prove to be the hated one he hunted. But if such an hypothesis be indeed
exceptionable, there were still additional considerations which, though
not so strictly according with the wildness of his ruling passion, yet
were by no means incapable of swaying him.
To accomplish his object Ahab must use tools; and of all tools used in
the shadow of the moon, men are most apt to get out of order. He knew,
for example, that however magnetic his ascendency in some respects was
over Starbuck, yet that ascendency did not cover the complete spiritual
man any more than mere corporeal superiority involves intellectual
mastership; for to the purely spiritual, the intellectual but stand in a
sort of corporeal relation. Starbuck's body and Starbuck's coerced will
were Ahab's, so long as Ahab kept his magnet at Starbuck's brain; still
he knew that for all this the chief mate, in his soul, abhorred his
captain's quest, and could he, would joyfully disintegrate himself from
it, or even frustrate it. It might be that a long interval would elapse
ere the White Whale was seen. During that long interval Starbuck
would ever be apt to fall into open relapses of rebellion against his
captain's leadership, unless some ordinary, prudential, circumstantial
influences were brought to bear upon him. Not only that, but the subtle
insanity of Ahab respecting Moby Dick was noways more significantly
manifested than in his superlative sense and shrewdness in foreseeing
that, for the present, the hunt should in some way be stripped of that
strange imaginative impiousness which naturally invested it; that
the full terror of the voyage must be kept withdrawn into the obscure
background (for few men's courage is proof against protracted meditation
unrelieved by action); that when they stood their long night watches,
his officers and men must have some nearer things to think of than Moby
Dick. For however eagerly and impetuously the savage crew had hailed the
announcement of his quest; yet all sailors of all sorts are more or less
capricious and unreliable--they live in the varying outer weather, and
they inhale its fickleness--and when retained for any object remote and
blank in the pursuit, however promissory of life and passion in the
end, it is above all things requisite that temporary interests and
employments should intervene and hold them healthily suspended for the
Nor was Ahab unmindful of another thing. In times of strong emotion
mankind disdain all base considerations; but such times are evanescent.
The permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man, thought
Ahab, is sordidness. Granting that the White Whale fully incites the
hearts of this my savage crew, and playing round their savageness even
breeds a certain generous knight-errantism in them, still, while for the
love of it they give chase to Moby Dick, they must also have food
for their more common, daily appetites. For even the high lifted and
chivalric Crusaders of old times were not content to traverse two
thousand miles of land to fight for their holy sepulchre, without
committing burglaries, picking pockets, and gaining other pious
perquisites by the way. Had they been strictly held to their one final
and romantic object--that final and romantic object, too many would have
turned from in disgust. I will not strip these men, thought Ahab, of all
hopes of cash--aye, cash. They may scorn cash now; but let some months
go by, and no perspective promise of it to them, and then this same
quiescent cash all at once mutinying in them, this same cash would soon
Nor was there wanting still another precautionary motive more related
to Ahab personally. Having impulsively, it is probable, and perhaps
somewhat prematurely revealed the prime but private purpose of the
Pequod's voyage, Ahab was now entirely conscious that, in so doing,
he had indirectly laid himself open to the unanswerable charge of
usurpation; and with perfect impunity, both moral and legal, his crew
if so disposed, and to that end competent, could refuse all further
obedience to him, and even violently wrest from him the command. From
even the barely hinted imputation of usurpation, and the possible
consequences of such a suppressed impression gaining ground, Ahab must
of course have been most anxious to protect himself. That protection
could only consist in his own predominating brain and heart and hand,
backed by a heedful, closely calculating attention to every minute
atmospheric influence which it was possible for his crew to be subjected
For all these reasons then, and others perhaps too analytic to be
verbally developed here, Ahab plainly saw that he must still in a good
degree continue true to the natural, nominal purpose of the Pequod's
voyage; observe all customary usages; and not only that, but force
himself to evince all his well known passionate interest in the general
pursuit of his profession.
Be all this as it may, his voice was now often heard hailing the three
mast-heads and admonishing them to keep a bright look-out, and not omit
reporting even a porpoise. This vigilance was not long without reward.
CHAPTER 47. The Mat-Maker.
It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon; the seamen were lazily lounging
about the decks, or vacantly gazing over into the lead-coloured waters.
