The Project Gutenberg ebook of Moby Dick; or The Whale, by Herman Melville



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though receiving alms; and cut it tenderly; and a little started

if, perchance, the knife grazed against the plate; and chewed it

noiselessly; and swallowed it, not without circumspection. For, like

the Coronation banquet at Frankfort, where the German Emperor profoundly

dines with the seven Imperial Electors, so these cabin meals were

somehow solemn meals, eaten in awful silence; and yet at table old Ahab

forbade not conversation; only he himself was dumb. What a relief it was

to choking Stubb, when a rat made a sudden racket in the hold below. And

poor little Flask, he was the youngest son, and little boy of this weary

family party. His were the shinbones of the saline beef; his would have

been the drumsticks. For Flask to have presumed to help himself, this

must have seemed to him tantamount to larceny in the first degree. Had

he helped himself at that table, doubtless, never more would he have

been able to hold his head up in this honest world; nevertheless,

strange to say, Ahab never forbade him. And had Flask helped himself,

the chances were Ahab had never so much as noticed it. Least of all, did

Flask presume to help himself to butter. Whether he thought the owners

of the ship denied it to him, on account of its clotting his clear,

sunny complexion; or whether he deemed that, on so long a voyage in such

marketless waters, butter was at a premium, and therefore was not for

him, a subaltern; however it was, Flask, alas! was a butterless man!


Another thing. Flask was the last person down at the dinner, and Flask

is the first man up. Consider! For hereby Flask's dinner was badly

jammed in point of time. Starbuck and Stubb both had the start of him;

and yet they also have the privilege of lounging in the rear. If Stubb

even, who is but a peg higher than Flask, happens to have but a small

appetite, and soon shows symptoms of concluding his repast, then Flask

must bestir himself, he will not get more than three mouthfuls that day;

for it is against holy usage for Stubb to precede Flask to the deck.

Therefore it was that Flask once admitted in private, that ever since he

had arisen to the dignity of an officer, from that moment he had never

known what it was to be otherwise than hungry, more or less. For what

he ate did not so much relieve his hunger, as keep it immortal in him.

Peace and satisfaction, thought Flask, have for ever departed from

my stomach. I am an officer; but, how I wish I could fish a bit of

old-fashioned beef in the forecastle, as I used to when I was before the

mast. There's the fruits of promotion now; there's the vanity of glory:

there's the insanity of life! Besides, if it were so that any mere

sailor of the Pequod had a grudge against Flask in Flask's official

capacity, all that sailor had to do, in order to obtain ample vengeance,

was to go aft at dinner-time, and get a peep at Flask through the cabin

sky-light, sitting silly and dumfoundered before awful Ahab.
Now, Ahab and his three mates formed what may be called the first table

in the Pequod's cabin. After their departure, taking place in inverted

order to their arrival, the canvas cloth was cleared, or rather was

restored to some hurried order by the pallid steward. And then the three

harpooneers were bidden to the feast, they being its residuary legatees.

They made a sort of temporary servants' hall of the high and mighty

cabin.
In strange contrast to the hardly tolerable constraint and nameless

invisible domineerings of the captain's table, was the entire care-free

license and ease, the almost frantic democracy of those inferior fellows

the harpooneers. While their masters, the mates, seemed afraid of the

sound of the hinges of their own jaws, the harpooneers chewed their food

with such a relish that there was a report to it. They dined like lords;

they filled their bellies like Indian ships all day loading with spices.

Such portentous appetites had Queequeg and Tashtego, that to fill out

the vacancies made by the previous repast, often the pale Dough-Boy was

fain to bring on a great baron of salt-junk, seemingly quarried out of

the solid ox. And if he were not lively about it, if he did not go with

a nimble hop-skip-and-jump, then Tashtego had an ungentlemanly way of

accelerating him by darting a fork at his back, harpoon-wise. And once

Daggoo, seized with a sudden humor, assisted Dough-Boy's memory by

snatching him up bodily, and thrusting his head into a great empty

wooden trencher, while Tashtego, knife in hand, began laying out the

circle preliminary to scalping him. He was naturally a very nervous,

shuddering sort of little fellow, this bread-faced steward; the progeny

of a bankrupt baker and a hospital nurse. And what with the standing

spectacle of the black terrific Ahab, and the periodical tumultuous

visitations of these three savages, Dough-Boy's whole life was one

continual lip-quiver. Commonly, after seeing the harpooneers furnished

with all things they demanded, he would escape from their clutches into

his little pantry adjoining, and fearfully peep out at them through the

blinds of its door, till all was over.
It was a sight to see Queequeg seated over against Tashtego, opposing

