’ ‘Oh, shet yer head!’ fretfully replied the mate. ‘I know
all abaout thet; wut’s th’ use er chawin’ it over? What I wunt t’
know is, wut sort of a gang of dagoes is he goin’ t’ bring with him.
All his own relations, I suppose, ’n’ thar’ll be the usual amount er
spyin’ an’ lyin’ an’ devilishness generally. If only I had this leg
’n’ arm o’ mine usable! I ben thinkin’ over a good many things sense
I ben a-laying here, I tell ye, but I got one idea solid, ’n’ that is
thet, live er die, I’m a-goin’ t’ stand up t’ him an’ whoever he brings
aboard here, an’ hev’ my rights as mate. You, too, I know, Winslow; but
only as man to man; no hatchin’ anything’ or conspirin’. We’ll leave
that to them. But I do wish we could help the poor woman.’

‘Thank you, friends,’ said Priscilla, who had glided on deck and
overheard the last portion of the mate’s remarks. ‘It’s very good of
you to think about me, but I shall be grateful if you will behave as if
I were not on board. I cannot, must not, be a source of trouble, and,
moreover, the Captain is my husband. Now don’t, please don’t, think
of helping me, as you call it, any more. I’ve got help of the best
kind always available. I didn’t know I had until a short time ago. I’d
forgotten God, as it seems to me God _is_ forgotten at sea. But when
I was ready to go mad with what I thought was my undeserved trouble,
He came to my rescue, and now I feel I can bear anything. And, anyhow,
what is my trouble compared with yours? Ah, Mr. Court, I have felt so
much for you in your awful pain, and not to be able to help you at all.
Are you in pain now?’ ‘Oh, no, ma’am, thank you kindly,’ murmured the
mate; ‘that’s all over and done with. Anyhow, it was never quite as
bad as you might think. Sounds a good deal worse than it is. I’m hurt
more at havin’ to lie here doin’ nothin’ than by any pain I’ve got.’
‘Well, I’m glad to hear you say so. Now I must go down. I feel that I’m
doing wrong sitting up here talking to you, as I should certainly not
be doing if my husband were here.’ And she departed below, leaving the
two mates, with a totally new set of sensations, staring at each other
dumbly.

Unfortunately, mischief had been done. One of the Portuguese sailors
had been ostensibly occupied in renewing the seizings on the mizen
shrouds, but for the last ten minutes he had devoted all his faculties
to listening. Vainly; he did not know enough of the language to take
in the conversation, but he knew that the Captain’s wife had been
talking for a long time to the two mates. And he determined that the
knowledge should not be wasted. The two officers, so deeply interested
were they, did not notice this man, and when presently the second
mate almost guiltily resumed his oversight of the men and their work
he did not even see Lazzaro furtively glancing at him from the mizen
rigging. No more was said by either of the mates or Mrs. Da Silva on
the subject, and the work of the ship went on throughout the day with
something of its old machine-like regularity. Night fell, and still no
sign of the skipper. With deepening distrust and anxiety the officer
saw the watches set, attending to every detail of his duties with the
utmost fidelity, and reporting at eight o’clock all his doings to the
mate. Mr. Court sent a respectful message to Priscilla on hearing this,
acquainting her with the condition of affairs and assuring her that
she had no cause for alarm. She would receive instant attention to her
lightest wish, and probably the Captain would be aboard before morning.
And so, quietly enough to all outward seeming, but with much anxiety
among the afterguard, the night passed away.

Ashore the Captain was having what sailors term a mighty good time.
Congenial spirits awaited him of both sexes, long known to him, and,
flinging aside all the restraints he felt he had been bound by during
the last year, he plunged into the wildest excesses. He was one of
those men to whom such an outburst, even at very long intervals, seems
a necessity of life--one that when the opportunity for obtaining it
arrives can by no effort of will be refrained from, although it is hard
to suppose that such an effort is ever made or attempted. And yet he
could be, as far as abstention from vulgar vice was concerned, a very
eremite for a year at a time, otherwise he would never have reached his
present position; for the American shipowner--or, indeed, employer of
any kind--is entirely intolerant of drunkenness or debauchery among
his servants, and will have none of it if by any means he can prevent
it. Now, however, his boat’s crew disposed of--allowed to run a little
riot of their own among their cronies, and merely ordered to turn up
in the morning at eight o’clock, bringing six recruits with them, he
abandoned himself to the fierce delights of the Latin seaman when let
loose.

But in spite of the long night’s excesses there was little alteration
in his appearance or manner when he met his men in the morning, noting
with high approval that they had succeeded in obtaining the new hands
he wanted: six huge piratical-looking ruffians, three of whom were
of that peculiar type of Portuguese which can only be found in the
islands of the North-West Atlantic--men, that is, with the high-bred
facial characteristics of the Portuguese allied to a perfect blackness
of skin. Some of these men are of great size, and almost all of them
know something about sperm-whaling, since all of these islands were for
hundreds of years most prolific haunts of the cachalot. Therefore they
have always been welcomed as recruits for whaleships, their undoubted
courage and great powers of endurance adding to their desirability. But
to Captain Da Silva they represented more than these advantages. They
were his own countrymen, and might be relied upon to abet him in any
scheme of devilry he might devise, in which he would certainly lack
the support of his American officers. And a dim idea of vengeance upon
those officers was certainly taking shape within his mind, which, once
definitely arranged, he would spare no pains to carry out nor allow any
peevish scruples to prevent him doing so.

With a few quiet words to the newcomers about pay, position, &c., also
the time of meeting to make the engagement--a very simple matter in
those ships--he gave them some money, and went his way to purchase
three new whaleboats. In this he was also fortunate, for a local bay
whaling company had just dissolved partnership, and all their gear was
on sale. He succeeded in purchasing from the representative of the late
company four boats and a large quantity of gear for less than half
their ordinary value, which pleased him so much that he determined to
stay another night ashore and continue his enjoyment. But first he made
arrangements for his new purchases to be taken off to the ship. The
only message he condescended to send was that the boat should return
for him the next day at 10 A.M. And not an ounce of fresh meat or
fruit or vegetables went off. These articles were cheap enough in all
conscience, but Captain Da Silva never pampered his crew, especially
this early in a long voyage, and, besides, there was punishment to be
carried out. And no form of punishment on board ship as applied to a
whole crew is more effective than to be anchored near a fruitful shore
after months of bad salt food and be denied a taste of the delicious
things they can almost see growing. Under ordinary conditions such a
deprivation would be next to impossible, as there are always people
along shore anxious to earn a little by catering for the needs of a
ship’s company, except in the most savage lands. And if there be no
money on board, barter can always be resorted to: quite a quantity of
sweet potatoes, oranges, or bananas can be obtained for a shirt. The
Captain, however, had arranged all that; according to his wishes not a
boat had been near his ship. And, besides, she was a long way out.

When the officers saw the gear and boats, and received the message,
they looked at each other significantly, but said no word. Mr. Court,
now able to hobble about, took charge of operations, and in quite a
short time the newly acquired boats had been placed in position, had
each received a coat of white paint, that being the colour of the
_Grampus’s_ boats, their gear fitted to them, and everything made ready
for their lowering to a whale. They came alongside at midday, and by
nightfall were ready for use. During all this activity Priscilla had
been quite forgotten. The officers felt doubtful how she would receive
any information about her husband which, in answer to questions,
they might have felt tempted to supply, so they did not mention the
matter. Only the genial darkey steward, in the perfectly respectful yet
familiar manner common to negro servants in America, chatted away to
his mistress, and kept her from being too lonely or dwelling too much
upon the unknown reasons which had induced her husband to leave her on
board the ship for two days without giving her any information at all
of his doings. Had she known it, she might have felt surprised that he
had never so much as given her a thought. But she would hardly have
been grieved at anything he did now to her, having fortified her mind
against the worst that could befall.

Punctually at the time appointed the boat arrived at the place ordered
by the Captain, who almost immediately appeared, and gave orders for
the transhipment to the boat of a number of cases. Altogether they made
a heavy cargo for such a frail boat; but whalers are most expert at
this business, and effect transportation by means of these boats that
seems impossible to any ordinary sailormen. This done they shoved off,
Captain Da Silva standing erect in the stern, his eyes fixed upon his
ship, and noting detail after detail as they became visible. A frown,
never entirely absent from his handsome face, deepened upon it as he
failed to see any cause for complaint. She looked beautifully trim; not
a rope yarn out of its place, the weather-beaten patches on her side
carefully touched up, the boats all bright with new paint, the three
mastheads manned, and, as he came alongside, the mate at the gangway
to receive him, and the crew all standing by the boat’s falls ready to
hoist her up the moment he should step on board.

As he put his foot on the rail, Mr. Court said, ‘Good morning, sir.’
But instead of replying, the Captain said, ‘Whyn’t ye git under weigh?’
And without pausing for an answer shouted: ‘Man th’ windlass.’ The
cry was re-echoed all over the ship, and almost immediately nothing
could be heard for the clatter of the pawls as the big windlass barrel
revolved at top speed. ‘Down frum aloft there an’ loose sail, courses,
taups’les, an’ t’gallantsails,’ again shouted the Captain. ‘Lively
naow; think yer goin’ t’ sit up thar an’ sleep while th’ ship’s gittin’
under weigh?’ Oh, he was a hustler, was Captain Da Silva. In ten
minutes from the time he came on board the boat’s cargo was discharged,
she was hoisted, the _Grampus_ was under weigh, and pointing south for
the resumption of the long and weary voyage. Then, and not till then,
did the skipper condescend to say anything to his chief officer. He
called him, and with a coldly sarcastic curl of his lip as he saw him
hobbling aft on improvised crutches, he said, ‘Anythin’ t’ report?’
‘No, sir,’ replied Mr. Court, ‘’cept thet I’ve returned t’ duty.’ ‘No
need t’ report _thet_, anyhaow,’ growled the skipper; ‘I k’n use my
eyes. But yew don’t look pretty, ’n thet’s a fact. Mout’s well hide
yerself a bit longer, moutn’t ye? Hain’t gut tired doin’ nawthin’, I’m
sure.’ ‘See here, Captain Da Silva,’ hissed the mate, ‘you’ve gut th’
whip hand now, I’ll own, but if ever I git on equal terms with ye, all
this’ll hev t’ be settled fur.’ ‘Go, lie daown, dog,’ muttered the
Captain. ‘I’ll attend t’ you an’ all th’ rest right along ’n’ git all
th’ sleep I need too.’ And the _Grampus_ began to rise and fall gently
to the incoming swell as the Captain went below.



CHAPTER XIV

AMONG RIGHT WHALES


We left our hero Rube suffering in body but triumphant in soul, and
also in perfect ignorance of the astounding change his behaviour was
bringing about in all hands. I have always maintained that a Christian
ship presents as near an approach to what most of us agree Heaven must
be like as we can make on this side of the gate thereof. For look at
the position! The grosser forms of temptation are entirely absent, yet
there is none of the selfish side of monasticism present. Men talk and
laugh and work with their fellows amid the most glorious of all earthly
surroundings--the pure, wide, bright ocean. There is no monotony,
since every day brings diversified duties, and in hours of rest not
needed for sleep there is an ever-changing panorama of glory present
to the newly awakened eyes, drawing ever-deepening thankfulness from
the regenerated heart. The thousand-and-one miseries and pettinesses
that distract men ashore are absent. From the little world evil has
departed--almost the knowledge of it, since there is no daily paper
recording the never-ending succession of crimes.

Yes, it is an ideal state of existence, a sort of Happy Valley in the
midst of the ocean, whence the trail of the serpent has been removed,
and where the community bask, unshadowed by sin, in the sunshine of
God. Of course, it will be cynically remarked that this is a picture
of perfection, unattainable, impossible. Well, it is nearly, but not
quite. I have experienced something very near it, and I beg to submit
that it was so idyllic that it could not be made a subject for cynical
sarcasm, even by the editor of the _Freethinker_, if he only saw it in
operation. It might be called right fruit of wrong belief; but I do not
love paradoxes. I prefer to believe that men do not gather grapes of
thorns or figs of thistles.

But I am doing an injustice to Reuben and his shipmates by
interpolating my own meditations in their story. When the work of
realising the spoil of their first whale had been finished, all hands
felt that they had now served their apprenticeship--were now fully
equipped for their work on board, whatever it might be. And in their
watches below the men found a wondrous fund of conversational matter
in the happenings of the past few days. But whenever they approached
the subject of Rube’s rescue of MacManus there was a perceptible
lowering of the voice, an air of solemnity upon everybody, for they
all felt that here was a man who, given opportunity, would have dived
into hell itself if by so doing he might haply rescue a comrade. And
that a comrade by no means specially dear to him, but just one of the
many. The incident brought them a truer insight into the character of
Christ than millions of sermons could have done. And in saying this
I in no wise undervalue sermons. ‘It hath pleased God through the
foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.’ But the living
example of faith’s outcome, a far-off and feeble imitation of Christ,
carries us beyond the reach of argument, makes the most sceptical
silent. Against it the waves of criticism beat in vain. Logic, with
all its perverseness; the scornful finger-pointing at the unfaithful
professors; the cavilling of the sticklers for formulated creeds--all,
all are silenced or stopped; and the splendour of Christ manifest in
the flesh again, though it be but in the flesh of one of His humblest
servants, overwhelms us.

But it must be confessed that Captain Hampden, even in the midst of his
new-found peace of soul, had occasional fits of despondency when he
realised how little progress the ship was making towards a prosperous
voyage. Over six months had now elapsed and only one sperm-whale had
been seen. Hope buoyed him, of course, but it was often deferred,
and, consequently, though he maintained a cheery demeanour towards
his officers his heart was becoming very sick. Going below into his
lonely little cabin he would stand as if in deep thought, gazing
into vacancy and wondering in some indefinite way how it was that he
was so unfortunate this voyage. For he had the reputation of being a
‘lucky’ skipper who never stayed out all his legal time, and on several
occasions so great had been his success that he had found no need to
go out of the Atlantic Ocean. Twice, indeed, he had spent gloriously
successful seasons on ‘Coffin’s Ground,’ just a little south and west
of the English Channel, finding there sperm-whale, so numerous and fat
that he was inclined to wonder why it should ever be necessary to go
farther afield. I could not help thinking of him last year, when, on my
way to the Mediterranean in one of the crack P. and O. liners, I heard
the veteran captain tell a lady at dinner that there were hardly any
whales now--they had been almost exterminated. I ventured to question
his dictum, and we had rather an interesting discussion. But next
morning he and I met on deck a little after daybreak, to find the ship
gliding along at her usual seventeen knots through the midst of a
school of sperm-whales of the largest size, extending to the horizon on
both sides, and taking us an hour to get away from them.

Nothing of that kind, however, came in the way of the _Xiphias_.
Day after day passed, lengthening into weeks, during which from the
lofty eminence of the crow’s-nest nothing could be seen but sea and
sky, an occasional barnacle-encrusted piece of drift-timber, a school
of dolphin or bonito, a few porpoises, flying fish innumerable, and
now and then a fin-back whale. But with the exception of the skipper
nobody seemed to worry or find the life monotonous. Work went on with
clock-like regularity, but outside of the work the men’s lives appeared
to be full of interest. Interminable yarns, often inconsequential,
were exchanged, and hardly a detail of their lives remained unrevealed
to each other. Reuben’s return to active service was hailed with such
delight that he did not appear to understand what it meant. He could
not realise that the service he had rendered to his shipmate so readily
could have taken such heroic proportions in the eyes of the crew. If
he could have known, that great deed was, after all, but an incident:
it was the lovely life, the splendid man in him which appealed to all
hands, as, indeed, it will ever do where men are gathered together.
Many complaints of lack of appreciation are heard from men of all
classes, but the truth appears to be that with few exceptions men
and women are marvellously generous in their appreciation of one
another’s good deeds. There is, of course, a bogus hero-worship, an
undiscriminating appreciation of work that only makes for evil, and
consequently had far better be left undone, but it is only a virtue
carried to excess. Let men or women do ever so little good work to-day,
and, if it becomes known, their reward is almost certain to transcend
their merits by far.

So Reuben, unconsciously as the sun shines or the birds sing, was
made the means of sweetening the crew of the _Xiphias_, and keeping
them sweet, and at the same time, as a consequence, was teaching
them--teaching them how to teach themselves from the great book open
around them lessons that would be the delight of their whole remaining
lives. Meanwhile the Captain grew more and more irritable, moody,
despondent. He still prayed, but listlessly, as if wondering what good
it could do. And all this mental agony of his was just due to the lack
of common-sense appreciation of the benefits conferred by the Gospel
of Christ. What should we say of a parent, who, while ever ready to
confer upon his children the best of advice, the best educational
advantages possible, and who gave them promises of glorious prospects
in the future, should yet keep them without the common necessaries of
life, food and clothing--yes, not only keep them without, but hinder
them from obtaining those things for themselves? Yet this is the idea
which so many, the vast majority of orthodox Christians, have of the
dear Father God. But the educational process, if of any value, is slow,
and Captain Hampden was learning, unwillingly it is true, but still he
_was_ learning. At times, though, the content which seemed to possess
all hands but himself was very trying to him. He naturally felt that
his crew should in some measure share his anxiety over the non-success
of the voyage so far, and resentment at their apparently callous
conduct often made him miserable. Their behaviour was irreproachable.
There was no slackness shown in any duty, and he knew that as far as
the look-out was concerned not a fish could leap by day within a radius
of four or five miles without being instantly noted by one or more of
the six pairs of keen eyes at the mastheads.

But it was not until the old _Xiphias_ had rolled her way eastward as
far as Gough Island that payable whales were sighted again. Then when
within about ten miles of that huge isolated crag rising solitary,
awful, out of the vast waste of the Southern Ocean, a dubious cry of
‘Blo--o--o--w’ was heard from the fore crow’s-nest. It told plainly
that the utterer was not at all sure whether what he was reporting was
worth while troubling after. So many false alarms had been raised,
rorquals, finbacks, grampuses had so often filled them with delusive
hopes, that only the unmistakable bushy spout of a sperm-whale was
looked for. Since, however, no chance, slight though it might be, was
neglected, the warning was given, and was presently being repeated by
all the other watchers. Captain Hampden rather listlessly mounted the
rigging, his binoculars slung to his neck, and reaching the mainyard,
focussed them upon the, as yet, far-off whales. One glance was enough.
In a tremendous voice he roared his orders to come down from aloft,
prepare to leave the ship, alter the course, &c. He had discovered
that a school of ‘right’ whales was in sight: a species of cetacean,
almost identical with the great Greenland whale, and because of the
high value of the baleen, or whalebone found in the mouth, worth almost
as much in those days as the sperm-whale in spite of the poor quality
of ‘right’ whale oil--perhaps, when all the circumstances were taken
into consideration, more, for even the Southern right whale, although
certainly more elegant in figure and swifter in movement than his
Northern congener, is a meek and gentle creature, in the chase of which
an accident is almost unknown.

There were about twenty individuals in the school, of average
size--that is to say, each looking as if he or she might yield eighty
or ninety barrels of oil and seven or eight hundredweight of bone. I
mix up the genders, for, curiously enough, while the sperm-whale cow
never attains to much more than one-fourth of the size of the adult
cachalot, the mysticetus, or right whale has little or no disparity
between the size of the sexes; what difference does occur is usually
in favour of the female. With great glee the skipper ordered all five
boats away, leaving the ship in charge of the four petty officers
and two men only; and having told each boat-header to do his level
best to get fast to a whale for himself, and not interfere with any
other boat’s quarry, also to make the best possible time down to
where the whales awaited them all unconscious of their proximity,
the chase began. Oars and sails were both used with such good effect
that although the breeze was not strong the boats fairly flew over
the darkened surface of the sea. It was in the mid-morning--about 10
A.M. and the sky was, as usual in those latitudes, on the edge of the
roaring forties, overcast with a thick veil of grey clouds which shut
out the sun as effectually as night. And when the sun goes the sea’s
aspect is cold and cheerless even on the Line. Also, there rolled
up from the west mighty knolls of water, the heaving of old ocean’s
breast, which when they caught a boat, hurled her forwards as if she
were flying, sometimes accurately balanced upon a gliding summit as
if by the fingers of a juggling genie. Viewed from an independent
standpoint, the enterprise of these seafarers would have looked like
some forlorn hope whereof the prize was leave to live a little longer
and the penalty death. But the men in those boats had no such thought.
Their teeth clenched, their nostrils expanded, their eyes ablaze with
excitement, they plied their oars, scorning fatigue, overcoming the
ache in their bones by sheer will-power, and without a word or sign
of encouragement save those which proceeded from their own fierce
desire to do better than the fellows in the next boat. It was emulation
unpaid, unfostered, raised to its highest power, and achieving far more
than any hope of reward could have done.

With a wild yell of delight, the mate’s boat dashed into the centre
of the school, and his harpooner’s weapon flew into the body of the
nearest monster like a lightning flash. The other boats, spreading
themselves fan-wise, came on the scene almost immediately, and then
all the wild delight of the chase, all the romantic interest of the
scene was for a season in abeyance. It was too sordid. The clean sea
became a slaughter-house; the soul-sickening smell of blood permeated
the air. The exuding oil from the wounds made the sea quite smooth,
although, of course, the swell rolled high as ever. The bewildered
victims, unable to fight or flee, rolled helplessly upon the surface,
exposing their vitals to the deadly thrust of the long lances, and only
by an occasional flap of their mighty tails did they show any sign of
resentment or desire to escape. Happily it was soon over. Within half
an hour from the time of attack and without the expenditure of one
hundred fathoms of line, five whales lay dead upon the solemn sea.
No boat was injured, no damage of any kind had been done. And round
about the victims and their slayers quietly circled the still-living
monsters as if by some horrible fascination held to the spot. The
skipper gave orders that none of these apparently mourning ones should
be molested--not, be it noted, because of any tenderness for them,
but because the average sailor, and especially the whaler, is averse
to taking life wantonly. Where profit is concerned blood flows like
water--slay, slay, slay, insatiable apparently of slaughter; but kill
for killing’s sake as some gentlemen do in a pheasant battue--no: the
rude whalemen leave such practices to their betters.

The deadly work had been so well and swiftly done that, as the mate
said figuratively, ‘a good-sized handkerchief would have covered ’em
all.’ Making allowance for pardonable exaggeration, the whole of the
five certainly lay within half a square mile, and, therefore, two
boats were judged sufficient to attend to the needful tail-boring,
&c., while the other three cut adrift and sped back to the fast
approaching ship, all their crews in a state of wild delight at so
successful an encounter, and feeling quite fresh, for really they had
hardly got their second wind. Indeed, it was a busy day for them,
although rendered much easier than it would otherwise have been by
the exceptionally favourable circumstances. Still, even then the work
of getting alongside and securing by the passing of fluke-chains five
gigantic bodies like those was bound to be a heavy one in any case.
However, it was successfully accomplished by eight bells, noon, and
with a satisfied sigh of relief every man made his way below to as good
a dinner as the circumstances would admit of.

A full hour was allowed the resting men for food and smoke, and then at
the first cry of ‘Turn to!’ they all scurried on deck as if eager to
get to work again. But a surprise awaited them. Instead of the tedious
and terribly hard work which they had seen before of cutting off and
splitting lengthways the head of the sperm-whale, now the clatter of
the pawls was unceasing. Once the upper jaw of the right whale, with
its valuable fringe of baleen, is lifted out, the rest of the work of
‘flenching,’ or skinning the blubber off the body of the whale, is just
a pleasant piece of recreation. And here let me say that, whatever
may be the practice in bay-whaling when the big body is stranded, it
is utterly ridiculous to suppose, as so many readers of fiction do
suppose, that men with spikes in their boots get down upon the whale’s
back and hew slabs of blubber off his body, which they fling on deck.
Such a feat would be utterly impossible, besides being most wasteful
of time as well as spoil. For the ship and the whale roll and tumble
about to such an extent that standing upon that rolling mass alongside
is inconceivable. No: the great ‘cutting-tackles’ come into play, and
once having a wide riband of blubber started off the whale’s neck the
blubber is unwound as it were by continual hoisting, cutting at the
still attached side, and the rolling round of the body.

The men all toiled as if fatigue were a word of no import, nor was a
word spoken or needed to spur them on to greater efforts. They toiled
until the deck, as well as the blubber-room, was packed from end to end
with the mountainous masses of blubber and upper jaws with their wealth
of bone. And as the last despoiled carcass was cut adrift the men
raised a great shout of joy. It had been such a mighty task, so well
and profitably performed, that their exultation was legitimate, and
even praiseworthy. But the Captain, feeling the reaction from his great
exertions, in a sense of almost overpowering lassitude, slowly dragged
himself up on to the little deck aft to have a look round before going
below for a meal and a short rest. And he saw a sight that drove the
blood back to his heart, and left his extremities cold and numb. In the
fury of labour no one had noticed the drift of the ship, nor indeed,
the worsening of the weather. True, the sails had all, except the
close-reefed main topsail and fore topmast staysail, been furled before
beginning, so that the weather mattered little, but--the grim, towering
mass of the island was close abeam to leeward. Like some vast cloud
it loomed above them, while to windward, through the fast-gathering
gloom of evening, came thundering on the rising, gleaming seas of the
great Southern Ocean, precursors of the gale that would presently be
here--nay, was already making its presence felt and heard.

For a few moments Captain Hampden stood and gazed irresolute. What
could he do? With his deck so hampered by those vast greasy masses
that movement fore and aft was well-nigh impossible, with night almost
here, and crew worn out with the severe labour they had so cheerfully
performed all day, what could he resolve upon? Like an inspiration
came the thought, ‘Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity,’ and baring
his head he said, ‘O God, save us, don’t let us perish like this. Let
us escape, please, Father, from this awful danger.’ In a moment his
relaxing muscles stiffened, he stood erect, and with a voice that
reached every corner of the ship he shouted, ‘Lay aloft and loose
taups’les an’t’gallants’les. Drop everything, men, and get sail on
her.’ There was a momentary hush as the crew took in his words, and
then cheerful cries of response came back to him as the weary fellows
realised that they were being called upon for a supreme effort.
Slipping, clutching, fighting their way over the greasy masses, they
scrambled aloft, and soon the white gleams above told of the loosened
canvas, while the waiters below tailed on to the halyards and sheets,
and in all kinds of apparently impossible attitudes among the slimy
obstructions dragged the reluctant sails up again. By the time all
possible sail was made there was another and a deeper note mingling
with the voice of the storm--the deep roar of the great Atlantic
rollers beating up against those aged barriers of rock. But to their
amazement the crew felt the vessel’s motion ease. She had been rolling
heavily, labouring under the immense upper weight as if bewildered by
it and hardly knowing what to do. And now she hardly moved at all,
while overside the whole sea seemed smoothed down and ablaze with
phosphorescent light. Even the veteran officers were puzzled, until the
Captain suddenly bethought him of the gigantic seaweed that in fronds
of hundreds of feet in length, and the thickness of a man’s body, grows
upward to the surface in those waters all around the bases of the
island mountains. But was there any protection there? True, the sea
had become smooth, but the ship’s way had also deadened so that she no
longer forged ahead, while it was impossible to ascertain in any way
whether or not she was drifting broadside on over the heads of the kelp
towards the stern precipices to leeward. The night was now so dark that
in spite of the proximity of the mountain to leeward it was impossible
to distinguish between one side and the other. Only the ear could tell
by that deep moan of the sea against the rock bases.

Nothing could be done now but wait patiently to see what was the will
of God concerning them. It was most obvious that if the kelp let them
through, the ship must be battered to pieces against those precipices,
where the sea was at least twenty fathoms deep alongside the rocks.
Anchoring was out of the question--seamanship, in fact, was entirely
discounted. And so, feeling all this, Captain Hampden, again raising
his voice, summoned all hands aft. ‘Boys,’ he said, when they had
gathered around him, ‘this looks like our last night of life. Now
we’ll pray that God will let us live, but specially we’ll pray that
if He doesn’t see fit to grant us any more life we may die clean an’
wholesome. An’ whether we live or die we’ve done our best, and that’s a
great comfort.’ So holding on in all sorts of attitudes, those hardly
bestead men prayed with the skipper, full of faith that whatever the
outcome of the night might be, it would be all right. They finished and
were dismissed to their quarters, while the gale howled ever louder,
and the awful shadow to leeward deepened.



CHAPTER XV

A DOUBLE DELIVERANCE


Hour after hour wore on, while many of the men, in spite of their
fears, slept soundly. Rube, indeed, seemed unable to realise that
there was any danger at all. Having joined in the general prayer for
deliverance he appeared to regard the matter as quite settled, and
as not requiring any more care on his or anyone else’s part except
the Father’s. Most of the men, over-borne with weariness both of
body and brain, slept fitfully in many uncouth attitudes, some half
reclining upon banks of grease-exuding blubber gently heaving with
the motion of the ship, others twisted into comfortable corners,
apparently impervious to cold, or wet, or fear. But the Captain, more
at peace with his surroundings than he could understand, and dimly,
subconsciously wondering why, sat on the little deck aft listening to
the angry roar of the baffled sea far outside the engirdling groves
of kelp. The sullen boom of the rollers against that unseen mass to
leeward, the hissing, swishing sound of the great leaves restlessly
sliding over each other and against the ship, and the ever-deepening
roar of the gale overhead made up a concert truly terrifying in its
effect upon the heart. And yet Captain Hampden felt little terror.
Knowing his utter helplessness, he was driven to as utter a dependence
upon a kindly Power which he knew was not merely capable of saving his
ship and all hands, but was always benevolently disposed towards man,
and never more so than in his hour of deepest distress.

So he sat calmly and wished for the day. Several times he made the
beginning of a move, feeling that action of some kind, even though only
in the direction of clearing the decks, would be better for all than
quietly enduring this season of suspense. But each time he realised
how hopeless such an attempt would be in the present condition of the
deck and the state of all hands. Therefore, he waited with wonderful
patience until the cook’s head appeared at his side above the break
of the house, and a deferential voice said, ‘Wun’t yo hab drop ob
hot coffee, sah? I got it yah, all ready, sah.’ ‘Yes, cook, think I
will. Jest wut I ben needin’ fur a long time ’n’ didn’t know it.’ And
as he took the cup from the delighted black man he thought how good
a thing was service done whole-heartedly, and how well and willingly
it was rendered by such men as these. A smile may rise at the thought
of any shipmaster considering his cook like this, but it would be the
smile of ignorance. For if a cup of cold water given in the Master’s
name shall in no wise lose its reward, there is little doubt that a
cup of coffee on a bitter night, prepared with much difficulty, by a
man who, although only doing his duty, is doing that duty with all
his might, will in like manner gain him a reward. I remember when I
was lamp-trimmer on board the _Wentworth_, running between Sydney and
Melbourne, I used to be called at daybreak to duty. After taking in
the lamps, my first thought was to make a cup of coffee--it being some
time before the cooks were at work. And it was my practice, though
in no sense my duty, to take a cup and a piece of toast up to Mr.
Wallace, the chief officer, on the bridge, whom I used to picture as
burdened with the care of the ship up there in the bleak night. He was
a brusque, almost coarse, sailor, but I know he was grateful. A word
of thanks from him set my heart dancing (I was barely fifteen years
of age), but my chief reward was in the knowledge of having done a
kindness. And this is the spirit that moves the world to-day. Everyone
should take courage, whatever their creed, in the thought that the
Christ ideal, which is unselfishness raised to its highest power, is
becoming universal, and that the many exceptions have no contradictory
force at all.

By the time Captain Hampden had finished his coffee he found that there
was a perceptible lightening of the gloom around, although the wind had
increased so much that it was evident, unless something was speedily
done to ease the strain upon them, the masts would certainly go. So,
rising stiffly to his feet, the skipper sought the mate, finding him
ready, standing near the compass, and apparently endeavouring to get a
bearing of the land, which was becoming more visible, and, if possible,
more horribly threatening in appearance as it did so. ‘Good morning,
sir,’ said Mr. Pease, as soon as he saw the skipper; ‘pipin’ up, ain’t
she, sir?’ ‘Yaas; guess she is, an’ ef we want to carry any of our
sticks eout o’ this, we’ll hev t’ git thet canvas off her as quick ’s
it kin be did. I don’t think it matters much, anyway, whether she hez
canvas on her or not--she can’t make much, if any, headway through this
weed, an’ it looks ’s if th’ Lord wunt let her go ashore. Go ahead,
Mr. Pease, git th’ rags off her, ’n’ by thet time, please God, it’ll be
daylight good.’

So the mate obediently roared out his message to the crew, who
responded with a phenomenal cheerfulness, clambering over those
slimy, greasy masses on deck as if they cared nothing at all for the
difficulty of their passage. In half an hour they had shortened her
down to the three close-reefed topsails, and besides had cleared up the
gear so that no ropes should be in the way of the whale-matter lying
about. And having done this they stood by, waiting, oh, so anxiously,
the whole of that ship’s company; with just one exception--Rube. He it
was who wore always a beaming smile, and sidled up to first one and
then the other with some cheering word. Just as a doctor who is always
hoping for the best, while taking precaution against the worst, is the
most likely to pull his patient through, so this Divine teaching of
cheerfulness in the presence of dangerous and depressing circumstances
does really seem to win the battle before it is fought. In any case, if
the warrior does fall he falls with his face to the foe, and with the
high satisfaction thrilling his soul that he has behaved in that last
dread hour as became a _man_.

To this little waiting crowd came suddenly the blessing of light.
As if some mighty angel’s hand had grasped the swart veil of cloud
closing them darkly in, and had rent it in sunder from horizon to
zenith, the whole western quadrant of the sky was suddenly lighted up
by the brilliant beams of the newly risen sun. So splendid was this
enlightening that for a few moments all hands stood awe-stricken,
watching the rapidly glancing sabres of glorious flashing colour
thrusting the encompassing gloom through and through. Then as if by
one impulse all turned to leeward to see how near was the fateful
rock. As if it had just leapt out of the gloom, Gough Island was
revealed, within a mile (which looks at sea less than a hundred yards
does ashore), and every heart for a moment stood still. But after that
tribute to human weakness hope instantly reasserted her lovely self.
Had they not been kept from perishing all through the blackness of that
terrible night? Was it not certain that they were now no nearer the
land than when they last saw it clearly, in spite of the stress of the
gale upon the ship’s broadside? Undoubtedly it was; and more--some of
them began to take mental bearings and compare them with the position
they could remember the previous evening, finding that at any rate if
they were not gaining ground they were certainly not losing.

Suddenly the Captain shouted to the mate, ‘Mr. Pease, turn the hands
to on the tryin’ out. We kain’t do nothin’ with the ship as she is,
an’ we mout so well ’muse ourselves doin’ somethin’ useful.’ This
pronouncement was hailed with the utmost delight by all hands, and like
a swarm of ants they were soon busy cutting, slicing, mincing, boiling,
and getting out the bone--so busy, indeed, as well as interested
in their work, that they scarcely ever paused to look at the great
precipices to leeward of them.

Meanwhile, the Captain had very carefully taken his cross bearings, and
had no sooner completed the simple operation than he felt certain that
his vessel was drifting south in almost imperceptible fashion. Hope
revived, and he joined his workers with a heart greatly lightened.
There by his tremendous exertions and cheery voice he encouraged all
hands to attend to present duties, and thus exclude forebodings for the
future. And two hours later when he again took his bearings his hopeful
supposition became a definite certainty: she had drifted through that
hindering kelp, in apparent defiance of the fateful pressure of the
gale striving to thrust her on shore, quite two miles nearer safety.
Now he felt impelled to shout the glad news to his splendid men who had
so nobly responded to the call made upon them. So raising his voice to
its fullest compass he roared: ‘She’s gettin’ eout ov it, boys. Praise
God we’ll be all right yet. There isn’t any shipwreck coming off this
time. She’s gettin’ raound th’ corner ov th’ island in great shape. So
peg away, men--while yew’re workin’ she’s a-dreeftin’, an’ as soon ’s
ever she gits clear we’ll give her every rag she’ll drag, an’ git away
fr’m this uncomf’ble neighbourhood.’

A wild cheer answered him, and all hands immediately redoubled their
efforts to clear that grease-encumbered deck. Perhaps the gentle reader
may feel a little nausea at the idea of a whole crew of men wallowing
about in a deck full of dripping--for really it is no exaggeration
to call it by that homely name--but I dare make no apology for being
as literal and realistic as possible in this matter, since by such
methods alone is it possible to make the land-living reader understand
what manner of men these were who wrested such gigantic spoil from
the depths of the mighty ocean, and under what circumstances they
lived. Here you have men involved in toil of the most strenuous kind
under conditions which to the majority of mankind would preclude any
action whatever except for self-preservation. And in addition thereto
destruction to all waits grimly by the vessel’s side, unveiling all its
possibilities of horror and inviting man’s heart to quail, his muscles
to grow flaccid, his mind to become unhinged. And in spite of all you
find this lonely group of seafarers steadfastly setting their strength
to the accomplishment of their unpoetic task in the highest frame of
heroism, which is to do what lies before you with a single eye, not
looking for the commendation of your fellow men, but because of the
inherent joy involved in just doing one’s duty.

