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



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defied the worst the pistols could do; but gave the captain to

understand distinctly, that his (Steelkilt's) death would be the signal

for a murderous mutiny on the part of all hands. Fearing in his heart

lest this might prove but too true, the captain a little desisted, but

still commanded the insurgents instantly to return to their duty.


"'Will you promise not to touch us, if we do?' demanded their

ringleader.


"'Turn to! turn to!--I make no promise;--to your duty! Do you want to

sink the ship, by knocking off at a time like this? Turn to!' and he

once more raised a pistol.
"'Sink the ship?' cried Steelkilt. 'Aye, let her sink. Not a man of us

turns to, unless you swear not to raise a rope-yarn against us. What say

ye, men?' turning to his comrades. A fierce cheer was their response.
"The Lakeman now patrolled the barricade, all the while keeping his eye

on the Captain, and jerking out such sentences as these:--'It's not our

fault; we didn't want it; I told him to take his hammer away; it was

boy's business; he might have known me before this; I told him not to

prick the buffalo; I believe I have broken a finger here against his

cursed jaw; ain't those mincing knives down in the forecastle there,

men? look to those handspikes, my hearties. Captain, by God, look to

yourself; say the word; don't be a fool; forget it all; we are ready

to turn to; treat us decently, and we're your men; but we won't be

flogged.'


"'Turn to! I make no promises, turn to, I say!'
"'Look ye, now,' cried the Lakeman, flinging out his arm towards him,

'there are a few of us here (and I am one of them) who have shipped

for the cruise, d'ye see; now as you well know, sir, we can claim our

discharge as soon as the anchor is down; so we don't want a row; it's

not our interest; we want to be peaceable; we are ready to work, but we

won't be flogged.'


"'Turn to!' roared the Captain.
"Steelkilt glanced round him a moment, and then said:--'I tell you what

it is now, Captain, rather than kill ye, and be hung for such a shabby

rascal, we won't lift a hand against ye unless ye attack us; but till

you say the word about not flogging us, we don't do a hand's turn.'


"'Down into the forecastle then, down with ye, I'll keep ye there till

ye're sick of it. Down ye go.'


"'Shall we?' cried the ringleader to his men. Most of them were against

it; but at length, in obedience to Steelkilt, they preceded him down

into their dark den, growlingly disappearing, like bears into a cave.
"As the Lakeman's bare head was just level with the planks, the Captain

and his posse leaped the barricade, and rapidly drawing over the slide

of the scuttle, planted their group of hands upon it, and loudly called

for the steward to bring the heavy brass padlock belonging to the

companionway.
"Then opening the slide a little, the Captain whispered something

down the crack, closed it, and turned the key upon them--ten in

number--leaving on deck some twenty or more, who thus far had remained

neutral.
"All night a wide-awake watch was kept by all the officers, forward and

aft, especially about the forecastle scuttle and fore hatchway; at which

last place it was feared the insurgents might emerge, after breaking

through the bulkhead below. But the hours of darkness passed in peace;

the men who still remained at their duty toiling hard at the pumps,

whose clinking and clanking at intervals through the dreary night

dismally resounded through the ship.


"At sunrise the Captain went forward, and knocking on the deck, summoned

the prisoners to work; but with a yell they refused. Water was then

lowered down to them, and a couple of handfuls of biscuit were tossed

after it; when again turning the key upon them and pocketing it, the

Captain returned to the quarter-deck. Twice every day for three days

this was repeated; but on the fourth morning a confused wrangling, and

then a scuffling was heard, as the customary summons was delivered; and

suddenly four men burst up from the forecastle, saying they were ready

to turn to. The fetid closeness of the air, and a famishing diet, united

perhaps to some fears of ultimate retribution, had constrained them to

surrender at discretion. Emboldened by this, the Captain reiterated his

demand to the rest, but Steelkilt shouted up to him a terrific hint to

stop his babbling and betake himself where he belonged. On the fifth

morning three others of the mutineers bolted up into the air from the

desperate arms below that sought to restrain them. Only three were left.
"'Better turn to, now?' said the Captain with a heartless jeer.
"'Shut us up again, will ye!' cried Steelkilt.
"'Oh certainly,' the Captain, and the key clicked.
"It was at this point, gentlemen, that enraged by the defection of seven

