CHAPTER 6: At Full Steam
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.