Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas

by Herman Melville

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IT was not long after the death of the two men, that Captain Guy was reported as fast declining, and in a day or two more, as dying. The doctor, who previously had refused to enter the cabin upon any consideration, now relented, and paid his old enemy a professional visit.

He prescribed a warm bath, which was thus prepared. The skylight being removed, a cask was lowered down into the cabin, and then filled with buckets of water from the ship's coppers. The cries of the patient, when dipped into his rude bath, were most painful to hear. They at last laid him on the transom, more dead than alive.

That evening, the mate was perfectly sober, and coming forward to the windlass, where we were lounging, summoned aft the doctor, myself, and two or three others of his favourites; when, in the presence of Bembo the Mowree, he spoke to us thus:

"I have something to say to ye, men. There's none but Bembo here as belongs aft, so I've picked ye out as the best men for'ard to take counsel with, d'ye see, consarning the ship. The captain's anchor is pretty nigh atrip; I shouldn't wonder if he croaked afore morning. So what's to be done? If we have to sew him up, some of those pirates there for'ard may take it into their heads to run off with the ship, because there's no one at the tiller. Now, I've detarmined what's best to be done; but I don't want to do it unless I've good men to back me, and make things all fair and square if ever we get home again."

We all asked what his plan was.

"I'll tell ye what it is, men. If the skipper dies, all agree to obey my orders, and in less than three weeks I'll engage to have five hundred barrels of sperm oil under hatches: enough to give every mother's son of ye a handful of dollars when we get to Sydney. If ye don't agree to this, ye won't have a farthing coming to ye."

Doctor Long Ghost at once broke in. He said that such a thing was not to be dreamt of; that if the captain died, the mate was in duty bound to navigate the ship to the nearest civilized port, and deliver her up into an English consul's hands; when, in all probability, after a run ashore, the crew would be sent home. Everything forbade the mate's plan. "Still," said he, assuming an air of indifference, "if the men say stick it out, stick it out say I; but in that case, the sooner we get to those islands of yours the better."

Something more he went on to say; and from the manner in which the rest regarded him, it was plain that our fate was in his hands. It was finally resolved upon, that if Captain Guy was no better in twenty-four hours, the ship's head should be pointed for the island of Tahiti.

This announcement produced a strong sensation—the sick rallied—and the rest speculated as to what was next to befall us; while the doctor, without alluding to Guy, congratulated me upon the prospect of soon beholding a place so famous as the island in question.

The night after the holding of the council, I happened to go on deck in the middle watch, and found the yards braced sharp up on the larboard tack, with the South East Trades strong on our bow. The captain was no better; and we were off for Tahiti.

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