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A Captain at Fifteen by Jules Verne Part I Chapter 7


It will be understood that the sight of this prodigious mammifer was necessary to produce such excitement on board the "Pilgrim."

The whale, which floated in the middle of the red waters, appeared enormous. To capture it, and thus complete the cargo, that was very tempting. Could fishermen let such an occasion escape them?

However, Mrs. Weldon believed she ought to ask Captain Hull if it was not dangerous for his men and for him to attack a whale under those circumstances.

"No, Mrs. Weldon," replied Captain Hull. "More than once it has been my lot to hunt the whale with a single boat, and I have always finished by taking possession of it. I repeat it, there is no danger for us, nor, consequently, for yourself."

Mrs. Weldon, reassured, did not persist.

Captain Hull at once made his preparations for capturing the jubarte. He knew by experience that the pursuit of that baloenopter was not free from difficulties, and he wished to parry all.

What rendered this capture less easy was that the schooner's crew could only work by means of a single boat, while the "Pilgrim" possessed a long-boat, placed on its stocks between the mainmast and the mizzen-mast, besides three whale-boats, of which two were suspended on the larboard and starboard pegs, and the third aft, outside the crown-work.

Generally these three whale-boats were employed simultaneously in the pursuit of cetaceans. But during the fishing season, we know, an additional crew, hired at the stations of New Zealand, came to the assistance of the "Pilgrim's" sailors.

Now, in the present circumstances, the "Pilgrim" could only furnish the five sailors on board--that is, enough to arm a single whale-boat. To utilize the group of Tom and his friends, who had offered themselves at once, was impossible. In fact, the working of a fishing pirogue requires very well trained seamen. A false move of the helm, or a false stroke of an oar, would be enough to compromise the safety of the whale-boat during an attack.

On the other hand, Captain Hull did not wish to leave his ship without leaving on board at least one man from the crew, in whom he had confidence. It was necessary to provide for all eventualities.

Now Captain Hull, obliged to choose strong seamen to man the whale-boat, was forced to put on Dick Sand the care of guarding the "Pilgrim."

"Dick," said he to him, "I shall charge you to remain on board during my absence, which I hope will be short."

"Well, sir," replied the young novice.

Dick Sand would have wished to take part in this fishing, which had a great attraction for him, but he understood that, for one reason, a man's arms were worth more than his for service in a whale-boat, and that for another, he alone could replace Captain Hull. So he was satisfied. The whale-boat's crew must be composed of the five men, including the master, Howik, which formed the whole crew of the "Pilgrim." The four sailors were going to take their places at the oars, and Howik would hold the stern oar, which serves to guide a boat of this kind. A simple rudder, in fact, would not have a prompt enough action, and in case the side oars should be disabled, the stern oar, well handled, could put the whale-boat beyond the reach of the monster's blows.

There was only Captain Hull besides. He had reserved to himself the post of harpooner, and, as he had said, this would not be his first attempt. It was he who must first throw the harpoon, then watch the unrolling of the long line fastened at its end; then, finally finish the animal with spears, when it should return to the surface of the ocean.

Whalers sometimes employ firearms for this kind of fishing. By means of a special instrument, a sort of small cannon, stationed either on board the ship or at the front of the boat, they throw either a harpoon, which draws with it the rope fastened to its end, or explosive balls, which produce great ravages in the body of the animal.

But the "Pilgrim" was not furnished with apparatus of this kind. This was, besides, an instrument of high price, rather difficult to manage, and fishermen, but little friendly to innovations, seem to prefer the employment of primitive weapons, which they use skilfully--that is to say,--the harpoon and spear.

It was then by the usual method, attacking the whale with the sword, that Captain Hull was going to attempt to capture the jubarte signaled five miles from his ship.

Besides, the weather would favor this expedition. The sea, being very calm, was propitious for the working of a whale-boat. The wind was going down, and the "Pilgrim" would only drift in an insensible manner while her crew were occupied in the offing.

So the starboard whale-boat was immediately lowered, and the four sailors went into it.