his filed teeth to the Indian's: crosswise to them, Daggoo seated on the

floor, for a bench would have brought his hearse-plumed head to the low

carlines; at every motion of his colossal limbs, making the low cabin

framework to shake, as when an African elephant goes passenger in a

ship. But for all this, the great negro was wonderfully abstemious,

not to say dainty. It seemed hardly possible that by such comparatively

small mouthfuls he could keep up the vitality diffused through so broad,

baronial, and superb a person. But, doubtless, this noble savage fed

strong and drank deep of the abounding element of air; and through his

dilated nostrils snuffed in the sublime life of the worlds. Not by

beef or by bread, are giants made or nourished. But Queequeg, he had a

mortal, barbaric smack of the lip in eating--an ugly sound enough--so

much so, that the trembling Dough-Boy almost looked to see whether

any marks of teeth lurked in his own lean arms. And when he would hear

Tashtego singing out for him to produce himself, that his bones might be

picked, the simple-witted steward all but shattered the crockery hanging

round him in the pantry, by his sudden fits of the palsy. Nor did the

whetstone which the harpooneers carried in their pockets, for their

lances and other weapons; and with which whetstones, at dinner, they

would ostentatiously sharpen their knives; that grating sound did not at

all tend to tranquillize poor Dough-Boy. How could he forget that in his

Island days, Queequeg, for one, must certainly have been guilty of some

murderous, convivial indiscretions. Alas! Dough-Boy! hard fares the

white waiter who waits upon cannibals. Not a napkin should he carry on

his arm, but a buckler. In good time, though, to his great delight,

the three salt-sea warriors would rise and depart; to his credulous,

fable-mongering ears, all their martial bones jingling in them at every

step, like Moorish scimetars in scabbards.
But, though these barbarians dined in the cabin, and nominally lived

there; still, being anything but sedentary in their habits, they were

scarcely ever in it except at mealtimes, and just before sleeping-time,

when they passed through it to their own peculiar quarters.


In this one matter, Ahab seemed no exception to most American whale

captains, who, as a set, rather incline to the opinion that by rights

the ship's cabin belongs to them; and that it is by courtesy alone that

anybody else is, at any time, permitted there. So that, in real truth,

the mates and harpooneers of the Pequod might more properly be said to

have lived out of the cabin than in it. For when they did enter it, it

was something as a street-door enters a house; turning inwards for

a moment, only to be turned out the next; and, as a permanent thing,

residing in the open air. Nor did they lose much hereby; in the cabin

was no companionship; socially, Ahab was inaccessible. Though nominally

included in the census of Christendom, he was still an alien to it. He

lived in the world, as the last of the Grisly Bears lived in settled

Missouri. And as when Spring and Summer had departed, that wild Logan of

the woods, burying himself in the hollow of a tree, lived out the winter

there, sucking his own paws; so, in his inclement, howling old age,

Ahab's soul, shut up in the caved trunk of his body, there fed upon the

sullen paws of its gloom!

CHAPTER 35. The Mast-Head.

It was during the more pleasant weather, that in due rotation with the

other seamen my first mast-head came round.


In most American whalemen the mast-heads are manned almost

simultaneously with the vessel's leaving her port; even though she may

have fifteen thousand miles, and more, to sail ere reaching her proper

cruising ground. And if, after a three, four, or five years' voyage

she is drawing nigh home with anything empty in her--say, an empty vial

even--then, her mast-heads are kept manned to the last; and not till her

skysail-poles sail in among the spires of the port, does she altogether

relinquish the hope of capturing one whale more.


Now, as the business of standing mast-heads, ashore or afloat, is a very

ancient and interesting one, let us in some measure expatiate here.

I take it, that the earliest standers of mast-heads were the old

Egyptians; because, in all my researches, I find none prior to them.

For though their progenitors, the builders of Babel, must doubtless, by

their tower, have intended to rear the loftiest mast-head in all Asia,

or Africa either; yet (ere the final truck was put to it) as that great

stone mast of theirs may be said to have gone by the board, in the dread

gale of God's wrath; therefore, we cannot give these Babel builders

priority over the Egyptians. And that the Egyptians were a nation of

mast-head standers, is an assertion based upon the general belief among

archaeologists, that the first pyramids were founded for astronomical

purposes: a theory singularly supported by the peculiar stair-like

formation of all four sides of those edifices; whereby, with prodigious

long upliftings of their legs, those old astronomers were wont to mount

to the apex, and sing out for new stars; even as the look-outs of a

modern ship sing out for a sail, or a whale just bearing in sight. In

Saint Stylites, the famous Christian hermit of old times, who built him

a lofty stone pillar in the desert and spent the whole latter portion of

his life on its summit, hoisting his food from the ground with a

tackle; in him we have a remarkable instance of a dauntless

stander-of-mast-heads; who was not to be driven from his place by fogs

or frosts, rain, hail, or sleet; but valiantly facing everything out to

the last, literally died at his post. Of modern standers-of-mast-heads

we have but a lifeless set; mere stone, iron, and bronze men; who,

though well capable of facing out a stiff gale, are still entirely

incompetent to the business of singing out upon discovering any strange

sight. There is Napoleon; who, upon the top of the column of Vendome,

stands with arms folded, some one hundred and fifty feet in the air;

