That autumn he left the beach as soon as he could, and set off alone
because of a notion in his bullet-head. He was going to find Sea Cow, if
there was such a person in the sea, and he was going to find a quiet
island with good firm beaches for seals to live on, where men could not
get at them. So he explored and explored by himself from the North to the
South Pacific, swimming as much as three hundred miles in a day and a
night. He met with more adventures than can be told, and narrowly escaped
being caught by the Basking Shark, and the Spotted Shark, and the
Hammerhead, and he met all the untrustworthy ruffians that loaf up and
down the seas, and the heavy polite fish, and the scarlet spotted scallops
that are moored in one place for hundreds of years, and grow very proud of
it; but he never met Sea Cow, and he never found an island that he could
If the beach was good and hard, with a slope behind it for seals to play
on, there was always the smoke of a whaler on the horizon, boiling down
blubber, and Kotick knew what that meant. Or else he could see that seals
had once visited the island and been killed off, and Kotick knew that
where men had come once they would come again.
He picked up with an old stumpy-tailed albatross, who told him that
Kerguelen Island was the very place for peace and quiet, and when Kotick
went down there he was all but smashed to pieces against some wicked black
cliffs in a heavy sleet-storm with lightning and thunder. Yet as he pulled
out against the gale he could see that even there had once been a seal
nursery. And it was so in all the other islands that he visited.
Limmershin gave a long list of them, for he said that Kotick spent five
seasons exploring, with a four months' rest each year at Novastoshnah,
when the holluschickie used to make fun of him and his imaginary islands.
He went to the Gallapagos, a horrid dry place on the Equator, where he was
nearly baked to death; he went to the Georgia Islands, the Orkneys,
Emerald Island, Little Nightingale Island, Gough's Island, Bouvet's
Island, the Crossets, and even to a little speck of an island south of the
Cape of Good Hope. But everywhere the People of the Sea told him the same
things. Seals had come to those islands once upon a time, but men had
killed them all off. Even when he swam thousands of miles out of the
Pacific and got to a place called Cape Corrientes (that was when he was
coming back from Gough's Island), he found a few hundred mangy seals on a
rock and they told him that men came there too.
That nearly broke his heart, and he headed round the Horn back to his own
beaches; and on his way north he hauled out on an island full of green
trees, where he found an old, old seal who was dying, and Kotick caught
fish for him and told him all his sorrows. "Now," said Kotick, "I am going
back to Novastoshnah, and if I am driven to the killing-pens with the
holluschickie I shall not care."
The old seal said, "Try once more. I am the last of the Lost Rookery of
Masafuera, and in the days when men killed us by the hundred thousand
there was a story on the beaches that some day a white seal would come out
of the North and lead the seal people to a quiet place. I am old, and I
shall never live to see that day, but others will. Try once more."
And Kotick curled up his mustache (it was a beauty) and said, "I am the
only white seal that has ever been born on the beaches, and I am the only
seal, black or white, who ever thought of looking for new islands."
This cheered him immensely; and when he came back to Novastoshnah that
summer, Matkah, his mother, begged him to marry and settle down, for he
was no longer a holluschick but a full-grown sea-catch, with a curly white
mane on his shoulders, as heavy, as big, and as fierce as his father.
"Give me another season," he said. "Remember, Mother, it is always the
seventh wave that goes farthest up the beach."
Curiously enough, there was another seal who thought that she would put
off marrying till the next year, and Kotick danced the Fire-dance with her
all down Lukannon Beach the night before he set off on his last
exploration. This time he went westward, because he had fallen on the
trail of a great shoal of halibut, and he needed at least one hundred
pounds of fish a day to keep him in good condition. He chased them till he
was tired, and then he curled himself up and went to sleep on the hollows
of the ground swell that sets in to Copper Island. He knew the coast
perfectly well, so about midnight, when he felt himself gently bumped on a
weed-bed, he said, "Hm, tide's running strong tonight," and turning over
under water opened his eyes slowly and stretched. Then he jumped like a
cat, for he saw huge things nosing about in the shoal water and browsing
on the heavy fringes of the weeds.
"By the Great Combers of Magellan!" he said, beneath his mustache. "Who in
the Deep Sea are these people?"
They were like no walrus, sea lion, seal, bear, whale, shark, fish, squid,
or scallop that Kotick had ever seen before. They were between twenty and
thirty feet long, and they had no hind flippers, but a shovel-like tail
that looked as if it had been whittled out of wet leather. Their heads
were the most foolish-looking things you ever saw, and they balanced on
the ends of their tails in deep water when they weren't grazing, bowing
solemnly to each other and waving their front flippers as a fat man waves
"Ahem!" said Kotick. "Good sport, gentlemen?" The big things answered by
bowing and waving their flippers like the Frog Footman. When they began
feeding again Kotick saw that their upper lip was split into two pieces
that they could twitch apart about a foot and bring together again with a
whole bushel of seaweed between the splits. They tucked the stuff into
their mouths and chumped solemnly.
