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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOmoo - PART I - Chapter II. SOME ACCOUNT OF THE SHIP
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Omoo - PART I - Chapter II. SOME ACCOUNT OF THE SHIP Post by :Samuel Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :2652

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Omoo - PART I - Chapter II. SOME ACCOUNT OF THE SHIP

FIRST AND foremost, I must give some account of the Julia herself; or
"Little Jule," as the sailors familiarly styled her.

She was a small barque of a beautiful model, something more than two
hundred tons, Yankee-built and very old. Fitted for a privateer out
of a New England port during the war of 1812, she had been captured
at sea by a British cruiser, and, after seeing all sorts of service,
was at last employed as a government packet in the Australian seas.
Being condemned, however, about two years previous, she was purchased
at auction by a house in Sydney, who, after some slight repairs,
dispatched her on the present voyage.

Notwithstanding the repairs, she was still in a miserable plight. The
lower masts were said to be unsound; the standing rigging was much
worn; and, in some places, even the bulwarks were quite rotten.
Still, she was tolerably tight, and but little more than the ordinary
pumping of a morning served to keep her free.

But all this had nothing to do with her sailing; at that, brave Little
Jule, plump Little Jule, was a witch. Blow high, or blow low, she was
always ready for the breeze; and when she dashed the waves from her
prow, and pranced, and pawed the sea, you never thought of her
patched sails and blistered hull. How the fleet creature would fly
before the wind! rolling, now and then, to be sure, but in very
playfulness. Sailing to windward, no gale could bow her over: with
spars erect, she looked right up into the wind's eye, and so she

But after all, Little Jule was not to be confided in. Lively enough,
and playful she was, but on that very account the more to be
distrusted. Who knew, but that like some vivacious old mortal all at
once sinking into a decline, she might, some dark night, spring a
leak and carry us all to the bottom. However, she played us no such
ugly trick, and therefore, I wrong Little Jule in supposing it.

She had a free roving commission. According to her papers she might go
whither she pleased--whaling, sealing, or anything else. Sperm
whaling, however, was what she relied upon; though, as yet, only two
fish had been brought alongside.

The day they sailed out of Sydney Heads, the ship's company, all told,
numbered some thirty-two souls; now, they mustered about twenty; the
rest had deserted. Even the three junior mates who had headed the
whaleboats were gone: and of the four harpooners, only one was left,
a wild New Zealander, or "Mowree" as his countrymen are more commonly
called in the Pacific. But this was not all. More than half the
seamen remaining were more or less unwell from a long sojourn in a
dissipated port; some of them wholly unfit for duty, one or two
dangerously ill, and the rest managing to stand their watch though
they could do but little.

The captain was a young cockney, who, a few years before, had
emigrated to Australia, and, by some favouritism or other,
had-pro-cured the command of the vessel, though in no wise competent.
He was essentially a landsman, and though a man of education, no more
meant for the sea than a hairdresser. Hence everybody made fun of
him. They called him "The Cabin Boy," "Paper Jack," and half a dozen
other undignified names. In truth, the men made no secret of the
derision in which they held him; and as for the slender gentleman
himself, he knew it all very well, and bore himself with becoming
meekness. Holding as little intercourse with them as possible, he
left everything to the chief mate, who, as the story went, had been
given his captain in charge. Yet, despite his apparent
unobtrusiveness, the silent captain had more to do with the men than
they thought. In short, although one of your sheepish-looking
fellows, he had a sort of still, timid cunning, which no one would
have suspected, and which, for that very reason, was all the more
active. So the bluff mate, who always thought he did what he pleased,
was occasionally made a tool of; and some obnoxious measures which he
carried out, in spite of all growlings, were little thought to
originate with the dapper little fellow in nankeen jacket and white
canvas pumps. But, to all appearance, at least, the mate had
everything his own way; indeed, in most things this was actually the
case; and it was quite plain that the captain stood in awe of him.

