Saturday, 13 September 2008
The Deep Sea Hunters
The DEEP SEA HUNTERS
ADVENTURES ON A WHALER
A. HYATT VERRILL
AUTHOR OF "THE REAL STORY OF THE WHALER." "ISLES OF SPICE AND PALM." "THE BOOK OF THE MOTOR BOAT." ETC,
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
NEW YORK : 1922 : LONDON
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
CHAPTER I THE BOYS MAKE A BARGAIN 3
CHAPTER II OUTWARD BOUND 6
CHAPTER III THERE SHE BLOWS! 11
CHAPTER IV A NARROW ESCAPE 15
CHAPTER V STRANGE VISITORS 19
CHAPTER VI AN ISLAND QUITE OUT OF THE WORLD 23
CHAPTER VII HOW CAP'N PEM LOST HIS LEG 30
CHAPTER VIII ELEPHANT ISLAND 33
CHAPTER IX SPINNING YARNS 37
CHAPTER X LOST 41
CHAPTER XI A STRANGE MESSAGE 45
CHAPTER XII THE RAIDERS 50
CHAPTER XIII HOMEWARD BOUND 54
CHAPTER XIV THE BOYS MAKE A DISCOVERY 57
CHAPTER I THE BOYS MAKE A BARGAIN
OH, Tom!" cried Jim Lathrop, as he dashed into his chum's den, "what do you think? They're fitting the Hector out for a cruise!"
"Come on, I don't believe it. You can't fool me that way," replied Tom, tossing aside his book. "What's the joke? Why the old Hector wouldn't float—she's had grass growing out of her seams for years."
"Honest, they are, though," asserted Jim. "If you don't believe it come along and see."
Grabbing his cap, Tom hurried out with his friend, and the two boys ran down the shady, sleepy streets of old Fair Haven towards the water front.
It was little wonder that Tom was incredulous of Jim's news, for, to the boys, the ancient whaling bark Hector was as much of a fixture as the village church or the town hall. As long as they could remember the old ship had lain on the mud flat beside the abandoned old whaling docks, her dingy, weather-beaten sides rising far above the rotting stringpieces of the wharf; her spars, gray from countless storms and years of sunshine, sagging and awry; her tattered and frayed standing rigging slack and her deck warped and with open seams. Built nearly one hundred years ago, the Hector had for generations been the pride of the great New Bedford whaling fleet, but, long before either of the boys had been born, she had been towed to her resting place upon the Fair Haven flats and abandoned to the elements.
But to the boys of the village she had been a source of never failing amusement. Upon her decks they had played pirate, buccaneer and whaler by turns. Within her tumble-down deck houses imaginary mutineers and freebooters had massacred innumerable officers. From her broad, stout crosstrees the boys had peered forth at countless treasure islands, and within her dark and musty hold they had languished in chains or had stowed away on imaginary voyages.
Somehow, upon the old ship, the boys seemed actually to live in the stirring days they reacted, for old Capt'n Pem, the dock watchman, had spent many an afternoon spinning yarns of his youthful whaling days while seated on the heel of the Hector's bowsprit. He had related stories of cannibal attacks, of mutinies, of boats stove in and ships rammed by frantic whales. The boys had listened breathlessly to his accounts of men drifting in open whaleboats for thousands of miles after being towed out of sight of their ships by whales, and as he had served as mate on two voyages of the Hector, the boys had but to close their eyes to see the characters he described and the exciting events in which he had taken part. Moreover, Jim, or, as his friends called him, "Jimmy," had found the old log of the Hector in the Historical Society's museum across the river in New Bedford, and the boys had read it word for word and had found it more fascinating than any book of fiction, for they knew every inch of the old bark as they did their own homes. They knew the very yardarm from which a mutineer had once been hung; they could still see the holes made by the bullets of Chinese pirates in the stout cabin door; they searched for and found the very bunk wherein the mate had been pinned down by the spear of a Solomon Island cannibal, and the criss-cross cuts where poor "Crazy Ned" had cut his "baccy" on the fo’c’sle steps were still visible. Tom, too— who was forever reading books on strange, faraway lands—had told the other boys of the places the old ship had touched on its many cruises. He painted vivid word pictures of the desolate Croisettes, of little-known Gough Island and volcanic Kerguelan in the storm-lashed Antarctic. He described the queer penguins and broad-winged albatrosses, the palm-fringed coral isles of the tropics, the swift proas of the Malays, the frozen wastes of the Arctic and the blistering doldrums, until he and his friends could transport themselves at will to any part of the world, or any spot in the seven seas, merely by clambering on to the Hector's warped old decks and setting sail in make believe on a three years' cruise. And, best of all, the boys' parents encouraged them, for they all were of old whaling stock and had almost as much fondness for the old Hector and the past glories of the whaling fleet as did the boys. Moreover, the boys' fathers were not slow to notice that, by playing about the old bark and listening to Cap'n Pem's yarns, the boys were absorbing a vast amount of useful knowledge of the sea and of seamanship, as well as of foreign lands and people. They had learned to climb aloft, to run up the ratlines and to man the yards like real sailors, and they acquired a full command of nautical terms, orders and phrases. And in this old Cap'n Pem had been their instructor. He had shown them how to knot, splice and bend ropes; he had made them repair the rotting ratlines and fool-ropes; he had insisted that they must be "proper sailor men" in their play; and, in order to teach them how to swing and square the yards, clew up the sails and otherwise "navigate" the old hulk, he had helped them rig braces, halliards, clewlines and other running rigging from odds and ends stowed in his cozy little home at the head of the wharf. Under his tutelage the boys had learned how to box the compass, how to steer, how to give orders for trimming sail, and both Tom and Jim had gone a step farther and had learned how to "shoot the sun" and work out latitude and longitude.
Often, the old seaman would take a part in the boys’ fun himself; sometimes as captain, at other times as able-bodied seaman, which he always took as a huge joke, remarking with a chuckle that, "I've seen a mighty queer lot o' timber a-callin' o' theirsel’s sailors; but I'll be stowed if I ever seen a wooden-legged A. B. afore."
But despite his wooden leg, Cap'n Pem managed to get about as lively as any of his young friends, and he would tail on to a brace and roar out some deep-sea chantey with the boys joining in the chorus, with as much vigor and heartiness as though the Hector were once more plowing her way through blue seas instead of being high and dry on a mud flat.
But neither Cap'n Pem nor the boys had ever dreamed of the Hector going to sea in reality. From her opened seams, grass and weeds were growing luxuriantly; within her hold the tide rose and fell exactly as it did outside and, as the old salt vowed that New Bedford whalers were built to last forever, the Hector seemed doomed to be a permanent landmark at the end of the elm-shaded street.
So, as the two boys hurried to the dock, Jim found it hard work to convince Tom that they were about to lose their wonderful playground.
"I just went down to see if you or any of the fellows were there," explained Jim, "and I found a whole crowd of workmen. They had a truck full of rope and tackle and paint and tar and everything. Some of them were on board and others on the dock and they'd already taken off a lot of the old rigging and were tearing the grass and stuff out of the seams. Cap'n Pem was there too and I asked him what they were doing and he chuckled and said, 'Didn't I tell ye, Jimmy, a New Bedford ship weren't never too old to go a-cruisin'? They're a fittin' of the Hector fer a v'yge.'"
"I’ll bet he was just jollying you," declared Tom. "Perhaps they're going to fix her up and take a movie of her, just as they did on the Viola, you know. Perhaps that's what Cap'n Pem meant —a movie voyage. Why, Jimmy, the Hector couldn't go to sea.”
"Well, we'll soon know," replied Jim. "Look at that now! They're taking down her yards."
The boys had now reached the dock, and sure enough, as Jim had said, a crowd of laborers were busy on the wharf and on the Hector, and the sound of hammers and axes, of loud orders, and the creak of tackle blocks awoke echoes which the dock had not heard for generations.
Already nearly all the yards of the old ship had been taken down and were laid upon the dock where men were planing and cutting them; the grass and weeds had been removed from the cracks in the planking and men were busy cutting and tearing out the old caulking. The ragged shrouds were being taken off and, on a hanging stage under the bowsprit, carpenters were working on the massive stem.
"Gosh! It does look as if you're right," admitted Tom, as the two boys stopped, and with wonder, gazed upon the bustling scene. "Oh, there's Cap'n Pem! Let's go and ask him all about it."
Approaching their old friend, the boys plied him with questions.
"Sure, they're a-fittin' of her out fer a cruise," he avowed, seating himself on one of the yards. "Reckon 'iles so almighty sky high—what with this 'ere war an' all—that old man Nye jest couldn't resist the temptation o' fittin' out fer a cruise."
"Where's she goin'?" he continued in answer to the boys' queries.
"Gosh hanged ef I know! Any seas mos' likely. Ain't nary one o' the chaps here as knows nothin' 'bout it. Jest had orders ter overhaul the ol' Hector an' git her ship-shape an’ ready fer sea. Jake Potter's gang 'tis. Ain't seed Jake or I'd know more erbout it."
"But aren't you surprised?" asked Tom. "When Jim told me, I wouldn't believe it. Why, it don't seem possible. How on earth can that old hulk float?"
"Surprised?" chuckled the old salt. "Say, son, time ye git as ol' as I be an' been to sea fer a matter o’ forty year, ye won't find nothin' to surprise ye. 'Sides, what's so surprisin' 'bout a good ship goin' t' sea after a bit o' rest? Float? Course she'll float. Why, boys, I've been a-cruisin’ fer sparm in the western ocean an' jammed in the ice in Behring Sea fer five years in a ship what was jes' punk 'longside o' this 'ere Hector. Float! Why, bile me down fer blubber, if she ain't a floatin' long after these 'ere new-fangled, sawed-timber jimcracks o' ships what the gov'ments a-buildin' of has been scrapped fer a hundred year. Why, boys, don't ye know the ol' Hector well enough to know she's jes' as sta'nch an' sound as the day she was built? Long's her timbers 're sound an’ her keel an’ garboard strake's not rotten, she's all right; an' I'll bet my wooden leg 'gainst a chew o' baccy thet she's as sound as a trivet to-day."
"But won't it cost more to fix her up than to build a new ship?" asked Jim.
The old skipper shook his grizzled head. "No, sirree," he declared. "Ships is mighty costly these days, an' 'sides, where ye goin’ ter find any one thet knows how ter build a proper whale ship?
Why, blow me, ye can't find a man what knows a blubber-hook from a fluke-chain nor a clumsy-cleat from a scrap-hopper outside o’ New Bedford. Course she'll need a bit o' tinkerin', few new planks an' riggin'; a bit o' caulkin', and like as not, some new spars. But shucks, that ain't much. Reckon' they'll have her all fine an' dandy an' ready fer sea inside a month."
"But how are they going to caulk her and fix her here in the mud?" inquired Tom. "Won't they have to tow her over to the dry dock?"
Cap'n Pem roared with merriment. "Bless yer heart, no!" he cried when he could control his laughter. "Didn't ye ever see a ship hove-down? But o' course ye haven't. Why, they'll jes clap a tackle on to her mastheads and heave her down till they git to her bottom, easy as eatin' pie."
"Well, I'll like to see that," declared Tom. "I should think it would pull the masts out or crack er wide open."
“Nary a mite," the captain assured him. "Whale ships is made fer hard work an' knockin' about, not fer looks. Course there ain't many o' these 'ere schooners nowadays what'll stand fer it; but ye jes wait an' see how the ol' Hector takes it."
For the rest of the afternoon, Tom and Jim, in company with a number of boy friends who joined them, stood upon the dock watching with interest, and not without pangs of regret, the rapid dismantling of the bark.
"Reckon 'tis kind o’ hard on ye kids," remarked Cap'n Pem, when one of the boys expressed his sorrow at losing the old ship. "Durned if I don't hate ter have her go myself. Kind o' like losin’ of an ol' friend. Jest hope I'll be spared ter see her comin' horn' ag'in. Bet she'll be full up and with a shark tail on her jibboom."
Not until the laborers knocked off work did the boys turn from the dock towards their various homes, and by then, the Hector had been stripped bare of her rigging; huge pieces of rotten wood had been cut from her stem; planks had been torn from sides and decks; her cabin and galley had been ripped out; and, as Tom remarked, she looked more like a wreck than ever.
As Jim lingered to talk with Tom before the latter's home, Mr. Chester drove up in his car, and instantly the two boys told him the wonderful news of the bark.
"Yes, boys, I heard about it," he replied. "Mr. Nye was in the office to-day to see about outfitting. He's fitting the Hector out for a voyage to the South Shetlands for sea-elephant oil. Come in and have dinner with us, Jimmy, and I'll tell you both all about it."
"Gosh, that's way down by the South Pole," exclaimed Jim as the two boys followed Tom's father into the house. "Say, Tom, what are sea elephants? You never told us anything about them."
"I don't exactly know myself," admitted the other. "Seems to me I did read something about them in some book; sort of a giant seal, I think, but I don't understand how a whaler can go after them for oil."
Tom's father, however, soon explained all about sea elephants, the gigantic seal-like creatures with trunklike noses, which dwell in the Antarctic seas and upon the desolate islands there.
Formerly, Mr. Chester told them, the sea elephants congregated in herds of countless thousands upon the shores of the South Shetlands,
Kerguelan, the Croisettes and other Antarctic islands, but as they were stupid creatures and had never seen men, they fell an easy prey to whalers who killed them for their blubber. So rapidly were they slaughtered that they would soon have become as extinct as the Dodo or the Great Auk, if the European governments, who owned the islands, had not taken steps to protect them and prevent hunting them.
"Then how can the Hector go after them?" asked Tom.
"Because, owing to the war, there has been such a shortage of oil that the British government has given permission to hunt them under special license," replied Mr. Chester.
"Do you really think the old bark ever will get there?" asked Jim.
"I haven't a doubt of it—unless she's sunk by a submarine. Those old ships were built to last forever, as Captain Pem says, and Nye's had the Hector looked over and her timbers and most of her planking are sound. It will be a far more difficult matter to find a crew than to get the bark into seagoing shape."
"Golly, wouldn't that be a dandy cruise to take!" exclaimed Tom. "Just think of seeing penguins and albatrosses and sea elephants and icebergs and everything!"
"Yes, and think of really going whaling on the old Hector!" cried Jim.
"Sea elephanting, you mean," laughed Tom. "Say, father, will they call the crew 'sea-elephant men'?"
"They'll do considerable whaling too, I expect," laughed his father, "and no matter what a whaleman does he's still a whaler—even when they went to Africa after slaves in the old days and never hunted whales."
"Then 'twould be all the more fun—if they hunted whales, too," declared Tom. "Gee, I do wish we could go along. Couldn't we go as part of the crew or something, Dad? You always said we'd ought to go on a real cruise, you know."
"Nonsense," said Mr. Chester. "You two boys would be a nuisance, and besides, even if Nye would let you go, and I didn't object, and the captain gave his consent, your mother and Jim's parents would be worried to death. The ship might be sunk by a submarine, and she'll probably be away for a year or more and where we never could hear from her. Besides, you'd be sick and tired of the trip before it really began. You don't realize what a whaling cruise is like. Go over and see Nye to-morrow and he'll tell you a few truths that will make you change your views about a whaling life being a lark."
"Well if we don't, and Mr. Nye will let us go, and Jimmy's folks will let him go, and the captain will sign us on, then will you let me go?" teased Tom.
"There are altogether too many ‘ifs' in that," laughed Mr. Chester, "but I'll make a bargain. If Nye and his skipper are fools enough to let you two go and all the other ‘ifs' are eliminated I'll give my consent on one condition, and that is, that old Captain Pem is the mate."
"Hurrah!" cried the boys in unison.
Mr. Chester chuckled.
"I'm perfectly safe in making that bargain," he declared. "There's about as much chance of a wooden-legged mate on a whaler as there is of the Hector coming back with a load of ambergris!"
CHAPTER II OUTWARD BOUND
THE boys scarcely could wait to finish their breakfasts, so anxious were they to see the owner of the Hector. Arriving in New Bedford across the harbor, they at once hurried to Mr. Nye's office, only to find that he was not in and was not expected for an hour.
"Let's go over to the museum," suggested Tom, and the two boys hurried downstairs, turned into a waterfront street, and a few moments later, reached the Old Dartmouth Historical Society with its wonderful whalers' museum.
Here they always found plenty to interest them and the time passed quickly as they studied the fascinating exhibits of whaling weapons and utensils, old prints, log books, and, best of all the half-size model of a New Bedford whaling ship complete in every detail.
As they were about to leave the building and passed by the office, they noticed the genial curator talking with a man whose back was towards them.
"Hello, boys!" called the curator, "I understand you're about to lose your ship. Where are you off to now?"
"Yes," replied Tom, "but we're going to try and go on her. We're going to see Mr. Nye now and ask him if we can."
The curator laughed.
"Want to turn real whalemen, eh? How about your parents' consent?"
"Oh, they've consented," replied Jim, "that is, Tom's father said he could go if Mr. Nye and the captain were willing and if Cap'n Pem went as mate and my folks said they'd agree to that, too."
"Well, well!" chuckled their friend. "So now you're going to ask Nye and try to get him to ship old Pem just to help you, I suppose! Well, there are worse mates than he'd make. Come in here, boys, I want you to meet an old friend of mine."
As they entered the office the stranger turned and the boys was he was a clean-shaven, leather-faced old man with a merry twinkle in his keen, blue eyes.
"Captain," said the curator, "here are a couple of boys who want to ship on the Hector, Jimmy Lathrop and Tom Chester. You know Chester, the ship chandlery and hardware man, Tom's father. How do you think they'll do for whalemen? Boys, this is Captain Edwards of the Hector."
Shaking hands cordially, the old whaleman considered for a moment.
"Hmm," he said at last, "what's your rating, boys, A. B.'s, boat steerers, coopers, cooks, cabin boys, navigators or just ordinary deck bands?"
The boys laughed.
"I don't know," admitted Jim. "Anything, if we can go, except cooks or coopers or boat-steerers."
"Then you've had previous experience, eh?" asked the captain striving to maintain a grave face. "What ships have you been on?"
"The Hector" promptly replied Tom, with a grin. "We've been everything on her from stowaways to captain."
Captain Edwards burst into a hearty laugh. "So you're some of the youngsters that have been using my ship for a playground, eh?" he exclaimed. "And now you'd like to take a real try at the game. And your dads said you could if I'd take old Pem for mate, eh?"
"Yes, sir," said Tom, "and father said that was just about as likely as for the Hector to bring back a load of ambergris."
The captain and the curator burst into hearty laughter.
"That's pretty good!" declared the old skipper at last. "But stranger things have happened to whalemen, boys. Many a ship's brought home a mighty good cargo of ambergris and I've sailed with a wooden-legged captain, let alone a mate."
"These boys can navigate," put in the curator. "Cap'n Pem's taught them nearly all there is to know about handling a ship, except going to sea."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the captain with new interest. "Now, boys, let me ask you some questions."
For the next half hour Captain Edwards plied the boys with queries on seamanship, navigation, ropes and rigging, handling sails, nautical and whalemen's terms, and in fact, everything he could think of. Then, banging his fist on his knee, he exclaimed, "Why, hang it all, Frank! These two kids could get second officer's tickets to-morrow, if they were old enough. Boys, come along over to Nye's office."
"Gosh! I'd forgotten about seeing him," cried Tom as he and Jim rose and hurried out with the captain.
Arrived at the ship owner's office, the boys quickly told Mr. Nye of their desire to go on the Hector and repeated the conditions on which their parents had consented. Then, when they had finished, the captain drew the owner to one side and conversed in low tones with him for a few moments.
"Well, boys," said the Hector's owner, resuming his seat, "I have no objection if Captain Edwards hasn't, and he tells me he'd be glad to take you, as you might be useful. You see, it's mighty difficult to get a crew of any sort now and navigators are scarce as hens' teeth. Of course, he wouldn't count on you as full-fledged officers; but he thinks you'd be more useful than ornamental and that two husky, wide-awake boys who really know the old Hector from stem to stern would be worth their keep—might help in breaking in the green hands, you know. Of course, you'd find it a mighty rough life—not all beer and skittles by any means—and a dirty job too. But I was younger than either of you when I first went on a cruise and it did me a pile of good—made a man of me and taught me a lot—and hard work never hurt any boy yet. Yes, as far as I'm concerned, and Captain Edwards too, you're more than welcome on the Hector; but, of course, that doesn't mean you're going. Don't forget old Pem is one of the conditions, and I've never had a wooden-legged mate on one of my ships yet!"
"Oh, darn!" exclaimed Jim, "I think they might let us go, anyway."
"I'm not going to be discouraged yet," declared Tom. "I'll bet I can tease dad into letting us go, even if Cap'n Pem isn't mate."
But despite his statement, the two boys felt downhearted and discouraged the rest of the day, for it was even worse to have the captain's and the owner's consent and still be unable to go on the cruise than it would have been had their parents refused to listen to their pleas in the first place. And that evening, when Tom endeavored to wheedle his father into withdrawing the conditions he had made, he found him obdurate. While he was still arguing, Jim and Mr. Lathrop called and the latter declared that he, too, would stick to his original conditions. Very disconsolate were the two boys as they sat down to dinner, for they realized now that their cause was hopeless, that in giving their conditional consent their parents had known they were perfectly safe.
But presently their spirits began to revive and they were chatting and laughing as gaily as ever. Then, when the meal was nearly over, the door bell rang and the servant announced: "A gentleman to see you, Master Tom. He said to tell you he was mate of the Hector. He's waiting in the library."
"Mate of the Hector!" exclaimed Tom in puzzled tones, "I wonder what he wants. I didn't know Captain Edwards had a mate yet. I'll bet he's come to tell us he's mate just so we'll know there's no chance. Gee! I think Mr. Nye might have taken Cap'n Pem just for our sakes."
"Nye's sending the bark after oil, not to please you boys," Mr. Chester reminded him as he left the room.
As Tom reached the library and glanced within, he started as if he had seen a ghost and stood speechless, staring with unbelieving eyes at the figure seated in the big Morris chair.
"Reckon I did surprise ye!" chuckled Cap'n Pem. "Jest signed on fer mate o' the ol' Hector an' kinder thought—"
What he was about to say was drowned in the wild yell Tom let out as, turning, he dashed down the hall.
"Jim!" he shouted as he burst open the dining room door. "Jim! We're going! It's Cap'n Pem and he's mate of the Hector! Hurrah! Hurrah!"
Leaping from his chair, Jim tore into the library with his friend, both yelling like Indians and prancing about the old sailor until he thought they had gone stark, staring mad.
"Avast there! Lay off!" he cried. "What in the name o' tarnation's the matter with ye?"
Presently in disjointed sentences, the two boys managed to explain the cause of their excitement.
"I'll be blowed!" exclaimed the old whaleman. "So that's how the land lays, eh? So you're the two third mates ol' man Edwards was talkin' erbout. Wondered what in Sam Hill he wanted two fer. Well, well, so we're goin' fer to be shipmates, eh? 'Spect Nye wuz jest jollyin' of ye all the time. He knowed I wuz a-goin' last night. Cap'n Edwards wuz over ter see me an' wanted fer me ter go, but I wuz a leedle mite skittish 'bout this timber leg. Then, this arter-noon, he come over ter see the ol' Hector an' he sez ter me, Pem, he sez, ye've jes' gotter sign on. 'Lessen ye do I won't have no other nav'gator erlong. Can't git 'em 'lessen you come too. So I jes' signed on then an thar."
"Hurrah for Captain Edwards!" shouted the boys. Then, as their parents entered the room, Tom cried: "Now what do you say, father? I'll bet you're surprised. Isn't it bully, though!"
Mr. Lathrop coughed and covered his mouth with his handkerchief and Mr. Chester strove to conceal a smile and winked at his friend.
"Well, wonders will never cease," he replied. "Luck seems to be with you, boys. I hope it will last through the cruise. And it will be some cruise, eh, Lathrop? Mate with a wooden leg, two boys for third mates, an eighty-year-old ship and Heaven alone knows what kind of a crew!"
"Don't ye fear erbout the crew, Mr. Chester," spoke up Cap'n Pem. "That's my job an’ my name ain't Pem Potter if I don' git 'em, if I have ter bust open the jail or the poor house an' take the critters inside."
The others laughed. "I shouldn't be surprised if they'd prove better than anything you'll get elsewhere," chuckled Mr. Lathrop. "The war's taken every able-bodied man there is. You won't find the crowd of park loafers and bums that used to form the bulk of whaling crews."
"Who said anythin' erbout able-bodied men?" exclaimed the old seaman. "Jes' so long's they've got two feet an' two han's it's all I ask. Give me three months at sea with 'em an’ I'll make whalemen outer anything what's human. But I reckon I'll be h'istin' to'sails an' gettin' under way. I gotter be mighty busy from now on."
Bidding them all good night, and with a parting injunction to the boys to report at the owner's office and sign articles in the morning, old Cap'n Pem left the house and went stumping down the street on his wooden leg and so overjoyed at the prospect of being once more on a cruise that he broke into a rollicking old chantey.
Now who d' ye think's the chief mate o' her?
Blow, boys, blow!
A big mu-latter come from Antigua!
Blow, my bully boys, blow!
Long after he was out of sight, the boys could hear the chorus wafted to them on the soft night breeze.
. . .
The next few weeks were busy ones for the two boys. They signed on as members of the Hector's crew, although there were difficulties to be overcome in doing that, for they were too young to secure navigators' licenses. Finally it was arranged that they should be rated as "boys" and as such were entitled to "lays" of 1/100 of the ship's catch or, in other words, one barrel of oil out of every hundred, for whalers never work for wages, and when all this was attended to, the boys felt like real whalemen. Then, at Captain Edward's suggestion, they worked daily at the Hector, sometimes on the rigging, and still oftener looking after the gear of the whale boats and the supplies which were being rapidly gathered together in readiness for the day when the bark would be ready for sea. It was a never-ending wonder to the boys to find what an enormous quantity of stores were required. As Tom put it, there was enough to supply a city and they could not believe that such a vast amount was necessary. Indeed, when the boys came to total up the lists of stores which they checked off, they discovered there were over seven hundred different articles and that the total cost was nearly one hundred thousand dollars. It seemed a stupendous undertaking to stow all this away and the ship itself appeared a hopeless tangle of rigging, fittings and odds and ends. But gradually order came from chaos. The Hector was spick and span with a fresh coat of paint; her tall, tapering spars rose high above the docks; her massive yards were in place; her rigging taut and well tarred; and, at last one day, a fussy, little tug came hurrying across the harbor, and with a huge, new flag flying from her mizzen gaff and strings of bright bunting everywhere, the stout old ship was towed from her berth and moored in the stream. To the elated boys, standing upon the clean, smooth decks it seemed impossible that the stately vessel whose shining masts and spars towered above their heads could be the same weather-beaten, dingy, dilapidated hulk which for so long had lain upon the mud flat and had formed a playground for them and their comrades.
Soon lighters were alongside; the countless stores were rapidly put aboard; the immense sails were bent to the yards; and all was ready for the voyage, save the crew.
Old Cap'n Pem had had his hands full getting enough men together to man the ship and do the work when they reached the hunting grounds, and he vowed, that never in all his experience had he seen such a good-for-nothing, worthless lot of human derelicts as the sharks had offered him.
"Bet ye, ye'll see some fun when we git out o' soundin's an' start to break 'em in," he declared. “Mebbe ye boys think as I'm a mighty easy-goin' ol’ cuss but I reckon ye'll think I'm a snortin', tough ol' bucko mate when we git to sea. Treat 'em rough's the only way ter handle of 'em. Ain't nary one of 'em thet knows a marlin spike from a scuttle-butt I'll bet."
