CLOUD ATLAS, by David Mitchell
An excerpt from the Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
Thursday, 7th November –
Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints. Through rotting kelp, sea cocoa-nuts & bamboo, the tracks led me to their maker, a white man, his trowzers & Pea-jacket rolled up, sporting a kempt beard & an outsized Beaver, shovelling & sifting the cindery sand with a tea-spoon so intently that he noticed me only after I had hailed him from ten yards away. Thus it was, I made the acquaintance of Dr Henry Goose, surgeon to the London nobility. His nationality was no surprise. If there be any eyrie so desolate, or isle so remote that one may there resort unchallenged by an Englishman, ’tis not down on any map I ever saw.
Had the doctor misplaced anything on that dismal shore? Could I render assistance? Dr Goose shook his head, knotted loose his ’kerchief & displayed its contents with clear pride. ‘Teeth, sir, are the enamelled grails of the quest in hand. In days gone by this Arcadian strand was a cannibals’ banqueting hall, yes, where the strong engorged themselves on the weak. The teeth, they spat out, as you or I would expel cherry stones. But these base molars, sir, shall be transmuted to gold & how? An artisan of Piccadilly who fashions denture-sets for the nobility pays handsomely for human gnashers. Do you know the price a quarter pound will earn, sir?’
I confessed I did not.
‘Nor shall I enlighten you, sir, for ’tis a professional secret!’ He tapped his nose. ‘Mr Ewing, are you acquainted with Marchioness Grace of Mayfair? No? The better for you, for she is a corpse in petticoats. Five years have passed since this harridan besmirched my name, yes, with imputations that resulted in my being blackballed from Society.’ Dr Goose looked out to sea. ‘My peregrinations began in that dark hour.’
I expressed sympathy with the doctor’s plight.
‘I thank you, sir, I thank you, but these ivories,’ he shook his ’kerchief, ‘are my angels of redemption. Permit me to elucidate. The Marchioness wears dental-fixtures fashioned by the aforementioned doctor. Next yuletide, just as that scented She-Donkey is addressing her Ambassadors’ Ball, I, Henry Goose, yes, I shall arise & declare to one & all that our hostess masticates with cannibals’ gnashers! Sir Hubert will challenge me, predictably, ‘‘Furnish your evidence,’’ that boor shall roar, ‘‘or grant me satisfaction!’’ I shall declare, ‘‘Evidence, Sir Hubert? Why, I gathered your mother’s teeth myself from the spittoon of the South Pacific! Here, sir, here are some of their fellows!’’ & fling these very teeth into her tortoise-shell soup tureen & that, sir, that will grant me my satisfaction! The twittering wits will scald the icy Marchioness in their news-sheets & by next season she shall be fortunate to receive an invitation to a Poor-house Ball!’
In haste, I bade Henry Goose a good day. I fancy he is a Bedlamite.
Friday, 8th November –
In the rude shipyard beneath my window, work progresses on the jibboom, under Mr Sykes’s directorship. Mr Walker, Ocean Bay’s sole taverner, is also its principal timber-merchant & he brags of his years as a master shipbuilder in Liverpool. (I am now versed enough in Antipodese etiquette to let such unlikely truths lie.) Mr Sykes told me an entire week is needed to render Prophetess ‘Bristol fashion’. Seven days holed up in the Musket seems a grim sentence, yet I recall the fangs of the banshee tempest & the mariners lost o’erboard & my present misfortune feels less acute.
I met Dr Goose on the stairs this morning & we took breakfast together. He has lodged at the Musket since middle October after voyaging hither on a Brazilian merchantman, Namorados, from Feejee, where he practised his arts in a mission. Now the doctor awaits a long-overdue Australian sealer, the Nellie, to convey him to Sydney. From the colony he will seek a position aboard a passenger ship for his native London.
My judgement of Dr Goose was unjust & premature. One must be cynical as Diomedes to prosper in my profession, but cynicism can blind one to subtler virtues. The doctor has his eccentricities & recounts them gladly for a dram of Portuguese pisco (never to excess) but I vouchsafe he is the only other gentleman on this latitude east of Sydney & west of Valparaiso. I may even compose for him a letter of introduction for the Partridges in Sydney, for Dr Goose & dear Fred are of the same cloth.
