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



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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

was.--Most miserable!
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

harvest.
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

curls!
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

marry thee!"
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

a-whaling.

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

baptismal blood.
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

remorseless fang.


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

golden light:--


"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

diversion.


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

soundings.

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

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