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THE BKEAD-FEUIT TREE. 347.
which strong cloth is made. Its timber is exceedingly valuable; and its thick glossy leaves, which are sometimes eighteen inches in length by about twelve in breadth, are also turned to good account.
But of course it is chiefly prized for its abundant food-supply. Each tree yields three, sometimes four, crops annually; and as there are in these isles about fifty recognised varieties, which ripen at different seasons, it follows that, with a little care in cultivation, the supply might very easily be so regulated as never to fail. A large bread-fruit tree in full bearing is certainly a most beautiful object, with its wealth of green or yellow fruit hanging from beneath the handsome deeply indented leaves. A good tree will bear several hundred fruits—each about eight inches long by six wide,—with a rough green rind, divided into a lozenge-shaped pattern. This is sometimes peeled off before the white pulp is cooked; but I infinitely prefer the bread-fruit roasted whole on the embers or baked in the earth in a native oven, when the blackened rind is scraped off, and the inside is found thoroughly cooked, and in taste something like the thick scones known in the colonies as "dampers," or like the cold "chupatties " we used to eat on the march in the Himalayas—floury but rather tough. I don't think that these natural loaves are to be compared to a good potato. However, they are the bread of the favoured tropics; and nowhere else does mother nature yield so much wholesome food for so little human toil .
You need not, however, imagine that these good things are common property, to be gathered and cooked by every hungry man. On the contrary, every cocoa-palm and fruit-bearing tree on these or any other isles that I know of, has its owner, and is very likely the sole wealth of a whole family. So each fruit commands as regular a market-value in the South Sea Isles, as do the apples and potatoes of the English farmers. This is a simple fact, apparently not always recognised by visitors and others, who occasionally write to request their friends living here to send them cases of oranges and other fruits, as if they supposed that these were to be had for the mere trouble of gathering and packing!
Speaking of gathering and packing, I have for some time past been devoting a considerable amount of energy to collecting mangoetones, or rather kernels, with a view to sending them to Fiji . It is only about eighteen years since the mango-tree was introduced to these isles from Rio Janeiro, and so wonderful is the rapidity with which it has spread, that it now holds its place as the most marked feature in the vegetation of this group. Every homestead is embowered in these and other fruit-bearing trees, and for the last two months every man, woman, and child (to say nothing of quadrupeds) seems to be for ever eating ripe, delicious, golden mangoes; and every road, indeed the ground in every direction, is strewn with les noyaux; though the people so fully appreciate the luxury of a feast by the river-side, where they may enjoy the juicy dainties without the smallest respect for conventional appearances, that an immense number of the finest kernels are thrown into the water— indeed, since I have been so anxious to collect good sorts, I observe with annoyance that though I entreat these careless easy-going people (le peuple) to throw the best stones in some corner for me, they seem by preference (or probably by force of habit) always to chuck them into the water.
The French have taken immense trouble in perfecting this valuable fruit, and have now introduced so many excellent varieties that one crop succeeds another in rotation. The round mango is succeeded by the golden egg, and that by a small purple, while the large long sort seems inexhaustible. Best of all are those specially cultivated by Monseigneur Janssen, Bishop of Axieri, who has raised a super-excellent mango with a very large fruit, and a long stone so thin and flat as to resemble the inner sole of a child's shoe.
The bishop has also been inspired with the happy thought of distributing mango-stones in other groups, and sent off a large consignment last month by a vessel going direct to New Caledonia. He is most kind in helping me to collect a good assortment for Fiji: at the same time, he warns me that taking the best seed is no sure warrant for getting equally good plants, as no other tree exists, so faithless in reproducing its own kind, and variety of soil produces every conceivable variety of tree. You may take twin COLLECTING MANGO STONES. 349
fruits from one tree, and plant them a few yards to right and left of the parent tree. One will grow up infinitely superior to its mother—the other will be all stone and fibre, and scarcely fit for the pigs. The only certainty lies in taking graffs of the good ones, and so utilising the stock; also in planting, the richest soil must be selected, as the tree has a long tap-root and strikes deep.
Now there is abundance of rich soil in Fiji, and the ordinary vegetation is identical with that of Tahiti; so there can be no reason why the mango should not be acclimatised there as well as here, and it would be a very great satisfaction to me to aid in bestowing so great a boon on the young colony. I am sure I deserve that the attempt should succeed, for it has already cost me an immense amount of trouble. In spite of all precautions, of careful drying and turning, &c., a very large number of the stones I collected in the early part of the season have already sprouted. Some are quite respectable young trees.
