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Page 478


Ere now it has been related how Ahab was wont to pace his
quarter-deck, taking regular turns at either limit, the binnacle
and mainmast; but in the multiplicity of other things requiring
narration it has not been added how that sometimes in these
walks, when most plunged in his mood, he was wont to pause
in turn at each spot, and stand there strangely eyeing the particular
object before him. When he halted before the binnacle,
with his glance fastened on the pointed needle in the compass,
that glance shot like a javelin with the pointed intensity of his
purpose; and when resuming his walk he again paused before
the mainmast, then, as the same riveted glance fastened upon
the riveted gold coin there, he still wore the same aspect of
nailed firmness, only dashed with a certain wild longing, if not

But one morning, turning to pass the doubloon, he seemed
to be newly attracted by the strange figures and inscriptions
stamped on it, as though now for the first time beginning to
interpret for himself in some monomaniac way whatever significance
might lurk in them. And some certain significance
lurks in all things, else all things are little worth, and the round
world itself but an empty cipher, except to sell by the cartload,
as they do hills about Boston, to fill up some morass in the
Milky Way.

Now this doubloon was of purest, virgin gold, raked somewhere
out of the heart of gorgeous hills, whence, east and west,
over golden sands, the head-waters of many a Pactolus flows.
And though now nailed amidst all the rustiness of iron bolts


Page 479
and the verdigris of copper spikes, yet, untouchable and immaculate
to any foulness, it still preserved its Quito glow. Nor,
though placed amongst a ruthless crew and every hour passed
by ruthless hands, and through the livelong nights shrouded
with thick darkness which might cover any pilfering approach,
nevertheless every sunrise found the doubloon where the sunset
left it last. For it was set apart and sanctified to one awe-striking
end; and however wanton in their sailor ways, one and
all, the mariners revered it as the white whale's talisman.
Sometimes they talked it over in the weary watch by night,
wondering whose it was to be at last, and whether he would
ever live to spend it.

Now those noble golden coins of South America are as
medals of the sun and tropic token-pieces. Here palms,
alpacas, and volcanoes; sun's disks and stars; ecliptics, horns-of-plenty,
and rich banners waving, are in luxuriant profusion
stamped; so that the precious gold seems almost to derive an
added preciousness and enhancing glories, by passing through
those fancy mints, so Spanishly poetic.

It so chanced that the doubloon of the Pequod was a most
wealthy example of these things. On its round border it bore
this bright coin came from a country planted in the middle of
the world, and beneath the great equator, and named after it;
and it had been cast midway up the Andes, in the unwaning
clime that knows no autumn. Zoned by those letters you saw
the likeness of three Andes' summits; from one a flame; a tower
on another; on the third a crowing cock; while arching over
all was a segment of the partitioned zodiac, the signs all marked
with their usual cabalistics, and the keystone sun entering the
equinoctial point at Libra.

Before this equatorial coin, Ahab, not unobserved by others,
was now pausing.

“There's something ever egotistical in mountain-tops and


Page 480
towers, and all other grand and lofty things; look here,—three
peaks as proud as Lucifer. The firm tower, that is Ahab; the
volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted, and
victorious fowl, that, too, is Ahab; all are Ahab; and this
round gold is but the image of the rounder globe, which, like
a magician's glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors
back his own mysterious self. Great pains, small gains for
those who ask the world to solve them; it cannot solve itself.
Methinks now this coined sun wears a ruddy face; but see!
aye, he enters the sign of storms, the equinox! and but six
months before he wheeled out of a former equinox at Aries!
From storm to storm! So be it, then. Born in throes, 'tis fit
that man should live in pains and die in pangs! So be it, then!
Here's stout stuff for woe to work on. So be it, then.”

