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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 - harpooners! 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 will 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 angles mobbing thee with warnings: - what more
wouldst thou have? - Shall we keep chasing this murdeous 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,
ye'll 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 - to-morrow 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.


The morning of the third day dawned fair and fresh, and once more the
solitary night-man at the fore-masthead was relieved by crowds of the
daylight lookouts, 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 the heat must breed it; but no,
it's like that sort of common grass that will grow anywhere, between
the earthly clefts of Greenland ice or in Vesuvius lava. How the wild
winds blow; they whip 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 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 Mississipies 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 lookouts! 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 mainbrace 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
by, 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
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? sees't 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 utter-most 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

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 portholes, as
he sped, he also caught flying glimpses of Stubb and Flack, 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 mainmast-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 rump; 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 combining 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
forever 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 halfwading, 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 mattress 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."

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Online LibraryVariousGreat Sea Stories → online text (page 13 of 24)