For several days after leaving Nantucket, nothing above hatches was seen o_aptain Ahab. The mates regularly relieved each other at the watches, and fo_ught that could be seen to the contrary, they seemed to be the onl_ommanders of the ship; only they sometimes issued from the cabin with order_o sudden and peremptory, that after all it was plain they but commande_icariously. Yes, their supreme lord and dictator was there, though hithert_nseen by any eyes not permitted to penetrate into the now sacred retreat o_he cabin.
Every time I ascended to the deck from my watches below, I instantly gazed af_o mark if any strange face were visible; for my first vague disquietud_ouching the unknown captain, now in the seclusion of the sea became almost _erturbation. This was strangely heightened at times by the ragged Elijah’_iabolical incoherences uninvitedly recurring to me, with a subtle energy _ould not have before conceived of. But poorly could I withstand them, much a_n other moods I was almost ready to smile at the solemn whimsicalities o_hat outlandish prophet of the wharves. But whatever it was o_pprehensiveness or uneasiness—to call it so— which I felt, yet whenever _ame to look about me in the ship, it seemed against all warranty to cheris_uch emotions. For though the harpooneers, with the great body of the crew,
were a far more barbaric, heathenish, and motley set than any of the tam_erchant-ship companies which my previous experiences had made me acquainte_ith, still I ascribed this—and rightly ascribed it—to the fierce uniquenes_f the very nature of that wild Scandinavian vocation in which I had s_bandonedly embarked. But it was especially the aspect of the three chie_fficers of the ship, the mates, which was most forcibly calculated to alla_hese colorless misgivings, and induce confidence and cheerfulness in ever_resentment of the voyage. Three better, more likely sea-officers and men,
each in his own different way, could not readily be found, and they were ever_ne of them Americans; a Nantucketer, a Vineyarder, a Cape man. Now, it bein_hristmas when the ship shot from out her harbor, for a space we had bitin_olar weather, though all the time running away from it to the southward; an_y every degree and minute of latitude which we sailed, gradually leaving tha_erciless winter, and all its intolerable weather behind us. It was one o_hose less lowering, but still grey and gloomy enough mornings of th_ransition, when with a fair wind the ship was rushing through the water wit_ vindictive sort of leaping and melancholy rapidity, that as I mounted to th_eck at the call of the forenoon watch, so soon as I levelled my glanc_owards the taffrail, foreboding shivers ran over me. Reality outra_pprehension; Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck.
There seemed no sign of common bodily illness about him, nor of the recover_rom any. He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire ha_verrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away on_article from their compacted aged robustness. His whole high, broad form,
seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, lik_ellini’s cast Perseus. Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, an_ontinuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till i_isappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish.
It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, loft_runk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, an_ithout wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top t_ottom ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive,
but branded. Whether that mark was born with him, or whether it was the sca_eft by some desperate wound, no one could certainly say. By some taci_onsent, throughout the voyage little or no allusion was made to it,
especially by the mates. But once Tashtego’s senior, an old Gay-Head India_mong the crew, superstitiously asserted that not till he was full forty year_ld did Ahab become that way branded, and then it came upon him, not in th_ury of any mortal fray, but in an elemental strife at sea. Yet, this wil_int seemed inferentially negatived, by what a grey Manxman insinuated, an ol_epulchral man, who, having never before sailed out of Nantucket, had neve_re this laid eye upon wild Ahab. Nevertheless, the old sea-traditions, th_mmemorial credulities, popularly invested this old Manxman with preternatura_owers of discernment. So that no white sailor seriously contradicted him whe_e said that if ever Captain Ahab should be tranquilly laid out— which migh_ardly come to pass, so he muttered—then, whoever should do that last offic_or the dead, would find a birth-mark on him from crown to sole.
So powerfully did the whole grim aspect of Ahab affect me, and the livid bran_hich streaked it, that for the first few moments I hardly noted that not _ittle of this overbearing grimness was owing to the barbaric white leg upo_hich he partly stood. It had previously come to me that this ivory leg had a_ea been fashioned from the polished bone of the sperm whale’s jaw. “Aye, h_as dismasted off Japan,” said the old Gay-Head Indian once; “but like hi_ismasted craft, he shipped another mast without coming home for it. He has _uiver of ’em.”
I was struck with the singular posture he maintained. Upon each side of th_equod’s quarter deck, and pretty close to the mizzen shrouds, there was a_uger hole, bored about half an inch or so, into the plank. His bone le_teadied in that hole; one arm elevated, and holding by a shroud; Captain Aha_tood erect, looking straight out beyond the ship’s ever-pitching prow. Ther_as an infinity of firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrenderabl_ilfulness, in the fixed and fearless, forward dedication of that glance. No_ word he spoke; nor did his officers say aught to him; though by all thei_inutest gestures and expressions, they plainly showed the uneasy, if no_ainful, consciousness of being under a troubled master-eye. And not onl_hat, but moody stricken Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in hi_ace; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe.
Ere long, from his first visit in the air, he withdrew into his cabin. Bu_fter that morning, he was every day visible to the crew; either standing i_is pivot-hole, or seated upon an ivory stool he had; or heavily walking th_eck. As the sky grew less gloomy; indeed, began to grow a little genial, h_ecame still less and less a recluse; as if, when the ship had sailed fro_ome, nothing but the dead wintry bleakness of the sea had then kept him s_ecluded. And, by and by, it came to pass, that he was almost continually i_he air; but, as yet, for all that he said, or perceptibly did, on the at las_unny deck, he seemed as unnecessary there as another mast. But the Pequod wa_nly making a passage now; not regularly cruising; nearly all whalin_reparatives needing supervision the mates were fully competent to, so tha_here was little or nothing, out of himself, to employ or excite Ahab, now;
and thus chase away, for that one interval, the clouds that layer upon laye_ere piled upon his brow, as ever all clouds choose the loftiest peaks to pil_hemselves upon.
Nevertheless, ere long, the warm, warbling persuasiveness of the pleasant,
holiday weather we came to, seemed gradually to charm him from his mood. For,
as when the red-cheeked, dancing girls, April and May, trip home to th_intry, misanthropic woods; even the barest, ruggedest, most thunder-clove_ld oak will at least send forth some few green sprouts, to welcome suc_ladhearted visitants; so Ahab did, in the end, a little respond to th_layful allurings of that girlish air. More than once did he put forth th_aint blossom of a look, which, in any other man, would have soon flowered ou_n a smile.