MOBY DICK; OR THE WHALE
Call me Ishmael. Some years
ago—never mind how long precisely— having little or no money in my
purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would
sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I
have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever
I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp,
drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily
pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every
funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand
of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from
deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking
people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as
I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical
flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.
There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men
in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same
feelings towards the ocean with me.
There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted
round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it
with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its
extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by
waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of
sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.
Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon.
Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall,
northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the
town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean
reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the
pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks glasses! of ships from China;
some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better
seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath
and plaster— tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How
then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?
But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the
water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content
them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee
of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh
the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they
stand—miles of them—leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and
alleys, streets and avenues,— north, east, south, and west. Yet here
they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the
compasses of all those ships attract them thither?
Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land
of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you
down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is
magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest
reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will
infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.
Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this
experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical
professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for
But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the
dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape
in all the valley of the Saco. What is the chief element he employs?
There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a
crucifix were within; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his
cattle; and up from yonder cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into
distant woodlands winds a mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of
mountains bathed in their hill-side blue. But though the picture lies
thus tranced, and though this pine-tree shakes down its sighs like
leaves upon this shepherd's head, yet all were vain, unless the
shepherd's eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him. Go visit the
Prairies in June, when for scores on scores of miles you wade knee-deep
among Tiger-lilies—what is the one charm wanting?— Water there is not a
drop of water there! Were Niagara but a cataract of sand, would you
travel your thousand miles to see it? Why did the poor poet of
Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate
whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in
a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Why is almost every robust healthy
boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go
to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel
such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were
now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy?
Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove?
Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of
that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting,
mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But
that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the
image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.
Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea
whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over
conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go
to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a
purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it.
Besides, passengers get sea-sick— grow quarrelsome—don't sleep of
nights—do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing;—no, I never go
as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to
sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and
distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I
abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of
every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of
myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and
what not. And as for going as cook,—though I confess there is
considerable glory in that, a cook being a sort of officer on
ship-board—yet, somehow, I never fancied broiling fowls;—though once
broiled, judiciously buttered, and judgmatically salted and peppered,
there is no one who will speak more respectfully, not to say
reverentially, of a broiled fowl than I will. It is out of the
idolatrous dotings of the old Egyptians upon broiled ibis and roasted
river horse, that you see the mummies of those creatures in their huge
bakehouses the pyramids.
No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor, right
before the mast, plumb down into the fore-castle, aloft there to the
royal mast-head. True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump
from spar to spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. And at first,
this sort of thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one's sense of
honor, particularly if you come of an old established family in the
land, the Van Rensselaers, or Randolphs, or Hardicanutes. And more than
all, if just previous to putting your hand into the tar-pot, you have
been lording it as a country schoolmaster, making the tallest boys stand
in awe of you. The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a
schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and
the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. But even this wears off in
What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me
to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount
to, weighed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think
the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly
and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who
ain't a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains
may order me about—however they may thump and punch me about, I have the
satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one
way or other served in much the same way— either in a physical or
metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is
passed round, and all hands should rub each other's shoulder-blades, and
Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make
a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a
single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers
themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world
between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most
uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us.
But being paid,— what will compare with it? The urbane activity with
which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so
earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on
no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign
ourselves to perdition!
Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the
wholesome exercise and pure air of the fore-castle deck. For as in this
world, head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that
is, if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part
the Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand
from the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first; but
not so. In much the same way do the commonalty lead their leaders in
many other things, at the same time that the leaders little suspect it.
But wherefore it was that after having repeatedly smelt the sea as a
merchant sailor, I should now take it into my head to go on a whaling
voyage; this the invisible police officer of the Fates, who has the
constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me in
some unaccountable way— he can better answer than any one else. And,
doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand
programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as
a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances.
I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:
"Grand Contested Election for
the Presidency of the United States.
"WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL."
"BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN."
Though I cannot tell why it was
exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this
shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for
magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel
comedies, and jolly parts in farces— though I cannot tell why this was
exactly; yet, now that I recall all the circumstances, I think I can see
a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to
me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part
I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice
resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment.
Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of
the great whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster roused
all my curiosity. Then the wild and distant seas where he rolled his
island bulk; the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale; these,
with all the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonian sights and
sounds, helped to sway me to my wish. With other men, perhaps, such
things would not have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented
with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden
seas, and land on barbarous coasts. Not ignoring what is good, I am
quick to perceive a horror, and could still be social with it—would they
let me—since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates
of the place one lodges in.
By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was
welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in
the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there
floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and, mid
most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.
I stuffed a shirt or two into my
old carpet-bag, tucked it under my arm, and started for Cape Horn and
the Pacific. Quitting the good city of old Manhatto, I duly arrived in
New Bedford. It was on a Saturday night in December. Much was I
disappointed upon learning that the little packet for Nantucket had
already sailed, and that no way of reaching that place would offer, till
the following Monday.
As most young candidates for the pains and penalties of
whaling stop at this same New Bedford, thence to embark on their voyage,
it may as well be related that I, for one, had no idea of so doing. For
my mind was made up to sail in no other than a Nantucket craft, because
there was a fine, boisterous something about everything connected with
that famous old island, which amazingly pleased me. Besides though New
Bedford has of late been gradually monopolizing the business of whaling,
and though in this matter poor old Nantucket is now much behind her, yet
Nantucket was her great original— the Tyre of this Carthage;—the place
where the first dead American whale was stranded. Where else but from
Nantucket did those aboriginal whalemen, the Red-Men, first sally out in
canoes to give chase to the Leviathan? And where but from Nantucket,
too, did that first adventurous little sloop put forth, partly laden
with imported cobblestones—so goes the story— to throw at the whales, in
order to discover when they were nigh enough to risk a harpoon from the
Now having a night, a day, and still another night
following before me in New Bedford, ere I could embark for my destined
port, it became a matter of concernment where I was to eat and sleep
meanwhile. It was a very dubious-looking, nay, a very dark and dismal
night, bitingly cold and cheerless. I knew no one in the place. With
anxious grapnels I had sounded my pocket, and only brought up a few
pieces of silver,—So, wherever you go, Ishmael, said I to myself, as I
stood in the middle of a dreary street shouldering my bag, and comparing
the gloom towards the north with the darkness towards the south—wherever
in your wisdom you may conclude to lodge for the night, my dear Ishmael,
be sure to inquire the price, and don't be too particular.
With halting steps I paced the streets, and passed the
sign of "The Crossed Harpoons"—but it looked too expensive and jolly
there. Further on, from the bright red windows of the "Sword-Fish Inn,"
there came such fervent rays, that it seemed to have melted the packed
snow and ice from before the house, for everywhere else the congealed
frost lay ten inches thick in a hard, asphaltic pavement,—rather weary
for me, when I struck my foot against the flinty projections, because
from hard, remorseless service the soles of my boots were in a most
miserable plight. Too expensive and jolly, again thought I, pausing one
moment to watch the broad glare in the street, and hear the sounds of
the tinkling glasses within. But go on, Ishmael, said I at last; don't
you hear? get away from before the door; your patched boots are stopping
the way. So on I went. I now by instinct followed the streets that took
me waterward, for there, doubtless, were the cheapest, if not the
Such dreary streets! Blocks of blackness, not houses, on
either hand, and here and there a candle, like a candle moving about in
a tomb. At this hour of the night, of the last day of the week, that
quarter of the town proved all but deserted. But presently I came to a
smoky light proceeding from a low, wide building, the door of which
stood invitingly open. It had a careless look, as if it were meant for
the uses of the public; so, entering, the first thing I did was to
stumble over an ash-box in the porch. Ha! thought I, ha, as the flying
particles almost choked me, are these ashes from that destroyed city,
Gomorrah? But "The Crossed Harpoons," and the "The Sword-Fish?"—this,
then must needs be the sign of "The Trap." However, I picked myself up
and hearing a loud voice within, pushed on and opened a second, interior
It seemed the great Black Parliament sitting in Tophet.
A hundred black faces turned round in their rows to peer; and beyond, a
black Angel of Doom was beating a book in a pulpit. It was a negro
church; and the preacher's text was about the blackness of darkness, and
the weeping and wailing and teeth-gnashing there. Ha, Ishmael, muttered
I, backing out, Wretched entertainment at the sign of 'The Trap!'
Moving on, I at last came to a dim sort of light not far
from the docks, and heard a forlorn creaking in the air; and looking up,
saw a swinging sign over the door with a white painting upon it, faintly
representing a tall straight jet of misty spray, and these words
underneath—"The Spouter Inn:—Peter Coffin."
Coffin?—Spouter?—Rather ominous in that particular
connexion, thought I. But it is a common name in Nantucket, they say,
and I suppose this Peter here is an emigrant from there. As the light
looked so dim, and the place, for the time, looked quiet enough, and the
dilapidated little wooden house itself looked as if it might have been
carted here from the ruins of some burnt district, and as the swinging
sign had a poverty-stricken sort of creak to it, I thought that here was
the very spot for cheap lodgings, and the best of pea coffee.
It was a queer sort of place—a gable-ended old house,
one side palsied as it were, and leaning over sadly. It stood on a sharp
bleak corner, where that tempestuous wind Euroclydon kept up a worse
howling than ever it did about poor Paul's tossed craft. Euroclydon,
nevertheless, is a mighty pleasant zephyr to any one in-doors, with his
feet on the hob quietly toasting for bed. In judging of that tempestuous
wind called Euroclydon," says an old writer—of whose works I possess the
only copy extant—"it maketh a marvellous difference, whether thou
lookest out at it from a glass window where the frost is all on the
outside, or whether thou observest it from that sashless window, where
the frost is on both sides, and of which the wight Death is the only
glazier." True enough, thought I, as this passage occurred to my
mind—old black-letter, thou reasonest well. Yes, these eyes are windows,
and this body of mine is the house. What a pity they didn't stop up the
chinks and the crannies though, and thrust in a little lint here and
there. But it's too late to make any improvements now. The universe is
finished; the copestone is on, and the chips were carted off a million
years ago. Poor Lazarus there, chattering his teeth against the
curbstone for his pillow, and shaking off his tatters with his
shiverings, he might plug up both ears with rags, and put a corn-cob
into his mouth, and yet that would not keep out the tempestuous
Euroclydon. Euroclydon! says old Dives, in his red silken wrapper—(he
had a redder one afterwards) pooh, pooh! What a fine frosty night; how
Orion glitters; what northern lights! Let them talk of their oriental
summer climes of everlasting conservatories; give me the privilege of
making my own summer with my own coals.
But what thinks Lazarus? Can he warm his blue hands by
holding them up to the grand northern lights? Would not Lazarus rather
be in Sumatra than here? Would he not far rather lay him down lengthwise
along the line of the equator; yea, ye gods! go down to the fiery pit
itself, in order to keep out this frost?
Now, that Lazarus should lie stranded there on the
curbstone before the door of Dives, this is more wonderful than that an
iceberg should be moored to one of the Moluccas. Yet Dives himself, he
too lives like a Czar in an ice palace made of frozen sighs, and being a
president of a temperance society, he only drinks the tepid tears of
But no more of this blubbering now, we are going
a-whaling, and there is plenty of that yet to come. Let us scrape the
ice from our frosted feet, and see what sort of a place this "Spouter"
Entering that gable-ended
Spouter-Inn, you found yourself in a wide, low, straggling entry with
old-fashioned wainscots, reminding one of the bulwarks of some condemned
old craft. On one side hung a very large oil painting so thoroughly
besmoked, and every way defaced, that in the unequal crosslights by
which you viewed it, it was only by diligent study and a series of
systematic visits to it, and careful inquiry of the neighbors, that you
could any way arrive at an understanding of its purpose. Such
unaccountable masses of shades and shadows, that at first you almost
thought some ambitious young artist, in the time of the New England
hags, had endeavored to delineate chaos bewitched. But by dint of much
and earnest contemplation, and oft repeated ponderings, and especially
by throwing open the little window towards the back of the entry, you at
last come to the conclusion that such an idea, however wild, might not
be altogether unwarranted.
But what most puzzled and confounded you was a long,
limber, portentous, black mass of something hovering in the centre of
the picture over three blue, dim, perpendicular lines floating in a
nameless yeast. A boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly, enough to drive
a nervous man distracted. Yet was there a sort of indefinite,
half-attained, unimaginable sublimity about it that fairly froze you to
it, till you involuntarily took an oath with yourself to find out what
that marvellous painting meant. Ever and anon a bright, but, alas,
deceptive idea would dart you through.— It's the Black Sea in a midnight
gale.—It's the unnatural combat of the four primal elements.—It's a
blasted heath.— It's a Hyperborean winter scene.—It's the breaking-up of
the icebound stream of Time. But at last all these fancies yielded to
that one portentous something in the picture's midst. That once found
out, and all the rest were plain. But stop; does it not bear a faint
resemblance to a gigantic fish? even the great leviathan himself?
In fact, the artist's design seemed this: a final theory
of my own, partly based upon the aggregated opinions of many aged
persons with whom I conversed upon the subject. The picture represents a
Cape-Horner in a great hurricane; the half-foundered ship weltering
there with its three dismantled masts alone visible; and an exasperated
whale, purposing to spring clean over the craft, is in the enormous act
of impaling himself upon the three mast-heads.
The opposite wall of this entry was hung all over with a
heathenish array of monstrous clubs and spears. Some were thickly set
with glittering teeth resembling ivory saws; others were tufted with
knots of human hair; and one was sickle-shaped, with a vast handle
sweeping round like the segment made in the new-mown grass by a
long-armed mower. You shuddered as you gazed, and wondered what
monstrous cannibal and savage could ever have gone a death-harvesting
with such a hacking, horrifying implement. Mixed with these were rusty
old whaling lances and harpoons all broken and deformed. Some were
storied weapons. With this once long lance, now wildly elbowed, fifty
years ago did Nathan Swain kill fifteen whales between a sunrise and a
sunset. And that harpoon—so like a corkscrew now—was flung in Javan
seas, and run away with by a whale, years afterwards slain off the Cape
of Blanco. The original iron entered nigh the tail, and, like a restless
needle sojourning in the body of a man, travelled full forty feet, and
at last was found imbedded in the hump.
Crossing this dusky entry, and on through yon low-arched
way— cut through what in old times must have been a great central
chimney with fireplaces all round—you enter the public room. A still
duskier place is this, with such low ponderous beams above, and such old
wrinkled planks beneath, that you would almost fancy you trod some old
craft's cockpits, especially of such a howling night, when this
corner-anchored old ark rocked so furiously. On one side stood a long,
low, shelf-like table covered with cracked glass cases, filled with
dusty rarities gathered from this wide world's remotest nooks.
Projecting from the further angle of the room stands a dark-looking
den—the bar—a rude attempt at a right whale's head. Be that how it may,
there stands the vast arched bone of the whale's jaw, so wide, a coach
might almost drive beneath it. Within are shabby shelves, ranged round
with old decanters, bottles, flasks; and in those jaws of swift
destruction, like another cursed Jonah (by which name indeed they called
him), bustles a little withered old man, who, for their money, dearly
sells the sailors deliriums and death.
Abominable are the tumblers into which he pours his
poison. Though true cylinders without—within, the villanous green
goggling glasses deceitfully tapered downwards to a cheating bottom.
Parallel meridians rudely pecked into the glass, surround these
footpads' goblets. Fill to this mark, and your charge is but a penny; to
this a penny more; and so on to the full glass— the Cape Horn measure,
which you may gulp down for a shilling.
Upon entering the place I found a number of young seamen
gathered about a table, examining by a dim light divers specimens of
skrimshander. I sought the landlord, and telling him I desired to be
accommodated with a room, received for answer that his house was full—
not a bed unoccupied. "But avast," he added, tapping his forehead, "you
haint no objections to sharing a harpooneer's blanket, have ye? I s'pose
you are goin' a-whalin', so you'd better get used to that sort of
I told him that I never liked to sleep two in a bed;
that if I should ever do so, it would depend upon who the harpooneer
might be, and that if he (the landlord) really had no other place for
me, and the harpooneer was not decidedly objectionable, why rather than
wander further about a strange town on so bitter a night, I would put up
with the half of any decent man's blanket.
"I thought so. All right; take a seat. Supper?—you want
Supper'll be ready directly."
I sat down on an old wooden settle, carved all over like
a bench on the Battery. At one end a ruminating tar was still further
adorning it with his jack-knife, stooping over and diligently working
away at the space between his legs. He was trying his hand at a ship
under full sail, but he didn't make much headway, I thought.
At last some four or five of us were summoned to our
meal in an adjoining room. It was cold as Iceland— no fire at all—the
landlord said he couldn't afford it. Nothing but two dismal tallow
candles, each in a winding sheet. We were fain to button up our monkey
jackets, and hold to our lips cups of scalding tea with our half frozen
fingers. But the fare was of the most substantial kind—not only meat and
potatoes, but dumplings; good heavens! dumplings for supper! One young
fellow in a green box coat, addressed himself to these dumplings in a
most direful manner.
"My boy," said the landlord, "you'll have the nightmare
to a dead sartainty."
"Landlord," I whispered, "that aint the harpooneer is
"Oh, no," said he, looking a sort of diabolically funny,
"the harpooneer is a dark complexioned chap. He never eats dumplings, he
don't— he eats nothing but steaks, and he likes 'em rare."
"The devil he does," says I. "Where is that harpooneer?
Is he here?"
"He'll be here afore long," was the answer.
I could not help it, but I began to feel suspicious of
this "dark complexioned" harpooneer. At any rate, I made up my mind that
if it so turned out that we should sleep together, he must undress and
get into bed before I did.
Supper over, the company went back to the bar-room,
when, knowing not what else to do with myself, I resolved to spend the
rest of the evening as a looker on.
Presently a rioting noise was heard without. Starting
up, the landlord cried, "That's the Grampus's crew. I seed her reported
in the offing this morning; a three years' voyage, and a full ship.
Hurrah, boys; now we'll have the latest news from the Feegees."
A tramping of sea boots was heard in the entry; the door
was flung open, and in rolled a wild set of mariners enough. Enveloped
in their shaggy watch coats, and with their heads muffled in woollen
comforters, all bedarned and ragged, and their beards stiff with
icicles, they seemed an eruption of bears from Labrador. They had just
landed from their boat, and this was the first house they entered. No
wonder, then, that they made a straight wake for the whale's mouth— the
bar—when the wrinkled little old Jonah, there officiating, soon poured
them out brimmers all round. One complained of a bad cold in his head,
upon which Jonah mixed him a pitch-like potion of gin and molasses,
which he swore was a sovereign cure for all colds and catarrhs
whatsoever, never mind of how long standing, or whether caught off the
coast of Labrador, or on the weather side of an ice-island.
The liquor soon mounted into their heads, as it
generally does even with the arrantest topers newly landed from sea, and
they began capering about most obstreperously.
I observed, however, that one of them held somewhat
aloof, and though he seemed desirous not to spoil the hilarity of his
shipmates by his own sober face, yet upon the whole he refrained from
making as much noise as the rest. This man interested me at once; and
since the sea-gods had ordained that he should soon become my shipmate
(though but a sleeping partner one, so far as this narrative is
concerned), I will here venture upon a little description of him. He
stood full six feet in height, with noble shoulders, and a chest like a
coffer-dam. I have seldom seen such brawn in a man. His face was deeply
brown and burnt, making his white teeth dazzling by the contrast; while
in the deep shadows of his eyes floated some reminiscences that did not
seem to give him much joy. His voice at once announced that he was a
Southerner, and from his fine stature, I thought he must be one of those
tall mountaineers from the Alleghanian Ridge in Virginia. When the
revelry of his companions had mounted to its height, this man slipped
away unobserved, and I saw no more of him till he became my comrade on
the sea. In a few minutes, however, he was missed by his shipmates, and
being, it seems, for some reason a huge favorite with them, they raised
a cry of "Bulkington! Bulkington! where's Bulkington?" and darted out of
the house in pursuit of him.
