Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk Over Him
IT must be borne in mind that all this time we have a sperm whales prodigious head hanging to the Pequods side. But we must let it continue hanging there a while till we can get a chance to attend to it. For the present other matters press, and the best we can do now for the head is to pray heaven the tackles may hold.
Now, during the past night and forenoon, the Pequod had gradually drifted into a sea, which, by its occasional patches of yellow brit, gave unusual tokens of the vicinity of right whales, a species of the leviathan that but few supposed to be at this particular time lurking anywhere near. And though all hands commonly disdained the capture of those inferior creatures; and though the Pequod was not commissioned to cruise for them at all, and though she had passed numbers of them near the Crozetts without lowering a boat; yet now that a sperm whale had been brought alongside and beheaded, to the surprise of all, the announcement was made that a right whale should be captured that day, if opportunity offered.
Nor was this long wanting. Tall spouts were seen to leeward; and two boats, Stubbs and Flasks, were detached in pursuit. Pulling further and further away, they at last became almost invisible to the men at the mast-head. But suddenly in the distance, they saw a great heap of tumultuous white water, and soon after news came from aloft that one or both the boats must be fast. An interval passed and the boats were in plain sight, in the act of being dragged right toward the ship by the towing whale. So close did the monster come to the hull, that at first it seemed as if he meant it malice; but suddenly going down in a maelstrom, within three rods of the planks, he wholly disappeared from view, as if diving under the keel. Cut, cut! was the cry from the ship to the boats, which, for one instant, seemed on the point of being brought with a deadly dash against the vessels side. But having plenty of line yet in the tubs, and the whale not sounding very rapidly, they paid out abundance of rope, and at the same time pulled with all their might so as to get ahead of the ship. For a few minutes the struggle was intensely critical; for while they still slacked out the tightened line in one direction, and still plied their oars in another, the contending strain threatened to take them under. But it was only a few feet advance they sought to gain. And they stuck to it till they did gain it; when instantly, a swift tremor was felt running like lightning along the keel, as the strained line, scraping beneath the ship, suddenly rose to view under her bows, snapping and quivering; and so flinging off its drippings, that the drops fell like bits of broken glass on the water, while the whale beyond also rose to sight, and once more the boats were free to fly. But the fagged whale abated his speed, and blindly altering his course, went round the stern of the ship towing the two boats after him, so that they performed a complete circuit.
Meantime, they hauled more and more upon their lines, till close flanking him on both sides, Stubb answered Flask with lance for lance; and thus round and round the Pequod the battle went, while the multitudes of sharks that had before swum round the sperm whales body, rushed to the fresh blood that was spilled, thirstily drinking at every new gash, as the eager Israelites did at the new bursting fountains that poured from the smitten rock.
Wants with it? said Flask, coiling some spare line in the boats bow, did you never hear that the ship which but once has a sperm whales head hoisted on her starboard side, and at the same time a right whales on the larboard; did you never hear, Stubb, that that ship can never afterward capsize?
I dont know, but I heard that gamboge ghost of a Fedallah saying so, and he seems to know all about ships charms. But I sometimes think he ll charm the ship to no good at last. I dont half like that chap, Stubb. Did you ever notice how that tusk of his is a sort of carved into a snakes head, Stubb?
Sink him! I never look at him at all; but if ever I get a chance of a dark night, and he standing hard by the bulwarks, and no one by; look down there, Flaskpointing into the sea with a peculiar motion of both handsAy, will I! Flask, I take that Fedallah to be the devil in disguise. Do you believe that cock-and-bull story about his having been stowed away on board ship? He s the devil, I say. The reason why you dont see his tail is because he tucks it up out of sight; he carries it coiled away in his pocket, I guess. Blast him! now that I think of it, he s always wanting oakum to stuff into the toes of his boots.
Why, do ye see, the old man is hard bent after that White Whale, and the devil there is trying to come round him, and get him to swap away his silver watch, or his soul, or something of that sort, and then he ll surrender Moby-Dick.
I dont know, Flask, but the devil is a curious chap, and a wicked one, I tell ye. Why, they say as how he went a-sauntering into the old flagship once, switching his tail about devilish easy and gentlemanlike, and inquiring if the old governor was at home. Well, he was at home, and asked the devil what he wanted. The devil, switching his hoofs, up and says, I want John. What for? says the old governor. What business is that of yours, says the devil, getting mad,I want to use him. Take him, says the governorand by the Lord, Flask, if the devil didnt give John the Asiatic cholera before he got through with him, I ll eat this whale in one mouthful. But look sharpaint you all ready there? Well, then, pull ahead, and let s get the whale alongside.
Am I the same man that helped kill this whale? Doesnt the devil live forever; who ever heard that the devil was dead? Did you ever see any parson a-wearing mourning for the devil? And if the devil has a latch-key to get into the admirals cabin, dont you suppose he can crawl into a port-hole? Tell me that, Mr. Flask?
Do you see that mainmast there? pointing to the ship; well, that s the figure one; now take all the hoops in the Pequods hold, and string em along in a row with that mast, for oughts, do you see; well, that wouldnt begin to be Fedallahs age. Nor all the coopers in creation couldnt show hoops enough to make oughts enough.
But see here, Stubb, I thought you a little boasted just now, that you meant to give Fedallah a sea-toss, if you got a good chance. Now, if he s so old as all those hoops of yours come to, and if he is going to live forever, what good will it do to pitch him overboardtell me that?
I should like to see him try it; I d give him such a pair of black eyes that he wouldnt dare to show his face in the admirals cabin again for a long while, let alone down in the orlop there, where he lives, and hereabouts on the upper decks where he sneaks so much. Damn the devil, Flask; so you suppose I m afraid of the devil? Who s afraid of him, except the old governor who darent catch him and put him in double-darbies, as he deserves, but lets him go about kidnapping people; ay, and signed a bond with him, that all the people the devil kidnapped, he d roast for him? There s a governor!
Do I suppose it? You ll know it before long, Flask. But I am going now to keep a sharp look-out on him; and if I see anything very suspicious going on, I ll just take him by the nape of his neck, and sayLook here, Beelzebub, you dont do it; and if he makes any fuss, by the Lord I ll make a grab into his pocket for his tail, take it to the capstan, and give him such a wrenching and heaving, that his tail will come short off at the stumpdo you see; and then, I rather guess when he finds himself docked in that queer fashion, he ll sneak off without the poor satisfaction of feeling his tail between his legs.
In good time, Flasks saying proved true. As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over toward the sperm whales head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Lockes head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kants and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds forever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.
In disposing of the body of a right whale, when brought alongside the ship, the same preliminary proceedings commonly take place as in the case of a sperm whale; only, in the latter instance, the head is cut off whole, but in the former the lips and tongue are separately removed and hoisted on deck, with all the well-known black bone attached to what is called the crown-piece. But nothing like this, in the present case, had been done. The carcases of both whales had dropped astern; and the head-laden ship not a little resembled a mule carrying a pair of overburdening panniers.
Meantime, Fedallah was calmly eyeing the right whales head, and ever and anon glancing from the deep wrinkles there to the lines in his own hand. And Ahab chanced so to stand, that the Parsee occupied his shadow; while, if the Parsees shadow was there at all it seemed only to blend with, and lengthen Ahabs. As the crew toiled on, Laplandish speculations were bandied among them, concerning all these passing things.