The next morning, Starbuck discovers that some of the casks in the hold of the ship must be leaking oil. He finds Ahab in his cabin, poring over an ocean chart and not at all interested in being disturbed. Starbuck suggests that the ship must stop to check the casks and make whatever repairs are necessary. Ahab insists that the Pequod's mission is to pursue Moby Dick and runs Starbuck off by threatening him with a musket. Shortly thereafter, Ahab relents and orders that the ship stop for inspection and repairs.
The problem in storage of the casks allows further insight into the characters of Starbuck and Ahab by bringing the two into direct confrontation. Twice a week, a whaler like the Pequod, if it is carrying any significant amount of oil, floods the hold (at the bottom of the ship) with salt water in order to keep the casks "damply tight." If oil is discovered in the water, the mariners know that some casks are leaking. When Starbuck learns of leaks in the ship's cargo, he properly reports the problem to his captain and requests permission to stop the ship and direct all hands toward investigation and repairs.
The problem reveals a stark contrast between the first mate's and the captain's conceptions of the purpose of the journey. Starbuck wants to fill the hold with oil, protect it, and return home. As he says, "What we come twenty thousand miles to get is worth saving, sir." Ahab responds, "So it is, so it is; if we get it." Starbuck means the oil; Ahab means the White Whale. Starbuck reminds the captain of the owners' interests. Ahab could not care less about the owners. He points a loaded musket toward the first mate and declares, "There is one God that is Lord over the earth, and one Captain that is lord over the Pequod." Ahab orders Starbuck back on deck. The first mate leaves, saying, "[L]et Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man." Ahab thinks about that and agrees. For whatever reason, he soon goes on deck and commands that the ship must stop for repairs. Ishmael speculates that the captain's action may be a prudent response to Starbuck's dissatisfaction.
Ahab seems relieved when Starbuck obeys his order to return to deck. Obsessed though he is, the captain realizes that he could be accused of usurpation, unlawfully using the ship for his own purposes rather than following the owners' directions. Starbuck, on the other hand, has only two choices. He can go along with the captain's orders or attempt to take over the ship — a drastic and extremely dangerous option even if he could convince the crew to support him. Justification for mutiny would be hard to prove, and the penalties, if he were found guilty, would be severe. Ahab's decision to repair the casks wisely resolves the situation for the time being.
prating talking much and foolishly.
transient temporary, passing quickly or soon.