Chapter 54: The Town-Ho's Story.
(AS TOLD AT THE GOLDEN INN)
The Cape of Good Hope, and all the watery region round about there, is
much like some noted four corners of a great highway, where you meet
more travellers than in any other part.
It was not very long after speaking the Goney that another
homeward-bound whaleman, the Town-Ho,* was encountered. She was manned
almost wholly by Polynesians. In the short gam that ensued she gave
us strong news of Moby Dick. To some the general interest in the White
Whale was now wildly heightened by a circumstance of the Town-Ho's
story, which seemed obscurely to involve with the whale a certain
wondrous, inverted visitation of one of those so called judgments of God
which at times are said to overtake some men. This latter circumstance,
with its own particular accompaniments, forming what may be called the
secret part of the tragedy about to be narrated, never reached the ears
of Captain Ahab or his mates. For that secret part of the story was
unknown to the captain of the Town-Ho himself. It was the private
property of three confederate white seamen of that ship, one of whom, it
seems, communicated it to Tashtego with Romish injunctions of secrecy,
but the following night Tashtego rambled in his sleep, and revealed
so much of it in that way, that when he was wakened he could not well
withhold the rest. Nevertheless, so potent an influence did this thing
have on those seamen in the Pequod who came to the full knowledge of
it, and by such a strange delicacy, to call it so, were they governed in
this matter, that they kept the secret among themselves so that it never
transpired abaft the Pequod's main-mast. Interweaving in its proper
place this darker thread with the story as publicly narrated on the
ship, the whole of this strange affair I now proceed to put on lasting
*The ancient whale-cry upon first sighting a whale from the mast-head,
still used by whalemen in hunting the famous Gallipagos terrapin.
For my humor's sake, I shall preserve the style in which I once narrated
it at Lima, to a lounging circle of my Spanish friends, one saint's eve,
smoking upon the thick-gilt tiled piazza of the Golden Inn. Of those
fine cavaliers, the young Dons, Pedro and Sebastian, were on the closer
terms with me; and hence the interluding questions they occasionally
put, and which are duly answered at the time.
"Some two years prior to my first learning the events which I am about
rehearsing to you, gentlemen, the Town-Ho, Sperm Whaler of Nantucket,
was cruising in your Pacific here, not very many days' sail eastward
from the eaves of this good Golden Inn. She was somewhere to the
northward of the Line. One morning upon handling the pumps, according to
daily usage, it was observed that she made more water in her hold than
common. They supposed a sword-fish had stabbed her, gentlemen. But the
captain, having some unusual reason for believing that rare good luck
awaited him in those latitudes; and therefore being very averse to quit
them, and the leak not being then considered at all dangerous, though,
indeed, they could not find it after searching the hold as low down
as was possible in rather heavy weather, the ship still continued her
cruisings, the mariners working at the pumps at wide and easy intervals;
but no good luck came; more days went by, and not only was the leak yet
undiscovered, but it sensibly increased. So much so, that now taking
some alarm, the captain, making all sail, stood away for the nearest
harbor among the islands, there to have his hull hove out and repaired.
"Though no small passage was before her, yet, if the commonest chance
favoured, he did not at all fear that his ship would founder by the way,
because his pumps were of the best, and being periodically relieved at
them, those six-and-thirty men of his could easily keep the ship free;
never mind if the leak should double on her. In truth, well nigh the
whole of this passage being attended by very prosperous breezes, the
Town-Ho had all but certainly arrived in perfect safety at her port
without the occurrence of the least fatality, had it not been for the
brutal overbearing of Radney, the mate, a Vineyarder, and the bitterly
provoked vengeance of Steelkilt, a Lakeman and desperado from Buffalo.
"'Lakeman!--Buffalo! Pray, what is a Lakeman, and where is Buffalo?'
said Don Sebastian, rising in his swinging mat of grass.