of his former associates, and stung by the mocking voice that had last

hailed him, and maddened by his long entombment in a place as black as

the bowels of despair; it was then that Steelkilt proposed to the two

Canallers, thus far apparently of one mind with him, to burst out of

their hole at the next summoning of the garrison; and armed with their

keen mincing knives (long, crescentic, heavy implements with a handle

at each end) run amuck from the bowsprit to the taffrail; and if by any

devilishness of desperation possible, seize the ship. For himself, he

would do this, he said, whether they joined him or not. That was the

last night he should spend in that den. But the scheme met with no

opposition on the part of the other two; they swore they were ready for

that, or for any other mad thing, for anything in short but a surrender.

And what was more, they each insisted upon being the first man on deck,

when the time to make the rush should come. But to this their leader as

fiercely objected, reserving that priority for himself; particularly as

his two comrades would not yield, the one to the other, in the matter;

and both of them could not be first, for the ladder would but admit one

man at a time. And here, gentlemen, the foul play of these miscreants

must come out.


"Upon hearing the frantic project of their leader, each in his own

separate soul had suddenly lighted, it would seem, upon the same piece

of treachery, namely: to be foremost in breaking out, in order to be

the first of the three, though the last of the ten, to surrender; and

thereby secure whatever small chance of pardon such conduct might merit.

But when Steelkilt made known his determination still to lead them to

the last, they in some way, by some subtle chemistry of villany, mixed

their before secret treacheries together; and when their leader

fell into a doze, verbally opened their souls to each other in three

sentences; and bound the sleeper with cords, and gagged him with cords;

and shrieked out for the Captain at midnight.
"Thinking murder at hand, and smelling in the dark for the blood, he and

all his armed mates and harpooneers rushed for the forecastle. In a

few minutes the scuttle was opened, and, bound hand and foot, the still

struggling ringleader was shoved up into the air by his perfidious

allies, who at once claimed the honour of securing a man who had been

fully ripe for murder. But all these were collared, and dragged along

the deck like dead cattle; and, side by side, were seized up into the

mizzen rigging, like three quarters of meat, and there they hung till

morning. 'Damn ye,' cried the Captain, pacing to and fro before them,

'the vultures would not touch ye, ye villains!'


"At sunrise he summoned all hands; and separating those who had rebelled

from those who had taken no part in the mutiny, he told the former that

he had a good mind to flog them all round--thought, upon the whole,

he would do so--he ought to--justice demanded it; but for the present,

considering their timely surrender, he would let them go with a

reprimand, which he accordingly administered in the vernacular.


"'But as for you, ye carrion rogues,' turning to the three men in the

rigging--'for you, I mean to mince ye up for the try-pots;' and,

seizing a rope, he applied it with all his might to the backs of the

two traitors, till they yelled no more, but lifelessly hung their heads

sideways, as the two crucified thieves are drawn.
"'My wrist is sprained with ye!' he cried, at last; 'but there is still

rope enough left for you, my fine bantam, that wouldn't give up. Take

that gag from his mouth, and let us hear what he can say for himself.'
"For a moment the exhausted mutineer made a tremulous motion of his

cramped jaws, and then painfully twisting round his head, said in a sort

of hiss, 'What I say is this--and mind it well--if you flog me, I murder

you!'
"'Say ye so? then see how ye frighten me'--and the Captain drew off with

the rope to strike.
"'Best not,' hissed the Lakeman.
"'But I must,'--and the rope was once more drawn back for the stroke.
"Steelkilt here hissed out something, inaudible to all but the Captain;

who, to the amazement of all hands, started back, paced the deck rapidly

two or three times, and then suddenly throwing down his rope, said, 'I

won't do it--let him go--cut him down: d'ye hear?'


