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swimming, or of effecting the least good, in so violent a tornado.
But the amazed and confounded seamen who remained needed no instruction in this matter. Not a man moved, nor was the smallest symptom of obedience given. The mariners looked wildly around them, each endeavouring to trace in the dusky countenance of some shipmate his opinion of the extent of the evil; but not a mouth opened among them all.
“It is too late — it is too late!" murmured Wilder; human skill and human efforts could not save them !"
Sail, ho!” Knighthead shouted in a voice that was teeming with superstitious awe.
“Let him come on," returned his young commander, bitterly; "the mischief is ready done to his hands!"
“Should this be a true ship, it is our duty to the owners and the passengers to speak her, if a man can make his voice heard in this tempest," the second mate continued, pointing, through the haze, at the dim object that was certainly at hand.
“Speak her! - passengers!” muttered Wilder, involuntarily repeating his words. “No;
“No; any thing is better than speaking her. Do you see the vessel that is driving down upon us so fast?" he sternly demanded of the watchful seaman who still clung to the wheel of the Caroline.
Ay, ay, sir.” “Give her a berth — sheer away hard to port — perhaps he may pass us in the gloom, now we are no higher than our decks. Give the ship a broad sheer, I say, sir."
The usual laconic answer was given; and, for a few moments, the Bristol trader was seen diverging a little from the line in which the other approached; but a second glance assured Wilder that the attempt was useless. The
strange ship (every man on board felt certain it was the same that had so long been seen hanging in the northwestern horizon) came on through the mist, with a swiftness that nearly equalled the velocity of the tempestuous winds themselves. Not a thread of canvas was seen on board her. Each line of spars, even to the tapering and delicate top-gallant masts, was in its place, preserving the beauty and symmetry of the whole fabric; but nowhere was the the smallest fragment of a sail opened to the gale. Under her bows rolled a volume of foam that was even discernible amid the universal agitation of the ocean; and, as she came within sound, the sullen roar of the water might have been likened to the noise of a cascade. At first, the spectators on the decks of the Caroline believed they were not seen, and some of the men called madly for lights, in order that the disasters of the night might not terminate in an encounter.
“Too many see us there already!” said Wilder.
“No, no," muttered Knighthead; "no fear but we are seen; and by such eyes, too, as never yet looked out of mortal head!"
The seamen paused. In another instant, the longseen and mysterious ship was within a hundred feet of them. The very power of that wind, which was wont usually to raise the billows, now pressed the element, with the weight of mountains, into its bed. The sea was every where a sheet of froth, but the water did not rise above the level of the surface. The instant a wave lifted itself from the security of the vast depths, the fluid was borne away before the tornado in glittering spray. Along this frothy but comparatively motionless surface, then, the stranger came booming with the steadiness and grandeur with which a cloud is seen sailing in the hurricane. No sign of life was discovered about her. If men looked out from their secret places, upon the straitened and dis
comfited wreck of the Bristol trader, it was covertly, and as darkly as the tempest before which they drove. Wilder held his breath, for the moment the stranger was nighest, in the very excess of suspense, but, as he saw no signal of recognition, no human form, nor any intention to arrest, if possible, the furious career of the other, a smile gleamed across his countenance, and his lips moved rapidly, as if he found pleasure in being abandoned to his distress. The stranger drove by, like a dark vision; and, ere another minute, her form was beginning to grow less distinct, in the body of spray to leeward.
“She is going out of sight in the mist !” exclaimed Wilder, when he drew his breath, after the fearful suspense of the few last moments.
Ay, in mist or clouds,” responded Knighthead, who now kept obstinately at his elbow, watching with the most jealous distrust, the smallest movement of his unknown commander.
“In the heavens, or in the sea, I care not, provided he be gone."
“Most seamen would rejoice to see a strange sail, from the hull of a vessel shaved to the deck like this."
Men often court their destruction, from ignorance of their own interests. Let him drive on, say I, and pray I! He goes four feet to our one; and I ask no better favour than that this hurricane may blow until the sun shall rise."
Knighthead started, and cast an oblique glance, which resembled denunciation, at his companion. To his superstitious mind, there was profanity in thus invoking the tempest, at a moment when the winds seemed already to be pouring out their utmost wrath.
“This is a heavy squall, I will allow," he said, " and such a one as many mariners pass whole lives without
seeing; but he knows little of the sea who thinks there is not more wind where this comes from."
“Let it blow!” cried the other, striking his hands together a little wildly; "I pray for wind ?”
All the doubts of Knighthead, as to the character of the young stranger who had so. unaccountably got possession of the office of Nicholas Nichols, if any remained, were now removed. He walked forward among the silent and thoughtful crew, with the air of a man whose opinion was settled. Wilder, however, paid no attention to the movements of his subordinate, but continued pacing the deck for hours; now casting his eyes at the heavens, and now sending frequent and anxious glances around the limited horizon, while the Royal Caroline still continued drifting before the wind, a shorn and naked wreck.
HAT night, in the mid-watch, when the old man
as his wont at intervals — stepped forth from the
scuttle in which he leaned, and went to his pivothole, he suddenly thrust out his face fiercely, snuffing up the sea air as a sagacious ship's dog will, in drawing nigh to some barbarous isle. He declared that a whale must be near. Soon that peculiar odor, sometimes to a great distance given forth by the living sperm whale, was palpable to all the watch; nor was any mariner surprised when, after inspecting the compass, and then the dogvane, and then ascertaining the precise bearing of the odor as nearly as possible, Ahab rapidly ordered the ship's course to be slightly altered, and the sail to be shortened.
The acute policy dictating these movements was sufficiently vindicated at daybreak, by the sight of a long sleek on the sea directly and lengthwise ahead, smooth as oil, and resembling in the pleated watery wrinkles bordering it, the polished metallic-like marks of some swift tiderip, at the mouth of a deep, rapid stream.
“Man the mast-heads! Call all hands!”
Thundering with the butts of three clubbed handspikes on the forecastle deck, Daggoo roused the sleepers with such judgment claps that they seemed to exhale from the scuttle, so instantaneously did they appear with their clothes in their hands.