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   Chapter 7 — LIEBCHEN. THE EWIGWEIBLICHE. THE NARRATIVE RESUMED, WITH THE LOSS OF THE “ANACONDA”.

The Belted Seas By Arthur Colton Characters: 17156

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


I invested the profits of the Hotel Helen Mar and the Ananias plantation in shares in the Anaconda, and shipped myself as second mate. She was carrying a cargo of steel rails for a railroad in Japan.

There was a man named Kreps who came aboard at Honolulu. He was a round-faced, chubby man, with spectacles and a trunk full of preserved specimens, and out of breath with his enthusiasm; and he was a German, too, and a Professor of Allerleiwissenschaft, which I take to mean Things in General. He was around gathering in culture and twelve-sided fish in the Pacific, and had a pailful of island dialects and sentiments that were milky and innocent. But I liked him.

I had no objection to the Anaconda either, except that she went to the bottom of the Pacific without any argument about that, and left me stranded on a little island there along with Kreps, and a hen named Veronica, and a Kanaka named Kamelillo. There was a fourth that got stranded there too. We called her "Liebchen" and she surely acted singular, did Liebchen, but I liked her too. Kreps said she was "symbol," but his ideas and mine didn't agree. He said she was a type of the "Ewigweibliche," which is another good word though a Dutch one. Maybe she was. Maybe Veronica was another type. I guess it's a word that's got some varieties to it.

Veronica belonged to the ship, but had never been cooked, being thin and stringy; and Kamelillo was a silent, sulky Kanaka that had lived up and down the Pacific, and harpooned whales, and been shipwrecked now and then, and was sometimes drunk and sometimes starved, and had no opinion on these things, except that he'd rather be drunk than starved. I never knew one that took less interest in life, provided he was let alone. I liked them all well enough, too. I took things as they came in those days. I'd as soon have bunked in with an alligator as a Patagonian.

It was south of Midway Island that we ran into the typhoon come over from Asia. A typhoon is to an ordinary storm what a surf is to a deep-sea wave, for it's short but ugly. When it was done with us the Anaconda began to leak fearful in the waist, and I dare say the typhoon was excuse enough if she'd broken in two. She went down easy and slow, with all I had and owned sticking in her. It's bad luck to give a ship an outlandish name.

There were two large boats and a small one, and trouble came from Kreps' tin cans of specimens, for the captain wouldn't take them in his boat, nor the first mate in his, so Kreps wanted to put them in the small boat. He shed tears and got low in his mind.

"Dey are von der sciences ignorant, obtuse," he says.

I says, "So's the Pacific Ocean."

"But you, so young, so intelligent! Not as de Pacific Ocean, hein?"

I allowed there was difference between me and the Pacific. Kreps got his tin cans in, and I put the boat off. Kamelillo was spreading the cat-sail and had no opinion. Veronica came flapping over the rail with a squawk, and lit on Kamelillo, and fell into the bottom of the boat. We got away after the other boats, the night coming on clear, and Kamelillo talked island dialects at Veronica for scratching him when he wanted to be let alone. Kreps sat over his specimens, innocent and happy and singing German lullabies.

The next morning the other boats were not in sight. We steered north, for there were odd islands in that direction by the chart, without names enough to go around them; and on the second morning we saw a high shore to port, with surf like a white rag sewed along the bottom, and rags of mist sticking to the black bluffs.

"Ach," says Kreps, and the tears trickled down under his spectacles. "Gott sei dank! I am mude of the sea. It iss too large."

"How she get up them high?" Kamelillo says. "No! Maybe dam hen fly up. Not me. No!"

We coasted by the east side a little way and came to a place where the water was quiet and black in a slip of maybe a hundred feet in width, where the bluff had broken in two. The channel appeared to curve, so that you could only see a little way up. We dropped sail and pulled through. It might have been twenty feet deep in the channel, being high tide, and running in slow. Wine-palms and cocoanut trees grew on the bluffs on each side. Some leaned over, with roots out where the earth had caved away. We came about the curve and saw a closed bay, shut in by the bluffs from the outer sea and even the winds. It was wooded on the north and very rocky on the south, and might have been a quarter of a mile across. We landed on the north side and camped, and set a signal on the bluffs, and then we laid off to wait for accidents. I knew there were whalers cruising in the neighbourhood, and thought likely it would be seen.

Now Liebchen came in one day at high tide, chasing those little goggle-eyed squids that lived so many in the harbour. The first we saw was tons of her gambolling around in the water. She was a medium-sized whale, and might have been forty feet in length, but I never was in the whaling business, and Liebchen was the only one I ever got real acquainted with. I've heard it's common for them to be stranded on shallow shores, and get off again if let alone. The harbour may have been Liebchen's boudoir for aught I know. Maybe she'd come there before. She surely knew how to get out if let alone. After an hour or so she was over by the entrance trying to leave. She seemed to be in trouble, and then we saw the tide had gone out, and left the channel too shallow to heave over.

When Kreps understood that she was penned in, he acted outrageous, and pranced like a red rubber balloon.

"Gieb mir das axe! Ich will de habits of de cetacean studieren!" he says.

