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

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"'Twill hold, old gentleman. Long heat and wet, have they spoiled thee?

Thou seem'st to hold. Or, truer perhaps, life holds thee; not thou it."

"I hold the spool, sir. But just as my captain says. With these

grey hairs of mine 'tis not worth while disputing, 'specially with a

superior, who'll ne'er confess."
"What's that? There now's a patched professor in Queen Nature's

granite-founded College; but methinks he's too subservient. Where wert

thou born?"
"In the little rocky Isle of Man, sir."
"Excellent! Thou'st hit the world by that."
"I know not, sir, but I was born there."
"In the Isle of Man, hey? Well, the other way, it's good. Here's a man

from Man; a man born in once independent Man, and now unmanned of Man;

which is sucked in--by what? Up with the reel! The dead, blind wall

butts all inquiring heads at last. Up with it! So."

The log was heaved. The loose coils rapidly straightened out in a long

dragging line astern, and then, instantly, the reel began to whirl. In

turn, jerkingly raised and lowered by the rolling billows, the towing

resistance of the log caused the old reelman to stagger strangely.

"Hold hard!"
Snap! the overstrained line sagged down in one long festoon; the tugging

log was gone.

"I crush the quadrant, the thunder turns the needles, and now the mad

sea parts the log-line. But Ahab can mend all. Haul in here, Tahitian;

reel up, Manxman. And look ye, let the carpenter make another log, and

mend thou the line. See to it."

"There he goes now; to him nothing's happened; but to me, the skewer

seems loosening out of the middle of the world. Haul in, haul in,

Tahitian! These lines run whole, and whirling out: come in broken, and

dragging slow. Ha, Pip? come to help; eh, Pip?"

"Pip? whom call ye Pip? Pip jumped from the whale-boat. Pip's missing.

Let's see now if ye haven't fished him up here, fisherman. It drags

hard; I guess he's holding on. Jerk him, Tahiti! Jerk him off; we haul

in no cowards here. Ho! there's his arm just breaking water. A hatchet!

a hatchet! cut it off--we haul in no cowards here. Captain Ahab! sir,

sir! here's Pip, trying to get on board again."

"Peace, thou crazy loon," cried the Manxman, seizing him by the arm.

"Away from the quarter-deck!"

"The greater idiot ever scolds the lesser," muttered Ahab, advancing.

"Hands off from that holiness! Where sayest thou Pip was, boy?

"Astern there, sir, astern! Lo! lo!"
"And who art thou, boy? I see not my reflection in the vacant pupils of

thy eyes. Oh God! that man should be a thing for immortal souls to sieve

through! Who art thou, boy?"
"Bell-boy, sir; ship's-crier; ding, dong, ding! Pip! Pip! Pip!

One hundred pounds of clay reward for Pip; five feet high--looks

cowardly--quickest known by that! Ding, dong, ding! Who's seen Pip the

"There can be no hearts above the snow-line. Oh, ye frozen heavens! look

down here. Ye did beget this luckless child, and have abandoned him,

ye creative libertines. Here, boy; Ahab's cabin shall be Pip's home

henceforth, while Ahab lives. Thou touchest my inmost centre, boy; thou

art tied to me by cords woven of my heart-strings. Come, let's down."

"What's this? here's velvet shark-skin," intently gazing at Ahab's hand,

and feeling it. "Ah, now, had poor Pip but felt so kind a thing as this,

perhaps he had ne'er been lost! This seems to me, sir, as a man-rope;

something that weak souls may hold by. Oh, sir, let old Perth now come

and rivet these two hands together; the black one with the white, for I

will not let this go."

"Oh, boy, nor will I thee, unless I should thereby drag thee to worse

horrors than are here. Come, then, to my cabin. Lo! ye believers in

gods all goodness, and in man all ill, lo you! see the omniscient gods

oblivious of suffering man; and man, though idiotic, and knowing not

what he does, yet full of the sweet things of love and gratitude. Come!

