We learn that poor Queequeg, because he is a harpooneer, had yet another tough job to do -- work down in the dark, slimy hold to facilitate the "breaking out". As a result "he caught a terrible chill which lapsed into a fever; and at last after some day's suffering, laid him in his hammock, close to the very sill of the door of death."
"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 same 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. 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; and all the more congenial to him, a whaleman, that like a whaleboat, these coffin-canoes were without a keel; though that involved but uncertain steering, and much lee-way [side-ways drift with the wind] adown the dim ages."
The carpenter was commanded to make a coffin for the dying Queequeg; and when it was finished, it was put next to him. He asked for his harpoon, his paddle, and some biscuits and a flask of fresh water to be put in his coffin; then he asked to be lifted and laid into it. He called for his little god, Yojo, and lay there with it, arms crossed on his breast, for a while.
Little Pip came by with his tambourine to pay his last respects to Queequeg. Pip to Queequeg: "Poor rover! where go ye now? Will ye do one little errand for me? Seek out one Pip, who's now been missing long. If ye find him, then comfort him; for he must be very sad; for look! he's left his tambourine behind; -- I found it. Now, Queequeg, die. Hark ye, if ye find Pip, tell all he's a coward. Tell them he jumped from a whale-boat. Shame upon all cowards -- shame upon them! Let them go drown like Pip, that jumped from a whale-boat. Shame! Shame!"
Queequeg, the sick man, was replaced in his hammock. Now that he had prepared for his death, and now seeing that his coffin was a good fit, he changed his mind about dying. "He could not die yet, he averred. If a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not kill him." He used his coffin for a sea-chest, and spent many a spare hour carving the lid of it. He carved a copy of parts of the tattooing on his body -- "And this tattooing had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; but whose mysteries not even himself could read. And these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last."
There are those who say that Melville was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe's fantastic yarn, "Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket" with its tales of mystical hieroglyphics of profound significance, engraved on a mountainside on a savage island in the Antarctic. This is not the first time that Melville has brought mystical writings into this fantastic tale either.