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Chapter 1 – The Brig-Schooner “Pilgrim”

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On February 2, 1876, the schooner "Pilgrim" was in latitude 43° 57′
south, and in longitude 165° 19′ west of the meridian of Greenwich.

This vessel, of four hundred tons, fitted out at San Francisco for
whale-fishing in the southern seas, belonged to James W. Weldon, a rich
Californian ship-owner, who had for several years intrusted the command
of it to Captain Hull.

The "Pilgrim" was one of the smallest, but one of the best of that
flotilla, which James W. Weldon sent each season, not only beyond
Behring Strait, as far as the northern seas, but also in the quarters
of Tasmania or of Cape Horn, as far as the Antarctic Ocean. She sailed
in a superior manner. Her very easily managed rigging permitted her to
venture, with a few men, in sight of the impenetrable fields of ice of
the southern hemisphere. Captain Hull knew how to disentangle himself,
as the sailors say, from among those icebergs, which, during the
summer, drift by the way of New Zealand or the Cape of Good Hope, under
a much lower latitude than that which they reach in the northern seas
of the globe. It is true that only icebergs of small dimensions were
found there; they were already worn by collisions, eaten away by the
warm waters, and the greater number of them were going to melt in the
Pacific or the Atlantic.

Under the command of Captain Hull, a good seaman, and also one of the
most skilful harpooners of the flotilla, was a crew composed of five
sailors and a novice. It was a small number for this whale-fishing,
which requires a good many persons. Men are necessary as well for the
management of the boats for the attack, as for the cutting up of the
captured animals. But, following the example of certain ship-owners,
James W. Weldon found it much more economical to embark at San
Francisco only the number of sailors necessary for the management of
the vessel. New Zealand did not lack harpooners, sailors of all
nationalities, deserters or others, who sought to be hired for the
season, and who followed skilfully the trade of fishermen. The busy
period once over, they were paid, they were put on shore, and they
waited till the whalers of the following year should come to claim
their services again. There was obtained by this method better work
from the disposable sailors, and a much larger profit derived by their
co-operation.

They had worked in this way on board the "Pilgrim."

The schooner had just finished her season on the limit of the Antarctic
Circle. But she had not her full number of barrels of oil, of coarse
whalebones nor of fine. Even at that period, fishing was becoming
difficult. The whales, pursued to excess, were becoming rare. The
"right" whale, which bears the name of "North Caper," in the Northern
Ocean, and that of "Sulphur Bottom," in the South Sea, was likely to
disappear. The whalers had been obliged to fall back on the finback or
jubarte, a gigantic mammifer, whose attacks are not without danger.

This is what Captain Hull had done during this cruise; but on his next
voyage he calculated on reaching a higher latitude, and, if necessary,
going in sight of Clarie and Adelie Lands, whose discovery, contested
by the American Wilkes, certainly belongs to the illustrious commander
of the "Astrolabe" and the Zelee, to the Frenchman, Dumont d’Urville.

In fact, the season had not been favorable for the "Pilgrim." In the
beginning of January, that is to say, toward the middle of the Southern
summer, and even when the time for the whalers to return had not yet
arrived Captain Hull had been obliged to abandon the fishing places.
His additional crew – a collection of pretty sad subjects – gave him an
excuse, as they say, and he determined to separate from them.

The "Pilgrim" then steered to the northwest, for New Zealand, which she
sighted on the 15th of January. She arrived at Waitemata, port of
Auckland, situated at the lowest end of the Gulf of Chouraki, on the
east coast of the northern island, and landed the fishermen who had
been engaged for the season.

The crew was not satisfied. The cargo of the "Pilgrim" was at least two
hundred barrels of oil short. There had never been worse fishing.
Captain Hull felt the disappointment of a hunter who, for the first
time, returns as he went away – or nearly so. His self-love, greatly
excited, was at stake, and he did not pardon those scoundrels whose
insubordination had compromised the results of his cruise.

