The Project Gutenberg ebook of Moby Dick; or The Whale, by Herman Melville

Download 4.14 Mb.
Date conversion29.04.2016
Size4.14 Mb.
1   ...   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   ...   56

called him King-Post on board of the Pequod; because, in form, he could

be well likened to the short, square timber known by that name in Arctic

whalers; and which by the means of many radiating side timbers inserted

into it, serves to brace the ship against the icy concussions of those

battering seas.

Now these three mates--Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, were momentous

men. They it was who by universal prescription commanded three of the

Pequod's boats as headsmen. In that grand order of battle in which

Captain Ahab would probably marshal his forces to descend on the whales,

these three headsmen were as captains of companies. Or, being armed with

their long keen whaling spears, they were as a picked trio of lancers;

even as the harpooneers were flingers of javelins.
And since in this famous fishery, each mate or headsman, like a Gothic

Knight of old, is always accompanied by his boat-steerer or harpooneer,

who in certain conjunctures provides him with a fresh lance, when

the former one has been badly twisted, or elbowed in the assault; and

moreover, as there generally subsists between the two, a close intimacy

and friendliness; it is therefore but meet, that in this place we set

down who the Pequod's harpooneers were, and to what headsman each of

them belonged.

First of all was Queequeg, whom Starbuck, the chief mate, had selected

for his squire. But Queequeg is already known.

Next was Tashtego, an unmixed Indian from Gay Head, the most westerly

promontory of Martha's Vineyard, where there still exists the last

remnant of a village of red men, which has long supplied the neighboring

island of Nantucket with many of her most daring harpooneers. In the

fishery, they usually go by the generic name of Gay-Headers. Tashtego's

long, lean, sable hair, his high cheek bones, and black rounding

eyes--for an Indian, Oriental in their largeness, but Antarctic in their

glittering expression--all this sufficiently proclaimed him an inheritor

of the unvitiated blood of those proud warrior hunters, who, in quest

of the great New England moose, had scoured, bow in hand, the aboriginal

forests of the main. But no longer snuffing in the trail of the wild

beasts of the woodland, Tashtego now hunted in the wake of the great

whales of the sea; the unerring harpoon of the son fitly replacing the

infallible arrow of the sires. To look at the tawny brawn of his lithe

snaky limbs, you would almost have credited the superstitions of some of

the earlier Puritans, and half-believed this wild Indian to be a son

of the Prince of the Powers of the Air. Tashtego was Stubb the second

mate's squire.

Third among the harpooneers was Daggoo, a gigantic, coal-black

negro-savage, with a lion-like tread--an Ahasuerus to behold. Suspended

from his ears were two golden hoops, so large that the sailors called

them ring-bolts, and would talk of securing the top-sail halyards to

them. In his youth Daggoo had voluntarily shipped on board of a whaler,

lying in a lonely bay on his native coast. And never having been

anywhere in the world but in Africa, Nantucket, and the pagan harbors

most frequented by whalemen; and having now led for many years the bold

life of the fishery in the ships of owners uncommonly heedful of what

manner of men they shipped; Daggoo retained all his barbaric virtues,

and erect as a giraffe, moved about the decks in all the pomp of six

feet five in his socks. There was a corporeal humility in looking up at

him; and a white man standing before him seemed a white flag come to

beg truce of a fortress. Curious to tell, this imperial negro, Ahasuerus

Daggoo, was the Squire of little Flask, who looked like a chess-man

beside him. As for the residue of the Pequod's company, be it said, that

at the present day not one in two of the many thousand men before the

mast employed in the American whale fishery, are Americans born, though

pretty nearly all the officers are. Herein it is the same with the

American whale fishery as with the American army and military and

merchant navies, and the engineering forces employed in the construction

of the American Canals and Railroads. The same, I say, because in all

these cases the native American liberally provides the brains, the rest

of the world as generously supplying the muscles. No small number of

these whaling seamen belong to the Azores, where the outward bound

Nantucket whalers frequently touch to augment their crews from the hardy

peasants of those rocky shores. In like manner, the Greenland whalers

sailing out of Hull or London, put in at the Shetland Islands, to

receive the full complement of their crew. Upon the passage homewards,

they drop them there again. How it is, there is no telling, but

Islanders seem to make the best whalemen. They were nearly all Islanders

in the Pequod, ISOLATOES too, I call such, not acknowledging the common

continent of men, but each ISOLATO living on a separate continent of his

own. Yet now, federated along one keel, what a set these Isolatoes were!

