Erewhon by Samuel Butler

CHAPTER I: WASTE LANDS

If the reader will excuse me, I will say nothing of my antecedents, nor
of the circumstances which led me to leave my native country; the
narrative would be tedious to him and painful to myself. Suffice it,
that when I left home it was with the intention of going to some new
colony, and either finding, or even perhaps purchasing, waste crown land
suitable for cattle or sheep farming, by which means I thought that I
could better my fortunes more rapidly than in England.

It will be seen that I did not succeed in my design, and that however
much I may have met with that was new and strange, I have been unable to
reap any pecuniary advantage.

It is true, I imagine myself to have made a discovery which, if I can be
the first to profit by it, will bring me a recompense beyond all money
computation, and secure me a position such as has not been attained by
more than some fifteen or sixteen persons, since the creation of the
universe. But to this end I must possess myself of a considerable sum of
money: neither do I know how to get it, except by interesting the public
in my story, and inducing the charitable to come forward and assist me.
With this hope I now publish my adventures; but I do so with great
reluctance, for I fear that my story will be doubted unless I tell the
whole of it; and yet I dare not do so, lest others with more means than
mine should get the start of me. I prefer the risk of being doubted to
that of being anticipated, and have therefore concealed my destination on
leaving England, as also the point from which I began my more serious and
difficult journey.

My chief consolation lies in the fact that truth bears its own impress,
and that my story will carry conviction by reason of the internal
evidences for its accuracy. No one who is himself honest will doubt my
being so.

I reached my destination in one of the last months of 1868, but I dare
not mention the season, lest the reader should gather in which hemisphere
I was. The colony was one which had not been opened up even to the most
adventurous settlers for more than eight or nine years, having been
previously uninhabited, save by a few tribes of savages who frequented
the seaboard. The part known to Europeans consisted of a coast-line
about eight hundred miles in length (affording three or four good
harbours), and a tract of country extending inland for a space varying
from two to three hundred miles, until it a reached the offshoots of an
exceedingly lofty range of mountains, which could be seen from far out
upon the plains, and were covered with perpetual snow. The coast was
perfectly well known both north and south of the tract to which I have
alluded, but in neither direction was there a single harbour for five
hundred miles, and the mountains, which descended almost into the sea,
were covered with thick timber, so that none would think of settling.

With this bay of land, however, the case was different. The harbours
were sufficient; the country was timbered, but not too heavily; it was
admirably suited for agriculture; it also contained millions on millions
of acres of the most beautifully grassed country in the world, and of the
best suited for all manner of sheep and cattle. The climate was
temperate, and very healthy; there were no wild animals, nor were the
natives dangerous, being few in number and of an intelligent tractable
disposition.

It may be readily understood that when once Europeans set foot upon this
territory they were not slow to take advantage of its capabilities. Sheep
and cattle were introduced, and bred with extreme rapidity; men took up
their 50,000 or 100,000 acres of country, going inland one behind the
other, till in a few years there was not an acre between the sea and the
front ranges which was not taken up, and stations either for sheep or
cattle were spotted about at intervals of some twenty or thirty miles
over the whole country. The front ranges stopped the tide of squatters
for some little time; it was thought that there was too much snow upon
them for too many months in the year,–that the sheep would get lost, the
ground being too difficult for shepherding,–that the expense of getting
wool down to the ship’s side would eat up the farmer’s profits,–and that
the grass was too rough and sour for sheep to thrive upon; but one after
another determined to try the experiment, and it was wonderful how
successfully it turned out. Men pushed farther and farther into the
mountains, and found a very considerable tract inside the front range,
between it and another which was loftier still, though even this was not
the highest, the great snowy one which could be seen from out upon the
plains. This second range, however, seemed to mark the extreme limits of
pastoral country; and it was here, at a small and newly founded station,
that I was received as a cadet, and soon regularly employed. I was then
just twenty-two years old.