It was in vain that he endeavored to recruit a new fishing crew at
Auckland. All the disposable seamen were embarked on the other whaling
vessels. He was thus obliged to give up the hope of completing the
"Pilgrim’s" cargo, and Captain Hull was preparing to leave Auckland
definitely, when a request for a passage was made which he could not
refuse.

Mrs. Weldon, wife of the "Pilgrim’s" owner, was then at Auckland with
her young son Jack, aged about five years, and one of her relatives,
her Cousin Benedict. James W. Weldon, whom his business operations
sometimes obliged to visit New Zealand, had brought the three there,
and intended to bring them back to San Francisco.

But, just as the whole family was going to depart, little Jack became
seriously ill, and his father, imperatively recalled by his business,
was obliged to leave Auckland, leaving his wife, his son, and Cousin
Benedict there.

Three months had passed away – three long months of separation, which
were extremely painful to Mrs. Weldon. Meanwhile her young child was
restored to health, and she was at liberty to depart, when she was
informed of the arrival of the "Pilgrim."

Now, at that period, in order to return to San Francisco, Mrs. Weldon
found herself under the necessity of going to Australia by one of the
vessels of the Golden Age Trans-oceanic Company, which ply between
Melbourne and the Isthmus of Panama by Papeiti. Then, once arrived at
Panama, it would be necessary for her to await the departure of the
American steamer, which establishes a regular communication between the
Isthmus and California. Thence, delays, trans-shipments, always
disagreeable for a woman and a child. It was just at this time that the
"Pilgrim" came into port at Auckland. Mrs. Weldon did not hesitate, but
asked Captain Hull to take her on board to bring her back to San
Francisco – she, her son, Cousin Benedict, and Nan, an old negress who
had served her since her infancy. Three thousand marine leagues to
travel on a sailing vessel! But Captain Hull’s ship was so well
managed, and the season still so fine on both sides of the Equator!
Captain Hull consented, and immediately put his own cabin at the
disposal of his passenger. He wished that, during a voyage which might
last forty or fifty days, Mrs. Weldon should be installed as well as
possible on board the whaler.

There were then certain advantages for Mrs. Weldon in making the voyage
under these conditions. The only disadvantage was that this voyage
would be necessarily prolonged in consequence of this circumstance – the
"Pilgrim" would go to Valparaiso, in Chili, to effect her unloading.
That done, there would be nothing but to ascend the American coast,
with land breezes, which make these parts very agreeable.

Besides, Mrs. Weldon was a courageous woman, whom the sea did not
frighten. Then thirty years of age, she was of robust health, being
accustomed to long voyages, for, having shared with her husband the
fatigues of several passages, she did not fear the chances more or less
contingent, of shipping on board a ship of moderate tonnage. She knew
Captain Hull to be an excellent seaman, in whom James W. Weldon had
every confidence. The "Pilgrim" was a strong vessel, capital sailer,
well quoted in the flotilla of American whalers. The opportunity
presented itself. It was necessary to profit by it. Mrs. Weldon did
profit by it.

Cousin Benedict – it need not be said – would accompany her.

This cousin was a worthy man, about fifty years of age. But,
notwithstanding his fifty years, it would not have been prudent to let
him go out alone. Long, rather than tall, narrow, rather than thin, his
figure bony, his skull enormous and very hairy, one recognized in his
whole interminable person one of those worthy savants, with gold
spectacles, good and inoffensive beings, destined to remain great
children all their lives, and to finish very old, like centenaries who
would die at nurse.

"Cousin Benedict" – he was called so invariably, even outside of the
family, and, in truth, he was indeed one of those good men who seem to
be the born cousins of all the world – Cousin Benedict, always impeded
by his long arms and his long limbs, would be absolutely incapable of
attending to matters alone, even in the most ordinary circumstances of
life. He was not troublesome, oh! no, but rather embarrassing for
others, and embarrassed for himself. Easily satisfied, besides being
very accommodating, forgetting to eat or drink, if some one did not
bring him something to eat or drink, insensible to the cold as to the
heat, he seemed to belong less to the animal kingdom than to the
vegetable kingdom. One must conceive a very useless tree, without fruit
and almost without leaves, incapable of giving nourishment or shelter,
but with a good heart.

