Frank Nelson in the Forecastle. Or, The Sportman's Club Among the Whalers
скачать книгу бесплатно
Frank dropped the line, which seemed like a coal of fire in his hands, and the men laid out their strength on the oars till they fairly snapped. The first stroke stopped the boat's headway and the second started her on the back track, but not in time to escape the danger that threatened her. Before Lucas could throw his harpoon the whale's jaw swept around like a scythe, and striking the boat in the side overturned her in an instant, smashing in the planks as if they had been pasteboard, and tumbling those of the crew who did not jump out into the water.
From the crest of a wave on which he struck, Frank turned to look at the whale and see what had become of his companions. The monster was bringing his tail into play now. With one fierce upward sweep of his huge flukes he lifted the battered boat out of the water, and the captain, who had clung to the wreck, was going up with it. The air seemed to be literally filled with pieces of planks, harpoons, ropes and lances. The crew had all escaped without injury – at least they were all able to swim, for Frank counted four frightened faces bobbing about on the waves near him. He had some idea now of the strength and ferocity a whale could display when he once set about it. He made up his mind, too, that men must be simply foolhardy to willingly follow any such business as whaling. Otherwise how could they bring themselves to engage with such a monster as this, against whose tremendous power, which he had just seen exerted with such telling effect, their strength was as nothing?
To say that Frank was frightened would not begin to tell how he felt. How helpless he was! How completely the waves baffled his mad efforts to get out of the reach of his dangerous foe, and how like straws they seemed in the path of the whale which skimmed through them as easily as a bird passes through the air! Then how frightened everybody else was, if he might judge by the pale faces he saw about him, and the frantic attempts the men made to swim away. If those who were accustomed to such scenes and such dangers were so nearly overcome with terror, it was time for a novice to show signs of fear.
"Look out, Nelson!" cried Lucas, suddenly. "Look out! He's – "
The old boatswain's mate no doubt meant to say something else, but he did not stay on top of the water long enough to say it. He ducked his head and went down like lead, making desperate struggles to go faster. Frank cast one frightened glance over his shoulder and went down too. The whale had turned again and was coming directly toward him, rolling from side to side and slashing from right to left with his jaw, describing at each stroke a circle thirty-two feet in diameter. There was no time to swim out of his reach. His only chance for life was to go below him. How Frank blessed his lucky stars at that moment that deep diving and swimming long distances under water were two of his accomplishments! He went as far down as he could, stayed under as long as he could hold his breath, and came up almost strangled.He was out of danger. The battered boat was twenty feet away and the whale a hundred feet still farther off, and moving rapidly toward the ship. The men were all clinging to the boat to keep themselves afloat, and Frank swam up and joined them.
All this while the men in the mate's boat had been doing their best with sail and oars to get near enough to the whale to take part in the fight, but without success. Now, however, they had an opportunity offered them, for the whale had doubled on his course, and if he did not take it into his head to turn again, he would pass their boat at such a distance that they would have a chance at him with their harpoons. The mate prepared for it by ordering one man to take down the sail while the rest still tugged at the oars. He did not even look toward the disabled boat or ask if the crew wanted assistance.
"These whalemen are a heartless lot," thought Frank. "If I were in command of that boat I think I should save my shipmates first; but I suppose that officer thinks we are not worth as much as the whale. Men can be had any day for the asking, and if a few of them lose their lives what's the odds? Nobody misses them. But whales are not as plenty as they used to be, and if one of them is lost it is something to be sorry for."
Frank's meditations were interrupted and his attention called from the chase by the actions of one the men near him, who suddenly began to make desperate efforts to climb into the boat. He persisted in spite of the angry orders and oaths of the skipper, who stormed and threatened to no purpose. The man was almost beside himself with fear.
"What has come over him all at once?" asked Frank, of the man at his side. "He was quiet enough a moment ago."
"He had a narrow escape from a shark once," replied the sailor, "and I guess he has just thought of it."
"Well, I wish from the bottom of my heart that he hadn't thought of it at all," said Frank, "or else that I had not asked you any questions, for I have new cause for alarm now. I wonder if a sailor can turn in any direction without finding himself confronted by some deadly peril?"
"He might if he's a merchantman, but not if he is a whaler," was the comforting reply.
"If I had thought of sharks I never could have dived under that whale," continued Frank.
"O, 'tain't time for 'em to be on hand yet; but you'll see 'em coming like a flock of sheep just as soon as that fellow begins to spout blood."
"Ay, that you will," said another. "I was hanging on to a stove boat once, just as we are now, and the sharks, I never see the beat of 'em in all my born days, come up – "
"Well, if they got hold of anybody, I don't want to know it," interrupted Frank, with a shudder. "Can't you talk about something else?"
