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

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Captain Ahab--though but a child, and nestling safely at home now--a

child of your old age too--Yes, yes, you relent; I see it--run, run,

men, now, and stand by to square in the yards."
"Avast," cried Ahab--"touch not a rope-yarn"; then in a voice that

prolongingly moulded every word--"Captain Gardiner, I will not do it.

Even now I lose time. Good-bye, good-bye. God bless ye, man, and may I

forgive myself, but I must go. Mr. Starbuck, look at the binnacle watch,

and in three minutes from this present instant warn off all strangers:

then brace forward again, and let the ship sail as before."

Hurriedly turning, with averted face, he descended into his cabin,

leaving the strange captain transfixed at this unconditional and utter

rejection of his so earnest suit. But starting from his enchantment,

Gardiner silently hurried to the side; more fell than stepped into his

boat, and returned to his ship.
Soon the two ships diverged their wakes; and long as the strange vessel

was in view, she was seen to yaw hither and thither at every dark spot,

however small, on the sea. This way and that her yards were swung round;

starboard and larboard, she continued to tack; now she beat against a

head sea; and again it pushed her before it; while all the while, her

masts and yards were thickly clustered with men, as three tall cherry

trees, when the boys are cherrying among the boughs.
But by her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw

that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort.

She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.

CHAPTER 129. The Cabin.

"Lad, lad, I tell thee thou must not follow Ahab now. The hour is coming

when Ahab would not scare thee from him, yet would not have thee by him.

There is that in thee, poor lad, which I feel too curing to my malady.

Like cures like; and for this hunt, my malady becomes my most desired

health. Do thou abide below here, where they shall serve thee, as if

thou wert the captain. Aye, lad, thou shalt sit here in my own screwed

chair; another screw to it, thou must be."
"No, no, no! ye have not a whole body, sir; do ye but use poor me for

your one lost leg; only tread upon me, sir; I ask no more, so I remain a

part of ye."
"Oh! spite of million villains, this makes me a bigot in the fadeless

fidelity of man!--and a black! and crazy!--but methinks like-cures-like

applies to him too; he grows so sane again."
"They tell me, sir, that Stubb did once desert poor little Pip, whose

drowned bones now show white, for all the blackness of his living skin.

But I will never desert ye, sir, as Stubb did him. Sir, I must go with

"If thou speakest thus to me much more, Ahab's purpose keels up in him.

I tell thee no; it cannot be."
"Oh good master, master, master!
"Weep so, and I will murder thee! have a care, for Ahab too is mad.

Listen, and thou wilt often hear my ivory foot upon the deck, and still

know that I am there. And now I quit thee. Thy hand!--Met! True art

thou, lad, as the circumference to its centre. So: God for ever bless

thee; and if it come to that,--God for ever save thee, let what will


"Here he this instant stood; I stand in his air,--but I'm alone. Now

were even poor Pip here I could endure it, but he's missing. Pip! Pip!

Ding, dong, ding! Who's seen Pip? He must be up here; let's try the

door. What? neither lock, nor bolt, nor bar; and yet there's no opening

it. It must be the spell; he told me to stay here: Aye, and told me this

screwed chair was mine. Here, then, I'll seat me, against the transom,

in the ship's full middle, all her keel and her three masts before me.

Here, our old sailors say, in their black seventy-fours great

admirals sometimes sit at table, and lord it over rows of captains and

lieutenants. Ha! what's this? epaulets! epaulets! the epaulets all come

crowding! Pass round the decanters; glad to see ye; fill up, monsieurs!

What an odd feeling, now, when a black boy's host to white men with gold

lace upon their coats!--Monsieurs, have ye seen one Pip?--a little

negro lad, five feet high, hang-dog look, and cowardly! Jumped from a

whale-boat once;--seen him? No! Well then, fill up again, captains, and

let's drink shame upon all cowards! I name no names. Shame upon them!

