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Wednesday, 12th Dec.
This has been a grey stormy day, with heavy showers, but as Dr Michelli had promised to escort me up the valley to the foot of the mighty crags, I could not lose so good an opportunity; and indeed such solemn mountain scenes only borrow fresh grandeur from the gloom, so that I almost prefer a stormy leaden sky for such an expedition; besides, it is no small gain to have a veiled sun, as its full rays, when refracted by the black trap dikes, make the ascent somewhat of a toil.
The friendly gendarme again lent me his horse to ride to the head of the harbour, where the Doctor had other steeds ready for the mountain. Unfortunately he himself was unwell, and so was obliged to commit me to the care of the eacterne-politique, who fulfilled his trust admirably, though I confess that it gave me something of an eerie feeling to find myself at a height of 2000 feet above my fellow-men, sitting quietly sketching among black crags and floating mists, alone with a would-be murderer, who, glorying in his shame, entertained me at great length with a most animated description of the whole story, nor spared me one of his poignant regrets at the failure of his vile attempt.
The scenery on every side was magnificent,
AMONG THE MOUNTAINS. 227
Huge indigo - coloured mountain - masses looming out awfully through the floating cloud-wreaths— tremendous precipices—deep mysterious ravines— right above me towered a gigantic square-shaped mountain, and beyond it one vast pinnacle. You never can lose the impression of cyclopean fortifications and watch-towers. The higher ridges are absolutely inaccessible; but adventurous cragsmen sometimes find their way by tracks which wild goats would shun—narrow ledges by which they can creep along the face of a precipice, and so pass on to another ravine, or scramble from ledge to ledge with the help of ropes. “Le jeu vaut-il la chandelle?” I should say not. From the highest point we reached, I obtained a grand view of the valley, which lay bathed in sunlight, while we were shrouded in mountain gloom, with a storm fast gathering overhead. Far below us, beyond the orange-groves and the cultivated lands, lay the two harbours, Pao Pao and Opunohu–two calm lagoons lying to right and left of a mighty rock-pyramid, which is crowned with trap ridges, so narrow as here and there to have altogether worn away, leaving arches and apertures through which the sky is seen, as through the eye of a needle. This is a common feature of the ridges which form the centre of this strange isle, and which are thus pierced in many places—a phenomenon duly accounted for in Tahitian legends by the spear-thrusts of certain demigods and heroes.
A few heavy rain-drops, with a prospect of abundance to follow, compelled me to abandon this splendid sketching-ground, and return to the lower world, where the Doctor awaited my return, to share an excellent breakfast, with all the delicacies of Moorea. One of these, which is perhaps unknown to you, is the Abercarder pear, or, as it is called in India, “subaltern's butter,” a pear-shaped fruit, the size of a big man's fist. Within its green rind lies the softest melting pulp, really like vegetable butter, with a large round seed in the centre. This fruit is either eaten with pepper and salt, or else beaten up with lemon-juice and sugar; and it is excellent in either form. The chief difficulty is to secure it, as all animals have a passion for it ; cows, horses, even dogs and cats, watch for the falling of the ripe fruit, and quickly despatch it.
After breakfast I rode back here, and found my host and hostess just starting for the village, so I strolled along with them to see the big coral church, memorable as having been the first built in this group, a monument of early zeal, and a wonderful triumph of will over difficulties. But now, whether from diminished energy or decreased population I know not, the place is falling into disrepair, and suggests retrogression.
But the bird-cage homes of the people are charming, and the inmates are charming, and the browneyed olive-coloured babies, and their most careful little brothers and sisters, are especially attractive. To-day I have seen the loveliest baby I have ever yet met with. Of Italian and Tahitian parentage, it receives a double heritage of beauty, and the little Aurora is destined hereafter to take her place among the fairest maidens of Italy.
Certainly children here have a very happy time of it. What with idolising parents, and friends who seem always ready to play with them, their only danger lies on the side of excessive spoiling. And yet, in heathen days, the Tahitians were as noted for infanticide as the Sandwich Islanders, L with the one difference that here, the poor little unwelcome guests were disposed of at the very moment of their birth, and if spared for even a few minutes they were generally saved; whereas in Hawaii, the system of child-murder was much more deliberate.
The extent to which it was practised in both groups makes one marvel how the isles failed to be wholly depopulated. Though offspring were generally numerous, few parents cared to rear more than three children; a man with four was looked upon as a taata taubwu buw — that is, a man with a heavy burden. The majority of Tahitian women in pagan days spoke openly, and without the slightest shame, of having put to death half-a-dozen helpless innocents, while some confessed to ten or twelve; and when the missionaries and their wives implored these women to spare their little ones, yet unborn, their words were heard with derision, and the cruel mothers would return to boast how they had obeyed the custom of the isles, in defiance of white men's counsel. Afterwards, when these same women had become Christians, they would come to the school festivals, at which were sometimes gathered several hundred happy children, whose lives had been spared in obedience to a better law; and often, with bitter tears, did these childless mothers bewail their own dead offspring, murdered by their own hands. At one such meeting, a venerable chief arose to address the people, and show, by contrast with the past, how great was their present gain. Pointing to a troop of comely lads and lasses, he said: “Large was my family, but I alone remain. I am the father of nineteen children ; all of them I have murdered : now my heart longs for them. Had I spared them, they would now have been men and women, knowing the word of the true God. But all died in the service of the false gods, and now my heart is repenting—is weeping for them.” One of the chief women, who, having learnt to