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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 81 The Pequod Meets The Virgin.
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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 81 The Pequod Meets The Virgin. Post by :agreement Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :1565

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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 81 The Pequod Meets The Virgin.

The predestinated day arrived, and we duly met the ship Jungfrau,
Derick De Deer, master, of Bremen.

At one time the greatest whaling people in the world, the Dutch and
Germans are now among the least; but here and there at very wide
intervals of latitude and longitude, you still occasionally meet with
their flag in the Pacific.

For some reason, the Jungfrau seemed quite eager to pay her respects.
While yet some distance from the Pequod, she rounded to, and
dropping a boat, her captain was impelled towards us, impatiently
standing in the bows instead of the stern.

"What has he in his hand there?" cried Starbuck, pointing to
something wavingly held by the German. "Impossible!--a lamp-feeder!"

"Not that," said Stubb, "no, no, it's a coffee-pot, Mr. Starbuck;
he's coming off to make us our coffee, is the Yarman; don't you see
that big tin can there alongside of him?--that's his boiling water.
Oh! he's all right, is the Yarman."

"Go along with you," cried Flask, "it's a lamp-feeder and an oil-can.
He's out of oil, and has come a-begging."

However curious it may seem for an oil-ship to be borrowing oil on
the whale-ground, and however much it may invertedly contradict the
old proverb about carrying coals to Newcastle, yet sometimes such a
thing really happens; and in the present case Captain Derick De Deer
did indubitably conduct a lamp-feeder as Flask did declare.

As he mounted the deck, Ahab abruptly accosted him, without at all
heeding what he had in his hand; but in his broken lingo, the German
soon evinced his complete ignorance of the White Whale; immediately
turning the conversation to his lamp-feeder and oil can, with some
remarks touching his having to turn into his hammock at night in
profound darkness--his last drop of Bremen oil being gone, and not a
single flying-fish yet captured to supply the deficiency; concluding
by hinting that his ship was indeed what in the Fishery is
technically called a CLEAN one (that is, an empty one), well
deserving the name of Jungfrau or the Virgin.

His necessities supplied, Derick departed; but he had not gained his
ship's side, when whales were almost simultaneously raised from the
mast-heads of both vessels; and so eager for the chase was Derick,
that without pausing to put his oil-can and lamp-feeder aboard, he
slewed round his boat and made after the leviathan lamp-feeders.

Now, the game having risen to leeward, he and the other three German
boats that soon followed him, had considerably the start of the
Pequod's keels. There were eight whales, an average pod. Aware of
their danger, they were going all abreast with great speed straight
before the wind, rubbing their flanks as closely as so many spans of
horses in harness. They left a great, wide wake, as though
continually unrolling a great wide parchment upon the sea.

Full in this rapid wake, and many fathoms in the rear, swam a huge,
humped old bull, which by his comparatively slow progress, as well as
by the unusual yellowish incrustations overgrowing him, seemed
afflicted with the jaundice, or some other infirmity. Whether this
whale belonged to the pod in advance, seemed questionable; for it is
not customary for such venerable leviathans to be at all social.
Nevertheless, he stuck to their wake, though indeed their back water
must have retarded him, because the white-bone or swell at his broad
muzzle was a dashed one, like the swell formed when two hostile
currents meet. His spout was short, slow, and laborious; coming
forth with a choking sort of gush, and spending itself in torn
shreds, followed by strange subterranean commotions in him, which
seemed to have egress at his other buried extremity, causing the
waters behind him to upbubble.

"Who's got some paregoric?" said Stubb, "he has the stomach-ache, I'm
afraid. Lord, think of having half an acre of stomach-ache! Adverse
winds are holding mad Christmas in him, boys. It's the first foul
wind I ever knew to blow from astern; but look, did ever whale yaw
so before? it must be, he's lost his tiller."

As an overladen Indiaman bearing down the Hindostan coast with a deck
load of frightened horses, careens, buries, rolls, and wallows on her
way; so did this old whale heave his aged bulk, and now and then
partly turning over on his cumbrous rib-ends, expose the cause of his
devious wake in the unnatural stump of his starboard fin. Whether he
had lost that fin in battle, or had been born without it, it were
hard to say.

"Only wait a bit, old chap, and I'll give ye a sling for that wounded
arm," cried cruel Flask, pointing to the whale-line near him.

