Courage, True Hearts: Sailing in Search of Fortune
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Grand shot! The monster is struck, and for a few seconds seems stunned, and lies still on the top of the water.
The school has dived and disappeared, to come up somewhere again miles and miles away.
And now the wounded whale recovers from the shot, and headlong dives, the line rushing out once again as before. Under way once again is the boat, but the leviathan now reappears as suddenly as he had sunk. Some instinct-whether of scent or hearing I cannot tell-causes him to take the same course as his fellows.
Mercy on us, how he rips and tears through the black-green water! But ever and anon he dives, and it is evident his exertions weary him a little.
And now the line is all run out, and the boat is taken in charge. The gunwale is cooled with hastily-drawn buckets of water, and forward she dashes, so quickly too that a wall of water stands up on each side of the bows.
The poor monster is in torment. The chief danger to the boat itself would lie in the beast swerving aside and diving under a berg, which would dash the brave whaler to pieces, and kill or drown every man on board. But he holds his course till, weary at last, he dives once more, and there remains for fully twenty minutes.
When he again appears the water around is red with his blood, but he moves along very slowly now, and the other boats with their lancemen get abreast and bear up to head him.
Duncan's is the first to get near enough, and now comes the tug of war. The whale is sick and weak.
The harpooner holds up a warning hand.
"Be all ready to back astern, boys!"
The lance is driven in full many and many a foot, and with one decisive twist a great and vital artery is severed.
"Back water all! For life, boys, for life!"
For life? Yes, but the men are as cool as if rowing in a regatta on the Thames.
"All speed astern!"
None too soon.
The blood spouts high as if from a fire-hose, but in awful jets, with every throb of the giant's heart. There is life in him yet, and while the red-drenched seamen pull well out of the way, he lashes the ocean's surface with his tremendous tail, one blow from which would stave in a torpedo-boat.
The sound would be heard miles and miles away, were there anyone to listen to it in these lonesome seas, and-so dies the leviathan.
The ship gets alongside and bends on her hooks in good time, and while the body is still hot and steaming, blubber and skin are hoisted up and up towards the yard-arms, till with its weight the vessel lists and lists, and it seems as if she would be on her beam-ends.
Long before the crew is done taking on board all that is valuable, the sharks have assembled, and are fighting and splashing as they gorge on their awful feast.
And when the decks are all clean once more, and the sails again filled, supper is had fore and aft, and then, but not till then, does Skipper Talbot order the steward to splice the main-brace.
CHAPTER VII.– "HERE'S TO THE LOVED ONES AT HOME."
Captain Talbot was a brave man, but the ice for the present looked far too dangerous to venture in through. So he kept "dodging" along the great barrier-edge or cruising eastwards, and away towards what is known as Enderby Land.
Sometimes he encountered a storm, brief but terrible, and dangerous in the extreme. They saw around them great bergs coming into collision, their green, towering, wall-like sides dashed together by the force of wind and waves; heard the thunder of the encounter, and witnessed the mist and foam as they fell to pieces in a chaos of boiling surf.
At times dense fog would envelop the whole sea, and then sail had to be taken in, for the icebergs went floating past and past like mysterious ghosts.
But clearer weather prevailed at last, and two more monster whales were captured.
Three great leviathans! Nearly a voyage in itself. No wonder that the spirits of the men rose higher and higher, as they thought of those who would press them to their hearts on their return home from this adventuresome cruise. And-happiest thought of all! – they would have plenty of money to spend on fathers or mothers, wives or children. For my experience is that so long as they are unallured by the drink demon, British sailors are not really improvident.
But the good luck of the Flora did not continue. Talbot had expected to find sea-elephants in great evidence in these regions.
They are so called, it will do you no harm to know, reader, first on account of their immense size and unwieldiness, many of the males attaining a length of twenty feet or over, and from the fact that they have a kind of proboscis which, when alarmed or angry, they inflate till it looks almost like the trunk of an elephant. They are dangerous then, and, though as a rule peaceable, can give a good account of anyone daring enough to attempt an attack upon them, armed with the spiked seal-club alone.
They usually, however, go further north during the spring or pupping season, but now having returned, they ought to have been about somewhere. But they had evidently chosen fresh ground, and Captain Talbot was unable to find a trace of them.