So far as courage, seamanship, and a natural aptitude for keeping
riotous spirits in subjection were concerned, no man was better
qualified for his vocation than John Jermin. He was the very
beau-ideal of the efficient race of short, thick-set men. His hair
curled in little rings of iron gray all over his round bullet head. As
for his countenance, it was strongly marked, deeply pitted with the
small-pox. For the rest, there was a fierce little squint out of one
eye; the nose had a rakish twist to one side; while his large mouth,
and great white teeth, looked absolutely sharkish when he laughed. In
a word, no one, after getting a fair look at him, would ever think of
improving the shape of his nose, wanting in symmetry as it was.
Notwithstanding his pugnacious looks, however, Jermin had a heart as
big as a bullock's; that you saw at a glance.

Such was our mate; but he had one failing: he abhorred all weak
infusions, and cleaved manfully to strong drink.. At all times he was
more or less under the influence of it. Taken in moderate quantities,
I believe, in my soul, it did a man like him good; brightened his
eyes, swept the cobwebs out of his brain, and regulated his pulse.
But the worst of it was, that sometimes he drank too much, and a more
obstreperous fellow than Jermin in his cups, you seldom came across.
He was always for having a fight; but the very men he flogged loved
him as a brother, for he had such an irresistibly good-natured way of
knocking them down, that no one could find it in his heart to bear
malice against him. So much for stout little Jermin.

All English whalemen are bound by-law to carry a physician, who, of
course, is rated a gentleman, and lives in the cabin, with nothing
but his professional duties to attend to; but incidentally he drinks
"flip" and plays cards with the captain. There was such a worthy
aboard of the Julia; but, curious to tell, he lived in the forecastle
with the men. And this was the way it happened.

In the early part of the voyage the doctor and the captain lived
together as pleasantly as could be. To say nothing of many a can they
drank over the cabin transom, both of them had read books, and one of
them had travelled; so their stories never flagged. But once on a
time they got into a dispute about politics, and the doctor,
moreover, getting into a rage, drove home an argument with his fist,
and left the captain on the floor literally silenced. This was
carrying it with a high hand; so he was shut up in his state-room for
ten days, and left to meditate on bread and water, and the
impropriety of flying into a passion. Smarting under his disgrace, he
undertook, a short time after his liberation, to leave the vessel
clandestinely at one of the islands, but was brought back
ignominiously, and again shut up. Being set at large for the second
time, he vowed he would not live any longer with the captain, and
went forward with his chests among the sailors, where he was received
with open arms as a good fellow and an injured man.

I must give some further account of him, for he figures largely in the
narrative. His early history, like that of many other heroes, was
enveloped in the profoundest obscurity; though he threw out hints of
a patrimonial estate, a nabob uncle, and an unfortunate affair which
sent him a-roving. All that was known, however, was this. He had gone
out to Sydney as assistant-surgeon of an emigrant ship. On his
arrival there, he went back into the country, and after a few months'
wanderings, returned to Sydney penniless, and entered as doctor
aboard of the Julia.

His personal appearance was remarkable. He was over six feet high--a
tower of bones, with a complexion absolutely colourless, fair hair,
and a light unscrupulous gray eye, twinkling occasionally at the very
devil of mischief. Among the crew, he went by the name of the Long
Doctor, or more frequently still, Doctor Long Ghost. And from
whatever high estate Doctor Long Ghost might have fallen, he had
certainly at some time or other spent money, drunk Burgundy, and
associated with gentlemen.

As for his learning, he quoted Virgil, and talked of Hobbs of
Malmsbury, beside repeating poetry by the canto, especially Hudibras.
He was, moreover, a man who had seen the world. In the easiest way
imaginable, he could refer to an amour he had in Palermo, his
lion-hunting before breakfast among the Caffres, and the quality of
the coffee to be drunk in Muscat; and about these places, and a
hundred others, he had more anecdotes than I can tell of. Then such
mellow old songs as he sang, in a voice so round and racy, the real
juice of sound. How such notes came forth from his lank body was a
constant marvel.

Upon the whole, Long Ghost was as entertaining a companion as one
could wish; and to me in the Julia, an absolute godsend.

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