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



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for sustaining himself with a cool, indifferent, easy, unthought of,

barbaric majesty, the noble negro to every roll of the sea harmoniously

rolled his fine form. On his broad back, flaxen-haired Flask seemed

a snow-flake. The bearer looked nobler than the rider. Though truly

vivacious, tumultuous, ostentatious little Flask would now and then

stamp with impatience; but not one added heave did he thereby give to

the negro's lordly chest. So have I seen Passion and Vanity stamping the

living magnanimous earth, but the earth did not alter her tides and her

seasons for that.
Meanwhile Stubb, the third mate, betrayed no such far-gazing

solicitudes. The whales might have made one of their regular soundings,

not a temporary dive from mere fright; and if that were the case,

Stubb, as his wont in such cases, it seems, was resolved to solace the

languishing interval with his pipe. He withdrew it from his hatband,

where he always wore it aslant like a feather. He loaded it, and rammed

home the loading with his thumb-end; but hardly had he ignited his match

across the rough sandpaper of his hand, when Tashtego, his harpooneer,

whose eyes had been setting to windward like two fixed stars, suddenly

dropped like light from his erect attitude to his seat, crying out in a

quick phrensy of hurry, "Down, down all, and give way!--there they are!"
To a landsman, no whale, nor any sign of a herring, would have been

visible at that moment; nothing but a troubled bit of greenish white

water, and thin scattered puffs of vapour hovering over it, and

suffusingly blowing off to leeward, like the confused scud from white

rolling billows. The air around suddenly vibrated and tingled, as it

were, like the air over intensely heated plates of iron. Beneath this

atmospheric waving and curling, and partially beneath a thin layer of

water, also, the whales were swimming. Seen in advance of all the other

indications, the puffs of vapour they spouted, seemed their forerunning

couriers and detached flying outriders.


All four boats were now in keen pursuit of that one spot of troubled

water and air. But it bade fair to outstrip them; it flew on and on,

as a mass of interblending bubbles borne down a rapid stream from the

hills.
"Pull, pull, my good boys," said Starbuck, in the lowest possible but

intensest concentrated whisper to his men; while the sharp fixed glance

from his eyes darted straight ahead of the bow, almost seemed as two

visible needles in two unerring binnacle compasses. He did not say much

to his crew, though, nor did his crew say anything to him. Only the

silence of the boat was at intervals startlingly pierced by one of his

peculiar whispers, now harsh with command, now soft with entreaty.


How different the loud little King-Post. "Sing out and say something,

my hearties. Roar and pull, my thunderbolts! Beach me, beach me on their

black backs, boys; only do that for me, and I'll sign over to you my

Martha's Vineyard plantation, boys; including wife and children, boys.

Lay me on--lay me on! O Lord, Lord! but I shall go stark, staring mad!

See! see that white water!" And so shouting, he pulled his hat from his

head, and stamped up and down on it; then picking it up, flirted it far

off upon the sea; and finally fell to rearing and plunging in the boat's

stern like a crazed colt from the prairie.
"Look at that chap now," philosophically drawled Stubb, who, with his

unlighted short pipe, mechanically retained between his teeth, at a

short distance, followed after--"He's got fits, that Flask has. Fits?

yes, give him fits--that's the very word--pitch fits into 'em. Merrily,

merrily, hearts-alive. Pudding for supper, you know;--merry's the word.

Pull, babes--pull, sucklings--pull, all. But what the devil are you

hurrying about? Softly, softly, and steadily, my men. Only pull, and

keep pulling; nothing more. Crack all your backbones, and bite your

knives in two--that's all. Take it easy--why don't ye take it easy, I

say, and burst all your livers and lungs!"


But what it was that inscrutable Ahab said to that tiger-yellow crew of

his--these were words best omitted here; for you live under the blessed

light of the evangelical land. Only the infidel sharks in the audacious

seas may give ear to such words, when, with tornado brow, and eyes of

red murder, and foam-glued lips, Ahab leaped after his prey.
Meanwhile, all the boats tore on. The repeated specific allusions of

Flask to "that whale," as he called the fictitious monster which

he declared to be incessantly tantalizing his boat's bow with its

tail--these allusions of his were at times so vivid and life-like, that

they would cause some one or two of his men to snatch a fearful look

over the shoulder. But this was against all rule; for the oarsmen

must put out their eyes, and ram a skewer through their necks; usage

pronouncing that they must have no organs but ears, and no limbs but

arms, in these critical moments.
It was a sight full of quick wonder and awe! The vast swells of the

omnipotent sea; the surging, hollow roar they made, as they rolled along

the eight gunwales, like gigantic bowls in a boundless bowling-green;

the brief suspended agony of the boat, as it would tip for an instant on

the knife-like edge of the sharper waves, that almost seemed threatening

to cut it in two; the sudden profound dip into the watery glens and

hollows; the keen spurrings and goadings to gain the top of the opposite

hill; the headlong, sled-like slide down its other side;--all these,

with the cries of the headsmen and harpooneers, and the shuddering gasps

of the oarsmen, with the wondrous sight of the ivory Pequod bearing

down upon her boats with outstretched sails, like a wild hen after her

screaming brood;--all this was thrilling.