An Anacharsis Clootz deputation from all the isles of the sea, and all

the ends of the earth, accompanying Old Ahab in the Pequod to lay the

world's grievances before that bar from which not very many of them ever

come back. Black Little Pip--he never did--oh, no! he went before. Poor

Alabama boy! On the grim Pequod's forecastle, ye shall ere long see him,

beating his tambourine; prelusive of the eternal time, when sent for,

to the great quarter-deck on high, he was bid strike in with angels, and

beat his tambourine in glory; called a coward here, hailed a hero there!

CHAPTER 28. Ahab.

For several days after leaving Nantucket, nothing above hatches was seen

of Captain Ahab. The mates regularly relieved each other at the watches,

and for aught that could be seen to the contrary, they seemed to be the

only commanders of the ship; only they sometimes issued from the cabin

with orders so sudden and peremptory, that after all it was plain they

but commanded vicariously. Yes, their supreme lord and dictator was

there, though hitherto unseen by any eyes not permitted to penetrate

into the now sacred retreat of the cabin.

Every time I ascended to the deck from my watches below, I instantly

gazed aft to mark if any strange face were visible; for my first vague

disquietude touching the unknown captain, now in the seclusion of the

sea, became almost a perturbation. This was strangely heightened

at times by the ragged Elijah's diabolical incoherences uninvitedly

recurring to me, with a subtle energy I could not have before conceived

of. But poorly could I withstand them, much as in other moods I was

almost ready to smile at the solemn whimsicalities of that outlandish

prophet of the wharves. But whatever it was of apprehensiveness or

uneasiness--to call it so--which I felt, yet whenever I came to look

about me in the ship, it seemed against all warrantry to cherish such

emotions. For though the harpooneers, with the great body of the crew,

were a far more barbaric, heathenish, and motley set than any of the

tame merchant-ship companies which my previous experiences had made me

acquainted with, still I ascribed this--and rightly ascribed it--to the

fierce uniqueness of the very nature of that wild Scandinavian vocation

in which I had so abandonedly embarked. But it was especially the aspect

of the three chief officers of the ship, the mates, which was most

forcibly calculated to allay these colourless misgivings, and induce

confidence and cheerfulness in every presentment of the voyage. Three

better, more likely sea-officers and men, each in his own different way,

could not readily be found, and they were every one of them Americans; a

Nantucketer, a Vineyarder, a Cape man. Now, it being Christmas when the

ship shot from out her harbor, for a space we had biting Polar weather,

though all the time running away from it to the southward; and by every

degree and minute of latitude which we sailed, gradually leaving that

merciless winter, and all its intolerable weather behind us. It was one

of those less lowering, but still grey and gloomy enough mornings of the

transition, when with a fair wind the ship was rushing through the water

with a vindictive sort of leaping and melancholy rapidity, that as I

mounted to the deck at the call of the forenoon watch, so soon as I

levelled my glance towards the taffrail, foreboding shivers ran over me.

Reality outran apprehension; Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck.
There seemed no sign of common bodily illness about him, nor of the

recovery from any. He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when

the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them,

or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness. His

whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an

unalterable mould, like Cellini's cast Perseus. Threading its way out

from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his

tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing,

you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It resembled that

perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of

a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and

without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top

to bottom, ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly

alive, but branded. Whether that mark was born with him, or whether it

was the scar left by some desperate wound, no one could certainly say.

By some tacit consent, throughout the voyage little or no allusion was

made to it, especially by the mates. But once Tashtego's senior, an old

Gay-Head Indian among the crew, superstitiously asserted that not till

he was full forty years old did Ahab become that way branded, and

then it came upon him, not in the fury of any mortal fray, but in

an elemental strife at sea. Yet, this wild hint seemed inferentially

negatived, by what a grey Manxman insinuated, an old sepulchral man,

who, having never before sailed out of Nantucket, had never ere this

laid eye upon wild Ahab. Nevertheless, the old sea-traditions, the

immemorial credulities, popularly invested this old Manxman with

preternatural powers of discernment. So that no white sailor seriously

contradicted him when he said that if ever Captain Ahab should

be tranquilly laid out--which might hardly come to pass, so he

muttered--then, whoever should do that last office for the dead, would

find a birth-mark on him from crown to sole.

So powerfully did the whole grim aspect of Ahab affect me, and the livid

brand which streaked it, that for the first few moments I hardly noted

that not a little of this overbearing grimness was owing to the barbaric

white leg upon which he partly stood. It had previously come to me that

this ivory leg had at sea been fashioned from the polished bone of

the sperm whale's jaw. "Aye, he was dismasted off Japan," said the old

Gay-Head Indian once; "but like his dismasted craft, he shipped another

mast without coming home for it. He has a quiver of 'em."

