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COALS OF FIRE. 313
des fleurs,” as Madame Valles describes her daily task, is no sinecure; it must be done during the hottest hours of the day, when any exertion is most exhausting. It needs a keen eye to detect each fresh blossom, and any neglected flower withers and drops. Each day the ripening pods must be gathered, and in dry weather the plants require frequent watering—an indescribable toil. This morning Madame Valles let me accompany her on her morning rounds, whereby I realised that toil and hardship are to be found even in paradise. We returned to breakfast, which was served by an old French soldier—a garrulous old fellow, and evidently quite a “character.” Apparently his life is a burden to him, by reason of the multitude of half-tamed animals which swarm about the place. . In the dining-room were three old and six young cats; two large, three medium, and many small dogs, all hungrily clamouring for food, and only kept off the table by the free use of a large, resounding whip. In the afternoon M. Brun came in search of me, and we rode to the head of the bay, where there is a beautiful estate, and large comfortable house, built many years ago by an English planter, who failed, and the place was bought by Dr Michelli, an Italian, who chanced just then to be conveying a cargo of Chinese coolies to Peru. So many died on the voyage that he determined to halt at Tahiti, and give the survivors time to recruit. Finding this very desirable property in the market, he concluded that the part of wisdom was to go no further. So here he settled with about fifty Chinamen, who work the land and give him a third of the profits, while he rides about the mountains, and shoots wild cattle for their COmmon use, His surroundings are somewhat polyglot. The cook is an Englishman; servants of various degree are Tahitian; while the over. seer, M. Bellemare, is a French externe-politique, who was exiled for firing at the late Emperor Louis Napoleon—a crime which the Emperor seems to have punished on the Biblical principle of heaping coals of fire, in the form of unmerited reward; for during his lifetime M. Bellemare received a regular pension and lived on the fat of the land—a clemency which certainly failed to awaken one thrill of gratitude in the would-be assassin. The pension having expired with the death of the Emperor, M. Bellemare has been obliged to seek remunerative occupation, which he has here found.
Again a delightful sea-bathe, followed by real French chocolate, and then the charming little trio constituted themselves my guides, and led me by difficult, and to me undiscernible paths, over the wooded hills, and through la brousse, which consists of dense guava scrub, to various points, from which we obtained lovely views of the harbour. The walk involved an amount of severe scrambling which, even to me, was somewhat trying; but the children skipped along over rock and crag like young kids, only pausing, with charmingly pretty manners, to see if I required their aid, and bringing me all manner of treasures of fruit and flowers.
I fear no description can possibly convey to your mind a true picture of the lovely woods through which we wander just where fancy leads us, knowing that no hurtful creature of any sort lurks among the mossy rocks or in the rich undergrowth of ferns. Here and there we come on patches of soft green turf, delightfully suggestive of rest, beneath the broad shadow of some great tree with buttressed roots; but more often the broken rays of sunlight gleam in ten thousand reflected lights, dancing and glancing as they shimmer on glossy leaves of every form and shade—from the huge silky leaves of the wild plantain or the giant arum, to the waving palmfronds, which are so rarely at rest, but flash and gleam like polished swords as they bend and twist with every breath of air.
It has just occurred to me that probably you have no very distinct idea of the shape of a cocoa-palm leaf, which does not bear the slightest resemblance to the palmettos in the greenhouse. It consists of a strong mid-rib, about eight feet long, which, at the end next to the tree, spreads out, very much as your two clenched fists, placed side by side, do from your wrists. The other end tapers to a point. For a space of about two feet the stalk is bare;
TROPICAL ENGLAND. 315
then along the remaining six feet a regiment of short swords, graduated from two feet to eighteen inches in length, are set close together on each side of the mid-rib. Of course the faintest stir of the leaf causes these multitudinous swordlets to flash in the sunlight. Hence the continual effect of glittering light, and also the extreme difficulty of securing a good photograph of a cocoapalm. A little lower than these tall queens of the coral-isles, rise fairylike canopies of graceful tree-ferns, often festooned with most delicate lianas; and there are places where not these only, but the larger trees, are literally matted together by the dense growth of the beautiful large-leaved white convolvulus, or the smaller lilac ipomaea, which twines round the tall stems of the palms, and overspreads the light fronds, like some green waterfall. Many of the larger trees are clothed with parasitic ferns; huge bird's-nest ferns grow in the forks of the branches, as do various orchids, the dainty children of the mist, so that the stems are wellnigh as green