Poor weather precluding my morning outing, we yarned by the peat fire & the hours sped by like minutes. I spoke at length of Tilda & Jackson & also my fears of ‘gold-fever’ in San Francisco. Our conversation then voyaged from my home-town to my recent notarial duties in New South Wales, thence to Gibbons, Malthus & Godwin via Leeches & Locomotives. Attentive conversation is an emollient I lack sorely aboard Prophetess & the doctor is a veritable polymath. Moreover, he possesses a handsome army of scrimshandered chessmen whom we shall keep busy until either the Prophetess’s departure or the Nellie’s arrival.
Saturday, 9th November –
Sunrise bright as a silver dollar. Our schooner still looks a woeful picture out in the bay. An Indian war-canoe is being careened on the shore. Henry & I struck out for ‘Banqueter’s Beach’ in holy-day mood, blithely saluting the maid who labours for Mr Walker. The sullen miss was hanging laundry on a shrub & ignored us. She has a tinge of black blood & I fancy her mother is not far removed from the jungle breed.
Passing below the Indian hamlet, a ‘humming’ aroused our curiosity & we resolved to locate its source. The settlement is circumvallated by a stake-fence, so decayed that one may gain ingress at a dozen places. A hairless bitch raised her head, but she was toothless & dying & did not bark. An outer ring of ponga huts (fashioned from branches, earthen walls & matted ceilings) grovelled in the lees of ‘grandee’ dwellings, wooden structures with carved lintel-pieces & rudimentary porches. In the hub of this village, a public flogging was under way. Henry & I were the only two Whites present, but three castes of spectating Indians were demarked. The chieftain occupied his throne, in a feathered cloak, while the tattooed gentry & their womenfolk & children stood in attendance, numbering some thirty in total. The slaves, duskier & sootier than their nut-brown masters & less than half their number, squatted in the mud. Such inbred, bovine torpor! Pockmarked & pustular with haki-haki, these wretches watched the punishment, making no response but that bizarre, bee-like ‘hum’. Empathy or condemnation, we knew not what the noise signified. The whip-master was a Goliath whose physique would daunt any frontier prize-fighter. Lizards mighty & small were tattooed over every inch of the savage’s musculature: – his pelt would fetch a fine price, though I should not be the man assigned to relieve him of it for all the pearls of O-hawaii! The piteous prisoner, hoarfrosted with many harsh years, was bound naked to an A-frame. His body shuddered with each excoriating lash, his back was a vellum of bloody runes but his insensible face bespoke the serenity of a martyr already in the care of the Lord.
I confess, I swooned under each fall of the lash. Then a peculiar thing occurred. The beaten savage raised his slumped head, found my eye & shone me a look of uncanny, amicable knowing! As if a theatrical performer saw a long-lost friend in the Royal Box and, undetected by the audience, communicated his recognition. A tattooed ‘blackfella’ approached us & flicked his nephrite dagger to indicate that we were unwelcome. I enquired after the nature of the prisoner’s crime. Henry put his arm around me. ‘Come, Adam, a wise man does not step betwixt the beast & his meat.’
Sunday, 10th November -
Mr Boerhaave sat amidst his cabal of trusted ruffians like Lord Anaconda & his garter-snakes. Their Sabbath ‘celebrations’ downstairs had begun ere I had risen. I went in search of shaving water & found the tavern swilling with Tars awaiting their turn with those poor Indian girls whom Walker has ensnared in an impromptu bordello. (Rafael was not in the debauchers’ number.)
I do not break my Sabbath fast in a whorehouse. Henry’s sense of repulsion equalled to my own, so we forfeited breakfast (the maid was doubtless being pressed into alternative service) & set out for the chapel to worship with our fasts unbroken.
We had not gone two hundred yards when, to my consternation, I remembered this journal, lying on the table in my room at the Musket, visible to any drunken sailor who might break in. Fearful for its safety (& my own, were Mr Boerhaave to get his hands on it), I retraced my steps to conceal it more artfully. Broad smirks greeted my return & I assumed I was ‘the devil being spoken of’, but I learned the true reason when I opened my door: – to wit, Mr Boerhaave’s ursine buttocks astraddle his Blackamoor Goldilocks in my bed in flagrante delicto! Did that devil Dutchman apologise? Far from it! He judged himself the injured party & roared, ‘Get ye hence, Mr Quillcock! or by God’s B—d, I shall snap your tricksy Yankee nib in two!’
