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mate 3

Chapter 22: Merry Christmas.

	


At length, towards noon, upon the final dismissal of the ship's riggers,
and after the Pequod had been hauled out from the wharf, and after the
ever-thoughtful Charity had come off in a whale-boat, with her last
gift--a night-cap for Stubb, the second mate, her brother-in-law, and a
spare Bible for the steward--after all this, the two Captains, Peleg
and Bildad, issued from the cabin, and turning to the chief mate, Peleg
said:

"Now, Mr. Starbuck, are you sure everything is right? Captain Ahab is
all ready--just spoke to him--nothing more to be got from shore, eh?
Well, call all hands, then. Muster 'em aft here--blast 'em!"

"No need of profane words, however great the hurry, Peleg," said Bildad,
"but away with thee, friend Starbuck, and do our bidding."

How now! Here upon the very point of starting for the voyage, Captain
Peleg and Captain Bildad were going it with a high hand on the
quarter-deck, just as if they were to be joint-commanders at sea, as
well as to all appearances in port. And, as for Captain Ahab, no sign of
him was yet to be seen; only, they said he was in the cabin. But then,
the idea was, that his presence was by no means necessary in getting the
ship under weigh, and steering her well out to sea. Indeed, as that was
not at all his proper business, but the pilot's; and as he was not
yet completely recovered--so they said--therefore, Captain Ahab stayed
below. And all this seemed natural enough; especially as in the merchant
service many captains never show themselves on deck for a considerable
time after heaving up the anchor, but remain over the cabin table,
having a farewell merry-making with their shore friends, before they
quit the ship for good with the pilot.

But there was not much chance to think over the matter, for Captain
Peleg was now all alive. He seemed to do most of the talking and
commanding, and not Bildad.

"Aft here, ye sons of bachelors," he cried, as the sailors lingered at
the main-mast. "Mr. Starbuck, drive'em aft."

"Strike the tent there!"--was the next order. As I hinted before, this
whalebone marquee was never pitched except in port; and on board the
Pequod, for thirty years, the order to strike the tent was well known to
be the next thing to heaving up the anchor.

"Man the capstan! Blood and thunder!--jump!"--was the next command, and
the crew sprang for the handspikes.

Now in getting under weigh, the station generally occupied by the pilot
is the forward part of the ship. And here Bildad, who, with Peleg, be it
known, in addition to his other officers, was one of the licensed pilots
of the port--he being suspected to have got himself made a pilot in
order to save the Nantucket pilot-fee to all the ships he was concerned
in, for he never piloted any other craft--Bildad, I say, might now
be seen actively engaged in looking over the bows for the approaching
anchor, and at intervals singing what seemed a dismal stave of psalmody,
to cheer the hands at the windlass, who roared forth some sort of
a chorus about the girls in Booble Alley, with hearty good will.
Nevertheless, not three days previous, Bildad had told them that no
profane songs would be allowed on board the Pequod, particularly in
getting under weigh; and Charity, his sister, had placed a small choice
copy of Watts in each seaman's berth.

Meantime, overseeing the other part of the ship, Captain Peleg ripped
and swore astern in the most frightful manner. I almost thought he would
sink the ship before the anchor could be got up; involuntarily I paused
on my handspike, and told Queequeg to do the same, thinking of the
perils we both ran, in starting on the voyage with such a devil for a
pilot. I was comforting myself, however, with the thought that in pious
Bildad might be found some salvation, spite of his seven hundred and
seventy-seventh lay; when I felt a sudden sharp poke in my rear, and
turning round, was horrified at the apparition of Captain Peleg in the
act of withdrawing his leg from my immediate vicinity. That was my first
kick.

"Is that the way they heave in the marchant service?" he roared.
"Spring, thou sheep-head; spring, and break thy backbone! Why don't ye
spring, I say, all of ye--spring! Quohog! spring, thou chap with the red
whiskers; spring there, Scotch-cap; spring, thou green pants. Spring, I
say, all of ye, and spring your eyes out!" And so saying, he moved
along the windlass, here and there using his leg very freely, while
imperturbable Bildad kept leading off with his psalmody. Thinks I,
Captain Peleg must have been drinking something to-day.