as everything else in that wilderness of lovely forms. It is a very inanimate paradise, however. I rarely see any birds or butterflies, only a few lizards and an occasional dragon-fly; and the voice of singing-birds, such as gladden our hearts in humble English woods, is here mute—so we have at least this compensation, for the lack of all the wild luxuriance which here is so fascinating. I wonder if a time will ever come when these fairy isles shall have passed through changes as marvellous as those which geologists teach us to trace in Old England. Have you ever fully realised that “once upon a time ’’ all the strange beautiful plants which we call tropical, were growing in rank luxuriance on English soil' I believe that the curious diapered stem of the quaint papawa is one of our common fossil forms. In Dr Buckland's museum at Oxford, I remember seeing unmistakable fruit of a screw-pine (pandanus) found in the Oolite, near Charmouth. As to the London Clay, the Isle of Sheppey seems wholly composed of relics of tropical plants, turtles, serpents, and shells, now unknown save in these warm isles. I have seen a drawing of the section of a fossil fruit found there, which might have been made from a split bread-fruit; also nuts greatly resembling those of the cocoa and areca palms. The custard-apple is found there, and the dracaena and yucca, and many another tropical leaf and fruit. Would that they grew there now ! Picture to yourself a time when the bleak Northumbrian coast was a forest like one of these, and the coals, of which we now so gladly heap up blazing fires, were all beautiful ferns and palms, waving in the warm sunlight! Truly it is hard to realise. Even the dragon-flies and lizards of those antediluvian forests are preserved, and spiders and scorpions. As to the chalk and lias and limestone, they give us sponges and corals and zoophytes enough to build up any number of coral-reefs; and there are great turban echini with heavy spines, like those we find here, and star-fish innumerable, and teeth and vertebrae of sharks and ray. So that there really was a time when Old England must have been as fascinating as any South Sea isle. What she may have been in the days of the mammoth and megatherium, and all the gruesome race, restored for our edification at the Crystal Palace, is quite another matter; the very idea is suggestive of nightmare
This has been a grey stormy day, with heavy showers, but as Dr Michelli had promised to escort me up the valley to the foot of the mighty crags, I could not lose so good an opportunity; and indeed such solemn mountain scenes only borrow fresh grandeur from the gloom, so that I almost prefer a stormy leaden sky for such an expedition; besides, it is no small gain to have a veiled sun, as its full rays, when refracted by the black trap dikes, make the ascent somewhat of a toil.
The friendly gendarme again lent me his horse to ride to the head of the harbour, where the Doctor had other steeds ready for the mountain. Unfortunately he himself was unwell, and so was obliged to commit me to the care of the externe-politique, who fulfilled his trust admirably, though I confess that it gave me something of an eerie feeling to find myself at a height of 2000 feet
AMONG THE MOUNTAINS. 317°
above my fellow-men, sitting quietly sketching among black crags and floating mists, alone with a would-be murderer, who, glorying in his shame, entertained me at great length with a most animated description of the whole story, nor spared me one of his poignant regrets at the failure of his vile attempt. The scenery on every side was magnificent. Huge indigocoloured mountain-masses looming out awfully through the floating cloud-wreaths—tremendous precipices—deep mysterious ravines —right above me towered a gigantic square-shaped mountain, and beyond it one vast pinnacle. You never can lose the impression of cyclopean fortifications and watch-towers. The higher ridges are absolutely inaccessible; but adventurous cragsmen sometimes find their way by tracks which wild goats would shun—narrow ledges by which they can creep along the face of a precipice, and so pass on to another ravine, or scramble from ledge to ledge with the help of ropes. “Le jeu vaut-il la chandelle?” I should say not. From the highest point we reached, I obtained a grand view of the valley, which lay bathed in sunlight, while we were shrouded in mountain gloom, with a storm fast gathering overhead. Far below us, beyond the orange-groves and the cultivated lands, lay the two harbours, Pao Pao and Opunohu–two calm lagoons lying to right and left of a mighty rock-pyramid, which is crowned with trap ridges, so narrow as here and there to have altogether worn away, leaving arches and apertures through which the sky is seen, as through the eye of a needle. This is a common feature of the ridges which form the centre of this strange isle, and which are thus pierced in many places—a phenomenon duly accounted for in Tahitian legends by the spear-thrusts of certain demigods and heroes. A few heavy rain-drops, with a prospect of abundance to follow, compelled me to abandon this splendid sketching-ground, and return to the lower world, where the Doctor awaited my return, to share an excellent breakfast, with all the delicacies of Moorea. One of these, which is perhaps unknown to you, is the Abercarder pear, or, as it is called in India, “subaltern's butter,” a pear-shaped