As Perth, the blacksmith, hammers at his anvil on glowing iron, a shower of sparks falls on moody Captain Ahab, who carries in his hand a small 'leathern' bag. Ahab calls the sparks Mother Carey's chickens -- a nickname for stormy petrels, birds that foretell trouble. Ahab says that they burn, and asks, "but thou -- thou liv'st among them without a scorch?"
"Because I am scorched all over, Captain Ahab," answered Perth, resting for a moment on his hammer; "I am past scorching; not easily canst thou scorch a scar." [the Old English 'thees' and 'thous' give a King James Bible flavor to all this. Melville is the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of the whaling tale.]
Ahab can give as good as he gets: "In no Paradise myself, I am impatient of all misery in others that is not mad. Thou shouldst go mad, blacksmith; how canst thou endure without being mad?" This certainly succeeds in characterizing Ahab as a self-centered, unsympathetic bully of a boss. But then he pleads for sympathy for himself, asking the blacksmith if he can smooth almost any seam or dent.
"Aye, sir, I think I can; all seams and dents -- but one."
"Look ye here, then," cried Ahab, passionately advancing; "can ye smooth out a seam like this, blacksmith?" sweeping one hand across his ribbed brow. "If thou couldst, blacksmith, glad enough would I lay my head upon thy anvil. Answer! Canst thou smooth this seam?"
"Oh! that is the one, sir! Said I not all seams and dents but one?"
"Aye, blacksmith, it is the one; aye, man, it is unsmoothable." Poor me. The hell with you, but pity me, says the boss-man, abusing his position of power over an underling.
Next he wants a harpoon made -- a special, voodoo-like harpoon for Moby Dick. The magical materials are in the leathern bag that Ahab carries. They include horse-shoe nails from race horses for the shank [shaft], and razors for the head of the harpoon.
"Quick! forge me the harpoon. And forge me first, twelve rods for its shank [twelve disciples? twelve signs of the zodiac? symbolic twelve!]; hammer these twelve together like the yarns and strands of a tow-line. Quick! I'll blow the fire." The Parsee, Fedallah, makes an appeareance. As a fire worshipper, he can do no less than bless the rites.
Next for the pointed head, Ahab's razors. "Take them man, I have no need for them; for I now neither shave, sup, nor pray till -- but here -- to work!" When the blacksmith had forged the head and welded it to the shank to complete the harpoon, he called for water to quench and temper the red-hot iron -- but Ahab said no.
"'No, no -- no water for that; I want it of the true death-temper. Ahoy, there! Tashtego, Queequeg, Daggoo! What say, ye, pagans! Will ye give me as much blood as will cover this barb?' A cluster of dark nods replied, 'Yes.'" [Arrogant old man!] Quenching the hot iron in blood, Ahab howled deliriously, "I baptize thee not in the name of the Father but in the name of the devil." [Blasphemous old man!]
Ahab added a pole of hickory wood and a tow-line of new rope. "This done, pole, iron, and rope -- like the Three Fates -- remained inseparable, and Ahab moodily stalked away with the weapon. But ere he entered his cabin, an unnatural, most piteous sound was heard. Oh! Pip, thy wretched laugh blended with the black tragedy of the melancholy ship and mocked it!"
We see the influence of Gothic novels of unearthly horror working here.