various weapons and boat furniture. Often he would be surrounded by an
eager circle, all waiting to be served; holding boat-spades, pike-heads,
harpoons, and lances, and jealously watching his every sooty movement,
as he toiled. Nevertheless, this old man's was a patient hammer wielded
by a patient arm. No murmur, no impatience, no petulance did come from
him. Silent, slow, and solemn; bowing over still further his chronically
broken back, he toiled away, as if toil were life itself, and the
heavy beating of his hammer the heavy beating of his heart. And so it
A peculiar walk in this old man, a certain slight but painful appearing
yawing in his gait, had at an early period of the voyage excited the
curiosity of the mariners. And to the importunity of their persisted
questionings he had finally given in; and so it came to pass that every
one now knew the shameful story of his wretched fate.
Belated, and not innocently, one bitter winter's midnight, on the road
running between two country towns, the blacksmith half-stupidly felt
the deadly numbness stealing over him, and sought refuge in a leaning,
dilapidated barn. The issue was, the loss of the extremities of both
feet. Out of this revelation, part by part, at last came out the four
acts of the gladness, and the one long, and as yet uncatastrophied fifth
act of the grief of his life's drama.
He was an old man, who, at the age of nearly sixty, had postponedly
encountered that thing in sorrow's technicals called ruin. He had been
an artisan of famed excellence, and with plenty to do; owned a house
and garden; embraced a youthful, daughter-like, loving wife, and three
blithe, ruddy children; every Sunday went to a cheerful-looking church,
planted in a grove. But one night, under cover of darkness, and further
concealed in a most cunning disguisement, a desperate burglar slid into
his happy home, and robbed them all of everything. And darker yet to
tell, the blacksmith himself did ignorantly conduct this burglar into
his family's heart. It was the Bottle Conjuror! Upon the opening of that
fatal cork, forth flew the fiend, and shrivelled up his home. Now, for
prudent, most wise, and economic reasons, the blacksmith's shop was in
the basement of his dwelling, but with a separate entrance to it; so
that always had the young and loving healthy wife listened with no
unhappy nervousness, but with vigorous pleasure, to the stout ringing of
her young-armed old husband's hammer; whose reverberations, muffled by
passing through the floors and walls, came up to her, not unsweetly,
in her nursery; and so, to stout Labor's iron lullaby, the blacksmith's
infants were rocked to slumber.
Oh, woe on woe! Oh, Death, why canst thou not sometimes be timely? Hadst
thou taken this old blacksmith to thyself ere his full ruin came upon
him, then had the young widow had a delicious grief, and her orphans a
truly venerable, legendary sire to dream of in their after years; and
all of them a care-killing competency. But Death plucked down some
virtuous elder brother, on whose whistling daily toil solely hung the
responsibilities of some other family, and left the worse than useless
old man standing, till the hideous rot of life should make him easier to
Why tell the whole? The blows of the basement hammer every day grew more
and more between; and each blow every day grew fainter than the last;
the wife sat frozen at the window, with tearless eyes, glitteringly
gazing into the weeping faces of her children; the bellows fell; the
forge choked up with cinders; the house was sold; the mother dived
down into the long church-yard grass; her children twice followed her
thither; and the houseless, familyless old man staggered off a vagabond
in crape; his every woe unreverenced; his grey head a scorn to flaxen
Death seems the only desirable sequel for a career like this; but Death
is only a launching into the region of the strange Untried; it is but
the first salutation to the possibilities of the immense Remote, the
Wild, the Watery, the Unshored; therefore, to the death-longing eyes of
such men, who still have left in them some interior compunctions against
suicide, does the all-contributed and all-receptive ocean alluringly
spread forth his whole plain of unimaginable, taking terrors, and
wonderful, new-life adventures; and from the hearts of infinite
Pacifics, the thousand mermaids sing to them--"Come hither,
broken-hearted; here is another life without the guilt of intermediate
death; here are wonders supernatural, without dying for them. Come
hither! bury thyself in a life which, to your now equally abhorred and
abhorring, landed world, is more oblivious than death. Come hither! put
up THY gravestone, too, within the churchyard, and come hither, till we
Hearkening to these voices, East and West, by early sunrise, and by fall
of eve, the blacksmith's soul responded, Aye, I come! And so Perth went
CHAPTER 113. The Forge.
With matted beard, and swathed in a bristling shark-skin apron, about
mid-day, Perth was standing between his forge and anvil, the latter
placed upon an iron-wood log, with one hand holding a pike-head in the
coals, and with the other at his forge's lungs, when Captain Ahab came
along, carrying in his hand a small rusty-looking leathern bag. While
yet a little distance from the forge, moody Ahab paused; till at last,
Perth, withdrawing his iron from the fire, began hammering it upon the
anvil--the red mass sending off the sparks in thick hovering flights,
some of which flew close to Ahab.
