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



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corridors and cells, and wards of hospitals, and ventilated them, and

now comes blowing hither as innocent as fleeces. Out upon it!--it's

tainted. Were I the wind, I'd blow no more on such a wicked, miserable

world. I'd crawl somewhere to a cave, and slink there. And yet, 'tis a

noble and heroic thing, the wind! who ever conquered it? In every fight

it has the last and bitterest blow. Run tilting at it, and you but run

through it. Ha! a coward wind that strikes stark naked men, but will not

stand to receive a single blow. Even Ahab is a braver thing--a nobler

thing than THAT. Would now the wind but had a body; but all the things

that most exasperate and outrage mortal man, all these things are

bodiless, but only bodiless as objects, not as agents. There's a most

special, a most cunning, oh, a most malicious difference! And yet, I

say again, and swear it now, that there's something all glorious and

gracious in the wind. These warm Trade Winds, at least, that in the

clear heavens blow straight on, in strong and steadfast, vigorous

mildness; and veer not from their mark, however the baser currents of

the sea may turn and tack, and mightiest Mississippies of the land swift

and swerve about, uncertain where to go at last. And by the eternal

Poles! these same Trades that so directly blow my good ship on; these

Trades, or something like them--something so unchangeable, and full as

strong, blow my keeled soul along! To it! Aloft there! What d'ye see?"


"Nothing, sir."
"Nothing! and noon at hand! The doubloon goes a-begging! See the sun!

Aye, aye, it must be so. I've oversailed him. How, got the start? Aye,

he's chasing ME now; not I, HIM--that's bad; I might have known it, too.

Fool! the lines--the harpoons he's towing. Aye, aye, I have run him by

last night. About! about! Come down, all of ye, but the regular look

outs! Man the braces!"


Steering as she had done, the wind had been somewhat on the Pequod's

quarter, so that now being pointed in the reverse direction, the braced

ship sailed hard upon the breeze as she rechurned the cream in her own

white wake.


"Against the wind he now steers for the open jaw," murmured Starbuck to

himself, as he coiled the new-hauled main-brace upon the rail. "God keep

us, but already my bones feel damp within me, and from the inside wet my

flesh. I misdoubt me that I disobey my God in obeying him!"


"Stand by to sway me up!" cried Ahab, advancing to the hempen basket.

"We should meet him soon."


"Aye, aye, sir," and straightway Starbuck did Ahab's bidding, and once

more Ahab swung on high.


A whole hour now passed; gold-beaten out to ages. Time itself now held

long breaths with keen suspense. But at last, some three points off the

weather bow, Ahab descried the spout again, and instantly from the three

mast-heads three shrieks went up as if the tongues of fire had voiced

it.
"Forehead to forehead I meet thee, this third time, Moby Dick! On deck

there!--brace sharper up; crowd her into the wind's eye. He's too

far off to lower yet, Mr. Starbuck. The sails shake! Stand over that

helmsman with a top-maul! So, so; he travels fast, and I must down. But

let me have one more good round look aloft here at the sea; there's

time for that. An old, old sight, and yet somehow so young; aye, and

not changed a wink since I first saw it, a boy, from the sand-hills of

Nantucket! The same!--the same!--the same to Noah as to me. There's

a soft shower to leeward. Such lovely leewardings! They must lead

somewhere--to something else than common land, more palmy than the

palms. Leeward! the white whale goes that way; look to windward,

then; the better if the bitterer quarter. But good bye, good bye, old

mast-head! What's this?--green? aye, tiny mosses in these warped cracks.

No such green weather stains on Ahab's head! There's the difference now

between man's old age and matter's. But aye, old mast, we both grow old

together; sound in our hulls, though, are we not, my ship? Aye, minus

a leg, that's all. By heaven this dead wood has the better of my live

flesh every way. I can't compare with it; and I've known some ships made

of dead trees outlast the lives of men made of the most vital stuff of

vital fathers. What's that he said? he should still go before me, my

pilot; and yet to be seen again? But where? Will I have eyes at the

bottom of the sea, supposing I descend those endless stairs? and all

night I've been sailing from him, wherever he did sink to. Aye, aye,

like many more thou told'st direful truth as touching thyself, O Parsee;

but, Ahab, there thy shot fell short. Good-bye, mast-head--keep a good

eye upon the whale, the while I'm gone. We'll talk to-morrow, nay,

to-night, when the white whale lies down there, tied by head and tail."
He gave the word; and still gazing round him, was steadily lowered

through the cloven blue air to the deck.


