Chapter 81: The Pequod Meets The Virgin.
The predestinated day arrived, and we duly met the ship Jungfrau, Derick
De Deer, master, of Bremen.
At one time the greatest whaling people in the world, the Dutch and
Germans are now among the least; but here and there at very wide
intervals of latitude and longitude, you still occasionally meet with
their flag in the Pacific.
For some reason, the Jungfrau seemed quite eager to pay her respects.
While yet some distance from the Pequod, she rounded to, and dropping a
boat, her captain was impelled towards us, impatiently standing in the
bows instead of the stern.
"What has he in his hand there?" cried Starbuck, pointing to something
wavingly held by the German. "Impossible!--a lamp-feeder!"
"Not that," said Stubb, "no, no, it's a coffee-pot, Mr. Starbuck; he's
coming off to make us our coffee, is the Yarman; don't you see that big
tin can there alongside of him?--that's his boiling water. Oh! he's all
right, is the Yarman."
"Go along with you," cried Flask, "it's a lamp-feeder and an oil-can.
He's out of oil, and has come a-begging."
However curious it may seem for an oil-ship to be borrowing oil on the
whale-ground, and however much it may invertedly contradict the old
proverb about carrying coals to Newcastle, yet sometimes such a thing
really happens; and in the present case Captain Derick De Deer did
indubitably conduct a lamp-feeder as Flask did declare.
As he mounted the deck, Ahab abruptly accosted him, without at all
heeding what he had in his hand; but in his broken lingo, the German
soon evinced his complete ignorance of the White Whale; immediately
turning the conversation to his lamp-feeder and oil can, with some
remarks touching his having to turn into his hammock at night in
profound darkness--his last drop of Bremen oil being gone, and not a
single flying-fish yet captured to supply the deficiency; concluding
by hinting that his ship was indeed what in the Fishery is technically
called a CLEAN one (that is, an empty one), well deserving the name of
Jungfrau or the Virgin.
His necessities supplied, Derick departed; but he had not gained his
ship's side, when whales were almost simultaneously raised from the
mast-heads of both vessels; and so eager for the chase was Derick, that
without pausing to put his oil-can and lamp-feeder aboard, he slewed
round his boat and made after the leviathan lamp-feeders.
Now, the game having risen to leeward, he and the other three German
boats that soon followed him, had considerably the start of the Pequod's
keels. There were eight whales, an average pod. Aware of their danger,
they were going all abreast with great speed straight before the wind,
rubbing their flanks as closely as so many spans of horses in harness.
They left a great, wide wake, as though continually unrolling a great
wide parchment upon the sea.
Full in this rapid wake, and many fathoms in the rear, swam a huge,
humped old bull, which by his comparatively slow progress, as well as
by the unusual yellowish incrustations overgrowing him, seemed afflicted
with the jaundice, or some other infirmity. Whether this whale belonged
to the pod in advance, seemed questionable; for it is not customary for
such venerable leviathans to be at all social. Nevertheless, he stuck
to their wake, though indeed their back water must have retarded him,
because the white-bone or swell at his broad muzzle was a dashed one,
like the swell formed when two hostile currents meet. His spout was
short, slow, and laborious; coming forth with a choking sort of gush,
and spending itself in torn shreds, followed by strange subterranean
commotions in him, which seemed to have egress at his other buried
extremity, causing the waters behind him to upbubble.
"Who's got some paregoric?" said Stubb, "he has the stomach-ache, I'm
afraid. Lord, think of having half an acre of stomach-ache! Adverse
winds are holding mad Christmas in him, boys. It's the first foul wind
I ever knew to blow from astern; but look, did ever whale yaw so before?
it must be, he's lost his tiller."
As an overladen Indiaman bearing down the Hindostan coast with a deck
load of frightened horses, careens, buries, rolls, and wallows on her
way; so did this old whale heave his aged bulk, and now and then partly
turning over on his cumbrous rib-ends, expose the cause of his devious
wake in the unnatural stump of his starboard fin. Whether he had lost
that fin in battle, or had been born without it, it were hard to say.
"Only wait a bit, old chap, and I'll give ye a sling for that wounded
arm," cried cruel Flask, pointing to the whale-line near him.
"Mind he don't sling thee with it," cried Starbuck. "Give way, or the
German will have him."