"Messy style of feeding, that," said Kotick. They bowed again, and Kotick
began to lose his temper. "Very good," he said. "If you do happen to have
an extra joint in your front flipper you needn't show off so. I see you
bow gracefully, but I should like to know your names." The split lips
moved and twitched; and the glassy green eyes stared, but they did not
"Well!" said Kotick. "You're the only people I've ever met uglier than Sea
Vitch—and with worse manners."
Then he remembered in a flash what the Burgomaster gull had screamed to
him when he was a little yearling at Walrus Islet, and he tumbled backward
in the water, for he knew that he had found Sea Cow at last.
The sea cows went on schlooping and grazing and chumping in the weed, and
Kotick asked them questions in every language that he had picked up in his
travels; and the Sea People talk nearly as many languages as human beings.
But the sea cows did not answer because Sea Cow cannot talk. He has only
six bones in his neck where he ought to have seven, and they say under the
sea that that prevents him from speaking even to his companions. But, as
you know, he has an extra joint in his foreflipper, and by waving it up
and down and about he makes what answers to a sort of clumsy telegraphic
By daylight Kotick's mane was standing on end and his temper was gone
where the dead crabs go. Then the Sea Cow began to travel northward very
slowly, stopping to hold absurd bowing councils from time to time, and
Kotick followed them, saying to himself, "People who are such idiots as
these are would have been killed long ago if they hadn't found out some
safe island. And what is good enough for the Sea Cow is good enough for
the Sea Catch. All the same, I wish they'd hurry."
It was weary work for Kotick. The herd never went more than forty or fifty
miles a day, and stopped to feed at night, and kept close to the shore all
the time; while Kotick swam round them, and over them, and under them, but
he could not hurry them up one-half mile. As they went farther north they
held a bowing council every few hours, and Kotick nearly bit off his
mustache with impatience till he saw that they were following up a warm
current of water, and then he respected them more.
One night they sank through the shiny water—sank like stones—and
for the first time since he had known them began to swim quickly. Kotick
followed, and the pace astonished him, for he never dreamed that Sea Cow
was anything of a swimmer. They headed for a cliff by the shore—a
cliff that ran down into deep water, and plunged into a dark hole at the
foot of it, twenty fathoms under the sea. It was a long, long swim, and
Kotick badly wanted fresh air before he was out of the dark tunnel they
led him through.
"My wig!" he said, when he rose, gasping and puffing, into open water at
the farther end. "It was a long dive, but it was worth it."
The sea cows had separated and were browsing lazily along the edges of the
finest beaches that Kotick had ever seen. There were long stretches of
smooth-worn rock running for miles, exactly fitted to make seal-nurseries,
and there were play-grounds of hard sand sloping inland behind them, and
there were rollers for seals to dance in, and long grass to roll in, and
sand dunes to climb up and down, and, best of all, Kotick knew by the feel
of the water, which never deceives a true sea catch, that no men had ever
The first thing he did was to assure himself that the fishing was good,
and then he swam along the beaches and counted up the delightful low sandy
islands half hidden in the beautiful rolling fog. Away to the northward,
out to sea, ran a line of bars and shoals and rocks that would never let a
ship come within six miles of the beach, and between the islands and the
mainland was a stretch of deep water that ran up to the perpendicular
cliffs, and somewhere below the cliffs was the mouth of the tunnel.
"It's Novastoshnah over again, but ten times better," said Kotick. "Sea
Cow must be wiser than I thought. Men can't come down the cliffs, even if
there were any men; and the shoals to seaward would knock a ship to
splinters. If any place in the sea is safe, this is it."
He began to think of the seal he had left behind him, but though he was in
a hurry to go back to Novastoshnah, he thoroughly explored the new
country, so that he would be able to answer all questions.
Then he dived and made sure of the mouth of the tunnel, and raced through
to the southward. No one but a sea cow or a seal would have dreamed of
there being such a place, and when he looked back at the cliffs even
Kotick could hardly believe that he had been under them.
He was six days going home, though he was not swimming slowly; and when he
hauled out just above Sea Lion's Neck the first person he met was the seal
who had been waiting for him, and she saw by the look in his eyes that he
had found his island at last.
But the holluschickie and Sea Catch, his father, and all the other seals
laughed at him when he told them what he had discovered, and a young seal
about his own age said, "This is all very well, Kotick, but you can't come
from no one knows where and order us off like this. Remember we've been
fighting for our nurseries, and that's a thing you never did. You
preferred prowling about in the sea."
The other seals laughed at this, and the young seal began twisting his
head from side to side. He had just married that year, and was making a
great fuss about it.
"I've no nursery to fight for," said Kotick. "I only want to show you all
a place where you will be safe. What's the use of fighting?"
"Oh, if you're trying to back out, of course I've no more to say," said
the young seal with an ugly chuckle.
