Part 05 - Moby Dick Audiobook by Herman Melville (Chs 051-063)


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Transcript:
-Chapter 51. The Spirit-Spout.
Days, weeks passed, and under easy sail, the ivory Pequod had slowly swept across
four several cruising-grounds; that off the Azores; off the Cape de Verdes; on the
Plate (so called), being off the mouth of
the Rio de la Plata; and the Carrol Ground, an unstaked, watery locality, southerly
from St. Helena.
It was while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and moonlight night,
when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by their soft, suffusing
seethings, made what seemed a silvery
silence, not a solitude; on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen far in advance
of the white bubbles at the bow.
Lit up by the moon, it looked celestial; seemed some plumed and glittering god
uprising from the sea. Fedallah first descried this jet.
For of these moonlight nights, it was his wont to mount to the main-mast head, and
stand a look-out there, with the same precision as if it had been day.
And yet, though herds of whales were seen by night, not one whaleman in a hundred
would venture a lowering for them.
You may think with what emotions, then, the seamen beheld this old Oriental perched
aloft at such unusual hours; his turban and the moon, companions in one sky.
But when, after spending his uniform interval there for several successive
nights without uttering a single sound; when, after all this silence, his unearthly
voice was heard announcing that silvery,
moon-lit jet, every reclining mariner started to his feet as if some winged
spirit had lighted in the rigging, and hailed the mortal crew.
"There she blows!"
Had the trump of judgment blown, they could not have quivered more; yet still they felt
no terror; rather pleasure.
For though it was a most unwonted hour, yet so impressive was the cry, and so
deliriously exciting, that almost every soul on board instinctively desired a
lowering.
Walking the deck with quick, side-lunging strides, Ahab commanded the t'gallant sails
and royals to be set, and every stunsail spread.
The best man in the ship must take the helm.
Then, with every mast-head manned, the piled-up craft rolled down before the wind.
The strange, upheaving, lifting tendency of the taffrail breeze filling the hollows of
so many sails, made the buoyant, hovering deck to feel like air beneath the feet;
while still she rushed along, as if two
antagonistic influences were struggling in her--one to mount direct to heaven, the
other to drive yawingly to some horizontal goal.
And had you watched Ahab's face that night, you would have thought that in him also two
different things were warring.
While his one live leg made lively echoes along the deck, every stroke of his dead
limb sounded like a coffin-tap. On life and death this old man walked.
But though the ship so swiftly sped, and though from every eye, like arrows, the
eager glances shot, yet the silvery jet was no more seen that night.
Every sailor swore he saw it once, but not a second time.
This midnight-spout had almost grown a forgotten thing, when, some days after, lo!
at the same silent hour, it was again announced: again it was descried by all;
but upon making sail to overtake it, once
more it disappeared as if it had never been.
And so it served us night after night, till no one heeded it but to wonder at it.
Mysteriously jetted into the clear moonlight, or starlight, as the case might
be; disappearing again for one whole day, or two days, or three; and somehow seeming
at every distinct repetition to be
advancing still further and further in our van, this solitary jet seemed for ever
alluring us on.
Nor with the immemorial superstition of their race, and in accordance with the
preternaturalness, as it seemed, which in many things invested the Pequod, were there
wanting some of the seamen who swore that
whenever and wherever descried; at however remote times, or in however far apart
latitudes and longitudes, that unnearable spout was cast by one self-same whale; and
that whale, Moby Dick.
For a time, there reigned, too, a sense of peculiar dread at this flitting apparition,
as if it were treacherously beckoning us on and on, in order that the monster might
turn round upon us, and rend us at last in the remotest and most savage seas.
These temporary apprehensions, so vague but so awful, derived a wondrous potency from
the contrasting serenity of the weather, in which, beneath all its blue blandness, some
thought there lurked a devilish charm, as
for days and days we voyaged along, through seas so wearily, lonesomely mild, that all
space, in repugnance to our vengeful errand, seemed vacating itself of life
before our urn-like prow.
But, at last, when turning to the eastward, the Cape winds began howling around us, and
we rose and fell upon the long, troubled seas that are there; when the ivory-tusked
Pequod sharply bowed to the blast, and
gored the dark waves in her madness, till, like showers of silver chips, the foam-
flakes flew over her bulwarks; then all this desolate vacuity of life went away,
but gave place to sights more dismal than before.
Close to our bows, strange forms in the water darted hither and thither before us;
while thick in our rear flew the inscrutable sea-ravens.
And every morning, perched on our stays, rows of these birds were seen; and spite of
our hootings, for a long time obstinately clung to the hemp, as though they deemed
our ship some drifting, uninhabited craft;
a thing appointed to desolation, and therefore fit roosting-place for their
homeless selves.
And heaved and heaved, still unrestingly heaved the black sea, as if its vast tides
were a conscience; and the great mundane soul were in anguish and remorse for the
long sin and suffering it had bred.
Cape of Good Hope, do they call ye?
Rather Cape Tormentoto, as called of yore; for long allured by the perfidious silences
that before had attended us, we found ourselves launched into this tormented sea,
where guilty beings transformed into those
fowls and these fish, seemed condemned to swim on everlastingly without any haven in
store, or beat that black air without any horizon.
But calm, snow-white, and unvarying; still directing its fountain of feathers to the
sky; still beckoning us on from before, the solitary jet would at times be descried.
During all this blackness of the elements, Ahab, though assuming for the time the
almost continual command of the drenched and dangerous deck, manifested the
gloomiest reserve; and more seldom than ever addressed his mates.
In tempestuous times like these, after everything above and aloft has been
secured, nothing more can be done but passively to await the issue of the gale.
Then Captain and crew become practical fatalists.
So, with his ivory leg inserted into its accustomed hole, and with one hand firmly
grasping a shroud, Ahab for hours and hours would stand gazing dead to windward, while
an occasional squall of sleet or snow would
all but congeal his very eyelashes together.
Meantime, the crew driven from the forward part of the ship by the perilous seas that
burstingly broke over its bows, stood in a line along the bulwarks in the waist; and
the better to guard against the leaping
waves, each man had slipped himself into a sort of bowline secured to the rail, in
which he swung as in a loosened belt.
Few or no words were spoken; and the silent ship, as if manned by painted sailors in
wax, day after day tore on through all the swift madness and gladness of the demoniac
waves.
By night the same muteness of humanity before the shrieks of the ocean prevailed;
still in silence the men swung in the bowlines; still wordless Ahab stood up to
the blast.
Even when wearied nature seemed demanding repose he would not seek that repose in his
hammock.
Never could Starbuck forget the old man's aspect, when one night going down into the
cabin to mark how the barometer stood, he saw him with closed eyes sitting straight
in his floor-screwed chair; the rain and
half-melted sleet of the storm from which he had some time before emerged, still
slowly dripping from the unremoved hat and coat.
On the table beside him lay unrolled one of those charts of tides and currents which
have previously been spoken of. His lantern swung from his tightly clenched
hand.
Though the body was erect, the head was thrown back so that the closed eyes were
pointed towards the needle of the tell-tale that swung from a beam in the ceiling.*
*The cabin-compass is called the tell-tale, because without going to the compass at the
helm, the Captain, while below, can inform himself of the course of the ship.
Terrible old man! thought Starbuck with a shudder, sleeping in this gale, still thou
steadfastly eyest thy purpose.
Chapter 52. The Albatross.
South-eastward from the Cape, off the distant Crozetts, a good cruising ground
for Right Whalemen, a sail loomed ahead, the Goney (Albatross) by name.
As she slowly drew nigh, from my lofty perch at the fore-mast-head, I had a good
view of that sight so remarkable to a tyro in the far ocean fisheries--a whaler at
sea, and long absent from home.
As if the waves had been fullers, this craft was bleached like the skeleton of a
stranded walrus.
All down her sides, this spectral appearance was traced with long channels of
reddened rust, while all her spars and her rigging were like the thick branches of
trees furred over with hoar-frost.
Only her lower sails were set. A wild sight it was to see her long-bearded
look-outs at those three mast-heads.
They seemed clad in the skins of beasts, so torn and bepatched the raiment that had
survived nearly four years of cruising.
Standing in iron hoops nailed to the mast, they swayed and swung over a fathomless
sea; and though, when the ship slowly glided close under our stern, we six men in
the air came so nigh to each other that we
might almost have leaped from the mast- heads of one ship to those of the other;
yet, those forlorn-looking fishermen, mildly eyeing us as they passed, said not
one word to our own look-outs, while the
quarter-deck hail was being heard from below.
"Ship ahoy! Have ye seen the White Whale?"
But as the strange captain, leaning over the pallid bulwarks, was in the act of
putting his trumpet to his mouth, it somehow fell from his hand into the sea;
and the wind now rising amain, he in vain strove to make himself heard without it.
Meantime his ship was still increasing the distance between.
While in various silent ways the seamen of the Pequod were evincing their observance
of this ominous incident at the first mere mention of the White Whale's name to
another ship, Ahab for a moment paused; it
almost seemed as though he would have lowered a boat to board the stranger, had
not the threatening wind forbade.
But taking advantage of his windward position, he again seized his trumpet, and
knowing by her aspect that the stranger vessel was a Nantucketer and shortly bound
home, he loudly hailed--"Ahoy there!
This is the Pequod, bound round the world! Tell them to address all future letters to
the Pacific ocean! and this time three years, if I am not at home, tell them to
address them to--"
At that moment the two wakes were fairly crossed, and instantly, then, in accordance
with their singular ways, shoals of small harmless fish, that for some days before
had been placidly swimming by our side,
darted away with what seemed shuddering fins, and ranged themselves fore and aft
with the stranger's flanks.
Though in the course of his continual voyagings Ahab must often before have
noticed a similar sight, yet, to any monomaniac man, the veriest trifles
capriciously carry meanings.
"Swim away from me, do ye?" murmured Ahab, gazing over into the water.
There seemed but little in the words, but the tone conveyed more of deep helpless
sadness than the insane old man had ever before evinced.
But turning to the steersman, who thus far had been holding the ship in the wind to
diminish her headway, he cried out in his old lion voice,--"Up helm!
Keep her off round the world!"
Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire
proud feelings; but whereto does all that circumnavigation conduct?
Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that
we left behind secure, were all the time before us.
Were this world an endless plain, and by sailing eastward we could for ever reach
new distances, and discover sights more sweet and strange than any Cyclades or
Islands of King Solomon, then there were promise in the voyage.
But in pursuit of those far mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that
demon phantom that, some time or other, swims before all human hearts; while
chasing such over this round globe, they
either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed.
Chapter 53. The Gam.
The ostensible reason why Ahab did not go on board of the whaler we had spoken was
this: the wind and sea betokened storms.
But even had this not been the case, he would not after all, perhaps, have boarded
her--judging by his subsequent conduct on similar occasions--if so it had been that,
by the process of hailing, he had obtained a negative answer to the question he put.
For, as it eventually turned out, he cared not to consort, even for five minutes, with
any stranger captain, except he could contribute some of that information he so
absorbingly sought.
But all this might remain inadequately estimated, were not something said here of
the peculiar usages of whaling-vessels when meeting each other in foreign seas, and
especially on a common cruising-ground.
If two strangers crossing the Pine Barrens in New York State, or the equally desolate
Salisbury Plain in England; if casually encountering each other in such
inhospitable wilds, these twain, for the
life of them, cannot well avoid a mutual salutation; and stopping for a moment to
interchange the news; and, perhaps, sitting down for a while and resting in concert:
then, how much more natural that upon the
illimitable Pine Barrens and Salisbury Plains of the sea, two whaling vessels
descrying each other at the ends of the earth--off lone Fanning's Island, or the
far away King's Mills; how much more
natural, I say, that under such circumstances these ships should not only
interchange hails, but come into still closer, more friendly and sociable contact.
And especially would this seem to be a matter of course, in the case of vessels
owned in one seaport, and whose captains, officers, and not a few of the men are
personally known to each other; and
consequently, have all sorts of dear domestic things to talk about.
For the long absent ship, the outward- bounder, perhaps, has letters on board; at
any rate, she will be sure to let her have some papers of a date a year or two later
than the last one on her blurred and thumb- worn files.
And in return for that courtesy, the outward-bound ship would receive the latest
whaling intelligence from the cruising- ground to which she may be destined, a
thing of the utmost importance to her.
And in degree, all this will hold true concerning whaling vessels crossing each
other's track on the cruising-ground itself, even though they are equally long
absent from home.
For one of them may have received a transfer of letters from some third, and
now far remote vessel; and some of those letters may be for the people of the ship
she now meets.
Besides, they would exchange the whaling news, and have an agreeable chat.
For not only would they meet with all the sympathies of sailors, but likewise with
all the peculiar congenialities arising from a common pursuit and mutually shared
privations and perils.
Nor would difference of country make any very essential difference; that is, so long
as both parties speak one language, as is the case with Americans and English.
Though, to be sure, from the small number of English whalers, such meetings do not
very often occur, and when they do occur there is too apt to be a sort of shyness
between them; for your Englishman is rather
reserved, and your Yankee, he does not fancy that sort of thing in anybody but
himself.
Besides, the English whalers sometimes affect a kind of metropolitan superiority
over the American whalers; regarding the long, lean Nantucketer, with his
nondescript provincialisms, as a sort of sea-peasant.
But where this superiority in the English whalemen does really consist, it would be
hard to say, seeing that the Yankees in one day, collectively, kill more whales than
all the English, collectively, in ten years.
