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Published in 1851, Moby Dick was based in part on author Herman Melville’s own experiences on a whaleship. The novel tells the story of Ahab, the captain of a whaling vessel called The Pequod, who has a three-year mission to collect and sell the valuable oil of whales at the behest of the ship’s owners.
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CHAPTER LXVIII. THE BLANKET
I have given no small attention to that not unvexed subject, the skinof the whale. I have had controversies about it with experiencedwhalemen afloat, and learned naturalists ashore. My original opinionremains unchanged; but it is only an opinion.
The question is, what and where is the skin of the whale? Already youknow what his blubber is. That blubber is something of the consistenceof firm, close-grained beef, but tougher, more elastic and compact, andranges from eight or ten to twelve and fifteen inches in thickness.
Now, however preposterous it may at first seem to talk of anycreature’s skin as being of that sort of consistence and thickness, yetin point of fact these are no arguments against such a presumption;because you cannot raise any other dense enveloping layer from thewhale’s body but that same blubber; and the outermost enveloping layerof any animal, if reasonably dense, what can that be but the skin?True, from the unmarred dead body of the whale, you may scrape off withyour hand an infinitely thin, transparent substance, somewhatresembling the thinnest shreds of isinglass, only it is almost asflexible and soft as satin; that is, previous to being dried, when itnot only contracts and thickens, but becomes rather hard and brittle. Ihave several such dried bits, which I use for marks in my whale-books.It is transparent, as I said before; and being laid upon the printedpage, I have sometimes pleased myself with fancying it exerted amagnifying influence. At any rate, it is pleasant to read about whalesthrough their own spectacles, as you may say. But what I am driving athere is this. That same infinitely thin, isinglass substance, which, Iadmit, invests the entire body of the whale, is not so much to beregarded as the skin of the creature, as the skin of the skin, so tospeak; for it were simply ridiculous to say, that the proper skin ofthe tremendous whale is thinner and more tender than the skin of anew-born child. But no more of this.
Assuming the blubber to be the skin of the whale; then, when this skin,as in the case of a very large Sperm Whale, will yield the bulk of onehundred barrels of oil; and, when it is considered that, in quantity,or rather weight, that oil, in its expressed state, is only threefourths, and not the entire substance of the coat; some idea may hencebe had of the enormousness of that animated mass, a mere part of whosemere integument yields such a lake of liquid as that. Reckoning tenbarrels to the ton, you have ten tons for the net weight of only threequarters of the stuff of the whale’s skin.
In life, the visible surface of the Sperm Whale is not the least amongthe many marvels he presents. Almost invariably it is all overobliquely crossed and re-crossed with numberless straight marks inthick array, something like those in the finest Italian lineengravings. But these marks do not seem to be impressed upon theisinglass substance above mentioned, but seem to be seen through it, asif they were engraved upon the body itself. Nor is this all. In someinstances, to the quick, observant eye, those linear marks, as in averitable engraving, but afford the ground for far other delineations.These are hieroglyphical; that is, if you call those mysterious cypherson the walls of pyramids hieroglyphics, then that is the proper word touse in the present connexion. By my retentive memory of thehieroglyphics upon one Sperm Whale in particular, I was much struckwith a plate representing the old Indian characters chiselled on thefamous hieroglyphic palisades on the banks of the Upper Mississippi.Like those mystic rocks, too, the mystic-marked whale remainsundecipherable. This allusion to the Indian rocks reminds me of anotherthing. Besides all the other phenomena which the exterior of the SpermWhale presents, he not seldom displays the back, and more especiallyhis flanks, effaced in great part of the regular linear appearance, byreason of numerous rude scratches, altogether of an irregular, randomaspect. I should say that those New England rocks on the sea-coast,which Agassiz imagines to bear the marks of violent scraping contactwith vast floating icebergs—I should say, that those rocks must not alittle resemble the Sperm Whale in this particular. It also seems to methat such scratches in the whale are probably made by hostile contactwith other whales; for I have most remarked them in the large,full-grown bulls of the species.
A word or two more concerning this matter of the skin or blubber of thewhale. It has already been said, that it is stript from him in longpieces, called blanket-pieces. Like most sea-terms, this one is veryhappy and significant. For the whale is indeed wrapt up in his blubberas in a real blanket or counterpane; or, still better, an Indian ponchoslipt over his head, and skirting his extremity. It is by reason ofthis cosy blanketing of his body, that the whale is enabled to keephimself comfortable in all weathers, in all seas, times, and tides.What would become of a Greenland whale, say, in those shuddering, icyseas of the north, if unsupplied with his cosy surtout? True, otherfish are found exceedingly brisk in those Hyperborean waters; butthese, be it observed, are your cold-blooded, lungless fish, whose verybellies are refrigerators; creatures, that warm themselves under thelee of an iceberg, as a traveller in winter would bask before an innfire; whereas, like man, the whale has lungs and warm blood. Freeze hisblood, and he dies. How wonderful is it then—except afterexplanation—that this great monster, to whom corporeal warmth is asindispensable as it is to man; how wonderful that he should be found athome, immersed to his lips for life in those Arctic waters! where, whenseamen fall overboard, they are sometimes found, months afterwards,perpendicularly frozen into the hearts of fields of ice, as a fly isfound glued in amber. But more surprising is it to know, as has beenproved by experiment, that the blood of a Polar whale is warmer thanthat of a Borneo negro in summer.
It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strongindividual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rarevirtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyselfafter the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too,live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keepthy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, andlike the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature ofthine own.
But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things! Of erections,how few are domed like St. Peter’s! of creatures, how few vast as thewhale!
CHAPTER LXIX. THE FUNERAL
“Haul in the chains! Let the carcase go astern!”
The vast tackles have now done their duty. The peeled white body of thebeheaded whale flashes like a marble sepulchre; though changed in hue,it has not perceptibly lost anything in bulk. It is still colossal.Slowly it floats more and more away, the water round it torn andsplashed by the insatiate sharks, and the air above vexed withrapacious flights of screaming fowls, whose beaks are like so manyinsulting poniards in the whale. The vast white headless phantom floatsfurther and further from the ship, and every rod that it so floats,what seem square roods of sharks and cubic roods of fowls, augment themurderous din. For hours and hours from the almost stationary ship thathideous sight is seen. Beneath the unclouded and mild azure sky, uponthe fair face of the pleasant sea, wafted by the joyous breezes, thatgreat mass of death floats on and on, till lost in infiniteperspectives.
There’s a most doleful and most mocking funeral! The sea-vultures allin pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black orspeckled. In life but few of them would have helped the whale, I ween,if peradventure he had needed it; but upon the banquet of his funeralthey most piously do pounce. Oh, horrible vultureism of earth! fromwhich not the mightiest whale is free.
Nor is this the end. Desecrated as the body is, a vengeful ghostsurvives and hovers over it to scare. Espied by some timid man-of-waror blundering discovery-vessel from afar, when the distance obscuringthe swarming fowls, nevertheless still shows the white mass floating inthe sun, and the white spray heaving high against it; straightway thewhale’s unharming corpse, with trembling fingers is set down in thelog—shoals, rocks, and breakers hereabouts: beware! And for yearsafterwards, perhaps, ships shun the place; leaping over it as sillysheep leap over a vacuum, because their leader originally leaped therewhen a stick was held. There’s your law of precedents; there’s yourutility of traditions; there’s the story of your obstinate survival ofold beliefs never bottomed on the earth, and now not even hovering inthe air! There’s orthodoxy!
Thus, while in life the great whale’s body may have been a real terrorto his foes, in his death his ghost becomes a powerless panic to aworld.
Are you a believer in ghosts, my friend? There are other ghosts thanthe Cock-Lane one, and far deeper men than Doctor Johnson who believein them.
