The long and narrow peninsula of Malacca, extending south-eastward from th_erritories of Birmah, forms the most southerly point of all Asia. In _ontinuous line from that peninsula stretch the long islands of Sumatra, Java, Bally, and Timor; which, with many others, form a vast mole, or rampart, lengthwise connecting Asia with Australia, and dividing the long unbroke_ndian ocean from the thickly studded oriental archipelagoes. This rampart i_ierced by several sally-ports for the convenience of ships and whales; conspicuous among which are the straits of Sunda and Malacca. By the strait_f Sunda, chiefly, vessels bound to China from the west, emerge into the Chin_eas.
Those narrow straits of Sunda divide Sumatra from Java; and standing midway i_hat vast rampart of islands, buttressed by that bold green promontory, know_o seamen as Java Head; they not a little correspond to the central gatewa_pening into some vast walled empire: and considering the inexhaustible wealt_f spices, and silks, and jewels, and gold, and ivory, with which the thousan_slands of that oriental sea are enriched, it seems a significant provision o_ature, that such treasures, by the very formation of the land, should a_east bear the appearance, however ineffectual, of being guarded from the all- grasping western world. The shores of the Straits of Sunda are unsupplied wit_hose domineering fortresses which guard the entrances to the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and the Propontis. Unlike the Danes, these Orientals do not deman_he obsequious homage of lowered top-sails from the endless procession o_hips before the wind, which for centuries past, by night and by day, hav_assed between the islands of Sumatra and Java, freighted with the costlies_argoes of the east. But while they freely waive a ceremonial like this, the_o by no means renounce their claim to more solid tribute.
Time out of mind the piratical proas of the Malays, lurking among the lo_haded coves and islets of Sumatra, have sallied out upon the vessels sailin_hrough the straits, fiercely demanding tribute at the point of their spears.
Though by the repeated bloody chastisements they have received at the hands o_uropean cruisers, the audacity of these corsairs has of late been somewha_epressed; yet, even at the present day, we occasionally hear of English an_merican vessels, which, in those waters, have been remorselessly boarded an_illaged.
With a fair, fresh wind, the Pequod was now drawing nigh to these straits; Ahab purposing to pass through them into the Java sea, and thence, cruisin_orthwards, over waters known to be frequented here and there by the Sper_hale, sweep inshore by the Philippine Islands, and gain the far coast o_apan, in time for the great whaling season there. By these means, th_ircumnavigating Pequod would sweep almost all the known Sperm Whale cruisin_rounds of the world, previous to descending upon the Line in the Pacific; where Ahab, though everywhere else foiled in his pursuit, firmly counted upo_iving battle to Moby Dick, in the sea he was most known to frequent; and at _eason when he might most reasonably be presumed to be haunting it.
But how now? in this zoned quest, does Ahab touch no land? does his crew drin_ir? Surely, he will stop for water. Nay. For a long time, now, the circus- running sun has raced within his fiery ring, and needs no sustenance bu_hat’s in himself. So Ahab. Mark this, too, in the whaler. While other hull_re loaded down with alien stuff, to be transferred to foreign wharves; th_orld-wandering whale-ship carries no cargo but herself and crew, thei_eapons and their wants. She has a whole lake’s contents bottled in her ampl_old. She is ballasted with utilities; not altogether with unusable pig-lea_nd kentledge. She carries years’ water in her. Clear old prime Nantucke_ater; which, when three years afloat, the Nantucketer, in the Pacific, prefers to drink before the brackish fluid, but yesterday rafted off in casks, from the Peruvian or Indian streams. Hence it is, that, while other ships ma_ave gone to China from New York, and back again, touching at a score o_orts, the whale-ship, in all that interval, may not have sighted one grain o_oil; her crew having seen no man but floating seamen like themselves. So tha_id you carry them the news that another flood had come; they would onl_nswer—“Well, boys, here’s the ark!”
Now, as many Sperm Whales had been captured off the western coast of Java, i_he near vicinity of the Straits of Sunda; indeed, as most of the ground, roundabout, was generally recognised by the fishermen as an excellent spot fo_ruising; therefore, as the Pequod gained more and more upon Java Head, th_ook-outs were repeatedly hailed, and admonished to keep wide awake. Bu_hough the green palmy cliffs of the land soon loomed on the starboard bow, and with delighted nostrils the fresh cinnamon was snuffed in the air, yet no_ single jet was descried. Almost renouncing all thought of falling in wit_ny game hereabouts, the ship had well nigh entered the straits, when th_ustomary cheering cry was heard from aloft, and ere long a spectacle o_ingular magnificence saluted us.
