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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Deep Sea Hunters in the Frozen Seas » CHAPTER VIII WHALES AND WHALES
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 Shouts assured the boys that the men were still there long before they rounded a point and came in sight of the scene of the killing. They had not escaped unscathed. The rending crash of the falling ice had warned them and, knowing what would follow, they had raced up the beach beyond reach of the waves. But the boat, lifted on the tremendous sea, had been left high and dry, wedged among the rocks and ice, hopelessly shattered. The bodies of the seals had been scattered far and wide. Some were floating far from shore, others had been cast high on the beach. The skins which had already been stripped from the creatures were rolled and tossed among the rocks for a hundred yards up and down the shore. The men searched out the pelts and proceeded to skin the remaining seals. A waif had been raised on the boat’s mast to attract attention of those on the schooner, and as the boys arrived at the[104] spot another boat was speeding across the bay towards them.
“Hello!” cried Mr. Kemp as he caught sight of the boys. “I was just about settin’ off to look for you. Feared you might ha’ been catched in that wave or somethin’. Where was you?”
“We were on the way to the glacier,” said Tom, “and got up on a rock to see it better when it calved.”
“Darned lucky you wasn’t ’longside of it,” declared the second officer. “Don’t never go foolin’ ’round a glacier this time of year. Never can tell when they’re goin’ to bust loose. Stove our boat too, darn it.”
By the time the second boat arrived, the last of the seals was skinned. Piling the hides and the contents of the stove boat into the other craft, and dragging the shattered boat to the water, the party set out for the Narwhal, towing the injured craft.
“By gum, didn’t I tell ye thet cat was a-goin’ fer to bring bad luck?” exclaimed old Pem as the boys and Mr. Kemp climbed over the rail, and the old whaleman saw the boat with its shattered planking.
“Oh, dry up!” burst out the second officer. “Don’t care if you are mate, you’re an old croaker. Ain’t nothin’ to do with the puss. You know’s well as any one glaciers is always calving in summer.”
Cap’n Pem’s eyes opened in wonder and he stared[105] speechless at Mr. Kemp. Twice he opened his mouth as if about to speak, but both times he failed. At last, shaking his grizzled head dolefully, he turned and walked away.
Soon the schooner was again under way, chugging out of the fiord under her own power. Once more in the open sea, she heeled to the wind and bore northward for Disko Bay. As she came in sight of Disko Island, passing close to the many islets at the bay’s mouth, the boys were enthusiastic over the beauty of the scene. Presently they caught sight of a little cluster of huts and tents before which a row of kayaks were drawn upon the beach.
Before the Narwhal’s anchor plunged overboard the schooner was surrounded by the little bobbing skin canoes. To the boys’ joy they saw that these Eskimos were clad in skins and were exactly like the pictures they had always seen of these people. The Eskimo hands on the schooner greeted them with yells and chattered rapidly with them. Presently the newcomers were scrambling on to the Narwhal’s deck. But at close quarters these Greenland Eskimos proved as greasy and filthy as those the boys had seen at Hebron.
“I never saw such dirty people!” exclaimed Tom as he edged away from the ill-smelling crowd.
“Don’t be expectin’ of ’em to be nothin’ else, do ye?” said Cap’n Pem. “How the Sam Hill they goin’ fer to keep clean? Reckon ye’d be a mite dirty if all the fresh water ye had fer to bathe in wuz melted snow.”
“But I should think they’d all be sick and die,” said Jim. “Why, they must live exactly like pigs.”
“Shure thin’, ain’t pigs the hilthiest av’ cr’atures!” exclaimed Mike.
But later, when, the boys went ashore, they found much of interest, despite the odors and the dirty inhabitants. They saw fat-faced Eskimo women, their hair done up in big greasy topknots, industriously chewing skins to cure them. They saw others carrying their bright-eyed little kiddies in the pouchlike hoods on their backs. They peered into the smoky reindeer skin tents and saw the soapstone lamps with their wicks of moss floating in oil. They saw the men carving walrus tusks into weapons and utensils, and they watched a couple of boys as they broke a dog team to harness. The Eskimos seemed very friendly and good-natured, and when Tom uttered an exclamation of surprise as a boy lashed out with his rawhide whip and deftly flipped the ear of a surly dog a dozen feet distant, the young Eskimo[107] grinned broadly and said something in his own tongue.
“Says if you’ll give him a coin he’ll show you something,” interpreted Mr. Kemp who stood near.
Tom tossed the boy a quarter which the youngster examined critically, and bit with his firm white teeth. Apparently satisfied, he walked a short distance away and placed the coin upon the top of a little bowlder. Retracing his steps until fully twenty feet from the coin, he swung his whip about his head, suddenly lurched forward and with a crack like a pistol the snakelike lash struck the coin and sent it spinning high in the air. Dashing forward the boy caught it dexterously as it fell.
