CHAPTER XIII. THE SOUTH SEA ISLANDS.
And all throughout the air there reigned the sense
Of waking dream with luscious thoughts o'erladen,
Of joy too conscious made and too intense
By the swift advent of excessive Aiden,
Bewilderment of beauty's affluence.
Tuesday, November 28th. - We passed Anaa, or Chain Island, in the morning watch, before daybreak. I came on deck to try and get a glimpse of it, and was rewarded by a glorious sunrise. We had a nice eight-knot breeze and a strong current in our favour, and just before breakfast Tom descried from the masthead Amanu, or Moeller Island, which we had hardly expected to make before ten or eleven o'clock. Some one remarked that it seemed almost as if it had come out to meet us. The reef encircling this island varies much in height and vegetation. In some places it supports a noble grove of trees, in others the sea breaks over the half-submerged coral-bed, the first obstacle it has met for 4,000 miles, with a roar like thunder.
Before we had lost sight of Amanu, the island of Hao Harpe, or Bow Island, was visible on our port bow. I wished very much to land, and at last persuaded Tom, who was rather anxious on the score of the natives, to allow some of us to make the attempt, us cautioning to turn away from the shore directly, in case the islanders looked at all doubtful in their attitude and intentions. After lunch, therefore, we hove to, and the gig's crew were ordered to arm themselves with revolvers and rifles, which they were not to show unless required to do so. All the gentlemen had revolvers, and Mabelle and I were also provided with two small ones, Phillips and Muriel being the only unarmed members of the party. I took a bag full of beads, knives, looking-glasses, and pictures, for barter and presents, and with these preparations we set off to make our first personal acquaintance with the islanders of the South Pacific. Tom gave us a tow to windward, and we then rowed direct to a point on one side of the entrance to the lagoon, where we saw some natives waving something white. As we approached we could distinguish several figures standing on the point, under the shade of some cocoa-nut trees, and on the opposite side of the entrance some canoes were drawn up on the beach, by the side of a hut, close to a large clump of low trees. We were by this time surrounded by breakers, and it required no little skill to steer the boat safely through the broken water, between the race of the tide on one side, and the overfall from the coral reef on the other. It was successfully done, however, and, having rounded the point, we found ourselves at once in the waters of the tranquil lagoon. We should have preferred to land at the point, had it been possible, as it was doubtful whether it would be safe to go round the corner, and so lose sight of the yacht; but the intentions of the natives seemed peaceable, several of them running into the water up to their waists to meet us, while others could be seen hurrying along the beach, the women carrying what looked like bunches of fruit.
It is really impossible to describe the beauty of the scene before us. Submarine coral forests, of every colour, studded with sea-flowers, anemones, and echinidae, of a brilliancy only to be seen in dreamland, shoals of the brightest and swiftest fish darting and flashing in and out; shells, everyone of which was fit to hold the place of honour in a conchologist's collection, moving slowly along with their living inmates: this is what we saw when we looked down, from the side of the boat, into the depths below. The surface of the water glittered with every imaginable tint, from the palest aquamarine to the brightest emerald, from the pure light blue of the turquoise to the deep dark blue of the sapphire, and was dotted here and there with patches of red, brown, and green coral, rising from the mass below. Before us, on the shore, there spread the rich growth of tropical vegetation, shaded by palms and cocoa-nuts, and enlivened by the presence of native women in red, blue, and green garments, and men in motley costumes, bringing fish, fowls, and bunches of cocoa-nuts, borne, like the grapes brought back from the land of Canaan by the spies, on poles.