FRENCH CIRCUMNAVIGATORS, II

The French being looked upon as old allies were always received with kindness and without suspicion. It had not, apparently, been so with the English, who had not been permitted to land, whilst the sailors on board the Thetis were at once allowed to fish and hunt, and to go and come as they chose, every facility for obtaining fresh provisions being also accorded to them. Thanks to this latitude, the officers were able to scour the country and make interesting observations. One of them, M. de la Touanne, gives the following description of the natives:—"They are rather under than over middle height, and in this respect they closely resemble the Chinese of Macao. Their skin is of a yellowish-brown, and their heads are flat and round; their faces are without expression, their eyes are as melancholy, but their eyebrows are not so strongly marked as those of the Chinese. They have flat noses and large mouths, and their lips bulge out in a way rendered the more disagreeable as they are always black and dirty from the habit indulged in, by men and women alike, of chewing areca nut mixed with betel and lime. The women, who are almost as tall as the men, have not a more pleasant appearance; and the repulsive filthiness, common to both sexes, is enough without anything else to deprive them of all attractiveness."

Women of Touron Bay
Women of Touron Bay.

What strikes one most is the wretchedness of the inhabitants as compared with the fertility of the soil, and this shocking contrast betrays alike the selfishness and carelessness of the government and the insatiable greed of the mandarins. The plains produce maize, yams, manioc, tobacco, and rice, the flourishing appearance of which testifies to the care bestowed upon them; the sea yields large quantities of delicious fish, and the forests give shelter to numerous birds, as well as tigers, rhinoceroses, buffaloes, and elephants, and troops of monkeys are to be met with everywhere, some of them four feet high, with bodies of a pearl-grey colour, black thighs, and red legs. They wear red collars and white girdles, which make them look just as if they were clothed. Their muscular strength is extraordinary, and they clear enormous distances in leaping from branch to branch. Nothing can be odder than to see some dozen of these creatures upon one tree indulging in the most fantastic grimaces and contortions. "One day," says Bougainville, "when I was at the edge of the forest, I wounded a monkey who had ventured forth for a stroll in the sunshine. He hid his face in his hands and sent forth such piteous groans that more than thirty of his tribe were about him in a moment. I lost no time in reloading my gun not knowing what I might have to expect, for some monkeys are not afraid of attacking men; but the troop only took up their wounded comrade, and once more plunged into the wood."

Another excursion was made to the marble rocks of the Faifoh River, where are several curious caves, one containing an enormous pillar suspended from the roof and ending abruptly some distance from the ground; stalactites were seen, but the sound of a water-fall was heard from the further end. The French also visited the ruins of an ancient building near a grotto, containing an idol, and with a passage opening out of one corner. This passage Bougainville followed. It led him into an "immense rotunda lighted from the top, and ending in an arched vault, at least sixty feet high. Imagine the effect of a series of marble pillars of various colours, some from their greenish colour, the result of old age and damp, looking as if cast in bronze, whilst from the roof hung down creepers, now in festoons, now in bunches, looking for all the world like candelabra without the lights. Above our heads were groups of stalactites resembling great organ-pipes, altars, mutilated statues, hideous monsters carved in stone, and even a complete pagoda, which, however, occupied but a very small space in the vast enclosure. Fancy such a scene in an appropriate setting, the whole lit up with a dim and wavering light, and you can perhaps form some idea how it struck me when it first burst upon me."