He ran away through the woods around the north shore, and I ran after, to see him study the habits of the cetacean. Liebchen had sidled off and was rolling about in the middle of the harbour when we came to the bluffs, where the wine-palms and cocoanut trees leaned over and the channel was narrow. Kreps fell to chopping the landward roots, and I saw he wanted to block the channel.

We slid a tree down under the water, and then another, and so on, till it was a messy-looking channel, a sort of log jam, with roots and palm-tree tops mixed in, which I thought the tide would float out, and it did afterward, some of it.

Then we went back to where Kamelillo was cooking, squatted on the shore with his bare back turned to the water. He took no interest in Liebchen. He was making a kind of paste of ground roots, called "poi," which wasn't bad, if you rolled a fish in it, and baked it on the coals, and thought about something else. But at that time Liebchen came round the north shore in a roar of foam, bringing her flukes down now and then with a slap to make the harbour ache, and she slapped near a barrel of water over Kamelillo and his fire and his poi. Kamelillo says:

"Why for? She not my whale. You keep her out a my suppa. Why for?"

Kreps was disgusted because Kamelillo didn't like Liebchen. He went and stood on the bank, in the interest of science, and studied the habits of the cetacean, but he got no results. She had no habits, to speak uprightly, only notions. They weren't any use to science. Sometimes she'd flutter with her fins, and twitter her flukes, and sidle off like she was bashful, and then she'd come swooping around enough to make the harbour sizzle, and stick her nose in the bottom and her tail in the air, trembling with her emotions, and then she'd come up and smile at you a rod each way. I judged she meant all right, but she didn't understand her limitations. Her strong hold was the majestic. She appeared to have it fixed she wanted to be kittenish. That was the way it seemed to me. But Kreps studied her mornings and afternoons and into the night, and day after day it went on, and she bothered him. Then he saw he was on the wrong tack, and put his helm about, and he says:

"She is de Ewigweibliche. She is not science. She is boetry. She is de sharm of everlasting feminine," and he heaved a sigh. I says:

"Ewigweibliche!" I says. "Everlasting feminine! What's the use of that?"

I took to studying Liebchen too, and it appeared to me Kreps' idea wasn't useful He was a man to have sentiments naturally. He'd sit out on the end of a log moonlight nights, with his fat face and spectacles shining, and Liebchen would muzzle around with a ten-foot snout like an engine boiler, and a piggy eye; and he'd sing German lullabies; "Du bist wie eine Blume." I didn't think she was like a flower. She was m

ore like an oil tank.

So Kreps would sing to her in the moonlight, but Kamelillo didn't like her. Veronica didn't like her either, and would stand off and cackle at her pointedly. She seemed to think Liebchen carried on improper and had no refinement. Why, I guess from her point of view sea bathing wasn't becoming, and when Liebchen stood on her head in the water, Veronica used to take to the woods with her feelings pretty rumpled. Kamelillo disliked Veronica on account of her fussiness, and because she had lit on him and scratched him when he wanted to be let alone. He wanted to make Veronica into poi, but I didn't think there was any real nourishment in her; and he wanted to break the log jam and let the whale out, but I told him it was Kreps' jam.

"Ain' harbour belong him," said Kamelillo. "Ain' him slap harbour on me. Thas whale bad un. I show him." He went to Kreps. "I tell you, dam Dutchman," he says, meaning to be soothing and persuasive. "I tell you, we cutta bamboo, harpoon whale. Donnerblissen! Easy!"

"Du animal!" says Kreps. "Mitout perception, mitout soul, mitout delicate!"

"Oh!" says Kamelillo; "girl whale. All right, dam Dutchman, me fren. You break jam. Letta go."

"It iss not of use," said Kreps, and he sighed. "You understand not de yearning, de ideal. Listen! Liebchen, she iss de abstraction, de principle. Aber no. You cannot. De soul iss alone, iss not comprehend."

"All right," says Kamelillo. "You look here. Go see thas girl whale on a bamboo raft. No good sit on log all night, sing hoohoo song."

Kreps was taken with that notion. "So, my friend?" he says.

"You teach her like missionary teach Kanaka girl," says Kamelillo, getting interested. "You teach her to she wear petticoat, no stan' on her head. You teach her go Sunday school."

I says, "Look out, Kreps. That whale'll drown you. She's got no culture."

But Kreps was calm. "I vill approach Liebchen more near," he says. "It iss time to advance. I vill go mit Kamelillo, my friend."

Kamelillo spent the morning making a bamboo raft, and in the afternoon they put out. Liebchen was over by the harbour entrance, lying low in the water and maybe asleep. Kamelillo had a bamboo pole in his hand to pole the raft with, but he had shod it with his harpoon head. They drew alongside, and Kreps was facing front, with his back to Kamelillo. He lifted his oar to slap the water, and Kamelillo drew off, and cast the harpoon. Liebchen, she came out of her maiden fancies. She acted plain whale. That's a way of acting which calls for respect, but it's not romantic. She slapped the bamboo raft, and there was no such thing. She swallowed the harbour and spit it out. She whooped and danced and teetered. She let out all her primeval feelings. She put on no airs, and she made no pretences. She turned everything she could find into scrambled eggs, and played the "Marseillaise" on her blow-hole. She did herself up into knots to break whalebone, and untied them like a pop of a cork. She was no more female than she was science. She was wrath and earthquakes and the day of judgment. She scooped out the bottom of the harbour and laid it on top, and turned somersets through the middle of chaos. Veronica took to the woods. I ran along the north shore, thinking they were both scrambled, but I found Kamelillo pulling Kreps through the shallows by his collar, and shaking the water out of his eyes, and not seeming to be disturbed. But Kreps took off his spectacles and wiped them, and he says:

"Ach, Liebchen!" he says. "She iss too much."

