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Chapter 115: The Pequod Meets The Bachelor.

	


And jolly enough were the sights and the sounds that came bearing down
before the wind, some few weeks after Ahab's harpoon had been welded.

It was a Nantucket ship, the Bachelor, which had just wedged in her
last cask of oil, and bolted down her bursting hatches; and now, in glad
holiday apparel, was joyously, though somewhat vain-gloriously, sailing
round among the widely-separated ships on the ground, previous to
pointing her prow for home.

The three men at her mast-head wore long streamers of narrow red bunting
at their hats; from the stern, a whale-boat was suspended, bottom down;
and hanging captive from the bowsprit was seen the long lower jaw of the
last whale they had slain. Signals, ensigns, and jacks of all colours
were flying from her rigging, on every side. Sideways lashed in each of
her three basketed tops were two barrels of sperm; above which, in her
top-mast cross-trees, you saw slender breakers of the same precious
fluid; and nailed to her main truck was a brazen lamp.

As was afterwards learned, the Bachelor had met with the most surprising
success; all the more wonderful, for that while cruising in the same
seas numerous other vessels had gone entire months without securing a
single fish. Not only had barrels of beef and bread been given away to
make room for the far more valuable sperm, but additional supplemental
casks had been bartered for, from the ships she had met; and these were
stowed along the deck, and in the captain's and officers' state-rooms.
Even the cabin table itself had been knocked into kindling-wood; and the
cabin mess dined off the broad head of an oil-butt, lashed down to the
floor for a centrepiece. In the forecastle, the sailors had actually
caulked and pitched their chests, and filled them; it was humorously
added, that the cook had clapped a head on his largest boiler, and
filled it; that the steward had plugged his spare coffee-pot and filled
it; that the harpooneers had headed the sockets of their irons and
filled them; that indeed everything was filled with sperm, except the
captain's pantaloons pockets, and those he reserved to thrust his hands
into, in self-complacent testimony of his entire satisfaction.

As this glad ship of good luck bore down upon the moody Pequod, the
barbarian sound of enormous drums came from her forecastle; and drawing
still nearer, a crowd of her men were seen standing round her huge
try-pots, which, covered with the parchment-like POKE or stomach skin of
the black fish, gave forth a loud roar to every stroke of the clenched
hands of the crew. On the quarter-deck, the mates and harpooneers were
dancing with the olive-hued girls who had eloped with them from the
Polynesian Isles; while suspended in an ornamented boat, firmly secured
aloft between the foremast and mainmast, three Long Island negroes, with
glittering fiddle-bows of whale ivory, were presiding over the hilarious
jig. Meanwhile, others of the ship's company were tumultuously busy at
the masonry of the try-works, from which the huge pots had been
removed. You would have almost thought they were pulling down the cursed
Bastille, such wild cries they raised, as the now useless brick and
mortar were being hurled into the sea.

Lord and master over all this scene, the captain stood erect on the
ship's elevated quarter-deck, so that the whole rejoicing drama was
full before him, and seemed merely contrived for his own individual
diversion.

And Ahab, he too was standing on his quarter-deck, shaggy and black,
with a stubborn gloom; and as the two ships crossed each other's
wakes--one all jubilations for things passed, the other all forebodings
as to things to come--their two captains in themselves impersonated the
whole striking contrast of the scene.

"Come aboard, come aboard!" cried the gay Bachelor's commander, lifting
a glass and a bottle in the air.

"Hast seen the White Whale?" gritted Ahab in reply.

"No; only heard of him; but don't believe in him at all," said the other
good-humoredly. "Come aboard!"

"Thou art too damned jolly. Sail on. Hast lost any men?"

"Not enough to speak of--two islanders, that's all;--but come aboard,
old hearty, come along. I'll soon take that black from your brow. Come
along, will ye (merry's the play); a full ship and homeward-bound."

"How wondrous familiar is a fool!" muttered Ahab; then aloud, "Thou art
a full ship and homeward bound, thou sayst; well, then, call me an empty
ship, and outward-bound. So go thy ways, and I will mine. Forward there!
Set all sail, and keep her to the wind!"

And thus, while the one ship went cheerily before the breeze, the other
stubbornly fought against it; and so the two vessels parted; the crew
of the Pequod looking with grave, lingering glances towards the receding
Bachelor; but the Bachelor's men never heeding their gaze for the lively
revelry they were in. And as Ahab, leaning over the taffrail, eyed the
homewardbound craft, he took from his pocket a small vial of sand, and
then looking from the ship to the vial, seemed thereby bringing two
remote associations together, for that vial was filled with Nantucket
soundings.