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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Cruise Of The Snark - Chapter XVII - THE AMATEUR M.D.
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The Cruise Of The Snark - Chapter XVII - THE AMATEUR M.D. Post by :Mochri Category :Nonfictions Author :Jack London Date :June 2011 Read :3017

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The Cruise Of The Snark - Chapter XVII - THE AMATEUR M.D.


When we sailed from San Francisco on the Snark I knew as much about
sickness as the Admiral of the Swiss Navy knows about salt water.
And here, at the start, let me advise any one who meditates going to
out-of-the-way tropic places. Go to a first-class druggist--the
sort that have specialists on their salary list who know everything.
Talk the matter over with such an one. Note carefully all that he
says. Have a list made of all that he recommends. Write out a
cheque for the total cost, and tear it up.

I wish I had done the same. I should have been far wiser, I know
now, if I had bought one of those ready-made, self-acting, fool-
proof medicine chests such as are favoured by fourth-rate ship-
masters. In such a chest each bottle has a number. On the inside
of the lid is placed a simple table of directions: No. 1,
toothache; No. 2, smallpox; No. 3, stomachache; No. 4, cholera; No.
5, rheumatism; and so on, through the list of human ills. And I
might have used it as did a certain venerable skipper, who, when No.
3 was empty, mixed a dose from No. 1 and No. 2, or, when No. 7 was
all gone, dosed his crew with 4 and 3 till 3 gave out, when he used
5 and 2.

So far, with the exception of corrosive sublimate (which was
recommended as an antiseptic in surgical operations, and which I
have not yet used for that purpose), my medicine-chest has been
useless. It has been worse than useless, for it has occupied much
space which I could have used to advantage.

With my surgical instruments it is different. While I have not yet
had serious use for them, I do not regret the space they occupy.
The thought of them makes me feel good. They are so much life
insurance, only, fairer than that last grim game, one is not
supposed to die in order to win. Of course, I don't know how to use
them, and what I don't know about surgery would set up a dozen
quacks in prosperous practice. But needs must when the devil
drives, and we of the Snark have no warning when the devil may take
it into his head to drive, ay, even a thousand miles from land and
twenty days from the nearest port.

I did not know anything about dentistry, but a friend fitted me out
with forceps and similar weapons, and in Honolulu I picked up a book
upon teeth. Also, in that sub-tropical city I managed to get hold
of a skull, from which I extracted the teeth swiftly and painlessly.
Thus equipped, I was ready, though not exactly eager, to tackle any
tooth that get in my way. It was in Nuku-hiva, in the Marquesas,
that my first case presented itself in the shape of a little, old
Chinese. The first thing I did was to got the buck fever, and I
leave it to any fair-minded person if buck fever, with its attendant
heart-palpitations and arm-tremblings, is the right condition for a
man to be in who is endeavouring to pose as an old hand at the
business. I did not fool the aged Chinaman. He was as frightened
as I and a bit more shaky. I almost forgot to be frightened in the
fear that he would bolt. I swear, if he had tried to, that I would
have tripped him up and sat on him until calmness and reason

I wanted that tooth. Also, Martin wanted a snap-shot of me getting
it. Likewise Charmian got her camera. Then the procession started.
We were stopping at what had been the club-house when Stevenson was
in the Marquesas on the Casco. On the veranda, where he had passed
so many pleasant hours, the light was not good--for snapshots, I
mean. I led on into the garden, a chair in one hand, the other hand
filled with forceps of various sorts, my knees knocking together
disgracefully. The poor old Chinaman came second, and he was
shaking, too. Charmian and Martin brought up the rear, armed with
kodaks. We dived under the avocado trees, threaded our way through
the cocoanut palms, and came on a spot that satisfied Martin's
photographic eye.

I looked at the tooth, and then discovered that I could not remember
anything about the teeth I had pulled from the skull five months
previously. Did it have one prong? two prongs? or three prongs?
What was left of the part that showed appeared very crumbly, and I
knew that I should have take hold of the tooth deep down in the gum.
It was very necessary that I should know how many prongs that tooth
had. Back to the house I went for the book on teeth. The poor old
victim looked like photographs I had seen of fellow-countrymen of
his, criminals, on their knees, waiting the stroke of the beheading

"Don't let him get away," I cautioned to Martin. "I want that

"I sure won't," he replied with enthusiasm, from behind his camera.
"I want that photograph."

For the first time I felt sorry for the Chinaman. Though the book
did not tell me anything about pulling teeth, it was all right, for
on one page I found drawings of all the teeth, including their
prongs and how they were set in the jaw. Then came the pursuit of
the forceps. I had seven pairs, but was in doubt as to which pair I
should use. I did not want any mistake. As I turned the hardware
over with rattle and clang, the poor victim began to lose his grip
and to turn a greenish yellow around the gills. He complained about
the sun, but that was necessary for the photograph, and he had to
stand it. I fitted the forceps around the tooth, and the patient
shivered and began to wilt.

