Chapter 6 – A Whale In Sight

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It will be remembered that this singular incident was made, more than
once, the subject of conversation held in the stern of the "Pilgrim"
between Mrs. Weldon, Captain Hull, and the young novice. The latter,
more particularly, experienced an instinctive mistrust with regard to
Negoro, whose conduct, meanwhile, merited no reproach.

In the prow they talked of it also, but they did not draw from it the
same conclusions. There, among the ship’s crew, Dingo passed merely for
a dog that knew how to read, and perhaps even write, better than more
than one sailor on board. As for talking, if he did not do it, it was
probably for good reasons that he kept silent.

"But, one of these fine days," says the steersman, Bolton, "one fine
day that dog will come and ask us how we are heading; if the wind is to
the west-north-west-half-north, and we will have to answer him! There
are animals that speak! Well, why should not a dog do as much if he
took it into his head? It is more difficult to talk with a beak than
with a mouth!"

"No doubt," replied the boatswain, Howik. "Only it has never been

It would have astonished these brave men to tell them that, on the
contrary, it had been known, and that a certain Danish servant
possessed a dog which pronounced distinctly twenty words. But whether
this animal comprehended what he said was a mystery. Very evidently
this dog, whose glottis was organized in a manner to enable him to emit
regular sounds, attached no more sense to his words than do the
paroquets, parrots, jackdaws, and magpies to theirs. A phrase with
animals is nothing more than a kind of song or spoken cry, borrowed
from a strange language of which they do not know the meaning.

However that might be, Dingo had become the hero of the deck, of which
fact he took no proud advantage. Several times Captain Hull repeated
the experiment. The wooden cubes of the alphabet were placed before
Dingo, and invariably, without an error, without hesitation, the two
letters, S and V, were chosen from among all by the singular animal,
while the others never attracted his attention.

As for Cousin Benedict, this experiment was often renewed before him,
without seeming to interest him.

"Meanwhile," he condescended to say one day, "we must not believe that
the dogs alone have the privilege of being intelligent in this manner.
Other animals equal them, simply in following their instinct. Look at
the rats, who abandon the ship destined to founder at sea; the beavers,
who know how to foresee the rising of the waters, and build their dams
higher in consequence; those horses of Nicomedes, of Scanderberg, and
of Oppien, whose grief was such that they died when their masters did;
those asses, so remarkable for their memory, and many other beasts
which have done honor to the animal kingdom. Have we not seen birds,
marvelously erect, that correctly write words dictated by their
professors; cockatoos that count, as well as a reckoner in the
Longitude Office, the number of persons present in a parlor? Has there
not existed a parrot, worth a hundred gold crowns, that recited the
Apostle’s Creed to the cardinal, his master, without missing a word?
Finally, the legitimate pride of an entomologist should be raised to
the highest point, when he sees simple insects give proofs of a
superior intelligence, and affirm eloquently the axiom:

"’In minimis maximus Deus,’

those ants which, represent the inspectors of public works in the
largest cities, those aquatic argyronetes which manufacture
diving-bells, without having ever learned the mechanism; those fleas
which draw carriages like veritable coachmen, which go through the
exercise as well as riflemen, which fire off cannon better than the
commissioned artillerymen of West Point? No! this Dingo does not merit
so many eulogies, and if he is so strong on the alphabet, it is,
without doubt, because he belongs to a species of mastiff, not yet
classified in zoological science, the canis alphabeticus of New

In spite of these discourses and others of the envious entomologist,
Dingo lost nothing in the public estimation, and continued to be
treated as a phenomenon in the conversations of the forecastle.

All this time, it is probable that Negoro did not share the enthusiasm
of the ship in regard to the animal. Perhaps he found it too
intelligent. However, the dog always showed the same animosity against
the head cook, and, doubtless, would have brought upon itself some
misfortune, if it had not been, for one thing, "a dog to defend
itself," and for another, protected by the sympathy of the whole crew.

So Negoro avoided coming into Dingo’s presence more than ever. But Dick
Sand had observed that since the incident of the two letters, the
reciprocal antipathy between the man and the dog was increased. That
was truly inexplicable.

On February 10th, the wind from the northeast, which, till then, had
always succeeded those long and overwhelming calms, during which the
"Pilgrim" was stationary, began to abate perceptibly. Captain Hull then
could hope that a change in the direction of the atmospheric currents
was going to take place. Perhaps the schooner would finally sail with
the wind. It was still only nineteen days since her departure from the
port of Auckland. The delay was not yet of much account, and, with a
favorable wind, the "Pilgrim," well rigged, would easily make up for
lost time. But several days must still elapse before the breezes would
blow right from the west.

This part of the Pacific was always deserted. No vessel showed itself
in these parts. It was a latitude truly forsaken by navigators. The
whalers of the southern seas were not yet prepared to go beyond the
tropic. On the "Pilgrim," which peculiar circumstances had obliged to
leave the fishing grounds before the end of the season, they must not
expect to cross any ship bound for the same destination.

As to the trans-pacific packet-boats, it has been already said that
they did not follow so high a parallel in their passages between
Australia and the American continent.

