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



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"When you see him 'quid," said the savage, honing his harpoon in the bow

of his hoisted boat, "then you quick see him 'parm whale."


The next day was exceedingly still and sultry, and with nothing special

to engage them, the Pequod's crew could hardly resist the spell of sleep

induced by such a vacant sea. For this part of the Indian Ocean through

which we then were voyaging is not what whalemen call a lively ground;

that is, it affords fewer glimpses of porpoises, dolphins, flying-fish,

and other vivacious denizens of more stirring waters, than those off the

Rio de la Plata, or the in-shore ground off Peru.
It was my turn to stand at the foremast-head; and with my shoulders

leaning against the slackened royal shrouds, to and fro I idly swayed in

what seemed an enchanted air. No resolution could withstand it; in that

dreamy mood losing all consciousness, at last my soul went out of my

body; though my body still continued to sway as a pendulum will, long

after the power which first moved it is withdrawn.


Ere forgetfulness altogether came over me, I had noticed that the seamen

at the main and mizzen-mast-heads were already drowsy. So that at last

all three of us lifelessly swung from the spars, and for every swing

that we made there was a nod from below from the slumbering helmsman.

The waves, too, nodded their indolent crests; and across the wide trance

of the sea, east nodded to west, and the sun over all.


Suddenly bubbles seemed bursting beneath my closed eyes; like vices my

hands grasped the shrouds; some invisible, gracious agency preserved me;

with a shock I came back to life. And lo! close under our lee, not forty

fathoms off, a gigantic Sperm Whale lay rolling in the water like the

capsized hull of a frigate, his broad, glossy back, of an Ethiopian hue,

glistening in the sun's rays like a mirror. But lazily undulating in

the trough of the sea, and ever and anon tranquilly spouting his vapoury

jet, the whale looked like a portly burgher smoking his pipe of a warm

afternoon. But that pipe, poor whale, was thy last. As if struck by some

enchanter's wand, the sleepy ship and every sleeper in it all at once

started into wakefulness; and more than a score of voices from all parts

of the vessel, simultaneously with the three notes from aloft, shouted

forth the accustomed cry, as the great fish slowly and regularly spouted

the sparkling brine into the air.


"Clear away the boats! Luff!" cried Ahab. And obeying his own order, he

dashed the helm down before the helmsman could handle the spokes.


The sudden exclamations of the crew must have alarmed the whale; and ere

the boats were down, majestically turning, he swam away to the leeward,

but with such a steady tranquillity, and making so few ripples as he

swam, that thinking after all he might not as yet be alarmed, Ahab gave

orders that not an oar should be used, and no man must speak but in

whispers. So seated like Ontario Indians on the gunwales of the boats,

we swiftly but silently paddled along; the calm not admitting of the

noiseless sails being set. Presently, as we thus glided in chase, the

monster perpendicularly flitted his tail forty feet into the air, and

then sank out of sight like a tower swallowed up.


"There go flukes!" was the cry, an announcement immediately followed by

Stubb's producing his match and igniting his pipe, for now a respite was

granted. After the full interval of his sounding had elapsed, the whale

rose again, and being now in advance of the smoker's boat, and much

nearer to it than to any of the others, Stubb counted upon the honour

of the capture. It was obvious, now, that the whale had at length become

aware of his pursuers. All silence of cautiousness was therefore no

longer of use. Paddles were dropped, and oars came loudly into play. And

still puffing at his pipe, Stubb cheered on his crew to the assault.
Yes, a mighty change had come over the fish. All alive to his jeopardy,

he was going "head out"; that part obliquely projecting from the mad

yeast which he brewed.*

*It will be seen in some other place of what a very light substance

the entire interior of the sperm whale's enormous head consists. Though

apparently the most massive, it is by far the most buoyant part about

him. So that with ease he elevates it in the air, and invariably does

so when going at his utmost speed. Besides, such is the breadth of the

upper part of the front of his head, and such the tapering cut-water

formation of the lower part, that by obliquely elevating his head, he

thereby may be said to transform himself from a bluff-bowed sluggish

galliot into a sharppointed New York pilot-boat.

"Start her, start her, my men! Don't hurry yourselves; take plenty of

time--but start her; start her like thunder-claps, that's all," cried

Stubb, spluttering out the smoke as he spoke. "Start her, now; give 'em

the long and strong stroke, Tashtego. Start her, Tash, my boy--start

her, all; but keep cool, keep cool--cucumbers is the word--easy,

easy--only start her like grim death and grinning devils, and raise the

buried dead perpendicular out of their graves, boys--that's all. Start

her!"
"Woo-hoo! Wa-hee!" screamed the Gay-Header in reply, raising some

old war-whoop to the skies; as every oarsman in the strained boat

involuntarily bounced forward with the one tremendous leading stroke

which the eager Indian gave.
But his wild screams were answered by others quite as wild. "Kee-hee!