Put one foot upon the table. Shame upon all cowards.--Hist! above there,

I hear ivory--Oh, master! master! I am indeed down-hearted when you walk

over me. But here I'll stay, though this stern strikes rocks; and they

bulge through; and oysters come to join me."

CHAPTER 130. The Hat.

And now that at the proper time and place, after so long and wide a

preliminary cruise, Ahab,--all other whaling waters swept--seemed to

have chased his foe into an ocean-fold, to slay him the more securely

there; now, that he found himself hard by the very latitude and

longitude where his tormenting wound had been inflicted; now that a

vessel had been spoken which on the very day preceding had actually

encountered Moby Dick;--and now that all his successive meetings with

various ships contrastingly concurred to show the demoniac indifference

with which the white whale tore his hunters, whether sinning or sinned

against; now it was that there lurked a something in the old man's eyes,

which it was hardly sufferable for feeble souls to see. As the unsetting

polar star, which through the livelong, arctic, six months' night

sustains its piercing, steady, central gaze; so Ahab's purpose now

fixedly gleamed down upon the constant midnight of the gloomy crew. It

domineered above them so, that all their bodings, doubts, misgivings,

fears, were fain to hide beneath their souls, and not sprout forth a

single spear or leaf.
In this foreshadowing interval too, all humor, forced or natural,

vanished. Stubb no more strove to raise a smile; Starbuck no more strove

to check one. Alike, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, seemed ground to

finest dust, and powdered, for the time, in the clamped mortar of

Ahab's iron soul. Like machines, they dumbly moved about the deck, ever

conscious that the old man's despot eye was on them.

But did you deeply scan him in his more secret confidential hours; when

he thought no glance but one was on him; then you would have seen that

even as Ahab's eyes so awed the crew's, the inscrutable Parsee's glance

awed his; or somehow, at least, in some wild way, at times affected it.

Such an added, gliding strangeness began to invest the thin Fedallah

now; such ceaseless shudderings shook him; that the men looked dubious

at him; half uncertain, as it seemed, whether indeed he were a mortal

substance, or else a tremulous shadow cast upon the deck by some unseen

being's body. And that shadow was always hovering there. For not by

night, even, had Fedallah ever certainly been known to slumber, or go

below. He would stand still for hours: but never sat or leaned; his wan

but wondrous eyes did plainly say--We two watchmen never rest.

Nor, at any time, by night or day could the mariners now step upon the

deck, unless Ahab was before them; either standing in his pivot-hole, or

exactly pacing the planks between two undeviating limits,--the main-mast

and the mizen; or else they saw him standing in the cabin-scuttle,--his

living foot advanced upon the deck, as if to step; his hat slouched

heavily over his eyes; so that however motionless he stood, however the

days and nights were added on, that he had not swung in his hammock;

yet hidden beneath that slouching hat, they could never tell unerringly

whether, for all this, his eyes were really closed at times; or whether

he was still intently scanning them; no matter, though he stood so in

the scuttle for a whole hour on the stretch, and the unheeded night-damp

gathered in beads of dew upon that stone-carved coat and hat. The

clothes that the night had wet, the next day's sunshine dried upon him;

and so, day after day, and night after night; he went no more beneath

the planks; whatever he wanted from the cabin that thing he sent for.
He ate in the same open air; that is, his two only meals,--breakfast and

dinner: supper he never touched; nor reaped his beard; which darkly grew

all gnarled, as unearthed roots of trees blown over, which still grow

idly on at naked base, though perished in the upper verdure. But though

his whole life was now become one watch on deck; and though the Parsee's

mystic watch was without intermission as his own; yet these two never

seemed to speak--one man to the other--unless at long intervals some

passing unmomentous matter made it necessary. Though such a potent spell

seemed secretly to join the twain; openly, and to the awe-struck crew,

they seemed pole-like asunder. If by day they chanced to speak one word;

by night, dumb men were both, so far as concerned the slightest verbal

interchange. At times, for longest hours, without a single hail, they

stood far parted in the starlight; Ahab in his scuttle, the Parsee by

the mainmast; but still fixedly gazing upon each other; as if in the

Parsee Ahab saw his forethrown shadow, in Ahab the Parsee his abandoned


And yet, somehow, did Ahab--in his own proper self, as daily, hourly,

and every instant, commandingly revealed to his subordinates,--Ahab

seemed an independent lord; the Parsee but his slave. Still again both

seemed yoked together, and an unseen tyrant driving them; the lean shade

siding the solid rib. For be this Parsee what he may, all rib and keel

was solid Ahab.

