Moby Dick Reborn: The Ultimate Modern Reader-Friendly Edition
Free PDF Download and Text online
Moby Dick Reborn: A Modern Tale of Obsessive Pursuit
Revitalizing the Epic Adventure and Lament for Recreational Readers
*Rewritten at a High School Reading Level
By: Levi F. Barber
To the Reader:
Welcome to this modernized retelling of the timeless classic, Moby Dick, in “Moby Dick Reborn.” As the author of “Moby Dick in 101 Pages,” I embarked on this endeavor with the intention of bringing Herman Melville’s epic tale to life for modern readers, including high school students and recreational readers. In this retelling, we sought to trim the blubber of the original Moby Dick and make it an exciting and engaging experience.
Just like the colossal white whale that haunts the pages of Melville’s masterpiece, the story of Moby Dick has left an indelible mark on literary history, captivating and challenging readers for generations. Its themes of obsession, revenge, and the unforgiving power of nature continue to resonate with readers today. We honor the profound impact that the original work has had while infusing it with a contemporary lens, making it accessible and relevant for today’s audiences.
Throughout the years, the character of Captain Ahab has become an iconic figure, representing the relentless pursuit of one’s goals and the dangers of unchecked ambition. In “Moby Dick Reborn,” we delve into the complexities of Ahab’s character, exploring his motivations and inner demons in a way that speaks to modern sensibilities. Our goal is to capture the essence of Melville’s tale while offering a fresh perspective that engages readers of all ages.
To you, the reader, we extend an invitation to join us on this thrilling journey. As we set sail on the Pequod, we invite you to experience the gripping intensity of the hunt for the great white whale, the camaraderie among the diverse crew members, and the timeless questions raised about humanity’s place in the vastness of the natural world. Together, let us rediscover the adventure, the danger, and the profound philosophical insights that lie within the pages of “Moby Dick Reborn.”
We hope that this modernized retelling will reignite your imagination, ignite your sense of curiosity, and allow you to appreciate the enduring relevance of Melville’s literary masterpiece. So, dear reader, brace yourself for the tempestuous seas, sharpen your harpoons, and prepare to be enthralled as we embark on this epic voyage once more.
Yours in the spirit of adventure and the pursuit of knowledge,
Levi F. Barber
Chapter 1. Call me Ishmael
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind exactly how long ago—when I was poor (though I still am, just less so now) and had nothing interesting happening on land, I decided to embark on a little sailing adventure and explore the watery part of the world. Whenever I feel gloomy and restless, like a wet and drizzly November day, I know it’s high time to set sail and leave for the sea. It’s my way of finding solace, my alternative to pistol and ball. There’s nothing surprising about it. If more men knew the ocean as I do, they would feel nearly the same way about it.
Now, let me clarify that when I say I go to sea, I don’t mean I travel as a passenger. To be a passenger, you need money in your wallet, without it they don’t let you onboard. Besides, passengers often get seasick, become argumentative, have trouble sleeping, and generally don’t enjoy themselves. No, I never go as a passenger, nor do I assume the roles of a Commodore, a Captain, or a Cook on a ship. I leave the glory and distinction of such positions to those who desire them. Personally, I reject all honorable and respectable responsibilities, tasks, and difficulties of any kind. Taking care of myself is challenging enough without having to worry about others in my command. And as for being a cook, while there may be some glory in that role as an officer on a ship, I’ve never been fond of grilling poultry.
When I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor. It’s true that they boss me around and make me hop from one part of the ship to another like a grasshopper in a meadow. Initially, this can be unpleasant, especially when it challenges my sense of honor, particularly if you come from a long-established family of political influence. But even that feeling eventually fades away.
So what if some old sea captain orders me to grab a broom and sweep the decks? How much does that slight really matter, especially when weighed against the teachings of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel would think any less of me because I respectfully and promptly obey that old captain in that particular instance? Who isn’t a slave in some way? Tell me that. Well then, no matter how the old sea captains may order me around, no matter how much they may thump and push me, I find solace in knowing that it’s all part of the experience. Everyone else is treated in similar ways, whether physically or metaphorically. So, we all share in the universal experience of being knocked around, and we should pat each other on the back and be content.
Furthermore, I choose to go to sea as a sailor because they actually pay me for my efforts, whereas passengers never receive a single penny. On the contrary, passengers must pay for their voyage. And there’s a world of difference between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable burden imposed upon us, as if we were thieves caught in an orchard. But being paid—what a feeling! The graceful manner in which a person receives money is astonishing, considering that we firmly believe money to be the root of all earthly troubles and that a man with money cannot enter heaven under any circumstances. Ah, how willingly we condemn ourselves to damnation!
Lastly, I choose to go to sea as a sailor because of the invigorating exercise and the fresh air. Just as in this world, headwinds are more common than tailwinds, so, for the most part, the Commodore on the upper deck breathes the air secondhand from the sailors on the lower deck. He believes he breathes it first, but that’s not the case. Similarly, the common people often lead their leaders in various aspects without the leaders even realizing it.
Now, you might wonder why, after spending time as a merchant sailor and repeatedly smelling the sea, I would suddenly decide to embark on a whaling voyage. The invisible officer of Fate, who keeps a constant watch over me, secretly follows my every move and influences me in inexplicable ways, can answer that better than anyone else.
Undoubtedly, my decision to join this whaling voyage was part of a grand plan orchestrated by Providence long ago. I imagine that the script for this part of my life must have looked something like this:
“Highly Contested Presidential Election in the United States.
Whaling Voyage Led by a Sailor Named Ishmael.
Intense Battle in Afghanistan.”
Although I cannot fathom why the Fates assigned me this seemingly insignificant role on a whaling voyage when others were destined for grand parts in dramatic events, I can somewhat understand the motivations and impulses that led me to take on the role I did.
Chief among those motivations was the overwhelming fascination with the magnificent whale itself. The sheer size and mystery of such a creature awakened my curiosity. Additionally, the allure of venturing into the wild and distant seas where these creatures roamed, facing nameless dangers, and witnessing countless extraordinary sights and sounds, played a significant role in driving my desire. Perhaps, for other individuals, these things wouldn’t have been enticing, but for me, I am plagued by an insatiable longing for remote and unexplored territories. I relish the idea of sailing across forbidden seas and setting foot on untamed shores.
For these reasons, the whaling voyage was a welcome opportunity. It opened the floodgates to a world of wonders, stirring a wild vanity within me and etching an image of the magnificent procession of whales in my soul, with one grand, hooded phantom at their center, like a snow hill in the air.
And so, driven by curiosity, a thirst for the unknown, and a touch of destiny, I embarked on this extraordinary journey, ready to face the trials and tribulations that awaited me in the vast expanse of the ocean.
Chapter 2. New Bedford
I hastily packed a few shirts into my worn carpet-bag, slung it over my arm, and set off towards Cape Horn and the Pacific. Leaving behind the bustling city of Manhattan, I arrived in New Bedford on a cold Saturday night in December, only to find out that the vessel bound for Nantucket had already departed, leaving me stranded until the following Monday.
Many young aspiring whalers choose to stop in New Bedford before setting sail, but I had no intention of following suit. My heart was set on boarding a Nantucket ship. There was something wild and captivating about everything associated with that legendary island, and it greatly intrigued me.
Although New Bedford has gradually taken over the whaling industry in recent years, Nantucket was the true pioneer—the birthplace of American whaling. It was from Nantucket that the indigenous whale hunters, the Red-Men, first ventured forth in their canoes to chase after the mighty Leviathan.
Now faced with a night, a day, and another night in New Bedford before I could proceed to my intended destination, finding a place to eat and sleep became a matter of concern.
The night was ominous, shrouded in darkness and bitter cold. I knew no one in the town, and as I nervously fumbled through my pockets, I found only a few silver coins. “Wherever you end up, Ishmael,” I murmured to myself, standing in the desolate street with my bag, surveying the gloom to the north and the darkness to the south, “be sure to inquire about the price and don’t be too picky.”
I walked the streets with uncertain steps, passing by “The Crossed Harpoons” sign, which appeared too expensive and jovial for my current situation. Keep going, Ishmael, I whispered, urging myself forward. By instinct, I found myself gravitating towards the waterfront, where the inns were likely to be cheaper, if not particularly cheerful.
Those desolate streets seemed to stretch endlessly—blocks of darkness rather than houses. At this late hour on the final day of the week, that quarter of the town appeared nearly deserted. Eventually, I stumbled upon a dimly lit building with an invitingly open door. It had an air of casualness, as if it were meant for public use. Entering, I promptly tripped over an ash-box in the entrance. Ah, I thought, as the swirling ash particles nearly choked me, are these ashes from the destroyed city of Gomorrah? Shaking off my misstep, I heard a loud voice from within and proceeded to open a second door.
To my surprise, a hundred dark faces turned towards me, and in the pulpit stood a black Angel of Doom, vigorously thumping a book. It was a black church, and the preacher’s sermon focused on the darkness of despair and the ensuing weeping and gnashing of teeth. Ha, Ishmael, I muttered, this ain’t for you, and I quickly retreated.
Continuing my way, I eventually arrived at a dimly lit spot not far from the docks. A mournful creaking sound filled the air, and when I looked up, I spotted a swinging sign over the door. Faintly painted on it was the representation of a tall, misty spray of water, accompanied by the words, “The Spouter Inn: Peter Coffin.”
“Coffin? Spouter?” I thought with a touch of unease. Such a combination seemed rather ominous. Yet, I knew that Coffin was a common name in Nantucket, and I assumed this Peter might be an emigrant from there. Despite the dim lighting and the overall quietness of the place, I decided to enter. The dilapidated wooden structure appeared as if it were salvaged from the remnants of a burned district. The swinging sign emitted a creaking sound that spoke of poverty. I surmised that this humble establishment was the ideal choice for affordable lodgings and a warm cup of pea coffee.
The inn had a peculiar charm to it—an old house with a sloping, almost trembling gable end. It stood on a sharp and desolate corner where the ferocious wind, known as Euroclydon, howled even more fiercely than it did around poor Paul’s storm-tossed vessel.
But enough of these melancholic thoughts. We are about to embark on a whaling adventure, and there will be plenty of challenges ahead. Let us shake off the frost from our icy feet and venture inside to explore what this “Spouter Inn” has in store for us.
CHAPTER 3. The Spouter-Inn
As I stepped into the gable-shaped Spouter-Inn, the atmosphere immediately transported me back in time, like the weathered paneling of an ancient vessel. The wide, low entryway greeted me, exuding a sense of abandonment and mystery. A massive oil painting adorned one side, its surface engulfed by smoke and marred by time, leaving its purpose shrouded in obscurity. Only through persistent study, repeated visits, and curious conversations with the locals could I hope to unravel its enigmatic nature.
The painting played tricks on my eyes, with inexplicable masses of shades and shadows that defied logical explanation. However, with intense contemplation and the aid of a small window at the back of the entryway, a daring thought began to take shape in my mind. Perhaps, against all reason, there was some validity to this wild idea.
Yet, what truly perplexed and confounded me was the long, sinewy, foreboding mass that hovered menacingly at the painting’s center. It emitted an eerie, murky quality that could send shivers down the spine of even the most composed person. And yet, amidst the disconcerting scene, there was an indescribable grandeur that held me captive, compelling me to make a silent vow to unravel the profound meaning behind this remarkable artwork.
Was it a tempestuous Black Sea during a midnight gale? Or perhaps a scene from a frigid wilderness? Could it symbolize the unraveling of time’s icy grip on our existence? Eventually, all these whimsical interpretations faded away, yielding to the overwhelming presence of that central element in the painting. Once I unlocked its significance, everything else would surely fall into place. But hold on—did it not bear a faint resemblance to a colossal fish? Could it be the legendary Leviathan itself?
In my own interpretation, influenced by the collective wisdom of the aged individuals I had conversed with on the matter, the artist’s design revealed itself. The painting depicted a daring Cape-Horner caught in the midst of a ferocious hurricane. The ship, battered and half-sunken, exposed its three dismantled masts, while an enraged whale, driven to madness, attempted to vault over the vessel, impaling itself upon the mastheads in a monumental act of defiance.
Opposite the painting, the entryway wall displayed an array of imposing clubs and spears. I couldn’t help but shudder as I gazed upon these formidable tools, wondering what kind of savage and cannibalistic beings could wield such horrifying implements of death. Among them, rusty and broken, were ancient whaling lances and harpoons, each with its own tale to tell. One such lance, now wildly curved, had once been wielded by Nathan Swain, who single-handedly vanquished fifteen whales between sunrise and sunset half a century ago.
The Spouter-Inn’s entrance exuded a sense of mystery and historical significance, captivating my imagination and leaving me yearning to uncover the stories concealed within its weathered walls.
As I passed through the dusky entry and entered the public room, a sense of deep shadow and antiquity enveloped me. The low ceiling bore heavy beams, and beneath my feet, ancient, wrinkled planks creaked with every step. At one corner of the room jutted a dark-looking den, a crude imitation of a right whale’s head—the bar. Inside, shabby shelves held a collection of old decanters, bottles, and flasks. Within the jaws of this swift destruction, like a cursed Jonah, a withered old man bustled about, selling delirium and death to sailors in exchange for their money.
Upon my arrival, I noticed several young seamen huddled around a table, examining scrimshaw specimens under a dim light. Seeking out the landlord, I requested a room, only to be informed that every bed was occupied. “But hold on,” he added, tapping his forehead. “You don’t mind sharing a harpooner’s blanket, do you? I reckon you’re going whaling, so you better get accustomed to such arrangements.”
I expressed my aversion to sharing a bed with another person, stating that if it came to that, it would depend on the character of the harpooner. If the individual was not objectionable, and the landlord truly had no other options available, I would accept half of a decent person’s blanket.
“I thought so. Very well, take a seat. Do you desire supper? Supper will be served shortly.”
Eventually, four or five of us were called to partake in our meal in an adjoining room. It felt as cold as Iceland, with no fire to provide warmth—the landlord claimed he couldn’t afford it. Nevertheless, the fare offered was hearty, consisting not only of meat and potatoes but also dumplings. Good heavens! Dumplings for supper!
“My dear sir,” said the landlord, “you’re in for a night of troubled sleep, I assure you,” he remarked with a diabolically funny expression. “The harpooner is a dark-complexioned fellow. He never eats dumplings, mind you. He only indulges in rare steaks.”
“The devil you say,” I exclaimed. “Where is this harpooner? Is he present?”
“He’ll be here shortly,” came the response.
I couldn’t help but feel suspicious of this “dark-complexioned” harpooner. Moreover, it was getting late, and a respectable harpooner should be home and in bed by now. What if he were to stumble into our shared sleeping quarters at midnight? How could I discern the origins of such a disreputable character?
“Landlord! I have reconsidered my decision regarding the harpooner. I shall not sleep with him. I will make do with this bench here.”
“Just as you wish. I apologize for not providing a tablecloth for a mattress, and the board is rough,” he said, running his fingers over the knots and notches.
I measured the bench and discovered it was a foot too short, but that could be fixed with a chair. However, it was also a foot too narrow, and the other bench in the room stood four inches higher, making it impossible to connect them. Thus, I placed the first bench lengthwise against the wall, leaving a small gap for me to settle my back. However, a chilling draft seeped in from under the window sill, rendering this plan unsuitable, especially since another draft from the rickety door intersected with it. Together, they created a series of small whirlwinds near the spot where I had intended to spend the night.
May the devil take that harpooner, I thought.
Surveying the room once more, I realized there was no conceivable way for me to have a tolerable night unless I found another person’s bed to sleep in. I began to consider that my prejudiced feelings towards this unknown harpooner might be unwarranted. Perhaps, upon closer inspection, we could become amiable bedfellows. After all, there was no telling what might transpire.
However, as more boarders trickled into the room, retiring to their beds one by one, there was still no sign of the harpooner.
“Landlord,” I called out, “what sort of fellow is he? Does he always keep such late hours?” It was nearly midnight by then.
The landlord chuckled once again, his lean chuckle resonating with amusement that eluded my comprehension. “No,” he replied, “normally he’s an early riser and an early sleeper, the kind of man who catches the worm. But tonight, you see, he went out peddling, and I can’t fathom why he’s so tardy unless, perhaps, he’s having trouble selling the heads of his.”
“Can’t sell the heads of his? What kind of absurd story is this?” I exclaimed, my anger rising. “Are you suggesting, landlord, that this harpooner is truly occupied on this blessed Saturday night, or rather Sunday morning, peddling decapitated heads around town?”
“That’s precisely it,” the landlord confirmed, a twinkle in his eye. “I told him he wouldn’t find any buyers here. The market’s oversaturated.”
“With what?” I shouted.
“With heads, of course. Aren’t there already too many heads in the world?”
“This is preposterous,” I retorted, my temper flaring. “Landlord, I advise you to cease spinning this yarn—I am not gullible.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he said, taking out a stick and whittling a toothpick. “But I reckon you’ll be quite surprised if that harpooner hears you maligning his heads.”
“I’ll give him a piece of my mind,” I declared, my anger resurfacing at the absurdity of the landlord’s tale.
“It’s already been done,” he nonchalantly replied.
“Done?” I repeated incredulously. “What do you mean, done?”
“Landlord,” I said, approaching him calmly despite my mounting frustration, “please stop whittling. We must come to an understanding, and quickly. I have come to your establishment seeking a bed. You inform me that only half a bed is available, the other half belonging to a certain harpooner. Regarding this harpooner, whom I have yet to lay eyes upon, you persist in telling the most bewildering and exasperating tales, arousing in me a sense of unease towards the individual designated as my bed companion. Such a connection, landlord, implies the utmost intimacy and trust. Therefore, I demand that you speak plainly and disclose the true nature of this harpooner. Will it be safe for me to spend the night with him? Furthermore, I insist that you retract the absurd story of him selling his heads, for if that were true, it would be strong evidence of his insanity. I have no intention of sharing a bed with a madman, and should you knowingly encourage such an arrangement, you would find yourself liable to criminal prosecution.”
The landlord took a deep breath before responding, “Well, that’s quite a lengthy sermon for a man who occasionally loses his temper. But fret not, fret not. This harpooner I’ve been speaking of has just arrived from the South Seas, where he acquired a collection of preserved New Zealand heads. They’re remarkable ornaments, you know.”
The landlord ushered me up and I surveyed my sleeping quarters, I realized I would soon be sharing a bed with a peculiar and possibly dangerous individual. My mind raced with thoughts of cannibalism and savagery, fueled by the stranger’s appearance and the landlord’s cryptic stories.
I sat on the side of the bed, deep in thought about the head-peddling harpooneer. After a while, I took off my jacket and stood in the middle of the room, contemplating further. The cold began to settle in the room and remembering the landlord’s words about the harpooneer not returning that night, I quickly undressed, removing my pantaloons and boots. With no hesitation, I blew out the light, jumped into bed, and entrusted myself to the care of heaven.
The mattress, whether filled with corn-cobs or broken crockery, was uncomfortable, and I tossed and turned, unable to find sleep for a long time. Eventually, I drifted into a light doze, making progress toward the land of nod when I heard heavy footsteps in the hallway and saw a faint glimmer of light under the door.
Fearing it was the harpooneer, the infamous head-peddler, I resolved to remain silent and not utter a word until spoken to. Carrying a light in one hand and the same New Zealand head in the other, the stranger entered the room. Without casting a glance towards the bed, he placed his candle in a corner, a distance away from me, and began working on untying the knots of his large bag.
Curiosity compelled me to catch a glimpse of his face, but he kept it turned away for a while, occupied with loosening the bag’s mouth. Eventually, he turned around, and to my astonishment, I beheld an extraordinary sight. His face was of a dark, purplish-yellow hue, adorned with large black squares. It confirmed my suspicion—he was an alarming bedfellow, having been in a fight and suffered severe cuts, evident from his freshly treated wounds. Yet, as he shifted his face towards the light, I discerned that those black squares were not bandages at all, but rather stains of some kind.
Initially, I struggled to comprehend this revelation, but soon it dawned upon me. I recalled a tale of a white whaleman who, when captured by cannibals, had been tattooed by them. I surmised that this harpooneer must have undergone a similar experience during his extensive voyages.
And in the end, it’s only his external appearance. A man’s character isn’t defined by the colors on his skin.
While these thoughts raced through my mind, the harpooneer remained oblivious to my presence. After some effort, he managed to open his bag and began rummaging inside. Eventually, he extracted a tomahawk and a wallet made of seal-skin with the hair still intact. Placing these items on an old chest in the center of the room, he then retrieved a ghastly New Zealand head and forcefully shoved it into the bag. To my surprise, he removed his hat—a new beaver hat—and revealed a nearly bald head, save for a small scalp-knot on his forehead. His purplish, bald head now resembled a moldy skull.
If the stranger hadn’t stood between me and the door, I would have bolted out of it faster than I’ve ever bolted a pastor’s sermon.
Even so, I briefly considered escaping through the window, but it was located on the second floor. I’m not a coward, but the presence of this head-peddling, purple-faced rascal bewildered me entirely. Ignorance breeds fear, and utterly perplexed by the stranger, I confess that I was now as terrified of him as if he were the devil himself intruding into my room in the dead of night.
As the harpooneer continued his undressing, his body revealed the same dark squares that adorned his face, my apprehension intensified. The sight of his checkered chest, arms, and back, coupled with his leg markings resembling crawling green frogs, only solidified my belief that he was an uncivilized savage from the South Seas.
Then, the savage began a series of peculiar rituals and my fear intensified. Observing him produce a deformed wooden idol from his coat pocket, I watched with both horror and fascination as he set it up in the empty fireplace, transforming it into a makeshift shrine. With great care, he placed shavings and a piece of ship biscuit before the idol, igniting them into a sacrificial blaze.
Then he made strange guttural noises, akin to prayers or pagan chants, while his face contorted in unnatural ways. The unsettling display only heightened my discomfort, and I grew increasingly aware that his bizarre actions were leading to an imminent conclusion, likely involving him joining me in bed.
Before I could gather the courage to speak, the savage picked up his tomahawk, examined its head, and puffed tobacco smoke into the darkness. In an instant, the light was extinguished, and the wild cannibal, with the tomahawk clenched between his teeth, leaped into bed beside me.
Startled, I cried out in fear, rolling away from him and desperately calling for help. He began feeling me, and in my panic, I stammered unintelligible words, attempting to reason with him and convince him to let me light the lamp again. But his responses indicated that he couldn’t understand my pleas.
With the tomahawk still brandished menacingly, he growled, threatening my life. As his terrifying movements scattered hot tobacco ashes around me, I thought I might catch fire. I finally managed to cry out in fear:
“Landlord, for God’s sake, the Devil himself!” I shouted. “Landlord! Watch! Devils! Angels! Anyone save me!”
