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|Adam Ewing •|
1 & 11
2 & 10
|Luisa Rey •|
3 & 9
|Timothy Cavendish •|
4 & 8
5 & 7
The story begins as Adam Ewing is writing in his journal about his stay on the Chatham Islands. He is a San Francisco-based attorney chasing down a beneficiary of a will in the South Pacific. He finds himself on the remote Polynesian Islands while his ship, "The Prophetess" makes repairs. It is here that he meets an English doctor, Dr. Henry Goose, on the island beach, sifting the sand for human teeth discarded by the resident cannibals. Dr. Goose has concocted a scheme to discredit his ex-wife by having new dentures crafted of the teeth. Although Ewing's first impression of Goose is that he is crazy, or at least odd, they quickly find they have much in common and forge a friendship.
The two are staying at a barely-reputable boarding house. The morning after they met, they decide to take a walk around the small island where they encounter a clearing where a group of "natives" are involved in a public flogging. The whipping is brutal, but when they turn to leave, the accused lifts his head to smile knowingly at Ewing.
On Sunday, Ewing and Dr. Goose seek out the local congregation, rather than take part in the rather carnal Sabbath observances at the boarding house. The congregation has long since lost its pastor, but the group takes turn reciting scripture and singing hymns. One of the prominent members of the church is a Mr. D'Arnoq, who invites the pair to dine with members of the congregation. Around the table, the talk turns to the history of the island. Mr. D'Arnoq relates a narrative about the origin of the island inhabitants. According to D'Arnoq, the first "natives," the Moriori were a peace-loving people, who banished any of their tribe for even the slightest violent act. As the story goes, the Moriori were an easy mark for the wandering Maori (from New Zealand) as well as the increasing number of White settlers, merchants, and whalers. Today, the few Moriori who have not succumbed to the White man's illness and the Maori's brutality are slaves of the New Zealanders.
In about a week's time, the "Prophetess" is ready to sail, and Captain Molyneux is all about town securing provisions for the ship. He requests a moment alone with Dr. Goose, which worries Ewing due to the Captain's poor reputation, but it seems that the Captain suffers a medical complaint and would like Dr. Goose to travel with him at least as far as Hawaii. Henry says that he will consider it and Ewing hopes that he decides to join the passengers on the "Prophetess." While Henry is away treating an injured local woman, Ewing goes exploring and stumbles into a hidden cave. Fortunately, the cave is carpeted with a dense moss and he escapes with minor bruises. More difficult is finding his way out of the steep cave, but after a few false starts, including one where he finds what seem to be human remains, he emerges. Later, as Henry is tending to Ewing's bruises, Ewing confides his "Ailment," an undisclosed malady which causes him much anxiety.
The next day, the Prophetess sails, with Dr. Henry Goose among the passengers, much to Ewing's delight and relief. It seems that Henry has agreed to attempt to diagnose and treat Ewing's "Ailment" while they are at sea. Shortly after the Prophetess sets sail, Ewing is approached by a small group of sailors, including Torgny the Swede. It seems that the group means to jump ship in San Francisco and search for gold. They appeal to Ewing to draw a map of the gold fields for a share of the take. Ewing knows nothing about where the gold is located since he's been at sea for months, but agrees to draw the rumored "hot spots." As he is completing the map, the Captain walks in and seizes the map. Although Ewing gives a lame explanation, it is plain that the Captain is not pleased.
That night, Ewing is awakened by a presence in his cabin (which he calls his "coffin"). Autua, the native Ewing witnessed being flogged back on the Chathams has stowed away in his cabin with the assistance of Mr. D'Arnoq of the church congregation. Autua introduces himself and says that he's an able seaman and happy to work for his passage. Ewing tells him the decision is the Captain's and worries that the Captain, who is none too fond of Ewing, might consider him complicit in the hiding of the stowaway. He suggests they go immediately to the Captain. The Captain is ready to throw Autua off the ship, when Ewing suggests they give him a try. The Captain, seeing the advantage of a sailor he doesn't have to pay, agrees. They give him a terrible assignment atop the mast, one designed for several men and all but guaranteed to land Autua in the ocean. However, the Moriori completes the task to everyone's amazement. He is accepted, albeit reluctantly, as part of the crew.