It was now about nine o'clock, and the room seeming
almost supernaturally quiet after these orgies, I began to congratulate
myself upon a little plan that had occurred to me just previous to the
entrance of the seamen.
No man prefers to sleep two in a bed. In fact, you would
a good deal rather not sleep with your own brother. I don't know how it
is, but people like to be private when they are sleeping. And when it
comes to sleeping with an unknown stranger, in a strange inn, in a
strange town, and that stranger a harpooneer, then your objections
indefinitely multiply. Nor was there any earthly reason why I as a
sailor should sleep two in a bed, more than anybody else; for sailors no
more sleep two in a bed at sea, than bachelor Kings do ashore. To be
sure they all sleep together in one apartment, but you have your own
hammock, and cover yourself with your own blanket, and sleep in your own
The more I pondered over this harpooneer, the more I
abominated the thought of sleeping with him. It was fair to presume that
being a harpooneer, his linen or woollen, as the case might be, would
not be of the tidiest, certainly none of the finest. I began to twitch
all over. Besides, it was getting late, and my decent harpooneer ought
to be home and going bedwards. Suppose now, he should tumble in upon me
at midnight— how could I tell from what vile hole he had been coming?
"Landlord! I've changed my mind about that harpooneer.—
I shan't sleep with him. I'll try the bench here."
"Just as you please; I'm sorry I cant spare ye a
tablecloth for a mattress, and it's a plaguy rough board here"—feeling
of the knots and notches. "But wait a bit, Skrimshander; I've got a
carpenter's plane there in the bar—wait, I say, and I'll make ye snug
enough." So saying he procured the plane; and with his old silk
handkerchief first dusting the bench, vigorously set to planing away at
my bed, the while grinning like an ape. The shavings flew right and
left; till at last the plane-iron came bump against an indestructible
knot. The landlord was near spraining his wrist, and I told him for
heaven's sake to quit—the bed was soft enough to suit me, and I did not
know how all the planing in the world could make eider down of a pine
plank. So gathering up the shavings with another grin, and throwing them
into the great stove in the middle of the room, he went about his
business, and left me in a brown study.
I now took the measure of the bench, and found that it
was a foot too short; but that could be mended with a chair. But it was
a foot too narrow, and the other bench in the room was about four inches
higher than the planed one— so there was no yoking them. I then placed
the first bench lengthwise along the only clear space against the wall,
leaving a little interval between, for my back to settle down in. But I
soon found that there came such a draught of cold air over me from under
the sill of the window, that this plan would never do at all, especially
as another current from the rickety door met the one from the window,
and both together formed a series of small whirlwinds in the immediate
vicinity of the spot where I had thought to spend the night.
The devil fetch that harpooneer, thought I, but stop,
couldn't I steal a march on him—bolt his door inside, and jump into his
bed, not to be wakened by the most violent knockings? It seemed no bad
idea but upon second thoughts I dismissed it. For who could tell but
what the next morning, so soon as I popped out of the room, the
harpooneer might be standing in the entry, all ready to knock me down!
Still looking around me again, and seeing no possible
chance of spending a sufferable night unless in some other person's bed,
I began to think that after all I might be cherishing unwarrantable
prejudices against this unknown harpooneer. Thinks I, I'll wait awhile;
he must be dropping in before long. I'll have a good look at him then,
and perhaps we may become jolly good bedfellows after all—there's no
But though the other boarders kept coming in by ones,
twos, and threes, and going to bed, yet no sign of my harpooneer.
"Landlord! said I, "what sort of a chap is he—does he
always keep such late hours?" It was now hard upon twelve o'clock.
The landlord chuckled again with his lean chuckle, and
seemed to be mightily tickled at something beyond my comprehension.
"No," he answered, "generally he's an early bird—airley to bed and
airley to rise—yea, he's the bird what catches the worm. But to-night he
went out a peddling, you see, and I don't see what on airth keeps him so
late, unless, may be, he can't sell his head."
"Can't sell his head?—What sort of a bamboozingly story
is this you are telling me?" getting into a towering rage. "Do you
pretend to say, landlord, that this harpooneer is actually engaged this
blessed Saturday night, or rather Sunday morning, in peddling his head
around this town?"
"That's precisely it," said the landlord, "and I told
him he couldn't sell it here, the market's overstocked."
"With what?" shouted I.
"With heads to be sure; ain't there too many heads in
"I tell you what it is, landlord," said I quite calmly,
"you'd better stop spinning that yarn to me—I'm not green."
"May be not," taking out a stick and whittling a
toothpick, "but I rayther guess you'll be done brown if that ere
harpooneer hears you a slanderin' his head."
"I'll break it for him," said I, now flying into a
passion again at this unaccountable farrago of the landlord's.
"It's broke a'ready," said he.
"Broke," said I—"broke, do you mean?"
"Sartain, and that's the very reason he can't sell it, I
"Landlord," said I, going up to him as cool as Mt. Hecla
in a snowstorm—"landlord, stop whittling. You and I must understand one
another, and that too without delay. I come to your house and want a
bed; you tell me you can only give me half a one; that the other half
belongs to a certain harpooneer. And about this harpooneer, whom I have
not yet seen, you persist in telling me the most mystifying and
exasperating stories tending to beget in me an uncomfortable feeling
towards the man whom you design for my bedfellow—a sort of connexion,
landlord, which is an intimate and confidential one in the highest
degree. I now demand of you to speak out and tell me who and what this
harpooneer is, and whether I shall be in all respects safe to spend the
night with him. And in the first place, you will be so good as to unsay
that story about selling his head, which if true I take to be good
evidence that this harpooneer is stark mad, and I've no idea of sleeping
with a madman; and you, sir, you I mean, landlord, you, sir, by trying
to induce me to do so knowingly would thereby render yourself liable to
a criminal prosecution."
"Wall," said the landlord, fetching a long breath,
"that's a purty long sarmon for a chap that rips a little now and then.
But be easy, be easy, this here harpooneer I have been tellin' you of
has just arrived from the south seas, where he bought up a lot of
'balmed New Zealand heads (great curios, you know), and he's sold all on
'em but one, and that one he's trying to sell to-night, cause
to-morrow's Sunday, and it would not do to be sellin' human heads about
the streets when folks is goin' to churches. He wanted to last Sunday,
but I stopped him just as he was goin' out of the door with four heads
strung on a string, for all the airth like a string of inions."
This account cleared up the otherwise unaccountable
mystery, and showed that the landlord, after all, had had no idea of
fooling me— but at the same time what could I think of a harpooneer who
stayed out of a Saturday night clean into the holy Sabbath, engaged in
such a cannibal business as selling the heads of dead idolators?
"Depend upon it, landlord, that harpooneer is a
"He pays reg'lar," was the rejoinder. "But come, it's
getting dreadful late, you had better be turning flukes—it's a nice bed:
Sal and me slept in that ere bed the night we were spliced. There's
plenty of room for two to kick about in that bed; it's an almighty big
bed that. Why, afore we give it up, Sal used to put our Sam and little
Johnny in the foot of it. But I got a dreaming and sprawling about one
night, and somehow, Sam got pitched on the floor, and came near breaking
his arm. After that, Sal said it wouldn't do. Come along here, I'll give
ye a glim in a jiffy;" and so saying he lighted a candle and held it
towards me, offering to lead the way. But I stood irresolute; when
looking at a clock in the corner, he exclaimed "I vum it's Sunday—you
won't see that harpooneer to-night; he's come to anchor somewhere—come
along then; do come; won't ye come?"
I considered the matter a moment, and then up stairs we
went, and I was ushered into a small room, cold as a clam, and
furnished, sure enough, with a prodigious bed, almost big enough indeed
for any four harpooneers to sleep abreast.
"There," said the landlord, placing the candle on a
crazy old sea chest that did double duty as a wash-stand and centre
table; "there, make yourself comfortable now; and good night to ye." I
turned round from eyeing the bed, but he had disappeared.
Folding back the counterpane, I stooped over the bed.
Though none of the most elegant, it yet stood the scrutiny tolerably
well. I then glanced round the room; and besides the bedstead and centre
table, could see no other furniture belonging to the place, but a rude
shelf, the four walls, and a papered fireboard representing a man
striking a whale. Of things not properly belonging to the room, there
was a hammock lashed up, and thrown upon the floor in one corner; also a
large seaman's bag, containing the harpooneer's wardrobe, no doubt in
lieu of a land trunk. Likewise, there was a parcel of outlandish bone
fish hooks on the shelf over the fire-place, and a tall harpoon standing
at the head of the bed.
But what is this on the chest? I took it up, and held it
close to the light, and felt it, and smelt it, and tried every way
possible to arrive at some satisfactory conclusion concerning it. I can
compare it to nothing but a large door mat, ornamented at the edges with
little tinkling tags something like the stained porcupine quills round
an Indian moccasin. There was a hole or slit in the middle of this mat,
as you see the same in South American ponchos. But could it be possible
that any sober harpooneer would get into a door mat, and parade the
streets of any Christian town in that sort of guise? I put it on, to try
it, and it weighed me down like a hamper, being uncommonly shaggy and
thick, and I thought a little damp, as though this mysterious harpooneer
had been wearing it of a rainy day. I went up in it to a bit of glass
stuck against the wall, and I never saw such a sight in my life. I tore
myself out of it in such a hurry that I gave myself a kink in the neck.
I sat down on the side of the bed, and commenced
thinking about this head-peddling harpooneer, and his door mat. After
thinking some time on the bed-side, I got up and took off my monkey
jacket, and then stood in the middle of the room thinking. I then took
off my coat, and thought a little more in my shirt sleeves. But
beginning to feel very cold now, half undressed as I was, and
remembering what the landlord said about the harpooneer's not coming
home at all that night, it being so very late, I made no more ado, but
jumped out of my pantaloons and boots, and then blowing out the light
tumbled into bed, and commended myself to the care of heaven.
Whether that mattress was stuffed with corncobs or
broken crockery, there is no telling, but I rolled about a good deal,
and could not sleep for a long time. At last I slid off into a light
doze, and had pretty nearly made a good offing towards the land of Nod,
when I heard a heavy footfall in the passage, and saw a glimmer of light
come into the room from under the door.
Lord save me, thinks I, that must be the harpooneer, the
infernal head-peddler. But I lay perfectly still, and resolved not to
say a word till spoken to. Holding a light in one hand, and that
identical New Zealand head in the other, the stranger entered the room,
and without looking towards the bed, placed his candle a good way off
from me on the floor in one corner, and then began working away at the
knotted cords of the large bag I before spoke of as being in the room. I
was all eagerness to see his face, but he kept it averted for some time
while employed in unlacing the bag's mouth. This accomplished, however,
he turned round—when, good heavens; what a sight! Such a face! It was of
a dark, purplish, yellow color, here and there stuck over with large
blackish looking squares. Yes, it's just as I thought, he's a terrible
bedfellow; he's been in a fight, got dreadfully cut, and here he is,
just from the surgeon. But at that moment he chanced to turn his face so
towards the light, that I plainly saw they could not be
sticking-plasters at all, those black squares on his cheeks. They were
stains of some sort or other. At first I knew not what to make of this;
but soon an inkling of the truth occurred to me. I remembered a story of
a white man—a whaleman too— who, falling among the cannibals, had been
tattooed by them. I concluded that this harpooneer, in the course of his
distant voyages, must have met with a similar adventure. And what is it,
thought I, after all! It's only his outside; a man can be honest in any
sort of skin. But then, what to make of his unearthly complexion, that
part of it, I mean, lying round about, and completely independent of the
squares of tattooing. To be sure, it might be nothing but a good coat of
tropical tanning; but I never heard of a hot sun's tanning a white man
into a purplish yellow one. However, I had never been in the South Seas;
and perhaps the sun there produced these extraordinary effects upon the
skin. Now, while all these ideas were passing through me like lightning,
this harpooneer never noticed me at all. But, after some difficulty
having opened his bag, he commenced fumbling in it, and presently pulled
out a sort of tomahawk, and a seal-skin wallet with the hair on. Placing
these on the old chest in the middle of the room, he then took the New
Zealand head—a ghastly thing enough— and crammed it down into the bag.
He now took off his hat— a new beaver hat—when I came nigh singing out
with fresh surprise. There was no hair on his head—none to speak of at
least— nothing but a small scalp-knot twisted up on his forehead. His
bald purplish head now looked for all the world like a mildewed skull.
Had not the stranger stood between me and the door, I would have bolted
out of it quicker than ever I bolted a dinner.
Even as it was, I thought something of slipping out of
the window, but it was the second floor back. I am no coward, but what
to make of this headpeddling purple rascal altogether passed my
comprehension. Ignorance is the parent of fear, and being completely
nonplussed and confounded about the stranger, I confess I was now as
much afraid of him as if it was the devil himself who had thus broken
into my room at the dead of night. In fact, I was so afraid of him that
I was not game enough just then to address him, and demand a
satisfactory answer concerning what seemed inexplicable in him.
Meanwhile, he continued the business of undressing, and
at last showed his chest and arms. As I live, these covered parts of him
were checkered with the same squares as his face, his back, too, was all
over the same dark squares; he seemed to have been in a Thirty Years'
War, and just escaped from it with a sticking-plaster shirt. Still more,
his very legs were marked, as if a parcel of dark green frogs were
running up the trunks of young palms. It was now quite plain that he
must be some abominable savage or other shipped aboard of a whaleman in
the South Seas, and so landed in this Christian country. I quaked to
think of it. A peddler of heads too—perhaps the heads of his own
brothers. He might take a fancy to mine—heavens! look at that tomahawk!
But there was no time for shuddering, for now the savage
went about something that completely fascinated my attention, and
convinced me that he must indeed be a heathen. Going to his heavy grego,
or wrapall, or dreadnaught, which he had previously hung on a chair, he
fumbled in the pockets, and produced at length a curious little deformed
image with a hunch on its back, and exactly the color of a three days'
old Congo baby. Remembering the embalmed head, at first I almost thought
that this black manikin was a real baby preserved in some similar
manner. But seeing that it was not at all limber, and that it glistened
a good deal like polished ebony, I concluded that it must be nothing but
a wooden idol, which indeed it proved to be. For now the savage goes up
to the empty fire-place, and removing the papered fire-board, sets up
this little hunch-backed image, like a tenpin, between the andirons. The
chimney jambs and all the bricks inside were very sooty, so that I
thought this fire-place made a very appropriate little shrine or chapel
for his Congo idol.
I now screwed my eyes hard towards the half hidden
image, feeling but ill at ease meantime—to see what was next to follow.
First he takes about a double handful of shavings out of his grego
pocket, and places them carefully before the idol; then laying a bit of
ship biscuit on top and applying the flame from the lamp, he kindled the
shavings into a sacrificial blaze. Presently, after many hasty snatches
into the fire, and still hastier withdrawals of his fingers (whereby he
seemed to be scorching them badly), he at last succeeded in drawing out
the biscuit; then blowing off the heat and ashes a little, he made a
polite offer of it to the little negro. But the little devil did not
seem to fancy such dry sort of fare at all; he never moved his lips. All
these strange antics were accompanied by still stranger guttural noises
from the devotee, who seemed to be praying in a sing-song or else
singing some pagan psalmody or other, during which his face twitched
about in the most unnatural manner. At last extinguishing the fire, he
took the idol up very unceremoniously, and bagged it again in his grego
pocket as carelessly as if he were a sportsman bagging a dead woodcock.
All these queer proceedings increased my
uncomfortableness, and seeing him now exhibiting strong symptoms of
concluding his business operations, and jumping into bed with me, I
thought it was high time, now or never, before the light was put out, to
break the spell in which I had so long been bound.
But the interval I spent in deliberating what to say,
was a fatal one. Taking up his tomahawk from the table, he examined the
head of it for an instant, and then holding it to the light, with his
mouth at the handle, he puffed out great clouds of tobacco smoke. The
next moment the light was extinguished, and this wild cannibal, tomahawk
between his teeth, sprang into bed with me. I sang out, I could not help
it now; and giving a sudden grunt of astonishment he began feeling me.
Stammering out something, I knew not what, I rolled away
from him against the wall, and then conjured him, whoever or whatever he
might be, to keep quiet, and let me get up and light the lamp again. But
his guttural responses satisfied me at once that he but ill comprehended
"Who-e debel you?"—he at last said—"you no speak-e,
dam-me, I kill-e."
And so saying the lighted tomahawk began flourishing about me in the
"Landlord, for God's sake, Peter Coffin!" shouted
I. "Landlord! Watch! Coffin! Angels! save me!"
"Speak-e! tell-ee me who-ee be, or dam-me, I kill-e!"
again growled the cannibal, while his horrid flourishings of the
tomahawk scattered the hot tobacco ashes about me till I thought my
linen would get on fire. But thank heaven, at that moment the landlord
came into the room light in hand, and leaping from the bed I ran up to
"Don't be afraid now," said he, grinning again,
"Queequeg here wouldn't harm a hair of your head."
"Stop your grinning," shouted I, "and why didn't you
tell me that that infernal harpooneer was a cannibal?"
"I thought ye know'd it;—didn't I tell ye, he was a
peddlin' heads around town?—but turn flukes again and go to sleep.
Queequeg, look here—you sabbee me, I sabbee—you this man sleepe you—you
"Me sabbee plenty"—grunted Queequeg, puffing away at his
pipe and sitting up in bed.
"You gettee in," he added, motioning to me with his
tomahawk, and throwing the clothes to one side. He really did this in
not only a civil but a really kind and charitable way. I stood looking
at him a moment. For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean,
comely looking cannibal. What's all this fuss I have been making about,
thought I to myself—the man's a human being just as I am: he has just as
much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with
a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.
"Landlord," said I, "tell him to stash his tomahawk
there, or pipe, or whatever you call it; tell him to stop smoking, in
short, and I will turn in with him. But I don't fancy having a man
smoking in bed with me. It's dangerous. Besides, I ain't insured."
This being told to Queequeg, he at once complied, and
again politely motioned me to get into bed—rolling over to one side as
much as to say— I won't touch a leg of ye."
"Good night, landlord," said I, "you may go."
I turned in, and never slept better in my life.
Upon waking next morning about
daylight, I found Queequeg's arm thrown over me in the most loving and
affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife. The
counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-colored squares
and triangles; and this arm of his tattooed all over with an
interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were of
one precise shade— owing I suppose to his keeping his arm at sea
unmethodically in sun and shade, his shirt sleeves irregularly rolled up
at various times— this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world
like a strip of that same patchwork quilt. Indeed, partly lying on it as
the arm did when I first awoke, I could hardly tell it from the quilt,
they so blended their hues together; and it was only by the sense of
weight and pressure that I could tell that Queequeg was hugging me.
My sensations were strange. Let me try to explain them.
When I was a child, I well remember a somewhat similar circumstance that
befell me; whether it was a reality or a dream, I never could entirely
settle. The circumstance was this. I had been cutting up some caper or
other— I think it was trying to crawl up the chimney, as I had seen a
little sweep do a few days previous; and my stepmother who, somehow or
other, was all the time whipping me, or sending me to bed supperless,—
my mother dragged me by the legs out of the chimney and packed me off to
bed, though it was only two o'clock in the afternoon of the 21st June,
the longest day in the year in our hemisphere. I felt dreadfully. But
there was no help for it, so up stairs I went to my little room in the
third floor, undressed myself as slowly as possible so as to kill time,
and with a bitter sigh got between the sheets.
