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Page 537


Availing himself of the mild, summer-cool weather that
now reigned in these latitudes, and in preparation for the
peculiarly active pursuits shortly to be anticipated, Perth, the
begrimed, blistered old blacksmith, had not removed his
portable forge to the hold again, after concluding his contributory
work for Ahab's leg, but still retained it on deck, fast
lashed to ringbolts by the foremast; being now almost incessantly
invoked by the headsmen, and harpooneers, and bowsmen
to do some little job for them; altering, or repairing, or new
shaping their various weapons and boat furniture. Often he
would be surrounded by an eager circle, all waiting to be
served; holding boat-spades, pike-heads, harpoons, and lances,
and jealously watching his every sooty movement, as he toiled.
Nevertheless, this old man's was a patient hammer wielded by
a patient arm. No murmur, no impatience, no petulence did
come from him. Silent, slow, and solemn; bowing over still
further his chronically broken back, he toiled away, as if toil
were life itself, and the heavy beating of his hammer the
heavy beating of his heart. And so it was.—Most miserable!

A peculiar walk in this old man, a certain slight but painful
appearing yawing in his gait, had at an early period of the
voyage excited the curiosity of the mariners. And to the
importunity of their persisted questionings he had finally given
in; and so it came to pass that every one now knew the shameful
story of his wretched fate.

Belated, and not innocently, one bitter winter's midnight, on
the road running between two country towns, the blacksmith


Page 538
half-stupidly felt the deadly numbness stealing over him, and
sought refuge in a leaning, dilapidated barn. The issue was,
the loss of the extremities of both feet. Out of this revelation,
part by part, at last came out the four acts of the gladness, and
the one long, and as yet uncatastrophied fifth act of the grief
of his life's drama.

He was an old man, who, at the age of nearly sixty, had
postponedly encountered that thing in sorrow's technicals
called ruin. He had been an artisan of famed excellence, and
with plenty to do; owned a house and garden; embraced a
youthful, daughter-like, loving wife, and three blithe, ruddy
children; every Sunday went to a cheerful-looking church,
planted in a grove. But one night, under cover of darkness,
and further concealed in a most cunning disguisement, a
desperate burglar slid into his happy home, and robbed them
all of everything. And darker yet to tell, the blacksmith himself
did ignorantly conduct this burglar into his family's heart.
It was the Bottle Conjuror! Upon the opening of that fatal
cork, forth flew the fiend, and shrivelled up his home. Now,
for prudent, most wise, and economic reasons, the blacksmith's
shop was in the basement of his dwelling, but with a separate
entrance to it; so that always had the young and loving
healthy wife listened with no unhappy nervousness, but with
vigorous pleasure, to the stout ringing of her young-armed
old husband's hammer; whose reverberations, muffled by passing
through the floors and walls, came up to her, not unsweetly, in
her nursery; and so, to stout Labor's iron lullaby, the blacksmith's
infants were rocked to slumber.

Oh, woe on woe! Oh, Death, why canst thou not sometimes
be timely? Hadst thou taken this old blacksmith to
thyself ere his full ruin came upon him, then had the young
widow had a delicious grief, and her orphans a truly venerable,
legendary sire to dream of in their after years; and all of them
a care-killing competency. But Death plucked down some


Page 539
virtuous elder brother, on whose whistling daily toil solely hung
the responsibilities of some other family, and left the worse
than useless old man standing, till the hideous rot of life should
make him easier to harvest.

Why tell the whole? The blows of the basement hammer
every day grew more and more between; and each blow
every day grew fainter than the last; the wife sat frozen at the
window, with tearless eyes, glitteringly gazing into the weeping
faces of her children; the bellows fell; the forge choked up
with cinders; the house was sold; the mother dived down into
the long church-yard grass; her children twice followed her
thither; and the houseless, familyless old man staggered off a
vagabond in crape; his every woe unreverenced; his grey
head a scorn to flaxen curls!

Death seems the only desirable sequel for a career like this;
but Death is only a launching into the region of the strange
Untried; it is but the first salutation to the possibilities of the
immense Remote, the Wild, the Watery, the Unshored; therefore,
to the death-longing eyes of such men, who still have left
in them some interior compunctions against suicide, does the
all-contributed and all-receptive ocean alluringly spread forth
his whole plain of unimaginable, taking terros, and wonderful,
new-life adventures; and from the hearts of infinite Pacifics,
the thousand mermaids sing to them—“Come hither, broken-hearted;
here is another life without the guilt of intermediate
death; here are wonders supernatural, without dying for them.
Come hither! bury thyself in a life which, to your now equally
abhorred and abhorring, landed world, is more oblivious than
death. Come hither! put up thy grave-stone, too, within the
churchyard, and come hither, till we marry thee!”

Hearkening to these voices, East and West, by early sun-rise,
and by fall of eve, the blacksmith's soul responded, Aye, I
come! And so Perth went a-whaling.