So hour by hour slipped by, the mincing-machine clattered incessantly,
the flame from the twin chimneys of the try-works soared palely into
the keen air, and was swept off at right angles to leeward by the wind
as if it were some angelic sword stabbing at the grim mass to eastward
of them. And the effect of their labours was manifest in that a clear
gangway along the deck was now made right fore and aft. Into the midst
of the toil came the clear, cheerful voice of the skipper calling,
‘Dinner, men, an’ befo’ y’ go remember she’s gittin’ cl’ar’s fast ’s
ever th’ weed’ll allow her. She’s made quite four miles of southin’
sence eight bells--thet’s a mile an hour. An’ ef she keeps thet goin’
through the afternoon as she has this forenoon we’ll be cl’ar o’ th’
whole thing by sundown.’ ‘Hooray! bully fer th’ skipper,’ shouted the
crew, and seizing such rags, wads of oakum, and the like, as they
could get hold of they sauntered forward, wiping down as they went.
They were saturated from head to heel with oil, they looked like a
gang of piratical scarecrows, but I make bold to say that they were as
heroic a crowd as ever came out of the most hardly contested battle.
And on reaching the dim chamber, reeking with a foul combination of
evil smells, they squatted around on the greasy deck and received each
man in his little tin dish a portion of salt pork, a few spoonfuls of
haricot beans, and a little loaf. Everyone doffed his cap, everyone
felt thankful for this portion of coarsest food, and Reuben only
focussed the general sense of the company when he said, holding one
hand out before him, ‘Lovin’ God, we’re alive t’ eat, an’ work, an’
thank Thee. We do, an’ ask You t’ make us thankful men, keep us good
men, not ashamed of one another or of Thee. For Christ’s sake. Amen.’
The ‘Amen’ was so heartily echoed that Rube looked around startled. He
could hardly believe his ears. With all his beautiful, childlike faith
in God, he had, like most of us, but little faith in man, and when he
found how mightily God was working in the crowd around him he was, as
most of us would be, moved to profoundest wonder. Like most of us, he
had not believed ’according to your faith be it unto you,’ or that when
man’s faith fails, God, who cannot be disheartened, steps in and does
in His own way His own work at His own appointed time.

Little was said during the meal--all were too ravenous with hunger
for that; but when the last scrap of food had been eaten up, and the
utensils cleared away by the cook of the mess, pipes were stuffed with
greasy tobacco and lighted, and although each pipe emitted a peculiar
frizzling sound as of frying, and the odour of the oily weed would
certainly have driven an ordinary smoker frantic, each man’s face wore
a perfectly satisfied expression, and a desultory conversation began.
‘Don thatt wass a narr’ squeak, hey,’ muttered a square-built little
Italian, who lay coiled up by the pawl-bitt. ‘I thinkin’ I promesso
giva candela thosa sainta, onlee I carn faget thees name thata time.’
‘Mean yew cuddent ’member, I ’spose,’ grumbled a Down Easter by his
side. ‘Si, grazie,’ eagerly responded the Italian. ‘Don’t can memb’.
Nev’ mine. Savea one dolla. ’Sides, how I know ef thatt Sancta goin’
elpa me bord una barca eretico lika thees?’ ‘Look here,’ Antone,’ said
a deep voice out of the gloom across the fo’c’sle, ‘You better pay fur
thet candle, annyhow. Give it as a thank-offrin’ ’at yew wuz aboard a
heretic ship. I guess ’fore th’ machinery of your crowd c’d a-got in
working order we sh’d all a-ben gone up. Wut d’ ye say, boys?’ A hoarse
murmur of approval ran round, while poor Antone grew hot as if feeling
that it was incumbent upon him to defend his faith. But suddenly
realising that as he had never understood what his faith was except
doing just what he was told (when it was easy) by the priest, he fell
back upon common-sense, and replied, ‘Well, ’corse I don’ know anyt’ing
about ’cept I’m eatina dinner, smokina pipe. Ef I say Dio Grazie thatt
goin’ be alia righta, no Rube, eh, whatt?’ The deep, cheerful voice of
Reuben immediately chimed in, ‘Of course, Antone, if you reelly are
thankful to God. But if He’s spared your life, you ought to remember it
an’ see if you can’t do somethin’ with it for Him. An’ when you come
to think of it--it ain’t much to ask--that you shall be clean in mind,
an’ tongue, that you shall be kind and helpful, an’ true, an’ that you
shall remember not now and then, but always, the gentle, loving Jesu
Christo, your every-day and all-day Friend.’ The impressionable little
Italian’s face was all awork as this little talk fell from Rube’s lips.
It went, in spite of his disability in language, right home to his hot
southern heart, and the bright drops of sensibility’s precious dew
glistened on his russet beard.

But Mr. Pease’s stentorian voice was heard shouting, ‘Turn-to!’ and on
the instant pipes were laid aside, belts were tightened, caps pressed
down upon tanned brows, and a rush upwards was made from those fœtid
quarters into the bright, invigorating air, which really seizes upon
a man newly emerged from the foulness below like a pleasant vertigo,
making him wonder whatever can be the matter with him. The first thing
each man did upon reaching the deck was to give a swift glance to
leeward. And as each did so a very real sense of gratitude flooded his
heart. For it no longer needed the skipper’s cheery assurance that
all was well to satisfy the most ignorant of them that they were now,
humanly speaking, out of danger. True, they were not yet past the
fringe of kelp, their vessel was as yet quite unmanageable, and the
gale blew with undiminished vigour. But still it was evident that the
steady stress of that invisible force beneath them would not allow them
to be driven any farther shoreward, and, quite satisfied, they turned
to their work with as much lack of concern for the safety of the ship
as if no land had been in sight.

Seeing that all was proceeding so cheerily, Captain Hampden called
the mate, and said, ‘Mr. Pease, I ain’t quite ’s young’s I wuz, ’n’
after last night I begin t’ feel the flesh pullin’ a bit. So if you’ll
jest give an eye t’ her, I’ll go ’n’ hev an hour’s caulk. Maybe I’ll
need it to-night, though I hope all will be in good shape ’fore
dark. ’N’ ’s soon ’s ever yer git th’ decks cl’ar o’ blubber, set
yer watches--blubber watches, o’ course. Le’s give this grand lot er
fellows all th’ rest we kin.’ ‘Aye, aye, sir,’ cheerily answered the
mate; ‘ef I hadn’t ’a felt it ’d be persoomin’ I’d ’a’ asked yew to
go ’n’ hev a spell long ago. We kain’t afford t’ hev yew crackin’ up,
y’ know, sir. An’ yew c’n be quite sure ’at everythin’ ’ll go like
clockwork. I don’t believe they’s a spouter afloat to-day ’s got such a
bully crowd ’s we hev, an’ I’m sure yew think the same, Cap’n.’ ‘I dew
jest thet,’ sleepily murmured the old man as he swung off towards the
companion and disappeared.

Thoroughly wearied as he was, and with a great weight lifted from his
mind, the good old man sank at once, as soon as he lay down, into a
deep sleep. But although it was in reality fully two hours since he
lay down, when he suddenly realised that he was wide awake he seemed
certain that he had but just dozed off. It is a curious sensation, but
fairly common among seamen, this of suddenly passing from the depths
of sleep to uttermost clearness of thought and readiness for action.
For a moment he waited, listening intently for some recurring sound,
explaining why he should thus have awakened, as he thought, so soon.
But except for the creaking of the old ship’s timbers and the deep
murmur of the gale there was no sound noticeable, and these lullabies
would certainly have kept him sleeping. However, the feeling that
something had happened which needed his attention forced itself upon
him, and rising stiffly from the hard cushions of the transom locker,
he snatched his cap and climbed on deck. One swift glance forward
showed him how strenuously his men had been toiling while he slept,
for the deck was clear to the try-works, and the latter were smoking
furiously, while the attendant gnomes came and went, tirelessly
carrying on their great task. He looked overside and saw that the weed
was perceptibly less in quantity; he looked at the land and--surely it
could not be--and yet--his hawk-like vision could not play him false.
He grabbed his glasses and focussed them on what he saw--a rag of
fluttering white among the sombre rocks, immediately satisfying himself
that someone needing help was there. Instantly all the powers of his
mind were busy devising means for the assistance of any unfortunate
stranded in so wild a spot. Again and again he surveyed that tiny
flutter of white; again and again he took an undecided step forward as
if to give an order, until at last he said aloud, ‘Wall, God he’pin’
us, we ort to do something, though how is more than I can see. All
hands on deck!’ he roared, and in two minutes the mate was by his side,
his big eyes staring full of inquiry at his commander. ‘Wut is it,
sir?’ he gasped. ‘It’s a wrecked crew, I reckon, Mr. Pease. D’ ye see
yonder flicker of white in that cleft between those two big rocks--no,
a bit to starboard, so?’ ‘Yes, sir, I see it,’ said the mate; ‘d’ ye
make it out to be a signal, sir?’ ‘I do, jest that, Pease, an’--but
here kems the boys. Naow, then, m’lads, thar’s life to be saved. Lower
away starboard quarter-boat, ’n’ yew, Mr. Peck (it’s yewr boat anyhow)
make the best way yew kin to whar yew see yon white flicker among th’
rocks. Yew’ll hev to warp yewr way along through the kelp as best yew
can, and when yew git cluss to it, be keerful--be jest as keerful as
yew know how; fur we kain’t spare either yew er yewr boat’s crew.
Thar’ll be an all-fired heavy swell on the beach (if they is any beach)
fur all it looks so smooth frum here. Thish yer kelp stops the sea
rollin’ in, but it kain’t stop th’ swell, y’ know. Now, give way, and
God go with yew t’ save.’

At the word the boat left the ship, the crew plying their oars with
great difficulty, because of the encumbering weed. So they soon shipped
oars, and took their paddles--every whaleboat having five of these
primitive but exceedingly useful propellers stowed in their beckets
under the thwarts--and with much laborious effort urged their boat
shoreward. As they neared the black, forbidding cliffs the officer’s
heart sank, for he saw how apparently inaccessible they were, and
how the gigantic southern swell, with never a foamy break, rose and
fell against those awful precipices. The long streamers of kelp like
multitudinous serpents writhed around the bared rock bases, then
disappeared as the whole mighty body of water lifted, lifted, lifted
until it seemed as if it must submerge the mountain tops. And still
that tiny white rag fluttered forth its agonising message: ‘Come and
save us.’

Be it noted that while Mr. Peck was fully alive to the tremendous
danger awaiting him and his brave fellows, the possibility of his not
being able to fulfil his errand of mercy never occurred to him. He
was one of those wonderful fellows who never calculate beforehand the
chances of defeat. And these are the men who do great deeds, although
it be accounted criminal in war to neglect the keeping open of a line
of retreat. So by every encouraging word he could speak he urged the
toiling crew to greater effort, until the kelp became so thick that
paddling was no longer possible, and they had perforce to haul the
boat along by grasping the long strands of black vegetation that rose
and fell rhythmically around them. Nearer and nearer they drew, near
enough to distinguish a forlorn little company of people clambering
precariously over the rocks and making (as yet) unintelligible signs to
them. Nearer and nearer yet, until it became evident that the refugees
were waving them towards a gigantic escarpment which rose fully five
hundred feet almost perpendicularly from the sea, and at one angle
seemed to present an edge just like a jagged sabre. They altered their
course in obedience to these frantic signallings, and presently found
themselves fighting for life against the heave and hurl of the swell,
which suddenly seemed to have found force that was lacking before
when they were farther from the land. The ropes of kelp slithered
through their bleeding hands, great fronds arose mysteriously from
the blackness and swept across the boat, scourging them as with giant
whips; they cowered and groaned, and begged for mercy in undertones,
but toiled on. And then, when all their efforts appeared to have
failed because the poor human machines could no longer respond to the
merciless call made upon them, came a blessed lull, the boat swept
round the sabre-edge of the cliff, and there, free from kelp, was a
tiny crevasse with deep blue water just gently rising and falling,
and a ledge of clean rock running all round it. Upon this ledge was
clustered a strange company, savage and weird-looking, long elf-locks
bleached by wind and storm, garments of every imaginable material and
shape. Ten of this company were crouching at the edge nearest the boat
with uplifted hands and streaming eyes.

But when the boat came near enough for them to leap in there was a
pause. Even in here the outer swell made itself felt, and without
careful handling a calamity was imminent at the last moment. Therefore
Mr. Peck shouted to the little group to watch when the swell came
gently, as it did after every three rolls, when he would let the
boat almost graze the rocks, and four, no more, at a time, must jump
into the middle of the boat. Then it was seen that the refugees were
encouraging three smaller figures, patting them, pointing to the boat,
making signs as they talked, until one voice rang out sharply from
the shore: ‘Dear boys, these three are women--do try and catch them,
they’ve suffered so much.’ Ah! had any stimulus been wanted this would
have supplied it, for it is the glory of the Anglo-Saxon race, and
especially of the American branch of the old tree--its reverence for
woman, whether mother, wife, or sister. The boat rose gently shoreward,
the officer shouted, ‘Now,’ and three shrinking figures half jumped,
half fell, into the outstretched arms of the boatmen. ‘Safe, thank
God!’ shouted the former speaker from the shore. The rest was easy. The
remaining seven took careful bearings and leaped at the right moments
until the whole ten were snugly bestowed, and it was time to turn the
boat’s head seaward again.

But now she was overloaded. If it had been a heavy task coming in with
her light before the swell, what would it now be going out deeply
laden--not six inches of freeboard amidships--against that awful surge?
For one moment Peck’s heart failed him as he weighed the possibilities.
Then--and this was a miraculous thing, seeing that never before had
he entertained such an idea--he lifted his cap and said, or rather
shouted, for the roar of the swell was almost deafening: ‘Boys, le’s
ask God t’ he’p us out of this hole. Keep her steady with the paddles.
“O God, we’re all in Your han’s. We’re tryin’ t’ save life, we’re doin’
our best, we b’lieve we _kain’t_ go under without You lets us. Naow
save our lives so’s we k’n praise You all the days ov our life.” Naow
let her have it, boys. Paddle fur yer lives, an’ as soon ’s we strike
the kelp, gather it in an’ haul fur all yer wuth. Passengers, lie still
in th’ bottom o’ th’ boat.’



CHAPTER XVI

A REIGN OF TERROR


Far more frequently than any shore-living people can imagine, there
occur times on board ship when it seems as if the whole condition of
things must be overwhelmed in one red holocaust. No ship, whatever
her position or character may be, is quite exempt from such crises
as these. For at sea all hands are compelled to feel that they have
been driven back upon primitive conditions, and the one paramount
question demanding answer is: ‘How much longer can I bear this?’ No
such problem ever confronts shore people, for the most obvious reason:
there is always a way of escape--at sea there is none. And, if the
true inwardness of all the awful sea tragedies that have ever been
known were inquired into, it would be found that nearly all of them
originated in a condition of things such as I have been sketching. A
brutal, unscrupulous villain (we have had them in the British Navy)
at the head of affairs, a vilely truckling gang of officers ready at
a nod to carry out that villain’s behests, and before the mast a mob
of men driven frantic by ill-treatment yet lacking initiative, the
one ignition spark which only a genius can supply. A case in point
is afforded by the tragedy of the _Bounty_. Concerning that terrible
mutiny reams have been written wherein the horrid crimes of the sailors
are continually held up to execration, but how seldom is passing
mention given to the true cause of the whole awful business--the
treatment of the men by the commander, who seemed to have felt it his
duty to make his men realise before death what sort of a place the
infernal regions must be. Only the lack of initiative has prevented the
tale of sea tragedies from being a hundredfold as many, not the desert
of those in charge, who seem to have exhausted the ingenuity of fiends
in their behaviour towards their hapless crews.

Still, it must be confessed, and gladly, too, that few indeed are the
captains or officers who set out with the deliberate intention of
goading their crews to the point of madness just apparently in order
to exhibit their power of command, their ability to control even the
most frantic crowd of men. Few men are as wicked as that. But Captain
Da Silva certainly was, and his visit to Brava was made with deliberate
intent to procure certain auxiliaries upon whom he could rely for aid
in the vile purpose he had set before himself--viz., that of trampling
under foot triumphantly men of the hated Anglo-Saxon race, with all
their nonchalant assumption of moral and mental superiority. Therefore
it was that no sooner had sail been made and filled away for the
southward than his plan of campaign began. The recruits--all of whom,
be it noted, had been to sea before--were carefully apportioned by him
throughout the two watches. They alone were allowed to steer the ship,
and with each of them while at the wheel the skipper would converse
in their own language, while the American officers could not help but
listen uncomprehendingly, with black rage in their hearts, yet in utter
impotence. For what could they do? If the skipper was powerful before,
sufficiently so to enforce his will, he was omnipotent now. And these
six black Portuguese felt it in their bones. They did not refuse to
carry out any order given them by the officers, but they behaved in a
singularly offensive manner as who should say, ‘We do this not to obey
you, but because we are your master’s cronies, and it isn’t yet time in
his opinion that we should show you how we regard you.’

If this state of things was hard of endurance for the officers, it was
trebly so for the men. In the foc’s’le the Dagoes were now about even
in numbers with the Americans and other white men, but in physique
the former were far superior. And all conversation ceased in that sad
place. No man dared to complain, even under his breath, for everyone
felt that the foc’s’le was a sort of Dionysius’ Ear, where every word
uttered immediately resounded in the private apartments of the skipper.
All the worst of the work was reserved for the white men, every soft
job was kept for the blacks, and no man durst say a word, for all
knew as well as could be that sitting in the midst of this web of
devilishness was the skipper pulling the cords and gloating over his
revenge.

Finest weather, bluest of skies, and an almost utter absence of squalls
attended the _Grampus_ as she crossed the Line. And through it all,
watch and watch, the sorely tried white portion of the crew were
kept at work scrubbing and polishing until even the flagship of our
Mediterranean Squadron would not, so far as cleanliness went, have
surpassed her. And it was with a perfect pang of delight that all hands
heard the long-drawn cry of ‘Blow’ from the mastheads when off Fernando
Noronha. Well knowing what bone-wrenching toil it would bring, they
yet welcomed the prospect of whaling almost gleefully--anything for a
change in the deadly monotony of their daily life. Poor fellows!

They had a grand day’s sport, about which I can say very little since
it was all so orthodox and free from extraordinary incident. The whales
were medium-sized cows--that is to say, ranging from twenty-five to
forty barrels each--and as the big bull leader of the school went off
to windward at top speed when the battle began, there was but little
fighting: it was just a butchery. The poor, silly creatures crowded
round each other quite helplessly, and submitted to be done to death
almost as complacently as does the great right whale of the Arctic
regions. Of course, Captain Da Silva took part in the slaughter. Else
it had been but a wasted day for him. For he had, in common with
some of the old Romans, an insatiable blood-thirst that could not be
gratified as he craved owing to the hampering laws of civilisation, and
he was therefore driven to quench it by conflict with the mighty whale,
utterly heedless, to all appearance, of any probability of danger to
himself. His absence from the ship tempted Priscilla on deck.

She has been neglected of late in this chronicle for several reasons.
First, any allusion to her must of necessity be tame, since she had
voluntarily taken upon herself the _rôle_ of a patient martyr, from
whom no taunt or even ill-usage could wring a complaint. Secondly,
any information about her is scarcely possible since she was more
like an automaton than aught else--moving, indeed, waking, sleeping,
and eating (very little), but speaking hardly ever, and apparently
determined to efface herself as much as possible from the life of the
ship. She was an insoluble puzzle to her husband. At first he was
brutal in the extreme, even to the length of striking her, but to this
treatment she opposed a stolidity of demeanour which alarmed him. Then
he became gentler, spoke to her civilly, almost kindly, with the same
result. Superstitious terrors took possession of him, for he began
to wonder whether, indeed, she had not died, only her body retaining
sufficient volition to keep about among them. He noticed that she
never spoke one word to anyone but him, and gave way to the opinion
that some change--he knew not what--had taken place, and unless he
wished to be haunted (of which, like the majority of Latins, he had
an awful dread) he had better let her alone. So, unconsciously, she
had been led to do just the right thing in order to secure what tiny
modicum of comfort still remained possible of attainment in her present
position. And, as for suffering--well, the edge of that was dulled
to such an extent that she often surveyed herself as it were from an
impartial mental standpoint, and wondered mildly whether she was indeed
the discontented, prideful Priscilla Fish of olden days or not. I do
not like, especially in a work of this kind, to insist continually
upon the sacred ability to detach oneself from the things of sense
that God gives His dear ones, yet how otherwise, I ask myself, can
the literalness, the common-sense application of real Christianity be
brought home to people who have been trained from infancy to believe
that religion is an excrescence, as it were--something of external
growth which can be applied like a poultice by a skilled professional
at hand at seasons when needed?--how otherwise explain that Christ
_does_ dwell in the hospitable heart, and there produces a toleration
of (not an indifference to) the world’s vicissitudes, so that ‘in the
world, but not of it’ becomes a fact of experience, not a pretty theory?

Priscilla had been taught this by the Teacher Himself; the Comforter
had come with His consolations to this poor soul, and there amid
all that made for misery she was as nearly happy as the flesh will
allow. Occasionally, in almost an ecstasy of joy, she sat communing
with God, forgetting all else, unconscious for the time of any other
environment than that of the Holy of Holies. Herein I can see lie
twin dangers--in the expression of this fact, I mean: the one that
this must be an argument for the conventual life, the other that such
matters are entirely unreal--the outcome of mystical meditation, and
as unsubstantial and inapplicable to the ordinary details of life as
is the hermetic philosophy of the ancients. Well, it takes all sorts
of people to make a world, and if there were no unbelievers in God’s
immanent companionship and no misunderstandings of His dealings with
His children, His Kingdom would be come, and we should no longer need
to pray for it. I can only reiterate with all simplicity and directness
that in such wise (as I have feebly tried to describe Priscilla’s
case) God _does_ associate with men and women. That the words, ‘Lo, I
am with you always, even unto the end of the world,’ are literally,
not figuratively, true; and that millions of His children, given the
opportunity, will gladly testify to the same. How else, do you think,
do men and women live on through long lives, seeing what they do see
of their fellow humans, knowing what they must know of the Powers of
Darkness visible, and still preserve intact their childlike faith in
Jesus and His love? Only because it is literally, absolutely true that
‘He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide
under the shadow of the Almighty.’

But in spite of her joy in the Lord, it must be admitted that Priscilla
occasionally felt an almost overwhelming longing to breathe the free,
fresh air of Heaven. For that had of late been a luxury denied her.
She had been practically forbidden to go on deck, to appear at table.
Her husband had developed along with his belief in her uncanny powers
a horrible jealousy of her--so much so that he would not allow her
to be seen by any of the crew or officers. And although he had not
actually in so many words forbidden her to come on deck, yet so many
obstacles had been placed in her way, even to locking her in her berth,
that at last she had dumbly acquiesced in this condition of things,
and submitted to breathe the fetid air of the little cabin, which, as
everyone who has ever been on board of even a trading vessel knows,
is foul and vitiated beyond description. It is no paradox to say that
there is more air and less ventilation at sea than anywhere on earth.
Therefore it was no wonder that, learning from the faithful darkey
steward of her husband’s absence at the whaling, she crept timidly
on deck and sat on the transom, looking out over the wide brightness
of the sea with feelings of almost intolerable complexity. She had
learned, in the same perfect way, to take the keenest delight in the
beauties of creation; scenes that so many of us pass over unheedingly
were to her almost poignant in their revelations of the Father’s
benevolent and beautiful designs, and in proportion as she was debarred
from enjoying them so she prized them. Perfectly natural. How many
an old sailor has gone grumbling through his long seafaring career
apparently all unheeding the glories so lavishly spread before his
sullen gaze, and then when retired to some dull, inland village in his
old age, perhaps blind and deaf, he has feasted on the treasures of
memory, and again in fancy watched his gallant vessel leaping blithely
from sea to sea, or breasting steadily as if with unconquerable
resolution and force the relentless thrust of the storm-wind and its
accompanying sea.

So Priscilla sat aft, soaking her soul in beauty and utterly oblivious
of her surroundings, until even her inexperienced eye detected a
returning boat--one that neared the ship at a great rate, the oars
rising and falling as if steam driven, and with a feather of spray at
her bow, showing at what a high rate of speed she was approaching.
Priscilla slipped quickly below, her heart full of thankfulness that
she had been enabled to get a glimpse of the sea and sky, and also that
she had succeeded in retreating before the advent of her husband. Truly
she had but little margin of time, for he, standing erect in his boat’s
stern, had been watching the ship with vulture eyes, and before she had
been ten minutes below he was on board, his awful voice ringing fore
and aft like that of some destroying angel.

Seven cow whales had been killed, and the securing of them alongside
meant a truly herculean task, which was prolonged until nearly
midnight, by which time the vessel looked as if she was the centre of
an island of flame. Surrounded by these great carcasses against which
the sea broke in lambent light, the rendezvous for tens of thousands
of sharks, whose swift coming and going through the phosphorus-charged
waves made them glow like the moon, the scene was one of almost awful
beauty. But none there took any notice of it. The crew, half dead
with fatigue, stumbled about obeying mechanically the orders given,
but hardly able to keep awake, much less pull or lift as they were
ordered. At last the mate approached the skipper, saying: ‘Cap’n Da
Silva, hadn’t I better order the men to rest awhile? I’m afraid we’ll
be losing some of ’em overboard if I don’t, they’re all so dead beat,
sir.’ Looking around to see if any of the men were within hearing, the
skipper took a step towards the mate, and with a perfectly devilish
glare in his eyes, said: ‘Yew lazy American pig, yew dirty helpless
dog, I’ll teach yew t’ interfere with _my_ business. I’d jes’ soon kill
ye as look at ye, f’r all th’ good y’ are. But I’ll do worse ’n that.
I’ll make yew wish yew was dead, hunderds of times ’fore I’m done with
ye.’ Up flew the mate’s fist as he made a spring towards his skipper,
but as he sprang he was confronted by the muzzles of two revolvers in
the skipper’s hands. He stopped with a groan--the thought of his dear
ones at home in Fairhaven was too much for him; and as he fell back he
heard a chuckle overhead, and there was a Portuguese harpooner on the
top of the house with another revolver pointed at him. ‘Wall,’ drawled
the skipper, ‘y’ see I’m heeled. I’m layin’ fur ye every time. Ef y’
git t’ windward of me yew’ve only one more t’ git ahead of, an’ thet’s
Satin himself. I tell ye, I’m goin’ t’ make this ship hell f’r all of
ye, but yew an’ th’ secon’ mate specially. But if y’ wa’n’t such curs,
yew’d take y’r chances. I don’t mind dyin’ a little bit, ’n’ ef yew
liked to try it on at a little risk why y’ mout git my gun an’ shoot
me.’

For decency’s sake it becomes necessary to draw a veil over the
proceedings of the next few weeks. No one likes to record the
degradation of his fellowmen or dwell upon their unmerited miseries.
And, indeed, every white man on board the _Grampus_ endured for the
rest of the passage such torments and indignities as make the blood
boil only to think of--endured them helplessly, hopelessly. Meanwhile,
every slice of good fortune imaginable seemed to attend upon the
miscreant. The passage round the Cape was made in lovely weather, and
as soon as ever they hauled up for the Mozambique Channel they fell in
with a school of whales extending to the horizon. It was at daybreak,
too, so for the whole of that terrible day they toiled at slaying under
the furious sun. No idea apparently was entertained by the skipper of
the enormous amount of labour being accumulated. When night fell there
were over twenty carcasses encumbering the sea, the ship was unable to
move for the weight already attached to her, and, had she been able,
the wind had fallen to an almost perfect calm. But not until every man,
including his own personal bodyguard, had succumbed to sheer weariness
did the skipper ‘let up,’ and say that a ‘spell-ho’ of an hour or
two might be enjoyed. In strict justice it must be said that he had
taken no rest--in fact, it appeared as if he had laboured harder than
any other man on board. But what of that? What would become of us all
if we were compelled to keep up to the physical standard of the most
sinewy and strenuous among us? Certainly a great thinning out of the
population would immediately ensue.

Therefore, at 8 P.M. a halt was reluctantly called, and one by one the
boats returned, their crews barely able to drag themselves on deck,
and utterly incapable of hoisting the boats when they had done so. Of
the difficulty of getting alongside, thrusting their frail boats in
between the massy bodies attached to the ship and tumbling gigantically
about upon the sullen swell, I dare not speak: it needs a chapter to
itself. It must be sufficient to say that all hands returned, succeeded
in getting on board, fell down where they alighted, and slept like
the dead--so much like that two happy fellows did not trouble to wake
again: they were found stiff and cold in the morning. But as that was
merely an incident of the campaign (in war it is thought nothing of)
there is no excuse for dwelling upon it--let it pass.

The matter worth recording is that at midnight, the placid moon looking
down upon the deck of the _Grampus_ as if it were a stricken field--the
corpses lying hideously scattered where they fell--there was a great
outcry. The skipper, ever alert, had seen along the moonbeams’ path the
oncoming of some suspicious-looking craft. His experience fixed them
at once as Arab dhows bent on plunder. Strange how the Arab is a born
thief and murderer, as is the Chinese, and neither of them ever feels
any compunction for his crimes.

[Illustration: THE DHOWS CREPT CAUTIOUSLY TOWARDS THE IMMOVABLE SHIP.

 _P. 203._]

The dhows crept cautiously towards the immovable ship, and Captain Da
Silva watched them coming, the fierce light of battle in his eye. But
he wasted no time. He knew that his ship was surrounded by an almost
impregnable defence (at night), and so he devoted his leisure to
loading carefully the half-dozen Sniders possessed by the ship. (Those
old Tower Sniders have gone all over the world.) Then he called up his
chums, sailors and harpooners, and no small task it was to get life
into them. But he succeeded at last, and then posting them all aft
with a Snider and a revolver apiece, and much ammunition, he waited
gleefully the advent of the sea Bedawy. They came, and were astonished
to find that a barrier of something floating, slimy, massive, and
impassable interposed between them and their objective. And while they
groped darkling, the Sniders sang their awful song, red spear-points
of flame clove the darkness, and many an Arab sank down upon the
rough-timbered deck of his buggalow coughing out his foul life. Only an
hour, and the attack was over. It would never have been begun but that
the Arabs forecasted a helpless merchant ship whose crew they could
kill easily as sheep, and with as little compunction, and whose hold
they should find crammed with choicest merchandise only awaiting the
advent of the enterprising sons of the East.

It seems incredible, but such was the fatigue of the crew that
when morning dawned the majority of them were quite unaware of the
happenings of the night. Perhaps, dimly through their dreams had come
the ping of dropping shots, uneasy shudderings might have accompanied
the dying yells of the Arabs, but taking everything all round they knew
nothing about it. Nor did they greatly care. The dawn but brought them
bone-wrenching toil. Who among them would have given thanks for the
paternal (?) care manifested for them by the skipper during the dead
hours of the night? For their condition was that so amply and aptly
summed up by Moses in his dread warning to the children of Israel:
‘In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were evening, and in the
evening thou shalt say, Would God it were morning.’

Long before daylight they were aroused and started upon the tremendous
task, too broken to give more than a passing regretful thought to
the two favoured ones whose trials were over. This will, I know,
strike many as an utterly uncalled-for exaggeration of horror, an
incident that could only have occurred during mediæval times. I beg
to say, however, that in the American whaleships mediæval disregard
of life persisted as nowhere else among civilised peoples down to
well within the latter half of the nineteenth century. Heroic figures
the commanders were, brave beyond praise were the officers, but with
that wonderful quality was, alas, too generally mingled an utter
callousness to suffering--an utter disregard of the elementary rights
of their fellow men which to a humaner age will hardly bear detailed
description. And, of course, this was an exceptionally bad case. The
cruelty of the Latin is inherent--generally speaking, he takes a
greedy pleasure in the suffering of others; while the cruelty of the
Teutonic races is incidental--an abnormality calling forth the fiercest
reprobation from those of the same race to whom it becomes known.

For the next ten days the _Grampus_ was a horrid shambles. She reeked
in every part with blood and grease, and the blazing sun, pouring down
upon her with never a cloud to temper his fierceness throughout the
long and weary days, made her foul with a fœtor beyond description.
Captain Da Silva and his Portuguese seemed to flourish and wax stronger
among the awful vileness of stench and filth, even as do the Arabs of
African coast-towns. But the American portion of the crew fell ill one
by one. Although haggard and woe-worn, they stuck to their work until
they fell at their posts. In this calamity Priscilla was involved.
Indeed, it would have been a miracle had she escaped. The confinement
alone in that terrible climate was sufficient to make anyone seriously
ill, especially when the miserable food and lack of exercise were
added, without the fearful foulness of that ten days.

The sickness of his crew gave the skipper no concern. He thought
grimly of the splendid recruits he would by and by obtain, supposing
all the cursed Americans were dead. But the illness of his wife gave
him pause. In some inexplicable way, he--well, I cannot say loved or
had a tenderness for her--I would not desecrate the holy word love by
associating it with such a monster of evil as he was, but he did not
desire to be without her. And so, cursing his ill-luck, he bore up
under all sail for the Cosmoledo group of islands intending to spend
there, amid the pure fresh breezes of the South-East Trade, and free
from the miasmatic vapours of a great port, a sufficient time to rest
his invalids, and by judicious distribution of quinine, fresh cocoanut,
and fresh food to bring them round again. Strangely enough, this
complication in the midst of his success, the dread presence on board
of fever, and the illness of half his crew gave this extraordinary man
no anxiety. He seemed to stand aloof from all merely human emotions
except the viler ones, and as for fear he apparently knew not the
meaning of the word. And his auxiliaries were the same. For them it
was a time of rejoicing. They were the undoubted rulers of the vessel,
and their superiority to the much-vaunted white man was overwhelmingly
manifest.

Two more poor fellows succumbed to their burden before reaching port.
One of them was the third mate. Their passing excited no comment, nor
did their informal burial (they were just dumped like so much lumber)
more than punctuate the day’s work. Then the vessel arrived, and was
piloted in between the reefs with consummate skill by the skipper. Down
went her anchor, and in the peaceful waters of a coral-locked lagoon
the _Grampus_ lay secure.



CHAPTER XVII

SALVAGE OPERATIONS


Thorough in all his undertakings, Captain Da Silva wasted no time after
the vessel was well moored in carrying out the purpose for which he had
visited this outlandish group of islands. Boats were at once lowered
and loaded with all the requisite material for erecting tents ashore.
Then while one party was sent to establish a temporary sanatorium on
a high part of the largest island, a place where the sweet unceasing
breeze should blow through the open doors of the tents, another party
was detailed to catch fish, tortoises (for here are to be found still
some of those most interesting survivals of a long-departed day, the
gigantic tortoise), and to collect unripe cocoanuts, one of the most
healthful of all foods as well as one of the pleasantest of drinks.
The preparations were rapidly completed--when Captain Da Silva was
around no one wasted time--the sick were transferred to the shore, and
in business-like fashion attended to, as far as a change of diet and
such primitive medicines as were available could be brought to bear
upon them. Priscilla, much to the skipper’s concern, apparently took no
interest in the proceedings at all. He was really alarmed to see how
automatically she behaved and how attenuated was her once bonny form.
He did _not_ want to lose her--would rather have lost all hands--though
he could not tell why. And therefore, having done all he could think
of for her, and consequently much more for the other sufferers than
he would otherwise have thought of doing, he turned from sheer need
of occupation to the ship again; and his energy was such that all his
innate power of command was needed to maintain discipline among his
own countrymen. The Portuguese, like the Italian, can and does work
for amazingly long periods at high pressure, always providing that the
incentive is sufficiently powerful. But always these two races would
rather loaf than work--would rather lie round in the sun and let the
world wag as it will than put their shoulders to any wheel whatever.
And they always make the severest task-masters, slave-drivers. There
must be a deep delight for a truly lazy man in the power of compelling
his fellows to stretch their sinews under his eye. Must be, because
one sees so much of it in journeying around the world--the measureless
content evidenced in the boss who lolls and shouts curses and commands
at the toilers below him, with a very real satisfaction in the
knowledge that any one of them would gladly trample his face into the
mud they work in if only the chance came.

Captain Da Silva, then, having arranged for his invalids
satisfactorily, and left the negro steward and one of his cronies to
guard his wife in her lonely tent, returned on board and entered upon
a furious campaign of scrubbing and disinfecting. His countrymen,
who were practically the whole working gang, seconded his efforts
splendidly, albeit with deep resentment, at first against him, but by
his clever manipulation, afterwards against all the whites on board.
‘Why should these fellows be lyin’ up ashore while better men were
doin’ the work?’ This with but little variation was the burden of
the Portuguese song, and by a skilfully dropped word at well-chosen
intervals Captain Da Silva fanned the incipient flames and made every
Dago understand that the _Grampus_ was a Dago ship from henceforth, and
that, although the American flag flew overhead, her American crew were
of no importance whatever. In spite of this satisfaction, however, the
Dagoes were very sore at being worked so hard, and it needed all the
great influence of the skipper’s master mind to prevent an outbreak. He
kept them at work so steadily, too, that they got little or no chance
to brood over their wrongs. The water in the casks below was started
and run off, fresh, sweet water being brought on board to re-fill;
and the newly emptied casks were all fresh scoured and fired within
before replenishing. An enormous supply of wood was obtained, mostly
drift-timber, for upon this little group of neglected islands the whorl
of many currents centres, bringing flotsam from immense distances. And
when nothing else was a-doing, the sick needed attention, and got it
too, although of a horribly rough and grudging kind.

At last the discontent ran so high that it may reasonably be doubted
whether even Captain Da Silva could have much longer held it in
check, but then with his usual extraordinary good fortune there came
a diversion that effectually settled all grumbling and put all hands
in high feather. A huge four-masted iron ship, grossly under-manned as
usual, came blundering up through the Mozambique Channel, bound for
Diego Garcia with coal. The parsimony of her owners had provided her
with but one chronometer, and her skipper was not only a poor man who
couldn’t afford one of his own, but he was withal so poorly educated
that he couldn’t have worked a lunar observation to save his life.
Thus it came to pass that one night during a heavy thunderstorm, when
the whole heavens were apparently draped with black velvet, he found
his vessel bumping upon the reefs, not heavily, for there was but
little wind or swell, but sufficiently forceful to make him feel that
his command was doomed. And ships like the _Warrior Queen_ are only
manned for the finest of fine weather--when trouble of any kind comes
they must needs trust to luck. Out of eighteen men in the forecastle,
four were sailors, and they were old, the rest were just unskilled
labourers, loafers, not worth their salt, whose one aim was to do as
little as possible, and take the maximum time over it. There were eight
apprentices, nice lads, each of whom had paid sixty guineas premium
for the privilege of doing men’s work, and were expected to learn how
intuitively, for no one ever showed them anything--no, not even how to
live decently in their den of the halfdeck. These boys were really the
backbone of the ship, for being all decently brought up young fellows
they had not yet learned the vicious root-idea which is sapping the
heart out of our workers--viz., that a man’s duty to himself is to
study how best he can get money without working for it, and that his
highest aim in life should be to give as little as possible in labour
for the wages he receives.