"Take that!" shouted the captain, who was narrowly watching the chase. "And that!" he added, a moment afterward. "He's fast again, and we are sixty barrels of grease ahead."
Frank looked up to see what had called forth these exclamations from the captain, and was just in time to catch a glimpse of the mate's harpooner as he threw his second iron into the whale. He had three harpoons in him now, and Frank gathered from the remarks the men made that his capture was considered certain. He lashed the water furiously with his tail, raising an immense pile of spray and foam, and when it disappeared he was out of sight.
"Now look out for breakers," said Lucas, "for there's no knowing where he will come up, and he's ugly if he is little. We know that, don't we?"
"Little!" repeated Frank, who remembered that he had compared the beast to a church-steeple, and estimated his length at one hundred and fifty feet; "how big is he?"
"The cap'n says sixty barrels."
"I mean, how long is he?"
"O, I don't know. I never took the measure of one. I ain't a tailor."
"Did you ever know of one larger than this?"
"Many a one. I heard of one once that ran a hundred and thirty-five barrels, but I didn't see him. The biggest one I ever struck or saw struck turned out a hundred and fifteen barrels."
"Almost twice as large as this one," thought Frank, hardly able to believe his ears. "Whew! I will never sail another foot in the Tycoon after we reach the Sandwich Islands. If a youngster can kick up a row like this, what could a full grown one do? What wouldn't he do if he got mad?"
Frank was greatly relieved to hear one of the men say at that moment that the ship was coming down to pick them up. It was anything but pleasant to be placed in such a situation as that in which he and his companions were placed just then, immersed to their necks in salt water, every wave making a clean breach over them, nothing but a battered boat to keep them afloat, an enraged and ugly whale in close proximity, and a school of hungry sharks expected to arrive every moment. On the contrary, it was a situation well calculated to inspire terror.
The good ship never seemed to move so slowly before, but she came up with them at last, a boat pulled by two men came out to their relief, and in ten minutes more the wrecked boat was on deck in possession of the carpenter, and the exhausted men were in the forecastle, exchanging their wet clothes for dry ones. When Frank went on deck again the whale was in his "flurry," which, upon inquiry, he found to be a sailor's way of saying "death struggle." The mate and his crew had made short work of him, and Frank came up too late to see the lance used. The whale was swimming in a circle at a surprising rate of speed, pounding the sea with his flukes, spouting blood from his blow-hole, and rolling from side to side as if trying to reach his enemies with his jaw. His fury increased for a few seconds, then gradually lessened, and finally the captured monster rolled over and lay motionless on the water. "Fin out!" cried all the sailors on the Tycoon, which was equivalent to saying, "he is dead." Then all joined in a yell of triumph, except Frank. He could not help feeling sorry for the conquered leviathan, who had battled so strongly for his life, and told himself that it was a mean business altogether.
"Men who can torture a beast like that to death and feel no remorse over it, would serve their fellow creatures the same way if they had a good chance," was what he said to himself. "I know now how it comes that the captain and his two mates are so brutal. They have practiced on whales so long that they have no feeling left."
Now came the work of making fast to the whale, which was begun as soon as the ship was brought alongside of it. Frank did not see how it was done, for he was kept busy at something else. When he had leisure to look over the side he found the game secured by a chain, one end of which was fastened just above the tail, and the other led through a hawsehole to the bitts. He could see the whole length of him now, and had it not been for the three harpoons sticking in his back and side, he could hardly have brought himself to believe that it was the same whale that smashed his boat. He looked very much smaller, and the reason was because he had something to compare him with.
And now came the most disagreeable part of a whaleman's duties – the cutting in and trying out. The first consists in removing the blubber from the body of the whale, cutting off the head and bailing out the spermaceti; and the next in rendering out the oil in the try-kettles. Lucas said that, as the day was far spent, the work ought not to be commenced until the next morning. The crew could then have a good night's sleep after their hard work in the boats, and be fresh and ready for the laborious duties before them; but Captain Barclay thought differently. He never cared for the comfort of his men, so he ordered them to begin at once.
