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



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silence, not a solitude; on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen

far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow. Lit up by the moon, it

looked celestial; seemed some plumed and glittering god uprising from

the sea. Fedallah first descried this jet. For of these moonlight

nights, it was his wont to mount to the main-mast head, and stand a

look-out there, with the same precision as if it had been day. And yet,

though herds of whales were seen by night, not one whaleman in a hundred

would venture a lowering for them. You may think with what emotions,

then, the seamen beheld this old Oriental perched aloft at such unusual

hours; his turban and the moon, companions in one sky. But when, after

spending his uniform interval there for several successive nights

without uttering a single sound; when, after all this silence, his

unearthly voice was heard announcing that silvery, moon-lit jet, every

reclining mariner started to his feet as if some winged spirit had

lighted in the rigging, and hailed the mortal crew. "There she blows!"

Had the trump of judgment blown, they could not have quivered more; yet

still they felt no terror; rather pleasure. For though it was a most

unwonted hour, yet so impressive was the cry, and so deliriously

exciting, that almost every soul on board instinctively desired a

lowering.
Walking the deck with quick, side-lunging strides, Ahab commanded the

t'gallant sails and royals to be set, and every stunsail spread. The

best man in the ship must take the helm. Then, with every mast-head

manned, the piled-up craft rolled down before the wind. The strange,

upheaving, lifting tendency of the taffrail breeze filling the hollows

of so many sails, made the buoyant, hovering deck to feel like air

beneath the feet; while still she rushed along, as if two antagonistic

influences were struggling in her--one to mount direct to heaven, the

other to drive yawingly to some horizontal goal. And had you watched

Ahab's face that night, you would have thought that in him also two

different things were warring. While his one live leg made lively echoes

along the deck, every stroke of his dead limb sounded like a coffin-tap.

On life and death this old man walked. But though the ship so swiftly

sped, and though from every eye, like arrows, the eager glances shot,

yet the silvery jet was no more seen that night. Every sailor swore he

saw it once, but not a second time.


This midnight-spout had almost grown a forgotten thing, when, some days

after, lo! at the same silent hour, it was again announced: again it

was descried by all; but upon making sail to overtake it, once more it

disappeared as if it had never been. And so it served us night after

night, till no one heeded it but to wonder at it. Mysteriously

jetted into the clear moonlight, or starlight, as the case might be;

disappearing again for one whole day, or two days, or three; and somehow

seeming at every distinct repetition to be advancing still further and

further in our van, this solitary jet seemed for ever alluring us on.
Nor with the immemorial superstition of their race, and in accordance

with the preternaturalness, as it seemed, which in many things invested

the Pequod, were there wanting some of the seamen who swore that

whenever and wherever descried; at however remote times, or in however

far apart latitudes and longitudes, that unnearable spout was cast

by one self-same whale; and that whale, Moby Dick. For a time, there

reigned, too, a sense of peculiar dread at this flitting apparition,

as if it were treacherously beckoning us on and on, in order that the

monster might turn round upon us, and rend us at last in the remotest

and most savage seas.


These temporary apprehensions, so vague but so awful, derived a wondrous

potency from the contrasting serenity of the weather, in which, beneath

all its blue blandness, some thought there lurked a devilish charm, as

for days and days we voyaged along, through seas so wearily, lonesomely

mild, that all space, in repugnance to our vengeful errand, seemed

vacating itself of life before our urn-like prow.


But, at last, when turning to the eastward, the Cape winds began howling

around us, and we rose and fell upon the long, troubled seas that are

there; when the ivory-tusked Pequod sharply bowed to the blast, and

gored the dark waves in her madness, till, like showers of silver chips,

the foam-flakes flew over her bulwarks; then all this desolate vacuity

of life went away, but gave place to sights more dismal than before.


Close to our bows, strange forms in the water darted hither and thither

before us; while thick in our rear flew the inscrutable sea-ravens. And

every morning, perched on our stays, rows of these birds were seen; and

spite of our hootings, for a long time obstinately clung to the hemp,

as though they deemed our ship some drifting, uninhabited craft; a thing

appointed to desolation, and therefore fit roosting-place for their

homeless selves. And heaved and heaved, still unrestingly heaved the

black sea, as if its vast tides were a conscience; and the great mundane

soul were in anguish and remorse for the long sin and suffering it had

bred.
Cape of Good Hope, do they call ye? Rather Cape Tormentoto, as called

of yore; for long allured by the perfidious silences that before had

attended us, we found ourselves launched into this tormented sea,

where guilty beings transformed into those fowls and these fish, seemed

condemned to swim on everlastingly without any haven in store, or beat

that black air without any horizon. But calm, snow-white, and unvarying;

still directing its fountain of feathers to the sky; still beckoning us

on from before, the solitary jet would at times be descried.
During all this blackness of the elements, Ahab, though assuming for the

time the almost continual command of the drenched and dangerous deck,

manifested the gloomiest reserve; and more seldom than ever addressed

his mates. In tempestuous times like these, after everything above and

aloft has been secured, nothing more can be done but passively to await

the issue of the gale. Then Captain and crew become practical fatalists.