Howik passed them two of those long spears which serve as harpoons, then two long lances with sharp points. To those offensive arms he added five coils of those strong flexible ropes that the whalers call "lines," and which measure six hundred feet in length. Less would not do, for it sometimes happens that these cords, fastened end to end, are not enough for the "demand," the whale plunges down so deep.

Such were the different weapons which were carefully disposed in the front of the boat.

Howik and the four sailors only waited for the order to let go the rope.

A single place was vacant in the prow of the whale-boat--that which Captain Hull would occupy.

It is needless to say that the "Pilgrim's" crew, before quitting her, had brought the ship's sails aback. In other words, the yards were braced in such a manner that the sails, counteracting their action, kept the vessel almost stationary.

Just as he was about to embark, Captain Hull gave a last glance at his ship. He was sure that all was in order, the halliards well turned, the sails suitably trimmed. As he was leaving the young novice on board during an absence which might last several hours, he wished, with a good reason, that unless for some urgent cause, Dick Sand would not have to execute a single maneuver.

At the moment of departing he gave the young man some last words of advice.

"Dick," said he, "I leave you alone. Watch over everything. If, as is possible, it should become necessary to get the ship under way, in case we should be led too far in pursuit of this jubarte, Tom and his companions could come to your aid perfectly well. After telling them clearly what they would have to do, I am assured that they would do it."

"Yes, Captain Hull," replied old Tom, "and Mr. Dick can count on us."

"Command! command!" cried Bat. "We have such a strong desire to make ourselves useful."

"On what must we pull?" asked Hercules, turning up the large sleeves of his jacket.

"On nothing just now," replied Dick Sand, smiling.

"At your service," continued the colossus.

"Dick," continued Captain Hull, "the weather is beautiful. The wind has gone down. There is no indication that it will freshen again. Above all, whatever may happen, do not put a boat to sea, and do not leave the ship."

"That is understood."

"If it should become necessary for the 'Pilgrim' to come to us, I shall make a signal to you, by hoisting a flag at the end of a boat-hook."

"Rest assured, captain, I shall not lose sight of the whale-boat," replied Dick Sand.

"Good, my boy," replied Captain Hull. "Courage and coolness. Behold yourself assistant captain. Do honor to your grade. No one has been such at your age!"

Dick Sand did not reply, but he blushed while smiling. Captain Hull understood that blush and that smile.

"The honest boy!" he said to himself; "modesty and good humor, in truth, it is just like him!"

Meanwhile, by these urgent recommendations, it was plain that, even though there would be no danger in doing it, Captain Hull did not leave his ship willingly, even for a few hours. But an irresistible fisherman's instinct, above all, the strong desire to complete his cargo of oil, and not fall short of the engagements made by James W. Weldon in Valparaiso, all that told him to attempt the adventure. Besides, that sea, so fine, was marvelously conducive to the pursuit of a cetacean. Neither his crew nor he could resist such a temptation. The fishing cruise would be finally complete, and this last consideration touched Captain Hull's heart above everything.

Captain Hull went toward the ladder.

"I wish you success," said Mrs. Weldon to him.

"Thank you, Mrs. Weldon."

"I beg you, do not do too much harm to the poor whale," cried little Jack.

"No, my boy," replied Captain Hull.

"Take it very gently, sir."

"Yes--with gloves, little Jack."

"Sometimes," observed Cousin Benedict, "we find rather curious insects on the back of these large mammals."

"Well, Mr. Benedict," replied Captain Hull, laughing, "you shall have the right to 'entomologize' when our jubarte will be alongside of the 'Pilgrim.'"

Then turning to Tom:

"Tom, I count on your companions and you," said he, "to assist us in cutting up the whale, when it is lashed to the ship's hull--which will not be long."

"At your disposal, sir," replied the old black.

"Good!" replied Captain Hull.

"Dick, these honest men will aid you in preparing the empty barrels. During our absence they will bring them on deck, and by this means the work will go fast on our return."

"That shall be done, captain."

