Reading Books on PopNovel APP

Fighting the Whales

Fighting the Whales

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


There are few things in this world that have filled me with so much astonishment as the fact that man can kill a whale! That a fish, more than sixty feet long, and thirty feet round the body; with the bulk of three hundred fat oxen rolled into one; with the strength of many hundreds of horses; able to swim at a rate th...
Show All▼

  There are few things in this world that have filled me with so muchastonishment as the fact that man can kill a whale! That a fish, morethan sixty feet long, and thirty feet round the body; with the bulk ofthree hundred fat oxen rolled into one; with the strength of manyhundreds of horses; able to swim at a rate that would carry it rightround the world in twenty-three days; that can smash a boat to atomswith one slap of its tail, and stave in the planks of a ship with oneblow of its thick skull;--that such a monster can be caught and killedby man, is most wonderful to hear of, but I can tell from experiencethat it is much more wonderful to see.

  There is a wise saying which I have often thought much upon. It isthis: "Knowledge is power". Man is but a feeble creature, and if hehad to depend on his own bodily strength alone he could make no headagainst even the ordinary brutes in this world. But the knowledgewhich has been given to him by his Maker has clothed man with greatpower, so that he is more than a match for the fiercest beast in theforest, or the largest fish in the sea. Yet, with all his knowledge,with all his experience, and all his power, the killing of a great oldsperm whale costs man a long, tough battle, sometimes it even costs himhis life.

  It is a long time now since I took to fighting the whales. I have beenat it, man and boy, for nigh forty years, and many a wonderful sighthave I seen; many a desperate battle have I fought in the fisheries ofthe North and South Seas.

  Sometimes, when I sit in the chimney-corner of a winter evening,smoking my pipe with my old messmate Tom Lokins, I stare into the fireand think of the days gone by till I forget where I am, and go onthinking so hard that the flames seem to turn into melting fires, andthe bars of the grate into dead fish, and the smoke into sails andrigging, and I go to work cutting up the blubber and stirring theoil-pots, or pulling the bow-oar and driving the harpoon at such arate that I can't help giving a shout, which causes Tom to start andcry:

  "Hallo! Bob"

my name is Bob Ledbury, you see

. "Hallo! Bob, wot'sthe matter?"

  To which I reply, "Tom, can it all be true?"

  "Can _wot_ be true?" says he, with a stare of surprise--for Tom isgetting into his dotage now.

  And then I chuckle and tell him I was only thinking of old times, andso he falls to smoking again, and I to staring at the fire, andthinking as hard as ever.

  The way in which I was first led to go after the whales was curious.This is how it happened.

  About forty years ago, when I was a boy of nearly fifteen years of age,I lived with my mother in one of the seaport towns of England. Therewas great distress in the town at that time, and many of the hands wereout of work. My employer, a blacksmith, had just died, and for morethan six weeks I had not been able to get employment or to earn afarthing. This caused me great distress, for my father had diedwithout leaving a penny in the world, and my mother depended on meentirely. The money I had saved out of my wages was soon spent, andone morning when I sat down to breakfast, my mother looked across thetable and said, in a thoughtful voice:

  "Robert, dear, this meal has cost us our last halfpenny."

  My mother was old and frail, and her voice very gentle; she was themost trustful, uncomplaining woman I ever knew.

  I looked up quickly into her face as she spoke. "All the money gone,Mother?"

  "Aye, all. It will be hard for you to go without your dinner, Robert,dear."

  "It will be harder for _you_, Mother," I cried, striking the table withmy fist; then a lump rose in my throat and almost choked me. I couldnot utter another word.

  It was with difficulty I managed to eat the little food that was beforeme. After breakfast I rose hastily and rushed out of the house,determined that I would get my mother her dinner, even if I should haveto beg for it. But I must confess that a sick feeling came over mewhen I thought of begging.

  Hurrying along the crowded streets without knowing very well what Imeant to do, I at last came to an abrupt halt at the end of the pier.Here I went up to several people and offered my services in a wild sortof way. They must have thought that I was drunk, for nearly all ofthem said gruffly that they did not want me.

  Dinner-time drew near, but no one had given me a job, and no wonder,for the way in which I tried to get one was not likely to besuccessful. At last I resolved to beg. Observing a fat, red-faced oldgentleman coming along the pier, I made up to him boldly. He carried acane with a large gold knob on the top of it. That gave me hope, "forof course," thought I, "he must be rich." His nose, which was exactlythe colour and shape of the gold knob on his cane, was stuck in thecentre of a round, good-natured countenance, the mouth of which waslarge and firm; the eyes bright and blue. He frowned as I went forwardhat in hand; but I was not to be driven back; the thought of mystarving mother gave me power to crush down my rising shame. Yet I hadno reason to be ashamed. I was willing to work, if only I could havegot employment.

  Stopping in front of the old gentleman, I was about to speak when Iobserved him quietly button up his breeches pocket. The blood rushedto my face, and, turning quickly on my heel, I walked away withoututtering a word.

  "Hallo!" shouted a gruff voice just as I was moving away.