But here be it premised, that owing to the unwearied activity with which o_ate they have been hunted over all four oceans, the Sperm Whales, instead o_lmost invariably sailing in small detached companies, as in former times, ar_ow frequently met with in extensive herds, sometimes embracing so great _ultitude, that it would almost seem as if numerous nations of them had swor_olemn league and covenant for mutual assistance and protection. To thi_ggregation of the Sperm Whale into such immense caravans, may be imputed th_ircumstance that even in the best cruising grounds, you may now sometime_ail for weeks and months together, without being greeted by a single spout; and then be suddenly saluted by what sometimes seems thousands on thousands.
Broad on both bows, at the distance of some two or three miles, and forming _reat semicircle, embracing one half of the level horizon, a continuous chai_f whale-jets were up-playing and sparkling in the noon-day air. Unlike th_traight perpendicular twin-jets of the Right Whale, which, dividing at top, falls over in two branches, like the cleft drooping boughs of a willow, th_ingle forward-slanting spout of the Sperm Whale presents a thick curled bus_f white mist, continually rising and falling away to leeward.
Seen from the Pequod’s deck, then, as she would rise on a high hill of th_ea, this host of vapory spouts, individually curling up into the air, an_eheld through a blending atmosphere of bluish haze, showed like the thousan_heerful chimneys of some dense metropolis, descried of a balmy autumna_orning, by some horseman on a height.
As marching armies approaching an unfriendly defile in the mountains, accelerate their march, all eagerness to place that perilous passage in thei_ear, and once more expand in comparative security upon the plain; even so di_his vast fleet of whales now seem hurrying forward through the straits; gradually contracting the wings of their semicircle, and swimming on, in on_olid, but still crescentic centre.
Crowding all sail the Pequod pressed after them; the harpooneers handlin_heir weapons, and loudly cheering from the heads of their yet suspende_oats. If the wind only held, little doubt had they, that chased through thes_traits of Sunda, the vast host would only deploy into the Oriental seas t_itness the capture of not a few of their number. And who could tell whether, in that congregated caravan, Moby Dick himself might not temporarily b_wimming, like the worshipped white-elephant in the coronation procession o_he Siamese! So with stun-sail piled on stun-sail, we sailed along, drivin_hese leviathans before us; when, of a sudden, the voice of Tashtego wa_eard, loudly directing attention to something in our wake.
Corresponding to the crescent in our van, we beheld another in our rear. I_eemed formed of detached white vapors, rising and falling something like th_pouts of the whales; only they did not so completely come and go; for the_onstantly hovered, without finally disappearing. Levelling his glass at thi_ight, Ahab quickly revolved in his pivot-hole, crying, “Aloft there, and ri_hips and buckets to wet the sails;—Malays, sir, and after us!”
As if too long lurking behind the headlands, till the Pequod should fairl_ave entered the straits, these rascally Asiatics were now in hot pursuit, t_ake up for their over-cautious delay. But when the swift Pequod, with a fres_eading wind, was herself in hot chase; how very kind of these tawn_hilanthropists to assist in speeding her on to her own chosen pursuit,— mer_iding-whips and rowels to her, that they were. As with glass under arm, Aha_o-and-fro paced the deck; in his forward turn beholding the monsters h_hased, and in the after one the bloodthirsty pirates chasing him; some suc_ancy as the above seemed his. And when he glanced upon the green walls of th_atery defile in which the ship was then sailing, and bethought him tha_hrough that gate lay the route to his vengeance, and beheld, how that throug_hat same gate he was now both chasing and being chased to his deadly end; an_ot only that, but a herd of remorseless wild pirates and inhuman atheistica_evils were infernally cheering him on with their curses;—when all thes_onceits had passed through his brain, Ahab’s brow was left gaunt and ribbed, like the black sand beach after some stormy tide has been gnawing it, withou_eing able to drag the firm thing from its place.
But thoughts like these troubled very few of the reckless crew; and when, after steadily dropping and dropping the pirates astern, the Pequod at las_hot by the vivid green Cockatoo Point on the Sumatra side, emerging at las_pon the broad waters beyond; then, the harpooneers seemed more to grieve tha_he swift whales had been gaining upon the ship, than to rejoice that the shi_ad so victoriously gained upon the Malays. But still driving on in the wak_f the whales, at length they seemed abating their speed; gradually the shi_eared them; and the wind now dying away, word was passed to spring to th_oats. But no sooner did the herd, by some presumed wonderful instinct of th_perm Whale, become notified of the three keels that were after them,— thoug_s yet a mile in their rear,—than they rallied again, and forming in clos_anks and battalions, so that their spouts all looked like flashing lines o_tacked bayonets, moved on with redoubled velocity.
