Obrázky stránek

“ It was during the month of August, 1837, that, attended by my children, and by several friends, whose inducements were change of air and the benefit of sea-bathing, I made an excursion to Bay Point, a small summer settlement, situated at the northeastern outlet of Port Royal Sound. There, for the first time, I witnessed the sporting of these sea-monsters on the surface, and conceived the idea of taking them with the harpoon.

“ In crossing from Bay Point to Hilton Head, on a visit, I saw eight Devil-fish, one directly in the track of my boat as I spanked away under a press of sail. He thrust up both wings a foot above the surface and kept them steadily erect, as if to act for sails. I liked not the cradle thus offered me, and veered the boat so as just to miss him. He never budged, and I passed so near as easily to have harpooned him, if the implements had been at hand.

“ The Devil-fish (in numbers thus unusual) had doubtless run into the inlet to escape the gales ; for, from repeated observations, I am persuaded that fish are provided with an instinct, by which they are forewarned of convulsions in their


element. “The sight of these fish disturbed my rest, and I felt uncomfortable, until I found myself planning an attack, and providing myself with the needful apparatus. A harpoon two inches wide in the barb, between two and three feet in the shank (a regular whaler), was turned out from the work-shop. Forty fathoms of half-inch rope were purchased and stretched. To one end the harpoon was firmly attached; the other, passing through a hole cut in the bottom of a tub in which the rope was carefully coiled, was to be fastened to the forecastle. An eight-oared boat was inspected, new thwarted and new thole-pinned ; and a clete nailed firmly on the forecastle to support the right foot of the harpooner. A day was fixed, and friends and sportsmen were invited to repair to the field of action ; but the weather was unpropitious, and but two boats appeared.

“At six o'clock, on the 16th of August, we started from Bay Point on our cruise for Devil-fish. In my boat, manned by six oarsmen and a steersman, I was accompanied by my son, a youth under eighteen. In the second boat were G. P. E. and W. C., Esqrs., with a crew of four men, The armament of the larger consisted, besides the harpoon, of a lance, hatchet, and rifle; that of the smaller boat was two bayonets fixed in long staves (the line for a second harpoon having been swept away by the tide). We stretched away before a fresh northeaster, for the Bay gall on Hilton Head, and then struck sail and made all snug for action.

“We rowed slowly along between the Bay gall breaker and the shore, on the early ebb, expecting to meet the Devil-fish on their


return from Skull Creek, the scene of their high-water gambols. The smaller boat, with outspread sails, stretched off and on, traversing the same region, but on different lines. No fish were

The ebb was half spent, and we began to despair. I landed on the beach at Hilton Head, yet kept the boat afloat and two hands on the look-out. Before a quarter of an hour had elapsed, “ There !' cried our look-out man. I followed the direc. tion of his hand, it pointed to Skull Creek channel, and I saw the wing of the fish two feet above water. There was no mistaking it, — it was a Devil-fish. One shout summons the crew to their posts, – the oarsmen spring to their oars, — the red flag is raised to signal our consort, - and we went roaring on in the direction in which we had seen him. Once again, before we had accomplished the distance, he appeared a moment on the surface.

“ The place of harpooner I had not the generosity to yield to any one ; so I planted myself on the forecastle, my left leg advanced, my right supported by the clete, my harpoon poised, and three fathoms of rope lying loose on the thwart behind me. The interest of the moment was intense ; my heart throbbed audibly, and I scarce breathed while expecting him to emerge from the spot yet rippled by his wake. The water was ten fathoms deep, but so turbid that you could not see six inches beneath the surface. We had small chance of striking him while his visits to the surface were so sudden and brief. There he is behind us !' Our oarsmen backed with all their might. Before we reached the spot he was gone ; but soon reappeared on our right, whisking around us with great velocity, and with a movement singularly eccentric. He crossed the bow,- his wing only is visible, - on which side is his body ? I hurled down my harpoon with all my force. The staff came bounding up from below, to show me that I had missed. In the twinkling of an eye, the fish flung himself on his back, darted under the boat, and showed himself at the stern, belly up. We dashed at him wherever he appeared, but he changed position so quickly that we were always too late. Suddenly his broad black back was lifted above the water directly before our bow. "Forward !' the oarsmen bend to the stroke, but before we could gain our distance, his tail flies up

