The next day, a large Nantucket whaler called the Rachel approaches the Pequod. Its captain is an acquaintance of Ahab. In response to Ahab's usual first question ("Hast seen the White Whale?"), the Rachel's captain reports that his fastest whaleboat, with his own son aboard, has just recently been lost at sea due to an encounter with Moby Dick. He entreats Ahab to help in the search. The Pequod's commander staunchly refuses and sets sail in pursuit of his only goal.
The contrast between a loving father's concern for his son and an obsessed madman's concern only for personal revenge against a whale is chilling. Moby Dick's role in the loss of Captain Gardiner's son adds to the mystery surrounding the White Whale. The Rachel's three regular whaleboats were four or five miles windward from the mother ship, in chase of a large group of whales. Suddenly, Moby Dick appeared downwind. The captain sent his reserve boat, with his son as part of the crew, in pursuit of the White Whale. From what the lookouts could see, the boat seemed to fasten (by harpoon) with Moby Dick, who then sped off with the boat in tow. It was unclear what happened next, but the boat may have been sunk. Or it could still be out there. Any sane whaling man would help the Rachel in its search. Never mind that the captains are acquaintances; or that Ahab has been offered generous remuneration; or that he, too, has a son. Any reasonable captain would join in this search.
Nevertheless, there is no ambiguity in Ahab's response. We can hear every distinct syllable as he responds in a voice that "prolongingly" shapes each word: "Captain Gardiner, I will not do it. Even now I lose time . . . . I must go." Without a second thought, Ahab gives the order to sail.
shoal a large group or school of fish.
stunsail studdingsail, an auxiliary sail designed to increase speed in light winds.
boon a request for a favor; the favor granted.
Rachel, weeping for her children a biblical reference, Jeremiah 31: 15 and Matthew 2: 18.