A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War/Chapter 15
I have had a day after my own heart. In the early morning Mr Green drove me to the foot of the semaphore hill, up which I toiled, and gave myself into the care of the old sailor who lives there, watching the horizon for the first glimpse of a sail, and then hoists signals by which the good folk of Papeete learn from what direction the new-comer may be expected. Then, as she draws nearer, the signals reveal her class and her nationality.
I remained for several hours, working up an elaborate drawing, begun soon after my arrival. The view of the town and harbour, as seen from this point, is truly lovely, and the effect of a coral-reef, as you look down on it from a height, is always fascinating. Every conceivable tint seems to play beneath the surface—browns and golds blending with pale aqua-marine and sparkling emerald, while turquoise and cerulean pass into delicate lilac and purply blue. The reef appears from the semaphore to lie in the form of a horse-shoe, so that it literally suggests a rainbow beneath the waters.
By the time Mr Green came to drive me back to breakfast, I was truly glad to escape from the blazing sun, and to rest in this pleasant home during the hot hours.
Late in the afternoon Narii lent us a boat, in which we rowed out to the reef, always to me one of the most enchanting ploys that can be conceived; and here it gains an additional charm from an extraordinary phenomenon in the tides, which I am told occurs throughout the Society Isles, but in no other place that I ever heard of—namely, that they never vary from one year's end to another. Day after day they ebb and flow with unchanging regularity. At noonday and at midnight the tide is invariably at the full; while at sunrise and sunset—in other words, at six o'clock morning and evening—throughout the year, it is low water. The rise and fall rarely exceeds two feet; but periodically, at an interval of about six months, a mighty sea comes rolling in from the west or south-west, and, sweeping over the reef, bursts violently on the shore.
I do not know whether any scientific theory has been propounded concerning this tidal eccentricity, which is perhaps the most remarkable thing connected with the group.
I believe some writers have tried to account for it by reference to the trade-winds, which blow so steadily at certain hours of the day; but these must have been very inaccurate observers, as the tides rise and fall with equal regularity in the most sultry calm or the most riotous sea-breeze. In fact they are sometimes rather higher in dead calms, and on the leeward side of the isles, which are sheltered from the trade-winds. In any case, these blow only in the daytime, and die away entirely at night. Curiously enough, they do not even affect the periodical flood-tides, or rather tidal waves, of which I spoke just now, as these invariably come from the westward, whereas the trade-winds blow steadily from the east. So punctual is the daily rise and fall of the tides, that the accustomed eyes of the people can discern the hour of the day by a glance at the shore or the reef, as at a marine chronometer, which here never loses or gains time.
The peculiar charm of this, as concerns the reef, is that the low tide, which is the hour of delight, always occurs at the coolest hours of morning and evening, so there is no temptation to incur sunstroke by exposure to the noontide rays. And the reef at Tahiti is, beyond all question, the richest I have seen. It seems to me that all the marvels of the Fijian reef are here reproduced on a magnified scale—the mysterious zoophytes are larger, their colours more intense, the forms of the fish more varied and eccentric, and their scaly dress striped and zigzagged with patterns like those on an ingenious clown, or perhaps suggestive of quaint heraldry.
To-night I saw some gigantic specimens of that wonderful starfish we first found in Fiji, with fifteen arms covered with very sharp grey and orange spines like those of an echinus, and an underside of pale-yellow fleshy feelers with suckers like those of the sea-anemone—a marvellously uncanny-looking compound. I also saw thousands of prickly sea-urchins of divers sorts, from the heavy acrocladia, with spikes as large as your fingers and heavy as stone, to the very brittle species no larger than a pigeon's egg, and covered with piercing needles five or six inches long—a particularly unpleasant creature to step upon, especially with bare feet, as the natives have. These echini are of all colours, from the richest maroon and claret to purple and blue. Some are suggestive of large full-blown thistles, and all more or less resemble hedgehogs or porcupines. One very delicate flat kind is pure white, and marked on the back with a very finely traced double star.
