"Trying out" went on busily all night, and by nightfall of the next day the ship had resumed her normal appearance, and we were a tun and a quarter of oil to the good. Blackfish oil is of medium quality, but I learned that, according to the rule of "roguery in all trades," it was the custom to mix quantities such as we had just obtained with better class whale oil, and thus get a much higher price than it was really worth.
We had now been eight days out, having had nothing, so far, but steady breezes and fine weather. As it was late autumn—the first week in October—I rather wondered at this, for even in my brief experience I had learned to dread a "fall" voyage across the "Western Ocean."
Gradually the face of the sky changed, and the feel of the air, from balmy and genial, became raw and cheerless. The little wave tops broke short off and blew backward, apparently against the wind, while the old vessel had an uneasy, unnatural motion, caused by a long, new swell rolling athwart the existing set of the sea.
We were evidently in for a fair specimen of Western Ocean weather, but the clumsy-looking, old-fashioned Cachalot made no more fuss over it than one of the long-winged sea birds that floated around, intent only upon snapping up any stray scraps that might escape from us. Higher rose the wind, heavier rolled the sea, yet never a drop of water did we ship, nor did anything about the deck betoken what a heavy gale was blowing. During the worst of the weather, and just after the wind had shifted back into the northeast, making an uglier cross sea than ever get up, along comes an immense four-masted iron ship homeward bound. She was staggering under a veritable mountain of canvas, fairly burying her bows in the foam at every forward drive, and actually wetting the clews of the upper topsails in the smothering masses of spray, that every few minutes almost hid her hull from sight.
It was a splendid picture; but—for the time—I felt glad I was not on board of her. In a very few minutes she was out of our ken, followed by the admiration of all. Then came, from the other direction, a huge steamship, taking no more notice of the gale than as if it were calm. Straight through the sea she rushed, dividing the mighty rollers to the heart, and often bestriding three seas at once, the center one spreading its many tons of foaming water fore and aft, so that from every orifice spouted the seething brine. Compared with these greyhounds of the wave, we resembled nothing so much as some old lightship bobbing serenely around, as if part and parcel of the mid-Atlantic. The gale gradually blew itself out, leaving behind only a long and very heavy swell to denote the deep-reaching disturbance that the ocean had endured. And now we were within the range of the sargasso