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Nimble as a cat, Tashtego mounts aloft; and without altering
his erect posture, runs straight out upon the overhanging main-yard-arm,
to the part where it exactly projects over the hoisted
Tun. He has carried with him a light tackle called a whip,
consisting of only two parts, travelling through a single-sheaved
block. Securing this block, so that it hangs down from the
yard-arm, he swings one end of the rope, till it is caught and
firmly held by a hand on deck. Then, hand-over-hand, down
the other part, the Indian drops through the air, till dexterously
he lands on the summit of the head. There—still high elevated
above the rest of the company, to whom he vivaciously cries—
he seems some Turkish Muezzin calling the good people to
prayers from the top of a tower. A short-handled sharp spade


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being sent up to him, he diligently searches for the proper place
to begin breaking into the Tun. In this business he proceeds
very heedfully, like a treasure-hunter in some old house, sounding
the walls to find where the gold is masoned in. By the time
this cautious search is over, a stout iron-bound bucket, precisely
like a well-bucket, has been attached to one end of the whip;
while the other end, being stretched across the deck, is there
held by two or three alert hands. These last now hoist the
bucket within grasp of the Indian, to whom another person has
reached up a very long pole. Inserting this pole into the
bucket, Tashtego downward guides the bucket into the Tun,
till it entirely disappears; then giving the word to the seamen
at the whip, up comes the bucket again, all bubbling like a
dairy-maid's pail of new milk. Carefully lowered from its
height, the full-freighted vessel is caught by an appointed hand,
and quickly emptied into a large tub. Then re-mounting aloft,
it again goes through the same round until the deep cistern
will yield no more. Towards the end, Tashtego has to ram his
long pole harder and harder, and deeper and deeper into the
Tun, until some twenty feet of the pole have gone down.

Now, the people of the Pequod had been baling some time
in this way; several tubs had been filled with the fragrant sperm;
when all at once a queer accident happened. Whether it was
that Tashtego, that wild Indian, was so heedless and reckless
as to let go for a moment his one-handed hold on the great
cabled tackles suspending the head; or whether the place where
he stood was so treacherous and oozy; or whether the Evil One
himself would have it to fall out so, without stating his particular
reasons; how it was exactly, there is no telling now; but,
on a sudden, as the eightieth or ninetieth bucket came suckingly
up—my God! poor Tashtego—like the twin reciprocating
bucket in a veritable well, dropped head-foremost down into this
great Tun of Heidelburgh, and with a horrible oily gurgling,
went clean out of sight!


Page 381

“Man overboard!” cried Daggoo, who amid the general consternation
first came to his senses. “Swing the bucket this
way!” and putting one foot into it, so as the better to secure
his slippery hand-hold on the whip itself, the hoisters ran him
high up to the top of the head, almost before Tashtego could
have reached its interior bottom. Meantime, there was a
terrible tumult. Looking over the side, they saw the before lifeless
head throbbing and heaving just below the surface of the
sea, as if that moment seized with some momentous idea;
whereas it was only the poor Indian unconsciously revealing by
those struggles the perilous depth to which he had sunk.

At this instant, while Daggoo, on the summit of the head,
was clearing the whip—which had somehow got foul of the
great cutting tackles—a sharp cracking noise was heard; and to
the unspeakable horror of all, one of the two enormous hooks suspending
the head tore out, and with a vast vibration the enormous
mass sideways swung, till the drunk ship reeled and shook
as if smitten by an iceberg. The one remaining hook, upon
which the entire strain now depended, seemed every instant to
be on the point of giving way; an event still more likely from
the violent motions of the head.

“Come down, come down!” yelled the seamen to Daggoo,
but with one hand holding on to the heavy tackles, so that if
the head should drop, he would still remain suspended; the
negro having cleared the foul line, rammed down the bucket
into the now collapsed well, meaning that the buried harpooneer
should grasp it, and so be hoisted out.

“In heaven's name, man,” cried Stubb, “are you ramming
home a cartridge there?—Avast! How will that help him;
jamming that iron-bound bucket on top of his head? Avast,
will ye!”

