Out to Sea

From Hell's Heart


By One Ishmael

As I informed those who suffered through my words before, there came a time every few years when I set aside the hickory switch of the schoolmaster and hearkened to the call of the sea. I set forth at these low soundings of the spirit, not as a dandified passenger on the finest steamer of the line, but as an ordinary seaman.

But old Kronos, from the isle to which he was forcibly retired by usurping Zeus, sent years heavily down upon me like needle-sleet of the Icy Sea. The securing of hawsers, the scrubbing of decks, the hauling of oars and the flensing of the great Leviathans felt more like drudgery than an exhilarating departure from the tide-pool stillness of the land. It hit me at last that Ishmael, the wanderer, Ishmael, the iron-armed Sindbad of Manhattan and Nantucket, was as dead as the rest of the Pequod‘s crew.

With the new passenger vessels coming into vogue, Pacific cruises grew in popularity. Doctors prescribed the ocean’s breath as the Universal Panacea, and before I thought the better of it, I found myself, aye, a dandified passenger -- ambulatory cargo -- sentient ballast -- upon the steamer Nevada.

A month of idleness was all I could bear. I debarked at Wellington on the North Island of New Zealand, not a pence or pfennig to my name. I was an old hand at chartered accountancy, however; I could tie down columns of numbers as easily as I could tie sheepshank and bowline. So it was that I took a position with Nichols and Sons, Shipping.

Alas, Queequeg, cannibal prince! All the weighty Pacific could not bury your coffin, but how the minutiae of the shipping logs sank your memory in the mind of your brother Ishmael! O Tashtego, Atlas of the Northwest Indians, and Daggoo, Hercules of Africa! Your swelling biceps could not lift the reams of foolscap on which I scrawled and checked and scrawled again. Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask -- not all your hectoring could draw my attention from the ledgers of Messrs. Nichols, nor could Ahab himself steer me back to open sea.

Then one day, during a dusty New Zealand summer, those inscrutable stage managers, the Fates, in the guise of Mr. Nichols (elder), assigned me to the new office in Hawaii, largest of James Cook’s Sandwich chain. Thus it was that I boarded the Waitara, and met aboard her the charming American lady, Miss Gladys Partington.

The critics, who gathered like sharks about the White Whale, have informed me that, among its innumerable faults, Moby Dick is not a “woman’s book;” that the female patronage of library and bookstall find little of interest in the story of Ahab and the Pequod. I happily hand the tiller, then, to Miss Partington, who clave nearer the events of the following document than I -- how much nearer, you shall discover.

In the meantime, I, your most humble servant, Ishmael, hear once more the sirens of the South Pacific keening in those conch shells of the ears. To sea again I go, though my days of hopping from span to span like a cricket have passed to leeward. I can no more precipitate the salt from my blood than hoary Ahab could divide the scars of his black soul from the mutilations of his body. Thus I bid you adieu, or rather aloha, that wonderful Hawaiian word which launches one vessel and welcomes another, and I leave you to this tale of hate and vengeance, love and redemption, that welled up from Hell’s heart.

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