Chapter 72: The Monkey-Rope.
In the tumultuous business of cutting-in and attending to a whale, there
is much running backwards and forwards among the crew. Now hands are
wanted here, and then again hands are wanted there. There is no staying
in any one place; for at one and the same time everything has to be done
everywhere. It is much the same with him who endeavors the description
of the scene. We must now retrace our way a little. It was mentioned
that upon first breaking ground in the whale's back, the blubber-hook
was inserted into the original hole there cut by the spades of the
mates. But how did so clumsy and weighty a mass as that same hook
get fixed in that hole? It was inserted there by my particular friend
Queequeg, whose duty it was, as harpooneer, to descend upon the
monster's back for the special purpose referred to. But in very many
cases, circumstances require that the harpooneer shall remain on the
whale till the whole tensing or stripping operation is concluded. The
whale, be it observed, lies almost entirely submerged, excepting the
immediate parts operated upon. So down there, some ten feet below the
level of the deck, the poor harpooneer flounders about, half on the
whale and half in the water, as the vast mass revolves like a tread-mill
beneath him. On the occasion in question, Queequeg figured in the
Highland costume--a shirt and socks--in which to my eyes, at least,
he appeared to uncommon advantage; and no one had a better chance to
observe him, as will presently be seen.
Being the savage's bowsman, that is, the person who pulled the bow-oar
in his boat (the second one from forward), it was my cheerful duty to
attend upon him while taking that hard-scrabble scramble upon the dead
whale's back. You have seen Italian organ-boys holding a dancing-ape by
a long cord. Just so, from the ship's steep side, did I hold Queequeg
down there in the sea, by what is technically called in the fishery
a monkey-rope, attached to a strong strip of canvas belted round his
It was a humorously perilous business for both of us. For, before we
proceed further, it must be said that the monkey-rope was fast at
both ends; fast to Queequeg's broad canvas belt, and fast to my narrow
leather one. So that for better or for worse, we two, for the time, were
wedded; and should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more, then both usage
and honour demanded, that instead of cutting the cord, it should drag
me down in his wake. So, then, an elongated Siamese ligature united us.
Queequeg was my own inseparable twin brother; nor could I any way get
rid of the dangerous liabilities which the hempen bond entailed.
So strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then, that
while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to perceive
that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock company of
two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and that another's
mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster
and death. Therefore, I saw that here was a sort of interregnum in
Providence; for its even-handed equity never could have so gross an
injustice. And yet still further pondering--while I jerked him now
and then from between the whale and ship, which would threaten to jam
him--still further pondering, I say, I saw that this situation of mine
was the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, in most
cases, he, one way or other, has this Siamese connexion with a plurality
of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you snap; if your apothecary by
mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die. True, you may say
that, by exceeding caution, you may possibly escape these and the
multitudinous other evil chances of life. But handle Queequeg's
monkey-rope heedfully as I would, sometimes he jerked it so, that I came
very near sliding overboard. Nor could I possibly forget that, do what I
would, I only had the management of one end of it.*
*The monkey-rope is found in all whalers; but it was only in the Pequod
that the monkey and his holder were ever tied together. This improvement
upon the original usage was introduced by no less a man than Stubb,
in order to afford the imperilled harpooneer the strongest possible
guarantee for the faithfulness and vigilance of his monkey-rope holder.
I have hinted that I would often jerk poor Queequeg from between the
whale and the ship--where he would occasionally fall, from the incessant
rolling and swaying of both. But this was not the only jamming jeopardy
he was exposed to. Unappalled by the massacre made upon them during the
night, the sharks now freshly and more keenly allured by the before pent
blood which began to flow from the carcass--the rabid creatures swarmed
round it like bees in a beehive.
And right in among those sharks was Queequeg; who often pushed them
aside with his floundering feet. A thing altogether incredible were
it not that attracted by such prey as a dead whale, the otherwise
miscellaneously carnivorous shark will seldom touch a man.
