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Chapter 95: The Cassock.


Had you stepped on board the Pequod at a certain juncture of this
post-mortemizing of the whale; and had you strolled forward nigh the
windlass, pretty sure am I that you would have scanned with no small
curiosity a very strange, enigmatical object, which you would have seen
there, lying along lengthwise in the lee scuppers. Not the wondrous
cistern in the whale's huge head; not the prodigy of his unhinged lower
jaw; not the miracle of his symmetrical tail; none of these would so
surprise you, as half a glimpse of that unaccountable cone,--longer than
a Kentuckian is tall, nigh a foot in diameter at the base, and jet-black
as Yojo, the ebony idol of Queequeg. And an idol, indeed, it is; or,
rather, in old times, its likeness was. Such an idol as that found in
the secret groves of Queen Maachah in Judea; and for worshipping which,
King Asa, her son, did depose her, and destroyed the idol, and burnt it
for an abomination at the brook Kedron, as darkly set forth in the 15th
chapter of the First Book of Kings.

Look at the sailor, called the mincer, who now comes along, and assisted
by two allies, heavily backs the grandissimus, as the mariners call it,
and with bowed shoulders, staggers off with it as if he were a grenadier
carrying a dead comrade from the field. Extending it upon the forecastle
deck, he now proceeds cylindrically to remove its dark pelt, as an
African hunter the pelt of a boa. This done he turns the pelt inside
out, like a pantaloon leg; gives it a good stretching, so as almost to
double its diameter; and at last hangs it, well spread, in the rigging,
to dry. Ere long, it is taken down; when removing some three feet of it,
towards the pointed extremity, and then cutting two slits for arm-holes
at the other end, he lengthwise slips himself bodily into it. The mincer
now stands before you invested in the full canonicals of his calling.
Immemorial to all his order, this investiture alone will adequately
protect him, while employed in the peculiar functions of his office.

That office consists in mincing the horse-pieces of blubber for the
pots; an operation which is conducted at a curious wooden horse, planted
endwise against the bulwarks, and with a capacious tub beneath it, into
which the minced pieces drop, fast as the sheets from a rapt orator's
desk. Arrayed in decent black; occupying a conspicuous pulpit; intent
on bible leaves; what a candidate for an archbishopric, what a lad for a
Pope were this mincer!*

*Bible leaves! Bible leaves! This is the invariable cry from the mates
to the mincer. It enjoins him to be careful, and cut his work into as
thin slices as possible, inasmuch as by so doing the business of
boiling out the oil is much accelerated, and its quantity considerably
increased, besides perhaps improving it in quality.