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

Download 4.14 Mb.
Size4.14 Mb.
1   ...   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   ...   56

prove to be the hated one he hunted. But if such an hypothesis be indeed

exceptionable, there were still additional considerations which, though

not so strictly according with the wildness of his ruling passion, yet

were by no means incapable of swaying him.
To accomplish his object Ahab must use tools; and of all tools used in

the shadow of the moon, men are most apt to get out of order. He knew,

for example, that however magnetic his ascendency in some respects was

over Starbuck, yet that ascendency did not cover the complete spiritual

man any more than mere corporeal superiority involves intellectual

mastership; for to the purely spiritual, the intellectual but stand in a

sort of corporeal relation. Starbuck's body and Starbuck's coerced will

were Ahab's, so long as Ahab kept his magnet at Starbuck's brain; still

he knew that for all this the chief mate, in his soul, abhorred his

captain's quest, and could he, would joyfully disintegrate himself from

it, or even frustrate it. It might be that a long interval would elapse

ere the White Whale was seen. During that long interval Starbuck

would ever be apt to fall into open relapses of rebellion against his

captain's leadership, unless some ordinary, prudential, circumstantial

influences were brought to bear upon him. Not only that, but the subtle

insanity of Ahab respecting Moby Dick was noways more significantly

manifested than in his superlative sense and shrewdness in foreseeing

that, for the present, the hunt should in some way be stripped of that

strange imaginative impiousness which naturally invested it; that

the full terror of the voyage must be kept withdrawn into the obscure

background (for few men's courage is proof against protracted meditation

unrelieved by action); that when they stood their long night watches,

his officers and men must have some nearer things to think of than Moby

Dick. For however eagerly and impetuously the savage crew had hailed the

announcement of his quest; yet all sailors of all sorts are more or less

capricious and unreliable--they live in the varying outer weather, and

they inhale its fickleness--and when retained for any object remote and

blank in the pursuit, however promissory of life and passion in the

end, it is above all things requisite that temporary interests and

employments should intervene and hold them healthily suspended for the

final dash.
Nor was Ahab unmindful of another thing. In times of strong emotion

mankind disdain all base considerations; but such times are evanescent.

The permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man, thought

Ahab, is sordidness. Granting that the White Whale fully incites the

hearts of this my savage crew, and playing round their savageness even

breeds a certain generous knight-errantism in them, still, while for the

love of it they give chase to Moby Dick, they must also have food

for their more common, daily appetites. For even the high lifted and

chivalric Crusaders of old times were not content to traverse two

thousand miles of land to fight for their holy sepulchre, without

committing burglaries, picking pockets, and gaining other pious

perquisites by the way. Had they been strictly held to their one final

and romantic object--that final and romantic object, too many would have

turned from in disgust. I will not strip these men, thought Ahab, of all

hopes of cash--aye, cash. They may scorn cash now; but let some months

go by, and no perspective promise of it to them, and then this same

quiescent cash all at once mutinying in them, this same cash would soon

cashier Ahab.

Nor was there wanting still another precautionary motive more related

to Ahab personally. Having impulsively, it is probable, and perhaps

somewhat prematurely revealed the prime but private purpose of the

Pequod's voyage, Ahab was now entirely conscious that, in so doing,

he had indirectly laid himself open to the unanswerable charge of

usurpation; and with perfect impunity, both moral and legal, his crew

if so disposed, and to that end competent, could refuse all further

obedience to him, and even violently wrest from him the command. From

even the barely hinted imputation of usurpation, and the possible

consequences of such a suppressed impression gaining ground, Ahab must

of course have been most anxious to protect himself. That protection

could only consist in his own predominating brain and heart and hand,

backed by a heedful, closely calculating attention to every minute

atmospheric influence which it was possible for his crew to be subjected

For all these reasons then, and others perhaps too analytic to be

verbally developed here, Ahab plainly saw that he must still in a good

degree continue true to the natural, nominal purpose of the Pequod's

voyage; observe all customary usages; and not only that, but force

himself to evince all his well known passionate interest in the general

pursuit of his profession.

Be all this as it may, his voice was now often heard hailing the three

mast-heads and admonishing them to keep a bright look-out, and not omit

reporting even a porpoise. This vigilance was not long without reward.

CHAPTER 47. The Mat-Maker.

It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon; the seamen were lazily lounging

about the decks, or vacantly gazing over into the lead-coloured waters.

