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POTTED TURTLE. 141
This must be kept up for three days, after which this leathery and uninviting delicacy is packed in palm-leaf baskets ready for the China market. But it must from time to time be spread in the scorching sun to dry it more thoroughly, as any lingering moisture will inevitably reveal itself on the long journey, and the produce of many a month's hard labour has thus been rendered worthless. I do not think that bäche-de-mer soup ever finds much favour with Europeans, but I have eaten it myself with much satisfaction, which is far more than I can say for turtle in any form, as prepared in the Pacific. Turtle-steaks sound well, but I cannot say they are nice. I think they are generally cut from turtle which have been roasted whole in native ovens. I believe the scientific cook invariably lays the turtle on its back, that the precious green fat and oil may not be lost; and the prudent housekeeper preserves the surplus of a feast-day, by cutting up slices of turtle-steak, which she stores in cocoa-nut shells, pouring in liquid fat, and tying a heated banana-leaf over the shell, in lieu of hermetically sealing these potted meats. As a good large turtle weighs fully 400 lb. (and some are occasionally captured weighing from 600 to 700 lb.), you can understand that a chief may very well allow himself to store up a portion for the morrow, without depriving his followers of their fair share.
But if turtle-meat is unpleasant, still more so, to my uneducated taste, are turtle-eggs, several hundred of which are sometimes found inside a large mother turtle. But they are generally discovered carefully buried in the sand well above high-water mark. They are quite round and leathery, resembling small white tennis-balls. In the breeding season, the female turtle leaves her mate beyond the barrier - reef, and she comes ashore, alone, at high tide, generally selecting the full moon. Having chosen a suitable spot for her nest, she scratches a large hole in the sand, in the middle of which she digs a funnel, two or three feet in depth, and therein proceeds to lay about a hundred eggs, after which she carefully covers them over with sand, and smooths away all trace of her visit. Then she returns to the reef and there waits for the next high tide, when she rejoins her mate. For some reason best known to herself, she generally returns ashore either on the ninth or eighteenth night— a fact well known to the natives, who scan the beach eagerly for the broad track left on the smooth white sand by this midnight visitor.
When poor Mrs Turtle becomes aware of the presence of her natural foe, man, she generally tries to hide, and will lie motionless for hours; but should this hope prove vain, she makes for the sea at railway speed, her flippers acting as paddles, by
TRUTH SEEN TOO LATE. 143
which she jerks herself along. Should her foe outstrip her in the race, he contrives to turn her over, when she lies on her back more helpless than even a fat sheep in the like predicament.
I daresay that to all of you, in England, the accounts of these South Sea groups sound so much alike, that you can scarcely sympathise with my repining over the omission of a few. But each has its own distinctive peculiarities, which you only realise by living in it for a while, and making friends with its inhabitants.
Therefore I fear that these “lines left out * will remain to me a lifelong regret. They have all the pain that attaches to “truth seen too late,” which is the crown of woe.
I only hope that you will profit by my sad experience, and that should you ever have a chance of seeing the Marquesas and the Paumotus, you will not let it slip. But such luck as visiting a French colony in a French man-of-war does not often present itself
TAHITIAN HOSPITALITY-A SOUTH SEA STORE–A BATHING PICNIC —THE MARQUESANS–TATTOOING—ANCIENT GAMES OF TAHITI —MALAY DESCENT—THEORY OF A NORTHERLY MIGRATION.
LA MAISON BRANDERE, PAPEETE,
ALREADY ten days have slipped away since we watched the Maramma sail for Honolulu, and each morning I awake with a feeling of pleasure that I am still in this delightful isle. Would that you could look on the lovely scene on which my eyes rest with the first glimmer of dawn, and which now lies outspread before me, as I sit in this cool verandah opening off my large bedroom on the upper storey ! It is a verandah all closed in with jalousies, screening its occupants from the outside world; while they, themselves unseen, look down on the brightest, most animated scene you can imagine. Long before sunrise the pretty native boats, with double sails, arrive from all parts of the isle, bring
ing their cargo of fish and fruit for the market, which is held in a large building in the town. But as the boats are unloaded, their wares are outspread on the grass just below these windows, and the most active housewives and purveyors for the ships come here to secure the first choice of luscious fruits and of fishes, as beautiful to the eye as they are tempting to the palate. These are of every shade of blue and green, Scarlet and crimson, and pale yellow with lilac stripes. The large bright-green fish are generally eaten raw ; and occasionally the purchasers, whose appetites are sharpened by the fresh morning air, cannot resist an early breakfast al fresco. The air is balmy and delicious, like a heavenly midsummer morning in Europe; and all the girls have light woollen shawls. (Real Scotch tartans are in high favour, and are worn in true Highland fashion, over one shoulder and round the body.)
The fruit - supply is brought in large baskets. Just now there are quantities of mangoes, oranges, and Abercarder pears (des avoeats they are called here, where French permeates all things, as it did in England when the Norman conquerors changed Saxon oxen, sheep, and hens, to beef, mutton, and fowls). But these minor fruits are trifling luxuries. The mainstay of life is the faees or wild banana, which here takes the place of the yams and taro of the groups further west.
WOL. II. - K