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
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
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 thing."
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?
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
"My boy," said the landlord, "you'll have the nightmare to a dead
"Landlord," I whispered, "that aint the harpooneer is it?"
"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 favourite 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 skin.
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
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 round 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 telling.
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--yes, 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 the world?"
"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 guess."
"Landlord," said I, going up to him as cool as Mt. Hecla in a
snow-storm--"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 dangerous man."
"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.
Arter 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 corn-cobs 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 colour, here and there stuck over with large
blackish looking squares. Yes, it's just as I thought, he's a terrible