I was delighted with the country and the manner of life. It was my daily
business to go up to the top of a certain high mountain, and down one of
its spurs on to the flat, in order to make sure that no sheep had crossed
their boundaries. I was to see the sheep, not necessarily close at hand,
nor to get them in a single mob, but to see enough of them here and there
to feel easy that nothing had gone wrong; this was no difficult matter,
for there were not above eight hundred of them; and, being all breeding
ewes, they were pretty quiet.

There were a good many sheep which I knew, as two or three black ewes,
and a black lamb or two, and several others which had some distinguishing
mark whereby I could tell them. I would try and see all these, and if
they were all there, and the mob looked large enough, I might rest
assured that all was well. It is surprising how soon the eye becomes
accustomed to missing twenty sheep out of two or three hundred. I had a
telescope and a dog, and would take bread and meat and tobacco with me.
Starting with early dawn, it would be night before I could complete my
round; for the mountain over which I had to go was very high. In winter
it was covered with snow, and the sheep needed no watching from above. If
I were to see sheep dung or tracks going down on to the other side of the
mountain (where there was a valley with a stream–a mere _cul de sac_), I
was to follow them, and look out for sheep; but I never saw any, the
sheep always descending on to their own side, partly from habit, and
partly because there was abundance of good sweet feed, which had been
burnt in the early spring, just before I came, and was now deliciously
green and rich, while that on the other side had never been burnt, and
was rank and coarse.

It was a monotonous life, but it was very healthy and one does not much
mind anything when one is well. The country was the grandest that can be
imagined. How often have I sat on the mountain side and watched the
waving downs, with the two white specks of huts in the distance, and the
little square of garden behind them; the paddock with a patch of bright
green oats above the huts, and the yards and wool-sheds down on the flat
below; all seen as through the wrong end of a telescope, so clear and
brilliant was the air, or as upon a colossal model or map spread out
beneath me. Beyond the downs was a plain, going down to a river of great
size, on the farther side of which there were other high mountains, with
the winter’s snow still not quite melted; up the river, which ran winding
in many streams over a bed some two miles broad, I looked upon the second
great chain, and could see a narrow gorge where the river retired and was
lost. I knew that there was a range still farther back; but except from
one place near the very top of my own mountain, no part of it was
visible: from this point, however, I saw, whenever there were no clouds,
a single snow-clad peak, many miles away, and I should think about as
high as any mountain in the world. Never shall I forget the utter
loneliness of the prospect–only the little far-away homestead giving
sign of human handiwork;–the vastness of mountain and plain, of river
and sky; the marvellous atmospheric effects–sometimes black mountains
against a white sky, and then again, after cold weather, white mountains
against a black sky–sometimes seen through breaks and swirls of
cloud–and sometimes, which was best of all, I went up my mountain in a
fog, and then got above the mist; going higher and higher, I would look
down upon a sea of whiteness, through which would be thrust innumerable
mountain tops that looked like islands.

I am there now, as I write; I fancy that I can see the downs, the huts,
the plain, and the river-bed–that torrent pathway of desolation, with
its distant roar of waters. Oh, wonderful! wonderful! so lonely and so
solemn, with the sad grey clouds above, and no sound save a lost lamb
bleating upon the mountain side, as though its little heart were
breaking. Then there comes some lean and withered old ewe, with deep
gruff voice and unlovely aspect, trotting back from the seductive
pasture; now she examines this gully, and now that, and now she stands
listening with uplifted head, that she may hear the distant wailing and
obey it. Aha! they see, and rush towards each other. Alas! they are
both mistaken; the ewe is not the lamb’s ewe, they are neither kin nor
kind to one another, and part in coldness. Each must cry louder, and
wander farther yet; may luck be with them both that they may find their
own at nightfall. But this is mere dreaming, and I must proceed.

I could not help speculating upon what might lie farther up the river and
behind the second range. I had no money, but if I could only find
workable country, I might stock it with borrowed capital, and consider
myself a made man. True, the range looked so vast, that there seemed
little chance of getting a sufficient road through it or over it; but no
one had yet explored it, and it is wonderful how one finds that one can
make a path into all sorts of places (and even get a road for
pack-horses), which from a distance appear inaccessible; the river was so
great that it must drain an inner tract–at least I thought so; and
though every one said it would be madness to attempt taking sheep farther
inland, I knew that only three years ago the same cry had been raised
against the country which my master’s flock was now overrunning. I could
not keep these thoughts out of my head as I would rest myself upon the
mountain side; they haunted me as I went my daily rounds, and grew upon
me from hour to hour, till I resolved that after shearing I would remain
in doubt no longer, but saddle my horse, take as much provision with me
as I could, and go and see for myself.