So, with his ivory leg inserted into its accustomed hole, and with one

hand firmly grasping a shroud, Ahab for hours and hours would stand

gazing dead to windward, while an occasional squall of sleet or snow

would all but congeal his very eyelashes together. Meantime, the crew

driven from the forward part of the ship by the perilous seas that

burstingly broke over its bows, stood in a line along the bulwarks in

the waist; and the better to guard against the leaping waves, each man

had slipped himself into a sort of bowline secured to the rail, in which

he swung as in a loosened belt. Few or no words were spoken; and the

silent ship, as if manned by painted sailors in wax, day after day tore

on through all the swift madness and gladness of the demoniac waves.

By night the same muteness of humanity before the shrieks of the

ocean prevailed; still in silence the men swung in the bowlines; still

wordless Ahab stood up to the blast. Even when wearied nature seemed

demanding repose he would not seek that repose in his hammock. Never

could Starbuck forget the old man's aspect, when one night going down

into the cabin to mark how the barometer stood, he saw him with

closed eyes sitting straight in his floor-screwed chair; the rain

and half-melted sleet of the storm from which he had some time before

emerged, still slowly dripping from the unremoved hat and coat. On the

table beside him lay unrolled one of those charts of tides and currents

which have previously been spoken of. His lantern swung from his tightly

clenched hand. Though the body was erect, the head was thrown back so

that the closed eyes were pointed towards the needle of the tell-tale

that swung from a beam in the ceiling.*

*The cabin-compass is called the tell-tale, because without going to the

compass at the helm, the Captain, while below, can inform himself of the

course of the ship.

Terrible old man! thought Starbuck with a shudder, sleeping in this

gale, still thou steadfastly eyest thy purpose.


CHAPTER 52. The Albatross.

South-eastward from the Cape, off the distant Crozetts, a good cruising

ground for Right Whalemen, a sail loomed ahead, the Goney (Albatross)

by name. As she slowly drew nigh, from my lofty perch at the

fore-mast-head, I had a good view of that sight so remarkable to a tyro

in the far ocean fisheries--a whaler at sea, and long absent from home.
As if the waves had been fullers, this craft was bleached like the

skeleton of a stranded walrus. All down her sides, this spectral

appearance was traced with long channels of reddened rust, while all her

spars and her rigging were like the thick branches of trees furred over

with hoar-frost. Only her lower sails were set. A wild sight it was to

see her long-bearded look-outs at those three mast-heads. They seemed

clad in the skins of beasts, so torn and bepatched the raiment that had

survived nearly four years of cruising. Standing in iron hoops nailed to

the mast, they swayed and swung over a fathomless sea; and though, when

the ship slowly glided close under our stern, we six men in the air

came so nigh to each other that we might almost have leaped from the

mast-heads of one ship to those of the other; yet, those forlorn-looking

fishermen, mildly eyeing us as they passed, said not one word to our own

look-outs, while the quarter-deck hail was being heard from below.


"Ship ahoy! Have ye seen the White Whale?"
But as the strange captain, leaning over the pallid bulwarks, was in the

act of putting his trumpet to his mouth, it somehow fell from his hand

into the sea; and the wind now rising amain, he in vain strove to make

himself heard without it. Meantime his ship was still increasing the

distance between. While in various silent ways the seamen of the Pequod

were evincing their observance of this ominous incident at the first

mere mention of the White Whale's name to another ship, Ahab for a

moment paused; it almost seemed as though he would have lowered a boat

to board the stranger, had not the threatening wind forbade. But taking

advantage of his windward position, he again seized his trumpet, and

knowing by her aspect that the stranger vessel was a Nantucketer and

shortly bound home, he loudly hailed--"Ahoy there! This is the Pequod,

bound round the world! Tell them to address all future letters to the

Pacific ocean! and this time three years, if I am not at home, tell them

to address them to--"
At that moment the two wakes were fairly crossed, and instantly, then,

in accordance with their singular ways, shoals of small harmless fish,

that for some days before had been placidly swimming by our side, darted

away with what seemed shuddering fins, and ranged themselves fore and

aft with the stranger's flanks. Though in the course of his continual

voyagings Ahab must often before have noticed a similar sight, yet, to

any monomaniac man, the veriest trifles capriciously carry meanings.
"Swim away from me, do ye?" murmured Ahab, gazing over into the water.

