Chapter 19 The Prophet

        Having signed up to go "a-whaling" on the Nantucket whaleship Pequod, our odd couple, introspective Christian Ishmael and uncomplicated Pagan Queequeg, "were sauntering away from the water" when they heard a chilling voice intone: "Shipmates, have ye shipped in that ship? Aye, the Pequod -- have ye shipped in her?"

        A startled Ishmael replies in the affirmative and provokes an even more unsettling question: "Anything down there about your SOULS?"

        "About WHAT . . ."

        "Oh, perhaps you hav'n't got any -- no matter though -- good luck to you."

        "Queequeg, let's go; this fellow has broken loose from somewhere . . ."

        "Stop!" cried the stranger. "Ye ha'n't seen Old Thunder yet, have ye? Captain Ahab?"

        "No. What do you know about him?"

        "Didn't they tell you about him? Nothing about losing his leg last voyage, according to prophecy? Who knows it? -- Not all Nantucket, I guess. I mean all they know is he's got only one leg -- and that a parmacetti took the other off."

        "My friend, " said Ishmael, "I don't know, and I don't much care, for it seems to me that you must be a little damaged in the head . . ."

        "Names down on the papers? Well, well, what's signed is signed; and what's to be will be, and then again, perhaps it won't be. Anyhow, IT'S ALL FIXED AND ARRANGED A'READY."

        "My friend, what all this gibberish of yours is about, I don't know . . ."

        The beggar-like stranger stood a moment with finger pointed and eye levelled at the Pequod as if in a troubled reverie, then turned and said -- "Some sailors or other must go with him, I suppose. God pity 'em. Morning to ye, shipmates, morning; the ineffable heavens bless ye."

        "Look here, friend," said Ishmael, " if you have anything important to tell us, out with it . . ."

        "Morning to ye, shipmates, morning." [By now Ishmael might well decide that the impertinent stranger is saying mourning rather than "morning".]

        "But stop, tell me your name, will you?" asks the befuddled Ishmael.

        "ELIJAH" intones the mysterious old sea dog. [The biblical prophet Elijah was sent by The Lord to denounce the wicked King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel, who conspired to murder for ill-gotten gain -- 1 Kings 21:17]

        The stranger leaves Ishmael with "all kinds of vague wonderments and half-apprehensions about the Pequod and Captain Ahab and the voyage they were about to sail.

        And so Melville sets the tone of impending doom by invoking the name of Elijah at the outset of the whaling voyage of the Pequod, the dream-voyage of Ishmael's soul.