Not the raw recruit, marching from the bosom of his wife into the fever

heat of his first battle; not the dead man's ghost encountering the

first unknown phantom in the other world;--neither of these can feel

stranger and stronger emotions than that man does, who for the first

time finds himself pulling into the charmed, churned circle of the

hunted sperm whale.


The dancing white water made by the chase was now becoming more and more

visible, owing to the increasing darkness of the dun cloud-shadows

flung upon the sea. The jets of vapour no longer blended, but tilted

everywhere to right and left; the whales seemed separating their wakes.

The boats were pulled more apart; Starbuck giving chase to three whales

running dead to leeward. Our sail was now set, and, with the still

rising wind, we rushed along; the boat going with such madness through

the water, that the lee oars could scarcely be worked rapidly enough to

escape being torn from the row-locks.
Soon we were running through a suffusing wide veil of mist; neither ship

nor boat to be seen.


"Give way, men," whispered Starbuck, drawing still further aft the sheet

of his sail; "there is time to kill a fish yet before the squall comes.

There's white water again!--close to! Spring!"
Soon after, two cries in quick succession on each side of us denoted

that the other boats had got fast; but hardly were they overheard, when

with a lightning-like hurtling whisper Starbuck said: "Stand up!" and

Queequeg, harpoon in hand, sprang to his feet.


Though not one of the oarsmen was then facing the life and death peril

so close to them ahead, yet with their eyes on the intense countenance

of the mate in the stern of the boat, they knew that the imminent

instant had come; they heard, too, an enormous wallowing sound as of

fifty elephants stirring in their litter. Meanwhile the boat was still

booming through the mist, the waves curling and hissing around us like

the erected crests of enraged serpents.
"That's his hump. THERE, THERE, give it to him!" whispered Starbuck.
A short rushing sound leaped out of the boat; it was the darted iron of

Queequeg. Then all in one welded commotion came an invisible push from

astern, while forward the boat seemed striking on a ledge; the sail

collapsed and exploded; a gush of scalding vapour shot up near by;

something rolled and tumbled like an earthquake beneath us. The whole

crew were half suffocated as they were tossed helter-skelter into the

white curdling cream of the squall. Squall, whale, and harpoon had all

blended together; and the whale, merely grazed by the iron, escaped.


Though completely swamped, the boat was nearly unharmed. Swimming round

it we picked up the floating oars, and lashing them across the gunwale,

tumbled back to our places. There we sat up to our knees in the sea, the

water covering every rib and plank, so that to our downward gazing eyes

the suspended craft seemed a coral boat grown up to us from the bottom

of the ocean.


The wind increased to a howl; the waves dashed their bucklers together;

the whole squall roared, forked, and crackled around us like a white

fire upon the prairie, in which, unconsumed, we were burning; immortal

in these jaws of death! In vain we hailed the other boats; as well roar

to the live coals down the chimney of a flaming furnace as hail those

boats in that storm. Meanwhile the driving scud, rack, and mist, grew

darker with the shadows of night; no sign of the ship could be seen.

The rising sea forbade all attempts to bale out the boat. The oars were

useless as propellers, performing now the office of life-preservers.

So, cutting the lashing of the waterproof match keg, after many failures

Starbuck contrived to ignite the lamp in the lantern; then stretching

it on a waif pole, handed it to Queequeg as the standard-bearer of this

forlorn hope. There, then, he sat, holding up that imbecile candle in

the heart of that almighty forlornness. There, then, he sat, the sign

and symbol of a man without faith, hopelessly holding up hope in the

midst of despair.


Wet, drenched through, and shivering cold, despairing of ship or boat,

we lifted up our eyes as the dawn came on. The mist still spread over

the sea, the empty lantern lay crushed in the bottom of the boat.

Suddenly Queequeg started to his feet, hollowing his hand to his ear.

