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Chapter 17 CAPTAIN HUBBELL DECLINES TO GO WHALING

  • THE most impatient person on board the Dipsey was Captain Jim Hubbell. Sara_lock was also very anxious to go home as soon as matters could be arrange_or the return journey, and she talked a great deal of the terrible fate whic_ould be sure to overtake them if they should be so unfortunate as to sta_ntil the season of the arctic night; but, after all, she was not as impatien_s Captain Hubbell. She simply wanted to go home; but he not only greatl_esired to return to his wife and family, but he wanted to do something els_efore he started south; he wanted to go whaling. He considered himself th_nly man in the whole world who had a chance to go whaling, and he chafed a_e thought of the hindrances which Mr. Gibbs was continually placing in th_ay of this, the grandest of all sports.
  • Mr. Gibbs was a mild man, and rather a quiet one; but he thoroughly understoo_he importance of the investigations he was pursuing in the polar sea, an_laced full value upon the opportunity which had come to him of examining th_onders of a region hitherto locked up from civilized man. Captain Hubbell wa_stonished to find that Mr. Gibbs was as hard and unyielding as an iceber_uring his explorations and soundings. It was of no use to talk to him o_haling; he had work before him, and he must do it.
  • But the time came when Mr. Gibbs relented. The Dipsey had sailed around th_hole boundary of the polar sea; observations, surveys, and maps had bee_ade, and the general geography of the region had been fairly well determined.
  • There still remained some weeks of the arctic day, and it was desirable tha_hey should begin their return journey during that time; so Mr. Gibbs informe_aptain Jim that if he wanted to do a little whaling, he would like him t_ose no time.
  • Almost from the time of their arrival in the polar sea the subject of whale_ad greatly interested everybody on the Dipsey. Even Rovinski, who had bee_eleased from his confinement after a few days, because he had reall_ommitted no actual crime except that of indulging in overleaping ambition,
  • had spent every available minute of leisure in looking for whales. It wa_trange that nothing in this Northern region interested the people on th_ipsey (with the sole exception of Mr. Gibbs) so much as these great fish,
  • which seemed to be the only visible inhabitants of the polar solitudes. Ther_ere probably white bears somewhere on the icy shores about them, but the_ever showed themselves; and if birds were there, they did not fly over tha_ea.
  • There was reason to suppose that there were a good many whales in the pola_ea. Wherever our party sailed, lay to, or anchored for a time, they were ver_ure, before long, to see a whale curving his shining black back into th_ight, or sending two beautiful jets of water up into the air. Whenever _hale was seen, somebody on board was sure to remark that these creatures i_his part of the world seemed to be very tame. It was not at all uncommon t_ee one disport himself at no great distance from the vessel for an hour o_ore.
  • "If I could get among a school of whales anywhere around Nantucket and find
  • 'em as tame as these fellers," said Captain Jim, "I'd give a boom to th_hale-oil business that it hasn't had for forty years."
  • But not long before Mr. Gibbs told the captain that he might go whaling if h_elt like it, the old sailor had experienced a change of mind. He had become _ost ardent student of whales. In his very circumscribed experience when _oung man he had seen whales, but they had generally been a long way off; an_s the old-fashioned method of rowing after them in boats had even then bee_bandoned in favor of killing them by means of the rifled cannon, Captai_ubbell had not seen very much of these creatures until they had been towe_longside. But now he could study whales at his leisure. It was seldom that h_ad to wait very long before he would see one near enough for him to examin_t with a glass, and he never failed to avail himself of such opportunities.
  • The consequence of this constant and careful inspection was the conclusion i_aptain Hubbell's mind that there was only one whale in the polar sea. He ha_oticed, and others had noticed, that they never saw two at once, and th_aptain had used his glass so often and so well that one morning he stampe_is foot upon the deck and said to Sammy:
  • "I believe that's the same whale over and over and over ag'in. I know him lik_ book; he has his ways and his manners, and it isn't reasonable to suppos_hat every whale has the same ways and manners. He comes just so near th_essel, and then he stops and blows. Then he suns his back for a while, an_hen he throws up his flukes and sounds. He does that as regular as if he wa_ polar clock. I know the very shape of his flukes; and two or three days ago,
  • as he was soundin', I thought that the tip of the upper one looked as if i_ad been damaged—as if he had broken it floppin' about in some tight place;
  • and ever since, when I have seen a whale, I have looked for the tip of tha_pper fluke, and there's that same old break. Every time I have looked I hav_ound it. It can't be that there are a lot o' whales in here and each one of
  • 'em with a battered fluke."
  • "That does look sort o' queer," said Sammy, reflectively.
  • "Sammy Block," said Captain Jim, impressively, "it's my opinion that there'_nly one whale in this here polar sea; an', more than that, it's my opinio_hat there's only one whale in this world, an' that that feller we've seen i_he one! Samuel Block, he's the last whale in the whole world! Now you kno_hat I wanted to go a-whalin'—that's natural enough—but since Mr. Gibbs ha_ot through, and has said that I could take this vessel an' go a-whalin' if _anted to—which would be easy enough, for we have got guns aboard which woul_ill any right-whale—I don't want to go. I don't want to lay on my dyin' be_n' think that I'm the man that killed the last whale in the world. I'_ommandin' this vessel, and I sail it wherever Mr. Gibbs tells me to sail it;
  • but if he wants the bones of a whale to take home as a curiosity, an' tells m_o sail this vessel after that whale, I won't do it."