I was struck with the singular posture he maintained. Upon each side of

the Pequod's quarter deck, and pretty close to the mizzen shrouds, there

was an auger hole, bored about half an inch or so, into the plank.

His bone leg steadied in that hole; one arm elevated, and holding by a

shroud; Captain Ahab stood erect, looking straight out beyond the

ship's ever-pitching prow. There was an infinity of firmest fortitude,

a determinate, unsurrenderable wilfulness, in the fixed and fearless,

forward dedication of that glance. Not a word he spoke; nor did his

officers say aught to him; though by all their minutest gestures

and expressions, they plainly showed the uneasy, if not painful,

consciousness of being under a troubled master-eye. And not only that,

but moody stricken Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his

face; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe.
Ere long, from his first visit in the air, he withdrew into his cabin.

But after that morning, he was every day visible to the crew; either

standing in his pivot-hole, or seated upon an ivory stool he had; or

heavily walking the deck. As the sky grew less gloomy; indeed, began to

grow a little genial, he became still less and less a recluse; as

if, when the ship had sailed from home, nothing but the dead wintry

bleakness of the sea had then kept him so secluded. And, by and by, it

came to pass, that he was almost continually in the air; but, as yet,

for all that he said, or perceptibly did, on the at last sunny deck,

he seemed as unnecessary there as another mast. But the Pequod was

only making a passage now; not regularly cruising; nearly all whaling

preparatives needing supervision the mates were fully competent to, so

that there was little or nothing, out of himself, to employ or excite

Ahab, now; and thus chase away, for that one interval, the clouds that

layer upon layer were piled upon his brow, as ever all clouds choose the

loftiest peaks to pile themselves upon.

Nevertheless, ere long, the warm, warbling persuasiveness of the

pleasant, holiday weather we came to, seemed gradually to charm him from

his mood. For, as when the red-cheeked, dancing girls, April and May,

trip home to the wintry, misanthropic woods; even the barest, ruggedest,

most thunder-cloven old oak will at least send forth some few green

sprouts, to welcome such glad-hearted visitants; so Ahab did, in the

end, a little respond to the playful allurings of that girlish air. More

than once did he put forth the faint blossom of a look, which, in any

other man, would have soon flowered out in a smile.

CHAPTER 29. Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb.

Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the Pequod now

went rolling through the bright Quito spring, which, at sea, almost

perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic.

The warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing, redundant days,

were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up--flaked up, with

rose-water snow. The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in

jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their

absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns! For sleeping man,

'twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights.

But all the witcheries of that unwaning weather did not merely lend new

spells and potencies to the outward world. Inward they turned upon the

soul, especially when the still mild hours of eve came on; then, memory

shot her crystals as the clear ice most forms of noiseless twilights.

And all these subtle agencies, more and more they wrought on Ahab's

Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less

man has to do with aught that looks like death. Among sea-commanders,

the old greybeards will oftenest leave their berths to visit the

night-cloaked deck. It was so with Ahab; only that now, of late, he

seemed so much to live in the open air, that truly speaking, his visits

were more to the cabin, than from the cabin to the planks. "It feels

like going down into one's tomb,"--he would mutter to himself--"for an

old captain like me to be descending this narrow scuttle, to go to my

grave-dug berth."
So, almost every twenty-four hours, when the watches of the night were

set, and the band on deck sentinelled the slumbers of the band below;

and when if a rope was to be hauled upon the forecastle, the sailors

flung it not rudely down, as by day, but with some cautiousness dropt

it to its place for fear of disturbing their slumbering shipmates; when

this sort of steady quietude would begin to prevail, habitually, the

silent steersman would watch the cabin-scuttle; and ere long the old man

would emerge, gripping at the iron banister, to help his crippled way.

Some considering touch of humanity was in him; for at times like these,

he usually abstained from patrolling the quarter-deck; because to his

wearied mates, seeking repose within six inches of his ivory heel, such

would have been the reverberating crack and din of that bony step, that

their dreams would have been on the crunching teeth of sharks. But once,

the mood was on him too deep for common regardings; and as with heavy,

lumber-like pace he was measuring the ship from taffrail to mainmast,

Stubb, the old second mate, came up from below, with a certain

unassured, deprecating humorousness, hinted that if Captain Ahab was

pleased to walk the planks, then, no one could say nay; but there might

be some way of muffling the noise; hinting something indistinctly and

hesitatingly about a globe of tow, and the insertion into it, of the

ivory heel. Ah! Stubb, thou didst not know Ahab then.
"Am I a cannon-ball, Stubb," said Ahab, "that thou wouldst wad me that

fashion? But go thy ways; I had forgot. Below to thy nightly grave;

where such as ye sleep between shrouds, to use ye to the filling one at

last.--Down, dog, and kennel!"