But this is a harmless little foible in the English whale-hunters, which the
Nantucketer does not take much to heart; probably, because he knows that he has a
few foibles himself.
So, then, we see that of all ships separately sailing the sea, the whalers
have most reason to be sociable--and they are so.
Whereas, some merchant ships crossing each other's wake in the mid-Atlantic, will
oftentimes pass on without so much as a single word of recognition, mutually
cutting each other on the high seas, like a
brace of dandies in Broadway; and all the time indulging, perhaps, in finical
criticism upon each other's rig.
As for Men-of-War, when they chance to meet at sea, they first go through such a string
of silly bowings and scrapings, such a ducking of ensigns, that there does not
seem to be much right-down hearty good-will and brotherly love about it at all.
As touching Slave-ships meeting, why, they are in such a prodigious hurry, they run
away from each other as soon as possible.
And as for Pirates, when they chance to cross each other's cross-bones, the first
hail is--"How many skulls?"--the same way that whalers hail--"How many barrels?"
And that question once answered, pirates straightway steer apart, for they are
infernal villains on both sides, and don't like to see overmuch of each other's
villanous likenesses.
But look at the godly, honest, unostentatious, hospitable, sociable, free-
and-easy whaler!
What does the whaler do when she meets another whaler in any sort of decent
weather?
She has a "GAM," a thing so utterly unknown to all other ships that they never heard of
the name even; and if by chance they should hear of it, they only grin at it, and
repeat gamesome stuff about "spouters" and
"blubber-boilers," and such like pretty exclamations.
Why it is that all Merchant-seamen, and also all Pirates and Man-of-War's men, and
Slave-ship sailors, cherish such a scornful feeling towards Whale-ships; this is a
question it would be hard to answer.
Because, in the case of pirates, say, I should like to know whether that profession
of theirs has any peculiar glory about it. It sometimes ends in uncommon elevation,
indeed; but only at the gallows.
And besides, when a man is elevated in that odd fashion, he has no proper foundation
for his superior altitude.
Hence, I conclude, that in boasting himself to be high lifted above a whaleman, in that
assertion the pirate has no solid basis to stand on.
But what is a GAM? You might wear out your index-finger running up and down the
columns of dictionaries, and never find the word.
Dr. Johnson never attained to that erudition; Noah Webster's ark does not hold
it.
Nevertheless, this same expressive word has now for many years been in constant use
among some fifteen thousand true born Yankees.
Certainly, it needs a definition, and should be incorporated into the Lexicon.
With that view, let me learnedly define it. GAM.
NOUN--A SOCIAL MEETING OF TWO (OR MORE) WHALESHIPS, GENERALLY ON A CRUISING-GROUND;
WHEN, AFTER EXCHANGING HAILS, THEY EXCHANGE VISITS BY BOATS' CREWS; THE TWO CAPTAINS
REMAINING, FOR THE TIME, ON BOARD OF ONE SHIP, AND THE TWO CHIEF MATES ON THE OTHER.
There is another little item about Gamming which must not be forgotten here.
All professions have their own little peculiarities of detail; so has the whale
fishery.
In a pirate, man-of-war, or slave ship, when the captain is rowed anywhere in his
boat, he always sits in the stern sheets on a comfortable, sometimes cushioned seat
there, and often steers himself with a
pretty little milliner's tiller decorated with gay cords and ribbons.
But the whale-boat has no seat astern, no sofa of that sort whatever, and no tiller
at all.
High times indeed, if whaling captains were wheeled about the water on castors like
gouty old aldermen in patent chairs.
And as for a tiller, the whale-boat never admits of any such effeminacy; and
therefore as in gamming a complete boat's crew must leave the ship, and hence as the
boat steerer or harpooneer is of the
number, that subordinate is the steersman upon the occasion, and the captain, having
no place to sit in, is pulled off to his visit all standing like a pine tree.
And often you will notice that being conscious of the eyes of the whole visible
world resting on him from the sides of the two ships, this standing captain is all
alive to the importance of sustaining his dignity by maintaining his legs.
Nor is this any very easy matter; for in his rear is the immense projecting steering
oar hitting him now and then in the small of his back, the after-oar reciprocating by
rapping his knees in front.
He is thus completely wedged before and behind, and can only expand himself
sideways by settling down on his stretched legs; but a sudden, violent pitch of the
boat will often go far to topple him,
because length of foundation is nothing without corresponding breadth.
Merely make a spread angle of two poles, and you cannot stand them up.
Then, again, it would never do in plain sight of the world's riveted eyes, it would
never do, I say, for this straddling captain to be seen steadying himself the
slightest particle by catching hold of
anything with his hands; indeed, as token of his entire, buoyant self-command, he
generally carries his hands in his trowsers' pockets; but perhaps being
generally very large, heavy hands, he carries them there for ballast.
Nevertheless there have occurred instances, well authenticated ones too, where the
captain has been known for an uncommonly critical moment or two, in a sudden squall
say--to seize hold of the nearest oarsman's hair, and hold on there like grim death.
>
-Chapter 54. The Town-Ho's Story.
(AS TOLD AT THE GOLDEN INN)
The Cape of Good Hope, and all the watery region round about there, is much like some
noted four corners of a great highway, where you meet more travellers than in any
other part.
It was not very long after speaking the Goney that another homeward-bound whaleman,
the Town-Ho,* was encountered. She was manned almost wholly by
Polynesians.
In the short gam that ensued she gave us strong news of Moby Dick.
To some the general interest in the White Whale was now wildly heightened by a
circumstance of the Town-Ho's story, which seemed obscurely to involve with the whale
a certain wondrous, inverted visitation of
one of those so called judgments of God which at times are said to overtake some
men.
This latter circumstance, with its own particular accompaniments, forming what may
be called the secret part of the tragedy about to be narrated, never reached the
ears of Captain Ahab or his mates.
For that secret part of the story was unknown to the captain of the Town-Ho
himself.
It was the private property of three confederate white seamen of that ship, one
of whom, it seems, communicated it to Tashtego with Romish injunctions of
secrecy, but the following night Tashtego
rambled in his sleep, and revealed so much of it in that way, that when he was wakened
he could not well withhold the rest.
Nevertheless, so potent an influence did this thing have on those seamen in the
Pequod who came to the full knowledge of it, and by such a strange delicacy, to call
it so, were they governed in this matter,
that they kept the secret among themselves so that it never transpired abaft the
Pequod's main-mast.
Interweaving in its proper place this darker thread with the story as publicly
narrated on the ship, the whole of this strange affair I now proceed to put on
lasting record.
*The ancient whale-cry upon first sighting a whale from the mast-head, still used by
whalemen in hunting the famous Gallipagos terrapin.
For my humor's sake, I shall preserve the style in which I once narrated it at Lima,
to a lounging circle of my Spanish friends, one saint's eve, smoking upon the thick-
gilt tiled piazza of the Golden Inn.
Of those fine cavaliers, the young Dons, Pedro and Sebastian, were on the closer
terms with me; and hence the interluding questions they occasionally put, and which
are duly answered at the time.
"Some two years prior to my first learning the events which I am about rehearsing to
you, gentlemen, the Town-Ho, Sperm Whaler of Nantucket, was cruising in your Pacific
here, not very many days' sail eastward from the eaves of this good Golden Inn.
She was somewhere to the northward of the Line.
One morning upon handling the pumps, according to daily usage, it was observed
that she made more water in her hold than common.
They supposed a sword-fish had stabbed her, gentlemen.
But the captain, having some unusual reason for believing that rare good luck awaited
him in those latitudes; and therefore being very averse to quit them, and the leak not
being then considered at all dangerous,
though, indeed, they could not find it after searching the hold as low down as was
possible in rather heavy weather, the ship still continued her cruisings, the mariners
working at the pumps at wide and easy
intervals; but no good luck came; more days went by, and not only was the leak yet
undiscovered, but it sensibly increased.
So much so, that now taking some alarm, the captain, making all sail, stood away for
the nearest harbor among the islands, there to have his hull hove out and repaired.
"Though no small passage was before her, yet, if the commonest chance favoured, he
did not at all fear that his ship would founder by the way, because his pumps were
of the best, and being periodically
relieved at them, those six-and-thirty men of his could easily keep the ship free;
never mind if the leak should double on her.
In truth, well nigh the whole of this passage being attended by very prosperous
breezes, the Town-Ho had all but certainly arrived in perfect safety at her port
without the occurrence of the least
fatality, had it not been for the brutal overbearing of Radney, the mate, a
Vineyarder, and the bitterly provoked vengeance of Steelkilt, a Lakeman and
desperado from Buffalo.
"'Lakeman!--Buffalo! Pray, what is a Lakeman, and where is
Buffalo?' said Don Sebastian, rising in his swinging mat of grass.
"On the eastern shore of our Lake Erie, Don; but--I crave your courtesy--may be,
you shall soon hear further of all that.
Now, gentlemen, in square-sail brigs and three-masted ships, well-nigh as large and
stout as any that ever sailed out of your old Callao to far Manilla; this Lakeman, in
the land-locked heart of our America, had
yet been nurtured by all those agrarian freebooting impressions popularly connected
with the open ocean.
For in their interflowing aggregate, those grand fresh-water seas of ours,--Erie, and
Ontario, and Huron, and Superior, and Michigan,--possess an ocean-like
expansiveness, with many of the ocean's
noblest traits; with many of its rimmed varieties of races and of climes.
They contain round archipelagoes of romantic isles, even as the Polynesian
waters do; in large part, are shored by two great contrasting nations, as the Atlantic
is; they furnish long maritime approaches
to our numerous territorial colonies from the East, dotted all round their banks;
here and there are frowned upon by batteries, and by the goat-like craggy guns
of lofty Mackinaw; they have heard the
fleet thunderings of naval victories; at intervals, they yield their beaches to wild
barbarians, whose red painted faces flash from out their peltry wigwams; for leagues
and leagues are flanked by ancient and
unentered forests, where the gaunt pines stand like serried lines of kings in Gothic
genealogies; those same woods harboring wild Afric beasts of prey, and silken
creatures whose exported furs give robes to
Tartar Emperors; they mirror the paved capitals of Buffalo and Cleveland, as well
as Winnebago villages; they float alike the full-rigged merchant ship, the armed
cruiser of the State, the steamer, and the
beech canoe; they are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts as direful as any that
lash the salted wave; they know what shipwrecks are, for out of sight of land,
however inland, they have drowned full many
a midnight ship with all its shrieking crew.
Thus, gentlemen, though an inlander, Steelkilt was wild-ocean born, and wild-
ocean nurtured; as much of an audacious mariner as any.
And for Radney, though in his infancy he may have laid him down on the lone
Nantucket beach, to nurse at his maternal sea; though in after life he had long
followed our austere Atlantic and your
contemplative Pacific; yet was he quite as vengeful and full of social quarrel as the
backwoods seaman, fresh from the latitudes of buck-horn handled bowie-knives.
Yet was this Nantucketer a man with some good-hearted traits; and this Lakeman, a
mariner, who though a sort of devil indeed, might yet by inflexible firmness, only
tempered by that common decency of human
recognition which is the meanest slave's right; thus treated, this Steelkilt had
long been retained harmless and docile.
At all events, he had proved so thus far; but Radney was doomed and made mad, and
Steelkilt--but, gentlemen, you shall hear.
"It was not more than a day or two at the furthest after pointing her prow for her
island haven, that the Town-Ho's leak seemed again increasing, but only so as to
require an hour or more at the pumps every day.
You must know that in a settled and civilized ocean like our Atlantic, for
example, some skippers think little of pumping their whole way across it; though
of a still, sleepy night, should the
officer of the deck happen to forget his duty in that respect, the probability would
be that he and his shipmates would never again remember it, on account of all hands
gently subsiding to the bottom.
Nor in the solitary and savage seas far from you to the westward, gentlemen, is it
altogether unusual for ships to keep clanging at their pump-handles in full
chorus even for a voyage of considerable
length; that is, if it lie along a tolerably accessible coast, or if any other
reasonable retreat is afforded them.
It is only when a leaky vessel is in some very out of the way part of those waters,
some really landless latitude, that her captain begins to feel a little anxious.
"Much this way had it been with the Town- Ho; so when her leak was found gaining once
more, there was in truth some small concern manifested by several of her company;
especially by Radney the mate.
He commanded the upper sails to be well hoisted, sheeted home anew, and every way
expanded to the breeze.
Now this Radney, I suppose, was as little of a coward, and as little inclined to any
sort of nervous apprehensiveness touching his own person as any fearless, unthinking
creature on land or on sea that you can conveniently imagine, gentlemen.
Therefore when he betrayed this solicitude about the safety of the ship, some of the
seamen declared that it was only on account of his being a part owner in her.
So when they were working that evening at the pumps, there was on this head no small
gamesomeness slily going on among them, as they stood with their feet continually
overflowed by the rippling clear water;
clear as any mountain spring, gentlemen-- that bubbling from the pumps ran across the
deck, and poured itself out in steady spouts at the lee scupper-holes.
"Now, as you well know, it is not seldom the case in this conventional world of
ours--watery or otherwise; that when a person placed in command over his fellow-
men finds one of them to be very
significantly his superior in general pride of manhood, straightway against that man he
conceives an unconquerable dislike and bitterness; and if he have a chance he will
pull down and pulverize that subaltern's
tower, and make a little heap of dust of it.
