Chapter LXVI. How We Were to Get to Taloo
The inglorious circumstances of our somewhat premature departure from Tamai filled the sagacious doctor, and myself, with sundry misgivings for the future.
Under Zeke's protection, we were secure from all impertinent interference in our concerns on the part of the natives. But as friendless wanderers over the island, we ran the risk of being apprehended as runaways, and, as such, sent back to Tahiti. The truth is that the rewards constantly offered for the apprehension of deserters from ships induce some of the natives to eye all strangers suspiciously.
A passport was therefore desirable; but such a thing had never been heard of in Imeeo. At last, Long Ghost suggested that, as the Yankee was well known and much respected all over the island, we should endeavour to obtain from him some sort of paper, not only certifying to our having been in his employ, but also to our not being highwaymen, kidnappers, nor yet runaway seamen. Even written in English, a paper like this would answer every purpose; for the unlettered natives, standing in great awe of the document, would not dare to molest us until acquainted with its purport. Then, if it came to the worst, we might repair to the nearest missionary, and have the passport explained.
Upon informing Zeke of these matters, he seemed highly flattered with the opinion we entertained of his reputation abroad; and he agreed to oblige us. The doctor at once offered to furnish him with a draught of the paper; but he refused, saying he would write it himself. With a rooster's quill, therefore, a bit of soiled paper, and a stout heart, he set to work. Evidently he was not accustomed to composition; for his literary throes were so violent that the doctor suggested that some sort of a Caesarian operation might be necessary.
The precious paper was at last finished; and a great curiosity it was. We were much diverted with his reasons for not dating it.
"In this here dummed eliminate," he observed, "a feller can't keep the run of the months, nohow; cause there's no seasons; no summer and winter, to go by. One's etarnally thinkin' it's always July, it's so pesky hot."
A passport provided, we cast about for some means of getting to Taloo.
The island of Imeeo is very nearly surrounded by a regular breakwater of coral extending within a mile or less of the shore. The smooth canal within furnishes the best means of communication with the different settlements; all of which, with the exception of Tamai, are right upon the water. And so indolent are the Imeeose that they think nothing of going twenty or thirty miles round the island in a canoe in order to reach a place not a quarter of that distance by land. But as hinted before, the fear of the bullocks has something to do with this.
The idea of journeying in a canoe struck our fancy quite pleasantly; and we at once set about chartering one, if possible. But none could we obtain. For not only did we have nothing to pay for hiring one, but we could not expect to have it loaned; inasmuch as the good-natured owner would, in all probability, have to walk along the beach as we paddled in order to bring back his property when we had no further use for it.
At last, it was decided to commence our journey on foot; trusting that we would soon fall in with a canoe going our way, in which we might take passage.
The planters said we would find no beaten path: all we had to do was to follow the beach; and however inviting it might look inland, on no account must we stray from it. In short, the longest way round was the nearest way to Taloo. At intervals, there were little hamlets along the shore, besides lonely fishermen's huts here and there, where we could get plenty to eat without pay; so there was no necessity to lay in any store.
Intending to be off before sunrise the next morning, so as to have the benefit of the coolest part of the day, we bade our kind hosts farewell overnight; and then, repairing to the beach, we launched our floating pallet, and slept away merrily till dawn.