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“In vain it was to rake for Ambergriese in the paunch of this Leviathan,
insufferable fetor denying not inquiry.”

Sir T. Browne, V. E.

It was a week or two after the last whaling scene recounted,
and when we were slowly sailing over a sleepy, vapory, mid-day


Page 448
sea, that the many noses on the Pequod's deck proved more
vigilant discoverers than the three pairs of eyes aloft. A
peculiar and not very pleasant smell was smelt in the sea.

“I will bet something now,” said Stubb, “that somewhere
hereabouts are some of those drugged whales we tickled the
other day. I thought they would keel up before long.”

Presently, the vapors in advance slid aside; and there in the
distance lay a ship, whose furled sails betokened that some sort
of whale must be alongside. As we glided nearer, the stranger
showed French colors from his peak; and by the eddying cloud
of vulture sea-fowl that circled, and hovered, and swooped
around him, it was plain that the whale alongside must be what
the fishermen call a blasted whale, that is, a whale that has
died unmolested on the sea, and so floated an unappropriated
corpse. It may well be conceived, what an unsavory odor such
a mass must exhale; worse than an Assyrian city in the plague,
when the living are incompetent to bury the departed. So intolerable
indeed is it regarded by some, that no cupidity could persuade
them to moor alongside of it. Yet are there those who
will still do it; notwithstanding the fact that the oil obtained
from such subjects is of a very inferior quality, and by no means
of the nature of attar-of-rose.

Coming still nearer with the expiring breeze, we saw that the
Frenchman had a second whale alongside; and this second
whale seemed even more of a nosegay than the first. In truth,
it turned out to be one of those problematical whales that seem
to dry up and die with a sort of prodigious dyspepsia, or indigestion;
leaving their defunct bodies almost entirely bankrupt
of anything like oil. Nevertheless, in the proper place we shall
see that no knowing fisherman will ever turn up his nose at
such a whale as this, however much he may shun blasted whales
in general.

The Pequod had now swept so nigh to the stranger, that Stubb
vowed he recognised his cutting spade-pole entangled in the


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lines that were knotted round the tail of one of these

“There's a pretty fellow, now,” he banteringly laughed,
standing in the ship's bows, “there's a jackal for ye! I well
know that these Crappoes of Frenchmen are but poor devils in
the fishery; sometimes lowering their boats for breakers, mistaking
them for Sperm Whale spouts; yes, and sometimes sailing
from their port with their hold full of boxes of tallow
candles, and cases of snuffers, foreseeing that all the oil they
will get won't be enough to dip the Captain's wick into; aye,
we all know these things; but look ye, here's a Crappo that is
content with our leavings, the drugged whale there, I mean;
aye, and is content too with scraping the dry bones of that
other precious fish he has there. Poor devil! I say, pass round
a hat, some one, and let's make him a present of a little oil for
dear charity's sake. For what oil he'll get from that drugged
whale there, wouldn't be fit to burn in a jail; no, not in a condemned
cell. And as for the other whale, why, I'll agree to
get more oil by chopping up and trying out these three masts
of ours, than he'll get from that bundle of bones; though, now
that I think of it, it may contain something worth a good deal
more than oil; yes, ambergris. I wonder now if our old man
has thought of that. It's worth trying. Yes, I'm in for it;”
and so saying he started for the quarter-deck.

By this time the faint air had become a complete calm; so
that whether or no, the Pequod was now fairly entrapped in the
smell, with no hope of escaping except by its breezing up
again. Issuing from the cabin, Stubb now called his boat's
crew, and pulled off for the stranger. Drawing across her bow,
he perceived that in accordance with the fanciful French taste,
the upper part of her stem-piece was carved in the likeness of a
huge drooping stalk, was painted green, and for thorns had
copper spikes projecting from it here and there; the whole
terminating in a symmetrical folded bulb of a bright red color.


Page 450
Upon her head boards, in large gilt letters, he read “Bouton
de Rose,”—Rose-button, or Rose-bud; and this was the romantic
name of this aromatic ship.

Though Stubb did not understand the Bouton part of the
inscription, yet the word rose, and the bulbous figure-head put
together, sufficiently explained the whole to him.

“A wooden rose-bud, eh?” he cried with his hand to his nose,
“that will do very well; but how like all creation it smells!”

