Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/375

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341
THE FORT OF FAUTAWA.

rations. Fortune favoured us; and ere we had finished the contents of our hamper (carried by French sailors) the old man appeared, and led the way by a middle path between the two streams. It was a very steep scramble, among great boulders and masses of rent crag, half hidden by the wealth of tree-ferns, young palms, wild bananas, and other tropical foliage, such as ginger, turmeric, wild caladium, and dracæna. The stems of the large trees are covered with parasitic ferns, especially the handsome bird's nest fern, which here grows luxuriantly.

After crossing several small streams, we climbed to the verge of a deep ravine, at the head of which rises a precipitous cliff 600 feet high. Over this rushes a cataract of white foam, which fades into shadowy mist as it loses itself among the tall palms and feathery foliage of the tree-ferns and parasitic vines which veil its base. Above the fall is situated the French fortress.

The interest of the place does not lie in the fort of the foreigners, but in the fact that this was the last stronghold of the Tahitians, in their struggle to retain their independence and resist the hated invaders. Here it was that the last man who fell in that brave strife was shot, betrayed by one of his countrymen, who now reaps the reward of his treachery in the enjoyment of foreign gold and the red ribbon of the Legion of Honour. This was the last blood shed. Now the red roses grow undisturbed on the ramparts, and the lines of defence are so many terraced gardens, where the solitary old soldier grows strawberries for sale in Papeete, whither he descends once or twice a-week to draw his rations and to see the world.

It is a lonely ending for the old man's days, and a strange contrast to his former barrack-life. Now he is often for days together enveloped in mists, which enfold him in an isolated cloud-world. It is comparatively cold, too, at this high level, where at nights the thermometer sometimes falls below 60°. At Père Fautawa's bidding we gathered ripe strawberries from his little garden, the first I had seen growing for many a day.[1]

  1. The next I saw were at the British Legation in Pekin, where they were objects of intense interest, as being probably the first ever grown in the Celestial Empire.