CHAPTER LXX. THE SPHYNX
It should not have been omitted that previous to completely strippingthe body of the leviathan, he was beheaded. Now, the beheading of theSperm Whale is a scientific anatomical feat, upon which experiencedwhale surgeons very much pride themselves; and not without reason.
Consider that the whale has nothing that can properly be called a neck;on the contrary, where his head and body seem to join, there, in thatvery place, is the thickest part of him. Remember, also, that thesurgeon must operate from above, some eight or ten feet interveningbetween him and his subject, and that subject almost hidden in adiscolored, rolling, and oftentimes tumultuous and bursting sea. Bearin mind, too, that under these untoward circumstances he has to cutmany feet deep in the flesh; and in that subterraneous manner, withoutso much as getting one single peep into the ever-contracting gash thusmade, he must skilfully steer clear of all adjacent, interdicted parts,and exactly divide the spine at a critical point hard by its insertioninto the skull. Do you not marvel, then, at Stubb’s boast, that hedemanded but ten minutes to behead a sperm whale?
When first severed, the head is dropped astern and held there by acable till the body is stripped. That done, if it belong to a smallwhale it is hoisted on deck to be deliberately disposed of. But, with afull grown leviathan this is impossible; for the sperm whale’s headembraces nearly one third of his entire bulk, and completely to suspendsuch a burden as that, even by the immense tackles of a whaler, thiswere as vain a thing as to attempt weighing a Dutch barn in jewellers’scales.
The Pequod’s whale being decapitated and the body stripped, the headwas hoisted against the ship’s side—about half way out of the sea, sothat it might yet in great part be buoyed up by its native element. Andthere with the strained craft steeply leaning over to it, by reason ofthe enormous downward drag from the lower mast-head, and every yard-armon that side projecting like a crane over the waves; there, thatblood-dripping head hung to the Pequod’s waist like the giantHolofernes’s from the girdle of Judith.
When this last task was accomplished it was noon, and the seamen wentbelow to their dinner. Silence reigned over the before tumultuous butnow deserted deck. An intense copper calm, like a universal yellowlotus, was more and more unfolding its noiseless measureless leavesupon the sea.
A short space elapsed, and up into this noiselessness came Ahab alonefrom his cabin. Taking a few turns on the quarter-deck, he paused togaze over the side, then slowly getting into the main-chains he tookStubb’s long spade—still remaining there after the whale’sdecapitation—and striking it into the lower part of the half-suspendedmass, placed its other end crutch-wise under one arm, and so stoodleaning over with eyes attentively fixed on this head.
It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of sointense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx’s in the desert. “Speak, thou vastand venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with abeard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mightyhead, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thouhast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams,has moved amid this world’s foundations. Where unrecorded names andnavies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderoushold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of thedrowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiarhome. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by manya sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to laythem down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from theirflaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; trueto each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st themurdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hourshe fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and hismurderers still sailed on unharmed—while swift lightnings shivered theneighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband tooutstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split theplanets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!”
“Sail ho!” cried a triumphant voice from the main-masthead.
“Aye? Well, now, that’s cheering,” cried Ahab, suddenly erectinghimself, while whole thunder-clouds swept aside from his brow. “Thatlively cry upon this deadly calm might almost convert a betterman.—Where away?”
“Three points on the starboard bow, sir, and bringing down her breezeto us!”
“Better and better, man. Would now St. Paul would come along that way,and to my breezelessness bring his breeze! O Nature, and O soul of man!how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not thesmallest atom stirs or lives on matter, but has its cunning duplicatein mind.”
CHAPTER LXXI. THE JEROBOAM’S STORY
Hand in hand, ship and breeze blew on; but the breeze came faster thanthe ship, and soon the Pequod began to rock.
