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



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us strong news of Moby Dick. To some the general interest in the White

Whale was now wildly heightened by a circumstance of the Town-Ho's

story, which seemed obscurely to involve with the whale a certain

wondrous, inverted visitation of one of those so called judgments of God

which at times are said to overtake some men. This latter circumstance,

with its own particular accompaniments, forming what may be called the

secret part of the tragedy about to be narrated, never reached the ears

of Captain Ahab or his mates. For that secret part of the story was

unknown to the captain of the Town-Ho himself. It was the private

property of three confederate white seamen of that ship, one of whom, it

seems, communicated it to Tashtego with Romish injunctions of secrecy,

but the following night Tashtego rambled in his sleep, and revealed

so much of it in that way, that when he was wakened he could not well

withhold the rest. Nevertheless, so potent an influence did this thing

have on those seamen in the Pequod who came to the full knowledge of

it, and by such a strange delicacy, to call it so, were they governed in

this matter, that they kept the secret among themselves so that it never

transpired abaft the Pequod's main-mast. Interweaving in its proper

place this darker thread with the story as publicly narrated on the

ship, the whole of this strange affair I now proceed to put on lasting

record.


*The ancient whale-cry upon first sighting a whale from the mast-head,

still used by whalemen in hunting the famous Gallipagos terrapin.

For my humor's sake, I shall preserve the style in which I once narrated

it at Lima, to a lounging circle of my Spanish friends, one saint's eve,

smoking upon the thick-gilt tiled piazza of the Golden Inn. Of those

fine cavaliers, the young Dons, Pedro and Sebastian, were on the closer

terms with me; and hence the interluding questions they occasionally

put, and which are duly answered at the time.


"Some two years prior to my first learning the events which I am about

rehearsing to you, gentlemen, the Town-Ho, Sperm Whaler of Nantucket,

was cruising in your Pacific here, not very many days' sail eastward

from the eaves of this good Golden Inn. She was somewhere to the

northward of the Line. One morning upon handling the pumps, according to

daily usage, it was observed that she made more water in her hold than

common. They supposed a sword-fish had stabbed her, gentlemen. But the

captain, having some unusual reason for believing that rare good luck

awaited him in those latitudes; and therefore being very averse to quit

them, and the leak not being then considered at all dangerous, though,

indeed, they could not find it after searching the hold as low down

as was possible in rather heavy weather, the ship still continued her

cruisings, the mariners working at the pumps at wide and easy intervals;

but no good luck came; more days went by, and not only was the leak yet

undiscovered, but it sensibly increased. So much so, that now taking

some alarm, the captain, making all sail, stood away for the nearest

harbor among the islands, there to have his hull hove out and repaired.
"Though no small passage was before her, yet, if the commonest chance

favoured, he did not at all fear that his ship would founder by the way,

because his pumps were of the best, and being periodically relieved at

them, those six-and-thirty men of his could easily keep the ship free;

never mind if the leak should double on her. In truth, well nigh the

whole of this passage being attended by very prosperous breezes, the

Town-Ho had all but certainly arrived in perfect safety at her port

without the occurrence of the least fatality, had it not been for the

brutal overbearing of Radney, the mate, a Vineyarder, and the bitterly

provoked vengeance of Steelkilt, a Lakeman and desperado from Buffalo.


"'Lakeman!--Buffalo! Pray, what is a Lakeman, and where is Buffalo?'

said Don Sebastian, rising in his swinging mat of grass.


