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Page 255


Who would have thought it, Flask!” cried Stubb; “if I
had but one leg you would not catch me in a boat, unless maybe
to stop the plug-hole with my timber toe. Oh! he's a wonderful
old man!”

“I don't think it so strange, after all, on that account,” said
Flask. “If his leg were off at the hip, now, it would be a
different thing. That would disable him; but he has one knee,
and good part of the other left, you know.”

“I don't know that, my little man; I never yet saw him

Among whale-wise people it has often been argued whether,
considering the paramount importance of his life to the success
of the voyage, it is right for a whaling captain to jeopardize
that life in the active perils of the chase. So Tamerlane's soldiers
often argued with tears in their eyes, whether that invaluable
life of his ought to be carried into the thickest of the fight.

But with Ahab the question assumed a modified aspect. Considering
that with two legs man is but a hobbling wight in all
times of danger; considering that the pursuit of whales is
always under great and extraordinary difficulties; that every individual
moment, indeed, then comprises a peril; under these
circumstances is it wise for any maimed man to enter a whale-boat
in the hunt? As a general thing, the joint-owners of the
Pequod must have plainly thought not.

Ahab well knew that although his friends at home would
think little of his entering a boat in certain comparatively
harmless vicissitudes of the chase, for the sake of being near the


Page 256
scene of action and giving his orders in person, yet for Captain
Ahab to have a boat actually apportioned to him as a regular
headsman in the hunt—above all for Captain Ahab to be supplied
with five extra men, as that same boat's crew, he well
knew that such generous conceits never entered the heads of the
owners of the Pequod. Therefore he had not solicited a boat's
crew from them, nor had he in any way hinted his desires on that
head. Nevertheless he had taken private measures of his own
touching all that matter. Until Cabaco's published discovery,
the sailors had little foreseen it, though to be sure when, after
being a little while out of port, all hands had concluded the customary
business of fitting the whaleboats for service; when
some time after this Ahab was now and then found bestirring
himself in the matter of making thole-pins with his own
hands for what was thought to be one of the spare boats, and
even solicitously cutting the small wooden skewers, which when
the line is running out are pinned over the groove in the bow:
when all this was observed in him, and particularly his solicitude
in having an extra coat of sheathing in the bottom of the
boat, as if to make it better withstand the pointed pressure of
his ivory limb; and also the anxiety he evinced in exactly shaping
the thigh board, or clumsy cleat, as it is sometimes called,
the horizontal piece in the boat's bow for bracing the knee
against in darting or stabbing at the whale; when it was observed
how often he stood up in that boat with his solitary knee
fixed in the semi-circular depression in the cleat, and with the
carpenter's chisel gouged out a little here and straightened it a
little there; all these things, I say, had awakened much interest
and curiosity at the time. But almost everybody supposed that
this particular preparative heedfulness in Ahab must only be
with a view to the ultimate chase of Moby Dick; for he had
already revealed his intention to hunt that mortal monster
in person. But such a supposition did by no means involve
the remotest suspicion as to any boat's crew being assigned to
that boat.


Page 257

Now, with the subordinate phantoms, what wonder remained
soon waned away; for in a whaler wonders soon wane. Besides,
now and then such unaccountable odds and ends of strange
nations come up from the unknown nooks and ash-holes of the
earth to man these floating outlaws of whalers; and the ships
themselves often pick up such queer castaway creatures found
tossing about the open sea on planks, bits of wreck, oars, whale-boats,
canoes, blown-off Japanese junks, and what not; that
Beelzebub himself might climb up the side and step down into
the cabin to chat with the captain, and it would not create any
unsubduable excitement in the forecastle.

But be all this as it may, certain it is that while the subordinate
phantoms soon found their place among the crew, though
still as it were somehow distinct from them, yet that hair-turbaned
Fedallah remained a muffled mystery to the last. Whence
he came in a mannerly world like this, by what sort of unaccountable
tie he soon evinced himself to be linked with Ahab's
peculiar fortunes; nay, so far as to have some sort of a half-hinted
influence; Heaven knows, but it might have been even
authority over him; all this none knew. But one cannot sustain
an indifferent air concerning Fedallah. He was such a
creature as civilized, domestic people in the temperate zone only
see in their dreams, and that but dimly; but the like of whom
now and then glide among the unchanging Asiatic communities,
especially the Oriental isles to the east of the continent—
those insulated, immemorial, unalterable countries, which even
in these modern days still preserve much of the ghostly aboriginalness
of earth's primal generations, when the memory of the
first man was a distinct recollection, and all men his descendants,
unknowing whence he came, eyed each other as real phantoms,
and asked of the sun and the moon why they were created and
to what end; when though, according to Genesis, the angels indeed
consorted with the daughters of men, the devils also, add
the uncanonical Rabbins, indulged in mundane amours.