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



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the smoke from the touch-hole.
Fifth: As in the ordinary floating posture of the leviathan the flukes

lie considerably below the level of his back, they are then completely

out of sight beneath the surface; but when he is about to plunge into

the deeps, his entire flukes with at least thirty feet of his body are

tossed erect in the air, and so remain vibrating a moment, till they

downwards shoot out of view. Excepting the sublime BREACH--somewhere

else to be described--this peaking of the whale's flukes is perhaps the

grandest sight to be seen in all animated nature. Out of the bottomless

profundities the gigantic tail seems spasmodically snatching at the

highest heaven. So in dreams, have I seen majestic Satan thrusting forth

his tormented colossal claw from the flame Baltic of Hell. But in

gazing at such scenes, it is all in all what mood you are in; if in

the Dantean, the devils will occur to you; if in that of Isaiah, the

archangels. Standing at the mast-head of my ship during a sunrise that

crimsoned sky and sea, I once saw a large herd of whales in the east,

all heading towards the sun, and for a moment vibrating in concert with

peaked flukes. As it seemed to me at the time, such a grand embodiment

of adoration of the gods was never beheld, even in Persia, the home of

the fire worshippers. As Ptolemy Philopater testified of the African

elephant, I then testified of the whale, pronouncing him the most devout

of all beings. For according to King Juba, the military elephants of

antiquity often hailed the morning with their trunks uplifted in the

profoundest silence.
The chance comparison in this chapter, between the whale and the

elephant, so far as some aspects of the tail of the one and the trunk

of the other are concerned, should not tend to place those two

opposite organs on an equality, much less the creatures to which they

respectively belong. For as the mightiest elephant is but a terrier

to Leviathan, so, compared with Leviathan's tail, his trunk is but the

stalk of a lily. The most direful blow from the elephant's trunk were as

the playful tap of a fan, compared with the measureless crush and crash

of the sperm whale's ponderous flukes, which in repeated instances have

one after the other hurled entire boats with all their oars and crews

into the air, very much as an Indian juggler tosses his balls.*

*Though all comparison in the way of general bulk between the whale

and the elephant is preposterous, inasmuch as in that particular the

elephant stands in much the same respect to the whale that a dog does to

the elephant; nevertheless, there are not wanting some points of curious

similitude; among these is the spout. It is well known that the elephant

will often draw up water or dust in his trunk, and then elevating it,

jet it forth in a stream.

The more I consider this mighty tail, the more do I deplore my inability

to express it. At times there are gestures in it, which, though they

would well grace the hand of man, remain wholly inexplicable. In an

extensive herd, so remarkable, occasionally, are these mystic gestures,

that I have heard hunters who have declared them akin to Free-Mason

signs and symbols; that the whale, indeed, by these methods

intelligently conversed with the world. Nor are there wanting other

motions of the whale in his general body, full of strangeness, and

unaccountable to his most experienced assailant. Dissect him how I may,

then, I but go skin deep; I know him not, and never will. But if I know

not even the tail of this whale, how understand his head? much more,

how comprehend his face, when face he has none? Thou shalt see my back

parts, my tail, he seems to say, but my face shall not be seen. But I

cannot completely make out his back parts; and hint what he will about

his face, I say again he has no face.

CHAPTER 87. The Grand Armada.

The long and narrow peninsula of Malacca, extending south-eastward from

the territories of Birmah, forms the most southerly point of all Asia.

In a continuous line from that peninsula stretch the long islands of

Sumatra, Java, Bally, and Timor; which, with many others, form a

vast mole, or rampart, lengthwise connecting Asia with Australia,

and dividing the long unbroken Indian ocean from the thickly studded

oriental archipelagoes. This rampart is pierced by several sally-ports

for the convenience of ships and whales; conspicuous among which are the

straits of Sunda and Malacca. By the straits of Sunda, chiefly, vessels

bound to China from the west, emerge into the China seas.


Those narrow straits of Sunda divide Sumatra from Java; and standing

midway in that vast rampart of islands, buttressed by that bold green

promontory, known to seamen as Java Head; they not a little correspond

to the central gateway opening into some vast walled empire: and

considering the inexhaustible wealth of spices, and silks, and jewels,

and gold, and ivory, with which the thousand islands of that oriental

sea are enriched, it seems a significant provision of nature, that such

treasures, by the very formation of the land, should at least bear the

appearance, however ineffectual, of being guarded from the all-grasping

western world. The shores of the Straits of Sunda are unsupplied

with those domineering fortresses which guard the entrances to the

Mediterranean, the Baltic, and the Propontis. Unlike the Danes, these

Orientals do not demand the obsequious homage of lowered top-sails from

the endless procession of ships before the wind, which for centuries

past, by night and by day, have passed between the islands of Sumatra

and Java, freighted with the costliest cargoes of the east. But while

they freely waive a ceremonial like this, they do by no means renounce

their claim to more solid tribute.


