Moby Dick Chapter 54
The Town-Ho's Story
While still in the Cape of Good Hope, the Pequod meets the Town-Ho, and in the brief conversation, they hear news of Moby-Dick. Ishmael tells the story as he told it in an inn to some Spaniards years later.
The Town-Ho was sailing on the Pacific. One morning, a large amount of water is found in the hold, which indicates a leak somewhere in the hull; the captain sets sail for the nearest island to have the leak repaired.
As the ship goes toward port, the leak increases, and Radney, the mate, who is a bit of a coward, is worried. One day, he approaches the men at work, and hears Steelkit, a noble, powerful man, mocking him. Radney orders the men back to pumping, which they immediately jump to. Later, when Steelkit is finished working his shift, he takes a rest; Radney comes over to him, and orders him to clean the decks. This order is clearly meant to be an insult to Steelkit, who calmly says it his not his work, and points to the three boys whose job it is to regularly clean the ship. Radney swears at him, and advances on him with a hammer. Steelkit warns him to stay clear, and says that if the hammer so much as grazes his cheek, he will murder Radney. As soon as he says this, the hammer touches his face, and Steelkit hits him.
Three junior mates and four harpooneers immediately surround Steelkit, but he and a group of men (including two Canallers of low character) escape and gain control of the forecastle deck. Steelkit swears that not a man of his will return if the captain refuses to flog them, and they go down below, where they are quickly locked in.
Gradually the men desert back to the captain, until all that is left below is Steelkit and the two Canallers. Steelkit decides the next day to charge the rest of the ship, and try and seize it. The Canallers ostensibly agree, but as soon as Steelkit is asleep, they tie him up, and call to the captain. They are pulled onto the deck, and the captain has all three hoisted onto the rigging, to hang there until morning.
The next day, all the men are called up to the deck, and the mutineers are separated from those who hadn't followed Steelkit. The captain says he ought to flog all of them, but because they surrendered early, he will make do with just a reprimand. He then whips the Canallers.
After he is finished with the two, the captain approaches Steelkit, but before he can flog him, Steelkit whispers a threat that stops the captain from going through with it. Radney, who has been recovering in the berth, has no such compunctions, and whips Steelkit.
Steelkit makes a weapon from a lanyard and an iron ball, an instrument with which he plans to murder Radney. But before he can, a whale is spotted, none other than Moby-Dick himself. In the chase, Radney falls from his boat, and is swallowed by Moby-Dick. Later, when the ship arrives at port, Steelkit and the men who were faithful to him, escape the ship for good.