Nimble as a cat, Tashtego mounts aloft; and without altering his erect posture, runs straight out upon the overhanging mainyard-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 the 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 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 ironbound 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 remounting 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.
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!
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,
"Stand clear of the tackle!" cried a voice like the bursting of a rocket.
in the same instant, with a thunder-boom, the enormous 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 boardingsword in his 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!" 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 poor Tash by the
head. He averred, that upon first thrusting in for him, a leg was
presented; but well knowing that that 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
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 rowing.
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 well.
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 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 fragment 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?
A terrible tale of near death. Tashtego nearly drowns, encased in the decapitated head of a sperm whale as it sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Buried alive at sea, so to speak. The image sends cold hands up and down my spine, whether it's true or not. It combines two of my greatest fears--drowning and whales. Ever since I saw Walt Disney's Pinocchio as a kid, heard the story of Jonah in Sunday school, I've harbored these anxieties.
I've written about my phobias before, rodents being at the top of the list. Of course, a phobia is completely irrational. The chances of me being is the same body of water as a whale are very remote. Ditto being covered by a swarm of hungry rats. The chances of me drowning are a little better, since I sometimes do go swimming in pools and lakes. In August, I'm going on a vacation at a resort that has a water park. Slides and whirlpools and lazy rivers. Thank goodness I'm not quite as terrified of drowning.
Tonight, Donald Trump announces his nominee to fill Anthony Kennedy's spot on the Supreme Court of the United States. Given his track record, I'm positive that Mr. Trump is going to piss me off. In fact, I have become a little phobic about even turning on the news. The sound of the President's voice is practically painful to my ears. I find my hand reaching for the remote control or "off" button the second he starts speaking.
I will not be watching his little press conference tonight. I'm going to try to avoid the radio or TV for the next day or so, although the fallout from his decision will be difficult to avoid. I'm not burying my head in the sand. That's what people did in Germany during Adolf Hitler's rise to power. I won't do that.
For tonight, however, I will not allow myself to fall into the sperm whale's head as it sinks to the bottom of the sea. Instead, I will work on a new Bigfoot poem. It's safer. Healthier. More truthful.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for Bigfoot.