He was not easily cast down, however, and taking advantage of a splendid westerly and north-westerly wind, he daringly set every inch of canvas-remember it was the long Antarctic day-and flew eastwards on its wings.
But his object was not only to get a paying voyage, but to do some good also to science and to geographical knowledge as well.
It was the duty of Duncan himself, and of Frank as well, not only to keep a log, but to enter therein, along with the ship's sailings, adventures, &c., the temperature of air and water twice a day.
The vessel again appeared to imagine herself a clipper-built yacht and to fly along, and by good luck she not only had a fair wind, but a clear sea, having only now and then to steer away from floating icebergs.
But now and then a boat was lowered to pick up some unusual form of seal, that might be observed floating along on a morsel of snow-clad ice. So tame were these that they only gazed open-mouthed at the advancing boat, and thus fell an easy prey to the gunner.
Very few more Right whales were seen, and none captured.
For a time the course held was about east with a bit of northerly in it, then on reaching the sixties they bowled along in fine style, and in the first week in February they were daringly-far too daringly as it turned out-steering almost directly south through a comparatively open sea towards the great southern ice-barrier in the seventies, which lies east of a mighty volcanic hill well-named Erebus.
It was autumn now-early autumn in these regions, but still a delightful time.
Do not imagine that this distant ocean was uninhabited. Far from it. There were still millions on millions of birds about, that later on would fly far away to nor'land lands and islands. Petrels of many sorts, especially the snow-white species, Cape pigeons, the smaller penguins on point ends of land, and gulls of such beauty and rarity that it would have puzzled cleverer men than our heroes to classify them.
Many of these were carefully shot and made skins of, to be set up when they reached once more their dear native land, if God in his mercy should spare them.
Mount Sabine itself is passed, and soon after, to the east of that mountain, they lie for a day or two at Coulman Island. Strangely enough, though floating icebergs are heaving about all around, this rocky and storm-tossed isle is bare, and they can land.
The captain, with Frank and Conal, go off on a lichen hunt inland. They take their rifles with them, but no wild creature is here that can hurt them.
They find beautiful mosses, however, and strangely beautiful lichens. Indeed, some parts of the rising ground are crimson or orange with these latter, and the green of the mosses stand out in lovely and striking contrast.
They continued their journey far inland, and although the rocks and the sea all about the shore was alive with birds, here it was solemn and still enough. The scene was indeed impressive and beautiful, and with the blue of the sky above and the bright blue of the ocean beyond, dotted over with green and lofty snow-capped ice-blocks, the whole seemed a little world fresh from the hands of the great Creator of all.
Captain Talbot took specimens not only of the flora-if so I may call the scanty vegetation of this island-but of its rocks as well, and the height of its chief hills, with many soundings around it, to say nothing of collecting marine alg?.
All the way southwards, as far as the great ice-barrier to the eastward of the land wherein was Mount Terror, he was at the pains of surveying and charting out for the benefit of future generations, for as laid down in the charts that he possessed the coast was very indolently described indeed.
He was a very ambitious mariner, this skipper of the Flora M'Vayne, and at the same time a bold, daring, true-blue sailor.
Now would be the time, therefore, to make his great a?rial journey still farther to the southward. But could such a thing be successfully accomplished? That was the question that he and he alone had to answer for himself. There was no one to consult.
And he took a whole long day to consider it, keeping himself very much alone in his state-room that he might come quietly to a correct conclusion.
Thus far to the south had he come with the intention of penetrating still farther by balloon. But he had calculated on getting here much sooner.
He had no intention of doing anything foolishly rash. Had he reached 75° south latitude when the summer was still in its prime he might have reckoned on perpetual sunshine and constant shifting of wind, but now the breeze blew mostly from the south, and although by rising into the higher regions he might get a fair wind if he descended one hundred miles nearer to the Antarctic Pole, was there any certainty that he should ever return? Indeed, it was the reverse. It seemed as though there was not the ghost of a chance of his ever seeing his ship again.
Life is sweet, and so at long last he gave up all thoughts of his a?rial voyage for the present season.
He communicated this resolve to his mates and youngsters that day at dinner.
But the sun had already begun to set to the south'ard, though so brief was the night that scarce a star was even visible.
"We shall now," he told them, "bear up for the north and the west once more, and if we reach the lone isles of Kerguelen in time, we may yet fall among old sea-elephants enough to pay us handsomely. For though I have never been there, I am told that they make that lone region a habitat throughout the greater part of the year."
