The Boy With the U. S. Fisheries
by Francis Rolt-Wheeler
MAROONED BY A
CHAPTER II. THE
FIGHT OF THE OLD
CLUTCHED BY A
HORROR OF THE
DEFEATED BY A
FORTUNE IN A
CHAPTER IX. A
TUSSLE WITH THE
MONARCH OF THE
CHAPTER X. RUN
DOWN DURING A
Treasure-ships, bearing richer cargoes than any galleons that
crossed the Spanish Main, still sail over the ocean to-day, but we call
them fishing smacks; heroism equal to that of any of the pioneer
navigators of old still is found beneath oilskins and a sou'wester, but
the heroes give their lives to gain food for the world instead of
knowledge; and the thrilling quest of piercing the mysteries of life
has no greater fascination than when it seeks to probe the unfathomed
depths of that great mistress of mysteriesthe Ocean. Just as to save
life is greater than to destroy it, so is the true savior of the seas
the Fisheries craft, not the battleship; so is the hatchery mightier
than the fortress, the net or the microscope a more powerful weapon for
good than the torpedo or the Nordenfeldt.
The Bureau of Fisheries for the United States Government, Mr. Chas.
Frederick Holder and his associates for the anglers of America, and the
sturdy and honorable class of commercial fishermen are raising to the
utmost of dignity and value one of the oldest and greatest of all
industries. Not till the waste of waters is tamed as has been the
wilderness of land will their work be done, and the Fisheries Bureau
must ever remain in the forefront of such endeavor. To reveal the
incalculable riches of this vast domain of rivers, lakes, and seas; to
show the devotion of those whose lives are spent amid its elemental
perils and to point out a way where courage, skill, and youth may find
a road to serve America and all the world beside, is the aim and
THE BOY WITH THE U. S. FISHERIES
CHAPTER I. MAROONED BY A WHALE
There she blows!
Colin Dare, who was sitting beside the broken whale-gun and who had
been promised that he might go in the boat that would be put out from
the ship if a whale were sighted, jumped to his feet at the cry from
the 'barrel' at the masthead.
Where? he shouted eagerly, rushing to the rail and staring as hard
as he could at the heaving gray waters of the Behring Sea.
There she blo-o-ows! again cried the lookout, in the long echoing
call of the old-time whaler, and stretching out his hand, he pointed to
a spot in the ocean about three points off the starboard bow. Colin's
glance followed the direction, and almost immediately he saw the faint
cloud of vapor which showed that a whale had just spouted.
Do you suppose that's a whalebone whale, Hank? asked the boy,
turning to a lithe Yankee sea-dog with a scraggy gray beard who had
been busily working over the mechanism of the whale-gun.
No sayin', was the cautious reply, we're too fur off to be able
to tell yet a while. How fur away do you reckon we be?
A mile or two, I suppose, Colin said, but we ought to catch up
with the whale pretty soon, oughtn't we?
That depends, the gunner answered, on whether the whale's willin'
or not. He ain't goin' to stay, right there.
But you usually do catch up?
If it's a 'right' whale we generally try to, an' havin' steam to
help us out makes a pile o' difference. Now, in the ol' days, I've seen
a dozen whales to wind'ard an' we couldn't get to 'em at all. By the
time we'd beaten 'round to where they'd been sighted, they were gone.
Well, I hope this is a 'right' whale, Colin said with emphatic
Why this one 'specially? the old sailor asked.
I heard Captain Murchison say that if we came up with a whale while
the gun was out of order, rather than lose a chance, he would send a
boat out in the old-fashioned way.
An' you want to see how it's done, eh?
I got permission to go in the boat! the boy answered triumphantly,
and I just can't wait.
It's the skipper's business, I suppose, but I don't hold with
takin' any chances you don't have to, was the gruff comment, an' if
you'll take the advice of an old hand at the game you'll keep away.
But I want to go so much, Hank, came the reply.
I'm trying to get Father's permission to join the Bureau of
Fisheries, explained the boy, and when Captain Murchison started on
this trip, I begged him to let me come. The captain is an old friend of
I'd rather you went in somebody else's boat than mine, then, was
the ungracious response.
Why, Hank! exclaimed Colin in surprise, what a thing to say!
The old sailor nodded sagely.
The skipper don't know much more about boat-whalin' than you do,
he said, that was all done away before his time. He's willin' to
tackle anythin' that comes along, all right, but a whalin' boat is just
about the riskiest thing that floats on water.
How's that, Hank? asked the boy. I always thought they were
supposed to be so seaworthy.
They may be seaworthy, was the grim reply, but I never yet saw a
shipwright who'd guarantee to make a boat that'd be whaleworthy.
But I'm sure I've read somewhere that whales never attacked boats,
Mebbe, rejoined the gunner, but I don't believe that any man what
writes about whalin' bein' easy, has ever tried it in a small boat.
Well, said the boy, isn't it true that the only time a whale-boat
is smashed up is when the monster threshes around in the death-flurry
and happens to hit the boat with his tail?
You mean a whale does sometimes go for a boat, in spite of what the
I never heard that whales cared much about literatoor, the sailor
answered with an attempt at rough humor, an' anyway, most o' them
books you've been readin', lad, are written about whalin' off Greenland
an' in the Atlantic.
What difference does that make? queried Colin. Isn't a whale the
same sort of animal all the world over?
There's all kinds of whales, the gunner said, as though pitying
the boy for his lack of knowledge, some big an' some little, some good
an' some bad. Now, a 'right' whale, f'r instance, couldn't harm a baby,
but the killers are just pure vicious.
You mean the orcas? the boy queried. Only just the other day
Captain Murchison was talking about them. He called them the wolves of
the sea, and said they were the most daring hunters among all things
Sea-tigers, some calls 'em, the other agreed, an' they're fiercer
than any wolves I've ever heard about, but I never saw any of 'em
attackin' a boat. I have seen as many as twenty tearin' savagely at a
whale that was lyin' alongside a ship an' was bein' cut up by the crew.
The California gray whalethe devil-whale is what he really islooks
a lot worse to me than a killer. He's as ugly-tempered as a spearfish,
as vicious as a man-eatin' shark, as tricky as a moray, an' about as
relentless as a closin' ice-floe.
There she blo-o-ows! came the cry again from the crow's-nest.
Hank, looking over the side, caught sight of the spout and, with a
twist of the shoulder, walked aft to the first boat.
I'm going, too, Colin reminded him.
The old whaler looked at him thoughtfully and disapprovingly.
Orders is orders, he said at last, an' if the skipper said you
could go, why, I reckon that ends it. An' if you're goin' anyway,
you're safer in the big boat than in the 'prams.' Tumble in.
Colin clambered into the double-ended boat with its high prow and
stern and settled himself down excitedly.
I never really believed I'd get the chance to see any
whale-spearing, he said. Whaling with a cannon is only a
make-believe. Now, this is something like!
Foolishness I calls it, put in one of the younger sailors. Why
don't the skipper put in somewhere an' get the gun put to rights? An'
Hank is just as likely to fix that gun so as he'll blow some of us up
with it when he does get it goin'.
Always croakin', Gloomy, said the old gunner. Blowin' you up
would be no great loss. You'd ought to be glad to see what whalin' was
like when your betters was at it.
I'm glad, said Colin, as he pulled steadily at his long oar, that
we did wrench the gun-frame when that heavy sea came aboard.
I don't see it, said the gunner; mebbe you'll think presently
that you'd ha' done better to be satisfied with readin' about whalin'
in those books of yours.
Well, it got me the chance to see the fun! responded Colin.
That wouldn't have been enough to start this business a-goin' if it
hadn't been that the Gull was an old whalin'-ship before they
put steam into her. The little bits of whalin'-steamers they build now
only carry a little pram or two, nothin' like this boat you're in now.
The Gull's one of the old-timers.
She hails from New Bedford, doesn't she?
She took the Indian Ocean whalin' in the sixties an' came round the
Horn every season in the seventies, Hank replied; an' there's not
many of her build left. Easy with that oar, Gloomy, he added, speaking
to the melancholy sailor, who was splashing a good deal in his stroke,
an' avast talkin', all.
Swiftly, but with oars dipping almost noiselessly, the boat slipped
up to where the two whales were floating whose spouts had been seen
from the ship. The sea was tinged with pink from the masses of
shrimp-food which had attracted the whales, and the great creatures
were feeding quietly. The surface was not rough, but there was a long,
slow roll which tossed the boat about like a cork. Presently Hank, who
was in the stern, held up one hand.
Hold your starboard oars, he said quietly; we'll back up to this
This near approach to the whales was too much for Gloomy's nerves.
Instead of merely holding his long sweep steady in the water so that
the stroke of the port oars would bring the boat around, he tried to
make a long backward drive. As he reached back, the boat mounted
sidewise on a swell, leaving Gloomy clawing at the air with his oar;
then, the boat as suddenly swooped down with a rush, burying the oar
almost to the row-locks; it caught Gloomy under the chin and all but
knocked him overboard. The splash and the shout distracted Hank's
attention for a second, and when he looked round a swirl of water was
all that remained to show where the whales had been.
I told you what it would be! said Gloomy, picking himself up and
speaking in an injured tone, as though he blamed everybody else for his
His protests, however, were silenced by a steady stream of
descriptive epithet from Hank. The old gunner, without even raising his
voice, withered any possible reply on the part of the clumsy sailor,
whose inexpertness had caused their failure to get the whale.
They were only humpbacks, however, added Hank, after Gloomy had
been reduced to silence. Indeed, so shamefaced was the luckless sailor,
that when he saw a spout a minute or two later he only pointed with his
finger, without saying a word.
Noticing the gesture, Colin turned and saw with amazement a tall jet
of vapor that had spouted from a whale close by. He looked at Hank
expectantly, hoping to hear him spur the crew to a new venture, but the
old whaler looked grave.
Finback? the boy queried.
Gray whale, I reckon, answered the gunner.
Devil-whale? Oh, Hank! the boy cried, his eyes shining with
excitement. I hope it is!
That shows how little you know, the other replied.
Are you going to harpoon him?
Hank looked at the boy, smiling slightly at his utter fearlessness.
I wish you were aboard the ship, he said, an' I would. But I
reckon it's wiser to keep out of trouble.
But I don't want to be on the Gull, Colin protested; at
least not when there's anything going on out here. And, he added
craftily, I didn't think you were really afraid!
Wa'al, the old whaler said, his jaw setting firmly, I don't want
anybody to think I'm backin' down, just because I'm in a boat again.
But I tell you straight, I don't like it. Gloomy, he continued, an'
the rest of you, stand by your oars. That's a gray whale an' I'm goin'
How do you know it's a California whale, Hank? asked the boy, as
they waited for the creature to reappear.
By the spout, was the prompt reply. It's not as high an' thin as
a finback's, it's not large enough for the low, bushy spout of a
humpback, an' it goes straight up instead of at a forward angle so it
can't be a sperm. Must be a gray whale, can't be anythin' else.
For a few minutes the men rested on their oars, and Colin grew
Why doesn't he come up again? he said impatiently. First thing we
know he'll be out of sight!
The old whaler smiled again at the lad's eagerness.
While the gray is the fastest swimmer of all the whales, he said,
you needn't be afraid that we'll lose sight of him. Most whales swim
very slow, not much faster than a man can walk.
There he is, called another of the sailors, pointing to a spout
three or four hundred yards away.
All right, boys, Hank said, he's makin' towards the shore.
The long oars bit into the water again and Colin was glad to feel
the boat moving, for it rolled fearfully on the long heaving swell. But
with six good oars and plenty of muscle behind them, the little craft
was not long in reaching the place where the 'slick' on the water
showed that the whale had come up to breathe and then dived again.
Acting under the gunner's orders the crew rested on their oars a short
distance beyond the place where the whale had sounded. Presently, a
couple of hundred yards from the boat, on the starboard side, the whale
came up to spout, evidently having turned from the direction in which
it had been slowly traveling, and the rowers made for the new
objective. This time there was another long wait.
How long do they stay down, Hank? asked the boy.
No reg'lar rule about it, the whaler answered; sometimes for
quite a while, but I reckon ten to fifteen minutes is about the usual.
Some of 'em can stay down a long while sulkin' when they've got a
harpoon or two in 'em, but I reckon three-quarters of an hour would be
about the limit.
Again the boat sped onward, this time without any order from Hank,
for all hands had seen the whale not more than fifty yards away, and
Hank grasped the shoulder harpoon-gun. But before the boat could reach
the whale and turn stern on so as to give the gunner a good chance for
a shot, the whale had 'sounded' or dived.
Next time, said Hank quietly, and told Scotty, one of the sailors,
to clear away the first few coils of the rope in the barrel and make
sure that it was free from tangles.
Colin noticed that the three places where the whale had spouted
formed a slight arc and that Hank was directing the boat along a
projection of this curve, so he was quite ready when a command came to
stop rowing. Then, at the whaler's orders, the boat was swung round and
the men held their oars ready to back-water.
The place could not have been picked out with greater accuracy if
the whaler had known the exact spot where the big cetacean was going to
appear. Within thirty feet of the boat the water began to swirl and
He's right there! said Colin with a thrill of expectation not
wholly devoid of fear.
In obedience to a wave of the old whaler's hand, the boat went
astern slowly and fifteen seconds later the great back appeared near
the surface and the monster 'blew,' his pent-up breath escaping
suddenly when he was still a foot below the surface, and driving up a
column of mixed water and air, the roar sounding like steam from a pipe
of large size.
Stand by the line, Scotty! shouted Hank, as he raised the clumsy
harpoon-gun to his shoulder.
The sailor who had been standing near the barrel nodded, as he drew
his sheath-knife from its sheath, holding it between his teeth, ready
to cut the line should a tangle occur, but keeping his hands free to
attend to the coils of rope. To Colin the seconds were as years while
the old whaler held the gun raised and did not fire. It seemed to the
boy as if he were never going to pull the trigger, but the old gunner
knew the exact moment, and just as the whale was about to 'sound' the
back heaved up slightly, revealing the absence of a dorsal fin, and
thus determining that it was a devil-whale in truth; at that instant
With the sudden pang of the harpoon the whale gave an upward leap
for a dive and plunged, throwing the flukes of the tail and almost a
third of his body out of water, and sounded to the bottom, taking down
line at a tremendous speed. The line ran clear, Scotty watching every
coil, and though the heavy rope was soaking wet, it began to smoke with
the friction as it ran over the bow.
[Illustration: WHALE HARPOON GUN LOADED AND BEING TURNED SO AS TO
POINT AT THE WHALE.
Photograph by permission of Mr. Roy C. Andrews.]
[Illustration: FINBACK WHALE BEING STRUCK WITH THE HARPOON; THE
INSTANT OF DISCHARGE.
A remarkable photograph, scores of plates having been used in the
effort to catch the exact moment. Note the wadding in the air, the
smoke, the head of the harpoon, and the slick on the water as the whale
Photograph by permission of Mr. Roy C. Andrews.]
Fifty fathom! cried Scotty, as the line flew out.
Sixty! he called a moment later, and then, immediately after,
As the pressure of the brake on the line tightened, the boat began
to tear through the water, still requiring the paying out of the rope.
For an instant it slackened and the winch reeled in a little line.
There was a sudden jerk and then the line fell slack. Working like
demons, the men made the winch handles fairly fly as the line came in,
and within another minute the whale spouted, blowing strongly and
sounding again. He sulked at the bottom for over twenty minutes, coming
up suddenly quite near the boat. Scotty had lost no time, and not more
than thirty-five fathom of line was out when the monster rose.
He's a big un, Hank! called Scotty. Want the other line?
Got it! was the brief reply, and Colin saw that the harpoon-gun
had been reloaded.
Sounding again! called Scotty as the rope fell slack.
No! yelled Hank. Stand by, all!
Back oars! Back, you lubbers! Hard as you know how!
The oars bent like yew-staves.
Back starboard! Hard!
With the blood rushing to his brain, Colin, who was on the starboard
side of the boat, threw his whole energy into the back stroke, and the
boat spun round like a top into what seemed to be the seething center
of a submarine volcano, for, with a roar that made the timbers of the
boat vibrate, the gray whale spouted not six feet from where the boy
was sitting. Dimly he saw the harpoon hurtle through the spray and the
sharp crack of the explosion sounded in his ear.
Catching his breath chokingly, Colin was only conscious of the fact
that he was expected to pull and he leapt into the stroke as the six
oars shot the boat ahead.
Not soon enough, though! For, as the boat plunged from the crest of
a wave the whale swirled, making a suction like a whirlpool into which
the craft lurched drunkenly. Then the great creature, turning with a
speed that seemed incredible, brought down the flukes of his tail in
the direction of the boat, snapping off the stroke oar like a
pipe-stem. Avidsen, the oarsman, a burly Norwegian, though his wrist
was sharply and painfully wrenched by the blow, made no complaint, but
reached out for one of the spare oars the boat always carried.
Colin was not so calm. Despite his courage, the shock of that
tremendous tail striking the water within arm's-length of the boat had
shaken his nerve, and the sudden drenching with the icy waters of
Behring Sea had taken his breath away. But he was game and stuck to his
oar. Looking at Hank, he saw that the old fighter of the seas had
dropped the harpoon-gun and was holding poised the long lance.
This was hunting whales with a vengeance!
The monster had not sounded but was only gathering fury, and in a
few seconds he came to the surface with a rush, charging straight for
Stand by to pull, said Hank quietly.
The two forward oars, watching, dipped lightly and moved the boat a
yard or two, then waited, their oars in the water and arms extended for
the stroke. Colin would have given millions, if he had possessed them,
to pull his oar, to do something to get away from the leviathan
charging like an avenging fury for the little boat. But Hank stood
motionless. Another second and Colin could almost feel the devil-whale
plunging through the frail craft, when Scotty suddenly yelled,
As Scotty yelled, Colin vaguelyfor everything seemed reeling about
himsaw Hank lunge with the long steel lance. The suction half whirled
the boat round, but the whale sounded a little, coming up to the
surface forty feet away and spouting hollowly. Even to the boy's
untrained ear there was a difference, and when he noticed that blood
was mixed with the vapor thrown out from the blowhole, his hope
revived. The second rush of the whale was easily avoided, and Hank
thrust in the lance again. Then, for the first time, the old whaler
permitted himself to smile, a long, slow smile.
That's the way it used to be done in the old days! he said, with
just a shade of triumph in his voice. Pull away a little, boys, to be
clear of the flurry. Have you a buoy ready, Scotty?
The sailor nodded.
There won't be much of a flurry, Hank, he said; you got the lungs
with the lance both times.
The old whaler looked at Colin, who was a little white about the
Scared you, I reckon? he said. You don't need to feel bad over
that. Any one's got a right to be scared when a whale's chargin' the
boat. I've been whalin' for nigh on forty-five years an' that's only
the second devil-whale I've ever killed with a hand-lance. He pretty
near caught us with his flukes that first time, too!
Guess that's the end of him, said Scotty, as the big animal beat
the air with his tail, the slap of the huge flukes throwing up a
fountain of spray.
That's the end, agreed Hank.
Almost with the word the great gray whale turned, one fin looming
above the water as he did so, and sank heavily to the bottom, the buoy
which had been attached to the harpoon-line by Scotty showing where he
sank, so that the ship could pick up the carcass later.
How big do you suppose that whale was? queried the boy as they
started to pull back to the ship.
'Bout forty-five foot, I reckon, was the reply, an' we ought to
get about twenty barrels of oil out of him.
That ought to help some, said Colin, and you see my coming didn't
hurt anything. Just think if I had missed all that fun!
It turned out all right, the old whaler said, but I tell you it
was a narrow squeak. They'll have been worryin' on board, though, if
any one has been able to see that we were hitched up to a gray whale.
Isn't there any danger with other whales?
Wa'al, you've got to know how to get at 'em, of course. But all
you've got to do is to keep out o' the way. There's no whale except the
California whale that'll charge a boat. I did know one chap that was
killed by a humpback, but that was because the whale come up suddenly
right under the boat and upset itthey often do thatan' when one of
the chaps was in the water the whale happened to give a slap with his
tail an' the poor fellow was right under it.
Colin was anxious to start the old whaler on some yarns of the early
days, but as the boat was nearing the ship he decided to wait for an
opportunity when there would be more time and the raconteur would have
full leeway for his stories.
Forty-five-footer, sir, called Hank, as they came up to the ship.
Gray devil, sir.
The captain lifted his eyebrows in surprise, for he had not thought
of a California whale so far north, but he answered in an offhand way:
More sport than profit in that. Did you have a run for your money,
I certainly did, Captain Murchison, the boy answered.
All right, tell me about it some time. Hank, you're on board just
in the nick of time. I found out what the trouble was with the carriage
of the gun and repaired it while you were amusing yourselves out there.
Get in lively, now, there's work to do.
The men scrambled on board rapidly, and the boat was up in the
davits in less than a minute, while the yards were braced round, and
under sail and steam the Gull headed north.
There's four whales in sight, Hank, said the captain; humpbacks,
I think, and two of them big ones.
If they'll bunch up like that, sir, the gunner said, we may make
a good trip out of it yet.
I hope so, the skipper answered, and turning on his heel, he went
to the poop. Thither Colin followed him and told him all the story of
the whale. The captain, who was an old friend of Colin's father when
they both lived in a lumbering town in northern Michigan, was greatly
taken aback when he found how dangerous the boat-trip had been, but he
did not want to spoil the boy's vivid memories of the excitement.
I suppose, he said, that you want to go out as gunner next time.
Colin shook his head.
I'm generally willing to try anything, Captain Murchison, he
replied, but I'm content to let Hank look after that end.
Hank's an unusual man, the captain said quietly. I rather doubt
if any other man on the Pacific Coast could have won out with a gray
whale. I'd rather have him aboard than a lot of mates I know, and as a
gunner, of course, he's a sort of petty officer.
The canvas began to shake as the boat turned on its course after the
whales, catching the skipper's eye, and he roared out orders to shorten
Clew up fore and main to'gans'ls, he shouted; take in the
tops'ls. Colin, you go and furl the fore to'gans'l, and if the men are
still busy on the tops'l yards, pass the gaskets round the main
to'gans'l as well.
Aye, aye, sir, the boy answered readily, for he enjoyed being
aloft, and he clambered up the shrouds to the fore-topgallant yard and
furled the sail, taking a pride in having it lie smooth and round on
the top of the yard.
What's the difference between a 'finback' and a 'humpback,' Hank?
asked the boy, after the canvas had been stowed, the vessel under
auxiliary steam having speed enough to keep up with the cetaceans, are
they 'right' whales?
Neither of 'em, the gunner replied: there's two kinds of right
whale, the bowhead and the black, and both have fine whalebone, an'
that, as you know, is a sort of strainer in the mouth that takes the
place of teeth. Humpbacks an' finbacks are taken for oil, an' they look
quite different. A humpback is more in bulk an' has only a short fin on
the back, it's a clumsy beast an' throws the flukes of the tail out of
the water in soundin'. Now, a finback is built more for speed an' has a
big fin on the backthat's where it gets its name. The big
sulphurbottom is a kind of finback, an' is the largest animal livin'.
I've seen one eighty-five feet long!
Where does the sperm whale come in? asked Colin.
It's got teeth, like the gray whale, was the reply, but you never
find it in cold water. Sperm whalin' is comin' into favor again. But
those two over therethe ones we're after, are finbacks. You can tell
by the spout, by the fin, by not seein' the flukes of the tail, an' by
the way they play around, slappin' each other in fun.
Three hours were spent in the fruitless chase after this little
group of whales. Then Hank, who had been standing in the bow beside the
gun, watching every move of the cetacean during the afternoon, suddenly
signaled with his hand for full speed astern, by this maneuver
stopping the ship squarely, as a whalea medium-sized finbackcame up
right under the vessel's bow. The reversed screws took the craft astern
so as to show the broad back about twenty-five feet away, and Hank
The crashing roar of the harpoon-gun was followed by a swirl as the
whale sounded for a long dive, but a moment later there came a dull,
muffled report from the water, the explosive head of the harpoon, known
as the 'bomb,' having burst. For a minute or two there was no sound but
the swish of the line and the clank of the big winch as it ran out,
while the animal sank to the bottom. There was a moment's wait, and
then Hank, seeing the line tauten and hang down straight, called back:
We can haul in, sir; I got him just right.
Compared to the excitement of the chase in the open boat this seemed
very tame to Colin, and he said so to the captain, when he went aft,
while the steam-winch gradually drew up the finback whose end had come
My boy, was the reply, I'm not whaling for my health. Other
people have a share in this, besides myself and the crew, and what
they're after is whalesnot sport. The business isn't what it was; in
the old days whale-oil was worth a great deal and whaling was a good
business. Then came the discovery of petroleum and the Standard Oil
Company soon found out ways of refining the crude product so that it
took the place of whale-oil in every way and at a cheaper price.
But I thought whalebone was what you were after! said Colin in
It was for a time, the captain answered, after the oil business
gave out. But within the last ten years there have been so many
substitutes for whalebone that its value has gone down. There's a lot
of whalebone stored in New Bedford warehouses that can't be sold except
at a loss.
Well, if the oil is replaced and whalebone has no value, what is to
be got out of whaling now, then? the boy queried.
Oil again, was the reply; for fine lubricating work there's
nothing as good. It's queer, though, how things have changed around.
Fifty years ago, New Bedford was the greatest whaling port in the
world, ten years ago there wasn't a ship there, they had all gone to
San Francisco. Now 'Frisco is deserted by whalers, and the few in the
business have gone back to the old port.
In the meantime, while Colin had been telling the story of the
adventure with the gray whale, and the captain had been bemoaning the
decay of the whaling industry, the work of bringing the dead whale to
the surface had been under way. Letting out more slack on the rope
attached to the harpoon a bight of it was passed through a sheave-block
at the masthead, thus giving a greater purchase for the lifting of the
heavy body. The winch was run by a small donkey-engine, and for about
ten minutes the line was hauled in, fathom after fathom being coiled on
the deck. Presently, as Colin looked over the rail, the dark body of
the whale was seen coming to the surface, and as he was hauled
alongside a chain was thrown around his flukes, and the body was made
fast to the vessel, tail foremost.
Just as soon as the whale was secured a sailor jumped on the body,
carrying with him a long steel tube, pierced with a number of holes for
several inches from the bottom. To this he attached a long rubber tube,
while the other end was connected with a small air-pump. The ever-handy
donkey-engine was used to work the pump, and the body of the whale was
slowly filled with air in the same way that a bicycle tire is inflated.
What's that for? asked Colin, who had been watching the process
with much curiosity.
So that he will float, the captain answered. You can't tow a
whale that's lying on the bottom!
But I thought you were going to cut him up!
And boil down the blubber on board?
That's very seldom done now, the captain explained. In the old
days, when whaling-ships went on three and four year voyages they
'fleshed' the blubber at sea and boiled it down or 'tried it out,' as
they called it, into oil. They always carried a cooper along, too, and
made their own barrels, so that after a long voyage a ship would come
back with her hold full of barrels of whale-oil.
What's the method now, Captain Murchison? asked Colin.
Nearly all whaling is done by steamers and not very far from the
coast, say within a day's steaming. We catch the whales, blow them out
in the way you see the men doing now, and tow them to the nearest
'trying out' factory. These places have conveniences that would be
impossible on shipboard, they get a better quality of oil, and they use
up all the animal, getting oil out of the meat as well as the blubber.
Then the flesh is dried and sold for fertilizer just as the bones are.
The fins and tail are shipped to Japan for table delicacies. Even the
water in which the blubber has been tried out makes good glue. So, you
see, it pays to tow a whale to the factory. And besides, the smell of
trying out on one of the old whalers was horrible beyond description.
During this explanation the huge carcass of the whale had been
distended to almost twice its natural size, and now it floated high out
of the water. The steel tube was pulled out and a buoy with a flag was
attached to the whale, which was then set adrift to be picked up and
towed to the factory later.
[Illustration: FINBACK WHALE SOUNDING.]
[Illustration: LANCING FINBACK: GIVING THE DEATH-BLOW.]
[Illustration: PUMPING CARCASS WITH AIR SO THAT IT WILL FLOAT.]
[Illustration: DEAD FINBACK SET ADRIFT WITH BUOY AND FLAG.
All Photos by permission of Mr. Roy C. Andrews.]
Almost immediately the tink-tink of the bell of the signaler to
the engine-room told that the ship was headed after another whale. The
sea was rising and the wind was beginning to whistle through the
rigging. Colin felt well satisfied that the canvas was stowed and that
he would not have to go aloft during the night. The evening light,
however, was still good enough for a shot, and Hank, at the bow, was
swinging the heavy gun from side to side on its stand to assure himself
that it was in good condition.
Owing to the approaching darkness, there was no time to wait for an
exact shot, and Hank fired at the big finback on the first opportunity.
The ship was rolling and pitching, however, and the harpoon, instead of
striking the big whale, went clear over her and into the water beyond,
crashing into the side of a little calf whale not more than sixteen
feet long, the weapon going almost through him.
Apparently unconscious of what had happened to her baby, the mother
whale sounded and sounded deep, not coming up for nearly twenty
minutes. When she rose, she was at least a quarter of a mile away, and
Colin, who was standing by Hank in the bow, wondered why the ship did
not go in pursuit.
Why don't we chase her up? he asked.
She'll come lookin' for her calf, the old whaler answered, an' as
long as we stay near that she'll come up to us. Lots of whalers shoot
the calves a-purpose, makin' it easier to get the old whales, but I
don't hold with that. I've never done it. Shootin' this one was just an
accident, but as long as the little chap is dead anyhow, we might as
well make use of him.
Just as the old whaler had predicted, in less than five minutes the
mother whale spouted, coming in the direction of the vessel. In less
than five minutes more she spouted again, just a little distance from
the calf. Not understanding what had happened, she swam around as
though to persuade the little one to follow her, and as she circled
round the calf she came within range of the harpoon-gun. It was far too
dark to see clearly, but Hank chanced a shot. The sudden roar startled
Did you get her? he asked anxiously.
I hit her, all right, the gunner answered with a dissatisfied air,
but not just where I wanted.
The boy thought it wonderful that he should have been able to hit
the monster at all, so small a portion of the body was exposed and so
heavily was the Gull pitching. The whale, instead of sounding
directly, dived at a sharp angle and the line ran out like lightning.
What's that, Hank? asked Colin in a startled voice, pointing over
to the water just below the little calf, which had been hauled in by
hand alongside the ship.
Killers, by all that's holy! ejaculated the whaler. They'll get
every blessed whale we've landed to-day. Did you ever see such luck!
What are they after? asked Colin, the calf whale?
Yes, or any other of 'em. See, the mother has smelt 'em and knows
they mean harm for the baby.
It was growing dark and Colin leaned over the rail to see. Suddenly
up from the deep, with a rush as of a pack of maddened hounds, ten or a
dozen ferocious creatures, from fifteen to twenty feet in length,
snatched and bit and tore at the body of the baby whale. A big white
spot behind each eye looked like a fearful organ of vision, their white
and yellowish undersides and black backs flashed and gleamed and the
big fins cut the water like swords. The huge curved teeth gleamed in
the reddened water as the 'tigers of the sea' lashed round, infuriated
with lust for blood.
Then with a violent gesture of reminder, as though he had forgotten
that which was of prime importance, Hank took a few quick steps to the
rope that held fast the baby whale to the ship and cut it with his
What's that for? said Colin.
Let's get away from here, Hank replied, and signaled to go ahead.
As he did so, the mother whale caught sight of the remains of the
body of the little one sinking through the water and dashed for it.
Colin could have shouted with triumph in the hope that vengeance would
be served out upon the orcas, but he was not prepared for the next turn
in the tragedy. Like a pack of ravening wolves the killers hurled
themselves at the mother whale, three of them at one time fastening
themselves with a rending grip upon the soft lower lip, others striking
viciously with their rows of sharp teeth at her eyes. The issue was not
in doubt for a minute. No creature could endure such savage ferocity
and such united attack. The immense whale threshed from side to side,
always round the vessel, which seemed still to carry to her the scent
of the baby whale.
Has she any chance? the boy asked, full of pity for the victim of
Not the ghost of a chance, the whaler answered.
For a minute or two the whale seemed to have thrown off her demon
foes and turned away, but scarcely a moment was she left alone, for up
in front of her again charged five or six killers, rending and tearing
at her head, and the whale, blinded, gashed in a thousand places and
maddened by fear and pain, fled in the opposite direction.
Colin heard the captain give a wild cry from the poop and felt the
engines stop and reverse beneath him. He cast one glance over the rail
and like every man on board was struck motionless and silent. In the
phosphorescent gleams of the waves churned up by the incredible
muscular power of the killers, the old whalesixty feet in length at
least, and weighing hundreds of tonswas rushing at a maddened spurt
of fifteen or even twenty miles an hour straight for the vessel's side,
where a blind instinct made her believe her calf still was to be found.
There was a death-like pause and thena shock.
Almost every man aboard was thrown to the deck, and the vessel
heeled over to starboard until it seemed she must turn turtle. But she
righted herself, heavily and with a sick lurch that spoke of disaster.
The ship's carpenter ran to the pumps and sounded the well.
Four inches, sir! he called.
A moment later he dropped the rod again.
Five and a half inches, sir, he cried, an' comin' in fast.
It hardly needed the carpenter to tell the story, for the ship had a
heavy list to starboard. In a minute or two the stokers came up from
below and close upon their heels, the engineer.
The water is close to the fire-boxes, Captain Murchison, he said.
I know, Mr. Macdonald, the captain answered. Boat stations! he
I'm thinkin', the engineer said quietly, looking at the windy sky
and stormy sea, the last streaks of twilight disappearing in the west,
I'm thinkin' it may be a wee bit cold. Are we far from land, Captain?
We're none too close, the skipper said shortly. Cook, he called,
are the boats provisioned?
Yes, sir, was the reply.
Water-casks in and filled?
Every boat reported casks in good condition.
Sound the well, carpenter.
The sounding-rod was dropped and the wet portion measured.
Nine inches, sir.
You've got time to get what you want from below, boys, said the
captain, as soon as the boats were all swung out on the davits; she
won't go down all of a hurry. Slide into warm clothes, all of you, and
get a move on. Stand by to clear.
He waited a minute or two, then noticed one of the sailors busy on
What are you doing there, Scotty? he called out.
Putting a buoy on the line, sir; she's our whale.
Looks to me more as though the whale had us, than we had the
whale, the captain said grimly. Are you all ready? he added as the
men came up from the fo'c'sle in oilskins and mittens. No, there's
only fifteen of you!
I'm here, Captain Murchison, spoke up Colin, emerging from the
companion hatch with a heavy pilot coat. I thought you'd need
something for the boats, too.
The captain nodded his thanks.
Lower away the whale-boat first, the captain said. Never mind me,
I'll come along presently. Look alive there! That's the idea, Hank! All
right? Cast off. Lower away the big pram! All right. Get busy on that
small pram, there. Here you, Gloomy, if I have to come down there!
All ready? Lower away. If you don't manage any better than that you'll
never see land, I can tell you. Cast off.
The Gull was rolling heavily with an uneven drunken stagger
that told how fast she was filling, and the starboard rail was close to
the water's edge. The captain ran his eye over the boats and counted
the men to see that all had embarked safely.
Don't bring her too close, Hank! he cried warningly, as he saw the
old whaler edge the boat toward him, and stepping on the poop-rail, he
jumped into the sea. But the gunner, judging accurately the swell of
the waves, brought the boat to the very spot where the captain had
struck the water and hoisted him on board. Without a word he made his
way to the stern and took the tiller.
The boat pulled away a score of strokes or so and then the men
rested on their oars. The sunset colors had faded utterly but a dim
after-glow remained, and overhead a young moon shone wanly through
black wisps of scudding cloud. The Gull sank slowly by the bow.
She's one of the last of the old-timers, said the captain sadly.
This was her seventieth whaling season and that's old age for ship as
well as man. I wish, though
What is it, Captain Murchison? asked Colin.
Ah, it's nothing, boy, was the reply. Only we're foolish over
things we love, and the Gull was all that I had left. It's a
dark and lonely death she's having there. I wish
Yes, sir? the boy whispered.
I wish she'd had her lights, the captain said, and his hands were
trembling on the tiller, it's hard to die in the dark.
For a moment Colin had a wild idea of leaping into the sea and
swimming to the sinking craft, and blamed himself bitterly for not
having looked after the port and starboard lights at sundown, as he
often did when the watch on deck was too busy to see to them. He would
have given anything to have done it, rather than to have to sit beside
the captain with his eyes fixed on the desolate unlighted ship! Boy
though he was, he nearly broke down.
Good-by, Gull, good-by, he heard the captain whisper under
Then, as if the ache in the boy's heart had been a flame to cross
the sea, it seemed that a tiny spark kindled upon the sinking ship, and
the captain, speechless for the moment, pointed at it.
Is that a light, boy? he said hoarsely, or am I going mad?
Like a flash, Colin remembered.
It's the binnacle, sir, he cried; I lighted it for the man at the
Solemnly the captain took off his hat.
It's where the light should be, he said at last, to shine upon
her course to the very end.
CHAPTER II. THE FIGHT OF THE OLD BULL
The quick, uneasy pitching of the boat and a sudden dash of ice-cold
spray roused the captain from the fit of abstraction into which the
sinking of his ship had plunged him.
Step the mast, men, he said; we've got to make for the nearest
land. It's going to be a dirty night, too.
Did you want us to put a reef in, sir? asked the old whaler.
When I want a sail reefed, the captain answered shortly, I'll
As the mast fell into place and the sail was hoisted, the whale-boat
heeled sharply over and began to cut her way through the water at a
good speed, leaving the two prams far in the rear. The captain, who was
steering mechanically, paid no heed to them, staring moodily ahead into
the darkness. Hank looked around uneasily from time to time, then in a
few moments he spoke.
The mate's signaling, I think, sir, he said.
Colin looked round but could only just see the outline of the larger
of the two boats, and knew it was too dark to distinguish any motions
on board her. He looked inquiringly at Hank, but the old gunner was
watching the captain.
What does he want? questioned the captain angrily.
Orders, sir, I suppose, the whaler answered.
The captain felt the implied rebuke and looked at him sharply, but
although he was a strict disciplinarian, he knew Hank's worth as a
seaman of experience and kept back the sharp reply which was upon his
lips. Then turning in his seat he realized how rapidly they had sped
away from the boats they were escorting, and said:
I'll bring her up.
He put the tiller over and brought the whale-boat up into the wind,
and in a few minutes the mate's boat and the smaller pram came
Don't you want us to keep together, sir? cried the mate as soon as
he was within hearing.
Of course, the captain answered. You can't keep up, eh?
Not in a breeze like this, sir, the mate declared.
All right, then, was the response; we'll reef. He nodded to the
gunner and the reef points were quickly tied, thus enabling the three
boats to keep together.
As the night wore on the wind increased until quite a gale was
blowing, and the whale-boat began to plunge into the seas, throwing
spray every time her nose went into it. The oilskins shone yellow and
dripping in the feeble light of a lantern and although it was nearly
the end of June a cold wind whipped the icy spume-drift from the
Doesn't feel much like summer, Hank! said Colin, shivering from
cold and fatigue, also partly from reaction following his exciting
adventure with the gray whale.
Behring Sea hasn't got much summer to boast of, the old whaler
replied; leastwise not often. You may get one or two hot days, but
when the sun goes down the Polar current gets in its work an' it's
Where do you suppose we're going, Hank? the boy asked, with a firm
belief that the old whaler knew everything. I don't like to bother
Nor I, the gunner answered, looking toward the stern of the boat;
let him fight his troubles out alone. As for where we're goin', I
don't know. I can't even see the stars, so I don't know which way we're
Do you suppose we'll strike Alaska? Colin queried. Or perhaps the
north of Japan? Say, it would be great if we fetched up at Kamchatka or
somewhere that nobody had ever been before!
The lad's delight in the thought of landing at some inhospitable
northern island off the coast of Asia was so boyish that in spite of
the discomfort of their present position, the old whaler almost laughed
Japan's a long ways south of here, he said. We'd strike the
Aleutian or the Kuril Islands before we got near there. I reckon we
ought to try for some place on the Alaska coast, but as I remember, the
wind was dead east when we left the Gull an' I don't think it's
Colin gave a long yawn and then shivered.
I wouldn't mind being in my berth on the Gull! he said
longingly; I'm nearly dead with sleep.
Why don't you drop off? Hank advised. There's nothin' you can do
to help. Here, change places with me an' you won't get so much spray.
But you'll get it then! the boy protested.
If I had a dollar for every time I've got wet in a boat, the old
whaler answered, I wouldn't have to go to sea any more.
He got up and made Colin change places.
Are you warmer now? he asked a minute or two later.
Lots, the boy murmured drowsily, and in a few seconds he was fast
asleep. The old whaler gently drew the boy towards him, so that he
would be sheltered from the wind and spray, and held him safe against
the rolling and pitching of the little boat. The long hours passed
slowly, and Colin stirred and muttered in his dreams, but still he
slept on through all the wild tumult of the night, his head pillowed
against Hank and the old whaler's arm around him.
He wakened suddenly, with a whistling, roaring sound ringing in his
ears. Dawn had broken, though the sun was not yet up, and Colin
shivered with the wakening and the cold, his teeth chattering like
castanets. A damp, penetrating fog enwrapped them. Four of the sailors
were rowing slowly, and the sail had been lowered and furled while he
was asleep. Every few minutes a shout could be heard in the distance,
which was answered by one of the sailors in the whale-boat.
Where's the mate's boat, Hank? asked the boy, realizing he had
heard only one shout.
She got out of hailin' distance, a little while before breakfast,
the other answered, but that doesn't matter so much, because she can't
very well get lost now.
But why is the sail down?
The old whaler held up his hand.
Do you hear that noise? he asked.
Of course I hear it, the boy answered; that's what woke me up.
But what is it? he continued, as the roar swelled upon the wind.
What does it sound like? the gunner asked him.
The boy listened carefully for a minute or two and then shook his
Hard to say, he answered. It sounds like a cross between Niagara
and a circus.
Scotty, who had overheard this, looked round.
That's not bad, he said; that's just about what it does sound
But what is the cause of it, Hank? the boy queried again. I never
heard such a row!
Fur seals! was the brief reply.
Seals? said Colin, jumping up eagerly. Oh, where?
Sit down, boy, interrupted the captain sternly; you'll see enough
of seals before you get home.
All right, Captain Murchison, Colin answered; I'm in no hurry to
In spite of his recent loss the captain could not help a grim smile
stealing over his face at the boy's readiness for adventure, no matter
where it might lead. But he had been a rover in his boyhood himself,
and so he said no more.
Why, there must be millions of seals to make as much noise as
that! Colin objected.
There aren't; at least, not now, was Hank's reply. There were
tens of millions of fur seals in these waters when I made my first trip
out here in 1860, but they've been killed off right an' left, same as
the buffalo. The government has to protect 'em now, an' there's no
pelagic sealin' allowed at all.
What's pelagic sealing? asked Colin.
Killing seals at sea, the whaler answered. That's wrong, because
you can't always tell a young male from a female seal in the water, an'
the females ought never to be killed. But you'll learn all about it.
Beg pardon, sir, Hank continued, speaking to the captain, but by the
noise of the seals those must be either the Pribilof or the Commander
Pribilof, by my reckoning, the captain answered. Do you hear
anything of the third boat?
No, sir, answered the old whaler, after shouting a loud Ahoy! to
which but one answer was returned, but we'll see her, likely, when the
Doesn't lift much here, the captain said. But with this offshore
wind, they ought to hear the seals three or four miles away.
In the meantime the whale-boat was forging through the water slowly
and the noise of the seals grew louder every minute. The sun was
rising, but the fog was so dense that it was barely possible to tell
which was the east.
Funny kind of fog, said Colin; seems to me it's about as wet as
Reg'lar seal fog, Hank replied. If it wasn't always foggy the
seals wouldn't haul out here, an' anyway, there's always a lot of fog
around a rookery. Must be the breath of so many thousands o' seals, I
[Illustration: SPEARING SEALS AT SEA.
Pelagic sealing by Aleut natives now forbidden by the governments of
the United States, Great Britain, Russia, and Japan.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Pretty things, seals, said the boy.
Where did you ever see any? his friend queried.
Oh, lots of places, Colin answered, circuses and aquariums and
places like that. I even saw a troupe of them on the stage once,
playing ball. They put up a good game, too.
Those weren't the real fur seals, Hank replied; what you saw were
the common hair seals, an' they're not the same at all. You can't keep
fur seals alive in a tank!
There are two fur seals in the aquarium of the Fisheries Building
at Washington, interposed the captain, but those are the only two.
There! cried the boy, pointing at the water; there's one now!
You'll see them by hundreds in a few minutes, boy, the captain
said. I think I make out land.
As he spoke, an eddy of wind blew aside part of the fog, revealing
through the rift a low-lying island. Within a minute the fog had closed
down again, but the glimpse had been enough to give the captain his
bearings. The noise from the seal-rookery had grown deafening, so that
the men had to shout to one another in the boat and presentlyand
quite unexpectedlythe boat was in the midst of dozens upon dozens of
seals, throwing themselves out of the water, standing on their hind
flippers, turning somersaults, and performing all manner of antics.
Why don't we land? asked Colin, as he noticed that the boat was
running parallel with the shore instead of heading directly for it.
Land on a seal-rookery? said Hank. Haven't you had trouble enough
with whales so far?
