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Chapter 59: Squid.


Slowly wading through the meadows of brit, the Pequod still held on her
way north-eastward towards the island of Java; a gentle air impelling
her keel, so that in the surrounding serenity her three tall tapering
masts mildly waved to that languid breeze, as three mild palms on a
plain. And still, at wide intervals in the silvery night, the lonely,
alluring jet would be seen.

But one transparent blue morning, when a stillness almost preternatural
spread over the sea, however unattended with any stagnant calm; when
the long burnished sun-glade on the waters seemed a golden finger laid
across them, enjoining some secrecy; when the slippered waves whispered
together as they softly ran on; in this profound hush of the visible
sphere a strange spectre was seen by Daggoo from the main-mast-head.

In the distance, a great white mass lazily rose, and rising higher and
higher, and disentangling itself from the azure, at last gleamed before
our prow like a snow-slide, new slid from the hills. Thus glistening
for a moment, as slowly it subsided, and sank. Then once more arose,
and silently gleamed. It seemed not a whale; and yet is this Moby Dick?
thought Daggoo. Again the phantom went down, but on re-appearing once
more, with a stiletto-like cry that startled every man from his nod, the
negro yelled out--"There! there again! there she breaches! right ahead!
The White Whale, the White Whale!"

Upon this, the seamen rushed to the yard-arms, as in swarming-time the
bees rush to the boughs. Bare-headed in the sultry sun, Ahab stood on
the bowsprit, and with one hand pushed far behind in readiness to wave
his orders to the helmsman, cast his eager glance in the direction
indicated aloft by the outstretched motionless arm of Daggoo.

Whether the flitting attendance of the one still and solitary jet had
gradually worked upon Ahab, so that he was now prepared to connect the
ideas of mildness and repose with the first sight of the particular
whale he pursued; however this was, or whether his eagerness betrayed
him; whichever way it might have been, no sooner did he distinctly
perceive the white mass, than with a quick intensity he instantly gave
orders for lowering.

The four boats were soon on the water; Ahab's in advance, and all
swiftly pulling towards their prey. Soon it went down, and while, with
oars suspended, we were awaiting its reappearance, lo! in the same
spot where it sank, once more it slowly rose. Almost forgetting for
the moment all thoughts of Moby Dick, we now gazed at the most wondrous
phenomenon which the secret seas have hitherto revealed to mankind.
A vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length and breadth, of a glancing
cream-colour, lay floating on the water, innumerable long arms radiating
from its centre, and curling and twisting like a nest of anacondas, as
if blindly to clutch at any hapless object within reach. No perceptible
face or front did it have; no conceivable token of either sensation or
instinct; but undulated there on the billows, an unearthly, formless,
chance-like apparition of life.

As with a low sucking sound it slowly disappeared again, Starbuck still
gazing at the agitated waters where it had sunk, with a wild voice
exclaimed--"Almost rather had I seen Moby Dick and fought him, than to
have seen thee, thou white ghost!"

"What was it, Sir?" said Flask.

"The great live squid, which, they say, few whale-ships ever beheld, and
returned to their ports to tell of it."

But Ahab said nothing; turning his boat, he sailed back to the vessel;
the rest as silently following.

Whatever superstitions the sperm whalemen in general have connected with
the sight of this object, certain it is, that a glimpse of it being
so very unusual, that circumstance has gone far to invest it with
portentousness. So rarely is it beheld, that though one and all of them
declare it to be the largest animated thing in the ocean, yet very few
of them have any but the most vague ideas concerning its true nature and
form; notwithstanding, they believe it to furnish to the sperm whale
his only food. For though other species of whales find their food above
water, and may be seen by man in the act of feeding, the spermaceti
whale obtains his whole food in unknown zones below the surface; and
only by inference is it that any one can tell of what, precisely, that
food consists. At times, when closely pursued, he will disgorge what
are supposed to be the detached arms of the squid; some of them thus
exhibited exceeding twenty and thirty feet in length. They fancy that
the monster to which these arms belonged ordinarily clings by them to
the bed of the ocean; and that the sperm whale, unlike other species, is
supplied with teeth in order to attack and tear it.

There seems some ground to imagine that the great Kraken of Bishop
Pontoppodan may ultimately resolve itself into Squid. The manner in
which the Bishop describes it, as alternately rising and sinking, with
some other particulars he narrates, in all this the two correspond.
But much abatement is necessary with respect to the incredible bulk he
assigns it.

By some naturalists who have vaguely heard rumors of the mysterious
creature, here spoken of, it is included among the class of cuttle-fish,
to which, indeed, in certain external respects it would seem to belong,
but only as the Anak of the tribe.