Then gazing at his quadrant, and handling, one after the other, its numerous cabalistical contrivances, he pondered again, and muttered: “Foolish toy! babies’ plaything of haughty Admirals, and Commodores, and Captains; the world brags of thee, of thy cunning and might; but what after all canst thou do, but tell the poor, pitiful point, where thou thyself happenest to be on this wide planet, and the hand that holds thee: no! not one jot more! Thou canst not tell where one drop of water or one grain of sand will be to-morrow noon; and yet with thy impotence thou insultest the sun! Science! Curse thee, thou vain toy; and cursed be all the things that cast man’s eyes aloft to that heaven, whose live vividness but scorches him, as these old eyes are even now scorched with thy light, O sun! Level by nature to this earth’s horizon are the glances of man’s eyes; not shot from the crown of his head, as if God had meant him to gaze on his firmament. Curse thee, thou quadrant!” dashing it to the deck, “no longer will I guide my earthly way by thee; the level ship’s compass, and the level deadreckoning, by log and by line; these shall conduct me, and show me my place on the sea. Aye,” lighting from the boat to the deck, “thus I trample on thee, thou paltry thing that feebly pointest on high; thus I split and destroy thee!”
As the frantic old man thus spoke and thus trampled with his live and dead feet, a sneering triumph that seemed meant for Ahab, and a fatalistic despair that seemed meant for himself— these passed over the mute, motionless Parsee’s face. Unobserved he rose and glided away; while, awestruck by the aspect of their commander, the seamen clustered together on the forecastle, till Ahab, troubledly pacing the deck, shouted out—“To the braces! Up helm!—square in!”
In an instant the yards swung round; and as the ship half-wheeled upon her heel, her three firm-seated graceful masts erectly poised upon her long, ribbed hull, seemed as the three Horatii pirouetting on one sufficient steed.
Standing between the knight-heads, Starbuck watched the Pequod’s tumultuous way, and Ahab’s also, as he went lurching along the deck.
“I have sat before the dense coal fire and watched it all aglow, full of its tormented flaming life; and I have seen it wane at last, down, down, to dumbest dust. Old man of oceans! of all this fiery life of thine, what will at length remain but one little heap of ashes!”
“Aye,” cried Stubb, “but sea-coal ashes—mind ye that, Mr. Starbuck— sea-coal, not your common charcoal. Well, well! I heard Ahab mutter, ’Here some one thrusts these cards into these old hands of mine; swears that I must play them, and no others.’ And damn me, Ahab, but thou actest right; live in the game, and die in it!”
Warmest climes but nurse the cruellest fangs: the tiger of Bengal crouches in spiced groves of ceaseless verdure. Skies the most effulgent but basket the deadliest thunders: gorgeous Cuba knows tornadoes that never swept tame northern lands. So, too, it is, that in these resplendent Japanese seas the mariner encounters the direst of all storms, the Typhoon. It will sometimes burst from out that cloudless sky, like an exploding bomb upon a dazed and sleepy town.