Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/53

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29
A FAIRY GROT.

ready, a party of natives from the mission having made an early start with tea, yams, ham and eggs—all of which had been cooked gipsy -fashion. To this foundation we added the contents of a hamper, which the thoughtful captain had directed his maître d’hôtel to send with us. So we had a royal feast, and then I settled down to do a bird's-eye sketch of the strange world out-spread below, while gentle and rather pretty brown girls, with sienna hair, sat by, peeling oranges by the dozen, with which they fed us all incessantly.

It is the part of true hospitality to peel oranges for a guest, as their thick green skins contain so much essential oil, that the mere act of removing them makes the hands very oily and uncomfortable. Woe betide the rash and thirsty stranger who puts the green fruit to his lips to suck it, as he might a golden orange in Europe. For many hours the burning pain of almost blistered lips will remind him of his folly.

Returning to the village, we found a large ten-oared boat waiting for us, the captain having most kindly placed it at our disposal, to enable us to explore the coast. Mr Fox guided us to a truly exquisite cave, about five miles distant. Never before, in all my wanderings, had my eyes been gladdened by such an ideal fairy grot. We rowed along the face of beautiful crags, which we had passed on the previous day without a suspicion of the wonderful hiding-place within them. Suddenly we steered right into a narrow opening, and found ourselves in a great vaulted cavern like a grand cathedral—a coral cave, with huge white stalactites hanging in clusters from the roof, and forming a perfect gallery along one side, from which we could almost fancy that white-veiled nuns were looking down on us.

The great outer cave is paved with lapis-lazuli, at least with water of the purest ultra-marine, which was reflected in rippling shimmers of blue and green on the white marble roof. For the sun was lowering, and shone in glory through the western arch-way, lighting up the mysterious depths of a great inner cavern, which otherwise receives but one ray of light from a small opening far overhead, through which we saw blue sky and green leaves.