So now I am making a more systematic attempt, and have devoted several days to driving to all the very finest gardens in the neighbourhood, where, with tho help of a pretty Tahitian boy (who rather enjoyed such a chance of an unlimited feed), I set to work to collect the half-decayed fruit, which lay rotting under all the best trees. I can tell you that cleaning the stones was about the hottest, dirtiest, and most fatiguing work I have done for many a day. However, notwithstanding the heat, I stuck to it for six hours one day and three the next, and two hours on several other days. And the result is a splendid lot of noyaux, which every morning I turn and re-turn, in order to dry them thoroughly, hoping to prevent their sprouting like the first lot. But in spite of all my precautions, the large flat seeds of the finest mango have already done so—so they, at least, can only be propagated by graffs. Another difficulty is, that hitherto all my efforts to send plants from Fiji to England by Wardian cases of island manufacture have proved abortive. In every case the plants have died, so I do not feel much encouraged to try the experiment again.
The great difficulty lies in the length of time that must elapse ere either plants or stones can reach Fiji; as, of course, such a chance as that of the vessel which brought me thence, direct to this group, is of very rare occurrence. The probability is, that the seeds which I am now collecting will have to wait for an opportunity of being sent by sailing-vessel 2000 miles north to Honolulu; there to be transhipped to a Pacific mail-steamer, and be carried south-west 4000 miles to Sydney; where they would find another steamer to take them the 1700 miles to Levuka, whence they will find their way by sundry small sailing-boats to the various Fijian isles. A somewhat circuitous route, you must allow!
After all, I have found a somewhat more direct route by which to send some of my mango-stones. Le Limier was despatched to-day on special service to the Gilbert Isles, thence to proceed to New Caledonia, and her very obliging captain, Commandant Puech, offered to carry a large case to the care of the British Consul (Mr Layard), who will forward it to Sir Arthur Gordon by the first opportunity. So I set to work to pack 4000 carefully selected stones, laying them side by side as neatly as though building a wall with children's little bricks. It took me a whole day's work, and, considering that each seed has passed through my hands six or eight times, while collecting, cleaning, scraping, drying, turning, selecting, and finally packing, you will not wonder that I looked after the departing case with a feeling of quite maternal interest.1
The mission on which Le Limier is now bound is to take back 200 of the Arawais, inhabitants of the Gilbert Islands, who were
1 Just before leaving Tahiti, I bestowed equal care on three cases containing 6000 stones, which were carried by sailing-ship to New Zealand and thence to Fiji. Their arrival there was anxiously expected, and all arrangements made for their speedy distribution throughout the group. Alas! alas! when, after long delays, the cases were opened, they were found to contain a mass of decay; poor dead plants, which had sprouted during the voyage, and straightway died. When this sad news reached me, I bethought me sorrowfully of the advice given me by Monseigneur Janssen—namely, that as plants require light and air to enable theui to sprout, I would do well to compel them to sleep by packing them in soot, and then having the case carefully caulked. The mess involved in such work was so horrible, that I shrank from undertaking it, but I bequeath the good advice to my successors in the attempt.
RETURN OF GILBERT ISLANDERS. 351
brought here as foreign labourers about nine years ago, on the understanding that they would very soon be sent home again, whereas they have been detained all these years. When Admiral Serres commenced critical inquiries on the various abuses at which previous governors had winked, this fact became known, and he decided that the labourers should be sent back soon after the Xew Year—an announcement which filled their masters with dismay, in view of ungathered crops, but was hailed by the Arawais with joy till they learnt by what vessel they were to travel. Then they were filled with alarm, believing that so large a ship would not dare to risk the dangerous navigation between their little isles; and that they would probably all be landed (as has often been done in similar cases) on one or two of the principal isles, where they would be left quite as much in a strange land as in Tahiti, and, moreover, with the certainty of being robbed, and the probability of being eaten by hostile tribes. So a considerable number have refused to go on this occasion. Indeed M. Puech is himself much perturbed as to how to accomplish this really difficult business.
He invited a few friends, including myself, to go on board at the last moment, to faire lc$ adieux. The vessel presented a curious scene—picturesque, certainly, with abundance of bright colour, but more like an emigrant ship than a man-of-war. Le Limier is so constructed that she has not sufficient accommodation to allow of all the crew sleeping below at one time. So these wretched Arawais, including women and children, are taken only as deck passengers; and as the cruise, under steam, cannot take less than from sixteen to eighteen days, during which they must take their chance of whatever weather they may encounter, you can understand that the voyage does not promise to be a pleasuretrip.
The vessel carries much extra coal, to provide against the danger of a calm. So half her deck is loaded with this dirty store, and the 200 Gilbert Islanders are huddled together on the main-deck. Each labourer has a trade box, containing a few clothes, a good deal of tobacco, and some cheap toys for children; and this is all they