"Are these thy Mother Carey's chickens, Perth? they are always flying
in thy wake; birds of good omen, too, but not to all;--look here, they
burn; but thou--thou liv'st among them without a scorch."
"Because I am scorched all over, Captain Ahab," answered Perth, resting
for a moment on his hammer; "I am past scorching; not easily can'st thou
scorch a scar."
"Well, well; no more. Thy shrunk voice sounds too calmly, sanely woeful
to me. In no Paradise myself, I am impatient of all misery in others
that is not mad. Thou should'st go mad, blacksmith; say, why dost thou
not go mad? How can'st thou endure without being mad? Do the heavens yet
hate thee, that thou can'st not go mad?--What wert thou making there?"
"Welding an old pike-head, sir; there were seams and dents in it."
"And can'st thou make it all smooth again, blacksmith, after such hard
usage as it had?"
"I think so, sir."
"And I suppose thou can'st smoothe almost any seams and dents; never
mind how hard the metal, blacksmith?"
"Aye, sir, I think I can; all seams and dents but one."
"Look ye here, then," cried Ahab, passionately advancing, and leaning
with both hands on Perth's shoulders; "look ye here--HERE--can ye
smoothe out a seam like this, blacksmith," sweeping one hand across his
ribbed brow; "if thou could'st, blacksmith, glad enough would I lay
my head upon thy anvil, and feel thy heaviest hammer between my eyes.
Answer! Can'st thou smoothe this seam?"
"Oh! that is the one, sir! Said I not all seams and dents but one?"
"Aye, blacksmith, it is the one; aye, man, it is unsmoothable; for
though thou only see'st it here in my flesh, it has worked down into the
bone of my skull--THAT is all wrinkles! But, away with child's play; no
more gaffs and pikes to-day. Look ye here!" jingling the leathern bag,
as if it were full of gold coins. "I, too, want a harpoon made; one that
a thousand yoke of fiends could not part, Perth; something that will
stick in a whale like his own fin-bone. There's the stuff," flinging
the pouch upon the anvil. "Look ye, blacksmith, these are the gathered
nail-stubbs of the steel shoes of racing horses."
"Horse-shoe stubbs, sir? Why, Captain Ahab, thou hast here, then, the
best and stubbornest stuff we blacksmiths ever work."
"I know it, old man; these stubbs will weld together like glue from the
melted bones of murderers. Quick! forge me the harpoon. And forge me
first, twelve rods for its shank; then wind, and twist, and hammer these
twelve together like the yarns and strands of a tow-line. Quick! I'll
blow the fire."
When at last the twelve rods were made, Ahab tried them, one by one, by
spiralling them, with his own hand, round a long, heavy iron bolt. "A
flaw!" rejecting the last one. "Work that over again, Perth."
This done, Perth was about to begin welding the twelve into one, when
Ahab stayed his hand, and said he would weld his own iron. As, then,
with regular, gasping hems, he hammered on the anvil, Perth passing to
him the glowing rods, one after the other, and the hard pressed forge
shooting up its intense straight flame, the Parsee passed silently, and
bowing over his head towards the fire, seemed invoking some curse or
some blessing on the toil. But, as Ahab looked up, he slid aside.
"What's that bunch of lucifers dodging about there for?" muttered Stubb,
looking on from the forecastle. "That Parsee smells fire like a fusee;
and smells of it himself, like a hot musket's powder-pan."
At last the shank, in one complete rod, received its final heat; and as
Perth, to temper it, plunged it all hissing into the cask of water near
by, the scalding steam shot up into Ahab's bent face.
"Would'st thou brand me, Perth?" wincing for a moment with the pain;
"have I been but forging my own branding-iron, then?"
"Pray God, not that; yet I fear something, Captain Ahab. Is not this
harpoon for the White Whale?"
"For the white fiend! But now for the barbs; thou must make them
thyself, man. Here are my razors--the best of steel; here, and make the
barbs sharp as the needle-sleet of the Icy Sea."
For a moment, the old blacksmith eyed the razors as though he would fain
not use them.
"Take them, man, I have no need for them; for I now neither shave, sup,
nor pray till--but here--to work!"
Fashioned at last into an arrowy shape, and welded by Perth to the
shank, the steel soon pointed the end of the iron; and as the blacksmith
was about giving the barbs their final heat, prior to tempering them, he
cried to Ahab to place the water-cask near.
"No, no--no water for that; I want it of the true death-temper. Ahoy,
there! Tashtego, Queequeg, Daggoo! What say ye, pagans! Will ye give me
as much blood as will cover this barb?" holding it high up. A cluster of
dark nods replied, Yes. Three punctures were made in the heathen flesh,
and the White Whale's barbs were then tempered.
"Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!"
deliriously howled Ahab, as the malignant iron scorchingly devoured the
Now, mustering the spare poles from below, and selecting one of hickory,
with the bark still investing it, Ahab fitted the end to the socket of
the iron. A coil of new tow-line was then unwound, and some fathoms of
it taken to the windlass, and stretched to a great tension. Pressing
his foot upon it, till the rope hummed like a harp-string, then eagerly
bending over it, and seeing no strandings, Ahab exclaimed, "Good! and
now for the seizings."
At one extremity the rope was unstranded, and the separate spread yarns
were all braided and woven round the socket of the harpoon; the pole
was then driven hard up into the socket; from the lower end the rope
was traced half-way along the pole's length, and firmly secured so, with
intertwistings of twine. This done, pole, iron, and rope--like the Three
Fates--remained inseparable, and Ahab moodily stalked away with the
weapon; the sound of his ivory leg, and the sound of the hickory pole,
both hollowly ringing along every plank. But ere he entered his cabin,
light, unnatural, half-bantering, yet most piteous sound was heard. Oh,
Pip! thy wretched laugh, thy idle but unresting eye; all thy strange
mummeries not unmeaningly blended with the black tragedy of the
melancholy ship, and mocked it!
CHAPTER 114. The Gilder.
Penetrating further and further into the heart of the Japanese cruising
ground, the Pequod was soon all astir in the fishery. Often, in mild,
pleasant weather, for twelve, fifteen, eighteen, and twenty hours on the
stretch, they were engaged in the boats, steadily pulling, or sailing,
or paddling after the whales, or for an interlude of sixty or seventy
minutes calmly awaiting their uprising; though with but small success
for their pains.
At such times, under an abated sun; afloat all day upon smooth, slow
heaving swells; seated in his boat, light as a birch canoe; and so
sociably mixing with the soft waves themselves, that like hearth-stone
cats they purr against the gunwale; these are the times of dreamy
quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the
ocean's skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and
would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a
These are the times, when in his whale-boat the rover softly feels a
certain filial, confident, land-like feeling towards the sea; that he
regards it as so much flowery earth; and the distant ship revealing
only the tops of her masts, seems struggling forward, not through high
rolling waves, but through the tall grass of a rolling prairie: as when
the western emigrants' horses only show their erected ears, while their
hidden bodies widely wade through the amazing verdure.
The long-drawn virgin vales; the mild blue hill-sides; as over these
there steals the hush, the hum; you almost swear that play-wearied
children lie sleeping in these solitudes, in some glad May-time, when
the flowers of the woods are plucked. And all this mixes with your most
mystic mood; so that fact and fancy, half-way meeting, interpenetrate,
and form one seamless whole.
Nor did such soothing scenes, however temporary, fail of at least as
temporary an effect on Ahab. But if these secret golden keys did seem
to open in him his own secret golden treasuries, yet did his breath upon
them prove but tarnishing.
Oh, grassy glades! oh, ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul; in
ye,--though long parched by the dead drought of the earthy life,--in ye,
men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover; and for some
few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life immortal on them.
Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling
threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a
storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this
life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one
pause:--through infancy's unconscious spell, boyhood's thoughtless
faith, adolescence' doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then
disbelief, resting at last in manhood's pondering repose of If. But once
gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men,
and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no
more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will
never weary? Where is the foundling's father hidden? Our souls are like
those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of
our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.
And that same day, too, gazing far down from his boat's side into that
same golden sea, Starbuck lowly murmured:--
"Loveliness unfathomable, as ever lover saw in his young bride's
eye!--Tell me not of thy teeth-tiered sharks, and thy kidnapping
cannibal ways. Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I look deep
down and do believe."
And Stubb, fish-like, with sparkling scales, leaped up in that same
"I am Stubb, and Stubb has his history; but here Stubb takes oaths that
he has always been jolly!"
CHAPTER 115. The Pequod Meets The Bachelor.
And jolly enough were the sights and the sounds that came bearing down
before the wind, some few weeks after Ahab's harpoon had been welded.
It was a Nantucket ship, the Bachelor, which had just wedged in her
last cask of oil, and bolted down her bursting hatches; and now, in glad
holiday apparel, was joyously, though somewhat vain-gloriously, sailing
round among the widely-separated ships on the ground, previous to
pointing her prow for home.
The three men at her mast-head wore long streamers of narrow red bunting
at their hats; from the stern, a whale-boat was suspended, bottom down;
and hanging captive from the bowsprit was seen the long lower jaw of the
last whale they had slain. Signals, ensigns, and jacks of all colours
were flying from her rigging, on every side. Sideways lashed in each of
her three basketed tops were two barrels of sperm; above which, in her
top-mast cross-trees, you saw slender breakers of the same precious
fluid; and nailed to her main truck was a brazen lamp.
