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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 78 Cistern and Buckets.
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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 78 Cistern and Buckets. Post by :Beatlover Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :2002

Click below to download : Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 78 Cistern and Buckets. (Format : PDF)

Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 78 Cistern and Buckets.

Nimble as a cat, Tashtego mounts aloft; and without altering his
erect posture, runs straight out upon the overhanging mainyard-arm,
to the part where it exactly projects over the hoisted Tun. He has
carried with him a light tackle called a whip, consisting of only two
parts, travelling through a single-sheaved block. Securing this
block, so that it hangs down from the yard-arm, he swings one end of
the rope, till it is caught and firmly held by a hand on deck.
Then, hand-over-hand, down the other part, the Indian drops through
the air, till dexterously he lands on the summit of the head.
There--still high elevated above the rest of the company, to whom he
vivaciously cries--he seems some Turkish Muezzin calling the good
people to prayers from the top of a tower. A short-handled sharp
spade being sent up to him, he diligently searches for the proper
place to begin breaking into the Tun. In this business he proceeds
very heedfully, like a treasure-hunter in some old house, sounding
the walls to find where the gold is masoned in. By the time this
cautious search is over, a stout iron-bound bucket, precisely like a
well-bucket, has been attached to one end of the whip; while the
other end, being stretched across the deck, is there held by two or
three alert hands. These last now hoist the bucket within grasp of
the Indian, to whom another person has reached up a very long pole.
Inserting this pole into the bucket, Tashtego downward guides the
bucket into the Tun, till it entirely disappears; then giving the
word to the seamen at the whip, up comes the bucket again, all
bubbling like a dairy-maid's pail of new milk. Carefully lowered
from its height, the full-freighted vessel is caught by an appointed
hand, and quickly emptied into a large tub. Then remounting aloft,
it again goes through the same round until the deep cistern will
yield no more. Towards the end, Tashtego has to ram his long pole
harder and harder, and deeper and deeper into the Tun, until some
twenty feet of the pole have gone down.

Now, the people of the Pequod had been baling some time in this way;
several tubs had been filled with the fragrant sperm; when all at
once a queer accident happened. Whether it was that Tashtego, that
wild Indian, was so heedless and reckless as to let go for a moment
his one-handed hold on the great cabled tackles suspending the head;
or whether the place where he stood was so treacherous and oozy; or
whether the Evil One himself would have it to fall out so, without
stating his particular reasons; how it was exactly, there is no
telling now; but, on a sudden, as the eightieth or ninetieth bucket
came suckingly up--my God! poor Tashtego--like the twin reciprocating
bucket in a veritable well, dropped head-foremost down into this
great Tun of Heidelburgh, and with a horrible oily gurgling, went
clean out of sight!

"Man overboard!" cried Daggoo, who amid the general consternation
first came to his senses. "Swing the bucket this way!" and putting
one foot into it, so as the better to secure his slippery hand-hold
on the whip itself, the hoisters ran him high up to the top of the
head, almost before Tashtego could have reached its interior bottom.
Meantime, there was a terrible tumult. Looking over the side, they
saw the before lifeless head throbbing and heaving just below the
surface of the sea, as if that moment seized with some momentous
idea; whereas it was only the poor Indian unconsciously revealing by
those struggles the perilous depth to which he had sunk.

At this instant, while Daggoo, on the summit of the head, was
clearing the whip--which had somehow got foul of the great cutting
tackles--a sharp cracking noise was heard; and to the unspeakable
horror of all, one of the two enormous hooks suspending the head tore
out, and with a vast vibration the enormous mass sideways swung, till
the drunk ship reeled and shook as if smitten by an iceberg. The one
remaining hook, upon which the entire strain now depended, seemed
every instant to be on the point of giving way; an event still more
likely from the violent motions of the head.

"Come down, come down!" yelled the seamen to Daggoo, but with one
hand holding on to the heavy tackles, so that if the head should
drop, he would still remain suspended; the negro having cleared the
foul line, rammed down the bucket into the now collapsed well,
meaning that the buried harpooneer should grasp it, and so be hoisted
out.

"In heaven's name, man," cried Stubb, "are you ramming home a
cartridge there?--Avast! How will that help him; jamming that
iron-bound bucket on top of his head? Avast, will ye!"