Some of the water-snakes are very beautifully marked with blue, gold, or green bars on a velvety black ground; they glide and coil themselves in and out of the coral branches. I was much struck by the immense size of some sea-anemones, as large as a wash-hand basin: these also, are of all sorts of colours. These are the chosen play-fellows of most exquisite tiny fish, like morsels of black velvet, with a pattern exactly like a fairy peacock's feather on either gill. Not one of these exceeded two inches in length; and I watched a shoal of about thirty playing hide-and-seek among the feelers of the polype. You can hardly conceive anything so fascinating as the glimpses of fairyland to be obtained by allowing your boat to float at will in the shallowest possible water, while you peer down into the wonder-world beneath you, where the many-tinted corals, sea-weeds, and zoophytes, form wonderful gardens, of which the brilliant blue star-fish, and strangely beautiful sea-anemones, are the gay blossoms.
The butterflies which woo these flowers of the sea are shoals of the most exquisite minute fishes, which dart through the crystal water like rays of opal. Now it is a group of turquoise blue, like forget-me-nots of the deep, and as they vanish among green sea-weeds, out flash a merry party primrose-coloured. Then come a little family of richest Albert blue, which pause a moment to greet their little friends the pure gold-fish; and as these glide in between the rock-ledges, up swims a joyous little shoal of delicate pale-green fish, with perhaps a tiny silvery eel or two; and some there are pure scarlet, others bright blue streaked with scarlet. These and a thousand more, varying in form as in colour, but all alike minute, are among the tempting beauties which make me always wish you were with me, that I might hear your raptures of delight.
There are some most attractive gold-fish with broad bands of black, which terminate in wing-like fins; and others, still more fascinating, are silvery, with a delicate rosy flush. Some are yellow, striped with violet; others are pure scarlet, spotted with cobalt. I think my favourites are bright turquoise blue with a gold collar. Then there are some very large fish of the glossiest green, and others of a dazzling crimson. But the most distingué-looking fishes are those which temper their gay colours with bands or zigzags of black velvet. Their forms are as varied as their colours, long or short, round, flat, or triangular.
While these flash and dart in and out of their forest sanctuary, you may see large shells travelling over the coral-ledges, a good deal faster than you would suppose possible, till you see that they are tenanted by large hermit-crabs. Other crabs are in their own lawful shells, as are also the wary lobsters; and here and there are scattered some rare shells, such as we see in collections at home, and suppose to be quite common in the tropics, where, however, as a rule, they are only obtained by professional divers. Of course such as are washed up on the shore are dead shells, utterly worthless.
Quite apart from the mere delight to the eyes of gazing at these varied beauties, the reef has its useful aspect in regard to the commissariat. At every low tide a crowd of eager fishers repair thither, to see what manner of supper awaits them.
Here, as in all these isles where wild animals do not exist, the sea furnishes the happy hunting-grounds of rich and poor. Swift canoes or boats take the place of hounds and horses; and the coral-reef affords as much delight to high and low, as a Scotch deer-forest or heathery moor does to the wealthy few in Britain.
Can you not fancy the thrilling excitement of standing on the brink of the reef watching the huge green billows rolling in with thunder roar, and curling their grand white crests ere dashing on the rock in cataracts of foam, carrying with them many a strange creature of the deep? For these the fisherman keeps keen watch, standing with spear all ready poised to strike whatever may come within his reach. But more exciting still is the fishing by torch-light on the dark moonless nights, when a torch made of dried weeds is carried in one hand, and the spear in the other, ready to strike the unwary fish, attracted by the glare. Small fish are caught with a different sort of spear, consisting of six or eight metal rods lashed to a long stick; when this is dexterously plunged into a shoal, some fish are pretty sure to be pinched and held firm.
Very often large parties go together to the reef, each bearing a flaming torch, and sometimes they fish for eels in the rivers in the same way. In either case the effect is most picturesque. I have seen the shallow lagoon just inside the reef all illuminated by these flashing lights, which tell where the canoes are gliding, and just reveal the statuesque figures at the prow, with uplifted torch and spear all ready poised: grand studies in bronze, as perfect models as sculptor could desire, and rich bits of colour for the artist who can render the warm ruddy glow, reflected by a well-oiled brown skin, with a background of dark sea and sky.
