THE ROUND ROBIN—VISITORS FROM SHORE
AFTER the captain left, the land-breeze died away; and, as is usual about these islands, toward noon it fell a dead calm. There was nothing to do but haul up the courses, run down the jib, and lay and roll upon the swells. The repose of the elements seemed to communicate itself to the men; and for a time there was a lull.
Early in the afternoon, the mate, having left the captain at Papeetee, returned to the ship. According to the steward, they were to go ashore again right after dinner with the remainder of Guy's effects.
On gaining the deck, Jermin purposely avoided us and went below without saying a word. Meanwhile, Long Ghost and I laboured hard to diffuse the right spirit among the crew; impressing upon them that a little patience and management would, in the end, accomplish all that their violence could; and that, too, without making a serious matter of it.
For my own part, I felt that I was under a foreign flag; that an English consul was close at hand, and that sailors seldom obtain justice. It was best to be prudent. Still, so much did I sympathize with the men, so far, at least, as their real grievances were concerned; and so convinced was I of the cruelty and injustice of what Captain Guy seemed bent upon, that if need were, I stood ready to raise a hand.
In spite of all we could do, some of them again became most refractory, breathing nothing but downright mutiny. When we went below to dinner these fellows stirred up such a prodigious tumult that the old hull fairly echoed. Many, and fierce too, were the speeches delivered, and uproarious the comments of the sailors. Among others Long Jim, or—as the doctor afterwards called him—Lacedaemonian Jim, rose in his place, and addressed the forecastle parliament in the following strain:
"Look ye, Britons! if after what's happened, this here craft goes to sea with us, we are no men; and that's the way to say it. Speak the word, my livelies, and I'll pilot her in. I've been to Tahiti before and I can do it." Whereupon, he sat down amid a universal pounding of chest-lids, and cymbaling of tin pans; the few invalids, who, as yet, had not been actively engaged with the rest, now taking part in the applause, creaking their bunk-boards and swinging their hammocks. Cries also were heard, of "Handspikes and a shindy!" "Out stun-sails!" "Hurrah!"
Several now ran on deck, and, for the moment, I thought it was all over with us; but we finally succeeded in restoring some degree of quiet.
At last, by way of diverting their thoughts, I proposed that a "Round Robin" should be prepared and sent ashore to the consul by Baltimore, the cook. The idea took mightily, and I was told to set about it at once. On turning to the doctor for the requisite materials, he told me he had none; there was not a fly-leaf, even in any of his books. So, after great search, a damp, musty volume, entitled "A History of the most Atrocious and Bloody Piracies," was produced, and its two remaining blank leaves being torn out, were by help of a little pitch lengthened into one sheet. For ink, some of the soot over the lamp was then mixed with water, by a fellow of a literary turn; and an immense quill, plucked from a distended albatross' wing, which, nailed against the bowsprit bitts, had long formed an ornament of the forecastle, supplied a pen.
Making use of the stationery thus provided, I indited, upon a chest-lid, a concise statement of our grievances; concluding with the earnest hope that the consul would at once come off, and see how matters stood for himself. Eight beneath the note was described the circle about which the names were to be written; the great object of a Round Robin being to arrange the signatures in such a way that, although they are all found in a ring, no man can be picked out as the leader of it.
Few among them had any regular names; many answering to some familiar title, expressive of a personal trait; or oftener still, to the name of the place from which they hailed; and in one or two cases were known by a handy syllable or two, significant of nothing in particular but the men who bore them. Some, to be sure, had, for the sake of formality, shipped under a feigned cognomen, or "Purser's name"; these, however, were almost forgotten by themselves; and so, to give the document an air of genuineness, it was decided that every man's name should be put down as it went among the crew.
It is due to the doctor to say that the circumscribed device was his.
Folded, and sealed with a drop of tar, the Round Robin was directed to "The English Consul, Tahiti"; and, handed to the cook, was by him delivered into that gentleman's hands as soon as the mate went ashore.
On the return of the boat, sometime after dark, we learned a good deal from old Baltimore, who, having been allowed to run about as much as he pleased, had spent his time gossiping.
Owing to the proceedings of the French, everything in Tahiti was in an uproar. Pritchard, the missionary consul, was absent in England; but his place was temporarily filled by one Wilson, an educated white man, born on the island, and the son of an old missionary of that name still living.
With natives and foreigners alike, Wilson the younger was exceedingly unpopular, being held an unprincipled and dissipated man, a character verified by his subsequent conduct. Pritchard's selecting a man like this to attend to the duties of his office, had occasioned general dissatisfaction ashore.
Though never in Europe or America, the acting consul had been several voyages to Sydney in a schooner belonging to the mission; and therefore our surprise was lessened, when Baltimore told us, that he and Captain Guy were as sociable as could be—old acquaintances, in fact; and that the latter had taken up his quarters at Wilson's house. For us this boded ill.
The mate was now assailed by a hundred questions as to what was going to be done with us. His only reply was, that in the morning the consul would pay us a visit, and settle everything.
After holding our ground off the harbour during the night, in the morning a shore boat, manned by natives, was seen coming off. In it were Wilson and another white man, who proved to be a Doctor Johnson, an Englishman, and a resident physician of Papeetee.
Stopping our headway as they approached, Jermin advanced to the gangway to receive them. No sooner did the consul touch the deck, than he gave us a specimen of what he was.
"Mr. Jermin," he cried loftily, and not deigning to notice the respectful salutation of the person addressed, "Mr. Jermin, tack ship, and stand off from the land."
Upon this, the men looked hard at him, anxious to see what sort of a looking "cove" he was. Upon inspection, he turned out to be an exceedingly minute "cove," with a viciously pugged nose, and a decidedly thin pair of legs. There was nothing else noticeable about him. Jermin, with ill-assumed suavity, at once obeyed the order, and the ship's head soon pointed out to sea.
Now, contempt is as frequently produced at first sight as love; and thus was it with respect to Wilson. No one could look at him without conceiving a strong dislike, or a cordial desire to entertain such a feeling the first favourable opportunity. There was such an intolerable air of conceit about this man that it was almost as much as one could do to refrain from running up and affronting him.
"So the counsellor is come," exclaimed Navy Bob, who, like all the rest, invariably styled him thus, much to mine and the doctor's diversion. "Ay," said another, "and for no good, I'll be bound."
Such were some of the observations made, as Wilson and the mate went below conversing.
But no one exceeded the cooper in the violence with which he inveighed against the ship and everything connected with her. Swearing like a trooper, he called the main-mast to witness that, if he (Bungs) ever again went out of sight of land in the Julia, he prayed Heaven that a fate might be his—altogether too remarkable to be here related.
Much had he to say also concerning the vileness of what we had to eat—not fit for a dog; besides enlarging upon the imprudence of intrusting the vessel longer to a man of the mate's intemperate habits. With so many sick, too, what could we expect to do in the fishery? It was no use talking; come what come might, the ship must let go her anchor.
Now, as Bungs, besides being an able seaman, a "Cod" in the forecastle, and about the oldest man in it, was, moreover, thus deeply imbued with feelings so warmly responded to by the rest, he was all at once selected to officiate as spokesman, as soon as the consul should see fit to address us. The selection was made contrary to mine and the doctor's advice; however, all assured us they would keep quiet, and hear everything Wilson had to say, before doing anything decisive.
We were not kept long in suspense; for very soon he was seen standing in the cabin gangway, with the tarnished tin case containing the ship's papers; and Jennin at once sung out for the ship's company to muster on the quarter-deck.