"On the eastern shore of our Lake Erie, Don; but--I crave your
courtesy--may be, you shall soon hear further of all that. Now,
gentlemen, in square-sail brigs and three-masted ships, well-nigh as
large and stout as any that ever sailed out of your old Callao to far
Manilla; this Lakeman, in the land-locked heart of our America, had yet
been nurtured by all those agrarian freebooting impressions popularly
connected with the open ocean. For in their interflowing aggregate,
those grand fresh-water seas of ours,--Erie, and Ontario, and Huron, and
Superior, and Michigan,--possess an ocean-like expansiveness, with many
of the ocean's noblest traits; with many of its rimmed varieties of
races and of climes. They contain round archipelagoes of romantic isles,
even as the Polynesian waters do; in large part, are shored by two great
contrasting nations, as the Atlantic is; they furnish long maritime
approaches to our numerous territorial colonies from the East, dotted
all round their banks; here and there are frowned upon by batteries,
and by the goat-like craggy guns of lofty Mackinaw; they have heard the
fleet thunderings of naval victories; at intervals, they yield their
beaches to wild barbarians, whose red painted faces flash from out
their peltry wigwams; for leagues and leagues are flanked by ancient
and unentered forests, where the gaunt pines stand like serried lines
of kings in Gothic genealogies; those same woods harboring wild Afric
beasts of prey, and silken creatures whose exported furs give robes
to Tartar Emperors; they mirror the paved capitals of Buffalo and
Cleveland, as well as Winnebago villages; they float alike the
full-rigged merchant ship, the armed cruiser of the State, the steamer,
and the beech canoe; they are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts as
direful as any that lash the salted wave; they know what shipwrecks are,
for out of sight of land, however inland, they have drowned full many
a midnight ship with all its shrieking crew. Thus, gentlemen, though
an inlander, Steelkilt was wild-ocean born, and wild-ocean nurtured;
as much of an audacious mariner as any. And for Radney, though in his
infancy he may have laid him down on the lone Nantucket beach, to nurse
at his maternal sea; though in after life he had long followed our
austere Atlantic and your contemplative Pacific; yet was he quite as
vengeful and full of social quarrel as the backwoods seaman, fresh
from the latitudes of buck-horn handled bowie-knives. Yet was this
Nantucketer a man with some good-hearted traits; and this Lakeman, a
mariner, who though a sort of devil indeed, might yet by inflexible
firmness, only tempered by that common decency of human recognition
which is the meanest slave's right; thus treated, this Steelkilt had
long been retained harmless and docile. At all events, he had proved
so thus far; but Radney was doomed and made mad, and Steelkilt--but,
gentlemen, you shall hear.
"It was not more than a day or two at the furthest after pointing
her prow for her island haven, that the Town-Ho's leak seemed again
increasing, but only so as to require an hour or more at the pumps
every day. You must know that in a settled and civilized ocean like our
Atlantic, for example, some skippers think little of pumping their whole
way across it; though of a still, sleepy night, should the officer of
the deck happen to forget his duty in that respect, the probability
would be that he and his shipmates would never again remember it, on
account of all hands gently subsiding to the bottom. Nor in the
solitary and savage seas far from you to the westward, gentlemen, is it
altogether unusual for ships to keep clanging at their pump-handles in
full chorus even for a voyage of considerable length; that is, if it lie
along a tolerably accessible coast, or if any other reasonable retreat
is afforded them. It is only when a leaky vessel is in some very out of
the way part of those waters, some really landless latitude, that her
captain begins to feel a little anxious.
"Much this way had it been with the Town-Ho; so when her leak was found
gaining once more, there was in truth some small concern manifested by
several of her company; especially by Radney the mate. He commanded
the upper sails to be well hoisted, sheeted home anew, and every way
expanded to the breeze. Now this Radney, I suppose, was as little of a
coward, and as little inclined to any sort of nervous apprehensiveness
touching his own person as any fearless, unthinking creature on land or
on sea that you can conveniently imagine, gentlemen. Therefore when
he betrayed this solicitude about the safety of the ship, some of the
seamen declared that it was only on account of his being a part owner in
her. So when they were working that evening at the pumps, there was on
this head no small gamesomeness slily going on among them, as they stood
with their feet continually overflowed by the rippling clear water;
clear as any mountain spring, gentlemen--that bubbling from the pumps
ran across the deck, and poured itself out in steady spouts at the lee
"Now, as you well know, it is not seldom the case in this conventional
world of ours--watery or otherwise; that when a person placed in command
over his fellow-men finds one of them to be very significantly his
superior in general pride of manhood, straightway against that man he
conceives an unconquerable dislike and bitterness; and if he have a
chance he will pull down and pulverize that subaltern's tower, and
make a little heap of dust of it. Be this conceit of mine as it may,
gentlemen, at all events Steelkilt was a tall and noble animal with a
head like a Roman, and a flowing golden beard like the tasseled housings
of your last viceroy's snorting charger; and a brain, and a heart, and
a soul in him, gentlemen, which had made Steelkilt Charlemagne, had he
been born son to Charlemagne's father. But Radney, the mate, was ugly
as a mule; yet as hardy, as stubborn, as malicious. He did not love
Steelkilt, and Steelkilt knew it.
"Espying the mate drawing near as he was toiling at the pump with the
rest, the Lakeman affected not to notice him, but unawed, went on with
his gay banterings.
"'Aye, aye, my merry lads, it's a lively leak this; hold a cannikin, one
of ye, and let's have a taste. By the Lord, it's worth bottling! I tell
ye what, men, old Rad's investment must go for it! he had best cut away
his part of the hull and tow it home. The fact is, boys, that sword-fish
only began the job; he's come back again with a gang of ship-carpenters,
saw-fish, and file-fish, and what not; and the whole posse of 'em
are now hard at work cutting and slashing at the bottom; making
improvements, I suppose. If old Rad were here now, I'd tell him to jump
overboard and scatter 'em. They're playing the devil with his estate, I
can tell him. But he's a simple old soul,--Rad, and a beauty too. Boys,
they say the rest of his property is invested in looking-glasses. I
wonder if he'd give a poor devil like me the model of his nose.'