I snatched my diary & clattered downstairs to a riotocracy of merriment & ridicule from the white savages there gathered. I remonstrated to Walker that I was paying for a private room & I expected it to remain private even during my absence, but that scoundrel merely offered a one-third discount on ‘A quarter-hour’s gallop on the comeliest filly in my stable!’ Disgusted, I retorted that I was a husband & a father! & that I should rather die than abase my dignity & decency with any of his poxed whores! Walker swore to ‘decorate my eyes’ if I called his own dear daughters ‘whores’ again. One toothless garter-snake jeered that if possessing a wife & a child was a single virtue, ‘Why, Mr Ewing, I be ten times more virtuous than you be!’ & an unseen hand emptied a tankard of sheog over my person. I withdrew ere the liquid was swapped for a more obdurate missile.
The chapel bell was summoning the godfearing of Ocean Bay & I hurried thitherwards where Henry waited, trying to forget the recent foulnesses witnessed at my lodgings. The chapel creaked like an old tub & its congregation numbered little more than the digits of two hands, but no traveller ever quenched his thirst at a desert oasis more thankfully than Henry & I gave worship this morning. The Lutheran founder has lain at rest in his chapel’s cemetery these ten winters past & no ordained successor has yet ventured to claim captaincy of the altar. Its denomination, therefore, is a ‘rattle-bag’ of Christian creeds. Biblical passages were read by that half of the congregation who know their letters & we joined in a hymn or two nominated by rota. The ‘steward’ of this demotic flock, one Mr D’Arnoq, stood beneath the modest cruciform & besought Henry & I to participate in likewise manner. Mindful of my own salvation from last week’s tempest, I nominated Luke ch. 8, And they came to him, & awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he arose, & rebuked the wind & the raging of the water: & they ceased, & there was a calm.
Henry recited Psalm the Eighth, in a voice as sonorous as any schooled dramatist, Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou has put all things under his feet: all sheep & oxen, yea, & the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, & the fish of the sea, & whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
No organist played a Magnificat but the wind in the flue-chimney, no choir sang a Nunc Dimittis but the wuthering gulls, yet I fancy the Creator was not displeazed. We resembled more the Early Christians of Rome than any later Church encrusted with arcana & gemstones. Communal prayer followed. Parishioners prayed ad lib for the eradication of potato blight, mercy on a dead infant’s soul, blessing upon a new fishing boat, &c. Henry gave thanks for the hospitality shown us visitors by the Christians of Chatham Isle. I echoed these sentiments & sent a prayer for Tilda, Jackson & my father-in-law during my extended absence.
After the service, the doctor & I were approached most cordially by an elder ‘mainmast’ of that chapel, one Mr Evans, who introduced Henry & I to his good wife (both circumvented the handicap of deafness by answering only those questions they believed had been asked & accepting only those answers they believed had been uttered – a stratagem embraced by many an American advocate) & their twin sons, Keegan & Dyfedd. Mr Evans made it known that every week he had the custom of inviting Mr D’Arnoq, our Preacher, to dine at their nearby home, for the latter dwells in Port Hutt, a promontory some miles distant. Would we, too, join their Sabbath Meal? Having already informed Henry of that Gomorrah back at the Musket & hearing cries of ‘Mutiny!’ from our stomachs, we accepted the Evanses’ kindness with gratitude.
Our hosts’ farm-stead, seated half a mile from Ocean Bay up a winding, blustery valley, proved to be a frugal building, but proof against those hell-bent storms that break the bones of so many hapless vessels upon nearby reefs. The parlour was inhabited by a monstrous hog’s head (afflicted with droop-jaw & lazy-eye), killed by the twins on their sixteenth birthday, & a somnambulant Grand-father clock (at odds with my own pocket-watch by a margin of hours. Indeed, one valued import from New Zealand is the accurate time). An Indian farmhand peered through the window-pane at his master’s visitors. No more tatterdemalion a renegado I ever beheld, but Mr Evans swore the quadroon, ‘Barnabas’, was ‘the fleetest sheep-dog who ever ran upon two legs’. Keegan & Dyfedd are honest woolly fellows, versed principally in the ways of sheep (the family own two hundred head), for neither has gone to ‘Town’ (the islanders thus appellate New Zealand) nor undergone any schooling save Scripture lessons from their father, by dint of which they have learnt to read & write tolerably well.