"Ready?" I called to Martin.

"All ready," he answered.

I gave a pull. Ye gods! The tooth, was loose! Out it came on the
instant. I was jubilant as I held it aloft in the forceps.

"Put it back, please, oh, put it back," Martin pleaded. "You were
too quick for me."

And the poor old Chinaman sat there while I put the tooth back and
pulled over. Martin snapped the camera. The deed was done.
Elation? Pride? No hunter was ever prouder of his first pronged
buck than I was of that tree-pronged tooth. I did it! I did it!
With my of own hands and a pair of forceps I did it, to say nothing
of the forgotten memories of the dead man's skull.

My next case was a Tahitian sailor. He was a small man, in a state
of collapse from long days and nights of jumping toothache. I
lanced the gums first. I didn't know how to lance them, but I
lanced them just the same. It was a long pull and a strong pull.
The man was a hero. He groaned and moaned, and I thought he was
going to faint. But he kept his mouth open and let me pull. And
then it came.

After that I was ready to meet all comers--just the proper state of
mind for a Waterloo. And it came. Its name was Tomi. He was a
strapping giant of a heathen with a bad reputation. He was addicted
to deeds of violence. Among other things he had beaten two of his
wives to death with his fists. His father and mother had been naked
cannibals. When he sat down and I put the forceps into his mouth,
he was nearly as tall as I was standing up. Big men, prone to
violence, very often have a streak of fat in their make-up, so I was
doubtful of him. Charmian grabbed one arm and Warren grabbed the
other. Then the tug of war began. The instant the forceps closed
down on the tooth, his jaws closed down on the forceps. Also, both
his hands flew up and gripped my pulling hand. I held on, and he
held on. Charmian and Warren held on. We wrestled all about the

It was three against one, and my hold on an aching tooth was
certainly a foul one; but in spite of the handicap he got away with
us. The forceps slipped off, banging and grinding along against his
upper teeth with a nerve-scraping sound. Out of his month flew the
forceps, and he rose up in the air with a blood-curdling yell. The
three of us fell back. We expected to be massacred. But that
howling savage of sanguinary reputation sank back in the chair. He
held his head in both his hands, and groaned and groaned and
groaned. Nor would he listen to reason. I was a quack. My
painless tooth-extraction was a delusion and a snare and a low
advertising dodge. I was so anxious to get that tooth that I was
almost ready to bribe him. But that went against my professional
pride and I let him depart with the tooth still intact, the only
case on record up to date of failure on my part when once I had got
a grip. Since then I have never let a tooth go by me. Only the
other day I volunteered to beat up three days to windward to pull a
woman missionary's tooth. I expect, before the voyage of the Snark
is finished, to be doing bridge work and putting on gold crowns.

I don't know whether they are yaws or not--a physician in Fiji told
me they were, and a missionary in the Solomons told me they were
not; but at any rate I can vouch for the fact that they are most
uncomfortable. It was my luck to ship in Tahiti a French-sailor,
who, when we got to sea, proved to be afflicted with a vile skin
disease. The Snark was too small and too much of a family party to
permit retaining him on board; but perforce, until we could reach
land and discharge him, it was up to me to doctor him. I read up
the books and proceeded to treat him, taking care afterwards always
to use a thorough antiseptic wash. When we reached Tutuila, far
from getting rid of him, the port doctor declared a quarantine
against him and refused to allow him ashore. But at Apia, Samoa, I
managed to ship him off on a steamer to New Zealand. Here at Apia
my ankles were badly bitten by mosquitoes, and I confess to having
scratched the bites--as I had a thousand times before. By the time
I reached the island of Savaii, a small sore had developed on the
hollow of my instep. I thought it was due to chafe and to acid
fumes from the hot lava over which I tramped. An application of
salve would cure it--so I thought. The salve did heal it over,
whereupon an astonishing inflammation set in, the new skin came off,
and a larger sore was exposed. This was repeated many times. Each
time new skin formed, an inflammation followed, and the
circumference of the sore increased. I was puzzled and frightened.
All my life my skin had been famous for its healing powers, yet here
was something that would not heal. Instead, it was daily eating up
more skin, while it had eaten down clear through the skin and was
eating up the muscle itself.

By this time the Snark was at sea on her way to Fiji. I remembered
the French sailor, and for the first time became seriously alarmed.
Four other similar sores had appeared--or ulcers, rather, and the
pain of them kept me awake at night. All my plans were made to lay
up the Snark in Fiji and get away on the first steamer to Australia
and professional M.D.'s. In the meantime, in my amateur M.D. way, I
did my best. I read through all the medical works on board. Not a
line nor a word could I find descriptive of my affliction. I
brought common horse-sense to bear on the problem. Here were
malignant and excessively active ulcers that were eating me up.
There was an organic and corroding poison at work. Two things I
concluded must be done. First, some agent must be found to destroy
the poison. Secondly, the ulcers could not possibly heal from the
outside in; they must heal from the inside out. I decided to fight
the poison with corrosive sublimate. The very name of it struck me
as vicious. Talk of fighting fire with fire! I was being consumed
by a corrosive poison, and it appealed to my fancy to fight it with
another corrosive poison. After several days I alternated dressings
of corrosive sublimate with dressings of peroxide of hydrogen. And
behold, by the time we reached Fiji four of the five ulcers were
healed, while the remaining one was no bigger than a pea.

