Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/201

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173
BALMY MOONLIGHT NIGHTS.

But ere the heathen priests could make their choice, the Christian chiefess bade her head man consecrate the whole by thanksgiving to the Almighty. The crowd of bystanders looked on in wonder, and the priests retired, not venturing to claim for idol altars the food which, they felt, had thus been offered to the Most High.

Many such tales might I now hear and preserve for your benefit, could I but find time to listen with an undivided mind.

But there is so much that is new to hear and to see, that I hardly feel able to disentangle the threads of so many subjects, which, apparently, are all interwoven one with another. Doubtless, by degrees, they will arrange themselves in a more orderly fashion.

In the evening we all walked home together, by a pleasant path along the grassy shore, passing through a dark thicket of large hybiscus trees, then beneath tall cocoa-palms, whose every frond lay clearly shadowed by the brilliant light of only a crescent moon. No full moon in England could shine with so soft a radiance.

The loveliness of the evenings here is indescribable; and well do all the inhabitants know how to enjoy their beauty. Every one saunters forth after dinner,—the general rendezvous being a grassy lawn under the great trees near Government House, where the admiral's excellent band plays divinely, to the great delight of the Tahitians, who are themselves most musical, and who assemble in crowds, listening in rapt delight to the operatic airs, and then, by irresistible impulse, dancing joyously on the turf, as valse and galop succeed one another.

But nothing could be more orderly and respectable than this mirthful crowd, which strikes me the more forcibly from the fact that these are not the characteristics generally ascribed to Papeete, but are in great measure due to the wholesome influence of Admiral Serre and his officers, and to the excellent discipline of the ships now in harbour. Of course when a rowdy ship comes in, it is more difficult to preserve order; and as most accounts are written by travellers who chance on these unlucky times (and perhaps help to cause them), the place has got a worse name than it ever deserved. So say the old inhabitants. Its present condition of