Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/392

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reserved plantations can be touched, till, on the removal of the prohibition, all the proprietors and their families, together with all interested in the purchase of the nuts, or in securing payment of debts previously contracted, assemble at the Rahui, as it is called, and there build for themselves frail booths of palm-leaves—a sorry shelter at the best.

In such a leaf-village, on one of the detached islets, all the inhabitants of Kaukura had assembled, together with a number of traders from other places, in all numbering nearly 200 persons, when they were overtaken by the awful hurricane of the 6th February, For some hours previously the greatest anxiety had prevailed. A strong easterly breeze had for three consecutive days lashed the waters of the lagoon into fury, then gradually veered round to the west with ever increasing force. The outer ocean, now rising in tumultuous waves, swept in from the westward; and, sweeping right over the barrier-reef with a roar like thunder, broke on the shore with a force unequalled in the memory of any islander now living. Thus the usually calm lagoon within the coral ring, and the annular lagoon on its outer edge, were alike lashed to tempestuous billows, dashing with awful force on either side of the low islet; while the water from below was actually forced up through the coral foundation, till the light sandy soil was so thoroughly saturated as to have become a mere quicksand.

With danger alike imminent on land and sea, it was a difficult question which to face. The ground was apparently about to be wholly submerged, and the alarm was such that 118 persons, including one European (George Herder, agent for a large German mercantile house), decided to take refuge in their boats. All these, with the exception of one man, a native of Anaa, perished.

The others, including Mr Macgee and a few other Europeans, fled to the highest part of the land, which was about fifteen feet above the ordinary water-level. The ground is there strewn with large rocks and stumps of palm-trees. To these they clung all through the long dreary night, while the waves from both lake and sea met and dashed right over them in cataracts of foam.

Throughout the long hours of darkness they battled with the