The Jungle Book

From a little hill called Hutchinson’s Hill, you could look over three and a half miles of ground covered with fighting seals; and the surf was dotted all over with the heads of seals hurrying to land and begin their share of the fighting. They fought in the breakers, they fought in the sand, and they fought on the smooth-worn basalt rocks of the nurseries, for they were just as stupid and unaccommodating as men. Their wives never came to the island until late in May or early in June, for they did not care to be torn to pieces; and the young two-, three-, and four-year-old seals who had not begun housekeeping went inland about half a mile through the ranks of the fighters and played about on the sand dunes in droves and legions, and rubbed off every single green thing that grew. They were called the holluschickie—the bachelors—and there were perhaps two or three hundred thousand of them at Novastoshnah alone.

Sea Catch had just finished his forty-fifth fight one spring when Matkah, his soft, sleek, gentle-eyed wife, came up out of the sea, and he caught her by the scruff of the neck and dumped her down on his reservation, saying gruffly: “Late as usual. Where have you been?”

It was not the fashion for Sea Catch to eat anything during the four months he stayed on the beaches, and so his temper was generally bad. Matkah knew better than to answer back. She looked round and cooed: “How thoughtful of you. You’ve taken the old place again.”

“I should think I had,” said Sea Catch. “Look at me!”

He was scratched and bleeding in twenty places; one eye was almost out, and his sides were torn to ribbons.

“Oh, you men, you men!” Matkah said, fanning herself with her hind flipper. “Why can’t you be sensible and settle your places quietly? You look as though you had been fighting with the Killer Whale.”

“I haven’t been doing anything but fight since the middle of May. The beach is disgracefully crowded this season. I’ve met at least a hundred seals from Lukannon Beach, house hunting. Why can’t people stay where they belong?”

“I’ve often thought we should be much happier if we hauled out at Otter Island instead of this crowded place,” said Matkah.

“Bah! Only the holluschickie go to Otter Island. If we went there they would say we were afraid. We must preserve appearances, my dear.”

Sea Catch sunk his head proudly between his fat shoulders and pretended to go to sleep for a few minutes, but all the time he was keeping a sharp lookout for a fight. Now that all the seals and their wives were on the land, you could hear their clamor miles out to sea above the loudest gales. At the lowest counting there were over a million seals on the beach—old seals, mother seals, tiny babies, and holluschickie, fighting, scuffling, bleating, crawling, and playing together—going down to the sea and coming up from it in gangs and regiments, lying over every foot of ground as far as the eye could reach, and skirmishing about in brigades through the fog. It is nearly always foggy at Novastoshnah, except when the sun comes out and makes everything look all pearly and rainbow-colored for a little while.

Kotick, Matkah’s baby, was born in the middle of that confusion, and he was all head and shoulders, with pale, watery blue eyes, as tiny seals must be, but there was something about his coat that made his mother look at him very closely.

“Sea Catch,” she said, at last, “our baby’s going to be white!”

“Empty clam-shells and dry seaweed!” snorted Sea Catch. “There never has been such a thing in the world as a white seal.”

“I can’t help that,” said Matkah; “there’s going to be now.” And she sang the low, crooning seal song that all the mother seals sing to their babies:

You mustn’t swim till you’re six weeks old, Or your head will be sunk by your heels; And summer gales and Killer Whales Are bad for baby seals.

Are bad for baby seals, dear rat, As bad as bad can be; But splash and grow strong, And you can’t be wrong. Child of the Open Sea!

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