Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 134 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 t_pread.
  • “See nothing, sir.”
  • “Turn up all hands and make sail! he travels faster than I thought for;— th_op-gallant sails!—aye, they should have been kept on her all night. But n_atter—’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 n_eans unprecedented in the South sea fishery. For such is the wonderful skill, prescience of experience, and invincible confidence acquired by some grea_atural geniuses among the Nantucket commanders; that from the simpl_bservation of a whale when last descried, they will, under certain give_ircumstances, pretty accurately foretell both the direction in which he wil_ontinue to swim for a time, while out of sight, as well as his probable rat_f 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, an_hich he desires shortly to return to again, but at some further point; lik_s this pilot stands by his compass, and takes the precise bearing of the cap_t present visible, in order the more certainly to hit aright the remote, unseen headland, eventually to be visited: so does the fisherman, at hi_ompass, with the whale; for after being chased, and diligently marked, through several hours of daylight, then, when night obscures the fish, th_reature’s future wake through the darkness is almost as established to th_agacious mind of the hunter, as the pilot’s coast is to him. So that to thi_unter’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 steadfas_and. And as the mighty iron Leviathan of the modern railway is so familiarl_nown in its every pace, that, with watches in their hands, men time his rat_s doctors that of a baby’s pulse; and lightly say of it, the up train or th_own 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 Leviatha_f the deep, according to the observed humor of his speed; and say t_hemselves, 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 t_ender this acuteness at all successful in the end, the wind and the sea mus_e the whaleman’s allies; for of what present avail to the becalmed or wind- bound mariner is the skill that assures him he is exactly ninety-three league_nd a quarter from his port? Inferable from these statements, are man_ollateral subtile matters touching the chase of whales.
  • The ship tore on; leaving such a furrow in the sea as when a cannonball, missent, becomes a plough-share and turns up the level field.
  • “By salt and hemp!” cried Stubb, “but this swift motion of the deck creeps u_ne’s legs and tingles at the heart. This ship and I are two brav_ellows!—Ha, ha! Some one take me up, and launch me, spine-wise, on th_ea,—for by live-oaks! my spine’s a keel. Ha, ha! we go the gait that leave_o dust behind!”
  • “There she blows—she blows!—she blows!—right ahead!” was now the mast-hea_ry.
  • “Aye, aye!” cried Stubb, “I knew it—ye can’t escape—blow on and split you_pout, O whale! the mad fiend himself is after ye! blow your trump— bliste_our lungs!—Ahab will dam off your blood, as a miller shuts his watergate upo_he stream!”
  • And Stubb did but speak out for well nigh all that crew. The frenzies of th_hase 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; thes_ere not only now kept out of sight through the growing awe of Ahab, but the_ere broken up, and on all sides routed, as timid prairie hares that scatte_efore the bounding bison. The hand of Fate had snatched all their souls; an_y the stirring perils of the previous day; the rack of the past night’_uspense; the fixed, unfearing, blind, reckless way in which their wild craf_ent plunging towards its flying mark; by all these things, their hearts wer_owled along. The wind that made great bellies of their sails, and rushed th_essel on by arms invisible as irresistible; this seemed the symbol of tha_nseen agency which so enslaved them to the race.
  • They were one man, not thirty. For as the one ship that held them all; thoug_t 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 on_oncrete hull, which shot on its way, both balanced and directed by the lon_entral 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 kee_id point to.
  • The rigging lived. The mast-heads, like the tops of tall palms, wer_utspreadingly tufted with arms and legs. Clinging to a spar with one hand, some reached forth the other with impatient wavings; others, shading thei_yes from the vivid sunlight, sat far out on the rocking yards; all the spar_n full bearing of mortals, ready and ripe for their fate. Ah! how they stil_trove through that infinite blueness to seek out the thing that might destro_hem!
  • “Why sing ye not out for him, if ye see him?” cried Ahab, when, after th_apse of some minutes since the first cry, no more had been heard. “Sway m_p, men; ye have been deceived; not Moby Dick casts one odd jet that way, an_hen disappears.”
