University of Virginia Library

Search this document 




It was but some few days after encountering the Frenchman,
that a most significant event befell the most insignificant of the
Pequod's crew; an event most lamentable; and which ended in
providing the sometimes madly merry and predestinated craft
with a living and ever accompanying prophecy of whatever
shattered sequel might prove her own.

Now, in the whale ship, it is not every one that goes in the
boats. Some few hands are reserved called ship-keepers, whose
province it is to work the vessel while the boats are pursuing
the whale. As a general thing, these ship-keepers are as hardy
fellows as the men comprising the boats' crews. But if there
happen to be an unduly slender, clumsy, or timorous wight in
the ship, that wight is certain to be made a ship-keeper. It
was so in the Pequod with the little negro Pippin by nick-name,
Pip by abbreviation. Poor Pip! ye have heard of him before;
ye must remember his tambourine on that dramatic midnight,
so gloomy-jolly.


Page 459

In outer aspect, Pip and Dough-Boy made a match, like a
black pony and a white one, of equal developments, though of
dissimilar color, driven in one eccentric span. But while hapless
Dough-Boy was by nature dull and torpid in his intellects, Pip,
though over tender-hearted, was at bottom very bright, with
that pleasant, genial, jolly brightness peculiar to his tribe; a
tribe, which ever enjoy all holidays and festivities with finer,
freer relish than any other race. For blacks, the year's calendar
should show naught but three hundred and sixty-five Fourth of
Julys and New Year's Days. Nor smile so, while I write that
this little black was brilliant, for even blackness has its brilliancy;
behold yon lustrous ebony, panelled in king's cabinets. But
Pip loved life, and all life's peaceable securities; so that the
panic-striking business in which he had somehow unaccountably
become entrapped, had most sadly blurred his brightness;
though, as ere long will be seen, what was thus temporarily subdued
in him, in the end was destined to be luridly illumined by
strange wild fires, that fictitiously showed him off to ten times
the natural lustre with which in his native Tolland County in
Connecticut, he had once enlivened many a fiddler's frolic on
the green; and at melodious even-tide, with his gay ha-ha!
had turned the round horizon into one star-belled tambourine.
So, though in the clear air of day, suspended against a blue-veined
neck, the pure-watered diamond drop will healthful
glow; yet, when the cunning jeweller would show you the
diamond in its most impressive lustre, he lays it against a
gloomy ground, and then lights it up, not by the sun, but by
some unnatural gases. Then come out those fiery effulgenees,
infernally superb; then the evil-blazing diamond, once the
divinest symbol of the crystal skies, looks like some crown-jewel
stolen from the King of Hell. But let us to the story.

It came to pass, that in the ambergris affair Stubb's afteroarsman
chanced so to sprain his hand, as for a time to become
quite maimed; and, temporarily, Pip was put into his place.


Page 460

The first time Stubb lowered with him, Pip evinced much
nervousness; but happily, for that time, escaped close contact
with the whale; and therefore came off not altogether discreditably;
though Stubb observing him, took care, afterwards,
to exhort him to cherish his courageousness to the utmost, for
he might often find it needful.

Now upon the second lowering, the boat paddled upon the
whale; and as the fish received the darted iron, it gave its
customary rap, which happened, in this instance, to be right
under poor Pip's seat. The involuntary consternation of the
moment caused him to leap, paddle in hand, out of the boat;
and in such a way, that part of the slack whale line coming
against his chest, he breasted it overboard with him, so as to
become entangled in it, when at last plumping into the water.
That instant the stricken whale started on a fierce run, the line
swiftly straightened; and presto! poor Pip came all foaming
up to the chocks of the boat, remorselessly dragged there by
the line, which had taken several turns around his chest and

Tashtego stood in the bows. He was full of the fire of the
hunt. He hated Pip for a poltroon. Snatching the boat-knife
from its sheath, he suspended its sharp edge over the line,
and turning towards Stubb, exclaimed interrogatively, “Cut?”
Meantime Pip's blue, choked face plainly looked, Do, for God's
sake! All passed in a flash. In less than half a minute, this
entire thing happened.

“Damn him, cut!” roared Stubb; and so the whale was
lost and Pip was saved.

So soon as he recovered himself, the poor little negro was
assailed by yells and execrations from the crew. Tranquilly
permitting these irregular cursings to evaporate, Stubb then in
a plain, business-like, but still half humorous manner, cursed
Pip officially; and that done, unofficially gave him much
wholesome advice. The substance was, Never jump from a


Page 461
boat, Pip, except—but all the rest was indefinite, as the
soundest advice ever is. Now, in general, Stick to the boat, is
your true motto in whaling; but cases will sometimes happen
when Leap from the boat, is still better. Moreover, as if
perceiving at last that if he should give undiluted conscientious
advice to Pip, he would be leaving him too wide a margin to
jump in for the future; Stubb suddenly dropped all advice, and
concluded with a peremptory command, “Stick to the boat,
Pip, or by the Lord, I wont pick you up if you jump; mind
that. We can't afford to lose whales by the likes of you; a
whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in
Alabama. Bear that in mind, and don't jump any more.”
Hereby perhaps Stubb indirectly hinted, that though man loved
his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal, which propensity
too often interferes with his benevolence.

But we are all in the hands of the Gods; and Pip jumped
again. It was under very similar circumstances to the first
performance; but this time he did not breast out the line; and
hence, when the whale started to run, Pip was left behind on
the sea, like a hurried traveller's trunk. Alas! Stubb was but
too true to his word. It was a beautiful, bounteous, blue day;
the spangled sea calm and cool, and flatly stretching away, all
round, to the horizon, like gold-beater's skin hammered out to
the extremest. Bobbing up and down in that sea, Pip's ebon
head showed like a head of cloves. No boat-knife was lifted
when he fell so rapidly astern. Stubb's inexorable back was
turned upon him; and the whale was winged. In three
minutes, a whole mile of shoreless ocean was between Pip and
Stubb. Out from the centre of the sea, poor Pip turned his
crisp, curling, black head to the sun, another lonely castaway,
though the loftiest and the brightest.

Now, in calm weather, to swim in the open ocean is as easy
to the practised swimmer as to ride in a spring-carriage ashore.


Page 462
But the awful lonesomeness is intolerable. The intense concentration
of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my
God! who can tell it? Mark, how when sailors in a dead
calm bathe in the open sea—mark how closely they hug their
ship and only coast along her sides.

But had Stubb really abandoned the poor little negro to his
fate? No; he did not mean to, at least. Because there were
two boats in his wake, and he supposed, no doubt, that they
would of course come up to Pip very quickly, and pick him up;
though, indeed, such considerations towards oarsmen jeopardized
through their own timidity, is not always manifested by the
hunters in all similar instances; and such instances not unfrequently
occur; almost invariably in the fishery, a coward, so
called, is marked with the same ruthless detestation peculiar to
military navies and armies.

But it so happened, that those boats, without seeing Pip,
suddenly spying whales close to them on one side, turned, and
gave chase; and Stubb's boat was now so far away, and he and
all his crew so intent upon his fish, that Pip's ringed horizon
began to expand around him miserably. By the merest chance
the ship itself at last rescued him; but from that hour the
little negro went about the deck an idiot; such, at least, they
said he was. The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but
drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though.
Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange
shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before
his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his
hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile
eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral
insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal
orbs. He saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and
spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So
man's insanity is heaven's sense; and wandering from all mortal


Page 463
reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to
reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then
uncompromised, indifferent as his God.

For the rest, blame not Stubb too hardly. The thing is
common in that fishery; and in the sequel of the narrative, it
will then be seen what like abandonment befell myself.