The Chase



That night, in the mid-watch, when the old man--as his wont at

intervals--stepped forth from the scuttle in which he leaned, and went

to his pivot-hole, he suddenly thrust out his face fiercely, snuffing

up the sea air as a sagacious ship's dog will, in drawing nigh to some

barbarous isle. He declared that a whale must be near. Soon that

peculiar odor, sometimes to a great distance given forth by the living

sperm whale, was palpable to all the watch; nor was any mariner

surprised when, after inspecting the compass, and then the dog-vane,

and then ascertaining the precise bearing of the odor as nearly as

possible, Ahab rapidly ordered the ship's course to be slightly

altered, and the sail to be shortened.



The acute policy dictating these movements was sufficiently vindicated

at daybreak, by the sight of a long sleek on the sea directly and

lengthwise ahead, smooth as oil, and resembling in the pleated watery

wrinkles bordering it, the polished metallic-like marks of some swift

tide-rip, at the mouth of a deep, rapid stream.



"Man the mast-heads! Call all hands!"



Thundering with the butts of three clubbed handspikes on the

forecastle deck, Daggoo roused the sleepers with such judgment claps

that they seemed to exhale from the scuttle, so instantaneously did

they appear with their clothes in their hands.

"What d'ye see?" cried Ahab, flattening his face to the sky.



"Nothing, nothing, sir!" was the sound hailing down in reply.



"T' gallant-sails! stunsails alow and aloft, and on both sides!"



All sails being set, he now cast loose the life-line, reserved for

swaying him to the main royal-masthead; and in a few moments they were

hoisting him thither, when, while but two-thirds of the way aloft, and

while peering ahead through the horizontal vacancy between the

main-topsail and topgallant sail, he raised a gull-like cry in the

air, "There, she blows!--there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It

is Moby Dick!"



Fired by the cry which seemed simultaneously taken up by the three

look-outs, the men on deck rushed to the rigging to behold the famous

whale they had so long been pursuing. Ahab had now gained his final

perch, some feet above the other lookouts, Tashtego standing just

beneath him on the cap of the topgallant-mast, so that the Indian's

head was almost on a level with Ahab's heel. From this height the

whale was now seen some mile or so ahead, at every roll of the sea

revealing his high sparkling hump, and regularly jetting his silent

spout into the air. To the incredulous mariners it seemed the same

silent spout they had so long ago beheld in the moonlit Atlantic and

Indian Oceans.



"And did none of ye see it before?" cried Ahab, hailing the perched

men all around him.



"I saw him almost that same instant, sir, that Captain Ahab did, and I

cried out," said Tashtego.



"Not the same instant; not the same--no, the doubloon is mine, Fate

reserved the doubloon for me. I only; none of ye could have raised

the white whale first. There she blows! there she blows!--there she

blows! There again!--there again!" he cried, in long-drawn, lingering,

methodic tones, attuned to the gradual prolongings of the whale's

visible jets. "He's going to sound! In stunsails! Down

topgallant-sails! Stand by three boats. Mr. Starbuck, remember, stay

on board, and keep the ship. Helm there! Luff, luff a point! So;

steady, man, steady! There go flukes! No, no; only black water! All

ready the boats there? Stand by, stand by! Lower me, Mr. Starbuck;

lower, lower,--quick, quicker!" and he slid through the air to the

deck.



"He is heading straight to leeward, sir," cried Stubb, "right away

from us; cannot have seen the ship yet."



"Be dumb, man! Stand by the braces! Hard down the helm!--brace up!

Shiver her!--shiver her! So; well that! Boats, boats!"



Soon all the boats but Starbuck's were dropped; all the boat-sails

set--all the paddles plying; with rippling swiftness, shooting to

leeward; and Ahab heading the onset. A pale, death-glimmer lit up

Fedallah's sunken eyes; a hideous motion gnawed his mouth.



Like noiseless nautilus shells, their light prows sped through the

sea; but only slowly they neared the foe. As they neared him, the

ocean grew still more smooth; seemed drawing a carpet over its waves;

seemed a noon-meadow, so serenely it spread. At length the breathless

hunter came so nigh his seemingly unsuspecting prey, that his entire

dazzling hump was distinctly visible, sliding along the sea as if an

isolated thing, and continually set in a revolving ring of finest,

fleecy, greenish foam. We saw the vast involved wrinkles of the

slightly projecting head beyond. Before it, far out on the soft

Turkish-rugged waters, went the glistening white shadow from his

broad, milky forehead, a musical rippling playfully accompanying the

shade; and behind, the blue waters interchangeably flowed over into

the moving valley of his steady wake; and on either hand bright

bubbles arose and danced by his side. But these were broken again by

the light toes of hundreds of gay fowl softly feathering the sea,

alternate with their fitful flight; and like to some flag-staff rising

from the painted hull of an argosy, the tall but shattered pole of a

recent lance projected from the white whale's back; and and intervals

one of the cloud of soft-toed fowls hovering, and to and fro skimming

like a canopy over the fish, silently perched and rocked on this pole,

the long tail feathers streaming like pennons.



