Chapter 108: Ahab and the Carpenter.
The Deck--First Night Watch.
(CARPENTER STANDING BEFORE HIS VICE-BENCH, AND BY THE LIGHT OF TWO
LANTERNS BUSILY FILING THE IVORY JOIST FOR THE LEG, WHICH JOIST IS
FIRMLY FIXED IN THE VICE. SLABS OF IVORY, LEATHER STRAPS, PADS, SCREWS,
AND VARIOUS TOOLS OF ALL SORTS LYING ABOUT THE BENCH. FORWARD, THE RED
FLAME OF THE FORGE IS SEEN, WHERE THE BLACKSMITH IS AT WORK.)
Drat the file, and drat the bone! That is hard which should be soft,
and that is soft which should be hard. So we go, who file old jaws and
shinbones. Let's try another. Aye, now, this works better (SNEEZES).
Halloa, this bone dust is (SNEEZES)--why it's (SNEEZES)--yes it's
(SNEEZES)--bless my soul, it won't let me speak! This is what an old
fellow gets now for working in dead lumber. Saw a live tree, and
you don't get this dust; amputate a live bone, and you don't get it
(SNEEZES). Come, come, you old Smut, there, bear a hand, and let's have
that ferule and buckle-screw; I'll be ready for them presently. Lucky
now (SNEEZES) there's no knee-joint to make; that might puzzle a little;
but a mere shinbone--why it's easy as making hop-poles; only I should
like to put a good finish on. Time, time; if I but only had the time, I
could turn him out as neat a leg now as ever (SNEEZES) scraped to a lady
in a parlor. Those buckskin legs and calves of legs I've seen in shop
windows wouldn't compare at all. They soak water, they do; and of
course get rheumatic, and have to be doctored (SNEEZES) with washes and
lotions, just like live legs. There; before I saw it off, now, I must
call his old Mogulship, and see whether the length will be all right;
too short, if anything, I guess. Ha! that's the heel; we are in luck;
here he comes, or it's somebody else, that's certain.
(DURING THE ENSUING SCENE, THE CARPENTER CONTINUES SNEEZING AT TIMES)
Just in time, sir. If the captain pleases, I will now mark the length.
Let me measure, sir.
Measured for a leg! good. Well, it's not the first time. About it!
There; keep thy finger on it. This is a cogent vice thou hast here,
carpenter; let me feel its grip once. So, so; it does pinch some.
Oh, sir, it will break bones--beware, beware!
No fear; I like a good grip; I like to feel something in this
slippery world that can hold, man. What's Prometheus about there?--the
blacksmith, I mean--what's he about?
He must be forging the buckle-screw, sir, now.
Right. It's a partnership; he supplies the muscle part. He makes a
fierce red flame there!
Aye, sir; he must have the white heat for this kind of fine work.
Um-m. So he must. I do deem it now a most meaning thing, that that
old Greek, Prometheus, who made men, they say, should have been a
blacksmith, and animated them with fire; for what's made in fire must
properly belong to fire; and so hell's probable. How the soot flies!
This must be the remainder the Greek made the Africans of. Carpenter,
when he's through with that buckle, tell him to forge a pair of steel
shoulder-blades; there's a pedlar aboard with a crushing pack.
Hold; while Prometheus is about it, I'll order a complete man after a
desirable pattern. Imprimis, fifty feet high in his socks; then, chest
modelled after the Thames Tunnel; then, legs with roots to 'em, to stay
in one place; then, arms three feet through the wrist; no heart at all,
brass forehead, and about a quarter of an acre of fine brains; and let
me see--shall I order eyes to see outwards? No, but put a sky-light on
top of his head to illuminate inwards. There, take the order, and away.
Now, what's he speaking about, and who's he speaking to, I should like
to know? Shall I keep standing here? (ASIDE).
'Tis but indifferent architecture to make a blind dome; here's one. No,
no, no; I must have a lantern.
Ho, ho! That's it, hey? Here are two, sir; one will serve my turn.
What art thou thrusting that thief-catcher into my face for, man?
Thrusted light is worse than presented pistols.
I thought, sir, that you spoke to carpenter.
Carpenter? why that's--but no;--a very tidy, and, I may say,
an extremely gentlemanlike sort of business thou art in here,
carpenter;--or would'st thou rather work in clay?
