Immediately after the close of the college year, and a few weeks spent at home, Colin betook himself to Washington, where he received the necessary credentials. As still a week intervened before the time of the opening of the laboratory, he spent several days in New York, visiting the American Museum daily and assisting his friend, Mr. Collier, with whom he had gone to Bermuda. The sea-garden exhibits were all completed and were among the museum's most popular cases, and the curator was engaged in preparing some exquisite models of the Radiolaria, those magical creatures of the sea, which are so small that they can be seen only with a powerful microscope, but which look like living snow-crystals, although a thousand times more beautiful. Some were already installed in the museum, but a large series was planned.
On his arrival at Woods Hole, Colin found work in the hatchery division of the station almost at an end. Hundreds of millions of cod, pollock, haddock, and flatfish fry had been hatched from eggs and planted in favorable places for their further development, and tens of millions of lobster fry as well. A few of the hatching troughs were in use, but most of them had been emptied and prepared for the work of the biological department of the Bureau, to which the station was given over during the summer months.
Colin found that he was not unknown to the director, who, being especially interested in mollusks, had read the lad's paper on the mussel-shells. Accordingly he was quite heartily welcomed and set right at work.
"You will take charge of the fish-trap crew, Dare," he was informed, the director's quick, snappy eye taking in the lad. "I suppose you know enough about fish to tell the various species apart?"
"I'm not sure, sir," said the boy, "but I think I know most of the common kinds. That is, theoretically, Mr. Prelatt, through studying them. I have never done any fishing of consequence off the New England coast."
"You can haul the trap at slack water this afternoon," the director said. "I will ask Mr. Wadreds to go with you. He knows every kind of fish that swims and more about each one than three or four of the rest of us put together."
"What will be my duties, sir?" asked Colin. "I don't want to trouble you, but if I am to take charge of the crew I ought to know what I have to do."
"The trap is to be hauled daily," was the reply, "except when the water is very rough. You will be given a list of the needs of the laboratory for experimental purposes, and as far as possible, you will fill those needs. Sometimes you may have to assist in the collecting trip besides, as for green sea-urchins and the like; or perhaps you may have to draw a seine for silversides and small fish. Sometimes you may be needed to haul some of the lobster pots, because we shall have two men at least doing research work on lobsters. Again, you may have to get mussels for some work that is being done on shellfish for food. There will be two other students working with you in maintaining the supply of specimen material, under the direction of the head collector."
"Very well, Mr. Prelatt," the boy replied, "I'll see that things are kept up as far as possible. Am I to come to you for information as to where to go for special fish and so forth?"
"Mr. Wadreds knows more about that than I do," the director said; "he can usually tell you just where to find anything you're after. You'll soon find it easy, because collecting narrows down to a few species. The M. B. L. boat does collecting, too, and sometimes each party is able to help the other."
"What is the M. B. L., sir?" asked Colin.
"The Marine Biological Laboratory," was the reply, "which owns all the land on the other side of the street, just as we do on this. It is a summer college supported by a number of leading universities, to which graduate students come for courses in biology and marine life. There is some research work done also, and at the present moment Professor Jacques Loeb is doing some wonderful work over there on fish hybridization. We are entirely distinct organizations, one being a summer school and the other being a government marine hatchery with a biological laboratory attached. They have their own boats and we have ours, but we grant them the privilege of using our wharves, and there is a great deal of friendly cooperation between the two."
"You spoke of sea-mussels, sir," suggested Colin.
"I was wondering, Mr. Prelatt, whether I would have any time aside from the fish-traps and the collecting, and if so, if I might work with the man who is going to take that up."
The director shook his head.
"No," he answered, "there are two men working on that subject together. Besides which, you will have but very little time, at least for a couple of weeks. Then, if you feel that you would like some research work, I'll tell you what I want done."
Colin soon found that the demands upon him by the chief of the collecting staff not only were very heavy, but that they required considerable ingenuity. Frequently he would be asked for starfish and it would be necessary to go to a well-known shoal at some little distance, perhaps in the Phalarope or other of the government boats. There they would dredge with 'tangles,' a tangle being an iron frame with yards and yards of cotton waste dragging behind in which the spines of sea-urchins and the rough convolutions of starfish easily become entangled. Occasionally more distant trips, such as those to the Gulf Stream, would be made on the Fish Hawk, the largest of the Bureau's boats, named like all the others, after sea birds.
The hauling of the fish-trap, usually done in boats from the Blue Wing, never palled in interest. Every day the visit to the trap had the expectant thrill the miner finds when prospecting in a new stream. There was always the excitement of possibly finding new species, true gold to the scientist.
"I've found at least three new species," said Mr. Wadreds to him one day, "right out of the same trap you're haulin'. And sometimes, when there has been a long-continued storm and the wind's settin' in from the southeast, the traps have jest had numbers o' tropical fish."
"Why should the wind bring the fish?" asked Colin.
"They come up with the weed, lad," was the old collector's reply. "When a storm rises the big masses o' gulf weed are broken up an' drift on the surface before the wind. A great many semi-tropical fish live on the weed an' the little creatures that make their homes in it, an' so they come followin' it away up here. Then we find them in the traps and by seinin'. We've caught butterfly fish an' parrot fish in the seines up here several times."
"We get menhaden in the trap principally now," the boy said; "why aren't they used for food? They look all right. Are they poisonous, or something?"
"Oily," was the reply; "an Eskimo might like 'em, but no one else. But the menhaden fishery is valuable just the same, for there's more oil and better oil got every year from menhaden than there is whale oil. Nearly all fish manure is menhaden, too. But they're not a food fish."
"Nor are dogfish," said Colin, "but I see that the M. B. L. mess table has them once in a while. We get lots of mackerel and other varieties that are good eating. I wonder why they eat dogfish?"
"Partly to try it out," the collector said. "A dogfish is a shark, as you know, and mos' people don't like the idea of eatin' any kind o' shark. But it is a waste to have a good article o' food entirely neglected by the public an' so the Bureau and the M. B. L. have tried usin' dogfish on the table as an experiment to get an idea of its value as food."
"It tastes all right, too," said the boy. "I had some yesterday."
"O' course it does, but the name is against it. Both dogfish and catfish are good eatin', but there is a prejudice against 'em, because people don't eat cats an' dogs. But they have been canned an' sold under various names, such as 'ocean whitefish,' 'Japanese halibut,' an' 'sea bass.'"
"They have a vicious look, though!"
"They are vicious," was the reply, "but you mustn't believe all you hear. Why, at the last International Fishery Congress a speaker told of a plague o' dogfish which not only attacked lobsters, but swallowed pots an' all."
Colin looked incredulously at his friend.
"That's the story," the other said; "you don't have to believe it. I don't."
"But after all, a dogfish is a shark, and aren't sharks the most vicious creatures o' the sea?"
"I shouldn't say so," the old collector answered. "I reckon the moray is really more vicious. He's always huntin' trouble. A shark is always hungry, that's all. Fishes have different kinds o' tempers, you know, an' often it's the smallest creature that's the meanest."
"There isn't anythin' that swims that's meaner than a 'mad-Tom,' an' they're frequent in all the rivers o' the middle west an' south. A 'mad-Tom,'" he continued in answer to the boy's questioning look, "is a small catfish with spines. Most boys in riverside villages have their hands all cut up by 'mad-Toms.' O' course there are scorpion-fish an' toad-fishes in tropical waters, an' their poison will cripple a man for a while, but there's no fish that's fatal."
"I thought there were lots of poisonous things in the water," Colin said, "jellyfish and other things like that."
"Well," replied the collector, "a jellyfish can be tolerable poisonous. The Portuguese man-o'-war, pretty enough to look at when it floats on the water, with long streamers o' purple threads flowin' out behind, is the only thing that I ever heard of that killed a man."
"A jellyfish? How?"
"It was all his own fault," was the reply. "It was down in the Bahamas, off Nassau, as I remember. The sea was just alive with jellyfish, an' this young fellow that I'm tellin' about, he swam around a good deal an' once or twice had run into a jellyfish without gettin' stung. There's only some o' them that sting."
"I thought all of them did a little?"
"No, only a few. Well, this chap knew enough, I reckon, to keep away from a Portuguese man-o'-war usually, but either he had got reckless or didn't think of it. Some of his friends shouted out to him to take care, but he laughed back, tellin' them they were foolish to believe old stories, and to show that he didn't care, in a spirit o' 'dare' he dived plumb under the jellyfish. But he misjudged his distance an' came up clean in the middle of it an' the stingin' hairs just closed all over on him."