Such was Cousin Benedict. He would very willingly render service to
people if, as Mr. Prudhomme would say, he were capable of rendering it.

Finally, his friends loved him for his very feebleness. Mrs. Weldon
regarded him as her child – a large elder brother of her little Jack.

It is proper to add here that Cousin Benedict was, meanwhile, neither
idle nor unoccupied. On the contrary, he was a worker. His only
passion – natural history – absorbed him entirely.

To say "Natural History" is to say a great deal.

We know that the different parts of which this science is composed are
zoology, botany, mineralogy, and geology.

Now Cousin Benedict was, in no sense, a botanist, nor a mineralogist,
nor a geologist.

Was he, then, a zoologist in the entire acceptation of the word, a kind
of Cuvier of the New World, decomposing an animal by analysis, or
putting it together again by synthesis, one of those profound
connoisseurs, versed in the study of the four types to which modern
science refers all animal existence, vertebrates, mollusks,
articulates, and radiates? Of these four divisions, had the artless but
studious savant observed the different classes, and sought the orders,
the families, the tribes, the genera, the species, and the varieties
which distinguish them?

No.

Had Cousin Benedict devoted himself to the study of the vertebrates,
mammals, birds, reptiles, and fishes?

No.

Was it to the mollusks, from the cephalopodes to the bryozoans, that he
had given his preference, and had malacology no more secrets for him?

Not at all.

Then it was on the radiates, echinoderms, acalephes, polypes,
entozoons, sponges, and infusoria, that he had for such a long time
burned the midnight oil?

It must, indeed, be confessed that it was not on the radiates.

Now, in zoology there only remains to be mentioned the division of the
articulates, so it must be that it was on this division that Cousin
Benedict’s only passion was expended.

Yes, and still it is necessary to select.

This branch of the articulates counts six classes: insects, myriapodes,
arachnides, crustaceans, cirrhopodes, and annelides.

Now, Cousin Benedict, scientifically speaking, would not know how to
distinguish an earth-worm from a medicinal leech, a sand-fly from a
glans-marinus, a common spider from a false scorpion, a shrimp from a
frog, a gally-worm from a scolopendra.

But, then, what was Cousin Benedict? Simply an entomologist – nothing
more.

To that, doubtless, it may be said that in its etymological
acceptation, entomology is that part of the natural sciences which
includes all the articulates. That is true, in a general way; but it is
the custom to give this word a more restricted sense. It is then only
applied, properly speaking, to the study of insects, that is to say:
"All the articulate animals of which the body, composed of rings placed
end to end, forms three distinct segments, and which possesses three
pairs of legs, which have given them the name of hexapodes."

Now, as Cousin Benedict had confined himself to the study of the
articulates of this class, he was only an entomologist.

But, let us not be mistaken about it. In this class of the insects are
counted not less than ten orders:

1. Orthopterans as grasshoppers, crickets, etc.

2. Neuropters as ant-eaters, dragon-flies or libellula.

3. Hymenopters as bees, wasps, ants.

4. Lepidopters as butterflies, etc.

5. Hemipters as cicada, plant-lice, fleas, etc.

6. Coleopters as cockchafers, fire-flies, etc.

7. Dipters as gnats, musquitoes, flies.

8. Rhipipters as stylops.

9. Parasites as acara, etc.

10. Thysanurans as lepidotus, flying-lice, etc.

Now, in certain of these orders, the coleopters, for example, there are
recognized thirty thousand species, and sixty thousand in the dipters;
so subjects for study are not wanting, and it will be conceded that
there is sufficient in this class alone to occupy a man!

Thus, Cousin Benedict’s life was entirely and solely consecrated to
entomology.

To this science he gave all his hours – all, without exception, even the
hours of sleep, because he invariably dreamt "hexapodes." That he
carried pins stuck in his sleeves and in the collar of his coat, in the
bottom of his hat, and in the facings of his vest, need not be
mentioned.

