Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

A Revengeful Whale by W. J. Henderson

 

The ship was under a cloud of canvas. Old Handsome lay on his side away forward near the knight-heads, where the rhythmic rise and fall of the bows lulled him like the rocking of a cradle.

"Say," he drawled, in a lazy voice, "the old ship looks very gay in the sunset, doesn't she?"

"Waal," said Farmer Joe, "she dew look right peert. But all the same I don't see no use o' wastin' a whole dog-watch a-lookin' at her."

"Who arst yer to?" said another sailor.

"Waal," continued Farmer Joe, "what I'm a-thinkin' of is that Handsome ort to tell us some more o' his whalin' exper'ences."

Handsome uttered a feeble moan of protest. But the seamen gathered around him and persisted.

"Well, well," he said at length, "hold on a minute till I overhaul my recollection-lockers. Let's see; where was I? Oh yes; I'd got to where I was lost from the Ellen Burgee, and was picked up by the whaler Two Cousins. Well, that was a rum sort of a go. You see the Captain of the Two Cousins was very glad to get us, because he was short-handed, some of his men having deserted at the last port. So we agreed to work in with his crew until our own ship was sighted, when he was to put us aboard of her. Of course we never had any sort of a notion that it was going to be six months before we got back to the Ellen Burgee. Say, of all the wearing, tearing things that can come to a man in this world there's nothing more exasperating than waiting for whales. We pretty nearly went crazy aboard the Two Cousins, for it was two weeks before the masthead let go the mighty welcome yell,

"'There she breaches!'

"The skipper he jumped into the rigging and took a squint, and the next minute he shouted:

"'There she blows—one—two—three! Three good whales. Lower away lively, you shipkeepers!'

"Our crew had been put in one boat, because the Captain agreed that we'd do better working together, and of course he knew we wouldn't run away, because there wasn't any place to run to. Well, we lowered away and off we went under oars, because the whales were dead to windward, and not so very far away either. We had gone about half the distance, when the boat-steerer said,

"'There goes flukes.'

"Which meant, of course, that the whales had sounded. There was nothing to do except to wait for them to come up again. They staid down a pretty long time, which proved that they were big ones, and then they came up half a mile dead to leeward of us. We set our little boat sail, there was a fairly good breeze, and we went dancing over the waves toward the whales at a good pace. The first mate of the Two Cousins had the weather-gage of us, and he had the smallest whale. The one we were heading for was a regular old leviathan.

"'Get in your sail,' whispered the boat-steerer.

"It was done with great caution.

"'Now a good stroke, starboard, to pull her round.'

"We were now in a position to go up to his whaleship without being seen; so the boat-steerer says:

"'Now, lads, give way with a will. Jump her; jump her!'

"We dashed our oars, and the boat sprang forward.

"'Now!'

"The iron was thrown with a whiz, and as quick as a flash—yes, as quick as a mouse could dart into his hole—the whale went down into the sea. The line ran out of the tub fast enough to make you dizzy. All of a sudden—how, I never could tell—there was a kink in the line, and it fouled for a second in the bow chock. Such a thing meant destruction to the boat, and as quick as thought I, being bowman, grabbed the axe and cut the line.

"'Blast you!' yelled the boat-steerer; 'what did you do that for?'

"'Do you want to be towed under?' I said. 'I should think we'd had enough towing.'

"'Well,' says he, cooling down a bit, 'there's a fine whale gone off with a good iron in him.'

"The other boats did not have much better luck than we did, seeing that their whales got frightened and began to run. They chased the brutes for two hours, and couldn't get anywhere near them. Then it commenced to get late, and the ship hoisted the waif—"

"What's that?" asked Farmer Joe.

"That's the boat recall in a whaler," answered Handsome; "and when it went up we had to go back to the ship, where we were jawed by the Captain, and made fun of by the rest of the crew. Still, we didn't mind that so very much, because, you know, it's pretty likely to be turn about in a whaler, and you can't ever tell when an accident is going to happen to the oldest hand. It was three days before we saw a whale again. I was on lookout, and I caught sight of a spurt of spray away down to leeward. I was hardly sure of it at first, but the next second the whale rose on a sea, and I caught the flash of the sun on his shiny wet back. So I bawled away as usual,

"'There blows!'