At last the anchor was up, the sails were set, and off we glided. It
was a short, cold Christmas; and as the short northern day merged into
night, we found ourselves almost broad upon the wintry ocean, whose
freezing spray cased us in ice, as in polished armor. The long rows of
teeth on the bulwarks glistened in the moonlight; and like the white
ivory tusks of some huge elephant, vast curving icicles depended from
the bows.

Lank Bildad, as pilot, headed the first watch, and ever and anon, as the
old craft deep dived into the green seas, and sent the shivering frost
all over her, and the winds howled, and the cordage rang, his steady
notes were heard,--

"Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood, Stand dressed in living green.
So to the Jews old Canaan stood, While Jordan rolled between."


Never did those sweet words sound more sweetly to me than then. They
were full of hope and fruition. Spite of this frigid winter night in the
boisterous Atlantic, spite of my wet feet and wetter jacket, there was
yet, it then seemed to me, many a pleasant haven in store; and meads
and glades so eternally vernal, that the grass shot up by the spring,
untrodden, unwilted, remains at midsummer.

At last we gained such an offing, that the two pilots were needed
no longer. The stout sail-boat that had accompanied us began ranging
alongside.

It was curious and not unpleasing, how Peleg and Bildad were affected at
this juncture, especially Captain Bildad. For loath to depart, yet;
very loath to leave, for good, a ship bound on so long and perilous a
voyage--beyond both stormy Capes; a ship in which some thousands of
his hard earned dollars were invested; a ship, in which an old shipmate
sailed as captain; a man almost as old as he, once more starting to
encounter all the terrors of the pitiless jaw; loath to say good-bye to
a thing so every way brimful of every interest to him,--poor old Bildad
lingered long; paced the deck with anxious strides; ran down into the
cabin to speak another farewell word there; again came on deck, and
looked to windward; looked towards the wide and endless waters, only
bounded by the far-off unseen Eastern Continents; looked towards
the land; looked aloft; looked right and left; looked everywhere
and nowhere; and at last, mechanically coiling a rope upon its pin,
convulsively grasped stout Peleg by the hand, and holding up a lantern,
for a moment stood gazing heroically in his face, as much as to say,
"Nevertheless, friend Peleg, I can stand it; yes, I can."

As for Peleg himself, he took it more like a philosopher; but for all
his philosophy, there was a tear twinkling in his eye, when the lantern
came too near. And he, too, did not a little run from cabin to deck--now
a word below, and now a word with Starbuck, the chief mate.

But, at last, he turned to his comrade, with a final sort of look
about him,--"Captain Bildad--come, old shipmate, we must go. Back the
main-yard there! Boat ahoy! Stand by to come close alongside, now!
Careful, careful!--come, Bildad, boy--say your last. Luck to ye,
Starbuck--luck to ye, Mr. Stubb--luck to ye, Mr. Flask--good-bye and
good luck to ye all--and this day three years I'll have a hot supper
smoking for ye in old Nantucket. Hurrah and away!"

"God bless ye, and have ye in His holy keeping, men," murmured old
Bildad, almost incoherently. "I hope ye'll have fine weather now, so
that Captain Ahab may soon be moving among ye--a pleasant sun is all
he needs, and ye'll have plenty of them in the tropic voyage ye go.
Be careful in the hunt, ye mates. Don't stave the boats needlessly,
ye harpooneers; good white cedar plank is raised full three per cent.
within the year. Don't forget your prayers, either. Mr. Starbuck, mind
that cooper don't waste the spare staves. Oh! the sail-needles are in
the green locker! Don't whale it too much a' Lord's days, men; but don't
miss a fair chance either, that's rejecting Heaven's good gifts. Have an
eye to the molasses tierce, Mr. Stubb; it was a little leaky, I thought.
If ye touch at the islands, Mr. Flask, beware of fornication. Good-bye,
good-bye! Don't keep that cheese too long down in the hold, Mr.
Starbuck; it'll spoil. Be careful with the butter--twenty cents the
pound it was, and mind ye, if--"

"Come, come, Captain Bildad; stop palavering,--away!" and with that,
Peleg hurried him over the side, and both dropt into the boat.

Ship and boat diverged; the cold, damp night breeze blew between; a
screaming gull flew overhead; the two hulls wildly rolled; we gave
three heavy-hearted cheers, and blindly plunged like fate into the lone
Atlantic.