The Town-Ho’s story was told to the harpooneer Tashego (TSH) by three “confederate white seamen” (CWS) who then swore him to secrecy. But TSH babbled part of the story in his sleep and Ishmael (ISH) shook him down for the rest. Later, much later, ISH recites the Town-Ho’s story verbatim to a bunch of Dons in Lima (DIL). That ISH can retell the story word for word from TSH’s dream strains credulity, but so does the idea that the DIL can stay awake for it.

You may be wondering why the Classics Slacker (TCS) is using initials instead of names. TCS is trying to save space. As previously stated, the Town-Ho’s story is a long, long, long, really long, story.

All you really need to know is that the Town-Ho encounters Moby Dick (MD), who you may recall is the White Whale (WW). But that detail “never reached the ears of Captain Ahab.” Which is a good thing indeed, because if Ahab had heard such news, he would’ve sent the Pequoders tearing after the WW faster than paparazzi chasing Taylor Swift (TS). Anyway, here is the story:

Once upon a time, there were two whalemen on the Town-Ho. One of them “was a tall and noble animal with a head like a Roman, and a flowing golden beard like the tasseled housings of your last viceroy’s snorting charger; and a brain, and a heart, and a soul in him.” His name was Steelkilt and he was a Lakeman, meaning he learned how to sail on the Great Lakes (makes sense). The other, Radney, was the first mate who hailed from Nantucket. He was “ugly as a mule; yet as hardy, as stubborn, as malicious.”

These two had a huge fight and guess who won? A man outfitted in kilt made of steel or a wimp named Radney? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Melville would surely disapprove.

The Town-Ho was sailing along swimmingly when it sprung a leak caused by a swordfish (possibly working with a hammerhead and a pair of pliers). The leak was too small to be found; still, water was bubbling up onto the floor. Co-owner Radney, too cheap and greedy to turn the boat around, instead assigned Steelkilt and his team of brawny dudes to pump out the water. Which Steelkilt did quite cheerily—the job was appropriate to his manly manliness.

But then Steelkilt teased Radney in front of everyone. “The fact is, boys, that sword-fish only began the job; he’s come back again with a gang of ship-carpenters, saw-fish, and file-fish, and what not; and the whole posse of ’em are now hard at work cutting and slashing at the bottom; making improvements, I suppose. If old Rad were here now [which of course he is], I’d tell him to jump overboard and scatter ’em. They’re playing the devil with his estate, I can tell him. But he’s a simple old soul,—Rad, and a beauty too. Boys, they say the rest of his property is invested in looking-glasses. I wonder if he’d give a poor devil like me the model of his nose.”

At that point Radney ordered Steelkilt to get a shovel and “remove some offensive matters consequent upon allowing a pig to run at large.” It was common knowledge that picking up pig poop was a menial job, one that would never be assigned to “the most athletic seamen of them all” and one who “had been regularly assigned captain of one of the gangs.” Radney knew what he was doing: “The order about the shovel was almost as plainly meant to sting and insult Steelkilt, as though Radney had spat in his face.”

Nonetheless, Steelkilt was a good-humored pacifist, not given to violence, and so he chuckled to himself and walked away. And they all lived happily ever after. The End.

Ha! If only. TCS’s coverage of “The Town-Ho’s Story” continues in “Ho, Ho.”

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