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Moby Dick

3. The Spouter-Inn
Entering that gable-ended Spouter-Inn, you found yourself in a wide, low, straggling
entry with old-fashioned wainscots, reminding one of the bulwarks of some condemned
old craft. On one side hung a very large oilpainting so thoroughly besmoked, and every
way defaced, that in the unequal crosslights by which you viewed it, it was only by
diligent study and a series of systematic visits to it, and careful inquiry of the neighbors,
that you could any way arrive at an understanding of its purpose. Such unaccountable
masses of shades and shadows, that at first you almost thought some ambitious young
artist, in the time of the New England hags, had endeavored to delineate chaos
bewitched. But by dint of much and earnest contemplation, and oft repeated
ponderings, and especially by throwing open the little window towards the back of the
entry, you at last come to the conclusion that such an idea, however wild, might not be
altogether unwarranted.
But what most puzzled and confounded you was a long, limber, portentous, black mass
of something hovering in the centre of the picture over three blue, dim, perpendicular
lines floating in a nameless yeast. A boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly, enough to
drive a nervous man distracted. Yet was there a sort of indefinite, half-attained,
unimaginable sublimity about it that fairly froze you to it, till you involuntarily took an
oath with yourself to find out what that marvellous painting meant. Ever and anon a
bright, but, alas, deceptive idea would dart you through.--It's the Black Sea in a midnight
gale.--It's the unnatural combat of the four primal elements.--It's a blasted heath.--It's a
Hyperborean winter scene.--It's the breaking-up of the icebound stream of Time. But at
last all these fancies yielded to that one portentous something in the picture's midst.
THAT once found out, and all the rest were plain. But stop; does it not bear a faint
resemblance to a gigantic fish? even the great leviathan himself?
In fact, the artist's design seemed this: a final theory of my own, partly based upon the
aggregated opinions of many aged persons with whom I conversed upon the subject.
The picture represents a Cape-Horner in a great hurricane; the half-foundered ship
weltering there with its three dismantled masts alone visible; and an exasperated whale,
purposing to spring clean over the craft, is in the enormous act of impaling himself upon
the three mast-heads.
The opposite wall of this entry was hung all over with a heathenish array of monstrous
clubs and spears. Some were thickly set with glittering teeth resembling ivory saws;
others were tufted with knots of human hair; and one was sickle-shaped, with a vast
handle sweeping round like the segment made in the new-mown grass by a long-armed
mower. You shuddered as you gazed, and wondered what monstrous cannibal and
savage could ever have gone a death-harvesting with such a hacking, horrifying
implement. Mixed with these were rusty old whaling lances and harpoons all broken and
deformed. Some were storied weapons. With this once long lance, now wildly elbowed,
fifty years ago did Nathan Swain kill fifteen whales between a sunrise and a sunset. And
that harpoon--so like a corkscrew now--was flung in Javan seas, and run away with by a
 
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