"Forehead to forehead I meet thee, this third time, Moby Dick! On deck there!- brace sharper up; crowd her into the wind's eye. He's too far off to lower yet, Mr. Starbuck. The sails shake! Stand over that helmsman with a top-maul! So, so; he travels fast, and I must down. But let me have one more good round look aloft here at the sea; there's time for that. An old, old sight, and yet somehow so young; aye, and not changed a wink since I first saw it, a boy, from the sand-hills of Nantucket! The same- the same!- the same to Noah as to me. There's a soft shower to leeward. Such lovely leewardings! They must lead somewhere- to something else than common land, more palmy than the palms. Leeward! the white whale goes that way; look to windward, then; the better if the bitterer quarter. But good bye, good bye, old mast-head! What's this?- green? aye, tiny mosses in these warped cracks. No such green weather stains on Ahab's head! There's the difference now between man's old age and matter's. But aye, old mast, we both grow old together; sound in our hulls, though are we not, my ship? Aye, minus a leg, that's all. By heaven this dead wood has the better of my live flesh every way. I can't compare with it; and I've known some ships made of dead trees outlast the lives of men made of the most vital stuff of vital fathers. What's that he said? he should still go before me, my pilot; and yet to be seen again? But where? Will I have eyes at the bottom of the sea, supposing I descend those endless stairs? and all night I've been sailing from him, wherever he did sink to. Aye, aye, like many more thou toldist direful truth as touching thyself, O Parsee; but, Ahab, there thy shot fell short. Good bye, mast-head- keep a good eye upon the whale, the while I'm gone. We'll talk to-morrow, nay, to-night, when the white whale lies down there, tied by head and tail."
He gave the word; and still gazing round him, was steadily lowered through the cloven blue air to the deck.
In due time the boats were lowered; but as standing in his shallop's stern, Ahab just hovered upon the point of the descent, he waved to the mate,- who held one of the tackle- ropes on deck- and bade him pause.
"For the third time my soul's ship starts upon this voyage, Starbuck."
"Aye, sir, thou wilt have it so."
"Some ships sail from their ports, and ever afterwards are missing, Starbuck!"
"Truth, sir: saddest truth."
"Some men die at ebb tide; some at low water; some at the full of the flood;- and I feel now like a billow that's all one crested comb, Starbuck. I am old;- shake hands with me, man."
Their hands met; their eyes fastened; Starbuck's tears the glue.
"Oh, my captain, my captain!- noble heart- go not- go not!- see, it's a brave man that weeps; how great the agony of the persuasion then!"
"Lower away!"-cried Ahab, tossing the mate's arm from him. "Stand by for the crew!"
In an instant the boat was pulling round close under the stern.
"The sharks! the sharks!" cried a voice from the low cabin-window there; "O master, my master, come back!"
But Ahab heard nothing; for his own voice was high-lifted then; and the boat leaped on.
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