"'Damn your eyes! what's that pump stopping for?' roared Radney,
pretending not to have heard the sailors' talk. 'Thunder away at it!'
"'Aye, aye, sir,' said Steelkilt, merry as a cricket. 'Lively, boys,
lively, now!' And with that the pump clanged like fifty fire-engines;
the men tossed their hats off to it, and ere long that peculiar gasping
of the lungs was heard which denotes the fullest tension of life's
"Quitting the pump at last, with the rest of his band, the Lakeman went
forward all panting, and sat himself down on the windlass; his face
fiery red, his eyes bloodshot, and wiping the profuse sweat from his
brow. Now what cozening fiend it was, gentlemen, that possessed Radney
to meddle with such a man in that corporeally exasperated state, I know
not; but so it happened. Intolerably striding along the deck, the mate
commanded him to get a broom and sweep down the planks, and also a
shovel, and remove some offensive matters consequent upon allowing a pig
to run at large.
"Now, gentlemen, sweeping a ship's deck at sea is a piece of household
work which in all times but raging gales is regularly attended to every
evening; it has been known to be done in the case of ships actually
foundering at the time. Such, gentlemen, is the inflexibility of
sea-usages and the instinctive love of neatness in seamen; some of whom
would not willingly drown without first washing their faces. But in all
vessels this broom business is the prescriptive province of the boys,
if boys there be aboard. Besides, it was the stronger men in the Town-Ho
that had been divided into gangs, taking turns at the pumps; and being
the most athletic seaman of them all, Steelkilt had been regularly
assigned captain of one of the gangs; consequently he should have
been freed from any trivial business not connected with truly nautical
duties, such being the case with his comrades. I mention all these
particulars so that you may understand exactly how this affair stood
between the two men.
"But there was more than this: the order about the shovel was almost as
plainly meant to sting and insult Steelkilt, as though Radney had spat
in his face. Any man who has gone sailor in a whale-ship will
understand this; and all this and doubtless much more, the Lakeman fully
comprehended when the mate uttered his command. But as he sat still for
a moment, and as he steadfastly looked into the mate's malignant eye and
perceived the stacks of powder-casks heaped up in him and the slow-match
silently burning along towards them; as he instinctively saw all
this, that strange forbearance and unwillingness to stir up the deeper
passionateness in any already ireful being--a repugnance most felt, when
felt at all, by really valiant men even when aggrieved--this nameless
phantom feeling, gentlemen, stole over Steelkilt.
"Therefore, in his ordinary tone, only a little broken by the bodily
exhaustion he was temporarily in, he answered him saying that sweeping
the deck was not his business, and he would not do it. And then, without
at all alluding to the shovel, he pointed to three lads as the customary
sweepers; who, not being billeted at the pumps, had done little or
nothing all day. To this, Radney replied with an oath, in a most
domineering and outrageous manner unconditionally reiterating his
command; meanwhile advancing upon the still seated Lakeman, with an
uplifted cooper's club hammer which he had snatched from a cask near by.
"Heated and irritated as he was by his spasmodic toil at the pumps, for
all his first nameless feeling of forbearance the sweating Steelkilt
could but ill brook this bearing in the mate; but somehow still
smothering the conflagration within him, without speaking he remained
doggedly rooted to his seat, till at last the incensed Radney shook the
hammer within a few inches of his face, furiously commanding him to do
"Steelkilt rose, and slowly retreating round the windlass, steadily
followed by the mate with his menacing hammer, deliberately repeated his
intention not to obey. Seeing, however, that his forbearance had not
the slightest effect, by an awful and unspeakable intimation with his
twisted hand he warned off the foolish and infatuated man; but it was to
no purpose. And in this way the two went once slowly round the windlass;
when, resolved at last no longer to retreat, bethinking him that he had
now forborne as much as comported with his humor, the Lakeman paused on
the hatches and thus spoke to the officer:
"'Mr. Radney, I will not obey you. Take that hammer away, or look to
yourself.' But the predestinated mate coming still closer to him, where
the Lakeman stood fixed, now shook the heavy hammer within an inch of
his teeth; meanwhile repeating a string of insufferable maledictions.
Retreating not the thousandth part of an inch; stabbing him in the eye
with the unflinching poniard of his glance, Steelkilt, clenching
his right hand behind him and creepingly drawing it back, told his
persecutor that if the hammer but grazed his cheek he (Steelkilt) would
murder him. But, gentlemen, the fool had been branded for the slaughter
by the gods. Immediately the hammer touched the cheek; the next instant
the lower jaw of the mate was stove in his head; he fell on the hatch
spouting blood like a whale.
"Ere the cry could go aft Steelkilt was shaking one of the backstays
leading far aloft to where two of his comrades were standing their
mastheads. They were both Canallers.