At that critical moment, the landlord burst into the room, carrying a light, and I leaped out of bed, running to him for safety.
The landlord, grinning, reassured me, stating that Queequeg wouldn’t harm me. Frustrated, I questioned why he hadn’t informed me earlier that the harpooneer was a cannibal. The landlord expressed surprise, assuming I already knew, as he had mentioned the harpooneer peddling heads around town. He advised me to go back to sleep and assured me that Queequeg understood my desire to sleep separately.
Queequeg, sitting up in bed and puffing on his pipe, gestured for me to join him, indicating that he would not harm me.
“I won’t touch a leg of ye.”
“Good night, landlord,” said I, “you may go.”
Reflecting on the situation, I realized that despite his tattooed appearance, he was a clean and presentable cannibal. I reassured myself, realizing that he had as much reason to fear me as I did him. In fact, I thought, it might be safer to sleep beside a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.
Addressing the landlord, I requested that he ask Queequeg to stow his tomahawk and cease smoking in bed, emphasizing the potential danger and my lack of insurance. The message was conveyed, and Queequeg complied, motioning for me to get into bed while ensuring he would keep his distance.
With a final farewell to the landlord, I settled into bed, surprisingly finding a sense of security and peace. I drifted off to sleep, and never slept better in my life.
CHAPTER 4. Queequeg
As the morning light broke upon my sleep, I found myself embraced by Queequeg’s arm in a manner so tender and affectionate that one might have mistaken me for his dearly beloved spouse. The bedspread, a patchwork of curious little squares and triangles, seemed to mirror his arm, adorned as it was with an intricate tapestry of Cretan labyrinth designs, each section imbued with a unique shade, a consequence, I surmise, of his unmethodical exposure to both sun and shade during his seafaring exploits, with his shirt sleeves haphazardly rolled up at various intervals. Indeed, the arm appeared as though it were an extension of the very quilt itself, so seamlessly did their colors blend. Initially, as I awoke, the arm draped over me so closely that it was scarcely distinguishable from the patchwork quilt. Only the weight and pressure convinced me that it was indeed Queequeg who clung to me in such an intimate embrace.
My emotions were peculiar, and I shall attempt to describe them.
During my childhood, I distinctly recall an incident of similar nature, though I cannot definitively ascertain if it was reality or merely a product of my dreams. It happened like this: I believe I was attempting to climb the chimney, having witnessed a diminutive chimney sweep perform such an act a few days prior. My stepmother, who perpetually chastised me or denied me supper, seized hold of my legs and forcibly dragged me from the chimney, forcing me to my bed. Mind you, this incident transpired at a mere two o’clock in the afternoon and I was in no mood for sleep.
Lying there, I drearily calculated that a grueling sixteen hours must elapse before I could entertain the thought of getting out of bed. Sixteen hours lying in bed! The mere thought of it caused my lower back to ache.
And the room was so luminous, sunlight pouring in through the window, accompanied by the sound of carriages in the streets and the cheerful chatter of voices permeating the entire household. I felt increasingly miserable with each passing moment. Eventually, unable to bear my torment, I rose from bed, dressed in silence, and stealthily descended the stairs. I sought out my stepmother and, unexpectedly, threw myself at her feet, begging her, as an extraordinary favor, to subject me to a strong punishment for my misdeeds, anything but consigning me to such my bed for so long.
Alas, she was not the paragon of virtue or conscientiousness in the realm of stepmothers, and thus, I was compelled to retreat to my chamber. For countless hours, I lay there, fully alert, feeling more wretched than I have ever felt. Eventually, I must have slipped into an uneasy doze, a twilight state between dream and reality. As I gradually roused from my slumber, my eyes barely open, I found myself shrouded in impenetrable darkness. In that moment, a profound shock coursed through my entire being. I could perceive nothing but an ethereal touch, an intangible hand enveloping mine. My arm dangled over the bed, and the enigmatic, indescribable form or specter, to which the hand belonged, seemed to be seated closely by my bedside. For what seemed like an eternity upon eternity, I lay there, paralyzed by an overwhelming dread, afraid to withdraw my hand, yet hoping that the slightest movement might shatter this ghastly enchantment.
I knew not how this awareness eventually slipped away from me. Still, as I awoke in the morning, a shiver ran down my spine as I vividly recollected the encounter, and for days, weeks, and months thereafter, I found myself entangled in futile attempts to unravel the enigma.
Indeed, even now, to this very hour, I find myself pondering over it, occasionally confounding my own senses with its perplexity.
Now, remove the aspect of terror, and the peculiar sensations I experienced upon feeling that supernatural hand in mine bore a remarkable resemblance, in their bewildering nature, to those I encountered when I awakened to find Queequeg’s pagan arm draped around me.
Yet, despite being sound asleep, he clung to me with unwavering fervor, as if only death itself could sever our connection. I endeavored to rouse him from his slumber, calling out, “Queequeg!” Yet, his only response was a gentle snore. I turned over, my neck feeling as though it were ensnared in a horse’s collar when suddenly, a faint scratching sensation met my senses. Casting aside the blanket, there lay the tomahawk, nestled beside the savage as though it were a slumbering child with a visage as sharp as an axe. A fine predicament indeed, I thought to myself, finding myself confined to a bed in a foreign hotel, the sun high in the sky, in the company of a cannibal and a tomahawk.
“Queequeg!” I exclaimed, with a sense of urgency, “I implore you, Queequeg, awaken!”
He withdrew his arm, shook himself as vigorously as a Newfoundland dog emerging from the water, and sat up in bed, gazing at me with a puzzled expression, rubbing his eyes as if struggling to recall how I came to be present. Finally, he leapt from the bed, landing firmly on the floor, and through gestures and sounds, indicated that, should it please me, he would proceed with his own dressing first, allowing me the room to dress afterward, granting me exclusive access to the entire chamber. Ah, I thought to myself, Queequeg, under these circumstances, your proposition is remarkably civilized. Truly, these savages possess an inherent sense of decorum, regardless of what one might say to the contrary. I bestow this particular praise upon Queequeg, for he treated me with utmost courtesy and consideration, despite my blatant rudeness, as I scrutinized him intently from my bed, observing his every movement, my curiosity momentarily overpowering me.
Yet, a man of Queequeg’s caliber is a rare sight, a spectacle not encountered in one’s daily existence, and his customs and idiosyncrasies were undeniably worthy of observation.
I swiftly descended into the bar-room, approaching the grinning landlord with an amiable demeanor. The bar-room was now brimming with young boarders who had trickled in the previous night. They were mostly whalemen—chief mates, second mates, third mates, sea carpenters, sea coopers, sea blacksmiths, harpooneers, and ship keepers—an assemblage of rugged individuals adorned with beards that seemed to blend with the surroundings. You could easily discern how long each one had been on land.
“Food, ahoy!” the landlord called out, swinging open a door, and we entered to partake in breakfast.
I anticipated hearing enthralling tales about the art of whaling; however, to my astonishment, a heavy silence enveloped the room. Not only that, but they appeared uneasy, their discomfort evident. Yes, here were a group of sea-hardened men, many of whom had fearlessly boarded mighty whales on the high seas, vanquishing them without flinching; and yet, they now sat around a communal breakfast table—sharing the same occupation, harboring similar interests—glancing sheepishly at one another. A peculiar sight indeed: bashful bears, timid warrior whalemen!
As for Queequeg, he sat among them, unruffled, at the head of the table, as composed as an icicle. His staunchest admirer would have struggled to justify his decision to bring his harpoon to the breakfast table, perilously extending it over the heads of fellow diners, seizing the beefsteaks with a firm grip. Yet, he executed the act with remarkable composure, and it is widely known that conducting oneself calmly is synonymous with gracefulness in most people’s estimation.
We need not delve into all of Queequeg’s idiosyncrasies here; how he abstained from coffee and hot rolls, directing his unwavering focus towards rare-cooked beefsteaks. It suffices to say that after breakfast, he, like the others, retreated to the public room, ignited his tomahawk-pipe, and sat there tranquilly, engrossed in digestion and smoke, his inseparable hat adorning his head, as I ventured out for a leisurely stroll.
If I had been astounded by the sight of Queequeg, an extraordinary individual, mingling in the refined society of a civilized town, that astonishment swiftly waned as I embarked on my first daylight stroll through the streets of New Bedford.
In New Bedford, genuine cannibals engage in casual conversation on street corners—savage beings, some of whom still carry the remnants of their unholy feasts within their very bones.
This renowned town not only boasts harpooneers, cannibals, and simple folk to showcase to its visitors. Oh no, New Bedford is a peculiar place indeed. Certain parts of its hinterlands are enough to send shivers down one’s spine, so gaunt they appear. The town itself may be the most expensive abode in all of New England. It is a land of oil, undoubtedly, but not akin to Canaan—a land also blessed with corn and wine. Nowhere in America will you discover more aristocratic houses, more lavish parks and gardens than in New Bedford. Whence did they originate? How were they planted upon this once barren land?
Go and behold the towering mansion adorned with emblematic iron harpoons, and your question shall be answered. Yes, all these splendid houses and blooming gardens were harpooned and hoisted from the depths of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Each and every one of them was wrested from the sea’s embrace.
And the women of New Bedford, they blossom like their own crimson roses. Yet roses only bloom during summer, whereas the exquisite blush adorning their cheeks remains perpetual, akin to the sunlight in the celestial heavens. Nowhere else can you find a comparable radiance, try as you might.
In the bustling town of New Bedford, there stands a Whaleman’s Chapel that attracts many somber fishermen, soon to set sail for the distant Indian Ocean or the vast Pacific. It’s a place that few of them fail to visit on a Sunday, especially prior to embarking on their journeys.
Returning from my morning stroll, I ventured out again on this particular mission. But the weather had taken a turn for the worse, with sleet and mist assaulting the sky. Bundled up in my thick bearskin jacket, I braved the relentless storm. As I entered the chapel, I discovered a small, scattered congregation of sailors, their wives, and widows. An air of hushed silence pervaded the room, occasionally broken by the piercing cries of the tempest. Each worshipper seemed deliberately isolated, as if their individual sorrows were too personal and inconsolable. The chaplain had not yet arrived, and amidst this sea of silence, they sat, their gaze fixed upon several marble tablets with black borders embedded into the walls on either side of the pulpit. While I don’t recall the exact words, three of them bore inscriptions similar to the following:
IN MEMORY OF JOHN TALBOT, lost overboard at the tender age of eighteen, near the desolate Isle of Patagonia, November 1st, 1836. THIS TABLET is dedicated to his memory BY HIS SISTER.
IN MEMORY OF ROBERT LONG, WILLIS ELLERY, NATHAN COLEMAN, WALTER CANNY, SETH MACY, AND SAMUEL GLEIG, members of the boat crews from the ship ELIZA, towed out of sight by a mighty whale on the offshore grounds of the Pacific, December 31st, 1839. Their surviving SHIPMATES place THIS MARBLE.
IN MEMORY OF the esteemed CAPTAIN EZEKIEL HARDY, who met his tragic end in the bows of his boat, struck down by a mighty Sperm Whale off the coast of Japan, August 3rd, 1833. THIS TABLET is erected in his honor BY HIS WIDOW.
Shaking off the sleet from my hat and jacket, glazed with ice, I settled near the entrance. To my surprise, I noticed Queequeg sitting nearby. His countenance bore a mix of solemn curiosity and incredulity, affected by the gravity of the scene. Among the present company, he was the only one who acknowledged my arrival, for he was unable to read and remained unaffected by the chilly inscriptions on the wall. I couldn’t tell if any of the relatives of the fallen seamen whose names adorned those tablets were among us, but the grief etched on the faces of several women suggested that they carried the weight of past losses in their hearts, stirred anew by the sight of those bleak memorials.
Yet, faith, like a cunning jackal, thrives amidst the tombs, drawing its most vital hope from the depths of doubt. It seems we have sorely misconstrued the nature of Life and Death. It appears that what they call my shadow here on earth is, in fact, my true essence. It seems that when we contemplate matters of the spirit, we are much like oysters observing the sun through water, mistaking the thick liquid for the thinnest of air. In truth, my body is not the core of my being. So, three cheers for Nantucket! Let them bring on a shattered boat and a broken body whenever they please, for even the mighty Zeus himself cannot harm my soul.
CHAPTER 8. The Pulpit
As I settled into my seat, a man of dignified and sturdy stature entered the chapel. The congregation’s gaze swiftly confirmed his identity as the revered Father Mapple, a beloved figure among the whalemen. In his younger days, he had been both a sailor and a harpooneer, but he had devoted his later years to the ministry. At the time of this account, Father Mapple had reached the wintry season of a robust old age—a unique kind of aging that seemed to blend with a renewed youth. Amidst the weathered lines etched upon his face, hints of a gentle radiance emerged, akin to the first buds of spring peeking through the snow-covered earth.
Anyone encountering Father Mapple for the first time, ignorant of his past, would undoubtedly be captivated by the intriguing clerical peculiarities derived from his adventurous maritime life.
Upon his entrance, I noticed that he carried no umbrella and certainly hadn’t arrived in a carriage. His hat dripped with melting sleet, and his heavy pilot cloth jacket seemed almost to drag him down, laden with the weight of absorbed water. Yet, he removed his hat, coat, and overshoes, one by one, hanging them in a designated corner. Once he had donned a proper suit, he calmly approached the pulpit.
The pulpit, like many of its kind in those bygone days, towered to great heights. Considering that conventional stairs would drastically reduce the already limited space within the chapel due to the steep angle, the architect seemed to have heeded Father Mapple’s advice. Thus, the pulpit lacked stairs, and in their place, a vertical ladder adorned the side—resembling the kind used to ascend a ship from a small boat at sea. A generous whaling captain’s wife had provided the chapel with a splendid pair of red man-ropes for this ladder, a touch that exhibited fine taste. Pausing for a moment at the foot of the ladder, Father Mapple firmly grasped the ornate knobs of the man-ropes with both hands, casting a glance upward. Then, with the agility befitting a seasoned sailor, yet maintaining an air of reverence, he ascended the steps hand over hand, as if scaling the main-top of his vessel.
I had not expected to witness Father Mapple, having reached the pinnacle, slowly turn around and stoop over the pulpit, deliberately pulling up the ladder step by step until the entire apparatus rested inside, leaving him isolated within his miniature fortress.
This peculiar act puzzled me for a while. Father Mapple’s reputation for sincerity and sanctity was widely recognized, so I couldn’t fathom that he would engage in mere theatrical tricks to seek attention. No, I thought, there must be a sensible reason behind this action; moreover, it likely symbolized something hidden. Could it be that he signifies his temporary withdrawal from all external worldly ties and connections, a spiritual seclusion conveyed through physical isolation? Yes, I perceived that for the faithful man of God, fortified with the nourishment of divine teachings, this pulpit was a self-contained stronghold—a towering fortress with an everlasting wellspring of wisdom concealed within its walls.
On each side of the pulpit, the back wall was adorned with a large painting depicting a valiant ship battling a fearsome storm near a treacherous lee coast of dark rocks and frothy breakers. Yet, high above the tumultuous squall and the ominous clouds, a small island of sunlight floated, illuminating the ship’s tumultuous deck with the radiance of an angelic face. This luminous countenance bestowed a distinct patch of light upon the ship’s turbulent path. The angelic presence seemed to convey a message to the noble vessel, urging it to persevere, to weather the storm with a steadfast helm. “Press on, gallant ship,” the angel’s expression seemed to say. “Endure, for behold! The sun is breaking through the clouds, serenity is within reach.”
The pulpit itself bore traces of the maritime influence that had inspired the ladder and the painting. Its front panel resembled the bow of a majestic ship, and the Holy Bible rested upon an intricately carved piece resembling the fiddlehead-shaped beak of a ship.
What deeper symbolism could there be? The pulpit, in its essence, represented the forefront of earthly existence—the rest of the world trailing behind. It was the pulpit that led the way. From there, divine wrath rained down like a tempest, and the pulpit bore the brunt of it first. Yes, the world was akin to a ship on an unfinished voyage, and the pulpit served as its steadfast bow, guiding and steering its course.
Father Mapple stood up, his voice carrying an unassuming authority as he commanded the scattered congregation to gather together. “Starboard gangway, there! Move to larboard—larboard gangway to starboard! Midships! Midships!”
The sound of heavy sea-boots and the shuffle of women’s shoes filled the air as people repositioned themselves, and soon silence settled, with every eye fixed on the preacher.
He paused for a moment, then knelt in the bow of the pulpit, folding his large hands across his chest and raising his closed eyes. He offered a prayer so profoundly devout that it felt as though he knelt and prayed at the very bottom of the sea.
When he finished, he began reading a hymn in solemn tones, like the tolling of a bell on a ship foundering at sea in a dense fog. But as he reached the concluding stanzas, his manner changed, and he burst forth with jubilation and joy:
“The ribs and terrors in the whale,
Arched over me a dismal gloom,
While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by,
And lift me deepening down to doom.
I saw the opening maw of hell,
With endless pains and sorrows there;
Which none but they that feel can tell—
Oh, I was plunging to despair.
In black distress, I called my God,
When I could scarce believe him mine,
He bowed his ear to my complaints—
No more the whale did me confine.
With speed, he flew to my relief,
As on a radiant dolphin borne;
Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone
The face of my Deliverer God.
My song forever shall record
That terrible, that joyful hour;
I give the glory to my God,
His all the mercy and the power.”
Almost everyone joined in singing the hymn, the voices rising above the howling of the storm. After a brief pause, the preacher slowly turned the pages of the Bible and, finally, with his hand resting on the right page, he said, “Beloved shipmates, let us remember the final verse of the first chapter of Jonah—’And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.'”
“Shipmates, this book, with only four chapters—four tales—is but a small part of the vast Scriptures. Yet, Jonah’s story plumbs the depths of the soul. It carries a profound lesson for all of us as sinful men and for me, as a pilot of the living God.”
“As sinful men, it teaches us the story of sin, stubbornness, sudden fear, swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and ultimately, the deliverance and joy experienced by Jonah. Like all sinners, Jonah’s sin was rooted in his willful disobedience to God’s command—a command that he found difficult. But remember, all that God commands of us is challenging, for he more often commands than persuades. And when we obey God, we must defy ourselves. It is in this defiance of self that the difficulty of obeying God lies.”
“With this disobedience, Jonah further defied God by attempting to flee from Him. He believed that a ship made by men would carry him to lands where God’s reign did not extend. He lurked around the docks of Joppa, seeking a ship bound for Tarshish. And here, perhaps, lies a meaning we have overlooked. By all accounts, Tarshish could have been none other than the modern Barcelona. That is the opinion of learned men. And where is Barcelona, shipmates? Barcelona lies in Spain, as far by water from Joppa as Jonah could have sailed in those ancient times when the Atlantic was an almost unknown sea.
“Do you not see, shipmates, that Jonah sought to escape from God by fleeing the world?”
At this point, Father Mapple paused, his gaze turning inward as he silently flipped through the pages of the Bible once more. Then, standing still with closed eyes, he seemed to commune directly with God Himself.
Once again, he leaned toward the congregation, bowing his head with deep humility, and spoke these words:
“Shipmates, God has laid but one hand upon you, but both His hands press upon me. I have shared with you the lesson that Jonah teaches all sinners, and therefore, it applies to you as well as to me, for I am a greater sinner than you. Now, how eagerly would I descend from this pulpit and sit among you, listening as one of you reads to me that other, more dreadful lesson that Jonah imparts to me as a pilot of the living God.”
“Imagine being an anointed pilot-prophet, a speaker of truth, commanded by the Lord to proclaim unwelcome truths to wicked Nineveh. Jonah, terrified by the hostility he would face, fled from his mission, seeking to evade his duty and his God by boarding a ship at Joppa. But God is omnipresent; Jonah never reached Tarshish. As we have seen, God found him in the belly of the whale and plunged him into the abyss of imminent doom.”
“Yet, even there, beyond the reach of any measuring line—’out of the belly of hell’—when the whale came to rest on the ocean’s depths, God heard the repentant cries of the engulfed prophet. And so, God spoke to the fish, which emerged from the frigid darkness of the sea, breached the surface, and headed toward the warm embrace of the sun, the delights of the air and land. The fish ‘vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.’ When the word of the Lord came to Jonah again, bruised and battered, he fulfilled the Almighty’s command. And what was that, shipmates? It was to preach the truth in the face of falsehood! That was his mission!”
He paused, allowing his words to sink in before continuing with an admonishing tone:
“This, shipmates, is the other lesson, and woe to the pilot of the living God who disregards it. Woe to the one whom the world seduces, diverting them from their Gospel duty! Woe to the one who seeks to please rather than to provoke! Woe to the one who values their reputation over righteousness! Woe to the one who would rather be false than true, even if falsehood were to offer salvation! Yes, woe to the one who, as the great Apostle Paul declared while preaching to others, becomes a castaway themselves!”
Father Mapple fell silent, withdrawing into himself for a moment. Then, lifting his face once more, a profound joy gleamed in his eyes as he exclaimed with heavenly enthusiasm, “But oh, shipmates! On the starboard side of every woe, there lies sure delight. And eternal delight and bliss shall be the portion of those who, in their final moments, can say with their dying breath, ‘Oh, Father! Here I die. I have striven to be Yours more than this world’s or my own.'”
He said no more, slowly extending his hand in a gesture of blessing. Then, covering his face with his hands, he remained kneeling until all the people had departed, leaving him alone in the sanctuary.
CHAPTER 10. A Bosom Friend
As I returned to the Spouter-Inn from the Chapel, I discovered Queequeg sitting alone in front of the fire at a bench. He had left the Chapel before the benediction. He held his little black idol close to his face, examining it intently while gently whittling away at its nose with a jack-knife. He hummed to himself in his unique way, a reflection of his heathen background.
When he noticed my presence, he set the idol aside and picked up a large book from the table. Placing it on his lap, he began counting the pages with careful precision, starting anew at every fiftieth page. It seemed as if he could only count up to fifty, and his amazement grew as he encountered numerous sets of fifties together.
Curiosity piqued, I watched him closely. Despite his savage appearance, with his disfigured face, I found something intriguing about his countenance. You cannot hide the soul.
Beneath his unconventional tattoos, I believed I detected traces of a simple and sincere heart. His large, deep eyes, intensely black and fearless, hinted at a spirit unafraid of any challenge.
Perhaps it was because his head was shaved that his forehead appeared broader than it would otherwise. I cannot say for certain, but there was a resemblance to General Washington’s head, as depicted in popular busts. Queequeg was like a cannibalistic version of George Washington.