We all heard a faint creaking, as of ropes and yards hitherto muffled by

the storm. The sound came nearer and nearer; the thick mists were dimly

parted by a huge, vague form. Affrighted, we all sprang into the sea as

the ship at last loomed into view, bearing right down upon us within a

distance of not much more than its length.
Floating on the waves we saw the abandoned boat, as for one instant it

tossed and gaped beneath the ship's bows like a chip at the base of a

cataract; and then the vast hull rolled over it, and it was seen no

more till it came up weltering astern. Again we swam for it, were dashed

against it by the seas, and were at last taken up and safely landed on

board. Ere the squall came close to, the other boats had cut loose from

their fish and returned to the ship in good time. The ship had given us

up, but was still cruising, if haply it might light upon some token of

our perishing,--an oar or a lance pole.

CHAPTER 49. The Hyena.

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair

we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical

joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than

suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own. However,

nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts

down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard

things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of

potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small

difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of

life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly,

good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen

and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking

of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes

in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might

have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the

general joke. There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this

free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it I now

regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its

object.
"Queequeg," said I, when they had dragged me, the last man, to the deck,

and I was still shaking myself in my jacket to fling off the water;

"Queequeg, my fine friend, does this sort of thing often happen?"

Without much emotion, though soaked through just like me, he gave me to

understand that such things did often happen.
"Mr. Stubb," said I, turning to that worthy, who, buttoned up in his

oil-jacket, was now calmly smoking his pipe in the rain; "Mr. Stubb, I

think I have heard you say that of all whalemen you ever met, our chief

mate, Mr. Starbuck, is by far the most careful and prudent. I suppose

then, that going plump on a flying whale with your sail set in a foggy

squall is the height of a whaleman's discretion?"


"Certain. I've lowered for whales from a leaking ship in a gale off Cape

Horn."
"Mr. Flask," said I, turning to little King-Post, who was standing close

by; "you are experienced in these things, and I am not. Will you tell

me whether it is an unalterable law in this fishery, Mr. Flask, for an

oarsman to break his own back pulling himself back-foremost into death's

jaws?"
"Can't you twist that smaller?" said Flask. "Yes, that's the law.

I should like to see a boat's crew backing water up to a whale face

foremost. Ha, ha! the whale would give them squint for squint, mind

that!"
Here then, from three impartial witnesses, I had a deliberate statement

of the entire case. Considering, therefore, that squalls and capsizings

in the water and consequent bivouacks on the deep, were matters

of common occurrence in this kind of life; considering that at the

superlatively critical instant of going on to the whale I must resign my

life into the hands of him who steered the boat--oftentimes a fellow who

at that very moment is in his impetuousness upon the point of scuttling

the craft with his own frantic stampings; considering that the

particular disaster to our own particular boat was chiefly to be imputed

to Starbuck's driving on to his whale almost in the teeth of a squall,

and considering that Starbuck, notwithstanding, was famous for his

great heedfulness in the fishery; considering that I belonged to this

uncommonly prudent Starbuck's boat; and finally considering in what a

devil's chase I was implicated, touching the White Whale: taking all

things together, I say, I thought I might as well go below and make a

rough draft of my will. "Queequeg," said I, "come along, you shall be my

lawyer, executor, and legatee."
It may seem strange that of all men sailors should be tinkering at their

last wills and testaments, but there are no people in the world more

fond of that diversion. This was the fourth time in my nautical life

that I had done the same thing. After the ceremony was concluded upon

the present occasion, I felt all the easier; a stone was rolled away

from my heart. Besides, all the days I should now live would be as good

as the days that Lazarus lived after his resurrection; a supplementary

clean gain of so many months or weeks as the case might be. I survived

myself; my death and burial were locked up in my chest. I looked

round me tranquilly and contentedly, like a quiet ghost with a clean

conscience sitting inside the bars of a snug family vault.
Now then, thought I, unconsciously rolling up the sleeves of my frock,

here goes for a cool, collected dive at death and destruction, and the

devil fetch the hindmost.

CHAPTER 50. Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallah.

"Who would have thought it, Flask!" cried Stubb; "if I had but one leg

you would not catch me in a boat, unless maybe to stop the plug-hole

with my timber toe. Oh! he's a wonderful old man!"
"I don't think it so strange, after all, on that account," said Flask.

"If his leg were off at the hip, now, it would be a different thing.

That would disable him; but he has one knee, and good part of the other

left, you know."


"I don't know that, my little man; I never yet saw him kneel."

