Page images

gazing at them for a few minutes, to believe that they were mere passing shadows. The mind forgot the world of waters around, and, in the enthusiam of the hour, flew in busy imagination to that beautiful land, and roamed among its hills and valleys in dreamy enjoyment.

These beauteous scenes were, however, as transitory as they were lovely. Near the tropics night comes on with a rapidity quite startling to those accustomed to the long twilight of northern latitudes. The rich hues with which the western sky is suffused, the crimson and ruddy gold, change speedily to a warm and swarthy brown. One by one the stars come out, and light up the sky with a strange and unwonted lustre. " From the time we enter the torrid zone,” says Humboldt,“ we are never wearied with admiring, every night, the beauty of the southern sky, which, as we advanced towards the south, opened new constellations to our view. We feel an indescribable sensation when, on approaching the equator, and particularly in passing from one hemisphere to another, we see those stars which we have contemplated from our infancy progressively sink, and finally disappear. Nothing awakens in the traveller a livelier remembrance of the immense distance by which he is separated from his country than the aspect of an unknown fir

mament. The grouping of the stars of the first magnitude, some scattered nebulæ, rivalling in splendour the Milky Way, and tracts of space remarkable for their extreme blackness, give a particular physiognomy to the southern sky. This sight fills with admiration even those, who, uninstructed in the branches of accurate science, feel the same emotions of delight in the contemplation of the heavenly vault as in the view of a beautiful landscape, or a majestic river. A traveller has no need to be a botanist to recognise the torrid zone on the mere aspect of its vegetation; and, without having acquired any notions of astronomy, he feels he is not in Europe, when he sees the immense constellation of the Ship, or the phosphorescent Clouds of Magellan, arise on the horizon. The heavens and the earth, everything in the equinoctial regions, assume an exotic character.”

Between, or in the neighbourhood of the tropics, our ship was rarely unaccompanied by fishes of many species, which, in the clear waters, were visible for many fathoms beneath the keel. The most common, and, perhaps, the most beautiful, were the coryphene, miscalled by seamen the dolphin. We were never weary of admiring their beauty. Their form is deep, but thin and somewhat flattened, and

their sides are of a brilliant pearly white, like polished silver. In small companies of five or six they usually appear and play around and beneath the ship, sometimes close to the surface, and sometimes at such a depth that our eyes could but dimly discern their shadowy outline. Night and day these interesting creatures are sporting about, appearing insusceptible of weariness. Their motion is very rapid when their full powers are put forth, as in the pursuit of the little flying-fish. It is to the coryphene that most accounts of dolphins which we read of in voyages must be referred, as, owing to some mistake of identity not easily accounted for, the name of dolphin has been almost universally misapplied by our seamen to the coryphene, while they confound the true dolphin with the porpoise.

The appearance of a number of porpoises is generally an event of interest, as the opportunity of securing one is seldom neglected. In these cases, as soon as the striker is named, every one rushes to the most available point for getting a full view of the operations. Presently a fish will present his side, the harpoon will be thrown, but, from excitement or overeagerness, perhaps without success. Then again there is a stir; another monster is rolling towards the boat. This time a more careful aim is

taken; the harpoon flies from the striker's hand; in an instant the white spray from the bow becomes crimsoned with the rush of blood, and we know that the spear has done its duty. Now all is confusion; some are cheering, others are calling to the man at the rope, “ Pull away, or the fish will get under the bow;" whilst many, alarmed for the safety of those who, on the fish being struck, are pressing forward to the most dangerous situations, are shouting to them to get back to the ship. Amidst the confusion the poor porpoise is soon brought to the edge of the water, the blood issuing in a flood from the wound in its side ; but its strength is still immense, and it is not until a rope has been bound round the body that with great difficulty it is brought on deck.

In a few minutes the head is off, and the greater part of the skin and blubber is removed from the body. All are anxious to possess a share of the spoil, so much salt provisions having rendered the porpoise an anticipated luxury, and all crowd round the carvers with bustling eagerness. The carcase is soon cut up, and distributed ; and the next morning the frying-pans, stew-pans, and all other pans, are in active requisition: breakfast off broiled porpoise gladdens every heart, and such is the relish with which it is devoured, that we may easily conceive how little quarter or pity wil be shown to the next shoal that may come in our way.

Another visitant who very freely gives us much of his company is the white shark, probably the most terrific monster that cleaves the waves; certainly the most hated and at the same time feared by the sailor. The catching of fish is at all times a pleasing amusement to the mariner; but in catching the shark there is a peculiar avidity, in which the gratification of a deep-seated hatred of the species, and vengeance for his murderous propensities, form the leading features.

When a shark is taken, whether entrapped by the concealed hook or struck by the open violence of the harpoon, and brought on deck, he is subjected to every indignity which an insane fury can heap upon him; beat, stabbed, and kicked, and even reviled as if capable of understanding language. In truth, there is no animal, terrestrial or aquatic, which, so to speak, has 56 villain” written on its countenance so legibly as the shark. The shape of the head, and the form of the mouth, opening so far beneath, are anything but prepossessing, and there is a peculiar malignity in the expression of the eye, that seems almost satanic, and which one can never look upon without shuddering. The

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »