Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas

by Herman Melville

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TWO BULLOCKS and a boar! No bad trophies of our day's sport. So by torchlight we marched into the plantation, the wild hog rocking from its pole, and the doctor singing an old hunting-song—Tally-ho! the chorus of which swelled high above the yells of the natives.

We resolved to make a night of it. Kindling a great fire just outside the dwelling, and hanging one of the heifer's quarters from a limb of the banian-tree, everyone was at liberty to cut and broil for himself. Baskets of roasted bread-fruit, and plenty of taro pudding; bunches of bananas, and young cocoa-nuts, had also been provided by the natives against our return.

The fire burned bravely, keeping off the mosquitoes, and making every man's face glow like a beaker of Port. The meat had the true wild-game flavour, not at all impaired by our famous appetites, and a couple of flasks of white brandy, which Zeke, producing from his secret store, circulated freely.

There was no end to my long comrade's spirits. After telling his stories, and singing his songs, he sprang to his feet, clasped a young damsel of the grove round the waist, and waltzed over the grass with her. But there's no telling all the pranks he played that night. The natives, who delight in a wag, emphatically pronounced him "maitai."

It was long after midnight ere we broke up; but when the rest had retired, Zeke, with the true thrift of a Yankee, salted down what was left of the meat.

The next day was Sunday; and at my request, Shorty accompanied me to Afrehitoo—a neighbouring bay, and the seat of a mission, almost directly opposite Papeetee. In Afrehitoo is a large church and school-house, both quite dilapidated; and planted amid shrubbery on a fine knoll, stands a very tasteful cottage, commanding a view across the channel. In passing, I caught sight of a graceful calico skirt disappearing from the piazza through a doorway. The place was the residence of the missionary.

A trim little sail-boat was dancing out at her moorings, a few yards from the beach.

Straggling over the low lands in the vicinity were several native huts—untidy enough—but much better every way than most of those in Tahiti.

We attended service at the church, where we found but a small congregation; and after what I had seen in Papeetee, nothing very interesting took place. But the audience had a curious, fidgety look, which I knew not how to account for until we ascertained that a sermon with the eighth commandment for a text was being preached.

It seemed that there lived an Englishman in the district, who, like our friends, the planters, was cultivating Tombez potatoes for the Papeetee market.

In spite of all his precautions, the natives were in the habit of making nocturnal forays into his inclosure, and carrying off the potatoes. One night he fired a fowling-piece, charged with pepper and salt, at several shadows which he discovered stealing across his premises. They fled. But it was like seasoning anything else; the knaves stole again with a greater relish than ever; and the very next night, he caught a party in the act of roasting a basketful of potatoes under his own cooking-shed. At last, he stated his grievances to the missionary; who, for the benefit of his congregation, preached the sermon we heard.

Now, there were no thieves in Martair; but then, the people of the valley were bribed to be honest. It was a regular business transaction between them and the planters. In consideration of so many potatoes "to them in hand, duly paid," they were to abstain from all depredations upon the plantation. Another security against roguery was the permanent residence upon the premises of their chief, Tonoi.

On our return to Martair in the afternoon, we found the doctor and Zeke making themselves comfortable. The latter was reclining on the ground, pipe in mouth, watching the doctor, who, sitting like a Turk, before a large iron kettle, was slicing potatoes and Indian turnip, and now and then shattering splinters from a bone; all of which, by turns, were thrown into the pot. He was making what he called "Bullock broth."

In gastronomic affairs, my friend was something of an artist; and by way of improving his knowledge, did nothing the rest of the day but practise in what might be called Experimental Cookery: broiling and grilling, and deviling slices of meat, and subjecting them to all sorts of igneous operations. It was the first fresh beef that either of us had tasted in more than a year.

"Oh, ye'll pick up arter a while, Peter," observed Zeke toward night, as Long Ghost was turning a great rib over the coals—"what d'ye think, Paul?"

"He'll get along, I dare say," replied I; "he only wants to get those cheeks of his tanned." To tell the truth, I was not a little pleased to see the doctor's reputation as an invalid fading away so fast; especially as, on the strength of his being one, he had promised to have such easy times of it, and very likely, too, at my expense.

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.