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



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thou wert a poltroon. Groan nor laugh should be heard before a wreck."
"Aye, sir," said Starbuck drawing near, "'tis a solemn sight; an omen,

and an ill one."


"Omen? omen?--the dictionary! If the gods think to speak outright to

man, they will honourably speak outright; not shake their heads, and

give an old wives' darkling hint.--Begone! Ye two are the opposite poles

of one thing; Starbuck is Stubb reversed, and Stubb is Starbuck; and

ye two are all mankind; and Ahab stands alone among the millions of

the peopled earth, nor gods nor men his neighbors! Cold, cold--I

shiver!--How now? Aloft there! D'ye see him? Sing out for every spout,

though he spout ten times a second!"


The day was nearly done; only the hem of his golden robe was rustling.

Soon, it was almost dark, but the look-out men still remained unset.


"Can't see the spout now, sir;--too dark"--cried a voice from the air.
"How heading when last seen?"
"As before, sir,--straight to leeward."
"Good! he will travel slower now 'tis night. Down royals and top-gallant

stun-sails, Mr. Starbuck. We must not run over him before morning; he's

making a passage now, and may heave-to a while. Helm there! keep her

full before the wind!--Aloft! come down!--Mr. Stubb, send a fresh hand

to the fore-mast head, and see it manned till morning."--Then advancing

towards the doubloon in the main-mast--"Men, this gold is mine, for I

earned it; but I shall let it abide here till the White Whale is dead;

and then, whosoever of ye first raises him, upon the day he shall be

killed, this gold is that man's; and if on that day I shall again raise

him, then, ten times its sum shall be divided among all of ye! Away

now!--the deck is thine, sir!"
And so saying, he placed himself half way within the scuttle, and

slouching his hat, stood there till dawn, except when at intervals

rousing himself to see how the night wore on.

CHAPTER 134. The Chase--Second Day.

At day-break, the three mast-heads were punctually manned afresh.
"D'ye see him?" cried Ahab after allowing a little space for the light

to spread.


"See nothing, sir."
"Turn up all hands and make sail! he travels faster than I thought

for;--the top-gallant sails!--aye, they should have been kept on her all

night. But no matter--'tis but resting for the rush."
Here be it said, that this pertinacious pursuit of one particular whale,

continued through day into night, and through night into day, is a thing

by no means unprecedented in the South sea fishery. For such is the

wonderful skill, prescience of experience, and invincible confidence

acquired by some great natural geniuses among the Nantucket commanders;

that from the simple observation of a whale when last descried, they

will, under certain given circumstances, pretty accurately foretell both

the direction in which he will continue to swim for a time, while out of

sight, as well as his probable rate of progression during that period.

And, in these cases, somewhat as a pilot, when about losing sight of

a coast, whose general trending he well knows, and which he desires

shortly to return to again, but at some further point; like as this

pilot stands by his compass, and takes the precise bearing of the

cape at present visible, in order the more certainly to hit aright

the remote, unseen headland, eventually to be visited: so does the

fisherman, at his compass, with the whale; for after being chased, and

diligently marked, through several hours of daylight, then, when night

obscures the fish, the creature's future wake through the darkness

is almost as established to the sagacious mind of the hunter, as the

pilot's coast is to him. So that to this hunter's wondrous skill, the

proverbial evanescence of a thing writ in water, a wake, is to all

desired purposes well nigh as reliable as the steadfast land. And as the

mighty iron Leviathan of the modern railway is so familiarly known in

its every pace, that, with watches in their hands, men time his rate as

doctors that of a baby's pulse; and lightly say of it, the up train or

the down train will reach such or such a spot, at such or such an hour;

even so, almost, there are occasions when these Nantucketers time that

other Leviathan of the deep, according to the observed humor of his

speed; and say to themselves, so many hours hence this whale will have

gone two hundred miles, will have about reached this or that degree of

latitude or longitude. But to render this acuteness at all successful in

the end, the wind and the sea must be the whaleman's allies; for of what

present avail to the becalmed or windbound mariner is the skill that

assures him he is exactly ninety-three leagues and a quarter from his

port? Inferable from these statements, are many collateral subtile

matters touching the chase of whales.


