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LXXVI-A MAN OVERBOARD.
Ir is a dreadful night. The passengers are clustered, trembling, below. Every plank shakes; and the oak ribs groan, as if they suffered with their toil. The hands are all aloft; the captain is forward shouting to the mate in the cross-trees, and I am clinging to one of the stanchions, by the binnacle. The ship is pitching madly, and the waves are toppling up, sometimes as high as the yard-arm, and then dipping away with a whirl under our keel, that makes every timber in the vessel quiver. The thunder is roaring like a thousand cannons; and at the moment, the sky is cleft with a stream of fire, that glares over the tops of the waves, and glistens on the wet decks, and the spars,-lighting up all so plain, that I can see the men's faces in the main-top, and catch glimpses of the reefers on the yard-arm, clinging like death; then all is hor
The spray spits angrily against the canvas; the waves crash against the weather-bow like mountains; the wind howls through the rigging, or, as a gasket gives way, the sail bellying to leeward, splits like the crack of a musket. I hear the captain in the lulls, screaming out orders; and the mate in the rigging, screaming them over, until the lightning comes, and the thunder, deadening their voices as if they were chirping sparrows.
In one of the flashes, I see a hand upon the yard-armı lose his foothold, as the ship gives a plunge; but his arms are clenched around the spar. Before I can see any more the blackness comes, and he thunder, with a crash that half deafens me. I think I hear a low cry, as the mutterings die away in the distance; and at the next flash of lightning, which comes in an instant, I see upon the top of one of the waves alongside, the poor reefer who has fallen. The lightning glares upon his face.
But he has caught at a loose bit of running rigging, as he fell; and I see it slipping off the coil upon the deck. I shout madly-Man overboard !-and catch the rope, when I can see nothing again. The sea is too high, and the man too heavy for me. I shout, and shout, and shout, and feel the perspiration starting in great beads from my forehead, as the line slips through my fingers.
Presently the captain feels his way aft, and takes hold me; and the cook comes, as the coil is nearly spent, and
we pull together upon him. It is desperate work for the sailor; for the ship is drifting at a prodigious rate; but he clings like a dying man.
By and by at a flash, we see him on a crest, two oars length away from the vessel.
"Hold on, my man!" shouts the captain.
"For God's sake be quick!" says the poor fellow; and he goes down in a trough of the sea. We pull the harder, and the captain keeps calling to him to keep up courage, and hold strong. But in the hush, we can hear him say--" I can't hold out much longer ;-I'm most gone !
Presently we have brought the man where we can lay hold of him, and are only waiting for a good lift of the sea to bring him up, when the poor fellow groans out,-"It's no use-I can't-good-bye!" And a wave tosses the end of the rope clean upon the bulwarks.
At the next flash, I see him going down under the water.
LXXVII-CAPTURE OF A WHALE.
THE Cockswain cast a cool glance at the crests of foam that were breaking over the tops of the billows within a few yards of where their boat was riding, and called aloud to his men
"Pull a stroke or two; away with her into dark water."
The drop of the oars resembled the movements of a nice machine, and the light boat skimmed along the water like a duck that approaches to the very brink of some imminent danger, and then avoids it at the most critical moment, apparently without an effort. While this necessary movement was making, Barnstable arose, and surveyed the cliffs with keen eyes, and then, turning once more in disappointment from his search, he said—
"Pull more from the land, and let her run down at an easy stroke to the schooner. Keep a look-out at the cliffs, boys; it is possible that they are stowed in some of the holes in the rocks, for it's no daylight business they are on." The order was promptly obeyed, and they had glided along for near a mile in this manner, in the most profound silence, when suddenly the stillness was broken by a heavy rush of air, and a dash of water, seemingly at no great dis tance from them.
"By heaven! Tom," cried Barnstable, starting, "there is the blow of a whale."
"Ay, ay, sir," returned the cockswain, with undisturbed composure; "here is his spout, not half a mile to seaward; the easterly gale has driven the creater to leeward, and he begins to find himself in shoal water. He's been sleeping, while he should have been working to windward!"
"The fellow takes it coolly, too! he's in no hurry to get an offing."
"I rather conclude, sir," said the cockswain, rolling over his tobacco in his mouth very composedly, while his little sunken eyes began to twinkle with pleasure at the sight, "the gentleman has lost his reckoning, and don't know which way to head to take himself back into blue water."
'Tis a fin-back!" exclaimed the lieutenant; "he will soon make headway, and be off."
"No, sir, 'tis a right whale," answered Tom; "I saw his spout he threw up a pair of as pretty rainbows as a Christian would wish to look at. He's a raal oil-butt, that fellow ! "
Barnstable laughed, turned himself away from the tempting sight, and tried to look at the cliffs; and then uncon, sciously bent his eyes again on the sluggish animal, who was throwing his huge carcass at times for many feet from the water, in idle gambols. The temptation for sport, and the recollection of his early habits, at length prevailed over his anxiety in behalf of his friends, and the young officer inquired of his cockswain✈ 1
"Is there any whale-line in the boat to make fast to that harpoon which you bear about with you in fair weather or foul?"