Time out of mind the piratical proas of the Malays, lurking among

the low shaded coves and islets of Sumatra, have sallied out upon the

vessels sailing through the straits, fiercely demanding tribute at the

point of their spears. Though by the repeated bloody chastisements they

have received at the hands of European cruisers, the audacity of these

corsairs has of late been somewhat repressed; yet, even at the present

day, we occasionally hear of English and American vessels, which, in

those waters, have been remorselessly boarded and pillaged.


With a fair, fresh wind, the Pequod was now drawing nigh to these

straits; Ahab purposing to pass through them into the Javan sea, and

thence, cruising northwards, over waters known to be frequented here and

there by the Sperm Whale, sweep inshore by the Philippine Islands, and

gain the far coast of Japan, in time for the great whaling season there.

By these means, the circumnavigating Pequod would sweep almost all the

known Sperm Whale cruising grounds of the world, previous to descending

upon the Line in the Pacific; where Ahab, though everywhere else foiled

in his pursuit, firmly counted upon giving battle to Moby Dick, in the

sea he was most known to frequent; and at a season when he might most

reasonably be presumed to be haunting it.
But how now? in this zoned quest, does Ahab touch no land? does his crew

drink air? Surely, he will stop for water. Nay. For a long time, now,

the circus-running sun has raced within his fiery ring, and needs

no sustenance but what's in himself. So Ahab. Mark this, too, in the

whaler. While other hulls are loaded down with alien stuff, to be

transferred to foreign wharves; the world-wandering whale-ship carries

no cargo but herself and crew, their weapons and their wants. She has a

whole lake's contents bottled in her ample hold. She is ballasted with

utilities; not altogether with unusable pig-lead and kentledge. She

carries years' water in her. Clear old prime Nantucket water; which,

when three years afloat, the Nantucketer, in the Pacific, prefers to

drink before the brackish fluid, but yesterday rafted off in casks, from

the Peruvian or Indian streams. Hence it is, that, while other ships may

have gone to China from New York, and back again, touching at a score

of ports, the whale-ship, in all that interval, may not have sighted

one grain of soil; her crew having seen no man but floating seamen like

themselves. So that did you carry them the news that another flood had

come; they would only answer--"Well, boys, here's the ark!"


Now, as many Sperm Whales had been captured off the western coast of

Java, in the near vicinity of the Straits of Sunda; indeed, as most of

the ground, roundabout, was generally recognised by the fishermen as an

excellent spot for cruising; therefore, as the Pequod gained more

and more upon Java Head, the look-outs were repeatedly hailed, and

admonished to keep wide awake. But though the green palmy cliffs of the

land soon loomed on the starboard bow, and with delighted nostrils

the fresh cinnamon was snuffed in the air, yet not a single jet was

descried. Almost renouncing all thought of falling in with any game

hereabouts, the ship had well nigh entered the straits, when the

customary cheering cry was heard from aloft, and ere long a spectacle of

singular magnificence saluted us.


But here be it premised, that owing to the unwearied activity with which

of late they have been hunted over all four oceans, the Sperm Whales,

instead of almost invariably sailing in small detached companies, as in

former times, are now frequently met with in extensive herds, sometimes

embracing so great a multitude, that it would almost seem as if

numerous nations of them had sworn solemn league and covenant for mutual

assistance and protection. To this aggregation of the Sperm Whale into

such immense caravans, may be imputed the circumstance that even in the

best cruising grounds, you may now sometimes sail for weeks and months

together, without being greeted by a single spout; and then be suddenly

saluted by what sometimes seems thousands on thousands.
Broad on both bows, at the distance of some two or three miles, and

forming a great semicircle, embracing one half of the level horizon,

a continuous chain of whale-jets were up-playing and sparkling in the

noon-day air. Unlike the straight perpendicular twin-jets of the Right

Whale, which, dividing at top, fall over in two branches, like the cleft

drooping boughs of a willow, the single forward-slanting spout of the

Sperm Whale presents a thick curled bush of white mist, continually

rising and falling away to leeward.


Seen from the Pequod's deck, then, as she would rise on a high hill of

the sea, this host of vapoury spouts, individually curling up into the

air, and beheld through a blending atmosphere of bluish haze, showed

like the thousand cheerful chimneys of some dense metropolis, descried

of a balmy autumnal morning, by some horseman on a height.
As marching armies approaching an unfriendly defile in the mountains,

accelerate their march, all eagerness to place that perilous passage in

their rear, and once more expand in comparative security upon the plain;

even so did this vast fleet of whales now seem hurrying forward through

the straits; gradually contracting the wings of their semicircle, and

swimming on, in one solid, but still crescentic centre.