Queequeg and I were mildly employed weaving what is called a sword-mat,
for an additional lashing to our boat. So still and subdued and yet
somehow preluding was all the scene, and such an incantation of reverie
lurked in the air, that each silent sailor seemed resolved into his own
I was the attendant or page of Queequeg, while busy at the mat. As I
kept passing and repassing the filling or woof of marline between
the long yarns of the warp, using my own hand for the shuttle, and as
Queequeg, standing sideways, ever and anon slid his heavy oaken sword
between the threads, and idly looking off upon the water, carelessly and
unthinkingly drove home every yarn: I say so strange a dreaminess did
there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by
the intermitting dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this were
the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving
and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed threads of the warp
subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and
that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending
of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and here,
thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own
destiny into these unalterable threads. Meantime, Queequeg's impulsive,
indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly,
or strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by this difference
in the concluding blow producing a corresponding contrast in the final
aspect of the completed fabric; this savage's sword, thought I,
which thus finally shapes and fashions both warp and woof; this
easy, indifferent sword must be chance--aye, chance, free will, and
necessity--nowise incompatible--all interweavingly working together.
The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate
course--its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that;
free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and
chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of
necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though
thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the
last featuring blow at events.
Thus we were weaving and weaving away when I started at a sound so
strange, long drawn, and musically wild and unearthly, that the ball
of free will dropped from my hand, and I stood gazing up at the clouds
whence that voice dropped like a wing. High aloft in the cross-trees was
that mad Gay-Header, Tashtego. His body was reaching eagerly forward,
his hand stretched out like a wand, and at brief sudden intervals he
continued his cries. To be sure the same sound was that very moment
perhaps being heard all over the seas, from hundreds of whalemen's
look-outs perched as high in the air; but from few of those lungs could
that accustomed old cry have derived such a marvellous cadence as from
Tashtego the Indian's.
As he stood hovering over you half suspended in air, so wildly and
eagerly peering towards the horizon, you would have thought him some
prophet or seer beholding the shadows of Fate, and by those wild cries
announcing their coming.
"There she blows! there! there! there! she blows! she blows!"
"On the lee-beam, about two miles off! a school of them!"
Instantly all was commotion.
The Sperm Whale blows as a clock ticks, with the same undeviating and
reliable uniformity. And thereby whalemen distinguish this fish from
other tribes of his genus.
"There go flukes!" was now the cry from Tashtego; and the whales
"Quick, steward!" cried Ahab. "Time! time!"
Dough-Boy hurried below, glanced at the watch, and reported the exact
minute to Ahab.
The ship was now kept away from the wind, and she went gently rolling
before it. Tashtego reporting that the whales had gone down heading to
leeward, we confidently looked to see them again directly in advance of
our bows. For that singular craft at times evinced by the Sperm Whale
when, sounding with his head in one direction, he nevertheless, while
concealed beneath the surface, mills round, and swiftly swims off in the
opposite quarter--this deceitfulness of his could not now be in action;
for there was no reason to suppose that the fish seen by Tashtego had
been in any way alarmed, or indeed knew at all of our vicinity. One of
the men selected for shipkeepers--that is, those not appointed to the
boats, by this time relieved the Indian at the main-mast head. The
sailors at the fore and mizzen had come down; the line tubs were fixed
in their places; the cranes were thrust out; the mainyard was backed,
and the three boats swung over the sea like three samphire baskets over
high cliffs. Outside of the bulwarks their eager crews with one hand
clung to the rail, while one foot was expectantly poised on the gunwale.
So look the long line of man-of-war's men about to throw themselves on
board an enemy's ship.
But at this critical instant a sudden exclamation was heard that took
every eye from the whale. With a start all glared at dark Ahab, who was
surrounded by five dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air.
CHAPTER 48. The First Lowering.
The phantoms, for so they then seemed, were flitting on the other side
of the deck, and, with a noiseless celerity, were casting loose the
tackles and bands of the boat which swung there. This boat had always
been deemed one of the spare boats, though technically called the
captain's, on account of its hanging from the starboard quarter. The
figure that now stood by its bows was tall and swart, with one white
tooth evilly protruding from its steel-like lips. A rumpled Chinese
jacket of black cotton funereally invested him, with wide black trowsers
of the same dark stuff. But strangely crowning this ebonness was a
glistening white plaited turban, the living hair braided and coiled
round and round upon his head. Less swart in aspect, the companions of
this figure were of that vivid, tiger-yellow complexion peculiar to
some of the aboriginal natives of the Manillas;--a race notorious for
a certain diabolism of subtilty, and by some honest white mariners
supposed to be the paid spies and secret confidential agents on the
water of the devil, their lord, whose counting-room they suppose to be
While yet the wondering ship's company were gazing upon these strangers,
Ahab cried out to the white-turbaned old man at their head, "All ready
"Ready," was the half-hissed reply.
"Lower away then; d'ye hear?" shouting across the deck. "Lower away
there, I say."