At the first faintest glimmering of the dawn, his iron voice was heard

from aft,--"Man the mast-heads!"--and all through the day, till after

sunset and after twilight, the same voice every hour, at the striking of

the helmsman's bell, was heard--"What d'ye see?--sharp! sharp!"

But when three or four days had slided by, after meeting the

children-seeking Rachel; and no spout had yet been seen; the monomaniac

old man seemed distrustful of his crew's fidelity; at least, of nearly

all except the Pagan harpooneers; he seemed to doubt, even, whether

Stubb and Flask might not willingly overlook the sight he sought. But if

these suspicions were really his, he sagaciously refrained from verbally

expressing them, however his actions might seem to hint them.
"I will have the first sight of the whale myself,"--he said. "Aye!

Ahab must have the doubloon! and with his own hands he rigged a nest

of basketed bowlines; and sending a hand aloft, with a single sheaved

block, to secure to the main-mast head, he received the two ends of the

downward-reeved rope; and attaching one to his basket prepared a pin for

the other end, in order to fasten it at the rail. This done, with that

end yet in his hand and standing beside the pin, he looked round upon

his crew, sweeping from one to the other; pausing his glance long upon

Daggoo, Queequeg, Tashtego; but shunning Fedallah; and then settling his

firm relying eye upon the chief mate, said,--"Take the rope, sir--I give

it into thy hands, Starbuck." Then arranging his person in the basket,

he gave the word for them to hoist him to his perch, Starbuck being

the one who secured the rope at last; and afterwards stood near it. And

thus, with one hand clinging round the royal mast, Ahab gazed abroad

upon the sea for miles and miles,--ahead, astern, this side, and

that,--within the wide expanded circle commanded at so great a height.

When in working with his hands at some lofty almost isolated place in

the rigging, which chances to afford no foothold, the sailor at sea is

hoisted up to that spot, and sustained there by the rope; under these

circumstances, its fastened end on deck is always given in strict charge

to some one man who has the special watch of it. Because in such a

wilderness of running rigging, whose various different relations aloft

cannot always be infallibly discerned by what is seen of them at the

deck; and when the deck-ends of these ropes are being every few minutes

cast down from the fastenings, it would be but a natural fatality, if,

unprovided with a constant watchman, the hoisted sailor should by some

carelessness of the crew be cast adrift and fall all swooping to the

sea. So Ahab's proceedings in this matter were not unusual; the only

strange thing about them seemed to be, that Starbuck, almost the one

only man who had ever ventured to oppose him with anything in the

slightest degree approaching to decision--one of those too, whose

faithfulness on the look-out he had seemed to doubt somewhat;--it was

strange, that this was the very man he should select for his watchman;

freely giving his whole life into such an otherwise distrusted person's

Now, the first time Ahab was perched aloft; ere he had been there ten

minutes; one of those red-billed savage sea-hawks which so often fly

incommodiously close round the manned mast-heads of whalemen in these

latitudes; one of these birds came wheeling and screaming round his head

in a maze of untrackably swift circlings. Then it darted a thousand feet

straight up into the air; then spiralized downwards, and went eddying

again round his head.
But with his gaze fixed upon the dim and distant horizon, Ahab seemed

not to mark this wild bird; nor, indeed, would any one else have marked

it much, it being no uncommon circumstance; only now almost the least

heedful eye seemed to see some sort of cunning meaning in almost every

"Your hat, your hat, sir!" suddenly cried the Sicilian seaman, who

being posted at the mizen-mast-head, stood directly behind Ahab, though

somewhat lower than his level, and with a deep gulf of air dividing

But already the sable wing was before the old man's eyes; the long

hooked bill at his head: with a scream, the black hawk darted away with

his prize.

