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A FA1HY GROT. 29
ready, a party of natives from the mission having made an early start with tea, yams, ham and eggs—all of which had heen cooked gipsy-fashion. To this foundation we added the contents of a hamper, which the thoughtful captain had directed his maitre tfhStel to send with us. So we had a royal feast, and then I settled down to do a bird's-eye sketch of the strange world outspread below, while gentle and rather pretty brown girls, with sienna hair, sat by, peeling oranges by the dozen, with which they fed us all incessantly.
It is the part of true hospitality to peel oranges for a guest, as their thick green skins contain so much essential oil, that the mere act of removing them makes the hands very oily and uncomfortable. Woe betide the rash and thirsty stranger who puts the green fruit to his lips to suck it, as he might a golden orange in Europe. For many hours the burning pain of almost blistered lips will remind him of his folly.
Returning to the village, we found a large ten-oared boat waiting for us, the captain having most kindly placed it at our disposal, to enable us to explore the coast. Mr Fox guided us to a truly exquisite cave, about five milas distant . Never before, in all my wanderings, had my eyes been gladdened by such an ideal fairy grot. We rowed along the face of beautiful crags, which we had passed on the previous day without a suspicion of the wonderful hiding-place within them. Suddenly we steered right into a narrow opening, and found ourselves in a i<reat vaulted cavern like a grand cathedral—a coral cave, with huge white stalactites hanging in clusters from the roof, and forming a perfect gallery along one side, from which wo could almost fancy that white-veiled nuns were looking down on us.
The great outer cave is paved with lapis-lazuli, at least with water of the purest ultra-marine, which was reflected in rippling shimmers of blue and green on the white marble roof. For the sun was lowering, and shone in glory through the western archway, lighting up the mysterious depths of a great inner cavern, which otherwise receives but one ray of light from a small opening far overhead, through which we saw blue sky and green leaves. No scene-painter could have devised so romantic a picture for any fairy pantomime. The French sailors were ecstatic in their delight. They collected piles of old cocoa-nut fibre and dry palm-leaves and kindled bright blazing fires, whose ruddy light glowed on the dark crevices, which even the 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 restingplace to such as here seek a 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. LEGEND OF THE CAVE. 31
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.
Xot 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 'laughter, 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 hiding-place 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. l Then they dived beside the great rock-mass, 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