In consequence of this wretched condition of things on board there
was something very like a collapse of all the energies (not many at
the best of times) of the crew. According to the novelists who write
of the sea from the abyss of utter ignorance of sea conditions, the
crew should now have raided the ‘spirit-room’ (there isn’t such a
place in the great majority of merchant ships), and fearful scenes of
bloodshed and anarchy would have ensued. As a matter of fact, the whole
situation was peculiarly sordid and commonplace. There lay the great
cumbrous tank upon the reef, canted to one side in a shamefaced manner
as if acknowledging how much she owed to the sea for any gainliness
of outline she ever possessed. Listlessly the crew slouched about the
sloping decks, obeying such calls as were made upon them in a half or
quarter hearted fashion and casting wistful eyes upon the sandy shore.
They were a motley gang, and there was no prospect of immediate danger
to life, only to property--and that, they knew, didn’t matter a row of
pins to anybody: they had obtained sufficient smattering of insurance
problems to tell them that.

So that I think, apart from the disheartened condition of skipper and
officers, it will be seen that the _Warrior Queen_ was in evil case.
How evil may be imagined from the fact that not one of her company had
seen, far off on the other side of the little group, a trio of upright
trees with branches crossing them at right angles with extraordinary
regularity. When seamen neglect the obvious duty of looking around
for another ship things are bad indeed. It was so in this case, and
the first intimation that Captain Smith had of there being any help
at hand was the arrival alongside of a white double-ended boat with
five swarthy-looking men at the oars and a tall devilishly handsome
man erect in the stern. This boat rounded to under the _Warrior
Queen’s_ stern in grand style, and before the dreaming fellows on
board had realised that a visitor was coming Captain Da Silva had
swung himself on board by the mizen chains, and with light elastic
step had gained the side of Captain Smith on his broad quarter-deck.
‘Good morning, sir,’ said the new-comer. ‘G’ mornin’,’ sulkily replied
the merchantman, for even in his dire distress he had the quaint old
notion that he must show himself unapproachable in order to maintain
his dignity. Dignity, forsooth! It’s worth a great deal when a man
has to make a hog of himself to keep it in evidence. ‘Got a bit er
trouble here, Cap’n?’ said Da Silva. ‘Yaas,’ drawled Captain Smith;
‘I’m afraid she isn’t worth more ’n old iron price, if that. It’s a
bad job. Compasses wrong, y’ know.’ ‘Oh don’t say that,’ interjected
the Portuguese; ‘I’ve got a bully crowd o’ boys here all spoilin’ fer
a job. They’d ask nothin’ better than t’ git y’ afloat ag’in.’ ‘You
have--an’ where, may I ask?’ said Captain Smith haughtily. (You see,
his dignity needed conserving.) Captain Da Silva waved his hand airily
to where the _Grampus_ lay just discernible as a three-masted ship far
off to the southward. ‘Thet’s my ship,’ said he, ‘’n’ ef yer like t’
come t’ terms with me, I’ve a-got a gang aboard thar thet’d snake yew
eout of Purgatory itself. It’s only a matter of terms.’ ‘Come down
below, Cap’n,’ said the now thoroughly aroused Mr. Smith. ‘I want t’
talk to you.’ And as they descended the polished teak companion, he
laid his hand familiarly upon the swarthy visitor’s shoulder, saying
in a confidential tone: ‘I ’spose yew’re a wrecker of some kind, ain’t
you?’ ‘Me! oh, no, Captain. I’m jest a low-down whaling skipper, but
I got a crew of boys a-spilin’ fur somethin’ t’ do, and ef yew’ll only
say th’ word, an’ give me jes’ a leetle bill on yewr owners, I’ll bet
we’ll snake yewr ship eout o’ this in short order.’ By this time they
had reached the cosy saloon of the big ship, and Captain Smith had
summoned the steward to bring the whisky and cigars. Solemnly they
drank to each other, and then Captain Smith broached his latent idea.
His ship had run ashore through no fault of his. Couldn’t he arrange
for his new-found friend to take on a contract to get her off on the
‘no cure, no pay’ principle? Indeed he couldn’t. In Captain Da Silva
he had met a man as much his superior in business ability as he was
in seamanship, and that scheme did not work for a moment. Well, then,
couldn’t he arrange for a liberal payment to the salvors with an
equally liberal percentage to himself?--‘for,’ said he, ‘my pay is only
twelve pounds (sixty dollars) a month here.’ The Portuguese shook his
head decisively, as befitted a man who held the reins of the team.

‘Naow looky here, Cap’n Smith,’ drawled he, ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll
do. My best endeavours t’ git yewr ship offn thishyer reef--yew
givin’ me a bill on yewr owners fur 2,500 dollars t’ begin with, and
a note t’ th’ effect that if I git her off the pay’s double. As fur
pussentidges, I don’t know anything about ’em an’ don’t want. Ef yew
mean that I’m to share any of my earnin’s with yew--well, yew’re ’way
off, ’n’ thet’s all there is to it. Ther’ isn’t anythin’ o’ that kind
abaout _me_, young man, be sure o’ thet.’ And the two men sat and
looked hard at each other. Not for long. The odds were too great, and
with a heavy sigh Captain Smith went to his state-room producing paper
and pen, and wrote out the agreement and the bill on his owners. This
instrument, having been duly witnessed by the mate and steward, was
carefully read and signed by Captain Da Silva, who then pocketed it,
and springing to his feet declared himself ready to begin the carrying
out of his contract. The merchant skipper, not at all used to such
energetic proceedings, was taken ‘flat aback,’ as the sea saying has
it, but said nothing, and Captain Da Silva departed with big leaps up
the cuddy stairs. As soon as he reached the deck he shouted in a voice
of thunder: ‘My boat ready? _Grampus_ boat’s crew away!’ Then without
waiting for an answer he rushed to the gangway, and finding his men all
in their places (they had not dared to come on deck) he flung himself
over the side, and in one minute was on his way back to his ship,
standing erect in the stern and urging the toiling rowers with many
figures of profane speech to do better than their very best.

It was a long pull back to the _Grampus_, but not one of the rowers got
a spell until she was reached. Well was it for them that their training
had been so severe and thorough. And on reaching the side all hands
were summoned to prepare the ship for the most arduous task she had yet
undertaken. Sundry orders were given with reference to mooring-chains,
hawsers, kedges, &c., and while the crew fled about their tasks of
filling those orders, the Captain dived below and knitted his brow
over a calculation of the tides. He found (and it is noteworthy that
he was able to detach his mind from all else while he worked out this
important matter) that the ‘springs’ were due the following day at
noon. This important matter settled, he replaced his books and sprang
up the companion to the deck as if his life depended upon the ensuing
minutes being husbanded with the most jealous care.

A few short, volcanic orders, and the windlass was manned, the cable
came clattering in, and as soon as the anchor was ready to be broken
out the sails were set, and the _Grampus_, obedient to the master mind,
turned gently to the wind, while the few remaining links of cable were
hove in, and she passed out of the tortuous reef channel seaward. The
skipper stood by the helmsman, conning his vessel as if he had been
acquainted with the navigation of those intricate channels all his
life. It was only the usual whaler’s style, but to the ordinary seaman
it was nothing short of wonderful. The clumsy-looking old ship sidled
out to sea as if she knew what was required of her, and presently the
waiting men on board the _Warrior Queen_ were astonished to see a
short, thick-set, full-rigged ship come around the nearest point and
suddenly bring to with a kedge about two miles away, waiting apparently
for the word of command to do something totally unexpected. But there
was no time wasted. Two boats were lowered from the new-comer, each
double-banked, and under the pressure of foaming oars they ranged
alongside the big helpless hulk, their crews leaped on board headed by
the Captain, who immediately demanded that all hands should be called
and placed under his orders. There was a moment or so of hesitation on
the part of the English ship’s officers, but while they paused the new
comers had the hatches off and had rigged a couple of single whips over
each. Then as the original crew realised what was a-doing, they buckled
to manfully, and soon the coal was flying overboard in an almost
continuous stream. Something of Captain Da Silva’s superhuman energy
communicated itself to the crew of the _Warrior Queen_, for before
many minutes had elapsed they were toiling as fiercely as any of the
whaler’s men, and without in the least understanding why they should
thus do violence to their long-cherished leisureliness.

Through the thick haze of coal dust might have been seen Captain Da
Silva and a chosen little body of men fiercely engaged in unbending
the cables from the great anchors, getting up hawsers from below, and
overhauling the long-neglected boat gear. The big wire rope, intended
for towing purposes and therefore leading forward, was unwound and
passed aft on the starboard side, while on the port side a length
of cable was shackled on to the stoutest of the ship’s hawsers, and
ranged in readiness to be taken off when needed. Then Captain Da Silva,
getting into his boat, carefully sounded the reef to see whether the
_Warrior Queen_ had, as so often happens, found her way alone along
some special channel. He knew that many wrecks on coral reefs have done
just that, and afterwards, owing to superficial observation of the
surroundings, it has been taken for granted that some awful convulsion
of nature in the shape of an earthquake wave or something of the sort
must be held responsible for the vessel’s reaching so apparently
inaccessible a spot. After an absence of only an hour he returned,
having found the channel by which the ship had entered, and buoyed it
with sundry lengths of lead-line and ‘blackfish’ pokes, or bladders of
the small cetacean known to whalers by that trivial name. Just a few
minutes on board to see that the jettison of the coal was proceeding
with as much vigour as possible under the circumstances, and then off
again on board the _Grampus_. He caused her to be worked right into the
channel he had found, but stern first and as easily as a barge is taken
up a winding canal. Finally, when near enough for his liking, he had
two hawsers attached to his bow anchors, and the latter dropped in the
channel. These were veered away to their utmost length, which brought
the stern of the _Grampus_ near enough to the stern of the _Warrior
Queen_ to allow of the wire hawser and cable-bridled hawser being
secured to the former. When all these preparations were complete he
gave orders that all hands should rest so as to be capable of a supreme
effort next day at noon, it now being about 10 P.M., and some five
hundred tons of coal having been jettisoned.

After a good meal all round, the worn-out men went to their bunks--all
except Captain Da Silva, who, calling upon his particular boat’s crew,
started at midnight for the long and perilous pull back to the islet
where the sick were encamped. Threading the dangers of that terrible
group of reef-rocks and sandbanks apparently was mere amusement to him,
although at times it must have seemed to a novice as if nothing could
save the frail craft from being overwhelmed by the breaking of one of
those vast swells over the jagged surface of a fringing reef, through
one of whose openings they were passing. But this extraordinary man
seemed to bear a charmed life, and, without shipping a drop of water
even, the boat arrived at the camp in three hours from the time of
leaving the _Warrior Queen_. Noiselessly she grounded on the smooth
sand, light as a fawn the skipper sprang out, and in a few minutes had
peered in at both tents and seen that all was silent as the grave, at
which peaceful termination to his investigations he was apparently
much annoyed. Returning to the boat, he caused an impromptu shelter
to be rigged up by turning her over and spreading the sail over the
upraised gunwale, and, creeping in under with his satellites, all were
soon sound asleep; not, however, before a huge black bottle had been
impartially passed round.

At daylight the skipper awoke and went to visit his sick, finding,
to his great satisfaction, that several of them were sufficiently
recovered to be brought on board--they could do something, if it was
only holding on the hawsers abaft the windlass. To Priscilla he said
nothing--he stood looking at her doubtfully for a few minutes, while
she endured his gaze as if unconscious of it. Then he turned on his
heel and departed, and in a few minutes the trembling steward reported
to her that ‘de Cappen, he make’n dem boat’s crew pull fur sixty sure,
ma’m; dat boat jes’ a-flyin’.’

He was back at the scene of salvage operations by ten o’clock, and
found, as he had expected, that all hands were loafing about, waiting
for him to come and tell them what to do. But he said nothing about
that, only gave orders for all square sail to be loosed on both vessels
and set with as little delay as possible. For there was the usual sea
breeze setting in, at no great rate it is true, but with every promise
of being much stronger by noon. And it blew right fair for the channel,
along which, if in any direction at all, the _Warrior Queen_ must go.
Nearer and nearer drew the critical moment, the tide rising rapidly.
All hands were ordered to their stations, the _Warrior Queen’s_ crew
being, with the exception of just sufficient to trim her yards in case
of necessity, all on board the _Grampus_ at the windlass. The breeze
freshened as the tide rose, and a few minutes before noon Captain Da
Silva gave orders for all his reinforced crew to heave away at the
windlass for dear life. The powerful leverage of that great spread of
canvas on both ships, aided by the strain on the hawsers applied at
just the right time, gradually made itself manifest. The vast bulk of
the _Warrior Queen_ slowly rolled, shuddered, slipped, and with a long
grinding groan she moved. Frantic yells arose from the windlass-men on
board of the _Grampus_. They felt the weight yielding, and forgetting
the danger of breaking the old-fashioned machine they were trying so
hardly, redoubled their efforts.

Slowly, majestically, the big ship glided seaward, steered by the mate
in response to the desperate signals made from the whaler, where the
skipper was now in an almost insane state of excitement lest some fool
should, at the last minute, spoil all his work. But no; gently the
whaler increased her speed, followed clumsily by her tow, until, at
1.30 the rescued merchantman was able to turn and pursue her way alone.
Before she did so, however, Captain Da Silva, having anchored his ship,
hastened on board the saved vessel, and, shaking hands warmly with
Captain Smith, bade him ‘so long,’ saying to himself as he did so: ‘I
guess yew want somebody to dry-nurse yew mighty bad. Don’t matter to
me, though. Five thousand dollars ain’t half a bad day’s pay, an’ I
guess I’ll snake it in soon ’s ever I git t’ port. He ain’t a bit t’ be
’pended ’pon, thet man.’

And, leaving the big ship to pursue her journey, the energetic rascal
returned on board his own vessel, got under weigh and hastened back to
his former anchorage, fully determined to get the rest of his ailing
men on board, fit or not, and leave next day for sea. He reached the
camp at sunset, anchored, and went ashore, finding that his wife was
well on the way to complete recovery, and the rest of the poor fellows
doing very well. So without any further delay, he caused the camp to
be broken up, the invalids brought on board, and everything got in
readiness for departure the following day.



CHAPTER XVIII

HUMANITY REWARDED


Doubtless many of the superior persons, who, like Matthew Arnold, their
high priest, have led sheltered lives, will, also like him, curl the
lip of scorn at any sorely pressed human creature in his extremity of
need lifting his heart in prayer to God for help. Let them do so, if it
please them, while they may. For many thousands know most gratefully
that prayer is indeed a perfect communication between man and his
Maker, and is answered so fully and so frequently as to put all coldly
logical or brilliantly poetical objectors entirely out of court. Who,
indeed, would accept the evidence of a blind man as to the value of
a certain picture, or of a deaf man upon the merits of an oratorio?
Therefore, _pace_ Matthew Arnold and his ‘Self Help,’ let me gratefully
return to the comforted little company in that sorely bestead
whaleboat. In the midst of that wilderness of kelp, with the awful hand
of the gale pressing them back from the goal they so sorely desired,
they yet felt a security, a peace such as can only accrue to those who,
in a like position, know that underneath them are the Everlasting Arms.

Almost literally inch by inch they fought their way seaward. Much as
they valued the smooth which the kelp brought them, its hindering
environment was terribly wearisome to the humanly limited strength.
But doggedly they toiled on, often only half consciously, as squalls
of sleet slashed savagely across their cowering faces and every fresh
blast of wind beat at them as if it were the spirit of some malicious
demon determined upon their destruction. Suddenly they emerged from the
slimy smoothness of the kelp into the free dash of the great waves.
And as they did so Mr. Peck, with a great voice, shouted, ‘Now, boys,
for y’r lives; out oars an’ pull jest a leetle bit; perhaps we can
histe a rag of sail and keep her away a bit presently. That’s it--lift
her, lift her; oh, too good, boys, too good, one, two, three; better
’n’ better. I see the ship! She ain’t no distance off. Stick t’ it,
me hearties, give ’r all you got--thet’s y’r style.’ In such wise did
the fine fellow encourage his men, who were taking the last ounce out
of themselves in their desperate fight with the forces of nature.
And the passengers cowering in the bottom of the boat heard and saw
not, endured dimly, dumbly; until just as it seemed impossible that
the overborne sailors could hold out any longer came the glorious cry
of ‘Boat ahoy!’ A yell of thankful reply, and the great bulk of the
ship materialised out of the darkness. A minute or two of breathless
suspense as the boat swung off the wind, and then a blessed sense of
security and calm as she surged up under the lee of the grand old tub,
where all hands, by the light of the flaring try-works, were awaiting
them. Life from the dead, fellow creatures welcomed back from out the
gaping jaws of the grave--how glorious a sensation to true men! And
when the whisper ran round that some of the saved ones were women there
were chokings and dim eyes among these rough-looking but tender-hearted
fellows, although comments were mostly limited to the commonplace
expression, ‘Poor things, poor things.’

Safely on board, and the boat hoisted into her place, Captain Hampden
whispered an order to his mate to keep all the southing he could
so as to get well clear of that awful pile of rock, still much too
near for comfort. Then with a courtly old-world grace he led the way
to his cabin, and begged his strangely shipped passengers to make
themselves at home. The three quaint little figures revealed themselves
as ladies--young, but haggard with anxiety and privation. Alone in
the world, too. For the story of the lost ship from which they had
escaped was just this, so bald and simple, yet so full of pathos to the
imaginative mind. She was a huge four-master, with splendid passenger
accommodation, bound for Australia, and specially recommended as
affording a grand opportunity for a perfect sea trip for consumptives.
So thirty poor wrecks of humanity, but possessing money enough to buy
a chance of life, availed themselves of the opportunity, for, after
all, the fare was much lower than in a fast steamer, and the attendance
likely to be much better. But the crew! What agony the Captain endured
as he found that sailing-ships were in such bad odour that men could
not be obtained--that if he would get to sea at all he must needs ship
men who hardly knew a cringle from a scupper-hole. However, this is one
of the penalties a man must pay to-day when working his way up in a
sailing-ship prior to taking charge in steam. And Captain Weston paid
it. Running the easting down, he found his handful of wastrels not
merely incompetent, but afraid--a poor group of fellows whom no threats
or bribes could make do their duty, while he had upon his heart
the helpless passengers. So he ran her, recklessly as it appeared,
really because he could do nothing else, and strained his heartstrings
nightly as he looked up through the blackness at those great sails, and
wondered what _would_ happen should they blow away, for to take them in
he knew was impossible.

Is it fair to put such a strain upon one man as this? I do not think
so, yet most captains of our big sailing-ships must shoulder such a
burden to-day, and for, at most, £200 a year. No wonder the Mercantile
Marine is unpopular. Captain Weston endured his load almost helplessly
in view of the season and the quality of his crew; and when, while
snatching a few moments’ sleep in his chart-room, he felt his ship
go over, over, over, until on her beam ends, and knew that she had
broached-to in the height of one of the southern gales, he gave a sigh
almost of relief as knowing the worst. Out of the half-dozen boats he
carried one succeeded in getting away with three ladies on board, whose
charges, a consumptive father, uncle, and sweetheart, were practically
killed by the shock. There were also two male passengers, the mate, and
four seamen. And these were all the survivors of that awful mid-sea
catastrophe, when a great ship, through bad steering, was thrown on her
beam ends and, her decks bursting, sank like a broken cup in the midst
of that lonely ocean.

For two days the surviving boat and her miserable freight managed to
keep ahead of the hungry, following sea, until, in the blackness of
the third night, when hope was well-nigh dead, she entered the kelp
fringing Gough Island, and after a series of hairbreadth escapes the
whole party succeeded in landing upon its frowning shores. There, for
nearly three months, they had maintained life in semi-savage fashion,
wondering whether they were doomed to spend the rest of their days
there, when help came in the shape of the hardly beset _Xiphias_, and
they were once more restored to a little world of living people.

With a sigh Captain Hampden bore up for Cape Town. It was much out of
his way, and, besides, he was so far to the southward that it would be
difficult to make the port, especially in such a sluggish old craft.
But the idea of carrying those poor ladies on to the Mauritius, which
was the only place that lay anywhere near his track whence they could
be shipped home, was not to be thought of for one moment. And having
decided upon what to do, he did it with all his heart, allowing no one
to see what a struggle it had cost him. All sail was made, therefore,
and the course set for Cape Town, the rescued mate and his four
shipmates taking a vigorous part in the handling of the ship, so that
the _Xiphias’_ crew could finish their heavy task of securing the oil
from their previous catch.

She was a mighty busy ship, as well as a happy one, for there was
so much to do with the two and a half tons of baleen secured, after
the oil was all stored below, that no one had any time of leisure.
This peculiar substance--‘whalebone,’ as we have agreed to call
it--is really of the nature of dried gristle or soft horn, and when
it is green--_i.e._, newly taken from the whale--it needs constant
care and labour in scraping, drying in the sun, and other trade
treatment. Without this it soon becomes valueless, and, since it is so
high-priced when properly cured, it is obviously the most important
duty on a whaleship to attend to it. But this duty tries the patience
of all hands most sorely. In the present case, however, there were
compensations. For, in the first place, Captain Hampden was not the man
to keep his crew at other work all day and scraping, &c., whalebone all
night; and, secondly, a cheery whisper ran round the ship that he (the
old man) intended landing the stuff at Cape Town for transhipment to
market.

And then, to the great joy of the crew and the unbounded chagrin of
the passengers, the ship ran one morning at daybreak into the midst
of a vast school of sperm-whales, extending from one horizon to the
other. Their numbers no man could calculate, any more than what
stupendous stores of food must be necessary to feed such an army of
monsters. Captain Hampden’s heart glowed with thankfulness that he
had been by humanity turned thus far out of his intended course, and,
in obedience to his newly born instinct, went away into a corner by
himself and lifted up his heart, not merely in gratitude to God, but
for wisdom, after all these years of experience, to do just the right
thing in the manipulation of this great store so lavishly spread
before him. It only took a minute or two (how simply and quickly can
we prefer our petitions and praises to the King of kings), and he was
back again among his men, the guiding, ruling spirit of all. As if
his plan of campaign had been laid out a week ahead, he apportioned
to each officer his place in the coming struggle, took advantage of
the presence of the passenger mate and four seamen to give them the
handling of the vessel, and then gaily took the field himself with five
boats, skipper leading.

It was an ideal day, the great sun just rising from the smooth ocean
bed into an absolutely clear sky--clear from clouds, that is, but
splashed with all the splendid colours of a tropical dawn, the glassy
undulating sea-surface broken in all directions by the lolling masses
of the sea monsters, each lazily exhaling his or her bushy tuft of
vapour. Occasionally the heavenly silence was broken by a playful rush
of a dozen or so of these colossal forms in some given direction,
making the placid sea foam and curdle around their massive bodies as
if it had suddenly met some newly risen rocks. Or a few sedate bulls
would gravely invert themselves, and as if by a concerted movement
slowly beat upon the sea with their great flukes, the gigantic strokes
reverberating along the silent surface like the echoes of a distant
cannonade.

Yes, they were a happy, placid company, recking not of evil, least of
all apparently of the presence of those five small white things that,
a hundred fathoms or so apart, were coming gliding among them, each
with cruel points protruding from its front and glittering fiercely
in the rays of the mounting sun. And before any attempt at flight
could be made by one member of that great company, the five boats were
among them, each boat had singled out the largest victim near (for so
had run the Captain’s orders), and the slaughter had begun. Now while
it is undoubtedly true that the sperm-whale is brave and will under
ordinary circumstances fight for his life with a fury and sagacity not
to be excelled by those of any mammal afloat or ashore, it is also
quite true that occasionally, especially in large companies like the
present one, sperm-whales will become panic-stricken, and, making not
the slightest attempt either to fight or flee, will suffer themselves
to be slain like a flock of silly sheep when the wolf leaps into the
fold among them. The present was one of those occasions. Harpoons
flew and lances flashed, the boats rode easily, hardly moving in any
direction amid closely packed squads of utterly demoralised whales,
and the sea speedily became foul with blood and oil. It needed all the
skipper’s power of command to call his men off, frantic as they were
with the lust of killing, which overtakes the gentlest and most amiable
of mankind once the first shudder of compunction has been overcome. But
Captain Hampden’s cool judgment realised that already--only one hour
from lowering--sufficient work had been provided to last all hands,
work as they would, until the odour of their spoil would become utterly
intolerable, which is the principal drawback in sperm-whaling to taking
full advantage of such an opportunity as the present one.

Reluctantly the boats drew each to her prey, unwillingly the officers
ceased plying their lances among the aimlessly wandering monsters, and
there amid lanes of coming and going whales they laboured to attach
their tow-lines to dead whale flukes, while the Captain, returning on
board, took charge of his ship again, and aided by a gentle southerly
breeze that had just sprung up, manœuvred her around in order to
secure the spoil. It was a wonderful sight when all the great carcasses
had been secured alongside to see the assembled hundreds--maybe
thousands--of survivors surrounding the ship as if held there by
some dread fascination they were unable to resist. Usually the sight
or scent or presence of blood is sufficient to send them fleeing at
the top of their speed to the four airts; but now was one of the
exceptions, and in the clear sleeky water around the ship their vast
bodies rolled and turned without apparent objective, until one of the
passengers was fain to ask the skipper whether he did not think they
were meditating an attack in force upon her. Captain Hampden laughed
loud and long, for he had several times been privileged to witness a
similar scene, and he knew that no more danger was to be apprehended
from the presence of all those whales than there was from the coming of
the thousands of sharks that in all the fury of their ravenous hunger
were already tearing at the mighty carcasses secured to the ship.

Again was that ship’s company involved in the most tremendous toil,
but better fitted than before by experience, and unhindered by the
awful prospect of imminent death by their vessel being dashed ashore.
Moreover, the weather was beautifully fine as well as mild, the
barometer stood steadily high, the sea was as smooth as it ever is in
35° S., and there were seven willing additional hands. All the more
willing because the skipper assured them that as soon as ever the
cutting-in was accomplished he would make sail again for Cape Town, and
that this splendid accession to his profits for the voyage would only
hinder their progress for at most a couple of days. A ship’s company
all in the highest spirits, working as if their very lives depended
upon the amount they did, with never a harsh word spoken; every man,
seaman or officer, bubbling over with cheerfulness and good temper, and
seven splendid auxiliaries joining their forces as if the whole affair
was a gigantic piece of fun. It was too. For as the capture of the
whales had been the easiest on record for sperm-whales, the whole seven
taken having been slain in less than one hour, so the weather was as
perfect as the most exacting desire could make it. The little southerly
breeze that had been so valuable in the getting of the spoil alongside
had died completely away, and the only movement of the vessel, hardly
noticeable, was due to an almost imperceptible westerly swell. As Mr.
Pease said, ‘Anybody ’d think we wuz ridin’ snug in some harbour.’

As the weather was so propitious, every effort was directed at first
to getting the whales beheaded, and the strange spectacle was to be
witnessed of men hacking away at those great masses below them from
little stages slung all round the ship, wherever a whale’s head could
be got at comprehensively. And all this to such good purpose that by
sunset, although the men were not over-fatigued, the whole of the
seven heads were off and floating astern at the ends of stout ropes,
and one whale had been skinned and his blubber carefully stowed below.
A perfect illumination of the ship by means of cressets was devised,
each of which, slung where it could be of the most service, was kept
supplied with whale ‘scrap,’ or the blubber from preceding whales,
from which as much oil had been boiled as possible. This is the only
fuel used for boiling the oil, and as it blazes almost like a Lucigen
light it makes a splendid illuminant as well. Besides, the glorious
moon, a huge disc of blazing silver, made the night bright, enough to
read quite small print--so bright, indeed, that although there was not
a trace of cloud or mist, the pretty stars were hardly visible. So as
soon as the well-earned supper was eaten a system was devised whereby
ten men and two officers at a time should have two hours’ sleep, there
being then quite sufficient to handle the windlass and rip off the
blubber.

Then the great night’s work began. The rattling of the windlass pawls
was incessant; there seemed to be no pause in the steady ascent of
the great black-and-white blankets, and the shouting of orders, the
cheerful gabble, and the roaring of the fires made a most pleasant
tumult. In the midst of it all, after midnight, a voice was heard
across the sea shouting, ‘Ship ahoy! Want any assistance?’ Mr. Pease,
in charge at the time, roared back, ‘No; why?’ ‘Thought ye was on fire.
I’ll send a boat on board.’ And sure enough from a trim frigate, which
had stolen up by the aid of the light upper airs, came a boat, full of
sorely puzzled men, who had never witnessed a scene like it in their
lives, and, having witnessed it, would never be likely to forget it. It
was only by the most careful piloting and obedience to the instructions
shouted at them from the deck of the whaler that the boat was able
to pick her way among those floating masses; but, that difficulty
successfully overcome, the officer in charge leaped on to the rail and
stood gazing with wide-eyed wonder upon the deck. For, do what they
would, the hardly pressed toilers had been unable to stow more than the
blubber from two whales in the blubber-room, so that the blankets of
three others were encumbering the deck and making it, to anybody but a
whaleman, almost impassable.

The visitor clambered aft and introduced himself to Captain Hampden,
newly awakened, as a lieutenant of H.M.S. _Griffon_, and apologised for
intrusion, saying that he, with all the rest of his ship’s company,
could not help but believe that they were coming in the nick of time
to the assistance of a vessel on fire. But he added, while he was
glad to find that not the case, he was delighted to have had the
opportunity of gazing upon such a scene, which his wildest dreams of
sea-happenings had never before pictured. Then the skipper gave him
the news of the rescue, and asked if it would be agreeable to have the
passengers transferred. This, however, they themselves demurred to,
feeling no doubt that such an opportunity as now presented itself for
gaining experience was not to be lightly given up; and, besides, they
found that there would be no saving of time, as the warship was bound
to Ascension. So, after a hearty shake hands all round, the gallant
officer swung himself over the rail and departed, primed with material
for yarns for years to come.

That night passed with almost the rapidity of a sound sleep, but its
hours had been so well utilised that when the lovely morning broke
and gilded the haggard faces of the toilers, all the carcasses had
been disposed of and the great heads were ranged alongside ready
for dissection. Now these whales, though large, were by no means of
the largest, and therefore it occurred to the skipper to test his
lifting-gear to the utmost. So he had the ‘junk’ or snout point of
the first cut off, hoisted on deck, and secured; then, hooking both
tackles on to the remainder of the head, all hands buckled on to the
windlass, and, although the old vessel listed dangerously, succeeded
in bringing the great mass on deck. Now for activity. A long rip fore
and aft the case; ten willing hands dipping their buckets at once into
the reservoir of spermaceti. Plenty more behind passing it away into
the tanks. Wonderful! In twenty minutes it is empty, and at a word
from the skipper as the ship rolls to starboard, two or three swift
spade blows release the empty head and it slides massively into the
sea. Hurrah! Now for another. Will these men never tire? Apparently
not. But the skipper’s brow is knotted with care. Receptacles for the
bland spermaceti, semi-liquid as it is, are beginning to fail. ‘Cooper,
what shall we do? Tanks are all full. Kain’t ye git us some pipes?’
‘Gimme three hands, sir, ’n’ I’ll git y’ all yew want.’ ‘Bully fur you,
cooper. Jim, Rube, Manuel, go with the cooper and help him.’ And in
half-an-hour two 336-gallon pipes are ready to receive the rest of the
spermaceti: the difficulty is met.

Four P.M. sees the _Xiphias_ so utterly blocked from knight-heads to
cabin skylight with blubber that the passenger seamen look solemnly
at one another and wonder what will be the end of it all. They do
not know how recently this crowd have disposed of an almost similar
difficulty, with an awful shore grinning up at them from close a-lee.
A faint westerly breeze springs up, the passengers are asked if they
will make sail, and as they gladly assent, away goes the grand old tub
under every stitch, smoking like two or three steamers rolled into one,
and leaving behind her a wide wake of smoothness from exuding oil--for
she is fast becoming more like an oil-saturated sponge than a ship.
But nothing daunts her crew. They are happy. Visions of a glorious
ending of their voyage, of farms bought, and a position among their
stay-at-home neighbours proudly pre-eminent, fill their minds and make
them call up the last ounce of energy to cut a horse-piece or turn the
mincer-handle when they have felt for the last half-hour that it was
impossible to put in another stroke.

These visions come to all but Rube. For of him it may truly be said
that he lives in the present. The past has no memories for him, the
future no anticipation. To all the cheery chatter of his shipmates
anent their plans for the future he turns a disinterested ear. When
they say, ‘Wut _you_ goin’ t’ do, Rube ole man, w’en yew gits home?’
he replies solemnly, ‘Only God knows. I ain’t got no plans. I want Him
to ’range things fur me, then I know they’ll be all right. Anyhow,
I know I kain’t be any happier than I am ’mong yew dear fellers--I
never thought ’t would be possible t’ be so happy ’s I am naow. But,
dear chaps, ef I wuz yew I wouldn’t go buildin’ too many castles. Y’
see at fust, yew know, they’re only castles in th’ air, but ef yew go
on buildin’ an’ buildin’, bimeby they gets t’ be so real t’ yew thet
w’en yew finds ’at yew kain’t build ’em indeed, th’ disappointment
is awful.’ So he talked, and, good-naturedly, they bantered him. And
meanwhile the great work was being well done; so well done that two
days before they entered Table Bay, and passing close under Robben
Island, anchored well clear of the mail steamers’ track into the
harbour, the last trace of foulness was removed from the old ship--she
looked clean as a ship should look. She did not smell sweet, but that,
alas! could not be helped. In those warm climates it is only possible
to avoid bad smells in a whaler that has no luck, and the _Xiphias_
certainly had redeemed her apparent bad luck at last; for she had only
been out seven months, and now she had on board 800 barrels of sperm
oil and 550 right-whale oil, besides two and a half tons of baleen, so
that her catch at the market price of that day may be invoiced thus:--

  800 barrels of sperm oil = 80 tons, at £100 =
    $500 per ton                                 £8,000 = $40,000

  550 barrels of black oil = 55 tons, at  £20 =
    $100 per ton                                 £1,100 =  $5,500

  2½ tons, bone at £1,500 =
    $7,500 per ton                               £3,750 = $17,750
                                                -------   -------
                                                £12,850 = $63,250

An ideal trip so far, and yielding even to the poor holder of the 250th
lay, a comfortable sum of £51 8_s._ = $256·50, of course subject to
deduction for slops, tobacco, advance, &c.



CHAPTER XIX

A GREAT BLOW


Many and terrible are the temptations which await the striving
Christian, whatever his or her spiritual age may be. It is a moot
point whether they (the temptations) are felt more severely by the
babe in Christ in the first fervour of the new life, or by the mature
Christian who is insensibly led to feel that he or she has attained
unto a firm standing in the Faith. But one thing is, or should be,
beyond controversy, and that is that no fiercer temptations assail any
man than those which await the newly converted sailor, who has begun,
in the solitude of the ocean and its sweet freedom from the allurements
of shore vices, the upward way. He has been born, and has grown up to
a certain Christian stature in a state of peaceful freedom from the
evils of shore life, and has almost come to regard them as belonging to
a previous state of existence to which he can never return. Then, when
he is suddenly plunged headlong into them again he is in great, very
great, danger of a relapse that may give him an agonising season of
remorse. But I must not carry this digression too far. I only wish, in
beginning this chapter, to point out how dire were the perils awaiting
the crew of the _Xiphias_, many of whom were only, in the imitative
way common to the majority of human beings, behaving as they saw the
general sense of their little community would have them behave, and not
at all from any conviction as to the necessity of such behaviour to
their peace or from any inward urging whatever.

It is, however, safe to say that such considerations troubled no one
on board the ship at all. Every man was in an overflowing state of
happiness at again anchoring in a civilised port after the long and
weary cruise and the many hardships and dangers encountered. Every
man, too, with the exception of Rube, was half-intoxicated with a
quite lawful pride in his achievements during the past two months. All
remembered how helplessly, ignorantly, and painfully they had begun
the voyage, traced easily the educational way they had come, mentally
visualised vividly each heroic detail, and gradually lost sight of the
great central fact of it all, the Fatherly care of God. Therefore,
when, the next day after arrival, the rescued passengers returned on
board with urgent requests to the Captain that he would allow them
the privilege of entertaining the crew ashore as a slight return for
benefits received, all who could be spared on that day, except Rube,
joyfully availed themselves of the permission readily given and went
ashore.

They were royally welcomed at one of the principal hotels by the
rescued ones, some of whom had wired home and received in reply advices
enabling them to draw upon the local banks for all moneys needed. They
were entertained far too well, for two-thirds of them returned on board
drunk and quarrelsome, and for the first time that voyage the foc’s’le
was the scene of a riotous conflict, in the midst of which Rube moved
like a strong apostle of peace, able, as well as eager, to enforce
quietude upon the most unruly, even though it involved a considerable
amount of what some weak-minded people might call brutality. The lesson
taught by this episode was not without its valuable effect upon those
who had remained on board. With a self-sacrifice entirely laudable,
they refused to go ashore at all. This may not, probably will not, be
assessed by my readers at its proper value; but, oh, if landsfolk could
only realise the intense longing for a run ashore which seizes upon
sailors after being cooped up on board ship for seven or eight months,
it would be understood. Truly, Reuben and the skipper had done their
best to give the ship-keeping crew such amusement as was possible, and
the best shore food, fresh beef, mutton, and vegetables that could be
procured had been provided.

Table Bay swarms, or did swarm, with a splendid species of crustacean
known as ‘craw-fish,’ many of which grow to a huge size, weighing
several pounds, and have a flavour in no way inferior to that of a
lobster. There was great sport in catching these in impromptu nets made
of rope-yarn meshed upon hoops and baited with bones, and even greater
satisfaction in knowing that they would live for months in tanks of
salt water frequently renewed. Then there was ordinary fishing, or,
perhaps, I should say extraordinary fishing, of the schnapper, the cod,
and other fish which swarm around the southern extremity of Africa
almost unmolested. And sailors love fishing, though scarcely any class
of men living within reach of fishable waters get less of it.

