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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-01-14 21:15:49
Typefacelarge in Small

But besides all this ruthless warfare carried on inevitably because without it all must die of hunger, there were other causes of conflict, matters of high policy and more intricate motive than just the blind all-compelling pressure of hunger. The glowing surface of that morning sea was suddenly disturbed simultaneously at many points, and like ascending incense180 the bushy breathings of some scores of whales became visible. Perfectly at their ease since their instincts assured them that from this silent sea their only enemy was absent, they lay in unstudied grace about the sparkling waters, the cows and youngsters gambolling happily together in perfect freedom from care. Hither they had come from one of their richest feeding-grounds, where all had laid in a stock of energy sufficient to carry them half round the globe without weariness. So they were fat with a great richness, strong with incalculable strength, and because of these things they were now about to settle a most momentous question. Apart from the main gathering of females and calves by the space of about a mile lay five individuals, who, from their enormous superiority in size, no less than the staid gravity of their demeanour, were evidently the adult males of the school. They lay almost motionless in the figure of a baseless triangle whereof the apex was a magnificent bull over seventy feet in length, with a back like some keelless ship bottom up, and a head huge and square as a railway car. He it was who first broke the stillness that reigned. Slowly raising his awful front with its down-hanging, twenty-foot lower jaw exposing two gleaming rows of curved teeth, he said, “Children, ye have chosen the time and the place for your impeachment of my overlordship, and I am ready. Well, I wot that ye do but as our changeless laws decree, that the choice of your actions rests not with yourselves, that although ye feel lords of yourselves and desirous of ruling all your fellows, it is but under the compelling pressure of our hereditary181 instincts. Yet remember, I pray you, before ye combine to drive me from among ye, for how many generations I have led the school, how wisely I have chosen our paths, so that we are still an unbroken family as we have been for more than a hundred seasons. And if ye must bring your powers to test now, remember, too, that I am no weakling, no dotard weary of rule, but mightiest among all our people, conqueror in more than a thousand battles, wise with the accumulated knowledge of a hundred generations of monarchy. Certainly the day of my displacement must come; who should know that better than I? but methinks it has not yet dawned, and I would not have ye lightly pit your immature strength against mine, courting inevitable destruction. Ponder well my words, for I have spoken.”

Night fell, shutting out from the gaze of those wearied watchers the dumpy outlines of the old whale-ship. Her crew were still toiling, a blazing basket of whale-scrap swinging at a davit and making a lurid smear on the gloomy background of the night. One9 by one the excited passengers sauntered below, still eagerly discussing the stirring events they had witnessed, and making a thousand fantastic additions to the facts. Gradually the conversation dwindled to a close, and the great ship was left to the watch on deck. Fitful airs rose and fell, sharp little breaths of keen-edged wind that but just lifted the huge sails lazily, and let them slat against the masts again as if in disgust at the inadequacy of cat’s-paws. So the night wore on, till the middle watch had been in charge about half an hour. Then, with a vengeful hiss, the treacherous wind burst upon them from the north-east, catching that enormous sail-area on the fore side, and defying the efforts of the scanty crew to reduce it. All hands were called, and manfully did they respond; Briton and Finn, German and negro toiled side by side in the almost impossible effort to shorten down, while the huge hull, driven stern foremost, told in unmistakable sea-language of the peril she was in. Hideous was the uproar of snapping, running gear, rending canvas, breaking spars, and howling wind; while through it all, like a thread of human life, ran the wailing minor of the seamen’s cries as they strove to do what was required of them.

That grim assembly looked down upon this tempting array with their hard features perceptibly softening, while the skipper said—

And as it was in the heart of the citadel, so it had been on the battlements, not one heathen had survived his footing upon those sacred walls. And as it appeared that the whole force had devoted themselves to death in default of victory there was not one left alive.


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