"'Canallers!' cried Don Pedro. 'We have seen many whale-ships in our
harbours, but never heard of your Canallers. Pardon: who and what are
"'Canallers, Don, are the boatmen belonging to our grand Erie Canal. You
must have heard of it.'
"'Nay, Senor; hereabouts in this dull, warm, most lazy, and hereditary
land, we know but little of your vigorous North.'
"'Aye? Well then, Don, refill my cup. Your chicha's very fine; and
ere proceeding further I will tell ye what our Canallers are; for such
information may throw side-light upon my story.'
"For three hundred and sixty miles, gentlemen, through the entire
breadth of the state of New York; through numerous populous cities and
most thriving villages; through long, dismal, uninhabited swamps, and
affluent, cultivated fields, unrivalled for fertility; by billiard-room
and bar-room; through the holy-of-holies of great forests; on Roman
arches over Indian rivers; through sun and shade; by happy hearts or
broken; through all the wide contrasting scenery of those noble Mohawk
counties; and especially, by rows of snow-white chapels, whose spires
stand almost like milestones, flows one continual stream of Venetianly
corrupt and often lawless life. There's your true Ashantee, gentlemen;
there howl your pagans; where you ever find them, next door to you;
under the long-flung shadow, and the snug patronising lee of churches.
For by some curious fatality, as it is often noted of your metropolitan
freebooters that they ever encamp around the halls of justice, so
sinners, gentlemen, most abound in holiest vicinities.
"'Is that a friar passing?' said Don Pedro, looking downwards into the
crowded plazza, with humorous concern.
"'Well for our northern friend, Dame Isabella's Inquisition wanes in
Lima,' laughed Don Sebastian. 'Proceed, Senor.'
"'A moment! Pardon!' cried another of the company. 'In the name of all
us Limeese, I but desire to express to you, sir sailor, that we have by
no means overlooked your delicacy in not substituting present Lima
for distant Venice in your corrupt comparison. Oh! do not bow and look
surprised; you know the proverb all along this coast--"Corrupt as
Lima." It but bears out your saying, too; churches more plentiful than
billiard-tables, and for ever open--and "Corrupt as Lima." So, too,
Venice; I have been there; the holy city of the blessed evangelist, St.
Mark!--St. Dominic, purge it! Your cup! Thanks: here I refill; now, you
pour out again.'
"Freely depicted in his own vocation, gentlemen, the Canaller would make
a fine dramatic hero, so abundantly and picturesquely wicked is he. Like
Mark Antony, for days and days along his green-turfed, flowery Nile,
he indolently floats, openly toying with his red-cheeked Cleopatra,
ripening his apricot thigh upon the sunny deck. But ashore, all this
effeminacy is dashed. The brigandish guise which the Canaller so proudly
sports; his slouched and gaily-ribboned hat betoken his grand features.
A terror to the smiling innocence of the villages through which he
floats; his swart visage and bold swagger are not unshunned in cities.
Once a vagabond on his own canal, I have received good turns from one of
these Canallers; I thank him heartily; would fain be not ungrateful;
but it is often one of the prime redeeming qualities of your man of
violence, that at times he has as stiff an arm to back a poor stranger
in a strait, as to plunder a wealthy one. In sum, gentlemen, what the
wildness of this canal life is, is emphatically evinced by this; that
our wild whale-fishery contains so many of its most finished graduates,
and that scarce any race of mankind, except Sydney men, are so much
distrusted by our whaling captains. Nor does it at all diminish the
curiousness of this matter, that to many thousands of our rural boys and
young men born along its line, the probationary life of the Grand Canal
furnishes the sole transition between quietly reaping in a Christian
corn-field, and recklessly ploughing the waters of the most barbaric
"'I see! I see!' impetuously exclaimed Don Pedro, spilling his chicha
upon his silvery ruffles. 'No need to travel! The world's one Lima. I
had thought, now, that at your temperate North the generations were cold
and holy as the hills.--But the story.'
"I left off, gentlemen, where the Lakeman shook the backstay. Hardly
had he done so, when he was surrounded by the three junior mates and the
four harpooneers, who all crowded him to the deck. But sliding down the
ropes like baleful comets, the two Canallers rushed into the uproar, and
sought to drag their man out of it towards the forecastle. Others of the
sailors joined with them in this attempt, and a twisted turmoil ensued;
while standing out of harm's way, the valiant captain danced up and down
with a whale-pike, calling upon his officers to manhandle that atrocious
scoundrel, and smoke him along to the quarter-deck. At intervals, he ran
close up to the revolving border of the confusion, and prying into
the heart of it with his pike, sought to prick out the object of his
resentment. But Steelkilt and his desperadoes were too much for them
all; they succeeded in gaining the forecastle deck, where, hastily
slewing about three or four large casks in a line with the windlass,
these sea-Parisians entrenched themselves behind the barricade.
"'Come out of that, ye pirates!' roared the captain, now menacing them
with a pistol in each hand, just brought to him by the steward. 'Come
out of that, ye cut-throats!'