"Mind he don't sling thee with it," cried Starbuck. "Give way, or
the German will have him."

With one intent all the combined rival boats were pointed for this
one fish, because not only was he the largest, and therefore the most
valuable whale, but he was nearest to them, and the other whales were
going with such great velocity, moreover, as almost to defy pursuit
for the time. At this juncture the Pequod's keels had shot by the
three German boats last lowered; but from the great start he had had,
Derick's boat still led the chase, though every moment neared by his
foreign rivals. The only thing they feared, was, that from being
already so nigh to his mark, he would be enabled to dart his iron
before they could completely overtake and pass him. As for Derick,
he seemed quite confident that this would be the case, and
occasionally with a deriding gesture shook his lamp-feeder at the
other boats.

"The ungracious and ungrateful dog!" cried Starbuck; "he mocks and
dares me with the very poor-box I filled for him not five minutes
ago!"--then in his old intense whisper--"Give way, greyhounds! Dog
to it!"

"I tell ye what it is, men"--cried Stubb to his crew--"it's against
my religion to get mad; but I'd like to eat that villainous
Yarman--Pull--won't ye? Are ye going to let that rascal beat ye? Do
ye love brandy? A hogshead of brandy, then, to the best man. Come,
why don't some of ye burst a blood-vessel? Who's that been dropping
an anchor overboard--we don't budge an inch--we're becalmed. Halloo,
here's grass growing in the boat's bottom--and by the Lord, the mast
there's budding. This won't do, boys. Look at that Yarman! The
short and long of it is, men, will ye spit fire or not?"

"Oh! see the suds he makes!" cried Flask, dancing up and down--"What
a hump--Oh, DO pile on the beef--lays like a log! Oh! my lads, DO
spring--slap-jacks and quahogs for supper, you know, my lads--baked
clams and muffins--oh, DO, DO, spring,--he's a hundred barreller--don't
lose him now--don't oh, DON'T!--see that Yarman--Oh,
won't ye pull for your duff, my lads--such a sog! such a sogger!
Don't ye love sperm? There goes three thousand dollars, men!--a
bank!--a whole bank! The bank of England!--Oh, DO, DO, DO!--What's
that Yarman about now?"

At this moment Derick was in the act of pitching his lamp-feeder at
the advancing boats, and also his oil-can; perhaps with the double
view of retarding his rivals' way, and at the same time economically
accelerating his own by the momentary impetus of the backward toss.

"The unmannerly Dutch dogger!" cried Stubb. "Pull now, men, like
fifty thousand line-of-battle-ship loads of red-haired devils. What
d'ye say, Tashtego; are you the man to snap your spine in
two-and-twenty pieces for the honour of old Gayhead? What d'ye say?"

"I say, pull like god-dam,"--cried the Indian.

Fiercely, but evenly incited by the taunts of the German, the
Pequod's three boats now began ranging almost abreast; and, so
disposed, momentarily neared him. In that fine, loose, chivalrous
attitude of the headsman when drawing near to his prey, the three
mates stood up proudly, occasionally backing the after oarsman with
an exhilarating cry of, "There she slides, now! Hurrah for the
white-ash breeze! Down with the Yarman! Sail over him!"

But so decided an original start had Derick had, that spite of all
their gallantry, he would have proved the victor in this race, had
not a righteous judgment descended upon him in a crab which caught
the blade of his midship oarsman. While this clumsy lubber was
striving to free his white-ash, and while, in consequence, Derick's
boat was nigh to capsizing, and he thundering away at his men in a
mighty rage;--that was a good time for Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask.
With a shout, they took a mortal start forwards, and slantingly
ranged up on the German's quarter. An instant more, and all four
boats were diagonically in the whale's immediate wake, while
stretching from them, on both sides, was the foaming swell that he
made.

It was a terrific, most pitiable, and maddening sight. The whale was
now going head out, and sending his spout before him in a continual
tormented jet; while his one poor fin beat his side in an agony of
fright. Now to this hand, now to that, he yawed in his faltering
flight, and still at every billow that he broke, he spasmodically
sank in the sea, or sideways rolled towards the sky his one beating
fin. So have I seen a bird with clipped wing making affrighted
broken circles in the air, vainly striving to escape the piratical
hawks. But the bird has a voice, and with plaintive cries will make
known her fear; but the fear of this vast dumb brute of the sea, was
chained up and enchanted in him; he had no voice, save that choking
respiration through his spiracle, and this made the sight of him
unspeakably pitiable; while still, in his amazing bulk, portcullis
jaw, and omnipotent tail, there was enough to appal the stoutest man
who so pitied.

