Chapter 78 Cistern and Buckets

        This chapter might well be named "Tashtego is born again; Queequeg is his midwife; Stubb's whale has a womb in its head." Intriguing? Read on. Only Herman "Ishmael" Melville could have dreamed up this one:

        Tashtego, the Gay Head Indian, has the honor of perching on the slippery, gory stump of the huge head of the Sperm Whale, which is suspended, partly out of the water, from the mainyard-arm. This balancing act he must perform in order to "bail the case" -- to dip out, bucket by bucket, the best sperm oil of all -- the spermaceti. Like all of the operations involved with whaling, this is most hazardous. The bailer must cut accurately into the bobbing head with a sharp spade, so as to make an incision big enough for a bucket to be shoved down through the bloody flesh into the oil-filled case. This shoving is done with a pole some twenty feet in length; then the bucket, filled with spermaceti, is hauled out of the hole in the whale's head by means of block-and-tackle. Deeper and deeper the bucket must be rammed down to get out every bit of the valuable spermaceti -- although some considerable spillage is hard to avoid, owing to the constant pitching and rolling of the ship and the head as they ride the ocean and the wind.

        It is possible (though improbable) that the bailer could slip-and-slide, head-first, right down into that oily case -- and perish there in short order. If anything can happen it will. This is exactly what happened to poor Tashtego: a head-first accidental plunge into the depths of the oil-case in the whale's head. 'Twere bad enough -- But! -- did that whale's head have to break loose? -- proceeding to sink to the bottom with Tashtego imprisoned, upside down, in that sweet-smelling, unctuous coffin! Yes, this had to be. It provides an opportunity for Queequeg ["my brave Queequeg," says Ishmael] to play the rescuing hero once more.

        As the Sperm Whale's head -- with Tashtego inside! -- sinks out of sight, it is Queequeg who is seen diving overboard with a knife in his teeth. Down he goes. And all are swallowed by the sea . . . But wait! The third member of the harpooneer triumvirate, Daggoo, the brawny negro, spies somebody's arm rising up out of the sea!

        "'Both! both! -- it is both!' -- cried Daggoo again with a joyful shout; and soon after Queequeg was seen boldly striking out with one arm, and with the other hand clutching the long hair of the Indian. Drawn into the waiting boat, they were quickly brought to the deck. Tashtego was long in coming to, and Queequeg was sprawled out in total fatigue from the exhausting rescue."

        How had the rescue been accomplished? Diving down with the sinking head, Queequeg slashed it with his knife near the bottom, reached in, grabbed Tashtego's leg, tried to pull him out -- couldn't -- fished around for Tashtego's hair, and grabbing it, turned the Indian around and effected the delivery! All the while sinking, sinking -- their lungs bursting, bursting for air . . .

        "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 heard of someone's falling into a cistern ashore. Now, had Tashtego perished in that head, only one sweeter end might be recalled -- the death of a hunter who fell into a hollow tree filled with honey. How many, think ye, have likewise fallen into Plato's honey head and sweetly perished there?"

        [How many, think ye, can figure out just what it is that prompts such claptrap from America's best and brightest author?]