A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War/Chapter 13
Dearest Nell,—We have had a long and most interesting day, and I am pretty well tired out. Still I must begin a journal letter to-night, as we start again at daybreak, and I am sure you will wish for a detailed account of our trip.
This morning at 8 a.m. we started on the grand tour de l'île. All the luggage of the party had been sent on ahead in heavy fourgons, as had also the band of the Magicienne, consisting of twenty sailors, in a couple of char à bancs. Tahitian outriders, carrying the flag of the district, preceded Ariiaue, now King Pomare V., who led our procession, in a high dog-cart, accompanied by his brother Tamatoa, and his little nephew Hinoi, son of the late Prince Joinville. Then followed Admiral Serre, M. Hardouin, the A.D.C., and myself, in a comfortable open carriage, and capital horses. Queen Marau came next, with her lovely little sister Manihinihi, and Moë's child, Terii-Mae-Vaetua, who is next in the succession. Sundry and divers vehicles followed, containing about twenty French officers, Mr Barff as interpreter, and Joseph Miller.
The weather was perfect—not too hot; a brisk trade-wind brought the sea roaring and tumbling in heavy breakers on the coral-reef, about a mile from the shore, where our road skirted the calm lagoon, so blue and peaceful and still. We drove through districts which seemed like one vast orchard of mango, bread-fruit, banana, faes, large orange-trees, lemons, guavas, citrons, papawas, vanilla, coffee, sugar-cane, maize, and cocoa-palm,—together forming a succession of the very richest foliage it is possible to conceive. Sometimes we amused ourselves by counting such few trees as are not fruit-bearing. Here and there the broad grass roads are edged with avenues of tall plantains,—very handsome in a dead calm, but too delicate to endure the rough wooing of these riotous trade-winds, which tear the huge leaves to ribbons, so that the avenues are apt to have a disjasket look.
Even the commonest crops are attractive,—the Indian corn and the sugar, each growing to a height of eight or ten feet, with long leaves like gigantic grass, and pendent tassels of delicate pink silk.
We halted at various points, where deputations had assembled to welcome the king, and about eleven o'clock reached Punavia,—a lovely spot on the sea-shore, at the mouth of a beautiful valley, above which towers Le Diadème (that same crown-shaped mountain which I told you is so grand as seen from Fautawa valley).
Of course I had not failed to bring my large sketching-blocks; and, thanks to the kindness of Mr Green, I had been able to replace my mildewed paper by a store of French paper, sold by the Government offices at Papeete as unfit for use; but to me, after long experience of Fijian mildew, it proved an unspeakable prize. M. Fayzeau, himself a graceful artist, helped me quickly to select the very best spot for a sketch,—from near a ruined French fort on the shore. Two small forts, further up the valley recalled the days when Tahiti made her brave but unavailing struggle for independence.
Ere long we were summoned to breakfast,—a native feast in a native house, which was decorated in most original style, with large patchwork quilts. These are the joy and pride of the Tahitian women, and so artistic in design as to be really ornamental.
To speak correctly, I should call this repast a faamuraa—i.e., a feeding: our fish should have been wrapped in plantain-leaves, and broiled on the embers; the pigs baked on hot stones in earth ovens, where the peeled bread-fruit and bunches of faes, or mountain-plantain, should likewise have been cooked; and the only salt provided should have been a little sea-water in a cocoa-nut shell. But Tahiti has gone ahead so fast, that I cannot answer for how things are done nowadays. I know that, instead of vegetable plates—i.e., layers of large round hybiscus-leaves—we ate off foreign plates, with knives and forks of best electro-plate, and drank our red wine from clearest crystal glasses, and snowy napkins were not forgotten.
There was a considerable consumption of raw fish, which is considered a very great delicacy, and one for which many foreigners acquire a strong liking. There is no accounting for tastes. King Ariiaue, who takes great care of me at meals, has been trying to teach me this enjoyment, and on my objecting, declares it is mere prejudice, as of course I eat oysters raw—we might almost say alive. To this I can answer nothing, well remembering the savage delight with which we have often knocked our own oysters off rocks and branches, and swallowed them on the instant! But then they are so small, and some of these fish are very large. Perhaps one's instinctive objection is to their size. Those most in favour are of a most exquisite green colour.
