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.. < chapter xlviii 2 THE FIRST LOWERING >

The phantoms, for so they then
seemed, were flitting on the other side of the deck, and, with a noiseless
celerity, were casting loose the tackles and bands of the boat which swung
there. This boat had always been deemed one of the spare boats, though
technically called the captain's, on account of its hanging from the
starboard quarter. The figure that now stood by its bows was tall and swart,
with one white tooth evilly protruding from its steel-like lips. A rumpled
Chinese jacket of black cotton funereally invested him, with wide black
trowsers of the same dark stuff. But strangely crowning his ebonness was a
glistening white plaited turban, the living hair braided and coiled round
and round upon his head. Less swart in aspect, the companions of this figure
were of that vivid, tiger-yellow complexion peculiar to some of the aboriginal
natives of the Manillas; --a race notorious for a certain diabolism of
subtilty, and by some honest white mariners supposed to be the paid spies and
secret confidential agents on the water of the devil, their lord, whose
counting-room they suppose to be elsewhere. While yet the wondering ship's
company were gazing upon these strangers, Ahab cried out to the
white-turbaned old man at their head, All ready there, Fedallah? Ready,
was the half-hissed reply. Lower away then; d'ye hear? shouting across the
deck. Lower away there, I say. Such was the thunder of his voice, that
spite of their amazement the men sprang over the rail; the sheaves whirled
round in the blocks; with a wallow, the three boats dropped into the sea;
while, with a dexterous, off-handed daring, unknown in any other vocation,
the sailors, goat-like, leaped down the rolling ship's side into the tossed
boats below. Hardly had they pulled out from under the ship's lee, when

a fourth keel, coming from the windward side, pulled round under the stern,
and showed the five strangers rowing Ahab, who, standing erect in the stern,
loudly hailed Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, to spread themselves widely, so as
to cover a large expanse of water. but with all their eyes again riveted upon
the swart Fedallah and his crew, the inmates of the other boats obeyed not
the command. Captain Ahab?-- said Starbuck. Spread yourselves, cried Ahab;

give way, all four boats. Thou, Flask, pull out more to leeward! Aye,
aye, sir, cheerily cried little King-Post, sweeping round his great steering
oar. Lay back! addressing his crew. There! --there! --there again! There
she blows right ahead, boys! -- lay back! Never heed yonder yellow boys,
Archy. Oh, I don't mind 'em, sir, said Archy; I knew it all before now.
Didn't I hear 'em in the hold? And didn't I tell Cabaco here of it? What say
ye, Cabaco? They are stowaways, Mr. Flask. Pull, pull, my fine
hearts-alive; pull, my children; pull, my little ones, drawingly and
soothingly sighed Stubb to his crew, some of whom still showed signs of
uneasiness. Why don't you break your backbones, my boys? What is it you
stare at? Those chaps in yonder boat? Tut! They are only five more hands
come to help us --never mind from where --the more the merrier. Pull, then, do
pull; never mind the brimstone --devils are good fellows enough. So, so;
there you are now; that's the stroke for a thousand pounds; that's the
stroke to sweep the stakes! Hurrah for the gold cup of sperm oil, my heroes!
Three cheers, men --all hearts alive! Easy, easy; don't be in a hurry --don't

be in a hurry. Why don't you snap your oars, you rascals? Bite something,
you dogs! So, so, so, then; --softly, softly! That's it -- that's it! long
and strong. Give way there, give way! The devil fetch ye, ye ragamuffin
rapscallions; ye are all asleep. Stop snoring, ye sleepers, and pull. Pull,
will ye? pull, can't ye? pull, won't ye? Why in the name of gudgeons and
ginger-cakes don't ye pull? --pull and break something! pull, and start your

eyes out! Here! whipping out the sharp knife from his girdle; every
mother's son of ye draw his knife, and pull with the blade between his teeth.