I now felt fully qualified to treat yaws. Likewise I had a
wholesome respect for them. Not so the rest of the crew of the
Snark. In their case, seeing was not believing. One and all, they
had seen my dreadful predicament; and all of them, I am convinced,
had a subconscious certitude that their own superb constitutions and
glorious personalities would never allow lodgment of so vile a
poison in their carcasses as my anaemic constitution and mediocre
personality had allowed to lodge in mine. At Port Resolution, in
the New Hebrides, Martin elected to walk barefooted in the bush and
returned on board with many cuts and abrasions, especially on his

"You'd better be careful," I warned him. "I'll mix up some
corrosive sublimate for you to wash those cuts with. An ounce of
prevention, you know."

But Martin smiled a superior smile. Though he did not say so. I
nevertheless was given to understand that he was not as other men (I
was the only man he could possibly have had reference to), and that
in a couple of days his cuts would be healed. He also read me a
dissertation upon the peculiar purity of his blood and his
remarkable healing powers. I felt quite humble when he was done
with me. Evidently I was different from other men in so far as
purity of blood was concerned.

Nakata, the cabin-boy, while ironing one day, mistook the calf of
his leg for the ironing-block and accumulated a burn three inches in
length and half an inch wide. He, too, smiled the superior smile
when I offered him corrosive sublimate and reminded him of my own
cruel experience. I was given to understand, with all due suavity
and courtesy, that no matter what was the matter with my blood, his
number-one, Japanese, Port-Arthur blood was all right and scornful
of the festive microbe.

Wada, the cook, took part in a disastrous landing of the launch,
when he had to leap overboard and fend the launch off the beach in a
smashing surf. By means of shells and coral he cut his legs and
feet up beautifully. I offered him the corrosive sublimate bottle.
Once again I suffered the superior smile and was given to understand
that his blood was the same blood that had licked Russia and was
going to lick the United States some day, and that if his blood
wasn't able to cure a few trifling cuts, he'd commit hari-kari in
sheer disgrace.

From all of which I concluded that an amateur M.D. is without honour
on his own vessel, even if he has cured himself. The rest of the
crew had begun to look upon me as a sort of mild mono-maniac on the
question of sores and sublimate. Just because my blood was impure
was no reason that I should think everybody else's was. I made no
more overtures. Time and microbes were with me, and all I had to do
was wait.

"I think there's some dirt in these cuts," Martin said tentatively,
after several days. "I'll wash them out and then they'll be all
right," he added, after I had refused to rise to the bait.

Two more days passed, but the cuts did not pass, and I caught Martin
soaking his feet and legs in a pail of hot water.

"Nothing like hot water," he proclaimed enthusiastically. "It beats
all the dope the doctors ever put up. These sores will be all right
in the morning."

But in the morning he wore a troubled look, and I knew that the hour
of my triumph approached.

"I think I WILL try some of that medicine," he announced later on in
the day. "Not that I think it'll do much good," he qualified, "but
I'll just give it a try anyway."

Next came the proud blood of Japan to beg medicine for its
illustrious sores, while I heaped coals of fire on all their houses
by explaining in minute and sympathetic detail the treatment that
should be given. Nakata followed instructions implicitly, and day
by day his sores grew smaller. Wada was apathetic, and cured less
readily. But Martin still doubted, and because he did not cure
immediately, he developed the theory that while doctor's dope was
all right, it did not follow that the same kind of dope was
efficacious with everybody. As for himself, corrosive sublimate had
no effect. Besides, how did I know that it was the right stuff? I
had had no experience. Just because I happened to get well while
using it was not proof that it had played any part in the cure.
There were such things as coincidences. Without doubt there was a
dope that would cure the sores, and when he ran across a real doctor
he would find what that dope was and get some of it.

About this time we arrived in the Solomon Islands. No physician
would ever recommend the group for invalids or sanitoriums. I spent
but little time there ere I really and for the first time in my life
comprehended how frail and unstable is human tissue. Our first
anchorage was Port Mary, on the island of Santa Anna. The one lone
white man, a trader, came alongside. Tom Butler was his name, and
he was a beautiful example of what the Solomons can do to a strong
man. He lay in his whale-boat with the helplessness of a dying man.
No smile and little intelligence illumined his face. He was a
sombre death's-head, too far gone to grin. He, too, had yaws, big
ones. We were compelled to drag him over the rail of the Snark. He
said that his health was good, that he had not had the fever for
some time, and that with the exception of his arm he was all right
and trim. His arm appeared to be paralysed. Paralysis he rejected
with scorn. He had had it before, and recovered. It was a common
native disease on Santa Anna, he said, as he was helped down the
companion ladder, his dead arm dropping, bump-bump, from step to
step. He was certainly the ghastliest guest we ever entertained,
and we've had not a few lepers and elephantiasis victims on board.

