Part 6 out of 12
"'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 patronizing 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 had 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," said 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 the 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 honor
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 while,
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 unseaman-like way of sitting
on the bulwarks of the quarterdeck, 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 risks 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 honor 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."
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 whaleship 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 Elephants, 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 the 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 titlepages 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 suckling 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.
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, &c. 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 fore-ground 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 in 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 honor 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.
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 weathercocks; 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 Solomon 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!
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 lips.
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 recognized 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!
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-color, 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.
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 vapored 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 whaleboat, 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, everpresent 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.
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
vapory 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 honor 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 the 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 frightened 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.
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.
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 harpoons, 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.
Stubb's whale had been killed some distance from the ship.
It was a calm; so, forming a tandem of three boats, we commenced
the slow business of towing the trophy to the Pequod. And now,
as we eighteen men with our thirty-six arms, and one hundred
and eighty thumbs and fingers, slowly toiled hour after hour
upon that inert, sluggish corpse in the sea; and it seemed
hardly to budge at all, except at long intervals; good evidence
was hereby furnished of the enormousness of the mass we moved.
For, upon the great canal of Hang-Ho, or whatever they call it,
in China, four or five laborers on the foot-path will draw
a bulky freighted junk at the rate of a mile an hour;
but this grand argosy we towed heavily forged along, as if laden
with piglead in bulk.
Darkness came on; but three lights up and down in the Pequod's
main-rigging dimly guided our way; till drawing nearer we saw
Ahab dropping one of several more lanterns over the bulwarks.
Vacantly eyeing the heaving whale for a moment, he issued
the usual orders for securing it for the night, and then
handing his lantern to a seaman, went his way into the cabin,
and did not come forward again until morning.
Though, in overseeing the pursuit of this whale, Captain Ahab
had evinced his customary activity, to call it so;
yet now that the creature was dead, some vague dissatisfaction,
or impatience, or despair, seemed working in him; as if the sight
of that dead body reminded him that Moby Dick was yet to be slain;
and though a thousand other whales were brought to his ship,
all that would not one jot advance his grand, monomaniac object.
Very soon you would have thought from the sound on the Pequod's decks,
that all hands were preparing to cast anchor in the deep;
for heavy chains are being dragged along the deck, and thrust
rattling out of the port-holes. But by those clanking links,
the vast corpse itself, not the ship, is to be moored.
Tied by the head to the stern, and by the tail to the bows,
the whale now lies with its black hull close to the vessel's,
and seen through the darkness of the night, which obscured
the spars and rigging aloft, the two--ship and whale,
seemed yoked together like colossal bullocks, whereof one reclines
while the other remains standing.*
*A little item may as well be related here. The strongest and most
reliable hold which the ship has upon the whale when moored alongside,
is by the flukes or tail; and as from its greater density that part
is relatively heavier than any other (excepting the side-fins), its
flexibility even in death, causes it to sink low beneath the surface;
so that with the hand you cannot get at it from the boat, in order to put
the chain round it. But this difficulty is ingeniously overcome:
a small, strong line is prepared with a wooden float at its outer end,
and a weight in its middle, while the other end is secured to the ship.
By adroit management the wooden float is made to rise on the other
side of the mass, so that now having girdled the whale, the chain
is readily made to follow suit; and being slipped along the body,
is at last locked fast round the smallest part of the tail, at the point
of junction with its broad flukes or lobes.
If moody Ahab was now all quiescence, at least so far as could
be known on deck, Stubb, his second mate, flushed with conquest,
betrayed an unusual but still good-natured excitement.
Such an unwonted bustle was he in that the staid Starbuck,
his official superior, quietly resigned to him for the time
the sole management of affairs. One small, helping cause of all
this liveliness in Stubb, was soon made strangely manifest.
Stubb was a high liver; he was somewhat intemperately fond
of the whale as a flavorish thing to his palate.
"A steak, a steak, ere I sleep! You, Daggoo! overboard you go,
and cut me one from his small!"
Here be it known, that though these wild fishermen do not,
as a general thing, and according to the great military maxim,
make the enemy defray the current expenses of the war (at least
before realizing the proceeds of the voyage), yet now and then
you find some of these Nantucketers who have a genuine relish
for that particular part of the Sperm Whale designated by Stubb;
comprising the tapering extremity of the body.
About midnight that steak was cut and cooked; and lighted by two
lanterns of sperm oil, Stubb stoutly stood up to his spermaceti
supper at the capstan-head, as if that capstan were a sideboard.
Nor was Stubb the only banqueter on whale's flesh that night.
