Chapter 21: Going Aboard.
It was nearly six o'clock, but only grey imperfect misty dawn, when we
drew nigh the wharf.
"There are some sailors running ahead there, if I see right," said I to
Queequeg, "it can't be shadows; she's off by sunrise, I guess; come on!"
"Avast!" cried a voice, whose owner at the same time coming close behind
us, laid a hand upon both our shoulders, and then insinuating himself
between us, stood stooping forward a little, in the uncertain twilight,
strangely peering from Queequeg to me. It was Elijah.
"Hands off, will you," said I.
"Lookee here," said Queequeg, shaking himself, "go 'way!"
"Ain't going aboard, then?"
"Yes, we are," said I, "but what business is that of yours? Do you know,
Mr. Elijah, that I consider you a little impertinent?"
"No, no, no; I wasn't aware of that," said Elijah, slowly and
wonderingly looking from me to Queequeg, with the most unaccountable
"Elijah," said I, "you will oblige my friend and me by withdrawing. We
are going to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and would prefer not to be
"Ye be, be ye? Coming back afore breakfast?"
"He's cracked, Queequeg," said I, "come on."
"Holloa!" cried stationary Elijah, hailing us when we had removed a few
"Never mind him," said I, "Queequeg, come on."
But he stole up to us again, and suddenly clapping his hand on my
shoulder, said--"Did ye see anything looking like men going towards that
ship a while ago?"
Struck by this plain matter-of-fact question, I answered, saying, "Yes,
I thought I did see four or five men; but it was too dim to be sure."
"Very dim, very dim," said Elijah. "Morning to ye."
Once more we quitted him; but once more he came softly after us; and
touching my shoulder again, said, "See if you can find 'em now, will ye?
"Morning to ye! morning to ye!" he rejoined, again moving off. "Oh! I
was going to warn ye against--but never mind, never mind--it's all one,
all in the family too;--sharp frost this morning, ain't it? Good-bye to
ye. Shan't see ye again very soon, I guess; unless it's before the Grand
Jury." And with these cracked words he finally departed, leaving me, for
the moment, in no small wonderment at his frantic impudence.
At last, stepping on board the Pequod, we found everything in profound
quiet, not a soul moving. The cabin entrance was locked within; the
hatches were all on, and lumbered with coils of rigging. Going forward
to the forecastle, we found the slide of the scuttle open. Seeing a
light, we went down, and found only an old rigger there, wrapped in a
tattered pea-jacket. He was thrown at whole length upon two chests, his
face downwards and inclosed in his folded arms. The profoundest slumber
slept upon him.
"Those sailors we saw, Queequeg, where can they have gone to?" said I,
looking dubiously at the sleeper. But it seemed that, when on the wharf,
Queequeg had not at all noticed what I now alluded to; hence I would
have thought myself to have been optically deceived in that matter,
were it not for Elijah's otherwise inexplicable question. But I beat the
thing down; and again marking the sleeper, jocularly hinted to Queequeg
that perhaps we had best sit up with the body; telling him to establish
himself accordingly. He put his hand upon the sleeper's rear, as though
feeling if it was soft enough; and then, without more ado, sat quietly
"Gracious! Queequeg, don't sit there," said I.
"Oh! perry dood seat," said Queequeg, "my country way; won't hurt him
"Face!" said I, "call that his face? very benevolent countenance then;
but how hard he breathes, he's heaving himself; get off, Queequeg, you
are heavy, it's grinding the face of the poor. Get off, Queequeg! Look,
he'll twitch you off soon. I wonder he don't wake."
Queequeg removed himself to just beyond the head of the sleeper, and
lighted his tomahawk pipe. I sat at the feet. We kept the pipe passing
over the sleeper, from one to the other. Meanwhile, upon questioning him
in his broken fashion, Queequeg gave me to understand that, in his
land, owing to the absence of settees and sofas of all sorts, the king,
chiefs, and great people generally, were in the custom of fattening some
of the lower orders for ottomans; and to furnish a house comfortably in
that respect, you had only to buy up eight or ten lazy fellows, and lay
them round in the piers and alcoves. Besides, it was very convenient on
an excursion; much better than those garden-chairs which are convertible
into walking-sticks; upon occasion, a chief calling his attendant, and
desiring him to make a settee of himself under a spreading tree, perhaps
in some damp marshy place.
While narrating these things, every time Queequeg received the tomahawk
from me, he flourished the hatchet-side of it over the sleeper's head.
"What's that for, Queequeg?"
"Perry easy, kill-e; oh! perry easy!"
He was going on with some wild reminiscences about his tomahawk-pipe,
which, it seemed, had in its two uses both brained his foes and soothed
his soul, when we were directly attracted to the sleeping rigger. The
strong vapour now completely filling the contracted hole, it began
to tell upon him. He breathed with a sort of muffledness; then seemed
troubled in the nose; then revolved over once or twice; then sat up and
rubbed his eyes.
"Holloa!" he breathed at last, "who be ye smokers?"
"Shipped men," answered I, "when does she sail?"
"Aye, aye, ye are going in her, be ye? She sails to-day. The Captain
came aboard last night."
"Who but him indeed?"
I was going to ask him some further questions concerning Ahab, when we
heard a noise on deck.
"Holloa! Starbuck's astir," said the rigger. "He's a lively chief mate,
that; good man, and a pious; but all alive now, I must turn to." And so
saying he went on deck, and we followed.
It was now clear sunrise. Soon the crew came on board in twos and
threes; the riggers bestirred themselves; the mates were actively
engaged; and several of the shore people were busy in bringing various
last things on board. Meanwhile Captain Ahab remained invisibly
enshrined within his cabin.