A gentle joyousness--a mighty mildness of repose in swiftness, invested

the gliding whale. Not the white bull Jupiter swimming away with

ravished Europa clinging to his graceful horns; his lovely, leering

eyes sideways intent upon the maid; with smooth bewitching fleetness,

rippling straight for the nuptial bower in Crete; not Jove, not that

great majesty Supreme! did surpass the glorified white whale as he so

divinely swam.



On each soft side--coincident with the parted swell, that but once

leaving him, then flowed so wide away--on each bright side, the whale

shed off enticings. No wonder there had been some among the hunters

who namelessly transported and allured by all this serenity, had

ventured to assail it; but had fatally found that quietude but the

vesture of tornadoes. Yet calm, enticing calm, oh, whale! thou glidest

on, to all who for the first time eye thee, no matter how many in that

same way thou may'st have bejuggled and destroyed before.



And thus, through the serene tranquillities of the tropical sea, among

waves whose hand-clappings were suspended by exceeding rapture, Moby

Dick moved on, still withholding from sight the full terrors of his

submerged trunk, entirely hiding the wretched hideousness of his jaw.

But soon the fore part of him slowly rose from the water; for an

instant his whole marbleized body formed a high arch, like Virginia's

Natural Bridge, and warningly waving his bannered flukes in the air,

the grand god revealed himself, sounded, and went out of sight.

Hoveringly halting, and dipping on the wing, the white sea-fowls

longingly lingered over the agitated pool that he left.



With oars apeak, and paddles down, the sheets of their sails adrift,

the three boats now stilly floated, awaiting Moby Dick's reappearance.



"An hour," said Ahab, standing rooted in his boat's stern; and he

gazed beyond the whale's place, towards the dim blue spaces and wide

wooing vacancies to leeward. It was only an instant; for again his

eyes seemed whirling round in his head as he swept the watery circle.

The breeze now freshened. The sea began to swell.



"The birds! the birds!" cried Tashtego.



In long Indian file, as when herons take wing, the white birds were

now all flying towards Ahab's boat; and when within a few yards began

fluttering over the water there, wheeling round and round, with

joyous, expectant cries. Their vision was keener than man's. Ahab

could discover no sign in the sea. But suddenly as he peered down and

down into its depths, he profoundly saw a white living spot no bigger

than a white weasel, with wonderful celerity uprising, and magnifying

as it rose, till it turned, and then there were plainly revealed two

long crooked rows of white, glistening teeth, floating up the

undiscoverable bottom. It was Moby Dick's open mouth and scrolled jaw;

his vast, shadowed bulk still half blending with the blue of the sea.

The glittering mouth yawned beneath the boat like an open-doored

marble tomb; and giving one sidelong sweep with his steering oar, Ahab

whirled the craft aside from this tremendous apparition. Then, calling

upon Fedallah to change places with him, he went forward to the bows,

and seizing Perth's harpoon, commanded his crew to grasp their oars

and stand by to stern.



Now, by reason of this timely spinning round the boat upon its axis,

its bow, by anticipation, was made to face the whale's head while yet

under water. But as if perceiving this stratagem, Moby Dick, with that

malicious intelligence ascribed to him, sidelingly transplanted

himself, as it were, in an instant, shooting his plated head

lengthwise beneath the boat.



Through and through; through every plank and each rib, it thrilled for

an instant, the whale obliquely lying on his back, in the manner of a

biting shark, slowly and feelingly taking its bows full within his

mouth, so that the long, narrow, scrolled lower jaw curled high up

into the open air, and one of the teeth caught in a row-lock. The

bluish pearl-white of the inside of the jaw was within six inches of

Ahab's head, and reached higher than that. In this attitude the white

whale now shook the slight cedar as a mildly cruel cat her mouse. With

unastonished eyes Fedallah gazed, and crossed his arms; but the

tiger-yellow crew were tumbling over each other's heads to gain the

uttermost stern.



