Part 12 out of 12
endure for so long a period, such an unintermitted, intense straining
at the oar; a thing barely tolerable only in some one brief
vicissitude. The ship itself, then, as it sometimes happens, offered
the most promising intermediate means of overtaking the chase.
Accordingly, the boats now made for her, and were soon swayed up to
their cranes--the two parts of the wrecked boat having been
previously secured by her--and then hoisting everything to her side,
and stacking her canvas high up, and sideways outstretching it with
stun-sails, like the double-jointed wings of an albatross; the Pequod
bore down in the leeward wake of Moby-Dick. At the well known,
methodic intervals, the whale's glittering spout was regularly
announced from the manned mast-heads; and when he would be reported
as just gone down, Ahab would take the time, and then pacing the
deck, binnacle-watch in hand, so soon as the last second of the
allotted hour expired, his voice was heard.--"Whose is the doubloon
now? D'ye see him?" and if the reply was, No, sir! straightway he
commanded them to lift him to his perch. In this way the day wore
on; Ahab, now aloft and motionless; anon, unrestingly pacing the
As he was thus walking, uttering no sound, except to hail the men
aloft, or to bid them hoist a sail still higher, or to spread one to
a still greater breadth--thus to and fro pacing, beneath his slouched
hat, at every turn he passed his own wrecked boat, which had been
dropped upon the quarter-deck, and lay there reversed; broken bow to
shattered stern. At last he paused before it; and as in an already
over-clouded sky fresh troops of clouds will sometimes sail across,
so over the old man's face there now stole some such added gloom as
Stubb saw him pause; and perhaps intending, not vainly, though, to
evince his own unabated fortitude, and thus keep up a valiant place
in his Captain's mind, he advanced, and eyeing the wreck
exclaimed--"The thistle the ass refused; it pricked his mouth too
keenly, sir; ha! ha!"
"What soulless thing is this that laughs before a wreck? Man, man!
did I not know thee brave as fearless fire (and as mechanical) I
could swear thou wert a poltroon. Groan nor laugh should be heard
before a wreck."
"Aye, sir," said Starbuck drawing near, "'tis a solemn sight; an
omen, and an ill one."
"Omen? omen?--the dictionary! If the gods think to speak outright to
man, they will honourably speak outright; not shake their heads, and
give an old wives' darkling hint.--Begone! Ye two are the opposite
poles of one thing; Starbuck is Stubb reversed, and Stubb is
Starbuck; and ye two are all mankind; and Ahab stands alone among the
millions of the peopled earth, nor gods nor men his neighbors! Cold,
cold--I shiver!--How now? Aloft there! D'ye see him? Sing out for
every spout, though he spout ten times a second!"
The day was nearly done; only the hem of his golden robe was
rustling. Soon, it was almost dark, but the look-out men still
"Can't see the spout now, sir;--too dark"--cried a voice from the
"How heading when last seen?"
"As before, sir,--straight to leeward."
"Good! he will travel slower now 'tis night. Down royals and
top-gallant stun-sails, Mr. Starbuck. We must not run over him
before morning; he's making a passage now, and may heave-to a while.
Helm there! keep her full before the wind!--Aloft! come down!--Mr.
Stubb, send a fresh hand to the fore-mast head, and see it manned
till morning."--Then advancing towards the doubloon in the
main-mast--"Men, this gold is mine, for I earned it; but I shall let
it abide here till the White Whale is dead; and then, whosoever of ye
first raises him, upon the day he shall be killed, this gold is that
man's; and if on that day I shall again raise him, then, ten times
its sum shall be divided among all of ye! Away now!--the deck is
And so saying, he placed himself half way within the scuttle, and
slouching his hat, stood there till dawn, except when at intervals
rousing himself to see how the night wore on.
The Chase--Second Day.
At day-break, the three mast-heads were punctually manned afresh.
"D'ye see him?" cried Ahab after allowing a little space for the
light to spread.
"See nothing, sir."
"Turn up all hands and make sail! he travels faster than I thought
for;--the top-gallant sails!--aye, they should have been kept on her
all night. But no matter--'tis but resting for the rush."