Queequeg and I were mildly employed weaving what is called a sword-mat,

for an additional lashing to our boat. So still and subdued and yet

somehow preluding was all the scene, and such an incantation of reverie

lurked in the air, that each silent sailor seemed resolved into his own

invisible self.
I was the attendant or page of Queequeg, while busy at the mat. As I

kept passing and repassing the filling or woof of marline between

the long yarns of the warp, using my own hand for the shuttle, and as

Queequeg, standing sideways, ever and anon slid his heavy oaken sword

between the threads, and idly looking off upon the water, carelessly and

unthinkingly drove home every yarn: I say so strange a dreaminess did

there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by

the intermitting dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this were

the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving

and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed threads of the warp

subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and

that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending

of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and here,

thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own

destiny into these unalterable threads. Meantime, Queequeg's impulsive,

indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly,

or strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by this difference

in the concluding blow producing a corresponding contrast in the final

aspect of the completed fabric; this savage's sword, thought I,

which thus finally shapes and fashions both warp and woof; this

easy, indifferent sword must be chance--aye, chance, free will, and

necessity--nowise incompatible--all interweavingly working together.

The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate

course--its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that;

free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and

chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of

necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though

thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the

last featuring blow at events.

Thus we were weaving and weaving away when I started at a sound so

strange, long drawn, and musically wild and unearthly, that the ball

of free will dropped from my hand, and I stood gazing up at the clouds

whence that voice dropped like a wing. High aloft in the cross-trees was

that mad Gay-Header, Tashtego. His body was reaching eagerly forward,

his hand stretched out like a wand, and at brief sudden intervals he

continued his cries. To be sure the same sound was that very moment

perhaps being heard all over the seas, from hundreds of whalemen's

look-outs perched as high in the air; but from few of those lungs could

that accustomed old cry have derived such a marvellous cadence as from

Tashtego the Indian's.

As he stood hovering over you half suspended in air, so wildly and

eagerly peering towards the horizon, you would have thought him some

prophet or seer beholding the shadows of Fate, and by those wild cries

announcing their coming.

"There she blows! there! there! there! she blows! she blows!"
"On the lee-beam, about two miles off! a school of them!"
Instantly all was commotion.
The Sperm Whale blows as a clock ticks, with the same undeviating and

reliable uniformity. And thereby whalemen distinguish this fish from

other tribes of his genus.
"There go flukes!" was now the cry from Tashtego; and the whales


"Quick, steward!" cried Ahab. "Time! time!"
Dough-Boy hurried below, glanced at the watch, and reported the exact

minute to Ahab.

The ship was now kept away from the wind, and she went gently rolling

before it. Tashtego reporting that the whales had gone down heading to

leeward, we confidently looked to see them again directly in advance of

our bows. For that singular craft at times evinced by the Sperm Whale

when, sounding with his head in one direction, he nevertheless, while

concealed beneath the surface, mills round, and swiftly swims off in the

opposite quarter--this deceitfulness of his could not now be in action;

for there was no reason to suppose that the fish seen by Tashtego had

been in any way alarmed, or indeed knew at all of our vicinity. One of

the men selected for shipkeepers--that is, those not appointed to the

boats, by this time relieved the Indian at the main-mast head. The

sailors at the fore and mizzen had come down; the line tubs were fixed

in their places; the cranes were thrust out; the mainyard was backed,

and the three boats swung over the sea like three samphire baskets over

high cliffs. Outside of the bulwarks their eager crews with one hand

clung to the rail, while one foot was expectantly poised on the gunwale.

So look the long line of man-of-war's men about to throw themselves on

board an enemy's ship.

But at this critical instant a sudden exclamation was heard that took

every eye from the whale. With a start all glared at dark Ahab, who was

surrounded by five dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air.

CHAPTER 48. The First Lowering.

The phantoms, for so they then seemed, were flitting on the other side

of the deck, and, with a noiseless celerity, were casting loose the

tackles and bands of the boat which swung there. This boat had always

been deemed one of the spare boats, though technically called the

captain's, on account of its hanging from the starboard quarter. The

figure that now stood by its bows was tall and swart, with one white

tooth evilly protruding from its steel-like lips. A rumpled Chinese

jacket of black cotton funereally invested him, with wide black trowsers

of the same dark stuff. But strangely crowning this ebonness was a

glistening white plaited turban, the living hair braided and coiled

round and round upon his head. Less swart in aspect, the companions of

this figure were of that vivid, tiger-yellow complexion peculiar to

some of the aboriginal natives of the Manillas;--a race notorious for

a certain diabolism of subtilty, and by some honest white mariners

supposed to be the paid spies and secret confidential agents on the

water of the devil, their lord, whose counting-room they suppose to be

While yet the wondering ship's company were gazing upon these strangers,

Ahab cried out to the white-turbaned old man at their head, "All ready

there, Fedallah?"
"Ready," was the half-hissed reply.
"Lower away then; d'ye hear?" shouting across the deck. "Lower away

there, I say."