There seemed but little in the words, but the tone conveyed more of deep

helpless sadness than the insane old man had ever before evinced. But

turning to the steersman, who thus far had been holding the ship in the

wind to diminish her headway, he cried out in his old lion voice,--"Up

helm! Keep her off round the world!"


Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings;

but whereto does all that circumnavigation conduct? Only through

numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that

we left behind secure, were all the time before us.


Were this world an endless plain, and by sailing eastward we could for

ever reach new distances, and discover sights more sweet and strange

than any Cyclades or Islands of King Solomon, then there were promise

in the voyage. But in pursuit of those far mysteries we dream of, or in

tormented chase of that demon phantom that, some time or other, swims

before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they

either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed.

CHAPTER 53. The Gam.

The ostensible reason why Ahab did not go on board of the whaler we had

spoken was this: the wind and sea betokened storms. But even had

this not been the case, he would not after all, perhaps, have boarded

her--judging by his subsequent conduct on similar occasions--if so it

had been that, by the process of hailing, he had obtained a negative

answer to the question he put. For, as it eventually turned out, he

cared not to consort, even for five minutes, with any stranger captain,

except he could contribute some of that information he so absorbingly

sought. But all this might remain inadequately estimated, were not

something said here of the peculiar usages of whaling-vessels when

meeting each other in foreign seas, and especially on a common

cruising-ground.


If two strangers crossing the Pine Barrens in New York State, or the

equally desolate Salisbury Plain in England; if casually encountering

each other in such inhospitable wilds, these twain, for the life of

them, cannot well avoid a mutual salutation; and stopping for a moment

to interchange the news; and, perhaps, sitting down for a while

and resting in concert: then, how much more natural that upon the

illimitable Pine Barrens and Salisbury Plains of the sea, two whaling

vessels descrying each other at the ends of the earth--off lone

Fanning's Island, or the far away King's Mills; how much more natural,

I say, that under such circumstances these ships should not only

interchange hails, but come into still closer, more friendly and

sociable contact. And especially would this seem to be a matter of

course, in the case of vessels owned in one seaport, and whose captains,

officers, and not a few of the men are personally known to each other;

and consequently, have all sorts of dear domestic things to talk about.
For the long absent ship, the outward-bounder, perhaps, has letters on

board; at any rate, she will be sure to let her have some papers of a

date a year or two later than the last one on her blurred and thumb-worn

files. And in return for that courtesy, the outward-bound ship would

receive the latest whaling intelligence from the cruising-ground to

which she may be destined, a thing of the utmost importance to her. And

in degree, all this will hold true concerning whaling vessels crossing

each other's track on the cruising-ground itself, even though they

are equally long absent from home. For one of them may have received a

transfer of letters from some third, and now far remote vessel; and

some of those letters may be for the people of the ship she now meets.

Besides, they would exchange the whaling news, and have an agreeable

chat. For not only would they meet with all the sympathies of sailors,

but likewise with all the peculiar congenialities arising from a common

pursuit and mutually shared privations and perils.
Nor would difference of country make any very essential difference;

that is, so long as both parties speak one language, as is the case

with Americans and English. Though, to be sure, from the small number of

English whalers, such meetings do not very often occur, and when they

do occur there is too apt to be a sort of shyness between them; for your

Englishman is rather reserved, and your Yankee, he does not fancy that

sort of thing in anybody but himself. Besides, the English whalers

sometimes affect a kind of metropolitan superiority over the American

whalers; regarding the long, lean Nantucketer, with his nondescript

provincialisms, as a sort of sea-peasant. But where this superiority

in the English whalemen does really consist, it would be hard to say,

seeing that the Yankees in one day, collectively, kill more whales than

all the English, collectively, in ten years. But this is a harmless

little foible in the English whale-hunters, which the Nantucketer does

not take much to heart; probably, because he knows that he has a few

foibles himself.