When Cousin Benedict returned from some scientific promenade his
precious head-covering in particular was no more than a box of natural
history, being bristling inside and outside with pierced insects.

And now all will be told about this original when it is stated, that it
was on account of his passion for entomology that he had accompanied
Mr. and Mrs. Weldon to New Zealand. There his collection was enriched
by some rare subjects, and it will be readily understood that he was in
haste to return to classify them in the cases of his cabinet in San
Francisco.

So, as Mrs. Weldon and her child were returning to America by the
"Pilgrim," nothing more natural than for Cousin Benedict to accompany
them during that passage.

But it was not on him that Mrs. Weldon could rely, if she should ever
find herself in any critical situation. Very fortunately, the prospect
was only that of a voyage easily made during the fine season, and on
board of a ship whose captain merited all her confidence.

During the three days that the "Pilgrim" was in port at Waitemata, Mrs.
Weldon made her preparations in great haste, for she did not wish to
delay the departure of the schooner. The native servants whom she
employed in her dwelling in Auckland were dismissed, and, on the 22d
January, she embarked on board the "Pilgrim," bringing only her son
Jack, Cousin Benedict, and Nan, her old negress.

Cousin Benedict carried all his curious collection of insects in a
special box. In this collection figured, among others, some specimens
of those new staphylins, species of carnivorous coleopters, whose eyes
are placed above the head, and which, till then, seemed to be peculiar
to New Caledonia. A certain venomous spider, the "katipo," of the
Maoris, whose bite is often fatal to the natives, had been very highly
recommended to him. But a spider does not belong to the order of
insects properly so called; it is placed in that of the arachnida, and,
consequently, was valueless in Cousin Benedict’s eyes. Thus he scorned
it, and the most beautiful jewel of his collection was a remarkable
staphylin from New Zealand.

It is needless to say that Cousin Benedict, by paying a heavy premium,
had insured his cargo, which to him seemed much more precious than all
the freight of oil and bones stowed away in the hold of the "Pilgrim."

Just as the "Pilgrim" was getting under sail, when Mrs. Weldon and her
companion for the voyage found themselves on the deck of the schooner,
Captain Hull approached his passenger:

"It is understood, Mrs. Weldon," he said to her, "that, if you take
passage on board the ‘Pilgrim,’ it is on your own responsibility."

"Why do you make that observation to me, Mr. Hull?" asked Mrs. Weldon.

"Because I have not received an order from your husband in regard to
it, and, all things considered, a schooner cannot offer you the
guarantees of a good passage, like a packet-boat, specially intended to
carry travelers."

"If my husband were here," replied Mrs. Weldon, "do you think, Mr.
Hull, that he would hesitate to embark on the ‘Pilgrim,’ in company
with his wife and child?"

"No, Mrs. Weldon, he would not hesitate," said Captain Hull; "no,
indeed! no more than I should hesitate myself! The ‘Pilgrim’ is a good
ship after all, even though she has made but a sad cruise, and I am
sure of her, as much so as a seaman can be of the ship which he has
commanded for several years. The reason I speak, Mrs. Weldon, is to get
rid of personal responsibility, and to repeat that you will not find on
board the comfort to which you have been accustomed."

"As it is only a question of comfort, Mr. Hull," replied Mrs. Weldon,
"that should not stop me. I am not one of those troublesome passengers
who complain incessantly of the narrowness of the cabins, and the
insufficiency of the table."

Then, after looking for a few moments at her little Jack, whom she held
by the hand, Mrs. Weldon said:

"Let us go, Mr. Hull!"

The orders were given to get under way at once, the sails were set, and
the "Pilgrim," working to get out to sea in the shortest time possible,
steered for the American coast.

But, three days after her departure, the schooner, thwarted by strong
breezes from the east, was obliged to tack to larboard to make headway
against the wind. So, at the date of February 2d, Captain Hull still
found himself in a higher latitude than he would have wished, and in
the situation of a sailor who wanted to double Cape Horn rather than
reach the New Continent by the shortest course.

 

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