THE DECK TOWARDS THE END OF THE FIRST NIGHT WATCH.
Ahab standing by the helm. Starbuck approaching him.
"WE must send down the main-top-sail yard, Sir. The band is working loose, and the lee lift is half-stranded. Shall I strike it, Sir?"
"Strike nothing; lash it. If I had sky-sail poles, I'd sway them up now." [[@Page: 563]]
"Sir? – in God's name! – Sir?"
"The anchors are working, Sir. Shall I get them inboard?"
"Strike nothing, and stir nothing, but lash everything. The wind rises, but it has not got up to my table-lands yet. Quick, and see to it. – By masts and keels! he takes me for the hunch-backed skipper of some coasting smack. Send down my main-top-sail yard! Ho, gluepots! Loftiest trucks were made for wildest winds, and this brain-truck of mine now sails amid the cloud-scud. Shall I strike that? Oh, none but cowards send down their brain-trucks in tempest time. What a hooroosh aloft there! I would e"en take it for sublime, did I not know that the colic is a noisy malady. Oh, take medicine, take medicine!"
MIDNIGHT. – THE FORECASTLE BULWARKS.
Stubb and Flask mounted on them, and passing additional lashings over the anchors there hanging.
"NO, Stubb; you may pound that knot there as much as you please, but you will never pound into me what you were just now saying. And how long ago is it since you said the very contrary? Didn't you once say that whatever ship Ahab sails in, that ship should pay something extra on its insurance policy, just as though it were loaded with powder barrels aft and boxes of lucifers forward? Stop, now; didn't you say so?"
"Well, suppose I did? What then? I've part changed my flesh since that time, why not my mind? Besides, supposing we are loaded with powder barrels aft and lucifers forward;[[@Page: 564]] how the devil could the lucifers get afire in this drenching spray here? Why, my little man, you have pretty red hair, but you couldn't get afire now. Shake yourself; you're Aquarius, or the water-bearer, Flask; might fill pitchers at your coat collar. Don't you see, then, that for these extra risks the Marine Insurance companies have extra guarantees? Here are hydrants, Flask. But hark, again, and I'll answer ye the other thing. First take your leg off from the crown of the anchor here, though, so I can pass the rope; now listen. What's the mighty difference between holding a mast's lightning-rod in the storm, and standing close by a mast that hasn't got any lightning-rod at all in a storm? Don't you see, you timber-head, that no harm can come to the holder of the rod, unless the mast is first struck? What are you talking about, then? Not one ship in a hundred carries rods, and Ahab, – aye, man, and all of us, – were in no more danger then, in my poor opinion, than all the crews in ten thousand ships now sailing the seas. Why, you King-Post, you, I suppose you would have every man in the world go about with a small lightning-rod running up the corner of his hat, like a militia officer's skewered feather, and trailing behind like his sash. Why don't ye be sensible, Flask? it's easy to be sensible; why don't ye, then? any man with half an eye can be sensible."
"I don't know that, Stubb. You sometimes find it rather hard."
"Yes, when a fellow's soaked through, it's hard to be sensible, that's a fact. And I am about drenched with this spray. Never mind; catch the turn there, and pass it. Seems to me we are lashing down these anchors now as if they were never going to be used again. tying these two anchors here, Flask, seems like tying a man's hands behind him. And what big generous hands they are, to be sure. These are your iron fists, hey? What a hold they have, too! I wonder, Flask, whether the world is anchored anywhere; if she is, she swings with an[[@Page: 565]] uncommon long cable, though. There, hammer that knot down, and we"ve done. So; next to touching land, lighting on deck is the most satisfactory. I say, just wring out my jacket skirts, will ye? Thank ye. They laugh at long-togs so, Flask; but seems to me, a long tailed coat ought always to be worn in all storms afloat. The tails tapering down that way, serve to carry off the water, D'ye see. Same with cocked hats; the cocks form gable-end eave-troughs, Flask. No more monkey-jackets and tarpaulins for me; I must mount a swallow-tail, and drive down a beaver; so. Halloa! whew! there goes my tarpaulin overboard; Lord, Lord, that the winds that come from heaven should be so unmannerly! This is a nasty night, lad."
MIDNIGHT ALOFT. – THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.
The Main-top-sail yard. – Tashtego passing new lashings around it.
"UM, um, um. Stop that thunder! Plenty too much thunder up here. What's the use of thunder? Um, um, um. We don't want thunder; we want rum; give us a glass of rum. Um, um, um!"
DURING the most violent shocks of the Typhoon, the man at the Pequod's jaw-bone tiller had several times been reelingly hurled to the deck by its spasmodic motions, even though pre[[@Page: 566]]venter tackles had been attached to it – for they were slack – because some play to the tiller was indispensable. In a severe gale like this, while the ship is but a tossed shuttle-cock to the blast, it is by no means uncommon to see the needles in the compasses, at intervals, go round and round. It was thus with the Pequod's; at almost every shock the helmsman had not failed to notice the whirling velocity with which they revolved upon the cards; it is a sight that hardly any one can behold without some sort of unwonted emotion. Some hours after midnight, the Typhoon abated so much, that through the strenuous exertions of Starbuck and Stubb – one engaged forward and the other aft – the shivered remnants of the jib and fore and main-top-sails were cut adrift from the spars, and went eddying away to leeward, like the feathers of an albatross, which sometimes are cast to the winds when that storm-tossed bird is on the wing. The three corresponding new sails were now bent and reefed, and a storm-trysail was set further aft; so that the ship soon went through the water with some precision again; and the course – for the present, East-south-east – which he was to steer, if practicable, was once more given to the helmsman. For during the violence of the gale, he had only steered according to its vicissitudes. But as he was now bringing the ship as near her course as possible, watching the compass meanwhile, lo! a good sign! the wind seemed coming round astern; aye! the foul breeze became fair!
Instantly the yards were squared, to the lively song of "Ho! the fair wind! oh-he-yo, cheerly, men!" the crew singing for joy, that so promising an event should so soon have falsified the evil portents preceding it.
In compliance with the standing order of his commander – to report immediately, and at any one of the twenty-four hours, any decided change in the affairs of the deck, – Starbuck had no sooner trimmed the yards to the breeze – however reluctantly[[@Page: 567]] and gloomily, – than he mechanically went below to apprise Captain Ahab of the circumstance.
Ere knocking at his state-room, he involuntarily paused before it a moment. The cabin lamp – taking long swings this way and that – was burning fitfully, and casting fitful shadows upon the old man's bolted door, – a thin one, with fixed blinds inserted, in place of upper panels. The isolated subterraneousness of the cabin made a certain humming silence to reign there, though it was hooped round by all the roar of the elements. The loaded muskets in the rack were shiningly revealed, as they stood upright against the forward bulkhead. Starbuck was an honest, upright man; but out of Starbuck's heart, at that instant when he saw the muskets, there strangely evolved an evil thought; but so blent with its neutral or good accompaniments that for the instant he hardly knew it for itself.
"He would have shot me once," he murmured, "yes, there's the very musket that he pointed at me; – that one with the studded stock; let me touch it – lift it. Strange, that I, who have handled so many deadly lances, strange, that I should shake so now. Loaded? I must see. Aye, aye; and powder in the pan; – that's not good. Best spill it? – wait. I'll cure myself of this. I'll hold the musket boldly while I think. – I come to report a fair wind to him. But how fair? Fair for death and doom, – that's fair for Moby Dick. It's a fair wind that's only fair for that accursed fish. – The very tube he pointed at me! – the very one; this one – I hold it here; he would have killed me with the very thing I handle now. – Aye and he would fain kill all his crew. Does he not say he will not strike his spars to any gale? Has he not dashed his heavenly quadrant? and in these same perilous seas, gropes he not his way by mere dead reckoning of the error-abounding log? and in this very Typhoon, did he not swear that he would have no lightning-rods? But shall this crazed old man be tamely suffered[[@Page: 568]] to drag a whole ship's company down to doom with him? – Yes, it would make him the wilful murderer of thirty men and more, if this ship come to any deadly harm; and come to deadly harm, my soul swears this ship will, if Ahab have his way. If, then, he were this instant – put aside, that crime would not be his. Ha! is he muttering in his sleep? Yes, just there, – in there, he's sleeping. Sleeping? aye, but still alive, and soon awake again. I can't withstand thee, then, old man. Not reasoning; not remonstrance; not entreaty wilt thou hearken to; all this thou scornest. Flat obedience to thy own flat commands, this is all thou breathest. Aye, and say'st the men have vow"d thy vow; say'st all of us are Ahabs. Great God forbid! – But is there no other way? no lawful way? – Make him a prisoner to be taken home? What! hope to wrest this old man's living power from his own living hands? Only a fool would try it. Say he were pinioned even; knotted all over with ropes and hawsers; chained down to ring-bolts on this cabin floor; he would be more hideous than a caged tiger, then. I could not endure the sight; could not possibly fly his howlings; all comfort, sleep itself, inestimable reason would leave me on the long intolerable voyage. What, then, remains? The land is hundreds of leagues away, and locked Japan the nearest. I stand alone here upon an open sea, with two oceans and a whole continent between me and law. – Aye, aye, 'tis so. – Is heaven a murderer when its lightning strikes a would-be murderer in his bed, tindering sheets and skin together? – And would I be a murderer, then, if" ––––– and slowly, stealthily, and half sideways looking, he placed the loaded musket's end against the door.
"On this level, Ahab's hammock swings within; his head this way. A touch, and Starbuck may survive to hug his wife and child again. – Oh Mary! Mary! – boy! boy! boy! – But if I wake thee not to death, old man, who can tell to what unsounded deeps Starbuck's body this day week may sink, with all the crew![[@Page: 569]] Great God, where art thou? Shall I? shall I? ––––– The wind has gone down and shifted, Sir; the fore and main topsails are reefed and set; she heads her course."
"Stern all! Oh Moby Dick, I clutch thy heart at last!"
Such were the sounds that now came hurtling from out the old man's tormented sleep, as if Starbuck's voice had caused the long dumb dream to speak.
The yet levelled musket shook like a drunkard's arm against the panel; Starbuck seemed wrestling with an angel; but turning from the door, he placed the death-tube in its rack, and left the place.
"He's too sound asleep, Mr Stubb; go thou down, and wake him, and tell him. I must see to the deck here. Thou know'st what to say."