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CHAPTER XVI.

THE ROYAL PROGRESS ROUND MOOREA – THE SEIGNELAY STARTS FOR THE MARQUESAS AND PAUMOTUS—INDECISION.

Chez REv. JAMES GREEN, PAPEETE,
Sunday, 4th Nov.

DEAREST NELL,~All the others have gone off to the Tahitian church. As I find, from long experience, that attending service in an unknown tongue tends to produce habits of the strictest inattention, I thought I might as well stay at home and have a talk with you. We returned from Moorea yesterday, and I am still very tired. This expedition has been very fatiguing, and somewhat bewildering, from the manner in which everything was hurried; there was really no time to enjoy anything; it was all a rush to get over the ground. For some reason unknown, the admiral determined to accomplish the grand round in two days, which did not allow of a halt at half the districts. This was the more tantalising as the island is indescribably lovely, and I longed to linger at every point. The day of our start was equally hurried, and the people had received such very short notice, that they were quite unprepared for the royal visit, and somewhat disconcerted in consequence. And then the combination of mourning with ceremonial rejoicing was a very distressing element. On Thursday morning one of the Seignelay boats came here to take me on board at 7 A.M., and soon afterwards the king and queen arrived, escorted by the admiral and many officers of La Magicienne. Mrs Brander and all her family party soon followed. But our wonted gaiety was altogether lacking, for there was a solemn presence in our midst, and we all knew that beneath the Union-jack, which was spread as a pall, lay the coffin containing the remains of one very dear to many in these isles. Her husband was buried on Moorea, near the spot where his daughter now lives; and now the two faithful workers have been laid side by side in this far country. Two hours steaming brought us to Waianae Bay, whence we rowed ashore to Afareaitu, a distance of about two miles. Thence the boats returned to the Seignelay, which proceeded to the other side of the isle to find good anchorage. On landing, we were received by the head men, in very fine tiputas (the much - decorated upper garment of native cloth). These they presented

BASALTIC PINNACLES. 77

to the admiral and the king. But our arrival was so premature, that the reception was on a Small scale—the people not having had time to assemble. After breakfast I secured a rapid outline of the strange beautiful hills, then we had to hurry away, in excellent boats, the property of Tahitians. As we rowed along inside the reef, each turn revealed new marvels of that most lovely coast, which combines the softest beauties of rich foliage with the most weird grandeur of mountain gloom. The island is by far the most wonderful I have ever seen. Just one confused mass of basaltic crags and pinnacles, lofty ridges, so narrow that here and there where Some part has broken away you can see the sky through an opening like the eye of a needle. Nature seems to have here built up gigantic rock-fortresses, mighty bastions and towers which reach up into heaven; pyramids, before which those of Gizeh would appear as pigmies, and minarets such as the builders of the Kootub never dreamt of. It is as though some huge mountain of rock had been rent asunder, and its fragments left standing upright in stupendous splinters. Some one has unpleasantly compared these to asses' ears, and I am fain to confess that the description is good, so far as outline is concerned. I had caught glimpses of some of these amazing stone needles and towers as we passed Moorea on the first morning, but then they only appeared mysteriously through the drifting vapours, which idealise and magnify the most commonplace crags. Now there were no mists, and the huge pinnacles stood out sharp and clear against a cloudless sky, while far below them the riven rocks lay seamed by narrow chasms—dark sunless ravines, moist with the spray of many waterfalls, and rich with all green things that love warm misty shade. I believe that when reduced to figures, the mountains of Moorea are found to average only half the height of those in Tahiti, the latter rising to upwards of 7000 feet, while the highest peak of Moorea, Afareaitu, is only 3976 feet. But the strangely varied forms of the latter are so remarkable, that a few thousand feet more or less seem a matter of indifference. I did long to crave a few moments' halt from time to time, to secure ever so slight an outline of some specially striking scene, but of course I dared not suggest it, as we were evidently bound to “make good time” (that crime in travelling, which so many mistake for a virtue). The result was, that we reached Haapiti at 2 P.M. Mrs Brander, who had hurried on at once to make her preparations, had counted on our not arriving till four at the earliest, so of course nothing was ready.

A HOUSE OF FEASTING. 79

The admiral went to examine schools, and I lost no time in settling down to a large sketch of the beautiful and fairy-like scene—the grand mountain amphitheatre of stupendous crags and precipices, a middle distance of richest foliage, and in the foreground, on a lawn of greenest turf, the pretty temporary building of palm and bamboo, erected for the banquet. The interior was lined with tree-ferns and bunches of rosy oleander, and festooned with many hundred yards of deep fringe made of hybiscus fibre. The thatch was entirely composed of the long glossy fronds of birds'-nest fern," which, being tough and leathery, make a good permanent thatch, and one which lasts much longer than banana-leaves, though, of course, it is more troublesome to arrange in the first instance. It seems too bad to sacrifice such an incredible number of these beautiful plants. The only consolation is, that they grow in places so inaccessible that no human eye ever beholds them, save that of the goat-like cragsman who explores the deep ravines in search of the wild faees, which constitute the principal article of food on these isles.

Shortly before sunset all the people of the district assembled, each with a piece of yellow native cloth thrown over their black dresses like a shawl, to symbolise joyin sorrow. They formed an immense proces

* Asplenium nidus.

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