Page images
PDF
EPUB

OCEAN GARLANDS. 337

dark storm-clouds revealing the edge of their silvery lining, and a luminous prismatic halo playing all round the sun. Then the cloud - masses dispersed; dainty pink cloudlets floated on a sky 'which graduated from a pale-lemon hue to .the colour of a thrush's egg, so that the whole colouring suggested broken rainbow lights, changing incessantly for half an hour.

Tetiaroa is a cluster of five low coral-isles, arranged in a circle, connected by coral-reef, thus almost forming an atoll. The isles are quite flat, nowhere rising more than four feet above the water. By nature barren, they have been artificially rendered fertile by the constant importation of vegetable mould from Tahiti; so now each isle is a dense grove of cocoa-palms, whose roots are washed by the salt spray.

Tetiaroa is to Papeete as Brighton is to London, a favourite bathing-place, where the Tahitians betake themselves to recruit their languid energies by a course of strong brine, though Tahiti appears to me too healthy to require any sanatorium. It is, however, worthy of note, that statistics go to prove that, as a rule, all the low coral-formations are healthy, whereas the inhabitants of high volcanic isles are frequently subject to fever and ague.

Though an imperfect atoll, this cluster was specially interesting to me, as a type of the eighty isles which form the Paumotus. Judging from this sample, I am satisfied that there is little to be seen from the deck of a ship. Could we ascend in a balloon, we should look down on a lagoon of shallow, very bright-green water, encircled by five palm-clad isles, connected by bands of rainbow-tinted reef,—say a garland of green roses and tri-colour ribbon. Could our balloon float above the Paumotu group, eighty such garlands would be seen scattered on the deep-blue ocean, each encircled by an outer belt of submarine prismatic colour, edged with white breakers, marking where lies the barrier-reef.

At Tetiaroa, the only opening in the reef is so narrow as barely to admit a canoe. We had, however, fully intended to land, but the surf was so rough that we had to give up the idea, much to my regret, especially as the day was devoted to heavy gun practice, which of course involves ear-splitting noise and smoke. However,

Y

I can stand fire pretty well, so took up a favourable position beside one of the cannons, and received instructions in artillery practice. Hut I confess I was not sorry when, after the fiftieth shot, .the look-out man (who sat aloft like the sweet little cherub) announced the approach of the king, and presently we discerned a great crowd of natives wading across the reef, and dragging his canoe. Shipboats put off to meet him; and though embarkation in such surf was no easy matter, it was safely accomplished, and a few minutes later the Seignelay received, not his majesty alone, but also a large number of pigs, and heaps of cocoa-nuts, presented to the lord of the isles, as parting gifts from loving subjects.

It was late ere we landed at Papeete, so I again slept at the lied House, where one of the Seignelay boats called for me at daybreak, and landed me at the beautiful avenue of Fautawa, where I had a most enjoyable morning of quiet sketching, till Mrs Brander sent her pony-carriage to bring me home to the noonday breakfast.

Now the young folk are preparing for a midnight frolic . They intend to have a very merry dance at a neighbour's house; but as it is to be impromptu, and the hosts are not supposed to prepare any supper, each gentleman intends to carry a basket, ostensibly of fruit and flowers, beneath which lie concealed sundry bottles of champagne, wherewith to drink the New Year in. The girls are busy weaving garlands, that all may be flower-crowned to-night.

Mrs Brander and her mother alone represent the more thoughtful element, and go to Papeete to attend a great native midnight service. I am too tired to do either, so can only say to you, as to the Old Year, "Good-night! Good-night!"

THE GUAVA SCRUB. 339

CHAPTER XXIV.

NEW YEAR'S DAY IN TAHITI — ASCENT OF FACTA WA VALLEY — OF PaLM SaLADS, SCREW-PINES, AND BREAD-FRUIT—PACKING MANGO-STONES— RETURN OF GILBERT ISLANDERS—DEPARTURE OF THE SEIGNELAY.

Fautawa, New Year's Day, 1878.

The dancers of last night did not come home till 3.30, and at 7 A.m. the band of La Magicienne came here to serenade Mrs Lrander, and played divinely. Many friends drove out to offer their Xew Year greetings, and so, as if by magic, the lawn was soon crowded with a joyous party, all the girls dressed in the prettiest, freshest of sacques, and their hair wreathed with bright flowers. What could they do but dance? The band, having pledged their hostess in her best champagne, played with a will foi a couple of hours, when they were provided with a substantial breakfast, and then all the gentlemen drove off to another place belonging to Mrs Brander, there to preside at a great breakfast to all her employes.