During breakfast, and afterwards, the glee-singers of the district sang himènes, which are the national music—most strange and beautiful part-songs. Afterwards dancing was suggested; but only a few men volunteered to show us the Upa-upa—i.e., the old national dance—which is merely an exceedingly ungraceful wriggle, involving violent exertion, till every muscle quivers, and the dancer retires panting, and in a condition of vulgar heat. It is the identical dance which we saw at the Arab wedding at Port Said, and in various other countries—always an unpleasant exhibition. Happily the band struck up some gay air, which delighted the people; and it continued to play till four o'clock, when our procession again formed, and another lovely drive along the shore brought us to Paea.
This is a charmingly situated hamlet of clean, comfortable houses, only divided from the white coral-sand by a belt of green turf and fine old iron-wood trees. Here our night quarters were assigned to us; and certainly we are in clover. I am now sitting in "my own room"—one of four good bed-rooms, opening off a large centre room,—all fresh and clean, and gay with bright quilts and snowy linen. The king and queen, and all the officers, and the band, have their quarters in different houses.
But the pride of the district is its very large house for public entertainment,—a long building, rounded at both ends like the Tongan houses, with heavy thatch, and very light bamboo sides, quite transparent. Here dinner was laid, in European style, for 300 guests,—an upper table at one end, where the chiefs of the district entertained the royal party. Other tables were ranged down each side of the building,—each family in the neighbourhood undertaking to provide for one, and there assemble their own friends. The whole great building is beautifully decorated in Tahitian style, with palm-leaves and tree-ferns, and festoons of deep fringe, made of hybiscus fibre, all dyed either yellow or white: there must be miles of this fringe on that house. Yellow is happily admitted in Court mourning; so the majority of the people have either a yellow neck-tie, or some yellow flowers in their hats—a symptom of mitigated affliction, to express the pleasure that now mingles in their grief for the good queen.
"Le Roi est mort,—Vive le Roi!"
But everywhere we find all the people clothed in long black robes, with black hats and cropped hair, instead of the customary bright colours, long glossy tresses, and gay wreaths. Here, even the district flag-staff is adorned with a deep fringe of black fibre.
We went to dinner in most orthodox fashion, the admiral conducting Marau, and Ariiaue taking me. The feast was warranted to be entirely à l'indigène,—all native dishes; but its great charm consisted in the table decorations, which were most ingenious and effective. Apparently each table had a series of white marble centre-vases, which, on close inspection, proved to be graduated lumps of the thick fleshy banana-stalk. In these were arranged all manner of artificial flowers, made of coloured leaves, or of the glossy white arrowroot fibre, or bamboo fibre, which are used in making wreaths and hats; and from some there floated a silvery plume of the lightest silky film, like fairy ribbons. This is the snowy reva-reva, extracted from the interior of young cocoa-palm leaves—a difficult operation, requiring the neatest hand and long practice. As yet, I cannot produce more than a few inches unbroken. The worker keeps a split stick, stuck in the ground beside her, and into its cleft fastens one end of each ribbon as she peels it, otherwise the faintest breath of air would blow it away. It is the loveliest gossamer you can imagine.
At the end of the feast Tamatoa gave the example of adorning his own hat and those of his neighbours with these lovely plumes, and all the pretty arrowroot and bamboo flowers. Then we adjourned to the grassy shore, and watched the clear full moon rise from the calm sea, while the glee-singers sang their soft beautiful choruses. A few men and one or two women began the same hideous dance with which they had favoured the company in the forenoon, but they met with small encouragement, and the singers carried the day—or rather the night.
I wish it were possible for me to describe Tahitian himènes so as to give you the faintest shadow of an idea of their fascination. But the thing is utterly impossible. Nothing you have ever heard in any other country bears the slightest resemblance to these wild exquisite glees, faultless in time and harmony, though apparently each singer introduces any variations that occur to him or her.
