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CHAPTER III ON THE BANKS
 Once past the lighthouse, and with a fair wind, the Narwhal’s motor was stopped, sheets and braces were trimmed, and, heeling gently to her immense square foretop and foretopgallant sails and the vast expanse of her fore and mainsails the schooner plunged eastward.
“Golly, isn’t she a fine old ship!” cried Tom, as he stepped to the lee rail and watched the hissing froth speed past. “Why, she’s going like a yacht and there’s not much wind either!”
“Used to was the fastest hooker ’round the Cape,” rumbled Cap’n Pem.
“And spreads enough canvas to drive a clipper ship,” added Captain Edwards, glancing at the straining spars and rigging. “Pem, you’ll have to keep a weather eye liftin’ an’ be ready to shorten sail at the first sign of a blow.”
“Yes, sir,” agreed the other, “that there’s the wust o’ these here torpsa’l schooners—too derned[28] much canvas aloft. It’ll drive ’em like blazes in a light win’, but keeps the crew everlastin’ly on the jump a-reefin’ and short’nin’ sail. Reckon soon’s ever we get no’thard o’ the Banks, we’d be a leedle mite snugger if we housed that there to’gallant sail.”
“Yes, better do that,” agreed the skipper, “we won’t need it in the ice.”
Now that the boys had a chance to look about, they noticed for the first time that there were no swarthy-faced Portuguese among the crew.
“Never take ’em to the Arctic,” Mr. Kemp told them in reply to their question. “Ain’t no good there—just shiver and freeze like a lot of frozen turnips.”
“Is it really as cold as that?” asked Jim.
“Cold!” exclaimed the lanky second officer. “Cold! Well, let me tell you a fellow doesn’t know what cold is ’til he’s spent a winter froze in up ’round the North Pole.”
“Have you ever been there?” asked Tom.
Mr. Kemp looked at Tom in surprise. “Of course,” he declared. “Wish I had as many dollars as I’ve put in days in the ice.”
“And did you ever shoot white bears, and walrus, and musk oxen, and see Eskimos?” cried Jim.
“Did I?” grinned the officer. “Didn’t do much[29] else durin’ the winter ’cept have shenannigans with the Eskimos aboard.”
“Do they talk English?” asked Tom. “Or do you have to know how to speak Eskimo?”
“Well, some of ’em talk what they call English,” said Mr. Kemp. “Those are the fellows that’s been whalin’ long of Yankee and Scotch ships, but the most of ’em just palaver in their own lingo—and I can talk that. I was brung up with a Eskimo kid, and learnt it from him.”
“Why, how was that?” asked Jim, “I thought you came from right here on Cape Cod.”
“Nope, Noank, back in Connecticut,” said the other. “And there was a Eskimo there—Eskimo Joe they called him—what had a kid ’bout my age. We went to school together and was reg’lar chums.”
“I didn’t know there were any Eskimos in Connecticut,” exclaimed Tom. “I thought they always died when they came down here.”
“Joe didn’t,” the other assured him. “And say, he could have told you a bully good yarn. I don’t know as I can spin the whole of it for you, but he an’ his squaw come down on a cake of ice. That is, they come most o’ the way.”
“Oh, tell us about it!” cried Tom. “How did[30] he happen to be on a cake of ice and how could he come down on it?”
“Well, there don’t seem to be much to do right now, so I expect I can spare a couple o’ minutes to tell you,” agreed Mr. Kemp. “Especially,” he added with a grin, “as long as the owners is tellin’ me to.”
“You see,” he began, seating himself on a coil of rope and lighting his pipe, “Eskimo Joe was one o’ the hunters an’ pilots on the old Polaris—a ship what was up huntin’ for the North Pole long afore my time—back in 1871 ’twas. Well, the Polaris got froze in hard an’ fast, and the crew, thinkin’ she might get stove, put most of the stuff on the ice and was gettin’ ready for a bust up. But it come afore they expected of it. Ice broke up and left some of the folks on the ice ’longside the ship and the rest of ’em on a big piece of floe adrift in the water. Eskimo Joe was with that crowd along with his squaw and Captain Tyson of the Polaris and a bunch o’ men—twenty there was all told—and nary a mite of food.