"There are hundreds of them, too, aren't there?"
"Thousands of stingin' filaments in some o' them. He gave one wild scream an' went down. When he came up and his friends were able to grasp him he was paralyzed as though he had suffered an electric shock, an' before they could get him to shore his body had broken out in a violent rash. The doctors couldn't do anythin' for him an' he died three days later."
"Have you ever been stung?"
"I know enough to keep away from a jellyfish," was the blunt rejoinder; "but I had a nasty time with a torpedo once."
"The electric ray?" queried Colin. "That fish that looks like a small sea vampire only it hasn't a whip-like tail?"
"That's it," said the older man. "It was when I was just a youngster, I was haulin' in a net, when my feet slipped from under an' I went headlong into the middle o' the net, and a torpedo landed on the back o' my neck. I reckon he must have shocked the spinal cord or something because I was fair paralyzed for an hour or two. You're sure to get one yourself," he continued, "because they use torpedoes for research work a good deal, but a shock in the hand or on the arm passes away in a few minutes, so that you don't need to worry about that. The electric eels—which are not eels at all, though they look like it—are the worst of all, but since they live only in South American rivers, I suppose they won't bother you much."
"As long as I don't find any in the fish-trap," said Colin, laughing, as Mr. Wadreds nodded and went on his way, "I won't mind, and I'd just as soon not have to handle any dogfish that swallow lobster-pots as a habit, but if I do I'll come to you for help."
All in all, Colin thought Woods Hole the most interesting place in which he had ever been. Unlike other summer resorts, a spirit of earnest vigor pervaded the little settlement. The houses nestled in the wooded low hills behind the town, and though so near the sea, flowers could be made to grow luxuriantly, as a famous and beautiful rose garden bore witness. To the southeast, over a spit of land that was little wider than a causeway, the road ran to the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Bureau of Fisheries station, holding their commanding positions overlooking the harbor. The great government pier smacked of the stormy sea, for it was used also by the Lighthouse Service and huge red buoys lay in dozens on it awaiting their hour to warn the tempest-driven mariner of the perils that lay below them.
Nearer in, where the pier was severed from the shore, the opening being crossed by a short swing bridge, was a small inclosed inner harbor where lay the launches and boats of the two laboratories. Upon the shore itself was a stone-walled tank, set between the Residence building and the Laboratory proper, and therein large fish which had been caught in traps or elsewhere, and which were too big for the indoor tanks, flitted as dark shadows within the pool. Smaller fish were in the Aquarium in the first floor of the laboratory opposite the wide space where stood the serried rows of hatching troughs.
Here were many most interesting fish—among them that constant delight of the landsman, the puffer, which, when disturbed, rapidly inflates itself, rising to the surface of the water until it becomes apparently so large a mouthful that its would-be devourer is fooled into believing the morsel too big to swallow. Then, the danger removed, the puffer releases the gulped-down water and swims away. Here also were strange fish, like the eighteen-spined sculpin and the sea-robin, walking over the bottom on three free rays of each of the pectoral fins. Upon the top story of the same building were preserved in a rough museum various other strange forms, not all from Woods Hole waters; the remora, or sucking fish, that fastens on sharks and becomes a constant passenger enjoying a free ride, specimens of which were often in the Aquarium; the deal-fish, which alone among its tribe has a long slim fin projecting upwards from the tail almost at right angles to it; the blenny, whose facial expression has caused it to be known as the sarcastic blenny; the graceful sea-horse, who swings on seaweed with a prehensile tail like that of a monkey—and the male of which hatches the eggs instead of the mother, and not the least extraordinary, the three-cornered trunk-fish whose front view is the most unfishlike apparition possible. These and hundreds of others Colin learned to know from the collections.
It was with great delight that Colin heard of the presence of his friend Mr. Collier, who was working on the plans for a model of Bryozoa, and who had with him his staff of glass-workers and modelers. The boy found it hard to tear himself away from this laboratory and struck up quite a friendship with a Japanese colorist on the staff. Also, he was fortunate in meeting and knowing Mr. Cavalier, the artist of animal life, and from him the boy learned a great deal of the picturesque and aesthetic elements of the life which he painted and modeled with such surpassing skill. Scores of other workers, writers, and scientists of all kinds had rooms in the wonderfully interesting workshops of Woods Hole.
Beyond the laboratory building was the wharf to which the two steam yachts attached respectively to the station and the M. B. L. were tied up. Beyond that again was a second pier, that of the Revenue Cutter service, where lay, with banked fires, one of the guardians of American seas, a man ever on duty at the wireless receiver. Beyond the pier the land curved to the point opposite the Elizabeth Islands, while in the narrow strait or 'hole' between, the tide for all Buzzards Bay surged out or in as the ebb and flow compelled.
As captain of the fish-trap crew and active in collection, Colin had the run of both laboratories and the day always seemed too short for him. Every investigator's work was a matter of personal interest to him and he talked 'research' all the day long, though too tired to dream of it at night. Nor did he forget his swimming, and at the beach in Buzzards Bay he swam a mile or so each day, the admiration and the envy of all the M. B. L. students. But Colin speedily won their friendship, for he never hesitated to help other swimmers in every way he could, even teaching little tricks of style that were all his own and which had gone far to win him his championship.
As Director Prelatt had promised, Colin was given an opportunity to keep some research work in hand, although he found—as had been foretold—that he had but little time for it. The director was engaged upon a most interesting and important investigation, which, like all those that were in progress at the laboratory, had a strong economic value. This was the study of the life history of the whelk.
"At first sight," the director said to him, when explaining the problem, "it does not seem as though the biology of a sea-snail were a matter of much importance to the country, but as a matter of fact, to a great extent the oyster industry—which reaches millions of dollars annually and gives employment as well as food to thousands of people—depends upon that very thing."
"Just how, Mr. Prelatt?" inquired Colin.
"All creatures have their own special enemies," the director answered; "and everything is so equally balanced that there are enough oysters born to keep up the supply in spite of the attacks of the whelk, or oyster-drill as it is termed. When man comes on the scene, however, and commences to dredge the oysters, the combination of the market and the drill together is too much for the oyster-beds and they soon become depleted."
"That's the way it is with fish, too!"
"With everything," was the assenting answer. "Now there are two ways to overcome this condition. One is the way in which we handle the same question with fish—by artificially hatching millions more eggs every year than would have been hatched during a state of nature. The other is by attacking the enemy of the oyster and thus enlarging the chances of those that hatch naturally. The latter we can't do with fish."
"Why not, sir?"
"Because the enemies of fish are numerous and free-swimming," was the answer, "and also because fish produce an enormous amount of eggs. Oysters do also, but fertilization is so largely a matter of chance that but a few of the tens of thousands of eggs ever really have a chance to become young oysters. You can help that in two ways, one by preparing the ground so that everything is made easy for the young oysters to have a chance, the other by thinning them out or transplanting the young oysters or 'spat' as they are called, improving and enlarging the beds."
"That ought to help settle it, I should think."
"It is not enough. Enemies also must be kept at bay."
"I should think the oyster, in its tough shell, would be practically free from enemies," remarked Colin.
"On the contrary, it has a large number. A great many kinds of fish, such as skates, for example, will eat oysters, and many owners of oyster-beds have surrounded their holdings with an actual stockade of stakes."
"Like the pioneers had against the Indians?"
"Just the same," assented the director. "Drum-fish are hostile on the Atlantic coast, and on the Pacific a very substantial stockade is required against the invasion of sting-rays. More destructive still are the starfish."
Colin stared at the director in surprise.
"Starfish!" he said, "those little starfish? Why, they're soft and they haven't any teeth or anything to crush an oyster shell with."
"They're small and they're soft and they haven't any teeth at all," said the director, "but starfish cost the oyster industry at least five million dollars a year."
"But how?" queried Colin; "I don't see how they can work it."
"What is a starfish?"
The boy thought for a moment.
"It's an echinoderm," he said, "generally with five arms, that lives only in the sea, has a simple stomach, and feeds on the minute organisms in the water."
"There you're wrong," said the director. "It lives only in the sea, that's right enough, but you haven't proper regard for a starfish's powers of digestion. It feeds on mussels, oysters and other shellfish. Can it swim?"