So quite pleasantly the time passed away--the four days during which
Captain Hampden found it possible to sell his baleen and tranship it,
and to expend a liberal sum in fresh food, vegetables, and live-stock.
On the fifth morning, at daybreak, the cry of ‘Man the windlass!’
rang along the deck of the _Xiphias_, and all hands responded. But,
unhappily, most of those who had been ashore did so very unwillingly.
The memory of their spree was secretly most alluring; they had tasted
illicit delights again, and were lamenting the deprivation of them.
Thus they were sullen, unwilling, and miserable. Vainly did Rube exert
all his simple arts to rouse them out of themselves, to cheer them.
They would not be cheered; they hugged their misery and almost infected
several of their shipmates.

But the work was going on, all unconsciously the best cure was being
applied, and by nightfall, with their fine old ship heading northward
for the Mozambique Channel before a fine following breeze, they had
gone much farther than they were aware of on the road to repentance and
recovery. By repentance I do not mean that spurious sentiment which
is really sorrow for one’s inability to go and repeat former sins or
excesses, disgust and annoyance at being compelled to reap what one has
sown, but a comprehensive change of mind with reference to one’s former
behaviour, a distrust of one’s own powers of resistance to the drawings
of evil, and a determination to trust for deliverance from them to
Almighty God. A simple definition, perhaps, but one that I know is far
too often neglected or wilfully misunderstood.

Day succeeded day in perfect loveliness of weather and peace on board.
The routine of the ship had fallen easily back into its accustomed
grooves, and opportunity had been taken to renew all the wastage that
had been made in the general equipment of the ship and boats by reason
of the recent heavy demands made upon it. But no whales were seen.
Eager eyes scanned the wide sea for every moment of the daylight, but
nothing was seen of any value. Still, the previous sense of irritation
and almost hopelessness was not there, could hardly be, since so great
an accession of profit had been made during the last two months; a haul
that, as Captain Hampden gratefully admitted, might not have been made
on some voyages during the first two years. But as day succeeded day
and week followed week, there came upon all hands a querulous desire to
question the wisdom which had brought the ship into a part of the ocean
where everything desirable was found except the one central object of
the voyage: profit. As watch followed watch under those lovely skies,
the watchers became listless, careless, their attitude at the mastheads
showed how weary they had become of the fruitless gaze across the wide
sea-plain. And the wise skipper, who, as a skipper should, carefully
noted all the symptoms of discontent, gradually tightened the somewhat
relaxed disciplinary fibres, and had many things done which, under
the pressure of whaling, might quite safely have remained undone. The
recently obtained cargo was overhauled and re-stowed, the reeking hold
was thoroughly cleansed, and although nothing was ever undertaken which
could not be dropped at one minute’s notice, had whales appeared, an
enormous amount of valuable work was accomplished, and that, too,
without any friction whatever. In addition to the work of the ship, the
Captain unofficially encouraged the men to undertake in their leisure
moments the making of ‘scrimshaw,’ the name given to _objets-d’art_
(?), fabricated of ivory and bone, and calling out all the latent
mechanical genius possessed by the men.

To this end, foreseeing an easy, quiet time, he had caused several
jaw-pans of the sperm-whale to be set aside and towed astern in order
that they might bleach to a dazzling whiteness. All the teeth had
been saved and pickled in barrels of strong brine, and a considerable
number of the shorter blades or laminæ of baleen had been retained when
the bulk of it was transhipped at Cape Town. Word was passed forward
that any man who felt inclined might have for the asking such of
these materials as he chose in order to try his hand at curio-making;
and the carpenter, although, like most good workmen, he would not
lend his tools, never refused to saw off a length of jawbone for a
walking-stick, or cut up into rough pieces the bleached bone, for
any man who asked him. Nor did he make any favour of showing a man
how to make his own tools out of old knives, files, rasps, or even
sail-needles. This amiability had great results, for before long
practically all hands were engaged upon this fascinating hobby, and,
emulating one another, were turning out some really beautiful pieces
of work in carved ivory, bone, and baleen. Some of the sticks were
quite works of art. A length of, say, three feet by one inch square,
sawn from a jaw-pan after it had been subjected to a long tow astern,
would be tightly lashed down to a spar in the sun so that it would dry
perfectly straight. Then, by the aid of a ‘cutter’ or rasp, softened
in the fire and filed into deep ridges with cutting edges, it would
be worked down into a rough roundness of outline. By the aid of other
equally primitive tools the stick would then be gradually fashioned
into the semblance of a rope, with ‘worming,’ or a much smaller rope
twisted into its lays--a form of art which is highly interesting, as
having been practised by sailors from very remote days. Three years
ago, when staying at Repton School, I was shown over the ruins of the
ancient abbey there, and in the recently unearthed crypt, dating back
to Anglo-Saxon times I was told, there were four monolithic pillars
of stone supporting the roof, each of which was carved into the same
semblance of a rope with ‘worming’ in its lays. Also at a great country
house where I stayed last year, whose noble and hospitable owner
made a hobby of collecting books on ancient art, I saw some superb
illustrations in colour of ancient croziers, upon which were carved in
ivory or worked in precious metals the universally used ‘Turk’s-head’
of the sailor, which has not altered one jot of its details down to the
present day through all those hundreds of years.

But to return to our stick-maker. At one end of the stick about eight
or ten inches would be cut away until only a slender square rod of
about three-eighths of an inch thickness remained; upon this would be
threaded medallions of ivory, baleen, silver (quarter-dollars), ebony,
and coco-tree wood. An albatross head or some similarly well-known
object would be patiently carved and secured on top, and the whole
stick was then polished, first with fine sand, then with powdered
pumice-stone, and finished with chalk and oil. And really, when
completed, many of these pieces of work would have made no bad show
in an industrial exhibition, especially if the primitive tools could
have been shown with them. Besides this fascinating pursuit, there were
several others tacitly encouraged by the skipper, such as model-making,
gymnastics, swimming (on calm days), and, of course, fishing. And thus
gradually what had threatened to become a painful set-back to all of
them turned out to be a veritable blessing, a halcyon time which many
remembered all their lives after with the most tender regret.

But still they were not earning anything, and after their experience
on the other side of the Cape they began to feel as if their fortunes
were already made. They did not realise the vastness of the ocean and
the tiny little circle, after all, that their outlook gave them from
the mastheads. And in spite of the noble bounty offered by the skipper
of twenty-five dollars to whoever should ‘raise’ a sperm-whale, it was
very hard, to hang up there for two hours in that blazing sun and keep
one’s attention fixed upon one’s business. At last, however (eleven
weeks having passed since they left Cape Town), it happened to be
Rube’s masthead at daybreak--that is to say, shortly after 5 A.M. With
his usual pleasant alacrity he swallowed his coffee and sprang into the
fore-rigging at the cry from aft, ‘Man mastheads!’ As he went MacManus
said jestingly, ‘Reubin, darlin’, ef yez do be raisin’ sperm-whales
Oi’ll share th’ bounty wid yez.’ ‘Yew shall that,’ replied Rube gaily,
‘an’ everybody else as well ef I know myself.’ As he went springingly
aloft his eye dwelt lovingly upon the marvellous colouring of the sea,
the ever-changing sequence of shades reflected from the glory above;
and his heart filled with loving worship, for there is no education
in appreciative observation of God’s wonderful works like an intimate
acquaintance with Him. When he reached the topgallant-yard he saw the
great glowing arc of the sun’s upper limb just shedding a long line
of blazing gold along the horizon, as if it could not contain all its
store of glory, but must needs let some run freely on every hand. And
as Rube climbed into his perch the awful majesty of the whole orb swung
clear of the sea, and ocean and sky blazed ineffably, blindingly upon
Rube’s sight, making him for a moment veil his face in his hands and
murmur a few disjointed words of praise.

Never in all his experience had he seen so glorious a sunrise. He could
not help feeling an intense desire for more ability to appreciate its
marvels, for more power to praise, more capacity for gratitude. And
then as his eyes swept the horizon round, remembering his duty, he saw
immediately beneath the sun’s disc a curious peak, black, but edged
with flame, which gave him the impression of its being some gigantic
mountain top upon which the sun had been resting, and now was rising
after it in readiness to receive it if it should fall. So strong was
the impression that it made him shudder in spite of himself and turn
away. As he did so, broad on the port beam about five miles away
rose the well-known figure of a sperm-whale exhaling a great volume
of vapour diagonally from his spiracle and sending before his blunt
head a perfect cascade of diamond spray. One moment’s pause, and from
Rube’s deep chest burst the startling whalers’ call, at which the
previously half-awakened decks below burst suddenly into seeming life.
Not one minute was lost, for the crew were in the highest state of
efficiency and eagerness. Only two boats were lowered, for the whale
had no fellow; he was apparently one of those morose old bulls that had
been ejected from his overlordship of the school he had led so long
and was doomed to wander lonely till the end. One drawback there was
to the chase; it was almost a flat calm, and at such a time approach
to a lone sperm-whale is exceedingly difficult. His senses (whatever
they are, they are not like ours) are so acute that unless there be
a little sea on, something that by its natural sounds may render the
splash of an oar or the rattle of a rowlock inaudible, the whale will
almost certainly be alarmed and make good his escape. But as they were
paddling with the utmost caution in his direction, a puff of wind
darkened the water and at the same time sent a cold shiver through
all hands. The mate recovered from his surprise first, and his hoarse
whisper ran through the crew’s ears: ‘In paddles, step mast, quietly
now.’ He was obeyed in swiftness and silence, and the second mate,
following the example, had his sail up almost as soon. Then, as the
graceful boats glided noiselessly across the just rising ripples, all
hands had leisure to look about them, and to their intense uneasiness
they saw that the whole aspect of the heavens was changed. The colour
of the blessed sun itself had faded from glowing gold to a stale,
sickly, greenish hue, and the morning cheerfulness of the sky was
replaced by a dreary, leaden blue, to which the sea had responded by
turning almost black. And it was so cold. The sun seemed at once to
have been shorn of his beams and his power of distributing warmth. He
still shone, it is true, but as if through a veil of some deadly mist
depriving him of all his beneficent influences. Yet there was no vapour
whatever visible.

The mate, however, alone of the little company, seemed entirely
unconscious of any change in the weather. With his eyes fixed upon the
supine monster ahead he steered the boat as if he were part of it,
as if, indeed, he were enduing it with some of his own personality.
Occasionally, it is true, he cast furtive glances at the second mate’s
boat, but that was only to see whether he was keeping as far ahead of
that officer as etiquette demanded. And as the breeze freshened the
lively craft began leaping gamesomely over the infant waves, nearing
the whale at a great rate. At last! The harpooner, a lean American from
Nantucket, rose stealthily to his feet, balancing the clumsy-looking
weapon as if it were a feather in his right hand, and methodically
arranging the coils of stray line on the little forward deck or ‘box’
of the boat. She made one last spring forward; then, with a great
swooping curve, graceful as that of an albatross, she glided alongside
the whale, and two harpoons flew from Walter’s sinewy fingers into the
whale’s body. She passed into a little offing of safety as the sail
was brailed in, but the whale wasted no time or strength in fruitless
struggle to free himself of the irons. He apparently gathered all
his powers together and fled to windward through the rapidly rising
waves, heeding not the weight behind him more than as if it had not
existed. He went so fast, indeed, and so dead end on to the sea that
the accomplishment of the boat’s clearance was a task of uncommon
difficulty, taking nearly thrice the usual time. And when it was
finished neither the companion boat nor the ship was to be seen. More,
the black pinnacle of cloud noted by Rube at sunrise had now overspread
fully one half of the heavens. The other half had a menacing shade, not
of cloud, but the shadow of the great eastern mass, and yet behind the
gloom there was the suggestion of an unearthly glow. No one could say
why or how the ship had disappeared, but not a sign of her was visible.
A strange fear fell upon all, even Rube, who by virtue of his great
strength had the midship thwart (the heaviest oar) in the mate’s boat.
Instinctively the mate came aft and got out the compass; but, except to
tell in which direction the whale was going, which they already knew
was something near east, its indications were of little value--they
had no bearing of the ship. And the whale went steadily on into the
gathering darkness.

Meanwhile, on board the ship signals of recall were being frantically
made in the hope that the fast boat might see them. Mr. Peck did see,
and in less than half an hour was safe alongside again, his boat
hoisted, and his men putting all their energies into the preparations
to meet the coming cyclone. The ship was now between the Seychelles and
the Saya de Malha Bank, having been gradually working north and east
from the Mozambique Channel upon finding that usually prolific hunting
ground so barren of result. And consequently she was now in one of
the very worst places in the whole ocean for meeting with those awful
circular storms which are variously known as hurricanes, cyclones, or
typhoons, according as they are experienced in the Atlantic Ocean,
the Indian Ocean, or the China Sea, but which are all the same kind
of terrible natural convulsion, beneficent in their after-effects
undoubtedly, but while they last filling most men with the conviction
that the end of all things is at hand. Still, so staunch and seaworthy
was the _Xiphias_, in common with most of her sisters built by those
old-fashioned, methodical descendants of the old Puritans in New
England, that the near approach of such a cataclysm would have given
Captain Hampden very little additional uneasiness but for the fact of
his mate’s boat being away, lost to sight, and of his own inability to
follow it up when once the meteor burst, which it was now evidently
upon the point of doing. Nothing, however, could be left undone that
ought to be done for the safety of those remaining on board, and no
time wasted in vain regrets; so for two or three hours all hands
were kept at full pressure putting extra lashings upon everything
movable--double gaskets, ‘marling’ down the sails, hoisting the boats
as high as they would go to the davit-heads, and there securing them
with all the skill available. Also a quantity of food was hastily
cooked (the _Xiphias_, like most of those old ships, carried little
canned provisions) and stored where it could be got at without opening
hatches or depending upon a lighted fire. Everything, in fact, was done
that skill and forethought could suggest or urge to, and then the men
were called aft. All hands stood facing the gallant old skipper as with
head bare he steadied himself against the skylight.

‘Men,’ said he, ‘we’ve kem up agenst big trouble, for a boat’s crew
of our shipmates air a-missin’, an’ only God He knows whether we sh’l
ever see ’em agen. I feel a’most heart-broken at lettin’ ’em go; but,
men, I’d no idea ’at thishyer hurrican’--fur hurrican’ it’s a-goin’
t’be, there’s no possible doubt o’ that--wuz a-comin’ on so sudden.
An’, besides, yew all know how eager all han’s wuz t’ git some whale
after eour long spell athout seein’ one. Thar’s no denyin’ the fact,
eour shipmates air in terrible danger. We’re in danger, too, fur
these hurrican’s is enough t’ make the bravest man ’at ever lived
feel quaky t’ his very soul. But we’ve a grand ship under eour feet,
an’ we’ve a-done all thet man k’n do to make her ready fur the great
fight thet’s a-comin’. Naow we’ve a-got another duty t’ perform. In
thet boat beside Mr. Pease, as good an officer ’s ever trod a deck ’r
hove a lance, an’ Walter his harpooner, also one ov th’ very best, and
MacManus, Joey, and Manuel, all good, sterlin’ men as all th’ crew is,
thar’s Rube Eddy. Thet man’s taught us all lessons we needed worse
than any of us knew. By his example he’s shamed us into bein’ better
men, an’ every one of us is happier then we could ’a’ben if we hadn’t
known him. Already I feel at the thought of losin’ him’s if I don’t
care t’ live myself, an’ I know thet all of you ’r feelin’ with me how
great a blessin’ he’s ben t’ us aboard this ship. So I ask you all t’
kneel down like men an’ pray each in your own fashion fur Rube an’
his fellows in th’ boat; thet in this fearful time, God, who kin do
anything, may be with ’em t’ save, and thet He may see fit t’ bring us
all together again. An’ if not, to make us all what Rube Eddy often
prayed we might be--good men, ready t’ live ’r die as it should please
God, but whichever it is, to keep unbroken the image of God in us.
Let’s pray.’

All hands fell on their knees, and there, in the gathering darkness,
these wanderers from many lands, uncouth, ignorant, careless seafarers,
each in his own way silently pleaded with an unmistakably present God
for the safety of the boat’s crew, and all added, ‘especially Rube.’
Occasionally an ejaculation which could not be suppressed burst forth,
but for the space of about a quarter of an hour, except for the voice
of the wind like the growing wailings of a tortured spirit, and the
continual mutter of the thunder, there was no other sound. Then, as
if at a given signal, the skipper lifted up his voice in the sublime
old Apostles’ Prayer, the Amens were fervently murmured, and with
perceptibly strengthened hearts the crew dispersed to their several
duties or resting places, and thick darkness clothed them as with a
garment, shutting out all the view of sea and sky.



CHAPTER XX

THE CYCLONE


Although all hands had dispersed and half of them were free to seek
their berths, they could none of them go below. A great awe, not
to say fear, was upon them, for none of them save the skipper and
some of the officers had ever witnessed the upheaval of the sea and
down-pressing of the heavens which were now imminent, and the coming
thereof exercised a fearful fascination upon them. They huddled in
groups, only whispering an occasional word, and waited for they knew
not what. Yet all had a feeling that it must be the Trump of Doom. As
yet the wind had not attained any great force, but the motion of the
ship was exceedingly uneasy, for the ocean is so responsive to the
power of the wind that long before a gale which is somewhere raging has
reached a ship, she will often be most violently tossed by big waves
coming sweeping towards her, and this without any barometrical warning
that can be noticed. Nay, it sometimes happens that after several hours
of anxious waiting for the expected gale, with almost every stitch in
the ship close furled, the restless sea will again quiet down, the
filminess will disappear from the sky, and serene weather will once
more prevail: the gale has either blown itself out or has by a very
well understood meteorological event been diverted from its original
course into a totally new one.

None of these things, however, was known to or noticed by the crew of
the _Xiphias_. They felt the pall above descending lower and lower
until they could imagine its inky folds resting upon the mastheads;
they heard the wailing and moaning of the wind, rising to an occasional
wild shriek, as if impatient to begin the elemental strife; they
experienced the peculiar sensation inseparable from the environment
of an atmosphere surcharged with electricity; and they were obliged
to hold on to keep themselves from being thrown off their feet by the
unnatural, unexpected lurches of the puzzled ship. But it is fair to
them to say that through all their apprehensions for the next few hours
they felt most for their half-dozen shipmates in that frail boat, far
away in the awful darkness, doomed to face the fiercest conflict of
wind and wave known to seafarers, all unsheltered even by a little
deck. Then came a new terror. The accumulation of electric fluid all
around them, having become greater than the atmosphere could hold,
commenced to discharge itself in blinding streaks of vari-coloured
flame, which quiveringly ran about the blackness overhead and almost
seemed to light up the black heaps of water rising and falling without
order all around them. Every yard-arm, masthead, davit-head--in fact,
every point, even to their own heads--gleamed palely with latent
electricity, and strange sensations as of pricking roughened all the
surfaces of their bodies. Some became numbed with fear, others wished
they could be so.

And then--it was almost a relief--with a roar as of ten thousand lions
mad with hunger, the full hurricane burst upon them. Where it struck
them none knew, or what the ship did when she felt it; for whether
she was beneath the sea or above no one could tell. The awful blast
ripped off the surface of the sea, and spread it through the air so
that sight, speech, almost breath became impossible. But they all
noticed that, although the ship beneath their feet seemed as if she
was being hurled through space, she was now quite steady; the drunken
uncertain motion she had previously been suffering from had altogether
ceased, for under that pressure of wind no sea could lift its head. I
said there was almost a sense of relief, and this is really true, for
now it did not appear possible that matters could become worse. Men’s
minds refused to entertain the possibility of any increase in the force
of the wind, and all felt dimly that any change now must be for the
better--that the hurricane was doing its worst.

The skipper, aft by the useless wheel, with the two mates near him,
endured like the rest. Having done all that was humanly possible, and
commended himself and his charge to his Father, he had now but to set
his teeth, bend his head, and bear in patience, awaiting without a
tremor the manifestation of God’s will concerning him. There was a
certain indefinite satisfaction in having his two mates near him--the
same feeling that the other members of the crew had in being huddled
together like sheep on the edge of a cliff when the gale howls
furiously landward and sweeps the downs like the breath of a destroying
angel. In fact, neither Captain Hampden nor his officers took the
trouble to think now. They just let their mental powers lie dormant,
having used them at the right time to the best advantage, and being
quite ready to exercise them again when any good could thereby be done.

And now, what of those brave men so perilously cut off from their
ship, left to themselves in the midst of such potentialities of
destruction that camping out unsheltered and unarmed in the heart of
an Indian jungle would have been safety itself by comparison? For a
time, while the whale kept his unswerving and unfaltering rush into
the blackness ahead, Mr. Pease’s energies and thought seemed solely
concentrated upon the means of compassing the death of his gigantic
steed--any ideas concerning his own danger or that of his crew did not
seem to find admission to his mind. After satisfying himself that the
whale was holding a straight course he called upon all hands to put
forth a supreme effort to get up near enough to the monster, and make
some feasible attempt at fatally wounding him. And they, seizing the
tow-line and straining every sinew to the work, found that they could
actually gain upon him a little, although the sprays coming over the
bows threatened every now and then to swamp them. But gradually they
found their task becoming easier, and although the thickening gloom
chilled their hearts they encouraged one another with shouts of ‘There
she feels it,’ ‘Hand over hand, hearties,’ ‘Walk her up to him!’ ‘He’s
our whale,’ &c. And suddenly the mate yelled at the utmost strain of
his lungs, ‘Lay off--lay her off, Walter; lay off, fur God’s sake!’
Nobly Walter responded; the light craft sprang off sideways under the
pressure of the great steer oar and Walter’s straining muscles, and
the whale’s huge flukes, brandished high in air, came down with a
crash like thunder, and smote the water just a yard or two abaft the
after oar. But that blow cost the whale his life. For the boat shot
up alongside of him, and in towards his side withal, and at the same
moment Mr. Pease, taking deliberate aim, sent a bomb-lance point blank
into the great body. Almost before the muffled report from within told
that the destructive weapon had exploded, a hand-lance had followed it,
and slid up to its pole within the vast black mass.

Either of those terrible wounds had been sufficient to kill, and
the two combined had the effect of bringing the whale to a sudden
stop, when, with a long expiration, like the escaping steam from a
water-loaded syren, he gasped out his life and was still, save for
the easy motion communicated to his huge carcass by the waves. So
sudden was his death that the usual tremendous convulsion which takes
place when these leviathans die was totally absent. As soon as it was
evident that he _was_ dead, Mr. Pease, rising to the height of his
responsibilities, and realising how short a time was left during which
anything might be done, caused two more harpoons to be driven into the
whale’s side near the first two, but bridled to the main line. Then
allowing about fifty fathoms drift he cut the tow-line, and veering
away to the tail succeeded with very great difficulty in getting a hole
cut through its thickest part, and the end of the towline rove through
it. That accomplished, the boat was hauled back again to a position
midway between the whale’s tail and its head, the lines made well fast,
and the men told to make themselves as comfortable as circumstances
permitted by crouching low in the bottom of the boat, and arranging the
sail so as to keep off just a little of the spindrift that was already
beginning to fill the air.

It was now quite dark, although but little after noon; the sea was in
that curiously undecided state before-mentioned, and the mate knew very
well that at any moment the full power of the hurricane might burst
upon them. Yet, strange as it may seem to landsmen or even ordinary
sailors, he had by no means lost hope, neither had Walter. Both of
them knew from long experience, and not theoretically, how splendid
a breakwater is made by a dead whale. Both of them had time and time
again owed their lives to the shelter afforded by one in the midst of
such stupendous seas as are encountered in the Southern Ocean, where
unhindered the lone sea sweeps round the globe, and consequently both
felt that even in the present apparently hopeless circumstances they
might yet be found living when the hurricane had passed and left the
ocean bestrewn with the wreckage of many a score of noble ships. I
think it is not generally known on land how magical (there is really no
other word to describe it) is the power exercised by oil upon the sea.
A little oil spilt upon the water during the prevalence of the roughest
gale makes a tiny oasis of smoothness, around which the most gigantic
waves rear their furious crests in vain in the endeavour to encroach
upon it. ‘Oil upon the troubled waters’ has long been a paraphrase for
the gentle work of the peacemaker, but it is much more than that--it
is a scientific expression of fact; and since shipmasters (being, as
I am never weary of pointing out, the most conservative of men) have
taken to using oil, as it should be used, for the purpose of stilling
the angry waves, the number of shipping disasters that have been
averted is past all counting. It is safe to say that if, wherever any
breakwater, pier, or similar structure is exposed to the fury of stormy
seas, a large perforated pipe were to be laid on the sea-bed a few
yards seaward of the foundations and surrounding them, through which
in time of storm oil might be pumped at high pressure, we should never
have any of those costly works destroyed by the impact of the waves at
all; for they (the structures) would be surrounded by a ring fence of
smoothness beyond which, no matter how fierce their anger, the great
waves could never pass.

Now, a whale is a natural reservoir of oil, and, whether alive or dead,
he always has around him an area of calm induced by the exudations from
his skin. Therefore, when we read of ‘whales taking refuge in sheltered
bays from the fury of gales,’ we may be held blameless for curling
the lip of derision, and wondering what manner of fools they are who
perpetrate such twaddle for the deluding of their readers. Also a whale
when it is dead does by some mysterious volition point its head, not
in the wind’s eye, or directly to the quarter from whence the wind
comes, but about eight points, or forty-five degrees, therefrom, and,
stranger still, does invariably drift _towards_ the wind, and not,
like a ship, away from it. Various explanations have been proffered to
account for this really wonderful movement of the whale’s great carcass
after death, but none of them, I think, is feasible save this: that
the whale’s tail, being a huge limber piece of gristle of exquisite
propulsive shape, is so actuated by the wash of the waves past the
great body that its motions, like those of an oar turned in a groove
at the stern of a boat, are sufficient to keep the body to which it
is attached working to windward. Not, be it noted, against a current,
which moves the whole mass of water, but against the wind through the
water and incidentally against the sea, which is quite a different
matter.

Perhaps an apology is necessary for so long a digression, when the fate
of Mr. Pease and his brave men is trembling in the balance, but there
are so many utterly impossible and unexplainable things to be read in
stories now, written to account for the escape of the hero, that I
have felt compelled to take up a little more space than usual in which
to explain the entire reasonableness and possibility of escape from
their dire peril which actuated and hardened Mr. Pease and his crew.
A whisper had run from end to end of the boat full of hope, and Rube
in the middle had accepted it with heartfelt joy, not for his own sake
(for this extraordinary man never thought about himself at all), but
for the sake of his shipmates. And then all settled down to wait and
watch. High over them, with a most terrific noise, a blaze of unearthly
light, and a peculiarly chilling sensation, burst the hurricane.
Really, terrible though it was, they were immensely surprised that it
was not worse. They did not, could not realise how that great bank of
flesh, already floating much higher than ever it did with life in it,
was protecting them, not merely from the impact of the sea, but from
the swamping effect of the spindrift, the sea face carried airwards by
the wind. As this came flying along it met the body of the whale, and
shot upwards, just passing over the frail cockleshell riding in the
little smooth to leeward. All heaven’s artillery opened out, the roar
of the wind, the rumble of the thunder, the hiss of the lightning; but
cowering low down in their tiny craft rocking easily in the quiet water
under the lee of the whale, those six men lived. And as the hours wore
on they forgot to be afraid; nay, they even slept, or hazily speculated
upon what they should do when, the storm having passed, they might, and
probably would, find themselves alone on that wide, wide sea, foodless
and waterless. And so the hours succeeded each other, day insensibly
passed into night, leathery tongues vainly roamed round parched mouths
seeking moisture and finding none, and still hope lived.

How long they had thus patiently borne the burden of a peril of
which no landsman can have aught but the feeblest adumbration of an
idea, none of them knew, for none of them had a watch, and even had
there been one there was no light. The darkness was of that Egyptian
character that one experiences in a coal mine, and the blazing rivers
of lightning which occasionally coursed over their heads only added to
their blindness. But presently, as at some celestial word of command,
the elemental tumult ceased, the wind fell to a dead calm, and a
strange motion, totally unlike the steady heave and roll of the former
hours, took its place. Overhead the cloud-pall thinned and a star or
two appeared. Their eyes, grown accustomed to the velvety blackness,
saw that they were the centre of a charmed circle, all around which,
at so short a distance that they seemed to be at the bottom of a
whirlpool, enormous masses of water rose and fell in disorderly heaps.
It was an appalling sight, and the mate, with thoughtful wisdom,
distracted their attention from it by advising them to take advantage
of the temporary lull to get a drink and eat a biscuit. Each whaleboat
carries a wooden vessel like a large bucket, holding about four gallons
of fresh water. It is headed up like a cask, but has a wooden spigot
attached by a short lanyard, and this, withdrawn, suffers the water to
escape in a thin stream into a piggin which is held beneath it. There
is also a long narrow keg kept under the little deck over the stern of
the boat, also headed up tightly but easy to open by those who know
how, in which are a number of biscuits, a lantern, and some candles and
matches. This was now produced, and a biscuit each handed round, which,
with a drink of water, had a wonderful effect in raising everybody’s
spirits.

Mr. Pease then said, ‘M’ lads, I don’ s’pose ’at ever in the history
of seafarin’ a boat’s crew has bin known t’ hang out a hurrican in the
open sea same ’s we’ve done, fur which we’ve gut t’ thank ole Johnny
Squarehead here as th’ means sent by Almighty God fur our safety.
B’lieve me, boys, we’re through th’ wust of it. We sh’ll hev almost
as much wind as before, but not fur near as long, an’ yew know how
safe a harbour the whale gives us. I needn’t ask ye t’ thank God: I
know yew’ve all done that, ’specially Rube thar. Say, Rube, sonny,
haow’re ye hittin’ it, eh?’ ‘Glorious, Mr. Pease, glorious. I wuz jest
thinkin’ as ye spoke, “though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow
of Death, I will fear no evil, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.”’
‘Bully fer yew, Rube,’ said Mr. Pease. ‘They wuz a time when I sh’d
have miscalled yew ’r anybody else ’at talked like that fur a darned
hypocrite; but, thank God, I know better now. I’ve a-learnt how good a
_man_ a Christian kin be.’

He had hardly uttered the last words than with an awful howling sound
the wind burst out upon them from the opposite direction, bringing with
it such a cloud of spray that for a few minutes they fought gaspingly
for breath, and groped blindly to bale the boat. They hardly knew while
those few fateful minutes lasted whether they were sinking or not, but
their faithful defender, in death returning good for evil, gradually
took up his relative position to the wind as before, and although they
could not see they could feel that they were again on the sheltered
side of the great carcass. And, besides, it seemed to them as if it
afforded more protection than it had done before. They could not think
the wind had lessened--indeed, they believed it to blow harder than
ever--but certainly their boat rode easier; and with a relief not to
be expressed in words they saw that light was coming. Only one thing
gave them additional uneasiness: the increasing glare beneath them.
The lightning had almost entirely ceased, but, as if to compensate for
that cessation of the unearthly fires above, the waters beneath them
fairly glowed with green illumination in broad bands, which came and
went incessantly. They all knew that this meant the gathering of the
ravening deep-sea hosts, attracted thereto by the mighty banquet, and
entirely oblivious of the war of the winds above.

How, throughout those hours of terror, had it fared with the crew of
the _Xiphias_ remaining on board that staunch old ship? Peacefully
enough until the passing of the storm-centre. Then indeed they were
in evil case. For _they_ had no charmed circle, beyond which the waves
could not pass, to protect them. It was an omission only too frequently
made, and almost unpardonable in these ships. Had they but hung canvas
bags of oil from both bows and both quarters, through which the calming
liquid might have drained, they would have been spared much of the
labour, danger, and anxiety. But nothing of the kind had been arranged
for, and consequently when that fearful vortex sea broke upon them,
not only did their vessel’s decks fill with water in masses weighing
hundreds of tons, and smashing everything that was smashable, but the
working of the ship opened her seams so much that, in spite of the
risk of being exposed in the waist, it was absolutely necessary for
all hands to muster at the pumps. There, secured by ropes around their
bodies, and occasionally entirely overwhelmed by the towering masses
of water breaking on board, they toiled unmurmuringly. Again and again
they were hurled like a scattered bundle of chips in all directions;
the ropes with which they were secured threatened to cut them in
halves, making deep discoloured grooves in their flesh, and floating
wreckage beat and bruised them savagely in its dashing to and fro.
But they still stuck to their posts unflinchingly, officers and men
together putting forth all their powers, and hoping, ever hoping, even
when all hope seemed dead.

For the _Xiphias_ was, to all outward seeming, a wreck. Her bulwarks
were gone fore and aft; the massive brick erection of the try-works
had been swept so cleanly away that no trace of it remained; three
of the fine boats were gone, and only the ringbolts with which they
had been hoisted still dangled at the davit-heads. Several sails, in
spite of the care exercised in their securing, had wriggled adrift,
and the tigerish wind had snatched them from the yards as dry leaves
are stripped from the trees in autumn. But it is in times like these
that the Divine in man shines out, and Captain Hampden stood erect,
not counting his burden of years, nor his present load of care for his
crew, nor the heartache for the brave fellows long ago, he thought,
gone to their well-earned rest in the silence of the sea. His eyes
shone bright, his heart beat temperately, his voice rang steady, and
when, the short calm gone, the hurricane burst again upon them from
its opposite segment, all hands felt his noble influence, and braced
themselves to endure to the end.

Forty miles away Mr. Pease and his brave little crew still lived. Once
settled into their old position to leeward of the dead whale they felt,
such was the effect upon their minds of their recent experience, almost
safe from the tempest above and the assault of the sea. They noticed,
indeed, that the latter gradually became more furious, as if, enraged
beyond measure by its previous restraint, it was now determined to make
up for loss of opportunity, and destroy everything in its path alien to
its domain. But even that carried some comfort, for while feeling well
protected to leeward of the whale they cared little for waves however
high: the very fact of those waves rearing their heads so savagely told
them that the force of the hurricane must be waning; and, besides,
the thinning of the cloud-pall above, the absence of the lightning,
and an indescribable elevation of spirits, all had their part in the
growth of hope. Only, there remained the increasing menace beneath.
Occasionally a slight tap, smartly given, under the boat sent a shudder
through them as it reminded them how slight was the barrier which
intervened between them and the hungry jaws of that host of sharks.
Men, however, who had ridden out such a day and night of terror were
hardly likely now to become panic-stricken: they had come to regard
themselves as under the special protection of God. So, terrible as
their position undoubtedly was, it had not the same effect upon them as
it would have had if it had come upon them suddenly.

The hurricane passed away, going as usual through its various fining
phases as better weather came. By noon the sky was clear, the sea
deeply azure, the sun sending down new vigour into that hardly used
group of men. A great exaltation of spirit possessed them all, for it
is noticeable how, whenever the hurricane, cyclone, or typhoon has
passed, everything in nature seems bound to rejoice, not because it
has been allowed to live, but because of the cleansing, sweetening,
freshening up of the world.

The sharks swarmed in incredible numbers, the birds came in myriads,
the dead mass to windward began to emit a charnel-house fœtor, but all
the men were cheerful, and munched their half-biscuit determinedly, as
if to show that they meant to live up to the hopefulness engendered
by their atmospheric environment. Only the mate, in moments when
not engaged in cheering up his crew, looked grave. He felt the
responsibility for those trustful souls. And he could not help feeling
how remote was the possibility of their ship (or, indeed, any ship)
picking them up. He knew, too, how short a time would elapse before
they would be compelled to abandon their shelter--how few the hours
before it would become so foul that not a human being could live near
it. But he said nothing of this. Instead, he maintained his part,
with that strange mixture of gravity and cheerfulness puckering his
brow. He often caught Rube’s earnest eyes fixed upon him as if in deep
questioning, but he evaded them. ‘Time enough,’ he thought, ‘for the
revelation that must surely come.’

The night passed in perfect peace. The burning stars mirrored
themselves in the glassy bosom of the deep, the new moon peeped shyly
forth, a glittering silver sickle with a clearly seen though dull
disc filling up the round. Gently as an infant on its mother’s breast
the boat rose and fell to the softly undulating swell. All except Mr.
Pease seemed asleep, but continually sleepers half-raised themselves
with indistinct expressions of disgust as the foulness of the air half
awakened them. ‘To-morrow,’ thought the mate, ‘we must cut adrift flesh
and blood can stand this no longer.’ So with the dawn (and what a
lovely dawn it was!--like the first in its brightness), the lines were
cut, and with a few strokes of the oars the boat was propelled beyond
that area of stench, the whale having now swollen to the semblance of a
ship bottom up or some huge oblong bladder floating high upon the sea
surface. When all hands had eaten the few crumbs of food remaining, and
had moistened their aching throats with a little swallow of water, Mr.
Pease said, ‘Boys, we’ve been through a lot, but perhaps we’ve got th’
worst ahead. Never mind. We’re all men here, we know that, an’ whatever
happens we’ll remain men. We’ll die if we must die, or live if we’re
let live, like men made in the image of God.’

And the six of them solemnly said, ‘Amen.’



CHAPTER XXI

A STRANGE RESCUE


Reluctantly, but of necessity, we return to the _Grampus_ getting under
weigh from her snug anchorage among the Cosmoledo reefs, and as smart
as cleanliness and a complete equipment can make her, emerging once
more upon her proper domain, the sea. Her ruler sat in awful state
upon the top of the little house aft, Priscilla by his side in a deck
chair made for her by the carpenter. She gazed with listless eyes upon
the wonderful panorama spread out before her, not daring to appear
interested lest her terrible husband should see in that some excuse for
ordering her below again. Full well she knew that it was only because
he feared that she would have another serious attack of illness that he
allowed her this sweet privilege of breathing the fresh air of heaven;
a privilege she had enjoyed all her stay ashore, and the deprivation
of which while on board had certainly led up to her illness. But in
pursuance of her resolve to endure unto the uttermost, she would have
died rather than ask any consideration at his hands, while taking with
calm thankfulness such crumbs as he chose to fling her contemptuously.