Would seals attack a boat? asked Colin in surprise.
No, you couldn't make 'em, was the instant reply, but I never
heard of a boat landin' at a rookery. The row would begin when you got
Gradually the boat drew closer to the land, as close, indeed, as was
possible along the rocky shore, and then the land receded, forming a
shallow bay flanked by two low hills on one side and one sharper hill
on the other. The captain rolled up his chart and headed straight for
St. Paul, I reckon, said Hank, as the outlines of the land showed
clearly, but I don't jus' seem to remember it.
Yes, that's St. Paul, the captain agreed. It has changed since
your time, Hank. There has been a lot of building since the government
Why, it looks quite civilized! exclaimed Colin in surprise, as he
saw the well-built, comfortable frame houses and a stone church-spire
which stood out boldly from the hill above the wharf.
When I first saw St. Paul, said the old whaler, it looked just
about the way it was when the Russians left ithuts and shacks o' the
worst kind an' the natives were kep' just about half starved.
It's different nowadays, said the captain as they drew near the
wharf, putting under his arm the tin box that held the ship's papers.
The Aleuts are regular government employees now and they have schools
and good homes and fair wages. Everything is done to make them
comfortable. I was here last year and could hardly believe it was the
same settlement I saw fifteen years ago.
It was still early morning when the boat was made fast to the wharf,
and Colin was glad to stretch his legs after having slept in a cramped
position all night. The damp fog lay heavily over everything, but the
villagers had been aroused and the group of sailors was soon surrounded
by a crowd, curious to know what had happened. Hank, who could speak a
'pigeon' language of mixed Russian and Aleut, was the center of a group
composed of some of the older men, while Colin graphically described to
all those who knew English (the larger proportion) the fight with the
gray whale, and told of the sinking of the Gull by the big
finback, maddened by the attack of the killers. He had just finished a
stirring recital of the adventures when the other two boats from the
Gull loomed up out of the fog and made fast to the wharf.
Hearing that the only breakfast the shipwrecked men had been able to
get was some cold and water-soaked provender from the boat, two or
three of the residents hurried to their homes on hospitable errands
bent, and in a few minutes most of the men were thawing out and
allaying the pangs of hunger with steaming mugs of hot coffee and a
solid meal. So, when the captain came looking for Colin that he might
take him to the Fisheries agent's house, he found the ladwho was
thoroughly democratic in his waysbreakfasting happily with the
sailors and recounting for the second time the thrills and perils of
the preceding day.
Rejoining the captain an hour or so later at the house to which he
had been directed, Colin was effusively greeted by the assistant to the
agent, a young fellow full of enthusiasm over the work the Bureau of
Fisheries was doing with regard to fur seals. A natural delicacy had
kept him from troubling Captain Murchison, but as soon as he discovered
that Colin was interested in the question and anxious to find out all
he could about seals, he hailed the opportunity with delight.
I've just been aching for a chance to blow off steam, he said.
It's an old story to the people here. Obviously! I don't think they
half realize how worth while it all is. I'm glad to have you here, he
continued, not only so that we can help you after all your dangers,
but so that I can show you what we do.
I'm still more glad to be here, Colin replied, after thanking him.
I've been trying to persuade Father to let me join the Bureau, but
this is such an out-of-the-way place that I never expected to be able
to see it for myself.
It is a little out of the way, the official replied. But in some
ways, I think it's the most important place in the entire world so far
as fisheries are concerned. It's the one strategic point for a great
industry. Of course!
Why is it so important, Mr. Nagge? Colin queried. Just because of
the seals, or are there other fisheries here?
Just seals, was the reply, in the jerky speech characteristic of
the man. Greatest breeding-place in the world. You'll see. Nothing
like it anywhere else. And, what's more, it's almost the last. This is
the only fort left to prevent the destruction not of a tribebut of an
entire species in the world of life. Certainly!
Calling it a fort seems strange, Colin remarked.
Well, isn't it? It's the heroic post, the forlorn hope, the last
stand of the battle-line, the Fisheries enthusiast replied. All the
nations of the world were deliberately allowing all the fur seals to be
killed off. Uncle Sam stopped it. It's not too late yet. The Japanese
seal-pirates must be exterminated absolutely! Could you run a ranch if
every time a steer or cow got more than three miles away from the
corral anybody could come along and shoot it? Of course not.
But this isn't a ranch!
Why not? Same principle, the assistant agent answered. Ranchers
breed cattle in hundreds or thousands. We breed seals in hundreds of
thousands; yes, in millions. And a fur seal is worth more than a steer.
Do seals breed as largely still? Colin asked in surprise.
Would if they had the chance, was the indignant answer.
Undoubtedly millions and millions have been killed in the last fifty
years. Takes time to build up, too! Only one baby seal is born at a
time. A run-down herd can't increase so very fast. But we're getting
Our gunner was telling me, Colin said, that killing seals at sea
was the cause of all the trouble.
Yes. Lately. Before that, rookery after rookery had been visited
and every seal butchered. Old and young alike. No mercy. Worst kind of
But hasn't the sea trouble been stopped? queried the boy. I
thought it had, but you said something just now about seal-pirates.
Stopped officially, his informant said. Can't kill a seal in the
ocean, not under any consideration. That is, by law. Not in American
waters. Nor in Russian waters. Nor in Japanese waters. Nor in the open
sea. International agreement determines that. Of course. But lots of
people break laws. Obviously! Big profit in it. There's a lot of
killing going on still. Stop it? When we can!
But how about killing them on land? Colin asked. You do that, I
know, because I've read that the Bureau of Fisheries even looks after
the selling of the skins. While it may be all right, it looks to me as
though you were killing them off, anyhow. What's the good of saving
them in the water if you wipe them out when they get ashore.
You don't understand! his friend said. Got anything to do right
Not so far as I know, Colin answered.
You've had breakfast?
Yes, thanks, the boy answered, and I tell you it tasted good
after a night in the boat.
Come over to the rookery, the assistant agent said. I'm going. I
count the seals every day. That is, as nearly as I can. Tell you all
about it. If you like, we'll go on to the killing grounds afterwards.
Yes? Put on your hat.
Colin realized that his host seldom had a listener, and as he was
really anxious to learn all that he could about the fur seals, these
creatures that kept up the deafening roar that sounded like Niagara, he
Looks a little as if it might clear, he suggested, as they left
the house. We could stand some sunshine after this fog.
The other shook his head.
Don't want sunshine, he said. Fog's much better.
What for? asked Colin in surprise. Why should any one want fog
rather than sunshine?
Fur seals do, was the emphatic response. No seals on any other
groups of islands in the North Pacific. Just here and Commander
Because they are foggier than others? hazarded Colin at a guess.
Exactly. Fur seals live in the water nearly all year. Water is
colder than air. Seals are warm-blooded animals, toonot like fish.
They've got to keep out the cold.
Is that why they have such fine fur?
Obviously. And, the Fisheries official continued, under that
close warm fur they have blubber. Lots of it.
Blubber like whales?
Just the same. Fur and blubber keeps 'em warm in the cold water.
Too much covering for the air. Like wearing North Pole clothing at the
Equator. If the sun comes out they just about faint. On bright days the
young seals make for the water. Those that have to stay on the rookery
lie flat on their back and fan themselves. Certainly! Use their
flippers just the way a woman uses a regular fan. See 'em any time.
Colin looked incredulously at his companion.
I'm not making it up, the other said. They fan themselves with
their hind flippers, too. Just as easy.
I think they must be the noisiest things alive, said Colin,
putting his fingers in his ears as they rounded the point and the full
force of the rookery tumult reached them.
The row never stops, the assistant agent admitted. Just as much
at night as daytime. Seals are used to swimming under water where light
is dimmer. Darkness makes little difference. Seemingly! Don't notice it
after a while.
The queer part of it is, the boy said, listening intently, that
there seem to be all sorts of different noises. It's just as I said
coming into the bay, it sounds like a menagerie. I'm sure I can hear
Can't tell the cry of a cow fur seal from the bleating of an old
sheep, was the reply. The pup seal 'baa-s' just like a lamb, too.
Funny, sometimes. On one of the smaller islands one year we had a flock
of sheep. Caused us all sorts of trouble. The sheep would come running
into the seal nurseries looking for their lambs when they heard a pup
seal crying. The lambs would mistake the cry of the cow seal for the
bleating of their mothers.
Why do you call the mother seal a cow seal? asked the boy.
Usual name, was the reply.
Then why is a baby seal a pup? asked Colin bewildered. I should
think it ought to be called a calf!
The Fisheries official laughed.
Seal language is the most mixed-up lingo I know, he said. Mother
seal is called a 'cow,' yet the baby is called a 'pup.' The cow seals
are kept in a 'harem,' which usually means a group of wives. The whole
gathering is called a 'rookery,' though there are no rooks or other
birds around. The big 'bull' seals are sometimes called 'Sea-Catches'
or 'Beachmasters.' The two-year-olds and three-year-olds are called
'Bachelors.' The 'pups,' too, have their 'nurseries' to play in.
But Colin still looked puzzled.
Our gunner was talking about 'holluschickie'? he said. Are those
a different kind of seal?
No, was the reply, that's the old Russian-native name for
bachelors. There are a lot of native words for seals, but we only use
that one and 'kotickie' for the pups.
If the cow seals bleat, said Colin, and the pups 'baa' like a
lamb, what is the cry of the beachmaster?
He makes the most noise, the agent said. Never stops. Can you
hear a long hoarse roar? Sounds like a lion!
Of course I can hear it, the boy answered; I thought that must be
A sea-lion's cry is deeper and not so loud, his friend replied.
No. That roar is the bull seal's challenge. You're near enough to hear
a sort of gurgling growl?
Yes, said Colin, I can catch it quite clearly.
That's a bull talking to himself. Then there's a whistle when a
fight is going on. When they're fighting, too, they have a spitting
cough. Sounds like a locomotive starting on a heavy grade. Precisely!
Do they fight much? the boy asked.
Ever so often! his informant replied. Can't you hear the puffing?
That shows there's a fight going on. I've seldom seen a rookery without
a mix-up in progress. That is, during the early part of the season
after the cows have started to haul up. There's not nearly as much of
it now, though, as there used to be.
Could I see a fight? the boy asked eagerly.
Hardly help seeing one, was the reply. Watch now. We're just at
the rookery. Immediately!
Turning sharply to the left, the older man led the way between two
piles of stones heaped up so as to form a sort of wall, and shut off at
the sea end.
What's this for? asked Colin.
Path through the rookery. Want to count the seals every once in a
while, the agent said. Must have some sort of gangway. Obviously!
Couldn't get near enough, otherwise.
Why not? queried Colin. Would the beachmasters attack you?
They won't start it, was the reply. Sea-catch keeps quiet unless
he thinks you're going to attack his harem. About two weeks ago, I only
just escaped. Narrow squeeze. Wanted to get a photograph of one of the
biggest sea-catches I had ever seen. Took a heavy camera. The sea-catch
didn't seem excited. Not particularly. So, I came up quite close to
How close, Mr. Nagge?
Ten or twelve feet. Just about. I got under the cloth. Focused him
all right. Then slipped in my plate. Just going to press the bulb when
he charged. Straight for me. No warning. I squeezed the bulb, anyhow;
grabbed the camera and ran. Promptly!
Did he chase you far?
A few yards. I knew there was no real danger. Best of it was that
the plate caught the bull right in the act of charging! I've got a
print up at the house. Show you when we get home!
I'd like to see it, ever so much, the boy answered.
As they came to a gap in the wall, the agent halted.
There! he said. That's a rookery.
In spite of all that he had heard before of the numbers of seals,
and although the deafening noise was in a sense a preparation, Colin
was dazed at his first sight of a big seal rookery. For a moment he
could not take it in. He seemed to be overlooking a wonderful beach of
rounded boulders, smooth and glistening like polished steel; here and
there pieces of gaunt gray rock projected above and at intervals of
about every fifteen to forty feet towered a huge figure like a walrus
with a mane of grizzled over-hair on the shoulders and long bristly
yellowish-white whiskers. For a moment the boy stood bewildered, then
suddenly it flashed upon him that this wonderful carpet of seeming
boulders, this gleaming, moving pageantry of gray, was composed of
Why, there are millions of them! he cried.
Right from the water's edge back halfway to the cliffs, and as far
as the eye could see into the white sea-mist, every inch of the ground
was covered. Looking at those closest to him, Colin noticed that they
lay in any and every possible attitude, head up or down, on their backs
or sides, or curled up in a ball; wedged in between sharp rocks or on a
level stretchposition seemed to make no difference. Nor were any of
them still for a minute, for even those which were asleep twitched
violently and wakened every few minutes. And over the thousands of
silver-gray cow seals, the sea-catches, the lords of the harem, three
or four times the size of their mates, stood watch and ward
Why do you herd them so close together? asked Colin. I should
have thought there was lots of room on the beaches of the island.
They herd themselves, the agent said. Don't go anywhere unless it
is crowded. The more a place is jammed, the more anxious they are to
get there. Newcomers won't go to empty harems. Unhappy with only one or
two other cows. Try and find room in a crowded bunch where one
sea-catch is looking after thirty females.
But, said Colin, looking at the group which was nearest to him,
there are a lot of little baby seals in there! They'll get trodden
They are trodden on. Often, said the agent. Can't be helped. Only
a few pups right in the harems and they are all small. Obviously! Go
away when they are a week old. Wander from the harem to find
playfellows. Make up 'pods' or nurseries. Sometimes four or five
hundred in one nursery. Stay until the end of the season. There's a pod
of pups, he continued, pointing up the beach; about sixty of them, I
should judge. Happy-looking? Clearly!
They look like big black kittens, said Colin, as he watched them
tumbling about on the pebbly beach, and just as full of fun. Can they
swim as soon as they are born, Mr. Nagge?
Seals have to learn to swim. Same as boys, he answered. They
teach themselves, apparently! Young seal, thrown into deep water, will
drown. Queer. Become wonderful swimmers, too.
About how long does it take them to learn? Colin asked.
Don't begin until they are three weeks old, was the reply.
Practise several hours a day. Swim well in about a month.
Why don't the father or the mother seals teach them? queried the
A sea-catch doesn't see anything outside the harem. As long as a
pup is within twelve feet of him, he will fight on the instant if the
baby is in danger. Once it is in the nursery the bull seal forgets the
little one's existence. He couldn't leave, anyway. Some other sea-catch
would seize the harem.
You mean that the old seal can't get away at all?
Not at all, was the reply.
Then what does he get to eat? asked Colin in surprise, do the cow
seals bring him food?
Not a bite. No. He doesn't eat at all. Not all summer.
Never gets a bite of anything? I should think he'd starve to
death, cried the lad.
Fasts for nearly four months. From the time a sea-catch hauls up in
May and preempts the spot he has chosen for his harem he doesn't leave
that spot eight to sixteen feet square until late in August. Stays
right there. He's active enough in some ways. No matter how much he
flounders around, he keeps right on his own harem ground. He could
hardly get away from it if he tried.
[Illustration: HOLLUSCHICKIE HAULING UP FROM THE SEA.
Rare sketch, taken before ever a camera was seen on the Pribilof
Islands. This beach, with many others, is now deserted by the depletion
of the seal herd.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
[Illustration: OLD BULL-SEALS FIGHTING.
Rare sketch, taken on the Gorbatch Rookery, St. Paul's Island, forty
years ago. These combats are growing rarer as the seal herd grows
smaller and the rivalry between the beach-masters is less intense. The
date on the sketch shows it to have been made before the cow-seals
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
He couldn't leave his own harem without getting into the next one.
Obviously! the agent promptly replied. And he'd have to fight that
beachmaster. Evidently! And so on every few feet he went. Besides, the
very moment his back was turned a neighboring bull would steal some of
his cows. Certainly! Or, an idle bull would try and beat him out.
Which are the idle bulls? asked Colin.
Those fellows at the back who came late or were beaten in the fight
for places. They would charge down and take the harem, if he left it.
Well, then, how does he sleep?
Doesn't sleep much, was the reply; just little catnaps. Five or
ten minutes at a time, perhaps. Light sleepers, too. If a cow tries to
leave or an intruder comes near he wakes right up. Immediately! He's on
the alert, night and day. The agent laughed. Eternal vigilance is the
bull seal's motto, all right!
But how can they stand it without food and without sleep? Colin
asked. That's over three months of fasting. And it isn't like an
animal that's asleep all winter. It seems to be their busiest time,
fighting and watching and all that sort of thing!
They live on their blubber, the agent explained. In the spring
they haul up heavy and fat. Can hardly move around they're so fleshy.
It's the end of June now. You see! Many bulls are loaded with fat
still. By the end of next month, though, they'll be getting thin. Some
of 'em are like skeletons when they leave the rookeries in August.
They'll fight to the end, though.
But if they leave each other's harems alone, Colin objected, I
don't see any cause for a fight.
The cows don't all come at the same time. Perhaps for six weeks
there are cows coming all the time. Those beachmasters who have harems
nearest the water want their family first and there's fighting all
along the water's edge, then. Other cows have to make their way
inshore; any of the sea-catches may grab them. Wait a minute and watch.
You'll see the scramble going on somewhere. There are two bulls
fighting there, he added, pointing to a combat in progress some
distance off, and there's anotherand another.
Is that one of the new cows just coming in from the water? asked
Colin, pointing to the shore, where a female seal, quietly and without
attracting attention, had landed near one of the large harems.
Yes, the agent said. Just watch her a while. You'll see how the
Moving quietly and slowly and making just as little disturbance as
possible, the incoming seal made her way through and over the recumbent
seals, keeping as far as she could from the beachmasters. Those huge
monarchs of the waterside eyed her closely, but the harems were full to
the last inch of ground and they let her pass, the cow seal remaining
quiet as long as the beachmaster was watching, then creeping on a yard
She'll get caught by the next one, said Colin. See, there's just
about room enough in his harem for one more.
But the cow managed to make her way past, the old bull being
engrossed in watching a neighboring sea-catch whom he suspected of
designs upon his home. She had only succeeded in reaching a point about
six harems inland, however, when a bull with a small group of only
about twelve cows, suddenly reached out with his strong neck, grabbed
her by the back with his sharp teeth and threw her on the rocks with
the rest of his company. As the sea-catch weighed over four hundred
pounds and the cow not more than eightythe poor creature was flung
down most cruelly.
The brute! cried Colin.
But for some reason the cow was dissatisfied with her new master and
tried to escape. The old sea-catch made a lunge forward and caught her
by the back of the neck, biting viciously as he did so, in such wise
that the teeth tore away the skin and flesh, making two raw and ugly
Colin's indignation was without bounds.
I'd like to smash that old beast! he said, and if the agent had
not been there to stop him the boy would have jumped over the low wall
and gone to the assistance of the cow seal.
That's going on all the time, the agent said. You can't settle
the affairs of ten thousand families. Not offhand that way. You'd be
kept busy if you tried to fight the battles of every female that hauls
up on St. Paul rookery.
But see, cried Colin, he's going after her again!
This time the sea-catch was evidently angry, for he shook the cow as
a dog does a rat and tossed her back into the very center of the harem,
standing over her and growling angrily. The agent looked on tranquilly.
There's going to be trouble, he said. See that idle bull coming?
He pointed to the back of the rookery, and Colin saw a sea-catch of
good size, though not as large as the bull whose savage attack on the
cow had excited Colin's resentment, come plunging down through the
rookery with the clumsy lope of the excited seal. The cow squirmed from
under the threatening fangs of her captor, but just as he was about to
punish her still more severely, he caught sight of the intruder, and,
with a vicious snap, he whirled round to the defense. The newcomer,
though powerful, showed the dark-brown rather than the grizzled
over-hair of the older bull, but while he had youth on his side, he was
not the veteran of hundreds of battles.
Both stood upright for a moment, watching each other keenly, but
with their heads averted, then the younger bull, with a forward
movement so rapid that it could hardly be followed, struck downward
with his long teeth to the point where the front flipper joins the
body. It was a clever stroke, but the old bull knew all the tricks of
warfare and turned the flipper in so that the teeth of his opponent
only gashed the skin, and at the same time the old bull jerked his head
up and sidewise, and sank his teeth deep into the side of the neck of
the younger bull.
He's got him, what a shame! cried Colin, whose sympathies were all
with the younger fighter.
The old sea-catch, paying no attention to the roaring and whistling
of his wounded rival, kept his teeth fast-clenched in a bulldog-like
grip and braced himself against the repeated lunges the other made to
get free. There could be but one result to this and, with an agonized
wrench, the younger bull pulled himself freetearing out several
inches of skin and leaving a gaping wound from which the blood streamed
But he was not defeated yet!
Facing his more powerful enemy, roaring unceasingly and with the
shrill piping whistle of battle, the younger bull fairly swelled with
exertion and rage until he seemed almost the size of his big foe, his
head darted from side to side quick as a flash, and the revengeful,
passionate eyesso different from the limpid, gentle glance of the cow
sealsflashed furiously as the blood poured down and reddened the
rocks around him.
Again it was the younger bull who took the aggressive and, after a
couple of feints, he reared and struck high for the face, just grazing
the cheek of the older bull and pulling out several of the stiff
bristles on which his teeth happened to close, springing back in time
to escape the double sickle-stroke of the sea-catch. The old bull
roared loudly and sprang forward, getting a firm hold of the younger by
the skin behind the muscles of the shoulders. But he was a second too
late, for as he closed his grip, the smaller fighter shifted and struck
down, a hard clean blow, reaching the coveted point and half-tearing
the flipper from the body.
Undeterred by the injury, though the pain must have been intense,
the old bull threw his weight upon the younger, bending him far over as
though to break the spine. Seals cannot move backward, and the smaller
fighter was almost overbalanced. Then, seizing his chance, the old
beachmaster let go his hold upon the other's back and got in a crashing
blow at the same point where he had torn open the neck before, this
time sinking his teeth so far in that the muscle of the shoulder showed
plainly, and an instant later, although there seemed scarcely time to
strike a second blow, he swept down the body with his long, sharp
teeth, catching the younger at the flipper-joint, and inflicting a
wound almost exactly similar to that which he had received.
Quick as a flash, the younger combatant gave up the fight. But as he
turned, instead of merely crawling away defeated, he made a sudden
convulsive sprawl which the older bull was not expecting, and dug his
teeth into the cow who had given rise to all the trouble, and lifted
her bodily. The old beachmaster, his mane bristling with rage, made
after him, but the younger bull, although he was forced to move on the
stump of his wounded flipper, held fast to his prize, even when the
victor inflicted a fourth fearful wound.
But before the old sea-catch could turn the plucky youngster, he saw
two other bulls sidling towards his harem, intending to steal his cows
while he was off guard, and he lumbered back to repel the new
intruders. In the meantime, the young bull was attacked on his way to
his own station by three other bulls near whose harems he had to pass,
but he made no resistance and, though bleeding from a dozen wounds, he
struggled on, leaving a gory trail in his wake, but gripping with grim
determination the cow he had almost given his life to secure. When at
last he reached his own station, he was a mass of blood from head to
foot, his flesh was hanging from him in strips and one of his
fore-flippers was dangling uselessly.
He put up a plucky fight, anyway, said Colin, even if he did get
But it was for the poor cow seal that Colin felt the most sympathy.
She lay upon the rocks where her second captor had thrown her,
absolutely unconscious and seemingly almost dead, wounded in several
places and covered with blood and sand, a wretched contrast to the
pretty, gentle animal which the boy had seen emerge from the water not
fifteen minutes before.
It's a shame, Colin said, speaking a little chokingly. I didn't
know any animals could be so brutal.
The agent glanced at him quickly.
The beachmasters are brutes, he said, but mostly among
themselves. Notice. The bull isn't even licking his wounds. He's pretty
well used up, too. They're always too proud to show that they feel
their hurts. Evidently! Even when they have been almost torn to
Then you think he won't die?
Not a bit of it, the agent said cheerfully. He'll be ready for
another fight to-morrow.
But how about the poor cow? She looks about dead now, said Colin.
Not as bad as it looks! She's all right, his friend replied.
Those wounds don't go down into vital parts. They usually just reach
the blubber. There isn't a sea-catch on the rookery that hasn't had
from ten to twenty fights already this year. Most of 'em have been at
it for several seasons. Yet you can hardly notice a scar on them. As
for the mother seal, she will probably have a baby seal to-morrow. In a
week the wounds will all have healed over. Cat may have nine lives, but
a seal has ninety!
CHAPTER III. ATTACKED BY JAPANESE
That's life on a rookery, the agent said. Fight! Capture! More
fight! But the holluschickie are different. Let's go to the
Is that where the killing goes on? the boy asked.
Not quite, was the reply. The road to the killing-grounds begins
there, though. Naturally! We don't take any seals from a rookery.
No use! They are all either old bulls, females, or pups, was the
answer. The fur of the old sea-catches is coarse. Couldn't sell it.
Never kill a cow seal under any circumstances. That's what all the
trouble in killing seals at sea is about. You can't tell a
holluschickie from a cow seal in the water. Cruel, too. When a cow seal
is on her way to the rookery, she will have a baby seal in a few days.
The holluschickie, then, said Colin, don't come on the rookery at
Never! Absolutely! The bachelors, which are young male seals five
years old and under, leave the rookery alone. The old sea-catches look
after that. Certainly! It is mutilation or death for a holluschickie to
put so much as a flipper on a rookery. They seldom try. Therefore, the
hauling-grounds are at a distance. Obviously! Sometimes, though, it is
impossible for the holluschickie to get to the sea without having to
cross the rough, rocky ground which is suitable for a rookery.
How can they work it, then?
The sea-catches leave a road eight feet wide, no more, no less.
This path through the rookery gives just room for two holluschickie to
pass. The beachmasters whose harems are on either side of this road
watch them. They keep their lookout from a station right beside the
road. If one of the holluschickie touches a cow on either side of this
clear road-space, he will be attacked savagely.
But I should think he could get away easily enough, Colin
objected, because the sea-catch can't leave his harem.
Can't! Old bulls are all the way along, the agent answered. Every
one will attack a holluschickie who has once been attacked. No chance
to escape. But the bachelors know that. They pass up and down such a
causeway by thousands, night and day. They 'don't turn to de right,
don't turn to de lef', but keep in de middle ob de road,' quoted the
And you say that all the furs, then, are taken from among the
holluschickie? queried the boy.
Every one of them.
But how do you hunt the bachelor seals?
The agent stared at him in surprise, and then burst into a short
peal of laughter.
Hunt? How do you hunt pet puppies? he queried, in reply. The
holluschickie are the tamest, gentlest creatures in the world. Here are
the hauling-grounds now. Let's go down. You'll see how tame they are.
But it's like a dancing-floor or a parade-ground for soldiers!
cried Colin as, reaching the top of the hill, he looked across a
stretch of upland plain at least half a mile across. There was not a
blade of grass, not a twig of shrubbery of any kind, all had been
beaten down and the bare ground was as smooth as though it had been
leveled off and rolled. Upon this bare plain, thousands of the
holluschickie were playing, the most characteristic game seeming to be
a voluntary march or dance, when the bachelors would roughly gather
into lines or groups and lope along at exactly the same speed together
for about fifty feet, stopping simultaneously for a few moments, and
then going on again, as though obeying the commands of a
They don't seem to play with each other much, commented Colin as
the two walked among the holluschickie, who showed neither fear nor
excitement, merely shuffling aside a foot or two to let them pass.
They do in the water, the agent said. Play 'King of the Castle'
on a flat-topped rock for hours together. One seal pushes the other off
the coveted post, only to be dislodged himself a minute after. And I
have never once seen any sign of ill-humor. They never bite. They never
injure one another. They never even growl angrily. It's hard to believe
that their tempers can change so quickly when they reach the rookery.
They seem to be of all ages and sizes, said Colin.
[Illustration: BULL FUR-SEAL CHARGING THE CAMERA.
Courtesy of the National Geographic Magazine.]
[Illustration: SNAPSHOTTING AN OLD BEACH-MASTER.
This plate was recovered, although the photographer was drowned on
the treacherous shores of the Pribilof Islands the very day the picture
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Yearlings of both sexes and males from two years old to five, the
Do they fast all summer, too, like the sea-catches?
No, was the reply. No need for it. They go to sea every few days.
If the sun is out they stay in the sea. They make long journeys, too,
just as the mother seals have to do, because a seal needs at least
thirty pounds of fish a day to keep in good condition. All the nearby
fishing-grounds have been exhausted.
I suppose the different colors show the different ages? the boy
Exactly, the agent answered. That's important, too. By law we are
only allowed to sell skins weighing between five and eight and a half
pounds. That means only those of males two and three years old. The
skin of a yearling weighs just about four pounds and that of a
four-year-old male eleven or twelve.
How about the two-year-old cow seals? You said that only the
yearlings among the females were here.
The cow seals never come twice to the hauling grounds, was the
reply. They go for the first time to the rookeries in their second
I should think it would be easy enough then to 'cut out' a herd,
the boy said. I could pretty nearly do it myself.
Obviously! Without any trouble! was the reply. But you've got to
Why? the boy queried.
If a seal is hurried he gets heated. You remember I told you how
little they can stand. If a seal is killed after being heated, fur
comes off in patches and the skin is of no value. Let's go on. I have
to tally those that are knocked down.
I thought you were going to drive some! said Colin in a
disappointed tone, as they turned away from the hauling-grounds along a
The drive started three hours ago and more, was the reply.
Quarter of a mile an hour is fast enough to make seals travel. You can
drive as fast as a mile an hour, but lots will be left on the road to
die from the exertion. Yet the same seals will swim hundreds of miles
in a day.
But what can you do, then, on a warm day? Do you drive during the
No seals here on a warm day, was the immediate answer. You saw
all those thousands of holluschickie on the hauling-grounds? If the sun
were to come out now, in half an hour there wouldn't be a seal on the
entire flat. All disappear into the sea. Absolutely!
What is that group over there? asked Colin, pointing to a small
cluster a short distance ahead of them, near some rough frame
That's the drive, the agent answered. The killing-grounds are
always near the salt-houses. What's that? The smell? Worst smell in the
world, I thought, when I first came here. You can't kill seals in the
same place year after year and just leave the flesh to rot without
having a frightful odor. One gets used to it after a while.
It seems to me that you're running the risk of starting up a plague
No, was the reply, it has never caused any sickness here. Then
the drive is small now to what it used to be. Time was when three or
four thousand seals would be driven, where we only take a couple of
hundred now. Fallen off terribly! Fifty years ago, every available inch
of all the beach was rookery, settled as thick as in the rookery you
saw just now. The holluschickie were here in uncounted millions. These
hills, now overgrown with grass, show the soil matted with fine hair
and fur where the seals shed their coats for hundreds of years. Now a
few scattered rookeries are all that remain.
Do you suppose the seal herd will ever be as big again? the boy
The agent shook his head.
I'm afraid not. The governments interested won't keep up the
international agreement long enough, he said regretfully. It would
take thirty or forty years. Yet it would be worth it. You see, he
continued, this is absolutely the only place in the world where the
true Alaskan fur sealthe sea bear, as it used to be called, because
it isn't a seal at allcan be found. The fur seals on the Russian
islands are a different species. Those on the Japanese islands are
different from both.
You say a fur seal isn't a seal at all? asked Colin. What's the
Not the same at all. Different, entirely. Don't even belong to the
same group of animal. They look differently. Their habits are unlike.
Oh, they're dissimilar in every way.
Just how? asked Colin curiously.
In the first place, the sexes of the hair or common seal are the
same size, not like the fur seal, where the sea-catch is four or five
times bigger than the female. Then they don't breed in harems and the
male hair seal does not stay on shore. A fur seal swims with his fore
flippers, a true seal with his hind flippers. A fur seal stands upright
on his fore flippers, a hair seal lies supine. A fur seal has a neck, a
hair seal has practically none. A fur seal naturally has fur, the hair
seal has no undercoat whatever. A pup fur seal is black, a pup hair
seal is white. Different? Obviously! Pity the old name 'sea bear' died
out. It would have prevented confusion between fur seal and true seal.
With this beginning, the agent passed into a detailed description of
the anatomy of the two different kinds of seal, and wound up with an
earnest panegyric of his fur seal family. By the time the agent had
completed his earnest defense of the sea bear, lest it should be
confused with the more common seal, the two had reached the
killing-grounds, where the natives were awaiting the agent's word to
begin their work. He stepped up to the foreman of the gang and with him
looked over the first 'pod' of about fifty that had been selected for
killing, noting one or two that looked either too young or too old or
with fur in bad condition, and these points settled, he gave the word
The 'pod' of seals was surrounded by eight men, each armed with a
club about five and a half feet long, the thickness of a baseball bat
at one end and three inches in diameter at the other. Behind him, each
of the natives had laid his stabbing-knife, skinning-knife, and
whetstone. At the word the killing began. Each native brought down his
club simultaneously, the first blow invariably crushing the slight,
thin bones of the fur seal's skull and stretching it out unconscious.
The six or seven seals that fell to each man's share were clubbed in
less than a minute for the lot.
The Aleuts then dropped their clubs and dragged out the stunned
seals so that no one of them touched another, and taking their
stabbing-knives, drove them into the hearts of the seals between the
fore flippers. In no case did Colin see any evidence that the seal had
felt a moment's suffering.
Now, said the agent, watch this, if you like seeing skilful work.
Skinning has got to be done rapidly. Precisely! Else the seal will
'heat' and spoil the fur.
Watching the native nearest to him, Colin noticed that he rolled the
seal over, balancing it squarely on its back. Then he made half a dozen
sweeping strokesall so expert and accurate that not a slip was made
with the knife, nor was any blubber left on the skin. In less than two
minutes, by the watch, he had skinned the seal, leaving on the carcass
nothing but a small patch of the upper lip where the stiff mustache
grows, the insignificant tail, and the coarse hide of the flippers.
The whole sight was a good deal like butchery, and Colin felt a
little uncomfortable. Moreover, he was not hardened to the odor arising
from the blubber of the seal. He beat a retreat.
I beg your pardon, Mr. Nagge, he called, holding his handkerchief
to his nose, but that's too much for me.
The agent turned and noticed his departure. He called back to the
Do you see that low hill? To the right of that ruined hut?
Yes, Colin responded.
Just below that are some sea-lions! Go and take a look at them.
I'll join you as soon as we are through here. Won't be long. But you'll
have to stalk them to the leeward if you want to get close, he added,
they're shy. I'll meet you there and we'll go back to dinner. You
ought to be hungry by then.
I will be, then, Colin responded cheerfully, adding under his
breath, as he glanced back over his shoulder at the killing-grounds,
but I'm not now!
A short walk through the long moss a-glitter with wild flowers,
poppies, harebells, monkshood, and a host of sub-Arctic species,
brought the lad to the top of the hill. There he paused a moment, to
look over the island, treeless save for dwarf willows six inches high
and a ground-dwelling form of crowberry. Below him, and some distance
away, were the sea-lions, but even from that coign of vantage they
looked so big and menacing that Colin wondered whether they might not
stalk him, instead of his stalking them.
After a little scrambling, however, he found himself at the bottom
of the cliff, and made his way as carefully as he could to the sea-lion
rookery. But when he did come near and rounded a large boulder in order
to get a fair view, he was inclined to think that shyness was the last
idea he would have gained from the looks of sea-lions. Near him, almost
erect on his fore flippers, was an old bull, a tremendous creature,
well over six feet in height and weighing not less than fifteen hundred
Apart from size, he was a much more vicious-looking creature than
the sea-catch; the tawny chest and grizzled mane gave him a true
lion-like look, and an upturned muzzle showed the sharp teeth
glistening white against the almost black tongue, while a small wicked,
bulldog eye glittered at the intruder. The female sea-lion, near by,
was almost as large as a six-year-old bull seal.
Wanting to see something happen, and realizing from the build of the
sea-lion that he could not make much progress on land, Colin threw a
stone at a pup sea-lion who was asleep on a rock close by.
But the boy was utterly unprepared for the result, for no sooner did
the huge sea-lion realize his advance as he strode forward to throw the
stone, than it was smitten with panic. When, moreover, it heard the
'crack' of the pebble as it hit a rock behind him, the cowardly
creature went wild with fear, and made convulsive and clumsy efforts to
reach the water ten feet away, tumbling down twice in doing so, and
finally plunging into the ocean trembling as though with ague. At the
alarm, the entire rookery took flight, leaving the pups behind,
sprawling on the rocks. The parents ranged up in a line about fifty
feet from shore and remained at that safe distance as long as Colin was
in sight. He watched the pups for a little while, but they were not
nearly as interesting as seals, and he was quite ready to go when his
friend hailed him from the top of the hill.
Sea-lions look sort of human in the water, don't they? remarked
Colin as he rejoined his friend, and turned for a farewell glance at
the creatures with their upright heads and shoulders and inquisitive
The Aleuts say they are, his friend replied. They declare their
ancestors were sea-lions or seals. That's a general belief on the north
coast of Scotland and in the Hebrides, too.
That men came from seals?
Certainly. What do you suppose started all the mermaid stories?
Round head, soft tender eyes, and a fish's tail? Seals! Obviously! And,
if you notice old pictures of mermaids the tail is drawn as if it were
split in two, just like the two long flippers of the seal.
I never thought of that before, said the boy.
You've heard of the Orforde merman, of course, haven't you?
Colin admitted his ignorance.
Queer yarn. Quite true, though, the agent said. Documents show
it. It happened off the coast of Suffolk, England. About the end of the
twelfth century, I think. Some fishermen caught a creature which they
described as being like an old man with long gray hair, but which had a
fish's tail. It could live out of the water just as well as in it. They
brought it to the Earl of Orforde. In spite of all their efforts they
could not teach the merman to speak. Naturally! So the priest of the
parish suggested that perhaps the creature had something to do with the
devil. Characteristic of the time! So they took the 'merman' to church.
But it showed no sign of adoration and didn't seem to understand the
ceremonies. So they were convinced that it was an evil thing, and put
it to the torture, hoping to extract a confession froma seal!
But there are mermaids! said Colin. I've seen 'em. Not alive, of
course, but stuffed.
So have I, the agent said, laughing; that was a trick the
Japanese used and fooled a lot of people. Why, there was one in a
museum in Boston for years! It was a fake, of course. Obviously!
How did they do it?
Head and shoulders of a newly-born monkey fastened to a fish's
body. I forget now what fish. Then with incredible pains, they laid
rows upon rows of fish scales all over the monkey's shoulders and
chest. Wonderful work. Each scale was glued on separately, beginning
from scales almost microscopic and shading both in size and color
exactly into those of the fish hinder portion. The work was so
exquisitely done that its artificiality could not be detected. But live
mermaids haven't been put in any aquarium. Not yet!
I don't suppose there's even a water-baby left! the boy said,
No, was the reply. We couldn't give it any milk now, the sea-cows
have been all killed off.
Big creatures, bigger even than walruses. Lots of them here some
time. We find their bones everywhere. Nearly all our sled-runners are
made of sea-cow bones. They grazed like cattle below water on the
seaweeds of the shore and the natives used to spear them at low tide.
[Illustration: CATCH OF HERRING ON BEACH AT GASTINEAU CHANNEL,
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Are there walruses here, too?
I saw three a few years ago, but none since. About two hundred
miles north of here, however, on St. Matthew's Island, there used to be
scores of them. But I reckon hunters and polar bears, between them,
have destroyed most of them.
Do polar bears come here in winter?
The agent shook his head.
The Pribilof Islands are not cold enough for a polar bear. Besides
he likes walrus meat better than seal. Bear eats a lot of fish, too.
I thought they lived almost entirely on seals.
They couldn't very well, was the reply. Seal is a better swimmer
than a bear, although the polar bear is a marvel in the water for a
land animal and can overhaul a walrus. The big white fellows only catch
seal when basking on the ice. They get a good many that way. The
hunters have left nothing to the Pribilofs except the fur seal and the
sea-lion, and not many of those. And unless we can find a way to stop
the seal-pirates, those will soon be gone, too.
Do you have much trouble with that sort of thing? the boy asked.
A lot nearly every year. We won't have so much of it now. Great
Britain, Japan, Russia, and the United States are united in the desire
to prevent pelagic sealing. Good thing, too. A treaty has been signed,
forbidding it for fifteen years. So you see, a seal poacher on the
rookeries finds everybody against him.
Wasn't there a lot of trouble some years ago? Colin asked. I
heard that there was real fighting here.
Indeed there was, and lots of it! No one, not even the United
States Government, ever knew how much. While the islands were leased to
a private company the beaches were patrolled by riflemen. Russian and
Japanese schooners frequently sent off boatloads of armed men during a
fog, to kill as many seals as possible, protecting their men by
gunfire. But that was before the Bureau of Fisheries took hold!
Has there been any of that lately?
Not recently. The last was in 1906, when seven men were killed. The
two schooners, the Tokaw Maru and the Bosco Maru, were
seized and confiscated. Promptly! The men were taken to Valdez. They
were convicted and sent to prison.
Well, that's desperate enough, the boy said, but, after all,
there's something daring about it. It's the pelagic sealing that seems
so mean to me.
It may be daring enough, the agent admitted. The way I feel about
it, though, is that it seems worse to kill a cow fur seal than a human
being. There are lots of people in the world. The human race isn't
going to die out, but the small remnant of fur seals on the Pribilof
Islands is absolutely the last chance left of saving the entire species
from extinction. So, he concluded with a laugh, as they went into the
village, don't let your enthusiasm for a piece of daring tempt you to
Colin laughed, as he nodded to his host, and went to see after one
of his new pets, a blue fox pup which had been given him that morning
by one of the natives.
Evening seemed to come early because of the dense fog, the damp mist
which had been present all day settling down heavily. Colin was
thoroughly tired, but not at all sleepy, and he wandered aimlessly
through the village for a while after supper.
I wonder if there's a storm coming? he said to the agent. I have
a sort of feeling that something's going to happen.
It may blow a little fresh, was the reply. That's all. The
barometer doesn't seem disturbed.
I must be wrong then, said Colin, suppressing a yawn, but I have
a queer sort of excited feeling.
Better take it out in sleep, was the advice given him. We're all
going to turn in soon. Even if you did get a nap this afternoon, you
ought to be tired after last night.
The boy could see nothing to be gained by arguing the point, and
there was nothing special to do, so he waited a few minutes and then
went up to his room, though he had never felt less like sleeping. He
got into bed, however, but tossed about uneasily for hours, the distant
roaring of the seals on the rookery and other unaccustomed noises
keeping him awake. And ever, through it all, Colin was conscious of
this presentiment of some trouble on hand. Suddenly, this feeling
rushed over him like a flood and, impelled by some force he could not
resist, he sprang from bed and hurried to the window.
The fog had thinned considerably, but it was still so misty that he
could only just see the edge of the bleak shore where the little waves
rolled in idly, looking gray and greasy under the fog. He leaned his
arms on the sill, but aside from the seal-roar, everything seemed
peaceful and the lad was just about to turn away from the window in the
feeling of miserable anger that comes from being tired but not able to
sleep, when he saw a flash of light.
Startled, and with every nerve stimulated to alertness, he watched,
and again he saw the light. Straining his eyes Colin could just
distinguish the figure of a man with a gun on his shoulder and a
lantern in his hand, making his way to the coast end of the village.
Some one who has been making a night of it! the boy muttered to
himself with a short laugh, and got back into bed.
But the figure of the man with the gun and the lantern in his hand
had impressed itself on his mind, and though he tried to dismiss the
idea and go to sleep, every time he closed his eyes he seemed to see
the man go walking silently through the village. Presently he sat bolt
upright in bed.
The native huts are all at the other end of the village! he said
half aloud, with a surprised suspiciousness. Why was he going that
The boy rose and went back to the open window. It seemed to him that
there was more tumult from the rookery than when he had listened half
an hour before, but it occurred to him that this was probably the
result of the silence of the hour and his own restlessness. Then, not
loudly, but distinctly, in spite of its being muffled by the fog, the
sound of a rifle-shot came to his ears.
That settled it for Colin. If there was anything going on in the way
of sport he wanted a share in it, and as he was wide awake, he decided
to follow up and see what was going on. He slipped into his clothes as
quickly as possible and tiptoed his way down the rickety stairs. But
before he had gone many steps an unaccustomed thought of prudence
struck him, and he walked back to a house three or four doors from
where he had been staying, the home, indeed, of the villager who had
given him the pet fox, and in which Hank had taken up quarters. He
knocked on the window and immediately Hank appeared.
What is it? he queried. Oh, it's you, Colin. Why aren't you in
I was, the boy answered, and in a few words he told how he had
seen the native go by with a gun and a lantern and had heard the shot
fired a few minutes ago.
Sounds like smugglin', the old whaler said, after a minute's
thought. Well, there's no great harm in that. That is, I don't think
so, though the gov'nment chaps might say different.
Smuggling? queried Colin; poaching. Do you mean seal-poaching?
Oh, come along, Hank, and let's find out.
What's the use of huntin' trouble? said the old man. Go back to
Not much, retorted the boy; if you don't want to come, I'll go,
If you're goin' anyway, grumbled the old whaler, I reckon it's no
use my sayin' anythin' to stop you. But I s'pose, he added, and he was
secretly as curious as the boy, I'd better go along with you to see
that you don't get into any more mischief than you have to.
You're coming, then? asked Colin impatiently.
I'll be right out, the other answered, and he had hardly
disappeared from the window when he appeared at the door. He slipped a
revolver into his pocket and handed another to Colin.