Now in order to hold direct communication with the
people on deck, he had to pull round the bows to the starboard
side, and thus come close to the blasted whale; and so talk
over it.

Arrived then at this spot, with one hand still to his nose, he
bawled—“Bouton-de-Rose, ahoy! are there any of you Bouton-de-Roses
that speak English?”

“Yes,” rejoined a Guernsey-man from the bulwarks, who
turned out to be the chief-mate.

“Well, then, my Bouton-de-Rose-bud, have you seen the
White Whale?”

What whale?”

“The White Whale—a Sperm Whale—Moby Dick, have ye
seen him?”

“Never heard of such a whale. Cachalot Blanche! White

“Very good, then; good bye now, and I'll call again in a

Then rapidly pulling back towards the Pequod, and seeing
Ahab leaning over the quarter-deck rail awaiting his report, he
moulded his two hands into a trumpet and shouted—“No, Sir!
No!” Upon which Ahab retired, and Stubb returned to the

He now perceived that the Guernsey-man, who had just got
into the chains, and was using a cutting-spade, had slung his
nose in a sort of bag.


Page 451

“What's the matter with your nose, there?” said Stubb.
“Broke it?”

“I wish it was broken, or that I didn't have any nose at all!”
answered the Guernsey-man, who did not seem to relish the job
he was at very much. “But what are you holding yours for?”

“Oh, nothing! It's a wax nose; I have to hold it on. Fine
day, aint it? Air rather gardenny, I should say; throw us a
bunch of posies, will ye, Bouton-de-Rose?”

“What in the devil's name do you want here?” roared the
Guernsey-man, flying into a sudden passion.

“Oh! keep cool—cool? yes, that's the word; why don't you
pack those whales in ice while you're working at 'em? But
joking aside, though; do you know, Rose-bud, that it's all nonsense
trying to get any oil out of such whales? As for that
dried up one, there, he hasn't a gill in his whole carcase.”

“I know that well enough; but, d'ye see, the Captain
here won't believe it; this is his first voyage; he was a Cologne
manufacturer before. But come aboard, and mayhap he'll believe
you, if he won't me; and so I'll get out of this dirty

“Anything to oblige ye, my sweet and pleasant fellow,” rejoined
Stubb, and with that he soon mounted to the deck.
There a queer scene presented itself. The sailors, in tasselled
caps of red worsted, were getting the heavy tackles in readiness
for the whales. But they worked rather slow and talked very
fast, and seemed in anything but a good humor. All their
noses upwardly projected from their faces like so many jibbooms.
Now and then pairs of them would drop their work,
and run up to the mast-head to get some fresh air. Some thinking
they would catch the plague, dipped oakum in coal-tar, and
at intervals held it to their nostrils. Others having broken the
stems of their pipes almost short off at the bowl, were vigorously
puffing tobacco-smoke, so that it constantly filled their olfactories.


Page 452

Stubb was struck by a shower of outcries and anathemas proceeding
from the Captain's round-house abaft; and looking in
that direction saw a fiery face thrust from behind the door, which
was held ajar from within. This was the tormented surgeon,
who, after in vain remonstrating against the proceedings of the
day, had betaken himself to the Captain's round-house (cabinet
he called it) to avoid the pest; but still, could not help yelling
out his entreaties and indignations at times.

Marking all this, Stubb argued well for his scheme, and turning
to the Guernsey-man had a little chat with him, during
which the stranger mate expressed his detestation of his Captain
as a conceited ignoramus, who had brought them all into so
unsavory and unprofitable a pickle. Sounding him carefully,
Stubb further perceived that the Guernsey-man had not the
slightest suspicion concerning the ambergris. He therefore held
his peace on that head, but otherwise was quite frank and confidential
with him, so that the two quickly concocted a little
plan for both circumventing and satirizing the Captain, without
his at all dreaming of distrusting their sincerity. According to
this little plan of theirs, the Guernsey-man, under cover of an
interpreter's office, was to tell the Captain what he pleased, but
as coming from Stubb; and as for Stubb, he was to utter any
nonsense that should come uppermost in him during the interview.

