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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 71 The Jeroboam's Story.
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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 71 The Jeroboam's Story. Post by :Scott_Logan Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :1766

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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 71 The Jeroboam's Story.

Hand in hand, ship and breeze blew on; but the breeze came faster
than the ship, and soon the Pequod began to rock.

By and by, through the glass the stranger's boats and manned
mast-heads proved her a whale-ship. But as she was so far to
windward, and shooting by, apparently making a passage to some other
ground, the Pequod could not hope to reach her. So the signal was
set to see what response would be made.

Here be it said, that like the vessels of military marines, the ships
of the American Whale Fleet have each a private signal; all which
signals being collected in a book with the names of the respective
vessels attached, every captain is provided with it. Thereby, the
whale commanders are enabled to recognise each other upon the ocean,
even at considerable distances and with no small facility.

The Pequod's signal was at last responded to by the stranger's
setting her own; which proved the ship to be the Jeroboam of
Nantucket. Squaring her yards, she bore down, ranged abeam under the
Pequod's lee, and lowered a boat; it soon drew nigh; but, as the
side-ladder was being rigged by Starbuck's order to accommodate the
visiting captain, the stranger in question waved his hand from his
boat's stern in token of that proceeding being entirely unnecessary.
It turned out that the Jeroboam had a malignant epidemic on board,
and that Mayhew, her captain, was fearful of infecting the Pequod's
company. For, though himself and boat's crew remained untainted, and
though his ship was half a rifle-shot off, and an incorruptible sea
and air rolling and flowing between; yet conscientiously adhering to
the timid quarantine of the land, he peremptorily refused to come
into direct contact with the Pequod.

But this did by no means prevent all communications. Preserving an
interval of some few yards between itself and the ship, the
Jeroboam's boat by the occasional use of its oars contrived to keep
parallel to the Pequod, as she heavily forged through the sea (for by
this time it blew very fresh), with her main-topsail aback; though,
indeed, at times by the sudden onset of a large rolling wave, the
boat would be pushed some way ahead; but would be soon skilfully
brought to her proper bearings again. Subject to this, and other the
like interruptions now and then, a conversation was sustained between
the two parties; but at intervals not without still another
interruption of a very different sort.

Pulling an oar in the Jeroboam's boat, was a man of a singular
appearance, even in that wild whaling life where individual
notabilities make up all totalities. He was a small, short, youngish
man, sprinkled all over his face with freckles, and wearing redundant
yellow hair. A long-skirted, cabalistically-cut coat of a faded
walnut tinge enveloped him; the overlapping sleeves of which were
rolled up on his wrists. A deep, settled, fanatic delirium was in
his eyes.

So soon as this figure had been first descried, Stubb had
exclaimed--"That's he! that's he!--the long-togged scaramouch the
Town-Ho's company told us of!" Stubb here alluded to a strange story
told of the Jeroboam, and a certain man among her crew, some time
previous when the Pequod spoke the Town-Ho. According to this
account and what was subsequently learned, it seemed that the
scaramouch in question had gained a wonderful ascendency over almost
everybody in the Jeroboam. His story was this:

