A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War/Chapter 1

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Nasova, Fiji, 5th Sept. 1877.

My dear Eisa,—I have only time for a line, to enclose a packet of seed of a lovely shrub which bears clusters of golden bells. Also to tell you that I am just starting for a cruise in a French man-of-war, the Seignelay, commanded by Captain Aube, who is taking Monseigneur Elloi, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Samoa, a round of his diocese. Both are exceedingly pleasant, and have made themselves much liked here. The officers are a particularly gentleman-like set. Judge of my amazement (accustomed to the rigid regulations of the English navy), when these, as one man, echoed an invitation given to me by the commander, to go for a cruise over half the South Seas, where they purpose touching at many isles, which I could by no possibility have any other chance of seeing. Several of these most kind friends had placed their cabins at the disposal of the captain, that he might offer me whichever he considered most suitable. For the first day or two after this invitation was made, we all treated it as a pleasant joke, never imagining that it could be quite in earnest; but when at length we all became convinced that it really was so, we agreed that there really could be no reason for refusing so rare a chance of an expedition, which will be to me most delightful.

So I am actually to embark this afternoon, Lady Gordon and dear little sailor Jack, and Captain Knollys, accompanying me on board, to see me fairly started.

This evening we sail for the Friendly Isles (Tonga), and thence proceed to the Navigator's Isles (Samoa), where there have been serious disturbances, and where my friend Mrs Liardet, wife of the British Consul, has for some time had about thirty chiefs living in sanctuary in her house. I have long promised to visit her, should an opportunity arise, so this is an admirable one. I shall probably take a return passage thence in a German ship, and rejoin Lady Gordon at Loma Loma, a point in this group, about one hundred miles from here.

My French friends urge my going on to Tahiti, the loveliest isle in the South Seas; but the utter uncertainty of how to get back thence, either here or to Tasmania, where Lady Gordon hopes to spend Christmas, makes me hesitate. If I could reach the Sandwich Isles, I should then be on the direct line of the Pacific mail-steamers; but Tahiti is utterly out of the world, and till the Seignelay arrives there, she will not receive her further orders, and may perhaps be sent to Valparaiso, which has no attractions for me. So my line of march is at present somewhat undecided. I think I shall almost certainly return here from Samoa; but as B. long ago said, of my wandering propensities, that I was just like a knotless thread, I may perhaps slip through, and you may hear of my vanishing into space!

This place is looking lovely. It has improved wonderfully in these two years, and has become so very homelike and pleasant, that I quite grudge leaving it, with even the vague feeling of uncertainty which attaches to any long journey; and though we all expect to return here, after a winter in Tasmania, still, so many contingencies may arise, that one always feels a home in the colonies to be a very insecure tenure.

Now I must finish my packing, which requires a good deal of consideration in case it should turn out that my locomotive demon urges me onward, and that I do visit the Hawaiian Isles, and then Tasmania, ere returning here.

I wish you could see my room here, now. It really is a museum—the walls covered with trophies of all the strange Fijian things I have collected during the last two years, I have just finished a series of about sixty studies of Fijian pottery, representing a hundred and fifty pieces, all different, and made without any wheel, by the wives of the poor fishermen. Some of the forms are most artistic, and the colour is very rich. No time for more. I will write next from Tonga.