With one intent all the combined rival boats were pointed for this
one fish, because not only was he the largest, and therefore the most
valuable whale, but he was nearest to them, and the other whales were
going with such great velocity, moreover, as almost to defy pursuit
for the time. At this juncture the Pequod's keels had shot by the three
German boats last lowered; but from the great start he had had, Derick's
boat still led the chase, though every moment neared by his foreign
rivals. The only thing they feared, was, that from being already so
nigh to his mark, he would be enabled to dart his iron before they
could completely overtake and pass him. As for Derick, he seemed quite
confident that this would be the case, and occasionally with a deriding
gesture shook his lamp-feeder at the other boats.
"The ungracious and ungrateful dog!" cried Starbuck; "he mocks and dares
me with the very poor-box I filled for him not five minutes ago!"--then
in his old intense whisper--"Give way, greyhounds! Dog to it!"
"I tell ye what it is, men"--cried Stubb to his crew--"it's against
my religion to get mad; but I'd like to eat that villainous
Yarman--Pull--won't ye? Are ye going to let that rascal beat ye? Do
ye love brandy? A hogshead of brandy, then, to the best man. Come,
why don't some of ye burst a blood-vessel? Who's that been dropping an
anchor overboard--we don't budge an inch--we're becalmed. Halloo, here's
grass growing in the boat's bottom--and by the Lord, the mast there's
budding. This won't do, boys. Look at that Yarman! The short and long of
it is, men, will ye spit fire or not?"
"Oh! see the suds he makes!" cried Flask, dancing up and down--"What
a hump--Oh, DO pile on the beef--lays like a log! Oh! my lads, DO
spring--slap-jacks and quahogs for supper, you know, my lads--baked
clams and muffins--oh, DO, DO, spring,--he's a hundred barreller--don't
lose him now--don't oh, DON'T!--see that Yarman--Oh, won't ye pull for
your duff, my lads--such a sog! such a sogger! Don't ye love sperm?
There goes three thousand dollars, men!--a bank!--a whole bank! The bank
of England!--Oh, DO, DO, DO!--What's that Yarman about now?"
At this moment Derick was in the act of pitching his lamp-feeder at the
advancing boats, and also his oil-can; perhaps with the double view
of retarding his rivals' way, and at the same time economically
accelerating his own by the momentary impetus of the backward toss.
"The unmannerly Dutch dogger!" cried Stubb. "Pull now, men, like fifty
thousand line-of-battle-ship loads of red-haired devils. What d'ye say,
Tashtego; are you the man to snap your spine in two-and-twenty pieces
for the honour of old Gayhead? What d'ye say?"
"I say, pull like god-dam,"--cried the Indian.
Fiercely, but evenly incited by the taunts of the German, the Pequod's
three boats now began ranging almost abreast; and, so disposed,
momentarily neared him. In that fine, loose, chivalrous attitude of
the headsman when drawing near to his prey, the three mates stood up
proudly, occasionally backing the after oarsman with an exhilarating cry
of, "There she slides, now! Hurrah for the white-ash breeze! Down with
the Yarman! Sail over him!"
But so decided an original start had Derick had, that spite of all
their gallantry, he would have proved the victor in this race, had not
a righteous judgment descended upon him in a crab which caught the blade
of his midship oarsman. While this clumsy lubber was striving to free
his white-ash, and while, in consequence, Derick's boat was nigh to
capsizing, and he thundering away at his men in a mighty rage;--that was
a good time for Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask. With a shout, they took a
mortal start forwards, and slantingly ranged up on the German's quarter.
An instant more, and all four boats were diagonically in the whale's
immediate wake, while stretching from them, on both sides, was the
foaming swell that he made.
It was a terrific, most pitiable, and maddening sight. The whale was
now going head out, and sending his spout before him in a continual
tormented jet; while his one poor fin beat his side in an agony of
fright. Now to this hand, now to that, he yawed in his faltering flight,
and still at every billow that he broke, he spasmodically sank in the
sea, or sideways rolled towards the sky his one beating fin. So have I
seen a bird with clipped wing making affrighted broken circles in the
air, vainly striving to escape the piratical hawks. But the bird has a
voice, and with plaintive cries will make known her fear; but the fear
of this vast dumb brute of the sea, was chained up and enchanted in him;
he had no voice, save that choking respiration through his spiracle,
and this made the sight of him unspeakably pitiable; while still, in his
amazing bulk, portcullis jaw, and omnipotent tail, there was enough to
appal the stoutest man who so pitied.
