Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas

by Herman Melville

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SEVERAL quiet days now passed away, during which we just worked sufficiently to sharpen our appetites; the planters leniently exempting us from any severe toil.

Their desire to retain us became more and more evident; which was not to be wondered at; for, beside esteeming us from the beginning a couple of civil, good-natured fellows, who would soon become quite at-home with them, they were not slow in perceiving that we were far different from the common run of rovers; and that our society was both entertaining and instructive to a couple of solitary, illiterate men like themselves.

In a literary point of view, indeed, they soon regarded us with emotions of envy and wonder; and the doctor was considered nothing short of a prodigy. The Cockney found out that he (the doctor) could read a book upside down, without even so much as spelling the big words beforehand; and the Yankee, in the twinkling of an eye, received from him the sum total of several arithmetical items, stated aloud, with the view of testing the extent of his mathematical lore.

Then, frequently, in discoursing upon men and things, my long comrade employed such imposing phrases that, upon one occasion, they actually remained uncovered while he talked.

In short, their favourable opinion of Long Ghost in particular rose higher and higher every day; and they began to indulge in all manner of dreams concerning the advantages to be derived from employing so learned a labourer. Among other projects revealed was that of building a small craft of some forty tons for the purpose of trading among the neighbouring islands. With a native crew, we would then take turns cruising over the tranquil Pacific; touching here and there, as caprice suggested, and collecting romantic articles of commerce;—beach-de-mer, the pearl-oyster, arrow-root, ambergris, sandal-wood, cocoa-nut oil, and edible birdnests.

This South Sea yachting was delightful to think of; and straightway, the doctor announced his willingness to navigate the future schooner clear of all shoals and reefs whatsoever. His impudence was audacious. He enlarged upon the science of navigation; treated us to a dissertation on Mercator's Sailing and the Azimuth compass; and went into an inexplicable explanation of the Lord only knows what plan of his for infallibly settling the longitude.

Whenever my comrade thus gave the reins to his fine fancy, it was a treat to listen, and therefore I never interfered; but, with the planters, sat in mute admiration before him. This apparent self-abasement on my part must have been considered as truly indicative of our respective merits; for, to my no small concern, I quickly perceived that, in the estimate formed of us, Long Ghost began to be rated far above myself. For aught I knew, indeed, he might have privately thrown out a hint concerning the difference in our respective stations aboard the Julia; or else the planters must have considered him some illustrious individual, for certain inscrutable reasons, going incog. With this idea of him, his undisguised disinclination for work became venial; and entertaining such views of extending their business, they counted more upon his ultimate value to them as a man of science than as a mere ditcher.

Nor did the humorous doctor forbear to foster an opinion every way so advantageous to himself; at times, for the sake of the joke, assuming airs of superiority over myself, which, though laughable enough, were sometimes annoying.

To tell the plain truth, things at last came to such a pass that I told him, up and down, that I had no notion to put up with his pretensions; if he were going to play the gentleman, I was going to follow suit; and then there would quickly be an explosion.

At this he laughed heartily; and after some mirthful chat, we resolved upon leaving the valley as soon as we could do so with a proper regard to politeness.

At supper, therefore, the same evening, the doctor hinted at our intention.

Though much surprised, and vexed, Zeke moved not a muscle. "Peter," said he at last—very gravely—and after mature deliberation, "would you like to do the cooking? It's easy work; and you needn't do anything else. Paul's heartier; he can work in the field when it suits him; and before long, we'll have ye at something more agreeable:—won't we, Shorty?"

Shorty assented.

Doubtless, the proposed arrangement was a snug one; especially the sinecure for the doctor; but I by no means relished the functions allotted to myself—they were too indefinite. Nothing final, however, was agreed upon;—our intention to leave was revealed, and that was enough for the present. But, as we said nothing further about going, the Yankee must have concluded that we might yet be induced to remain. He redoubled his endeavours to make us contented.

It was during this state of affairs that, one morning, before breakfast, we were set to weeding in a potato-patch; and the planters being engaged at the house, we were left to ourselves.

Now, though the pulling of weeds was considered by our employers an easy occupation (for which reason they had assigned it to us), and although as a garden recreation it may be pleasant enough, for those who like it—still, long persisted in, the business becomes excessively irksome.

Nevertheless, we toiled away for some time, until the doctor, who, from his height, was obliged to stoop at a very acute angle, suddenly sprang upright; and with one hand propping his spinal column, exclaimed, "Oh, that one's joints were but provided with holes to drop a little oil through!"

Vain as the aspiration was for this proposed improvement upon our species, I cordially responded thereto; for every vertebra in my spine was articulating in sympathy.

Presently, the sun rose over the mountains, inducing that deadly morning languor so fatal to early exertion in a warm climate. We could stand it no longer; but, shouldering our hoes, moved on to the house, resolved to impose no more upon the good-nature of the planters by continuing one moment longer in an occupation so extremely uncongenial.

We freely told them so. Zeke was exceedingly hurt, and said everything he could think of to alter our determination; but, finding all unavailing, he very hospitably urged us not to be in any hurry about leaving; for we might stay with him as guests until we had time to decide upon our future movements.

We thanked him sincerely; but replied that, the following morning, we must turn our backs upon the hills of Martair.

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.