“Just as soon as the ice got adrift it commenced to travel in a current, and there they was, driftin’ about on an ice island that might go to bits or capsize any minute. Times was when they pretty near[31] starved, but they caught gulls and murres and auks and other birds, and Joe fixed up a fishin’ tackle and got fish now and then. Sometimes, too, a seal would come aboard the cake and Joe’d get him; and once a white bear clumb on to the ice and Joe nailed him, too. I don’t guess bear’s any too good meat, but it sure was welcome to those folks. Well, to make a long story short, they was driftin’ on that ice cake for six months, yes, sir and the cake gettin’ smaller all the time as it drifted along south. Then, along in April ’72 a sealin’ ship—steamer, Tigress, o’ St. John’s, Newfoundland ’twas—hove in sight and picked ’em up, and every man jack o’ the twenty-one safe and hearty.”
“Why, I thought you said there were only twenty!” exclaimed Tom.
Mr. Kemp grinned. “So I did and so there was,” he declared, “when they went adrift. But you see, while they was navigatin’ ’round on their ice island, Joe’s squaw had a baby an’ that was the kid I used to be chums with.”
“Gee, I hope we don’t get adrift like that!” exclaimed Jim. “But it must have been some adventure!”
“Well, you can’t never tell,” remarked Mr. Kemp as he rose and hurried off. “But I guess after bein’[32] sunk by a sub, driftin’ on a ice floe wouldn’t be so bad as it might be.”
The Elizabeth Islands were now close ahead, and the Narwhal was soon passing through the narrow channel between Naushon and Woods Hole and, to the south, Martha’s Vineyard was in plain sight. With every stitch of canvas set, the schooner sped on across Nantucket Sound towards distant Monomoy Light.
It was a perfect June day, warm and bright, and with a steady northwest wind on the Narwhal’s quarter. Captain Edwards declared that if the breeze held throughout the day and night, they would pass George’s Banks before noon the following day. Before dark, long, low Monomoy Point was sighted and with the last of the land astern, Cap’n Pem roared out orders and the willing crew raced to sheets and braces.
Oh, whisky is the life of man,
Whisky! Johnny!
It always was since time began,
Oh, whisky for my Johnny!
Lustily the men roared out the old chantey as the fore and mainsail sheets were hauled in, and the big foretopsail yard swung to the heave of the braces.[33] Then, as the Narwhal turned towards the north and the freshening wind abeam buried her lee rails under the tumbling suds-like froth, the crew swarmed aloft. Presently the foretopgallant sail was thrashing and snapping like a battery of rapid-fire guns, as the men furled the canvas to the rousing chantey:
Around Cape Horn, where wild gales blow,
To me way-hay, hay-yah!
Around Cape Horn through sleet and snow,
A long time ago——!
The schooner headed across the broad Atlantic, and darkness fell upon the sea. Monomoy Light was but a tiny twinkling star astern, and the boys felt their cruise had really begun.
The next morning was fair but almost calm. As the boys came on deck, they were surprised to see a score and more of trim schooners riding easily on the long ocean swell under light canvas.
“It must be a yacht club!” exclaimed Tom, “but I didn’t know they came so far to sea.”
“Fishing fleet from Gloucester,” said Captain Edwards, who heard Tom’s remark. “We’re passing George’s Banks. Don’t you see the dories yonder?”
“Oh yes, I do now,” declared Tom. “But why do they call it a Bank? I don’t see any land.”
[34]
“Waall, I swan!” cried Cap’n Pem. “To think o’ ye young scallawags a-bein’ navigators an’ owners o’ a torps’l schooner, and a-havin’ v’y’ged to the Sou’ Shetland’s, an’ not a-knowin’ on a fishin’ smack when ye sees ’em, nor a-knowin’ nothin’ ’bout the Banks. Lor’ love ye, there beint no lan’ here ’bouts ’ceptin’ straight down. Ye see the Banks is ’bout a hundred fathom deep, an’ that’s plumb shaller fer mid-ocean, so they calls on ’em Banks. Ain’t no ’cause to be skeert o’ runnin’ the ol’ Narwhal agroun’!”
“Well, I suppose we are awfully green,” laughed Tom, “but they never told us that in school when we learned about the ocean and the coast in physical geography, and I thought fishing schooners were dirty old boats.”
“Finest little ships afloat,” declared the skipper. “And just as fast as they can be built. Have to be to get the catch to market—price depends on the first to make port. Look there! There goes one of ’em now. She’s got a full catch an’s beatin’ it for Boston.”
