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Chapter 46: Surmises.


Though, consumed with the hot fire of his purpose, Ahab in all his
thoughts and actions ever had in view the ultimate capture of Moby Dick;
though he seemed ready to sacrifice all mortal interests to that one
passion; nevertheless it may have been that he was by nature and long
habituation far too wedded to a fiery whaleman's ways, altogether to
abandon the collateral prosecution of the voyage. Or at least if
this were otherwise, there were not wanting other motives much more
influential with him. It would be refining too much, perhaps, even
considering his monomania, to hint that his vindictiveness towards the
White Whale might have possibly extended itself in some degree to all
sperm whales, and that the more monsters he slew by so much the more he
multiplied the chances that each subsequently encountered whale would
prove to be the hated one he hunted. But if such an hypothesis be indeed
exceptionable, there were still additional considerations which, though
not so strictly according with the wildness of his ruling passion, yet
were by no means incapable of swaying him.

To accomplish his object Ahab must use tools; and of all tools used in
the shadow of the moon, men are most apt to get out of order. He knew,
for example, that however magnetic his ascendency in some respects was
over Starbuck, yet that ascendency did not cover the complete spiritual
man any more than mere corporeal superiority involves intellectual
mastership; for to the purely spiritual, the intellectual but stand in a
sort of corporeal relation. Starbuck's body and Starbuck's coerced will
were Ahab's, so long as Ahab kept his magnet at Starbuck's brain; still
he knew that for all this the chief mate, in his soul, abhorred his
captain's quest, and could he, would joyfully disintegrate himself from
it, or even frustrate it. It might be that a long interval would elapse
ere the White Whale was seen. During that long interval Starbuck
would ever be apt to fall into open relapses of rebellion against his
captain's leadership, unless some ordinary, prudential, circumstantial
influences were brought to bear upon him. Not only that, but the subtle
insanity of Ahab respecting Moby Dick was noways more significantly
manifested than in his superlative sense and shrewdness in foreseeing
that, for the present, the hunt should in some way be stripped of that
strange imaginative impiousness which naturally invested it; that
the full terror of the voyage must be kept withdrawn into the obscure
background (for few men's courage is proof against protracted meditation
unrelieved by action); that when they stood their long night watches,
his officers and men must have some nearer things to think of than Moby
Dick. For however eagerly and impetuously the savage crew had hailed the
announcement of his quest; yet all sailors of all sorts are more or less
capricious and unreliable--they live in the varying outer weather, and
they inhale its fickleness--and when retained for any object remote and
blank in the pursuit, however promissory of life and passion in the
end, it is above all things requisite that temporary interests and
employments should intervene and hold them healthily suspended for the
final dash.

Nor was Ahab unmindful of another thing. In times of strong emotion
mankind disdain all base considerations; but such times are evanescent.
The permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man, thought
Ahab, is sordidness. Granting that the White Whale fully incites the
hearts of this my savage crew, and playing round their savageness even
breeds a certain generous knight-errantism in them, still, while for the
love of it they give chase to Moby Dick, they must also have food
for their more common, daily appetites. For even the high lifted and
chivalric Crusaders of old times were not content to traverse two
thousand miles of land to fight for their holy sepulchre, without
committing burglaries, picking pockets, and gaining other pious
perquisites by the way. Had they been strictly held to their one final
and romantic object--that final and romantic object, too many would have
turned from in disgust. I will not strip these men, thought Ahab, of all
hopes of cash--aye, cash. They may scorn cash now; but let some months
go by, and no perspective promise of it to them, and then this same
quiescent cash all at once mutinying in them, this same cash would soon
cashier Ahab.

Nor was there wanting still another precautionary motive more related
to Ahab personally. Having impulsively, it is probable, and perhaps
somewhat prematurely revealed the prime but private purpose of the
Pequod's voyage, Ahab was now entirely conscious that, in so doing,
he had indirectly laid himself open to the unanswerable charge of
usurpation; and with perfect impunity, both moral and legal, his crew
if so disposed, and to that end competent, could refuse all further
obedience to him, and even violently wrest from him the command. From
even the barely hinted imputation of usurpation, and the possible
consequences of such a suppressed impression gaining ground, Ahab must
of course have been most anxious to protect himself. That protection
could only consist in his own predominating brain and heart and hand,
backed by a heedful, closely calculating attention to every minute
atmospheric influence which it was possible for his crew to be subjected

For all these reasons then, and others perhaps too analytic to be
verbally developed here, Ahab plainly saw that he must still in a good
degree continue true to the natural, nominal purpose of the Pequod's
voyage; observe all customary usages; and not only that, but force
himself to evince all his well known passionate interest in the general
pursuit of his profession.

Be all this as it may, his voice was now often heard hailing the three
mast-heads and admonishing them to keep a bright look-out, and not omit
reporting even a porpoise. This vigilance was not long without reward.