Be this conceit of mine as it may, gentlemen, at all events Steelkilt was a
tall and noble animal with a head like a Roman, and a flowing golden beard like the
tasseled housings of your last viceroy's
snorting charger; and a brain, and a heart, and a soul in him, gentlemen, which had
made Steelkilt Charlemagne, had he been born son to Charlemagne's father.
But Radney, the mate, was ugly as a mule; yet as hardy, as stubborn, as malicious.
He did not love Steelkilt, and Steelkilt knew it.
"Espying the mate drawing near as he was toiling at the pump with the rest, the
Lakeman affected not to notice him, but unawed, went on with his gay banterings.
"'Aye, aye, my merry lads, it's a lively leak this; hold a cannikin, one of ye, and
let's have a taste. By the Lord, it's worth bottling!
I tell ye what, men, old Rad's investment must go for it! he had best cut away his
part of the hull and tow it home.
The fact is, boys, that sword-fish only began the job; he's come back again with a
gang of ship-carpenters, saw-fish, and file-fish, and what not; and the whole
posse of 'em are now hard at work cutting
and slashing at the bottom; making improvements, I suppose.
If old Rad were here now, I'd tell him to jump overboard and scatter 'em.
They're playing the devil with his estate, I can tell him.
But he's a simple old soul,--Rad, and a beauty too.
Boys, they say the rest of his property is invested in looking-glasses.
I wonder if he'd give a poor devil like me the model of his nose.'
"'Damn your eyes! what's that pump stopping for?' roared Radney, pretending not to have
heard the sailors' talk. 'Thunder away at it!'
"'Aye, aye, sir,' said Steelkilt, merry as a cricket.
'Lively, boys, lively, now!'
And with that the pump clanged like fifty fire-engines; the men tossed their hats off
to it, and ere long that peculiar gasping of the lungs was heard which denotes the
fullest tension of life's utmost energies.
"Quitting the pump at last, with the rest of his band, the Lakeman went forward all
panting, and sat himself down on the windlass; his face fiery red, his eyes
bloodshot, and wiping the profuse sweat from his brow.
Now what cozening fiend it was, gentlemen, that possessed Radney to meddle with such a
man in that corporeally exasperated state, I know not; but so it happened.
Intolerably striding along the deck, the mate commanded him to get a broom and sweep
down the planks, and also a shovel, and remove some offensive matters consequent
upon allowing a pig to run at large.
"Now, gentlemen, sweeping a ship's deck at sea is a piece of household work which in
all times but raging gales is regularly attended to every evening; it has been
known to be done in the case of ships actually foundering at the time.
Such, gentlemen, is the inflexibility of sea-usages and the instinctive love of
neatness in seamen; some of whom would not willingly drown without first washing their
faces.
But in all vessels this broom business is the prescriptive province of the boys, if
boys there be aboard.
Besides, it was the stronger men in the Town-Ho that had been divided into gangs,
taking turns at the pumps; and being the most athletic seaman of them all, Steelkilt
had been regularly assigned captain of one
of the gangs; consequently he should have been freed from any trivial business not
connected with truly nautical duties, such being the case with his comrades.
I mention all these particulars so that you may understand exactly how this affair
stood between the two men.
"But there was more than this: the order about the shovel was almost as plainly
meant to sting and insult Steelkilt, as though Radney had spat in his face.
Any man who has gone sailor in a whale-ship will understand this; and all this and
doubtless much more, the Lakeman fully comprehended when the mate uttered his
command.
But as he sat still for a moment, and as he steadfastly looked into the mate's
malignant eye and perceived the stacks of powder-casks heaped up in him and the slow-
match silently burning along towards them;
as he instinctively saw all this, that strange forbearance and unwillingness to
stir up the deeper passionateness in any already ireful being--a repugnance most
felt, when felt at all, by really valiant
men even when aggrieved--this nameless phantom feeling, gentlemen, stole over
Steelkilt.
"Therefore, in his ordinary tone, only a little broken by the bodily exhaustion he
was temporarily in, he answered him saying that sweeping the deck was not his
business, and he would not do it.
And then, without at all alluding to the shovel, he pointed to three lads as the
customary sweepers; who, not being billeted at the pumps, had done little or nothing
all day.
To this, Radney replied with an oath, in a most domineering and outrageous manner
unconditionally reiterating his command; meanwhile advancing upon the still seated
Lakeman, with an uplifted cooper's club
hammer which he had snatched from a cask near by.
"Heated and irritated as he was by his spasmodic toil at the pumps, for all his
first nameless feeling of forbearance the sweating Steelkilt could but ill brook this
bearing in the mate; but somehow still
smothering the conflagration within him, without speaking he remained doggedly
rooted to his seat, till at last the incensed Radney shook the hammer within a
few inches of his face, furiously commanding him to do his bidding.
"Steelkilt rose, and slowly retreating round the windlass, steadily followed by
the mate with his menacing hammer, deliberately repeated his intention not to
obey.
Seeing, however, that his forbearance had not the slightest effect, by an awful and
unspeakable intimation with his twisted hand he warned off the foolish and
infatuated man; but it was to no purpose.
And in this way the two went once slowly round the windlass; when, resolved at last
no longer to retreat, bethinking him that he had now forborne as much as comported
with his humor, the Lakeman paused on the hatches and thus spoke to the officer:
"'Mr. Radney, I will not obey you. Take that hammer away, or look to
yourself.'
But the predestinated mate coming still closer to him, where the Lakeman stood
fixed, now shook the heavy hammer within an inch of his teeth; meanwhile repeating a
string of insufferable maledictions.
Retreating not the thousandth part of an inch; stabbing him in the eye with the
unflinching poniard of his glance, Steelkilt, clenching his right hand behind
him and creepingly drawing it back, told
his persecutor that if the hammer but grazed his cheek he (Steelkilt) would
murder him. But, gentlemen, the fool had been branded
for the slaughter by the gods.
Immediately the hammer touched the cheek; the next instant the lower jaw of the mate
was stove in his head; he fell on the hatch spouting blood like a whale.
"Ere the cry could go aft Steelkilt was shaking one of the backstays leading far
aloft to where two of his comrades were standing their mastheads.
They were both Canallers.
"'Canallers!' cried Don Pedro. 'We have seen many whale-ships in our
harbours, but never heard of your Canallers.
Pardon: who and what are they?'
"'Canallers, Don, are the boatmen belonging to our grand Erie Canal.
You must have heard of it.'
"'Nay, Senor; hereabouts in this dull, warm, most lazy, and hereditary land, we
know but little of your vigorous North.' "'Aye?
Well then, Don, refill my cup.
Your chicha's very fine; and ere proceeding further I will tell ye what our Canallers
are; for such information may throw side- light upon my story.'
"For three hundred and sixty miles, gentlemen, through the entire breadth of
the state of New York; through numerous populous cities and most thriving villages;
through long, dismal, uninhabited swamps,
and affluent, cultivated fields, unrivalled for fertility; by billiard-room and bar-
room; through the holy-of-holies of great forests; on Roman arches over Indian
rivers; through sun and shade; by happy
hearts or broken; through all the wide contrasting scenery of those noble Mohawk
counties; and especially, by rows of snow- white chapels, whose spires stand almost
like milestones, flows one continual stream
of Venetianly corrupt and often lawless life.
There's your true Ashantee, gentlemen; there howl your pagans; where you ever find
them, next door to you; under the long- flung shadow, and the snug patronising lee
of churches.
For by some curious fatality, as it is often noted of your metropolitan
freebooters that they ever encamp around the halls of justice, so sinners,
gentlemen, most abound in holiest vicinities.
"'Is that a friar passing?' said Don Pedro, looking downwards into the crowded plazza,
with humorous concern.
"'Well for our northern friend, Dame Isabella's Inquisition wanes in Lima,'
laughed Don Sebastian. 'Proceed, Senor.'
"'A moment!
Pardon!' cried another of the company.
'In the name of all us Limeese, I but desire to express to you, sir sailor, that
we have by no means overlooked your delicacy in not substituting present Lima
for distant Venice in your corrupt comparison.
Oh! do not bow and look surprised; you know the proverb all along this coast--"Corrupt
as Lima."
It but bears out your saying, too; churches more plentiful than billiard-tables, and
for ever open--and "Corrupt as Lima."
So, too, Venice; I have been there; the holy city of the blessed evangelist, St.
Mark!--St. Dominic, purge it! Your cup!
Thanks: here I refill; now, you pour out again.'
"Freely depicted in his own vocation, gentlemen, the Canaller would make a fine
dramatic hero, so abundantly and picturesquely wicked is he.
Like Mark Antony, for days and days along his green-turfed, flowery Nile, he
indolently floats, openly toying with his red-cheeked Cleopatra, ripening his apricot
thigh upon the sunny deck.
But ashore, all this effeminacy is dashed. The brigandish guise which the Canaller so
proudly sports; his slouched and gaily- ribboned hat betoken his grand features.
A terror to the smiling innocence of the villages through which he floats; his swart
visage and bold swagger are not unshunned in cities.
Once a vagabond on his own canal, I have received good turns from one of these
Canallers; I thank him heartily; would fain be not ungrateful; but it is often one of
the prime redeeming qualities of your man
of violence, that at times he has as stiff an arm to back a poor stranger in a strait,
as to plunder a wealthy one.
In sum, gentlemen, what the wildness of this canal life is, is emphatically evinced
by this; that our wild whale-fishery contains so many of its most finished
graduates, and that scarce any race of
mankind, except Sydney men, are so much distrusted by our whaling captains.
Nor does it at all diminish the curiousness of this matter, that to many thousands of
our rural boys and young men born along its line, the probationary life of the Grand
Canal furnishes the sole transition between
quietly reaping in a Christian corn-field, and recklessly ploughing the waters of the
most barbaric seas. "'I see!
I see!' impetuously exclaimed Don Pedro, spilling his chicha upon his silvery
ruffles. 'No need to travel!
The world's one Lima.
I had thought, now, that at your temperate North the generations were cold and holy as
the hills.--But the story.' "I left off, gentlemen, where the Lakeman
shook the backstay.
Hardly had he done so, when he was surrounded by the three junior mates and
the four harpooneers, who all crowded him to the deck.
But sliding down the ropes like baleful comets, the two Canallers rushed into the
uproar, and sought to drag their man out of it towards the forecastle.
Others of the sailors joined with them in this attempt, and a twisted turmoil ensued;
while standing out of harm's way, the valiant captain danced up and down with a
whale-pike, calling upon his officers to
manhandle that atrocious scoundrel, and smoke him along to the quarter-deck.
At intervals, he ran close up to the revolving border of the confusion, and
prying into the heart of it with his pike, sought to prick out the object of his
resentment.
But Steelkilt and his desperadoes were too much for them all; they succeeded in
gaining the forecastle deck, where, hastily slewing about three or four large casks in
a line with the windlass, these sea-
Parisians entrenched themselves behind the barricade.
"'Come out of that, ye pirates!' roared the captain, now menacing them with a pistol in
each hand, just brought to him by the steward.
'Come out of that, ye cut-throats!'
"Steelkilt leaped on the barricade, and striding up and down there, defied the
worst the pistols could do; but gave the captain to understand distinctly, that his
(Steelkilt's) death would be the signal for
a murderous mutiny on the part of all hands.
Fearing in his heart lest this might prove but too true, the captain a little
desisted, but still commanded the insurgents instantly to return to their
duty.
"'Will you promise not to touch us, if we do?' demanded their ringleader.
"'Turn to! turn to!--I make no promise;--to your duty!
Do you want to sink the ship, by knocking off at a time like this?
Turn to!' and he once more raised a pistol. "'Sink the ship?' cried Steelkilt.
'Aye, let her sink.
Not a man of us turns to, unless you swear not to raise a rope-yarn against us.
What say ye, men?' turning to his comrades. A fierce cheer was their response.
"The Lakeman now patrolled the barricade, all the while keeping his eye on the
Captain, and jerking out such sentences as these:--'It's not our fault; we didn't want
it; I told him to take his hammer away; it
was boy's business; he might have known me before this; I told him not to prick the
buffalo; I believe I have broken a finger here against his cursed jaw; ain't those
mincing knives down in the forecastle
there, men? look to those handspikes, my hearties.
Captain, by God, look to yourself; say the word; don't be a fool; forget it all; we
are ready to turn to; treat us decently, and we're your men; but we won't be
flogged.'
"'Turn to! I make no promises, turn to, I say!'
"'Look ye, now,' cried the Lakeman, flinging out his arm towards him, 'there
are a few of us here (and I am one of them) who have shipped for the cruise, d'ye see;
now as you well know, sir, we can claim our
discharge as soon as the anchor is down; so we don't want a row; it's not our interest;
we want to be peaceable; we are ready to work, but we won't be flogged.'
"'Turn to!' roared the Captain.
"Steelkilt glanced round him a moment, and then said:--'I tell you what it is now,
Captain, rather than kill ye, and be hung for such a shabby rascal, we won't lift a
hand against ye unless ye attack us; but
till you say the word about not flogging us, we don't do a hand's turn.'
"'Down into the forecastle then, down with ye, I'll keep ye there till ye're sick of
it.
Down ye go.' "'Shall we?' cried the ringleader to his
men.
Most of them were against it; but at length, in obedience to Steelkilt, they
preceded him down into their dark den, growlingly disappearing, like bears into a
cave.
