Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/54

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No scene-painter could have devised so romantic a picture for any fairy pantomime. The French sailors were ecstatic in their delight. They collected piles of old cocoa-nut fibre and dry palm-leaves and kindled bright blazing fires, whose ruddy light glowed on the dark crevices, which even the setting sun could not reach, and blended with the blue and green reflected lights, and both played on the white coral walls, and the white boat, and white figures—(for of course, in the tropics, the sailors all wear their white suits). Soon these active lads contrived to reach the gallery, and glided behind the stalactite pillars, making the illusion of the nuns' gallery still more perfect. Altogether it was a scene of dream-like loveliness.

All this coast is cavernous, and most tempting to explore. Very near my fairy cave lies the one described by Byron, in "The Island," which can only be reached by diving—

"A spacious cave
Whose only portal is the keyless wave
(A hollow archway by the sun unseen
Save through the billow's glassy veil of green)."

A huge rock, about 60 feet high, rises from the sea, with nothing to indicate that it is hollow; but at a considerable depth beneath low-water mark, there is an opening in the rock through which expert divers can enter, and find themselves in a cave about 40 feet wide and 40 in height—the roof forming rude Gothic arches of very rich and varied colour, and the whole incrusted with stalactites. The clear green water forms the crystal pavement, but two lesser caves, branching off on either side, afford a dry resting-place to such as here seek a temporary refuge. The place is quite unique in its surpassing loveliness; and the brilliant phosphoric lights which gleam with every movement of the water, and which are reflected in pale tremulous rays, that seem to trickle from the stalactites and lose themselves among the high arches, give to the whole a weird ghostly effect, quite realising all one's fancies of a spirit-world.

This home of the mermaids was first discovered by a young Tongan, who was diving in pursuit of a wounded turtle. Filled