Moby Dick: or, the White Whale eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 623 pages of information about Moby Dick.

In most cases this lower jaw—­being easily unhinged by a practised artist—­ is disengaged and hoisted on deck for the purpose of extracting the ivory teeth, and furnishing a supply of that hard white whalebone with which the fishermen fashion all sorts of curious articles including canes, umbrella-stocks, and handles to riding-whips.

With a long, weary hoist the jaw is dragged on board, as if it were an anchor; and when the proper time comes—­ some few days after the other work—­Queequeg, Daggoo, and Tashtego, being all accomplished dentists, are set to drawing teeth.  With a keen cutting-spade, Queequeg lances the gums; then the jaw is lashed down to ringbolts, and a tackle being rigged from aloft, they drag out these teeth, as Michigan oxen drag stumps of old oaks out of wild woodlands.  There are generally forty-two teeth in all; in old whales, much worn down, but undecayed; nor filled after our artificial fashion.  The jaw is afterwards sawn into slabs, and piled away like joists for building houses.

CHAPTER 75

The Right Whale’s Head — Contrasted View

Crossing the deck, let us now have a good long look at the the Right Whale’s head.

As in general shape the noble Sperm Whale’s head may be compared to a Roman war-chariot (especially in front, where it is so broadly rounded); so, at a broad view, the Right Whale’s head bears a rather inelegant resemblance to a gigantic galliot-toed shoe.  Two hundred years ago an old Dutch voyager likened its shape to that of a shoemaker’s last.  And in this same last or shoe, that old woman of the nursery tale with the swarming brood, might very comfortably be lodged, she and all her progeny.

But as you come nearer to this great head it begins to assume different aspects, according to your point of view.  If you stand on its summit and look at these two f-shaped spout-holes, you would take the whole head for an enormous bass viol, and these spiracles, the apertures in its soundingboard.  Then, again, if you fix your eye upon this strange, crested, comblike incrustation on the top of the mass—­this green, barnacled thing, which the Greenlanders call the “crown,” and the Southern fishers the “bonnet” of the Right Whale; fixing your eyes solely on this, you would take the head for the trunk of some huge oak, with a bird’s nest in its crotch.  At any rate, when you watch those live crabs that nestle here on this bonnet, such an idea will be almost sure to occur to you; unless, indeed, your fancy has been fixed by the technical term “crown” also bestowed upon it; in which case you will take great interest in thinking how this mighty monster is actually a diademed king of the sea, whose green crown has been put together for him in this marvellous manner.  But if this whale be a king, he is a very sulky looking fellow to grace a diadem.  Look at that hanging lower lip! what a huge sulk and pout is there! a sulk and pout, by carpenter’s measurement, about twenty feet long and five feet deep; a sulk and pout that will yield you some 500 gallons of oil and more.

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Moby Dick: or, the White Whale from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.