“The white shark, found in the Mediterranean and the seas of many of the warmer parts of the world, is the largest and the most feared of any of the monsters of the deep. One has been caught which was thirty-seven feet long. It has a hard skin, is grayish-brown above and whitish on the under side. It has a large head and a big wide mouth armed with a terrible apparatus of teeth—six rows in the upper jaw, and four in the lower.”
“Did you ever see one, papa?” asked Grace, shuddering.
“Yes, many a one. They will often follow a ship to feed on any animal matter that may be thrown or fall overboard, and have not unfrequently followed mine, to the no small disturbance of the sailors, who have a superstitious belief that it augurs a death on board during the voyage.”
“Do you believe it, captain?” queried little Walter.
“No, my boy, certainly not; how should a fish know what is about to happen? Do you think God would give them a knowledge of the future which He conceals from men? No, it is a very foolish idea which only an ignorant, superstitious person could for a moment entertain. Sharks follow the ships simply because of what is occasionally thrown into the water. They are voracious creatures, and sometimes swallow articles which even their stomachs cannot digest. A lady’s work-box was found in one, and the papers of a slave-ship in another.”
“Why, how could he get them?” asked Walter.
“They had been thrown overboard,” said the captain.
“Do those big sharks bite people?” pursued the child.
“Yes, indeed; they will not only bite off an arm or leg when an opportunity offers, but have been known to swallow a man whole.”
“A worse fate than that of the prophet Jonah,” remarked Betty. “Do the sailors ever attempt to catch them, captain?”
“Sometimes; using a piece of meat as bait, putting it on a very large hook attached to a chain; for a shark’s teeth find no difficulty in going through a rope. But when they have hooked him and hauled him on board they have need to be very careful to keep out of reach of both his teeth and his tail; they usually rid themselves of danger from the latter by a sailor springing forward and cutting it above the fin with a hatchet.
“In the South Sea Islands they have a curious way of catching sharks by setting a log of wood afloat with a rope attached, a noose at the end of it; the sharks gather round the log, apparently out of curiosity, and one or another is apt soon to get his head into the noose, and is finally wearied out by the log.”
“I think that’s a good plan,” said Grace, “because it doesn’t put anybody in danger of being bitten.”
No one spoke again for a moment, then the silence was broken by the sweet voice of Mrs. Elsie Travilla: “To-morrow is Sunday; does any one know whether any service will be held here?”
“Yes,” replied Mr. Dinsmore; “there will be preaching in the parlors of one of the hotels, and I move that we attend in a body.”