"Steelkilt leaped on the barricade, and striding up and down there,
defied the worst the pistols could do; but gave the captain to
understand distinctly, that his (Steelkilt's) death would be the signal
for a murderous mutiny on the part of all hands. Fearing in his heart
lest this might prove but too true, the captain a little desisted, but
still commanded the insurgents instantly to return to their duty.
"'Will you promise not to touch us, if we do?' demanded their
"'Turn to! turn to!--I make no promise;--to your duty! Do you want to
sink the ship, by knocking off at a time like this? Turn to!' and he
once more raised a pistol.
"'Sink the ship?' cried Steelkilt. 'Aye, let her sink. Not a man of us
turns to, unless you swear not to raise a rope-yarn against us. What say
ye, men?' turning to his comrades. A fierce cheer was their response.
"The Lakeman now patrolled the barricade, all the while keeping his eye
on the Captain, and jerking out such sentences as these:--'It's not our
fault; we didn't want it; I told him to take his hammer away; it was
boy's business; he might have known me before this; I told him not to
prick the buffalo; I believe I have broken a finger here against his
cursed jaw; ain't those mincing knives down in the forecastle there,
men? look to those handspikes, my hearties. Captain, by God, look to
yourself; say the word; don't be a fool; forget it all; we are ready
to turn to; treat us decently, and we're your men; but we won't be
"'Turn to! I make no promises, turn to, I say!'
"'Look ye, now,' cried the Lakeman, flinging out his arm towards him,
'there are a few of us here (and I am one of them) who have shipped
for the cruise, d'ye see; now as you well know, sir, we can claim our
discharge as soon as the anchor is down; so we don't want a row; it's
not our interest; we want to be peaceable; we are ready to work, but we
won't be flogged.'
"'Turn to!' roared the Captain.
"Steelkilt glanced round him a moment, and then said:--'I tell you what
it is now, Captain, rather than kill ye, and be hung for such a shabby
rascal, we won't lift a hand against ye unless ye attack us; but till
you say the word about not flogging us, we don't do a hand's turn.'
"'Down into the forecastle then, down with ye, I'll keep ye there till
ye're sick of it. Down ye go.'
"'Shall we?' cried the ringleader to his men. Most of them were against
it; but at length, in obedience to Steelkilt, they preceded him down
into their dark den, growlingly disappearing, like bears into a cave.
"As the Lakeman's bare head was just level with the planks, the Captain
and his posse leaped the barricade, and rapidly drawing over the slide
of the scuttle, planted their group of hands upon it, and loudly called
for the steward to bring the heavy brass padlock belonging to the
"Then opening the slide a little, the Captain whispered something
down the crack, closed it, and turned the key upon them--ten in
number--leaving on deck some twenty or more, who thus far had remained
"All night a wide-awake watch was kept by all the officers, forward and
aft, especially about the forecastle scuttle and fore hatchway; at which
last place it was feared the insurgents might emerge, after breaking
through the bulkhead below. But the hours of darkness passed in peace;
the men who still remained at their duty toiling hard at the pumps,
whose clinking and clanking at intervals through the dreary night
dismally resounded through the ship.
"At sunrise the Captain went forward, and knocking on the deck, summoned
the prisoners to work; but with a yell they refused. Water was then
lowered down to them, and a couple of handfuls of biscuit were tossed
after it; when again turning the key upon them and pocketing it, the
Captain returned to the quarter-deck. Twice every day for three days
this was repeated; but on the fourth morning a confused wrangling, and
then a scuffling was heard, as the customary summons was delivered; and
suddenly four men burst up from the forecastle, saying they were ready
to turn to. The fetid closeness of the air, and a famishing diet, united
perhaps to some fears of ultimate retribution, had constrained them to
surrender at discretion. Emboldened by this, the Captain reiterated his
demand to the rest, but Steelkilt shouted up to him a terrific hint to
stop his babbling and betake himself where he belonged. On the fifth
morning three others of the mutineers bolted up into the air from the
desperate arms below that sought to restrain them. Only three were left.
"'Better turn to, now?' said the Captain with a heartless jeer.
"'Shut us up again, will ye!' cried Steelkilt.
"'Oh certainly,' the Captain, and the key clicked.
"It was at this point, gentlemen, that enraged by the defection of seven
of his former associates, and stung by the mocking voice that had last
hailed him, and maddened by his long entombment in a place as black as
the bowels of despair; it was then that Steelkilt proposed to the two
Canallers, thus far apparently of one mind with him, to burst out of
their hole at the next summoning of the garrison; and armed with their
keen mincing knives (long, crescentic, heavy implements with a handle
at each end) run amuck from the bowsprit to the taffrail; and if by any
devilishness of desperation possible, seize the ship. For himself, he
would do this, he said, whether they joined him or not. That was the
last night he should spend in that den. But the scheme met with no
opposition on the part of the other two; they swore they were ready for
that, or for any other mad thing, for anything in short but a surrender.
