Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas

by Herman Melville

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WHILE IN Partoowye, we fell in with a band of six veteran rovers, prowling about the village and harbour, who had just come overland from another part of the island.

A few weeks previous, they had been paid off, at Papeetee, from a whaling vessel, on board of which they had, six months before, shipped for a single cruise; that is to say, to be discharged at the next port. Their cruise was a famous one; and each man stepped upon the beach at Tahiti jingling his dollars in a sock.

Weary at last of the shore, and having some money left, they clubbed, and purchased a sail-boat; proposing a visit to a certain uninhabited island, concerning which they had heard strange and golden stories. Of course, they never could think of going to sea without a medicine-chest filled with flasks of spirits, and a small cask of the same in the hold in case the chest should give out.

Away they sailed; hoisted a flag of their own, and gave three times three, as they staggered out of the bay of Papeetee with a strong breeze, and under all the "muslin" they could carry.

Evening coming on, and feeling in high spirits and no ways disposed to sleep, they concluded to make a night of it; which they did; all hands getting tipsy, and the two masts going over the side about midnight, to the tune of

"Sailing down, sailing down, On the coast of Barbaree." Fortunately, one worthy could stand by holding on to the tiller; and the rest managed to crawl about, and hack away the lanyards of the rigging, so as to break clear from the fallen spars. While thus employed, two sailors got tranquilly over the side, and went plumb to the bottom, under the erroneous impression that they were stepping upon an imaginary wharf to get at their work better.

After this, it blew quite a gale; and the commodore, at the helm, instinctively kept the boat before the wind; and by so doing, ran over for the opposite island of Imeeo. Crossing the channel, by almost a miracle they went straight through an opening in the reef, and shot upon a ledge of coral, where the waters were tolerably smooth. Here they lay until morning, when the natives came off to them in their canoes. By the help of the islanders, the schooner was hove over on her beam-ends; when, finding the bottom knocked to pieces, the adventurers sold the boat for a trifle to the chief of the district, and went ashore, rolling before them their precious cask of spirits. Its contents soon evaporated, and they came to Partoowye.

The day after encountering these fellows, we were strolling among the groves in the neighbourhood, when we came across several parties of natives armed with clumsy muskets, rusty cutlasses, and outlandish clubs. They were beating the bushes, shouting aloud, and apparently trying to scare somebody. They were in pursuit of the strangers, who, having in a single night set at nought all the laws of the place, had thought best to decamp.

In the daytime, Po-Po's house was as pleasant a lounge as one could wish. So, after strolling about, and seeing all there was to be seen, we spent the greater part of our mornings there; breakfasting late, and dining about two hours after noon. Sometimes we lounged on the floor of ferns, smoking, and telling stories; of which the doctor had as many as a half-pay captain in the army. Sometimes we chatted, as well as we could, with the natives; and, one day—joy to us!—Po-Po brought in three volumes of Smollett's novels, which had been found in the chest of a sailor, who some time previous had died on the island.

Amelia!—Peregrine!—you hero of rogues, Count Fathom!—what a debt do we owe you!

I know not whether it was the reading of these romances, or the want of some sentimental pastime, which led the doctor, about this period, to lay siege to the heart of the little Loo.

Now, as I have said before, the daughter of Po-Po was most cruelly reserved, and never deigned to notice us. Frequently I addressed her with a long face and an air of the profoundest and most distant respect—but in vain; she wouldn't even turn up her pretty olive nose. Ah! it's quite plain, thought I; she knows very well what graceless dogs sailors are, and won't have anything to do with us.

But thus thought not my comrade. Bent he was upon firing the cold glitter of Loo's passionless eyes.

He opened the campaign with admirable tact: making cautious approaches, and content, for three days, with ogling the nymph for about five minutes after every meal. On the fourth day, he asked her a question; on the fifth, she dropped a nut of ointment, and he picked it up and gave it to her; on the sixth, he went over and sat down within three yards of the couch where she lay; and, on the memorable morn of the seventh, he proceeded to open his batteries in form.

The damsel was reclining on the ferns; one hand supporting her cheek, and the other listlessly turning over the leaves of a Tahitian Bible. The doctor approached.

Now the chief disadvantage under which he laboured was his almost complete ignorance of the love vocabulary of the island. But French counts, they say, make love delightfully in broken English; and what hindered the doctor from doing the same in dulcet Tahitian. So at it he went.

"Ah!" said he, smiling bewitchingly, "oee mickonaree; oee ready Biblee?"

No answer; not even a look.

"Ah I matai! very goody ready Biblee mickonaree."

Loo, without stirring, began reading, in a low tone, to herself.

"Mickonaree Biblee ready goody maitai," once more observed the doctor, ingeniously transposing his words for the third time.

But all to no purpose; Loo gave no sign.

He paused, despairingly; but it would never do to give up; so he threw himself at full length beside her, and audaciously commenced turning over the leaves.

Loo gave a start, just one little start, barely perceptible, and then, fumbling something in her hand, lay perfectly motionless; the doctor rather frightened at his own temerity, and knowing not what to do next. At last, he placed one arm cautiously about her waist; almost in the same instant he bounded to his feet, with a cry; the little witch had pierced him with a thorn. But there she lay, just as quietly as ever, turning over the leaves, and reading to herself.

My long friend raised the siege incontinently, and made a disorderly retreat to the place where I reclined, looking on.

I am pretty sure that Loo must have related this occurrence to her father, who came in shortly afterward; for he looked queerly at the doctor. But he said nothing; and, in ten minutes, was quite as affable as ever. As for Loo, there was not the slightest change in her; and the doctor, of course, for ever afterwards held his peace.

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