"I don't think so, sir," said Colin, after a moment's thought, "it crawls."
"I don't know, Mr. Prelatt."
"By thousands of sucker-like feet on the under side of it," he was told. "So you see it can crawl to and over an oyster-bed."
"But even so, wouldn't an oyster shut tight at the approach of danger?" suggested Colin.
"That doesn't make any difference to the starfish," was the reply, "he'll open the oyster."
"What keeps an oyster closed?"
"The muscle, sir, because when it is dead it flies open."
"Very good. Do muscles grow tired?"
"Mine do," said Colin, smiling, "and I suppose the muscles of oysters are the same way."
"Exactly. Now what happens is this. The starfish crawls along until he finds an oyster which he thinks will suit his taste. As he crawls near or on it, the oyster closes up tight. The starfish—taking plenty of time—fastens himself to the shell, having two of his 'arms' on one shell and the suckers of the other three 'arms' attached to the other shell. Then the starfish starts to pull."
"But isn't the oyster stronger?"
"Much stronger," agreed the director, "but the starfish doesn't know enough to quit. The pull he exerts is not so powerful but it is relentless and unceasing and no oyster muscle can resist it for more than a few hours. Presently the shell gapes open. The starfish lumbers over and commences to feed, other starfish often coming to enjoy the feast."
"And are there starfish enough to injure the beds?"
"Myriads of them. A starfish is not easy to kill, moreover, because if any of the arms are cut off he will grow a new one."
"How do the oystermen fight them?"
"By catching them in tangles. The snarled cotton waste does no harm to the oyster, but, as it is pulled over the bed, picks up hundreds of starfish and sea-urchins. Up-to-date vessels engaged in that work have a vat of boiling water on deck, into which the tangle is plunged when it is pulled up from the bottom. This kills the starfish and is a great gain over the old system of picking them out of the tangle by hand.
"But the worst of all the oyster's enemies," the director continued, "and the one on which I am working, is the oyster-drill. At least eighty per cent of the possible oyster crop is destroyed by this sea-snail. This creature, usually about half an inch long, crawls on an oyster—usually a young one—and with a rasp-like tongue files a hole in the shell, through which it sucks the juices out of the oyster. The only thing that keeps the oyster-drill in check at all is that as soon as it is big enough for a younger drill to climb on its shell, it is apt to suffer the same fate. It is a case of reversed cannibalism, the stronger falling to the weaker."
"What can be done to stop it?"
"Nothing so far," said the director; "that is my chosen problem. Because the drill prefers the thin-shelled mussel to the thicker-shelled oyster it has been suggested that mussels should be planted outside oyster-beds, so that the drills would stay there. But the cure would be worse than the disease, for the mussels would spread over the oyster-bed and the drills with them, since they would have so excellent a breeding ground. No, the problem is still unsolved, and the people of the United States are looking to the Bureau of Fisheries to solve it. The Bureau has given it to me. That's the fascination of this work, that on your own toil and your own skill and ingenuity a factor of world-wide importance may depend."
"What is it, Colin?"
"It just occurred to me, sir," the boy answered, "that perhaps some parasite which would prey on the drill might be found."
"It might—but I have as yet found none."
"Or perhaps," Colin again suggested, "some chemical which would unite with lime might be put into the water so that the oyster shell might be poisonous to the drill, but not for food, because we eat the oyster and not the shell."
The director laughed.
"That suggestion is new, at least," he said, "but I don't think it would work because this is a marine question and the water changes continuously. There must be some solution, there's always a way of doing everything, and some one will find it out. I'm going to stick at it till I do, that is, when I'm not engaged on other Bureau work. But I'm always glad of suggestions, and when you can help me in any way I'll let you know."
"Thank you ever so much, Mr. Prelatt," Colin answered; "I'll be glad to do anything I can."
The boy had a fertile brain, and, before a week had passed by, a line of experiment suggested itself to him in connection with the oyster-drill problem and he explained it to the director.
"To work that out properly would take several years!" the latter said tentatively.
"I thought it would," said Colin, "but perhaps some one else could carry it on, and the work ought to be done, anyway."
"You have the right idea," the director replied; "it's the problem, not the man who solves it. Now," he continued, "I have a surprise for you. Dr. Jimson, who has been working on swordfish for some time, is anxious to try and capture a large specimen and is going out with a swordfish sloop next week. I can probably arrange for the trap to be looked after, if you are off for a day or two. Do you want to go?"
"Indeed I do," said Colin. "Mr. Wadreds was telling me some stories just the other day about swordfish-catching."
"I suppose he told you the famous story of the swordfish which charged a vessel and drove its sword through 'copper sheathing, an inch board under-sheathing, a three-inch plank of hard wood, the solid white oak timber twelve inches thick, then through another two and a half-inch hard-oak ceiling, and lastly penetrated the head of an oil cask, where it stuck, not a drop of the oil having escaped?'"
"Yes, Mr. Prelatt," Colin answered, "and if he hadn't told me that the record was authentic and that the sword and section of timber had been in the National Museum, I might have doubted it."
"They're enormously powerful, one of the best boatmen I ever knew was killed by a swordfish," said the director.
"How was that, sir?"
"He had harpooned the swordfish and had gone out in the small boat to lance it, when the huge fish dived under the craft and shot up from the bottom like a rocket, his sword going through the timbers as though they were paper and striking the boatman with such force that he was killed almost instantly. Boats used often to be sunk by the rushes of a swordfish, but nowadays the greater part of the work is done directly from the deck of a schooner. No amount of changes, however, can take all the excitement out of a swordfish capture."
"Will they attack a boat unprovoked?"
"There are lots of cases in which they are supposed to have done so," the director replied, "but I think any such instances were probably swordfish who had been wounded—but not fatally. You knew that the swordfish was the Monarch of all the Fish?"
"No," Colin answered, "I didn't."
"He was so elected at one of the meetings of the International Congress of Fisheries," said the director, smiling. "We were waiting for the chairman or the speaker or somebody and in casual conversation the query arose as to who was the real master of the seas, in the same way that the lion is regarded as the King of Beasts."
"And the swordfish got the award?"
"After quite a little debate. Plenty of people had their own favorites, the white shark and the killer whale among others, but when it came to a sort of informal vote, the swordfish was chosen almost unanimously."
"I shall be glad to pay my respects to His Majesty," answered Colin with a laugh, as the director wheeled his chair to his desk, "and I'm ever so much obliged for the opportunity."
The next morning, after having hauled the trap, Colin jumped aboard the Phalarope, which was going to New Bedford for supplies for the station, and which was to take him there to join Dr. Jimson on a swordfish schooner. A large portion of the surface of Buzzards Bay was dotted with billets of wood, about six inches thick and painted in all manner of colors. Some were red, some white, some black, some yellow and blue, some striped in all manner of gaudy hues.
"I've been wondering," said Colin, as he stood in the pilot house chatting to the captain of the little steamer, "what all those sticks in the water are?"
The captain took his pipe out of his mouth to stare at him in surprise, as he turned the wheel a spoke or two.
"Don't you know that?" he said. "Those are lobster-pot buoys."
"You mean there's a lobster-pot attached to every one of those?"
"Yes, of course."
"But there are thousands of them! Why, right now, I can probably see forty or fifty, and they're not so awfully easy to catch sight of with a little sea running. And why are they painted all different colors?"
"Different owners," was the reply, "every man has his own color. Every day, or every other day at least, he sails out to the grounds—some of 'em now have motor-boats—and makes a round of his pots. A chap whose buoy is yellow has perhaps a hundred or two yellow buoys scattered about the harbor."
"That sounds like work," said Colin.
"It's hard work," was the reply. "A lobster-pot is weighted with bricks and it's a heavy load to pull up in a boat. It's an awkward thing to handle, too. Then a lobsterman has to rebait his traps, and as he does that with rotten fish, it's not a sweet job. And he can only bring in lobsters over a certain size; anything less than nine and a half inches in length he has to throw back. Sometimes it'll happen that the traps are full of lobsters that are too short or too small, 'shorts' they call 'em, and his day's work won't bring him in much. There's a living in it, but that's about all."