Seeing now that but a very few moments more would give the Pequod's
boats the advantage, and rather than be thus foiled of his game,
Derick chose to hazard what to him must have seemed a most unusually
long dart, ere the last chance would for ever escape.

But no sooner did his harpooneer stand up for the stroke, than all
three tigers--Queequeg, Tashtego, Daggoo--instinctively sprang to
their feet, and standing in a diagonal row, simultaneously pointed
their barbs; and darted over the head of the German harpooneer, their
three Nantucket irons entered the whale. Blinding vapours of foam and
white-fire! The three boats, in the first fury of the whale's
headlong rush, bumped the German's aside with such force, that both
Derick and his baffled harpooneer were spilled out, and sailed over
by the three flying keels.

"Don't be afraid, my butter-boxes," cried Stubb, casting a passing
glance upon them as he shot by; "ye'll be picked up presently--all
right--I saw some sharks astern--St. Bernard's dogs, you
know--relieve distressed travellers. Hurrah! this is the way to sail
now. Every keel a sunbeam! Hurrah!--Here we go like three tin
kettles at the tail of a mad cougar! This puts me in mind of
fastening to an elephant in a tilbury on a plain--makes the
wheel-spokes fly, boys, when you fasten to him that way; and there's
danger of being pitched out too, when you strike a hill. Hurrah!
this is the way a fellow feels when he's going to Davy Jones--all a
rush down an endless inclined plane! Hurrah! this whale carries the
everlasting mail!"

But the monster's run was a brief one. Giving a sudden gasp, he
tumultuously sounded. With a grating rush, the three lines flew
round the loggerheads with such a force as to gouge deep grooves in
them; while so fearful were the harpooneers that this rapid sounding
would soon exhaust the lines, that using all their dexterous might,
they caught repeated smoking turns with the rope to hold on; till at
last--owing to the perpendicular strain from the lead-lined chocks of
the boats, whence the three ropes went straight down into the
blue--the gunwales of the bows were almost even with the water, while
the three sterns tilted high in the air. And the whale soon ceasing
to sound, for some time they remained in that attitude, fearful of
expending more line, though the position was a little ticklish. But
though boats have been taken down and lost in this way, yet it is
this "holding on," as it is called; this hooking up by the sharp
barbs of his live flesh from the back; this it is that often torments
the Leviathan into soon rising again to meet the sharp lance of his
foes. Yet not to speak of the peril of the thing, it is to be
doubted whether this course is always the best; for it is but
reasonable to presume, that the longer the stricken whale stays under
water, the more he is exhausted. Because, owing to the enormous
surface of him--in a full grown sperm whale something less than 2000
square feet--the pressure of the water is immense. We all know what
an astonishing atmospheric weight we ourselves stand up under; even
here, above-ground, in the air; how vast, then, the burden of a
whale, bearing on his back a column of two hundred fathoms of ocean!
It must at least equal the weight of fifty atmospheres. One whaleman
has estimated it at the weight of twenty line-of-battle ships, with
all their guns, and stores, and men on board.

As the three boats lay there on that gently rolling sea, gazing down
into its eternal blue noon; and as not a single groan or cry of any
sort, nay, not so much as a ripple or a bubble came up from its
depths; what landsman would have thought, that beneath all that
silence and placidity, the utmost monster of the seas was writhing
and wrenching in agony! Not eight inches of perpendicular rope were
visible at the bows. Seems it credible that by three such thin
threads the great Leviathan was suspended like the big weight to an
eight day clock. Suspended? and to what? To three bits of board.
Is this the creature of whom it was once so triumphantly said--"Canst
thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish-spears?
The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold, the spear, the dart,
nor the habergeon: he esteemeth iron as straw; the arrow cannot make
him flee; darts are counted as stubble; he laugheth at the shaking of
a spear!" This the creature? this he? Oh! that unfulfilments should
follow the prophets. For with the strength of a thousand thighs in
his tail, Leviathan had run his head under the mountains of the sea,
to hide him from the Pequod's fish-spears!

