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flask 18
ahab 15
cabin 14
dinner 10
himself 10
would 9
out 9
table 8
up 8
boy 8
been 7
little 7
dough 7
some 6
own 6
time 6
harpooneers 6
one 5
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over 5
head 5
starbuck 5
has 5
before 5
three 5
lived 5
old 5
tashtego 5
deck 5
through 5
seemed 5
stubb 5
air 4
whether 4
after 4
ship 4
much 4
never 4
first 4
made 4
moment 4
knife 4
queequeg 4
life 4
against 4
great 4
belshazzar 4
sea 4
beef 4
steward 4

Chapter 34: The Cabin-Table.

	


It is noon; and Dough-Boy, the steward, thrusting his pale loaf-of-bread
face from the cabin-scuttle, announces dinner to his lord and
master; who, sitting in the lee quarter-boat, has just been taking an
observation of the sun; and is now mutely reckoning the latitude on the
smooth, medallion-shaped tablet, reserved for that daily purpose on
the upper part of his ivory leg. From his complete inattention to the
tidings, you would think that moody Ahab had not heard his menial. But
presently, catching hold of the mizen shrouds, he swings himself to
the deck, and in an even, unexhilarated voice, saying, "Dinner, Mr.
Starbuck," disappears into the cabin.

When the last echo of his sultan's step has died away, and Starbuck, the
first Emir, has every reason to suppose that he is seated, then Starbuck
rouses from his quietude, takes a few turns along the planks, and, after
a grave peep into the binnacle, says, with some touch of pleasantness,
"Dinner, Mr. Stubb," and descends the scuttle. The second Emir lounges
about the rigging awhile, and then slightly shaking the main brace, to
see whether it will be all right with that important rope, he likewise
takes up the old burden, and with a rapid "Dinner, Mr. Flask," follows
after his predecessors.

But the third Emir, now seeing himself all alone on the quarter-deck,
seems to feel relieved from some curious restraint; for, tipping all
sorts of knowing winks in all sorts of directions, and kicking off his
shoes, he strikes into a sharp but noiseless squall of a hornpipe right
over the Grand Turk's head; and then, by a dexterous sleight, pitching
his cap up into the mizentop for a shelf, he goes down rollicking so
far at least as he remains visible from the deck, reversing all other
processions, by bringing up the rear with music. But ere stepping into
the cabin doorway below, he pauses, ships a new face altogether, and,
then, independent, hilarious little Flask enters King Ahab's presence,
in the character of Abjectus, or the Slave.

It is not the least among the strange things bred by the intense
artificialness of sea-usages, that while in the open air of the deck
some officers will, upon provocation, bear themselves boldly and
defyingly enough towards their commander; yet, ten to one, let those
very officers the next moment go down to their customary dinner in that
same commander's cabin, and straightway their inoffensive, not to say
deprecatory and humble air towards him, as he sits at the head of
the table; this is marvellous, sometimes most comical. Wherefore this
difference? A problem? Perhaps not. To have been Belshazzar, King of
Babylon; and to have been Belshazzar, not haughtily but courteously,
therein certainly must have been some touch of mundane grandeur. But he
who in the rightly regal and intelligent spirit presides over his own
private dinner-table of invited guests, that man's unchallenged power
and dominion of individual influence for the time; that man's royalty of
state transcends Belshazzar's, for Belshazzar was not the greatest. Who
has but once dined his friends, has tasted what it is to be Caesar. It
is a witchery of social czarship which there is no withstanding. Now,
if to this consideration you superadd the official supremacy of a
ship-master, then, by inference, you will derive the cause of that
peculiarity of sea-life just mentioned.

