by Herman Melville

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter Seven



MY curiosity had been not a little raised with regard to thedescription of country we should meet on the other side of themountains; and I had supposed, with Toby, that immediately ongaining the heights we should be enabled to view the large baysof Happar and Typee reposing at our feet on one side, in the sameway that Nukuheva lay spread out below on the other. But here wewere disappointed. Instead of finding the mountain we hadascended sweeping down in the opposite direction into broad andcapacious valleys, the land appeared to retain its generalelevation, only broken into a series of ridges and inter-valeswhich so far as the eye could reach stretched away from us, withtheir precipitous sides covered with the brightest verdure, andwaving here and there with the foliage of clumps of woodland;among which, however, we perceived none of those trees upon whosefruit we had relied with such certainty.

This was a most unlooked-for discovery, and one that promised todefeat our plans altogether, for we could not think of descendingthe mountain on the Nukuheva side in quest of food. Should wefor this purpose be induced to retrace our steps, we should runno small chance of encountering the natives, who in that case, ifthey did nothing worse to us, would be certain to convey us backto the ship for the sake of the reward in calico and trinkets,which we had no doubt our skipper would hold out to them as aninducement to our capture.

What was to be done? The Dolly would not sail perhaps for tendays, and how were we to sustain life during this period? Ibitterly repented our improvidence in not providing ourselves, aswe easily might have done, with a supply of biscuits. With arueful visage I now bethought me of the scanty handful of bread Ihad stuffed into the bosom of my frock, and felt somewhatdesirous to ascertain what part of it had weathered the ratherrough usage it had experienced in ascending the mountain. Iaccordingly proposed to Toby that we should enter into a jointexamination of the various articles we had brought from the ship.

With this intent we seated ourselves upon the grass; and a littlecurious to see with what kind of judgement my companion hadfilled his frock--which I remarked seemed about as well lined asmy own--I requested him to commence operations by spreading outits contents.

Thrusting his hand, then, into the bosom of this capaciousreceptacle, he first brought to light about a pound of tobacco,whose component parts still adhered together, the whole outsidebeing covered with soft particles of sea-bread. Wet anddripping, it had the appearance of having been just recoveredfrom the bottom of the sea. But I paid slight attention to asubstance of so little value to us in our present situation, assoon as I perceived the indications it gave of Toby's foresightin laying in a supply of food for the expedition.

I eagerly inquired what quantity he had brought with him, whenrummaging once more beneath his garment, he produced a smallhandful of something so soft, pulpy, and discoloured, that for afew moments he was as much puzzled as myself to tell by whatpossible instrumentality such a villainous compound had becomeengendered in his bosom. I can only describe it as a hash ofsoaked bread and bits of tobacco, brought to a doughy consistencyby the united agency of perspiration and rain. But repulsive asit might otherwise have been, I now regarded it as an invaluabletreasure, and proceeded with great care to transfer thispaste-like mass to a large leaf which I had plucked from a bushbeside me. Toby informed me that in the morning he had placedtwo whole biscuits in his bosom, with a view of munching them,should he feel so inclined, during our flight. These were nowreduced to the equivocal substance which I had just placed on theleaf.

Another dive into the frock brought to view some four or fiveyards of calico print, whose tasteful pattern was ratherdisfigured by the yellow stains of the tobacco with which it hadbeen brought in contact. In drawing this calico slowly from hisbosom inch by inch, Toby reminded me of a juggler performing thefeat of the endless ribbon. The next cast was a small one, beinga sailor's little 'ditty bag', containing needles, thread, andother sewing utensils, then came a razor-case, followed by two orthree separate plugs of negro-head, which were fished up from thebottom of the now empty receptacle. These various matters, beinginspected, I produced the few things which I had myself brought.

As might have been anticipated from the state of my companion'sedible supplies, I found my own in a deplorable condition, anddiminished to a quantity that would not have formed half a dozenmouthfuls for a hungry man who was partial enough to tobacco notto mind swallowing it. A few morsels of bread, with a fathom ortwo of white cotton cloth, and several pounds of choice pigtail,composed the extent of my possessions.

Our joint stock of miscellaneous articles were now made up into acompact bundle, which it was agreed we should carry alternately. But the sorry remains of the biscuit were not to be disposed ofso summarily: the precarious circumstances in which we wereplaced made us regard them as something on which very probably,depended the fate of our adventure. After a brief discussion, inwhich we both of us expressed our resolution of not descendinginto the bay until the ship's departure, I suggested to mycompanion that little of it as there was, we should divide thebread into six equal portions, each of which should be a day'sallowance for both of us. This proposition he assented to; so Itook the silk kerchief from my neck, and cutting it with my knifeinto half a dozen equal pieces, proceeded to make an exactdivision.

