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Chapter 49: The Hyena.


There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair
we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical
joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than
suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own. However,
nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts
down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard
things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of
potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small
difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of
life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly,
good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen
and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking
of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes
in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might
have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the
general joke. There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this
free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it I now
regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its

"Queequeg," said I, when they had dragged me, the last man, to the deck,
and I was still shaking myself in my jacket to fling off the water;
"Queequeg, my fine friend, does this sort of thing often happen?"
Without much emotion, though soaked through just like me, he gave me to
understand that such things did often happen.

"Mr. Stubb," said I, turning to that worthy, who, buttoned up in his
oil-jacket, was now calmly smoking his pipe in the rain; "Mr. Stubb, I
think I have heard you say that of all whalemen you ever met, our chief
mate, Mr. Starbuck, is by far the most careful and prudent. I suppose
then, that going plump on a flying whale with your sail set in a foggy
squall is the height of a whaleman's discretion?"

"Certain. I've lowered for whales from a leaking ship in a gale off Cape

"Mr. Flask," said I, turning to little King-Post, who was standing close
by; "you are experienced in these things, and I am not. Will you tell
me whether it is an unalterable law in this fishery, Mr. Flask, for an
oarsman to break his own back pulling himself back-foremost into death's

"Can't you twist that smaller?" said Flask. "Yes, that's the law.
I should like to see a boat's crew backing water up to a whale face
foremost. Ha, ha! the whale would give them squint for squint, mind

Here then, from three impartial witnesses, I had a deliberate statement
of the entire case. Considering, therefore, that squalls and capsizings
in the water and consequent bivouacks on the deep, were matters
of common occurrence in this kind of life; considering that at the
superlatively critical instant of going on to the whale I must resign my
life into the hands of him who steered the boat--oftentimes a fellow who
at that very moment is in his impetuousness upon the point of scuttling
the craft with his own frantic stampings; considering that the
particular disaster to our own particular boat was chiefly to be imputed
to Starbuck's driving on to his whale almost in the teeth of a squall,
and considering that Starbuck, notwithstanding, was famous for his
great heedfulness in the fishery; considering that I belonged to this
uncommonly prudent Starbuck's boat; and finally considering in what a
devil's chase I was implicated, touching the White Whale: taking all
things together, I say, I thought I might as well go below and make a
rough draft of my will. "Queequeg," said I, "come along, you shall be my
lawyer, executor, and legatee."

It may seem strange that of all men sailors should be tinkering at their
last wills and testaments, but there are no people in the world more
fond of that diversion. This was the fourth time in my nautical life
that I had done the same thing. After the ceremony was concluded upon
the present occasion, I felt all the easier; a stone was rolled away
from my heart. Besides, all the days I should now live would be as good
as the days that Lazarus lived after his resurrection; a supplementary
clean gain of so many months or weeks as the case might be. I survived
myself; my death and burial were locked up in my chest. I looked
round me tranquilly and contentedly, like a quiet ghost with a clean
conscience sitting inside the bars of a snug family vault.

Now then, thought I, unconsciously rolling up the sleeves of my frock,
here goes for a cool, collected dive at death and destruction, and the
devil fetch the hindmost.