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The season for the Line at length drew near; and every day
when Ahab, coming from his cabin, cast his eyes aloft, the
vigilant helmsman would ostentatiously handle his spokes, and
the eager mariners quickly run to the braces, and would stand
there with all their eyes centrally fixed on the nailed doubloon;
impatient for the order to point the ship's prow for the equator.
In good time the order came. It was hard upon high noon;
and Ahab, seated in the bows of his high-hoisted boat, was
about taking his wonted daily observation of the sun to determine
his latitude.

Now, in that Japanese sea, the days in summer are as freshets
of effulgences. That unblinkingly vivid Japanese sun seems
the blazing focus of the glassy ocean's immeasurable burning-glass.
The sky looks lacquered; clouds there are none; the
horizon floats; and this nakedness of unrelieved radiance is as
the insufferable splendors of God's throne. Well that Ahab's


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quadrant was furnished with colored glasses, through which to
take sight of that solar fire. So, swinging his seated form to
the roll of the ship, and with his astrological-looking instrument
placed to his eye, he remained in that posture for some
moments to catch the precise instant when the sun should gain
its precise meridian. Meantime while his whole attention was
absorbed, the Parsee was kneeling beneath him on the ship's
deck, and with face thrown up like Ahab's, was eyeing the
same sun with him; only the lids of his eyes half hooded their
orbs, and his wild face was subdued to an earthly passionlessness.
At length the desired observation was taken; and with
his pencil upon his ivory leg, Ahab soon calculated what his
latitude must be at that precise instant. Then falling into a
moment's revery, he again looked up towards the sun and murmured
to himself: “Thou sea-mark! thou high and mighty Pilot!
thou tellest me truly where I am—but canst thou cast the least
hint where I shall be? Or caust thou tell where some other
thing besides me is this moment living? Where is Moby
Dick? This instant thou must be eyeing him. These eyes of
mine look into the very eye that is even now beholding him;
aye, and into the eye that is even now equally beholding the
objects on the unknown, thither side of thee, thou sun!”

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


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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 dead-reckoning, 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

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


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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 it!”