In that sloping afternoon sunlight, the shadows that the three boats
sent down beneath the surface, must have been long enough and broad
enough to shade half Xerxes' army. Who can tell how appalling to the
wounded whale must have been such huge phantoms flitting over his
head!

"Stand by, men; he stirs," cried Starbuck, as the three lines
suddenly vibrated in the water, distinctly conducting upwards to
them, as by magnetic wires, the life and death throbs of the whale,
so that every oarsman felt them in his seat. The next moment,
relieved in great part from the downward strain at the bows, the
boats gave a sudden bounce upwards, as a small icefield will, when a
dense herd of white bears are scared from it into the sea.

"Haul in! Haul in!" cried Starbuck again; "he's rising."

The lines, of which, hardly an instant before, not one hand's breadth
could have been gained, were now in long quick coils flung back all
dripping into the boats, and soon the whale broke water within two
ship's lengths of the hunters.

His motions plainly denoted his extreme exhaustion. In most land
animals there are certain valves or flood-gates in many of their
veins, whereby when wounded, the blood is in some degree at least
instantly shut off in certain directions. Not so with the whale; one
of whose peculiarities it is to have an entire non-valvular structure
of the blood-vessels, so that when pierced even by so small a point
as a harpoon, a deadly drain is at once begun upon his whole
arterial system; and when this is heightened by the extraordinary
pressure of water at a great distance below the surface, his life may
be said to pour from him in incessant streams. Yet so vast is the
quantity of blood in him, and so distant and numerous its interior
fountains, that he will keep thus bleeding and bleeding for a
considerable period; even as in a drought a river will flow, whose
source is in the well-springs of far-off and undiscernible hills.
Even now, when the boats pulled upon this whale, and perilously drew
over his swaying flukes, and the lances were darted into him, they
were followed by steady jets from the new made wound, which kept
continually playing, while the natural spout-hole in his head was
only at intervals, however rapid, sending its affrighted moisture
into the air. From this last vent no blood yet came, because no
vital part of him had thus far been struck. His life, as they
significantly call it, was untouched.

As the boats now more closely surrounded him, the whole upper part of
his form, with much of it that is ordinarily submerged, was plainly
revealed. His eyes, or rather the places where his eyes had been,
were beheld. As strange misgrown masses gather in the knot-holes of
the noblest oaks when prostrate, so from the points which the whale's
eyes had once occupied, now protruded blind bulbs, horribly pitiable
to see. But pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one
arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in
order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and
also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional
inoffensiveness by all to all. Still rolling in his blood, at last
he partially disclosed a strangely discoloured bunch or protuberance,
the size of a bushel, low down on the flank.

"A nice spot," cried Flask; "just let me prick him there once."

"Avast!" cried Starbuck, "there's no need of that!"

But humane Starbuck was too late. At the instant of the dart an
ulcerous jet shot from this cruel wound, and goaded by it into more
than sufferable anguish, the whale now spouting thick blood, with
swift fury blindly darted at the craft, bespattering them and their
glorying crews all over with showers of gore, capsizing Flask's boat
and marring the bows. It was his death stroke. For, by this time,
so spent was he by loss of blood, that he helplessly rolled away from
the wreck he had made; lay panting on his side, impotently flapped
with his stumped fin, then over and over slowly revolved like a
waning world; turned up the white secrets of his belly; lay like a
log, and died. It was most piteous, that last expiring spout. As
when by unseen hands the water is gradually drawn off from some
mighty fountain, and with half-stifled melancholy gurglings the
spray-column lowers and lowers to the ground--so the last long dying
spout of the whale.

Soon, while the crews were awaiting the arrival of the ship, the body
showed symptoms of sinking with all its treasures unrifled.
Immediately, by Starbuck's orders, lines were secured to it at
different points, so that ere long every boat was a buoy; the sunken
whale being suspended a few inches beneath them by the cords. By
very heedful management, when the ship drew nigh, the whale was
transferred to her side, and was strongly secured there by the
stiffest fluke-chains, for it was plain that unless artificially
upheld, the body would at once sink to the bottom.

