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

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like a serpent's tongue, Starbuck grasped Ahab by the arm--"God, God

is against thee, old man; forbear! 'tis an ill voyage! ill begun, ill

continued; let me square the yards, while we may, old man, and make a

fair wind of it homewards, to go on a better voyage than this."
Overhearing Starbuck, the panic-stricken crew instantly ran to the

braces--though not a sail was left aloft. For the moment all the aghast

mate's thoughts seemed theirs; they raised a half mutinous cry. But

dashing the rattling lightning links to the deck, and snatching the

burning harpoon, Ahab waved it like a torch among them; swearing to

transfix with it the first sailor that but cast loose a rope's end.

Petrified by his aspect, and still more shrinking from the fiery dart

that he held, the men fell back in dismay, and Ahab again spoke:--

"All your oaths to hunt the White Whale are as binding as mine; and

heart, soul, and body, lungs and life, old Ahab is bound. And that ye

may know to what tune this heart beats; look ye here; thus I blow out

the last fear!" And with one blast of his breath he extinguished the

As in the hurricane that sweeps the plain, men fly the neighborhood of

some lone, gigantic elm, whose very height and strength but render it so

much the more unsafe, because so much the more a mark for thunderbolts;

so at those last words of Ahab's many of the mariners did run from him

in a terror of dismay.

CHAPTER 120. The Deck Towards the End of the First Night Watch.


"We must send down the main-top-sail yard, sir. The band is working loose

and the lee lift is half-stranded. Shall I strike it, sir?"
"Strike nothing; lash it. If I had sky-sail poles, I'd sway them up

"Sir!--in God's name!--sir?"

"The anchors are working, sir. Shall I get them inboard?"
"Strike nothing, and stir nothing, but lash everything. The wind rises,

but it has not got up to my table-lands yet. Quick, and see to it.--By

masts and keels! he takes me for the hunch-backed skipper of some

coasting smack. Send down my main-top-sail yard! Ho, gluepots! Loftiest

trucks were made for wildest winds, and this brain-truck of mine now

sails amid the cloud-scud. Shall I strike that? Oh, none but cowards

send down their brain-trucks in tempest time. What a hooroosh aloft

there! I would e'en take it for sublime, did I not know that the colic

is a noisy malady. Oh, take medicine, take medicine!"

CHAPTER 121. Midnight.--The Forecastle Bulwarks.



"No, Stubb; you may pound that knot there as much as you please, but you

will never pound into me what you were just now saying. And how long

ago is it since you said the very contrary? Didn't you once say that

whatever ship Ahab sails in, that ship should pay something extra on its

insurance policy, just as though it were loaded with powder barrels aft

and boxes of lucifers forward? Stop, now; didn't you say so?"

"Well, suppose I did? What then? I've part changed my flesh since that

time, why not my mind? Besides, supposing we ARE loaded with powder

barrels aft and lucifers forward; how the devil could the lucifers get

afire in this drenching spray here? Why, my little man, you have

pretty red hair, but you couldn't get afire now. Shake yourself; you're

Aquarius, or the water-bearer, Flask; might fill pitchers at your coat

collar. Don't you see, then, that for these extra risks the Marine

Insurance companies have extra guarantees? Here are hydrants, Flask. But

hark, again, and I'll answer ye the other thing. First take your leg off

from the crown of the anchor here, though, so I can pass the rope;

now listen. What's the mighty difference between holding a mast's

lightning-rod in the storm, and standing close by a mast that hasn't

got any lightning-rod at all in a storm? Don't you see, you timber-head,

that no harm can come to the holder of the rod, unless the mast is first

struck? What are you talking about, then? Not one ship in a hundred

carries rods, and Ahab,--aye, man, and all of us,--were in no more

danger then, in my poor opinion, than all the crews in ten thousand

ships now sailing the seas. Why, you King-Post, you, I suppose you would

have every man in the world go about with a small lightning-rod running

up the corner of his hat, like a militia officer's skewered feather,

and trailing behind like his sash. Why don't ye be sensible, Flask? it's

easy to be sensible; why don't ye, then? any man with half an eye can be

"I don't know that, Stubb. You sometimes find it rather hard."
"Yes, when a fellow's soaked through, it's hard to be sensible, that's