Martin inquired about yaws, for here was a man who ought to know.
He certainly did know, if we could judge by his scarred arms and
legs and by the live ulcers that corroded in the midst of the scars.
Oh, one got used to yaws, quoth Tom Butler. They were never really
serious until they had eaten deep into the flesh. Then they
attacked the walls of the arteries, the arteries burst, and there
was a funeral. Several of the natives had recently died that way
ashore. But what did it matter? If it wasn't yaws, it was
something else in the Solomons.

I noticed that from this moment Martin displayed a swiftly
increasing interest in his own yaws. Dosings with corrosive
sublimate were more frequent, while, in conversation, he began to
revert with growing enthusiasm to the clean climate of Kansas and
all other things Kansan. Charmian and I thought that California was
a little bit of all right. Henry swore by Rapa, and Tehei staked
all on Bora Bora for his own blood's sake; while Wada and Nakata
sang the sanitary paean of Japan.

One evening, as the Snark worked around the southern end of the
island of Ugi, looking for a reputed anchorage, a Church of England
missionary, a Mr. Drew, bound in his whaleboat for the coast of San
Cristoval, came alongside and stopped for dinner. Martin, his legs
swathed in Red Cross bandages till they looked like a mummy's,
turned the conversation upon yaws. Yes, said Mr. Drew, they were
quite common in the Solomons. All white men caught them.

"And have you had them?" Martin demanded, in the soul of him quite
shocked that a Church of England missionary could possess so vulgar
an affliction.

Mr. Drew nodded his head and added that not only had he had them,
but at that moment he was doctoring several.

"What do you use on them?" Martin asked like a flash.

My heart almost stood still waiting the answer. By that answer my
professional medical prestige stood or fell. Martin, I could see,
was quite sure it was going to fall. And then the answer--O blessed

"Corrosive sublimate," said Mr. Drew.

Martin gave in handsomely, I'll admit, and I am confident that at
that moment, if I had asked permission to pull one of his teeth, he
would not have denied me.

All white men in the Solomons catch yaws, and every cut or abrasion
practically means another yaw. Every man I met had had them, and
nine out of ten had active ones. There was but one exception, a
young fellow who had been in the islands five months, who had come
down with fever ten days after he arrived, and who had since then
been down so often with fever that he had had neither time nor
opportunity for yaws.

Every one on the Snark except Charmian came down with yaws. Hers
was the same egotism that Japan and Kansas had displayed. She
ascribed her immunity to the pureness of her blood, and as the days
went by she ascribed it more often and more loudly to the pureness
of her blood. Privately I ascribed her immunity to the fact that,
being a woman, she escaped most of the cuts and abrasions to which
we hard-working men were subject in the course of working the Snark
around the world. I did not tell her so. You see, I did not wish
to bruise her ego with brutal facts. Being an M.D., if only an
amateur one, I knew more about the disease than she, and I knew that
time was my ally. But alas, I abused my ally when it dealt a
charming little yaw on the shin. So quickly did I apply antiseptic
treatment, that the yaw was cured before she was convinced that she
had one. Again, as an M.D., I was without honour on my own vessel;
and, worse than that, I was charged with having tried to mislead her
into the belief that she had had a yaw. The pureness of her blood
was more rampant than ever, and I poked my nose into my navigation
books and kept quiet. And then came the day. We were cruising
along the coast of Malaita at the time.

"What's that abaft your ankle-bone?" said I.

"Nothing," said she.

"All right," said I; "but put some corrosive sublimate on it just
the same. And some two or three weeks from now, when it is well and
you have a scar that you will carry to your grave, just forget about
the purity of your blood and your ancestral history and tell me what
you think about yaws anyway."

It was as large as a silver dollar, that yaw, and it took all of
three weeks to heal. There were times when Charmian could not walk
because of the hurt of it; and there were times upon times when she
explained that abaft the ankle-bone was the most painful place to
have a yaw. I explained, in turn, that, never having experienced a
yaw in that locality, I was driven to conclude the hollow of the
instep was the most painful place for yaw-culture. We left it to
Martin, who disagreed with both of us and proclaimed passionately
that the only truly painful place was the shin. No wonder horse-
racing is so popular.

But yaws lose their novelty after a time. At the present moment of
writing I have five yaws on my hands and three more on my shin.
Charmian has one on each side of her right instep. Tehei is frantic
with his. Martin's latest shin-cultures have eclipsed his earlier
ones. And Nakata has several score casually eating away at his
tissue. But the history of the Snark in the Solomons has been the
history of every ship since the early discoverers. From the
"Sailing Directions" I quote the following:

"The crews of vessels remaining any considerable time in the
Solomons find wounds and sores liable to change into malignant

Nor on the question of fever were the "Sailing Directions" any more
encouraging, for in them I read:

"New arrivals are almost certain sooner or later to suffer from
fever. The natives are also subject to it. The number of deaths
among the whites in the year 1897 amounted to 9 among a population
of 50."

