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that you could look on the lovely scene on which my eyes rest with the first glimmer of dawn, and which now lies outspread before me, as I sit in this cool verandah opening off my large bedroom on the upper storey! It is a verandah all closed in with jalousies, screening its occupants from the outside world; while they, themselves unseen, look down on the brightest, most animated scene you can imagine.
Long before sunrise the pretty native boats, with double sails, arrive from all parts of the isle, bringing their cargo of fish and fruit for the market, which is held in a large building in the town. But as the boats are unloaded, their wares are outspread on the grass just below these windows, and the most active housewives and purveyors for the ships come here to secure the first choice of luscious fruits and of fishes, as beautiful to the eye as they are tempting to the palate. These are of every shade of blue and green, scarlet and crimson, and pale yellow with lilac stripes. The large bright-green fish are generally eaten raw; and occasionally the purchasers, whose appetites are sharpened by the fresh morning air, cannot resist an early breakfast al fresco. The air is balmy and delicious, like a heavenly midsummer morning in Europe; and all the girls have light woollen shawls. (Eeal Scotch tartans are in high favour, and are worn in true Highland fashion, over one shoulder and round the body.)
The fruit-supply is brought in large baskets. Just now there are quantities of mangoes, oranges, and Abercarder pears (des avocats they are called here, where French permeates all things, as it did in England when the Norman conquerors changed Saxon oxen, sheep, and hens, to beef, mutton, and fowls). But these minor fruits are trifling luxuries. The mainstay of life is the faees or wild banana, which here takes the place of the yams and taro of the groups further west.
I think I have already described this peculiar plant, which bears its enormous bunch of fruit growing upright from the centre of its crown of large leaves, instead of drooping below them, as is the manner of all other bananas and plantains. These clusters vary from two to four feet in length; and I constantly see a bunch so
long and so heavy, that it is carried to market slung from a pole, resting on the shoulders of two men, just as in the old pictures of the Israelitish spies bearing the grapes of Eshcol, which were the delight of our childhood. It must be toilsome work to carry these weighty spoils of the mountains from the remote ravines where they chiefly flourish.
All these heaps of golden fruit form a brilliant foreground to the beautiful harbour beyond, which at this early hour reflects only the pale, glowing daffodil hues of a cloudless sky, against which the exquisite outline of Moorea stands out in clear relief. Suddenly its delicate pearly grey is flushed with rose colour, as the first ray of the rising sun touches those lofty summits, and veinings of tender blue mark the course of deep glens and corries, or the shadows cast by prominent crags and pinnacles.
Nearer—so near, indeed, that we can distinguish friendly faces on the decks—lie the French men-of-war; and as the light touches them, their dead white changes to cream colour, and they and their unfurled sails, and the clothes hung out to dry, are all reflected in the calm water. So, too, are the various trading-ships, and the great hulk of a large iron vessel, which caught fire fifteen months ago when she was near the Marquesas. Her crew took to their boats, and two of these arrived here safely. A good while after, the deserted ship, still burning, drifted down towards here. The Seignelay went out and towed in the wreck. She had been laden with coal, and this had run into a sort of semi-fluid, tarry condition, and to this hour it is still smouldering; and after a shower of rain, steam and smoke still rise from the poor old hulk, which is so red from rust that you would think she had been painted vermilion. It is a vexed question whether she can ever be turned to account, or whether she should not be towed outside the reef, and there sunk.i
Just beyond the shipping, inside the harbour, is a small island fortified by the French. The incongruity of ramparts and guns is hidden by foliage of hybiscus and palms; and it forms one item in the beauty of the scene.
i The question was decided in her favour. She has been refitted and renamed and now sails the Pacific as the Annie Johnson.
This is the view from the front of the Eed House. The back windows look over green mango-trees, and past the spire of the Eoman Catholic church, to the great purply mountains of the interior. So you see that, although this big square three-storeyed house of very red brick, encased in closed verandahs, is not in itself an ornamental building, its surroundings are very lovely. And of the kindliness that reigns within it, words fail me to tell. It is an atmosphere of genial cordiality, in which each guest is at once made to feel as welcome, and as thoroughly at home, as any member of the large family. It is a kindness as unconscious, but as real and as delightful, as the balmy air we breathe, and is as purely Tahitian. What would these warm-hearted open-handed people think of the measured cold reception of strangers in our grey' British isles?
