“Now, voyager, sail thou fort to seek and find.”
He sat at the desk in the study, scrutinizing the instrument in his hands. As a child, he used to sneak in here to play with his father’s instruments when he was away. Of all the instruments, this weathered compass had always fascinated him the most.
The compass had been in his father’s family for a few generations, passed down the line from father to son. His father had caught him playing with the compass one day, but instead of scolding him, he had taught the boy how to use it, had explained to him the alternative methods one could use while at sea, and how to locate the true north and align his course accordingly. It had, in turn, led to the development of his avid interest in astronomy.
He smiled as he ran his fingers over the now-smooth underside of the compass. His hands came away with the smell of mahogany lingering on his fingers. It was one of its kind— his great, great, great, great grandfather had gotten it made specially for his voyages, or so the story went. The letters for the four cardinal directions and the four ordinal directions etched onto the face of the compass and the other markings around them had begun fading with time. The glass casing was cloudy in places and starting to crack at the edges. The compass was of no practical use any longer, yet he held onto it. It was the last thing his father had given him.
As he was turning the compass over in his hands, his phone’s tone pierced the silence. Startled by the sudden noise, the instrument fell from his hands, the glass casing shattering on impact. Shards flew everywhere as he tried and failed to catch the compass. Ignoring his phone, he picked up the heirloom of sorts, and immediately noticed the missing magnetic needle. Getting down on all fours, he searched for the most important part of the instrument. Half an hour later, though, he was forced to conclude that the needle was nowhere to be found.
Running a hand over his face and silently berating himself, he took the compass in his hands lovingly, to examine it for other signs of damage. One of the decorative pieces had come loose. He pushed the piece back into place with a little more force than necessary, and watched in horror as the entire thing came apart in his hands. He panicked—the compass had been in his possession for only a few months and he’d already broken it!
He picked up the top part of the compass and stopped short. Nestled in the space between the top and the bottom parts, was a folded piece of yellowed paper. With mounting curiosity and lessening trepidation, he pulled it out gently.
The date was written in the top left corner, the name below it:
‘14th of May 1592, Geoffrey Roger Langley.’
He felt excitement shoot through him. He was reading a hitherto unknown letter from the very man who had commissioned this compass to be made. Reading the note, his eyebrows furrowed of their own accord.
The compass lay on the table in front of him, dismantled; the shattered glass was strewn across the floor. He lowered himself into the chair as he read the words in the note once again.
“The glass has always been cloudy; the needle, absent. Let nothing guide my course, save for my pole star.”
Credits for the beautiful photo go to Aniket Korabu. Check out his blog here:
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