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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 72 The Monkey-Rope.
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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 72 The Monkey-Rope. Post by :Grant Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :2069

Click below to download : Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 72 The Monkey-Rope. (Format : PDF)

Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 72 The Monkey-Rope.

In the tumultuous business of cutting-in and attending to a whale,
there is much running backwards and forwards among the crew. Now
hands are wanted here, and then again hands are wanted there. There
is no staying in any one place; for at one and the same time
everything has to be done everywhere. It is much the same with him
who endeavors the description of the scene. We must now retrace our
way a little. It was mentioned that upon first breaking ground in
the whale's back, the blubber-hook was inserted into the original
hole there cut by the spades of the mates. But how did so clumsy and
weighty a mass as that same hook get fixed in that hole? It was
inserted there by my particular friend Queequeg, whose duty it was,
as harpooneer, to descend upon the monster's back for the special
purpose referred to. But in very many cases, circumstances require
that the harpooneer shall remain on the whale till the whole tensing
or stripping operation is concluded. The whale, be it observed, lies
almost entirely submerged, excepting the immediate parts operated
upon. So down there, some ten feet below the level of the deck, the
poor harpooneer flounders about, half on the whale and half in the
water, as the vast mass revolves like a tread-mill beneath him. On
the occasion in question, Queequeg figured in the Highland costume--a
shirt and socks--in which to my eyes, at least, he appeared to
uncommon advantage; and no one had a better chance to observe him, as
will presently be seen.

Being the savage's bowsman, that is, the person who pulled the
bow-oar in his boat (the second one from forward), it was my cheerful
duty to attend upon him while taking that hard-scrabble scramble upon
the dead whale's back. You have seen Italian organ-boys holding a
dancing-ape by a long cord. Just so, from the ship's steep side, did
I hold Queequeg down there in the sea, by what is technically called
in the fishery a monkey-rope, attached to a strong strip of canvas
belted round his waist.

It was a humorously perilous business for both of us. For, before we
proceed further, it must be said that the monkey-rope was fast at
both ends; fast to Queequeg's broad canvas belt, and fast to my
narrow leather one. So that for better or for worse, we two, for the
time, were wedded; and should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more,
then both usage and honour demanded, that instead of cutting the cord,
it should drag me down in his wake. So, then, an elongated Siamese
ligature united us. Queequeg was my own inseparable twin brother;
nor could I any way get rid of the dangerous liabilities which the
hempen bond entailed.

So strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then,
that while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to
perceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock
company of two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and
that another's mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into
unmerited disaster and death. Therefore, I saw that here was a sort
of interregnum in Providence; for its even-handed equity never could
have so gross an injustice. And yet still further pondering--while I
jerked him now and then from between the whale and ship, which would
threaten to jam him--still further pondering, I say, I saw that this
situation of mine was the precise situation of every mortal that
breathes; only, in most cases, he, one way or other, has this Siamese
connexion with a plurality of other mortals. If your banker breaks,
you snap; if your apothecary by mistake sends you poison in your
pills, you die. True, you may say that, by exceeding caution, you
may possibly escape these and the multitudinous other evil chances of
life. But handle Queequeg's monkey-rope heedfully as I would,
sometimes he jerked it so, that I came very near sliding overboard.
Nor could I possibly forget that, do what I would, I only had the
management of one end of it.*


*The monkey-rope is found in all whalers; but it was only in the
Pequod that the monkey and his holder were ever tied together. This
improvement upon the original usage was introduced by no less a man
than Stubb, in order to afford the imperilled harpooneer the strongest
possible guarantee for the faithfulness and vigilance of his
monkey-rope holder.


I have hinted that I would often jerk poor Queequeg from between the
whale and the ship--where he would occasionally fall, from the
incessant rolling and swaying of both. But this was not the only
jamming jeopardy he was exposed to. Unappalled by the massacre made
upon them during the night, the sharks now freshly and more keenly
allured by the before pent blood which began to flow from the
carcass--the rabid creatures swarmed round it like bees in a beehive.

And right in among those sharks was Queequeg; who often pushed them
aside with his floundering feet. A thing altogether incredible were
it not that attracted by such prey as a dead whale, the otherwise
miscellaneously carnivorous shark will seldom touch a man.