Kee-hee!" yelled Daggoo, straining forwards and backwards on his seat,

like a pacing tiger in his cage.
"Ka-la! Koo-loo!" howled Queequeg, as if smacking his lips over a

mouthful of Grenadier's steak. And thus with oars and yells the keels

cut the sea. Meanwhile, Stubb retaining his place in the van, still

encouraged his men to the onset, all the while puffing the smoke from

his mouth. Like desperadoes they tugged and they strained, till the

welcome cry was heard--"Stand up, Tashtego!--give it to him!" The

harpoon was hurled. "Stern all!" The oarsmen backed water; the same

moment something went hot and hissing along every one of their wrists.

It was the magical line. An instant before, Stubb had swiftly caught two

additional turns with it round the loggerhead, whence, by reason of its

increased rapid circlings, a hempen blue smoke now jetted up and mingled

with the steady fumes from his pipe. As the line passed round and

round the loggerhead; so also, just before reaching that point, it

blisteringly passed through and through both of Stubb's hands, from

which the hand-cloths, or squares of quilted canvas sometimes worn at

these times, had accidentally dropped. It was like holding an enemy's

sharp two-edged sword by the blade, and that enemy all the time striving

to wrest it out of your clutch.


"Wet the line! wet the line!" cried Stubb to the tub oarsman (him seated

by the tub) who, snatching off his hat, dashed sea-water into it.* More

turns were taken, so that the line began holding its place. The boat now

flew through the boiling water like a shark all fins. Stubb and Tashtego

here changed places--stem for stern--a staggering business truly in that

rocking commotion.

*Partly to show the indispensableness of this act, it may here be

stated, that, in the old Dutch fishery, a mop was used to dash the

running line with water; in many other ships, a wooden piggin, or

bailer, is set apart for that purpose. Your hat, however, is the most

convenient.

From the vibrating line extending the entire length of the upper part of

the boat, and from its now being more tight than a harpstring, you would

have thought the craft had two keels--one cleaving the water, the other

the air--as the boat churned on through both opposing elements at once.

A continual cascade played at the bows; a ceaseless whirling eddy in

her wake; and, at the slightest motion from within, even but of a little

finger, the vibrating, cracking craft canted over her spasmodic gunwale

into the sea. Thus they rushed; each man with might and main clinging

to his seat, to prevent being tossed to the foam; and the tall form of

Tashtego at the steering oar crouching almost double, in order to bring

down his centre of gravity. Whole Atlantics and Pacifics seemed passed

as they shot on their way, till at length the whale somewhat slackened

his flight.


"Haul in--haul in!" cried Stubb to the bowsman! and, facing round

towards the whale, all hands began pulling the boat up to him, while yet

the boat was being towed on. Soon ranging up by his flank, Stubb, firmly

planting his knee in the clumsy cleat, darted dart after dart into the

flying fish; at the word of command, the boat alternately sterning

out of the way of the whale's horrible wallow, and then ranging up for

another fling.
The red tide now poured from all sides of the monster like brooks down a

hill. His tormented body rolled not in brine but in blood, which bubbled

and seethed for furlongs behind in their wake. The slanting sun playing

upon this crimson pond in the sea, sent back its reflection into every

face, so that they all glowed to each other like red men. And all

the while, jet after jet of white smoke was agonizingly shot from the

spiracle of the whale, and vehement puff after puff from the mouth of

the excited headsman; as at every dart, hauling in upon his crooked

lance (by the line attached to it), Stubb straightened it again and

again, by a few rapid blows against the gunwale, then again and again

sent it into the whale.
"Pull up--pull up!" he now cried to the bowsman, as the waning whale

relaxed in his wrath. "Pull up!--close to!" and the boat ranged along

the fish's flank. When reaching far over the bow, Stubb slowly churned

his long sharp lance into the fish, and kept it there, carefully

churning and churning, as if cautiously seeking to feel after some gold

watch that the whale might have swallowed, and which he was fearful of

breaking ere he could hook it out. But that gold watch he sought was the

innermost life of the fish. And now it is struck; for, starting from

his trance into that unspeakable thing called his "flurry," the monster

horribly wallowed in his blood, overwrapped himself in impenetrable,

mad, boiling spray, so that the imperilled craft, instantly dropping

astern, had much ado blindly to struggle out from that phrensied

twilight into the clear air of the day.
And now abating in his flurry, the whale once more rolled out into view;

surging from side to side; spasmodically dilating and contracting his

spout-hole, with sharp, cracking, agonized respirations. At last, gush

after gush of clotted red gore, as if it had been the purple lees of red

wine, shot into the frighted air; and falling back again, ran dripping

down his motionless flanks into the sea. His heart had burst!


