Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/847

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823
LIFE ON A SOUTH SEA WHALER.

frolicsome fellows. A "block," or pulley, was hung out at the bowsprit end, a whale line passed through it and "bent" (fastened) on to a harpoon. Another line with a running "bowline," or slip noose, was also passed out to the bowsprit end, being held there by one man in readiness. Then one of the harpooners ran out along the back ropes, which keep the jib boom down, taking his stand beneath the bowsprit with the harpoon ready. Presently he raised his iron and followed the track of a rising porpoise with its point until the creature broke water. At the same instant the weapon left his grasp, apparently without any force behind it; but we on deck, holding the line, soon found that our excited hauling lifted a big vibrating body clean out of the smother beneath. "'Vast hauling!" shouted the mate, while, as the porpoise hung dangling, the harpooner slipped the ready bowline over his body, gently closing its grip round the "small" by the broad tail. Then we hauled on the noose line, slacking away the harpoon, and in a minute had our prize on deck. He was dragged away at once and the operation repeated. Again and again we hauled them in, until the fore part of the deck was alive with the kicking, writhing sea pigs, at least twenty of them. All hands were soon busy skinning the blubber from the bodies. Porpoises have no skin—that is, hide—the blubber or coating of lard which incases them being covered by a black substance as thin as tissue paper. The porpoise hide of the bootmaker is really leather, made from the skin of the Beluga, or "white whale," which is found only in the far north. The cover was removed from the "try-works" amidships, revealing two gigantic pots set in a frame of brickwork side by side, capable of holding two hundred gallons each—such a cooking apparatus as might have graced a Brobdingnagian kitchen. Beneath the pots was the very simplest of furnaces, hardly as elaborate as the familiar copper hole sacred to washing day. Square funnels of sheet iron were loosely fitted to the flues, more as a protection against the oil boiling over into the fire than to carry away the smoke, of which from the peculiar nature of the fuel there was very little. At one side of the try-works was a large wooden vessel, or "hopper," to contain the raw blubber; at the other, a copper cistern or cooler of about three hundred gallons capacity, into which the prepared oil was baled to cool off, preliminary to its being poured into the casks. Beneath the furnaces was a space as large as the whole area of the try-works, about a foot deep, which, when the fires were lighted, was filled with water to prevent the deck from burning.

It may be imagined that the blubber from our twenty porpoises made but a poor show in one of the pots; nevertheless, we got a barrel of very excellent oil from them. The fires were fed with "scrap," or pieces of blubber from which the oil had been boiled, some of which