Finding that the captain of the Phalarope knew the lobster business well, as do most men who are natives of the region, Colin kept him busy answering questions until they ran into New Bedford. As the old center of the whaling industry, the harbor had a great interest for Colin, but there was but one of the whaling ships in at the time, and the ancient fisher-town atmosphere was greatly marred by extensive cotton mills that had been built along the river, just below where the whaling piers used to be. The swordfish schooners were at the pier, however, large as life, and Colin felt quite a thrill of excitement as he stepped aboard the little vessel on which he was to live for the next couple of days, and saw the narrow dark bunks in the entirely airless cabin in which four men were to sleep. Dr. Jimson and Colin practically were going as members of the crew, the two men, whose places they were taking, staying home from the trip.
Long before sunrise the following morning they were up, and by daybreak the schooner was standing out of the harbor for Block Island, one of the famous haunts of the swordfish. Colin, who had good eyesight, and who was always eager to be up and doing, volunteered to go to the crow's-nest and keep a lookout for the dorsal fin of a swordfish, which, he was told, could be seen a couple of miles away. There was no advantage in going aloft, however, until toward noon, when, the water being still, the swordfish come up to sun themselves.
Once Colin was quite sure that he saw a swordfish, but just as he was about to shout, there flashed across his mind a sentence that he had read somewhere of the likelihood of confusing a shark's fin with that of a swordfish, and soon he was able to make out that it was a shark. As it grew toward noon and the sun's rays beat directly on him, Colin began to realize that sitting on a scantling two inches by four at the top of a schooner's mast in a bobbing sea, under a broiling sun, was a long way from being a soft snap, but he would have scorned to make a complaint. He was more than glad, though, when the cook hailed all hands to dinner, and one of the sailors went to the crow's-nest.
At dinner Colin turned the conversation to swordfish and their ways.
"There's one thing I don't quite understand, Dr. Jimson," he asked, "is a spear-fish the same as a swordfish, only that the weapon is shorter?"
"Not at all," was the reply, "the spear-fish is a variety of the great sailfish, which you see in West Indian waters six or seven feet long, with a huge dorsal fin, blue with black spots, looming above the water like the sail of a strange craft. But the real difference is in the spear or sword. In the case of the spear-fish it is bony, being a prolongation of the skull; in the case of the swordfish it is horny, and horns, as you probably know, are formations of skin rather than bone. Now the narwhal's tusk," he continued, "is again an entirely different thing."
"That's a tooth, isn't it?"
"Yes," was the reply, "it seems to be the mark of the male narwhal. Sometimes a narwhal has two tusks, but generally only one—on the left side. The females have none at all. You know the unicorn is always represented with a narwhal's tusk? One of the early travelers, Sir John de Mandeville or Marco Polo, I forget which, brought back a narwhal's tusk which, he had been told, had been taken from a kind of horse. I really suppose that the native who sold it believed it was from some species of antelope. But to this day the arms of Great Britain show a horse having a fish's tooth sticking out from his forehead like an impossible horn."
"Way-o!" suddenly came the cry from the masthead.
"Where away?" called the captain, jumping up and looking around.
"Three points on the starboard bow, sir," answered the sailor, pointing his finger.
"That's right enough. You're in luck, Dr. Jimson," he added, turning to his passengers, "you won't have had long to wait if we catch this one for you."
The captain walked aft, saw that everything was clear on deck, then stepped forward and walked out on the bowsprit to the 'pulpit,' the characteristic feature of a swordfish schooner. This was a small circular platform about three feet across, built at the end of the bowsprit, with a rail waist high around it and a small swinging seat. Triced up to the jib stay was the long harpoon with its head, known as the 'lily-iron.'
The schooner, having the wind abeam, danced smartly over the waves toward the long lithe fin, gliding swiftly through the water. The captain, standing like a statue, waited until the craft was within ten feet of the unconscious swordfish, then thrust downward with all his might. It was a thrust—not a throw—and the muscular strength behind the blow caused the steel to pierce the thick skin of the swordfish. At the same instant the keg around which the line had been wound was thrown overboard, and the water flew up like a fine jet from the rapid revolutions of the barrel as the swordfish sped away with the line.
"How in the world are you going to haul him in now?" asked Colin, when he saw the keg thrown overboard.
"Did you think we pulled him in, same as you would a cod?" asked the captain.
"Too much chance of sinking the schooner!" was the reply. "That isn't the way to get a swordfish."
As soon as the line on the barrel became unwound, it tightened with a jerk and the barrel disappeared under the surface. But the resistance that the barrel full of air at the end of the long line gave was great and even the powerful swordfish could not tow it for long. In a few minutes he slackened his speed and the barrel bobbed to the surface. But the swordfish was still traveling like a railroad train, in short rushes, however, here and there.
"See him charge it!" cried Colin.
There was a swirl of water and with a speed which seemed incredible the huge body launched itself at the barrel. But there was no resistance, the keg revolved as the sword struck it, and the swordfish shot into the air. Again and again he charged, and Colin realized what danger lay behind that ton and a half of muscle backed by a power that could drive such a weight at sixty miles an hour through the water.
Again the Monarch of the Sea shot away, towing the barrel, but it was a disheartening drag, even upon the magnificent strength of the great swordfish. Little by little the rushes became shorter, the spurts less frequent, as exhaustion and loss of blood began to tell. The captain ordered out the boat and, at his earnest appeal, Colin was allowed to go.
"You're light," the captain of the schooner said, as he picked up a lance not unlike a whale lance, "and we don't want much weight in the boat because it might pull the barb out of the fish if he starts to run."
"This reminds me," said the boy, "of the time I was spearing whales in the Behring Sea," and he recounted the adventure briefly as they pulled toward the swordfish. The Monarch of the Sea, who had never had a chance to show his powers, being handicapped by the barrel dragging back his every movement, caught sight of the boat. He did not wait to be attacked, but rushed with renewed fury at this new foe. The captain, apparently unmoved, waited until the fish rose at the boat and then he thrust in the lance with all his strength. The force acting against both fish and boat drove the latter sideways a foot or more, so that the giant rose in the air not two feet from the gunwale of the boat, the spray stinging like fine rain as the wind of his leap whistled by.
"He'll charge again in a minute," the captain said quietly, "look out always for the second rush."
The words were scarcely out of his lips when the fin appeared. Once again, as before, that great mass of dynamic energy hurled itself at the boat, but twenty yards away there came a sudden check and the swordfish dived. A second passed—so long that it seemed like a minute, while Colin waited shiveringly to hear the crashing of the timbers and to see that fearful weapon flash up between them, but as silently as a shadow the lithe gray fighting machine shot up from the deep a yard or two astern of the boat and, falling limply, turned on his side, dead.
The captain smiled.
"If he had lived about a half a second longer," he said, "I reckon this boat would be on its way to the bottom now."
RUN DOWN DURING A SQUALL
On the way back to New Bedford, Colin begged for the 'sword' of the swordfish as a trophy, and, permission being given, one of the boatmen volunteered to prepare it for him, offering to clean and polish it so that the weapon would show to best advantage. Dr. Jimson had been excessively courteous to Colin throughout the trip, and his fellow-feeling was greatly increased when he learned that the boy also was a holder of the blue tuna button, for he himself was an enthusiastic angler.
"I'm a trout-fisher by preference," said Dr. Jimson, settling himself down for a chat as the schooner sailed quietly on its way to New Bedford, with a dropping wind, "and I believe that the steelhead trout, in the streams that flow through the redwood forests, are the finest fish alive."
"I thought the rainbow trout was supposed to have the call," said Colin; "at least, Father always declares so, and he goes up to the Klamath region nearly every year."
"The rainbow is a very gamy trout," agreed the angler, "and it runs large, up to twenty pounds sometimes, but pound for pound, there's more fight in a steelhead."
"What's the Dolly Varden?" Colin queried. "I never can get the various kinds of trout clear in my mind."
"If you can keep them clear when you have them hooked," said the other, with a jolly laugh, "that's much more important. But a Dolly Varden isn't a trout at all, it's really a char. It's a beautiful fish, too, and you find it in cold, clear streams, such as the upper waters of the Sacramento and Alaskan rivers. In Alaska it swarms in millions. But the most beautiful trout in the country, indeed the most beautiful fish in the world, perhaps, are found in three little streams on the very top of the Sierra Nevada. Did they tell you the story, in Washington, about the three forms of golden trout?"
"No, Dr. Jimson," the boy replied; "Dr. Crafts mentioned it, but something came up to turn the conversation."