I've got a gun, the boy said.
All right, responded Hank, I'll pack this one along, too, and he
slipped it into one of the pockets of his big reefer.
They walked in silence for a few minutes until they had passed the
end of the village, and then Hank put his hand on the boy's arm.
You've got a right hunch, he said abruptly, in a low voice.
There's somethin' in the wind.
What makes you think so? asked Colin.
The other pointed vaguely to sea.
There's a ship out there, he said.
Colin did his utmost to pierce the gloom, but the fog had settled
down again, the night was dark, and the boy could scarcely see the
waves breaking on the shore not twenty feet away.
I can't see anything, he said. Whereabouts?
I don't know just where, the old sailor replied, but I know she's
there. I feel it.
Let's hurry! said the boy.
Better go slower, warned Hank, pulling him back gently; we're not
far from the rookery.
I don't see why we should be so careful, and I don't see why we
should whisper, Colin objected, whispering nevertheless; the seals
are making noise enough to drown a brass band.
Listen! said Hank.
The boy put his hand to his ear, trying to distinguish sounds in the
Voices? he queried with a puzzled look.
I thought so, the whaler nodded. There was a pause, while both
listened, then the gunner said:
It isn't English and it doesn't sound like Aleut or Russian.
Japanese? queried the boy at a guess.
The man grasped the boy's shoulder with a grip that nearly
Japanese raiders! he said. Can you run?
You bet, said Colin, growing excited; I'm a crack runner.
Get back to the agent's house as fast as you know how an' wake him
up. He'll know what to do.
What are you after, Hank? asked the boy, tightening his belt.
Whatever comes along, was the terse reply.
Colin pitched off his heavy coat and started. It was over a
half-mile run, but the boy was in good condition and the path was
smooth, so that two minutes saw him at the agent's bedroom door.
Eh? What's that? Japanese raiders! You've been dreaming, boy. Go
back to bed.
Do I look as if I'd been dreaming? Colin said indignantly. How do
you suppose I could run myself out of breath in a dream? Hank was with
me. He heard them, too, and sent me back to tell you.
But the agent was already up and busy.
Wake the village! he said shortly.
Without waiting to find out how this should be done, Colin started
off at a run, and picking up a killing club that lay handy, he sped
down the village street, hitting a resounding 'whack' on every door as
he passed. As he came back, up the other side of the street, the
natives were streaming out of their houses and Colin told them all to
go to the agent, whereupon those who understood English started
immediately, the rest following. The agent was ready and had all his
plans made, some of the men were sent to the boats, and arms for others
were laid out.
They were right on Gorbatch rookery? the agent asked.
Yes, sir, Colin replied, at the Reef Point end.
The party was swinging along at a fast half-run over the sands that
lay between the edge of the village and the beginning of the rookery,
and with the rising of the moon the fog seemed to thin.
I had rather we were a little nearer before it gets too light, the
agent said, but we'd better make the best use we can of our time.
On reaching the wall, the agent vaulted lightly over it, the rest
following suit, and to Colin's surprise the official led the way behind
the rookery, threading in and out between idle bulls, who made a
display of great ferocity but never actually attacked. The agent paid
not the slightest heed to any of them, merely keeping out of reach of
As they turned a corner, a cloud which had partly obscured the moon
passed and showed them an unexpected sight. Magnified into gigantic
forms by the fog were the figures of six men, apparently all armed,
facing Hank, the old whaler, who, with both revolvers, was keeping them
at bay. He was close to the shore, standing behind two old,
wicked-looking beachmasters, who, in the unnatural light, appeared to
be twice their natural size. Hank let out a hail as soon as he saw the
government party coming to his assistance, but he did not relax his
I've got this bunch covered, he said, an' they can't get to their
boat. One load did get off.
Hearing his shout the invaders turned quickly, but found themselves
overpowered, for a dozen rifles were leveled at them. They knew, too,
that natives who are trained to shoot fur seal in the wateras most of
those men had done before pelagic sealing was stoppedcould be counted
on as good shots.
The agent, who spoke sufficient Japanese for simple needs, demanded
the surrender of the raiders and asked which was the officer of the
party. This question they refused to understand.
I suppose he went off in the other boat, hazarded the agent.
That's a pity. He stands a good chance of being shot!
Colin looked up inquiringly.
How do you expect to catch him now? he asked.
The fog is clearing away. Obviously! the agent answered.
Quite a lot, the boy admitted.
[Illustration: A TYPICAL SEAL ROOKERY, HALF ABANDONED.
Showing the massing of the harems, the watchful figures of the
beach-masters, and the idle bulls in the background.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Row-boat hasn't much chance against a launch, has it?
Oh, I see now, Colin said understandingly; you covered the water
with another party.
In a very swift gasoline launch we have. While you were waking the
village, I got a wireless to a revenue cutter. I caught her at less
than fifteen miles away, and she's headed here now.
He turned to the Japanese.
What is your ship? Schooner or steamer? he asked.
Schooner, was the reply.
The agent rubbed his hands delightedly.
It's a clean haul, he said. Thanks to you, Hank. Principally. To
the boy, too! We've caught six men red-handed right on the rookery,
with dead seals, most of them females. The launch ought to intercept
the boat. There's not wind enough for a schooner to get far away by the
time the revenue cutter arrives. Besides, the schooner will be
short-handed since we have six of the crew here.
A sudden puff of wind lifted the fog still further and revealed the
schooner herself, lying not far from shore. A row-boat was about one
hundred and fifty feet from the vessel and the station launch was two
hundred feet away, approaching from a different angle, but outspeeding
A race! cried Colin.
It was a closer race than at first appeared. Under the strange light
of the full moon shining grayly through the silvering mist upon the
seals in their countless thousands, the scene seemed most unreal.
Before him appeared the principals in this dramatic encounter,
revolvers and rifles in the hands of all parties, the Japs being still
covered; while beyond, at sea, the two boats cleaving the water, their
objective point the shadowy schooner, looking like a phantom ship, made
a picture of weird excitement in an unearthly setting. The seconds
seemed like hours. The row-boat was nearer the schooner and was
traveling fast, but the launch was speeding even more rapidly, throwing
up a high wave at the bow. It looked as though both boats would reach
the schooner's side at the same instant.
She'll do it! She'll do it! the boy exclaimed. If only an oar
The Japanese, though not saying a word, were bending forward
eagerly, watching the race with every nerve on the strain.
Colin fairly danced with excitement, nearly bringing down on himself
the wrath of a neighboring sea-catch, who was roaring angrily at this
If she only had another couple of horsepower he cried.
The Japanese smiled.
A port in the rail of the schooner opened and the muzzle of a small
swivel-gun projected, aimed full at the launch. Colin caught his
A puff of smoke followed, and a couple of seconds later the sharp
crack of a small gun. A crash and a few sharp explosions were heard
from the launch, but, so far as could be seen from the shore, no one
was injured. The engine gave a 'chug-chug' or twothen stopped dead.
Colin dropped his arms limply by his side in despair.
The leader of the Japanese took a quick step forward and whispered a
word or two to the nearest man, who passed it down the line. The agent
strained his ears to hear what was said, but could not distinguish the
What's that you were saying? he asked in Japanese.
The man replied calmly, and in English.
We say nothing, he answered blandly, only that you have made big
mistakes. That is not our ship!
The agent stared at him, but the Japanese smiled affably.
We are shipwreck on the island, he said. We not know what place
it is, have no food, hungry, kill some seal for food, anybody do that.
At this impudent and barefaced falsehood, the agent was tongue-tied,
but he turned to Hank.
These men say, he said, that they are shipwrecked sailors and do
not belong to that ship. Let's get this thing right. Tell us what you
know about it.
Hank straightened up.
After the boy left me, he said, I saw it wouldn't do any good to
tackle 'em at once, there bein' no way of gettin' at 'em from the shore
side. If I let 'em know they were watched, they would be off, sure, an'
what I wanted was to find some way to head 'em off. I knew if you came
down the beach after 'em they'd have the start, an' you can't always
depend on shootin' straight at night in a fog.
What did you do, then? asked the agent.
I just slipped into the water, down by the end o' the causeway,
the old whaler said, an' there were scores o' seals around, so that it
didn't matter how much I splashed.
You must be half a seal yourself, the agent said. Swimming among
rocks in the dark is no joke.
I had plenty of time, and I can swim a little, the old man
modestly admitted. Wa'al, pretty soon I saw the boat an' I swam under
water till I came up right behind it. The Jap what was sittin' in it
wasn't expectin' any trouble an' as he was nid-noddin' and half asleep,
I put one hand on the stern o' the boat, bringin' it down in the water.
With the other hand I grabbed the back of a blouse-thing he was wearin'
an' yanked him overboard.
You didn't drown him, did you, Hank? asked Colin.
Not altogether, the old whaler answered. I held him under,
though, until he was good an' full o' water an' had stopped kickin',
an' then I climbed into the boat. Next time he came up I grabbed him
an' took him aboard. The fog was pretty thick an' none o' the rest of
'em saw what was goin' on. In a minute or two I could see he was
beginnin' to come round an' I didn't quite know what to do. I didn't
want to knock him on the head, he hadn't done anythin' to hurt me, an'
so I dropped the row-locks overboard, tossed the oars ashorethere
they are, lyin' among the sealsan' got ashore myself. As soon as I
was on solid ground I untied the painter what held the boat an' set it
adrift, givin' it a push off with one o' the oars. The tide's goin'
out, so I knew he couldn't get ashore again. I'd hardly got the boat
shoved off when he yelled an' the rest of 'em heard it.
What did they do?
Come rushin' for the boats. Most of 'em went over to the
south'ard, he pointed down the rookery, where there was a boat I
hadn't seen, but these six tried to rush me. I just had time to shove
the boat off, grab my guns, an' face 'em.
It was a bully hold-up, said Colin delightedly, one against six.
Had to, said the sailor, or the six would have made mincemeat o'
the one. Besides, I had to give the tide a chance to get that boat out
o' the way. After I held 'em a few minutes I knew it was all right,
because they had no boat, their own bein' adrift without oars.
Big lie, said the Japanese leader placidly, we shipwreck sailors,
nothing to do with that ship at all. This man tell story about boatwe
not know anything of that boat. Our boat sunk on rocks, away over
He pointed to the other side of the island.
But you were killing seals! protested the agent.
Yes, said the Japanese, we think islands have not any person on.
Need food, we kill. Of course.
Clever, said the agent, turning to Hank. This isn't as simple as
it looks. We have no direct evidence that these men belonged to that
But we know they did! said the whaler emphatically.
Of course, agreed the agent. But we can't prove it. Law demands
proof. If we only had that boat, with the schooner's name on, it would
Suddenly there came a hail from the crippled launch which was being
brought in under oars.
Mr. Nagge there?
Yes, Svenson, was the reply, what is it?
They smashed our engine all to bits, answered the engineer of the
boat, but we've just picked up another boat, empty.
That's the boat, said the agent with satisfaction in his voice.
Now we've got them!
A smile, a very faint smile, crossed the features of the Japanese
What's the name on the stern of the boat? the agent called.
There was a moment's pause, then came the answer in tones of deep
The name's been painted out!
The agent looked round despairingly and caught Colin's look of
The slippery Oriental again! the boy said.
Not quite slippery enough this time, though, said Hank in a voice
which betrayed a discovery.
What do you mean? asked the agent.
Uncle Sam's gettin' into the game, he answered, pointing out to
The revenue cutter?
Hm, hm, grunted the whaler in assent, I reckon I can see her
No one else could see anything in the fog and darkness, but a minute
or two later there came a flash, followed by a dull boom.
Hank turned to the Japanese leader.
Pity to spoil that yarn o' yours, he said, but your ship can't
run away from quick-firin' guns without a wind.
CHAPTER IV. CATCHING THE SEA-SERPENT
There was great excitement in the village the next day when the
revenue cutter brought in the Japanese raiding schooner and her crew.
The boat that had successfully reached the ship had already begun to
load her quota of sealskins, and the men had not thrown them overboard,
believing that they could get away. Consequently, with the evidence of
the raid ashore and with the seals in the boat belonging to the
schooner from which witnesses had seen the crew go on board, the case
What are you going to do with the prisoners? asked Colin. Are you
going to put them on trial here?
Not here, the agent replied. The Federal Courts look after that.
But I thought you were a judge, the boy protested. Who
administers justice on the islands?
The chief agent, was the reply. He is a magistrate. All the
natives are employees of the Fisheries Bureau. He has a lot of
authority over them. Obviously! But any really grave case is tried at
Valdez, because that's the nearest Federal court from here. Sealing
questions, too, are so confused with international issues that we don't
undertake to decide them.
And what will happen to the schooner?
A prize crew will be put aboard. Take her to Unalaska. The revenue
cutter will pick them up afterwards. Probably start for Valdez without
delay. Captain Murchison said this morning that he wanted to go along.
I wonder if I'll have to go? said Colin. I'm sure I don't want
to, at least, not yet. There's ever so much more that I want to find
out about seals, and I've hardly started. If I'm ever lucky enough to
get into the Bureau of Fisheries, I hope I shall have a chance to get
something to do on this fur seal service.
Fur seal's very important. But only a small part of the Bureau of
Fisheries, the agent said, and outlined to Colin the general workings
of the Bureau, in which he showed the practical value of the work.
I know. I want to join the Bureau, the boy persisted, not only
because I think there's more fun in it than in anything else, but
because I like everything about it.
What do your folks say about the plan? the Fisheries agent
They know I want it, the lad replied, but I never felt that I
knew enough about the Bureau to say that I didn't care to do anything
else. Father's always wanted me to take up lumbering or forestry or
sawmills or something to do with timber. He's quite a big lumberman,
you know. But, some way, that never appealed to me.
Your father ought to know, the other said. Obviously! And if he
owns timber lands, I think it's up to you to be a help. Lots of
interesting angles to the lumber business. And if the timber lands are
going to descend to you, you'll have to look after them, anyway.
But they won't, objected Colin; that's just it. In about ten
years that timber will be all cut off. I'm pretty sure Father will let
me join the Bureau, the boy continued, because he's wild about
fishing himself. Why, just now, he's down at Santa Catalina, angling
for big game.
Some difference between the Fisheries Bureau and angling for
sport, the agent warned him. I've been in the business all my life.
But I've never even learned to cast a fly! It's a serious business, and
down in Washington you'll find that the value of the work to the people
of the United States is the chief aim of the Bureau.
It may be serious, but I should think that there is always
something new. And, anyway, Colin said enthusiastically, fishes are
ever so much more interesting than animals. There are such heaps of
different kinds, too!
The interest in work depends on how you look at it, soberly
responded the agent. Obviously! But don't think the Bureau is
experimenting with every kind of fish in the ocean. There are only a
few food fishes or forms with commercial value that are exploited at
But you were describing to me, only yesterday, the way they handle
millions of baby fishes annually. I've just got to get into the
Go ahead, then. I don't doubt we'll be glad to have you. I've done
my best to show you what you'll have to face, the official declared,
and if you're still eager for it, why, go in and win. There's always a
place somewhere for the chap who is really anxious to work.
At supper that day, the decision was announced that the revenue
cutter would start for Valdez next morning, and Colin had to scramble
around in a hurry to take a last look at the seals, to get a small
crate made for the blue fox pup, which he was going to send home for
his younger brother to look after, and to put into a small trunk he had
got from one of the villagers the few things he had saved from the
wreck and had been able to buy in the village.
The trip down to the Aleutian Islands and through its straits was a
delight to Colin, and he became quite excited when he learned that the
second lieutenant had for years been attached to a revenue cutter which
had a wharf at the Fisheries Bureau station at Woods Hole, Mass. This
officer, who had a brother in the Bureau, was only too glad to talk to
the boy about the service, and Colin monopolized his spare time on the
journey. And when, one day, his friend depicted the immensity of the
great salmon drives of the Alaskan rivers, the lad grew so excited that
the lieutenant laughingly told him he expected some fine morning to
find that he had jumped overboard and had started swimming for the
Ugashik River or some other of the famous salmon streams of Alaska.
[Illustration: NATIVE SALMON TRAP ON AN ALASKAN RIVER.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
[Illustration: MODERN SALMON TRAP ON AN ALASKAN RIVER.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Shortly before they arrived at Valdez, the lieutenant of the cutter
called the boy aside.
Colin, he said, didn't you tell me the other day that you were
going down to Santa Catalina?
Yes, sir, the boy answered. Father's down there now, and I want
to ask him if he won't let me go and join the Bureau of Fisheries.
Well, the officer replied, before you do that, I think you ought
to get some idea about the sort of work there is to do. It happens that
one of my brother's friends is on the Columbia River just now, making
some kind of experiment on salmon. He has a cottage not far from one of
the state hatcheries, and if you like, I'll give you a letter to him.
If you are really determined to enter the Bureau, you might stop on
your way to Santa Catalina and see the work from another point of
I'd like to ever so much, said Colin, but I couldn't very well go
He'll be only too pleased to see you, was the reply; he's a
Westerner like myself, and will enjoy putting you up for a day or two.
It's right in my way, too, remarked Colin, yielding to his desire
Quite a few of the steamers for 'Frisco stop at Astoria, at the
mouth of the Columbia River, the lieutenant suggested, and the
professor's cottage is not more than half an hour from there, near the
state fish-hatching station at Chinook, Wash.
Just across the river, then?
Exactly. The way I look at it, you're not at all likely to have
anything to do with fur seal if you go into the Bureau, certainly not
for a good many years. So you can't judge the Fisheries' scope from
that, and you ought to see the work that will probably fall to your
Very well, sir, said the boy, I'll go gladly, and thank you ever
I'll drop a note to Professor Todd, then, the lieutenant said,
nodding as he turned away, and as we may be delayed a few days in
Valdez, the letter will reach him before you will.
On their arrival at the Alaskan town, Colin learned that some time
would elapse before the trial of the Japanese prisoners, as the court
would not be in session until later in the summer, and he was told that
when his deposition had been taken, there would be no need to keep him
as a witness. Accordingly, after the boy had related the story of the
discovery and of his entire connection with the affair, he was told
that he might leave.
As the revenue officer had expected, within a week a steamer left
Valdez for San Francisco, calling at Astoria on the way, and Colin took
passage aboard. Aside from meeting on board an old shell collector, who
taught him a great deal about the principal valuable sea shells of the
world, the voyage was without incident, and he arrived in Astoria in
time to proceed the same afternoon to the cottage of the professor,
where he was to stay that night, having found a letter of welcome
awaiting him in Astoria.
Reaching the house he presented his letter of introduction, and was
cordially greeted. Finding that the boy was really interested, his host
took him to a tiny laboratory of his own, where he was experimenting on
the various diseases of the salmon and the trout.
This gave Colin an entirely new outlook on the Fisheries'
I never thought of fishes being sick before! he exclaimed. Are
there fish-doctors in the Bureau?
There's a large division of the service given to that very work,
the professor replied, only there are so many millions of fish that we
do not try to cure the individual, but only endeavor to prevent the
disease. You know what the work of a veterinary is?
Of course, the boy responded.
And you know that the United States Government has an inspector at
every place where cattle and sheep and pigs are slaughtered to see that
no diseased animals are sold?
Yes, the boy answered, I have heard of that, too.
Since there is almost as much fish eaten in this country as there
is meat, the professor continued, Uncle Sam sees to it that no
diseased fish are sold for food.
I don't quite see how, the boy responded; there can't be an
inspector at every place where they catch fish.
Certainly not, but as long as there is no disease among fish, there
can be no diseased fish. We try to prevent the diseases. Now here, for
example, he continued, are a lot of fish that have a kind of malign
growth. It comes very frequently among the trout and salmon that are
artificially raised, and sometimes we find it among fish that have been
reared in a state of nature, and I have been working for some time on
this and I hope this yearor at all events by next seasonto be able
to show the cause of the disease. That is really my problem, Colin, but
the details of it are too complicated to explain easily. But you have
come at a particularly good time, he continued, because I have been
wanting to do an experiment which I thought might interest you, and I
waited until you came. If you like, we'll go out to-morrow.
I should, ever so much, Colin exclaimed. What's the experiment?
When the salmon come in from the sea, the professor began, there
is a great deal of hesitation among them sometimes before they go up
the river to spawn, and we want to find out whether they go back to the
sea again, whether they swim directly up the stream, or whether they
remain in the brackish water at the mouth of the river.
If you don't mind my saying so, what is the use of knowing? asked
Colin. I mean, what does it matter as long as the salmon spawns?
The salmon is one of the most important food fishes of the
country, the professor said rebukingly, and it is as important for us
to know all about its habits as it is to know about the way a grain of
I hadn't thought of that, Colin said, a little shamefacedly. I
suppose everything really is important, no matter how small.
The professor smiled at him.
If you have much to do with studying fish, he said, or, indeed,
with any kind of science, you will find out it is always the little
things that tell the story. Take the grain of wheat again. If one kind
of wheat ripens two days earlier on an average than another kind, you
might think that so small a difference wouldn't be of great importance,
but those two days mightand often domake the difference between a
good crop and one which is frost-bitten and spoiled.
That's a lot easier to see, agreed the boy. But, sir, he
objected, you can pick out one little bit of a field and work on that,
and it will 'stay put.' Fishes wander all over the place.
We want them to do so, my boy, was the reply.
How can you work on separate fish? One looks so like another!
And for that very reason we're going to tag them.
With a little aluminum button fastened to their tail, just as bad
youngsters fasten a tin can to a dog's tail. Every tag has a number,
and we use aluminum because it corrodes rapidly in salt water.
Then I should think, said Colin, that was the very reason why you
shouldn't use it.
Why not? asked the professor mildly. We know that the salmon are
not going to stay in the salt water, because they are going up the
river to spawn. If, therefore, we catch a fish in the nets higher up
stream, with the tag bright and shining, we know that it hasn't been in
salt water at all; if dull and just a little worn away, that the fish
with that tag has been staying in the brackish water near the mouth of
the river; but if it is deeply corroded, that the fish returned to sea
for a time. As you see, a good deal of information is gathered that
way. But in the morning you will have a chance to see how it is done,
and then the resultswhen they are publishedwill seem more
Have you been associated with the Bureau of Fisheries, Professor
Podd? Colin asked.
Not directly, the other replied. I should have enjoyed it, and it
seems to me a work of the first importance, but every man is apt to
think that about his own work, or work that is like his own. But I can
tell you what decided me, nearly twenty years ago, to give all my spare
time to the fishery question.
What was that? asked Colin.
It was a phrase in a lecture that Dr. Baird, the founder of fish
culture in America, was giving about the need of the work. He pointed
out that there was more actual life in a cubic foot of water than in a
cubic foot of land, and closed by saying, 'The work of conserving the
Fisheries of the United States will not be finished until every acre of
water is farmed as carefully as every acre or land.'
I never quite thought of it as farming, said the boy.
Nor had I, before that time, the professor said. But ever since
then I have seen that we of the present time are the great pioneers,
the discoverers, the explorers of this new world. Instead of blazing
our trail through a wilderness of trees we dredge our way through a
wilderness of waters; instead of a stockade around a blockhouse to
protect us against wild beasts and wilder Indian foes, we have but a
thin plank between us and destruction; instead of a few wolves and
mountain-lions to prey upon the few head of stock we might raise, we
have thousands of millions of fierce, finny pirates with which to do
battle, and we work against odds the old pioneers could not even have
That's great! cried Colin, his eyes shining.
The surface of the sea, the professor continued, warming to his
subject, reveals no more of its mystery than the smoke cloud above the
city tells the story of the wild race of life in its thronging streets,
or than the waving tips of a forest of mighty trees reveal the myriad
forms below. Each current of the ocean is an empire of its own with its
tribes endlessly at war; the serried hosts of voracious fish prey on
those about them, fishes of medium depth do perpetual war upon the
surface fish, and some of these are forced into the air to fly like
birds away from the Nemesis below.
And much is still unknown, isn't it?
We are discovering a new world! was the reply. No one for a
moment can deny the greatness of the finding of America, and Columbus
and the other early navigators are sure of immortal fame, but even so,
what was the New World they found to the illimitable areas of unknown
life, in the bottom of the sea, that have been made known to man. Think
of the wonder that has been revealed by the Challenger and other
ships that have explored the ocean beds!
There is still a great deal unknown, isn't there?
Still an unknown universe! Lurking in the utter darkness of the
scarce-fathomed deeps of the ocean, what Kraken may not lie, coil on
coil; what strange black, slimy, large-eyed forms do their stealthy
hunting in perpetual night by the light of phosphorescent lamps they
bear upon their bodies? Many of these there are, every year teaches of
new species. The landoh! the land is all well known, even the Arctic
and Antarctic regions no longer hide their secrets, but the ocean is
inscrutable. Smiling or in anger, she baffles us and her inmost shrines
are still inviolate.
The professor checked himself suddenly, as though conscious of
having been carried away by enthusiasm.
We'll try and get at some of the secrets to-morrow, he said, but
it will mean early rising, as the trap is to be hauled at slack water.
Acting on the hint, Colin bade his host good-night, but his sleep
was fitful and restless. The sudden passionate speech of the grave
scholar had been a revelation to the boy, and whereas he had felt a
desire for the Fisheries Bureau before, he knew now that it had been
largely with the sense of novelty and adventure. But the professor's
words had given him a new light, and he saw what an ideal might be. He
felt like a knight of the olden time, who, watching his armor the vigil
before the conferring of knighthood, had been granted a vision of all
his service might mean. He knew that night that the question he was to
ask his father could have but the one answer, that the great decision
of his life was made, his work was cut out to do.
Shortly after daybreak the next morning, Colin was called and he
dressed hurriedly. After a hearty breakfast in which steel-head trout
figured largely, he went down to the pier on the water and was not
sorry to have the chance of showing his host that he was a good
How large is the work of the Bureau now, Professor? asked Colin,
as the light craft shot down the magnificent stretches of the Columbia
Over three and a half billion eggs and small fish were distributed
last year, if I remember rightly, was the reply. Of course, a large
proportion of these fish did not reach maturity, but perhaps half a
billion did so, and half a billion fish is an immense contribution to
the food supply of the world.
But aren't there always lots of fish in the sea? asked Colin.
When you come to compare land with water it always looks as though
there must be so many that the number we catch wouldn't make any sort
of impression on them.
Think a bit, said the professor. You've just come down from the
Pribilof Islands. How did you find matters up there? Had the catching
of seals been harmful, or were there so many seals still in the sea
that it didn't matter what line of hunting went on?
Of course, pelagic sealing had nearly killed off the entire
species, said Colin, but, somehow, fish seem different. Oh, yes, I
know why. Seals only have one pup at a time and fishes have thousands
That's a very good reply, the professor agreed, but why was it
that pelagic sealing was so bad? Was it done all the year round?
[Illustration: MILLIONS OF THESE HATCHED YEARLY.
Brook Trout just hatching, showing fry with egg-sacs still attached.
Courtesy of the National Geographic Magazine.]
No, said Colin, principally when the females were coming to the
And the Pribilof Islands are only a small place. Especially when
compared to the range of oceans the seal cover during the rest of the
Then, said the other, it is easy to see that the respective size
of land and water has very little to do with the general fishery
question. But if a seal or a fish must come to the land or to narrow
rivers to spawn, it follows that man possesses the power to determine
whether spawning shall continue or not, doesn't it?
Yes, agreed Colin, I suppose it does.
And if you protect the seals, the herd will increase.
It ought to.
Very good. That is just the work we are doing here. The salmon come
into fresh water to spawnjust like shad and a number of other species
of fishand when you kill a salmon just about to ascend the river, you
destroy at the same time the thousands of eggs she bears.
But I thought salmon were always caught running up a stream? said
Colin in surprise.
They are, was the quick response; by far the larger number are
caught that way, and as long as a certain proportion go up the stream
there's no great harm done. But if every one of the salmon is caught,
as happens when nets are put all the way across a stream, there will be
none to spawn, and in a few years there will be no fish in that river.
Do the fish always return, when grown up, to the river in which
That is disputed. But the large proportion of such fish do not
travel very far from the mouth of the river in which they were born and
the natural impulse for fresh water at spawning-time leads them
naturally to the nearest stream. So, it is imperative that some fish be
allowed to go up-stream, or in other words, that salmon-catchers allow
a certain proportion to escape their wheels and nets.
They ought to be willing enough to do that, I should think, said
Colin; it's for their own good in the long run.
A lot of them want quick profits now, without any regard for the
future, his host said scornfully. Of course, there are laws for
fishery regulation in many of the States, but inspectors have their
hands full in preventing violations. In Alaska, which is a territory
still, that supervision is done by the government through the Bureau of
It must be a little aggravating to the salmon men, just the same,
said Colin thoughtfully, when they are trying to keep their canning
factories going full blast, to have to allow half the catch to go on up
the stream. But, he continued, why don't they catch the salmon coming
down the stream again? I should think that would settle the whole
It would, said the professor, if they came down! But they don't.
Every single salmon, male and female, that goes up the river in the
spawning season dies up there. None of them ever comes down alive.
I don't think they did that way in Newfoundland! ejaculated Colin
in surprise. When I was staying with my uncle there I saw lots of
salmon, and it seemed to me that they went down the river again.
They did, was the reply. The Atlantic or true salmon does not die
after spawning, but not a single fish of any one of the five different
kinds of Pacific salmon ever spawns twice. Every yard of the shores of
the upper reaches of Pacific coast rivers is covered almost solidly
with dead salmon from September to December!
It makes some places uninhabitable, the professor replied. Where
a market is near enough, the dead fish are collected and sold for
Is it the fresh water that kills them?
No, was the reply; that is one of the most curious features of
the life-history of the Pacific salmon. As soon as the fish are nearly
ready for spawning, all their digestive parts shrivel up, so that they
can't eat. In the male salmon, too, the end of the upper lip turns into
a sort of hook so that the fish can't even open his mouth wide enough
to eat anything. Then in the fresh water their scales turn slimy and,
as they often get injured trying to leap falls and rapids, all sorts of
skin diseases attack them. A salmon in the upper reaches of the
Columbia headwaters is a pitiful wreck of the magnificent fish that
entered it to spawn.
Do they go far?
As much as a thousand miles, was the reply. The quinnat and blue
backor the spring and the sockeye, as they are generally known, take
the long journeys, but the silver or coho, and the humpback and dog
salmon keep to the small streams near the sea. The young fry cannot
live in salt water and the instinct of the salmon is to swim up-stream
as far as possible, no matter what obstacle is in the way. When they
have gone to the very limit, the salmon make pits and holes in the
gravel and sand at the bottom of the stream for nests, and drop the
eggs in these. The male salmon immediately afterwards floats over the
nests and does his share in making sure that the eggs will hatch out.
How big are the salmon? asked the boy.
You'll have a chance to see, the professor answered, as he swung
the canoe in to the wharf, at the state hatchery station, because
we're going to measure the ones we tag this morning.
The foreman and one of the men of the station were waiting for them
in a good-sized motor boat, towing behind which was a curious-looking
affair composed of two small barrels fastened together by long slats.
Don't you know what that is? queried the professor, noting Colin's
That's a live car. The barrels at each end have enough water in
them to sink them to a certain depth. Then the slats, as you see, are
nailed two-thirds of the way around the barrels, leaving just enough
space for the water to flow in and out freely. They put the fish in
that to tow them home alive. The slats are better than netting because
sometimes the fishes catch their scales in the meshes and get hurt.
The run to the fish-trap was made in a few minutes, and the boat
went inside to the 'pound,' the net was partly hauled up, and the
professor took out his punch and the buttons. Colin had put on a pair
of rubber boots and oilskin trousers, as had all the rest of the party,
and he was ready for anything that came along.
Do you want my slicker? the professor asked him. You're apt to
I don't mind a bit, thanks, answered the boy, rolling up his
sleeves; a little shower-bath will feel good on a hot day like this!
All right, then, the leader of the party declared, we'll give you
a chance to make yourself useful. Here you are!
Colin took the large flat-bottomed net and awaited further
Catch one of the salmon, he was told; never mind the rest of the
fish. And, he was warned, don't bring the net clear out of the
Very well, sir, the boy replied, then his curiosity getting the
better of him, he asked, Why not?
Because if you do, the salmon will struggle against the meshes of
the net, bruise himself, and probably scrape off some scales. I told
you how easy it is for a fish to get diseased if he loses any of his
scales. If you keep the net about four inches below the water, the fish
has the resistance of the water to fight against, and it will tire him
out quickly without doing any harm.
All right, Colin answered, and commenced scooping for the fish. In
a minute or two he had a large twenty-pounder in the net and he raised
it until the bottom was a little below the water, as he had been told.
You're right about getting wet! cried Colin, laughing, as the
salmon began to whirl and plunge and dance in the net, sending a shower
of water all over him and nearly blinding him by the force with which
the drops of water struck as they were splashed upwards by the powerful
strokes of the fish's tail.
The instant the salmon stopped struggling, the hatchery boatman
seized it by the tail with a strong grip, swung it clear out of the net
and over his left arm, laying it immediately on the measuring platform.
This consisted merely of a wide board with an upright at one end, a
rule giving both metrical and standard measures being nailed to the
side of the board. Instantly the measurer called out the length and the
professor noted it down, the hatchery foremanfamous for his
expertness in judging the weight of a fishcalling out the weight to
be recorded. Laying down his pencil, the professor then, with a small
punch, made a tiny hole in the tail-fin of the salmon, the fish having
been thrown over the captor's left arm again, slipped an aluminum
button through the hole, and riveted it securely. The entire process
took less than a minute and a half, and by the time the salmon had been
released and tossed into the water again, Colin was ready with another
I don't see why the fish don't die as soon as they come out of the
water! exclaimed Colin.
For nearly a minute, some fish breathe better out of the water than
in it, the professor answered, but after that the gills stick
together and the fish strangles. Two or even three minutes will not
injure salmon, and some fish will recover if they are out of water for
hours. Indeed, there are some fish that live out of water most of the
Live out of water? the boy said in surprise.
Certainly. Some kinds of fish, at least, can't stay in the water
very long, but remain perched up on the rocks.
Perching like birds? Colin said incredulously.
I know that sounds a little improbable, but it's true, just the
same, the professor said, smiling. This is a Fisheries story, not a
'fish story.' There's a difference. They come from Samoa and belong to
the skippy family. Most of them live on the rocks, and they jump from
rock to rock instead of swimming. Some of them even are
vegetarianswhich is rare among fishand their gills are smaller and
stouter. Plenty of them are only in the water for a little while at
high tide, living in the moist seaweed until the tide rises again.
Colin was silenced, and he went on vigorously dipping up salmon.
How many fish are you going to tag? the boy asked, when a couple
of hours had passed by.
Sixty, the professor answered, and we must be nearly through, for
I have only a few buttons left.
Secretly the boy was much relieved, for his back was tired from
stooping and netting heavy fish for two hours, but he would have worked
to utter exhaustion rather than complain. However, within another
quarter of an hour, the last fish was dropped over the side and the
party was on its return journey.
Why don't you stop and see the hatchery? suggested the professor,
in return to a host of questions put to him by the boy concerning
I'd like to, ever so much, if I might, was the answer, and Colin
looked up at the foreman.
Come right along, was the latter's immediate response. It isn't
much of a place to look at, but you can see whatever there is to see.
The hatchery itself was simple and bare, as the foreman had
suggested, consisting merely of a row of boxes arranged in such a way
that water flowed through them constantly, bringing a steady supply of
fresh water without carrying away the light eggs and tiny fry. Colin
was thoroughly interested, and followed the foreman from place to
place, eagerly watching the processes of hatching the fish and asking
[Illustration: HATCHERIES IN MAINE FOR LANDLOCKED SALMON.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Here, the man said, after he had answered a dozen or more queries.
I'll show you just how it's done and you'll learn more from watching
than I could tell you in a week of talk.
He led the way to a large pond not far from the hatchery, which was
connected with a small stream, the water of which was almost entirely
It's a little early yet for the autumn run, the foreman said, but
maybe there's some salmon ready for their eggs to be taken. We'll have
a look, anyway.
Are there any chinook in there? queried Colin, who was feeling a
little proud of the knowledge he had acquired that morning as to the
way of distinguishing the varieties of salmon.
Don't want chinook, was the reply; they have got to go away up
the river to spawn and wouldn't be in shape if we tried to use them
here. We only raise humpback and dog here, the hatcheries for chinook
and silver salmon are away up the river.
Run by the State or the Government? queried the boy.
Both, was the reply, and quite a few are managed by commercial
fish companies who are as anxious as any one to see that the annual
salmon run does not grow smaller. Their living depends upon it.
At his request one of the men commenced scooping up some of the
salmon in the pool to see if any of them were ripe, and meantime the
foremanwho was still wearing his oilskinspicked up a tin pail,
holding it between his knees. In a minute or two the man came in
holding a ripe female salmon.
Now watch, the foreman said to Colin, and you can see the whole
He seized the salmon by the tail, and all the eggs ran down toward
the head. Then, holding the fish head upward, he pressed it slightly,
and the eggs ran out from the vent rapidly, striking the bottom of the
pan with considerable force. The foreman had hardly got the eggs when
his assistant came in with a male salmon, and the same plan was
repeated, the milt falling upon the eggs. Both male and female salmon
then were returned to the pool. The eggs and milt were shaken violently
from side to side until thoroughly mixed, a little water being added to
help the mixture. Then he took the pail to the faucet.
But you're washing the milt off again! cried Colin, as the foreman
filled the pail with water.
It's had plenty of time to work, was the answer, and the eggs were
poured into a flat pan and washed several times.
Now we'll put just a little water in the pan, the foreman
continued, and leave it here to swell.
Why should it swell? asked Colin.
The egg isn't really full when it comes from the mother fish, the
foreman answered, the yolk rattles around inside the shell, but after
it has been mixed with the milt, it begins to suck up water, and in
about half an hour it's full.
What happens next? queried Colin.
That's about all. We put the eggs in frames so that the water has a
chance to circulate freely, and then we go over the frames once or
twice a week to pick out any eggs that may happen to die or not to grow
How long does it take before a fish comes out? Colin asked
interestedly. About a couple of weeks?
Weeks! was the surprised answer; we look for hatching to begin in
about five months, and during all that time every tray of eggs is
picked over once or twice a week. That keeps dead eggs from infecting
You must keep them a long time, then?
Nearly a year altogether. Those in that trough right behind you are
just hatching, they're from the first batch of spawn in the early
spring run. Most of them are hatched out now, for you see only a few
eggs in the tray.
Colin looked in and saw, as the foreman said, only half a dozen eggs
left in the tray, while in the shallow water of the trough below were
hundreds of tiny fish, like transparent tadpoles still fastened to the
yolk of the egg. Some, which were just hatched, were less than
three-quarters of an inch long, and scarcely able to move about in the
water because of the great weight of the yolk about the center of their
bodies. A few had consumed a large part of the sac.
It'll take them about six weeks to get rid of the yolk, the
foreman said, anticipating the boy's question, and if they were in a
natural stream they would be able to look after themselves. We feed
them tiny grubs and worms and small pieces of liver. From that time on
it is merely a question of giving them the proper food and keeping the
troughs clean. When they are five or six months old we set them free.
Do you do any work except salmon hatching here? Colin asked, as,
after a morning spent in the station, they walked toward the pier.
No, the foreman answered, we distribute a million and a half
young fish every year and that keeps us busy enough.
Well, said Colin, shaking hands, I'm ever so much obliged, and I
really feel now as if I knew something about a hatchery. And I've had a
share in one experiment, anyway!
On his return to the cottage he found the professor getting out
Going out again? queried Colin.
I thought you might like to try a little sport-fishing, was the
answer; you said you were going down to Santa Catalina, and you might
as well get your hand in. You can stay over another day, can't you?
I suppose I could, Colin answered, and I should like to catch a
really big salmon with a rod and line, not only for the fun of it, but
because I happen to know that Father's never caught one, and I'd like
to beat him out on something. It's pretty difficult, though, to get
ahead of Dad!
The professor shook his head with mock gravity.
That's not a particularly good motive, he said, and I don't know
that I ought to increase any boy's stock of conceit. It is usually
quite big enough. But maybe you won't catch anything, and I'll chance
Oh, but I will catch one, Colin declared confidently; I'm going
to try and get one of the hundred-pounders that I've read about.
You'll have a long sail, then, his host replied, because fish of
that size don't come far south of Alaskan waters. Twenty-five or thirty
pounds is as big as you can look for, and even those will give you all
the sport you want.
Very well, Colin responded, a little abashed, I'll be satisfied.
It's rather a pity, the professor said, when, after lunch, they
had started for the fishing-grounds in a small catboat, that you
haven't had a chance to go up to The Dalles to see the salmon leaping
up the falls and the rapids. I think it's one of the most wonderful
sights in the world.
I've seen the Atlantic salmon jump small falls, Colin said, but I
don't think I ever saw one larger than ten or twelve pounds.
I have seen hundreds of them fifty to eighty pounds in weight
leaping at falls in the smaller Alaskan rivers. I remember seeing
twenty or thirty in the air at a time while the water below the falls
was boiling with the thousands of fish threshing the water before their
How high can they jump? asked Colin.
About sixteen foot sheer stops even the best of them, the
professor said, but there are not many direct falls like that. Nearly
all rapids and falls are in jumps of five or six feet, and salmon can
take that easily. Still, there is a fall nearly twenty feet high that
some salmon must have leaped, for a few have been found above it, and
they must either have leaped up or walked roundthere's no other way.
How do you suppose they did it?
In a very high wind, probably, the professor answered; a gale
blowing up the canyon might just give the extra foot or two at the end
of a high leap.
As soon as they were about four miles out, the sail was taken in
and, following the professor's example, Colin dropped his line over the
stern. The shining copper and nickel spoon sank slowly, and the boy
paid out about a hundred feet of line. Taking up the oars and with the
rod ready to hand, Colin rowed slowly, parallel with the shore. Two or
three times the boy had a sensation that the boat was being followed by
some mysterious denizen of the sea, but though in the distance there
seemed a strange ripple on the water, nothing definite appeared, and he
forgot it for the moment as the professor got the first strike.
With the characteristic scream, the reel shrilled out, and the fish
took nearly a hundred feet of line, but the angler held the brake so
hard that the strain rapidly exhausted the fish, and when it turned
toward the boat, the professor's deft fingers reeled at such a speed
that the line wound in almost as rapidly as the rush of the fish. As
soon as the salmon saw the boat it tried to break away, but its captor
had caught a glimpse of the fish, and seeing that it was not too large
for speedy action, reeled in without loss of time, and gaffed him
[Illustration: THIRTY-POUND ATLANTIC SALMON LEAPING FALLS AND RAPIDS
IN A NEWFOUNDLAND RIVER.
By permission of H. K. Burrison.]
[Illustration: EIGHTY-POUND PACIFIC SALMON LEAPING WATERFALL ON AN
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Small chinook, he said, as he tossed him into the boat.
He had hardly finished speaking before Colin made a grab for his
rod, and the catch was repeated in almost the same manner. This went on
until five fish had been caught, the last one, which fell to the
professor, putting up the most gamy fight of them all. But still it was
too easy for real sport.
The ripple which Colin had been watching had come nearer, and in the
catching of the last fish, the boat had been brought quite close to it.
Then, noiselessly, and like a strange vision, out from the
undulating ripples rose slowly a creature more fantastic than the boy's
wildest dreams. The head was green, with large unwinking, glittering
eyes. In slow contortions, the body, of a transparency that showed the
light through, writhed like a tremendous ribbon-snake, and a sharp row
of serrated fins surmounted all its length, from which, near the head,
scarlet streamers floated like a mane. A moment thus it held its head
erect, then sank below the surface. The boy sat with his eyes fixed
upon the spot where he had seen this weird appearance, unknown and
Colin, said the professor, and his tone was so imperative that the
boy turned sharply, what is the matter? What are you watching?
I don't know, sir, said the boy; I don't know much about fish,
and I was waiting until it came nearer. I was going to say
He stopped suddenly.
What? asked the professor, a little impatiently.
You'd laugh at me, the boy answered.
I saw a big green head with large eyes and spines on its back put
its head out of the water, Colin said doggedly, and it had a bright
red mane. I couldn't think of anything butbut,he hesitated and
then gulped out,a sea-serpent.
He half feared to look at his companion, feeling that a pitying
smile would greet his news, but after a few seconds' silence, he
glanced up and saw that his fellow-fisherman was looking grave and
thoughtful. At that instant the boy felt a quick snap at his line and
he struck, the salmon whirling away instantly. It was a good fight, and
the fish was full of grit, sending a curious thrumming sensation up the
line that set every nerve aquiver. At last he got the fish stopped, and
had just started to reel the big salmon in, when the apparition thrust
its head out of the water not twenty feet from the boat. It distracted
Colin's attention, and a few seconds later his line snapped.
The salmon's got away, said Colin disgustedly.
What does that matter? said the professor. We've something else
Catch your sea-serpent, was the reply, as the older man pointed to
the green and scarlet gleam in the water.
It must be thirty feet long, Colin said, then realizing that his
tone suggested that he was afraid, he added boldly, but I'm game. What
is it, anyway?
You're not so far off in calling it a sea-serpent, his companion
said; at least, it's more like the fabulous monster than any other
fish that we know.
But how are you going to catch it? the boy asked.
By hand, the professor replied, slipping off his outer clothes.
You mean you're going in after it? queried the boy with amazement.
