But in his joy at the enchanted, tacit acquiescence of the mate, Ahab did not hear his foreboding invocation; nor yet the low laugh from the hold; nor yet the presaging vibrations of the winds in the cordage; nor yet the hollow flap of the sails against the masts, as for a moment their hearts sank in. For again Starbuck's downcast eyes lighted up with the stubbornness of life; the subterranean laugh died away; the winds blew on; the sails filled out; the ship heaved and rolled as before. Ah, ye admonitions and warnings! why stay ye not when ye come? But rather are ye predictions than warnings, ye shadows! Yet not so much predictions from without, as verifications of the fore-going things within. For with little external to constrain us, the innermost necessities in our being, these still drive us on.
"The measure! the measure!" cried Ahab.
the brimming pewter, and turning to the harpooneers, he ordered them to
produce their weapons. Then ranging them before him near the capstan,
with their harpoons in their hands, while his three mates stood at his
side with their lances, and the rest of the ship's company formed a
circle round the group; he stood for an instant searchingly eyeing every
man of his crew. But those wild eyes met his, as the bloodshot eves of
the prairie wolves meet the eye of their leader, ere he rushes on at
their head in the trail of the bison; but, alas! only to fall into the
hidden snare of the Indian.
"Drink and pass!" he cried, handing
the heavy charged flagon to the nearest seaman. "The crew alone now
drink. Round with it, round! Short draughts- long swallows, men; 'tis
hot as Satan's hoof. So, so; it goes round excellently. It spiralizes in
ye; forks out at the serpent-snapping eye. Well done; almost drained.
That way it went, this way it comes. Hand it me- here's a hollow! Men,
ye seem the years; so brimming life is gulped and gone. Steward, refill!
now, my braves. I have mustered ye all round this capstan; and ye
mates, flank me with your lances; and ye harpooneers, stand there with
your irons; and ye, stout mariners, ring me in, that I may in some sort
revive a noble custom of my fishermen fathers before me. O men, you will
yet see that- Ha! boy, come back? bad pennies come not sooner. Hand it
me. Why, now, this pewter had run brimming again, wert not thou St.
Vitus' imp- away, thou ague!
"Advance, ye mates! Cross your lances
full before me. Well done! Let me touch the axis." So saying, with
extended arm, he grasped the three level, radiating lances at their
crossed centre; while so doing, suddenly and nervously twitched them;
meanwhile glancing intently from Starbuck to Stubb; from Stubb to Flask.
It seemed as though, by some nameless, interior volition, he would fain
have shocked into them the same fiery emotion accumulated within the
Leyden jar of his own magnetic life. The three mates quailed before his
strong, sustained, and mystic aspect. Stubb and Flask looked sideways
from him; the honest eye of Starbuck fell downright.
cried Ahab; "but, maybe, 'tis well. For did ye three but once take the
full-forced shock, then mine own electric thing, that had perhaps
expired from out me. Perchance, too, it would have dropped ye dead.
Perchance ye need it not. Down lances! And now, ye mates, I do appoint
ye three cupbearers to my three pagan kinsmen there- yon three most
honorable gentlemen and noblemen, my valiant harpooneers. Disdain the
task? What, when the great Pope washes the feet of beggars, using his
tiara for ewer? Oh, my sweet cardinals! your own condescension, that
shall bend ye to it. I do not order ye; ye will it. Cut your seizings
and draw the poles, ye harpooneers!"
Silently obeying the order,
the three harpooneers now stood with the detached iron part of their
harpoons, some three feet long, held, barbs up, before him.
me not with that keen steel! Cant them; cant them over! know ye not the
goblet end? Turn up the socket! So, so; now, ye cup-bearers, advance.
The irons! take them; hold them while I fill!" Forthwith, slowly going
from one officer to the other, he brimmed the harpoon sockets with the
fiery waters from the pewter.
"Now, three to three, ye stand.
Commend the murderous chalices! Bestow them, ye who are now made parties
to this indissoluble league. Ha! Starbuck! but the deed is done! Yon
ratifying sun now waits to sit upon it. Drink, ye harpooneers! drink and
swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat's bow- Death to Moby
Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!" The
long, barbed steel goblets were lifted; and to cries and maledictions
against the white whale, the spirits were simultaneously quaffed down
with a hiss. Starbuck paled, and turned, and shivered. Once more, and
finally, the replenished pewter went the rounds among the frantic crew;
when, waving his free hand to them, they all dispersed; and Ahab retired
within his cabin.
Starbuck does not get swept up in Ahab's speech to the crew. Doesn't buy into the drinking or backslapping. The name Moby Dick seems to plant in Starbuck seeds of discomfort. He seems to know something that the other men don't. Perhaps he recognizes the spark of madness in Ahab's eyes. Or maybe he's had an encounter with the white whale before. It could simply be a sense of unease, a premonition of what is to come.
The snow has finally stopped falling. The university where I teach has finally reopened. It has been closed since Sunday morning. Slowly, the Upper Peninsula is returning to business as usual. Tomorrow, all the kids will return to school. I hear a snowblower coughing down the street. One of my neighbors digging out from last night's/today's snowfall. Everyone is trying to return to normal.
I'm a little at sea right now. Both of my children are gone--my daughter at her boyfriend's house, my son on yet another trip with his aunt. My house is absolutely silent, except for tapping bursts of my fingers on the keyboard and the steady cracking of the clock on the wall. This makes me uneasy. I'm not used to unstructured time in the middle of the week. My week days and nights are usually very regimented.
And now, without the driving force of teaching and work and children this evening, I am overcome with a kind of exhaustion. In the last three sentences, I have drifted off into a twilight doze four or five times. Like Ahab, I've had to take a few turns around the decks of my home, to shake off this torpor. Stuffed a lemon cookie into my mouth. Stared out the kitchen window. Eaten a chocolate egg. Gone to the bathroom. Peed. Washed a dirty glass that was in the sink.
I'm searching for some kind of meaning this evening, I guess. A Bigfoot to chase. A poem or essay to write. Words of hope for a friend who's struggling with hopelessness at the moment. Eggs and toast for my wife when she wakes up from her nap.
It's easy to go a little crazy, become obsessed with loss and pain and misfortune and loneliness. Just now, in the middle of my tiredness, I found myself profoundly sad and angry at the universe, My swampy brain started cataloging the Moby Dicks of my life--my dad's death, my friend's illness, my financial struggles . . . So many white whales out there.
I think I need to take a page out of Starbuck's book. Recognize that I've contracted a little Ahab fever. Dial it back a notch. Go easy on myself.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for lemon cookies, chocolate eggs, a clean glass, and the end of snow.