Stripped to our shirts and drawers, we sprang to the white-ash, and afte_everal hours’ pulling were almost disposed to renounce the chase, when _eneral pausing commotion among the whales gave animating tokens that the_ere now at last under the influence of that strange perplexity of iner_rresolution, which, when the fishermen perceive it in the whale, they say h_s gallied[](footnotes.xml#footnote_18). The compact martial columns i_hich they had been hitherto rapidly and steadily swimming, were now broken u_n one measureless rout; and like King Porus’ elephants in the Indian battl_ith Alexander, they seemed going mad with consternation. In all direction_xpanding in vast irregular circles, and aimlessly swimming hither an_hither, by their short thick spoutings, they plainly betrayed thei_istraction of panic. This was still more strangely evinced by those of thei_umber, who, completely paralysed as it were, helplessly floated like water- logged dismantled ships on the sea. Had these Leviathans been but a flock o_imple sheep, pursued over the pasture by three fierce wolves, they could no_ossibly have evinced such excessive dismay. But this occasional timidity i_haracteristic of almost all herding creatures. Though banding together i_ens of thousands, the lion-maned buffaloes of the West have fled before _olitary horseman. Witness, too, all human beings, how when herded together i_he sheepfold of a theatre’s pit, they will, at the slightest alarm of fire, rush helter-skelter for the outlets, crowding, trampling, jamming, an_emorselessly dashing each other to death. Best, therefore, withhold an_mazement at the strangely gallied whales before us, for there is no folly o_he beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.
Though many of the whales, as has been said, were in violent motion, yet it i_o be observed that as a whole the herd neither advanced nor retreated, bu_ollectively remained in one place. As is customary in those cases, the boat_t once separated, each making for some one lone whale on the outskirts of th_hoal. In about three minutes’ time, Queequeg’s harpoon was flung; th_tricken fish darted blinding spray in our faces, and then running away wit_s like light, steered straight for the heart of the herd. Though such _ovement on the part of the whale struck under such circumstances, is in n_ise unprecedented; and indeed is almost always more or less anticipated; ye_oes it present one of the more perilous vicissitudes of the fishery. For a_he swift monster drags you deeper and deeper into the frantic shoal, you bi_dieu to circumspect life and only exist in a delirious throb.
As, blind and deaf, the whale plunged forward, as if by sheer power of spee_o rid himself of the iron leech that had fastened to him; as we thus tore _hite gash in the sea, on all sides menaced as we flew, by the craze_reatures to and fro rushing about us; our beset boat was like a ship mobbe_y ice-isles in a tempest, and striving to steer through their complicate_hannels and straits, knowing not at what moment it may be locked in an_rushed.
But not a bit daunted, Queequeg steered us manfully; now sheering off fro_his monster directly across our route in advance; now edging away from that, whose colossal flukes were suspended overhead, while all the time, Starbuc_tood up in the bows, lance in hand, pricking out of our way whatever whale_e could reach by short darts, for there was no time to make long ones. No_ere the oarsmen quite idle, though their wonted duty was now altogethe_ispensed with. They chiefly attended to the shouting part of the business.
“Out of the way, Commodore!” cried one, to a great dromedary that of a sudde_ose bodily to the surface, and for an instant threatened to swamp us. “Har_own with your tail, there!” cried a second to another, which, close to ou_unwale, seemed calmly cooling himself with his own fan-like extremity.
All whale-boats carry certain curious contrivances, originally invented by th_antucket Indians, called druggs. Two thick squares of wood of equal size ar_toutly clenched together, so that they cross each other’s grain at righ_ngles; a line of considerable length is then attached to the middle of thi_lock, and the other end of the line being looped, it can in a moment b_astened to a harpoon. It is chiefly among gallied whales that this drugg i_sed. For then, more whales are close round you than you can possibly chase a_ne time. But sperm whales are not every day encountered; while you may, then, you must kill all you can. And if you cannot kill them all at once, you mus_ing them, so that they can be afterwards killed at your leisure. Hence it is, that at times like these the drug, comes into requisition. Our boat wa_urnished with three of them. The first and second were successfully darted, and we saw the whales staggeringly running off, fettered by the enormou_idelong resistance of the towing drugg. They were cramped like malefactor_ith the chain and ball. But upon flinging the third, in the act of tossin_verboard the clumsy wooden block, it caught under one of the seats of th_oat, and in an instant tore it out and carried it away, dropping the oarsma_n the boat’s bottom as the seat slid from under him. On both sides the se_ame in at the wounded planks, but we stuffed two or three drawers and shirt_n, and so stopped the leaks for the time.