Certainly, the other answered; it's harmless enough.
It doesn't look it, said Colin, but he was not to be outdone, and
prepared to follow his host into the water.
They ran the boat close to the creature, which swam but feebly
despite its immense length, and the professor plunged over the side,
holding the loop of a rope. A few strokes took him to the long,
ribbon-like form, which was not thicker than a man's body, and he threw
his arms about it, back of the head. The fish struggled weakly, but the
professor did not let go, and in a few seconds Colin had brought up the
boat. He then took the rope, which had been passed around the soft and
flabby body. Then, jumping overboard also, the boy helped the professor
lift the fish from below, for the flesh was so soft that a rope would
cut right through it. With great exertion, for the creature was heavy,
they got it on board, half swamping the boat in doing so. Despite its
size, the strange visitor from the deep seemed scarcely able to
struggle and lay motionless in the boat.
What is it? asked Colin, as he gazed on the snake-body and the
strange head which, with its brilliant crimson mane, was reminiscent of
some fiery horse of ancient legend.
What can it be? he repeated wonderingly.
An oarfish, the professor answered.
That isn't what I think it is, Colin replied. I'm sure it's
something quite different.
What? asked the professor, smiling.
I believe something has killed the sea-serpent at the bottom of the
sea and this is its ghost!
CHAPTER V. CLUTCHED BY A HORROR OF
In order that the valuable specimen of the oarfish might be properly
preserved, for the creature was so soft-fleshed that it would quickly
shrivel in the hot sun, the professor accompanied Colin to Astoria the
following morning, and shortly after they landed, the city was buzzing
with news of the wonderful find. Before the boy left for Santa Catalina
that evening he found his name in all the afternoon papers as being one
of the men who had caught the sea-serpent. As this was the first
specimen in perfect preservation that had reached any city of the
United States and, indeed, only the sixth ever reported from American
shores, a great deal of interest was excited, and Colin was compelled
to give an interview to a reporter, telling the story of the capture.
He was sorry that his brotherto whom he had sent the blue foxwas
not with the rest of the family in Santa Catalina, so that he could
tell him all about it, but the younger lad was at a boys' camp.
Making a stay of only a couple of hours in Los Angeles, the boy went
from there straight to San Pedro, where he took the steamer for Avalon,
the only large town on Santa Catalina, and the most famous place in the
entire world for taking big game fish with rod and reel.
The passage was only of two hours' duration, and the weather ideal.
The water of the channel was like a mirror, but the daily breeze sprang
up at eleven o'clock, its accustomed hour.
Although no more attentive to scenery than most boys of his age,
Colin fairly cried aloud with admiration as the steamer rounded the
point and turned into Avalon Bay. Almost a perfect semicircle, the
beach of glistening white sand enclosed a basin of turquoise sea in
which were reflected the dark, rich tones of the cliffs, all glowing
like an opal beneath the sun, while above rose the hills covered with
the wild lilac and greasewood of California. Even the tame sea-lions
which frequent the harbor and follow incoming boats, and which
frequently are to be seen hauled up on small fishing-craft, seemed to
fit wonderfully into the scene. A passenger who heard the boy's
exclamation of delight, turned to him.
That's the way I feel about it, he said. I think it more
beautiful every time I come.
It makes me think of an abalone shell, Colin remarked
thoughtfully, before the outside is polished; the bay looks just like
the glow of the shell inside and the sand-hills resemble the rough
outside of the shell, with barnacles growing on it.
Perhaps that is why it is called Avalon? his companion said;
abalone, Avalonit's not improbable, though I never heard such a
derivation before; the Vale of Avalon in Pennsylvania is supposed to
have been the prime factor in giving the name. But it's a wonderful
place in itself, and besides, there's not one of those hundreds of
boats moored in the harbor but could tell some thrilling tale of big
game at sea. Look, he continued, as the steamer drew near to the
entrance of the harbor, there's a chap who's hooked to something big.
By the way he's playing the fish it's probably a leaping tuna. Wait a
minute and I'll tell you.
He unslung his fieldglasses and focused them on the boat.
Yes, he's got a tuna, he continued, for the flag is flying.
The news spread rapidly over the boat, for almost every one on board
was going to Avalon for the angling, and the capture of a large tuna is
an event. The glasses were handed from person to person, and presently
were passed to Colin, who noted with eager interest the little
motor-boat and the big flag. Then he turned the glass on the people in
the boat, and flashed out excitedly:
[Illustration: SEA-SERPENT STRANDED ON CALIFORNIA COAST.
Showing length of small specimen and its semi-transparency.
By permission of Prof. David Starr Jordan.]
[Illustration: THE SEA-SERPENT CAUGHT BY COLIN.
Oarfish, thirty feet in length, with flaming red upstanding mane,
and a knife-like body less than three inches in thickness.
By permission of Prof. David Starr Jordan.]
Why, that's Father!
He's in luck, then, said the boy's companion. I hope I get a
chance this season. Still, it's a good omen, seeing a catch like this
when coming into the harbor.
Sure thing, said Colin confidently, there are probably lots of
them this season. Do you suppose Father will land him?
About nine out of ten get away, was the reply, and it takes a
good fisherman to bring them to the gaff. Has your father been here
before? Perhaps I may know him.
He comes nearly every year, Colin answered. Dare is his name,
Oh, you're Dare's son, are you? was the response, as the older man
held out his hand. I've known your father for years. He holds a blue
tuna button, doesn't he?
I've never heard of it, if he does, Colin answered. What's that
It is the greatest fishing honor that is to be got anywhere. Only
about seventy members of the club have gained it; two, I believe, being
women, and the second largest tuna ever caught on rod and line was
brought to gaff by a woman angler. It is given for catching a tuna
weighing over one hundred pounds, on a light rod.
That must be fearfully hard to do, the boy said; even a
twenty-pound fish is a strain to a light rod.
It is difficult, was the reply, but the club rules require the
use of a rod the tip of which shall be not less than five feet long,
weighing not over sixteen ounces in weight, and a line not over a
'twenty-four' or smaller than the usual trout-line. With this
equipment, to conquer a tuna weighing over one hundred pounds is an
angling achievement of the highest rank, and for this the blue tuna
button is given by the club.
And Father never told me! Colin said reproachfully, watching the
contest with the fish as well as he could considering his distance from
the scene of action.
Major Dare is a thorough sportsman, the angler said, and I
suppose he thought it would look like boasting. What's happening there
in the boat?
It looks as though they had started out to sea, Colin answered,
handing back the glass.
That's what's the matter! the angler said. By Jonah's whale, how
she is flying through the water!
The two watched the boat until a turn of the cliff hid it from sight
and then, Colin, turning round, saw that the steamer was nearly at the
pier, close enough for him to distinguish his mother and sister waiting
there and waving to attract his attention. He signaled enthusiastically
in reply, and in a few minutes the steamer was alongside the wharf.
The greeting was most exciting, for the boy was simply bursting with
news, and there had been a good deal of anxiety felt by his parents on
his behalf while he had been wandering in the Behring Sea. But their
talk was broken in upon by an enthusiastic angler friend, who begged
Mrs. Dare to come to the extreme end of the pier and watch the battle
with the big tuna.
Oh, Mother, eagerly said the boy, do you mind if I jump in a boat
so that I can go out and watch Father better? I'm sure he wouldn't
I think I would like to have you with me for a little while,
Colin, his mother said with a gentle smile, after you have been away
so long. But you are just the same, after all, eager to do everything
immediately. I know you would be happier in going, so you can desert us
if you like.
I don't mean that, Mother! said the boy, feeling a twinge of
No, I know. But you can tell us all the rest of your adventures
when you get back. Lucy quite thinks that you have become a sort of
Colin gave his little sisterof whom he was very fondan
unobserved hug, and then fairly sped down to the end of the pier and
called a boatman to take him off. The boatman, who was a native of the
place, and to whom everything connected with angling was an old story,
laughed at the boy's excitement.
Goin' to catch a tuna with your hands, sir? he asked, seeing that
the boy was not carrying any fishing-tackle.
No, the boy answered, but I just came in on the steamer and, as
we passed the point, saw Father's boat, and he seemed to have something
big on the line, so I want to go out and see the fun.
I heard Major Dare had a tuna this mornin', the boatman said,
casting off and starting the little engine, although there haven't
many of 'em showed up yet this season. Are you his son?
Yes, Colin answered, I'm the oldest.
I hope you're goin' to take after him, then, the boatman said
approvingly; he's a fine angler. Looks like the tuna was comin' in,
he continued a moment later, as the boat with the flag flying came
speeding into the harbor. But the fish was darting from side to side in
short rushes, and it was evident that he was tiring.
Hullo, Father, called the boy, as they came within hearing; are
you going to land him?
Is that you, Colin? his father answered, without taking his eyes
from his line, however. Glad to have you back. Yes, he continued,
answering the boy's question, I think I'll land him all right, but I'm
pretty well tuckered out, I hooked him over three hours ago.
Even recalling what the angler aboard the steamer had told him about
the sportsmanlike rules that obtain at Avalon, it seemed absurd to
Colin for any one to try and catch so heavy a fish as the tuna seemed
to be, with a rod and line that would be thought light for trout.
How big do the fish run here? he asked the boatman.
'Bout a thousand pounds for the biggest game fishes, them's black
sea-bass, the man answered; leastways there was an eight-hundred
pounder brought in, and lots of us have seen bigger ones.
But how can they catch fishes that size on a little bit of a
spindling rod and a line so fine you can hardly see it?
They don't, was the reply, not that big. The record black
sea-bass, rod and reel, that has been caught here was four hundred and
thirty-six pounds in the season of 1905. The biggest tunathey're the
hardest fighters of any fish that swimswas two hundred and fifty-one
pounds, caught in the season of 1900. I reckon Major Dare's fast to one
that's just a good size for sport.
You're getting him, Father! cried Colin, who had been watching the
contest with the fish, while listening to the boatman.
He's a fair size, said the boatman critically, but not one of the
really big ones, probably only about eighty or ninety pounds.
The fight came to a close sooner than Colin expected. Dexterously,
Major Dare reeled in his line during a moment's pause while the fish
sulked, bringing him to the surface, and his boatman, quick as a flash
of light, leaned over the side and slipped the long, slender hook, or
gaff, into the gills. But the end was not yet, for the tuna, with a
powerful shake of his head, nearly pulled the man overboard, shook out
the gaff, and commenced another panic-stricken rush.
Colin's father, however, with thumb on the brake of the reel, gave
him absolutely no leeway, and the tuna was stopped within twenty feet,
to be reeled in again. In the meantime, the gaffer had recovered his
weapon, and as the big fish was brought to the side of the boat, he
struck again, this time succeeding in holding against the rush of the
fish, though he was pulled elbow-deep into the water. Then, standing on
the gunwale, the gaffer lifted the head of the tuna and tilted the boat
over as far as was safe, sliding in the fish as he did so, accompanied
by the cheers of Colin. As soon as the tuna was fairly secure, a big
square of canvas was thrown over it to keep it from pounding and
threshing in the bottom of the boat.
That was bully, Father! said Colin, reaching out and shaking
hands; I'm glad I got here in time.
His father looked at him with a twinkle in his eye.
How the deuce did you know I was out here? he asked; I thought
the steamer was only just about due.
I saw you as we came into the harbor, Colin answered, and I
yelled loud enough to be heard 'way back in Los Angeles, but you didn't
pay any attention.
I thought I heard some one shouting a while back, his father said,
but I was busy then and didn't have time to see who it was.
How big is the tuna, do you think?
Not big enough to be listed. About eighty-five, I should say. What
about it, Vincente?
Little more, the boatman said; I think perhaps ninety.
Nothing of a record, you see, Colin, his father said, just a good
morning's sport. But I want to hear all about your doings. It seems to
me that you're developing into quite a sensational person with your
fights with whales, and your sea-serpents, and all the rest of it.
You've been writing good letters, too, my boy. I'm glad to see that you
make use of your eyes when you're in strange places. Tell me how you
got to Astoria, I didn't quite follow that salmon business.
Colin started his yarn, but was only fairly launched into it when
they arrived at the wharf. There quite a crowd had gathered to welcome
the incoming boat, for a big tuna catch always arouses interest in
Avalon, and one of its features is the manner in which it is regarded
as a personal triumph for the angler. The promenaders gather to see the
prize weighed by the officials of the club, and it is rare that the
customary photograph of fish, angler, and gaffer is omitted. As for
Colin, he was as proud over the fish he had seen caught as though he
had held the rod himself.
I had thought of going to the other side of the island for black
sea-bass to-morrow, Colin, his father said, and I purposed going with
Colonel Roader. I suppose you would like to come instead, and from what
I hear I think I'll put off that trip and try tuna again to-morrow. You
want to come along?
I certainly should, Father, the boy said gratefully, if it
wouldn't be spoiling your fun.
Not a bit, my boy, was the kindly reply, I've been looking
forward to teaching you something about real fishing. Beside which, I
have an idea that you and I will have enough to talk about to keep us
going for a good while. I'd like to take you up to the club-house now,
but you'll probably want to get back home, and we'll go along together.
I can get the boatman to look after notification at the club, and all
that sort of thing.
I'll wait, if you like.
No; Vincente knows all the ropes as well as I do. I judge from your
letters that you've enjoyed running around the way you have?
I wish you'd been along, Father, the boy replied. I've had a
bully time. I never expected anything like it when I got aboard the
I didn't either, said Major Dare dryly; if I had thought of the
possibility of the ship being rammed by a whale, you'd never have put a
foot on her deck. But Captain Murchison said that whales were entirely
harmless, and so I let you go.
But, Father, you should have seen the way the old whale
chargedand the lad plunged into the thick of the story. He was
fairly out of breath when they reached the little cottage Major Dare
had rented for a couple of months, but the boy was by no means out of
material, and nothing short of an absolute command could keep him
silent long enough to eat his lunch. In the afternoon he unpacked his
trunk, revealing little quaint articles he had picked up on his travels
as gifts for the various members of the family. But the excitement of
home-coming had tired the boy, and quite early in the evening he found
himself getting sleepy, so that not long after his little sister had
been snugly tucked up, Colin announced his readiness to go to bed, on
the ground that he was to get up early the next day, as he was going
The morning broke hot and hazy. The gray-green of the foliage on the
mountains had a purple tinge in the early morning light, and the sea
took on a mother-of-pearl gleam behind its amethyst, as it reflected
the changing hues of the roseate sunrise. Over San Antonio and San
Jacinto the sun rose gloriously, and in the freshness of the morning
air the giant flying-fish of the Pacific leaped and gleamed across the
Colin drew a long breath and expanded his lungs to the full, as
though he could breathe in the glow of color and the wonder of it all.
It always feels good to be alive at this hour of the morning! he
His father smiled appreciatively.
You're generally asleep, he said. But it's a good thing we did
get up in time to-day, for unless my eyes are failing me, I think I can
see in the distance the tunas coming in. Say, Vincente, doesn't that
look like them over there?
Yes, sair, I t'ink dat's a school. I overheard a man on ze pier
telling of a beeg one he caught yesterday, said the boatman.
That was Mr. Retaner, was the answer, one of the most famous
anglers and authorities on fishing in America. That's why I came out
this morning; he said he thought the school would arrive soon, and what
Retaner doesn't know about fishing isn't worth knowing. He practically
created deep-sea angling in America, so that as an industry it is worth
millions of dollars annually to the country, and as a sport it has been
put in the first rank.
Across the sea of glass with its rose reflections of the sunrise and
the deep underglow of richly-colored life beneath the transparent
water, there came a quick shiver of ripples. Then half a mile away, but
advancing rapidly, appeared a strange turmoil, and in the sunlight, a
stretch of sea, acres in extent, was churned into white foam, looking
like some fairy ice-or snow-field. Above this, at a height of about ten
feet, glittered a palpitating silver canopy, almost blinding in its
sparkle and its sheen.
What is that? asked Colin, wondering.
The tuna feeding and coming down the coast, was the reply.
As it drew nearer, Colin saw that the gleaming silver canopy was
formed of thousands upon thousands of flying-fish, skimming through the
air, dropping to the water every fifty yards or so, then, with a single
twist of the screw-like tail, rising in the air for another soaring
Below, from the surface of the water broken to foam by the tumult,
would leap those tremendous jumpers of the sea, the tuna, plunging
through the living cloud of flying-fish, and dropping to feed upon
those which fell stunned under their impetuous charges. Occasionally,
but very rarely, a tuna would seize its fish in midair, and it was
marvelous to see a fish nearly as large as a man spring like a bolt
from a cross-bow out of the sea, often until it was ten feet above the
water, then turn and plunge back into the ocean.
We'd better get out of here, I think, Major Dare said to the
boatman; this is getting to be too much of a good thing.
But, as he said the word, the school of flying-fish swerved right in
the direction of the boat, and in a minute the anglers were surrounded.
The silent, skimming flight of the long-finned flying-fish, the boiling
of the sea, lashed to fury by the pursuing tuna, and these living
projectiles, hurled as a silvered bolt into the air, frightened Colin
not a little, although he was enjoying the experience thoroughly.
Look out you don't get struck by a flying-fish, his father called
to him, bending low in his seat. Colin, who had not thought of this
possibility, followed suit rapidly, because the California flying-fish,
unlike his Atlantic cousin, is a fish sometimes eighteen inches long,
and he saw that if he were struck by one in the full speed of its
skimming flight, he might easily be knocked overboard.
Can't they see where they are going? asked the boy.
They can see well enough, his father answered, but they have
little or no control over their flight. They can't change the direction
in which they are going until they touch water again. That's how the
tuna catches them, it swims under in a straight line and grabs the fish
as it comes down to get impetus for another flight.
But I thought flying-fish went ever so much higher than that! said
the boy. I'm sure I've read of their landing on the decks of vessels!
They do, was the answer; they are attracted by the glare of the
lights and fall on board. But that is generally on sailing vessels with
a low freeboard. You don't often hear of flying-fish falling on the
deck of a modern liner, and in the few cases in which they have, it has
been because they happened to come out of the water with a rush against
a slant of wind which carried them up twenty or thirty feet. They go
with an awful force, and I knew an angler once who was pitched head
first overboard by a flying-fish, and was nearly drowned before his
boatman could get him aboard. He had been struck square between the
shoulders and the blow had stunned him for the moment.
Suppose a chap got hit by a tuna? queried the boy.
That's less likely, the father answered, because, you see, the
tuna comes nearly straight up and down; he leaps, he doesn't skim.
Zere was one went t'rough a boat last season, Major Dare, the
boatman interjected. It was late in ze year, after you had gone, I
Had it been hooked? asked Colin.
No, sair, the boatman answered; tuna don't leap after zey are
hooked. It was when zey were chasing a school, just like this.
You're thinking of the tarpon, Colin, his father said; it leaps
wildly after it has been hooked. The tuna, although a wonderful leaper,
hardly ever rises from the water after it is fast to the line. But the
tarpon is a vicious fighter. A couple of years ago a boat was found
drifting in the Galveston fishing-ground off Texas, with a dead angler
and a dead tarpon. The fish had been hooked and had tried to leap over
the boat, striking the angler and breaking his neck, then had fallen
into the boat itself and had not been able to get out.
There's some excitement to fishing when it's like that! Colin
It's as good as big-game hunting any day, I think, his father
answered; and you don't have to travel for weeks out of civilization
to find it. Well, now, we'll give you a chance to show how much of the
angler you've got in you.
[Illustration: WHERE THE BIG TUNA WAS CAUGHT.
The Bay and City of Avalon, Santa Catalina Islands, Cal., the most
famous sport-fishing centre in the world.
By permission of Mr. Chas. Fredk. Holder.]
[Illustration: THE LARGEST SUNFISH ON RECORD.
Estimated at over 2500 pounds, caught off Avalon, Santa Catalina.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
He handed Colin a rod and the boy looked at it. It was nearly seven
feet long, and the whole weight of it, except for the short butt which
held the reel, was not more than sixteen ounces. The line was thin
enough to be threaded through a big darning-needle, it was known as '21
thread' as it had that number of strands, each strand being tested to a
breaking strain of two pounds.
Something will smash, sure, said Colin, examining the outfit
carefully; that looks as though it wouldn't hold a trout!
The rod is a split bamboo, his father said, and if the line
breaks it will be because you've allowed the fish to jerk. Anybody can
catch fish with a heavy line, but the fish hasn't got any chance, and
there's no sport in it. It's on a par with shooting quail sitting
instead of flushing them. Good angling consists in landing the heaviest
fish with the lightest tackle, not in securing the greatest amount of
fish. Why, here in Avalon, there isn't a single boatman who would allow
his boat to be used by a 'fish-hog' who wanted to use heavy tackle.
He had hardly finished speaking when there came a quiver on the
line, and excitedly Colin jerked up his rod.
Don't strike with a jerk! his father cried, but Colin was in
fortune, and the line did not break. The reel screamed z-z-z-ee with
the speed of its revolutions as the tuna sped to the bottom, and the
older angler, leaning forward, wetted thoroughly the leather brake that
the boy was holding down with his right thumb.
Easy on the brake, came the warning; don't put too much strain on
the line or she'll snap!
But Colin had the makings of an angler in him and he was able
instinctively to judge the amount of pressure that was needed. The
tuna, followed by a sheet of spume-blue water churned by the
rapidly-towed line, plunged on and on, until two hundred and fifty feet
of line had been run out. Then, from the ice-cold bottom, rising as a
meteor darts across the sky, the great fish clove the water to the
What will I do when he leaps? asked Colin breathlessly, reeling
for dear life as soon as he felt the upward dash of the tuna.
He won't leap after he's hooked, his father said; they very
seldom do. I told you that before. It's the tarpon that plunges and
leaps after being hooked.
The tuna reached the surface with a speed that seemed incredible to
the boy, and though he had been reeling as rapidly as he could make his
fingers fly, even the big multiplier on the reel had failed to bring in
all the slack. The tuna, panic-stricken by the strange line that hissed
behind him and which he could neither outrace nor shake off, tried to
charge the loops of twine that the reel had not yet been able to bring
in. The sea fairly seemed to boil as the fin of the tuna cut through
the water at the surface.
Look out now, Colin, the boy's father called. He'll see the boat
in a minute!
He did. On the instant he saw the launch and the three men in it,
and in the very midst of his charge, the body bent and shot into the
Watch out for the jerk! the older angler cried, and as the fish
reached the end of the slack line there was a sudden tug which Colin
felt sure meant a lost fish. But his father's warning had come in time,
and by releasing the thumb-brake entirely when the tug came, the reel
was free, and it rattled out another fifty feet, the boy gradually
beginning to apply the pressure again and to feel the tuna at the end
of the line.
One hundred, two hundred, three hundred feet of line reeled out at
this second great rush, and the older man began to look grave as the
big reel grew empty.
Ought I to try and stop him with the brake, Father? asked the boy.
Better not try too hard, came the cautious answer, the weight of
the line that is out is a heavy pull on him. Unless he's a monster
he'll have to stop soon.
Fifty feet more of line ran out before the rush stopped, and then a
change of action at the other end of the line telegraphed the message
to the boy's fingers that the tuna, for the first time in its life, had
felt fatigue. From over four hundred feet away Colin felt the call and
realized that now he might expect a victory if only he could keep up
the fight to the end and never make a slip. One error, he knew, would
be fatal; one jerk, and the line would snap, one strain too great, and
the strands would give way.
He began to reel in. His back ached and his fingers became cramped,
but still he reeled, every fifty feet or so having to let the line run
out as the tuna made a rush, so that a quarter of an hour's careful
bringing in would be spoiled in thirty seconds. In forty minutes of
heartbreaking strain, the boy had gained not more than forty feet of
line, but he was game and stuck to it manfully. Reeling in carefully,
the fish either sulking or resting, in the next few minutes he won his
greatest gain and pulled in until there was not more than one hundred
feet of line out. His heart was beating high with hope, when the tuna
sighted the boat again and darted away, apparently as fresh and full of
fight as when he had at first been hooked.
At this last rush, when it appeared that there was no immediate
slackening of the powers of the splendid fish, Major Dare said:
Do you want me to finish him for you?
In his inmost heart Colin feared that he would have to give up, but
he did not want to admit it. He was utterly inexperienced in the sport
and knew nothing of the many ways whereby older anglers relieve
themselves of much of the strain, but the boy's nerve was untouched,
and he set his teeth and answered:
I want to bring him in all by myself, if I can, Father. I'm not
done yet, not by a long shot. But if you think I ought to let you
finish it, why, I suppose I'll have to.
No, I want to see you bring him in, his father said; only don't
kill yourself at it. It's just as well not to overstrain yourself; it's
easy to have too much energy without judgment.
The boy's grit was soon rewarded, for after this rush, the tuna
changed his tactics, and sinking down to about thirty feet from the
surface, began a steady powerful swim, not a rush, but a straightaway,
having about two hundred feet of line out. To the boy's surprise the
boat began to slip along at a fair rate of speed, and he saw that
miracle of angling, a hundred-pound fish, frightened and angry, towing
a heavy boat with three people in it at a rate of five miles an hour by
a line no thicker than a hairpin. With constant watchfulness and deft
management, the boy was able to gain a few inches at a time. But a few
inches make but little difference when there is two hundred feet of
For over twenty minutes the tuna towed the boat, and then his mood
changed. Though not by any means exhausted, the first undaunted
freshness had worn off and, sulky and savage, the fish charged back at
the line again, that strange white thing in the water that he could not
shake off and that followed him no matter where he went. But in
charging back at the line, as before, he found the boat at the other
end of it. The return charge had been slower than before, and the big
multiplier on the reel had done its work, so that when the tuna came
near the boat not more than seventy feet of line was out, and the boy
determined to hold on to this.
Reaching the surface of the water, the tuna turned. But this time
there was no slack and the fish could not begin a rush. He would not
plunge in the direction of his captor, and Colin kept a steady strain
upon the line, forcing the tuna to swim round and round the boat. This
was fatal to the fish, for Colin was able to keep a sidewise drag upon
the line, giving the tiring creature no chance to turn its head and
You're playing very well! the boy's father approvingly said, as he
saw how, unconsciously, the lad was adopting tricks of angling some
experienced fishermen never really learn.
Colin flushed at the praise, and kept closer watch of the constant
strain on his line. The boatman, seizing every opportunity, ever and
again thrust the boat forward, giving the lad a chance to take in more
slack, so that the tuna swam in ever lessening circles. Suddenly he
made a sharp flurry and tried to dive. But the line was tight and the
brake held him closely, the lifting action curving the giant body in
spite of itself and preventing the dive.
The attempt had cost the fish full thirty feet of liberty, and the
boat was very near. With a little pumpingthat is, raising the rod
slowly, then dropping the point quickly and reeling in the foot or so
gained, the boy's father showing him how this should be doneColin
brought the fish still nearer. Once more the tuna came up to the
surface with a rush in order to get slack enough for a plunge. This
might mean that the whole performance would have to be done over again,
but again the fish was checked, Colin having the line reeled up almost
to the wire leader, and with a quickness that was wonderful in its
accuracy, the boatman neatly dropped the gaff under the jaws of the
tuna. There was a short, sharp flurry, but Vincente knew every trick of
the game and speedily brought the gallant fish on board.
Two hours an' ten minutes, sair, said the boatman. An' I t'ink,
sair, zat it's over a hundred.
You did splendidly, Colin, began his father. Why, what's the
matter? he continued in alarm, as the boy sank back in his seat,
looking pale and sick.
I'm a bit done up, that's all, the boy answered, gasping. His
hands were trembling so that he could not hold the rod, and his face
Buck fever, I suppose?
Yes, sair; he's all right in a minute, said the boatman. It does
zat every little sometimes, Major Dare. I've seen even ze old angler
get very much tired out after ze strain.
It's the reaction, said Colin's father, as he laved the boy's
forehead, and just as Vincente had said, in a moment or two the color
came back into the lad's cheeks and he straightened up.
Silly to act like that, he said. Then, seeing his father's look of
concern, he added, I feel as though I'd like some grub.
Kindly refraining from increasing the boy's embarrassment by
commenting on his exhaustion spell, the older man reached for the
basket and handed out a package of sandwiches. Two hours of excitement
and exertion in the hot sun, following a very early breakfast, had
affected Colin sharply, but boy-like, he was always ready for eating.
That was what I wanted, he said, as a few bites disposed of the
first sandwich and he took another.
The boatman nodded approvingly.
He's goin' to be fine angler, all right, he said. Major Dare, if
zat tuna's over a hundred, ze boy ought to get ze button. Zat's ze
right rod an' line an' it was caught accordin' to ze rules of ze club.
Could I really get a button? asked Colin excitedly, the very
thought driving away the last remnants of his attack of weakness. Is
it really a tuna? And is it over a hundred pounds?
It's a tuna without question, his father answered, but I'm not so
sure about the weight. If Vincente says it is, he's likely to be
Near one hundred and ten, I t'ink, the boatman answered, an' I'm
sure over one hundred. 'Bout one hundred, six or seven, I should
Do you want to put out the line again, Colin? his father asked.
Thank you, I've had enough for one day, the boy replied. Let's
see you get one, Father!
It was a great delight to lie back on the seat with the
consciousness of a great feat achieved, to watch the gulls and
sea-birds overhead and the flying-fish skimming the rippling sea. Major
Dare had excellent sport with a couple of yellowtailone of which was
played fifty minutes and the other thirty-fivebut the honors of the
day rested with Colin. It was nearly noon as the little launch came up
to the pier, and the sun was burning hot, but there were a score of
loungers on the beach to welcome them.
Any luck, Vincente? called a friendly boatman, as the little craft
Good luck, was the reply. Boy got a hundred-pounder!
Did, eh? exclaimed the other boatman, turning round to stare, and
Colin felt that this really was fame. Word was sent to a member of the
weighing committee of the club, and in his presence the fish was put on
the scales. It proved not to be as large as Vincente had thought, being
but one hundred and four pounds, but this was a clear margin over the
hundred, and Colin was just as well pleased as if it had been a hundred
He was eager beyond words to know what would be the verdict of the
club, but as the catch had been officially registered, was thoroughly
within the rules, and Major Dare was a valued member of the club, it
was unanimously agreed that a blue button should be awarded to Colin.
He was accordingly elected to junior membership and so received it. The
next two weeks passed all too quickly for the boy, for he got the
fishing fever in his veins, and if he had not been held in check, he
would have stayed on the water night and day. He made a very creditable
record, getting a thirty-pound yellow-tail and several good-sized white
sea-bass and bonito. But he never even got a bite from one of the big
black sea-bass, though his father made a splendid four-hour fight,
landing a two-hundred-pounder. The lad's tuna of a hundred and four
pounds, also, was far outdone by one his father caught ten days later,
which scaled exactly one hundred and seventy pounds.
Three times, in the next two weeks, Colin found himself again fast
to a tuna, but was unable to land any of the three. His first he lost
by jerking too quickly at the strike. The second walked away with his
entire six hundred feet of line at the first rush, and probably was a
fish beyond the rod and reel capacity, and the third broke the line
suddenly in some unexplained way, possibly, the boatman said, because
the tuna had been seized by a shark when down in thirty fathoms of
Does the tuna live on flying-fish only, Vincente? asked Colin of
the boatman, a couple of days before he was going to leave.
Mos'ly zey do, sair, I t'ink, was the reply, zat is, when zey can
get dem. But zey'll eat nearly any fish an' zey are quite fon' o'
squid. Some fishermen use squid for tuna bait, but I don't t'ink much
of ze idea.
Let's see, said the boy thoughtfully, a squid is something like
an octopus, isn't it?
Well, no, sair, not exac'ly, the boatman answered. Bot' of zem
have arms wavin' around, but zey look quite diff'rent, I t'ink. An' a
squid has ten arms, but an octopus has jus' eight.
Eight's enough, it seems to me, said Colin. And are there many of
them here? I suppose there must be if they use them for bait.
Yes, sair, zere is plenty of zem hidin' in ze kelp and ozzer
But how do you catch them? asked the boy. Isn't it dangerous?
Not a bit, sair, answered the boatman. I t'ink a squid can't do
any harm. In Newfoun'land, so some one tell me, zey run as big as sixty
and seventy feet, but in Santa Cat'lina, four or five feet from ze tail
to ze end of ze arms is as long a one as I have seen, I t'ink.
I'd like to go catching squid, just to see how it's done, said the
boy. The squid I've seen on the Atlantic coast don't often grow bigger
than twelve inches.
Catch plenty of zem, any evening you say, the boatman answered;
ze easiest way is to spear zem.
Bully! the boy answered; let's go to-night! I'll get leave, when
I go back to lunch.
When Colin proposed a squid-hunt, at first his mother objected,
saying she was sure such ugly-looking creatures must be poisonous, but
the father knew that this was not the case, and having every confidence
in Vincente, who was his regular boatman, he gave the desired
permission. Accordingly, after an early supper, Colin started out with
Vincente to a section of the shore. The tall, sharp cliffs jutted
straight out of the water, and far upon the crest were the
characteristic flock of goats browsing along paths impassable to any
other animal. Below the water lay the forest of giant kelp.
We s'all find some squid 'round here, the boatman said; and
sometimes zere are octopus, too, though ze mos' of zem are on ze rocks
a little furzer along.
We'd better get busy, I think, said Colin, it won't be so very
long before it begins to get dark.
We'll see, was the reply, and picking up his gaffing-hook,
Vincente prodded here and there amid the kelp. T'ought so, he added a
minute later, and pointed at the water.
I don't see anything, said Colin, looking closely. The water's
No mud, said the boatman, zat's sepia ink ze squid has squirted
so as to hide. Zey always do zat. Zere's probably a lot of zem zere,
for zey always keep togezzer.
Is that the real sepia ink, do you know, Vincente? the boy asked.
Ze squid, no; ze octopus, yes. Zere is two or t'ree people here zat
catch ze octopus an' sen' ze ink bags to Frisco. See, zere's squid!
As his eyes became a little accustomed to the reflections in the
weed, Colin was able to see ghostlike brown forms that seemed to slide
rather than swim through the water.
Do they swim backwards? he asked in surprise.
Always, I t'ink, said the boatman. Zey take in water at ze gills
and zey shoot it out from a pipe near ze mout', an' zat way zey push
zemselves along tail first. I'll bring ze boat closer to ze shore for
zey'll back away from ze boat an' get into shoal water where we can
Moving very slowly and beating the seaweed as they went, little by
little the two drove the hosts of squid back through the kelp to a
narrow bay, the water being turned to a muddy brownish-black by the
discharge of the ink-bags. The squid were of fair size, ranging from
one to four feet in length, of which the body was about one-third.
Presently Vincente's hand shot back a little and, with a quick throw,
he cast the 'grains,' as the small-barbed harpoon was called, into the
midst of them. Colin's eyes were not quick enough to see the squid, but
the boatman smiled.
Got him zat time! he said. Pull him in.
Without a moment's hesitation Colin grasped the rope that was
attached to the small harpoon.
Don't jerk, the boatman warned him; ze flesh isn't very tough an'
unless you pull steady ze spear will draw right out.
Suddenly Colin felt the rope tauten.
What's the matter? he said. I can't move it.
Ze squid has got hold of ze bottom, said the boatman with a laugh.
No, you can't move him. Nozzing move a squid, after he's got hold of
somet'ing. He'll hang on to ze bottom till ze end of ze world, an' he'd
let himself be cut to pieces before he'd let go his hold. Better jerk
ze spear out!
Colin gave a quick yank and the barbed harpoon came up with the
blade as clean as though it had never been plunged into anything.
Zere! the boatman cried, as Colin stood holding the 'grains,' one
great big one right under you!
Colin had no time for aim, but seeing a vague shadow below the boat,
he allowed for the refraction of the water, and threw the small barbed
spear with all his might. His cast was as clean as though he were
experienced, and as he grasped the rope he cried to the boatman with a
Don't let him get to anyt'ing solid, the boatman warned him. Jus'
keep him from zat an' you're all right. Don't play him like a fish.
Jus' pull him in.
This was child's play, for the squid's queer method of going through
the water offered no resistance and he was pulled up to the boat. But
no sooner had the cephalopod come within reach than the tables were
turned. With the speed of light the creature swung over, threw two of
its arms under the boat; one clasped the gunwale and others fixed
themselves on the boy's bare arms, while two waved freely as though
waiting a chance to twine around his neck and strangle him.
Colin yelled with fright. As the cold, clammy suckers crinkled
themselves into his flesh, the skin all over his body seemed to creep
in disgust. He had been bending over as he hauled up the rope and the
squid's tentacles around his arms held him poised half out of the boat,
his head not more than a foot and a half from the surface of the water,
looking straight into the hypnotic, black, unwinking eyes of the
The instinct of fright arose. Using all his strength, he raised his
right arm and grasped the tentacle that had been wound around his left
arm. To his surprise he found that a moderate amount of force only was
needed to pull the grasp of the tentacle free, and he released himself
from the creature almost without difficulty. Nor, except for a slightly
reddened spot on his arms, was there any outward evidence of the
Vincente reached down for the cephalopod, allowing it to wrap some
of the tentacles about him, then pried its grasp from the boat with the
handle of the gaff. He made no attempt to free himself from the squid,
but as he stood still for a minute or two, the creature voluntarily
released its hold, falling to the bottom of the boat.
Zey haven't any strengt' at all out of ze water, the boatman said,
but while swimming zey have a good deal. See, ze whole body of zat
squid isn't more zan two feet long, an' yet if he'd got a hold of you
in ze water, specially with ze bigger suckers on ze t'ick part of ze
arms, you might have had some trouble. Zose big fellows wit' bodies
twenty feet long an' arms t'irty feet, mus' be one horrible t'ing to
meet on a dark night.
But would they attack you?
Never, I t'ink, said the boatman. Ze biggest of zem hasn't a beak
large enough to take in a herring.
Well, Colin said, I suppose that really wasn't as exciting as it
seemed, but I tell you, for a while, I felt as if I was having all the
thrill I wanted.
You ought to try ze octopus, now, said the boatman with a chuckle;
zat is, if you've had enough of ze squids. It's early yet an' we might
go after some of zose octopuses zat hunt crabs.
I'm ready, said Colin. They won't get me by surprise, like that
The sun was near the horizon when Colin and the boatman landed on
the rocky shore, and the sunset colors were gorgeous. But Colin did not
want to run any chances of being caught napping, and he followed
Vincente, watching every move. Presently the boatman stopped and
pointed, like a dog flushing a covey of partridges.
About eight feet away was a crab of fair size, perhaps six inches
across the shell. Half-way between where they stood and the crab, right
on the edge of the water, was a small octopus with its large, glaring,
green eyes fixed on the crab. This was at first the only sight Colin
could get of the creature, but by looking into the water closely, he
was able to make out the vague shape of the octopus. The cuttlefish had
changed from its natural color to the exact hue of the sandy bottom on
which it was crawling, and it was advancing so slowly that its progress
could hardly be seen.
[Illustration: OCTOPUS CAUGHT AT SANTA CATALINA, TWENTY-TWO FEET
By permission of Mr. Chas. Fredk. Holder.]
[Illustration: SQUID CAUGHT AT SANTA CATALINA, 20 FEET IN LENGTH.
(In Newfoundland a species reaches 70 feet.)
By permission of Mr. Chas. Fredk. Holder.]
Suddenly, as a wave washed it within a few feet of the crab, two of
the tentacles darted out so swiftly that Colin could scarcely follow
the move until they were upon the crab, the rest of the body of the
octopus flattening itself upon the sand as though to secure a greater
purchase. The crab set both its claws into the soft flesh of the
tentacles, whereupon, with a series of horrible convulsions, the
cuttlefish lumbered entirely out of the sea and, with two or three
repulsive and sinuous gyrations, it forced itself bodily over the crab.
By this means the outstretched membranes at the base of the tentacles
smothered the movements of the prey and prevented escape, while at the
same time the mouth and biting beaks were brought into position where
they could find a vital part.
Do you want zat one as a specimen? asked the boatman.
Colin was conscious inwardly that he would have preferred to have
nothing at all to do with the repulsive object, but as he had come out
in pursuit of an octopus, he would not, for the world, have shown the
white feather before the boatman.
Yes, unless we find a bigger, he said, with an overdone assumption
I t'ink, sair, Vincente responded, zat we'd better be satisfied
wit' zis one. Shall I take it or will you?
There was just a hint of irony in the boatman's tone, and
remembering the timidity he had shown when clutched by the squid, Colin
felt that this was the chance to redeem himself.
I don't mind taking it, he said. You say these things are quite
Quite, sair, I t'ink, the boatman replied.
All right, was the boy's rejoinder, and he walked forward boldly
toward the octopus. The green eyes regarded him steadily, and just as
the boy stooped to grasp the slimy body, it seemed to gather itself in
a heap and started for the sea.
This was an unexpected move, but Colin, having stated that he wanted
that octopus, did not propose to be cheated out of it. He was surprised
that the cuttlefish could move so fast, and his repugnance gave way to
excitement as he started running after the writhing eight-armed
creature. He was just about to grab it when he tripped on a rock,
covered with slippery seaweed, and fell headlong, the fall throwing him
immediately upon the octopus. For a moment the boy was staggered, and
he never knew whether he had grabbed the cephalopod or whether it had
grasped him, all he knew was that he was lying on the ground with six
of the eight arms of the octopus around him.
The boy was just in time to throw up his hands to protect his eyes,
as a torrent of the inky fluid deluged him from head to foot. He
struggled to get up, but the two tentacles of the cuttlefish held fast
to adjacent rocks, and Colin might have found difficulty in freeing
himself, owing to the awkward attitude in which he had been caught, but
for Vincente, who wrenched the tentacles away from their hold.
Are you all right, sair? the boatman asked.
All right, said Colin stoutly, as he got up.
Seldom had he been such a sight! He was black from head to foot with
the sepia fluid, his clothes were torn where he had fallen on the
rocks, and he was smothered in the nauseous embrace of the uncanny and
diabolical eight-armed creature clinging to his shoulder. Once, on the
way to the boat, the cuttlefish seemed ready to drop off, but, at
Vincente's warning, Colin made believe to force apart the other
tentacles, and the octopus renewed its hold. As soon as they reached
the boat and the boy stood still a moment, the cuttlefish let go, and
fell to the bottom of the boat.
Colin looked down at himself and laughed, then jumped overboard in
all his clothes, threshing around in the water to remove as much of the
sepia as he could, clambering in when he had washed off the worst of
Vincente looked at him.
I t'ink, sair, he said, smiling, you ought to be photograph' wit'
CHAPTER VI. DEFEATED BY A SPOTTED
Colin's brilliant success at Santa Catalina, signalized by his
receipt of the tuna button, had so increased Major Dare's pride in him
that when the boy renewed his request that he be allowed to enter the
Bureau of Fisheries, his appeal received attention. The inspiration
that he had gained from the whole-hearted enthusiasm of the professor
was evident in all that the boy said, and his father was surprised to
find how much the lad really had learned about the work of the
Government during his experiences in the Behring Sea and on the
It doesn't appeal to me particularly, his father said quietly,
when the boy closed a somewhat impassioned petition, but we are each
built upon a different pattern. To me, fish are of interest as a food
and for sport. I couldn't be satisfied to take them up as a lifework.
There's no money in it; of course, you can see that.
There isn't in any government work, is there?
No, was the reply, big fortunes are always made in individual
ways. But when you're starting out in life, it is much more important
to be able to do the work you like than it is to seek only for money.
The principal thing I'm afraid of is that you will find it tiresome and
monotonous after a while. It's very hard work with a good deal of
manual labor involved, and there is nothing particularly attractive in
a bushel of fish-eggs!
But it's only on the start that you have to do the steady grind,
Colin objected, and one has to do that in every line of work. I know
you would very much rather I took to farming or lumbering, but I think
a fish is a much more interesting thing to work with than a hill of
corn or a jack-pine.
But don't you think you would find it tame after a while?
Colin leaned forward eagerly.
I know I wouldn't, he said confidently. I've heard you say,
Father, that everything was interesting if you only went into it deeply
enough. Now, there's more chance for real original work with fish than
in any other line I've ever heard of. The professor gave me an idea of
all the different problems the Bureau was trying to solve, and each of
them was more interesting than the last. You've got to be a doctor to
study fish diseases, an engineer to devise ways and means for stream
conditions, a chemist to work on poisons in the water that comes from
factories, and all sorts of other things beside. It looks to me as
though it had the best of all the professions boiled down into one!
That's an exaggerated statement, of course, was the reply; but
you seem in earnest. No, he continued, as Colin prepared to burst
forth again, you've said enough.
The boy waited anxiously, for he felt that the answer would decide
If your heart is set on the Fisheries, his father rejoined
thoughtfully, after a few minutes' reflection, I presume it would be
unwise to stop you. But remember what I have told you beforeI'm
perfectly willing to fit you for any profession in life you want to
take up, but only for one. If you begin on anything you have got to go
through with it. I'll have no quitting. As you know, I would rather you
had taken up lumbering, but I don't want to force you into anything,
and perhaps your brother Roderick may like the woods. You're sure,
however, as to what you want?
I want fishes! said Colin firmly.
I've been looking up the question a little since you wrote to me
from Valdez, Major Dare continued, because I saw that your old
desires had increased instead of dying out. You know, Colin, I want to
help you as much as I can. You realize that there's no school of
fisheries, like the forestry schools, don't you?
And that if you go into the Bureau the only way you can learn is by
the actual work, hard work and dirty work, too, it will be often.