"'Only one?' yelled the Captain.

"'That's all, sir,' says I.

"'Well,' says he,' we'll make sure of him, anyhow.'

"So he gives orders to lower away three boats. These boats were to spread out in running down on the whale, so that if he sounded he might come up so near one of the outside ones as to give it a chance to go on before he could recover from his surprise. Well, we had the outside berth on the port side, and the mate of the Two Cousins he had the middle. The orders were to keep abreast in sailing down, and by easing and trimming sheets, according as we went ahead or not, we managed to do it pretty neatly. We had got down within two hundred and fifty yards of the whale, when he began to swim ahead. He didn't seem to go very fast, but he managed to keep us all about the same distance astern of him. All of a sudden our boat-steerer says,

"'I know him!'

"'Get out!' says I; 'how can you know a whale?'

"'But I tell you I do,' says he, 'and if you had any sense you'd know him too.'

"'How would I?' asks I.

"'Don't you see the harpoon sticking out of him?'

"I looked pretty hard, and, sure enough, there was a harpoon, with a line drifting from it.

"'That's my iron!' says the boat-steerer.

"'Get out!' says I.

"'I won't,' says he.

"'How do you know it's yours?' says I.

"'Because I made it myself, and I know my own work even when I see it afloat on a whale's back away off in longitude and latitude something or other.'

"'Then it's the same whale!' says I.

"'Right!' says he. 'It's the whale I struck the other day, and which got away because you went out and cut the line.'

"'It would be a pretty good joke on the whale,' says I, 'if we could get close enough to him to catch hold of the end of the line.'

"'It would,' says he,' and we could begin again where we left off yesterday.'

"'Shall we try it?' I asks.

"'Of course,' says he.

"'He's stopped swimming ahead,' says I.

"'Then we'll soon be close to him,' says he.

"'But if he don't swim ahead the end of the line'll sink,' says I.

"'And we'll go on and heave a new iron into him,' says he, 'and so we'll get him anyway.'

"Well, we sailed on, and occasionally the whale would swim ahead a little, and then again he'd stop, and we'd gain on him. By-and-by we got pretty close, and the boat-steerer says:

"'Let's make a dash now and make fast to him with the new iron.'

"With that we got the oars out, and with a jump and a snort we sent the light boat boiling ahead. Now in all my life I never saw anything quite as smart as that particular whale. The minute we began to go ahead, so did he. But we were so close that old Bacon, the boat-steerer, made up his mind that we could catch him.

"'Pull hard, lads!' he says; 'pull hard! We're gaining on him at every stroke.'

"And now it came to be a regular race between us and the whale, which was altogether out of the nature of things. The whale, if he'd been scared, ought to have sounded. We thought of that afterward, but we didn't think of it then. The other boats' crews didn't think of it either, for they were pulling hard too. But owing to the whale's starboarding his helm a little we were much the nearest to him. All of a sudden I happened to look over the side of the boat, and blow me if I didn't see the end of the harpoon-line dragging along in the water! Quick as a wink I let go of my oar and grabbed that line. The next second I had it in the boat, and had a turn around the loggerhead.

"'We're fast!' says I.

"'Bully for you!' says Bacon.

"'Hurrah!' says the rest of the crew.

"Then Bacon he sort of half stood up and waved his cap to the other boats, and pointed to the harpoon and line. They waved back at us and laughed. Then Bacon says,

"'Now I'm fast I don't hardly know what to do, because the whale is just as cool as though he'd never been struck.'

"At that minute, as luck would have it, the whale seemed to find out what had happened, and he ups flukes and sounds. He didn't stay down very long, and when he came up Bacon says,

"'Now's our time. We'll go right in and give him the lance.'

"We bent our backs to it and dashed the boat ahead; but it was not to be our luck to kill just then, for just as Bacon stood up with the lance the whale hove his tail into the air and brought it down on the water with a report like a cannon. At the same instant he sounded again.

"'He's a regular demon!' says Bacon; 'but we'll get him yet.'