"Why, aren't they sailors?" asked Jim.
"Sailors!" cried the old whaleman. "Sailors! Well I'll be scuttled! Course they ain't sailors. Why, bless your hearts, no whaler cap'n'd ship sailors if they paid their passage. Jest scum they be—gutter sweepin's an' bums on'y worse 'an usual 'cause o' the war."
"But if you don't have sailors, how can you sail the bark?" asked Tom. "And why don't you want sailors anyway?"
"The mates an' the four boat steerers sail the ship," explained the old fellow. "Thought I told ye all 'bout sech things long ago. An' the cooper an' steward lend a han’ providin' they're needed, an' arter we've broke in the greenies they'll han'le the ol' bark. Why don' we want sailor men? 'Cause sailors ain't any use 'board a whaler. Fust place they growl an' cause trouble, secon' place they desart at the fust po't an' third place they won't work fer lays. Now I gotter be a gittin' along an' lookin' arter things. The ol' man's given orders we're a sailin' at ebb tide to-morrer, so ye boys be on han' before ten."
Despite their eagerness to go on the cruise, and their excitement, still the boys felt a touch of homesickness and a lump in their throats as they bade good-by to their parents and their boy friends, the following morning, and realized that they would not see the quiet, shady streets of Fair Haven or their own comfortable homes for twelve long months or more.
When they reached the Hector they found Captain Edwards, the second mate, the four boat steerers, the cooper, the cook and a carpenter on board. The second mate, or officer, was a long, lanky, down-east fellow with a ghastly scar across one check and which they learned had been received when his ship had been sunk by a German U-boat a few months previously. The boat steerers were all Portuguese from the Cape Verde Islands; the cook was a coal-black negro from Jamaica; the cooper was a blond-headed Swede and the carpenter a tiny, dried-up, white-haired Irishman. Soon after the boys were aboard, two boats approached loaded with men and with old Cap'n Pem in the first. Running alongside, the men scrambled and clambered onto the deck and as they stared stupidly about, the boys thought they never had seen such a rough, unkempt, disreputable-looking lot of men. Sixteen in all, there was not one of their number who was not ragged and dirty. They were of every age, color and nationality from a tousled-headed, pop-eyed "boy" to a gray-headed, red-nosed, old rascal fully sixty, and several were negroes. But they had scant time to look about at their new surroundings for scarcely was the last one on board, before the second mate began to give orders, hustling the new hands about, and putting them to work, and while some were inclined to loaf and others were surly and answered back, the majority fell to and evidently did their best to follow instructions, although it was plain that the mate's words held little meaning for them. Then the capstan was manned, a tug drew alongside and, as the boat steerers joined the men at the handspikes and walked the heavy cable in, their voices broke into the old, old chantey of Sally Brown:
“Oh, Sally Brown of New York City,
Aye Sally,—Sally Brown,
Of pretty Sal this is a ditty,
I'll spend my money on Sally Brown!
So sang the men as the great anchor rose slowly to the catheads, and a moment later, the tug's propeller churned the water and the boys saw the docks and buildings of New Bedford slipping slowly astern. The crowd on the piers and moored ships shouted and waved hats and handkerchiefs. The tug gave a farewell toot and the boys' voyage had begun.
CHAPTER III THERE SHE BLOWS!
NO sooner had the bark commenced to move down the harbor, than a magic change appeared to take place. At the wheel, one of the boat steerers stood staring ahead and deftly gave the spokes a twirl as he kept the Hector to the tug's course. Back and forth on the quarterdeck strode Captain Edwards, hands behind back and hat pulled low over his eyes. At the break of the poop, stood old Cap'n Pem, his ancient, peaked cap jammed on one side of his head, his shirt sleeves rolled to the elbows and his bushy brows drawn together in a frown. Below him, stood the lanky second officer, Mr. Kemp, barking out sharp, quick orders. From the galley, a slender column of smoke rose upwards, showing the cook was already at work. The crew were busy here and there under the directions of the boat steerers and the carpenter was wedging down a hatch cover. It was evident that strict discipline was now in order and the boys, resolved to do their part and to act as though they were bona fide members of the crew, commenced coiling down ropes that trailed across the decks. As they did so, Mr. Kemp grinned and Cap'n Pem winked at the skipper who stopped an instant in his stride to glance at the busy boys.
Then, Cap'n Pem's voice roared out orders to loosen sails and the two boys, anxious to show their skill and knowledge, as well as their willingness, ran nimbly up the ratlines and were the first out on the yards. One by one the great topsails were unfurled and halliards were manned.
"They call me Hanging Johnny,
They call me Hanging Johnny,
So hang, boys, hang."
Thus roared the men, and, as the boys joined in the chorus, the heavy yards rose slowly, the sails were sheeted home, and as the bark passed the harbor mouth and caught the fresh offshore wind, the tug cast off her lines, blew a parting blast on her whistle and the Hector, under her own canvas, headed towards the open sea.
The breeze was fair and steady and under topsails and to'gallant sails the bark swept smoothly on, a crinkle of white water under her forefoot, a yeasty wake trailing off astern and the soft hum of the wind in her taut rigging and great billowing sails. The boys, who had never been to sea except in steamers, thought they had never experienced anything so delightful as the sensation of sailing without the throb and noise of engines and the mess and dirt of smoke and cinders, and they were sure that they had never seen anything so beautiful as the huge, white sails straining at their braces, gleaming like silver in the sun, softly purple in the shadows and swaying majestically across the blue summer sky as the boys gazed upward at them in admiration.
Dim and hazy in the distance, were the hills and shores; a mere smudge of smoke marked New Bedford; to port lay Martha's Vineyard; and straight ahead was the broad Atlantic.
But the two boys had been too well trained by Cap'n Pem to idle away the time admiring the pyramids of snowy sails overhead, or the gentle rise and fall of the deck beneath their feet, but busied themselves about the ship, coiling down ropes, explaining orders to the green crew, lending a hand here and there and making themselves generally useful. Presently, Mr. Kemp approached. "Mr. Potter'd like Mr. Chester and Mr. Lathrop to step aft," he said.
For a moment the boys hesitated, puzzled, and then, despite every effort, laughed, for the officer's formal method of addressing them struck them as very funny. They had never dreamed that they would be treated other than as boys and to be spoken to as officers was a distinct surprise.
Quickly recovering themselves, however, the two hurried to the poop where the old whaleman was standing.
"What is it, Cap'n Pem—?"' began Tom, but he was instantly interrupted by the other. "Mr. Potter, sir!" corrected the old man with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Yes, sir, what is it, sir?" inquired Tom, trying hard, to hide a grin.
"Cap'n Edwards wants ye an' Mr. Lathrop to git ready fer to take observations, sir," replied Cap'n Pem. "He says as how he'd like fer ye two youngs—Oh, gosh-ding it all what's ther use! I'll be blowed ef I kin keep it up. Call me Cap'n Pem ef ye like. I’m a goin' ter call ye young scallywags or anythin' else same's I allers has. Well the ol’ —Cap'n Edwards I mean—wants ter hev ye shoot the sun an’ work out the position so's he kin see how much ye know. It's pretty nigh eight bells now, so hustle down inter my cabin and fetch up them two sextants there, an' git busy."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Potter!" chuckled Jimmy, as the two boys dived down the companion-way.
Regaining the deck, the two boys took up positions and commenced squinting through their instruments, while the old whaleman watched them critically. Unnoticed by them, Captain Edwards also drew near, and even Mr. Kemp ceased swearing at his crew long enough to glance at the two, for it was a novel sight to see two boys standing on the poop of a whaleship and handling sextants like old hands.
"Eight bells!" cried Tom presently. "Eight bells!" echoed Jim, and at their words the eight mellow notes rang out from the bronze bell below.
Hurrying down to the cabin, the boys commenced to work out their latitude while, on deck, Cap'n Pem slapped his thigh and chuckled. "Han'led them sextants jes' as well as me or you could!" he declared addressing the skipper. "Bet ye, ye kin depen' on 'em jes' as well as any orcifer ye'd find. Jes' wait 'till they give ye their figgers. They'll be purty clost to kerect or I’m a Dutchman!"
"Here are the figures and position, sir," said Tom as he appeared from the companion-way and handed two slips of paper to the captain.
Captain Edwards glanced at them and a satisfied smile spread over his wrinkled, tanned face. "You're longitude is right," he said, "and there's only thirty seconds difference in your two positions. Neither is out quite a minute—or less than a knot —and that's mighty close work for the first observation you've ever taken aboard a ship at sea. You've done very well—er—Mr. Chester and Mr. Lathrop. From now on, you may consider yourselves as third and fourth officers and entitled to lays of one in fifty each. I shall expect you to take observations daily."
"Told ye they'd be derned near kerect!" cried Cap'n Pem.
"But, captain, can't we help with the work just the same, if we are officers?" asked Tom. "It's lots of fun."
The captain rubbed his chin reflectively. "Third and fourth mates usually have to work a bit," he replied. "Yes, I guess 'twon't ruin ship's discipline if you're boys most of the time and officers when I need you. But don't get too familiar or friendly with the crew."
"What in Sam Hill's the matter now!" exclaimed Cap'n Pem a few moments later, when angry shouts from Mr. Kemp were heard.
Following their old friend to the break of the deck, the boys saw the second officer shaking his fists and yelling at a ragged man who stood before him with a vacant, noncomprehending expression on his face, and moving and wiggling his fingers in a curious manner.
"What's the matter, Mr. Kemp?" called the captain.
The second mate turned and glanced up. "It's this greenie, sir," he replied. "Just up from the foc'sle, an’ jus' stands here and looks silly, twid-dlin' his thumbs. Don't answer back or nothin' and won't obey orders. Don't know if it's some new kind of jag or if he's just plain crazy."
"Aye tank he bane daf an' doomb, sir," put in the cooper, approaching and touching his cap. "Aye haf daf an' doomb coosin bane twoggle fingers same vay. Mebbe Aye bane able talk mit him."
"Reckon Ole's right," agreed Cap'n Pem.
"Try it and see, Swanson," ordered the skipper.
Standing before the man, the cooper moved his big, knotted fingers, and instantly, a look of understanding passed over the other's features and his hands moved swiftly.
Presently, the Swede turned towards the watching officers. "Yas," he said "he bane daff an' doomb. He say he bane shanghaied. He never bane sailor man before."
“'Spect like enough he was shanghaied," growled Cap'n Pem, "but we can't help that none. What we goin' fer to do with him, Cap'n? Blow me if I ever run afoul o' a dummy han' on a whaleship afore."
"He can work just as well if he is deaf and dumb.” replied Captain Edwards.
"Yes, but how'n tarnation's he goin' fer ter take orders?" exploded the old whaleman. "'Twouldn't do no harm if ev'ry one o' the critters was dumb. Wish t' they was. But a deaf han' ain't worth nothin'. Dern the shark what shipped him!"
"Swanson," called the skipper, "take charge of this man. You're the only one can talk to him. Teach him what you can and make him work at something, sharpening spades and irons, or anything else."
No further incidents of note occurred during the day and the following morning the boys came on deck to find the Hector out of sight of land and rolling majestically to the long, blue swell of the ocean.
"Reckon this is a purty good day to begin breakin' in the greenies," remarked Cap'n Pem at breakfast. "Have the starboard boats cleared and ready to lower, Mr. Kemp. It's mighty good weather for breakin' of 'em in to the oars arter we've had a bit of a set-to with 'em in the riggin'."
When they reached the deck, Cap'n Pem had Mr. Kemp summon the green men aft, and standing at the break of the poop, he gave them a short harangue on what was expected of them.
The boys felt really sorry for the men, for, with few exceptions, all were deathly seasick, and terribly frightened at their surroundings. Every time the bark rolled, they uttered doleful groans and clutched wildly at the nearest backstay or shroud, and when the old whaleman spoke of going aloft and the poor fellows glanced up at the soaring, lofty mastheads, their faces blanched with terror.
As Cap'n Pem finished speaking, the second mate ordered the men into the rigging. For an instant, they stood hesitating, terrified at the mere thought of climbing the ratlines rocking back and forth to the roll of the bark. But as Mr. Kemp started towards them, a rope's end in one hand and a belaying pin in the other, the men fled before him, and flattening themselves against the shrouds, crawled up for a few feet above the deck. Only two went further, the pop-eyed youth who the boys had noticed and a huge, gorillalike negro, both of whom ran nimbly to the to'gallant crosstrees and seated themselves as comfortably as if they had been sailors all their lives.
Only one man had remained on deck, a gray-headed old reprobate. "Here you!" yelled Mr. Kemp with an oath, "Get aloft there and be durned quick about it!"
"Not a bit!" replied the old fellow insolently. " ‘Tis none av thim monkey shines Oi’ll be afther tryin’ an' me wid me wooden lig!"
The second mate, who had started forward with belaying pin raised threateningly, stopped short and dropped his arm. "Well I'll be—," he began and then, turning, he shouted, "Mister Potter, here's another of 'em—first a dummy an' next a timber-leg! Them sharks must have thought we was a floatin' horspittel!"
"What's that ye're savin'?" shouted old Pem. "What's this erbout a timber leg?"
"This old cove here," explained the other, "says as how he can't go aloft cause he's got a wooden leg."
Old Pem was fairly bristling. "Sojerin’!" he yelled. "Git erloft there, ye ol' bum!" and then, forgetting himself in his excitement, he added, "Ye ain't no more one-legged than I be!"
"B'gorra Oi'd be hopin’ not," burst out the other. "Faith, an' Oi'd like to see yez a shinnyin' up thim ropes wid a lig like this, ye ould omathon!"
As he spoke, he drew up his trouser leg and exhibited the artificial limb beneath.
"Sass me back, will ye!" roared the old whaleman, purple with rage. "By blastarnation, ef ye wasn't a cripple I'd skin ye alive!"
"Cripple yerself," shouted back the other. "Come down out of that an' Oi'll lick the stuffin' out av yez, ye ould shellback!"
The boys fully expected to see Cap'n Pem dash down to the deck and rush at the impudent old fellow, but instead, he suddenly doubled up and roared with hearty laughter.
"I'll be keelhauled!" he cried. "Ef this isn't the dod-gastedest crew what ever sailed on a whale ship. Reckon misery loves comp'ny. Two timber-legs an' a dummy! Mr. Kemp, muster them hands aft an' see how many more derelicts ye've got ermong 'em."
Grinning at the comical scene they had just witnessed, the crew gathered about and the second officer went over them one by one, questioning them, pounding them on backs and chests, slapping their arms and legs and ordering them to run and jump about, while, on the poop, the two boys and old Pem, as well as the skipper, stood and watched the procedure with amusement. Presently the second mate turned. "Here's a chap with a glass eye,” he announced, indicating a sallow-faced, little man, "but I guess t'others are all sound."
"Reckon so long's his other eye's good he don't matter," said Pem. "Go on with yer men, Mr. Kemp an' put that one-legged ol’ shamrock to deck work till we're ready fer the boats. Mebbe he'll do fer a shipkeeper anyhow."
For several hours, the "greenies" were kept on the jump, compelled to climb the rigging to the topsail yards, taught the standing and running rigging, made to understand what to do when an order was given. But while they were, as Cap'n Pem had put it, "treated rough," there was none of the real brutality shown which the boys had expected from the tales they had heard and read of whalers. Indeed, both Tom and Jim agreed that Mr. Kemp was wonderfully patient and the few blows that were struck did not appear to trouble the tough crew in the least. When Tom spoke of this to Captain Edwards the latter remarked that such treatment as they were receiving was probably far gentler than anything they had ever experienced before.
Strangely enough too, the active work appeared completely to cure the men of seasickness, while their first terror of going aloft was rapidly overcome, although they still hugged the shrouds and held on with might and main whenever the bark rolled.
The boys were much amused at Cap'n Pem, for the old whaleman had painted himself as a hard-fisted, slave-driving mate when at sea, whereas, in reality, he was far easier on the men than the second officer, and several times he cautioned the latter against using unnecessary violence.
“This ‘ere ain't no ol’ time whaleship," he cried. "I've seed a plenty o' bulldozin', bucko mates an' I tell ye 'tain't no use to smash a man up. Might jes' as well let 'em take their time a' larnin’ as to spend it mendin’ of a busted leg or stove-in head. Course, if any of 'em needs it, ye can give 'em a good lickin'. They gotter know who's boss, but we don’ want broken bones nor murder."
At last, the second mate seemed satisfied with what he had accomplished and ordered the topsail backed, and as the bark was hove-to and rested motionless on the sea, the two starboard boats were lowered and the green hands were ordered into them. Even the one-legged Irishman was compelled to embark, although he protested vigorously. With two of the boat steerers in each boat and with Mr. Kemp in charge of one and Cap'n Pem in the stern of the other, the fun began. Not a man in the crowd, with the exception of the boy and the big negro, both of whom had evidently served on ships before, had ever touched or handled an oar in their lives. And when, under the orders of the two males, the fellows attempted to pick up and use the heavy ash oars, the result was so comical that the two boys burst into peals of laughter and even Captain Edwards chuckled. Constantly fouling one another's oars, catching crabs, losing their oars overboard and getting in one another's way, the men struggled valiantly and apparently thought it a regular lark. Indeed, after their terrifying session with the rigging, their instruction in boat handling must have seemed mere child's play, and at each mishap the men roared and made fun of each other. Moreover, the mates and boat steerers took the matter good-naturedly, making biting and sarcastic remarks, but patiently striving to teach their men how to row. Much to the boys' surprise, the crowd of human derelicts did wonderfully well, and after an hour's work, managed to conquer the oars sufficiently to keep fairly good time with their strokes and actually to propel the big, thirty-foot whaleboats.
Very soon the breeze freshened, a choppy sea began to rise and the boats were hoisted to the big wooden davits, the yards were swung and the Hector plunged onward through the deep-blue waves towards the distant Azores.
Thereafter, on every calm day, the boat drill was continued, and day after day, the men were sent aloft and taught to furl and reef sails, to swing the yards, to tail onto braces, sheets and halliards and to do the thousand and one things necessary to the handling of a square-rigged vessel. Most of the men learned rapidly, after they had once overcome their landsman's dread of going aloft, and while a few were so utterly lacking in intelligence that they couldn't learn the difference between a "main brace and a belaying pin," as Mr. Kemp put it, yet all learned to handle the boats and seemed to take keen enjoyment in this part of the work, each boat's crew constantly striving to outdo the other and holding hard fought races whenever opportunity offered. Moreover, the men had improved vastly in appearance. They had grown brown and strong; their muscles had developed; they had discarded their dirty shore rags for clean dungarees and went about lightly and surefootedly on newly acquired "sea legs" in their bare feet. From the boat steerers and mates, they had learned a number of chanteys and whalemen's songs and whenever any work was done, the deep bass of the big negro, Sam, could be heard leading the chorus of some old-time, deep water chantey.
A few days after they had dropped land from sight, the captain had a man constantly perched on the topgallant crosstrees, keenly scanning the horizon, and Cap'n Pem explained to the boys that they were likely at any time to sight a sperm whale and that the skipper had no intention of letting one slip by.
"Sparm 'ile's mighty high," said the old man, " 'an sperm'ceti's higher an' t'ain't no use a lettin' good dollars slip by. 'Sides, this ere gang's gotter be taught whalin' an' the sooner the better."
The two boys also took turns at maintaining a lookout from the crosstrees, each filled with hopes of being the first to sight a whale. But the days slipped by, vast beds of yellow "sargassum" or "gulf weed" dotted the indigo sea and the bark was rapidly approaching the islands and no sign of a whale had been seen.
Then, one day, as Tom swept his eyes about the vast circle of restless water, he caught a glimpse of a faint, indistinct mist rising a few feet above the sea, like the spray from a breaking wave. The next moment, a vast, black object lifted for an instant in the trough of a sea and, at the top of his lungs, Tom shouted: "There she blows!"
Scarcely were the words uttered, when all was excitement below and Cap'n Pem's voice bellowed, "Where away?"
"About three points on the port bow," shouted Tom.
Then followed a moment of breathless waiting, with all eyes strained in the direction Tom had indicated, until once more the tiny column of vapor rose in air and the whale's flukes showed for a brief moment before he sounded.
CHAPTER IV A NARROW ESCAPE
NO sooner had the whale been sighted than all was bustle and hurry. Orders rang out sharply and rapidly; the men sprang to their tasks; the great yards swung and the bark was hove-to; and, in an incredibly short space of time, two boats had been lowered and were fairly racing across the waves, propelled by the five huge oars in each.
The two boys were woefully disappointed at not being allowed in the boats; but they realized that they would only be in the way, and that in the serious and dangerous attack on the whale, they had no place. From their perch on the crosstrees, however, they had a splendid view of all that was going on, and watched, fascinated, as the boats rapidly drew near the whale which was now swimming lazily along the surface of the sea. Presently, the boys saw the Portuguese boat steerer in Cap'n Pem's boat, draw in his oar and step to the bow of the boat where, with hair tossing in the wind and naked to the waist, he stood with the heavy harpoon, or "iron," poised and ready to strike. To the waiting boys it seemed as if the boat was about to bump into the immense, black bulk of the whale which rose, like the bottom of a capsized ship, far above the tiny boat. Closer and closer drew the little craft, the boys with bated breath watching every move and expecting each instant to see the iron dart forward and bury itself in the monster, when, without warning, the enormous flukes rose high in air, the whale disappeared in a boil of green and white foam, and with a crash that reached the boys’ ears, the mighty flukes struck the sea and hid the boat in a shower of spray.
"Sounded, by gum!" shouted Captain Edwards from the poop.
"Yah, he bane sound!" echoed the cooper. "But aye tank Mr. Potter bane get him yust da same."
The two boats now rested motionless, waiting for the reappearance of the whale, every man with bent back ready to give way the instant their quarry "breached"; the boat steerers in the bows standing like bronze statues, and old Cap'n Pem in one boat and the second mate in the other grasping their enormous steering oars and peering intently ahead. Even before the boys saw the faint column of vapor that marked the rising whale, they saw the mate's boat leap forward, and as the bulk of the creature's body broke through the water, the iron flashed forward and buried itself in the whale's side.
"Fast!" yelled the captain.
Instantly, the boat steerer sprang back, Cap'n Pem dropped his oar and scrambled nimbly forward, the boat steerer seized the oar and took the mate's place and old Cap'n Pem crouched in the bow.
Then commenced such an exciting scene as the boys had never dreamed of. Hardly had the two men changed places in the boat when the whale threw himself bodily from the sea, a veritable giant of a creature, snapping his enormous jaws together as he did so, and the next second he was off like an express train, while behind him, the frail boat tore through the sea in a cloud of foam as it was hurtled by the terrified mountain of flesh to which it was fast. Straight away the huge creature sped, until the boat was a mere speck upon the horizon.
"Keep 'em in sight, lads! Keep 'em in sight!" yelled Captain Edwards, and leaping to the shrouds, he climbed quickly aloft and stood beside them on the crosstrees.
"Sounded again!" he exclaimed presently, and then, "headin' this way!" Rapidly now the boat increased in size with the threshing flukes of the cetacean now and then visible, and headed apparently directly for the Hector.
As he approached the other whaleboat, the men bent to their oars, the craft leaped towards the stricken whale and as he rushed by, within a score of feet another iron was hurled and with both boats fast the whale sped on. But the second iron from Mr. Kemp's boat had turned him in his mad course and he tore past the stem of the Hector within fifty feet-—so close, in fact, that the boys could see the expressions on the men's faces, could see the gear within the boats and caught the sound of Cap'n Pem's shout as the gallant old whaleman waved a hand and yelled up to them.
"Derned near rammed us!" exclaimed the skipper. "Would have if Kemp hadn't struck and turned him!"
Scarcely had he spoken when, so suddenly that the two boats overran the spot where he had been an instant before, the whale sounded and as the line rushed out through the bow-chock until it smoked, the tub-oarsmen doused it with water and Cap'n Pem and the second mate seized the ever-ready hatchets and held them poised to cut the lines in case of need. Everything now was taking place close to the ship and the watchers on the crosstrees seemed to look directly down into the two boats. Fathom after fathom of the line whirred over the boat's bows as the whale dived straight for the ocean bottom and it seemed as if the whole three hundred fathoms in each boat would be exhausted ere the creature ceased sounding.
Then, to the watchers' ears, came Cap'n Pem's shout of "haul line!" and rapidly as hands could work, the dripping hemp was drawn in and coiled in its tub, and the boys, realizing the whale was coming up, watched breathlessly for his appearance. Suddenly he breached so close to the ship that, as he spouted, the spray drifted across the bark's decks and the vessel rolled to the wave he created as he reared his gigantic head far above the sea and brought it crashing down. Then for a space, he lay quiet, and silently and cautiously the mate's boat drew closer and closer to the monster and the boys held their breath as they saw Cap'n Pem grasp the long, keen lance and they realized that the old whaleman, disdaining newfangled methods, planned to kill the whale by the old-fashioned lance which must actually be shoved into the animal's side.
"Dern him!" whispered the captain. "Why don't the old fool use the bomb lance? Does he want to be stove?"
Now the frail boat was within a few feet of the wounded whale. Cap'n Pem straightened up, grasped the lance firmly, braced himself, leaned slightly forward and, with a sudden lurch and a grunt which was audible to those on the bark, he drove the long-bladed lance deep into the creature's side. Instantly, with a sweep of the oars, the boat darted back, and not a second too soon. Lashing the waves into a churning, boiling, seething mass of froth and foam, spouting blood which reddened the sea, lifting his great flukes and smashing them down in thunderous crashes, rearing his stupendous head and dropping it like a falling house, snapping, biting, sweeping to right and left with his immense jaw with its row of gleaming teeth, the whale went into his death flurry. Dodging the sweeps of his flukes, escaping by a hair's breadth the terrible jaws, tossed about like chips on the crimson waves raised by the writhing titan beside them, the boats' crews strove like madmen to preserve their lives and boats, while the skipper shouted and screamed from the crosstrces. The boys' hearts beat like triphammers and the men on deck yelled in excitement. Then, with a final, convulsive shudder, the gigantic creature rolled over and lay still. From the boat came the glad, triumphant cry of "Fin out!" the whale was dead. Grabbing his old cap from his head, Cap'n Pem looked up and waved it towards the captain and the boys in the cross-trees, his features flushed with excitement and victory, a broad grin on his face.
"Reckon I ain't fergot how ter kill a whale, eh, boys!" he shouted. "Ain't had so much sport fer twenty year!"
The excitement was now over, and climbing down from their lofty perch, the boys went to the bark's starboard rail and watched the process of getting the dead whale alongside. Quickly and deftly the two boats' crews worked, getting a chain around the dead whale's flukes, while, aboard the bark, spades and blubber hooks, hoisting tackle, cutting tackle and the other appliances for cutting in the whale were being made ready. The carpenter and his assistants were busy rigging the cutting stage to be slung under the ship's gangway. The huge kettles for boiling the blubber were brought out, shavings and wood were placed in the try works ready for firing, and by the time the carcass of the whale was alongside, everything was in readiness for cutting in the blubber. Leaping onto the whale, one of the boat steerers quickly cut a hole in the blubber between the whale's eye and his fin and in this, inserted a huge, iron hook attached to a tackle which led up to the mast. Then, standing upon the cutting stage, the men, armed with their long-handled spades, prepared to start the work. At this moment, the deaf mute, who had been sent aloft to clear the tackle, came down the shrouds with a rush, and unceremoniously yanking the busy Swanson from his work, whirled him about and began gesticulating wildly.
"Hi there!" yelled Cap'n Pem. "Get that dumb fool outer here. What's he a thinkin' on?"
