The Project Gutenberg ebook of Moby Dick; or The Whale, by Herman Melville



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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 head-peddling 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 colour 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 my

meaning.
"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

dark.
"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 him.
"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 sabbee?"
"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.

CHAPTER 4. The Counterpane.

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-coloured 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 favour 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

sun-lit 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

stage--neither caterpillar nor butterfly. He was just enough civilized

to show off his outlandishness in the strangest possible manners. 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.

CHAPTER 5. Breakfast.

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 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 warrior whalemen!
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

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