The ship tore on; leaving such a furrow in the sea as when a

cannon-ball, missent, becomes a plough-share and turns up the level

field.
"By salt and hemp!" cried Stubb, "but this swift motion of the deck

creeps up one's legs and tingles at the heart. This ship and I are two

brave fellows!--Ha, ha! Some one take me up, and launch me, spine-wise,

on the sea,--for by live-oaks! my spine's a keel. Ha, ha! we go the gait

that leaves no dust behind!"
"There she blows--she blows!--she blows!--right ahead!" was now the

mast-head cry.


"Aye, aye!" cried Stubb, "I knew it--ye can't escape--blow on and

split your spout, O whale! the mad fiend himself is after ye! blow your

trump--blister your lungs!--Ahab will dam off your blood, as a miller

shuts his watergate upon the stream!"


And Stubb did but speak out for well nigh all that crew. The frenzies

of the chase had by this time worked them bubblingly up, like old wine

worked anew. Whatever pale fears and forebodings some of them might

have felt before; these were not only now kept out of sight through the

growing awe of Ahab, but they were broken up, and on all sides routed,

as timid prairie hares that scatter before the bounding bison. The hand

of Fate had snatched all their souls; and by the stirring perils of

the previous day; the rack of the past night's suspense; the fixed,

unfearing, blind, reckless way in which their wild craft went plunging

towards its flying mark; by all these things, their hearts were bowled

along. The wind that made great bellies of their sails, and rushed the

vessel on by arms invisible as irresistible; this seemed the symbol of

that unseen agency which so enslaved them to the race.
They were one man, not thirty. For as the one ship that held them all;

though it was put together of all contrasting things--oak, and maple,

and pine wood; iron, and pitch, and hemp--yet all these ran into each

other in the one concrete hull, which shot on its way, both balanced and

directed by the long central keel; even so, all the individualities of

the crew, this man's valor, that man's fear; guilt and guiltiness, all

varieties were welded into oneness, and were all directed to that fatal

goal which Ahab their one lord and keel did point to.


The rigging lived. The mast-heads, like the tops of tall palms, were

outspreadingly tufted with arms and legs. Clinging to a spar with one

hand, some reached forth the other with impatient wavings; others,

shading their eyes from the vivid sunlight, sat far out on the rocking

yards; all the spars in full bearing of mortals, ready and ripe for

their fate. Ah! how they still strove through that infinite blueness to

seek out the thing that might destroy them!
"Why sing ye not out for him, if ye see him?" cried Ahab, when, after

the lapse of some minutes since the first cry, no more had been heard.

"Sway me up, men; ye have been deceived; not Moby Dick casts one odd jet

that way, and then disappears."


It was even so; in their headlong eagerness, the men had mistaken some

other thing for the whale-spout, as the event itself soon proved; for

hardly had Ahab reached his perch; hardly was the rope belayed to its

pin on deck, when he struck the key-note to an orchestra, that made the

air vibrate as with the combined discharges of rifles. The triumphant

halloo of thirty buckskin lungs was heard, as--much nearer to the ship

than the place of the imaginary jet, less than a mile ahead--Moby Dick

bodily burst into view! For not by any calm and indolent spoutings; not

by the peaceable gush of that mystic fountain in his head, did the White

Whale now reveal his vicinity; but by the far more wondrous phenomenon

of breaching. Rising with his utmost velocity from the furthest depths,

the Sperm Whale thus booms his entire bulk into the pure element of

air, and piling up a mountain of dazzling foam, shows his place to the

distance of seven miles and more. In those moments, the torn, enraged

waves he shakes off, seem his mane; in some cases, this breaching is his

act of defiance.