At other times the sport lies in some form of netting. A whole company of women assemble, laughing and chattering as only South Sea Islanders can. Perhaps a dozen are told off to carry a great net, which they sink when up to their necks in water; then forming a wide semicircle, they gradually approach the shore, lifting their net so as not to tear it on the rough coral-bed, and driving as many fish as they can enclose towards the shallow water, whence they can scoop them up in their little baskets, which they empty into larger ones slung from the waist. In this way myriads of tiny silvery fish are caught.
Sometimes the men adopt this method of driving larger fish into shallow water, and then spear them in the way I have just described. The best marksmen stand a little apart, watching keenly for any fish that may escape the net, and throwing their spears at such fugitives with almost unerring aim. It is a scene of immense excitement; and the fun of the sport is enhanced by the prospect of an abundant supper. For this sort of fishing seine-nets are made, 100 feet in length; or else several large nets, about 40 feet long by 12 deep, are joined together so as to enclose a very wide space.
Women carry small fine casting-nets in the hand, and throw them so dexterously as often to enclose a whole shoal of little fishes; some kinds are no bigger than whitebait. For larger fish, akin to herrings and salmon, various nets are made of different fibres, such as the hybiscus, banyan, or pandanus bark or flax, the two latter being the strongest and most durable. Sometimes two nets are thrown at the same time—an inner net with fine mesh, and an outer one much coarser—to resist any larger fish which might break through the inner one. They were weighted by stones wrapped in cocoa-nut fibre, and the floats are made of hybiscus-wood, which is found to be very buoyant. When the nets are brought ashore, they are hung up to dry on the trees and shrubs.
Nowadays the ordinary hooks of commerce have almost superseded the clumsy but efficacious hooks of pearl-shell or bone. Those used in fishing for dolphin or bonitos were formerly attached to a mother-of-pearl shank, about six inches long, carved to resemble a fish. Excellent wooden hooks were also made by twisting the young roots of the casuarina or iron-wood tree, and leaving them till they had grown to a suitable size. In old days, when sharks were considered a delicacy, they were beguiled by large wooden hooks from twelve to fifteen inches in length. Cuttle-fish are attracted by a bait very much resembling that used in Fiji, where an imitation of a rat is made of cowrie-shells. I do not know whether the Tahitians have a similar legend of the enmity between the rat and the cuttle-fish. Here the cowrie-shells are cut into pieces, and fastened one over another like the scales of an armadillo, and so made into an oval ball the size of a rat. This being attached to a strong line, is lowered from a canoe, and gently jerked so as to move like a living creature. The cuttle-fish, which lies safely ensconced in some hole in the rocks, throws out a long arm and lassoes its prey, the plated armour giving it a firmer grip. Failing to draw in this unknown variety of rat, it throws out another arm, and yet another, till at length it slips out of its stronghold, and is drawn to the surface, holding its prize firmly enlaced.
It is not "all fish that comes to the net" in these seas. Many which are wholesome at one season are downright poison during the months when the coral is said to be in "blossom;" during which time these fish crunch it with their strong teeth. Others become poisonous by feeding on sea-centipedes—curious creatures which twine themselves round the coral, and resemble yards of black string with myriad tiny legs. There are certain fish which may be eaten with impunity on one isle, and are positively deadly if caught on other reefs. The natives themselves have sometimes died by rashly trusting to their experience of their own fishing-grounds, and so venturing to eat the identical fish caught elsewhere. There are also certain sea-crabs which it is very unsafe to eat. Curiously enough, all varieties of land-crab are said to be good for food; but there is a white-shelled sea-crab which generally proves fatal, and is sometimes eaten as a means of committing suicide.
Even shell-collectors have to be wary how they handle the treasures they discover, as there are certain shell-fish which are armed with minute barbs, through which they inject virulent poison into the hand that touches them. The most dangerous of these is a beautiful cone, which has been known to cause death within a few hours. No sooner is it touched than a thrill of sharp pain flies up to the shoulder, and soon the body swells to an enormous size, and the hapless sufferer dies in agony.
Do you remember a somewhat similar case—though happily it did not prove fatal—which occurred on our own shores, when Mr Hope G—— incautiously picked up a large jelly-fish, which so poisoned his blood that weeks of torture ensued? These beautiful sea-thistles (sea-nettles rather) are not to be touched with impunity.