By this time their destined victim appeared from his cabin.
He was a small and dark, but rather delicate looking man for a
sea-captain, with large whiskers and moustache, however; and
wore a red cotton velvet vest with watch-seals at his side. To
this gentleman, Stubb was now politely introduced by the
Guernsey-man, who at once ostentatiously put on the aspect of
interpreting between them.

“What shall I say to him first?” said he.

“Why,” said Stubb, eyeing the velvet vest and the watch
and seals, “you may as well begin by telling him that he looks


Page 453
a sort of babyish to me, though I don't pretend to be a

“He says, Monsieur,” said the Guernsey-man, in French,
turning to his captain, “that only yesterday his ship spoke
a vessel, whose captain and chief-mate, with six sailors, had all
died of a fever caught from a blasted whale they had brought

Upon this the captain started, and eagerly desired to know

“What now?” said the Guernsey-man to Stubb.

“Why, since he takes it so easy, tell him that now I have
eyed him carefully, I'm quite certain that he's no more fit
to command a whale-ship than a St. Jago monkey. In fact, tell
him from me he's a baboon.”

“He vows and declares, Monsieur, that the other whale, the
dried one, is far more deadly than the blasted one; in fine,
Monsieur, he conjures us, as we value our lives, to cut loose from
these fish.”

Instantly the captain ran forward, and in a loud voice commanded
his crew to desist from hoisting the cutting-tackles, and
at once cast loose the cables and chains confining the whales to
the ship.

“What now?” said the Guernsey-man, when the captain had
returned to them.

“Why, let me see; yes, you may as well tell him now that
—that—in fact, tell him I've diddled him, and (aside to himself)
perhaps somebody else.”

“He says, Monsieur, that he's very happy to have been
of any service to us.”

Hearing this, the captain vowed that they were the grateful
parties (meaning himself and mate) and concluded by inviting
Stubb down into his cabin to drink a bottle of Bordeaux.

“He wants you to take a glass of wine with him,” said the


Page 454

“Thank him heartily; but tell him it's against my principles
to drink with the man I've diddled. In fact, tell him
I must go.”

“He says, Monsieur, that his principles won't admit of his
drinking; but that if Monsieur wants to live another day to
drink, then Monsieur had best drop all four boats, and pull the
ship away from these whales, for it's so calm they won't

By this time Stubb was over the side, and getting into
his boat, hailed the Guernsey-man to this effect,—that having a
long tow-line in his boat, he would do what he could to help
them, by pulling out the lighter whale of the two from the
ship's side. While the Frenchman's boats, then, were engaged
in towing the ship one way, Stubb benevolently towed away at
his whale the other way, ostentatiously slacking out a most
unusually long two-line.

Presently a breeze sprang up; Stubb feigned to cast off from
the whale; hoisting his boats, the Frenchman soon increased
his distance, while the Pequod slid in between him and Stubb's
whale. Whereupon Stubb quickly pulled to the floating body,
and hailing the Pequod to give notice of his intentions, at once
proceeded to reap the fruit of his unrighteous cunning. Seizing
his sharp boat-spade, he commenced an excavation in the body,
a little behind the side fin. You would almost have thought he
was digging a cellar there in the sea; and when at length
his spade struck against the gaunt ribs, it was like turning
up old Roman tiles and pottery buried in fat English loam.
His boat's crew were all in high excitement, eagerly helping
their chief, and looking as anxious as gold-hunters.

And all the time numberless fowls were diving, and ducking,
and screaming, and yelling, and fighting around them. Stubb
was beginning to look disappointed, especially as the horrible
nosegay increased, when suddenly from out the very heart of
this plague, there stole a faint stream of perfume, which flowed


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through the tide of bad smells without being absorbed by it, as
one river will flow into and then along with another, without
at all blending with it for a time.

“I have it, I have it,” cried Stubb, with delight, striking
something in the subterranean regions, “a purse! a purse!”

Dropping his spade, he thrust both hands in, and drew out
handfuls of something that looked like ripe Windsor soap,
or rich mottled old cheese; very unctuous and savory withal.
You might easily dent it with your thumb; it is of a hue
between yellow and ash color. And this, good friends, is ambergris,
worth a gold guinea an ounce to any druggist. Some six
handfuls were obtained; but more was unavoidably lost in the
sea, and still more, perhaps, might have been secured were it not
for impatient Ahab's loud command to Stubb to desist, and come
on board, else the ship would bid them good bye.