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Chapter 126 The Life-Buoy

  • Steering now south-eastward by Ahab’s levelled steel, and her progress solel_etermined by Ahab’s level log and line; the Pequod held on her path toward_he Equator. Making so long a passage through such unfrequented waters,
  • descrying no ships, and ere long, sideways impelled by unvarying trade winds,
  • over waves monotonously mild; all these seemed the strange calm thing_reluding some riotous and desperate scene.
  • At last, when the ship drew near to the outskirts, as it were, of th_quatorial fishing-ground, and in the deep darkness that goes before the dawn,
  • was sailing by a cluster of rocky islets; the watch—then headed by Flask—wa_tartled by a cry so plaintively wild and unearthly—like half-articulate_ailings of the ghosts of all Herod’s murdered Innocents—that one and all,
  • they started from their reveries, and for the space of some moments stood, o_at, or leaned all transfixed by listening, like the carved Roman slave, whil_hat wild cry remained within hearing. The Christian or civilized part of th_rew said it was mermaids, and shuddered; but the pagan harpooneers remaine_nappalled. Yet the grey Manxman—the oldest mariner of all—declared that th_ild thrilling sounds that were heard, were the voices of newly drowned men i_he sea.
  • Below in his hammock, Ahab did not hear of this till grey dawn, when he cam_o the deck; it was then recounted to him by Flask, not unaccompanied wit_inted dark meanings. He hollowly laughed, and thus explained the wonder.
  • Those rocky islands the ship had passed were the resort of great numbers o_eals, and some young seals that had lost their dams, or some dams that ha_ost their cubs, must have risen nigh the ship and kept company with her,
  • crying and sobbing with their human sort of wail. But this only the mor_ffected some of them, because most mariners cherish a very superstitiou_eeling about seals, arising not only from their peculiar tones when i_istress, but also from the human look of their round heads and semi-
  • intelligent faces, seen peeringly uprising from the water alongside. In th_ea, under certain circumstances, seals have more than once been mistaken fo_en.
  • But the bodings of the crew were destined to receive a most plausibl_onfirmation in the fate of one of their number that morning. At sun-rise thi_an went from his hammock to his mast-head at the fore; and whether it wa_hat he was not yet half waked from his sleep (for sailors sometimes go alof_n a transition state), whether it was thus with the man, there is now n_elling; but, be that as it may, he had not been long at his perch, when a cr_as heard—a cry and a rushing—and looking up, they saw a falling phantom i_he air; and looking down, a little tossed heap of white bubbles in the blu_f the sea.
  • The life-buoy—a long slender cask—was dropped from the stern, where it alway_ung obedient to a cunning spring; but no hand rose to seize it, and the su_aving long beat upon this cask it had shrunken, so that it slowly filled, an_he parched wood also filled at its every pore; and the studded iron-boun_ask followed the sailor to the bottom, as if to yield him his pillow, thoug_n sooth but a hard one.
  • And thus the first man of the Pequod that mounted the mast to look out for th_hite Whale, on the White Whale’s own peculiar ground; that man was swallowe_p in the deep. But few, perhaps, thought of that at the time. Indeed, in som_ort, they were not grieved at this event, at least as a portent; for the_egarded it, not as a fore-shadowing of evil in the future, but as th_ulfilment of an evil already presaged. They declared that now they knew th_eason of those wild shrieks they had heard the night before. But again th_ld Manxman said nay.
  • The lost life-buoy was now to be replaced; Starbuck was directed to see to it;
  • but as no cask of sufficient lightness could be found, and as in the feveris_agerness of what seemed the approaching crisis of the voyage, all hands wer_mpatient of any toil but what was directly connected with its final end,
  • whatever that might prove to be; therefore, they were going to leave th_hip’s stern unprovided with a buoy, when by certain strange signs an_nuendoes Queequeg hinted a hint concerning his coffin.
  • “A life-buoy of a coffin!” cried Starbuck, starting.
  • “Rather queer, that, I should say,” said Stubb.
  • “It will make a good enough one,” said Flask, “the carpenter here can arrang_t easily.”
  • “Bring it up; there’s nothing else for it,” said Starbuck, after a melanchol_ause. “Rig it, carpenter; do not look at me so— the coffin, I mean. Dost tho_ear me? Rig it.”
  • “And shall I nail down the lid, sir?” moving his hand as with a hammer.
  • “Aye.”
  • “And shall I caulk the seams, sir?” moving his hand as with a caulking-iron.
  • “Aye.”
  • “And shall I then pay over the same with pitch, sir?” moving his hand as wit_ pitch-pot.
  • Away! What possesses thee to this? Make a life-buoy of the coffin, and n_ore.—Mr. Stubb, Mr. Flask, come forward with me.”
  • “He goes off in a huff. The whole he can endure; at the parts he baulks. Now _on’t like this. I make a leg for Captain Ahab, and he wears it like _entleman; but I make a bandbox for Queequeg, and he won’t put his head int_t. Are all my pains to go for nothing with that coffin? And now I’m ordere_o make a life-buoy of it. It’s like turning an old coat; going to bring th_lesh on the other side now. I don’t like this cobbling sort of business— _on’t like it at all; it’s undignified; it’s not my place. Let tinkers’ brat_o tinkerings; we are their betters. I like to take in hand none but clean,
  • virgin, fair-and-square mathematical jobs, something that regularly begins a_he beginning, and is at the middle when midway, and comes to an end at th_onclusion; not a cobbler’s job, that’s at an end in the middle, and at th_eginning at the end. It’s the old woman’s tricks to be giving cobbling jobs.
  • Lord! what an affection all old women have for tinkers. I know an old woman o_ixty-five who ran away with a bald-headed young tinker once. And that’s th_eason I never would work for lonely widow old women ashore when I kept m_ob-shop in the Vineyard; they might have taken it into their lonely old head_o run off with me. But heigh-ho! there are no caps at sea but snow-caps. Le_e see. Nail down the lid; caulk the seams; pay over the same with pitch;
  • batten them down tight, and hang it with the snap-spring over the ship’_tern. Were ever such things done before with a coffin? Some superstitious ol_arpenters, now, would be tied up in the rigging, ere they would do the job.
  • But I’m made of knotty Aroostook hemlock; I don’t budge. Cruppered with _offin! Sailing about with a grave-yard tray! But never mind. We workers i_oods make bridal bedsteads and card-tables, as well as coffins and hearses.
  • We work by the month, or by the job, or by the profit; not for us to ask th_hy and wherefore of our work, unless it be too confounded cobbling, and the_e stash it if we can. Hem! I’ll do the job, now, tenderly. I’ll have me—let’_ee—how many in the ship’s company, all told? But I’ve forgotten. Any way,
  • I’ll have me thirty separate, Turk’s-headed life-lines, each three feet lon_anging all round to the coffin. Then, if the hull go down, there’ll be thirt_ively fellows all fighting for one coffin, a sight not seen very ofte_eneath the sun! Come hammer, caulking-iron, pitch-pot, and marling-spike!
  • Let’s to it.”