Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/281

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A MOST LOVELY ISLE.

is described as surpassingly lovely. It is a perfect harbour, with very deep water, and forms a horse-shoe about nine miles in circumference, ending in two lofty and abrupt headlands. The entrance is very narrow, barely half a mile across, and is guarded on each side by small conical isles, rising about 500 feet above the sea. All round the harbour the greenest of low hills swell in gentle undulations, while behind these rise majestic mountains, whence steep rocky ridges trend seaward, dividing the vast amphitheatre into several distinct valleys, which, narrowing as they ascend, become deep, romantic glens. Here and there snowy cascades, gleaming through the rich verdure, tell where the precipitous crags close in the valleys. Some of these barrier-cliffs rise perpendicularly, to a height of perhaps 1500 feet. So rich is the growth of parasitical plants, which cling to every crevice, that these mighty rugged crags appear only to be green walls surmounted by black basaltic pinnacles and cones, beyond which tower the blue peaks of some of the higher ridges, which occupy the whole centre of the isle, rising to a height of about 4000 feet.

There are in these sheltered vales many old men who, in all their long lives, have never set foot out of their own little boundary. Those vine-clad cliffs have hemmed them in, and the mountain wilderness beyond has offered no inducement to roving. No fruit, no game; only the certainty of excessive toil for no reward, and the possibility of wandering unintentionally within the territory of some other tribe, ever on the watch to slay any imprudent straggler.

The lives of the women have been even more circumscribed, owing to an extraordinary law of tabu, which prohibits a female from setting foot in a canoe; consequently her farthest voyage is regulated by her powers of swimming; and so, when a foreign vessel arrives in port, and the Marquesan nymphs wish to inspect it more closely, they can only do so by swimming. Small wonder if sailors, perceiving those fair-skinned beauties, with their tresses of long black hair floating around them, suppose their visitors to be a company of mermaids! From all accounts many of these girls are really beautiful. In stature they are somewhat diminu-