That's it --that's it. Now ye do something; that looks like it, my
steel-bits. Start her --start her, my silver-spoons! Start her,
marling-spikes! Stubb's exordium to his crew is given here at large, because

he had rather a peculiar way of talking to them in general, and especially
in inculcating the religion of rowing. But you must not suppose from this
specimen of his sermonizings that he ever flew into downright passions with
his congregation. Not at all; and therein consisted his chief peculiarity.
He would say the most terrific things to his crew, in a tone so strangely
compounded of fun and fury, and the fury seemed so calculated merely as a
spice to the fun, that no oarsman could hear such queer invocations without
pulling for dear life, and yet pulling for the mere joke of the thing.
Besides he all the time looked so easy and indolent himself, so loungingly
managed his steering-oar, and so broadly gaped --open-mouthed at times --that
the mere sight of such a yawning commander, by sheer force of contrast,
acted like a charm upon the crew. Then again, Stubb was one of those odd sort
of humorists, whose jollity is sometimes so curiously ambiguous, as to put
all inferiors on their guard in the matter of obeying them. In obedience to a
sign from Ahab, Starbuck was now pulling obliquely across Stubb's bow; and
when for a minute or so the two boats were pretty near to each other, Stubb
hailed the mate. Mr. Starbuck! larboard boat there, ahoy! a word with ye,
sir, if ye please! Halloa! returned Starbuck, turning round not a single
inch as he spoke; still earnestly but whisperingly urging his crew; his face
set like a flint from Stubb's. What think ye of those yellow boys, sir!

Smuggled on board, somehow, before the ship sailed. (Strong, strong, boys! )

in a whisper to his crew, then speaking out loud again: A sad business,
Mr. Stubb! (seethe her, seethe her, my lads!) but never mind, Mr. Stubb,
all for the best. Let all your crew pull strong, come what will. (Spring, my
men, spring!)

There's hogsheads of sperm ahead, Mr. Stubb, and that's what ye came for.
(Pull, my boys!) Sperm, sperm's the play! This at least is duty; duty and
profit hand in hand! Aye, aye, I thought as much, soliloquized Stubb,
when the boats diverged, as soon as I clapt eye on 'em, I thought so. Aye,
and that's what he went into the after hold for, so often, as Dough-Boy long
suspected. They were hidden down there. The White Whale's at the bottom of
it. Well, well, so be it! Can't be helped! All right! Give way, men! It
ain't the White Whale to-day! Give way! Now the advent of these outlandish
strangers at such a critical instant as the lowering of the boats from the
deck, this had not unreasonably awakened a sort of superstitious amazement in

some of the ship's company; but Archy's fancied discovery having some time
previous got abroad among them, though indeed not credited then, this had in
some small measure prepared them for the event. It took off the extreme edge
of their wonder; and so what with all this and Stubb's confident way of
accounting for their appearance, they were for the time freed from
superstitious surmisings; though the affair still left abundant room for all
manner of wild conjectures as to dark Ahab's precise agency in the matter from
the beginning. For me, I silently recalled the mysterious shadows I had seen
creeping on board the Pequod during the dim Nantucket dawn, as well as the
enigmatical hintings of the unaccountable Elijah. Meantime, Ahab, out of
hearing of his officers, having sided the furthest to windward, was still
ranging ahead of the other boats; a circumstance bespeaking how potent a crew
was pulling him. those tiger yellow creatures of his seemed all steel and
whale-bone; like five trip-hammers they rose and fell with regular strokes of
strength, which periodically started the boat along the water like a
horizontal burst boiler out of a Mississippi steamer. As for Fedallah, who was
seen pulling the harpooneer oar, he had thrown aside his black jacket, and
displayed his naked chest with the whole part of his body above the gunwale,
clearly cut against the alternating depressions of the watery horizon; while
at the other end of the boat Ahab, with one

arm, like a fencer's, thrown half backward into the air, as if to
counterbalance any tendency to trip: Ahab was seen steadily managing his
steering oar as in a thousand boat lowerings ere the White Whale had torn him.