And what was more, they each insisted upon being the first man on deck,
when the time to make the rush should come. But to this their leader as
fiercely objected, reserving that priority for himself; particularly as
his two comrades would not yield, the one to the other, in the matter;
and both of them could not be first, for the ladder would but admit one
man at a time. And here, gentlemen, the foul play of these miscreants
must come out.
"Upon hearing the frantic project of their leader, each in his own
separate soul had suddenly lighted, it would seem, upon the same piece
of treachery, namely: to be foremost in breaking out, in order to be
the first of the three, though the last of the ten, to surrender; and
thereby secure whatever small chance of pardon such conduct might merit.
But when Steelkilt made known his determination still to lead them to
the last, they in some way, by some subtle chemistry of villany, mixed
their before secret treacheries together; and when their leader
fell into a doze, verbally opened their souls to each other in three
sentences; and bound the sleeper with cords, and gagged him with cords;
and shrieked out for the Captain at midnight.
"Thinking murder at hand, and smelling in the dark for the blood, he and
all his armed mates and harpooneers rushed for the forecastle. In a
few minutes the scuttle was opened, and, bound hand and foot, the still
struggling ringleader was shoved up into the air by his perfidious
allies, who at once claimed the honour of securing a man who had been
fully ripe for murder. But all these were collared, and dragged along
the deck like dead cattle; and, side by side, were seized up into the
mizzen rigging, like three quarters of meat, and there they hung till
morning. 'Damn ye,' cried the Captain, pacing to and fro before them,
'the vultures would not touch ye, ye villains!'
"At sunrise he summoned all hands; and separating those who had rebelled
from those who had taken no part in the mutiny, he told the former that
he had a good mind to flog them all round--thought, upon the whole,
he would do so--he ought to--justice demanded it; but for the present,
considering their timely surrender, he would let them go with a
reprimand, which he accordingly administered in the vernacular.
"'But as for you, ye carrion rogues,' turning to the three men in the
rigging--'for you, I mean to mince ye up for the try-pots;' and,
seizing a rope, he applied it with all his might to the backs of the
two traitors, till they yelled no more, but lifelessly hung their heads
sideways, as the two crucified thieves are drawn.
"'My wrist is sprained with ye!' he cried, at last; 'but there is still
rope enough left for you, my fine bantam, that wouldn't give up. Take
that gag from his mouth, and let us hear what he can say for himself.'
"For a moment the exhausted mutineer made a tremulous motion of his
cramped jaws, and then painfully twisting round his head, said in a sort
of hiss, 'What I say is this--and mind it well--if you flog me, I murder
"'Say ye so? then see how ye frighten me'--and the Captain drew off with
the rope to strike.
"'Best not,' hissed the Lakeman.
"'But I must,'--and the rope was once more drawn back for the stroke.
"Steelkilt here hissed out something, inaudible to all but the Captain;
who, to the amazement of all hands, started back, paced the deck rapidly
two or three times, and then suddenly throwing down his rope, said, 'I
won't do it--let him go--cut him down: d'ye hear?'
"But as the junior mates were hurrying to execute the order, a pale man,
with a bandaged head, arrested them--Radney the chief mate. Ever since
the blow, he had lain in his berth; but that morning, hearing the tumult
on the deck, he had crept out, and thus far had watched the whole
scene. Such was the state of his mouth, that he could hardly speak;
but mumbling something about his being willing and able to do what the
captain dared not attempt, he snatched the rope and advanced to his
"'You are a coward!' hissed the Lakeman.
"'So I am, but take that.' The mate was in the very act of striking,
when another hiss stayed his uplifted arm. He paused: and then pausing
no more, made good his word, spite of Steelkilt's threat, whatever that
might have been. The three men were then cut down, all hands were turned
to, and, sullenly worked by the moody seamen, the iron pumps clanged as
"Just after dark that day, when one watch had retired below, a clamor
was heard in the forecastle; and the two trembling traitors running up,
besieged the cabin door, saying they durst not consort with the crew.
Entreaties, cuffs, and kicks could not drive them back, so at their own
instance they were put down in the ship's run for salvation. Still, no
sign of mutiny reappeared among the rest. On the contrary, it seemed,
that mainly at Steelkilt's instigation, they had resolved to maintain
the strictest peacefulness, obey all orders to the last, and, when the
ship reached port, desert her in a body. But in order to insure the
speediest end to the voyage, they all agreed to another thing--namely,
not to sing out for whales, in case any should be discovered. For,
spite of her leak, and spite of all her other perils, the Town-Ho still
maintained her mast-heads, and her captain was just as willing to
lower for a fish that moment, as on the day his craft first struck the
cruising ground; and Radney the mate was quite as ready to change his
berth for a boat, and with his bandaged mouth seek to gag in death the
vital jaw of the whale.