"On the eastern shore of our Lake Erie, Don; but--I crave your

courtesy--may be, you shall soon hear further of all that. Now,

gentlemen, in square-sail brigs and three-masted ships, well-nigh as

large and stout as any that ever sailed out of your old Callao to far

Manilla; this Lakeman, in the land-locked heart of our America, had yet

been nurtured by all those agrarian freebooting impressions popularly

connected with the open ocean. For in their interflowing aggregate,

those grand fresh-water seas of ours,--Erie, and Ontario, and Huron, and

Superior, and Michigan,--possess an ocean-like expansiveness, with many

of the ocean's noblest traits; with many of its rimmed varieties of

races and of climes. They contain round archipelagoes of romantic isles,

even as the Polynesian waters do; in large part, are shored by two great

contrasting nations, as the Atlantic is; they furnish long maritime

approaches to our numerous territorial colonies from the East, dotted

all round their banks; here and there are frowned upon by batteries,

and by the goat-like craggy guns of lofty Mackinaw; they have heard the

fleet thunderings of naval victories; at intervals, they yield their

beaches to wild barbarians, whose red painted faces flash from out

their peltry wigwams; for leagues and leagues are flanked by ancient

and unentered forests, where the gaunt pines stand like serried lines

of kings in Gothic genealogies; those same woods harboring wild Afric

beasts of prey, and silken creatures whose exported furs give robes

to Tartar Emperors; they mirror the paved capitals of Buffalo and

Cleveland, as well as Winnebago villages; they float alike the

full-rigged merchant ship, the armed cruiser of the State, the steamer,

and the beech canoe; they are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts as

direful as any that lash the salted wave; they know what shipwrecks are,

for out of sight of land, however inland, they have drowned full many

a midnight ship with all its shrieking crew. Thus, gentlemen, though

an inlander, Steelkilt was wild-ocean born, and wild-ocean nurtured;

as much of an audacious mariner as any. And for Radney, though in his

infancy he may have laid him down on the lone Nantucket beach, to nurse

at his maternal sea; though in after life he had long followed our

austere Atlantic and your contemplative Pacific; yet was he quite as

vengeful and full of social quarrel as the backwoods seaman, fresh

from the latitudes of buck-horn handled bowie-knives. Yet was this

Nantucketer a man with some good-hearted traits; and this Lakeman, a

mariner, who though a sort of devil indeed, might yet by inflexible

firmness, only tempered by that common decency of human recognition

which is the meanest slave's right; thus treated, this Steelkilt had

long been retained harmless and docile. At all events, he had proved

so thus far; but Radney was doomed and made mad, and Steelkilt--but,

gentlemen, you shall hear.
"It was not more than a day or two at the furthest after pointing

her prow for her island haven, that the Town-Ho's leak seemed again

increasing, but only so as to require an hour or more at the pumps

every day. You must know that in a settled and civilized ocean like our

Atlantic, for example, some skippers think little of pumping their whole

way across it; though of a still, sleepy night, should the officer of

the deck happen to forget his duty in that respect, the probability

would be that he and his shipmates would never again remember it, on

account of all hands gently subsiding to the bottom. Nor in the

solitary and savage seas far from you to the westward, gentlemen, is it

altogether unusual for ships to keep clanging at their pump-handles in

full chorus even for a voyage of considerable length; that is, if it lie

along a tolerably accessible coast, or if any other reasonable retreat

is afforded them. It is only when a leaky vessel is in some very out of

the way part of those waters, some really landless latitude, that her

captain begins to feel a little anxious.


"Much this way had it been with the Town-Ho; so when her leak was found

gaining once more, there was in truth some small concern manifested by

several of her company; especially by Radney the mate. He commanded

the upper sails to be well hoisted, sheeted home anew, and every way

expanded to the breeze. Now this Radney, I suppose, was as little of a

coward, and as little inclined to any sort of nervous apprehensiveness

touching his own person as any fearless, unthinking creature on land or

on sea that you can conveniently imagine, gentlemen. Therefore when

he betrayed this solicitude about the safety of the ship, some of the

seamen declared that it was only on account of his being a part owner in

her. So when they were working that evening at the pumps, there was on

this head no small gamesomeness slily going on among them, as they stood

with their feet continually overflowed by the rippling clear water;

clear as any mountain spring, gentlemen--that bubbling from the pumps

ran across the deck, and poured itself out in steady spouts at the lee

scupper-holes.