All at once the out-stretched arm gave a peculiar motion and then remained
fixed, while the boat's five oars were seen simultaneously peaked. Boat and
crew sat motionless on the sea. Instantly the three spread boats in the rear
paused on their way. The whales had irregularly settled bodily down into the
blue, thus giving no distantly discernible token of the movement, though
from his closer vicinity Ahab had observed it. Every man look out along his
oars! cried Starbuck. Thou, Queequeg, stand up! Nimbly springing up on
the triangular raised box in the bow, the savage stood erect there, and with
intensely eager eyes gazed off towards the spot where the chase had last been
descried. Likewise upon the extreme stern of the boat where it was also
triangularly platformed level with the gunwale, Starbuck himself was seen
coolly and adroitly balancing himself to the jerking tossings of his chip of a
craft, and silently eyeing the vast blue eye of the sea. Not very far
distant Flask's boat was also lying breathlessly still; its commander
recklessly standing upon the top of the loggerhead, a stout sort of post
rooted in the keel, and rising some two feet above the level of the stern
platform. it is used for catching turns with the whale line. Its top is not
more spacious than the palm of a man's hand, and standing upon such a base
as that, Flask seemed perched at the mast-head of some ship which had sunk to
all but her trucks. But little King-Post was small and short, and at the
same time little King-Post was full of a large and tall ambition, so that
this loggerhead stand-point of his did by no means satisfy King-Post. I
can't see three seas off; tip us up an oar there, and let me on to that.
Upon this, Daggoo, with either hand upon the gunwale to steady his way,
swiftly slid aft, and then erecting himself volunteered his lofty shoulders
for a pedestal.

Good a mast-head as any, sir. Will you mount? That I will, and thank ye
very much, my fine fellow; only I wish you fifty feet taller. Whereupon
planting his feet firmly against two opposite planks of the boat, the gigantic
negro, stooping a little, presented his flat palm to Flask's foot, and then
putting Flask's hand on his hearse-plumed head and bidding him spring as he
himself should toss, with one dexterous fling landed the little man high and
dry on his shoulders. And here was Flask now standing, Daggoo with one
lifted arm furnishing him with a breast-band to lean against and steady
himself by. At any time it is a strange sight to the tyro to see with what
wondrous habitude of unconscious skill the whaleman will maintain an erect
posture in his boat, even when pitched about by the most riotously perverse
and cross-running seas. Still more strange to see him giddily perched upon
the loggerhead itself, under such circumstances. But the sight of little
Flask mounted upon gigantic Daggoo was yet more curious; for sustaining
himself with a cool, indifferent, easy, unthought of, barbaric majesty, the
noble negro to every roll of the sea harmoniously rolled his fine form. On
his broad back, flaxen-haired flask seemed a snow-flake. The bearer looked
nobler than the rider. Though truly vivacious, tumultuous, ostentatious
little Flask would now and then stamp with impatience; but not one added
heave did he thereby give to the negro's lordly chest. So have I seen
Passion and Vanity stamping the living magnanimous earth, but the earth did
not alter her tides and her seasons for that. Meanwhile Stubb, the third mate,
betrayed no such far-gazing solicitudes. The whales might have made one of
their regular soundings, not a temporary dive from mere fright; and if that
were the case, Stubb, as his wont in such cases, it seems, was resolved to
solace the languishing interval with his pipe. He withdrew it from his
hatband, where he always wore it aslant like a feather. He loaded it, and
rammed home the loading with his thumb-end; but hardly had he ignited his
match across the rough sand-paper of his hand, when Tashtego, his harpooneer,

whose eyes had been setting to windward like two fixed stars, suddenly
dropped like light from his erect attitude to his seat,

crying out in a quick phrensy of hurry, Down, down all, and give way! --there
they are! To a landsman, no whale, nor any sign of a herring, would have
been visible at that moment; nothing but a troubled bit of greenish white
water, and thin scattered puffs of vapor hovering over it, and suffusingly
blowing off to leeward, like the confused scud from white rolling billows.
The air around suddenly vibrated and tingled, as it were, like the air over
intensely heated plates of iron. Beneath this atmospheric waving and curling,