While I studied him intently, pretending to gaze out the window at the storm, he paid no attention to my presence, not even stealing a single glance. He seemed completely absorbed in counting the pages of the remarkable book. It struck me as peculiar, considering how we had slept peacefully together the previous night and the affectionate arm I found around me upon waking in the morning. I couldn’t help but find his indifference unusual. Savages are unpredictable; their behavior is often difficult to interpret.
I had also observed that Queequeg rarely interacted with the other sailors at the inn, keeping to himself or engaging only minimally. He made no effort to expand his circle of acquaintances. I found this noteworthy, but upon further reflection, there was something almost remarkable about it. Here was a man, thousands of miles away from home, surrounded by people as unfamiliar to him as if he were on the planet Jupiter, and yet he appeared entirely at ease. He exuded a calm serenity and contentment with his own company, always true to himself.
It was undoubtedly a touch of profound philosophy, even though he probably had no knowledge of such a concept. Perhaps true philosophers should not consciously strive to be philosophers. Whenever I hear someone proclaim themselves as a philosopher, I assume they must have some unresolved issues, much like a dyspeptic old woman with a broken digestion.
Sitting alone in that now empty room, with the fire burning low, I started experiencing strange sensations. I felt a softening within me. My fractured heart and troubled mind were no longer filled with hostility towards the harsh world. This soothing savage had redeemed them.
There he sat, his indifference speaking of a nature untouched by civilized pretenses and deceptive niceties. He was wild, an extraordinary sight to behold, and yet I felt inexplicably drawn to him. The very things that would repel most others became the magnets that attracted me. I thought, “I will try having a pagan friend,” considering that Christian kindness had proven to be mere hollow politeness. I moved my bench closer to him and gestured friendly signs, doing my best to engage in conversation. At first, he barely acknowledged these advances, but eventually, when I mentioned his hospitality from the previous night, he managed to ask me if we would be sharing a room again. I replied affirmatively, and he seemed pleased, perhaps even flattered.
We then turned our attention to the book, flipping through its pages together. I attempted to explain the purpose of printing and the meaning behind the few pictures it contained. Gradually, I captured his interest, and we began conversing, as best we could, about the various sights to be seen in the renowned town we were in. Before long, I suggested we enjoy a smoke together, and he retrieved his tobacco pouch and tomahawk, offering me a puff. We sat there, passing the wild pipe between us, exchanging puffs in a rhythmic manner.
If there was any lingering indifference towards me in the Pagan’s heart, our pleasant and genial smoke swiftly melted it away, making us comrades. He took to me as naturally as I took to him. When our smoke session concluded, he leaned his forehead against mine, embraced me around the waist, and declared that from that moment forward, we were married. In his culture, this meant we were bosom friends, willing to lay down our lives for each other if necessary. In the case of a fellow countryman, such swift friendship might have seemed premature and warranting caution. However, in the case of this simple savage, those conventional rules did not apply.
After a satisfying supper, accompanied by more friendly conversation and smoking, we retired to our shared room. Queequeg presented me with his embalmed head as a gift. He then took out his sizable tobacco wallet, rummaging through it until he retrieved about thirty dollars in silver coins. Spreading the money on the table, he instinctively divided it into two equal portions and pushed one towards me, declaring it to be mine. Initially, I intended to decline, but he silenced my objections by promptly placing the coins into my trouser pockets. I allowed them to remain there.
Next, he proceeded with his evening prayers, taking out his idol. Through certain signs and indications, it seemed as though he wished for me to join him. However, aware of what would follow, I hesitated for a moment, contemplating whether I should comply or not.
I was a devout Christian, raised within the infallible Presbyterian Church. How could I, then, participate in worshipping this primitive wooden object alongside an idolater? But what is worship, I wondered. Do you suppose, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth, inclusive of pagans, could possibly be envious of a mere piece of black wood? Impossible! Then, what is worship? Worship is to do the will of God. That is the essence of worship. And what is the will of God? To treat my fellow human beings as I would like to be treated. That is God’s will. Now, Queequeg is my fellow human being. What do I desire for Queequeg to do for me? To join me in my specific form of Presbyterian worship. Consequently, I must unite with him in his form of worship, and therefore, I must become an idolater. And so, I lit the shavings, assisting in propping up the innocent little idol. I offered burnt biscuit to the idol alongside Queequeg, knelt before it two or three times, kissed its nose, and with that accomplished, we undressed and went to bed, with a clear conscience and at peace with the world. But not before engaging in a little conversation.
I don’t know how it happens, but there is no place quite like a bed for intimate conversations between friends. They say that married couples open their souls to one another, exposing their deepest secrets, and some old couples spend hours reminiscing and chatting about old times until the early hours of the morning. And so, in the blissful honeymoon of our friendship, Queequeg and I found ourselves nestled in bed, a cozy and affectionate pair.
Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.
He had a strong desire to explore more of the Christian world beyond just a couple of whaling ships. With a father who was a respected King, an uncle who served as a High Priest, and warrior aunts on his mother’s side, Queequeg had noble lineage. However, his upbringing had been tainted by his early encounters with cannibalism.
When a ship from Sag Harbor visited his father’s bay, Queequeg attempted to secure passage to Christian lands. Unfortunately, the ship had a full crew and rejected his request. Undeterred, Queequeg made a vow to himself. He set off alone in his canoe, paddling to a strait where he knew the ship would pass on its way out of the island. On one side of the strait, there was a coral reef, and on the other, a low stretch of land. Hiding his canoe among the thickets, Queequeg waited, paddle in hand. As the ship glided by, he swiftly emerged, gaining its side. With a backward kick, he overturned and sank his canoe, then climbed up the chains of the ship. He threw himself on the deck, holding onto a ring-bolt, determined not to let go even if it meant being hacked to pieces.
The captain’s attempts to intimidate him by threatening to throw him overboard or holding a cutlass to his wrists proved futile. Queequeg stood his ground, knowing that he was the son of a King. Impressed by his unwavering courage and his burning desire to experience Christendom, the captain finally relented and allowed him to stay on board. However, Queequeg, this extraordinary “sea Prince of Wales,” never set foot in the captain’s cabin. Instead, he was placed among the sailors and became a whaler like the rest of them.
While sailing the seas, Queequeg had a deep-seated desire to learn from Christians and find ways to improve the lives of his people back home. Sadly, the behavior of the whalers shattered his idealized view of Christians. He witnessed their misery and wickedness, surpassing even what he had known among his father’s people. Disillusioned, he reached a point of despair upon arriving in Sag Harbor and later Nantucket, where he observed how the sailors squandered their earnings. Queequeg concluded that the world was wicked no matter where one went and resolved to remain a pagan.
Despite his idolatrous roots, Queequeg adapted to living among Christians. He dressed like them and attempted to speak their language, which led to his peculiar mannerisms. He confessed that he was not yet ready to return home and be crowned king, even though he believed his father was likely deceased. He feared that his exposure to Christianity had made him unfit to rule as the pure and uncorrupted thirty pagan kings had before him. However, he expressed a desire to sail the world’s four oceans and indulge in various experiences. For the time being, he became a harpooneer, replacing his scepter with a barbed iron.
When I asked him about his plans, he revealed that he intended to return to his old vocation of sailing the seas. Learning of my own aspirations to become a whaleman, he decided to accompany me to Nantucket. He wanted to join the same ship, work the same watch, and be part of the same boat and mess as me. Queequeg desired to share in all the experiences and challenges of our whaling adventures, holding both of my hands tightly as we bravely embraced the opportunities that awaited us in both worlds. I wholeheartedly agreed to his proposition. Not only had I developed a deep fondness for Queequeg, but his expertise as an experienced harpooneer would prove invaluable to someone like me, who was completely ignorant of the intricacies of whaling, despite my familiarity with the sea from my time as a merchant seaman.
As Queequeg finished recounting his tale, his pipe emitted its last dying puff. He then warmly embraced me, pressing his forehead against mine. We extinguished the light and found ourselves rolling away from each other, settling into a peaceful slumber.
The bond between Queequeg and me, forged through shared aspirations and the pursuit of adventure, held the promise of an extraordinary journey ahead.
The following morning, as Monday dawned, I settled the bill using my comrade’s money. The grinning landlord and the other boarders were greatly amused by the sudden friendship that had blossomed between Queequeg and me. This was particularly amusing considering the outlandish stories that I heard about Queequeg, which filled me with alarm regarding the very person I now accompanied.
We borrowed a wheelbarrow and gathered our belongings, which included my worn-out carpet bag and Queequeg’s canvas sack and hammock. Together, we made our way down to “the Moss,” a small Nantucket packet schooner docked at the wharf. As we traveled, people stared at us, not so much at Queequeg, as they were accustomed to seeing cannibals like him in their streets, but at the sight of him and me being so friendly. However, we paid no mind to their curious gazes, taking turns pushing the wheelbarrow along.
With our passage paid and our luggage safely stowed, we stood aboard the schooner. As the sails were hoisted, the vessel glided down the Acushnet River. On one side, the terraced streets of New Bedford rose, their trees covered in shimmering ice, glistening in the clear, cold air.
Initially, we didn’t pay much attention to the mocking glances from the passengers, who were astonished by the camaraderie between two individuals from seemingly different worlds. However, there were a few simpletons among them who must have come from the heart of the countryside, as their intense naivety was evident. One of these young fellows was caught by Queequeg imitating him behind his back. I thought the fool’s demise was imminent. Dropping his harpoon, the powerful savage swiftly grabbed the young man in his arms and, with almost miraculous dexterity and strength, flung him high into the air. The hapless soul landed on his feet, gasping for breath, while Queequeg, turning away from him, calmly lit his tomahawk pipe and handed it to me for a puff.
“Captain! Captain!” shouted the young man, running towards the officer. “Captain, Captain, here’s the devil!”
“Hey there!” cried the captain, striding up to Queequeg. “What in thunder do you mean by that? Don’t you realize you could have killed that fellow?”
“What did he say?” asked Queequeg, turning to me with a mild expression.
“He said,” I replied, “that you nearly killed that man over there,” pointing to the still trembling greenhorn.
“Kill him?” cried Queequeg, contorting his tattooed face into an unearthly expression of disdain. “Ah, him small fish. Queequeg does not waste his time on such small prey. Queequeg hunts big whales!”
“Listen here!” roared the captain. “If you try any more of your tricks on this ship, you cannibal, I’ll kill you. So watch yourself!”
But at that very moment, it was high time for the captain to watch out for his own safety. The immense strain on the mainsail had caused the weather-sheet to snap, and the massive boom was now swinging violently from side to side, sweeping across the entire deck.
The poor fellow whom Queequeg had handled so roughly was swept overboard, and panic ensued among the crew. It seemed madness to try and grab hold of the boom to stop its wild movements.
It swung back and forth in a rapid and terrifying rhythm, on the verge of splintering at any moment. Nothing could be done, and it appeared that nothing could be done. The people on deck rushed towards the bow, their eyes fixed on the boom as if it were the enraged jaw of a whale.
Amidst the chaos, Queequeg swiftly dropped to his knees, crawling beneath the path of the swinging boom. He skillfully seized hold of a rope, securing one end to the bulwarks. With a swift motion, he flung the other end like a lasso, catching it around the boom just as it swept over his head. With a powerful jerk, he halted the boom’s movement, bringing safety back to the ship. The schooner was maneuvered into the wind, and while the crew prepared the stern boat, Queequeg stripped down to his waist. He darted from the side of the ship with a magnificent, arcing leap.
For three minutes or more, he swam like a dog, his long arms reaching out before him, his brawny shoulders breaking through the freezing foam. I marveled at the grandeur of this remarkable individual, but there seemed to be no one in need of saving. The greenhorn had vanished beneath the waves. Rising from the water, Queequeg quickly surveyed the scene, understanding the situation at once. He dove down and disappeared from sight. A few minutes later, he emerged again, one arm still striking out while the other dragged a lifeless form. The boat soon retrieved them. The poor greenhorn was revived, and all hands praised Queequeg as a true hero. The captain even begged his pardon. From that moment onward, I clung to Queequeg like a barnacle, until the day he took his final, fateful dive.
Was there ever such unawareness? Queequeg did not seem to believe that he deserved any recognition from the Humane and Magnanimous Societies. All he requested was freshwater to cleanse himself of the saltwater. Once refreshed, he put on dry clothes, lit his pipe, and leaned against the bulwarks, calmly observing those around him. It was as if he were saying, “It’s a shared and interconnected world across all meridians. We cannibals must assist these Christians.”
No significant incidents occurred for the remainder of the journey, so after a smooth voyage, we safely arrived in Nantucket. Nantucket! Take a look at your map and observe its position—a true corner of the world. It stands offshore, more desolate than the Eddystone Lighthouse. Look at it—a mere mound and elbow of sand, entirely beach, without any backdrop. There is more sand there than you would use as blotting paper in twenty years.
The Nantucketers are the true inhabitants of the sea. They are the ones who, in biblical terms, “go down to it in ships.” The sea is their home, their livelihood. Not even Noah’s flood could disrupt their lives, though it may have submerged millions in China. They live on the sea and find solace among the waves.
Some may tell you that they have to plant weeds in Nantucket since they don’t grow naturally, or that they import Canadian thistles or fetch spiles from overseas to repair leaking oil casks. They may claim that pieces of wood in Nantucket are carried around like fragments of the true cross in Rome or that people plant toadstools before their houses to seek shade in the summertime. Some might even jest that a single blade of grass is an oasis and three blades constitute a prairie within a day’s walk. They may speak of wearing shoes designed for quicksand. But these exaggerated tales only demonstrate that Nantucket is unlike Illinois.
So it’s no wonder that the Nantucketers, born on the beach, turn to the sea for their livelihoods. It is ingrained in their very being. The sea is their calling, their occupation, and their sanctuary. They have a deep connection with the vast expanse of the ocean, and it shapes their way of life.
It was late in the evening when the small ship Moss anchored, and Queequeg and I went ashore. We didn’t have any business to attend to that day, except finding a place to eat and sleep. The owner of the Spouter-Inn had recommended his cousin, Hosea Hussey, who ran a well-known hotel called the Try Pots. He assured us that Cousin Hosea was famous for his delicious seafood chowders.
“Come on, Queequeg,” I said. “Let’s give it a try. Mrs. Hussey is waiting.”
We expressed our desire for a meal and a bed to Mrs. Hussey, who led us into a small room and asked, “Clam or Cod?”
“What’s that about cod, ma’am?” I asked politely.
“Clam or Cod?” she repeated.
“You mean a clam for supper? A cold clam?” I said. “But isn’t that a bit chilly and uninviting in the wintertime, Mrs. Hussey?”
But Mrs. Hussey seemed too preoccupied with scolding a man in a purple shirt, who was waiting in the entryway, to pay attention to my remarks. She rushed towards an open door that led to the kitchen, shouting “clam for two,” and disappeared.
“Queequeg,” I said, “do you think we can make a satisfying meal out of just one clam?”
However, the warm and savory aroma wafting from the kitchen reassured us that there was more to come. And when that steaming chowder arrived, the mystery was wonderfully solved. Oh, dear friends, listen to this. It was made with small, juicy clams, hardly bigger than hazelnuts, mixed with crushed ship biscuit and diced salted pork. The whole dish was enriched with butter, generously seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites, sharpened by the chilly journey, and especially Queequeg, who loved his fishing food, eagerly devoured the chowder. It was surpassingly delicious. As I leaned back for a moment, I had an idea. I walked to the kitchen door and emphatically uttered the word “cod” before returning to my seat. Soon enough, the savory steam emerged once more, but with a different aroma. Before long, a delicious cod chowder was placed before us.
We resumed eating, and while enjoying our meal, I pondered to myself, wondering if this concoction had any effect on one’s mind. Was there truth to the saying about chowder-headed people? “But look, Queequeg,” I said, “isn’t there a live eel in your bowl? Where’s your harpoon?”
The Try Pots was the fishiest place of all, truly living up to its name. There were always pots of boiling chowder. Chowder for breakfast, chowder for lunch, and chowder for dinner until you started to expect fish bones to come out of your clothes. The area in front of the house was paved with clamshells, and Mrs. Hussey wore a necklace made of polished codfish vertebrae. Even the milk had a fishy taste, which puzzled me until one morning, while taking a stroll along the beach near the fishermen’s boats, I saw Hosea’s cow munching on leftover fish.
After supper, Mrs. Hussey provided us with a lamp and directions to our room. However, as Queequeg was about to go up the stairs ahead of me, Mrs. Hussey extended her arm and demanded his harpoon. She didn’t allow any harpoons in her rooms, deeming them too dangerous. “Why not?” I asked. “Every true whaleman sleeps with his harpoon. Why shouldn’t we?”
“Because it’s dangerous,” she replied. “I don’t permit guests to keep such dangerous weapons in their rooms at night. So, Mr. Queequeg,” (she had learned his name), “I’ll take this iron here and keep it for you until morning. Tomorrow’s breakfast, chowder with clams or cod, gentlemen?”
“Both,” I responded. “And let’s have a couple of smoked herrings for a bit of variety.”
As we lay in bed, making plans for the next day, I was surprised and a little worried when Queequeg told me that he had been consulting his little black god named Yojo. Apparently, Yojo had strongly insisted, multiple times, that the decision of which ship to choose from the whaling fleet should be solely up to me.
I should mention that Queequeg had great faith in Yojo’s judgment and believed him to be a good sort of god who meant well, even if his benevolent designs didn’t always succeed.
I wasn’t too fond of this plan proposed by Queequeg, or rather Yojo, regarding the ship selection. I had relied on Queequeg’s wisdom to guide us in choosing the most suitable whaler for our journey. But despite my protests, Queequeg was determined, and I had no choice but to agree.
The next morning, leaving Queequeg behind with Yojo in our small bedroom, as they observed some kind of fasting or prayer, I ventured out among the ships. After wandering around and asking various people, I learned that there were three ships available for three-year voyages: The Devil-dam, the Tit-bit, and the Pequod. I couldn’t find any information on the origin of the name of Devil-Dam, but Tit-bit was obvious. As for the Pequod, it used to be the name of a famous tribe of Native Americans in Massachusetts, but they’re now extinct like the ancient Medes. I explored the Devil-dam briefly, then hopped over to the Tit-bit, and finally went on board the Pequod. After taking a quick look around, I decided that this ship was the perfect choice for us.
You may have seen many unique vessels in your life, but trust me, you’ve never laid eyes on a ship as extraordinary as the Pequod. It was an old-fashioned, somewhat small ship with a peculiar claw-footed appearance. It had weathered the storms and calms of all four oceans and had a noble yet melancholic aura. All noble things are touched by a hint of sadness, it seems.
I searched the quarter-deck for someone in charge to propose myself as a candidate for the voyage. At first, I couldn’t find anyone, but I couldn’t help but notice a strange tent or wigwam pitched behind the mainmast. It looked like a temporary structure used only while in port. Concealed within this odd tent, I finally found a person who seemed to have authority. It was noon, and the ship’s work was temporarily suspended, allowing him some respite from his command. He sat on an intricately carved old oaken chair, squirming with restlessness.
There was nothing particularly remarkable about the appearance of this elderly man. Like most old sailors, he had a weathered, bronzed complexion and wore a blue pilot-cloth coat in the Quaker style.
“Is this the Captain of the Pequod?” I asked, stepping closer to the tent’s entrance.
“If I were the captain of the Pequod, what would you want from me?” he demanded.
“I was thinking of joining the crew.”
“So, you were thinking of joining, eh? I can tell you’re not a Nantucketer. Have you ever been on a whaling ship before?”
“No, sir, I haven’t.”
“I suppose you know nothing about whaling, do you?”
“Nothing, sir, but I’m confident I can learn. I’ve been on several voyages in the merchant service, and I believe that—”
“Forget about the merchant service,” he interrupted. “Don’t talk to me about that. Do you see this leg?” He pointed to his wooden leg. “If you mention the merchant service again, I’ll knock this leg into your stern.”
I protested my innocence and assured him that I was interested in whaling and wanted to see the world.
“Want to see what whaling is, eh? Have ye clapped eye on Captain Ahab?”
“Who is Captain Ahab, sir?”
“Aye, aye, I thought so. Captain Ahab is the Captain of this ship.”
“I am mistaken then. I thought I was speaking to the Captain himself.”
Captain Peleg introduced me to Captain Bildad, the other owner of the ship. Bildad was a Quaker like Peleg and many other Nantucketers. He sat in the cabin, reading his Bible and seemingly oblivious to our conversation. Peleg asked Bildad’s opinion about me, and after a hollow response, Bildad suggested that I should receive the seven hundred and seventy-seventh lay—a small share of the voyage’s profits.
Peleg insisted that I deserved more, proposing the three hundredth lay instead. This sparked a heated argument between Peleg and Bildad. Bildad defended his stance,
… Thou hast a right to speak thy mind, and I will listen to thee. And I am sorry now that I ever spoke so rashly. It is plain enough, I see, that ye two, Peleg and Bildad, are both concerned in this voyage of the Pequod; and what is more, that ye expect to live by it. There’s no denying it, both of ye are hard-hearted men. I do not believe that thou, Bildad, can have the true religion in thee. But I will not speak openly about it, lest I should be tempted to say something that I would afterward regret. I am ready to ship, and I will do so; but I have one condition to make. I shall not give myself up to the voyage while I have doubts about the righteousness of it. Therefore, I demand that you, Bildad, show me a chapter of your book that plainly says the wickedness of going whaling, as you call it. And if you can do so, I turn around and go home at once. If not, then I must be free to follow my own judgment and conscience.”
I spoke boldly, for I was not afraid of them, nor of any man on earth. They looked at each other, and Peleg’s face grew red with anger. But Bildad, who was more thoughtful and calm, said, “What thou sayest is right, young man. I have no chapter in the Bible to show thee that it is wicked to go whaling. But this I can say, that the man who goes to sea, and sees the wonders of God’s creation, and does not feel in his heart that God is great and good, is not fit for any honest work on land or water. I have not made up my mind to go whaling because I thought it wicked to do anything else, but because I felt that it was the work to which God had called me. And if thou art not willing to go with us on the same ground, I shall have no more to say to thee.”
I saw that Bildad was an honest man, though a Quaker; and I respected him for speaking his mind so plainly. I felt that I had done right in putting my demand to him, and I was glad to see that he had not tried to deceive me with smooth words. I had no fear of his being angry, for I knew that I was speaking the truth, at least as well as I understood it. But Peleg was angry, and he showed it plainly.
“Thou art a fool!” he cried. “Thou knowest not what thou art talking about. What has religion to do with going whaling? Religion is one thing, and business is another. But thou art like all the rest of thy kind, young man; thou wouldst make the world believe that everything should be done in thy own way. Thou art a fool, I say!”
