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

Download 4.14 Mb.
Size4.14 Mb.
1   ...   43   44   45   46   47   48   49   50   ...   56

he looked so scornful at me! I'm a sort of strange-thoughted sometimes,

they say; but that's only haphazard-like. Then, a short, little old body

like me, should never undertake to wade out into deep waters with tall,

heron-built captains; the water chucks you under the chin pretty quick,

and there's a great cry for life-boats. And here's the heron's leg!

long and slim, sure enough! Now, for most folks one pair of legs lasts

a lifetime, and that must be because they use them mercifully, as a

tender-hearted old lady uses her roly-poly old coach-horses. But Ahab;

oh he's a hard driver. Look, driven one leg to death, and spavined the

other for life, and now wears out bone legs by the cord. Halloa, there,

you Smut! bear a hand there with those screws, and let's finish it

before the resurrection fellow comes a-calling with his horn for

all legs, true or false, as brewery-men go round collecting old beer

barrels, to fill 'em up again. What a leg this is! It looks like a real

live leg, filed down to nothing but the core; he'll be standing on this

to-morrow; he'll be taking altitudes on it. Halloa! I almost forgot the

little oval slate, smoothed ivory, where he figures up the latitude. So,

so; chisel, file, and sand-paper, now!

CHAPTER 109. Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin.

According to usage they were pumping the ship next morning; and lo! no

inconsiderable oil came up with the water; the casks below must have

sprung a bad leak. Much concern was shown; and Starbuck went down into

the cabin to report this unfavourable affair.*

*In Sperm-whalemen with any considerable quantity of oil on board, it

is a regular semiweekly duty to conduct a hose into the hold, and drench

the casks with sea-water; which afterwards, at varying intervals, is

removed by the ship's pumps. Hereby the casks are sought to be kept

damply tight; while by the changed character of the withdrawn water, the

mariners readily detect any serious leakage in the precious cargo.

Now, from the South and West the Pequod was drawing nigh to Formosa and

the Bashee Isles, between which lies one of the tropical outlets from

the China waters into the Pacific. And so Starbuck found Ahab with

a general chart of the oriental archipelagoes spread before him;

and another separate one representing the long eastern coasts of the

Japanese islands--Niphon, Matsmai, and Sikoke. With his snow-white new

ivory leg braced against the screwed leg of his table, and with a long

pruning-hook of a jack-knife in his hand, the wondrous old man, with his

back to the gangway door, was wrinkling his brow, and tracing his old

courses again.

"Who's there?" hearing the footstep at the door, but not turning round

to it. "On deck! Begone!"

"Captain Ahab mistakes; it is I. The oil in the hold is leaking, sir. We

must up Burtons and break out."

"Up Burtons and break out? Now that we are nearing Japan; heave-to here

for a week to tinker a parcel of old hoops?"

"Either do that, sir, or waste in one day more oil than we may make good

in a year. What we come twenty thousand miles to get is worth saving,

"So it is, so it is; if we get it."
"I was speaking of the oil in the hold, sir."
"And I was not speaking or thinking of that at all. Begone! Let it leak!

I'm all aleak myself. Aye! leaks in leaks! not only full of leaky casks,

but those leaky casks are in a leaky ship; and that's a far worse plight

than the Pequod's, man. Yet I don't stop to plug my leak; for who can

find it in the deep-loaded hull; or how hope to plug it, even if

found, in this life's howling gale? Starbuck! I'll not have the Burtons

"What will the owners say, sir?"
"Let the owners stand on Nantucket beach and outyell the Typhoons. What

cares Ahab? Owners, owners? Thou art always prating to me, Starbuck,

about those miserly owners, as if the owners were my conscience. But

look ye, the only real owner of anything is its commander; and hark ye,

my conscience is in this ship's keel.--On deck!"
"Captain Ahab," said the reddening mate, moving further into the cabin,

with a daring so strangely respectful and cautious that it almost seemed

not only every way seeking to avoid the slightest outward manifestation

of itself, but within also seemed more than half distrustful of itself;

"A better man than I might well pass over in thee what he would quickly

enough resent in a younger man; aye, and in a happier, Captain Ahab."

"Devils! Dost thou then so much as dare to critically think of me?--On

"Nay, sir, not yet; I do entreat. And I do dare, sir--to be forbearing!

Shall we not understand each other better than hitherto, Captain Ahab?"
Ahab seized a loaded musket from the rack (forming part of most

South-Sea-men's cabin furniture), and pointing it towards Starbuck,

exclaimed: "There is one God that is Lord over the earth, and one

Captain that is lord over the Pequod.--On deck!"