I lay there dismally calculating that sixteen entire
hours must elapse before I could hope for a resurrection. Sixteen hours
in bed! the small of my back ached to think of it. And it was so light
too; the sun shining in at the window, and a great rattling of coaches
in the streets, and the sound of gay voices all over the house. I felt
worse and worse— at last I got up, dressed, and softly going down in my
stockinged feet, sought out my stepmother, and suddenly threw myself at
her feet, beseeching her as a particular favor to give me a good
slippering for my misbehaviour: anything indeed but condemning me to lie
abed such an unendurable length of time. But she was the best and most
conscientious of stepmothers, and back I had to go to my room. For
several hours I lay there broad awake, feeling a great deal worse than I
have ever done since, even from the greatest subsequent misfortunes. At
last I must have fallen into a troubled nightmare of a doze; and slowly
waking from it—half steeped in dreams—I opened my eyes, and the before
sunlit room was now wrapped in outer darkness. Instantly I felt a shock
running through all my frame; nothing was to be seen, and nothing was to
be heard; but a supernatural hand seemed placed in mine. My arm hung
over the counterpane, and the nameless, unimaginable, silent form or
phantom, to which the hand belonged, seemed closely seated by my
bed-side. For what seemed ages piled on ages, I lay there, frozen with
the most awful fears, not daring to drag away my hand; yet ever thinking
that if I could but stir it one single inch, the horrid spell would be
broken. I knew not how this consciousness at last glided away from me;
but waking in the morning, I shudderingly remembered it all, and for
days and weeks and months afterwards I lost myself in confounding
attempts to explain the mystery. Nay, to this very hour, I often puzzle
myself with it.
Now, take away the awful fear, and my sensations at
feeling the supernatural hand in mine were very similar, in their
strangeness, to those which I experienced on waking up and seeing
Queequeg's pagan arm thrown round me. But at length all the past night's
events soberly recurred, one by one, in fixed reality, and then I lay
only alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his
arm— unlock his bridegroom clasp—yet, sleeping as he was, he still
hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain. I
now strove to rouse him—"Queequeg!"—but his only answer was a snore. I
then rolled over, my neck feeling as if it were in a horse-collar; and
suddenly felt a slight scratch. Throwing aside the counterpane, there
lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage's side, as if it were a
hatchet-faced baby. A pretty pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a
strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk!
"Queequeg!—in the name of goodness, Queequeg, wake!" At length, by dint
of much wriggling, and loud and incessant expostulations upon the
unbecomingness of his hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of
style, I succeeded in extracting a grunt; and presently, he drew back
his arm, shook himself all over like a Newfoundland dog just from the
water, and sat up in bed, stiff as a pike-staff, looking at me, and
rubbing his eyes as if he did not altogether remember how I came to be
there, though a dim consciousness of knowing something about me seemed
slowly dawning over him. Meanwhile, I lay quietly eyeing him, having no
serious misgivings now, and bent upon narrowly observing so curious a
creature. When, at last, his mind seemed made up touching the character
of his bedfellow, and he became, as it were, reconciled to the fact; he
jumped out upon the floor, and by certain signs and sounds gave me to
understand that, if it pleased me, he would dress first and then leave
me to dress afterwards, leaving the whole apartment to myself. Thinks I,
Queequeg, under the circumstances, this is a very civilized overture;
but, the truth is, these savages have an innate sense of delicacy, say
what you will; it is marvellous how essentially polite they are. I pay
this particular compliment to Queequeg, because he treated me with so
much civility and consideration, while I was guilty of great rudeness;
staring at him from the bed, and watching all his toilette motions; for
the time my curiosity getting the better of my breeding. Nevertheless, a
man like Queequeg you don't see every day, he and his ways were well
worth unusual regarding.
He commenced dressing at top by donning his beaver hat,
a very tall one, by the by, and then—still minus his trowsers— he hunted
up his boots. What under the heavens he did it for, I cannot tell, but
his next movement was to crush himself— boots in hand, and hat on—under
the bed; when, from sundry violent gaspings and strainings, I inferred
he was hard at work booting himself; though by no law of propriety that
I ever heard of, is any man required to be private when putting on his
boots. But Queequeg, do you see, was a creature in the transition state—
neither caterpillar nor butterfly. He was just enough civilized to show
off his outlandishness in the strangest possible manner. His education
was not yet completed. He was an undergraduate. If he had not been a
small degree civilized, he very probably would not have troubled himself
with boots at all; but then, if he had not been still a savage, he never
would have dreamt of getting under the bed to put them on. At last, he
emerged with his hat very much dented and crushed down over his eyes,
and began creaking and limping about the room, as if, not being much
accustomed to boots, his pair of damp, wrinkled cowhide ones— probably
not made to order either—rather pinched and tormented him at the first
go off of a bitter cold morning.
Seeing, now, that there were no curtains to the window,
and that the street being very narrow, the house opposite commanded a
plain view into the room, and observing more and more the indecorous
figure that Queequeg made, staving about with little else but his hat
and boots on; I begged him as well as I could, to accelerate his toilet
somewhat, and particularly to get into his pantaloons as soon as
possible. He complied, and then proceeded to wash himself. At that time
in the morning any Christian would have washed his face; but Queequeg,
to my amazement, contented himself with restricting his ablutions to his
chest, arms, and hands. He then donned his waistcoat, and taking up a
piece of hard soap on the wash-stand centre table, dipped it into water
and commenced lathering his face. I was watching to see where he kept
his razor, when lo and behold, he takes the harpoon from the bed corner,
slips out the long wooden stock, unsheathes the head, whets it a little
on his boot, and striding up to the bit of mirror against the wall,
begins a vigorous scraping, or rather harpooning of his cheeks. Thinks
I, Queequeg, this is using Rogers's best cutlery with a vengeance.
Afterwards I wondered the less at this operation when I came to know of
what fine steel the head of a harpoon is made, and how exceedingly sharp
the long straight edges are always kept.
The rest of his toilet was soon achieved, and he proudly
marched out of the room, wrapped up in his great pilot monkey jacket,
and sporting his harpoon like a marshal's baton.
I quickly followed suit, and
descending into the bar-room accosted the grinning landlord very
pleasantly. I cherished no malice towards him, though he had been
skylarking with me not a little in the matter of my bedfellow.
However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather
too scarce a good thing; the more's the pity. So, if any one man, in his
own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not
be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and to be
spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable
about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.
The bar-room was now full of the boarders who had been
dropping in the night previous, and whom I had not as yet had a good
look at. They were nearly all whalemen; chief mates, and second mates,
and third mates, and sea carpenters, and sea coopers, and sea
blacksmiths, and harpooneers, and ship keepers; a brown and brawny
company, with bosky beards; an unshorn, shaggy set, all wearing monkey
jackets for morning gowns.
You could pretty plainly tell how long each one had been
ashore. This young fellow's healthy cheek is like a sun-toasted pear in
hue, and would seem to smell almost as musky; he cannot have been three
days landed from his Indian voyage. That man next him looks a few shades
lighter; you might say a touch of satin wood is in him. In the
complexion of a third still lingers a tropic tawn, but slightly bleached
withal; he doubtless has tarried whole weeks ashore. But who could show
a cheek like Queequeg? which, barred with various tints, seemed like the
Andes' western slope, to show forth in one array, contrasting climates,
zone by zone.
"Grub, ho!" now cried the landlord, flinging open a
door, and in we went to breakfast.
They say that men who have seen the world, thereby
become quite at ease in manner, quite self-possessed in company. Not
always, though: Ledyard, the great New England traveller, and Mungo
Park, the Scotch one; of all men, they possessed the least assurance in
the parlor. But perhaps the mere crossing of Siberia in a sledge drawn
by dogs as Ledyard did, or the taking a long solitary walk on an empty
stomach, in the negro heart of Africa, which was the sum of poor Mungo's
performances— this kind of travel, I say, may not be the very best mode
of attaining a high social polish. Still, for the most part, that sort
of thing is to be had anywhere.
These reflections just here are occasioned by the
circumstance that after we were all seated at the table, and I was
preparing to hear some good stories about whaling; to my no small
surprise nearly every man maintained a profound silence. And not only
that, but they looked embarrassed. Yes, here were a set of sea-dogs,
many of whom without the slightest bashfulness had boarded great whales
on the high seas—entire strangers to them— and duelled them dead without
winking; and yet, here they sat at a social breakfast table—all of the
same calling, all of kindred tastes—looking round as sheepishly at each
other as though they had never been out of sight of some sheepfold among
the Green Mountains. A curious sight; these bashful bears, these timid
But as for Queequeg—why, Queequeg sat there among them—
at the head of the table, too, it so chanced; as cool as an icicle. To
be sure I cannot say much for his breeding. His greatest admirer could
not have cordially justified his bringing his harpoon into breakfast
with him, and using it there without ceremony; reaching over the table
with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads, and grappling the
beefsteaks towards him. But that was certainly very coolly done by him,
and every one knows that in most people's estimation, to do anything
coolly is to do it genteelly.
We will not speak of all Queequeg's peculiarities here;
how he eschewed coffee and hot rolls, and applied his undivided
attention to beefsteaks, done rare. Enough, that when breakfast was over
he withdrew like the rest into the public room, lighted his
tomahawk-pipe, and was sitting there quietly digesting and smoking with
his inseparable hat on, when I sallied out for a stroll.
If I had been astonished at
first catching a glimpse of so outlandish an individual as Queequeg
circulating among the polite society of a civilized town, that
astonishment soon departed upon taking my first daylight stroll through
the streets of New Bedford.
In thoroughfares nigh the docks, any considerable
seaport will frequently offer to view the queerest looking nondescripts
from foreign parts. Even in Broadway and Chestnut streets, Mediterranean
mariners will sometimes jostle the affrighted ladies. Regent Street is
not unknown to Lascars and Malays; and at Bombay, in the Apollo Green,
live Yankees have often scared the natives. But New Bedford beats all
Water Street and Wapping. In these last-mentioned haunts you see only
sailors; but in New Bedford, actual cannibals stand chatting at street
corners; savages outright; many of whom yet carry on their bones unholy
flesh. It makes a stranger stare.
But, besides the Feegeeans, Tongatobooarrs,
Erromanggoans, Pannangians, and Brighggians, and, besides the wild
specimens of the whaling-craft which unheeded reel about the streets,
you will see other sights still more curious, certainly more comical.
There weekly arrive in this town scores of green Vermonters and New
Hampshire men, all athirst for gain and glory in the fishery. They are
mostly young, of stalwart frames; fellows who have felled forests, and
now seek to drop the axe and snatch the whale-lance. Many are as green
as the Green Mountains whence they came. In some things you would think
them but a few hours old. Look there! that chap strutting round the
corner. He wears a beaver hat and swallow-tailed coat, girdled with a
sailor-belt and a sheath-knife. Here comes another with a sou'-wester
and a bombazine cloak.
No town-bred dandy will compare with a country-bred
one—I mean a downright bumpkin dandy—a fellow that, in the dog-days,
will mow his two acres in buckskin gloves for fear of tanning his hands.
Now when a country dandy like this takes it into his head to make a
distinguished reputation, and joins the great whale-fishery, you should
see the comical things he does upon reaching the seaport. In bespeaking
his sea-outfit, he orders bell-buttons to his waistcoats; straps to his
canvas trowsers. Ah, poor Hay-Seed! how bitterly will burst those straps
in the first howling gale, when thou art driven, straps, buttons, and
all, down the throat of the tempest.
But think not that this famous town has only
harpooneers, cannibals, and bumpkins to show her visitors. Not at all.
Still New Bedford is a queer place. Had it not been for us whalemen,
that tract of land would this day perhaps have been in as howling
condition as the coast of Labrador. As it is, parts of her back country
are enough to frighten one, they look so bony. The town itself is
perhaps the dearest place to live in, in all New England. It is a land
of oil, true enough: but not like Canaan; a land, also, of corn and
wine. The streets do not run with milk; nor in the spring-time do they
pave them with fresh eggs. Yet, in spite of this, nowhere in all America
will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more
opulent, than in New Bedford. Whence came they? how planted upon this
once scraggy scoria of a country?
Go and gaze upon the iron emblematical harpoons round
yonder lofty mansion, and your question will be answered. Yes; all these
brave houses and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific, and
Indian oceans. One and all, they were harpooned and dragged up hither
from the bottom of the sea. Can Herr Alexander perform a feat like that?
In New Bedford, fathers, they say, give whales for
dowers to their daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few
porpoises a-piece. You must go to New Bedford to see a brilliant
wedding; for, they say, they have reservoirs of oil in every house, and
every night recklessly burn their lengths in spermaceti candles.
In summer time, the town is sweet to see; full of fine
maples— long avenues of green and gold. And in August, high in air, the
beautiful and bountiful horse-chestnuts, candelabra-wise, proffer the
passer-by their tapering upright cones of congregated blossoms. So
omnipotent is art; which in many a district of New Bedford has
superinduced bright terraces of flowers upon the barren refuse rocks
thrown aside at creation's final day.
And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own
red roses. But roses only bloom in summer; whereas the fine carnation of
their cheeks is perennial as sunlight in the seventh heavens. Elsewhere
match that bloom of theirs, ye cannot, save in Salem, where they tell me
the young girls breathe such musk, their sailor sweethearts smell them
miles off shore, as though they were drawing nigh the odorous Moluccas
instead of the Puritanic sands.
In this same New Bedford there
stands a Whaleman's Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly
bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit
to the spot. I am sure that I did not.
Returning from my first morning stroll, I again sallied
out upon this special errand. The sky had changed from clear, sunny
cold, to driving sleet and mist. Wrapping myself in my shaggy jacket of
the cloth called bearskin, I fought my way against the stubborn storm.
Entering, I found a small scattered congregation of sailors, and
sailors' wives and widows. A muffled silence reigned, only broken at
times by the shrieks of the storm. Each silent worshipper seemed
purposely sitting apart from the other, as if each silent grief were
insular and incommunicable. The chaplain had not yet arrived; and there
these silent islands of men and women sat steadfastly eyeing several
marble tablets, with black borders, masoned into the wall on either side
the pulpit. Three of them ran something like the following, but I do not
pretend to quote:
TO THE MEMORY
Who, at the age of eighteen, was lost overboard
Near the Isle of Desolation, off Patagonia,
November 1st, 1836.
Is erected to his Memory
BY HIS SISTER.
TO THE MEMORY
ROBERT LONG, WILLIS ELLERY,
NATHAN COLEMAN, WALTER CANNY, SETH MACY,
AND SAMUEL GLEIG,
Forming one of the boats' crews
THE SHIP ELIZA
Who were towed out of sight by a Whale,
On the Off-shore Ground in the
December 31st, 1839.
Is here placed by their surviving
TO THE MEMORY
CAPTAIN EZEKIEL HARDY,
Who in the bows of his boat was killed by a
Sperm Whale on the coast of Japan,
August 3d, 1833.
Is erected to his Memory
Shaking off the sleet from my
ice-glazed hat and jacket, I seated myself near the door, and turning
sideways was surprised to see Queequeg near me. Affected by the
solemnity of the scene, there was a wondering gaze of incredulous
curiosity in his countenance. This savage was the only person present
who seemed to notice my entrance; because he was the only one who could
not read, and, therefore, was not reading those frigid inscriptions on
the wall. Whether any of the relatives of the seamen whose names
appeared there were now among the congregation, I knew not; but so many
are the unrecorded accidents in the fishery, and so plainly did several
women present wear the countenance if not the trappings of some
unceasing grief, that I feel sure that here before me were assembled
those, in whose unhealing hearts the sight of those bleak tablets
sympathetically caused the old wounds to bleed afresh.
Oh! ye whose dead lie buried beneath the green grass;
who standing among flowers can say—here, here lies my beloved; ye know
not the desolation that broods in bosoms like these. What bitter blanks
in those black-bordered marbles which cover no ashes! What despair in
those immovable inscriptions! What deadly voids and unbidden
infidelities in the lines that seem to gnaw upon all Faith, and refuse
resurrections to the beings who have placelessly perished without a
grave. As well might those tablets stand in the cave of Elephanta as
In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind
are included; why it is that a universal proverb says of them, that they
tell no tales, though containing more secrets than the Goodwin Sands!
how it is that to his name who yesterday departed for the other world,
we prefix so significant and infidel a word, and yet do not thus entitle
him, if he but embarks for the remotest Indies of this living earth; why
the Life Insurance Companies pay death-forfeitures upon immortals; in
what eternal, unstirring paralysis, and deadly, hopeless trance, yet
lies antique Adam who died sixty round centuries ago; how it is that we
still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are
dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive to hush all
the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a
whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.
But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and
even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.
It needs scarcely to be told, with what feelings, on the
eve of a Nantucket voyage, I regarded those marble tablets, and by the
murky light of that darkened, doleful day read the fate of the whalemen
who had gone before me. Yes, Ishmael, the same fate may be thine. But
somehow I grew merry again. Delightful inducements to embark, fine
chance for promotion, it seems—aye, a stove boat will make me an
immortal by brevet. Yes, there is death in this business of whaling—a
speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what
then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death.
Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true
substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much
like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that
thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my
better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not
me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and
stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.
I had not been seated very long
ere a man of a certain venerable robustness entered; immediately as the
storm-pelted door flew back upon admitting him, a quick regardful eyeing
of him by all the congregation, sufficiently attested that this fine old
man was the chaplain. Yes, it was the famous Father Mapple, so called by
the whalemen, among whom he was a very great favorite. He had been a
sailor and a harpooneer in his youth, but for many years past had
dedicated his life to the ministry. At the time I now write of, Father
Mapple was in the hardy winter of a healthy old age; that sort of old
age which seems merging into a second flowering youth, for among all the
fissures of his wrinkles, there shone certain mild gleams of a newly
developing bloom— the spring verdure peeping forth even beneath
February's snow. No one having previously heard his history, could for
the first time behold Father Mapple without the utmost interest, because
there were certain engrafted clerical peculiarities about him, imputable
to that adventurous maritime life he had led. When he entered I observed
that he carried no umbrella, and certainly had not come in his carriage,
for his tarpaulin hat ran down with melting sleet, and his great pilot
cloth jacket seemed almost to drag him to the floor with the weight of
the water it had absorbed. However, hat and coat and overshoes were one
by one removed, and hung up in a little space in an adjacent corner;
when, arrayed in a decent suit, he quietly approached the pulpit.
Like most old fashioned pulpits, it was a very lofty
one, and since a regular stairs to such a height would, by its long
angle with the floor, seriously contract the already small area of the
chapel, the architect, it seemed, had acted upon the hint of Father
Mapple, and finished the pulpit without a stairs, substituting a
perpendicular side ladder, like those used in mounting a ship from a
boat at sea. The wife of a whaling captain had provided the chapel with
a handsome pair of red worsted man-ropes for this ladder, which, being
itself nicely headed, and stained with a mahogany color, the whole
contrivance, considering what manner of chapel it was, seemed by no
means in bad taste. Halting for an instant at the foot of the ladder,
and with both hands grasping the ornamental knobs of the man-ropes,
Father Mapple cast a look upwards, and then with a truly sailor-like but
still reverential dexterity, hand over hand, mounted the steps as if
ascending the main-top of his vessel.
The perpendicular parts of this side ladder, as is
usually the case with swinging ones, were of cloth-covered rope, only
the rounds were of wood, so that at every step there was a joint. At my
first glimpse of the pulpit, it had not escaped me that however
convenient for a ship, these joints in the present instance seemed
unnecessary. For I was not prepared to see Father Mapple after gaining
the height, slowly turn round, and stooping over the pulpit,
deliberately drag up the ladder step by step, till the whole was
deposited within, leaving him impregnable in his little Quebec.
I pondered some time without fully comprehending the
reason for this. Father Mapple enjoyed such a wide reputation for
sincerity and sanctity, that I could not suspect him of courting
notoriety by any mere tricks of the stage. No, thought I, there must be
some sober reason for this thing; furthermore, it must symbolize
something unseen. Can it be, then, that by that act of physical
isolation, he signifies his spiritual withdrawal for the time, from all
outward worldly ties and connexions? Yes, for replenished with the meat
and wine of the word, to the faithful man of God, this pulpit, I see, is
a self-containing stronghold—a lofty Ehrenbreitstein, with a perennial
well of water within the walls.
