He kneeled against the bow and, for a moment, slipped the line over his back again. I’ll rest now while he goes out on the circle and then stand up and work on him when he comes in, he decided.
It was a great temptation to rest in the bow and let the fish make one circle by himself without recovering any line. But when the strain showed the fish had turned to come toward the boat, the old man rose to his feet and started the pivoting and the weaving pulling that brought in all the line he gained.
I’m tireder than I have ever been, he thought, and now the trade wind is rising. But that will be good to take him in with. I need that badly.
“I’ll rest on the next turn as he goes out,” he said. “I feel much better. Then in two or three turns more I will have him.”
His straw hat was far on the back of his head and he sank down into the bow with the pull of the line as he felt the fish turn.
You work now, fish, he thought. I’ll take you at the turn.
The sea had risen considerably. But it was a fair-weather breeze and he had to have it to get home.
“I’ll just steer south and west,” he said. “A man is never lost at sea and it is a long island.”
It was on the third turn that he saw the fish first.
He saw him first as a dark shadow that took so long to pass under the boat that he could not believe its length.
“No,” he said. “He can’t be that big.”
But he was that big and at the end of this circle he came to the surface only thirty yards away and the man saw his tail out of water. It was higher than a big scythe blade and a very pale lavender above the dark blue water. It raked back and as the fish swam just below the surface the old man could see his huge bulk and the purple stripes that banded him. His dorsal fin was down and his huge pectorals were spread wide.
On this circle the old man could see the fish’s eye and the two gray sucking fish that swam around him. Sometimes they attached themselves to him. Sometimes they darted off. Sometimes they would swim easily in his shadow. They were each over three feet long and when they swam fast they lashed their whole bodies like eels.
The old man was sweating now but from something else besides the sun. On each calm placid turn the fish made he was gaining line and he was sure that in two turns more he would have a chance to get the harpoon in.
But I must get him close, close, close, he thought. I mustn’t try for the head. I must get the heart.
“Be calm and strong, old man,” he said.
On the next circle the fish’s back was out but he was a little too far from the boat. On the next circle he was still too far away but he was higher out of water and the old man was sure that by gaining some more line he could have him alongside.
He had rigged his harpoon long before and its coil of light rope was in a round basket and the end was made fast to the bitt in the bow.
The fish was coming in on his circle now calm and beautiful looking and only his great tail moving. The old man pulled on him all that he could to bring him closer. For just a moment the fish turned a little on his side. Then he straightened himself and began another circle.
“I moved him,” the old man said. “I moved him then.”
He felt faint again now but he held on the great fish all the strain that he could. I moved him, he thought. Maybe this time I can get him over. Pull, hands, he thought. Hold up, legs. Last for me, head. Last for me. You never went. This time I’ll pull him over.