"In a few minutes he came up again and lay perfectly still. Once more we pulled up on him, and Bacon got ready to throw the lance. Again the whale sounded. Down, down he went till the line was all out. And then he didn't stop.

"'Great Scott!' yells Bacon, 'he's trying to tow us under.'

"Without a second's hesitation he grabbed the axe and cut the line. It was lucky he was so quick, for the bow of the boat had been pulled down till the water was flowing over the gunwales. Another second and we'd all have been in the water. Again the whale came up and lay perfectly still, with the tantalizing harpoon fast in his back.

"'Now we'll not fool with that any more,' said Bacon, the boat-steerer, 'but we'll go on and put in a new iron.'

"'We made a good approach, and got up within heaving distance. Bacon stood up, and was just going to let fly, when Mr. Whale went down again.

"'Well, that's the most exasperating brute I ever met,' says Bacon, 'and I'll never leave him till I see him dead.'

"I don't suppose a whale down under the sea can hear what a man in a boat says, and I guess he wouldn't understand it if he did; but that whale acted as if he knew a heap. The first thing we knew, the stroke-oar, who was leaning over the side of the boat, let out a yell and dashed his oar into the water.

"'Pull for your lives!' says he."

SUDDENLY TWO GREAT WALLS SEEMED TO SHOOT UP OUT OF THE
OCEAN. SUDDENLY TWO GREAT WALLS SEEMED TO SHOOT UP OUT OF THE OCEAN.

"We didn't need any second invitation of that kind. We all dipped our oars, but it was too late. Suddenly two great dark walls seemed to shoot up out of the ocean, one on each side of the boat. The boat itself was lifted bodily out of the water, bending and straining as if it was made of straw. Looking over the sides, our blood just stood still at the sight. The whale had come up under us straight up and down, as if he was a-standing on his tail. He had opened his terrible cave of a mouth, and had snatched the boat in it, and now he was holding the little vessel and us in it a good fifteen feet above the water, while he sort of rocked back and forward like a child playing with a doll.

"'Give him an iron in his beastly snout!' yelled one of the men.

"Too late; and it wouldn't have done any good anyhow. He moved his jaw a little, and the sides of the boat bent in and creaked like paper. With wild yells we all threw ourselves out of the boat, for in another minute some of us would have been in his throat. He snapped his jaws together, crunching the boat into kindling-wood. Then he threw himself end over end, going down head first, and lashing out with his great flukes. Poor Bill Johnson got a crack that broke one of his legs, and if it hadn't been for Bacon, he'd have drowned. The other boats came dashing down to our rescue, the boat of the first mate of the Two Cousins leading the way. She was nearest to us, and the mate was shouting words of encouragement, when all of a sudden his cries changed to shouts of fear. The next instant we saw the waters split wide open, and the whale came up, back first, with a crash right under the boat. Boys, I hope I may never see South Street again if he didn't drive the harpoon that was still sticking in his back right through the bottom of her. There she was pinned fast to his back.

"'Give him your lance'!' yells Bacon, who was swimming and holding up Bill Johnson.

"'What! And be killed in his flurry?' shouted the mate. 'Not much!'

"With that he grabs the spars of his boat, throws them overboard, and jumps after them, followed by all his crew. At the same instant the whale lashed out with his flukes again and went down, taking the boat on his back. This time, as good luck would have it, he didn't hit any one. But we were all thoroughly terrified, for we knew now that the brute was in a temper, and that he knew what he was doing. Meanwhile the ship was bearing down on us, and we had hopes of being saved. The third boat, too, was pulling up, but we had not much hopes of her, for we expected to see the whale attack her. And, sure enough, he came up a few yards away, without the mate's boat on his back, and waited for her. When she was close to us he seemed to utter a snort as he plunged down and made for her. The steerer of the boat was a cool hand, and he swung the boat off with a powerful stroke just as the whale came up and tried to smash her with his flukes. Curiously enough, the brute seemed to think he'd done for her, for instead of coming back to take another shot, he sounded, and we never saw anything more of him. Five minutes later we were all safe in the third boat, and soon afterward we were aboard the ship. But, I tell you, I don't care to have any more dealings with a whale that's bent on revenge and seems to know just who it was that hit him."