“I am no fool,” I replied, firmly. “I will not go on board the ship until I have seen the chapter in your book that plainly says the wickedness of going whaling.”
Peleg was about to reply, but Bildad stopped him. “Let the young man have his way, Peleg,” he said. “It is better that he should stay ashore than to go with us, if he is not fully convinced in his own mind. He has asked for a chapter in the Bible, and I will give it to him. Let us retire to my cabin, and I will find the passage for him.”
With that, Bildad led me to his cabin, where he kept a small Bible. He opened it carefully and began to search for the desired chapter. As he flipped through the pages, I could sense the weight of his responsibility. He was not only searching for a passage to appease me, but he was also contemplating the significance of his own beliefs.
Finally, Bildad paused and read aloud, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth—”
“Well, Captain Bildad,” Peleg interjected, “what do you think? What share should we give this young man?”
“You know best,” Bildad replied, not lifting his eyes. “Would the seven hundred and seventy-seventh be too much? ‘Where moth and rust do corrupt, but lay-“
Lay, indeed, I thought to myself, and such a share! The seven hundred and seventy-seventh! Well, old Bildad, you’re determined to keep me from accumulating much below, where things deteriorate with time.
“Why, damn it, Bildad,” Peleg exclaimed, “you don’t want to cheat this young man! He deserves more than that.”
“Seven hundred and seventy-seventh,” Bildad repeated, still focused on his book, mumbling, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also….”
“I’m going to put him down for the three hundredths,” Peleg declared. “Do you hear that, Bildad? The three hundredth lay, I say.”
Bildad closed his book, turned toward Peleg solemnly, and spoke, “Captain Peleg, you have a generous heart. But you must also consider your duty to the other ship owners—widows and orphans among them. If we overly reward this young man, we may be taking away from those who need it. The seven hundred and seventy-seventh lay, Captain Peleg.”
“You, Bildad!” Peleg roared, rising and causing a commotion in the cabin. “Blast you, Captain Bildad! If I had followed your advice, I’d have a conscience weighing me down, enough to sink the largest ship to ever sail around Cape Horn.”
“Fiery pit! Fiery pit! You insult me, man,” Peleg continued, unable to contain his anger. “Out of the cabin, you hypocritical, dull-colored son of a wooden gun—get out!”
As Peleg thundered out his words, he lunged at Bildad, but with a remarkable evasive move, Bildad managed to avoid him.
Alarmed by the heated exchange between the ship’s owners and uncertain about sailing on a vessel with such questionable ownership and temporary command, I stepped away from the door, allowing Bildad to exit. I assumed he would eagerly escape the wrath of Peleg. However, to my surprise, he calmly sat back down on the transom, showing no intention of leaving. It seemed he was accustomed to Peleg’s impenitence and behavior. As for Peleg, after venting his rage, he also calmed down and sat quietly, though still displaying a slight nervous twitch. Finally, he let out a whistle and said, “Now then, young man, Ishmael, was it? Well, come down here, Ishmael, for the three hundredth lay.”
“Captain Peleg,” I said, “I have a friend who wants to join the crew. Can I bring him tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Peleg replied. “Bring him along, and we’ll have a look at him.”
“What share does he want?” groaned Bildad, glancing up from his book.
“Oh, don’t worry about that, Bildad,” Peleg said. “Has he ever been on a whaling voyage?” he asked, turning to me.
“He’s killed more whales than I can count, Captain Peleg.”
“Very well, bring him along then.”
After signing the necessary papers, I left, believing I had accomplished a productive morning’s work, confident that the Pequod was the ship Yojo had provided for Queequeg and me to sail around the Cape.
But as I continued walking, I began to realize that I hadn’t laid my eyes upon the captain with whom I was about to embark. It seemed prudent to catch a glimpse of him before fully committing myself to his leadership. Turning back, I approached Captain Peleg and inquired about the whereabouts of Captain Ahab.
“And what do you want with Captain Ahab? It’s all settled, you’re signed on,” Peleg replied.
“Yes, but I would still like to meet him in person,” I insisted.
“I don’t think you’ll be able to. I’m not exactly sure what’s the matter with him, but he keeps to himself inside the cabin. He seems sick, yet he doesn’t look it. Well, he’s not exactly sick, but he’s not well either. Anyway, young man, he doesn’t see many people, so I doubt he’ll see you. Captain Ahab is a peculiar man, some might say strange, but a good one. Oh, you’ll find him to your liking, no doubt. He’s a remarkable, ungodly, god-like man, that Captain Ahab. He doesn’t speak much, but when he does, you better listen. Let me tell you, be warned: Ahab is not your average captain. He’s been to colleges, not just among cannibals. He’s experienced greater wonders than the waves and has thrust his fiery harpoon into mightier and stranger foes than whales. His harpoon! Yes, the sharpest and most reliable one in all the land! Oh, he’s no Captain Bildad, and certainly not Captain Peleg. He’s Ahab, boy, and Ahab, as you may know, was once a crowned king!”
“And a despicable one. When that wicked king was killed, didn’t the dogs lick his blood?” I remarked.
“Come closer to me,” Peleg beckoned, his eyes filled with a meaning that almost startled me. “Listen, lad, never utter those words on board the Pequod. Never say them anywhere. Captain Ahab didn’t choose his own name.”
“It was an ignorant whim of his deranged, widowed mother, who passed away when he was just a year old. Yet, the old squaw claimed that the name would somehow be prophetic. And perhaps other fools like her will tell you the same. I want to warn you, it’s a lie. I know Captain Ahab well; I sailed with him as his mate years ago. I know what kind of man he is—a good man, not a pious, righteous man like Bildad, but a good man who swears like me, only there’s more to him. Yes, I know that he’s not always cheerful, and during the last voyage, he lost his sanity for a while. But it was the excruciating pain from his amputated leg that caused it, as anyone could see. I also know that ever since that cursed whale took his leg, he’s been moody, at times even savage. But it will pass. Let me assure you, young man, it’s better to sail with a moody, yet good captain than a jovial, wicked one. So farewell to you, and don’t judge Captain Ahab wrongly just because of his ill-fated name. Besides, my boy, he has a wife—not married three voyages ago—a sweet, resigned woman. Consider that. Through her, that old man has a child. Ask yourself, could there be any evil in Ahab? No, no, my lad. He may be afflicted, damaged perhaps, but Ahab possesses his own sense of humanity!”
As I walked away, I was full of thoughtfulness; what had been revealed to me of Captain Ahab filled me with a certain wild vagueness and pain. And somehow, at the time, I felt a sympathy and sorrow for him, but I don’t know why, unless it was the cruel loss of his leg. And yet I also felt a strange awe of him; but that sort of awe, which I cannot at all describe, was not exactly awe; I do not know what it was. But I felt it, and it did not turn me off from him, though I felt impatience at what seemed like mystery in him, so perfectly unknowable he was. However, my thoughts were soon carried in other directions and the dark Ahab slipped my mind.
CHAPTER 15. Ramadan
As Queequeg’s day-long Ramadan, a period of fasting and reflection, continued, I decided not to disturb him until evening approached. I held great respect for everyone’s religious practices, no matter how peculiar they may seem. Even ants worshipping a toadstool would receive my reverence.
I believe that as good Presbyterian Christians, we should be understanding and not consider ourselves superior to others, be they pagans or otherwise, due to their unconventional beliefs. Queequeg, for instance, entertained some incredibly bizarre ideas about Yojo and his Ramadan. But what of it? Queequeg seemed content in his convictions, and it was not for me to argue. Let him be, I thought, and may Heaven have mercy on us all, be it Presbyterians or Pagans, for we are all somewhat troubled in our minds and in dire need of healing.
As the evening approached, and I was confident that Queequeg’s religious obligations had come to an end, I went to his room and knocked on the door, but there was no response. I attempted to open it, but it was locked from the inside. “Queequeg,” I softly called through the keyhole, but silence persisted. “I say, Queequeg! Why won’t you speak? It’s me, Ishmael.” Still, everything remained eerily quiet.
Anxiety started to creep over me. I had given him ample time, and I began to fear that something had gone wrong. I peered through the keyhole, but the door opened into an odd corner of the room, granting me only a crooked and unsettling view. I could only catch a glimpse of the footboard of the bed and a section of the wall—nothing more. I was surprised to see Queequeg’s harpoon leaning against the wall. The landlady had taken it from him the previous evening before we retired to our chambers. It was strange, I thought, but since the harpoon stood there, and he rarely went anywhere without it, logic dictated that he must be inside the room—there was no room for error.
“Queequeg! Queequeg!” Still, silence prevailed. Something had to be wrong. Could it be apoplexy? I attempted to force the door open, but it stubbornly resisted. I hurried downstairs, quickly sharing my suspicions with the first person I encountered—the chambermaid. “Oh my! I had a feeling something was amiss,” she exclaimed. “I went to make the bed after breakfast, and the door was locked. Not a sound could be heard since then. I thought, perhaps, you both had gone out and locked your belongings in for safekeeping. Oh, ma’am, murder! Apoplexy!” With those frantic words, she dashed toward the kitchen, and I followed in her wake.
Mrs. Hussey promptly appeared, holding a mustard pot in one hand and a vinegar bottle in the other, having momentarily abandoned her duties attending to the guests while reprimanding her little servant boy.
“Run, for God’s sake, fetch something to pry open the door—the axe! The axe! He must have had a stroke, I assure you!” I exclaimed, rushing back upstairs empty-handed.
“What’s the matter with you, young man?”
“Get the axe! Please, find a doctor, anyone! Meanwhile, I’ll try to force it open!”
In a calm yet hurried manner, I explained the entire situation to her. Absentmindedly placing the vinegar bottle against the side of her nose, she pondered for a moment and then exclaimed, “No! I haven’t seen it since I put it there.” She rushed to a small closet under the staircase I peeked inside the room and quickly retreated, startled by the news I received upon my return. “Queequeg’s harpoon is missing,” she exclaimed. “He’s gone and killed himself! It’s a terrible tragedy. God have mercy on his poor mother. What a disaster for my establishment. Does the lad have a sister? Where is she? Betty, go to Snarles the Painter and ask him to make me a sign that says, ‘No suicides permitted here, and no smoking in the parlor.’ Might as well address both issues at once. Kill? May the Lord show mercy to his spirit! What’s that noise? You there, young man, stop!”
She chased after me, grabbing hold of my arm as I attempted to force open the door. “I won’t allow it. I won’t have my property damaged. Go fetch the locksmith. There’s one about a mile from here. But wait!” She reached into her side pocket. “Here’s a key that might work. Let’s see.” She inserted the key into the lock, but to our dismay, Queequeg’s bolt remained secure.
“We’ll have to break it open,” I declared, starting to run down the hallway, seeking a good position for a strong push. However, the landlady caught up to me, adamantly refusing to let me damage her premises. But I broke free from her grasp and with a sudden burst of energy, launched myself at the door.
With an ear-splitting crash, the door swung open, and the doorknob slammed against the wall, causing the plaster to fly. And there, to my astonishment, sat Queequeg, calm and collected, right in the center of the room, squatting on his haunches, with Yojo perched on his head. He didn’t turn his gaze in any direction but remained still, like a carved statue, showing barely a sign of life.
“Queequeg,” I approached him cautiously, “Queequeg, what’s wrong?”
“Has he been sitting like that all day?” asked the landlady.
We couldn’t get a single word out of him. I felt tempted to push him over just to see him change his position. It seemed so uncomfortable and unnatural, especially considering he had been sitting that way for eight or ten hours, foregoing his regular meals.
“Mrs. Hussey,” I said, “at least he’s alive. Please leave us, and I’ll handle this strange situation myself.”
Once I closed the door on the landlady, I attempted to persuade Queequeg to take a seat, but he refused. He remained motionless, not uttering a single word or acknowledging my presence in any way.
I wondered if this peculiar behavior had something to do with his Ramadan. Did they fast in this manner, sitting on their haunches all day, in his homeland? It must be a part of his religious beliefs, I supposed. Well, then, I thought, let him rest. He’ll get up eventually. It can’t go on forever, thank goodness. Besides, his Ramadan only occurs once a year, and I doubt it’s strictly observed.
I went downstairs for supper. After spending a long time listening to the tales of sailors who had just returned from a journey filled with delicious food, I headed upstairs to bed, assuming that by now Queequeg must have finished his Ramadan. But no, there he was, exactly where I had left him, not having moved an inch. I started to feel annoyed with him. It seemed utterly nonsensical and mad to spend the entire day and half the night in a cold room, sitting on his haunches with a piece of wood on his head.
“For heaven’s sake, Queequeg, get up and shake yourself! Come and have some supper. You’re going to starve; you’ll do yourself harm,” I pleaded, but he remained unresponsive.
I decided to retire to bed and hoped that soon enough he would follow suit. Before lying down, though, I draped my heavy bearskin jacket over him, anticipating a cold night ahead. He had nothing but his thin jacket on. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t seem to doze off. I extinguished the candle, yet the mere thought of Queequeg, just a few feet away, sitting in that uncomfortable position, alone in the cold and darkness, filled me with unease. Imagine spending the whole night in the same room as a wide-awake pagan, on his haunches during this mysterious and inexplicable Ramadan.
Eventually, sleep overtook me, and I knew nothing until daybreak. As I glanced over the edge of the bed, I saw Queequeg squatting there, as if he had been nailed to the floor. But as soon as the first rays of sunlight poured through the window, he stirred. With stiff and creaking joints, he got up, wearing a cheerful expression. He limped toward me, where I lay, pressed his forehead against mine, and announced that his Ramadan had come to an end.
Now, as I mentioned before, I have no objections to anyone’s religious beliefs, as long as they don’t harm or insult others who hold different beliefs. But when someone’s faith turns into madness, tormenting their own existence and transforming our world into an uncomfortable abode, then it’s high time to pull that individual aside and reason with them.
That’s exactly what I did with Queequeg. “Queequeg,” I said, “get into bed now and listen to me.” I proceeded to discuss the origins and development of primitive religions, leading up to the present-day variety. Throughout our conversation, I tried to convince Queequeg that all these prolonged periods of fasting, Ramadan, and endless squatting in cold, cheerless rooms were utter nonsense. They were detrimental to one’s health, futile for the soul, and plainly contradictory to common sense and basic hygiene.
I also pointed out that while Queequeg possessed remarkable intelligence and wisdom in other matters, his current behavior struck me as foolish and lamentable. It pained me deeply to see him so engrossed in this absurd Ramadan of his. Furthermore, I argued that fasting weakened both body and spirit, causing thoughts born out of deprivation to remain malnourished. It explained why many dyspeptic religious individuals harbored gloomy notions about the afterlife. In summary, Queequeg, I said, with a slight digression, the concept of hell stems from an undigested apple dumpling, perpetuated by fools.
Curiously, I inquired whether Queequeg himself ever suffered from indigestion, expressing my thoughts in straightforward terms to ensure he grasped them. He replied that, apart from one memorable occasion, he did not. The incident occurred after a grand feast thrown by his father, the king, following a victorious battle where they slew fifty enemies by two o’clock in the afternoon and devoured them that same evening.
“No more, Queequeg,” I shuddered. “That’s enough.”
All things considered, I don’t believe my remarks regarding religion had much impact on Queequeg. Firstly, he seemed somewhat deaf to such discussions unless approached from his own perspective. Secondly, even when I simplified my arguments, he only understood a fraction of them. Finally, I’m sure he
though he possessed far greater knowledge of the true religion than I did. He regarded me with a patronizing concern and compassion, as if lamenting the fact that such a sensible young man had regrettably strayed from the path of evangelical pagan piety.
At last, we rose from our beds and got dressed. Queequeg, with his immense appetite, indulged in a hearty breakfast of various chowders, ensuring that the landlady wouldn’t profit much from his Ramadan. Then we set out to board the Pequod, leisurely strolling along, occasionally picking our teeth with halibut bones.
CHAPTER 16. The Mark
As we strolled along the wharf, heading towards the ship, Queequeg, with his harpoon in hand, attracted the attention of Captain Peleg, who boomed in his gruff voice from his makeshift office, declaring his surprise at discovering my friend’s cannibalistic background. To make matters worse, he insisted that no cannibals were allowed on board without proper documentation.
“What’s that supposed to mean, Captain Peleg?” I exclaimed, leaping onto the ship’s railing and leaving Queequeg behind on the wharf.
“I mean,” he retorted, “he needs to show his papers.”
“Yeah,” chimed in Captain Bildad with his deep voice, poking his head out from behind Peleg in the office. “He needs to prove his conversion. You, son of darkness,” he added, addressing Queequeg, “are you currently affiliated with any Christian church?”
“Well,” I interjected, “he’s a member of the First Congregational Church.” It should be noted that many tattooed savages who sailed on Nantucket ships eventually found their way into the churches.
“The First Congregational Church!” cried Bildad. “The one that gathers at Deacon Deuteronomy Coleman’s meeting-house?” He then retrieved his spectacles, carefully polished them with his yellow bandana handkerchief, and placed them on his nose, leaning stiffly over the railing to get a good look at Queequeg.
“How long has he been a member?” he inquired, turning to me. “Not very long, I suppose, young man.”
“No,” Peleg interjected, “and he hasn’t been baptized properly either, or else it would have washed some of that devilish blue off his face.”
“Pray tell,” exclaimed Bildad, “is this Philistine a regular attendee at Deacon Deuteronomy’s gathering? I’ve never seen him there, and I pass by it every Sunday.”
“I don’t know anything about Deacon Deuteronomy or his gathering,” I responded. “All I know is that Queequeg here is a born member of the First Congregational Church. He’s even a deacon himself.”
Without uttering a word, Queequeg, in his wild and unpredictable manner, leaped onto the railing and then into the bow of one of the whale-boats hanging by the ship’s side. Balancing on his left knee and gripping his harpoon, he shouted something like this:
“Captain, you see that small drop of tar on the water there? Can you see it? Well, imagine it’s a whale’s eye, just picture it!” And with precise aim, he launched the iron over old Bildad’s wide-brimmed hat, soaring across the ship’s deck and striking the shimmering tar spot, making it vanish from sight.
“Now,” said Queequeg, calmly reeling in the line, “imagine it’s the eye of a whale; well, that would mean the whale is done for.”
“Quick, Bildad,” urged Peleg, his partner, who had hastily retreated towards the cabin gangway, startled by the harpoon’s close proximity. “Quick, I say, Bildad, fetch the ship’s papers. We must have Quohog, I mean Hedgehog, in one of our boats. Listen, Quohog, we’ll give you the ninetieth share, more than any harpooner from Nantucket has ever received.”
And so, we descended into the cabin, where I was overjoyed to witness Queequeg officially joining the crew, becoming a part of the same ship’s company that I belonged to.
CHAPTER 17. The Prophet
Queequeg and I had just left the Pequod and were leisurely strolling away from the shore, lost in our thoughts. Suddenly, a disheveled stranger approached us and pointed at the ship, asking if we had joined its crew.
“Have you enlisted on that ship?” he inquired, pointing assertively at the Pequod.
I replied, “Are you referring to the Pequod?” I wanted to buy some time to assess this character.
“Yes, the Pequod, that large vessel over there,” he said, extending his arm and pointing straight at it.
“Yes, we recently became crew members,” I confirmed.
“Got anything down there about your souls?” he probed.
“About what?” I asked, caught off guard.
“Ah, perhaps you haven’t considered that,” he retorted swiftly.
“Queequeg,” I whispered, “let’s get out of here. This guy seems like he escaped from somewhere.”
I turned to leave, but Queequeg didn’t flinch. He seemed to rather enjoy the amusement of the conversation.
“Stop!” the stranger shouted. “You haven’t met Old Thunder yet, have you?”
“Who’s Old Thunder?” I asked, anxious by his intense demeanor.
“Captain Ahab, the captain of your ship, the Pequod. That’s what the townsfolk used to call him. You haven’t seen him yet, have you?” the stranger inquired.
“No, not yet. They say he’s been unwell, but he’s expected to be back on duty soon,” I explained.
“Back on duty, huh?” the stranger chuckled mockingly. “Listen, when Captain Ahab returns to full duty, my stub of a left arm here will be ready to go too. Not a moment earlier.”
“Tell me, what have they told you about him?” he demanded.
“They didn’t reveal much—just that he’s an exceptional whale-hunter and a strong captain to his crew.”
“That’s true, both very true. But let me tell you something, mate. When he gives an order, you better act quickly. Move and growl, growl and move—that’s how it goes with Captain Ahab. Did they tell you about that incident off Cape Horn, ages ago, when he was unconscious for three days straight? Have you heard anything about him losing his leg on his last voyage, as the prophecy predicted?”
With his finger still pointing at the Pequod, the beggarly stranger paused, lost in a troubled daydream. Then, snapping back to reality, he turned and said, “So, you’ve enlisted, huh? Names on the papers? Well, what’s signed is signed, and fate will have its way. Then again, perhaps it won’t happen at all. Anyway, it’s all arranged and ready. Some sailors must accompany him, I suppose. Might as well be you poor souls. God help you! Good morning to you, shipmates. May the celestial heavens watch over you. Apologies for keeping you.”
“Let’s go, Queequeg. This man is quite eccentric. But wait, tell me your name, will you?”
“Elijah!” I thought to myself as I walked away, “a real humbug.”
CHAPTER 18. All Astir
A couple of days passed, and the Pequod buzzed with frenzied activity. The worn-out sails were being repaired, while fresh ones were being loaded onto the ship. Bundles of canvas and coils of rigging cluttered the deck, signaling that the preparations were nearing completion.
During those bustling days, Queequeg and I frequented the vessel, eagerly inquiring about Captain Ahab. When would he come aboard? How was he doing? These were the questions that burned in our minds. The crew assured us that his health was steadily improving and that he would join us soon. In the meantime, Captains Peleg and Bildad attended to all the necessary arrangements, getting the ship ready for our grand voyage.
If I were truly honest with myself, deep down, I knew I was uneasy about embarking on such a lengthy journey without even setting eyes on the man who would command it all. But when one suspects foul play, there’s a tendency to bury those suspicions, even from oneself. And so it was with me—I said nothing, trying to convince myself that nothing was amiss.
Finally, the announcement was made that the ship would set sail the following day. So, the next morning, Queequeg and I rose early, ready to embark on this extraordinary adventure.
As we approached the wharf, the misty gray dawn slowly unfolded, casting an imperfect veil over the scene. Suddenly, a voice pierced through the stillness. It was Elijah.
“Going aboard?” he called out.
“Mind your own business!” I retorted, irritated.
“Look here!” Queequeg interjected, shaking himself, “Go way, to hell!”
“Aren’t you going aboard, then?” Elijah persisted.
“Yes, we are,” I responded, “but why should that concern you? Mr. Elijah, I must say I find you quite impertinent.”