However, even if the sea is deserted, one must not give up observing it
to the extreme limits of the horizon. Monotonous as it may appear to
heedless minds, it is none the less infinitely varied for him who knows
how to comprehend it. Its slightest changes charm the imagination of
one who feels the poetry of the ocean. A marine herb which floats up
and down on the waves, a branch of sargasso whose light track zebras,
the surface of the waters, and end of a board, whose history he would
wish to guess, he would need nothing more. Facing this infinite, the
mind is no longer stopped by anything. Imagination runs riot. Each of
those molecules of water, that evaporation is continually changing from
the sea to the sky, contains perhaps the secret of some catastrophe.
So, those are to be envied, whose inner consciousness knows how to
interrogate the mysteries of the ocean, those spirits who rise from its
moving surface to the heights of heaven.

Besides, life always manifests itself above as well as below the seas.
The "Pilgrim’s" passengers could see flights of birds excited in the
pursuit of the smallest fishes, birds which, before winter, fly from
the cold climate of the poles. And more than once, Dick Sand, a scholar
of Mrs. Weldon’s in that branch as in others, gave proofs of marvelous
skill with the gun and pistol, in bringing down some of those
rapid-winged creatures.

There were white petrels here; there, other petrels, whose wings were
embroidered with brown. Sometimes, also, companies of damiers passed,
or some of those penquins whose gait on land is so heavy and so
ridiculous. However, as Captain Hull remarked, these penquins, using
their stumps like true fins, can challenge the most rapid fishes in
swimming, to such an extent even, that sailors have often confounded
them with bonitoes.

Higher, gigantic albatrosses beat the air with great strokes,
displaying an extent of ten feet between the extremities of their
wings, and then came to light on the surface of the waters, which they
searched with their beaks to get their food.

All these scenes made a varied spectacle, that only souls closed to the
charms of nature would have found monotonous.

That day Mrs. Weldon was walking aft on the "Pilgrim," when a rather
curious phenomenon attracted her attention. The waters of the sea had
become reddish quite suddenly. One might have believed that they had
just been stained with blood; and this inexplicable tinge extended as
far as the eye could reach.

Dick Sand. was then with little Jack near Mrs. Weldon.

"Dick," she said to the young novice, "Do you see that singular color
of the waters of the Pacific? Is it due to the presence of a marine

"No, Mrs. Weldon," replied Dick Sand, "that tinge is produced by
myriads of little crustaceans, which generally serve to nourish the
great mammifers. Fishermen call that, not without reason, ‘whales’

"Crustaceans!" said Mrs. Weldon. "But they are so small that we might
almost call them sea insects. Perhaps Cousin Benedict would be very
much enchanted to make a collection of them." Then calling: "Cousin
Benedict!" cried she.

Cousin Benedict appeared out of the companion-way almost at the same
time as Captain Hull.

"Cousin Benedict," said Mrs. Weldon, "see that immense reddish field
which extends as far as we can see."

"Hold!" said Captain Hull. "That is whales’ food. Mr. Benedict, a fine
occasion to study this curious species of crustacea."

"Phew!" from the entomologist.

"How – phew!" cried the captain. "But you have no right to profess such
indifference. These crustaceans form one of the six classes of the
articulates, if I am not mistaken, and as such – – "

"Phew!" said Cousin Benedict again, shaking his lead.

"For instance – – I find you passably disdainful for an entomologist!"

"Entomologist, it may be," replied Cousin Benedict, "but more
particularly hexapodist, Captain Hull, please remember."

"At all events," replied Captain Hull, "if these crustaceans do not
interest you, it can’t be helped; but it would be otherwise if you
possessed a whale’s stomach. Then what a regale! Do you see, Mrs.
Weldon, when we whalers, during the fishing season, arrive in sight of
a shoal of these crustaceans, we have only time to prepare our harpoons
and our lines. We are certain that the game is not distant."

"Is it possible that such little beasts can feed such large ones?"
cried Jack.

"Ah! my boy," replied Captain Hull, "little grains of vermicelli, of
flour, of fecula powder, do they not make very good porridge? Yes; and
nature has willed that it should be so. When a whale floats in the
midst of these red waters, its soup is served; it has only to open its
immense mouth. Myriads of crustaceans enter it. The numerous plates of
those whalebones with which the animal’s palate is furnished serve to
strain like fishermen’s nets; nothing can get out of them again, and
the mass of crustaceans is ingulfed in the whale’s vast stomach, as the
soup of your dinner in yours."

"You think right, Jack," observed Dick Sand, "that Madam Whale does not
lose time in picking these crustaceans one by one, as you pick shrimps."

"I may add," said Captain Hull, "that it is just when the enormous
gourmand is occupied in this way, that it is easiest to approach it
without exciting its suspicion. That is the favorable moment to harpoon
it with some success."

At that instant, and as if to corroborate Captain Hull, a sailor’s
voice was heard from the front of the ship:

"A whale to larboard!"

Captain Hull strode up.

"A whale!" cried he.