How long it took to do the work Frank never knew, for he was too busy and too completely tired out to keep track of the days. The crew was so small that every man was required to handle the blubber as it was hauled aboard by the tackles; and when that was all stowed, and the carcass cut adrift, the watches were lengthened into six (they were often nearer eight) hours each, and the trying out began. Frank did not wonder that the men grew quarrelsome, and that more than one of them had to be driven to his work with a rope's end, being compelled, as they were, to work almost twenty hours out of the twenty-four. He thought often of what he had read concerning the fiendish ingenuity displayed by the Chinese in inventing modes of torture for those who disobey their laws, and told himself that some of them must have served their time in a whale-ship, and there learned by experience the misery to which a person is subjected when deprived of sleep. Frank would not have resented a blow himself now, he was too weak and dispirited; but he would have given all he ever hoped to possess, if he could have lain down in all the oil and dirt of the blubber-room, and had a good sound nap. The work was made harder by the captain's great desire to fill up the hold as soon as possible. He kept the mast-head manned all day by some of the crew who ought to have been allowed to go below to rest, and swore at them roundly because they did not raise another whale; although it is hard to tell what good it would have done if they had discovered a school of them, for in their exhausted condition they never could have endured a lengthened struggle with one. Frank often thought, after it was all over, that the only thing that sustained him during that week, was the sweet, sound sleep he had every time he acted as lookout. Seated on the royal yard, a hundred and more feet in the air, with his back against the stay and a rope passed about his waist to keep him from falling off, he would slumber like a log, leaving the whales, if there were any, to spout in peace. The rest of the crew being equally sleepy and careless, no more whales were raised, and Frank was glad of it.
"I can't stand this, Mr. Gale," said Frank one day, when the third officer came into the blubber-room where he was at work, "and I won't."
"No, sir. I have never done any soldiering since I have been aboard here, but I shall do it hereafter."
"Do you know that you are talking to the third mate of this ship?" demanded Mr. Gale, who seemed surprised at Frank's strong language.
"I do, sir, and I am not afraid to speak to you more plainly still."
"Why ain't you?"
"Because I know that you will neither get angry at what I say nor repeat it."
"Well, I suppose I ought to give you a good blowing-up for your impudence," said the mate, who had to smile in spite of himself, "but I can't."
"No, of course you can't. You know I have cause to be down on every officer of this ship except you, and that I will some day be in a position to make them smart for it. You know what they have done."
"Well, we'll drop that. It ain't for me to talk about the doings of my superiors. I came down here to tell you something that'll liven you up a bit, may be. We shall sight the Islands in a few days, and the old man is going to put you ashore."
"Good for him," exclaimed Frank, who was wide awake in an instant. "How about Lucas and Barton?"
"Don't talk so loud. The masts, bulkheads and everything else have ears in this ship. I don't know about them. He didn't say."
"They must go if I go," said Frank. "I shall need them for witnesses."
"But you mustn't call any witnesses. If you go ashore at Honolulu, you must keep still and say nothing."
"O, I must! Do you think that's the sort of fellow I am? Must I let a man kidnap me, carry me away from my friends to some out-of-the-way part of the world, and then, in order to gain the liberty of which he has deprived me and which rightfully belongs to me, promise him that he shall go scot free? Must he be allowed to run at large to try the same game upon somebody else, and perhaps abuse and maltreat him until he jumps overboard, as those two men did shortly before you reached Fr'isco? No, sir! He be jerked as high as the strong arm of the law can lift him, and that's pretty high. A thousand dollars fine and a long term in the penitentiary are the rewards that surely await him, and perhaps he can be tried for manslaughter. I am bound to have my liberty, Mr. Gale, and I shall get it without entering into any such agreement as that. If anybody makes promises, it will be Captain Barclay."
Frank, being thoroughly aroused, clattered away in spite of all the officer's attempts to interrupt him. He could not have told why he said what he did toward the last. Perhaps he had a prophetic vision, during which the thrilling scenes that were so soon to be enacted were plainly portrayed. At any rate the words came into his mind, and he uttered them regardless of consequences. He was about to say something more, but an emphatic and warning gesture from the mate stopped him.
Frank looked up and saw Calamity's sinister face peering down the hatchway. His first impulse was to knock him over with the handle of the blubber-knife for playing eavesdropper; but the vacant expression on the man's countenance induced the hope that perhaps he had only just come there, and had heard nothing he could make use of.
"Look here," exclaimed Mr. Gale suddenly, doubling up his huge fist and shaking it at Frank, "I am an officer of this ship and you must respect me, or I'll teach you manners. Put a 'sir' in when you speak to me. As for Cap'n Barclay promising you them boots, I reckon you'll get 'em when this work is done; and if I hand 'em to you you'll get 'em over your head for your impudence!"
"O, is that you down there, Mr. Gale?" exclaimed Calamity. "It is so dark I couldn't see you. The captain wants you on deck."
The officer lingered a moment to add a few words to what he had already said, and then mounted the ladder leading to the deck, while Frank went on separating the fleshy fibres from the blubber.