"Yaas, sir," replied the big Swede. "He say dere bane whale yust off der quvarter."
"He does!" exclaimed the mate. "Run aloft, Mr. Kemp, an' see if he knows what he's a talkin’ erbout."
Reaching the crosstrees, the second officer glanced rapidly around and the next instant his startled shout caused every one to drop work and tools and scramble to the decks.
"Whale!" screamed Mr. Kemp. "It's a German sub!"
With anxious faces the crew scrambled up the rigging, striving to get a glimpse of the U-boat while the boys and Cap'n Pem rushed to the after deck where Captain Edwards already stood, searching the sea with his glasses.
For a space the boys could see nothing and then Jim's sharp eyes caught the slender periscope of the underseas boat and the tiny trail of white behind it.
"There 'tis, Tom! Look! Just beside that big patch of weed!" he cried.
"Dern their dirty hides!" exclaimed old Pem. "Fetch me a bomb lance, boys. I'll show 'em!"
"No!" commanded the captain, "we can do nothing. Possibly they may spare us if they see we are a whaleship and have no oil aboard. Get the other boats over, Mr. Potter. If we're sunk we have enough boats to save all hands, thank Heaven."
Turning, the mate bawled the orders to the crew, and, badly frightened as they were, and realizing their helplessness, the men flew about the work of getting more boats in the water. Meanwhile, the submarine had gradually emerged from the water and now floated with her deck awash, and her conning tower and superstructure well above the sea. Presently, from a hatchway, a uniformed figure appeared, stared at the Hector through his glasses for a space and raised a megaphone to his lips. Then, thin but clear across the intervening sea, the anxious watchers on the bark heard the fateful words, "Take to your poats! We're apout to sink dot shib!"
Panic-stricken, the crew rushed to the waiting whaleboats and commenced to pile into them, the Portuguese and negroes leading, and all fighting and striking in a mad attempt to be first to reach a place of safety, for, while fearless in attacking the giants of the seas and cheerfully facing death a dozen times a day in the pursuit of their calling, yet these men were terrified out of all reason at the thought of being blown to atoms by a torpedo. There were more than enough boats for all, but like frightened sheep, the men all dashed for one boat. Hurrying to the deck, the captain and mates strove to restore order, shouting, and threatening, but all to no avail. The men were insane with terror. And then, suddenly, a wild figure sprang among them, gray hair flying, eyes blazing, a boarding-knife in one hand, a heavy iron bar in the other.
It was the one-legged Irishman, and before his impetuous onslaught the crowd fell back.
"Wan at a toime, ye spalpeens!" he screeched. "Take it aisy now! B'gorra ye're a foine bunch! Shure there's enough boats an' to sphare! Tumble into thim in order now—six in aich, mind ye, an' Oi'll shtick the furst thot rushes! Howly St. Pathrick, but it's foine cowards, yez arre! Shure 'tis no sinse ye have, at all, at all!"
Presently the boats were manned, the doughty little Irishman clambered into one with the two boys and Cap'n Pem at his heels. Mr. Kemp took his place in another and Captain Edwards, last to leave the bark, leaped into the third as painters were cast loose and the men bent to their oars. Scarcely had they taken a dozen strokes from the doomed ship when there was a deafening explosion. An upleaping mountain of water enveloped the Hector, and the next moment the boats were almost swamped in a descending avalanche of water, blood, flesh and blubber.
Frightened, dazed, choking and spluttering the boys looked about. Rocking to the force of the explosion, with water pouring in cataracts from her scuppers, but apparently unhurt, the bark towered above the sea.
"Well I'll be—," began Cap'n Pem, but his words were cut in twain by a shout from Mr. Kemp.
"Destroyer a-comin'!" he yelled.
Instantly, all eyes were turned from the bark to where, half-hidden by the great bow-wave thrown up by her passage, and with black smoke belching from her four funnels, a lean, gray destroyer came tearing through the sea. Leaping to their feet, tossing hats in air, waving their ponderous oars, the men cheered wildly and then, realizing that the Hector was still afloat and that all danger from the submarine was over, they swung their craft about and pulled madly back to their ship. Even before they had gained the bark's side they were tossing on the wake of the rushing destroyer, and, in rapid succession, came the heavy detonations of her depth-bombs.
Clambering over the Hector's side, the boys and men gazed about in amazement, for the moment utterly at a loss to understand by what miracle the ship was still afloat. Then, rushing to the gangway, old Cap'n Pem gave one glance over the side and let out a lusty shout. "Well, I'll be Mowed!" he yelled. Til everlastingly be keelhauled! Derned if that critter didn't save the ship! They jes' blowed the whale to smithereens!"
Every one hurried to his side and peered over. It was perfectly true. The torpedo had struck the whale, blowing it into a thousand fragments, scattering blubber, flesh and blood over decks, sails and sea, but leaving the bark uninjured. The mountain of meat and bone had saved the ship! As they stood speechless, awed into silence by the miraculous escape of the bark, no one noticed the destroyer, which had drawn near, until a hail from her bridge reached their ears.
"Bark ahoy!" shouted an officer. "Shall we stand by? Are you badly injured?"
Captain Edwards cupped his hands and was about to reply, but before he could speak old Pem sprang onto the rail, and grasping a backstay with one hand shook his fist at the spot where he had last seen the submarine. "No!" he roared. "No, by heck! We ain't hurt none, but them sneakin' thieves jes’ robbed us out o' a hund'ed bar'ls o' 'ile!"
The tension was broken, every one roared with laughter and even the destroyer's officers shook with mirth at the old whaleman's words.
"Did you get the sub?" shouted Captain Edwards when the merriment subsided.
"Can't be sure," came back the answer. "There's so darned much whale oil on the water, there's no way to tell. The sea's slicked with grease for half a mile round. Want us to convoy you to Fayal?"
"Guess not," yelled back the skipper. "Reckon you scared 'em off if you didn't get 'em. Guess we'll risk it."
"All right, then," replied the other. "Better not loaf about after whales, though. Two or three subs about and you're easy game hove-to. Good luck!"
A moment later, the destroyer was tearing towards the west, and by the time the Hector's yards were squared and she was once more on her course, a mere smudge on the horizon was all that marked the little craft which had arrived on the scene in the nick of time.
CHAPTER V STRANGE VISITORS
FOUR days after their exciting experience with the U-boat the boys saw the hazy blue mountains of the Azores looming above the horizon, and all through the day they watched with intense interest as the beautiful panorama of the islands was spread before them. But the winds were light and baffling in the lee of the land, and it was daylight the next morning when, at last, the bark dropped anchor in the harbor of Fayal. Here, Captain Edwards was to take on fresh vegetables and fruits, and he hoped also to obtain additional men, for while he had enough for ordinary whaling it was his intention to land parties on several of the far southern islands and to have enough to insure a large catch of sea elephants and a full cargo of oil as quickly as possible, in order that he might return to New Bedford while the high price of oil still prevailed. As the bark was to be in port several days, the two boys had a splendid opportunity to see the town and the island, and as soon as the port formalities were over, they were pulled ashore in one of the boats with Cap'n Pem accompanying them.
It took some little time for Tom and Jim to become accustomed to the feeling of solid ground under their feet once more, and both were highly amused at the strange sensations they underwent as they walked up the quaint, old street leading from the quay. After many days of constantly pitching and rolling decks, which had become so familiar to them that they seemed perfectly natural and steady, the two boys were surprised to find that the street appeared to roll and toss, and they staggered along like drunken men. Cap'n Pem remarked that they had not got their "land legs" yet and he vowed that many a time, after a long voyage, he had been deathly "land-sick" when he first went ashore.
The picturesque town, with its old world buildings, narrow, steep streets, jutting balconies and brilliant color, fascinated the boys who had never before been away from the States, and they grew wildly excited over the feathery, waving palms, the luscious tropical fruits and the many strange sights which greeted them at every turn. Cap'n Pem, who had visited the islands many times, showed them all the sights about the town and took them on a long jaunt through the lovely island with its neatly kept fruit orchards and gardens, its lofty green mountains, its tumbling cataracts and its rich valleys. Then, at last, the time came to leave, and with a dozen more men added to the crew and with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, live poultry and sheep and with every available cask filled with fresh, spring water, the Hector's anchor was weighed, the great white sails were spread and the bark quickly dropped Fayal astern.
Heeling to the fresh trade wind, with every sail set, with a smother of foam sweeping past her lee rail and a turquoise wake stretching far astern, the gallant old ship plunged southward, burying her staunch, bluff bows to the catheads in the blue sea, shaking tons of water from her streaming decks as she lifted to the long Atlantic rollers; every sheet, brace and sail straining and her taut rigging humming like harp strings.
"Like ter see one o' them derned submarines cotch us now!" chuckled old Pem, as the boys, fascinated by the sight, gazed alternately at the great pyramids of canvas and the swiftly passing foam to leeward.
"What's she making!" asked Tom.
The old whaleman glanced aloft and then astern. "Reckon 'bout ten knots," he replied.
"And a sub can make over twenty," laughed Jim. "I hope we don't see one."
"Wall, o' course I 'spose they could cotch us," admitted old Pem, "but I'll be blowed if I don't wisht I'd tried a bomb lance on that there chap back there. Bet I could a-fetched him! Reckon them boats ain't no tougher than a bull sparm whale."
"Next time we see one we'll ask Captain Edwards to lower a boat and let you tackle it with an iron and a lance," laughed Tom, "but I'll bet you won't get a boat's crew to go with you."
"Jes' the same," argued the old whaleman, "ye got ter admit I saved the ship. Ef I hadn't a killed that there whale an' got him 'longside where'd we been, eh?"
Captain Edwards, who had approached unseen, laughed. "I expect one-legged Mike would claim he saved us," he remarked. "At any rate, he showed the stuff that's in him and that he can handle men. I'm going to make him bo'sun."
Cap'n Pem scratched his head. "Derned if I ever heard tell o' a one-legged bo'sun," he declared. "Jes’ the same, I never heard tell o' a peg-legged mate afore, neither. Reckon ye might as well keep it up. Sort o' got the habit I reckon."
Day after day, the wind held steady and the bark tore on under full sail with never a hand laid to sheet, brace or tackle, and day after day, the drilling of the men continued, until it seemed to the boys that there could be nothing more for them to learn. They had been taught the running and standing rigging; they had been forced aloft until all but one or two could straddle the royal yards or cling to the swaying, heaving footropes "with their toe nails" as Mr. Kemp put it; and when all this had been mastered, they were kept busy at splicing, making chafing-gear, serving and parcelling, taring down and a thousand and one other jobs on deck. And in this work, the wooden-legged bo'sun, Mike, proved himself invaluable. For while he could not go aloft, yet, he seemed to know everything else about a ship even better than old Pem himself. Then one day, the truth came out, and while talking with the boys, for whom he had developed a great fondness, he divulged the fact that for many years he had served in the navy, and that he had lost his leg in the battle of Manila on Admiral Dewey's flagship.
"Knowed he was a sailor man all the time," declared Cap'n Pem when the boys told him the news. "Couldn't fool me! Jes' as soon's I seed him grab a han' spike, I knowed it."
"Well, what's dumb Pete?" laughed Jim, "and one-eyed Ned? I suppose you'll say you knew they were sailors, too!"
"Nope," chuckled the old whaleman, "never will be. Dunno what Pete wuz, but he's a fust class blacksmith now. Reckon Ned wuz a sojer."
Several times, whales were sighted and boats were lowered in chase, for the Hector was out of the track of regular trade and the captain had little fear of meeting hostile U-boats, but luck seemed to be against the whalemen and no catch was made.
"Ain't a mite s'prised 'ile's so high," declared Cap'n Pem. "Never did see sparm whales so skittish—git gallied soon's we lower away. Reckon they're skeered o' the war."
"Been shot at too much," vouchsafed Mr. Kemp. "Every chaser an' destroyer that sighted a whale took pot shots at 'em, thinkin' they might be subs."
But whatever the reason, the whales proved so universally shy that at last the skipper vowed he'd not lower for another, even if it scratched its back against the bark's planking, and gave all his attention to hurrying towards his distant goal.
The Cape Verde Islands had been left far astern, the bark for several days had been drifting almost motionless upon a polished, oil-like sea with idle sails flapping and tackles creaking as the ship rolled to an invisible swell, and the boys' observations told them they were nearing the equator. Then one morning, they noticed that something mysterious was going on among the crew. They gathered in little knots and conversed in low tones and more than once the men approached Mr. Kemp, or the one-legged bo'sun, and after a few words, went away grinning.
"What are the men up to?" Tom asked their old friend, Cap'n Pem. "If they weren't so good-natured and didn't talk to Mr. Kemp and old Mike I'd think they were planning a mutiny."
The old whaleman chuckled. "Don't ye go askin' too many questions," he replied. "Reckon ye'll know long 'bout day arter to-morrer." And despite teasing and questioning, the old man refused to say anything more. The boys then turned their attention to the bo'sun and Mr. Kemp, but with no better results, and every time they started to go forward Cap'n Pem or the second mate found some reason for calling them aft.
They were still wondering about it, and watching the crew from the break of the after deck, two days later, when muffled cries and grunts were heard and the crew rushed forward and peered over the rail. The next moment, a weird figure appeared clambering up the bark's side as if he had just emerged from the sea. A long, tow-colored beard descended to his waist, his long hair fell over his shoulders, his blue togalike gown was dripping water and covered with bits of seaweed, while upon his head was a golden crown and in one hand he held a three-pronged spear.
"Gosh!" exclaimed Jim. "Who on earth is that?"
"Derned if 'tain't old Father Neptune hisself!" cried Cap'n Pem who stood near. "Reckon he's come aboard ter 'nitiate ev'ry one what's never crossed the line afore."
Following close at Neptune's heels came two other figures, one, a huge black man bearing an immense wooden razor, the other dressed as a woman wearing a crown and carrying a trident. Surrounded by the crew Neptune approached the after deck, where Captain Edwards had now joined the boys and the mates, and addressing the skipper, declared that he had come aboard to initiate those who never before had crossed the equator, and asked the captain's permission to proceed with the ceremony. While he was speaking, a number of men had appeared, all dressed in grotesque costumes, and had placed a huge tub of water, a chair and a pail on the deck. Immediately the fun began. Seizing one of those who stood nearest, two of Neptune's retinue dragged him to the chair and held him firmly in place despite his struggles, while a third liberally plastered his face with the thick flour paste from the pail. Then the negro with the razor stepped forward and with slashing strokes, "shaved" the protesting initiate, whereupon his chair was abruptly tipped up and he was tumbled headlong into the tub of water.
Every one roared with laughter, in which the spluttering victim joined, and Neptune's assistants started for the next man. But the crew were now prepared and ran and dodged about the decks and up the rigging until one slipped and fell, to be immediately pounced upon and carried to the "barber." With all their attention centered on the comical sight and almost choking with laughter, the boys had failed to notice two men who had stealthily approached, until they were suddenly grabbed, and with loud shouts of glee from their captors, were carried to the deck.
They had already noticed that those who protested and struggled the most received the greatest attention from the barber and so, wisely deciding to make the best of it and take their turns good naturedly, they submitted without resistance. Partly owing to this, and partly to the fact that they were mere boys and belonged aft, they were treated to a mere dab of the paste brush and a single stroke of the razor and were carefully ducked only to their ears in the tub.
As nearly all members of the crew were "greenies" who had never been to sea before, it took several hours to capture and initiate all, but at last it was over and Neptune's "daughter" handed each one a card bearing the name of the bark and the date, and certifying that the holder had been duly initiated and enrolled by Father Neptune.
Captain Edwards then ordered refreshments served all around, the decks were cleared, and throughout the day, the men frolicked and skylarked to their hearts' content while those on the after-deck roared with laughter at their antics or applauded vigorously as some one started a chantey or a whaleman's song to the music of a violin and a concertina with all hands joining in the chorus. The boys vowed it was as good as any vaudeville show they had ever seen. Even Captain Edwards dropped his accustomed dignity and gravity to join in the hilarity, and calling to the mate, cried out, "Give 'em a real good whaleman's song, Pem. Fun's over at eight bells and it's pretty near that now."
"Blowed ef I will," replied Cap'n Pem. "Ain't sang a derned word fer years. Give 'em one yer-self, Hen."
"All right, Pem," laughed the skipper, "I'll give 'em one if you'll give 'em another. That's fair. Go ahead, Pem, yours first."
"Wall," muttered the old whaleman, "reckon ef the Cap'n tells me to, I've gotter do it." Walking to the break of the deck, he raised his hand, cleared his throat and commenced to roar out the words of a famous old whaling song. Instantly the men were hushed and motionless, listening to his deep, bass voice as he sang:
Come, all ye bold seamen who are cruising for sparm.
Come, all ye jolly, bold seamen that have rounded Cape Horn,
For our cap'n has told us, an’ we hope he says true.
That there's plenty o' sparm whales on the coast o' Peru.
The first whale that we raised, it was late in the day.
Which caused our bol' cap'n these kind words to say,
"Get ye down to your hammocks an' there quietly lay.
We'll raise him in the mornin’ at break o’ the day."
Twas early next mornin' just as the sun rose,
That a man at the masthead sung out, 'Thar she blows!'
"Where away?" shouts the skipper, an' the answer from aloft,
"Three p'ints on the lee bow an' 'bout three mile off."
"Then call up all ban's and be o' good cheer.
Get your lines in your boats an' your tackle-falls clear.
Hoist an' swing fore and aft, stan' by each boat's crew,
Lower away, lower away, when the mainyard swings to."
Now the cap'n is fast an' the whale has gone down,
An' the chief mate lies waitin’ his line to bend on.
Now the whale has come up, like a log he did lay.
It can never be said that he gave us fair play.
Amid the uproarious applause that followed, Cap'n Pem beat a hasty retreat and the Captain rose and stepped forward.
"My turn now, boys," he shouted, "and then the fun's over," and with his words ringing far across the silent tropic sea, he sang:
Twas a love of adventure and a longing for gold,
And a hardened desire to roam.
Tempted me far away o'er the watery world,
Far away from my kindred and home.
With a storm-beaten cap'n so fearless and bold,
And a score of brave fellows or two,
Far away to the hardships, the hunger and cold,
Sailed this fearless and jovial crew.
Have you ever cruised on Diego's bold shores,
That are washed by the Antarctic wave?
Where the white-plumed albatross merrily soars
O'er many a poor whaler's grave?
Did you ever hear tell of that mighty sperm whale,
That when boldly attacked in his lair,
With one sweep of his mighty and ponderous tail
Sends the whaleboat so high in the air?
Did you ever join in those heart-wringing cheers,
With your face turned towards Heaven's blue dome
As laden with riches you purchased so dear
You hoisted your topsails,—bound home?
Deafening were the hand clappings and shouts of approval that followed, and then, as the eight silvery notes of the bell pealed out across the waves the one-legged bo'sun leaped forward.
"Three cheers for the foinest cap'n phwat iver sailed a whaleship!" he cried. Rousing were the huzzas that followed, and once again the Irishman raised his voice. "An' three more for our fri'nd Misther Potter phwat saved the barrk—a foine, brave whaleman aven if he has a wooden lig! An' three toimes three fer Misther Kemp, phwat makes ye into foine sailor min—aiven if he bates the loife out o' yez to do it. An’ three more for thim b'yes —the foine thurrd an' fourth mates!"
"And now, men, three times three for the Hector, a full cargo and a short voyage!" cried the skipper, as the lusty cheers died down. And never were more heartfelt hurrahs heard upon a whaler than those which responded to his words.
CHAPTER VI AN ISLAND QUITE OUT OF THE WORLD
APPARENTLY Father Neptune was anxious to show his appreciation of the welcome he had received on the Hector, for the day after his appearance, a light breeze sprang up. Taking advantage of every catspaw, under a perfect cloud of canvas and with stunsails set, the bark slipped through the calm sea and out of the doldrums into the southern trade winds. Then, once more, she bowled along on her long run to Tristan da Cunha, her next stop. Although the boys had left New Bedford in the autumn, they now found that it was spring south of the equator and the captain explained to them that he hoped to reach the South Shetlands in time to fill up with oil during the short Antarctic summer, and leave for the north before winter set in.
The days passed by uneventfully, but ever with something new or unusual to interest the two boys. Daily they saw strange birds; long-tailed white "bo'sun" birds, boobies and "Mother Carey's chickens" and many another. Cap'n Pem told them that the "bo'suns" were unlucky and if one alighted on the ship it meant a death aboard, but that the Mother Carey's chickens were good omens.
"Stormy petrels, some calls 'em," said the old whaleman. "Ye can't git a sailor ter hurt 'em fer love o' money, but I reckon ef ye'd like ter see one of 'em clost to, 'twon't do no harm fer me ter ketch some o' the chicks an' let 'em go again."
"Catch them!" exclaimed Tom. "How can you catch one of those birds?"
"Easy as is," replied Pem. "Jes' run down an' fetch me up a reel o' black thread an' a couple o' ol' corks an I'll show ye."
Tying each cork to a piece of thread, the old whaleman cast them over the stern and let out about a hundred feet of thread to each of the corks dancing in the bark's wake where the petrels were flitting constantly back and forth. Scarcely had he done so, before one of the birds became entangled in a thread and, at its shrill cries of alarm, its comrades hurried towards it and in a moment several of the birds were hopelessly entangled.
Rapidly pulling in the threads, the old man placed the frightened but unhurt birds upon the deck.
"There ye be," he chuckled as he disengaged the thread from their wings and legs. "New kind o' fishin', eh?"
"It's the funniest way of catching birds I ever saw," declared Tom. "Oh, look out! They'll get away!"
"Don' worry 'bout that," laughed Cap'n Pem. "The chicks can't fly offen a level deck, 'ceptin’ they get a start by rollin'. Legs is too weak ter hol' 'em up."
Much to the boys' surprise, they found that this was a fact, and that the petrels were practically helpless on the deck until the ship lurched or rolled and gave them an opportunity to rise. The birds seemed very tame and unsuspicious and greedily snapped up and devoured bits of food offered them. After playing with them for a time, the boys tossed them into the air and, an instant later, they were flitting back and forth with their fellows as if nothing had happened.
The next day, the boys were preparing to take their observations when an exclamation from the helmsman caused them to look up just in time to see one of the long-tailed "bo'sun birds" fluttering about the mizzen crosstrees as if about to alight.
"Eet mean some one he die!" exclaimed the Portuguese at the wheel. Taking one hand from the wheel he hastily crossed himself.
"Shet up, you!" exploded Cap'n Pem, and then, anxiously, "Mebbe 'twon't light. Bad luck if he does, dern him!"
By now, every one on the ship was watching the hovering bird; the greenies, curiously; the seamen, with fear expressed on their faces, while even Captain Edwards looked more troubled and serious than the boys had ever before seen him.
The eyes of the big negro sailor rolled wildly; the pop-eyed boy's eyes seemed about to burst from his head; the Irishman, Mike, was nervously hitching up his trousers and frowning at the beautiful bird and the Swedish carpenter was holding his crossed fingers in air as if invoking a charm. Not a word was spoken as every eye was fixed upon the innocent creature seeking a spot to rest and when, an instant later, it settled gently upon a ratline and commenced to preen its snowy feathers, a great sigh rose in unison from a score of hairy throats.
"Bad luck for us!" ejaculated Cap'n Pem decisively. "Never knowed it to fail!"
"Mebbe nothin' more'n bad weather," commented Mr. Kemp optimistically.
Captain Edwards shook his head and said nothing, while, on deck, the crew conversed in hushed but earnest tones and glanced apprehensively at the resting bird. Then, as the boys resumed their interrupted observations and the eight strokes of the bell pealed out, the bird lifted its white wings, soared from its perch and was soon out of sight.
"Wusser an' wusser!" prophesied Cap'n Pem lugubriously. "Bet ye we don't get no 'ile or a man goes overboard or suthin' serious happens. Lef at eight bells too—that's the time it's goin' ter happen! Reckon I oughn't a cotched them chicks yisterday!"
"Oh, come, Cap'n Pem!" laughed Tom. "You don't really believe that, do you?"
The old whaleman looked at him a moment frowning.
"Course I does!" he snorted. "Ask Mike or any o' the crew!" Still muttering he stumped off. In a few hours, however, the incident seemed to have been forgotten and no one mentioned it again.
A few days later, the boys saw a school of huge black and white creatures with enormous fins upon their backs which they thought were some sort of whale.
"Killers," said Mr. Kemp, when the boys pointed them out "Kind of a po'poise, or grampus or whale, I dunno which, and jes' about the all-firedest savage critters there is. I've seed 'em tackle a bull whale an' tear him all to bits right afore my eyes. That's why we call 'em killers,—'cause they kill an' eat whales.
But despite a sharp lookout that was maintained, no whales were sighted and the bark kept steadily on her course. Then, one day, the boys saw an enormous white bird sailing towards them close to the surface of the sea. It was the first albatross, and with fascinated eyes the boys watched it, as with motionless wings, fully ten feet from tip to tip, the beautiful creature sailed along in the bark's wake, skimming the crests of the waves, swinging to right and left, dipping down to pick up some bit of offal thrown overboard; now rising until it was a mere speck in the sky, anon speeding ahead of the rushing ship as easily as though she were standing still and then dropping astern again to take up its wonted place. Every morning the bird was there. Long after darkness fell, the boys could see its ghostly white form against the heaving, black sea, and they wondered if it slept on the wing or ever slept at all. Then another appeared, and another and another, until a score or more of the wonderful creatures were constantly in sight. And then, at last, a dim, hazy-blue shape loomed like a cloud upon the horizon above the heaving sea and the boys looked upon the strange, unfrequented islands of Tristan da Cunha.
Rapidly the islands took form and shape as, under her press of canvas, the bark drove onward. Up from the restless waves rose three vast pyramids, their summits hidden in low-hung, threatening clouds, while below, stretched gray-green slopes and rugged hills, cut with black gorges and ravines and fringed with beating, high-flung surf.
"My, but that's a wild-looking place!" exclaimed Tom, "Is there a town there, Captain Edwards?"
"No real town," replied the skipper, "but a number of people, about one hundred and fifty, I suppose, and mighty nice folk, too. It's a remarkable island, boys, and the most remarkable thing about it are its inhabitants. They are mostly descendants of British soldiers who were stationed on the island when Napoleon was a captive on St. Helena. Tristan's just about half way 'twixt St. Helena and South America and the Britishers were a bit afraid some one might try to rescue Napoleon, so they placed a garrison over here on Tristan. You may think it's a mighty poor-looking spot, but the Tommies grew so fond of it, they wouldn't leave and settled down and their descendants have been here ever since. Funny thing, too, mighty few of 'em ever leave to live anywhere else and if they do go off to see the rest of the world they always come back. But a good part of 'em are whalemen's families. Seems to be something about the place that makes folks fall in love with it, and ever since Yankee whaleships have been comin' here, whalemen have been desertin’ and joining the colony."
"But what do they do for a living?" asked Jim. "I should think it would be just the loneliest place in the world. Do they have a king or a president, or what?"
"They raise cattle and garden truck mostly," replied Captain Edwards. "That's why we whalemen stop here—to get fresh vegetables and eggs and beef. The land's fertile and the climate ain't bad and they raise about the best potaters and vegetables I ever saw. No, they don't have any king or president or any sort of government, — just get along neighborly and nice with elders to guide 'em and seem to do a heap better and be a lot happier than any republic or kingdom you'll find. And they ain't a mite wild or uncivilized or uneducated either,—have churches and schools and everything, even if the only folks they ever see are whalemen and a British cruiser or ship that calls once a year with mail and supplies. Whenever she comes in, the folks have all their letters and orders ready and send them off and a year later they get the goods and the answers. Wonder how folks in the States would get on if they could only go shopping once a year and had to wait another year to get the things!"
