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Chapter 69: The Funeral.

	


Haul in the chains! Let the carcase go astern!

The vast tackles have now done their duty. The peeled white body of the
beheaded whale flashes like a marble sepulchre; though changed in hue,
it has not perceptibly lost anything in bulk. It is still colossal.
Slowly it floats more and more away, the water round it torn and
splashed by the insatiate sharks, and the air above vexed with rapacious
flights of screaming fowls, whose beaks are like so many insulting
poniards in the whale. The vast white headless phantom floats further
and further from the ship, and every rod that it so floats, what seem
square roods of sharks and cubic roods of fowls, augment the murderous
din. For hours and hours from the almost stationary ship that hideous
sight is seen. Beneath the unclouded and mild azure sky, upon the fair
face of the pleasant sea, wafted by the joyous breezes, that great mass
of death floats on and on, till lost in infinite perspectives.

There's a most doleful and most mocking funeral! The sea-vultures all in
pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black or speckled.
In life but few of them would have helped the whale, I ween, if
peradventure he had needed it; but upon the banquet of his funeral they
most piously do pounce. Oh, horrible vultureism of earth! from which not
the mightiest whale is free.

Nor is this the end. Desecrated as the body is, a vengeful ghost
survives and hovers over it to scare. Espied by some timid man-of-war or
blundering discovery-vessel from afar, when the distance obscuring the
swarming fowls, nevertheless still shows the white mass floating in
the sun, and the white spray heaving high against it; straightway the
whale's unharming corpse, with trembling fingers is set down in the
log--SHOALS, ROCKS, AND BREAKERS HEREABOUTS: BEWARE! And for years
afterwards, perhaps, ships shun the place; leaping over it as silly
sheep leap over a vacuum, because their leader originally leaped there
when a stick was held. There's your law of precedents; there's your
utility of traditions; there's the story of your obstinate survival of
old beliefs never bottomed on the earth, and now not even hovering in
the air! There's orthodoxy!

Thus, while in life the great whale's body may have been a real terror
to his foes, in his death his ghost becomes a powerless panic to a
world.

Are you a believer in ghosts, my friend? There are other ghosts than
the Cock-Lane one, and far deeper men than Doctor Johnson who believe in
them.