An eagle flew thrice round Tarquin's head, removing his cap to replace

it, and thereupon Tanaquil, his wife, declared that Tarquin would

be king of Rome. But only by the replacing of the cap was that omen

accounted good. Ahab's hat was never restored; the wild hawk flew on and

on with it; far in advance of the prow: and at last disappeared; while

from the point of that disappearance, a minute black spot was dimly

discerned, falling from that vast height into the sea.

CHAPTER 131. The Pequod Meets The Delight.

The intense Pequod sailed on; the rolling waves and days went by; the

life-buoy-coffin still lightly swung; and another ship, most miserably

misnamed the Delight, was descried. As she drew nigh, all eyes were

fixed upon her broad beams, called shears, which, in some whaling-ships,

cross the quarter-deck at the height of eight or nine feet; serving to

carry the spare, unrigged, or disabled boats.

Upon the stranger's shears were beheld the shattered, white ribs, and

some few splintered planks, of what had once been a whale-boat; but you

now saw through this wreck, as plainly as you see through the peeled,

half-unhinged, and bleaching skeleton of a horse.

"Hast seen the White Whale?"
"Look!" replied the hollow-cheeked captain from his taffrail; and with

his trumpet he pointed to the wreck.

"Hast killed him?"
"The harpoon is not yet forged that ever will do that," answered the

other, sadly glancing upon a rounded hammock on the deck, whose gathered

sides some noiseless sailors were busy in sewing together.
"Not forged!" and snatching Perth's levelled iron from the crotch, Ahab

held it out, exclaiming--"Look ye, Nantucketer; here in this hand I hold

his death! Tempered in blood, and tempered by lightning are these barbs;

and I swear to temper them triply in that hot place behind the fin,

where the White Whale most feels his accursed life!"
"Then God keep thee, old man--see'st thou that"--pointing to the

hammock--"I bury but one of five stout men, who were alive only

yesterday; but were dead ere night. Only THAT one I bury; the rest were

buried before they died; you sail upon their tomb." Then turning to his

crew--"Are ye ready there? place the plank then on the rail, and

lift the body; so, then--Oh! God"--advancing towards the hammock with

uplifted hands--"may the resurrection and the life--"
"Brace forward! Up helm!" cried Ahab like lightning to his men.
But the suddenly started Pequod was not quick enough to escape the sound

of the splash that the corpse soon made as it struck the sea; not so

quick, indeed, but that some of the flying bubbles might have sprinkled

her hull with their ghostly baptism.

As Ahab now glided from the dejected Delight, the strange life-buoy

hanging at the Pequod's stern came into conspicuous relief.

"Ha! yonder! look yonder, men!" cried a foreboding voice in her wake.

"In vain, oh, ye strangers, ye fly our sad burial; ye but turn us your

taffrail to show us your coffin!"

CHAPTER 132. The Symphony.

It was a clear steel-blue day. The firmaments of air and sea were

hardly separable in that all-pervading azure; only, the pensive air was

transparently pure and soft, with a woman's look, and the robust and

man-like sea heaved with long, strong, lingering swells, as Samson's

chest in his sleep.
Hither, and thither, on high, glided the snow-white wings of small,

unspeckled birds; these were the gentle thoughts of the feminine air;

but to and fro in the deeps, far down in the bottomless blue, rushed

mighty leviathans, sword-fish, and sharks; and these were the strong,

troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea.
But though thus contrasting within, the contrast was only in shades and

shadows without; those two seemed one; it was only the sex, as it were,

that distinguished them.
Aloft, like a royal czar and king, the sun seemed giving this gentle

