Was it, on the contrary, a "humpback," belonging to the species of baloenopters, a designation whose termination should at least gain it the entomologist's esteem? These possess dorsal fins, white in color, and as long as half the body, which resemble a pair of wings--something like a flying whale.
Had they not in view, more likely, a "finback" mammifer, as well known by the name "jubarte," which is provided with a dorsal fin, and whose length may equal that of the "right" whale?
Captain Hull and his crew could not yet decide, but they regarded the animal with more desire than admiration.
If it is true that a clockmaker cannot find himself in a room in the presence of a clock without experiencing the irresistible wish to wind it up, how much more must the whaler, before a whale, be seized with the imperative desire to take possession of it? The hunters of large game, they say, are more eager than the hunters of small game. Then, the larger the animal, the more it excites covetousness. Then, how should hunters of elephants and fishers of whalers feel? And then there was that disappointment, felt by all the "Pilgrim's" crew, of returning with an incomplete cargo.
Meanwhile, Captain Hull tried to distinguish the animal which had been signaled in the offing. It was not very visible from that distance. Nevertheless, the trained eye of a whaler could not be deceived in certain details easier to discern at a distance.
In fact, the water-spout, that is, that column of vapor and water which the whale throws back by its rents, would attract Captain Hull's attention, and fix it on the species to which this cetacean belonged.
"That is not a 'right' whale," cried he. "Its water-spout would be at once higher and of a smaller volume. On the other hand, if the noise made by that spout in escaping could be compared to the distant noise of a cannon, I should be led to believe that that whale belongs to the species of 'humpbacks;' but there is nothing of the kind, and, on listening, we are assured that this noise is of quite a different nature. What is your opinion on this subject, Dick?" asked Captain Hull, turning toward the novice.
"I am ready to believe, captain," replied Dick Sand, "that we have to do with a jubarte. See how his rents throw that column of liquid violently into the air. Does it not seem to you also--which would confirm my idea--that that spout contains more water than condensed vapor? And, if I am not mistaken, it is a special peculiarity of the jubarte."
"In fact, Dick," replied Captain Hull, "there is no longer any doubt possible! It is a jubarte which floats on the surface of these red waters."
"That's fine," cried little Jack.
"Yes, my boy! and when we think that the great beast is there, in process of breakfasting, and little suspecting that the whalers are watching it."
"I would dare to affirm that it is a jubarte of great size," observed Dick Sand.
"Truly," replied Captain Hull, who was gradually becoming more excited. "I think it is at least seventy feet long!"
"Good!" added the boatswain. "Half a dozen whales of that size would suffice to fill a ship as large as ours!"
"Yes, that would be sufficient," replied Captain Hull, who mounted on the bowsprit to see better.
"And with this one," added the boatswain, "we should take on board in a few hours the half of the two hundred barrels of oil which we lack."
"Yes!--truly--yes!" murmured Captain Hull.
"That is true," continued Dick Sand; "but it is sometimes a hard matter to attack those enormous jubartes!"
"Very hard, very hard!" returned Captain Hull. "Those baloenopters have formidable tails, which must not be approached without distrust. The strongest pirogue would not resist a well-given blow. But, then, the profit is worth the trouble!"
"Bah!" said one of the sailors, "a fine jubarte is all the same a fine capture!"
"And profitable!" replied another.
"It would be a pity not to salute this one on the way!"
It was evident that these brave sailors were growing excited in looking at the whale.