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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOmoo - PART II - Chapter LXVII. THE JOURNEY ROUND THE BEACH
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Omoo - PART II - Chapter LXVII. THE JOURNEY ROUND THE BEACH Post by :Austin Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :2486

Click below to download : Omoo - PART II - Chapter LXVII. THE JOURNEY ROUND THE BEACH (Format : PDF)

Omoo - PART II - Chapter LXVII. THE JOURNEY ROUND THE BEACH

IT was on the fourth day of the first month of the Hegira, or flight
from Tamai (we now reckoned our time thus), that, rising bright and
early, we were up and away out of the valley of Hartair before the
fishermen even were stirring.

It was the earliest dawn. The morning only showed itself along the
lower edge of a bank of purple clouds pierced by the misty peaks of
Tahiti. The tropical day seemed too languid to rise. Sometimes,
starting fitfully, it decked the clouds with faint edgings of pink
and gray, which, fading away, left all dim again. Anon, it threw out
thin, pale rays, growing lighter and lighter, until at last, the
golden morning sprang out of the East with a bound--darting its
bright beams hither and thither, higher and higher, and sending them,
broadcast, over the face of the heavens.

All balmy from the groves of Tahiti came an indolent air, cooled by
its transit over the waters; and grateful underfoot was the damp and
slightly yielding beach, from which the waves seemed just retired.

The doctor was in famous spirits; removing his Koora, he went
splashing into the sea; and, after swimming a few yards, waded
ashore, hopping, skipping, and jumping along the beach; but very
careful to cut all his capers in the direction of our journey.

Say what they will of the glowing independence one feels in the
saddle, give me the first morning flush of your cheery pedestrian!

Thus exhilarated, we went on, as light-hearted and care-free as we
could wish.

And here I cannot refrain from lauding the very superior inducements
which most intertropical countries afford, not only to mere rovers
like ourselves, but to penniless people generally. In these genial
regions one's wants are naturally diminished; and those which remain
are easily gratified; fuel, house-shelter, and, if you please,
clothing, may be entirely dispensed with.

How different our hard northern latitudes! Alas! the lot of a "poor
devil," twenty degrees north of the tropic of Cancer, is indeed
pitiable.

At last, the. beach contracted to hardly a yard's width, and the dense
thicket almost dipped into the sea. In place of the smooth sand, too,
we had sharp fragments of broken coral, which made travelling
exceedingly unpleasant. "Lord! my foot!" roared the doctor, fetching
it up for inspection, with a galvanic fling of the limb. A sharp
splinter had thrust itself into the flesh through a hole in his boot.
My sandals were worse yet; their soles taking a sort of fossil
impression of everything trod upon.

Turning round a bold sweep of the beach, we came upon a piece of fine,
open ground, with a fisherman's dwelling in the distance, crowning a
knoll which rolled off into the water.

The hut proved to be a low, rude erection, very recently thrown up;
for the bamboos were still green as grass, and the thatching fresh
and fragrant as meadow hay. It was open upon three sides; so that,
upon drawing near, the domestic arrangements within were in plain
sight. No one was stirring; and nothing was to be seen but a clumsy
old chest of native workmanship, a few calabashes, and bundles of
tappa hanging against a post; and a heap of something, we knew not
what, in a dark corner. Upon close inspection, the doctor discovered
it to be a loving old couple, locked in each other's arms, and rolled
together in a tappa mantle.

"Halloa! Darby!" he cried, shaking the one with a beard. But Darby
heeded him not; though Joan, a wrinkled old body, started up in
affright, and yelled aloud. Neither of us attempting to gag her, she
presently became quiet; and, after staring hard and asking some
unintelligible questions, she proceeded to rouse her still slumbering
mate.

What ailed him we could not tell; but there was no waking him. Equally
in vain were all his dear spouse's cuffs, pinches, and other
endearments; he lay like a log, face up, snoring away like a cavalry
trumpeter.

"Here, my good woman," said Long Ghost, "just let me try"; and, taking
the patient right by his nose, he so lifted him bodily into a sitting
position, and held him there until his eyes opened. When this event
came to pass, Darby looked round like one stupefied; and then,
springing to his feet, backed away into a corner, from which place we
became the objects of his earnest and respectful attention.

"Permit me, my dear Darby, to introduce to you my esteemed friend and
comrade, Paul," said the doctor, gallanting me up with all the
grimace and flourish imaginable. Upon this, Darby began to recover
his faculties, and surprised us not a little by talking a few words
of English. So far as could be understood, they were expressive of
his having been aware that there were two "karhowrees" in the
neighbourhood; that he was glad to see us, and would have something
for us to eat in no time.

How he came by his English was explained to us before we left. Some
time previous, he had been a denizen of Papeetee, where the native
language is broidered over with the most classic sailor phrases. He
seemed to be quite proud of his residence there; and alluded to it in
the same significant way in which a provincial informs you that in
his time he has resided in the capital. The old fellow was disposed to
be garrulous; but being sharp-set, we told him to get breakfast;
after which we would hear his anecdotes. While employed among the
calabashes, the strange, antiquated fondness between these old
semi-savages was really amusing. I made no doubt that they were
saying to each other, "yes, my love"--"no, my life," just in the same
way that some young couples do, at home.

