For the first time into the voyage, the Pequod has an opportunity to take down a whale. Or two. Heck, there’s a whole school of them just hanging around their lockers. But what starts as a thrilling adventure—“full of quick wonder and awe”—becomes just a big wet disaster. Four boats take up the chase and four boats return—with nary a whale to show for it. Not one whale of any color, much less a white one.
Starbuck is an idiot. And his crew is even dumber for obeying him. Soon they hear “an enormous wallowing sound as of fifty elephants stirring in their litter.” Since elephants aren’t often found in the ocean, one can only assume the sound is coming from a whale. Which is confirmed when Starbuck sees its definitive characteristic. “That’s his hump. There, there, give it to him!” he commands his harpooneer, Queequeg.
But the “darted iron of Queequeg” may as well have been a bobby pin for all the damage it does. The whale “rolled and tumbled like an earthquake beneath us.” If you’re sitting in a boat and you’ve got an earthquake erupting beneath you, you’re not going to be sitting for long. Starbuck’s crew is “tossed helter-skelter in the white curdling cream of the squall.” Meanwhile the whale “merely grazed by the iron, escaped.” No doubt sniggering all the way.
The guys—along with their oars, harpoons, and other various and sundry accoutrements—are scattered everywhere. After they swim around retrieving all their stuff, they wait miserably—“wet, drenched, and shivering cold”—for the Pequod to rescue them. The storm continues to rage around them. It is dawn by the time the last man—
dragged back onto the deck.
While still wet and “shaking myself in my jacket to fling off the water,”
Ishmael asks a few
To Queequeg: “My fine friend, does this sort of thing often happen?”
To Stubb: “Is going plump on a flying whale with your sail set in a foggy squall the height of a whaleman’s discretion?”
To Flask: “Is it an unalterable law in this fishery, for an oarsman to break his own back pulling himself back-foremost into death’s jaws?”
The answers are yes, yes, and yes.
decides to draw up his will. “Queequeg,” said I, “come along, you shall be my
lawyer, executor, and legatee.”
has one thing that’s still dry—his wit.