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Page 338


It was a Saturday night, and such a Sabbath as followed!
Ex officio professors of Sabbath breaking are all whalemen.
The ivory Pequod was turned into what seemed a shamble;
every sailor a butcher. You would have thought we were
offering up ten thousand red oxen to the sea gods.

In the first place, the enormous cutting tackles, among other
ponderous things comprising a cluster of blocks generally painted
green, and which no single man can possibly lift—this vast
bunch of grapes was swayed up to the main-top and firmly
lashed to the lower mast-head, the strongest point anywhere
above a ship's deck. The end of the hawser-like rope winding
through these intricacies, was then conducted to the windlass,
and the huge lower block of the tackles was swung over the
whale; to this block the great blubber hook, weighing some
one hundred pounds, was attached. And now suspended in
stages over the side, Starbuck and Stubb, the mates, armed
with their long spades, began cutting a hole in the body for the
insertion of the hook just above the nearest of the two side-fins.
This done, a broad, semicircular line is cut round the
hole, the hook is inserted, and the main body of the crew striking
up a wild chorus, now commence heaving in one dense
crowd at the windlass. When instantly, the entire ship careens
over on her side; every bolt in her starts like the nail-heads of
an old house in frosty weather; she trembles, quivers, and nods
her frighted mast-heads to the sky. More and more she leans
over to the whale, while every gasping heave of the windlass is
answered by a helping heave from the billows; till at last, a
swift, startling snap is heard; with a great swash the ship rolls


Page 339
upwards and backwards from the whale, and the triumphant tackle
rises into sight dragging after it the disengaged semicircular
end of the first strip of blubber. Now as the blubber envelopes
the whale precisely as the rind does an orange, so is it stripped
off from the body precisely as an orange is sometimes stripped
by spiralizing it. For the strain constantly kept up by the
windlass continually keeps the whale rolling over and over in
the water, and as the blubber in one strip uniformly peels off
along the line called the “scarf,” simultaneously cut by the
spades of Starbuck and Stubb, the mates; and just as fast as
it is thus peeled off, and indeed by that very act itself, it is
all the time being hoisted higher and higher aloft till its upper
end grazes the main-top; the men at the windlass then cease
heaving, and for a moment or two the prodigious blood-dripping
mass sways to and fro as if let down from the sky, and every
one present must take good heed to dodge it when it swings,
else it may box his ears and pitch him headlong overboard.

One of the attending harpooneers now advances with a long,
keen weapon called a boarding-sword, and watching his chance
he dexterously slices out a considerable hole in the lower part
of the swaying mass. Into this hole, the end of the second
alternating great tackle is then hooked so as to retain a hold
upon the blubber, in order to prepare for what follows. Whereupon,
this accomplished swordsman, warning all hands to stand
off, once more makes a scientific dash at the mass, and with a
few sidelong, desperate, lunging slicings, severs it completely in
twain; so that while the short lower part is still fast, the long
upper strip, called a blanket-piece, swings clear, and is all ready
for lowering. The heavers forward now resume their song, and
while the one tackle is peeling and hoisting a second strip from the
whale, the other is slowly slackened away, and down goes the first
strip through the main hatchway right beneath, into an unfurnished
parlor called the blubber-room. Into this twilight apartment
sundry nimble hands keep coiling away the long blanket-piece


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as if it were a great live mass of plaited serpents. And
thus the work proceeds; the two tackles hoisting and lowering
simultaneously; both whale and windlass heaving, the heavers
singing, the blubber-room gentlemen coiling, the mates scarfing,
the ship straining, and all hands swearing occasionally, by way
of assuaging the general friction.