But over and above these thoughts came that of the great range itself.
What was beyond it? Ah! who could say? There was no one in the whole
world who had the smallest idea, save those who were themselves on the
other side of it–if, indeed, there was any one at all. Could I hope to
cross it? This would be the highest triumph that I could wish for; but
it was too much to think of yet. I would try the nearer range, and see
how far I could go. Even if I did not find country, might I not find
gold, or diamonds, or copper, or silver? I would sometimes lie flat down
to drink out of a stream, and could see little yellow specks among the
sand; were these gold? People said no; but then people always said there
was no gold until it was found to be abundant: there was plenty of slate
and granite, which I had always understood to accompany gold; and even
though it was not found in paying quantities here, it might be abundant
in the main ranges. These thoughts filled my head, and I could not
banish them.

CHAPTER II: IN THE WOOL-SHED

At last shearing came; and with the shearers there was an old native,
whom they had nicknamed Chowbok–though, I believe, his real name was
Kahabuka. He was a sort of chief of the natives, could speak a little
English, and was a great favourite with the missionaries. He did not do
any regular work with the shearers, but pretended to help in the yards,
his real aim being to get the grog, which is always more freely
circulated at shearing-time: he did not get much, for he was apt to be
dangerous when drunk; and very little would make him so: still he did get
it occasionally, and if one wanted to get anything out of him, it was the
best bribe to offer him. I resolved to question him, and get as much
information from him as I could. I did so. As long as I kept to
questions about the nearer ranges, he was easy to get on with–he had
never been there, but there were traditions among his tribe to the effect
that there was no sheep-country, nothing, in fact, but stunted timber and
a few river-bed flats. It was very difficult to reach; still there were
passes: one of them up our own river, though not directly along the river-
bed, the gorge of which was not practicable; he had never seen any one
who had been there: was there to not enough on this side? But when I
came to the main range, his manner changed at once. He became uneasy,
and began to prevaricate and shuffle. In a very few minutes I could see
that of this too there existed traditions in his tribe; but no efforts or
coaxing could get a word from him about them. At last I hinted about
grog, and presently he feigned consent: I gave it him; but as soon as he
had drunk it he began shamming intoxication, and then went to sleep, or
pretended to do so, letting me kick him pretty hard and never budging.

I was angry, for I had to go without my own grog and had got nothing out
of him; so the next day I determined that he should tell me before I gave
him any, or get none at all.

Accordingly, when night came and the shearers had knocked off work and
had their supper, I got my share of rum in a tin pannikin and made a sign
to Chowbok to follow me to the wool-shed, which he willingly did,
slipping out after me, and no one taking any notice of either of us. When
we got down to the wool-shed we lit a tallow candle, and having stuck it
in an old bottle we sat down upon the wool bales and began to smoke. A
wool-shed is a roomy place, built somewhat on the same plan as a
cathedral, with aisles on either side full of pens for the sheep, a great
nave, at the upper end of which the shearers work, and a further space
for wool sorters and packers. It always refreshed me with a semblance of
antiquity (precious in a new country), though I very well knew that the
oldest wool-shed in the settlement was not more than seven years old,
while this was only two. Chowbok pretended to expect his grog at once,
though we both of us knew very well what the other was after, and that we
were each playing against the other, the one for grog the other for
information.