For an instant in the flashing eyes of the mate, and his fiery cheeks,

you would have almost thought that he had really received the blaze of

the levelled tube. But, mastering his emotion, he half calmly rose,

and as he quitted the cabin, paused for an instant and said: "Thou hast

outraged, not insulted me, sir; but for that I ask thee not to beware of

Starbuck; thou wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of

thyself, old man."
"He waxes brave, but nevertheless obeys; most careful bravery that!"

murmured Ahab, as Starbuck disappeared. "What's that he said--Ahab

beware of Ahab--there's something there!" Then unconsciously using the

musket for a staff, with an iron brow he paced to and fro in the little

cabin; but presently the thick plaits of his forehead relaxed, and

returning the gun to the rack, he went to the deck.

"Thou art but too good a fellow, Starbuck," he said lowly to the mate;

then raising his voice to the crew: "Furl the t'gallant-sails, and

close-reef the top-sails, fore and aft; back the main-yard; up Burton,

and break out in the main-hold."

It were perhaps vain to surmise exactly why it was, that as respecting

Starbuck, Ahab thus acted. It may have been a flash of honesty in him;

or mere prudential policy which, under the circumstance, imperiously

forbade the slightest symptom of open disaffection, however transient,

in the important chief officer of his ship. However it was, his orders

were executed; and the Burtons were hoisted.

CHAPTER 110. Queequeg in His Coffin.

Upon searching, it was found that the casks last struck into the hold

were perfectly sound, and that the leak must be further off. So, it

being calm weather, they broke out deeper and deeper, disturbing the

slumbers of the huge ground-tier butts; and from that black midnight

sending those gigantic moles into the daylight above. So deep did they

go; and so ancient, and corroded, and weedy the aspect of the lowermost

puncheons, that you almost looked next for some mouldy corner-stone cask

containing coins of Captain Noah, with copies of the posted placards,

vainly warning the infatuated old world from the flood. Tierce after

tierce, too, of water, and bread, and beef, and shooks of staves, and

iron bundles of hoops, were hoisted out, till at last the piled decks

were hard to get about; and the hollow hull echoed under foot, as if

you were treading over empty catacombs, and reeled and rolled in the sea

like an air-freighted demijohn. Top-heavy was the ship as a dinnerless

student with all Aristotle in his head. Well was it that the Typhoons

did not visit them then.

Now, at this time it was that my poor pagan companion, and fast

bosom-friend, Queequeg, was seized with a fever, which brought him nigh

to his endless end.
Be it said, that in this vocation of whaling, sinecures are unknown;

dignity and danger go hand in hand; till you get to be Captain, the

higher you rise the harder you toil. So with poor Queequeg, who, as

harpooneer, must not only face all the rage of the living whale, but--as

we have elsewhere seen--mount his dead back in a rolling sea; and

finally descend into the gloom of the hold, and bitterly sweating

all day in that subterraneous confinement, resolutely manhandle the

clumsiest casks and see to their stowage. To be short, among whalemen,

the harpooneers are the holders, so called.
Poor Queequeg! when the ship was about half disembowelled, you should

have stooped over the hatchway, and peered down upon him there; where,

stripped to his woollen drawers, the tattooed savage was crawling about

amid that dampness and slime, like a green spotted lizard at the bottom

of a well. And a well, or an ice-house, it somehow proved to him, poor

pagan; where, strange to say, for all the heat of his sweatings, he

caught a terrible chill which lapsed into a fever; and at last, after

some days' suffering, laid him in his hammock, close to the very sill

of the door of death. How he wasted and wasted away in those few

long-lingering days, till there seemed but little left of him but his

frame and tattooing. But as all else in him thinned, and his cheek-bones

grew sharper, his eyes, nevertheless, seemed growing fuller and fuller;

they became of a strange softness of lustre; and mildly but deeply

looked out at you there from his sickness, a wondrous testimony to that

immortal health in him which could not die, or be weakened. And like

circles on the water, which, as they grow fainter, expand; so his eyes

seemed rounding and rounding, like the rings of Eternity. An awe that

cannot be named would steal over you as you sat by the side of this

waning savage, and saw as strange things in his face, as any beheld who

were bystanders when Zoroaster died. For whatever is truly wondrous and

fearful in man, never yet was put into words or books. And the drawing

near of Death, which alike levels all, alike impresses all with a last

revelation, which only an author from the dead could adequately tell.

So that--let us say it again--no dying Chaldee or Greek had higher and

holier thoughts than those, whose mysterious shades you saw creeping

over the face of poor Queequeg, as he quietly lay in his swaying

hammock, and the rolling sea seemed gently rocking him to his final

rest, and the ocean's invisible flood-tide lifted him higher and higher

towards his destined heaven.
Not a man of the crew but gave him up; and, as for Queequeg himself,

what he thought of his case was forcibly shown by a curious favour he

asked. He called one to him in the grey morning watch, when the day was

just breaking, and taking his hand, said that while in Nantucket he

had chanced to see certain little canoes of dark wood, like the rich

war-wood of his native isle; and upon inquiry, he had learned that all

whalemen who died in Nantucket, were laid in those same dark canoes,

and that the fancy of being so laid had much pleased him; for it was not

unlike the custom of his own race, who, after embalming a dead warrior,

stretched him out in his canoe, and so left him to be floated away to

the starry archipelagoes; for not only do they believe that the stars

are isles, but that far beyond all visible horizons, their own mild,

uncontinented seas, interflow with the blue heavens; and so form the

white breakers of the milky way. He added, that he shuddered at

the thought of being buried in his hammock, according to the usual

sea-custom, tossed like something vile to the death-devouring sharks.

