Bibliographic Information

The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XLVII, No. 3 (Mar 1878)
pp. 269-273.

Run Away With. 269



      It had been an unlucky day with us, – such a day, or rather such a day's work, as always makes all hands blue, and puts everybody in an uncomfortable humor. We had been chasing whales all the afternoon, and had struck two; but the mate's whale had escaped, by his iron drawing out; and the second mate's had run him far to windward. and we had seen the boat with her sail set before it was quite dark, showing that she was returning to the ship without having secured her prize. The signal-lantern hung at the spanker-gaff, as we lay to awaiting the arrival of this last boat.

      "Hard luck! hard luck!" grumbled Captain Swift, as he paced nervously fore and aft the quarter-deck. "We sha'n't fill the 'Speedwell' with oil in a hurry, unless we do better work than this. A hund'ed barrels struck and lost is enough for one day, I reckon. Discouraging!"

      The approaching sound of oars was heard, and soon the waist-boat loomed out of the darkness alongside.

      "Stand by to hoist the boat!"

      The order was obeyed, willingly at least, if not cheerfully, for supper was waiting, and the boat's crew, tired, drenched with water, and disheartened, were glad enough to find themselves at home again. The captain paused in his walk, and asked, impatiently, –

      "Well, what's the matter, Mr. Bennett?"

      "I hung on as long as I thought prudent, sir, but I never got up abreast of him to get a good lance; and finally I was obliged to cut my line and let him go, as it was getting dark."

      "Run away with, eh, Mr. Bennett?" Captain Swift asked, in a sneering tone that nettled the young officer not a little.

      "Well – yes, sir, I suppose that's what we shall have to call it finally. But from the time the iron went into the whale until I cut my line he never slacked his racing speed enough to show any play at all. I've no fault to find with my bowman, or the rest of my boat's crew, for they all did their best to haul me on; but I never got forward of his flukes long enough to get a dart at him."

      "Run away with," repeated the captain. in much the same tone as before. "That's a pretty good story to tell of a young man who has a reputation to make. Were you ever run away with by a whale, Mr. Crowell?" he asked, addressing the first officer.

      "No, sir: I never was," returned the mate; "but still I don't know how soon I may be. I don't like to brag. – at least until I have retired from the business."

      "Well, I've been whaling more years than either of you," said Captain Swift, "and I never had that story to tell. And I'd just like to see the whale – sperm whale or right whale – that would run away with me, after I'd had three hours of daylight to work upon him. However, it's no use crying over spilt milk. Come, supper, Mr. Crowell."

      The young second mate leaned against the rail, with his arms folded, but did not trust himself to speak. It was evident that the sneering and bragging words of his superior had cut deeply.

      "Don't mind it, Mr. Bennett," said the chief mate, lingering after the captain had gone below. "Some allowance must be made, I suppose, for the old man's being disappointed today at having so good a show for whales and getting nothing."

      "Disappointed!" repeated the other. "Well, aren't we all disappointed – you and I and the rest of us? I have done my duty up to the handle in this ship; and, without boasting, I honestly think that I can muckle any whale that he can; but I'll defy him to do impossibilities. And I say it was an unkind speech."

      "I think so too," assented Mr. Crowell; "and his last brag was no credit to him at all. He may hook to a whale yet that will race him clean out of his reckoning; and I only hope that it may happen on this voyage. But come, forget about it, and let's get some supper."

      The supper was swallowed almost in silence, for there was a feeling of constraint upon each one of his officers. Mr. Bennett felt hurt and angry at what he considered an unjust insinuation; the mate felt embarrassed, and would say nothing to stir up the

270 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

troubled waters; and the captain, although he began to regret his hasty words, would say nothing to acknowledge that he had been in the wrong. The captain seldom will do this: he, like the king, can do no wrong, and rests secure in the armor of authority.

      So the subject appeared to be dropped, but it was not difficult to see that the cutting words still rankled in the breast of the younger whaleman. Captain Swift was in truth a man of experience and skill in his profession, and had justly enough borne the reputation of a "high-killer" among his brother whaleman, as also among ship owners as a smart and lucky man. It might have been true enough that he had never met with such an adventure as this which had befallen Mr. Bennett, but it's a long lane that has no turning. It would have been more sensible on his part, instead of bragging in advance, to have resolved, like Mr. Crowell, not to shout until he was out of the woods.