"Gee, that's a high mountain!" exclaimed Tom. "Will we have time to go ashore, Captain?"
"Plenty o' time," the skipper assured him. "We'll be here a couple of days—have to give the folks time to get the supplies together and down to the shore, and you can go all over the place in that time if you're as much like goats as the boys here are. Yes, pretty good-sized mountain, that— over 8,000 feet high and an old volcano."
By the time the captain had finished speaking, the island loomed close ahead and the boys could see tiny houses and buildings scattered about on the sloping hillsides. The coast seemed forbidding and barren with heavy surf breaking everywhere; but as they drew nearer, a covelike harbor appeared, and cautiously feeling his way in, and constantly scanning landmarks on the shore, Captain Edwards piloted the bark towards the island until the sky-piercing cone of the volcano appeared to overhang the Hector's masts.
At braces and halliards stood the crew, ready for instant action when the order was given to swing the yards. In the bows stood the second mate and his men ready to let the anchor go, and, to the boys, it seemed as if the bark would pile herself upon the rocks before the captain's voice roared out the orders, the yards swung to the crash of slatting sails and the creak of tackle; the roar of chain and the splash of anchor were flung back in thundering echoes from the cliffs, and the Hector swung motionless before the out-of-the-world island.
Long before the bark had come to anchor, boats were putting off from shore, and in a few moments, a miniature flotilla surrounded the Hector. Much to the boys' surprise,—for somehow, despite what the captain had told them, they had expected to see roughly clad, unkempt, swarthy people—the men who were in the boats were fine-looking, rosy-cheeked, bronzed-skinned young giants, neatly clad in blue dungaree or serge and differing in no way from men who might be seen at any seaport in New England.
Laughing and talking, they clambered up the bark's sides and came aboard, greeting Captain Edwards and others by name, shaking hands with every one and speaking with a peculiar accent that seemed to be a cross between cockney English and down-east Yankee,—impossible to describe.
All were very friendly and plied the skipper and every one else with questions about the war, about affairs in the States, about the cruise of the Hector and a thousand and one other things. Captain Edwards produced a huge bundle of papers and magazines and a packet of letters for them, and presently a sturdy, tow-headed youth approached the boys.
"My name's Paul Potter and this is my brother, Getty," he announced, as a younger, freckled-faced boy joined them. "You're the first American boys I've seen in four years."
"My name's Tom Chester and this is Jim Lathrop," said Tom. "We're from Fair Haven. Are you any relation to Cap'n Pem? His name's Potter, too."
"Shouldn't be a bit surprised," replied Paul, "Gran'ther was a New Bedford whaleman and there are lots of Potters here."
"Yep, an’ plenty o' Chesters and Lathrops, too," put in Getty. "Say, tell us all about the war an' what's goin' on. We be'nt heard nary word for nigh a year."
"Has America gone into it?" added Paul. "Last we heard was when our ships licked the Germans over t' Falklands. One on them called in here to parse the news."
Willingly, Tom and Jim related all the most important news of the war which had taken place since the islanders had last heard from the outside world, and the four boys were soon fast friends. Then the Potter boys asked about the cruise and the trip down.
"Wisht us might go 'long," declared Getty. "I'd like for to see a whale killed, wouldn't you, Paul?"
"Rather!" agreed his brother. "And I'd jolly well like to go to the South Shetlands 'long of you boys. We've ne'er been offen Tristan, you know."
"Dad's been there," Getty reminded him. "Mind when he told us 'bout yon elephants?"
"Aye, Dad's been most all places," assented Paul. "Went to New York once and Lunnon, too. He's school marster now."
At this moment Cap'n Pem approached. "Ready to stretch legs ashore?" he inquired. "See ye've found chums a'ready. Reckon ye didn't fin' 'em savages, did ye?"
"Not a bit," laughed Tom. "They're named after you, Cap'n Pem. This is Paul and Getty Potter."
"Well I’ll be squeejiggled!" exclaimed the old man. "Glad ter know ye, lads. What's yer dad's name?"
"Henry Potter," replied Paul. "He says he's American, 'cause gran'ther was a New Bedford whaleman."
"I'll be derned!" cried Cap'n Pem. "What's his name,—'tain't ol' Lem Potter o' the Greyhoun is it?"
"Aye, sir, 'tis so," Paul assured him.
"Well, I'll be holy-stoned an' everlastin'ly keelhauled!" shouted the whaleman, "ef ye ain't my own fambly! Why, bless yer hearts, I ain't been here in nigh thirty years an' las' time I touched 'twas in the ol' Leonidas an' Lem's kid wasn't knee high to a grasshopper. Kain't b'lieve he's growed up an' got kids like you! Lem's my secon' cousin ye know. Got los' from the Greyhoun an' made Tristan an' jes' settled down an' married one o' the lassies here. Come 'long all o' ye. I jes' gotter git ashore an' go a-gammin', boys."
"I wondered if you weren't relations to Cap'n Pem," chuckled Tom as the four boys and the old man made their way to where Paul's boat was moored.
"And I expect we'll find members of our families there, too," added Jim. "Say, this is a regular little New Bedford, isn't it?"
But while the boys found plenty of Chesters and Lathrops, as their new friends had stated, they were all old English families, and the two boys were rather disappointed that they could not boast of having relatives on the queer, mid-ocean island.
They found the place very interesting, with its winding, crooked paths, and houses built of beach pebbles like the fishermen's cottages in England, and they were tremendously surprised at the variety and luxuriance of the vegetables growing in tiny, irregular gardens sheltered among the huge volcanic boulders. Reaching the Potter residence, the four left Cap'n Pem chatting and gossiping with his white-headed cousin, Lem, and with Paul and his brother, climbed up the steep hillside.
Far up on the mountain slope the boys threw themselves upon a little patch of soft, gray moss and gazed down at the panorama of the island far below, with the Hector, looking like a toy ship against the deep green water, and the cottages so much like piles of brown rocks that they appeared mere portions of the landscape. Already, the people were busy gathering the vegetables and cattle for the bark and the boys could hear their shouts and could see them hurrying about like busy ants.
"What do you do to amuse yourselves?" asked Tom, at last.
"Us have plenty to do," Paul replied. "There's the gardens to be planted an' cared for an’ the cattle an' fishin' an' gathering kelp, and betimes we egg or hunt."
"What do you gather kelp for?" asked Jim.
"And what do you hunt and egg?" inquired Tom.
"Kelp's for to fert'lize the gardens," explained Paul. "Grows big here, twenty fathom long sometimes, an' after storms it looses up and gets adrift an' us gathers it an' rots it for the land. Goats is what we hunt, plenty o' wild ones here, an' betimes we go sealing an' fishing. I like egging best. It's more exciting."
"How do you go egging?" asked Jim.
"Us goes down the cliffs on a line," replied Paul. "It's too early season now or we'd show you."
"No 'tain't," contradicted Getty. "Plenty gulls has eggs to To'gallant Rock. Let's go."
"Want to?" asked Paul.
"We'd love to," replied Tom.
"Come on." Hurrying down the mountain side, Paul ran home and met the others with a long rope and a basket in his hands while Getty led the way around a corner of the hill and along a faintly marked pathway.
Presently, they reached the edge of a precipitous cliff and commenced climbing down over the sharp, irregular rocks with the sea roaring against the base of the precipice several hundred feet below.
"Gosh, I guess Cap'n Edwards was right when he said we needed to be goats," panted Tom.
"I'd rather have "wings," replied Jim.
Disturbed by the boys' appearance, thousands of the sea birds rose from their resting places, and with loud cries and screams, whirled and circled about in a perfect cloud until the air seemed rilled with them. Soon the boys came to a spot where the rock extended out in an overhanging ledge and, lying on his stomach, Paul peered over the edge.
"I see a plenty," he announced, as he drew back. "Want to look?"
Crawling cautiously forward to the brink of the ledge, Tom and Jim looked over and involuntarily drew quickly back. Although they had been accustomed to standing on the lofty crosstrees of the Hector and helping the crew on the yards far above the tumbling sea, they had never felt dizzy or ill at ease, yet, as they glanced over the verge of the precipice, their toes and fingers tingled and they had a vivid, agonizing sensation of pitching over the cliff. Upon the masts or yards there was always something tangible to connect them with the ship, but here, on this overhanging ledge, there was nothing but space between them and the heaving green sea that roared and thundered about an isolated, perpendicular mass of rock that jutted from the water for several hundred feet directly beneath the spot where they stood.
"Whew!" exclaimed Tom. "That's the first time I ever felt nervous."
"Me, too," declared Jim. "Gosh! Can you fellows look over there?"
The two islanders laughed. "Us ain't nervous," stated Paul. "Reckon we're used to it. Come on, look at To'gallant Rock an' you can see the birds a-sittin'."
Determined not to be outdone by the two others, Tom and Jim again drew themselves to the edge of the cliff, and by the exertion of all their will power, managed to look down at the mass of rock and at the thousands of sea birds which covered it.
"But I don't see how we're going to get to them," said Tom as all drew back from the edge. "We can't get down there and no boat could land on the rock if we did."
Paul and his brother gazed at the speaker in amazement.
"Us goes down on the line," announced Getty at last. "It's easy."
This time it was Tom's turn to be astonished. "You don't mean to say you boys really go down there on a rope!" he cried.
"Watch us," replied Paul with a chuckle. Uncoiling the long rope he had brought, he quickly knotted a bowline in one end, and walking a few yards inland, took a turn and a couple of half-hitches around a stout, wooden stake that was firmly wedged among some rocks.
"Stand by and help me hold the line," he directed the two boys as his brother adjusted the bowline about him and attached the basket to the rope.
Filled with amazement that any mortal would dare to be lowered over the cliff on the slender line, the boys braced themselves against the rocks and took a firm grasp of the rope as Getty, a broad grin on his freckled face, threw himself upon the ground, and wriggling backwards, let his legs and body drop over the verge of the cliff. For an instant he held on by one hand. Paul and the boys drew the rope taut, and at Getty's cry of "Lower away!" they slowly paid out the line.
"Guess he's pretty well down," remarked Paul, after many feet of the rope had slipped over the edge. "Just hold fast a minute and I'll see." Walking to the verge, he called down to his brother and the boys could hear Getty's reply thin and far away.
"Easy now and stand by when I give the word," ordered Paul, and, a moment later, "Hold fast! Ease off a bit! All right! Come on and see him."
Leaving the rope, which was now slack, Tom and Jim joined Paul and peered down. There, far below them, and crouching on a narrow shelf on To’gallant Rock, was Getty, rapidly gathering the sea-birds' eggs and fighting off the screaming birds that half hid him as they wheeled above his head. From where they were watching, Getty looked like a mere speck and the rock appeared so smooth and perpendicular that it seemed impossible that any human being could find foothold upon it. But even as they looked, Getty stood up, and flattening himself against the rocks, commenced walking around the precipice above the thundering surf. The boys held their breath, expecting each moment to see him miss his footing and fall dangling at the end of the rope, but he calmly continued on his way, stooping now and again as he reached a nest, until at last, looking up, he waved his hand to the boys at the summit of the island.
"Got his basket full up," announced Paul. "Come on, let's haul him up."
Gathering in the slack of the rope, the boys strained and pulled, one of them constantly holding the slack with a turn around the stake, until presently, they heard Getty's voice, and making the line fast, Paul hurried to the edge of the cliff, leaned over, and lifted up the basket full of eggs. A moment later, Getty pulled himself up on the rope and onto the solid ground.
"Gee, but you have got nerve!" cried Jim. "I wouldn't do that for anything."
"Would if you lived on Tristan," laughed Getty. "Dad says as folk can get used to anything, 'cept dying. All us boys go down to To'gallant Rock."
"Tain't arf so bad's ol' Snorter," added Paul.
"Got to swing right in under there, first out an' then in like, an' the rope gets a-twistin' most fearful. Folk don't let us boys try that."
"An' when a body's through an' comin' up a body must jump off an' swing out on the line," supplied Getty. "Want to see it?"
"No, thanks," Tom assured him. "I've seen enough, if there's anything worse I'll take your word for it."
As the boys walked back towards the Potter home, the two islanders told many a story of their life and while Tom and Jim could not understand how any civilized people could be content to dwell in the place year after year, yet they admitted that there was a fascination about the island life.
Cap'n Pem was still at the cottage and welcomed the boys vociferously.
"Was jes' a-tellin' Lem 'bout you two scallywags," he cried. "What ye been up to now? Egging, eh? Well, fresh eggs is allers mighty good. What's that? Let these two kids o' Len's stump ye! Didn't the skipper tell ye every one on Tristan's a goat! Jes' the same, I'll bet ye can lick 'em at navigatin'! How about it, boys?"
"Reckon they could," admitted Paul. "Us can use a sextant though. Dad taught us."
"I've been a-swappin' yarns with Lem ever since I got here," chuckled the old whaleman. "When two ol' sailormen git to gammin' arter thirty year there's a tarnation lot to chin erbout. Derned if I hadn't jes' been tellin' 'bout the Hector's crew o' derelicts. Thought Lem'd bust hisself a laffin' 'bout havin' a mate an' bo'sun both with timber legs an' a dummy an' a one-eyed chap aside. Reg'lar home fer cripples, eh?"
"Shucks!" laughed the old islander. "Ye be'nt no cripple, Pem Potter. Why, I sw'ar to goodness, ye're a better man an’ mate wi' one leg than many a body wi' twain. Aye, if ye had none at all ye'd still be middlin' hard to beat. Tis the head an' heart that makes a body a man, lad, not the legs."
Then, turning to Tom and Jim, he continued, "Pem tells me ye laddies are main daft o'er yarns o' the sea. Did he e'er tell ye o' how he lost his leg?"
"No, sir," replied Tom promptly. "We never asked him about it."
"Then, do. Belike he'll yaw an' jibe an' luff bit, but 'tis no yarn to be ashamed on."
"Do tell us about it?" begged Tom. "You've told us lots of yarns about other men so tell us about yourself."
"I'll be derned ef I will," declared Pem. "Ef this dod-gasted ol’ shellback farmer o' a cousin o' mine wants ye to know 'bout my dumb foolishness, jes' git him to tell ye. Reckon he knows more 'bout it than I do, anyway.”
"Well won't you tell us then, Mr. Potter?" asked Jim. "I guess Cap'n Pem's too modest.”
"Aye, that I will,” assented the other. "But first, ye laddies'll eat. 'Tis humble fare we offer, but fresh an' wholesome. So sit ye down. Ah, here's Henry!"
While they had been talking, Paul and Getty's mother had been preparing the table and the savory odor of appetizing food filled the little room, and as Lem finished speaking a tall, stalwart man appeared in the doorway. Greeting his visitors cordially, the schoolmaster welcomed the boys to his home and the island and apologized for not being on hand before, explaining that he had been on a visit to a family on the other side of the hill and had just heard of the Hector's arrival.
He spoke with only a slight accent and was evidently well educated. The boys now understood why Paul and Getty should use such good English with only occasional lapses into the Tristan vernacular.
Never had the boys enjoyed a meal better than that which they ate in the little stone cottage on Tristan da Cunha, for the fresh vegetables and meat, the home-made biscuits and fresh butter, the milk and gulls' egg omelette, the crisp, fried fish and the luscious ripe berries were a marvelously welcome change from the ship's fare. And as they ate, the boys had an opportunity to glance about at the room and its furnishings. At one side was a huge, stone fireplace. Above it was a narrow shelf bearing an American clock, a number of handsome sea shells and several carved whales' teeth, while over it, were hung a long-barreled gun and a whale lance. On one side of the room, were shelves covered with books and magazines, with the model of a whaleship on the top shelf, and hanging on the walls were a number of pictures of ships, marine scenes and landscapes evidently taken from illustrated magazines and neatly framed in dark wood. The furniture was plain but good. Bright chintz curtains hung at the windows and everything was spotlessly clean.
Although there were no luxuries, there was every comfort and the boys could scarcely believe they were on this far-away speck of land in the middle of the Atlantic, and not in some sailor's cottage on Cape Cod or Nantucket.
During the meal, the conversation was all of the outside world:—the war, the whaling business, gossip of old friends and acquaintances and inquiries about the prices of clothing, supplies and many other matters. Paul's father had not been in the States for many years and he could scarcely credit the changes which Tom and Jim described to him. Both boys had visited New York a few weeks before they sailed, and the islanders listened spellbound as they told of the sky-scrapers, the subway and the countless other marvels of the metropolis. As Tom said afterwards, it was like talking to inhabitants of another planet, for the things which seemed so commonplace to the two American boys were as fascinating as fiction to the Tristan da Cunha family. Although they had seen pictures of motor cars, airplanes, tall buildings and such things, still, to listen to those who actually had seen them, was very different. The two boys had never before realized that there were civilized, white, English speaking people in the world who had never seen any of the things which were such a familiar part of their own every day lives. But when, at last, the meal was over and the talk veered to the Hector and her voyage, the boys reminded old Lem of his promise to tell them the story of Cap'n Pem's lost leg.
CHAPTER VII HOW CAP'N PEM LOST HIS LEG
LONG 'bout forty-five years aback," began the old man, as all gathered about to hear his story, "I were secon' mate o' the Greyhoun' bark, out o' New Bedford—Cap'n Ezra Clapham, master—an' boun' for the Pacific arter sparm whales. Ev'rythin' went fine an' we rose whales mos' from the time we was out o' soundin's. Ne'er did see so pesky many in all o' my life. By the time we was 'round Cape Horn we was that full up the Old Man put in at Valp'raiso an' transshipped the 'ile. Reckon thet must 'a bust the luck, 'cause we cruised hither an' yon fer nigh six weeks an' ne'er raised a whale. Had a right smart crew too, an' good as I e'er seen. But I tell ye, it begun for to look as if we'd be a-cruisin' fer the res' o' our lives an' rot at sea 'thout gettin' 'nough 'ile ter grease our boots. Aye, an' 'twas fair hard work a-keepin' that crew busy, I tell ye. Ev'ry tooth aboard the bark'd been scrimshawed an' ev'ry mite o' bone made inter knick-knacks. There weren't a mite o' ol’ rope or canvas that hadn't been made inter chafin'-gear an' Chips couldn't fin' a splinter o' wood thet so much as needed a tenpenny nail or a dab o' paint. Men jes' spent the time a-s'archin' fer whale an' many's the day I've seed the riggin' an' mas'heads that full o' men a-lookin’ fer a blow thet ye'd swored the ol' Greyhoun' was a mannin' o' her yards fer show, like as does the ol’ frigates. Bimeby, 'long erbout nine week out o' Valp'raiso, we seen a sail, an' runnin' down to her, we foun’ she was the Mohawk out o' Salem. Course we had a gammin’ an' the Mohawk's folk—they was purty nigh full up an' home'ard boun'—spun a yarn 'bout a mad whale what they'd riz a couple o' week afore. Tol’ how as the cap'n's boat had struck an' was fas' when the critter turned an' run fer the boat, an' grabbin' it in his jaws chewed it to smithereens. Then 'long comes the mate's boat an' picked up the men an' the secon' and third mates’ boats went in an' both boats got fas'. Well, thet jes' made the whale wusser an' wusser, an’ a swingin' o' his jaw to sta'board an' port, he chawed both boats. Cordin’ to the yarn, the ol’ bull now had six irons in him, but thet didn't bother him a mite, an' no sooner was the nex' boat fas' than he stove thet. Meantime, two spare boats was on han', a-pickin’ up the other's crews, when the ol' whale jes' rushed 'em an' sounded, a-leavin' four stove boats an' a-takin' o' seven irons an' twelve hundred fathoms o' line to Davy Jones fer souv'neers. Aye, an’ ye can jes' bet our men druv the barbs inter the Mohawk folk a-laffin' at ‘em fer a-losin' o' a bull whale, arter they'd got seven irons in. One o' our chaps—a young boat steerer—'lowed he'd like ter see the whale he'd let get away with his iron and lines, an' ev'ry one o' the crew o' the Greyhoun’ was that sore at not havin' raised a whale fer so long thet they jus' prayed fer a chanct ter run athwart the hawse o' the Mohawk's mad whale.
"An' by gum, we did! Three days arter leavin' the Mohawk, we raised a whale 'bout four p'ints offen the sta'board bow and the cap'n an' mate lowered. But I'll be blowed ef thet whale'd wait fer 'em to go on, but jes' as soon as he spied the boats he come arter 'em head up an' tail over the dasher, so to speak, a-roarin' an' a fumin' with his jaws wide open, an' gettin' the mate's boat fust, he stove thet and turned fer the cap'n's. Jes' took one nip and there weren't 'nough lef o' thet boat fer to make toothpicks outen. Then a-droppin' o' the boat, the pesky bull swung 'roun' an' grabbed the mate. Jes' as luck'd hev it, the bark weren't far, an' soon's I see what was happ'nin' I lowered an' started a-yellin' ter the third mate ter foller an' pick up the cap'n's crew. Jes' got ter the mate in the nick o' time an' hauled him in purty well chawed an' mussed up, when the whale breached 'bout quarter o' a mile ahead. My boat steerer was the cock-sure cuss I told ye of an' 'fore I could say a word the crew was a-pullin' like mad an’ we was a-goin' on. 'Course I didn't stop on 'em—didn't want no boat steerer or crew a tellin' me I was scart o' any bull whale—an' purty soon the boat steerer puts down his oar and pulls offen his jacket and takes up the iron, fer we was close on an' the ol' bull didn't seem fer to see us.
“'Nex' minute the young chap struck, an' by gum, afore ye could say Holy Mac'rel thet dumb-gasted boat steerer had another iron inter the critter! Dunno whether 'twas the s'prise o' bein' struck 'twict ter onct or what, but the fight all seemed ter go clean out o' the whale and he jes' sounded like a lump o' lead. Jes' as soon as he'd put the secon' iron in, the boat steerer tumbled aft an’ I jumped fo'ward an' o' course the two lines was a-whirrin' out o' the bow-chock like steam an’ a jumpin' like livin' snakes o' steel outen their tubs. Jes' as I passes the tub-oar, I hear a sort o’ yell and a groan an' I swings 'roun' in time to see the boat steerer a-floppin' roun' an' a-flyin' forrard with a kink o' the secon' line 'roun' his leg. Nex' secon' there was a flash o' steel an' a dull thud an’, think I, some one's cut the line, an' I see what I took ter be a ol' boot splash overboard. 'Course 'twas all over in the shake o' a lamb's tail, an' jes' then the whale was a comin' up to breach an' I didn't give no heed ter it. 'Spected the whale fer to turn on us, but he'd got ernough o' fightin', I reckon, and started off to the west'ard as if he'd a forgotten sumpthin'. Didn't steer no straight course, though, an' milled an' twisted an' turned; an' thet there boat steerer was a wonder.
“Swung the boat quicker'n the whale an’ never shipped a drop till 'bout fifteen minutes arter getting’ fas', we drew in an' druv home die lance an' without a flurry the ol' bull spouted blood an' went fin up. An' jes' as he done it I heerd a rattle an' thud, an’ lookin' 'roun' I seed the boat steerer all a heap in the starn. When I got to him I jes' give one almighty yell an' drapped down an’ couldn't believe my own eyes. Thet there youngster had chopped off his own leg an'd been a-steerin' o' the boat with a bleedin' stump fer fifteen mortal minutes! When he cum to, the fust thing he says was, ‘Did ye git that there mad whale?' An' when we told him he jes' grinned an', sez he, told them Mohawk Ian' lubbers I'd git him or lose a leg, an' I did.' An' thet's how Pem come fer to lose his leg."
Cap'n Pem flushed purple to his grizzled hair. "Lem, ye ol' lyin' shellback!" he burst out. "'Twant me what kilt the bull an' ye know blamed well 'twas jes' fer to save my life I done it. Anyhow, what's the use a talkin' 'bout things what was done forty year ago?"
But the boys and the assembled company would not listen to his protestations or denials and vowed he was a real hero.
Now that the subject of whaling adventures had been started, various stories of marvelous escapes and incredible heroism were told, for several of the islanders who had gathered at the Potter cottage, were old whalemen who had left their perilous calling to settle down for the rest of their lives on Tristan da Cunha. They told of ships sunk by infuriated whales which blindly rushed at the vessels and stove them in. They related tales of being locked in the Arctic ice floes and of the awful loss of the whaling fleet in 1871, when thirty-two ships were crushed and destroyed and over twelve hundred people made their way in open boats through freezing, stormy seas for eight hundred miles in order to seek safety in the vessels which awaited them. They spun many a yarn of weird, uncanny happenings at sea, of premonitions, St. Elmo's fire and derelicts; of mutinies and acts of violence, and all were true; for the whalemen, unlike his merchant sailor brother, has plenty of facts to draw from without the need of weaving tales from imagination.
"Aye, an' that 'minds me o' the cap'n o' the Pole Star" mused one gray-bearded old islander after one of the others had told a story. "Ye'll mind she was a-whalin' in the Ar'tic. The cap'n struck a right whale an' was fas' when his boat were stove an' the whale tackled the cap'n. I was boat steerer i' the mate's boat an' seen the whole thing. The ol' Man were a pow'ful fine swimmer an' used fer to boast on it, an' 'twere sure lucky fer him he were, b'gosh! Fust time the whale started fer him, he dove under an' come up t'other side o' the whale. Us couldn't get in near, the whale was a kickin' up of sech a rumpus, fust striking wi’ its flukes an' then a risin' of its head an' a slammin' of it down like er capsized mountain, an' all the time the skipper a-divin' an' a dodgin' an’ a swimmin' fer his life. Two or three times I seen the whale's flukes lift the cap'n clean out o' water an' time an ag'in I seed the head come down an' druv him clean out o' sight. Each time us thought 'twas all over, but somehow or t'other the skipper didn't get hit square an' kep' a-fightin'. 'Course us didn't know it at the time, but all the while the skipper was a-tryin' to git his sheath-knife into the whale's nose to tarn him—ye mind a right whale's nose's so plumb tender he'll turn tail an' run if ye so much as touches of it—but the knife got stuck an' he had a mortal time a drawin' on it, what betwix' swimmin’ an' a dodgin' o' flukes an' head. Bimeby, though, he got it out, an' edgin' roun'—ye mind a right whale can't see ahead—he swum in front o' the whale and druv the knife home. Jumpin' Jehosephat! Ye'd oughter a seed that there whale skihoot off! Bet he ain't stopped a-goin' yit, an' thet was back in seventy-three. An' us picked up skipper nary the wusser fer his fight."
"An' did ye ever hear o' the whaleman what was actooally grabbed by a sparm bull an' taken down to the bottom an' spit up ag'in?" asked another ex-whaleman. "I disrecollec' his ship, but he was a chap name o' Jenkins. Got fas' to a sparm whale back in '70. Whale turned an' bit the boat in two and then made a rush and grabbed Jenkins an' sounded. The boat weren't smashed up, jes' cut clean amidships, an' the crew was a holdin' on ter the two pieces a-waitin' to be picked up an' a sorryin' fer their los' mate, when the whale breaches close alongside, an' openin’ his mouth, spits Jenkins out and tosses of him into the forrard part o' his boat. Warn't much hurt neither—bruised up a bit an' mauled, but less'n a fortni't later was back ter work again."
"That is a tall yarn," laughed Tom. "Is it true?"
"True as I'm a settin' here," maintained the story teller.
"Aye, I've heerd of it afore," supplemented old Lem.
"Seed about it in the ship's log-book, myself," Cap'n Pem assured them. "Ye can read it yer-sel's when ye go back. It's over to the Mus'um in New Bedford."