"Now, as you well know, it is not seldom the case in this conventional

world of ours--watery or otherwise; that when a person placed in command

over his fellow-men finds one of them to be very significantly his

superior in general pride of manhood, straightway against that man he

conceives an unconquerable dislike and bitterness; and if he have a

chance he will pull down and pulverize that subaltern's tower, and

make a little heap of dust of it. Be this conceit of mine as it may,

gentlemen, at all events Steelkilt was a tall and noble animal with a

head like a Roman, and a flowing golden beard like the tasseled housings

of your last viceroy's snorting charger; and a brain, and a heart, and

a soul in him, gentlemen, which had made Steelkilt Charlemagne, had he

been born son to Charlemagne's father. But Radney, the mate, was ugly

as a mule; yet as hardy, as stubborn, as malicious. He did not love

Steelkilt, and Steelkilt knew it.


"Espying the mate drawing near as he was toiling at the pump with the

rest, the Lakeman affected not to notice him, but unawed, went on with

his gay banterings.
"'Aye, aye, my merry lads, it's a lively leak this; hold a cannikin, one

of ye, and let's have a taste. By the Lord, it's worth bottling! I tell

ye what, men, old Rad's investment must go for it! he had best cut away

his part of the hull and tow it home. The fact is, boys, that sword-fish

only began the job; he's come back again with a gang of ship-carpenters,

saw-fish, and file-fish, and what not; and the whole posse of 'em

are now hard at work cutting and slashing at the bottom; making

improvements, I suppose. If old Rad were here now, I'd tell him to jump

overboard and scatter 'em. They're playing the devil with his estate, I

can tell him. But he's a simple old soul,--Rad, and a beauty too. Boys,

they say the rest of his property is invested in looking-glasses. I

wonder if he'd give a poor devil like me the model of his nose.'


"'Damn your eyes! what's that pump stopping for?' roared Radney,

pretending not to have heard the sailors' talk. 'Thunder away at it!'


"'Aye, aye, sir,' said Steelkilt, merry as a cricket. 'Lively, boys,

lively, now!' And with that the pump clanged like fifty fire-engines;

the men tossed their hats off to it, and ere long that peculiar gasping

of the lungs was heard which denotes the fullest tension of life's

utmost energies.
"Quitting the pump at last, with the rest of his band, the Lakeman went

forward all panting, and sat himself down on the windlass; his face

fiery red, his eyes bloodshot, and wiping the profuse sweat from his

brow. Now what cozening fiend it was, gentlemen, that possessed Radney

to meddle with such a man in that corporeally exasperated state, I know

not; but so it happened. Intolerably striding along the deck, the mate

commanded him to get a broom and sweep down the planks, and also a

shovel, and remove some offensive matters consequent upon allowing a pig

to run at large.
"Now, gentlemen, sweeping a ship's deck at sea is a piece of household

work which in all times but raging gales is regularly attended to every

evening; it has been known to be done in the case of ships actually

foundering at the time. Such, gentlemen, is the inflexibility of

sea-usages and the instinctive love of neatness in seamen; some of whom

would not willingly drown without first washing their faces. But in all

vessels this broom business is the prescriptive province of the boys,

if boys there be aboard. Besides, it was the stronger men in the Town-Ho

that had been divided into gangs, taking turns at the pumps; and being

the most athletic seaman of them all, Steelkilt had been regularly

assigned captain of one of the gangs; consequently he should have

been freed from any trivial business not connected with truly nautical

duties, such being the case with his comrades. I mention all these

particulars so that you may understand exactly how this affair stood

between the two men.
"But there was more than this: the order about the shovel was almost as

plainly meant to sting and insult Steelkilt, as though Radney had spat

in his face. Any man who has gone sailor in a whale-ship will

understand this; and all this and doubtless much more, the Lakeman fully

comprehended when the mate uttered his command. But as he sat still for

a moment, and as he steadfastly looked into the mate's malignant eye and

perceived the stacks of powder-casks heaped up in him and the slow-match

silently burning along towards them; as he instinctively saw all

this, that strange forbearance and unwillingness to stir up the deeper

passionateness in any already ireful being--a repugnance most felt, when

felt at all, by really valiant men even when aggrieved--this nameless

phantom feeling, gentlemen, stole over Steelkilt.