But the side ladder was not the only strange feature of
the place, borrowed from the chaplain's former sea-farings. Between the
marble cenotaphs on either hand of the pulpit, the wall which formed its
back was adorned with a large painting representing a gallant ship
beating against a terrible storm off a lee coast of black rocks and
snowy breakers. But high above the flying scud and dark-rolling clouds,
there floated a little isle of sunlight, from which beamed forth an
angel's face; and this bright face shed a distant spot of radiance upon
the ship's tossed deck, something like that silver plate now inserted
into the Victory's plank where Nelson fell. "Ah, noble ship," the angel
seemed to say, "beat on, beat on, thou noble ship, and bear a hardy
helm; for lo! the sun is breaking through; the clouds are rolling off—
serenest azure is at hand."
Nor was the pulpit itself without a trace of the same
sea-taste that had achieved the ladder and the picture. Its panelled
front was in the likeness of a ship's bluff bows, and the Holy Bible
rested on a projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship's
What could be more full of meaning?—for the pulpit is
ever this earth's foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the
pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God's quick wrath
is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence
it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable
winds. Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage
complete; and the pulpit is its prow.
Father Mapple rose, and in a
mild voice of unassuming authority ordered the scattered people to
condense. "Star board gangway, there! side away to larboard—larboard
gangway to starboard! Midships! midships!"
There was a low rumbling of heavy sea-boots among the
benches, and a still slighter shuffling of women's shoes, and all was
quiet again, and every eye on the preacher.
He paused a little; then kneeling in the pulpit's bows,
folded his large brown hands across his chest, uplifted his closed eyes,
and offered a prayer so deeply devout that he seemed kneeling and
praying at the bottom of the sea.
This ended, in prolonged solemn tones, like the
continual tolling of a bell in a ship that is foundering at sea in a
fog— in such tones he commenced reading the following hymn; but changing
his manner towards the concluding stanzas, burst forth with a pealing
exultation and joy—
The ribs and terrors in the whale,
Arched over me a dismal gloom,
While all God's sun-lit waves rolled by,
And lift me deepening down to doom.
I saw the opening maw of hell,
With endless pains and sorrows there;
Which none but they that feel can tell—
Oh, I was plunging to despair.
In black distress, I called my God,
When I could scarce believe him mine,
He bowed his ear to my complaints—
No more the whale did me confine.
With speed he flew to my relief,
As on a radiant dolphin borne;
Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone
The face of my Deliverer God.
My song for ever shall record
That terrible, that joyful hour;
I give the glory to my God,
His all the mercy and the power.
Nearly all joined in singing
this hymn, which swelled high above the howling of the storm. A brief
pause ensued; the preacher slowly turned over the leaves of the Bible,
and at last, folding his hand down upon the proper page, said: "Beloved
shipmates, clinch the last verse of the first chapter of Jonah—'And God
had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.'"
"Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters—
four yarns—is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the
Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul does Jonah's deep sealine sound!
what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that
canticle in the fish's belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We
feel the floods surging over us, we sound with him to the kelpy bottom
of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But
what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a
two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to
me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us
all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly
awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally
the deliverance and joy of Jonah. As with all sinners among men, the sin
of this son of Amittai was in his wilful disobedience of the command of
God— never mind now what that command was, or how conveyed— which he
found a hard command. But all the things that God would have us do are
hard for us to do—remember that— and hence, he oftener commands us than
endeavors to persuade. And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves;
and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying
"With this sin of disobedience in him, Jonah still
further flouts at God, by seeking to flee from Him. He thinks that a
ship made by men, will carry him into countries where God does not reign
but only the Captains of this earth. He skulks about the wharves of
Joppa, and seeks a ship that's bound for Tarshish. There lurks, perhaps,
a hitherto unheeded meaning here. By all accounts Tarshish could have
been no other city than the modern Cadiz. That's the opinion of learned
men. And where is Cadiz, shipmates? Cadiz is in Spain; as far by water,
from Joppa, as Jonah could possibly have sailed in those ancient days,
when the Atlantic was an almost unknown sea. Because Joppa, the modern
Jaffa, shipmates, is on the most easterly coast of the Mediterranean,
the Syrian; and Tarshish or Cadiz more than two thousand miles to the
westward from that, just outside the Straits of Gibraltar. See ye not
then, shipmates, that Jonah sought to flee worldwide from God? Miserable
man! Oh! most contemptible and worthy of all scorn; with slouched hat
and guilty eye, skulking from his God; prowling among the shipping like
a vile burglar hastening to cross the seas. So disordered,
self-condemning is his look, that had there been policemen in those
days, Jonah, on the mere suspicion of something wrong, had been arrested
ere he touched a deck. How plainly he's a fugitive! no baggage, not a
hat-box, valise, or carpet-bag,—no friends accompany him to the wharf
with their adieux. At last, after much dodging search, he finds the
Tarshish ship receiving the last items of her cargo; and as he steps on
board to see its Captain in the cabin, all the sailors for the moment
desist from hoisting in the goods, to mark the stranger's evil eye.
Jonah sees this; but in vain he tries to look all ease and confidence;
in vain essays his wretched smile. Strong intuitions of the man assure
the mariners he can be no innocent. In their gamesome but still serious
way, one whispers to the other—"Jack, he's robbed a widow;" or, "Joe, do
you mark him; he's a bigamist;" or, "Harry lad, I guess he's the
adulterer that broke jail in old Gomorrah, or belike, one of the missing
murderers from Sodom." Another runs to read the bill that's stuck
against the spile upon the wharf to which the ship is moored, offering
five hundred gold coins for the apprehension of a parricide, and
containing a description of his person. He reads, and looks from Jonah
to the bill; while all his sympathetic shipmates now crowd round Jonah,
prepared to lay their hands upon him. Frighted Jonah trembles. and
summoning all his boldness to his face, only looks so much the more a
coward. He will not confess himself suspected; but that itself is strong
suspicion. So he makes the best of it; and when the sailors find him not
to be the man that is advertised, they let him pass, and he descends
into the cabin.
"'Who's there?' cries the Captain at his busy desk,
hurriedly making out his papers for the Customs—'Who's there?' Oh! how
that harmless question mangles Jonah! For the instant he almost turns to
flee again. But he rallies. 'I seek a passage in this ship to Tarshish;
how soon sail ye, sir?' Thus far the busy Captain had not looked up to
Jonah, though the man now stands before him; but no sooner does he hear
that hollow voice, than he darts a scrutinizing glance. 'We sail with
the next coming tide,' at last he slowly answered, still intently eyeing
him. 'No sooner, sir?'—'Soon enough for any honest man that goes a
passenger.' Ha! Jonah, that's another stab. But he swiftly calls away
the Captain from that scent. 'I'll sail with ye,'—he says,—'the passage
money how much is that?— I'll pay now.' For it is particularly written,
shipmates, as if it were a thing not to be overlooked in this history,
'that he paid the fare thereof' ere the craft did sail. And taken with
the context, this is full of meaning.
"Now Jonah's Captain, shipmates, was one whose
discernment detects crime in any, but whose cupidity exposes it only in
the penniless. In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can
travel freely and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is
stopped at all frontiers. So Jonah's Captain prepares to test the length
of Jonah's purse, ere he judge him openly. He charges him thrice the
usual sum; and it's assented to. Then the Captain knows that Jonah is a
fugitive; but at the same time resolves to help a flight that paves its
rear with gold. Yet when Jonah fairly takes out his purse, prudent
suspicions still molest the Captain. He rings every coin to find a
counterfeit. Not a forger, any way, he mutters; and Jonah is put down
for his passage. 'Point out my state-room, Sir,' says Jonah now, 'I'm
travel-weary; I need sleep." "Thou look'st like it,' says the Captain,
'there's thy room.' Jonah enters, and would lock the door, but the lock
contains no key. Hearing him foolishly fumbling there, the Captain
laughs lowly to himself, and mutters something about the doors of
convicts' cells being never allowed to be locked within. All dressed and
dusty as he is, Jonah throws himself into his berth, and finds the
little state-room ceiling almost resting on his forehead. The air is
close, and Jonah gasps. Then, in that contracted hole, sunk, too,
beneath the ship's water-line, Jonah feels the heralding presentiment of
that stifling hour, when the whale shall hold him in the smallest of his
"Screwed at its axis against the side, a swinging lamp
slightly oscillates in Jonah's room; and the ship, heeling over towards
the wharf with the weight of the last bales received, the lamp, flame
and all, though in slight motion, still maintains a permanent obliquity
with reference to the room; though, in truth, infallibly straight
itself, it but made obvious the false, lying levels among which it hung.
The lamp alarms and frightens Jonah; as lying in his berth his tormented
eyes roll round the place, and this thus far successful fugitive finds
no refuge for his restless glance. But that contradiction in the lamp
more and more appals him. The floor, the ceiling, and the side, are all
awry. 'Oh! so my conscience hangs in me!' he groans, "straight upward,
so it burns; but the chambers of my soul are all in crookedness!'
"Like one who after a night of drunken revelry hies to
his bed, still reeling, but with conscience yet pricking him, as the
plungings of the Roman race-horse but so much the more strike his steel
tags into him; as one who in that miserable plight still turns and turns
in giddy anguish, praying God for annihilation until the fit be passed;
and at last amid the whirl of woe he feels, a deep stupor steals over
him, as over the man who bleeds to death, for conscience is the wound,
and there's naught to staunch it; so, after sore wrestling in his berth,
Jonah's prodigy of ponderous misery drags him drowning down to sleep.
"And now the time of tide has come; the ship casts off
her cables; and from the deserted wharf the uncheered ship for Tarshish,
all careening, glides to sea. That ship, my friends, was the first of
recorded smugglers! the contraband was Jonah. But the sea rebels; he
will not bear the wicked burden. A dreadful storm comes on, the ship is
like to break. But now when the boatswain calls all hands to lighten
her; when boxes, bales, and jars are clattering overboard; when the wind
is shrieking, and the men are yelling, and every plank thunders with
trampling feet right over Jonah's head; in all this raging tumult, Jonah
sleeps his hideous sleep. He sees no black sky and raging sea, feels not
the reeling timbers, and little hears he or heeds he the far rush of the
mighty whale, which even now with open mouth is cleaving the seas after
him. Aye, shipmates, Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship— a
berth in the cabin as I have taken it, and was fast asleep. But the
frightened master comes to him, and shrieks in his dead ear, 'What
meanest thou, O, sleeper! arise!' Startled from his lethargy by that
direful cry, Jonah staggers to his feet, and stumbling to the deck,
grasps a shroud, to look out upon the sea. But at that moment he is
sprung upon by a panther billow leaping over the bulwarks. Wave after
wave thus leaps into the ship, and finding no speedy vent runs roaring
fore and aft, till the mariners come nigh to drowning while yet afloat.
And ever, as the white moon shows her affrighted face from the steep
gullies in the blackness overhead, aghast Jonah sees the rearing
bowsprit pointing high upward, but soon beat downward again towards the
"Terrors upon terrors run shouting through his soul. In
all his cringing attitudes, the God-fugitive is now too plainly known.
The sailors mark him; more and more certain grow their suspicions of
him, and at last, fully to test the truth, by referring the whole matter
to high Heaven, they all-outward to casting lots, to see for whose cause
this great tempest was upon them. The lot is Jonah's; that discovered,
then how furiously they mob him with their questions. 'What is thine
occupation? Whence comest thou? Thy country? What people? But mark now,
my shipmates, the behavior of poor Jonah. The eager mariners but ask him
who he is, and where from; whereas, they not only receive an answer to
those questions, but likewise another answer to a question not put by
them, but the unsolicited answer is forced from Jonah by the hard hand
of God that is upon him.
"'I am a Hebrew,' he cries—and then—'I fear the Lord the
God of Heaven who hath made the sea and the dry land!' Fear him, O
Jonah? Aye, well mightest thou fear the Lord God then! Straightway, he
now goes on to make a full confession; whereupon the mariners became
more and more appalled, but still are pitiful. For when Jonah, not yet
supplicating God for mercy, since he but too well knew the darkness of
his deserts,— when wretched Jonah cries out to them to take him and cast
him forth into the sea, for he knew that for his sake this great tempest
was upon them; they mercifully turn from him, and seek by other means to
save the ship. But all in vain; the indignant gale howls louder; then,
with one hand raised invokingly to God, with the other they not
unreluctantly lay hold of Jonah.
"And now behold Jonah taken up as an anchor and dropped
into the sea; when instantly an oily calmness floats out from the east,
and the sea is still, as Jonah carries down the gale with him, leaving
smooth water behind. He goes down in the whirling heart of such a
masterless commotion that he scarce heeds the moment when he drops
seething into the yawning jaws awaiting him; and the whale shoots-to all
his ivory teeth, like so many white bolts, upon his prison. Then Jonah
prayed unto the Lord out of the fish's belly. But observe his prayer,
and so many white bolts, upon his prison. Then Jonah prayed unto learn a
weighty lesson. For sinful as he is, Jonah does not weep and wail for
direct deliverance. He feels that his dreadful punishment is just. He
leaves all his deliverance to God, contenting himself with this, that
spite of all his pains and pangs, he will still look towards His holy
temple. And here, shipmates, is true and faithful repentance; not
clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment. And how pleasing to
God was this conduct in Jonah, is shown in the eventual deliverance of
him from the sea and the whale. Shipmates, I do not place Jonah before
you to be copied for his sin but I do place him before you as a model
for repentance. Sin not; but if you do, take heed to repent of it like
While he was speaking these words, the howling of the
shrieking, slanting storm without seemed to add new power to the
preacher, who, when describing Jonah's sea-storm, seemed tossed by a
storm himself. His deep chest heaved as with a ground-swell; his tossed
arms seemed the warring elements at work; and the thunders that rolled
away from off his swarthy brow, and the light leaping from his eye, made
all his simple hearers look on him with a quick fear that was strange to
There now came a lull in his look, as he silently turned
over the leaves of the Book once more; and, at last, standing
motionless, with closed eyes, for the moment, seemed communing with God
But again he leaned over towards the people, and bowing
his head lowly, with an aspect of the deepest yet manliest humility, he
spake these words:
"Shipmates, God has laid but one hand upon you; both his
hands press upon me. I have read ye by what murky light may be mine the
lesson that Jonah teaches to all sinners; and therefore to ye, and still
more to me, for I am a greater sinner than ye. And now how gladly would
I come down from this mast-head and sit on the hatches there where you
sit, and listen as you listen, while some one of you reads me that other
and more awful lesson which Jonah teaches to me, as a pilot of the
living God. How being an anointed pilot-prophet, or speaker of true
things and bidden by the Lord to sound those unwelcome truths in the
ears of a wicked Nineveh, Jonah, appalled at the hostility he should
raise, fled from his mission, and sought to escape his duty and his God
by taking ship at Joppa. But God is everywhere; Tarshish he never
reached. As we have seen, God came upon him in the whale, and swallowed
him down to living gulfs of doom, and with swift slantings tore him
along 'into the midst of the seas,' where the eddying depths sucked him
ten thousand fathoms down, and 'the weeds were wrapped about his head,'
and all the watery world of woe bowled over him. Yet even then beyond
the reach of any plummet—'out of the belly of hell'—when the whale
grounded upon the ocean's utmost bones, even then, God heard the
engulphed, repenting prophet when he cried. Then God spake unto the
fish; and from the shuddering cold and blackness of the sea, the whale
came breeching up towards the warm and pleasant sun, and all the
delights of air and earth; and 'vomited out Jonah upon the dry land;'
when the word of the Lord came a second time; and Jonah, bruised and
beaten—his ears, like two sea-shells, still multitudinously murmuring of
the ocean— Jonah did the Almighty's bidding. And what was that,
shipmates? To preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood! That was it!
"This, shipmates, this is that other lesson; and woe to
that pilot of the living God who slights it. Woe to him whom this world
charms from Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the
waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to
please rather than to appal! Woe to him whose good name is more to him
than goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonor! Woe
to him who would not be true, even though to be false were salvation!
Yea, woe to him who as the great Pilot Paul has it, while preaching to
others is himself a castaway!
He drooped and fell away from himself for a moment; then
lifting his face to them again, showed a deep joy in his eyes, as he
cried out with a heavenly enthusiasm,—"But oh! shipmates! on the
starboard hand of every woe, there is a sure delight; and higher the top
of that delight, than the bottom of the woe is deep. Is not the
main-truck higher than the kelson is low? Delight is to him—a far, far
upward, and inward delight— who against the proud gods and commodores of
this earth, ever stands forth his own inexorable self. Delight is to him
whose strong arms yet support him, when the ship of this base
treacherous world has gone down beneath him. Delight is to him, who
gives no quarter in the truth, and kills, burns, and destroys all sin
though he pluck it out from under the robes of Senators and Judges.
Delight,—top-gallant delight is to him, who acknowledges no law or lord,
but the Lord his God, and is only a patriot to heaven. Delight is to
him, whom all the waves of the billows of the seas of the boisterous mob
can never shake from this sure Keel of the Ages. And eternal delight and
deliciousness will be his, who coming to lay him down, can say with his
final breath—O Father!— chiefly known to me by Thy rod—mortal or
immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this
world's, or mine own. Yet this is nothing: I leave eternity to Thee; for
what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?"
He said no more, but slowly waving a benediction,
covered his face with his hands, and so remained kneeling, till all the
people had departed, and he was left alone in the place.
A Bosom Friend
Returning to the Spouter-Inn
from the Chapel, I found Queequeg there quite alone; he having left the
Chapel before the benediction some time. He was sitting on a bench
before the fire, with his feet on the stove hearth, and in one hand was
holding close up to his face that little negro idol of his; peering hard
into its face, and with a jack-knife gently whittling away at its nose,
meanwhile humming to himself in his heathenish way.
But being now interrupted, he put up the image; and
pretty soon, going to the table, took up a large book there, and placing
it on his lap began counting the pages with deliberate regularity; at
every fiftieth page— as I fancied—stopping for a moment, looking
vacantly around him, and giving utterance to a long-drawn gurgling
whistle of astonishment. He would then begin again at the next fifty;
seeming to commence at number one each time, as though he could not
count more than fifty, and it was only by such a large number of fifties
being found together, that his astonishment at the multitude of pages
With much interest I sat watching him. Savage though he
was, and hideously marred about the face—at least to my taste— his
countenance yet had a something in it which was by no means
disagreeable. You cannot hide the soul. Through all his unearthly
tattooings, I thought I saw the traces of a simple honest heart; and in
his large, deep eyes, fiery black and bold, there seemed tokens of a
spirit that would dare a thousand devils. And besides all this, there
was a certain lofty bearing about the Pagan, which even his uncouthness
could not altogether maim. He looked like a man who had never cringed
and never had had a creditor. Whether it was, too, that his head being
shaved, his forehead was drawn out in freer and brighter relief, and
looked more expansive than it otherwise would, this I will not venture
to decide; but certain it was his head was phrenologically an excellent
one. It may seem ridiculous, but it reminded me of General Washington's
head, as seen in the popular busts of him. It had the same long
regularly graded retreating slope from above the brows, which were
likewise very projecting, like two long promontories thickly wooded on
top. Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed.
