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Chapter 2: The Carpet-Bag.


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 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 monopolising 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 bowsprit?

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 cheeriest inns.

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 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 door.

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 orphans.

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" may be.