For the benefit of those who do not know, it is necessary to say that the jubarte, once dead, must be towed as far as the "Pilgrim," and firmly lashed to her starboard side. Then the sailors, shod in boots, with cramp-hooks would take their places on the back of the enormous cetacean, and cut it up methodically in parallel bands marked off from the head to the tail. These bands would be then cut across in slices of a foot and a half, then divided into pieces, which, after being stowed in the barrels, would be sent to the bottom of the hold.

Generally the whaling ship, when the fishing is over, manages to land as soon as possible, so as to finish her manipulations. The crew lands, and then proceeds to melt the lard, which, under the action of the heat, gives up all its useful part--that is, the oil. In this operation, the whale's lard weighs about a third of its weight.

But, under present circumstances, Captain Hull could not dream of putting back to finish that operation. He only counted on melting this quantity of lard at Valparaiso. Besides, with winds which could not fail to hail from the west, he hoped to make the American coast before twenty days, and that lapse of time could not compromise the results of his fishing.

The moment for setting out had come. Before the "Pilgrim's" sails had been brought aback, she had drawn a little nearer to the place where the jubarte continued to signal its presence by jets of vapor and water.

The jubarte was all this time swimming in the middle of the vast red field of crustaceans, opening its large mouth automatically, and absorbing at each draught myriads of animalcules.

According to the experienced ones on board, there was no fear that the whale dreamt of escaping. It was, doubtless, what the whalers call a "fighting" whale.

Captain Hull strode over the netting, and, descending the rope ladder, he reached the prow of the whale-boat.

Mrs. Weldon, Jack, Cousin Benedict, Tom, and his companions, for a last time wished the captain success.

Dingo itself, rising on its paws and passing its head above the railing, seemed to wish to say good-by to the crew.

Then all returned to the prow, so as to lose none of the very attractive movements of such a fishing.

The whale-boat put off, and, under the impetus of its four oars, vigorously handled, it began to distance itself from the "Pilgrim."

"Watch well, Dick, watch well!" cried Captain Hull to the young novice for the last time.

"Count on me, sir."

"One eye for the ship, one eye for the whale-boat, my boy. Do not forget it."

"That shall be done, captain," replied Dick Sand, who went to take his place near the helm.

Already the light boat was several hundred feet from the ship. Captain Hull, standing at the prow, no longer able to make himself heard, renewed his injunctions by the most expressive gestures.

It was then that Dingo, its paws still resting on the railing, gave a sort of lamentable bark, which would have an unfavorable effect upon men somewhat given to superstition.

That bark even made Mrs. Weldon shudder.

"Dingo," said she, "Dingo, is that the way you encourage your friends? Come, now, a fine bark, very clear, very sonorous, very joyful."

But the dog barked no more, and, letting itself fall back on its paws, it came slowly to Mrs. Weldon, whose hand it licked affectionately.

"It does not wag its tail," murmured Tom in a low tone. "Bad sign--bad sign."

But almost at once Dingo stood up, and a howl of anger escaped it.

Mrs. Weldon turned round.

Negoro had just left his quarters, and was going toward the forecastle, with the intention, no doubt, of looking for himself at the movements of the whale-boat.

Dingo rushed at the head cook, a prey to the strongest as well as to the most inexplicable fury.

Negoro seized a hand-spike and took an attitude of defense.

The dog was going to spring at his throat.

"Here, Dingo, here!" cried Dick Sand, who, leaving his post of observation for an instant, ran to the prow of the ship.

Mrs. Weldon on her side, sought to calm the dog.

Dingo obeyed, not without repugnance, and returned to the young novice, growling secretly.

Negoro had not pronounced a single word, but his face had grown pale for a moment. Letting go of his hand-spike, he regained his cabin.

"Hercules," then said Dick Sand, "I charge you especially to watch over that man."

"I shall watch," simply replied Hercules, clenching his two enormous fists in sign of assent.

Mrs. Weldon and Dick Sand then turned their eyes again on the whale-boat, which the four oarsmen bore rapidly away.

It was nothing but a speck on the sea.

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