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The precipitating manner in which Captain Ahab had quitted
the Samuel Enderby of London, had not been unattended with
some small violence to his own person. He had lighted with
such energy upon a thwart of his boat that his ivory leg had
received a half-splintering shock. And when after gaining his
own deck, and his own pivot-hole there, he so vehemently
wheeled round with an urgent command to the steersman (it
was, as ever, something about his not steering inflexibly
enough); then, the already shaken ivory received such an additional
twist and wrench, that though it still remained entire, and
to all appearances lusty, yet Ahab did not deem it entirely

And, indeed, it seemed small matter for wonder, that for all
his pervading, mad recklessness, Ahab did at times give careful
heed to the condition of that dead bone upon which he partly
stood. For it had not been very long prior to the Pequod's
sailing from Nantucket, that he had been found one night lying
prone upon the ground, and insensible; by some unknown, and
seemingly inexplicable, unimaginable casualty, his ivory limb
having been so violently displaced, that it had stake-wise
smitten, and all but pierced his groin; nor was it without
extreme difficulty that the agonizing wound was entirely cured.

Nor, at the time, had it failed to enter his monomaniac mind,
that all the anguish of that then present suffering was but the


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direct issue of a former woe; and he too plainly seemed to see,
that as the most poisonous reptile of the marsh perpetuates his
kind as inevitably as the sweetest songster of the grove; so,
equally with every felicity, all miserable events do naturally
beget their like. Yea, more than equally, thought Ahab; since
both the ancestry and posterity of Grief go further than the
ancestry and posterity of Joy. For, not to hint of this: that it
is an inference from certain canonic teachings, that while some
natural enjoyments here shall have no children born to them for
the other world, but, on the contrary, shall be followed by the
joy-childlessness of all hell's despair; whereas, some guilty mortal
miseries shall still fertilely beget to themselves an eternally
progressive progeny of griefs beyond the grave; not at all to hint
of this, there still seems an inequality in the deeper analysis of
the thing. For, thought Ahab, while even the highest earthly
felicities ever have a certain unsignifying pettiness lurking in
them, but, at bottom, all heart-woes, a mystic significance, and,
in some men, an archangelic grandeur; so do their diligent
tracings-out not belie the obvious deduction. To trail the
genealogies of these high mortal miseries, carries us at last
among the sourceless primogenitures of the gods; so that, in
the face of all the glad, hay-making suns, and soft-cymballing,
round harvest-moons, we must needs give in to this: that the
gods themselves are not for ever glad. The ineffaceable, sad
birth-mark in the brow of man, is but the stamp of sorrow in
the signers.

Unwittingly here a secret has been divulged, which perhaps
might more properly, in set way, have been disclosed before.
With many other particulars concerning Ahab, always had it
remained a mystery to some, why it was, that for a certain
period, both before and after the sailing of the Pequod, he had
hidden himself away with such Grand-Lama-like exclusiveness;
and, for that one interval, sought speechless refuge, as it were,
among the marble senate of the dead. Captain Peleg's bruited


Page 517
reason for this thing appeared by no means adequate; though,
indeed, as touching all Ahab's deeper part, every revelation partook
more of significant darkness than of explanatory light.
But, in the end, it all came out; this one matter did, at least.
That direful mishap was at the bottom of his temporary recluseness.
And not only this, but to that ever-contracting, dropping
circle ashore, who, for any reason, possessed the privilege of a
less banned approach to him; to that timid circle the above
hinted casualty—remaining, as it did, moodily unaccounted for
by Ahab—invested itself with terrors, not entirely underived
from the land of spirits and of wails. So that, through their
zeal for him, they had all conspired, so far as in them lay, to
muffle up the knowledge of this thing from others; and hence
it was, that not till a considerable interval had elapsed, did it
transpire upon the Pequod's decks.

But be all this as it may; let the unseen, ambiguous synod in
the air, or the vindictive princes and potentates of fire, have to
do or not with earthly Ahab, yet, in this present matter of his
leg, he took plain practical procedures;—he called the

And when that functionary appeared before him, he bade
him without delay set about making a new leg, and directed
the mates to see him supplied with all the studs and joists of
jaw-ivory (Sperm Whale) which had thus far been accumulated
on the voyage, in order that a careful selection of the stoutest,
clearest-grained stuff might be secured. This done, the carpenter
received orders to have the leg completed that night; and to
provide all the fittings for it, independent of those pertaining to
the distrusted one in use. Moreover, the ship's forge was
ordered to be hoisted out of its temporary idleness in the hold;
and, to accelerate the affair, the blacksmith was commanded to
proceed at once to the forging of whatever iron contrivances
might be needed.