"Well, I can believe anything after what I've seen and heard," admitted Tom.
"Reckon we'd better be gitlin' 'long back ter the ship," observed Cap'n Pem. "Skipper'll think we've decided for to settle down here."
With hearty handshakes and thanks for the islanders' hospitality, the two boys invited Paul and Getty to visit the Hector when their grandfather came off next day, and accompanied by a group of their new-found friends, they made their way to the landing place. Already, a large amount of provisions had been brought down and the boats were just returning from taking a load aboard the Hector. Captain Edwards was already on the bark and he laughed heartily and was much interested at the boys' accounts of their experiences on the island.
The following day, the islanders visited the ship and after the midday meal, when all the supplies had been loaded, the captain had the decks cleared and the men spent the afternoon skylarking with their visitors.
Early the next morning, the boys were aroused by the clank of the anchor chain and the rousing capstan chantey, as the men, walking the handspikes around, sang lustily:
Oh, a ship she was rigged and ready for sea,
Windy weather! Stormy weather!
And all of her sailors were fishes to be,
Blow ye winds, westerly, gentle sou' westerly.
Blow ye winds westerly, steady she goes."
Hurrying on deck, the boys found the bark already slipping through the water, while on the shore and resting on their oars in the boats, the islanders were waving farewells and shouting good wishes for a quick voyage and a full cargo.
An hour later, the island's slopes were indistinct in the mist astern and as the boys took their last look at the towering, volcanic cone they felt a pang of regret at having left the island and the simple, pleasant folk that dwelt upon it.
CHAPTER VIII ELEPHANT ISLAND
ALTHOUGH it was early summer in these southern latitudes, the weather was chilly and desolate. Great, cold, green waves came rolling from the west, their crests breaking in hissing spray and the bark drove on under shortened canvas beneath a sullen, leaden sky. From time to time, driving squalls of snow and sleet screeched through the rigging, leaving every rope, shroud and stay ice-coated, and each time the Hector buried her bluff bows beneath the mountainous seas, she rose with ice-sheeted decks. Bundled in heavy pea-jackets, hip-boots and oilskins, with sou'westers jammed upon their heads, the crew stood about, sheltering themselves behind masts, deck-houses and try-works, and on the poop the officers and the two boys paced back and forth, stamping their feet and beating their arms to keep warm, while ever and anon the captain stopped to peer anxiously into the murk ahead. For several days it had been impossible to take an observation and the ship was plunging southward, navigated by dead reckoning only, while lookouts were ever at the mastheads straining their eyes for bergs or ice or even possible land. Each day, too, the bird convoy of the bark increased in numbers. Dozens of albatrosses of several kinds skimmed the breaking waves on tireless wings. Giant, white fulmars or "Molly Mokes," snowy sheathbills, and a dozen other species of sea birds were everywhere, and often the boys caught sight of distant icebergs or vast, floating fields of pack-ice, shimmering like burnished steel against the gray-green sea.
Then one day, came the cry of "Land ho!" from the masthead and peering ahead the boys caught sight of a shadowy, gray mass looming above the low-hung clouds against the southern horizon. Presently, as they watched, Tom uttered an exclamation and grasped Jim's arm. Close to the bark, a huge dark body rose suddenly from the sea, a long-snouted head reared up and with a coughing, snarling bark and a flash of great, white teeth, the creature disappeared beneath the sea.
"A sea elephant!" cried Jim, and intently the two scanned the surface of the water for its reappearance. Soon they were rewarded. Again the giant seal flung itself upward from the curving crest of a wave and then another and another appeared until, all about the speeding ship, the sea was dotted with the monsters, seemingly unafraid of the vessel and playing about like enormous porpoises.
Soon, however, the boys' attentions were diverted from the sea elephants, for ahead they caught sight of thousands of bobbing black and white forms flouting upon the waves, now leaping several feet in the air, anon ducking beneath the sea, at times standing upright and apparently clapping hands or again tumbling over and over like playful puppies.
"What in the world are they?" asked Jim as Cap'n Pem approached.
"Penguins," replied the old whaleman. "Ye'll see 'em by tens o’ thousan's on shore."
In a few moments more, the bark was in the midst of the flock of the strange fishlike birds, and on every side, ahead and astern, the water was alive with them and both boys were fascinated watching their droll antics. Then they were interrupted by orders to shorten sail still further, and as the bark rolled along over the rapidly smoothing sea, the boys' interests were centered on the distant island they were approaching. Desolate, forbidding and bleak, it appeared, a vast, uprising, towering mass of dull-colored rock, flanked by stony hills and rimmed by pebbly beaches and outstanding cliffs against which the long Antarctic swells broke in great sheets of thundering surf.
Nearer and nearer drew the Hector. Forward a man was steadily heaving the lead; at the catheads stood the second mate with his men ready at any instant to let go the anchor; ready at the braces stood the men waiting for the word to back the yards, while on the poop stood the captain and the chief mate, the one, studying the island through his glasses, the other, scanning the ship and sails and all on the alert to bring the bark to and anchor her in safety off the forbidding shores of Elephant Island. Now, upon the hillsides, the boys could see patches of dried and dead herbage among the rocks. Here and there were sheets of ice and snow still lingering in the shadows of cliffs and ledges. Upon the beach were scattered masses of rotten ice, and everywhere among them, a moving, dark mass that covered the shingle from end to end, were hundreds of mighty sea elephants whose sharp, incessant barking was borne plainly to those on the ship. Scattered upon the hillsides and on the rising ground back of the beach were countless flecks of white which at first the boys had mistaken for snow, but now, as the ship drew near, they saw that they were moving, that they were alive, and suddenly it dawned upon them that they were birds—thousands of albatrosses—while vast areas of gray and white which the boys had thought were ice now resolved themselves into tens of thousands of penguins, standing upright with white breasts towards the oncoming bark and looking like an army of tiny men.
Suddenly, above the roar of the surf, the barking of the sea elephants and the cries of the birds, came the sharp order "Let go!" and as the huge yards were swung and the cable roared out and the anchor struck the water with a mighty splash, pandemonium seemed to be let loose upon the island. Like a vast, white cloud the albatrosses and sea birds rose with a roar of wings like thunder, while the air was filled with their sharp cries, and as with one accord every sea elephant raised high his head, bared his long teeth and roared forth a barking howl of defiance at the intruders.
Rapidly the sails were furled and the men prepared to lower the boats and go ashore, for Captain Edwards was to continue on with the Hector to the other islands after leaving a shore party here to kill sea elephants and boil down their oil. There was much to be accomplished. Lumber and supplies had to be sent ashore for building shacks for the men. Thousands of barrel shooks had to be placed on the land for use in stowing the oil. Clothing, provisions, fuel and a hundred and one other articles had to be transported from the bark to the island. There were tools, rope, canvas, forges, arms, ammunition, medicines, spades, irons, lances and many other utensils which were essential to the men and time was limited, if the captain were to get a full ship and sail north before the short Antarctic summer was over.
The first boat lowered was to go ashore to select sites for the men's quarters and for the try-works while the other boats were being loaded, and Cap'n Pem, who was in charge, called to the two boys to jump in.
"Gosh!" cried Jim as the boat neared the shore and was surrounded by scores of swimming sea elephants, "you're not going to land among all those beasts are you?"
"Sure as is!" laughed old Pem. "Them critters won't hurt a fly. Jes' shuffle out o' the way an' bark a bit. Well, we'll have fresh meat fer dinner to-night, anyway. We'll jes' knock a few o' them over the snout an’ have biled tongue an' roast flipper an' fried liver. Finest eatin' ye ever see, boys."
Despite Cap'n Pem's assurances that the creatures would not harm them, the boys were very nervous as the boat grated on the beach within a few yards of the vast herd of giant seals, and they had no desire to be the first to leap ashore among the growling, barking horde of animals which wrinkled their snouts and bared their huge tusks as the boat drew near. But the men appeared not to give the sea elephants a thought, and jumping from the boat ran it far up the shingle. As they did so, the nearest elephants wriggled and dragged themselves to one side and the boys, taking courage at this, fought down their fears and followed Cap'n Pem up the beach. Here, when seen at close quarters, the sea elephants seemed stupendous.
In fact, they were. Many were forty feet in length and their backs were as high as the boys' shoulders, while their savage-looking jaws seemed big enough to crush one's head to bits at a single bite. Much to the boys' surprise, the men merely shoved or kicked such of the creatures as were in their way, and selecting the small-sized and apparently young animals, they killed several by hitting them over their heads with clubs. To the boys, it seemed very cruel and brutal, but, as Tom remarked, it really was no worse than killing oxen or sheep. Even when their comrades had been killed and lay bleeding among them, the other elephants showed no signs of alarm and the boys decided they must, indeed, be very stupid creatures.
Leaving some of the men to secure the titbits of the animals for their dinner, Cap'n Pem led the boys and the other men across the beach beyond the elephant herd. Here the boys had plenty to interest them, for everywhere they were surrounded by the quaint penguins, hopping about on their queer flat feet, peering curiously at the men and shuffling out of the way in funny, jerky jumps. So fascinated were the boys with these odd birds that they seated themselves on a rock and watched them for some time, while the others busied themselves hunting for a likely spot for the camp. By the time this had been selected, the other boats were on the way to the shore and in a few minutes were being unloaded and the goods they had brought were being stacked far above reach of the waves.
"Found any eggs?" asked Cap'n Pem, as he returned to where the boys were watching the penguins.
"Why, no," replied Tom. "Where are their nests?"
The old man chuckled. "Ain't got none," he replied. "Jes' lay their eggs 'mongst the rocks."
Well, it's funny we haven't seen any then," said Jim. "We've been walking about watching the birds and none of them acted as if they were sitting."
"Wall, that's where they fooled ye," laughed Cap'n Pem. "Ye may think they're mighty stupid-lookin' critters, but they ain't. Jes' look here." With a quick dash, the old whaleman seized two of the penguins, and to the boys' astonishment, held up two big blue-green eggs.
"Well, of all things," exclaimed Tom. "Where on earth did you get those eggs?"
"Jes' ketch one o' 'em an' I'll show ye," replied the old whaleman.
Following his tactics, the two boys managed to capture three of the birds.
"Now jes' look at their feet," said Pem. "See how they're a-holdin' of 'em up against their bellies?"
Wonderingly the boys forced apart the birds' big, flat, webbed feet, and to their surprise, discovered that each bird was holding an egg between its feet and the thick feathers of a loose fold of skin on the abdomen.
"That's the funniest thing I ever saw," declared Jim. "Why, these birds must go hopping about holding their eggs all the time."
"Not eggzac'Iy," replied the mate. "Onc't in a while they sets 'em down 'mong the rocks, but jes' as soon as they get scared or thinks the's danger erbout they grabs their eggs an' carries 'em erbout like ye seen."
"An' I'll tell ye another queer thing erbout 'em," he continued. "When the hen's a-luggin’ of her egg erbout the ol' man gits mighty jealous an' if he can't wheedle his mate into lettin' him tote the egg part o' the time, he jes' picks out a nice round stone an' carries that 'round as proud as a peacock. Queer chaps, the Penguins, and no fools, even ef we whalers does call 'em Jackasses."
"Are the eggs good to eat?" asked Tom.
"Wall, I can't say as they're good,” replied the other, "thet is, 'longside o' hens' eggs. Jes' the same they ain't so bad an' a heap better'n albatrosses' or Molly Mokes' eggs. We'll fetch along them we've got, an’ ye can try ‘em an' see how ye like 'em, though I reckon if ye stays here fer a spell ye'll have more than enough of 'em."
"Oh, are we going to stay here?" cried Tom.
"Dunno," replied Cap'n Pem, "Reckon ye'd have more fun here than stayin’ aboard the Hector an' cruisin' 'long over to t'other islan's. Ain't nothin’ to int'rest ye over there an' the bark's goin' to take a run over to Punta Arenas like as not, an' it ain't no picnic beatin' 'round the Horn an’ nothin' much to see over to Punta Arenas. 'Sides your dad's counted on me ter look after ye, an' I dunno 'bout lettin' ye go off without me."
"Then you're going to stay here!" cried Jim. "Of course, we'll stay, too."
"Wall, I reckon we'd better be gittin' back aboard the ship and gittin' a bit ter eat," declared the whaleman. "The's a heap to do an' not too much time to do it in, even if we can work all night"
As they walked towards the boat, the boys noticed that the herd of sea elephants had withdrawn for some distance from the men and that many of them had disappeared.
"Won't all the elephants be frightened away by the men?" asked Tom.
"No," replied the old man, "they'll keep a mite out o' the way and mebbe some on 'em'Il take to water fer a spell; but they'll all haul out again an' when we git ready ter kill 'em they'll all be on hand."
"It seems an awful shame to kill the poor, stupid things," said Jim. "It's almost like murder."
"Wall, 'tain't sport I'll admit," agreed Pem, "but jes' the same it's a heap better to kill 'em an' have their 'ile doin’ some good to civ'lized folks 'stead o' keepin' these critters warm down in this 'ere God-forsaken place. 'Sides, 'tain't no worse'n killin' whales."
"Yes, I suppose you're right," agreed Jim. "Only they appear so harmless and helpless, it seems a pity."
"Reckon ye're right there, son," conceded old Pem, "but jes' the same we don't hurt 'em. Reckon they don't suffer a mite. 'Tain't half as cruel as stickin' pigs or shootin' pa'tridges."
The boys marveled at the vast number of goods which the boats had brought ashore, and already, the carpenter and his assistants were busy putting up the shacks of lumber and canvas while the cooper was setting up casks.
When they reached the bark, dinner was ready and the boys sat down to their first meal of sea elephants' tongues, flippers and liver, which they declared delicious; but they could not say as much for the penguins' eggs which were strong and rather fishy in flavor.
"I suppose I could eat them and not mind," said Tom, "but I'd have to be pretty hungry to like them."
"Good deal like the old fellow that had to eat a crow," remarked Mr. Kemp. "Seme one asked him how he liked it and he says, 'Well, I kin eat a crow but I'll be hanged if I hanker arter 'em."
In a wonderfully short time, the shelters were erected, the stores, provisions, supplies and casks were ashore and stowed, and everything was in readiness for the departure of the bark.
Ten men of the crew had been selected to remain upon the island, as well as the bo'sun, Mike, old Cap'n Pem, and the two boys, and while Pem growled and remarked that "one peg-leg is bad enough but what we're a-goin' fer to do with two, I don't know," yet the boys were immensely pleased to find the ex-man-o'-war's-man was to be with them, for he was never tired of telling deep-sea yarns and the boys loved to hear him and old Pem argue on questions of seamanship and the navy.
Among the men, were one of the boat steerers, two of the Portuguese taken on the Hector at the Azores, and the one-eyed man, Ned, with a negro, who had been helping the cook on the bark, to look after the meals of the shore party.
Cap'n Pem, as commander of the party, had been allowed to select his own men and he had done so with considerable care, choosing those whom he knew were willing and hard workers or had shown unusual ability or skill, for the old whaleman was a keen observer and a fine judge of human nature. While he was apparently giving little heed to what went on about him, nothing escaped his sharp eyes. The boys felt sorry at leaving the bark and as they shook hands with Captain Edwards and the second mate and said good-by, they almost regretted that they were to remain ashore.
"Don't know how I'll get on without my third and fourth mates!" exclaimed the skipper, "but you'll have a lot more fun here than on the bark. Nothing but knocking about in heavy seas and cold winds. Enjoy yourselves, lads, and see that Cap'n Pem behaves himself. We'll be back in about six or eight weeks and expect to find you with all casks full of oil."
Stepping into the waiting boat, the boys were rowed towards the shore, and as the bark's capstan pawls clanked and they heard the chantey of the men borne to them across the water, a lump rose in their throats, for the old Hector had been their home for many weeks. Then, clear and distinct came the rollicking chorus of:
I think I heard our Old Man say,
I'll treat my men in a decent way.
Oh, whisky for my Johnny!"
Slowly the great sails rose and were sheeted home, the canvas billowed out to the offshore wind, the long yards swung, and as the crew tailed onto the braces, to the watchers on the beach came:
The ship she's a-sailing out over the bar.
Away Rio! Away Rio!
The ship she’s a-sailing out over the bar.
We're bound to the Rio Grande.
Slowly the Hector slipped away. Gracefully she heeled to the press of canvas on her lofty masts.
About her cutwater rose a little plume of white, and, rapidly gathering headway, she made for the open sea. Long the boys stood watching her and when, at last, only her royal masts showed faint and dim above the tumbling green seas on the horizon, they turned away, feeling that the last tie that linked them with far-away Fair Haven was gone, that they were marooned upon a desert island scarcely fifteen hundred miles from the South Pole.
CHAPTER IX SPINNING YARNS
SUPPOSE she should be wrecked and never came back!" asked Tom as they turned away from watching the bark sail. "What would happen to us?"
"Wall, we ain't a calc'latin' on that," replied Cap'n Pem, "but jes’ the same, we wouldn't be so bad off ef she didn't. We've got a-plenty o' grub an' if wusser come to wusser I reckon we could salt down enough Jackasses an' albatrosses an' sea elephants to keep us alive fer quite some spell. Twouldn't be the fust time folks has been lef down this way count o' their ships not turnin' up in time."
"Be gob, no!" declared Mike who stood near. "B'gorra, Oi had a frind once, a foine chap entoirely, phwat tould me a sthory av a frind o' his phwat knowed a feller phwat wuz lift fer three mortal years on wan av these oilan's. Shure 'tis mesilf phwat's afther forgettin' the name av it; but 'twas Quirlicue Lan' or somethin’ loike thot. Sure, yis, b'gorra, Misther Potter, 'twas that same! Kerguelan, is it? Well, as Oi was afther sayin' they wuz lift three years, an' Faith, only wan av the bunch doied an' he a Portugee phwat didn't doi but was afther killin' av himself. So don't yez be a woorryin' av yersilves me b'ys. Sure, 'tis not a bad place to sthop at all, at all."
"Well, I don't want to be marooned here for three years, anyhow," maintained Jim. "I guess I wouldn't mind a few weeks or months, but just think what it must be like in winter when the seas are all frozen and the place is covered with ice and snow. What would you do if the Hector didn't come back on time, Cap'n Pem?"
"Now, what's the everlastin’ use o' talkin' 'bout it," replied the mate testily. "There ain't no 'arthly reason why the Hector shouldn't turn up an' if she didn't, I'd wait a spell an' then take to the boats. 'Twouldn't be no sail 'tall to make Tristan d' Cunha or the Falklands from here."
"Why, they're hundreds of miles off!" exclaimed Tom. "You don't mean to say you'd try to get there in those little boats!"
Cap'n Pem snorted, "Course I would!" he declared. "Little boats! Look a-here, son, them there whaleboats is the bes' seagoin' craft afloat. I tell ye, I'd rather be in them there boats in a sea than in a heap o' big ships. Why, bless your heart! I could tell ye more'n one yarn o' whalemen what sailed more'n three thousan' miles in boats like them."
"Oh, do tell us about them!" cried Jim.
"Not now," replied the old whaleman, "We've gotter git busy. Mebbe 'long arter dinner I'll spin ye a yarn."
All through the first day the men were busy preparing the implements and getting things ready for slaughtering and trying out the sea elephants. Spades were sharpened and placed in readiness; the big boiling kettles were brought out and the try-works built; the casks were arranged for filling; the killing clubs were selected and with everything prepared for the killing to begin the following day, the men sat down to a hearty meal of sea elephants' tongues and liver, baked beans and plum duff, while the boys and Cap'n Pem dined on some delicious fresh fish which one of the men had caught, with fresh crabs and craw fish from among the rocks of the shore.
When the meal was over, the boys insisted on the mate keeping his promise to tell them the story he had mentioned and after a few objections, the old man gave in and lighting his pipe, while everybody gathered about and listened, he began.
"Wall," said the old whaleman, "I was sayin’ to ye boys that I knowed o' whalemen rowin' over three thousan' miles in their boats, but I reckon I'd oughter ha' said I'd heard on 'em. But I hev knowed o' whalemen a-rowin' more'n a thousan' miles, and what's more, I wuz boy on the ship what picked 'em up in the end, so ye'll hev to b'lieve this 'ere yarn 'cause it's true as is, an' I kin swear to it. Hows'ever I calc'late I'd better begin at the beginnin' an' not git all aback an' in stays an' afoul o' my own hawse by beginnin' tail en' fust. 'Twas 'long back in '59, purty long spell ago, an' the bark Janet, hailin' from Westport, was a-cruisin' fer sparm in the Pacific 'long 'bout the equator an' 'bout a hundred an' ten west. Eve'ything'd been a-goin' fust rate an' one o' the boats made fast to a bull whale late in the arter-noon and by the time he'd spouted blood an' turned fin-up, 'twas purty near night. Wall, they got their fluke-chain round the critter all right an' was a startin' to pull him to the Janet, what was hull down, when a heavy sea caught the boat jes' right an' capsized her. 'Course 'twan't much trouble to right her, but everything they had was lost— kag o' water, biscuits, compass, lantern an' all fittin's—an' while the crew got her right side up in a jiffy they couldn't bail her out 'cause o' the bucket an' bailer bein' gone. An' I tell ye, 'tain't no picnic tryin' to keep a water-filled boat right side up in a heavy sea an' blowin' a holy gale. Some reason or t'other the ship hadn't seen 'em an' they couldn't signal the bark, an' to keep the boat from capsizin' again they lashed the oars 'crost her an' worked her over 'longside the dead whale and done their best to tip her up an' dump the water outen her. But 'twan't no 'arthly use 'count o' heavy seas a-breakin' over 'em an' at last they give up and started a paddlin' their way toward the Janet's lights what was vis'ble. They kep' at it all night, an' come mornm', they found as they was farther off than before, so knowin' they was jus' usin' of their strength for nothin' they let her drift. Nex' mornin' the wind let up a mite an' the sea went down, an' the men managed somehow to capsize the boat an’ git her back on her keel with a bit less water in her, but while they was a-doin' of it, one was drownded. Jes' recollec' that for forty-eight hours these chaps hadn't had nary a drop o' water nor a bite to eat and had been a-lyin' in salt water up ter their armpits and ye can't blame two more on 'em fer goin' crazy. Derned if 'tain't a wonder they didn't all go mad. There they was, driftin' about in the middle o' the Pacific jes' under the line without nothin' to eat or drink an' the nearest lan', Cocos Islan', more'n a thousan' miles away. Not one o' the crew was strong enough to pull oar, but by workin' like blazes they managed for to tear out the boat's ceilin' and lashed it up like a sort o' sail an' started off afore the wind.
"For seven days they sailed on with nothin' to eat or drink 'cause there wasn't so much as a drop o' rain fell, an' all the time under the blazin' sun o' the 'quator. By that time, things got so bad they begun to draw lots an' one o' the men was killed an' t'others eat him up. An' then, jes' as if Almighty God had a-taken pity on 'em, a shower come along an' give 'em plenty to drink. On the eighth day arter being adrift, another man died, but nex' day another shower come along an' a big dolphin flopped right into the boat. Ye can't tell me there ain't no sech thing as Providence arter that, an' every day arter then a bird'd come so clost the men could cotch him, an’ twenty days arter leaving of the whale, they sighted the Islan'. Gettin' ashore, they killed a wild pig and they was a-dinin' like kings often him an' a eatin' of coconuts when the old Leonidas, with Pem Potter aboard as cabin boy, run inter the Cocos fer water an' found 'em."
"That's a fine story," declared Tom. "It does seem as if they were saved by a miracle."
"Yes, and if any one read it in a book they wouldn't believe it," added Jim.
"Tha's right," commented one of the New Bedford boat steerers. "Me, I myself, one time mek long row in da whale boat. Mebbe you like hear heem, yes?"
"Sure we would," Jim assured him. "Go on, Manuel, and tell us the story."
"Alla right," assented the boat steerer, showing his white teeth in a pleased smile. "You know heem, da Pedro Varela schooner, no? Well, two, three year ago, me, myself, I was boat steerer on heem when he mek da cruise for da sPem whale een Atlantic. We mek fine cruise an' fin' plenty whale an' pretty near fill up down by da islan's an' da Cap'n he say he think mebbe he strike two, three more whale an' fill up on da way home. So he mek da course north an', sure thing, we fin' da whale jus' by Bermuda, mebbe leetle way south an' eas'.
"Oh, boy, I, me myself, tell da worl', we fin' heem! One day da lookout, he sing out. ‘There she blow,’ an' da other lookout he sing out same leetle minute, 'There she blow,' an' we see ten, twelve, one dozen mebbe, blowin'. He on'y three boat ship, da Varela, an' da cap'n an' mate an' secon' mate, they all lower. Me, myself, I was in da secon’ mate boat an' got fast da firs'. Long time me, myself, I been whalin' an' never not een my life do I see whale so mad. Oh, boy! Firs' thing he sound, six hundred fathom he go, two line, an' then he breach so dam queek we no can pull in da slack an' he mill an' then, Santa Maria! He mek off all same like he goin' for tow us to Flores. Never, never, do I see one whale go like that. One whole hour he run an' leetle by leetle we draw in an' then, jus' when we think we get heem, da iron draw an' we los' heem. Then we look 'roun' an' no see da Varela nowhere. No, sir, I, me myself, I tell you we los'. Mebbe, we think, da Varela fin' us in da night, so all da night we burn lantern lash to da oar an' stick eet up, but da schooner she no come an' when da day come da mate he say, 'look like we bes' row home, boys.' So we eat leetle biscuit an' drink leetle water an' head nor'wes' and row all day. Nex’ day jus' da same; eat leetle, leetle biscuit, drink leetle, leetle water an' row. Third day—'bout six bell-— biscuit he all finish an' water he finish, too. Then we feel mighty seek, I myself, I tell da worl', an' we row an' row an' 'bout four bell, mebbe, we see smoke. Pretty soon we see da steamer an' come our way an' we signal an' he see an' come near. He spik us an' want tek us aboard, but da mate he ask heem where he boun' an' when he say 'Englan’,’ da mate he ask us eef we want go Englan' an we all say no. So da mate he say we not go aboard, but if he give us grub an' water an' course for New Bedford, we thank heem ve'y much and row home. Da skipper of da steamer he say we crazy, yes, an’ laf; but he give us plenty grub an' water an’ da course and we eat plenty an’ row an’ bimeby we see Gay Head light an' we mek New Bedford."
"Gosh!" exclaimed Jim. "You mean you rowed a whaleboat all the way from Bermuda to New Bedford? How far is it?"
"Me, I don' know, mebbe three, four hundred mile," replied Manuel.
"'Bout eight hundred," volunteered Cap'n Pem. "Purty consid'ble of a row, eh?"
"Shure, 'twas thot!" exclaimed Mike. "B'gorra Misther Potter, did yez iver see a sphirit at say?"
"Nope!" replied the other. "Derned if I hev, 'ceptin’ in bottles."
"Ah, gwan wid yez!" went on the bo'sun. "'Tis not that kind Oim afther mainin' at all, at all. An' if yez hasn't, thin, b'gorra, Oive seen somethin' phwat yez haven't an', be the Saints, 'tis a wonder ye'll admit it. Would yez loike to hear about ut, b'ys?"
"Yes, indeed, Mike," said Tom with interest. "Go ahead and tell the yarn. I'll bet it's a corker."