So, then, we see that of all ships separately sailing the sea, the

whalers have most reason to be sociable--and they are so. Whereas, some

merchant ships crossing each other's wake in the mid-Atlantic, will

oftentimes pass on without so much as a single word of recognition,

mutually cutting each other on the high seas, like a brace of dandies in

Broadway; and all the time indulging, perhaps, in finical criticism upon

each other's rig. As for Men-of-War, when they chance to meet at sea,

they first go through such a string of silly bowings and scrapings, such

a ducking of ensigns, that there does not seem to be much right-down

hearty good-will and brotherly love about it at all. As touching

Slave-ships meeting, why, they are in such a prodigious hurry, they run

away from each other as soon as possible. And as for Pirates, when they

chance to cross each other's cross-bones, the first hail is--"How many

skulls?"--the same way that whalers hail--"How many barrels?" And that

question once answered, pirates straightway steer apart, for they are

infernal villains on both sides, and don't like to see overmuch of each

other's villanous likenesses.
But look at the godly, honest, unostentatious, hospitable, sociable,

free-and-easy whaler! What does the whaler do when she meets another

whaler in any sort of decent weather? She has a "GAM," a thing so

utterly unknown to all other ships that they never heard of the name

even; and if by chance they should hear of it, they only grin at it, and

repeat gamesome stuff about "spouters" and "blubber-boilers," and such

like pretty exclamations. Why it is that all Merchant-seamen, and also

all Pirates and Man-of-War's men, and Slave-ship sailors, cherish such

a scornful feeling towards Whale-ships; this is a question it would be

hard to answer. Because, in the case of pirates, say, I should like to

know whether that profession of theirs has any peculiar glory about

it. It sometimes ends in uncommon elevation, indeed; but only at the

gallows. And besides, when a man is elevated in that odd fashion, he has

no proper foundation for his superior altitude. Hence, I conclude,

that in boasting himself to be high lifted above a whaleman, in that

assertion the pirate has no solid basis to stand on.


But what is a GAM? You might wear out your index-finger running up and

down the columns of dictionaries, and never find the word. Dr. Johnson

never attained to that erudition; Noah Webster's ark does not hold it.

Nevertheless, this same expressive word has now for many years been in

constant use among some fifteen thousand true born Yankees. Certainly,

it needs a definition, and should be incorporated into the Lexicon. With

that view, let me learnedly define it.
GAM. NOUN--A SOCIAL MEETING OF TWO (OR MORE) WHALESHIPS, GENERALLY ON A

CRUISING-GROUND; WHEN, AFTER EXCHANGING HAILS, THEY EXCHANGE VISITS BY

BOATS' CREWS; THE TWO CAPTAINS REMAINING, FOR THE TIME, ON BOARD OF ONE

SHIP, AND THE TWO CHIEF MATES ON THE OTHER.


There is another little item about Gamming which must not be forgotten

here. All professions have their own little peculiarities of detail; so

has the whale fishery. In a pirate, man-of-war, or slave ship, when

the captain is rowed anywhere in his boat, he always sits in the stern

sheets on a comfortable, sometimes cushioned seat there, and often

steers himself with a pretty little milliner's tiller decorated with

gay cords and ribbons. But the whale-boat has no seat astern, no sofa of

that sort whatever, and no tiller at all. High times indeed, if whaling

captains were wheeled about the water on castors like gouty old aldermen

in patent chairs. And as for a tiller, the whale-boat never admits of

any such effeminacy; and therefore as in gamming a complete boat's crew

must leave the ship, and hence as the boat steerer or harpooneer is of

the number, that subordinate is the steersman upon the occasion, and

the captain, having no place to sit in, is pulled off to his visit

all standing like a pine tree. And often you will notice that being

conscious of the eyes of the whole visible world resting on him from

the sides of the two ships, this standing captain is all alive to the

importance of sustaining his dignity by maintaining his legs. Nor is

this any very easy matter; for in his rear is the immense projecting

steering oar hitting him now and then in the small of his back, the

after-oar reciprocating by rapping his knees in front. He is thus

completely wedged before and behind, and can only expand himself

sideways by settling down on his stretched legs; but a sudden, violent

pitch of the boat will often go far to topple him, because length of

foundation is nothing without corresponding breadth. Merely make a

spread angle of two poles, and you cannot stand them up. Then, again,

it would never do in plain sight of the world's riveted eyes, it would

never do, I say, for this straddling captain to be seen steadying

himself the slightest particle by catching hold of anything with

his hands; indeed, as token of his entire, buoyant self-command, he

generally carries his hands in his trowsers' pockets; but perhaps being

generally very large, heavy hands, he carries them there for ballast.

Nevertheless there have occurred instances, well authenticated ones too,

where the captain has been known for an uncommonly critical moment or

two, in a sudden squall say--to seize hold of the nearest oarsman's

hair, and hold on there like grim death.


CHAPTER 54. The Town-Ho's Story.

(AS TOLD AT THE GOLDEN INN)

The Cape of Good Hope, and all the watery region round about there, is

much like some noted four corners of a great highway, where you meet

more travellers than in any other part.


It was not very long after speaking the Goney that another

homeward-bound whaleman, the Town-Ho,* was encountered. She was manned

almost wholly by Polynesians. In the short gam that ensued she gave

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