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It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon; the seamen were lazily


Page 238
lounging about the decks, or vacantly gazing over into the lead-colored
waters. Queequeg and I were mildly employed weaving
what is called a sword-mat, for an additional lashing to our
boat. So still and subdued and yet somehow preluding was all
the scene, and such an incantation of revery lurked in the air,
that each silent sailor seemed resolved into his own invisible

I was the attendant or page of Queequeg, while busy at the
mat. As I kept passing and repassing the filling or woof of
marline between the long yarns of the warp, using my own
hand for the shuttle, and as Queequeg, standing sideways, ever
and anon slid his heavy oaken sword between the threads, and
idly looking off upon the water, carelessly and unthinkingly drove
home every yarn: I say so strange a dreaminess did there then
reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by the
intermitting dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this
were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically
weaving and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed
threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging
vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit
of the crosswise interblending of other threads with its own.
This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own
hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into
these unalterable threads. Meantime, Queequeg's impulsive, indifferent
sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or
crookedly, or strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by
this difference in the concluding blow producing a corresponding
contrast in the final aspect of the completed fabric; this
savage's sword, thought I, which thus finally shapes and fashions
both warp and woof; this easy, indifferent sword must be chance—
aye, chance, free will, and necessity—no wise incompatible—
all interweavingly working together. The straight warp of necessity,
not to be swerved from its ultimate course—its every
alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that; free will still


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free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and chance, though
restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and
sideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus prescribed
to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the
last featuring blow at events.

Thus we were weaving and weaving away when I started at
a sound so strange, long drawn, and musically wild and unearthly,
that the ball of free will dropped from my hand, and I
stood gazing up at the clouds whence that voice dropped
like a wing. High aloft in the cross-trees was that mad Gay-Header,
Tashtego. His body was reaching eagerly forward, his
hand stretched out like a wand, and at brief sudden intervals he
continued his cries. To be sure the same sound was that very
moment perhaps being heard all over the seas, from hundreds
of whalemen's look-outs perched as high in the air; but
from few of those lungs could that accustomed old cry have
derived such a marvellous cadence as from Tashtego the

As he stood hovering over you half suspended in air, so
wildly and eagerly peering towards the horizon, you would have
thought him some prophet or seer beholding the shadows of
Fate, and by those wild cries announcing their coming.

“There she blows! there! there! there! she blows! she


“On the lee-beam, about two miles off! a school of them!”

Instantly all was commotion.

The Sperm Whale blows as a clock ticks, with the same
undeviating and reliable uniformity. And thereby whalemen
distinguish this fish from other tribes of his genus.

“There go flukes!” was now the cry from Tashtego; and
the whales disappeared.

“Quick, steward! cried Ahab. “Time! time!”


Page 240

Dough-Boy hurried below, glanced at the watch, and reported
the exact minute to Ahab.

The ship was now kept away from the wind, and she went
gently rolling before it. Tashtego reporting that the whales had
gone down heading to leeward, we confidently looked to see them
again directly in advance of our bows. For that singular craft
at times evinced by the Sperm Whale when, sounding with his
head in one direction, he nevertheless, while concealed beneath
the surface, mills round, and swiftly swims off in the opposite
quarter—this deceitfulness of his could not now be in action;
for there was no reason to suppose that the fish seen by Tashtego
had been in any way alarmed, or indeed knew at all of
our vicinity. One of the men selected for shipkeepers—that is,
those not appointed to the boats, by this time relieved the Indian
at the main-mast head. The sailors at the fore and mizzen had
come down; the line tubs were fixed in their places; the cranes
were thrust out; the mainyard was backed, and the three boats
swung over the sea like three samphire baskets over high cliffs.
Outside of the bulwarks their eager crews with one hand clung
to the rail, while one foot was expectantly poised on the gunwale.
So look the long line of man-of-war's men about to
throw themselves on board an enemy's ship.

But at this critical instant a sudden exclamation was heard
that took every eye from the whale. With a start all glared
at dark Ahab, who was surrounded by five dusky phantoms
that seemed fresh formed out of air.