“Oh, I had no idea,” Elijah murmured, casting bewildered glances between me and Queequeg.
“Elijah,” I continued, “kindly withdraw and spare my friend and me any further intrusion. We’re bound for the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and we’d rather not be delayed.”
“Good morning to you! Good morning!” he replied, moving away. “Oh, I was going to warn you about something—but never mind, never mind. It’s all the same, all in the family. Quite a frosty morning, isn’t it? Farewell to you. I doubt we’ll meet again, unless it’s before the Grand Jury.” And with those cryptic words, he departed, leaving me momentarily dumbfounded by his odd impertinence.
Finally, stepping aboard the Pequod, we discovered an eerie calm. Not a soul stirred.
“Hey, you smokers!” called out a rigger, breaking the silence. “Are you the newly signed men? When does she sail?”
“Yes, we’ve signed on,” I replied. “When is the departure?”
“Aye, aye, you’re going with her, huh? She sets sail today. The Captain came aboard last night.”
“Which Captain? Ahab?” I inquired.
“Who else but him?”
I was about to press for more information about Ahab when a commotion erupted on deck.
“Look! Starbuck is up and about,” the rigger informed us. “He’s a lively first mate, a good man, and a religious one. But now, everyone’s bustling, and I have work to do.” With that, he headed back up, and we followed suit.
The sun was now fully risen, casting its warm rays upon the scene. The crew began trickling in, two or three at a time. The riggers sprang into action, diligently attending to their tasks. The mates were engaged in their duties, while a few people from the shore scurried about, bringing the final supplies on board. Meanwhile, Captain Ahab remained concealed within the confines of his cabin, an enigmatic figure shrouded from our view.
CHAPTER 19. Merry Christmas
Finally, the anchor relinquished its hold, the sails billowed with purpose, and we embarked on our journey. It was a chilly Christmas, with the fleeting daylight quickly surrendering to the embrace of night. We found ourselves traversing the wintry expanse of the ocean, its frigid spray enveloping us in a crystalline armor.
Bildad, a tall and lanky figure, assumed the role of the pilot and took charge of the first watch. As our weathered vessel plunged into the frothy green waves, causing the biting frost to dance upon its surface, his resolute voice resonated through the air:
“Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood,
Stand dressed in living green.
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between.”
Never did those sweet words sound more sweetly to me than then. They were full of hope and fruition. As for Captain Ahab, no sign of him was yet to be seen; only, they said he was in the cabin. But then, the idea was that his presence was by no means necessary in getting the ship underway and steering her well out to sea. Indeed, as that was not at all his proper business, but the pilot’s.
CHAPTER 20. Bulkington
In a previous chapter, we encountered a remarkable figure named Bulkington, a tall and freshly arrived mariner whom we met at the inn in New Bedford.
And lo, on that chilling winter’s night, as the Pequod defiantly plunged her vengeful bows into the treacherous icy waves, guess who stood at her helm? It was Bulkington! I gazed upon him with a mixture of admiration, awe, and trepidation. Here was a man who, after enduring a perilous four-year voyage, had just set foot on land in the midst of winter, only to embark again into the tempestuous unknown. The very ground must have felt scorching beneath his feet. Some experiences are so extraordinary that they defy description, and profound memories remain unspoken. This concise chapter stands as the silent memorial to Bulkington, devoid of tangible remembrance.
Do you now understand, dear reader, the profoundly unbearable truth? It is that all profound and contemplative thinking is merely the soul’s ardent struggle to maintain its unwavering connection with the boundless expanse of the sea. Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Face your destiny with unyielding determination, for you are akin to a mythical being! Rise above the engulfing spray of your oceanic destiny, ascend proudly towards your apotheosis!
CHAPTER 21. Starbuck
In the Pequod, the chief mate held the name Starbuck, a native of Nantucket with Quaker lineage. He possessed a tall and earnest stature, defying his icy coastal origins by appearing resilient in scorching climates, his flesh as tough as a twice-baked biscuit. Despite his rugged sobriety and unyielding fortitude, Starbuck possessed an uncommon conscientiousness for a seafarer. The profound solitude of his watery existence inclined him towards superstition, but not the kind born of ignorance. Rather, it seemed to spring from a thoughtful intelligence.
“I will not allow a man in my boat,” declared Starbuck, “who is not afraid of a whale.” By this, he meant not only that the most reliable and valuable courage stems from a genuine understanding of the perils faced, but also that a man completely devoid of fear is a more dangerous companion than a coward.
“Aye, aye,” chimed in Stubb, the second mate. “Starbuck there is as cautious a man as you’ll find in this fishery.”
Starbuck did not seek out danger as a crusader would. To him, courage was not a sentiment but a practical tool.
As for Stubb, the second mate, he hailed from Cape Cod, earning him the local moniker of “Cape-Cod-man.” He possessed a carefree and nonchalant demeanor, neither craven nor valiant, taking perils as they came with an indifferent air. Perhaps, among other factors, what contributed to his easygoing and fearless nature was his pipe. Like his nose, his short black pipe was a distinctive feature of his face. It would have been almost as unlikely to see him emerge from his bunk without his pipe as it would have been without his nose.
Stubb kept a row of pipes loaded and ready, neatly arranged in a rack within arm’s reach. Each night, as he retired to his quarters, he would smoke them all, one after another, lighting the next from the dying embers of the previous one. Then, he would reload them, ready for a fresh start. When Stubb dressed, instead of first putting on his trousers, he would put his pipe into his mouth.
The third mate was Flask, hailing from Tisbury in Martha’s Vineyard. He was a short, stout, and ruddy young man, displaying a pugnacious nature towards whales. It seemed as though he believed that these mighty leviathans had personally and hereditarily offended him. Thus, it became a matter of honor for Flask to destroy them whenever encountered. He remained utterly oblivious to the reverence that should be accorded to these majestic creatures, perceiving them as nothing more than oversized mice or water rats, requiring only a bit of cunning and effort to kill and boil. He pursued these creatures purely for the thrill, and a three-year voyage around Cape Horn was merely an extended merry escapade for him.
These three mates—Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask—were formidable individuals, akin to captains leading their own companies in the grand battle that Captain Ahab was bound to wage against the whales.
In this renowned fishery, each mate or headsman was accompanied by a harpooneer, who, in certain situations, provided him with a fresh lance when the previous one had been mangled or bent in the assault. Moreover, a close camaraderie and friendship typically existed between the mate and his harpooneer. Hence, it is crucial to record here the names of the Pequod’s harpooneers and the headsman to whom each was assigned.
First and foremost was Queequeg, whom Starbuck, the chief mate, had chosen as his trusted companion. But Queequeg’s story is already known.
Next was Tashtego, a pure-blooded Indian hailing from Gay Head, the westernmost point of Martha’s Vineyard. In that place, a remnant of a red men’s village still stood, providing Nantucket with some of its bravest and most daring harpooneers. The tawny strength of Tashtego’s flexible and sinewy limbs would almost make you believe the wild tales of the early Puritans, half-convinced that this untamed Indian was a son of the Prince of the Powers of the Air. Tashtego served as Stubb’s loyal squire, the second mate.
The third among the harpooneers was Daggoo, a colossal, coal-black savage emanating a lion-like power—an awe-inspiring sight to behold. His ears were adorned with two golden hoops of such size that sailors referred to them as ring-bolts, humorously suggesting they could be used to secure the top-sail ropes. In his youth, Daggoo had willingly joined the crew of a whaler anchored in a secluded bay on his native African coast. Having never ventured beyond Africa, Nantucket, and the heathen harbors frequented by whalemen, and having spent many years living the adventurous life of a fisherman under owners who cared little about the character of their crew, Daggoo retained all his untamed virtues. Standing tall at six feet five inches, he strutted across the ship’s decks with the regal grace of a giraffe. Gazing up at him induced a certain humility, as if a white flag were raised in surrender before a fortress.
These three harpooneers—Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo—accompanied their respective mates, Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, forming an indomitable force. They were the captains of their own divisions, ready to descend upon the whales as Captain Ahab orchestrated his grand battle.
Chapter 22. Ahab
In the days following our departure from Nantucket, Captain Ahab remained hidden from sight, a mysterious figure dwelling in the sacred seclusion of the cabin. None but a select few had the privilege of glimpsing our supreme lord and ruler.
As we sailed away from the harbor on Christmas Day, the biting Polar weather greeted us, relentless and unforgiving. Yet, with every degree of latitude we left behind, we escaped the clutches of that merciless winter, seeking solace in the warmer southern regions. On a gray and gloomy morning during this transition, as the ship raced through the water with a melancholic speed, a foreboding chill swept over me as I cast my gaze toward the stern. There, to my apprehension, stood Captain Ahab.
There were no visible signs of illness or recovery upon him. His towering, robust figure seemed as if sculpted from unyielding bronze, an immutable form akin to Cellini’s Perseus. Alongside his gray hair, a slender, whitish mark traversed his scorched face and neck, vanishing beneath his garments. Whether it was a birthmark or the scar of a desperate wound remained a mystery.
The sheer force of Ahab’s grim countenance overwhelmed me, and at first, I scarcely noticed that his dominating presence was amplified by the ivory leg upon which he partly stood. It had been crafted at sea from the polished bone of a sperm whale’s jaw, a testament to his indomitable spirit.
I was struck by the singular posture he maintained, standing erect on the quarter-deck, gazing steadfastly beyond the bow of the ship. There was an unwavering determination, an unyielding willfulness in his fixed and fearless gaze, radiating an aura of resolute fortitude.
Not a word was spoken, and his officers avoided addressing him directly, yet their subtle gestures and expressions revealed their unease, even pain, under the scrutiny of their troubled master. A somber Ahab stood before them, bearing the weight of his own crucifixion etched upon his face.
After a brief appearance on deck, he retreated to his cabin, but from that day forward, he became a constant presence to the crew. Whether standing in his pivot-hole, seated on his ivory stool, or pacing heavily across the deck, he seemed to embrace the open air. With the skies growing less gloomy, he gradually thawed, becoming less of a recluse, as if the desolate wintry expanse of the sea had kept him isolated until our departure from home. Soon, he seemed to be perpetually immersed in the elements.
Nevertheless, the warm and enchanting weather of the holiday season began to chip away at his solemn mood. More than once, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a budding smile in his countenance, a sight that would have blossomed fully in any other man.
Days passed, and as ice and icebergs receded behind us, the Pequod sailed through the radiant spring of Quito. Ahab, of late, seemed to live in harmony with the open air.
He would lean over the bulwarks, and as was his recent habit, summon a sailor to bring his ivory stool and pipe. Lighting the pipe and placing the stool on the weather side of the deck, he would sit and smoke.
Moments passed, and thick vapor escaped his mouth in quick, constant puffs, swirling back into his face. “How now,” he mused. Finally, he withdrew the pipe, realizing that smoking no longer brought solace. With a toss, he cast the still-lit pipe into the sea, its fire hissing in the waves. Ahab paced the planks with a slouched hat, his demeanor filled with anxiety.
As the sun began to set, casting a warm golden glow over the deck, Ahab stood at the edge of the bulwarks, his bone leg inserted into an auger-hole. It was an unusual sight, even for the seasoned sailors who were accustomed to his peculiarities. Ahab commanded Starbuck to gather the entire ship’s company, an order rarely given unless something extraordinary was afoot.
Starbuck, taken aback by the unexpected directive, hesitated for a moment before complying. “Sir!” he exclaimed, his astonishment evident in his voice.
“Send everybody aft,” Ahab repeated with determination. “Mast-heads, come down!”
Curiosity and a touch of apprehension spread among the crew as they gathered, their eyes fixed on Ahab. He paced the deck, his head bowed and his hat slouched, lost in deep thought. The sailors exchanged puzzled glances, wondering what could have prompted this unusual assembly.
Stubb, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, leaned towards Flask and whispered, “Do you think he wants us to witness some kind of extraordinary feat, like a performance?”
Flask shrugged, equally perplexed. The tension in the air was palpable as Ahab continued his heavy, measured steps, seemingly oblivious to the murmurs and whispers of the men around him. Then, abruptly, he paused.
“What do you do when you see a whale, men?” Ahab’s voice boomed across the deck, breaking the silence.
The response came in an instant, a chorus of voices shouting, “Sing out for him!”
Ahab’s eyes gleamed with wild approval, a rare hint of enthusiasm lighting up his face. “Good!” he exclaimed, his voice filled with a strange intensity. The unexpected question had ignited a spark within the crew, drawing them into his magnetic presence.
“And what do you do next, men?” Ahab continued, his voice resonating with urgency.
“Lower away, and after him!” the sailors responded eagerly, caught up in the fervor of the moment.
Ahab’s gaze swept over the assembled crew, his grip on a shroud tightening as if he drew strength from it. With a raised voice, he addressed them once again, his words carrying a sense of foreboding.
“All you mast-headers have heard me speak of a white whale before. Look closely! Do you see this Spanish ounce of gold?” Ahab held up a bright coin, its gleaming surface catching the sun’s rays. “It’s worth sixteen dollars, men. Do you see it?”
The crew’s attention was captivated, their eyes fixed on the glimmering treasure. Ahab’s voice took on a haunting quality as he continued, rubbing the gold piece against his jacket.
“Moby Dick,” he whispered, the name hanging in the air. “Moby Dick is the white whale I seek. Whoever raises him for me, the one who finds that white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw, with three holes in his starboard fluke,” Ahab paused, his eyes burning with determination, “that man shall receive this gold ounce, my boys!”
“Huzza! Huzza!” The sailors erupted in cheers, their voices filled with enthusiasm as they witnessed the coin being nailed to the mast.
“It’s Moby Dick!” Tashtego exclaimed, his voice brimming with recognition. “That white whale must be the one they call Moby Dick.”
“Moby Dick?” Ahab shouted, a mixture of disbelief and excitement in his tone. “Do you know the white whale, Tash?”
Tashtego nodded, his eyes alight with memories. “Doesn’t he fan-tail in a peculiar way before he goes down?”
And his spout! Aye, it’s like a tower of mist shooting up to the heavens,” Daggoo chimed in, his deep voice resonating with certainty.
Ahab’s gaze swept over his crew, taking in their words and the fire that burned in their eyes. The seed of obsession had been planted, and it took root within their hearts. The hunt for Moby Dick had become more than a mission—it had become a shared destiny.
“Men!” Ahab’s voice thundered across the deck. “I have sailed these seas for years, but it is in pursuit of that white demon that my true purpose lies. Moby Dick has taken much from me, and I swear upon this gold ounce that I shall take all from him!”
The crew erupted into cheers, their voices a symphony of determination and camaraderie. The prospect of facing such a legendary and elusive adversary ignited their spirits, fueling a newfound unity among them.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting long shadows over the ship, Ahab’s silhouette stood tall and resolute against the fading light. He gazed out at the vast expanse of the ocean, his mind consumed by thoughts of revenge and redemption.
“Set the sails, trim the mastheads, and let the winds guide us to the heart of the hunt,” Ahab commanded, his voice filled with unwavering conviction. “We sail for Moby Dick!”
With swift efficiency, the crew sprang into action, their years of experience and unyielding loyalty propelling them forward. The Pequod surged through the waves, cutting through the salty air with determination.
And so, under the command of Captain Ahab, the crew of the Pequod embarked on their fateful journey—a perilous quest to track down the legendary white whale, Moby Dick. The sea lay before them, vast and treacherous, but their spirits burned bright with a relentless determination that could only be quenched by the sight of the great leviathan.
Little did they know the trials and tribulations that awaited them on their voyage, the sacrifices they would make, and the profound truths they would uncover. The hunt for Moby Dick would test their courage, their sanity, and their very souls, as they delved deeper into the heart of darkness that dwelled within the vastness of the ocean.
But the tale of their encounter with the white whale, and the cataclysmic events that unfolded, would become the stuff of legends—a tale of obsession, revenge, and the eternal struggle between man and nature.
CHAPTER 23. Sunset
The cabin; by the stern windows; Ahab sitting alone, and gazing out.
I, Ishmael, was part of that crew. I joined in with their shouts, and my oath was just as strong. The fear in my soul only fueled my determination. A strange, mystical connection stirred within me. Ahab’s unending feud became my own. I eagerly absorbed every tale of that murderous monster, against whom we all swore our vows of violence and revenge.
For some time, the solitary and elusive White Whale had haunted those untamed waters, mostly frequented by Sperm Whale fishermen. But not everyone knew of his existence. Only a handful had knowingly laid eyes upon him, and even fewer had engaged in a direct battle with him.
Rumors began to circulate among the superstitious minds, linking Moby Dick to unearthly phenomena. Some claimed that he could be in two places at once, appearing in opposite latitudes simultaneously.
Picture this: three boats thrashing in the water, oars and men spinning in chaotic whirlpools. One captain, armed with a knife, lunging at the whale like a duelist from Arkansas, blindly seeking to strike a lethal blow against the whale’s deep and ancient life. That captain was Ahab. And in that moment, Moby Dick’s lower jaw, shaped like a sickle, swept beneath him, severing Ahab’s leg as effortlessly as a mower cuts through a blade of grass.
There was little doubt that, since that nearly fatal encounter, Ahab harbored a wild and unrelenting desire for revenge against the whale. In his mad obsession, he identified with the creature, taking on not only its physical suffering but also its intellectual and spiritual torment.
To Ahab, the White Whale embodied all that drove men to madness—the malicious forces that corrode a person’s very being, leaving them with only half a heart and half a lung. Ahab didn’t worship the whale like some of the others did. Instead, he passionately saw in Moby Dick a tangible representation of all the rage, hate, and evil that had plagued his lineage from the beginning of time.
It wasn’t until the voyage back home, after that encounter, that Ahab descended into full-blown madness. At times during the journey, he raved like a lunatic. Despite losing a leg, his Egyptian chest still held an incredible vitality, further fueled by his delirium. His mates were forced to restrain him tightly, even as he swung in his hammock, sailing and raving in his makeshift strait-jacket amidst the turbulent winds.
When the ship sailed into more tolerable latitudes, crossing the peaceful tropics, it seemed as if the old man’s delirium had been left behind with the swells of Cape Horn. Ahab emerged from his dark den into the blessed light and fresh air, wearing a calm and collected demeanor, issuing his orders as if the dire madness had evaporated. Yet, deep within himself, Ahab’s insanity persisted. Human madness can be cunning, like a sly feline. Just when you think it’s gone, it transforms into a subtler form. Ahab’s lunacy didn’t wane; it intensified.
Far from doubting his suitability for another whaling voyage due to these dark symptoms, the pragmatic folks on that prudent island believed that, for those very reasons, he was all the more qualified and driven for a pursuit as ferocious and untamed as the bloody hunt for whales.
Ahab had deliberately set sail on this voyage with one single, all-consuming purpose: to hunt down the White Whale. If any of his old acquaintances on land had the slightest inkling of what lurked within him, they would have torn the ship from his grasp, their righteous souls appalled. They sought profitable cruises, counting their gains in dollars and cents. Ahab, on the other hand, pursued audacious and supernatural vengeance.
So here he was, a grey-haired, godless old man, cursing and chasing a whale like Job’s affliction, encircling the globe with a crew comprised mostly of outcasts, renegades, and cannibals. Starbuck, the conscientious one, seemed indifferent and reckless. Stubb exuded a pervasive mediocrity, while Flask embodied an ordinary, run-of-the-mill nature. It was as if this crew had been handpicked by some infernal destiny to assist Ahab in his maniacal quest for revenge.
How could it be that they so readily embraced the old man’s hatred? What dark magic possessed their souls, binding their animosity to the White Whale as tightly as Ahab’s own? How did the whale become their unspeakable foe, lurking in the depths of their unconscious, like a great demon of the ocean of life? These questions delve into depths that even Ishmael cannot fully fathom.
But one thing remains clear: Ahab’s obsession, his all-consuming madness, grew only stronger. Instead of withering, he possessed a thousandfold more potency than ever before, though it may have seemed irrational to others. The calculating minds of that prudent island saw not a deranged man but a man uniquely qualified, sharpened to a razor’s edge by his tumultuous fury, for the perilous and savage pursuit of hunting whales.
Ahab had set sail on a quest that defied reason and logic. The tales of his madness would forever be etched in the annals of seafaring lore. The cabin, the stern windows, Ahab gazing out into the vast expanse, were witnesses to a man consumed by a vendetta that transcended mere mortality.
In recounting this tale, to fully unravel the enigma of Ahab’s obsession and his inexorable connection to the White Whale would require a plunge into depths beyond comprehension—a journey that surpasses the limits of Ishmael’s understanding.
CHAPTER 24. “There She Blows”
The true nature of Ahab’s obsession with the white whale, Moby Dick, has been hinted at, but my own experiences with him are yet to be fully revealed.
Apart from the obvious factors concerning Moby Dick, there was another unsettling, indescribable horror associated with him that I find almost impossible to articulate. It was the whale’s whiteness that haunted me above all else. How can I hope to convey my thoughts here? Yet, in some vague and haphazard manner, I must attempt to explain myself; otherwise, all these chapters would be in vain.
While in many natural objects, whiteness enhances beauty, bestowing upon them a special virtue of their own, such as in marble and pearls, there is something elusive lurking within the core concept of this hue that strikes more panic into the soul than the terror evoked by blood’s redness, despite all the positive and noble associations we may have with white. Even in the sacred depictions of our Lord, described as white as wool, there remains an enigmatic quality that unsettles the spirit.
In the seclusion of his cabin, Ahab studied his charts. Almost every night, they were brought out, and pencil marks were erased and replaced. With charts spanning all four oceans before him, Ahab navigated a labyrinth of currents and eddies, all in pursuit of his single-minded, obsessive desire.
To an outsider unfamiliar with the ways of the great whales, it might seem an absurdly futile endeavor to search for one solitary creature amidst the vast, endless oceans of our planet. However, Ahab, well-versed in the patterns of tides and currents, could calculate the movements of the sperm whale’s prey, factor in the established hunting seasons in particular regions, and make reasonable estimations bordering on certainty as to the most opportune day to be present in a given area to pursue his quarry.
Moreover, when migrating from one feeding ground to another, sperm whales, guided by some infallible instinct or divine intelligence, tend to swim in veins, following a precise course along a specific line of the ocean. No ship has ever sailed with even a fraction of such astonishing accuracy.
Ahab burned with an intense fervor for his purpose, willing to sacrifice all worldly interests to his all-consuming passion. Nevertheless, it is possible that he was too deeply entrenched in the ways of a fiery whaleman to entirely abandon the secondary objectives of the voyage.
Having impetuously, and perhaps prematurely, revealed the primary but private motive behind the Pequod’s journey, Ahab now realized that he had inadvertently opened himself up to the undeniable charge of usurpation. His crew, if so inclined, could defy him with complete impunity, both morally and legally, and even forcefully wrest control from his grasp.