Whilst I was thus closely scanning him, half-pretending
meanwhile to be looking out at the storm from the casement, he never
heeded my presence, never troubled himself with so much as a single
glance; but appeared wholly occupied with counting the pages of the
marvellous book. Considering how sociably we had been sleeping together
the night previous, and especially considering the affectionate arm I
had found thrown over me upon waking in the morning, I thought this
indifference of his very strange. But savages are strange beings; at
times you do not know exactly how to take them. At first they are
overawing; their calm self-collectedness of simplicity seems as Socratic
wisdom. I had noticed also that Queequeg never consorted at all, or but
very little, with the other seamen in the inn. He made no advances
whatever; appeared to have no desire to enlarge the circle of his
acquaintances. All this struck me as mighty singular; yet, upon second
thoughts, there was something almost sublime in it. Here was a man some
twenty thousand miles from home, by the way of Cape Horn, that is— which
was the only way he could get there—thrown among people as strange to
him as though he were in the planet Jupiter; and yet he seemed entirely
at his ease; preserving the utmost serenity; content with his own
companionship; always equal to himself. Surely this was a touch of fine
philosophy; though no doubt he had never heard there was such a thing as
that. But, perhaps, to be true philosophers, we mortals should not be
conscious of so living or so striving. So soon as I hear that such or
such a man gives himself out for a philosopher, I conclude that, like
the dyspeptic old woman, he must have "broken his digester."
As I sat there in that now lonely room; the fire burning
low, in that mild stage when, after its first intensity has warmed the
air, it then only glows to be looked at; the evening shades and phantoms
gathering round the casements, and peering in upon us silent, solitary
twain; the storm booming without in solemn swells; I began to be
sensible of strange feelings. I felt a melting in me. No more my
splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish
world. This soothing savage had redeemed it. There he sat, his very
indifference speaking a nature in which there lurked no civilized
hypocrisies and bland deceits. Wild he was; a very sight of sights to
see; yet I began to feel myself mysteriously drawn towards him. And
those same things that would have repelled most others, they were the
very magnets that thus drew me. I'll try a pagan friend, thought I,
since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy. I drew my bench
near him, and made some friendly signs and hints, doing my best to talk
with him meanwhile. At first he little noticed these advances; but
presently, upon my referring to his last night's hospitalities, he made
out to ask me whether we were again to be bedfellows. I told him yes;
whereat I thought he looked pleased, perhaps a little complimented.
We then turned over the book together, and I endeavored
to explain to him the purpose of the printing, and the meaning of the
few pictures that were in it. Thus I soon engaged his interest; and from
that we went to jabbering the best we could about the various outer
sights to be seen in this famous town. Soon I proposed a social smoke;
and, producing his pouch and tomahawk, he quietly offered me a puff. And
then we sat exchanging puffs from that wild pipe of his, and keeping it
regularly passing between us.
If there yet lurked any ice of indifference towards me
in the Pagan's breast, this pleasant, genial smoke we had, soon thawed
it out, and left us cronies. He seemed to take to me quite as naturally
and unbiddenly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his
forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that
henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country's phrase, that we
were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be. In a
countryman, this sudden flame of friendship would have seemed far too
premature, a thing to be much distrusted; but in this simple savage
those old rules would not apply.
After supper, and another social chat and smoke, we went
to our room together. He made me a present of his embalmed head; took
out his enormous tobacco wallet, and groping under the tobacco, drew out
some thirty dollars in silver; then spreading them on the table, and
mechanically dividing them into two equal portions, pushed one of them
towards me, and said it was mine. I was going to remonstrate; but he
silenced me by pouring them into my trowsers' pockets. I let them stay.
He then went about his evening prayers, took out his idol, and removed
the paper firebrand. By certain signs and symptoms, I thought he seemed
anxious for me to join him; but well knowing what was to follow, I
deliberated a moment whether, in case he invited me, I would comply or
I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of
the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this
wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship?
thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of
heaven and earth—pagans and all included—can possibly be jealous of an
insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship?— to do
the will of God? that is worship. And what is the will of God?— to do to
my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me— that is the
will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that
this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular
Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him
in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped
prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with
Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that
done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences
and all the world. But we did not go to sleep without some little chat.
How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed
for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say,
there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old
couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus,
then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg— a cosy, loving pair.
We had lain thus in bed,
chatting and napping at short intervals, and Queequeg now and then
affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over mine, and then
drawing them back; so entirely sociable and free and easy were we; when,
at last, by reason of our confabulations, what little nappishness
remained in us altogether departed, and we felt like getting up again,
though day-break was yet some way down the future.
Yes, we became very wakeful; so much so that our
recumbent position began to grow wearisome, and by little and little we
found ourselves sitting up; the clothes well tucked around us, leaning
against the headboard with our four knees drawn up close together, and
our two noses bending over them, as if our knee-pans were warming-pans.
We felt very nice and snug, the more so since it was so chilly out of
doors; indeed out of bed-clothes too, seeing that there was no fire in
the room. The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some
small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world
that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If
you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so
a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. But if,
like Queequeg and me in the bed, the tip of your nose or the crown of
your head be slightly chilled, why then, indeed, in the general
consciousness you feel most delightfully and unmistakably warm. For this
reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which
is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this
sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blankets between you
and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like
the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.
We had been sitting in this crouching manner for some
time, when all at once I thought I would open my eyes; for when between
sheets, whether by day or by night, and whether asleep or awake, I have
a way of always keeping my eyes shut, in order the more to concentrate
the snugness of being in bed. Because no man can ever feel his own
identity aright except his eyes be closed; as if, darkness were indeed
the proper element of our essences, though light be more congenial to
our clayey part. Upon opening my eyes then, and coming out of my own
pleasant and self-created darkness into the imposed and coarse outer
gloom of the unilluminated twelve-o'clock-at-night, I experienced a
disagreeable revulsion. Nor did I at all object to the hint from
Queequeg that perhaps it were best to strike a light, seeing that we
were so wide awake; and besides he felt a strong desire to have a few
quiet puffs from his Tomahawk. Be it said, that though I had felt such a
strong repugnance to his smoking in the bed the night before, yet see
how elastic our stiff prejudices grow when love once comes to bend them.
For now I liked nothing better than to have Queequeg smoking by me, even
in bed, because he seemed to be full of such serene household joy then.
I no more felt unduly concerned for the landlord's policy of insurance.
I was only alive to the condensed confidential comfortableness of
sharing a pipe and a blanket with a real friend. With our shaggy jackets
drawn about our shoulders, we now passed the Tomahawk from one to the
other, till slowly there grew over us a blue hanging tester of smoke,
illuminated by the flame of the new-lit lamp.
Whether it was that this undulating tester rolled the
savage away to far distant scenes, I know not, but he now spoke of his
native island; and, eager to hear his history, I begged him to go on and
tell it. He gladly complied. Though at the time I but ill comprehended
not a few of his words, yet subsequent disclosures, when I had become
more familiar with his broken phraseology, now enable me to present the
whole story such as it may prove in the mere skeleton I give.
Queequeg was a native of
Kokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down on
any map; true places never are.
When a new-hatched savage running wild about his native
woodlands in a grass clout, followed by the nibbling goats, as if he
were a green sapling; even then, in Queequeg's ambitious soul, lurked a
strong desire to see something more of Christendom than a specimen
whaler or two. His father was a High Chief, a King; his uncle a High
Priest; and on the maternal side he boasted aunts who were the wives of
unconquerable warriors. There was excellent blood in his veins—royal
stuff; though sadly vitiated, I fear, by the cannibal propensity he
nourished in his untutored youth.
A Sag Harbor ship visited his father's bay, and Queequeg
sought a passage to Christian lands. But the ship, having her full
complement of seamen, spurned his suit; and not all the King his
father's influence could prevail. But Queequeg vowed a vow. Alone in his
canoe, he paddled off to a distant strait, which he knew the ship must
pass through when she quitted the island. On one side was a coral reef;
on the other a low tongue of land, covered with mangrove thickets that
grew out into the water. Hiding his canoe, still afloat, among these
thickets, with its prow seaward, he sat down in the stern, paddle low in
hand; and when the ship was gliding by, like a flash he darted out;
gained her side; with one backward dash of his foot capsized and sank
his canoe; climbed up the chains; and throwing himself at full length
upon the deck, grappled a ring-bolt there, and swore not to let it go,
though hacked in pieces.
In vain the captain threatened to throw him overboard;
suspended a cutlass over his naked wrists; Queequeg was the son of a
King, and Queequeg budged not. Struck by his desperate dauntlessness,
and his wild desire to visit Christendom, the captain at last relented,
and told him he might make himself at home. But this fine young savage—
this sea Prince of Wales, never saw the Captain's cabin. They put him
down among the sailors, and made a whaleman of him. But like Czar Peter
content to toil in the shipyards of foreign cities, Queequeg disdained
no seeming ignominy, if thereby he might happily gain the power of
enlightening his untutored countrymen. For at bottom—so he told me—he
was actuated by a profound desire to learn among the Christians, the
arts whereby to make his people still happier than they were; and more
than that, still better than they were. But, alas! the practices of
whalemen soon convinced him that even Christians could be both miserable
and wicked; infinitely more so, than all his father's heathens. Arrived
at last in old Sag Harbor; and seeing what the sailors did there; and
then going on to Nantucket, and seeing how they spent their wages in
that place also, poor Queequeg gave it up for lost. Thought he, it's a
wicked world in all meridians; I'll die a pagan.
And thus an old idolator at heart, he yet lived among
these Christians, wore their clothes, and tried to talk their gibberish.
Hence the queer ways about him, though now some time from home.
By hints I asked him whether he did not propose going
back, and having a coronation; since he might now consider his father
dead and gone, he being very old and feeble at the last accounts. He
answered no, not yet; and added that he was fearful Christianity, or
rather Christians, had unfitted him for ascending the pure and undefiled
throne of thirty pagan Kings before him. But by and by, he said, he
would return,—as soon as he felt himself baptized again. For the nonce,
however, he proposed to sail about, and sow his wild oats in all four
oceans. They had made a harpooneer of him, and that barbed iron was in
lieu of a sceptre now.
I asked him what might be his immediate purpose,
touching his future movements. He answered, to go to sea again, in his
old vocation. Upon this, I told him that whaling was my own design, and
informed him of my intention to sail out of Nantucket, as being the most
promising port for an adventurous whaleman to embark from. He at once
resolved to accompany me to that island, ship aboard the same vessel,
get into the same watch, the same boat, the same mess with me, in short
to share my every hap; with both my hands in his, boldly dip into the
Potluck of both worlds. To all this I joyously assented; for besides the
affection I now felt for Queequeg, he was an experienced harpooneer, and
as such, could not fail to be of great usefulness to one, who, like me,
was wholly ignorant of the mysteries of whaling, though well acquainted
with the sea, as known to merchant seamen.
His story being ended with his pipe's last dying puff,
Queequeg embraced me, pressed his forehead against mine, and blowing out
the light, we rolled over from each other, this way and that, and very
soon were sleeping.
Next morning, Monday, after
disposing of the embalmed head to a barber, for a block, I settled my
own and comrade's bill; using, however, my comrade's money. The grinning
landlord, as well as the boarders, seemed amazingly tickled at the
sudden friendship which had sprung up between me and Queequeg—
especially as Peter Coffin's cock and bull stories about him had
previously so much alarmed me concerning the very person whom I now
We borrowed a wheelbarrow, and embarking our things,
including my own poor carpet-bag, and Queequeg's canvas sack and
hammock, away we went down to "the Moss," the little Nantucket packet
schooner moored at the wharf. As we were going along the people stared;
not at Queequeg so much— for they were used to seeing cannibals like him
in their streets,— but at seeing him and me upon such confidential
terms. But we heeded them not, going along wheeling the barrow by turns,
and Queequeg now and then stopping to adjust the sheath on his harpoon
barbs. I asked him why he carried such a troublesome thing with him
ashore, and whether all whaling ships did not find their own harpoons.
To this, in substance, he replied, that though what I hinted was true
enough, yet he had a particular affection for his own harpoon, because
it was of assured stuff, well tried in many a mortal combat, and deeply
intimate with the hearts of whales. In short, like many inland reapers
and mowers, who go into the farmer's meadows armed with their own
scythes—though in no wise obliged to furnish them— even so, Queequeg,
for his own private reasons, preferred his own harpoon.
Shifting the barrow from my hand to his, he told me a
funny story about the first wheelbarrow he had ever seen. It was in Sag
Harbor. The owners of his ship, it seems, had lent him one, in which to
carry his heavy chest to his boarding house. Not to seem ignorant about
the thing—though in truth he was entirely so, concerning the precise way
in which to manage the barrow—Queequeg puts his chest upon it; lashes it
fast; and then shoulders the barrow and marches up the wharf. "Why,"
said I, "Queequeg, you might have known better than that, one would
think. Didn't the people laugh?"
Upon this, he told me another story. The people of his
island of Rokovoko, it seems, at their wedding feasts express the
fragrant water of young cocoanuts into a large stained calabash like a
punchbowl; and this punchbowl always forms the great central ornament on
the braided mat where the feast is held. Now a certain grand merchant
ship once touched at Rokovoko, and its commander—from all accounts, a
very stately punctilious gentleman, at least for a sea captain— this
commander was invited to the wedding feast of Queequeg's sister, a
pretty young princess just turned of ten. Well; when all the wedding
guests were assembled at the bride's bamboo cottage, this Captain
marches in, and being assigned the post of honor, placed himself over
against the punchbowl, and between the High Priest and his majesty the
King, Queequeg's father. Grace being said,—for those people have their
grace as well as we— though Queequeg told me that unlike us, who at such
times look downwards to our platters, they, on the contrary, copying the
ducks, glance upwards to the great Giver of all feasts—Grace, I say,
being said, the High Priest opens the banquet by the immemorial ceremony
of the island; that is, dipping his consecrated and consecrating fingers
into the bowl before the blessed beverage circulates. Seeing himself
placed next the Priest, and noting the ceremony, and thinking
himself—being Captain of a ship—as having plain precedence over a mere
island King, especially in the King's own house— the Captain coolly
proceeds to wash his hands in the punch bowl;— taking it I suppose for a
huge finger-glass. "Now," said Queequeg, "what you tink now?—Didn't our
At last, passage paid, and luggage safe, we stood on
board the schooner. Hoisting sail, it glided down the Acushnet river. On
one side, New Bedford rose in terraces of streets, their ice-covered
trees all glittering in the clear, cold air. Huge hills and mountains of
casks on casks were piled upon her wharves, and side by side the
world-wandering whale ships lay silent and safely moored at last; while
from others came a sound of carpenters and coopers, with blended noises
of fires and forges to melt the pitch, all betokening that new cruises
were on the start; that one most perilous and long voyage ended, only
begins a second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for
ever and for aye. Such is the endlessness, yea, the intolerableness of
all earthly effort.
Gaining the more open water, the bracing breeze waxed
fresh; the little Moss tossed the quick foam from her bows, as a young
colt his snortings. How I snuffed that Tartar air!—how I spurned that
turnpike earth!— that common highway all over dented with the marks of
slavish heels and hoofs; and turned me to admire the magnanimity of the
sea which will permit no records.
At the same foam-fountain, Queequeg seemed to drink and
reel with me. His dusky nostrils swelled apart; he showed his filed and
pointed teeth. On, on we flew, and our offing gained, the Moss did
homage to the blast; ducked and dived her bows as a slave before the
Sultan. Sideways leaning, we sideways darted; every ropeyarn tingling
like a wire; the two tall masts buckling like Indian canes in land
tornadoes. So full of this reeling scene were we, as we stood by the
plunging bowsprit, that for some time we did not notice the jeering
glances of the passengers, a lubber-like assembly, who marvelled that
two fellow beings should be so companionable; as though a white man were
anything more dignified than a whitewashed negro. But there were some
boobies and bumpkins there, who, by their intense greenness, must have
come from the heart and centre of all verdure. Queequeg caught one of
these young saplings mimicking him behind his back. I thought the
bumpkin's hour of doom was come. Dropping his harpoon, the brawny savage
caught him in his arms, and by an almost miraculous dexterity and
strength, sent him high up bodily into the air; then slightly tapping
his stern in mid-somerset, the fellow landed with bursting lungs upon
his feet, while Queequeg, turning his back upon him, lighted his
tomahawk pipe and passed it to me for a puff.
"Capting! Capting! yelled the bumpkin, running toward
"Capting, Capting, here's the devil."
"Hallo, you sir," cried the Captain, a gaunt rib of the
sea, stalking up to Queequeg, "what in thunder do you mean by that?
Don't you know you might have killed that chap?"
"What him say?" said Queequeg, as he mildly turned to
"He say," said I, "that you came near kill-e that man
there," pointing to the still shivering greenhorn.
"Kill-e," cried Queequeg, twisting his tattooed face
into an unearthly expression of disdain, "ah! him bevy small-e fish-e;
Queequeg no kill-e so small-e fish-e; Queequeg kill-e big whale!"
"Look you," roared the Captain, "I'll kill-e you, you
cannibal, if you try any more of your tricks aboard here; so mind your
But it so happened just then, that it was high time for
the Captain to mind his own eye. The prodigious strain upon the
main-sail had parted the weather-sheet, and the tremendous boom was now
flying from side to side, completely sweeping the entire after part of
the deck. The poor fellow whom Queequeg had handled so roughly, was
swept overboard; all hands were in a panic; and to attempt snatching at
the boom to stay it, seemed madness. It flew from right to left, and
back again, almost in one ticking of a watch, and every instant seemed
on the point of snapping into splinters. Nothing was done, and nothing
seemed capable of being done; those on deck rushed toward the bows, and
stood eyeing the boom as if it were the lower jaw of an exasperated
whale. In the midst of this consternation, Queequeg dropped deftly to
his knees, and crawling under the path of the boom, whipped hold of a
rope, secured one end to the bulwarks, and then flinging the other like
a lasso, caught it round the boom as it swept over his head, and at the
next jerk, the spar was that way trapped, and all was safe. The schooner
was run into the wind, and while the hands were clearing away the stern
boat, Queequeg, stripped to the waist, darted from the side with a long
living arc of a leap. For three minutes or more he was seen swimming
like a dog, throwing his long arms straight out before him, and by turns
revealing his brawny shoulders through the freezing foam. I looked at
the grand and glorious fellow, but saw no one to be saved. The greenhorn
had gone down. Shooting himself perpendicularly from the water,
Queequeg, now took an instant's glance around him, and seeming to see
just how matters were, dived down and disappeared. A few minutes more,
and he rose again, one arm still striking out, and with the other
dragging a lifeless form. The boat soon picked them up. The poor bumpkin
was restored. All hands voted Queequeg a noble trump; the captain begged
his pardon. From that hour I clove to Queequeg like a barnacle; yea,
till poor Queequeg took his last long dive.
Was there ever such unconsciousness? He did not seem to
think that he at all deserved a medal from the Humane and Magnanimous
Societies. He only asked for water—fresh water—something to wipe the
brine off; that done, he put on dry clothes, lighted his pipe, and
leaning against the bulwarks, and mildly eyeing those around him, seemed
to be saying to himself—"It's a mutual, joint-stock world, in all
meridians. We cannibals must help these Christians."
Nothing more happened on the
passage worthy the mentioning; so, after a fine run, we safely arrived
Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a
real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off
shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse. Look at it— a mere
hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background. There is
more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a substitute for
blotting paper. Some gamesome wights will tell you that they have to
plant weeds there, they don't grow naturally; that they import Canada
thistles; that they have to send beyond seas for a spile to stop a leak
in an oil cask; that pieces of wood in Nantucket are carried about like
bits of the true cross in Rome; that people there plant toadstools
before their houses, to get under the shade in summer time; that one
blade of grass makes an oasis, three blades in a day's walk a prairie;
that they wear quicksand shoes, something like Laplander snow-shoes;
that they are so shut up, belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded,
and made an utter island of by the ocean, that to their very chairs and
tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering as to the backs of
sea turtles. But these extravaganzas only show that Nantucket is no
Look now at the wondrous traditional story of how this
island was settled by the red-men. Thus goes the legend. In olden times
an eagle swooped down upon the New England coast and carried off an
infant Indian in his talons. With loud lament the parents saw their
child borne out of sight over the wide waters. They resolved to follow
in the same direction. Setting out in their canoes, after a perilous
passage they discovered the island, and there they found an empty ivory
casket,— the poor little Indian's skeleton.
