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Chapter 102 A Bower in the Arsacides

  • Hitherto, in descriptively treating of the Sperm Whale, I have chiefly dwel_pon the marvels of his outer aspect; or separately and in detail upon som_ew interior structural features. But to a large and thorough sweepin_omprehension of him, it behoves me now to unbutton him still further, an_ntagging the points of his hose, unbuckling his garters, and casting loos_he hooks and the eyes of the joints of his innermost bones, set him befor_ou in his ultimatum; that is to say, in his unconditional skeleton.
  • But how now, Ishmael? How is it, that you, a mere oarsman in the fishery,
  • pretend to know aught about the subterranean parts of the whale? Did erudit_tubb, mounted upon your capstan, deliver lectures on the anatomy of th_etacea; and by help of the windlass, hold up a specimen rib for exhibition?
  • Explain thyself, Ishmael. Can you land a full-grown whale on your deck fo_xamination, as a cook dishes a roast-pig? Surely not. A veritable witnes_ave you hitherto been, Ishmael; but have a care how you seize the privileg_f Jonah alone; the privilege of discoursing upon the joists and beams; th_afters, ridge-pole, sleepers, and under-pinnings, making up the frame-work o_eviathan; and belike of the tallow-vats, dairy-rooms, butteries, an_heeseries in his bowels.
  • I confess, that since Jonah, few whalemen have penetrated very far beneath th_kin of the adult whale; nevertheless, I have been blessed with an opportunit_o dissect him in miniature. In a ship I belonged to, a small cub Sperm Whal_as once bodily hoisted to the deck for his poke or bag, to make sheaths fo_he barbs of the harpoons, and for the heads of the lances. Think you I le_hat chance go, without using my boat-hatchet and jack-knife, and breaking th_eal and reading all the contents of that young cub?
  • And as for my exact knowledge of the bones of the leviathan in their gigantic,
  • full grown development, for that rare knowledge I am indebted to my late roya_riend Tranquo, king of Tranque, one of the Arsacides. For being at Tranque,
  • years ago, when attached to the trading-ship Dey of Algiers, I was invited t_pend part of the Arsacidean holidays with the lord of Tranque, at his retire_alm villa at Pupella; a sea-side glen not very far distant from what ou_ailors called Bamboo-Town, his capital.
  • Among many other fine qualities, my royal friend Tranquo, being gifted with _evout love for all matters of barbaric vertu, had brought together in Pupell_hatever rare things the more ingenious of his people could invent; chiefl_arved woods of wonderful devices, chiselled shells, inlaid spears, costl_addles, aromatic canoes; and all these distributed among whatever natura_onders, the wonder-freighted, tribute-rendering waves had cast upon hi_hores.
  • Chief among these latter was a great Sperm Whale, which, after an unusuall_ong raging gale, had been found dead and stranded, with his head against _ocoa-nut tree, whose plumage-like, tufted droopings seemed his verdant jet.
  • When the vast body had at last been stripped of its fathomdeep enfoldings, an_he bones become dust dry in the sun, then the skeleton was carefull_ransported up the Pupella glen, where a grand temple of lordly palms no_heltered it.
  • The ribs were hung with trophies; the vertebrae were carved with Arsacidea_nnals, in strange hieroglyphics; in the skull, the priests kept up a_nextinguished aromatic flame, so that the mystic head again sent forth it_apory spout; while, suspended from a bough, the terrific lower jaw vibrate_ver all the devotees, like the hair-hung sword that so affrighted Damocles.
  • It was a wondrous sight. The wood was green as mosses of the Icy Glen; th_rees stood high and haughty, feeling their living sap; the industrious eart_eneath was as a weaver’s loom, with a gorgeous carpet on it, whereof th_round-vine tendrils formed the warp and woof, and the living flowers th_igures. All the trees, with all their laden branches; all the shrubs, an_erns, and grasses; the message-carrying air; all these unceasingly wer_ctive. Through the lacings of the leaves, the great sun seemed a flyin_huttle weaving the unwearied verdure. Oh, busy weaver! unsee_eaver!—pause!—one word!— whither flows the fabric? what palace may it deck?