"As the Lakeman's bare head was just level with the planks, the Captain and his posse
leaped the barricade, and rapidly drawing over the slide of the scuttle, planted
their group of hands upon it, and loudly
called for the steward to bring the heavy brass padlock belonging to the
companionway.
"Then opening the slide a little, the Captain whispered something down the crack,
closed it, and turned the key upon them-- ten in number--leaving on deck some twenty
or more, who thus far had remained neutral.
"All night a wide-awake watch was kept by all the officers, forward and aft,
especially about the forecastle scuttle and fore hatchway; at which last place it was
feared the insurgents might emerge, after breaking through the bulkhead below.
But the hours of darkness passed in peace; the men who still remained at their duty
toiling hard at the pumps, whose clinking and clanking at intervals through the
dreary night dismally resounded through the ship.
"At sunrise the Captain went forward, and knocking on the deck, summoned the
prisoners to work; but with a yell they refused.
Water was then lowered down to them, and a couple of handfuls of biscuit were tossed
after it; when again turning the key upon them and pocketing it, the Captain returned
to the quarter-deck.
Twice every day for three days this was repeated; but on the fourth morning a
confused wrangling, and then a scuffling was heard, as the customary summons was
delivered; and suddenly four men burst up
from the forecastle, saying they were ready to turn to.
The fetid closeness of the air, and a famishing diet, united perhaps to some
fears of ultimate retribution, had constrained them to surrender at
discretion.
Emboldened by this, the Captain reiterated his demand to the rest, but Steelkilt
shouted up to him a terrific hint to stop his babbling and betake himself where he
belonged.
On the fifth morning three others of the mutineers bolted up into the air from the
desperate arms below that sought to restrain them.
Only three were left.
"'Better turn to, now?' said the Captain with a heartless jeer.
"'Shut us up again, will ye!' cried Steelkilt.
"'Oh certainly,' the Captain, and the key clicked.
"It was at this point, gentlemen, that enraged by the defection of seven of his
former associates, and stung by the mocking voice that had last hailed him, and
maddened by his long entombment in a place
as black as the bowels of despair; it was then that Steelkilt proposed to the two
Canallers, thus far apparently of one mind with him, to burst out of their hole at the
next summoning of the garrison; and armed
with their keen mincing knives (long, crescentic, heavy implements with a handle
at each end) run amuck from the bowsprit to the taffrail; and if by any devilishness of
desperation possible, seize the ship.
For himself, he would do this, he said, whether they joined him or not.
That was the last night he should spend in that den.
But the scheme met with no opposition on the part of the other two; they swore they
were ready for that, or for any other mad thing, for anything in short but a
surrender.
And what was more, they each insisted upon being the first man on deck, when the time
to make the rush should come.
But to this their leader as fiercely objected, reserving that priority for
himself; particularly as his two comrades would not yield, the one to the other, in
the matter; and both of them could not be
first, for the ladder would but admit one man at a time.
And here, gentlemen, the foul play of these miscreants must come out.
"Upon hearing the frantic project of their leader, each in his own separate soul had
suddenly lighted, it would seem, upon the same piece of treachery, namely: to be
foremost in breaking out, in order to be
the first of the three, though the last of the ten, to surrender; and thereby secure
whatever small chance of pardon such conduct might merit.
But when Steelkilt made known his determination still to lead them to the
last, they in some way, by some subtle chemistry of villany, mixed their before
secret treacheries together; and when their
leader fell into a doze, verbally opened their souls to each other in three
sentences; and bound the sleeper with cords, and gagged him with cords; and
shrieked out for the Captain at midnight.
"Thinking murder at hand, and smelling in the dark for the blood, he and all his
armed mates and harpooneers rushed for the forecastle.
In a few minutes the scuttle was opened, and, bound hand and foot, the still
struggling ringleader was shoved up into the air by his perfidious allies, who at
once claimed the honour of securing a man who had been fully ripe for murder.
But all these were collared, and dragged along the deck like dead cattle; and, side
by side, were seized up into the mizzen rigging, like three quarters of meat, and
there they hung till morning.
'Damn ye,' cried the Captain, pacing to and fro before them, 'the vultures would not
touch ye, ye villains!'
"At sunrise he summoned all hands; and separating those who had rebelled from
those who had taken no part in the mutiny, he told the former that he had a good mind
to flog them all round--thought, upon the
whole, he would do so--he ought to--justice demanded it; but for the present,
considering their timely surrender, he would let them go with a reprimand, which
he accordingly administered in the vernacular.
"'But as for you, ye carrion rogues,' turning to the three men in the rigging--
'for you, I mean to mince ye up for the try-pots;' and, seizing a rope, he applied
it with all his might to the backs of the
two traitors, till they yelled no more, but lifelessly hung their heads sideways, as
the two crucified thieves are drawn.
"'My wrist is sprained with ye!' he cried, at last; 'but there is still rope enough
left for you, my fine bantam, that wouldn't give up.
Take that gag from his mouth, and let us hear what he can say for himself.'
"For a moment the exhausted mutineer made a tremulous motion of his cramped jaws, and
then painfully twisting round his head, said in a sort of hiss, 'What I say is
this--and mind it well--if you flog me, I murder you!'
"'Say ye so? then see how ye frighten me'-- and the Captain drew off with the rope to
strike.
"'Best not,' hissed the Lakeman. "'But I must,'--and the rope was once more
drawn back for the stroke.
"Steelkilt here hissed out something, inaudible to all but the Captain; who, to
the amazement of all hands, started back, paced the deck rapidly two or three times,
and then suddenly throwing down his rope,
said, 'I won't do it--let him go--cut him down: d'ye hear?'
"But as the junior mates were hurrying to execute the order, a pale man, with a
bandaged head, arrested them--Radney the chief mate.
Ever since the blow, he had lain in his berth; but that morning, hearing the tumult
on the deck, he had crept out, and thus far had watched the whole scene.
Such was the state of his mouth, that he could hardly speak; but mumbling something
about his being willing and able to do what the captain dared not attempt, he snatched
the rope and advanced to his pinioned foe.
"'You are a coward!' hissed the Lakeman. "'So I am, but take that.'
The mate was in the very act of striking, when another hiss stayed his uplifted arm.
He paused: and then pausing no more, made good his word, spite of Steelkilt's threat,
whatever that might have been.
The three men were then cut down, all hands were turned to, and, sullenly worked by the
moody seamen, the iron pumps clanged as before.
"Just after dark that day, when one watch had retired below, a clamor was heard in
the forecastle; and the two trembling traitors running up, besieged the cabin
door, saying they durst not consort with the crew.
Entreaties, cuffs, and kicks could not drive them back, so at their own instance
they were put down in the ship's run for salvation.
Still, no sign of mutiny reappeared among the rest.
On the contrary, it seemed, that mainly at Steelkilt's instigation, they had resolved
to maintain the strictest peacefulness, obey all orders to the last, and, when the
ship reached port, desert her in a body.
But in order to insure the speediest end to the voyage, they all agreed to another
thing--namely, not to sing out for whales, in case any should be discovered.
For, spite of her leak, and spite of all her other perils, the Town-Ho still
maintained her mast-heads, and her captain was just as willing to lower for a fish
that moment, as on the day his craft first
struck the cruising ground; and Radney the mate was quite as ready to change his berth
for a boat, and with his bandaged mouth seek to gag in death the vital jaw of the
whale.
"But though the Lakeman had induced the seamen to adopt this sort of passiveness in
their conduct, he kept his own counsel (at least till all was over) concerning his own
proper and private revenge upon the man who
had stung him in the ventricles of his heart.
He was in Radney the chief mate's watch; and as if the infatuated man sought to run
more than half way to meet his doom, after the scene at the rigging, he insisted,
against the express counsel of the captain,
upon resuming the head of his watch at night.
Upon this, and one or two other circumstances, Steelkilt systematically
built the plan of his revenge.
"During the night, Radney had an unseamanlike way of sitting on the bulwarks
of the quarter-deck, and leaning his arm upon the gunwale of the boat which was
hoisted up there, a little above the ship's side.
In this attitude, it was well known, he sometimes dozed.
There was a considerable vacancy between the boat and the ship, and down between
this was the sea.
Steelkilt calculated his time, and found that his next trick at the helm would come
round at two o'clock, in the morning of the third day from that in which he had been
betrayed.
At his leisure, he employed the interval in braiding something very carefully in his
watches below. "'What are you making there?' said a
shipmate.
"'What do you think? what does it look like?'
"'Like a lanyard for your bag; but it's an odd one, seems to me.'
"'Yes, rather oddish,' said the Lakeman, holding it at arm's length before him; 'but
I think it will answer. Shipmate, I haven't enough twine,--have you
any?'
"But there was none in the forecastle. "'Then I must get some from old Rad;' and
he rose to go aft. "'You don't mean to go a begging to HIM!'
said a sailor.
"'Why not?
Do you think he won't do me a turn, when it's to help himself in the end, shipmate?'
and going to the mate, he looked at him quietly, and asked him for some twine to
mend his hammock.
It was given him--neither twine nor lanyard were seen again; but the next night an iron
ball, closely netted, partly rolled from the pocket of the Lakeman's monkey jacket,
as he was tucking the coat into his hammock for a pillow.
Twenty-four hours after, his trick at the silent helm--nigh to the man who was apt to
doze over the grave always ready dug to the seaman's hand--that fatal hour was then to
come; and in the fore-ordaining soul of
Steelkilt, the mate was already stark and stretched as a corpse, with his forehead
crushed in.
"But, gentlemen, a fool saved the would-be murderer from the bloody deed he had
planned. Yet complete revenge he had, and without
being the avenger.
For by a mysterious fatality, Heaven itself seemed to step in to take out of his hands
into its own the damning thing he would have done.
"It was just between daybreak and sunrise of the morning of the second day, when they
were washing down the decks, that a stupid Teneriffe man, drawing water in the main-
chains, all at once shouted out, 'There she rolls! there she rolls!'
Jesu, what a whale! It was Moby Dick.
"'Moby Dick!' cried Don Sebastian; 'St. Dominic!
Sir sailor, but do whales have christenings?
Whom call you Moby Dick?'
"'A very white, and famous, and most deadly immortal monster, Don;--but that would be
too long a story.' "'How? how?' cried all the young Spaniards,
crowding.
"'Nay, Dons, Dons--nay, nay! I cannot rehearse that now.
Let me get more into the air, Sirs.'
"'The chicha! the chicha!' cried Don Pedro; 'our vigorous friend looks faint;--fill up
his empty glass!'
"No need, gentlemen; one moment, and I proceed.--Now, gentlemen, so suddenly
perceiving the snowy whale within fifty yards of the ship--forgetful of the compact
among the crew--in the excitement of the
moment, the Teneriffe man had instinctively and involuntarily lifted his voice for the
monster, though for some little time past it had been plainly beheld from the three
sullen mast-heads.
All was now a phrensy.
'The White Whale--the White Whale!' was the cry from captain, mates, and harpooneers,
who, undeterred by fearful rumours, were all anxious to capture so famous and
precious a fish; while the dogged crew eyed
askance, and with curses, the appalling beauty of the vast milky mass, that lit up
by a horizontal spangling sun, shifted and glistened like a living opal in the blue
morning sea.
Gentlemen, a strange fatality pervades the whole career of these events, as if verily
mapped out before the world itself was charted.
The mutineer was the bowsman of the mate, and when fast to a fish, it was his duty to
sit next him, while Radney stood up with his lance in the prow, and haul in or
slacken the line, at the word of command.
Moreover, when the four boats were lowered, the mate's got the start; and none howled
more fiercely with delight than did Steelkilt, as he strained at his oar.
After a stiff pull, their harpooneer got fast, and, spear in hand, Radney sprang to
the bow. He was always a furious man, it seems, in a
boat.
And now his bandaged cry was, to beach him on the whale's topmost back.
Nothing loath, his bowsman hauled him up and up, through a blinding foam that blent
two whitenesses together; till of a sudden the boat struck as against a sunken ledge,
and keeling over, spilled out the standing mate.
That instant, as he fell on the whale's slippery back, the boat righted, and was
dashed aside by the swell, while Radney was tossed over into the sea, on the other
flank of the whale.
He struck out through the spray, and, for an instant, was dimly seen through that
veil, wildly seeking to remove himself from the eye of Moby Dick.
But the whale rushed round in a sudden maelstrom; seized the swimmer between his
jaws; and rearing high up with him, plunged headlong again, and went down.
"Meantime, at the first tap of the boat's bottom, the Lakeman had slackened the line,
so as to drop astern from the whirlpool; calmly looking on, he thought his own
thoughts.
But a sudden, terrific, downward jerking of the boat, quickly brought his knife to the
line. He cut it; and the whale was free.
But, at some distance, Moby Dick rose again, with some tatters of Radney's red
woollen shirt, caught in the teeth that had destroyed him.
All four boats gave chase again; but the whale eluded them, and finally wholly
disappeared.
"In good time, the Town-Ho reached her port--a savage, solitary place--where no
civilized creature resided.
There, headed by the Lakeman, all but five or six of the foremastmen deliberately
deserted among the palms; eventually, as it turned out, seizing a large double war-
canoe of the savages, and setting sail for some other harbor.
"The ship's company being reduced to but a handful, the captain called upon the
Islanders to assist him in the laborious business of heaving down the ship to stop
the leak.
But to such unresting vigilance over their dangerous allies was this small band of
whites necessitated, both by night and by day, and so extreme was the hard work they
underwent, that upon the vessel being ready
again for sea, they were in such a weakened condition that the captain durst not put
off with them in so heavy a vessel.