To begin with, I discovered, on arriving here, that Mrs Brander had actually given me her own charming suite of rooms, to secure my having the fullest enjoyment of the lovely view and of the cool verandahs; so that I virtually am in solitary possession of this whole flat, with its large handsome drawing-room and cosy boudoir. I compare myself to one of the hermit-crabs which curl themselves into desirable shells, to the exclusion of the rightful owners! But my most hospitable hostess will not allow that she suffers any inconvenience; though she and her children have moved downstairs to share one huge room with any number of friends and relations, who spread their soft mattresses and pillows, and very gay quilts, and make themselves cosy for the night, just as the fancy takes them. The fine old mother has a house near, but very often she and the pretty sisters prefer to sleep here: so do sundry cousins and friends. There are also a number of Tahitian women of good birth who find a home, almost by right, in the house of every high chief, and who in return do him, or her, such light service as may be required. But of actual servants, as we understand the word, there are none.
I find an element of great comfort in the presence of an English woman who acts as housekeeper—a most unexpected discovery in Tahiti! She brings my early breakfast of tea and fruit, and otherwise takes great care of mo.
We have a regular European breakfast and dinner, at which, however, only my hostess and her big brothers, with the Belgian manager and a few French officers, generally appear. The others prefer eating a Vindigkne, sitting on their mats in another room, or beneath the shady trees; in fact, the native element is pretty strong, which gives this house half its interest. All the connections of the royal family, and a number of pretty demi-hlanche girls, dressed in flowing sacques, are continually coming and going; and once a-week Mrs Brander has a reception for all the young folk, and for as many French officers as like to come; and they all dance and make merry,—rather more so, I think, than at the admiral's Wednesday receptions at Government House, which are, nevertheless, very enjoyable.
I had heard the praises of my hostess sung in no measured terms by all the members of the mission, both French and English, as well as by our consul and his family; but only since I have lived under her roof have I realised what a very exceptional woman she is. To the affectionate kindliness of a genuine Tahitian, she adds the Anglo-Jewish strength of character and business capacity inherited from her father; and the combination is one which would be truly remarkable in any woman, but is doubly so in one of the gentle daughters of the South Seas. The born chiefess is revealed in her large-hearted generosity to every creature that comes within her reach; though her extreme unselfishness makes her shrink from any expenditure that seems to tend only to her own comfort. She appears to be always thinking what she can do for other people—rich or poor, in all parts of the group. She has estates scattered all over these isles, and conducts all their business herself, as well as attending to everything connected with the great mercantile house created by her late husband. Though she has many assistants, she is emphatically its head, and not the smallest detail can be carried out without her sanction. Every business transaction, whether with the French Government, or foreign vessels requiring supplies, or her own trading ships, passes through her hands. Everything is done by her special order, and every business paper has to receivo her signature. But she never seems to forget anything or any one; and, moreover, has time to prove herself a most devoted mother to her nine children—of whom one is married in Valparaiso, another here, some of the sons are at school in Scotland, and the baby daughters are the pets and darlings of this house.
Mrs Brander owns a fleet of about twenty smart trading schooners, which run backwards and forwards between Tahiti and such points as San Francisco, Valparaiso, and New Zealand, carrying the cargoes of all sorts collected by other vessels (of the same fleet) in the surrounding isles and the neighbouring groups.
These cargoes consist chiefly of coppra—that is, dried cocoanut kernel, broken into little bits for convenience of stowage on the far journey to England or other lands, where it is subjected to such heavy pressure as extracts the oil, leaving a residue of oilcake for the fattening of British beeves. For the gourmet of China, quantities of edible fungus and dried beche-de-mer are sent to San Francisco, whence they are passed on to Hong-Kong. Tons of large pearl-shells, measuring about eight inches across, with beautifully iridescent lining, go to make buttons and such articles, in all parts of the world; true pearls of considerable value are occasionally found in these, and a large number of average size. Of the fruits of the isles, oranges form the largest export, but vanilla, coffee, and various other products swell the list. At one time cotton was a good article of export, but it appears to have fallen into disfavour.
The vessels return from their several destinations laden with every conceivable variety of goods. There is nothing that luxury can desire which does not find its way to these remote isles, from the newest scent to the finest dress materials—not even excepting silks and velvets, though for whose benefit these are imported, passes my comprehension.
Truly wonderful is that compendium of all things needful, known as "a store," and that of La liaison Brandere is the largest in Papeete. Like "the merchant" of a Scotch village, magnified a thousandfold, the owner of a South Sea store must be ready to supply all the most incongruous demands which his