Some of these deaths, however, were accidental.

Nakata was the first to come down with fever. This occurred at
Penduffryn. Wada and Henry followed him. Charmian surrendered
next. I managed to escape for a couple of months; but when I was
bowled over, Martin sympathetically joined me several days later.
Out of the seven of us all told Tehei is the only one who has
escaped; but his sufferings from nostalgia are worse than fever.
Nakata, as usual, followed instructions faithfully, so that by the
end of his third attack he could take a two hours' sweat, consume
thirty or forty grains of quinine, and be weak but all right at the
end of twenty-four hours.

Wada and Henry, however, were tougher patients with which to deal.
In the first place, Wada got in a bad funk. He was of the firm
conviction that his star had set and that the Solomons would receive
his bones. He saw that life about him was cheap. At Penduffryn he
saw the ravages of dysentery, and, unfortunately for him, he saw one
victim carried out on a strip of galvanized sheet-iron and dumped
without coffin or funeral into a hole in the ground. Everybody had
fever, everybody had dysentery, everybody had everything. Death was
common. Here to-day and gone to-morrow--and Wada forgot all about
to-day and made up his mind that to-morrow had come.

He was careless of his ulcers, neglected to sublimate them, and by
uncontrolled scratching spread them all over his body. Nor would he
follow instructions with fever, and, as a result, would be down five
days at a time, when a day would have been sufficient. Henry, who
is a strapping giant of a man, was just as bad. He refused point
blank to take quinine, on the ground that years before he had had
fever and that the pills the doctor gave him were of different size
and colour from the quinine tablets I offered him. So Henry joined

But I fooled the pair of them, and dosed them with their own
medicine, which was faith-cure. They had faith in their funk that
they were going to die. I slammed a lot of quinine down their
throats and took their temperature. It was the first time I had
used my medicine-chest thermometer, and I quickly discovered that it
was worthless, that it had been produced for profit and not for
service. If I had let on to my two patients that the thermometer
did not work, there would have been two funerals in short order.
Their temperature I swear was 105 degrees. I solemnly made one and
then the other smoke the thermometer, allowed an expression of
satisfaction to irradiate my countenance, and joyfully told them
that their temperature was 94 degrees. Then I slammed more quinine
down their throats, told them that any sickness or weakness they
might experience would be due to the quinine, and left them to get
well. And they did get well, Wada in spite of himself. If a man
can die through a misapprehension, is there any immorality in making
him live through a misapprehension?

Commend me the white race when it comes to grit and surviving. One
of our two Japanese and both our Tahitians funked and had to be
slapped on the back and cheered up and dragged along by main
strength toward life. Charmian and Martin took their afflictions
cheerfully, made the least of them, and moved with calm certitude
along the way of life. When Wada and Henry were convinced that they
were going to die, the funeral atmosphere was too much for Tehei,
who prayed dolorously and cried for hours at a time. Martin, on the
other hand, cursed and got well, and Charmian groaned and made plans
for what she was going to do when she got well again.

Charmian had been raised a vegetarian and a sanitarian. Her Aunt
Netta, who brought her up and who lived in a healthful climate, did
not believe in drugs. Neither did Charmian. Besides, drugs
disagreed with her. Their effects were worse than the ills they
were supposed to alleviate. But she listened to the argument in
favour of quinine, accepted it as the lesser evil, and in
consequence had shorter, less painful, and less frequent attacks of
fever. We encountered a Mr. Caulfeild, a missionary, whose two
predecessors had died after less than six months' residence in the
Solomons. Like them he had been a firm believer in homeopathy,
until after his first fever, whereupon, unlike them, he made a grand
slide back to allopathy and quinine, catching fever and carrying on
his Gospel work.

But poor Wada! The straw that broke the cook's back was when
Charmian and I took him along on a cruise to the cannibal island of
Malaita, in a small yacht, on the deck of which the captain had been
murdered half a year before. Kai-kai means to eat, and Wada was
sure he was going to be kai-kai'd. We went about heavily armed, our
vigilance was unremitting, and when we went for a bath in the mouth
of a fresh-water stream, black boys, armed with rifles, did sentry
duty about us. We encountered English war vessels burning and
shelling villages in punishment for murders. Natives with prices on
their heads sought shelter on board of us. Murder stalked abroad in
the land. In out-of-they-way places we received warnings from
friendly savages of impending attacks. Our vessel owed two heads to
Malaita, which were liable to be collected any time. Then to cap it
all, we were wrecked on a reef, and with rifles in one hand warned
the canoes of wreckers off while with the other hand we toiled to
save the ship. All of which was too much for Wada, who went daffy,
and who finally quitted the Snark on the island of Ysabel, going
ashore for good in a driving rain-storm, between two attacks of
fever, while threatened with pneumonia. If he escapes being kai-
kai'd, and if he can survive sores and fever which are riotous
ashore, he can expect, if he is reasonably lucky, to get away from
that place to the adjacent island in anywhere from six to eight
weeks. He never did think much of my medicine, despite the fact
that I successfully and at the first trail pulled two aching teeth
for him.