The musicians sit on the grass—or the mats, as the case may be,—in two divisions, arranged in rows so as to form two squares. A space is left between these where the "conductor," should there chance to be one, walks up and down, directing the choruses. But very often there is no leader, and apparently all sing according to their own sweet will. One voice commences: it may be an old native tune, with genuine native words (the meaning of which we had better not inquire), or it may be a Scriptural story versified, and sung to an air originally imported from Europe, but so completely Tahitianised that no mortal could recognise it, which is all in its favour; for the wild melodies of this isle are beyond measure fascinating.
After one clause of solo, other voices strike in—here, there, everywhere—in harmonious chorus. It seems as if one section devoted themselves to pouring forth a rippling torrent of Ra, ra, ra-ra-ra! while others burst into a flood of La, la, la-la-la! Some confine their care to sound a deep booming bass in a long-continued drone, somewhat suggestive (to my appreciative Highland ear) of our own bagpipes. Here and there high falsetto notes strike in, varied from verse to verse, and then the choruses of La and Ra come bubbling in liquid melody; while the voices of the principal singers now join in unison, now diverge as widely as it is possible for them to do, but all combine to produce the quaintest, most melodious, rippling glee that ever was heard. Some himènes have an accompaniment of measured hand-clapping, by hundreds of those present. It is curious in its way, chiefly as a triumph of perfect time, but I do not think it attractive. The clear mellifluous voices need no addition; and as they ring out suddenly and joyously, in the cool evening, I can imagine no sound more inspiriting.
To-night our party received a pleasant addition, the queen's two sisters, Moetia and Prie, having driven over from Papeete, on their way to join their mother, Mrs Salmon, who, as high chiefess of the next district, is to receive her daughter to-morrow morning.
All the time I have been writing to you, there have been occasional bursts of himène singing, and of the far less musical accompaniment of the Upa-upa; but now quiet reigns, so I may as well sleep while I can. Good-night.
This morning we were all astir at 5 a.m., and had early coffee on the cool verandah. All the luggage was started by 6 o'clock, and then I had a quiet hour's sketching from beneath one of the great iron-wood trees (casuarina). At 7 o'clock our procession started; every one cheery and good-tempered; on every side hearty greetings—"Yarra na! Yarra na!" and sounds of careless laughter, and merry voices. There is certainly a great charm in this pretty liquid language, and in the gentle affectionate manner of the people, who seem to be overflowing with genial kindliness.
As usual, our path lay through such bowers of endlessly varied foliage as to form one continuous panorama of delight. No painter's brush could produce such infinite shades of green as are here multiplied,—from the delicate tender hues of the silky young banana-leaves, ranging through every description of dark-green and bright-green, blue-green and sunlit yellow, till the eye is fain to rest on the sombre hair-like foliage of the iron-wood trees, which grow on the very brink of the sea, their long tresses literally drooping to the water.
We passed through plantations of coffee, not close-clipped as in Ceylon, but growing tall and rank, and overshadowed by cocoa-palms,—yet loaded with bright scarlet berries. The coffee shrubs are here made to do double duty, and serve as props for the vanilla, which is trained to creep all over them, its fragrant pods intermingling with the coffee cherries.
The broad road of soft green turf next led us through groves of luxuriant bread-fruit trees with large pale-green fruit, dark mango-trees and orange-trees alike laden with their half-ripe crop, and here and there we passed a fragrant rose-apple tree, the fruit of which tastes exactly like the scent of roses. But of all heavenly perfumes, commend me to the blossom of the Tahitian chestnut, a noble forest-tree, with rich dark foliage, standing out in strong relief from the cool grey-greens of the hybiscus, with the lemon-coloured blossoms, which clothes the base of the mountains.