Mingling their mumblings with his own mastications, thousands on thousands
of sharks, swarming round the dead leviathan, smackingly feasted
on its fatness. The few sleepers below in their bunks were often
startled by the sharp slapping of their tails against the hull,
within a few inches of the sleepers' hearts. Peering over the side you
could just see them (as before you heard them) wallowing in the sullen,
black waters, and turning over on their backs as they scooped out
huge globular pieces of the whale of the bigness of a human head.
This particular feat of the shark seems all but miraculous.
How at such an apparently unassailable surface, they contrive to gouge
out such symmetrical mouthfuls, remains a part of the universal
problem of all things. The mark they thus leave on the whale,
may best be likened to the hollow made by a carpenter in countersinking
for a screw.
Though amid all the smoking horror and diabolism of a sea-fight,
sharks will be seen longingly gazing up to the ship's decks,
like hungry dogs round a table where red meat is being carved,
ready to bolt down every killed man that is tossed to them; and though,
while the valiant butchers over the deck-table are thus cannibally
carving each other's live meat with carving-knives all gilded
and tasselled, the sharks, also, with their jewel-hilted mouths,
are quarrelsomely carving away under the table at the dead meat;
and though, were you to turn the whole affair upside down,
it would still be pretty much the same thing, that is to say,
a shocking sharkish business enough for all parties; and though
sharks also are the invariable outriders of all slave ships
crossing the Atlantic, systematically trotting alongside, to be
handy in case a parcel is to be carried anywhere, or a dead slave
to be decently buried; and though one or two other like instances
might be set down, touching the set terms, places, and occasions,
when sharks do most socially congregate, and most hilariously feast;
yet is there no conceivable time or occasion when you will find them
in such countless numbers, and in gayer or more jovial spirits,
than around a dead sperm whale, moored by night to a whaleship at sea.
If you have never seen that sight, then suspend your decision
about the propriety of devil-worship, and the expediency of
conciliating the devil.
But, as yet, Stubb heeded not the mumblings of the banquet
that was going on so nigh him, no more than the sharks heeded
the smacking of his own epicurean lips.
"Cook, cook!--where's that old Fleece?" he cried at length,
widening his legs still further, as if to form a more secure
base for his supper; and, at the same time darting his fork
into the dish, as if stabbing with his lance; "cook, you cook!--
sail this way, cook!"
The old black, not in any very high glee at having been previously
routed from his warm hammock at a most unseasonable hour,
came shambling along from his galley, for, like many old blacks,
there was something the matter with his knee-pans, which he did
not keep well scoured like his other pans; this old Fleece,
as they called him, came shuffling and limping along, assisting his
step with his tongs, which, after a clumsy fashion, were made
of straightened iron hoops; this old Ebony floundered along,
and in obedience to the word of command, came to a dead stop
on the opposite side of Stubb's sideboard; when, with both hands
folded before him, and resting on his two-legged cane, he bowed
his arched back still further over, at the same time sideways
inclining his head, so as to bring his best ear into play.
"Cook," said Stubb, rapidly lifting a rather reddish morsel
to his mouth, "don't you think this steak is rather overdone?
You've been beating this steak too much, cook; it's too tender.
Don't I always say that to be good, a whale-steak must be tough?
There are those sharks now over the side, don't you see they
prefer it tough and rare? What a shindy they are kicking up!
Cook, go and talk to 'em; tell 'em they are welcome to help
themselves civilly, and in moderation, but they must keep quiet.
Blast me, if I can hear my own voice. Away, cook, and deliver
my message. Here, take this lantern," snatching one from his sideboard;
"now then, go and preach to them!"
Sullenly taking the offered lantern, old Fleece limped across
the deck to the bulwarks; and then, with one hand drooping his light
low over the sea, so as to get a good view of his congregation,
with the other hand he solemnly flourished his tongs, and leaning
far over the side in a mumbling voice began addressing the sharks,
while Stubb, softly crawling behind, overheard all that was said.
"Fellow-critters: I'se ordered here to say dat you must stop dat
dam noise dare. You hear? Stop dat dam smackin' ob de lips!
Massa Stubb say dat you can fill your dam bellies up to de hatchings,
but by Gor! you must stop dat dam racket!"
"Cook," here interposed Stubb, accompanying the word with a sudden slap
on the shoulder,--Cook! why, damn your eyes, you mustn't swear that way
when you're preaching. That's no way to convert sinners, Cook! Who dat?
Den preach to him yourself," sullenly turning to go.
No, Cook; go on, go on."
