It is well to parenthesize here, that of the fatal accidents in the Sperm-Whale Fishery, this kind is perhaps almost as frequent as any. Sometimes, nothing is injured but the man who is thus annihilated; oftener the boat’s bow is knocked off, or the thigh-board, on which the headsman stands, is torn from its place and accompanies the body. But strangest of all is the circumstance, that in more instances than one, when the body has been recovered, not a single mark of violence is discernible the man being stark dead.
The whole calamity, with the falling form of Macey, was plainly descried from the ship. Raising a piercing shriek—“The vial! the vial!” Gabriel called off the terror-stricken crew from the further hunting of the whale. This terrible event clothed the archangel with added influence; because his credulous disciples believed that he had specifically fore-announced it, instead of only making a general prophecy, which any one might have done, and so have chanced to hit one of many marks in the wide margin allowed. He became a nameless terror to the ship.
Mayhew having concluded his narration, Ahab put such questions to him, that the stranger captain could not forbear inquiring whether he intended to hunt the White Whale, if opportunity should offer. To which Ahab answered—“Aye.” Straightway, then, Gabriel once more started to his feet, glaring upon the old man, and vehemently exclaimed, with downward pointed finger—“Think, think of the blasphemer— dead, and down there!—beware of the blasphemer’s end!”
Ahab stolidly turned aside; then said to Mayhew, “Captain, I have just bethought me of my letter-bag; there is a letter for one of thy officers, if I mistake not. Starbuck, look over the bag.”
Every whale-ship takes out a goodly number of letters for various ships, whose delivery to the persons to whom they may be addressed, depends upon the mere chance of encountering them in the four oceans. Thus, most letters never reach their mark; and many are only received after attaining an age of two or three years or more.
Soon Starbuck returned with a letter in his hand. It was sorely tumbled, damp, and covered with a dull, spotted, green mould, in consequence of being kept in a dark locker of the cabin. Of such a letter, Death himself might well have been the post-boy.
“Can’st not read it?” cried Ahab. “Give it me, man. Aye, aye, aye it’s but a dim scrawl;—what’s this?” As he was studying it out, Starbuck took a long cutting-spade pole, and with his knife slightly split the end, to insert the letter there, and in that way, hand it to the boat, without its coming any closer to the ship.
Meantime, Ahab holding the letter, muttered, “Mr. Har— yes, Mr. Harry—(a woman’s pinny hand,—the man’s wife, I’ll wager)—Aye—Mr. Harry Macey, Ship Jeroboam; why it’s Macey, and he’s dead!”
“Poor fellow! poor fellow! and from his wife,” sighed Mayhew; “but let me have it.”