"Thas whale!" says Kamelillo. "Thas all right!"

"Liebchen iss too much of her," says Kreps very dignified, and stalked to the camp.

"Thas whale!" says Kamelillo. "Thas all right!"

He chopped the jam that afternoon, and it floated out in the night or early morning with the ebb. We went to the bank when the tide was in again to watch Liebchen go out. Kreps was pretty tearful.

"Aber," he says, "she iss too much of her."

She came feeling her way through the channel with her snout under water. Kamelillo's bamboo stuck out of her fat side six feet or more. Veronica cackled at her, and her feathers stood up, so that you could see she thought Liebchen was no lady. Liebchen passed close beneath us. Seemed like she felt mortified. Kreps broke down, but Kamelillo was gay.

"Dam hen!" he says, and grabbed Veronica with both hands. "Go too!" and he flung her at Liebchen, and she went through the air squawking and fluttering. She lit on Liebchen's slippery back, and she slid till she struck the bamboo, and roosted. If she had had time to think she might have flopped ashore, but she was flustered, and Liebchen got out of the channel and steered into the Pacific. Veronica squawked a few times, and no more. The sea was quiet. The two moved off, going eastward very slow. Kamelillo went back to his camp fire and made poi, but Kreps and I watched, expecting that Liebchen would go under and Veronica be lost. But they kept on till there was only a black spot near the edge of the sky.

It came on afternoon. The tide was out, and we lay about. There was not enough wind to flutter the signal on the bluffs, which was Kreps' red shirt, and hung there to entertain any one that might come by. Kamelillo suddenly sat up. "Hear im?" he says.

There was a great noise over in the channel out of sight, a kind of splashing, thumping, and blowing, and the waves rolled into the harbour. We ran along the shore and came to the bluffs. There was Liebchen! She appeared to have grounded in the channel, trying to get in quick at low tide. But there were two harpoons, more than the bamboo, sticking in her very deep, and the lines were hitched to a longboat, the longboat coming inshore now full of men. Veronica squatting on the thwart of the same, comfortable and dignified.

Kamelillo says, "Whale ain't got sense, thas whale!" And Kreps says, "Ach, Liebchen!"

She struck her last flurry, and filled the air with spray. The longboat held off, seeing she was likely to stay there and needed all the room. After a while she grew quiet. A few motions of her flukes, and that was all. The longboat came in, and we slid down the bluffs. The man in the stern says, "That your hen?"

I said I was acquainted with her.

"Oh! Maybe that's your whale?"

"Ach, Liebchen!" says Kreps.

Kamelillo waded in, and looked at the harpoons, and shook his head, for he knew the laws and rights of the trade.

"No," he says. "Thas your whale."

"Been cast up, have ye?" says the steersman, looking around. "We struck that whale ten miles out. We comes up quiet, and I see that bamboo sticking in her, with that hen squatting on it. 'Queer!' says I. And just as Billy here was letting her have it, the hen gives a squawk and comes flopping aboard; and Billy lets her have it, and Dick here lets her have it, and she goes plumb down sudden. Then up she comes and starts, like she was going to see her Ma and knew her own mind, and up this channel she comes, and runs aground foolish. I never see a whale act so foolish. Thought she might be a friend of yours," says he, "meaning no reflections."

I said I was acquainted with her, and Kreps took off his glasses and wiped his eyes.

"She vass of de tenderness, das Zartlichkeit." It made him sad to see Liebchen dead, that was full of sensibility, and Veronica come back with dignity, she being a conventional hen and scornful and cold by nature.

"Ach, Liebchen!" he says; and we went back to gather up his tin cans; and I says:

"Ewigweibliche's a good word, though a Dutch one;" then we came away on the whaler.

But all I owned went down on the Anaconda. I got back to San Francisco in course of time, but no richer than when I left Greenough, and ten years or more older.

Kreps was a man very given to sentiments, in particular about "Ewigweibliche," and I never knew a man that kept himself more entertained. He settled down for the time, with Veronica and Kamelillo for his family, in a fine house in the upper town of San Francisco. Kamelillo used to cook unlikely things which Kreps and Veronica ate peaceable between them. Kreps was well-to-do, and he seemed cut out for a happy life. Any kind of cooking suited him. The whole world grew knowledge for him to collect. He could suck sentiment out of a hard-boiled egg. But I went to live with Stevey Todd where the cooking was better, and loafed about the streets and docks, wondering what I'd do next. I never knew what became of Kreps after we left San Francisco.

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