What wonder, then, that these Nantucketers, born on a
beach, should take to the sea for a livelihood! They first caught crabs
and quahogs in the sand; grown bolder, they waded out with nets for
mackerel; more experienced, they pushed off in boats and captured cod;
and at last, launching a navy of great ships on the sea, explored this
watery world; put an incessant belt of circumnavigations round it;
peeped in at Behring's Straits; and in all seasons and all oceans
declared everlasting war with the mightiest animated mass that has
survived the flood; most monstrous and most mountainous! That
Himmalehan, salt-sea, Mastodon, clothed with such portentousness of
unconscious power, that his very panics are more to be dreaded than his
most fearless and malicious assaults!
And thus have these naked Nantucketers, these sea
hermits, issuing from their ant-hill in the sea, overrun and conquered
the watery world like so many Alexanders; parcelling out among them the
Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, as the three pirate powers did
Poland. Let America add Mexico to Texas, and pile Cuba upon Canada; let
the English overswarm all India, and hang out their blazing banner from
the sun; two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's. For
the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires; other seamen having
but a right of way through it. Merchant ships are but extension bridges;
armed ones but floating forts; even pirates and privateers, though
following the sea as highwaymen the road. they but plunder other ships,
other fragments of the land like themselves, without seeking to draw
their living from the bottomless deep itself. The Nantucketer, he alone
resides and riots on the sea; he alone, in Bible language, goes down to
it in ships; to and fro ploughing it as his own special plantation.
There is his home; there lies his business which a Noah's flood would
not interrupt, though it overwhelmed all the millions in China. He lives
on the sea, as prairie cocks in the prairie; he hides among the waves,
he climbs them as chamois hunters climb the Alps. For years he knows not
the land; so that when he comes to it at last, it smells like another
world, more strangely than the moon would to an Earthsman. With the
landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep
between billows; so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land,
furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow
rush herds of walruses and whales.
It was quite late in the evening
when the little Moss came snugly to anchor, and Queequeg and I went
ashore; so we could attend to no business that day, at least none but a
supper and a bed. The landlord of the Spouter-Inn had recommended us to
his cousin Hosea Hussey of the Try Pots, whom he asserted to be the
proprietor of one of the best kept hotels in all Nantucket, and moreover
he had assured us that Cousin Hosea, as he called him, was famous for
his chowders. In short, he plainly hinted that we could not possibly do
better than try pot-luck at the Try Pots. But the directions he had
given us about keeping a yellow warehouse on our starboard hand till we
opened a white church to the larboard, and then keeping that on the
larboard hand till we made a corner three points to the starboard, and
that done, then ask the first man we met where the place was; these
crooked directions of his very much puzzled us at first, especially as,
at the outset, Queequeg insisted that the yellow warehouse— our first
point of departure—must be left on the larboard hand, whereas I had
understood Peter Coffin to say it was on the starboard. However, by dint
of beating about a little in the dark, and now and then knocking up a
peaceable inhabitant to inquire the way, we at last came to something
which there was no mistaking.
Two enormous wooden pots painted black, and suspended by
asses' ears, swung from the cross-trees of an old top-mast, planted in
front of an old doorway. The horns of the cross-trees were sawed off on
the other side, so that this old top-mast looked not a little like a
gallows. Perhaps I was over sensitive to such impressions at the time,
but I could not help staring at this gallows with a vague misgiving. A
sort of crick was in my neck as I gazed up to the two remaining horns;
yes, two of them, one for Queequeg, and one for me. It's ominous, thinks
I. A Coffin my Innkeeper upon landing in my first whaling port;
tombstones staring at me in the whalemen's chapel, and here a gallows!
and a pair of prodigious black pots too! Are these last throwing out
oblique hints touching Tophet?
I was called from these reflections by the sight of a
freckled woman with yellow hair and a yellow gown, standing in the porch
of the inn, under a dull red lamp swinging there, that looked much like
an injured eye, and carrying on a brisk scolding with a man in a purple
"Get along with ye," said she to the man, "or I'll be
"Come on, Queequeg," said I, "all right. There's Mrs.
And so it turned out; Mr. Hosea Hussey being from home,
but leaving Mrs. Hussey entirely competent to attend to all his affairs.
Upon making known our desires for a supper and a bed, Mrs. Hussey,
postponing further scolding for the present, ushered us into a little
room, and seating us at a table spread with the relics of a recently
concluded repast, turned round to us and said—"Clam or Cod?"
"What's that about Cods, ma'am?" said I, with much
"Clam or Cod?" she repeated.
"A clam for supper? a cold clam; is that what you mean,
Mrs. Hussey?" says I, "but that's a rather cold and clammy reception in
the winter time, ain't it, Mrs. Hussey?"
But being in a great hurry to resume scolding the man in
the purple shirt who was waiting for it in the entry, and seeming to
hear nothing but the word "clam," Mrs. Hussey hurried towards an open
door leading to the kitchen, and bawling out "clam for two,"
"Queequeg," said I, "do you think that we can make out a
supper for us both on one clam?"
However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to
belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking
chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet
friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely
bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits, and salted
pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and
plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened
by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favourite
fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent,
we despatched it with great expedition: when leaning back a moment and
bethinking me of Mrs. Hussey's clam and cod announcement, I thought I
would try a little experiment. Stepping to the kitchen door, I uttered
the word "cod" with great emphasis, and resumed my seat. In a few
moments the savoury steam came forth again, but with a different flavor,
and in good time a fine cod-chowder was placed before us.
We resumed business; and while plying our spoons in the
bowl, thinks I
to myself, I wonder now if this here has any effect on the head?
What's that stultifying saying about chowder-headed people?
"But look, Queequeg, ain't that a live eel in your bowl?
Where's your harpoon?"
Fishiest of all fishy places was the Try Pots, which
well deserved its name; for the pots there were always boiling chowders.
Chowder for breakfast, and chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper,
till you began to look for fish-bones coming through your clothes. The
area before the house was paved with clam-shells. Mrs. Hussey wore a
polished necklace of codfish vertebra; and Hosea Hussey had his account
books bound in superior old shark-skin. There was a fishy flavor to the
milk, too, which I could not at all account for, till one morning
happening to take a stroll along the beach among some fishermen's boats,
I saw Hosea's brindled cow feeding on fish remnants, and marching along
the sand with each foot in a cod's decapitated head, looking very
slipshod, I assure ye.
Supper concluded, we received a lamp, and directions
from Mrs. Hussey concerning the nearest way to bed; but, as Queequeg was
about to precede me up the stairs, the lady reached forth her arm, and
demanded his harpoon; she allowed no harpoon in her chambers. "Why not?
said I; "every true whaleman sleeps with his harpoon— but why not?"
"Because it's dangerous," says she. "Ever since young Stiggs coming from
that unfort'nt v'y'ge of his, when he was gone four years and a half,
with only three barrels of ile, was found dead in my first floor back,
with his harpoon in his side; ever since then I allow no boarders to
take sich dangerous weepons in their rooms at night. So, Mr. Queequeg"
(for she had learned his name), "I will just take this here iron, and
keep it for you till morning. But the chowder; clam or cod to-morrow for
"Both," says I; "and let's have a couple of smoked
herring by way of variety."
In bed we concocted our plans
for the morrow. But to my surprise and no small concern, Queequeg now
gave me to understand, that he had been diligently consulting Yojo—the
name of his black little god— and Yojo had told him two or three times
over, and strongly insisted upon it everyway, that instead of our going
together among the whaling-fleet in harbor, and in concert selecting our
craft; instead of this, I say, Yojo earnestly enjoined that the
selection of the ship should rest wholly with me, inasmuch as Yojo
purposed befriending us; and, in order to do so, had already pitched
upon a vessel, which, if left to myself, I, Ishmael, should infallibly
light upon, for all the world as though it had turned out by chance; and
in that vessel I must immediately ship myself, for the present
irrespective of Queequeg.
I have forgotten to mention that, in many things,
Queequeg placed great confidence in the excellence of Yojo's judgment
and surprising forecast of things; and cherished Yojo with considerable
esteem, as a rather good sort of god, who perhaps meant well enough upon
the whole, but in all cases did not succeed in his benevolent designs.
Now, this plan of Queequeg's or rather Yojo's, touching
the selection of our craft; I did not like that plan at all. I had not a
little relied on Queequeg's sagacity to point out the whaler best fitted
to carry us and our fortunes securely. But as all my remonstrances
produced no effect upon Queequeg, I was obliged to acquiesce; and
accordingly prepared to set about this business with a determined
rushing sort of energy and vigor, that should quickly settle that
trifling little affair. Next morning early, leaving Queequeg shut up
with Yojo in our little bedroom—for it seemed that it was some sort of
Lent or Ramadan, or day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer with
Queequeg and Yojo that day; how it was I never could find out, for,
though I applied myself to it several times, I never could master his
liturgies and XXXIX Articles— leaving Queequeg, then, fasting on his
tomahawk pipe, and Yojo warming himself at his sacrificial fire of
shavings, I sallied out among the shipping. After much prolonged
sauntering, and many random inquiries, I learnt that there were three
ships up for three-years' voyages—The Devil-Dam the Tit-bit, and the
Pequod. Devil-dam, I do not know the origin of; Tit-bit is obvious;
Pequod you will no doubt remember, was the name of a celebrated tribe of
Massachusetts Indians; now extinct as the ancient Medes. I peered and
pryed about the Devil-Dam; from her, hopped over to the Tit-bit; and
finally, going on board the Pequod, looked around her for a moment, and
then decided that this was the very ship for us.
You may have seen many a quaint craft in your day, for
aught I know;— square-toed luggers; mountainous Japanese junks;
butter-box galliots, and what not; but take my word for it, you never
saw such a rare old craft as this same rare old Pequod. She was a ship
of the old school, rather small if anything; with an old-fashioned
claw-footed look about her. Long seasoned and weather-stained in the
typhoons and calms of all four oceans, her old hull's complexion was
darkened like a French grenadier's, who has alike fought in Egypt and
Siberia. Her venerable bows looked bearded. Her masts—cut somewhere on
the coast of Japan, where her original ones were lost overboard in a
gale—her masts stood stiffly up like the spines of the three old kings
of Cologne. Her ancient decks were worn and wrinkled, like the
pilgrim-worshipped flag-stone in Canterbury Cathedral where Beckett
bled. But to all these her old antiquities, were added new and
marvellous features, pertaining to the wild business that for more than
half a century she had followed. Old Captain Peleg, many years her
chief-mate, before he commanded another vessel of his own, and now a
retired seaman, and one of the principal owners of the Pequod,—this old
Peleg, during the term of his chief-mateship, had built upon her
original grotesqueness, and inlaid it, all over, with a quaintness both
of material and device, unmatched by anything except it be
Thorkill-Hake's carved buckler or bedstead. She was apparelled like any
barbaric Ethiopian emperor, his neck heavy with pendants of polished
ivory. She was a thing of trophies. A cannibal of a craft, tricking
herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies. All round, her
unpanelled, open bulwarks were garnished like one continuous jaw, with
the long sharp teeth of the sperm whale, inserted there for pins, to
fasten her old hempen thews and tendons to. Those thews ran not through
base blocks of land wood, but deftly travelled over sheaves of
sea-ivory. Scorning a turnstile wheel at her reverend helm, she sported
there a tiller; and that tiller was in one mass, curiously carved from
the long narrow lower jaw of her hereditary foe. The helmsman who
steered by that tiller in a tempest, felt like the Tartar, when he holds
back his fiery steed by clutching its jaw. A noble craft, but somehow a
most melancholy! All noble things are touched with that.
Now when I looked about the quarter-deck, for some one
having authority, in order to propose myself as a candidate for the
voyage, at first I saw nobody; but I could not well overlook a strange
sort of tent, or rather wigwam, pitched a little behind the main-mast.
It seemed only a temporary erection used in port. It was of a conical
shape, some ten feet high; consisting of the long, huge slabs of limber
black bone taken from the middle and highest part of the jaws of the
right-whale. Planted with their broad ends on the deck, a circle of
these slabs laced together, mutually sloped towards each other, and at
the apex united in a tufted point, where the loose hairy fibres waved to
and fro like a top-knot on some old Pottowotamie Sachem's head. A
triangular opening faced towards the bows of the ship, so that the
insider commanded a complete view forward.
And half concealed in this queer tenement, I at length
found one who by his aspect seemed to have authority; and who, it being
noon, and the ship's work suspended, was now enjoying respite from the
burden of command. He was seated on an old-fashioned oaken chair,
wriggling all over with curious carving; and the bottom of which was
formed of a stout interlacing of the same elastic stuff of which the
wigwam was constructed.
There was nothing so very particular, perhaps, about the
appearance of the elderly man I saw; he was brown and brawny, like most
old seamen, and heavily rolled up in blue pilot-cloth, cut in the Quaker
style; only there was a fine and almost microscopic net-work of the
minutest wrinkles interlacing round his eyes, which must have arisen
from his continual sailings in many hard gales, and always looking to
windward;— for this causes the muscles about the eyes to become pursed
together. Such eye-wrinkles are very effectual in a scowl.
"Is this the Captain of the Pequod?" said I, advancing
to the door of the tent.
"Supposing it be the Captain of the Pequod, what dost
thou want of him?" he demanded.
"I was thinking of shipping."
"Thou wast, wast thou? I see thou art no Nantucketer—
ever been in a stove boat?"
"No, Sir, I never have."
"Dost know nothing at all about whaling, I dare say—eh?
"Nothing, Sir; but I have no doubt I shall soon learn.
I've been several voyages in the merchant service, and I think that-"
"Merchant service be damned. Talk not that lingo to me.
Dost see that leg?—I'll take that leg away from thy stern, if ever thou
talkest of the merchant service to me again. Marchant service indeed! I
suppose now ye feel considerable proud of having served in those
marchant ships. But flukes! man, what makes thee want to go a whaling,
eh?—it looks a little suspicious, don't it, eh?—Hast not been a pirate,
hast thou?— Didst not rob thy last Captain, didst thou?—Dost not think
of murdering the officers when thou gettest to sea?"
I protested my innocence of these things. I saw that
under the mask of these half humorous innuendoes, this old seaman, as an
insulated Quakerish Nantucketer, was full of his insular prejudices, and
rather distrustful of all aliens, unless they hailed from Cape Cod or
"But what takes thee a-whaling? I want to know that
before I think of shipping ye."
"Well, sir, I want to see what whaling is. I want to see
"Want to see what whaling is, eh? Have ye clapped eye on
"Who is Captain Ahab, sir?"
"Aye, aye, I thought so. Captain Ahab is the Captain of
"I am mistaken then. I thought I was speaking to the
"Thou art speaking to Captain Peleg—that's who ye are
speaking to, young man. It belongs to me and Captain Bildad to see the
Pequod fitted out for the voyage, and supplied with all her needs,
including crew. We are part owners and agents. But as I was going to
say, if thou wantest to know what whaling is, as thou tellest ye do, I
can put ye in a way of finding it out before ye bind yourself to it,
past backing out. Clap eye on Captain Ahab, young man, and thou wilt
find that he has only one leg."
"What do you mean, sir? Was the other one lost by a
"Lost by a whale! Young man, come nearer to me: it was
devoured, chewed up, crunched by the monstrousest parmacetty that ever
chipped a boat!—ah, ah!"
I was a little alarmed by his energy, perhaps also a
little touched at the hearty grief in his concluding exclamation, but
said as calmly as I could, "What you say is no doubt true enough, sir;
but how could I know there was any peculiar ferocity in that particular
whale, though indeed I might have inferred as much from the simple fact
of the accident."
"Look ye now, young man, thy lungs are a sort of soft,
d'ye see; thou dost not talk shark a bit. Sure, ye've been to sea before
now; sure of that?"
"Sir," said I, "I thought I told you that I had been
four voyages in the merchant-"
"Hard down out of that! Mind what I said about the
marchant service— don't aggravate me—I won't have it. But let us
understand each other. I have given thee a hint about what whaling is!
do ye yet feel inclined for it?"
"I do, sir."
"Very good. Now, art thou the man to pitch a harpoon
down a live whale's throat, and then jump after it? Answer, quick!"
"I am, sir, if it should be positively indispensable to
do so; not to be got rid of, that is; which I don't take to be the
"Good again. Now then, thou not only wantest to go
a-whaling, to find out by experience what whaling is, but ye also want
to go in order to see the world? Was not that what ye said? I thought
so. Well then, just step forward there, and take a peep over the weather
bow, and then back to me and tell me what ye see there."
For a moment I stood a little puzzled by this curious
request, not knowing exactly how to take it, whether humorously or in
earnest. But concentrating all his crow's feet into one scowl, Captain
Peleg started me on the errand.
Going forward and glancing over the weather bow, I
perceived that the ship swinging to her anchor with the flood-tide, was
now obliquely pointing towards the open ocean. The prospect was
unlimited, but exceedingly monotonous and forbidding; not the slightest
variety that I could see.
"Well, what's the report?" said Peleg when I came back;
"what did ye see?"
"Not much," I replied—"nothing but water; considerable
horizon though, and there's a squall coming up, I think."
"Well, what dost thou think then of seeing the world?
Do ye wish to go round Cape Horn to see any more of it, eh?
Can't ye see the world where you stand?"
I was a little staggered, but go a-whaling I must, and I
would; and the Pequod was as good a ship as any—I thought the best— and
all this I now repeated to Peleg. Seeing me so determined, he expressed
his willingness to ship me.
"And thou mayest as well sign the papers right off," he
added—"come along with ye." And so saying, he led the way below deck
into the cabin.
Seated on the transom was what seemed to me a most
uncommon and surprising figure. It turned out to be Captain Bildad who
along with Captain Peleg was one of the largest owners of the vessel;
the other shares, as is sometimes the case in these ports, being held by
a crowd of old annuitants; widows, fatherless children, and chancery
wards; each owning about the value of a timber head, or a foot of plank,
or a nail or two in the ship. People in Nantucket invest their money in
whaling vessels, the same way that you do yours in approved state stocks
bringing in good interest.
Now, Bildad, like Peleg, and indeed many other
Nantucketers, was a Quaker, the island having been originally settled by
that sect; and to this day its inhabitants in general retain in an
uncommon measure the peculiarities of the Quaker, only variously and
anomalously modified by things altogether alien and heterogeneous. For
some of these same Quakers are the most sanguinary of all sailors and
whale-hunters. They are fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a
So that there are instances among them of men, who,
named with Scripture names—a singularly common fashion on the island—
and in childhood naturally imbibing the stately dramatic thee and thou
of the Quaker idiom; still, from the audacious, daring, and boundless
adventure of their subsequent lives, strangely blend with these
unoutgrown peculiarities, a thousand bold dashes of character, not
unworthy a Scandinavian sea-king, or a poetical Pagan Roman. And when
these things unite in a man of greatly superior natural force, with a
globular brain and a ponderous heart; who has also by the stillness and
seclusion of many long night-watches in the remotest waters, and beneath
constellations never seen here at the north, been led to think
untraditionally and independently; receiving all nature's sweet or
savage impressions fresh from her own virgin voluntary and confiding
breast, and thereby chiefly, but with some help from accidental
advantages, to learn a bold and nervous lofty language—that man makes
one in a whole nation's census— a mighty pageant creature, formed for
noble tragedies. Nor will it at all detract from him, dramatically
regarded, if either by birth or other circumstances, he have what seems
a half wilful overruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature. For all
men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure
of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease. But, as
yet we have not to do with such an one, but with quite another; and
still a man, who, if indeed peculiar, it only results again from another
phase of the Quaker, modified by individual circumstances.