He had been originally nurtured among the crazy society of Neskyeuna
Shakers, where he had been a great prophet; in their cracked, secret
meetings having several times descended from heaven by the way of a
trap-door, announcing the speedy opening of the seventh vial, which
he carried in his vest-pocket; but, which, instead of containing
gunpowder, was supposed to be charged with laudanum. A strange,
apostolic whim having seized him, he had left Neskyeuna for
Nantucket, where, with that cunning peculiar to craziness, he assumed
a steady, common-sense exterior, and offered himself as a green-hand
candidate for the Jeroboam's whaling voyage. They engaged him; but
straightway upon the ship's getting out of sight of land, his
insanity broke out in a freshet. He announced himself as the
archangel Gabriel, and commanded the captain to jump overboard. He
published his manifesto, whereby he set himself forth as the
deliverer of the isles of the sea and vicar-general of all Oceanica.
The unflinching earnestness with which he declared these things;--the
dark, daring play of his sleepless, excited imagination, and all the
preternatural terrors of real delirium, united to invest this Gabriel
in the minds of the majority of the ignorant crew, with an atmosphere
of sacredness. Moreover, they were afraid of him. As such a man,
however, was not of much practical use in the ship, especially as he
refused to work except when he pleased, the incredulous captain would
fain have been rid of him; but apprised that that individual's
intention was to land him in the first convenient port, the archangel
forthwith opened all his seals and vials--devoting the ship and all
hands to unconditional perdition, in case this intention was carried
out. So strongly did he work upon his disciples among the crew, that
at last in a body they went to the captain and told him if Gabriel
was sent from the ship, not a man of them would remain. He was
therefore forced to relinquish his plan. Nor would they permit
Gabriel to be any way maltreated, say or do what he would; so that it
came to pass that Gabriel had the complete freedom of the ship. The
consequence of all this was, that the archangel cared little or
nothing for the captain and mates; and since the epidemic had broken
out, he carried a higher hand than ever; declaring that the plague,
as he called it, was at his sole command; nor should it be stayed but
according to his good pleasure. The sailors, mostly poor devils,
cringed, and some of them fawned before him; in obedience to his
instructions, sometimes rendering him personal homage, as to a god.
Such things may seem incredible; but, however wondrous, they are
true. Nor is the history of fanatics half so striking in respect to
the measureless self-deception of the fanatic himself, as his
measureless power of deceiving and bedevilling so many others. But
it is time to return to the Pequod.

"I fear not thy epidemic, man," said Ahab from the bulwarks, to
Captain Mayhew, who stood in the boat's stern; "come on board."

But now Gabriel started to his feet.

"Think, think of the fevers, yellow and bilious! Beware of the
horrible plague!"

"Gabriel! Gabriel!" cried Captain Mayhew; "thou must either--" But
that instant a headlong wave shot the boat far ahead, and its
seethings drowned all speech.

"Hast thou seen the White Whale?" demanded Ahab, when the boat
drifted back.

"Think, think of thy whale-boat, stoven and sunk! Beware of the
horrible tail!"

"I tell thee again, Gabriel, that--" But again the boat tore ahead
as if dragged by fiends. Nothing was said for some moments, while a
succession of riotous waves rolled by, which by one of those
occasional caprices of the seas were tumbling, not heaving it.
Meantime, the hoisted sperm whale's head jogged about very violently,
and Gabriel was seen eyeing it with rather more apprehensiveness than
his archangel nature seemed to warrant.

When this interlude was over, Captain Mayhew began a dark story
concerning Moby Dick; not, however, without frequent interruptions
from Gabriel, whenever his name was mentioned, and the crazy sea that
seemed leagued with him.

It seemed that the Jeroboam had not long left home, when upon
speaking a whale-ship, her people were reliably apprised of the
existence of Moby Dick, and the havoc he had made. Greedily sucking
in this intelligence, Gabriel solemnly warned the captain against
attacking the White Whale, in case the monster should be seen; in his
gibbering insanity, pronouncing the White Whale to be no less a being
than the Shaker God incarnated; the Shakers receiving the Bible. But
when, some year or two afterwards, Moby Dick was fairly sighted from
the mast-heads, Macey, the chief mate, burned with ardour to encounter
him; and the captain himself being not unwilling to let him have the
opportunity, despite all the archangel's denunciations and
forewarnings, Macey succeeded in persuading five men to man his boat.
With them he pushed off; and, after much weary pulling, and many
perilous, unsuccessful onsets, he at last succeeded in getting one
iron fast. Meantime, Gabriel, ascending to the main-royal mast-head,
was tossing one arm in frantic gestures, and hurling forth prophecies
of speedy doom to the sacrilegious assailants of his divinity. Now,
while Macey, the mate, was standing up in his boat's bow, and with
all the reckless energy of his tribe was venting his wild
exclamations upon the whale, and essaying to get a fair chance for
his poised lance, lo! a broad white shadow rose from the sea; by its
quick, fanning motion, temporarily taking the breath out of the
bodies of the oarsmen. Next instant, the luckless mate, so full of
furious life, was smitten bodily into the air, and making a long arc
in his descent, fell into the sea at the distance of about fifty
yards. Not a chip of the boat was harmed, nor a hair of any
oarsman's head; but the mate for ever sank.