"But though the Lakeman had induced the seamen to adopt this sort of
passiveness in their conduct, he kept his own counsel (at least till all
was over) concerning his own proper and private revenge upon the man who
had stung him in the ventricles of his heart. He was in Radney the chief
mate's watch; and as if the infatuated man sought to run more than
half way to meet his doom, after the scene at the rigging, he insisted,
against the express counsel of the captain, upon resuming the head
of his watch at night. Upon this, and one or two other circumstances,
Steelkilt systematically built the plan of his revenge.
"During the night, Radney had an unseamanlike way of sitting on the
bulwarks of the quarter-deck, and leaning his arm upon the gunwale of
the boat which was hoisted up there, a little above the ship's side.
In this attitude, it was well known, he sometimes dozed. There was a
considerable vacancy between the boat and the ship, and down between
this was the sea. Steelkilt calculated his time, and found that his next
trick at the helm would come round at two o'clock, in the morning of the
third day from that in which he had been betrayed. At his leisure,
he employed the interval in braiding something very carefully in his
"'What are you making there?' said a shipmate.
"'What do you think? what does it look like?'
"'Like a lanyard for your bag; but it's an odd one, seems to me.'
"'Yes, rather oddish,' said the Lakeman, holding it at arm's length
before him; 'but I think it will answer. Shipmate, I haven't enough
twine,--have you any?'
"But there was none in the forecastle.
"'Then I must get some from old Rad;' and he rose to go aft.
"'You don't mean to go a begging to HIM!' said a sailor.
"'Why not? Do you think he won't do me a turn, when it's to help himself
in the end, shipmate?' and going to the mate, he looked at him
quietly, and asked him for some twine to mend his hammock. It was given
him--neither twine nor lanyard were seen again; but the next night
an iron ball, closely netted, partly rolled from the pocket of the
Lakeman's monkey jacket, as he was tucking the coat into his hammock for
a pillow. Twenty-four hours after, his trick at the silent helm--nigh
to the man who was apt to doze over the grave always ready dug to
the seaman's hand--that fatal hour was then to come; and in the
fore-ordaining soul of Steelkilt, the mate was already stark and
stretched as a corpse, with his forehead crushed in.
"But, gentlemen, a fool saved the would-be murderer from the bloody
deed he had planned. Yet complete revenge he had, and without being the
avenger. For by a mysterious fatality, Heaven itself seemed to step in
to take out of his hands into its own the damning thing he would have
"It was just between daybreak and sunrise of the morning of the second
day, when they were washing down the decks, that a stupid Teneriffe man,
drawing water in the main-chains, all at once shouted out, 'There she
rolls! there she rolls!' Jesu, what a whale! It was Moby Dick.
"'Moby Dick!' cried Don Sebastian; 'St. Dominic! Sir sailor, but do
whales have christenings? Whom call you Moby Dick?'
"'A very white, and famous, and most deadly immortal monster, Don;--but
that would be too long a story.'
"'How? how?' cried all the young Spaniards, crowding.
"'Nay, Dons, Dons--nay, nay! I cannot rehearse that now. Let me get more
into the air, Sirs.'
"'The chicha! the chicha!' cried Don Pedro; 'our vigorous friend looks
faint;--fill up his empty glass!'
"No need, gentlemen; one moment, and I proceed.--Now, gentlemen,
so suddenly perceiving the snowy whale within fifty yards of the
ship--forgetful of the compact among the crew--in the excitement of the
moment, the Teneriffe man had instinctively and involuntarily lifted
his voice for the monster, though for some little time past it had been
plainly beheld from the three sullen mast-heads. All was now a phrensy.
'The White Whale--the White Whale!' was the cry from captain, mates,
and harpooneers, who, undeterred by fearful rumours, were all anxious
to capture so famous and precious a fish; while the dogged crew eyed
askance, and with curses, the appalling beauty of the vast milky mass,
that lit up by a horizontal spangling sun, shifted and glistened like
a living opal in the blue morning sea. Gentlemen, a strange fatality
pervades the whole career of these events, as if verily mapped out
before the world itself was charted. The mutineer was the bowsman of the
mate, and when fast to a fish, it was his duty to sit next him, while
Radney stood up with his lance in the prow, and haul in or slacken
the line, at the word of command. Moreover, when the four boats were
lowered, the mate's got the start; and none howled more fiercely with
delight than did Steelkilt, as he strained at his oar. After a stiff
pull, their harpooneer got fast, and, spear in hand, Radney sprang to
the bow. He was always a furious man, it seems, in a boat. And now his
bandaged cry was, to beach him on the whale's topmost back. Nothing
loath, his bowsman hauled him up and up, through a blinding foam that
blent two whitenesses together; till of a sudden the boat struck as
against a sunken ledge, and keeling over, spilled out the standing mate.
That instant, as he fell on the whale's slippery back, the boat righted,
and was dashed aside by the swell, while Radney was tossed over into the
sea, on the other flank of the whale. He struck out through the spray,
and, for an instant, was dimly seen through that veil, wildly seeking to
remove himself from the eye of Moby Dick. But the whale rushed round
in a sudden maelstrom; seized the swimmer between his jaws; and rearing
high up with him, plunged headlong again, and went down.