careless, now, who rules the decks below; whether Louis Philippe, Louis

Blanc, or Louis the Devil. Great Washington, too, stands high aloft on

his towering main-mast in Baltimore, and like one of Hercules' pillars,

his column marks that point of human grandeur beyond which few mortals

will go. Admiral Nelson, also, on a capstan of gun-metal, stands his

mast-head in Trafalgar Square; and ever when most obscured by that

London smoke, token is yet given that a hidden hero is there; for

where there is smoke, must be fire. But neither great Washington, nor

Napoleon, nor Nelson, will answer a single hail from below, however

madly invoked to befriend by their counsels the distracted decks

upon which they gaze; however it may be surmised, that their spirits

penetrate through the thick haze of the future, and descry what shoals

and what rocks must be shunned.


It may seem unwarrantable to couple in any respect the mast-head

standers of the land with those of the sea; but that in truth it is

not so, is plainly evinced by an item for which Obed Macy, the sole

historian of Nantucket, stands accountable. The worthy Obed tells us,

that in the early times of the whale fishery, ere ships were regularly

launched in pursuit of the game, the people of that island erected lofty

spars along the sea-coast, to which the look-outs ascended by means

of nailed cleats, something as fowls go upstairs in a hen-house. A few

years ago this same plan was adopted by the Bay whalemen of New Zealand,

who, upon descrying the game, gave notice to the ready-manned boats nigh

the beach. But this custom has now become obsolete; turn we then to the

one proper mast-head, that of a whale-ship at sea. The three mast-heads

are kept manned from sun-rise to sun-set; the seamen taking their

regular turns (as at the helm), and relieving each other every two

hours. In the serene weather of the tropics it is exceedingly pleasant

the mast-head; nay, to a dreamy meditative man it is delightful. There

you stand, a hundred feet above the silent decks, striding along the

deep, as if the masts were gigantic stilts, while beneath you and

between your legs, as it were, swim the hugest monsters of the sea, even

as ships once sailed between the boots of the famous Colossus at old

Rhodes. There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with

nothing ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rolls; the

drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor. For the

most part, in this tropic whaling life, a sublime uneventfulness invests

you; you hear no news; read no gazettes; extras with startling accounts

of commonplaces never delude you into unnecessary excitements; you hear

of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks; are

never troubled with the thought of what you shall have for dinner--for

all your meals for three years and more are snugly stowed in casks, and

your bill of fare is immutable.


In one of those southern whalesmen, on a long three or four years'

voyage, as often happens, the sum of the various hours you spend at the

mast-head would amount to several entire months. And it is much to be

deplored that the place to which you devote so considerable a portion

of the whole term of your natural life, should be so sadly destitute

of anything approaching to a cosy inhabitiveness, or adapted to breed a

comfortable localness of feeling, such as pertains to a bed, a hammock,

a hearse, a sentry box, a pulpit, a coach, or any other of those small

and snug contrivances in which men temporarily isolate themselves. Your

most usual point of perch is the head of the t' gallant-mast, where you

stand upon two thin parallel sticks (almost peculiar to whalemen) called

the t' gallant cross-trees. Here, tossed about by the sea, the beginner

feels about as cosy as he would standing on a bull's horns. To be sure,

in cold weather you may carry your house aloft with you, in the shape of

a watch-coat; but properly speaking the thickest watch-coat is no more

of a house than the unclad body; for as the soul is glued inside of its

fleshy tabernacle, and cannot freely move about in it, nor even move out

of it, without running great risk of perishing (like an ignorant pilgrim

crossing the snowy Alps in winter); so a watch-coat is not so much of

a house as it is a mere envelope, or additional skin encasing you. You

cannot put a shelf or chest of drawers in your body, and no more can you

make a convenient closet of your watch-coat.


Concerning all this, it is much to be deplored that the mast-heads of a

southern whale ship are unprovided with those enviable little tents

or pulpits, called CROW'S-NESTS, in which the look-outs of a Greenland

whaler are protected from the inclement weather of the frozen seas. In

the fireside narrative of Captain Sleet, entitled "A Voyage among the

Icebergs, in quest of the Greenland Whale, and incidentally for the

re-discovery of the Lost Icelandic Colonies of Old Greenland;" in

this admirable volume, all standers of mast-heads are furnished with

a charmingly circumstantial account of the then recently invented

CROW'S-NEST of the Glacier, which was the name of Captain Sleet's good

craft. He called it the SLEET'S CROW'S-NEST, in honour of himself; he

being the original inventor and patentee, and free from all ridiculous

false delicacy, and holding that if we call our own children after our

own names (we fathers being the original inventors and patentees), so

likewise should we denominate after ourselves any other apparatus we

may beget. In shape, the Sleet's crow's-nest is something like a large

tierce or pipe; it is open above, however, where it is furnished with

a movable side-screen to keep to windward of your head in a hard gale.

