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Cloud Atlas Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
For Hana and her Grandparents 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, shoveling & sifting
the cindery sand with a teaspoon 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 enameled 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 tortoiseshell 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 Poorhouse 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 the
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
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 practiced 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 judgment of Dr. Goose was unjust & premature. One must be cynical as Diogenes 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 hometown to my recent notarial duties in New South
Wales, thence to Gibbon, Malthus & Godwin via Leeches & Locomotives. Attentive conversation is
an emollient I lack sorely aboard the 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 labors 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.
As we passed 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) groveled 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, beelike “hum.” Empathy or condemnation, we knew not what the noise
signified. The whip master was a Goliath whose physique would daunt any frontier prizefighter.
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 inquired 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 equaled 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
apologize? 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 God-fearing 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
traveler 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 & me 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 from 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 & gem-stones.
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 & me 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’ farmstead, 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 parlor was inhabited by a monstrous hog’s head (afflicted
with droop-jaw & lazy-eye), killed by the twins on their sixteenth birthday, & a somnambulant
Grandfather 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
windowpane at his master’s visitors. No more tatterdemalion a renegado I ever beheld, but
Mr. Evans swore the quadroon, Barnabas, was “the fleetest sheepdog 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
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 the 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 neighbor, 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 Rēkohu (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 preferred theorum, that the Moriori were once
Maori whose canoes were wrecked upon these remotest of isles, is founded on similarities 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 boatbuilding (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 practiced, for no mammals walked these isles until
passing whalers willfully marooned pigs here to propagate a parlor. 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 Rēkohu’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 honor, his
worth, his standing & his soul. No Moriori would shelter, feed, converse with, or even see the
persona non grata. If the ostracized murderer survived his first winter, the desperation of solitude
usually drove him to a blowhole 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 Rēkohu 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 backwards 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 & “c...
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- Summer '19
- Dr. Henry Goose