"Will you come with me if I win?" said Kotick. And a green light came into
his eye, for he was very angry at having to fight at all.
"Very good," said the young seal carelessly. "If you win, I'll come."
He had no time to change his mind, for Kotick's head was out and his teeth
sunk in the blubber of the young seal's neck. Then he threw himself back
on his haunches and hauled his enemy down the beach, shook him, and
knocked him over. Then Kotick roared to the seals: "I've done my best for
you these five seasons past. I've found you the island where you'll be
safe, but unless your heads are dragged off your silly necks you won't
believe. I'm going to teach you now. Look out for yourselves!"
Limmershin told me that never in his life—and Limmershin sees ten
thousand big seals fighting every year—never in all his little life
did he see anything like Kotick's charge into the nurseries. He flung
himself at the biggest sea catch he could find, caught him by the throat,
choked him and bumped him and banged him till he grunted for mercy, and
then threw him aside and attacked the next. You see, Kotick had never
fasted for four months as the big seals did every year, and his deep-sea
swimming trips kept him in perfect condition, and, best of all, he had
never fought before. His curly white mane stood up with rage, and his eyes
flamed, and his big dog teeth glistened, and he was splendid to look at.
Old Sea Catch, his father, saw him tearing past, hauling the grizzled old
seals about as though they had been halibut, and upsetting the young
bachelors in all directions; and Sea Catch gave a roar and shouted: "He
may be a fool, but he is the best fighter on the beaches! Don't tackle
your father, my son! He's with you!"
Kotick roared in answer, and old Sea Catch waddled in with his mustache on
end, blowing like a locomotive, while Matkah and the seal that was going
to marry Kotick cowered down and admired their men-folk. It was a gorgeous
fight, for the two fought as long as there was a seal that dared lift up
his head, and when there were none they paraded grandly up and down the
beach side by side, bellowing.
At night, just as the Northern Lights were winking and flashing through
the fog, Kotick climbed a bare rock and looked down on the scattered
nurseries and the torn and bleeding seals. "Now," he said, "I've taught
you your lesson."
"My wig!" said old Sea Catch, boosting himself up stiffly, for he was
fearfully mauled. "The Killer Whale himself could not have cut them up
worse. Son, I'm proud of you, and what's more, I'll come with you to your
island—if there is such a place."
"Hear you, fat pigs of the sea. Who comes with me to the Sea Cow's tunnel?
Answer, or I shall teach you again," roared Kotick.
There was a murmur like the ripple of the tide all up and down the
beaches. "We will come," said thousands of tired voices. "We will follow
Kotick, the White Seal."
Then Kotick dropped his head between his shoulders and shut his eyes
proudly. He was not a white seal any more, but red from head to tail. All
the same he would have scorned to look at or touch one of his wounds.
A week later he and his army (nearly ten thousand holluschickie and old
seals) went away north to the Sea Cow's tunnel, Kotick leading them, and
the seals that stayed at Novastoshnah called them idiots. But next spring,
when they all met off the fishing banks of the Pacific, Kotick's seals
told such tales of the new beaches beyond Sea Cow's tunnel that more and
more seals left Novastoshnah. Of course it was not all done at once, for
the seals are not very clever, and they need a long time to turn things
over in their minds, but year after year more seals went away from
Novastoshnah, and Lukannon, and the other nurseries, to the quiet,
sheltered beaches where Kotick sits all the summer through, getting bigger
and fatter and stronger each year, while the holluschickie play around
him, in that sea where no man comes.
This is the great deep-sea song that all the St. Paul seals sing when they
are heading back to their beaches in the summer. It is a sort of very sad
seal National Anthem.
I met my mates in the morning (and, oh, but I am old!)
Where roaring on the ledges the summer ground-swell rolled;
I heard them lift the chorus that drowned the breakers' song—
The Beaches of Lukannon—two million voices strong.
The song of pleasant stations beside the salt lagoons,
The song of blowing squadrons that shuffled down the dunes,
The song of midnight dances that churned the sea to flame—
The Beaches of Lukannon—before the sealers came!
I met my mates in the morning (I'll never meet them more!);
They came and went in legions that darkened all the shore.
And o'er the foam-flecked offing as far as voice could reach
We hailed the landing-parties and we sang them up the beach.
The Beaches of Lukannon—the winter wheat so tall—
The dripping, crinkled lichens, and the sea-fog drenching all!
The platforms of our playground, all shining smooth and worn!
The Beaches of Lukannon—the home where we were born!
I met my mates in the morning, a broken, scattered band.
Men shoot us in the water and club us on the land;
Men drive us to the Salt House like silly sheep and tame,
And still we sing Lukannon—before the sealers came.
Wheel down, wheel down to southward; oh, Gooverooska, go!
And tell the Deep-Sea Viceroys the story of our woe;
Ere, empty as the shark's egg the tempest flings ashore,
The Beaches of Lukannon shall know their sons no more!