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THE FORT OF FAUTAWA. 267
bered up a steep and difficult path, till we were convinced that we were on the wrong track, and returning to the junction, we tried the other ravine, crossing and recrossing the stream. At length, after much loss of time and energy, we concluded that our best course was again to return to the junction and there breakfast, trusting that by good luck it might prove to be the day on which “Père Fautawa” (as the old soldier in charge of the fort is commonly called) would be returning from Papeete with his rations. Fortune favoured us; and ere we had finished the contents of our hamper (carried by French sailors) the old man appeared, and led the way by a middle path between the two streams. It was a very steep scramble, among great boulders and masses of rent crag, half hidden by the wealth of tree-ferns, young palms, wild bananas, and other tropical foliage, such as ginger, turmeric, wild caladium, and dracaena. The stems of the large trees are covered with parasitic ferns, especially the handsome bird's nest fern, which here grows luxuriantly. After crossing several small streams, we climbed to the verge of a deep ravine, at the head of which rises a precipitous cliff 600 feet high. Over this rushes a cataract of white foam, which fades into shadowy mist as it loses itself among the tall palms and feathery foliage of the tree-ferns and parasitic vines which veil its base. Above the fall is situated the French fortress. The interest of the place does not lie in the fort of the foreigners, but in the fact that this was the last stronghold of the Tahitians, in their struggle to retain their independence and resist the hated invaders. Here it was that the last man who fell in that brave strife was shot, betrayed by one of his countrymen, who now reaps the reward of his treachery in the enjoyment of foreign gold and the red ribbon of the Legion of Honour. This was the last blood shed. Now the red roses grow undisturbed on the ramparts, and the lines of defence are so many terraced gardens, where the solitary old soldier grows strawberries for sale in Papeete, whither he descends once or twice a-week to draw his rations and to see the world. It is a lonely ending for the old man's days, and a strange contrast to his former barrack-life. Now he is often for days together enveloped in mists, which enfold him in an isolated cloud-world. It is comparatively cold, too, at this high level, where at nights the thermometer sometimes falls below 60°. At Père Fautawa's bidding we gathered ripe strawberries from his little garden, the first I had seen growing for many a day."
* The next I saw were at the British Legation in Pekin, where they were objects of intense interest, as being probably the first ever grown in the Celestial Empire.
A PASSING STORM. 269
Then while the sailors busied themselves preparing coffee, we dispersed in search of pleasant pools for bathing, a luxury never more prized than after such a scramble in a tropical valley. Hitherto the day had been quite lovely, now it rapidly overcast, and heavy clouds came down and hid the Diadème — the beautiful crown-shaped mountain, that heads the valley. It is called by the natives Maiao, and though its height does not exceed 4363 feet, it is one of the most remarkable forms in Tahiti.
Ere we had finished our welcome coffee it began to pour so heavily that I voted for camping where we were ; but the others feared a freshet, such as might make the streams impassable for days. So they voted for starting instantly, and of course carried the day; and we descended the steep mountain-path in blinding rain, which blurred all beauty, and rushed in rivulets beneath our feet. We were so thoroughly saturated, that crossing and recrossing the stream ceased to give us a moment's thought; and by the time we reached this house, I confess to having been thoroughly exhausted, as was to be expected, after a scramble of fully eight miles without any time to rest.
Of course, as soon as we got back the weather cleared, and we had a most lovely evening, followed by an exquisite moonlight night, and a sunrise
which, seen from Fautawa, would have been too fascinating. It was with sore regret that I gazed upward to the sunlit peaks; while for days afterwards I felt too utterly done to do more than creep about the garden.
The upper heights of the valley are wellnigh inaccessible. They culminate in a crag-ridge about 4000 feet in height, forming a crest so narrow as to be a mere saddle barely three feet across—literally a gigantic crag-wall, wooded to the summit. Few are the bold spirits who have cared to scale this barrier in their endeavour to cross the island. Only by painful climbing from ledge to ledge, clinging to overhanging trees, trailing screw - pine, and sturdy vines, which act as natural ropes, is it possible to make any way. Indeed it is necessary to carry strong ropes in case of emergency; and little help can be expected from native guides, who never dream of expending toil so fruitlessly, unless worried into doing so by some unrestful foreigner. I am sure I do not wonder at their being satisfied with lower levels, seeing how enchanting these are. I find day after day gliding by in such peaceful enjoyment, that time passes unmarked, and the further expeditions, of which we have sometimes talked, seem to involve too great exertion. Evidently I am becoming indolent in these dreamy southern isles I
PALM SALAD AND SPROUTING NUTS. 271
I have just been feasting on a cocoa-palm salad, which would make the fortune of the happy chef who could introduce it at an alderman's feast. That, fortunately for the plantations, is quite out of his power, unless some process be discovered by which to preserve uncooked vegetables. For this dainty consists of the embryo primary shoot of the tree —the unborn fronds, which lie curled up within in a close compact white mass, about the size of a man's arm, and resembling a gigantic stick of celery, with a flavour of filberts. Of course so costly a dish as this (which sacrifices the life of the tree) is rarely indulged in, save when a hurricane has snapped the crown of the tall palm, or when some rich chief wishes to entertain a guest, regardless of expense.
Another very agreeable product of the cocoapalm, which you in England can never hope to taste, is an over-ripe nut, when in the very act of sprouting. Previous to this, a very curious change has occurred. As you must know, the germ of the plant lies just within the three little eyes, which we used in nursery days to call the monkey's face. Indeed I fear that in those days of our ignorance we imagined they were the marks left by the stalk, quite forgetting that the nut lies in a large outer case of that brown fibre which, in these our later