Mrs Evans said grace & I enjoyed my most pleasant repast (untainted by salt, maggots & oaths) since my farewell dinner with Consul Bax & the Partridges at the Beaumont. Mr D’Arnoq told us tales of ships he has supplied during his ten-year on Chatham Isle, while Henry amused us with stories of patients, both illustrious & humble, he has benefacted in London & Polynesia. For my part I described the many hardships overcome by this American notary in order to locate the Australian beneficiary of a will executed in California. We washed down our mutton-stew & apple-dumpling with small ale brewed by Mr Evans for trading with whalers. Keegan & Dyfedd left to attend to their livestock & Mrs Evans retired to her kitchen duties. Henry asked if missionaries were now active on the Chathams at which Mr Evans & Mr D’Arnoq exchanged looks, & the former informed us, ‘Nay, the Maori don’t take kindly to us Pakeha spoiling their Moriori with too much civilization.’
I questioned if such an ill as ‘too much civilization’ existed or no? Mr D’Arnoq told me, ‘If there is no God west of the Horn, why there’s none of your constitution’s All men created equal, neither, Mr Ewing.’ The nomenclatures ‘Maori’ & ‘Pakeha’ I knew from the Prophetess’s sojourn at the Bay of Islands, but I begged to know who or what ‘Moriori’ might signify. My query unlocked a Pandora’s Box of history, detailing the decline & fall of the aboriginals of Chatham. We lit our pipes. Mr D’Arnoq’s narrative was unbroken three hours later when he had to depart for Port Hutt ere nightfall obscured the dykey way. His spoken history, for my money, holds company with the pen of a Defoe or Melville & I shall record it in these pages, after, Morpheus willing, a sound sleep.
Monday, 11th November –
Dawn sticky & sunless. The bay has a slimy appearance, but the weather is mild enough to allow repairs to continue on Prophetess, I thank Neptune. A new mizzen-top is being hoisted into position as I write.
A short time past, while Henry & I breakfasted, Mr Evans arrived hugger-mugger, importuning my doctor friend to attend to a reclusive neighbour, one Widow Bryden, who was thrown from her horse on a stony bog. Mrs Evans was in attendance and fears that the widow lies in peril of her life. Henry fetched his doctor’s case & left without delay. (I offered to come, but Mr Evans begged my forbearance, as the patient had extracted a promise that none but a doctor should see her incapacitated.) Walker, overhearing these transactions, told me no member of the male sex had crossed the widow’s threshold these twenty years & decided that ‘The frigid old sow must be on her last trotters if she’s letting Dr Quack frisk her.’
The origins of the Moriori of ‘Re Ì„kohu’ (the native moniker for the Chathams) remain a mystery to this day. Mr Evans evinces the belief they are descended from Jews expelled from Spain, citing their hooked noses & sneering lips. Mr D’Arnoq’s pre- ferred theorum, that the Moriori were once Maori whose canoes were wrecked upon these remotest of isles, is founded on simi- larities of tongue & mythology, & thereby possesses a higher carat of logic. What is certain is that, after centuries or millennia of living in isolation, the Moriori lived as primitive a life as their woebegone cousins of Van Diemen’s Land. Arts of boat-building (beyond crude woven rafts used to cross the channels betwixt islands) & navigation fell into disuse. That the terraqueous globe held other lands, trod by other feet, the Moriori dreamt not. Indeed, their language lacks a word for ‘Race’ & ‘Moriori’ means, simply, ‘People’. Husbandry was not practised, for no mammals walked these isles until passing whalers wilfully marooned pigs here to propagate a parlour. In their virgin state, the Moriori were foragers, picking up paua shellfish, diving for crayfish, plundering bird-eggs, spearing seals, gathering kelp & digging for grubs & roots.