Like Captain Peleg, Captain Bildad was a well-to-do,
retired whaleman. But unlike Captain Peleg—who cared not a rush for what
are called serious things, and indeed deemed those self-same serious
things the veriest of all trifles—Captain Bildad had not only been
originally educated according to the strictest sect of Nantucket
Quakerism, but all his subsequent ocean life, and the sight of many
unclad, lovely island creatures, round the Horn—all that had not moved
this native born Quaker one single jot, had not so much as altered one
angle of his vest. Still, for all this immutableness, was there some
lack of common consistency about worthy Captain Bildad. Though refusing,
from conscientious scruples, to bear arms against land invaders, yet
himself had illimitably invaded the Atlantic and Pacific; and though a
sworn foe to human bloodshed, yet had he in his straight-bodied coat,
spilled tuns upon tuns of leviathan gore. How now in the contemplative
evening of his days, the pious Bildad reconciled these things in the
reminiscence, I do not know; but it did not seem to concern him much,
and very probably he had long since come to the sage and sensible
conclusion that a man's religion is one thing, and this practical world
quite another. This world pays dividends. Rising from a little cabin boy
in short clothes of the drabbest drab, to a harpooneer in a broad
shad-bellied waistcoat; from that becoming boat-header, chief mate, and
captain, and finally a shipowner; Bildad, as I hinted before, had
concluded his adventurous career by wholly retiring from active life at
the goodly age of sixty, and dedicating his remaining days to the quiet
receiving of his well-earned income.
Now, Bildad, I am sorry to say, had the reputation of
being an incorrigible old hunks, and in his sea-going days, a bitter,
hard task-master. They told me in Nantucket, though it certainly seems a
curious story, that when he sailed the old Categut whaleman, his crew,
upon arriving home, were mostly all carried ashore to the hospital, sore
exhausted and worn out. For a pious man, especially for a Quaker, he was
certainly rather hard-hearted, to say the least. He never used to swear,
though, at his men, they said; but somehow he got an inordinate quantity
of cruel, unmitigated hard work out of them. When Bildad was a
chief-mate, to have his drab-colored eye intently looking at you, made
you feel completely nervous, till you could clutch something—a hammer or
a marling-spike, and go to work like mad, at something or other, never
mind what. Indolence and idleness perished from before him. His own
person was the exact embodiment of his utilitarian character. On his
long, gaunt body, he carried no spare flesh, no superfluous beard, his
chin having a soft, economical nap to it, like the worn nap of his
Such, then, was the person that I saw seated on the
transom when I followed Captain Peleg down into the cabin. The space
between the decks was small; and there, bolt upright, sat old Bildad,
who always sat so, and never leaned, and this to save his coat-tails.
His broad-brim was placed beside him; his legs were stiffly crossed; his
drab vesture was buttoned up to his chin; and spectacles on nose, he
seemed absorbed in reading from a ponderous volume.
"Bildad," cried Captain Peleg, "at it again, Bildad, eh?
Ye have been studying those Scriptures, now, for the last thirty years,
to my certain knowledge. How far ye got, Bildad?"
As if long habituated to such profane talk from his old
shipmate, Bildad, without noticing his present irreverence, quietly
looked up, and seeing me, glanced again inquiringly towards Peleg.
"He says he's our man, Bildad," said Peleg, "he wants to
"Dost thee?" said Bildad, in a hollow tone, and turning
round to me.
"I dost," said I unconsciously, he was so intense a
"What do ye think of him, Bildad?" said Peleg.
"He'll do," said Bildad, eyeing me, and then went on
spelling away at his book in a mumbling tone quite audible.
I thought him the queerest old Quaker I ever saw,
especially as Peleg, his friend and old shipmate, seemed such a
blusterer. But I said nothing, only looking round me sharply. Peleg now
threw open a chest, and drawing forth the ship's articles, placed pen
and ink before him, and seated himself at a little table. I began to
think it was high time to settle with myself at what terms I would be
willing to engage for the voyage. I was already aware that in the
whaling business they paid no wages; but all hands, including the
captain, received certain shares of the profits called lays, and that
these lays were proportioned to the degree of importance pertaining to
the respective duties of the ship's company. I was also aware that being
a green hand at whaling, my own lay would not be very large; but
considering that I was used to the sea, could steer a ship, splice a
rope, and all that, I made no doubt that from all I had heard I should
be offered at least the 275th lay—that is, the 275th part of the clear
net proceeds of the voyage, whatever that might eventually amount to.
And though the 275th lay was what they call a rather long lay, yet it
was better than nothing; and if we had a lucky voyage, might pretty
nearly pay for the clothing I would wear out on it, not to speak of my
three years' beef and board, for which I would not have to pay one
It might be thought that this was a poor way to
accumulate a princely fortune—and so it was, a very poor way indeed. But
I am one of those that never take on about princely fortunes, and am
quite content if the world is ready to board and lodge me, while I am
putting up at this grim sign of the Thunder Cloud. Upon the whole, I
thought that the 275th lay would be about the fair thing, but would not
have been surprised had I been offered the 200th, considering I was of a
But one thing, nevertheless, that made me a little
distrustful about receiving a generous share of the profits was this:
Ashore, I had heard something of both Captain Peleg and his
unaccountable old crony Bildad; how that they being the principal
proprietors of the Pequod, therefore the other and more inconsiderable
and scattered owners, left nearly the whole management of the ship's
affairs to these two. And I did not know but what the stingy old Bildad
might have a mighty deal to say about shipping hands, especially as I
now found him on board the Pequod, quite at home there in the cabin, and
reading his Bible as if at his own fireside. Now while Peleg was vainly
trying to mend a pen with his jack-knife, old Bildad, to my no small
surprise, considering that he was such an interested party in these
proceedings; Bildad never heeded us, but went on mumbling to himself out
of his book, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where
"Well, Captain Bildad," interrupted Peleg, "what d'ye
say, what lay shall we give this young man?"
"Thou knowest best," was the sepulchral reply, "the
seven hundred and seventy-seventh wouldn't be too much, would it?—'where
moth and rust do corrupt, but lay-'"
Lay, indeed, thought I, and such a lay! the seven
hundred and seventy-seventh! Well, old Bildad, you are determined that
I, for one, shall not lay up many lays here below, where moth and rust
do corrupt. It was an exceedingly long lay that, indeed; and though from
the magnitude of the figure it might at first deceive a landsman, yet
the slightest consideration will show that though seven hundred and
seventy-seven is a pretty large number, yet, when you come to make a
teenth of it, you will then see, I say, that the seven hundred and
seventy-seventh part of a farthing is a good deal less than seven
hundred and seventy-seven gold doubloons; and so I thought at the time.
"Why, blast your eyes, Bildad," cried Peleg, Thou dost
not want to swindle this young man! he must have more than that."
"Seven hundred and seventy-seventh," again said Bildad,
without lifting his eyes; and then went on mumbling—"for where your
treasure is, there will your heart be also."
"I am going to put him down for the three hundredth,"
said Peleg, "do ye hear that, Bildad! The three hundredth lay, I say."
Bildad laid down his book, and turning solemnly towards
him said, "Captain Peleg, thou hast a generous heart; but thou must
consider the duty thou owest to the other owners of this ship—widows and
orphans, many of them— and that if we too abundantly reward the labors
of this young man, we may be taking the bread from those widows and
those orphans. The seven hundred and seventy-seventh lay, Captain
"Thou Bildad!" roared Peleg, starting up and clattering
about the cabin.
"Blast ye, Captain Bildad, if I had followed thy advice in these
I would afore now had a conscience to lug about that would be heavy
enough to founder the largest ship that ever sailed round Cape Horn."
"Captain Peleg," said Bildad steadily, "thy conscience
may be drawing ten inches of water, or ten fathoms, I can't tell; but as
thou art still an impenitent man, Captain Peleg, I greatly fear lest thy
conscience be but a leaky one; and will in the end sink thee foundering
down to the fiery pit, Captain Peleg."
"Fiery pit! fiery pit! ye insult me, man; past all
natural bearing, ye insult me. It's an all-fired outrage to tell any
human creature that he's bound to hell. Flukes and flames! Bildad, say
that again to me, and start my soulbolts, but I'll—I'll—yes, I'll
swallow a live goat with all his hair and horns on. Out of the cabin, ye
canting, drab-colored son of a wooden gun—a straight wake with ye!"
As he thundered out this he made a rush at Bildad, but
with a marvellous oblique, sliding celerity, Bildad for that time eluded
Alarmed at this terrible outburst between the two
principal and responsible owners of the ship, and feeling half a mind to
give up all idea of sailing in a vessel so questionably owned and
temporarily commanded, I stepped aside from the door to give egress to
Bildad, who, I made no doubt, was all eagerness to vanish from before
the awakened wrath of Peleg. But to my astonishment, he sat down again
on the transom very quietly, and seemed to have not the slightest
intention of withdrawing. He seemed quite used to impenitent Peleg and
his ways. As for Peleg, after letting off his rage as he had, there
seemed no more left in him, and he, too, sat down like a lamb, though he
twitched a little as if still nervously agitated. "Whew!" he whistled at
last—"the squall's gone off to leeward, I think. Bildad, thou used to be
good at sharpening a lance, mend that pen, will ye. My jack-knife here
needs the grindstone. That's he; thank ye, Bildad. Now then, my young
man, Ishmael's thy name, didn't ye say? Well then, down ye go here,
Ishmael, for the three hundredth lay."
"Captain Peleg," said I, "I have a friend with me who
wants to ship too— shall I bring him down to-morrow?"
"To be sure," said Peleg. "Fetch him along, and we'll
look at him."
"What lay does he want?" groaned Bildad, glancing up
from the Book in which he had again been burying himself.
"Oh! never thee mind about that, Bildad," said Peleg.
"Has he ever whaled it any?" turning to me.
"Killed more whales than I can count, Captain Peleg."
"Well, bring him along then."
And, after signing the papers, off I went; nothing
doubting but that I had done a good morning's work, and that the Pequod
was the identical ship that Yojo had provided to carry Queequeg and me
round the Cape.
But I had not proceeded far, when I began to bethink me
that the Captain with whom I was to sail yet remained unseen by me;
though, indeed, in many cases, a whale-ship will be completely fitted
out, and receive all her crew on board, ere the captain makes himself
visible by arriving to take command; for sometimes these voyages are so
prolonged, and the shore intervals at home so exceedingly brief, that if
the captain have a family, or any absorbing concernment of that sort, he
does not trouble himself much about his ship in port, but leaves her to
the owners till all is ready for sea. However, it is always as well to
have a look at him before irrevocably committing yourself into his
hands. Turning back I accosted Captain Peleg, inquiring where Captain
Ahab was to be found.
"And what dost thou want of Captain Ahab? It's all right
enough; thou art shipped."
"Yes, but I should like to see him."
"But I don't think thou wilt be able to at present. I
don't know exactly what's the matter with him; but he keeps close inside
the house; a sort of sick, and yet he don't look so. In fact, he ain't
sick; but no, he isn't well either. Any how, young man, he won't always
see me, so I don't suppose he will thee. He's a queer man, Captain Ahab—
so some think—but a good one. Oh, thou'lt like him well enough; no fear,
no fear. He's a grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab; doesn't
speak much; but, when he does speak, then you may well listen. Mark ye,
be forewarned; Ahab's above the common; Ahab's been in colleges, as well
as 'mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves;
fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales. His lance!
aye, the keenest and the surest that out of all our isle! Oh! he ain't
Captain Bildad; no, and he ain't Captain Peleg; he's Ahab, boy; and Ahab
of old, thou knowest, was a crowned king!"
"And a very vile one. When that wicked king was slain,
the dogs, did they not lick his blood?"
"Come hither to me—hither, hither," said Peleg, with a
significance in his eye that almost startled me. "Look ye, lad; never
say that on board the Pequod. Never say it anywhere. Captain Ahab did
not name himself .'Twas a foolish, ignorant whim of his crazy, widowed
mother, who died when he was only a twelvemonth old. And yet the old
squaw Tistig, at Gayhead, said that the name would somehow prove
prophetic. And, perhaps, other fools like her may tell thee the same. I
wish to warn thee. It's a lie. I know Captain Ahab well; I've sailed
with him as mate years ago; I know what he is— a good man—not a pious,
good man, like Bildad, but a swearing good man—something like me—only
there's a good deal more of him. Aye, aye, I know that he was never very
jolly; and I know that on the passage home he was a little out of his
mind for a spell; but it was the sharp shooting pains in his bleeding
stump that brought that about, as any one might see. I know, too, that
ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he's been
a kind of moody— desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will
all pass off. And once for all, let me tell thee and assure thee, young
man, it's better to sail with a moody good captain than a laughing bad
one. So good-bye to thee—and wrong not Captain Ahab, because he happens
to have a wicked name. Besides, my boy, he has a wife—not three voyages
wedded—a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that
old man had a child: hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm
in Ahab? No, no, my lad; stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his
As I walked away, I was full of thoughtfulness; what had
been incidentally revealed to me of Captain Ahab, filled me with a
certain wild vagueness of painfulness concerning him. And somehow, at
the time, I felt a sympathy and a sorrow for him, but for I don't know
what, unless it was the cruel loss of his leg. And yet I also felt a
strange awe of him; but that sort of awe, which I cannot at all
describe, was not exactly awe; I do not know what it was. But I felt it;
and it did not disincline me towards him; though I felt impatience at
what seemed like mystery in him, so imperfectly as he was known to me
then. However, my thoughts were at length carried in other directions,
so that for the present dark Ahab slipped my mind.
As Queequeg's Ramadan, or
Fasting and Humiliation, was to continue all day, I did not choose to
disturb him till towards night-fall; for I cherish the greatest respect
towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical, and
could not find it in my heart to undervalue even a congregation of ants
worshipping a toad-stool; or those other creatures in certain parts of
our earth, who with a degree of footmanism quite unprecedented in other
planets, bow down before the torso of a deceased landed proprietor
merely on account of the inordinate possessions yet owned and rented in
I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be
charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior
to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy
conceits on these subjects. There was Queequeg, now, certainly
entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan;— but
what of that? Queequeg thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he
seemed to be content; and there let him rest. All our arguing with him
would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us
all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike— for we are all somehow dreadfully
cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.
Towards evening, when I felt assured that all his
performances and rituals must be over, I went up to his room and knocked
at the door; but no answer. I tried to open it, but it was fastened
inside. "Queequeg," said I softly through the key-hole:—all silent. "I
say, Queequeg! why don't you speak? It's I—Ishmael." But all remained
still as before. I began to grow alarmed. I had allowed him such
abundant time; I thought he might have had an apoplectic fit. I looked
through the key-hole; but the door opening into an odd corner of the
room, the key-hole prospect was but a crooked and sinister one. I could
only see part of the foot-board of the bed and a line of the wall, but
nothing more. I was surprised to behold resting against the wall the
wooden shaft of Queequeg's harpoon, which the landlady the evening
previous had taken from him, before our mounting to the chamber. That's
strange, thought I; but at any rate, since the harpoon stands yonder,
and he seldom or never goes abroad without it, therefore he must be
inside here, and no possible mistake.
"Queequeg!—Queequeg!"—all still. Something must have
happened. Apoplexy! I tried to burst open the door; but it stubbornly
resisted. Running down stairs, I quickly stated my suspicions to the
first person I met—the chamber-maid. "La! la!" she cried, "I thought
something must be the matter. I went to make the bed after breakfast,
and the door was locked; and not a mouse to be heard; and it's been just
so silent ever since. But I thought, may be, you had both gone off and
locked your baggage in for safe keeping. La! La, ma'am!—Mistress!
murder! Mrs. Hussey! apoplexy!"—and with these cries she ran towards the
kitchen, I following.
Mrs. Hussey soon appeared, with a mustard-pot in one
hand and a vinegar-cruet in the other, having just broken away from the
occupation of attending to the castors, and scolding her little black
"Wood-house!" cried I, "which way to it? Run for God's
sake, and fetch something to pry open the door—the axe!—the axe! he's
had a stroke; depend upon it!"—and so saying I was unmethodically
rushing up stairs again empty-handed, when Mrs. Hussey interposed the
mustard-pot and vinegar-cruet, and the entire castor of her countenance.
"What's the matter with you, young man?"
"Get the axe! For God's sake, run for the doctor, some
one, while I pry it open!"
"Look here," said the landlady, quickly putting down the
vinegar-cruet, so as to have one hand free; "look here; are you talking
about prying open any of my doors?"— and with that she seized my arm.
"What's the matter with you? What's the matter with you, shipmate?"
In as calm, but rapid a manner as possible, I gave her
to understand the whole case. Unconsciously clapping the vinegar-cruet
to one side of her nose, she ruminated for an instant; then
exclaimed—"No! I haven't seen it since I put it there." Running to a
little closet under the landing of the stairs, she glanced in, and
returning, told me that Queequeg's harpoon was missing. "He's killed
himself," she cried. "It's unfort'nate Stiggs done over again there goes
another counterpane—God pity his poor mother!— it will be the ruin of my
house. Has the poor lad a sister? Where's that girl?—there, Betty, go to
Snarles the Painter, and tell him to paint me a sign, with—"no suicides
permitted here, and no smoking in the parlor;"—might as well kill both
birds at once. Kill? The Lord be merciful to his ghost! What's that
noise there? You, young man, avast there!"
And running up after me, she caught me as I was again
trying to force open the door.
"I won't allow it; I won't have my premises spoiled. Go
for the locksmith, there's one about a mile from here. But avast!"
putting her hand in her side pocket, "here's a key that'll fit, I guess;
let's see." And with that, she turned it in the lock; but alas!
Queequeg's supplemental bolt remained unwithdrawn within.
"Have to burst it open," said I, and was running down
the entry a little, for a good start, when the landlady caught at me,
again vowing I should not break down her premises; but I tore from her,
and with a sudden bodily rush dashed myself full against the mark.
With a prodigious noise the door flew open, and the knob
slamming against the wall, sent the plaster to the ceiling; and there,
good heavens! there sat Queequeg, altogether cool and self-collected;
right in the middle of the room; squatting on his hams, and holding Yojo
on top of his head. He looked neither one way nor the other way but sat
like a carved image with scarce a sign of active life.
"Queequeg," said I, going up to him, "Queequeg, what's
the matter with you?"
"He hain't been a sittin' so all day, has he?" said the
But all we said, not a word could we drag out of him; I
almost felt like pushing him over, so as to change his position, for it
was almost intolerable, it seemed so painfully and unnaturally
constrained; especially, as in all probability he had been sitting so
for upwards of eight or ten hours, going too without his regular meals.
"Mrs. Hussey," said I, "he's alive at all events; so
leave us, if you please, and I will see to this strange affair myself."
Closing the door upon the landlady, I endeavored to
prevail upon Queequeg to take a chair; but in vain. There he sat; and
all he could do—for all my polite arts and blandishments— he would not
move a peg, nor say a single word, nor even look at me, nor notice my
presence in any the slightest way.
I wonder, thought I, if this can possibly be a part of
his Ramadan; do they fast on their hams that way in his native island.
It must be so; yes, it's a part of his creed, I suppose; well, then, let
him rest; he'll get up sooner or later, no doubt. It can't last for
ever, thank God, and his Ramadan only comes once a year; and I don't
believe it's very punctual then.
I went down to supper. After sitting a long time
listening to the long stories of some sailors who had just come from a
plum-pudding voyage, as they called it (that is, a short whaling-voyage
in a schooner or brig, confined to the north of the line, in the
Atlantic Ocean only); after listening to these plum-puddingers till
nearly eleven o'clock, I went up stairs to go to bed, feeling quite sure
by this time Queequeg must certainly have brought his Ramadan to a
termination. But no; there he was just where I had left him; he had not
stirred an inch. I began to grow vexed with him; it seemed so downright
senseless and insane to be sitting there all day and half the night on
his hams in a cold room, holding a piece of wood on his head.
"For heaven's sake, Queequeg, get up and shake yourself;
get up and have some supper. You'll starve; you'll kill yourself,
Queequeg." But not a word did he reply.
Despairing of him, therefore, I determined to go to bed
and to sleep; and no doubt, before a great while, he would follow me.
