Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 18

January 18.- This morning {*4} we continued to the southward,
with the same pleasant weather as before. The sea was entirely
smooth, the air tolerably warm and from the northeast, the
temperature of the water fifty-three. We now again got our
sounding-gear in order, and, with a hundred and fifty fathoms of
line, found the current setting toward the pole at the rate of a mile
an hour. This constant tendency to the southward, both in the wind
and current, caused some degree of speculation, and even of alarm, in
different quarters of the schooner, and I saw distinctly that no
little impression had been made upon the mind of Captain Guy. He was
exceedingly sensitive to ridicule, however, and I finally succeeded
in laughing him out of his apprehensions. The variation was now very
trivial. In the course of the day we saw several large whales of the
right species, and innumerable flights of the albatross passed over
the vessel. We also picked up a bush, full of red berries, like those
of the hawthorn, and the carcass of a singular-looking land-animal.
It was three feet in length, and but six inches in height, with four
very short legs, the feet armed with long claws of a brilliant
scarlet, and resembling coral in substance. The body was covered with
a straight silky hair, perfectly white. The tail was peaked like that
of a rat, and about a foot and a half long. The head resembled a
cat's, with the exception of the ears- these were flopped like the
ears of a dog. The teeth were of the same brilliant scarlet as the
claws.

January 19.- To-day, being in latitude 83 degrees 20', longitude
43 degrees 5' W. (the sea being of an extraordinarily dark colour),
we again saw land from the masthead, and, upon a closer scrutiny,
found it to be one of a group of very large islands. The shore was
precipitous, and the interior seemed to be well wooded, a
circumstance which occasioned us great joy. In about four hours from
our first discovering the land we came to anchor in ten fathoms,
sandy bottom, a league from the coast, as a high surf, with strong
ripples here and there, rendered a nearer approach of doubtful
expediency. The two largest boats were now ordered out, and a party,
well armed (among whom were Peters and myself), proceeded to look for
an opening in the reef which appeared to encircle the island. After
searching about for some time, we discovered an inlet, which we were
entering, when we saw four large canoes put off from the shore,
filled with men who seemed to be well armed. We waited for them to
come up, and, as they moved with great rapidity, they were soon
within hail. Captain Guy now held up a white handkerchief on the
blade of an oar, when the strangers made a full stop, and commenced a
loud jabbering all at once, intermingled with occasional shouts, in
which we could distinguish the words Anamoo-moo! and Lama-Lama! They
continued this for at least half an hour, during which we had a good
opportunity of observing their appearance.

In the four canoes, which might have been fifty feet long and
five broad, there were a hundred and ten savages in all. They were
about the ordinary stature of Europeans, but of a more muscular and
brawny frame. Their complexion a jet black, with thick and long
woolly hair. They were clothed in skins of an unknown black animal,
shaggy and silky, and made to fit the body with some degree of skill,
the hair being inside, except where turned out about the neck,
wrists, and ankles. Their arms consisted principally of clubs, of a
dark, and apparently very heavy wood. Some spears, however, were
observed among them, headed with flint, and a few slings. The bottoms
of the canoes were full of black stones about the size of a large egg.

When they had concluded their harangue (for it was clear they
intended their jabbering for such), one of them who seemed to be the
chief stood up in the prow of his canoe, and made signs for us to
bring our boats alongside of him. This hint we pretended not to
understand, thinking it the wiser plan to maintain, if possible, the
interval between us, as their number more than quadrupled our own.
Finding this to be the case, the chief ordered the three other canoes
to hold back, while he advanced toward us with his own. As soon as he
came up with us he leaped on board the largest of our boats, and
seated himself by the side of Captain Guy, pointing at the same time
to the schooner, and repeating the word Anamoo-moo! and Lama-Lama! We
now put back to the vessel, the four canoes following at a little
distance.