It so chanced that almost upon first cutting into him with the
spade, the entire length of a corroded harpoon was found imbedded in
his flesh, on the lower part of the bunch before described. But as
the stumps of harpoons are frequently found in the dead bodies of
captured whales, with the flesh perfectly healed around them, and no
prominence of any kind to denote their place; therefore, there must
needs have been some other unknown reason in the present case fully
to account for the ulceration alluded to. But still more curious was
the fact of a lance-head of stone being found in him, not far from
the buried iron, the flesh perfectly firm about it. Who had darted
that stone lance? And when? It might have been darted by some Nor'
West Indian long before America was discovered.

What other marvels might have been rummaged out of this monstrous
cabinet there is no telling. But a sudden stop was put to further
discoveries, by the ship's being unprecedentedly dragged over
sideways to the sea, owing to the body's immensely increasing
tendency to sink. However, Starbuck, who had the ordering of
affairs, hung on to it to the last; hung on to it so resolutely,
indeed, that when at length the ship would have been capsized, if
still persisting in locking arms with the body; then, when the
command was given to break clear from it, such was the immovable
strain upon the timber-heads to which the fluke-chains and cables
were fastened, that it was impossible to cast them off. Meantime
everything in the Pequod was aslant. To cross to the other side of
the deck was like walking up the steep gabled roof of a house. The
ship groaned and gasped. Many of the ivory inlayings of her bulwarks
and cabins were started from their places, by the unnatural
dislocation. In vain handspikes and crows were brought to bear upon
the immovable fluke-chains, to pry them adrift from the timberheads;
and so low had the whale now settled that the submerged ends could
not be at all approached, while every moment whole tons of
ponderosity seemed added to the sinking bulk, and the ship seemed on
the point of going over.

"Hold on, hold on, won't ye?" cried Stubb to the body, "don't be in
such a devil of a hurry to sink! By thunder, men, we must do
something or go for it. No use prying there; avast, I say with your
handspikes, and run one of ye for a prayer book and a pen-knife, and
cut the big chains."

"Knife? Aye, aye," cried Queequeg, and seizing the carpenter's heavy
hatchet, he leaned out of a porthole, and steel to iron, began
slashing at the largest fluke-chains. But a few strokes, full of
sparks, were given, when the exceeding strain effected the rest.
With a terrific snap, every fastening went adrift; the ship righted,
the carcase sank.

Now, this occasional inevitable sinking of the recently killed Sperm
Whale is a very curious thing; nor has any fisherman yet adequately
accounted for it. Usually the dead Sperm Whale floats with great
buoyancy, with its side or belly considerably elevated above the
surface. If the only whales that thus sank were old, meagre, and
broken-hearted creatures, their pads of lard diminished and all their
bones heavy and rheumatic; then you might with some reason assert
that this sinking is caused by an uncommon specific gravity in the
fish so sinking, consequent upon this absence of buoyant matter in
him. But it is not so. For young whales, in the highest health, and
swelling with noble aspirations, prematurely cut off in the warm
flush and May of life, with all their panting lard about them; even
these brawny, buoyant heroes do sometimes sink.

Be it said, however, that the Sperm Whale is far less liable to this
accident than any other species. Where one of that sort go down,
twenty Right Whales do. This difference in the species is no doubt
imputable in no small degree to the greater quantity of bone in the
Right Whale; his Venetian blinds alone sometimes weighing more than a
ton; from this incumbrance the Sperm Whale is wholly free. But there
are instances where, after the lapse of many hours or several days,
the sunken whale again rises, more buoyant than in life. But the
reason of this is obvious. Gases are generated in him; he swells to
a prodigious magnitude; becomes a sort of animal balloon. A
line-of-battle ship could hardly keep him under then. In the Shore
Whaling, on soundings, among the Bays of New Zealand, when a Right
Whale gives token of sinking, they fasten buoys to him, with plenty
of rope; so that when the body has gone down, they know where to look
for it when it shall have ascended again.

It was not long after the sinking of the body that a cry was heard
from the Pequod's mast-heads, announcing that the Jungfrau was again
lowering her boats; though the only spout in sight was that of a
Fin-Back, belonging to the species of uncapturable whales, because of
its incredible power of swimming. Nevertheless, the Fin-Back's spout
is so similar to the Sperm Whale's, that by unskilful fishermen it is
often mistaken for it. And consequently Derick and all his host were
now in valiant chase of this unnearable brute. The Virgin crowding
all sail, made after her four young keels, and thus they all
disappeared far to leeward, still in bold, hopeful chase.

Oh! many are the Fin-Backs, and many are the Dericks, my friend.

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