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.