Late in October the seals began to leave St. Paul's for the deep sea, by families
and tribes, and there was no more fighting over the nurseries, and the holluschickie
played anywhere they liked. ''Next year,'' said Matkah to Kotick, ''you will be
a holluschickie; but this year you must learn how to catch fish.''
They set out together across the Pacific, and Matkah showed Kotick how to sleep
on his back with his flippers tucked down by his side and his little nose just out
of the water. No cradle is so comfortable as the long, rocking swell of the Pacific.
When Kotick felt his skin tingle all over, Matkah told him he was learning the ''feel
of the water,'' and that tingly, prickly feelings meant bad weather coming, and
he must swim hard and get away.
''In a little time,'' she said, ''you'll know where to swim to, but just now
we'll follow Sea Pig, the Porpoise, for he is very wise.'' A school of porpoises
were ducking and tearing through the water, and little Kotick followed them as fast
as he could. ''How do you know where to go to?'' he panted. The leader of the school
rolled his white eye and ducked under. ''My tail tingles, youngster,'' he said.
''That means there's a gale behind me. Come along! When you're south of the Sticky
Water he meant the Equator and your tail tingles, that means there's
a gale in front of you and you must head north. Come along! The water feels bad
This was one of very many things that Kotick learned, and he was always learning.
Matkah taught him to follow the cod and the halibut along the under-sea banks and
wrench the rockling out of his hole among the weeds; how to skirt the wrecks lying
a hundred fathoms below water and dart like a rifle bullet in at one porthole and
out at another as the fishes ran; how to dance on the top of the waves when the
lightning was racing all over the sky, and wave his flipper politely to the stumpy-tailed
Albatross and the Man-of-war Hawk as they went down the wind; how to jump three
or four feet clear of the water like a dolphin, flippers close to the side and tail
curved; to leave the flying fish alone because they are all bony; to take the shoulder-piece
out of a cod at full speed ten fathoms deep, and never to stop and look at a boat
or a ship, but particularly a row-boat. At the end of six months what Kotick did
not know about deep-sea fishing was not worth the knowing. And all that time he
never set flipper on dry ground.
One day, however, as he was lying half asleep in the warm water somewhere off
the Island of Juan Fernandez, he felt faint and lazy all over, just as human people
do when the spring is in their legs, and he remembered the good firm beaches of
Novastoshnah seven thousand miles away, the games his companions played, the smell
of the seaweed, the seal roar, and the fighting. That very minute he turned north,
swimming steadily, and as he went on he met scores of his mates, all bound for the
same place, and they said: ''Greeting, Kotick! This year we are all holluschickie,
and we can dance the Fire-dance in the breakers off Lukannon and play on the new
grass. But where did you get that coat?''
Kotick's fur was almost pure white now, and though he felt very proud of it,
he only said, ''Swim quickly! My bones are aching for the land.'' And so they all
came to the beaches where they had been born, and heard the old seals, their fathers,
fighting in the rolling mist.
That night Kotick danced the Fire-dance with the yearling seals. The sea is full
of fire on summer nights all the way down from Novastoshnah to Lukannon, and each
seal leaves a wake like burning oil behind him and a flaming flash when he jumps,
and the waves break in great phosphorescent streaks and swirls. Then they went inland
to the holluschickie grounds and rolled up and down in the new wild wheat and told
stories of what they had done while they had been at sea. They talked about the
Pacific as boys would talk about a wood that they had been nutting in, and if anyone
had understood them he could have gone away and made such a chart of that ocean
as never was. The threeЦ and four-year-old holluschickie romped down from Hutchinson's
Hill crying: ''Out of the way, youngsters! The sea is deep and you don't know all
that's in it yet. Wait till you've rounded the Horn. Hi, you yearling, where did
you get that white coat?''
''I didn't get it,'' said Kotick. ''It grew.'' And just as he was going to roll
the speaker over, a couple of black-haired men with flat red faces came from behind
a sand dune, and Kotick, who had never seen a man before, coughed and lowered his
head. The holluschickie just bundled off a few yards and sat staring stupidly. The
men were no less than Kerick Booterin, the chief of the seal-hunters on the island,
and Patalamon, his son. They came from the little village not half a mile from the
sea nurseries, and they were deciding what seals they would drive up to the killing
pens-for the seals were driven just like sheep-to be turned into seal-skin jackets
''Ho!'' said Patalamon. ''Look! There's a white seal!''