"Meantime, at the first tap of the boat's bottom, the Lakeman had
slackened the line, so as to drop astern from the whirlpool; calmly
looking on, he thought his own thoughts. But a sudden, terrific,
downward jerking of the boat, quickly brought his knife to the line. He
cut it; and the whale was free. But, at some distance, Moby Dick rose
again, with some tatters of Radney's red woollen shirt, caught in the
teeth that had destroyed him. All four boats gave chase again; but the
whale eluded them, and finally wholly disappeared.
"In good time, the Town-Ho reached her port--a savage, solitary
place--where no civilized creature resided. There, headed by the
Lakeman, all but five or six of the foremastmen deliberately deserted
among the palms; eventually, as it turned out, seizing a large double
war-canoe of the savages, and setting sail for some other harbor.
"The ship's company being reduced to but a handful, the captain called
upon the Islanders to assist him in the laborious business of heaving
down the ship to stop the leak. But to such unresting vigilance over
their dangerous allies was this small band of whites necessitated, both
by night and by day, and so extreme was the hard work they underwent,
that upon the vessel being ready again for sea, they were in such a
weakened condition that the captain durst not put off with them in so
heavy a vessel. After taking counsel with his officers, he anchored the
ship as far off shore as possible; loaded and ran out his two cannon
from the bows; stacked his muskets on the poop; and warning the
Islanders not to approach the ship at their peril, took one man with
him, and setting the sail of his best whale-boat, steered straight
before the wind for Tahiti, five hundred miles distant, to procure a
reinforcement to his crew.
"On the fourth day of the sail, a large canoe was descried, which seemed
to have touched at a low isle of corals. He steered away from it; but
the savage craft bore down on him; and soon the voice of Steelkilt
hailed him to heave to, or he would run him under water. The captain
presented a pistol. With one foot on each prow of the yoked war-canoes,
the Lakeman laughed him to scorn; assuring him that if the pistol so
much as clicked in the lock, he would bury him in bubbles and foam.
"'What do you want of me?' cried the captain.
"'Where are you bound? and for what are you bound?' demanded Steelkilt;
"'I am bound to Tahiti for more men.'
"'Very good. Let me board you a moment--I come in peace.' With that he
leaped from the canoe, swam to the boat; and climbing the gunwale, stood
face to face with the captain.
"'Cross your arms, sir; throw back your head. Now, repeat after me.
As soon as Steelkilt leaves me, I swear to beach this boat on yonder
island, and remain there six days. If I do not, may lightning strike
"'A pretty scholar,' laughed the Lakeman. 'Adios, Senor!' and leaping
into the sea, he swam back to his comrades.
"Watching the boat till it was fairly beached, and drawn up to the
roots of the cocoa-nut trees, Steelkilt made sail again, and in due time
arrived at Tahiti, his own place of destination. There, luck befriended
him; two ships were about to sail for France, and were providentially
in want of precisely that number of men which the sailor headed. They
embarked; and so for ever got the start of their former captain, had he
been at all minded to work them legal retribution.
"Some ten days after the French ships sailed, the whale-boat arrived,
and the captain was forced to enlist some of the more civilized
Tahitians, who had been somewhat used to the sea. Chartering a small
native schooner, he returned with them to his vessel; and finding all
right there, again resumed his cruisings.
"Where Steelkilt now is, gentlemen, none know; but upon the island of
Nantucket, the widow of Radney still turns to the sea which refuses
to give up its dead; still in dreams sees the awful white whale that
"'Are you through?' said Don Sebastian, quietly.
"'I am, Don.'
"'Then I entreat you, tell me if to the best of your own convictions,
this your story is in substance really true? It is so passing wonderful!
Did you get it from an unquestionable source? Bear with me if I seem to
"'Also bear with all of us, sir sailor; for we all join in Don
Sebastian's suit,' cried the company, with exceeding interest.
"'Is there a copy of the Holy Evangelists in the Golden Inn, gentlemen?'
"'Nay,' said Don Sebastian; 'but I know a worthy priest near by, who
will quickly procure one for me. I go for it; but are you well advised?
this may grow too serious.'
"'Will you be so good as to bring the priest also, Don?'
"'Though there are no Auto-da-Fe's in Lima now,' said one of the company
to another; 'I fear our sailor friend runs risk of the archiepiscopacy.
Let us withdraw more out of the moonlight. I see no need of this.'
"'Excuse me for running after you, Don Sebastian; but may I also beg
that you will be particular in procuring the largest sized Evangelists
"'This is the priest, he brings you the Evangelists,' said Don Sebastian,
gravely, returning with a tall and solemn figure.
"'Let me remove my hat. Now, venerable priest, further into the light,
and hold the Holy Book before me that I may touch it.
"'So help me Heaven, and on my honour the story I have told ye,
gentlemen, is in substance and its great items, true. I know it to be
true; it happened on this ball; I trod the ship; I knew the crew; I have
seen and talked with Steelkilt since the death of Radney.'"