After taking counsel with his officers, he anchored the ship as far off shore as
possible; loaded and ran out his two cannon from the bows; stacked his muskets on the
poop; and warning the Islanders not to
approach the ship at their peril, took one man with him, and setting the sail of his
best whale-boat, steered straight before the wind for Tahiti, five hundred miles
distant, to procure a reinforcement to his crew.
"On the fourth day of the sail, a large canoe was descried, which seemed to have
touched at a low isle of corals.
He steered away from it; but the savage craft bore down on him; and soon the voice
of Steelkilt hailed him to heave to, or he would run him under water.
The captain presented a pistol.
With one foot on each prow of the yoked war-canoes, the Lakeman laughed him to
scorn; assuring him that if the pistol so much as clicked in the lock, he would bury
him in bubbles and foam.
"'What do you want of me?' cried the captain.
"'Where are you bound? and for what are you bound?' demanded Steelkilt; 'no lies.'
"'I am bound to Tahiti for more men.'
"'Very good. Let me board you a moment--I come in
peace.'
With that he leaped from the canoe, swam to the boat; and climbing the gunwale, stood
face to face with the captain. "'Cross your arms, sir; throw back your
head.
Now, repeat after me. As soon as Steelkilt leaves me, I swear to
beach this boat on yonder island, and remain there six days.
If I do not, may lightning strike me!'
"'A pretty scholar,' laughed the Lakeman. 'Adios, Senor!' and leaping into the sea,
he swam back to his comrades.
"Watching the boat till it was fairly beached, and drawn up to the roots of the
cocoa-nut trees, Steelkilt made sail again, and in due time arrived at Tahiti, his own
place of destination.
There, luck befriended him; two ships were about to sail for France, and were
providentially in want of precisely that number of men which the sailor headed.
They embarked; and so for ever got the start of their former captain, had he been
at all minded to work them legal retribution.
"Some ten days after the French ships sailed, the whale-boat arrived, and the
captain was forced to enlist some of the more civilized Tahitians, who had been
somewhat used to the sea.
Chartering a small native schooner, he returned with them to his vessel; and
finding all right there, again resumed his cruisings.
"Where Steelkilt now is, gentlemen, none know; but upon the island of Nantucket, the
widow of Radney still turns to the sea which refuses to give up its dead; still in
dreams sees the awful white whale that destroyed him.
"'Are you through?' said Don Sebastian, quietly.
"'I am, Don.'
"'Then I entreat you, tell me if to the best of your own convictions, this your
story is in substance really true? It is so passing wonderful!
Did you get it from an unquestionable source?
Bear with me if I seem to press.'
"'Also bear with all of us, sir sailor; for we all join in Don Sebastian's suit,' cried
the company, with exceeding interest. "'Is there a copy of the Holy Evangelists
in the Golden Inn, gentlemen?'
"'Nay,' said Don Sebastian; 'but I know a worthy priest near by, who will quickly
procure one for me. I go for it; but are you well advised? this
may grow too serious.'
"'Will you be so good as to bring the priest also, Don?'
"'Though there are no Auto-da-Fe's in Lima now,' said one of the company to another;
'I fear our sailor friend runs risk of the archiepiscopacy.
Let us withdraw more out of the moonlight.
I see no need of this.' "'Excuse me for running after you, Don
Sebastian; but may I also beg that you will be particular in procuring the largest
sized Evangelists you can.'
"'This is the priest, he brings you the Evangelists,' said Don Sebastian, gravely,
returning with a tall and solemn figure. "'Let me remove my hat.
Now, venerable priest, further into the light, and hold the Holy Book before me
that I may touch it.
"'So help me Heaven, and on my honour the story I have told ye, gentlemen, is in
substance and its great items, true.
I know it to be true; it happened on this ball; I trod the ship; I knew the crew; I
have seen and talked with Steelkilt since the death of Radney.'"
>
-Chapter 55. Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales.
I shall ere long paint to you as well as one can without canvas, something like the
true form of the whale as he actually appears to the eye of the whaleman when in
his own absolute body the whale is moored
alongside the whale-ship so that he can be fairly stepped upon there.
It may be worth while, therefore, previously to advert to those curious
imaginary portraits of him which even down to the present day confidently challenge
the faith of the landsman.
It is time to set the world right in this matter, by proving such pictures of the
whale all wrong.
It may be that the primal source of all those pictorial delusions will be found
among the oldest Hindoo, Egyptian, and Grecian sculptures.
For ever since those inventive but unscrupulous times when on the marble
panellings of temples, the pedestals of statues, and on shields, medallions, cups,
and coins, the dolphin was drawn in scales
of chain-armor like Saladin's, and a helmeted head like St. George's; ever since
then has something of the same sort of license prevailed, not only in most popular
pictures of the whale, but in many scientific presentations of him.
Now, by all odds, the most ancient extant portrait anyways purporting to be the
whale's, is to be found in the famous cavern-pagoda of Elephanta, in India.
The Brahmins maintain that in the almost endless sculptures of that immemorial
pagoda, all the trades and pursuits, every conceivable avocation of man, were
prefigured ages before any of them actually came into being.
No wonder then, that in some sort our noble profession of whaling should have been
there shadowed forth.
The Hindoo whale referred to, occurs in a separate department of the wall, depicting
the incarnation of Vishnu in the form of leviathan, learnedly known as the Matse
Avatar.
But though this sculpture is half man and half whale, so as only to give the tail of
the latter, yet that small section of him is all wrong.
It looks more like the tapering tail of an anaconda, than the broad palms of the true
whale's majestic flukes.
But go to the old Galleries, and look now at a great Christian painter's portrait of
this fish; for he succeeds no better than the antediluvian Hindoo.
It is Guido's picture of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the sea-monster or whale.
Where did Guido get the model of such a strange creature as that?
Nor does Hogarth, in painting the same scene in his own "Perseus Descending," make
out one whit better.
The huge corpulence of that Hogarthian monster undulates on the surface, scarcely
drawing one inch of water.
It has a sort of howdah on its back, and its distended tusked mouth into which the
billows are rolling, might be taken for the Traitors' Gate leading from the Thames by
water into the Tower.
Then, there are the Prodromus whales of old Scotch Sibbald, and Jonah's whale, as
depicted in the prints of old Bibles and the cuts of old primers.
What shall be said of these?
As for the book-binder's whale winding like a vine-stalk round the stock of a
descending anchor--as stamped and gilded on the backs and title-pages of many books
both old and new--that is a very
picturesque but purely fabulous creature, imitated, I take it, from the like figures
on antique vases.
Though universally denominated a dolphin, I nevertheless call this book-binder's fish
an attempt at a whale; because it was so intended when the device was first
introduced.
It was introduced by an old Italian publisher somewhere about the 15th century,
during the Revival of Learning; and in those days, and even down to a
comparatively late period, dolphins were
popularly supposed to be a species of the Leviathan.
In the vignettes and other embellishments of some ancient books you will at times
meet with very curious touches at the whale, where all manner of spouts, jets
d'eau, hot springs and cold, Saratoga and
Baden-Baden, come bubbling up from his unexhausted brain.
In the title-page of the original edition of the "Advancement of Learning" you will
find some curious whales.
But quitting all these unprofessional attempts, let us glance at those pictures
of leviathan purporting to be sober, scientific delineations, by those who know.
In old Harris's collection of voyages there are some plates of whales extracted from a
Dutch book of voyages, A.D. 1671, entitled "A Whaling Voyage to Spitzbergen in the
ship Jonas in the Whale, Peter Peterson of Friesland, master."
In one of those plates the whales, like great rafts of logs, are represented lying
among ice-isles, with white bears running over their living backs.
In another plate, the prodigious blunder is made of representing the whale with
perpendicular flukes.
Then again, there is an imposing quarto, written by one Captain Colnett, a Post
Captain in the English navy, entitled "A Voyage round Cape Horn into the South Seas,
for the purpose of extending the Spermaceti Whale Fisheries."
In this book is an outline purporting to be a "Picture of a Physeter or Spermaceti
whale, drawn by scale from one killed on the coast of Mexico, August, 1793, and
hoisted on deck."
I doubt not the captain had this veracious picture taken for the benefit of his
marines.
To mention but one thing about it, let me say that it has an eye which applied,
according to the accompanying scale, to a full grown sperm whale, would make the eye
of that whale a bow-window some five feet long.
Ah, my gallant captain, why did ye not give us Jonah looking out of that eye!
Nor are the most conscientious compilations of Natural History for the benefit of the
young and tender, free from the same heinousness of mistake.
Look at that popular work "Goldsmith's Animated Nature."
In the abridged London edition of 1807, there are plates of an alleged "whale" and
a "narwhale."
I do not wish to seem inelegant, but this unsightly whale looks much like an
amputated sow; and, as for the narwhale, one glimpse at it is enough to amaze one,
that in this nineteenth century such a
hippogriff could be palmed for genuine upon any intelligent public of schoolboys.
Then, again, in 1825, Bernard Germain, Count de Lacepede, a great naturalist,
published a scientific systemized whale book, wherein are several pictures of the
different species of the Leviathan.
All these are not only incorrect, but the picture of the Mysticetus or Greenland
whale (that is to say, the Right whale), even Scoresby, a long experienced man as
touching that species, declares not to have its counterpart in nature.
But the placing of the cap-sheaf to all this blundering business was reserved for
the scientific Frederick Cuvier, brother to the famous Baron.
In 1836, he published a Natural History of Whales, in which he gives what he calls a
picture of the Sperm Whale.
Before showing that picture to any Nantucketer, you had best provide for your
summary retreat from Nantucket. In a word, Frederick Cuvier's Sperm Whale
is not a Sperm Whale, but a squash.
Of course, he never had the benefit of a whaling voyage (such men seldom have), but
whence he derived that picture, who can tell?
Perhaps he got it as his scientific predecessor in the same field, Desmarest,
got one of his authentic abortions; that is, from a Chinese drawing.
And what sort of lively lads with the pencil those Chinese are, many queer cups
and saucers inform us.
As for the sign-painters' whales seen in the streets hanging over the shops of oil-
dealers, what shall be said of them?
They are generally Richard III. whales, with dromedary humps, and very savage;
breakfasting on three or four sailor tarts, that is whaleboats full of mariners: their
deformities floundering in seas of blood and blue paint.
But these manifold mistakes in depicting the whale are not so very surprising after
all.
Consider!
Most of the scientific drawings have been taken from the stranded fish; and these are
about as correct as a drawing of a wrecked ship, with broken back, would correctly
represent the noble animal itself in all its undashed pride of hull and spars.
Though elephants have stood for their full- lengths, the living Leviathan has never yet
fairly floated himself for his portrait.
The living whale, in his full majesty and significance, is only to be seen at sea in
unfathomable waters; and afloat the vast bulk of him is out of sight, like a
launched line-of-battle ship; and out of
that element it is a thing eternally impossible for mortal man to hoist him
bodily into the air, so as to preserve all his mighty swells and undulations.
And, not to speak of the highly presumable difference of contour between a young
sucking whale and a full-grown Platonian Leviathan; yet, even in the case of one of
those young sucking whales hoisted to a
ship's deck, such is then the outlandish, eel-like, limbered, varying shape of him,
that his precise expression the devil himself could not catch.
But it may be fancied, that from the naked skeleton of the stranded whale, accurate
hints may be derived touching his true form.
Not at all.
For it is one of the more curious things about this Leviathan, that his skeleton
gives very little idea of his general shape.
Though Jeremy Bentham's skeleton, which hangs for candelabra in the library of one
of his executors, correctly conveys the idea of a burly-browed utilitarian old
gentleman, with all Jeremy's other leading
personal characteristics; yet nothing of this kind could be inferred from any
leviathan's articulated bones.
In fact, as the great Hunter says, the mere skeleton of the whale bears the same
relation to the fully invested and padded animal as the insect does to the chrysalis
that so roundingly envelopes it.
This peculiarity is strikingly evinced in the head, as in some part of this book will
be incidentally shown.
It is also very curiously displayed in the side fin, the bones of which almost exactly
answer to the bones of the human hand, minus only the thumb.
This fin has four regular bone-fingers, the index, middle, ring, and little finger.
But all these are permanently lodged in their fleshy covering, as the human fingers
in an artificial covering.
"However recklessly the whale may sometimes serve us," said humorous Stubb one day, "he
can never be truly said to handle us without mittens."
For all these reasons, then, any way you may look at it, you must needs conclude
that the great Leviathan is that one creature in the world which must remain
unpainted to the last.
True, one portrait may hit the mark much nearer than another, but none can hit it
with any very considerable degree of exactness.
So there is no earthly way of finding out precisely what the whale really looks like.
And the only mode in which you can derive even a tolerable idea of his living
contour, is by going a whaling yourself; but by so doing, you run no small risk of
being eternally stove and sunk by him.
Wherefore, it seems to me you had best not be too fastidious in your curiosity
touching this Leviathan.
Chapter 56. Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales,
and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes.
In connexion with the monstrous pictures of whales, I am strongly tempted here to enter
upon those still more monstrous stories of them which are to be found in certain
books, both ancient and modern, especially
in Pliny, Purchas, Hackluyt, Harris, Cuvier, etc.
But I pass that matter by.
I know of only four published outlines of the great Sperm Whale; Colnett's,
Huggins's, Frederick Cuvier's, and Beale's. In the previous chapter Colnett and Cuvier
have been referred to.