Meanwhile, Henry has diagnosed Ewing's "ailment" as a particularly nasty type of parasite, gusano coco, which is fatal if left untreated. Fortunately, Henry just happens to have the necessary powders to kill the worm. He warns Ewing that the cure may be rough and dangerous. Just as the doctor suggested, Ewing begins to hallucinate, and his eyes have a yellow aspect. The chapter ends abruptly, and without explanation, in the middle of a sentence, as if the last pages have been torn out of the journal.
In its continuation, the story picks up mid-sentence, where it left off in the first half of the story. Ewing is still aboard the Prophetess, crossing the Pacific. The ship makes land at Raiatea, one of the Society Islands. There, Ewing and Dr. Goose are asked by the captain to accompany him ashore. Ewing doubts the captain's intentions, but agrees to go with the group. Ashore, they find a missionary village, run by a Nazarene couple, Reverend Horrox and his wife. It seems that the captain has brought Ewing and Goose along to convince the preacher that the Prophetess is a godly ship and thus make him agreeable to the captain's trade proposition, an arrangement to which the Reverend ultimately agrees.
While on the island, Ewing learns of the Horroxes unhappy marriage and the slave-like status of the natives in the village, in keeping with the nineteenth-century view of White superiority held by the Horroxes, a view upon which they expound at dinner. That evening, Goose shares this cynical view of the world, that it is "Eat or be Eaten." The next day, the group returns to the ship, and Ewing finds that his "coffin" has been broken into. His papers and money are still intact since his carries the key to the chest around his neck.
Ewing is growing weaker and weaker and is plagued increasingly by hallucinations. He is barely able to leave his cabin. The climate at sea on the Prophetess continues to disintegrate as well. As the ship passes over the equator, the crew uses the occasion as an opportunity to abuse the newer seamen. The antics continue and later leads to one of the men hanging himself from the mast (Rafael). Ewing is aghast at the goings on, but is too weak to do much about it.
Three days from Honolulu, Ewing fears that he won't live to see landfall again. Death seems to be just hours away. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, he is visited by Dr. Goose, who gives him an almond-tasting potion. Goose sends away from Ewing's cabin all that come to call on him. The vehemence with which he sends away Autua, the Moriori who stowed away in Ewing's cabin, makes Ewing realize, belatedly, that Goose is not all that he seems. He has been slowly poisoning Ewing. Goose repeats his mantra of "Eat or be Eaten" as an explanation for his deeds as he takes the key from Ewing's neck. He bids Ewing farewell, telling him he will be dead within the hour, poisoned by arsenic. Ewing's next recollection is of Autua holding him on deck and making him drink large quantities of rain water in an attempt to dilute the poison. Autua then carries him off of the ship to a Jesuit hospital near Diamond Head in Honolulu, where he gradually recovers. Henry Goose escapes into the sub-culture of Hawaii and is never apprehended.
- Mr. Sykes, shipfitter, Ocean Bay, Chatham Islands
- Mr. Walker, taverner/timber merchant, Ocean Bay
- Mr. Boerhaave, mate Prophetess
- Mr. D'Arnoq, "steward" of the Christian flock of Ocean Bay
- Mr. Evans, merchant, Mrs. Evans and their sons
- The Moriori tradition of non-violence finds its way into the sixth chapter, Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After
- Ewing is also mentioned in "Letters from Zedelghem," when Frobisher finds Ewing's journal in the Chateau Zedelghem library and in "Luisa Rey," where one of the California suburbs is named after Ewing and where the Prophetess has been preserved as an historic site.
- The theme of second-class citizenship is blatantly expounded by Reverend Horrax, the captain, and Dr. Goose at dinner on the island. In the guise of science, the white men propose to keep the island natives in subservient roles, similar to those of the fabricants of Nea So Copros in An Orison of Sonmi-451.j
- "Prophetess" is the name of the ship that brings Jacob De Zoet from Dejima, Japan to the Netherlands at the end of "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet"