Nor was the pulpit itself without a trace of the same sea-taste that had achieved the ladder and the picture. Its panelled front was in the likeness of a ship’s bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on a projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship’s fiddle-headed beak.
What could be more full of meaning?—for the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.
Father Mapple rose, and in a mild voice of unassuming authority ordered the scattered people to condense. “Star board gangway, there! side away to larboard—larboard gangway to starboard! Midships! midships!”
There was a low rumbling of heavy sea-boots among the benches, and a still slighter shuffling of women’s shoes, and all was quiet again, and every eye on the preacher.
He paused a little; then kneeling in the pulpit’s bows, folded his large brown hands across his chest, uplifted his closed eyes, and offered a prayer so deeply devout that he seemed kneeling and praying at the bottom of the sea.
This ended, in prolonged solemn tones, like the continual tolling of a bell in a ship that is foundering at sea in a fog— in such tones he commenced reading the following hymn; but changing his manner towards the concluding stanzas, burst forth with a pealing exultation and joy—
The ribs and terrors in the
Arched over me a dismal gloom,
While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by,
And lift me deepening down to doom.
I saw the opening maw of
With endless pains and sorrows there;
Which none but they that feel can tell—
Oh, I was plunging to despair.
In black distress, I called
When I could scarce believe him mine,
He bowed his ear to my complaints—
No more the whale did me confine.
With speed he flew to my
As on a radiant dolphin borne;
Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone
The face of my Deliverer God.
My song for ever shall record
That terrible, that joyful hour;
I give the glory to my God,
His all the mercy and the power.
Nearly all joined in singing this hymn, which swelled high above the howling of the storm. A brief pause ensued; the preacher slowly turned over the leaves of the Bible, and at last, folding his hand down upon the proper page, said: “Beloved shipmates, clinch the last verse of the first chapter of Jonah—’And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.’”