      But a few days had elapsed when more whales were seen, and the captain himself got fast to a specimen which at once proved itself a lively one. He had been fast at least two hours, and had as yet given his whale no wound likely to decide the victory; but, luckily for the captain, his whale, though running all the time at a rapid rate, did not, like the second mate's, hold a steady direction to windward, but several times changed his course, so as to cut across the track of the other boats, which had been all the time doing their best to take a hand in the game. But at last, the young second mate, adopting a new line of tactics, and changing places with his boat-steerer, got up his longest lance, and stood prepared for a flying dart. As the whale, still at full speed, changed his course so as to head up across the bows of the waist-boat, the order was given to "pull ahead!"

      The monster went driving by in his mad career, several fathoms distant, – too far for any chance of fastening with the harpoons; but the nervous arm of the young second mate sent the long lance flying with fatal aim into the whale's side. The next spout thrown from his spiracle was brightly tinged with his life-blood, and the victory was quickly won. At the dinner-table, after the prize was in the fluke-chain alongside, Captain Swift was in high spirits at our success, but seemed inclined to say little or nothing about the strategy of Mr. Bennett, who, modestly enough, said nothing. But the mate could not resist the opportunity of nettling his superior by asking, –

      "How long do you think you were fast to the whale, sir?"

      "I don't know,"returned Captain Swift, carelessly. "An hour or two, I suppose."

      "Pretty smart fish," said Mr. Crowell, returning to the attack.

      "Pretty lively, – yes," in the same indifferent tone as before.

      "It was lucky he milled round in circles. If he had struck a bee-line at the same rate of going, it looks to me very much as if you might have been run away with."

      "Oh, no! I'd risk that. That's something that never happened to Joe Swift yet. Oh, I would have muckled him out pretty soon, anyhow. That was a good lance though, Mr. Bennett, I will say it, – a very good lance; but the whale was getting tired, and I think had already begun to slack up his speed some. I should have muckled him pretty soon, you may depend; but it's just as well as it is."

      The two mates exchanged queer glances as they rose from the table, but it was a case which it was not worth while to argue, especially with their superior officer. The captain alone has the right, in the case of any disputed point, to be positive and dogmatical.

"That in the captain's but a choleric word
  Which in the soldier is rank blasphemy."

      Our cruise in tropical latitudes drew to a close, for it was time to head away for our spring port, whence we started for the great right-whaling-ground "on the nor'west." Captain Swift's experience on his previous voyage had been mostly confined to sperm-whaling; but he still felt himself more than a match for any beast of the order cetacea, and boasted that he had never yet cut from any whale while his boat was in a condition to float. He might get his boat stoven, he said, – we were all liable to that, and there was credit in it sometimes, – but as for cutting line, and giving up, beaten by a whale, not he!

      We found right whales plenty on the Kodiak ground, and were soon stowing down oil at a rate that promised a very successful season's work. The mates, both young men, had served their apprenticeship at

Run Away With. 271

northern whaling, and were far more at home at this kind of work than their superiors.

      One morning, when the wind was light, and the weather foggy and clear by spells, the boats were lowered away, there being many right whales in sight in different directions. The captain gave his orders to Mr. Crowell not to chase to a great distance from the ship, as he was afraid a thick fog might shut down.

      "Now lower away, you and Mr. Bennett, and try them carefully, and I guess I'll wait a while and take the ship's chance."

      So the larboard and waist boats pushed off, keeping at first well together; but after a while they diverged, in pursuit of different whales, which, however, seemed too shy to allow of getting near enough to strike. The captain, from his promenade on the top of the hurricane-house, had been watching this dodge game for a couple of hours, when a large whale came up quite near the ship, and blew off his spouts in the most tantalizing manner, like so many challenges to mortal combat.

      "Stand by to lower away my boat!" cried the captain, in high excitement. "Here, steward I" said he to me. "I want you at my midship oar. Harris has got a lame arm, and isn't fit to go today."