By and by, through the glass the stranger’s boats and manned mast-headsproved her a whale-ship. But as she was so far to windward, andshooting by, apparently making a passage to some other ground, thePequod could not hope to reach her. So the signal was set to see whatresponse would be made.
Here be it said, that like the vessels of military marines, the shipsof the American Whale Fleet have each a private signal; all whichsignals being collected in a book with the names of the respectivevessels attached, every captain is provided with it. Thereby, the whalecommanders are enabled to recognise each other upon the ocean, even atconsiderable distances, and with no small facility.
The Pequod’s signal was at last responded to by the stranger’s settingher own; which proved the ship to be the Jeroboam of Nantucket.Squaring her yards, she bore down, ranged abeam under the Pequod’s lee,and lowered a boat; it soon drew nigh; but, as the side-ladder wasbeing rigged by Starbuck’s order to accommodate the visiting captain,the stranger in question waved his hand from his boat’s stern in tokenof that proceeding being entirely unnecessary. It turned out that theJeroboam had a malignant epidemic on board, and that Mayhew, hercaptain, was fearful of infecting the Pequod’s company. For, thoughhimself and boat’s crew remained untainted, and though his ship washalf a rifle-shot off, and an incorruptible sea and air rolling andflowing between; yet conscientiously adhering to the timid quarantineof the land, he peremptorily refused to come into direct contact withthe Pequod.
But this did by no means prevent all communication. Preserving aninterval of some few yards between itself and the ship, the Jeroboam’sboat by the occasional use of its oars contrived to keep parallel tothe Pequod, as she heavily forged through the sea (for by this time itblew very fresh), with her main-topsail aback; though, indeed, at timesby the sudden onset of a large rolling wave, the boat would be pushedsome way ahead; but would be soon skilfully brought to her properbearings again. Subject to this, and other the like interruptions nowand then, a conversation was sustained between the two parties; but atintervals not without still another interruption of a very differentsort.
Pulling an oar in the Jeroboam’s boat, was a man of a singularappearance, even in that wild whaling life where individualnotabilities make up all totalities. He was a small, short, youngishman, sprinkled all over his face with freckles, and wearing redundantyellow hair. A long-skirted, cabalistically-cut coat of a faded walnuttinge enveloped him; the overlapping sleeves of which were rolled up onhis wrists. A deep, settled, fanatic delirium was in his eyes.
So soon as this figure had been first descried, Stubb hadexclaimed—“That’s he! that’s he! the long-togged scaramouch theTown-Ho’s company told us of!” Stubb here alluded to a strange storytold of the Jeroboam, and a certain man among her crew, some timeprevious when the Pequod spoke the Town-Ho. According to this accountand what was subsequently learned, it seemed that the scaramouch inquestion had gained a wonderful ascendency over almost everybody in theJeroboam. His story was this:
He had been originally nurtured among the crazy society of NeskyeunaShakers, where he had been a great prophet; in their cracked, secretmeetings having several times descended from heaven by the way of atrap-door, announcing the speedy opening of the seventh vial, which hecarried in his vest-pocket; but, which, instead of containinggunpowder, was supposed to be charged with laudanum. A strange,apostolic whim having seized him, he had left Neskyeuna for Nantucket,where, with that cunning peculiar to craziness, he assumed a steady,common sense exterior and offered himself as a green-hand candidate forthe Jeroboam’s whaling voyage. They engaged him; but straightway uponthe ship’s getting out of sight of land, his insanity broke out in afreshet. He announced himself as the archangel Gabriel, and commandedthe captain to jump overboard. He published his manifesto, whereby heset himself forth as the deliverer of the isles of the sea andvicar-general of all Oceanica. The unflinching earnestness with whichhe declared these things;—the dark, daring play of his sleepless,excited imagination, and all the preternatural terrors of realdelirium, united to invest this Gabriel in the minds of the majority ofthe ignorant crew, with an atmosphere of sacredness. Moreover, theywere afraid of him. As