Ned Land stayed at his post, harpoon in hand. Several times the animal let us approach.
"We're overhauling it!" the Canadian would shout.
Then, just as he was about to strike, the cetacean would steal off with a swiftness I could estimate at no less than thirty miles per hour. And even at our maximum speed, it took the liberty of thumbing its nose at the frigate by running a full circle around us! A howl of fury burst from every throat!
By noon we were no farther along than at eight o'clock in the morning.
Commander Farragut then decided to use more direct methods.
"Bah!" he said. "So that animal is faster than the Abraham Lincoln. All right, we'll see if it can outrun our conical shells! Mate, man the gun in the bow!"
Our forecastle cannon was immediately loaded and leveled. The cannoneer fired a shot, but his shell passed some feet above the cetacean, which stayed half a mile off.
"Over to somebody with better aim!" the commander shouted. "And $500.00 to the man who can pierce that infernal beast!"
Calm of eye, cool of feature, an old gray-bearded gunner-- I can see him to this day--approached the cannon, put it in position, and took aim for a good while. There was a mighty explosion, mingled with cheers from the crew.
The shell reached its target; it hit the animal, but not in the usual fashion--it bounced off that rounded surface and vanished into the sea two miles out.
"Oh drat!" said the old gunner in his anger. "That rascal must be covered with six-inch armor plate!"
"Curse the beast!" Commander Farragut shouted.
The hunt was on again, and Commander Farragut leaned over to me, saying:
"I'll chase that animal till my frigate explodes!"
"Yes," I replied, "and nobody would blame you!"
We could still hope that the animal would tire out and not be as insensitive to exhaustion as our steam engines. But no such luck. Hour after hour went by without it showing the least sign of weariness.
However, to the Abraham Lincoln's credit, it must be said that we struggled on with tireless persistence. I estimate that we covered a distance of at least 500 kilometers during this ill-fated day of November 6. But night fell and wrapped the surging ocean in its shadows.
By then I thought our expedition had come to an end, that we would never see this fantastic animal again. I was mistaken.
At 10:50 in the evening, that electric light reappeared three miles to windward of the frigate, just as clear and intense as the night before.
The narwhale seemed motionless. Was it asleep perhaps, weary from its workday, just riding with the waves? This was our chance, and Commander Farragut was determined to take full advantage of it.
He gave his orders. The Abraham Lincoln stayed at half steam, advancing cautiously so as not to awaken its adversary. In midocean it's not unusual to encounter whales so sound asleep they can successfully be attacked, and Ned Land had harpooned more than one in its slumber. The Canadian went to resume his post on the bobstays under the bowsprit.
The frigate approached without making a sound, stopped two cable lengths from the animal and coasted. Not a soul breathed on board. A profound silence reigned over the deck. We were not 100 feet from the blazing core of light, whose glow grew stronger and dazzled the eyes.
Just then, leaning over the forecastle railing, I saw Ned Land below me, one hand grasping the martingale, the other brandishing his dreadful harpoon. Barely twenty feet separated him from the motionless animal.
All at once his arm shot forward and the harpoon was launched. I heard the weapon collide resonantly, as if it had hit some hard substance.
The electric light suddenly went out, and two enormous waterspouts crashed onto the deck of the frigate, racing like a torrent from stem to stern, toppling crewmen, breaking spare masts and yardarms from their lashings.
A hideous collision occurred, and thrown over the rail with no time to catch hold of it, I was hurled into the sea.