Chapter 108 Ahab and the Carpenter

        This chapter is presented as a scene in a play with the description: Carpenter standing before his vise-bench, busily filing the ivory joist for the leg. Forward, the red flame of the forge is seen, where the blacksmith is at work. The carpenter is "soliloquizing" to himself, while sneezing all the while from filing away at a dry whalebone: [Melville uses no quotation marks in this chapter; therefore they will not be used in this condensation.]

        Drat the file, and drat the bone! That is hard which should be soft, and that is soft which should be hard. [Does this remind you of Shakespeare, Macbeth, and 'Fair is foul and foul is fair'?] Saw a live tree and you don't get this dust; amputate a live bone and you don't get it [sneezes]. Come, come, you old Smut [the blacksmith], there, bear a hand, and let's have that ferule and buckle-screw. I must call his old Mogulship, and see whether the length will be all right; here he comes.

        Ahab [advancing]. In the ensuing scene, the carpenter continues sneezing at times.

        If the captain pleases, I will now mark the length. Let me measure, sir.

        Measured for a leg! good. Well, it's not the first time. What's Prometheus about there? -- the blacksmith I mean -- what's he about?

        He must be forging the buckle-screw now, sir.

        He makes a fierce red flame there! I do deem it now a most meaning thing, that the old Greek, Prometheus, who made men, should have been a blacksmith, and animated them with fire; for what's made in fire must properly belong to fire; and so hell's probable [!]

        [Ahab begins to babble about wanting a pair of steel shoulder blades, because there's a pedlar -- British variant of peddler -- aboard with a crushing pack. He feels crushed by a load of something . . . Then he babbles about ordering the blacksmith to forge "a complete man after a desirable pattern" since he, himself, feels incomplete. He babbles about a sky-light on top of his head to illuminate inwards. The puzzled carpenter wonders "who's he speaking to", and he gets reprimanded for giving Ahab the lantern he just demanded. Poor carpenter! Ahab plays him for the fool, and in so doing plays the lunatic. The dialog between captain and carpenter shifts to Ahab's having a sense of feeling in his missing leg.]

        May I humbly ask if it is so, sir?

        It is, man. And if I still feel the smart of my crushed leg, though it be now so long dissolved; then, why mayst not thou, carpenter, feel the fiery pains of hell forever? How long before the leg is done?

        Perhaps an hour.

        Bungle away at it then. Oh, Life! Here I am, proud as a Greek god, and yet standing debtor to this blockhead for a bone to stand on! Cursed be that mortal interindebtedness which will not do away with ledgers. I would be free as air; and I'm down in the whole world's books. [Exit Ahab]

        Carpenter [resuming his work] Well, well! Stubb knows him best of all, and Stubb always says he's queer -- queer, queer. Oh! I don't wonder he looked so scornful at me! But Ahab; oh, he's a hard driver. He'll be standing on this ivory leg to-morrow. Halloa! I almost forgot the little oval slate, smoothed ivory, where he figures up the latitude. [Here one wonders if Melville forgets longitude, which also requires figuring -- based on the ship's chronometer.]