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 Peleg. 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
ship owner; 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
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-coloured 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 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 ship."
"Dost thee?" said Bildad, in a hollow tone, and turning round to me.
"I dost," said I unconsciously, he was so intense a Quaker.
"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 stiver.
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 broad-shouldered make.
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 moth--"
"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 Peleg."
"Thou Bildad!" roared Peleg, starting up and clattering about the
cabin. "Blast ye, Captain Bildad, if I had followed thy advice in these
matters, 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
"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 soul-bolts, 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-coloured
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 him.
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
"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 has 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.
CHAPTER 17. The Ramadan.
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 his name.
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
"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
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 boy meantime.
"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
"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 don'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