Chapter 71: The Jeroboam's Story.
Hand in hand, ship and breeze blew on; but the breeze came faster than
the ship, and soon the Pequod began to rock.
By and by, through the glass the stranger's boats and manned mast-heads
proved her a whale-ship. But as she was so far to windward, and shooting
by, apparently making a passage to some other ground, the Pequod could
not hope to reach her. So the signal was set to see what response would
Here be it said, that like the vessels of military marines, the ships of
the American Whale Fleet have each a private signal; all which signals
being collected in a book with the names of the respective vessels
attached, every captain is provided with it. Thereby, the whale
commanders are enabled to recognise each other upon the ocean, even at
considerable distances and with no small facility.
The Pequod's signal was at last responded to by the stranger's setting
her own; which proved the ship to be the Jeroboam of Nantucket. Squaring
her yards, she bore down, ranged abeam under the Pequod's lee, and
lowered a boat; it soon drew nigh; but, as the side-ladder was being
rigged by Starbuck's order to accommodate the visiting captain, the
stranger in question waved his hand from his boat's stern in token
of that proceeding being entirely unnecessary. It turned out that
the Jeroboam had a malignant epidemic on board, and that Mayhew, her
captain, was fearful of infecting the Pequod's company. For, though
himself and boat's crew remained untainted, and though his ship was half
a rifle-shot off, and an incorruptible sea and air rolling and flowing
between; yet conscientiously adhering to the timid quarantine of the
land, he peremptorily refused to come into direct contact with the
But this did by no means prevent all communications. Preserving an
interval of some few yards between itself and the ship, the Jeroboam's
boat by the occasional use of its oars contrived to keep parallel to the
Pequod, as she heavily forged through the sea (for by this time it blew
very fresh), with her main-topsail aback; though, indeed, at times by
the sudden onset of a large rolling wave, the boat would be pushed some
way ahead; but would be soon skilfully brought to her proper bearings
again. Subject to this, and other the like interruptions now and then, a
conversation was sustained between the two parties; but at intervals not
without still another interruption of a very different sort.
Pulling an oar in the Jeroboam's boat, was a man of a singular
appearance, even in that wild whaling life where individual notabilities
make up all totalities. He was a small, short, youngish man, sprinkled
all over his face with freckles, and wearing redundant yellow hair. A
long-skirted, cabalistically-cut coat of a faded walnut tinge enveloped
him; the overlapping sleeves of which were rolled up on his wrists. A
deep, settled, fanatic delirium was in his eyes.
So soon as this figure had been first descried, Stubb had
exclaimed--"That's he! that's he!--the long-togged scaramouch the
Town-Ho's company told us of!" Stubb here alluded to a strange story
told of the Jeroboam, and a certain man among her crew, some time
previous when the Pequod spoke the Town-Ho. According to this account
and what was subsequently learned, it seemed that the scaramouch in
question had gained a wonderful ascendency over almost everybody in the
Jeroboam. His story was this:
He had been originally nurtured among the crazy society of Neskyeuna
Shakers, where he had been a great prophet; in their cracked, secret
meetings having several times descended from heaven by the way of a
trap-door, announcing the speedy opening of the seventh vial, which he
carried in his vest-pocket; but, which, instead of containing gunpowder,
was supposed to be charged with laudanum. A strange, apostolic whim
having seized him, he had left Neskyeuna for Nantucket, where, with
that cunning peculiar to craziness, he assumed a steady, common-sense
exterior, and offered himself as a green-hand candidate for the
Jeroboam's whaling voyage. They engaged him; but straightway upon
the ship's getting out of sight of land, his insanity broke out in a
freshet. He announced himself as the archangel Gabriel, and commanded
the captain to jump overboard. He published his manifesto, whereby
he set himself forth as the deliverer of the isles of the sea and
vicar-general of all Oceanica. The unflinching earnestness with which he
declared these things;--the dark, daring play of his sleepless, excited
imagination, and all the preternatural terrors of real delirium, united
to invest this Gabriel in the minds of the majority of the ignorant
crew, with an atmosphere of sacredness. Moreover, they were afraid of
him. As such a man, however, was not of much practical use in the ship,
especially as he refused to work except when he pleased, the incredulous
captain would fain have been rid of him; but apprised that that
individual's intention was to land him in the first convenient port, the
archangel forthwith opened all his seals and vials--devoting the ship
and all hands to unconditional perdition, in case this intention was
carried out. So strongly did he work upon his disciples among the crew,
that at last in a body they went to the captain and told him if Gabriel
was sent from the ship, not a man of them would remain. He was therefore
forced to relinquish his plan. Nor would they permit Gabriel to be any
way maltreated, say or do what he would; so that it came to pass that
Gabriel had the complete freedom of the ship. The consequence of all
this was, that the archangel cared little or nothing for the captain and
mates; and since the epidemic had broken out, he carried a higher hand
than ever; declaring that the plague, as he called it, was at his sole
command; nor should it be stayed but according to his good pleasure.