such a man, however, was not of much practicaluse in the ship, especially as he refused to work except when hepleased, the incredulous captain would fain have been rid of him; butapprised that that individual’s intention was to land him in the firstconvenient port, the archangel forthwith opened all his seals andvials—devoting the ship and all hands to unconditional perdition, incase this intention was carried out. So strongly did he work upon hisdisciples among the crew, that at last in a body they went to thecaptain and told him if Gabriel was sent from the ship, not a man ofthem would remain. He was therefore forced to relinquish his plan. Norwould they permit Gabriel to be any way maltreated, say or do what hewould; so that it came to pass that Gabriel had the complete freedom ofthe ship. The consequence of all this was, that the archangel caredlittle or nothing for the captain and mates; and since the epidemic hadbroken out, he carried a higher hand than ever; declaring that theplague, as he called it, was at his sole command; nor should it bestayed but according to his good pleasure. The sailors, mostly poordevils, cringed, and some of them fawned before him; in obedience tohis instructions, sometimes rendering him personal homage, as to a god.Such things may seem incredible; but, however wondrous, they are true.Nor is the history of fanatics half so striking in respect to themeasureless self-deception of the fanatic himself, as his measurelesspower of deceiving and bedevilling so many others. But it is time toreturn to the Pequod.
“I fear not thy epidemic, man,” said Ahab from the bulwarks to CaptainMayhew, who stood in the boat’s stern; “come on board.”
But now Gabriel started to his feet.
“Think, think of the fevers, yellow and bilious! Beware of the horribleplague!”
“Gabriel, Gabriel!” cried Captain Mayhew; “thou must either—” But thatinstant a headlong wave shot the boat far ahead, and its seethingsdrowned all speech.
“Hast thou seen the White Whale?” demanded Ahab, when the boat driftedback.
“Think, think of thy whale-boat, stoven and sunk! Beware of thehorrible tail!”
“I tell thee again, Gabriel, that—” But again the boat tore ahead as ifdragged by fiends. Nothing was said for some moments, while asuccession of riotous waves rolled by, which by one of those occasionalcaprices of the seas were tumbling, not heaving it. Meantime, thehoisted sperm whale’s head jogged about very violently, and Gabriel wasseen eyeing it with rather more apprehensiveness than his archangelnature seemed to warrant.
When this interlude was over, Captain Mayhew began a dark storyconcerning Moby Dick; not, however, without frequent interruptions fromGabriel, whenever his name was mentioned, and the crazy sea that seemedleagued with him.
It seemed that the Jeroboam had not long left home, when upon speakinga whale-ship, her people were reliably apprised of the existence ofMoby Dick, and the havoc he had made. Greedily sucking in thisintelligence, Gabriel solemnly warned the captain against attacking theWhite Whale, in case the monster should be seen; in his gibberinginsanity, pronouncing the White Whale to be no less a being than theShaker God incarnated; the Shakers receiving the Bible. But when, someyear or two afterwards, Moby Dick was fairly sighted from themast-heads, Macey, the chief mate, burned with ardor to encounter him;and the captain himself being not unwilling to let him have theopportunity, despite all the archangel’s denunciations andforewarnings, Macey succeeded in persuading five men to man his boat.With them he pushed off; and, after much weary pulling, and manyperilous, unsuccessful onsets, he at last succeeded in getting one ironfast. Meantime, Gabriel, ascending to the main-royal mast-head, wastossing one arm in frantic gestures, and hurling forth prophecies ofspeedy doom to the sacrilegious assailants of his divinity. Now, whileMacey, the mate, was standing up in his boat’s bow, and with all thereckless energy of his tribe was venting his wild exclamations upon thewhale, and essaying to get a fair chance for his poised lance, lo! abroad white shadow rose from the sea; by its quick, fanning motion,temporarily taking the breath out of the bodies of the oarsmen. Nextinstant, the luckless mate, so full of furious life, was smitten bodilyinto the air, and making a long arc in his descent, fell into the seaat the distance of about fifty yards. Not a chip of the boat washarmed, nor a hair of any oarsman’s head; but the mate for ever sank.