The late invalids, still pale from their recent close struggle
with death, were doing their best to ‘keep their ends up’ with the
Portuguese portion of the crew, who--trained fine, hard as nails, and
with that elevating sense of superiority which counts for so much in
human conflict--were, while working harmoniously side by side with the
white men, continually letting the latter see in what estimation they
were held. And no sooner was the ship clear of the reefs, and watches
set, than the white men were confronted with another degradation. All
sailors know that there are certain berths in the worst of forecastles
which are considered better than any others for who can explain what
sea-reasons. These berths are usually occupied by the best men in the
ship obviously, and especially on a whaling voyage. Now, when the
watch that was released went below, its members, who were of the now
despised race, were confronted with a state of things which had never
before occurred to them. They were ordered to shift and give up their
bunks to better men. For a few moments it looked as if there would be a
great fight. All the fighting blood of the Anglo-Saxon surged up, but
the odds were far too heavy: no anger could blind men to that, nor any
courage persuade them to hurl themselves headlong upon the knives and
pistols borne by the black Dagoes and ostentatiously displayed by them.
Therefore the white men accepted the inevitable and shifted, amid the
chuckling jeers of their triumphant watchmates, and another step in
Captain Da Silva’s carefully calculated revenge had been attained.

It may perhaps be thought from the way in which I have insisted upon
this sad tyranny of black over white that I have a serious bias against
the black man. That is not true. I love him generally as a man, and
because I do I am not blind to his limitations, and I say emphatically
that he is not so constituted that it is safe to trust him with the
rule over white men. He may retaliate with the opposite proposition,
which I do not care to defend for one moment. By all means let Black
rule Black, but do not ever let Black rule White, or you will see
Hayti reproduced wherever the shameful law is put in operation, and
what it means let my friend Hesketh Pritchard tell you. Moreover,
these rulers of the _Grampus_ were not negroes. I should no more wish
to be ruled by negroes than by a laughing bevy of children out of the
nursery, ready at any moment to become cruel apes tearing in pieces
their toys. But I might be able to keep my masters amused, should such
be my sad fate, and so escape disintegration. If, however, my negro
masters had been bred in and in with Portuguese or Spaniards, I ought
to seek death at once. When to the cold cruelty of the Latin is added
the irresponsibility of the negro, the blend should never be allowed to
exercise its power over men of Teutonic breed. Wherever it has done so,
the records of such rule are not for general reading lest readers go
mad with horror.

Aft the conditions were altered also. In every whaleship there is a
space (on the port side generally) abaft the main hatch, and of course
below deck, where the harpooners and petty officers are berthed. The
first, second, and third mates have their berths allotted to them in
the main cabin, offshoots from it of a grim and fearful stuffiness,
but possessing a peculiar desirability because of their contiguity to
the dwelling-place of the lord of all. Now Captain Da Silva calmly
intimated to his officers that he contemplated considerable changes in
the housing accommodation aft. He told them that he had ordered the
carpenter to knock up three extra berths in the ‘half-deck,’ as the
harpooners’ berth is called, and as soon as that was done, why, they
(the officers) would have to clear out, as he needed all the space aft
for his own accommodation. The insult was gross, palpable. Indeed,
it was hardly veiled, especially remembering the expression of face
and the tone of voice accompanying it. But Mr. Court and his brother
officer did not forget what they owed to themselves. They were under
no misapprehension as to why this line of conduct was being pursued
by the skipper, and although both of them felt that the time might
arrive when further endurance would be impossible, even at the cost of
death for rebellion, that time was not yet. So apparently not noticing
the triumphant glitter in the skipper’s eyes, or the exultant ring
in his voice, they acquiesced, serenely to all outward seeming, but
with hearts on fire, and by so doing riveted another link in the heavy
chains they were wearing. When does it become a sacred duty to rebel?
Who shall say? But one thing seems clear: that there does come a time
when, for the sake of others, it is imperative that one man (or it may
be woman) stand up and face the tyrant. He may, probably will, die, but
how can man die better? And no such death is in vain. However, this
high strain may seem unsuited to the present sordid recital--only a
little ship’s company being tyrannised over by one devil, and enduring
doggedly all that he chooses to load them with.

Once clear of the islands the ship’s course was made N.E., and under
easy sail the _Grampus_ bore away across the smiling Indian Ocean.
All went well. Apparently it could not do otherwise where Captain Da
Silva was. He never seemed to make a mistake. And when he suddenly
came on deck one beautiful afternoon and interrupted the busy tide of
work that never slacked off night or day by calling all hands to make
all possible sail, and altered the ship’s course to due east, no one
wondered. They obeyed briskly enough to a casual observer, but in the
heart of every white man what weariness of life! For two whole days the
_Grampus_ fled to the east as fast as her braced-up condition would
allow, the look-outs never once relaxing their careful watch around.
No one discussed the movement--the time for that had gone. Every white
man in the foc’s’le knew that should he speak one word capable of
being construed into something the skipper might be interested in, it
would, before many minutes had elapsed, be repeated with such fantastic
additions as the carrier of it was capable of making, into the
Captain’s greedy ear, with results the most unpleasant to the original
utterer of the remark.

As suddenly as the course had been altered and all sails set so was
another change made. Everything was furled but the fore and main lower
topsails, the ship was brought to the wind on the starboard tack, and
lay lazily wallowing in the gentle swell coming up from the south-east.
And then, to the surprise of no one on board (for by this time all
hands, including his own particular friends, if friends they could be
called, believed him to be in league with the devil), there appeared as
if from the bosom of the deep an enormous multitude of small whales.
Like sperm-whales arrested in their growth, and only about twice the
size of ‘black-fish.’ That is to say, each of them would not be more
than three to five tons in weight. It was early morning when they
were sighted, and immediately the whole ship was the scene of most
violent activity. All sorts of alterations were made, notably the
passing out of the boats of the big line-tubs, and only leaving the
small hundred-fathom ones behind. Extra harpoons, too, were placed in
each boat, and before they left the ship all hands were called aft and
thus harangued by the skipper: ‘Looky here,’ said he, ‘these ain’t
sperm-whales, an’ I doan’ want no foolin’ with ’em. Get fast t’ one or
two, an’ then as th’ others come roun’ lance ’em, an’ leave ’em. T’
the fust man ’at kills over ten, I’ll give fifty dollars in gold. Naow
mind, I’m tellin’ ye. Don’t waste line ’n’ irons on these fish: ef y’
du thar’ll be big trouble with me ’fore the day’s over.’ There was no
response but a sort of guttural murmur, succeeded by the quick splashes
as the boats took the water and sped away under the utmost pressure of
the oars to where the sea was all a foam by reason of the gambollings
of that great and joyous company of ‘kogia.’

Just as the skipper had forecasted, no sooner had a boat got fast to
one of these quaint, short-headed creatures than she became the centre
of a curious crowd of his unfortunate fellows, apparently bent upon
sharing his fate, and for that purpose thrusting one another aside in
their efforts to get as near as possible to the boat. Every man was
armed with a lance, and directed to use it with all his might upon
the whale nearest him. What an awful scene of slaying ensued, to be
sure! The sea became literally encumbered with dead. The men who had
felt that life was not worth living took new hold upon life in their
fierce desire of killing, and forgot for the time all their woes. It
seemed as if this great slaughter must be prolonged indefinitely, but
suddenly, like a trumpet blast, the voice of the skipper rang out:
‘’Vast killin’! All but th’ mate and second mate’s boats, pull for th’
ship’s quick ’s th’ devil ’ll let ye. Hurry, naow.’ And they did hurry.
The ship, having been kept close at hand, required no great amount of
manipulation to bring her into the midst of the stricken field, and
presently the amazing sight was to be seen of the great carcasses one
after another, as she (the ship) came alongside them, rising into the
air, a chain sling having been whipped round their tails and a tackle
hooked to it by means of which the whole body was hoisted on deck. By
five in the afternoon thirty of those huge masses encumbered the deck
of the _Grampus_, and she presented an even more gruesome sight than
she did when her decks were full of the spoils of the last great catch
of sperm-whales.

Now the skipper was in his element. No anxiety about the overside
business, everything on deck and snug, although the ship did tumble
about most dangerously from the great top weight. All hands were armed
with spades, and driven like slaves to use them. But N.B.: no two white
men were allowed to work together, lest they might, in desperation,
consider the time opportune for making a dash for freedom. No; Captain
Da Silva saw to that. He had such a head for detail! All that night and
all the next day, without a minute for rest, except just sufficient to
swallow the indispensable food, the fuel to keep these human engines
performing their allotted motions, the men laboured in silence for
the most part, save when the stern commands of the skipper broke the
stillness. Doggedly, desperately all hands toiled on, every plunge of
a great carcass denuded of spoil over the starboard covering-board
punctuating, as it were, the progress being made. And if the decks had
been foul before when the last great catch of sperm-whales was made, it
was trebly so now. Then, there was little besides the all-prevailing
grease, except an occasional block of flesh still left adhering to the
blubber: now, all the nameless foulnesses inseparable from cutting up
such huge bodies in tropical heat on deck were present in full volume,
and---- But this is not a subject to be pursued.

Wonderful to relate, the health of the recent invalids held out against
this tremendous strain upon it, and as soon as the last carcass plunged
overboard blubber watches were set, and it looked as though relief
had come. But not yet. Some attempt must be made to remove a portion
at least of the accumulated filth from the deck, and so for nearly
half of their first watch below the almost fainting men toiled with
water-buckets and brooms to that end. And as they did so they noticed,
in half-dazed, unappreciative fashion, how frequently the skipper
mounted his little deck aft and gazed earnestly at the lee quadrant of
the horizon. This happened so often that at last long dormant curiosity
was aroused also, and they looked earnestly in that direction too.
‘Thank God,’ all thought, ‘it isn’t whales he’s looking at.’ No, it
was not: it was an awful-looking Himalaya of blackest cloud, violet
edged, that reared its mighty head persistently in that quarter, but
did not seem to rise any higher than half-way to the zenith. No one on
board knew with what consummate skill and attention, in spite of the
many matters claiming his oversight, this wonderful man was manœuvring
his ship out of the path of what he knew to be a devastating cyclone.
He needed no sympathy, no help in his calculations; in fact, he took a
secret but colossal pride in standing alone. And reckoning to a nicety,
but with a dangerously narrow margin, he kept his crew going to clear
away their last great catch, at the same time making all preparations
to meet what he knew would soon be there--the frightful swell raised by
the hurricane and extending for thousands of miles on either side of
its track.

When it came all was ready for it. Double lashings on everything, the
tiers of casks below all carefully chocked and tom’d off to beams
above, preventer backstays on masts, &c. And as the great green hills
of water reaching from horizon to horizon came sweeping onward, tossing
the noble ship from summit to valley and back again as if she were just
a ball in the hands of gleeful children, the crew cast wistful glances
at their saturnine tyrant, wondering, ‘How did he know this was coming?
What kinder man _is_ he, anyhow?’ Well, had the answer been forthcoming
it would have been just this: That Captain Da Silva was one of those
men of native genius who first of all absorb knowledge as a sponge does
water, whose capacity for courage is as great as their capacity for
mercy or consideration is small, whose frames are more like automata
constructed of steel wire and rubber than sinews and flesh, and who,
given the opportunity, could juggle the globe in their hands as a
conjurer does his properties, and would do so, but for the wisdom of
God, who has ordained that such men shall never go too far. If this
sounds like fantastic eulogy as applied to the obscure master of a
whaleship, I do not feel at all inclined to argue the point: it is for
each one to study out for him or herself and see whether the theory be
reasonable or no.

The decks were quite clear, three-fourths of the blubber had been
boiled out and the resultant oil run below, when a very strange thing
happened. The weather was beautifully fine, the air serene, and a
little breeze wafted the _Grampus_ at a gentle rate over the sunlit
sea. Captain Da Silva, fully contented with himself, was lolling in
his wife’s chair abaft the wheel smoking a peculiarly rank, oily, and
foul-smelling cigar, one of a large quantity which, just suiting his
taste, he had bought at Brava. I think it may safely be said that
he was just then in the full enjoyment of _dolce far niente_, that
peculiarly delightful frame of mind and body conjoined of which ‘sweet
doing nothing’ seems so poor a description--when into the midst of it
came Priscilla. Lest it should be thought that I have neglected her of
late, I feel bound to say that she had been leading a sort of comatose
existence, in this busy little cosmos but not of it, alive but hardly
conscious of her surroundings. What could I have said of her but that
she awoke, ate a little, lived alone through the day, and slept again?
If perfect life be, as Herbert Spencer says, perfect correspondence
with a perfect environment, then was Priscilla only just dwelling on
the fringes of life, and might truly be said to be nine-tenths dead.
Her placid demeanour and speechless endurance of all things as they
came had become so regular an experience with her husband that it
was with something very like alarm that he saw her standing before
him on deck and heard her sweet, low voice saying distinctly, ‘May I
speak to you, Ramon?’ With a gasp of surprise he rose to his feet and,
stepping to the wheel, said to the shrinking helmsman: ‘Git t’ ’ell
forrard outa this,’ and the man was gone. Then, turning his lowering
eye upon Priscilla, yet not without a certain noticeable twitching of
his facial muscles, he muttered, ‘Wall, what is it naow? Spit it eout.’
She answered timidly, but as if she must speak: ‘Ramon, please forgive
me, but I know there’s a boat with some dying men in it over there.’
And she pointed to the north. ‘It’s a whaleboat, and there’s six men,
all alive, but going fast. Will you try and save them?’ He burst into a
very storm of curses upon her for daring to interfere with the working
of his ship and for her unmentionable folly in supposing that he, of
all men in the world, would be likely to take any notice of such a
baby-tale as that. But even as he raved and hissed his foul language
at his wife, she could see that in his fierce eyes there was a latent
look of awe--that he was only trying by noise and bluster to persuade
himself that he was asserting his power in the surest way. Priscilla
appeared to be entirely deaf to his awful words. And when, breathless,
he paused, she resumed quietly, ‘You will find the boat before evening
if you alter the course now, but I am afraid some of the men are
already dying.’ And with that she turned and went away, leaving her
husband like a man just about to have an epileptic fit. However, he
managed to restrain himself, and presently his voice was heard roaring
for the man whom he had sent from the wheel. Having given up the wheel,
he took a few short, undecided turns about the quarter-deck, and then,
like one acting upon some entirely irresistible impulse, he growled to
the helmsman, ‘Keep her away!’ ‘Keep her away, sir,’ replied the man,
immediately putting the helm up. As she swung off the wind the skipper
shouted, ‘Square the mainyard!’ and as the watch flew to the braces and
trimmed sail he steadied the course at north, which brought the wind a
little on the starboard quarter and made the speed about four knots.

This being done he went below as if, disgusted beyond measure at
having to do such a thing, he must needs use more opprobrious language
to his wife for thus in some mysterious way imposing her will upon
his. But when he saw her sitting in their little cabin looking with
preternaturally bright eyes into vacancy as if she were seeing
something with other than mortal vision, he could say nothing to her
at all, but with a muttered curse upon himself for this unheard-of
folly he fled on deck, not daring to look behind him. As if he must
do something, he slung his binoculars about his neck and mounted to
the fore crow’s-nest, from which the occupant had to depart suddenly
upon the skipper’s appearance. He searched the horizon with most
jealous care, but nothing could be seen, nothing but sea and sky and
an occasional bird. So after half an hour up there he descended again
and solaced his excited feelings by harrying the men, who, as usual,
were kept at work upon perfectly needless jobs as if their very lives
depended upon getting the work done in record time. And so congenial
did he find this occupation that he had almost forgotten why, contrary
to his own plans, he was running his ship almost dead before the wind
up the middle of the Indian Ocean instead of getting away across to
the Straits of Sunda as he had intended, when ‘What’s that?’ shouted
the mate. ‘Somethin’ right ahead, sir; looks like dead whale ’r a boat
’r a big log.’ Ah! Trembling in every limb, Captain Da Silva snatched
his glasses and sprang aloft. Panting with his speed he reached the
crow’s-nest. He did not need to ask where the object was. It stood up
with remarkable distinctness against that wide, clear blue, a little
ungainly black patch. He focussed his glasses upon it and stared
through the double tubes so earnestly that his eyeballs burnt in their
sockets. A cold shudder, in that tropical day, possessed him, ran
through him, and made the hair of his flesh stand up. It was a boat and
nothing else. What manner of woman could his wife be, and was it safe
for him to treat her as he had been doing? Superstitious fears seized
upon him, for ever it will be found that gross cruelty and superstition
go hand in hand, and at that moment he registered a mental vow that in
future there should be a great change in his treatment of Priscilla.
Indeed, he blamed himself bitterly for having allowed himself to behave
to her as he had done. But he took refuge in the mental coward’s lying
plea by muttering, ‘How was I to know?’

Go down from aloft he dared not. Slow, exasperatingly slow, as his
ship’s progress was, he felt that he must remain at his lofty perch
until the last moment, when he would go himself and see what this
strange business meant. It was a weary business, for under such
circumstances a ship’s progress seems to be so deliberate, one’s
impatience is so futile and yet so impossible to avoid showing, that
it tries men more than any words can say. It was nearly sunset when at
last the waif was near enough for a boat to be lowered for the purpose
of bringing her alongside. Long before that time arrived Captain Da
Silva had devoured every detail of her--had seen that to all appearance
the six men in her were dead, that she was a whaleboat, but, of course,
could not read her name, since it was not the practice for whaleboats
to carry the name of their ship painted on them, as is done in the
merchant service. The same haughty disregard of any other person’s
curiosity is usually shown in the Navy, where scarcely any of the
smaller boats give the ship’s name--you can read it on the men’s caps
if you want to know it.

Leaping into the boat he had ordered to be lowered, the skipper gave
the order to ‘give way’ in such a tone that the men fairly lifted the
boat through the water. None of them dared to steal a glance at him;
if they had they would have marvelled. He was in a piteous state of
nervous excitement. He felt as if his wife’s eyes were penetrating
through the massive sides of the ship, that she was cognisant of his
very thoughts; and the idea made great beads of cold sweat stand out
upon his swarthy skin. He fought with his fears as a man fights with
death, now devising strange punishments for Priscilla for having thus
obtained a strange power of frightening him, and now vowing to himself
that he would devote the rest of his time with her to making amends for
his previous treatment of her. Not that he was conscious of having done
anything he should not do--men of that class seldom are--but because
she did not seem to be happy under the discipline which he felt was his
prerogative to mete out to all under his command. And then they reached
the boat.

Are those bundles of rags and bones men? By night the dews and by day
the pitiless sun have alternately soaked and scorched them. They have
endured such agonies as men do not care to think of. The boat herself
is so bleached with sun and dew and wind that it seems wonderful she
still holds together. And there is a faint smell as of death. Round to
windward, quick. Look closely. Is there any life at all? Yes, there is
a slight movement. A bight of tow-line is flung on board and secured
to the bow thwart, a curt order is given, and the waif is being towed
to the ship. Arriving alongside, she is hoisted level with the rail
so that the hapless ones may be lifted out, as they are, so gently,
so tenderly, by those rude, much-persecuted men, while the skipper
looks on loweringly. One is dead. He is a little Italian apparently so
reduced by his sufferings that he looks more like an Egyptian mummy
uncased than anything else. But in all the rest there is some spark of
life, notably in one big-framed--alas, every bone is awfully visible,
and his eyes are away in the back of his head somewhere at the bottom
of two long tunnels--fair-haired man, whose broken lips part and whose
blackened tongue tries pitifully to frame a word.

The skipper goes away and leaves willing, eager hands to attend
mercifully upon these castaways. He has said no word forbidding
anything to be done, and so the group around the bodies give such aid
as they know how, while the rest of the crew trim yards again for
Anjer. And by the time she is settled upon her old course and the
Captain has carelessly strolled forward again, he is humbly informed
that five of the men he has rescued are not only still alive, but
likely to go on living.



CHAPTER XXII

THE MEETING


Now, owing to the way in which Priscilla kept her cabin when not
absolutely driven on deck by the foulness of the air below, she was,
strange as it must appear, quite ignorant of what was going on above
her. Had the steward not been exceedingly busy upon some domestic task,
he would, poor little man, have gladly carried her the news. But so it
was, the boat’s crew had been rescued, the boat hoisted inboard, and
things had all resumed their normal course without her being any the
wiser. And yet somehow she felt a lightening of the heart. She felt
sure, in spite of the coarse and brutal way in which her husband had
received her vision, that he had done, or would do, what she had asked
him--she had no anxiety upon that head at all. But then she was never
anxious now. She had cultivated unintentionally the serene detachment
of mind of those Indian devotees who, by dint of long meditation and
abstinence from all but the barest necessities in the way of food and
sleep, have attained unto a condition of mind that is favourable to
the detachment of body from soul without the catastrophe of death. Of
its psychology I know nothing, but I do feel that, given sufficient
will power, the human brain may be capable of some wonderful power of
sending thought waves out into the unseen. It does not matter, anyhow,
since I only wish to record the trance condition in which Priscilla
seemed now to spend most of her time.

But in some mysterious way she was subconsciously easier in her mind,
and that although she knew absolutely nothing about what was going on.
Also her husband seemed, for some reason or another, to be anxious
that she should not know. Perhaps he was ashamed, or whatever kindred
feeling to shame he might be capable of, to let her know that he had,
after all, obeyed her words and found that she had been absolutely
correct. Truth to tell, he was immensely impressed, and something very
like fear of his wife was slowly getting the mastery over him. Thus
days went by as the _Grampus_ drew steadily towards the great East
Indian Archipelago, and the rescued ones grew steadily well by dint of
careful letting alone and the help of their previous clean lives. Then
there came a day when Captain Da Silva took it upon him to have the
apparent head man of the boat’s crew he had saved brought aft to him,
and the following colloquy ensued. (It must be borne in mind that the
rescued men’s voices had only just returned to them.)

The Captain: ‘Wall, wut ship d’ ye b’long to?’ The Officer: ‘_Xiphias_,
sir, of New Bedford.’ A grunt from the skipper and a short interval
of silence. Then the skipper spoke again, after carefully rolling his
cigar between his lips, as if to extract the last grain of nicotine
out of it. ‘’N’ wut wuz ye doin’ t’ git lost? Sounds funny, grown
men like you air gittin’ lost.’ The scorn and contempt and utter
brutality of his manner passed all description. ‘Wall, sir,’ replied
the mate faintly, ‘the circumstances wuz peculiar. We left the ship
in chase of a whale just before a hurricane kem on, an’ I hung on t’
the whale mebbe a bit too long, so ’t we got outer sight o’ the ship.
’N’ then we’d all we knew t’ keep in shelter ov th’ carcass till thet
awful weather wuz over. ’N’ by thet time th’ whale wuz so blown up we
couldn’t stand his stink any longer, an’ we cut away from him an’ put
fur th’ Seychelles as near as I could judge. But there wuz only th’
lantern keg of bread an’ th’ ushal water, an’ thet’s all we’ve a-had
fur twelve days. If th’ boys hadn’t been th’ very best we sh’d all
a-ben mad long ago.’ Another spell of silence, broken at last by the
skipper saying: ‘S’pose you don’ reckon on ever seeing yewr ship agen,
hey? Le’s see, old man Hampden got her, er had her, I think. Ef so,
they ain’t ’nough of her left by this time t’ repair a whaleboat with.
He was a soft-hearted old greenie, anyhow, kinder pious, I seem to
remember, ’n’ didn’t know his nose fr’m the jibboom end.’ ‘Excuse me,
sir,’ said the mate suddenly, with some energy, ’thet kain’t be eour
Capt’n Hampden. I ben fishin’ fur two-an’-twenty year, and he wuz the
smartest skipper at anything a skipper ought to do ’at ever I gammed.’
‘Oh, shet yer big mouth, yew wouldn’t know a smart man w’en yew see
him. It’s the same man right enough. I knew him very well, an’ wouldn’t
ha’ carried him fur ballast in my ship. But I ain’t got no time t’ be
yarnin’ with yew, ner inclination either if yer come to thet. I’m jest
figgerin’ eout wut t’ dew with ye. I want a few han’s, an’ although
yew ain’t th’ kind I’d have if I c’d choose, y’r better than none, I
s’pose, an’ so I’ll ship th’ five of yew ’n’ give ye th’ 250th lay,
same’s th’ rest of th’ men ’r gettin’.’ ‘But, Captain,’ replied the now
thoroughly alarmed man, ‘I wuz mate of the _Xiphias_--I ben mate fur
th’ las’ ten years, ’n’ yew kain’t mean t’ take such a slice of my life
as to ship me here fur a three years’ cruise on a seaman’s lay. In th’
name ov common humanity, sir, yew kain’t mean it.’ And the big drops of
sweat started out of the poor fellow’s face. ‘Kain’t I!’ sneered the
skipper. ‘Jest yew say yew don’ know, and yew’ll be more ’n half right.
I k’n an’ dew mean just that thing. Yew’ll take my offer, yew an’ the
rest ov th’ great babies ’at come with ye, ’r if ye don’t yew’ll wish
yew’d been left to rot in thet boat. ’N’ mine yew, not a word outa yewr
heads, ’r ye’ll fine me t’ deal with, ’n I’ll try an’ teach ye wut a
smart cap’n is.’

Poor Mr. Pease! No braver man ever stepped, but he was weak and
trembling from exhaustion. A strong desire to live had returned to
him, and, moreover, he was overborne by the fierceness of the terrible
man with whom he was confronted, and he dimly remembered some of the
terrible stories current about him--of the dark deeds done by him in
the secret places of the sea, and up till now with impunity, because of
his phenomenal success as a whale-fisher. When will people in business
learn that it is a crime against man and God to condone, yes, connive
at abominable wickedness in those they have set over their employees,
because, forsooth, they are ‘smart men’? When will people learn to
brand a man as a demon, whatever his place in society or the Church or
in business, who, in his villainous methods of getting rich, brings woe
and death unto thousands of homes? When will ministers of the Gospel
dare to say to such men bringing their vilely acquired wealth and
pouring it into the coffers of the Church, ‘Thy money perish with thee!’

So with this terror upon him, Mr. Pease signed the articles, and his
crew followed suit, becoming by that act the slaves of the skipper
for the next three years unless some heaven-sent happening should
release them. And immediately, though they were yet so exhausted,
they were set to such work as they could do--making sinnet, scraping,
and mat-weaving. Well was it for them that no whales were sighted, or
assuredly they would have been called upon to take their places in the
various boats, under which severe treatment they would probably have
died.

It may perhaps be thought strange that as yet no allusion has been
made to the strange fact of Reuben and Priscilla being on board the
same ship at last. But really, as far as these two principal actors
in our story are concerned, it did not seem possible that anything
should come of it, the circumstances being so peculiar. As repeatedly
observed, Priscilla came on deck but little, for she could not bear
the jealous watchfulness with which her husband followed her every
movement. And in the fo’c’sle, or, indeed, out of it, such was the
terror under which all hands lived, not merely of the skipper, but of
his Portuguese allies, that any conversation concerning the skipper was
tacitly banned. No word ever passed between the white men about him or
his affairs. The Portuguese may have discussed him freely, but as it
was in their own tongue, no one but themselves was any the wiser. Thus
it came to pass that Reuben was on board the ship a month before he so
much as knew that the Captain had his wife with him, which is all the
more noteworthy from the fact that in small vessels like the _Grampus_
it is the rule that the Captain cannot sneeze in the solitude of his
state-room without it being known and commented upon all over the
ship in an hour. Poor fellows, they have so little to talk about. But
whalers generally needed to be exempt from this law. Their discipline
was much too strict for it to run even in the best of them, while in
the _Grampus_, as we have seen, it was in the highest degree dangerous
to mention the Captain’s name at all.

The ship had passed through the Straits of Sunda into the Java Sea,
and was one night, under the skilful pilotage of the skipper, working
her darkling way westward along the south coast of Borneo. There was
but little wind, except occasionally when a passing squall gave a
heavier puff than usual, causing the staunch and well-balanced ship to
heel like a yacht. Terrific peals of thunder and blazing flashes of
lightning followed one another in quick succession, for the heat of
the day was being healthfully dispersed over the sea from the land,
although in a somewhat terrifying manner. Rube was at the wheel,
his great figure erect and head slightly turned aside to listen for
the skipper’s slightest word, while keeping one eye fixed upon the
faithful little face of the compass suspended inside the skylight.
Suddenly there was an awful crash of thunder as if a Himalayan Range
were tumbling to pieces, a short breathless hush, and with a hiss as
of escaping steam, sky and sea were flooded with violet flame. As Rube
raised his arm instinctively to shield his face he saw by that brief
blaze a woman facing him within a few feet. For that vivid instant
the two faces were revealed, then utter blackness succeeded. Through
Priscilla rushed a spasm of fear. Who was this huge bearded stranger,
and whence had he come? More, why did the sight of him put her poor
deadened mind into such a ferment as the optic nerves experience when
after long darkness the eyes are suddenly exposed to the glare of day?
As she groped her way below these things flitted across her brain, but
never for one moment did she imagine why or how, and soon, very soon,
she resumed her listless introspective attitude again. She had only
crept up with some message to her husband of trivial import, and soon
the whole incident receded to the background of her mind.

As for Reuben, for one moment he thought he had been struck by
lightning, and with the stroke had come a vision of an angel, a
sorrowful angel outlined in living light. But the shock, great though
it was, did not suffice to unlock that closed door of memory, only to
let a few broken gleams of illumination through, tantalising, almost
maddening in their incompleteness. He soon recovered, and when relieved
from the wheel at eight bells, sought one of the American portion of
the old crew and whispered, ‘Is they a woman aboard this ship?’ ‘Hush,
for Heaven’s sake. If the skipper gits to know you’ve asked such a
question, or I’ve answered it, he’ll trice us up an’ flog us, sure’s
death. An’ ye kain’t breathe here without somebody listening. Yes.’
‘Thanks,’ replied Rube; and straightway going to his bunk he lifted up
his heart in fervent though silent prayer for the owner of that sweet
pale face. In doing this he but obeyed an irresistible impulse, since
he knew not at all of Priscilla’s suffering, and, indeed, even before
the accident which shut him off from the past, had always thought of
her as being full of happiness with her husband. Now, however, knowing
no more of who Priscilla was than of a person he had never seen or
heard of, he was full of a mysterious compassion for her, and felt that
he would gladly have laid down his life to serve her.

The crew of the _Grampus_ never ate any idle bread, but now they were
indeed having a time of travail. For Captain Da Silva was making
a passage to the Japan grounds, being mightily wroth because of
the ill-success which had attended him lately. The wonderful good
fortune enjoyed by him previously had been relegated to the limbo of
forgotten things. He felt no joy in it now, looked upon it as only
a bare reward for his phenomenal ability and smartness, of which no
man was more fully conscious than himself. So he harassed his crew by
night and by day, making, trimming, furling, sail; so that no breath
of wind should be wasted, and when, as occasionally happened, a dead
calm befell, getting all the boats out and setting their crews to tow
the vessel along with their oars. It was a fearful ordeal in that
climate, and some of the crew were only kept at it by sheer dread of
the skipper. They feared him more than sunstroke or death by sheer
exhaustion. It was this state of things which brought about a collision
between him and Reuben. The latter stalwart recruit being always so
willing and apparently eager to work, had hitherto escaped even the
usual opprobrious epithets with which most of the crew, except the
Portuguese, were favoured. But because no occasion of fault could be
found in him he was jealously watched by the skipper’s cronies, and, as
it was bound to do sooner or later, the longed-for opportunity came.
The boats had just returned to the ship, after a four hours’ tow in
the afternoon sun, because a little breeze had sprung up and relieved
them. The boat in which Reuben pulled midship oar had just come
alongside, and Mr. Pease, who had been pulling tub-oar (next to Rube)
had fainted, overcome by heat and exhaustion. Unfortunately, just then
the skipper looked over the side, and taking in the position of things
with one glance of his flashing eyes, shouted with an awful Portuguese
oath, ‘Start that lazy Yankee brute there, Pedro! Hit him, hit him
with anything!’ Pedro, not at all unwillingly, seized a bight of the
towline, and was just about to deal the unconscious man a tremendous
blow, when Rube, calmly turning round, seized the descending arm, and
with his other hand quietly wrenched the rope from the harpooner’s
fingers. The maddened Portuguese snatched his knife from his belt at
the moment of his release, and with his skipper’s yell of ‘Kill him,
kill him!’ piercing his ears, made one frantic stab at Rube. But as
calmly as he had caught the rope-wielding wrist, so now he caught the
murderous one, and with a quick twist made Pedro drop his knife into
the sea. A yell of pain escaped the Portuguese as his wrist cracked,
and Rube, releasing him, said quietly, ‘Sorry t’ hurt ye, shipmate,
but ye mustn’t kill, y’ know.’ By this time the skipper had recovered
from the speechlessness of rage into which he had been thrown by Rube’s
action, and shouted, ‘On deck with ye, on deck!’ All obeyed but the
man who had fainted: he was beyond obedience. As Rube stepped over the
rail the skipper met him with a blow of a heavy bludgeon of oak that
might have felled an ox. Right across the head and face it came, and
the splendid fellow dropped senseless and bleeding at his master’s
feet. Stooping, the latter dragged the unconscious body to the middle
of the deck, and sang out, ‘Up waist boat.’ But the white men stood
irresolute for one moment as if inclined to resent the vileness of this
last assault. That moment was fatal. For without a sign made every
Portuguese in the ship had ranged himself by the skipper, and in their
hands gleamed revolver barrels. Howling out the order again, the unled
whites seized the falls and ran the boat up on to her cranes. One of
the Portuguese asked if the man was to be lifted out of the boat, but
the skipper turned upon him with an oath so fierce that he shrank back,
regretting that he had spoken.

No one dared suggest aid to Rube, and so, with the knowledge that again
he had fully asserted his superiority over the white man, Captain Da
Silva went quite happy to his supper. And sitting there with his wife,
he could not forbear saying exultantly: ‘Nice crowd o’ hogs these
countrymen o’ yours are. I d’ ’no’ wut I wuz fool ’nough t’ take any
of ’em aboard here for at all. Some of ’em kem aboard through yew,
anyhow--one ’specially I remember just now. I’m goin’ t’ give myself
th’ pleasure of floggin’ him to-morrow, if he ain’t dead, and yew shall
be a witness to see it’s all done legally, y’ know.’ And he winked
hideously at her. She, poor thing, sat as usual silent and white,
hardly realising the horror of the whole thing. And her misery of mind
and body was only slightly increased when, as a sort of praise-meeting
to whatever devil they felt protected by, the skipper invited the
Portuguese harpooners below to a drinking bout, first locking
Priscilla into her room. The baffled Pedro was there with his arm in
a sling, looking a veritable fiend. ‘Never mind,’ said the skipper in
Portuguese, ‘yew shall have the flogging of that big Yankee beast if
he lives. What do you think of that?’ Pedro muttered some inarticulate
profanity and took another drink. He did not mind much what was done as
long as he ‘got even,’ as he termed it. And now it is time to draw a
veil over that bestial scene, worthy of the worst days of the pirates,
and especially those Portuguese pirates who sailed the China Seas
commanding gangs composed of all the scum of the Far East and outdoing
them all in cruelty.

On deck a stealthy figure had crept forward to where Rube lay, with a
mat to put under his head and a little water to moisten his parched
lips. It was the poor darky steward, who had been shut out of the
cabin while the drinking was going on, and who thus, for pity’s sake,
risked undergoing the same treatment. Not that it would have been much
novelty, for there was scarcely an inch of the poor wretch’s body which
had not its scar. And at last men get used to such treatment (some men,
that is) and take it as a matter of course. It is pleasant to record
that this poor samaritan was enabled to carry out his beneficent little
ministration unseen, save by Mr. Court, who still kept his watch,
although in a dogged sullen way that was intensely painful to see, but
which, strange to say, did not seem to detract from his efficiency.
But, as he said to himself very often in the solitudes wherein his
soul roamed during the night watches, was there ever an officer so
treated? He did not know, from his favourable position heretofore in
American ships, that many hundred British mercantile officers have
had to endure treatment even worse than his, because they have been,
as well as kept at arm’s length by the skipper and made to feel that
they were of less account than anybody on board, openly and constantly
reviled before all the crew, and then expected to maintain discipline.
Happily, with the morning came, instead of the shameful exhibition
purposed by the skipper, a diversion welcomed by all hands, except
Rube, who, but for his stertorous breathing, appeared to be dead. It
was the raising of a ‘pod’ of cow whales at daylight, with a brisk
breeze and everything in favour of a splendid day’s hunting. Rube was
dragged aft out of the way. Pedro, whose wrist was so badly strained
that he could not lift a harpoon with it, grumblingly took up his
station aloft for signalling purposes, and in ten minutes from the time
of sighting the whales five boats were away, the skipper leading as
usual. This, however, was to be an exception to the usual celerity of
capture shown by the _Grampus’s_ crew. In the first place, the whales
were going so fast that it seemed for a long while as if the chase
must be fruitless; and then, when at last the boats did rush in among
them, their movements were so marvellously agile that the danger was
very great. The skipper as usual seemed ubiquitous, compelling the
admiration of all by the way he manipulated his boat. He had already
killed his whale when he saw that Mr. Court was exceedingly hampered
by the movements of a loose cow, which behaved as if she understood
exactly how best to frustrate all the deadly intentions of the enemy of
her companion. Without a moment’s hesitation the skipper cut loose from
his whale, shouted to his men, and tore off to help the mate, leaping
like a flying fish from one boat to the other as they flew swiftly in
opposite directions. Snatching the lance from the hand of the amazed
officer, he had just dealt a tremendous blow at the fast whale with it,
when, as the boat lay off, the loose whale rose spectrally between,
on her back, with her jaws agape. Swiftly turning, those great jaws
closed, catching the skipper’s arm, with which he was poising his newly
straightened lance again, and dragging him headlong out of the boat.
Paralysed with horror, the mate stood for a moment, then stooped and
caught the skipper as he came bounding to the surface almost at the
spot where he went overboard. But in doing so Mr. Court overbalanced
himself, and he and the skipper, interlocked in each other’s arms,
went down again. The harpooner, a wonderfully smart black Portuguese,
immediately cut the line, allowing the whale to run, and after a minute
or two’s manœuvring, succeeded in bringing the mate and skipper to the
surface and into the boat, the latter almost dead.

[Illustration: THE LOOSE WHALE ROSE SPECTRALLY BETWEEN, ON HER BACK,
WITH HER JAWS AGAPE.

