Chapter 34 The Cabin-Table

        After the last two chapters in which the author digressed from the story line to edify the reader as to some of the ins and outs of the whaling game, we are back to Ahab & Co. aboard the good, but vindictive ship Pequod. Amongst other things we shall be discussing the goings-on at the noonday meal -- as concerns the officers -- not the lowly sailors.

        The cook aboard the Pequod is called the steward and nicknamed "Dough-Boy" on account of his pale loaf-of-bread face. It is he who starts the performance by announcing dinner to Captain Ahab, who is usually found on deck at noon sitting in a whaleboat hanging from one of the davits [supports], taking a noon sight. [This is "shooting the sun" with an instrument that can establish when the sun is at its highest, and measuring the elevation of it, so as to determine the latitude (angular distance from the equator) of the ship. Melville doesn't mention the other coordinate -- longitude (the angular distance from the prime meridian at Greenwich, England) -- which must be also be determined to plot the ships position on a chart, so as to map out a course. The determination of longitude requires an accurate clock or chronometer which Nantucket captains usually had, courtesy of their kinswoman Maria Mitchell, the first woman astronomer in the U.S.]

        Ahab would seem to ignore the call to lunch while using a flat surface on his ivory leg to calculate the ship's latitude from the sun's elevation. [Since the Pequod was now south of the equator, the sun would be in the northern sky, and the ship would be in a south latitude.] Then he would say flatly, "Dinner, Mr. Starbuck," and go down to the cabin [the captain's quarters]. Starbuck, as first mate, would then say to the second mate, "Dinner, Mr. Stubb," He, in turn, would announce, "Dinner, Mr. Flask," to the third mate, who -- so elated to be left on deck alone for a spell by the other officers -- would dance a hornpipe before going to eat at the captain's table in the cabin with the other officers.

        The three mates would eat in abject silence with Ahab, who presided over the meal the way a gloomy father would over three cowering children on their best behavior. Poor little Flask was obliged to be the last one to sit down and the first to get up, complaining to the men that ever since he became an officer, he never got a full meal.

        In stark contrast to the silent captain and mates, the harpooneers, when it came their turn next to sit at the captain's table, made such a noise chomping their food and shouting for more -- that poor Dough-Boy was in perpetual fear and trembling of them. They teased him mercillessly, threatening him with sharp knives, and picking him up bodily if he was too slow in bringing them food. Melville calls them barbarians, noting that as officers they ate and slept in a part of the cabin, but it was still the captain's cabin, and Ahab allowed them no mistake about that. As for Ahab's soul, in his "inclement, howling old age"; the cabin was like a hollow tree to a hibernating bear in the winter.