Harper's Round Table, July 28, 1896
|A THRESHER THRASHED.|
|THE SUMMER ANGEL.|
|THE CARE OF A DOG.|
|A VIRGINIA CAVALIER.|
|CROSSING THE XUACAX…LLA.|
|A BATTLE ROYAL.|
|PUBLIC-SCHOOL BOY AFLOAT.|
|THE TRANSFERRED FLAG.|
|A NATURALIST'S BOYHOOD.|
|THE CAMERA CLUB.|
Copyright, 1896, by Harper & Brothers. All Rights Reserved.
|published weekly.||NEW YORK, TUESDAY, JULY 28, 1896.||five cents a copy.|
|vol. xvii.—no. 874.||two dollars a year.|
A THRESHER THRASHED.
BY DAWSON STEARNS.
"Talk about catching fish," remarked Walter Clay, in a phlegmatic andyet rather sarcastic style, "it seems to me that Katie has caught onenow, if she never did before."
The youth addressed showed that he was more hot-tempered than hiscompanion, as his cheeks flushed and his eyes danced angrily for aninstant when the comprehension of his friend's double meaning flashedupon him.
"Oh, stop punning, and look out for that line, quick!" was the sharpreply.
"Better mind your helm, or you'll have your boom gybe, if this lovelyfish doesn't gybe it for you, my boy," retorted Walter, as his attentionwas more closely called to the line he was paying out, as he stood nearthe weather-bow and watched carefully ahead.
The boys were in a cat-boat of comfortable build, heading toward themouth of Long Island Sound, close-hauled on the port tack, Brentons ReefLight-ship a mile or more off on the weather-quarter, and a breeze sotrue and sternly that they felt no uneasiness about getting back toNewport before sundown if they devoted most of the afternoon to sport.The boat was named the Katie, and was owned by the young man at thehelm, Harry Main, who had chosen the name and had it painted in neatletters on her stern with the consent of one who did not hesitate toacknowledge the flattery of the compliment. Hence his companion'sgood-natured play upon it, as well as intimation of the important aspectof the present occasion.
The Katie was a very weatherly craft, as well as a good sailer, andwas highly prized by her young owner; in fact, she was a prize. The boathad been built to his special order by one of the most experienced ofcat-boat constructors, after many long consultations with his fidusAchates and constant chum Walter, as well as the benefit ofprofessional advice, and the sanction of his father, who footed thebills in redemption of a promise made if Harry attained a certain recordat his college examinations. The record had been made through faithfulwork, the prize had been earned, and the boys were now right heartilyenjoying the fruit of their labors in the summer vacation. Little wonderthat their good fortune was envied by many, and that their popularitywas in no small degree enhanced by the[Pg 942] nautical tone acquired throughtheir amateur sailorizing, while their manliness was increased, lungpower developed, brains brightened, complexions enriched, and musclestoughened by the glow of such healthful exercise and invigoratingpastime.
That morning the boys had started out for bluefish, their boat equippedwith outriggers to facilitate the handling of the lines, as iscustomary; and with reefed sail, to prevent the gaining of too muchheadway, they were making a fair catch, when a tremendous splashing inthe water ahead and rapidly nearing them attracted their attention. Itwas soon seen that the commotion, whatever it might be due to, wasfrightening away the fish, and indignation took the place ofsatisfaction on the part of the fishermen. Watching the disturbance inthe water as it drew nearer, the boys could soon make out that it wascaused by some monster of the deep, and presently resounding slaps onthe surface of the Sound could be plainly distinguished with thecreature's tail, making a noise and splashing as though a massive plankwere dropped flat side into the water fairly from a height. This wasdone not only once, but many times, the reports sometimes resemblinggun-shots, and indicating that more monsters than one were causing theracket.
"Whales fighting!" suggested Harry.
"No; not big enough; they're closer than you think," said Walter, as hestood with his hand shading his eyes, intently watching them.
"Not sharks, eh? Horse-mackerel, I guess, or sturgeon," rapidlyconjectured Harry.
"Great Scott! No, old man—threshers, as you're a sinner!" concludedWalter, decisively. "And there's a whole school of 'em. Look out foryour lines!"
But even as the truth flashed upon him his caution was too late, for oneof the threshers dashed alongside, sweeping it clear of lines andleaving them afar off, as the school proceeded to gambol in a newdirection.
"This is interesting, but I don't think it will pay as well asbluefish," remarked Walter; and even as he spoke another line on theopposite side went with a snap, as the fish scurried off with avindictive splash of his mighty caudal appendage.
"Let's make it pay!" ejaculated Harry, quick to resolve.
"Capital idea, my boy! Will you kindly elucidate your proposition?"inquired Walter, as he ruefully gathered in some wreckage of bluefishinggear.
"Why," said Harry, "let's make over to Brentons Reef Light-ship, and seeif we can't get some shark hooks and bait from the crew, and capture oneof the beggars."
"We might try it," said Walter, contemplatively. "Those piraticalsplashers certainly have assumed too much audacity to suit myequanimity, and they deserve to be punished. Well, get her around, andwe'll run over to the light-ship and see."
