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Spotlight on Amasa Delano, captain of every single guy's favorite boat: The Bachelor's Delight. Captain Delano is originally from Massachusetts, but he's chilling in the harbor of St. Maria with a whole boatload of valuable loot. While everyone's just hanging in the harbor, a pretty beat-up ship sails into view. Delano figures it's in distress based on its ratty appearance. The figurehead of the ship is all wrapped up in canvas. Someone's written "Follow your leader" in chalk on the canvas, because it isn't creepy enough to be sailing a ghost ship—you need cryptic chalk slogan. Delano can barely make out the ship's name: the San Dominick. Like we said, this ship has been through the ringer and it's filthy. Being a stand-up guy, Delano takes a small boat out with a few of his crewmen to see what's going on. Delano has barely set foot onboard the San Dominick when a bunch of slaves and Spanish sailors mob him for food. Seems like they're starving and miserable. He meets Benito Cereno, the young Spanish captain of the creepy ship. Cereno seems so nervous, he's about to do the Jitterbug right on the ship's deck. Luckily, Cereno has a faithful slave named Babo who basically supports his sickly and anxious master. And when we say "supports," we mean he literally holds him up. Cereno is about as stable as a house of cards. Cereno tells Delano a harrowing tale about what the San Dominick's been through. Pretty much like Delano gathered the ship was a slaver bound for Lima with (yuck) human cargo. That is, until the ship fell on hard times. Around Cape Horn, the San Dominick got hit pretty hard with a storm. At that point, Cereno ordered his crew to shove as much stuff overboard as possible. Some genius decided to throw away all the water. And it turns out, that wasn't the greatest idea. Not only was there "water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink," but scurvy broke out on board. Take your Vitamin C, ladies and gents! Around that time, Cereno let all the slaves free to wander above deck. Everyone was miserable, anyway, he figured. Actually, Cereno mentions how thankful he was for the slaves who helped him out. He's especially grateful for Babo, who is apparently the greatest thing since sliced bread. Delano thinks this is all hunky-dory, but he can't help thinking Cereno is a fraud. He doesn't know why, but the guy gives him the heebie-jeebies. Delano spots something weird going on: a black guy strikes a white cabin boy over a petty argument. Cereno doesn't seem to give a hoot. That's what really weirds Delano out. Now, Delano's poking around. He asks Cereno about the original owner of all of the slaves. Turns out that was one Alexandro Aranda, who died of a fever some ways back. Cereno must really miss the guy, 'cause he can't help shaking while talking about him. Delano wants to know if Aranda's body is still on board. That's a weird question, right? Delano's rude question is interrupted by the appearance of Atufal, a slave wearing an iron collar and chains. Benito Cereno looks crazy vengeful when Atufal appears, but he just asks him if he'll finally ask his pardon. Atufal doesn't even dignify Cereno with an answer. This is seriously insubordinate behavior on a gross slave ship. According to Cereno, the chains stay on until Atufal apologizes. Sounds like this guy holds a grudge. Meanwhile, Cereno starts asking Delano how many men are aboard the Bachelor's Delight and how well armed they are. Huh. Everyone is asking weird questions on this boat. Delano is starting to give Cereno some major side-eye when he catches a glimpse of a Spanish sailor wearing a fine linen shirt under some nasty old clothing. Weird. Trying to shake the feeling that something's super-strange, Delano fakes a jolly tone and tells Cereno that he must really have faith in Babo. Cereno says "Yep." But he says it in a cold way. What is with this guy? Delano starts playing detective. He sees a glint of something shiny under the clothes of a Spanish sailor. Obviously, he immediately jumps to the worst conclusions. While still pondering the strange shiny thing, he spots two slaves dashing a Spaniard to the deck. Delano demands Cereno do something about it, but Cereno conveniently has a major coughing attack. Babo to save the day! He supports his master and gets an admiring compliment from Delano. In fact, Delano wants to buy Babo for himself. "Master wouldn't part with Babo for a thousand doubloons," Babo says. He's calling Delano out! Cereno is too busy coughing to answer. Delano keeps nosing around the ship, trying to find answers. He