"I went up on that expedition a few years ago," the trout-lover said, "because I've done a good deal of work for the Bureau on the whole salmon family. Trout and salmon are very near relatives, and the trout will go up streams and leap small falls just as the salmon do. But, as you can easily see, in the headwaters of streams rising high in the Sierras, there are sure to be falls that trout cannot leap."
"Yes, sir, of course."
"Now, my boy," the other said impressively, "a few years ago, it was found out that there were trout in these streams above falls which would be absolutely impassable to any fish. How could they get there? It was a riddle. The only possible answer was that the fish must be older than the falls, that the stream had worn away its bed, bit by bit, until an impassable barrier from below had been created, but that the trout had gone on in the upper creeks, developing in their own way, for hundreds of centuries.
"The rocks over which these streams flow are a granite formation, very brightly colored, principally gray and red. The swiftly-flowing stream removes the debris, so that the clear water flows limpidly over this gorgeous coloring. In such a stream, where the natural enemies of the trout are the fish-hawk and the eagle, it is essential as a matter of protection that the fish should resemble the hue of the bottom, and accordingly, the most superb coloring in the world is theirs. But each of the three small streams that are cut off from the rivers below are also separate from each other, and in the ages during which this has been so, each of these streams has seen a different coloration develop in the trout. All are bright golden, all have orange fins and an orange stripe along the side, all are spotted with black, but they vary in many small particulars. Nowhere else in the world but in these three creeks—Volcano Creek, Soda Creek, and Aqua Bonita or Gracious Water Creek—can these fish be found; nowhere else would they retain their gorgeous coloring.
"Accordingly, the United States Government sent a party up to the very summit of the Sierra Nevada to study these fish, and of this party I was one. It was there that I saw the most marvelous storm that has perhaps ever been recorded. An electrical disturbance of great magnitude was passing over the country at the time, and it reached its vivid climax on the Sierras. Our camp was struck, several animals killed, and a couple of the teamsters severely injured, but for nearly two hours the whole world seemed set in a coronal of lightning flashes.
"We stayed up there with the trout for several weeks, and when we reached Washington, there was not a man in the party but was determined to fight, heart and soul, to save these rare fish from extinction. One or two summers during which 'fish-hogs' were permitted on the upper reaches of the Kern River, would have destroyed the trout forever, and, indeed, in one month a party of those reckless near-sportsmen destroyed almost one thousand of them. But the President's interest was enlisted, the Bureau of Fisheries made a firm stand, and to-day the region containing these most exquisite and most wonderful of all fresh-water fish is a part of the Mount Whitney National Park, and the golden trout are saved from extinction."
"Bully for the Bureau!" cried Colin. "Every time I learn more of its work, it seems to be doing something finer."
Following out the lad's interest in the whole trout question, Dr. Jimson taught him nearly all there was to know about the various members of the salmon and trout family, one of the most important food-fish groups of the world. Both being ardent fishermen, they were startled, however, by the sudden announcement:
"Big halibut off starboard quarter!"
"Yes," said Dr. Jimson, "there it is! Don't you see it," he continued, pointing with his finger, "flapping its tail on the water?"
"I see," said Colin; "but what is it doing that for?"
"Probably attacking a fish," was the reply. "Are you going after it, Captain?"
"No," the fisherman answered; "I've heard that people sometimes catch them without a net, but I never did."
"One of the biggest halibut that was ever brought ashore was caught in just such a way," the trout expert said, turning to Colin. "It was out near Sable Island, and the halibut was attacking a big cod by repeated blows with its tail. A boat was sent out with a couple of men carrying gaff-hooks, and the fight between the two fish was so fierce that neither of them paid any attention to the boat. The fishermen gaffed the halibut and pulled him into the dory, though it nearly swamped them, for the fish weighed over three hundred and fifty pounds. It's rather a queer story, I think, but it is reported as official."
"My word!" he said. "It must have been a big one, because a halibut is flat, like a flounder, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's the largest of the flatfish. There's a record of one halibut having been caught weighing a trifle over five hundred pounds. Usually a fish one-fifth of that size is considered large."
"Flatfish are funny creatures," said Colin. "I've often wondered how the eyes in various species wander around in their heads."
"Other people have wondered, too," said his companion.
"Well, but we know something about it, don't we?" protested the lad. "Aren't the eyes all right in the young fish?"
"Certainly," was the reply, "and, what's more, the young fish swims upright."
"How does the eye move round, then? Does the eye on one side go blind and another one grow on?"
"No," answered his friend; "your first idea was the right one, the eye moves round. But, as a matter of fact, it goes through the body. The young flatfish is thin and almost transparent, and when it begins to be time for the eye to change from one side of the body to the other it sinks in. A thin, transparent skin grows over the socket and the eye sinks in and in, the bones moving away from before it, until it has come near the proper place on the other side. Then a new socket opens for the eye, and it finally arrives at the end of its journey through the head, thus coming on the same side as the other eye. At the same time, too, the flatfish gets the habit of swimming on its side, and its color scheme changes, one side—which has become the bottom—being white, while the upper side is dark and spotted to look like the stones on the bottom of the sea."
"What do flatfish eat?"
"Everything," was the reply, "from a clam to a codfish. But the favorite food of the halibut, for instance, is sting-ray, and consequently it is a good friend of the oysterman; where there is plenty of halibut, there will be few sting-rays, and these last are destructive to a good oyster-bed."
"It seems to me," said Colin, "that the whole story of the seas is that fish eat fish, while the few that escape from their own kind are gobbled up by seagulls and terns and other birds."
"Yet," said the other, smiling, "the birds don't have it all their own way. Sometimes the fish gobble them!"
"Can they eat birds?"
"It's a little rare," was the reply, "but there's one authentic case on record in which a fish's stomach was found to contain no less than seven wild ducks."
"Why, I always thought that fish had a small mouth in proportion to their size. It must have been a monstrous big one!"
"It was not much more than four feet long," was the reply; "but it is one of the few fishes having a huge mouth. They sometimes call it a goosefish, because it attacks wild geese, but the right name is fishing-frog or angler. It glides along the bottom until directly beneath where ducks are feeding, and when one dives for worms in the mud—you know the way ducks go down—the angler catches it by the neck and drags it down and then swallows it at leisure. You see the bird hasn't a chance, because all the angler-fish has to do is to hold it until it strangles."
This led to a discussion of the food of fishes, and under the spur of the boy's questions, the scientist outlined for him the dietary of almost every fish that swims, together with all the various ways in which water is aerated, such as the growth of water-plants and the currents of streams.
"It still seems to me," said Colin, "that nearly every fish lives by fighting some other fish. It's a wonder," he added, with a laugh, "that there aren't some professional fighters among them."
"There are," his friend replied; "that is to say, in the sense you mean. There's a fish which is called the fighting-fish, that is regularly trained by the fishermen, and the combats are so famous that when one is scheduled to come off a big crowd gathers."
"Where?" asked Colin incredulously. "That sounds a little as if you thought I was one of the marines, Dr. Jimson."
"It is absolutely the case," was the reply. "And, what is more, they advertise these fights widely and get big gate receipts, just like a baseball game here. The sum of money taken in for admissions, too, has become so large that the Crown refuses to allow the fights to be held unless a certain percentage is paid over to the king."
"Where can that be?"
"In Siam," was the reply. "The fighting-fish is distantly related to the perch, but it has been used for public combats for so long that it has become highly specialized. It is really a sort of gamecock among fish, and the money expended in licenses in Siam brings in a comfortable revenue to the Crown. The owner of a champion fighting-fish never needs to work for a living, he can easily be supported by the winnings of his possession. Often a fish or a team of fishes is owned by a village and the rivalry between communities is intense. The Siamese are inveterate gamblers, also, and in more than one instance the Siamese Government has had to send supplies to a village which was threatened with famine because all the villagers had lost their crops through betting upon the success of their team of fighting-fish."
"You say it's a kind of perch?"
"Only distantly," was the reply; "it belongs to a very curious group of fishes which cannot live long in the water unless they can breathe air once in a while, nor can they live very long in air, unless they breathe water occasionally. The fish that climbs tall trees is a member of the same sub-order."
"You mean the skippy?"
"No," the scientist answered; "it's a much better climber than the skippy. It will run up the trunk of a palm tree."