The Snark has been a hospital for months, and I confess that we are
getting used to it. At Meringe Lagoon, where we careened and
cleaned the Snark's copper, there were times when only one man of us
was able to go into the water, while the three white men on the
plantation ashore were all down with fever. At the moment of
writing this we are lost at sea somewhere northeast of Ysabel and
trying vainly to find Lord Howe Island, which is an atoll that
cannot be sighted unless one is on top of it. The chronometer has
gone wrong. The sun does not shine anyway, nor can I get a star
observation at night, and we have had nothing but squalls and rain
for days and days. The cook is gone. Nakata, who has been trying
to be both cook and cabin boy, is down on his back with fever.
Martin is just up from fever, and going down again. Charmian, whose
fever has become periodical, is looking up in her date book to find
when the next attack will be. Henry has begun to eat quinine in an
expectant mood. And, since my attacks hit me with the suddenness of
bludgeon-blows I do not know from moment to moment when I shall be
brought down. By a mistake we gave our last flour away to some
white men who did not have any flour. We don't know when we'll make
land. Our Solomon sores are worse than ever, and more numerous.
The corrosive sublimate was accidentally left ashore at Penduffryn;
the peroxide of hydrogen is exhausted; and I am experimenting with
boracic acid, lysol, and antiphlogystine. At any rate, if I fail in
becoming a reputable M.D., it won't be from lack of practice.

P.S. It is now two weeks since the foregoing was written, and
Tehei, the only immune on board has been down ten days with far
severer fever than any of us and is still down. His temperature has
been repeatedly as high as 104, and his pulse 115.

P.S. At sea, between Tasman atoll and Manning Straits. Tehei's
attack developed into black water fever--the severest form of
malarial fever, which, the doctor-book assures me, is due to some
outside infection as well. Having pulled him through his fever, I
am now at my wit's end, for he has lost his wits altogether. I am
rather recent in practice to take up the cure of insanity. This
makes the second lunacy case on this short voyage.

P.S. Some day I shall write a book (for the profession), and
entitle it, "Around the World on the Hospital Ship Snark." Even our
pets have not escaped. We sailed from Meringe Lagoon with two, an
Irish terrier and a white cockatoo. The terrier fell down the cabin
companionway and lamed its nigh hind leg, then repeated the
manoeuvre and lamed its off fore leg. At the present moment it has
but two legs to walk on. Fortunately, they are on opposite sides
and ends, so that she can still dot and carry two. The cockatoo was
crushed under the cabin skylight and had to be killed. This was our
first funeral--though for that matter, the several chickens we had,
and which would have made welcome broth for the convalescents, flew
overboard and were drowned. Only the cockroaches flourish. Neither
illness nor accident ever befalls them, and they grow larger and
more carnivorous day by day, gnawing our finger-nails and toe-nails
while we sleep.

P.S. Charmian is having another bout with fever. Martin, in
despair, has taken to horse-doctoring his yaws with bluestone and to
blessing the Solomons. As for me, in addition to navigating,
doctoring, and writing short stories, I am far from well. With the
exception of the insanity cases, I'm the worst off on board. I
shall catch the next steamer to Australia and go on the operating
table. Among my minor afflictions, I may mention a new and
mysterious one. For the past week my hands have been swelling as
with dropsy. It is only by a painful effort that I can close them.
A pull on a rope is excruciating. The sensations are like those
that accompany severe chilblains. Also, the skin is peeling off
both hands at an alarming rate, besides which the new skin
underneath is growing hard and thick. The doctor-book fails to
mention this disease. Nobody knows what it is.

P.S. Well, anyway, I've cured the chronometer. After knocking
about the sea for eight squally, rainy days, most of the time hove
to, I succeeded in catching a partial observation of the sun at
midday. From this I worked up my latitude, then headed by log to
the latitude of Lord Howe, and ran both that latitude and the island
down together. Here I tested the chronometer by longitude sights
and found it something like three minutes out. Since each minute is
equivalent to fifteen miles, the total error can be appreciated. By
repeated observations at Lord Howe I rated the chronometer, finding
it to have a daily losing error of seven-tenths of a second. Now it
happens that a year ago, when we sailed from Hawaii, that selfsame
chronometer had that selfsame losing error of seven-tenths of a
second. Since that error was faithfully added every day, and since
that error, as proved by my observations at Lord Howe, has not
changed, then what under the sun made that chronometer all of a
sudden accelerate and catch up with itself three minutes? Can such
things be? Expert watchmakers say no; but I say that they have
never done any expert watch-making and watch-rating in the Solomons.
That it is the climate is my only diagnosis. At any rate, I have
successfully doctored the chronometer, even if I have failed with
the lunacy cases and with Martin's yaws.

