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CHAPTER 123: The Musket. (continued)
Ere knocking at his state-room, he involuntarily paused before it a moment. The cabin lamp--taking long swings this way and that--was burning fitfully, and casting fitful shadows upon the old man's bolted door,--a thin one, with fixed blinds inserted, in place of upper panels. The isolated subterraneousness of the cabin made a certain humming silence to reign there, though it was hooped round by all the roar of the elements. The loaded muskets in the rack were shiningly revealed, as they stood upright against the forward bulkhead. Starbuck was an honest, upright man; but out of Starbuck's heart, at that instant when he saw the muskets, there strangely evolved an evil thought; but so blent with its neutral or good accompaniments that for the instant he hardly knew it for itself.
"He would have shot me once," he murmured, "yes, there's the very musket that he pointed at me;--that one with the studded stock; let me touch it--lift it. Strange, that I, who have handled so many deadly lances, strange, that I should shake so now. Loaded? I must see. Aye, aye; and powder in the pan;--that's not good. Best spill it?--wait. I'll cure myself of this. I'll hold the musket boldly while I think.--I come to report a fair wind to him. But how fair? Fair for death and doom,--THAT'S fair for Moby Dick. It's a fair wind that's only fair for that accursed fish.--The very tube he pointed at me!--the very one; THIS one--I hold it here; he would have killed me with the very thing I handle now.--Aye and he would fain kill all his crew. Does he not say he will not strike his spars to any gale? Has he not dashed his heavenly quadrant? and in these same perilous seas, gropes he not his way by mere dead reckoning of the error-abounding log? and in this very Typhoon, did he not swear that he would have no lightning-rods? But shall this crazed old man be tamely suffered to drag a whole ship's company down to doom with him?--Yes, it would make him the wilful murderer of thirty men and more, if this ship come to any deadly harm; and come to deadly harm, my soul swears this ship will, if Ahab have his way. If, then, he were this instant--put aside, that crime would not be his. Ha! is he muttering in his sleep? Yes, just there,--in there, he's sleeping. Sleeping? aye, but still alive, and soon awake again. I can't withstand thee, then, old man. Not reasoning; not remonstrance; not entreaty wilt thou hearken to; all this thou scornest. Flat obedience to thy own flat commands, this is all thou breathest. Aye, and say'st the men have vow'd thy vow; say'st all of us are Ahabs. Great God forbid!--But is there no other way? no lawful way?--Make him a prisoner to be taken home? What! hope to wrest this old man's living power from his own living hands? Only a fool would try it. Say he were pinioned even; knotted all over with ropes and hawsers; chained down to ring-bolts on this cabin floor; he would be more hideous than a caged tiger, then. I could not endure the sight; could not possibly fly his howlings; all comfort, sleep itself, inestimable reason would leave me on the long intolerable voyage. What, then, remains? The land is hundreds of leagues away, and locked Japan the nearest. I stand alone here upon an open sea, with two oceans and a whole continent between me and law.--Aye, aye, 'tis so.--Is heaven a murderer when its lightning strikes a would-be murderer in his bed, tindering sheets and skin together?--And would I be a murderer, then, if"--and slowly, stealthily, and half sideways looking, he placed the loaded musket's end against the door.
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