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Chapter 51 The Spirit-Spout

  • Days, weeks passed, and under easy sail, the ivory Pequod had slowly swep_cross four several cruising-grounds; that off the Azores; off the Cape d_erdes; on the Plate (so called), being off the mouth of the Rio de la Plata;
  • and the Carrol Ground, an unstaked, watery locality, southerly from St.
  • Helena.
  • It was while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and moonligh_ight, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by thei_oft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude;
  • on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen far in advance of the whit_ubbles at the bow. Lit up by the moon, it looked celestial; seemed som_lumed and glittering god uprising from the sea. Fedallah first descried thi_et. For of these moonlight nights, it was his wont to mount to the main-mas_ead, and stand a look-out there, with the same precision as if it had bee_ay. And yet, though herds of whales were seen by night, not one whaleman in _undred would venture a lowering for them. You may think with what emotions,
  • then, the seamen beheld this old Oriental perched aloft at such unusual hours;
  • his turban and the moon, companions in one sky. But when, after spending hi_niform interval there for several successive nights without uttering a singl_ound; when, after all this silence, his unearthly voice was heard announcin_hat silvery, moon-lit jet, every reclining mariner started to his feet as i_ome winged spirit had lighted in the rigging, and hailed the mortal crew.
  • “There she blows!” Had the trump of judgment blown, they could not hav_uivered more; yet still they felt no terror; rather pleasure. For though i_as a most unwonted hour, yet so impressive was the cry, and so deliriousl_xciting, that almost every soul on board instinctively desired a lowering.
  • Walking the deck with quick, side-lunging strides, Ahab commanded th_’gallant sails and royals to be set, and every stunsail spread. The best ma_n the ship must take the helm. Then, with every mast-head manned, the piled-
  • up craft rolled down before the wind. The strange, upheaving, lifting tendenc_f the taffrail breeze filling the hollows of so many sails, made the buoyant,
  • hovering deck to feel like air beneath the feet; while still she rushed along,
  • as if two antagonistic influences were struggling in her—one to mount direc_o heaven, the other to drive yawingly to some horizontal goal. And had yo_atched Ahab’s face that night, you would have thought that in him also tw_ifferent things were warring. While his one live leg made lively echoes alon_he deck, every stroke of his dead limb sounded like a coffin-tap. On life an_eath this old man walked. But though the ship so swiftly sped, and thoug_rom every eye, like arrows, the eager glances shot, yet the silvery jet wa_o more seen that night. Every sailor swore he saw it once, but not a secon_ime.
  • This midnight-spout had almost grown a forgotten thing, when, some days after,
  • lo! at the same silent hour, it was again announced: again it was descried b_ll; but upon making sail to overtake it, once more it disappeared as if i_ad never been. And so it served us night after night, till no one heeded i_ut to wonder at it. Mysteriously jetted into the clear moonlight, o_tarlight, as the case might be; disappearing again for one whole day, or tw_ays, or three; and somehow seeming at every distinct repetition to b_dvancing still further and further in our van, this solitary jet seemed fo_ver alluring us on.
  • Nor with the immemorial superstition of their race, and in accordance with th_reternaturalness, as it seemed, which in many things invested the Pequod,
  • were there wanting some of the seamen who swore that whenever and whereve_escried; at however remote times, or in however far apart latitudes an_ongitudes, that unnearable spout was cast by one selfsame whale; and tha_hale, Moby Dick. For a time, there reigned, too, a sense of peculiar dread a_his flitting apparition, as if it were treacherously beckoning us on and on,
  • in order that the monster might turn round upon us, and rend us at last in th_emotest and most savage seas.
  • These temporary apprehensions, so vague but so awful, derived a wondrou_otency from the contrasting serenity of the weather, in which, beneath al_ts blue blandness, some thought there lurked a devilish charm, as for day_nd days we voyaged along, through seas so wearily, lonesomely mild, that al_pace, in repugnance to our vengeful errand, seemed vacating itself of lif_efore our urn-like prow.
  • But, at last, when turning to the eastward, the Cape winds began howlin_round us, and we rose and fell upon the long, troubled seas that are there;
  • when the ivory-tusked Pequod sharply bowed to the blast, and gored the dar_aves in her madness, till, like showers of silver chips, the foamflakes fle_ver her bulwarks; then all this desolate vacuity of life went away, but gav_lace to sights more dismal than before.
  • Close to our bows, strange forms in the water darted hither and thither befor_s; while thick in our rear flew the inscrutable sea-ravens. And ever_orning, perched on our stays, rows of these birds were seen; and spite of ou_ootings, for a long time obstinately clung to the hemp, as though they deeme_ur ship some drifting, uninhabited craft; a thing appointed to desolation,
  • and therefore fit roosting-place for their homeless selves. And heaved an_eaved, still unrestingly heaved the black sea, as if its vast tides were _onscience; and the great mundane soul were in anguish and remorse for th_ong sin and suffering it had bred.
  • Cape of Good Hope, do they call ye? Rather Cape Tormentoto, as called of yore;
  • for long allured by the perfidious silences that before had attended us, w_ound ourselves launched into this tormented sea, where guilty being_ransformed into those fowls and these fish, seemed condemned to swim o_verlastingly without any haven in store, or beat that black air without an_orizon. But calm, snow-white, and unvarying; still directing its fountain o_eathers to the sky; still beckoning us on from before, the solitary jet woul_t times be descried.
  • During all this blackness of the elements, Ahab, though assuming for the tim_he almost continual command of the drenched and dangerous deck, manifeste_he gloomiest reserve; and more seldom than ever addressed his mates. I_empestuous times like these, after everything above and aloft has bee_ecured, nothing more can be done but passively to await the issue of th_ale. Then Captain and crew become practical fatalists. So, with his ivory le_nserted into its accustomed hole, and with one hand firmly grasping a shroud,
  • Ahab for hours and hours would stand gazing dead to windward, while a_ccasional squall of sleet or snow would all but congeal his very eyelashe_ogether. Meantime, the crew driven from the forward part of the ship by th_erilous seas that burstingly broke over its bows, stood in a line along th_ulwarks in the waist; and the better to guard against the leaping waves, eac_an had slipped himself into a sort of bowline secured to the rail, in whic_e swung as in a loosened belt. Few or no words were spoken; and the silen_hip, as if manned by painted sailors in wax, day after day tore on throug_ll the swift madness and gladness of the demoniac waves. By night the sam_uteness of humanity before the shrieks of the ocean prevailed; still i_ilence the men swung in the bowlines; still wordless Ahab stood up to th_last. Even when wearied nature seemed demanding repose he would not seek tha_epose in his hammock. Never could Starbuck forget the old man’s aspect, whe_ne night going down into the cabin to mark how the barometer stood, he sa_im with closed eyes sitting straight in his floor-screwed chair; the rain an_alf-melted sleet of the storm from which he had some time before emerged,
  • still slowly dripping from the unremoved hat and coat. On the table beside hi_ay unrolled one of those charts of tides and currents which have previousl_een spoken of. His lantern swung from his tightly clenched hand. Though th_ody was erect, the head was thrown back so that the closed eyes were pointe_owards the needle of the tell-tale that swung from a beam in th_eiling.[[7]](footnotes.xml#footnote_7)
  • Terrible old man! thought Starbuck with a shudder, sleeping in this gale,
  • still thou steadfastly eyest thy purpose.