The men engaged in the bêche-de-mer fisheries find that those hideous gelatinous slugs which appear so very helpless, are also capable of inflicting severe pain. They resemble great sausages of dark-coloured india-rubber, black, grey, red, or greenish, inflated with sea-water. When touched, they eject this water with some violence, and if it falls on any wound or scratch it produces dangerous and agonising inflammation. The smallest drop squirted into the eye causes intolerable burning pain, and many of the tripang-fishers have their sight seriously injured from this cause.
But more noxious by far is the olive-green variety, which is commonly called the leopard, from being marked with orange-coloured spots. When this creature is touched it throws up glutinous filaments like darning-cotton, which not only adhere tenaciously to whatever they touch, but if they come in contact with the human skin, they instantly raise a painful burning blister and cause serious inflammation. Such being the case, it would appear discreet to leave these ugly creatures unmolested; but as they are accounted a great delicacy in China, and fetch from £80 to £100 per ton, the risk is considered worth incurring.
Another serious danger of the reef arises from the various voracious sea-eels, which coil themselves up in the interstices of the coral and dart out to seize any prey which comes within reach. I was severely bitten myself one day while incautiously feeling for small fish; but many natives have thus been maimed for life, the loss of a few fingers being a comparative trifle. I heard of one man in the Paumotu Isles who had the whole calf of his leg bitten off by a vaaroa, or long-mouthed eel, a reptile which attains a length of eight feet or more, and roams about the reef seeking what it may devour. It was formerly an object of worship, in common with the conger-eel; and bloody vengeance has on more than one occasion been taken by the heathen on such of their Christian neighbours as have presumed to eat this incarnate god.
About fifteen years ago, a party of about eighty persons reached Samoa, after drifting over the wide seas for several weeks. They had been driven away from the isle of Fakaofa, where several of their number had been killed in consequence of having eaten conger-eels, which the people of that isle held in reverence. Another fish-deity was the octopus, which in heathen days it would have been sacrilege to eat, but which is now recognised as excellent food. I have never tasted one myself, but I am told that, though it looks so gelatinous, it really is tough and unpalatable.
The girls catch delicate young cuttle-fish in the shallows on the reef; but sometimes the tables are turned and they are themselves caught by overgrown monsters, which lie concealed in deep holes in the coral, and throw out long arms covered with suckers, with which they grasp whatever lies within reach and drag it inward. Some of these measure fully six feet across the arms, from tip to tip; and many horrible stories are current among the fishers of their adventures with these hideous devil-fish. So fully do they recognise the possibility of danger, that they rarely go out alone to dive for these, or for clam-shells.
The latter have been known to close suddenly, and hold the invader prisoner till he or she was drowned; and the octopii have an unpleasant knack of throwing their arms so as to enfold an enemy, who vainly struggles to extricate himself from their hateful clasp: his arms are held powerless, and sometimes the hideous creature wraps itself round his head, so that death is inevitable unless haply his comrade comes to the rescue.
These fishers know the value of pouring oil on the waters as well as the poachers on our own Scottish rivers, or the oyster-fishers at Gibraltar and the Mediterranean generally, so they invariably carry in their canoes a measure of cocoa-nut oil. By sprinkling a few drops on the surface of the water, it becomes so perfectly smooth that they can see right down through its crystal depths, and detect the exact position of the creatures below. So, when a diver remains under water longer than usual, his friend in the canoe thus clears the surface, and, peering into the depths, ascertains what is going on, and, if need be, dives to the rescue.
Of course these are not the only dangers encountered by the fishers. There is the the ever-abiding dread of sharks, especially the awful white shark, which grows to about thirty feet in length, and is so fearless that it is frequently known to attack canoes and drag its victims into the water, either by seizing some carelessly outstretched limb or by overturning the canoe. It is a hideous animal, with gigantic mouth and with broad serrated teeth. I saw an enormous specimen hanging from the bows of a vessel which was lying at anchor in the harbour.