For these reasons, and perhaps others too intricate to be fully expounded upon here, Ahab understood that he must, to a significant extent, remain faithful to the natural, stated purpose of the Pequod’s voyage. He would observe the customary practices and, not only that, but also force himself to channel his well-known passion and enthusiasm into the broader pursuit of his profession.
The sky was overcast, the air heavy with humidity; the sailors lazily lounged about the decks. Queequeg and I were engaged in the tranquil task of weaving a sword-mat for an additional securing mechanism for our boat. As we diligently wove and wove, I was startled by a sound so peculiar, prolonged, and eerily melodious that the sphere of conscious choice slipped from my hand, and I found myself gazing upward at the clouds from which that voice descended, akin to a wing.
Indeed, that very moment, the same sound echoed across the seas, emanating from countless whalemen’s lookouts perched high in the air. But few could match the extraordinary cadence of that accustomed cry, originating from none other than Tashtego the Indian.
“There she blows! There! There! There! She blows! She blows!”
“On the lee-beam, about two miles away! A school of them!”
Instantly, the entire ship burst into commotion.
“There go their tails!” Tashtego exclaimed, and the whales vanished from sight.
“Quick, steward!” Ahab commanded. “The time! The time!”
Dough-Boy rushed below deck, glanced at the watch, and promptly reported the precise minute to Ahab. The captain’s eyes gleamed with a mix of anticipation and determination, for this moment was of utmost importance in his relentless pursuit.
CHAPTER 25. The Spirit-Spout
Days and weeks passed, and the majestic Pequod, a ship made of ivory, sailed leisurely across vast oceans. Ahab, the commanding figure on the deck, moved with quick, determined strides, directing the sailors to adjust the sails. If you had observed Ahab’s face that night, you would have sensed a clash of conflicting emotions. As his one living leg resounded with energy, each step of his prosthetic limb echoed like the solemn toll of a funeral bell. Life and death seemed to intertwine within this aged man.
Amidst the darkness of the stormy weather, Ahab, though assuming near-constant control of the soaked and perilous deck, maintained an aura of gloomy solitude. He rarely spoke to his companions, withdrawing into his own thoughts.
During tempestuous times like these, when all the necessary precautions had been taken to secure the ship, there was nothing left to do but wait, passively, for the storm to pass. Ahab would stand for hours and hours, his ivory leg firmly secured in its designated place, gripping a rope with one hand. He would gaze intently into the relentless winds, while occasional bursts of sleet or snow threatened to seal his eyelashes shut. Few words were exchanged among the crew, and the ship sailed on silently, as if manned by motionless figures made of wax, sailing through the frenzied ecstasy of the raging waves.
Starbuck, one of Ahab’s loyal mates, could never forget the sight of the old man. He couldn’t shake off the feeling of terror that Ahab’s presence evoked. “What a formidable figure,” Starbuck thought, shivering in the midst of the tempest. “Even in the midst of this storm, you remain steadfastly committed to your purpose.”
CHAPTER 26. Pandemic
Hand in hand, ship and breeze surged forward, but the wind raced ahead, outpacing the ship, and soon the Pequod began to sway.
Let it be known that like the naval vessels of a military fleet, the ships of the American Whale Fleet each had a unique private signal. These signals were compiled in a book, with the names of the respective ships attached, and every captain was equipped with this guide.
Finally, the Pequod’s signal was answered by the stranger, who raised their own signal, revealing the ship to be the Jeroboam of Nantucket.
At that moment, Stubb exclaimed, “That’s him! That’s him!” Stubb referred to a peculiar tale about the Jeroboam and a certain crew member.
This man had been raised among the eccentric Neskyeuna Shakers, where he held the status of a great prophet. In their secretive and deranged gatherings, he had descended from heaven through a trapdoor several times, claiming to bear the seventh vial in his vest pocket. Instead of containing gunpowder, the vial was believed to be filled with laudanum. Struck by a whimsical apostolic impulse, he abandoned Neskyeuna and arrived in Nantucket. There, with cunning typical of madness, he adopted a composed and sensible facade, presenting himself as an inexperienced candidate for the Jeroboam’s whaling voyage. They accepted him, but as soon as the ship sailed out of sight of land, his insanity erupted like a flood. He proclaimed himself as the archangel Gabriel and commanded the captain to throw himself overboard.
The crew, largely ignorant souls, were terrified by this delirium and considered Gabriel a sacred figure. They feared him greatly. Although such a man was of little practical use on the ship, particularly since he refused to work unless he felt like it, the skeptical captain wished to be rid of him. However, when the captain revealed his intention, the archangel immediately opened all his seals and vials, cursing the ship and all aboard to unconditional damnation if his removal was carried out. He influenced his disciples among the crew so strongly that they went to the captain and declared that if Gabriel were expelled, not a single man would remain.
Thus, the captain was compelled to abandon his plan. Moreover, they refused to allow Gabriel to be mistreated in any way, no matter what he said or did. Consequently, Gabriel enjoyed complete freedom on the ship. As a result, he cared little for the captain and officers. Since the outbreak of the epidemic, he exerted even more control, declaring that he alone commanded the plague, which he referred to as the “plague,” and it would only cease at his whim.
The sailors, mostly destitute souls, groveled, and some even worshiped him. Following his instructions, they occasionally paid him personal homage, as if he were a deity. These occurrences may sound unbelievable, but as astonishing as they may seem, they are true. This fanatic not only possessed immeasurable power to deceive and bewilder so many others, but he also deceived himself. But let us return to the Pequod.
The Jeroboam approached, sailed under the Pequod’s lee, and lowered a boat. It swiftly drew near. However, as the side-ladder was being prepared by Starbuck’s command to accommodate the visiting captain, the stranger waved his hand from the stern of his boat, indicating that it was entirely unnecessary. It turned out that the Jeroboam was plagued by a malignant epidemic, and Captain Mayhew feared infecting the crew of the Pequod.
Although he and his boat’s crew remained unaffected, and despite the fact that his ship was at a considerable distance, and with an incorruptible expanse of sea and air separating them, Captain Mayhew staunchly adhered to the cautious quarantine measures of the land. He adamantly refused to come into direct contact with the Pequod.
Nevertheless, this did not completely hinder communication. Maintaining a modest distance between themselves and the ship, the Jeroboam’s boat skillfully maneuvered its oars to stay parallel with the Pequod as it plowed through the heavy waves. The boat would occasionally surge ahead but would quickly adjust its course to stay in alignment. Despite intermittent interruptions, a conversation persisted between the two parties, albeit sporadically.
“I fear not your epidemic, man,” Ahab called from the bulwarks to Captain Mayhew, who stood in the stern of the boat. “Come aboard.”
At that moment, Gabriel sprang to his feet. “Think, think of the fevers, the yellow and bilious! Beware the horrific plague!” he exclaimed.
Suddenly, a towering wave propelled the boat far ahead, drowning out any further speech.
“Have you seen the White Whale?” Ahab demanded when the boat drifted back.
But once again, the boat surged forward as if propelled by malevolent spirits. For a few moments, silence reigned as tumultuous waves rolled by.
When the momentary intermission subsided, Captain Mayhew began a somber tale about Moby Dick. However, his account was frequently interrupted by Gabriel’s interjections.
It appeared that not long after leaving home, the Jeroboam’s crew encountered a whaling ship whose crew reliably informed them of Moby Dick’s existence and the havoc he had wreaked. Consumed with a fervent desire to confront the great white whale, the first mate, Macey, burned with determination. Despite all of Gabriel’s warnings and prophecies, Macey managed to convince five men to join him in his boat. They set off, and after arduous rowing and numerous perilous but unsuccessful attempts, they finally managed to harpoon the behemoth. In the meantime, Gabriel ascended to the top of the main-royal mast, wildly gesticulating and foretelling the imminent doom that awaited these sacrilegious assailants of his divine entity.
And then, as Macey, standing at the bow of the boat with reckless energy characteristic of his kind, aimed his harpoon with fervor and uttered wild exclamations toward the whale, a broad white shadow emerged from the sea. Its swift, sweeping motion momentarily stole the breath from the oarsmen’s bodies. In an instant, the ill-fated mate, brimming with furious life, was propelled into the air, tracing a long arc before plunging into the sea about fifty yards away. Not a splinter of the boat was harmed, nor a single hair on any oarsman’s head, but the mate disappeared forever beneath the waves.
It is worth noting that among the fatal accidents in the Sperm-Whale Fishery, this type of incident is perhaps almost as common as any other. Sometimes, only the man who is annihilated suffers any harm, while other times, the boat’s bow is shattered or the platform upon which the harpooner stands is torn from its place and carried away with the body. Strangest of all, on more than one occasion when the bodies have been recovered, not a single mark of violence is discernible, despite the men being dead.
The entire calamity, including Macey’s falling form, was clearly visible from the Pequod. Emitting a piercing shriek, Gabriel cried, “The vial! The vial!” and commanded the terrified crew to cease their pursuit of the whale. This terrible event further bolstered the archangel’s influence, as his credulous followers believed that he had specifically foretold the tragedy rather than making a general prophecy that could have been applied to various scenarios. He became an unnamed terror aboard the ship.
After Mayhew concluded his narrative, Ahab posed questions that led the stranger captain to inquire whether Ahab intended to hunt the White Whale if given the opportunity. Ahab’s response was a resolute “Aye.” Instantly, Gabriel sprang to his feet once more, his gaze fixed intensely on the old man, and vehemently exclaimed, pointing downward, “Think, think of the blasphemer—dead, and down there! Beware of the blasphemer’s end!”
Ahab nonchalantly turned away and then said to Mayhew, “Captain, I just remembered my letter bag. There is a letter for one of your officers, if I’m not mistaken. Starbuck, go through the bag.”
Every whaling ship carries a considerable number of letters destined for various vessels, the delivery of which relies solely on the chance encounter in the vast expanse of the four oceans. Consequently, most letters never reach their intended recipients, and many are only received after two or three years or even longer.
Shortly thereafter, Starbuck returned, holding a damp and disheveled letter in his hand. The musty pages were marked with dull, spotted green mold from being kept in the dark cabin locker. It was the kind of letter that Death himself could have delivered.
“Can’t you read it?” cried Ahab. “Give it to me, man. Aye, aye, it’s barely legible. What’s this?” As he studied the letter, Starbuck took a long pole with a split end, using his knife to create a small opening to insert the letter. In this way, he could pass it to the boat without bringing it any closer to the ship.
Meanwhile, Ahab, clutching the letter, muttered, “Mr. Har… yes, Mr. Harry… (a woman’s handwriting, I wager)… Aye… Mr. Harry Macey, Ship Jeroboam… Why, it’s Macey, and he’s dead!”
“Poor fellow! Poor fellow! And it’s from his wife,” sighed Mayhew. “But let me have it.” “Nay, keep it for yourself,” Gabriel cried out to Ahab. “You are soon heading that way.”
“Curses choke you!” yelled Ahab. “Captain Mayhew, stand ready to receive it.” Taking the fateful missive from Starbuck’s hands, Ahab lodged it into the slit of the pole and extended it toward the boat. Yet, as he did so, the rowers, expecting the exchange to take place, ceased rowing. The boat drifted slightly toward the stern of the ship, and, as if by magic, the letter aligned perfectly with Gabriel’s outstretched hand. In an instant, he seized it, impaled it on the boat-knife, and sent it back to the ship in that fashion. It fell at Ahab’s feet. Gabriel then screamed at his companions to row with all their might, and in this manner, the mutinous boat rapidly distanced itself from the Pequod.
CHAPTER 27. Jonah
In a previous chapter, we mentioned the famous tale of Jonah and the whale from history. Interestingly, there are Nantucketers who hold a certain level of skepticism towards this historical account. However, it’s worth noting that even among the ancient Greeks and Romans, there were skeptics who questioned well-known stories like Hercules and the whale or Arion and the dolphin. Yet, their doubts did not diminish the reality of these traditions in the slightest.
Just as the doubting Greeks and Romans did not negate the existence of Hercules or Arion, the skepticism of certain Nantucketers does not invalidate the story of Jonah and the whale. These tales carry a significance that transcends mere belief or doubt. They have become woven into the fabric of our collective consciousness, leaving an indelible mark on our cultural heritage. Whether regarded as literal events or symbolic narratives, they continue to resonate with us, challenging our understanding of the extraordinary and reminding us of the limitless possibilities that lie within the realm of human experience.
CHAPTER 28. Vapor of Doubt
For thousands of years—perhaps even millions of ages before that—the magnificent whales have been spouting and mystifying the depths of the sea, sprinkling its gardens with wonder. And for centuries, countless hunters have gathered near the whale’s fountain, observing these sprays and spouts. Yet, the question remains: are these emissions actual water or mere vapor? This is a truly remarkable mystery.
In contrast, humans are constantly engaged in the act of breathing. Each breath sustains two or three heartbeats, ensuring our survival whether we are awake or asleep. However, the Sperm Whale breathes only a fraction of its time, equivalent to one-seventh or a single day of the week.
Still, we can speculate even if we cannot definitively prove our theories. Here is my hypothesis: the whale’s spout is nothing but mist. I arrive at this conclusion by contemplating the profound dignity inherent in the Sperm Whale. I perceive it as an extraordinary and profound creature. I firmly believe that from the minds of such weighty and thoughtful beings, like Plato, Pyrrho, the Devil, Jupiter, Dante, and the like, there arises a semi-visible steam while they engage in deep thoughts.
Imagine the grandeur of the mighty, misty monster gracefully sailing through tranquil tropical waters, its immense and gentle head crowned by a canopy of vapor generated by its contemplations. Sometimes, you may even witness this mist adorned by a radiant rainbow, as if Heaven itself had bestowed its blessing upon its musings. You see, rainbows do not appear in clear skies; they only illuminate the presence of vapor. And so, amid the thick fog of uncertainty that clouds my mind, divine insights occasionally pierce through, kindling my mist with a celestial glow. For this, I express my gratitude to God, for doubt is a common experience for all, with many choosing to deny. Yet, it is rare to possess both doubt and intuition. Doubts regarding earthly matters and glimpses of heavenly truths—this juxtaposition does not make one a believer or an infidel but rather a person who regards both with an impartial eye.
CHAPTER 29. Smell
It was a week or two since our last encounter with the majestic whales, and as we sailed lazily across the tranquil mid-day sea, something caught our attention. The sharp senses of the crew on the Pequod’s deck proved more perceptive than the three pairs of eyes scanning the horizon above. A peculiar, unpleasant odor wafted through the air.
Stubb, always quick-witted, broke the silence, “I bet you something, mates. I reckon we’re getting close to those drugged whales we teased the other day. I knew they wouldn’t last long.”
In the distance, we spotted a ship with its sails furled, a telltale sign that it had encountered some sort of whale. As we approached, we noticed the French colors fluttering from its masthead. The circling, swooping sea-fowl indicated that the whale alongside the ship was what fishermen referred to as a “blasted whale” — a whale that had died undisturbed at sea, its lifeless body drifting unclaimed. The stench that emanated from such a mass was unimaginable, worse than a plague-stricken Assyrian city, left to rot when the living were incapable of burying the dead.
As we drew closer on the dying breeze, we realized that the French ship had another whale alongside, and this one seemed even more putrid than the first. It turned out to be one of those enigmatic whales that appeared to wither away and perish, suffering from some monstrous indigestion or dyspepsia, leaving their carcasses almost devoid of oil. Yet, as we shall soon discover, no knowledgeable fisherman would disdain such a whale, despite their aversion to blasted whales in general.
The Pequod had approached so near to the stranger ship that Stubb confidently identified his own harpoon entangled in the lines wrapped around the tail of one of these whales.
“There’s a fine sight for you!” Stubb laughed heartily from the ship’s bows. “That’s a scavenger for you! These frog-eating Frenchmen are pitiful in the whaling business. Sometimes they lower their boats for mere breakers, mistaking them for Sperm Whale spouts. And sometimes they set sail from port with their hold filled with boxes of tallow candles and cases of snuffers, knowing well that the little oil they’ll acquire won’t be enough to dip the captain’s wick. We’re all aware of these things. But look, here’s a Frenchman who’s content with our leftovers—the drugged whale over there, I mean. And he’s even satisfied with scraping the dry bones of that other valuable fish he has. Poor devil! Someone pass the hat around, let’s give him a little oil out of charity’s sake. The oil he’d get from that drugged whale wouldn’t even burn in a jail cell, let alone a condemned one. And as for the other whale, well, I wager I could extract more oil by chopping up and rendering these three masts of ours than he could from that pile of bones.”
As the feeble breeze died down completely, the Pequod found itself enveloped in the putrid odor, with no hope of escape unless the wind picked up again. Stubb emerged from the cabin, ready to summon his boat’s crew to row over to the French stranger.
In order to communicate directly with the people on the deck, he had to steer around the bow to the starboard side and come close to the blasted whale to have a conversation.
When Stubb reached the designated spot, still holding his hand to his nose, he bellowed, “Ahoy! Any of you speak English?”
“Yes,” replied a sailor from Guernsey who happened to be the chief mate.
“Well then, my friend, have you laid eyes on the White Whale?” Stubb inquired eagerly.
“What whale?” the Guernsey man responded, puzzled.
“The White Whale—the Sperm Whale—Moby Dick, have you seen it?”
“Never heard of such a whale. Cachalot Blanche! White Whale—no.”
“Very well, then. Goodbye for now. I’ll be back in a moment,” Stubb replied, swiftly maneuvering his way back to the Pequod. He spotted Captain Ahab leaning over the quarter-deck rail, awaiting his report. Shaping his hands into a makeshift trumpet, Stubb shouted, “No, sir! No!” And with that, Ahab retreated into his thoughts.
CHAPTER 30. An Arm and a Leg
“Ship, ahoy! Have you sighted the White Whale?”
Ahab’s cry pierced the air as he hailed another vessel flying the English flag, swiftly approaching from astern.
“Have you seen the White Whale?”
“Do you see this?” Ahab asked, revealing a white arm made of sperm whale bone, culminating in a wooden head resembling a mallet.
“Man the boat!” Ahab exclaimed impetuously, tossing the nearby oars about. “Prepare to lower!”
In less than a minute, Ahab and his crew were in the water, swiftly closing in on the stranger’s ship.
With great care, they hoisted Ahab aboard and gently set him on the deck. The other captain extended his ivory arm in a welcoming gesture, and Ahab, with his ivory leg and arm crossing like the blades of swordfish, bellowed in his characteristic manner, “Yes, yes, hearty! Let’s shake bones together—an arm and a leg! An arm that cannot shrink, you see, and a leg that cannot run. Where did you see the White Whale? How long ago?”
“The White Whale,” the Englishman replied, pointing his ivory arm eastward as if it were a telescope. “I saw him there, on the Line, last season.”
“And he took that arm from you?” Ahab inquired, leaning on the Englishman’s shoulder.
“Yes, he was the cause of it, or at least, that’s what I believe. And the leg too?”
“It was him, it was him!” Ahab exclaimed, finally releasing his held breath.
“With harpoons lodged near his starboard fin.”
“Aye, aye—those were mine, my irons!” Ahab triumphantly declared.
“What happened to the White Whale?” Ahab asked eagerly.
“Oh!” cried the one-armed captain, “oh, yes! Well, we didn’t encounter him again for some time. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t even know which whale had played that trick on me until later, when we heard about Moby Dick—that’s what some call him—and then I knew.”
“Did you cross his path again?”
“But couldn’t harpoon him?”
“I didn’t want to try. Isn’t one limb lost enough? What would I do without this other arm? And I reckon Moby Dick swallows more than he bites.”
“No, thank you,” the English captain replied. “He can keep the arm he has since I can’t change it, and I didn’t recognize him back then. But I won’t give him another one. No more White Whales for me; I’ve pursued him once, and that’s enough. There would be great glory in killing him, I know that, and he’s filled with precious sperm, but listen, Captain,” he added, glancing at Ahab’s ivory leg, “it’s best to leave him be, don’t you think?”
“He is. But he will still be hunted. What is best left alone often entices the most. He’s like a magnet! How long has it been since you last saw him? Which way was he heading?”
“Good heavens!” cried the English captain, to whom the question was addressed. “What’s the matter? I believe he was heading east. Is your captain out of his mind?”
But Ahab ordered the ship’s crew to stand ready to lower the boats.
In an instant, he stood at the stern of the boat, while the Manilla men swiftly took their places at the oars. The English captain’s attempts to hail him were in vain. With his back turned to the stranger’s ship and his face resolute, Ahab stood tall until the boats were alongside the Pequod.
CHAPTER 31. Ahab’s Leg
Captain Ahab’s sudden departure from the Samuel Enderby of London was accompanied by a jolt that caused him some discomfort. With a burst of energy, he descended upon the deck, causing his ivory leg to sustain a minor splintering shock. And as he regained his footing on his own vessel, firmly planted in his designated spot, he spun around with such urgency, delivering a commanding order to the helmsman. This abrupt motion further twisted and strained the already shaken ivory limb. Though it remained intact and seemingly robust, Ahab couldn’t fully trust its reliability.
Surprisingly, amidst his all-encompassing and reckless madness, Ahab occasionally paid close attention to the condition of that lifeless bone upon which he partly depended. Yes, Ahab acknowledged that both the lineage and future of sorrow extend farther than those of joy. For even the most eloquent earthly speeches can harbor traces of insignificance, and not even the gods themselves are perpetually filled with joy.
Regardless of the mysterious and enigmatic forces that may have influenced Ahab’s life or the vengeful flames of destiny, when it came to his leg, he pursued straightforward practicality. He summoned the ship’s carpenter without delay and instructed him to promptly fashion a new leg. Ahab directed the mates to provide the carpenter with an ample supply of the strongest and clearest-grained jaw-ivory harvested from the voyage thus far, ensuring a careful selection of the sturdiest materials.
With these orders given, the carpenter was tasked with completing the new leg by nightfall.
CHAPTER 32. The Carpenter
Take a seat amidst the majestic moons of Saturn and behold the enigma of solitary man. From this vantage point, he appears both wondrous and tragic, a complex blend of grandeur and sorrow. Yet, when we shift our gaze to humanity as a whole, they often seem like a mass of redundant replicas. However, there was one individual among them who defied duplication—the humble carpenter of the Pequod—and now he enters the spotlight.
Like all ship carpenters who sail the seas, especially those aboard whaling vessels, he possessed a diverse array of skills and trades, all intertwined with his primary craft. The carpenter’s expertise extended beyond mere woodworking, encompassing countless nameless mechanical predicaments that invariably arose during lengthy voyages on a large ship.