Huggins's is far better than theirs; but, by great odds, Beale's is the best.
All Beale's drawings of this whale are good, excepting the middle figure in the
picture of three whales in various attitudes, capping his second chapter.
His frontispiece, boats attacking Sperm Whales, though no doubt calculated to
excite the civil scepticism of some parlor men, is admirably correct and life-like in
its general effect.
Some of the Sperm Whale drawings in J. Ross Browne are pretty correct in contour; but
they are wretchedly engraved. That is not his fault though.
Of the Right Whale, the best outline pictures are in Scoresby; but they are
drawn on too small a scale to convey a desirable impression.
He has but one picture of whaling scenes, and this is a sad deficiency, because it is
by such pictures only, when at all well done, that you can derive anything like a
truthful idea of the living whale as seen by his living hunters.
But, taken for all in all, by far the finest, though in some details not the most
correct, presentations of whales and whaling scenes to be anywhere found, are
two large French engravings, well executed, and taken from paintings by one Garnery.
Respectively, they represent attacks on the Sperm and Right Whale.
In the first engraving a noble Sperm Whale is depicted in full majesty of might, just
risen beneath the boat from the profundities of the ocean, and bearing high
in the air upon his back the terrific wreck of the stoven planks.
The prow of the boat is partially unbroken, and is drawn just balancing upon the
monster's spine; and standing in that prow, for that one single incomputable flash of
time, you behold an oarsman, half shrouded
by the incensed boiling spout of the whale, and in the act of leaping, as if from a
precipice. The action of the whole thing is
wonderfully good and true.
The half-emptied line-tub floats on the whitened sea; the wooden poles of the
spilled harpoons obliquely bob in it; the heads of the swimming crew are scattered
about the whale in contrasting expressions
of affright; while in the black stormy distance the ship is bearing down upon the
scene.
Serious fault might be found with the anatomical details of this whale, but let
that pass; since, for the life of me, I could not draw so good a one.
In the second engraving, the boat is in the act of drawing alongside the barnacled
flank of a large running Right Whale, that rolls his black weedy bulk in the sea like
some mossy rock-slide from the Patagonian cliffs.
His jets are erect, full, and black like soot; so that from so abounding a smoke in
the chimney, you would think there must be a brave supper cooking in the great bowels
below.
Sea fowls are pecking at the small crabs, shell-fish, and other sea candies and
maccaroni, which the Right Whale sometimes carries on his pestilent back.
And all the while the thick-lipped leviathan is rushing through the deep,
leaving tons of tumultuous white curds in his wake, and causing the slight boat to
rock in the swells like a skiff caught nigh the paddle-wheels of an ocean steamer.
Thus, the foreground is all raging commotion; but behind, in admirable
artistic contrast, is the glassy level of a sea becalmed, the drooping unstarched sails
of the powerless ship, and the inert mass
of a dead whale, a conquered fortress, with the flag of capture lazily hanging from the
whale-pole inserted into his spout-hole. Who Garnery the painter is, or was, I know
not.
But my life for it he was either practically conversant with his subject, or
else marvellously tutored by some experienced whaleman.
The French are the lads for painting action.
Go and gaze upon all the paintings of Europe, and where will you find such a
gallery of living and breathing commotion on canvas, as in that triumphal hall at
Versailles; where the beholder fights his
way, pell-mell, through the consecutive great battles of France; where every sword
seems a flash of the Northern Lights, and the successive armed kings and Emperors
dash by, like a charge of crowned centaurs?
Not wholly unworthy of a place in that gallery, are these sea battle-pieces of
Garnery.
The natural aptitude of the French for seizing the picturesqueness of things seems
to be peculiarly evinced in what paintings and engravings they have of their whaling
scenes.
With not one tenth of England's experience in the fishery, and not the thousandth part
of that of the Americans, they have nevertheless furnished both nations with
the only finished sketches at all capable
of conveying the real spirit of the whale hunt.
For the most part, the English and American whale draughtsmen seem entirely content
with presenting the mechanical outline of things, such as the vacant profile of the
whale; which, so far as picturesqueness of
effect is concerned, is about tantamount to sketching the profile of a pyramid.
Even Scoresby, the justly renowned Right whaleman, after giving us a stiff full
length of the Greenland whale, and three or four delicate miniatures of narwhales and
porpoises, treats us to a series of
classical engravings of boat hooks, chopping knives, and grapnels; and with the
microscopic diligence of a Leuwenhoeck submits to the inspection of a shivering
world ninety-six fac-similes of magnified Arctic snow crystals.
I mean no disparagement to the excellent voyager (I honour him for a veteran), but
in so important a matter it was certainly an oversight not to have procured for every
crystal a sworn affidavit taken before a Greenland Justice of the Peace.
In addition to those fine engravings from Garnery, there are two other French
engravings worthy of note, by some one who subscribes himself "H. Durand."
One of them, though not precisely adapted to our present purpose, nevertheless
deserves mention on other accounts.
It is a quiet noon-scene among the isles of the Pacific; a French whaler anchored,
inshore, in a calm, and lazily taking water on board; the loosened sails of the ship,
and the long leaves of the palms in the
background, both drooping together in the breezeless air.
The effect is very fine, when considered with reference to its presenting the hardy
fishermen under one of their few aspects of oriental repose.
The other engraving is quite a different affair: the ship hove-to upon the open sea,
and in the very heart of the Leviathanic life, with a Right Whale alongside; the
vessel (in the act of cutting-in) hove over
to the monster as if to a quay; and a boat, hurriedly pushing off from this scene of
activity, is about giving chase to whales in the distance.
The harpoons and lances lie levelled for use; three oarsmen are just setting the
mast in its hole; while from a sudden roll of the sea, the little craft stands half-
erect out of the water, like a rearing horse.
From the ship, the smoke of the torments of the boiling whale is going up like the
smoke over a village of smithies; and to windward, a black cloud, rising up with
earnest of squalls and rains, seems to quicken the activity of the excited seamen.
Chapter 57. Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in
Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars.
On Tower-hill, as you go down to the London docks, you may have seen a crippled beggar
(or KEDGER, as the sailors say) holding a painted board before him, representing the
tragic scene in which he lost his leg.
There are three whales and three boats; and one of the boats (presumed to contain the
missing leg in all its original integrity) is being crunched by the jaws of the
foremost whale.
Any time these ten years, they tell me, has that man held up that picture, and
exhibited that stump to an incredulous world.
But the time of his justification has now come.
His three whales are as good whales as were ever published in Wapping, at any rate; and
his stump as unquestionable a stump as any you will find in the western clearings.
But, though for ever mounted on that stump, never a stump-speech does the poor whaleman
make; but, with downcast eyes, stands ruefully contemplating his own amputation.
Throughout the Pacific, and also in Nantucket, and New Bedford, and Sag Harbor,
you will come across lively sketches of whales and whaling-scenes, graven by the
fishermen themselves on Sperm Whale-teeth,
or ladies' busks wrought out of the Right Whale-bone, and other like skrimshander
articles, as the whalemen call the numerous little ingenious contrivances they
elaborately carve out of the rough material, in their hours of ocean leisure.
Some of them have little boxes of dentistical-looking implements, specially
intended for the skrimshandering business.
But, in general, they toil with their jack- knives alone; and, with that almost
omnipotent tool of the sailor, they will turn you out anything you please, in the
way of a mariner's fancy.
Long exile from Christendom and civilization inevitably restores a man to
that condition in which God placed him, i.e. what is called savagery.
Your true whale-hunter is as much a savage as an Iroquois.
I myself am a savage, owning no allegiance but to the King of the Cannibals; and ready
at any moment to rebel against him.
Now, one of the peculiar characteristics of the savage in his domestic hours, is his
wonderful patience of industry.
An ancient Hawaiian war-club or spear- paddle, in its full multiplicity and
elaboration of carving, is as great a trophy of human perseverance as a Latin
lexicon.
For, with but a bit of broken sea-shell or a shark's tooth, that miraculous intricacy
of wooden net-work has been achieved; and it has cost steady years of steady
application.
As with the Hawaiian savage, so with the white sailor-savage.
With the same marvellous patience, and with the same single shark's tooth, of his one
poor jack-knife, he will carve you a bit of bone sculpture, not quite as workmanlike,
but as close packed in its maziness of
design, as the Greek savage, Achilles's shield; and full of barbaric spirit and
suggestiveness, as the prints of that fine old Dutch savage, Albert Durer.
Wooden whales, or whales cut in profile out of the small dark slabs of the noble South
Sea war-wood, are frequently met with in the forecastles of American whalers.
Some of them are done with much accuracy.
At some old gable-roofed country houses you will see brass whales hung by the tail for
knockers to the road-side door. When the porter is sleepy, the anvil-headed
whale would be best.
But these knocking whales are seldom remarkable as faithful essays.
On the spires of some old-fashioned churches you will see sheet-iron whales
placed there for weather-cocks; but they are so elevated, and besides that are to
all intents and purposes so labelled with
"HANDS OFF!" you cannot examine them closely enough to decide upon their merit.
In bony, ribby regions of the earth, where at the base of high broken cliffs masses of
rock lie strewn in fantastic groupings upon the plain, you will often discover images
as of the petrified forms of the Leviathan
partly merged in grass, which of a windy day breaks against them in a surf of green
surges.
Then, again, in mountainous countries where the traveller is continually girdled by
amphitheatrical heights; here and there from some lucky point of view you will
catch passing glimpses of the profiles of whales defined along the undulating ridges.
But you must be a thorough whaleman, to see these sights; and not only that, but if you
wish to return to such a sight again, you must be sure and take the exact
intersecting latitude and longitude of your
first stand-point, else so chance-like are such observations of the hills, that your
precise, previous stand-point would require a laborious re-discovery; like the Soloma
Islands, which still remain incognita,
though once high-ruffed Mendanna trod them and old Figuera chronicled them.
Nor when expandingly lifted by your subject, can you fail to trace out great
whales in the starry heavens, and boats in pursuit of them; as when long filled with
thoughts of war the Eastern nations saw armies locked in battle among the clouds.
Thus at the North have I chased Leviathan round and round the Pole with the
revolutions of the bright points that first defined him to me.
And beneath the effulgent Antarctic skies I have boarded the Argo-Navis, and joined the
chase against the starry Cetus far beyond the utmost stretch of Hydrus and the Flying
Fish.
With a frigate's anchors for my bridle- bitts and fasces of harpoons for spurs,
would I could mount that whale and leap the topmost skies, to see whether the fabled
heavens with all their countless tents really lie encamped beyond my mortal sight!
Chapter 58. Brit.
Steering north-eastward from the Crozetts, we fell in with vast meadows of brit, the
minute, yellow substance, upon which the Right Whale largely feeds.
For leagues and leagues it undulated round us, so that we seemed to be sailing through
boundless fields of ripe and golden wheat.
On the second day, numbers of Right Whales were seen, who, secure from the attack of a
Sperm Whaler like the Pequod, with open jaws sluggishly swam through the brit,
which, adhering to the fringing fibres of
that wondrous Venetian blind in their mouths, was in that manner separated from
the water that escaped at the lip.
As morning mowers, who side by side slowly and seethingly advance their scythes
through the long wet grass of marshy meads; even so these monsters swam, making a
strange, grassy, cutting sound; and leaving
behind them endless swaths of blue upon the yellow sea.*
*That part of the sea known among whalemen as the "Brazil Banks" does not bear that
name as the Banks of Newfoundland do, because of there being shallows and
soundings there, but because of this
remarkable meadow-like appearance, caused by the vast drifts of brit continually
floating in those latitudes, where the Right Whale is often chased.
But it was only the sound they made as they parted the brit which at all reminded one
of mowers.
Seen from the mast-heads, especially when they paused and were stationary for a
while, their vast black forms looked more like lifeless masses of rock than anything
else.
And as in the great hunting countries of India, the stranger at a distance will
sometimes pass on the plains recumbent elephants without knowing them to be such,
taking them for bare, blackened elevations
of the soil; even so, often, with him, who for the first time beholds this species of
the leviathans of the sea.
And even when recognised at last, their immense magnitude renders it very hard
really to believe that such bulky masses of overgrowth can possibly be instinct, in all
parts, with the same sort of life that lives in a dog or a horse.
Indeed, in other respects, you can hardly regard any creatures of the deep with the
same feelings that you do those of the shore.
For though some old naturalists have maintained that all creatures of the land
are of their kind in the sea; and though taking a broad general view of the thing,
this may very well be; yet coming to
specialties, where, for example, does the ocean furnish any fish that in disposition
answers to the sagacious kindness of the dog?
The accursed shark alone can in any generic respect be said to bear comparative analogy
to him.
But though, to landsmen in general, the native inhabitants of the seas have ever
been regarded with emotions unspeakably unsocial and repelling; though we know the
sea to be an everlasting terra incognita,
so that Columbus sailed over numberless unknown worlds to discover his one
superficial western one; though, by vast odds, the most terrific of all mortal
disasters have immemorially and
indiscriminately befallen tens and hundreds of thousands of those who have gone upon
the waters; though but a moment's consideration will teach, that however baby
man may brag of his science and skill, and
however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment; yet for ever
and for ever, to the crack of doom, the sea will insult and murder him, and pulverize
the stateliest, stiffest frigate he can
make; nevertheless, by the continual repetition of these very impressions, man
has lost that sense of the full awfulness of the sea which aboriginally belongs to
it.
