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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 96 The Try-Works.
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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 96 The Try-Works. Post by :homeamerica Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :2306

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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 96 The Try-Works.

Besides her hoisted boats, an American whaler is outwardly
distinguished by her try-works. She presents the curious anomaly of
the most solid masonry joining with oak and hemp in constituting the
completed ship. It is as if from the open field a brick-kiln were
transported to her planks.

The try-works are planted between the foremast and mainmast, the
most roomy part of the deck. The timbers beneath are of a peculiar
strength, fitted to sustain the weight of an almost solid mass of
brick and mortar, some ten feet by eight square, and five in height.
The foundation does not penetrate the deck, but the masonry is firmly
secured to the surface by ponderous knees of iron bracing it on all
sides, and screwing it down to the timbers. On the flanks it is
cased with wood, and at top completely covered by a large, sloping,
battened hatchway. Removing this hatch we expose the great try-pots,
two in number, and each of several barrels' capacity. When not in
use, they are kept remarkably clean. Sometimes they are polished
with soapstone and sand, till they shine within like silver
punch-bowls. During the night-watches some cynical old sailors will
crawl into them and coil themselves away there for a nap. While
employed in polishing them--one man in each pot, side by side--many
confidential communications are carried on, over the iron lips. It
is a place also for profound mathematical meditation. It was in the
left hand try-pot of the Pequod, with the soapstone diligently
circling round me, that I was first indirectly struck by the
remarkable fact, that in geometry all bodies gliding along the
cycloid, my soapstone for example, will descend from any point in
precisely the same time.

Removing the fire-board from the front of the try-works, the bare
masonry of that side is exposed, penetrated by the two iron mouths of
the furnaces, directly underneath the pots. These mouths are fitted
with heavy doors of iron. The intense heat of the fire is prevented
from communicating itself to the deck, by means of a shallow
reservoir extending under the entire inclosed surface of the works.
By a tunnel inserted at the rear, this reservoir is kept replenished
with water as fast as it evaporates. There are no external chimneys;
they open direct from the rear wall. And here let us go back for a

It was about nine o'clock at night that the Pequod's try-works were
first started on this present voyage. It belonged to Stubb to
oversee the business.

"All ready there? Off hatch, then, and start her. You cook, fire
the works." This was an easy thing, for the carpenter had been
thrusting his shavings into the furnace throughout the passage. Here
be it said that in a whaling voyage the first fire in the try-works has
to be fed for a time with wood. After that no wood is used, except
as a means of quick ignition to the staple fuel. In a word, after
being tried out, the crisp, shrivelled blubber, now called scraps or
fritters, still contains considerable of its unctuous properties.
These fritters feed the flames. Like a plethoric burning martyr, or
a self-consuming misanthrope, once ignited, the whale supplies his
own fuel and burns by his own body. Would that he consumed his own
smoke! for his smoke is horrible to inhale, and inhale it you must,
and not only that, but you must live in it for the time. It has an
unspeakable, wild, Hindoo odor about it, such as may lurk in the
vicinity of funereal pyres. It smells like the left wing of the day
of judgment; it is an argument for the pit.

By midnight the works were in full operation. We were clear from the
carcase; sail had been made; the wind was freshening; the wild ocean
darkness was intense. But that darkness was licked up by the fierce
flames, which at intervals forked forth from the sooty flues, and
illuminated every lofty rope in the rigging, as with the famed Greek
fire. The burning ship drove on, as if remorselessly commissioned to
some vengeful deed. So the pitch and sulphur-freighted brigs of the
bold Hydriote, Canaris, issuing from their midnight harbors, with
broad sheets of flame for sails, bore down upon the Turkish frigates,
and folded them in conflagrations.

The hatch, removed from the top of the works, now afforded a wide
hearth in front of them. Standing on this were the Tartarean shapes
of the pagan harpooneers, always the whale-ship's stokers. With huge
pronged poles they pitched hissing masses of blubber into the
scalding pots, or stirred up the fires beneath, till the snaky flames
darted, curling, out of the doors to catch them by the feet. The
smoke rolled away in sullen heaps. To every pitch of the ship there
was a pitch of the boiling oil, which seemed all eagerness to leap
into their faces. Opposite the mouth of the works, on the further
side of the wide wooden hearth, was the windlass. This served for a
sea-sofa. Here lounged the watch, when not otherwise employed,
looking into the red heat of the fire, till their eyes felt scorched
in their heads. Their tawny features, now all begrimed with smoke
and sweat, their matted beards, and the contrasting barbaric
brilliancy of their teeth, all these were strangely revealed in the
capricious emblazonings of the works. As they narrated to each other
their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words of
mirth; as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like
the flames from the furnace; as to and fro, in their front, the
harpooneers wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and
dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship
groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and
further into the blackness of the sea and the night, and scornfully
champed the white bone in her mouth, and viciously spat round her on
all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden
with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of
darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac
commander's soul.