It had been next to impossible to dart these drugged-harpoons, were it no_hat as we advanced into the herd, our whale’s way greatly diminished; moreover, that as we went still further and further from the circumference o_ommotion, the direful disorders seemed waning. So that when at last th_erking harpoon drew out, and the towing whale sideways vanished; then, wit_he tapering force of his parting momentum, we glided between two whales int_he innermost heart of the shoal, as if from some mountain torrent we had sli_nto a serene valley lake. Here the storms in the roaring glens between th_utermost whales, were heard but not felt. In this central expanse the se_resented that smooth satin-like surface, called a sleek, produced by th_ubtle moisture thrown off by the whale in his more quiet moods. Yes, we wer_ow in that enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of ever_ommotion. And still in the distracted distance we beheld the tumults of th_uter concentric circles, and saw successive pods of whales, eight or ten i_ach, swiftly going round and round, like multiplied spans of horses in _ing; and so closely shoulder to shoulder, that a Titanic circus-rider migh_asily have over-arched the middle ones, and so have gone round on thei_acks. Owing to the density of the crowd of reposing whales, more immediatel_urrounding the embayed axis of the herd, no possible chance of escape was a_resent afforded us. We must watch for a breach in the living wall that hemme_s in; the wall that had only admitted us in order to shut us up. Keeping a_he centre of the lake, we were occasionally visited by small tame cows an_alves; the women and children of this routed host.
Now, inclusive of the occasional wide intervals between the revolving oute_ircles, and inclusive of the spaces between the various pods in any one o_hose circles, the entire area at this juncture, embraced by the whol_ultitude, must have contained at least two or three square miles. At an_ate—though indeed such a test at such a time might be deceptive—spouting_ight be discovered from our low boat that seemed playing up almost from th_im of the horizon. I mention this circumstance, because, as if the cows an_alves had been purposely locked up in this innermost fold; and as if the wid_xtent of the herd had hitherto prevented them from learning the precise caus_f its stopping; or, possibly, being so young, unsophisticated, and every wa_nnocent and inexperienced; however it may have been, these smaller whales— now and then visiting our becalmed boat from the margin of the lake— evinced _ondrous fearlessness and confidence, or else a still becharmed panic which i_as impossible not to marvel at. Like household dogs they came snuffling roun_s, right up to our gunwales, and touching them; till it almost seemed tha_ome spell had suddenly domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads; Starbuck scratched their backs with his lance; but fearful of th_onsequences, for the time refrained from darting it.
But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and stil_tranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side. For, suspended in thos_atery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales, an_hose that by their enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly transparent; and a_uman infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze away from th_reast, as if leading two different lives at the time; and while yet drawin_ortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthl_eminiscence;—even so did the young of these whales seem looking up toward_s, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulfweed in their new-bor_ight. Floating on their sides, the mothers also seemed quietly eyeing us. On_f these little infants, that from certain queer tokens seemed hardly a da_ld, might have measured some fourteen feet in length, and some six feet i_irth. He was a little frisky; though as yet his body seemed scarce ye_ecovered from that irksome position it had so lately occupied in the materna_eticule; where, tail to head, and all ready for the final spring, the unbor_hale lies bent like a Tartar’s bow. The delicate side-fins, and the palms o_is flukes, still freshly retained the plaited crumpled appearance of a baby’_ars newly arrived from foreign parts.
“Line! line!” cried Queequeg, looking over the gunwale; “him fast! hi_ast!—Who line him! Who struck?—Two whale; one big, one little!”
“What ails ye, man?” cried Starbuck.
“Look-e here,” said Queequeg, pointing down.
As when the stricken whale, that from the tub has reeled out hundreds o_athoms of rope; as, after deep sounding, he floats up again, and shows th_lackened curling line buoyantly rising and spiralling towards the air; s_ow, Starbuck saw long coils of the umbilical cord of Madame Leviathan, b_hich the young cub seemed still tethered to its dam. Not seldom in the rapi_icissitudes of the chase, this natural line, with the maternal end loose, becomes entangled with the hempen one, so that the cub is thereby trapped.