and partially beneath a thin layer of water, also, the whales were swimming.
Seen in advance of all the other indications, the puffs of vapor they spouted,
seemed their forerunning couriers and detached flying outriders. All four
boats were now in keen pursuit of that one spot of troubled water and air.
But it bade far to outstrip them; it flew on and on, as a mass of
interblending bubbles borne down a rapid stream from the hills. Pull, pull,
my good boys, said Starbuck, in the lowest possible but intensest
concentrated whisper to his men; while the sharp fixed glance from his eyes
darted straight ahead of the bow, almost seemed as two visible needles in two
unerring binnacle compasses. He did not say much to his crew, though, nor
did his crew say anything to him. Only the silence of the boat was at
intervals startlingly pierced by one of his peculiar whispers, now harsh with
command, now soft with entreaty. How different the loud little King-Post.

Sing out and say something, my hearties. Roar and pull, my thunderbolts!
Beach me, beach me on their black backs, boys; only do that for me, and I'll
sign over to you my Martha's Vineyard plantation, boys; including wife and
children, boys. Lay me on --lay me on! O Lord, Lord! but I shall go stark,
staring mad: See! see that white water! And so shouting, he pulled his hat
from his head, and stamped up and down on it; then picking it up, flirted it

far off upon the sea; and finally fell to rearing and plunging in the boat's
stern like a crazed colt from the prairie. Look at that chap now,
philosophically drawled Stubb, who, with his unlighted short pipe,
mechanically retained between his teeth, at a short distance, followed after
-- He's got fits, that

Flask has. Fits? yes, give him fits --that's the very word -- pitch fits
into 'em. Merrily, merrily, hearts-alive. Pudding for supper, you know;
--merry's the word. Pull, babes --pull, sucklings -- pull, all. But what the
devil are you hurrying about? Softly, softly, and steadily, my men. Only
pull, and keep pulling; nothing more. Crack all your backbones, and bite
your knives in two -- that's all. Take it easy --why don't ye take it easy, I
say, and burst all your livers and lungs! But what it was that inscrutable
Ahab said to that tiger-yellow crew of his --these were words best omitted
here; for you live under the blessed light of the evangelical land. Only the
infidel sharks in the audacious seas may give ear to such words, when, with
tornado brow, and eyes of red murder, and foam-glued lips, Ahab leaped after
his prey. Meanwhile, all the boats tore on. The repeated specific allusions
of Flask to that whale, as he called the fictitious monster which he
declared to be incessantly tantalizing his boat's bow with its tail --these
allusions of his were at times so vivid and life-like, that they would cause
some one or two of his men to snatch a fearful look over the shoulder. But
this was against all rule; for the oarsmen must put out their eyes, and ram
a skewer through their necks; usage pronouncing that they must have no organs
but ears, and no limbs but arms, in these critical moments. It was a sight
full of quick wonder and awe! The vast swells of the omnipotent sea; the
surging, hollow roar they made, as they rolled along the eight gunwales, like
gigantic bowls in a boundless bowling-green; the brief suspended agony of the
boat, as it would tip for an instant on the knife-like edge of the sharper
waves, that almost seemed threatening to cut it in two; the sudden profound
dip into the watery glens and hollows; the keen spurrings and goadings to
gain the top of the opposite hill; the headlong, sled-like slide down its
other side; --all these, with the cries of the headsmen and harpooneers, and
the shuddering gasps of the oarsmen, with the wondrous sight of the ivory
Pequod bearing down upon her boats with outstretched sails, like a wild hen
after her screaming brood; --all this was thrilling. Not the raw recruit,
marching from the bosom of his wife into the fever heat of his first battle;
not the dead man's ghost encountering