Beyond that belt of cool shadow the great green hills tower in strange fantastic form, seamed by deep valleys, down which pour crystal streams, so numerous that the sparkling air seems to re-echo the musical voice of many waters. Every weird fantastic rock-pinnacle is draped by clinging vines, infinite in their variety, and all alike lovely; and the clear sunlight playing on the golden green of the mountain-summits, tells that even there, the same wealth of all things beautiful abounds.
This was the panorama that rose on our left hand as we drove along the shore. On our right, like a silver shield, lay the calm glittering lagoon, reflecting, as in a mirror, the grand masses of white cloud, and bounded by the long line of breakers, flashing as they dashed on the barrier-reef. Beyond these lay outspread the vast Pacific, its deep purple flecked with white crests, telling how briskly the trade-winds blew outside. And far on the horizon, the rugged peaks of Moorea rose, clear and beautiful, robed in ethereal lilac. Far above our heads the light fronds of the cocoa-palm interlaced, forming a fairy canopy, through which we looked up to the clearest blue heaven. I think it must be a cold unthankful heart that could so look up, without some echo of the Benedicite—
"O ye mountains and hills, ye seas and floods, all ye green things upon the earth,
Bless ye the Lord! praise Him and magnify Him for ever."
Two hours' drive brought us to Papara, where a very grand reception awaited the young king and queen. Mrs Salmon, the queen's mother, had assembled all her vassals in most imposing array; and a double row of himène singers lined the road, singing choruses of congratulation, taken up alternately on the right hand and on the left. The effect was very pretty. Many relations of the family had also assembled to greet their royal kinsfolk.
Very quaint handsome tiputas were presented to the king and the admiral. These are ceremonial garments, reaching from the neck to the knee, made from the fibre of bread-fruit bark, and covered with flowers and twists of the glossy arrowroot fibre, each stitched on separately. To the queen, the admiral, and myself, were presented most lovely crowns of the same silvery arrowroot; while for the gentlemen were provided garlands and necklaces of fragrant white or yellow blossoms, and charming hats of white bamboo fibre, manufactured by the ladies and their attendants.
I may as well tell you how the lovely arrowroot fibre is obtained. It is the inner coating of the flower-stalk, which is a hollow stem like that of hemlock, and grows to a height of about four feet. These stalks are soaked in running water till the green outer skin begins to decay. Then the stalk is laid on a flat wooden board, and a woman slits it open from end to end with a sharp shell, with which she then proceeds to scrape off every particle of green, and there remains a lovely ribbon, like very glossy white satin, ribbed longitudinally: with a sharp thorn she divides this into very narrow strips. And this is the material most in use in the art-world of Tahiti, being woven by deft fingers into all manner of pretty ornaments for hair, dress, and fans. Bamboo is prepared in much the same manner, but is a harsher material to work, and much less ornamental.
The house at Papara, and the large breakfast-room, were most tastefully decorated with great tree-ferns and bright yellow banana-leaves, plaited to form a sort of fringe. Wild melodious himènes were sung all the time of the feast, and afterwards the band played operatic airs till 3 o'clock, when we once more started on our journey.
In this district much cultivation has impaired the beauty of wild nature. Large tracts of land have been laid out for scientific planting of cotton and coffee; and after all, the fields have been abandoned, the crops left to run wild, and are now rank straggling bushes struggling for life with the overmastering vines. In itself the cotton is a pretty shrub, its yellow blossom with claret-coloured heart closely resembling the lemon-coloured hybiscus, while its bursting pods offer their soft white fluff to all comers. But a softer, silkier cotton for stuffing pillows, is that obtained from the tall cotton-tree, with the scarlet blossom and long green pod.
We halted at the melancholy deserted plantation of Atiamano, which in very recent years was the home of the manager for the Tahiti Cotton and Coffee Plantation Company—a reckless speculator with the capital intrusted to him. Never was there a truer illustration of the proverb concerning cutting broad thongs from other men's leather.