Crowding all sail the Pequod pressed after them; the harpooneers

handling their weapons, and loudly cheering from the heads of their

yet suspended boats. If the wind only held, little doubt had they, that

chased through these Straits of Sunda, the vast host would only deploy

into the Oriental seas to witness the capture of not a few of their

number. And who could tell whether, in that congregated caravan, Moby

Dick himself might not temporarily be swimming, like the worshipped

white-elephant in the coronation procession of the Siamese! So with

stun-sail piled on stun-sail, we sailed along, driving these leviathans

before us; when, of a sudden, the voice of Tashtego was heard, loudly

directing attention to something in our wake.
Corresponding to the crescent in our van, we beheld another in our rear.

It seemed formed of detached white vapours, rising and falling something

like the spouts of the whales; only they did not so completely come and

go; for they constantly hovered, without finally disappearing. Levelling

his glass at this sight, Ahab quickly revolved in his pivot-hole,

crying, "Aloft there, and rig whips and buckets to wet the

sails;--Malays, sir, and after us!"
As if too long lurking behind the headlands, till the Pequod should

fairly have entered the straits, these rascally Asiatics were now in hot

pursuit, to make up for their over-cautious delay. But when the swift

Pequod, with a fresh leading wind, was herself in hot chase; how very

kind of these tawny philanthropists to assist in speeding her on to

her own chosen pursuit,--mere riding-whips and rowels to her, that they

were. As with glass under arm, Ahab to-and-fro paced the deck; in his

forward turn beholding the monsters he chased, and in the after one the

bloodthirsty pirates chasing him; some such fancy as the above seemed

his. And when he glanced upon the green walls of the watery defile in

which the ship was then sailing, and bethought him that through that

gate lay the route to his vengeance, and beheld, how that through that

same gate he was now both chasing and being chased to his deadly end;

and not only that, but a herd of remorseless wild pirates and

inhuman atheistical devils were infernally cheering him on with their

curses;--when all these conceits had passed through his brain, Ahab's

brow was left gaunt and ribbed, like the black sand beach after some

stormy tide has been gnawing it, without being able to drag the firm

thing from its place.
But thoughts like these troubled very few of the reckless crew; and

when, after steadily dropping and dropping the pirates astern, the

Pequod at last shot by the vivid green Cockatoo Point on the Sumatra

side, emerging at last upon the broad waters beyond; then, the

harpooneers seemed more to grieve that the swift whales had been gaining

upon the ship, than to rejoice that the ship had so victoriously gained

upon the Malays. But still driving on in the wake of the whales, at

length they seemed abating their speed; gradually the ship neared them;

and the wind now dying away, word was passed to spring to the boats. But

no sooner did the herd, by some presumed wonderful instinct of the Sperm

Whale, become notified of the three keels that were after them,--though

as yet a mile in their rear,--than they rallied again, and forming

in close ranks and battalions, so that their spouts all looked like

flashing lines of stacked bayonets, moved on with redoubled velocity.


Stripped to our shirts and drawers, we sprang to the white-ash, and

after several hours' pulling were almost disposed to renounce the chase,

when a general pausing commotion among the whales gave animating

token that they were now at last under the influence of that strange

perplexity of inert irresolution, which, when the fishermen perceive

it in the whale, they say he is gallied. The compact martial columns

in which they had been hitherto rapidly and steadily swimming, were now

broken up in one measureless rout; and like King Porus' elephants in the

Indian battle with Alexander, they seemed going mad with consternation.

In all directions expanding in vast irregular circles, and aimlessly

swimming hither and thither, by their short thick spoutings, they

plainly betrayed their distraction of panic. This was still more

strangely evinced by those of their number, who, completely paralysed

as it were, helplessly floated like water-logged dismantled ships on the

sea. Had these Leviathans been but a flock of simple sheep, pursued over

the pasture by three fierce wolves, they could not possibly have evinced

such excessive dismay. But this occasional timidity is characteristic

of almost all herding creatures. Though banding together in tens of

thousands, the lion-maned buffaloes of the West have fled before a

solitary horseman. Witness, too, all human beings, how when herded

together in the sheepfold of a theatre's pit, they will, at the

slightest alarm of fire, rush helter-skelter for the outlets, crowding,

trampling, jamming, and remorselessly dashing each other to death. Best,

therefore, withhold any amazement at the strangely gallied whales

before us, for there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not

infinitely outdone by the madness of men.