I feel prouder leading thee by thy black hand, than though I grasped an

"There go two daft ones now," muttered the old Manxman. "One daft with

strength, the other daft with weakness. But here's the end of the rotten

line--all dripping, too. Mend it, eh? I think we had best have a new

line altogether. I'll see Mr. Stubb about it."

CHAPTER 126. The Life-Buoy.

Steering now south-eastward by Ahab's levelled steel, and her progress

solely determined by Ahab's level log and line; the Pequod held on

her path towards the Equator. Making so long a passage through such

unfrequented waters, descrying no ships, and ere long, sideways impelled

by unvarying trade winds, over waves monotonously mild; all these seemed

the strange calm things preluding some riotous and desperate scene.

At last, when the ship drew near to the outskirts, as it were, of the

Equatorial fishing-ground, and in the deep darkness that goes before the

dawn, was sailing by a cluster of rocky islets; the watch--then headed

by Flask--was startled by a cry so plaintively wild and unearthly--like

half-articulated wailings of the ghosts of all Herod's murdered

Innocents--that one and all, they started from their reveries, and for

the space of some moments stood, or sat, or leaned all transfixedly

listening, like the carved Roman slave, while that wild cry remained

within hearing. The Christian or civilized part of the crew said it was

mermaids, and shuddered; but the pagan harpooneers remained unappalled.

Yet the grey Manxman--the oldest mariner of all--declared that the wild

thrilling sounds that were heard, were the voices of newly drowned men

in the sea.
Below in his hammock, Ahab did not hear of this till grey dawn, when

he came to the deck; it was then recounted to him by Flask, not

unaccompanied with hinted dark meanings. He hollowly laughed, and thus

explained the wonder.

Those rocky islands the ship had passed were the resort of great numbers

of seals, and some young seals that had lost their dams, or some dams

that had lost their cubs, must have risen nigh the ship and kept company

with her, crying and sobbing with their human sort of wail. But this

only the more affected some of them, because most mariners cherish a

very superstitious feeling about seals, arising not only from their

peculiar tones when in distress, but also from the human look of their

round heads and semi-intelligent faces, seen peeringly uprising from

the water alongside. In the sea, under certain circumstances, seals have

more than once been mistaken for men.

But the bodings of the crew were destined to receive a most plausible

confirmation in the fate of one of their number that morning. At

sun-rise this man went from his hammock to his mast-head at the fore;

and whether it was that he was not yet half waked from his sleep (for

sailors sometimes go aloft in a transition state), whether it was thus

with the man, there is now no telling; but, be that as it may, he

had not been long at his perch, when a cry was heard--a cry and a

rushing--and looking up, they saw a falling phantom in the air; and

looking down, a little tossed heap of white bubbles in the blue of the

The life-buoy--a long slender cask--was dropped from the stern, where it

always hung obedient to a cunning spring; but no hand rose to seize it,

and the sun having long beat upon this cask it had shrunken, so that it

slowly filled, and that parched wood also filled at its every pore; and

the studded iron-bound cask followed the sailor to the bottom, as if to

yield him his pillow, though in sooth but a hard one.
And thus the first man of the Pequod that mounted the mast to look out

for the White Whale, on the White Whale's own peculiar ground; that man

was swallowed up in the deep. But few, perhaps, thought of that at the

time. Indeed, in some sort, they were not grieved at this event, at

least as a portent; for they regarded it, not as a foreshadowing of evil

in the future, but as the fulfilment of an evil already presaged. They

declared that now they knew the reason of those wild shrieks they had

heard the night before. But again the old Manxman said nay.

The lost life-buoy was now to be replaced; Starbuck was directed to see

to it; but as no cask of sufficient lightness could be found, and as

in the feverish eagerness of what seemed the approaching crisis of

the voyage, all hands were impatient of any toil but what was directly

connected with its final end, whatever that might prove to be;

therefore, they were going to leave the ship's stern unprovided with a

buoy, when by certain strange signs and inuendoes Queequeg hinted a hint

concerning his coffin.

