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Life On Board 8hip — The Wallis Isles — Fotuna — Sunday
Isle Cyclopean Remains On Easter Isle Stone Adzes
From My Sofa In The Gun-carriaoe,
My Dear Nell,—I have asked Lady Gordon to send you a long letter to her, which I hope to post at Apia, so that I need not repeat what I have already written. We are having a most delightful cruise, with everything in our favour, and the kindness of every one on board is not to be told.
To begin with, Monseigneur Elloi, Eveque de Tipara, is a host in himself, so genial and pleasant, and so devoted to his brown flock. He is terribly unhappy about all the fighting in Samoa; and I think the incessant wear and tear of mind and body he has undergone, in going from isle to isle, perpetually striving for peace, has greatly tended to break down his own health, for he is now very far from well, and every day that we touch land, .and he has to officiate at a long church service, he is utterly exhausted. It is high time he returned to France, as he hopes to do, at the end of this cruise.
His title puzzled us much when he arrived in Fiji, as we supposed him to be Bishop of Samoa. But it seems that a Roman Catholic bishop cannot bear the title of a country supposed to be semiheathen, so they adopt that of one of the ancient African churches, which are now virtually extinct.
To-day, being Sunday, the bishop called together as many of the sailors as wished to attend, and held "a conference "—which meant that he sat on deck, and they sat or stood all round, quite at their ease, no officers being present, while he gave them a very nice winning little talk, ending with a few words of prayer. There was no regular service. There is always a tiny form of morning and evening prayer, said on parade by one of the youngest sailors, which is very nice theoretically, but is practically nil. At the word of command, Priere, a young lad, rapidly repeats the Ave Maria and Ndtre Pere qui etes mix cieux; he gabbles it over at railroad speed in less than a minute; then, as an amen, comes the next thing, Panitions, followed by a list of the various little trespasses of the day, and the penalties awarded.
At each point where the vessel has touched, she
has taken or left some of the French priests, many of whom have been working in these isles for so many years, that they know every detail concerning them, and are consequently very pleasant companions. One of my especial friends is a dear old Pere Padel, a cheery Breton, who has been working in the Wallis group for many years, with the happy result of seeing its savages converted to most devout Catholics. He is now going to Samoa.
Much of the charm of this voyage is due to the kindly, pleasant relations existing between the captain and all his officers, from the least to the greatest — all are so perfectly at ease, while so thoroughly respectful. They are all counting the hours for their return to la belle France, where several have left wife and family ; and their two years' absence apparently seems longer to them than the four years of our English ships would seem to be to less demonstrative Britons.
Nothing astonishes me more than the freedom of religious discussion on every side. Of course to the bishop and the numerous peres, personally, every one is most friendly and respectful, as well they may be; but as a matter of individual faith, c'est toute autre chose.
The evening tea-parties in the captain's cabin are particularly pleasant. Very often the conversation turns on some literary question, and then, from the ample library, are produced books from which M. le Commandant reads illustrations of prose or poetry. He is himself literary, and writes very well, in the 'Revue des deux Mondes' and other papers. Monseigneur Elloi says that Captain Aube is a very distinguished man in the French navy, and one who is certain of rapid promotion.
He has another guest on board, M. Pinart, a scientific traveller. He belongs to a French Protestant family, but is such a thorough cosmopolite, that when we go about together in the native villages, and the people ask our nationalities, I always answer for him "American." He is most industrious in his various lines of work, and is at present busy copying out vocabularies of all manner of dialects. He is greatly interested in all ethnological questions, and has a collection of skulls, enough to supply a resurrection army. I do not think the sailors like it very much, and they are always afraid that some trouble will arise with the natives of various isles on the vexed subject of les cranes, which our savant scents out from old hiding-places in caves and clefts of the mountains, with all the instinct of a schoolboy hunting for birds' nests. He has just shown me some beautiful illustrations in colours, for the book he is bringing out on American Indians; also many good photographs, done by himself, of objects of interest in many lands.
I am so sorry that the Seignelay paid her visits to Fotuna (in the Southern New Hebrides), and to the Wallis Isles, on their way to Fiji. If only these had been reserved for the return journey, I should have had the rare luck of seeing them also. My kind friends are for ever regretting this, and give me tantalising descriptions of both isles and people.
Apparently les isles Wallis, or Uvea, must be the true earthly paradise—so green, so fertile, with people so industrious, so contented, and so hospitable. It is a group of four or five high volcanic isles, all richly wooded, and protected from the ocean, not only by the great barrier-reef, but by an intricate labyrinth of lesser belts and patches, which make navigation a matter of extreme danger, even after the difficult entrance, by a very narrow passage, has been accomplished. The approach to the anchorage is by a network of such dangerous channels, as involve masterly steering for even small craft, and make it a matter of wonder that large vessels should attempt it. Indeed a French steamer, L'Hermite, was wrecked there not long ago, owing to one moment's hesitation on the part of her commander, who, meeting a strong tide running out, shifted the helm at a critical moment, and so the vessel was swept on to the reef—a helpless plaything for the overwhelming surf.
The Wallis Isles lie due north of Tonga, and arc