The first boat we read of, floated on an ocean, that with Portuguese vengeance had
whelmed a whole world without leaving so much as a widow.
That same ocean rolls now; that same ocean destroyed the wrecked ships of last year.
Yea, foolish mortals, Noah's flood is not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world
it yet covers.
Wherein differ the sea and the land, that a miracle upon one is not a miracle upon the
other?
Preternatural terrors rested upon the Hebrews, when under the feet of Korah and
his company the live ground opened and swallowed them up for ever; yet not a
modern sun ever sets, but in precisely the
same manner the live sea swallows up ships and crews.
But not only is the sea such a foe to man who is an alien to it, but it is also a
fiend to its own off-spring; worse than the Persian host who murdered his own guests;
sparing not the creatures which itself hath spawned.
Like a savage tigress that tossing in the jungle overlays her own cubs, so the sea
dashes even the mightiest whales against the rocks, and leaves them there side by
side with the split wrecks of ships.
No mercy, no power but its own controls it. Panting and snorting like a mad battle
steed that has lost its rider, the masterless ocean overruns the globe.
Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water,
unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest
tints of azure.
Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless
tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks.
Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures
prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.
Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth;
consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to
something in yourself?
For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there
lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of
the half known life.
God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst
never return!
>
-Chapter 59. Squid.
Slowly wading through the meadows of brit, the Pequod still held on her way north-
eastward towards the island of Java; a gentle air impelling her keel, so that in
the surrounding serenity her three tall
tapering masts mildly waved to that languid breeze, as three mild palms on a plain.
And still, at wide intervals in the silvery night, the lonely, alluring jet would be
seen.
But one transparent blue morning, when a stillness almost preternatural spread over
the sea, however unattended with any stagnant calm; when the long burnished sun-
glade on the waters seemed a golden finger
laid across them, enjoining some secrecy; when the slippered waves whispered together
as they softly ran on; in this profound hush of the visible sphere a strange
spectre was seen by Daggoo from the main- mast-head.
In the distance, a great white mass lazily rose, and rising higher and higher, and
disentangling itself from the azure, at last gleamed before our prow like a snow-
slide, new slid from the hills.
Thus glistening for a moment, as slowly it subsided, and sank.
Then once more arose, and silently gleamed. It seemed not a whale; and yet is this Moby
Dick? thought Daggoo.
Again the phantom went down, but on re- appearing once more, with a stiletto-like
cry that startled every man from his nod, the negro yelled out--"There! there again!
there she breaches! right ahead!
The White Whale, the White Whale!" Upon this, the seamen rushed to the yard-
arms, as in swarming-time the bees rush to the boughs.
Bare-headed in the sultry sun, Ahab stood on the bowsprit, and with one hand pushed
far behind in readiness to wave his orders to the helmsman, cast his eager glance in
the direction indicated aloft by the outstretched motionless arm of Daggoo.
Whether the flitting attendance of the one still and solitary jet had gradually worked
upon Ahab, so that he was now prepared to connect the ideas of mildness and repose
with the first sight of the particular
whale he pursued; however this was, or whether his eagerness betrayed him;
whichever way it might have been, no sooner did he distinctly perceive the white mass,
than with a quick intensity he instantly gave orders for lowering.
The four boats were soon on the water; Ahab's in advance, and all swiftly pulling
towards their prey.
Soon it went down, and while, with oars suspended, we were awaiting its
reappearance, lo! in the same spot where it sank, once more it slowly rose.
Almost forgetting for the moment all thoughts of Moby Dick, we now gazed at the
most wondrous phenomenon which the secret seas have hitherto revealed to mankind.
A vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length and breadth, of a glancing cream-colour, lay
floating on the water, innumerable long arms radiating from its centre, and curling
and twisting like a nest of anacondas, as
if blindly to clutch at any hapless object within reach.
No perceptible face or front did it have; no conceivable token of either sensation or
instinct; but undulated there on the billows, an unearthly, formless, chance-
like apparition of life.
As with a low sucking sound it slowly disappeared again, Starbuck still gazing at
the agitated waters where it had sunk, with a wild voice exclaimed--"Almost rather had
I seen Moby Dick and fought him, than to have seen thee, thou white ghost!"
"What was it, Sir?" said Flask.
"The great live squid, which, they say, few whale-ships ever beheld, and returned to
their ports to tell of it."
But Ahab said nothing; turning his boat, he sailed back to the vessel; the rest as
silently following.
Whatever superstitions the sperm whalemen in general have connected with the sight of
this object, certain it is, that a glimpse of it being so very unusual, that
circumstance has gone far to invest it with portentousness.
So rarely is it beheld, that though one and all of them declare it to be the largest
animated thing in the ocean, yet very few of them have any but the most vague ideas
concerning its true nature and form;
notwithstanding, they believe it to furnish to the sperm whale his only food.
For though other species of whales find their food above water, and may be seen by
man in the act of feeding, the spermaceti whale obtains his whole food in unknown
zones below the surface; and only by
inference is it that any one can tell of what, precisely, that food consists.
At times, when closely pursued, he will disgorge what are supposed to be the
detached arms of the squid; some of them thus exhibited exceeding twenty and thirty
feet in length.
They fancy that the monster to which these arms belonged ordinarily clings by them to
the bed of the ocean; and that the sperm whale, unlike other species, is supplied
with teeth in order to attack and tear it.
There seems some ground to imagine that the great Kraken of Bishop Pontoppodan may
ultimately resolve itself into Squid.
The manner in which the Bishop describes it, as alternately rising and sinking, with
some other particulars he narrates, in all this the two correspond.
But much abatement is necessary with respect to the incredible bulk he assigns
it.
By some naturalists who have vaguely heard rumors of the mysterious creature, here
spoken of, it is included among the class of cuttle-fish, to which, indeed, in
certain external respects it would seem to belong, but only as the Anak of the tribe.
Chapter 60. The Line.
With reference to the whaling scene shortly to be described, as well as for the better
understanding of all similar scenes elsewhere presented, I have here to speak
of the magical, sometimes horrible whale- line.
The line originally used in the fishery was of the best hemp, slightly vapoured with
tar, not impregnated with it, as in the case of ordinary ropes; for while tar, as
ordinarily used, makes the hemp more
pliable to the rope-maker, and also renders the rope itself more convenient to the
sailor for common ship use; yet, not only would the ordinary quantity too much
stiffen the whale-line for the close
coiling to which it must be subjected; but as most seamen are beginning to learn, tar
in general by no means adds to the rope's durability or strength, however much it may
give it compactness and gloss.
Of late years the Manilla rope has in the American fishery almost entirely superseded
hemp as a material for whale-lines; for, though not so durable as hemp, it is
stronger, and far more soft and elastic;
and I will add (since there is an aesthetics in all things), is much more
handsome and becoming to the boat, than hemp.
Hemp is a dusky, dark fellow, a sort of Indian; but Manilla is as a golden-haired
Circassian to behold. The whale-line is only two-thirds of an
inch in thickness.
At first sight, you would not think it so strong as it really is.
By experiment its one and fifty yarns will each suspend a weight of one hundred and
twenty pounds; so that the whole rope will bear a strain nearly equal to three tons.
In length, the common sperm whale-line measures something over two hundred
fathoms.
Towards the stern of the boat it is spirally coiled away in the tub, not like
the worm-pipe of a still though, but so as to form one round, cheese-shaped mass of
densely bedded "sheaves," or layers of
concentric spiralizations, without any hollow but the "heart," or minute vertical
tube formed at the axis of the cheese.
As the least tangle or kink in the coiling would, in running out, infallibly take
somebody's arm, leg, or entire body off, the utmost precaution is used in stowing
the line in its tub.
Some harpooneers will consume almost an entire morning in this business, carrying
the line high aloft and then reeving it downwards through a block towards the tub,
so as in the act of coiling to free it from all possible wrinkles and twists.
In the English boats two tubs are used instead of one; the same line being
continuously coiled in both tubs.
There is some advantage in this; because these twin-tubs being so small they fit
more readily into the boat, and do not strain it so much; whereas, the American
tub, nearly three feet in diameter and of
proportionate depth, makes a rather bulky freight for a craft whose planks are but
one half-inch in thickness; for the bottom of the whale-boat is like critical ice,
which will bear up a considerable
distributed weight, but not very much of a concentrated one.
When the painted canvas cover is clapped on the American line-tub, the boat looks as if
it were pulling off with a prodigious great wedding-cake to present to the whales.
Both ends of the line are exposed; the lower end terminating in an eye-splice or
loop coming up from the bottom against the side of the tub, and hanging over its edge
completely disengaged from everything.
This arrangement of the lower end is necessary on two accounts.
First: In order to facilitate the fastening to it of an additional line from a
neighboring boat, in case the stricken whale should sound so deep as to threaten
to carry off the entire line originally attached to the harpoon.
In these instances, the whale of course is shifted like a mug of ale, as it were, from
the one boat to the other; though the first boat always hovers at hand to assist its
consort.
Second: This arrangement is indispensable for common safety's sake; for were the
lower end of the line in any way attached to the boat, and were the whale then to run
the line out to the end almost in a single,
smoking minute as he sometimes does, he would not stop there, for the doomed boat
would infallibly be dragged down after him into the profundity of the sea; and in that
case no town-crier would ever find her again.
Before lowering the boat for the chase, the upper end of the line is taken aft from the
tub, and passing round the loggerhead there, is again carried forward the entire
length of the boat, resting crosswise upon
the loom or handle of every man's oar, so that it jogs against his wrist in rowing;
and also passing between the men, as they alternately sit at the opposite gunwales,
to the leaded chocks or grooves in the
extreme pointed prow of the boat, where a wooden pin or skewer the size of a common
quill, prevents it from slipping out.
From the chocks it hangs in a slight festoon over the bows, and is then passed
inside the boat again; and some ten or twenty fathoms (called box-line) being
coiled upon the box in the bows, it
continues its way to the gunwale still a little further aft, and is then attached to
the short-warp--the rope which is immediately connected with the harpoon; but
previous to that connexion, the short-warp
goes through sundry mystifications too tedious to detail.
Thus the whale-line folds the whole boat in its complicated coils, twisting and
writhing around it in almost every direction.
All the oarsmen are involved in its perilous contortions; so that to the timid
eye of the landsman, they seem as Indian jugglers, with the deadliest snakes
sportively festooning their limbs.
Nor can any son of mortal woman, for the first time, seat himself amid those hempen
intricacies, and while straining his utmost at the oar, bethink him that at any unknown
instant the harpoon may be darted, and all
these horrible contortions be put in play like ringed lightnings; he cannot be thus
circumstanced without a shudder that makes the very marrow in his bones to quiver in
him like a shaken jelly.
Yet habit--strange thing! what cannot habit accomplish?--Gayer sallies, more merry
mirth, better jokes, and brighter repartees, you never heard over your
mahogany, than you will hear over the half-
inch white cedar of the whale-boat, when thus hung in hangman's nooses; and, like
the six burghers of Calais before King Edward, the six men composing the crew pull
into the jaws of death, with a halter around every neck, as you may say.
Perhaps a very little thought will now enable you to account for those repeated
whaling disasters--some few of which are casually chronicled--of this man or that
man being taken out of the boat by the line, and lost.
For, when the line is darting out, to be seated then in the boat, is like being
seated in the midst of the manifold whizzings of a steam-engine in full play,
when every flying beam, and shaft, and wheel, is grazing you.
It is worse; for you cannot sit motionless in the heart of these perils, because the
boat is rocking like a cradle, and you are pitched one way and the other, without the
slightest warning; and only by a certain
self-adjusting buoyancy and simultaneousness of volition and action,
can you escape being made a Mazeppa of, and run away with where the all-seeing sun
himself could never pierce you out.
Again: as the profound calm which only apparently precedes and prophesies of the
storm, is perhaps more awful than the storm itself; for, indeed, the calm is but the
wrapper and envelope of the storm; and
contains it in itself, as the seemingly harmless rifle holds the fatal powder, and
the ball, and the explosion; so the graceful repose of the line, as it silently
serpentines about the oarsmen before being
brought into actual play--this is a thing which carries more of true terror than any
other aspect of this dangerous affair. But why say more?
All men live enveloped in whale-lines.
All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the
swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present
perils of life.
And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart
feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a
poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.
Chapter 61. Stubb Kills a Whale.
If to Starbuck the apparition of the Squid was a thing of portents, to Queequeg it was
quite a different object.
"When you see him 'quid," said the savage, honing his harpoon in the bow of his
hoisted boat, "then you quick see him 'parm whale."
The next day was exceedingly still and sultry, and with nothing special to engage
them, the Pequod's crew could hardly resist the spell of sleep induced by such a vacant
sea.
For this part of the Indian Ocean through which we then were voyaging is not what
whalemen call a lively ground; that is, it affords fewer glimpses of porpoises,
dolphins, flying-fish, and other vivacious
denizens of more stirring waters, than those off the Rio de la Plata, or the in-
shore ground off Peru.
It was my turn to stand at the foremast- head; and with my shoulders leaning against
the slackened royal shrouds, to and fro I idly swayed in what seemed an enchanted
air.
No resolution could withstand it; in that dreamy mood losing all consciousness, at
last my soul went out of my body; though my body still continued to sway as a pendulum
will, long after the power which first moved it is withdrawn.
Ere forgetfulness altogether came over me, I had noticed that the seamen at the main
and mizzen-mast-heads were already drowsy.