As he spoke, he pointed to one of the schooners that had run a flag to her maintopmast head. As the boys looked, the schooner blossomed into a perfect cloud of snowy canvas.
“Gosh, look at her go!” cried Jim delightedly, as[35] the trim black schooner heeled towards them until they could see the full sweep of her deck. With a mountain of foam about her bows, she fairly raced through the oily sea.
“And hardly enough wind to fill our sails,” added Tom. “Say, I wish the Narwhal could go like that!”
“And there goes another and another!” cried Jim. “Golly, it’s like a race.”
“So ’tis a race,” chuckled the captain. “With thousands of dollars to the winner.”
“Jiminy, I’d like to sail on those boats,” declared Tom as the schooners swept by with a hiss and roar. “It must be exciting.”
“Pesky hard work if ye asks me,” declared Cap’n Pem. “An’ no fun, come winter, I tell ye. By gum, I’d ruther be froze up in the Ar’tic.”
“And plenty of danger too,” added the skipper. “Hardly a week passes that fishermen are not lost on the Banks—though it’s on the Grand Banks more than here.”
“I don’t see what’s dangerous about it,” said Tom as they turned to go to breakfast. “Just coming out here in a fine schooner and fishing.”
“There’s not—on a day like this,” agreed Captain Edwards, “but in fog, the schooners or dories are[36] often run down by steamers; the dories get parted from their ships and are lost, and in winter storms they are often swamped or driven to sea by gales. I tell you, boys, if you want to read exciting stories of heroism and hardship, just get the Gloucester papers and read ’em. Why, it’s worse than whalin’—almost.”
By the time breakfast was over, the fishing fleet was a mere group of flashing white specks astern, and the boats which had raced to port were out of sight.
Presently Cap’n Pem called Mr. Kemp and suggested that it was a good day to break in the green hands. For several hours the boys were amused by watching the frightened men, who had never before been to sea, as they were compelled to go aloft. It was a familiar sight to them for they had seen it day after day on the Hector but they could not help being sorry for the fellows, as the two whalemen forced the men into the rigging.
There was no actual brutality—although, judging from the words and looks of Cap’n Pem and the second mate, the men might well have thought they were ready to do murder if they were not obeyed. After a bit, the green hands were allowed to come down, the big yards were swung, the schooner was[37] hove to, and for several hours the “greenies” were put through a grilling boat practice. This they thoroughly enjoyed, and they chaffed and jollied one another whenever they caught a crab with the huge ash oars, or made some similar breaks that brought down a fiery string of comments from the officers. But there was not a great deal of this drilling and breaking in, for the Narwhal’s crew was small and only a very few of the men were raw hands, the captain explaining that the bulk of the work on the “grounds” would be done by the Eskimos who could be taken aboard at Labrador or Greenland.
“Gee, it sounds funny to be talking about going to Greenland!” laughed Tom. “I can’t really believe it yet. How long should it take us to get there, Captain Edwards?”
“Impossible to say,” replied the skipper. “Depends on wind and fog and how much ice we find when we get to the Straits.”
“Oh, there—there she blows!” shouted Jim. “Off the port bow!”
Instantly all eyes were turned in the direction Jim indicated, and Mr. Kemp raced up the rigging. The next moment a dozen little fountains of spray rose above the green surface of the sea, and a number[38] of the huge black bodies rolled sluggishly into view.
“Blackfish!” shouted Mr. Kemp.
“So they be!” echoed Cap’n Pem. “Don’t ye youngsters know whales yit?”
“Aren’t they whales?” demanded Tom. “They look like ’em to me.”
“No, blackfish-grampus,” declared the skipper. “But after all, they are a kind of whale.” Then, after a moment, he exclaimed. “Pem, let’s lower away and go after ’em. Good practice for the men, an’ blackfish ile’s worth takin’. There ain’t no wind an’ we won’t lose ’nough time to count.”
“Stan’ by to lower away the sta’board boats,” roared the old whaleman.
Then, as the yards were swung and the schooner came to a standstill, the boats were lowered, the men tumbled in, and to the pull of the six long ash oars in each, they went racing towards the school of blackfish.
To the boys’ delight, they were allowed to go after the grampus, for they had always longed to go in one of the boats as it dashed across the waves after a whale. To be sure “going on” the blackfish was not the same as attacking a monster cetacean. But it was the nearest thing to it, and both Tom and Jim[39] thrilled with excitement as the ash oars bent to the brawny muscles of the men, and the keen-stemmed boat fairly leaped through the water.