  • It was even so; in their headlong eagerness, the men had mistaken some othe_hing for the whale-spout, as the event itself soon proved; for hardly ha_hab reached his perch; hardly was the rope belayed to its pin on deck, whe_e struck the key-note to an orchestra, that made the air vibrate as with th_ombined discharge of rifles. The triumphant halloo of thirty buckskin lung_as 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 cal_nd indolent spoutings; not by the peaceable gush of that mystic fountain i_is head, did the White Whale now reveal his vicinity; but by the far mor_ondrous phenomenon of breaching. Rising with his utmost velocity from th_urthest depths, the Sperm Whale thus booms his entire bulk into the pur_lement of air, and piling up a mountain of dazzling foam, shows his place t_he distance of seven miles and more. In those moments, the torn, enrage_aves he shakes off, seem his mane; in some cases, this breaching is his ac_f defiance.
  • “There she breaches! there she breaches!” was the cry, as in his immeasurabl_ravadoes the White Whale tossed himself salmon-like to Heaven. So suddenl_een in the blue plain of the sea, and relieved against the still bluer margi_f the sky, the spray that he raised, for the moment, intolerably glittere_nd glared like a glacier; and stood there gradually fading and fading awa_rom its first sparkling intensity, to the dim mistiness of an advancin_hower in a vale.
  • “Aye, breach your last to the sun, Moby Dick!” cried Ahab, “thy hour and th_arpoon are at hand!—Down! down all of ye, but one man at the fore. Th_oats!—stand by!”
  • Unmindful of the tedious rope-ladders of the shrouds, the men, like shootin_tars, 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, rigge_he afternoon previous. “Mr. Starbuck, the ship is thine— keep away from th_oats, but keep near them. Lower, all!”
  • As if to strike a quick terror into them, by this time being the firs_ssailant himself, Moby Dick had turned, and was now coming for the thre_rews. Ahab’s boat was central; and cheering his men, he told them he woul_ake the whale head-and-head,— that is, pull straight up to his forehead,—_ot uncommon thing; for when within a certain limit, such a course exclude_he coming onset from the whale’s sidelong vision. But ere that close limi_as gained, and while yet all three boats were plain as the ship’s three mast_o his eye; the White Whale churning himself into furious speed, almost in a_nstant as it were, rushing among the boats with open jaws, and a lashin_ail, offered appalling battle on every side; and heedless of the irons darte_t him from every boat, seemed only intent on annihilating each separate plan_f which those boats were made. But skilfully manoeuvred, incessantly wheelin_ike 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 unearthl_logan tore every other cry but his to shreds.
  • But at last in his untraceable evolutions, the White Whale so crossed an_ecrossed, and in a thousand ways entangled the slack of the three lines no_ast to him, that they foreshortened, and, of themselves, warped the devote_oats towards the planted irons in him; though now for a moment the whale dre_side a little, as if to rally for a more tremendous charge. Seizing tha_pportunity, Ahab first paid out more line; and then was rapidly hauling an_erking in upon it again— hoping that way to disencumber it of som_narls—when lo!— a sight more savage than the embattled teeth of sharks!
  • Caught and twisted—corkscrewed in the mazes of the line, loose harpoons an_ances, with all their bristling barbs and points, came flashing and drippin_p 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, t_he bowsman, and then, twice sundering the rope near the chocks—dropped th_ntercepted 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 othe_ines; by so doing, irresistibly dragged the more involved boats of Stubb an_lask towards his flukes; dashed them together like two rolling husks on _urf-beaten beach, and then, diving down into the sea, disappeared in _oiling maelstrom, in which, for a space, the odorous cedar chips of th_recks danced round and round, like the grated nutmeg in a swiftly stirre_owl of punch.
  • While the two crews were yet circling in the waters, reaching out after th_evolving line-tubs, oars, and other floating furniture, while aslope littl_lask bobbed up and down like an empty vial, twitching his legs upwards t_scape the dreaded jaws of sharks; and Stubb was lustily singing out for som_ne to ladle him up; and while the old man’s line—now parting—admitted of hi_ulling into the creamy pool to rescue whom he could;— in that wil_imultaneousness of a thousand concreted perils,— Ahab’s yet unstricken boa_eemed drawn up towards Heaven by invisible wires,—as, arrow-like, shootin_erpendicularly from the sea, the White Whale dashed his broad forehea_gainst its bottom, and sent it turning over and over, into the air; till i_ell again— gunwale downwards—and Ahab and his men struggled out from unde_t, like seals from a sea-side cave.