So seemed it to me, as I stood at her helm, and for long hours
silently guided the way of this fire-ship on the sea. Wrapped, for
that interval, in darkness myself, I but the better saw the redness,
the madness, the ghastliness of others. The continual sight of the
fiend shapes before me, capering half in smoke and half in fire,
these at last begat kindred visions in my soul, so soon as I began to
yield to that unaccountable drowsiness which ever would come over me
at a midnight helm.

But that night, in particular, a strange (and ever since
inexplicable) thing occurred to me. Starting from a brief standing
sleep, I was horribly conscious of something fatally wrong. The
jaw-bone tiller smote my side, which leaned against it; in my ears
was the low hum of sails, just beginning to shake in the wind; I
thought my eyes were open; I was half conscious of putting my fingers
to the lids and mechanically stretching them still further apart.
But, spite of all this, I could see no compass before me to steer by;
though it seemed but a minute since I had been watching the card, by
the steady binnacle lamp illuminating it. Nothing seemed before me
but a jet gloom, now and then made ghastly by flashes of redness.
Uppermost was the impression, that whatever swift, rushing thing I
stood on was not so much bound to any haven ahead as rushing from all
havens astern. A stark, bewildered feeling, as of death, came over
me. Convulsively my hands grasped the tiller, but with the crazy
conceit that the tiller was, somehow, in some enchanted way,
inverted. My God! what is the matter with me? thought I. Lo! in my
brief sleep I had turned myself about, and was fronting the ship's
stern, with my back to her prow and the compass. In an instant I
faced back, just in time to prevent the vessel from flying up into
the wind, and very probably capsizing her. How glad and how grateful
the relief from this unnatural hallucination of the night, and the
fatal contingency of being brought by the lee!

Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with
thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the
first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire,
when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the
natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils
in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least
gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true
lamp--all others but liars!

Nevertheless the sun hides not Virginia's Dismal Swamp, nor Rome's
accursed Campagna, nor wide Sahara, nor all the millions of miles of
deserts and of griefs beneath the moon. The sun hides not the ocean,
which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this
earth. So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than
sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true--not true, or
undeveloped. With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man
of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon's, and
Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. "All is vanity."
ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon's
wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast
crossing graveyards, and would rather talk of operas than hell;
calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all of sick men;
and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as passing
wise, and therefore jolly;--not that man is fitted to sit down on
tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably
wondrous Solomon.

But even Solomon, he says, "the man that wandereth out of the way of
understanding shall remain" (I.E., even while living) "in the
congregation of the dead." Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest
it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a
wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is
a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the
blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in
the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge,
that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the
mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even
though they soar.

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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 97 The Lamp. Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 97 The Lamp.

Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 97 The Lamp.
Had you descended from the Pequod's try-works to the Pequod'sforecastle the off duty watch were sleeping, for one singlemoment you would have almost thought you were standing in someilluminated shrine of canonized kings and counsellors. There theylay in their triangular oaken vaults, each mariner a chiselledmuteness; a score of lamps flashing upon his hooded eyes.In merchantmen, oil for the sailor is more scarce than the milk ofqueens. To dress in the dark, and eat in the dark, and stumble indarkness to his pallet, this is his usual lot. But the whaleman, ashe seeks the food of light,

Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 95 The Cassock. Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 95 The Cassock.

Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 95 The Cassock.
Had you stepped on board the Pequod at a certain juncture of thispost-mortemizing of the whale; and had you strolled forward nigh thewindlass, pretty sure am I that you would have scanned with no smallcuriosity a very strange, enigmatical object, which you would haveseen there, lying along lengthwise in the lee scuppers. Not thewondrous cistern in the whale's huge head; not the prodigy of hisunhinged lower jaw; not the miracle of his symmetrical tail; none ofthese would so surprise you, as half a glimpse of that unaccountablecone,--longer than a Kentuckian is tall, nigh a foot in diameter atthe base, and