CHAPTER XV. TAHITI TO SANDWICH ISLANDS. - KILAUEA BY DAY AND BY NIGHT.
Methinks it should have been impossible
Not to love all things in a world so filled,
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is music, slumbering on her instrument.
Saturday, December 9th. - After leaving the harbour of Papeete we passed close to the island of Eimeo, on which we have gazed so often and with so much pleasure during the past week. It is considered the most beautiful island of the Georgian group, and we all regretted that we were unable to spare the time to visit it. From afar it is rather like the dolomite mountains in the Tyrol, and it is said that the resemblance is even more striking on a near approach. The harbour is a long narrow gorge between high mountains, clothed with palms, oranges, and plantains, and is one of the most remarkable features of the place. Huahine is the island of which the Earl and the Doctor speak, in 'South Sea Bubbles,' in terms of such enthusiasm, and Rarotonga is the head and centre of all the missionary efforts of the present time in these parts.
The weather to-day was fine, though we had occasional squalls of wind and rain. We were close-hauled, and the motion of the vessel was violent and disagreeable. I was very sea-sick, and was consoled to find that several of the men were so too. A head sea - or nearly so - is quite a novel experience for us of late, and we none of us like the change.
Sunday, December 10th. - Another squally day. Still close-hauled, and even then not on our course. We had a short service at eleven, but it was as much as I could do to remain on deck.
Monday, December 11th. - Very like yesterday. We passed close to Flint and Vostok Islands, at the former of which I should have much liked to land. But it was a good deal to leeward of us; there is no anchorage, and the landing, which is always difficult and sometimes impossible, has to be effected in native surf-boats. It would have been interesting to see a guano island, of which this is a perfect specimen.
We had hoped to make the Caroline Islands before dark (not the Caroline Islands proper, but a group of low islets, whose position is very uncertainly indicated in the different charts and books); but the wind fell light, and as we could see nothing of them at sunset, although the view from the masthead extended at least fifteen miles in every direction, it was decided at eight o'clock to put the ship about, to insure not running on them or any of the surrounding reefs in the night. The currents run very swiftly between these islands, and it is impossible to tell your exact position, even a few hours after having taken an observation.
Tuesday, December 12th. - The wind freshened immediately after we had changed our course last night, and fell light directly we had put about again this morning, so that it was fully 9 a.m. before we had regained our position of yesterday evening.
Our compass-cards were getting worn out, and Tom gave out new ones before leaving Tahiti. I was very much amused to-night, when, as usual, just before going to bed, I went to have a look at the compass and see how the yacht was lying, and asked the man at the wheel what course he was steering. 'North and by west, half-east, ma'am,' he replied. 'That's a funny course,' I said; 'tell me again.' He repeated his statement; whereupon I remarked that the course was quite a new one to me. 'Oh, yes, ma'am,' he answered, 'but them's the new compass-cards.' This man is one of the best helmsmen in the ship, but certainly seems to be an indifferent scholar.
Friday, December 15th. - We crossed the line at half-past four this morning. Father Neptune was to have paid us another visit in the evening, but the crew were busy, and there were some difficulties about arranging the details of the ceremony. The children were obliged, therefore, to be content with their usual game of drilling every one that they were able to muster for soldiers, after the fashion of Captain Brown's 'rifle practice,' or marching up and down the decks to the strains of Jem Butt's fiddle playing 'Tommy make room for your Uncle,' accompanied by the somewhat discordant noise of their own drums. These amusements after sunset, and scrubbing decks and working at the pumps before sunrise, give us all the much-needed exercise it is impossible to take in the heat of the daytime.
Saturday, December 16th. - At 1.30 a.m. I was awoke by the strains of sweet music, and could not at first imagine where I could be, or whence the sounds came. It proved to be the performance of some 'waits' on board. I do not know who originated the idea, but it was a very good one, and was excellently carried out. Everybody assembled on deck by degrees, and the songsters enjoyed a glass of grog when their labours were finished, after which we all went to bed again.
It had fallen calm yesterday evening, and the funnel was raised at midnight, but the breeze sprang up again to-day, and at noon the fires were banked and the sails were set. Of course it then fell calm again, and at six o'clock we were once more proceeding under steam. There was one squall in the night, accompanied by the most tremendous rain I ever saw or heard. We talk of tropical rain in England, but the real thing is very different. It seemed just as if the bottom of an enormous cistern overhead had suddenly been removed, allowing the contents to fall exactly on the spot where we were. The water came down in sheets, and was soon three or four inches deep on the deck, though it was pouring out of the scuppers all the time as fast as possible.