Next morning the not-yet-subsided sea rolled in long slow billows of mighty bulk, and striving in the Pequod's gurgling track, pushed her on like giants' palms outspread. The strong unstaggering breeze abounded so, that sky and air seemed vast outbellying sails; the whole world boomed before the wind. Muffled in the full morning light, the invisible sun was only known by the spread intensity of his place; where his bayonet rays moved on in stacks. Emblazonings, as of crowned Babylonian kings and queens, reigned over everything. The sea was as a crucible of molten gold, that bubblingly leaps with light and heat.
maintaining an enchanted silence, Ahab stood apart; and every time the
teetering ship loweringly pitched down her bowsprit, he turned to eye
the bright sun's rays produced ahead; and when she profoundly settled by
the stern, he turned behind, and saw the sun's rearward place, and how
the same yellow rays were blending with his undeviating wake.
ha, my ship! thou mightest well be taken now for the sea-chariot of the
sun. Ho, ho! all ye nations before my prow, I bring the sun to ye! Yoke
on the further billows; hallo! a tandem, I drive the sea!"
But suddenly reined back by some counter thought, he hurried towards the helm, huskily demanding how the ship was heading.
"East-sou-east, sir," said the frightened steersman.
"Thou liest!" smiting him with his clenched fist. "Heading East at this hour in the morning, and the sun astern?"
this every soul was confounded; for the phenomenon just then observed
by Ahab had unaccountably escaped every one else; but its very blinding
palpableness must have been the cause.
Thrusting his head half-way
into the binnacle, Ahab caught one glimpse of the compasses; his
uplifted arm slowly fell; for a moment he almost seemed to stagger.
Standing behind him Starbuck looked, and lo! the two compasses pointed
East, and the Pequod was as infallibly going West.
But ere the
first wild alarm could get out abroad among the crew, the old man with a
rigid laugh exclaimed, "I have it! It has happened before. Mr.
Starbuck, last night's thunder turned our compasses- that's all. Thou
hast before now heard of such a thing, I take it."
"Aye; but never before has it happened to me, sir," said the pale mate, gloomily.
it must needs be said, that accidents like this have in more than one
case occurred to ships in violent storms. The magnetic energy, as
developed in the mariner's needle, is, as all know, essentially one with
the electricity beheld in heaven; hence it is not to be much marvelled
at, that such things should be. Instances where the lightning has
actually struck the vessel, so as to smite down some of the spars and
rigging, the effect upon the needle has at times been still more fatal;
all its loathsome virtue being annihilated, so that the before magnetic
steel was of no more use than an old wife's knitting needle. But in
either case, the needle never again, of itself, recovers the original
virtue thus marred or lost; and if the binnacle compasses be affected,
the same fate reaches all the others that may be in the ship; even were
the lowermost one inserted into the kelson.
before the binnacle, and eyeing the transpointed compasses, the old man,
with the sharp of his extended hand, now took the precise bearing of
the sun, and satisfied that the needles were exactly inverted, shouted
out his orders for the ship's course to be changed accordingly. The
yards were hard up; and once more the Pequod thrust her undaunted bows
into the opposing wind, for the supposed fair one had only been juggling
Meanwhile, whatever were his own secret thoughts, Starbuck
said nothing, but quietly he issued all requisite orders; while Stubb
and Flask- who in some small degree seemed then to be sharing his
feelings- likewise unmurmuringly acquiesced. As for the men, though some
of them lowly rumbled, their fear of Ahab was greater than their fear
of Fate. But as ever before, the pagan harpooneers remained almost
wholly unimpressed; or if impressed, it was only with a certain
magnetism shot into their congenial hearts from inflexible Ahab's.
a space the old man walked the deck in rolling reveries. But chancing
to slip with his ivory heel, he saw the crushed copper sight-tubes of
the quadrant he had the day before dashed to the deck.
proud heaven-gazer and sun's pilot! yesterday I wrecked thee, and
to-day the compasses would fain have wrecked me. So, so. But Ahab is
lord over the level loadstone yet. Mr. Starbuck- a lance without the
pole; a top-maul, and the smallest of the sail-maker's needles. Quick!"
perhaps, to the impulse dictating the thing he was now about to do,
were certain prudential motives, whose object might have been to revive
the spirits of his crew by a stroke of his subtile skill, in a matter so
wondrous as that of the inverted compasses. Besides, the old man well
knew that to steer by transpointed needles, though clumsily practicable,
was not a thing to be passed over by superstitious sailors, without
some shudderings and evil portents.
