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spread for the guests all round the leafy table; and so obviously uncomfortable were some of the senior officers, that the kindhearted ladies took pity on their foreign friends, and brought piles of cushions and pillows, to raise them; but as they could not raise the tables also, I fear that some of the gentlemen must have voted dining a Vindighie rather a serious effort.
I should have mentioned that in "setting the table," a pile of large bread-fruit leaves are laid before each person to act as plates, and to be changed as often as may be desired. Also, in lieu of tumblers, wine-glasses, and cruet-stands, each guest is provided with a half cocoa-nut shell, full of drinking water, and one of milk, a third with chopped cocoa-nut, and a fourth with salt water. The two latter are mixed together to make a sauce in which to dip the good things that are coming. This done, the fourth shell is filled with fresh water to act as a finger-glass. Half a bread-fruit, nicely cooked, is laid beside each place in lieu of bread. I fear, if I must confess the truth, that certain dainties in the way of creams and jellies, and tipsy-cakes, such as were not common in Tahiti in the days of Captain Cook, did find their way to our leafy bower, and were by no means despised.
Afterwards the band took up a good position outside the house, and a right merry dance ensued. As the gentlemen considerably outnumbered the ladies, great satisfaction was expressed when two very lady-like white girls suddenly arrived, robed in loose white sacques, and of course crowned with flowers. These turned out to be two of the middies, who kept up their part admirably throughout the evening.
The Shah musters a first-rate theatrical corps, and they say they would gladly act for the amusement of their Tahitian friends, but unfortunately their stay is too short to admit of any such ploy.
We are all going to lunch on board to-day.
We have had a very pleasant afternoon on the great ship. Soon after twelve we joined the royal party, for whom the admiral's barge was waiting, the bluejackets receiving the king with upH.M.S. SHAH. 333
lifted oars. (I believe "tossed" is the correct expression.) He was treated throughout with full royal honours—twenty-one guns on arrival and departure, yards manned, marines and crew on parade, and all the officers in the agonies of full uniform, with which, however, they soon contrived to dispense. I think that as soon as Captain Bedford had got over his surprise at being asked by the queen where she might smoke, he realised that gold lace was superfluous! Tahitian ladies can never be happy for long without their cigarettes, and the queen has recently received a present of an enormous supply, which are fast disappearing in faint films of smoke!
Our first introduction was to a large, very tame, black bear, which the sailors captured as a baby on Vancouver's Isle, and which now plays with them like a very gentle big dog. It is a much nicer beast than the Russian bears brought by the Limier.
We were formally conducted all over the huge ship, and duly wondered at the length of the lower deck, with the row of great guns on either side; in short, we felt exceedingly proud of our British representative, and the French officers and their Peruvian friends kindly abstained from invidious comments on the recent "Huascar " affair, which had been freely discussed here before the arrival of the giant Shah. Now all allusion to that pugnacious little vessel was studiously avoided, and everything connected with the big ship called forth a chorus of undivided admiration.
King Ariiaue was requested to touch an electric battery, and quick as lightning a whole broadside went off. In like manner Queen Marau fired a torpedo, which threw up the water in a gigantic fountain. We went through the ward-room, the largo airy gun-room, and the officers' daintily fitted-up cabins, exquisite in their neatness. The admiral has a most charming bedroom, drawing-room, and dining-room. In the latter we sat down to luncheon, about twenty-four persons, including the commanders of the other vessels.
When we returned on deck we found it transformed into a brilliant ball-room, all draped with flags, and full of people from Papeete. As we looked down from the upper decks and bridge, a prettier scene could not be imagined. The dancing folk did dance to their hearts' content; and those who, like myself, hold the Eastern creed, that all such hard work should be done by proxy, held possession of the higher levels, and sometimes varied the picture by turning to the beautiful panorama on every side of the harbour. To rest the band, there were two interludes, when the sailors danced hornpipes, and sang capital songs with choruses, which some of us onjoyed so much that we would fain have prolonged the concert. Unfortunately the king was tired of the proceedings, and wanted to hurry through the dances for which the queen had already engaged herself; so the singing was soon stopped, and the ball resumed till the sun had almost set behind Moorea, bathing its mountains in dreamy gold. A few minutes later the island stood out in clear-cut lilac, floating between a sea and sky of pale daffodil . Then we all returned ashore, and in the evening went to hear some himtines, specially got up for the edification of the strangers, who, however, by some unlucky misunderstanding, failed to appear. But as compared with those I had previously heard, these were very poor himfoien, and I was almost glad that they were not taken as samples of what those charming glees can be.