Sir?--Clay? clay, sir? That's mud; we leave clay to ditchers, sir.
The fellow's impious! What art thou sneezing about?
Bone is rather dusty, sir.
Take the hint, then; and when thou art dead, never bury thyself under
living people's noses.
Sir?--oh! ah!--I guess so;--yes--dear!
Look ye, carpenter, I dare say thou callest thyself a right good
workmanlike workman, eh? Well, then, will it speak thoroughly well
for thy work, if, when I come to mount this leg thou makest, I shall
nevertheless feel another leg in the same identical place with it; that
is, carpenter, my old lost leg; the flesh and blood one, I mean. Canst
thou not drive that old Adam away?
Truly, sir, I begin to understand somewhat now. Yes, I have heard
something curious on that score, sir; how that a dismasted man never
entirely loses the feeling of his old spar, but it will be still
pricking him at times. May I humbly ask if it be really so, sir?
It is, man. Look, put thy live leg here in the place where mine once
was; so, now, here is only one distinct leg to the eye, yet two to the
soul. Where thou feelest tingling life; there, exactly there, there to a
hair, do I. Is't a riddle?
I should humbly call it a poser, sir.
Hist, then. How dost thou know that some entire, living, thinking thing
may not be invisibly and uninterpenetratingly standing precisely where
thou now standest; aye, and standing there in thy spite? In thy most
solitary hours, then, dost thou not fear eavesdroppers? Hold, don't
speak! And if I still feel the smart of my crushed leg, though it be now
so long dissolved; then, why mayst not thou, carpenter, feel the fiery
pains of hell for ever, and without a body? Hah!
Good Lord! Truly, sir, if it comes to that, I must calculate over again;
I think I didn't carry a small figure, sir.
Look ye, pudding-heads should never grant premises.--How long before the
leg is done?
Perhaps an hour, sir.
Bungle away at it then, and bring it to me (TURNS TO GO). Oh, Life! Here
I am, proud as Greek god, and yet standing debtor to this blockhead for
a bone to stand on! Cursed be that mortal inter-indebtedness which will
not do away with ledgers. I would be free as air; and I'm down in the
whole world's books. I am so rich, I could have given bid for bid with
the wealthiest Praetorians at the auction of the Roman empire (which was
the world's); and yet I owe for the flesh in the tongue I brag with. By
heavens! I'll get a crucible, and into it, and dissolve myself down to
one small, compendious vertebra. So.
CARPENTER (RESUMING HIS WORK).
Well, well, well! Stubb knows him best of all, and Stubb always says
he's queer; says nothing but that one sufficient little word queer; he's
queer, says Stubb; he's queer--queer, queer; and keeps dinning it into
Mr. Starbuck all the time--queer--sir--queer, queer, very queer. And
here's his leg! Yes, now that I think of it, here's his bedfellow! has
a stick of whale's jaw-bone for a wife! And this is his leg; he'll stand
on this. What was that now about one leg standing in three places, and
all three places standing in one hell--how was that? Oh! I don't wonder
he looked so scornful at me! I'm a sort of strange-thoughted sometimes,
they say; but that's only haphazard-like. Then, a short, little old body
like me, should never undertake to wade out into deep waters with tall,
heron-built captains; the water chucks you under the chin pretty quick,
and there's a great cry for life-boats. And here's the heron's leg!
long and slim, sure enough! Now, for most folks one pair of legs lasts
a lifetime, and that must be because they use them mercifully, as a
tender-hearted old lady uses her roly-poly old coach-horses. But Ahab;
oh he's a hard driver. Look, driven one leg to death, and spavined the
other for life, and now wears out bone legs by the cord. Halloa, there,
you Smut! bear a hand there with those screws, and let's finish it
before the resurrection fellow comes a-calling with his horn for
all legs, true or false, as brewery-men go round collecting old beer
barrels, to fill 'em up again. What a leg this is! It looks like a real
live leg, filed down to nothing but the core; he'll be standing on this
to-morrow; he'll be taking altitudes on it. Halloa! I almost forgot the
little oval slate, smoothed ivory, where he figures up the latitude. So,
so; chisel, file, and sand-paper, now!