No: he desired a canoe like those of Nantucket, all the more congenial

to him, being a whaleman, that like a whale-boat these coffin-canoes

were without a keel; though that involved but uncertain steering, and

much lee-way adown the dim ages.

Now, when this strange circumstance was made known aft, the carpenter

was at once commanded to do Queequeg's bidding, whatever it might

include. There was some heathenish, coffin-coloured old lumber aboard,

which, upon a long previous voyage, had been cut from the aboriginal

groves of the Lackaday islands, and from these dark planks the coffin

was recommended to be made. No sooner was the carpenter apprised of

the order, than taking his rule, he forthwith with all the indifferent

promptitude of his character, proceeded into the forecastle and took

Queequeg's measure with great accuracy, regularly chalking Queequeg's

person as he shifted the rule.

"Ah! poor fellow! he'll have to die now," ejaculated the Long Island

Going to his vice-bench, the carpenter for convenience sake and general

reference, now transferringly measured on it the exact length the coffin

was to be, and then made the transfer permanent by cutting two notches

at its extremities. This done, he marshalled the planks and his tools,

and to work.

When the last nail was driven, and the lid duly planed and fitted,

he lightly shouldered the coffin and went forward with it, inquiring

whether they were ready for it yet in that direction.
Overhearing the indignant but half-humorous cries with which the

people on deck began to drive the coffin away, Queequeg, to every one's

consternation, commanded that the thing should be instantly brought to

him, nor was there any denying him; seeing that, of all mortals, some

dying men are the most tyrannical; and certainly, since they will

shortly trouble us so little for evermore, the poor fellows ought to be

Leaning over in his hammock, Queequeg long regarded the coffin with

an attentive eye. He then called for his harpoon, had the wooden stock

drawn from it, and then had the iron part placed in the coffin along

with one of the paddles of his boat. All by his own request, also,

biscuits were then ranged round the sides within: a flask of fresh water

was placed at the head, and a small bag of woody earth scraped up in

the hold at the foot; and a piece of sail-cloth being rolled up for a

pillow, Queequeg now entreated to be lifted into his final bed, that he

might make trial of its comforts, if any it had. He lay without moving

a few minutes, then told one to go to his bag and bring out his little

god, Yojo. Then crossing his arms on his breast with Yojo between, he

called for the coffin lid (hatch he called it) to be placed over him.

The head part turned over with a leather hinge, and there lay Queequeg

in his coffin with little but his composed countenance in view. "Rarmai"

(it will do; it is easy), he murmured at last, and signed to be replaced

in his hammock.

But ere this was done, Pip, who had been slily hovering near by all this

while, drew nigh to him where he lay, and with soft sobbings, took him

by the hand; in the other, holding his tambourine.
"Poor rover! will ye never have done with all this weary roving? where

go ye now? But if the currents carry ye to those sweet Antilles where

the beaches are only beat with water-lilies, will ye do one little

errand for me? Seek out one Pip, who's now been missing long: I think

he's in those far Antilles. If ye find him, then comfort him; for he

must be very sad; for look! he's left his tambourine behind;--I found

it. Rig-a-dig, dig, dig! Now, Queequeg, die; and I'll beat ye your dying

"I have heard," murmured Starbuck, gazing down the scuttle, "that in

violent fevers, men, all ignorance, have talked in ancient tongues;

and that when the mystery is probed, it turns out always that in their

wholly forgotten childhood those ancient tongues had been really spoken

in their hearing by some lofty scholars. So, to my fond faith, poor Pip,

in this strange sweetness of his lunacy, brings heavenly vouchers of all

our heavenly homes. Where learned he that, but there?--Hark! he speaks

again: but more wildly now."
"Form two and two! Let's make a General of him! Ho, where's his harpoon?

Lay it across here.--Rig-a-dig, dig, dig! huzza! Oh for a game cock

now to sit upon his head and crow! Queequeg dies game!--mind ye that;

Queequeg dies game!--take ye good heed of that; Queequeg dies game! I

say; game, game, game! but base little Pip, he died a coward; died all

a'shiver;--out upon Pip! Hark ye; if ye find Pip, tell all the Antilles

he's a runaway; a coward, a coward, a coward! Tell them he jumped from

a whale-boat! I'd never beat my tambourine over base Pip, and hail

him General, if he were once more dying here. No, no! shame upon all

cowards--shame upon them! Let 'em go drown like Pip, that jumped from a

whale-boat. Shame! shame!"
During all this, Queequeg lay with closed eyes, as if in a dream. Pip

was led away, and the sick man was replaced in his hammock.