"But as the junior mates were hurrying to execute the order, a pale man,

with a bandaged head, arrested them--Radney the chief mate. Ever since

the blow, he had lain in his berth; but that morning, hearing the tumult

on the deck, he had crept out, and thus far had watched the whole

scene. Such was the state of his mouth, that he could hardly speak;

but mumbling something about his being willing and able to do what the

captain dared not attempt, he snatched the rope and advanced to his

pinioned foe.


"'You are a coward!' hissed the Lakeman.
"'So I am, but take that.' The mate was in the very act of striking,

when another hiss stayed his uplifted arm. He paused: and then pausing

no more, made good his word, spite of Steelkilt's threat, whatever that

might have been. The three men were then cut down, all hands were turned

to, and, sullenly worked by the moody seamen, the iron pumps clanged as

before.
"Just after dark that day, when one watch had retired below, a clamor

was heard in the forecastle; and the two trembling traitors running up,

besieged the cabin door, saying they durst not consort with the crew.

Entreaties, cuffs, and kicks could not drive them back, so at their own

instance they were put down in the ship's run for salvation. Still, no

sign of mutiny reappeared among the rest. On the contrary, it seemed,

that mainly at Steelkilt's instigation, they had resolved to maintain

the strictest peacefulness, obey all orders to the last, and, when the

ship reached port, desert her in a body. But in order to insure the

speediest end to the voyage, they all agreed to another thing--namely,

not to sing out for whales, in case any should be discovered. For,

spite of her leak, and spite of all her other perils, the Town-Ho still

maintained her mast-heads, and her captain was just as willing to

lower for a fish that moment, as on the day his craft first struck the

cruising ground; and Radney the mate was quite as ready to change his

berth for a boat, and with his bandaged mouth seek to gag in death the

vital jaw of the whale.


"But though the Lakeman had induced the seamen to adopt this sort of

passiveness in their conduct, he kept his own counsel (at least till all

was over) concerning his own proper and private revenge upon the man who

had stung him in the ventricles of his heart. He was in Radney the chief

mate's watch; and as if the infatuated man sought to run more than

half way to meet his doom, after the scene at the rigging, he insisted,

against the express counsel of the captain, upon resuming the head

of his watch at night. Upon this, and one or two other circumstances,

Steelkilt systematically built the plan of his revenge.
"During the night, Radney had an unseamanlike way of sitting on the

bulwarks of the quarter-deck, and leaning his arm upon the gunwale of

the boat which was hoisted up there, a little above the ship's side.

In this attitude, it was well known, he sometimes dozed. There was a

considerable vacancy between the boat and the ship, and down between

this was the sea. Steelkilt calculated his time, and found that his next

trick at the helm would come round at two o'clock, in the morning of the

third day from that in which he had been betrayed. At his leisure,

he employed the interval in braiding something very carefully in his

watches below.


"'What are you making there?' said a shipmate.
"'What do you think? what does it look like?'
"'Like a lanyard for your bag; but it's an odd one, seems to me.'
"'Yes, rather oddish,' said the Lakeman, holding it at arm's length

before him; 'but I think it will answer. Shipmate, I haven't enough

twine,--have you any?'
"But there was none in the forecastle.
"'Then I must get some from old Rad;' and he rose to go aft.
"'You don't mean to go a begging to HIM!' said a sailor.
"'Why not? Do you think he won't do me a turn, when it's to help himself

in the end, shipmate?' and going to the mate, he looked at him

quietly, and asked him for some twine to mend his hammock. It was given

him--neither twine nor lanyard were seen again; but the next night

an iron ball, closely netted, partly rolled from the pocket of the

Lakeman's monkey jacket, as he was tucking the coat into his hammock for

a pillow. Twenty-four hours after, his trick at the silent helm--nigh

to the man who was apt to doze over the grave always ready dug to

the seaman's hand--that fatal hour was then to come; and in the

fore-ordaining soul of Steelkilt, the mate was already stark and

stretched as a corpse, with his forehead crushed in.
"But, gentlemen, a fool saved the would-be murderer from the bloody