“No fairy fingers can have pressed the gold, but devil's claws
must have left their mouldings there since yesterday,” murmured
Starbuck to himself, leaning against the bulwarks. “The old
man seems to read Belshazzar's awful writing. I have never
marked the coin inspectingly. He goes below; let me read.
A dark valley between three mighty, heaven-abiding peaks, that
almost seem the Trinity, in some faint earthly symbol. So in
this vale of Death, God girds us round; and over all our gloom,
the sun of Righteousness still shines a beacon and a hope. If
we bend down our eyes, the dark vale shows her mouldy soil;
but if we lift them, the bright sun meets our glance half way,
to cheer. Yet, oh, the great sun is no fixture; and if, at midnight,
we would fain snatch some sweet solace from him, we
gaze for him in vain! This coin speaks wisely, mildly, truly,
but still sadly to me. I will quit it, lest Truth shake me

“There now's the old Mogul,” soliloquized Stubb by the try-works,
“he's been twigging it; and there goes Starbuck from the
same, and both with faces which I should say might be somewhere
within nine fathoms long. And all from looking at a piece


Page 481
of gold, which did I have it now on Negro Hill or in Corlaer's
Hook, I'd not look at it very long ere spending it. Humph! in my
poor, insignificant opinion, I regard this as queer. I have seen
doubloons before now in my voyagings; your doubloons of old
Spain, your doubloons of Peru, your doubloons of Chili, your
doubloons of Bolivia, your doubloons of Popayan; with plenty
of gold moidores and pistoles, and joes, and half joes, and quarter
joes. What then should there be in this doubloon of the
Equator that is so killing wonderful? By Golconda! let me
read it once. Halloa! here's signs and wonders truly! That,
now, is what old Bowditch in his Epitome calls the zodiac, and
what my almanack below calls ditto. I'll get the almanack
and as I have heard devils can be raised with Daboll's arithmetic,
I'll try my hand at raising a meaning out of these queer
curvicues here with the Massachusetts calendar. Here's the
book. Let's see now. Signs and wonders; and the sun, he's
always among 'em. Hem, hem, hem; here they are—here
they go—all alive:—Aries, or the Ram; Taurus, or the Bull
and Jimimi! here's Gemini himself, or the Twins. Well; the
sun he wheels among 'em. Aye, here on the coin he's just
crossing the threshold between two of twelve sitting-rooms all
in a ring. Book! you lie there; the fact is, you books must
know your places. You'll do to give us the bare words and
facts, but we come in to supply the thoughts. That's my small
experience, so far as the Massachusetts calendar, and Bowditch's
navigator, and Daboll's arithmetic go. Signs and wonders,
eh? Pity if there is nothing wonderful in signs, and significant
in wonders! There's a clue somewhere; wait a bit; hist—
hark! By Jove, I have it! Look you, Doubloon, your zodiac
here is the life of man in one round chapter; and now I'll read
it off, straight out of the book. Come, Almanack! To begin:
there's Aries, or the Ram—lecherous dog, he begets us; then,
Taurus, or the Bull—he bumps us the first thing; then Gemini,
or the Twins—that is, Virtue and Vice; we try to reach Virtue,


Page 482
when lo! comes Cancer the Crab, and drags us back; and
here, going from Virtue, Leo, a roaring Lion, lies in the path—
he gives a few fierce bites and surly dabs with his paw; we
escape, and hail Virgo, the Virgin! that's our first love; we
marry and think to be happy for aye, when pop comes Libra, or
the Scales—happiness weighed and found wanting; and while
we are very sad about that, Lord! how we suddenly jump, as
Scorpio, or the Scorpion, stings us in rear; we are curing the
wound, when whang come the arrows all round; Sagittarius, or
the Archer, is amusing himself. As we pluck out the shafts,
stand aside! here's the battering-ram, Capricornus, or the
Goat; full tilt, he comes rushing, and headlong we are tossed;
when Aquarius, or the Water-bearer, pours out his whole deluge
and drowns us; and to wind up with Pisces, or the Fishes, we
sleep. There's a sermon now, writ in high heaven, and the sun
goes through it every year, and yet comes out of it all alive
and hearty. Jollily he, aloft there, wheels through toil and
trouble; and so, alow here, does jolly Stubb. Oh, jolly's the
word for aye! Adieu, Doubloon! But stop; here comes little
King-Post; dodge round the try-works, now, and let's hear
what he'll have to say. There; he's before it; he'll out with
something presently. So, so; he's beginning.”

