Omoo/Chapter LXV

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Chapter LXV. The Hegira, or Flight

"I say, doctor," cried I, a few days after my adventure with the goblin, as, in the absence of our host, we were one morning lounging upon the matting in his dwelling, smoking our reed pipes, "Tamai's a thriving place; why not settle down?"

"Faith!" said he, "not a bad idea, Paul. But do you fancy they'll let us stay, though?"

"Why, certainly; they would be overjoyed to have a couple of Karhowrees for townsmen."

"Gad! you're right, my pleasant fellow. Ha! ha! I'll put up a banana-leaf as a physician from London--deliver lectures on Polynesian antiquities--teach English in five lessons, of one hour each--establish power-looms for the manufacture of tappa--lay out a public park in the middle of the village, and found a festival in honour of Captain Cook!"

"But, surely, not without stopping to take breath," observed I.

The doctor's projects, to be sure, were of a rather visionary cast; but we seriously thought, nevertheless, of prolonging our stay in the valley for an indefinite period; and, with this understanding, we were turning over various plans for spending our time pleasantly, when several women came running into the house, and hurriedly besought us to heree! heree! (make our escape), crying out something about the Mickonarees.

Thinking that we were about to be taken up under the act for the suppression of vagrancy, we flew out of the house, sprang into a canoe before the door, and paddled with might and main over to the opposite side of the lake.

Approaching Rartoo's dwelling was a great crowd, among which we perceived several natives, who, from their partly European dress, we were certain did not reside in Tamai.

Plunging into the groves, we thanked our stars that we had thus narrowly escaped being apprehended as runaway seamen, and marched off to the beach. This, at least, was what we thought we had escaped.

Having fled the village, we could not think of prowling about its vicinity, and then returning; in doing so we might be risking our liberty again. We therefore determined upon journeying back to Martair; and setting our faces thitherward, we reached the planters' house about nightfall. They gave us a cordial reception, and a hearty supper; and we sat up talking until a late hour.

We now prepared to go round to Taloo, a place from which we were not far off when at Tamai; but wishing to see as much of the island as we could, we preferred returning to Martair, and then going round by way of the beach.

Taloo, the only frequented harbour of Imeeo, lies on the western side of the island, almost directly over against Martair. Upon one shore of the bay stands the village of Partoowye, a missionary station. In its vicinity is an extensive sugar plantation--the best in the South Seas, perhaps--worked by a person from Sydney.

The patrimonial property of the husband of Pomaree, and every way a delightful retreat, Partoowye was one of the occasional residences of the court. But at the time I write of it was permanently fixed there, the queen having fled thither from Tahiti.

Partoowye, they told us, was by no means the place Papeetee was. Ships seldom touched, and very few foreigners were living ashore. A solitary whaler, however, was reported to be lying in the harbour, wooding and watering, and to be in want of men.

All things considered, I could not help looking upon Taloo as offering "a splendid opening" for us adventurers. To say nothing of the facilities presented for going to sea in the whaler, or hiring ourselves out as day labourers in the sugar plantation, there were hopes to be entertained of being promoted to some office of high trust and emolument about the person of her majesty, the queen.

Nor was this expectation altogether Quixotic. In the train of many Polynesian princes roving whites are frequently found: gentleman pensioners of state, basking in the tropical sunshine of the court, and leading the pleasantest lives in the world. Upon islands little visited by foreigners the first seaman that settles down is generally domesticated in the family of the head chief or king; where he frequently discharges the functions of various offices, elsewhere filled by as many different individuals. As historiographer, for instance, he gives the natives some account of distant countries; as commissioner of the arts and sciences, he instructs them in the use of the jack-knife, and the best way of shaping bits of iron hoop into spear-heads; and as interpreter to his majesty, he facilitates intercourse with strangers; besides instructing the people generally in the uses of the most common English phrases, civil and profane; but oftener the latter.

These men generally marry well; often--like Hardy of Hannamanoo--into the Wood royal.

Sometimes they officiate as personal attendant, or First Lord in Waiting, to the king. At Amboi, one of the Tonga Islands, a vagabond Welshman bends his knee as cupbearer to his cannibal majesty. He mixes his morning cup of "arva," and, with profound genuflections, presents it in a cocoa-nut bowl, richly carved. Upon another island of the same group, where it is customary to bestow no small pains in dressing the hair--frizzing it out by a curious process into an enormous Pope's head--an old man-of-war's-man fills the post of barber to the king. And as his majesty is not very neat, his mop is exceedingly populous; so that, when Jack is not engaged in dressing the head intrusted to his charge, he busies himself in gently titillating it--a sort of skewer being actually worn about in the patient's hair for that special purpose.

Even upon the Sandwich Islands a low rabble of foreigners is kept about the person of Tammahammaha for the purpose of ministering to his ease or enjoyment.

Billy Loon, a jolly little negro, tricked out in a soiled blue jacket, studded all over with rusty bell buttons, and garnished with shabby gold lace, is the royal drummer and pounder of the tambourine. Joe, a wooden-legged Portuguese who lost his leg by a whale, is violinist; and Mordecai, as he is called, a villainous-looking scamp, going about with his cups and balls in a side pocket, diverts the court with his jugglery. These idle rascals receive no fixed salary, being altogether dependent upon the casual bounty of their master. Now and then they run up a score at the Dance Houses in Honolulu, where the illustrious Tammahammaha III afterwards calls and settles the bill.

A few years since an auctioneer to his majesty came near being added to the retinue of state. It seems that he was the first man who had practised his vocation in the Sandwich Islands; and delighted with the sport of bidding upon his wares, the king was one of his best customers. At last he besought the man to leave all and follow him, and he should be handsomely provided for at court. But the auctioneer refused; and so the ivory hammer lost the chance of being borne before him on a velvet cushion when the next king went to be crowned.

But it was not as strolling players, nor as footmen out of employ, that the doctor and myself looked forward to our approaching introduction to the court of the Queen of Tahiti. On the contrary, as before hinted, we expected to swell the appropriations of bread-fruit and cocoa-nuts on the Civil List by filling some honourable office in her gift.

We were told that, to resist the usurpation of the French, the queen was rallying about her person all the foreigners she could. Her partiality for the English and Americans was well known; and this was an additional ground for our anticipating a favourable reception. Zeke had informed us, moreover, that by the queen's counsellors at Partoowye, a war of aggression against the invaders of Papeetee had been seriously thought of. Should this prove true, a surgeon's commission for the doctor, and a lieutenancy for myself, were certainly counted upon in our sanguine expectations.

Such, then, were our views, and such our hopes in projecting a trip to Taloo. But in our most lofty aspirations we by no means lost sight of any minor matters which might help us to promotion. The doctor had informed me that he excelled in playing the fiddle. I now suggested that, as soon as we arrived at Partoowye, we should endeavour to borrow a violin for him; or if this could not be done, that he should manufacture some kind of a substitute, and, thus equipped, apply for an audience of the queen. Her well-known passion for music would at once secure his admittance; and so, under the most favourable auspices, bring about our introduction to her notice.

"And who knows," said my waggish comrade, throwing his head back and performing an imaginary air by briskly drawing one arm across the other, "who knows that I may not fiddle myself into her majesty's good graces so as to became a sort of Rizzio to the Tahitian princess."