Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas

by Herman Melville

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WE will now return to the narrative.

The day before the Julia sailed, Dr. Johnson paid his last call. He was not quite so bland as usual. All he wanted was the men's names to a paper, certifying to their having received from him sundry medicaments therein mentioned. This voucher, endorsed by Captain Guy, secured his pay. But he would not have obtained for it the sailors' signs manual, had either the doctor or myself been present at the time.

Now, my long friend wasted no love upon Johnson; but, for reasons of his own, hated him heartily: all the same thing in one sense; for either passion argues an object deserving thereof. And so, to be hated cordially, is only a left-handed compliment; which shows how foolish it is to be bitter against anyone.

For my own part, I merely felt a cool, purely incidental, and passive contempt for Johnson, as a selfish, mercenary apothecary, and hence, I often remonstrated with Long Ghost when he flew out against him, and heaped upon him all manner of scurrilous epithets. In his professional brother's presence, however, he never acted thus; maintaining an amiable exterior, to help along the jokes which were played.

I am now going to tell another story in which my long friend figures with the physician: I do not wish to bring one or the other of them too often upon the stage; but as the thing actually happened, I must relate it.

A few days after Johnson presented his bill, as above mentioned, the doctor expressed to me his regret that, although he (Johnson) 'had apparently been played off for our entertainment, yet, nevertheless, he had made money out of the transaction. And I wonder, added the doctor, if that now he cannot expect to receive any further pay, he could be induced to call again.

By a curious coincidence, not five minutes after making this observation, Doctor Long Ghost himself fell down in an unaccountable fit; and without asking anybody's leave, Captain Bob, who was by, at once dispatched a boy, hot foot, for Johnson.

Meanwhile, we carried him into the Calabooza; and the natives, who assembled in numbers, suggested various modes of treatment. One rather energetic practitioner was for holding the patient by the shoulders, while somebody tugged at his feet. This resuscitatory operation was called the "Potata"; but thinking our long comrade sufficiently lengthy without additional stretching, we declined potataing him.

Presently the physician was spied coming along the Broom Road at a great rate, and so absorbed in the business of locomotion, that he heeded not the imprudence of being in a hurry in a tropical climate. He was in a profuse perspiration; which must have been owing to the warmth of his feelings, notwithstanding we had supposed him a man of no heart. But his benevolent haste upon this occasion was subsequently accounted for: it merely arose from professional curiosity to behold a case most unusual in his Polynesian practice. Now, under certain circumstances, sailors, generally so frolicsome, are exceedingly particular in having everything conducted with the strictest propriety. Accordingly, they deputed me, as his intimate friend, to sit at Long Ghost's head, so as to be ready to officiate as "spokesman" and answer all questions propounded, the rest to keep silent.

"What's the matter?" exclaimed Johnson, out of breath, and bursting into the Calabooza: "how did it happen?—speak quick!" and he looked at Long Ghost.

I told him how the fit came on.

"Singular"—he observed—"very: good enough pulse;" and he let go of it, and placed his hand upon the heart.

"But what's all that frothing at the mouth?" he continued; "and bless me! look at the abdomen!"

The region thus denominated exhibited the most unaccountable symptoms. A low, rumbling sound was heard; and a sort of undulation was discernible beneath the thin cotton frock.

"Colic, sir?" suggested a bystander.

"Colic be hanged!" shouted the physician; "who ever heard of anybody in a trance of the colic?"

During this, the patient lay upon his back, stark and straight, giving no signs of life except those above mentioned.

"I'll bleed him!" cried Johnson at last—"run for a calabash, one of you!"

"Life ho!" here sung out Navy Bob, as if he had just spied a sail.

"What under the sun's the matter with him!" cried the physician, starting at the appearance of the mouth, which had jerked to one side, and there remained fixed.

"Pr'aps it's St. Witus's hornpipe," suggested Bob.

"Hold the calabash!"—and the lancet was out in a moment.

But before the deed could be done, the face became natural;—a sigh was heaved;—the eyelids quivered, opened, closed; and Long Ghost, twitching all over, rolled on his side, and breathed audibly. By degrees, he became sufficiently recovered to speak.

After trying to get something coherent out of him, Johnson withdrew; evidently disappointed in the scientific interest of the case. Soon after his departure, the doctor sat up; and upon being asked what upon earth ailed him, shook his head mysteriously. He then deplored the hardship of being an invalid in such a place, where there was not the slightest provision for his comfort. This awakened the compassion of our good old keeper, who offered to send him to a place where he would be better cared for. Long Ghost acquiesced; and being at once mounted upon the shoulders of four of Captain Bob's men, was marched off in state, like the Grand Lama of Thibet.

Now, I do not pretend to account for his remarkable swoon; but his reason for suffering himself to be thus removed from the Calabooza was strongly suspected to be nothing more than a desire to insure more regularity in his dinner-hour; hoping that the benevolent native to whom he was going would set a good table.

The next morning, we were all envying his fortune; when, of a sudden, he bolted in upon us, looking decidedly out of humour.

"Hang it!" he cried; "I'm worse off than ever; let me have some breakfast!" We lowered our slender bag of ship-stores from a rafter, and handed him a biscuit. While this was being munched, he went on and told us his story.

"After leaving here, they trotted me back into a valley, and left me in a hut, where an old woman lived by herself. This must be the nurse, thought I; and so I asked her to kill a pig, and bake it; for I felt my appetite returning. 'Ha! Hal—oee mattee—mattee nuee'—(no, no; you too sick). 'The devil mattee ye,' said I—'give me something to eat!' But nothing could be had. Night coming on, I had to stay. Creeping into a corner, I tried to sleep; but it was to no purpose;—the old crone must have had the quinsy, or something else; and she kept up such a wheezing and choking that at last I sprang up, and groped after her; but she hobbled away like a goblin; and that was the last of her. As soon as the sun rose, I made the best of my way back; and here I am." He never left us more, nor ever had a second fit.

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