"A life-buoy of a coffin!" cried Starbuck, starting.
"Rather queer, that, I should say," said Stubb.
"It will make a good enough one," said Flask, "the carpenter here can

arrange it easily."

"Bring it up; there's nothing else for it," said Starbuck, after a

melancholy pause. "Rig it, carpenter; do not look at me so--the coffin,

I mean. Dost thou hear me? Rig it."
"And shall I nail down the lid, sir?" moving his hand as with a hammer.
"And shall I caulk the seams, sir?" moving his hand as with a


"And shall I then pay over the same with pitch, sir?" moving his hand as

with a pitch-pot.

"Away! what possesses thee to this? Make a life-buoy of the coffin, and

no more.--Mr. Stubb, Mr. Flask, come forward with me."

"He goes off in a huff. The whole he can endure; at the parts he baulks.

Now I don't like this. I make a leg for Captain Ahab, and he wears it

like a gentleman; but I make a bandbox for Queequeg, and he won't put

his head into it. Are all my pains to go for nothing with that coffin?

And now I'm ordered to make a life-buoy of it. It's like turning an old

coat; going to bring the flesh on the other side now. I don't like this

cobbling sort of business--I don't like it at all; it's undignified;

it's not my place. Let tinkers' brats do tinkerings; we are their

betters. I like to take in hand none but clean, virgin, fair-and-square

mathematical jobs, something that regularly begins at the beginning, and

is at the middle when midway, and comes to an end at the conclusion; not

a cobbler's job, that's at an end in the middle, and at the beginning at

the end. It's the old woman's tricks to be giving cobbling jobs. Lord!

what an affection all old women have for tinkers. I know an old woman of

sixty-five who ran away with a bald-headed young tinker once. And that's

the reason I never would work for lonely widow old women ashore, when

I kept my job-shop in the Vineyard; they might have taken it into their

lonely old heads to run off with me. But heigh-ho! there are no caps at

sea but snow-caps. Let me see. Nail down the lid; caulk the seams; pay

over the same with pitch; batten them down tight, and hang it with the

snap-spring over the ship's stern. Were ever such things done before

with a coffin? Some superstitious old carpenters, now, would be tied

up in the rigging, ere they would do the job. But I'm made of knotty

Aroostook hemlock; I don't budge. Cruppered with a coffin! Sailing

about with a grave-yard tray! But never mind. We workers in woods make

bridal-bedsteads and card-tables, as well as coffins and hearses. We

work by the month, or by the job, or by the profit; not for us to ask

the why and wherefore of our work, unless it be too confounded cobbling,

and then we stash it if we can. Hem! I'll do the job, now, tenderly.

I'll have me--let's see--how many in the ship's company, all told? But

I've forgotten. Any way, I'll have me thirty separate, Turk's-headed

life-lines, each three feet long hanging all round to the coffin. Then,

if the hull go down, there'll be thirty lively fellows all fighting for

one coffin, a sight not seen very often beneath the sun! Come hammer,

caulking-iron, pitch-pot, and marling-spike! Let's to it."

CHAPTER 127. The Deck.






"Back, lad; I will be with ye again presently. He goes! Not this hand

complies with my humor more genially than that boy.--Middle aisle of a

church! What's here?"

"Life-buoy, sir. Mr. Starbuck's orders. Oh, look, sir! Beware the


"Thank ye, man. Thy coffin lies handy to the vault."
"Sir? The hatchway? oh! So it does, sir, so it does."
"Art not thou the leg-maker? Look, did not this stump come from thy

"I believe it did, sir; does the ferrule stand, sir?"

"Well enough. But art thou not also the undertaker?"
"Aye, sir; I patched up this thing here as a coffin for Queequeg; but

they've set me now to turning it into something else."

"Then tell me; art thou not an arrant, all-grasping, intermeddling,

monopolising, heathenish old scamp, to be one day making legs, and the

next day coffins to clap them in, and yet again life-buoys out of those

same coffins? Thou art as unprincipled as the gods, and as much of a

"But I do not mean anything, sir. I do as I do."
"The gods again. Hark ye, dost thou not ever sing working about a

coffin? The Titans, they say, hummed snatches when chipping out the

craters for volcanoes; and the grave-digger in the play sings, spade in

hand. Dost thou never?"