a fact. And I am about drenched with this spray. Never mind; catch the

turn there, and pass it. Seems to me we are lashing down these anchors

now as if they were never going to be used again. Tying these two

anchors here, Flask, seems like tying a man's hands behind him. And what

big generous hands they are, to be sure. These are your iron fists,

hey? What a hold they have, too! I wonder, Flask, whether the world is

anchored anywhere; if she is, she swings with an uncommon long cable,

though. There, hammer that knot down, and we've done. So; next to

touching land, lighting on deck is the most satisfactory. I say, just

wring out my jacket skirts, will ye? Thank ye. They laugh at long-togs

so, Flask; but seems to me, a Long tailed coat ought always to be worn

in all storms afloat. The tails tapering down that way, serve to carry

off the water, d'ye see. Same with cocked hats; the cocks form gable-end

eave-troughs, Flask. No more monkey-jackets and tarpaulins for me; I

must mount a swallow-tail, and drive down a beaver; so. Halloa! whew!

there goes my tarpaulin overboard; Lord, Lord, that the winds that come

from heaven should be so unmannerly! This is a nasty night, lad."

CHAPTER 122. Midnight Aloft.--Thunder and Lightning.


"Um, um, um. Stop that thunder! Plenty too much thunder up here. What's

the use of thunder? Um, um, um. We don't want thunder; we want rum; give

us a glass of rum. Um, um, um!"

CHAPTER 123. The Musket.

During the most violent shocks of the Typhoon, the man at the Pequod's

jaw-bone tiller had several times been reelingly hurled to the deck by

its spasmodic motions, even though preventer tackles had been attached

to it--for they were slack--because some play to the tiller was

In a severe gale like this, while the ship is but a tossed shuttlecock

to the blast, it is by no means uncommon to see the needles in the

compasses, at intervals, go round and round. It was thus with the

Pequod's; at almost every shock the helmsman had not failed to notice

the whirling velocity with which they revolved upon the cards; it is

a sight that hardly anyone can behold without some sort of unwonted

Some hours after midnight, the Typhoon abated so much, that through the

strenuous exertions of Starbuck and Stubb--one engaged forward and the

other aft--the shivered remnants of the jib and fore and main-top-sails

were cut adrift from the spars, and went eddying away to leeward, like

the feathers of an albatross, which sometimes are cast to the winds when

that storm-tossed bird is on the wing.

The three corresponding new sails were now bent and reefed, and a

storm-trysail was set further aft; so that the ship soon went through

the water with some precision again; and the course--for the present,

East-south-east--which he was to steer, if practicable, was once more

given to the helmsman. For during the violence of the gale, he had only

steered according to its vicissitudes. But as he was now bringing the

ship as near her course as possible, watching the compass meanwhile, lo!

a good sign! the wind seemed coming round astern; aye, the foul breeze

became fair!
Instantly the yards were squared, to the lively song of "HO! THE

FAIR WIND! OH-YE-HO, CHEERLY MEN!" the crew singing for joy, that so

promising an event should so soon have falsified the evil portents

preceding it.

In compliance with the standing order of his commander--to report

immediately, and at any one of the twenty-four hours, any decided change

in the affairs of the deck,--Starbuck had no sooner trimmed the yards to

the breeze--however reluctantly and gloomily,--than he mechanically went

below to apprise Captain Ahab of the circumstance.
Ere knocking at his state-room, he involuntarily paused before it

a moment. The cabin lamp--taking long swings this way and that--was

burning fitfully, and casting fitful shadows upon the old man's bolted

door,--a thin one, with fixed blinds inserted, in place of upper panels.