At first, Toby with a degree of fastidiousness that seemed to meill-timed, was for picking out the minute particles of tobaccowith which the spongy mass was mixed; but against this proceedingI protested, as by such an operation we must have greatlydiminished its quantity.

When the division was accomplished, we found that a day'sallowance for the two was not a great deal more than what atable-spoon might hold. Each separate portion we immediatelyrolled up in the bit of silk prepared for it, and joining themall together into a small package, I committed them, with solemninjunctions of fidelity, to the custody of Toby. For theremainder of that day we resolved to fast, as we had beenfortified by a breakfast in the morning; and now starting againto our feet, we looked about us for a shelter during the night,which, from the appearance of the heavens, promised to be a darkand tempestuous one.

There was no place near us which would in any way answer ourpurpose, so turning our backs upon Nukuheva, we commencedexploring the unknown regions which lay upon the other side ofthe mountain.

In this direction, as far as our vision extended, not a sign oflife, nor anything that denoted even the transient residence ofman, could be seen. The whole landscape seemed one unbrokensolitude, the interior of the island having apparently beenuntenanted since the morning of the creation; and as we advancedthrough this wilderness, our voices sounded strangely in ourears, as though human accents had never before disturbed thefearful silence of the place, interrupted only by the lowmurmurings of distant waterfalls.

Our disappointment, however, in not finding the various fruitswith which we had intended to regale ourselves during our stay inthese wilds, was a good deal lessened by the consideration thatfrom this very circumstance we should be much less exposed to acasual meeting with the savage tribes about us, who we knewalways dwelt beneath the shadows of those trees which suppliedthem with food.

We wandered along, casting eager glances into every bush wepassed, until just as we had succeeded in mounting one of themany ridges that intersected the ground, I saw in the grassbefore me something like an indistinctly traced footpath, whichappeared to lead along the top of the ridge, and to descend--withit into a deep ravine about half a mile in advance of us.

Robinson Crusoe could not have been more startled at thefootprint in the sand than we were at this unwelcome discovery. My first impulse was to make as rapid a retreat as possible, andbend our steps in some other direction; but our curiosity to seewhither this path might lead, prompted us to pursue it. So on wewent, the track becoming more and more visible the farther weproceeded, until it conducted us to the verge of the ravine,where it abruptly terminated.

'And so,' said Toby, peering down into the chasm, 'everyone thattravels this path takes a jump here, eh?'

'Not so,' said I, 'for I think they might manage to descendwithout it; what say you,--shall we attempt the feat?'

'And what, in the name of caves and coal-holes, do you expect tofind at the bottom of that gulf but a broken neck--why it looksblacker than our ship's hold, and the roar of those waterfallsdown there would batter one's brains to pieces.'

'Oh, no, Toby,' I exclaimed, laughing; 'but there's something tobe seen here, that's plain, or there would have been no path, andI am resolved to find out what it is.'

'I will tell you what, my pleasant fellow,' rejoined Tobyquickly, 'if you are going to pry into everything you meet withhere that excites your curiosity, you will marvellously soon getknocked on the head; to a dead certainty you will come bang upona party of these savages in the midst of your discovery-makings,and I doubt whether such an event would particularly delight you,just take my advice for once, and let us 'bout ship and steer insome other direction; besides, it's getting late and we ought tobe mooring ourselves for the night.'

'That is just the thing I have been driving at,' replied I; 'andI am thinking that this ravine will exactly answer our purpose,for it is roomy, secluded, well watered, and may shelter us fromthe weather.'

'Aye, and from sleep too, and by the same token will give us sorethroats, and rheumatisms into the bargain,' cried Toby, withevident dislike at the idea.

'Oh, very well then, my lad,' said I, 'since you will notaccompany me, here I go alone. You will see me in the morning;'and advancing to the edge of the cliff upon which we had beenstanding, I proceeded to lower myself down by the tangled rootswhich clustered about all the crevices of the rock. As I hadanticipated, Toby, in spite of his previous remonstrances,followed my example, and dropping himself with the activity of asquirrel from point to point, he quickly outstripped me andeffected a landing at the bottom before I had accomplishedtwo-thirds of the descent.

