Chapter 128 The Pequod Meets the Rachel

        [In keeping with his practice of using biblical names, Melville names the ship Rachel for the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, heads of two of the twelve tribes of Israel. It is an appropriate name, for Captain Gardiner of the Rachel had two sons.]

        After we learn of Captain Ahab's protective actions towards young Pip, we learn the next day just how hard-hearted and driven a man he is. The whaleship Rachel of Nantucket bears down on the Pequod. The inevitable question from Ahab: "Hast seen the White Whale?"

        Captain Gardiner, known to Ahab, was in his boat, ready to board the Pequod. His answer: "Aye, yesterday. Have ye seen a whaleboat adrift?"

        To Gardiner now on board the Pequod: "'Where was he?---not killed!---not killed!' cried Ahab. 'How was it?'"

        It seemed that while three of the Rachel's boats were chasing whales to windward, Moby Dick appeared near the ship to leeward, in the opposite direction. A fourth boat was lowered after him and chased him to the far horizon where the action could barely be made out by the man at the mast-head. He thought that the boat had succeeded in fastening to the Great White Whale -- and then, "a swift gleam of bubbling white water -- and then nothing." The presumption was that Moby Dick had towed the whaleboat and its crew out of sight, as often happens.

        It turns out that Captain Gardiner's twelve-year-old son was in that fourth boat that chased Moby Dick, and a second son was in another boat. It was growing dark, and "the wretched father was plunged to the bottom of the cruellest perplexity; which was only solved for him by the 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 pick up the majority first. It was not till near midnight that the Rachel was able to search for the fourth boat and the twelve-year-old. Not a trace of it could be found.

        "The story told, Captain Gardiner 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.

        "'My boy, my own boy is among them. For God's sake -- I beg you,' -- Gardiner exclaimed to Ahab -- 'I will gladly pay for it -- for eight and forty hours only -- you must, oh, you must, and you shall do this thing.'"

        "Ahab stood like an anvil as Gardiner was beseeching his poor boon: 'I will not go till you say aye to me; for you, too, have a boy, Captain Ahab --- a child of your old age nestling safely at home.' Gardiner to Ahab's crew: 'Stand by to square the yards, men!'"

        "'Avast!' cried Ahab -- 'touch not a rope-yarn. Captain Gardiner, I will not do it. Even now I lose time. Goodbye, God bless ye, man, and may I forgive myself, but I must go. Mr. Starbuck, warn off all strangers, and let the ship sail as before.'"

        "Rejected, Captain Gardiner more fell than stepped into his boat, and returned to his ship. Soon the two ships diverged. As long as the Rachel was in view, she was seen to yaw hither and thither, starboard and larboard. But by her winding, woeful way, you plainly saw that this ship still remained without comfort. She was Rachel weeping for her children, because they were not." [Biblical reference: Rachel or Rahel (ewe) -- Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:18]