Here be it said, that this pertinacious pursuit of one particular
whale, continued through day into night, and through night into day,
is a thing by no means unprecedented in the South sea fishery. For
such is the wonderful skill, prescience of experience, and invincible
confidence acquired by some great natural geniuses among the
Nantucket commanders; that from the simple observation of a whale
when last descried, they will, under certain given circumstances,
pretty accurately foretell both the direction in which he will
continue to swim for a time, while out of sight, as well as his
probable rate of progression during that period. And, in these
cases, somewhat as a pilot, when about losing sight of a coast, whose
general trending he well knows, and which he desires shortly to
return to again, but at some further point; like as this pilot stands
by his compass, and takes the precise bearing of the cape at present
visible, in order the more certainly to hit aright the remote, unseen
headland, eventually to be visited: so does the fisherman, at his
compass, with the whale; for after being chased, and diligently
marked, through several hours of daylight, then, when night obscures
the fish, the creature's future wake through the darkness is almost
as established to the sagacious mind of the hunter, as the pilot's
coast is to him. So that to this hunter's wondrous skill, the
proverbial evanescence of a thing writ in water, a wake, is to all
desired purposes well nigh as reliable as the steadfast land. And as
the mighty iron Leviathan of the modern railway is so familiarly
known in its every pace, that, with watches in their hands, men time
his rate as doctors that of a baby's pulse; and lightly say of it,
the up train or the down train will reach such or such a spot, at
such or such an hour; even so, almost, there are occasions when these
Nantucketers time that other Leviathan of the deep, according to the
observed humor of his speed; and say to themselves, so many hours
hence this whale will have gone two hundred miles, will have about
reached this or that degree of latitude or longitude. But to render
this acuteness at all successful in the end, the wind and the sea
must be the whaleman's allies; for of what present avail to the
becalmed or windbound mariner is the skill that assures him he is
exactly ninety-three leagues and a quarter from his port? Inferable
from these statements, are many collateral subtile matters touching
the chase of whales.
The ship tore on; leaving such a furrow in the sea as when a
cannon-ball, missent, becomes a plough-share and turns up the level
"By salt and hemp!" cried Stubb, "but this swift motion of the deck
creeps up one's legs and tingles at the heart. This ship and I are
two brave fellows!--Ha, ha! Some one take me up, and launch me,
spine-wise, on the sea,--for by live-oaks! my spine's a keel. Ha,
ha! we go the gait that leaves no dust behind!"
"There she blows--she blows!--she blows!--right ahead!" was now the
"Aye, aye!" cried Stubb, "I knew it--ye can't escape--blow on and
split your spout, O whale! the mad fiend himself is after ye! blow
your trump--blister your lungs!--Ahab will dam off your blood, as a
miller shuts his watergate upon the stream!"
And Stubb did but speak out for well nigh all that crew. The
frenzies of the chase had by this time worked them bubblingly up,
like old wine worked anew. Whatever pale fears and forebodings some
of them might have felt before; these were not only now kept out of
sight through the growing awe of Ahab, but they were broken up, and
on all sides routed, as timid prairie hares that scatter before the
bounding bison. The hand of Fate had snatched all their souls; and
by the stirring perils of the previous day; the rack of the past
night's suspense; the fixed, unfearing, blind, reckless way in which
their wild craft went plunging towards its flying mark; by all these
things, their hearts were bowled along. The wind that made great
bellies of their sails, and rushed the vessel on by arms invisible as
irresistible; this seemed the symbol of that unseen agency which so
enslaved them to the race.
They were one man, not thirty. For as the one ship that held them
all; though it was put together of all contrasting things--oak, and
maple, and pine wood; iron, and pitch, and hemp--yet all these ran
into each other in the one concrete hull, which shot on its way, both
balanced and directed by the long central keel; even so, all the
individualities of the crew, this man's valor, that man's fear; guilt
and guiltiness, all varieties were welded into oneness, and were all
directed to that fatal goal which Ahab their one lord and keel did
The rigging lived. The mast-heads, like the tops of tall palms, were
outspreadingly tufted with arms and legs. Clinging to a spar with
one hand, some reached forth the other with impatient wavings;
others, shading their eyes from the vivid sunlight, sat far out on
the rocking yards; all the spars in full bearing of mortals, ready
and ripe for their fate. Ah! how they still strove through that
infinite blueness to seek out the thing that might destroy them!
"Why sing ye not out for him, if ye see him?" cried Ahab, when, after
the lapse of some minutes since the first cry, no more had been
heard. "Sway me up, men; ye have been deceived; not Moby Dick casts
one odd jet that way, and then disappears."
It was even so; in their headlong eagerness, the men had mistaken
some other thing for the whale-spout, as the event itself soon
proved; for hardly had Ahab reached his perch; hardly was the rope
belayed to its pin on deck, when he struck the key-note to an
orchestra, that made the air vibrate as with the combined discharges
of rifles. The triumphant halloo of thirty buckskin lungs was heard,
as--much nearer to the ship than the place of the imaginary jet, less
than a mile ahead--Moby Dick bodily burst into view! For not by any
calm and indolent spoutings; not by the peaceable gush of that mystic
fountain in his head, did the White Whale now reveal his vicinity;
but by the far more wondrous phenomenon of breaching. Rising with
his utmost velocity from the furthest depths, the Sperm Whale thus
booms his entire bulk into the pure element of air, and piling up a
mountain of dazzling foam, shows his place to the distance of seven
miles and more. In those moments, the torn, enraged waves he shakes
off, seem his mane; in some cases, this breaching is his act of
"There she breaches! there she breaches!" was the cry, as in his
immeasurable bravadoes the White Whale tossed himself salmon-like to
Heaven. So suddenly seen in the blue plain of the sea, and relieved
against the still bluer margin of the sky, the spray that he raised,
for the moment, intolerably glittered and glared like a glacier; and
stood there gradually fading and fading away from its first sparkling
intensity, to the dim mistiness of an advancing shower in a vale.
