The life-buoy—a long slender cask—was dropped from the stern, where it always hung obedient to a cunning spring; but no hand rose to seize it, and the sun having long beat upon this cask it had shrunken, so that it slowly filled, and the parched wood also filled at its every pore; and the studded iron-bound cask followed the sailor to the bottom, as if to yield him his pillow, though in sooth but a hard one.
And thus the first man of the Pequod that mounted the mast to look out for the White Whale, on the White Whale’s own peculiar ground; that man was swallowed up in the deep. But few, perhaps, thought of that at the time. Indeed, in some sort, they were not grieved at this event, at least as a portent; for they regarded it, not as a fore-shadowing of evil in the future, but as the fulfilment of an evil already presaged. They declared that now they knew the reason of those wild shrieks they had heard the night before. But again the old Manxman said nay.
The lost life-buoy was now to be replaced; Starbuck was directed to see to it; but as no cask of sufficient lightness could be found, and as in the feverish eagerness of what seemed the approaching crisis of the voyage, all hands were impatient of any toil but what was directly connected with its final end, whatever that might prove to be; therefore, they were going to leave the ship’s stern unprovided with a buoy, when by certain strange signs and inuendoes Queequeg hinted a hint concerning his coffin.
“A life-buoy of a coffin!” cried Starbuck, starting.
“Rather queer, that, I should say,” said Stubb.
“It will make a good enough one,” said Flask, “the carpenter here can arrange it easily.”
“Bring it up; there’s nothing else for it,” said Starbuck, after a melancholy pause. “Rig it, carpenter; do not look at me so— the coffin, I mean. Dost thou hear me? Rig it.”
“And shall I nail down the lid, sir?” moving his hand as with a hammer.
“And shall I caulk the seams, sir?” moving his hand as with a caulking-iron.
“And shall I then pay over the same with pitch, sir?” moving his hand as with a pitch-pot.
Away! What possesses thee to this? Make a life-buoy of the coffin, and no more.—Mr. Stubb, Mr. Flask, come forward with me.”
“He goes off in a huff. The whole he can endure; at the parts he baulks. Now I don’t like this. I make a leg for Captain Ahab, and he wears it like a gentleman; but I make a bandbox for Queequeg, and he won’t put his head into it. Are all my pains to go for nothing with that coffin? And now I’m ordered to make a life-buoy of it. It’s like turning an old coat; going to bring the flesh on the other side now. I don’t like this cobbling sort of business— I don’t like it at all; it’s undignified; it’s not my place. Let tinkers’ brats do tinkerings; we are their betters. I like to take in hand none but clean,