"He's dead, Mr. Stubb," said Daggoo.
"Yes; both pipes smoked out!" and withdrawing his own from his mouth,

Stubb scattered the dead ashes over the water; and, for a moment, stood

thoughtfully eyeing the vast corpse he had made.

CHAPTER 62. The Dart.

A word concerning an incident in the last chapter.
According to the invariable usage of the fishery, the whale-boat pushes

off from the ship, with the headsman or whale-killer as temporary

steersman, and the harpooneer or whale-fastener pulling the foremost

oar, the one known as the harpooneer-oar. Now it needs a strong, nervous

arm to strike the first iron into the fish; for often, in what is called

a long dart, the heavy implement has to be flung to the distance of

twenty or thirty feet. But however prolonged and exhausting the chase,

the harpooneer is expected to pull his oar meanwhile to the uttermost;

indeed, he is expected to set an example of superhuman activity to the

rest, not only by incredible rowing, but by repeated loud and intrepid

exclamations; and what it is to keep shouting at the top of one's

compass, while all the other muscles are strained and half started--what

that is none know but those who have tried it. For one, I cannot bawl

very heartily and work very recklessly at one and the same time. In this

straining, bawling state, then, with his back to the fish, all at once

the exhausted harpooneer hears the exciting cry--"Stand up, and give it

to him!" He now has to drop and secure his oar, turn round on his

centre half way, seize his harpoon from the crotch, and with what little

strength may remain, he essays to pitch it somehow into the whale. No

wonder, taking the whole fleet of whalemen in a body, that out of fifty

fair chances for a dart, not five are successful; no wonder that so many

hapless harpooneers are madly cursed and disrated; no wonder that some

of them actually burst their blood-vessels in the boat; no wonder that

some sperm whalemen are absent four years with four barrels; no wonder

that to many ship owners, whaling is but a losing concern; for it is the

harpooneer that makes the voyage, and if you take the breath out of his

body how can you expect to find it there when most wanted!
Again, if the dart be successful, then at the second critical instant,

that is, when the whale starts to run, the boatheader and harpooneer

likewise start to running fore and aft, to the imminent jeopardy of

themselves and every one else. It is then they change places; and

the headsman, the chief officer of the little craft, takes his proper

station in the bows of the boat.


Now, I care not who maintains the contrary, but all this is both foolish

and unnecessary. The headsman should stay in the bows from first to

last; he should both dart the harpoon and the lance, and no rowing

whatever should be expected of him, except under circumstances obvious

to any fisherman. I know that this would sometimes involve a slight loss

of speed in the chase; but long experience in various whalemen of more

than one nation has convinced me that in the vast majority of failures

in the fishery, it has not by any means been so much the speed of the

whale as the before described exhaustion of the harpooneer that has

caused them.


To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooneers of this

world must start to their feet from out of idleness, and not from out of

toil.

CHAPTER 63. The Crotch.

Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them, the twigs. So, in

productive subjects, grow the chapters.


The crotch alluded to on a previous page deserves independent mention.

It is a notched stick of a peculiar form, some two feet in length, which

is perpendicularly inserted into the starboard gunwale near the bow,

for the purpose of furnishing a rest for the wooden extremity of the

harpoon, whose other naked, barbed end slopingly projects from the prow.

Thereby the weapon is instantly at hand to its hurler, who snatches it

up as readily from its rest as a backwoodsman swings his rifle from

the wall. It is customary to have two harpoons reposing in the crotch,

respectively called the first and second irons.
But these two harpoons, each by its own cord, are both connected with

the line; the object being this: to dart them both, if possible, one

instantly after the other into the same whale; so that if, in the coming

drag, one should draw out, the other may still retain a hold. It is a

doubling of the chances. But it very often happens that owing to the

instantaneous, violent, convulsive running of the whale upon receiving

the first iron, it becomes impossible for the harpooneer, however

lightning-like in his movements, to pitch the second iron into him.

Nevertheless, as the second iron is already connected with the line,

and the line is running, hence that weapon must, at all events, be

anticipatingly tossed out of the boat, somehow and somewhere; else the

most terrible jeopardy would involve all hands. Tumbled into the water,

it accordingly is in such cases; the spare coils of box line (mentioned

in a preceding chapter) making this feat, in most instances, prudently

practicable. But this critical act is not always unattended with the

saddest and most fatal casualties.


Furthermore: you must know that when the second iron is thrown

overboard, it thenceforth becomes a dangling, sharp-edged terror,

skittishly curvetting about both boat and whale, entangling the lines,

or cutting them, and making a prodigious sensation in all directions.

Nor, in general, is it possible to secure it again until the whale is

fairly captured and a corpse.