Even the small lagoon shark is not a pleasant fellow-swimmer, though it rarely exceeds six feet in length. It ventures into very shallow water, but makes its home in caves in the coral, in company with its kinsman. In all these isles it is considered good food; and in many of the groups (notably the New Hebrides and the Hervey Isles) the bold fishermen actually dive into the shark-caverns, contrive to pass a slip-knot round the tail of one of the sleepers, and instantly rise to the surface, when their companions haul the ugly monster, tail first, into the canoe, hitting him on the head with all possible speed. You can quite understand that this sort of fishing is by no means child's-play. Sometimes, when a diver has entered a cave, a shark will move so as to prevent his exit, and then his only chance of ever returning to the surface lies in the skill with which he can tickle or stroke the monster, so as to induce it to move aside. Of course he only dares to do this if the creature's tail is towards him. Should it have turned the other way, his fate is almost inevitably sealed, as the slightest movement on his part would reveal his presence and consign him to the shark's maw; and on the other hand, though he is himself wellnigh amphibious, a delay of a few seconds must cost his life.
One of the most unpleasant inmates of these waters is the stingaree or sting-ray, which is a large flat fish, the spine of which is prolonged to a sharp, barbed point, serrated on both sides. The swimmer who unluckily comes in contact with this weapon receives a dangerous wound, as the point probably breaks into his flesh, and works its way inward with every breath he draws.
Even the globe-fish is an uncomfortable neighbour. It is the hedgehog of the sea, covered with sharp horny spikes. It possesses the curious faculty of filling itself with air till it becomes a perfect ball, of the consistency of oiled parchment. Verily, those denizens of the deep are strange!
This morning, after a pleasant breakfast with Mrs Brander, M. Vernier called for me in his pony-phaeton, and we drove to visit Queen Pomare's tomb, or rather the house in which the royal dead of Tahiti are laid, and left for a while, till only bones and dust remain. Then a specially appointed official goes at dead of night and secretly carries the remains to some place—probably a cave in the mountains—where they are safely buried; only a very few trusted old adherents being allowed to know where they are laid. The mausoleum is a hideous little house, standing on a bare grass lawn by the sea. Till recently it was surrounded by a fine old grove of sacred casuarina-trees; but one unlucky day Ariiaue was short of money (cruel report says of brandy!), and he actually sold the venerated trees to some Goth, who cut them for common timber.
I fancy that the jealous mystery which enshrouds the final burial of royal bones may be traced to lingering traditions of witchcraft, or some kindred superstition connected with the ancient system of taboo, which prevailed throughout Polynesia, and entailed divers diseases, and even death, on those who rashly tampered with things belonging to high chiefs. The other day a man walked past this door carrying a bunch of roses. Mrs Green was going to take one, when a half-caste Tahitian cried out, "Oh, take care! they were gathered in the garden of ——," naming some one related to the royal family. I then learnt that to take anything belonging to royalty, or to wear a garment that has been worn by any of them, or even to lie on their bed, or rest the head on their pillow, is supposed to produce king's evil. So implicit is this belief among the older generation, that Queen Pomare always made up bundles of her old clothes and sent them to sea to be sunk outside the reef.
The cure for any person supposed to have incurred danger in this manner savours of the celebrated prescription in hydrophobia, "Swallow a hair of the dog that bit you." The old queen was greatly attached to one of Mrs Green's little boys, whom, after the curious fashion of this country, she called her adopted son, giving him a Tahitian name, by which alone he was known to the natives. One day, after the boy had been much with the queen, a suspicious-looking spot broke out on his cheek, and the native attendants begged Mrs Green to go at once to the queen and ask her to take the child into bed with her, and cover him up, which would avert all danger.
This afternoon, for the first time since I landed, I have seen a centipede—not one, but many, which were lying quietly hidden beneath a mass of decaying fronds of the cocoa-palm. We put one in a bottle; but though a large specimen for the Pacific, it is barely six inches in length. These isles of the blest enjoy a perfect immunity from all venomous creatures, with this one exception; and it is a very innocent creature compared with the centipedes of other lands, especially of Africa and South America. Unfortunately the latter have lately been carried by foreign ships to some of the Leeward Isles, and in the same manner scorpions have been brought to Tahiti—a very unfortunate introduction. The centipedes, small as they are, can give an agonising bite, which, however, is not actually dangerous to human beings. They are chiefly fatal to poultry, especially turkeys, which swallow them in mistake for worms, and invariably die soon afterwards.
