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John Frewen, South Sea Whaler 1904   By: (1855-1913)

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From "Chinkie's Flat And Other Stories"

By Louis Becke

Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company 1904



Captain Ethan Keller, of the Casilda of Nantucket, was in a very bad temper, for in four days he had lost two of the five boats the barque carried one had been hopelessly stove by the dreaded "underclip" given her by a crafty old bull sperm whale, and the other, which was in charge of the second mate, had not been seen for seventy hours. When last sighted she was fast to the same bull which had destroyed the first mate's boat; it was then nearly dark, and the whale, which was of an enormous size, although he had three irons in his body and was towing the whole length of line from the stove in boat as well as that of the second mate, was racing through the water as fresh as when he had first been struck, three hours previously. Then the sun dipped below the sea rim, and the blue Pacific was shrouded in darkness.

"Why in thunder couldn't the dunderhead put a bomb into that fish before it came on dark?" growled the skipper to his other officers, as they sat down to a harried sapper in the spacious, old fashioned cabin of the whaler.

No one answered. Frewen, the missing officer, was as good a whaleman as ever drove an iron or gripped the haft of a steer oar, and his half caste boatsteerer Randall Cheyne was the best on the ship. But there was bad blood between young Frewen and his captain, and Cheyne was the cause of it.

"If they cut and lose that whale," resumed Keller presently, "I'll haze the life out of them by thunder, I will, if I break my back in doing it! Why, that is the biggest fish we've struck yet. If I had been in that boat, I'd have had that whale in his flurry two hours ago. Why, it appears to me that Frewen got too soared to even try to haul up and give him a bomb, let alone giving him the lance which was easy enough."

Just as he spoke, one of the boatsteerers entered the cabin and reported that some of the hands thought that they had heard the second mate's bomb gun.

"All right," growled Keller, "tell the cooper to burn a flare."

"I guess Frewen won't lose him," said Lopez, the first mate. "He told me long ago that he never yet had to out, and I don't think he'll do it now unless something has gone wrong. That must have been his gun."

"Huh!" sneered Keller, as he viciously speared a piece of salt pork with his fork, "we'll see all about that when daylight comes. You'll find Mr. Firwen and that yaller hided Samoa buck back here for breakfast, but no whale."

None of the men made any reply. They knew that Frewen would be the last man to lose a fish through any fault of his own, and only after carefully "drogueing" his line would he part company with it, and that only if the immense creature emptied the line tubs and "sounded." Then, to save the lives of those in the boat, he would have to cut.

"Guess we'll see that whale to morrow, anyway, whether Mr. Frewen is fast to him or not," said the third mate to the cooper, as they met on deck; "he's got a mighty lot of line hanging to him, and, just after the second mate got fast I saw him shaking his flukes and trying to kick out one of the two irons the mate hove into him."

"Well, that is so; I hope we shall get him. The old man is pretty cranky over it. He hasn't a nice temper even when he's in a good humour, and there will be blue fire blazing if Mr. Frewen does lose the fish after all."

For four hours the barque made short tacks to the eastward, in which direction the boat had been taken by the whale. The night was fine but dark, the sea very smooth, and the flares which were burnt at intervals on board the barque would render her visible many miles away, and a keen look out was kept for the boat, but nothing could be discovered of it.

Towards midnight the light air from the eastward died away, and was succeeded by a series of rather sharp rain squalls from the south west, and Keller, fearing to miss the boat by running past her, hove to till daylight... Continue reading book >>

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