stumbles across an old Spanish sailor trying to tie a big knot. You know, as one does on ships. Delano is weirdly curious about this knot. He asks the old man what he's doing. This is when things get a little eerie: the old man first says he's tying a knot "for someone else to undo," then he throws the knot at Delano and begs him to untie it, quick. Delano turns around and sees Atufal there, just staring him down. The knot episode throws Delano into a whole frenzy of worry. He's convinced Cereno is going to murder him on the ghost ship. Delano gets control over himself, even though he's still convinced Cereno's got it in for him. The supplies Delano sent over for from the Bachelor's Delight finally arrive. Whoopee! After the supply boat leaves, Delano returns to his favorite hobby: asking Cereno awkward questions. Specifically, he wants to know more about when the San Dominick threw out supplies around Cape Horn. Cape Horn? What Cape Horn? Cereno has no idea what Delano is talking about. Delano is totally fed up. "You just told me about Cape Horn!" he says. Bur Babo intercedes. It's time for his master's haircut. While Cereno is getting lathered up, Delano just hangs out and watches. This is what reality shows are made for, folks. Oh yeah, and Delano takes the opportunity to ask more questions. Specifically, there are a few holes in the story about the huge storm. Before Cereno can answer, Babo's blade slips. It's a pretty bad cut. Babo is distraught. Apparently, this kind of thing really doesn't happen often. Babo finishes shaving Cereno without incident, although the Spaniard is shaking like a leaf. Francesco, another slave, serves Cereno and Delano lunch. Delano can't help but notice that he looks like a European. Here comes Detective Delano again. This time, he wants to get Cereno alone to really ask him his opinion about a few choice subjects. Cereno absolutely refuses. He can't be without his precious Babo, even for a second. There's Atufal again, lurking in the background. Seriously, he's everywhere. Delano can't be troubled to figure it out. Instead, he concentrates all his energies into steering the San Dominick into the harbor. What do you know; they've pulled up right by the Bachelor's Delight! Delano gets ready to bail from the San Dominick and return to his ship, leaving his new creepy buddies behind. He's about to hop into a tiny boat to go back to the Bachelor's Delight when Cereno grabs his hand. Like, he will not let his hand go. It's like one of those awkward handshakes that lasts way too long. When Cereno finally lets go, he blesses Delano and wishes him well. This is getting odder and odder. As Delano's little boat descends to the ocean, Cereno throws himself in. What can we say: the guy has attachment issues. In a second, Babo throws himself in, too. Cereno can't go anywhere without him. But wait, what's this? Babo is trying to stab Delano! But wait, it's even weirder—Babo is actually trying to stab Cereno, his beloved master. Delano knocks him down and orders the guns on his own ship brought out. Like a boss. The canvas from the figurehead is cut away, revealing a human skeleton under the "Follow Your Leader" chalk sign. It's the skeleton of Aranda, the slave-owner who was supposed to have died of a fever. Delano realizes that the slaves aboard the San Dominick are actually in control, just in time for an epic battle between the ships. It's finally battle time. Delano tries to get in on the action, but Cereno begs him to hold back. The Bachelor's Delight captures the San Dominick back, killing a good number of the former slaves in the process. The others are imprisoned for the trial. Ready for a major change-up, Shmoopers? The rest of the book takes place in trial time. From a series of court documents, we figure out that Babo was the ringleader of a slave rebellion aboard the San Dominick, with Atufal as his right-hand man. The slaves killed Aranda and a bunch of the other Spaniards, then steered the ship towards Senegal and freedom. Unfortunately, they ran into the Bachelor's Delight first. Babo told all the surviving Spaniards to keep their lips zipped if they wanted to live. And the rest is history. Finally, Cereno can have a straight conversation with Delano. Our Spanish friend is still pretty shaky and gloomy, despite having been rescued. This mostly has to do with the violent death of Babo. After the trial, Babo was dragged by the tail of a mule and then burnt at a stake. Cereno's melancholy persists until he dies. As ol' Melville writes, he finally followed his leader—to the grave.
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