Chapter 123 The Musket

        This chapter begins with a hint of an episode to come involving the compass needles in the binnacle, by which the ship is steered. It is told that during the storm the helmsman watched the compass needles spin violently with the "shocks" -- suggesting that the electrical storm had a pronounced effect on them. After this we learn that, surprisingly, the wind changed from foul to fair -- that is, as the helmsman steered the prescribed compass course, the wind that had been against him before the storm now came from behind! "Instantly the yards were squared, to the lively song of 'Ho! the fair wind! oh-ye-ho, cheerly, men!' the crew sang for joy, that so promising an event should so soon have falsified the evil portents preceding it." New sails -- fore and main topsails -- were "bent and reefed" [hung on the spars and shortened to handle the high wind].

        Reluctantly, Starbuck goes below to tell Ahab the wind has changed -- as he is obliged to do. The old man is asleep behind his bolted state-room door. Starbuck stands in the cabin outside it, poised to knock, but his eyes fall on the rack of loaded rifles -- muskets -- nearby. Starbuck to himself:

        "He would have shot me once [Chapter 109]. Yes, there's the very musket he pointed at me. [Picks it up.] Strange that I should shake so now. Loaded? Aye, aye. I come to report a fair wind to him. But how fair? Fair for death and doom and Moby Dick. He would have killed me with the very thing I handle now. Aye and he would fain [gladly] 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?" [This reminds one of the bill of particulars written against King George in the Declaration of Independence -- and this book is destined for first publication in England . . .]

        Starbuck has made a very good case for the justifiable, self-defense execution of Captain Ahab. "Is heaven a murderer when it strikes a would-be murderer in his bed? And would I be a murderer, then if . . ." Starbuck aims the musket as if to fire through the door at the sleeping Ahab. He thinks that just a flick of the finger and he might survive to see his wife and child. "Oh Mary! Mary! boy! boy! boy! Great God, where art thou? Shall I! Shall I?" Involuntarily he blurts out loud, "The wind has gone down and shifted sir; the fore and main topsails are reefed and set; she heads her course." Out of his dreams, Ahab replies:

        "Stern all! Oh Moby Dick, I clutch thy heart at last!"

        That did it. Starbuck chickened out. Couldn't shoot the old man dead. And that sealed his doom. He puts the gun back in the rack and goes back on deck.

        "He's too sound asleep, Mr. Stubb; go thou down and wake him, and tell him. I must see to the deck here. Thou know'st what to say."

        And so, Starbuck passes the buck to Stubb.