Nevertheless, it may well be believed that since they have such a
ravenous finger in the pie, it is deemed but wise to look sharp to
them. Accordingly, besides the monkey-rope, with which I now and
then jerked the poor fellow from too close a vicinity to the maw of
what seemed a peculiarly ferocious shark--he was provided with still
another protection. Suspended over the side in one of the stages,
Tashtego and Daggoo continually flourished over his head a couple of
keen whale-spades, wherewith they slaughtered as many sharks as they
could reach. This procedure of theirs, to be sure, was very
disinterested and benevolent of them. They meant Queequeg's best
happiness, I admit; but in their hasty zeal to befriend him, and from
the circumstance that both he and the sharks were at times half
hidden by the blood-muddled water, those indiscreet spades of theirs
would come nearer amputating a leg than a tall. But poor Queequeg, I
suppose, straining and gasping there with that great iron hook--poor
Queequeg, I suppose, only prayed to his Yojo, and gave up his life
into the hands of his gods.

Well, well, my dear comrade and twin-brother, thought I, as I drew in
and then slacked off the rope to every swell of the sea--what matters
it, after all? Are you not the precious image of each and all of us
men in this whaling world? That unsounded ocean you gasp in, is
Life; those sharks, your foes; those spades, your friends; and what
between sharks and spades you are in a sad pickle and peril, poor
lad.

But courage! there is good cheer in store for you, Queequeg. For
now, as with blue lips and blood-shot eyes the exhausted savage at
last climbs up the chains and stands all dripping and involuntarily
trembling over the side; the steward advances, and with a benevolent,
consolatory glance hands him--what? Some hot Cognac? No! hands him,
ye gods! hands him a cup of tepid ginger and water!

"Ginger? Do I smell ginger?" suspiciously asked Stubb, coming near.
"Yes, this must be ginger," peering into the as yet untasted cup.
Then standing as if incredulous for a while, he calmly walked towards
the astonished steward slowly saying, "Ginger? ginger? and will you
have the goodness to tell me, Mr. Dough-Boy, where lies the virtue of
ginger? Ginger! is ginger the sort of fuel you use, Dough-boy, to
kindle a fire in this shivering cannibal? Ginger!--what the devil is
ginger?--sea-coal? firewood?--lucifer
matches?--tinder?--gunpowder?--what the devil is ginger, I say, that
you offer this cup to our poor Queequeg here."

"There is some sneaking Temperance Society movement about this
business," he suddenly added, now approaching Starbuck, who had just
come from forward. "Will you look at that kannakin, sir; smell of
it, if you please." Then watching the mate's countenance, he added,
"The steward, Mr. Starbuck, had the face to offer that calomel and
jalap to Queequeg, there, this instant off the whale. Is the steward
an apothecary, sir? and may I ask whether this is the sort of bitters
by which he blows back the life into a half-drowned man?"

"I trust not," said Starbuck, "it is poor stuff enough."

"Aye, aye, steward," cried Stubb, "we'll teach you to drug it
harpooneer; none of your apothecary's medicine here; you want to
poison us, do ye? You have got out insurances on our lives and want
to murder us all, and pocket the proceeds, do ye?"

"It was not me," cried Dough-Boy, "it was Aunt Charity that brought
the ginger on board; and bade me never give the harpooneers any
spirits, but only this ginger-jub--so she called it."

"Ginger-jub! you gingerly rascal! take that! and run along with ye to
the lockers, and get something better. I hope I do no wrong, Mr.
Starbuck. It is the captain's orders--grog for the harpooneer on a
whale."

"Enough," replied Starbuck, "only don't hit him again, but--"

"Oh, I never hurt when I hit, except when I hit a whale or something
of that sort; and this fellow's a weazel. What were you about
saying, sir?"

"Only this: go down with him, and get what thou wantest thyself."

When Stubb reappeared, he came with a dark flask in one hand, and a
sort of tea-caddy in the other. The first contained strong spirits,
and was handed to Queequeg; the second was Aunt Charity's gift, and
that was freely given to the waves.

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