I drove into Papeete with pretty Pree, Manihinihi, and Xaani, to call on Marau, Moe, and other friends; and so we began the Xew Year brightly and happily, in ideal, civilised - South - Sea fashion.

January 25Ifc.

Ever since I arrived here, we have been planning an expedition to the French fort at some distance up this valley, at a height of about 1600 feet above the sea. So one beautiful morning last week, several friends from the Seignelay arrived here before sunrise, and Ariipaea Salmon undertook to be our guide. He had, unfortunately, hurt his foot, so he and I were privileged to ride, the others walking.

For a considerable distance the path winds through a dense

thicket of guavas, all self-sown, and considered by the people as

.great a curse as the (equally imported) luntana in Ceylon, both

plants having a fatal facility for spreading and taking permanent possession of every neglected comer. They are the Chinamen of the vegetable world, and are quite as useful in their way. The guava forms the principal firewood of Tahiti . It bears an abundant crop of excellent fruit, which is now ripening just as the mango season is finishing; and I think the Tahitian guava is better than those of India and Ceylon. Certainly it has a far less sickly smell. Cattle and horses alike munch both fruit and leaves with avidity, so I cannot see why the guava should be so generally despised; but the fact remains, strange to say, no one here seems ever to think of making the delicious crimson jelly which we, in England, prize so highly. The fruit is left to drop from the trees utterly unheeded.

Further up the valley the track becomes steep and narrow, and in places runs along the face of the cliff, with the rushing stream immediately below, and overhanging boughs festooned with vines growing so rankly as somewhat to endanger a rider. The beautiful large granadilla passion-flower here runs riot, but its fruit is now all finished. When ripe it resembles a good-sized pumpkin of a bright golden colour, and contains a multitude of seeds like those of a melon, each encased in white jelly. These lie inside a sweetish pulp about two inches thick, which is generally thrown away, but is nevertheless quite worth cooking as a vegetable.

I found the drooping branches so troublesome, that I foolishly ubandoned my horse very early, and had a much longer tramp than 1 counted on. We had not gone very far ere we quite lost the foot-track, and coming to a place where two ravines and two streams meet, Ariipaea, who had not been here for a long time, quite forgot which we were to follow; so first we tried the right side, and clambered up a steep and difficult path, till we were convinced that we were on the wrong track, and returning to the junction, we tried the other ravine, crossing and recrossing the stream.

At length, after much loss of time and energy, we concluded that our best course was again to return to the junction and there breakfast, trusting that by good luck it might prove to be the day on which "Pure Fautawa" (as the old soldier in charge of the fort is commonly called) would be returning from Papeete with his THE FORT OF FAUTAWA. 341

rations. Fortune favoured us; and ere we had finished the contents of our hamper (carried by French sailors) the old man appeared, and led the way by a middle path between the two streams. It was a very steep scramble, among great boulders and masses of rent crag, half hidden by the wealth of tree-ferns, young palms, wild bananas, and other tropical foliage, such as ginger, turmeric, wild caladium, and dracsena. The stems of the largo trees are covered with parasitic ferns, especially the handsome bird's nest fern, which here grows luxuriantly.

After crossing several small streams, we climbed to the verge of a deep ravine, at the head of which rises a precipitous cliff 600 feet high. Over this rushes a cataract of white foam, which fades into shadowy mist as it loses itself among the tall palms and feathery foliage of the tree-ferns and parasitic vines which veil its base. Above the fall is situated the French fortress.

The interest of the place does not lie in the fort of the foreigners, but in the fact that this was the last stronghold of the Tahitians, in their struggle to retain their independence and resist the hated invaders. Here it was that the last man who fell in that brave strife was shot, betrayed by one of his countrymen, who now reaps the reward of his treachery in the enjoyment of foreign gold and the red ribbon of the Legion of Honour. This was the last blood shed. Now the red roses grow undisturbed on the ramparts, and the lines of defence are so many terraced gardens, where the solitary old soldier grows strawberries for sale in Papeete, whither he descends once or twice a-week to draw his rations and to see the world.

It is a lonely ending for the old man's days, and a strange contrast to his former barrack-life. Now he is often for days together enveloped in mists, which enfold him in an isolated cloud-world. It is comparatively cold, too, at this high level, where at nights the thermometer sometimes falls below 60°. At Pere Fautawa's bidding we gathered ripe strawberries from his little garden, the first I had seen growing for many a day.1

1 The next I saw were at the British Legation in Pekin, where they were objects of intense interest, as being probably the first ever grown in the Celestial Empire.

« PreviousContinue »