"Aye, breach your last to the sun, Moby Dick!" cried Ahab, "thy hour
and thy harpoon are at hand!--Down! down all of ye, but one man at
the fore. The boats!--stand by!"
Unmindful of the tedious rope-ladders of the shrouds, the men, like
shooting stars, slid to the deck, by the isolated backstays and
halyards; while Ahab, less dartingly, but still rapidly was dropped
from his perch.
"Lower away," he cried, so soon as he had reached his boat--a spare
one, rigged the afternoon previous. "Mr. Starbuck, the ship is
thine--keep away from the boats, but keep near them. Lower, all!"
As if to strike a quick terror into them, by this time being the
first assailant himself, Moby Dick had turned, and was now coming for
the three crews. Ahab's boat was central; and cheering his men, he
told them he would take the whale head-and-head,--that is, pull
straight up to his forehead,--a not uncommon thing; for when within a
certain limit, such a course excludes the coming onset from the
whale's sidelong vision. But ere that close limit was gained, and
while yet all three boats were plain as the ship's three masts to his
eye; the White Whale churning himself into furious speed, almost in
an instant as it were, rushing among the boats with open jaws, and a
lashing tail, offered appalling battle on every side; and heedless of
the irons darted at him from every boat, seemed only intent on
annihilating each separate plank of which those boats were made. But
skilfully manoeuvred, incessantly wheeling like trained chargers in
the field; the boats for a while eluded him; though, at times, but by
a plank's breadth; while all the time, Ahab's unearthly slogan tore
every other cry but his to shreds.
But at last in his untraceable evolutions, the White Whale so crossed
and recrossed, and in a thousand ways entangled the slack of the
three lines now fast to him, that they foreshortened, and, of
themselves, warped the devoted boats towards the planted irons in
him; though now for a moment the whale drew aside a little, as if to
rally for a more tremendous charge. Seizing that opportunity, Ahab
first paid out more line: and then was rapidly hauling and jerking
in upon it again--hoping that way to disencumber it of some
snarls--when lo!--a sight more savage than the embattled teeth of
Caught and twisted--corkscrewed in the mazes of the line, loose
harpoons and lances, with all their bristling barbs and points, came
flashing and dripping up to the chocks in the bows of Ahab's boat.
Only one thing could be done. Seizing the boat-knife, he critically
reached within--through--and then, without--the rays of steel;
dragged in the line beyond, passed it, inboard, to the bowsman, and
then, twice sundering the rope near the chocks--dropped the
intercepted fagot of steel into the sea; and was all fast again.
That instant, the White Whale made a sudden rush among the remaining
tangles of the other lines; by so doing, irresistibly dragged the
more involved boats of Stubb and Flask towards his flukes; dashed
them together like two rolling husks on a surf-beaten beach, and
then, diving down into the sea, disappeared in a boiling maelstrom,
in which, for a space, the odorous cedar chips of the wrecks danced
round and round, like the grated nutmeg in a swiftly stirred bowl of
While the two crews were yet circling in the waters, reaching out
after the revolving line-tubs, oars, and other floating furniture,
while aslope little Flask bobbed up and down like an empty vial,
twitching his legs upwards to escape the dreaded jaws of sharks; and
Stubb was lustily singing out for some one to ladle him up; and while
the old man's line--now parting--admitted of his pulling into the
creamy pool to rescue whom he could;--in that wild simultaneousness
of a thousand concreted perils,--Ahab's yet unstricken boat seemed
drawn up towards Heaven by invisible wires,--as, arrow-like, shooting
perpendicularly from the sea, the White Whale dashed his broad
forehead against its bottom, and sent it, turning over and over, into
the air; till it fell again--gunwale downwards--and Ahab and his men
struggled out from under it, like seals from a sea-side cave.
The first uprising momentum of the whale--modifying its direction as
he struck the surface--involuntarily launched him along it, to a
little distance from the centre of the destruction he had made; and
with his back to it, he now lay for a moment slowly feeling with his
flukes from side to side; and whenever a stray oar, bit of plank, the
least chip or crumb of the boats touched his skin, his tail swiftly
drew back, and came sideways smiting the sea. But soon, as if
satisfied that his work for that time was done, he pushed his pleated
forehead through the ocean, and trailing after him the intertangled
lines, continued his leeward way at a traveller's methodic pace.