And now, while both elastic gunwales were springing in and out as the

whale dallied with the doomed craft in this devilish way, and from his

body being submerged beneath the boat, he could not be darted at from

the bows, for the bows were almost inside of him, as it were; and

while the other boats involuntarily paused, as before a quick crisis

impossible to withstand, then it was that monomaniac Ahab, furious

with this tantalizing vicinity of his foe, which placed him alive and

helpless in the very jaws he hated; frenzied with all this, he seized

the long bone with his naked hands, and wildly strove to wrench it

from its grip. As now he thus vainly strove, the jaw slipped from him;

the frail gunwales bent in, collapsed, and snapped, as both jaws, like

an enormous shears, sliding further aft, bit the craft completely in

twain, and locked themselves fast again in the sea, midway between the

two floating wrecks. These floated aside, the broken ends drooping,

the crew at the stern-wreck clinging to the gunwales, and striving to

hold fast to the oars to lash them across.



At that preluding moment, ere the boat was yet snapped, Ahab, the

first to perceive the whale's intent, by the crafty upraising of his

head, a movement that loosed his head for the time; at that moment his

hand had made one final effort to push the boat out of the bite. But

only slipping further into the whale's mouth, and tilting over

sideways as it slipped, the boat had shaken off his hold on the jaw,

spilled him out of it as he leaned to push, and so he fell flat-faced

upon the sea.



Ripplingly withdrawing from his prey, Moby Dick now lay at a little

distance, vertically thrusting his oblong white head up and down in

the billows, and at the same time slowly revolving his whole spindled

body, so that when his vast wrinkled forehead rose--some twenty or more

feet out of the water--the now rising swells, with all their confluent

waves, dazzling broke against it, vindictively tossing their shivered

spray still higher into the air.[4]



[Footnote 4: This motion is peculiar to the sperm whale. It receives

its designation (pitchpoling) from its being likened to that

preliminary up-and-down poise of the whale-lance, in the exercise

called pitchpoling. By this motion the whale must best and most

comprehensively view whatever objects may be encircling him. So, in a

gale, the but half-baffled Channel billows only recoil from the base

of the Eddystone, triumphantly to overleap its summit with their

scud.]



But soon resuming his horizontal attitude, Moby Dick swam swiftly

round and round the wrecked crew, sideways, churning the water in his

vengeful wake, as if lashing himself up to still another and more

deadly assault. The sight of the splintered boat seemed to madden him,

as the blood of grapes and mulberries cast before Antiochus's

elephants in the book of Maccabees. Meanwhile Ahab, half smothered in

the foam of the whale's insolent tail, and too much of a cripple to

swim,--though he could still keep afloat, even in the heart of such a

whirlpool as that,--helpless Ahab's head was seen, like a tossed bubble

which the least chance shock might burst. From the boat's fragmentary

stern, Fedallah incuriously and mildly eyed him; the clinging crew, at

the other drifting end, could not succor him; more than enough was it

for them to look to themselves. For so revolvingly appalling was the

white whale's aspect, and so planetarily swift the ever-contracting

circles he made, that he seemed horizontally swooping upon them. And

though the other boats, unharmed, still hovered hard by, still they

dared not pull into the eddy to strike, lest that should be the signal

for the instant destruction of the jeopardized castaways, Ahab and

all; nor in that case could they themselves hope to escape. With

straining eyes, then, they remained on the outer edge of the direful

zone, whose centre had now become the old man's head.



Meantime, from the beginning all this had been descried from the

ship's mastheads; and squaring her yards, she had borne down upon the

scene, and was now so nigh that Ahab in the water hailed her. "Sail on

the--" but that moment a breaking sea dashed on him from Moby Dick, and

whelmed him for the time. But struggling out of it again, and chancing

to rise on a towering crest, he shouted, "Sail on the whale!--Drive him

off!"



The Pequod's prows were pointed; and breaking up the charmed circle,

she effectually parted the white whale from his victim. As he sullenly

swam off, the boats flew to the rescue.



Dragged into Stubb's boat with blood-shot, blinded eyes, the white

brine caking in his wrinkles, the long tension of Ahab's bodily

strength did crack, and helplessly he yielded to his body's doom: for

a time, lying all crushed in the bottom of Stubb's boat, like one

trodden under foot of herds of elephants. Far inland, nameless wails

came from him, as desolate sounds from out ravines.



But this intensity of his physical prostration did but so much the

more abbreviate it. In an instant's compass great hearts sometimes

condense to one great pang, the sum total of those shallow pains

kindly diffused through feebler men's whole lives. And so, such

hearts, though summary in each one suffering, still (if the gods

decree it) in their lifetime aggregate a whole age of woe, wholly made

up of instantaneous intensities; for even in their pointless centres

those noble natures contain the entire circumferences of inferior

souls.



"The harpoon," said Ahab, half-way rising, and draggingly leaning on

one bended arm, "is it safe?"



