“The White Whale,” said the Englishman, pointing his ivory arm towards the East, and taking a rueful sight along it, as if it had been a telescope; “there I saw him, on the Line, last season.”
“And he took that arm off, did he?” asked Ahab, now sliding down from the capstan, and resting on the Englishman’s shoulder, as he did so.”Man my boat!” cried Ahab, impetuously, and tossing about the oars near him—”Stand by to lower!”
In less than a minute, without quitting his little craft, he and his crew were dropped to the water, and were soon alongside of the stranger. But here a curious difficulty presented itself. In the excitement of the moment, Ahab had forgotten that since the loss of his leg he had never once stepped on board of any vessel at sea but his own, and then it was always by an ingenious and very handy mechanical contrivance peculiar to the Pequod, and a thing not to be rigged and shipped in any other vessel at a moment’s warning.
Now, it is no very easy matter for anybody—except those who are almost hourly used to it, like whalemen—to clamber up a ship’s side from a boat on the open sea; for the great swells now lift the boat high up towards the bulwarks, and then instantaneously drop it half way down to the kelson. So, deprived of one leg, and the strange ship of course being altogether unsupplied with the kindly invention, Ahab now found himself abjectly reduced to a clumsy landsman again; hopelessly eyeing the uncertain changeful height he could hardly hope to attain.
It has before been hinted, perhaps, that every little untoward circumstance that befell him, and which indirectly sprang from his luckless mishap, almost invariably irritated or exasperated Ahab. And in the present instance, all this was heightened by the sight of the two officers of the strange ship, leaning over the side, by the perpendicular ladder of nailed cleets there, and swinging towards him a pair of tastefully-ornamented man-ropes; for at first they did not seem to bethink them that a one-legged man must be too much of a cripple to use their sea bannisters. But this awkwardness only lasted a minute, because the strange captain, observing at a glance how affairs stood, cried out, “I see, I see!—avast heaving there! Jump, boys, and swing over the cutting-tackle.”