"There she breaches! there she breaches!" was the cry, as in his

immeasurable bravadoes the White Whale tossed himself salmon-like to

Heaven. So suddenly seen in the blue plain of the sea, and relieved

against the still bluer margin of the sky, the spray that he raised, for

the moment, intolerably glittered and glared like a glacier; and

stood there gradually fading and fading away from its first sparkling

intensity, to the dim mistiness of an advancing shower in a vale.
"Aye, breach your last to the sun, Moby Dick!" cried Ahab, "thy hour and

thy harpoon are at hand!--Down! down all of ye, but one man at the fore.

The boats!--stand by!"
Unmindful of the tedious rope-ladders of the shrouds, the men, like

shooting stars, slid to the deck, by the isolated backstays and

halyards; while Ahab, less dartingly, but still rapidly was dropped from

his perch.


"Lower away," he cried, so soon as he had reached his boat--a spare one,

rigged the afternoon previous. "Mr. Starbuck, the ship is thine--keep

away from the boats, but keep near them. Lower, all!"
As if to strike a quick terror into them, by this time being the first

assailant himself, Moby Dick had turned, and was now coming for the

three crews. Ahab's boat was central; and cheering his men, he told them

he would take the whale head-and-head,--that is, pull straight up to his

forehead,--a not uncommon thing; for when within a certain limit, such

a course excludes the coming onset from the whale's sidelong vision.

But ere that close limit was gained, and while yet all three boats were

plain as the ship's three masts to his eye; the White Whale churning

himself into furious speed, almost in an instant as it were, rushing

among the boats with open jaws, and a lashing tail, offered appalling

battle on every side; and heedless of the irons darted at him from every

boat, seemed only intent on annihilating each separate plank of which

those boats were made. But skilfully manoeuvred, incessantly wheeling

like trained chargers in the field; the boats for a while eluded him;

though, at times, but by a plank's breadth; while all the time, Ahab's

unearthly slogan tore every other cry but his to shreds.


But at last in his untraceable evolutions, the White Whale so crossed

and recrossed, and in a thousand ways entangled the slack of the three

lines now fast to him, that they foreshortened, and, of themselves,

warped the devoted boats towards the planted irons in him; though now

for a moment the whale drew aside a little, as if to rally for a more

tremendous charge. Seizing that opportunity, Ahab first paid out more

line: and then was rapidly hauling and jerking in upon it again--hoping

that way to disencumber it of some snarls--when lo!--a sight more savage

than the embattled teeth of sharks!
Caught and twisted--corkscrewed in the mazes of the line, loose harpoons

and lances, with all their bristling barbs and points, came flashing

and dripping up to the chocks in the bows of Ahab's boat. Only one

thing could be done. Seizing the boat-knife, he critically reached

within--through--and then, without--the rays of steel; dragged in

the line beyond, passed it, inboard, to the bowsman, and then, twice

sundering the rope near the chocks--dropped the intercepted fagot of

steel into the sea; and was all fast again. That instant, the White

Whale made a sudden rush among the remaining tangles of the other lines;

by so doing, irresistibly dragged the more involved boats of Stubb and

Flask towards his flukes; dashed them together like two rolling husks on

a surf-beaten beach, and then, diving down into the sea, disappeared in

a boiling maelstrom, in which, for a space, the odorous cedar chips of

the wrecks danced round and round, like the grated nutmeg in a swiftly

stirred bowl of punch.
While the two crews were yet circling in the waters, reaching out after

the revolving line-tubs, oars, and other floating furniture, while

aslope little Flask bobbed up and down like an empty vial, twitching his

legs upwards to escape the dreaded jaws of sharks; and Stubb was lustily

singing out for some one to ladle him up; and while the old man's

line--now parting--admitted of his pulling into the creamy pool to

rescue whom he could;--in that wild simultaneousness of a thousand

concreted perils,--Ahab's yet unstricken boat seemed drawn up towards

Heaven by invisible wires,--as, arrow-like, shooting perpendicularly

from the sea, the White Whale dashed his broad forehead against its

bottom, and sent it, turning over and over, into the air; till it fell

again--gunwale downwards--and Ahab and his men struggled out from under

it, like seals from a sea-side cave.
The first uprising momentum of the whale--modifying its direction as