The sight that now greeted us was one that will ever be vividlyimpressed upon my mind. Five foaming streams, rushing through asmany gorges, and swelled and turbid by the recent rains, unitedtogether in one mad plunge of nearly eighty feet, and fell withwild uproar into a deep black pool scooped out of the gloomylooking rocks that lay piled around, and thence in one collectedbody dashed down a narrow sloping channel which seemed topenetrate into the very bowels of the earth. Overhead, vastroots of trees hung down from the sides of the ravine drippingwith moisture, and trembling with the concussions produced by thefall. It was now sunset, and the feeble uncertain light thatfound its way into these caverns and woody depths heightenedtheir strange appearance, and reminded us that in a short time weshould find ourselves in utter darkness.

As soon as I had satisfied my curiosity by gazing at this scene,I fell to wondering how it was that what we had taken for a pathshould have conducted us.to so singular a place, and began tosuspect that after all I might have been deceived in supposing itto have been a trick formed by the islanders. This was rather anagreeable reflection than otherwise, for it diminished our dreadof accidentally meeting with any of them, and I came to theconclusion that perhaps we could not have selected a more securehiding-place than this very spot we had so accidentally hit upon.

Toby agreed with me in this view of the matter, and weimmediately began gathering together the limbs of trees which layscattered about, with the view of constructing a temporary hutfor the night. This we were obliged to build close to the footof the cataract, for the current of water extended very nearly tothe sides of the gorge. The few moments of light that remainedwe employed in covering our hut with a species of broad-bladedgrass that grew in every fissure of the ravine. Our hut, if itdeserved to be called one, consisted of six or eight of thestraightest branches we could find laid obliquely against thesteep wall of rock, with their lower ends within a foot of thestream. Into the space thus covered over we managed to crawl,and dispose our wearied bodies as best we could.

Shall I ever forget that horrid night! As for poor Toby, I couldscarcely get a word out of him. It would have been someconsolation to have heard his voice, but he lay shivering thelive-long night like a man afflicted with the palsy, with hisknees drawn up to his head, while his back was supported againstthe dripping side of the rock. During this wretched night thereseemed nothing wanting to complete the perfect misery of ourcondition. The rain descended in such torrents that our poorshelter proved a mere mockery. In vain did I try to elude theincessant streams that poured upon me; by protecting one part Ionly exposed another, and the water was continually finding somenew opening through which to drench us.

I have had many a ducking in the course of my life, and ingeneral cared little about it; but the accumulated horrors ofthat night, the deathlike coldness of the place, the appallingdarkness and the dismal sense of our forlorn condition, almostunmanned me.

It will not be doubted that the next morning we were earlyrisers, and as soon as I could catch the faintest glimpse ofanything like daylight I shook my companion by the arm, and toldhim it was sunrise. Poor Toby lifted up his head, and after amoment's pause said, in a husky voice, 'Then, shipmate, mytoplights have gone out, for it appears darker now with my eyesopen that it did when they were shut.'

'Nonsense!' exclaimed I; 'You are not awake yet.'

'Awake!' roared Toby in a rage, 'awake! You mean to insinuateI've been asleep, do you? It is an insult to a man to suppose hecould sleep in such an infernal place as this.'

By the time I had apologized to my friend for having misconstruedhis silence, it had become somewhat more light, and we crawledout of our lair. The rain had ceased, but everything around uswas dripping with moisture. We stripped off our saturatedgarments, and wrung them as dry as we could. We contrived tomake the blood circulate in our benumbed limbs by rubbing themvigorously with our hands; and after performing our ablutions inthe stream, and putting on our still wet clothes, we began tothink it advisable to break our long fast, it being nowtwenty-four hours since we had tasted food.

Accordingly our day's ration was brought out, and seatingourselves on a detached fragment of rock, we proceeded to discussit. First we divided it into two equal portions, and carefullyrolling one of them up for our evening's repast, divided theremainder again as equally as possible, and then drew lots forthe first choice. I could have placed the morsel that fell to myshare upon the tip of my finger; but notwithstanding this I tookcare that it should be full ten minutes before I had swallowedthe last crumb. What a true saying it is that 'appetitefurnishes the best sauce.' There was a flavour and a relish tothis small particle of food that under other circumstances itwould have been impossible for the most delicate viands to haveimparted. A copious draught of the pure water which flowed atour feet served to complete the meal, and after it we rosesensibly refreshed, and prepared for whatever might befall us.

We now carefully examined the chasm in which we had passed thenight. We crossed the stream, and gaining the further side ofthe pool I have mentioned, discovered proofs that the spot musthave been visited by some one but a short time previous to ourarrival. Further observation convinced us that it had beenregularly frequented, and, as we afterwards conjectured fromparticular indications, for the purpose of obtaining a certainroot, from which the natives obtained a kind of ointment.