Thus far, the Moriori were but a local variant of most flaxen-skirted, feather-cloaked heathens of those dwindling ‘blind-spots’ of the ocean still unschooled by the White Man. Old Re Ì„kohu’s claim to singularity, however, lay in its unique pacific creed. Since time immemorial, the Moriori’s priestly caste dictated that whosoever spilt a man’s blood killed his own mana – his honour, his worth, his standing & his soul. No Moriori would shelter, feed, converse or even see the persona non grata. If the ostracised murderer survived his first winter, the desper- ation of solitude usually drove him to a blow-hole on Cape Young where he took his life.
Consider this, Mr D’Arnoq urged us. Two thousand savages (Mr Evans’s best guess) enshrine Thou Shalt Not Kill in word & in deed & frame an oral ‘Magna Carta’ to create a harmony unknown elsewhere for the sixty centuries since Adam tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. War was as alien a concept to the Moriori as the telescope is to the Pygmy. Peace, not a hiatus betwixt wars but millennia of imperishable peace, rules these far-flung islands. Who can deny Old Re Ì„kohu lay closer to More’s Utopia than our States of Progress governed by war-hungry princelings in Versailles & Vienna, Washington & Westminster? ‘Here,’ declaimed Mr D’Arnoq, ‘and here only, were those elusive phantasms, the noble savages, framed in flesh & blood!’ (Henry, as we later made our way back to the Musket confessed, ‘I could never describe a race of savages too backward to throw a spear straight as ‘‘noble’’.’)
Glass & peace alike betray proof of fragility under repeated blows. The first blow to the Moriori was the Union Jack, planted in Skirmish Bay’s sod in the name of King George by Lieutenant Broughton of HMS Chatham just fifty years ago. Three years later, Broughton’s discovery was in Sydney & London chart agents & a scattering of free settlers (whose number included Mr Evans’s father), wrecked mariners & ‘convicts at odds with the New South Wales Colonial Office over the terms of their incarceration’ were cultivating pumpkins, onions, maize & carrots. These they sold to needy sealers, the second blow to the Moriori’s independence, who disappointed the Natives’ hopes of prosperity by turning the surf pink with seals’ blood. (Mr D’Arnoq illustrated the profits by this arithmetic – a single pelt fetched 15 shillings in Canton & those pioneer sealers gathered over two thousand pelts per boat!) Within a few years the seals were found only on the outer rocks & the ‘sealers’ too turned to farming potatoes, sheep & pig-rearing on such a scale that the Chathams are now dubbed ‘The Garden of the Pacific’. These parvenu farmers clear the land by bush-fires that smoulder beneath the peat for many seasons, surfacing in dry spells to sow renewed calamity.
The third blow to the Moriori was the whalers, now calling at Ocean Bay, Waitangi, Owenga & Te Whakaru in sizeable numbers for careening, refitting & refreshing. Whalers’ cats & rats bred like the Plagues of Egypt & ate the burrow-nesting birds whose eggs the Moriori so valued for sustenance. Fourth, those motley maladies which cull the darker races whene’er White civilization draws near, sapped the aboriginal census still further.
All these misfortunes the Moriori might have endured, however, were it not for reports arriving in New Zealand depicting the Chathams as a veritable Canaan of eel-stuffed lagoons, shellfish-carpeted coves & inhabitants who understand neither combat nor weapons. To the ears of the Ngati Tama & Ngati Mutunga, two clans of the Taranaki Te Ati Awa Maori (Maori geneaology is, Mr D’Arnoq assures us, every twig as intricate as those genealogical trees so revered by the European gentry, indeed, any boy of that unlettered race can recall his grandfather’s grandfather’s name & ‘rank’ in a trice), these rumours promised compensation for the tracts of their ancestral estates lost during the recent ‘Musket Wars’. Spies were sent to test the Moriori’s mettle by violating tapu & despoiling holy sites. These provocations the Moriori faced as Our Lord importuned, by ‘turning the other cheek’, & the transgressors returned to New Zealand confirming the Moriori’s apparent pusillanimity. The tattooed Maori conquistadores found their single-barked armada in Captain Harewood of the brig Rodney who, in the dying months of 1835, agreed to transport nine hundred Maori & seven war-canoes in two voyages, in guerno for seed potatoes, firearms, pigs, a great supply of scraped flax & a cannon. (Mr D’Arnoq encountered Harewood five years ago, penurious in a Bay of Islands tavern. He at first denied being the Rodney’s Harewood, then swore he had been coerced into conveying the blacks, but was unclear how this coercion had been worked upon him.)
