The More the Merrier

At last! We have whales! “A school of them!” Tashtego reports. This is the moment the crew (and the Classics Slacker) have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for. The sailors spring into action, suddenly as busy as elves on Christmas Eve. They jump down from the fore and mizzen, they fix the line tubs in their places, they thrust out the cranes, they back the mainyard, they deck the halls, they slice the fruitcake. All of this must be done in order to release the small boats attached to the Pequod. It is in those boats that the sailors will row close to the whales—and pounce.

All unfolds according to standard operating procedure when, what to their wondering eyes should appear, but five never-before-seen crew members. Surprise, Pequod People. Whales aren’t the only mammals that have emerged from the deep. Ahab has been keeping these dudes in his room, presumably hidden in the back of the closet, like suits saved for a special occasion. And now that occasion—“this critical instant”—has arrived. He brings them up to the deck without so much as an “Ahoy, there” and puts them into service as his personal rowers.

They have appeared so suddenly that everyone thinks they might be “five phantoms freshly formed out of air.” The sailors drop everything—from fores to mizzens, cranes to mainyards—and freeze like the doomed citizens of Pompeii.

Ahab shocks them back to life with a “Hey! What’s everybody looking at? Get back to work!”

But it’s hard not to stare, because these guys are a hair-raising sight, starting with their captain, Fedallah, whose hair is literally raised. “Strangely crowning this ebonness [dark skin, black “Chinese jacket” with “wide black trowsers of the same dark stuff”] was a glistening white plaited turban, the living hair braided and coiled round and round upon his head.” He doesn’t exactly have a winning smile, either. He has “one white tooth evilly protruding from its steel-like lips.” Its? Fedallah doesn’t even merit a personal possessive pronoun.

Ishmael considers the other four guys no less scary. “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 Manilla—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.”

Okay, so race relations had a long way to go back in 1851.

As Ahab stands astern in his boat like Washington crossing the Delaware, “the five strangers” surround him, rowing like mad. At this point Starbuck and Stubb huddle up and discuss the situation.

Mr. Starbuck,” asks Stubb, “what think ye of those yellow boys, sir!”

“Smuggled on board, somehow, before the ship sailed. A sad business, Mr. Stubb! But never mind, Mr. Stubb, all for the best. There’s hogshead of sperm ahead, Mr. Stubb, and that’s what ye came for.” Mr. Stubb might have also come for someone to help him remember his name.

Mr. Stubb doesn’t think these new circumstances are quite so sad. Indeed Mr. Stubb thinks they are a bonus. “They are only five more hands come to help us—never mind from where—the more the merrier.”

Now, let’s get this party started.