Among whale-wise people it has often been argued whether, considering

the paramount importance of his life to the success of the voyage, it is

right for a whaling captain to jeopardize that life in the active perils

of the chase. So Tamerlane's soldiers often argued with tears in their

eyes, whether that invaluable life of his ought to be carried into the

thickest of the fight.
But with Ahab the question assumed a modified aspect. Considering

that with two legs man is but a hobbling wight in all times of danger;

considering that the pursuit of whales is always under great and

extraordinary difficulties; that every individual moment, indeed, then

comprises a peril; under these circumstances is it wise for any

maimed man to enter a whale-boat in the hunt? As a general thing, the

joint-owners of the Pequod must have plainly thought not.
Ahab well knew that although his friends at home would think little of

his entering a boat in certain comparatively harmless vicissitudes of

the chase, for the sake of being near the scene of action and giving

his orders in person, yet for Captain Ahab to have a boat actually

apportioned to him as a regular headsman in the hunt--above all for

Captain Ahab to be supplied with five extra men, as that same boat's

crew, he well knew that such generous conceits never entered the heads

of the owners of the Pequod. Therefore he had not solicited a boat's

crew from them, nor had he in any way hinted his desires on that head.

Nevertheless he had taken private measures of his own touching all

that matter. Until Cabaco's published discovery, the sailors had little

foreseen it, though to be sure when, after being a little while out

of port, all hands had concluded the customary business of fitting the

whaleboats for service; when some time after this Ahab was now and then

found bestirring himself in the matter of making thole-pins with his

own hands for what was thought to be one of the spare boats, and even

solicitously cutting the small wooden skewers, which when the line is

running out are pinned over the groove in the bow: when all this was

observed in him, and particularly his solicitude in having an extra

coat of sheathing in the bottom of the boat, as if to make it better

withstand the pointed pressure of his ivory limb; and also the anxiety

he evinced in exactly shaping the thigh board, or clumsy cleat, as it is

sometimes called, the horizontal piece in the boat's bow for bracing the

knee against in darting or stabbing at the whale; when it was observed

how often he stood up in that boat with his solitary knee fixed in the

semi-circular depression in the cleat, and with the carpenter's chisel

gouged out a little here and straightened it a little there; all these

things, I say, had awakened much interest and curiosity at the time. But

almost everybody supposed that this particular preparative heedfulness

in Ahab must only be with a view to the ultimate chase of Moby Dick;

for he had already revealed his intention to hunt that mortal monster

in person. But such a supposition did by no means involve the remotest

suspicion as to any boat's crew being assigned to that boat.
Now, with the subordinate phantoms, what wonder remained soon waned

away; for in a whaler wonders soon wane. Besides, now and then such

unaccountable odds and ends of strange nations come up from the unknown

nooks and ash-holes of the earth to man these floating outlaws of

whalers; and the ships themselves often pick up such queer castaway

creatures found tossing about the open sea on planks, bits of wreck,

oars, whaleboats, canoes, blown-off Japanese junks, and what not; that

Beelzebub himself might climb up the side and step down into the cabin

to chat with the captain, and it would not create any unsubduable

excitement in the forecastle.


But be all this as it may, certain it is that while the subordinate

phantoms soon found their place among the crew, though still as it were

somehow distinct from them, yet that hair-turbaned Fedallah remained

a muffled mystery to the last. Whence he came in a mannerly world like

this, by what sort of unaccountable tie he soon evinced himself to be

linked with Ahab's peculiar fortunes; nay, so far as to have some sort

of a half-hinted influence; Heaven knows, but it might have been even

authority over him; all this none knew. But one cannot sustain

an indifferent air concerning Fedallah. He was such a creature as

civilized, domestic people in the temperate zone only see in their

dreams, and that but dimly; but the like of whom now and then glide

among the unchanging Asiatic communities, especially the Oriental isles

to the east of the continent--those insulated, immemorial, unalterable

countries, which even in these modern days still preserve much of the

ghostly aboriginalness of earth's primal generations, when the memory of

the first man was a distinct recollection, and all men his descendants,

unknowing whence he came, eyed each other as real phantoms, and asked of

the sun and the moon why they were created and to what end; when though,

according to Genesis, the angels indeed consorted with the daughters of

men, the devils also, add the uncanonical Rabbins, indulged in mundane

amours.

CHAPTER 51. The Spirit-Spout.

Days, weeks passed, and under easy sail, the ivory Pequod had slowly

swept across four several cruising-grounds; that off the Azores; off the

Cape de Verdes; on the Plate (so called), being off the mouth of the

Rio de la Plata; and the Carrol Ground, an unstaked, watery locality,

southerly from St. Helena.
It was while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and

moonlight night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver;

and, by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery

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