Such was the thunder of his voice, that spite of their amazement the men

sprang over the rail; the sheaves whirled round in the blocks; with a

wallow, the three boats dropped into the sea; while, with a dexterous,

off-handed daring, unknown in any other vocation, the sailors,

goat-like, leaped down the rolling ship's side into the tossed boats

Hardly had they pulled out from under the ship's lee, when a fourth

keel, coming from the windward side, pulled round under the stern, and

showed the five strangers rowing Ahab, who, standing erect in the stern,

loudly hailed Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, to spread themselves widely,

so as to cover a large expanse of water. But with all their eyes again

riveted upon the swart Fedallah and his crew, the inmates of the other

boats obeyed not the command.

"Captain Ahab?--" said Starbuck.
"Spread yourselves," cried Ahab; "give way, all four boats. Thou, Flask,

pull out more to leeward!"

"Aye, aye, sir," cheerily cried little King-Post, sweeping round

his great steering oar. "Lay back!" addressing his crew.

"There!--there!--there again! There she blows right ahead, boys!--lay

"Never heed yonder yellow boys, Archy."

"Oh, I don't mind'em, sir," said Archy; "I knew it all before now.

Didn't I hear 'em in the hold? And didn't I tell Cabaco here of it? What

say ye, Cabaco? They are stowaways, Mr. Flask."
"Pull, pull, my fine hearts-alive; pull, my children; pull, my little

ones," drawlingly and soothingly sighed Stubb to his crew, some of whom

still showed signs of uneasiness. "Why don't you break your backbones,

my boys? What is it you stare at? Those chaps in yonder boat? Tut! They

are only five more hands come to help us--never mind from where--the

more the merrier. Pull, then, do pull; never mind the brimstone--devils

are good fellows enough. So, so; there you are now; that's the stroke

for a thousand pounds; that's the stroke to sweep the stakes! Hurrah

for the gold cup of sperm oil, my heroes! Three cheers, men--all hearts

alive! Easy, easy; don't be in a hurry--don't be in a hurry. Why don't

you snap your oars, you rascals? Bite something, you dogs! So, so, so,

then:--softly, softly! That's it--that's it! long and strong. Give way

there, give way! The devil fetch ye, ye ragamuffin rapscallions; ye are

all asleep. Stop snoring, ye sleepers, and pull. Pull, will ye? pull,

can't ye? pull, won't ye? Why in the name of gudgeons and ginger-cakes

don't ye pull?--pull and break something! pull, and start your eyes out!

Here!" whipping out the sharp knife from his girdle; "every mother's son

of ye draw his knife, and pull with the blade between his teeth. That's

it--that's it. Now ye do something; that looks like it, my steel-bits.

Start her--start her, my silver-spoons! Start her, marling-spikes!"

Stubb's exordium to his crew is given here at large, because he had

rather a peculiar way of talking to them in general, and especially in

inculcating the religion of rowing. But you must not suppose from this

specimen of his sermonizings that he ever flew into downright passions

with his congregation. Not at all; and therein consisted his chief

peculiarity. He would say the most terrific things to his crew, in a

tone so strangely compounded of fun and fury, and the fury seemed so

calculated merely as a spice to the fun, that no oarsman could hear such

queer invocations without pulling for dear life, and yet pulling for

the mere joke of the thing. Besides he all the time looked so easy and

indolent himself, so loungingly managed his steering-oar, and so broadly

gaped--open-mouthed at times--that the mere sight of such a yawning

commander, by sheer force of contrast, acted like a charm upon the crew.

Then again, Stubb was one of those odd sort of humorists, whose jollity

is sometimes so curiously ambiguous, as to put all inferiors on their

guard in the matter of obeying them.

In obedience to a sign from Ahab, Starbuck was now pulling obliquely

across Stubb's bow; and when for a minute or so the two boats were

pretty near to each other, Stubb hailed the mate.
"Mr. Starbuck! larboard boat there, ahoy! a word with ye, sir, if ye

"Halloa!" returned Starbuck, turning round not a single inch as he

spoke; still earnestly but whisperingly urging his crew; his face set

like a flint from Stubb's.

"What think ye of those yellow boys, sir!
"Smuggled on board, somehow, before the ship sailed. (Strong, strong,

boys!)" in a whisper to his crew, then speaking out loud again: "A sad

business, Mr. Stubb! (seethe her, seethe her, my lads!) but never mind,

Mr. Stubb, all for the best. Let all your crew pull strong, come what

will. (Spring, my men, spring!) There's hogsheads of sperm ahead, Mr.

