CHAPTER XIV. AT TAHITI.
At half-past seven the horses were put to, and we were just ready for a start, when down came the rain again, more heavily than before. It was some little time before it ceased enough to allow us to start, driving along grassy roads and through forests, but progressing rather slowly, owing to the soaked condition of the ground. If you can imagine the Kew hot-houses magnified and multiplied to an indefinite extent, and laid out as a gentleman's park, traversed by numerous grassy roads fringed with cocoa-nut palms, and commanding occasional glimpses of sea, and beach, and coral reefs, you will have some faint idea of the scene through which our road lay.
Many rivers we crossed, and many we stuck in, the gentlemen having more than once to take off their shoes and stockings, tuck up their trousers, jump into the water, and literally put their shoulders to the wheel. Sometimes we drove out into the shallow sea, till it seemed doubtful when and where we should make the land again. Sometimes we climbed up a solid road, blasted out of the face of the black cliffs, or crept along the shore of the tranquil lagoon, frightening the land-crabs into their holes as they felt the shake of the approaching carriage. Palms and passiflora abounded, the latter being specially magnificent. It seems wonderful how their thin steins can support, at a height of thirty or forty feet from the ground, the masses of huge orange-coloured fruit which depend in strings from their summits.
At the third river, not far from where it fell into the sea, we thought it was time to lunch; so we stopped the carriage, gave the horses their provender, and sat down to enjoy ourselves after our long drive. It was early in the afternoon before we started again, and soon after this we were met by fresh horses, sent out from Papenoo; so it was not long before we found ourselves near Point Venus, where we once more came upon a good piece of road, down which we rattled to the plains outside Papeete.
[Footnote 10: From 'pape,' water, and 'noo,' abundance.]
We reached the quay at about seven o'clock, and, our arrival having been observed, several friends came to see us and to inquire how we had fared. Before we started on our excursion, instructions had been given that the 'Sunbeam' should be painted white, for the sake of coolness, and we were all very curious to see how she would look in her new dress; but unfortunately the wet weather has delayed the work, and there is still a good deal to do.
Wednesday, December 6th. - It was raining fast at half-past four this morning, which was rather provoking, as I wanted to take some photographs from the yacht's deck before the sea-breeze sprang up. But the weather cleared while I was choosing my position and fixing my camera, and I was enabled to take what I hope may prove to be some successful photographs.
Messrs. Brander's mail-ship, a sailing vessel of about 600 tons, was to leave for San Francisco at eight o'clock, and at seven Tom started in the 'Flash' to take our letters on board. The passage to San Francisco occupies twenty-five days on an average, and is performed with great regularity once a month each way. The vessels employed on this line, three in number, are well built, and have good accommodation for passengers, and they generally carry a full cargo. In the present instance it consists of fungus and tripang (beche-de-mer) for China, oranges for San Francisco, a good many packages of sundries, and a large consignment of pearls, entrusted to the captain at the last moment.
So brisk is the trade carried on between Tahiti and the United States, that the cost of this vessel was more than covered by the freights the first year after she was built. In addition to these ships, there are those which run backwards and forwards to Valparaiso, and the little island trading schooners; so that the Tahitians can boast of quite a respectable fleet of vessels, not imposing perhaps in point of tonnage, but as smart and serviceable-looking as could be desired. The trading schooners are really beautiful little craft, and I am sure that, if well kept and properly manned, they would show to no discredit among our smart yachts at Cowes. Not a day passes without one or more entering or leaving the harbour, returning from or bound to the lonely isles with which the south-west portion of the Pacific is studded. They are provided with a patent log, but their captains, who are intelligent men, do not care much about a chronometer, as the distances to be run are comparatively short and are easily judged.
Mr. Godeffroy gave us rather an amusing account of the manner in which their negotiations with the natives are conducted. The more civilised islanders have got beyond barter, and prefer hard cash in American dollars for their pearls, shells, cocoa-nuts, sandal-wood, &c. When they have received the money, they remain on deck for some time discussing their bargains among themselves. Then they peep down through the open skylights into the cabin below, where the most attractive prints and the gaudiest articles of apparel are temptingly displayed, alongside a few bottles of rum and brandy and a supply of tobacco. It is not long before the bait is swallowed; down go the natives, the goods are sold, and the dollars have once more found their way back into the captain's hands.