It is well to parenthesize here, that of the fatal accidents in theSperm-Whale Fishery, this kind is perhaps almost as frequent as any.Sometimes, nothing is injured but the man who is thus annihilated;oftener the boat’s bow is knocked off, or the thigh-board, in which theheadsman stands, is torn from its place and accompanies the body. Butstrangest of all is the circumstance, that in more instances than one,when the body has been recovered, not a single mark of violence isdiscernible; the man being stark dead.
The whole calamity, with the falling form of Macey, was plainlydescried from the ship. Raising a piercing shriek—“The vial! the vial!”Gabriel called off the terror-stricken crew from the further hunting ofthe whale. This terrible event clothed the archangel with addedinfluence; because his credulous disciples believed that he hadspecifically fore-announced it, instead of only making a generalprophecy, which any one might have done, and so have chanced to hit oneof many marks in the wide margin allowed. He became a nameless terrorto the ship.
Mayhew having concluded his narration, Ahab put such questions to him,that the stranger captain could not forbear inquiring whether heintended to hunt the White Whale, if opportunity should offer. To whichAhab answered—“Aye.” Straightway, then, Gabriel once more started tohis feet, glaring upon the old man, and vehemently exclaimed, withdownward pointed finger—“Think, think of the blasphemer—dead, and downthere!—beware of the blasphemer’s end!”
Ahab stolidly turned aside; then said to Mayhew, “Captain, I have justbethought me of my letter-bag; there is a letter for one of thyofficers, if I mistake not. Starbuck, look over the bag.”
Every whale-ship takes out a goodly number of letters for variousships, whose delivery to the persons to whom they may be addressed,depends upon the mere chance of encountering them in the four oceans.Thus, most letters never reach their mark; and many are only receivedafter attaining an age of two or three years or more.
Soon Starbuck returned with a letter in his hand. It was sorelytumbled, damp, and covered with a dull, spotted, green mould, inconsequence of being kept in a dark locker of the cabin. Of such aletter, Death himself might well have been the post-boy.
“Can’st not read it?” cried Ahab. “Give it me, man. Aye, aye it’s but adim scrawl;—what’s this?” As he was studying it out, Starbuck took along cutting-spade pole, and with his knife slightly split the end, toinsert the letter there, and in that way, hand it to the boat, withoutits coming any closer to the ship.
Meantime, Ahab holding the letter, muttered, “Mr. Har—yes, Mr. Harry—(awoman’s pinny hand,—the man’s wife, I’ll wager)—Aye—Mr. Harry Macey,Ship Jeroboam;—why it’s Macey, and he’s dead!”
“Poor fellow! poor fellow! and from his wife,” sighed Mayhew; “but letme have it.”
“Nay, keep it thyself,” cried Gabriel to Ahab; “thou art soon goingthat way.”
“Curses throttle thee!” yelled Ahab. “Captain Mayhew, stand by now toreceive it;” and taking the fatal missive from Starbuck’s hands, hecaught it in the slit of the pole, and reached it over towards theboat. But as he did so, the oarsmen expectantly desisted from rowing;the boat drifted a little towards the ship’s stern; so that, as if bymagic, the letter suddenly ranged along with Gabriel’s eager hand. Heclutched it in an instant, seized the boat-knife, and impaling theletter on it, sent it thus loaded back into the ship. It fell at Ahab’sfeet. Then Gabriel shrieked out to his comrades to give way with theiroars, and in that manner the mutinous boat rapidly shot away from thePequod.
As, after this interlude, the seamen resumed their work upon the jacketof the whale, many strange things were hinted in reference to this wildaffair.