It was always the quick brain of Harry that planned such expeditions,and as the Katie made good time on her course he eagerly pictured theheroic effect of capturing a thresher and towing it to port. WalterClay, always willing for any sort of adventure that was not too recklessfor a fair chance of safety, and warranted not to get "rattled," butpreserve his good-nature and presence of mind under all circumstances,carefully arranged the details of the proposed venture. The men on thelight-ship happened to have just such gear as was required for thepurpose, and willingly lent it, including a cable's-length (120 fathoms)of stanch half-inch hemp line coiled in a tub, and a big shark-hook withseveral feet of chain, as well as some chunks of salt pork for bait.They likewise informed the boys that the threshers were probably thesame school that had been reported the day before as greatly interferingwith the fishermen off on Montauk Shoal.
Specimens of the genuine thresher-shark indeed these creatureswere—those Alopias vulpes, or sea-foxes, the dorsal lobes of whosetails are nearly as long as the rest of their bodies, and are used insplashing the surface of the water to aid in securing their prey ofsmall fish. Exceedingly grotesque in appearance they seemed sometimes,the upper lobe of the long tail curving upwards and resembling in formthe blade of a scythe. One of the men on the light-ship said he hadalways heard them called "swingle-tails," and also volunteered theinformation that the biggest he had ever seen was one caught at Marion,Massachusetts, in November, 1864, which measured thirteen feet long andweighed about 400 pounds. Some people believed that they attackedwhales, but he had seen them all up and down the North Atlantic coast,as well as in the Mediterranean and off California, and "in all hisgoing to sea he had never found a whale yet that wouldn't laugh at athresher." The most damage they did was to fishermen's nets and lines.
The threshing and splashing of the fish had attracted the attention of agreat flock of gulls as the boys headed the Katie once more toward thescene of activity; and in the bright sunlight, with the glintingslippery bodies of some of the threshers almost constantly visible, thespray flying, and the bead-eyed sea-birds fluttering and watchingoverhead, the picture was rather a thrilling one. They were bothdetermined enough in their intentions, yet when they actually arrivedupon the scene and a thresher of apparently abnormal size rushed to meetthem with a resounding slap of his tail upon the surface of the waterthat sent the foam flying skyward and seemed like a laughing defy totheir plans, even the cool-blooded Walter began to feel a littleexcitement.
This selfsame thresher lost no time in making good his challenge, butswallowed the bait, and ran off with it away to windward so rapidly thatit seemed as if he were going to tow the boat, which was again got fulland by on the port tack. Walter was now paying out the line as slowly ashe could, with a turn under a belaying-pin, as he made the first remarkrecorded in this sketch. But it soon became evident that something wouldhave to be done if they did not wish to be towed to sea, so Harry portedhis helm to let the boat fall off and endeavor to check the creature inits mad career. As the wind came more abeam, however, so did the shark,and instead of making leeway, the attraction to windward was so powerfulthat the situation looked almost dangerous, and as if the only way tocounteract the shark's tow-line was to let it over the stem with a freesheet. It was just a question, however, whether even then the boat mightnot be drawn astern, and Walter was actively considering theadvisability of cutting the line, when all at once the fish took a turnand once more made toward them.
"Head her up again, quick!" shouted Walter. "Down your helm. He'scoming!"
The boat had fortunately way enough to bring her quickly up into thewind as Harry shoved his tiller hard over to starboard and hauled in hissheet, then jumped to help his friend get in the slack of the line asthe infuriated monster dashed toward them. He was not a moment too soon.Had the boat not changed direction and forged ahead a little the wildlyrushing thresher would have struck it a terrific blow on theport-quarter. As it was, he passed the boys with a leap clear out ofwater that sent a tremendous splash of spray in their faces, and justmissed the boom as he dived astern. It was a thrilling moment; but,indeed, the whole affair, from the time the shark first swallowed thebait, seemed to have happened in less time than one could tell it.
"By jingo!" cried Walter. "What's he going to do next?"
They had not long to wait for a reply. Circling around to seaward, thethresher repeated exactly the same manœuvre, this time a streak ofbloody foam following in his wake. The boys had all they could do tohandle the boat in consonance with the shark's movements. As he madlyrushed ahead, the line began to smoke from its friction with the rail atthe velocity it paid out, and Harry again had to leave his helm to bailwater and pour it upon the hempen coils, so quickly snaking out, withthe threat of possible disaster when the tub should be emptied. Walter'shands were burned and blistered and raw in spots from contact with theflying line, in a vain endeavor this time to grasp it and get a turnaround a pin. The fish went too fast. The boys looked at each other, tooexcited to speak,[Pg 943] as they glanced at the rapidly emptying tub and theflying streak of blue foam ahead. Another instant and the line was allpaid out. The last coil of it swirled over the side as they both graspedthe tub with all their might to see if they could hold it. The end ofthe line was made fast to the tub. It might have been a dangerous thingto do, for if the line had parted under the strain, and hit one of thema blow with its rebounding end, it would have been a severe one. Butfortunately this shark felt the check, and with a mighty splash heturned again and made back towards them.
"Haul in and coil down for all you're worth!" commanded Walter, as heheaved a sigh of relief, and applied his bleeding hands vigorously togetting the slack of the line inboard again.
The shark did not come toward them so directly as before, and the boathad not so much way on, so that they were able to finally get the linetaut and