It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon; the seamen were lazily lounging about th_ecks, or vacantly gazing over into the lead-colored waters. Queequeg and _ere mildly employed weaving what is called a sword-mat, for an additiona_ashing to our boat. So still and subdued and yet somehow preluding was al_he scene, and such an incantation of revelry lurked in the air, that eac_ilent sailor seemed resolved into his own invisible self.
I was the attendant or page of Queequeg, while busy at the mat. As I kep_assing and repassing the filling or woof of marline between the long yarns o_he warp, using my own hand for the shuttle, and as Queequeg, standin_ideways, ever and anon slid his heavy oaken sword between the threads, an_dly looking off upon the water, carelessly and unthinkingly drove home ever_arn; I say so strange a dreaminess did there then reign all over the ship an_ll over the sea, only broken by the intermitting dull sound of the sword,
that it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttl_echanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixe_hreads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchangin_ibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswis_nterblending of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; an_ere, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my ow_estiny into these unalterable threads. Meantime, Queequeg’s impulsive,
indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly, o_trongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by this difference in th_oncluding blow producing a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of th_ompleted fabric; this savage’s sword, thought I, which thus finally shape_nd fashions both warp and woof; this easy, indifferent sword must be chance—
aye, chance, free will, and necessity—no wise incompatible— all interweavingl_orking together. The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from it_ltimate course— its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending t_hat; free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; an_hance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, an_ideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus prescribed to b_oth, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events.
Thus we were weaving and weaving away when I started at a sound so strange,
long drawn, and musically wild and unearthly, that the ball of free wil_ropped from my hand, and I stood gazing up at the clouds whence that voic_ropped like a wing. High aloft in the cross-trees was that mad Gay-Header,
Tashtego. His body was reaching eagerly forward, his hand stretched out like _and, and at brief sudden intervals he continued his cries. To be sure th_ame sound was that very moment perhaps being heard all over the seas, fro_undreds of whalemen’s look-outs perched as high in the air; but from few o_hose lungs could that accustomed old cry have derived such a marvellou_adence as from Tashtego the Indian’s.
As he stood hovering over you half suspended in air, so wildly and eagerl_eering towards the horizon, you would have thought him some prophet or see_eholding the shadows of Fate, and by those wild cries announcing thei_oming.
“There she blows! there! there! there! she blows! she blows!”
“On the lee-beam, about two miles off! a school of them!”
Instantly all was commotion.
The Sperm Whale blows as a clock ticks, with the same undeviating and reliabl_niformity. And thereby whalemen distinguish this fish from other tribes o_is genus.
“There go flukes!” was now the cry from Tashtego; and the whales disappeared.
“Quick, steward!” cried Ahab. “Time! time!”
Dough-Boy hurried below, glanced at the watch, and reported the exact minut_o Ahab.
The ship was now kept away from the wind, and she went gently rolling befor_t. Tashtego reporting that the whales had gone down heading to leeward, w_onfidently looked to see them again directly in advance of our bows. For tha_ingular craft at times evinced by the Sperm Whale when, sounding with hi_ead in one direction, he nevertheless, while concealed beneath the surface,
mills around, and swiftly swims off in the opposite quarter—this deceitfulnes_f his could not now be in action; for there was no reason to suppose that th_ish seen by Tashtego had been in any way alarmed, or indeed knew at all o_ur vicinity. One of the men selected for shipkeepers—that is, those no_ppointed to the boats, by this time relieved the Indian at the main-mas_ead. The sailors at the fore and mizzen had come down; the line tubs wer_ixed in their places; the cranes were thrust out; the mainyard was backed,
and the three boats swung over the sea like three samphire baskets over hig_liffs. Outside of the bulwarks their eager crews with one hand clung to th_ail, while one foot was expectantly poised on the gunwale. So look the lon_ine of man-of-war’s men about to throw themselves on board an enemy’s ship.
But at this critical instant a sudden exclamation was heard that took ever_ye from the whale. With a start all glared at dark Ahab, who was surrounde_y five dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air.