These discoveries immediately determined us to abandon a placewhich had presented no inducement for us to remain, except thepromise of security; and as we looked about us for the means ofascending again into the upper regions, we at last found apracticable part of the rock, and half an hour's toil carried usto the summit of the same cliff from which the preceding eveningwe had descended.

I now proposed to Toby that instead of rambling about the island,exposing ourselves to discovery at every turn, we should selectsome place as our fixed abode for as long a period as our foodshould hold out, build ourselves a comfortable hut, and be asprudent and circumspect as possible. To all this my companionassented, and we at once set about carrying the plan intoexecution.

With this view, after exploring without success a little glennear us, we crossed several of the ridges of which I have beforespoken; and about noon found ourselves ascending a long andgradually rising slope, but still without having discovered anyplace adapted to our purpose. Low and heavy clouds betokened anapproaching storm, and we hurried on to gain a covert in a clumpof thick bushes, which appeared to terminate the long ascent. Wethrew ourselves under the lee of these bushes, and pulling up thelong grass that grew around, covered ourselves completely withit, and awaited the shower.

But it did not come as soon as we had expected, and before manyminutes my companion was fast asleep, and I was rapidly fallinginto the same state of happy forgetfulness. Just at thisjuncture, however, down came the rain with the violence that putall thoughts of slumber to flight. Although in some measuresheltered, our clothes soon became as wet as ever; this, afterall the trouble we had taken to dry them, was provoking enough:but there was no help for it; and I recommend all adventurousyouths who abandon vessels in romantic islands during the rainyseason to provide themselves with umbrellas.

After an hour or so the shower passed away. My companion sleptthrough it all, or at least appeared so to do; and now that itwas over I had not the heart to awaken him. As I lay on my backcompletely shrouded with verdure, the leafy branches droopingover me, my limbs buried in grass, I could not avoid comparingour situation with that of the interesting babes in the wood. Poor little sufferers!--no wonder their constitutions broke downunder the hardships to which they were exposed.

During the hour or two spent under the shelter of these bushes, Ibegan to feel symptoms which I at once attributed to the exposureof the preceding night. Cold shiverings and a burning feversucceeded one another at intervals, while one of my legs wasswelled to such a degree, and pained me so acutely, that I halfsuspected I had been bitten by some venomous reptile, thecongenial inhabitant of the chasm from which we had latelyemerged. I may here remark by the way--what I subsequentlygleamed--that all the islands of Polynesia enjoy the reputation,in common with the Hibernian isle, of being free from thepresence of any vipers; though whether Saint Patrick ever visitedthem, is a question I shall not attempt to decide.

As the feverish sensation increased upon me I tossed about, stillunwilling to disturb my slumbering companion, from whose side Iremoved two or three yards. I chanced to push aside a branch,and by so doing suddenly disclosed to my view a scene which evennow I can recall with all the vividness of the first impression. Had a glimpse of the gardens of Paradise been revealed to me, Icould scarcely have been more ravished with the sight.

From the spot where I lay transfixed with surprise and delight, Ilooked straight down into the bosom of a valley, which swept awayin long wavy undulations to the blue waters in the distance. Midway towards the sea, and peering here and there amidst thefoliage, might be seen the palmetto-thatched houses of itsinhabitants glistening in the sun that had bleached them to adazzling whiteness. The vale was more than three leagues inlength, and about a mile across at its greatest width.

On either side it appeared hemmed in by steep and greenacclivities, which, uniting near the spot where I lay, formed anabrupt and semicircular termination of grassy cliffs andprecipices hundreds of feet in height, over which flowednumberless small cascades. But the crowning beauty of theprospect was its universal verdure; and in this indeed consists,I believe, the peculiar charm of every Polynesian landscape. Everywhere below me, from the base of the precipice upon whosevery verge I had been unconsciously reposing, the surface of thevale presented a mass of foliage, spread with such rich profusionthat it was impossible to determine of what description of treesit consisted.

But perhaps there was nothing about the scenery I beheld moreimpressive than those silent cascades, whose slender threads ofwater, after leaping down the steep cliffs, were lost amidst therich herbage of the valley.

Over all the landscape there reigned the most hushed repose,which I almost feared to break, lest, like the enchanted gardensin the fairy tale, a single syllable might dissolve the spell. For a long time, forgetful alike of my own situation, and thevicinity of my still slumbering companion, I remained gazingaround me, hardly able to comprehend by what means I had thussuddenly been made a spectator of such a scene.

Return to the Typee Summary Return to the Herman Melville Library

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.