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.
"Hast seen the White Whale?"
"Aye, yesterday. Have ye seen a whale-boat adrift?"
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 recognized 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?"
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 water, not very far to leeward;
whereupon, the fourth rigged boat- a reserved 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 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 daylight; yet
not the least glimpse of the missing keel had been seen.
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.
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 the-"
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."
drowned with the rest on 'em, last night," said the old Manx sailor
standing behind them; "I heard; all of ye heard their spirits."
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 boats' 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 whaleship 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.
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
"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
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 around;
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, woeful 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.
Okay, Ahab is a bastard. Let's just put that out there. He will not be swayed from his white whale course, even to aid in the search for a young boy lost at sea. It's a terrible chapter, full of heartbreak. The figure of the Rachel in the final paragraph, "weeping for her children," fills me with melancholy. Melville succeeds in this chapter to make the reader turn against Ahab once and for all. Ahab, not Moby-Dick, becomes the villain of the book. And a twelve-year-old boy is left to drift off the face of the world.
I had the pleasure of teaching Bigfoot poetry to a class of fifth graders today. It was a great time. The kids were full of ten-year-old energy, and I had them yelling and laughing and jumping in their seats. All except for "Holly."
Holly sat in her seat, unimpressed and argumentative. I quickly realized that Holly was a really bright child. She was throwing out scientific facts, correcting her classmates. She wasn't doing it to be a showoff. She was doing it because she sees the world a certain way, and she wants everyone else to have that same vision.
Holly was sort of obsessed with planets and the solar system, sort of like Ahab is obsessed with the white whale. Holly asked me questions like, "Do you know what the hottest planet in the solar system is?" (If you think it's Mercury, you would be wrong, according to Holly.) And Holly also told me that Bigfoot was probably a branch off the evolution of humankind. She may have even used the term "Gigantopithecus." This kid had game.
Well, at the end of class, we all read the poems we had written about Bigfoot. All the students wanted me to read mine. One of the lines in my poem was "Bigfoot is as smart as a calculator." As soon as I was done reading my poem, Holly's hand shot up.
"A calculator isn't smart," she said. "It's a machine. It has no intelligence."
"Yes," I said, "I know that, Holly. But it's what the calculator represents to me. It represents smart people, using it to do math calculations and physics and stuff."
"But," she pressed, "calculators can't think."
"I know," I said. "But it's what a calculator represents."
Holly started talking over me. "But calculators can't make decisions or have ideas or--"
"Yes," I said. "I understand, but--"
"Please don't interrupt me," she said. "Calculators aren't--"
"Holly," I said, "you need to listen to me now."
Holly stopped talking.
"The calculator is a symbol in the poem, Holly. Do you know what a symbol is?"
Holly said, "It's something that stands in for something else."
"Exactly. Now, do you know what the Periodic Table of Elements is?"
"Good. What does 'O' represent on the Periodic Table?"
"It represents oxygen."
I nodded. "Exactly!" I stepped back a little bit. "Now Holly, is 'O' actually oxygen?"
She shook her head. "No, it represents oxygen on the Periodic Table."
I clapped my hands. "Yes! Good! Just like 'O' represents oxygen on the Periodic Table, 'calculator' represents 'smart' in my poem. Do you get it?"
I leaned over Holly a little bit. "It's okay for people to think different things. Believe different things. It's okay to be different." I looked at her very seriously. "It would be a really boring world if there were only Hollys in it." I looked around at the rest of the class. "Just like it would be boring if there were only Martys in it." I looked back at Holly. "That's what's so great. We can all believe different things. Love different things. Planets or poetry. Bigfoot or the Sea of Tranquility on the moon." I nodded at Holly. "It's what makes us who we are."
Holly sat at her desk, staring at me with large, dark eyes.
"So," I said, "for me, calculators are smart."
I'm not sure if I made any kind of impact on Holly. She probably still thinks I'm an idiot for saying that "Bigfoot is as smart as a calculator." That's okay. I think Holly is as smart as a supernova.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight that the solar system has Holly in it, to tell me what planet in the solar system is the coldest and why.
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