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I had not been seated very long ere a man of a certain venerable
robustness entered; immediately as the storm-pelted door
flew back upon admitting him, a quick regardful eyeing of him
by all the congregation, sufficiently attested that this fine old
man was the chaplain. Yes, it was the famous Father Mapple,
so called by the whalemen, among whom he was a very great
favorite. He had been a sailor and a harpooneer in his youth,
but for many years past had dedicated his life to the ministry.
At the time I now write of, Father Mapple was in the hardy
winter of a healthy old age; that sort of old age which seems
merging into a second flowering youth, for among all the fissures
of his wrinkles, there shone certain mild gleams of a newly
developing bloom—the spring verdure peeping forth even
beneath February's snow. No one having previously heard his
history, could for the first time behold Father Mapple without
the utmost interest, because there were certain engrafted clerical
peculiarities about him, imputable to that adventurous maritime
life he had led. When he entered I observed that he carried
no umbrella, and certainly had not come in his carriage, for his
tarpaulin hat ran down with melting sleet, and his great pilot
cloth jacket seemed almost to drag him to the floor with the
weight of the water it had absorbed. However, hat and coat
and overshoes were one by one removed, and hung up in a


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little space in an adjacent corner; when, arrayed in a decent
suit, he quietly approached the pulpit.

Like most old fashioned pulpits, it was a very lofty one, and
since a regular stairs to such a height would, by its long angle
with the floor, seriously contract the already small area of the
chapel, the architect, it seemed, had acted upon the hint of
Father Mapple, and finished the pulpit without a stairs, substituting
a perpendicular side ladder, like those used in mounting
a ship from a boat at sea. The wife of a whaling captain had
provided the chapel with a handsome pair of red worsted man-ropes
for this ladder, which, being itself nicely headed, and
stained with a mahogany color, the whole contrivance, considering
what manner of chapel it was, seemed by no means in bad
taste. Halting for an instant at the foot of the ladder, and with
both hands grasping the ornamental knobs of the man-ropes,
Father Mapple cast a look upwards, and then with a truly sailorlike
but still reverential dexterity, hand over hand, mounted the
steps as if ascending the main-top of his vessel.

The perpendicular parts of this side ladder, as is usually the
case with swinging ones, were of cloth-covered rope, only the
rounds were of wood, so that at every step there was a joint.
At my first glimpse of the pulpit, it had not escaped me that
however convenient for a ship, these joints in the present
instance seemed unnecessary. For I was not prepared to see
Father Mapple after gaining the height, slowly turn round, and
stooping over the pulpit, deliberately drag up the ladder step by
step, till the whole was deposited within, leaving him impregnable
in his little Quebec.

I pondered some time without fully comprehending the reason
for this. Father Mapple enjoyed such a wide reputation for
sincerity and sanctity, that I could not suspect him of courting
notoriety by any mere tricks of the stage. No, thought I,
there must be some sober reason for this thing; furthermore,
it must symbolize something unseen. Can it be, then, that by


Page 43
that act of physical isolation, he signifies his spiritual withdrawal
for the time, from all outward worldly ties and connexions?
Yes, for replenished with the meat and wine of the word, to the
faithful man of God, this pulpit, I see, is a self-containing stronghold—a
lofty Ehrenbreitstein, with a perennial well of water
within the walls.

But the side ladder was not the only strange feature of the
place, borrowed from the chaplain's former sea-farings. Between
the marble cenotaphs on either hand of the pulpit, the wall
which formed its back was adorned with a large painting representing
a gallant ship beating against a terrible storm off a lee
coast of black rocks and snowy breakers. But high above the
flying scud and dark-rolling clouds, there floated a little isle of
sunlight, from which beamed forth an angel's face; and this
bright face shed a distinct spot of radiance upon the ship's
tossed deck, something like that silver plate now inserted into
the Victory's plank where Nelson fell. “Ah, noble ship,” the
angel seemed to say, “beat on, beat on, thou noble ship, and
bear a hardy helm; for lo! the sun is breaking through; the
clouds are rolling off—serenest azure is at hand.”

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.