and he is plunging downward for his depths. I could not resist, - I pitched my harpoon from the distance of full thirty feet. It went whizzing through the air, and cleaved the water just beneath the spot where the fish had disappeared. My companions in our consort (who had now approached within fifty yards) observed the staff quiver for a second, before it disappeared beneath the water. This was unobserved by myself, and I was drawing in my line

prepare for a new throw, when, ho! the line stopped short! • Is it possible ? I have him, the Devil-fish is struck!' Out flies the line from the bow, - a joyful shout bursts from our crew, our consort is lashed to our stern, - E. and C. spring aboard, and here we go ! driven by this most diabolical of locomotives.

Thirty fathoms are run out, and I venture a turn round the stem. The harpoon holds, and he leads gallantly off for Middle Bank, the two boals in tow. He pushed dead in the eye of a stiff northeaster. His motion is not so rapid as we expected, but regular and business-like, — reminding one of the motion of a canal-boat drawn by a team of stout horses. We drew upon the line, that we might force him to the surface and spear him. I found that was no fun. Behold me now reclined on the stern seat, taking breath after my pull, and lifting my umbrella to repel the heat of the sun. It was very pleasant to see the woods of Hilton Head recede, and the hammocks of Paris Island

grow into distinctness as we moved along under this novel, and yet unpatented, impelling power!”

A lance is plunged into him, but “it is flung out of his body, and almost out of the hand of the spearsman, by the convulsive muscular effort of the fish. When drawn up, the iron is found bent like a reaping-hook, and the staff broken in the socket.

“ He seems to gather velocity as he goes; he gets used to his harness; a bayonet is plunged into his body; another shudder of the fish, and the bayonet snaps short off at the eye,

the blade remaining buried in his body. A second is driven in, and that is

snapped off in the blade. At every blow we had dealt him,

his power seemed to have increased, and he now swept down for Egg Bank, with a speed that looked ominous. The tide was now flood, — the wind, still fresh, had shifted to the east ; six oars were put out and pulled lustily against him, yet he carried us rapidly seaward, against all these impeding forces. He seemed to suck in fresh vigor from the ocean water. Egg Bank was now but one hun. dred yards to our left. "Row him ashore, boys.' The Devil. fish refused, and drew the whole concern in the opposite direction. · Force him, then, to the surface. He popt up unexpectedly under the bow, lifted one wing four feet in the air, and, bringing it suddenly down, swept off every oar from the starboard side of the boat ; they were not broken, but wrenched out of the hands of the oarsmen as by an electric shock. One man was knocked beneath the thwarts by the rebound of an oar, and was laid almost speechless on the platform, — quite hors de combat. Fresh hands are brought from the smaller boat; the fish now leads off with thirty fathoms of rope, — he steers for Joyner's Bank. Bay Point recedes, Egg Bank disappears, Chaplin's Island lies behind us, and Hilton Head again approaches ; but it is the eastern face

[ocr errors]


of the island that now presents itself. The breakers of the Gas. kin Bank begin to loom in our horizon, and this is done against wind, tide, and oar! A doubt of capturing the fish began now to steal over our minds, and show itself in our faces; our means of assailing so powerful an antagonist were too inadequate ; nothing remained but to bowse on him once more, and endeavour to despatch him with the weapons that remained to us. Three fresh hands took the rope, and, after giving him a long run to weary him to the uttermost, we succeeded in drawing him to the surface. He lay on his back without motion, — and we looked on victory as certain. The socket of the harpoon appeared sticking out from the belly of the fish ; the whole shank was buried in his body. We saw neither tail, nor head, nor horns, nor wings, - nothing but an unsightly white mass, undistinguished by member or feature. After a moment's pause, to single out some spot for a mortal blow, I plunged the lance, socket and all, into the centre of this white mass.

