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Next day, a large ship, the Rachel, was descried, bearing
directly down upon the Pequod, all her spars thickly clustering
with men. At the time the Pequod was making good speed
through the water; but as the broad-winged windward stranger
shot nigh to her, the boastful sails all fell together as blank
bladders that are burst, and all life fled from the smitten hull.

“Bad news; she brings bad news,” muttered the old Manxman.
But ere her commander, who, with trumpet to mouth,
stood up in his boat; ere he could hopefully hail, Ahab's voice
was heard.


Page 584

“Hast seen the White Whale?”

“Aye, yesterday. Have ye seen a whale-boat adrift?”

Throttling his joy, Ahab negatively answered this unexpected
question; and would then have fain boarded the stranger, when
the stranger captain himself, having stopped his vessel's way,
was seen descending her side. A few keen pulls, and his boat-hook
soon clinched the Pequod's main-chains, and he sprang
to the deck. Immediately he was recognised by Ahab for a
Nantucketer he knew. But no formal salutation was exchanged.

“Where was he?—not killed!—not killed!” cried Ahab,
closely advancing. “How was it?”

It seemed that somewhat late on the afternoon of the day
previous, while three of the stranger's boats were engaged with
a shoal of whales, which had led them some four or five miles
from the ship; and while they were yet in swift chase to windward,
the white hump and head of Moby Dick had suddenly
loomed up out of the blue water, not very far to leeward;
whereupon, the fourth rigged boat—a reversed one—had been
instantly lowered in chase. After a keen sail before the wind,
this fourth boat—the swiftest keeled of all—seemed to have
succeeded in fastening—at least, as well as the man at the mast-head
could tell anything about it. In the distance he saw the
diminished dotted boat; and then a swift gleam of bubbling
white water; and after that nothing more; whence it was concluded
that the stricken whale must have indefinitely run away
with his pursuers, as often happens. There was some apprehension,
but no positive alarm, as yet. The recall signals were
placed in the rigging; darkness came on; and forced to pick up
her three far to windward boats—ere going in quest of the
fourth one in the precisely opposite direction—the ship had not
only been necessitated to leave that boat to its fate till near
midnight, but, for the time, to increase her distance from it.
But the rest of her crew being at last safe aboard, she crowded
all sail—stunsail on stunsail—after the missing boat; kindling a


Page 585
fire in her try-pots for a beacon; and every other man aloft on
the look-out. But though when she had thus sailed a sufficient
distance to gain the presumed place of the absent ones when
last seen; though she then paused to lower her spare boats to
pull all around her; and not finding anything, had again
dashed on; again paused, and lowered her boats; and though
she had thus continued doing till day light; yet not the least
glimpse of the missing keel had been seen.

The story told, the stranger Captain immediately went on to
reveal his object in boarding the Pequod. He desired that ship
to unite with his own in the search; by sailing over the sea
some four or five miles apart, on parallel lines, and so sweeping
a double horizon, as it were.

“I will wager something now,” whispered Stubb to Flask,
“that some one in that missing boat wore off that Captain's
best coat; mayhap, his watch—he's so cursed anxious to get it
back. Who ever heard of two pious whale-ships cruising after
one missing whale-boat in the height of the whaling season?
See, Flask, only see how pale he looks—pale in the very buttons
of his eyes—look—it wasn't the coat—it must have been

“My boy, my own boy is among them. For God's sake—I
beg, I conjure”—here exclaimed the stranger Captain to Ahab,
who thus far had but icily received his petition. “For eight-and-forty
hours let me charter your ship—I will gladly pay for
it, and roundly pay for it—if there be no other way—for eight-and-forty
hours only—only that—you must, oh, you must, and
you shall do this thing.”

“His son!” cried Stubb, “oh, it's his son he's lost! I take
back the coat and watch—what says Ahab? We must save
that boy.”

“He's drowned with the rest on 'em, last night,” said the old
Manx sailor standing behind them; “I heard; all of ye heard
their spirits.”


Page 586

Now, as it shortly turned out, what made this incident of
the Rachel's the more melancholy, was the circumstance, that
not only was one of the Captain's sons among the number of
the missing boat's crew; but among the number of the other
boat's crews, at the same time, but on the other hand, separated
from the ship during the dark vicissitudes of the chase, there had
been still another son; as that for a time, the wretched father
was plunged to the bottom of the cruellest perplexity; which
was only solved for him by his chief mate's instinctively adopting
the ordinary procedure of a whale-ship in such emergencies,
that is, when placed between jeopardized but divided boats,
always to pick up the majority first. But the captain, for some
unknown constitutional reason, had refrained from mentioning
all this, and not till forced to it by Ahab's iciness did he allude
to his one yet missing boy; a little lad, but twelve years old,
whose father with the earnest but unmisgiving hardihood of a
Nantucketer's paternal love, had thus early sought to initiate
him in the perils and wonders of a vocation almost immemorially
the destiny of all his race. Nor does it unfrequently occur, that
Nantucket captains will send a son of such tender age away
from them, for a protracted three or four years' voyage in some
other ship than their own; so that their first knowledge of a
whaleman's career shall be unenervated by any chance display
of a father's natural but untimely partiality, or undue apprehensiveness
and concern.

Meantime, now the stranger was still beseeching his poor boon
of Ahab; and Ahab still stood like an anvil, receiving every
shock, but without the least quivering of his own.

“I will not go,” said the stranger, “till you say aye to me.
Do to me as you would have me do to you in the like case.
For you too have a boy, Captain Ahab—though but a child,
and nestling safely at home now—a child of your old age too—
Yes, yes, you relent; I see it—run, run, men, now, and stand by
to square in the yards.”


Page 587

“Avast,” cried Ahab—“touch not a rope-yarn;” then in a
voice that prolongingly moulded every word—“Captain Gardiner,
I will not do it. Even now I lose time. Good bye, good
bye. God bless ye, man, and may I forgive myself, but I must
go. Mr. Starbuck, look at the binnacle watch, and in three
minutes from this present instant warn off all strangers: then
brace forward again, and let the ship sail as before.”

Hurriedly turning, with averted face, he descended into his
cabin, leaving the strange captain-transfixed at this unconditional
and utter rejection of his so earnest suit. But starting from his
enchantment, Gardiner silently hurried to the side; more fell
than stepped into his boat, and returned to his ship.

Soon the two ships diverged their wakes; and long as the
strange vessel was in view, she was seen to yaw hither and
thither at every dark spot, however small, on the sea. This
way and that her yards were swung round; starboard and
larboard, she continued to tack; now she beat against a head
sea; and again it pushed her before it; while all the while, her
masts and yards were thickly clustered with men, as three tall
cherry trees, when the boys are cherrying among the boughs.

But by her still halting course and winding, woful way, you
plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained
without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children,
because they were not.