Though many of the whales, as has been said, were in violent motion,

yet it is to be observed that as a whole the herd neither advanced nor

retreated, but collectively remained in one place. As is customary in

those cases, the boats at once separated, each making for some one

lone whale on the outskirts of the shoal. In about three minutes' time,

Queequeg's harpoon was flung; the stricken fish darted blinding spray

in our faces, and then running away with us like light, steered straight

for the heart of the herd. Though such a movement on the part of the

whale struck under such circumstances, is in no wise unprecedented; and

indeed is almost always more or less anticipated; yet does it present

one of the more perilous vicissitudes of the fishery. For as the swift

monster drags you deeper and deeper into the frantic shoal, you bid

adieu to circumspect life and only exist in a delirious throb.
As, blind and deaf, the whale plunged forward, as if by sheer power of

speed to rid himself of the iron leech that had fastened to him; as we

thus tore a white gash in the sea, on all sides menaced as we flew, by

the crazed creatures to and fro rushing about us; our beset boat was

like a ship mobbed by ice-isles in a tempest, and striving to steer

through their complicated channels and straits, knowing not at what

moment it may be locked in and crushed.
But not a bit daunted, Queequeg steered us manfully; now sheering off

from this monster directly across our route in advance; now edging away

from that, whose colossal flukes were suspended overhead, while all the

time, Starbuck stood up in the bows, lance in hand, pricking out of our

way whatever whales he could reach by short darts, for there was no time

to make long ones. Nor were the oarsmen quite idle, though their wonted

duty was now altogether dispensed with. They chiefly attended to the

shouting part of the business. "Out of the way, Commodore!" cried one,

to a great dromedary that of a sudden rose bodily to the surface,

and for an instant threatened to swamp us. "Hard down with your tail,

there!" cried a second to another, which, close to our gunwale, seemed

calmly cooling himself with his own fan-like extremity.


All whaleboats carry certain curious contrivances, originally invented

by the Nantucket Indians, called druggs. Two thick squares of wood

of equal size are stoutly clenched together, so that they cross each

other's grain at right angles; a line of considerable length is then

attached to the middle of this block, and the other end of the line

being looped, it can in a moment be fastened to a harpoon. It is chiefly

among gallied whales that this drugg is used. For then, more whales

are close round you than you can possibly chase at one time. But sperm

whales are not every day encountered; while you may, then, you must

kill all you can. And if you cannot kill them all at once, you must wing

them, so that they can be afterwards killed at your leisure. Hence it

is, that at times like these the drugg, comes into requisition. Our boat

was furnished with three of them. The first and second were successfully

darted, and we saw the whales staggeringly running off, fettered by the

enormous sidelong resistance of the towing drugg. They were cramped like

malefactors with the chain and ball. But upon flinging the third, in the

act of tossing overboard the clumsy wooden block, it caught under one

of the seats of the boat, and in an instant tore it out and carried it

away, dropping the oarsman in the boat's bottom as the seat slid from

under him. On both sides the sea came in at the wounded planks, but we

stuffed two or three drawers and shirts in, and so stopped the leaks for

the time.


It had been next to impossible to dart these drugged-harpoons, were

it not that as we advanced into the herd, our whale's way greatly

diminished; moreover, that as we went still further and further from the

circumference of commotion, the direful disorders seemed waning. So that

when at last the jerking harpoon drew out, and the towing whale sideways

vanished; then, with the tapering force of his parting momentum, we

glided between two whales into the innermost heart of the shoal, as if

from some mountain torrent we had slid into a serene valley lake. Here

the storms in the roaring glens between the outermost whales, were heard

but not felt. In this central expanse the sea presented that smooth

satin-like surface, called a sleek, produced by the subtle moisture

thrown off by the whale in his more quiet moods. Yes, we were now

in that enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every

commotion. And still in the distracted distance we beheld the tumults of

the outer concentric circles, and saw successive pods of whales, eight

or ten in each, swiftly going round and round, like multiplied spans of

horses in a ring; and so closely shoulder to shoulder, that a Titanic

circus-rider might easily have over-arched the middle ones, and so have

gone round on their backs. Owing to the density of the crowd of reposing

whales, more immediately surrounding the embayed axis of the herd, no

possible chance of escape was at present afforded us. We must watch for

a breach in the living wall that hemmed us in; the wall that had only

admitted us in order to shut us up. Keeping at the centre of the lake,

we were occasionally visited by small tame cows and calves; the women

and children of this routed host.
Now, inclusive of the occasional wide intervals between the revolving

outer circles, and inclusive of the spaces between the various pods in

any one of those circles, the entire area at this juncture, embraced by

the whole multitude, must have contained at least two or three square

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