Seeing now that but a very few moments more would give the Pequod's
boats the advantage, and rather than be thus foiled of his game, Derick
chose to hazard what to him must have seemed a most unusually long dart,
ere the last chance would for ever escape.
But no sooner did his harpooneer stand up for the stroke, than all three
tigers--Queequeg, Tashtego, Daggoo--instinctively sprang to their feet,
and standing in a diagonal row, simultaneously pointed their barbs; and
darted over the head of the German harpooneer, their three Nantucket
irons entered the whale. Blinding vapours of foam and white-fire! The
three boats, in the first fury of the whale's headlong rush, bumped
the German's aside with such force, that both Derick and his baffled
harpooneer were spilled out, and sailed over by the three flying keels.
"Don't be afraid, my butter-boxes," cried Stubb, casting a passing
glance upon them as he shot by; "ye'll be picked up presently--all
right--I saw some sharks astern--St. Bernard's dogs, you know--relieve
distressed travellers. Hurrah! this is the way to sail now. Every keel a
sunbeam! Hurrah!--Here we go like three tin kettles at the tail of a mad
cougar! This puts me in mind of fastening to an elephant in a tilbury on
a plain--makes the wheel-spokes fly, boys, when you fasten to him that
way; and there's danger of being pitched out too, when you strike a
hill. Hurrah! this is the way a fellow feels when he's going to Davy
Jones--all a rush down an endless inclined plane! Hurrah! this whale
carries the everlasting mail!"
But the monster's run was a brief one. Giving a sudden gasp, he
tumultuously sounded. With a grating rush, the three lines flew round
the loggerheads with such a force as to gouge deep grooves in them;
while so fearful were the harpooneers that this rapid sounding would
soon exhaust the lines, that using all their dexterous might, they
caught repeated smoking turns with the rope to hold on; till at
last--owing to the perpendicular strain from the lead-lined chocks of
the boats, whence the three ropes went straight down into the blue--the
gunwales of the bows were almost even with the water, while the three
sterns tilted high in the air. And the whale soon ceasing to sound,
for some time they remained in that attitude, fearful of expending more
line, though the position was a little ticklish. But though boats have
been taken down and lost in this way, yet it is this "holding on," as it
is called; this hooking up by the sharp barbs of his live flesh from
the back; this it is that often torments the Leviathan into soon rising
again to meet the sharp lance of his foes. Yet not to speak of the peril
of the thing, it is to be doubted whether this course is always the
best; for it is but reasonable to presume, that the longer the stricken
whale stays under water, the more he is exhausted. Because, owing to the
enormous surface of him--in a full grown sperm whale something less than
2000 square feet--the pressure of the water is immense. We all know
what an astonishing atmospheric weight we ourselves stand up under; even
here, above-ground, in the air; how vast, then, the burden of a whale,
bearing on his back a column of two hundred fathoms of ocean! It must at
least equal the weight of fifty atmospheres. One whaleman has estimated
it at the weight of twenty line-of-battle ships, with all their guns,
and stores, and men on board.
As the three boats lay there on that gently rolling sea, gazing down
into its eternal blue noon; and as not a single groan or cry of any
sort, nay, not so much as a ripple or a bubble came up from its depths;
what landsman would have thought, that beneath all that silence and
placidity, the utmost monster of the seas was writhing and wrenching in
agony! Not eight inches of perpendicular rope were visible at the bows.
Seems it credible that by three such thin threads the great Leviathan
was suspended like the big weight to an eight day clock. Suspended? and
to what? To three bits of board. Is this the creature of whom it was
once so triumphantly said--"Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons?
or his head with fish-spears? The sword of him that layeth at him cannot
hold, the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon: he esteemeth iron as
straw; the arrow cannot make him flee; darts are counted as stubble;
he laugheth at the shaking of a spear!" This the creature? this he? Oh!
that unfulfilments should follow the prophets. For with the strength
of a thousand thighs in his tail, Leviathan had run his head under the
mountains of the sea, to hide him from the Pequod's fish-spears!