"Will, thin," began Mike as he stuffed a load of tobacco into his pipe. "'Oi said 'twas a sphirit, but I dunno if 'twas aither—but 'twas somethin’ quare an' sooper-natural-loike. But shure an’ Oim gittin' off me course so Oi'll 'bout ship an’ be afther sthartin' on a new tack. Twas 'bout thirty year ago, afore ships wuz a-talkin' wid woireless, ye moind, an' Oi wuz furrst mate av a wee shmall staymer what wuz afther tradin' 'twixt Cuby an’ Noo Yorrk, an’ proud Oi wuz to be a threadin' the bridge wid the best av thim, Oi'll tell yez. Will, wan thrip, phwat did the skipper do but git took wid the yaller Jack an' doi,—may his soul rist in pace. An' b'gob, there Oi wuz, masther av a trim little ship as iver wuz. Faith though, 'twas a grrand falin', but with a hape o' raysponsibility, b’gorra. Thin, wan night, Oi was a-sittin' in me cabin on the bridge wid the second mate on watch an' a thinkin' o’ the foine future Oi'd be afther havin'—niver dramin', b'gob, thot Oi'd iver be afther a-killin’ say iliphants in the back o’ beyont—bad cess to the dhrink,—whin all av a suddin Oi sees a figure a-sthandin', or a flyin', or a floatin'—faith, Oi dunno which—in the air fornist the port bow o' the ship. B' the Saints! Twas dramin' Oi thought Oi wuz, an' Oi lept up an' rubbed me ois an' says Oi to mesilf, says Oi, 'Sure Mike is it sayin' things ye arre or is it not.' But b'gorra, there she wuz—for 'twas a woman sphirit she wuz—a floatin' or a flyin' along an' a beckonin' to me wid her arrm. Says Oi to the secon' mate' say Oi; 'Misther Thompson,' says Oi, 'will yez look to two p'ints offen the port bow’, says Oi, 'an' tell me do yez see annythin’. 'Aye Sir,' says he, 'Oi see a cloud,' says he, 'an' nothin' more,' says he. So thin Oi thinks to mesilf; 'tis a hallo-sue-nation ye're havin', think Oi, an' Oi looks the other way an', Saints presarve me, if there wuzn't the colleen again, an' as Oi sees her she sort o' flits acrost me bows an' off to port agin, a-beckonin'-loike all the toime. So Oi says to me-self, says Oi, 'Shure Mike, 'tis a predomition ye're afther havin' or a message o' some sort an' the spirit's been sent yez to guide vez.' So Oi says to the second, says Oi, 'Mr. Thompson, starboard the helm a bit,' says Oi, an' as the bow swings to port Oi sees the spirit a-swingin' a bit further 'til me bow's a’headin' six p'ints off me course, an' thin the spirit sthops movin' an' jist floats aisyloike over me bow, so Oi says, 'Steady as she is, Mr. Thompson,' an' bein' a good sailorman he niver asks why in blazes Oi'm runnin' off me course six p'ints. For two hours we run an’ thin, b'gorra, the lookout sings out, 'Ship afire ahead!' an' mere, plain as the nose on me face, Oi could see the glow o' a burnin’ ship, an' with that, the spirit disappears an' Oi know she's been a-guidin' av me to save thim that's on the burnin' ship. Full spheed ahead, Oi rings, an' nearer and nearer we comes, an' we kin see the flames o' the burnin’ ship an' her sphars an' all. An' b'gorra, through me glasses Oi sees folks a-sthandin' aft wid the flames not twenty fate from thim an' no boats over at all, at all. 'Twas a race fer loife, b'gorra, for me staymer was a shakin' an' a throbbin' what wid the spade av her fit to bust, an' the flames a-racin' aft on the barrk. Thin, as I get widin' hailin' distance, a man sings out that there's powder aboard an' the hooker'll be a blowin' up in a minute more. Shure, an’ may Hivin help me, if Oi wuz not in a foine fix! Shure, if Oi wint alongside to save the sowls aboard the barrk 'twould be loike Oi wud lose me ship, an' if Oi didn't 'twould be nothin' short o' murtherin' the folks on the barrk, an divvil a bit o' toime wuz there to be a lowerin' o' me boats. 'Twas between the divvil an' the dape say, Oi wuz, wid the diwil holdin' the thrump carrds. But b'jabbers, Oi made up me mind an' do yez know phwat Oi did?"
"No," cried Tom excitedly. "What did you do?"
"Phwat would yez do, Misther Potter?" queried the bo'sun.
"Derned if I know," replied Cap'n Pem. "Spit it out, ye ol' sinner, what did ye do?" Mike grinned.
"Shure," he replied, "Oi woke up!"
"Dern yer ol' hide!" exploded Pem. "I'll git one over on ye fer that, blowed ef I don't."
"Was you ever shipmates along of a mutiny, Mister Potter?" asked one of the men, when the merriment over Mike's joke on Cap'n Pem had subsided.
"Can't say as I was," admitted the old whaleman. "Heard lots o' yarns 'bout 'em, though."
"Well, I can beat you there," asserted the other. "Cause I was 'board a ship what had a mutiny."
"Tell us about that," begged the boys.
"Well, 'twasn't much of a mutiny," went on the man, "but I guess 'twas 'bout the funniest mutiny ever was, at that. Manuel, speakin' 'bout the Pedro Varela, minded me of it, 'cause that's the ship 'twas on.
"I'd shipped as seaman an' 'thout countin' me an' my two mates an' the officers, what was Portu-gees, every man was a greenie. 'All American crew,' they called it, but I'll bet my lay 'gainst a chew of tobaccer there wasn't two real Yanks in the bunch. Worst set of bums I ever see, an' not casting no reflections on present company. Officers couldn't do nothing at all with 'em—never did learn the riggin’, even though the Varela’s just a fore-an'-aft schooner,—an' didn't have enough gumption to pull a boat decent. Just the same, things went along pretty well an' we got a little oil; but along about six weeks out, the men commenced for to get tired of whalin' an' wanted to get ashore,—grumbled a bit an' cussed the skipper an' all, but no open complainin' an' nothing particular to complain about. Then, one morning, Chips come runnin' an’ a cussin' an' saying his tool box had been stole. Hunted every place, but tools had just nat'rally disappeared. Next morning, along comes the cooper swearin' his tools an' the grinstone'd gone. Next morning, 'twas the blubber-kettles missin' an' by that time things begun to look mighty serious an' funny. Skipper had all hands aft, but every man-jack swore he didn't know nothin' an’ there wasn't no proof that they did. While the Old Man was chinnin' the lookout sighted a whale an' the skipper left off an' ordered the crew to the boats, an' what do you think happened? Why, bless you! There weren't an iron or lance or fluke-spade or any darned thing in any one of the boats. 'Course there weren't no use in lowering, an’ believe me, there was some skyhowlin' rumpus on the old Varela when the Portugee skipper let loose. But he couldn't do nothing. There we was, on the high seas a cruisin' for sPem, an' not an iron on the ship for to get 'em with. An' when we got to searchin' about we found there weren't a spade or a blubber-hook or a cuttin' in tackle, neither. Of course, we all knew what 'twas. That crew of bums had just heaved every darned thing over the side long in the night watches an' knowing if the skipper couldn't catch whales, he'd nat'rally have to make port. Well, there weren't nothing left for him to do but make port so, talkin' something fierce in United States and Portugee, he heads for Fayal swearin' to clap every man-jack in irons soon as he got there. Worst of it was he blamed every mother's son of us, Yanks as well as the greenies. When we made Fayal, there, big as life, was a Yankee cruiser an' soon as we got near, up goes a signal for assistance and a sayin' there's a mutiny on board.
"I dunno whether them navy men was so tickled at the fun of the thing or what 'twas, but the upshot was they had us all aboard an' talked a bit, though I knowed they was a bustin' themselves tryin’ not to laff, an' after a heap of questioning, they let all but eight of us loose an' ironed the others an' took 'em home for trial. I was on the beach but got a ship after a bit an' when I got back to New Bedford I heard the rest of the story. Seemed this 'ere mutiny was a new kind. No law'd ever been made to cover it an' accordin' to law the men hadn't mutinied—didn't use violence nor threaten nobody nor disobey orders— so they couldn't be charged with mutiny. Then the owners tried to get 'em sent up for theft or destroyin' property or most anything, but there weren't no proof of nothing, so the judge finally sentenced 'em for disorderly conduct an' they got ten days each."
"I heerd 'bout that," commented Cap'n Pem. "Wisht they'd been my crew. I'd a-heaved 'em over after them fittin's. Derned if I wouldn't. But look-a-here! It's a-gittin' too late ter be a yarnin' with killin' to begin in the mornin'. All han's turn in!"
An hour later, only the protesting croaks of sleepy penguins and the distant barks of the sea elephants broke the silence that reigned over the island.
CHAPTER X LOST
EARLY the next morning, preparations for the killing began. Armed with clubs, tin pans, flags and pieces of cloth, the men made their way along the beach between the big herd of elephants and the sea, and took up stands at intervals of a few hundred feet apart. Then, at a signal from Cap'n Pem, they advanced towards the elephants, shouting, hallowing, beating on their tins, waving their cloth and flags and jumping and prancing about like a lot of savages. Frightened and surprised at these strange figures advancing towards them, and dazed by the noise and fluttering rags, the huge, timid creatures hobbled and wriggled their way up the shingle, wrinkling their noses and barking in terror and stupidly getting further and further from their native element in their sole desire to keep away from the men. Wedged together in a closely-packed mass, the giant seals impeded one another's progress and added to their terror until, presently, their retreat was a wild stampede towards the higher ground some distance from the sea.
It was a strange and remarkable sight to see these immense, powerful creatures with their strong, sharp teeth striving to escape the men and as frightened as a flock of sheep, when any one of the monsters could easily have crushed a man's head in his jaws with a single bite. To the boys, it seemed pitiful and they were really sorry to think of such harmless, splendid creatures being thus ruthlessly slaughtered merely for the sake of their oil. But their sympathy for the elephants was not as great as it would have been had the animals appeared more helpless and gentle, for despite their timidity, the sea elephants, and especially the old bulls, were savage, ferocious-looking beasts. Naturally ugly, even when at rest, they appeared veritable monsters as their small, wicked eyes gleamed red and bloodshot, their trunklike snouts lifted above their great red mouths, their huge, sharp teeth gleamed and snapped and their snarling barks filled the air with a deafening roar.
Although they had been assured that the elephants were harmless and had been eye witnesses of the fact that the men could walk among them, kick them and even kill them without the least attempt at resistance on the animals' part, yet neither Tom nor Jim could summon up enough courage to approach within reach of the waving, threatening heads and snapping jaws. But the men had no such fears and when, at last, the herd had been driven to the selected spot, they went among them, driving the big, full-grown animals into small bunches and ruthlessly clubbing them over the heads.
As the killing began and the heavy bludgeons thumped on the heads of the elephants, their humanlike sighs and screams, their choking, gurgling death coughs and the terrorized barks of their fellows were more than the two boys could stand. Hurrying from the scene of the slaughter, they made their way past the camp and started up the hillside beyond. It was hard climbing, for the sharp, volcanic rocks made footing uncertain, the scant gray moss and lichens and dried stiff grass were slippery and the hill was steep. Here and there, albatrosses were squatting on the ground and when the boys approached they merely hissed and struck out with their strong, hooked beaks, refusing to move. They were such enormous birds and appeared so vicious with their china-blue eyes and menacing bills, that the boys had no desire to get at close quarters in order to see if they had eggs; but they soon discovered that by shooing at the birds and showing no signs of fear they could force the albatrosses from their nests and they were greatly elated at sight of the enormous, rough, brownish eggs in little hollows of the stony ground. Amusing themselves with the albatrosses, and taking their time, the boys reached the summit of the hill and seated themselves upon a rock ledge to rest. From where they sat, they could look down upon the camp and the beach and could see the men, still busily killing the elephants. But the slaughter evidently was nearly over, and presently, they saw the men stooping over and evidently engaged in stripping the skins and blubber from the carcasses. In the other direction, they looked down upon a sloping hillside ending in a small, bowl-shaped valley which the boys at first sight thought filled with snow; but a second glance showed it to be covered with great white birds.
"I wonder what they are," said Tom. "They don't look like albatrosses and they're not penguins. Let's go down and see."
Rising, the boys were about to descend when their attentions were attracted by peculiar sounds apparently issuing from the earth under their feet.
"What's that?" ejaculated Jim. "It seems to come right out of the ground."
Getting on their knees, the boys searched everywhere among the rocks, expecting to find some strange creature in hiding there, but while they searched diligently, and although the queer grunting sounds continued, they could find no trace of any living thing. Puzzled, they stopped hunting and listened, placing their ears to the ground, trying to trace the sounds, but to no purpose, for the noises seemed to come from all about and were so mysterious and baffling that the boys began to feel nervous.
"It's the weirdest thing I ever heard," declared Tom. "I'm beginning to think the place's haunted."
At last, giving it up as a bad job, the two boys started forward and a moment later clambered down over a projecting mass of huge irregular rocks. The next instant they stopped short, for the baffling sounds came clear and distinct from among the rocks. Approaching cautiously, the boys peered into the dark cavelike openings and the next moment burst into laughter.
'There's the ghost," exclaimed Jim, "I wonder what they are." Far in among the bowlders were several snow-white birds with pretty pinkish or salmon-colored bills and bright, beady eyes. Reaching in his arm, Tom seized one of the creatures, and despite its protests, drew it out and revealed two handsome brown eggs where it had been sitting.
“Oh, I know now," declared Tom. "It's a sheathbill, don't you remember Cap'n Pem pointed them out to us at sea. Look, here's the sheath on its bill."
Satisfied at having solved the mystery of the strange sounds, and having identified the bird, the boys released the creature which immediately fluttered back to its nest, ruffling its feathers and croaking in such an indignant, offended way that the boys roared with laughter. Continuing down the hill, the boys approached the first of the great bird colony in the valley and found they were big, white Molly Mokes and another species of bird which they had not seen before.
"They're some sort of albatrosses," insisted Tom. "But they're not like the others. They're smaller and have bright yellow beaks and they're much whiter."
"Yes, and they've greeny-brown eyes instead of blue," added Jim.
"I'll bet I know what they are," Tom announced. "I've been thinking, and I remember reading about a kind of albatross called yellow-nosed. These have yellow noses so I'll bet that's what they are."
It was a strange sensation for the boys to find themselves surrounded by countless thousands of the big, white birds which showed not the least fear, but pecked boldly at the boys' garments as they picked their way among the nesting birds.
As they gained the farther side of the valley they came to a low, rocky ridge, and curious to see what lay beyond, they clambered up its side and found themselves once more in view of the sea.
"Look at those penguins!" cried Jim, as he caught sight of a great flock of the queer birds. "Gee, but they're big fellows!"
"They're not like the others," replied Tom. "Say, we are finding a lot of queer things to-day."
"And those don't look like sea elephants on the beach either," said Jim. "They look smaller and different, somehow."
"I believe you're right," agreed Tom. "Let's go down and have a look."
As they approached the creatures basking upon the shingle, the boys saw that they were indeed very different from the huge sea elephants, for they were much smaller, they lacked the long snouts and their bodies were darker in color and beautifully spotted.
"Don't let's go too near," exclaimed Jim. "I don't like their looks."
"Oh, don't be a fraid-cat," urged Tom. "They won't hurt us. Of course, we won't go among them. I don't trust them as much as all that."
Rather nervously, but anxious to see the odd creatures at closer range, the boys walked towards the herd of animals and were within a few rods of the nearest when the giant seal suddenly reared himself up, opened a huge red mouth filled with enormous, sharp-pointed teeth, and with a bellowing howl threw himself bodily towards the two boys. Instantly, with terror-stricken cries, the boys turned and fled, never stopping until they were well up the hillside.
"Gosh, but he was fierce!" ejaculated Jim, when they regained their breath. "I told you we'd better not go near."
"You can bet I won't, next time," Tom assured him. "But they're no sea elephants anyhow."
"Let's go along the beach and have a look at the penguins," suggested Jim. "We can keep away from those beasts, back here."
Giving the fierce, spotted seals a wide berth, the two boys descended to the beach and strolled towards the penguin colony. Many odd shells and other interesting things were scattered on the sand, and as the boys stooped to pick some up, they noticed many rounded, glittering pebbles.
"Why, they're moonstones!" exclaimed Tom, "and thousands of them!"
There was no question of it. The beach was strewn with the translucent, handsome stones and the boys busied themselves filling their pockets with the gems. So intent were they, that they failed to notice a low, gray cloud about the mountain top which drifted down towards the shores in little wisps and detached masses until, feeling chilly, Tom looked up and gave a surprised cry. On every side they were surrounded with an impenetrable, dense fog and only a small area of the beach about them was visible.
Seaward they could see the lazy, green rollers coming mysteriously from a gray bank. They could hear the muffled cries of birds and the occasional flapping of wings; but not a sign of the hill or of the mountains could be seen.
"Gosh, we'd better be getting back!" exclaimed Jim anxiously. "It's getting thicker every minute."
Hurrying from the beach, they commenced climbing the hill, but long before they reached the summit the beach and waves were hidden from view and the boys seemed shut in as if by a soft, gray wall.
"We'll have to be careful or we'll get lost," cautioned Tom. "We should have brought a compass."
"What good would that do?" demanded Jim. "We don't know what direction the camp is."
"No, but we could be sure we were not moving in a circle," explained Tom sagely. "But come along, we can find that Molly Moke rookery and then go up the hill and find the cave where the sheathbills are and go straight down from there."
Striving to keep a straight course by listening to the breaking seas at their backs, the boys picked their way over the ridge, and descending the further side, were overjoyed to find themselves among the nesting Molly Mokes.
"We're all right now!" said Tom confidently. "If we walk straight across and up the hill to the cave we can't go wrong. Why, I don't believe we went over half a mile from camp anyway."
Shut in by the dense fog, the boys could hear the disturbed cries of the thousands of birds about them, but the birds themselves were only visible when within a few feet and even then they had a strange, ghostly appearance. Several times the boys actually bumped into them, and they were constantly compelled to turn to right or left to avoid stepping on the birds. But at last, they reached the scattered, outlying nests and found the ground rising before them.
"Funny, this hill doesn't seem half as long as it did before," commented Jim as they gained the summit. "Say, listen! What's that?"
For a moment the two paused, straining their ears to catch a faint sound that issued from the fog ahead. And then, as the truth dawned upon them, they gazed at each other in dismay. The noise was the breaking waves. They were back at the spot from which they had started. They had walked in a circle and were lost! Presently, however, as they recovered from the disappointment and shock of their discovery, their confidence returned.
"We'll have to try again," declared Tom. "We must have got turned around among those Molly Mokes. I've a scheme, Jimmy. When we get there this time, we'll separate a little and one of us will walk ahead a few yards and then stop, and then the other can walk straight to him and then stop and the other can go on ahead as far as he can be seen and stop and in that way we might be able to go pretty straight. Anyway, we won't go in a circle."
"That may help," admitted Jim, "but we'll have to kick the birds out of the way to do it."
"Bother the birds!" ejaculated Tom. "We've got to get to camp."
"I wonder how long fogs last here," said Jim as once more they made their way up the ridge. "Perhaps if we just waited a while it would lift."
"I don't know," replied the other, "but I heard Cap'n Pem say that sometimes the island's foggy for weeks at a time."
Once again they reached the Molly Moke rookery and at once proceeded to put Tom's plan into practice. By shoving the birds out of their path and ruthlessly trampling on the eggs, the boys made their way across the valley in a fairly direct line; but as they gained the slope of the hill a sudden misgiving seized Jim.
"Say, Tom," he exclaimed, "how do we know we've crossed in the right direction? Don't you remember the hill went all around the valley— it was like a big bowl—and we may be on the opposite side from where we came down."
"We can't help that," stated Tom. "When we get to the top we'll mark the spot and walk to the right 'til we find the sheathbills' cave and if we don't find it, we'll come back and try to the left."
Toiling up the hillside, panting with the exertion and soaked to the skin by the clinging moisture, the two boys at last reached the summit.
"Perhaps they'd hear us in camp if we yelled," suggested Jim.
But their cries seemed muffled in the fog and no answering call came to them, so, piling several stones in a little pyramid, the two turned to the right and carefully picked their way along the rocky ridge.
"We didn't come over at this place, I know," said Jim decisively as they came to a jagged, upstanding mass of rock.
"No," admitted Tom. "but it may have been just a little to one side of the place where we did cross. Come along."
In order to pass the ledge, the two boys were compelled to descend a short distance on the hill and so dense was the fog on the summit that the rocks disappeared from sight ere they had taken a dozen steps. Judging that they passed the obstruction, they once more turned up the slope and tramped on, hoping each moment that they would be in luck and would come upon the pile of bowlders where they had discovered the sheathbills.
"Say, we must have been way off our course," panted Jim at last. "We've been walking for half an hour and seems to me we're going down hill."
"I thought that too," replied Tom, "but I guess it's just the effect of the fog."
For ten minutes more, the boys continued and then, coming to a mass of fallen rock, they found further progress barred by a bold perpendicular cliff.
''Well, we can't go any further," observed Tom. "Now we'll have to go back and try the other direction."
"I'm going to rest first," insisted Jim. "There's no use in getting all tired out."
Seating themselves upon a piece of rock, the boys were talking over their predicament when, suddenly, there was a cracking sound. The boys felt their seat moving and leaped aside as the mass of rock gave way and went crashing down the hill. But while the boys had saved themselves from an injury, yet they had not saved themselves from a tumble, and as they jumped from the rock their feet shot out from under them and rolling and sliding, they followed after the stone for a dozen rods before they could check their headlong course.
At the same instant they heard a tremendous crash from below followed by a shout:
"Hi, there! What'n tarnation's broke loose? Derned ef the whole mounting ain't a-tumbling down!"
With wild yells the boys leaped to their feet, and regardless of danger, raced down the hillside. Before they had covered a hundred feet they reached level ground and plumped full into Cap'n Pem, bowling the old man over like a ninepin.
"Avast there!" spluttered the old whaleman. "What in thunderation's up? Fust a chunk o' mounting an' then you two scallawags! What in Sam Hill ye in sech a hurry fer? Bear a chasm' on ye?"
"No," stammered Tom. "We were lost. Where are we?"
"Where be ye?" reiterated the old man. "Where be ye? Why, right 'longside o' the shack a course. Where'd ye think ye wuz? Derned queer way ye have o' comin' home!"
CHAPTER XI A STRANGE MESSAGE
THE boys actually had tumbled into camp from the hill behind the shack, and they joined heartily in the laughter of the men, when they related their story of being lost in the fog.
"Shure, an’ Oi wuz a-sayin' to Misther Potter that maybe yez was lost," Mike affirmed, "an’ 'twas meself what wuz for goin' afther yez if yez didn't turrn up soon."
"Gid out!" jeered Cap'n Pem. "Ye'd be a fine one ter go gawallupin’ over these 'ere hills with that there wooden lig o' yourn. Know'd the boys 'ud git in ship-shape."
"B'gorra thin, Oi could do as well as yez at anny rate," insisted Mike.
Cap'n Pem snorted, but forbore a retort and warned the boys against taking any risks in the future.
"Don't ye never go off without a-takin' a gun an' a compass," he commanded them. "An' ef ye go out o' sight o' camp, mind ye watch the way ye're a-goin' of. ‘Tain’t no jokin’ matter ter git lost here. It's a heap bigger islan' than ye think an' fog's li'ble ter come on any time."
When the boys told of their experience with the big seal-like creatures, Cap'n Pem laughed uproariously.
"Them's sea leopards," he told them. "Lucky ye didn't git too clost, they ain't like these 'ere elephants. Bite ye quicker'n Jack Robinson, 'bout as fierce as a lion an' mighty touchy too."
"Aren't they good for anything?" asked Tom. "Do you ever kill them?"
"Hides is wuth somethin'," replied the old man, "but ain't got enough blubber ter make 'em wuth the danger o' killin' of 'em. Time was, when we used fer to hunt 'em an’ fur-seals, too. But 'ain't nothin’ in it now, with elephant ‘ile so high."
Cap'n Pem also explained that the big penguins they had seen were King Penguins and that the moonstones, though pretty, had little value.
"Whole beaches on 'em over ter Kerguelan," he told them. "Took up derned nigh a bucket full on 'em one trip. Couldn't sell 'em fer 'nough ter keep me in terbaccy. Guv 'em all ter the wimmin folks."
Boiling was going on when the boys reached camp, and after eating, for they were ravenously hungry, they watched the operation for some time and then made their way towards the spot where the men were stripping the blubber from the last of the dead elephants. Everywhere, the enormous raw carcasses were scattered about, and, almost hiding them from sight, were thousands of albatrosses, Molly Mokes and other sea birds, screaming and quarreling over the feast and tearing the flesh from the bones with their powerful bills. So bold were the birds that they frequently swooped down and attempted to carry off pieces of blubber under the noses of the working men and one man constantly was kept busy shooing and beating them off.
"Wouldn't they clear out if you shot some of them?" inquired Tom.
"Yep, I expect they would," replied a boat steerer, "but we need 'em an' don't want to drive away. What'd we do with all them there dead elephants if 'twan't fer them birds? Why, they'd smell so ye couldn't live on the islan', an’ a breedin' plague."
"Do you mean the birds will eat them all up?" asked Jim in surprise.
"Sure thing," declared the sailor, "less'an a couple o' days there won't be nothin’ but bones left."
The boys could scarcely believe that the birds could completely devour the mountains of flesh before them, but long before the expiration of the two days only the clean picked bones of the elephants marked the scene of their slaughter.
As it was light through the night, the work of boiling was carried on unceasingly, the men working in watches or shifts, as on board ship, and by the second day they were ready for another drive and kill.
Although practically all the large elephants had been slaughtered the first day, yet there seemed to be no decrease in the numbers which came up the seashore daily, and the second killing was even larger than the first. Cap'n Pem and the men were elated, for the great number of elephants argued well for a full cargo of oil, and the old whaleman couldn't say enough in praise of the policy of the British government in having restricted the killing and extermination of the creatures.
"Las’ time I was here," he informed them, "they'd got so pesky skeerce ye couldn't make a kill o' a dozen a week an' now look at 'em. Jes' a crowdin' o' thersel's up, a-waitin' ter be killed. Looks like as though they ac't'ally enj'yed it."
Not forgetting Cap'n Pem's injunction regarding gun and compass, and usually carrying a lunch with them, the boys spent their days wandering over the hills, exploring the island, gathering eggs from the more remote bird colonies, so as not to frighten away the scavengers near camp, and having a glorious time by themselves. They had discovered several small ponds among the more distant hills and here, to their surprise, they found a number of small teal-like ducks. These proved excellent eating and a most welcome change in the camp diet and the boys made almost daily visits to the place. On another occasion, they had found a rookery of the Antarctic fur seals and spent hours watching the big, gentle-eyed creatures frolicking and playing about. Twice too, they had clambered far up the mountain side and had gazed forth upon the vast panorama that was stretched beneath them. Rugged and gray, their own island spread itself below their feet, and on the horizon—some visible across lanes of gray sea that from the height seemed narrow, others but hazy clouds against the sky and others only distinguishable by their lofty peaks—were many other islands of the group. The boys, who had spent hours poring over charts of the Antarctic, knew many of them by name, such as Governor Livingston, Scotts, Clarence and Deception. The latter was the island to which the Hector had gone and the boys spent much time in speculation as to the success the men were having there and how soon the bark would return.
But best of all, the boys loved to visit the rookeries of albatrosses, penguins and Molly Mokes that by now were filled with ungainly, grotesque and mirth-provoking fledglings.
It was while they were on their way to one of these, several weeks after their adventure in the fog, that the boys saw a big Wandering Albatross acting in a most peculiar and unusual manner. The bird was standing upon a pile of rocks and was spreading and flapping his enormous wings as if trying to fly, but he would rise only a few feet above the ground before he again dropped back. Then he would reach down, peck at something in the rocks as though feeding, and again flap into the air for a short distance again to repeat the whole performance.
