Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

men

the men sleep off the effects of yesterday's rough toil.

The men are satisfied that our seemingly new plan of sealing (by sailing our ship itself in their direction) is far preferable to the one in general use-in foggy weather especially. If silence can be secured on board, the ship slips through the thick atmosphere, and she may easily be mistaken for a harmless iceberg. Gliding along the sea, just out of reach of the long tongues of ice, but still near enough to shoot the basking seals. The small icebergs are often muddy and discoloured near the water's edge, and black blocks of ice are not uncommon. In this way their resemblance. to a ship is not so difficult to comprehend. The men inspect their weapons and spin yarns as they give themselves up to a few hours of idle enjoyment. Next day, the 30th of June, the sun shines out upon the silver sea, whose surface is without a ripple. No one has as yet described the loveliness of an Arctic summer's day, and we shall not be betrayed into the attempt. All nature enjoys the calm, and the little roaches (mergulus) in large flocks, forgetful of their constant employment in the search of food, give themselves up to long hours of enjoyment; they come whirring past the bows of the schooner, and wheeling in their rapid flight, they rush with a surprising sound

WHALE ADVENTURE.

137

of wings past the stern. A great whale in the far distance comes up to blow, and after watching his movements for some time, we are compelled to forego the chase, as he is far beyond the bounds we would be justified in venturing after him.

Next morning as Byers is on watch, a whale appears. This time there is no difficulty in the way, and as everything depends upon the steady action of the crew, he gets his men quickly and quietly together and leaves the ship. So orderly had been his plans, we did not know what had occurred until after he was well away in the pursuit.

“So forth they rowed, and that ferryman
With his suff oares did brush the sea so strong
That the hoare waters from his frigot ran
And the light bubles daunced all along."

We ran on deck and saw the whale on the surface of the sea, spirting up the expressed air from his lungs like jets of water, but in reality it is a fine vapour cloud which easily condenses in this cold air, and looks, at a little distance, like water. In the far distance the land (some forty miles away) fills in the view, like the frame to a picture. The mountains, lit up with the various effects of light and shade, seem only fifteen miles away ; but the vast height of the distant peaks, seen through the clear air,

saw

confuse our power of judging the distance ; nor are we alone in our difficulty. We read somewhere of one hardy explorer of the early days, who after vain attempts to gain the land he saw so distinctly, and which always seemed to baffle his attempts, at length, in superstitious dread, turned his back upon the scene, fearful of being beguiled by some enchanter's trick; and we now do not wonder at his simplicity. All this time we watch the harpooner steadily gaining on the distant object, the wondrous beauty of the scene before us and the sport in hand dividing our admiration and combining to fill us with such a sense of enjoyment as we have rarely felt.

The little crowd around us are plunged into the same sea of ecstacy. No one breathes a whisper as the eyes are strained to observe every motion of the pursuers and pursued. The boat seems to glide rather than creep upon its prey, who lies all regardless of the impending danger, and at the distance we are, the suspense grows painful. Suddenly, like lightning, something has happened, and the shout is raised, “A fall ! a fall !” Before the echo dies away, the crowd, as if released from some enchanter's spell, is now a confused mass of bustling, hurrying men, as they rush to assist the crew in the first boat. Men come tumbling up from below, half clad, clutching in

DEATH OF THE WHALE.

159

their hot haste such clothes as are snatched hastily as they run. Here are fellows but half awake, dropping into their places in the boats, with oar in hand, impatient to give way when the rest are in their places. There is no time now to waste, and for the present the garments are scattered anywhere. By-and-by a chance may come in which they may get time to dress. In the meantime the whale, hard hit by the trusty Byers, has plunged headlong into the depths below.

In some ten or twelve minutes 500 fathoms of line has spun itself out over the boat's bow into the sea, measuring the course the wounded whale has run in his agonised fear of the too certain fate awaiting him. The boat, dragged through the water, throws up a spray from the divided wave, and the bollard smokes and fizzes with the friction of the line. We overhaul the boat just as the line is all paid out. We bend on our line. “Look out ! look out !! Keep away, or I can't fire again!” shouts Byers, in his eager way, as he sees the indications of the whale's reappearance. Up he comes, a frightful sight to see—the great tail lashing the water into foam, the fountain this time a jet of blood. We slue our boat round, and pull hard, in the hopes of getting a shot ; but to no purpose. We are out of range, and miss

Anwa

our chance. “Pinch him all you can!” “Not an inch of line more than you can help!” “He is well fast, and no fear!” Such are the warnings and precautions of the harpooners one to the other, as they make their several dispositions before the fellow dives. Once more the two boats are dragged towards the place where the whale had just been. The water is made foul by his slimy back, and the air is full of the foul odour peculiar to the cetacean. Down plunge the bows of the boats as the unseen cause drags onwards and downwards in his efforts to free himself from his tormentors, but with no avail. Each man is now fully alive to the danger of the enterprise he is engaged upon. All sit with eager eye upon the line, ready, too, in case of a capsize, to jump for dear life into the icy stream, to take what chance may offer of being picked up.

Again the whale is on the surface; this time he is out of breath, but is getting ready for another mad effort to free himself. Our gun is charged with a rocket, a steel-tipped bolt, fatal and deadly beyond compare. If it but strike the object aimed at, then its course is certain ; rending and burning its onward course it soon penetrates to the very centre of its victim, and there it bursts asunder, causing such a wound as will rob this giant of the seas of its life. Eddy

« AnteriorContinuar »