Being fixed on the summit of the mast, you ascend into it through a

little trap-hatch in the bottom. On the after side, or side next the

stern of the ship, is a comfortable seat, with a locker underneath for

umbrellas, comforters, and coats. In front is a leather rack, in which

to keep your speaking trumpet, pipe, telescope, and other nautical

conveniences. When Captain Sleet in person stood his mast-head in this

crow's-nest of his, he tells us that he always had a rifle with him

(also fixed in the rack), together with a powder flask and shot, for

the purpose of popping off the stray narwhales, or vagrant sea unicorns

infesting those waters; for you cannot successfully shoot at them from

the deck owing to the resistance of the water, but to shoot down upon

them is a very different thing. Now, it was plainly a labor of love

for Captain Sleet to describe, as he does, all the little detailed

conveniences of his crow's-nest; but though he so enlarges upon many

of these, and though he treats us to a very scientific account of his

experiments in this crow's-nest, with a small compass he kept there for

the purpose of counteracting the errors resulting from what is called

the "local attraction" of all binnacle magnets; an error ascribable to

the horizontal vicinity of the iron in the ship's planks, and in the

Glacier's case, perhaps, to there having been so many broken-down

blacksmiths among her crew; I say, that though the Captain is very

discreet and scientific here, yet, for all his learned "binnacle

deviations," "azimuth compass observations," and "approximate errors,"

he knows very well, Captain Sleet, that he was not so much immersed

in those profound magnetic meditations, as to fail being attracted

occasionally towards that well replenished little case-bottle, so nicely

tucked in on one side of his crow's nest, within easy reach of his hand.

Though, upon the whole, I greatly admire and even love the brave, the

honest, and learned Captain; yet I take it very ill of him that he

should so utterly ignore that case-bottle, seeing what a faithful friend

and comforter it must have been, while with mittened fingers and hooded

head he was studying the mathematics aloft there in that bird's nest

within three or four perches of the pole.
But if we Southern whale-fishers are not so snugly housed aloft as

Captain Sleet and his Greenlandmen were; yet that disadvantage is

greatly counter-balanced by the widely contrasting serenity of those

seductive seas in which we South fishers mostly float. For one, I used

to lounge up the rigging very leisurely, resting in the top to have a

chat with Queequeg, or any one else off duty whom I might find there;

then ascending a little way further, and throwing a lazy leg over the

top-sail yard, take a preliminary view of the watery pastures, and so at

last mount to my ultimate destination.
Let me make a clean breast of it here, and frankly admit that I kept but

sorry guard. With the problem of the universe revolving in me, how

could I--being left completely to myself at such a thought-engendering

altitude--how could I but lightly hold my obligations to observe all

whale-ships' standing orders, "Keep your weather eye open, and sing out

every time."


And let me in this place movingly admonish you, ye ship-owners of

Nantucket! Beware of enlisting in your vigilant fisheries any lad with

lean brow and hollow eye; given to unseasonable meditativeness; and who

offers to ship with the Phaedon instead of Bowditch in his head. Beware

of such an one, I say; your whales must be seen before they can be

killed; and this sunken-eyed young Platonist will tow you ten wakes

round the world, and never make you one pint of sperm the richer. Nor

are these monitions at all unneeded. For nowadays, the whale-fishery

furnishes an asylum for many romantic, melancholy, and absent-minded

young men, disgusted with the carking cares of earth, and seeking

sentiment in tar and blubber. Childe Harold not unfrequently perches

himself upon the mast-head of some luckless disappointed whale-ship, and

in moody phrase ejaculates:--
"Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll! Ten thousand

blubber-hunters sweep over thee in vain."


Very often do the captains of such ships take those absent-minded

young philosophers to task, upbraiding them with not feeling sufficient

"interest" in the voyage; half-hinting that they are so hopelessly lost

to all honourable ambition, as that in their secret souls they would

rather not see whales than otherwise. But all in vain; those young

Platonists have a notion that their vision is imperfect; they are

short-sighted; what use, then, to strain the visual nerve? They have

left their opera-glasses at home.


"Why, thou monkey," said a harpooneer to one of these lads, "we've been

cruising now hard upon three years, and thou hast not raised a whale

yet. Whales are scarce as hen's teeth whenever thou art up here."

Perhaps they were; or perhaps there might have been shoals of them in

the far horizon; but lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of

vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending

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