  • The first uprising momentum of the whale—modifying its direction as he struc_he surface—involuntarily launched him along it, to a little distance from th_entre of the destruction he had made; and with his back to it, he now lay fo_ moment slowly feeling with his flukes from side to side; and whenever _tray oar, bit of plank, the least chip or crumb of the boats touched hi_kin, 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 pleate_orehead 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 cam_earing down to the rescue, and dropping a boat, picked up the floatin_ariners, tubs, oars, and whatever else could be caught at, and safely lande_hem on her decks. Some sprained shoulders, wrists, and ankles; livi_ontusions; wrenched harpoons and lances; inextricable intricacies of rope; shattered oars and planks; all these were there; but no fatal or even seriou_ll seemed to have befallen any one. As with Fedallah the day before, so Aha_as now found grimly clinging to his boat’s broken half, which afforded _omparatively easy float; nor did it so exhaust him as the previous day’_ishap.
  • But when he was helped to the deck, all eyes were fastened upon him; a_nstead of standing by himself he still half-hung upon the shoulder o_tarbuck, who had thus far been the foremost to assist him. His ivory leg ha_een 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 pu_ood 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 _roken bone, old Ahab is untouched; and I account no living bone of mine on_ot more me, than this dead one that’s lost. Nor white whale, nor man, no_iend, 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 th_pare 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 th_nconquerable captain in the soul should have such a craven mate!”
  • “Sir?”
  • “My body, man, not thee. Give me something for a cane—there, that shivere_ance will do. Muster the men. Surely I have not seen him yet. By heaven i_annot be!—missing?—quick! call them all.”
  • The old man’s hinted thought was true. Upon mustering the company, the Parse_as 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 nowher_o be found.
  • “Aye, sir,” said Stubb—“caught among the tangles of your line— I thought I sa_im dragging under.”
  • “My line! my line? Gone?—gone? What means that little word?— What death-knel_ings 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 whit_hale’s—no, no, no,— blistered fool; this hand did dart it!—’tis in th_ish!—Aloft there! Keep him nailed-Quick!—all hands to the rigging of th_oats— collect the oars—harpooneers! the irons, the irons!—hoist the royal_igher—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’_orse than devil’s madness. Two days chased; twice stove to splinters; th_ery leg once more snatched from under thee; thy evil shadow gone—all goo_ngels mobbing thee with warnings:—what more wouldst thou have?— Shall we kee_hasing this murderous fish till he swamps the last man? Shall we be dragge_y him to the bottom of the sea? Shall we be towed by him to the inferna_orld? Oh, oh,— Impiety and blasphemy to hunt him more!”
  • “Starbuck, of late I’ve felt strangely moved to thee; ever since that hour w_oth saw—thou know’st what, in one another’s eyes. But in this matter of th_hale, 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 immutabl_ecreed. ‘Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocea_olled. 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 cu_own 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 _undred legs. I feel strained, half-stranded, as ropes that tow dismaste_rigates 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. Believ_e, men, in the things called omens? Then laugh aloud, and cry encore! For er_hey 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 wil_e the third. Aye, men, he’ll rise once more,—but only to spout his last! D’y_eel brave men, brave?”
  • “As fearless fire,” cried Stubb.
  • “And as mechanical,” muttered Ahab. Then as the men went forward, he muttere_n: “The things called omens! And yesterday I talked the same to Starbuc_here, concerning my broken boat. Oh! how valiantly I seek to drive out o_thers’ 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 coul_erish—How’s that?— There’s a riddle now might baffle all the lawyers backe_y the ghosts of the whole line of judges:—like a hawk’s beak it pecks m_rain. 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 th_revious night; only, the sound of hammers, and the hum of the grindstone wa_eard till nearly daylight, as the men toiled by lanterns in the complete an_areful rigging of the spare boats and sharpening their fresh weapons for th_orrow. Meantime, of the broken keel of Ahab’s wrecked craft the carpente_ade him another leg; while still as on the night before, slouched Ahab stoo_ixed within his scuttle; his hid, heliotrope glance anticipatingly gon_ackward on its dial; sat due eastward for the earliest sun.