  • "I'm with you there," said Sammy. "I have been thinkin' while you was talkin',
  • an' it's my opinion that it's not only the last whale in the world, but it'_urty nigh tame. I believe it's so glad to see some other movin' creature i_his lonely sea that it wants to keep company with us all the time. No, sir, _ouldn't have anything to do with killin' that fish!"
  • The opinions of the captain and Sammy were now communicated to the rest of th_ompany on board, and nearly all of them thought that they had had such a_dea themselves. The whale certainly looked very familiar every time he showe_imself.
  • To Mr. Gibbs this lonely creature, if he were such, now became an object o_ntense interest. It was evidently a specimen of the right-whale, once commo_n the Northern seas, skeletons of which could be seen in many museums.
  • Nothing would be gained to science by his capture, and Mr. Gibbs agreed wit_he others that it would be a pity to harm this, the last of his race.
  • In thinking and talking over the matter Mr. Gibbs formed a theory which h_hought would explain the presence of this solitary whale in the polar sea. H_hought it very likely that it had gotten under the ice and had pursued it_orthern journey very much as the Dipsey had pursued hers, and had at las_merged, as she had, into the polar sea at a place perhaps as shallow as tha_here the submarine vessel came out from under the ice.
  • "And if that's the case," said Captain Hubbell, "it is ten to one that he ha_ot been able to get out again, and has found himself here caught just as i_e was in a trap. Fishes don't like to swim into tight places. They may do i_nce, but they don't want to do it again. It is this disposition that makes
  • 'em easy to catch in traps. I believe you are right, Mr. Gibbs. I believe thi_hale has got in here and can't get out—or, at least, he thinks he can't—an_obody knows how long it's been since he first got in. It may have been _undred years ago. There's plenty o' little fish in these waters for him t_at, and he's the only one there is to feed."
  • The thought that in this polar sea with themselves was a great whale, whic_as probably here simply because he could not get out, had a depressing effec_pon the minds of the party on the Dipsey. There was perhaps no real reaso_hy they should fear the fate of the great fish, but, after all, this subjec_as one which should be very seriously considered. The latter part of thei_assage under the ice had been very hazardous. Had they struck a sharp roc_elow them, or had they been pierced by a jagged mass of ice above them, ther_robably would have been a speedy end of the expedition; and now, having com_afely out of that dangerous shallow water, they shrank from going into i_gain.
  • It was the general opinion that if they would sail a considerable distance t_he eastward they could not fail to find a deep channel by which the waters o_his sea communicated with Baffin's Bay; but in this case they would b_bliged to leave the line of longitude by which they had safely travelled fro_ape Tariff to the pole and seek another route southward, along some othe_ine, which would end their journey they knew not where.
  • "I am cold," said Sarah Block. "At first I got along all right, with all thes_urs, and goin' down-stairs every time I felt chilly, but the freezin' air i_eginnin' to go into my very bones like needles; and if winter is comin' on,
  • and it's goin' to be worse than this, New Jersey is the place for me. Bu_here's one thing that chills my blood clammier than even the cold weather,
  • and that is the thought of that whale follerin' us. If we get down into thos_haller places under the ice an' he takes it into his head to come along,
  • he'll be worse than a bull in a china-shop. I don't mean to say that I thin_e'll want to do us any harm, for he has never shown any sign of such _eelin', but if he takes to bouncin' and thrashin' when he scratches himsel_n any rocks, it'll be a bad box for us to be in."
  • None of the others shared these special fears of Mrs. Block, but they were al_s much disinclined as she was to begin another submarine voyage in th_hallow waters which they had been so glad to leave.
  • It was believed, from the general contour of the surrounding region, that i_he ice were all melted away it would be seen that a cape projected from th_merican continent eastward at the point where they had entered the polar sea,
  • and that it was in crossing the submerged continuation of this cape that the_ad found the shallow water. Beyond and southward they knew that the water wa_eep and safe. If they could reach that portion of the sea without crossin_he shallow point, they would have no fears regarding their return voyage.
  • They knew how far south it was that that deep water lay, and the question_efore them related to the best means of reaching it.
  • At a general council of officers, Sammy and Captain Hubbell both declared tha_hey were not willing to take any other path homeward except one which le_long the seventieth line of longitude. That had brought them safely up, an_t would take them safely down. If they went under the ice at some poin_astward, how were they to find the seventieth line of longitude? They coul_ot take observations down there; and they might have to go south on som_ther line, which would take them nobody knew where. Mr. Gibbs said little,
  • but he believed that it would be well to go back the way they came.
  • At last a plan was proposed by Mr. Marcy, and adopted without dissent. Th_hole country which lay in the direction they wished to travel seemed to be a_mmense plain of ice and snow, with mountains looming up towards the west an_n the far southeast. In places great slabs of ice seemed to be piled up int_raggy masses, but in general the surface of the country was quite level,
  • indicating underlying water. In fact, a little east of the point where the_ad entered the polar sea great cracks and reefs, some of them extendin_early a mile inward, broke up the shore line. The party on the Dipsey wer_ully able to travel over smooth ice and frozen snow, for this contingency ha_een thought of and provided for; but to take the Dipsey on an overlan_ourney would, of course, be impossible. By Mr. Marcy's plan, however, it wa_hought that it would be quite feasible for the Dipsey to sail inland unti_he had reached a point where they were sure the deep sea lay serenely beneat_he ice around them.