“I see nothing here, but a round thing made of gold, and
whoever raises a certain whale, this round thing belongs to him.
So, what's all this staring been about? It is worth sixteen
dollars, that's true; and at two cents the cigar, that's nine hundred
and sixty cigars. I wont smoke dirty pipes like Stubb,
but I like cigars, and here's nine hundred and sixty of them;
so here goes Flask aloft to spy 'em out.”

“Shall I call that wise or foolish, now; if it be really wise it
has a foolish look to it; yet, if it be really foolish, then has it a
sort of wiseish look to it. But, avast; here comes our old
Manxman—the old hearse-driver, he must have been, that is,
before he took to the sea. He luffs up before the doubloon;


Page 483
halloa, and goes round on the other side of the mast; why,
there's a horse-shoe nailed on that side; and now he's back
again; what does that mean? Hark! he's muttering—voice
like an old worn-out coffee-mill. Prick ears, and listen!”

“If the White Whale be raised, it must be in a month and
a day, when the sun stands in some one of these signs. I've
studied signs, and know their marks; they were taught me two
score years ago, by the old witch in Copenhagen. Now, in
what sign will the sun then be? The horse-shoe sign; for there
it is, right opposite the gold. And what's the horse-shoe sign?
The lion is the horse-shoe sign—the roaring and devouring
lion. Ship, old ship! my old head shakes to think of thee.”

“There's another rendering now; but still one text. All sorts
of men in one kind of world, you see. Dodge again! here
comes Queequeg—all tattooing—looks like the signs of the
Zodiac himself. What says the Cannibal? As I live he's comparing
notes; looking at his thigh bone; thinks the sun is in
the thigh, or in the calf, or in the bowels, I suppose, as the old
women talk Surgeon's Astronomy in the back country. And by
Jove, he's found something there in the vicinity of his thigh—I
guess it's Sagittarius, or the Archer. No: he don't know what
to make of the doubloon; he takes it for an old button off some
king's trowsers. But, aside again! here comes that ghost-devil,
Fedallah; tail coiled out of sight as usual, oakum in the toes of
his pumps as usual. What does he say, with that look of
his? Ah, only makes a sign to the sign and bows himself;
there is a sun on the coin—fire worshipper, depend upon it.
Ho! more and more. This way comes Pip—poor boy! would
he had died, or I; he's half horrible to me. He too has been
watching all of these interpreters—myself included—and look
now, he comes to read, with that unearthly idiot face. Stand
away again and hear him. Hark!

“I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look.”

“Upon my soul, he's been studying Murray's Grammar!


Page 484
Improving his mind, poor fellow! But what's that he says

“I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look.”

“Why, he's getting it by heart—hist! again.”

“I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look.”

“Well, that's funny.”

“And I, you, and he; and we, ye, and they, are all bats; and
I'm a crow, especially when I stand a'top of this pine tree here.
Caw! caw! caw! caw! caw! caw! Ain't I a crow? And
where's the scare-crow? There he stands; two bones stuck
into a pair of old trowsers, and two more poked into the sleeves
of an old jacket.”

“Wonder if he means me?—complimentary!—poor lad!—
I could go hang myself. Any way, for the present, I'll quit
Pip's vicinity. I can stand the rest, for they have plain wits;
but he's too crazy-witty for my sanity. So, so, I leave him

“Here's the ship's navel, this doubloon here, and they are all
on fire to unscrew it. But, unscrew your navel, and what's the
consequence? Then again, if it stays here, that is ugly, too, for
when aught's nailed to the mast it's a sign that things grow
desperate. Ha, ha! old Ahab! the White Whale; he'll nail ye!
This is a pine tree. My father, in old Tolland county, cut down
a pine tree once, and found a silver ring grown over in it; some
old darkey's wedding ring. How did it get there? And so
they'll say in the resurrection, when they come to fish up this
old mast, and find a doubloon lodged in it, with bedded oysters
for the shaggy bark. Oh, the gold! the precious, precious
gold!—the green miser 'll hoard ye soon! Hish! hish! God
goes 'mong the worlds blackberrying. Cook! ho, cook! and
cook us! Jenny! hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, Jenny, Jenny! and
get your hoe-cake done!”