Imágenes de páginas
[merged small][ocr errors]

One old fellow wearing a crafty look, who appeared very destitute indeed, declared that he had lost two whole days in anxiously looking out for our arrival, that he hoped we would employ him as pilot ; and, after three hours' persistently appealing for the berth, he obtained his object; but, the moment he gained this advantage, he made the fullest use of it by charging an exorbitant price for his services.

Then we got away ; and, instead of going outside, we went through the northern passage. Any one desirous of comprehending the strange scenery of this coast will find curious information in the pages of the poet Drayton, in his “Poly-olbion,” who thus invoked the local genius of the Shetland Archipelago, whom Scandinavian writers, prisco sermone, were wont to name Hialtlandia :

“Go thou before us, still thy circling shores about,

And in this wandering maze help to conduct us out,
Wise Genius! by thy help, that so we may descry
How thy fair mountains stand, and how thy valleys lie.”

We need 'hardly, then, dilate upon the run our schooner made through this intricate passage.

Fitful Head was rendered strangely weird-looking in the distance by a wreath of white mist wrapped around it like a solid-looking covering. The continual change of

scenery, as we bore up against the strong current

which flows between the rugged rocks on either hand, made this part of the journey most enjoyable ; at times we passed from a comparatively calm water into a turbulent sea, whose waves broke upon the jagged faces of the cliff with a fury not to be described. The swell caused by all this commotion gave additional anxiety to such of us as were unused to it, and it was not until we had again escaped from a spot where the least shift of wind would, in spite of all our efforts, have driven us upon a lee-shore, that we began to breathe in security. One of the Shetlanders, who hailed from some place close by, informed us of the wreck of a steamer he had witnessed ; she was coming here in very thick weather, and suddenly struck these high cliffs ; all on board were lost, except two men who happened to be aloft in the rigging, and who stepped on to the rocks as the vessel went down —reminding us of the story we had heard of the “Carmelan," of Amsterdam, a rich vessel bound for the East Indies, laden with three millions of guilders, and many chests of coined gold, lost here in 1664, but more to the north-east, at the rocks known as the Outskerries. The wreck of this costly cargo happened on a dark night; the look-out men failed to discover their danger until too late to warn their companions; in this case, also, the mast coming down

[blocks in formation]

with the shock fell upon the rocks, and by its aid these four sailors only escaped ; the ship went down in deep water and all hands were lost. The casks of costly wine floated out of the wreck, and for twenty days the people along-shore got drunk and grew

sober to get drunk again as long as the intoxicating beverages intended for the trade in the far east, supplied their thirsty souls. The Earl of Morton, a great local potentate in those days, got together all the gold it was possible to recover, and a difficulty respecting his right to the flotsam and jetsam with King Charles II. led ultimately to his loss of certain property granted to the family by the Crown. As we proceeded north the sea grew gradually less turbulent; and as soon as we were clear of the land it settled down to its usual regular motion; then we bustled along with a fair wind. Some of the seamen that were “floored" by sea sickness on first meeting with the rough water now shook off its effects, and as they slowly recovered they began to enjoy the rallying they had to endure from their more fortunate shipmates.

To-day, we for the first time saw some “finners (Balena antiquorum), the largest species of whale frequenting these seas; as they bore down upon us they were regarded with seeming indifference by the men, though we gained some curious particulars re

[ocr errors]

specting them from Eddie, who noticed us gazing with ill-concealed admiration at the monsters as they neared our schooner. Your “finner" is longer looking, more lithe, and a faster swimmer when compared with the portly gentleman whose broader beam and more abundant oil has gained for him the title of “right whale” (B. mysticetus), and we could easily see from his rapid and even graceful motion through the water that he must be a much more difficult quarry to contend with than his more greasy relative, who is so great an object of solicitude to all on board a whale ship. This fellow has an awkward habit of sinking out of reach of his captors for a period of three or four days after he has been killed, and the enforced delay is often rendered futile by the failure of the flukes of the harpoon to take firm hold of the skin. In the interval, between the successful pursuit and its reappearance again upon the surface, the body becomes much distended by the gases generated during its rapid decomposition after death. The men, after risking their lives in the dangerous pursuit, are often deprived of their expected gain by the sinking of the carcass altogether, and when success has crowned their efforts, and the inflated carcass reappears upon the surface of the sea once more, the air above is soon filled by thousands of screaming sea

[blocks in formation]

birds, attracted to the spot by the tempting prospect of a feast. These dainty-looking denizens of the air squabble and fight amongst themselves for every morsel as it becomes detached from the skin, in the ugly and offensive process of “flencing.” But there are other guests at the feast who are much more repulsive-looking and add another element to the sickening operation-we mean the savage and greedy sharks, who have long since commenced the banquet while the whale was still submerged “full fathom five." These

horrid monsters of the sea make sad havoc with their cruel fangs as they dig into the flesh, and even now seem loath to part with what they consider their rightful perquisite, daring even to contend with the busy sailors who are armed with the sharp flencing tools. Often and often the men have to desist from their labour to drive away these frightful assailants, and so unwilling are they to forego the meal once tasted, that sometimes a shark, more greedy than his crueleyed companions, will receive what would seem a mortal thrust, and after a momentary dive will appear again amongst his fellows struggling with

« AnteriorContinuar »