  I turned, and observed that the shout was uttered by a broadrough-looking jack-tar, a man of about two or three and thirty, who hadbeen sitting all the forenoon on an old cask smoking his pipe andbasking in the sun.

  "Hallo!" said he again.

  "Well," said I.

  "Wot d'ye mean, youngster, by goin' on in that there fashion all themornin', a-botherin' everybody, and makin' a fool o' yourself likethat? eh!"

  "What's that to you?" said I savagely, for my heart was sore and heavy,and I could not stand the interference of a stranger.

  "Oh! it's nothin' to me of course," said the sailor, picking his pipequietly with his clasp-knife; "but come here, boy, I've somethin' tosay to ye."

  "Well, what is it?" said I, going up to him somewhat sulkily.

  The man looked at me gravely through the smoke of his pipe, and said,"You're in a passion, my young buck, that's all; and, in case youdidn't know it, I thought I'd tell ye."

  I burst into a fit of laughter. "Well, I believe you're not far wrong;but I'm better now."

  "Ah! that's right," said the sailor, with an approving nod of his head;"always confess when you're in the wrong. Now, younker, let me giveyou a bit of advice. Never get into a passion if you can help it, andif you can't help it get out of it as fast as possible, and if youcan't get out of it, just give a great roar to let off the steam andturn about and run. There's nothing like that. Passion han't gotlegs. It can't hold on to a feller when he's runnin'. If you keep itup till you a'most split your timbers, passion has no chance. It_must_ go a-starn. Now, lad, I've been watchin' ye all the mornin', andI see there's a screw loose somewhere. If you'll tell me wot it is,see if I don't help you!"

  The kind frank way in which this was said quite won my heart, so I satdown on the old cask, and told the sailor all my sorrows.

  "Boy," said he, when I had finished, "I'll put you in the way o'helpin' your mother. I can get you a berth in my ship, if you'rewillin' to take a trip to the whale fishery of the South Seas."

  "And who will look after my mother when I'm away?" said I.

  The sailor looked perplexed at the question.

  "Ah! that's a puzzler," he replied, knocking the ashes out of his pipe."Will you take me to your mother's house, lad?"

  "Willingly," said I, and, jumping up, I led the way. As we turned togo, I observed that the old gentleman with the gold-headed cane wasleaning over the rail of the pier at a short distance from us. Afeeling of anger instantly rose within me, and I exclaimed, loud enoughfor him to hear:

  "I do believe that stingy old chap has been listening to every wordwe've been saying!"

  I thought I observed a frown on the sailor's brow as I said this, buthe made no remark, and in a few minutes we were walking rapidly throughthe streets. My companion stopped at one of those stores so common inseaport towns, where one can buy almost anything, from a tallow candleto a brass cannon. Here he

  [Transcriber's note: two pages missing from book]

  I've got neither family nor friends, and I'm bound for the South Seasin six days; so, if you'll take it, you're welcome to it, and if yourson Bob can manage to cast loose from you without leaving you to sink,I'll take him aboard the ship that I sail in. He'll always find me atthe Bull and Griffin, in the High Street, or at the end o' the pier."

  While the sailor was speaking, I observed a figure standing in a darkcorner of the room near the door, and, on looking more closely, I foundthat it was the old gentleman with the nose like his cane knob. Seeingthat he was observed, he came forward and said:

  "I trust that you will forgive my coming here without invitation; but Ihappened to overhear part of the conversation between your son and thisseaman, and I am willing to help you over your little difficulty, ifyou will allow me."

  The old gentleman said this in a very quick, abrupt way, and looked asif he were afraid his offer might be refused. He was much heated, withclimbing our long stair no doubt, and as he stood in the middle of theroom, puffing and wiping his bald head with a handkerchief, my motherrose hastily and offered him a chair.

  "You are very kind, sir," she said; "do sit down, sir. I'm sure Idon't know why you should take so much trouble. But, dear me, you arevery warm; will you take a cup of tea to cool you?"

  "Thank you, thank you. With much pleasure, unless, indeed, your sonobjects to a '_stingy old chap_' sitting beside him."

  I blushed when he repeated my words, and attempted to make someapology; but the old gentleman stopped me by commencing to explain hisintentions in short, rapid sentences.

  To make a long story short, he offered to look after my mother while Iwas away, and, to prove his sincerity, laid down five shillings, andsaid he would call with that sum every week as long as I was absent.My mother, after some trouble, agreed to let me go, and, before thatevening closed, everything was arranged, and the gentleman, leaving hisaddress, went away.

  The sailor had been so much filled with surprise at the suddenness ofall this, that he could scarcely speak. Immediately after thedeparture of the old gentleman, he said, "Well, good-bye, mistress,good-bye, Bob," and throwing on his hat in a careless way, left theroom.

  "Stop!" I shouted after him, when he had got about half-way down stair.

  "Hallo! wot's wrong now?"

  "Nothing; I only forgot to ask your name."

  "Tom Lokins," he bellowed, in the hoarse voice of a regular boatswain,"w'ich wos my father's name before me."

  So saying, he departed, whistling "Rule, Britannia," with all hismight.

  Thus the matter was settled. Six days afterwards, I rigged myself outin a blue jacket, white ducks, and a straw hat, and went to sea.