The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
by David Mitchell
Thursday, 7th November
Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand,
I happened on a trail of recent footprints. Through
rotting kelp, sea cocoanuts & 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
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!"
& fiing 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
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
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
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 fiogging 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
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 & fiicked 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.'
Copyright David Mitchell