The isolated subterraneousness of the cabin made a certain humming

silence to reign there, though it was hooped round by all the roar of

the elements. The loaded muskets in the rack were shiningly revealed, as

they stood upright against the forward bulkhead. Starbuck was an honest,

upright man; but out of Starbuck's heart, at that instant when he saw

the muskets, there strangely evolved an evil thought; but so blent with

its neutral or good accompaniments that for the instant he hardly knew

it for itself.

"He would have shot me once," he murmured, "yes, there's the very musket

that he pointed at me;--that one with the studded stock; let me touch

it--lift it. Strange, that I, who have handled so many deadly lances,

strange, that I should shake so now. Loaded? I must see. Aye, aye; and

powder in the pan;--that's not good. Best spill it?--wait. I'll cure

myself of this. I'll hold the musket boldly while I think.--I come

to report a fair wind to him. But how fair? Fair for death and

doom,--THAT'S fair for Moby Dick. It's a fair wind that's only fair for

that accursed fish.--The very tube he pointed at me!--the very one;

THIS one--I hold it here; he would have killed me with the very thing I

handle now.--Aye and he would fain kill all his crew. Does he not say

he will not strike his spars to any gale? Has he not dashed his heavenly

quadrant? and in these same perilous seas, gropes he not his way by mere

dead reckoning of the error-abounding log? and in this very Typhoon, did

he not swear that he would have no lightning-rods? But shall this crazed

old man be tamely suffered to drag a whole ship's company down to doom

with him?--Yes, it would make him the wilful murderer of thirty men and

more, if this ship come to any deadly harm; and come to deadly harm, my

soul swears this ship will, if Ahab have his way. If, then, he were this

instant--put aside, that crime would not be his. Ha! is he muttering in

his sleep? Yes, just there,--in there, he's sleeping. Sleeping? aye,

but still alive, and soon awake again. I can't withstand thee, then, old

man. Not reasoning; not remonstrance; not entreaty wilt thou hearken to;

all this thou scornest. Flat obedience to thy own flat commands, this is

all thou breathest. Aye, and say'st the men have vow'd thy vow; say'st

all of us are Ahabs. Great God forbid!--But is there no other way? no

lawful way?--Make him a prisoner to be taken home? What! hope to wrest

this old man's living power from his own living hands? Only a fool

would try it. Say he were pinioned even; knotted all over with ropes

and hawsers; chained down to ring-bolts on this cabin floor; he would

be more hideous than a caged tiger, then. I could not endure the

sight; could not possibly fly his howlings; all comfort, sleep itself,

inestimable reason would leave me on the long intolerable voyage. What,

then, remains? The land is hundreds of leagues away, and locked Japan

the nearest. I stand alone here upon an open sea, with two oceans and

a whole continent between me and law.--Aye, aye, 'tis so.--Is heaven

a murderer when its lightning strikes a would-be murderer in his bed,

tindering sheets and skin together?--And would I be a murderer, then,

if"--and slowly, stealthily, and half sideways looking, he placed the

loaded musket's end against the door.

"On this level, Ahab's hammock swings within; his head this way. A

touch, and Starbuck may survive to hug his wife and child again.--Oh

Mary! Mary!--boy! boy! boy!--But if I wake thee not to death, old man,

who can tell to what unsounded deeps Starbuck's body this day week

may sink, with all the crew! Great God, where art Thou? Shall I? shall

I?--The wind has gone down and shifted, sir; the fore and main topsails

are reefed and set; she heads her course."
"Stern all! Oh Moby Dick, I clutch thy heart at last!"
Such were the sounds that now came hurtling from out the old man's

tormented sleep, as if Starbuck's voice had caused the long dumb dream

to speak.
The yet levelled musket shook like a drunkard's arm against the panel;

Starbuck seemed wrestling with an angel; but turning from the door, he

placed the death-tube in its rack, and left the place.
"He's too sound asleep, Mr. Stubb; go thou down, and wake him, and tell

him. I must see to the deck here. Thou know'st what to say."