"Therefore, in his ordinary tone, only a little broken by the bodily

exhaustion he was temporarily in, he answered him saying that sweeping

the deck was not his business, and he would not do it. And then, without

at all alluding to the shovel, he pointed to three lads as the customary

sweepers; who, not being billeted at the pumps, had done little or

nothing all day. To this, Radney replied with an oath, in a most

domineering and outrageous manner unconditionally reiterating his

command; meanwhile advancing upon the still seated Lakeman, with an

uplifted cooper's club hammer which he had snatched from a cask near by.
"Heated and irritated as he was by his spasmodic toil at the pumps, for

all his first nameless feeling of forbearance the sweating Steelkilt

could but ill brook this bearing in the mate; but somehow still

smothering the conflagration within him, without speaking he remained

doggedly rooted to his seat, till at last the incensed Radney shook the

hammer within a few inches of his face, furiously commanding him to do

his bidding.
"Steelkilt rose, and slowly retreating round the windlass, steadily

followed by the mate with his menacing hammer, deliberately repeated his

intention not to obey. Seeing, however, that his forbearance had not

the slightest effect, by an awful and unspeakable intimation with his

twisted hand he warned off the foolish and infatuated man; but it was to

no purpose. And in this way the two went once slowly round the windlass;

when, resolved at last no longer to retreat, bethinking him that he had

now forborne as much as comported with his humor, the Lakeman paused on

the hatches and thus spoke to the officer:
"'Mr. Radney, I will not obey you. Take that hammer away, or look to

yourself.' But the predestinated mate coming still closer to him, where

the Lakeman stood fixed, now shook the heavy hammer within an inch of

his teeth; meanwhile repeating a string of insufferable maledictions.

Retreating not the thousandth part of an inch; stabbing him in the eye

with the unflinching poniard of his glance, Steelkilt, clenching

his right hand behind him and creepingly drawing it back, told his

persecutor that if the hammer but grazed his cheek he (Steelkilt) would

murder him. But, gentlemen, the fool had been branded for the slaughter

by the gods. Immediately the hammer touched the cheek; the next instant

the lower jaw of the mate was stove in his head; he fell on the hatch

spouting blood like a whale.


"Ere the cry could go aft Steelkilt was shaking one of the backstays

leading far aloft to where two of his comrades were standing their

mastheads. They were both Canallers.
"'Canallers!' cried Don Pedro. 'We have seen many whale-ships in our

harbours, but never heard of your Canallers. Pardon: who and what are

they?'
"'Canallers, Don, are the boatmen belonging to our grand Erie Canal. You

must have heard of it.'


"'Nay, Senor; hereabouts in this dull, warm, most lazy, and hereditary

land, we know but little of your vigorous North.'


"'Aye? Well then, Don, refill my cup. Your chicha's very fine; and

ere proceeding further I will tell ye what our Canallers are; for such

information may throw side-light upon my story.'
"For three hundred and sixty miles, gentlemen, through the entire

breadth of the state of New York; through numerous populous cities and

most thriving villages; through long, dismal, uninhabited swamps, and

affluent, cultivated fields, unrivalled for fertility; by billiard-room

and bar-room; through the holy-of-holies of great forests; on Roman

arches over Indian rivers; through sun and shade; by happy hearts or

broken; through all the wide contrasting scenery of those noble Mohawk

counties; and especially, by rows of snow-white chapels, whose spires

stand almost like milestones, flows one continual stream of Venetianly

corrupt and often lawless life. There's your true Ashantee, gentlemen;

there howl your pagans; where you ever find them, next door to you;

under the long-flung shadow, and the snug patronising lee of churches.