CHAPTER LXII. THE MONKEY-ROPE
In the tumultuous business of cutting-in and attending to a whale,there is much running backwards and forwards among the crew. Now handsare wanted here, and then again hands are wanted there. There is nostaying in any one place; for at one and the same time everything hasto be done everywhere. It is much the same with him who endeavors thedescription of the scene. We must now retrace our way a little. It wasmentioned that upon first breaking ground in the whale’s back, theblubber-hook was inserted into the original hole there cut by thespades of the mates. But how did so clumsy and weighty a mass as thatsame hook get fixed in that hole? It was inserted there by myparticular friend Queequeg, whose duty it was, as harpooneer, todescend upon the monster’s back for the special purpose referred to.But in very many cases, circumstances require that the harpooneer shallremain on the whale till the whole tensing or stripping operation isconcluded. The whale, be it observed, lies almost entirely submerged,excepting the immediate parts operated upon. So down there, some tenfeet below the level of the deck, the poor harpooneer flounders about,half on the whale and half in the water, as the vast mass revolves likea tread-mill beneath him. On the occasion in question, Queequeg figuredin the Highland costume—a shirt and socks—in which to my eyes, atleast, he appeared to uncommon advantage; and no one had a betterchance to observe him, as will presently be seen.
Being the savage’s bowsman, that is, the person who pulled the bow-oarin his boat (the second one from forward), it was my cheerful duty toattend upon him while taking that hard-scrabble scramble upon the deadwhale’s back. You have seen Italian organ-boys holding a dancing-ape bya long cord. Just so, from the ship’s steep side, did I hold Queequegdown there in the sea, by what is technically called in the fishery amonkey-rope, attached to a strong strip of canvas belted round hiswaist.
It was a humorously perilous business for both of us. For, before weproceed further, it must be said that the monkey-rope was fast at bothends; fast to Queequeg’s broad canvas belt, and fast to my narrowleather one. So that for better or for worse, we two, for the time,were wedded; and should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more, then bothusage and honour demanded, that instead of cutting the cord, it shoulddrag me down in his wake. So, then, an elongated Siamese ligatureunited us. Queequeg was my own inseparable twin brother; nor could Iany way get rid of the dangerous liabilities which the hempen bondentailed.
So strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then,that while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly toperceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stockcompany of two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and thatanother’s mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmeriteddisaster and death. Therefore, I saw that here was a sort ofinterregnum in Providence; for its even-handed equity never could haveso gross an injustice. And yet still further pondering—while I jerkedhim now and then from between the whale and ship, which would threatento jam him—still further pondering, I say, I saw that this situation ofmine was the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, inmost cases, he, one way or other, has this Siamese connexion with aplurality of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you snap; if yourapothecary by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die. True,you may say that, by exceeding caution, you may possibly escape theseand the multitudinous other evil chances of life. But handle Queequeg’smonkey-rope heedfully as I would, sometimes he jerked it so, that Icame very near sliding overboard. Nor could I possibly forget that, dowhat I would, I only had the management of one end of it.
The monkey-rope is found in all whalers; but it was only in the Pequod that the monkey and his holder were ever tied together. This improvement upon the original usage was introduced by no less a man than Stubb, in order to afford the imperilled harpooneer the strongest possible guarantee for the faithfulness and vigilance of his monkey-rope holder.
I have hinted that I would often jerk poor Queequeg from between thewhale and the ship—where he would occasionally fall, from the incessantrolling and swaying of both. But this was not the only jamming jeopardyhe was exposed to. Unappalled by the massacre made upon them during thenight, the sharks now freshly and more keenly allured by the beforepent blood which began to flow from the carcass—the rabid creaturesswarmed round it like bees in a beehive.
And right in among those sharks was Queequeg; who often pushed themaside with his floundering feet. A thing altogether incredible were itnot that attracted by such prey as a dead whale, the otherwisemiscellaneously carnivorous shark will seldom touch a man.