Some of the subtlest secrets of the seas seemed divulged to us in thi_nchanted pond. We saw young Leviathan amours in th_eep.[](footnotes.xml#footnote_19)
And thus, though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations an_ffrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessl_ndulge in all peaceful concernments; yea, serenely revelled in dalliance an_elight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I mysel_till for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets o_nwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bath_e in eternal mildness of joy.
Meanwhile, as we thus lay entranced, the occasional sudden frantic spectacle_n the distance evinced the activity of the other boats, still engaged i_rugging the whales on the frontier of the host; or possibly carrying on th_ar within the first circle, where abundance of room and some convenien_etreats were afforded them. But the sight of the enraged drugged whales no_nd then blindly darting to and fro across the circles, was nothing to what a_ast met our eyes. It is sometimes the custom when fast to a whale more tha_ommonly powerful and alert, to seek to hamstring him, as it were, b_undering or maiming his gigantic tail-tendon. It is done by darting a short- handled cutting-spade, to which is attached a rope for hauling it back again.
A whale wounded (as we afterwards learned) in this part, but not effectually, as it seemed, had broken away from the boat, carrying along with him half o_he harpoon line; and in the extraordinary agony of the wound, he was no_ashing among the revolving circles like the lone mounted desperado Arnold, a_he battle of Saratoga, carrying dismay wherever he went.
But agonizing as was the wound of this whale, and an appalling spectacl_nough, any way; yet the peculiar horror with which he seemed to inspire th_est of the herd, was owing to a cause which at first the intervening distanc_bscured from us. But at length we perceived that by one of the unimaginabl_ccidents of the fishery, this whale had become entangled in the harpoon-lin_hat he towed; he had also run away with the cutting-spade in him; and whil_he free end of the rope attached to that weapon, had permanently caught i_he coils of the harpoon-line round his tail, the cutting-spade itself ha_orked loose from his flesh. So that tormented to madness, he was now churnin_hrough the water, violently flailing with his flexible tail, and tossing th_een spade about him, wounding and murdering his own comrades.
This terrific object seemed to recall the whole herd from their stationar_right. First, the whales forming the margin of our lake began to crowd _ittle, and tumble against each other, as if lifted by half spent billows fro_far; then the lake itself began faintly to heave and swell; the submarin_ridal-chambers and nurseries vanished; in more and more contracting orbit_he whales in the more central circles began to swim in thickening clusters.
Yes, the long calm was departing. A low advancing hum was soon heard; and the_ike to the tumultuous masses of block-ice when the great river Hudson break_p in Spring, the entire host of whales came tumbling upon their inner centre, as if to pile themselves up in one common mountain. Instantly Starbuck an_ueequeg changed places; Starbuck taking the stern.
“Oars! Oars!” he intensely whispered, seizing the helm—“gripe your oars, an_lutch your souls, now! My God, men, stand by! Shove him off, you Queequeg—th_hale there!—prick him!—hit him! Stand up—stand up, and stay so! Sprin_en—pull, men; never mind their backs—scrape them!—scrape away!”
The boat was now all but jammed between two vast black bulks, leaving a narro_ardanelles between their long lengths. But by desperate endeavor we at las_hot into a temporary opening; then giving way rapidly, and at the same tim_arnestly watching for another outlet. After many similar hair-breadt_scapes, we at last swiftly glided into what had just been one of the oute_ircles, but now crossed by random whales, all violently making for on_entre. This lucky salvation was cheaply purchased by the loss of Queequeg’_at, who, while standing in the bows to prick the fugitive whales, had his ha_aken clean from his head by the air-eddy made by the sudden tossing of a pai_f broad flukes close by.
Riotous and disordered as the universal commotion now was, it soon resolve_tself into what seemed a systematic movement; for having clumped together a_ast in one dense body, they then renewed their onward flight with augmente_leetness. Further pursuit was useless; but the boats still lingered in thei_ake to pick up what drugged whales might be dropped astern, and likewise t_ecure one which Flask had killed and waited. The waif is a pennoned pole, tw_r three of which are carried by every boat; and which, when additional gam_s at hand, are inserted upright into the floating body of a dead whale, bot_o mark its place on the sea, and also as token of prior possession, shoul_he boats of any other ship draw near.
The result of this lowering was somewhat illustrative of that sagacious sayin_n the Fishery,—the more whales the less fish. Of all the drugged whales onl_ne was captured. The rest contrived to escape for the time, but only to b_aken, as will hereafter be seen, by some other craft than the Pequod.