While now the fated Pequod had been so long afloat this voyage, the log and line had but very seldom been in use. Owing to a confident reliance upon other means of determining the vessel’s place, some merchantmen, and many whalemen, especially when cruising, wholly neglect to heave the log; though at the same time, and frequently more for form’s sake than anything else, regularly putting down upon the customary slate the course steered by the ship, as well as the presumed average rate of progression every hour. It had been thus with the Pequod. The wooden reel and angular log attached hung, long untouched, just beneath the railing of the after bulwarks. Rains and spray had damped it; the sun and wind had warped it; all the elements had combined to rot a thing that hung so idly. But heedless of all this, his mood seized Ahab, as he happened to glance upon the reel, not many hours after the magnet scene, and he remembered how his quadrant was no more, and recalled his frantic oath about the level log and line. The ship was sailing plungingly; astern the billows rolled in riots.
“Forward, there! Heave the log!”
Two seamen came. The golden-hued Tahitian and the grizzly Manxman. “Take the reel, one of ye, I’ll heave.”
They went towards the extreme stern, on the ship’s lee side, where the deck, with the oblique energy of the wind, was now almost dipping into the creamy, sidelong-rushing sea.
The Manxman took the reel, and holding it high up, by the projecting handle-ends of the spindle, round which the spool of line revolved, so stood with the angular log hanging downwards, till Ahab advanced to him.
Ahab stood before him, and was lightly unwinding some thirty or forty turns to form a preliminary hand-coil to toss overboard, when the old Manxman, who was intently eyeing both him and the line, made bold to speak.
“Sir, I mistrust it; this line looks far gone, long heat and wet have spoiled it.”
“’Twill hold, old gentleman. Long heat and wet, have they spoiled thee? Thou seem’st to hold. Or, truer perhaps, life holds thee; not thou it.”
“I hold the spool, sir. But just as my captain says. With these grey hairs of mine ’tis not worth while disputing, ’specially with a superior, who’ll ne’er confess.”
“What’s that? There now’s a patched professor in Queen Nature’s granite-founded College; but methinks he’s too subservient. Where wert thou born?”
“In the little rocky Isle of Man, sir.”
“Excellent! Thou’st hit the world by that.”
“I know not, sir, but I was born there.”
“In the Isle of Man, hey? Well, the other way, it’s good. Here’s a man from Man; a man born in once independent Man, and now unmanned of Man; which is sucked in—by what? Up with the reel! The dead, blind wall butts all inquiring heads at last. Up with it! So.”
The log was heaved. The loose coils rapidly straightened out in a long dragging line astern, and then, instantly, the reel began to whirl. In turn, jerkingly raised and lowered by the rolling billows, the towing resistance of the log caused the old reelman to stagger strangely.