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14. Nantucket
Nothing more happened on the passage worthy the mentioning; so, after a fine run, we
safely arrived in Nantucket.
Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it
occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone
lighthouse. Look at it--a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a
background. There is more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a
substitute for blotting paper. Some gamesome wights will tell you that they have to plant
weeds there, they don't grow naturally; that they import Canada thistles; that they have
to send beyond seas for a spile to stop a leak in an oil cask; that pieces of wood in
Nantucket are carried about like bits of the true cross in Rome; that people there plant
toadstools before their houses, to get under the shade in summer time; that one blade
of grass makes an oasis, three blades in a day's walk a prairie; that they wear
quicksand shoes, something like Laplander snow-shoes; that they are so shut up,
belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded, and made an utter island of by the
ocean, that to their very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found
adhering, as to the backs of sea turtles. But these extravaganzas only show that
Nantucket is no Illinois.
Look now at the wondrous traditional story of how this island was settled by the red-
men. Thus goes the legend. In olden times an eagle swooped down upon the New
England coast, and carried off an infant Indian in his talons. With loud lament the
parents saw their child borne out of sight over the wide waters. They resolved to follow
in the same direction. Setting out in their canoes, after a perilous passage they
discovered the island, and there they found an empty ivory casket,--the poor little
Indian's skeleton.
What wonder, then, that these Nantucketers, born on a beach, should take to the sea
for a livelihood! They first caught crabs and quohogs in the sand; grown bolder, they
waded out with nets for mackerel; more experienced, they pushed off in boats and
captured cod; and at last, launching a navy of great ships on the sea, explored this
watery world; put an incessant belt of circumnavigations round it; peeped in at Behring's
Straits; and in all seasons and all oceans declared everlasting war with the mightiest
animated mass that has survived the flood; most monstrous and most mountainous!
That Himmalehan, salt-sea Mastodon, clothed with such portentousness of unconscious
power, that his very panics are more to be dreaded than his most fearless and malicious
And thus have these naked Nantucketers, these sea hermits, issuing from their ant-hill
in the sea, overrun and conquered the watery world like so many Alexanders; parcelling
out among them the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, as the three pirate powers did
Poland. Let America add Mexico to Texas, and pile Cuba upon Canada; let the English