"And then we shall be homeward-bound, sha'n't we, sir?" said Frank.
"Yes," was the reply. "But I say, young fellow, you are not tired of a sailor's life, are you?"
"Oh no! I would like to see all-all the world first, and then return and dream of my wild adventures, and fight my battles with the stormy main o'er and o'er and o'er again."
"Bravo! lad, though you are just a little effusive. Well, you are pretty strong in wind and limb, Frank, aren't you?"
"Fairly, sir. I haven't got real Highland legs like Duncan there, but they've always served me well on a pinch."
"Well, as soon as we get into the neighbourhood of Mount Terror again I mean to make an ascent, and I shall want the assistance of all you young fellows, and a hand or two besides. There are scientific instruments to take along, besides plenty of food, drink, and sleeping-bags, for I guess it will take us the greater part of three days to accomplish the journey to the top and back.
"What is the height, sir?"
"It is said to be nearly eleven thousand feet high, and it is volcanic."
"Don't you think," said Morgan the mate, "that the adventure is almost foolhardy?"
"It is risky enough, I daresay; but really, Morgan, my dear fellow, I hate the idea of going back home without having accomplished something out of the common."
And so, after some further conversation of an after-dinner style, the ascent was determined on.
This was Saturday night, and as usual wives and sweethearts were toasted, for Captain Talbot was a man who dearly loved to keep up old customs.
So after a hearty supper of sea-pie the men got up a dance, Frank and the man who played the clarionet forming, as usual, the chief portion of the band.
Old Pen was in grand form to-night, and his antics, as he danced and whirled around with little Johnnie Shingles, were laughable in the extreme. It would be impossible to say that Pen tripped it-
For his feet were about as broad and flat as a couple of kippered herrings, but he made the best use of them he could, and no one could have done more.
After the dance the chief yarn-spinners assembled in a wide circle around the galley fire. Frank and Conal made two of the party, with noble Vike in the rear.
It hardly would have needed the rum that the cabin steward dealt out to make these good fellows happy to-night or to cause them to spin short yarns and sing, so jolly were they to know the ship was homeward bound-
But the crew of the brave Flora M'Vayne took their cue from the skipper, and never a Saturday night passed without many a song and many a toast, and always an original yarn of some adventure afloat or ashore. Sings Dibdin: -
So thoroughly old-fashioned was Captain Talbot that on some Saturday nights he did not think it a bit beneath him to join his men around the fire, and they loved him all the better for it too.
Well, no matter how crowded the men might be of a night like this, there was always room left in the inner circle for Viking, old Pen, and Jim the monkey.
Jim, with his red jacket on, used to sit by Viking, looking very serious and very old, and combing the dog's coat with his long slender black fingers.
This was a kind of shampoo that invariably sent Vike off to sleep.
Then Jim would lie down alongside him, draw one great paw over his body, and go off to sleep also.
But old Pen would be very solemn indeed. He was troubled with cold feet, and it was really laughable enough to see him standing there on one leg while he held up and exposed his other great webbed pedal apparatus to the welcome glow emitted by the fire.
Sometimes yarns were at a discount, though songs never were, and no matter how simple, they were always welcome, even if told without any straining for effect and in ordinary conversational English, if they had truth in them.
On this particular Saturday night Captain Talbot came forward and took a seat in a corner to smoke his long pipe, while the steward brewed him a tumbler of punch with some cinnamon and butter in it, for the skipper had a cold.
"It's long since we've had a yarn from you, sir," remarked the carpenter.
The skipper took a drink, and then let his eyes follow the curling smoke from his pipe for a few seconds before replying.
"Well, Peters," he said, "I've had so many adventures in my time that I hardly ever know which to tell first. Once upon a time I served in a Royal Navy ship on the coast of Africa, and it is just the odour of the 'baccy, boys, that brings this little yarn to my mind."
"Out with it, sir," cried one.
"Yes, out with it, Captain. We'll listen as if it were a sermon, and we were old wives."
"First and foremost," said Talbot, "let me give you a toast-Here's to the loved ones at home!"
"The loved ones at home!" And every glass was raised, and really that toast was like a prayer.