These horrid creatures are highly phosphorescent, and leave a trail of light as they move at night. If crushed, they emit a glow of light, and hence were in olden days reverenced as an incarnation of divinity; and Veri, the centipede-god, was worshipped at Mangai, in the Hervey Isles, where a huge banyan-tree overshadowed his marae, among the grey rocks, and where to this day some say that gigantic centipedes keep guard over the hidden treasures of the tribe of Teipe, formerly their devout worshippers.
Speaking of phosphorescent things, did I ever tell you about the curious luminous fungi which are found in the mountains of Fiji? They gleam with a pale weird blue light, and the natives occasionally play tricks at the expense of their superstitious neighbours, suggestive of the turnip-ghosts of our own foolish young days.
Another new experience of this afternoon has been tasting the far-famed orange-rum, which is supposed to have such a deteriorating effect on those addicted to it. It is weak, insipid stuff, like mawkish vinegar. I should be very sorry to drink a wine-glassful of it, but I should think a bucketful would scarcely have any effect on the head, however seriously it might disturb other organs. I am certain it is weaker than the cider of which English haymakers drink twenty large mugs in a day with impunity.
But I am told that long before the introduction of oranges, and the consequent invention of orange-rum, the Tahitians had been taught by the Hawaiians how to distil an intoxicating spirit from the root of the ti shrub, which is highly saccharine, and is generally baked, and made into puddings.
They invented a still of the rudest construction. For the boiler they hollowed a lump of rock, and this they covered with an unwieldy wooden cover, the rude stump of a tree, into which was inserted a long bamboo, which rested in a trough of cold water, and conveyed the distilled spirit into a gourd. This ponderous boiler was set on two layers of stones, leaving a space for a fire, and was then filled with the baked ti root, which had been soaked till fermentation had commenced. Then ensued wild orgies, when all the people of the district gave themselves up to unbridled licentiousness; and having drunk till they were mad, generally ended by quarrelling, so that it was not an uncommon thing to find the remains of one of these rude stills overturned and scattered on the ground, and around them the corpses of those who had ended their drunken bout by a free fight, in which clubs and stone axes had proved efficient weapons.
The practice of this very unpleasant vice spread rapidly to other isles, and was one of the serious hindrances met with by the early missionaries. Thus, when Raiatea had for some time been looked upon as a model island, it only needed the arrival of a trading ship, and of a cask of spirits, to produce an outbreak on the part of King Tamatoa (not the present man), which was instantly followed by the mass of the people, who in their reawakened craving for spirits prepared about twenty stills, all of which were in full operation, when Mr Williams, returning after a short absence, found the island which he had left so orderly and flourishing, all given up to mad drunkenness.
Having had their bout, the people were naturally rather ashamed of themselves, remembering how nobly their grand old chief, the original Tamatoa, Queen Pomare's grandfather, had kept his vow of temperance during the fifteen years he lived after becoming a Christian. Previous to that time he too had been a heavy drinker, and being a man of gigantic strength, and six feet eleven inches in height, he was not pleasant company when drunk. So it was a happy hour in which he vowed never again to touch any intoxicating liquor, and became the most constant attendant at school and chapel.
When his favourite daughter Maikara, the governess of Huahine, heard of this outbreak in Raiatea, she went over, with some of her trusted officers, to help the orderly remnant in the isle to carry out the laws for the destruction of all stills; and though in some districts they met with considerable opposition, they effected their purpose thoroughly. Not long afterwards a temperance society was formed, which seems to have worked satisfactorily on the whole, though of course individuals sometimes succumb to the temptations so cruelly offered by foreign ships.
Evidently drunkenness is no longer admired as a kingly attribute, for the Raiateans banished the present Tamatoa, who was formerly their king, because of his disagreeable habit of taking pot-shots at his subjects when he was very far gone. I am happy to say he does not now indulge in this obnoxious practice, which would be particularly dangerous to us, as he lives in the next house, and frequently entertains us with wild rollicking songs, which, however, are not nearly so hateful as his habit of beating a large drum for several hours at a time! an entertainment which must be particularly trying to his sweet gentle wife, the charming Moë, concerning whom even the Frenchmen always speak with unbounded respect, and whose faithful love to her jovial but very trying spouse has continued unshaken, notwithstanding all the homage of one sort or another with which she has been loaded, including that of the author of 'South Sea Bubbles.'