he struck the surface--involuntarily launched him along it, to a little

distance from the centre of the destruction he had made; and with his

back to it, he now lay for a moment slowly feeling with his flukes from

side to side; and whenever a stray oar, bit of plank, the least chip

or crumb of the boats touched his skin, his tail swiftly drew back, and

came sideways smiting the sea. But soon, as if satisfied that his work

for that time was done, he pushed his pleated forehead through the

ocean, and trailing after him the intertangled lines, continued his

leeward way at a traveller's methodic pace.


As before, the attentive ship having descried the whole fight, again

came bearing down to the rescue, and dropping a boat, picked up the

floating mariners, tubs, oars, and whatever else could be caught at, and

safely landed them on her decks. Some sprained shoulders, wrists, and

ankles; livid contusions; wrenched harpoons and lances; inextricable

intricacies of rope; shattered oars and planks; all these were there;

but no fatal or even serious ill seemed to have befallen any one. As

with Fedallah the day before, so Ahab was now found grimly clinging to

his boat's broken half, which afforded a comparatively easy float; nor

did it so exhaust him as the previous day's mishap.


But when he was helped to the deck, all eyes were fastened upon him; as

instead of standing by himself he still half-hung upon the shoulder of

Starbuck, who had thus far been the foremost to assist him. His ivory

leg had been snapped off, leaving but one short sharp splinter.


"Aye, aye, Starbuck, 'tis sweet to lean sometimes, be the leaner who he

will; and would old Ahab had leaned oftener than he has."


"The ferrule has not stood, sir," said the carpenter, now coming up; "I

put good work into that leg."


"But no bones broken, sir, I hope," said Stubb with true concern.
"Aye! and all splintered to pieces, Stubb!--d'ye see it.--But even with

a broken bone, old Ahab is untouched; and I account no living bone of

mine one jot more me, than this dead one that's lost. Nor white whale,

nor man, nor fiend, can so much as graze old Ahab in his own proper and

inaccessible being. Can any lead touch yonder floor, any mast scrape

yonder roof?--Aloft there! which way?"


"Dead to leeward, sir."
"Up helm, then; pile on the sail again, ship keepers! down the rest of

the spare boats and rig them--Mr. Starbuck away, and muster the boat's

crews."
"Let me first help thee towards the bulwarks, sir."
"Oh, oh, oh! how this splinter gores me now! Accursed fate! that the

unconquerable captain in the soul should have such a craven mate!"


"Sir?"
"My body, man, not thee. Give me something for a cane--there, that

shivered lance will do. Muster the men. Surely I have not seen him yet.

By heaven it cannot be!--missing?--quick! call them all."
The old man's hinted thought was true. Upon mustering the company, the

Parsee was not there.


"The Parsee!" cried Stubb--"he must have been caught in--"
"The black vomit wrench thee!--run all of ye above, alow, cabin,

forecastle--find him--not gone--not gone!"


But quickly they returned to him with the tidings that the Parsee was

nowhere to be found.


"Aye, sir," said Stubb--"caught among the tangles of your line--I

thought I saw him dragging under."


"MY line! MY line? Gone?--gone? What means that little word?--What

death-knell rings in it, that old Ahab shakes as if he were the belfry.

The harpoon, too!--toss over the litter there,--d'ye see it?--the forged

iron, men, the white whale's--no, no, no,--blistered fool! this hand did

dart it!--'tis in the fish!--Aloft there! Keep him nailed--Quick!--all

hands to the rigging of the boats--collect the oars--harpooneers!

the irons, the irons!--hoist the royals higher--a pull on all the

sheets!--helm there! steady, steady for your life! I'll ten times girdle

the unmeasured globe; yea and dive straight through it, but I'll slay

him yet!
"Great God! but for one single instant show thyself," cried Starbuck;

"never, never wilt thou capture him, old man--In Jesus' name no more of

this, that's worse than devil's madness. Two days chased; twice stove

to splinters; thy very leg once more snatched from under thee; thy evil

shadow gone--all good angels mobbing thee with warnings:--


"What more wouldst thou have?--Shall we keep chasing this murderous fish

till he swamps the last man? Shall we be dragged by him to the bottom

of the sea? Shall we be towed by him to the infernal world? Oh,

oh,--Impiety and blasphemy to hunt him more!"


