University of Virginia Library

Search this document 




Page 529


Upon searching, it was found that the casks last struck into
the hold were perfectly sound, and that the leak must be further
off. So, it being calm weather, they broke out deeper and
deeper, disturbing the slumbers of the huge ground-tier butts;
and from that black midnight sending those gigantic moles into
the daylight above. So deep did they go; and so ancient, and
corroded, and weedy the aspect of the lowermost puncheons,
that you almost looked next for some mouldy corner-stone cask
containing coins of Captain Noah, with copies of the posted
placards, vainly warning the infatuated old world from the flood.
Tierce after tierce, too, of water, and bread, and beef, and shooks
of staves, and iron bundles of hoops, were hoisted out, till at
last the piled decks were hard to get about; and the hollow
hull echoed under foot, as if you were treading over empty
catacombs, and reeled and rolled in the sea like an air-freighted
demijohn. Top-heavy was the ship as a dinnerless student with
all Aristotle in his head. Well was it that the Typhoons did
not visit them then.

Now, at this time it was that my poor pagan companion, and
fast bosom-friend, Queequeg, was seized with a fever, which
brought him nigh to his endless end.

Be it said, that in this vocation of whaling, sinecures are unknown;
dignity and danger go hand in hand; till you get to
be Captain, the higher you rise the harder you toil. So with
poor Queequeg, who, as harpooneer, must not only face all the
rage of the living whale, but—as we have elsewhere seen—mount
his dead back in a rolling sea; and finally descend into the gloom


Page 530
of the hold, and bitterly sweating all day in that subterraneous
confinement, resolutely manhandle the clumsiest casks and see to
their stowage. To be short, among whalemen, the harpooneers
are the holders, so called.

Poor Queequeg! when the ship was about half disembowelled,
you should have stooped over the hatchway, and peered down
upon him there; where, stripped to his woollen drawers, the tattooed
savage was crawling about amid that dampness and slime,
like a green spotted lizard at the bottom of a well. And a well,
or an ice-house, it somehow proved to him, poor pagan; where,
strange to say, for all the heat of his sweatings, he caught a terrible
chill which lapsed into a fever; and at last, after some
days' suffering, laid him in his hammock, close to the very sill of
the door of death. How he wasted and wasted away in those
few long-lingering days, till there seemed but little left of him
but his frame and tattooing. But as all else in him thinned, and
his cheek-bones grew sharper, his eyes, nevertheless, seemed
growing fuller and fuller; they became of a strange softness of
lustre; and mildly but deeply looked out at you there from his
sickness, a wondrous testimony to that immortal health in
him which could not die, or be weakened. And like circles on
the water, which, as they grow fainter, expand; so his eyes
seemed rounding and rounding, like the rings of Eternity. An
awe that cannot be named would steal over you as you sat by
the side of this waning savage, and saw as strange things in his
face, as any beheld who were bystanders when Zoroaster died.
For whatever is truly wondrous and fearful in man, never yet
was put into words or books. And the drawing near of Death,
which alike levels all, alike impresses all with a last revelation,
which only an author from the dead could adequately tell. So
that—let us say it again—no dying Chaldee or Greek had higher
and holier thoughts than those, whose mysterious shades you
saw creeping over the face of poor Queequeg, as he quietly lay
in his swaying hammock, and the rolling sea seemed gently


Page 531
rocking him to his final rest, and the ocean's invisible flood-tide
lifted him higher and higher towards his destined heaven.

Not a man of the crew but gave him up; and, as for Queequeg
himself, what he thought of his case was forcibly shown
by a curious favor he asked. He called one to him in the grey
morning watch, when the day was just breaking, and taking his
hand, said that while in Nantucket he had chanced to see certain
little canoes of dark wood, like the rich war-wood of his
native isle; and upon inquiry, he had learned that all whalemen
who died in Nantucket, were laid in those same dark
canoes, and that the fancy of being so laid had much pleased
him; for it was not unlike the custom of his own race, who,
after embalming a dead warrior, stretched him out in his canoe,
and so left him to be floated away to the starry archipelagoes;
for not only do they believe that the stars are isles, but that far
beyond all visible horizons, their own mild, uncontinented seas,
interflow with the blue heavens; and so form the white breakers
of the milky way. He added, that he shuddered at the thought
of being buried in his hammock, according to the usual sea-custom,
tossed like something vile to the death-devouring sharks.
No: he desired a canoe like those of Nantucket, all the more
congenial to him, being a whaleman, that like a whale-boat
these coffin-canoes were without a keel; though that involved
but uncertain steering, and much lee-way adown the dim

Now, when this strange circumstance was made known aft, the
carpenter was at once commanded to do Queequeg's bidding,
whatever it might include. There was some heathenish, coffin-colored
old lumber aboard, which, upon a long previous voyage,
had been cut from the aboriginal groves of the Lackaday islands,
and from these dark planks the coffin was recommended to be
made. No sooner was the carpenter apprised of the order, than
taking his rule, he forthwith with all the indifferent promptitude
of his character, proceeded into the forecastle and took Queequeg's


Page 532
measure with great accuracy, regularly chalking Queequeg's
person as he shifted the rule.

“Ah! poor fellow! he'll have to die now,” ejaculated the
Long Island sailor.

Going to his vice-bench, the carpenter for convenience sake
and general reference, now transferringly measured on it the
exact length the coffin was to be, and then made the transfer
permanent by cutting two notches at its extremities. This done,
he marshalled the planks and his tools, and to work.