"Men," said he, steadily
turning upon the crew, as the mate handed him the things he had
demanded, "my men, the thunder turned old Ahab's needles; but out of
this bit of steel Ahab can make one of his own, that will point as true
Abashed glances of servile wonder were exchanged by the
sailors, as this was said; and with fascinated eyes they awaited
whatever magic might follow. But Starbuck looked away.
With a blow
from the top-maul Ahab knocked off the steel head of the lance, and
then handing to the mate the long iron rod remaining, bade him hold it
upright, without its touching the deck. Then, with the maul, after
repeatedly smiting the upper end of this iron rod, he placed the blunted
needle endwise on the top of it, and less strongly hammered that,
several times, the mate still holding the rod as before. Then going
through some small strange motions with it- whether indispensable to the
magnetizing of the steel, or merely intended to augment the awe of the
crew, is uncertain- he called for linen thread; and moving to the
binnacle, slipped out the two reversed needles there, and horizontally
suspended the sail-needle by its middle, over one of the compass cards.
At first, the steel went round and round, quivering and vibrating at
either end; but at last it settled to its place, when Ahab, who had been
intently watching for this result, stepped frankly back from the
binnacle, and pointing his stretched arm towards it, exclaimed,- "Look
ye, for yourselves, if Ahab be not lord of the level loadstone! The sun
is East, and that compass swears it!"
One after another they
peered in, for nothing but their own eyes could persuade such ignorance
as theirs, and one after another they slunk away.
In his fiery eyes of scorn and triumph, you then saw Ahab in all his fatal pride.
Say what you want about Ahab. Yes, he's obsessed, crazy, prideful, mean, rage-filled. He keeps his crew in a constant state of fear with his behaviors. Starbuck has his misgivings, but he, at this point in the novel, will not cross Ahab. With this little act of magnetic magic, Ahab proves that he's not to be trifled with. He is commander of the Pequod's fate and has a needle of his own making as a guide.
It's has been really easy for me to become unmoored recently. I think it has something to do with my daughter navigating the seas of her senior year of high school, and me navigating the seas of fathering her through this time. I can't tell her exactly what she needs to do. That's not my job. I can urge. Gently suggest. Remind. Goad. But I can't tell her what school to attend next year or what her major should be. That's all her.
After doing this father job for 18 years, I now find myself having to step back from the steering wheel. That's pretty tough. Last night, I attended my daughter's last home football game where she was playing in the marching band. It was senior night, so, at half time, my wife and I walked out onto the field and stood beside our daughter as she was introduced. She even let us kiss her in front of the crowd.
Now, I'm not a big football fan. In fact, I brought a book to every game I attended. I wasn't there for the touchdowns. I was there for the music and the half-time show. That's it. My Friday nights, September through October, were spent on metal bleachers, watching a game I don't quite understand.
That being said, I'm going to miss those Friday nights. Not because I care about football. Because it was a time to connect with my daughter. Watch her do something she loves to do: play her flute with a band. Then, go out to dinner with her. Laugh. Spoil her a little bit. Show her how much I love her.
My compass has become reversed. Instead of knowing where I'm headed, I'm striking out into uncharted territory. A couple times this past week, my daughter asked me to come to her room upstairs and tuck her into bed. I sang her the songs that I sang to her when she was small. Said the same prayers. She snuggled into my chest, and, for a few moments, she was that little girl again, who watched Frosty the Snowman every day after school, listened raptly as I read her Charlotte's Web, collected Barbies.
Saint Marty is thankful for those small moments with his daughter.
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