Perhaps it was his lifelong wanderings that had stripped away any superficial attachments he may have once had, leaving him a bare essence, unadulterated and untethered, as untouched by worldly concerns as a newborn babe. His work seemed to defy reason, instinct, and learned techniques, relying instead on an innate, instinctive process that unfolded silently and without words. He was a true craftsman, his mind—if he ever possessed one—seeping into the sinew and dexterity of his fingers.
Listen, carpenter, I presume you consider yourself a skilled artisan, do you not? Well then, let me ask you this: If I were to attach this leg you’re fashioning, will it truly be a testament to your craftsmanship if, despite its excellence, I still feel the presence of my old leg in the very same spot? I’m referring to my original flesh-and-blood limb, carpenter. Can’t you banish that phantom?
Truly, sir, I’m beginning to grasp the situation now. Yes, I’ve heard something peculiar about it, sir—how a man who has lost a limb never truly loses the sensation of its presence, as it occasionally haunts him. May I humbly inquire if it’s indeed the case, sir?
Indeed it is, my friend. Look, place your living leg here, where mine once resided. Now, to the casual observer, there appears to be only one distinct leg, yet within the depths of our souls, we sense the duality. Where you feel the pulsating essence of life, right there, precisely there, I feel it too. And if I still experience the phantom agony of my crushed leg, long after it has turned to dust, then why shouldn’t you, carpenter, feel the scorching torment of eternal damnation without a physical vessel?
Oh, Life! Here I stand, proud as an ancient Greek deity, and yet indebted to this simpleton for a mere limb to stand upon! Curse the tangled web of mutual obligations that refuses to be erased. I yearn to be as free as the wind itself.
CARPENTER (resuming his work).
CHAPTER 33. Leaking Oil
The following morning, as they were pumping the ship, they noticed a surprising amount of oil mixed with the water. The casks must have suffered a significant leak. This discovery caused great concern, prompting Starbuck to descend into the cabin and report this unfavorable development to Captain Ahab.
On a whaleboat, it was customary to regularly soak the casks with seawater, which would then be removed using the ship’s pumps. This practice allowed the sailors to promptly identify any major leakage in the valuable cargo.
Starbuck found Ahab studying a general chart of the oriental archipelagoes and another separate one depicting the extensive eastern coastlines of the Japanese islands.
“Who’s there?” Ahab asked, hearing the footsteps approaching the door but not turning to face them.
“It’s Captain Ahab; it’s me. The oil in the hold is leaking, sir. We need to take action and address it,” Starbuck informed him.
“Take action and address it now? Just as we’re nearing Japan?” Ahab responded.
“We must do so, sir, unless we want to waste more oil in a single day than we can produce in a good year. What we’ve traveled twenty thousand miles to obtain is worth saving, sir,” Starbuck insisted.
“Be gone! Let it leak! I myself am a leak. Yet, I don’t stop to plug my own leak. Starbuck! I will not turn back,” Ahab retorted.
“What will the owners say, sir?” Starbuck inquired.
“Let the owners stand on Nantucket beach and shout louder than the fiercest typhoons. What does Ahab care? Owners, owners? As if they were my conscience. But listen, the true owner of anything is its commander. And listen closely, my conscience resides in this ship’s hull. On deck!”
“Captain Ahab,” the mate reddened, stepping further into the cabin with a daring yet strangely respectful caution. “A better man than I might very well resent you, Captain Ahab.”
“Devils! Do you dare to even think critically of me? On deck!” Ahab exclaimed, seizing a loaded musket from the rack and pointing it towards Starbuck. “There is one God who rules over the earth, and one Captain who rules over the Pequod. On deck!” Ahab declared.
For a moment, in the mate’s flashing eyes and fiery cheeks, one could almost believe that he had truly felt the burning blast of the aimed gun. However, regaining control of his emotions, he rose with half-calmness and, as he left the cabin, paused briefly, saying, “You have outraged me, not insulted me, sir. But for that, I don’t ask you to beware of Starbuck. You would only laugh. Instead, let Ahab beware of Ahab. Beware of yourself, old man.”
“He grows courageous, yet he still obeys!” Ahab murmured as Starbuck vanished. “What did he say? Ahab beware of Ahab—there’s something in that!” Unconsciously using the musket as a walking stick, he paced back and forth in the cramped cabin. But soon, the tension in his forehead eased, and he returned the gun to the rack before making his way to the deck.
“Starbuck, you’re more than just a good fellow,” he quietly told the mate, then raising his voice to address the crew. “Furl the top-gallant sails and reef the topsails, fore and aft. Back the main-yard. Prepare to change course.”
As for the exact reason behind Ahab’s actions concerning Starbuck, it may have been a brief moment of honesty. Whatever it was, his orders were promptly carried out.
CHAPTER 34. Queequeg in His Coffin
Upon investigation, it was discovered that the barrels were in perfect condition, indicating that the leak must be located elsewhere. With calm weather prevailing, they continued to delve deeper and deeper into the matter.
Meanwhile, my dear pagan companion and close friend, Queequeg, fell victim to a fever that brought him to the brink of eternity. Clad only in his woolen drawers, the tattooed savage crawled amidst the dampness and slime, despite his profuse sweating. Unfortunately, this led to a severe chill, which developed into a fever that eventually laid him in his hammock, on the very threshold of death.
In those agonizingly prolonged days, he wasted away before our eyes until there seemed to be little left of him except his skeletal frame adorned with tattoos. However, as his body dwindled, his cheekbones becoming more pronounced, his eyes retained a strange radiance, growing fuller despite the rest of him diminishing. They took on a soft luminosity, gazing out from his sickly countenance, a remarkable testament to the enduring vitality within him that could not be extinguished or weakened.
His eyes seemed to spiral like eternal rings, evoking an indescribable awe that enveloped anyone sitting beside this ailing savage. For the truly extraordinary and awe-inspiring aspects of humanity can never be fully captured in words or recorded in books. The approach of death, which levels all equally, impresses upon us a final revelation that only a deceased author could adequately convey.
Thus, it must be reiterated that no dying Greek philosopher ever entertained loftier or more sacred thoughts than those silently creeping across the face of poor Queequeg as he lay quietly in his swaying hammock. The rolling sea seemed to tenderly cradle him, lulling him towards his ultimate rest, while the invisible tide of the ocean lifted him higher and higher towards his destined heaven.
Not a single member of the crew gave up on him. As for Queequeg himself, his desires were made evident by a peculiar request he made. He beckoned me closer, took my hand, and revealed that during his time in Nantucket, he had encountered small canoes made of dark wood. Upon inquiry, he learned that all deceased whalemen in Nantucket were laid to rest in these very canoes, and he found great appeal in the notion. It resembled the customs of his own people, who would embalm a fallen warrior and lay him out in a canoe to be carried away to the celestial islands.
For not only did they believe that the stars were islands, but they also held the belief that beyond all visible horizons, their tranquil, unbounded seas intermingled with the vast blue heavens, creating the white breakers of the Milky Way.
He expressed his aversion to being buried in his hammock and instead yearned for a canoe like those in Nantucket. Upon learning of this peculiar request, the carpenter was immediately tasked with fulfilling Queequeg’s wishes, whatever they may entail.
When the final nail was hammered and the lid perfectly fitted, the carpenter shouldered the coffin with ease and inquired if they were ready to receive it. To everyone’s astonishment, Queequeg demanded that the coffin be brought to him immediately. He then requested his harpoon, some biscuits, and a flask of freshwater, which were placed at the head of the canoe. Queequeg now requested to be lifted into his final resting place, desiring to experience its comfort.
Yet, just as everything appeared to be in order for his imminent demise and the carpenter’s work seemed unnecessary, Queequeg unexpectedly rallied. It seemed that the carpenter’s box was no longer needed. When some expressed their joyful surprise, Queequeg, in essence, explained that his sudden recovery was due to a critical realization. At a crucial moment, he remembered a neglected duty ashore, which he had left unfinished. This realization led him to change his mind about succumbing to death. He adamantly asserted that he couldn’t die just yet. When questioned, he affirmed that living or dying was a matter of his own sovereign will and pleasure. In short, Queequeg believed that if a person resolved to live, mere sickness alone couldn’t claim their life. Only a whale, a fierce storm, or some other uncontrollable, mindless destroyer of that nature had the power to do so.
Here lies a notable difference between the savage and the civilized: while it may take a sick civilized individual six months to recover, a sick savage is often halfway back to health in a single day. Thus, in due time, my resilient Queequeg regained his strength. After spending a few leisurely days sitting on the deck (yet maintaining a hearty appetite), he suddenly leaped to his feet, stretched out his arms and legs, yawned, and sprang into action at the bow of his hoisted boat. Brandishing a harpoon, he declared himself ready for battle.
With a whimsical touch of wildness, he repurposed his coffin as a sea-chest and meticulously arranged his clothes inside it. He invested many spare hours in carving the lid with a profusion of grotesque figures and intricate designs. It appeared as if he were attempting, in his unrefined manner, to replicate elements of the twisted tattooing adorning his own body. This body art had been crafted by a departed prophet and seer of his island, who had inscribed upon Queequeg’s flesh a comprehensive cosmology of the heavens and the earth, along with a mystical treatise on the pursuit of truth.
Yet, even Queequeg himself couldn’t decipher the mysteries encoded within those symbols, despite the fact that his heart beat against them.
CHAPTER 35. The Castaway
In the whale ship, not everyone had the privilege of going out in the boats. Some were assigned as ship-keepers, responsible for managing the vessel while the others pursued the whales. Typically, these ship-keepers were as tough as the men in the boat crews. However, if there happened to be someone slender or clumsy on board, they were destined to become a ship-keeper. And so it was on the Pequod with the young black boy known as Pippin, or Pip for short. Poor Pip! He cherished life and all its peaceful comforts.
A twist of fate led to Stubb’s oarsman spraining his hand, rendering him unable to perform his duties temporarily. As a result, Pip was temporarily assigned to take his place.
During Pip’s first descent with Stubb, he was nervous. Fortunately, he managed to avoid close contact with the whale that time and acquitted himself decently. However, on their second descent, as the boat approached the whale and the harpoon struck the creature, it thrashed about violently, and unfortunately, right beneath Pip’s seat. In the ensuing moment of panic, Pip leaped out of the boat with his paddle, inadvertently causing the slack of the whale line to entangle around his chest.
The moment the wounded whale surged forward, the line swiftly tightened, and suddenly, poor Pip was pulled up to the boat’s deck, foaming and helpless, the line wound tightly around his chest and neck.
Tashtego stood at the bow, consumed by the excitement of the hunt. He despised Pip. Snatching the boat-knife from its sheath, he held its sharp edge above the line and turned to Stubb, shouting, “Cut?” Meanwhile, Pip’s blue, choked face silently pleaded, “For God’s sake, cut me loose!”
Everything happened in a matter of seconds. In less than half a minute, the entire incident unfolded.
“Damn it, cut!” roared Stubb. And so, the whale was lost, but Pip was saved.
As soon as Pip regained his composure, he was bombarded with yells and curses from the crew. Stubb concluded with a stern command, “Stick to the boat, Pip, or I swear to God, I won’t rescue you if you jump. Remember that we can’t afford to lose whales because of someone like you. A single whale’s worth thirty times more than you, Pip, back in Alabama. Keep that in mind and don’t jump again.”
In his own way, Stubb indirectly hinted that while people may care for one another, they are also driven by the desire for wealth, which often interferes with their benevolence.
Yet, we are all at the mercy of the gods, and Pip jumped once more. It happened under similar circumstances to his first leap, but this time Pip was left behind in the sea. Alas! Stubb remained true to his word. Pip’s ebony head bobbed up and down in the water, resembling a cluster of cloves.
Out in the vast expanse of the sea, Pip turned his curly black head toward the sun. Swimming in calm waters is as effortless for an experienced swimmer as riding in a comfortable carriage on land. However, the unbearable solitude was excruciating. The overwhelming sense of self in the midst of such an indifferent vastness—my God! Who can truly comprehend it?
But had Stubb truly forsaken Pip to his fate? No, that was not his intention, at least. He assumed that the two boats trailing behind would swiftly come to Pip’s aid. However, by sheer chance, those boats, upon sighting whales nearby, abruptly changed course and gave chase.
By a stroke of luck, it was the Pequod itself that eventually rescued Pip. However, from that moment on, the little Pip wandered the ship’s deck like a lost soul, his mind shattered. At least, that’s what they said about him. The sea had cruelly preserved his physical body but drowned his spirit.
Yet, his spirit was not entirely extinguished. It was carried alive to wondrous depths, where Pip witnessed the myriad coral insects, a testament to God’s omnipresence. He saw God’s foot upon the pedal of the loom and spoke of it, leading his shipmates to label him as mad.
Thus, man’s insanity appeared as heavenly wisdom, and when one strays from mortal reason, they eventually arrive at a celestial thought that appears absurd and frenzied to the rational mind.
“The greatest fool chastises the lesser fool,” muttered Ahab, stepping forward. “Stay away from that sacred being! Where is Pip, I ask?”
“He’s back there, sir, astern!”
“Come here, boy. From this day forward, Ahab’s cabin shall be your home as long as I live. You touch the depths of my being, boy, for you are bound to me by the very fibers of my heart. Come, let’s go down.”
If only poor Pip had felt such kindness before, perhaps he would never have been lost!
“Come then to my cabin. Look! You believers in the goodness of God and the inherent wickedness of man, observe! See how the all-knowing gods remain oblivious to the suffering of man, and how man, though foolish and unaware of his own actions, is filled with love and gratitude. Come! Leading you by your hand fills me with more pride than if I held an emperor’s hand!”
CHAPTER 36. Rachel
The coffin lay on two makeshift tubs, and the carpenter worked on sealing its seams. Ahab emerged from the cabin, followed by Pip.
“What’s that?” he inquired.
“A life-buoy, sir. Mr. Starbuck’s orders. I was turning it into a coffin for Queequeg, but now they want me to make it into something else.”
Ahab muttered to himself, lost in contemplation. “Oh, how insignificant are physical objects! What is truly real, if not intangible thoughts? A life-buoy turned into a coffin! But does it serve a greater purpose? Could it be that, in a spiritual sense, the coffin is nothing more than a preserver of immortality? I shall ponder upon that. I have delved so far into the darkness that the other side, the theoretical bright one, appears as uncertain twilight. I’ll go below; I refuse to see that thing here when I return. Now, Pip, let’s discuss this. I extract incredible philosophies from you! Unknown channels from undiscovered worlds must flow into your being!”
The following day, the Rachel, a large ship, was sighted, heading straight towards the Pequod.
“Have you seen the White Whale?” Ahab’s voice rang out.
“Aye, yesterday. Have you seen a whale-boat adrift?”
Suppressing his elation, Ahab denied having seen the boat and felt the urge to board the stranger’s vessel. The captain of the stranger ship was seen descending its side. With swift pulls, his boat-hook firmly clasped the chains of the Pequod, and he leaped onto the deck. Ahab recognized him as a fellow Nantucketer, but no formal greeting was exchanged.
“Where is he? Not killed, not killed!” Ahab cried out.
It appeared that late on the previous day, the white hump and head of Moby Dick had suddenly emerged from the water. In response, a boat was swiftly lowered to give chase. The boat seemed to have successfully attached itself to the whale. In the distance, they saw the diminished boat surrounded by bubbling white water, and then nothing more.
It was concluded that the wounded whale had escaped, as often happens in such situations.
After recounting the story, the stranger captain revealed his purpose in boarding the Pequod. He pleaded for the ship to join his own in the search.
“My boy, my own boy is among them. I beg you, for God’s sake, I implore,” the stranger captain exclaimed to Ahab, who had thus far coldly received his request. “I will pay for it generously.”
“His son!” Stubb exclaimed. “Oh, he’s lost his son! What does Ahab say? We must save that boy.”
Adding to the melancholy of the incident, one of the boat’s crew members was a twelve-year-old boy. His father, driven by the deep love of a Nantucket father, had sought to introduce him early to the perils and wonders of their seafaring lineage. It was not uncommon for Nantucket captains to send their young sons away so that they could experience the life of a whaleman without any interference from a father’s biased affection or excessive worry.
The stranger continued beseeching Ahab, who remained unmoved, like an unyielding anvil.
“I won’t leave until you agree. Treat me as you would want to be treated in a similar situation. After all, you also have a son, Captain Ahab, even if he is but a child, safe and snug at home. A child born in your old age.”
“Stop,” Ahab commanded. Then, with a voice that shaped every word, he “Captain Gardiner, I cannot comply,” Ahab declared. “I am already wasting precious time. Farewell, farewell. May God bless you, and may I find forgiveness within myself. But I must go. Mr. Starbuck, in three minutes from now, warn off any strangers. Then, brace forward and let the ship continue its course as before.”
With a hurried turn and averted face, Ahab descended into his cabin, leaving the perplexed stranger captain standing there, stunned by the complete and absolute rejection of his heartfelt plea. Gardiner silently rushed to the ship’s side, descending into his boat and returning to his own vessel.
Soon, the wakes of the two ships diverged, but the Rachel, by its slow and sorrowful path, gave a clear indication that it remained without solace. It was Rachel, weeping for her children, for they were not.
CHAPTER 37. Soliloquy of Ahab
Ahab moving to go on deck; Pip catches him by the hand to follow.
He pleaded with Ahab, urging him not to follow his dangerous path any longer. Pip sensed a healing presence within himself that Ahab needed to distance himself from, even though he didn’t want to push Pip away completely. Ahab recognized this conflict within himself, where his pursuit of vengeance had become his most desired form of redemption.
“Listen,” Ahab spoke softly, “you will always hear the sound of my footsteps on the deck, even when you can’t see me. And now, I must leave you. You are true, like the center to its circumference. May God bless you forever, and if necessary, may God save you from whatever lies ahead.”
As the Pequod sailed on, days blending into rolling waves, the life-buoy-coffin continued to sway gently. Ahab slowly walked across the deck and leaned over the side, observing his own shadow sinking into the water. The enchanting aromas in the air momentarily dispelled the cancerous burden in his soul. The atmosphere seemed to embrace him with affection, like a stepmother world that had been cruel and forbidding for so long, yet still found the capacity to save and bless him.
A single tear escaped from beneath Ahab’s slouched hat, falling into the sea. No amount of wealth in the vast Pacific could compare to the value of that tiny drop. Starbuck witnessed the old man’s heavy lean over the side and could almost hear the profound sobbing emanating from the depth of his being, amidst the serenity that surrounded them.
Careful not to disturb or draw attention to Ahab, Starbuck approached and stood nearby. Ahab turned to face him.
“Oh, Starbuck! It’s a calm, peaceful wind and a serene sky. On a day like this, so sweet and gentle, I harpooned my first whale—a young harpooner of only eighteen! Forty, forty, forty years have passed since then! Forty years of relentless whaling, forty years of hardship, danger, and storms. Forty years on the merciless sea! I have spent less than three years ashore out of those forty. When I think of the life I’ve led—the desolation of solitude, the captain’s isolated world that allows little sympathy from the outside—I grow weary, burdened.”
Ahab continued, his voice heavy with the weight of his words. “When I married that young girl fifty years ago and sailed for Cape Horn the next day, I deprived her of a husband, making her a widow with a living spouse. Yes, Starbuck, I widowed that poor girl when I married her. And then the madness, the frenzy, the boiling blood, and the burning brow with which old Ahab has relentlessly pursued his prey for a thousand lowerings. I have become more demon than man. Yes, yes! What a fool I’ve been for forty years! A foolish, foolish old man!”
Ahab questioned the purpose of his relentless pursuit, the weariness that consumed him. What had he gained from it? How had he become richer or better? He wondered why he had exhausted his arm with the oar, the iron, and the harpoon. He lamented the loss of his leg, snatched away in the pursuit. He brushed aside his gray hair, feeling an overwhelming sense of age, as if he were Adam staggering under the weight of centuries since Paradise. The bitterness of his aging appearance mocked him. Ahab longed for someone to stand close, to look into a human eye that offered more solace than the vastness of the sea or sky, something better than gazing upon God.
“My Captain, my Captain! You possess a noble soul, a grand old heart, despite everything. Why should anyone chase that hated fish? Let us escape these treacherous waters! Let us return home! Your wife and child are also mine, as if they were my own family. Let us depart this instant, alter our course, and joyfully sail back to old Nantucket! I believe, sir, that even in Nantucket they have days as serene and blue as this.”
“They do, they do. I have witnessed them—those summer mornings. At this very moment, my boy is surely waking up with excitement, sitting up in bed. His mother tells him stories about me, about the cannibalistic old me, how I am out at sea but will eventually return to dance with him again.”
“It’s my Mary, my beloved Mary! She promised that our son would be taken to the hill every morning to catch the first glimpse of his father’s sail. Yes, yes! No more hesitation! We are heading for Nantucket! Come, my Captain, chart our course, and let us set sail! Look, look! The boy’s face at the window! His hand waving from the hill!”
However, Ahab averted his gaze. Like a withered tree, he trembled and cast his last, burned apple to the ground.
“What is it? What mysterious, unfathomable force commands me? What cruel and relentless emperor rules over me, pushing me forward against all natural inclinations and desires? Is Ahab truly Ahab? Is this arm of mine lifted by myself or by some divine power? If the sun, that great celestial body, does not move on its own but is merely an errand-runner in the heavens, and if not a single star can revolve without an invisible force, how can this small heart beat? How can this small brain conceive thoughts? It must be God who beats, thinks, and lives within me, not I. By heaven, man, we are mere puppets spun around by the wind and anchored by fate!”
Filled with despair, First Mate Starbuck had silently slipped away. Ahab crossed the deck to gaze over the other side but was startled by the two unblinking eyes that stared back at him from the water’s reflection.
CHAPTER 38. The Chase – The First Day
That very night, during the mid-watch, Ahab emerged from his quarters with a fierce determination etched on his face. He sniffed the salty air like a bloodhound, declaring that a whale was close by. The distinct scent emitted by a living sperm whale soon permeated the senses of everyone on watch. Without hesitation, Ahab swiftly commanded a slight alteration in the ship’s course and ordered the sails to be shortened.
“Man the mast-heads! Summon all hands!” he bellowed.
“What do you see?” Ahab shouted, squinting at the sky.
“Nothing, sir! Absolutely nothing!” came the disheartening reply.
With all sails set, Ahab signaled for the life-line to be released, and in a matter of moments, he was being hoisted up. Peering ahead through the gaps between the sails, he let out a cry reminiscent of a seagull soaring through the air.
“There she blows! There she blows! A hump like a snow-covered hill! It’s Moby Dick!”
Ahab took his position at the highest perch, a few feet above the other lookouts.