the first unknown phantom in the other world; --neither of these can feel
stranger and stronger emotions than that man does, who for the first time
finds himself pulling into the charmed, churned circle of the hunted sperm
whale. The dancing white water made by the chase was now becoming more and
more visible, owing to the increasing darkness of the dun cloud-shadows flung
upon the sea. The jets of vapor no longer blended, but tilted everywhere to
right and left; the whales seemed separating their wakes. The boats were
pulled more apart; Starbuck giving chase to three whales running dead to
leeward. Our sail was now set, and, with the still rising wind, we rushed
along; the boat going with such madness through the water, that the lee oars
could scarcely be worked rapidly enough to escape being torn from the
row-locks. Soon we were running through a suffusing wide veil of mist;
neither ship nor boat to be seen. Give way, men, whispered Starbuck, drawing
still further aft the sheet of his sail; there is time to kill a fish yet
before the squall comes. There's white water again! --close to! Spring!
Soon after, two cries in quick succession on each side of us denoted that the
other boats had got fast; but hardly were they overheard, when with a
lightning-like hurtling whisper Starbuck said: Stand up! and Queequeg,
harpoon in hand, sprang to his feet. Though not one of the oarsmen was then
facing the life and death peril so close to them ahead, yet with their eyes
on the intense countenance of the mate in the stern of the boat, they knew
that the imminent instant had come; they heard, too, an enormous wallowing
sound as of fifty elephants stirring in their litter. Meanwhile the boat was
still booming through the mist, the waves curling and hissing around us like
the erected crests of enraged serpents. That's his hump. There, there,
give it to him! whispered Starbuck. A short rushing sound leaped out of the
boat; it was the darted iron of Queequeg. Then all in one welded commotion
came an invisible push from astern, while forward the boat seemed striking on
a ledge; the sail collapsed and exploded; a

gush of scalding vapor shot up near by; something rolled and tumbled like an
earthquake beneath us. The whole crew were half suffocated as they were
tossed helter-skelter into the white curdling cream of the squall. Squall,
whale, and harpoon had all blended together; and the whale, merely grazed by
the iron, escaped. Though completely swamped, the boat was nearly unharmed.
Swimming round it we picked up the floating oars, and lashing them across the
gunwale, tumbled back to our places. There we sat up to our knees in the sea,

the water covering every rib and plank, so that to our downward gazing eyes
the suspended craft seemed a coral boat grown up to us from the bottom of the
ocean. The wind increased to a howl; the waves dashed their bucklers
together; the whole squall roared, forked, and crackled around us like a
white fire upon the prairie, in which, unconsumed, we were burning; immortal
in these jaws of death! In vain we hailed the other boats; as well roar to
the live coals down the chimney of a flaming furnace as hail those boats in
that storm. Meanwhile the driving scud, rack, and mist, grew darker with the
shadows of night; no sign of the ship could be seen. The rising sea forbade
all attempts to bale out the boat. The oars were useless as propellers,
performing now the office of life-preservers. So, cutting the lashing of the
water-proof match keg, after many failures Starbuck contrived to ignite the
lamp in the lantern; then stretching it on a waif pole, handed it to Queequeg
as the standard-bearer of this forlorn hope. There, then, he sat, holding up
that imbecile candle in the heart of that almighty forlornness. There, then,
he sat, the sign and symbol of a man without faith, hopelessly holding up hope
in the midst of despair. Wet, drenched through, and shivering cold,
despairing of ship or boat, we lifted up our eyes as the dawn came on. The
mist still spread over the sea, the empty lantern lay crushed in the bottom
of the boat. Suddenly Queequeg started to his feet, hollowing his hand to his
ear. We all heard a faint creaking, as of ropes and yards hitherto muffled by
the storm. The sound came nearer and nearer; the thick mists were dimly
parted by

a huge, vague form. Affrighted, we all sprang into the sea as the ship at
last loomed into view, bearing right down upon us within a distance of not
much more than its length. Floating on the waves we saw the abandoned boat, as
for one instant it tossed and gaped beneath the ship's bows like a chip at
the base of a cataract; and then the vast hull rolled over it, and it was
seen no more till it came up weltering astern. Again we swam for it, were
dashed against it by the seas, and were at last taken up and safely landed on
board. Ere the squall came close to, the other boats had cut loose from
their fish and returned to the ship in good time. The ship had given us up,
but was still cruising, if haply it might light upon some token of our
perishing, --an oar or a lance pole.