In due time the boats were lowered; but as standing in his shallop's

stern, Ahab just hovered upon the point of the descent, he waved to the

mate,--who held one of the tackle-ropes on deck--and bade him pause.
"Starbuck!"
"Sir?"
"For the third time my soul's ship starts upon this voyage, Starbuck."
"Aye, sir, thou wilt have it so."
"Some ships sail from their ports, and ever afterwards are missing,

Starbuck!"


"Truth, sir: saddest truth."
"Some men die at ebb tide; some at low water; some at the full of

the flood;--and I feel now like a billow that's all one crested comb,

Starbuck. I am old;--shake hands with me, man."
Their hands met; their eyes fastened; Starbuck's tears the glue.
"Oh, my captain, my captain!--noble heart--go not--go not!--see, it's a

brave man that weeps; how great the agony of the persuasion then!"


"Lower away!"--cried Ahab, tossing the mate's arm from him. "Stand by

the crew!"


In an instant the boat was pulling round close under the stern.
"The sharks! the sharks!" cried a voice from the low cabin-window there;

"O master, my master, come back!"


But Ahab heard nothing; for his own voice was high-lifted then; and the

boat leaped on.


Yet the voice spake true; for scarce had he pushed from the ship, when

numbers of sharks, seemingly rising from out the dark waters beneath

the hull, maliciously snapped at the blades of the oars, every time they

dipped in the water; and in this way accompanied the boat with their

bites. It is a thing not uncommonly happening to the whale-boats in

those swarming seas; the sharks at times apparently following them in

the same prescient way that vultures hover over the banners of marching

regiments in the east. But these were the first sharks that had been

observed by the Pequod since the White Whale had been first descried;

and whether it was that Ahab's crew were all such tiger-yellow

barbarians, and therefore their flesh more musky to the senses of the

sharks--a matter sometimes well known to affect them,--however it was,

they seemed to follow that one boat without molesting the others.
"Heart of wrought steel!" murmured Starbuck gazing over the side, and

following with his eyes the receding boat--"canst thou yet ring boldly

to that sight?--lowering thy keel among ravening sharks, and followed by

them, open-mouthed to the chase; and this the critical third day?--For

when three days flow together in one continuous intense pursuit; be sure

the first is the morning, the second the noon, and the third the evening

and the end of that thing--be that end what it may. Oh! my God! what

is this that shoots through me, and leaves me so deadly calm, yet

expectant,--fixed at the top of a shudder! Future things swim before me,

as in empty outlines and skeletons; all the past is somehow grown dim.

Mary, girl! thou fadest in pale glories behind me; boy! I seem to

see but thy eyes grown wondrous blue. Strangest problems of life seem

clearing; but clouds sweep between--Is my journey's end coming? My legs

feel faint; like his who has footed it all day. Feel thy heart,--beats

it yet? Stir thyself, Starbuck!--stave it off--move, move!

speak aloud!--Mast-head there! See ye my boy's hand on the

hill?--Crazed;--aloft there!--keep thy keenest eye upon the boats:--
"Mark well the whale!--Ho! again!--drive off that hawk! see! he pecks--he

tears the vane"--pointing to the red flag flying at the main-truck--"Ha!

he soars away with it!--Where's the old man now? see'st thou that sight,

oh Ahab!--shudder, shudder!"


The boats had not gone very far, when by a signal from the mast-heads--a

downward pointed arm, Ahab knew that the whale had sounded; but

intending to be near him at the next rising, he held on his way a little

sideways from the vessel; the becharmed crew maintaining the profoundest

silence, as the head-beat waves hammered and hammered against the

opposing bow.