“He’s heading directly downwind, sir,” Stubb cried out. “He hasn’t spotted the ship yet.” In quick succession, all the boats, except Starbuck’s, were lowered into the water, with Ahab leading the charge.
A sense of gentle exhilaration and an air of tranquil swiftness enveloped the gliding whale. Despite his calm demeanor, Moby Dick possessed an allure that enticed all those who beheld him for the first time, regardless of the countless lives he had deceived and destroyed before.
And so, amidst the serene tranquility of the tropical sea, amid waves that seemed to momentarily pause in awe, Moby Dick continued his journey, keeping the full extent of his menacing power hidden beneath the surface. His monstrous jaw, twisted and grotesque, remained concealed, while the forepart of his body gradually emerged from the water. For a fleeting moment, his entire marble-like form arched high, resembling Virginia’s Natural Bridge. Warningly, he waved his bannered flukes in the air, revealing his grand, godlike presence, before diving back into the depths, disappearing from sight.
The three boats silently floated, awaiting Moby Dick’s reappearance.
Ahab scanned the sea, but no sign of the white whale could be discerned. Yet, as he peered down into the depths, a profound sight met his eyes. A small white spot, no larger than a weasel, swiftly ascended, growing in size as it rose. Then, in plain view, two rows of long, twisted, glistening teeth emerged from the unfathomable depths. It was Moby Dick’s open mouth and curving jaw, his immense shadowy bulk still blending with the blue expanse. The sparkling maw loomed beneath the boat like an open tomb, and with a swift stroke of his steering oar, Ahab deftly maneuvered the craft away from this awe-inspiring apparition.
Advancing to the bow, Ahab seized a harpoon and commanded his crew to grip their oars and stand ready at the stern.
However, as if perceiving Ahab’s strategy, Moby Dick, with a malicious intelligence attributed to him, positioned himself, plunging his pleated head beneath the boat.
The whale lay on his back, much like a predatory shark, with his long, narrow lower jaw reaching high into the open air, one of his teeth caught in a row-lock. The bluish-white interior of his jaw came within six inches of Ahab’s head, and extended even higher. In this menacing pose, the White Whale jolted the boat, much like a cruel cat toying with its prey. While the whale teased the doomed vessel, Ahab, the first to grasp the whale’s intentions, made a final desperate attempt to push the boat out of harm’s way. However, instead of escaping the whale’s grip, the boat slipped further into the massive creature’s mouth, tilting sideways as it went. Ahab was forcibly ejected, landing face-first in the unforgiving sea.
Moby Dick, having released his prey, positioned himself a short distance away, swiftly circling the disoriented crew. He churned the water with vengeance, as if preparing for yet another deadly assault.
The sight of their shattered boat seemed to enrage him further. Meanwhile, Ahab, half-buried in the foam of the whale’s arrogant tail, was rendered helpless by his injuries, unable to swim. Yet, despite the perilous whirlpool that surrounded him, he managed to stay afloat. His head emerged like a fragile bubble, vulnerable to even the slightest impact.
The Pequod’s bow was pointed, and as it broke the enchanting circle, it effectively separated the white whale from his victim. Moby Dick swam away sullenly, while the boats hastened to rescue the stranded crew.
Dragged aboard Stubb’s boat, Ahab’s bloodshot eyes were blinded by the stinging brine, and the sea’s salty residue clung to his furrowed skin. The immense strain on Ahab’s body finally gave way, and he succumbed to his physical limitations. He lay crushed at the bottom of the boat, akin to a victim trampled by a herd of elephants.
“The harpoon,” Ahab murmured, struggling to rise, supporting himself on one weakened arm. “Is it intact?”
“Aye, sir. It wasn’t even thrown. Here it is,” Stubb replied, displaying the harpoon.
“Place it before me. Any missing men?”
“One, two, three, four, five… There were five oars, sir, and here are five men.”
“Good. Help me, my friend. I wish to stand. Ah, there he is! Look! Look! Still moving downwind. What a majestic spout! Stay away from me! Ahab’s unyielding spirit courses through my bones once more! Set the sail! Unleash the oars! Steer the helm!”
It was common for the rescued crew to assist in operating the rescuing boat, a practice known as “double-banked oars.” And so it was now. However, the combined strength of the crew aboard the boat could not match the sheer power of the whale. Moby Dick swam with such incredible speed that it became apparent the pursuit would be indefinitely prolonged, if not utterly hopeless. No crew could endure such a grueling ordeal for an extended period.
As fate would have it, the ship itself provided the most promising means of catching up to the elusive whale. The boats changed course, heading towards the Pequod. Soon, they were lifted by the cranes and the Pequod surged forward in Moby Dick’s wake. At regular intervals, the whale’s glistening spout was sighted from the manned mastheads, and Ahab meticulously marked the time on his pocket watch.
Approaching the main mast, Ahab addressed his men, his gaze fixed on the gleaming gold before him. “This gold is mine, rightfully earned. Yet, I shall let it remain here until the day the White Whale meets his demise. On that day, whoever first strikes the blow shall claim this treasure as their own.”
Having spoken his words, Ahab retreated to the cabin’s threshold, slouching with his hat pulled low. He stood there in contemplation till dawn, except when at intervals rousing himself to see how the night wore on.
CHAPTER 39. The Chase – The Second Day
As the first light of day broke, the crew scrambled to man the mast-heads. Ahab, after giving a moment for the light to spread, called out eagerly, “Do you see him?”
But there was no sighting. “See nothing, sir,” came the response.
Ahab wasted no time and commanded, “Turn up all hands and make sail! He’s faster than I anticipated.”
The ship surged forward, leaving a deep furrow in the sea. The cry from the masthead now resounded, “There she blows, she blows! Right ahead!”
Stubb couldn’t contain his excitement and shouted, “I knew it! You can’t escape, you whale! The crazed devil himself is after you!” Stubb’s words echoed the sentiments of the entire crew. The chase had driven them to a frenzied state, like old wine reinvigorated. Any fears they might have had were overshadowed by their growing awe of Ahab.
Fate had gripped their souls. The dangers they had faced the previous day, the reckless pursuit of their elusive prey, had united them. They were no longer thirty individuals but one cohesive force. The crew’s individual qualities—valor, fear, and everything in between—melded together and were channeled towards Ahab’s fatal goal.
They continued to venture through the boundless blue, relentlessly pursuing the very thing that could bring about their destruction.
“Why aren’t you shouting out if you see him?” Ahab demanded when minutes passed without another cry. “Hoist me up, men! You’ve been deceived. Not even Moby Dick spouts in that direction and then disappears.”
Indeed, the men, in their eagerness, had mistaken something else for the whale’s spout. For, in no time, Moby Dick burst into view, much closer to the ship than they had imagined, less than a mile ahead.
“There she breaches! There she breaches!” the cry rang out. “Breach your last to the sun, Moby Dick!” Ahab bellowed. “Your time has come.”
Without hesitation, the men swiftly descended to the deck, like shooting stars, while Ahabmade his way down just as rapidly.
“Lower away!” he shouted, reaching his boat, a spare one rigged the previous day.
As if to strike terror into their hearts, Moby Dick turned and charged at the three boats. Ahab’s boat was in the center, and he rallied his men, telling them he would face the whale head-on. But the White Whale, with its furious speed, attacked the boats with open jaws and a thrashing tail, assaulting them from all sides, unfazed by the harpoons hurled at it.
The White Whale crisscrossed and tangled the lines attached to it in countless ways. Harpoons and lances, their ropes twisted and coiled, flew towards the bow of Ahab’s boat. It was a chaotic scene. The only solution was clear—Ahab grabbed the boat knife and cut the rope near the deck, releasing the cluster of steel into the sea. In that instant, the White Whale made a sudden rush through the remaining tangled lines, dragging Stubb and Flask’s boats towards its tail, crashing them together like two coconuts on a beach pounded by the surf. Then, diving into the sea, it disappeared into a boiling whirlpool.
While the two crews circled in the water, reaching for oars and any other floating debris, little Flask bobbed up and down like an empty bottle, lifting his legs to avoid the jaws of sharks. Stubb, on the other hand, shouted for someone to scoop him up. Ahab’s boat, though still intact, seemed suspended in the air.
As the two crews circled and struggled in the water, desperately reaching out for oars and floating objects, the attentive Pequod, having witnessed the entire ordeal, rushed to the rescue once again. The ship swiftly approached, scooping up the stranded mariners, tubs, oars, and anything else that could be salvaged, safely depositing them on the sturdy decks.
Some suffered sprained shoulders, wrists, and ankles, while others had contusions and broken equipment. Harpoons and lances were twisted and tangled, and ropes lay in maddening knots. Shattered oars and plans littered the scene, but miraculously, no fatal or severe injuries were apparent.
Ahab was discovered grimly clutching the broken half of his boat, which provided a relatively stable float, unlike the previous day’s disastrous mishap. When he was helped onto the deck, all eyes were fixed upon him. He leaned heavily on Starbuck’s shoulder, who had been the most diligent in assisting him. Ahab’s ivory leg had been snapped off, leaving only a short, jagged splinter.
“Sir, I hope no bones are broken,” Stubb expressed genuine concern.
“Aye! All splintered to pieces, Stubb!” Ahab replied, his voice tinged with determination. “But even with a broken bone, old Ahab remains unscathed. I consider no living bone of mine more significant than the lost one.”
“Mr. Starbuck, bring down the rest of the spare boats and prepare the crews,” Ahab commanded, wincing in pain. “Oh, this splinter pierces me deeply! Cursed fate! That the unconquerable captain in my soul should have such a cowardly mate!”
“I speak of my body, man, not you. Give me a crutch to adhere to, a piece of that shattered lance will do. Assemble the men. Quickly, call them all.”
Starbuck, alarmed by Ahab’s relentless pursuit and the mounting perils, interjected with heartfelt concern, “Oh, please, for just a moment, slow yourself down. Never, I implore you, will you capture him, old man. In Jesus’ name, no more of this. It’s worse than madness. Two days we’ve chased, twice broken into fragments, your very leg snatched from under you again. Your evil shadow gone, while good angels warn you.”
“What more do you desire? Shall we keep chasing this murderous fish until he swallows every last man? Shall we allow ourselves to be dragged to the depths of the sea? Shall we be towed by him into the infernal realm? Oh, this impiety and blasphemy to continue hunting him!”
“Starbuck, I’ve felt a strange connection to you of late, ever since that moment we shared, when we saw… you know what… in each other’s eyes,” Ahab confessed. “But concerning this whale, Ahab will forever be Ahab, my friend. You see an old man reduced to a stump, leaning on a shattered lance, propped up on a solitary foot. ‘Tis Ahab, the physical aspect. But Ahab’s soul is a centipede, moving relentlessly on a hundred legs. I feel strained, almost stranded. Moby Dick has floated for two days now. Tomorrow will mark the third. Yes, men, he will rise once more, but only to spout his final breath! Do you feel brave, my men, brave?”
“Like fearless fire!” Stubb exclaimed.
“And as mechanically driven,” Ahab muttered.
As dusk descended, the whale remained visible on the leeward side. The sail was once again shortened, and the ship continued as night fell. The routine mirrored that of the previous night, with sails adjusted and precautions taken. Meanwhile, the ship’s carpenter, utilizing the broken keel of Ahab’s wrecked boat, fashioned a new leg for the relentless captain. Ahab stood slouched within his cabin, his thoughts consumed by the ever-elusive Moby Dick.
The whale, stubborn and resolute, remained in sight, a haunting presence on the horizon. Despite the setbacks, injuries, and the toll on their spirits, Ahab and his crew pressed on, driven by an unyielding determination to confront their white nemesis.
The air was thick with anticipation as the Pequod sailed through the night, guided by the light of the stars. Each member of the crew, in their own way, wrestled with the weight of their pursuit. They knew the risks, the treacherous dance with death that awaited them, yet their resolve remained unshaken.
Ahab, his gaze fixed on the distant whale, contemplated the depths of his obsession. He was a man divided, a vessel harboring both indomitable strength and a lingering vulnerability. The events of the past days had tested their mettle, pushing them to their limits, yet they persisted, drawn by a force greater than reason.
CHAPTER 40. The Chase – The Third Day
The sun rose on the third day, casting a fresh and beautiful light upon the scene. Ahab eagerly scanned the horizon, searching for any sign of the elusive whale. But alas, the mighty creature had not yet revealed itself.
“Follow its wake,” Ahab commanded with determination. “Stay steady and true. What a splendid day it is! The world couldn’t ask for a fairer dawn. It’s enough to make one ponder, if only Ahab had the luxury of time for such thoughts. But he never thinks; he feels, feels, feels. If I were the wind, I would refuse to blow upon this wicked and wretched world. I’d retreat to a hidden cave and hide there. Yet, the wind is a noble and heroic force, isn’t it? Who has ever truly conquered it?”
“Up there, do you see anything?” Ahab called out.
“Nothing, sir,” came the reply.
“Nothing! And noon is approaching! Look at the sun! Yes, it must be true. I have overshot it. The whale is now pursuing me, not the other way around. That’s unfortunate; I should have known,” Ahab lamented.
The wind had been favorable for the Pequod, but now it changed direction, causing the ship to sail against it.
“Against the wind, it now steers towards the gaping jaws,” Starbuck muttered to himself, leaning against the railing. “May God protect us, but I can already feel the dampness in my bones and the wetness creeping into my flesh. By obeying him, I disobey my God.”
“Prepare to hoist me up!” Ahab commanded as he approached the basket. “We shall soon meet him.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” Starbuck replied, promptly obeying Ahab’s order. Once again, Ahab ascended to a high vantage point.
An entire hour passed, with time itself seemingly holding its breath in suspense. But finally, Ahab caught sight of the spout on the bow of the ship.
“Face to face we meet again, Moby Dick, for the third time!” Ahab declared.
“He’s swift, and I must descend. But let me take one more long look at the sea from up here. There’s time for that. It’s an old, familiar sight, yet somehow it feels ever so young. It hasn’t changed a bit since I first laid eyes on it as a boy, growing up on the sandy hills of Nantucket. It remains the same for Noah and me. Farewell, old lookout! Yet, we both age together, except you’re missing a leg. By heaven, this dead wood has outlasted my living flesh in every way. I’ve seen ships made of dead trees endure longer than men made of the most vibrant material. Farewell, lookout. Keep a watchful eye on the whale when I’m gone.”
With that, Ahab gave the command and was slowly lowered through the crisp, blue air back to the deck of the ship.
Soon after, the boats were lowered into the water. Standing on the stern, Ahab hesitated at the edge, waving to his mate who held one of the ropes on deck.
“For the third time, my soul’s ship embarks on this voyage, Starbuck.”
“Aye, sir, if that’s what you desire.”
“Starbuck, I am old. Shake hands with me, my friend.” Their hands met, their eyes locked in a profound gaze, and Starbuck’s tears served as the bond between them.
“Oh, my captain, my captain! Don’t go! Don’t go! Look, See, it’s a brave man that weeps .”
“Lower away!” Ahab’s commanding voice rang out, dismissing the mate’s arm with a swift gesture. “Crew, stand ready.” The boat sprang into action, swiftly maneuvering around.
“Sharks! Sharks!” a panicked voice cried from a window of the low cabin. “Oh, master, my master, come back!”
But Ahab paid no heed, oblivious to the desperate plea. The boat surged forward, leaving the haunting cry behind.
Unbeknownst to them, the voice spoke the truth. From the dark waters beneath the hull, sharks emerged, maliciously snapping at the oar blades with every dip, relentlessly pursuing the boat.
“Heart of wrought steel!” Starbuck murmured, his gaze fixed on the side, following the boat’s retreat. “Lowering thy keel amidst ravenous sharks, pursued by their open jaws. Is this the fateful third day? Oh, my God! What is this sensation that courses through me, leaving me calm yet filled with expectation? Future visions swim before my eyes, while the past grows hazy. The mysteries of life become clear, only to be obscured by clouds. Is this the end of my journey?”
Gradually, the waters around them began to swell, forming broad circles that swiftly upheaved and rose to the surface. A low rumble filled the air, causing everyone to hold their breath. Veiled in a thin mist, an immense figure shot from the sea, hovering momentarily in the air before plunging back into the depths.
“Give way!” Ahab commanded the oarsmen, and the boats surged forward in an attack. But Moby Dick, driven mad by the harpoons embedded in his flesh the previous day, seemed possessed by an otherworldly force. He thrashed his tail among the boats, tearing them apart and freeing himself from the irons and lances, leaving Ahab’s boat nearly unscathed.
“Away, mates, back to the ship! The boats are useless now. Down, men! The first thing that jumps from this boat, I’ll harpoon it. You are not mere men but extensions of my own body. Obey me! Where’s the whale? Has he submerged again?”
Moby Dick continued swimming steadily forward, almost passing the ship. He moved with unmatched speed, focused solely on pursuing his relentless course through the sea.
“Oh, Ahab!” Starbuck cried out. “Is it not too late, even now on this third day, to abandon this madness? Look! Moby Dick does not seek you. It is you, you who madly seeks him!”
With the rising wind, the lonely boat swiftly propelled forward by oars and sail. The White Whale’s momentum seemed to wane as the boat closed in on him once more. Relentless, unyielding sharks accompanied Ahab, continuously biting the oars until their blades became jagged and splintered with each dip.
“Pay no attention to them! Keep rowing!”
“But, sir, the blades are getting smaller with each bite!”
“They’ll last long enough! Keep rowing!” Ahab muttered. “Who can tell if these sharks swim to feast on the whale or on Ahab himself? But keep rowing! We’re getting closer.”
Finally, the boat was cast aside, running alongside the whale’s flank. Moby Dick appeared strangely unaffected by its approach. Ahab drew dangerously close, his body arched back, arms lifted high, as he thrust his harpoon with fierce determination and a curse that burned with intensity. As the steel and curse sank into the whale’s flesh, Moby Dick convulsed, rolling against the bow and abruptly capsizing the boat. Ahab clung to the elevated part, narrowly escaping being tossed into the sea once again.
Three of the oarsmen were flung out of the boat, but two of them managed to hurl themselves back onboard with the aid of a rising wave. The third man remained helplessly afloat, struggling to stay afloat and swim.
Almost simultaneously, with an overpowering will, the White Whale surged through the turbulent waters. Ahab, realizing the danger, shouted to the steersman to hold the line and ordered the crew to turn around on their seats and tow the boat toward the whale. But in that crucial moment, the treacherous line felt the strain and snapped in the empty air.
“What breaks within me? What sinew cracks?” Ahab exclaimed in despair. “Oars! Oars! Thrust them upon him!”
The crew, hearing the thunderous crash of the boat, propelled it forcefully through the pounding waves. However, the disabled vessel remained perilously close to the water’s surface. Its half-submerged crew desperately attempted to stem the influx of water pouring in.
From the bow of the ship, Starbuck and Stubb caught sight of the approaching behemoth.
“The whale, the whale! Oh, all you benevolent powers of the air, protect me now! Let not Starbuck meet his demise,” cried Starbuck. “Row, I implore you, you fools! Aim for the jaw! The jaw! Is this the culmination of my fervent prayers? Oh, Ahab, Ahab, look, they’re working! Row on, he turns to face us! His unquenchable rage propels him towards the one who, duty-bound, cannot escape. My God, stand by me now!”
“Stand not beside me, but stand beneath me, whoever you are, willing to assist Stubb,” he shouted defiantly. “For Stubb, too, is stuck in this predicament. I grin at you, grinning whale!”
Almost all the seamen aboard the ship stood motionless at the bow, their hammers, lances, and harpoons firmly grasped but temporarily forgotten. Their enchanted eyes were fixated on the whale. Retribution, swift vengeance, and eternal malice surged through Moby Dick’s soul. Despite the crew’s valiant efforts, the whale’s solid white forehead struck the starboard bow of the ship with relentless force, causing men and timbers to reel.
Darting beneath the ship, the whale raced along its keel. But as it turned underwater, it swiftly resurfaced just a few yards from Ahab’s boat.
“Toward you, I roll, you all-destroying but unconquerable whale!” Ahab declared, his body trembling with determination. “I grapple with you until the end. From the depths of hell, I thrust my harpoon at you in sheer hatred. I spit my final breath at you. Let me shatter into pieces while chasing you, though bound to you, you accursed whale! Thus, I relinquish the spear!”
The harpoon was launched, piercing the whale’s flesh. The wounded beast surged forward, and with incredible speed, the line ran through the grooves before tangling. Ahab stooped to free it, successfully releasing it. However, the recoiling line whipped around his neck, and he was violently hurled out of the boat, silently disappearing, unbeknownst to the crew. The end of the rope shot out of the empty tub, knocking down an oarsman and vanishing into the depths of the sea.
For an instant, the crew stood transfixed, unaware of their captain’s absence. Then, they turned their gaze back. “The ship? Great God, where is the ship?” they exclaimed. Gradually, they spotted the vessel on the fading horizon, its upper masts barely visible above the waterline, reminiscent of a mirage. The pagan harpooners, faithful to their duty, remained on the lookout, their eyes fixed upon the sea.
And then, whirlpool-like circles enveloped the boat and its crew. Each floating oar, every lance pole, and the spinning vortex itself carried the final remnants of the Pequod out of sight. Only a few inches of mast and the flag remained visible above the water. A sky-hawk, mocking their ill-fated journey, had trailed the ship from its celestial abode, relentlessly pecking at the flag. But its wings, fluttering proudly, became entangled with the mast, sealing its fate. Both bird and ship submerged together, as if Satan himself refused to descend to the depths of hell without dragging a piece of heaven along.
Now, small flocks of birds screeched over the gaping abyss. A somber white surf crashed against the steep sides of the whirlpool. Then, with a tumultuous collapse, the mighty sea resumed its eternal shroud, rolling on as it had for thousands of years.
“AND I ONLY AM ESCAPED ALONE TO TELL THEE” Job.
The curtains have fallen, the play is over. So why does someone step forward amidst the aftermath? Because fate designated me, of all people, to assume the role of Ahab’s bowsman. When the three men were hurled from the rocking boat on that final day, I found myself cast astern. Floating on the fringes of the unfolding spectacle, I was inexorably drawn toward the swirling, engulfing vortex. Round and round I spun, until I reached the vital center. Then, thanks to its ingenious mechanism and remarkable buoyancy, Queequeg’s coffin life-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over and floated by my side.
Supported by that coffin, I drifted for nearly a whole day and night, carried by a gentle and sacred current. The harmless sharks glided past me, as if their mouths were sealed with padlocks, while the fierce sea-hawks soared above with their beaks sheathed. On the second day, a sail appeared on the horizon, drawing closer and closer until it finally rescued me. It was the wayward ship Rachel, which, in its desperate search for its own missing children, had unwittingly found another orphan.
“And the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago”.