"What do you suppose he's doing?" asked Tom in puzzled tones. "He acts as if he'd found something and couldn't make up his mind to leave it"
"Come along and see," suggested Jim, and curious to know the reason for the big bird's actions, the two turned aside and clambered over the rock-strewn hillside towards the albatross.
Much to the boys' surprise, he apparently paid little heed to their approach, but continued his remarkable behavior until they were within a few yards. Then, to their amazement, they saw that the bird was fastened to the rocks by a piece of rope or line.
"Why, he's tied down!" exclaimed Jim. "I wonder who did that."
"I can't imagine," replied Tom. "But it's a shame! He'll just beat himself to pieces, or die of thirst and starvation. Come on, let's untie him."
But to release the bird was more of an undertaking than they bargained for. Every time the boys tried to approach, he would strike viciously with his enormously powerful wings, hiss like a gigantic snake and lunge savage, snapping thrusts with his strong, hooked beak.
"Gee, he is ugly!" cried Tom. "I've half a mind to leave him."
But having once determined to free the bird, the two were not to be worsted so easily. Taking off their coats, and with Tom holding his sheath knife ready, the two boys made a sudden dash at the albatross, and while Jim threw his jacket around the bird's head and held his neck, Tom protected his head from the blows of the wings, and stooping quickly, cut the line. Then, leaping back, they watched the great bird as he flapped upwards with cries of triumph and sailed off out of sight.
"Ungrateful old brute!" laughed Jim. "Acts as tickled as if he'd got loose all by himself."
"I wonder what he was tied to," put in Tom. "Hello! Look here, Jim!" Reaching down in a crevice of the rocks, Tom drew out a bundle, or roll of frayed and weather-beaten tarred canvas attached to the stout, hemp lead-line which had bound the albatross.
"Well, that beats all!" exclaimed Jim as the two boys examined the package curiously. "It must have been tied to the bird's leg and got wedged between the rocks when he alighted. What do you suppose it is!"
"Search me!" replied the other. "Let's open it and see."
Drawing his knife, Tom proceeded to slash through the rope that was wrapped and tied about the bundle and then commenced to rip out the tightly drawn stitches with which it was sewn.
"Whoever sewed this didn't intend it to get away in a hurry," he remarked as the first layer of heavy canvas fell back and disclosed another beneath it.
"Reminds me of the pill-boxes the druggists have," supplied Jim. "Just one inside of another right down to a tiny one. Perhaps that's all this is."
"Nobody'd take the trouble to sew it all up and tie it to a bird's leg unless 'twas something important," declared Tom decisively. "I’ll bet there's something mighty interesting in it."
Two more layers of canvas were removed, and as the last was pulled away, the boys saw a brass tube, or cylindrical box, with both ends stopped with wood.
"That's a funny looking thing," commented Tom as he turned it about. "Looks like a—gee, I know what 'tis! It's part of a telescope."
"Perhaps there's something in it," Jim suggested excitedly. "Open it and see."
After some difficulty, Tom pried out one of the wooden plugs and tipped up the cylinder, but nothing dropped out. Then, as he peered within it, he cried out, "Gosh! There is something in there."
Inserting his finger in the tube, while the nerves of both boys tingled with expectancy, Tom drew out a roll of some crinkled, whitish-yellow material which they thought, at first, was paper.
"Hurrah! It's a message!" shouted Jim. "Gee, we're in luck!"
Spreading the parchment on a smooth rock, the two boys studied the indistinct characters upon it, but for some time could make nothing of them. Gradually, however, they began to recognize letters, and slowly and with much hesitation and difficulty spelled out the following:
"Two hoo shal fine these leter for God sak save mee. i am reckt on a illan west off elyfant illan in the soth shetlans yu kan tel the won by too piks stikin up on the eas end i am seemans off the brig ellen of st Helena we was kroosin an see a worship she was a gurman an sink us an fir on the botes i was hit an wen i cum two i seen-nothin I drifted a long tyme an most starf an dye of thurst wen I seen Ian i no it was the soth shetlans cuss i bin theyre bfour too kil elyfonts mi bot drift one these ilant an I find a ole hut I bin her long tym an I am sik mi wun want heel i muss dy if non resku me I amm goin two ty this to a allybtros whut i haf cot mae god dyrect it too sum crishun an knot two a hun. yurs respekfuli
"Sam Holt "p. S. i think this is disemper but I do not sur i los trak ov tym wile i byn sik."
For an instant, the two boys sat speechless, absolutely dumbfounded at the story disclosed by the parchment so miraculously secured.
"Gosh, he's right near here!" cried Tom, at last. "Say, we've got to hustle down and tell Cap'n Pem. Perhaps we can rescue him!"
Dashing as fast as they could over the rough ground, risking broken bones and bruises, forgetting all except to tell the old whaleman of their discovery, the two boys jumped, leaped, scrambled and ran, until, breathless and exhausted, they rushed into camp and hurled themselves on the old man.
"Gosh all mackerel!" ejaculated Cap'n Pem. "What'n tarnation's up now? Seed a ghos'?"
"Oh, Cap'n Pem!" panted Tom. "We found a message—a letter—there's a man—shipwrecked —on an island."
"West of here!" Jim went on as Tom paused for breath. "See, here's the message—found it on an albatross. Can't we save him?"
"What?" ejaculated Cap'n Pem, while a number of the men gathered about attracted by the boys' excitement. "What's that ye're a sayin'? Man shipwrecked? Found a message on a albatross, eh? Blow me ef 'tisn't!"
Then, having recovered themselves, the two boys rapidly told their story, while the old whaleman studied the message.
"B'gosh!" exclaimed Mike, "'tis a missage all right, all right. Shure, b'ys, we'll be afther a rescuin’ av him."
"Derned if we won't!" cried Pem. "Nobody can't say as any Yankee whaleman ever lef’ a shipwracked mate fer to die 'slong's he could help it. Dern them Germans' hides! Wisht I could git at 'em! Here you, Mike, call all han's! I'm a goin' fer to ask fer volunteers. An' git the boat ready fer the v'yge. Stow away 'nough grub an' water fer a week an' med'eines an' grog, an’ clo's an' blankets. Like as not thet there feller ain't got none."
Then, as Mike stumped off to carry out his orders, Pem bustled about, giving directions, leaving orders as to work to be done while the boat was away, and between times, cursing the Germans with quaint oaths.
"Reckon like as not he's died long ago," he muttered half to himself. "No knowin' when he writ thet letter."
"But it says December," Tom reminded him. "And this is only the second week."
"Yep, I knows it," replied the whaleman. "But he says he ain't no ways sure an he don' say what December. Like as not 'twas las' year or year afore. 'Spect we'll have all our trouble fer nothin'."
Then, addressing the men who had gathered about, Cap'n Pem told the story of the boys’ find in a few terse words and called for volunteers to make the trip. Every hand went up instantly.
"Bile me ef I didn't know 'twould be thet way!" cried the mate. "Might as well saved myself the trouble. Got to pick ye out, anyway!"
Hurriedly running his eyes over the men, he picked four of the strongest and best, and all men from New Bedford. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he turned to the one-eyed man, Ned.
"Here, you!" he snapped out. "You've been a sojer. Know anythin' 'bout doctorm'?"
"Yes, sir, a little, sir," replied Ned respectfully. "I was in the field hospital over there, for a time, sir."
"Thought so!" ejaculated the mate. "All right, come on, men, git a move on!"
"But can't we go?" cried Tom.
"Nope, no place fer youngsters." Then, as he noticed the crestfallen look on the boys' faces, he suddenly relented.
"Oh, blow me! All right!” he burst out. "Hadn't been fer ye we wouldn't a-been a-goin'. Reckon ye gotta right ter go. Come along!"
To the accompaniment of lusty cheers from the men, the boat was pushed off, the five oars took the water, and with a "Give way boys!" from Cap'n Pem, the rescuers headed for the open sea. Straining at their oars as though they were going on a whale, the men fairly lifted the speedy whale-boat through the water, while, in the stern, Cap'n Pem stood grasping the huge steering oar and ever and anon urging his crew to even greater efforts. Rapidly the beach was left behind, and swinging the boat to the westward and rounding a projecting, rocky point, the old whaleman steered a course for the hazy outlines of a distant island.
"Reckon thet's the one," he remarked. " 'Pears to me I recollec' them there needles. Used ter call 'em the donkey's ears."
For hour after hour the boat sped on. Elephant Island grew dim in the distance and more and more distinct became the island ahead. Gradually, from the mist it took form and shape. The boys could see the rugged, central volcanic cone; little by little the lower slopes became visible, and at last, Tom gave a shout of joy, for looming up from the sea at one end of the island were two steep-sided, conical peaks.
"Thar she be!" announced old Pem. "Give way, lads! If that poor lad's a livin’ he'll likely be a sightin' of us purty quick."
Half an hour later, the island loomed close ahead and the boys strained their eyes in an effort to make out the hut in which the castaway had lived. But not until they were within half a mile of the shore did they see it; a little, tumble-down shanty of gray, weather-beaten boards and ragged flapping sail-cloth tucked into a corner of the rocks and so nearly like them in color that it was scarcely distinguishable. But search the beach and rocks as they would, they could see no sign of life, and their spirits fell, for all began to fear that they had arrived too late, that the bleaching bones of the wounded castaway would be all that they would find. Running their boat upon the shingle, the crew leaped out, and led by Cap'n Pem, hurried towards the house, hallooing as they went. Then, when within a score of paces from the hut, a crazy, makeshift door swung open and a man stepped forth. And at sight of him, every one stopped short and gazed in amazement. The man was a gray-headed, coal-black negro with a wooden leg!
"I'll be everlastin'ly dumbswizzled!" burst out Cap'n Pem. "Derned ef we ain't shipped another peg-leg!"
The next instant the old negro rushed forward and threw himself upon the beach groveling at Pem's feet.
"Hi, there! Git up!" cried the whaleman. "We ain't no Saints! Jes' o'nary whalemen. How be ye anyhow? Reckon we're in time, eh? Feared we'd fin' ye dead an' gone."
With tears of emotion trickling over his emaciated, ebon cheeks, and with wildly rolling eyes and in broken tones, the negro poured out incoherent thanks and blessings and was so overcome that two of the men were obliged to carry him bodily into the shack. Here, on an improvised couch of moss, dried seaweed and bird skins the castaway was placed, and Cap'n Pcm hurriedly poured a stiff draft of whiskey down his throat while Ned and the men quickly kindled a fire and proceeded to heat coffee and tinned soup. Between the liquor and the steaming food the old negro quickly revived and managed to control his emotions somewhat. Cap'n Pem told him how they had learned of his plight, but by Ned's command he was not permitted to talk; although all were filled with curiosity to learn his story, and the castaway was compelled to content himself with muttering, "Thank de Lord A'mighty! De Lord shure does watch over his pore sinners! Oh, Lor' is I save' at las'!"
"Doc," Ned, as the men called him, declared that the castaway was in no condition to be moved and that he must have several days of rest and good feeding before undertaking the trip in the open boat. The wound of which he had spoken in his message, had partly healed, but he was very-weak from suffering and lack of food and now that he was rescued he seemed quite content to lie still and be nursed back to health and strength. Gradually too, he told them of his life upon the island: how he had managed to eke out a living by catching crabs and shellfish, and later on by albatross and penguin eggs; and how he had captured the albatross and had utilized a broken telescope which he had found in the hut as a box or container for the message.
"How did you happen to think of sending the message that way, Sam?" asked Tom. "There wasn't one chance in a million that any one would find it."
"I seed a ship a-sailin' away fra El'funt Islan’," replied the negro, "an' I knows as how she must'a' lef men there an' I knows as how these albatrosses do smell dead meat for a pow'ful long ways, an' I thinks like as not if you was a killin' the el'funts this ol’ bird mought go over yander for de food an' some man mought see the canvas a-danglin' from he laig an' cotch he; an' praise the Lord A'mighty, you did."
Cap'n Pem was anxious to return to the camp as soon as possible and fumed and grumbled, although "Doc" Ned declared that three days should be enough rest for Sam with the good care he was receiving. But when the third day came, a gale was blowing and lashing the sea to fury and departure was impossible.
"Ding-bust the weather!" exploded Cap'n Pem, when on the next day, the gale still howled about the shack and cold rain and sleet beat like shrapnel on its roof. "Didn't I tell ye we'd have bad luck, —arter that there bo'sun bird come aboard! Wouldn't be s'prised ef this 'ere dumfoozled sto'm lasted all summer. Reckon we'll be shipwracked oursel's here!"
"But we haven't had bad luck,” Jim reminded him. "I think we've had mighty good luck, to get that message and save Sam."
"Hadn't begun, then," contended the whaleman.
"Got ter have a beginnin' sometime. Bet ye we gets wuss an' wusser from now on."
But despite Cap'n Pem's dismal forebodings, the next day was fine, the gale had blown itself out, and while the seas still ran mountain high, they were rapidly decreasing. Two days later Cap'n Pem declared the sea had moderated enough to set out and with one of the men helping Sam —for he was still weak—the party launched the boat and headed for Elephant Island. It was hard pulling against the head sea and as there was no favorable wind, the sail could not be used and the men strained and sweated at their heavy oars. But gradually the little island faded into the distance and each moment Elephant Island loomed nearer and plainer ahead. At last they gained the lee of the land, and keeping close inshore, pulled towards the outstanding cliffs which concealed the harbor. As the boat came abreast of the point the spars of a ship came suddenly into view.
"Hurrah! The Hector’s back!" cried Tom. "Derned if she is!" exclaimed Cap'n Pem. "That's a brig. I’ll—" but his sentence was never finished. From the direction of the shore came the sounds of a volley of gun shots.
"What'n tarnation." roared the old whaleman. "Give way, lads! Lift her! Fightin's broke loose yonder!"
CHAPTER XII THE RAIDERS
MEANWHILE, upon Elephant Island, things had not been going well. For the first two days after the departure of Cap'n Pem and his boat, the work of killing and boiling had gone on as usual, although on a smaller scale owing to the lack of men. Then, on the third day came the terrific storm which had prevented the rescuing party from returning. Within a few hours after the screeching, howling gale had first burst upon the island, the flimsy shacks, erected for summer weather, had been completely wrecked; the tremendous seas had swept far up the beach and had carried away the try-works and had smashed and broached many of the casks of oil, and Mike and his men had been compelled to perform Herculean labors to save anything from the fury of the tempest.
By dint of incredible exertions they had managed to construct a rude shelter from the wreckage and had saved the rest of the oil and most of the supplies; but when the storm finally abated, the drenched, tired and shivering men looked upon a scene of desolation. The beach was littered with staved casks, boards, boxes and ruined supplies. Masses of wave-driven kelp and flotsam were piled high where the try-works had stood; the planks and canvas of the hut were scattered about and not a sea elephant was in sight.
Mike shook his head as he surveyed the devastated camp. "B'gorra!" he exclaimed. "Faith an' 'tis the doin's o' the bo'sun burrd—bad cess to him! An' be the same token 'tis worrit Oi am over Misther Potter an' thim others. Foive days now, an’ diwil a soign av thim. Beloike an' they wuz caught in the big wind, 'tis dead they be."
"Mister Potter, he put da grub an' da water for week.” Manuel reminded him.
"Shure 'tis thrue ye're sp'akin' Manny," replied Mike in relieved tones, "an Oim a blessed phool fer thinkin' Misther Potter's a lan’ lubber for to be a-sthartin' out in the tathe av a storrm. Faith though, but 'twill be a sorrer sight for thim to say whin they come. An' not a say iliphant in sight. B' Saint Pathrick Oi belave the storrm's afther drowndin' av thim all.”
Then, ordering his men to pick up everything they could and to endeavor to get some order out of chaos, the bo'sun with the cook and one man turned to the demolished hut and endeavored to rebuild it so it would be fit for occupancy when the boat returned. They were still busily engaged at this two days later when a shout from one of the men interrupted them, and gazing seaward they saw a sail above the horizon. For a time they could not determine whether it was approaching or not, but it was a square-rigged vessel beyond a doubt and when, after half an hour of steadfast watching through the glasses, Mike knew that it was heading towards the island, he shouted, "B' gorra, lads, 'tis the Hector! Shure she's ahid o' toime a wake an' more. ‘Tis good luck she must'a' been afther havin'. Three cheers, me hearties! 'Tis homeward boun' we'll be to-morrer!"
But scarcely had the three hearty cheers died down when Mike's countenance fell, for through the binoculars he could now see that it was not the Hector but a brigantine.
"Worra be!" he bemoaned. " 'Tis disapp'intment, me lads! 'Tis a brig b'gorra! Now phwat does be want here, at all, at all?"
Rapidly the oncoming vessel approached and presently all could see that it was a small brigan-tine and by her build and rig they knew it was not an American ship.
"Phwat in blazes arre the furriners a-buttin' in here fer!" demanded Mike and, addressing no one in particular, "Shure 'tis throuble enough we're afther havin' av our own. An' if it's afther say iliphants they be, 'tis none they'll be foindin', an' if they wuz 'tis divvil a bit Oi'd be afther lettin' av thim sthop here. B'gob, ain't they islan's enough an' to sphare widtout a callin' on us wid no invetashun?"
Curious as to why the stranger should be making for the island, for she flew no signals, the men had ceased their work and stood gathered near the hut watching the brig.
"Mebbe he come for get da 'ile," suggested Manuel. "Eef he see we here firs', mos' like he go da other islan’."
"Faith an' he will, thot!" declared Mike. "’Tis two's a crowd here. Well b'jabbers we'll soon be afther knowin'. He's dhroppin' av his anchor."
Hardly had the brig swung to her anchor before a boat was lowered and manned, and six men came rapidly shoreward.
As it neared the beach, Mike stepped forward, and followed by two or three of his men, stumped down to the water's edge.
"Shure an' what moight it bay that ye're wantin’ here?" he demanded as the boat's keel grated on the beach.
The steersman,—a huge, raw boned mulatto in ragged, dirty clothes and with a great livid scar on one cheek, looked the bo'sun over contemptuously and his mouth widened in a twisted smile, disclosing broken, yellow fangs.
"Whadda matter wi' you, Pat?" he replied insolently.
Mike grew purple and his gray whiskers bristled.
"Kape a civil tongue in yer head, ye dhirty nagur!" he fairly roared. "B'the Saints, if yez is a-lookin' fer throuble yez'll be afther foindin' it widout lookin' far, ye spade-faced, mud-colored, bilge-rat!"
"Haa!" sneered the other. "Da Irish no like da vees'tor, eh? He no mek welcom’ da other fellas. Hmm! Eet look laik you have pretty good luck already. Plenty kill an' b'il down an' plenty 'ile mek an’ in cask. Hmm! You tink you owna dis islan', Micky?”
Fairly bursting with rage at the man's insolence and manner, Mike took a stride forward with doubled fists, but one of the boat's crew rose to his feet, swung his huge oar and aimed a crashing blow at the bo'sun's head. Mike sprang aside in the nick of time and as he did so, the men in the boat leaped ashore, significantly hitching their sheath-knives forward as they did so, and Mike, realizing the futility of resisting them unarmed, beat a hasty retreat. Shouting derisive insults at him, the mulatto boat steerer turned and signaled to his ship, and a moment later, another boat dropped to the water and came speeding shoreward.
With his men gathered about him, Mike spluttered and fumed, alternately cursing the newcomers and berating his men for a lot of cowards for allowing them to land.
"B'Saint Pathrick” he roared. "Arre yez men or jelly-fish to sthand there an’ see yer bo'sun sassed by a slinkin' black haythen av a half-breed Portugee? Shure an' ain't the foive av yez an' mesilf a match fer thim twilve sn'akin' rats? An' ye wid sphades an' irons an' guns handy!"
"Beggin’ yer pardon, sir," put in one of the men, "but you're forgettin' 'tis a free islan'. Its not belongin’ to us nor the bark, sir. And there's no reason I seen yet, to put 'em oif."
"Raisin is ut!" fumed Mike. "Raisin! Shure thin do yez be afther thinkin' 'tis honest worruk they're afther comin' here for? Look at thim! Howly Saint Pathrick! The dhirty thaves arre afther st'alin' av the 'ile!"
Mike was right. The boats' crews from the schooner were calmly rolling the oil-filled casks to the shore, evidently with the intention of loading them into their boats. And now that the hostile status of the brig was evident, the Hector’s men no longer hesitated. With set faces and grim determination they seized the nearest weapons,— blubber-spades, elephant clubs, irons, and with Mike shouting encouragement and brandishing a heavy club the five whalemen charged towards the brig's boats. Outnumbering the whalemen three to one, the oil pirates stood their ground, drawing their sheath-knives and seizing their heavy oars in readiness to repel their attackers.
But neither sheath knives nor oars are of much avail against long-handled, razor-edged, blubber-spades or whale-irons and as one of the Americans hurled an iron which buried itself in the thigh of one of the raiders, and the gleaming spades cut down another, the remaining ten men turned tail, dashed to their boats and with frantic strokes pulled from shore barely in time to escape the maddened whalemen. Had they delayed an instant longer, all would have been butchered without mercy, for the whalemen, already soured, surly and ugly from the destruction wrought by the storm, had gone murder-mad when they saw their hard-won, precious oil being boldly stolen from under their noses.
Even as it was, the Portuguese had not escaped unscathed. The one struck by the iron was screaming and struggling unable to move from the heavy iron-pole, while his comrade lay moaning in a pool of blood and with a great, gaping gash in his shoulder where the spade had struck him. Shaking weapons and fists at the rapidly retreating boats, and hurling sneers and insults after them, the victorious whalemen turned their attention to the wounded raiders.
"Shure, 'tis no desarvin' o' pity yez be!" Mike informed them. "But 'tis no haythens we arre. B'gorra, Oil bet yez'll think twoice afore yez arre afther buttin' in an' staylin' o' Yankee sailormins' 'ile ag'in!"
It was no easy matter to extricate the barbed iron from the fellow's thigh and Mike was no gentle surgeon and the man's agonized howls, as the bo'sun cut away the flesh and drew out the iron must have made shivers run down the spines of those on the brig. Carrying the two wounded raiders to the shack, Mike and his men rendered rough first aid and gave no heed to what was taking place on the brig until one of the boat steerers gave a warning shout. Leaving the wounded men, all rushed out to see three boats leaving the brig and heading towards the shore,
"Glory be!" cried Mike. "‘Tis more av the same med'cine they do be afther wantin’! An' b'gorra, 'tis thot same they'll be afther gettin'. Come on, yez spalpeens. Shure it'll take more than twenty av yez to bate foive Yanks!"
Considering that two of his men were Portuguese, Mike's use of the term "Yankees" was rather amusing, but no one noticed it, and indeed, the New Bedford Portuguese considered themselves as much Americans as did Mike himself.
Again seizing their weapons, the whalemen prepared to greet the invaders with a warm reception. But as they approached the water-side two of the men in the forward boat dropped their oars, sprang to their feet and, seizing rifles, fired point-blank at the advancing whalemen. It was lucky for Mike and his men that the Portuguese were poor shots and that their sudden motions rocked the boat; but as it was, the bullets sang harmlessly over the defenders* heads.
Neither Mike nor his men were foolhardy enough to attempt to resist firearms with their weapons, and judging discretion the better part of valor, they retreated towards the hut, while the raiders maintained an intermittent fusillade of bullets. Suddenly there was a dull thud, a sharp cry from Mike and the bo'sun crumpled up and fell to the ground.
Seizing him by the arms, his men were about to drag him to safety when he jerked himself free and rose unsteadily to his feet.
"Bad cess to thim!” he roared. "‘Tis me foine lig they're afther sp'ilin' entoirely! An' thot costin' av sivinty-foive bucks! B'gorra, they'll be afther payin’ fer it or me name's not Mike O'Malley!"
Before they could gain the hut, the marksmen’s aim had become dangerously accurate and the men were compelled to seek safety behind the casks of oil that stood near. Here they squatted, ruefully watching the brig's crew as they hurriedly proceeded to load the oil barrels into their boats.
"Faith, if we had thim guns in the shanty 'twould not be a stalin' so aisy they'd be afther doin’!" Mike declared. "B'gorra, Oi'm thinkin' we moight be afther sn'akin' there an' gettin' av thim. Will anny av yez foller me?"
All four men answered in the affirmative, and throwing themselves flat on their stomachs, the five wormed their way towards the shanty, their movements concealed from the raiders by the tiers of oil-filled casks. In safety they gained the hut and entered, and hastily arming his men with the boys' shot guns and two muskets, and providing himself with the only remaining firearm, a bomb lance, Mike broke open a case of shells and distributed the ammunition to his men. Then, realizing that the range was far too great for the shot guns and also that the flimsy boards and canvas walls of the hut were but a poor protection from flying bullets, the bo'sun instructed his men to crawl back to the shelter of the oil-casks.
Hardly had they done so, when the raiders, having sent aboard to the brig the last of the casks that had been rolled to the beach, started forward, intent on securing those behind which the whalemen crouched. Thinking, no doubt, that the Americans had no firearms, and counting on their retreating without resistance, the Portuguese advanced without firing, but holding their guns in readiness.
Fortunately for them, Mike was far too hotheaded and excited to hold his fire until the raiders were within easy range, and before they had proceeded fifty yards, flashes spurted from behind the casks and bullets and buckshot plowed up the sand and sung through the air about the Portuguese. Utterly surprised at the unexpected volley, the raiders hesitated for an instant, and then fired wildly at the pile of casks. Then, an answering shot spat from the barricade and as two of their number threw up their hands and plunged forward, the raiders commenced to retreat, and when a bomb from Mike's gun burst in their midst, they flung aside guns and fairly raced towards the boat.
Leaping in, they shoved off and bent to their oars, while about them splashed and spattered the bullets of the victorious whalemen.
And then, from those on shore, a mighty shout went up and the beaten raiders turned to see a trim, white whaleboat racing towards them from beyond the point.
Madly they pulled to reach their brig ere they were overtaken by these new enemies. Already the first boat had gained the vessel's side, and panic-stricken, the crew flung themselves over the ship's rails, dropping the painter of their boat and thinking only of safety. But the second boat was too late. When still far from the brig, the Hector's boat was upon them, and, as the raiders glimpsed the grim, heroic figure of old Pem standing with uplifted iron in the bow, deadly fear gripped them and with agonized screams they strove wildly to escape. The next instant the heavy iron hurtled through the air, and as it crashed among them, the men, with one accord, leaped from their seats and plunged headlong into the sea.
"Reckon that finished of 'em!" growled Cap'n Pem grimly. "Sarves 'em right if I speared 'em like pupusses. Wonder what in tarnation's the rumpus is anyhow. Give way, lads!"
Long before the boat had reached the beach, the brig had slipped her cable, her yard had been swung, and as the last of the swimmers pulled himself into her chains, she was standing towards the open sea.
CHAPTER XIII HOMEWARD BOUND
AS the boat grated upon the beach and Cap'n Pem and the two boys leaped ashore, Mike started to relate his story of the raiders and the battle, but in the midst of his narrative his jaw dropped, he rubbed his eyes and then suddenly burst into a roar of laughter.
"Saints presarve us!" he shouted. "Shure an' 'tis another cripple yez are afther bringin',—an' black as the ace o' spades! B'gorra 'tis three av' a koind we are. An' what wid the b'yes, 'twill be a foine full-house we'll be afther havin' on the barrk!"
Then, controlling his mirth with an effort, he related the events of the raid.
"Didn't I tell ye that there bo'sun bird was bad luck!" ejaculated Cap'n Pem. "Fust the storm an' then this 'ere raid. How much 'ile'd they git off with?"
