(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

By a strange combination of circumstances, Frank Bullen found himself in New Bedford, Massachusetts, looking for a ship. He was only eighteen years old at the time, but already he had spent six years at sea.

He was strolling down a street in New Bedford, intent on a possible berth aboard any ship, for his pockets were empty, when he was hailed by a scraggy Yankee with the inevitable tobacco juice dribbling down his whiskers. Asked if he wanted to ship out, he accepted eagerly without knowing the type of craft or any of the conditions of employment. He accompanied the sharp-featured Yankee to a small, dirty hall where he joined a group of men all bound for the same ship. When he saw the motley crowd of greenhorns, he felt doubts about joining the ship, but there was little chance to back out. After hastily signing the ship’s articles, he went with his mates to the docks.

All of the crew were carefully kept together until they were safe in the small boat. On the trip out into the harbor, Bullen saw with many misgivings the Cachalot, which would be his home for three years. He deeply regretted signing on; the Cachalot was a whaler, and whalers were notoriously the worst ships afloat. The Cachalot did not compare favorably with the trim English whalers with which he was more familiar. She was small, a three hundred and fifty tonner, dirty and unpainted, and quite dumpy looking because she had no raised bow or poop.

Once on board, Bullen’s worst fears were realized. The officers were hard and mean; they carried lashes with them, and a clumsy or slow sailor often felt the sting of a lash on his back. The men needed a great deal of discipline, however, to do a somewhat decent job. Of the twelve white crew members, Bullen was the only one who had been to sea before. The hands were beaten and cursed, and they were not even allowed to rest while they were seasick.

Along with the white greenhorns, there were a score of Portuguese, all experienced whaling men. There were also four mates and Captain Slocum. The captain was a hard driver and a foul talker. The first mate, Mr. Count, was an older man, the only decent officer aboard. The fourth mate, Mr. Jones, was a giant black man.

Because of his past experience, Bullen escaped most...

(The entire section is 944 words.)