CHAPTER 124. The Needle.

Next morning the not-yet-subsided sea rolled in long slow billows of

mighty bulk, and striving in the Pequod's gurgling track, pushed her on

like giants' palms outspread. The strong, unstaggering breeze abounded

so, that sky and air seemed vast outbellying sails; the whole world

boomed before the wind. Muffled in the full morning light, the invisible

sun was only known by the spread intensity of his place; where his

bayonet rays moved on in stacks. Emblazonings, as of crowned Babylonian

kings and queens, reigned over everything. The sea was as a crucible of

molten gold, that bubblingly leaps with light and heat.
Long maintaining an enchanted silence, Ahab stood apart; and every time

the tetering ship loweringly pitched down her bowsprit, he turned to eye

the bright sun's rays produced ahead; and when she profoundly settled by

the stern, he turned behind, and saw the sun's rearward place, and how

the same yellow rays were blending with his undeviating wake.
"Ha, ha, my ship! thou mightest well be taken now for the sea-chariot of

the sun. Ho, ho! all ye nations before my prow, I bring the sun to ye!

Yoke on the further billows; hallo! a tandem, I drive the sea!"
But suddenly reined back by some counter thought, he hurried towards the

helm, huskily demanding how the ship was heading.

"East-sou-east, sir," said the frightened steersman.
"Thou liest!" smiting him with his clenched fist. "Heading East at this

hour in the morning, and the sun astern?"

Upon this every soul was confounded; for the phenomenon just then

observed by Ahab had unaccountably escaped every one else; but its very

blinding palpableness must have been the cause.
Thrusting his head half way into the binnacle, Ahab caught one glimpse

of the compasses; his uplifted arm slowly fell; for a moment he almost

seemed to stagger. Standing behind him Starbuck looked, and lo! the two

compasses pointed East, and the Pequod was as infallibly going West.

But ere the first wild alarm could get out abroad among the crew,

the old man with a rigid laugh exclaimed, "I have it! It has happened

before. Mr. Starbuck, last night's thunder turned our compasses--that's

all. Thou hast before now heard of such a thing, I take it."

"Aye; but never before has it happened to me, sir," said the pale mate,


Here, it must needs be said, that accidents like this have in more than

one case occurred to ships in violent storms. The magnetic energy, as

developed in the mariner's needle, is, as all know, essentially one with

the electricity beheld in heaven; hence it is not to be much marvelled

at, that such things should be. Instances where the lightning has

actually struck the vessel, so as to smite down some of the spars and

rigging, the effect upon the needle has at times been still more fatal;

all its loadstone virtue being annihilated, so that the before magnetic

steel was of no more use than an old wife's knitting needle. But in

either case, the needle never again, of itself, recovers the original

virtue thus marred or lost; and if the binnacle compasses be affected,

the same fate reaches all the others that may be in the ship; even were

the lowermost one inserted into the kelson.
Deliberately standing before the binnacle, and eyeing the transpointed

compasses, the old man, with the sharp of his extended hand, now took

the precise bearing of the sun, and satisfied that the needles were

exactly inverted, shouted out his orders for the ship's course to be

changed accordingly. The yards were hard up; and once more the Pequod

thrust her undaunted bows into the opposing wind, for the supposed fair

one had only been juggling her.
Meanwhile, whatever were his own secret thoughts, Starbuck said nothing,

but quietly he issued all requisite orders; while Stubb and Flask--who

in some small degree seemed then to be sharing his feelings--likewise

unmurmuringly acquiesced. As for the men, though some of them lowly

rumbled, their fear of Ahab was greater than their fear of Fate. But as

ever before, the pagan harpooneers remained almost wholly unimpressed;

or if impressed, it was only with a certain magnetism shot into their

congenial hearts from inflexible Ahab's.