“Stand clear of the tackle!” cried a voice like the bursting
of a rocket.

Almost in the same instant, with a thunder-boom, the enormous


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mass dropped into the sea, like Niagara's Table-Rock into
the whirlpool; the suddenly relieved hull rolled away from it,
to far down her glittering copper; and all caught their breath,
as half swinging—now over the sailors' heads, and now over the
water—Daggoo, through a thick mist of spray, was dimly
beheld clinging to the pendulous tackles, while poor, buried-alive
Tashtego was sinking utterly down to the bottom of the
sea! But hardly had the blinding vapor cleared away, when a
naked figure with a boarding-sword in its hand, was for one
swift moment seen hovering over the bulwarks. The next, a
loud splash announced that my brave Queequeg had dived to
the rescue. One packed rush was made to the side, and every
eye counted every ripple, as moment followed moment, and no
sign of either the sinker or the diver could be seen. Some
hands now jumped into a boat alongside, and pushed a little off
from the ship.

“Ha! ha!” cried Daggoo, all at once, from his now quiet,
swinging perch overhead; and looking further off from the
side, we saw an arm thrust upright from the blue waves; a
sight strange to see, as an arm thrust forth from the grass over
a grave.

“Both! both!—it is both!”—cried Daggoo again with a
joyful shout; and soon after, Queequeg was seen boldly striking
out with one hand, and with the other clutching the long
hair of the Indian. Drawn into the waiting boat, they were
quickly brought to the deck; but Tashtego was long in coming
to, and Queequeg did not look very brisk.

Now, how had this noble rescue been accomplished? Why,
diving after the slowly descending head, Queequeg with his
keen sword had made side lunges near its bottom, so as to
scuttle a large hole there; then dropping his sword, had thrust
his long arm far inwards and upwards, and so hauled out our
poor Tash by the head. He averred, that upon first thrusting
in for him, a leg was presented; but well knowing that that


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was not as it ought to be, and might occasion great trouble;—
he had thrust back the leg, and by a dexterous heave and toss,
had wrought a somerset upon the Indian; so that with the
next trial, he came forth in the good old way—head foremost.
As for the great head itself, that was doing as well as could be

And thus, through the courage and great skill in obstetrics
of Queequeg, the deliverance, or rather, delivery of Tashtego,
was successfully accomplished, in the teeth, too, of the most
untoward and apparently hopeless impediments; which is a
lesson by no means to be forgotten. Midwifery should be
taught in the same course with fencing and boxing, riding and

I know that this queer adventure of the Gay-Header's will
be sure to seem incredible to some landsmen, though they
themselves may have either seen or heard of some one's falling
into a cistern ashore; an accident which not seldom happens,
and with much less reason too than the Indian's, considering
the exceeding slipperiness of the curb of the Sperm Whale's

But, peradventure, it may be sagaciously urged, how is
this? We thought the tissued, infiltrated head of the Sperm
Whale, was the lightest and most corky part about him; and
yet thou makest it sink in an element of a far greater specific
gravity than itself. We have thee there. Not at all, but I
have ye; for at the time poor Tash fell in, the case had been
nearly emptied of its lighter contents, leaving little but the
dense tendinous wall of the well—a double welded, hammered
substance, as I have before said, much heavier than the sea
water, and a lump of which sinks in it like lead almost. But
the tendency to rapid sinking in this substance was in the present
instance materially counteracted by the other parts of the
head remaining undetached from it, so that it sank very slowly
and deliberately indeed, affording Queequeg a fair chance for


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performing his agile obstetrics on the run, as you may say.
Yes, it was a running delivery, so it was.

Now, had Tashtego perished in that head, it had been a very
precious perishing; smothered in the very whitest and daintiest
of fragrant spermaceti; coffined, hearsed, and tombed in the
secret inner chamber and sanctum sanctorum of the whale.
Only one sweeter end can readily be recalled—the delicious
death of an Ohio honey-hunter, who seeking honey in the
crotch of a hollow tree, found such exceeding store of it, that
leaning too far over, it sucked him in, so that he died embalmed.
How many, think ye, have likewise fallen into Plato's
honey head, and sweetly perished there?