"Now come, Dr. Jimson," expostulated Colin. "Do you expect me to believe that?"
"Certainly, when it is true," came the reply. "The statement often has been made and then disbelieved, but there is plenty of scientific evidence now to arm its truth."
"Does it climb up to the top and crack cocoa-nuts?" queried the boy, still incredulously.
"Not quite that," his friend said, smiling. "I believe seven feet is as high a climb as is known, that being recorded officially by one of the staff of the Madras Government Central Museum. The creature usually only climbs during a heavy tropical rainstorm, and it is believed that the fish, accustomed to ascending tiny streams, is stimulated to climb the tree by the rush of water flowing down the bark. The gill cover is movable, and the spines of the ventral fins very sharp. It doesn't go up head first, you know, but sideways."
"How does the fish climb down, then?" queried Colin.
"Tumbles," was the laconic reply.
"And starts up again?"
"No, it usually hops sideways over land to a mud-bank again, not to have another climbing fit until the next big tropical shower comes after a period of drought. But if you wanted to find out all the strange habits of fishes," continued his friend, as the schooner ran into New Bedford harbor, "it would take more time than one swordfish trip would give you."
On the way back to Woods Hole, going down the harbor, Colin questioned the captain of the M. B. L. boat, the Cayadetta,—which happened to have been at New Bedford that afternoon, and on which he had been given the courtesy of a passage—why there seemed to be two different kinds of boats scattered over the harbor oystering.
"That feller's not oysterin'," the captain answered; "he's rakin' quahogs."
"That's clams," was the explanation; "the right name for what the people down in New York call a 'little-neck clam.' The 'neck' is a foot, and it's little because the quahog doesn't burrow deep. The long or soft clam does."
"And he just pulls them up with a rake?"
"Yep," was the reply; "big rake with curved tines to it. You see he jerks his rake along until he feels it full, then pulls it up. Now, this feller, over on the other side here, he's not goin' after clams at all. He's oysterin'. Ef you'll notice, he has two poles an' he works 'em apart an' together again like a pair o' shears, an' then when he feels he has a load, he hauls it up the same way, picks out the oysters that are big enough, an' throws the small ones back together with the stones an' other rubbish that he has brought up. They call that 'tonging' oysters, an' the thing he uses is called the 'tongs.'"
"I've been wondering," said Colin, as they passed over the bay and he noted again all the lobster-pot buoys which had interested him so greatly on the way to New Bedford, "I've been wondering whether there was any crabbing done up this way?"
"Not much," the captain answered; "there's one caught now an' again, but all the good eatin' crabs belong further south. New Jersey's the place f'r crabs, an' I reckon most o' the soft-shell crabs o' the country come from there, but the business o' cannin' crabs is done way down in Chesapeake Bay, where there's crabs no end."
"A soft-shell crab is just the same species as the regular blue crab, isn't it," asked the boy; "only it has cast its shell?"
"Jus' the same," was the reply, "but for the market, an' there it's worth four or five times as much."
"When you come to think of it," said Colin, "there isn't much in the sea that isn't fit for food. Even the swordfish is good eating."
"There's some poisonous fish down in the tropics," was the reply, "but I reckon that but for a few of those, a hungry man could eat nigh anythin' that came out o' the water, fish or shellfish or anythin'. An' you know," he added, "some folks, like the Japanese an' South Sea Islanders, prefer 'em raw."
"Doesn't sound good to me at all," the boy said with a laugh, as the little steamer turned into the 'hole.' "I'm satisfied to eat oysters and clams raw, but not much else."
The rest of the month passed all too rapidly for Colin, who was becoming greatly attached to Woods Hole. The sense of accomplishment was strong throughout the place, every one was conscious that time was well spent, and the atmosphere of the little village was one of entire content. The boy made any number of friends, but above all, he took his greatest delight in knowing that he had really found the work that he wanted to do, and in trying as hard as he could to fit himself for it. Every day he spent in the Bureau he saw more clearly the value of the work it had done and the opportunities for other great advances. The exportation of live fish to foreign streams had a great attraction for him.
"You know, Colin," the director said to him one day, when he was speaking of the Bureau work, "all over the world there are fish which we ought to be able to acclimatize in American waters, and there are American fish which would thrive abroad. It has always been an idea of mine that we could probably prevent famines in large parts of Asia by looking after the fish supply. You hardly ever find a bad crop and a bad fish year come together, the one always makes up for the other. Just think what a gain it would have been in some of these Chinese and Indian famines if they could have had all the fish they wanted. Millions of lives could have been saved. The Bureau of Fisheries of this and other countries won't have finished its work until every river and stream of fresh water, every lake, and every square mile of the ocean is stocked with the very finest of the food fishes, and the undesirables are weeded out."
"Weeded out, like a garden?"
"Just exactly! Every hogfish and lamprey in American waters—that's a near-fish that sucks the blood of other fish, you know—should be exterminated just in the same way that the farmers of the country are making away with the Canada thistle. Against the sharks—the tigers of the sea, the killers—the wolves of the sea, and all the other predatory forms, relentless war should be waged until the wild fishes of the sea are destroyed, as the wild beasts of the forest have fled before the face of man."
"Could that ever be done?"
"It will be done," the director answered, "but not in my time nor in yours. It is a piece of work in which every step counts, and just one summer's work may bring results that will help millions of people in the years yet to come."
"And I shall have a share!" cried Colin, his enthusiasm kindling.
"Every one has a share; in the Fisheries, no work is wasted, no energy is lost. Whether it be such research as that which you have seen me doing upon the oyster drill, or the spectacular administration of the seal herds on the Pribilof Islands, or the dry statistical work of estimating the value of a fishery—on which work Dr. Crafts writes me he is going to send you—each part has its place and a big place. The aims of the Bureau are on so vast a scale that nothing is petty. We think in terms of millions and tens of millions, and Nature responds. There are more showy ways of helping the world, but for the accomplishment of great results I know of none superior."
"You said, sir," said Colin, who had been startled by the reference to himself, "that Dr. Crafts had some other work for me?"
"Yes," was the reply. "You know that the Laboratory here only keeps open until the first of September, don't you?"
"Yes, Mr. Prelatt."
"What had you thought of doing between then and college?"
"I hadn't made any plans."
"I have a letter from the Deputy Commissioner, here," the director continued, "in which he asks me if there is any one of the young fellows whom I have had for the summer who would like to go with one of the statistical field agents, and he suggests your name, should you wish to go. It will be a short stay, not more than ten days or so, and won't interfere with your getting back to college."
"I should like to go, ever so much," said Colin, "and I think it's awfully good of Dr. Crafts to think of me."
"Very well, then," answered the director; "I'll write to him about it. I thought you would accept, unless you had made other plans."
"I don't think I know much about the statistical side of the Bureau," said Colin; "just what does that take up?"
"Statistics mainly, but I can explain its value best by what I know it has done," the director said thoughtfully. "One of the very best things it accomplished, I think, was an investigation into the cause of the heavy loss of life among the crews of New England fishing-vessels."
"What was the cause, sir?"
"The statistical division of the Bureau ascribed a great many of the fatalities to badly-built vessels, so that a number of them foundered at sea in bad weather."
"How could the Bureau help that?"
"It did help it wonderfully," the director answered. "A thorough investigation was set on foot and all kinds of vessels examined. The experts of the country were consulted and hundreds of models made to find out just which was the most seaworthy. The fishing-fleets of all the world were visited, and as a result a schooner was built and called the Grampus, which became a model for all that was most to be desired in fishing-vessels. The boat-builders of the country since then have followed that type, and the loss of life from vessels of the Grampus type in the last ten years has been less than one-fourth of that from the older vessels in the ten years preceding. From the port of Gloucester alone, this has meant in the ten years a saving of over six hundred lives."
"That's getting results!" said Colin admiringly.
"And the commercial results, while they don't compare in importance with the saving of life, of course, are even bigger. The winter cod-fishery of New England was absolutely revolutionized by the introduction of gill-nets with glass-ball floats, the catch becoming three times as large, while at least one hundred thousand dollars was saved annually in the single item of bait. Scores of new fishing-grounds have been located, and apparatus has been devised which enables the fishermen to exploit grounds which they previously had been unable to reach.
