The sailors use three of the whaling boats together to tow the whale’s carcass back to the Pequod.
Captain Ahab orders them to secure the whale for the night and retreats into his cabin. He did his job the way he was supposed to, but now he’s dissatisfied.
He doesn’t care about killing any whale except Moby Dick.
The men tie the whale to the Pequod, tail to bows and head to stern.
Stubb is way overexcited by having killed the whale, and Starbuck lets him take charge for a little while.
Stubb decides that he wants to eat a whale-steak, cut from the narrower area near the whale’s tail, before he goes to bed. He sends Daggoo over the side of the ship to cut it.
Around midnight, Stubb is able to eat his whale-steak by the light of some sperm-oil lanterns. While he eats, sharks are tearing mouthfuls off the whale carcass tied to the ship.
Ishmael explains that there are lots of situations in which sharks move alongside ships hoping for food, but they’re most excited about a whale carcass.
While he eats, Stubb calls for Fleece, the cook, to come to him. Fleece, like many nineteenth-century sea cooks, is a black man.
Fleece gets up from his hammock and comes on deck to hear what Stubb has to say; he has stiff knees and poor hearing, and we feel pretty sorry for him being dragged up in the middle of the night like this.
Stubb complains to Fleece that the steak is overdone, not tough or rare enough, the way he and the sharks like it.
Then he notices how loud the sharks are and orders Fleece to go quiet them down; he doesn’t care how much of the whale they eat, but he wants them to do it quietly.
Fleece takes the lantern, leans over the side of the ship, and begins preaching to the sharks as though they could understand English.
Stubb objects to the fact that Fleece is swearing and orders him to change his tone, so Fleece makes his sermon more coaxing. We’re not sure who’s fooling with whom here.
Fleece explains to the sharks that they should govern themselves more calmly and that each of them has the same right to feast off the whale-carcass as the others; after all, it doesn’t even belong to them, but to someone else. (Hmm, might this be a little bit metaphorical?)
Stubb is pretty amused and wants Fleece to keep going, but Fleece is tired of the joke.
Stubb goes back to complaining about the steak, cross-examining Fleece. Fleece is tired and irritated by Stubb’s behavior, but, answering his questions, admits that he’s around ninety, was born in a ferry-boat in the Roanoke river, and thinks the whale-steak is plenty juicy.
Stubb tells Fleece that he needs to be born again so that he can learn how to cook a steak correctly this time.
Then, Stubb starts mocking Fleece’s beliefs about the afterlife, punning wittily off the man’s straightforward answers.
Finally, Stubb gets around to the point: he tells Fleece just how he wants his steak cooked and orders other bits of the whale for breakfast and dinner the next day.
Fleece goes back to bed, muttering in irritation. We’d be irritated, too, if Stubb woke us up in the middle of the night for some kind of impromptu comedy routine.