"Drive, drive in your nails, oh ye waves! to their uttermost heads

drive them in! ye but strike a thing without a lid; and no coffin and no

hearse can be mine:--and hemp only can kill me! Ha! ha!"
Suddenly the waters around them slowly swelled in broad circles; then

quickly upheaved, as if sideways sliding from a submerged berg of

ice, swiftly rising to the surface. A low rumbling sound was heard; a

subterraneous hum; and then all held their breaths; as bedraggled with

trailing ropes, and harpoons, and lances, a vast form shot lengthwise,

but obliquely from the sea. Shrouded in a thin drooping veil of mist, it

hovered for a moment in the rainbowed air; and then fell swamping back

into the deep. Crushed thirty feet upwards, the waters flashed for

an instant like heaps of fountains, then brokenly sank in a shower of

flakes, leaving the circling surface creamed like new milk round the

marble trunk of the whale.
"Give way!" cried Ahab to the oarsmen, and the boats darted forward to

the attack; but maddened by yesterday's fresh irons that corroded in

him, Moby Dick seemed combinedly possessed by all the angels that fell

from heaven. The wide tiers of welded tendons overspreading his broad

white forehead, beneath the transparent skin, looked knitted together;

as head on, he came churning his tail among the boats; and once more

flailed them apart; spilling out the irons and lances from the two

mates' boats, and dashing in one side of the upper part of their bows,

but leaving Ahab's almost without a scar.
While Daggoo and Queequeg were stopping the strained planks; and as the

whale swimming out from them, turned, and showed one entire flank as he

shot by them again; at that moment a quick cry went up. Lashed round

and round to the fish's back; pinioned in the turns upon turns in which,

during the past night, the whale had reeled the involutions of the lines

around him, the half torn body of the Parsee was seen; his sable raiment

frayed to shreds; his distended eyes turned full upon old Ahab.
The harpoon dropped from his hand.
"Befooled, befooled!"--drawing in a long lean breath--"Aye, Parsee! I

see thee again.--Aye, and thou goest before; and this, THIS then is the

hearse that thou didst promise. But I hold thee to the last letter of

thy word. Where is the second hearse? Away, mates, to the ship! those

boats are useless now; repair them if ye can in time, and return to

me; if not, Ahab is enough to die--Down, men! the first thing that but

offers to jump from this boat I stand in, that thing I harpoon. Ye are

not other men, but my arms and my legs; and so obey me.--Where's the

whale? gone down again?"
But he looked too nigh the boat; for as if bent upon escaping with the

corpse he bore, and as if the particular place of the last encounter had

been but a stage in his leeward voyage, Moby Dick was now again steadily

swimming forward; and had almost passed the ship,--which thus far had

been sailing in the contrary direction to him, though for the present

her headway had been stopped. He seemed swimming with his utmost

velocity, and now only intent upon pursuing his own straight path in the

sea.
"Oh! Ahab," cried Starbuck, "not too late is it, even now, the third

day, to desist. See! Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that

madly seekest him!"


Setting sail to the rising wind, the lonely boat was swiftly impelled to

leeward, by both oars and canvas. And at last when Ahab was sliding

by the vessel, so near as plainly to distinguish Starbuck's face as he

leaned over the rail, he hailed him to turn the vessel about, and follow

him, not too swiftly, at a judicious interval. Glancing upwards, he

saw Tashtego, Queequeg, and Daggoo, eagerly mounting to the three

mast-heads; while the oarsmen were rocking in the two staved boats

which had but just been hoisted to the side, and were busily at work in

repairing them. One after the other, through the port-holes, as he sped,

he also caught flying glimpses of Stubb and Flask, busying themselves

on deck among bundles of new irons and lances. As he saw all this; as he

heard the hammers in the broken boats; far other hammers seemed driving

a nail into his heart. But he rallied. And now marking that the vane or

flag was gone from the main-mast-head, he shouted to Tashtego, who had

just gained that perch, to descend again for another flag, and a hammer

and nails, and so nail it to the mast.


