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Page 348


Hand in hand, ship and breeze blew on; but the breeze
came faster than the ship, and soon the Pequod began to rock.

By and by, through the glass the strangers' boats and
manned mast-heads proved her a whale-ship. But as she was
so far to windward, and shooting by, apparently making a passage
to some other ground, the Pequod could not hope to
reach her. So the signal was set to see what response would be

Here be it said, that like the vessels of military marines, the
ships of the American Whale Fleet have each a private signal;
all which signals collected in a book with the names of
the respective vessels attached, every captain is provided with
it. Thereby, the whale commanders are enabled to recognise
each other upon the ocean, even at considerable distances, and
with no small facility.

The Pequod's signal was at last responded to by the stranger's
setting her own; which proved the ship to be the Jeroboam
of Nantucket. Squaring her yards, she bore down,
ranged abeam under the Pequod's lee, and lowered a boat; it
soon drew night; but, as the side-ladder was being rigged by
Starbuck's order to accommodate the visiting captain, the stranger
in question waved his hand from his boat's stern in token
of that proceeding being entirely unnecessary. It turned out
that the Jeroboam had a malignant epidemic on board, and
that Mayhew, her captain, was fearful of infecting the Pequod's
company. For, though himself and boat's crew remained untainted,
and though his ship was half a rifle-shot off, and an


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incorruptible sea and air rolling and flowing between; yet conscientiously
adhering to the timid quarantine of the land, he
peremptorily refused to come into direct contact with the

But this did by no means prevent all communication. Preserving
an interval of some few yards between itself and the ship,
the Jeroboam's boat by the occasional use of its oars contrived
to keep parallel to the Pequod, as she heavily forged through
the sea (for by this time it blew very fresh), with her main-top-sail
aback; though, indeed, at times by the sudden onset of a
large rolling wave, the boat would be pushed some way ahead;
but would be soon skilfully brought to her proper bearings
again. Subject to this, and other the like interruptions now
and then, a conversation was sustained between the two parties;
but at intervals not without still another interruption of a
very different sort.

Pulling an oar in the Jeroboam's boat, was a man of a singular
appearance, even in that wild whaling life where individual
notabilities make up all totalities. He was a small, short,
youngish man, sprinkled all over his face with freckles, and
wearing redundant yellow hair. A long-skirted, cabalistically-cut
coat of a faded walnut tinge enveloped him; the overlapping
sleeves of which were rolled up on his wrists. A deep,
settled, fanatic delirium was in his eyes.

So soon as this figure had been first described, Stubb had exclaimed—“That's
he! that's he!—the long-togged scaramouch
the Town-Ho's company told us of!” Stubb here alluded to
a strange story told of the Jeroboam, and a certain man among
her crew, some time previous when the Pequod spoke the
Town-Ho. According to this account and what was subsequently
learned, it seemed that the scaramouch in question had
gained a wonderful ascendency over almost everybody in the
Jeroboam. His story was this:

He had been originally nurtured among the crazy society of


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Neskyeuna Shakers, where he had been a great prophet; in
their cracked, secret meetings having several times descended
from heaven by the way of a trap-door, announcing the speedy
opening of the seventh vial, which he carried in his vest-pocket;
but, which, instead of containing gunpowder, was supposed to
be charged with laudanum. A strange, apostolic whim having
seized him, he had left Neskyeuna for Nantucket, where, with
that cunning peculiar to craziness, he assumed a steady, common
sense exterior, and offered himself as a green-hand candidate
for the Jeroboam's whaling voyage. They engaged him;
but straightway upon the ship's getting out of sight of land, his
insanity broke out in a freshet. He announced himself as the
archangel Gabriel, and commanded the captain to jump overboard.
He published his manifesto, whereby he set himself
forth as the deliverer of the isles of the sea and vicar-general
of all Oceanica. The unflinching earnestness with which he
declared these things;—the dark, daring play of his sleepless,
excited imagination, and all the preternatural terrors of real
delirium, united to invest this Gabriel in the minds of the majority
of the ignorant crew, with an atmosphere of sacredness.
Moreover, they were afraid of him. As such a man, however,
was not of much practical use in the ship, especially as he
refused to work except when he pleased, the incredulous captain
would fain have been rid of him; but apprised that that
individual's intention was to land him in the first convenient
port, the archangel forthwith opened all his seals and vials—
devoting the ship and all hands to unconditional perdition, in
case this intention was carried out. So strongly did he work
upon his disciples among the crew, that at last in a body they
went to the captain and told him if Gabriel was sent from the
ship, not a man of them would remain. He was therefore
forced to relinquish his plan. Nor would they permit Gabriel
to be any way maltreated, say or do what he would; so that it
came to pass that Gabriel had the complete freedom of the