Cap’n Pem was as excited as if he were after a real whale. Standing at the huge steering oar, with his hair flying, he shouted to the straining crew.
“Lift her, lads!” he cried. “Get in on the pesky critters! Don’t let that there swab o’ a secon’ mate git fust! Git arter ’em, ye lubbers!”
Forward the harpoonier or boat-steerer laid aside his oar and unsheathed a keen-pointed harpoon or “iron,” a lighter weapon than the one the boys had seen used for sperm whales. Bracing his knee in the clumsy cleat, he stood ready to strike the blackfish that were now but a few hundred feet distant.
Close behind came Mr. Kemp’s boat, his crew striving their utmost to reach the grampus in time to make a strike before the fish were frightened. Almost side by side the two boats swept upon the unsuspecting creatures.
Nearer and nearer the boat crept. The boat steerer raised his weapon, braced himself, every muscle taut, and was on the point of heaving the iron at a huge grampus a few yards ahead when Tom let out a terrified yell.
[40]
Within a few feet of the boat a huge, triangular fin had cut through the water and the next instant an immense body hurled itself into the air and, with a sweep of its stupendous tail, struck the water with a blow like a bursting shell, drenching the occupants of the boat.
“Thrasher!” shouted Cap’n Pem.
The harpoonier picked himself up from where he had stumbled, as the deluge of water almost drowned him. He poised his iron and glanced about. Not a grampus was in sight.
“Dern his everlastin’ hide!” yelled Cap’n Pem. “Look out! There, he’s a-comin’! Strike him, Nat!”
As the old whaleman spoke, the big fin again ripped through the sea and with a grunt the boat-steerer heaved his long weapon. The next second the water was lashed into foam, the heavy manilla whale line was rushing through the chocks like a streak of light, and the heavy boat was tearing through the sea at express-train speed.
“Fast!” screamed Cap’n Pem, as he tugged and strained at his big oar.
Then, “Breachin’!” he cried, as once more the immense creature flung itself clear of the water. The boys, dazed, frightened, and gasping, saw that[41] it was a gigantic shark with an enormously long tail.
Hardly had the thrasher struck the water again when the line ran out a few feet. Suddenly it grew slack and the boat came to a standstill.
“Drew!” exclaimed Cap’n Pem. “Consarn it, reckon we might’s well go back. Nary mite o’ use a-tryin’ fer them blackfish now.”
Crestfallen, the men took to the oars and started to pull back to the ship.
“What is a thrasher?” asked Tom, now that the excitement was over.
“Kind o’ shark,” replied Cap’n Pem. “Biggest nuisance ever was. Jes rush in an’ thresh about and kill a lot o’ fish, and then gobbles of ’em up. That there consarn rascal was after them blackfish, though.”
“Whew, do they kill—Oh, look, Mr. Kemp’s boat’s fast!”
Sure enough, the second mate’s boat was rushing through the sea evidently towed by some creature, and a few moments later the boys saw the officer stand erect in the bow, poise his lance and lunge forward with it.
“Reckon we might jes as well pull over thataway an’ mebbe get a chanct to strike,” remarked Cap’n Pem, swinging the boat’s head as he spoke.
[42]
In a few minutes they were within hailing distance of the second mate’s boat.
“Did you get one?” yelled Tom.
“I’ll say so,” shouted back Mr. Kemp. “Come over here and bear a hand to tow this critter to the schooner.”
“Waall I’ll be sunk!” cried Cap’n Pem. “What’s the matter with thet there crew o’ yourn? Ain’t they got beef ’nough for to tow in a consarned leedle blackfish?”
The boats were now close together and the boys saw a huge black body rolling in the swell beyond the second mate’s boat.
“Blackfish?” yelled Mr. Kemp. “You’re a fine whaleman! What’s the matter with your eyes, Pem?”
But the old whaleman had now caught sight of the other boat’s kill and the expression that came over his weather-beaten old face was so ludicrous that the boys roared. His eyes seemed popping from their sockets, his mouth gaped and he looked as if he had seen a ghost.
“By the great red herrin’!” he ejaculated at last. “I’ll be everlastin’ly keelauled if ’tain’t a whale! An’ sparm at thet!”


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