  • wherefore all these ceaseless toilings? Speak, weaver!—stay thy hand!— but on_ingle word with thee! Nay—the shuttle flies— the figures float from forth th_oom; the fresher-rushing carpet for ever slides away. The weaver-god, h_eaves; and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice; an_y that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened; and only when w_scape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through it. For even s_t is in all material factories. The spoken words that are inaudible among th_lying spindles; those same words are plainly heard without the walls,
  • bursting from the opened casements. Thereby have villainies been detected. Ah,
  • mortal! then, be heedful; for so, in all this din of the great world’s loom,
  • thy subtlest thinkings may be overheard afar.
  • Now, amid the green, life-restless loom of that Arsacidean wood, the great,
  • white, worshipped skeleton lay lounging—a gigantic idler! Yet, as the ever-
  • woven verdant warp and woof intermixed and hummed around him, the mighty idle_eemed the cunning weaver; himself all woven over with the vines; every mont_ssuming greener, fresher verdure; but himself a skeleton. Life folded Death;
  • Death trellised Life; the grim god wived with youthful Life, and begat hi_urly-headed glories.
  • Now, when with royal Tranquo I visited this wondrous whale, and saw the skul_n altar, and the artificial smoke ascending from where the real jet ha_ssued, I marvelled that the king should regard a chapel as an object o_ertu. He laughed. But more I marvelled that the priests should swear tha_moky jet of his was genuine. To and fro I paced before this skeleton— brushe_he vines aside—broke through the ribs—and with a ball of Arsacidean twine,
  • wandered, eddied long amid its many winding, shaded colonnades and arbors. Bu_oon my line was out; and following it back, I emerged from the opening wher_ entered. I saw no living thing within; naught was there but bones.
  • Cutting me a green measuring-rod, I once more dived within the skeleton. Fro_heir arrow-slit in the skull, the priests perceived me taking the altitude o_he final rib, “How now!” they shouted; “Dar’st thou measure this our god!
  • That’s for us.” “Aye, priests—well, how long do ye make him, then?” Bu_ereupon a fierce contest rose among them, concerning feet and inches; the_racked each other’s sconces with their yard-sticks— the great skul_choed—and seizing that lucky chance, I quickly concluded my ow_dmeasurements.
  • These admeasurements I now propose to set before you. But first, be i_ecorded, that, in this matter, I am not free to utter any fancie_easurements I please. Because there are skeleton authorities you can refe_o, to test my accuracy. There is a Leviathanic Museum, they tell me, in Hull,
  • England, one of the whaling ports of that country, where they have some fin_pecimens of fin-backs and other whales. Likewise, I have heard that in th_useum of Manchester, in New Hampshire, they have what the proprietors call
  • “the only perfect specimen of a Greenland or River Whale in the Unite_tates.” Moreover, at a place in Yorkshire, England, Burton Constable by name,
  • a certain Sir Clifford Constable has in his possession the skeleton of a Sper_hale, but of moderate size, by no means of the full-grown magnitude of m_riend King Tranquo’s.
  • In both cases, the stranded whales to which these two skeletons belonged, wer_riginally claimed by their proprietors upon similar grounds. King Tranqu_eizing his because he wanted it; and Sir Clifford, because he was lord of th_eignories of those parts. Sir Clifford’s whale has been articulate_hroughout; so that, like a great chest of drawers, you can open and shut him,
  • in all his bony cavities—spread out his ribs like a gigantic fan— and swin_ll day upon his lower jaw. Locks are to be put upon some of his trap-door_nd shutters; and a footman will show round future visitors with a bunch o_eys at his side. Sir Clifford thinks of charging twopence for a peep at th_hispering gallery in the spinal column; threepence to hear the echo in th_ollow of his cerebellum; and sixpence for the unrivalled view from hi_orehead.
  • The skeleton dimensions I shall now proceed to set down are copied verbati_rom my right arm, where I had them tattooed; as in my wild wanderings at tha_eriod, there was no other secure way of preserving such valuable statistics.
  • But as I was crowded for space, and wished the other parts of my body t_emain a blank page for a poem I was then composing— at least, what untattooe_arts might remain—I did not trouble myself with the odd inches; nor, indeed,
  • should inches at all enter into a congenial admeasurement of the whale.