The sailors, mostly poor devils, cringed, and some of them fawned before
him; in obedience to his instructions, sometimes rendering him personal
homage, as to a god. Such things may seem incredible; but, however
wondrous, they are true. Nor is the history of fanatics half so striking
in respect to the measureless self-deception of the fanatic himself, as
his measureless power of deceiving and bedevilling so many others. But
it is time to return to the Pequod.
"I fear not thy epidemic, man," said Ahab from the bulwarks, to Captain
Mayhew, who stood in the boat's stern; "come on board."
But now Gabriel started to his feet.
"Think, think of the fevers, yellow and bilious! Beware of the horrible
"Gabriel! Gabriel!" cried Captain Mayhew; "thou must either--" But
that instant a headlong wave shot the boat far ahead, and its seethings
drowned all speech.
"Hast thou seen the White Whale?" demanded Ahab, when the boat drifted
"Think, think of thy whale-boat, stoven and sunk! Beware of the horrible
"I tell thee again, Gabriel, that--" But again the boat tore ahead as if
dragged by fiends. Nothing was said for some moments, while a succession
of riotous waves rolled by, which by one of those occasional caprices
of the seas were tumbling, not heaving it. Meantime, the hoisted sperm
whale's head jogged about very violently, and Gabriel was seen eyeing
it with rather more apprehensiveness than his archangel nature seemed to
When this interlude was over, Captain Mayhew began a dark story
concerning Moby Dick; not, however, without frequent interruptions from
Gabriel, whenever his name was mentioned, and the crazy sea that seemed
leagued with him.
It seemed that the Jeroboam had not long left home, when upon speaking
a whale-ship, her people were reliably apprised of the existence of Moby
Dick, and the havoc he had made. Greedily sucking in this intelligence,
Gabriel solemnly warned the captain against attacking the White
Whale, in case the monster should be seen; in his gibbering insanity,
pronouncing the White Whale to be no less a being than the Shaker God
incarnated; the Shakers receiving the Bible. But when, some year or two
afterwards, Moby Dick was fairly sighted from the mast-heads, Macey, the
chief mate, burned with ardour to encounter him; and the captain himself
being not unwilling to let him have the opportunity, despite all
the archangel's denunciations and forewarnings, Macey succeeded in
persuading five men to man his boat. With them he pushed off; and, after
much weary pulling, and many perilous, unsuccessful onsets, he at last
succeeded in getting one iron fast. Meantime, Gabriel, ascending to
the main-royal mast-head, was tossing one arm in frantic gestures, and
hurling forth prophecies of speedy doom to the sacrilegious assailants
of his divinity. Now, while Macey, the mate, was standing up in his
boat's bow, and with all the reckless energy of his tribe was venting
his wild exclamations upon the whale, and essaying to get a fair chance
for his poised lance, lo! a broad white shadow rose from the sea; by its
quick, fanning motion, temporarily taking the breath out of the bodies
of the oarsmen. Next instant, the luckless mate, so full of furious
life, was smitten bodily into the air, and making a long arc in his
descent, fell into the sea at the distance of about fifty yards. Not a
chip of the boat was harmed, nor a hair of any oarsman's head; but the
mate for ever sank.