"But who were they?” queried Tom, before Mike could reply.
"Jes' low-down or'nary, black Portugee raiders," exploded the old whaleman. "’T’ain't the fust time they've turned the trick. Derned ef I ain't sorry I didn't spear a few on 'em!"
"Shure, sor, Misther Potter, O'im not countin' av thim casks they took," explained Mike as Pem ceased. " Twas three boatloads they put aboard the brig, but b'gorra Oim thinkin’ 'tis not manny. The most av thim wuz yonder where we druv thim off. An' faith, Oim afther thinkin' the storrm bust more av the casks than the haythens sthole."
But the loss of oil was far greater than Mike had imagined, for when they reached the pile of casks which had served as a barricade, they discovered that nearly every one in the outer tiers was riddled with bullets and that the precious oil had leaked out. Of the hundreds of filled casks which the men had toiled so hard to secure, barely two hundred were left—not enough to grease their boots with, as Cap'n Pem put it.
It was all very discouraging and disheartening, and while Cap'n Pem knew that, had he not gone to rescue Sam, the loss would not have occurred, or at least would have been far less, still he refrained from mentioning it, for to the whalemen the saving of a human life, even if a crippled negro, meant far more than several thousand dollars worth of oil. Mike too, was far more disturbed and disgruntled over the injury to his wooden leg than over the loss of oil or the other misfortunes that had befallen the whalemen, and every man agreed that it was all due to the bo'sun bird having rested upon the Hector's mast.
In fact, the men, as a whole, were very morose and sullen and not a few, including Cap'n Pem himself, expressed doubts of the Hector coming back and declared that if she were wrecked it would be no more than might be expected. It was useless for the boys to try to laugh at their forebodings, or to ridicule them out of their superstitions, for their belief was firmly fixed and the very fact that so many misfortunes had befallen them was proof, to their minds, that they were right.
Indeed, as the boys constantly heard the men discussing the matter and listened to stories of death and disaster following the visits of bo'sun birds to other ships, they found themselves getting nervous. And when, after the Hector was a week overdue no signs of her had been seen, the boys began to fear that something had happened to the bark and that they would be marooned upon the island for an indefinite time. But despite their troubles and superstitious fears, the men went back to their labors and as the sea elephants again began to return to the island they resumed the killing and boiling.
In the meantime, the two wounded raiders were on the road to recovery, although unable to work, but they steadfastly refused to divulge any information in regard to the brig or the raid.
"Wall, I reckon ye'll tell when we git ye back to New Bedford an' shet up in jail," remarked Cap'n Pem. And deciding it was useless to question them further, he dropped the matter.
Then, one day, as the boys clambered over the hillside above the camp, Jim glanced seawards and gave a glad shout. Faint upon the horizon gleamed the upper sails of a ship.
"Hurrah!" he cried. "There's a ship. I'll bet it's the Hector!"
"Maybe it's some other ship," said Tom. "And perhaps it's not coming here at all. Let's wait and be sure before we tell the others."
But the vessel was evidently heading for the island, for gradually sail after sail rose above the tossing sea and each minute the ship became more and more distinct, until the watching boys could see that it was a bark with every sail set.
"It must be the Hector!" insisted Jim. "Come on, Tom, let's go down and tell the men."
But by the time they had reached the shore, Cap'n Pem had already sighted the oncoming vessel and both he and Mike were studying her through their glasses.
"Is it the Hector?" cried Tom. "Oh, do hurry up and tell us!"
"Looks like her,” admitted Cap'n Pem, "but can't say yit awhile. Comin’ dead head-on and can't make her out."
"Shure an' 'tis the barrk all right, all right," declared Mike, decisively. "Oi kin say thot patch on her foretorpsail phwat Oi put there mesilf."
"Derned ef ye kin, ye old liar!" exclaimed Cap'n Pem. "Reckon my eyes is bettetf'n yourn, an' I can't see it."
"Thin ye're oisight's a-failin' yez," replied Mike, with a chuckle, "as well as yer manners, Misther Potter, sor!"
But here further argument ceased, for at the moment the bark altered her course a little disclosing her hull and spars and old Pem slapped his thigh.
"Blow me if ‘tain’t" he cried. "Comin' a sky-hookin', too! Git busy, lads, the Hector's a-comin'! Work lively an’ we'll be home'ard boun' this time to-morrer!"
Elated at the good news, the men fell to with a will and by the time the bark shortened sail and slowly worked into the anchorage, everything was in readiness to be sent aboard. The boys thought they had never seen anything quite so beautiful as the old bark and a wave of homesickness swept over them as the anchor plunged into the sea and the Hector swung to her moorings off the beach. But even before the yards had been swung or the cable had roared out, Cap'n Pem had manned his boat and the boys were speeding towards the bark.
Welcome, indeed, to the boys were the kindly, sunbrowned features of Captain Edwards, the scarred face of Mr. Kemp, the stolid, expressionless face of Swanson, the freckled countenance of the boy and even the rough, unshaven, but well-known members of the crew. It was almost like being home again to be once more upon the decks of the bark and the boys could scarcely believe that they had been away from her for more than two months.
"How are you getting on, boys?" cried the captain as he shook their hands heartily. "Got enough oil to fill up, I suppose."
Then, turning to Cap'n Pem: "Everything ready to come aboard, Pem? How many casks you got? Hope you’ve had good luck. Crew we put ashore on Deception had tough luck. Elephants scarce and whole catch didn't come to two hundred bar'ls."
But the news that Cap'n Pem brought was far from encouraging and the face of the skipper became very grave as he listened to the mate's story of the raid and the loss by storm.
"I expect that's the same ship that's been over to Deception," he said. "The men reported vast quantities of bones from last season. Very likely they intended killing here, and finding the oil and so few men decided to raid it and save the trouble of killing and boiling for themselves. It's an old trick of some of the island Portugees, and with oil so high they could well afford to take risks. Glad you got a couple of 'em. Maybe they'll tell enough so the gang can be broken up. It's too bad, though, the whole catch won't pay expenses unless we have good luck and take whales on the voyage. Well, no use crying over spilt milk. I'm thankful no men are lost. So you found a castaway, eh? If everything's ready, lower the boats and get everything off. I'm anxious to get clear as soon as possible. Don’t like the looks of the glass. I'm afraid we're in for a rip-snorter of a blow."
Rapidly the goods on shore were loaded into the boats and brought off and within a few hours of the time when the Hector had arrived, the last boat load was on board, the boats were at davits, and with the joyous feeling of being homeward bound the crew bent to the handspikes and roared the ever-welcome chorus of:
We're homeward bound, may the winds blow fair.
Good-bye, fare ye well.
Good-bye, fare ye well!
Wafting us true to friends waiting there.
Hurrah, my bullies, we're homeward bound!
Then, as the bark veered to the wind and the great sails filled and the land slipped away astern, the boys looked for the last time upon the desolate Antarctic island with its towering mountains, its wheeling albatrosses, its giant seals and its forbidding shores.
With every stitch of canvas set, the Hector heeled far over to the freshening breeze and plunged forward like a steamer through the seas, with the foaming bow-wave rising to the catheads and acres of yeasty froth streaming astern.
Steadily she raced onward towards the north and still no signs of the approaching storm which the skipper had feared. But the glass was falling steadily, the clouds scurried in wispy shreds across the sky and the waves constantly increased in size.
The following morning, the boys came on deck to find the crew aloft shortening sail, with only the lower topsails and spanker set and the bark wallowing sluggishly to the long, oily rollers running in from the western horizon,
"Looks like a mighty hard blow a-comin'," remarked Mr. Kemp to the boys. "Some wind behind these rollers you can bet.”
Then, hurrying forward, he barked out orders while the crew scurried about, lashing down everything movable, securing the boats and making everything snug. Much to the boys' surprise the negro, Sam, was the liveliest and hardest worker of all and despite his peg-leg, he scrambled aloft like a cat and hopped along on the footropes with the best of them.
Cap'n Pem eyed him approvingly. "Derned if he ain't a proper sailorman," he remarked. "Wisht ev'ry gosh-derned man'd lose a leg if 'twould make 'em good as him."
By noon, the sky had become a deep, sickly, yellowish-gray, the seas had increased to mountainous size, and ever and anon, a sudden blast of cold, chilling wind screeched through the rigging, heeling the bark to her lee-rails, only to be followed by an ominous calm. By now, the bark had been stripped to close-reefed topsails and Captain Edwards and old Pem paced the deck with anxious faces, peering intently into the west, while at the wheel three men were stationed with lashings ready for instant use in case of emergency. Along the rails and between the masts, lifelines had been stretched and everywhere were evidences of preparations for severe weather.
Suddenly, from the lookout forward, came a sharp, warning shout and against the black horizon, the boys saw a streak of milky-white, gleaming like snow against the inky sea.
"Hold fast!" roared Cap'n Pem, plunging to the shrouds and bracing himself. "Git below there, boys! Hurricane's a comin'!"
But before they could obey, the screaming wind was upon them. The boys had a passing glimpse of the steersmen hastily lashing themselves fast, of the skipper wrapping his arms about a backstay, and the next second, they were half smothered under a blinding, roaring sheet of snow and hail. They felt themselves lifted from the deck, their hands were torn loose from their grip upon the companion way; they were whirled, bumped, tossed and rolled head over heels and were sure their last moment had come when, with a resounding thump, they brought up against the mizzen mast and clung to the belaying pins for dear life. Over and over went the bark, until it seemed as if her swaying yards would be buried in the hissing brine and her deck sloped like the roof of a house, while overhead, with the roar of thunder, howled the gale. Then, when the boys thought destruction was inevitable, there was a report like a cannon above them and the great topsail ripped from its bolt-ropes and sped, like a huge bird, into the murk. Gradually and sluggishly the bark righted, her bow swung off, and gathering headway, she sped before the hurricane like a frightened bird. For hour after hour the wind screeched through the rigging and the Hector tore onwards before the gale, burying herself under tons of green water, staggering drunkenly to the summits of the white-crested waves, but gallantly, bravely, weathering the storm. After the first mad onslaught the worst of the hurricane had blown itself out and the boys, clinging to the lifeline, had crawled aft, drenched and half frozen and had taken to the cabin. Then, changing clothes and buttoning pea-jackets and oil skins about them, they again made their way on deck, for life was unbearable in the tossing, groaning, heaving cabin and the boys felt deathly sick as long as they were below.
The storm, however, while severe, was not of long duration and by eight bells the wind had died down, the glass had begun to rise and Captain Edwards ordered the crew to make more sail.
Under her increased canvas, the bark made better weather of it and by night she was sailing easily, but with terrific speed, through the still heavy seas. By the following morning, the sky was clear and blue, the wind had died to a good, stiff sailing breeze, the sea had fallen to a moderate swell and the decks and woodwork glistened like frost as the dried salt sparkled under a brilliant sun.
"Gee, but the old Hector is a wonder, isn't she!" exclaimed Tom, as the boys reached the deck and gazing about saw that there was not a sign of damage from the stress the ship had been through.
"She is, that," replied the captain. "Ships like her are not built nowadays and she's good for another hundred years."
"How about your old bo'sun bird, now?" laughed Jim as Cap'n Pem approached. "According to you we should have sunk yesterday."
"Hump!" snorted the old man. "Don't 'spect one bird kin bring bad luck f'rever, do ye? Reckon he'd oughta be satisfied with all the shennanigans he's kicked up a'ready."
CHAPTER XIV THE BOYS MAKE A DISCOVERY
DAY after day, the wind held fair and steady, and the gallant, old bark hurled herself through the hissing seas as though she knew she was homeward bound and as anxious to see New Bedford light as were the men.
The second day after the storm, sail after sail had been piled onto her and even her stunsails had been set, for the captain's last hope of making the cruise a success lay in securing sperm whales, and he drove his ship at her utmost in order to reach the tropics and the sperm whale grounds as soon as possible.
In order to obtain fresh supplies, the Hector again put into Tristan da Cunha and the boys received a rousing welcome from Paul and Getty. When the story of their adventures on Elephant Island was told, the Potter boys thought Tom and Jim the two luckiest fellows in the world, and they roared with merriment over Mike's amazement at seeing Sam and finding him a negro with a wooden leg. But they were just as firm in their belief that the bo'sun bird was responsible for the ship's bad luck as were Pem and Mike, while their grandfather prophesied that, in his opinion, the bark's troubles were not yet over.
"Boun' to be a death in the bark's comp'ny," he declared. "Never knowed it to fail. Jes' as soon as that happens the curse'll be off."
"Well, there've been plenty of chances to have a death.” Tom reminded him, "and yet there hasn't been. Seems to me, if the bird wanted any one to die he's missed some awful good opportunities."
"Mebbe," admitted old Lem. "But ye never can tell what fate has in store fer sailors. I been to sea nigh fifty year an' I tell ye the more ye see the less ye knows."
But despite their superstitions, the islanders sympathized most heartily with Captain Edwards and all wished him the best of luck and professed confidence in his finding whales and filling up with sperm oil. When the bark hoisted anchor and sailed from Tristan, one member of her company was left behind, for Sam declared his intention of waiting on the island for the yearly mail ship which would take him back to St. Helena.
Three days after the island had dropped below the horizon astern, the lookout on the Hector reported a steamer's smoke ahead, and soon afterwards, the smudge of black was visible to those on deck.
"Can't imagine what she is," declared Captain Edwards. "We're out of the track of merchant ships."
"Maybe it's a German raider,” suggested Jim. "Then Cap'n Pem would crow over us for scoffing at the bo'sun bird."
Scarcely had he spoken when Mr. Kemp hailed them from the crosstrees.
"Warship, sir!" he shouted.
"Gosh, perhaps you're right, Jim!" exclaimed Tom. "Say, wouldn't that be the limit?"
"Jest erbout what I'd be expectin' of," declared Cap'n Pem. "Onluckiest cruise ever I seed. Reckon I'll stick ter shore arter this."
"Better wait till you get there," teased Jim. "If it's a raider you may be killed. Some one's got to die, you know."
"Shet up!" retorted the old whaleman petulantly. "Ain't there 'nough troubles without a talkin"bout bein' kilt?"
But all fears as to the identity of the approaching warship were put at rest a moment later, when the second mate called down that she was British and flying signals.
"Can you read them?" asked the skipper.
"Yes, sir," replied Mr. Kemp.
Slowly he read the flags and called them out, while below. Captain Edwards ran his finger down the code book and, a moment later, with a wild yell, he dashed down the book and seemed suddenly to have gone raving mad.
Throwing his hat in the air, shouting and laughing, the usually staid and dignified skipper danced and leaped about and capered like a schoolboy. Then, leaping to the rail and steadying himself with a grip on the shrouds, he yelled, "Whoop her up, boys, the war's over! Three cheers, my lads —three times three!" And as the good tidings dawned upon them, the crew gave such rousing cheers that even those upon the warship must have heard.
"Up with your ensign, Mr. Potter. Up with Old Glory and salute!" roared the skipper. "And dress ship! Run up everything you can find!"
But already the boys had forestalled Cap'n Pem and before the old mate could reach the flag-locker, Tom was bending the Stars and Stripes to the halliards and a moment later it rose fluttering to the peak. Three times he dipped it in salute to the trim British cruiser, and, an instant later, the Union Jack dipped in return. Long ere the cruiser was out of sight strings of gay bunting were fluttering up to the bark's mastheads and Captain Edwards ordered the Hector hove-to.
"No more work to-day!" cried he, as the yards were swung and the light sails furled. "Summon all hands and tell them it's a holiday, Mr. Kemp. Serve cigars from the after stores, and tell cook to get up the best meal he's ever cooked for the crew. Nothing's too good for this day!"
Never had a more boisterous or uproarious day been spent at sea than that which celebrated the close of the World War on the old Hector, even though the Armistice had been signed two months previously.
A few days later, a whale was sighted and the spirits of every one rose as three boats were lowered, Captain Edwards himself going in one. But despite every effort, not one of the boats succeeded in getting near the whale until after a long and heart-breaking chase. Then Cap'n Pem got fast, but before the other boats could come near, the iron drew and the thoroughly frightened whale disappeared. Crestfallen, the three boats returned to the bark and once more, yards were squared and the Hector plunged northwards on her course. Then followed day after day of light, baffling winds and an oil-like sea upon which the Hector rolled lazily with canvas slatting idly against the masts and with barely enough motion to give her steerage way.
Lolling upon the decks on the fourth day of the sweltering calm, the boys were gazing idly at the lofty trucks as they slowly swung to and fro across the cloudless sky, when Tom suddenly jerked himself upright and stared fixedly at the fore royal yard.
"Gee, it is!" he ejaculated. "Look, Jim, isn't that a bo'sun bird up on the fore royal yard, close to the mast?"
Jim peered at the spot indicated and for a moment could see nothing. Then a slight movement caught his eye and he made out the snowy plumage and long tail feathers of the bird.
"You're right!" he assured Tom. "It's another bo'sun all right. Funny no one else has seen it."
"No one's looked aloft," replied Tom. 'They're all busy on deck and even Cap'n Pem hasn't bothered watching the sails, it's been so calm."
"Well, don't let's tell any one," whispered Jim. "It'll just make them nervous."
But the bird had no intention of not having his presence known, and scarcely had Jim spoken when it uttered several harsh cries. Instantly, every man's eyes were turned to the royal yard and at that moment a second bo'sun bird fluttered down and alighted beside the first. Almost like a dirge, a deep, moaning sigh arose from the crew,
"Gosh!" exclaimed Tom. "That must mean twice as much bad luck to come and three men to die. Cap’n Pem will be—"
"Thar she blows!" shouted the lookout, and instantly the harbingers of misfortune were forgotten as the men rushed to their boats.
Within a mile of the motionless bark, two big sperm whales were swimming lazily, now and then rolling on their sides, occasionally slapping their enormous flukes against the water playfully and evidently utterly oblivious of the enemies so near. Rapidly all four boats were lowered and went speeding towards the whales, and ten minutes after they had been sighted both of the creatures had irons in their sides and were towing two boats each at express train speed. Directly away from the Hector they sped; one to the west and the other to the north, and in an incredibly short space of time the boats were out of sight of the deck. But the lookouts on the mastheads could still see them and constantly reported their doings to Mike, who had charge of the ship.
"Skipper's fin-up!" shouted a lookout presently. "Mister Potter's millin'! Now he's sounded! Breached again! Going in! In his flurry! Spoutin’ blood! Fin-up!"
"Hurrah, they've killed 'em both!" yelled the boys, who had been watching from a point of vantage on the main royal yard. "Now who says bo'sun birds are bad luck!"
"Faith Oi do," replied Mike. " Tis tin good moiles they be an' wid noight a-comin' on. B'gorra, 'tis a foine fix we do be in wid the barrk becalmed. Shure 'tis aither losin' o' the whales or av the ship for thim, loike as not."
Then, as if to prove the ridiculous superstition false, a breath of hot wind stirred the Hector's upper sails; another stronger puff filled the topsails; the glassy sea broke into shimmering crinkled ripples, and ten minutes later, the bark was gliding swiftly towards the distant boats before a steady wind.
Just as the sun was sinking beyond the rim of the sea, the two whales were alongside and by the time darkness fell, cutting-in was in full swing and the black smoke of the try-works rose like a pall above the Hector's trucks.
Throughout the night, the following day and the next night, the work went on without cessation and at the end of the time one hundred and ten barrels of sperm oil had been stowed in the bark's hold.
Once more the captain and men looked hopeful while Tom and Jim teased old Pem and the others unmercifully over their superstition. At first, the old whaleman strove to find some argument or excuse to uphold his belief, but failing in this, he wisely declined to say anything, while Mike, with Irish wit, declared that three always was a lucky number whether bo'sun birds or anything else and that he was sure that their bad luck was over.
Captain Edwards claimed that he never had had much faith in such things and was convinced there was nothing in it, while Mr. Kemp admitted that he never knew of three bo'sun birds lighting on one ship on one voyage before and therefore didn't know what it might foretell. But not even the most superstitious and pessimistic seaman could have found any reason for saying, "I told you so, for the weather held fine until after the bark had crossed the equator and three more whales had been taken and had added their quota of nearly one hundred barrels of oil.
Every one was in high spirits and Captain Edwards felt confident that even if he could not fill up he could secure enough oil to meet the expenses of the cruise when he reached the West Indian grounds. Once more, however, ill luck seemed to be with the Hector. For week after week she cruised about, with lookouts constantly at the mastheads, but never the welcome "There she blows!" sounded from aloft, and once again the men began to grumble and the skipper lost his smile and jollity.
"Guess it's no use, Mr. Potter," he announced one day. "Might as well give up. We're just wasting time and money here,—must be I'm getting too old for a-whaling."
Faint upon the distant horizon, shimmered a small island, and putting his glasses to his eyes the captain studied it intently for a time.
"I expect we'd better run over to Monita yonder," he remarked, half to himself. "There's good water there and coconuts. Might as well fill the casks and let the men stretch their legs ashore before squaring away for Gay Head."
At his direction, the helmsman spun the wheel a few spokes, the bark's head swung towards the island and the boys, elated at thoughts of going ashore, gazed with interest at the little speck of sea-girt land as the bark rapidly bore down upon it. Soon the nodding palms upon the shores were visible, the boys could see the rich, green growth upon the low hills; upon the beach of coral sand they could see the slender thread of white foam and near one end they made out a small stream flowing across the beach to the sea. Never, they thought, had they seen such a beautiful spot as this little West Indian island. They were fascinated by the wondrous blue and turquoise of the sea. The fact that it was uninhabited thrilled them with the boyish love of desert islands, and they were crazy with impatience to get ashore and explore the land beyond the wave-worn rocks that bounded the beach at either end.
Half a mile from the shore, the bark came to anchor, and as the boat was lowered and the boys dropped into it, they uttered cries of wonder and delight at the marvelous scene which met their eyes as they looked over the boat's side. Through the crystal-clear water the bottom, five fathoms below, was as plain as though they were looking through air. Half buried in the sand, was the bark's great anchor with its trailing cable; huge starfish and sponges of every hue dotted the ocean's floor; big purple and violet sea-fans waved gently to an unseen current and about the many-colored masses of coral, gay-hued fish swam to and fro like submarine butterflies.
As the boat grated upon the snowy sand beach, the boys leaped ashore, and yelling like Indians with the sheer joy of the feel of land under their feet they raced up the beach. While some of the men rolled the water casks to the edge of the stream, others proceeded to gather coconuts, while Cap'n Pem seated himself under the shade of a spreading tree, and lighting his pipe lay back upon the soft, warm sand.
Intent upon exploration, the two boys hurried along the beach to the outjutting rocks—stopping now and then to examine some odd specimen of marine life cast up by the sea—and scrambling over the sharp limestone, they found themselves at a little semicircular cove bordered by a second beach.
A few yards from them, a large, irregular grayish object was bobbing about at the edge of the water and thinking it some strange fish or animal, the boys hurried to it. Much to their surprise, they found it to be a mass of curious, porous material unlike anything they had ever seen.
"It looks like pumice-stone," commented Tom. "But there isn't any volcano here."
"And it's soft," announced Jim who had poked it with a bit of driftwood.
"Must be some sort of sponge, I guess," said Tom. "Let's pull it ashore and look at it."
Bringing sticks from the fringe of brush along the beach, the boys tried to drag the stuff ashore, but it broke or pulled apart easily and the sticks could get no hold on it.
"Funny stuff," remarked Tom, as he stooped to examine a small lump he had dragged up with his stick. "Something like water-soaked bread. Hello! Hasn't it got a funny smell."
"And here's a piece of horn or something in it," exclaimed Jim. "Say, let's take this piece back and ask Cap'n Pem about it. They must have some coconuts down by now."
Picking up the small piece of the material which had so aroused their curiosity, they made their way back over the rocks and found the old whaleman snoring.
"Oh, Cap'n Pem!" cried Tom, poking their friend gently in the ribs. "Look here, what's this stuff?"
"Lemme be!" ejaculated the old man. "Derned ef ye ain't a nuisance. Why can't ye 'muse yersel's? What ye want, anyhow?"
"We want to know what this is," explained Tom, holding out the lump of greasy, gray stuff they had found. "There's a big pile of it yonder and we never saw anything like it."
Impatiently Pem raised his head, glanced at the object Tom held out, and the next instant leaped to his feet as if a bomb had exploded under him.
"Jumping Jehosephat!" he shouted as the boys gazed at him in amazement. "Where'n tarnation'd ye git it? Got a lot on it, ye say! Well, I'll be everlastin'Iy biled! What is it? Sufferin' cats, don't ye know? It's ambergris, boys, ambergris, an' wuth five hundred dollars a poun' ef it's wuth a cent! Come 'long, where in Sam Hill is it?"
"Ambergris?" cried Jim as the two boys hurried towards their find, with Cap'n Pem stumping at his top speed beside them, "and worth five hundred dollars a pound! Hurrah! We've got a fortune, Tom. There must be a ton of it."
But although there was far less than a ton of the valuable material, there was enough to make the old whaleman's eyes fairly bulge from their sockets, and, calling on the boys to help, he plunged into the water to his armpits and feverishly rolled and dragged the mass of ambergris beyond the water's edge. Then, floundering about in the shoal water, the three gathered a number of smaller masses which had broken loose, and hunted over every corner of the beach and rocks searching for more, while Cap'n Pem constantly uttered exclamations of wonder and congratulations to the boys.
"Better'n a full cargo o' 'ile!" he declared. "Why, ding bust me! Ye've got nigh onto two hunderd pound here, an' that's a hunderd thousan' dollars—jes' as good as two thousan' bar'l o’ ile. Derned ef ye ain't millionaires! Reckon they're bein't no more. Run over and fetch the men, Tom, and hev 'em bring some o' them casks."
When at last the ambergris was safely secured in the casks and in the boat, everything else had been forgotten, and hastily throwing in the coconuts, Cap'n Pem and the two boys were pulled to the bark. Carefully and with constant cautioning from Cap'n Pem the casks of treasure from the sea were lifted on board and carried aft, where, to the wondering eyes of the skipper and the others on board, the boys' find was exhibited.
"But it's not ours," declared Tom, when the captain congratulated the boys on having made a fortune. "It belongs to the ship. We're officers, you know and we won't take more than our lay."
Despite the captain's protests, the boys were firm in their decision and at last the other gave in.
"Well, have it your way if it pleases you," agreed the captain. "The ambergris weighs a little over 300 pounds so your share of that alone will be about $3,000, each. Looks as if the Hector wasn't so unlucky after all. If we'd taken three thousand barrels of oil—besides what we have—it wouldn't have been worth more than those casks. You've saved the day, boys."
"Reckon I'll have ter knuckle down about them there bo'sun birds," chuckled Cap'n Pem. Mebbe three on 'em does mean good luck, jes' as Mike said."
"Shure an' didn't Oi tell yez 'twas a full-house we'd be afther havin' aboord ship?" exclaimed Mike. "An' b'gorra, 'tis hand to bate thot—burrds or no burrds!"
"Or perhaps it was your wooden leg," laugned Tom. "Dad said the bark was as likely to go to sea with a wooden-legged mate as to come back with a load of ambergris, and it's done both. Gee, won't we have the laugh on him, though!"
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- The Purple Heart of Erlik
- In Memorium
- Mansions of Mud
- Trailing The Gun Runners
- The Deep Sea Hunters
- The Pseudonum, Ray Ainsbury
- Coasting Down the long Fringe of Chile
- The Boy Adventurers In the Land of the Monkey Men...
- On the author, Verrill, and the editor, Frizzle
- Summary of the Boy Adventurers Series of Books
- ▼ September (10)
- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.