Over his ivory-inlaid table, Ahab presided like a mute, maned
sea-lion on the white coral beach, surrounded by his warlike but still
deferential cubs. In his own proper turn, each officer waited to be
served. They were as little children before Ahab; and yet, in Ahab,
there seemed not to lurk the smallest social arrogance. With one mind,
their intent eyes all fastened upon the old man's knife, as he carved
the chief dish before him. I do not suppose that for the world they
would have profaned that moment with the slightest observation, even
upon so neutral a topic as the weather. No! And when reaching out his
knife and fork, between which the slice of beef was locked, Ahab thereby
motioned Starbuck's plate towards him, the mate received his meat as
though receiving alms; and cut it tenderly; and a little started
if, perchance, the knife grazed against the plate; and chewed it
noiselessly; and swallowed it, not without circumspection. For, like
the Coronation banquet at Frankfort, where the German Emperor profoundly
dines with the seven Imperial Electors, so these cabin meals were
somehow solemn meals, eaten in awful silence; and yet at table old Ahab
forbade not conversation; only he himself was dumb. What a relief it was
to choking Stubb, when a rat made a sudden racket in the hold below. And
poor little Flask, he was the youngest son, and little boy of this weary
family party. His were the shinbones of the saline beef; his would have
been the drumsticks. For Flask to have presumed to help himself, this
must have seemed to him tantamount to larceny in the first degree. Had
he helped himself at that table, doubtless, never more would he have
been able to hold his head up in this honest world; nevertheless,
strange to say, Ahab never forbade him. And had Flask helped himself,
the chances were Ahab had never so much as noticed it. Least of all, did
Flask presume to help himself to butter. Whether he thought the owners
of the ship denied it to him, on account of its clotting his clear,
sunny complexion; or whether he deemed that, on so long a voyage in such
marketless waters, butter was at a premium, and therefore was not for
him, a subaltern; however it was, Flask, alas! was a butterless man!

Another thing. Flask was the last person down at the dinner, and Flask
is the first man up. Consider! For hereby Flask's dinner was badly
jammed in point of time. Starbuck and Stubb both had the start of him;
and yet they also have the privilege of lounging in the rear. If Stubb
even, who is but a peg higher than Flask, happens to have but a small
appetite, and soon shows symptoms of concluding his repast, then Flask
must bestir himself, he will not get more than three mouthfuls that day;
for it is against holy usage for Stubb to precede Flask to the deck.
Therefore it was that Flask once admitted in private, that ever since he
had arisen to the dignity of an officer, from that moment he had never
known what it was to be otherwise than hungry, more or less. For what
he ate did not so much relieve his hunger, as keep it immortal in him.
Peace and satisfaction, thought Flask, have for ever departed from
my stomach. I am an officer; but, how I wish I could fish a bit of
old-fashioned beef in the forecastle, as I used to when I was before the
mast. There's the fruits of promotion now; there's the vanity of glory:
there's the insanity of life! Besides, if it were so that any mere
sailor of the Pequod had a grudge against Flask in Flask's official
capacity, all that sailor had to do, in order to obtain ample vengeance,
was to go aft at dinner-time, and get a peep at Flask through the cabin
sky-light, sitting silly and dumfoundered before awful Ahab.

Now, Ahab and his three mates formed what may be called the first table
in the Pequod's cabin. After their departure, taking place in inverted
order to their arrival, the canvas cloth was cleared, or rather was
restored to some hurried order by the pallid steward. And then the three
harpooneers were bidden to the feast, they being its residuary legatees.
They made a sort of temporary servants' hall of the high and mighty
cabin.

