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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOmoo - PART I - Chapter V. WHAT HAPPENED AT HYTYHOO
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Omoo - PART I - Chapter V. WHAT HAPPENED AT HYTYHOO Post by :KennyMc Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :705

Click below to download : Omoo - PART I - Chapter V. WHAT HAPPENED AT HYTYHOO (Format : PDF)

Omoo - PART I - Chapter V. WHAT HAPPENED AT HYTYHOO

LESS than forty-eight hours after leaving Nukuheva, the blue, looming
island of St. Christina greeted us from afar. Drawing near the
shore, the grim, black spars and waspish hull of a small man-of-war
craft crept into view; the masts and yards lined distinctly against
the sky. She was riding to her anchor in the bay, and proved to be a
French corvette.

This pleased our captain exceedingly, and, coming on deck, he examined
her from the mizzen rigging with his glass. His original intention
was not to let go an anchor; but, counting upon the assistance of the
corvette in case of any difficulty, he now changed his mind, and
anchored alongside of her. As soon as a boat could be lowered, he
then went off to pay his respects to the commander, and, moreover, as
we supposed, to concert measures for the apprehension of the
runaways.

Returning in the course of twenty minutes, he brought along with him
two officers in undress and whiskers, and three or four drunken
obstreperous old chiefs; one with his legs thrust into the armholes
of a scarlet vest, another with a pair of spurs on his heels, and a
third in a cocked hat and feather. In addition to these articles,
they merely wore the ordinary costume of their race--a slip of native
cloth about the loins. Indecorous as their behaviour was, these
worthies turned out to be a deputation from the reverend the clergy
of the island; and the object of their visit was to put our ship
under a rigorous "Taboo," to prevent the disorderly scenes and
facilities for desertion which would ensue, were the natives--men and
women--allowed to come off to us freely.

There was little ceremony about the matter. The priests went aside for
a moment, laid their shaven old crowns together, and went over a
little mummery. Whereupon, their leader tore a long strip from his
girdle of white tappa, and handed it to one of the French officers,
who, after explaining what was to be done, gave it to Jermin. The
mate at once went out to the end of the flying jib boom, and fastened
there the mystic symbol of the ban. This put to flight a party of
girls who had been observed swimming toward us. Tossing their arms
about, and splashing the water like porpoises, with loud cries of
"taboo! taboo I" they turned about and made for the shore.

The night of our arrival, the mate and the Mowree were to stand "watch
and watch," relieving each other every four hours; the crew, as is
sometimes customary when lying at an anchor, being allowed to remain
all night below. A distrust of the men, however, was, in the present
instance, the principal reason for this proceeding. Indeed, it was
all but certain, that some kind of attempt would be made at
desertion; and therefore, when Jermin's first watch came on at eight
bells (midnight)--by which time all was quiet--he mounted to the deck
with a flask of spirits in one hand, and the other in readiness to
assail the first countenance that showed itself above the forecastle
scuttle.

Thus prepared, he doubtless meant to stay awake; but for all that, he
before long fell asleep; and slept with such hearty good-will too,
that the men who left us that night might have been waked up by his
snoring. Certain it was, the mate snored most strangely; and no
wonder, with that crooked bugle of his. When he came to himself it
was just dawn, but quite light enough to show two boats gone from the
side. In an instant he knew what had happened.

Dragging the Mowree out of an old sail where he was napping, he
ordered him to clear away another boat, and then darted into the
cabin to tell the captain the news. Springing on deck again, he
drove down into the forecastle for a couple of oarsmen, but hardly
got there before there was a cry, and a loud splash heard over the
side. It was the Mowree and the boat--into which he had just leaped
to get ready for lowering--rolling over and over in the water.

The boat having at nightfall been hoisted up to its place over the
starboard quarter, someone had so cut the tackles which held it
there, that a moderate strain would at once part them. Bembo's weight
had answered the purpose, showing that the deserters must have
ascertained his specific gravity to a fibre of hemp. There was
another boat remaining; but it was as well to examine it before
attempting to lower. And it was well they did; for there was a hole
in the bottom large enough to drop a barrel through: she had been
scuttled most ruthlessly.

Jermin was frantic. Dashing his hat upon deck, he was about to plunge
overboard and swim to the corvette for a cutter, when Captain Guy
made his appearance and begged him to stay where he was. By this time
the officer of the deck aboard the Frenchman had noticed our
movements, and hailed to know what had happened. Guy informed him
through his trumpet, and men to go in pursuit were instantly
promised. There was a whistling of a boatswain's pipe, an order or
two, and then a large cutter pulled out from the man-of-war's stern,
and in half a dozen strokes was alongside. The mate leaped into her,
and they pulled rapidly ashore.

Another cutter, carrying an armed crew, soon followed.

In an hour's time the first returned, towing the two whale-boats,
which had been found turned up like tortoises on the beach.

Noon came, and nothing more was heard from the deserters. Meanwhile
Doctor Long Ghost and myself lounged about, cultivating an
acquaintance, and gazing upon the shore scenery. The bay was as calm
as death; the sun high and hot; and occasionally a still gliding
canoe stole out from behind the headlands, and shot across the water.

And all the morning long our sick men limped about the deck, casting
wistful glances inland, where the palm-trees waved and beckoned them
into their reviving shades. Poor invalid rascals! How conducive to
the restoration of their shattered health would have been those
delicious groves! But hard-hearted Jermin assured them, with an oath,
that foot of theirs should never touch the beach.

Toward sunset a crowd was seen coming down to the water. In advance of
all were the fugitives--bareheaded--their frocks and trousers hanging
in tatters, every face covered with blood and dust, and their arms
pinioned behind them with green thongs. Following them up, was a
shouting rabble of islanders, pricking them with the points of their
long spears, the party from the corvette menacing them in flank with
their naked cutlasses.

The bonus of a musket to the King of the Bay, and the promise of a
tumblerful of powder for every man caught, had set the whole
population on their track; and so successful was the hunt, that not
only were that morning's deserters brought back, but five of those
left behind on a former visit. The natives, however, were the mere
hounds of the chase, raising the game in their coverts, but leaving
the securing of it to the Frenchmen. Here, as elsewhere, the
islanders have no idea of taking part in such a scuffle as ensues
upon the capture of a party of desperate seamen.

The runaways were at once brought aboard, and, though they looked
rather sulky, soon came round, and treated the whole affair as a
frolicsome adventure.

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