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ship. The consequence of all this was, that the archangel cared
little or nothing for the captain and mates; and since the epidemic
had broken out, he carried a higher hand than ever;
declaring that the plague, as he called it, was at his sole command;
nor should it be stayed but according to his good pleasure.
The sailors, mostly poor devils, cringed, and some of
them fawned before him; in obedience to his instructions, sometimes
rendering him personal homage, as to a god. Such
things may seem incredible; but, however wondrous, they are
true. Nor is the history of fanatics half so striking in respect
to the measureless self-deception of the fanatic himself, as his
measureless power of deceiving and bedevilling so many others.
But it is time to return to the Pequod.

“I fear not thy epidemic, man,” said Ahab from the bulwarks,
to Captain Mayhew, who stood in the boat's stern;
“come on board.”

But now Gabriel started to his feet.

“Think, think of the fevers, yellow and bilious! Beware
of the horrible plague!”

“Gabriel, Gabriel!” cried Captain Mayhew; “thou must
either—” But that instant a headlong wave shot the boat far
ahead, and its seethings drowned all speech.

“Hast thou seen the White Whale?” demanded Ahab, when
the boat drifted back.

“Think, think of thy whale-boat, stoven and sunk! Beware
of the horrible tail!”

“I tell thee again, Gabriel, that—” But again the boat
tore ahead as if dragged by fiends. Nothing was said for some
moments, while a succession of riotous waves rolled by, which
by one of those occasional caprices of the seas were tumbling,
not heaving it. Meantime, the hoisted sperm whale's head
jogged about very violently, and Gabriel was seen eyeing it
with rather more apprehensiveness than his archangel nature
seemed to warrant.


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When this interlude was over, Captain Mayhew began a dark
story concerning Moby Dick; not, however, without frequent
interruptions from Gabriel, whenever his name was mentioned,
and the crazy sea that seemed leagued with him.

It seemed that the Jeroboam had not long left home, when
upon speaking a whale-ship, her people were reliably apprised
of the existence of Moby Dick, and the havoc he had made.
Greedily sucking in this intelligence, Gabriel solemnly warned
the captain against attacking the White Whale, in case the
monster should be seen; in his gibbering insanity, pronouncing
the White Whale to be no less a being than the Shaker God
incarnated; the Shakers receiving the Bible. But when, some
year or two afterwards, Moby Dick was fairly sighted from the
mast-heads, Macey, the chief mate, burned with ardor to encounter
him; and the captain himself being not unwilling to
let him have the opportunity, despite all the archangel's denunciations
and forewarnings, Macey succeeded in persuading five
men to man his boat. With them he pushed off; and, after
much weary pulling, and many perilous, unsuccessful onsets, he
at last succeeded in getting one iron fast. Meantime, Gabriel,
ascending to the main-royal mast-head, was tossing one arm
in frantic gestures, and hurling forth prophecies of speedy doom
to the sacrilegious assailants of his divinity. Now, while Macey,
the mate, was standing up in his boat's bow, and with all the
reckless energy of his tribe was venting his wild exclamations
upon the whale, and essaying to get a fair chance for his poised
lance, lo! a broad white shadow rose from the sea; by its quick,
fanning motion, temporarily taking the breath out of the bodies
of the oarsmen. Next instant, the luckless mate, so full of
furious life, was smitten bodily into the air, and making a
long arc in his descent, fell into the sea at the distance of about
fifty yards. Not a chip of the boat was harmed, nor a hair of
any oarsman's head; but the mate for ever sank.