When the last nail was driven, and the lid duly planed and
fitted, he lightly shouldered the coffin and went forward with it,
inquiring whether they were ready for it yet in that direction.

Overhearing the indignant but half-humorous cries with
which the people on deck began to drive the coffin away,
Queequeg, to every one's consternation, commanded that the
thing should be instantly brought to him, nor was there any
denying him; seeing that, of all mortals, some dying men are
the most tyrannical; and certainly, since they will shortly trouble
us so little for evermore, the poor fellows ought to be indulged.

Leaning over in his hammock, Queequeg long regarded the
coffin with an attentive eye. He then called for his harpoon,
had the wooden stock drawn from it, and then had the iron part
placed in the coffin along with one of the paddles of his boat.
All by his own request, also, biscuits were then ranged round
the sides within: a flask of fresh water was placed at the head,
and a small bag of woody earth scraped up in the hold at the
foot; and a piece of sail-cloth being rolled up for a pillow,
Queequeg now entreated to be lifted into his final bed, that he
might make trial of its comforts, if any it had. He lay without
moving a few minutes, then told one to go to his bag and bring
out his little god, Yojo. Then crossing his arms on his breast
with Yojo between, he called for the coffin lid (hatch he called
it) to be placed over him. The head part turned over with a
leather hinge, and there lay Queequeg in his coffin with little


Page 533
but his composed countenance in view. “Rarmai” (it will do;
it is easy), he murmured at last, and signed to be replaced in
his hammock.

But ere this was done, Pip, who had been slily hovering
near by all this while, drew nigh to him where he lay, and with
soft sobbings, took him by the hand; in the other, holding his

“Poor rover! will ye never have done with all this weary
roving? where go ye now? But if the currents carry ye to
those sweet Antilles where the beaches are only beat with
water-lilies, will ye do one little errand for me? Seek out one
Pip, who's now been missing long: I think he's in those far
Antilles. If ye find him, then comfort him; for he must be
very sad; for look! he's left his tambourine behind;—I found it.
Rig-a-dig, dig, dig! Now, Queequeg, die; and I'll beat ye your
dying march.”

“I have heard,” murmured Starbuck, gazing down the scuttle,
“that in violent fevers, men, all ignorance, have talked in ancient
tongues; and that when the mystery is probed, it turns out
always that in their wholly forgotten childhood those ancient
tongues had been really spoken in their hearing by some lofty
scholars. So, to my fond faith, poor Pip, in this strange
sweetness of his lunacy, brings heavenly vouchers of all our
heavenly homes. Where learned he that, but there?—Hark!
he speaks again: but more wildly now.”

“Form two and two! Let's make a General of him! Ho,
where's his harpoon? Lay it across here,—Rig-a-dig, dig, dig!
huzza! Oh for a game cock now to sit upon his head and crow!
Queequeg dies game!—mind ye that; Queequeg dies game!—
take ye good heed of that; Queequeg dies game! I say; game,
game, game! but base little Pip, he died a coward; died all
a'shiver;—out upon Pip! Hark ye; if ye find Pip, tell all the
Antilles he's a runaway; a coward, a coward, a coward! Tell
them he jumped from a whale-boat! I'd never beat my


Page 534
tambourine over base Pip, and hail him General, if he were
once more dying here. No, no! shame upon all cowards—
shame upon them! Let 'em go drown like Pip, that jumped
from a whale-boat. Shame! shame!”

During all this, Queequeg lay with closed eyes, as if in a
dream. Pip was led away, and the sick man was replaced in
his hammock.

But now that he had apparently made every preparation for
death; now that his coffin was proved a good fit, Queequeg
suddenly rallied; soon there seemed no need of the carpenter's
box: and thereupon, when some expressed their delighted surprise,
he, in substance, said, that the cause of his sudden
convalescence was this;—at a critical moment, he had just
recalled a little duty ashore, which he was leaving undone; and
therefore had changed his mind about dying: he could not die
yet, he averred. They asked him, then, whether to live or die
was a matter of his own sovereign will and pleasure. He
answered, certainly. In a word, it was Queequeg's conceit,
that if a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not
kill him: nothing but a whale, or a gale, or some violent,
ungovernable, unintelligent destroyer of that sort.

Now, there is this noteworthy difference between savage and
civilized; that while a sick, civilized man may be six months
convalescing, generally speaking, a sick savage is almost half-well
again in a day. So, in good time my Queequeg gained
strength; and at length after sitting on the windlass for a few
indolent days (but eating with a vigorous appetite) he suddenly
leaped to his feet, threw out arms and legs, gave himself a good
stretching, yawned a little bit, and then springing into the head
of his hoisted boat, and poising a harpoon, pronounced himself
fit for a fight.

With a wild whimsiness, he now used his coffin for a seachest;
and emptying into it his canvas bag of clothes, set them
in order there. Many spare hours he spent, in carving the lid


Page 535
with all manner of grotesque figures and drawings; and it
seemed that hereby he was striving, in his rude way, to copy
parts of the twisted tattooing on his body. And this tattooing,
had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island,
who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body
a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical
treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his
own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in
one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read,
though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries
were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with
the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be
unsolved to the last. And this thought it must have been
which suggested to Ahab that wild exclamation of his, when
one morning turning away from surveying poor Queequeg—
“Oh, devilish tantalization of the gods!”