CHAPTER IX. OUR FIRST CALLING-PLACE
We were as warmly welcomed as if we had been old friends, and hospitable attentions were showered upon us from every side. The people were noticeably well-behaved, and, although there was something Crusoe-like in their way of living, their manners and conversation were distinctly good. A rude plenty was evident, there being no lack of good food - fish, fowl, and vegetables. The grassy plateau on which the village stands is a sort of shelf jutting out from the mountain-side, the mountain being really the whole island. Steep roads were hewn out of the solid rock, leading, as we were told, to the cultivated terraces above. These reached an elevation of about a thousand feet. Above all towered the great, dominating peak, the summit lost in the clouds eight or nine thousand feet above. The rock-hewn roads and cultivated land certainly gave the settlement an old-established appearance, which was not surprising seeing that it has been inhabited for more than a hundred years. I shall always bear a grateful recollection of the place, because my host gave me what I had long been a stranger to - a good, old-fashioned English dinner of roast beef and baked potatoes. He apologized for having no plum-pudding to crown the feast. "But, you see," he said, "we kaint grow no corn hyar, and we'm clean run out ov flour; hev ter make out on taters 's best we kin." I sincerely sympathized with him on the lack of bread-stuff among them, and wondered no longer at the avidity with which they had munched our flinty biscuits on first coming aboard. His wife, a buxom, motherly woman of about fifty, of dark, olive complexion, but good features, was kindness itself; and their three youngest children, who were at home, could not, in spite of repeated warnings and threats, keep their eyes off me, as if I had been some strange animal dropped from the moon. I felt very unwilling to leave them so soon, but time was pressing, the stores we had come for were all ready to ship, and I had to tear myself away from these kindly entertainers. I declare, it seemed like parting with old friends; yet our acquaintance might have been measured by minutes, so brief it had been. The mate had purchased a fine bullock, which had been slaughtered and cut up for us with great celerity, four or five dozen fowls (alive), four or five sacks of potatoes, eggs, etc., so that we were heavily laden for the return journey to the ship. My friend had kindly given me a large piece of splendid cheese, for which I was unable to make him any return, being simply clad in a shirt and pair of trousers, neither of which necessary garments could be spared.
With hearty cheers from the whole population, we shoved off and ploughed through the kelp seaweed again. When we got clear of it, we found the swell heavier than when we had come, and a rough journey back to the ship was the result. But, to such boatmen as we were, that was a trifle hardly worth mentioning, and after an hour's hard pull we got alongside again, and transhipped our precious cargo. The weather being threatening, we at once hauled off the land and out to sea, as night was falling and we did not wish to be in so dangerous a vicinity any longer than could be helped in stormy weather. Altogether, a most enjoyable day, and one that I have ever since had a pleasant recollection of.
By daybreak next morning the islands were out of sight, for the wind had risen to a gale, which, although we carried little sail, drove us along before it some seven or eight knots an hour.
Two days afterwards we caught another whale of medium size, making us fifty-four barrels of oil. As nothing out of the ordinary course marked the capture, it is unnecessary to do more than allude to it in passing, except to note that the honours were all with Goliath. He happened to be close to the whale when it rose, and immediately got fast. So dexterous and swift were his actions that before any of the other boats could "chip in" he had his fish "fin out," the whole affair from start to finish only occupying a couple of hours. We were now in the chosen haunts of the great albatross, Cape pigeons, and Cape hens, but never in my life had I imagined such a concourse of them as now gathered around us. When we lowered there might have been perhaps a couple of dozen birds in sight, but no sooner was the whale dead than from out of the great void around they began to drift towards us. Before we had got him fast alongside, the numbers of that feathered host were incalculable. They surrounded us until the sea surface was like a plain of snow, and their discordant cries were deafening. With the exception of one peculiar-looking bird, which has received from whalemen the inelegant name of "stinker," none of them attempted to alight upon the body of the dead monster. This bird, however, somewhat like a small albatross, but of dirty-grey colour, and with a peculiar excrescence on his beak, boldly took his precarious place upon the carcase, and at once began to dig into the blubber. He did not seem to make much impression, but he certainly tried hard.