In that sloping afternoon sunlight, the shadows that the three boats
sent down beneath the surface, must have been long enough and broad
enough to shade half Xerxes' army. Who can tell how appalling to the
wounded whale must have been such huge phantoms flitting over his head!
"Stand by, men; he stirs," cried Starbuck, as the three lines suddenly
vibrated in the water, distinctly conducting upwards to them, as by
magnetic wires, the life and death throbs of the whale, so that every
oarsman felt them in his seat. The next moment, relieved in great part
from the downward strain at the bows, the boats gave a sudden bounce
upwards, as a small icefield will, when a dense herd of white bears are
scared from it into the sea.
"Haul in! Haul in!" cried Starbuck again; "he's rising."
The lines, of which, hardly an instant before, not one hand's breadth
could have been gained, were now in long quick coils flung back all
dripping into the boats, and soon the whale broke water within two
ship's lengths of the hunters.
His motions plainly denoted his extreme exhaustion. In most land animals
there are certain valves or flood-gates in many of their veins, whereby
when wounded, the blood is in some degree at least instantly shut off in
certain directions. Not so with the whale; one of whose peculiarities
it is to have an entire non-valvular structure of the blood-vessels, so
that when pierced even by so small a point as a harpoon, a deadly
drain is at once begun upon his whole arterial system; and when this is
heightened by the extraordinary pressure of water at a great distance
below the surface, his life may be said to pour from him in incessant
streams. Yet so vast is the quantity of blood in him, and so distant
and numerous its interior fountains, that he will keep thus bleeding and
bleeding for a considerable period; even as in a drought a river will
flow, whose source is in the well-springs of far-off and undiscernible
hills. Even now, when the boats pulled upon this whale, and perilously
drew over his swaying flukes, and the lances were darted into him,
they were followed by steady jets from the new made wound, which kept
continually playing, while the natural spout-hole in his head was only
at intervals, however rapid, sending its affrighted moisture into the
air. From this last vent no blood yet came, because no vital part of him
had thus far been struck. His life, as they significantly call it, was
As the boats now more closely surrounded him, the whole upper part of
his form, with much of it that is ordinarily submerged, was plainly
revealed. His eyes, or rather the places where his eyes had been, were
beheld. As strange misgrown masses gather in the knot-holes of the
noblest oaks when prostrate, so from the points which the whale's eyes
had once occupied, now protruded blind bulbs, horribly pitiable to see.
But pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one arm, and his
blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the
gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the
solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.
Still rolling in his blood, at last he partially disclosed a strangely
discoloured bunch or protuberance, the size of a bushel, low down on the
"A nice spot," cried Flask; "just let me prick him there once."
"Avast!" cried Starbuck, "there's no need of that!"
But humane Starbuck was too late. At the instant of the dart an
ulcerous jet shot from this cruel wound, and goaded by it into more than
sufferable anguish, the whale now spouting thick blood, with swift fury
blindly darted at the craft, bespattering them and their glorying crews
all over with showers of gore, capsizing Flask's boat and marring the
bows. It was his death stroke. For, by this time, so spent was he by
loss of blood, that he helplessly rolled away from the wreck he had
made; lay panting on his side, impotently flapped with his stumped fin,
then over and over slowly revolved like a waning world; turned up
the white secrets of his belly; lay like a log, and died. It was most
piteous, that last expiring spout. As when by unseen hands the water
is gradually drawn off from some mighty fountain, and with half-stifled
melancholy gurglings the spray-column lowers and lowers to the
ground--so the last long dying spout of the whale.
Soon, while the crews were awaiting the arrival of the ship, the body
showed symptoms of sinking with all its treasures unrifled. Immediately,
by Starbuck's orders, lines were secured to it at different points, so
that ere long every boat was a buoy; the sunken whale being suspended a
few inches beneath them by the cords. By very heedful management, when
the ship drew nigh, the whale was transferred to her side, and was
strongly secured there by the stiffest fluke-chains, for it was plain
that unless artificially upheld, the body would at once sink to the
It so chanced that almost upon first cutting into him with the spade,
the entire length of a corroded harpoon was found imbedded in his flesh,
on the lower part of the bunch before described. But as the stumps of
harpoons are frequently found in the dead bodies of captured whales,
with the flesh perfectly healed around them, and no prominence of any
kind to denote their place; therefore, there must needs have been
some other unknown reason in the present case fully to account for
the ulceration alluded to. But still more curious was the fact of a
lance-head of stone being found in him, not far from the buried iron,
the flesh perfectly firm about it. Who had darted that stone lance? And
when? It might have been darted by some Nor' West Indian long before
America was discovered.