_P. 295._]

The best haste possible was made to the ship, and the skipper was
carefully lifted on board, laid on the deck aft, and his clothes cut
off as the only way of uncovering his wounded arm and side. All the
time the examination took place he was unconscious, so the mate was
able to dress the extensive lacerations, set two broken ribs and the
mangled arm, and make him fairly comfortable before he came to. Then
with very great care he was lowered through the cabin skylight and laid
upon the settee in his berth. Here he was left to the care of his wife,
while the mate returned to his arduous duties on deck. It is pleasant
to record that his first care was to see some adequate attention given
to the case of Rube, who was moaning and tossing ceaselessly in the
throes of brain fever.



CHAPTER XXIII

FAREWELL TO THE _XIPHIAS_


We left the _Xiphias_ in evil case as far as appearance went, but with
her brave crew still undaunted by the long series of misfortunes which
had now, as they thought, almost reached the culminating point in the
loss of their vessel and all of their lives. Perhaps a bitter pang did
stab some of their hearts as they realised that if the hurricane now
raging should succeed in its efforts to destroy them all, their fate
would never be known. That adds a new terror to death, for man loves
to think that his going hence is no mystery, and that its incidents
will be remembered to his credit by someone, if only for a little time.
But gradually hope grew stronger (they had never quite lost it) that
they might be saved, for the weather was, as always in the following
segment of a cyclone, growing perceptibly better, although the force of
the wind showed as yet no sign of lessening. Unfortunately, herein lay
their present danger; for the _Xiphias_ was leaking so badly, she had
evidently been strained to such an extent, that the sea, now rising and
tossing her about like a ball, bade fair to complete her destruction
after all. Therefore, encouraged by the skipper and Mr. Peck, who had
now of course assumed the position of chief officer, they all toiled
unremittingly at the pumps, even though the face of the carpenter as he
sounded the well every hour never lightened.

The struggle for life had been so fierce that when at last the awful
meteor had passed quite away, the sea had resumed its placid calm, and
all nature seemed through that tremendous convulsion to have renewed
its vigorous youth, the poor tired old ship was hardly able to rise
to the long, long swell that still came rolling majestically towards
her, extending from one horizon to the other. She just slowly wallowed
like a top that is ‘going to sleep’ and will presently lie dead. So
alarming was the outlook that Captain Hampden and a few of the more
weary of the men commenced to provision the boats in readiness to leave
the ship in case she foundered. One thing puzzled the fine old skipper,
though, and that was how, with nearly twelve feet of water in her, the
_Xiphias_ floated at all. And then suddenly, calling himself a fool, he
remembered all that oil below tightly bunged in stout casks, which in
their turn were well stowed and secured from floating adrift by ‘toms’
from the beams above them. Due to his own forethought, and yet he had
forgotten--could not realise why his ship had not, long ere this,
‘turned turtle’ and sunk.

Having realised it, he called all hands aft and explained the
circumstances to them; told them that they were only about three
hundred miles south of Mahé, in the Seychelles, which was the nearest
port where they could hope to find their needs supplied and whence
they could send news home that would arrive there within reasonable
time. Finally, he concluded his speech by saying: ‘Men, God hasn’t
forgotten us. We shall live, I feel sure. And I don’t believe He’s
forgotten our poor shipmates either. I feel almost certain that they
are still alive, and that in His own good time we shall see them
again. Carpenter, sound that well again.’ The order was obeyed amidst
breathless attention, and the cheer that went up when Chips announced,
‘Eleven-three, sir, just what it was an hour ago,’ could not have been
improved upon by the healthiest and most vigorous crew. Now every man
went on with his work soberly and in good heart, as if persuaded of
his perfect security, and the ship crawled daily nearer port, while,
although regular pumping continued, there was none of the energy of
despair in the work because it certainly was not needed. But at the
mastheads every eye while daylight lasted roamed around the great blank
circle unceasingly as untiringly, hoping against hope to see, not
whales, but some sign of the lost ones. In the foc’s’le the fellows
could talk of nothing else but Rube; and MacManus, who had been one
of those left on board, refused to be comforted. In fact, with the
emphasis of his warm-hearted, illogical race, he went so far as to say
that if Rube was lost he wouldn’t survive him, and that if even his
own father confessor dared to suggest to him that Rube was a heretic
instead of a blessed saint and martyr he would peril all his chances of
eternal salvation by committing a fierce, premeditated assault upon the
unworthy man.

All the patience possessed by this crew of good fellows was needed by
them now. For while their hope was strong again, it was sickeningly
deferred day after day by the lightness of the airs and the
sluggishness of the vessel. Besides, as often happens in such cases,
the leak, having unaccountably ceased to gain upon them, now began to
increase again, although very slowly. There is something appalling in
being on board ship under such conditions. Knowing the possibilities,
one cannot help expecting that presently the opening through which the
hungry water is forcing itself may widen out so extensively as to make
the sinking of the ship a matter of minutes. This feeling of dreadful
anticipation is, I am bound to say, not nearly so much warranted on
board a wooden ship as it is in an iron or steel vessel, where the
springing of a leak may mean the starting of one rivet in a row, which,
resenting the extra strain put upon them, promptly give up their hold,
and the great plate, gaping, admits the sea so fast that the hull sinks
like a bottle with the bottom knocked out.

However, all hands stuck manfully by their task, and on the twelfth day
from the ceasing of the hurricane they were rewarded by hearing from
the masthead the joyful shout of ‘Land-ho!’ It was early morning, but
so slow was the pace at which their vessel crawled towards this haven
of refuge that it was nightfall before they anchored in the beautiful
little bay of Mahé. And as the anchor rattled joyfully down, its
clangour reverberating among the hills, all hands felt deeply grateful,
and then very sad, as they thought of the brave fellows who had not
been permitted to reach port with them. Then the sails were quickly
furled and the decks cleared up, and a spell at the pumps was decided
upon by the skipper before allowing everybody to have a long night’s
rest. So after a good meal and smoke, the pumps were manned by three
gangs, who relieved one another at ten minutes’ intervals until nine
o’clock, by which time the water in the hold had been so much reduced
that, after consultation with the carpenter, the skipper decided
that except for an anchor watch of one seaman and a harpooner, all
hands might go below and remain until eight bells (eight o’clock) the
following morning.

When aroused, not only did they find a splendid assortment of fruit
alongside, but the anchor watch had been busy fishing, and the
appetising odour of fresh fish being cooked greeted their nostrils as
they came on deck. It was a happy breakfast party held forward that
morning. Sweet potatoes, fried fish, coffee, and soft bread, with
oranges and bananas to follow, made up a meal which, after their late
terrible experiences, seemed to them the richest banquet imaginable.
As soon as breakfast was over, their heavy task began. First of all,
they got under weigh, and worked the vessel in as near the shore as
possible. Then, having moored her head and stern, they commenced
operations by discharging her cargo, lowering the casks of oil into
the water and towing them to the beach, where they were laboriously
rolled up above high-water mark. Then, some lighters being hired, all
the provisions, movable furniture, clothing, &c., were also discharged,
the sails were unbent and sent ashore also, while the upper yards
were sent down and floated alongside. A great raft was made ready to
work upon, and then the vessel was hauled in as closely as she would
go in her now empty condition to the beach, the cutting falls secured
to the fore and main lower mastheads, and the two bower anchors laid
out shoreward. This heavy toil occupied four days. Then came Sunday,
when, comfortably housed in tents of their own rigging ashore, the
weary crew enjoyed a long luxurious day’s rest, helped by a very homely
service of thanksgiving conducted by the skipper.

On Monday the great work of repairing the ship’s bottom began by
attaching the cutting falls to the bower anchors, leading the
hauling parts ashore, and heaving the ship down upon her side until
her keel was exposed. It was then found that the leak was in the
garboard-strake, or the next plank to the keel, and manfully did the
carpenter, the cooper, and as many of the crew as could handle a tool,
attack the work of repair. Four days from sunrise to sunset were spent
in this labour, then, satisfied that all was right on the starboard
side, the skipper ordered the vessel to be turned round and the other
side hove out for the same treatment.

It is very wonderful to consider in how few words--in a sentence, for
instance, like the preceding one--can be described an enormous amount
of work. A whole chapter might easily be devoted to the elucidation
of the various processes necessary for the performance of this work
spoken of so baldly, but I am afraid it would be far from interesting.
Sufficient, perhaps, to say that these duties, involving so much
painful labour, and for so long a time, are now performed in dry docks
or on patent slips with a celerity and ease that, considering the bulk
and weight of modern ships, would be nothing short of miraculous to a
casual observer unversed in engineering feats.

Fortunately the men were all contented with as well as interested in
their work. They had grown to love the ship as they had the captain
and officers, and so each duty, however hard or unpleasant, was gaily
performed, and apparently without half the labour expended on similar
tasks by discontented men. At the expiration of a month from the time
of entering Mahé the ship was again ready for sea. ‘Tight as a bottle,’
said the proud carpenter, who had worked like any three men, and,
besides, had managed to teach much of his art to sailors (farmers most
of them a year ago), so that they were able to assist him, not merely
in sawing, hauling, or chopping, but in much more important detail
work. No man had given any trouble. Loafing natives or beachcomers of
doubtful nationality, skulking around for an opportunity to do mischief
by purveying a peculiarly vile brand of fire-water, were sternly warned
off the premises of the sailors--told to keep outside a certain area
set apart as the special grounds of the men of the _Xiphias_.

When the work was all done, the cargo reshipped, and the _Xiphias_
quite ready for sea, Captain Hampden called all hands aft, and said:
‘Men, I’m dredful proud of ye. Ye’ve take the last ounce out of
yourselves, you’ve never given me a minute’s uneasiness, and I don’t
know how to thank ye enough. But I got it in my head that as we are
all ready to sail to-morrow if need be, maybe yew’d some of yew like
a little run loose with some money of your own, and if so I feel that
yew’re all so worthy of trust that I ought to give yew the opportunity,
and I will--if yew want it. Ef not, I’ll gladly go with yew to a
regular picnic down to one of these beautiful outlying beaches. We’ll
take all our own provisions, we’ll cook them ourselves, every man
shall amuse himself just as he likes, fishing, rambling, swimming, or
what not, and we shall come aboard tired out with real enjoyment, but
happy and not a cent poorer in pocket or health. Now, all those in
favour of my scheme step forward--those that want to go by themselves
and spend their own money remain behind.’

All hands stepped forward but two harpooners. The prospect of such a
‘Sunday School outing,’ as one of them termed it, did not appeal to
them--they were men, not babies. So they went both of them together
in search of what they considered to be enjoyment, while Captain
Hampden and all hands, except the mate (Mr. Peck), the carpenter, and
steward, left the ship on their excursion, and spent a day of unalloyed
pleasure, happy as a lot of children let loose from school. And if
any old sailor turns up his nose at this I would like to ask him, as
an honest fellow, to tell me how much enjoyment he ever got prowling
about the purlieus of a great seaport from one dirty public-house
to another, always meeting the same kind of furtive-eyed loafer and
blatant female, and always pounced upon by these harpies with shouts of
welcome, changing into derisive curses as soon as they found he had no
more money to spend on them or to give them? I have no doubt but that
his answer would be that it was all sickening and exasperating in the
last degree, but as long as he knew of no other way in which to spend
his money and leisure, it was not his fault that he behaved as an utter
idiot.

But enough of this. The two malcontents returned in the morning sadly,
having had their enjoyment and looking fearfully the worse for it. No
one said anything to them about their experiences, and they did not
volunteer any information, but it was at least a fortnight before they
had regained their healthy appearance, and a much longer time before
they had lost a certain hanging of the head. This last was novel, and
would not have been the case, but that they had been practically alone
in their folly. And, perhaps, there was just a little of the Pharisee’s
attitude in their shipmates, who, having chosen to keep out of harm’s
way, were inclined to be inordinately proud of their virtue. It is this
which makes so many Christians offensive, makes them shunned by those
who are really penitent. They do not understand the Divine pity nor the
Divine humility, much less endeavour to practise them, and so repel
those whom they are professing to try and attract.

At noon that day the _Xiphias_ sailed short-handed by the loss of those
six fine men (for recruits were not to be obtained in Mahé), but well
equipped again for the voyage. She now carried seven boats--five in the
davits and two on the skids aft, and all repairs had been substantially
carried out. As soon as she was clear of the land and heading across
east for the archipelago, Captain Hampden called all hands aft, and in
their presence complimented the carpenter for his noble efforts and his
great skill. The Captain said that what he had done was truly above
all reward, but as a mark of his appreciation he had much pleasure in
handing Chips an order on the owners for $250 = £50. Chips turned brick
red, fidgeted, shuffled, and finally said, ‘Thankee, sir.’ More than
that he could not say--he was one of those doers who cannot talk. But
the men cheered him to the echo, and another kindly link in the chain
which bound all hands was forged.

That evening Captain Hampden communicated to his officers his plans. He
intended making a passage with all possible speed to the Bonins, hoping
there to pick up half-a-dozen good men, and then go on the Japan ground
for a season--it being then at the height of its fame. But, he said, he
was not without hope that on the way thither they might meet with some
whales, and be fortunate enough to obtain such an addition to their
stock as would repay them for their recent losses. All the officers
were in the best possible spirits. They felt that, depleted as the crew
was, if only favoured with opportunity they would all give the best
possible account of themselves, and each reiterated his firm belief
that this would yet be a most successful voyage. Then they separated
for the night.

At daylight in the morning the gladsome cry was again heard from the
crow’s-nest notifying the nearness of sperm-whales. And for the next
week they had a real, old-fashioned busy time. They killed four fine
large bulls, one of which was apparently very sick, and, besides,
so fat that each lance-thrust was almost like piercing a bladder
of lard. So peculiar was his lethargy that, in the absence of any
apparent reason for it in the shape of recent encounters with whalers,
the Captain decided upon an unusual examination of the body, which,
favoured by wonderfully fine weather and a smooth sea, Mr. Peck was
able to accomplish successfully. The search revealed an enormous mass
of ambergris, packed tightly in the lower bowel, and weighing over two
hundredweight. This alone at the lowest possible quotation of $5 an
ounce represented nearly $18,000, or about £3,500, more than the value
of the whole four whales put together, although in those days sperm oil
and spermaceti were easily worth $500 per ton to the ship.

All hands rejoiced exceedingly, feeling that the monetary loss of
their late disaster was well wiped out, and anticipating again a
most prosperous voyage. Heartened and encouraged thus, they worked
so splendidly that by the time they reached the Sunda Straits the
vessel was in her normal state of cleanliness and fitness for further
adventure. But none came along. They just glided quietly through
the straits, buying up with great delight the stores of fruit and
vegetables brought by the islanders, who could hardly believe their
good fortune. For most of the sailing ships that loiter through there
do not yield the canoe-men much profit--the trade is mostly barter,
an old shirt for a punnet of sweet potatoes, a pair of shoes for a
section bunch of bananas, &c. And the demand for monkeys, parrots,
musk-deer,&c., has greatly fallen off even in homeward bound ships.
The _Xiphias_’ crew, however, took all the fresh food that came along,
and got it a bargain, because they paid for it in silver dollars or
five-franc pieces, money current all over the islands of the Indian
Ocean from Madagascar to Singapore.

All the way along from Anjer to Luzon they coasted peacefully, keeping
wide-eyed watch for possible thieves--it would be using too big a word
to call them pirates--who, even to this day, are ever ready to pounce
upon a helpless craft and rifle her, incidentally killing her crew.
Our splendid sea-patrol, ever engaged in keeping the peace all round
the world, is specially busy in Eastern waters protecting the world’s
commerce from these polyglot marauders, and on the East Coast of Africa
in suppressing slavery. Yet for this truly beneficent work one never
hears a word of praise. All our sins, or even our supposed sins, are
remembered--not merely, I regret to say, on the Continent of Europe,
where we expect it to be so, but in the United States of America, and
all our good deeds are studiously ignored, or, worse still, distorted
into deep-dyed hypocritical designs upon some innocent people’s
independence. But I often wonder what would become of Eastern commerce
if the British Fleet in those seas were to be suddenly withdrawn.

One more piece of good fortune awaited the _Xiphias_ and her good
crew before getting clear of those mazy waters. It was just after
they had cleared the Molucca Passage, and were hauling up north for
the Bonins. About half an hour before sunset the fore crow’s-nest
reported something, he didn’t know what, but it was making a tremendous
commotion in the water away ahead about four or five miles. The vessel
being under full sail, and with a moderate breeze, nothing more could
be done but keep her as she was going, except that Captain Hampden
mounted up to the fore-topgallant yard with his glasses and succeeded
in noting a black object in the sea. No more disturbance was visible.
The sun went down, the quick tropical twilight faded into night, and
still the skipper kept his eyes fixed upon the spot. Then to his great
joy the moon rose--in that clear atmosphere shedding a flood of light
along the sea. Suddenly the skipper’s voice rang out of the darkness
above: ‘Lower away y’r boat, Mr. Peck, an’ keep her jest ez we’re
goin’. I think yew’ll find somethin’ worth havin’ jest ahead there. The
res’ of th’ hands shorten sail an’ heave ship to.’ ‘Aye, aye, sir,’
responded the cheery voice of the mate. And in about three minutes the
vessel was lying-to, the rattle of boat’s falls was heard, and the
faint glimmer of a lantern was seen as Mr. Peck sped away along the
lane of silver sheen spread by the moon on the surface of the quiet
waters. He was no sooner gone than the skipper reached the deck, and
immediately kept the ship away again after the boat. In half an hour
all hands were straining to get alongside the biggest whale any of
them had ever seen, slain apparently by one of his fellows, since his
jaw and part of his throat were completely torn away. Thus, without
any effort on their part, beyond realising the spoil, they had gained
a prize worth about $6,000; a sort of crumb flung to them out of the
boundless wealth of the sea.

And now, much to my sorrow, we must part company with Captain Hampden
and his crew. The further matters treated of in this history do not
concern him: he did not even hear of them till two years later. It
would be a pleasant task to tell of how he reached the Bonins in peace,
and found there the recruits he needed, also an indefinite rumour,
which gave him many anxious hours, of some men having been there in
the _Grampus_, who said they had been lost from his ship. For his own
peace of mind he was bound to put it down to one of those loosely
invented tales that ship-frequenters in foreign ports concoct in order
to get on fairly intimate speaking terms with shipmen; terms which,
skilfully manipulated, should result in profit to the tale-tellers.
Also of how, through the usual thrilling series of adventures
which always fell to the lot of a whaleship in those days out for
a three-years’ cruise to the uttermost parts of the sea, Captain
Hampden and his men passed unscathed bodily and exceedingly prosperous
financially, since the _Xiphias_ returned, having been absent three
years to the week, with almost the largest cargo ever brought from the
depths of the sea to New Bedford, or, indeed, any other port in New
England.

But that must not be. Our business now is with the _Grampus_, and to
her, however unwillingly, we must return, bidding the _Xiphias_ a long
farewell.



CHAPTER XXIV

CHECK TO THE KING, AND A NEW MOVE


As on a previous and never-to-be-forgotten occasion, in the midst of
the multifarious activities prevailing on the deck of the _Grampus_
there was a sense of profound peace. And now there was also a feeling
of fierce delight that their tyrant was tasting in his own body some
of the pains he had so joyously inflicted upon others. All the white
men’s faces wore a pleasant expression, not at all mitigated by the
presence of the Portuguese jealously noting the satisfaction and fully
aware of its cause. And, human nature being what it is, there is no
doubt whatever that had Captain Da Silva died, his Portuguese henchmen
would have been compelled to eat the humblest of humble-pie, or commit
themselves to a fearful mutiny with all its consequences.

Mr. Court moved majestically among the toilers with the air of a man
from whom an awful incubus has been removed, and to whom has come a
veritable inspiration. He did not shout; all his orders were issued
quietly, but how wise and far-seeing were all his arrangements! And,
first of all, he told off Mr. Pease to watch Rube, who was fighting
with all the splendid reserve of force in his clean, healthy body
against the encroaching Angel of Death. Mr. Court’s reasons for this
were two-fold. First, he needed badly to show his detestation of the
malice which had placed this fine officer in the position of a seaman,
and next he had noticed that in Rube’s delirium one name continually
fell from his lips like a peal of dactyls, ‘Priscilla, Priscilla,
Priscilla.’ And Mr. Court knew that Priscilla was the name of his
skipper’s wife. Therefore, although he fully believed poor Rube’s
chanting of that name to be a mere coincidence, he knew how essential
it was that the skipper should not hear of it. For he was sure that in
that case Rube’s days would be few and evil, supposing the skipper to
live. So calling Mr. Pease to him, after being exceedingly careful to
see that none of the Dagoes was within earshot, he explained the matter
to him carefully, winding up by saying that at least until the devil
was unchained again, he (Mr. Court) would see that a brother officer
was, as far as possible, saved from the degradation deliberately
prepared for him.

All this, of course, was seen, noted, and commented upon by the
Portuguese, secure in the general utter ignorance of their language by
the white men, and consequently not needing to get away in private for
consultation. But all they could do under present circumstances was to
‘bide their time, doing their duty meanwhile as before, for they knew
quite enough of their skipper to be sure that no amount of favouritism
would be held to excuse slackness of work when money-making was to the
fore. And as the Americans worked now with a hearty good will because
of the absence of the skipper, it was truly marvellous to see how the
tremendous task of cutting-in and trying-out was tackled. A spirit of
emulation was abroad, manifesting itself in extraordinary ways. For
instance, a lean American from Connecticut, who had somehow learned
to swim splendidly, was down on the back of a whale for the purpose
of hooking a mighty iron hook into what is called the ‘rising,’ or
eye-piece. He sprang there at the word, alighting in the foul pool
of grease and blood and salt water at the same moment as a gigantic
Portuguese, but just as they both reached out for the hook a big swell
came along, the ship gave a heave, and a vast volume of water swept
over the carcass, washing both the men into the sea alongside, which
as usual was alive with sharks. They disappeared for a moment among
the shovel heads and dorsal fins crowding round; then, springing to
the surface, Nat, the American, snatched at a strip of blubber, and by
sheer agility flung himself back to his former position, grabbing at
the dangling hook as he reached it, and yelling in a half-strangled
voice, ‘Heave away!’ Then, with a contemptuous look at the Dago
struggling to climb back, he seized the already rising parts of the
tackle and swung himself on deck. The Dago’s friends had flung him
a rope, and he mounted easily enough by its aid, but their remarks
to him, aided by the satisfied chuckles of the white men, seemed to
depress him very much. He was about to slouch off to the foc’s’le to
change, when Mr. Court’s voice rang out clearly:

‘Whar you goin’?’

‘Changea me close,’ was the sullen answer.

‘You git right on with the work,’ said Mr. Court, and, taken by
surprise, the man obeyed. He and his countrymen felt that it was
only another item in the account to be paid off presently when their
champion returned to his command.

Below, however, that champion was in evil case. In his previous
mishap, although his bruises were many and severe, there had been no
bones broken, but now his injuries were of so extensive a character
that he could hardly find energy enough to curse his wife and the
steward, his only attendants. In fact, the conditions of things were
entirely altered. Mr. Court, in full vigour, was in charge, and came
in to report to him twice a day in the most formal manner how matters
were progressing on deck. The mate never asked him how he was, never
attempted any conversation, and, after the report had been made,
only answered questions, and that in the curtest manner possible. At
certain intervals, being responsible for his commanders welfare, he
made careful examination of the injuries, and saw that they were doing
as well as possible under the circumstances. Also he gave the steward
secret orders that all the ventilation possible should be secured in
the cabin for the Captain’s wife’s sake, who throughout this trying
time, as before, scarcely ever left her husband’s side.

On deck Rube progressed most favourably. His splendid constitution won
in the great fight, and when at last he opened his eyes sanely on his
devoted nurse, that much-tried man made up his mind at once that Rube
would live. No matter that he was worn to a shadow, that he looked even
worse than when rescued from the boat, he had evidently got a grip
on life which he had no idea of relinquishing just yet. He wanted to
live, and, as all doctors know, that is the great factor in the problem
of recovery from any illness. But Mr. Pease was mightily puzzled as
Rube grew stronger to find him so constantly referring to the early
incidents occurring during the cruise of the _Xiphias_. He seemed to
have no knowledge whatever of the stirring events which had happened
since. Also Mr. Pease noticed that his eyes had an anxious careworn
look in them as of a man who feels that the threads of his life are all
entangled, and that he has no ability to clear them. He had, besides, a
habit of muttering to himself and of mentioning names all unfamiliar to
Mr. Pease, as if by some freak of memory a certain portion of his life,
utterly forgotten until now, had just been recalled, while another
portion, much more recent in its incidence upon his brain, had become
completely obliterated. There was as well an utter absence of that
cheery, wide-eyed outlook which he used to wear, the true expression of
the Biblical injunction to take no thought for the morrow. Moreover, he
was so anxious to get well. He did not know where he was, except that
he was at sea and ill, and his helplessness worried him much. It took
all Mr. Pease’s power of persuasion to convince him that by worrying he
was retarding his own recovery, and that, as matters were, it really
did not matter a pin whether he was fit again in a week or a month. But
it was a difficult job to explain things to a man who knew absolutely
nothing about the necessary details, who remembered nothing at all of
the happenings of the last eleven months. At last Mr. Pease sought an
audience of the mate, taking care that there should be a white man at
the wheel, and that all the rest of the hands should be busy forward.

To him Mr. Pease told all that he knew about Rube, of his joining the
ship, of his terrible accident and recovery therefrom, how since then
he had always behaved more like an angel than a man, and how every man
on board had grown from deriding him to loving him--in fact, the story
which the reader knows. During the recital Mr. Court glanced from time
to time most curiously at Mr. Pease, as if wondering whether the latter
were crazed or not. Nor could this be wondered at, remembering the life
Mr. Court had been leading in the _Grampus_. What wonder that he had
come to disbelieve in the existence of a God at all?--having always
been indifferent in his acceptance of the existence of a Supreme Being
as a matter of course, and since he had been mate of the _Grampus_
having grown certain that whether there was a God or not there must
be a devil, and that this devil was apparently permitted to have
everything his own way for the present. Now he was interested in spite
of himself at the idea of one greenie having been permitted to alter
the character of everybody on board his ship. Also he told Mr. Pease
how Rube’s present condition was entirely due to his interference on
behalf of his former officer. At this news, now first made known to
him, Mr. Pease bowed his head, saying:

‘Wall, I alwuz thought he wuz a sure-’nough angel, but I never
calculated on him so nearly coming to his death for me. Anyway, my
life’s his frum this eout, ef he wants it--there’s no question ’bout
that.’

Now, whether it was the intensity of devotion manifested towards Rube
thenceforward by Mr. Pease, or his own innate vigour asserting itself,
is no doubt a moot point, but certainly from that day Rube’s recovery
was exceedingly rapid. But he was puzzled beyond expression at his
former mate’s dog-like affection for him, also at the want of deference
shown to Mr. Pease by all hands. And as it was entirely useless trying
to remember anything about recent events or to understand what he
was told about them, he resigned himself to the mystery. Long before
the skipper was able to move sufficiently to come on deck he had
resumed his place among the crew, and was doing his work, but with a
hesitation, awkwardness, and want of spring that made Mr. Pease tremble
for his welfare when once the skipper had again taken command of the
ship.

With that consummate ability for navigating difficult seas that seems
inherent in American whaling officers, Mr. Court had, despite his
limitation of access to the means of navigation, due to the Captain’s
behaviour, brought the _Grampus_ through the intricacies of those
waters south of Celebes, and had steered her safely past the western
end of New Guinea out to the southward of the Pelew Islands before
Captain Da Silva came on deck. I have purposely avoided all mention of
his behaviour while thus laid helpless a second time, for the subject
is such a painful one that it is difficult to do more than hint at it.
A wounded tiger would certainly have been far more docile, and have
repaid his nurses with much more gratitude than this man, from whom
every one of the Divine qualities of our nature seemed to have been
withheld. Doubtless this vile temper did much to delay his recovery,
but that he could not see; and hard as his language was to bear, the
mate felt that it was infinitely better to listen to it occasionally
below than to have his presence on deck again. And as the news of his
approaching recovery crept about the ship, every white man, except
Rube, kept repeating to himself most fervently, ‘Oh, if he would only
die!’--‘he,’ of course, being the common enemy. As for Priscilla, the
long confinement and constant strain of nursing this terrible man had
worn her to a shadow. He did not abuse her so much now, but she had
to listen constantly to his abuse of others, listen to his furious
conversations with his Portuguese harpooners, who were daily summoned
below to his bedside to report to him their observations of how the
Yankee unmentionables were handling the ship. But this latter affected
her as little as the former, which she could understand. The abominable
phrases in her own language fell upon utterly unheeding ears, and left
no more impression than did the imprecations in an unknown tongue.
What she was suffering from was purely physical, as it had been before
reaching the Cosmoledos.

At last one lovely morning, with the ship’s head pointed towards the
Bonins under his instructions, the skipper gave orders that Pedro and
Manuel should attend him and assist him on deck. He needed help. He
was worn to a shadow, his face was like a hatchet for sharpness of
outline, and many threads of white appeared in his hair and whiskers.
But from out the caverns whither his eyes had retreated gleamed the
same infernal fires: the indomitable will had not been subdued in the
slightest degree. Upon reaching the deck, he cast a comprehensive
glance around the vessel. She was like a new pin for cleanliness, not a
rope yarn was awry, and most of the watch were busy scraping the spare
spars, always a favourite device with him when nothing else could be
found for them to do.

From forward came the clink, clink of iron where the remainder of the
men were beating iron-rust off the anchors and cables. Everything was
going, in fact, as goes a good watch after it has been wound by the
master’s hand. There was absolutely nothing to find fault with, yet the
mate surely knew that fault would be found. So he stood near, offering
no salutation nor expecting any, but awaiting the contemptuous burning
words he knew would soon be flung at him. Suddenly the skipper said,
without looking at the mate:

‘Wall, seems yew’ve mistook th’ ship fur a pleasure boat. Wut in
thunder yew ben doin’ all the way up hyar from Borneo?’

‘Doin’ wut hed t’ be done, ’n’ doin’ it well too,’ growled Mr. Court.
‘Wat d’ye expect I’d be doin’, ef I mout be askin’?’

‘Ha, _thet’s_ wut ye ben doin’, is it--gittin’ things ripe fur a
mut’ny a’gin’ me. All right. I’m layin’ fur ye. Y’ mout hev made sure
while I ben lyin’ thar he’pless ef yew hed th’ grit ov a purp, but
yew haint, yew ----’ There is no need to suggest the remainder of
the vile sentence. But Mr. Court had found time not only to recover
his self-control and respect, but to gauge the capacity of Captain
Da Silva’s supporters to overcome the white portion of the crew.
Moreover he had, with commendable forethought, drawn the stings of the
harpooners and as many of the foremost Portuguese hands as he could
convict of possessing them--that is, he had taken away their revolvers
and ammunition, and by perfect equality of treatment had re-established
a proper order of things in the foc’s’le. All of these things Captain
Da Silva, with his almost superhuman grasp of matters only faintly
shadowed forth to his senses, had already seen except the disarming of
his gang. He was not likely to mistake the import of the change in Mr.
Court’s tone and bearing towards him. It was a heavy blow, but he was
wily as a snake, and immediately changing his tone slightly, he resumed:

‘Thar, I s’pose it’s no use makin’ more trouble than thar’s any need
fur. P’r’aps I’m a bit frazzled eout with lyin’ below like a gutted
herrin’. Anyhaow, I guess I’ll be all right time we git on the Jappan
groun’, an’ then we’ll hev some fun. Hyar! Manuel, Pedro, come an’ git
me b’low ’gen. I ain’t feelin’ good a bit.’

As the two scowling dark men passed him and placed each an arm
carefully behind the skipper’s back to assist him down into the cuddy,
Mr. Court viewed them with clear eyes, saying nothing, but pondering
a great deal. He was not in the least deceived by the change in his
skipper’s tone. He knew full well that no stone would be left unturned
to do him a mischief, and he determined to treble his vigilance and
that of his compatriot officers in order to guard against any sudden
surprise, and, satisfied that he was doing all that in him lay both
for duty and self-preservation, he turned away and resumed his daily
business of supervision.

What he did not, could not, know was that by his resolute bearing
and brave words he had saved one of his countrymen from being put to
the torture. It had been the skipper’s determination when he came on
deck to see his cruel intention towards Rube carried out, and, as
we know, he was not easily turned away from his purpose. Ever since
he had regained consciousness the idea of wreaking his will upon
Rube--first as being one of the rescued boat’s crew he had been, as
it were, driven to save; and, secondly, as the successful opponent of
that will--had been fermenting in his busy brain, and at the earliest
possible opportunity he had appeared on deck for the purpose of putting
it into practice. But for the first time that voyage he had found
himself successfully thwarted by one of the hated Americans, and he
needed all his marvellous powers of self-control and dissimulation not
to indulge in some frantic outburst that would certainly have resulted
in his being disabled from doing any more harm that cruise. His cup
of humiliation was not yet full either. As they went slowly down the
companion-way, Manuel whispered to him in Portuguese:

‘Do you know that the mate has taken away our weapons?’

‘What!’ he hissed, and wrenching himself free from Pedro on the other
side, he struck at Manuel with all his might, and missed him, falling
down four stairs upon his injured side, and lying there foaming with
pain and fury. Manuel, his face green with rage, turned upon his heel
and remounted the cabin stairs. What black thoughts filled his heart
we cannot tell, but certainly the cost of that injudicious outburst to
Captain Da Silva was an exceedingly heavy one. He reckoned too much
upon the perfect subjugation of his countrymen to his will, forgetting
the obvious fact that if you give your subordinates too much power over
you they are apt to use it at inconvenient times, to the complete
upheaval and reversal of some of your most cherished plans.

Pedro, alarmed at the Captain’s condition, for the latter was quite
beside himself with agony, called in that subdued voice common to
sailors when they are in the cabin, ‘Madem, senhora, Missis, Capena
very too mucha bad; pleasea come!’ But there was no answer. Nor could
be, for Priscilla, completely worn out, was lying in a dead faint
upon the settee in their little state-room. The mate was away forward
conducting the work, the steward was busy washing clothes on deck,
and poor Pedro, looking upon his skipper’s horribly distorted face,
listening to the gnashing of his teeth and watching the writhings
of his body, forgot everything but the need for instant aid, and
shouted, ‘On deck, dere, somebody, anybody, comea down here quick!’
At that moment Rube was on his way to relieve the wheel, being now
fully recovered as far as physical strength went. With one glance at
the sphinx-like face of the helmsman, Rube sprang down the companion,
finding the skipper in convulsions, and Pedro at his wits’ end to know
what to do. Together they raised the twisting body and carried it into
the state-room, where the first object which met Rube’s eyes was the
apparently lifeless form of his loved and lost Priscilla.

[Illustration: THE APPARENTLY LIFELESS FORM OF HIS LOVED AND LOST
PRISCILLA.

_P. 322._]

For a moment all things reeled with him, and then, quietly laying the
skipper on the deck, and controlling himself by a Titanic effort, he
said, ‘Pedro, some water--quick!’ Even as he did so and Pedro started
off, Priscilla gave a deep, deep sigh, opened her eyes, and seeing a
strange man before her, made an effort to rise, while a faint tinge
of pink came into her face. But with a mingled pang of regret and
thankfulness Rube saw that there was no recognition in the look--he was
just one of the crew to her, and nothing more. And then, to his intense
relief, came hurrying the steward and the mate, called frantically by
Pedro. Rube stole away, leaving the new-comers to render such aid as
was possible, and wearily crept to the wheel, taking absolutely no heed
of the bitter words with which he was greeted by the waiting helmsman.

A trick at the wheel by a good steersman is a splendid place for
meditation. For while the mechanical section of the brain is busy
with the primal duty of keeping the particular point of the course
given as near the ‘lubber’s point,’ or line drawn on the inner rim of
the compass-bowl, corresponding to the midship line of the ship, as
circumstances will allow, the lobes devoted to thought may be fully
occupied with the most recondite speculations. May be, but are not
often, for your ordinary sailor is a most unimaginative human animal.
Reuben, however, for the first half-hour of the present ‘trick’ found
the meditative side of his brain one seething whirlpool surging
around its vortex. ‘Priscilla is aboard this ship.’ True, she had
not recognised him, and that was, so far, a gain; but how could he
control himself? His speech, his looks? Moreover, she was unhappy. How
much so he did not, could not, know, for the reasons that have before
been fully given; but that wan face, those thin hands, those deeply
shadowed eyes, what a tale of misery they had to tell to a loving
heart like Rube’s! Yet even had he not been powerless to do anything,
loyalty, honour, truth demanded that he should be silent, cost what
it might, unless he saw danger to that dear life. Then the problem
of her being here at all suddenly came back with awful force. And
utterly confounded, he lifted his heart again to God, not blithely or
hopefully, but in a sort of mechanical way, or instinctively, if it be
better put so. Instantly a great peace fell upon him. A merciful veil
stole down between him and his mental troubles, and the utter blankness
of want of thought enwrapped his mind.

In the cabin the mate and the steward had laboured manfully at their
task, although much hampered by the want of knowledge of how this
condition of things had been brought about. Priscilla had fully
recovered consciousness, but was still too weak to help. Still she was
no hindrance. She was just watching, and claiming no attention. Mr.
Court found several of his bandages displaced, much of the laceration
re-opened, and altogether the patient in a bad way. With native skill
and judgment he did his best to make his tyrant comfortable, and then
having instructed the steward to devote his whole time to the Captain
and his wife, returned on deck and sent for the two Portuguese.

‘Now,’ said Mr. Court sternly, when they appeared, ‘I got to know wut
yew two ben a-doin’ t’ th’ Captain. Yew wuzn’t thar, Manuel, when I
kem an’ Pedro wuz. Wut d’ ye go ’way fur?’ Volubly Pedro began, but
the mate in a roar bade him ‘shet erp,’ and turning to Manuel, said
quietly, ‘Heave ahead.’

