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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/851

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LIFE ON A SOUTH SEA WHALER.

weed, that mysterious fucus that makes the ocean look like some vast kayfield, and keeps the sea from rising, no matter how high the wind. It fell a dead calm, and the harpooners amused themselves by dredging up great masses of the weed, and turning out the many strange creatures abiding therein.

We were all gathered about the fo'lk'sle scuttle one evening, a few days after the gale referred to above, and the question of whale-fishing came up for discussion. Until that time, strange as it may seem, no word of this, the central idea of all our minds, had been mooted. Every man seemed to shun the subject, although we were in daily expectation of being called upon to take an active part in whale-fighting. Once the ice was broken, nearly all had something to say about it, and very nearly as many addle-headed opinions were ventilated as at a Colney Hatch debating society. For we none of us knew anything about it. It was Saturday evening, and while at home people were looking forward to a day's respite from work and care, I felt that the coming day, though never taken much notice of on board, was big with the probabilities of strife such as I at least had at present no idea of—so firmly was I possessed by the prevailing feeling.

The night was very quiet. A gentle breeze was blowing, and the sky was of the usual "trade" character—that is, a dome of dark blue fringed at the horizon with peaceful cumulus clouds, almost motionless. I turned in at 4 a. m. from the middle watch and, as usual, slept like a babe. Suddenly I started wide awake, a long, mournful sound sending a thrill to my very heart. As I listened breathlessly, other sounds of the same character but in different tones joined in, human voices monotonously intoning in long-drawn-out expirations the single word "bl-o-o-o-ow." Then came a hurricane of noise overhead, and adjurations in no gentle language to the sleepers to "tumble up lively there, no skulking, sperm whales." At last, then, fulfilling all the presentiments of yesterday, the long-dreaded moment had arrived. Happily, there was no time for hesitation; in less than two minutes we were all on deck, and hurrying to our respective boats. The skipper was in the main crow's-nest with his binoculars. Presently he shouted: "Naow then, Mr. Count, lower away soon's y'like. Small pod o' cows, an' one 'r two bulls layin' off to west'ard of 'em." Down went the boats into the water quietly enough; we all scrambled in and shoved off. A stroke or two of the oars were given to get clear of the ship and one another, then oars were shipped and up went the sails. As I took my allotted place at the main-sheet, and the beautiful craft started off like some big bird, Mr. Count leaned forward, saying impressively-to me: "Y'r a smart youngster, an' I've kinder took t'yer; but don't ye look ahead an' get gallied, 'r I'll knock ye