Upon getting alongside, the chief evinced symptoms of extreme
surprise and delight, clapping his hands, slapping his thighs and
breast, and laughing obstreperously. His followers behind joined in
his merriment, and for some minutes the din was so excessive as to be
absolutely deafening. Quiet being at length restored, Captain Guy
ordered the boats to be hoisted up, as a necessary precaution, and
gave the chief (whose name we soon found to be Too-wit) to understand
that we could admit no more than twenty of his men on deck at one
time. With this arrangement he appeared perfectly satisfied, and gave
some directions to the canoes, when one of them approached, the rest
remaining about fifty yards off. Twenty of the savages now got on
board, and proceeded to ramble over every part of the deck, and
scramble about among the rigging, making themselves much at home, and
examining every article with great inquisitiveness.

It was quite evident that they had never before seen any of the
white race- from whose complexion, indeed, they appeared to recoil.
They believed the Jane to be a living creature, and seemed to be
afraid of hurting it with the points of their spears, carefully
turning them up. Our crew were much amused with the conduct of
Too-wit in one instance. The cook was splitting some wood near the
galley, and, by accident, struck his axe into the deck, making a gash
of considerable depth. The chief immediately ran up, and pushing the
cook on one side rather roughly, commenced a half whine, half howl,
strongly indicative of sympathy in what he considered the sufferings
of the schooner, patting and smoothing the gash with his hand, and
washing it from a bucket of seawater which stood by. This was a
degree of ignorance for which we were not prepared, and for my part I
could not help thinking some of it affected.

When the visitors had satisfied, as well as they could, their
curiosity in regard to our upper works, they were admitted below,
when their amazement exceeded all bounds. Their astonishment now
appeared to be far too deep for words, for they roamed about in
silence, broken only by low ejaculations. The arms afforded them much
food for speculation, and they were suffered to handle and examine
them at leisure. I do not believe that they had the least suspicion
of their actual use, but rather took them for idols, seeing the care
we had of them, and the attention with which we watched their
movements while handling them. At the great guns their wonder was
redoubled. They approached them with every mark of the profoundest
reverence and awe, but forbore to examine them minutely. There were
two large mirrors in the cabin, and here was the acme of their
amazement. Too-wit was the first to approach them, and he had got in
the middle of the cabin, with his face to one and his back to the
other, before he fairly perceived them. Upon raising his eyes and
seeing his reflected self in the glass, I thought the savage would go
mad; but, upon turning short round to make a retreat, and beholding
himself a second time in the opposite direction, I was afraid he
would expire upon the spot. No persuasion could prevail upon him to
take another look; throwing himself upon the floor, with his face
buried in his hands, he remained thus until we were obliged to drag
him upon deck.