‘Well, sah,’ said Manuel savagely, ‘we’s a-he’pin’ ole man daown
companyon, an’ ole man le’s go my arm an’ hits me. Then he fall daown
steps. I don’ care if he break his neck, so I don’ go daown ’n’ look. I
kem on deck. Dat’s all, sah.’ And this lucid explanation he followed up
with asseverations unprintable--indeed, untranslatable.



CHAPTER XXV

THE EDUCATION OF THE SKIPPER


In spite of the gravity of his position, a smile broke over Mr.
Court’s rugged face as he realised the situation. All unversed in any
Machiavellian arts of diplomacy, he had unwittingly, by straightforward
conduct, driven a wedge into the base of the vile edifice so
laboriously reared by his commander. For it was impossible for him to
help seeing how deep was Manuel’s resentment at the treatment meted
out to him by the Captain, although the reason for the outburst was
entirely hidden from the mate. He was seriously troubled in his mind,
though, about Priscilla. How to proceed in order to save her from
another painful illness he did not know. For he felt that, though he
could and would dare a good deal now to keep the ship from becoming
a den of wild beasts as far as the crew was concerned, interference
between the skipper and his wife was quite another matter.

Yet, could he see her die? For that sad event seemed to him entirely
probable within the next few days. She looked so frail, almost
transparent, wax-like, in her perfect colourlessness of skin from her
long seclusion, and, which alarmed him most,--there was a vacant,
far-away look in her eyes that was most uncanny to him. He discussed
the situation at great length with the second mate, who was fast
recovering from the morbid condition of mind into which he had been
thrown by the continued success of the skipper. But discuss as they
might there seemed no solution of this difficult problem--indeed, as
they vividly remembered, the chief difficulty was Priscilla herself,
who, loyal to the core, would not, whatever her sufferings, do or say
anything which might in her estimation weaken her husband’s authority.

So, with a heavy sigh, the two good fellows would close their
conference and part, the one to his dreamless bunk, the other to
his four hours’ tramp up and down the small area of the _Grampus’s_
quarter-deck, revolving, almost maddeningly, all sorts of schemes for a
further amelioration of the present conditions.

I fear that many ship officers, whether of merchant ships, whaleships,
or men-of-war, deliberately cultivate a kind of stultification of the
mental faculties while on watch. The mechanical side of the brain
previously spoken of will go on doing its part no matter how dense have
become the thinking processes. But that any intelligent man should
set himself to become a Peter Bell, who ‘whistled as he went for want
of thought,’ is akin to the idea of a man who should hermetically
seal up his nostrils so that he should not smell, or render himself
colour-blind so that pictures should not appeal to him, or cultivate
stone-deafness in order not to enjoy harmony. It is true that to a
highly sensitive, overstrung organisation such an ordeal as a cruise in
a whaler must be a terrible one. For there are no inducements to ‘get
there.’

    ‘Day after day, day after day,
      We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
    As idle as a painted ship
      Upon a painted ocean.’

This condition of things, so wonderfully portrayed by Coleridge, is
well-nigh intolerable to a merchantman, whose employment probably
depends upon the smartness of his passage: to the whaler it matters
no more than it does to the steamship, for exactly the opposite
reason. The one doesn’t care because his engines are doing the work
and his ship’s swift passage through the stagnant air makes a pleasant
breeze; the other doesn’t care because he isn’t going anywhere, and
consequently the longer he loiters where he is the more chances there
are of his seeing what he wishes to see--whales.

In the foc’s’le there was a marked improvement in the mental and
moral atmosphere. Released from the awful nightmare of the skipper’s
presence, and quite conscious of the fact that the officers were in
sympathy with them, the white men grew cheerful and spoke boldly.
Moreover, the disarmament of the Portuguese had a splendid effect.
It enabled men, hitherto silent under gross provocation because they
wanted to live a little longer, to lift up their heads and speak with
the enemy in the gate. This feeling of freedom culminated one day in
a huge Portuguese ordering a smart little Yankee from Edgar town to
‘git away wiv that face while I sit-a down comf’ble.’ The invited
party, being at the time sitting on a stool he had made himself, felt
naturally aggrieved, and with a considerable amount of spirit retorted
in terms that need not be clearly set down, at the same time retaining
his seat. The Portuguese stared stupidly for a breathing space or two,
then seizing the little Yankee, flung him in a clucking heap across
the foc’s’le. But Rube was sitting next to Hiram, and immediately rose,
seized the wrists of the black man, and forcing him backwards on to the
deck, sat on his chest, saying: ‘Looky here, my friend, we’ve done with
this fun. They’s goin’ to be no more of it onless yew’re prepared to
take on the job of killing every white man aboard. I doan’t kyar much
which way ’tis, but _this_ hez t’ be stopped anyhow.’ As soon as he had
finished speaking every white man sprang to his feet cheering lustily.
The Portuguese looked at each other, Reuben’s understudy was allowed
to rise, looking foolish and--nothing happened. There was a sense of
relief all round, for all felt that the power of the tyrant was broken.
And in half an hour all the watch was as chummy as possible, even the
bruised Hiram feeling quite satisfied--at least he expressed himself so
to be.

Naturally there was a perceptible falling-off in the smartness with
which the ship was worked. That was inevitable. In a small unlimited
monarchy, such as a ship must be, you cannot have divided rule without
a certain loss of power. Mr. Court fought against this tendency with
all his might, but do what he would he could not quite overcome it.
Still, the only visible effect of the ferment that was going on below
was that no whales were sighted, and that of course might be due to
natural causes. Four times every day Mr. Court went below and attended
on his skipper, always looking stealthily at Mrs. Da Silva as he did
so, whenever he could look unobserved, and endeavouring to note any
change that should make it imperative for him to interfere actively
on her behalf. There was none, however. She seemed to exist and do
her duty to her husband automatically, but to grow no worse even in
the close confinement of that tiny cabin. But anything more absolutely
hopeless than her whole pose was surely never seen.

There was a great change in the skipper, though. Since his mad outburst
of rage at Manuel and its result he had to all outward seeming been
a different man. His injuries, so rudely handled, resented fiercely
their treatment, and for long he had lain in high fever, alternating
with periods of utter exhaustion. Only his splendid physique and iron
constitution, aiding the careful nursing he received, pulled him
through. And as he slowly progressed towards convalescence, he looked
strangely at Priscilla, not gratefully, but with some such expression
as the West African savage regards his ‘ju-ju,’ believing it all
powerful to harm or help him as the case might present itself to the
reasoning powers of the dreadful thing. A resolution slowly shaped
itself in his brain that come what would he must be very careful of
this white, frail woman, who seemed to have passed completely beyond
the reach of all the emotions. And he determined to get better in order
to carry out this resolve, although had he been capable of entertaining
the feeling it would surely have forced its way into his dark heart
that the best way in which he could treat his wife would be to die, and
set her free from the hourly horror of his companionship, which for
obvious reasons has not been insisted upon definitely here.

So he mended rapidly--so rapidly, in fact, that one week after he had
come to the conclusion above noted he was seated on the top of the
little deck aft with Priscilla by his side, both luxuriously inhaling
the sweet air as the homely old ship wallowed along northward. It was
a heavenly afternoon. The sky had the appearance of a great green
field--the first tender, unsullied green of spring, upon which lay
billowy masses of fleecy cloud, motionless as masses of whitest wool
and arranged in regular rows converging to a point in the south-east.
An unaccountable longing for the peace of those heavenly solitudes,
a desire to leave behind her the weighing down of her earthy part
possessed Priscilla’s soul, and quite unnoted by her the heavy tears
rose to her eyes, coursed down her thin cheeks and dropped upon the
deck. He, stealthily watching as usual while he was awake, became
alarmed, because he had not seen a tear for so long. ‘Wut ails ye,
Pris?’ he inquired anxiously. ‘Ain’t sick, air ye? C’n I order y’
anythin’--c’n I do anythin’?’

Immediately the gracious fountain ceased to flow, and, turning, she
looked steadily at him, saying, ‘No, thank you, Ramon; I want nothing.’

‘Wall, wut ye cryin’ fur, then?’ he demanded irritably.

‘I don’t know, Ramon, and, what is more, I didn’t know that I was
crying until you spoke.’

Then, to her great relief--for her dread was a long and acrid
cross-examination by her husband upon any subject whatever--the skipper
half rose from his chair and hissed out, ‘Whar’s the watch? Wut ye all
doin’? Look thar!’ Involuntarily Priscilla looked where he pointed,
and was filled with admiration and wonder. A mighty sperm whale had
risen from unknown depths and roamings within a cable’s length of the
ship and lay there, clearly visible in the beautifully transparent
blue of the sea, almost motionless. All his majestic outlines defined
themselves to the eye, the great down-hanging shaft of the jaw, the
huge rotundity of the belly, and the vast fans of the flukes that,
apparently motionless, were in reality quivering with receptivity
like the diaphragm of a telephone. She had never before seen a whale
at close quarters, never had an opportunity of admiring this, the
mightiest of all God’s creations in the plenitude of his powers and in
his own proper element, and the sight filled her with awe.

The reason of the whale’s nearness to the ship, not merely without
alarm--for that can readily be understood, since whales, like other
animals, long unmolested become perfectly tame--but without having
been previously seen, is not to be very clearly stated. When such an
occurrence does take place on board a whaleship there is usually much
unpleasantness, because the captain is bound to believe that it proves
that the watchers aloft are neglecting their duty, or they would have
reported the proximity of the whale before. The supposition is only
reasonable because really from the masthead of a ship on a fine day,
such as this was, the whole vast circle spread out beneath one looks
so small, and objects upon it are so clearly defined, that it seems
impossible for four pairs of eyes to miss the spout of a whale. And
as the distance from that height to the visible horizon is not less
than fifteen miles, within which in such weather a sperm-whale’s spout
should be clearly discernible, the whale should have risen twice
within the visible range to spout. His utmost speed when going for all
he is worth is only about fourteen miles an hour, his usual cruising
speed when underneath only about three or four. He can stay down an
hour, but rarely exceeds forty-five minutes, and he does not care,
unless driven by necessity, to travel fast under water. When he does
come to the surface, too, after a stay beneath of that length, he must
stay up until he has finished a certain number of inspirations and
expirations or ‘spoutings out’--fifty, sixty, or seventy, as the case
may be. And no matter how hardly he may be pressed by enemies, this
always holds good. Yet I have seen a sperm whale rise in ghost-like
fashion almost alongside the ship during a stark calm on a day when sea
and sky were one flawless expanse of blue, blending into each other
at the horizon so perfectly that no one could tell exactly where sea
ended and sky began. All hands were most eager to ‘raise whale,’ for
the bounty offered was five pounds--equal to twenty-five dollars--and
we had fine men at the mastheads. Yet our first intimation of his
appearance was given by himself spouting almost alongside. As silently
as shadows we prepared to go after him, but as the boats were about
to be lowered he disappeared, nor did we ever catch a glimpse of him
again, although all hands clustered aloft straining their eyes in
every direction. He vanished so unaccountably that there was an uneasy
feeling on board that what we had all seen was no whale at all, but a
sportive spook sent to befool us by some sarcastic sea-demon. There is
no doubt that both coming and going were exceptions to all the ordinary
laws governing the actions of the whale-folk.

All this explanatory matter, taking so long to set down, was as
familiar as breathing to Captain Da Silva, yet his only emotion upon
‘raising’ the whale so closely alongside was black, murderous rage. He
dared not shout for fear of scaring or ‘galleying’ the whale. But his
enforced quiet made his hissed-out orders sound all the more furious.
The men flew to their stations silently. The boats were lowered by
inches at a time, and with the utmost deliberation, lest the rattle of
the patent sheaves should alarm the as yet unconscious monster. Only
two boats went--the mate’s and the second mate’s--and the skipper sat
on his high perch and watched them depart with bitter muttered comments
upon all they did. Every movement was criticised as if the makers of it
were ‘greenies’ just commencing the great business. And the worst of
the matter was that the men in the boats knew this. It made them less
confident than they would otherwise have been, and therefore they felt
as if they were going into a fight whereof the issue was already half
decided against them.

Still, they paddled steadily towards the foe without him betraying by
the slightest sign a knowledge of any danger likely to be threatening
him. By common consent the boats parted company as they neared him, and
came on at the great head sheering slightly to either side. Suddenly
he saw them or felt them--no one knows which it is--and with one great
sweep of his flukes he leapt forward. Too late. Both boats closed in
on him like sentient destroyers, and as if at one signal the harpoons
flew from either harpooner’s nervous hands and sank quivering into
the flank of the whale. Instead of turning to fight, as usual, he
settled at once, quite quietly, and immediately the attackers felt an
impetus forward, steady and increasing. Away he went, well below, only
momentarily breaking the surface to spout, and getting up speed in such
a fashion that in a very few minutes, despite the smoothness of the
sea, it was evident that all the boatmen could do was to hold on and
wait until their gigantic steed tired.

On board the skipper watched with eyes aflame, blaming them all
impartially for what he was pleased to call their idiotic behaviour,
only his expressions were not so mild as that, and cursing his
inability, owing to the absence of wind, to follow them up. Priscilla
watched too, fascinated, and all unconscious of the danger the brave
fellows were in. And then, with a suddenness seen only in tropical
latitudes,

    The sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out;
    At one stride comes the dark;

and the fleeing boats fade from view. Only then does it dawn upon
her what awful danger these men are in, and even then, such is the
deadness of her mind, she cannot bring herself to realise as she thinks
she ought to do the peril of her shipmates. There is a great silence
on board. No one can do anything but wait, except the Captain, who
can, and does, keep up a muttered succession of evil words in his own
language. The leaden-footed minutes creep along, the heavy dews fall, a
solemn silence, only accentuated by the creak of a spar or the slight
rattle of a block, reigns supreme, for the Captain has gone below, and
she is up there quite alone. And suddenly relief comes. Into her dry
heart there steals the blessed consciousness of God’s loving presence,
her almost deadened mental perceptions revive on the memory of ‘I
will never leave thee nor forsake thee,’ and immediately she is able
to pray. Not for herself--that has not yet come--but for the safety
of those whom she has seen go out into the night. Most fervently she
implores the Father that they may be preserved through the perils
around them, and that when they return (as she at once feels assured
they will) her terrible husband may be merciful to them. As she forms
the petitions in her heart there is a great cry from many throats, a
rushing, roaring sound, a crash, and the babel of many voices. All
hands spring into violent activity, and high over all the other sounds
rises the voice of the Captain. Another boat is lowered into the
darkness, which is presently illuminated in ghastly fashion by a blue
light which is fired and spreads its glare all around the ship.

We must leave Priscilla for a few minutes suffering all the tortures of
uncertainty, and avail ourselves of our privilege of knowing at once
all that is happening. Dragged away at such speed in the darkness,
and dependent entirely upon the phosphorescent glare in the water for
their knowledge of the whale’s whereabouts, the two boats’ crews were
in no enviable case. But the officers did their manful best, whenever a
slackening in the whale’s speed gave them opportunity to get near him,
to hurl lances and fire bombs into his shadowy-looking mass. But all
had apparently been of little or no avail in staying his forward rush,
and as for its direction they knew absolutely nothing. In the midst of
this confusion there suddenly towered up before them the great bulk of
the ship, menacing like the shadow of death. Both officers drew knives
and touched the tow lines, yelling at the same moment, ‘Lay off--lay
on!’ So as the impetus brought them alongside, instead of coming end
on at that great speed and being dashed in pieces, one sheered to port
and the other to starboard, both intact and safe. They heard the crash,
though, in the midst of that strange evolution, and feared the worst.
It was not, however, as bad as they feared, although bad enough. The
whale, nearing his end, and collecting all his powers to meet it, had
suddenly become instinctively aware of the ship confronting him, and,
swerving to the left almost cleared her. But his great head struck the
rudder such a tremendous blow that it was wrenched from the sternpost,
without, however, doing that essential portion of the ship any damage.
The rudder was simply gone clean, and none of them ever saw it again.

Then were heard the strange noises made by a whale in its dying agonies
close alongside the ship. She rolled and heaved in the swell he made,
but he was not near enough to give her another blow. Presently the
silence closed in upon them again. It was broken by the skipper,
who, excited beyond endurance, yet compelled to inaction, almost
screamed, ‘’Longside thar! See anythin’ of th’ whale? Hez he stove in
th’ counter, or wut? ’R ye all dead? ’n’ ef y’ ain’t, why’nt ye do
somethin’ or say somethin’ ’r make a sign?’ Then compliments after his
foul fashion.

Presently up out of the darkness came a voice, Mr. Court’s:

‘All right, sir, we’ve got hold of him; just passin’ tow-line.’

There was a growl like that of a wild beast in response, and an order
to light up all the suspended cressets. All hands girded up their loins
for the long night’s work pending, and as the tow-line was passed
on board bent their backs to the task of hauling the great whale
alongside, thinking meanwhile of the possibility of his having started
a butt when he collided with the stern fittings. Priscilla, her heart
full of gratitude for answered prayer, went below, lay down, and in a
few minutes slept the blessed sleep of a relieved mind.

All through the night, goaded on by the rasping voice of the skipper,
who, perched aloft upon the after platform, suffered terribly from
his inability to make himself felt as well as heard, the weary men
toiled on. And to such good purpose that when the pageant of morning
blazed forth upon the welcoming sky they had actually consummated the
cutting-in, and were all ready for the trying-out. The skipper having
hobbled below, Mr. Court proceeded to set blubber watches of six hours
each, but also gave word to go easy, for he knew, judging by his own
feelings, how spent all hands were, and he would not be so foolish as
to lay them up. The relieved ones had just cast themselves down as
they were and passed into the depths of utterly exhausted nature’s
refreshment when, as Mr. Court was diving below to his well-earned
rest, the skipper reappeared shouting, ‘Lay aft here, yew lazy hogs,
’n’ rig a stage over the stern. I want ter git a jury rudder rigged.’
Returning to the deck, Mr. Court said gravely, ‘Captain, that kind o’
thing wunt work no more. Yew’ve gut t’ be reasonable. I wunt let ye
play the fool with men’s lives any more, and ef yew’re goin’t’ shoot,
shoot quick, ’r ye’ll be too late.’ And Captain Da Silva saw, to his
intense amazement, a revolver-barrel gleaming in the fingers of the
officer whom in his blind passion and prejudice he had abused as a
coward.

His sufferings were terrible to witness. His keen intelligence showed
him clearly that at present, at any rate, the mate had the key of the
situation, and that again he must stoop to dissimulation where he had
been used to enforce his will with the utmost disregard of what anyone
thought or felt. At last, when the first few agonising spasms had
passed, he mastered himself by a supreme effort and said huskily, ‘All
right, Mr. Court. It’s yewr call. It’ll be mine some day. Meanwhile
we’ll keep eour trouble indoors.’

Raising his voice a little for the benefit of the few haggard-looking,
anxious men who were clustered about the mainmast awaiting the word to
come aft and recommence work, he said, ‘Oh, all right, Mr. Court; I
guess we’ll leave it a bit. Don’ look ’s if we sh’d hev enny change in
th’ weather fur a while, anyhow. We’ll git on with th’ tryin’-out, ’n’
leave th’ repairs until she’s cleaned erp agen. Thet’ll do th’ watch
below,’ he snarled in conclusion. And the worn-out men shuffled away.

Without another word Mr. Court descended to his bunk, not, to be sure,
without many misgivings as to whether, in the absence of any defence
to his sleeping-place, any door to bar, he should, in the quaint
sailor phrase, ‘wake up and find himself dead.’ But he reasoned, and
correctly, that under present conditions the skipper would hardly
proceed to open murder, for open it must be since four men would be
in full view of the crime if it were done while he slept. And with a
final, ‘Well, I kain’t he’p it, anyhaow; mout so well die this way
’s any other, fur all I k’n see,’ the mate turned in, put his loaded
revolver under his pillow, and in two minutes was fast asleep.

The Captain, in spite of his weakened body, of his still aching limbs,
paced the narrow limits of the cabin like a caged leopard, his mind
seething with deadly thoughts about the mate and, in a lesser degree,
all the members of his crew. For this was the first voyage of his
career as captain that any of his ship’s company had been able to
oppose his will successfully. Also it was the first voyage of his
life that he had suffered so much in his own body, and he was gravely
in doubt as to what the change meant. He was inclined to lay all his
disasters at the door of his wife; but of her he was now quite afraid,
and, moreover, satisfied that if he were not very careful in his
treatment of her worse misfortunes would befall him. These thoughts
worried him so much that he had recourse to the bottle, the great
store of fiery liquor he had brought on board at Brava having been
only slightly encroached upon. And after a few glasses and a couple of
cigars he was reassured as to his own importance and power, feeling,
indeed, that his recent fears were quite unwarranted. And yet he could
not help casting a curiously furtive glance at the pale, mask-like
face of his wife.

The next day, his physical improvement having been well maintained,
he took full charge at eight bells in the morning, and all hands fell
obediently into line at his word. Work on the blubber proceeded apace,
but there was a much more important duty to perform, and that was the
rigging of a contrivance by means of which the ship might be steered.
Here Captain Da Silva shone as a perfect seaman. He ordered a spar
about the size of a medium scaffold-pole to be made into a huge oar,
the blade being formed of stout planks bolted together athwart, and the
interstices on each side of the spar filled with old chain for weight
to keep the machine down. A solid crutch, lined with leather and well
greased, was fixed on the taffrail for the upper part of the spar to
work in, with plenty of play allowed, but strong lashings to prevent
its jumping out of its bed. Also a severe holdfast was made just above
the blade of the ‘oar,’ into which a stout tackle was hooked on either
side; the upper blocks of these tackles were led to outriggers over
each quarter, and the falls passed into the barrel of the steering
wheel. And--of course recognising that a vast amount of uninteresting
but essential detail has been left out--that is how Captain Da Silva
rigged his jury-rudder. It was so successful, too, that three days
afterwards he navigated his ship into the difficult harbour of Port
Lloyd with it, none of the captains of whaling ships anchored there
noticing any difference, except that there were one or two remarks
about the _Grampus’s_ wild steering and a little wonder as to what she
was towing astern.

Before going into the harbour Captain Da Silva called all hands aft and
made them a speech. He said: ‘Men we’re a-goin’ in here fur repairs,
wood, an’ water. Any of ye ’at wants t’ run away ’ud better make erp
yewr mines before yew go fur the wust floggin’ y’ ever had w’en yew’re
brought back. ’N’ yew will be, fur I’m goin’ t’ offer one hundred
dollars reward fur any deserter brought back to the ship dead er alive.
’N’ thar’s lots er folks here as’d kill a man fur one dollar, let alone
a hundred. No gammin’ allowed. This ship’s ben runnin’ slack. I’m
goin’t’ tighten things up a bit. Naow git.’ And as all hands slunk away
the skipper cast a triumphant glance at the officers as who should say,
‘What are you going to do now?’ There was no answering look. Who could
reply to a challenge like that without putting himself irrevocably in
the wrong?

Now it would be useless to recapitulate the proceedings at Port Lloyd,
so tame and commonplace were they. The men were kept at work not merely
from daylight till dark, but before daylight till after dark, doing all
the thousand-and-one things needed when a whaleship comes into harbour
after a long cruise. No boats other than her own were allowed near the
ship, so the men got no fresh fruit, while no fresh beef or vegetables
were sent on board by the skipper, so that all the fresh food obtained
by the hungry men was fish, which, fortunately for them, bit at night
and were caught in fairly large numbers. The skipper went ashore but
very little; when he did, he now took Priscilla with him, closely
muffled up so that no one should see her but himself. He saw none of
his fellow-skippers, and cared nothing that he was the talk of the
harbour. At the end of four days he ordered the windlass to be manned,
and took the _Grampus_ out to sea again, no man but himself knowing
whither he was bound.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE LOSS OF THE _GRAMPUS_


It could not possibly have escaped the memory of Mr. Court that he had
been told by the skipper that their next cruising-place would be the
‘Japan-ground.’ Not that he was foolish enough to place any serious
reliance upon anything said by Captain Da Silva, only he knew, as every
whaling officer did in those days--I write of half a century ago--that
the Japan grounds were the most prolific of all known haunts of the
sperm whale. He was just a little startled, then, on getting clear of
the Bonins, to find a course set S.W., which looked very much like
getting down on to the Line grounds, and in any case could not mean
that the _Grampus_ was bound for the carrying out of the previously
arranged programme. But he had such an implicit faith in the astounding
ability of his skipper, and he felt so sure that even revenge would be
made to wait until the money-making was over, that he did not trouble
his head much about the rather startling change in the course. He could
not know, of course, what Captain Da Silva did, that the common talk of
Port Lloyd had been the inexplicable absence of sperm whales from the
Japan grounds that season, neither could he tell by what curious chain
of reasoning, amounting almost to instinct, the skipper had decided
upon going south among the islands and gradually working his way down
to the Line whaling grounds.

For two days they steered S.E., and then, as if in justification of
the skipper’s foresight, they ran into a vast school of whales. Now,
without going over previously well-trodden ground, I may remark that
it will have been noticed how on board a whaleship, as in an army,
things may be done by officers with impunity in time of war that would
certainly cause a mutiny in time of peace. And the skipper’s eyes
glistened as the boats took the water at the thought of how, during the
coming campaign, he would take the last ounce out of his officers and
men, making them pay most dearly for any little ‘let-up’ they might
have enjoyed during his enforced retirement. One other step he had
taken which I have omitted to mention, the separation of Rube and Mr.
Pease, taking the former to pull his own midship oar, and putting the
latter under his third mate, a Portuguese very much after his own heart.

Now for the next three months Reuben led the life of a daily martyr,
a galley slave. The ship seemed never to be out of sight of whales,
and exercising the greatest possible skill in the manipulation of his
forces, the skipper managed to keep the war going continually, favoured
as the ship was by the finest of weather. But he never in the midst of
all his multifarious energies forgot for one hour the exercise of his
awful animosity towards Reuben. The other Americans suffered also, but
in a much lesser degree. It was Reuben who for any fault committed by
anyone in the boat was smitten with the heavy oak tiller over head or
shoulders or face, Reuben who was selected for every dangerous, filthy,
and heavy piece of work; Reuben, in fact, saved the rest of his white
shipmates much pain and trouble by being the lightning conductor,
attracting nearly all the skipper’s cruelty. And strangely enough, it
seemed to make little difference to him. He did not smile so sweetly as
he used to do, and his rather worn face wore a puzzled look that was
very pathetic. But he never resented any of his ill-treatment, never
seemed to notice it, in fact, after the first week or two.

What the condition of the ship became during those three strenuous
months I do not propose attempting to describe. Only the pen of a Zola
could do it justice, and the result would be almost, if not quite,
unreadable to any cleanly living person. She was an offence to the
clean, wide sea--much worse, indeed, than she was in the Mozambique
Channel in respect of foulness, but not so bad with regard to health,
because of the sweet breeze that steadily blew, and kept clearing off
some of the miasma she exhaled. The skipper, however, alarmed for the
health of Priscilla, for the reasons before noted, caused a little
bower to be built on the top of the tiny deck aft, and did away with
the spanker boom so that it (the bower) should not be disturbed. Here
Priscilla sat all day long carefully screened from the smell as far as
could be, and exposed to the fresh air. And, although she naturally
suffered very much, as she always had done, since first she came on
board, from lack of exercise, she became better in her general health,
and more ready to take a little interest in life than she had been for
a long time. Nevertheless, little as her ship surroundings had ever
power to impress her, she got very weary of the incessant inflow of
greasy masses from overside, heartily sick of the aroma of slaughter.
Also it seemed to her as if, instead of her husband growing more and
more satisfied at the way in which he was accumulating wealth without
any other ship near to share his good fortune, he became ever more
morose and scowling. Nor was she wrong. The check to his cruelty which
he had received worried him like a green wound, and all his prosperity
was not nearly sufficient to compensate him for the loss of prestige
he felt he had endured. If only, without destroying the efficiency of
his ship’s company, he could have set his foot upon the neck of those
pale-faced men of an alien race, who, despite his masterfulness, had
succeeded in great measure in setting themselves free from his tyranny,
and who now strode before him with erect heads and clear eyes! The
story of Haman is no myth. It is being repeated all around us every
day, and I do not know of any more cogent proof of the existence of the
devil than this.

At last the whales seemed to have learned their lesson, and began to
fight shy of this lonely ship which had transferred so many of them
to her own interior. No longer did they crowd around like a flock of
frightened sheep awaiting the butcher and unable to see whither to
flee in all that wide expanse of ocean. There came a time when the
thoroughly wearied men were able to, not rest, but find an intensely
welcome relief from the all-pervading filth in strenuously endeavouring
to cleanse it away. And although they worked just as hard as ever, they
went about their altered occupation with something like enthusiasm.

Meanwhile the skipper had by frequent secret conferences, by sundry
quietly bestowed tots of grog, and such grim pleasantries as he could
give utterance to, been endeavouring quite successfully to regain his
former status among his countrymen. Mr. Court saw, in common with
every other white man on board, the trend of matters, and passed,
therefore, many uneasy hours, unable to formulate any plans, since he
knew not what was brewing except that it meant mischief for him and
his compatriots. But in the absence of any overt act of offence on the
part of the skipper he could take no step, he could only whisper Mr.
Winslow to keep a bright look-out for whatever devilry might be afloat.
What troubled him principally was his utter want of knowledge of the
ship’s whereabouts. This is always a hardship at sea even under the
best conditions, and if sailors were only to allow their minds to dwell
upon the fact that they are not allowed by the skipper to know even the
approximate position of the ship there would be far more discontent
than there is now. I have been in a ship on a passage of nearly seven
months between Liverpool and an Indian port, and during the whole of
that time not one foremast hand ever knew the ship’s position within a
thousand miles, so carefully was the secret guarded. And I have been
in ships where the skipper refused to allow his mate to know, would
not let him take an observation, seeming to take some insane pleasure
in knowing that he alone of the ship’s company had any idea where upon
that vast blank space of sea the tiny dot of a ship was poised.

Thus it was in the _Grampus_, when at the last clearing up certain
sail was set, and a definite course to the eastward was steered.
Indications of land were many, for they were now in that part of the
Pacific where Nature would appear to have her busiest workshops;
where islands rise in a few hours from unknown depths and isolated
patches of land are suddenly met with, summits of submerged mountains
rivalling the Himalayas in their tremendous altitudes. So, although no
more whales were seen, the watchers at the masthead scarcely passed
an hour without reporting some new appearance, some discolouration
of the bright sea that upon nearer approach resolved itself into a
floating island of weed about which played an innumerable company of
bright-hued fish making the water foam again with their blithe gambols.
Or a derelict cocoa-palm torn from its reef-edge moorings, and long
since denuded of its feathery crown, floated by, recognisable only to a
whaleman’s eye as anything belonging to earth at all from the wealth of
parasitic life which had accumulated upon it, making it look more like
the head of some vast sea-serpent with a snowy mane than anything else
the mind can depict. An occasional canoe, waterlogged or bottom-up,
floated along, making the watcher wonder where the recent occupant
had gone, and what manner of struggle he or she made for life ere the
fateful moment came when the sea claimed its toll as of right.

All through this pleasant time Priscilla kept her vigil during the
daylight hours in her breezy house aloft, above the working people’s
heads. There was a sort of placid wonder why the Captain should
have so radically altered in his behaviour towards her. Benumbed as
her faculties had undoubtedly become, since she had lived up on the
after-deck she had begun to regain a certain interest in life which
had not been possible to her while confined to the cabin. And she
certainly found herself speculating upon the change in her husband.
She noticed that he was less brutal in his behaviour to the crew,
too, as far as physical ill-treatment went, but, of course, she did
not know the cause. There was no easement of the hardships of their
lives, nor any relenting in those fierce black eyes when looking upon
a subordinate. But when his gaze fell upon her it changed into the
puzzled, frightened glance of the savage face to face with the unknown,
and dominated by an illogical fear, a state of mind which culminates in
a sudden plunge into nameless cruelties.

She and her husband never held any conversation, their intercourse
being limited to monosyllables almost. Discussion was out of the
question, since she was docile as a well-trained dog, and besides
did not seem to care about anything sufficiently to discuss it. Yet
all unknown to her, a change was taking place in her mind. A renewed
interest in life was springing up there. It may have been her long
contemplation of the ever-wonderful and changeful life of the sea,
but I am inclined to think that it was the intensity of that unknown
love burning in one loyal breast near her, the outpouring of those
fervent supplications for her well-being that Reuben was continually
offering communicating something of their own force in some mysterious
way, not understandable as yet, but some day surely to be explained
to us. At last, after about a fortnight of this pleasant sailing, she
came up to her little haven of refuge to witness a scene of almost
fairy-like loveliness. Stretching away to the northward like a
cluster of jewels set upon the shining bosom of the sea was a group of
islands. Some rose sheer from the waves that rolled creamily against
their jet-black bases, just failing to reach the tender festoons of
every shade of green that clothed them from high-water mark to summit.
Others glittered in dazzling white against the intense blue of the
quiet lagoon, shielded from all ruffling by a barrier of living rock
encircling them, and crested with a mighty feather of purest white
as the great swell surged up against it, and found its onward sweep
effectually stayed. Others from serene palm-fringed heights sloped
sweetly seaward to inviting beaches of all colours sheltered from any
onslaught of waves and apparently inviting the weary seafarer to come
and rest himself after all his ocean wanderings.

Quite close to the ship was a long, formidable barrier of black rocks,
outliers of the main group, whose jagged, saw-like teeth snarled
threateningly up from the fret and foam of the sea around. But even
they were robbed of half their terrors by the beautiful play of light
and colour around them, gift of the golden sun which hung in the limpid
sky, shedding his fervent fires upon sea and land, and investing the
most commonplace objects with supreme beauty. As Priscilla gazed upon
the lovely scene she felt the tears steal down her cheeks: the whole
panorama appealed to her innate sense of loveliness so strongly that
the happy tears would come, and her heart was lifted by the adoring
creature’s joy in the Creator’s lovely handiwork. She forgot all
else in the glories of the present scene, took no heed of the swift
changing of the view as the homely old ship glided past that long,
long barrier through the smoothest and brightest of seas. She took
no heed of the skilful handling of the ship, all her mind being bent
upon the wonders overside. It seemed to her as if now for the first
time she understood what voyaging really meant, as if only now was she
realising some of the impressions given her long ago in reading records
of wonderful voyages. A faint flush mounted into her pale cheeks, her
breath came and went quickly through her parted lips, and she was
nearer happiness than she had been since the first week out from home.

Suddenly she became conscious of an apparent increase in the wind,
caused by an alteration in the vessel’s course, bringing her
close-hauled, and like magic the whole scene changed. The ship was
now running in between a wide opening in the great barrier before
mentioned, where on either side of her the frowning rocks with their
white crests of foam stopped abruptly in a sea of deepest blue. Ahead
this lovely colour took a dozen different shades from inequality in the
depth, and here and there, where a patch of coral neared the surface
and the sun’s rays touched its summit through the intervening water,
there was a blending of hues that would make an artist despair.

Thus, piloted with the utmost skill by the skipper, the _Grampus_ drew
near the main group of islands, sheltered as they were by all this
intricate network of reefs from any roughness of water, and, finally,
turning sharply to starboard, she came up into the wind behind a low
bluff, and by her own impetus forged ahead into a little bay, sheltered
from every wind of heaven, bordered by a snow-white beach, which,
in its turn, was fringed by tropical growth of trees and shrubs of
many kinds, and looking an ideal haven of rest. Midway of the bay’s
semicircle, and at less than half a mile from the beach, at a hoarse
shout from the skipper the anchor rattled down, its crash and roar
awakening echoes that long resounded like peals of distant thunder.
Then the shouts of the officers succeeded as they gave the necessary
orders for furling sails and clearing up the ship generally. And in
half-an-hour, when the word ‘supper’ was given, an intense hush as of
the first Sabbath succeeded--a calm and peace over sea and land that
fell upon Priscilla’s heart like the touch of a mother’s cool hand upon
the hot brow of her ailing child.

Captain Da Silva’s officers, however, were far from enjoying a like
serenity of mind. That very peace which was so grateful to an unknowing
one was to them like the calm preceding the outburst of a hurricane.
They looked anxiously around, precluded from consulting each other by
their absurd relations, yet fearing the worst. Then the skipper, going
below and summoning his unfortunate steward, had the ‘trade,’ always
carried by these ships in that day for the purpose of barter among the
islands, brought out and placed in readiness for conveyance on deck.
His (the skipper’s) plans had long been made, but only his Portuguese
accomplices on board knew anything of them. As far back as the visit to
Brava he had been preparing for this event, when that load of cases of
most potent liquor was brought on board. And now it was not so much the
possibility of treachery on the part of the natives as the ruin of his
plan of pleasure (?) which made him anxiously scan beach and bay for
any sign of human life.

The sun neared the horizon, the busy fishing birds began to fly
shoreward to their nests laden with the fruits of their labours, and
the fresh sweetness of the coming night began to make itself felt.
Then, as if at a given signal, a whole fleet of canoes came rushing
round the headland into the bay, the water foaming around them under
the strokes of multitudinous paddles. As they neared the ship it was to
be seen that each canoe carried a green branch with streamers of white
‘tapa’ or native cloth, betokening peace, also that the still green
coverts ashore had suddenly burst into life and scores of dusky female
forms were hurling themselves into the water, and almost like denizens
of the deep sea were rushing towards the ship. A few sharp orders from
the skipper, and the Portuguese members of the crew hurried aft to
assist him in the handing and distribution of his presents. They had
barely got the things on deck when with yells of delight the natives
reached the vessel, climbing on board everywhere like an invasion of
happy children without one thought save the joyful indulgence of idle
infantile curiosity. Priscilla had previously retired, being sternly
ordered below by her husband as soon as the natives were seen, and in
the little state-room she sat listening with mingled feelings to the
hubbub prevailing on deck, not knowing what it meant.