But previous to turning in, I took my heavy bearskin jacket, and threw
it over him, as it promised to be a very cold night; and he had nothing
but his ordinary round jacket on. For some time, do all I would, I could
not get into the faintest doze. I had blown out the candle; and the mere
thought of Queequeg— not four feet off—sitting there in that uneasy
position, stark alone in the cold and dark; this made me really
wretched. Think of it; sleeping all night in the same room with a wide
awake pagan on his hams in this dreary, unaccountable Ramadan!
But somehow I dropped off at last, and knew nothing more
till break of day; when, looking over the bedside, there squatted
Queequeg, as if he had been screwed down to the floor. But as soon as
the first glimpse of sun entered the window, up he got, with stiff and
grating joints, but with a cheerful look; limped towards me where I lay;
pressed his forehead again against mine; and said his Ramadan was over.
Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any
person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not
kill or insult any other person, because that other person don't believe
it also. But when a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a
positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an
uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that
individual aside and argue the point with him.
And just so I now did with Queequeg. "Queequeg," said I,
"get into bed now, and lie and listen to me." I then went on, beginning
with the rise and progress of the primitive religions, and coming down
to the various religions of the present time, during which time I
labored to show Queequeg that all these Lents, Ramadans, and prolonged
ham-squattings in cold, cheerless rooms were stark nonsense; bad for the
health; useless for the soul; opposed, in short, to the obvious laws of
Hygiene and common sense. I told him, too, that he being in other things
such an extremely sensible and sagacious savage, it pained me, very
badly pained me, to see him now so deplorably foolish about this
ridiculous Ramadan of his. Besides, argued I, fasting makes the body
cave in; hence the spirit caves in; and all thoughts born of a fast must
necessarily be half-starved. This is the reason why most dyspeptic
religionists cherish such melancholy notions about their hereafters. In
one word, Queequeg, said I, rather digressively; hell is an idea first
born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpetuated through
the hereditary dyspepsias nurtured by Ramadans.
I then asked Queequeg whether he himself was ever
troubled with dyspepsia; expressing the idea very plainly, so that he
could take it in. He said no; only upon one memorable occasion. It was
after a great feast given by his father the king on the gaining of a
great battle wherein fifty of the enemy had been killed by about two
o'clock in the afternoon, and all cooked and eaten that very evening.
"No more, Queequeg," said I, shuddering; "that will do;"
for I knew the inferences without his further hinting them. I had seen a
sailor who had visited that very island, and he told me that it was the
custom, when a great battle had been gained there, to barbecue all the
slain in the yard or garden of the victor; and then, one by one, they
were placed in great wooden trenchers, and garnished round like a pilau,
with breadfruit and cocoanuts; and with some parsley in their mouths,
were sent round with the victor's compliments to all his friends, just
as though these presents were so many Christmas turkeys.
After all, I do not think that my remarks about religion
made much impression upon Queequeg. Because, in the first place, he
somehow seemed dull of hearing on that important subject, unless
considered from his own point of view; and, in the second place, he did
not more than one third understand me, couch my ideas simply as I would;
and, finally, he no doubt thought he knew a good deal more about the
true religion than I did. He looked at me with a sort of condescending
concern and compassion, as though he thought it a great pity that such a
sensible young man should be so hopelessly lost to evangelical pagan
At last we rose and dressed; and Queequeg, taking a
prodigiously hearty breakfast of chowders of all sorts, so that the
landlady should not make much profit by reason of his Ramadan, we
sallied out to board the Pequod, sauntering along, and picking our teeth
with halibut bones.
As we were walking down the end
of the wharf towards the ship, Queequeg carrying his harpoon, Captain
Peleg in his gruff voice loudly hailed us from his wigwam, saying he had
not suspected my friend was a cannibal, and furthermore announcing that
he let no cannibals on board that craft, unless they previously produced
"What do you mean by that, Captain Peleg?" said I, now
jumping on the bulwarks, and leaving my comrade standing on the wharf.
"I mean," he replied, "he must show his papers."
"Yes," said Captain Bildad in his hollow voice, sticking
his head from behind Peleg's, out of the wigwam. "He must show that he's
converted. Son of darkness," he added, turning to Queequeg, "art thou at
present in communion with any Christian church?"
"Why," said I, "he's a member of the first
Congregational Church." Here be it said, that many tattooed savages
sailing in Nantucket ships at last come to be converted into the
"First Congregational Church," cried Bildad, "what! that
worships in Deacon Deuteronomy Coleman's meeting-house?" and so saying,
taking out his spectacles, he rubbed them with his great yellow bandana
handkerchief, and putting them on very carefully, came out of the
wigwam, and leaning stiffly over the bulwarks, took a good long look at
"How long hath he been a member?" he then said, turning
to me; "not very long, I rather guess, young man."
"No," said Peleg, "and he hasn't been baptized right
either, or it would have washed some of that devil's blue off his face."
"Do tell, now," cried Bildad, "is this Philistine a
regular member of Deacon Deuteronomy's meeting? I never saw him going
there, and I pass it every Lord's day."
"I don't know anything about Deacon Deuteronomy or his
meeting," said I; "all I know is, that Queequeg here is a born member of
the First Congregational Church. He is a deacon himself, Queequeg is."
"Young man," said Bildad sternly, "thou art skylarking
with me— explain thyself, thou young Hittite. What church dost thee
mean? answer me."
Finding myself thus hard pushed, I replied, "I mean,
sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain
Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother's son
and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of
this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us
cherish some queer crotchets no ways touching the grand belief; in that
we all join hands."
"Splice, thou mean'st splice hands," cried Peleg,
drawing nearer. "Young man, you'd better ship for a missionary, instead
of a fore-mast hand; I never heard a better sermon. Deacon
Deuteronomy—why Father Mapple himself couldn't beat it, and he's
reckoned something. Come aboard, come aboard: never mind about the
papers. I say, tell Quohog there— what's that you call him? tell Quohog
to step along. By the great anchor, what a harpoon he's got there! looks
like good stuff that; and he handles it about right. I say, Quohog, or
whatever your name is, did you ever stand in the head of a whale-boat?
did you ever strike a fish?"
Without saying a word, Queequeg, in his wild sort of
way, jumped upon the bulwarks, from thence into the bows of one of the
whale-boats hanging to the side; and then bracing his left knee, and
poising his harpoon, cried out in some such way as this:—
"Cap'ain, you see him small drop tar on water dere? You
see him? well, spose him one whale eye, well, den!" and taking sharp aim
at it, he darted the iron right over old Bildad's broad brim, clean
across the ship's decks, and struck the glistening tar spot out of
"Now," said Queequeg, quietly, hauling in the line,
"spos-ee him whale-e eye; why, dad whale dead."
"Quick, Bildad," said Peleg, his partner, who, aghast at
the close vicinity of the flying harpoon, had retreated towards the
cabin gangway. "Quick, I say, you Bildad, and get the ship's papers. We
must have Hedgehog there, I mean Quohog, in one of our boats. Look ye,
Quohog, we'll give ye the ninetieth lay, and that's more than ever was
given a harpooneer yet out of Nantucket."
So down we went into the cabin, and to my great joy
Queequeg was soon enrolled among the same ship's company to which I
When all preliminaries were over and Peleg had got
everything ready for signing, he turned to me and said, "I guess, Quohog
there don't know how to write, does he? I say, Quohog, blast ye! dost
thou sign thy name or make thy mark?
But at this question, Queequeg, who had twice or thrice
before taken part in similar ceremonies, looked no ways abashed; but
taking the offered pen, copied upon the paper, in the proper place, an
exact counterpart of a queer round figure which was tattooed upon his
arm; so that through Captain Peleg's obstinate mistake touching his
appellative, it stood something like this:— Quohog. his X mark.
Meanwhile Captain Bildad sat earnestly and steadfastly eyeing Queequeg,
and at last rising solemnly and fumbling in the huge pockets of his
broadskirted drab coat took out a bundle of tracts, and selecting one
entitled "The Latter Day Coming; or No Time to Lose," placed it in
Queequeg's hands, and then grasping them and the book with both his,
looked earnestly into his eyes, and said, "Son of darkness, I must do my
duty by thee; I am part owner of this ship, and feel concerned for the
souls of all its crew; if thou still clingest to thy Pagan ways, which I
sadly fear, I beseech thee, remain not for aye a Belial bondsman. Spurn
the idol Bell, and the hideous dragon; turn from the wrath to come; mind
thine eye, I say; oh! goodness gracious! steer clear of the fiery pit!"
Something of the salt sea yet lingered in old Bildad's
language, heterogeneously mixed with Scriptural and domestic phrases.
"Avast there, avast there, Bildad, avast now spoiling
our harpooneer, cried Peleg. "Pious harpooneers never make good
voyagers— it takes the shark out of 'em; no harpooneer is worth a straw
who aint pretty sharkish. There was young Nat Swaine, once the bravest
boat-header out of all Nantucket and the Vineyard; he joined the
meeting, and never came to good. He got so frightened about his plaguy
soul, that he shrinked and sheered away from whales, for fear of
after-claps, in case he got stove and went to Davy Jones."
"Peleg! Peleg!" said Bildad, lifting his eyes and hands,
"thou thyself, as I myself, hast seen many a perilous time; thou
knowest, Peleg, what it is to have the fear of death; how, then, can'st
thou prate in this ungodly guise. Thou beliest thine own heart, Peleg.
Tell me, when this same Pequod here had her three masts overboard in
that typhoon on Japan, that same voyage when thou went mate with Captain
Ahab, did'st thou not think of Death and the Judgment then?"
"Hear him, hear him now," cried Peleg, marching across
the cabin, and thrusting his hands far down into his pockets,—"hear him,
all of ye. Think of that! When every moment we thought the ship would
sink! Death and the Judgment then? What? With all three masts making
such an everlasting thundering against the side; and every sea breaking
over us, fore and aft. Think of Death and the Judgment then? No! no time
to think about Death then. Life was what Captain Ahab and I was thinking
of; and how to save all hands how to rig jury-masts how to get into the
nearest port; that was what I was thinking of."
Bildad said no more, but buttoning up his coat, stalked
on deck, where we followed him. There he stood, very quietly overlooking
some sailmakers who were mending a top-sail in the waist. Now and then
he stooped to pick up a patch, or save an end of tarred twine, which
otherwise might have been wasted.
"Shipmates, have ye shipped in
Queequeg and I had just left the Pequod, and were
sauntering away from the water, for the moment each occupied with his
own thoughts, when the above words were put to us by a stranger, who,
pausing before us, levelled his massive forefinger at the vessel in
question. He was but shabbily apparelled in faded jacket and patched
trowsers; a rag of a black handkerchief investing his neck. A confluent
smallpox had in all directions flowed over his face, and left it like
the complicated ribbed bed of a torrent, when the rushing waters have
been dried up.
"Have ye shipped in her?" he repeated.
"You mean the ship Pequod, I suppose," said I, trying to
gain a little more time for an uninterrupted look at him.
"Aye, the Pequod—that ship there," he said, drawing back
his whole arm and then rapidly shoving it straight out from him-, with
the fixed bayonet of his pointed finger darted full at the object.
"Yes," said I, "we have just signed the articles."
"Anything down there about your souls?"
"Oh, perhaps you hav'n't got any," he said quickly.
"No matter though, I know many chaps that hav'n't got any,—
good luck to 'em; and they are all the better off for it.
A soul's a sort of a fifth wheel to a wagon."
"What are you jabbering about, shipmate?" said I.
"He's got enough, though, to make up for all
deficiencies of that sort in other chaps," abruptly said the stranger,
placing a nervous emphasis upon the word he.
"Queequeg," said I, "let's go; this fellow has broken
loose from somewhere; he's talking about something and somebody we don't
"Stop!" cried the stranger. "Ye said true—ye hav'n't
Old Thunder yet, have ye?"
"Who's Old Thunder?" said I, again riveted with the
insane earnestness of his manner.
"What! the captain of our ship, the Pequod?"
"Aye, among some of us old sailor chaps, he goes by that
Ye hav'n't seen him yet, have ye?"
"No, we hav'n't. He's sick they say, but is getting
better, and will be all right again before long."
"All right again before long!" laughed the stranger,
with a solemnly derisive sort of laugh. "Look ye; when Captain Ahab is
all right, then this left arm of mine will be all right; not before."
"What do you know about him?"
"What did they tell you about him? Say that!"
"They didn't tell much of anything about him; only I've
heard that he's a good whale-hunter, and a good captain to his crew."
"That's true, that's true—yes, both true enough. But you
must jump when he gives an order. Step and growl; growl and go—that's
the word with Captain Ahab. But nothing about that thing that happened
to him off Cape Horn, long ago, when he lay like dead for three days and
nights; nothing about that deadly skrimmage with the Spaniard afore the
altar in Santa?— heard nothing about that, eh? Nothing about the silver
calabash he spat into? And nothing about his losing his leg last voyage,
according to the prophecy. Didn't ye hear a word about them matters and
something more, eh? No, I don't think ye did; how could ye? Who knows
it? Not all Nantucket, I guess. But hows'ever, mayhap, ye've heard tell
about the leg, and how he lost it; aye, ye have heard of that, I dare
say. Oh, yes, that every one knows a'most—I mean they know he's only one
leg; and that a parmacetti took the other off."
"My friend," said I, "what all this gibberish of yours
is about, I don't know, and I don't much care; for it seems to me that
you must be a little damaged in the head. But if you are speaking of
Captain Ahab, of that ship there, the Pequod, then let me tell you, that
I know all about the loss of his leg."
"All about it, eh—sure you do? all?
With finger pointed and eye levelled at the Pequod, the
beggar-like stranger stood a moment, as if in a troubled reverie; then
starting a little, turned and said:—"Ye've shipped, have ye? Names down
on the papers? Well, well, what's signed, is signed; and what's to be,
will be; and then again, perhaps it won't be, after all. Any how, it's
all fixed and arranged a'ready; and some sailors or other must go with
him, I suppose; as well these as any other men, God pity 'em! Morning to
ye, shipmates, morning; the ineffable heavens bless ye; I'm sorry I
"Look here, friend," said I, "if you have anything
important to tell us, out with it; but if you are only trying to
bamboozle us, you are mistaken in your game; that's all I have to say."
"And it's said very well, and I like to hear a chap talk
up that way; you are just the man for him—the likes of ye. Morning to
ye, shipmates, morning! Oh! when ye get there, tell 'em I've concluded
not to make one of 'em."
"Ah, my dear fellow, you can't fool us that way—you
can't fool us. It is the easiest thing in the world for a man to look as
if he had a great secret in him."
"Morning to ye, shipmates, morning."
"Morning it is," said I. "Come along, Queequeg, let's
leave this crazy man. But stop, tell me your name, will you?"
Elijah! thought I, and we walked away, both commenting,
after each other's fashion, upon this ragged old sailor; and agreed that
he was nothing but a humbug, trying to be a bugbear. But we had not gone
perhaps above a hundred yards, when chancing to turn a corner, and
looking back as I did so, who should be seen but Elijah following us,
though at a distance. Somehow, the sight of him struck me so, that I
said nothing to Queequeg of his being behind, but passed on with my
comrade, anxious to see whether the stranger would turn the same corner
that we did. He did; and then it seemed to me that he was dogging us,
but with what intent I could not for the life of me imagine. This
circumstance, coupled with his ambiguous, half-hinting, half-revealing,
shrouded sort of talk, now begat in me all kinds of vague wonderments
and half-apprehensions, and all connected with the Pequod; and Captain
Ahab; and the leg he had lost; and the Cape Horn fit; and the silver
calabash; and what Captain Peleg had said of him, when I left the ship
the day previous; and the prediction of the squaw Tistig; and the voyage
we had bound ourselves to sail; and a hundred other shadowy things.
I was resolved to satisfy myself whether this ragged
Elijah was really dogging us or not, and with that intent crossed the
way with Queequeg, and on that side of it retraced our steps. But Elijah
passed on, without seeming to notice us. This relieved me; and once
more, and finally as it seemed to me, I pronounced him in my heart, a
A day or two passed, and there
was great activity aboard the Pequod. Not only were the old sails being
mended, but new sails were coming on board, and bolts of canvas, and
coils of rigging; in short, everything betokened that the ship's
preparations were hurrying to a close. Captain Peleg seldom or never
went ashore, but sat in his wigwam keeping a sharp look-out upon the
hands: Bildad did all the purchasing and providing at the stores; and
the men employed in the hold and on the rigging were working till long
On the day following Queequeg's signing the articles,
word was given at all the inns where the ship's company were stopping,
that their chests must be on board before night, for there was no
telling how soon the vessel might be sailing. So Queequeg and I got down
our traps, resolving, however, to sleep ashore till the last. But it
seems they always give very long notice in these cases, and the ship did
not sail for several days. But no wonder; there was a good deal to be
done, and there is no telling how many things to be thought of, before
the Pequod was fully equipped.
Every one knows what a multitude of things—beds,
sauce-pans, knives and forks, shovels and tongs, napkins, nut-crackers,
and what not, are indispensable to the business of housekeeping. Just so
with whaling, which necessitates a three-years' housekeeping upon the
wide ocean, far from all grocers, costermongers, doctors, bakers, and
bankers. And though this also holds true of merchant vessels, yet not by
any means to the same extent as with whalemen. For besides the great
length of the whaling voyage, the numerous articles peculiar to the
prosecution of the fishery, and the impossibility of replacing them at
the remote harbors usually frequented, it must be remembered, that of
all ships, whaling vessels are the most exposed to accidents of all
kinds, and especially to the destruction and loss of the very things
upon which the success of the voyage most depends. Hence, the spare
boats, spare spars, and spare lines and harpoons, and spare everythings,
almost, but a spare Captain and duplicate ship.
At the period of our arrival at the Island, the heaviest
storage of the Pequod had been almost completed; comprising her beef,
bread, water, fuel, and iron hoops and staves. But, as before hinted,
for some time there was a continual fetching and carrying on board of
divers odds and ends of things, both large and small.
Chief among those who did this fetching and carrying was
Captain Bildad's sister, a lean old lady of a most determined and
indefatigable spirit, but withal very kindhearted, who seemed resolved
that, if she could help it, nothing should be found wanting in the
Pequod, after once fairly getting to sea. At one time she would come on
board with a jar of pickles for the steward's pantry; another time with
a bunch of quills for the chief mate's desk, where he kept his log; a
third time with a roll of flannel for the small of some one's rheumatic
back. Never did any woman better deserve her name, which was
Charity—Aunt Charity, as everybody called her. And like a sister of
charity did this charitable Aunt Charity bustle about hither and
thither, ready to turn her hand and heart to anything that promised to
yield safety, comfort, and consolation to all on board a ship in which
her beloved brother Bildad was concerned, and in which she herself owned
a score or two of well-saved dollars.
But it was startling to see this excellent hearted
Quakeress coming on board, as she did the last day, with a long
oil-ladle in one hand, and a still longer whaling lance in the other.
Nor was Bildad himself nor Captain Peleg at all backward. As for Bildad,
he carried about with him a long list of the articles needed, and at
every fresh arrival, down went his mark opposite that article upon the
paper. Every once in a while Peleg came hobbling out of his whalebone
den, roaring at the men down the hatchways, roaring up to the riggers at
the mast-head, and then concluded by roaring back into his wigwam.
During these days of preparation, Queequeg and I often
visited the craft, and as often I asked about Captain Ahab, and how he
was, and when he was going to come on board his ship. To these questions
they would answer, that he was getting better and better, and was
expected aboard every day; meantime, the two Captains, Peleg and Bildad,
could attend to everything necessary to fit the vessel for the voyage.
If I had been downright honest with myself, I would have seen very
plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way
to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to
be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the
open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that
if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover
up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I
said nothing, and tried to think nothing.
At last it was given out that some time next day the
ship would certainly sail. So next morning, Queequeg and I took a very