Consider, now, how it must be in the case of four boats all engaging

one unusually strong, active, and knowing whale; when owing to these

qualities in him, as well as to the thousand concurring accidents of

such an audacious enterprise, eight or ten loose second irons may be

simultaneously dangling about him. For, of course, each boat is supplied

with several harpoons to bend on to the line should the first one

be ineffectually darted without recovery. All these particulars are

faithfully narrated here, as they will not fail to elucidate several

most important, however intricate passages, in scenes hereafter to be

painted.

CHAPTER 64. Stubb's Supper.

Stubb's whale had been killed some distance from the ship. It was

a calm; so, forming a tandem of three boats, we commenced the slow

business of towing the trophy to the Pequod. And now, as we eighteen men

with our thirty-six arms, and one hundred and eighty thumbs and fingers,

slowly toiled hour after hour upon that inert, sluggish corpse in the

sea; and it seemed hardly to budge at all, except at long intervals;

good evidence was hereby furnished of the enormousness of the mass we

moved. For, upon the great canal of Hang-Ho, or whatever they call

it, in China, four or five laborers on the foot-path will draw a bulky

freighted junk at the rate of a mile an hour; but this grand argosy we

towed heavily forged along, as if laden with pig-lead in bulk.


Darkness came on; but three lights up and down in the Pequod's

main-rigging dimly guided our way; till drawing nearer we saw Ahab

dropping one of several more lanterns over the bulwarks. Vacantly eyeing

the heaving whale for a moment, he issued the usual orders for securing

it for the night, and then handing his lantern to a seaman, went his way

into the cabin, and did not come forward again until morning.


Though, in overseeing the pursuit of this whale, Captain Ahab had

evinced his customary activity, to call it so; yet now that the creature

was dead, some vague dissatisfaction, or impatience, or despair, seemed

working in him; as if the sight of that dead body reminded him that

Moby Dick was yet to be slain; and though a thousand other whales were

brought to his ship, all that would not one jot advance his grand,

monomaniac object. Very soon you would have thought from the sound on

the Pequod's decks, that all hands were preparing to cast anchor in

the deep; for heavy chains are being dragged along the deck, and thrust

rattling out of the port-holes. But by those clanking links, the vast

corpse itself, not the ship, is to be moored. Tied by the head to the

stern, and by the tail to the bows, the whale now lies with its black

hull close to the vessel's and seen through the darkness of the night,

which obscured the spars and rigging aloft, the two--ship and whale,

seemed yoked together like colossal bullocks, whereof one reclines while

the other remains standing.*

*A little item may as well be related here. The strongest and most

reliable hold which the ship has upon the whale when moored alongside,

is by the flukes or tail; and as from its greater density that part

is relatively heavier than any other (excepting the side-fins), its

flexibility even in death, causes it to sink low beneath the surface; so

that with the hand you cannot get at it from the boat, in order to

put the chain round it. But this difficulty is ingeniously overcome: a

small, strong line is prepared with a wooden float at its outer end, and

a weight in its middle, while the other end is secured to the ship. By

adroit management the wooden float is made to rise on the other side

of the mass, so that now having girdled the whale, the chain is readily

made to follow suit; and being slipped along the body, is at last locked

fast round the smallest part of the tail, at the point of junction with

its broad flukes or lobes.

If moody Ahab was now all quiescence, at least so far as could be known

on deck, Stubb, his second mate, flushed with conquest, betrayed an

unusual but still good-natured excitement. Such an unwonted bustle was

he in that the staid Starbuck, his official superior, quietly resigned

to him for the time the sole management of affairs. One small, helping

cause of all this liveliness in Stubb, was soon made strangely manifest.

Stubb was a high liver; he was somewhat intemperately fond of the whale

as a flavorish thing to his palate.


"A steak, a steak, ere I sleep! You, Daggoo! overboard you go, and cut

me one from his small!"


Here be it known, that though these wild fishermen do not, as a general

thing, and according to the great military maxim, make the enemy defray

the current expenses of the war (at least before realizing the proceeds

of the voyage), yet now and then you find some of these Nantucketers

who have a genuine relish for that particular part of the Sperm Whale

designated by Stubb; comprising the tapering extremity of the body.


About midnight that steak was cut and cooked; and lighted by two

lanterns of sperm oil, Stubb stoutly stood up to his spermaceti supper

at the capstan-head, as if that capstan were a sideboard. Nor was Stubb

the only banqueter on whale's flesh that night. Mingling their mumblings

with his own mastications, thousands on thousands of sharks, swarming

round the dead leviathan, smackingly feasted on its fatness. The few

sleepers below in their bunks were often startled by the sharp slapping

of their tails against the hull, within a few inches of the sleepers'

hearts. Peering over the side you could just see them (as before you

heard them) wallowing in the sullen, black waters, and turning over on

their backs as they scooped out huge globular pieces of the whale of the

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