A French ship called the Rose-Bud pulls up near the Pequod—it is consumed by an overwhelming stench, derived from two whales tied alongside it. The first whale is “blasted,” or brought up from the deep after having been stabbed some days before, and that whale is worthless—its oil will be of terrible quality. But the second whale, smaller, is “dried,” having had some kind of fever or other affliction. Stubb sees that this second whale has value for its “ambergris,” a thick, soap-like substance that comes from dried whale oil, and knows also that the Frenchmen on the Rose-Bud do not recognize this whale’s value.
One of the ironies of this conversation, of course, is that a ship called the “Rose-Bud” smells terribly. This is another of the subtle instances of humor in the novel. As has been seen, Melville is keen to include humor in the book, perhaps in his efforts to include every aspect of human experience in the novel. But in common pop-cultural depictions of Moby Dick, this humorous dimension often does not get discussed.
Stubb therefore mounts the Rose-Bud for a gam. A crewman of the Rose-Bud, a man from Guersney who speaks French and English, hates the captain and vows to help Stubb to defraud his boss. Stubb tells the Frenchmen to pull away from both whales immediately, since they are diseased and will kill the sailors on board with their fever. The captain thanks Stubb for his “honesty,” and Stubb offers that the Pequod will even pull away the smaller, dried whale just to help. The Pequod does so, with Stubb back aboard, and Stubb finds six handfuls of ambergris inside—an amount that will earn the ship a large amount of money when they are back in port. The Rose-Bud, for its part, disappears, feeling lucky to have avoided a “plague.”
Stubb’s abilities are once again on display. Although in this case, Stubb is not simply using his skills in the whale-boat—he is instead using them in the field of human relations. Stubb’s conduct may be considered, at best, ungentlemanly, and, at worst, almost criminal, as he is stealing something very valuable from the Rose-Bud. But such is the nature of Stubb’s personality—he seems not to care about the consequences, and enthusiastically does all he can do to enrich himself and his fellow crew-members.