To make them run easily and swiftly, the axles of carriages are anointed; and for much the same purpose, some whalers perform an analogous operation upon their boat; they grease the bottom. Nor is it to be doubted that as such a procedure can do no harm, it may possibly be of no contemptible advantage; considering that oil and water are hostile; that oil is a sliding thing, and that the object in view is to make the boat slide bravely. Queequeg believed strongly in anointing his boat, and one morning not long after the German ship Jungfrau disappeared, took more than customary pains in that occupation; crawling under its bottom, where it hung over the side, and rubbing in the unctuousness as though diligently seeking to insure a crop of hair from the craft's bald keel. He seemed to be working in obedience to some particular presentiment. Nor did it remain unwarranted by the event.
noon whales were raised; but so soon as the ship sailed down to them,
they turned and fled with swift precipitancy; a disordered flight, as of
Cleopatra's barges from Actium.
Nevertheless, the boats pursued,
and Stubb's was foremost. By great exertion, Tashtego at last succeeded
in planting one iron; but the stricken whale, without at all sounding,
still continued his horizontal flight, with added fleetness. Such
unintermitted strainings upon the planted iron must sooner or later
inevitably extract it. It became imperative to lance the flying whale,
or be content to lose him. But to haul the boat up to his flank was
impossible, he swam so fast and furious. What then remained?
all the wondrous devices and dexterities, the sleights of hand and
countless subtleties, to which the veteran whaleman is so often forced,
none exceed that fine manoeuvre with the lance called pitchpoling. Small
sword, or broad sword, in all its exercises boasts nothing like it. It
is only indispensable with an inveterate running whale; its grand fact
and feature is the wonderful distance to which the long lance is
accurately darted from a violently rocking, jerking boat, under extreme
headway. Steel and wood included, the entire spear is some ten or twelve
feet in length; the staff is much slighter than that of the harpoon,
and also of a lighter material- pine. It is furnished with a small rope
called a warp, of considerable length, by which it can be hauled back to
the hand after darting.
But before going further, it is important
to mention here, that though the harpoon may be pitchpoled in the same
way with the lance, yet it is seldom done; and when done, is still less
frequently successful, on account of the greater weight and inferior
length of the harpoon as compared with the lance, which in effect become
serious drawbacks. As a general thing, therefore, you must first get to
a whale, before any pitchpoling comes into play.
Look now at
Stubb; a man who from his humorous, deliberate coolness and equanimity
in the direst emergencies, was specially qualified to excel in
pitchpoling. Look at him; he stands upright in the tossed bow of the
flying boat; wrapt in fleecy foam, the towing whale is forty feet ahead.
Handling the long lance lightly, glancing twice or thrice along its
length to see if it be exactly straight, Stubb whistlingly gathers up
the coil of the wrap in one hand, so as to secure its free end in his
grasp, leaving the rest unobstructed. Then holding the lance full before
his waistband's middle, he levels it at the whale; when, covering him
with it, he steadily depresses the butt-end in his hand, thereby
elevating the point till the weapon stands fairly balanced upon his
palm, fifteen feet in the air. He minds you somewhat of a juggler,
balancing a long staff on his chin. Next moment with a rapid, nameless
impulse, in a superb arch the bright steel spans the foaming distance,
and quivers in the life spot of the whale. Instead of sparkling water,
he now spouts red blood.
"That drove the spigot out of him!" cried
Stubb. "'Tis July's immortal Fourth; all fountains must run wine today!
Would now, it were old Orleans whiskey, or old Ohio, or unspeakable old
Monongahela! Then, Tashtego, lad, I'd have ye hold a canakin to the
jet, and we'd drink round it! Yea, verily, hearts alive, we'd brew
choice punch in the spread of his spout-hole there, and from that live
punch-bowl quaff the living stuff."
Again and again to such
gamesome talk, the dexterous dart is repeated, the spear returning to
its master like a greyhound held in skilful leash. The agonized whale
goes into his flurry; the tow-line is slackened, and the pitchpoler
dropping astern, folds his hands, and mutely watches the monster die.
There's a lot of whale-killing in this book. That shouldn't come as a surprise, considering that the main narrative is about Ahab's obsession with finding and killing Moby Dick. Plus, almost the entire novel is set on a whaling ship. So, yeah, there's going to be harpoons and lances and pitchpoles and spouts of red blood.
It is Friday night. My daughter is in Missouri, and my son is spending the night at Grandma's house. Perhaps I will clean my house a little tonight. Or work on a new poem. Or read a good book. Or, maybe, just maybe, I'll fall asleep on the couch at ten o'clock because I've been up since 4:45 in the morning. Again, no surprises here.
I think surprises are a little overrated. Sure, there's the occasional surprise that is nice. A surprise birthday party. A poem that gets accepted in a magazine, and you forgot that you even submitted. A winning lottery ticket. An unexpected pregnancy. A hug from your son who NEVER hugs. Those are nice surprises.
And then there are the terrible surprises. Death. Car accidents. Job loss. An unexpected pregnancy. Terrible medical diagnosis. In my experience, these kinds of surprises are much more common, or I hear about them a LOT more. Bad news travels fast. Usually by Facebook.
So, this evening, I'm not looking for any surprises--good or bad. I'm looking for routine, because I find routine comforting, like a good pair of pajamas or your favorite pillow. These things make you feel safe. at home. And that's not a bad thing. Everyone needs a home.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for pajamas and pillows and, maybe, a winning lottery ticket.