University of Virginia Library

Search this document 




Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the
Pequod now went rolling through the bright Quito spring,
which, at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the
eternal August of the Tropic. The warmly cool, clear, ringing,
perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets


Page 138
of Persian sherbet, heaped up—flaked up, with rose-water
snow. The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in
jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory
of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns!
For sleeping man, 'twas hard to choose between such winsome
days and such seducing nights. But all the witcheries of that
unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies
to the outward world. Inward they turned upon the soul,
especially when the still mild hours of eve came on; then,
memory shot her crystals as the clear ice most forms of noiseless
twilights. And all these subtle agencies, more and more
they wrought on Ahab's texture.

Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the
less man has to do with aught that looks like death. Among
sea-commanders, the old greybeards will oftenest leave their berths
to visit the night-cloaked deck. It was so with Ahab; only
that now, of late, he seemed so much to live in the open air,
that truly speaking, his visits were more to the cabin, than from
the cabin to the planks. “It feels like going down into one's
tomb,”—he would mutter to himself,—“for an old captain like
me to be descending this narrow scuttle, to go to my grave-dug

So, almost every twenty-four hours, when the watches of the
night were set, and the band on deck sentinelled the slumbers
of the band below; and when if a rope was to be hauled upon
the forecastle, the sailors flung it not rudely down, as by day,
but with some cautiousness dropt it to its place, for fear of disturbing
their slumbering shipmates; when this sort of steady
quietude would begin to prevail, habitually, the silent steersman
would watch the cabin-scuttle; and ere long the old man would
emerge, griping at the iron banister, to help his crippled way.
Some considerating touch of humanity was in him; for at times
like these, he usually abstained from patrolling the quarter-deck;
because to his wearied mates, seeking repose within six


Page 139
inches of his ivory heel, such would have been the reverberating
crack and din of that bony step, that their dreams would have
been of the crunching teeth of sharks. But once, the mood was
on him too deep for common regardings; and as with heavy,
lumber-like pace he was measuring the ship from taffrail to
mainmast, Stubb, the odd second mate, came up from below,
and with a certain unassured, deprecating humorousness, hinted
that if Captain Ahab was pleased to walk the planks, then, no
one could say nay; but there might be some way of muffling
the noise; hinting something indistinctly and hesitatingly about
a globe of tow, and the insertion into it, of the ivory heel. Ah!
Stubb, thou did'st not know Ahab then.

“Am I a cannon-ball, Stubb,” said Ahab, “that thou
wouldst wad me that fashion? But go thy ways; I had forgot.
Below to thy nightly grave; where such as ye sleep between
shrouds, to use ye to the filling one at last.—Down, dog, and

Starting at the unforeseen concluding exclamation of the so
suddenly scornful old man, Stubb was speechless a moment;
then said excitedly, “I am not used to be spoken to that way, sir;
I do but less than half like it, sir.”

“Avast!” gritted Ahab between his set teeth, and violently
moving away, as if to avoid some passionate temptation.

“No, sir; not yet,” said Stubb, emboldened, “I will not tamely
be called a dog, sir.”

“Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass,
and begone, or I'll clear the world of thee!”

As he said this, Ahab advanced upon him with such overbearing
terrors in his aspect, that Stubb involuntarily retreated.

“I was never served so before without giving a hard blow for
it,” muttered Stubb, as he found himself descending the cabin-scuttle.
“It's very queer. Stop, Stubb; somehow, now, I
don't well know whether to go back and strike him, or—what's
that?—down here on my knees and pray for him? Yes, that


Page 140
was the thought coming up in me; but it would be the first
time I ever did pray. It's queer; very queer; and he's queer
too; aye, take him fore and aft, he's about the queerest old
man Stubb ever sailed with. How he flashed at me!—his eyes
like powder-pans! is he mad? Anyway there's something on
his mind, as sure as there must be something on a deck when
it cracks. He aint in his bed now, either, more than three
hours out of the twenty-four; and he don't sleep then. Didn't
that Dough-Boy, the steward, tell me that of a morning he
always finds the old man's haumock clothes all rumpled and
tumbled, and the sheets down at the foot, and the coverlid
almost tied into knots, and the pillow a sort of frightful hot, as
though a baked brick had been on it? A hot old man! I
guess he's got what some folks ashore call a conscience; it's a
kind of Tic-Dolly-row they say—worse nor a toothache. Well,
well; I don't know what it is, but the Lord keep me from
catching it. He's full of riddles; I wonder what he goes into
the after hold for, every night, as Dough-Boy tells me he suspects;
what's that for, I should like to know? Who's made appointments
with him in the hold? Ain't that queer, now? But
there's no telling, it's the old game—Here goes for a snooze.
Damn me, it's worth a fellow's while to be born into the world,
if only to fall right asleep. And now that I think of it, that's
about the first thing babies do, and that's a sort of queer, too.
Damn me, but all things are queer, come to think of 'em. But
that's against my principles. Think not, is my eleventh commandment;
and sleep when you can, is my twelfth—So here
goes again. But how's that? didn't he call me a dog? blazes!
he called me ten times a donkey, and piled a lot of jackasses on
top of that! He might as well have kicked me, and done with
it. Maybe he did kick me, and I didn't observe it, I was so
taken all aback with his brow, somehow. It flashed like a
bleached bone. What the devil's the matter with me? I don't
stand right on my legs. Coming afoul of that old man has a


Page 141
sort of turned me wrong side out. By the Lord, I must have
been dreaming, though—How? how? how?—but the only
way's to stash it; so here goes to hammock again; and in the
morning, I'll see how this plaguey juggling thinks over by daylight.”