Mr William Stewart, an ex-cavalry officer, arrived in Tahiti about the year 1860, and obtained the sanction of the French governor for the purchase of a very large property, to which he gave the name of Terre Eugénie, and at once commenced every species of improvement. First-class roads, high cultivation, hotels which never paid, because of the princely hospitality freely offered to all comers in his own splendid country-house;—these, with his genial friendliness and good fellowship, naturally made him the most popular man in Tahiti, and one whose praises have been sung by all travellers. To work the estates he imported about 1000 Chinamen, and 300 "foreign labour" from the Central Pacific and the Hervey Isles; and to those he is said to have been a kind master, caring for them in sickness as in health, by the provision of good hospitals.
Of course there were not lacking enemies who grudged Mr Stewart his apparent success, and many were the virulent attacks made upon him by other settlers in the group. Specimens of very inferior cotton were circulated in Europe, purporting to be samples of the finest growth of Atiamano; and sensational paragraphs appeared in various American papers, describing the infamous cruel ties of which he and his overseers were declared guilty towards their wretched labourers. So damaging were these attacks, that Mr Stewart demanded a public inquiry, which was granted by the French Governor, when all these accusations were proved to be iniquitous libels. The little army of 1300 workmen were found to be unusually healthy and happy; and the only serious complaint made to the commissioners was by the Chinamen, who considered it most unfair of Mr Stewart to object to their committing suicide by hanging, as the easiest way of paying their gambling debts!
This cloud of aspersions having been effectually disproved, everything looked fair on the surface till, in an evil day, the shareholders began to take alarm. No title-deeds were forthcoming. All capital had evaporated utterly, and in 1874 the luckless manager died miserably, and the great bubble burst. Now the whole place is falling to ruin, and a more miserable sight I have rarely seen. A certain number of the Chinamen still remain— they, of course, can always contrive to pick up a living somehow—but the bulk of the large village of wooden houses, once tenanted by master and men, now stands empty, the plantation is utterly neglected, the cotton-fields are all overgrown with guava scrub, and the whole place is a picture of desolation; nothing flourishes save the long avenue of plantains, which, Tahiti fashion, are planted on either side of the road.
It seems strange that no enterprising person should have stepped in to buy up the estate which, at the time of Mr Stewart's death, was in such good working order; but, like everything else in this country, it has suffered from the meddling propensities of the French Government, which, when the estate was declared bankrupt, fixed on it an upset price so exorbitant, that no purchaser has yet been found, nor is any likely to come forward.
We have now got into the true orange country. Some of the trees here are much larger than the parent trees, which we saw near Sydney; and yet, as compared with the orange-groves of Malta, we thought the Australian trees were perfect giants—that is to say, we could walk upright under their lowest branches. The whole air is perfumed with the fragrant blossoms, and boughs have been gathered to adorn our rooms.
Here, though the dining-hall is as fine as in other districts, the sleeping quarters are less inviting, so Marau offered me a room in the house assigned to her. Being a native house (i.e., not built of wood, as many now are), it is rather like living in a bamboo cage, exceedingly airy and transparent; but it is lined with temporary curtains, so we are screened from the general public. This afternoon we strolled along the coast till we found a most delightful bathing place, where the Anapu, a clear delicious river, flows into the sea. The two pretty girls, Manihinihi and Vaetua, of course bore us company, as also the queen's handmaid, who was laden with pareos and towels; the pareo being simply a couple of fathoms of bright-coloured calico, which, knotted over one shoulder, forms an efficient and picturesque bathing-gown.
We returned just in time for such a fish-dinner as Greenwich never equalled. Fish of all sorts and kinds (cooked and raw to suit all tastes), excellent lobsters and crabs, huge fresh-water prawns, delicate little oysters, which grow on the roots and branches of the mangrove, which fringes some muddy parts of the shore. But most excellent of all is another product of the briny mud, altogether new to me—a hideous but truly delicious white cray-fish (cankrelat de mer, my French friends call it, varo or wurrali in Tahitian). We have all registered a solemn vow never to lose a chance of a varo feast. Then there were shell-fish and salads, and many other good things. The tables were decorated in a manner quite in keeping with the dishes served, with pillars of white banana root-stem, just like alabaster, with a fringe of large prawns at the top, and a frieze of small lobsters below—a very effective study of scarlet and white.
