Moby dick, p.61
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       Moby Dick, p.61

           Herman Melville
 

  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 day's mishap.

  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 splinter.

  "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 boat's crews."

  "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!"

  "Sir?"

  "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 men, 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-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.

  CHAPTER 135: 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 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 over-sailed 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 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 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.

  "Starbuck!"

  "Sir?"

  "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, Starbuck!"

  "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 for 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-bent 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.

 
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