We had a hard fight: for more than two hours he had tried to put me off
with lies but had carried no conviction; during the whole time we had
been morally wrestling with one another and had neither of us apparently
gained the least advantage; at length, however, I had become sure that he
would give in ultimately, and that with a little further patience I
should get his story out of him. As upon a cold day in winter, when one
has churned (as I had often had to do), and churned in vain, and the
butter makes no sign of coming, at last one tells by the sound that the
cream has gone to sleep, and then upon a sudden the butter comes, so I
had churned at Chowbok until I perceived that he had arrived, as it were,
at the sleepy stage, and that with a continuance of steady quiet pressure
the day was mine. On a sudden, without a word of warning, he rolled two
bales of wool (his strength was very great) into the middle of the floor,
and on the top of these he placed another crosswise; he snatched up an
empty wool-pack, threw it like a mantle over his shoulders, jumped upon
the uppermost bale, and sat upon it. In a moment his whole form was
changed. His high shoulders dropped; he set his feet close together,
heel to heel and toe to toe; he laid his arms and hands close alongside
of his body, the palms following his thighs; he held his head high but
quite straight, and his eyes stared right in front of him; but he frowned
horribly, and assumed an expression of face that was positively fiendish.
At the best of times Chowbok was very ugly, but he now exceeded all
conceivable limits of the hideous. His mouth extended almost from ear to
ear, grinning horribly and showing all his teeth; his eyes glared, though
they remained quite fixed, and his forehead was contracted with a most
malevolent scowl.

I am afraid my description will have conveyed only the ridiculous side of
his appearance; but the ridiculous and the sublime are near, and the
grotesque fiendishness of Chowbok’s face approached this last, if it did
not reach it. I tried to be amused, but I felt a sort of creeping at the
roots of my hair and over my whole body, as I looked and wondered what he
could possibly be intending to signify. He continued thus for about a
minute, sitting bolt upright, as stiff as a stone, and making this
fearful face. Then there came from his lips a low moaning like the wind,
rising and falling by infinitely small gradations till it became almost a
shriek, from which it descended and died away; after that, he jumped down
from the bale and held up the extended fingers of both his hands, as one
who should say “Ten,” though I did not then understand him.

For myself I was open-mouthed with astonishment. Chowbok rolled the
bales rapidly into their place, and stood before me shuddering as in
great fear; horror was written upon his face–this time quite
involuntarily–as though the natural panic of one who had committed an
awful crime against unknown and superhuman agencies. He nodded his head
and gibbered, and pointed repeatedly to the mountains. He would not
touch the grog, but, after a few seconds he made a run through the wool-
shed door into the moonlight; nor did he reappear till next day at dinner-
time, when he turned up, looking very sheepish and abject in his civility
towards myself.

Of his meaning I had no conception. How could I? All I could feel sure
of was, that he had a meaning which was true and awful to himself. It
was enough for me that I believed him to have given me the best he had
and all he had. This kindled my imagination more than if he had told me
intelligible stories by the hour together. I knew not what the great
snowy ranges might conceal, but I could no longer doubt that it would be
something well worth discovering.

I kept aloof from Chowbok for the next few days, and showed no desire to
question him further; when I spoke to him I called him Kahabuka, which
gratified him greatly: he seemed to have become afraid of me, and acted
as one who was in my power. Having therefore made up my mind that I
would begin exploring as soon as shearing was over, I thought it would be
a good thing to take Chowbok with me; so I told him that I meant going to
the nearer ranges for a few days’ prospecting, and that he was to come
too. I made him promises of nightly grog, and held out the chances of
finding gold. I said nothing about the main range, for I knew it would
frighten him. I would get him as far up our own river as I could, and
trace it if possible to its source. I would then either go on by myself,
if I felt my courage equal to the attempt, or return with Chowbok. So,
as soon as ever shearing was over and the wool sent off, I asked leave of
absence, and obtained it. Also, I bought an old pack-horse and
pack-saddle, so that I might take plenty of provisions, and blankets, and
a small tent. I was to ride and find fords over the river; Chowbok was
to follow and lead the pack-horse, which would also carry him over the
fords. My master let me have tea and sugar, ship’s biscuits, tobacco,
and salt mutton, with two or three bottles of good brandy; for, as the
wool was now sent down, abundance of provisions would come up with the
empty drays.

Everything being now ready, all the hands on the station turned out to
see us off, and we started on our journey, not very long after the summer
solstice of 1870.