CHAPTER XV. TAHITI TO SANDWICH ISLANDS. - KILAUEA BY DAY AND BY NIGHT.
It would, I think, be difficult to imagine a more interesting and exciting mode of spending Christmas Eve than yesterday has taught us, or a stranger situation in which to exchange our Christmas greetings than beneath the grass roof of an inn on the edge of a volcano in the remote Sandwich Islands. They were certainly rendered none the less cordial and sincere by the novelty of our position, and I think we are all rather glad not to have in prospect the inevitable feastings and ceremonies, without which it seems to be impossible to commemorate this season in England. If we had seen nothing but Kilauea since we left home, we should have been well rewarded for our long voyage.
At six o'clock we were dressed and packed. Breakfast followed at half-past, and at seven we were prepared for a start. Our kind, active host, and his wife and baby, all came out to see us off. The canter over the dewy grass, in the fresh morning air, was most invigorating. It was evident that no one had passed along the road since Saturday night, for we picked up several waifs and strays dropped in the dark on our way up - a whip, a stirrup, mackintosh hood, &c.
By half-past ten we had reached the 'Half-way House,' where we were not expected so early, and where we had ample opportunity to observe the native ways of living, while waiting for our midday meal - an uninteresting mess of stewed fowl and taro, washed down with weak tea. After it was over I made an unsuccessful attempt to induce the woman of the house to part with her orange-coloured lei. I bought some tappa and mallets, however, with some of the markers used in colouring the cloth, and a few gourds and calabashes, forming part of the household furniture. While the horses were being saddled preparatory to our departure, Mabelle and I went to another cottage close by, to see the mother of the baby that had been born while we were here on Saturday. She was not at home; but we afterwards found her playing cards with some of her friends in a neighbouring hut. Quite a large party of many natives were gathered together, not the least cheerful of whom was the young mother whose case had interested me so much.
The rest of the ride down to Hilo was as dull and monotonous as our upward journey had been, although, in order to enable us to get over it as quickly as possible, fresh horses had been sent to meet us. At last we reached the pier, where we found the usual little crowd waiting to see us off. The girls who had followed us when we first landed came forward shyly when they thought they were unobserved, and again encircled me with leis of gay and fragrant flowers. The custom of decorating themselves with wreaths on every possible occasion is in my eyes a charming one, and I like the inhabitants of Polynesia for their love of flowers. They are as necessary to them as the air they breathe, and I think the missionaries make a mistake in endeavouring to repress so innocent and natural a taste.
The whole town was en fete to-day. Natives were riding about in pairs, in the cleanest of bright cotton dresses and the freshest of leis and garlands. Our own men from the yacht contributed not a little to the gaiety of the scene. They were all on shore, and the greater part of them were galloping about on horseback, tumbling off, scrambling on again, laughing, flirting, joking, and enjoying themselves generally after a fashion peculiar to English sailors. As far as we know the only evil result of all this merriment was that the doctor received a good many applications for diachylon plaster in the course of the evening, to repair various 'abrasions of the cuticle,' as he expressed it.
I think at least half the population of Hilo had been on board the yacht in the course of the day, as a Christmas treat. At last we took a boat and went off too, accompanied by Mr. Lyman. The appearance of the 'Sunbeam' from the shore was very gay, and as we approached it became more festive still. All her masts were tipped with sugar-canes in bloom. Her stern was adorned with flowers, and in the arms of the figure-head was a large bouquet. She was surrounded with boats, the occupants of which cheered us heartily as we rowed alongside. The gangway was decorated with flowers, and surmounted by a triumphal arch, on which were inscribed 'Welcome Home,' 'A Merry Christmas,' 'A Happy New Year,' and other good wishes. The whole deck was festooned with tropical plants and flowers, and the decorations of the cabins were even more beautiful and elaborate. I believe all hands had been hard at work ever since we left to produce this wonderful effect, and every garden in Hilo had furnished a contribution to please and surprise us on our return.
The choir from Hilo came out in boats in the evening, sang all sorts of songs, sacred and secular, and cheered everybody till they were hoarse. After this, having had a cold dinner, in order to save trouble, and having duly drunk the health of our friends at home, we all adjourned to the saloon, to assist in the distribution of some Christmas presents, a ceremony which afforded great delight to the children, and which was equally pleasing to the elder people and to the crew, if one may judge from their behaviour on the occasion.