P.S. Martin has just tried burnt alum, and is blessing the Solomons
more fervently than ever.

P.S. Between Manning Straits and Pavuvu Islands.

Henry has developed rheumatism in his back, ten skins have peeled
off my hands and the eleventh is now peeling, while Tehei is more
lunatic than ever and day and night prays God not to kill him.
Also, Nakata and I are slashing away at fever again. And finally up
to date, Nakata last evening had an attack of ptomaine poisoning,
and we spent half the night pulling him through.




The Snark was forty-three feet on the water-line and fifty-five over
all, with fifteen feet beam (tumble-home sides) and seven feet eight
inches draught. She was ketch-rigged, carrying flying-jib, jib,
fore-staysail, main-sail, mizzen, and spinnaker. There were six
feet of head-room below, and she was crown-decked and flush-decked.
There were four alleged WATER-TIGHT compartments. A seventy-horse
power auxiliary gas-engine sporadically furnished locomotion at an
approximate cost of twenty dollars per mile. A five-horse power
engine ran the pumps when it was in order, and on two occasions
proved capable of furnishing juice for the search-light. The
storage batteries worked four or five times in the course of two
years. The fourteen-foot launch was rumoured to work at times, but
it invariably broke down whenever I stepped on board.

But the Snark sailed. It was the only way she could get anywhere.
She sailed for two years, and never touched rock, reef, nor shoal.
She had no inside ballast, her iron keel weighed five tons, but her
deep draught and high freeboard made her very stiff. Caught under
full sail in tropic squalls, she buried her rail and deck many
times, but stubbornly refused to turn turtle. She steered easily,
and she could run day and night, without steering, close-by, full-
and-by, and with the wind abeam. With the wind on her quarter and
the sails properly trimmed, she steered herself within two points,
and with the wind almost astern she required scarcely three points
for self-steering.

The Snark was partly built in San Francisco. The morning her iron
keel was to be cast was the morning of the great earthquake. Then
came anarchy. Six months overdue in the building, I sailed the
shell of her to Hawaii to be finished, the engine lashed to the
bottom, building materials lashed on deck. Had I remained in San
Francisco for completion, I'd still be there. As it was, partly
built, she cost four times what she ought to have cost.

The Snark was born unfortunately. She was libelled in San
Francisco, had her cheques protested as fraudulent in Hawaii, and
was fined for breach of quarantine in the Solomons. To save
themselves, the newspapers could not tell the truth about her. When
I discharged an incompetent captain, they said I had beaten him to a
pulp. When one young man returned home to continue at college, it
was reported that I was a regular Wolf Larsen, and that my whole
crew had deserted because I had beaten it to a pulp. In fact the
only blow struck on the Snark was when the cook was manhandled by a
captain who had shipped with me under false pretences, and whom I
discharged in Fiji. Also, Charmian and I boxed for exercise; but
neither of us was seriously maimed.

The voyage was our idea of a good time. I built the Snark and paid
for it, and for all expenses. I contracted to write thirty-five
thousand words descriptive of the trip for a magazine which was to
pay me the same rate I received for stories written at home.
Promptly the magazine advertised that it was sending me especially
around the world for itself. It was a wealthy magazine. And every
man who had business dealings with the Snark charged three prices
because forsooth the magazine could afford it. Down in the
uttermost South Sea isle this myth obtained, and I paid accordingly.
To this day everybody believes that the magazine paid for everything
and that I made a fortune out of the voyage. It is hard, after such
advertising, to hammer it into the human understanding that the
whole voyage was done for the fun of it.

I went to Australia to go into hospital, where I spent five weeks.
I spent five months miserably sick in hotels. The mysterious malady
that afflicted my hands was too much for the Australian specialists.
It was unknown in the literature of medicine. No case like it had
ever been reported. It extended from my hands to my feet so that at
times I was as helpless as a child. On occasion my hands were twice
their natural size, with seven dead and dying skins peeling off at
the same time. There were times when my toe-nails, in twenty-four
hours, grew as thick as they were long. After filing them off,
inside another twenty-four hours they were as thick as before.

The Australian specialists agreed that the malady was non-parasitic,
and that, therefore, it must be nervous. It did not mend, and it
was impossible for me to continue the voyage. The only way I could
have continued it would have been by being lashed in my bunk, for in
my helpless condition, unable to clutch with my hands, I could not
have moved about on a small rolling boat. Also, I said to myself
that while there were many boats and many voyages, I had but one
pair of hands and one set of toe-nails. Still further, I reasoned
that in my own climate of California I had always maintained a
stable nervous equilibrium. So back I came.