And his fisherman’s instinct urging him, he hastened to the "Pilgrim’s"

Mrs. Weldon, Jack, Dick Sand, Cousin Benedict himself, followed him at

In fact, four miles to windward a certain bubbling indicated that a
huge marine mammifer was moving in the midst of the red waters. Whalers
could not be mistaken in it. But the distance was still too
considerable to make it possible to recognize the species to which this
mammifer belonged. These species, in fact, are quite distinct.

Was it one of those "right" whales, which the fishermen of the Northern
Ocean seek most particularly? Those cetaceans, which lack the dorsal
fin, but whose skin covers a thick stratum of lard, may attain a length
of eighty feet, though the average does not exceed sixty, and then a
single one of those monsters furnishes as much as a hundred barrels of

Was it, on the contrary, a "humpback," belonging to the species of
baloenopters, a designation whose termination should at least gain it
the entomologist’s esteem? These possess dorsal fins, white in color,
and as long as half the body, which resemble a pair of wings – something
like a flying whale.

Had they not in view, more likely, a "finback" mammifer, as well known
by the name "jubarte," which is provided with a dorsal fin, and whose
length may equal that of the "right" whale?

Captain Hull and his crew could not yet decide, but they regarded the
animal with more desire than admiration.

If it is true that a clockmaker cannot find himself in a room in the
presence of a clock without experiencing the irresistible wish to wind
it up, how much more must the whaler, before a whale, be seized with
the imperative desire to take possession of it? The hunters of large
game, they say, are more eager than the hunters of small game. Then,
the larger the animal, the more it excites covetousness. Then, how
should hunters of elephants and fishers of whalers feel? And then there
was that disappointment, felt by all the "Pilgrim’s" crew, of returning
with an incomplete cargo.

Meanwhile, Captain Hull tried to distinguish the animal which had been
signaled in the offing. It was not very visible from that distance.
Nevertheless, the trained eye of a whaler could not be deceived in
certain details easier to discern at a distance.

In fact, the water-spout, that is, that column of vapor and water which
the whale throws back by its rents, would attract Captain Hull’s
attention, and fix it on the species to which this cetacean belonged.

"That is not a ‘right’ whale," cried he. "Its water-spout would be at
once higher and of a smaller volume. On the other hand, if the noise
made by that spout in escaping could be compared to the distant noise
of a cannon, I should be led to believe that that whale belongs to the
species of ‘humpbacks;’ but there is nothing of the kind, and, on
listening, we are assured that this noise is of quite a different
nature. What is your opinion on this subject, Dick?" asked Captain
Hull, turning toward the novice.

"I am ready to believe, captain," replied Dick Sand, "that we have to
do with a jubarte. See how his rents throw that column of liquid
violently into the air. Does it not seem to you also – which would
confirm my idea – that that spout contains more water than condensed
vapor? And, if I am not mistaken, it is a special peculiarity of the

"In fact, Dick," replied Captain Hull, "there is no longer any doubt
possible! It is a jubarte which floats on the surface of these red

"That’s fine," cried little Jack.

"Yes, my boy! and when we think that the great beast is there, in
process of breakfasting, and little suspecting that the whalers are
watching it."

"I would dare to affirm that it is a jubarte of great size," observed
Dick Sand.

"Truly," replied Captain Hull, who was gradually becoming more excited.
"I think it is at least seventy feet long!"

"Good!" added the boatswain. "Half a dozen whales of that size would
suffice to fill a ship as large as ours!"

"Yes, that would be sufficient," replied Captain Hull, who mounted on
the bowsprit to see better.

"And with this one," added the boatswain, "we should take on board in a
few hours the half of the two hundred barrels of oil which we lack."

"Yes! – truly – yes!" murmured Captain Hull.

"That is true," continued Dick Sand; "but it is sometimes a hard matter
to attack those enormous jubartes!"

"Very hard, very hard!" returned Captain Hull. "Those baloenopters have
formidable tails, which must not be approached without distrust. The
strongest pirogue would not resist a well-given blow. But, then, the
profit is worth the trouble!"

"Bah!" said one of the sailors, "a fine jubarte is all the same a fine

"And profitable!" replied another.

"It would be a pity not to salute this one on the way!"

It was evident that these brave sailors were growing excited in looking
at the whale. It was a whole cargo of barrels of oil that was floating
within reach of their hands. To hear them, without doubt there was
nothing more to be done, except to stow those barrels in the
"Pilgrim’s" hold to complete her lading. Some of the sailors, mounted
on the ratlines of the fore-shrouds, uttered longing cries. Captain
Hull, who no longer spoke, was in a dilemma. There was something there,
like an irresistible magnet, which attracted the "Pilgrim" and all her

"Mama, mama!" then cried little Jack, "I should like to have the whale,
to see how it is made."

"Ah! you wish to have this whale, my boy? Ah! why not, my friends?"
replied Captain Hull, finally yielding to his secret desire. "Our
additional fishermen are lacking, it is true, but we alone – – "

"Yes! yes!" cried the sailors, with a single voice.

"This will not be the first time that I have followed the trade of
harpooner," added Captain Hull, "and you will see if I still know how
to throw the harpoon!"

"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" responded the crew.


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