For a space the old man walked the deck in rolling reveries. But

chancing to slip with his ivory heel, he saw the crushed copper

sight-tubes of the quadrant he had the day before dashed to the deck.
"Thou poor, proud heaven-gazer and sun's pilot! yesterday I wrecked

thee, and to-day the compasses would fain have wrecked me. So, so. But

Ahab is lord over the level loadstone yet. Mr. Starbuck--a lance without

a pole; a top-maul, and the smallest of the sail-maker's needles.

Accessory, perhaps, to the impulse dictating the thing he was now about

to do, were certain prudential motives, whose object might have been to

revive the spirits of his crew by a stroke of his subtile skill, in a

matter so wondrous as that of the inverted compasses. Besides, the old

man well knew that to steer by transpointed needles, though clumsily

practicable, was not a thing to be passed over by superstitious sailors,

without some shudderings and evil portents.
"Men," said he, steadily turning upon the crew, as the mate handed

him the things he had demanded, "my men, the thunder turned old Ahab's

needles; but out of this bit of steel Ahab can make one of his own, that

will point as true as any."

Abashed glances of servile wonder were exchanged by the sailors, as this

was said; and with fascinated eyes they awaited whatever magic might

follow. But Starbuck looked away.
With a blow from the top-maul Ahab knocked off the steel head of the

lance, and then handing to the mate the long iron rod remaining, bade

him hold it upright, without its touching the deck. Then, with the maul,

after repeatedly smiting the upper end of this iron rod, he placed the

blunted needle endwise on the top of it, and less strongly hammered

that, several times, the mate still holding the rod as before. Then

going through some small strange motions with it--whether indispensable

to the magnetizing of the steel, or merely intended to augment the awe

of the crew, is uncertain--he called for linen thread; and moving to the

binnacle, slipped out the two reversed needles there, and horizontally

suspended the sail-needle by its middle, over one of the compass-cards.

At first, the steel went round and round, quivering and vibrating at

either end; but at last it settled to its place, when Ahab, who had

been intently watching for this result, stepped frankly back from the

binnacle, and pointing his stretched arm towards it, exclaimed,--"Look

ye, for yourselves, if Ahab be not lord of the level loadstone! The sun

is East, and that compass swears it!"
One after another they peered in, for nothing but their own eyes could

persuade such ignorance as theirs, and one after another they slunk

In his fiery eyes of scorn and triumph, you then saw Ahab in all his

fatal pride.

CHAPTER 125. The Log and Line.

While now the fated Pequod had been so long afloat this voyage, the log

and line had but very seldom been in use. Owing to a confident reliance

upon other means of determining the vessel's place, some merchantmen,

and many whalemen, especially when cruising, wholly neglect to heave the

log; though at the same time, and frequently more for form's sake than

anything else, regularly putting down upon the customary slate the

course steered by the ship, as well as the presumed average rate of

progression every hour. It had been thus with the Pequod. The wooden

reel and angular log attached hung, long untouched, just beneath the

railing of the after bulwarks. Rains and spray had damped it; sun and

wind had warped it; all the elements had combined to rot a thing that

hung so idly. But heedless of all this, his mood seized Ahab, as he

happened to glance upon the reel, not many hours after the magnet scene,

and he remembered how his quadrant was no more, and recalled his frantic

oath about the level log and line. The ship was sailing plungingly;

astern the billows rolled in riots.

"Forward, there! Heave the log!"
Two seamen came. The golden-hued Tahitian and the grizzly Manxman. "Take

the reel, one of ye, I'll heave."

They went towards the extreme stern, on the ship's lee side, where the

deck, with the oblique energy of the wind, was now almost dipping into

the creamy, sidelong-rushing sea.
The Manxman took the reel, and holding it high up, by the projecting

handle-ends of the spindle, round which the spool of line revolved, so

stood with the angular log hanging downwards, till Ahab advanced to him.
Ahab stood before him, and was lightly unwinding some thirty or forty

turns to form a preliminary hand-coil to toss overboard, when the old

Manxman, who was intently eyeing both him and the line, made bold to

"Sir, I mistrust it; this line looks far gone, long heat and wet have

spoiled it."

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