WITH matted beard, and swathed in a bristling shark-skin apron, about mid-day, Perth was standing between his forge and anvil, the latter placed upon an iron-wood log, with one hand holding a pike-head in the coals, and with the other at his forges lungs, when Captain Ahab came along, carrying in his hand a small rusty-looking leathern bag. While yet a little distance from the forge, moody Ahab paused; till at last, Perth, withdrawing his iron from the fire, began hammering it upon the anvilthe red mass sending off the sparks in thick hovering flights, some of which flew close to Ahab.
Well, well; no more. Thy shrunk voice sounds too calmly, sanely woeful to me. In no Paradise myself, I am impatient of all misery in others that is not mad. Thou shouldst go mad, blacksmith; say, why dost thou not go mad? How canst thou endure without being mad? Do the heavens yet hate thee, that thou canst not go mad?What wert thou making there?
Look ye here, then, cried Ahab, passionately advancing, and leaning with both hands on Perths shoulders; look ye hereherecan ye smooth out a seam like this, blacksmith, sweeping one hand across his ribbed brow; if thou couldst, blacksmith, glad enough would I lay my head upon thy anvil, and feel thy heaviest hammer between my eyes. Answer! Canst thou smoothe this seam?
Ay, blacksmith, it is the one; ay, man, it is unsmoothable; for though thou only seest it here in my flesh, it has worked down into the bone of my skullthat is all wrinkles! But, away with childs play; no more gaffs and pikes to-day. Look ye here! jingling the leathern bag, as if it were full of gold coins. I, too, want a harpoon made; one that a thousand yoke of fiends could not part, Perth; something that will stick in a whale like his own fin-bone. There s the stuff, flinging the pouch upon the anvil. Look ye, blacksmith, these are the gathered nail-stubbs of the steel shoes of racing horses.
I know it, old man; these stubbs will weld together like glue from the melted bones of murderers. Quick! forge me the harpoon. And forge me first, twelve rods for its shank; then wind, and twist, and hammer these twelve together like the yarns and strands of a tow-line. Quick! I ll blow the fire.
When at last the twelve rods were made, Ahab tried them, one by one, by spiralling them, with his own hand, round a long, heavy iron bolt. A flaw! rejecting the last one. Work that over again, Perth.
This done, Perth was about to begin welding the twelve into one, when Ahab stayed his hand, and said he would weld his own iron. As, then, with regular, gasping hems, he hammered on the anvil, Perth passing to him the glowing rods, one after the other, and the hard-pressed forge shooting up its intense straight flame, the Parsee passed silently, and bowing over his head toward the fire, seemed invoking some curse or some blessing on the toil. But, as Ahab looked up, he slid aside.
What s that bunch of lucifers dodging about there for? muttered Stubb, looking on from the forecastle. That Parsee smells fire like a fusee; and smells of it himself, like a hot muskets powder-pan.
Fashioned at last into an arrowy shape, and welded by Perth to the shank, the steel soon pointed the end of the iron; and as the blacksmith was about giving the barbs their final heat, prior to tempering them, he cried to Ahab to place the water-cask near.
No, nono water for that; I want it of the true death-temper. Ahoy, there! Tashtego, Queequeg, Daggoo! What say ye, pagans! Will ye give me as much blood as will cover this barb? holding it high up. A cluster of dark nods replied, Yes. Three punctures were made in the heathen flesh, and the White Whales barbs were then tempered.
Now, mustering the spare poles from below, and selecting one of hickory, with the bark still investing it, Ahab fitted the end to the socket of the iron. A coil of new tow-line was then unwound, and some fathoms of it taken to the windlass, and stretched to a great tension. Pressing his foot upon it, till the rope hummed like a harp-string, then eagerly bending over it, and seeing no strandings, Ahab exclaimed, Good! and now for the seizings.
At one extremity the rope was unstranded, and the separate spread yarns were all braided and woven round the socket of the harpoon; the pole was then driven hard up into the socket; from the lower end the rope was traced half-way along the poles length, and firmly secured so, with intertwistings of twine. This done, pole, iron, and ropelike the Three Fatesremained inseparable, and Ahab moodily stalked away with the weapon; the sound of his ivory leg, and the sound of the hickory pole, both hollowly ringing along every plank. But ere he entered his cabin, a light, unnatural, half-bantering, yet most piteous sound was heard. Oh, Pip! thy wretched laugh, thy idle but unresting eye; all thy strange mummeries not unmeaningly blended with the black tragedy of the melancholy ship, and mocked it!