CHAPTER XXII. FAREWELL TO VAU VAU
So the blow glanced, revealing a white streak running diagonally across the eye, while the great XIPHIAS rolled helplessly over the top of that black bastion. With a motion so rapid that the eye could scarcely follow it, the whale turned, settling withal, and, catching the momentarily motionless aggressor in the lethal sweep of those awful shears, crunched him in two halves, which writhing sections he swallowed SERIATIM. And the allied forces aft - what of them? Well, they had been rash - they fully realized that fact, and would have fled, but one certainly found that he had lingered on the scene too long. The thoroughly-roused leviathan, with a reversal of his huge bulk that made the sea boil like a pot, brandished his tail aloft and brought it down upon the doomed "killer," making him at once the "killed." He was crushed like a shrimp under one's heel.
The survivor fled - never faster - for an avalanche of living, furious flesh was behind him, and coming with enormous leaps half out of the sea every time. Thus they disappeared, but I have no doubts as to the issue. Of one thing I am certain - that, if any of the trio survived, they never afterwards attempted to rush a cachalot.
Strange to say, the sperm whale does not appear to be a fond mother. At the advent of danger she often deserts her offspring and in such cases it is hardly conceivable that she ever finds it again. It is true that she is not gifted with such long "arms" as the BALAENAE wherewith to cuddle her young one to her capacions bosom while making tracks from her enemies; nor is she much "on the fight," not being so liberally furnished with jaw as the fierce and much larger bull - for this is the only species of whale in which there exists a great disproportion between the sexes in point of size. Such difference as may obtain between the MYSTICETA is slightly in favour of the female. I never heard of a cow-cachalot yielding more than fifty barrels of oil; but I have both heard of, and seen, bulls carrying one hundred and fifty. One individual taken by us down south was seventy feet long, and furnished us with more than the latter amount; but I shall come to him by-and-by. Just one more point before leaving this (to me) fascinating subject for the present.
To any one studying the peculiar configuration of a cachalot's mouth, it would appear a difficult problem how the calf could suck. Certainly it puzzled me more than a little. But, when on the "line" grounds we got among a number of cows one calm day, I saw a little fellow about fifteen feet long, apparently only a few days old, in the very act. The mother lay on one side, with the breast nearly at the waters edge; while the calf, lying parallel to its parent, with its head in the same direction, held the teat sideways in the angle of its jaw, with its snout protruding from the surface. Although we caught several cow- humpbacks with newly born calves, I never had an opportunity of seeing THEM suck.
Gradually our pleasant days at Vau Vau drew to a close. So quiet and idyllic had the life been, so full of simple joys, that most of us, if not all, felt a pang at the thought of our imminent departure from the beautiful place. Profitable, in a pecuniary sense, the season had certainly failed to be, but that was the merest trifle compared with the real happiness and peace enjoyed during our stay. Even the terrible tragedy which had taken one of our fellows from us could not spoil the actual enjoyment of our visit, sad and touching as the event undoubtedly was. There was always, too, a sufficiently arduous routine of necessary duties to perform, preventing us from degenerating into mere lotus eaters in that delicious afternoon-land. Nor even to me, friendless nomad as I was, did the thought ever occur, "I will return no more."
But these lovely days spent in softly gliding over the calm, azure depths, bathed in golden sunlight, gazing dreamily down at the indescribable beauties of the living reefs, feasting daintily on abundance of never-cloying fruit, amid scenes of delight hardly to be imagined by the cramped mind of the town dweller; islands, air, and sea all shimmering in an enchanted haze, and silence scarcely broken by the tender ripple of the gently-parted waters before the boat's steady keel - though these joys have all been lost to me, and I in "populous city pent" endure the fading years, I would not barter the memory of them for more than I can say, so sweet it is to me. And, then, our relations with the natives had been so perfectly amicable, so free from anything to regret. Perhaps this simple statement will raise a cynical smile upon the lips of those who know Tahati, the New Hebrides, and kindred spots with all their savage, bestial orgies of alternate unbridled lust and unnamable cruelty. Let it be so. For my part, I rejoice that I have no tale of weeks of drunkenness, of brutal rape, treacherous murder, and almost unthinkable torture to tell.
For of such is the paradise of the beach-comber, and the hell of the clean man. Not that I have been able to escape it altogether. When I say that I once shipped, unwittingly, as sailing-master of a little white schooner in Noumea, bound to Apia, finding when too late that she was a "blackbirder" - "labour vessel," the wise it call - nothing more will be needed to convince the initiated that I have moved in the "nine circles" of Polynesia.