The Rodney embarked from Port Nicholas in November, but its heathen cargo of five hundred men, women & children, packed tight in the hold for the six-day voyage, bilged in ordure & seasickness & lacking the barest sufficiency of water, anchored at Whangatete Inlet in such an enfeebled state that, had they but the will, even the Moriori might have slain their Martial brethren. The Goodly Samaritans chose instead to share the diminished abundance of Re Ì„kohu in preference to destroying their mana by blood-letting, & nursed the sick & dying Maori back to health. ‘Maori had come to Re Ì„kohu before,’ Mr D’Arnoq explained, ‘yet gone away again, so the Moriori assumed the colonists would likewise leave them in peace.’
The Moriori’s generosity was rewarded when Cpt. Harewood returned from New Zealand with another four hundred Maori. Now the strangers proceeded to lay claim to Chatham by takahi, a Maori ritual transliterated as ‘Walking the Land to Possess the Land’. Old Re Ì„kohu was thus partitioned & the Moriori informed they were now Maori vassals. In early December, when some dozen Aboriginals protested, they were casually slain with tomahawks. The Maori proved themselves apt pupils of the English in ‘the dark arts of colonization’.
Chatham Isle encloses a vast eastern saltmarsh lagoon, Te Whanga, very nearly an inland sea but fecundated by the ocean at high tide through the lagoon’s ‘lips’ at Te Awapatiki. Fourteen years ago, the Moriori men held on that sacred ground a parliament. Three days it lasted, its object to settle this question: Would the spillage of Maori blood also destroy one’s mana? Younger men argued the creed of Peace did not encompass foreign cannibals of whom their ancestors knew nothing. The Moriori must kill or be killed. Elders urged appeasement, for as long as the Moriori preserved their mana with their land, their gods & ancestors would deliver the race from harm. ‘Embrace your enemy,’ the elders urged, ‘to prevent him striking you.’ (‘Embrace your enemy,’ Henry quipped, ‘to feel his dagger tickle your kidneys.’)
The elders won the day, but it mattered little. ‘When lacking numerical superiority,’ Mr D’Arnoq told us, ‘the Maori seize an advantage by striking first & hardest, as many hapless British & French can testify from their graves.’ The Ngati Tama & Ngati Mutunga had held councils of their own. The Moriori menfolk returned from their parliament to ambushes & a night of infamy beyond nightmare, of butchery, of villages torched, of rapine, of men & women, impaled in rows on beaches, of children hiding in holes, scented & dismembered by hunting dogs. Some chiefs kept an eye to the morrow & slew only enough to instil terrified obedience in the remainder. Other chiefs were not so restrained. On Waitangi Beach fifty Moriori were beheaded, filleted, wrapped in flax-leaves, then baked in a giant earth oven with yams & sweet potatoes. Not half those Moriori who had seen Old Re Ì„kohu’s last sunset were alive to see the Maori sun rise. (‘Less than an hundred pure-blooded Moriori now remain,’ mourned Mr D’Arnoq. ‘On paper the British Crown freed these from the yoke of slavery years ago, but the Maori do not care for paper. We are one week’s sail from the Governor’s House & Her Majesty maintains no garrison on Chatham.’)
I asked, why had not the Whites stayed the hands of the Maori during the massacre?
Mr Evans was no longer sleeping & not half so deaf as I had fancied. ‘Have you ever seen Maori warriors in a blood-frenzy, Mr Ewing?’
I said I had not. ‘But you have seen sharks in a blood-frenzy, have you not?’
I replied that I had.
‘Near enough. Imagine a bleeding calf is thrashing in shark-infested shallows. What to do – stay out of the water or try to stay the jaws of the sharks? Such was our choice. Oh, we helped the few that came to our door – our shepherd Barnabas was one – but if we stepped out in that night we’d not be seen again. Remember, we Whites numbered below fifty in Chatham at that time. Nine hundred Maoris, altogether. Maoris bide by Pakeha, Mr Ewing, but they despise us. Never forget it.’
What moral to draw? Peace, though beloved of our Lord, is a cardinal virtue only if your neighbours share your conscience.