CHAPTER 4: Ned Land
COMMANDER FARRAGUT was a good seaman, worthy of the frigate
he commanded. His ship and he were one. He was its very soul.
On the cetacean question no doubts arose in his mind, and he didn't
allow the animal's existence to be disputed aboard his vessel.
He believed in it as certain pious women believe in the leviathan
from the Book of Job--out of faith, not reason. The monster existed,
and he had vowed to rid the seas of it. The man was a sort of
Knight of Rhodes, a latter-day Sir Dieudonné of Gozo, on his way
to fight an encounter with the dragon devastating the island.
Either Commander Farragut would slay the narwhale, or the narwhale
would slay Commander Farragut. No middle of the road for these two.
The ship's officers shared the views of their leader. They could
be heard chatting, discussing, arguing, calculating the different
chances of an encounter, and observing the vast expanse of the ocean.
Voluntary watches from the crosstrees of the topgallant sail
were self-imposed by more than one who would have cursed such toil
under any other circumstances. As often as the sun swept over
its daily arc, the masts were populated with sailors whose feet
itched and couldn't hold still on the planking of the deck below!
And the Abraham Lincoln's stempost hadn't even cut the suspected
waters of the Pacific.
As for the crew, they only wanted to encounter the unicorn,
harpoon it, haul it on board, and carve it up. They surveyed the sea
with scrupulous care. Besides, Commander Farragut had mentioned
that a certain sum of $2,000.00 was waiting for the man who first
sighted the animal, be he cabin boy or sailor, mate or officer.
I'll let the reader decide whether eyes got proper exercise aboard
the Abraham Lincoln.
As for me, I didn't lag behind the others and I yielded to no
one my share in these daily observations. Our frigate would
have had fivescore good reasons for renaming itself the Argus,
after that mythological beast with 100 eyes! The lone rebel among
us was Conseil, who seemed utterly uninterested in the question
exciting us and was out of step with the general enthusiasm on board.