For by some curious fatality, as it is often noted of your metropolitan

freebooters that they ever encamp around the halls of justice, so

sinners, gentlemen, most abound in holiest vicinities.
"'Is that a friar passing?' said Don Pedro, looking downwards into the

crowded plazza, with humorous concern.


"'Well for our northern friend, Dame Isabella's Inquisition wanes in

Lima,' laughed Don Sebastian. 'Proceed, Senor.'


"'A moment! Pardon!' cried another of the company. 'In the name of all

us Limeese, I but desire to express to you, sir sailor, that we have by

no means overlooked your delicacy in not substituting present Lima

for distant Venice in your corrupt comparison. Oh! do not bow and look

surprised; you know the proverb all along this coast--"Corrupt as

Lima." It but bears out your saying, too; churches more plentiful than

billiard-tables, and for ever open--and "Corrupt as Lima." So, too,

Venice; I have been there; the holy city of the blessed evangelist, St.

Mark!--St. Dominic, purge it! Your cup! Thanks: here I refill; now, you

pour out again.'


"Freely depicted in his own vocation, gentlemen, the Canaller would make

a fine dramatic hero, so abundantly and picturesquely wicked is he. Like

Mark Antony, for days and days along his green-turfed, flowery Nile,

he indolently floats, openly toying with his red-cheeked Cleopatra,

ripening his apricot thigh upon the sunny deck. But ashore, all this

effeminacy is dashed. The brigandish guise which the Canaller so proudly

sports; his slouched and gaily-ribboned hat betoken his grand features.

A terror to the smiling innocence of the villages through which he

floats; his swart visage and bold swagger are not unshunned in cities.

Once a vagabond on his own canal, I have received good turns from one of

these Canallers; I thank him heartily; would fain be not ungrateful;

but it is often one of the prime redeeming qualities of your man of

violence, that at times he has as stiff an arm to back a poor stranger

in a strait, as to plunder a wealthy one. In sum, gentlemen, what the

wildness of this canal life is, is emphatically evinced by this; that

our wild whale-fishery contains so many of its most finished graduates,

and that scarce any race of mankind, except Sydney men, are so much

distrusted by our whaling captains. Nor does it at all diminish the

curiousness of this matter, that to many thousands of our rural boys and

young men born along its line, the probationary life of the Grand Canal

furnishes the sole transition between quietly reaping in a Christian

corn-field, and recklessly ploughing the waters of the most barbaric

seas.
"'I see! I see!' impetuously exclaimed Don Pedro, spilling his chicha

upon his silvery ruffles. 'No need to travel! The world's one Lima. I

had thought, now, that at your temperate North the generations were cold

and holy as the hills.--But the story.'


"I left off, gentlemen, where the Lakeman shook the backstay. Hardly

had he done so, when he was surrounded by the three junior mates and the

four harpooneers, who all crowded him to the deck. But sliding down the

ropes like baleful comets, the two Canallers rushed into the uproar, and

sought to drag their man out of it towards the forecastle. Others of the

sailors joined with them in this attempt, and a twisted turmoil ensued;

while standing out of harm's way, the valiant captain danced up and down

with a whale-pike, calling upon his officers to manhandle that atrocious

scoundrel, and smoke him along to the quarter-deck. At intervals, he ran

close up to the revolving border of the confusion, and prying into

the heart of it with his pike, sought to prick out the object of his

resentment. But Steelkilt and his desperadoes were too much for them

all; they succeeded in gaining the forecastle deck, where, hastily

slewing about three or four large casks in a line with the windlass,

these sea-Parisians entrenched themselves behind the barricade.
"'Come out of that, ye pirates!' roared the captain, now menacing them

with a pistol in each hand, just brought to him by the steward. 'Come

out of that, ye cut-throats!'
"Steelkilt leaped on the barricade, and striding up and down there,

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