"Stand clear of the tackle!" cried a voice like the bursting of a
rocket.

Almost in the same instant, with a thunder-boom, the enormous mass
dropped into the sea, like Niagara's Table-Rock into the whirlpool;
the suddenly relieved hull rolled away from it, to far down her
glittering copper; and all caught their breath, as half swinging--now
over the sailors' heads, and now over the water--Daggoo, through a
thick mist of spray, was dimly beheld clinging to the pendulous
tackles, while poor, buried-alive Tashtego was sinking utterly down
to the bottom of the sea! But hardly had the blinding vapour cleared
away, when a naked figure with a boarding-sword in his hand, was for
one swift moment seen hovering over the bulwarks. The next, a loud
splash announced that my brave Queequeg had dived to the rescue. One
packed rush was made to the side, and every eye counted every ripple,
as moment followed moment, and no sign of either the sinker or the
diver could be seen. Some hands now jumped into a boat alongside,
and pushed a little off from the ship.

"Ha! ha!" cried Daggoo, all at once, from his now quiet, swinging
perch overhead; and looking further off from the side, we saw an arm
thrust upright from the blue waves; a sight strange to see, as an arm
thrust forth from the grass over a grave.

"Both! both!--it is both!"--cried Daggoo again with a joyful shout;
and soon after, Queequeg was seen boldly striking out with one hand,
and with the other clutching the long hair of the Indian. Drawn into
the waiting boat, they were quickly brought to the deck; but Tashtego
was long in coming to, and Queequeg did not look very brisk.

Now, how had this noble rescue been accomplished? Why, diving after
the slowly descending head, Queequeg with his keen sword had made
side lunges near its bottom, so as to scuttle a large hole there;
then dropping his sword, had thrust his long arm far inwards and
upwards, and so hauled out poor Tash by the head. He averred, that
upon first thrusting in for him, a leg was presented; but well
knowing that that was not as it ought to be, and might occasion great
trouble;--he had thrust back the leg, and by a dexterous heave and
toss, had wrought a somerset upon the Indian; so that with the next
trial, he came forth in the good old way--head foremost. As for the
great head itself, that was doing as well as could be expected.

And thus, through the courage and great skill in obstetrics of
Queequeg, the deliverance, or rather, delivery of Tashtego, was
successfully accomplished, in the teeth, too, of the most untoward
and apparently hopeless impediments; which is a lesson by no means to
be forgotten. Midwifery should be taught in the same course with
fencing and boxing, riding and rowing.

I know that this queer adventure of the Gay-Header's will be sure to
seem incredible to some landsmen, though they themselves may have
either seen or heard of some one's falling into a cistern ashore; an
accident which not seldom happens, and with much less reason too than
the Indian's, considering the exceeding slipperiness of the curb of
the Sperm Whale's well.

But, peradventure, it may be sagaciously urged, how is this? We
thought the tissued, infiltrated head of the Sperm Whale, was the
lightest and most corky part about him; and yet thou makest it sink
in an element of a far greater specific gravity than itself. We have
thee there. Not at all, but I have ye; for at the time poor Tash
fell in, the case had been nearly emptied of its lighter contents,
leaving little but the dense tendinous wall of the well--a double
welded, hammered substance, as I have before said, much heavier than
the sea water, and a lump of which sinks in it like lead almost. But
the tendency to rapid sinking in this substance was in the present
instance materially counteracted by the other parts of the head
remaining undetached from it, so that it sank very slowly and
deliberately indeed, affording Queequeg a fair chance for performing
his agile obstetrics on the run, as you may say. Yes, it was a
running delivery, so it was.

Now, had Tashtego perished in that head, it had been a very precious
perishing; smothered in the very whitest and daintiest of fragrant
spermaceti; coffined, hearsed, and tombed in the secret inner chamber
and sanctum sanctorum of the whale. Only one sweeter end can readily
be recalled--the delicious death of an Ohio honey-hunter, who seeking
honey in the crotch of a hollow tree, found such exceeding store of
it, that leaning too far over, it sucked him in, so that he died
embalmed. How many, think ye, have likewise fallen into Plato's
honey head, and sweetly perished there?

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