Starting at the unforseen concluding exclamation of the so suddenly

scornful old man, Stubb was speechless a moment; then said excitedly, "I

am not used to be spoken to that way, sir; I do but less than half like

it, sir."

"Avast! gritted Ahab between his set teeth, and violently moving away,

as if to avoid some passionate temptation.

"No, sir; not yet," said Stubb, emboldened, "I will not tamely be called

a dog, sir."

"Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone,

or I'll clear the world of thee!"

As he said this, Ahab advanced upon him with such overbearing terrors in

his aspect, that Stubb involuntarily retreated.

"I was never served so before without giving a hard blow for it,"

muttered Stubb, as he found himself descending the cabin-scuttle. "It's

very queer. Stop, Stubb; somehow, now, I don't well know whether to go

back and strike him, or--what's that?--down here on my knees and pray

for him? Yes, that was the thought coming up in me; but it would be the

first time I ever DID pray. It's queer; very queer; and he's queer too;

aye, take him fore and aft, he's about the queerest old man Stubb ever

sailed with. How he flashed at me!--his eyes like powder-pans! is he

mad? Anyway there's something on his mind, as sure as there must be

something on a deck when it cracks. He aint in his bed now, either, more

than three hours out of the twenty-four; and he don't sleep then. Didn't

that Dough-Boy, the steward, tell me that of a morning he always finds

the old man's hammock clothes all rumpled and tumbled, and the sheets

down at the foot, and the coverlid almost tied into knots, and the

pillow a sort of frightful hot, as though a baked brick had been on

it? A hot old man! I guess he's got what some folks ashore call

a conscience; it's a kind of Tic-Dolly-row they say--worse nor a

toothache. Well, well; I don't know what it is, but the Lord keep me

from catching it. He's full of riddles; I wonder what he goes into the

after hold for, every night, as Dough-Boy tells me he suspects; what's

that for, I should like to know? Who's made appointments with him in

the hold? Ain't that queer, now? But there's no telling, it's the old

game--Here goes for a snooze. Damn me, it's worth a fellow's while to be

born into the world, if only to fall right asleep. And now that I think

of it, that's about the first thing babies do, and that's a sort of

queer, too. Damn me, but all things are queer, come to think of 'em. But

that's against my principles. Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and

sleep when you can, is my twelfth--So here goes again. But how's that?

didn't he call me a dog? blazes! he called me ten times a donkey, and

piled a lot of jackasses on top of THAT! He might as well have kicked

me, and done with it. Maybe he DID kick me, and I didn't observe it,

I was so taken all aback with his brow, somehow. It flashed like a

bleached bone. What the devil's the matter with me? I don't stand right

on my legs. Coming afoul of that old man has a sort of turned me wrong

side out. By the Lord, I must have been dreaming, though--How? how?

how?--but the only way's to stash it; so here goes to hammock again;

and in the morning, I'll see how this plaguey juggling thinks over by


CHAPTER 30. The Pipe.

When Stubb had departed, Ahab stood for a while leaning over the

bulwarks; and then, as had been usual with him of late, calling a sailor

of the watch, he sent him below for his ivory stool, and also his pipe.

Lighting the pipe at the binnacle lamp and planting the stool on the

weather side of the deck, he sat and smoked.
In old Norse times, the thrones of the sea-loving Danish kings were

fabricated, saith tradition, of the tusks of the narwhale. How could one

look at Ahab then, seated on that tripod of bones, without bethinking

him of the royalty it symbolized? For a Khan of the plank, and a king of

the sea, and a great lord of Leviathans was Ahab.
Some moments passed, during which the thick vapour came from his mouth

in quick and constant puffs, which blew back again into his face. "How

now," he soliloquized at last, withdrawing the tube, "this smoking no

longer soothes. Oh, my pipe! hard must it go with me if thy charm be

gone! Here have I been unconsciously toiling, not pleasuring--aye, and

ignorantly smoking to windward all the while; to windward, and with

such nervous whiffs, as if, like the dying whale, my final jets were the

strongest and fullest of trouble. What business have I with this pipe?

This thing that is meant for sereneness, to send up mild white vapours

among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I'll

smoke no more--"
He tossed the still lighted pipe into the sea. The fire hissed in the

waves; the same instant the ship shot by the bubble the sinking pipe

made. With slouched hat, Ahab lurchingly paced the planks.

CHAPTER 31. Queen Mab.

Next morning Stubb accosted Flask.
"Such a queer dream, King-Post, I never had. You know the old man's

ivory leg, well I dreamed he kicked me with it; and when I tried to kick

1   ...   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   ...   56

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page