Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/256

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are found to average only half the height of those in Tahiti, the latter rising to upwards of 7000 feet, while the highest peak of Moorea, Afareaitu, is only 3976 feet. But the strangely varied forms of the latter are so remarkable, that a few thousand feet more or less seem a matter of indifference.

I did long to crave a few moments' halt from time to time, to secure ever so slight an outline of some specially striking scene, but of course I dared not suggest it, as we were evidently bound to "make good time" (that crime in travelling, which so many mistake for a virtue). The result was, that we reached Haapiti at 2 p.m. Mrs Brander, who had hurried on at once to make her preparations, had counted on our not arriving till four at the earliest, so of course nothing was ready.

The admiral went to examine schools, and I lost no time in settling down to a large sketch of the beautiful and fairy-like scene—the grand mountain amphitheatre of stupendous crags and precipices, a middle distance of richest foliage, and in the foreground, on a lawn of greenest turf, the pretty temporary building of palm and bamboo, erected for the banquet. The interior was lined with tree-ferns and bunches of rosy oleander, and festooned with many hundred yards of deep fringe made of hybiscus fibre. The thatch was entirely composed of the long glossy fronds of birds'-nest fern,[1] which, being tough and leathery, make a good permanent thatch, and one which lasts much longer than banana-leaves, though, of course, it is more troublesome to arrange in the first instance. It seems too bad to sacrifice such an incredible number of these beautiful plants. The only consolation is, that they grow in places so inaccessible that no human eye ever beholds them, save that of the goat-like cragsman who explores the deep ravines in search of the wild faees, which constitute the principal article of food on these isles.

Shortly before sunset all the people of the district assembled, each with a piece of yellow native cloth thrown over their black dresses like a shawl, to symbolise joy in sorrow. They formed an immense procession, headed by Mrs Brander as high chiefess. She

  1. Asplenium nidus.