Stubb, and that's what ye came for. (Pull, my boys!) Sperm, sperm's the

play! This at least is duty; duty and profit hand in hand."
"Aye, aye, I thought as much," soliloquized Stubb, when the boats

diverged, "as soon as I clapt eye on 'em, I thought so. Aye, and that's

what he went into the after hold for, so often, as Dough-Boy long

suspected. They were hidden down there. The White Whale's at the bottom

of it. Well, well, so be it! Can't be helped! All right! Give way, men!

It ain't the White Whale to-day! Give way!"

Now the advent of these outlandish strangers at such a critical instant

as the lowering of the boats from the deck, this had not unreasonably

awakened a sort of superstitious amazement in some of the ship's

company; but Archy's fancied discovery having some time previous got

abroad among them, though indeed not credited then, this had in some

small measure prepared them for the event. It took off the extreme edge

of their wonder; and so what with all this and Stubb's confident way

of accounting for their appearance, they were for the time freed from

superstitious surmisings; though the affair still left abundant room for

all manner of wild conjectures as to dark Ahab's precise agency in the

matter from the beginning. For me, I silently recalled the mysterious

shadows I had seen creeping on board the Pequod during the dim Nantucket

dawn, as well as the enigmatical hintings of the unaccountable Elijah.
Meantime, Ahab, out of hearing of his officers, having sided the

furthest to windward, was still ranging ahead of the other boats; a

circumstance bespeaking how potent a crew was pulling him. Those tiger

yellow creatures of his seemed all steel and whalebone; like five

trip-hammers they rose and fell with regular strokes of strength, which

periodically started the boat along the water like a horizontal burst

boiler out of a Mississippi steamer. As for Fedallah, who was seen

pulling the harpooneer oar, he had thrown aside his black jacket, and

displayed his naked chest with the whole part of his body above the

gunwale, clearly cut against the alternating depressions of the watery

horizon; while at the other end of the boat Ahab, with one arm, like a

fencer's, thrown half backward into the air, as if to counterbalance any

tendency to trip; Ahab was seen steadily managing his steering oar as in

a thousand boat lowerings ere the White Whale had torn him. All at once

the outstretched arm gave a peculiar motion and then remained fixed,

while the boat's five oars were seen simultaneously peaked. Boat and

crew sat motionless on the sea. Instantly the three spread boats in the

rear paused on their way. The whales had irregularly settled bodily

down into the blue, thus giving no distantly discernible token of the

movement, though from his closer vicinity Ahab had observed it.

"Every man look out along his oars!" cried Starbuck. "Thou, Queequeg,

stand up!"

Nimbly springing up on the triangular raised box in the bow, the savage

stood erect there, and with intensely eager eyes gazed off towards the

spot where the chase had last been descried. Likewise upon the extreme

stern of the boat where it was also triangularly platformed level with

the gunwale, Starbuck himself was seen coolly and adroitly balancing

himself to the jerking tossings of his chip of a craft, and silently

eyeing the vast blue eye of the sea.
Not very far distant Flask's boat was also lying breathlessly still; its

commander recklessly standing upon the top of the loggerhead, a stout

sort of post rooted in the keel, and rising some two feet above the

level of the stern platform. It is used for catching turns with the

whale line. Its top is not more spacious than the palm of a man's hand,

and standing upon such a base as that, Flask seemed perched at the

mast-head of some ship which had sunk to all but her trucks. But little

King-Post was small and short, and at the same time little King-Post was

full of a large and tall ambition, so that this loggerhead stand-point

of his did by no means satisfy King-Post.

"I can't see three seas off; tip us up an oar there, and let me on to

Upon this, Daggoo, with either hand upon the gunwale to steady his

way, swiftly slid aft, and then erecting himself volunteered his lofty

shoulders for a pedestal.

"Good a mast-head as any, sir. Will you mount?"
"That I will, and thank ye very much, my fine fellow; only I wish you

fifty feet taller."

Whereupon planting his feet firmly against two opposite planks of the

boat, the gigantic negro, stooping a little, presented his flat palm to

Flask's foot, and then putting Flask's hand on his hearse-plumed head

and bidding him spring as he himself should toss, with one dexterous

fling landed the little man high and dry on his shoulders. And here was

Flask now standing, Daggoo with one lifted arm furnishing him with a

breastband to lean against and steady himself by.
At any time it is a strange sight to the tyro to see with what wondrous

habitude of unconscious skill the whaleman will maintain an erect

posture in his boat, even when pitched about by the most riotously

perverse and cross-running seas. Still more strange to see him giddily

perched upon the loggerhead itself, under such circumstances. But the

sight of little Flask mounted upon gigantic Daggoo was yet more curious;

Share with your friends:
1   ...   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   ...   56

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page