Next day, a large ship, the Rachel, was descried, bearing directly down upo_he Pequod, all her spars thickly clustering with men. At the time the Pequo_as making good speed through the water; but as the broad-winged windwar_tranger shot nigh to her, the boastful sails all fell together as blan_ladders that are burst, and all life fled from the smitten hull.
“Bad news; she brings bad news,” muttered the old Manxman. But ere he_ommander, who, with trumpet to mouth, stood up in his boat; ere he coul_opefully hail, Ahab’s voice was heard.
“Hast seen the White Whale?”
“Aye, yesterday. Have ye seen a whale-boat adrift?”
Throttling his joy, Ahab negatively answered this unexpected question; an_ould then have fain boarded the stranger, when the stranger captain himself,
having stopped his vessel’s way, was seen descending her side. A few kee_ulls, and his boat-hook soon clinched the Pequod’s main-chains, and he spran_o the deck. Immediately he was recognized by Ahab for a Nantucketer he knew.
It seemed that somewhat late on the afternoon of the day previous, while thre_f the stranger’s boats were engaged with a shoal of whales, which had le_hem some four or five miles from the ship; and while they were yet in swif_hase to windward, the white hump and head of Moby Dick had suddenly loomed u_ut of the blue water, not very far to leeward; whereupon, the fourth rigge_oat— a reserved one—had been instantly lowered in chase. After a keen sai_efore the wind, this fourth boat—the swiftest keeled of all—seemed to hav_ucceeded in fastening—at least, as well as the man at the mast-head coul_ell anything about it. In the distance he saw the diminished dotted boat; an_hen a swift gleam of bubbling white water; and after that nothing more;
whence it was concluded that the stricken whale must have indefinitely ru_way with his pursuers, as often happens. There was some apprehension, but n_ositive 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—er_oing in quest of the fourth one in the precisely opposite direction— the shi_ad not only been necessitated to leave that boat to its fate till nea_idnight, but, for the time, to increase her distance from it. But the rest o_er crew being at last safe aboard, she crowded all sail—stunsail on stunsail—
after the missing boat; kindling a fire in her try-pots for a beacon; an_very other man aloft on the look-out. But though when she had thus sailed _ufficient distance to gain the presumed place of the absent ones when las_een; 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 he_oats; and though she had thus continued doing till daylight; yet not th_east glimpse of the missing keel had been seen.
The story told, the stranger Captain immediately went on to reveal his objec_n boarding the Pequod. He desired that ship to unite with his own in th_earch; by sailing over the sea some four or five miles apart, on paralle_ines, and so sweeping a double horizon, as it were.
“I will wager something now,” whispered Stubb to Flask, “that some one in tha_issing boat wore off that Captain’s best coat; mayhap, his watch— he’s s_ursed anxious to get it back. Who ever heard of two pious whale-ship_ruising 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 hi_yes—look—it wasn’t the coat— it must have been the-”
“My boy, my own boy is among them. For God’s sake—I beg, I conjure”— her_xclaimed the stranger Captain to Ahab, who thus far had but icily receive_is petition. “For eight-and-forty hours let me charter your ship—I wil_ladly 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 thi_hing.”
“His son!” cried Stubb, “oh, it’s his son he’s lost! I take back the coat an_atch—what says Ahab? We must save that boy.”
“He’s drowned with the rest on ’em, last night,” said the old Manx sailo_tanding behind them; “I heard; all of ye heard their spirits.”
Now, as it shortly turned out, what made this incident of the Rachel’s th_ore melancholy, was the circumstance, that not only was one of the Captain’_ons among the number of the missing boat’s crew; but among the number of th_ther boats’ crews, at the same time, but on the other hand, separated fro_he ship during the dark vicissitudes of the chase, there had been stil_nother son; as that for a time, the wretched father was plunged to the botto_f the cruellest perplexity; which was only solved for him by his chief mate’_nstinctively adopting the ordinary procedure of a whaleship in suc_mergencies, that is, when placed between jeopardized but divided boats,
always to pick up the majority first. But the captain, for some unknow_onstitutional reason, had refrained from mentioning all this, and not til_orced to it by Ahab’s iciness did he allude to his one yet missing boy; _ittle lad, but twelve years old, whose father with the earnest bu_nmisgiving hardihood of a Nantucketer’s paternal love, had thus early sough_o initiate him in the perils and wonders of a vocation almost immemoriall_he destiny of all his race. Nor does it unfrequently occur, that Nantucke_aptains will send a son of such tender age away from them, for a protracte_hree or four years’ voyage in some other ship than their own; so that thei_irst knowledge of a whaleman’s career shall be unenervated by any chanc_isplay of a father’s natural but untimely partiality, or undu_pprehensiveness and concern.
Meantime, now the stranger was still beseeching his poor boon of Ahab; an_hab still stood like an anvil, receiving every shock, but without the leas_uivering of his own.
“I will not go,” said the stranger, “till you say aye to me. Do to me as yo_ould have me do to you in the like case. For you too have a boy, Captai_hab—though but a child, and nestling safely at home now—a child of your ol_ge too— Yes, yes, you relent; I see it—run, run, men, now, and stand by t_quare in the yards.”
“Avast,” cried Ahab—“touch not a rope-yarn”; then in a voice that prolongingl_oulded 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 mus_o. Mr. Starbuck, look at the binnacle watch, and in three minutes from thi_resent instant warn off all strangers; then brace forward again, and let th_hip sail as before.”
Hurriedly turning, with averted face, he descended into his cabin, leaving th_trange captain transfixed at this unconditional and utter rejection of his s_arnest suit. But starting from his enchantment, Gardiner silently hurried t_he 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 i_iew, she was seen to yaw hither and thither at every dark spot, howeve_mall, on the sea. This way and that her yards were swung around; starboar_nd larboard, she continued to tack; now she beat against a head sea; an_gain it pushed her before it; while all the while, her masts and yards wer_hickly clustered with men, as three tall cherry trees, when the boys ar_herrying among the boughs.
But by her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw tha_his ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort. She wa_achel, weeping for her children, because they were not.