(Variations on an origina theme by Walter Van Tilburg Clark)

1.OMNISCIENT (original)

The young man with the fine blond hair left the rail and returned almost at once with a victorious air and a pair of binoculars. These he fixed to his eyes, turned upon the focal point, and began to manipu­late with nimble fingers. At once others whose cabins were close got  binoculars. They appeared determined, as if to say the original inspi­ ration was not what mattered here, but the use made of it. Those who either had no binoculars or had to go too far to get them, divided  their attention between the ocean off the starboard bow and the blond  young man, who had taken on the shining aspect of the clairvoyant. They watched his face minutely for signs of recognition, and were affected by his slightest movement. He bore their worship grandly, almost with an air of not suspecting it.(from "Why Don't You Look  Where You're Going?" by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, from The  Watchful Gods and Other Stories, 1941)


       Owen Rank hardly noticed the stiff sea breeze tousling his fine blond hair as he moved away from the rail. Getting to the binoculars he'd bought new at the dock and buried deep in his duffel was the only thing on his mind. It proved easier to lay hands on them than he'd expected and he was back on deck in no time.

     Easy now Find it. Slow. It's got to be right there. Hold it! He steadied his elbows on the rail, moving counter to the motion of the ship, searching for the point in the distant sea he'd left just minutes before. The knurls of the focusing screw turned through his fingers, and when he brought the horizon into sharp detail, he took a satisfied breath, certain he was as nimble at this business of sighting distant objects as the best of them.

     Without taking his eyes away from the task he'd assigned him­self, Owen Rank could sense the others who were moving away now to fetch their own binoculars. Then returning with the same eager determination he'd had. Almost shunting him aside to find their own, determined places at the rail. And with their brusque and unintelligi­ble mutterings, placing him on some kind of notice it wasn't the original inspiration that mattered here but the use anyone could make of it.

     Owen Rank guessed that those who had kept their places were the ones who hadn't come to sea prepared, the ones who had no binoculars to go back for. Or might it be their cabins were just too far away to risk missing the moment something would be discovered? He did not want to bother himself thinking about these things, but he could not help it.

     He knew the onlookers would be dividing their attention between a wide-eyed scanning of the ocean off the starboard side, and a minute study of his face close up, searching for signs that he might have recognized what it was he'd spotted before. And, sensing their rapt attention, Owen Rank decided he could afford to assume the shining aspect of the clairvoyant, if only just for a moment. Theirs was a form of
worship he would bear grandly, and he tensed his jaw to assume an air of not suspecting it.


     Randall Jenks watched the young man with the fine blond hair leave the rail and disappear down the companionway. It surprised him just a little to see how quickly the man returned, dangling binoc­ulars from a strap and sporting what seemed a victorious air. He stood by as the man fixed the binoculars to his eyes, turned upon the focal point, and began to manipulate the adjustment screw. One had to have nimble fingers, Jenks decided, even though he'd never used binoculars himself. Never.

     At that point some of the others had begun jostling past Randall Jenks to fetch their own binoculars -- returning just as fast as the man had. He watched them arrive at the rail and press their instruments to their faces. They too seemed to be determined -- tacitly declaring by the fix of their jaws that it wasn't the original inspiration that mat­tered here, but the use one made of it.

     Along with those whose cabins were too distant to chance being away fetching theirs when the discovery was made, Randall Jenks divided his attention between the ocean off the starboard bow and the blond young man, who now seemed to be taking on the shining aspect of the clairvoyant. Jenks was intensely aware - envious even - that all of them were suddenly sensitive to the minutest sign or movement the man might reveal, of finally recognizing whatever it was he was seeking to identify. And as he watched, it became so poignantly clear to Randall Jenks that the man was bearing the worship of the onlook­ers grandly, almost with an air of not suspecting it.