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setting sun could not reach, and blended with the blue and green reflected lights, and both played on the white coral walls, and the white boat, and white figures — (for of course, in the tropics, the sailors all wear their white suits). Soon these active lads contrived to reach the gallery, and glided behind the stalactite pillars, making the illusion of the nuns' gallery still more perfect. Altogether it was a scene of dream-like loveliness.
All this coast is cavernous, and most tempting to explore. Very near my fairy cave lies the one described by Byron, in " The Island," which can only be reached by diving—
"A spacious cave
A huge rock, about 60 feet high, rises from the sea, with nothing to indicate that it is hollow; but at a considerable depth beneath low-water mark, there is an opening in the rock through which expert divers can enter, and find themselves in a cave about 40 feet wide and 40 in height — the roof forming rude Gothic arches, of very rich and varied colour, and the whole incrusted with stalactites. The clear green water forms the crystal pavement, but two lesser caves, branching off on either side, afford a dry resting-place to such as here seek a LEGEND OF THE CAVE. 51
temporary refuge. The place is quite unique in its surpassing loveliness; and the brilliant phosphoric lights which gleam with every movement of the water, and which are reflected in pale tremulous rays, that seem to trickle from the stalactites and lose themselves among the high arches, give to the whole a weird ghostly effect, quite realising all one's fancies of a spirit-world.
This home of the mermaids was first discovered by a young Tongan, who was diving in pursuit of a wounded turtle. Filled with wonder and delight, he lingered a few moments in admiration, then, recollecting how valuable such a hiding-place might prove in days of ceaseless intertribal war, he determined to keep his own counsel. So when he returned to the surface he held his peace, and all his companions were filled with wonder and admiration at the length of time he could remain under water.
Not very long after this, his family incurred the anger of the great chief of Vavau, and one and all were disgraced, and in continual danger of their lives. But the chief had a beautiful daughter, who loved this bold young islesman, and though under any circumstances he was of too lowly birth to dare to claim her openly in marriage, he persuaded her to forsake her father's house and come to that which he had prepared for her in the romantic grotto.
Here she remained hidden for several months, only venturing to swim to the upper world in the starlight, and ever on the alert to dive to her hidingplace on the slightest alarm. Of course her simple bathing dress of cocoa-nut oil and garlands did not suffer much from salt water; or if it did, trails of sea-weed quickly supplied fresh clothing. Her love brought constant supplies of fruit, to add to the fish which she herself provided: and so the happy weeks flew by, till at last the companions of the young man began to wonder why he left them so often, to go away all by himself, and especially they marvelled that he invariably returned with wet hair—(for the Tongans have the same aversion as the Fijians to wetting their hair, and rarely do so without good cause). So at length they tracked him, and saw that when his canoe reached the spot where he had stayed so long under water in pursuit of the turtle, he again plunged into the green depths, and there remained. They waited till he had returned to the land, suspecting no danger. Then they dived beside the great rockmass, which seemed so solid, though it was but the crust of a huge bubble—and soon they too discovered the opening, through which they swam, and rising to the surface beheld the beautiful daughter of the chief, who had been mourned as one dead. So they carried her back to her indignant father—but what became of her hapless lover
history does not record. Doubtless he was offered in sacrifice to the gods of Vavau.
We peered down through the crystal waters to see whether we could discern the entrance to the lover's cave, but failed to do so. Except at very low tide, it is difficult for average swimmers to dive so low. We only heard of two Englishmen who had succeeded. One was the early traveller, Mariner, who was present at a kava-drinking party of the chiefs in this cool grot; the other was the captain of an English man-of-war, who, in passing through the low rock archway, injured his back so seriously, that the people of Vavau believed him to have died in consequence.1 It appears that the passage into the cave bristles with sharp projecting points, and it is exceedingly difficult to avoid striking against them. A native having dived to the entrance then turns on his back, and uses his hands as buffers to keep himself off the rocky roof.
Our row back to Neiafu was most lovely—sea, isles, and sky, vegetation, and cliffs, all glorified in the light of the setting sun. As we were returning to shore, to land Mr Fox, Captain Aube hailed us, and bade us invite him to dinner with him. I thought this very courteous, as of course, on such an essentially Roman Catholic mission as this, there
1 Since my return to England, I have heard the statement corroborated.
is just a little natural feeling that it may not be discreet to show too much honour to the Protestant minister, who, however, met with a most cordial reception, and we had a very pleasant evening.
This morning I was invited to accompany a party who started at daybreak to shoot wild duck on a pretty lake at some distance; but as I had the option of returning to the grotto, I chose the latter. So the captain again lent me the ten-oared boat, and we made another pleasant party to the beautiful cave : but it lost much of its beauty by being seen in the cold shadow of early morning, instead of being illumined by the level rays of the evening sun. We repeated the palm-leaf bonfires, but felt that we were not exhibiting our discovery to the best advantage. However, I got a sketch, which has the one merit of being totally unlike anything else I ever attempted.
We returned too late for breakfast in the captain's cabin, so had a cheery little party in the ward-room, then went ashore to say good-bye to our friends, and carry away last impressions of the fragrant orange-groves of Vavau. Then the bishop and the Fathers returned on board, and we sailed away from the Friendly Isles.