"Well, den, Belubed fellow-critters:"--
"Right!" exclaimed Stubb, approvingly, "coax 'em to it, try that,"
and Fleece continued.
"Do you is all sharks, and by natur wery woracious, yet I zay to you,
fellow-critters, dat dat woraciousness--'top dat dam slappin' ob de tail!
How you tink to hear, 'spose you keep up such a dam slapping
and bitin' dare?"
"Cook," cried Stubb, collaring him, "I won't have that swearing.
Talk to 'em gentlemanly."
Once more the sermon proceeded.
"Your woraciousness, fellow-critters. I don't blame ye so much for;
dat is natur, and can't be helped; but to gobern dat wicked natur,
dat is de pint. You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern de
shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not'ing
more dan de shark well goberned. Now, look here, bred'ren, just
try wonst to be cibil, a helping yourselbs from dat whale.
Don't be tearin' de blubber out your neighbour's mout, I say.
Is not one shark dood right as toder to dat whale? And, by Gor, none on
you has de right to dat whale; dat whale belong to some one else.
I know some o' you has berry brig mout, brigger dan oders;
but den de brig mouts sometimes has de small bellies; so dat de
brigness of de mout is not to swallar wid, but to bit off de
blubber for de small fry ob sharks, dat can't get into de scrouge
to help demselves."
"Well done, old Fleece!" cried Stubb, "that's Christianity; go on."
"No use goin' on; de dam willains will keep a scrougin'
and slappin' each oder, Massa Stubb; dey don't hear one word;
no use a-preaching to such dam g'uttons as you call 'em,
till dare bellies is full, and dare bellies is bottomless;
and when dey do get 'em full, dey wont hear you den;
for den dey sink in de sea, go fast to sleep on de coral,
and can't hear noting at all, no more, for eber and eber."
"Upon my soul, I am about of the same opinion; so give
the benediction, Fleece, and I'll away to my supper."
Upon this, Fleece, holding both hands over the fishy mob,
raised his shrill voice, and cried--
"Cussed fellow-critters! Kick up de damndest row as ever you can;
fill your dam bellies 'till dey bust--and den die."
"Now, cook," said Stubb, resuming his supper at the capstan;
Stand just where you stood before, there, over against me,
and pay particular attention."
"All 'dention," said Fleece, again stooping over upon his tongs
in the desired position.
"Well," said Stubb, helping himself freely meanwhile;
"I shall now go back to the subject of this steak.
In the first place, how old are you, cook?"
"What dat do wid de 'teak, " said the old black, testily.
"Silence! How old are you, cook?"
"'Bout ninety, dey say," he gloomily muttered.
And have you have lived in this world hard upon one hundred
years, cook, and don't know yet how to cook a whale-steak?"
rapidly bolting another mouthful at the last word,
so that that morsel seemed a continuation of the question.
"Where were you born, cook?"
"'Hind de hatchway, in ferry-boat, goin' ober de Roanoke."
"Born in a ferry-boat! That's queer, too. But I want to know
what country you were born in, cook!"
"Didn't I say de Roanoke country?" he cried sharply.
"No, you didn't, cook; but I'll tell you what I'm coming to, cook.
You must go home and be born over again; you don't know how to cook
a whale-steak yet."
"Bress my soul, if I cook noder one," he growled, angrily,
turning round to depart.
"Come back here, cook;--here, hand me those tongs;--now take that bit of
steak there, and tell me if you think that steak cooked as it should be?
Take it, I say"--holding the tongs towards him--"take it, and taste it."
Faintly smacking his withered lips over it for a moment, the old
negro muttered, "Best cooked 'teak I eber taste; joosy, berry joosy."
"Cook," said Stubb, squaring himself once more; "do you belong
to the church?"
"Passed one once in Cape-Down," said the old man sullenly.
"And you have once in your life passed a holy church in Cape-Town,
where you doubtless overheard a holy parson addressing his
hearers as his beloved fellow-creatures, have you, cook!
And yet you come here, and tell me such a dreadful lie as you did
just now, eh?" said Stubb. "Where do you expect to go to, cook?"
"Go to bed berry soon," he mumbled, half-turning as he spoke.
"Avast! heave to! I mean when you die, cook. It's an awful question.
Now what's your answer?"
"When dis old brack man dies," said the negro slowly,
changing his whole air and demeanor, "he hisself won't go nowhere;
but some bressed angel will come and fetch him."
"Fetch him? How? In a coach and four, as they fetched Elijah?
And fetch him where?"
"Up dere," said Fleece, holding his tongs straight over his head,