Such was the thunder of his voice, that spite of their amazement the men
sprang over the rail; the sheaves whirled round in the blocks; with a
wallow, the three boats dropped into the sea; while, with a dexterous,
off-handed daring, unknown in any other vocation, the sailors,
goat-like, leaped down the rolling ship's side into the tossed boats
Hardly had they pulled out from under the ship's lee, when a fourth
keel, coming from the windward side, pulled round under the stern, and
showed the five strangers rowing Ahab, who, standing erect in the stern,
loudly hailed Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, to spread themselves widely,
so as to cover a large expanse of water. But with all their eyes again
riveted upon the swart Fedallah and his crew, the inmates of the other
boats obeyed not the command.
"Captain Ahab?--" said Starbuck.
"Spread yourselves," cried Ahab; "give way, all four boats. Thou, Flask,
pull out more to leeward!"
"Aye, aye, sir," cheerily cried little King-Post, sweeping round
his great steering oar. "Lay back!" addressing his crew.
"There!--there!--there again! There she blows right ahead, boys!--lay
"Never heed yonder yellow boys, Archy."
"Oh, I don't mind'em, sir," said Archy; "I knew it all before now.
Didn't I hear 'em in the hold? And didn't I tell Cabaco here of it? What
say ye, Cabaco? They are stowaways, Mr. Flask."
"Pull, pull, my fine hearts-alive; pull, my children; pull, my little
ones," drawlingly and soothingly sighed Stubb to his crew, some of whom
still showed signs of uneasiness. "Why don't you break your backbones,
my boys? What is it you stare at? Those chaps in yonder boat? Tut! They
are only five more hands come to help us--never mind from where--the
more the merrier. Pull, then, do pull; never mind the brimstone--devils
are good fellows enough. So, so; there you are now; that's the stroke
for a thousand pounds; that's the stroke to sweep the stakes! Hurrah
for the gold cup of sperm oil, my heroes! Three cheers, men--all hearts
alive! Easy, easy; don't be in a hurry--don't be in a hurry. Why don't
you snap your oars, you rascals? Bite something, you dogs! So, so, so,
then:--softly, softly! That's it--that's it! long and strong. Give way
there, give way! The devil fetch ye, ye ragamuffin rapscallions; ye are
all asleep. Stop snoring, ye sleepers, and pull. Pull, will ye? pull,
can't ye? pull, won't ye? Why in the name of gudgeons and ginger-cakes
don't ye pull?--pull and break something! pull, and start your eyes out!
Here!" whipping out the sharp knife from his girdle; "every mother's son
of ye draw his knife, and pull with the blade between his teeth. That's
it--that's it. Now ye do something; that looks like it, my steel-bits.
Start her--start her, my silver-spoons! Start her, marling-spikes!"
Stubb's exordium to his crew is given here at large, because he had
rather a peculiar way of talking to them in general, and especially in
inculcating the religion of rowing. But you must not suppose from this
specimen of his sermonizings that he ever flew into downright passions
with his congregation. Not at all; and therein consisted his chief
peculiarity. He would say the most terrific things to his crew, in a
tone so strangely compounded of fun and fury, and the fury seemed so
calculated merely as a spice to the fun, that no oarsman could hear such
queer invocations without pulling for dear life, and yet pulling for
the mere joke of the thing. Besides he all the time looked so easy and
indolent himself, so loungingly managed his steering-oar, and so broadly
gaped--open-mouthed at times--that the mere sight of such a yawning
commander, by sheer force of contrast, acted like a charm upon the crew.
Then again, Stubb was one of those odd sort of humorists, whose jollity
is sometimes so curiously ambiguous, as to put all inferiors on their
guard in the matter of obeying them.
In obedience to a sign from Ahab, Starbuck was now pulling obliquely
across Stubb's bow; and when for a minute or so the two boats were
pretty near to each other, Stubb hailed the mate.
"Mr. Starbuck! larboard boat there, ahoy! a word with ye, sir, if ye
"Halloa!" returned Starbuck, turning round not a single inch as he
spoke; still earnestly but whisperingly urging his crew; his face set
like a flint from Stubb's.
"What think ye of those yellow boys, sir!
"Smuggled on board, somehow, before the ship sailed. (Strong, strong,
boys!)" in a whisper to his crew, then speaking out loud again: "A sad
business, Mr. Stubb! (seethe her, seethe her, my lads!) but never mind,
Mr. Stubb, all for the best. Let all your crew pull strong, come what
will. (Spring, my men, spring!) There's hogsheads of sperm ahead, Mr.
