Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas

by Herman Melville

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WE HAD been inmates of the Calabooza Beretanee about two weeks, when, one morning, Captain Bob, coming from the bath, in a state of utter nudity, brought into the building an armful of old tappa, and began to dress to go out.

The operation was quite simple. The tappa—of the coarsest kind—was in one long, heavy piece; and, fastening one end to a column of Habiscus wood supporting the Calabooza, he went off a few paces, and putting the other about his waist, wound himself right up to the post. This unique costume, in rotundity something like a farthingale, added immensely to his large hulk; so much so that he fairly waddled in his gait. But he was only adhering to the fashion of his fathers; for, in the olden time, the "Kihee," or big girdle, was quite the mode for both sexes. Bob, despising recent innovations, still clung to it. He was a gentleman of the old school—one of the last of the Kihees.

He now told us that he had orders to take us before the consul. Nothing loth, we formed in procession; and, with the old man at our head, sighing and labouring like an engine, and flanked by a guard of some twenty natives, we started for the village.

Arrived at the consular office, we found Wilson there, and four or five Europeans, seated in a row facing us; probably with the view of presenting as judicial an appearance as possible.

On one side was a couch, where Captain Guy reclined. He looked convalescent; and, as we found out, intended soon to go aboard his ship. He said nothing, but left everything to the consul.

The latter now rose, and, drawing forth a paper from a large roll tied with red tape, commenced reading aloud.

It purported to be, "the affidavit of John Jennin, first officer of the British Colonial Barque Julia; Guy, Master;" and proved to be a long statement of matters, from the time of leaving Sydney, down to our arrival in the harbour. Though artfully drawn up so as to bear hard against every one of us, it was pretty correct in the de-. tails; excepting that it was wholly silent as to the manifold derelictions of the mate himself—a fact which imparted unusual significance to the concluding sentence, "And furthermore, this deponent sayeth not."

No comments were made, although we all looked round for the mate to see whether it was possible that he could have authorized this use of his name. But he was not present.

The next document produced was the deposition of the captain himself. As on all other occasions, however, he had very little to say for himself, and it was soon set aside.

The third affidavit was that of the seamen remaining aboard the vessel, including the traitor Bungs, who, it seemed, had turned ship's evidence. It was an atrocious piece of exaggeration, from beginning to end; and those who signed it could not have known what they were about. Certainly Wymontoo did not, though his mark was there. In vain the consul commanded silence during the reading of this paper; comments were shouted out upon every paragraph.

The affidavits read, Wilson, who, all the while, looked as stiff as a poker, solemnly drew forth the ship's articles from their tin case. This document was a discoloured, musty, bilious-looking affair, and hard to read. When finished, the consul held it up; and, pointing to the marks of the ship's company, at the bottom, asked us, one by one, whether we acknowledged the same for our own.

"What's the use of asking that?" said Black Dan; "Captain Guy there knows as well as we they are."

"Silence, sir!" said Wilson, who, intending to produce a suitable impression by this ridiculous parade, was not a little mortified by the old sailor's bluntness.

A pause of a few moments now ensued; during which the bench of judges communed with Captain Guy, in a low tone, and the sailors canvassed the motives of the consul in having the affidavits taken.

The general idea seemed to be that it was done with a view of "bouncing," or frightening us into submission. Such proved to be the case; for Wilson, rising to his feet again, addressed us as follows:—

"You see, men, that every preparation has been made to send you to Sydney for trial. The Rosa (a small Australian schooner, lying in the harbour) will sail for that place in the course of ten days, at farthest. The Julia sails on a cruise this day week. Do you still refuse duty?"

We did.

Hereupon the consul and captain exchanged glances; and the latter looked bitterly disappointed.

Presently I noticed Guy's eye upon me; and, for the first time, he spoke, and told me to come near. I stepped forward.

"Was it not you that was taken off the island?"

"It was."

"It was you then who owe your life to my humanity. Yet this is the gratitude of a sailor, Mr. Wilson!"

"Not so, sir." And I at once gave him to understand that I was perfectly acquainted with his motives in sending a boat into the bay; his crew was reduced, and he merely wished to procure the sailor whom he expected to find there. The ship was the means of my deliverance, and no thanks to the benevolence of its captain.

Doctor Long Ghost also had a word to say. In two masterly sentences he summed up Captain Guy's character, to the complete satisfaction of every seaman present.

Matters were now growing serious; especially as the sailors became riotous, and talked about taking the consul and the captain back to the Calabooza with them.

The other judges fidgeted, and loudly commanded silence. It was at length restored; when Wilson, for the last time addressing us, said something more about the Rose and Sydney, and concluded by reminding us that a week would elapse ere the Julia sailed.

Leaving these hints to operate for themselves, he dismissed the party, ordering Captain Bob and his friends to escort us back whence we came.

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.