What other marvels might have been rummaged out of this monstrous
cabinet there is no telling. But a sudden stop was put to further
discoveries, by the ship's being unprecedentedly dragged over sideways
to the sea, owing to the body's immensely increasing tendency to sink.
However, Starbuck, who had the ordering of affairs, hung on to it to the
last; hung on to it so resolutely, indeed, that when at length the ship
would have been capsized, if still persisting in locking arms with the
body; then, when the command was given to break clear from it, such was
the immovable strain upon the timber-heads to which the fluke-chains and
cables were fastened, that it was impossible to cast them off. Meantime
everything in the Pequod was aslant. To cross to the other side of the
deck was like walking up the steep gabled roof of a house. The ship
groaned and gasped. Many of the ivory inlayings of her bulwarks and
cabins were started from their places, by the unnatural dislocation.
In vain handspikes and crows were brought to bear upon the immovable
fluke-chains, to pry them adrift from the timberheads; and so low
had the whale now settled that the submerged ends could not be at all
approached, while every moment whole tons of ponderosity seemed added to
the sinking bulk, and the ship seemed on the point of going over.
"Hold on, hold on, won't ye?" cried Stubb to the body, "don't be in such
a devil of a hurry to sink! By thunder, men, we must do something or go
for it. No use prying there; avast, I say with your handspikes, and run
one of ye for a prayer book and a pen-knife, and cut the big chains."
"Knife? Aye, aye," cried Queequeg, and seizing the carpenter's heavy
hatchet, he leaned out of a porthole, and steel to iron, began slashing
at the largest fluke-chains. But a few strokes, full of sparks, were
given, when the exceeding strain effected the rest. With a terrific
snap, every fastening went adrift; the ship righted, the carcase sank.
Now, this occasional inevitable sinking of the recently killed Sperm
Whale is a very curious thing; nor has any fisherman yet adequately
accounted for it. Usually the dead Sperm Whale floats with great
buoyancy, with its side or belly considerably elevated above the
surface. If the only whales that thus sank were old, meagre, and
broken-hearted creatures, their pads of lard diminished and all their
bones heavy and rheumatic; then you might with some reason assert that
this sinking is caused by an uncommon specific gravity in the fish so
sinking, consequent upon this absence of buoyant matter in him. But it
is not so. For young whales, in the highest health, and swelling with
noble aspirations, prematurely cut off in the warm flush and May of
life, with all their panting lard about them; even these brawny, buoyant
heroes do sometimes sink.
Be it said, however, that the Sperm Whale is far less liable to this
accident than any other species. Where one of that sort go down, twenty
Right Whales do. This difference in the species is no doubt imputable in
no small degree to the greater quantity of bone in the Right Whale;
his Venetian blinds alone sometimes weighing more than a ton; from this
incumbrance the Sperm Whale is wholly free. But there are instances
where, after the lapse of many hours or several days, the sunken whale
again rises, more buoyant than in life. But the reason of this
is obvious. Gases are generated in him; he swells to a prodigious
magnitude; becomes a sort of animal balloon. A line-of-battle ship could
hardly keep him under then. In the Shore Whaling, on soundings, among
the Bays of New Zealand, when a Right Whale gives token of sinking, they
fasten buoys to him, with plenty of rope; so that when the body has gone
down, they know where to look for it when it shall have ascended again.
It was not long after the sinking of the body that a cry was heard from
the Pequod's mast-heads, announcing that the Jungfrau was again lowering
her boats; though the only spout in sight was that of a Fin-Back,
belonging to the species of uncapturable whales, because of its
incredible power of swimming. Nevertheless, the Fin-Back's spout is so
similar to the Sperm Whale's, that by unskilful fishermen it is often
mistaken for it. And consequently Derick and all his host were now in
valiant chase of this unnearable brute. The Virgin crowding all sail,
made after her four young keels, and thus they all disappeared far to
leeward, still in bold, hopeful chase.
Oh! many are the Fin-Backs, and many are the Dericks, my friend.