Chapter 125 The Log and Line

        A very important chapter in that Melville shows us another side of Ahab's complex persona. The opportunity is set up in a scene where Ahab commands that the speed of the ship be measured by the "log and line" method. At one time, no doubt, an actual log of wood was dropped in the water at the bow of the boat, and the time it took to pass to the stern could be converted into an estimate of speed through the water. This is repeated during the day, and an estimate of miles traveled can be made and transferred, along with compass headings, to positions plotted on a chart. It is likely that the reason the book kept by the captain is called "the log" is that the data, among other notations, would have been recorded in such a journal. Such is the so-called "dead reckoning" method of navigation, and it is notoriously inaccurate -- errors abounding from currents and drifting sidewise among others. But Ahab had smashed his quadrant [chapter 118] and vowed he'd get by with compass and dead reckoning. Good luck.

        Ahab commands two sailors to assist him in heaving the log [a small wooden triangle] and line. But the apparatus has hung unused in the sun and rain for so long that the line is rotten. One of the sailors, the Old Manxman [native of the Isle of Man off the coast of England] has the nerve to warn Ahab that the line will probably break. He gets some condescending, sneering palaver from Ahab and -- sure enough! the line breaks on the first heave. Ahab walks off, leaving the two to repair the damage. As they are reeling in the long line, as though they were fishing, along comes poor little Pip.

        "Come to help, eh, Pip?

        "Pip? whom call ye Pip? [Here's a little black boy from Alabama speaking Elizabethan English in the 19th century!] Pip jumped from the whaleboat. Pip's missing. Let's see now if ye haven't fished him up here, fishermen. It drags hard. I guess he's holding on. A hatchet! a hatchet! cut it off---we haul in no cowards here. Captain Ahab! sir, sir! here's Pip, trying to get on board again."

        "'Peace, thou crazy loon,' cried the Manxman, seizing him by the arm. 'Away from the quarter-deck!'

        "'The greater idiot ever scolds the lesser,' muttered Ahab, advancing. 'Hands off from that holiness! Where sayest thou Pip was, boy?'

        "'Astern there, sir, astern! Lo! lo!'

        "'And who art thou, boy? I see not my reflection in the pupils of thy eyes.'

        "'Bell-boy, sir; ships crier; ding, dong, ding! Who's seen Pip the coward?'

        "Oh, ye frozen heavens! look down here. Ye did beget this luckless child, and have abandoned him. Here, boy; Ahab's cabin shall be Pip's home henceforth, while Ahab lives. Thou touchest my inmost centre, boy; thou art tied to me by cords woven of my heartstrings. Come, let's down. Come! I feel prouder leading thee by thy black hand, than though I grasped an Emperor's!'"

        Well, well! Ahab can be tender hearted! Perhaps he misses his own young son, and therefore shows compassion to the severely disturbed little lad. But the Manxman says --

        "There go two daft ones now. One daft with strength, the other daft with weakness."