Just now every one is anxious about her, for she is daily expecting a small addition to her family, and is exceedingly ill with influenza—a very violent form of which has recently broken out, severely affecting lungs and throat. It is a real epidemic. A number of people have died from it, and such a multitude are suffering, that the town seems morne and sad. Even the band is deserted and the church is empty. Tamatoa himself, and the queen's two sisters, Titaua Brander and Moetia Attwater, are among the sufferers. Mrs Miller and her grown-up sons, Mme. Fayzeau and her children, and all Mrs Green's children, are really very ill—high fever accompanied by utter prostration of strength being among the symptoms.
It is a most extraordinary fact that on every one of the Polynesian groups the natives declare that influenza was never known till white men came; and now it is one of the regular scourges of the Pacific, returning almost every year in a greater or less degree, but occasionally proving very severe and fatal, especially to old folk. It is generally preceded by westerly or southerly winds, and passes off as the steady trade-winds set in bringing fine settled weather. It first appeared in Samoa in 1830, just when the first missionaries Williams and Barff touched the group, and was of course attributed to their machinations. In the New Hebrides, where it proved a very serious scourge, it led to the murder of many teachers, who (as I think I have already told you) were considered to be the disease-makers.
Among those now suffering from it, is dear old Mrs Simpson, the "mother of missions" in these parts, of whose "pure Biblical English" Lord Pembroke spoke so admiringly. She is now on a visit to Mrs Brander, to whom she has been like a second mother. There I have frequently met her, and we have become great friends. She is planning that I am to visit her daughter, Mme. Valles, who is married to a retired French officer, and has a plantation on Moorea. I hope to see it in the course of a few days.
Alas! the influenza has done its work quickly. Only yesterday morning I was breakfasting with Mrs Brander on my return from a lovely early ride with Narii, up the Fautawa valley; Mrs Simpson was unable to appear, and afterwards a messenger came to tell Mr Green that she was very ill. In the night I was wakened by a man with a lantern standing at my open window; he brought tidings of her death.
It is a most trying moment, for this real sorrow occurs just when all those who were most devoted to the clever, good, and loving old lady, are compelled from their position to take a leading part in the festivities for the royal reception in Moorea. Mrs Brander, as chiefess of the isle, has to make every sort of festal preparation—and now, in addition to these, she has to make all arrangements for the funeral of her loved old friend, whose body will be carried to Moorea to-morrow on board the Seignelay. It will be a terrible shock for poor Mme. Valles, who to-day is preparing for all the gay doings of to-morrow, little dreaming that besides all the expected friends, whose visit would have been such a delight, one will return silent—never more to leave the isle where her lips first taught the words of life to many. . . .
We start for Moorea to-morrow morning.
- Acanthaster solaris.
- Acrocladia mamillata.
- Conus textilis
- Let not the nations of the West sneer at these superstitions of the East. Faith in the efficacy of the king's touch as a cure for scrofula was implicit both in France and England for many a long year. So early as A.D. 481 it was practised by Clovis. And it is recorded that on Easter Day, 1686, Louis XIV. touched 1600 persons, saying to each, "Le roy te touche, Dieu te guérisse!" This singular divine right was first claimed in England by Edward the Confessor in 1058, and his successors carried it on. Charles I. did, on St John's Day, 1633, visit Holyrood Chapel, where "he heallit 100 persons, young and old, of the cruelles or king's evil." Charles II. actually touched 92,107 such patients—being an average of 12 per diem for twenty years. His exchequer must have suffered by this kingly privilege, as he presented a broad gold piece to each sufferer. The touch of Queen Elizabeth was declared "a sure relief when all other methods have failed." Henry VIII., not content with miraculously curing all scrofula patients, also healed those afflicted with cruel cramps. Dr Johnson speaks of his earliest recollections of Queen Anne, into whose awful presence he had been ushered in his infancy, that by her royal touch she might cure him of his sore disease! The office appointed by the Church to be said on these occasions was actually retained in the English liturgy till 1719, when it was omitted by command of George I. But so late as 1745 many of the Jacobite party came secretly to Charles Edward, to crave his healing touch. See 'From the Hebrides to the Himalayas' (C. F. Gordon Cumming), vol. i. p. 264.
- Dracæna terminalis.