Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the Pequod now went rolling through the bright Quito spring, which at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic. The warmly cool, clear, ringing perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up- flaked up, with rose-water snow. The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns! For sleeping man, 'twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights. But all the witcheries of that unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies to the outward world. Inward they turned upon the soul, especially when the still mild hours of eve came on; then, memory shot her crystals as the clear ice most forms of noiseless twilights. And all these subtle agencies, more and more they wrought on Ahab's texture.
Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with
life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death. Among
sea-commanders, the old greybeards will oftenest leave their berths to
visit the night-cloaked deck. It was so with Ahab; only that now, of
late, he seemed so much to live in the open air, that truly speaking,
his visits were more to the cabin, than from the cabin to the planks.
"It feels like going down into one's tomb,"- he would mutter to himself-
"for an old captain like me to be descending this narrow scuttle, to go
to my grave-dug berth."
So, almost every twenty-four hours, when
the watches of the night were set, and the band on deck sentinelled the
slumbers of the band below; and when if a rope was to be hauled upon the
forecastle, the sailors flung it not rudely down, as by day, but with
some cautiousness dropt it to its place for fear of disturbing their
slumbering shipmates; when this sort of steady quietude would begin to
prevail, habitually, the silent steersman would watch the cabin-scuttle;
and ere long the old man would emerge, gripping at the iron banister,
to help his crippled way. Some considering touch of humanity was in him;
for at times like these, he usually abstained from patrolling the
quarter-deck; because to his wearied mates, seeking repose within six
inches of his ivory heel, such would have been the reverberating crack
and din of that bony step, that their dreams would have been on the
crunching teeth of sharks. But once, the mood was on him too deep for
common regardings; and as with heavy, lumber-like pace he was measuring
the ship from taffrail to mainmast, Stubb, the old second mate, came up
from below, with a certain unassured, deprecating humorousness, hinted
that if Captain Ahab was pleased to walk the planks, then, no one could
say nay; but there might be some way of muffling the noise; hinting
something indistinctly and hesitatingly about a globe of tow, and the
insertion into it, of the ivory heel. Ah! Stubb, thou didst not know
"Am I a cannon-ball, Stubb," said Ahab, "that thou
wouldst wad me that fashion? But go thy ways; I had forgot. Below to thy
nightly grave; where such as ye sleep between shrouds, to use ye to the
filling one at last.- Down, dog, and kennel!"
Starting at the
unforseen concluding exclamation of the so suddenly scornful old man,
Stubb was speechless a moment; then said excitedly, "I am not used to be
spoken to that way, sir; I do but less than half like it, sir."
"Avast!" gritted Ahab between his set teeth, and violently moving away, as if to avoid some passionate temptation.
"No, sir; not yet," said Stubb, emboldened, "I will not tamely be called a dog, sir."
"Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone, or I'll clear the world of thee!"
As he said this, Ahab advanced upon him with such overbearing terrors in his aspect, that Stubb involuntarily retreated.
was never served so before without giving a hard blow for it," muttered
Stubb, as he found himself descending the cabin-scuttle. "It's very
queer. Stop, Stubb; somehow, now, I don't well know whether to go back
and strike him, or- what's that?- down here on my knees and pray for
him? Yes, that was the thought coming up in me; but it would be the
first time I ever did pray. It's queer; very queer; and he's queer too;
aye, take him fore and aft, he's about the queerest old man Stubb ever
sailed with. How he flashed at me!- his eyes like powder-pans! is he
mad! Anyway there's something's on his mind, as sure as there must be
something on a deck when it cracks. He aint in his bed now, either, more
than three hours out of the twenty-four; and he don't sleep then.
Didn't that Dough-Boy, the steward, tell me that of a morning he always
finds the old man's hammock clothes all rumpled and tumbled, and the
sheets down at the foot, and the coverlid almost tied into knots, and
the pillow a sort of frightful hot, as though a baked brick had been on
it? A hot old man! I guess he's got what some folks ashore call a
conscience; it's a kind of Tic-Dolly-row they say- worse nor a
toothache. Well, well; I don't know what it is, but the Lord keep me
from catching it. He's full of riddles; I wonder what he goes into the
after hold for, every night, as Dough-Boy tells me he suspects; what's
that for, I should like to know? Who's made appointments with him in the
hold? Ain't that queer, now? But there's no telling, it's the old game-
Here goes for a snooze. Damn me, it's worth a fellow's while to be born
into the world, if only to fall right asleep. And now that I think of
it, that's about the first thing babies do, and that's a sort of queer,
too. Damn me, but all things are queer, come to think of 'em. But that's
against my principles. Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep
when you can, is my twelfth- So here goes again. But how's that? didn't
he call me a dog? blazes! he called me ten times a donkey, and piled a
lot of jackasses on top of that! He might as well have kicked me, and
done with me. Maybe he did kick me, and I didn't observe it, I was so
taken aback with his brow, somehow. It flashed like a bleached bone.
What the devil's the matter with me? I don't stand right on my legs.
Coming afoul of that old man has a sort of turned me wrong side out. By
the Lord, I must have been dreaming, though- How? how? how?- but the
only way's to stash it; so here goes to hammock again; and in the
morning, I'll see how this plaguey juggling thinks over by daylight."
Another first--we finally hear Ahab's voice. It's not a very pleasant encounter between Ahab and Stubb. In fact, I would venture to say that Ahab is kind of an asshole. Of course, he's not in his right mind. Sleep-deprived. Driven to the brink of madness in his desire to hunt down the whale that cost him his leg.
When I read books, I sometimes play a little game. I try to decide which character I wouldn't mind getting drunk with. Holden Caulfield would be an obnoxious drunk. Bob Cratchit, on the other hand, would know how to have a good time. So would McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse wouldn't be the life of the party. Most of the characters from The Great Gatsby would be able to hold their liquor. However, Ahab and Ebenezer Scrooge would be mean drunks.
It has been a really long week. Lots of drama with kids. My daughter was taking tests, performing in concerts, and preparing for her trip to Florida. When I got home from work this evening, she was stressing about the end of the marking period. For about a half hour, she thought she was going to receive less than an "A" in one of her online classes.
I am happy to report that my daughter is on her way to the sunshine state, and she has retained her 4.0 GPA. My wife and I did not receive any phone calls from the principal of my son's school this week, and, tomorrow, we head to Wisconsin to see a traveling production of Les Miserables in Appleton. Nobody from my family is in the hospital or near death, and I am not on the brink of bankruptcy.
I think that my wife and I have earned a few drinks tonight. I am not Ahab, although some of my students this semester would probably beg to differ. Alcohol tends to amplify personality. If you tend to be an asshole naturally, like Ahab, you will be a flaming asshole after a carafe or two of wine.
I'm a fairly easy-going guy. I enjoy good jokes, good food, and good friends. So, when I drink, I tend to be pretty darn pleasant. If you don't believe me, I invite you to drive to Jasper Ridge Brewery in Ishpeming tonight. I will be the guy in the dining room, guzzling Tanqueray and tonics and eating cheese curds.
If you are an Ahab, please stay below decks in your cabin.
Saint Marty is thankful for Friday and alcohol and Victor Hugo.
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