Chapter 117 The Whale Watch

        This chapter has the flavor of a ghost story told round a camp fire. Instead of a camp fire, we have the picture of Ahab's boat next to a dead whale, the scene illuminated by the "troubled flickering glare" of a lantern hanging from a waif-pole "thrust upright into the dead whale's spout-hole." The Pequod was unable to pick up Ahab's boat, so he and his boat-crew of Parsees, led by Fedallah, have to spend the night far to windward from the ship, in the black night, and in the midst of sharks.

        Ahab wakes abruptly from his troubled sleep and says to Fedallah, "I have dreamed it again." So -- we are put on notice that Captain Ahab even discusses his dreams with that demon Parsee, Fedallah. [The Parsee religion is an ancient Persian one with roots in India.]

        We find that Ahab has been dreaming of hearses [hearse n. A vehicle conveying a coffin to a church or cemetery.] "Have I not said, old man, that neither hearse nor coffin can be thine?" [This puts Fedallah in the role of personal prophet to Ahab.]

        "And who are hearsed that die on the sea?" [Since those who die at sea, don't get coffins or hearses, Ahab -- assuming he will die at sea -- is not impressed with the prophecy, which anyone could make for him, but . . .]

        "But I said, old man [Fedallah is on familiar terms with his captain!], that ere thou couldst die on this voyage, two hearses must verily be seen by thee on the sea; the first not made by mortal hands; and the visible wood of the last one must be grown in America." [Well, now! This is supernatural stuff -- does it change the nature of the book that Melville has been writing? Up to now, everything has been wierdly plausible. Now we trip to the heavy fantastic.]

        "Aye, aye! a strange sight that, Parsee. Ha! Such a sight we shall not soon see."

        "Believe it or not, thou canst not die till it be seen, old man."

        "And what was that saying about thyself?"

        "Though it come to the last, I shall still go before thee thy pilot" [And so we have the prospect of Fedallah as an emissary of Death, perhaps of the Devil as Stubb thought!]

        "And when thou art so gone before [already dead] -- if that ever befall -- then ere I can follow, thou must still appear to pilot me still? [return from the dead?] -- Was it not so? Well then, did I believe all that ye say, oh my pilot! I have here two pledges that I shall yet slay Moby Dick and survive it." [Proving Ahab isn't planning a suicide.]

        "'Take another pledge, old man,' said the Parsee, as his eyes lighted up like fire-flies in the gloom -- 'Hemp only can kill thee.'" [hemp n. The tough, coarse fiber of the cannabis (marijuana) plant used to make rope. Is it rope that is suggested here -- or another of Melville's hints?]

        "'The gallows [hanging] ye mean. -- I am immortal then, on land and on sea,' cried Ahab, with a laugh of derision; -- 'Immortal on land and on sea!'" [A laugh of derision -- we're not dealing with gullible's travels here.]

        "Both were silent, as one man. Then grey dawn came on, and the slumbering crew arose from the boat's bottom, and ere noon the dead whale was brought to the ship."

        Certainly a chapter filled with definite forebodings. We may be sure that somehow Fedallah will die and come back to lead Ahab to the nether world. But two hearses?