“Gosh, that was fine!” cried Tom. “Whew! he can handle a whip!”
Instantly the two boys were surrounded by the Eskimo lads, all clamoring for a chance to exhibit their skill and for some time the two boys were busy handing out their loose change and watching the Eskimos flip them from resting places with whips or hit them with their arrows as the coins were tossed into the air.
Not until the boys’ money was exhausted did they stop. Then, followed by the troop of young Eskimos, Tom and Jim continued on their round of the village.
“I never knew Eskimos lived in tents,” said Jim as Mr. Kemp stopped to bargain with a wrinkled old man for some carved ivory curios. “I thought they lived in igloos.”
The second mate laughed. “Funny, most all folks get that idea,” he replied. “Wonder how they think these lads is goin’ to build snow houses in summer.”
“Well you see we never realized it was summer—that is, warm—up here,” said Tom. “Somehow we always thought of the Arctic as cold and covered with ice all the year round.”
“Won’t we have a lot to tell the fellows at home?” said Jim. “How these women chew the skins to tan them, and how they live in wigwams just like Indians and say—what’s that man doing? Look, he’s splitting up a match.”
Sure enough, the Eskimo they were watching was very carefully splitting a sulphur match into tiny shavings with his knife while holding it over a bit of dry moss.
“He’s getting a light for his pipe or a lamp,” replied Mr. Kemp. “Matches are scarce and the Eskimos ain’t folks to waste nothing. When they want to use a match, they split it same’s he’s doin’, and bimeby one of the pieces’ll light and he’ll have his[109] fire, and ’stead of havin’ a match less he’ll have a dozen more. Look, there she goes!”
“Well that is funny!” cried Tom. “But those tiny slivers can’t be used. They’d break just as soon as he tried to scratch them.”
“Trust the Eskimos to look after that,” chuckled the second mate. “When he wants to use one of them slivers, he’ll tie it on to a bit of bone afore he scratches it.”
“Gee, but they are clever!” declared Jim. “Talk about thrift!”
“I’ll tell you another thing,” went on Mr. Kemp. “Tobaccer’s scarce too, so, after they’ve smoked a pipe for a spell, they cut up the wooden stem and smoke that along with the tobaccer. Jus’ as good flavor, I reckon, and goes a blamed long ways towards savin’. Yes, sir, they’re a thrifty bunch. Even a Scotchman’d have blamed hard work to teach ’em much. And say, don’t throw away them brass shells from your rifles. Over to Hudson Bay you can trade ’em for good pelts. Yes, sir, get good fox skins for a shell each.”
“Oh, you’re kidding us!” cried Tom. “They can’t be such fools as all that.”
“Honest Injun, I ain’t,” protested the mate. “And they ain’t fools to do it. What a thing’s worth[110] depends on how much you want it. And them Eskimos want brass shells a heap more’n they want fox skins. They can go out and get foxes most any old time, but they can’t dig up brass or shoot it.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s so,” said Jim thoughtfully. “Sorry we threw away those shells we fired at the bear, but I guess we’ll have plenty more before we’re through.”
Although the boys were anxious to get some of the beautiful skins they saw, Mr. Kemp advised them to wait, assuring them that they’d be able to get all they wanted from the Eskimos about Hudson Bay, where the Narwhal would winter, even if they did not succeed in killing the creatures themselves. But they could not resist the temptation to buy a complete fur suit each. Tom chose a costume of white baby bear trimmed with blue fox, while Jim secured a suit of sheeny, silvery seal elaborately ornamented with intricate designs worked in strips of reindeer skin and with a fringe of white fox fur about the hood and collar.
Both boys roared with laughter as they tried on the suits while the Eskimos gathered about and joined in the merriment.
“Gosh, if you wear that and any one sees you,[111] they’ll take you for a bear and shoot you,” declared Jim.
“And if they see you they’ll think you’re a new kind of walrus,” retorted Tom.
“Hello, been getting outfits, eh?” exclaimed Captain Edwards who now appeared. “But come along, we’re getting off within the hour.”
A dozen Eskimos had been obtained at the village, and in addition, the skipper had secured several bales of valuable furs, nearly two hundred pounds of walrus ivory, and a quantity of whalebone.
“Guess you’ll have a chance to hunt walrus, boys,” remarked Captain Edwards as the boat pulled towards the Narwhal. “We’ll run across to Baffin Island. These Eskimos tell me there’s a herd of walrus over about Cape Hewitt. Then we’re off for Hudson Bay, after dropping these chaps here again.”