In strange contrast to the hardly tolerable constraint and nameless
invisible domineerings of the captain's table, was the entire care-free
license and ease, the almost frantic democracy of those inferior fellows
the harpooneers. While their masters, the mates, seemed afraid of the
sound of the hinges of their own jaws, the harpooneers chewed their food
with such a relish that there was a report to it. They dined like lords;
they filled their bellies like Indian ships all day loading with spices.
Such portentous appetites had Queequeg and Tashtego, that to fill out
the vacancies made by the previous repast, often the pale Dough-Boy was
fain to bring on a great baron of salt-junk, seemingly quarried out of
the solid ox. And if he were not lively about it, if he did not go with
a nimble hop-skip-and-jump, then Tashtego had an ungentlemanly way of
accelerating him by darting a fork at his back, harpoon-wise. And once
Daggoo, seized with a sudden humor, assisted Dough-Boy's memory by
snatching him up bodily, and thrusting his head into a great empty
wooden trencher, while Tashtego, knife in hand, began laying out the
circle preliminary to scalping him. He was naturally a very nervous,
shuddering sort of little fellow, this bread-faced steward; the progeny
of a bankrupt baker and a hospital nurse. And what with the standing
spectacle of the black terrific Ahab, and the periodical tumultuous
visitations of these three savages, Dough-Boy's whole life was one
continual lip-quiver. Commonly, after seeing the harpooneers furnished
with all things they demanded, he would escape from their clutches into
his little pantry adjoining, and fearfully peep out at them through the
blinds of its door, till all was over.

It was a sight to see Queequeg seated over against Tashtego, opposing
his filed teeth to the Indian's: crosswise to them, Daggoo seated on the
floor, for a bench would have brought his hearse-plumed head to the low
carlines; at every motion of his colossal limbs, making the low cabin
framework to shake, as when an African elephant goes passenger in a
ship. But for all this, the great negro was wonderfully abstemious,
not to say dainty. It seemed hardly possible that by such comparatively
small mouthfuls he could keep up the vitality diffused through so broad,
baronial, and superb a person. But, doubtless, this noble savage fed
strong and drank deep of the abounding element of air; and through his
dilated nostrils snuffed in the sublime life of the worlds. Not by
beef or by bread, are giants made or nourished. But Queequeg, he had a
mortal, barbaric smack of the lip in eating--an ugly sound enough--so
much so, that the trembling Dough-Boy almost looked to see whether
any marks of teeth lurked in his own lean arms. And when he would hear
Tashtego singing out for him to produce himself, that his bones might be
picked, the simple-witted steward all but shattered the crockery hanging
round him in the pantry, by his sudden fits of the palsy. Nor did the
whetstone which the harpooneers carried in their pockets, for their
lances and other weapons; and with which whetstones, at dinner, they
would ostentatiously sharpen their knives; that grating sound did not at
all tend to tranquillize poor Dough-Boy. How could he forget that in his
Island days, Queequeg, for one, must certainly have been guilty of some
murderous, convivial indiscretions. Alas! Dough-Boy! hard fares the
white waiter who waits upon cannibals. Not a napkin should he carry on
his arm, but a buckler. In good time, though, to his great delight,
the three salt-sea warriors would rise and depart; to his credulous,
fable-mongering ears, all their martial bones jingling in them at every
step, like Moorish scimetars in scabbards.

But, though these barbarians dined in the cabin, and nominally lived
there; still, being anything but sedentary in their habits, they were
scarcely ever in it except at mealtimes, and just before sleeping-time,
when they passed through it to their own peculiar quarters.

In this one matter, Ahab seemed no exception to most American whale
captains, who, as a set, rather incline to the opinion that by rights
the ship's cabin belongs to them; and that it is by courtesy alone that
anybody else is, at any time, permitted there. So that, in real truth,
the mates and harpooneers of the Pequod might more properly be said to
have lived out of the cabin than in it. For when they did enter it, it
was something as a street-door enters a house; turning inwards for
a moment, only to be turned out the next; and, as a permanent thing,
residing in the open air. Nor did they lose much hereby; in the cabin
was no companionship; socially, Ahab was inaccessible. Though nominally
included in the census of Christendom, he was still an alien to it. He
lived in the world, as the last of the Grisly Bears lived in settled
Missouri. And as when Spring and Summer had departed, that wild Logan of
the woods, burying himself in the hollow of a tree, lived out the winter
there, sucking his own paws; so, in his inclement, howling old age,
Ahab's soul, shut up in the caved trunk of his body, there fed upon the
sullen paws of its gloom!