“ The negroes who held the line of the harpoon took a turn round the gunwale, to prevent its slipping. The boat lurched with the swell of the sea, and the moment the dead weight of the fish, unsupported by the water, was felt, the harpoon tore out! An instant before, I saw it driven to the socket in the body of the fish ; the next, it was held up in air, in the hands of the negro, bent like a scythe. There was time, if there had been presence of mind, to plunge it anew into the fish, which floated a second or two on the surface. The moment was lost! I will not attempt to describe the bitter disappointment that pervaded the party. For a moment only, a faint hope revived ; my lance, secured by a cord, was still in his body, -it might hold him ! * Clear my line, boys!' Alas! the weight of the fish is too much for

the line fies through my hand, is checked, the socket of the lance is drawn through the orifice by which it entered, — and the fish is gone! We spoke not a word, but set our sails, and returned to the beach at Bay Point. We felt like mariners who, after a hard conflict, had sunk a gallant adversary at sea, yet saved not a single trophy from the wreck to serve as a memorial of their exploit.

“ Yet, keenly as we felt our disappointment, there is not one of us who would willingly have been elsewhere, - and the pleasura. ble excitement of our three hours' run will be remembered to the end of our lives.”

The account is closed with a threat of another attempt, which was soon carried into execution.

On the day appointed, “ three boats appeared at the rendezvous at Bay

my tackle,

[ocr errors]

pp. 13 - 20.

Point, fully equipped for the sport, and commenced a cruise full of exciting incident and eminently successful.” The whole was planned and conducted under the auspices of Mr. Elliott ; but the description of the sport, in which he is spoken of as Piscator, was written by another of the party.

“ We were now moving leisurely along the Hilton Head shore, looking out for our foe in one of his old haunts, about a large trunk, which rose, black with age and barnacles, some ten or fifteen feet above water. Not a sign of him was discovered. We looked in the direction of Skull Creek, but he was obviously not there, for the surface was as quiet as if he had never ruffled it. A glance towards the sea at our backs gave us as little satisfaction. In the mean time, it was evident, from the water-marks on our left, that the flood was far advanced, and that the bank would soon be too deep to reach him, if he came fishing upon it. Impatience was visible in every countenance.

“The day is fine enough,' said P. ; they ought to be here. abouts, for the boys saw them only yesterday.'

“I have my doubts,' said another, as to every thing the rogues tell us, especially if a Devil-fish is in the matter. You know their superstition.'

“Ah! gentlemen,' exclaimed a third, rising from his seat, and gaping with ennui, this comes of taking things too late ; you should have followed my advice, and have come out earlier. As it is, I see we shall have no sport.'

6. Look on your right!' shouted a voice from the other boat.

“ The whole party were, in an instant, on their feet. There they were, to be sure. One, two, three; only a few hundred yards from us, rioting and tumbling fantastically over each other's wakes.

66. Where is the harpoon?' - 'the rifle!' - the rifle !' ex. claimed several voices at once.

“Gentlemen, do be quiet,' said P., as he leaped on the fore. castle, catching up, at the same time, the harpoon, which lay on a coil of rope ready for use. I have seen some of this service be. fore ; pray go aft, and let me have a clear swing.'

“ A few brisk strokes brought us in the midst of the playground of the Devil-fish, over a bank two or three fathoms deep. No part of their bodies was, however, to be seen; nothing but their broad, dingy flaps, their coppered edges glancing to the sun, as they rose and sunk in graceful parabolas through the turbid brine. All besides was dark : it was not possible to know where to strike. Their motions, too, were so rapid and disorderly, and withal transiently perceptible, that it required our utmost efforts to

« PředchozíPokračovat »