Yes, sir, the boy answered, I was told that, too.
I wrote to the Commissioner, said Major Dare, and explained the
whole position to him. He answered my letter in a most friendly way,
and showed me just what I've been telling you this morning. He pointed
out frankly that the Bureau had so much to do and so little money
appropriated to do it on, that such a thing as a 'soft job' wasn't
known in the service.
I'm not looking for that, said Colin, a trifle indignantly.
I don't think you are, my boy, but you want to be sure before you
take the plunge, was the warning answer. You oughtn't to wait until
you are in college before you make up your mind.
Colin looked across the table at his father and met his glance
There's nothing else that I want to do, he said firmly, and I do
want that. Of course, I'll do whatever you say, but I feel that the
Bureau of Fisheries is where I'm bound to land in the end.
No going back?
No going back, Father!
Major Dare reached out his hand, and the boy grasped it warmly.
Very well, my boy, that's a compact. I'm not sure just what will
need to be done to enter you in the Bureau, but whatever is necessary,
we'll do. I think you have decided on a life that will be hard and
sometimes thankless, but at least it is a man's job, and will have its
own compensations. You couldn't possibly do anything more useful. We'll
go home by way of Washington, visit the Fisheries Bureau together, and
see what arrangements we can make.
That's bully, Father, said Colin earnestly; thank you ever so
Make good, my boy, his father answered, that's all you have to
do. You'll only have yourself to thank, for it will be all your own
It was fortunate for Colin that this was not decided until the day
before they left Santa Catalina, for he became so impatient that the
intervening hours before they started for the East seemed like weeks to
the boy. His enthusiasm was so genuine that, although his mother was
already very tired of the interminable 'angling' conversation in Santa
Catalina, she succeeded nobly in evincing an intense interest in the
whole fish tribe.
When they arrived in Washington, which chanced to be in the
afternoon, Colin wanted to start off for the Bureau of Fisheries
immediately, even before he went to the hotel, and he seemed to feel
quite aggrieved when the visit was put off. Major Dare had some
important business to look after and he purposed to leave the question
of the boy's arrangements open for a couple of days, but he saw there
would be no peace for any one until Colin's fate was settled, and at
the boy's importunity he 'phoned to the Bureau and made an appointment
with the Commissioner for the following day.
Next morning, accordingly, the two started off together for the
Fisheries Building, an antiquated structure standing in the magnificent
park behind the National Museum and but a short distance from the
Smithsonian Institution. They entered on the ground-floor, seeing to
the left a number of hatching troughs, to the right models of nets and
fishing-vessels, at the far end a small aquarium, while in the center
was a tank in which were the two fur seals that the boy had heard about
in the Pribilof Islands.
He pulled his father's arm.
Oh, Father! he cried; there are the fur seals. Come over and see
But his father shook his head smilingly.
They are not personal friends of mine, as they seem to be of
yours, he said, and I have no time to waste. Besides, we have an
engagement with the Commissioner. You can come down and chat with your
seal acquaintances after our talk.
The Commissioner greeted them cordially, and without waste of words.
So this is the boy! he said, after the customary greetings. He'll
need to grow a bit, eh?
So did both of us once, said Major Dare, looking at his own height
and the Commissioner's burly frame. We haven't done so badly.
That's true. Well, boy, tell me just what you want to do.
Everything that there is to do in the Bureau, Mr. Glades, answered
The Commissioner rubbed his hand over his chin, with a short laugh.
That's a big order, he said. Willing to work?
Yes, sir, the boy replied; I don't mind work.
This is the place for it. There's just two kinds of people in the
world, the Commissioner went on; those who do just what they learn to
do and nothing else, and those who do the work because they want to.
Yes, sir, again responded the boy, wondering what was coming.
The first lot keep things running and that's all. The others are
the real men. The last are the men we've got in the Bureau and
everybody has to be up to the standard. So, there you are.
I don't know whether I can come up to the standard, but I'm one of
those that want to! the boy said emphatically, rightly judging that
the Commissioner was not the sort of man who liked long speeches.
[Illustration: HEADQUARTERS OF THE U. S. FISHERIES BUREAU, AT
WASHINGTON, D. C.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
[Illustration: HAULING THE LARGEST SHAD SEINE IN THE WORLD.
Spawn-taking operations on the Potomac River. Trying to save from
extinction one of America's finest-flavored food fishes.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Good! Going to college?
The boy looked at his father.
I had thought of sending him to Brown, he said, since he got this
Fisheries idea. One of my friends told me that it was an excellent
university for biology.
Do it! said the Commissioner. Send him to college in the winter,
let him work with us in the vacation. That'll give him four summers'
training with us. When he comes out of college he ought to be worth
something to the Bureau. But don't start and then give up.
Colin won't do that, his father said, then added pointedly, I'll
see to it that he doesn't.
Very well, said the Commissioner, that's settled. He rang a
bell, and a messenger appeared at the door. Ask Dr. Crafts to step
here a minute if he is disengaged. Dr. Crafts, he continued, turning
to Major Dare, is perhaps one of the most valuable men we have on the
Bureau. Oh, by the way, boy, when do you want to start?
Right away, sir, if possible, Colin replied.
Is that novelty or enthusiasm?
Enthusiasm, I think, Major Dare answered, smiling.
In a moment the door opened again, and the Deputy Commissioner came
Dr. Crafts, the Commissioner said, after introductions had been
made, here's an enthusiastic youngster who wants the Commissionership!
Not right away, perhaps, he added as the newcomer smiled at the boy,
but perhaps in a couple of decades or so. And he thinks he ought to
start this minute. Have we anything for him to do?
I don't know of anything especially, said the Deputy Commissioner
thoughtfully; it's so late in the season.
Let him have something to work off his animal spirits, the
Commissioner said; it's a pity to let so much energy go to waste.
Very well, the other said genially; we'll see what we can do.
Will you join us, Major Dare?
I think not, the boy's father answered; I will leave him entirely
in your hands, and he can tell me all about it afterwards. I want just
a word or two more, Commissioner, he added, and then I must be
What's your name, lad? asked his new chief, as they walked along
Colin Dare, sir, the boy responded.
Which is it to be, the official asked with a pleasant smile,
'Colin' or 'Dare'?
The boy looked up at him and felt instantly the thorough kindliness
and fine worth of his companion, and answered promptly:
'Colin,' sir, if you don't mind. That is, at least, to you.
All right, Colin, was the reply; I suppose we must see what we
can find for you to do. Tell me, he continued, as they entered his
office, how you came to think of entering the Fisheries Bureau?
Thus adjured, Colin told briefly how his father had tried to
interest him first in lumbering and then in engineering, but that
neither had appealed to him. Then he told of his whaling adventures and
of the few days he had spent on the Pribilof Islands, recounting the
Japanese raid with great gusto. The Deputy Commissioner, who had heard
nothing but the official account of the fracas was intensely interested
and he questioned Colin closely, noting carefully the boy's clear
understanding of the seal question.
You have a head for facts, Colin, he said approvingly, when the
whole adventure had been told, because you really have noted the
important points in that sealing business, and it is more complicated
than it looks. Go on, now, and tell me how you came down from Valdez.
So Colin took up the story again, described his meeting with the
lieutenant of the revenue cutter and the kindness he had received from
him. The Deputy Commissioner smiled, for the officer in question was a
close personal friend. Then Colin told of the salmon tagging and of his
visit to the hatchery, not forgetting the capture of the sea-serpent.
It seems to me, Dr. Crafts said jokingly, that you have become a
public personage in connection with Fisheries even before you come into
the Bureau. To figure in a Japanese seal raid and to capture a
sea-serpent in the same summer is enough fame for anybody!
Colin laughed and answered:
After that it would seem a little like boasting, but he
reached into his pocket and pulled out the tuna button, safely stowed
away in a tightly-closed box.
The Deputy Commissioner whistled softly in surprise.
And did you win this, too? he asked. You went to Santa Catalina,
Yes, Dr. Crafts, the boy replied, and related his experiences
while there. He told the story well, and the Deputy Commissionerwho
was a master in that artnodded appreciatively.
So far as I can judge, he said, the Bureau is the place for you.
But I don't know where to fit you in. It is getting on towards the
middle of August, and not only is the work all arranged for the summer,
but most of it is done.
I just want to be at work, pleaded the boy, for the experience,
not for what I can get out of it, of course.
That sort of arrangement is impossible, answered the Deputy
Commissioner; there is plenty of volunteer work done in the Bureau,
but such work is always along the line of special investigation, and it
is given to those who are equipped for research, usually university
professors. The assistants are always paid, and you see I couldn't very
well create a precedent on your account!
No, Dr. Crafts, answered Colin, quite disheartened; I suppose
The Deputy Commissioner tapped on the desk thoughtfully.
It happens, he said, that a friend of mine who is attached to the
American Museum of Natural Historythat's the New York museum, you
knowsails for Bermuda next Saturday to get some material. He wants to
take a helper along, and the Museum provides him with funds for
engaging help on the island.
Yes, sir, the boy said, wondering what was coming.
Now, the Fisheries official continued, if he has got to have help
it might be a good experience for you to go with him, but you may have
to pay your way across. What salary you receive over there would just
about meet the expenses of the trip, so that you would break even.
Would you like to do it?
I'd rather start in on the Bureau, Colin answered, but he was wise
enough not to refuse an opportunity, and continued, but if you think
it would be a good thing for me to do, why, of course, I'm ready.
I think it would be an excellent chance, the Deputy Commissioner
said, because we do very little work around the Bahamas, and none at
all in Bermuda, so that it would give you an idea of the fish-life
there which, otherwise, you might never get. And if you tried any
Bureau work now, you would be handicapped by not having started with
the other boys, and you'd be so far behind that you might feel badly
about it. So the Bermuda opportunity seems to me the best chance.
What is the purpose of the trip, sir? asked the boy.
To prepare a model for the Museum which will give people an idea of
the sea-gardens as they really are. Part of the model will be of
prepared specimens, I believe, and some will be copies made of spun
glass. I understand that Mr. Collier wants to study especially the sea
anemones, the corals, the sponges, and the sea-fans; also, to note the
habits of the fish peculiar to the coral reefs, and show them in the
model as though they were swimming about in their natural habitat.
That would be awfully interesting! said Colin.
It will teach you a lot, rejoined the Deputy Commissioner, and
you can't ever know too much about sea-life. The real backboned fishes,
with which the Bureau principally deals, are only a small part of the
population of the ocean.
Shall I go and call on this gentleman, then, Dr. Crafts? the boy
You had better drop in and see me this afternoon, was the reply.
I'll telephone to Mr. Collier and ask him to take lunch with me and
we'll talk it over then. Suppose you come in about half-past two
o'clock, and if he takes kindly to the scheme I'll have him meet you
here. If he has other plans, why, there's no harm done, and we'll try
and think of something else.
Thanking his new-found friend heartily, but not quite sure whether
he liked this way of shelving him from the Bureau for a season, Colin
made his way to the lower story of the building, where he felt that the
two young fur seals were old friends. As it happened, a couple of boys
about his own age came along and, overhearing their remarks, Colin
joined in, realizing that they had all sorts of wrong ideas about the
seals. He waxed so enthusiastic that, as other people came in, they
gathered around him and, before Colin was really conscious of it, he
had quite an audience. Among them was an old attendant of the Bureau
who, as it happened, had been on the Pribilof Islands with Dr. Brown
Goode, in 1872. He listened for a while, then said:
I beg your pardon, sir, but have you been in St. Paul recently?
I was there this spring, Colin replied.
It's just forty years this summer, sir, since I was on the islands.
They tell me there's been great changes. And, without further ado, he
commenced to question Colin closely concerning the place, the boy
having equal interest in learning what the rookeries were like when the
first investigation was made. It was not until lunch-time that he could
tear himself away.
Promptly, at the hour appointed, Colin presented himself at the
Deputy Commissioner's office and was met by Dr. Crafts' secretary. His
pulse was beating like a trip-hammer, and he probably looked nervous,
for the secretary glanced once or twice in his direction. Then, wishing
to give news that would be welcome, she said formally, of course, but
betraying a sincere kindliness:
I think Mr. Collier is with Dr. Crafts now.
On the instant Colin detected that the secretary knew something
about the matter and wanted to reassure him, so he smiled back, saying:
Thank you. I hope it will be all right, then.
The two men were chatting earnestly, and the wait seemed long to
Colin, but after a while the Deputy Commissioner called him in.
This is the boy, Robert, he said. Colin, he continued, let me
present you to Mr. Collier.
So you're coming along with me to Bermuda and Florida, I hear, the
museum curator said, shaking hands.
Colin looked up at the tall, gaunt figure and caught a twinkle of
good-humor in the deeply-sunk gray eyes.
I was hoping to before, sir, he answered, and I'm hoping to, even
That's the way to talk, never lose a chance for a happy phrase,
was the reply. Well, Dr. Crafts here seems willing to go bail for
youalthough I understand he never saw you before to-dayand I think
we could get along all right, so if you're satisfied, I guess we'll
call it a deal. There's one difficulty, though.
What's that, sir? asked the boy.
I shall probably need to go to Florida as well, and I should like
to have my assistant stay with me clear through.
So much the better, the boy responded.
But I understand you're going to start your freshman year in
Yes, sir, the boy answered, I'm going to Brown.
That's what I thought. But you see I don't expect to get back much
before the tenth of October, and college will have started by then. I
don't want, he continued, his eyes twinkling with fun, to rob the
other fellows of the fun of hazing you.
I don't think there's much hazing at Brown, sir, and perhaps I
shall miss some of the fun of the opening of the year, Colin replied,
after thinking for a minute or two; but I'd much rather take the trip
with you, sir, and I can soon catch up with my class in any subject the
first few lectures of which I may have missed.
But aren't you supposed to be in attendance on a certain day?
Yes, Mr. Collier, the boy replied, I believe I should be. But
Father can fix that all right.
You think your father can arrange anything, Colin, said the Deputy
Well, he always has! the boy declared.
If the Florida trip is no barrier, the curator said, I think that
we can call the matter settled. Dr. Crafts told you that you would have
to pay your own passage?
You'll like Bermuda, I think. Everything there's so much worth
There you go again, Robert, said the Deputy Commissioner; always
Of course! Who would want to be otherwise? said the curator. He
turned to Colin. Come and take dinner with me to-night, and we'll talk
over the details. Here's my card, and he penciled his address on the
pasteboard. I'll give you some seaweed pudding, carrageen, you know.
Colin didn't know, but he thanked his host heartily, and then turned
to the Deputy Commissioner.
What is it, Colin? he was asked.
Please, sir, the boy replied, you haven't said anything about my
chances in the Bureau.
The Fisheries official looked straight at him with a long, level
We need high-grade, well-trained men, he said; the more so
because there are no really good ichthyological schools. And no matter
how well-trained a man may be he's got to have the practical experience
and the grit behind it. If you show in this trip that you're made of
the right kind of stuff and if your college work is up to standard,
I'll promise you a summer job for next year and for each year that
you're at college. You'll be advanced just exactly as fast as you
deserve, and not a bit faster. If you want to go into the Bureau your
record will be watched, and you'll sink or swim by that!
Very well, sir, said Colin, a little taken aback by this
straight-from-the-shoulder statement. I'll do my best, anyhow. He
shook hands heartily, and thanking his new chief, hurried excitedly to
the hotel where his family was staying to tell of his success and of
the unexpected addition of the Florida trip.
His father was quite well satisfied that the boy should have so
pleasant an initiation into the life he had chosen, and was quite
content that this semi-holiday opportunity had arisen instead of hard
work in one of the hatchery stations. Major Dare felt that Colin had
already had a strenuous summer and that it was advisable for him to do
something a little less adventurous before beginning his college work.
The evening that the lad spent with the scientist-artist was a
revelation to him, for his host not only knew the life of the bottom of
the sea as though he had always lived there, but he was a marvelous
designer in glass, and possessed some of the most exquisite models of
fragile sea forms, all of which had been made under his direction.
Several of these were magnified many times and were more beautiful even
than any the boy had ever seen pictured.
There were no half-way measures in Colin's enthusiasm, and he begged
Mr. Collier to lend him books, so that during the days that were to
elapse before starting on the trip, he could get an idea of the life
histories of sea anemones, jellyfish, and the like, with which he would
be working. His friend was both amused and pleased by the lad's
Mrs. Dare had visited friends in the Bermudas once or twice, so that
she was able to give Colin many suggestions which he found went far to
increase the pleasure of his stay. A meeting was arranged, and Major
Dare liked his son's new friend immensely, quite a pleasant
relationship being established between the two men, so that Colin's
departure for Bermuda was under the happiest auspices. He soon learned
that the museum curator was not only an authority on his own subject of
marine invertebrates, but that he was interested to the utmost in all
sorts of affairs, and he admitted confidentially to the boy that he was
an inveterate baseball fan. Best of all, perhaps, Colin gained from him
the feeling that science and scholarship were two windows whereby one
might see how much good there is in the world.
Enthusiasm, Mr. Collier said, is one of the best forces I know. A
boy without enthusiasm is like a firecracker without a fuse. The powder
may be there all right, but it will never have a chance to make itself
The lesser-known life of the sea, in which the boy's interest was
centered for the especial purposes of this trip, seemed to Colin at
first even more interesting than that of fishes and the voyage to
Bermuda was practically a continuous revelation of wonders. The
scientist realized that he had not only an assistant, but a disciple,
and went to much trouble to teach the lad. This was one of Colin's
great characteristics, his interest was always so genuine and so
thorough that others would do everything they could to help him.
The Bermuda Islands were sighted for the first time under a cloudy
sky, and Colin thought he had never seen a more disappointing sight.
Compared to Santa Catalina, the islands lay low and without sharp
contrast, no cliffs rising bluff upon the shore, no mountains looming
purple in the distance. The land was parchedfor it was late in the
summerand the scattered foliage looked small and spindling after the
gigantic forests of California. The beautiful Bermudas seemed plain
and uninviting as the steamer passed St. David's Head. Moreover, as
they steamed down along the north shore, the same appearance was
visible throughout, its low undulating sea-front of black, honeycombed
rock lacking character, the rare patches of sandy beach and sparse
sunburned vegetation seeming bare and dreary.
Reaching Grassy Bay, however, past the navy yard and rounding
Hog-fish Beacon, the sun came out and swiftly the scene became
transfigured. As the steamer drew nearer and began to run between the
islands in the channel, the undulating shores showed themselves as
hills and valleys in miniature. The bare, white spots were revealed as
white coral houses set in masses of flowers, the foliagesheltered
from the northgleamed dark and luxuriant, while the shallowing
crystal water glinted from the white sand below as though the steamer
were sailing through a translucent gem. Before the vessel had passed
the length of the Great Sound and had warped into Hamilton, Colin had
changed his mind, and was willing to admit that, after all, Bermuda
might be quite a pretty place.
But he could not have believed the transformation scene through
which he seemed to pass on landing. Freed from the glare of the
waterfront of Hamilton and on the road to Fairyland Bay, he seemed to
have entered a new world. It was a Paradise of Flowers, even the Golden
State could not outdo it. Hedges of scarlet hibiscus flamed ten feet
high, clusters of purple bougainvillea poured down from
cottage-porches, while oleander in radiant bloom formed a hedge twenty
feet high for as much as half a mile at a stretch. At one moment the
road would pass a dense banana plantation with the strange tall poles
of the pawpaw trees standing sentinel, the next it would pass the dark
recesses of a mangrove bay, where the sea ebbs and flows amid an
impenetrable thicket of interlacing roots. And at frequent intervals a
slight rise of ground would show the emerald sea beyond, gleaming as
though lit with living light.
'The land where it is always afternoon,' quoted Mr. Collier
softly, as they drove up to the house where they were to stay, a small
hotel overlooking a narrow fiord of rock, into which the translucent
water rippled. Beyond, upon the gleaming bay rested three or four tiny
It's almost the loveliest place I ever saw, said Colin; but it
isn't as grand and wild as Santa Catalina.
I never want to leave Bermuda, said the other; every time I visit
the islands I decide that some day I must come and live here. And even
when I am away, its memories haunt me. Everything seems so much worth
What's the programme, Mr. Collier? asked Colin, after lunch, when
they were comfortably settled.
You are at liberty this afternoon, was the reply, as I have a
number of small things to look after, so that if you want to get a
glimpse of the islands, you had better make good use of your time. You
ride a wheel, of course?
Then walk into Hamilton and rent one; bicycling is the only way to
see Bermuda properly. And you'd better go to Devil's Hole this
afternoon and see the fish there. Try and persuade the old keeper of
the place to talk, and if you can get him started, he will tell you a
good deal about Bermuda fishes. They're worth knowing about, too!
Acting on this advice, Colin strolled into the little city and
rented a bicycle. The roads, he found, were perfect for wheeling, there
being only one hill too steep for riding, but in spite of all that he
had heard about the absence of distances, it seemed incredible that an
hour's easy wheeling should enable him to cover almost half the entire
length of the main island. Everything was in miniature, and having a
camera with him, he took snapshots recklessly everywhere, each turn in
the road seeming to give a picture more attractive than the last. He
was to find, however, that the charm of Bermuda is too subtle for the
On the way to Devil's Hole, taking the south-shore road, Colin had
an opportunity of noticing its amazing contrast to the north shore,
which had seemed so desolate and uninviting as the steamer came in. The
conformation was widely different, marked by higher cliffs, rocks
jutting out boldly into the sea, with the waves boiling over them and
throwing up the spray, wide stretches of fine white sand, and as far as
the eye could see, small circular atolls of coral level with the
surface of the water. He paused for a little while at the house where
the Irish poet, Thomas Moore, once dwelt while a government employee on
the island, andlike every visitorhe sat for a while under the
famous Calabash Tree, renowned in verse. Nor did he fail to visit the
marvelous stalactite caves of which Bermuda has five beautiful
examples, lighted with electricity to display their wonders. The boy
was greatly interested in the most recently discovered one of all,
where the stalactites branch like trees in a manner but little
understood by geologists. But, greatly though he wished to investigate
this problem, Colin's objective point was the Devil's Hole; and fish,
not stalactites, were his first consideration.
Devil's Hole was a strange place. Lying inland, a little distance
from Harrington Sound, and with no visible connection with the sea, it
seemed a creation of its own. It was a pool, sunk in a bower of trees,
almost exactly circular and over sixty feet deep. Silent and reflecting
every detail of trees and sky above, the dark water was filled with
fishes of many varieties, nearly a thousand fish living near the
surface or in its depths. Underground channels connected it with the
Sound, that great inland sea of Bermuda, and the water in the pool
ebbed and flowed with the tide, changing in level, however, but a
couple of inches. A tiny bridge spanned the water.
The old keeper of the place greeted Colin and proceeded to deliver
himself of a humorous rigmarole, designed for the benefit of tourists.
It was pure 'nature-faking,' since it ascribed human characteristics to
some of the fish in the pool, the various specimens being called the
bride and groom and so forth. The screed was rather wearisome to
Colin, but when he tried to interrupt, the old keeper seemed so hurt
and so confused that the boy let him go on to the end.
The feeding of the fish was a matter of more interest, and it was
striking to observe that the angel-fish and groupers were able to
recognize their respective summons to food, for when the keeper tapped
one portion of the bridge it gave a sharp cracking sound to which the
angel-fish came flocking, while in calling the groupers and other fish,
he hit another portion of the bridge, which reverberated in a different
tone, and the larger fish dashed through the water to the appointed
places. After this performance was over the keeper was willing to talk
less idly, and showed a very considerable knowledge of the species
found in Bermuda waters.
I noticed, Colin said, that you fed the angel-fish with
sea-urchin. I don't see how they can eat it with their tiny mouths, I
should think the spines would get in the way.
I crushes the spines before I throws 'em in, the keeper answered;
but they eats 'em in the nateral state. I don't know how they gets at
'em. They has lots of savvy, sir, angel-fish has, and for a small fish
they can 'old their own. Why, even the big groupers lets 'em alone.
Are the groupers fierce? the boy asked, with his arms on the rail,
looking over at the fish.
Fierce enough, sir, said the old man. I was tellin' a party once,
just what I was tellin' you a while ago about the fish
Yes, said Colin wearily, realizing that the same nonsense about
the bride fish and the bridegroom fish and the old bachelor and all
the rest of it had probably been given as a dose to every visitor for
twenty years back, and what then?
[Illustration: THE POOL WHERE THE DOG WAS DEVOURED.
Angel-fish and groupers in the Devil's Hole, Bermuda. Photographed
looking down in the water from the bridge. Note the reflection of the
trees on the water.
Photograph by F. R-W.]
There was an officer in the party, sir, the keeper continued, and
when I spoke of the fish as bein' savage 'e laughed and said 'e didn't
believe it. 'E said 'e'd swam around among sharks and never got hurt,
but I told 'im 'e wouldn't be willin' to take a plunge in the pool.
Colin looked down at the fish.
They don't look very bad, he said; but I don't think I'd like to
You're right, sir; I wouldn't go in, not for a thousand pound.
Well, this officer'e was a captain, I thinkmade some remark about
it all bein' nonsense, and said that even 'is dog would scare the fish
so that they wouldn't as much as come up from the bottom.
That sounds reasonable enough, said Colin; a fish wouldn't try to
attack a dog.
That's what 'e said, the keeper continued; and 'e bet me a 'arf
sovereign on it. I didn't want to see the dog 'urt, but a bet's a bet,
and there weren't no ladies present, so I took 'im up.
Well? queried Colin, as the keeper stopped.
'E threw the dog in, the keeper answered; it was a spaniel and
quite at 'ome in the water.
In about ten seconds the water was just alive with fish, swimmin'
round and round, comin' up by the 'undred from the deep water. Then
they all turned black, like they do always before they're goin' to
feed. Remember, I showed you that.
Yes, I know; but go on.
Then they all at once made a dash for the poor beast. I tried to
pull 'im out, but there was a couple of 'undred of 'em there, and 'e
'ad no chance. 'E gave just one yelp and then was pulled under, and the
groupers jolly well ate him clear down to the bones. We never saw 'ide
nor 'air of 'im agen!
Colin shuddered a little as he looked at the groupers swimming idly
about and said:
Don't you suppose it was just because there were so many of them in
this small pool? I hardly think a grouper would attack anything as
large as a dog out in the open sea. They're much the same sort of fish
as bass, you know.
No, sir, the keeper answered; I never 'eard of a grouper bein'
dangerous out at sea. But there is a fish that's very bad around the
coral on the reef.
You mean sharks? Colin queried.
No, sir, the keeper answered; sharks ain't no fish.
Colin elevated his eyebrows a little at this somewhat surprising way
of stating that the sharks belonged to a lower order of marine species
than any other fish, but he let it pass unchallenged.
What fish do you mean, then? asked the boy.
Not sharks, the keeper replied; there ain't no sharks near
Bermuda anyway, they can't get near enough. The reefs run ten mile out
and they never come away inside 'ere. No, sir, it's the moray I'm
The moray? echoed Colin thoughtfully. Seems to me I've heard
about that fish somewhere. Isn't it green? It's called the green
Yes, sir; that's the fish. But there's more spotted morays around
than green ones.
But that's hardly more a fish than a shark is, objected Colin.
Isn't a moray a kind of eel?
Yes, sir, but an eel's a fish. Leastways so I was always told, when
I used to work over at the Aquarium on Agar's Island.
All right, said Colin good-humoredly, I guess you're in the right
about it. Go ahead and tell me about the moray.
I was just sayin', sir, that they were the only ugly things around
Bermuda. And they stay quite a bit from shore out around the coral
atolls. You see lots of 'em around the sea-gardens. They 'ides in 'oles
of the rocks and strikes out at other fishes like a snake. I knew a
diver once, who was goin' down after specimens from one of the
sea-garden boats, and was nearly drowned.
How? queried Colin a little incredulously. The moray couldn't
bite through the diving-bell.
No, sir,no, sir,not through the diving-bell. But the
india-rubber tube that put air into the 'elmet came swingin' past a
'ole in a rock in which a six-foot moray was waitin' for anything that
might come along, and 'e darted out at it.
Did he bite it through? cried Colin.
No, sir; a moray's teeth ain't set that way. 'Is teeth set
backwards so they 'old anything solid. 'E started to swallow the tube,
the moray did, and jerked the diver on 'is back so that 'e couldn't
pull the signal-cord. 'E would have been drowned sure, for 'e was forty
feet down, but the water was so clear that some one on board the boat
saw the fish attack 'im, and they pulled 'im up.
How about the moray?
'E was 'angin' on, was the reply; 'e wouldn't let go, and by the
time they 'ad the diver on board agen, the fish 'ad chewed up the
air-tube pretty well. But that wasn't the worst, sir, said the
talkative old man, growing garrulous, as he saw the boy look at his
watch. Did you ever 'ear 'ow a big moray 'ad a fight with two men, one
of 'em a fisherman from New York, and jolly well beat 'em both?
No, Colin answered; how could that be?
I didn't see it myself, the keeper began, but from all I 'ear the
story's straight enough. The fishin' party 'ad gone out on the reefs
after rockfish, which is one of the gamiest fighters we 'ave 'ere, and
some of 'em runs up to fifty and sixty pounds. They 'ad 'ooked several
fine 'ogfishyou want to 'ave a look at some of 'em; crimson fish they
are with long sweepin' spinesand the next bite turned out to be a
chub. They could see 'im plainly enough through the clear water. When
pretty nigh the surface, just near'a large dome of brain coral, a long
spotted fish shot out and seized the chub, swallowin' the 'ook into the
Did they have a strong line? Colin asked. A moray is a powerful
fish, isn't he?
'E's all muscle and teeth, the keeper answered. Yes, sir, it was
'andline fishin' and they 'ad a good strong line, so it was a sure
thing that they could land 'im if 'e didn't wrap the line around a
rock. Israel, the boatman, wanted to cut the line, but the New Yorker
'e said, no; 'ad never caught a moray before and 'e 'oped to get this
one. So they got the boat out into deeper water, Israel keepin' it
clear of the reefs and the fisherman tryin' to 'aul in the line.
It must have been good fun! exclaimed Colin. I wish I'd been
Just you wait till you've 'eard what 'appened, young sir, the old
man warned him, and then p'r'aps you'll be glad you weren't.
All right, the boy prompted him; go ahead.
'E was plucky, though, this chap, so Israel told me, for while 'is
'and was cut with the line two or three times when the moray made a
vicious rush, still 'e 'ung on and that's not as easy as it sounds. But
in about 'alf an hour the fish was seemin'ly done for and the New
Yorker pulled 'im in, 'and over 'and, as easy as you please. Just as 'e
got 'im to the gunwale, though, the moray gave an extra wriggle, and
bein' afraid that 'e might get away agen, the fisherman gave a sudden
pull and brought 'im on board without waitin' to stun 'im.
Colin grinned appreciatively.
I've heard of a chap who got into trouble with a conger eel that
way, he said. But go ahead with the story.
For about a minute or two, so Israel told me, the old man went on,
the moray stayed quiet at the bottom of the boat. Then 'e put up 'is
'ead, with its gleamin', wicked teeth, and looked first at Israel and
then at the New Yorker. 'E next sort of shook 'imself all along the
spine, to make sure 'e was all there, and began to squirm 'is way
toward the stern.
That was where the angler was? queried Colin.
Yes, sir; Israel was in the bow. 'E said the New Yorker didn't seem
to take it in at first, but that 'e suddenly gave a yell, jumped on one
of the thwarts, and grabbed the boat-'ook. The fish was an ugly-lookin'
brute, from what I 'ear, and a spotted moray over six feet long is as
nasty a thing to face as anything I know of.
But he didn't deliberately attack the men, did he?
That's just what 'e did! There wasn't no threshin' around and
flurryin', but the vicious brute acted just like some kind of a
sea-snake. The fisherman brought down the boat-'ook with all 'is might,
but the moray just twisted sidewise as the blow came down, and the
blunt-pointed 'ead, with its rows of sharp teeth, darted forward for
the New Yorker's leg.
This was too much for 'is nerves and, with a 'owl that could have
been 'eard a mile away, the fisherman jumped from the dingey into the
sea, the teeth of the moray closin' on the thwart where the man's foot
'ad been a minute before. There was a sound of splinterin', and the eel
bit an inch of wood clear out of the board.
My word, there must have been power behind that jaw! ejaculated
For a minute or two the moray was quiet, and then 'e turned round.
But in turnin' 'e got imself twisted, the line which was still fast to
'is lower jaw becomin' entangled around one of the rowlocks. But this
gave 'im 'is chance: with a sudden pull, 'e broke the line and was
free. Then, so Israel says, the fish just looked at 'im, and began to
slide along the boat. But Israel didn't wait to find out what the moray
was after, 'e just decided to take no chances, and jumped for the
Why for the mast? queried Colin. He couldn't hang on there very
No, the old keeper answered; but supposin' he went overboard with
the New Yorker, what could they do with the boat? Ask the moray to sail
it into 'Amilton? No, Israel climbed up the light mast 'igh enough for
'is weight to capsize the dingey. As soon as the boat turned over on
its side and the water came in, the moray saw the way to freedom, and
dashed back to 'is 'ome in the reefs, 'avin' beaten two good men and
gotten away 'imself.
CHAPTER VII. HARPOONING A GIANT SEA
Colin wakened early the following morning and got up promptly,
planning to show his alertness, but when he came downstairs and
sauntered out between the oleander bushes toward the water he heard a
hail and found that his chief was already up and was busy unpacking
some large boxes which had been delivered the night before. The boy
hurried to help him.
What are these, Mr. Collier? he asked, as some large square boxes
with a window in the bottom came into view.
These are water glasses, the scientist answered, not the kind
that is used by tourists, but some I have had made speciallylenses
with reflecting mirrors; with them the bottom of the sea ought to show
up clearly. As you notice, they are long enough to be usable from the
deck of a fair-sized sailing boat. It's a shame only to half-see things
as beautiful as the sea-gardens. When a thing's worth while, it is so
much worth while.
I thought you would probably have to dive, Colin said, in order
to see the submarine gardens thoroughly.
The curator shook his head.
You'll find, he said, that we can see almost as well with these
as though you and I were a couple of angel fish, swimming in and out of
the grottoes of the coral. The wateras you noticed when we were
coming into the harboris as clear as crystal. There's nothing in
coral sand to make it cloudy or muddy.
Are we going out this morning? the boy queried eagerly, as he
helped in the unpacking of the various instruments that the museum
expert had brought.
The boat is to be here at half-past eight, was the reply, and
we're going to find the most beautiful spot that there is in the
submarine Garden of Eden. Our darky boatman, 'Early Bird,' they call
him, says he knows a place quite far out on the reef where there are
wonderful groves and parterres unspoiled by tourists because they lie
so distant that it is not worth while for the excursion boats to make
I don't quite see, said Colin, how the visit of tourists floating
over a stretch of sea could harm the seaweeds and the coral growing on
But it does, because a number of the glass-bottomed boats carry a
diver who goes down and breaks off specimens of coral at the tourists'
request, selling them for a good sum. But the gardens to which we are
going, I understand, are entirely out of the beaten track and are very
much finer besides. Here is 'Early Bird' now.
As he spoke, a white sailboat with a large spread of sail came
skimming into the little bay, heading for the private wharf of the
hotel at a rapid clip. Colin held his breath as the craft came rushing
in, for the inlet was not much wider than twice the length of the boat
and it seemed certain that the vessel would crash full upon the rocks
not twenty feet beyond the wharf. But at the very last second the
tiller was put over, the sail jibed, and as gently as though she had
crept up in a calm, the Early Bird glided up beside the wharf,
her bowsprit narrowly missing the bushes on the bank as she turned.
You sure can handle a boat! cried Colin admiringly.
The owner of the vessel, a young colored man, of good address and
with a clever face, showed his white teeth in a gratified smile as he
Yas, sah, Ah've sailed a boat roun' the harbor quite a good deal.
It looked that time as though you were going to be smashed up,
Ah nevah even scraped the paint of a boat in ten yeahs o' sailin',
sah, the colored boatman answered, an' thar's lots o' shoals, too.
It looks as if she were resting on the bottom now! the boy said.
No, sah, was the confident reply, the tide's full in an' Ah knows
this whahf right well. Thar's two feet of wateh under her, right now.
Early Birdfor both boatman and boat answered to the same
namedeftly took aboard the glasses and other special material that
had been prepared, not forgetting a large lunch basket that had been
sent down from the hotel, and then he pushed off into the clear and
shining water. The early morning breeze laid the little craft over on
her side but she had a good pair of heels and in a few minutes the
party was well on its way across Grassy Bay.
Where are we going? asked Colin.
Early Bird pointed beyond a group of small islands to where there
seemed to be a depression in the land.
Thar's a channel, sah, he said, right in between those two
islands. Thar's a swing bridge across, but the keepeh is always on the
lookout and we can go right through.
A half hour's sail brought them to the gap between the islands.
Though the bridge was shut Early Bird steered confidently straight for
the center, and it swung just in time, the boat shooting by with
undiminished speed and rounding a point to the open water beyond.
Before them stretched an unbroken vista of ocean.
The next land south of you, Colin, remarked the curator, is
Colin thought for a moment, then said in a surprised voice:
Why, yes. Bermuda is an isolated point, isn't it? I hadn't thought
of that before. Nearly all islands are in chains, but this little bit
of a place is set off all by itself. I wonder why that is?
Bermuda is the top of a submarine mountain, was the reply,
perhaps part of the lost Atlantiswho knows? This stupendous peak
rises almost fifteen thousand feet sheer from the ocean bed and its
rugged top forms the basis of the islands. Think what a magnificent
sight it would be if we could see its whole height rising from the
darkness of the ocean deep.
[Illustration: THE EARLY BIRD PASSING THE BERMUDA AQUARIUM,
Photograph by C. R-W.]
But I thought Bermuda was a coral island!
The coral polyp has got to grow on something, hasn't it? the
scientist reminded him. Don't forget that the little creatures can't
live in deep water. And, you see, Bermuda has gradually been sinking,
the coral builders keeping pace with the subsidence, so that although
the island is only two miles across at the widest point the reefs are
ten miles wide.
It really is coral, then?
As much as any island is. The base of any coral island is
limestone, being made of the skeletons of coral polypi which have been
broken and crushed by wind and weather and beaten into stone. Just as
chalk is made of thousands of tiny shells, so coral limestone is made
of myriads of coral skeletons.
Why, that's like sandstone, cried Colin, in a disappointed tone.
I had an idea that coral was a sort of insect that lived in a shell
and that colonies of these grew up from the bottom of the water like
trees and when they diedmillions of themthey left the shells and
these stone forests grew up and up until they reached the top of the
water and then soil was formed and that was how coral islands began.
I'm not surprised at your thinking that, his chief replied, lots
of people do. And though that theory is all wrong, still if it has
given folks an idea of the beauty and wonder of the world, there's no
great harm done. Plenty of people still talk about the coral 'insect.'
It never occurs to them to call an anemone an 'insect,' but they don't
know that the coral polyp is more like an anemone than anything else.
But an anemone is a soft flabby thing that waves a lot of
jelly-like fingers about in the water.
So does coral, was the reply, and it eats and lives just in the
same way, only that the coral polyp has a stony skeleton and most of
the sea anemones have not. But every different one has some sort of a
story to tell and I believe they get joy out of life just as we do.
Else why should some of these forms be so beautiful? You note them
closely when we pass over some of the reefs, and I should judge we are
coming to them now.
Certainly if the coloration was any clue, the boat was coming to the
great sea-gardens. Above the white bottom the water shone a vivid
emeraldine green, changing to sharply marked browns over the shoals,
while beyond the inner reefs it varied from all shades of sapphire blue
to radiant aquamarine. Nowhere was the water of the same color for a
hundred yards together, while every ruffling of the surface, every
slant of sunlight gave it a new hue. Colin was entranced and wished to
see more closely, but the boat was going too swiftly to let down a
water glass and he was forced to wait a few minutes.
Ah b'lieve, sah, said Early Bird presently, hauling in the sheet,
we might let the sail down heah. We'll drift just about fast enough
fo' you to watch the bottom.
Mr. Collier handed one of the water glasses to the boatman. It was
formed like a deep square box with a glass window for a bottom, and a
specially prepared crystal had been used.
That's an improvement on the old kind, Early Bird, he said; what
do you think of it?
The Bermudian darky looked through the glass critically.
Yes, sah, he said, thar's no compah'son 'tween the two. The
bottom looks bettah through that glass than it does when yo' down theh
yo'self. Ah used to do a little diving at one time, but the reefs nevah
showed up that cleah. It would be a big thing fo' the boats that take
tourists out if they could have glasses like that one there.
It would be, perhaps, the scientist said, laughing, but they
could almost build a boat for what one of these would cost.
Isn't that the most gorgeous thing you ever saw! cried Colin, as
he set his eye to the glass, which Early Bird handed him. There's no
garden on land with such colors as that.
There are no flowers in the garden you're looking at, remember,
his friend reminded him.
Don't need them, said the boy. Look at that tall purple plant
waving to and fro. Isn't that a sea-fan?
Yes, his companion answered, that's a sea-fan, but it isn't a
plant. It's a kind of coral.
Is it? I always thought it was a seaweed.
You'll be calling a sponge a plant next. See those red lumps, near
the bottom of that rock? Those are sponges.
Now there's some real coral! the boy cried.
All coral is real coral. What you are looking at is probably a form
of the stag's horn variety, the curator said, and that does look more
like the coral of commerce. But everything you are looking at, nearly,
is coral. These great dome-like stones, do you see them?
The ones that look like the pictures of a brain?
Yes, those are called brain-stone or brain-coral. And those others,
just the same shape only with little holes, instead of grooves, that's
Then there seem to be some that look like a bouquet of flowers all
That's rose coral, was the reply, and those are the three forms
you see more generally.
But where's the pink and red coral? If it's as easy to get at coral
as this, I don't see why people don't come here and make a fortune.
Fortunes aren't quite as easy to pick up as that. This coral has no
market value; the variety that is used for jewelry comes mainly from
Japan and from the Mediterranean, and the governments of the various
countries keep it under constant watch.
That's why. I see now. Oh! exclaimed the boy as some fish swam
under the glass suddenly. Just look at those angel-fish. They seem
twice as brilliant as the ones I saw in Devil's Hole.
Of course, the curator said, you would expect them to look dull
in dull surroundings. That is color protection. Here, everything is
gaily colored and striped and streaked and dotted, so the fish are,
too. That helps them to hide and be unnoticed. A plain-colored open sea
fish could be easily seen.
Look, sah, said Early Bird, turning to the boy, Ah've got a
little sailoh's choice, Ah caught this morning; Ah'll throw him in and
yo' can notice how plain yo' can see him.
He tossed the fish overboard. The silver scales shone and gleamed
brilliantly in the transparent water but Colin had barely time to
notice what a conspicuous object it was when in a swirl of water a
score of small fish of all sorts surrounded the morsel. But the
groupers followed hotfoot and the little fish fled. Then came
retribution, for, from a crevice in a near-by rock, out shot the
eel-like form of a green moray and disposed of one of the groupers in
Did I tell you about the moray? Colin asked, and on receiving a
reply in the negative, he recounted the story he had heard in Devil's
Hole. The boy rather feared that Early Bird might make light of it even
if the museum curator did not, but the darky remarked that he thought
it was a good thing to let morays alone and that he had heard the story
from other sources before. In the meantime the leader of the expedition
had found a section of the reef which appealed to him and at his
request Early Bird put out a small kedge anchor, holding the boat fast.
The wind had dropped a good deal as the morning wore on and now the
little sailing boat rocked gently over the gorgeous gardens of the sea.
You told me, the museum official said, that you were fond of
drawing. Here's a sketch block and some pastel crayons; see what you
can do with them.
Colin lifted his eyebrows in surprise, but he took the sketch block
and pad, hooking his water glass to the side of the boat as directed.
His companion took a large water glass of a different character. It was
right-angled with a lens at the end. In the joint of the angle was a
reflector which threw the image upon a mirror immediately under the
What's that for? the boy asked.
So that we can look at the reefs at their own level, was the
reply. No matter how much you allow for refraction and foreshortening,
you'll find it almost impossible to get correct values by studying a
reef from the top only. You know how queer a place looks in a picture
that has been taken from an aëroplane?
Yes, the boy answered.
That's what we've got to avoid here. We are looking down on the
reefs just as an aviator looks down on a city. This glass, however,
will give me the proper perspective. You see I have made it something
like a telescope so that I can add segment after segment and watch
conditions even in fairly deep water. Now I'll show you how I'm going
to manage it.
He took the long L glass with which he was working and fastened it
by little hooks to the direct overhead glass which Colin was using, and
as he did so the boy noticed that the two glasses were so arranged that
they focussed at the same point of the reef, only that one viewed it
from above, the other from the side. A little device worked by a
thumbscrew varied the angle in proportion to the depth.
Now, he was instructed, draw in and coloras well as you know
howeverything you see in the field of your glass. You've got all day
to do it in, so there's no need for hurry. Remember, I don't want the
color you think the sea-fans and other forms would be out of the water,
but the color that they seem to you to be when looked at through the
But I don't draw so awfully well, Mr. Collier, said Colin.
You don't need to, was the reply, it's the color that I want.
There isn't a tint known that you can't find in those pastels and I
want it as exact as you can get it. I'm going to do the same thing, you
see, only from the side. The light will cause a good deal of
difference, and I want to determine just how the shadows fall.