air to this bold and rolling sea; even as bride to groom. And at the

girdling line of the horizon, a soft and tremulous motion--most seen

here at the Equator--denoted the fond, throbbing trust, the loving

alarms, with which the poor bride gave her bosom away.
Tied up and twisted; gnarled and knotted with wrinkles; haggardly firm

and unyielding; his eyes glowing like coals, that still glow in the

ashes of ruin; untottering Ahab stood forth in the clearness of the

morn; lifting his splintered helmet of a brow to the fair girl's

forehead of heaven.
Oh, immortal infancy, and innocency of the azure! Invisible winged

creatures that frolic all round us! Sweet childhood of air and sky! how

oblivious were ye of old Ahab's close-coiled woe! But so have I seen

little Miriam and Martha, laughing-eyed elves, heedlessly gambol around

their old sire; sporting with the circle of singed locks which grew on

the marge of that burnt-out crater of his brain.

Slowly crossing the deck from the scuttle, Ahab leaned over the side and

watched how his shadow in the water sank and sank to his gaze, the more

and the more that he strove to pierce the profundity. But the lovely

aromas in that enchanted air did at last seem to dispel, for a moment,

the cankerous thing in his soul. That glad, happy air, that winsome

sky, did at last stroke and caress him; the step-mother world, so long

cruel--forbidding--now threw affectionate arms round his stubborn neck,

and did seem to joyously sob over him, as if over one, that however

wilful and erring, she could yet find it in her heart to save and to

bless. From beneath his slouched hat Ahab dropped a tear into the sea;

nor did all the Pacific contain such wealth as that one wee drop.
Starbuck saw the old man; saw him, how he heavily leaned over the side;

and he seemed to hear in his own true heart the measureless sobbing that

stole out of the centre of the serenity around. Careful not to touch

him, or be noticed by him, he yet drew near to him, and stood there.

Ahab turned.
"Oh, Starbuck! it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky. On such

a day--very much such a sweetness as this--I struck my first whale--a

boy-harpooneer of eighteen! Forty--forty--forty years ago!--ago! Forty

years of continual whaling! forty years of privation, and peril, and

storm-time! forty years on the pitiless sea! for forty years has Ahab

forsaken the peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horrors

of the deep! Aye and yes, Starbuck, out of those forty years I have not

spent three ashore. When I think of this life I have led; the desolation

of solitude it has been; the masoned, walled-town of a Captain's

exclusiveness, which admits but small entrance to any sympathy from the

green country without--oh, weariness! heaviness! Guinea-coast slavery of

solitary command!--when I think of all this; only half-suspected, not so

keenly known to me before--and how for forty years I have fed upon dry

salted fare--fit emblem of the dry nourishment of my soil!--when the

poorest landsman has had fresh fruit to his daily hand, and broken the

world's fresh bread to my mouldy crusts--away, whole oceans away, from

that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn

the next day, leaving but one dent in my marriage pillow--wife?

wife?--rather a widow with her husband alive! Aye, I widowed that poor

girl when I married her, Starbuck; and then, the madness, the frenzy,

the boiling blood and the smoking brow, with which, for a thousand

lowerings old Ahab has furiously, foamingly chased his prey--more a

demon than a man!--aye, aye! what a forty years' fool--fool--old fool,

has old Ahab been! Why this strife of the chase? why weary, and palsy

the arm at the oar, and the iron, and the lance? how the richer or

better is Ahab now? Behold. Oh, Starbuck! is it not hard, that with this

weary load I bear, one poor leg should have been snatched from under

me? Here, brush this old hair aside; it blinds me, that I seem to weep.

Locks so grey did never grow but from out some ashes! But do I look

very old, so very, very old, Starbuck? I feel deadly faint, bowed, and

humped, as though I were Adam, staggering beneath the piled

centuries since Paradise. God! God! God!--crack my heart!--stave my

brain!--mockery! mockery! bitter, biting mockery of grey hairs, have

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