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Page 544


Penetrating further and further into the heart of the Japanese
cruising ground, the Pequod was soon all astir in the fishery.
Often, in mild, pleasant weather, for twelve, fifteen, eighteen, and
twenty hours on the stretch, they were engaged in the boats,
steadily pulling, or sailing, or paddling after the whales, or for an
interlude of sixty or seventy minutes calmly awaiting their
uprising; though with but small success for their pains.

At such times, under an abated sun; afloat all day upon
smooth, slow heaving swells; seated in his boat, light as a birch
canoe; and so sociably mixing with the soft waves themselves,
that like hearth-stone cats they purr against the gunwale; these
are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil
beauty and brilliancy of the ocean's skin, one forgets the tiger
heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember,
that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.

These are the times, when in his whale-boat the rover softly
feels a certain filial, confident, land-like feeling towards the sea;
that he regards it as so much flowery earth; and the distant
ship revealing only the tops of her masts, seems struggling forward,
not through high rolling waves, but through the tall grass
of a rolling prairie: as when the western emigrants' horses only
show their erected ears, while their hidden bodies widely wade
through the amazing verdure.

The long-drawn virgin vales; the mild blue hill-sides; as
over these there steals the hush, the hum; you almost swear
that play-wearied children lie sleeping in these solitudes, in
some glad May-time, when the flowers of the woods are plucked.
And all this mixes with your most mystic mood; so that fact


Page 545
and fancy, half-way meeting, interpenetrate, and form one seamless

Nor did such soothing scenes, however temporary, fail of at
least as temporary an effect on Ahab. But if these secret golden
keys did seem to open in him his own secret golden treasuries,
yet did his breath upon them prove but tarnishing.

Oh, grassy glades! oh, ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul;
in ye,—though long parched by the dead drought of the earthy
life,—in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning
clover; and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of
the life immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms
would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven
by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every
calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we
do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one
pause:—through infancy's unconscious spell, boyhood's thoughtless
faith, adolescence' doubt (the common doom), then scepticism,
then disbelief, resting at last in manhood's pondering
repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again;
and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies
the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt
ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary?
Where is the foundling's father hidden? Our souls are like those
orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the
secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to
learn it.

And that same day, too, gazing far down from his boat's side
into that same golden sea, Starbuck lowly murmured:—

“Loveliness unfathomable, as ever lover saw in his young
bride's eye!—Tell me not of thy teeth-tiered sharks, and thy
kidnapping cannibal ways. Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust
memory; I look deep down and do believe.”

And Stubb, fish-like, with sparkling scales, leaped up in that
same golden light:—


Page 546

“I am Stubb, and Stubb has his history; but here Stubb
takes oaths that he has always been jolly!”