Ishmael begins this short chapter by saying that he and Queequeg are together weaving a “sword mat, for an additional lashing to their boat” (meaning the small boat they will use for whaling purposes). Ishmael muses that he feels the two of them, weaving together the yarn, are like two men on the Loom of Time, and that small chance events in this “weaving,” like the position of each man’s hands, determines the ultimate squareness and pattern of the mat, much as in life chance determines the course of one’s journey.
Another of Ishmael grand metaphors. Here, the rug that Ishmael and Queequeg are making is not “simply” a rug, but is, rather, a method for visualizing the entirety of human life throughout history. It is not clear whether Ishmael tells Queequeg of his reveries, or whether Queequeg is at all receptive to the idea that the time aboard the whale-ship is filled with heroic, and philosophically-grand, activities.
At this moment, Tashtego from the mast-head calls out that he sees a school of sperm whales off to one side, away from the boat, about a mile or two off. The crew prepares for the whale-boats to be lowered, and when Ishmael turns away from his mat, he sees five dark-skinned men assembled behind Ahab, as though “they appeared from thin air.”
Finally, the “tiger crew” emerges from the ship’s hold. As in many other cases in the novel, the prophecy, first uttered by Elijah, proves valid—the ship was in fact holding several men below its decks, unbeknownst to the rest of the crew.