"Sing, sir? Do I sing? Oh, I'm indifferent enough, sir, for that; but

the reason why the grave-digger made music must have been because there

was none in his spade, sir. But the caulking mallet is full of it. Hark

to it."
"Aye, and that's because the lid there's a sounding-board; and what in

all things makes the sounding-board is this--there's naught beneath. And

yet, a coffin with a body in it rings pretty much the same, Carpenter.

Hast thou ever helped carry a bier, and heard the coffin knock against

the churchyard gate, going in?

"Faith, sir, I've--"
"Faith? What's that?"
"Why, faith, sir, it's only a sort of exclamation-like--that's all,

"Um, um; go on."

"I was about to say, sir, that--"
"Art thou a silk-worm? Dost thou spin thy own shroud out of thyself?

Look at thy bosom! Despatch! and get these traps out of sight."

"He goes aft. That was sudden, now; but squalls come sudden in hot

latitudes. I've heard that the Isle of Albemarle, one of the Gallipagos,

is cut by the Equator right in the middle. Seems to me some sort of

Equator cuts yon old man, too, right in his middle. He's always under

the Line--fiery hot, I tell ye! He's looking this way--come, oakum;

quick. Here we go again. This wooden mallet is the cork, and I'm the

professor of musical glasses--tap, tap!"
"There's a sight! There's a sound! The grey-headed woodpecker tapping

the hollow tree! Blind and dumb might well be envied now. See! that

thing rests on two line-tubs, full of tow-lines. A most malicious wag,

that fellow. Rat-tat! So man's seconds tick! Oh! how immaterial are all

materials! What things real are there, but imponderable thoughts? Here

now's the very dreaded symbol of grim death, by a mere hap, made

the expressive sign of the help and hope of most endangered life.

A life-buoy of a coffin! Does it go further? Can it be that in some

spiritual sense the coffin is, after all, but an immortality-preserver!

I'll think of that. But no. So far gone am I in the dark side of earth,

that its other side, the theoretic bright one, seems but uncertain

twilight to me. Will ye never have done, Carpenter, with that accursed

sound? I go below; let me not see that thing here when I return

again. Now, then, Pip, we'll talk this over; I do suck most wondrous

philosophies from thee! Some unknown conduits from the unknown worlds

must empty into thee!"

CHAPTER 128. The Pequod Meets The Rachel.

Next day, a large ship, the Rachel, was descried, bearing directly down

upon the Pequod, all her spars thickly clustering with men. At the

time the Pequod was making good speed through the water; but as the

broad-winged windward stranger shot nigh to her, the boastful sails all

fell together as blank bladders that are burst, and all life fled from

the smitten hull.

"Bad news; she brings bad news," muttered the old Manxman. But ere her

commander, who, with trumpet to mouth, stood up in his boat; ere he

could hopefully hail, Ahab's voice was heard.
"Hast seen the White Whale?"
"Aye, yesterday. Have ye seen a whale-boat adrift?"
Throttling his joy, Ahab negatively answered this unexpected question;

and would then have fain boarded the stranger, when the stranger captain

himself, having stopped his vessel's way, was seen descending her

side. A few keen pulls, and his boat-hook soon clinched the Pequod's

main-chains, and he sprang to the deck. Immediately he was recognised by

Ahab for a Nantucketer he knew. But no formal salutation was exchanged.

"Where was he?--not killed!--not killed!" cried Ahab, closely advancing.

"How was it?"