So that at last all three of us lifelessly swung from the spars, and for every swing
that we made there was a nod from below from the slumbering helmsman.
The waves, too, nodded their indolent crests; and across the wide trance of the
sea, east nodded to west, and the sun over all.
Suddenly bubbles seemed bursting beneath my closed eyes; like vices my hands grasped
the shrouds; some invisible, gracious agency preserved me; with a shock I came
back to life.
And lo! close under our lee, not forty fathoms off, a gigantic Sperm Whale lay
rolling in the water like the capsized hull of a frigate, his broad, glossy back, of an
Ethiopian hue, glistening in the sun's rays like a mirror.
But lazily undulating in the trough of the sea, and ever and anon tranquilly spouting
his vapoury jet, the whale looked like a portly burgher smoking his pipe of a warm
afternoon.
But that pipe, poor whale, was thy last.
As if struck by some enchanter's wand, the sleepy ship and every sleeper in it all at
once started into wakefulness; and more than a score of voices from all parts of
the vessel, simultaneously with the three
notes from aloft, shouted forth the accustomed cry, as the great fish slowly
and regularly spouted the sparkling brine into the air.
"Clear away the boats!
Luff!" cried Ahab. And obeying his own order, he dashed the
helm down before the helmsman could handle the spokes.
The sudden exclamations of the crew must have alarmed the whale; and ere the boats
were down, majestically turning, he swam away to the leeward, but with such a steady
tranquillity, and making so few ripples as
he swam, that thinking after all he might not as yet be alarmed, Ahab gave orders
that not an oar should be used, and no man must speak but in whispers.
So seated like Ontario Indians on the gunwales of the boats, we swiftly but
silently paddled along; the calm not admitting of the noiseless sails being set.
Presently, as we thus glided in chase, the monster perpendicularly flitted his tail
forty feet into the air, and then sank out of sight like a tower swallowed up.
"There go flukes!" was the cry, an announcement immediately followed by
Stubb's producing his match and igniting his pipe, for now a respite was granted.
After the full interval of his sounding had elapsed, the whale rose again, and being
now in advance of the smoker's boat, and much nearer to it than to any of the
others, Stubb counted upon the honour of the capture.
It was obvious, now, that the whale had at length become aware of his pursuers.
All silence of cautiousness was therefore no longer of use.
Paddles were dropped, and oars came loudly into play.
And still puffing at his pipe, Stubb cheered on his crew to the assault.
Yes, a mighty change had come over the fish.
All alive to his jeopardy, he was going "head out"; that part obliquely projecting
from the mad yeast which he brewed.*
*It will be seen in some other place of what a very light substance the entire
interior of the sperm whale's enormous head consists.
Though apparently the most massive, it is by far the most buoyant part about him.
So that with ease he elevates it in the air, and invariably does so when going at
his utmost speed.
Besides, such is the breadth of the upper part of the front of his head, and such the
tapering cut-water formation of the lower part, that by obliquely elevating his head,
he thereby may be said to transform himself
from a bluff-bowed sluggish galliot into a sharppointed New York pilot-boat.
"Start her, start her, my men!
Don't hurry yourselves; take plenty of time--but start her; start her like
thunder-claps, that's all," cried Stubb, spluttering out the smoke as he spoke.
"Start her, now; give 'em the long and strong stroke, Tashtego.
Start her, Tash, my boy--start her, all; but keep cool, keep cool--cucumbers is the
word--easy, easy--only start her like grim death and grinning devils, and raise the
buried dead perpendicular out of their graves, boys--that's all.
Start her!" "Woo-hoo!
Wa-hee!" screamed the Gay-Header in reply, raising some old war-whoop to the skies; as
every oarsman in the strained boat involuntarily bounced forward with the one
tremendous leading stroke which the eager Indian gave.
But his wild screams were answered by others quite as wild.
"Kee-hee!
Kee-hee!" yelled Daggoo, straining forwards and backwards on his seat, like a pacing
tiger in his cage. "Ka-la!
Koo-loo!" howled Queequeg, as if smacking his lips over a mouthful of Grenadier's
steak. And thus with oars and yells the keels cut
the sea.
Meanwhile, Stubb retaining his place in the van, still encouraged his men to the onset,
all the while puffing the smoke from his mouth.
Like desperadoes they tugged and they strained, till the welcome cry was heard--
"Stand up, Tashtego!--give it to him!" The harpoon was hurled.
"Stern all!"
The oarsmen backed water; the same moment something went hot and hissing along every
one of their wrists. It was the magical line.
An instant before, Stubb had swiftly caught two additional turns with it round the
loggerhead, whence, by reason of its increased rapid circlings, a hempen blue
smoke now jetted up and mingled with the steady fumes from his pipe.
As the line passed round and round the loggerhead; so also, just before reaching
that point, it blisteringly passed through and through both of Stubb's hands, from
which the hand-cloths, or squares of
quilted canvas sometimes worn at these times, had accidentally dropped.
It was like holding an enemy's sharp two- edged sword by the blade, and that enemy
all the time striving to wrest it out of your clutch.
"Wet the line! wet the line!" cried Stubb to the tub oarsman (him seated by the tub)
who, snatching off his hat, dashed sea- water into it.* More turns were taken, so
that the line began holding its place.
The boat now flew through the boiling water like a shark all fins.
Stubb and Tashtego here changed places-- stem for stern--a staggering business truly
in that rocking commotion.
*Partly to show the indispensableness of this act, it may here be stated, that, in
the old Dutch fishery, a mop was used to dash the running line with water; in many
other ships, a wooden piggin, or bailer, is set apart for that purpose.
Your hat, however, is the most convenient.
From the vibrating line extending the entire length of the upper part of the
boat, and from its now being more tight than a harpstring, you would have thought
the craft had two keels--one cleaving the
water, the other the air--as the boat churned on through both opposing elements
at once.
A continual cascade played at the bows; a ceaseless whirling eddy in her wake; and,
at the slightest motion from within, even but of a little finger, the vibrating,
cracking craft canted over her spasmodic gunwale into the sea.
Thus they rushed; each man with might and main clinging to his seat, to prevent being
tossed to the foam; and the tall form of Tashtego at the steering oar crouching
almost double, in order to bring down his centre of gravity.
Whole Atlantics and Pacifics seemed passed as they shot on their way, till at length
the whale somewhat slackened his flight.
"Haul in--haul in!" cried Stubb to the bowsman! and, facing round towards the
whale, all hands began pulling the boat up to him, while yet the boat was being towed
on.
Soon ranging up by his flank, Stubb, firmly planting his knee in the clumsy cleat,
darted dart after dart into the flying fish; at the word of command, the boat
alternately sterning out of the way of the
whale's horrible wallow, and then ranging up for another fling.
The red tide now poured from all sides of the monster like brooks down a hill.
His tormented body rolled not in brine but in blood, which bubbled and seethed for
furlongs behind in their wake.
The slanting sun playing upon this crimson pond in the sea, sent back its reflection
into every face, so that they all glowed to each other like red men.
And all the while, jet after jet of white smoke was agonizingly shot from the
spiracle of the whale, and vehement puff after puff from the mouth of the excited
headsman; as at every dart, hauling in upon
his crooked lance (by the line attached to it), Stubb straightened it again and again,
by a few rapid blows against the gunwale, then again and again sent it into the
whale.
"Pull up--pull up!" he now cried to the bowsman, as the waning whale relaxed in his
wrath. "Pull up!--close to!" and the boat ranged
along the fish's flank.
When reaching far over the bow, Stubb slowly churned his long sharp lance into
the fish, and kept it there, carefully churning and churning, as if cautiously
seeking to feel after some gold watch that
the whale might have swallowed, and which he was fearful of breaking ere he could
hook it out. But that gold watch he sought was the
innermost life of the fish.
And now it is struck; for, starting from his trance into that unspeakable thing
called his "flurry," the monster horribly wallowed in his blood, overwrapped himself
in impenetrable, mad, boiling spray, so
that the imperilled craft, instantly dropping astern, had much ado blindly to
struggle out from that phrensied twilight into the clear air of the day.
And now abating in his flurry, the whale once more rolled out into view; surging
from side to side; spasmodically dilating and contracting his spout-hole, with sharp,
cracking, agonized respirations.
At last, gush after gush of clotted red gore, as if it had been the purple lees of
red wine, shot into the frighted air; and falling back again, ran dripping down his
motionless flanks into the sea.
His heart had burst! "He's dead, Mr. Stubb," said Daggoo.
"Yes; both pipes smoked out!" and withdrawing his own from his mouth, Stubb
scattered the dead ashes over the water; and, for a moment, stood thoughtfully
eyeing the vast corpse he had made.
Chapter 62. The Dart.
A word concerning an incident in the last chapter.
According to the invariable usage of the fishery, the whale-boat pushes off from the
ship, with the headsman or whale-killer as temporary steersman, and the harpooneer or
whale-fastener pulling the foremost oar, the one known as the harpooneer-oar.
Now it needs a strong, nervous arm to strike the first iron into the fish; for
often, in what is called a long dart, the heavy implement has to be flung to the
distance of twenty or thirty feet.
But however prolonged and exhausting the chase, the harpooneer is expected to pull
his oar meanwhile to the uttermost; indeed, he is expected to set an example of
superhuman activity to the rest, not only
by incredible rowing, but by repeated loud and intrepid exclamations; and what it is
to keep shouting at the top of one's compass, while all the other muscles are
strained and half started--what that is none know but those who have tried it.
For one, I cannot bawl very heartily and work very recklessly at one and the same
time.
In this straining, bawling state, then, with his back to the fish, all at once the
exhausted harpooneer hears the exciting cry--"Stand up, and give it to him!"
He now has to drop and secure his oar, turn round on his centre half way, seize his
harpoon from the crotch, and with what little strength may remain, he essays to
pitch it somehow into the whale.
No wonder, taking the whole fleet of whalemen in a body, that out of fifty fair
chances for a dart, not five are successful; no wonder that so many hapless
harpooneers are madly cursed and disrated;
no wonder that some of them actually burst their blood-vessels in the boat; no wonder
that some sperm whalemen are absent four years with four barrels; no wonder that to
many ship owners, whaling is but a losing
concern; for it is the harpooneer that makes the voyage, and if you take the
breath out of his body how can you expect to find it there when most wanted!
Again, if the dart be successful, then at the second critical instant, that is, when
the whale starts to run, the boatheader and harpooneer likewise start to running fore
and aft, to the imminent jeopardy of themselves and every one else.
It is then they change places; and the headsman, the chief officer of the little
craft, takes his proper station in the bows of the boat.
Now, I care not who maintains the contrary, but all this is both foolish and
unnecessary.
The headsman should stay in the bows from first to last; he should both dart the
harpoon and the lance, and no rowing whatever should be expected of him, except
under circumstances obvious to any fisherman.
I know that this would sometimes involve a slight loss of speed in the chase; but long
experience in various whalemen of more than one nation has convinced me that in the
vast majority of failures in the fishery,
it has not by any means been so much the speed of the whale as the before described
exhaustion of the harpooneer that has caused them.
To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooneers of this world must
start to their feet from out of idleness, and not from out of toil.
Chapter 63. The Crotch.
Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them, the twigs.
So, in productive subjects, grow the chapters.
The crotch alluded to on a previous page deserves independent mention.
It is a notched stick of a peculiar form, some two feet in length, which is
perpendicularly inserted into the starboard gunwale near the bow, for the purpose of
furnishing a rest for the wooden extremity
of the harpoon, whose other naked, barbed end slopingly projects from the prow.
Thereby the weapon is instantly at hand to its hurler, who snatches it up as readily
from its rest as a backwoodsman swings his rifle from the wall.
It is customary to have two harpoons reposing in the crotch, respectively called
the first and second irons.
But these two harpoons, each by its own cord, are both connected with the line; the
object being this: to dart them both, if possible, one instantly after the other
into the same whale; so that if, in the
coming drag, one should draw out, the other may still retain a hold.
It is a doubling of the chances.
But it very often happens that owing to the instantaneous, violent, convulsive running
of the whale upon receiving the first iron, it becomes impossible for the harpooneer,
however lightning-like in his movements, to pitch the second iron into him.
Nevertheless, as the second iron is already connected with the line, and the line is
running, hence that weapon must, at all events, be anticipatingly tossed out of the
boat, somehow and somewhere; else the most terrible jeopardy would involve all hands.
Tumbled into the water, it accordingly is in such cases; the spare coils of box line
(mentioned in a preceding chapter) making this feat, in most instances, prudently
practicable.
But this critical act is not always unattended with the saddest and most fatal
casualties.
Furthermore: you must know that when the second iron is thrown overboard, it
thenceforth becomes a dangling, sharp-edged terror, skittishly curvetting about both
boat and whale, entangling the lines, or
cutting them, and making a prodigious sensation in all directions.
Nor, in general, is it possible to secure it again until the whale is fairly captured
and a corpse.
Consider, now, how it must be in the case of four boats all engaging one unusually
strong, active, and knowing whale; when owing to these qualities in him, as well as
to the thousand concurring accidents of
such an audacious enterprise, eight or ten loose second irons may be simultaneously
dangling about him.
For, of course, each boat is supplied with several harpoons to bend on to the line
should the first one be ineffectually darted without recovery.
All these particulars are faithfully narrated here, as they will not fail to
elucidate several most important, however intricate passages, in scenes hereafter to
be painted.
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