The story 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.
“I 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-”
“My 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.”
“He’s drowned with the rest on ’em, last night,” said the old Manx sailor standing behind them; “I heard; all of ye heard their spirits.”
Now, 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.
Meantime, now 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.