deed he had planned. Yet complete revenge he had, and without being the

avenger. For by a mysterious fatality, Heaven itself seemed to step in

to take out of his hands into its own the damning thing he would have

done.
"It was just between daybreak and sunrise of the morning of the second

day, when they were washing down the decks, that a stupid Teneriffe man,

drawing water in the main-chains, all at once shouted out, 'There she

rolls! there she rolls!' Jesu, what a whale! It was Moby Dick.


"'Moby Dick!' cried Don Sebastian; 'St. Dominic! Sir sailor, but do

whales have christenings? Whom call you Moby Dick?'


"'A very white, and famous, and most deadly immortal monster, Don;--but

that would be too long a story.'


"'How? how?' cried all the young Spaniards, crowding.
"'Nay, Dons, Dons--nay, nay! I cannot rehearse that now. Let me get more

into the air, Sirs.'


"'The chicha! the chicha!' cried Don Pedro; 'our vigorous friend looks

faint;--fill up his empty glass!'


"No need, gentlemen; one moment, and I proceed.--Now, gentlemen,

so suddenly perceiving the snowy whale within fifty yards of the

ship--forgetful of the compact among the crew--in the excitement of the

moment, the Teneriffe man had instinctively and involuntarily lifted

his voice for the monster, though for some little time past it had been

plainly beheld from the three sullen mast-heads. All was now a phrensy.

'The White Whale--the White Whale!' was the cry from captain, mates,

and harpooneers, who, undeterred by fearful rumours, were all anxious

to capture so famous and precious a fish; while the dogged crew eyed

askance, and with curses, the appalling beauty of the vast milky mass,

that lit up by a horizontal spangling sun, shifted and glistened like

a living opal in the blue morning sea. Gentlemen, a strange fatality

pervades the whole career of these events, as if verily mapped out

before the world itself was charted. The mutineer was the bowsman of the

mate, and when fast to a fish, it was his duty to sit next him, while

Radney stood up with his lance in the prow, and haul in or slacken

the line, at the word of command. Moreover, when the four boats were

lowered, the mate's got the start; and none howled more fiercely with

delight than did Steelkilt, as he strained at his oar. After a stiff

pull, their harpooneer got fast, and, spear in hand, Radney sprang to

the bow. He was always a furious man, it seems, in a boat. And now his

bandaged cry was, to beach him on the whale's topmost back. Nothing

loath, his bowsman hauled him up and up, through a blinding foam that

blent two whitenesses together; till of a sudden the boat struck as

against a sunken ledge, and keeling over, spilled out the standing mate.

That instant, as he fell on the whale's slippery back, the boat righted,

and was dashed aside by the swell, while Radney was tossed over into the

sea, on the other flank of the whale. He struck out through the spray,

and, for an instant, was dimly seen through that veil, wildly seeking to

remove himself from the eye of Moby Dick. But the whale rushed round

in a sudden maelstrom; seized the swimmer between his jaws; and rearing

high up with him, plunged headlong again, and went down.


"Meantime, at the first tap of the boat's bottom, the Lakeman had

slackened the line, so as to drop astern from the whirlpool; calmly

looking on, he thought his own thoughts. But a sudden, terrific,

downward jerking of the boat, quickly brought his knife to the line. He

cut it; and the whale was free. But, at some distance, Moby Dick rose

again, with some tatters of Radney's red woollen shirt, caught in the

teeth that had destroyed him. All four boats gave chase again; but the

whale eluded them, and finally wholly disappeared.