The boy had never had such crayons to work with and he was naturally
a good colorist. He became so absorbed that he was quite unaware of the
passage of time and it was with something of a surprise that he heard
the announcement of lunch. This was due to Early Bird, who, seeing that
it was after noon, had unpacked the hamper and set out a good meal.
Both artists dined heartily and Early Bird was not forgotten when the
artists returned to their drawings. But although Colin worked as hard
as he could, it was four o'clock before he felt that he had finished.
The museum expert was also still at work when the sun began to fail to
give a sufficiently direct light to pierce the water. Colin was eager
to see his companion's sketch, but this was denied him.
No, he was told. We're coming here to-morrow, and I want you to
do what I was doing to-day, while I do the overhead view.
What's that for, Mr. Collier? queried Colin, again.
No two people see color values just alike, was the reply, and
while of course I don't expect you to make a perfect picture, still if
your coloring and mine agree, we are nearly sure to have exactly the
But if they don't?
Then we have two color conceptions, and it is easy for a third
person to say which looks the most real to him. Early Bird, for
example, could tell which looked the best to him, although, of course,
he could not describe the color.
Then we're coming back here to-morrow?
If the wind is suitable, yes.
Colin was simply aching with eagerness to see the other drawing but
had to be content with the promise that he could see it as soon as he
had done the duplicate, and not before, as he might be prejudiced
thereby. Before going home that day they dropped as a marker a heavy
lead disk about six inches across, painted white, to which was attached
a buoy, so that they could find the identical place again; and the
following morning, when they came out, the buoy was picked up without
difficulty and the boat moored as before.
The second day on the reefs was an exact counterpart of the first,
except that Colin found it much more difficult to work through the L
glass. To look down at a picture which was reflected sidewise made the
drawing of it quite tricky until he caught the knack. Also, shadows
under the water did not behave the same way as above. But, as before,
the entire day was given to it, and though the boy had a headache when
evening came, he had turned out a very respectable piece of work. The
fun came in comparing them.
You're somewhat of an impressionist, the curator said, as he
examined Colin's two pictures carefully, and you've succeeded in
making your sketches look more submarine than I have. But I think your
perspective is all out.
I was afraid that it was, the boy replied, though I tried hard to
What do you think of them, Early Bird? the museum expert asked, I
won't tell you which is which.
The boatman, who had a full share of the intelligence and alertness
characteristic of the Bermuda colored population, so excellently
governed under British rule, examined the four pictures carefully and
Wa'al, sah, Ah think Ah like these two the best.
He handed back Mr. Collier's drawing of the reef from the side and
the boy's sketch of the reef taken from above.
I believe you're right, Early Bird, the scientist said, laughing,
the lad beat me out on that one. Then, as he put the drawings away in
the portfolio he added, And now we'll see how near we both came to the
How? queried the boy.
We'll search a while for perfect specimens. A diver is coming along
with us to-morrow and we're going to scour the reefs for fine specimens
of coral, sea-anemones, sea-whips, black rods, purple fans, and all the
rest of them. Those that we can preserve we will, but the sea-anemones
we'll have to work on in the Aquarium on Agar's Island, where they have
some magnificent specimens.
[Illustration: THE GORGEOUS SUBMARINE WORLD.
Golden sea-anemones, purple long-spined sea-urchins, orange-colored
sponges, and corals upon the white sea-sand.
Courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History, N. Y.]
[Illustration: THE GARDENS OF THE SEA.
Where purple sea-fans wave under the crystal water. Note the
angel-fish and various forms of coral.
Courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History, N. Y.]
In glass, you mean? queried Colin. I should like to see how
Come to my laboratory in New York some time and I'll show you, his
companion answered, but I can't do that here. I have a specially
prepared black paper here and I'll copy some of the anemone forms so
that I can plan them in glass from my drawings. I'll go with you
to-morrow, but after that you'll have to go out alone.
Accordingly, Colin and the diver went out with Early Bird every day
for a week, Colin spending the entire day peering through the water
glass for perfect specimens, which, when sighted, the diver would
descend to get. He secured an especially fine example of a long-spined
black and white striped sea-urchin, with spines nearly seven inches in
length, a number of pale-blue starfish (an unusual color in that
genus), and one superb sea-fan of a glowing purple color nearly five
feet across. Of sea-anemones he found a large variety, and those he
brought to the aquarium, where Mr. Collier was working steadily;
several kinds of sea-puddings, closely allied to the famous
beche-de-merthe table delicacy of Chinaalso were within his
discoveries. The boy's eyesight was keen, and the collecting fever
found him an easy victim, but it was back-breaking work to stoop over
the water glass all day.
After about a week of this, however, a surprise awaited him. He
noticed, as they sailed into the bay, a very handsome steam yacht lying
at anchor, a sea-going craft flying the New York Yacht Club's burgee.
On his return to the hotel Colin found his chief waiting for him, a
We're going to dinner on the Golden Falcon, he said, as
soon as he saw the boy, she belongs to a friend of mine. He is going
down to Florida and has offered to take us along. If I can arrange it,
that will save us at least a week's time.
Bully, fine! Colin exclaimed. Is that the yacht down there?
She's a beauty. All right, Mr. Collier, I'll get ready just as fast
as I can. And you ought to see a feather star I got to-day. It wasn't
so awfully deep down either.
I'll see it later, was the reply, hurry and get ready now; I
don't want to be late going over there. Their launch is to come at
half-past six and it is twenty after now, so that you need to move as
fast as you know how.
Right, sir, answered Colin, and off he sped.
The yacht was the finest of its kind that the boy had ever boarded
and he spent a very pleasant evening, the more so as the owner of the
vessel had his family aboard, including his son Paul, a lad almost the
same age as Colin. Mr. Murren was a wealthy capitalist, who had
financed a chain of drug-stores throughout the country and still kept a
large amount of stock in them. This corporation used many thousands of
sponges annually, needing moreover a high-grade article which was found
difficult to procure. It had been thought wise to investigate the
question of buying a sponge farm, and he had been asked to look into
the matter. Accordingly, he was taking a run down the coast, but had
come first to see the American Vice Consul at Bermudato whom he was
related by marriage.
I heard a good deal about that sponge-farming business, said
Colin, when the other boy told him this. Dr. Crafts told me how it was
All the more reason for you to join us, his new friend responded.
I hope you're coming.
I hope so, too, Colin answered, and it's likely enough that we
will, since you say your father has been kind enough to ask us. I think
Mr. Collier has nearly finished what he wanted to do in Bermuda, and if
you are going straight to Florida, it would save us a lot of time, as
well as being a jolly trip in itself.
Going to do more coral-hunting? the other boy queried, for Colin
had told him about his Bermuda work.
A little of that, I think; but I believe Mr. Collier intends also
to make an exhibit showing the way sponges grow. So you see he is as
much interested as your father in reviewing the sponge question.
At this juncture Colin heard his name called.
Yes, Mr. Collier, he answered.
Do you think you have been over most of the reef?
Yes, sir, I think so, the boy answered; Early Bird said yesterday
that we had covered the sea-garden grounds fairly thoroughly. But, of
course, there are miles of reef that we haven't seen.
I think, Mr. Murren, the scientist said, turning to his host,
that I can finish up all my business here by to-morrow night and be
ready for a start the following morning. If that's agreeable to you, we
shall be very glad to accept your invitation.
That's agreed, then, said the capitalist, and now we'll have some
The trip to Florida on the Golden Falcon was one of the
pleasantest Colin had ever known. The little craft fairly flew through
the water. He liked his host and hostess immensely, both of whom were
accomplished musicians, and he struck up quite a friendship with Paul.
The capitalist's son, though but a month or two younger than Colin, was
quite inclined to give the latter a little hero-worship. And it was
significant of Colin's make-up that he was equally ready to take it.
Little of note occurred on the voyage save that the yacht almost ran
over a sunfish in the water, which turned a sluggish somersault and
disappeared. What was of more interest to Colin and indeed to Paul also
was the opportunity to use a very powerful microscope belonging to the
museum curator and to find out about the almost invisible life of the
You must remember, the scientist told them, that these tiny
forms, which look like the most wonderful figures in a fairyland of
geometry, exist in such billions that as they die, their light shells
fall through the sea like a perpetual rain. Some of them, too, are so
very light that it takes them a month to sink to the bottom.
But what can such tiny bits of things live on, Mr. Collier? asked
Paul; other animals smaller still?
No, my boy, was the reply, on plants called diatoms. There are
over four thousand species of these plants known, which are so small
that the microscopic animals readily engulf them. Where it is too cold
for surface animal life, as in the Antarctic Ocean, these dead diatoms
form the mud on the bottom of the ocean, and in the extremely deep
parts, the sea-bed is red clay, but most of it is an
'ooze''Globigerina,' as it is calledmade up of the shells of those
very creatures you have now been seeing on that microscope slide. You
drop in and see me at New York, boys, he added kindly, and I'll show
you some models I have made of them.
On arrival at Key West one of the first things that impressed itself
upon Colin was the sponge wharf, where tens of thousands of sponges of
every sort were drying in the hot September sun. The conversation had
run upon sponges very frequently during the voyage, and Mr. Collier,
who knew the subject thoroughly from a theoretical point of view, had
been of great help to his host. But the economic and commercial side of
the question was another matter. From this aspect Colin found that the
remembrance of his conversation with Dr. Crafts in Washington stood him
in good stead.
As I understand it, Mr. Murren, he said, as they stood on the
wharf together, waiting for an approaching boat, the government looks
on the business of growing sponges much as it does on the growing of
wheat or any other form of farming, only it is called aquiculture
instead of agriculture. Sponge planting isn't so very different from
It looks entirely different to me, the boy's host replied, as he
went down the wharf steps. I'm sorry Mr. Collier was called away this
afternoon, but I may as well give a preliminary look over this
sponge-farming business and you boys might as well come along. There's
a man here who wants me to buy his sponge farm. Since Mr. Collier is
here I'm not going to decide anything without his advice. He doesn't
want you this afternoon, does he?
Colin hesitated a moment.
Not as far as I know, Mr. Murren, he answered.
I wish you would come, then, urged the capitalist. You've picked
up some ideas in Washington which may be of help.
I'll be glad to come, if you feel I'm any use to you, the boy
replied, flattered at this evidence that he could be of service, I was
only afraid that I'd be in the way.
Colin followed Paul and his father into the boat, where was waiting
a negro as black as the proverbial black hat, a local fisherman who had
taken up sponge growing, and who, while shrewd enough for a business
deal, knew little about sponges.
You were saying that the Bureau of Fisheries is going to take up
sponge-farming? the prospective buyer asked. Do you know what success
the government has had so far?
Enough to show that it can be done and that's about all, the boy
replied. Before long, I think, the Bureau will have a station down on
the Keys here and that will be one of the first questions they will
probably take up. As I heard it put, the Bureau aims to farm every acre
of water as thoroughly as every acre of land.
That, said the capitalist, is an ideal that gives all sorts of
chances for development.
Presently the boatman stopped and, resting on his oars, said:
Lots o' sponges hyeh, boss.
The would-be buyer took the water glass and looked through it at the
bottom, but he was unaccustomed to the appearance of growing sponges
and also to the use of a water glass, so that he gained little from it.
I don't see any, he said.
Aren't there any round liver-colored lumps, Mr. Murren? the boy
Yes, there are lots of those, was the reply.
Those are sponges.
They don't look like it.
They are, sir, though. A skeleton doesn't ever look just like a
man. The sponge, as you use it in a bath, is just an animal's skeleton,
or it may be of several animals that have grown together.
Yo' suah o' that, boss? asked the boatman. I allus hear' dat a
sponge was a plantnot any animal.
It's an animal, Colin said shortly.
But I thought, interjected Paul, that the difference between a
plant and an animal was that an animal can move around and a plant
Well, Paul, the boy answered, the young of sponges are larvæ
which swim in the water by threshing with short hairs until they find
something suitable to stick on. Lots of animals which become fixtures
are free-swimming when young, oysters, for instance.
Then a sponge doesn't seed itself, like a plant?
No, Mr. Murren, said Colin; so far as I understand, the larvæ,
though of a very simple type, have a certain amount of choice. A seed
has got to grow where it falls, or not at all, but a sponge larva, if
it doesn't find a suitable place on the first thing it touches, can
swim about blindly until it finds one that will do.
Now about these sponges, Colin, his host said, impressed by the
boy's clear though crude way of explaining himself, look through the
glass and tell me what you think about the bed.
There are quite a lot of sponges there, the boy answered after a
few minutes' examination, some of good size, too, but a number of them
are dead. See, the sand has drifted half over them. There's too much
sand and too little rock.
Should they have a rock bottom? the manufacturer queried.
Rock am de bes', suah, the owner of the ground put in, but a li'l
bit o' san' don' do no hahm. It shows dat de wateh am runnin'.
Yes, said the boy, the boatman is right there, Mr. Murren,
sponges must be in a current after they have once taken hold. They
can't swim around to get their food, so, like all the fixed forms of
life, their food must come to them. If there is no current there is not
enough food carried past for them to live on. If the current is too
strong the sponge has to make an extra tough skeleton to brace itself
against the rush of water and then it becomes too coarse for commercial
use. Some of the polyps live on tiny animals with a lot of flint in
their shells and the skeleton gets like glass. They call them glass
sponges. Conditions have got to be just right for their development,
they're a most particular sort of creature.
But how do they feed?
A sponge is a jelly-like colony of cells with a fibrous skeleton,
the boy explained; the outside of him is toward the water and is full
of small pores which branch all through his flesh and open at last into
a big pore leading to the outside. All these pores are lined with tiny
hairs that make a current of water go through the jelly-like flesh,
which absorbs any microscopic life there may be. The water is taken in
through the little pores and sent out through the big ones. Some sponge
forms are of one animal, most are of colonies. But they are all on the
same pattern, pumping water in and out again.
Then is a growing sponge all full of jelly? asked Paul.
All that I have seen are, Colin replied.
How do they get it out?
I c'n tell you 'bout that, interjected Pete. A sponge is all
slimy an' nasty. Yo' put him in de sun an' he dies quick an' all de
slime runs out. Den yo' buries him in san' 'til his insides all decay.
Den you puts him in a pon' an' takes him out, an' beats him wif a
stick, lots o' times oveh, maybe, 'til all de jelly an' all de san' an'
all de muck am out ob him. Den yo' wash him in fresh wateh 'til he's
clean an' lets him dry an' he's done.
But if sponges will reproduce themselves, the capitalist said,
returning to his former point, what is the need of planting them?
You don't have to work that way on their own beds, sir, the boy
answered, planting is done to get more out of the industry, using the
sea bottom in shallow waters which now is lying unused.
And you say only rocky land will do?
Any bottom that's hard enough to keep the sponge from being covered
up, Mr. Murren. Soft sand will wash, mud will ooze up, and rank marine
grass or seaweed will smother the young cells. But any hard bottom in
warm salt water with a current is good for sponges.
I see, was the rejoinder. As you say, the situation is not unlike
farming. You can either farm cultivated sponge land or plant
You can get land suitable for sponges for almost nothing, I
suppose, Colin said, and then if you had a small sponge ground you
could plant a larger area from it.
What do you think of this ground?
The boy hesitated.
I hardly think I know enough about it to say, Mr. Murren, he said;
you ought to get an expert.
I'll get an expert before I pay cash, was the prompt answer, but
I want to know what you think.
Well, then, sir, Colin answered, I think it's good ground, but
not good enough.
Ah got a betteh one than this hyeh, boss, put in the boatman,
it's mah brotheh's, but he might be willin' to sell. Costs mo' than
Take us there, ordered the capitalist.
The boatman took to his oars with a will, but it was a long pull,
almost an hour elapsing before he stopped, wiped his forehead on his
arms, and said, as before:
Lots o' sponges hyeh, boss.
At a nod from the prospective buyer, Colin took the water glass and
watched the bottom carefully as the boatman rowed slowly over it. How
the boy wished for the lenses in the glasses belonging to Mr. Collier
which he had used in Bermuda! But still, though the afternoon was
drawing on and the sun did not strike the water at the right angle,
Colin could see that it was unusually fine sponge ground.
[Illustration: YOUNG SPONGE ATTACHED TO CEMENT DISK, READY FOR
PLANTING. (Actual size.)
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
[Illustration: SHEEPSWOOL SPONGE GROWN FROM SMALL PIECE AS ABOVE, 48
MONTHS OLD, SIX INCHES ACROSS.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Yes, he said, that's more like.
Mr. Murren looked about him.
How in the world do you know, Pete, he said to the boatman, that
this is your ground or anybody else's? I don't see any stakes or
evidences of ownership.
If Ah starts to haul up sponges on somebody else's groun' he'll
come up and make me get off, suah, replied the boatman.
But suppose he doesn't see you.
The boatman grinned.
Dat certainly am his own lookout, boss, he said.
What a cut-throat game, ejaculated the would-be buyer. If a man
bought a place he'd have to watch it all the time, then?
Thank you, was the reply, I'll take some place in shallow water
where I can build a house and hire some fellow to watch it and work
Ain' no trouble hyeh, the boatman said, shrugging his shoulders,
ev'body wo'k his own patch.
But how do you get the sponges? was the query. You have to dive
for them, don't you?
The boatman shook his head.
Sometimes, if de wateh's mo' than fifty feet deep. Not of'en. See,
Ah show you.
He reached under the forward thwart and pulled out a light
three-pronged hook and fitted it to a jointed pole, screwing the two
sections together so that it made one long pole of about twenty-four
feet in length. He took the water glass and rowed the boat until it was
directly over a sponge.
Yo' all keep de boat dere a li'l while, he said to Colin, and the
lad took the oars.
Then very deftly the boatman pushed the long unwieldy pole into the
water and nicked a sponge from the bed, bringing it up intact. On
reaching the surface it was seen to be slimy and with a milky fluid
dripping from the bottom.
That's a ripe sponge, you see, Mr. Murren, the boy said, pointing
to the milky fluid; the slimy stuff that's dropping is full of germs
of young sponges all ready to grow and swim and fix to something and
then become proper sponges.
That may be a sponge, said the prospective buyer, but it looks
more like a piece of liver.
Fine sponge, sah,good yellow sponge, the boatman said, and Colin
did not know enough either to affirm or deny.
Now, Ah show yo' sheepswool sponge, quite diff'nt, the boatman
said, and taking up his water glass he leaned over the edge.
Just as he did so, both Colin and his companion gave a cry.
The boatman looked around contemptuously.
Nu'sing shahks, he said, sleep all de time. He splashed his hand
in the water and the sharks fled in all directions.
You wouldn't feel that way if you had been in the water, hazarded
Ah done ride on 'em, was the reply. Lots o' boys 'round dese hyeh
reefs think it fun to steal up ove' a lot o' nu'sing shahks, an' den
dive down an' take a ride. Dey wouldn't bite nothin' biggeh than a
But you have got dangerous sharks here?
Yes, sah, you bet, the boatman answered; dey was one ol' white
shahk was a holy terror; he use' to show up hyeh reg'lah once a monf.
Folks do say he eat up fo' men at diff'rent times.
I thought Mr. Collier told us that those shark stories were
exaggerated, said Paul, turning to Colin. I didn't think so, now you
see, they weren't.
Oh, I guess the white shark is the real thing, all right, Colin
answered. Some fishermen found a fair-sized young sea lion almost
whole in a shark's stomach about three years ago.
That must have been the fish that swallowed Jonah, suggested Paul.
He could have done it all right, the other boy agreed, and he is
about the only fish that could.
There might be some in the bottom of the sea!
I don't think so, Paul. Mr. Collier told me on the steamer that in
the very deepest parts of the ocean there were no fish, only worms and
sea-cucumbers and things like that.
If you'll listen a minute, sah, said the boatman, yo'll heah
somefin' wo'se than eveh come from de bottom ob de sea.
The two exclamations rang like one as the two boys strained into
attention. They listened intently and then across the water came a
whisking rushing sound followed by a deep 'boom' and a distant splash.
It was several moments, too, before the swell from that splash reached
the boat; when it did, the craft rocked noticeably.
What is that? asked Colin.
Vampa, sah, answered the boatman, as he took his oars and started
to row away in the opposite direction.
Hold on a bit there, the sponge-buyer said, I never saw a
vampire. What does it look like?
Some calls 'em sea-bat or devil-ray, was the reply, an' the're
twenty, thirty feet 'cross sometimes. They looks lak a sting ray. Ah
don' wan' to see 'em.
Isn't that a harpoon down there in the boat? the capitalist asked
Yes, sah, oh, yes, sah, but Lordy, sah, yo' can' do nuffin wif a
sea vampa. No, sah. Why, jes' oveh yondah dey was a big schooneh towed
out to sea by a vampa.
Yes, sah, a seven'y-ton schooneh. Yes, sah. He mus' ha' been a big
fellah an' goin' swimmin' along he struck de anchoh chain wif his
hohns. It made him mad, right mad, it did, an' he jes' heave up dat
hyeh anchoh an' toted it off to sea, draggin' de ship wif him.
The owner of the Golden Falcon laughed.
Can you beat that? That's the worst fish story I've heard, Colin.
You tell some good ones, too!
It's an old story, the boy answered, and I believe it's true.
They have often run away with boats.
The capitalist took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves.
I've harpooned dozens of porpoises from the Falcon, he
said, but I never had a chance at a sea vampire. This begins to look
The devil ray, or manta as it is often called, will give you a run
for your money, said Colin, and after all we can cut the line.
We'll not cut any line, was the response. Now, Pete, get after
But the negro fairly blubbered in terror.
Lordy, lordy, he cried, an' what yo' goin' t' do to a po' ol'
niggeh. Ah'll do an'thin' yo' say, Ah'll tell yo' de troof about de
sponge fahms, an'thin', onl' don' go afteh dat vampa.
You'll tell me the truth about the sponge farms, eh? the
prospective buyer remarked sternly. So you were trying to put up a
crooked deal. I'll attend to you when we get ashore. Now you row after
that 'vampa,' as you call it, and as quick as you know how.
The negro was about to refuse, but he did not dare.
Oh, Lordy, boss, he cried, don' go any neaheh. Yas, sah, yas,
sah, he added as he saw the yachtsman make a move towards him, yas,
sah, Ah'll row. But we all gwine to be smoddehed alive. Ah jes' knows
Again, close at hand, came the swish and the dull 'boom,' and the
negro shivered. Colin was conscious that his heart was pounding a
little and he caught himself wishing that it were the middle of the day
instead of evening. Then out of the water not ten feet from the boat a
dark witch-like specter swooped into the sky, black, horned, with
bat-like wings and a long naked tail like a gigantic rat.
Pete gave a squeal of fright.
The monster rose till he was almost three feet clear of the surface,
then turned so as to strike the water absolutely flat, and just before
the crash and splash of the fall, Murren hurled the harpoon into the
fish, and sprang back to clear the line. Although drenched and gasping
from the torrent of water thrown over the boat by the devil ray, Colin
took a bight of the line from the second coil and passed it around the
foremost thwart. He was just in time, for a few seconds later the rope
tautened. There was just one jerk and the boat started flying through
the water, sending up a green wall on either side that threatened to
swamp it every instant.
With the fight really begun, Colin became at once quite calm. Paul,
who was an absolutely fearless youngster, was laughing in glee.
Which way are we going, Pete? asked the capitalist.
Lordy, Lordy, don' as' me; gwine to de bottom, boss. Ah knows we'he
gwine to de bottom.
The negro crouched down in the bottom of the boat, and the sponge
buyer roared at him:
Sit up and watch where we're going, you coward! You know these
It don' matteh, boss, de vampa tuhn roun' in a minute an' jump on
de boat an' smoddeh we all.
It was not a pleasant suggestion. The ray was undoubtedly big enough
to do that very thing, and everybody in the boat had seen its power to
leap. But even the little study that Colin had given to fishes came to
All rays live on shellfish, he said, and they have small mouths
with plates instead of teeth to crush the shells with. So that it
really couldn't do us any harm, any way.
It's de smoddehin', boss, de smoddehin'. Oh, why did Ah try an'
make trouble ober dem durn sponge beds? Ef Ah eber gets on sho' again
Ah'll be a betteh man. Lordy, Lordy, what am Ah gwine to do?
His voice rose in a shriek.
He's a-comin' now!
The pointed fin jerked suddenly and a third of the gigantic shape
heaved itself into the air as the devil ray whirled. There was an
instant of suspense, but the giant went past, one huge fin beating the
air like the waving of some uncanny monstrous moth born in the terrors
of a nightmare, and the boat was wrenched around sharply, half filling
it and almost throwing Colin out.
Over almost exactly the same course that he had taken, the ray raced
back, the weight of the boat seeming to make no difference to its
speed; and then a second time the creature turned. It seemed impossible
that with a speed of not less than twenty miles an hour so huge a
creaturethe size of one side of a tennis courtcould twist about in
its own length. How the rope and the frame of the boat stood the strain
no one ever knew.
Once more the vampire turned; the boat nearly went over, but she was
a staunch little craft, and the fish started down the lagoon between
the reefs at its top speed. Often the creature put its two horn-like
tentacles down for a dive, but the water was everywhere shallow and
there was no chance to drag the boat under.
It doesn't seem to be tiring much, the capitalist remarked, but I
don't see what more we can do.
No, Colin answered, I don't think the ray feels our weight at
all. I believe it's going faster.
We's all gwine to de bottom, wailed the negro. Lordy, Ah been a
bad man, but ef Ah ebeh gets mah two feet asho' Ah'll nebeh do nuffin
There was no doubt of it, the vampire was going faster and faster
every minute. The line hissed as it cut through the water, and Pete,
despite his moaning, was baling for dear life. Darkness was closing in
and the ray sped on. On either side were reefs, and many times the boat
grazed sharp coral which would have ripped the bottom out of her if she
had struck. Mr. Murren stood by the bow with knife in hand ready to
cut, waiting to the last minute.
Presently a line of breakers, between two islets, appeared directly
ahead. It was only a matter of seconds till they would be reached, but
remembering how the ray had turned before, Colin clutched the gunwale
of the boat to prevent being flung out of it like a stone from a
catapult when the creature swerved.
It's a-comin', now! shrieked Pete. We's a-gwine to be smoddehed.
Oh, Lordy, Lordy, Ah's a dead niggeh.
Hold on tight, all, look out for yourself, Paul, Mr. Murren cried;
But he was wrong.
Instead of the black fin edging its way up, the whole great bulk of
the uncanny creature heaved itself above the water like a great cloud
and fell into the surf on the rocks, flapped upon them, although half
stranded, and with a heave that seemed to make the reef tremble,
plunged into the sea beyond.
Better cut! cried Colin.
But before the word was fairly out of his lips, the bright steel
gleamed in the dark, and with a grinding crash that seemed like the end
of the world to Colin, the boat crumpled into splinters on the reef and
the three men were thrown in a heap among the breakers.
The negro gave a yell that was enough to scare any one out of a
year's growth and lay spread out upon a rock as though he was some
ungainly kind of black crab, arms and legs in every direction, while he
fairly gibbered with fright.
Lordy, Lordy, don' let de debbil come an' take me now! Lordy, Ah
ain' fit to die! Don' let him come back an' smoddeh us on de rocks! Ah
ain' never goin' to get in a boat agen! On'y let me get home dis once!
Paul, though the youngest of the party, had escaped the most easily.
He had pitched clear against Pete and thus had broken his fall, while
at the same time the impact of his weight had knocked nearly all the
breath out of the negro's body. He had enough left, however, with which
to make a powerful complaint.
Bruised, even bleeding in one or two places, Colin picked himself
out of the wreckage and looked across in the faint light at the owner
of the Golden Falcon, who seemed to have escaped with a few
scratches and who was standing on the reef looking out to sea as though
he wished that the fight were still on.
[Illustration: MANTA, OR GIANT SEA-DEVIL, CAPTURED ON THE FLORIDA
By permission of Mr. Chas. Fredk. Holder.]
I wonder, he said, as he saw that the boys were not hurt, if the
vampire had as much sport out of that as we did.
CHAPTER VIII. FINDING A FORTUNE IN A
Resisting a strong temptation to kick the blubbering negro, Mr.
Murren succeeded in getting the fellow's attention by shouting in his
ear, and yanked him up on his feet. The boat was quite unusable, the
bow having been crumpled into matchwood by the force with which the
sea-bat had dragged it upon the reef, so the question of reaching the
shore was not an easy one. However, Pete knew the keys thoroughly and,
in response to much questioning, admitted that it was possible with
only a short swim here and there, to reach a lighthouse about four
The negro would have preferred to stay on the reef until morning,
for he could sleep as easily on the sand as in a bed, but Mr. Murren
knew that the two boys were not inured to hardship, Paul especially,
and he compelled the boatman to show the way. It was a toilsome but not
particularly dangerous journey, and when they reached the lighthouse,
and had done full justice to a quickly-prepared meal, they were quite
willing, as Paul declared, to tackle another sea-bat. There was a small
motor-boat owned by the lighthouse-keeper, and the party borrowed this,
reaching the Golden Falcon without further misadventure, the
capitalist recompensing the cowardly negro for the loss of his boat.
Owing to the thorough work that had been done at Bermuda, and having
the assistance of his capitalist friend, Mr. Collier speedily secured
the specimens and the drawings he needed of the Florida reefs. He kept
Colin hustling, but found time to enter into the question of the
proposed sponge-farm with a great deal of interest, and went with a
party to Anclote Key, where the Bureau of Fisheries had established a
station for the investigation of the sponge industry, with especial
regard to the transplanting of sponges. The government expert welcomed
them heartily, and an arrangement was entered into whereby the Bureau
accepted Mr. Murren's offer to use for its experiments a part of such
sponge-ground as he should acquire, while he, at the same time, had the
benefit of the advice of the investigators.
It seems to me, the capitalist said, when the details had been
concluded, that's about the best kind of investment I know, getting
expert opinion for yourself in such a way that it benefits the whole
It is, I think, the Fisheries official replied; but you can't
always get people to realize that. Why, even the State governments in
many cases are not always ready to co-operate, and only last year the
Assembly of a certain State refused to permit the establishment of a
hatchery, because a relative of one of the assemblymen owned a summer
hotel in the district, and he thought it might reduce the number of
fish in a lake near the hotel.
Of course, it's absurd, but it's amazing how often that sort of
thing happens. Still, even State governments are becoming more
intelligent now, and some, like Rhode Island, for instance, have been
in the very forefront of Fishery administration.
Yet it means money in the pockets of the people to conserve fish!
But also it means a certain small outgo from the Assembly, was the
reply; there's the rub. But, he added, turning to Colin, for the boy
had told him of his plans, by the time you're through college and on
the permanent rolls of the Bureau that sort of ignorance about the
value of Fisheries control will probably all have passed away.
I hope so, the boy answered, and I'm glad that I haven't seen
anything except hearty support. Going to Brown University, of course,
is a whole lot in my favor, because I understand they've always been
strong on the Fisheries side.
You're going to leave us to-night, then, Colin? asked his host.
Yes, Mr. Murren, the boy replied; by taking the evening train, I
can get to Providence in time for the opening of college, and Mr.
Collier is kind enough to let me start right away. I can't be grateful
enough to you, sir, for all your kindness on this trip.
That's all right, his friend said heartily, I've enjoyed having
you, and so has Paul, I know. I shall hear from you occasionally, I
hope, and maybe the Golden Falcon will have you on board for
some other trip.
Thank you ever so much, sir, Colin answered; but I guess I'm
booked for college steadily until next summer, and the Bureau of
Fisheries during vacation.
But Colin was mistaken in his idea that almost a year would elapse
before he was busy again with Fisheries work, for shortly before the
end of his first term, he received a letter from his father in which
the suggestion was made that the boy should spend a week on the Great
Lakes during the Christmas vacation, to get an idea of what winter work
was like. Colin smiled as he read the letter, for he knew well that he
was 'in for it,' since his father would make him go through every step
of the training.
Accordingly, one cold day, he found himself aboard the steamer
Mary N. Lewis, which had been chartered by the Bureau for a couple
of weeks' trawling in Lake Michigan. A bitter wind was blowing and
lumps of ice floated near the shores. The whitefish were not plentiful
that winter, and when the nets came up and Colin had to pick fish out,
b-r-r-r, but it was cold! A great many of the fish were not ripe for
spawning and had to be thrown back again, which delayed matters greatly
and kept the party on the water for several days.
Frequently Colin's lips were blue and his fingers numb, while his
ears and cheekbones and chin felt as though they were being sliced off
gradually by the blasts blowing down from icy Canada, but he knew that,
to a certain extent, he was on trial, and he laughed and joked and
managed to keep his spirits up, though his teeth chattered. There was
no great amount of excitement in catching the whitefish and securing
the spawn for development in the hatchery, but it was a test of
endurance, and incidentally the boy learned much about the fishes of
the Great Lakes.
There's one thing I don't quite see, though, he said one day to
the government fish culturist, with whom he was working; and that is,
why we need to do this.
How do you mean, Dare?
Well, in the West, they hatch young salmon because the old salmon
are caught going up the river before they spawn, and they die, anyway;
but here they have all the room they want for spawning, and I should
think Nature would look after it.
You don't want to forget, the fish culturist replied, that Nature
is very exact. Everything has to balance. The whitefish born are ten
times as many as those that mature, but the number that matures is just
precisely enough to keep the supply going.
I see that, all right, the boy answered.
Well, then, if you disturb this balance by extensive fishing, isn't
it easy to see that you've got to make up for it somewhere? We don't
have to worry over keeping up the supply of catfish, for example,
because Nature is being left alone, and she has worked the problem out.
But if suddenly a big catfish market developedas it easily might,
because, in spite of popular opinion, catfish is good eatingand if
thousands of them were caught, it would be necessary to find some way
to help Nature in keeping up the supply.
Now, the whitefish, he continued, isn't like the salmon, which
spawns carefully. The lake fish does that in a sort of hit-or-miss
manner, with the result that only a small percentage of the eggs get a
fair start. It is not difficult for us to put hundreds of millions of
young fish into the lakes every year, and the proportion of these that
survive will not merely keep the supply constant, but will even
Then that will disturb the balance in another way?
Yes, was the reply, but it will be at the expense of other
species which are of no use to man. Nature is like the proverbial
Irishman, she can't be drove, but she's mighty easy to lead. When you
return to the university, get hold of some books on the means by which
all the various kinds of living creatures in the world are kept on an
even balance, how they all get their food, and how every tiny speck
fits into the whole world scheme. You'll find that sort of reading has
more grip to it than any novelexcept, perhaps, those of a few of the
really great writers, of whom there are some in every age.
[Illustration: WINTER ON THE GREAT LAKES, STRIPPING LAKE-TROUT.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
[Illustration: WINTER WORK ON INLAND STREAMS, PLANTING TROUT FRY IN
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
I found that out, answered Colin, when I was working with Mr.
Collier. He was always saying that things were 'so much worth while,'
and when he started to explain them, they certainly were! It's just
like this, I've only seen a little bit of this inland water work, but
you handle other species beside whitefish in this work on the Great
Lakes, don't you?
Yes, was the culturist's reply; lake trout and pike perch among
others. One station alone has handled seventy-one million trout eggs in
a season. But the pike perch is a more difficult fish to propagate
artificially, though nearly half a million eggs were distributed last
year. We gave Canada six million pike perch fry. There's no wasted
energy in the Bureau of Fisheries, it's practical all the way through,
and you're learning to see it from the right angledoing the work and
seeing the results.
It was this personal contact with the fish-culture work, this direct
demonstration of the money value to the country of scientific
knowledge, which became Colin's stimulus. His college-mates
outdistanced him in many studies, for the boy was not at heart of a
scholarly type, but in his scientific work he was far in advance of
them all. Seeing his interest and his perseverance, several of the
professors and instructors in the scientific department took a liking
to Colin, and the lad was sure to be found on every kind of field
expedition for which he was eligible. He was quite an athlete, too, but
he settled down to swimming as his share in the athletic work of the
university. Already quite at home in the water, he worked at improving
his stroke with such energy, and was in the tank so much, that before
the end of his freshman year, he was by long odds the best swimmer in
the college. With his devotion to fish and his prowess in the water, it
was a common saying that Dare's growing fins! and the college paper
took to calling him Fins, a nickname which stuck to him ever after.
As he had intimated to his father long before, Colin was especially
anxious to go to Woods Hole, the great marine station of the Bureau of
Fisheries, situated on the southwestern corner of Cape Cod, and the
most famous marine biological laboratory in the New World. The work of
the Fisheries appealed to him a great deal more when it bore a relation
to the sea, rather than to rivers and inland waters, and his
application for a position on the summer force at Woods Hole had been
sent to headquarters shortly after the New Year. Accordingly, just as
soon as the term was over, he hurried to Washington.
Disappointment awaited him. His heart had been set on that especial
feature of the work, but when he asked Dr. Crafts about it, the Deputy
Commissioner shook his head.
I have thought the matter over, he said, and if you are equally
anxious next year to go to Woods Hole you shall go. But this season I'm
going to send you to the Mississippi to do some work on mussels.
Very well, sir, Colin answered, his expression betraying his
regrets, but his will determining that he would make no seeming
complaint. I wish I'd known this winter, and I would have given more
attention to the mollusks.
The Deputy Commissioner, who had friends in Brown University, had
heard indirectly once or twice about Colin, and smiled to himself. He
was pleased by the lad's self-control, and continued:
The mussel question is of a great deal more interest than you
think. I'm not sure, of course, but there are signs of a pearl-fever,
and if there is one, you'll certainly see something doing. The
Mississippi and Ohio were like a Klondike in 1903!
What is a 'pearl-fever,' Dr. Crafts? asked the boy.
A silly infatuation that seems to strike the farmers of the river
valleys every few years on hearing that a valuable pearl has been found
in a mussel. The get-rich-quick hope is very general, and it seems so
much easier to dredge mussels and open them until a fortune is found in
one than it does to farm for a living. In 1903, thousands upon
thousands of farms were deserted or sold for next to nothing by people
who believed that within a week they could be made millionaires by the
pearls they would find in Mississippi River mussels.
But I thought pearls came from oysters! exclaimed Colin in
So they do, but they come from mussels, as well, and clams
occasionally. But you ought to remember, the Deputy Commissioner
continued, that the finding of an occasional pearl in an oyster or a
mussel is of comparatively little importance, because it's an irregular
sort of thing. The mother-of-pearl industry, however, is of big
importance, it has an economic value to the country, and consequently
it's our business to see that the natural resources are as wisely used
as possible. We'll start a party out there on June fifteenth, so you
can report here by that time.
That's three weeks away!
Is that too long to wait? I'm afraid you'll have to learn patience,
Colin; that's as important as any knowledge of fish culture.
But I was wondering, Dr. Crafts, the boy urged, if I had three
weeks to spend, why I couldn't go down to Beaufort?
One of my instructors in biology is there, Colin said. I believe
the Bureau gave him table-room in the laboratory there for some work on
turtles, and he said I could help him if you were willing to have me
go. I didn't say anything about it, because I wanted to go to Woods
Hole right away, but if I have this time to spare, don't you think I
ought to use it?
I think you ought to use it for a holiday, the Deputy Commissioner
But I'd rather be doing something! protested Colin.
Perhaps, was the firm reply; but not necessarily at Beaufort.
Aside from the hatching of diamond-back terrapin, there's nothing going
on there in which you could be of any service. Besides, you'll get
'stale' unless you have a vacation. 'All work and no play,' you know.
Colin was eager to urge the Deputy Commissioner, but he could see it
would be useless.
I'd read up on turtles, too! he returned in a disappointed tone.
H'mby your instructor you mean Mr. Lark, do you not?
Look here, Colin, said the Deputy Commissioner, since you have
practically joined the Bureau by our promise to accept you if you make
good, don't forget that we are after results first. I've been a boy
myself, and I think I can see what you're driving at. I suppose Lark
has been telling you some of his stories about riding diving turtles.
Yes, Dr. Crafts, the boy replied; he told me a lot about it.
I thought so, was the reply. I remember some magazine articles he
did. And I suppose you thought you wanted to take a ride?
I'm a good swimmer, sir, Colin answered a little proudly.
You mean you can swim, the Deputy Commissioner responded a little
sharply, for being modest himself, he disliked any appearance of
Yes, sir, the boy said; that was what I meant.
Well, there's no turtle-riding at Beaufort. If you knew a little
more about these subjects, you wouldn't make such breaks, whether you
have been reading up on them or not. The leather turtle, the big one on
which men dive by holding on to the shell, is an aquatic species and
never comes into brackish water. The terrapin lives in the mud, and is
only to be found in marshy places. If you want to go turtle-riding for
your vacation, why, go ahead, no one's going to stop you, but you can
hardly do that while officially or even unofficially acting as an
assistant at Beaufort. It's almost as far from Beaufort to the Florida
Keys as it is from here to Hudson's Bay.
I hadn't realized that, sir, Colin answered, surprised.
Very few people do, was the reply. Why, the State of Florida
alone is as long as the distance from New York to Nova Scotia, or
Washington to Detroit. You can't go after leather-turtle from Beaufort
unless you've gotnot seven-leagued boots, but seven-leagued fins.
I'm sorry I bothered you about it, Dr. Crafts, the boy answered.
I really hadn't given the distances much thought.
Wait a bit, said the Deputy Commissioner, as the boy turned to go.
I don't want you to feel badly about your summer. What do you know
Very little, sir, the boy answered; hardly anything.
Let me tell you a story about them, the Deputy Commissioner said,
smiling as the boy's face lighted up at the word story. Seven or
eight centuries ago, his friend beganthat is, if you want to hear
Oh, yes, sir, came the reply.
That's a long way backa small trading-vessel was wrecked in the
Bay of Biscay on the west coast of France, near the little village of
Esnandes. All hands were lost except one sailor, an Irishman, called
Sure to be an Irishman who got ashore, commented the boy.
This was a particularly ingenious son of Erin, the other
continued. Although he did not speak a word of French, with the
likeableness that seems to have been the chief note of the Irish
character then, and which they have never lost, Walton speedily became
popular in the little French village. This was the more remarkable, as
there was a great scarcity of food in the village, the inhabitants
depending entirely on fishing, and the fishing-grounds having become
worked out. Hence the presence of a stranger for whom to provide food
became a serious problem.
But the Irish had not been the teachers and scholars of Europe
during the five preceding centuries for nothing, and though Walton was
but a sailor, he shared the quick-wittedness of his race. He had heard
somewhere that people often starved in the midst of plenty, and he
started exploring for food on his own account. The village was built
near a wide stretch of mud, which was covered by the sea at high tide,
but dry when the water went down, and he noticed that numbers of land-and sea-birds were in the habit of skimming over the mud at low tide,
apparently picking up worms.
Birds could be eaten, he thought. Accordingly, patching together
all the old bits of net that could be found and mending the holes, the
Irishman made a huge net two or three hundred yards long. Then he drove
a number of stakes into the mud, working almost night and day, and
stretched the net vertically about ten feet above the mud. The net was
made something like a fish-trap, so that birds flying under would find
it difficult to get out. On the very first night the net was spread, he
caught enough birds to feed the village for a week.
Bully for him! cried Colin.
That was only the beginning, the Deputy Commissioner continued.
The ingenious stranger now began to consider what food it was that
attracted these birds, and to his surprise, instead of worms, found
that they lived on an unknown black shellfish, now called mussels. If
the birds ate mussels and the birds were good to eat, Walton reasoned
that mussels must be fit for food. He ate some in order to find out.
That's the real scientific spirit, said Colin, laughing.
He was Irish and willing to take a chance, was the smiling
rejoinder. However that may be, he not only found that they were good
to eat, but that they were good eating. He had hard work to persuade
the villagers to his point of view, although his success with the birds
had made him a sort of hero. Soon, however, mussels came to be in great
demand. Then Walton noticed that young mussels in great numbers were
gathering on the submerged stakes of his net, and being prolific of
ideas, he promptly had several hundred more stakes cut and driven into
the mud. He found, then, that mussels thus suspended over the mud grew
fatter and of better flavor, and accordingly designed frames with
interlacing branches which collected them by hundreds. This system,
known as the 'buchot' system, has been practiced continuously at the
village of Esnandes during all the centuries since that time, and the
income to the little village last year was over one hundred and twelve
thousand dollars as a result of the ingenuity of the castaway
Then mussels are fit for food, Colin said in surprise. I thought
they were only used for bait.
Mussels, sea-mussels that is, are as good a food as clams,some
people claim that they are better,and they have just about three
times as much food value as the oyster. That's why I told you the
story. We expect to make the mussel industry as important as the clam
fishery, giving employment to thousands of people and establishing what
is practically a new food supply in the United States, although it is
common throughout the shore countries of Europe.
But the pearl mussels, queried Colin, can you eat those, too?
It is doubtful, was the reply, but their value lies so largely in
their use for mother-of-pearl in the button industry, that their food
value would be of only secondary importance, unless they could be
pickled or canned, as is done sometimes with the sea-mussels. But,
Colin, he added, if you think that the mussel doesn't sound an
interesting subject, let me tell you that I think it is, in itself, one
of the most interesting creatures in the water. Its life history is
astounding, and there are scores of problems yet to be worked out. Read
this, he added, handing the lad a Bulletin of the Bureau; it has only
just come out, and if I have judged you rightly, you'll come here on
June fifteenth so eager to get to a mussel-bed that there will be no
[Illustration: CLAMMING ON THE MISSISSIPPI.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
[Illustration: BARGE-LOADS OF MUSSELS FOR THE MOTHER-OF-PEARL
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Two hours later, the Deputy Commissioner, leaving the office for the
day, started on his walk home, going through the park in the direction
of the Smithsonian Museum. On his way he was surprised to see Colin
sitting on a bench near the Fisheries Building, absolutely engrossed in
a gray, paper-covered folio. Dr. Crafts recognized it as the Bulletin
he had given the lad early in the afternoon, and he laughed aloud at
the boyish impatience which had made it impossible for Colin even to
wait until he got the book home. The Deputy Commissioner had to speak
twice before he was heard.
