Chapter 50: Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallah.
"Who would have thought it, Flask!" cried Stubb; "if I had but one leg
you would not catch me in a boat, unless maybe to stop the plug-hole
with my timber toe. Oh! he's a wonderful old man!"
"I don't think it so strange, after all, on that account," said Flask.
"If his leg were off at the hip, now, it would be a different thing.
That would disable him; but he has one knee, and good part of the other
left, you know."
"I don't know that, my little man; I never yet saw him kneel."
Among whale-wise people it has often been argued whether, considering
the paramount importance of his life to the success of the voyage, it is
right for a whaling captain to jeopardize that life in the active perils
of the chase. So Tamerlane's soldiers often argued with tears in their
eyes, whether that invaluable life of his ought to be carried into the
thickest of the fight.
But with Ahab the question assumed a modified aspect. Considering
that with two legs man is but a hobbling wight in all times of danger;
considering that the pursuit of whales is always under great and
extraordinary difficulties; that every individual moment, indeed, then
comprises a peril; under these circumstances is it wise for any
maimed man to enter a whale-boat in the hunt? As a general thing, the
joint-owners of the Pequod must have plainly thought not.
Ahab well knew that although his friends at home would think little of
his entering a boat in certain comparatively harmless vicissitudes of
the chase, for the sake of being near the scene of action and giving
his orders in person, yet for Captain Ahab to have a boat actually
apportioned to him as a regular headsman in the hunt--above all for
Captain Ahab to be supplied with five extra men, as that same boat's
crew, he well knew that such generous conceits never entered the heads
of the owners of the Pequod. Therefore he had not solicited a boat's
crew from them, nor had he in any way hinted his desires on that head.
Nevertheless he had taken private measures of his own touching all
that matter. Until Cabaco's published discovery, the sailors had little
foreseen it, though to be sure when, after being a little while out
of port, all hands had concluded the customary business of fitting the
whaleboats for service; when some time after this Ahab was now and then
found bestirring himself in the matter of making thole-pins with his
own hands for what was thought to be one of the spare boats, and even
solicitously cutting the small wooden skewers, which when the line is
running out are pinned over the groove in the bow: when all this was
observed in him, and particularly his solicitude in having an extra
coat of sheathing in the bottom of the boat, as if to make it better
withstand the pointed pressure of his ivory limb; and also the anxiety
he evinced in exactly shaping the thigh board, or clumsy cleat, as it is
sometimes called, the horizontal piece in the boat's bow for bracing the
knee against in darting or stabbing at the whale; when it was observed
how often he stood up in that boat with his solitary knee fixed in the
semi-circular depression in the cleat, and with the carpenter's chisel
gouged out a little here and straightened it a little there; all these
things, I say, had awakened much interest and curiosity at the time. But
almost everybody supposed that this particular preparative heedfulness
in Ahab must only be with a view to the ultimate chase of Moby Dick;
for he had already revealed his intention to hunt that mortal monster
in person. But such a supposition did by no means involve the remotest
suspicion as to any boat's crew being assigned to that boat.
Now, with the subordinate phantoms, what wonder remained soon waned
away; for in a whaler wonders soon wane. Besides, now and then such
unaccountable odds and ends of strange nations come up from the unknown
nooks and ash-holes of the earth to man these floating outlaws of
whalers; and the ships themselves often pick up such queer castaway
creatures found tossing about the open sea on planks, bits of wreck,
oars, whaleboats, canoes, blown-off Japanese junks, and what not; that
Beelzebub himself might climb up the side and step down into the cabin
to chat with the captain, and it would not create any unsubduable
excitement in the forecastle.
But be all this as it may, certain it is that while the subordinate
phantoms soon found their place among the crew, though still as it were
somehow distinct from them, yet that hair-turbaned Fedallah remained
a muffled mystery to the last. Whence he came in a mannerly world like
this, by what sort of unaccountable tie he soon evinced himself to be
linked with Ahab's peculiar fortunes; nay, so far as to have some sort
of a half-hinted influence; Heaven knows, but it might have been even
authority over him; all this none knew. But one cannot sustain
an indifferent air concerning Fedallah. He was such a creature as
civilized, domestic people in the temperate zone only see in their
dreams, and that but dimly; but the like of whom now and then glide
among the unchanging Asiatic communities, especially the Oriental isles
to the east of the continent--those insulated, immemorial, unalterable
countries, which even in these modern days still preserve much of the
ghostly aboriginalness of earth's primal generations, when the memory of
the first man was a distinct recollection, and all men his descendants,
unknowing whence he came, eyed each other as real phantoms, and asked of
the sun and the moon why they were created and to what end; when though,
according to Genesis, the angels indeed consorted with the daughters of
men, the devils also, add the uncanonical Rabbins, indulged in mundane