Whether fagged by the three days' running chase, and the resistance

to his swimming in the knotted hamper he bore; or whether it was some

latent deceitfulness and malice in him: whichever was true, the White

Whale's way now began to abate, as it seemed, from the boat so rapidly

nearing him once more; though indeed the whale's last start had not been

so long a one as before. And still as Ahab glided over the waves the

unpitying sharks accompanied him; and so pertinaciously stuck to the

boat; and so continually bit at the plying oars, that the blades became

jagged and crunched, and left small splinters in the sea, at almost

every dip.


"Heed them not! those teeth but give new rowlocks to your oars. Pull on!

'tis the better rest, the shark's jaw than the yielding water."


"But at every bite, sir, the thin blades grow smaller and smaller!"
"They will last long enough! pull on!--But who can tell"--he

muttered--"whether these sharks swim to feast on the whale or on

Ahab?--But pull on! Aye, all alive, now--we near him. The helm! take the

helm! let me pass,"--and so saying two of the oarsmen helped him forward

to the bows of the still flying boat.
At length as the craft was cast to one side, and ran ranging along

with the White Whale's flank, he seemed strangely oblivious of its

advance--as the whale sometimes will--and Ahab was fairly within the

smoky mountain mist, which, thrown off from the whale's spout, curled

round his great, Monadnock hump; he was even thus close to him; when,

with body arched back, and both arms lengthwise high-lifted to the

poise, he darted his fierce iron, and his far fiercer curse into the

hated whale. As both steel and curse sank to the socket, as if sucked

into a morass, Moby Dick sideways writhed; spasmodically rolled his nigh

flank against the bow, and, without staving a hole in it, so suddenly

canted the boat over, that had it not been for the elevated part of the

gunwale to which he then clung, Ahab would once more have been tossed

into the sea. As it was, three of the oarsmen--who foreknew not the

precise instant of the dart, and were therefore unprepared for its

effects--these were flung out; but so fell, that, in an instant two of

them clutched the gunwale again, and rising to its level on a combing

wave, hurled themselves bodily inboard again; the third man helplessly

dropping astern, but still afloat and swimming.


Almost simultaneously, with a mighty volition of ungraduated,

instantaneous swiftness, the White Whale darted through the weltering

sea. But when Ahab cried out to the steersman to take new turns with

the line, and hold it so; and commanded the crew to turn round on their

seats, and tow the boat up to the mark; the moment the treacherous line

felt that double strain and tug, it snapped in the empty air!


"What breaks in me? Some sinew cracks!--'tis whole again; oars! oars!

Burst in upon him!"


Hearing the tremendous rush of the sea-crashing boat, the whale wheeled

round to present his blank forehead at bay; but in that evolution,

catching sight of the nearing black hull of the ship; seemingly seeing

in it the source of all his persecutions; bethinking it--it may be--a

larger and nobler foe; of a sudden, he bore down upon its advancing

prow, smiting his jaws amid fiery showers of foam.


Ahab staggered; his hand smote his forehead. "I grow blind; hands!

stretch out before me that I may yet grope my way. Is't night?"


"The whale! The ship!" cried the cringing oarsmen.
"Oars! oars! Slope downwards to thy depths, O sea, that ere it be for

ever too late, Ahab may slide this last, last time upon his mark! I see:

the ship! the ship! Dash on, my men! Will ye not save my ship?"
But as the oarsmen violently forced their boat through the

sledge-hammering seas, the before whale-smitten bow-ends of two planks

burst through, and in an instant almost, the temporarily disabled boat

lay nearly level with the waves; its half-wading, splashing crew, trying

hard to stop the gap and bale out the pouring water.
Meantime, for that one beholding instant, Tashtego's mast-head hammer

remained suspended in his hand; and the red flag, half-wrapping him as

with a plaid, then streamed itself straight out from him, as his own

forward-flowing heart; while Starbuck and Stubb, standing upon the

bowsprit beneath, caught sight of the down-coming monster just as soon

as he.
"The whale, the whale! Up helm, up helm! Oh, all ye sweet powers of air,

now hug me close! Let not Starbuck die, if die he must, in a woman's

fainting fit. Up helm, I say--ye fools, the jaw! the jaw! Is this the

end of all my bursting prayers? all my life-long fidelities? Oh, Ahab,

Ahab, lo, thy work. Steady! helmsman, steady. Nay, nay! Up helm again!