As was afterwards learned, the Bachelor had met with the most surprising
success; all the more wonderful, for that while cruising in the same
seas numerous other vessels had gone entire months without securing a
single fish. Not only had barrels of beef and bread been given away to
make room for the far more valuable sperm, but additional supplemental
casks had been bartered for, from the ships she had met; and these were
stowed along the deck, and in the captain's and officers' state-rooms.
Even the cabin table itself had been knocked into kindling-wood; and the
cabin mess dined off the broad head of an oil-butt, lashed down to the
floor for a centrepiece. In the forecastle, the sailors had actually
caulked and pitched their chests, and filled them; it was humorously
added, that the cook had clapped a head on his largest boiler, and
filled it; that the steward had plugged his spare coffee-pot and filled
it; that the harpooneers had headed the sockets of their irons and
filled them; that indeed everything was filled with sperm, except the
captain's pantaloons pockets, and those he reserved to thrust his hands
into, in self-complacent testimony of his entire satisfaction.
As this glad ship of good luck bore down upon the moody Pequod, the
barbarian sound of enormous drums came from her forecastle; and drawing
still nearer, a crowd of her men were seen standing round her huge
try-pots, which, covered with the parchment-like POKE or stomach skin of
the black fish, gave forth a loud roar to every stroke of the clenched
hands of the crew. On the quarter-deck, the mates and harpooneers were
dancing with the olive-hued girls who had eloped with them from the
Polynesian Isles; while suspended in an ornamented boat, firmly secured
aloft between the foremast and mainmast, three Long Island negroes, with
glittering fiddle-bows of whale ivory, were presiding over the hilarious
jig. Meanwhile, others of the ship's company were tumultuously busy at
the masonry of the try-works, from which the huge pots had been
removed. You would have almost thought they were pulling down the cursed
Bastille, such wild cries they raised, as the now useless brick and
mortar were being hurled into the sea.
Lord and master over all this scene, the captain stood erect on the
ship's elevated quarter-deck, so that the whole rejoicing drama was
full before him, and seemed merely contrived for his own individual
And Ahab, he too was standing on his quarter-deck, shaggy and black,
with a stubborn gloom; and as the two ships crossed each other's
wakes--one all jubilations for things passed, the other all forebodings
as to things to come--their two captains in themselves impersonated the
whole striking contrast of the scene.
"Come aboard, come aboard!" cried the gay Bachelor's commander, lifting
a glass and a bottle in the air.
"Hast seen the White Whale?" gritted Ahab in reply.
"No; only heard of him; but don't believe in him at all," said the other
good-humoredly. "Come aboard!"
"Thou art too damned jolly. Sail on. Hast lost any men?"
"Not enough to speak of--two islanders, that's all;--but come aboard,
old hearty, come along. I'll soon take that black from your brow. Come
along, will ye (merry's the play); a full ship and homeward-bound."
"How wondrous familiar is a fool!" muttered Ahab; then aloud, "Thou art
a full ship and homeward bound, thou sayst; well, then, call me an empty
ship, and outward-bound. So go thy ways, and I will mine. Forward there!
Set all sail, and keep her to the wind!"
And thus, while the one ship went cheerily before the breeze, the other
stubbornly fought against it; and so the two vessels parted; the crew
of the Pequod looking with grave, lingering glances towards the receding
Bachelor; but the Bachelor's men never heeding their gaze for the lively
revelry they were in. And as Ahab, leaning over the taffrail, eyed the
homewardbound craft, he took from his pocket a small vial of sand, and
then looking from the ship to the vial, seemed thereby bringing two
remote associations together, for that vial was filled with Nantucket
CHAPTER 116. The Dying Whale.
Not seldom in this life, when, on the right side, fortune's favourites
sail close by us, we, though all adroop before, catch somewhat of the
rushing breeze, and joyfully feel our bagging sails fill out. So seemed
it with the Pequod. For next day after encountering the gay Bachelor,
whales were seen and four were slain; and one of them by Ahab.
It was far down the afternoon; and when all the spearings of the crimson
fight were done: and floating in the lovely sunset sea and sky, sun
and whale both stilly died together; then, such a sweetness and such
plaintiveness, such inwreathing orisons curled up in that rosy air, that
it almost seemed as if far over from the deep green convent valleys of
the Manilla isles, the Spanish land-breeze, wantonly turned sailor, had
gone to sea, freighted with these vesper hymns.
Soothed again, but only soothed to deeper gloom, Ahab, who had sterned
off from the whale, sat intently watching his final wanings from the now
tranquil boat. For that strange spectacle observable in all sperm whales
dying--the turning sunwards of the head, and so expiring--that strange
spectacle, beheld of such a placid evening, somehow to Ahab conveyed a