Kerick Booterin turned nearly white under his oil and smoke, for he was an Aleut,
and Aleuts are not clean people. Then he began to mutter a prayer. ''Don't touch
him, Patalamon. There has never been a white seal since-since I was born. Perhaps
it is old Zaharrof's ghost. He was lost last year in the big gale.''
''I'm not going near him,'' said Patalamon. ''He's unlucky. Do you really think
he is old Zaharrof come back? I owe him for some gulls' eggs.''
''Don't look at him,'' said Kerick. ''Head off that drove of four-year-olds.
The men ought to skin two hundred to-day, but it's the beginning of the season and
they are new to the work. A hundred will do. Quick!''
Patalamon rattled a pair of seal's shoulder bones in front of a herd of holluschickie
and they stopped dead, puffing and blowing. Then he stepped near and the seals began
to move, and Kerick headed them inland, and they never tried to get back to their
companions. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of seals watched them being driven,
but they went on playing just the same. Kotick was the only one who asked questions,
and none of his companions could tell him anything, except that the men always drove
seals in that way for six weeks or two months of every year.
''I am going to follow,'' he said, and his eyes nearly popped out of his head
as he shuffled along in the wake of the herd.
''The white seal is coming after us,'' cried Patalamon. ''That's the first time
a seal has ever come to the killing-grounds alone.''
''Hsh! Don't look behind you,'' said Kerick. ''It is Zaharrof's ghost! I must
speak to the priest about this.''
The distance to the killing-grounds was only half a mile, but it took an hour
to cover, because if the seals went too fast Kerick knew that they would get heated
and then their fur would come off in patches when they were skinned. So they went
on very slowly, past Sea Lion's Neck, past Webster House, till they came to the
Salt House just beyond the sight of the seals on the beach. Kotick followed, panting
and wondering. He thought that he was at the world's end, but the roar of the seal
nurseries behind him sounded as loud as the roar of a train in a tunnel. Then Kerick
sat down on the moss and pulled out a heavy pewter watch and let the drove cool
off for thirty minutes, and Kotick could hear the fog-dew dripping off the brim
of his cap. Then ten or twelve men, each with an iron-bound club three or four feet
long, came up, and Kerick pointed out one or two of the drove that were bitten by
their companions or too hot, and the men kicked those aside with their heavy boots
made of the skin of a walrus's throat, and then Kerick said, ''Let go!'' and then
the men clubbed the seals on the head as fast as they could.
Ten minutes later little Kotick did not recognize his friends any more, for their
skins were ripped off from the nose to the hind flippers, whipped off and thrown
down on the ground in a pile. That was enough for Kotick. He turned and galloped
(a seal can gallop very swiftly for a short time) back to the sea; his little new
mustache bristling with horror. At Sea Lion's Neck, where the great sea lions sit
on the edge of the surf, he flung himself flipper-overhead into the cool water and
rocked there, gasping miserably. ''What's here?'' said a sea lion gruffly, for as
a rule the sea lions keep themselves to themselves.
''Scoochnie! Ochen scoochnie!'' (''I'm lonesome, very lonesome!'') said Kotick.
''They're killing all the holluschickie on all the beaches!''
The Sea Lion turned his head inshore. ''Nonsense!'' he said. ''Your friends are
making as much noise as ever. You must have seen old Kerick polishing off a drove.
He's done that for thirty years.''
''It's horrible,'' said Kotick, backing water as a wave went over him, and steadying
himself with a screw stroke of his flippers that brought him all standing within
three inches of a jagged edge of rock.
''Well done for a yearling!'' said the Sea Lion, who could appreciate good swimming.
''I suppose it is rather awful from your way of looking at it, but if you seals
will come here year after year, of course the men get to know of it, and unless
you can find an island where no men ever come you will always be driven.''