CHAPTER VIII. – CAPTAIN TALBOT SPINS A YARN
"Why, boys, and you youngsters," said Captain Talbot, "when I look back to those dear old times I feel old myself, and that's a fact. As I said before, we were cruising about the East African coast, making it just as hot for the slaver Arabs as we knew how to. We had a bit of a fight now and then, too, both on shore and afloat.
"Well, your man-o'-war's-man likes that, simple and all though he seems to be. Simplicity, indeed, is one of the chief traits in the character of the true British sailor. I'm not sure that it might not be said with some degree of truth, that no one who wasn't a little simple to begin with, would ever become a sailor at all. Nobody, not even a landsman, grumbles and growls more at existence afloat than does Jack himself, whether he be Jack in epaulets or Jack in a jumper, Jack walking the weather-side of the quarter-deck or Jack mending a main-sail. But for all that, when Jack has a spell on shore, especially if it be of a few months' duration, he forgets all the asperities of the old sea life, and remembers only its jollities and pleasantnesses, and the queer adventures he had-of which, probably, he boasts in a mitigated kind of way-and by and by he gets tired of the dull shore, and maybe sings with Proctor:
And then he goes back again. Another proof of Jack's simplicity.
"Well, but some of the very bravest men or officers I have met with were, or are, as simple in their natures as little children-simple but brave.
"Gallant and good-how well the two adjectives sound together when applied to a sailor. Did not our Nelson himself apply them in one of his despatches to Captain Riou, mentioned by Thomas Campbell in his grand old song 'The Battle of the Baltic':
"There never was a more simple-looking sailor than Assistant-Paymaster Mair (let us call him Mair). He was round-faced, fat, and somewhat pale, but always merry, and on good terms with himself and everybody else. He had the least bit in the world of a squint in his starboard eye. This ocular aberration was more apparent, when he sat down and commenced playing an asthmatical old flute he possessed. I don't think anybody liked this flute except Mair himself, and no wonder it was asthmatical, for we were constantly playing tricks on it. We have tarred it and feathered it ere now, and once we filled it with boiling lard, and left it on Mair's desk to cool. But Mair didn't care; our practical joking found him in employment, so he was happy.
"Mair had never been in an engagement, though some members of our mess had; and, when talking of their sensations when under fire, Mair used frankly to confess himself 'the funkiest fellow out'.
"It came to pass that the old T- had to engage a fort, and preparations were made for a hot morning. The captain was full of spirit and go-one of those sort of men who, when both legs are shot away, fight on their stumps.
"Mair had his orders the night before, given verbally, in an easy, off-hand kind of way. He was to stand by the captain on the bridge or quarter-deck, and take notes during the engagement or battle. Poor Mair! he didn't sleep much, and didn't eat much breakfast. We met just outside the ward-room door, Mair and I. We were both going to duty, only Mair was going up, while I was bound for the orlop deck. With the noise of hammering, and stamping, and shouting, I couldn't catch what Mair said, but it was something like-'Lucky dog, you'.
"Though stationed below-safe, except from the danger of smothering in horrid smoke-I soon had evidence enough we were getting badly hammered. I wasn't sorry when "Cease firing" sounded, and I could crawl up and breathe.
"But how about simple Mair? Why, this only-he had done his duty nobly, coolly, manfully; he had gained admiration from his fire-eating captain, and got specially mentioned in a despatch. Mair looked red and excited all the afternoon, but the flute never sounded half so cheerily before as it did that same evening after dinner.
"Talking about simplicity brings poor Nat Wildman of ours before my mind's eye.
"There wasn't a pluckier sailor in the service than Nat, nor a greater favourite with his mess-mates, nor a simpler-souled or kindlier-hearted. He was very tall and powerful-quite an athlete in fact. Once when a company or two of marines and blue-jackets were sent to enact punishment of some native tribes on the West African coast, for the murder of a white merchant, and for having fired on Her Majesty's boats, they encountered a strongly-palisaded village. Our fellows had no ladders nor axes, and the dark-skins were firing through. The village must be carried, and reduced to terms-and ashes; so the men hoisted each other over. Nat worked hard at this pitch-and-toss warfare; indeed, he could have thrown the whole ship's company over. But, lo! he found himself the last man-left out in the cold-for there was no one to help him across. When the row was over, Nat was found-simple fellow that he was-sitting on the ground crying with vexation, or, as one of his mess-mates phrased it, 'blubbering like a big baby'.
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