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
"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.
"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,
"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
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