"Starbuck, of late I've felt strangely moved to thee; ever since that

hour we both saw--thou know'st what, in one another's eyes. But in this

matter of the whale, be the front of thy face to me as the palm of this

hand--a lipless, unfeatured blank. Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This

whole act's immutably decreed. 'Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion

years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates' lieutenant; I act

under orders. Look thou, underling! that thou obeyest mine.--Stand round

me, men. Ye see an old man cut down to the stump; leaning on a shivered

lance; propped up on a lonely foot. 'Tis Ahab--his body's part; but

Ahab's soul's a centipede, that moves upon a hundred legs. I feel

strained, half stranded, as ropes that tow dismasted frigates in a gale;

and I may look so. But ere I break, yell hear me crack; and till ye hear

THAT, know that Ahab's hawser tows his purpose yet. Believe ye, men, in

the things called omens? Then laugh aloud, and cry encore! For ere they

drown, drowning things will twice rise to the surface; then rise again,

to sink for evermore. So with Moby Dick--two days he's floated--tomorrow

will be the third. Aye, men, he'll rise once more,--but only to spout

his last! D'ye feel brave men, brave?"


"As fearless fire," cried Stubb.
"And as mechanical," muttered Ahab. Then as the men went forward, he

muttered on: "The things called omens! And yesterday I talked the same

to Starbuck there, concerning my broken boat. Oh! how valiantly I seek

to drive out of others' hearts what's clinched so fast in mine!--The

Parsee--the Parsee!--gone, gone? and he was to go before:--but still was

to be seen again ere I could perish--How's that?--There's a riddle now

might baffle all the lawyers backed by the ghosts of the whole line

of judges:--like a hawk's beak it pecks my brain. I'LL, I'LL solve it,

though!"
When dusk descended, the whale was still in sight to leeward.
So once more the sail was shortened, and everything passed nearly as

on the previous night; only, the sound of hammers, and the hum of the

grindstone was heard till nearly daylight, as the men toiled by lanterns

in the complete and careful rigging of the spare boats and sharpening

their fresh weapons for the morrow. Meantime, of the broken keel of

Ahab's wrecked craft the carpenter made him another leg; while still as

on the night before, slouched Ahab stood fixed within his scuttle; his

hid, heliotrope glance anticipatingly gone backward on its dial; sat due

eastward for the earliest sun.

CHAPTER 135. The Chase.--Third Day.

The morning of the third day dawned fair and fresh, and once more the

solitary night-man at the fore-mast-head was relieved by crowds of the

daylight look-outs, who dotted every mast and almost every spar.
"D'ye see him?" cried Ahab; but the whale was not yet in sight.
"In his infallible wake, though; but follow that wake, that's all. Helm

there; steady, as thou goest, and hast been going. What a lovely day

again! were it a new-made world, and made for a summer-house to the

angels, and this morning the first of its throwing open to them, a

fairer day could not dawn upon that world. Here's food for thought, had

Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels;

THAT'S tingling enough for mortal man! to think's audacity. God only has

that right and privilege. Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a

calmness; and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much

for that. And yet, I've sometimes thought my brain was very calm--frozen

calm, this old skull cracks so, like a glass in which the contents

turned to ice, and shiver it. And still this hair is growing now; this

moment growing, and heat must breed it; but no, it's like that sort

of common grass that will grow anywhere, between the earthy clefts of

Greenland ice or in Vesuvius lava. How the wild winds blow it; they whip

it about me as the torn shreds of split sails lash the tossed ship they

cling to. A vile wind that has no doubt blown ere this through prison

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