"There are so many different things being accomplished that it's hard to name them all, but you can see for yourself that some one has got to collect the figures on fisheries in order to determine how the industry is progressing. If a town reports a bad season, when all the other ports have been fortunate, the Bureau finds out why. If the catch of a certain fish is decreasing all over the country, then this species must be turned over to the fish culturists for artificial hatching and increase of supply, and so on in a thousand directions. The statistical end has to get the figures. We base all our work on those."
"I wonder what I shall have to do?" said Colin, with a note of query.
"That I don't know anything about," the director answered. "As director of the Biological Laboratory, I'm on the scientific division, and really can't tell you much about the cultural and statistical ends. I understand, however, that the Deputy Commissioner plans to send you to the mackerel fishery."
"From Gloucester, Mr. Prelatt?"
"No, from Boston. At least that is where you are to meet Mr. Roote. Rather a full review of the mackerel fishery has been made, so I suppose this is some special inquiry. The regular statistics of Boston and Gloucester fish-markets are so important that local agents are appointed to make monthly reports. You have not been called on much for extra collecting recently, have you?"
"No, sir," answered Colin; "almost all the research workers have enough specimens for the work they're doing, because it's too near the end of the time to start any new details. So I haven't much to do except to look after the trap."
"We'll get a few days together on the oyster drill, then," said the director, "before you go away."
When the time came for Colin to leave Woods Hole he found himself most reluctant to go, and he rather regretted that he had accepted the mackerel fishery investigation, because he saw that he could have got permission to work on with Mr. Prelatt for a week or two. But the matter had been arranged, and when the boy arrived in Boston, he was alert with the interest of a new experience.
The statistician was a silent man. He greeted Colin with few words and eyed him critically.
"Hm! You can handle a boat?"
"Yes, sir," said Colin in surprise.
"Get aboard the Shiner at seven-thirty to-morrow, at the dock next to Gray's," and he nodded his head and walked off, leaving Colin to stare after him.
"Well," the boy said aloud, "that's short enough and clear enough, only I don't happen to know where Gray's is!"
A little questioning around the waterfront, however, enabled him to find the vessel, and as the lad had been in Boston a couple of times before, the search was not long. The Shiner hailed from Gloucester and was "the real thing," as Colin said under his breath. One hundred and twelve feet long she was, with an air, as she sat on the water, of knowing every little wickedness of the ocean and understanding the way to conquer it too; her mainmast cleared eighty-five feet, and was stepped well forward, with a boom that Colin did not overestimate greatly when he put it at eighty feet. Although the boy was not a keen judge, he thought the bowsprit immensely long, and noticed what a narrow nose the seiner possessed.
Early the next morning she put out. The weather was ugly, but the captain of the Shiner was a Gloucester fisherman, and he went slap down Boston Harbor with every inch of canvas set alow and aloft. The seiner lay well over on her side, and Colin, while he had often sailed in small boats with the lee rail under, found it a new sensation to go tearing along at such speed. He knew nothing of his new chief, and stole a glance at him, finding the statistician smoking a pipe with entire unconcern.
Colin smiled to himself. For a moment he had forgotten, the statistician was a Bureau man, too. The Shiner sped out to sea, cleaving the water at thirteen knots an hour easily, although her thirty-six-foot seine-boat was towing after her.
"She certainly can sail, Mr. Roote!" exclaimed the boy, but he only got a grunt in reply.
The evening of the third day had come before Colin gained any idea as to the purpose of this trip. He saw that it would be no use asking questions, and waited until he should be told what he was to do. In the meantime, he was enjoying the sail immensely, for the craft seemed instinct with life, and Colin learned from the other fishermen aboard that she was one of the fastest vessels out of Gloucester. Colin had settled himself under the blankets for the night and just dropped off to sleep when there came a hail from the masthead.
"Fish! Lyin' nor'-nor'-east."
Every man stirred in his bunk, but none made a move. Colin, who had wakened instantly with muscles tense and ready to spring out, followed the example of the others round him, and waited. Indeed he dropped off to sleep again, when the voice of the captain came from the wheel:
"Pass the word to oil up."
There was no need to say "Pass the word," for every man below heard the order, and tumbled up at once, sliding into sea-boots, oilskins, and sou'westers. Most of the men lighted a pipe, and one or two took a 'mug-up' from the coffee-kettle. Evidently the mackerel were not far away, for in less than five minutes the captain called again:
"All on deck!"
Up the ladder went the fishermen with a rush. There was not a star visible, and the night was as black as though the ship were plunging into a cave. Even the phosphorescence or 'fire' at the ship's bow was not especially brilliant, and Colin tumbled over half a dozen different things in as many yards on deck, while only the fact that he had sea-boots on saved him from barking his shins on the fore-hatch.
"Drop over the dory, haul up the boat!"
The commands came ringing out sharply. Colin had been aboard a man-of-war, but there was no such discipline as this. The words were scarcely spoken, when four of the men had the dory over the starboard rail, while eight of the men tailed on to the painter of the seine-boat and brought it to the port fore-rigging.
"Tops'l halyards. Lively now!"
With a rattle and whir the two great sails went soaring up in the darkness, and the Shiner leaped forward, her lee rail almost flush to the sea.
"She's a great boat," said Colin to one of the men near him; "I shouldn't have thought she could have stood the tops'ls."
The fisherman looked at him.
"Jerry Fitzgerald is the skipper o' this craft," he said, "an' he's got the reputation o' carryin' all canvas in a full gale. See the lights around us?"
"I saw one or two," Colin answered. "Other seiners?"
"O' course, an' do you think Jerry's goin' to lose a chance o' the school because o' canvas? Wait a bit an' you'll see!"
Not a minute had passed by before another order came.
"Give her the stays'l. Run up the balloon, too!"
Colin gasped, but he lent a hand. As the Shiner felt the added sail she poked her nose in and took the water green. But the narrow build forward threw off the load, and she rose like a duck. The seiner was carrying a fearful press of sail, but she stood up stiffly under it, all the red and green lights of the other seiners falling astern; it was evident that the skipper meant to keep them there. Before long, occasional flashes of light, being the phosphorescence churned up by the tails of a pod of mackerel, could be seen from the deck.
"Into the boat!" cried the skipper.
For just a second Colin hesitated, but he saw Mr. Roote go into the seine-boat and he followed immediately. The seine-master, who had been aloft, came down with a rush. Colin could hear the rustle of the oilskins as he partly touched the stays, but he landed on the deck with a 'thump' as great as though he had leaped down the last ten feet. The seine-boat was dropping astern as fast as one of the crew, who remained on deck, could pay out the painter, but the seine-master gave no heed to the rapid departure of the boat. He took half a dozen quick steps to the stern and leaped over the quarter, judging the distance so accurately that he landed fair on the foremost thwart of the seine-boat as she dropped astern, a couple of the men catching him as he jumped.
"Easy on the painter!" he cried. Then, next moment:
"Stand by the dory," as the smaller of the boats, with two men aboard, came sliding by and was almost thrown on top of the seine-boat by a cross-sea.
There came a fire of orders from the captain, which Colin could hardly follow, and he wondered how the helmsman and one man on deck could keep up with them.
"Ease off the main-sheet! Dave,"—that was the man at the wheel,—"swing her away a bit. Steady there! Slack the foretops'l and stays'l halyards. Lively now! Jibe her over, Dave! Down with the balloon, there! Quick as the Lord'll let you! Over she comes! Stand by in the boat and dory! Keep her down, Dave! Down, man, down! It's a good school."
There was a moment's pause.
"You in the boat and dory?"
"All ready, sir," answered the seine-master.
"Hard up, Dave! Steady a little. A little! Don't you know what a little is? Ready in the boat, there! Steady with that wheel! Now you've got her. You in the boat, there. Got that new-fangled net ready?"
"Ready," cried the statistician shortly. Then Colin understood. The trip was for the purpose of testing out a new net devised by the Bureau and the Fisheries man was a net expert. No wonder he knew a boat!
"Stand by the boat. Ready, the dory! When I give the word! Hold on a bit with the painter! Now let her go! You in the dory there, show your lantern! All your own way now!"
Colin tugged at his oar. Never, in all his experience in rowing, had he tackled anything like an oar of that size, but he pulled for all he was worth, and a glow ran through him to feel that he was holding up his end. The light dory with two men aboard, came racing after them. It was nearly a half-mile pull before the seine-master cried:
"Over with the buoy!"
And the buoy was tossed overboard for the dory to pick up and hold to windward.
