CHAPTER XIII. THE SOUTH SEA ISLANDS.
In nearly all accounts of voyages in the South Seas much space is devoted to the description of the purchase, or rather barter, of hogs. We thought we could not do better than follow as far as possible the example of our predecessors, and accordingly bought two little pigs for two shillings each. They were evidently quite pets, lying on the mats outside the huts, and coming when called, just like dogs. The one I first bought appeared to be quite happy and content to be carried under my arm. The natives seemed quite to understand the value of money, and did not hesitate to ask for it in return for the cocoa-nuts full of shells which they brought us. I fancy some of the Tahiti schooners trade here for pearl, shells, and beche-de-mer.
The cocoa-nuts, fowls, fish, coral, &c., having been put into our boat, we shook hands with the friendly islanders and embarked, and having rounded the point we soon found ourselves again in the broken water outside the lagoon, where the race of the tide and the overfall were now much more violent than they had been when we landed. If we had once been drawn into the current, we should have stood a good chance of being knocked to pieces on the coral reefs, strong as our boat was; but the danger was happily avoided, and we reached the yacht safely, much to Tom's relief.
The natives did not exhibit the slightest curiosity about us during our visit to the island, and though they received us with courtesy, and assisted us as far as they could on our arrival and departure, they did not follow us about while on shore, nor, with the exception of one or two of them, did they take the trouble to walk across the point to see us get into the open sea and join the yacht. In this respect they might have given a lesson to many civilised people, so gentle, genial, and graceful, yet dignified, were their manners.
The screw having been feathered and the sails set, our voyage was at once resumed. A few miles from where we had landed, we saw, high and dry on the coral reef skirting the island, a large square-built schooner, of about 500 tons, her masts gone, her hull bleached white by the sun, and a great hole in her side. She was on the inside of the reef, and must therefore either have drifted there from the lagoon, or else have been lifted bodily across by one of the big Pacific rollers, in some terrible storm. No doubt the iron knee we had seen on the island originally formed part of this vessel.
Wednesday, November 29th. - We seem to have got into the real south-east trades, just as the chart tells us we ought to expect to lose them; for there was a strong fair breeze all day, which made it very pleasant on deck in the shade of the sails. But it was exceedingly hot in the saloon, where some of the woodwork has been pulled down, in order to secure better ventilation for the galley and the berths of some of the men, who, I hope, appreciate the alteration, for it is a source of considerable discomfort to us.
We had the bigger of our two little pigs for dinner to-day, and a welcome change it was from the salt and potted meats. He was most excellent, and fully corroborated Captain Cook's statement as to the superiority of South Sea Island pork to any other - a fact which is doubtless due to the pigs being fed entirely on cocoa-nuts and bread-fruit. Still it seemed a pity to eat such a tame creature, and I mean to try and preserve the other one's life, unless we are much longer than we expect in reaching Tahiti. He is only about ten inches long, but looks at least a hundred years old, and is altogether the most quaint, old-fashioned little object you ever saw. He has taken a great fancy to the dogs, and trots about after me with them everywhere, on the tips of his little toes, even up and down the steep cabin stairs. I call him Agag, because he walks so delicately, whilst others accost him as Beau, not only on account of his elegant manners, but as being the name of his former home.
The moon was more brilliant this evening than we have yet seen her during our voyage, and we could enjoy sitting on deck reading, and even doing some coarse needlework, without any other light. One splendid meteor flashed across the sky. It was of a light orange colour, with a fiery tail about two degrees in extent, and described in its course an arc of about sixty degrees, from S.S.E. to N.N.W., before it disappeared into space, far above the horizon. If the night had been darker, the spectacle would have been finer; but even as it was, the moon seemed quite paled for a few minutes afterwards. We have seen many meteors, falling-stars, and shooting-stars since we left Valparaiso, but none so fine as the one this evening.
Friday, December 1st. - The sun rose grandly, but the heavy black and red clouds, looking like flames and smoke from a furnace, gave promise of more rain. The heat was greater to-day than any we have yet felt; and it is now nearly mid-winter at home.