Well, Colin, he said, are you learning it off by heart?
The boy jumped up as soon as he saw his friend, fairly stuttering
with all the questions he wanted to ask.
I've got to go home, the Deputy Commissioner said, when Colin
stopped to take breath; and you've put queries enough to keep a staff
of men answering for a week! Didn't I tell you that there's a world of
work to be done over the mussel? But if you like to walk along, why,
I'll tell you anything I can.
Thanks, ever so much, the boy said; but what puzzles me in this
Bulletin is the mussel's marsupium, or pouch. Has a fresh-water mussel
really got a pouch like a kangaroo?
The Deputy Commissioner pushed his hat back over his forehead.
Colin, he said, you have a knack of putting questions in the most
awkward fashion. I suppose, in a way, the answer is 'not quite,'
because in the kangaroo, the baby is almost completely formed when it
is placed in the pouch, while in the mussel, only the egg goes there.
The word 'marsupium' was what threw you off. What really happens is
that the egg passes into this pouch or pocket in the gills, and is
there fertilized as the current of water flows in and out over the
And it stays there until it has a shell of its own, doesn't it?
asked the boy.
It does, was the reply.
Well, said the eager questioner, if it has a shell and is able to
look out for itself, why doesn't it? Yet the book says that it always
attacks a fish and lives as a parasite for a while.
It doesn't attack a fish, Colin, the other answered; it only
fastens on to one. Besides which, although the mussel has a shell, it
isn't able to look out for itself. There is a change of form while it
is fastened to the fish.
But doesn't it hurt the fish?
Not permanently. It causes a local sore or a cyst, like the tiniest
kind of a blister, in the middle of which the larva of the mussel is
safely curled up and stays there until fully developed. Then the cyst
breaks, the mussel drops out, and the tiny wound heals rapidly. Even a
small fish, four inches in length, can carry five hundred of these
little creatures on its fins and in its gills without serious injury.
Suppose it can't find a fish?
That's the end of the mussel, then! There is one kind of mussel
that develops without going through the parasite stage, but it is not
as common as the others. Curiously enough, the only way to raise the
mussel artificially is by means of parasitism on the fish. As you read
there, it is a simple matter to get these tiny creatures from the
'pouch' of the mother mussel, put them in an aquarium with some fish,
and keep the water stirred up. In a few minutes the larvæ will have
fastened themselves on. It is wise to keep these fish in a hatchery for
a month or so and then simply release them; when the mussels are ready
they will drop off, and a new crop of mussels is on the way. By this
means you can start them without much trouble in rivers and streams
where there were none before, so that you see what chances there are
for the development of the industry.
Are all mussels equally good for making mother-of-pearl?
No, was the reply. There are two chief commercial varieties, of
different species, one larva having a hook on the shell, so that it can
attach to fins or tail, the other being smaller and without hooks and
making its way into the gills. But you'll go into all that when you get
to Fairport, and even after you have worked at mussels all summer there
will be a lot of problems you won't have touched. Don't forget now, the
Never fear, Dr. Crafts, Colin answered; I won't forget. I wish it
were here now.
Time did not hang heavily on the boy's hands, for he was interested
in all phases of fishing, and spent a couple of weeks on a trout stream
in Northern Maine, not only catching the fish, butas he had been
advisedmaking notes of any peculiarities he saw in those he caught.
Many stories had been told him of the finding of new species by young
investigators, and he was amazed to see what wide differences existed
in fish of the same species.
Colin examined so carefully every one he caught, that he began to
think that if the fish were thrown back into the stream and hooked out
again, he could recognize each one of them. His eagerness to be at work
reached boiling point when a newspaper arrived at the camp with a brief
item telling of the excitement caused by the finding of pearls near
Fairport. Fortunately, it was only a day or two before the date set for
his departure, and Colin was on the point of starting for Washington,
when he received a letter ordering him to his post on the Mississippi
immediately. He took the next train, and reported two days later at the
Are you coming for any special line of work? the superintendent
asked him. I was informed from Washington that you were coming, but
nothing was said as to the nature of your duties.
Nothing more than that Dr. Crafts said I should probably be working
on mussels, sir, the boy answered. I was just told to report.
The Deputy Commissioner states, the superintendent continued,
looking over the letter, that you expect to join the Bureau
permanently, and that you have been doing some work at college on
I haven't done very much, as yet, sir.
I suppose not. But I want to find out what you know about mussels.
This put the boy on his mettle.
Colin told briefly, but quite clearly, what he remembered of the
life-history of the fresh-water mussel as described in the Bulletin
that had been given him, and added the information he had secured from
the Deputy Commissioner. The superintendent of the station put a few
leading questions to him, and nodded his head with satisfaction.
So far as theory goes, he said, I think you have a fairly good
idea of it, although here and there you made some statements showing
the need of a good deal of practical work with mussels. But, since you
seem to have a general idea of the anatomy and physiology, I think I
will put you in as Dr. Edelstein's assistant.
What is he doing, sir? queried Colin.
He is working on pearl formations, was the answer. You have
heard, I suppose, that there has been some excitement over pearl
Yes, I heard that away up in Maine, the boy replied.
It's exaggerated a good deal, the superintendent said; but as a
matter of fact, there have been a few good finds. Dr. Edelstein is
studying the differences between oyster and mussel pearls. Of course,
when one of these 'rushes' comes, a very large number of inferior
pearls are found, which are of no commercial value but which afford
good material to work on. Just now, he added, I think it is the most
interesting part of the work. Come along, and I'll introduce you to Dr.
Colin's new chief was an entirely different type from any of the
scientists whom he had met in the Bureau. In the first place, he was a
gem expert by profession, and consequently, more of a mineralogist than
biologist. Tall, powerfully built, black-bearded, and abrupt, he gave
an impression of volcanic force, and at the same time of great
keenness. A scientist of remarkable discernment, he possessed with all
his broad views a marvelous capacity for detail, and Colin soon learned
that the somewhat slipshod methods of a college laboratory would not be
accepted by Dr. Edelstein.
It iss of no use to think that a result iss right! he said, when
Colin betrayed a hint of impatience at performing the same experiment
over and over again, scores of times. It iss to know for certainly,
that we work.
I really believe, Dr. Edelstein, Colin said, that you would like
to see this fail once or twice.
Of gourse! Then we find out why it iss a failure. That iss a good
way to learn.
But in spite of the strictness of the discipline under which he was
kept by his chief, Colin enjoyed the work. His duties were manifold.
Some days he would spend entirely in the laboratory preparing
microscope slides or observing mussel parasites through the
microscopes, and making copious notes. His power as a colorist stood
him in good stead again, and more than once he received a rare word of
praise, feeling quite elated when, one day, late in the summer, Dr.
Edelstein said to him:
I have much gonfidence in your golor sense, Golin.
At the same station, one of the younger men was finishing a
monograph on the spoonbill-cat, a sturgeon of the lower Mississippi,
often six feet in length and a hundred pounds in weight, just coming
into commercial importance as the source of caviare. The 'paddle-fish,'
as the creature is often called by the negroes, because of its long
paddle-shaped jaw, or 'nose,' formed an interesting study to Colin, for
he knew enough about the make-up of fishes to realize that this was a
very ancient form, midway between the sharks and the true bony fishes.
The paddle-fish is closely allied to the sturgeon, and its roe has
recently been found to be almost as good for caviare as the Russian
variety. Thus, within ten years, a new fishing industry has developed
on the Mississippi River.
In addition to his laboratory work and to his share in the
investigations of his friend who was studying the paddle-fish, Colin
frequently took short trips up or down the river for Dr. Edelstein, the
latter being anxious to procure measurements and other data on every
pearl found. It was on one of these trips that Colin had the
opportunity of seeing the panicky side of a 'pearl fever,' of which he
had heard so much. The report had come to the station that a pearl of
fair size, valued at about five hundred dollars, had been found, four
miles below the station, and Colin was told to go down and make a
report on it as soon as he had finished his afternoon's work.
Accordingly, after supper, he took a small power-boat and ran
downstream, taking with him a very sensitive pair of scales to
determine the exact weight of the pearl, calipers to ascertain its
size, and other instruments especially designed by Dr. Edelstein. At
the same time, he was ordered to secure the shell from which the pearl
had been taken, should it be obtainable.
The pearl was measured carefully and found to be a fine one, not
large and not unusual in any way, though a certain irregularity in the
position of its formation on the shell gave it a scientific interest.
The lucky finder was entirely willing to yield up the shell of the
mussel from which the pearl had been taken, and was glad to be informed
as to its weight and purity. It was pleasant to Colin to seeas he so
often didthe success of the pearl-hunters. But while the boy was
examining the stone, a loud knock at the door, was heard, and a
neighbor came in, breathless and excited.
[Illustration: LANDING THE PADDLEFISH.
New industry developed in the lower Mississippi, catching
sturgeon-like fish for its roe.
By permission of Dr. Louis Hussakoff.]
I've got one, he cried. I've got a big one!
Every one present crowded round with cries of congratulation.
Slowly the newcomer opened his hand and revealed a large pearl
almost twice the size of the gem Colin had been examining, and,
therefore, if of equal purity, worth eight times as much. The finder
handed it around, and in course of time it reached the boy, who
scrutinized it carefully.
Isn't it a beauty? the newcomer cried. And just on the very last
day! I haven't a penny left in the world, and I sold my old farm to
come up here. It's been getting harder and harder for me every day, and
we had decided to give it all up. I hadn't a bit of hope left, and
The cottager whose pearl Colin had come down to inspect, slapped the
farmer on the back, and without a trace of enviousnessfor he himself
had been luckyjoined in his delight. The farmer's wife had followed
him more sedately, and she came in to share the general enthusiasm.
But Colin sat silent.
Over and over again, with a childish persistence, the farmer told
how he had sold his farm, how he had come up with every penny he owned,
how, little by little, it had all oozed away, and how in disgust he had
decided to sell his boat, which would give him just enough money to get
back to Missouri.
But now, Mary, he said, we can go back and get a better farm than
we ever had, and we'll have a house in the village so that the children
can go to a good school, and you'll have lots o' friends, and pretty
things about you. It's been hard, neighbors, I tell you, he said,
looking round; but the luck has turned at last.
Colin said not a word, but kept his eyes fixed on the table. His
host, the mussel-gatherer, whose stone he had been examining, noticed
this, but the newcomer was boisterous in his joy. He babbled of the
wealth that was his, until if the stone had been a diamond of equal
size, it would not have sufficed to have financed his dreams.
But the boy with the instruments on the table before him, said not a
word of congratulation or delight. He had only seen the pearl for a
moment, but he knew.
With hearty and jovial hospitality, the farmer invited every one in
the room to come and stay with him as soon as he was settled down. He
would show them, he said, what real life was like on a farm.
Suddenly he stopped.
Mister! he said, in an altered voice.
Colin, sitting alone, still beside his testing instruments, did not
Mister! he said again.
In spite of himself the boy raised his eyes. Do what he might, he
could not keep the sorrow out of them, and those of the finder of the
pearl met his fairly.
The room was full of people but it grew still as death.
The woman clasped her husband's arm and gave a low moan. He touched
her shoulder gently.
Mister, he said again, with a humbleness that seemed strangely
gentle after all his bluster and brag, will you look at this and tell
me what you think it's worth?
I'm not an expert, the boy said hastily. I couldn't judge its
value. You ought to take it to some one that knows all about these
I can see what you think, the farmer said with a pitiful, sad
smile; you think it isn't worth much. Is it worth anything at all?
Colin took the discolored pearl and looked at it closely. He put it
on the scales and weighed it carefully, measured it, and scrutinized it
as closely as he could in the lamplight, but he knew himself that these
were devices to gain time. The pearl showed all too clearly a flaw that
would make it valueless. Every one waited for his verdict. He was
conscious that his voice was a little shaky, but he answered as
steadily as he could:
I'm afraid, sir
I don't believe, sir
That it's worth anything at all? the farmer interrupted.
A solemn dignity, the accompaniment of great trouble, came to the
man's aid and gave him strength. Thank you, he said; I understand.
He looked around with a troubled glance and saw the far smaller but
more valuable pearl that his neighbor had found, which was still lying
on the table beside the instruments. A strong shiver shook him, but he
made no other sign. He turned to Colin.
I see that it's no good, he said, but I shall keep it just the
same. If you have finished with it
Colin stood up and placed the pearl in his hand.
Please take it to some one else right away, he said. I couldn't
sleepsuppose I were wrong!
The old farmer looked at him gravely.
No man would do as you have done and say what you have said, unless
it was so clear that he couldn't help but know, he replied. He turned
to the neighbors. I'm afraid, he said, I have in part spoiled your
pleasure, and, he added, with a twitch of the muscles of his face,
made a fool of myself, besides. Come, Mary, we'll go home.
The others pressed forward with words of sympathy, but the stricken
man paid no heed and passed out of the door. Colin sat heavily back in
his chair staring moodily at the instruments, his heart sore within
him, but he knew he could have done nothing else. Yet the thought of
the old farmer's sorrow was powerfully before him, and he had to keep a
strong grip on himself to keep from showing an unmanly emotion.
Outside the little cottage could be heard a murmur of voices, as the
old farmer tried to comfort his wife, while inside the house no one
spoke lest he should seem careless of the grief and disappointment of
those who were still within hearing. Suddenly a third voice was heard
outside, speaking excitedly. Once again that tense clutch of suppressed
emotion permeated the room and Colin, with his heart in his mouth,
looked up. No one moved. Outside the voices ceased.
Then, through the open door, rushed a boy about twelve years old,
muddy from head to foot, but with his two eyes shining like lights from
his grimy face. The mussel-gatherer recognized instantly the farmer's
What is it, John? he asked.
I was goin' over some shells father hadn' opened, after he'd found
that other pearl, an' I got this! Father he says the other one's no
good an' that this isn' likely to be any better! But I don' know! It
looks all right!
He glanced down at the object in his hand.
Father said it was no good, he repeated, a little less certainly;
but I don' know.
He held out his hand and passed the pearl to the mussel-gatherer,
who glanced at it hastily.
Mr. Dare! he said excitedly.
Colin looked up and caught his glance, then tried to take the stone.
But his hand shook as though he were in a violent fever, and the
mussel-gatherer placed it on the table beside his own, in front of the
boy. Clear, flawless, and of fair size, it gleamed like a star of hope
before them all. A moment's examination was enough. Leaping from his
seat Colin seized the pearl and rushed out of the door.
It's real, sir; it's real! he cried. And will do all you said!
The old farmer never looked at him. He turned his face toward the
stars and reverently removed his hat.
CHAPTER IX. A TUSSLE WITH THE
MONARCH OF THE SEA
In spite of his interest in the pearl work, Colin began to feel the
strain of the steady and persistent grind required from him by Dr.
Edelstein, who himself seemed absolutely untiring. At the beginning of
July, moreover, the weather turned wet, and the rain poured down
steadily, not heavily, but soaking the ground thoroughly. For a week or
so no notice was taken of the rain, other than the discomfort it
caused, but one day Colin overheard one of the head workers saying to
It looks as though we might have trouble unless there's a let-up to
the rain soon!
I'm afraid of it, was the reply, and the grave tone of the answer
surprised Colin; and I hear that it's raining in torrents in Montana.
We're safe enough, I suppose, was the comment.
Yes, the superintendent answered, but hundreds of other people
are not. Floods always catch some of them.
This was an idea that had not occurred to Colin. The word flood"
called up a host of graphic ideas, and a flood on the Mississippi, the
largest river in the world flowing through a populated country, seemed
a serious matter. He spoke of it to his friend of the paddlefish
Yes, the other answered, there have been many scores of lives
lost and many millions of dollars swept away on the 'Father of Waters,'
and I doubt if the time will ever come when the flood danger will be at
an end. Remember that the Mississippi River Valley is the only water
outlet for two-thirds of the entire United States.
It's protected by levees, too, isn't it? Colin queried. At least,
during the flood on the Mississippi, you always hear of the levees
breaking or just going to break.
They give way very seldom now, his chief replied, and that means
wonderful engineering, for there are sixteen hundred miles of levee,
the river banks being built up clear from Illinois to the Gulf.
Then where are the floods one hears of so often?
There are bad floods on the Ohio, was the reply, and there is
always danger when a flood tide comes down the Mississippi. You see, if
part of a levee does give way, or as they say, if a 'crevasse' comes,
thousands of square miles are inundated, hundreds of people made
homeless, and the property loss is incalculable. All the land around
the lower part of the Mississippi is just a flood plain which used to
be covered with water every year. That land has been rescued from the
river just as Holland has been rescued from the sea.
Then there is danger every year?
There is always danger, was the reply, and the levees are
carefully patrolled. But during the high water of early summer there is
more danger, and a week's rain means trouble. We're going to have a bad
flood this year unless the rain stops soon.
But the river isn't rising?
Not yet. Why should it? It isn't the water that flows directly into
the Mississippi, but that which floods the tributaries that causes
disaster. From the Rocky Mountains on the one side to the Alleghanies
on the other, and from the Gulf of Mexico to Canadanearly every drop
of rain that isn't evaporated or used by plants has to be carried to
the sea by the Mississippi.
It seems like a big job for one river bed, Colin agreed. But how
can it be made safer?
The way is easy, was the answer, but costly. If big reservoirs
are built on all the headwater streams so thatno matter what the
rainfall may beonly a constant amount is allowed to flow out of these
reservoirs, then floods will be avoided, there will be plenty of water
for irrigation, and a steady depth of water in the channel will extend
navigation that is now stopped during low-water periods. Besides which,
it will make the Mississippi fish question a great deal easier.
I don't quite see what it has to do with the fish! the boy said.
Supposing five thousand square miles of land are flooded. When the
water goes down, at least half that amount of land is still flooded,
though no longer connected with the river, but forming shallow lakes
and pools. These are all full of fish. As the pools dry up, everything
that is in them dies, and millions of food fish are lost.
But how can we stop that?
The Bureau of Fisheries does a great deal to stop it, was the
answer, and if this rain holdsthough we are all praying that it
won'tyou'll probably have a chance to see. The Bureau seines as many
as it can of those bayous and pools and lakes to save the fish and
return them to the river. If a couple of men can save several thousand
fish a day, isn't that worth while? Think of a farmer who could get a
thousand bushels of wheat in a day! And that's about the proportion of
Well, said Colin, as he was leaving the laboratory to take up
another piece of work he had been told to do, I don't want a flood to
come, of course, but if there is one, I'd like to have a chance to see
how the Bureau handles that sort of fish rescue work.
The reports the next morning were no more encouraging,the Weather
Bureau reporting heavy rain in Montana and the Milk River in flood.
Fortunately the weather was fine in the eastern States, but a flood on
the Milk River usually means a Missouri River flood, and that takes in
nearly two-fifths of the Mississippi basin. Around the Iowa station the
rain still poured heavily. By the end of the week more hopeful reports
came from the west. As the southwest had escaped entirely no serious
trouble was expected, but in the region near the laboratory the rain
was coming down in torrents and the Wapsipinicon and Cedar Rivers were
overflowing their banks.
[Illustration: CLIMBING UP THE WHEEL.
Device used on the lower Mississippi to haul in big nets for the
By permission of Dr. Louis Hussakoff.]
[Illustration: BIGGEST FRESH-WATER FISH IN AMERICA.
Pulling out the source of domestic caviare, the Spoonbill.
By permission of Dr. Louis Hussakoff.]
The neighboring stations at Bellevue, Iowa, and North MacGregor,
Iowa, were reported to be preparing for collecting black bass,
crappies, sun-fishes, yellow perch, pike, buffalo-fish, and catfish as
soon as the water should recede and leave the fish stranded in lakes
and pools. One Sunday, Colin took the power-boat up the river and had a
chat with the men at Bellevue regarding the nature of the work. He
found that the flood dangers were small above the junction of the
Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and when an opportunity arrived to do
some fish collection in the overflows, the boy thanked the
superintendent of the station, and said he would rather keep to the
mussel work. This, a day or two later, came to the notice of Dr.
I haf observed, his chief said, that you haf been taking much
more interest lately in your work. Why is it?
I have been trying to do a little investigating on my own account,
Colin said confusedly, and there's a lot of fun in working things out
all by yourself.
Haf you any objegtions to telling me what you haf been
Not at all, sir, Colin answered. I'd be glad to show you, if
you'd care to see. I've been trying to find out the cause of the
difference in the secretions of the mussels that have very bright
pearly shells and those that are dull. But I haven't got very far along
Fery good subject, was the reply; let me see your notebooks.
Colin brought him a number of small notebooks filled with records of
experiments that he had been doing in the evenings, and over some of
them the gem expert smiled.
You haf done a great deal of unnecessary work, he said, work that
I gould haf told you had no bearing on the results, but it isn't time
wasted at all, for you will haf learned more that way than if I had
told you. And you haf two series of eggsperiments that are very useful.
If you only had time to make the series gomplete, the information would
be of value to the Bureau.
Would you include them in your report, sir, if I completed the
His chief leaned back in his chair.
Seriously, he said, I think your eggsperiments on the garacter of
the secretions are very interesting. You don't know as much organic
gemistry as you should, but if you will take a few suggestions from me,
I think your work would be worth publigation.
You mean in your article? asked Colin.
No, was the answer, in your own.
My article! You mean that I should write it up?
But I don't know enough!
If we all waited until we thought we knew enough about a subject,
the scientist answered, there never yet would haf been a line written.
Don't gif any opinions, Golin, for they will not be worth much, nor any
gonglusions, because you hafn't reached any. But make a simple
statement of what was the problem you had, how you went about it, and
the results of your eggsperiments so far. Remember, too, he added,
that a negative result is often of just as much value as a positive,
for it solves the problem to the eggstent of eliminating that
And you really think I should write it up, Dr. Edelstein?
But would the Bureau take it?
That is for the Gommissioner to say, and he would decide on its
merits. If it is not too longjust two or three pages, perhaps, I feel
sure he would aggsept it. If you like I will go over the manuscript and
advise you about it.
Would you really do that for me? asked Colin.
Very gladly, was the reply; but you will need a series almost
twice as large as you haf now in order to make it of any value.
Indeed I'll complete the series, Dr. Edelstein, Colin said. I'll
work at it every minute of spare time I can get.
From that moment time seemed to Colin all too shortthe days
appeared to fly. He was up long before breakfast getting out specimens
both for himself and his chief and till late in the evening he would
sit over his microscope working out the details of his experiments. The
expert, who had realized earlier in the summer that Colin was restless,
now saw that the reason was that none of the work he had been given to
do possessed an individual note, and perceivingas did every onethe
enthusiastic nature of the lad, he helped him in every way possible.
Thus it came about that before the day set for the reopening of
college, Colin had finished the series of experiments which had been
thought necessary, and had sent the manuscript of his article to
Washington. And in the very first batch of letters that he received on
his arrival at college was one from the Commissioner accepting his
report and promising publication in the Bulletin.
Colin ever afterward declared that this was a great stimulus during
his college work. He had done well the first year, but his late
training under Dr. Edelstein and the spur of research had taught him
how to concentrate upon his studies. He did not neglect the
out-of-doors life, however, and he still had the swimming championship
to defend, but every minute that he was not actively at play he was
hard at work. Idle minutes were scarce. Nor did he fail of his reward.
Just before the spring examination he received a letter from the Bureau
of Fisheries telling him that his application for the next summer had
been accepted and assigning him to duty at Woods Hole, the station
where he had long desired to be.
Immediately after the close of the college year, and a few weeks
spent at home, Colin betook himself to Washington, where he received
the necessary credentials. As still a week intervened before the time
of the opening of the laboratory, he spent several days in New York,
visiting the American Museum daily and assisting his friend, Mr.
Collier, with whom he had gone to Bermuda. The sea-garden exhibits were
all completed and were among the museum's most popular cases, and the
curator was engaged in preparing some exquisite models of the
Radiolaria, those magical creatures of the sea, which are so small that
they can be seen only with a powerful microscope, but which look like
living snow-crystals, although a thousand times more beautiful. Some
were already installed in the museum, but a large series was planned.
On his arrival at Woods Hole, Colin found work in the hatchery
division of the station almost at an end. Hundreds of millions of cod,
pollock, haddock, and flatfish fry had been hatched from eggs and
planted in favorable places for their further development, and tens of
millions of lobster fry as well. A few of the hatching troughs were in
use, but most of them had been emptied and prepared for the work of the
biological department of the Bureau, to which the station was given
over during the summer months.
Colin found that he was not unknown to the director, who, being
especially interested in mollusks, had read the lad's paper on the
mussel-shells. Accordingly he was quite heartily welcomed and set right
You will take charge of the fish-trap crew, Dare, he was informed,
the director's quick, snappy eye taking in the lad. I suppose you know
enough about fish to tell the various species apart?
I'm not sure, sir, said the boy, but I think I know most of the
common kinds. That is, theoretically, Mr. Prelatt, through studying
them. I have never done any fishing of consequence off the New England
You can haul the trap at slack water this afternoon, the director
said. I will ask Mr. Wadreds to go with you. He knows every kind of
fish that swims and more about each one than three or four of the rest
of us put together.
What will be my duties, sir? asked Colin. I don't want to trouble
you, but if I am to take charge of the crew I ought to know what I have
The trap is to be hauled daily, was the reply, except when the
water is very rough. You will be given a list of the needs of the
laboratory for experimental purposes, and as far as possible, you will
fill those needs. Sometimes you may have to assist in the collecting
trip besides, as for green sea-urchins and the like; or perhaps you may
have to draw a seine for silversides and small fish. Sometimes you may
be needed to haul some of the lobster pots, because we shall have two
men at least doing research work on lobsters. Again, you may have to
get mussels for some work that is being done on shellfish for food.
There will be two other students working with you in maintaining the
supply of specimen material, under the direction of the head
Very well, Mr. Prelatt, the boy replied, I'll see that things are
kept up as far as possible. Am I to come to you for information as to
where to go for special fish and so forth?
Mr. Wadreds knows more about that than I do, the director said;
he can usually tell you just where to find anything you're after.
You'll soon find it easy, because collecting narrows down to a few
species. The M. B. L. boat does collecting, too, and sometimes each
party is able to help the other.
What is the M. B. L., sir? asked Colin.
The Marine Biological Laboratory, was the reply, which owns all
the land on the other side of the street, just as we do on this. It is
a summer college supported by a number of leading universities, to
which graduate students come for courses in biology and marine life.
There is some research work done also, and at the present moment
Professor Jacques Loeb is doing some wonderful work over there on fish
hybridization. We are entirely distinct organizations, one being a
summer school and the other being a government marine hatchery with a
biological laboratory attached. They have their own boats and we have
ours, but we grant them the privilege of using our wharves, and there
is a great deal of friendly cooperation between the two.
You spoke of sea-mussels, sir, suggested Colin.
I was wondering, Mr. Prelatt, whether I would have any time aside
from the fish-traps and the collecting, and if so, if I might work with
the man who is going to take that up.
The director shook his head.
No, he answered, there are two men working on that subject
together. Besides which, you will have but very little time, at least
for a couple of weeks. Then, if you feel that you would like some
research work, I'll tell you what I want done.
Colin soon found that the demands upon him by the chief of the
collecting staff not only were very heavy, but that they required
considerable ingenuity. Frequently he would be asked for starfish and
it would be necessary to go to a well-known shoal at some little
distance, perhaps in the Phalarope or other of the government
boats. There they would dredge with 'tangles,' a tangle being an iron
frame with yards and yards of cotton waste dragging behind in which the
spines of sea-urchins and the rough convolutions of starfish easily
become entangled. Occasionally more distant trips, such as those to the
Gulf Stream, would be made on the Fish Hawk, the largest of the
Bureau's boats, named like all the others, after sea birds.
The hauling of the fish-trap, usually done in boats from the Blue
Wing, never palled in interest. Every day the visit to the trap had
the expectant thrill the miner finds when prospecting in a new stream.
There was always the excitement of possibly finding new species, true
gold to the scientist.
[Illustration: THE BLUE WING AT THE GOVERNMENT FISH TRAP,
Photograph by C. R. W.]
I've found at least three new species, said Mr. Wadreds to him one
day, right out of the same trap you're haulin'. And sometimes, when
there has been a long-continued storm and the wind's settin' in from
the southeast, the traps have jest had numbers o' tropical fish.
Why should the wind bring the fish? asked Colin.
They come up with the weed, lad, was the old collector's reply.
When a storm rises the big masses o' gulf weed are broken up an' drift
on the surface before the wind. A great many semi-tropical fish live on
the weed an' the little creatures that make their homes in it, an' so
they come followin' it away up here. Then we find them in the traps and
by seinin'. We've caught butterfly fish an' parrot fish in the seines
up here several times.
We get menhaden in the trap principally now, the boy said; why
aren't they used for food? They look all right. Are they poisonous, or
Oily, was the reply; an Eskimo might like 'em, but no one else.
But the menhaden fishery is valuable just the same, for there's more
oil and better oil got every year from menhaden than there is whale
oil. Nearly all fish manure is menhaden, too. But they're not a food
Nor are dogfish, said Colin, but I see that the M. B. L. mess
table has them once in a while. We get lots of mackerel and other
varieties that are good eating. I wonder why they eat dogfish?
Partly to try it out, the collector said. A dogfish is a shark,
as you know, and mos' people don't like the idea of eatin' any kind o'
shark. But it is a waste to have a good article o' food entirely
neglected by the public an' so the Bureau and the M. B. L. have tried
usin' dogfish on the table as an experiment to get an idea of its value
It tastes all right, too, said the boy. I had some yesterday.
O' course it does, but the name is against it. Both dogfish and
catfish are good eatin', but there is a prejudice against 'em, because
people don't eat cats an' dogs. But they have been canned an' sold
under various names, such as 'ocean whitefish,' 'Japanese halibut,' an'
They have a vicious look, though!
They are vicious, was the reply, but you mustn't believe all you
hear. Why, at the last International Fishery Congress a speaker told of
a plague o' dogfish which not only attacked lobsters, but swallowed
pots an' all.
Colin looked incredulously at his friend.
That's the story, the other said; you don't have to believe it. I
But after all, a dogfish is a shark, and aren't sharks the most
vicious creatures o' the sea?
I shouldn't say so, the old collector answered. I reckon the
moray is really more vicious. He's always huntin' trouble. A shark is
always hungry, that's all. Fishes have different kinds o' tempers, you
know, an' often it's the smallest creature that's the meanest.
There isn't anythin' that swims that's meaner than a 'mad-Tom,' an'
they're frequent in all the rivers o' the middle west an' south. A
'mad-Tom,' he continued in answer to the boy's questioning look, is a
small catfish with spines. Most boys in riverside villages have their
hands all cut up by 'mad-Toms.' O' course there are scorpion-fish an'
toad-fishes in tropical waters, an' their poison will cripple a man for
a while, but there's no fish that's fatal.
I thought there were lots of poisonous things in the water, Colin
said, jellyfish and other things like that.
Well, replied the collector, a jellyfish can be tolerable
poisonous. The Portuguese man-o'-war, pretty enough to look at when it
floats on the water, with long streamers o' purple threads flowin' out
behind, is the only thing that I ever heard of that killed a man.
A jellyfish? How?
It was all his own fault, was the reply. It was down in the
Bahamas, off Nassau, as I remember. The sea was just alive with
jellyfish, an' this young fellow that I'm tellin' about, he swam around
a good deal an' once or twice had run into a jellyfish without gettin'
stung. There's only some o' them that sting.
I thought all of them did a little?
No, only a few. Well, this chap knew enough, I reckon, to keep away
from a Portuguese man-o'-war usually, but either he had got reckless or
didn't think of it. Some of his friends shouted out to him to take
care, but he laughed back, tellin' them they were foolish to believe
old stories, and to show that he didn't care, in a spirit o' 'dare' he
dived plumb under the jellyfish. But he misjudged his distance an' came
up clean in the middle of it an' the stingin' hairs just closed all
over on him.
There are hundreds of them, too, aren't there?
Thousands of stingin' filaments in some o' them. He gave one wild
scream an' went down. When he came up and his friends were able to
grasp him he was paralyzed as though he had suffered an electric shock,
an' before they could get him to shore his body had broken out in a
violent rash. The doctors couldn't do anythin' for him an' he died
three days later.
Have you ever been stung?
I know enough to keep away from a jellyfish, was the blunt
rejoinder; but I had a nasty time with a torpedo once.
The electric ray? queried Colin. That fish that looks like a
small sea vampire only it hasn't a whip-like tail?
That's it, said the older man. It was when I was just a
youngster, I was haulin' in a net, when my feet slipped from under an'
I went headlong into the middle o' the net, and a torpedo landed on the
back o' my neck. I reckon he must have shocked the spinal cord or
something because I was fair paralyzed for an hour or two. You're sure
to get one yourself, he continued, because they use torpedoes for
research work a good deal, but a shock in the hand or on the arm passes
away in a few minutes, so that you don't need to worry about that. The
electric eelswhich are not eels at all, though they look like itare
the worst of all, but since they live only in South American rivers, I
suppose they won't bother you much.
As long as I don't find any in the fish-trap, said Colin,
laughing, as Mr. Wadreds nodded and went on his way, I won't mind, and
I'd just as soon not have to handle any dogfish that swallow
lobster-pots as a habit, but if I do I'll come to you for help.
All in all, Colin thought Woods Hole the most interesting place in
which he had ever been. Unlike other summer resorts, a spirit of
earnest vigor pervaded the little settlement. The houses nestled in the
wooded low hills behind the town, and though so near the sea, flowers
could be made to grow luxuriantly, as a famous and beautiful rose
garden bore witness. To the southeast, over a spit of land that was
little wider than a causeway, the road ran to the Marine Biological
Laboratory and the Bureau of Fisheries station, holding their
commanding positions overlooking the harbor. The great government pier
smacked of the stormy sea, for it was used also by the Lighthouse
Service and huge red buoys lay in dozens on it awaiting their hour to
warn the tempest-driven mariner of the perils that lay below them.
Nearer in, where the pier was severed from the shore, the opening
being crossed by a short swing bridge, was a small inclosed inner
harbor where lay the launches and boats of the two laboratories. Upon
the shore itself was a stone-walled tank, set between the Residence
building and the Laboratory proper, and therein large fish which had
been caught in traps or elsewhere, and which were too big for the
indoor tanks, flitted as dark shadows within the pool. Smaller fish
were in the Aquarium in the first floor of the laboratory opposite the
wide space where stood the serried rows of hatching troughs.
Here were many most interesting fishamong them that constant
delight of the landsman, the puffer, which, when disturbed, rapidly
inflates itself, rising to the surface of the water until it becomes
apparently so large a mouthful that its would-be devourer is fooled
into believing the morsel too big to swallow. Then, the danger removed,
the puffer releases the gulped-down water and swims away. Here also
were strange fish, like the eighteen-spined sculpin and the sea-robin,
walking over the bottom on three free rays of each of the pectoral
fins. Upon the top story of the same building were preserved in a rough
museum various other strange forms, not all from Woods Hole waters; the
remora, or sucking fish, that fastens on sharks and becomes a constant
passenger enjoying a free ride, specimens of which were often in the
Aquarium; the deal-fish, which alone among its tribe has a long slim
fin projecting upwards from the tail almost at right angles to it; the
blenny, whose facial expression has caused it to be known as the
sarcastic blenny; the graceful sea-horse, who swings on seaweed with a
prehensile tail like that of a monkeyand the male of which hatches
the eggs instead of the mother, and not the least extraordinary, the
three-cornered trunk-fish whose front view is the most unfishlike
apparition possible. These and hundreds of others Colin learned to know
from the collections.
It was with great delight that Colin heard of the presence of his
friend Mr. Collier, who was working on the plans for a model of
Bryozoa, and who had with him his staff of glass-workers and modelers.
The boy found it hard to tear himself away from this laboratory and
struck up quite a friendship with a Japanese colorist on the staff.
Also, he was fortunate in meeting and knowing Mr. Cavalier, the artist
of animal life, and from him the boy learned a great deal of the
picturesque and æsthetic elements of the life which he painted and
modeled with such surpassing skill. Scores of other workers, writers,
and scientists of all kinds had rooms in the wonderfully interesting
workshops of Woods Hole.
[Illustration: HATCHERY AND LABORATORY BUILDING, WOODS HOLE.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
[Illustration: RESIDENCE AND FISHERIES BUREAU HEADQUARTERS, WOODS
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Beyond the laboratory building was the wharf to which the two steam
yachts attached respectively to the station and the M. B. L. were tied
up. Beyond that again was a second pier, that of the Revenue Cutter
service, where lay, with banked fires, one of the guardians of American
seas, a man ever on duty at the wireless receiver. Beyond the pier the
land curved to the point opposite the Elizabeth Islands, while in the
narrow strait or 'hole' between, the tide for all Buzzards Bay surged
out or in as the ebb and flow compelled.
As captain of the fish-trap crew and active in collection, Colin had
the run of both laboratories and the day always seemed too short for
him. Every investigator's work was a matter of personal interest to him
and he talked 'research' all the day long, though too tired to dream of
it at night. Nor did he forget his swimming, and at the beach in
Buzzards Bay he swam a mile or so each day, the admiration and the envy
of all the M. B. L. students. But Colin speedily won their friendship,
for he never hesitated to help other swimmers in every way he could,
even teaching little tricks of style that were all his own and which
had gone far to win him his championship.
As Director Prelatt had promised, Colin was given an opportunity to
keep some research work in hand, although he foundas had been
foretoldthat he had but little time for it. The director was engaged
upon a most interesting and important investigation, which, like all
those that were in progress at the laboratory, had a strong economic
value. This was the study of the life history of the whelk.
At first sight, the director said to him, when explaining the
problem, it does not seem as though the biology of a sea-snail were a
matter of much importance to the country, but as a matter of fact, to a
great extent the oyster industrywhich reaches millions of dollars
annually and gives employment as well as food to thousands of
peopledepends upon that very thing.
Just how, Mr. Prelatt? inquired Colin.
All creatures have their own special enemies, the director
answered; and everything is so equally balanced that there are enough
oysters born to keep up the supply in spite of the attacks of the
whelk, or oyster-drill as it is termed. When man comes on the scene,
however, and commences to dredge the oysters, the combination of the
market and the drill together is too much for the oyster-beds and they
soon become depleted.
That's the way it is with fish, too!
With everything, was the assenting answer. Now there are two ways
to overcome this condition. One is the way in which we handle the same
question with fishby artificially hatching millions more eggs every
year than would have been hatched during a state of nature. The other
is by attacking the enemy of the oyster and thus enlarging the chances
of those that hatch naturally. The latter we can't do with fish.
Why not, sir?
Because the enemies of fish are numerous and free-swimming, was
the answer, and also because fish produce an enormous amount of eggs.
Oysters do also, but fertilization is so largely a matter of chance
that but a few of the tens of thousands of eggs ever really have a
chance to become young oysters. You can help that in two ways, one by
preparing the ground so that everything is made easy for the young
oysters to have a chance, the other by thinning them out or
transplanting the young oysters or 'spat' as they are called, improving
and enlarging the beds.
That ought to help settle it, I should think.
It is not enough. Enemies also must be kept at bay.
I should think the oyster, in its tough shell, would be practically
free from enemies, remarked Colin.
On the contrary, it has a large number. A great many kinds of fish,
such as skates, for example, will eat oysters, and many owners of
oyster-beds have surrounded their holdings with an actual stockade of
Like the pioneers had against the Indians?
Just the same, assented the director. Drum-fish are hostile on
the Atlantic coast, and on the Pacific a very substantial stockade is
required against the invasion of sting-rays. More destructive still are
Colin stared at the director in surprise.
Starfish! he said, those little starfish? Why, they're soft and
they haven't any teeth or anything to crush an oyster shell with.
They're small and they're soft and they haven't any teeth at all,
said the director, but starfish cost the oyster industry at least five
million dollars a year.
But how? queried Colin; I don't see how they can work it.
What is a starfish?
The boy thought for a moment.
It's an echinoderm, he said, generally with five arms, that lives
only in the sea, has a simple stomach, and feeds on the minute
organisms in the water.
There you're wrong, said the director. It lives only in the sea,
that's right enough, but you haven't proper regard for a starfish's
powers of digestion. It feeds on mussels, oysters and other shellfish.
Can it swim?
I don't think so, sir, said Colin, after a moment's thought, it
I don't know, Mr. Prelatt.
By thousands of sucker-like feet on the under side of it, he was
told. So you see it can crawl to and over an oyster-bed.
But even so, wouldn't an oyster shut tight at the approach of
danger? suggested Colin.
That doesn't make any difference to the starfish, was the reply,
he'll open the oyster.
What keeps an oyster closed?
The muscle, sir, because when it is dead it flies open.
Very good. Do muscles grow tired?
Mine do, said Colin, smiling, and I suppose the muscles of
oysters are the same way.
Exactly. Now what happens is this. The starfish crawls along until
he finds an oyster which he thinks will suit his taste. As he crawls
near or on it, the oyster closes up tight. The starfishtaking plenty
of timefastens himself to the shell, having two of his 'arms' on one
shell and the suckers of the other three 'arms' attached to the other
shell. Then the starfish starts to pull.
But isn't the oyster stronger?
Much stronger, agreed the director, but the starfish doesn't know
enough to quit. The pull he exerts is not so powerful but it is
relentless and unceasing and no oyster muscle can resist it for more
than a few hours. Presently the shell gapes open. The starfish lumbers
over and commences to feed, other starfish often coming to enjoy the
And are there starfish enough to injure the beds?
Myriads of them. A starfish is not easy to kill, moreover, because
if any of the arms are cut off he will grow a new one.
How do the oystermen fight them?
By catching them in tangles. The snarled cotton waste does no harm
to the oyster, but, as it is pulled over the bed, picks up hundreds of
starfish and sea-urchins. Up-to-date vessels engaged in that work have
a vat of boiling water on deck, into which the tangle is plunged when
it is pulled up from the bottom. This kills the starfish and is a great
gain over the old system of picking them out of the tangle by hand.
But the worst of all the oyster's enemies, the director continued,
and the one on which I am working, is the oyster-drill. At least
eighty per cent of the possible oyster crop is destroyed by this
sea-snail. This creature, usually about half an inch long, crawls on an
oysterusually a young oneand with a rasp-like tongue files a hole
in the shell, through which it sucks the juices out of the oyster. The
only thing that keeps the oyster-drill in check at all is that as soon
as it is big enough for a younger drill to climb on its shell, it is
apt to suffer the same fate. It is a case of reversed cannibalism, the
stronger falling to the weaker.
What can be done to stop it?
Nothing so far, said the director; that is my chosen problem.
Because the drill prefers the thin-shelled mussel to the
thicker-shelled oyster it has been suggested that mussels should be
planted outside oyster-beds, so that the drills would stay there. But
the cure would be worse than the disease, for the mussels would spread
over the oyster-bed and the drills with them, since they would have so
excellent a breeding ground. No, the problem is still unsolved, and the
people of the United States are looking to the Bureau of Fisheries to
solve it. The Bureau has given it to me. That's the fascination of this
work, that on your own toil and your own skill and ingenuity a factor
of world-wide importance may depend.
What is it, Colin?
It just occurred to me, sir, the boy answered, that perhaps some
parasite which would prey on the drill might be found.
It mightbut I have as yet found none.
Or perhaps, Colin again suggested, some chemical which would
unite with lime might be put into the water so that the oyster shell
might be poisonous to the drill, but not for food, because we eat the
oyster and not the shell.
The director laughed.
That suggestion is new, at least, he said, but I don't think it
would work because this is a marine question and the water changes
continuously. There must be some solution, there's always a way of
doing everything, and some one will find it out. I'm going to stick at
it till I do, that is, when I'm not engaged on other Bureau work. But
I'm always glad of suggestions, and when you can help me in any way
I'll let you know.
Thank you ever so much, Mr. Prelatt, Colin answered; I'll be glad
to do anything I can.
The boy had a fertile brain, and, before a week had passed by, a
line of experiment suggested itself to him in connection with the
oyster-drill problem and he explained it to the director.
To work that out properly would take several years! the latter
I thought it would, said Colin, but perhaps some one else could
carry it on, and the work ought to be done, anyway.
You have the right idea, the director replied; it's the problem,
not the man who solves it. Now, he continued, I have a surprise for
you. Dr. Jimson, who has been working on swordfish for some time, is
anxious to try and capture a large specimen and is going out with a
swordfish sloop next week. I can probably arrange for the trap to be
looked after, if you are off for a day or two. Do you want to go?
Indeed I do, said Colin. Mr. Wadreds was telling me some stories
just the other day about swordfish-catching.
I suppose he told you the famous story of the swordfish which
charged a vessel and drove its sword through 'copper sheathing, an inch
board under-sheathing, a three-inch plank of hard wood, the solid white
oak timber twelve inches thick, then through another two and a
half-inch hard-oak ceiling, and lastly penetrated the head of an oil
cask, where it stuck, not a drop of the oil having escaped?'
