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.. < chapter xlvii 14 THE MAT-MAKER >

It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon;
the seamen were lazily lounging about the decks, or vacantly gazing over
into the lead-colored waters. Queequeg and I were mildly employed weaving
what is called a sword-mat, for an additional lashing to our boat. So still
and subdued and yet somehow preluding was all the scene, and such an
incantation of revery lurked in the air, that each silent sailor seemed
resolved into his own invisible self. I was the attendant or page of
Queequeg, while busy at the mat. As I kept passing and repassing the
filling or woof of marline between the long yarns of the warp, using my own
hand for the shuttle, and as Queequeg, standing sideways, ever and anon slid
his heavy oaken sword between the threads, and idly looking off upon the
water, carelessly and unthinkingly drove home every yarn: I say so strange a
dreaminess did there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only
broken by the intermitting dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this

were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and
weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed

threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging
vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise
interblending of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and
here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own
destiny into these unalterable threads. Meantime, Queequeg's impulsive,
indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly, or
strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by this difference in the
concluding blow producing a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of the
completed fabric; this savage's sword, thought I, which thus finally shapes
and fashions both warp and woof; this easy, indifferent sword must be chance
--aye, chance, free will, and necessity --no wise incompatible --all
interweavingly working together. The straight warp of necessity, not to be
swerved from its ultimate course --its every alternating vibration, indeed,
only tending to that; free will still free to ply her shuttle between given
threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of
necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus
prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last
featuring blow at events. Thus we were weaving and weaving away when I started
at a sound so strange, long drawn, and musically wild and unearthly, that the
ball of free will dropped from my hand, and I stood gazing up at the clouds
whence that voice dropped like a wing. High aloft in the cross-trees was that
mad Gay-Header, Tashtego. His body was reaching eagerly forward, his hand
stretched out like a wand, and at brief sudden intervals he continued his
cries. To be sure the same sound was that very moment perhaps being heard all
over the seas, from hundreds of whalemen's look-outs perched as high in the
air; but from few of those lungs could that accustomed old cry have derived
such a marvellous cadence as from Tashtego the Indian's. As he stood hovering
over you half suspended in air, so wildly and eagerly peering towards the
horizon, you would have thought him some prophet or seer beholding the
shadows of Fate, and by those wild cries announcing their coming. There she
blows! there! there! there! she blows! she blows!

Where-away? On the lee-beam, about two miles off! a school of them!
Instantly all was commotion. The Sperm Whale blows as a clock ticks, with the
same undeviating and reliable uniformity. And thereby whalemen distinguish
this fish from other tribes of his genus. There go flukes! was now the cry
from Tashtego; and the whales disappeared. Quick, steward! cried Ahab.

Time! time! Dough-Boy hurried below, glanced at the watch, and reported
the exact minute to Ahab. The ship was now kept away from the wind, and she
went gently rolling before it. Tashtego reporting that the whales had gone
down heading to leeward, we confidently looked to see them again directly in
advance of our bows. For that singular craft at times evinced by the Sperm
Whale when, sounding with his head in one direction, he nevertheless, while
concealed beneath the surface, mills round, and swiftly swims off in the
opposite quarter --this deceitfulness of his could not now be in action; for
there was no reason to suppose that the fish seen by Tashtego had been in any
way alarmed, or indeed knew at all of our vicinity. One of the men selected
for shipkeepers -- that is, those not appointed to the boats, by this time
relieved the Indian at the main-mast head. The sailors at the fore and
mizzen had come down; the line tubs were fixed in their places; the cranes
were thrust out; the mainyard was backed, and the three boats swung over the
sea like three samphire baskets over high cliffs. Outside of the bulwarks
their eager crews with one hand clung to the rail, while one foot was
expectantly poised on the gunwale. So look the long line of man-of-war's men
about to throw themselves on board an enemy's ship. But at this critical
instant a sudden exclamation was heard that took every eye from the whale.
With a start all glared at dark Ahab, who was surrounded by five dusky
phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air.