It seemed that somewhat late on the afternoon of the day previous, while

three of the stranger's boats were engaged with a shoal of whales, which

had led them some four or five miles from the ship; and while they were

yet in swift chase to windward, the white hump and head of Moby Dick had

suddenly loomed up out of the water, not very far to leeward; whereupon,

the fourth rigged boat--a reserved one--had been instantly lowered in

chase. After a keen sail before the wind, this fourth boat--the swiftest

keeled of all--seemed to have succeeded in fastening--at least, as

well as the man at the mast-head could tell anything about it. In the

distance he saw the diminished dotted boat; and then a swift gleam

of bubbling white water; and after that nothing more; whence it was

concluded that the stricken whale must have indefinitely run away with

his pursuers, as often happens. There was some apprehension, but no

positive alarm, as yet. The recall signals were placed in the rigging;

darkness came on; and forced to pick up her three far to windward

boats--ere going in quest of the fourth one in the precisely opposite

direction--the ship had not only been necessitated to leave that boat to

its fate till near midnight, but, for the time, to increase her distance

from it. But the rest of her crew being at last safe aboard, she crowded

all sail--stunsail on stunsail--after the missing boat; kindling a fire

in her try-pots for a beacon; and every other man aloft on the look-out.

But though when she had thus sailed a sufficient distance to gain the

presumed place of the absent ones when last seen; though she then

paused to lower her spare boats to pull all around her; and not finding

anything, had again dashed on; again paused, and lowered her boats; and

though she had thus continued doing till daylight; yet not the least

glimpse of the missing keel had been seen.
The story told, the stranger Captain immediately went on to reveal his

object in boarding the Pequod. He desired that ship to unite with his

own in the search; by sailing over the sea some four or five miles

apart, on parallel lines, and so sweeping a double horizon, as it were.

"I will wager something now," whispered Stubb to Flask, "that some one

in that missing boat wore off that Captain's best coat; mayhap, his

watch--he's so cursed anxious to get it back. Who ever heard of two

pious whale-ships cruising after one missing whale-boat in the height of

the whaling season? See, Flask, only see how pale he looks--pale in the

very buttons of his eyes--look--it wasn't the coat--it must have been

"My boy, my own boy is among them. For God's sake--I beg, I

conjure"--here exclaimed the stranger Captain to Ahab, who thus far

had but icily received his petition. "For eight-and-forty hours let me

charter your ship--I will gladly pay for it, and roundly pay for it--if

there be no other way--for eight-and-forty hours only--only that--you

must, oh, you must, and you SHALL do this thing."

"His son!" cried Stubb, "oh, it's his son he's lost! I take back the

coat and watch--what says Ahab? We must save that boy."

"He's drowned with the rest on 'em, last night," said the old Manx

sailor standing behind them; "I heard; all of ye heard their spirits."

Now, as it shortly turned out, what made this incident of the Rachel's

the more melancholy, was the circumstance, that not only was one of the

Captain's sons among the number of the missing boat's crew; but among

the number of the other boat's crews, at the same time, but on the other

hand, separated from the ship during the dark vicissitudes of the chase,

there had been still another son; as that for a time, the wretched

father was plunged to the bottom of the cruellest perplexity; which

was only solved for him by his chief mate's instinctively adopting the

ordinary procedure of a whale-ship in such emergencies, that is, when

placed between jeopardized but divided boats, always to pick up the

majority first. But the captain, for some unknown constitutional reason,

had refrained from mentioning all this, and not till forced to it by

Ahab's iciness did he allude to his one yet missing boy; a little lad,

but twelve years old, whose father with the earnest but unmisgiving

hardihood of a Nantucketer's paternal love, had thus early sought to

initiate him in the perils and wonders of a vocation almost immemorially

the destiny of all his race. Nor does it unfrequently occur, that

Nantucket captains will send a son of such tender age away from them,

for a protracted three or four years' voyage in some other ship than

their own; so that their first knowledge of a whaleman's career shall

be unenervated by any chance display of a father's natural but untimely

partiality, or undue apprehensiveness and concern.

Meantime, now the stranger was still beseeching his poor boon of Ahab;

and Ahab still stood like an anvil, receiving every shock, but without

the least quivering of his own.
"I will not go," said the stranger, "till you say aye to me. Do to me

as you would have me do to you in the like case. For YOU too have a boy,

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