It was well that she did not, for there was now commencing on board
the _Grampus_ one of those orgies which have done so much to hinder
the spread of Christianity among these savage isles. There is no
danger that I should attempt to particularise; that, I am sorry to
say, has been done _ad nauseam_, and to what good end I am unable to
see. Even the bald official records of such scenes strike a chill of
horror into any decent mind, but they also leave a sense of profound
gratitude that in spite of all these dire hindrances to the spread of
the Gospel it does spread, it is embraced by these simple children of
Nature, so apt to be influenced by the latest impression, especially
if that impression be evil. Every careful reader of South Sea Island
records must have noticed the frequency with which the good work of the
missionaries--and, let it be said, in all justice, the good work of
the honest, sober, truthful, and decent trader--has been undone by the
infernal exploits of a crew of black-guards coming soon after. Also, it
must have been seen how frequently the ill-usage (in the worst sense)
of the confiding but undiscriminating natives by some bad ship’s crew
has led to the awful massacre of the next ship’s company calling there,
and the subsequent laying waste of the village of these dispensers
of wild justice. In Stevenson’s ‘Wrecker’ one of the most appalling
facts is stated quite dispassionately concerning the murder of Bishop
Patteson, and it makes the flesh creep. Here it is:--

‘He was tried for his life in Fiji in Sir Arthur Gordon’s time, and
if ever he prayed at all, the name of Sir Arthur was certainly not
forgotten. He was speared in seven places in New Ireland--the same
time his mate was killed--the famous outrage on board the brig _Jolly
Roger_, but _the treacherous savages made little by their wickedness_’
(the italics are mine) ‘and Bostock, in spite of their teeth, got
seventy-five head of volunteer (?) labour on board, of whom not more
than a dozen died of injuries. He had a hand besides in the amiable
pleasantry which cost the life of Patteson; and when the sham bishop
landed, prayed, and gave his benediction to the natives, Bostock,
arrayed in a female chemise out of the trade-room, had stood at his
right hand and boomed Amens. This, when he was sure he was among good
fellows, was his favourite yarn. “Two hundred head of labour for a
hatful of Amens,” he used to name the tale; and its sequel, the death
of the real bishop, struck him as a circumstance of extraordinary
humour.’

It was evident to Mr. Court at once what his commander had come into
this bay for, and he was in a greater difficulty than ever. The ship
was practically in possession of the natives, all uproariously good
humoured, but all, liable to pass at once from riotous pleasantry to
mad fury of slaughter. The only comfort he had was that no natives were
allowed to invade the cabin. The foc’s’le, the half-deck, was overrun
by them, and nearly all the crew had been induced to join them in their
curious gambols--all the more curious that the skipper had liberally
distributed his fire-water among them. Reuben, at the first descent of
native men and women into the foc’s’le, had made his way on deck and
into the fore-top, then along the topgallant stay he had climbed to the
main-crosstrees, and in similar fashion had reached the mizen-top. Here
he determined to camp until morning with some vague idea of watching
over the safety of Priscilla, and at the least, descending among the
natives if they should prove treacherous (?) and losing his life in her
defence. From his lofty perch he looked down upon that ugly scene, and
his clean soul revolted at it. But he saw to his intense satisfaction
the actors therein gradually sink to slumber, overcome by fatigue, and
by midnight the pale moon shone down upon heaps of sleepers in all
sorts of varied attitudes, exposing shamefulnesses that the tender dark
had hidden. And overwearied at last he slept also.

The morning brought tumult, a renewal of the orgies of the previous
night. All work, discipline, order, seemed to be at an end. The
skipper, like a maddened Bacchanal, swayed to and fro between two dusky
nymphs, daughters of the paramount chief, and Mr. Court, looking at him
with disgust, could take no steps. Once, indeed, finding a huge native
endeavouring to force his body down through the insufficient opening
of the cabin skylight, the mate almost forgot the stern control he had
placed upon himself, and was just about to seize the man fiercely and
hurl him away when he was seized from behind, and turning furiously to
see who it was he looked into the mild but fearless eyes of Reuben, who
said, ‘For heaven’s sake, sir, don’t anger them--for her sake.’ That
was all, and Mr. Court’s anger died instantly away.

But none of the devoted few who throughout this terrible time retained
their manliness and clean living were able to retain much hope that a
final and terribly complete disaster could be avoided. And all they
could do was to look helplessly on and see it coming, powerless to
avert it. For the skipper, in spite of the madness of his orgies,
not only kept cunning watch over his end of the ship, and allowed no
native, whether male or female, to enter the cabin, but he also kept
the sober ones in view also, and by this I do not merely mean those
to whom he had handed out drink--his own countrymen--but those of the
white men who had allowed themselves to wallow in debauchery.

The end came very suddenly, on the fourth night. All the revellers had
been carrying on furiously, with but brief intervals of exhaustion,
and the number of natives was greatly increased by fresh arrivals from
some of the outlying islands. Several serious quarrels had broken out,
and been patched up without bloodshed, and there was much murmuring
among the natives because the supply of liquor seemed to be failing--at
any rate, the Captain was not so free with it as he had been. More, a
belief had steadily gained ground among them that something of great
value was secured in that after-part of the ship into which none of
them had been permitted to penetrate. Now, whether either of these
causes had anything to do with the final catastrophe, or whether it was
just an outburst of savagery like the mischief of petulant children,
no one will ever know, but the fact remains that about midnight there
was a strong smell of fire, and before any of the sleeping roysterers
had awakened, tall flames upreared their terrible shapes from the
main-hatch, and a roar as of some vast furnace was heard. Almost in
an instant the ship was alive with men running hither and thither as
if dazed, others fiercely fighting, others drawing water in buckets,
and casting it into the glowing furnace of the main-hatch without the
slightest appreciable effect. In the midst of it all four men kept
their heads clear--Reuben, Mr. Court, Mr. Winslow, and Mr. Pease. As it
was very evident at an early stage that the fire, even if attacked by
competent hands, was unsubduable, and that, moreover, the natives were
bent not only upon destroying the ship but the lives of every European
on board, these four devoted all their energies to the means of escape.
The Captain was somewhere in the midst of the yelling crowd, fighting
fiercely, no doubt, his voice heard occasionally above the tumult, so
that no counsel could be taken with him. And to make the confusion
still more terrible, blinding columns of smoke began bursting, as it
seemed, out of every crevice of the vessel. This decided Reuben that
the time had come to act finally, and tearing the cabin door off its
hinges by one effort of his strength, he rushed below, and seizing
the half-suffocated Priscilla in his arms bore her on deck, and,
half-blinded, groped his way to the port quarter boat, and placed her
safely in the stern sheets. He had previously ‘racked’ the falls--that
is, fastened two of the parts of each together--and had thrown the
coils into the boat. Now he took a round turn round the midship thwart
with both the falls, and, holding them firmly, went to both ends of the
boat consecutively and cut the rackings, the boat falling a foot or so
each time with an ugly jerk. Then he lowered away handsomely, feeling
sure that in the hubbub on deck the rattle of the blocks would never
be noticed. She took the water, he unhooked and pushed off, full of
anguish of mind as to the fate of his three friends, but not knowing
what to do for them without risking the helpless woman for whom he
would gladly have suffered any pain or manner of death.



CHAPTER XXVII

AND LAST


It may well be wondered why in the much-abused name of common-sense the
mariners on board the _Grampus_ did not, seeing the hopelessness of
saving their vessel, make for the boats and leave her. But it must be
remembered that, apart from the fact that they were nearly all mixed
up in that horrible compost of savagery, there were really only three
of them who had any clearness of head remaining. These three, whom I
have already named, were busy preparing the starboard quarter boat
for leaving when suddenly there burst upon them, like a flood, a mob
of natives, and before they had time to draw their weapons they were
overpowered, and another dark deed was consummated. As so often has
happened in South Sea Island story, the innocent suffered equally with
the guilty--indeed, more, for one guilty man escaped for a time. Off in
the dark Reuben waited, all his nerves raw with anxiety for those who
would never come. What to do he did not know, for light and graceful as
a whaleboat is when she has her full complement of men on board, she is
cumbrous as a barge to be handled by one man at any time without sail;
and when to that one man’s task is added the hampering of darkness
and ignorance of the way he should go, the hill of difficulty becomes
well-nigh insurmountable.

Reuben stood with his feet upon the two cleats, made and fastened for
the purpose of raising the steersman’s body, one on each side of the
stern-sheets, staring with smarting eyes into the smoky, flame-stabbed
darkness where the ship lay. Occasionally a great spurt of blood-red
fire lit up sea, shore, and sky, and made him tremble for fear of
discovery; then a wild chorus of yells and shrieks chilled his blood
as he pictured mentally the scene being enacted on board. Strangely
enough, he had quite forgotten his own peril, had forgotten how many
were the native canoes, how impossible it would be for him to propel
that heavy boat one quarter as fast as those amphibious natives could
swim after him if once they realised his departure. Ah! The boat sagged
heavily to one side, and in over the bluff of the bow climbed a dark
figure, gasping as if its chest was being rent asunder. Reuben sprang
forward, and found it was the skipper. The two men stared at each other
for a moment; then the skipper gurgled out, ‘Oars, pull for life; all
dead but me.’ And as he spoke he seized an oar and began to pull.
Reuben said no word, but took another, and with the long, splendid
stroke of the whaler they propelled the beautiful craft silently
seaward, passing the headland safely and unobserved. A light breeze was
blowing, and no sooner were they clear of the head than the skipper
said, his native gruffness asserting itself even in that terrible hour,
‘Come, lend a hand ’n’ git th’ mast up. She’ll go twice as fast under
sail. Git a move on ye.’ It was a heavy task for two men, one of whom
was evidently fighting hard against overpowering weakness, but Reuben’s
great strength again stood him in good stead, and before ten minutes
had elapsed the big sail was bellying bravely forward, and the boat,
heading out into the night, was gently bowing to the incoming Pacific
swell, seeming eager to escape from those awful shores.

Captain Da Silva took the steer-oar, and with something of his old
skill laid the boat on the direct course for the nearest reef-opening,
steering by the white curdlings on the reef-tops around, which showed
up most conspicuously against the dark of the night. Astern the
_Grampus_, now one vast flame, filled the sky with a lurid glare, and
the smoke of her burning came floating over the heads of the fugitives
in a long grey cloud. For a space of about half an hour not a word was
spoken by either of the men. Then suddenly the skipper said sharply,
‘Who’s this?’ pointing to the motionless figure lying in the stern
sheets at his feet as if he had only just seen it.

‘It’s yewr wife, Cap’n,’ answered Rube in the most matter-of-fact
manner possible.

‘How ’d she kem here?’ demanded the skipper again.

‘I brought her, sir,’ replied Rube, without the slightest change of
voice.

‘Oh, yew did, eh?’ said the skipper faintly. And then stooping and
letting go his hold of the oar, he laid his hand upon the unconscious
woman and said, ‘’R y’ all right, Pris? I’m drefful sorry t’ have brung
ye t’ this; but I kain’t do nothin’ f’r y’ naow. I’m mighty sick man
myself.’ And with that word he fell forward in a heap fainting.

This brought Rube aft on the jump, but it was well for him that
Priscilla had been roused from her curious stupor and was able to
attend to her husband, as the steering of the boat demanded all one
man’s attention now.

They were nearing the reef passage, and the swell meeting them was
causing the boat to leap as she surmounted its crests, and demanding a
very steady hand at the steer-oar to keep her bow on to it. Besides,
the channel was barely five boats’ lengths wide, and the foam of the
incoming breakers almost obscured it at times. Still Rube steered
seaward with a steady hand, and presently with a sigh of relief he saw
the gallant craft shoot out from between those walls of white on to the
dark, free ocean beyond. Then he was about to try and ship the rudder,
which always hangs alongside, when he heard her voice saying:

‘Would you please look at the Captain? I think he has fainted, or
something, and his clothes are all sticky, as well as wet.’

Rube answered thickly, ‘Certainly, ma’am, only yew must ’scuse me if I
divide my ’tention between him and the boat. She wants a good deal of
steering just now, an’ we kain’t afford to linger about here, in case
we ain’t far enough from that awful place by sun-up.’

Then Rube stooped down and peered into the skipper’s face, feeling all
over his body at the same time and noting the sticky feeling of which
she spoke. But he knew no more of what it was than she, and as he had
no light he could not investigate. And so he gave all his attention to
the navigation of the boat away from those dangerous shores while yet
the land wind held, knowing full well that it would die away before
dawn and the sea breeze come with the sun. Then if he were not well off
the land he would run great risk of being caught by the natives, whose
blood thirst would by this time be unassuageable.

Priscilla, only conscious apparently of one fact, that her husband
needed her ministrations, was doing her best under those sadly hampered
conditions to give them. That she was tossing about on the open sea in
a small boat with only her unconscious husband and one sailor to keep
her company did not seem to impress her at all. And yet it would be
grievous if anyone reading her story should think of her scornfully as
having degenerated under her terrible trials into something very much
resembling an imbecile. Oh, no; really her present state of mind had
been reached through a series of shocks that would have driven a weaker
woman to death or madness, but in her case had providentially resulted
in a sort of calm acceptance, without any apparent surprise, of
whatever strange experiences should befall her. Mechanically she bathed
her husband’s face with her handkerchief dipped in the water overside,
and, warned by his stertorous breathing, she loosed his neckband and
managed to raise his head on to her lap. And thus she sat quietly
enduring the cramping of her limbs, accepting the sharp pains shooting
through her body as inevitable, and making no sound.

A hush stole over the dark sea as the wind died away, broken only
by the heavy occasional flap of the now useless sail. Without a
word Reuben shipped the steer-oar and stepped lightly forward. In a
minute or two he had tightly furled the sail and taken an extra pull
at the backstays and stay, after deciding that owing to his being
single-handed and not sure of his power to elevate it again he must
take the risk of being seen through leaving the mast standing. He
did not realise how far the swift boat had glided under the gentle
stress of the light land breeze during those past hours of darkness.
With almost hungry eagerness he waited for the dawn, noted the first
faint blush as of surprise tinting the eastern sky, watched with
growing feelings of worship tremulous threads of delicate colour
running searchingly into the sombre concave of the departing night,
saw the flood of palest golden light appear, and then springing into
its midst ablaze with glory, majesty, and life, the sun. And the
land out of sight. His head sank upon his bosom, and he thanked God
for deliverance. Yet, having done so, he could not help a sinking
at his heart as he looked aft at those two crouching forms--one so
inexpressibly precious to him, the other a sacred charge because--well,
because of right and truth and honour. He knew that upon him, under
God, depended their lives, although he did not then know how far gone
the skipper was. And just one little moan escaped him as he thought how
ill-provided they were for a long cruise in those unfrequented seas.
Then hope revived again as he felt, because of his ignorance, that
he could not sail far in any direction without making land, and land
meant food and water, and (but that he did not trouble about) savages,
cannibals made, if possible, worse than they were by nature by the
utter villainy of white men far more culpable than they.

Then, treading softly as a cat, he stepped over the thwarts aft again,
and as he did so Priscilla lifted her wan face to his, saying calmly:

‘Are we safe from pursuit?’

Rube nodded: he could not trust himself to speak.

‘Then, will you see what you can do for Captain Da Silva. I--I am
afraid he is badly injured.’

With one glance at the boat fore and aft and a satisfied noting of the
little darkness on the water which betokened the coming breeze, Rube
obeyed, and stooped to the Captain’s side. As soon as he did so he
saw to his horror that the stickiness they had both felt during the
darkness was blood; the skipper had been wounded in many places, and
his blood, aided by the salt water, had congealed upon him and stopped
its own flow, or he would have been dead long before.

‘Ma’am,’ said Rube unsteadily, ‘I’ll dew my best fur the Cap’n, but, as
yew k’n see, that isn’t much. He’s badly cut, an’ I daren’t interfere
with his hurts ’cause at present they’ve stopped bleedin’, and if I
tech him an’ start ’em agen I mayn’t be able to stanch th’ flow then.
Pity I got nothin’ t’ give him but a little soak biscuit an’ water.
P’raps you’ll take a little yewrself, ma’am, at the same time t’ keep
up yewr strength and courage.’

The ghost of a smile flickered for a second about her white lips, and
she said simply, ‘Thank you. You are very kind. What shall I call you?’

He answered shortly, with a tightening at the heart, ‘My name’s Rube,
ma’am--at least, that’s what I get usually. Call me thet, if ye don’t
mind.’

And then he busied himself with the preparation of the simple meal,
measuring crumb and drop as if each represented so many minutes of
life, and deciding that, as for himself, he could go a much longer
time yet before encroaching upon the small stock which must suffice for
them all. The breeze freshening, he set the sail again, and, hauling
the boat’s head as near the wind as she would lie, found that she would
make about E.N.E. on the starboard tack--by guess, that is, for there
was no compass in the boat. And this course he chose, not because he
knew whither it would lead them, but because he saw that it was taking
them well away from those accursed isles, of whose very name and
whereabouts he was ignorant. And having got the boat so easily trimmed
that by lashing the tiller at a certain angle she would steer herself,
coming up and falling off just as if a hand was at the helm, he turned
his attention again to the skipper and his wife, finding that the
former had returned to a reasonable appreciation of his surroundings
and was quietly taking the biscuit pap from Priscilla’s fingers. His
filmy eyes lighted upon Reuben, and he said in low but clear tones:

‘Ah! yew never gut thet floggin’ I promised ye. Wall, I doan’ know as
I’m sorry thet yew missed it. I guess I ben a pretty hard case ever
sence I gut a chance t’ be, ’n’ I don’t believe I ever ben sorry fur
anything I ever done befo’. I felt mad, but not sorry--no, never. ’N’
I thought I’d go some day jest like that. ’N’ now I kain’t. Pris’
(turning to his wife with sudden energy), ‘I want yew t’ fergive
me--I’ve done y’ a power of harm. I ben an awful brute t’ ye. Wut I
ben t’ th’ men don’ matter--that’s wut they’re aboard fur--but yew ben
good t’ me, ’n’ I ben a devil t’ yew. Naow I’m a-dyin’, ’n’ I don’ care
a plunk fer thet, but I’d like y’ t’ know I’m sorry fur wut I done t’
ye. Ez fur this galoot, I don’t know who he is er wut he is, ’n’ ef I
a-hed my way with him he’d a-hed a pretty tough time, but I do b’lieve
he ain’t half bad. Kiender soft mebbe fur all he’s so big an’ hefty,
but I think he’ll put ye through in shape. An’----’ But then the
voice suddenly melted into a few unintelligible sounds, and again the
skipper’s head sank on to his wife’s lap and he was silent in another
swoon. Rube looked at him helplessly for a moment, then, reflecting
that the best thing for him would be to concentrate his mind upon the
only thing he could do--viz., the handling of the boat--he stepped
thoughtfully back to the tiller, and cast his eye first over the boat
herself, then all around. She was going sweetly along, unguided, like a
creature of intelligence, and as if she needed no human intervention,
so, satisfied of this, Rube busied himself in making everything within
her as neat and ship-shape as possible. Having done all he could at
this, he counted their treasured biscuit, felt the weight of the water
supply, and looked inquiringly at Priscilla, holding up the little
wooden beaker or piggin with one hand and pointing to the keg with the
other. But Priscilla, moistening her parched lips as well as she could,
shook her head, giving a meaning glance at the little bucket wherein he
had soaked the biscuit of which she and the Captain had been partaking,
to show him that there was still some left.

Just as Rube was wondering what he could do next for her comfort, and
his own satisfaction, there was a commotion in the water alongside, and
with a series of sharp taps against the sides and bottom of the boat,
half-a-dozen large flying-fish fell into her in their hurried rush
upwards from the onslaught of a big albacore, which went sweeping past
with one of their late comrades thwartwise in his mouth. In a moment
Rube had gathered the welcome little wanderers together and hidden them
all out of the sun’s rays but one. This he cleaned with the utmost
delicacy and filleted, cutting the fillets into dainty narrow strips.
With half-a-dozen of them balanced on his knife-blade, he approached
Priscilla, who had been watching him languidly, saying, ‘Here, ma’am,
is suthin’ that’ll dew yew and the skipper both good. It’s cool and
moist, an’ ef yew shet yew eyes fur a minit yew’ll be surprised haow
easy yew can take it. Thousan’s of people prefer it this way t’ cooked.
’N’ I’ll dry some fur ye then, only it ain’t so good fur ye because
of its makin’ y’ thirsty, an’ water’s none too plentiful.’ With
utmost docility she roused herself, took the tender looking strips,
and put one of them to her husband’s cracked lips. His mouth opened
mechanically and his jaws moved, but he had no power to swallow, and
his breath began to come and go laboriously. Putting one hand under his
head, she beckoned Rube with the other, whispering, ‘Is he dying? Can’t
you _do_ anything for him?’

With a fervent petition for aid to do the right thing, for wisdom to
see it, Rube stepped to her side and took the Captain’s weight off
Priscilla’s arm upon his own. There was, even to a man with as little
experience of death as Rube’s, but scanty room to doubt that Captain
Da Silva was going to his account. And then, incredible as it may seem
to most of us, this simple-minded Christian man, forgetting all else
but the pitiable plight of the sufferer before him, actually burst
suddenly into earnest prayer that he might be spared--if only for a
little while--spared to repent of the evil done and intended. But as
he prayed he was conscious of something, he knew not what, driving into
his mind the certainty that his prayer was not to be granted. That
Ramon Da Silva had done all the direct ill he was to be allowed to do.
Rube’s voice ceased, the skipper’s eyes opened, glazed and fixed, his
lower jaw dropped heavily, and he was dead. Catching Priscilla’s eyes
fixed earnestly upon his face, Reuben said solemnly, ‘He’s dead, ma’am,
and the rest is with God.’ ‘May God have mercy upon him now,’ she
replied.

Until the evening scarcely another word was spoken by either of them,
both busy with their own thoughts. But just before sunset, Rube said
questioningly, ‘We kain’t do no good, and may do much harm, by keeping
the body any longer: d’ you mind my offering up a prayer an’ committin’
it to th’ deep?’ She answered humbly, ‘Do what you think is right--I am
willing. God knows I have every confidence in you.’ So Rube sank upon
his knees on the thwart, and with bowed head commended the dead man to
the mercy of the Merciful. Then he rose, and with a sudden heave of his
great shoulders, lifted the piece of clay; there was a sullen splash,
an eddy, and all that was mortal of Ramon Da Silva had disappeared for
ever from human sight.

With an unutterable sense of relief Reuben turned to the business of
living, and bringing forth his little store of filleted fish and a
handful of broken biscuits gently pressed Priscilla to eat. She at once
commenced to try, only stipulating that he should also take something,
for she felt sure that, since the catastrophe, at any rate, he had not
broken his fast. He gravely acceded to her wish and began to eat, but
had only taken two or three mouthfuls when he laid down the morsel he
was conveying to his lips, put both hands to his face, and, his huge
body shaken as with ague, burst into a tempest of sobs. Priscilla
watched him in awe-stricken silence, until she, too, moved beyond
bearing by such a passion in this quiet, self-possessed man, began to
weep. But as soon as she did, Rube, by a tremendous effort, regained
command of himself and began in tenderest fashion to speak such
comforting words to her as his close acquaintance with the Source of
all comfort had given him possession of. But be it noted, neither his
consolation nor Priscilla’s distress had any reference to their present
desperate condition whatever. That apparently gave them no uneasiness.
These tears of Priscilla’s were due to reaction, to self-pity perhaps
a little, but principally were an evidence of the passing away of an
awful bondage. Such tears as a prisoner might shed on first emerging
from a loathsome captivity in an underground dungeon into the blessed
light of Heaven--free.

There is no need to enlarge upon the cause of Rube’s breakdown: if it
be not palpable, it would be futile to explain.

Now he was torn with a raging conflict between his desires and his
fears. Would Priscilla, after all, love him? Dare he make himself known
without appearing to take any unmanly advantage of her helplessness,
her utter need of some strong arm upon which to lean, whether she loved
its owner or not so long as he was kind? Foolish--oh, yes, but quite
natural where such faithful love as Rube’s reigns in a man’s heart,
allied with such a distrust of self as he possessed. So he sat speaking
to Priscilla such things as he found best to say with this backlash
of harassing thoughts occupying one corner of his brain, and causing
his eyes to shine with almost audible intensity. And presently lifting
her head Priscilla’s gaze met his. For a moment she stared spellbound,
then gasped, ‘Rube, it’s _you_, it’s YOU. O God, how good You are to
me!’ And she bent towards him. All his fears were forgotten now, all
his delicate self-tormenting diffidences vanished like breath-mist from
a diamond, and he took her to his broad breast as a mother takes her
infant, yearningly, hungrily.

The boat sailed on steadily into the blankness of the horizon, hunger
and thirst, and dreadful outlook all forgotten, and in that happy hour
each lived a lifetime of perfect joy, feeling that, come what might,
the price to pay would not be grudged by them. Then, with a sigh of
perfect content, they released one another, and Rube, feeling as if
the strength of ten lay in his great frame, the wisdom of a dozen old
sea-captains had accumulated in his brain, set about preparing for the
night. He felt ready to wrestle with death itself for her as Jacob did
with the angel, and with no more fear. And she followed him with her
eyes as he busied himself about the boat and made ready their tiny
meal. It was so sweet to feel once more the presence of unselfish love
ready to do and dare all things for her. If the prospect of that wide
sea-plain and their utter loneliness upon it, and the knowledge of
their want of food, did for a moment give her a chilly feeling as of
the approach of darkness, it was only momentary: one glance again at
his bright, brave, calm face dispelled it, and brought instead the glow
of perfect happiness--that is, as nearly perfect as a spirit clothed
with flesh can feel.

They took their evening morsel of food, and uttered their evening
prayers sitting hand in hand like little children, and with as little
care or fear for the future as babes would have; they saw the bright
sky darken into the violet of the night, while the gentle breeze held
steadily and the boat still swept quietly forward to the east. Rube
made Priscilla as comfortable as possible, sacrificing the jib’s
usefulness for the night in order to protect her from the drenching
dew, and as she laid her head down upon his coat rolled up for a
pillow she gave a happy little sigh, murmured, ‘Thank you, dear,’ put
up her face to be kissed as a tired child would out of its cot, and
went instantly to sleep. Rube, noting this with intense satisfaction,
composed himself upon the little deck aft, where he could look down
upon Priscilla’s form, cast off the tiller, and, sitting with it
under his arm, steered the boat steadily by the wind, still making,
as nearly as he could judge by the stars, about a N.E. course. So
through the night he sat, and dozed and woke alternately, never finding
any alteration in the pose of that recumbent figure beneath him,
never needing to do aught but just sit still and commune with his own
thoughts. Strangely enough, do what he would he could not feel any
apprehension for the future. Again and again he endeavoured to depict
Priscilla and himself dying of hunger and thirst under the great solemn
eye of heaven. Again and again he recalled his experiences in the
_Xiphias_’ boat when all the bitterness of such a death was actually
undergone, and the survivors were literally haled back from the dark
entry of the grave. But no answering tremor came. Not even when he
thought of his father and mother, those waiting, lonely figures sitting
by their cosy but quiet fireside praying for him. Ah--that was it. The
effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and whether
he (and _she_) were to live or die, the peace which they were enjoying
was undoubtedly due to that stream of real prayer ascending continually
from the Eddy Homestead for the wanderers on unknown seas.

Therefore, in the morning, as daylight filled the sky, he faced the
waking Priscilla with a countenance scarcely less bright. He drew her
a bucket of water from overside, and recommended a sluicing of hands,
and face, and neck, telling her that for the next half-hour it would
be necessary for him to seat himself upon the bow and look steadfastly
ahead in case in that clear dawn-light some vessel should be visible.
And when such a toilet as she was able to make was completed, a word
from her would bring him aft on the jump supposing his vigil were not
over. She smiled gratefully, appreciatively; and met him presently,
when in response to her call he came leaping aft, with a face so bright
and rosy in spite of its thinness that an involuntary exclamation of
wonder and admiration burst from him. Then they sat down to their
frugal breakfast of water and biscuit--the fish was now too stale to
eat, unless they were much more ravenous than at present--and for sauce
they had reminiscences, all that Rube could remember on both sides of
the blank, and all that she _would_ recall of the doings of her dead
husband. Then Rube, interesting Priscilla greatly, produced a hook
and line which he had found stowed away in the ‘eyes’ of the boat.
Carefully mounting a strongly smelling flying fish upon the hook, he
trolled it astern, and in a few minutes succeeded in flinging into the
boat a beautiful coryphena, or dolphin as the sailor calls it, of over
ten pounds in weight. A portion of its flesh was cut off, and preserved
for bait, a portion was carefully prepared for the next meal--they did
not mind raw fish now--and the rest cleansed, and cut in strips, was
laid in the sun to dry. And then they thanked God, ate another meal,
and took courage.

On the fourth morning, although they had caught plenty of fish--for in
those prolific seas the deep-sea denizens swarm--they drank their last
drop of water. They had husbanded it carefully, and as at the outset
there was but little over a gallon, it had lasted well. But even now
they did not feel dismayed. Amid their terrible surroundings they were
quite, or nearly quite, happy. That same strange assurance enjoyed by
Rube had communicated itself to Priscilla, and together they discussed
their meeting with the dear old people, and all the wonderments that
people so entirely ignorant of what had been happening since their
departure might naturally be supposed to entertain. They caught a
skip-jack that day, a kind of vivacious mackerel, weighing about five
pounds, and almost gaily munched its juicy flesh, which was so grateful
to their already parching mouths.

Then, at the close of day, as usual--it seemed as if they had been thus
associated for a lifetime--they prayed, kissed each other good-night,
and Priscilla went to sleep, while Rube, as usual, sat erect and dozed.
He was suddenly awakened by a great glare of light which dazzled him,
proceeding from he knew not where. Next moment a clear voice sounded
across the blackness following upon the blaze: ‘Boat ahoy!’ ‘Hallo,’
replied the deep tones of Rube. And then he saw the towering form of
a ship, her green light glaring down at him as if in judicial inquiry
just overhead. In fact, so close that only by putting his tiller hard
over and bringing his boat up in the wind he escaped running into
her with a crash. A side ladder was lowered, a couple of agile men
glided down ropes into the boat, and in less than ten minutes Rube and
Priscilla stood upon the deck of H.M.S. _Alcestis_, surveying ship, to
whose splendid lookout they owed their rescue, and whose crew they had
provided with a babblement of talk that was already surging throughout
the remotest corners of the ship.

A cabin was immediately found for Priscilla, and the wardroom
attendants could not sufficiently show their zeal and readiness
to anticipate her every want. Rube, brought before a charming
young-looking officer, was interrogated as to the how and why of this
miraculous appearance in mid-Pacific in a boat, at night with one
woman, but not before he had been offered and had refused a glass of
grog and a cigar, and had accepted instead a plate of soup on the
condition that some was first given to Priscilla.

So Reuben told his tale to the Captain of the man-o’-war, and whether
the sentry at the door had his ear to the keyhole all the while or
not I don’t know, but certain it is that almost as soon as Reuben
retired for the rest of the night to a comfortable berth, having first
visited Priscilla’s cabin and found her supremely happy, his story
was the common property of the ship’s company, and he could have
had any one of them shed blood, their own or another’s, for him. Of
that, of course, there was no need, but anyone who knows the British
man-o’-warsman, officer or seaman, needs not to be told that on arrival
at Honolulu the paymaster of the _Alcestis_ handed over to Reuben a sum
of money sufficient for all reasonable expenses and fare to Vermont.
Among those _reasonable_ expenses was included the cost of a wedding
at the English church, to which over one hundred of the _Alcestis’_
crew invited themselves, and made those proceedings vibrate with
their own enthusiasm. I regret to say, though, that after escorting
the newly wedded pair on board the mail steamer bound to ’Frisco, and
cheering themselves hoarse as she departed, several of those gallant
blue-jackets were found so full of spirits, animal and vegetable, that
it became necessary for the preservation of the public peace to put
them under lock and key, with serious results to themselves.

Reuben and his adoring wife had no more adventures. They were the
heroes of the passengers and crew of the _Golden Gate_, and they had
much ado to dodge the wily reporters in the Queen City of the West.
Nor were they able to prevent the appearance of their histories (with
such extraordinary verbal embellishments as the said reporters deemed
it necessary to add) in the flamboyant local newspapers. But in due
time they found themselves travelling together the quiet moss-grown
paths between Boston and the home farm, and arriving at the door of
the Eddy Homestead to be received as the latest and best gifts of a
loving God to the faithful old couple who had never wavered in the
long waiting for them, nor doubted that they would come. Also it seems
an anti-climax to record their settling down to a happy, useful, and
loving life in the old farm of Priscilla’s youth, kept in readiness for
them by Rube’s father against the day of their return.

It was somewhat of a wrench for them to be compelled to make a journey
to New Bedford and depose to the circumstances in which the _Grampus_
was lost, and there always remained a sense of something incomplete in
Reuben’s mind about the early days of his departure from New Bedford,
and the intervening months before awaking on board the _Grampus_. But
these ripples made no impression upon the steady flow of their stream
of happiness. Brother Will came to see them from Chicago, portly and
full of dollar-talk, being almost a millionaire, and departed West
again, feeling that there was, after all, something which even dollars
could not buy, and that Rube and his sister possessed the chief of
those things.

Here let us leave the much-tried pair, nestling under the wing of the
Loving Father, whose watchful care had been over them through all their
perils, being serenely carried onwards to a golden sunset.


_Spottiswoode & Co. Ltd., Printers, New-street Square, London._



WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR.


WITH CHRIST AT SEA

A RELIGIOUS AUTOBIOGRAPHY.

Fifth Edition. Crown 8vo. cloth, 6_s._

 ‘There is not a dull page in the whole narrative.’--TIMES.

 ‘Those who are acquainted with Mr. Bullen’s work will know that he
 cannot fail to compel the attention of his readers. He writes with a
 sincerity and a simplicity which lend a great charm to all he does....
 He has much to say of the conditions of the service in which he spent
 many years, and most of what he tells us is extremely interesting.
 Moreover, to those who love the sea the book is worth reading for
 its description of the varied moods, the storm and stress, the calm
 benignity, the delicate play of the ocean on which this religious life
 is spent.’--DAILY TELEGRAPH.

 ‘Mr. Bullen has told the story of his inner life of faith as it grew
 amid the very real hardships and temptations of his life at sea. And
 by doing so, we do not doubt that he will have given to many men
 and boys the best help a fellow-man can give in their own struggle
 with like circumstance. Had he kept his book back for posthumous
 publication, he would probably have considerably lessened, as well as
 postponed, the good it is calculated to do, for the help to be got out
 of a biography is very much increased by the contemporaneousness of
 the experiences it records.’--SPECTATOR.

 ‘We count this one of the most daring books ever printed--a book
 in which a very powerful writer has risked a great reputation for
 Christ’s sake. It is quite as fascinating as the book that made him,
 only in another kind of way. For simple verity, for power to make the
 thing live before readers, few autobiographies have the power of this.
 We could not put it down until we were through with it, and as we were
 going through we could not command our tears. The book will do a world
 of good; and, we say again, the witness is a very brave one, manfully
 borne.’--METHODIST TIMES.

 ‘As a human document nothing more interesting of its kind has appeared
 for many years.... No one can doubt on reading this book that Mr.
 Bullen has lived his religion. There is so little to be gained by
 professing to be a Christian at sea that a man who does profess to be
 a Christian probably is a Christian. If his rule is made applicable to
 the author of this book the present writer records his impression for
 what it is worth, that Mr. Bullen is one who has lived the Life, and
 that his account of it is interesting and manly.’--DAILY CHRONICLE.

 ‘One of the most popular books that he has written.... Mr. Bullen, as
 usual, writes with considerable charm, and will once again elicit the
 sympathy and admiration of all who peruse his pages.’--WESTMINSTER
 GAZETTE.


THE APOSTLES OF THE SOUTH-EAST

Second Edition. Crown 8vo. cloth, 6_s._


 ‘The story is touching and impressive, and fully establishes what we
 believe to be the real point about which Mr. Bullen is zealous--that
 there are no actually Godless corners anywhere in the world, simply
 because though men may forget God, God does not forget men, and in
 some way or other witness is borne to the truth of the spiritual
 life in the darkest times, and the most seemingly abandoned
 places.’--SPECTATOR.

 ‘One of the most beautiful religious stories ever written. Mr.
 Bullen’s incomparable knowledge of the details of the sailor’s life is
 displayed as wonderfully as in his earliest books.’--BRITISH WEEKLY.

 ‘An inspiring book, and charmingly written.’--METHODIST RECORDER.

 ‘The whole tone of the book is healthy, inspirational, and
 hopeful.’--METHODIST TIMES.

 ‘A story as interesting as any that could be written.’--DAILY NEWS.

 ‘A remarkable book, interesting in the extreme to really religious
 readers as giving a view--accurate, the writer protests--of a phase of
 London life very little known and hardly ever realised by middle-or
 upper-class people.’--RECORD.

 ‘No one knows better how to make his characters picturesque, and yet
 actually faithful to nature, than does Mr. Bullen, and these humble
 Christians of the slums of Rotherhithe are wonderfully life-like. “The
 Apostles of the South-East” have been drawn from real life, and are
 sketched with all that vigour and fidelity that are so characteristic
 of the writer.’--ROCK.


WITH CHRIST IN SAILORTOWN

With Illustrations. Fcp. 8vo. cloth, 1_s._ 6_d._

 ‘It stands apart from books of a similar kind, not only because of
 the writer’s unique experience of the sailor’s life, but because of
 the high literary gifts which he can bring to his task; and it will
 help the public to know more than they do of an excellent work which
 appeals, above all, to Englishmen.’--LITERATURE.

 ‘Never has the pathetic side of sailor life been more vividly
 presented.’--BIRMINGHAM DAILY GAZETTE.

 ‘We congratulate the author without reserve upon the judicious
 and generous use which he has made of his remarkable ability and
 popularity.’--MANCHESTER GUARDIAN.

 ‘Everybody should buy it, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest
 it, and do all in his power to forward the amelioration and
 Christianisation of our merchant seamen, which implies the creation of
 an adequate Royal Naval Reserve.’--QUEEN.

 ‘It is written with sympathy and vivacity; and is full of inimitable
 touches which throw into relief the manly sympathy and moral courage
 of the writer, as well as the peculiar needs of the poor fellows of
 whom he writes at once so wisely and so well.’--LEEDS MERCURY.


London: HODDER & STOUGHTON, 27 Paternoster Row, E.C.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

A number of typographical errors have been corrected silently.

Books by the Same Author added to Table of Contents.





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