"In good time, the Town-Ho reached her port--a savage, solitary

place--where no civilized creature resided. There, headed by the

Lakeman, all but five or six of the foremastmen deliberately deserted

among the palms; eventually, as it turned out, seizing a large double

war-canoe of the savages, and setting sail for some other harbor.
"The ship's company being reduced to but a handful, the captain called

upon the Islanders to assist him in the laborious business of heaving

down the ship to stop the leak. But to such unresting vigilance over

their dangerous allies was this small band of whites necessitated, both

by night and by day, and so extreme was the hard work they underwent,

that upon the vessel being ready again for sea, they were in such a

weakened condition that the captain durst not put off with them in so

heavy a vessel. After taking counsel with his officers, he anchored the

ship as far off shore as possible; loaded and ran out his two cannon

from the bows; stacked his muskets on the poop; and warning the

Islanders not to approach the ship at their peril, took one man with

him, and setting the sail of his best whale-boat, steered straight

before the wind for Tahiti, five hundred miles distant, to procure a

reinforcement to his crew.


"On the fourth day of the sail, a large canoe was descried, which seemed

to have touched at a low isle of corals. He steered away from it; but

the savage craft bore down on him; and soon the voice of Steelkilt

hailed him to heave to, or he would run him under water. The captain

presented a pistol. With one foot on each prow of the yoked war-canoes,

the Lakeman laughed him to scorn; assuring him that if the pistol so

much as clicked in the lock, he would bury him in bubbles and foam.
"'What do you want of me?' cried the captain.
"'Where are you bound? and for what are you bound?' demanded Steelkilt;

'no lies.'


"'I am bound to Tahiti for more men.'
"'Very good. Let me board you a moment--I come in peace.' With that he

leaped from the canoe, swam to the boat; and climbing the gunwale, stood

face to face with the captain.
"'Cross your arms, sir; throw back your head. Now, repeat after me.

As soon as Steelkilt leaves me, I swear to beach this boat on yonder

island, and remain there six days. If I do not, may lightning strike

me!'
"'A pretty scholar,' laughed the Lakeman. 'Adios, Senor!' and leaping

into the sea, he swam back to his comrades.
"Watching the boat till it was fairly beached, and drawn up to the

roots of the cocoa-nut trees, Steelkilt made sail again, and in due time

arrived at Tahiti, his own place of destination. There, luck befriended

him; two ships were about to sail for France, and were providentially

in want of precisely that number of men which the sailor headed. They

embarked; and so for ever got the start of their former captain, had he

been at all minded to work them legal retribution.
"Some ten days after the French ships sailed, the whale-boat arrived,

and the captain was forced to enlist some of the more civilized

Tahitians, who had been somewhat used to the sea. Chartering a small

native schooner, he returned with them to his vessel; and finding all

right there, again resumed his cruisings.
"Where Steelkilt now is, gentlemen, none know; but upon the island of

Nantucket, the widow of Radney still turns to the sea which refuses

to give up its dead; still in dreams sees the awful white whale that

destroyed him.


"'Are you through?' said Don Sebastian, quietly.
"'I am, Don.'
"'Then I entreat you, tell me if to the best of your own convictions,

this your story is in substance really true? It is so passing wonderful!

Did you get it from an unquestionable source? Bear with me if I seem to

press.'
"'Also bear with all of us, sir sailor; for we all join in Don

Sebastian's suit,' cried the company, with exceeding interest.
"'Is there a copy of the Holy Evangelists in the Golden Inn, gentlemen?'
"'Nay,' said Don Sebastian; 'but I know a worthy priest near by, who

will quickly procure one for me. I go for it; but are you well advised?

this may grow too serious.'
"'Will you be so good as to bring the priest also, Don?'
"'Though there are no Auto-da-Fe's in Lima now,' said one of the company

to another; 'I fear our sailor friend runs risk of the archiepiscopacy.

Let us withdraw more out of the moonlight. I see no need of this.'
"'Excuse me for running after you, Don Sebastian; but may I also beg

that you will be particular in procuring the largest sized Evangelists

you can.'
"'This is the priest, he brings you the Evangelists,' said Don Sebastian,

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