Stubb, and that's what ye came for. (Pull, my boys!) Sperm, sperm's the
play! This at least is duty; duty and profit hand in hand."
"Aye, aye, I thought as much," soliloquized Stubb, when the boats
diverged, "as soon as I clapt eye on 'em, I thought so. Aye, and that's
what he went into the after hold for, so often, as Dough-Boy long
suspected. They were hidden down there. The White Whale's at the bottom
of it. Well, well, so be it! Can't be helped! All right! Give way, men!
It ain't the White Whale to-day! Give way!"
Now the advent of these outlandish strangers at such a critical instant
as the lowering of the boats from the deck, this had not unreasonably
awakened a sort of superstitious amazement in some of the ship's
company; but Archy's fancied discovery having some time previous got
abroad among them, though indeed not credited then, this had in some
small measure prepared them for the event. It took off the extreme edge
of their wonder; and so what with all this and Stubb's confident way
of accounting for their appearance, they were for the time freed from
superstitious surmisings; though the affair still left abundant room for
all manner of wild conjectures as to dark Ahab's precise agency in the
matter from the beginning. For me, I silently recalled the mysterious
shadows I had seen creeping on board the Pequod during the dim Nantucket
dawn, as well as the enigmatical hintings of the unaccountable Elijah.
Meantime, Ahab, out of hearing of his officers, having sided the
furthest to windward, was still ranging ahead of the other boats; a
circumstance bespeaking how potent a crew was pulling him. Those tiger
yellow creatures of his seemed all steel and whalebone; like five
trip-hammers they rose and fell with regular strokes of strength, which
periodically started the boat along the water like a horizontal burst
boiler out of a Mississippi steamer. As for Fedallah, who was seen
pulling the harpooneer oar, he had thrown aside his black jacket, and
displayed his naked chest with the whole part of his body above the
gunwale, clearly cut against the alternating depressions of the watery
horizon; while at the other end of the boat Ahab, with one arm, like a
fencer's, thrown half backward into the air, as if to counterbalance any
tendency to trip; Ahab was seen steadily managing his steering oar as in
a thousand boat lowerings ere the White Whale had torn him. All at once
the outstretched arm gave a peculiar motion and then remained fixed,
while the boat's five oars were seen simultaneously peaked. Boat and
crew sat motionless on the sea. Instantly the three spread boats in the
rear paused on their way. The whales had irregularly settled bodily
down into the blue, thus giving no distantly discernible token of the
movement, though from his closer vicinity Ahab had observed it.
"Every man look out along his oars!" cried Starbuck. "Thou, Queequeg,
Nimbly springing up on the triangular raised box in the bow, the savage
stood erect there, and with intensely eager eyes gazed off towards the
spot where the chase had last been descried. Likewise upon the extreme
stern of the boat where it was also triangularly platformed level with
the gunwale, Starbuck himself was seen coolly and adroitly balancing
himself to the jerking tossings of his chip of a craft, and silently
eyeing the vast blue eye of the sea.
Not very far distant Flask's boat was also lying breathlessly still; its
commander recklessly standing upon the top of the loggerhead, a stout
sort of post rooted in the keel, and rising some two feet above the
level of the stern platform. It is used for catching turns with the
whale line. Its top is not more spacious than the palm of a man's hand,
and standing upon such a base as that, Flask seemed perched at the
mast-head of some ship which had sunk to all but her trucks. But little
King-Post was small and short, and at the same time little King-Post was
full of a large and tall ambition, so that this loggerhead stand-point
of his did by no means satisfy King-Post.
"I can't see three seas off; tip us up an oar there, and let me on to
Upon this, Daggoo, with either hand upon the gunwale to steady his
way, swiftly slid aft, and then erecting himself volunteered his lofty
shoulders for a pedestal.
"Good a mast-head as any, sir. Will you mount?"
"That I will, and thank ye very much, my fine fellow; only I wish you
fifty feet taller."
Whereupon planting his feet firmly against two opposite planks of the
boat, the gigantic negro, stooping a little, presented his flat palm to
Flask's foot, and then putting Flask's hand on his hearse-plumed head
and bidding him spring as he himself should toss, with one dexterous
fling landed the little man high and dry on his shoulders. And here was
Flask now standing, Daggoo with one lifted arm furnishing him with a
breastband to lean against and steady himself by.
At any time it is a strange sight to the tyro to see with what wondrous
habitude of unconscious skill the whaleman will maintain an erect
posture in his boat, even when pitched about by the most riotously
perverse and cross-running seas. Still more strange to see him giddily
perched upon the loggerhead itself, under such circumstances. But the
sight of little Flask mounted upon gigantic Daggoo was yet more curious;