Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/385

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351
RETURN OF GILBERT ISLANDERS.

brought here as foreign labourers about nine years ago, on the understanding that they would very soon be sent home again, whereas they have been detained all these years. When Admiral Serres commenced critical inquiries on the various abuses at which previous governors had winked, this fact became known, and he decided that the labourers should be sent back soon after the New Year—an announcement which filled their masters with dismay, in view of ungathered crops, but was hailed by the Arawais with joy till they learnt by what vessel they were to travel. Then they were filled with alarm, believing that so large a ship would not dare to risk the dangerous navigation between their little isles; and that they would probably all be landed (as has often been done in similar cases) on one or two of the principal isles, where they would be left quite as much in a strange land as in Tahiti, and, moreover, with the certainty of being robbed, and the probability of being eaten by hostile tribes. So a considerable number have refused to go on this occasion. Indeed M. Puèch is himself much perturbed as to how to accomplish this really difficult business.

He invited a few friends, including myself, to go on board at the last moment, to faire les adieux. The vessel presented a curious scene—picturesque, certainly, with abundance of bright colour, but more like an emigrant ship than a man-of-war. Le Limier is so constructed that she has not sufficient accommodation to allow of all the crew sleeping below at one time. So these wretched Arawais, including women and children, are taken only as deck passengers; and as the cruise, under steam, cannot take less than from sixteen to eighteen days, during which they must take their chance of whatever weather they may encounter, you can understand that the voyage does not promise to be a pleasure-trip.

The vessel carries much extra coal, to provide against the danger of a calm. So half her deck is loaded with this dirty store, and the 200 Gilbert Islanders are huddled together on the main-deck. Each labourer has a trade box, containing a few clothes, a good deal of tobacco, and some cheap toys for children; and this is all they