The whole of the savages were admitted on board in this manner,
twenty at a time, Too-wit being suffered to remain during the entire
period. We saw no disposition to thievery among them, nor did we miss
a single article after their departure. Throughout the whole of their
visit they evinced the most friendly manner. There were, however,
some points in their demeanour which we found it impossible to
understand; for example, we could not get them to approach several
very harmless objects- such as the schooner's sails, an egg, an open
book, or a pan of flour. We endeavoured to ascertain if they had
among them any articles which might be turned to account in the way
of traffic, but found great difficulty in being comprehended. We made
out, nevertheless, what greatly astonished us, that the islands
abounded in the large tortoise of the Gallipagos, one of which we saw
in the canoe of Too-wit. We saw also some biche de mer in the hands
of one of the savages, who was greedily devouring it in its natural
state. These anomalies- for they were such when considered in regard
to the latitude- induced Captain Guy to wish for a thorough
investigation of the country, in the hope of making a profitable
speculation in his discovery. For my own part, anxious as I was to
know something more of these islands, I was still more earnestly bent
on prosecuting the voyage to the southward without delay. We had now
fine weather, but there was no telling how long it would last; and
being already in the eighty-fourth parallel, with an open sea before
us, a current setting strongly to the southward, and the wind fair, I
could not listen with any patience to a proposition of stopping
longer than was absolutely necessary for the health of the crew and
the taking on board a proper supply of fuel and fresh provisions. I
represented to the captain that we might easily make this group on
our return, and winter here in the event of being blocked up by the
ice. He at length came into my views (for in some way, hardly known
to myself, I had acquired much influence over him), and it was
finally resolved that, even in the event of our finding biche de mer,
we should only stay here a week to recruit, and then push on to the
southward while we might. Accordingly we made every necessary
preparation, and, under the guidance of Too-wit, got the Jane through
the reef in safety, coming to anchor about a mile from the shore, in
an excellent bay, completely landlocked, on the southeastern coast of
the main island, and in ten fathoms of water, black sandy bottom. At
the head of this bay there were three fine springs (we were told) of
good water, and we saw abundance of wood in the vicinity. The four
canoes followed us in, keeping, however, at a respectful distance.
Too-wit himself remained on board, and, upon our dropping anchor,
invited us to accompany him on shore, and visit his village in the
interior. To this Captain Guy consented; and ten savages being left
on board as hostages, a party of us, twelve in all, got in readiness
to attend the chief. We took care to be well armed, yet without
evincing any distrust. The schooner had her guns run out, her
boarding-nettings up, and every other proper precaution was taken to
guard against surprise. Directions were left with the chief mate to
admit no person on board during our absence, and, in the event of our
not appearing in twelve hours, to send the cutter, with a swivel,
around the island in search of us.

At every step we took inland the conviction forced itself upon
us that we were in a country differing essentially from any hitherto
visited by civilized men. We saw nothing with which we had been
formerly conversant. The trees resembled no growth of either the
torrid, the temperate, of the northern frigid zones, and were
altogether unlike those of the lower southern latitudes we had
already traversed. The very rocks were novel in their mass, their
color, and their stratification; and the streams themselves, utterly
incredible as it may appear, had so little in common with those of
other climates, that we were scrupulous of tasting them, and, indeed,
had difficulty in bringing ourselves to believe that their qualities
were purely those of nature. At a small brook which crossed our path
(the first we had reached) Too-wit and his attendants halted to
drink. On account of the singular character of the water, we refused
to taste it, supposing it to be polluted; and it was not until some
time afterward we came to understand that such was the appearance of
the streams throughout the whole group. I am at a loss to give a
distinct idea of the nature of this liquid, and cannot do so without
many words. Although it flowed with rapidity in all declivities where
common water would do so, yet never, except when falling in a
cascade, had it the customary appearance of limpidity. It was,
nevertheless, in point of fact, as perfectly limpid as any limestone
water in existence, the difference being only in appearance. At first
sight, and especially in cases where little declivity was found, it
bore resemblance, as regards consistency, to a thick infusion of
gum arabic in common water. But this was only the least remarkable of
its extraordinary qualities. It was not colourless, nor was it of any
one uniform colour- presenting to the eye, as it flowed, every
possible shade of purple; like the hues of a changeable silk. This
variation in shade was produced in a manner which excited as profound
astonishment in the minds of our party as the mirror had done in the
case of Too-wit. Upon collecting a basinful, and allowing it to
settle thoroughly, we perceived that the whole mass of liquid was
made up of a number of distinct veins, each of a distinct hue; that
these veins did not commingle; and that their cohesion was perfect in
regard to their own particles among themselves, and imperfect in
regard to neighbouring veins. Upon passing the blade of a knife
athwart the veins, the water closed over it immediately, as with us,
and also, in withdrawing it, all traces of the passage of the knife
were instantly obliterated. If, however, the blade was passed down
accurately between the two veins, a perfect separation was effected,
which the power of cohesion did not immediately rectify. The
phenomena of this water formed the first definite link in that vast
chain of apparent miracles with which I was destined to be at length
encircled.

Edgar Allan Poe

Sorry, no summary available yet.