. . but here I couldn't make up my mind. The order Cetacea consists of three families, baleen whales, sperm whales, dolphins, and it's in this last group that narwhales are placed. Each of these families is divided into several genera, each genus into species, each species into varieties. So I was still missing variety, species, genus, and family, but no doubt I would complete my classifying with the aid of Heaven and Commander Farragut.
The crew were waiting impatiently for orders from their leader. The latter, after carefully observing the animal, called for his engineer. The engineer raced over.
"Sir," the commander said, "are you up to pressure?"
"Aye, sir," the engineer replied.
"Fine. Stoke your furnaces and clap on full steam!"
Three cheers greeted this order. The hour of battle had sounded. A few moments later, the frigate's two funnels vomited torrents of black smoke, and its deck quaked from the trembling of its boilers.
Driven forward by its powerful propeller, the Abraham Lincoln headed straight for the animal. Unconcerned, the latter let us come within half a cable length; then, not bothering to dive, it got up a little speed, retreated, and was content to keep its distance.
This chase dragged on for about three-quarters of an hour without the frigate gaining two fathoms on the cetacean. At this rate, it was obvious that we would never catch up with it.
Infuriated, Commander Farragut kept twisting the thick tuft of hair that flourished below his chin.
"Ned Land!" he called.
The Canadian reported at once.
"Well, Mr. Land," the commander asked, "do you still advise putting my longboats to sea?"
"No, sir," Ned Land replied, "because that beast won't be caught against its will."
"Then what should we do?"
"Stoke up more steam, sir, if you can. As for me, with your permission I'll go perch on the bobstays under the bowsprit, and if we can get within a harpoon length, I'll harpoon the brute."
"Go to it, Ned," Commander Farragut replied. "Engineer," he called, "keep the pressure mounting!"
Ned Land made his way to his post. The furnaces were urged into greater activity; our propeller did forty-three revolutions per minute, and steam shot from the valves. Heaving the log, we verified that the Abraham Lincoln was going at the rate of 18.5 miles per hour.
But that damned animal also did a speed of 18.5.
For the next hour our frigate kept up this pace without gaining a fathom! This was humiliating for one of the fastest racers in the American navy. The crew were working up into a blind rage. Sailor after sailor heaved insults at the monster, which couldn't be bothered with answering back. Commander Farragut was no longer content simply to twist his goatee; he chewed on it.
The engineer was summoned once again.
"You're up to maximum pressure?" the commander asked him.
"Aye, sir," the engineer replied.
"And your valves are charged to . . . ?"
"To six and a half atmospheres."
"Charge them to ten atmospheres."
A typical American order if I ever heard one. It would have sounded just fine during some Mississippi paddle-wheeler race, to "outstrip the competition!"
"Conseil," I said to my gallant servant, now at my side, "you realize that we'll probably blow ourselves skyhigh?"
"As master wishes!" Conseil replied.
All right, I admit it: I did wish to run this risk!
The valves were charged. More coal was swallowed by the furnaces. Ventilators shot torrents of air over the braziers. The Abraham Lincoln's speed increased. Its masts trembled down to their blocks, and swirls of smoke could barely squeeze through the narrow funnels.
We heaved the log a second time.
"Well, helmsman?" Commander Farragut asked.
"19.3 miles per hour, sir."
"Keep stoking the furnaces."
The engineer did so. The pressure gauge marked ten atmospheres. But no doubt the cetacean itself had "warmed up," because without the least trouble, it also did 19.3.
What a chase! No, I can't describe the excitement that shook my very being.