He turns to meet us! Oh, his unappeasable brow drives on towards one,

whose duty tells him he cannot depart. My God, stand by me now!"


"Stand not by me, but stand under me, whoever you are that will now help

Stubb; for Stubb, too, sticks here. I grin at thee, thou grinning whale!

Who ever helped Stubb, or kept Stubb awake, but Stubb's own unwinking

eye? And now poor Stubb goes to bed upon a mattrass that is all too

soft; would it were stuffed with brushwood! I grin at thee, thou

grinning whale! Look ye, sun, moon, and stars! I call ye assassins of

as good a fellow as ever spouted up his ghost. For all that, I would yet

ring glasses with ye, would ye but hand the cup! Oh, oh! oh, oh! thou

grinning whale, but there'll be plenty of gulping soon! Why fly ye

not, O Ahab! For me, off shoes and jacket to it; let Stubb die in

his drawers! A most mouldy and over salted death, though;--cherries!

cherries! cherries! Oh, Flask, for one red cherry ere we die!"


"Cherries? I only wish that we were where they grow. Oh, Stubb, I hope

my poor mother's drawn my part-pay ere this; if not, few coppers will

now come to her, for the voyage is up."
From the ship's bows, nearly all the seamen now hung inactive; hammers,

bits of plank, lances, and harpoons, mechanically retained in their

hands, just as they had darted from their various employments; all their

enchanted eyes intent upon the whale, which from side to side strangely

vibrating his predestinating head, sent a broad band of overspreading

semicircular foam before him as he rushed. Retribution, swift vengeance,

eternal malice were in his whole aspect, and spite of all that mortal

man could do, the solid white buttress of his forehead smote the ship's

starboard bow, till men and timbers reeled. Some fell flat upon their

faces. Like dislodged trucks, the heads of the harpooneers aloft shook

on their bull-like necks. Through the breach, they heard the waters

pour, as mountain torrents down a flume.


"The ship! The hearse!--the second hearse!" cried Ahab from the boat;

"its wood could only be American!"


Diving beneath the settling ship, the whale ran quivering along its

keel; but turning under water, swiftly shot to the surface again, far

off the other bow, but within a few yards of Ahab's boat, where, for a

time, he lay quiescent.


"I turn my body from the sun. What ho, Tashtego! let me hear thy hammer.

Oh! ye three unsurrendered spires of mine; thou uncracked keel; and only

god-bullied hull; thou firm deck, and haughty helm, and Pole-pointed

prow,--death-glorious ship! must ye then perish, and without me? Am I

cut off from the last fond pride of meanest shipwrecked captains? Oh,

lonely death on lonely life! Oh, now I feel my topmost greatness lies in

my topmost grief. Ho, ho! from all your furthest bounds, pour ye now in,

ye bold billows of my whole foregone life, and top this one piled comber

of my death! Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering

whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at

thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins

and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let

me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee,

thou damned whale! THUS, I give up the spear!"


The harpoon was darted; the stricken whale flew forward; with igniting

velocity the line ran through the grooves;--ran foul. Ahab stooped to

clear it; he did clear it; but the flying turn caught him round the

neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was

shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone. Next instant, the

heavy eye-splice in the rope's final end flew out of the stark-empty

tub, knocked down an oarsman, and smiting the sea, disappeared in its

depths.
For an instant, the tranced boat's crew stood still; then turned. "The

ship? Great God, where is the ship?" Soon they through dim, bewildering

mediums saw her sidelong fading phantom, as in the gaseous Fata Morgana;

only the uppermost masts out of water; while fixed by infatuation, or

fidelity, or fate, to their once lofty perches, the pagan harpooneers

still maintained their sinking lookouts on the sea. And now, concentric

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