As before, the attentive ship having descried the whole fight, again
came bearing down to the rescue, and dropping a boat, picked up the
floating mariners, tubs, oars, and whatever else could be caught at,
and safely landed them on her decks. Some sprained shoulders,
wrists, and ankles; livid contusions; wrenched harpoons and lances;
inextricable intricacies of rope; shattered oars and planks; all
these were there; but no fatal or even serious ill seemed to have
befallen any one. As with Fedallah the day before, so Ahab was now
found grimly clinging to his boat's broken half, which afforded a
comparatively easy float; nor did it so exhaust him as the previous
But when he was helped to the deck, all eyes were fastened upon him;
as instead of standing by himself he still half-hung upon the
shoulder of Starbuck, who had thus far been the foremost to assist
him. His ivory leg had been snapped off, leaving but one short sharp
"Aye, aye, Starbuck, 'tis sweet to lean sometimes, be the leaner who
he will; and would old Ahab had leaned oftener than he has."
"The ferrule has not stood, sir," said the carpenter, now coming up;
"I put good work into that leg."
"But no bones broken, sir, I hope," said Stubb with true concern.
"Aye! and all splintered to pieces, Stubb!--d'ye see it.--But even
with a broken bone, old Ahab is untouched; and I account no living
bone of mine one jot more me, than this dead one that's lost. Nor
white whale, nor man, nor fiend, can so much as graze old Ahab in his
own proper and inaccessible being. Can any lead touch yonder floor,
any mast scrape yonder roof?--Aloft there! which way?"
"Dead to leeward, sir."
"Up helm, then; pile on the sail again, ship keepers! down the rest
of the spare boats and rig them--Mr. Starbuck away, and muster the
"Let me first help thee towards the bulwarks, sir."
"Oh, oh, oh! how this splinter gores me now! Accursed fate! that the
unconquerable captain in the soul should have such a craven mate!"
"My body, man, not thee. Give me something for a cane--there, that
shivered lance will do. Muster the men. Surely I have not seen him
yet. By heaven it cannot be!--missing?--quick! call them all."
The old man's hinted thought was true. Upon mustering the company,
the Parsee was not there.
"The Parsee!" cried Stubb--"he must have been caught in--"
"The black vomit wrench thee!--run all of ye above, alow, cabin,
forecastle--find him--not gone--not gone!"
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--harpooneers! 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 wilt 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 angels mobbing thee with warnings:--
what more wouldst thou have?--Shall we keep chasing this murderous
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, yell 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--tomorrow
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 Chase.--Third Day.
The morning of the third day dawned fair and fresh, and once more the
solitary night-man at the fore-mast-head was relieved by crowds of
the daylight look-outs, 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 heat must breed it; but no, it's like that
sort of common grass that will grow anywhere, between the earthy
clefts of Greenland ice or in Vesuvius lava. How the wild winds blow
it; they whip it 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 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
"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
"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
"For the third time my soul's ship starts upon this voyage,
"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?
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
"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
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 circles seized the lone
boat itself, and all its crew, and each floating oar, and every
lance-pole, and spinning, animate and inanimate, all round and round
in one vortex, carried the smallest chip of the Pequod out of sight.
But as the last whelmings intermixingly poured themselves over the
sunken head of the Indian at the mainmast, leaving a few inches of
the erect spar yet visible, together with long streaming yards of the
flag, which calmly undulated, with ironical coincidings, over the
destroying billows they almost touched;--at that instant, a red arm
and a hammer hovered backwardly uplifted in the open air, in the act
of nailing the flag faster and yet faster to the subsiding spar. A
sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from
its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and
incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its
broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and
simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage
beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the
bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak
thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of
Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to
hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and
helmeted herself with it.
Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen
white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the
great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years
"AND I ONLY AM ESCAPED ALONE TO TELL THEE"
The drama's done. Why then here does any one step forth?--Because
one did survive the wreck.
It so chanced, that after the Parsee's disappearance, I was he whom
the Fates ordained to take the place of Ahab's bowsman, when that
bowsman assumed the vacant post; the same, who, when on the last day
the three men were tossed from out of the rocking boat, was dropped
astern. So, floating on the margin of the ensuing scene, and in full
sight of it, when the halfspent suction of the sunk ship reached me,
I was then, but slowly, drawn towards the closing vortex. When I
reached it, it had subsided to a creamy pool. Round and round, then,
and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis
of that slowly wheeling circle, like another Ixion I did revolve.
Till, gaining that vital centre, the black bubble upward burst; and
now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and, owing to its
great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin life-buoy shot
lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side. Buoyed
up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a
soft and dirgelike main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if
with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with
sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and
picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in
her retracing search after her missing children, only found another