Soon we were running through a suffusing wide veil of mist; neither ship nor boat to be seen.
“Give way, men,” whispered Starbuck, drawing still further aft the sheet of his sail; “there is time to kill a fish yet before the squall comes. There’s white water again!—close to! Spring!”
Soon after, two cries in quick succession on each side of us denoted that the other boats had got fast; but hardly were they overheard, when with a lightning-like hurtling whisper Starbuck said: “Stand up!” and Queequeg, harpoon in hand, sprang to his feet.
Though not one of the oarsmen was then facing the life and death peril so close to them ahead, yet with their eyes on the intense countenance of the mate in the stern of the boat, they knew that the imminent instant had come; they heard, too, an enormous wallowing sound as of fifty elephants stirring in their litter. Meanwhile the boat was still booming through the mist, the waves curling and hissing around us like the erected crests of enraged serpents.
“That’s his hump. There, there, give it to him!” whispered Starbuck.
A short rushing sound leaped out of the boat; it was the darted iron of Queequeg. Then all in one welded commotion came an invisible push from astern, while forward the boat seemed striking on a ledge; the sail collapsed and exploded; a gush of scalding vapor shot up near by; something rolled and tumbled like an earthquake beneath us. The whole crew were half suffocated as they were tossed helter-skelter into the white curdling cream of the squall. Squall, whale, and harpoon had all blended together; and the whale, merely grazed by the iron, escaped.
—The First Lowering
The swift prose of Chapter 48: The First Lowering captivates us by describing the actions, the fear, and the wonder experienced by men pulling willingly into the fiercest battle in the fiercest ocean with the fiercest prey known to man. The Wallow card provides an opportunity for choice in such dramatic circumstances—the hand of fate in such a hunt is strong, so that when a choice is offered, sit up and take notice. What kind of whaler are you? One who will dive into the fray, regardless of the consequences, betting on some deeper, transcendent consequences to be achieved by making such a gamble? Or will you wait for a potentially safer strike? How are the other boats faring against this whale?
Original Image Courtesy of The New Bedford Whaling Museum.