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dresses cut on the pattern of the old English sacques worn by our grandmothers—that is, a yoke on the shoulders, from which the skirt falls to the feet, and trails behind. The effect is very easy and graceful, and it is a matter of deep congratulation that the dress in fashion in Europe at the period when Tahiti adopted foreign garments, should have been one so suitable. It would be impossible to devise a cooler dress, as it only touches the neck, shoulders, and (very loosely) the arms. The one under-garment is low-necked, short-sleeved, and of such a length as to form a sweeping skirt, thus combining chemise and petticoat. Shoes and stockings are of course superfluous.
Having halted and feasted at the morning district, we started again about two o'clock, drove seven or eight miles further, always through lovely country, and so reached our night quarters, where we were again received by assembled multitudes and congratulatory himenes. Then the band played, as it had done at our noonday halt, to the great delight of the people; and we strolled about, and bathed in some clear crystalline stream, reassembling for a great native feast, which, however, was served European fashion, as each district possesses its own crockery, glass, knives, forks, spoons, &c. The admiral provided French wines and bread.
Then followed more himene singing; while we
sat listening, entranced, either in the great house, or on the beautiful sea-shore, in the perfect moonlight. Himines are a new sensation in music, utterly indescribable—the strangest, wildest, most perplexing chants; very musical and varied, quite impossible to catch. They are a curious and fascinating sort of glee-chorus, in which every one seems to introduce any variations he fancies, but always in perfect tune, and producing a combination like most melodious cathedral chimes—rising and falling in rippling music, and a droning undertone sounding through it all. The whole air seems full of musical voices perfectly harmonised—now in unison, now heard singly; one moment lulled to softest tones, then swelling in clear ringing melody; voices now running together, now diverging. The singers compose their own words, which sometimes describe the most trivial details of passing events, sometimes are fragments of most sacred hymns—according to the impulse of the moment. Perhaps this last fact gives us a clue to the origin of the word hymn-ene; though I fancy that the words sung are often those of older and less seemly songs than the hymns taught by the early missionaries.
This is an outline of what has been our daily life for the last ten days. All has gone off without a single drawback, and it has been a spell of thorough enjoyment: nothing could exceed the kindness of every one, whether French or Tahitian. I think that of all the lovely isles I have visited, these certainly deserve the palm. Tahiti is a miniature of Ceylon, omitting all the great hideous coffee districts in the interior (districts made hideous by denudation —■ the glorious primeval forests having been ruthlessly sacrificed to make way for gold-producing crops).
The lovely hills and valleys of Tahiti and Moorea have only gained in beauty by the introduction of the fruit-bearing trees, which now form a most important feature in the general wealth of foliage—the dense thickets of orange-trees having all grown from those brought from Sydney by Mr Henry, one of the early missionaries. Strangely enough, the most healthy trees are those which have grown self-sown from the seed thrown about carelessly by the natives, when they retired to some quiet valley to brew their orange-rum in secret. These trees have thriven far better than those much cared for, and transplanted.
The splendid mango-trees, whose mass of dark foliage is now so prominent a feature on all sides, were introduced less than twenty years ago by the French, who have taken infinite trouble to procure all the very best sorts, and have succeeded to perfection.
But the special charm of these isles lies in the
multitude of their streams and rivulets. We calculated that in driving round Tahiti—a distance of 160 miles—we crossed 150 streams, all clear as crystal. Several of these are large rivers; and all have enchanting pools, most tempting to bathers.
The general form of the main isle is that of a double gourd—a large circle divided by a rocky ridge from a small one, the centre being composed of a tumbled wilderness of mountains rising to a height of 7000 feet. Precipitous crags, pinnacles, and narrow ridges of black volcanic rock, which the natives themselves never care to scale, tower in grand forms at the head of each of the countless richly wooded valleys, to all of which we looked up from the sea-level. There was only one point where we rose to any height—namely, the rocky ridge which connects the peninsula with the main isle.
I must not write more at present lest I should lose the mail. Next week, if all is well, the Seignclay is to take the royal party across to beautiful Moorea, there to repeat the pleasures of the last fortnight on a smaller scale. And very soon after our return thence, Mrs Brander intends to despatch one of her large vessels to Honolulu to fetch cattle, and I purpose taking passage by her, hoping that I shall thus have time to see something of the Sandwich Isles, and there find letters from you, with such definite plans as shall guide me whether to meet you in Australia or New Zealand about Christmas. You will scarcely venture to keep the children in Fiji any later in the hot season.—With all loving greetings, yours ever,