“Well, if hunting walrus isn’t any more sport than sealing, I’ll not care for it,” announced Tom.
“You’ll find it very different,” the skipper assured him. “No knocking walrus over the head. Not a bit of it—they’re tough propositions and show fight. You’ll have all the excitement you’re looking for.”
A number of the Eskimos had come off to the schooner in their kayaks, some of which were large[112] boats with double apertures in their skin-covered decks to accommodate two men. These were all hoisted on to the Narwhal’s deck, Mr. Kemp explaining to the boys that much of the walrus hunting was done by the Eskimos in their frail boats.
Once more under way, the Narwhal headed westward across Baffin Bay. As usual the lookouts were constantly searching the sea for whales. Tom and Jim, anxious to test their skill and having nothing else to amuse them, also went aloft and relieved the men, for Captain Edwards had already had a demonstration of the boys’ keen vision when on the Hector in the Antarctic. For a long time the two boys swept the broad expanse of sparkling water in vain. Here and there floating ice broke the blue-green surface, rafts of big eider ducks floated lightly on the waves, cormorants, gulls, and other birds sailed and wheeled about and occasionally a round black head, which the boys recognized as a seal, would break through the surface, stare curiously at the schooner and with a splash and a flirt of the back flippers, disappear in the depths. But no great, shiny, black expanse of glistening skin, no tiny fountain of spray, rose above the rippling water and the boys drowsed at their posts.
Then, Jim’s sleepy eyes noted a curious looking object upon the sea half a mile or so to the north.[113] At first he took it for a soggy cake of ice, but it seemed to be moving as though carried in a swift current. Then he decided it was a water-logged spar, and yet it did not look just right for that either. Puzzled, he stared and then gave a shout. Clearly from the grayish white object a little puff of steamlike vapor had risen.
“Blows!” he yelled almost unconsciously, and then, half ashamed of his involuntary cry and realizing it was no whale he saw, he cried out, “Come up and take a look, Mr. Kemp.”
The second mate ran nimbly up the rigging, glanced about, gazed fixedly in the direction Jim indicated, and cupping his hands yelled down, “Beluga! ’Bout four p’ints off the starboard bow—school of ’em.”
“Beluga?” exclaimed Jim as the officer started down the shrouds. “What’s that?”
“White whale!” replied Mr. Kemp, as he rapidly descended to the deck.
“Well, that’s a new one on me,” declared Jim, yelling across to Tom. “I thought all whales were black. Oh look, Tom! There is a school of the things and—Gosh! I thought they were ice!”
Already the boats were being swung, and by the time the boys reached the deck, two craft were being lowered over the side and the men and Eskimos were[114] tumbling into them. Without waiting to ask permission, the boys leaped into one of the boats and a moment later were speeding towards the odd whitish creatures swimming slowly along and all unconscious of danger.
As the boats drew near the whales, they spread out, the harpooniers laid aside their oars and stood in the bows with irons in hand, and in a moment more were within striking distance of the creatures. Almost at the same instant the various harpoons darted forward, and as the keen points of the irons buried themselves in the animals’ sides, the belugas leaped half from the water, looking to the boys’ wondering eyes far more like gigantic white seals than whales. Then, with a rush, the creatures started off, towing the boats at a terrific rate through the water, turning and twisting, sounding and milling, sometimes leaping high in air, at other times rolling over and over, and striving by a hundred unexpected moves to rid themselves of the stinging weapons in their sides. As Tom said afterwards, it was like playing enormous trout, for the men alternately hauled in or let out the line; they laughed and shouted and yelled as if thoroughly enjoying the sport and there was none of the tense strained attitude that the boys had seen when attacking the bowheads.
But the fight did not last long. Within fifteen minutes from being struck the white whale was tired out. He rested almost motionless, blowing frequently; and, hauling in the line hand over hand, as the crew urged the boat forward, the men drew the craft close to the big, dirty-white creature. An instant later the long, keen-bladed lance flashed, the stricken whale threw its head high in air, thrashed madly with its tail, and rolled slowly over on its side in the reddening water.
“That wasn’t much of a fight!” exclaimed Tom as the boat was run alongside the dead beluga and the fluke chain was made fast.
“Never do give much of a tussle,” said Mr. Kemp, “they ain’t much more’n second-rate whales anyhow. No bigger’n blackfish.”