After the feast we all sat out in the moonlight, listening to the himène singing, which, I need scarcely say, was lovely. But of course some districts excel, and have finer voices, more practice, and a better conductor.
I have just been told that we are only thirty-five miles from Papeete. We have taken the journey in such enjoyably short stages, that we have certainly made the most of our distance. Now we are approaching the southern peninsula, which is connected with this, the main isle, by a comparatively low wide ridge. This we are to cross to-morrow.
This morning at daybreak the admiral went off to attend Mass, and then examine the schools. He seems inclined to administer very even-handed justice between the Catholics and Protestants, which does not greatly gratify some of the priests. We spent the morning pleasantly strolling about the village of bird-cage houses embowered in the orange-groves, and gay with rosy oleanders and crimson hybiscus.
At eight we started. The weather was threatening; and soon heavy rain came on, which mocked our waterproofs, and gave us a thorough soaking, which we all bore philosophically, only regretting that we drove through a most lovely ferny pass at a moment when all our umbrellas were striving to exclude the rain, in which they failed, and only succeeded in hiding the view.
Near the village of Papeari we found all the children of the Catholic school, headed by a very pleasant, keen-looking young priest; drawn up with the himène singers to welcome the king and the admiral. Of course they were all drenched, but none the less musical. At the head of the singers stood Marau's aunt, Minito, a true Tahitian chiefess, sister to Mrs Salmon, and widow of Mr Sumner, a Sandwich Island half-white.
The rain having ceased, we all walked together to Mrs Sumner's house, where we were partially dried—no fear of fever in this blessed climate. We then proceeded to the large cheferie, where breakfast was prepared in the usual style—the house prettily decorated with flags, tree-ferns, and plaited cocoa-palm leaves. The tables were all adorned with ornaments made of the solid white banana-stalk, in which were set branches of thorny lemon, and on each thorn were stuck different blossoms, scarlet or yellow hybiscus, canna, and gardenia. When we were seated, women came round bearing garlands of the delicate artificial arrowroot flowers, and crowned every one of us. Many of the party had already secured filmy plumes of the snowy reva-reva; and the majority of the women, following the good example of Marau, no longer pretend to have cut off their beautiful hair, but now wear it in two long jet-black tresses, adorned with gardenias or such other fragrant blossoms as they may find. With flowers as necklaces and ear-rings, the Court mourning is becoming less lugubrious.
After breakfast, himènes as usual, with interludes of most hideous dancing. There is never any variety, always the same utterly ungraceful wriggle. Happily the band generally comes to the rescue, with some attractive air, which puts the dancers to flight. There never seem to be more than two or three, and these do it as a professional exhibition—as a curious relic of olden times.
It does seem strange (accustomed as I now am to the endlessly varied and most graceful dances of the Fijians) to find that these Tahitians have apparently no notion of dancing, except this Upa-upa, which for many years was discountenanced by the chiefs, in their first anxiety to put away every trace of heathenism. But under French influence it has been revived; and though the more respectable natives consider it an objectionable exhibition, and one in which few care to join, a certain number of dancers crop up at every village where we halt: their position, however, appears to be no higher than that of strolling jugglers at English fairs.
In heathen days the Upa-upa was the distinguishing dance of an atrocious sect called the Areois—religious fanatics and libertines of the vilest order, who were held in reverent awe by the people, and allowed every sort of privilege. They travelled from village to village in very large companies, sometimes filling from fifty to eighty canoes. Whenever they landed great sacrifices were offered to the gods; and for so long as they chose to remain in one place, they were the honoured guests of the chief, and had to be provided for by the villagers, whom they entertained by acting pantomimes and reciting legends of the very unholy gods, singing songs in their honour, wrestling, gesticulating, and dancing, till they worked themselves up to a pitch of frenzy which was considered religious, and the night was spent in wild orgies. Their full dress on these occasions generally consisted only of a little scarlet and black dye; the seeds of the vermilion-plant and charcoal furnishing the materials. At other times they wore kilts of the yellow dracæna and wreaths of scarlet Barringtonia.