      To hear was to obey, so I at once left my stewardship to take care of itself, and became, at a moment's notice, midship oarsman of the starboard's boat.

      We lowered away, and a few dips of the paddles brought us within darting distance of the monster, who was apparently quite unconscious of danger.

      The tall Portuguese boat-steerer rose to his feet, and poised his harpoon; at the same instant the captain gave a violent heave at the steering oar, throwing the boat's head toward the whale.

      "Give it to him, Antoine! and stand by the oars!"

      I saw the first iron speed on its mission, but the next instant I saw nothing, for we were all drenched and blinded with the shower of salt spray, as the tortured monster gave a thundering spank with his fluke, knocking to pieces a wave of the sea, as it would have knocked the boat had she been but a foot or two nearer. When I got my eyes open again, gasping for breath from the effects of this cold shower bath, I saw the line spinning out through the shocks, the captain hastily throwing on a round turn at the loggerhead.

      A ringing blast from the whale's spout holes, not unlike a sounding blow upon a brass kettle, as he pointed his head to windward, and the next instant our boat was following at a frightful rate of speed, directly in the wind's eye.

      The captain exchanged places with Antoine, and got his lance out ready for the attack, but he was not likely soon to have a chance for using it. Away he sped to windward, our boat's stem cutting each successive wave, and dashing the spray into our faces; while amidships the sea appeared to boil upward on either side, as if coming in over the gunwales to ingulf us.

      Those ponderous flukes were ever in motion ahead of us, knocking the sea right and left, and the periodical blasts of respiration, like snorts of defiance, were wafted down to our ears; but the tension on the line was ever the same, and our speed at a uniform rate. We saw in the distance the other two boats, evidently doing their best to overtake and re-enforce us; but boats, ship, and all were rapidly left behind.

      In vain we exerted our strength upon the line, trying to haul the boat up abreast of the whale; in vain the captain exhorted, coaxed, stormed, and swore by turns. There was our fiery steed just as far ahead of us, and here were we dead in his wake, and likely to remain there. As long as our irons and line held, he might tow us in the same relative positions, until his strength should be exhausted, for to give him a death-wound was impossible. On, on!

      "We must haul up to him!" said Captain Swift: "near enough, at any rate, to spade his fluke. We can get no chance to use a lance upon him. It may as well be put away. Lend me a hand with that boat-spade, Bailey," to his bowman. "I'll try the virtue of that, if we can only get near enough. Hold on hard, Antoine! and stand by, all of you, to haul and gather in a little line whenever you can."

      Our efforts were at times rewarded with partial success; and when we had, by hard struggles, got near enough for a dart of the spade, it was answered by a spiteful blow of the monster's tail, which compelled us, for immediate safety, to slack out line; while the whale, so far from seeming to be crippled by the spade wound in his "small,"started off again at the old rats of speed,

272 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

and we lost all the ground which we had gained.

      It was necessary to begin the work all over again, and each time we were getting more tired and exhausted; for our arms were strained nearly out of their sockets, and we were so drenched with the cold spray, after two hours of this kind of work, that we looked like so many parboiled men; while our teeth fairly rattled in our heads. Still on, on!

      The "Speedwell"'s topsails only were to be seen above the horizon to leeward, while we had lost the run of the other boats long before. But the captain, completely upon his mettle, was determined not to be conquered by a whale, and encouraged us to renewed exertions. When again we had, inch by inch, hauled the boat into position near the crotch of the flukes, and the spade was seized for another dart, down went the whale, seeming now to have adopted a new dodge. Slack out line we must, for "needs must when the Devil drives,"but our whale did not descend deeply. He continued to run under water nearly as fast as before, coming to the surface now and then to blow, but always doing so at a safe distance, and keeping his course straight to wind ward without deviation. On, on!

      The ship has set her topgallant-sails, and we can see them, like little boats' sails, just above the sea-level; but they will not be much longer in sight, unless there is some change in the situation.

      It is one of great risk now, and we all realize it; for if we should get our boat stove, at so great a distance from human aid, we must all perish. Nobody says this, but we all think it. Panting and shivering, we have given up our efforts at hauling the line: it is only exhausting our little strength to no purpose. There is a ship in sight ahead, steering off toward us, and we all think that if any accident befalls us we must look in that direction for aid and safety, rather than to our own comrades left so far behind.