But now that he had apparently made every preparation for death; now

that his coffin was proved a good fit, Queequeg suddenly rallied; soon

there seemed no need of the carpenter's box: and thereupon, when some

expressed their delighted surprise, he, in substance, said, that the

cause of his sudden convalescence was this;--at a critical moment, he

had just recalled a little duty ashore, which he was leaving undone;

and therefore had changed his mind about dying: he could not die yet,

he averred. They asked him, then, whether to live or die was a matter of

his own sovereign will and pleasure. He answered, certainly. In a word,

it was Queequeg's conceit, that if a man made up his mind to live, mere

sickness could not kill him: nothing but a whale, or a gale, or some

violent, ungovernable, unintelligent destroyer of that sort.

Now, there is this noteworthy difference between savage and civilized;

that while a sick, civilized man may be six months convalescing,

generally speaking, a sick savage is almost half-well again in a day.

So, in good time my Queequeg gained strength; and at length after

sitting on the windlass for a few indolent days (but eating with a

vigorous appetite) he suddenly leaped to his feet, threw out his arms

and legs, gave himself a good stretching, yawned a little bit, and then

springing into the head of his hoisted boat, and poising a harpoon,

pronounced himself fit for a fight.
With a wild whimsiness, he now used his coffin for a sea-chest; and

emptying into it his canvas bag of clothes, set them in order there.

Many spare hours he spent, in carving the lid with all manner of

grotesque figures and drawings; and it seemed that hereby he was

striving, in his rude way, to copy parts of the twisted tattooing on

his body. And this tattooing had been the work of a departed prophet and

seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on

his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical

treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own

proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but

whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart

beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in

the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were

inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last. And this thought it must

have been which suggested to Ahab that wild exclamation of his, when

one morning turning away from surveying poor Queequeg--"Oh, devilish

tantalization of the gods!"

CHAPTER 111. The Pacific.

When gliding by the Bashee isles we emerged at last upon the great South

Sea; were it not for other things, I could have greeted my dear Pacific

with uncounted thanks, for now the long supplication of my youth was

answered; that serene ocean rolled eastwards from me a thousand leagues

of blue.
There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently

awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those

fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St.

John. And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures, wide-rolling watery

prairies and Potters' Fields of all four continents, the waves should

rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly; for here, millions of mixed

shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that

we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like

slumberers in their beds; the ever-rolling waves but made so by their


To any meditative Magian rover, this serene Pacific, once beheld, must

ever after be the sea of his adoption. It rolls the midmost waters of

the world, the Indian ocean and Atlantic being but its arms. The same

waves wash the moles of the new-built Californian towns, but yesterday

planted by the recentest race of men, and lave the faded but still

gorgeous skirts of Asiatic lands, older than Abraham; while all between

float milky-ways of coral isles, and low-lying, endless, unknown

Archipelagoes, and impenetrable Japans. Thus this mysterious, divine

Pacific zones the world's whole bulk about; makes all coasts one bay

to it; seems the tide-beating heart of earth. Lifted by those eternal

swells, you needs must own the seductive god, bowing your head to Pan.
But few thoughts of Pan stirred Ahab's brain, as standing like an

iron statue at his accustomed place beside the mizen rigging, with one

nostril he unthinkingly snuffed the sugary musk from the Bashee isles

(in whose sweet woods mild lovers must be walking), and with the other

consciously inhaled the salt breath of the new found sea; that sea in

which the hated White Whale must even then be swimming. Launched at

length upon these almost final waters, and gliding towards the Japanese

cruising-ground, the old man's purpose intensified itself. His firm lips

met like the lips of a vice; the Delta of his forehead's veins swelled

like overladen brooks; in his very sleep, his ringing cry ran through

the vaulted hull, "Stern all! the White Whale spouts thick blood!"

CHAPTER 112. The Blacksmith.

Availing himself of the mild, summer-cool weather that now reigned in

these latitudes, and in preparation for the peculiarly active

pursuits shortly to be anticipated, Perth, the begrimed, blistered old

blacksmith, had not removed his portable forge to the hold again, after

concluding his contributory work for Ahab's leg, but still retained

it on deck, fast lashed to ringbolts by the foremast; being now almost

incessantly invoked by the headsmen, and harpooneers, and bowsmen to do

some little job for them; altering, or repairing, or new shaping their

Share with your friends:
1   ...   43   44   45   46   47   48   49   50   ...   56

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page