Ch. 4 The Counterpane or a hatchet-faced baby.
by Buxton Brown
Do you know what a counterpane is? Neither do I. Start listing all of your best guesses. Mine are as follows.
1) Like a windowpane, but somewhere else.
2) Mortal enemy of T-Pain.
3) I have no idea.
It turns out I was wrong in every way. Except for “I have no idea.” I was dead right about that. A counterpane is a blanket. A comforter. Something you sleep under, something that keeps you warm. Normally, I feel confident deriving meaning from antiquated words or phrases, but I think the reason this one in particular was abandoned is because it’s plain old dumb. Here is where we begin to encounter the cultural and linguistic discrepancies of my oversized future brain and Hermano Melville’s antiquated, yet still smarter brain. We live in a future where a tiny pane of glass can show you moving images of people engaged in coitus. On a whim. And you can pick the kind of people you want to watch having coitus. And maybe where they do it. And if you’re lucky, there’s a soundtrack, or a “score” as they call it in the business. Now that I think about it, I can see plainly why we are getting dumber as we get smarter.
This book was written over a century and a half ago. Let us make another list, this time noting any considerable differences between now and the dark ages of the 19th century.
1) Women could not vote or generally do anything that displeased men without swift and often violent reprisal.
2) People were not as smart, yet somehow not as dumb as some people I know.
3) Cars and Michael Bay movies weren’t around, so life was less awesome. This is absolutely debatable.
4) Fear of ghosts was probably more common.
6) Somewhere in space and time, the forebears of Snooki were smooshing.
8) Lasers. Definitely.
Those are some of the more notable differences that came to mind. If there’s something I’m missing, I’m sure my dedicated readership will be so kind as to educate me. As per the name of the chapter, Ishmael wakes up next to his new bedfellow and new best boy Queequeg and recalls a childhood memory of being punished and sent to bed around 2 in the afternoon for playing “chimney sweep.”* When he wakes many hours later in total darkness, upon the “counterpane” (it’s called a bedspread holmes) he finds his own hand wrapped in a phantom hand. He is so terrified he won’t move. And eventually he falls back asleep. Fast forward to adult Ishmael, and Queequeg, his new amicable (yet still pleasantly cannibal) bedfellow, is playing big spoon and Ishmael is incapable of escaping Queequegs grasp. Upon removing the counterpane Ishmael finds Queequegs tomahawk lying beside them. Like a “hatchet faced baby.” Cool.
They get dressed and there are many sentences and words used to describe the intricate process and many feelings and implications shared between (betwixt?) the two and so on and so forth. Breakfast.