It is well to parenthesize here, that of the fatal accidents in


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the Sperm-Whale Fishery, this kind is perhaps almost as frequent
as any. Sometimes, nothing is injured but the man who
is thus annihilated; oftener the boat's bow is knocked off, or
the thigh-board, in which the headsman stands, is torn from its
place and accompanies the body. But strangest of all is the
circumstance, that in more instances than one, when the body
has been recovered, not a single mark of violence is discernible;
the man being stark dead.

The whole calamity, with the falling form of Macey, was
plainly descried from the ship. Raising a piercing shriek—
“The vial! the vial!” Gabriel called off the terror-stricken
crew from the further hunting of the whale. This terrible
event clothed the archangel with added influence; because his
credulous disciples believed that he had specifically fore-announced
it, instead of only making a general prophecy, which
any one might have done, and so have chanced to hit one of
many marks in the wide margin allowed. He became a nameless
terror to the ship.

Mayhew having concluded his narration, Ahab put such
questions to him, that the stranger captain could not forbear
inquiring whether he intended to hunt the White Whale, if opportunity
should offer. To which Ahab answered—“Aye.”
Straightway, then, Gabriel once more started to his feet, glaring
upon the old man, and vehemently exclaimed, with downward
pointed finger—“Think, think of the blasphemer—dead, and
down there!—beware of the blasphemer's end!”

Ahab stolidly turned aside; then said to Mayhew, “Captain, I
have just bethought me of my letter-bag; there is a letter for
one of thy officers, if I mistake not. Starbuck, look over the

Every whale-ship takes out a goodly number of letters for
various ships, whose delivery to the persons to whom they may
be addressed, depends upon the mere chance of encountering
them in the four oceans. Thus, most letters never reach their


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mark; and many are only received after attaining an age of
two or three years or more.

Soon Starbuck returned with a letter in his hand. It was
sorely tumbled, damp, and covered with a dull, spotted, green
mould, in consequence of being kept in a dark locker of the
cabin. Of such a letter, Death himself might well have been
the post-boy.

“Can'st not read it?” cried Ahab. “Give it me, man. Aye,
aye, it's but a dim scrawl;—what's this?” As he was studying
it out, Starbuck took a long cutting-spade pole, and with his
knife slightly split the end, to insert the letter there, and in
that way, hand it to the boat, without its coming any closer to
the ship.

Meantime, Ahab holding the letter, muttered, “Mr. Har—
yes, Mr. Harry—(a woman's pinny hand,—the man's wife, I'll
wager)—Aye—Mr. Harry Macey, Ship Jeroboam;—why it's
Macey, and he's dead!”

“Poor fellow! poor fellow! and from his wife,” sighed
Mayhew; “but let me have it.”

“Nay, keep it thyself,” cried Gabriel to Ahab; “thou art
soon going that way.”

“Curses throttle thee!” yelled Ahab. “Captain Mayhew,
stand by now to receive it;” and taking the fatal missive from
Starbuck's hands, he caught it in the slit of the pole, and
reached it over towards the boat. But as he did so, the oarsmen
expectantly desisted from rowing; the boat drifted a little
towards the ship's stern; so that, as if by magic, the letter suddenly
ranged along with Gabriel's eager hand. He clutched it
in an instant, seized the boat-knife, and impaling the letter on it,
sent it thus loaded back into the ship. It fell at Ahab's feet.
Then Gabriel shrieked out to his comrades to give way with
their oars, and in that manner the mutinous boat rapidly shot
away from the Pequod.

As, after this interlude, the seamen resumed their work upon


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the jacket of the whale, many strange things were hinted in
reference to this wild affair.