Since my return I have completely recovered. And I have found out
what was the matter with me. I encountered a book by Lieutenant-
Colonel Charles E. Woodruff of the United States Army entitled
"Effects of Tropical Light on White Men." Then I knew. Later, I
met Colonel Woodruff, and learned that he had been similarly
afflicted. Himself an Army surgeon, seventeen Army surgeons sat on
his case in the Philippines, and, like the Australian specialists,
confessed themselves beaten. In brief, I had a strong
predisposition toward the tissue-destructiveness of tropical light.
I was being torn to pieces by the ultra-violet rays just as many
experimenters with the X-ray have been torn to pieces.

In passing, I may mention that among the other afflictions that
jointly compelled the abandonment of the voyage, was one that is
variously called the healthy man's disease, European Leprosy, and
Biblical Leprosy. Unlike True Leprosy, nothing is known of this
mysterious malady. No doctor has ever claimed a cure for a case of
it, though spontaneous cures are recorded. It comes, they know not
how. It is, they know not what. It goes, they know not why.
Without the use of drugs, merely by living in the wholesome
California climate, my silvery skin vanished. The only hope the
doctors had held out to me was a spontaneous cure, and such a cure
was mine.

A last word: the test of the voyage. It is easy enough for me or
any man to say that it was enjoyable. But there is a better
witness, the one woman who made it from beginning to end. In
hospital when I broke the news to Charmian that I must go back to
California, the tears welled into her eyes. For two days she was
wrecked and broken by the knowledge that the happy, happy voyage was


April 7, 1911



{1} To point out that we of the Snark are not a crowd of weaklings,
which might be concluded from our divers afflictions, I quote the
following, which I gleaned verbatim from the Eugenie's log and which
may be considered as a sample of Solomon Islands cruising:

Ulava, Thursday, March 12, 1908.

Boat went ashore in the morning. Got two loads ivory nut, 4000
copra. Skipper down with fever.

Ulava, Friday, March 13, 1908.

Buying nuts from bushmen, 1.5 ton. Mate and skipper down with

Ulava, Saturday, March 14, 1908.

At noon hove up and proceeded with a very light E.N.E. wind for
Ngora-Ngora. Anchored in 5 fathoms--shell and coral. Mate down
with fever.

Ngora-Ngora, Sunday, March 15, 1908.

At daybreak found that the boy Bagua had died during the night, on
dysentery. He was about 14 days sick. At sunset, big N.W. squall.
(Second anchor ready) Lasting one hour and 30 minutes.

At sea, Monday, March 16, 1908.

Set course for Sikiana at 4 P.M. Wind broke off. Heavy squalls
during the night. Skipper down on dysentery, also one man.

At sea, Tuesday, March 17, 1908.

Skipper and 2 crew down on dysentery. Mate fever.

At sea, Wednesday, March 18, 1908.

Big sea. Lee-rail under water all the time. Ship under reefed
mainsail, staysail, and inner jib. Skipper and 3 men dysentery.
Mate fever.

At sea, Thursday, March 19, 1908.

Too thick to see anything. Blowing a gale all the time. Pump
plugged up and bailing with buckets. Skipper and five boys down on

At sea, Friday, March 20, 1908.

During night squalls with hurricane force. Skipper and six men down
on dysentery.

At sea, Saturday, March 21, 1908.

Turned back from Sikiana. Squalls all day with heavy rain and sea.
Skipper and best part of crew on dysentery. Mate fever.

And so, day by day, with the majority of all on board prostrated,
the Eugenie's log goes on. The only variety occurred on March 31,
when the mate came down with dysentery and the skipper was floored
by fever.

The End
Jack London's book: The Cruise of the Snark

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Plantation Proverbs Plantation Proverbs

Plantation Proverbs
BIG 'possum clime little tree.Dem w'at eats kin say grace.Ole man Know-All died las' year.Better de gravy dan no grease 'tall.Dram ain't good twel you git it.Lazy fokes' stummucks don't git tired.Rheumatiz don't he'p at de log-rollin'.Mole don't see w'at his naber doin'.Save de pacin' mar' fer Sunday.Don't rain eve'y time de pig squeal.Crow en corn can't grow in de same fiel'.Tattlin' 'oman can't make de bread rise.Rails split 'fo' bre'kfus'll season de dinner.Dem w'at knows too much sleeps under de ash-hopper.Ef you wanter see yo' own sins, clean up a new groun'.Hog dunner w'ich part un 'im'll season de turnip

The Cruise Of The Snark - Chapter XVI - BECHE DE MER ENGLISH The Cruise Of The Snark - Chapter XVI - BECHE DE MER ENGLISH

The Cruise Of The Snark - Chapter XVI - BECHE DE MER ENGLISH
CHAPTER XVI - BECHE DE MER ENGLISHGiven a number of white traders, a wide area of land, and scores ofsavage languages and dialects, the result will be that the traderswill manufacture a totally new, unscientific, but perfectlyadequate, language. This the traders did when they invented theChinook lingo for use over British Columbia, Alaska, and theNorthwest Territory. So with the lingo of the Kroo-boys of Africa,the pigeon English of the Far East, and the beche de mer of thewesterly portion of the South Seas. This latter is often calledpigeon English, but pigeon English it certainly is not. To