It is well to parenthesize here, that of the fatal accidents in the
Sperm-Whale Fishery, this kind is perhaps almost as frequent as any.
Sometimes, nothing is injured but the man who is thus annihilated;
oftener the boat's bow is knocked off, or the thigh-board, in which
the headsman stands, is torn from its place and accompanies the body.
But strangest of all is the circumstance, that in more instances
than one, when the body has been recovered, not a single mark of
violence is discernible; the man being stark dead.

The whole calamity, with the falling form of Macey, was plainly
descried from the ship. Raising a piercing shriek--"The vial! the
vial!" Gabriel called off the terror-stricken crew from the further
hunting of the whale. This terrible event clothed the archangel with
added influence; because his credulous disciples believed that he had
specifically fore-announced it, instead of only making a general
prophecy, which any one might have done, and so have chanced to hit
one of many marks in the wide margin allowed. He became a nameless
terror to the ship.

Mayhew having concluded his narration, Ahab put such questions to
him, that the stranger captain could not forbear inquiring whether he
intended to hunt the White Whale, if opportunity should offer. To
which Ahab answered--"Aye." Straightway, then, Gabriel once more
started to his feet, glaring upon the old man, and vehemently
exclaimed, with downward pointed finger--"Think, think of the
blasphemer--dead, and down there!--beware of the blasphemer's end!"

Ahab stolidly turned aside; then said to Mayhew, "Captain, I have
just bethought me of my letter-bag; there is a letter for one of thy
officers, if I mistake not. Starbuck, look over the bag."

Every whale-ship takes out a goodly number of letters for various
ships, whose delivery to the persons to whom they may be addressed,
depends upon the mere chance of encountering them in the four oceans.
Thus, most letters never reach their mark; and many are only
received after attaining an age of two or three years or more.

Soon Starbuck returned with a letter in his hand. It was sorely
tumbled, damp, and covered with a dull, spotted, green mould, in
consequence of being kept in a dark locker of the cabin. Of such a
letter, Death himself might well have been the post-boy.

"Can'st not read it?" cried Ahab. "Give it me, man. Aye, aye, it's
but a dim scrawl;--what's this?" As he was studying it out, Starbuck
took a long cutting-spade pole, and with his knife slightly split the
end, to insert the letter there, and in that way, hand it to the
boat, without its coming any closer to the ship.

Meantime, Ahab holding the letter, muttered, "Mr. Har--yes, Mr.
Harry--(a woman's pinny hand,--the man's wife, I'll wager)--Aye--Mr.
Harry Macey, Ship Jeroboam;--why it's Macey, and he's dead!"

"Poor fellow! poor fellow! and from his wife," sighed Mayhew; "but
let me have it."

"Nay, keep it thyself," cried Gabriel to Ahab; "thou art soon going
that way."

"Curses throttle thee!" yelled Ahab. "Captain Mayhew, stand by now
to receive it"; and taking the fatal missive from Starbuck's hands,
he caught it in the slit of the pole, and reached it over towards the
boat. But as he did so, the oarsmen expectantly desisted from
rowing; the boat drifted a little towards the ship's stern; so that,
as if by magic, the letter suddenly ranged along with Gabriel's eager
hand. He clutched it in an instant, seized the boat-knife, and
impaling the letter on it, sent it thus loaded back into the ship.
It fell at Ahab's feet. Then Gabriel shrieked out to his comrades to
give way with their oars, and in that manner the mutinous boat
rapidly shot away from the Pequod.

As, after this interlude, the seamen resumed their work upon the
jacket of the whale, many strange things were hinted in reference to
this wild affair.

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It should not have been omitted that previous to completely strippingthe body of the leviathan, he was beheaded. Now, the beheading ofthe Sperm Whale is a scientific anatomical feat, upon whichexperienced whale surgeons very much pride themselves: and notwithout reason.Consider that the whale has nothing that can properly be called aneck; on the contrary his head and body seem to join, there,in that very place, is the thickest part of him. Remember, also,that the surgeon must operate from above, some eight or ten feetintervening between him and his subject, and that subject almosthidden in a discoloured, rolling, and