Nevertheless, it may well be believed that since they have such a
ravenous finger in the pie, it is deemed but wise to look sharp to them.
Accordingly, besides the monkey-rope, with which I now and then jerked
the poor fellow from too close a vicinity to the maw of what seemed
a peculiarly ferocious shark--he was provided with still another
protection. Suspended over the side in one of the stages, Tashtego
and Daggoo continually flourished over his head a couple of keen
whale-spades, wherewith they slaughtered as many sharks as they could
reach. This procedure of theirs, to be sure, was very disinterested and
benevolent of them. They meant Queequeg's best happiness, I admit; but
in their hasty zeal to befriend him, and from the circumstance that both
he and the sharks were at times half hidden by the blood-muddled water,
those indiscreet spades of theirs would come nearer amputating a leg
than a tall. But poor Queequeg, I suppose, straining and gasping there
with that great iron hook--poor Queequeg, I suppose, only prayed to his
Yojo, and gave up his life into the hands of his gods.
Well, well, my dear comrade and twin-brother, thought I, as I drew in
and then slacked off the rope to every swell of the sea--what matters
it, after all? Are you not the precious image of each and all of us men
in this whaling world? That unsounded ocean you gasp in, is Life; those
sharks, your foes; those spades, your friends; and what between sharks
and spades you are in a sad pickle and peril, poor lad.
But courage! there is good cheer in store for you, Queequeg. For now, as
with blue lips and blood-shot eyes the exhausted savage at last climbs
up the chains and stands all dripping and involuntarily trembling over
the side; the steward advances, and with a benevolent, consolatory
glance hands him--what? Some hot Cognac? No! hands him, ye gods! hands
him a cup of tepid ginger and water!
"Ginger? Do I smell ginger?" suspiciously asked Stubb, coming near.
"Yes, this must be ginger," peering into the as yet untasted cup. Then
standing as if incredulous for a while, he calmly walked towards the
astonished steward slowly saying, "Ginger? ginger? and will you have
the goodness to tell me, Mr. Dough-Boy, where lies the virtue of ginger?
Ginger! is ginger the sort of fuel you use, Dough-boy, to kindle a fire
in this shivering cannibal? Ginger!--what the devil is ginger?
Sea-coal? firewood?--lucifer matches?--tinder?--gunpowder?--what the
devil is ginger, I say, that you offer this cup to our poor Queequeg
"There is some sneaking Temperance Society movement about this
business," he suddenly added, now approaching Starbuck, who had just
come from forward. "Will you look at that kannakin, sir; smell of it,
if you please." Then watching the mate's countenance, he added, "The
steward, Mr. Starbuck, had the face to offer that calomel and jalap
to Queequeg, there, this instant off the whale. Is the steward an
apothecary, sir? and may I ask whether this is the sort of bitters by
which he blows back the life into a half-drowned man?"
"I trust not," said Starbuck, "it is poor stuff enough."
"Aye, aye, steward," cried Stubb, "we'll teach you to drug it
harpooneer; none of your apothecary's medicine here; you want to poison
us, do ye? You have got out insurances on our lives and want to murder
us all, and pocket the proceeds, do ye?"
"It was not me," cried Dough-Boy, "it was Aunt Charity that brought the
ginger on board; and bade me never give the harpooneers any spirits, but
only this ginger-jub--so she called it."
"Ginger-jub! you gingerly rascal! take that! and run along with ye
to the lockers, and get something better. I hope I do no wrong, Mr.
Starbuck. It is the captain's orders--grog for the harpooneer on a
"Enough," replied Starbuck, "only don't hit him again, but--"
"Oh, I never hurt when I hit, except when I hit a whale or something of
that sort; and this fellow's a weazel. What were you about saying, sir?"
"Only this: go down with him, and get what thou wantest thyself."
When Stubb reappeared, he came with a dark flask in one hand, and a sort
of tea-caddy in the other. The first contained strong spirits, and was
handed to Queequeg; the second was Aunt Charity's gift, and that was
freely given to the waves.