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For several days after leaving Nantucket, nothing above
hatches was seen of Captain Ahab. The mates regularly
relieved each other at the watches, and for aught that could be
seen to the contrary, they seemed to be the only commanders
of the ship; only they sometimes issued from the cabin with
orders so sudden and peremptory, that after all it was plain they
but commanded vicariously. Yes, their supreme lord and dictator
was there, though hitherto unseen by any eyes not permitted
to penetrate into the now sacred retreat of the cabin.


Page 134

Every time I ascended to the deck from my watches below, I
instantly gazed aft to mark if any strange face were visible; for
my first vague disquietude touching the unknown captain, now
in the seclusion of the sea, became almost a perturbation. This
was strangely heightened at times by the ragged Elijah's diabolical
incoherences uninvitedly recurring to me, with a subtle
energy I could not have before conceived of. But poorly could
I withstand them, much as in other moods I was almost ready
to smile at the solemn whimsicalities of that outlandish prophet
of the wharves. But whatever it was of apprehensiveness or
uneasiness—to call it so—which I felt, yet whenever I came to
look about me in the ship, it seemed against all warrantry to
cherish such emotions. For though the harpooneers, with the
great body of the crew, were a far more barbaric, heathenish,
and motley set than any of the tame merchant-ship companies
which my previous experiences had made me acquainted with,
still I ascribed this—and rightly ascribed it—to the fierce
uniqueness of the very nature of that wild Scandinavian vocation
in which I had so abandonedly embarked. But it was especially
the aspect of the three chief officers of the ship, the mates,
which was most forcibly calculated to allay these colorless misgivings,
and induce confidence and cheerfulness in every presentment
of the voyage. Three better, more likely sea-officers and
men, each in his own different way, could not readily be found,
and they were every one of them Americans; a Nantucketer, a
Vineyarder, a Cape man. Now, it being Christmas when the
ship shot from out her harbor, for a space we had biting
Polar weather, though all the time running away from it to
the southward; and by every degree and minute of latitude
which we sailed, gradually leaving that merciless winter, and
all its intolerable weather behind us. It was one of those less
lowering, but still grey and gloomy enough mornings of the
transition, when with a fair wind the ship was rushing through
the water with a vindictive sort of leaping and melancholy


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rapidity, that as I mounted to the deck at the call of the forenoon
watch, so soon as I levelled my glance towards the taffrail,
foreboding shivers ran over me. Reality outran apprehension;
Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck.

There seemed no sign of common bodily illness about him,
nor of the recovery from any. He looked like a man cut away
from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the
limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from
their compacted aged robustness. His whole high, broad form,
seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable
mould, like Cellini's cast Perseus. Threading its way out from
among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his
tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing,
you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It
resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the
straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning
tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig,
peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom, ere running
off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded.
Whether that mark was born with him, or whether it was the
scar left by some desperate wound, no one could certainly say,
By some tacit consent, throughout the voyage little or no allusion
was made to it, especially by the mates. But once Tashtego's
senior, an old Gay-Head Indian among the crew,
superstitiously asserted that not till he was full forty years old
did Ahab become that way branded, and then it came upon
him, not in the fury of any mortal fray, but in an elemental
strife at sea. Yet, this wild hint seemed inferentially negatived,
by what a grey Manxman insinuated, an old sepulchral man,
who, having never before sailed out of Nantucket, had never ere
this laid eye upon wild Ahab. Nevertheless, the old seatraditions,
the immemorial credulities, popularly invested this old
Manxman with preternatural powers of discernment. So that
no white sailor seriously contradicted him when he said that if


Page 136
ever Captain Ahab should be tranquilly laid out—which might
hardly come to pass, so he muttered—then, whoever should do
that last office for the dead, would find a birth-mark on him
from crown to sole.

So powerfully did the whole grim aspect of Ahab affect me,
and the livid brand which streaked it, that for the first few
moments I hardly noted that not a little of this overbearing
grimness was owing to the barbaric white leg upon which he
partly stood. It had previously come to me that this ivory leg
had at sea been fashioned from the polished bone of the sperm
whale's jaw. “Aye, he was dismasted off Japan,” said the old
Gay-Head Indian once; “but like his dismasted craft, he shipped
another mast without coming home for it. He has a quiver of

I was struck with the singular posture he maintained. Upon
each side of the Pequod's quarter deck, and pretty close to the
mizen shrouds, there was an auger hole, bored about half an
inch or so, into the plank. His bone leg steadied in that hole;
one arm elevated, and holding by a shroud; Captain Ahab stood
erect, looking straight out beyond the ship's ever-pitching prow.
There was an infinity of firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrenderable
wilfulness, in the fixed and fearless, forward dedication
of that glance. Not a word he spoke; nor did his officers
say aught to him; though by all their minutest gestures and
expressions, they plainly showed the uneasy, if not painful, consciousness
of being under a troubled master-eye. And not
only that, but moody stricken Ahab stood before them with a
crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing
dignity of some mighty woe.

Ere long, from his first visit in the air, he withdrew into his
cabin. But after that morning, he was every day visible to the
crew; either standing in his pivot-hole, or seated upon an ivory
stool he had; or heavily walking the deck. As the sky grew
less gloomy; indeed, began to grow a little genial, he became


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still less and less a recluse; as if, when the ship had sailed from
home, nothing but the dead wintry bleakness of the sea had
then kept him so secluded. And, by and by, it came to pass,
that he was almost continually in the air; but, as yet, for all
that he said, or perceptibly did, on the at last sunny deck,
he seemed as unnecessary there as another mast. But the
Pequod was only making a passage now; not regularly cruising;
nearly all whaling preparatives needing supervision the
mates were fully competent to, so that there was little or nothing,
out of himself, to employ or excite Ahab, now; and thus chase
away, for that one interval, the clouds that layer upon layer
were piled upon his brow, as ever all clouds choose the loftiest
peaks to pile themselves upon.

Nevertheless, ere long, the warm, warbling persuasiveness of
the pleasant, holiday weather we came to, seemed gradually to
charm him from his mood. For, as when the red-cheeked,
dancing girls, April and May, trip home to the wintry, misanthropic
woods; even the barest, ruggedest, most thunder-cloven
old oak will at least send forth some few green sprouts, to welcome
such glad-hearted visitants; so Ahab did, in the end, a little
respond to the playful allurings of that girlish air. More than
once did he put forth the faint blossom of a look, which, in
any other man, would have soon flowered out in a smile.