"I never trust the boat from the schooner without part of a shot, sir," returned the cockswain; "there is something ǹateral in the sight of a tub to my old eyes."
Barnstable looked at his watch, and again at the cliffs, when he exclaimed in joyous tones
"Give strong way, my hearties! There seems nothing better to be done; let us have a stroke of a harpoon at that impudent rascal."
The men shouted spontaneously, and the old cockswain suffered his solemn visage to relax into a small laugh, while the whale-boat sprang forward like a courser for the goal. During the few minutes they were pulling towards their game,
long Tom arose from his crouching attitude in the stern sheets, and transferred his huge frame to the bows of the boat, where he made such preparations to strike the whale as the occasion required. The tub, containing about half of a whaleline, was placed at the feet of Barnstable, who had been preparing an oar to steer with, in place of the rudder, which was unshipped in order that, if necessary, the boat might be whirled round when not advancing.
Their approach was utterly unnoticed by the monster of the deep, who continued to amuse himself with throwing the water in two circular spouts high into the air, occasionally flourishing the broad flukes of his tail with graceful but terrific force, until the hardy seamen were within a few hundred feet of him, when he suddenly cast his head downwards, and, without an apparent effort, reared his immense body for many feet above the water, waving his tail violently, and producing a whizzing noise that sounded like the rushing of winds. The cockswain stood erect, poising his harpoon, ready for the blow, but, when he beheld the creature assume this formidable attitude, he waved his hand to his commander, who instantly signed to his men to cease rowing. In this situation the sportsmen rested a few moments, while the whale struck several blows on the water in rapid succession, the noise of which reechoed along the cliffs, like the hollow reports of so many cannon. After this wanton exhibition of his terrible strength, the monster sunk again into his native element, and slowly disappeared from the eyes of his pursuers.
"Which way did he head, Tom?" cried Barnstable, the moment the whale was out of sight.
"Pretty much up and down, sir," returned the cockswain, whose eye was gradually brightening with the excitement of the sport; "he'll soon run his nose against the bottom, if he stands long on that course, and will be glad to get another snuff of pure air; send her a few fathoms to starboard, sir, and I promise we shall not be out of his track."
The conjecture of the experienced old seaman proved true, for in a few minutes the water broke near them, and another spout was cast into the air, when the huge animal rushed for half its length in the same direction, and fell on the sea with a turbulence and foam equal to that which is produced by the launching of a vessel, for the first time, into its proper element. After this evolution, the whale rolled heavily, and seemed to rest from further efforts.
His slightest movements were closely watched by Barnsta ble and his cockswain, and when he was in a state of comparative rest, the former gave a signal to his crew to ply their oars once more. A few long and vigorous strokes sent the boat directly up to the broadside of the whale, with its bows pointing towards one of the fins, which was at times, as the animal yielded sluggishly to the action of the waves, exposed to view. The cockswain poised his harpoon with much precision, and then darted it from him with a violence that buried the iron in the body of their foe. The instant the blow was made, long Tom shouted with singular earnestness
"Stern all!" echoed Barnstable; when the obedient seamen, by united efforts, forced the boat in a backward direction, beyond the reach of any blow from their formidable antagonist. The alarmed animal, however, meditated no such resistance; ignorant of his own power, and of the insignificance of his enemies, he sought refuge in flight. One moment of stupid surprise succeeded the entrance of the iron, when he cast his huge tail into the air with a violence that threw the sea around him into increased commotion, and then disappeared, with the quickness of lightning, amid a cloud of foam. "Snub him!" shouted Barnstable; "hold on, Tom; he rises already."
"Ay, ay, sir," replied the composed cockswain, seizing the line which was running out of the boat with a velocity that rendered such a manoeuvre rather hazardous, and causing it to yield more gradually round the large loggerhead that was placed in the bows of the boat for that purpose. Presently the line stretched forward, and, rising to the surface with tremulous vibrations, it indicated the direction in which the animal might be expected to reappear. Barnstable had cast the bows of the boat towards that point, before the terrified and wounded victim rose once more to the surface, whose time was, however, no longer wasted in his sports, but who cast the waters aside as he forced his way with prodigious velocity along their surface. The boat was dragged violently in his wake, and cut through the billows with a terrific rapidity, that at moments appeared to bury the slight fabric in the ocean. When long Tom beheld his victim throwing his spouts on high again, he pointed with exultation to the jetting fluid, which was streaked with the deep red of blood, and cried
"Ay, I've touched the fellow's life! It must be more