Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/274

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This bare historical outline was literally all I knew about the Marquesas Isles, and I doubt whether you or any one else in England knows much more.

Now that through my ignorance I have thrown away such a chance of visiting them, and also the Paumotus, I am told on all sides that they are the loveliest group in the Pacific, ideal in their beauty—embodied poems; and so I am fuming over my own folly, and telling myself that a traveller who could let slip such a golden opportunity must have reached second childhood, and is no longer fit to wander at large. I try to be philosophical, and not fret over the irrevocable; but of all the scattered leaves that I have yet suffered to float past me on that "stream that never returneth," none has aggravated me so sorely as this. I am assured on all hands that I should have received a genial welcome from the French governor and Madame and their little society, and that the expedition would have been in every respect exceptionally delightful.

As it is, I can only gather a few faint visions of the lovely isles by stringing together such particulars as I can learn respecting them. To begin with, "Les isles Marquises" comprise twelve volcanic isles, thrown, up in wildly irregular black crags, the central range of the larger isles towering to a height of 5000 feet, while in many places inaccessible crags rise perpendicular from the sea, but are so exquisitely draped with parasitic plants as to re-

    a very admirable semicircle of the four finest groups in the Eastern Pacific. Here they can now consolidate their strength, and await the influx of commerce which must of necessity pass through this cordon, when M. Lesseps shall have opened the Panama Canal for the traffic of the world.

    Here French ships will touch on their way to and from the Loyalty Isles and Cochin-China; while ships of all nations, plying between Europe and Australasia, will necessarily pass the same way, and contribute their quota to the wealth of the French Pacific.

    The Gambier Islands have been gradually prepared for their adoption by France, the Catholic Mission having there ruled supreme for some twenty years.

    Till quite recently, the Bible has been a prohibited book, but now, of the few remaining natives, a large proportion are learning to read Tahitian, in order to be able to study the Scriptures for themselves; and the Protestant Mission in Tahiti has responded to this desire, by sending copies of the New Testament for gratuitous distribution in the group. From one cause or another, however, a very small number of natives now exist, the islands having become well nigh depopulated.