"Aye, sir, for it was not darted; this is it," said Stubb, showing it.



"Lay it before me; any missing men?"



"One, two, three, four, five; there were five oars, sir, and here are

five men."



"That's good. Help me, man; I wish to stand. So, so, I see him! there!

there! going to leeward still; what a leaping spout!--Hands off from

me! The eternal sap runs up in Ahab's bones again! Set the sail; out

oars; the helm!"



It is often the case that when a boat is stove, its crew, being picked

up by another boat, help to work that second boat; and the chase is

thus continued with what is called double-banked oars. It was thus

now. But the added power of the boat did not equal the added power of

the whale, for he seemed to have treble-banked his every fin--swimming

with a velocity which plainly showed that if now, under these

circumstances, pushed on, the chase would prove an indefinitely

prolonged (if not a hopeless) one; nor could any crew endure for so

long a period such an unintermitted, intense straining at the oar--a

thing barely tolerable only in some one brief vicissitude. The ship

itself, then, as it sometimes happens, offered the most promising

intermediate means of overtaking the chase. Accordingly, the boats now

made for her, and were soon swayed up to their cranes--the two parts of

the wrecked boat having been previously secured by her; and then

hoisting everything to her side, and stacking her canvas high up, and

sideways outstretching it with stun-sails, like the double-jointed

wings of an albatross, the Pequod bore down in the wake of Moby Dick.

At the well-known, methodic intervals, the whale's glittering spout

was regularly announced from the manned mastheads; and when he would

be reported as just gone down, Ahab would take the time, and then

pacing the deck, binnacle-watch in hand, so soon as the last second of

the allotted hour expired, his voice was heard. "Whose is the doubloon

now? D'ye see him?" And if the reply was, "No, sir," straightway he

commanded them to lift him to his perch. In this way the day wore on;

Ahab, now aloft and motionless; anon, unrestingly pacing the planks.



As he was thus walking, uttering no sound, except to hail the men

aloft, or to bid them to hoist a sail still higher, or to spread one

to a still greater breadth, thus to and fro pacing, beneath his

slouched hat, at every turn he passed his own wrecked boat, which had

been dropped upon the quarter-deck, and lay there reversed; broken bow

to shattered stern. At last he paused before it; and as in an already

over-clouded sky fresh troops of clouds will sometimes sail across, so

over the old man's face there now stole some such added gloom as this.



Stubb saw him pause; and perhaps intending, not vainly, though, to

evince his own unabated fortitude, and thus keep up a valiant place in

his captain's mind, he advanced, and eying the wreck exclaimed, "The

thistle the ass refused. It pricked his mouth too keenly, sir; ha!

ha!"



"What soulless thing is this that laughs before a wreck? Man, man! did

I not know thee brave as fearless fire (and as mechanical) I could

swear thou wert a poltroon. Groan nor laugh should be heard before a

wreck."



"Aye, sir," said Starbuck drawing near, "'tis a solemn sight; an omen,

and an ill one."



"Omen? omen?--the dictionary! If the gods think to speak outright to

man, they will honorably speak outright; not shake their heads, and

give an old wife's darkling hint. Begone! Ye two are the opposite

poles of one thing. Starbuck is Stubb reversed, and Stubb is Starbuck;

and ye two are all mankind; and Ahab stands alone among the millions

of the peopled earth, nor gods nor men his neighbors! Cold, cold--I

shiver! How now? Aloft there! D'ye see him? Sing out for every spout,

though he spout ten times a second!"



The day was nearly done; only the hem of his golden robe was rustling.

Soon, it was almost dark, but the look-out men still remained unset.



"Can't see the spout now, sir;--too dark," cried a voice from the air.



"How heading when last seen?"



"As before, sir,--straight to leeward."



"Good! he will travel slower now 'tis night. Down royals and

top-gallant stun-sails, Mr. Starbuck. We must not run over him before

morning. He's making a passage now, and may heave-to a while. Helm

there! keep her full before the wind!--Aloft! come down!--Mr. Stubb,

send a fresh hand to the foremast head, and see it manned till

morning." Then advancing towards the doubloon in the mainmast, "Men,

this gold is mine, for I earned it; but I shall let it abide here till

the white whale is dead; and then, whosoever of ye first raises him,

upon the day he shall be killed, this gold is that man's; and if on

that day I shall again raise him, then, ten times its sum shall be

divided among all of ye! Away now!--the deck is thine, sir."



And so saying, he placed himself halfway within the scuttle, and

slouching his hat, stood there till dawn, except when at intervals

rousing himself to see how the night wore on....





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