Towing the dead whale, the boat pulled toward the schooner and a few minutes later the other three boats came in, each with his white, twenty-foot carcass bobbing along behind it. Then for the first time, the boys saw that the Eskimos were also out in their big kayaks and were paddling furiously over the waves in pursuit of the remaining belugas. Running into the rigging the boys watched the Eskimos through their glasses. They saw the foremost paddler in the nearest kayak urge his skin craft among the speeding[116] whales; the man in the forward seat raised his arm, there was a flash as a harpoon sped through the air, and the next moment a huge, dark-colored, balloon-shaped object was bobbing up and down, dashing this way and that where the beluga had been, while the kayak paddled off in another direction.
“Gee, he missed him!” cried Tom. “And say, what on earth is that thing on the water?”
“Search me!” replied Jim. “Golly, there’s three more of ’em. And not a single kayak is fast to a whale. Let’s ask about it.”
Hurrying to the deck the boys approached Captain Edwards. “Oh, Captain,” cried Tom, “what are those big round things out there by the Eskimos’ kayaks? And how is it not a single kayak is fast to a whale? Those fellows must be dubs not to get fast when they’re right among the whales.”
The skipper roared with laughter. “Dubs!” he exclaimed. “Why, my boys, I’ll warrant not a Eskimo missed gettin’ fast. But of course you don’t understand. Them things you see a-bobbin’ about yonder are floats—skin bladders, and fast to the Eskimos’ irons in the whales. They don’t risk their kayaks a-gettin’ fas’, but jus’ let the whales tire ’emselves out a-towin’ the buoys ’round and meantime[117] go after other critters. They’ll bring ’em all in, don’t you worry.”
“Well, we have got a lot to learn,” remarked Jim turning away. “Look, Tom, there comes a kayak now, and—yes, they’re towing two whales.”
Interestedly the two boys watched the approaching Eskimos, and one after another, the kayaks came paddling alongside, each towing one or more belugas. By the time all were alongside the schooner, twelve white whales were floating under the vessel’s lee and the crew were working like beavers cutting in the dull white creatures. The work was easy and rapid compared with cutting in the bowheads or a sperm whale, for the belugas were tiny creatures compared with the other monsters the boys had seen.
Within twenty-four hours after first sighting the school, the last of the catch had been cast adrift, and the Narwhal was again sailing westward toward Baffin Island and the walrus grounds.
Elated at their success in sighting the white whales, the two boys ran up the rigging to their places on the crosstrees. Scarcely had Tom glanced about when his shout of, “She blows!” rang out. Barely a mile ahead a sparkling jet of vapor had risen above the sea, and an instant later a stupendous body had broken the surface, gleaming like polished metal in[118] the sun. Cataracts of water poured from it. Tom fairly gasped at the size of the creature, and his voice was shaking with excitement as he yelled back, “a point off the port bow, about a mile away,” in response to the Captain’s call of, “Where away?”
“It’s the biggest whale ever!” he cried excitedly to the officers as he reached the deck. “Say, we will have a fight with him!”
Captain Edwards chuckled. “I’ll bet we would—if we gave him a chance,” he replied. “But we ain’t a-goin’ to meddle with that critter.”
“You mean you’re not going after him?” cried Tom in wondering tones. “Why, why, he’d give over a hundred barrels!”
“Don’t doubt it,” smiled the skipper, “but he can keep it under his blamed old hide for all of us.”
“Do you mean you’re afraid to tackle him?” demanded the puzzled boy.
Mr. Kemp and Cap’n Pem burst into a roar of laughter. “Yes and no,” declared the second officer, “that’s a finback.”
“Finback!” exclaimed Jim. “What’s that?”
“Consarndest critters there be,” declared Cap’n Pem. “Ef ye wanter git stove or kilt or towed ter kingdom come, jes go in on a finback. ’Course I ain’t skeered o’ doin’ of it—never seed a whale yit[119] thet skeered me, but shucks, what’s the use? Derned critters’ll tow ye nigh fifty mile ’fore ye kin lance ’em an’ fight like Sam Hill. An’ arter ye’ve druv home the lance, ef yer boat ain’t smashed ter kindlin’ wood, an’ ye ain’t kilt, the consarned critter’s jes mean an onderhanded enough fer to sink.”
“Then you don’t touch them!” exclaimed Tom. “Gosh, it seems a shame to let such big fellows go. Aren’t they ever killed?”
“Steam whalers—Scotch and Skowhegians take ’em,” replied Mr. Kemp. “But you got to have harpoon guns and bomb lances and three inch cables and steam winches to get ’em.”
By now the whale which had been the subject of the conversation was within plain view from the deck, and the boys fairly gasped as they noted its enormous size. An instant later it had caught sight of the schooner and in a swirl of foam sounded and disappeared.
“Well, we’re still learning,” laughed Tom. “I always thought whales were whales, but I know now that there are whales and whales.”


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