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Fighting the Whales   By: (1825-1894)

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There are few things in this world that have filled me with so much astonishment as the fact that man can kill a whale! That a fish, more than sixty feet long, and thirty feet round the body; with the bulk of three hundred fat oxen rolled into one; with the strength of many hundreds of horses; able to swim at a rate that would carry it right round the world in twenty three days; that can smash a boat to atoms with one slap of its tail, and stave in the planks of a ship with one blow of its thick skull; that such a monster can be caught and killed by man, is most wonderful to hear of, but I can tell from experience that it is much more wonderful to see.

There is a wise saying which I have often thought much upon. It is this: "Knowledge is power." Man is but a feeble creature, and if he had to depend on his own bodily strength alone, he could make no head against even the ordinary brutes in this world. But the knowledge which has been given to him by his Maker has clothed man with great power, so that he is more than a match for the fiercest beast in the forest, or the largest fish in the sea. Yet, with all his knowledge, with all his experience, and all his power, the killing of a great old sperm whale costs man a long, tough battle, sometimes it even costs him his life.

It is a long time now since I took to fighting the whales. I have been at it, man and boy, for nigh forty years, and many a wonderful sight have I seen; many a desperate battle have I fought in the fisheries of the North and South Seas.

Sometimes, when I sit in the chimney corner of a winter evening, smoking my pipe with my old messmate Tom Lokins, I stare into the fire, and think of the days gone by, till I forget where I am, and go on thinking so hard that the flames seem to turn into melting fires, and the bars of the grate into dead fish, and the smoke into sails and rigging, and I go to work cutting up the blubber and stirring the oil pots, or pulling the bow oar and driving the harpoon at such a rate that I can't help giving a shout, which causes Tom to start and cry:

"Hallo! Bob," (my name is Bob Ledbury, you see). "Hallo! Bob, wot's the matter?"

To which I reply, "Tom, can it all be true?"

"Can wot be true?" says he, with a stare of surprise for Tom is getting into his dotage now.

And then I chuckle and tell him I was only thinking of old times, and so he falls to smoking again, and I to staring at the fire, and thinking as hard as ever.

The way in which I was first led to go after the whales was curious. This is how it happened.

About forty years ago, when I was a boy of nearly fifteen years of age, I lived with my mother in one of the seaport towns of England. There was great distress in the town at that time, and many of the hands were out of work. My employer, a blacksmith, had just died, and for more than six weeks I had not been able to get employment or to earn a farthing. This caused me great distress, for my father had died without leaving a penny in the world, and my mother depended on me entirely. The money I had saved out of my wages was soon spent, and one morning when I sat down to breakfast, my mother looked across the table and said, in a thoughtful voice

"Robert, dear, this meal has cost us our last halfpenny."

My mother was old and frail, and her voice very gentle; she was the most trustful, uncomplaining woman I ever knew.

I looked up quickly into her face as she spoke. "All the money gone, mother?"

"Ay, all. It will be hard for you to go without your dinner, Robert, dear."

"It will be harder for you, mother," I cried, striking the table with my fist; then a lump rose in my throat and almost choked me. I could not utter another word.

It was with difficulty I managed to eat the little food that was before me. After breakfast I rose hastily and rushed out of the house, determined that I would get my mother her dinner, even if I should have to beg for it... Continue reading book >>

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