      "O dear! if he would only mill off to leeward, so as to carry us back again!" says Captain Swift. "We are getting so far on our course that, if we kill the whale, they can never get the ship up to us tonight."

      Just so: but our tug hadn't the remotest idea of going to leeward. He knew his strongest game, and was determined to play it out. Still on, on!

      Antoine nips his line at the loggerhead, and holds on harder than ever, hoping to part it. We all hope the same thing, the captain not less than the rest of us, for that would be an honorable retreat from the difficulty, – a something unavoidable, liable to happen even to the best of whalemen. But to cut the line! – how can he make up his mind to do it? The strange ship is nearing us: we can see a little of her hull now, but it is not likely that those on board can see us yet. Hold on hard, Antoine, and box her down!

      For once the hemp of our tow-line is anathematized for being too good in quality: if it were only a little rotten, we might part it. Something must be done soon. That trumpet blast of defiance is as clear and strong as ever; the mast-heads of the "Speedwell" are barely visible to the eye, and still we go on! on!

      What's that? A fog-bank! Coming down upon us, too, for already the strange ship is indistinct in the mist; another moment, and she is hidden entirely from view. The coming of the fog is very sudden, for five minutes ago no one had thought of such a thing. But it is enough to decide the captain's course of action. It is the last straw that breaks the camel's back of his pride. He now has a fair excuse for doing what he has so boasted of never having done in his life. He says nothing. but stoops over the clumsy cleet at the bow of the boat. Just then she dives into a chopping sea, the spray again flies into our faces, and we tumble backward over the thwarts, with the slack of the line in our hands. The tension has slacked so suddenly that we had no warning of what was coming.

      "Parted, sir?" asked the boat-steerer, knowing the truth well enough, but feeling it necessary to pretend otherwise.

      "All right," answered the captain, quietly. "It's just as well. Take your oars."

      He seemed undecided now whether to keep on pulling to windward, or to set the sail, and turn back in the direction of our own ship: for the fog now encircled us completely, though it was not so dense as we had feared it would be. Our circle of vision had a radius of perhaps half a mile.

      The captain pulled out his fog-horn, and blew long, loud blasts upon it, which were very soon answered from the strange ship to windward of us. This decided the doubt and we pulled up in that direction.

The Stolen Child. 273

      Guided by the sound of her bell and foghorn, we were able to steer directly for the approaching stranger, and were soon alongside of the "Scotland," one of our old consorts; for we had previously spoken her several times during the season.

      "What are you doing here, Swift?" Captain Edwards asked, as soon as he recognized his old acquaintance.

      "Got fast to a whale, and he run me a good spell to windward. Parted from him just about the time the fog shut down."

      "Did, eh?" returned the other, with a quick glance at the end of the line lying on the tip of the coil. "Guess your line must have been nicked in darting your spades, which of course weakened it,"he added, with a grin. "That's your ship down to leeward, I suppose?"

      "Yes: but they may not have seen you, and I know they must have lost the run of me. Better fire a few guns, and they will understand it, and heave to for us."

      We enjoyed the hospitality of Captain Edwards for a few hours; but, as the fog partly cleared, we found the "Speedwell" the same night, though it was not until ten o'clock that we pulled ignominiously alongside.

      "Where 'a your whale, sir?" inquired Mr. Crowell.

      "God knows," was the answer, "where he is now. He was bound to windward, spouting clear, the last I saw of him."

      "What! did you part your line, sir?" inquired the second mate.

      The captain hesitated a moment, and was going to lie about it, but his better nature conquered.

      "Well, the truth is, Mr. Bennett, I did part my line, – with a sharp boat-knife and a clear conscience. It's true I didn't cut until the fog came on, but I should have had to very soon, anyhow; for I had almost lost sight of the ship, and was no nearer to killing my whale than I was at the first outset. I know what you are thinking of, Mr. Bennett, but I take it all back, with shame to myself for having said it. And I own up to having been run away with."


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Run Away With.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 47, No. 3 (Mar 1878)
Pages: 269-273