They gave us a hearty meal; and while we were discussing its merits,
they assured us, over and over again, that they expected nothing in
return for their attentions; more: we were at liberty to stay as long
as we pleased; and as long as we did stay, their house and everything
they had was no longer theirs, but ours; still more: they themselves
were our slaves--the old lady, to a degree that was altogether
superfluous. This, now, is Tahitian hospitality! Self-immolation upon
one's own hearthstone for the benefit of the guest.

The Polynesians carry their hospitality to an amazing extent. Let a
native of Waiurar, the westernmost part of Tahiti, make his
appearance as a traveller at Partoowye, the most easterly village of
Imeeo; though a perfect stranger, the inhabitants on all sides accost
him at their doorways, inviting him to enter, and make himself at
home. But the traveller passes on, examining every house attentively;
until, at last, he pauses before one which suits him, and then
exclaiming, "ah, eda maitai" (this one will do, I think), he steps
in, and makes himself perfectly at ease; flinging himself upon the
mats, and very probably calling for a nice young cocoa-nut, and a
piece of toasted breadfruit, sliced thin, and done brown.

Curious to relate, however, should a stranger carrying it thus bravely
be afterwards discovered to be without a house of his own, why, he
may thenceforth go a-begging for his lodgings. The "karhowrees," or
white men, are exceptions to this rule. Thus it is precisely as in
civilized countries, where those who have houses and lands are
incessantly bored to death with invitations to come and live in other
people's houses; while many a poor gentleman who inks the seams of
his coat, and to whom the like invitation would be really acceptable,
may go and sue for it. But to the credit of the ancient Tahitians, it
should here be observed that this blemish upon their hospitality is
only of recent origin, and was wholly unknown in old times. So told
me, Captain Bob.

In Polynesia it is esteemed "a great hit" if a man succeed in marrying
into a family to which the best part of the community is related
(Heaven knows it is otherwise with us). The reason is that, when he
goes a-travelling, the greater number of houses are the more
completely at his service.

Receiving a paternal benediction from old Darby and Joan, we continued
our journey; resolved to stop at the very next place of attraction
which offered.

Nor did we long stroll for it. A fine walk along a beach of shells,
and we came to a spot where, trees here and there, the land was all
meadow, sloping away to the water, which stirred a sedgy growth of
reeds bordering its margin. Close by was a little cove, walled in
with coral, where a fleet of canoes was dancing up and down. A few
paces distant, on a natural terrace overlooking the sea, were several
native dwellings, newly thatched, and peeping into view out of the
foliage like summer-houses.

As we drew near, forth came a burst of voices, and, presently, three
gay girls, overflowing with life, health, and youth, and full of
spirits and mischief. One was arrayed in a flaunting robe of calico;
and her long black hair was braided behind in two immense tresses,
joined together at the ends, and wreathed with the green tendrils of
a vine. From her self-possessed and forward air, I fancied she might
be some young lady from Papeetee on a visit to her country relations.
Her companions wore mere slips of cotton cloth; their hair was
dishevelled; and though very pretty, they betrayed the reserve and
embarrassment characteristic of the provinces.

The little gipsy first mentioned ran up to me with great cordiality;
and, giving the Tahitian salutation, opened upon me such a fire of
questions that there was no understanding, much less answering them.
But our hearty welcome to Loohooloo, as she called the hamlet, was
made plain enough. Meanwhile, Doctor Long Ghost gallantly presented
an arm to each of the other young ladies; which, at first, they knew
not what to make of; but at last, taking it for some kind of joke,
accepted the civility.

The names of these three damsels were at once made known by
themselves: and being so exceedingly romantic, I cannot forbear
particularizing them. Upon my comrade's arms, then, were hanging
Night and Morning, in the persons of Farnowar, or the Day-Born, and
Earnoopoo, or the Night-Born. She with the tresses was very
appropriately styled Marhar-Rarrar, the Wakeful, or Bright-Eyed.

By this time, the houses were emptied of the rest of their inmates--a
few old men and women, and several strapping young fellows rubbing
their eyes and yawning. All crowded round, putting questions as to
whence we came. Upon being informed of our acquaintance with Zeke,
they were delighted; and one of them recognized the boots worn by the
doctor. "Keekee (Zeke) maitai," they cried, "nuee nuee hanna hanna
portarto"--(makes plenty of potatoes).

There was now a little friendly altercation as to who should have the
honour of entertaining the strangers. At last, a tall old gentleman,
by name Marharvai, with a bald head and white beard, took us each by
the hand, and led us into his dwelling. Once inside, Marharvai,
pointing about with his staff, was so obsequious in assuring us that
his house was ours that Long Ghost suggested he might as well hand
over the deed.

It was drawing near noon; so after a light lunch of roasted
breadfruit, a few whiffs of a pipe, and some lively chatting, our
host admonished the company to lie down, and take the everlasting
siesta. We complied; and had a social nap all round.

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