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Chapter 106: Ahab's Leg.


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 trustworthy.

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 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 heartwoes, 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
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 carpenter.

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.