To-morrow morning the little Daring sails for Honolulu and the great Shah for Valparaiso. Every one regrets so speedy a departure, but the admiral says he dares not risk remaining with 700 Englishmen in this port, over Christmas Day, as it would be impossible to keep the men on board, with the tempting shore so close, and that if they once landed, some would inevitably get drunk, and have a row with the French authorities. Our good consul is evidently much relieved by this wise, though unpopular decision.
It certainly is grievous that the jolly tars, of whom Britain is so justly proud, contrive to do such scant credit to their nation or themselves when they land in any foreign port. Here, for instance, day after day, among the crowds who land on the shore just under my verandah, I never hear a voice which seems to be raised in anger,—all seem bright and happy. I wish I could say the sounds CHRISTMAS IN TAHITI. 335
are equally pleasant when a party of British sailors go past! Then the echoes that linger on the ear are sanguinary and repulsive; a painful contrast to the musical speech of the natives.
The Shah is fortunate in possessing, in the Rev. ■ Reed, a
chaplain who is exceedingly popular with all on board, and who takes an immense interest in all that concerns his flock. Besides the regular band, he has trained one specially to accompany sacred music; and the church choir is said to be excellent . It would have been really pleasant to have heard our own Church service on Christmas Day. By some fatality I have not had that privilege since leaving England; last Christmas Day having been spent in the hateful work of transhipping on our way from Fiji to New Zealand; and the previous one was spent in the mountains of great Fiji. It has been the same as regards Easter. We had to sail from Marseilles on Easter morning 1875. Easter of 1876 was spent in a little Fijian village in the isle of Koro, and Easter 1877 among the geysers of northern New Zealand. Where they may next find me, who can tell 1
I must close my letter that it may be sent on board the Daring at daybreak. The pretty Tahitian girls are working all to-night to finish arrowroot or bamboo fibre hats as parting gifts to the friends whom they will probably never meet again. "Telle est la vie!" —Good-night. Your Loving Sister.
THE ATOLL GROUP OF TETIAROA.
Fautawa, Tahiti, Christmas Day.
A glad Christmas to you all, dear people! Would that some good fairy could lend me a wishing-cap, that I might look in by turns on each home gathering in the various corners of England and Scotland . These marked anniversaries are always trying days, which awaken longings for the bodily presence of the dear kith and kin in the far country. But I confess I would rather that the said wishing-cap could bring all of you here, away from the bitter frosts and snows, to this paradise of sweet sunlight—and (selfish as it sounds when expressed in words) away from constant sight of the shivering ill-clad and half-starved people, whose deep-seated poverty you can in no wise alleviate,—to these isles, where want, at least, never appears prominently.
The whole family party of brothers and sisters, mother, aunts, cousins, and feudal retainers, moved out here again immediately after the departure of the big ship, and we have resumed the pleasant existence of delicious early bathes, and long idle days beneath the green shade by the lovely river.
I am sitting now in my favourite bower of dark hybiscus with lemon-coloured blossoms, which overarches the sparkling rivulet, as it branches from the main stream—an enchanting spot. I have just been reading the old Christmas service, which brings back many a vision of langsyne. There was a grand midnight Mass last night at the Catholic church, and of course service this morning, but none at the Protestant church, I believe.
Now I must go in to breakfast, alias luncheon, as a number of friends are expected. This evening one of the neighbours gives a large dance, to which, of course, we all go. Even non-dancers find such ploys attractive when they involve a pleasant evening drive in an open carriage, and no hot crowded rooms.
I have had another small cruise in the Seignelay, which was ordered to the isles of Tetiaroa, distant about twenty-four miles, thence to bring back the king, who went there last week in an open boat .
It was arranged that I should sleep at the Red House, and go on board with Queen Marau at daybreak. It proved to be rather a stormy morning, with a good deal of sea on: the sunrise colouring was very striking,—the mountains shrouded in heavy gloom,