Topical Guide 48
“I’ve got your boat all built,” he cried. He cackled with pleasure and waved at us impatiently, urging us into the shack. “Come on, come on,” he said. . . . , “let’s talk about the kind of boat you need. It’s got to hold two boys your size—”
“—and their gear,” I said.
The captain and Raskol gave me looks.
“You know, food, tent, first-aid kit—”
“Yeah,” snapped the captain. “It’s got to hold two boys your size and their gear. It’s got to be narrow enough to squeeze between the banks in the upper reaches of the Bolotomy—”
“That’s right,” I said. “That’s why I was thinking that a canoe—”
They were giving me looks again. I shrugged and kept quiet.
“It must draw very little water,” the captain went on, in a much louder voice. “It must be light enough for two boys your size to carry around or over obstacles. . . . I’ve got just the thing! . . . I’ve been saving this box to use as a coffin, . . . but there’s no reason why you boys can’t use it in the meantime. Grab hold, and we’ll bring her out into the light.”
Raskol and I grabbed the box by the ends and lifted. He got his end up, but his face began turning red. I couldn’t lift mine.
“Heave!” shouted the captain. Raskol let his end fall to the floor with a crash.
“It’s too heavy, Cap’n,” said Raskol.
Cap’n Leech rubbed the gray stubble on his chin for a bit, and then he climbed into the box and stretched out on his back. “I’m pretty thin,” he said. “This is a lot deeper box than I need. I’d say she’s a little less than two foot deep. Now suppose you cut off about a foot from the top part of the box. That’d leave me about nine inches depth, which should be plenty, because I don’t eat as much as I used to, and by the time I need the box I’m likely to be thin enough to just flatten right out in it.”
Raskol and the captain snapped a line around the box, and we took turns sawing off the upper foot or so. . . . When we finished, we had a long shallow box that Raskol and I could carry, some spare lumber from which the captain promised to carve a pair of paddles, and lots of sawdust, which I swept through the cracks in the floor.
Little Follies, “Life on the Bolotomy”
Now, at this time it was that my poor pagan companion, and fast bosom-friend, Queequeg, was seized with a fever, . . . and at last, after some days’ suffering, laid him in his hammock, close to the very sill of the door of death. How he wasted and wasted away in those few long-lingering days, till there seemed but little left of him but his frame and tattooing. But as all else in him thinned, and his cheek-bones grew sharper, his eyes, nevertheless, seemed growing fuller and fuller; they became of a strange softness of lustre; and mildly but deeply looked out at you there from his sickness, a wondrous testimony to that immortal health in him which could not die, or be weakened. . . .
Not a man of the crew but gave him up; and, as for Queequeg himself, what he thought of his case was forcibly shown by a curious favor he asked. He called one to him in the grey morning watch, when the day was just breaking, and taking his hand, said that while in Nantucket he had chanced to see certain little canoes of dark wood, like the rich war-wood of his native isle; and upon inquiry, he had learned that all whalemen who died in Nantucket, were laid in those dark canoes, and that the fancy of being so laid had much pleased him; for it was not unlike the custom of his own race, who, after embalming a dead warrior, stretched him out in his canoe, and so left him to be floated away to the starry archipelagoes; for not only do they believe that the stars are isles, but that far beyond all visible horizons, their own mild, uncontinented seas, interflow with the blue heavens; and so form the white breakers of the milky way. He added, that he shuddered at the thought of being buried in his hammock, according to the usual sea-custom, tossed like something vile to the death-devouring sharks. No: he desired a canoe like those of Nantucket, all the more congenial to him, being a whaleman, that like a whale-boat these coffin-canoes were without a keel; though that involved but uncertain steering, and much lee-way adown the dim ages.
Now, when this strange circumstance was made known aft, the carpenter was at once commanded to do Queequeg’s bidding, whatever it might include. . . . No sooner was the carpenter apprised of the order, than taking his rule, he forthwith with all the indifferent promptitude of his character, proceeded into the forecastle and took Queequeg’s measure with great accuracy, regularly chalking Queequeg’s person as he shifted the rule. . . .
Going to his vice-bench, the carpenter for convenience sake and general reference, now transferringly measured on it the exact length the coffin was to be, and then made the transfer permanent by cutting two notches at its extremities. This done, he marshalled the planks and his tools, and to work.
When the last nail was driven, and the lid duly planed and fitted, he lightly shouldered the coffin and went forward with it, inquiring whether they were ready for it yet in that direction.
Overhearing the indignant but half-humorous cries with which the people on deck began to drive the coffin away, Queequeg, to every one’s consternation, commanded that the thing should be instantly brought to him, nor was there any denying him; seeing that, of all mortals, some dying men are the most tyrannical; and certainly, since they will shortly trouble us so little for evermore, the poor fellows ought to be indulged.
Leaning over in his hammock, Queequeg long regarded the coffin with an attentive eye. He then called for his harpoon, had the wooden stock drawn from it, and then had the iron part placed in the coffin along with one of the paddles of his boat. All by his own request, also, biscuits were then ranged round the sides within; a flask of fresh water was placed at the head, and a small bag of woody earth scraped up in the hold at the foot; and a piece of sail-cloth being rolled up for a pillow, Queequeg now entreated to be lifted into his final bed, that he might make trial of its comforts, if any it had. He lay without moving a few minutes, then told one to go to his bed and bring out his little god, Yojo. Then crossing his arms on his breast with Yojo between, he called for the coffin lid (hatch he called it) to be placed over him. The head part turned over with a leather hinge, and there lay Queequeg in his coffin with little but his composed countenance in view. “Rarmai” (it will do; it is easy) he murmured at last . . .
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Chapter 110, “Queequeg in His Coffin”
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