Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas – Day 9 of 165

Chapter 4: Ned Land

Commander Farragut was a good seaman, worthy of the frigate he commanded. His ship and he were one. He was its very soul. On the cetacean question no doubts arose in his mind, and he didn’t allow the animal’s existence to be disputed aboard his vessel. He believed in it as certain pious women believe in the leviathan from the Book of Job—out of faith, not reason. The monster existed, and he had vowed to rid the seas of it. The man was a sort of Knight of Rhodes, a latter–day Sir Dieudonné of Gozo, on his way to fight an encounter with the dragon devastating the island. Either Commander Farragut would slay the narwhale, or the narwhale would slay Commander Farragut. No middle of the road for these two.

The ship’s officers shared the views of their leader. They could be heard chatting, discussing, arguing, calculating the different chances of an encounter, and observing the vast expanse of the ocean. Voluntary watches from the crosstrees of the topgallant sail were self–imposed by more than one who would have cursed such toil under any other circumstances. As often as the sun swept over its daily arc, the masts were populated with sailors whose feet itched and couldn’t hold still on the planking of the deck below! And the Abraham Lincoln’s stempost hadn’t even cut the suspected waters of the Pacific.

As for the crew, they only wanted to encounter the unicorn, harpoon it, haul it on board, and carve it up. They surveyed the sea with scrupulous care. Besides, Commander Farragut had mentioned that a certain sum of $2,000.00 was waiting for the man who first sighted the animal, be he cabin boy or sailor, mate or officer. I’ll let the reader decide whether eyes got proper exercise aboard the Abraham Lincoln.

As for me, I didn’t lag behind the others and I yielded to no one my share in these daily observations. Our frigate would have had fivescore good reasons for renaming itself the Argus, after that mythological beast with 100 eyes! The lone rebel among us was Conseil, who seemed utterly uninterested in the question exciting us and was out of step with the general enthusiasm on board.

As I said, Commander Farragut had carefully equipped his ship with all the gear needed to fish for a gigantic cetacean. No whaling vessel could have been better armed. We had every known mechanism, from the hand–hurled harpoon, to the blunderbuss firing barbed arrows, to the duck gun with exploding bullets. On the forecastle was mounted the latest model breech–loading cannon, very heavy of barrel and narrow of bore, a weapon that would figure in the Universal Exhibition of 1867. Made in America, this valuable instrument could fire a four–kilogram conical projectile an average distance of sixteen kilometers without the least bother.

So the Abraham Lincoln wasn’t lacking in means of destruction. But it had better still. It had Ned Land, the King of Harpooners.

Gifted with uncommon manual ability, Ned Land was a Canadian who had no equal in his dangerous trade. Dexterity, coolness, bravery, and cunning were virtues he possessed to a high degree, and it took a truly crafty baleen whale or an exceptionally astute sperm whale to elude the thrusts of his harpoon.

Ned Land was about forty years old. A man of great height—over six English feet—he was powerfully built, serious in manner, not very sociable, sometimes headstrong, and quite ill–tempered when crossed. His looks caught the attention, and above all the strength of his gaze, which gave a unique emphasis to his facial appearance.

Commander Farragut, to my thinking, had made a wise move in hiring on this man. With his eye and his throwing arm, he was worth the whole crew all by himself. I can do no better than to compare him with a powerful telescope that could double as a cannon always ready to fire.

To say Canadian is to say French, and as unsociable as Ned Land was, I must admit he took a definite liking to me. No doubt it was my nationality that attracted him. It was an opportunity for him to speak, and for me to hear, that old Rabelaisian dialect still used in some Canadian provinces. The harpooner’s family originated in Quebec, and they were already a line of bold fishermen back in the days when this town still belonged to France.

Comments

  1. TurtleReader Identiconcomment_author_IP, $comment->comment_author); }else{echo $gravatar_link;}}*/ ?>

    TurtleReader wrote:

    The man was a sort of Knight of Rhodes, a latter–day Sir Dieudonné of Gozo, on his way to fight an encounter with the dragon devastating the island.

    According to the Book of Days:

    In churches at Marseilles, Lyons, Ragusa, and Cimiers, skins of stuffed alligators are exhibited as the remains of dragons. The best authenticated of all the dragon stories is that of the one said to have been killed by Dieudonne, of Gozo, a knight of Rhodes, and afterwards Grand Master of the Order, in the fourteenth century. The head of this dragon was carefully preserved as a trophy at Rhodes, till the knights were driven out of the island. The Turks, respecting bravery even in a Christian enemy, preserved the head with equal care, so that it was seen by Thevenot as late as the middle of the seventeenth century; and from his account it appears to have been no other than the head of a hippopotamus.

  2. TurtleReader Identiconcomment_author_IP, $comment->comment_author); }else{echo $gravatar_link;}}*/ ?>

    TurtleReader wrote:

    Argus… was a giant with a hundred eyes. … Hera’s last task for Argus was to guard a white heifer from Zeus. She charged him to “Tether this cow safely to an olive-tree at Nemea”. Hera knew that the heifer was in reality Io, one of the many nymphs Zeus was coupling with to establish a new order. To free Io, Zeus had Argus slain by Hermes. Hermes, disguised as a shepherd, first put all of Argus’s eyes asleep with boring stories. To commemorate her faithful watchman, Hera had the hundred eyes of Argus preserved forever, in a peacock’s tail.

  3. TurtleReader Identiconcomment_author_IP, $comment->comment_author); }else{echo $gravatar_link;}}*/ ?>

    TurtleReader wrote:

    A couple of strange translation choices in this page.

    As often as the sun swept over its daily arc, the masts were populated with sailors whose feet itched and couldn’t hold still on the planking of the deck below!

    is translated in another version as

    Every moment that the sun spent describing its daily arc the rigging was full of people unable to remain in one place and who found the planks on deck too hot for their feet.

    The deck being hot make more sense than itchy feet to me.

    Also to the duck gun with exploding bullets is translated elsewhere as to exploding bullets from a punt gun.

    A punt gun being a type of extremely large shotgun used in the 19th and 20th centuries for shooting large numbers of waterfowl for commercial harvesting operations. Punt guns were usually custom-designed and so varied widely, but could have bore diameters exceeding 2 inches and fire over a pound (.5 kilos) of shot at a time. A single shot could kill over 50 waterfowl resting on the water’s surface. I’m pretty sure those aren’t legal for duck hunting anymore. Anyway I guess “duck gun” works too but it’s a little vaguer than “punt gun”.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)