''Isn't there any such island?'' began Kotick. ''I've followed the poltoos
the halibut for twenty years, andI can't say I've found it yet. But look
here-you seem to have a fondness for talking to your betters-suppose you go to Walrus
Islet and talk to Sea Vitch. He may know something. Don't flounce off like that.
It's a six-mile swim, and if I were you I should haul out and take a nap first,
Kotick thought that that was good advice, so he swam round to his own beach,
hauled out, and slept for half an hour, twitching all over, as seals will. Then
he headed straight for Walrus Islet, a little low sheet of rocky island almost due
northeast from Novastoshnah, all ledges and rock and gulls' nests, where the walrus
herded by themselves.
He landed close to old Sea Vitch-the big, ugly, bloated, pimpled, fat-necked,
long-tusked walrus of the North Pacific, who has no manners except when he is asleep-as
he was then, with his hind flippers half in and half out of the surf.
''Wake up!'' barked Kotick, for the gulls were making a great noise.
''Hah! Ho! Hmph! What's that?'' said Sea Vitch, and he struck the next walrus
a blow with his tusks and waked him up, and the next struck the next, and so on
till they were all awake and staring in every direction but the right one.
''Hi! It's me,'' said Kotick, bobbing in the surf and looking like a little white
''Well! May I be-skinned!'' said Sea Vitch, and they all looked at Kotick as
you can fancy a club full of drowsy old gentlemen would look at a little boy. Kotick
did not care to hear any more about skinning just then; he had seen enough of it.
So he called out: ''Isn't there any place for seals to go where men don't ever come?''
''Go and find out,'' said Sea Vitch, shutting his eyes. ''Run away. We're busy
Kotick made his dolphin-jump in the air and shouted as loud as he could: ''Clam-eater!
Clam-eater!'' He knew that Sea Vitch never caught a fish in his life but always
rooted for clams and seaweed; though he pretended to be a very terrible person.
Naturally the Chickies and the Gooverooskies and the Epatkas-the Burgomaster Gulls
and the Kittiwakes and the Puffins, who are always looking for a chance to be rude,
took up the cry, and-so Limmershin told me-for nearly five minutes you could not
have heard a gun fired on Walrus Islet. All the population was yelling and screaming
''Clam-eater! Stareek old man!'' while Sea Vitch rolled from side to
side grunting and coughing.
''Now will you tell?'' said Kotick, all out of breath.
''Go and ask Sea Cow,'' said Sea Vitch. ''If he is living still, he'll be able
to tell you.''
''How shall I know Sea Cow when I meet him?'' said Kotick, sheering off.
''He's the only thing in the sea uglier than Sea Vitch,'' screamed a Burgomaster
gull, wheeling under Sea Vitch's nose. ''Uglier, and with worse manners! Stareek!''
Kotick swam back to Novastoshnah, leaving the gulls to scream. There he found
that no one sympathized with him in his little attempt to discover a quiet place
for the seals. They told him that men had always driven the holluschickie-it was
part of the day's work-and that if he did not like to see ugly things he should
not have gone to the killing grounds. But none of the other seals had seen the killing,
and that made the difference between him and his friends. Besides, Kotick was a
''What you must do,'' said old Sea Catch, after he had heard his son's adventures,
''is to grow up and be a big seal like your father, and have a nursery on the beach,
and then they will leave you alone. In another five years you ought to be able to
fight for yourself.'' Even gentle Matkah, his mother, said: ''You will never be
able to stop the killing. Go and play in the sea, Kotick.'' And Kotick went off
and danced the Fire-dance with a very heavy little heart.
That autumn he left the beach as soon as he could, and set off alone because
of a notion in his bullet-head. He was going to find Sea Cow, if there was such
a person in the sea, and he was going to find a quiet island with good firm beaches
for seals to live on, where men could not get at them. So he explored and explored
by himself from the North to the South Pacific, swimming as much as three hundred
miles in a day and a night. He met with more adventures than can be told, and narrowly
escaped being caught by the Basking Shark, and the Spotted Shark, and the Hammerhead,
and he met all the untrustworthy ruffians that loaf up and down the seas, and the
heavy polite fish, and the scarlet spotted scallops that are moored in one place
for hundreds of years, and grow very proud of it; but he never met Sea Cow, and
he never found an island that he could fancy.