Nevertheless, it may well be believed that since they have such aravenous finger in the pie, it is deemed but wise to look sharp tothem. Accordingly, besides the monkey-rope, with which I now and thenjerked the poor fellow from too close a vicinity to the maw of whatseemed a peculiarly ferocious shark—he was provided with still anotherprotection. Suspended over the side in one of the stages, Tashtego andDaggoo continually flourished over his head a couple of keenwhale-spades, wherewith they slaughtered as many sharks as they couldreach. This procedure of theirs, to be sure, was very disinterested andbenevolent of them. They meant Queequeg’s best happiness, I admit; butin their hasty zeal to befriend him, and from the circumstance thatboth he and the sharks were at times half hidden by the blood-muddledwater, those indiscreet spades of theirs would come nearer amputating aleg than a tail. But poor Queequeg, I suppose, straining and gaspingthere with that great iron hook—poor Queequeg, I suppose, only prayedto his Yojo, and gave up his life into the hands of his gods.
Well, well, my dear comrade and twin-brother, thought I, as I drew inand then slacked off the rope to every swell of the sea—what mattersit, after all? Are you not the precious image of each and all of us menin this whaling world? That unsounded ocean you gasp in, is Life; thosesharks, your foes; those spades, your friends; and what between sharksand spades you are in a sad pickle and peril, poor lad.
But courage! there is good cheer in store for you, Queequeg. For now,as with blue lips and blood-shot eyes the exhausted savage at lastclimbs up the chains and stands all dripping and involuntarilytrembling over the side; the steward advances, and with a benevolent,consolatory glance hands him—what? Some hot Cognac? No! hands him, yegods! hands him a cup of tepid ginger and water!
“Ginger? Do I smell ginger?” suspiciously asked Stubb, coming near.“Yes, this must be ginger,” peering into the as yet untasted cup. Thenstanding as if incredulous for a while, he calmly walked towards theastonished steward slowly saying, “Ginger? ginger? and will you havethe goodness to tell me, Mr. Dough-Boy, where lies the virtue ofginger? Ginger! is ginger the sort of fuel you use, Dough-boy, tokindle a fire in this shivering cannibal? Ginger!—what the devil isginger?—sea-coal?—firewood?—lucifer matches?—tinder?—gunpowder?—whatthe devil is ginger, I say, that you offer this cup to our poorQueequeg here.”
“There is some sneaking Temperance Society movement about thisbusiness,” he suddenly added, now approaching Starbuck, who had justcome from forward. “Will you look at that kannakin, sir; smell of it,if you please.” Then watching the mate’s countenance, he added, “Thesteward, Mr. Starbuck, had the face to offer that calomel and jalap toQueequeg, there, this instant off the whale. Is the steward anapothecary, sir? and may I ask whether this is the sort of bitters bywhich he blows back the life into a half-drowned man?”
“I trust not,” said Starbuck, “it is poor stuff enough.”
“Aye, aye, steward,” cried Stubb, “we’ll teach you to drug aharpooneer; none of your apothecary’s medicine here; you want to poisonus, do ye? You have got out insurances on our lives and want to murderus all, and pocket the proceeds, do ye?”
“It was not me,” cried Dough-Boy, “it was Aunt Charity that brought theginger on board; and bade me never give the harpooneers any spirits,but only this ginger-jub—so she called it.”
“Ginger-jub! you gingerly rascal! take that! and run along with ye tothe lockers, and get something better. I hope I do no wrong, Mr.Starbuck. It is the captain’s orders—grog for the harpooneer on awhale.”
“Enough,” replied Starbuck, “only don’t hit him again, but—”
“Oh, I never hurt when I hit, except when I hit a whale or something ofthat sort; and this fellow’s a weazel. What were you about saying,sir?”
“Only this: go down with him, and get what thou wantest thyself.”
When Stubb reappeared, he came with a dark flask in one hand, and asort of tea-caddy in the other. The first contained strong spirits, andwas handed to Queequeg; the second was Aunt Charity’s gift, and thatwas freely given to the waves.