« PreviousContinue »
A PLEASANT DAY. 29
are also a vast number of the tiny crab, with one large bright-coloured claw, which love the muddy shore at the mouth of the rivers, where you may see them by the thousand, feeding busily with a tiny claw while holding the large one before them as a shield. Evidently, however, they know discretion to be the better part of valour, for at the faintest movement which reveals the approach of danger they vanish into their mud-holes faster than the twinkling of an eye. Our morning halt was at Afaahiti, a small village of which the king himself is the chief, for which reason it had been arranged that he should sleep there last night. We found Marau and the ladies of the village stringing wreaths of sweet white blossoms, with which they crowned themselves and us; and then we all adjourned to breakfast in a bamboo house, decorated in the usual style with twisted and plaited leaves, and deep fringes of dyed fibre. Himènes, of course, and then, while the band entertained the people, we, the unquiet spirits, wandered down to explore the shore, which is overshadowed by large trees, beneath which we found various kinds of large shells. At noon we drove on to Pueu, where we were welcomed by a very large assemblage, and conducted to the cheferie or district hall, really a splendid room, with a beautiful floor : it is like a great ball-room. All the dining-tables were set at one end, while nine very pretty beds, with artistic crimson and white quilts, and mosquito-nets tied up with bright ribbons, were ranged down one side of the room. I am ashamed to say that we all took a most uncourteous fit of laughing; for really at the first glimpse the row of beds seemed to multiply, and we fancied we were all to occupy this one room; but we soon discovered that only the junior officers were to share it, and that excellent quarters had been prepared for us all in different houses. The best house of three rooms was assigned to the admiral, his son, and myself; and here I am now cosily ensconced for a chat with you. My room, which opens out into the verandah, has no doors, so my black waterproof sheet and the green tartan plaid, inseparable companion of all my wanderings east or west, act as good curtains. This is a lovely place. In the afternoon we roamed through fragrant orange-groves, and along the beautiful shore, and I managed to secure a sketch of the village. As a matter of course there is a large Protestant church, of which all the population are members, and a tiny Roman Catholic chapel, without any congregation. An exceedingly pretty banquet awaited us in the large cheferie, after which we strolled about in the lovely moonlight, while the village choirs sang
THE PENINSULA, 31
their melodious himènes. At a very short distance they sound like full-toned cathedral chimes.
Chez M. DAMIAN, TARAvou,
At grey dawn Queen Marau came to my room to early tea, and told me that the house which had been assigned to her and the king was so purely native, that they had no beds—only mats and pillows—no hardship in this delightful climate, but a curious distribution of hospitality, when to each young lieutenant had been assigned so luxuriant a couch.
The drive along the peninsula was most lovely. Always by the broad green road running close to the sea, and passing through richest foliage of all sorts and forms; crossing crystalline streams which flowed down beautiful glens, with great shapely hills on either side, and some lonely peak towering at the head of the dark ravine. We came to one broad river whence the view was so lovely that the admiral most kindly decided to let one of the carriages wait while I sketched; an arrangement highly satisfactory to its occupants, who went off for a bathe in the clear delicious stream, while I stood on the bridge and worked diligently till the last of our heavy baggage-carts came across, and proved to be the last straw which that poor bridge could bear. An ominous crack, then a crash, and the heavy fourgon had broken through the bridge, but happily rested on the strong cross timbers, and with infinite trouble it was unloaded and raised. Then the bridge had to be repaired, as we were to retrace the same road in the afternoon ; when the other end gave way and broke down, happily without doing serious damage. A short drive brought us to Tautira, a large, very pretty village, where the men were playing at spearthrowing. This is the first place where we have seen any sort of game played. The admiral, according to his custom, inspected the schools, and pronounced a verdict not altogether encouraging on the work of a young priest, who was setting the children to such useful tasks as copying “mon âme est souillé de péchés 1* off a large black slate; they being almost as ignorant of French as he of Tahitian. The admiral discourages the teaching of French, especially to the girls, rightly judging that such knowledge will prove by no means to their moral weal. We were, as usual, most hospitably entertained with all the village could give, of fish and fruit, flesh and fowl. Everywhere those excellent white crayfish, the varo, are our chief delicacy. Here