[Illustration: WHAT SHALL WE GET THIS TIME?
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
[Illustration: HERE'S A NEW ONE, BOYS!
The veteran collector of the Woods Hole Station is seen in the
foreground of both pictures.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
Yes, Mr. Prelatt, Colin answered, and if he hadn't told me that
the record was authentic and that the sword and section of timber had
been in the National Museum, I might have doubted it.
They're enormously powerful, one of the best boatmen I ever knew
was killed by a swordfish, said the director.
How was that, sir?
He had harpooned the swordfish and had gone out in the small boat
to lance it, when the huge fish dived under the craft and shot up from
the bottom like a rocket, his sword going through the timbers as though
they were paper and striking the boatman with such force that he was
killed almost instantly. Boats used often to be sunk by the rushes of a
swordfish, but nowadays the greater part of the work is done directly
from the deck of a schooner. No amount of changes, however, can take
all the excitement out of a swordfish capture.
Will they attack a boat unprovoked?
There are lots of cases in which they are supposed to have done
so, the director replied, but I think any such instances were
probably swordfish who had been woundedbut not fatally. You knew that
the swordfish was the Monarch of all the Fish?
No, Colin answered, I didn't.
He was so elected at one of the meetings of the International
Congress of Fisheries, said the director, smiling. We were waiting
for the chairman or the speaker or somebody and in casual conversation
the query arose as to who was the real master of the seas, in the same
way that the lion is regarded as the King of Beasts.
And the swordfish got the award?
After quite a little debate. Plenty of people had their own
favorites, the white shark and the killer whale among others, but when
it came to a sort of informal vote, the swordfish was chosen almost
I shall be glad to pay my respects to His Majesty, answered Colin
with a laugh, as the director wheeled his chair to his desk, and I'm
ever so much obliged for the opportunity.
The next morning, after having hauled the trap, Colin jumped aboard
the Phalarope, which was going to New Bedford for supplies for
the station, and which was to take him there to join Dr. Jimson on a
swordfish schooner. A large portion of the surface of Buzzards Bay was
dotted with billets of wood, about six inches thick and painted in all
manner of colors. Some were red, some white, some black, some yellow
and blue, some striped in all manner of gaudy hues.
I've been wondering, said Colin, as he stood in the pilot house
chatting to the captain of the little steamer, what all those sticks
in the water are?
The captain took his pipe out of his mouth to stare at him in
surprise, as he turned the wheel a spoke or two.
Don't you know that? he said. Those are lobster-pot buoys.
You mean there's a lobster-pot attached to every one of those?
Yes, of course.
But there are thousands of them! Why, right now, I can probably see
forty or fifty, and they're not so awfully easy to catch sight of with
a little sea running. And why are they painted all different colors?
Different owners, was the reply, every man has his own color.
Every day, or every other day at least, he sails out to the
groundssome of 'em now have motor-boatsand makes a round of his
pots. A chap whose buoy is yellow has perhaps a hundred or two yellow
buoys scattered about the harbor.
That sounds like work, said Colin.
It's hard work, was the reply. A lobster-pot is weighted with
bricks and it's a heavy load to pull up in a boat. It's an awkward
thing to handle, too. Then a lobsterman has to rebait his traps, and as
he does that with rotten fish, it's not a sweet job. And he can only
bring in lobsters over a certain size; anything less than nine and a
half inches in length he has to throw back. Sometimes it'll happen that
the traps are full of lobsters that are too short or too small,
'shorts' they call 'em, and his day's work won't bring him in much.
There's a living in it, but that's about all.
Finding that the captain of the Phalarope knew the lobster
business well, as do most men who are natives of the region, Colin kept
him busy answering questions until they ran into New Bedford. As the
old center of the whaling industry, the harbor had a great interest for
Colin, but there was but one of the whaling ships in at the time, and
the ancient fisher-town atmosphere was greatly marred by extensive
cotton mills that had been built along the river, just below where the
whaling piers used to be. The swordfish schooners were at the pier,
however, large as life, and Colin felt quite a thrill of excitement as
he stepped aboard the little vessel on which he was to live for the
next couple of days, and saw the narrow dark bunks in the entirely
airless cabin in which four men were to sleep. Dr. Jimson and Colin
practically were going as members of the crew, the two men, whose
places they were taking, staying home from the trip.
Long before sunrise the following morning they were up, and by
daybreak the schooner was standing out of the harbor for Block Island,
one of the famous haunts of the swordfish. Colin, who had good
eyesight, and who was always eager to be up and doing, volunteered to
go to the crow's-nest and keep a lookout for the dorsal fin of a
swordfish, which, he was told, could be seen a couple of miles away.
There was no advantage in going aloft, however, until toward noon,
when, the water being still, the swordfish come up to sun themselves.
Once Colin was quite sure that he saw a swordfish, but just as he
was about to shout, there flashed across his mind a sentence that he
had read somewhere of the likelihood of confusing a shark's fin with
that of a swordfish, and soon he was able to make out that it was a
shark. As it grew toward noon and the sun's rays beat directly on him,
Colin began to realize that sitting on a scantling two inches by four
at the top of a schooner's mast in a bobbing sea, under a broiling sun,
was a long way from being a soft snap, but he would have scorned to
make a complaint. He was more than glad, though, when the cook hailed
all hands to dinner, and one of the sailors went to the crow's-nest.
At dinner Colin turned the conversation to swordfish and their ways.
There's one thing I don't quite understand, Dr. Jimson, he asked,
is a spear-fish the same as a swordfish, only that the weapon is
Not at all, was the reply, the spear-fish is a variety of the
great sailfish, which you see in West Indian waters six or seven feet
long, with a huge dorsal fin, blue with black spots, looming above the
water like the sail of a strange craft. But the real difference is in
the spear or sword. In the case of the spear-fish it is bony, being a
prolongation of the skull; in the case of the swordfish it is horny,
and horns, as you probably know, are formations of skin rather than
bone. Now the narwhal's tusk, he continued, is again an entirely
That's a tooth, isn't it?
Yes, was the reply, it seems to be the mark of the male narwhal.
Sometimes a narwhal has two tusks, but generally only oneon the left
side. The females have none at all. You know the unicorn is always
represented with a narwhal's tusk? One of the early travelers, Sir John
de Mandeville or Marco Polo, I forget which, brought back a narwhal's
tusk which, he had been told, had been taken from a kind of horse. I
really suppose that the native who sold it believed it was from some
species of antelope. But to this day the arms of Great Britain show a
horse having a fish's tooth sticking out from his forehead like an
Way-o! suddenly came the cry from the masthead.
Where away? called the captain, jumping up and looking around.
Three points on the starboard bow, sir, answered the sailor,
pointing his finger.
That's right enough. You're in luck, Dr. Jimson, he added, turning
to his passengers, you won't have had long to wait if we catch this
one for you.
The captain walked aft, saw that everything was clear on deck, then
stepped forward and walked out on the bowsprit to the 'pulpit,' the
characteristic feature of a swordfish schooner. This was a small
circular platform about three feet across, built at the end of the
bowsprit, with a rail waist high around it and a small swinging seat.
Triced up to the jib stay was the long harpoon with its head, known as
The schooner, having the wind abeam, danced smartly over the waves
toward the long lithe fin, gliding swiftly through the water. The
captain, standing like a statue, waited until the craft was within ten
feet of the unconscious swordfish, then thrust downward with all his
might. It was a thrustnot a throwand the muscular strength behind
the blow caused the steel to pierce the thick skin of the swordfish. At
the same instant the keg around which the line had been wound was
thrown overboard, and the water flew up like a fine jet from the rapid
revolutions of the barrel as the swordfish sped away with the line.
How in the world are you going to haul him in now? asked Colin,
when he saw the keg thrown overboard.
Did you think we pulled him in, same as you would a cod? asked the
Too much chance of sinking the schooner! was the reply. That
isn't the way to get a swordfish.
As soon as the line on the barrel became unwound, it tightened with
a jerk and the barrel disappeared under the surface. But the resistance
that the barrel full of air at the end of the long line gave was great
and even the powerful swordfish could not tow it for long. In a few
minutes he slackened his speed and the barrel bobbed to the surface.
But the swordfish was still traveling like a railroad train, in short
rushes, however, here and there.
See him charge it! cried Colin.
There was a swirl of water and with a speed which seemed incredible
the huge body launched itself at the barrel. But there was no
resistance, the keg revolved as the sword struck it, and the swordfish
shot into the air. Again and again he charged, and Colin realized what
danger lay behind that ton and a half of muscle backed by a power that
could drive such a weight at sixty miles an hour through the water.
Again the Monarch of the Sea shot away, towing the barrel, but it
was a disheartening drag, even upon the magnificent strength of the
great swordfish. Little by little the rushes became shorter, the spurts
less frequent, as exhaustion and loss of blood began to tell. The
captain ordered out the boat and, at his earnest appeal, Colin was
allowed to go.
You're light, the captain of the schooner said, as he picked up a
lance not unlike a whale lance, and we don't want much weight in the
boat because it might pull the barb out of the fish if he starts to
This reminds me, said the boy, of the time I was spearing whales
in the Behring Sea, and he recounted the adventure briefly as they
pulled toward the swordfish. The Monarch of the Sea, who had never had
a chance to show his powers, being handicapped by the barrel dragging
back his every movement, caught sight of the boat. He did not wait to
be attacked, but rushed with renewed fury at this new foe. The captain,
apparently unmoved, waited until the fish rose at the boat and then he
thrust in the lance with all his strength. The force acting against
both fish and boat drove the latter sideways a foot or more, so that
the giant rose in the air not two feet from the gunwale of the boat,
the spray stinging like fine rain as the wind of his leap whistled by.
[Illustration: CATCHING SWORDFISH WITH ROD AND REEL.
Dangerous method of capturing the monarch of the sea, used only by
By permission of Mr. Chas. Fredk. Holder.]
He'll charge again in a minute, the captain said quietly, look
out always for the second rush.
The words were scarcely out of his lips when the fin appeared. Once
again, as before, that great mass of dynamic energy hurled itself at
the boat, but twenty yards away there came a sudden check and the
swordfish dived. A second passedso long that it seemed like a minute,
while Colin waited shiveringly to hear the crashing of the timbers and
to see that fearful weapon flash up between them, but as silently as a
shadow the lithe gray fighting machine shot up from the deep a yard or
two astern of the boat and, falling limply, turned on his side, dead.
The captain smiled.
If he had lived about a half a second longer, he said, I reckon
this boat would be on its way to the bottom now.
CHAPTER X. RUN DOWN DURING A SQUALL
On the way back to New Bedford, Colin begged for the 'sword' of the
swordfish as a trophy, and, permission being given, one of the boatmen
volunteered to prepare it for him, offering to clean and polish it so
that the weapon would show to best advantage. Dr. Jimson had been
excessively courteous to Colin throughout the trip, and his
fellow-feeling was greatly increased when he learned that the boy also
was a holder of the blue tuna button, for he himself was an
I'm a trout-fisher by preference, said Dr. Jimson, settling
himself down for a chat as the schooner sailed quietly on its way to
New Bedford, with a dropping wind, and I believe that the steelhead
trout, in the streams that flow through the redwood forests, are the
finest fish alive.
I thought the rainbow trout was supposed to have the call, said
Colin; at least, Father always declares so, and he goes up to the
Klamath region nearly every year.
The rainbow is a very gamy trout, agreed the angler, and it runs
large, up to twenty pounds sometimes, but pound for pound, there's more
fight in a steelhead.
What's the Dolly Varden? Colin queried. I never can get the
various kinds of trout clear in my mind.
If you can keep them clear when you have them hooked, said the
other, with a jolly laugh, that's much more important. But a Dolly
Varden isn't a trout at all, it's really a char. It's a beautiful fish,
too, and you find it in cold, clear streams, such as the upper waters
of the Sacramento and Alaskan rivers. In Alaska it swarms in millions.
But the most beautiful trout in the country, indeed the most beautiful
fish in the world, perhaps, are found in three little streams on the
very top of the Sierra Nevada. Did they tell you the story, in
Washington, about the three forms of golden trout?
No, Dr. Jimson, the boy replied; Dr. Crafts mentioned it, but
something came up to turn the conversation.
I went up on that expedition a few years ago, the trout-lover
said, because I've done a good deal of work for the Bureau on the
whole salmon family. Trout and salmon are very near relatives, and the
trout will go up streams and leap small falls just as the salmon do.
But, as you can easily see, in the headwaters of streams rising high in
the Sierras, there are sure to be falls that trout cannot leap.
Yes, sir, of course.
Now, my boy, the other said impressively, a few years ago, it was
found out that there were trout in these streams above falls which
would be absolutely impassable to any fish. How could they get there?
It was a riddle. The only possible answer was that the fish must be
older than the falls, that the stream had worn away its bed, bit by
bit, until an impassable barrier from below had been created, but that
the trout had gone on in the upper creeks, developing in their own way,
for hundreds of centuries.
The rocks over which these streams flow are a granite formation,
very brightly colored, principally gray and red. The swiftly-flowing
stream removes the débris, so that the clear water flows limpidly over
this gorgeous coloring. In such a stream, where the natural enemies of
the trout are the fish-hawk and the eagle, it is essential as a matter
of protection that the fish should resemble the hue of the bottom, and
accordingly, the most superb coloring in the world is theirs. But each
of the three small streams that are cut off from the rivers below are
also separate from each other, and in the ages during which this has
been so, each of these streams has seen a different coloration develop
in the trout. All are bright golden, all have orange fins and an orange
stripe along the side, all are spotted with black, but they vary in
many small particulars. Nowhere else in the world but in these three
creeksVolcano Creek, Soda Creek, and Aqua Bonita or Gracious Water
Creekcan these fish be found; nowhere else would they retain their
Accordingly, the United States Government sent a party up to the
very summit of the Sierra Nevada to study these fish, and of this party
I was one. It was there that I saw the most marvelous storm that has
perhaps ever been recorded. An electrical disturbance of great
magnitude was passing over the country at the time, and it reached its
vivid climax on the Sierras. Our camp was struck, several animals
killed, and a couple of the teamsters severely injured, but for nearly
two hours the whole world seemed set in a coronal of lightning flashes.
We stayed up there with the trout for several weeks, and when we
reached Washington, there was not a man in the party but was determined
to fight, heart and soul, to save these rare fish from extinction. One
or two summers during which 'fish-hogs' were permitted on the upper
reaches of the Kern River, would have destroyed the trout forever, and,
indeed, in one month a party of those reckless near-sportsmen destroyed
almost one thousand of them. But the President's interest was enlisted,
the Bureau of Fisheries made a firm stand, and to-day the region
containing these most exquisite and most wonderful of all fresh-water
fish is a part of the Mount Whitney National Park, and the golden trout
are saved from extinction.
Bully for the Bureau! cried Colin. Every time I learn more of its
work, it seems to be doing something finer.
Following out the lad's interest in the whole trout question, Dr.
Jimson taught him nearly all there was to know about the various
members of the salmon and trout family, one of the most important
food-fish groups of the world. Both being ardent fishermen, they were
startled, however, by the sudden announcement:
Big halibut off starboard quarter!
Yes, said Dr. Jimson, there it is! Don't you see it, he
continued, pointing with his finger, flapping its tail on the water?
I see, said Colin; but what is it doing that for?
Probably attacking a fish, was the reply. Are you going after it,
No, the fisherman answered; I've heard that people sometimes
catch them without a net, but I never did.
One of the biggest halibut that was ever brought ashore was caught
in just such a way, the trout expert said, turning to Colin. It was
out near Sable Island, and the halibut was attacking a big cod by
repeated blows with its tail. A boat was sent out with a couple of men
carrying gaff-hooks, and the fight between the two fish was so fierce
that neither of them paid any attention to the boat. The fishermen
gaffed the halibut and pulled him into the dory, though it nearly
swamped them, for the fish weighed over three hundred and fifty pounds.
It's rather a queer story, I think, but it is reported as official.
My word! he said. It must have been a big one, because a halibut
is flat, like a flounder, isn't it?
Yes, it's the largest of the flatfish. There's a record of one
halibut having been caught weighing a trifle over five hundred pounds.
Usually a fish one-fifth of that size is considered large.
Flatfish are funny creatures, said Colin. I've often wondered how
the eyes in various species wander around in their heads.
Other people have wondered, too, said his companion.
Well, but we know something about it, don't we? protested the lad.
Aren't the eyes all right in the young fish?
Certainly, was the reply, and, what's more, the young fish swims
How does the eye move round, then? Does the eye on one side go
blind and another one grow on?
No, answered his friend; your first idea was the right one, the
eye moves round. But, as a matter of fact, it goes through the body.
The young flatfish is thin and almost transparent, and when it begins
to be time for the eye to change from one side of the body to the other
it sinks in. A thin, transparent skin grows over the socket and the eye
sinks in and in, the bones moving away from before it, until it has
come near the proper place on the other side. Then a new socket opens
for the eye, and it finally arrives at the end of its journey through
the head, thus coming on the same side as the other eye. At the same
time, too, the flatfish gets the habit of swimming on its side, and its
color scheme changes, one sidewhich has become the bottombeing
white, while the upper side is dark and spotted to look like the stones
on the bottom of the sea.
What do flatfish eat?
Everything, was the reply, from a clam to a codfish. But the
favorite food of the halibut, for instance, is sting-ray, and
consequently it is a good friend of the oysterman; where there is
plenty of halibut, there will be few sting-rays, and these last are
destructive to a good oyster-bed.
It seems to me, said Colin, that the whole story of the seas is
that fish eat fish, while the few that escape from their own kind are
gobbled up by seagulls and terns and other birds.
Yet, said the other, smiling, the birds don't have it all their
own way. Sometimes the fish gobble them!
Can they eat birds?
It's a little rare, was the reply, but there's one authentic case
on record in which a fish's stomach was found to contain no less than
seven wild ducks.
Why, I always thought that fish had a small mouth in proportion to
their size. It must have been a monstrous big one!
It was not much more than four feet long, was the reply; but it
is one of the few fishes having a huge mouth. They sometimes call it a
goosefish, because it attacks wild geese, but the right name is
fishing-frog or angler. It glides along the bottom until directly
beneath where ducks are feeding, and when one dives for worms in the
mudyou know the way ducks go downthe angler catches it by the neck
and drags it down and then swallows it at leisure. You see the bird
hasn't a chance, because all the angler-fish has to do is to hold it
until it strangles.
This led to a discussion of the food of fishes, and under the spur
of the boy's questions, the scientist outlined for him the dietary of
almost every fish that swims, together with all the various ways in
which water is aerated, such as the growth of water-plants and the
currents of streams.
It still seems to me, said Colin, that nearly every fish lives by
fighting some other fish. It's a wonder, he added, with a laugh, that
there aren't some professional fighters among them.
There are, his friend replied; that is to say, in the sense you
mean. There's a fish which is called the fighting-fish, that is
regularly trained by the fishermen, and the combats are so famous that
when one is scheduled to come off a big crowd gathers.
Where? asked Colin incredulously. That sounds a little as if you
thought I was one of the marines, Dr. Jimson.
It is absolutely the case, was the reply. And, what is more, they
advertise these fights widely and get big gate receipts, just like a
baseball game here. The sum of money taken in for admissions, too, has
become so large that the Crown refuses to allow the fights to be held
unless a certain percentage is paid over to the king.
Where can that be?
In Siam, was the reply. The fighting-fish is distantly related to
the perch, but it has been used for public combats for so long that it
has become highly specialized. It is really a sort of gamecock among
fish, and the money expended in licenses in Siam brings in a
comfortable revenue to the Crown. The owner of a champion fighting-fish
never needs to work for a living, he can easily be supported by the
winnings of his possession. Often a fish or a team of fishes is owned
by a village and the rivalry between communities is intense. The
Siamese are inveterate gamblers, also, and in more than one instance
the Siamese Government has had to send supplies to a village which was
threatened with famine because all the villagers had lost their crops
through betting upon the success of their team of fighting-fish.
You say it's a kind of perch?
Only distantly, was the reply; it belongs to a very curious group
of fishes which cannot live long in the water unless they can breathe
air once in a while, nor can they live very long in air, unless they
breathe water occasionally. The fish that climbs tall trees is a member
of the same sub-order.
You mean the skippy?
No, the scientist answered; it's a much better climber than the
skippy. It will run up the trunk of a palm tree.
Now come, Dr. Jimson, expostulated Colin. Do you expect me to
Certainly, when it is true, came the reply. The statement often
has been made and then disbelieved, but there is plenty of scientific
evidence now to arm its truth.
Does it climb up to the top and crack cocoa-nuts? queried the boy,
Not quite that, his friend said, smiling. I believe seven feet is
as high a climb as is known, that being recorded officially by one of
the staff of the Madras Government Central Museum. The creature usually
only climbs during a heavy tropical rainstorm, and it is believed that
the fish, accustomed to ascending tiny streams, is stimulated to climb
the tree by the rush of water flowing down the bark. The gill cover is
movable, and the spines of the ventral fins very sharp. It doesn't go
up head first, you know, but sideways.
How does the fish climb down, then? queried Colin.
Tumbles, was the laconic reply.
And starts up again?
No, it usually hops sideways over land to a mud-bank again, not to
have another climbing fit until the next big tropical shower comes
after a period of drought. But if you wanted to find out all the
strange habits of fishes, continued his friend, as the schooner ran
into New Bedford harbor, it would take more time than one swordfish
trip would give you.
[Illustration: CLAMMER RAKING FOR QUAHAUGS IN NEW BEDFORD HARBOR.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
[Illustration: OYSTERMAN TONGING FOR OYSTERS IN BUZZARD'S BAY.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
On the way back to Woods Hole, going down the harbor, Colin
questioned the captain of the M. B. L. boat, the Cayadetta,which happened to have been at New Bedford that afternoon, and on
which he had been given the courtesy of a passagewhy there seemed to
be two different kinds of boats scattered over the harbor oystering.
That feller's not oysterin', the captain answered; he's rakin'
That's clams, was the explanation; the right name for what the
people down in New York call a 'little-neck clam.' The 'neck' is a
foot, and it's little because the quahog doesn't burrow deep. The long
or soft clam does.
And he just pulls them up with a rake?
Yep, was the reply; big rake with curved tines to it. You see he
jerks his rake along until he feels it full, then pulls it up. Now,
this feller, over on the other side here, he's not goin' after clams at
all. He's oysterin'. Ef you'll notice, he has two poles an' he works
'em apart an' together again like a pair o' shears, an' then when he
feels he has a load, he hauls it up the same way, picks out the oysters
that are big enough, an' throws the small ones back together with the
stones an' other rubbish that he has brought up. They call that
'tonging' oysters, an' the thing he uses is called the 'tongs.'
I've been wondering, said Colin, as they passed over the bay and
he noted again all the lobster-pot buoys which had interested him so
greatly on the way to New Bedford, I've been wondering whether there
was any crabbing done up this way?
Not much, the captain answered; there's one caught now an' again,
but all the good eatin' crabs belong further south. New Jersey's the
place f'r crabs, an' I reckon most o' the soft-shell crabs o' the
country come from there, but the business o' cannin' crabs is done way
down in Chesapeake Bay, where there's crabs no end.
A soft-shell crab is just the same species as the regular blue
crab, isn't it, asked the boy; only it has cast its shell?
Jus' the same, was the reply, but for the market, an' there it's
worth four or five times as much.
When you come to think of it, said Colin, there isn't much in the
sea that isn't fit for food. Even the swordfish is good eating.
There's some poisonous fish down in the tropics, was the reply,
but I reckon that but for a few of those, a hungry man could eat nigh
anythin' that came out o' the water, fish or shellfish or anythin'. An'
you know, he added, some folks, like the Japanese an' South Sea
Islanders, prefer 'em raw.
Doesn't sound good to me at all, the boy said with a laugh, as the
little steamer turned into the 'hole.' I'm satisfied to eat oysters
and clams raw, but not much else.
The rest of the month passed all too rapidly for Colin, who was
becoming greatly attached to Woods Hole. The sense of accomplishment
was strong throughout the place, every one was conscious that time was
well spent, and the atmosphere of the little village was one of entire
content. The boy made any number of friends, but above all, he took his
greatest delight in knowing that he had really found the work that he
wanted to do, and in trying as hard as he could to fit himself for it.
Every day he spent in the Bureau he saw more clearly the value of the
work it had done and the opportunities for other great advances. The
exportation of live fish to foreign streams had a great attraction for
You know, Colin, the director said to him one day, when he was
speaking of the Bureau work, all over the world there are fish which
we ought to be able to acclimatize in American waters, and there are
American fish which would thrive abroad. It has always been an idea of
mine that we could probably prevent famines in large parts of Asia by
looking after the fish supply. You hardly ever find a bad crop and a
bad fish year come together, the one always makes up for the other.
Just think what a gain it would have been in some of these Chinese and
Indian famines if they could have had all the fish they wanted.
Millions of lives could have been saved. The Bureau of Fisheries of
this and other countries won't have finished its work until every river
and stream of fresh water, every lake, and every square mile of the
ocean is stocked with the very finest of the food fishes, and the
undesirables are weeded out.
Weeded out, like a garden?
Just exactly! Every hogfish and lamprey in American watersthat's
a near-fish that sucks the blood of other fish, you knowshould be
exterminated just in the same way that the farmers of the country are
making away with the Canada thistle. Against the sharksthe tigers of
the sea, the killersthe wolves of the sea, and all the other
predatory forms, relentless war should be waged until the wild fishes
of the sea are destroyed, as the wild beasts of the forest have fled
before the face of man.
Could that ever be done?
It will be done, the director answered, but not in my time nor in
yours. It is a piece of work in which every step counts, and just one
summer's work may bring results that will help millions of people in
the years yet to come.
And I shall have a share! cried Colin, his enthusiasm kindling.
Every one has a share; in the Fisheries, no work is wasted, no
energy is lost. Whether it be such research as that which you have seen
me doing upon the oyster drill, or the spectacular administration of
the seal herds on the Pribilof Islands, or the dry statistical work of
estimating the value of a fisheryon which work Dr. Crafts writes me
he is going to send youeach part has its place and a big place. The
aims of the Bureau are on so vast a scale that nothing is petty. We
think in terms of millions and tens of millions, and Nature responds.
There are more showy ways of helping the world, but for the
accomplishment of great results I know of none superior.
You said, sir, said Colin, who had been startled by the reference
to himself, that Dr. Crafts had some other work for me?
Yes, was the reply. You know that the Laboratory here only keeps
open until the first of September, don't you?
Yes, Mr. Prelatt.
What had you thought of doing between then and college?
I hadn't made any plans.
I have a letter from the Deputy Commissioner, here, the director
continued, in which he asks me if there is any one of the young
fellows whom I have had for the summer who would like to go with one of
the statistical field agents, and he suggests your name, should you
wish to go. It will be a short stay, not more than ten days or so, and
won't interfere with your getting back to college.
I should like to go, ever so much, said Colin, and I think it's
awfully good of Dr. Crafts to think of me.
Very well, then, answered the director; I'll write to him about
it. I thought you would accept, unless you had made other plans.
I don't think I know much about the statistical side of the
Bureau, said Colin; just what does that take up?
Statistics mainly, but I can explain its value best by what I know
it has done, the director said thoughtfully. One of the very best
things it accomplished, I think, was an investigation into the cause of
the heavy loss of life among the crews of New England fishing-vessels.
What was the cause, sir?
The statistical division of the Bureau ascribed a great many of the
fatalities to badly-built vessels, so that a number of them foundered
at sea in bad weather.
How could the Bureau help that?
It did help it wonderfully, the director answered. A thorough
investigation was set on foot and all kinds of vessels examined. The
experts of the country were consulted and hundreds of models made to
find out just which was the most seaworthy. The fishing-fleets of all
the world were visited, and as a result a schooner was built and called
the Grampus, which became a model for all that was most to be
desired in fishing-vessels. The boat-builders of the country since then
have followed that type, and the loss of life from vessels of the
Grampus type in the last ten years has been less than one-fourth of
that from the older vessels in the ten years preceding. From the port
of Gloucester alone, this has meant in the ten years a saving of over
six hundred lives.
That's getting results! said Colin admiringly.
And the commercial results, while they don't compare in importance
with the saving of life, of course, are even bigger. The winter
cod-fishery of New England was absolutely revolutionized by the
introduction of gill-nets with glass-ball floats, the catch becoming
three times as large, while at least one hundred thousand dollars was
saved annually in the single item of bait. Scores of new
fishing-grounds have been located, and apparatus has been devised which
enables the fishermen to exploit grounds which they previously had been
unable to reach.
[Illustration: TESTING THE OCEAN'S CROP.
Experimental haul on the Bureau's vessel, the Fish Hawk, to
determine the character of the population of shore waters.
Courtesy of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.]
There are so many different things being accomplished that it's
hard to name them all, but you can see for yourself that some one has
got to collect the figures on fisheries in order to determine how the
industry is progressing. If a town reports a bad season, when all the
other ports have been fortunate, the Bureau finds out why. If the catch
of a certain fish is decreasing all over the country, then this species
must be turned over to the fish culturists for artificial hatching and
increase of supply, and so on in a thousand directions. The statistical
end has to get the figures. We base all our work on those.
I wonder what I shall have to do? said Colin, with a note of
That I don't know anything about, the director answered. As
director of the Biological Laboratory, I'm on the scientific division,
and really can't tell you much about the cultural and statistical ends.
I understand, however, that the Deputy Commissioner plans to send you
to the mackerel fishery.
From Gloucester, Mr. Prelatt?
No, from Boston. At least that is where you are to meet Mr. Roote.
Rather a full review of the mackerel fishery has been made, so I
suppose this is some special inquiry. The regular statistics of Boston
and Gloucester fish-markets are so important that local agents are
appointed to make monthly reports. You have not been called on much for
extra collecting recently, have you?
No, sir, answered Colin; almost all the research workers have
enough specimens for the work they're doing, because it's too near the
end of the time to start any new details. So I haven't much to do
except to look after the trap.
We'll get a few days together on the oyster drill, then, said the
director, before you go away.
When the time came for Colin to leave Woods Hole he found himself
most reluctant to go, and he rather regretted that he had accepted the
mackerel fishery investigation, because he saw that he could have got
permission to work on with Mr. Prelatt for a week or two. But the
matter had been arranged, and when the boy arrived in Boston, he was
alert with the interest of a new experience.
The statistician was a silent man. He greeted Colin with few words
and eyed him critically.
Hm! You can handle a boat?
Yes, sir, said Colin in surprise.
Get aboard the Shiner at seven-thirty to-morrow, at the dock
next to Gray's, and he nodded his head and walked off, leaving Colin
to stare after him.
Well, the boy said aloud, that's short enough and clear enough,
only I don't happen to know where Gray's is!
A little questioning around the waterfront, however, enabled him to
find the vessel, and as the lad had been in Boston a couple of times
before, the search was not long. The Shiner hailed from
Gloucester and was the real thing, as Colin said under his breath.
One hundred and twelve feet long she was, with an air, as she sat on
the water, of knowing every little wickedness of the ocean and
understanding the way to conquer it too; her mainmast cleared
eighty-five feet, and was stepped well forward, with a boom that Colin
did not overestimate greatly when he put it at eighty feet. Although
the boy was not a keen judge, he thought the bowsprit immensely long,
and noticed what a narrow nose the seiner possessed.
Early the next morning she put out. The weather was ugly, but the
captain of the Shiner was a Gloucester fisherman, and he went
slap down Boston Harbor with every inch of canvas set alow and aloft.
The seiner lay well over on her side, and Colin, while he had often
sailed in small boats with the lee rail under, found it a new sensation
to go tearing along at such speed. He knew nothing of his new chief,
and stole a glance at him, finding the statistician smoking a pipe with
Colin smiled to himself. For a moment he had forgotten, the
statistician was a Bureau man, too. The Shiner sped out to sea,
cleaving the water at thirteen knots an hour easily, although her
thirty-six-foot seine-boat was towing after her.
She certainly can sail, Mr. Roote! exclaimed the boy, but he only
got a grunt in reply.
The evening of the third day had come before Colin gained any idea
as to the purpose of this trip. He saw that it would be no use asking
questions, and waited until he should be told what he was to do. In the
meantime, he was enjoying the sail immensely, for the craft seemed
instinct with life, and Colin learned from the other fishermen aboard
that she was one of the fastest vessels out of Gloucester. Colin had
settled himself under the blankets for the night and just dropped off
to sleep when there came a hail from the masthead.
Fish! Lyin' nor'-nor'-east.
Every man stirred in his bunk, but none made a move. Colin, who had
wakened instantly with muscles tense and ready to spring out, followed
the example of the others round him, and waited. Indeed he dropped off
to sleep again, when the voice of the captain came from the wheel:
Pass the word to oil up.
There was no need to say Pass the word, for every man below heard
the order, and tumbled up at once, sliding into sea-boots, oilskins,
and sou'westers. Most of the men lighted a pipe, and one or two took a
'mug-up' from the coffee-kettle. Evidently the mackerel were not far
away, for in less than five minutes the captain called again:
All on deck!
Up the ladder went the fishermen with a rush. There was not a star
visible, and the night was as black as though the ship were plunging
into a cave. Even the phosphorescence or 'fire' at the ship's bow was
not especially brilliant, and Colin tumbled over half a dozen different
things in as many yards on deck, while only the fact that he had
sea-boots on saved him from barking his shins on the fore-hatch.
Drop over the dory, haul up the boat!
The commands came ringing out sharply. Colin had been aboard a
man-of-war, but there was no such discipline as this. The words were
scarcely spoken, when four of the men had the dory over the starboard
rail, while eight of the men tailed on to the painter of the seine-boat
and brought it to the port fore-rigging.
Tops'l halyards. Lively now!
With a rattle and whir the two great sails went soaring up in the
darkness, and the Shiner leaped forward, her lee rail almost
flush to the sea.
She's a great boat, said Colin to one of the men near him; I
shouldn't have thought she could have stood the tops'ls.
The fisherman looked at him.
Jerry Fitzgerald is the skipper o' this craft, he said, an' he's
got the reputation o' carryin' all canvas in a full gale. See the
lights around us?
I saw one or two, Colin answered. Other seiners?
O' course, an' do you think Jerry's goin' to lose a chance o' the
school because o' canvas? Wait a bit an' you'll see!
Not a minute had passed by before another order came.
Give her the stays'l. Run up the balloon, too!
Colin gasped, but he lent a hand. As the Shiner felt the
added sail she poked her nose in and took the water green. But the
narrow build forward threw off the load, and she rose like a duck. The
seiner was carrying a fearful press of sail, but she stood up stiffly
under it, all the red and green lights of the other seiners falling
astern; it was evident that the skipper meant to keep them there.
Before long, occasional flashes of light, being the phosphorescence
churned up by the tails of a pod of mackerel, could be seen from the
Into the boat! cried the skipper.
For just a second Colin hesitated, but he saw Mr. Roote go into the
seine-boat and he followed immediately. The seine-master, who had been
aloft, came down with a rush. Colin could hear the rustle of the
oilskins as he partly touched the stays, but he landed on the deck with
a 'thump' as great as though he had leaped down the last ten feet. The
seine-boat was dropping astern as fast as one of the crew, who remained
on deck, could pay out the painter, but the seine-master gave no heed
to the rapid departure of the boat. He took half a dozen quick steps to
the stern and leaped over the quarter, judging the distance so
accurately that he landed fair on the foremost thwart of the seine-boat
as she dropped astern, a couple of the men catching him as he jumped.
Easy on the painter! he cried. Then, next moment:
Stand by the dory, as the smaller of the boats, with two men
aboard, came sliding by and was almost thrown on top of the seine-boat
by a cross-sea.
There came a fire of orders from the captain, which Colin could
hardly follow, and he wondered how the helmsman and one man on deck
could keep up with them.
Ease off the main-sheet! Dave,that was the man at the
wheel,swing her away a bit. Steady there! Slack the foretops'l and
stays'l halyards. Lively now! Jibe her over, Dave! Down with the
balloon, there! Quick as the Lord'll let you! Over she comes! Stand by
in the boat and dory! Keep her down, Dave! Down, man, down! It's a good
There was a moment's pause.
You in the boat and dory?
All ready, sir, answered the seine-master.
Hard up, Dave! Steady a little. A little! Don't you know what a
little is? Ready in the boat, there! Steady with that wheel! Now you've
got her. You in the boat, there. Got that new-fangled net ready?
Ready, cried the statistician shortly. Then Colin understood. The
trip was for the purpose of testing out a new net devised by the Bureau
and the Fisheries man was a net expert. No wonder he knew a boat!
Stand by the boat. Ready, the dory! When I give the word! Hold on a
bit with the painter! Now let her go! You in the dory there, show your
lantern! All your own way now!
Colin tugged at his oar. Never, in all his experience in rowing, had
he tackled anything like an oar of that size, but he pulled for all he
was worth, and a glow ran through him to feel that he was holding up
his end. The light dory with two men aboard, came racing after them. It
was nearly a half-mile pull before the seine-master cried:
Over with the buoy!
And the buoy was tossed overboard for the dory to pick up and hold
Then the silent Fisheries officer got busy. Without a word, he
reached for the net. It was made of a lighter twine than customary, and
not thickly tarred, having also different corks to the usual type, and
sinkers all over the net. It looked like a fearfully complicated thing
to handle and Roote was a small man, but that net went flying out as
though tossed by a giant.
You're a jim-dandy with the twine, all right, said the
seine-master admiringly. He turned to the rowers, Put your backs into
it, boys, he said; drive her for all you know how. We've got to give
this new contraption a fair chance.
How much net out now, sir? he asked the statistician in a few
Quarter of a mile, was the reply.
Shall we close in then, eh?
The seine-master, feeling that the school of mackerel had been
inclosed, turned the seine-boat towards the dory and, under the
powerful arms of the fishermen, the circle was soon completed. It was a
The wind had been rising rapidly, and just as the seine-boat reached
the dory a sharp rain squall struck. But the cry was, Purse up! for
until a seine is partly pursed up, there is no telling whether the fish
are really in or not. For a moment, however, it was almost impossible
to purse up, the wind and rain were beating so savagely.
Pull! said Roote, suiting the action to the word, and all hands
joined him. The net was light, far lighter than the old fishermen's
nets, and there was more than one audible comment to the effect that
the net would break, and that it was too bad they hadn't one of the
old-style nets around the school, but the pursing in continued, and the
net showed no signs of breakage. Presently first one, then another,
fish flashed above the water, and a minute later the shine of the
mackerel showed, and then the whole school, including thousands of
fish, rose in a body to the surface, beating the water with their
forked tails, and threshing in mad confusion from side to side.
The seine-master turned to the Fisheries official with a good deal
That's a big haul, he said; will your net stand it?
There was no hesitation in the reply.
Yes, he said.
Then I'm willin' to admit, said the seine-master, that you win.
I'd never ha' believed that you could get as big a net as light as that
an' able to hold the fish. That'll save us fishermen a pile o' labor.
But the official was not to be tempted into talk, even on the
question of his own invention. He simply nodded, and went on pursing
in. Presently the Shiner came pelting down the breeze, still
carrying quite a bit of canvas, there being not enough hands on board
to reef. The weather was getting dirtier every minute.
Hello there the boat! hailed the captain.
All right, the seine-master called back. A couple o' hundred
Looks like it.
Better get on board soon's you can, the captain advised; we may
have a bit of a blow.
Colin thought to himself that there was a great deal more than a
bit of a blow at the time, but he said nothing. The worst of it was
the way the rain came pelting down, for it was as thick as a fog, and
dispiriting. It was a cold rain, too, and although it was September,
the northeast gale was chill. Colin shivered in his oilskins. The
pursing in done, the seine-master waved a torch, but it could not be
seen in the rain.
It's a good thing we've got a cap'n like Jerry on board, boys,
said the seine-master. He'll have to smell us out, because he can't
But it was a longer wait than any one expected, for the schooner had
faded into the rain and could not be seen. Suddenly a hail was heard,
and the Shiner passed to leeward of the boats, dimly visible.
Every one shouted, and an answering cry came back.
He'll beat up to wind'ard a bit an' then pick us up, said the
Colin wondered how any man could run a schooner about in a gale of
wind and come back to a certain spot, but he need not have been
incredulous, for in about five minutes' time the Shiner came
sliding down as though to run over the boats, being thrown up into the
wind in the nick of time. As the schooner settled beside the boat, all
the men but two streamed aboard her, one remaining at the bow, to
shackle the seine-boat to the iron that hung from the hook at the
fore-rigging on the port side, while the other, grabbing hold of the
long steering-oar, did his best to fend off the stern. The seine, thus
being between the boat and the schooner, was held by Roote and the
seine-master. Colin climbed aboard with the rest of the men, and within
two minutes' time, the big dip-netwhich would hold a barrel at a
timewas scooped in among the fish.
Ten or eleven times the dip-net had descended and come up full of
fish, and the work was proceeding rapidly in spite of the pitching and
heaving of the vessel, when suddenly every one was stopped by the long
wail of a foghorn near by. Not a sound of one had been heard before,
and all hands were so busy that the direction from which the sound came
had not been noted. Exactly half a minute elapsed.
Then mournfully and very close, the long Who-o-o-o sounded almost
upon them, and the captain sprang to the wheel. As he set a hand upon
the spokes and spun them round, a tall gray ship towered above them
from the side on which was the seine-boat, and seemed to hang poised a
moment on the crest of a sea before the final crash. Colin, who was
leaning over the rail watching the dipping of the net, was able to see
everything. The fisherman at the bow of the seine-boat jumped for the
boom and clasped it safely. Then, as the sailing vessel lurched upon
them, the boy noted that the seine-master and the fisherman at the
stern of the seine-boat leaped for the martingale shrouds and held
But that instant's delay, as the bark had seemed to be poised upon
the wave, had been enough for the Shiner. Having her canvas up,
the fraction of time gave her the chance to answer to her helm, and she
spun round like a teetotum, seeming almost to wriggle from under the
bow of the ship like a live creature. Roote, the only one left in the
seine-boat, had been the last to see the oncoming ship. He gave one
quick look upward, and plunged from the seine-boat into the sea. Even
so, the chances were in his favor, but as he touched the water the ship
crashed into the seine-boat, and a piece of the wreckage hit him on the
It all happened in a flash, but at the instant that he was struck,
Colin, still in his oilskins and sea-boots, dived into the water.
Fortunately, he cleared the vortex. In a few seconds Roote came up, and
Colin grabbed him by the hair. The statistician was insensible, which
made matters easier for the boy. But the oilskins and sea-boots were an
impossible load, and it was only by great exertion that he managed at
last to get them off and still keep Roote afloat. Soon after this
relief, too, the statistician showed signs of life, and after
successfully fending off a struggle, Colin succeeded in getting the
injured man to rest his weight on him in the least tiring manner.
I don't swim much, said the net expert. How about you? How long
can you keep afloat?
Long enough twice over for them to find us, said Colin cheerfully.
I'm a regular fish in the water.
But the boy soon found out that it was a far different thing
swimming under normal conditions and really having to battle for his
life in a fair seaway. Roote, too, soon relapsed once more into
unconsciousness, and the boy had to support his weight. He was a
swimmer, a champion swimmer, and it was rather a shock to him to find
how difficult it was even to keep afloat. He realized how valueless a
casual knowledge of swimming would be for use in the open sea.
He had not been more than half an hour in the water when his
strength began to fail. He swam around expecting to find some piece of
wreckage which would aid him, but not a thing could he see. His arms
grew heavy and his feet hung down as though leaded weights were
fastened to them. Black spots began to dance before his eyes, and
Roote's weight became a torture. But he still hung on and kept afloat.
An hour passed of buffeting with the sea, and the boy began to grow
light-headed. He had swallowed quite a little salt water, and presently
he began singing, although he had a feeling as though a double self
told him not to sing. A choking took his throat and startled him into
full consciousness. He had nearly been down that time! But the training
of years stood him in good stead now that he needed it, and he still
Then he began to dream. Once or twice he came to himself and smiled
sadly to think that this was the end of all his hopes in the Bureau of
Fisheries, but this consciousness did not last for more than a minute
before he fell dreaming again, still, however, swimming heavily and
keeping afloat. And it seemed to him that the last and the most real of
his dreams was that a boat came by. But this, he thought, must be
drowning and it was not hard to drown, to dream of being rescued and to
go down, down, down, to the cold, strange tideless depths of sea from
which no one ever comes up alive. Still, there was the boat in his
dream, but it had come too late, and it seemed to Colin, that with his
last effort he pushed Roote toward the outstretched arms of the men in
the boat, waved a feeble farewell and sank. The water gurgled in his
ears, there was a horrible strangulation, he tried to cry out, his
lungs filled with water, and he knew no more.
Hours passed. Then, with a sense of suddenly arriving from a far-off
place, Colin opened his eyes. He was in the cabin of a ship, and
despite his exhaustion, he tried to rouse himself at the sound of
voices. Roote, and another man, the captain of the bark, were standing
beside his bunk.
He's a plucky youngster, as well as a great swimmer, he heard the
captain say. Who is he?
And Colin heard the other reply, with a note of pride in his voice:
That's Colin Dare. He's one of our men. We think a lot of him in
the Bureau of Fisheries!
And the boy, wanly, but happily smiling, fell into a deep but