Then the silent Fisheries officer got busy. Without a word, he reached for the net. It was made of a lighter twine than customary, and not thickly tarred, having also different corks to the usual type, and sinkers all over the net. It looked like a fearfully complicated thing to handle and Roote was a small man, but that net went flying out as though tossed by a giant.
"You're a jim-dandy with the twine, all right," said the seine-master admiringly. He turned to the rowers, "Put your backs into it, boys," he said; "drive her for all you know how. We've got to give this new contraption a fair chance."
"How much net out now, sir?" he asked the statistician in a few minutes.
"Quarter of a mile," was the reply.
"Shall we close in then, eh?"
The seine-master, feeling that the school of mackerel had been inclosed, turned the seine-boat towards the dory and, under the powerful arms of the fishermen, the circle was soon completed. It was a perfect set.
The wind had been rising rapidly, and just as the seine-boat reached the dory a sharp rain squall struck. But the cry was, "Purse up!" for until a seine is partly pursed up, there is no telling whether the fish are really in or not. For a moment, however, it was almost impossible to purse up, the wind and rain were beating so savagely.
"Pull!" said Roote, suiting the action to the word, and all hands joined him. The net was light, far lighter than the old fishermen's nets, and there was more than one audible comment to the effect that the net would break, and that it was too bad they hadn't one of the old-style nets around the school, but the pursing in continued, and the net showed no signs of breakage. Presently first one, then another, fish flashed above the water, and a minute later the shine of the mackerel showed, and then the whole school, including thousands of fish, rose in a body to the surface, beating the water with their forked tails, and threshing in mad confusion from side to side.
The seine-master turned to the Fisheries official with a good deal of concern.
"That's a big haul," he said; "will your net stand it?"
There was no hesitation in the reply.
"Yes," he said.
"Then I'm willin' to admit," said the seine-master, "that you win. I'd never ha' believed that you could get as big a net as light as that an' able to hold the fish. That'll save us fishermen a pile o' labor."
But the official was not to be tempted into talk, even on the question of his own invention. He simply nodded, and went on pursing in. Presently the Shiner came pelting down the breeze, still carrying quite a bit of canvas, there being not enough hands on board to reef. The weather was getting dirtier every minute.
"Hello there the boat!" hailed the captain.
"All right," the seine-master called back. "A couple o' hundred barrels."
"Looks like it."
"Better get on board soon's you can," the captain advised; "we may have a bit of a blow."
Colin thought to himself that there was a great deal more than a "bit of a blow" at the time, but he said nothing. The worst of it was the way the rain came pelting down, for it was as thick as a fog, and dispiriting. It was a cold rain, too, and although it was September, the northeast gale was chill. Colin shivered in his oilskins. The pursing in done, the seine-master waved a torch, but it could not be seen in the rain.
"It's a good thing we've got a cap'n like Jerry on board, boys," said the seine-master. "He'll have to smell us out, because he can't see anythin'."
But it was a longer wait than any one expected, for the schooner had faded into the rain and could not be seen. Suddenly a hail was heard, and the Shiner passed to leeward of the boats, dimly visible. Every one shouted, and an answering cry came back.
"He'll beat up to wind'ard a bit an' then pick us up," said the seine-master cheerfully.
Colin wondered how any man could run a schooner about in a gale of wind and come back to a certain spot, but he need not have been incredulous, for in about five minutes' time the Shiner came sliding down as though to run over the boats, being thrown up into the wind in the nick of time. As the schooner settled beside the boat, all the men but two streamed aboard her, one remaining at the bow, to shackle the seine-boat to the iron that hung from the hook at the fore-rigging on the port side, while the other, grabbing hold of the long steering-oar, did his best to fend off the stern. The seine, thus being between the boat and the schooner, was held by Roote and the seine-master. Colin climbed aboard with the rest of the men, and within two minutes' time, the big dip-net—which would hold a barrel at a time—was scooped in among the fish.
Ten or eleven times the dip-net had descended and come up full of fish, and the work was proceeding rapidly in spite of the pitching and heaving of the vessel, when suddenly every one was stopped by the long wail of a foghorn near by. Not a sound of one had been heard before, and all hands were so busy that the direction from which the sound came had not been noted. Exactly half a minute elapsed.
Then mournfully and very close, the long "Who-o-o-o" sounded almost upon them, and the captain sprang to the wheel. As he set a hand upon the spokes and spun them round, a tall gray ship towered above them from the side on which was the seine-boat, and seemed to hang poised a moment on the crest of a sea before the final crash. Colin, who was leaning over the rail watching the dipping of the net, was able to see everything. The fisherman at the bow of the seine-boat jumped for the boom and clasped it safely. Then, as the sailing vessel lurched upon them, the boy noted that the seine-master and the fisherman at the stern of the seine-boat leaped for the martingale shrouds and held them.
But that instant's delay, as the bark had seemed to be poised upon the wave, had been enough for the Shiner. Having her canvas up, the fraction of time gave her the chance to answer to her helm, and she spun round like a teetotum, seeming almost to wriggle from under the bow of the ship like a live creature. Roote, the only one left in the seine-boat, had been the last to see the oncoming ship. He gave one quick look upward, and plunged from the seine-boat into the sea. Even so, the chances were in his favor, but as he touched the water the ship crashed into the seine-boat, and a piece of the wreckage hit him on the head.
It all happened in a flash, but at the instant that he was struck, Colin, still in his oilskins and sea-boots, dived into the water. Fortunately, he cleared the vortex. In a few seconds Roote came up, and Colin grabbed him by the hair. The statistician was insensible, which made matters easier for the boy. But the oilskins and sea-boots were an impossible load, and it was only by great exertion that he managed at last to get them off and still keep Roote afloat. Soon after this relief, too, the statistician showed signs of life, and after successfully fending off a struggle, Colin succeeded in getting the injured man to rest his weight on him in the least tiring manner.
"I don't swim much," said the net expert. "How about you? How long can you keep afloat?"
"Long enough twice over for them to find us," said Colin cheerfully. "I'm a regular fish in the water."
But the boy soon found out that it was a far different thing swimming under normal conditions and really having to battle for his life in a fair seaway. Roote, too, soon relapsed once more into unconsciousness, and the boy had to support his weight. He was a swimmer, a champion swimmer, and it was rather a shock to him to find how difficult it was even to keep afloat. He realized how valueless a casual knowledge of swimming would be for use in the open sea.
He had not been more than half an hour in the water when his strength began to fail. He swam around expecting to find some piece of wreckage which would aid him, but not a thing could he see. His arms grew heavy and his feet hung down as though leaded weights were fastened to them. Black spots began to dance before his eyes, and Roote's weight became a torture. But he still hung on and kept afloat.
An hour passed of buffeting with the sea, and the boy began to grow light-headed. He had swallowed quite a little salt water, and presently he began singing, although he had a feeling as though a double self told him not to sing. A choking took his throat and startled him into full consciousness. He had nearly been down that time! But the training of years stood him in good stead now that he needed it, and he still swam on.
Then he began to dream. Once or twice he came to himself and smiled sadly to think that this was the end of all his hopes in the Bureau of Fisheries, but this consciousness did not last for more than a minute before he fell dreaming again, still, however, swimming heavily and keeping afloat. And it seemed to him that the last and the most real of his dreams was that a boat came by. But this, he thought, must be drowning and it was not hard to drown, to dream of being rescued and to go down, down, down, to the cold, strange tideless depths of sea from which no one ever comes up alive. Still, there was the boat in his dream, but it had come too late, and it seemed to Colin, that with his last effort he pushed Roote toward the outstretched arms of the men in the boat, waved a feeble farewell and sank. The water gurgled in his ears, there was a horrible strangulation, he tried to cry out, his lungs filled with water, and he knew no more.
Hours passed. Then, with a sense of suddenly arriving from a far-off place, Colin opened his eyes. He was in the cabin of a ship, and despite his exhaustion, he tried to rouse himself at the sound of voices. Roote, and another man, the captain of the bark, were standing beside his bunk.
"He's a plucky youngster, as well as a great swimmer," he heard the captain say. "Who is he?"
And Colin heard the other reply, with a note of pride in his voice:
"That's Colin Dare. He's one of our men. We think a lot of him in the Bureau of Fisheries!"
And the boy, wanly, but happily smiling, fell into a deep but healthy sleep.