They were divided into distinct classes, distinguished by the manner in which they were tattooed. The lowest class had merely a circle round the ankle; the next had one stripe on the left side; the third was marked on each shoulder; the fourth on both sides, round the body; the fifth was tattooed from the fingers to the shoulders, and the leaders were adorned with stockings of the same. The imprinting of these indelible class-marks was part of a religious festival, at which great offerings of food and goods were presented to the gods, and to these their servants, and on this one occasion women, were allowed freely to partake of the feast, and to eat of the meat which had been offered in sacrifice, which at other times they dared not touch without incurring the penalty of death.
The most horrible feature of this society was, that by its primary law no Areoi was allowed to rear his offspring. Celibacy was by no means enjoined—very much the reverse; indeed each Areoi had an acknowledged wife, who was a member of the society: but of the innumerable children of these favoured sinners, not one was ever suffered to live; and any person desiring to enter the holy brotherhood, was required in the first instance to murder any children he might already have. The sect was supposed to have been divinely instituted, and its members were sure of admission to the Rohutu noa-noa, or fragrant paradise, in which the blessed were to spend an eternity of feasting, with every delight that heart or flesh could desire.
The total extinction of this society was one of the most marked triumphs of Christianity in this group; and the early missionaries record with thankful wonder, that many Areois were among their earliest and most zealous converts and steady adherents, and became hard-working and successful teachers and native missionaries, striving with their whole energy to counteract the evils in which they had hitherto been prime movers.
Such being the associations connected with this most unattractive dance, it certainly is strange to read the regrets, expressed by various travellers, that the missionaries should have seen fit to discourage it, as if in so doing they had deprived the people of some delightful pleasure. It is a very different thing from the beautiful and artistic dances of Fiji, which the Wesleyan Mission have so wisely encouraged the people to retain, even at their school and church festivals.
This afternoon was clear and bright, and the drive to the isthmus and then up the ridge was very beautiful. Part of the road lay through a real jungle of large orange-trees laden with ripe fruit. I need not say how we feasted; as did also herds of many pigs, that wander at large through these enchanting thickets, and find an ample supply of fruit which falls unheeded on the grass—true windfalls! It is from these groves that cargoes of several hundred thousand oranges are carried to San Francisco by every opportunity.
Imagine the joy of some poor ragged-school child, whose one treat is an orange at Christmas, and whose home is in the slums of any of our horrible cities, could it but wake to find itself in this elysium. I remember Dr Guthrie's ragged schools coming to spend one day at Winton Castle with dear old Lady Ruthven, and the teachers told me that there were many children present who had never before in their short lives set foot in the country. Would that they could all be transported for a while to the orange-groves of Tahiti!
To-day we also passed some large vanilla plantations, in admirable order. The vanilla is a creeper, and is planted at the foot of some shady shrub, up which it climbs and twines among the branches. To economise labour and space, two crops are combined, by training the vanilla over either coffee-bushes or the vermilion-tree, which carries its bright seeds in small pods. The vanilla itself is a precarious crop, requiring much watchful care at each stage of its growth, which, however, it well repays, as it fetches four dollars per pound. Moreover, it is a fragrant harvest.
This place is a military station; the French have a fort here, and some soldiers. I believe that political offenders are sent to Taravou to expiate their supposed misdeeds within its walls. M. de Damian, commandant of the fort, had provided comfortable quarters for the admiral and his party at his own house, and an excellent room was most kindly assigned to me. Marau and Ariiaue have gone on to another village, where we are to join them in the morning.
The French soldiers here employ some of their leisure hours in the care of a garden, which rewards them with excellent vegetables and glorious roses. I had the delight of arranging delicious nose-gays for the dinner-table this evening, and have a lovely bunch of roses now beside me.
It is again raining heavily, but we rejoice thereat, for generally a deluge of rain at night is followed by a clear balmy morning, and all the lovely vegetation appears in its freshest glory.
Now I must bid you good-night.