It is well to parenthesize here, that of the fatal accidents in the
Sperm-Whale Fishery, this kind is perhaps almost as frequent as any.
Sometimes, nothing is injured but the man who is thus annihilated;
oftener the boat's bow is knocked off, or the thigh-board, in which the
headsman stands, is torn from its place and accompanies the body. But
strangest of all is the circumstance, that in more instances than one,
when the body has been recovered, not a single mark of violence is
discernible; the man being stark dead.
The whole calamity, with the falling form of Macey, was plainly descried
from the ship. Raising a piercing shriek--"The vial! the vial!" Gabriel
called off the terror-stricken crew from the further hunting of the
whale. This terrible event clothed the archangel with added influence;
because his credulous disciples believed that he had specifically
fore-announced it, instead of only making a general prophecy, which any
one might have done, and so have chanced to hit one of many marks in the
wide margin allowed. He became a nameless terror to the ship.
Mayhew having concluded his narration, Ahab put such questions to
him, that the stranger captain could not forbear inquiring whether he
intended to hunt the White Whale, if opportunity should offer. To which
Ahab answered--"Aye." Straightway, then, Gabriel once more started
to his feet, glaring upon the old man, and vehemently exclaimed, with
downward pointed finger--"Think, think of the blasphemer--dead, and down
there!--beware of the blasphemer's end!"
Ahab stolidly turned aside; then said to Mayhew, "Captain, I have
just bethought me of my letter-bag; there is a letter for one of thy
officers, if I mistake not. Starbuck, look over the bag."
Every whale-ship takes out a goodly number of letters for various ships,
whose delivery to the persons to whom they may be addressed, depends
upon the mere chance of encountering them in the four oceans. Thus,
most letters never reach their mark; and many are only received after
attaining an age of two or three years or more.
Soon Starbuck returned with a letter in his hand. It was sorely tumbled,
damp, and covered with a dull, spotted, green mould, in consequence
of being kept in a dark locker of the cabin. Of such a letter, Death
himself might well have been the post-boy.
"Can'st not read it?" cried Ahab. "Give it me, man. Aye, aye, it's but
a dim scrawl;--what's this?" As he was studying it out, Starbuck took a
long cutting-spade pole, and with his knife slightly split the end, to
insert the letter there, and in that way, hand it to the boat, without
its coming any closer to the ship.
Meantime, Ahab holding the letter, muttered, "Mr. Har--yes, Mr.
Harry--(a woman's pinny hand,--the man's wife, I'll wager)--Aye--Mr.
Harry Macey, Ship Jeroboam;--why it's Macey, and he's dead!"
"Poor fellow! poor fellow! and from his wife," sighed Mayhew; "but let
me have it."
"Nay, keep it thyself," cried Gabriel to Ahab; "thou art soon going that
"Curses throttle thee!" yelled Ahab. "Captain Mayhew, stand by now to
receive it"; and taking the fatal missive from Starbuck's hands, he
caught it in the slit of the pole, and reached it over towards the boat.
But as he did so, the oarsmen expectantly desisted from rowing; the boat
drifted a little towards the ship's stern; so that, as if by magic, the
letter suddenly ranged along with Gabriel's eager hand. He clutched it
in an instant, seized the boat-knife, and impaling the letter on it,
sent it thus loaded back into the ship. It fell at Ahab's feet. Then
Gabriel shrieked out to his comrades to give way with their oars, and in
that manner the mutinous boat rapidly shot away from the Pequod.
As, after this interlude, the seamen resumed their work upon the jacket
of the whale, many strange things were hinted in reference to this wild