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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOmoo - PART I - Chapter I. MY RECEPTION ABOARD
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Omoo - PART I - Chapter I. MY RECEPTION ABOARD Post by :creed Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :1241

Click below to download : Omoo - PART I - Chapter I. MY RECEPTION ABOARD (Format : PDF)

Omoo - PART I - Chapter I. MY RECEPTION ABOARD

IT WAS the middle of a bright tropical afternoon that we made good our
escape from the bay. The vessel we sought lay with her main-topsail
aback about a league from the land, and was the only object that
broke the broad expanse of the ocean.

On approaching, she turned out to be a small, slatternly-looking
craft, her hull and spars a dingy black, rigging all slack and
bleached nearly white, and everything denoting an ill state of
affairs aboard. The four boats hanging from her sides proclaimed her
a whaler. Leaning carelessly over the bulwarks were the sailors,
wild, haggard-looking fellows in Scotch caps and faded blue frocks;
some of them with cheeks of a mottled bronze, to which sickness soon
changes the rich berry-brown of a seaman's complexion in the tropics.

On the quarter-deck was one whom I took for the chief mate. He wore a
broad-brimmed Panama hat, and his spy-glass was levelled as we
advanced.

When we came alongside, a low cry ran fore and aft the deck, and
everybody gazed at us with inquiring eyes. And well they might. To
say nothing of the savage boat's crew, panting with excitement, all
gesture and vociferation, my own appearance was calculated to excite
curiosity. A robe of the native cloth was thrown over my shoulders,
my hair and beard were uncut, and I betrayed other evidences of my
recent adventure. Immediately on gaining the deck, they beset me on
all sides with questions, the half of which I could not answer, so
incessantly were they put.

As an instance of the curious coincidences which often befall the
sailor, I must here mention that two countenances before me were
familiar. One was that of an old man-of-war's-man, whose acquaintance
I had made in Rio de Janeiro, at which place touched the ship in
which I sailed from home. The other was a young man whom, four years
previous, I had frequently met in a sailor boarding-house in
Liverpool. I remembered parting with him at Prince's Dock Gates, in
the midst of a swarm of police-officers, trackmen, stevedores,
beggars, and the like. And here we were again:--years had rolled by,
many a league of ocean had been traversed, and we were thrown
together under circumstances which almost made me doubt my own
existence.

But a few moments passed ere I was sent for into the cabin by the
captain.

He was quite a young man, pale and slender, more like a sickly
counting-house clerk than a bluff sea-captain. Bidding me be seated,
he ordered the steward to hand me a glass of Pisco. In the state I
was, this stimulus almost made me delirious; so that of all I then
went on to relate concerning my residence on the island I can
scarcely remember a word. After this I was asked whether I desired to
"ship"; of course I said yes; that is, if he would allow me to enter
for one cruise, engaging to discharge me, if I so desired, at the
next port. In this way men are frequently shipped on board whalemen
in the South Seas. My stipulation was acceded to, and the ship's
articles handed me to sign.

The mate was now called below, and charged to make a "well man" of me;
not, let it be borne in mind, that the captain felt any great
compassion for me, he only desired to have the benefit of my services
as soon as possible.

Helping me on deck, the mate stretched me out on the windlass and
commenced examining my limb; and then doctoring it after a fashion
with something from the medicine-chest, rolled it up in a piece of an
old sail, making so big a bundle that, with my feet resting on the
windlass, I might have been taken for a sailor with the gout. While
this was going on, someone removing my tappa cloak slipped on a blue
frock in its place, and another, actuated by the same desire to make
a civilized mortal of me, flourished about my head a great pair lie
imminent jeopardy of both ears, and the certain destruction of hair
and beard.

The day was now drawing to a close, and, as the land faded from my
sight, I was all alive to the change in my condition. But how far
short of our expectations is oftentimes the fulfilment of the most
ardent hopes. Safe aboard of a ship--so long my earnest prayer--with
home and friends once more in prospect, I nevertheless felt weighed
down by a melancholy that could not be shaken off. It was the thought
of never more seeing those who, notwithstanding their desire to
retain me a captive, had, upon the whole, treated me so kindly. I was
leaving them for ever.

So unforeseen and sudden had been my escape, so excited had I been
through it all, and so great the contrast between the luxurious
repose of the valley, and the wild noise and motion of a ship at sea,
that at times my recent adventures had all the strangeness of a
dream; and I could scarcely believe that the same sun now setting
over a waste of waters, had that very morning risen above the
mountains and peered in upon me as I lay on my mat in Typee.

Going below into the forecastle just after dark, I was inducted into a
wretched "bunk" or sleeping-box built over another. The rickety
bottoms of both were spread with several pieces of a blanket. A
battered tin can was then handed me, containing about half a pint of
"tea"--so called by courtesy, though whether the juice of such stalks
as one finds floating therein deserves that title, is a matter all
shipowners must settle with their consciences. A cube of salt beef,
on a hard round biscuit by way of platter, was also handed up; and
without more ado, I made a meal, the salt flavour of which, after the
Nebuchadnezzar fare of the valley, was positively delicious.

While thus engaged, an old sailor on a chest just under me was puffing
out volumes of tobacco smoke. My supper finished, he brushed the stem
of his sooty pipe against the sleeve of his frock, and politely waved
it toward me. The attention was sailor-like; as for the nicety of the
thing, no man who has lived in forecastles is at all fastidious; and
so, after a few vigorous whiffs to induce repose, I turned over and
tried my best to forget myself. But in vain. My crib, instead of
extending fore and aft, as it should have done, was placed athwart
ships, that is, at right angles to the keel, and the vessel, going
before the wind, rolled to such a degree, that-every time my heels
went up and my head went down, I thought I was on the point of
turning a somerset. Beside this, there were still more annoying
causes of inquietude; and every once in a while a splash of water
came down the open scuttle, and flung the spray in my face.

At last, after a sleepless night, broken twice by the merciless call
of the watch, a peep of daylight struggled into view from above, and
someone came below. It was my old friend with the pipe.

"Here, shipmate," said I, "help me out of this place, and let me go
on deck."

"Halloa, who's that croaking?" was the rejoinder, as he peered into
the obscurity where I lay. "Ay, Typee, my king of the cannibals, is
it you I But I say, my lad, how's that spar of your'n? the mate says
it's in a devil of a way; and last night set the steward to
sharpening the handsaw: hope he won't have the carving of ye."

Long before daylight we arrived off the bay of Nukuheva, and making
short tacks until morning, we then ran in and sent a boat ashore with
the natives who had brought me to the ship. Upon its return, we made
sail again, and stood off from the land. There was a fine breeze; and
notwithstanding my bad night's rest, the cool, fresh air of a
morning at sea was so bracing, mat, as soon as I breathed it, my
spirits rose at once.

Seated upon the windlass the greater portion of the day, and chatting
freely with the men, I learned the history of the voyage thus far,
and everything respecting the ship and its present condition.

These matters I will now throw together in the next chapter.

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